Monday, February 22, 2010

Meet the new Joanne

Joanne Kam Poh Poh’s pared down image seems to have pushed her famous persona of the big, brash-mouthed diva to the background, or maybe not ...

THE message that slim is in and fat is out screams loud and clear. And the leader of the pack is none other than comedy queen Joanne Kam Poh Poh, currently the ambassadress of Unisense, now a svelte 66kg but who used to tip the scales at 89kg.

The new Joanne takes a bit of getting used to.

This outspoken diva comedienne has thrown her weight around unashamedly, verbally and literally during her Boom Boom Room days.

One could safely say that she was larger than life with her exaggeration of off-colour but also slightly true punch lines.

Today, Joanne’s pared down image seems to have pushed her famous persona of the big, brash-mouthed diva to the background, or so it seems.

“It doesn’t mean that if I lose weight, I lose my ability to entertain. My jokes are still funny,” insists this 34-year-old.

So is her new image the result of reinvention? Madonna and David Bowie are famous examples of entertainers who change their stage personas like chameleons. Is Joanne trying to pull the same stunt?

As it is, her new image has prompted Mamat Talib, the director of Kala Bulan Megambang (a comedy thriller due for release by the end of this year) to comment that she is ‘too pretty’ for the role in which she plays a masseuse who ends up outraging the modesty of the character played by actor Rosyam Nor.

“I’ve always been a big girl. When I took the weight loss programme with Unisense after giving birth, I was also planning for a lifestyle change.

“You know how every fat girl imagines herself to be smaller. I was curious to see if I could do it,” explains Joanne of her shrinking act.

The weight loss, she explains, is not the result of crash diet but a gradual process, which took two years with thrice-a-week visits of one-and-a-half-hour sessions to Unisense.

“I lost an average of one and a half kilo every two months which is a healthy rate,” says Joanne, who is under the Yummy Mummy package which also addresses the problem of water retention and stretch marks.

The process has also involved a change in her lifestyle and Joanne now stays away from rice and noodles. Nevertheless, she still keeps a wide berth where gym sessions are concerned using time constraints as an excuse.

“I know I’ll get faster results if I threw in a gym session or two, but tired lah,” she sighs.

Still, with someone of Joanne’s talent, it would seem that the issue of weight should not be something she should worry over but clearly she has a personal agenda.

“I’ve come to a point in life where I don’t just want to attract any guy. My friends have told me that in all aspects I would make the perfect wife or girlfriend but this is still Asia.

“First impressions count and losing weight has allowed me to experience the pleasure of wearing the right dresses, people telling me that I look hot and guys coming up to chat me up.

“I also feel that people are treating me more differently as in they are more cheeky – until they find out who I am, that is.”

But as for which side Joanne would take in the issue of fat versus thin, she would choose to address the misconception of fat people as lazy.

“Take, for example, a computer programmer who is at the top in her field but she is fat because she spends most of her time behind a desk. Do we just then say that a person is lazy because she is inactive? What about the mind? In the end, we must look at what a person has achieved.

“If she is at a high level, then she is not lazy,” opines Joanne, who started her career at age 19 in Haw Par Villa, Singapore, and is now boss of her own event management company.

And talking of change, one thing for certain is that this hot-looking momma is no longer the carefree bachelorette for she is now a single mother to Jade, her two-year-old daughter.

“My decisions now have to revolve around what’s good for us (Jade and her), not only what’s good for me. It’s not easy but I make it work as best as I can,” says Joanne.

One of the challenges is allocating quality time because she is constantly on the go.

“I don’t have a choice because of my line of work. Taking a break is not a good idea because in the entertainment line, it’s hard to get back into the scene if you have been away for too long.

“So, I find a balance. In the past, I would finish the night at 3am, then go to a friend’s house and not get home till 2pm in the afternoon.

“Now I make sure I get in so that Jade can see me when she wakes up. It’s a schedule I have established where she knows I will go but I will also be back,” says Joanne, who has a reliable maid to thank.

As for throwing her weight around with in her new slim form, Joanne says that 66kg will not be the end all.

“I plan to lose another 6kg in the next six to eight months,” she confirms. And aren’t we all waiting to see the results?

Published in The Star, Sunday Metro, Sept 2, 2007

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gastronomic bliss

There is much to be gained from knowing how to cook, so says a chef who started frying keropok at the tender age of five.

CELEBRITY chef Zamzani Abdul Wahab has a knack for making the love for food and all things delectable a contagious affair. Those who suffer from poor appetites should consider lunching with this 38-year-old bachelor.

Watching him eat a simple bowl of beehoon soup is a gastronomic performance for the senses and it does not take long for the watcher’s salivary glands to twitch and hanker for a bite of what he’s having. But then, that is expected of a personality whose passion for food has turned him into a household celebrity.

For the uninitiated, Chef Zam, as he is popularly known, is the star of Seri Mas ... Selera Dunia, a food and lifestyle programme on TV2 which airs every Sunday at 5pm. The programme ended its first season last year and the second one will be scheduled for shooting once the sponsors have been confirmed.

“The second season will see us heading for Europe where we will be doing a travelogue on halal food in the region,” is all Chef Zam will reveal for the moment.

In his element: Chef Zam surrounded by the loves of his life, which he turns into culinary wonders.
Meanwhile, the celeb is content to settle into his daytime role as senior lecturer in KDU College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts.

Not surprisingly, Sunday Metro would find him in his ‘teacher mode’ during a lunch cum interview at the Signature Kitchen outlet at Sunway Mentari, a kitchen fittings showroom. Where else would a chef feel more at home? But then, Zam is in no mood to reveal the A-Zs of his dream kitchen. Instead he would take the opportunity to wage a personal campaign of his own.

“Cooking is a basic life skill that must be taught to children,” is his manifesto.

The statement stems from what he feels is an unhealthy rising trend of instant noodles taking the place of healthy meals, especially so among young people who are living away from home for the first time. And horror of horrors, the chef would reveal his terrifying discovery that some adults have yet to learn how to cook rice!

“It’s a shame. Some parents tell me that their daughters or sons cannot cook and they seem proud of it. They say that these teenagers are more interested in reading or surfing the Internet. There is nothing wrong with that but there will come a time when they have to eat. What then?” he queries.

Cooking, unlike the presumptions of many who are not familiar with the kitchen, is not a difficult task at all, assures this chef who started frying keropok at the tender age of five by standing on a chair to reach the stove.

While this revelation would make many gasp at the safety issues brought on by exposing a child to fire and the possibility of painful and potentially fatal oil scalds, Chef Zam would counter that adult supervision will make the activity a safe one. In his case, it was his grandmother who played the role of watchdog.

And Chef Zam would agree that there is nothing wrong with starting them young. May it be peeling onions or baking crazy cookies, the life lessons learned will carry a child beyond the kitchen.

“There are multi skills to be learned. A child will know the danger of knives and fire. Cooking is also a little project on its own which requires the intelligence of organisation. Though I know Asian culture does not encourage boys to be in the kitchen, I feel this is wrong,” he says.

As for the excuse of lack of equipment, Zam, who speaks from 11 years of experience, insists that a wok, stove, spatula plus a chopping board and knife, would be more than sufficient to whip up a delicious meal.

“In the first place, understand how ingredients work. This is not hard because everyone has had the experience of eating. So, just delve into your library of experience and chances are you will be able to figure this part out,” he enthuses.

Tastes so good: Zam has the knack for making a simple plate of noodles look delicious.
And the rest, assures the chef, is up to an individual’s creativity.

As an example, assam boi and vinaigrette dressing for a mango and guava salad, roti canai stuffed with durian paste and deep-fried ‘lempuk’ balls (mashed durian rolled up like dodol) coated with quaker oats, are among some yummies Chef Zam discovered during his culinary experiments.

Lastly, here’s a word of advice from a seasoned chef on how to keep the kitchen a peaceful place.

“A home-cooked meal, especially from a loved one, should be very much appreciated. If it so happens that the food does not taste good, courtesy should prevail and the cook should be complimented anyway,” he says with a knowing smile.

For those keen on some quick cook notes or looking for an emcee to liven up an occasion, Zamzani can be contacted at 012-377 7603.

Published in The Star, March 16, 2008.

Motherly touch

Shanti Kunchaloo pours her love to those in need of support and understanding.

INSTEAD of becoming bitter because of a painful past, Shanti Kunchaloo, 45, has opted to shake off the shackles of resentment and help others who are experiencing the mental anguish of life’s hardships. Today, they call Shanti, “Mathaji” – the divine light who touches the soul.

Her story began 11 years ago, when Shanti and her husband, Muthukumaran Velu, now 49, were on the verge of suicide.

Maternal affection: Shanti Kunchaloo, better known as Mathaji, reaches out to others via motivational talks and sharing sessions.

By all standards, Shanti had all the makings of a bright future. The third child of six siblings, Shanti grew up at 18th mile in Bagan Datoh where her father, Kunchaloo Engkana, now 73, worked as a taxi driver.

A former student of SMK Johari, a Telugu school in Sungai Sumun, Perak, Shanti was a popular figure in sports and the school’s debating team.

By the age of 17, she garnered the place of second runner-up in a beauty contest held at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre and had no less than five marriage proposals to consider.

But Shanti felt that she was too young for marriage and instead, opted to stay with her sister and her husband in Sabah where she taught at an elementary school and gave tutoring services to upper secondary students. It was there that she met and fell for Muthukumaran with whom she married in 1989.

“She was homely, well-mannered and a great cook. She made the best crab, fish and chicken curries, the softest chappatis and the sweetest chakera ponggals (sweetened brown rice) I had ever known. I put on 30 kilos after marrying her!” recalled Muthukumaran.

But alas, the happiness would not last. After 13 years of taking care of a cocoa plantation in Sabah, they lost their jobs after a verbal promise of employment in the Peninsula failed to materialise. To add to the pain of losing a steady income, Shanti had to deal with several miscarriages and her last baby, born in 1994, died three days after she delivered him via Caesarean-section.

“My father brought my baby to me and told me to kiss him. It was only after they put him in my arms did I realise that he had passed on,” recalled Shanti, tearing at the painful memory.

But in her book, Divine Light, which is a compilation of her spiritual experiences, there is a saying and it goes like this:

I asked the Almighty to give me happiness

and He said, ‘No’.

Instead He gave me his blessings

and said that happiness was up to me.

Through a cloud of emotional pain, Shanti sought to seek answers through prayers and meditation. What was her true role in life? Why was she here? Why had she been made to go through so much pain?

The turning point, she recalled, had come about in 1998 during a telephone conversation with Guru Mahan, the founder of Universal Peace Foundation, an institution for yoga, naturopathy and holistic science in Thirumurthi Hills, South India.

During the telephone conversation, which lasted 45 minutes, Shanti would hear Mahan utter these words: “To gain something, you must lose something.”

“Guruji told me that the most important thing was to condition my mind to accept all the life challenges that had come my way. It was not easy because I had a stubborn nature. I was insistent that for someone who had done no wrong in her life, she shouldn’t be made to go through so much pain,” recalled Shanti.

But eventually, Shanti realised that if she did not change her mindset, she would forever be trapped in the pits of despair. And so, with the support of her husband, Shanti began to reach out to others via motivational talks, seeking her listeners to sort out their problems with calm and understanding in spite of the adversities they may be facing

During her talks, Shanti is known for touching and hugging her audience with a maternal affection and addresses everyone with a warm sounding “Ma”, explaining that it’s the equivalent of calling someone “Dear” or “Love”.

In 2002, she was given the title of “Mathaji” by Datin Padmabathy, the wife of a Johor politician, during a seminar at the Muneswaran Temple in Tampoi, Johor. Thinking back, Shanti recalled seeking this “title” because she had felt odd that no one had ever addressed her as a mother despite the fact that she had had three babies.

“When I asked Guru Mahan, he said that I should let the world know me as ‘Mathaji’ (mother) and hence feel satisfied for being known as such. He said that though I have no children of my own, henceforth, all living beings on Earth shall be my children,” said Shanti.

Today, as Mathaji Shantiekumar, she is a regal sight in her yellow robes. It is the only colour that she wears, in public as well as at home, as she strongly believes in the rejuvenating energy of this vibrant shade. Black is one colour she eschews, insisting that it attracts negative vibes.

And though she admitted that she still finds it irksome when it comes to dealing with unpunctuality, she has come to accept that one can never be completely free from life’s frustrations.

“The best way to deal with frustration is to smile. Through experience, I have discovered the immediate effect of this simple gesture. The moment you smile, you experience a positive energy which will bring on a sense of gladness,” she said.

“And remember,” she said as a form of parting advice, “whatever that may happen in your life, accept it. If you don’t, the problem will continue to fester and become serious”.

To find out more about Mathaji Shantiekumar, call 016-651 7629 or visit her website at

Published in The Star April 5 2009.

Meet Uncle Hussain at home

IN THE cool of the morning rain, it was a sleepy-headed Mohd Fathi Mohd Darwi who opened the door to StarMetro. Smiling apologetically, the tousled-haired 29-year-old bassist of Meet Uncle Hussain, who is better known as Afat, explained his less-than-chirpy appearance was the result of a late-night gig.

A budding cartoonist who used to work as a sales assistant at an optician’s shop, Afat brought out a sketchbook of his doodlings for our flipping pleasure before hurrying into the next room to rouse a still-slumbering Nik Mustaza Nik Mustapha (better known as Taja to friends and f ans), the band’s 30-year-old mastermind and songwriter.

Meet Uncle Hussain upclose: (Clockwise from top) Afat, Taja and Lan.

By now, one can safely bet that at the very least, half the nation are able to sing along to his lines from the hit single, Lagu Untuk Mu. It goes like this: Tiada bintang dapat menerangkan hati yang telah dicelar… (roughly translated as ‘no star can ever light up a broken heart again’). But, lest Taja be mistaken for a misogynist, he is well into a healthy relationship with girlfriend Kimmy Nafisah, who is also the band’s manager and PR officer.

Within the neat and tastefully furnished interior of the apartment shared by the two men, Snowbee, Afat’s one-and-half-year-old tomcat, frolicked playfully with its playmate Chinonit, a seven-month-old tabby. Looking on from the shallow depths of a glass aquarium were some species of freshwater fish, also belonging to Afat. Earlier, the bassist had revealed that three turtles had to be moved out as they had grown too big. To ease the pain of departure, a goodbye ceremony had been held at the lake of the Taman Tun Dr Ismail playground where they were released.

Nearby, Taja’s hamsters, a Syrian named Hang Tuah and three dwarves, Kudung, Bakrina and Dicki, scurried around in their man-made habitats. Kudung was named thus for its missing front paw. According to Taja, Kudung had its front paw entangled in a twine of grass as a baby. The twine had cut off all circulation to the limb, which subsequently rotted and fell off.

Away from the bright lights and without their guitars, the two would fit the bill of aspiring zookeepers in the making.

It is a different case with the group’s 27-year-old enigmatic lead vocalist Norazlan Rosle.

The youngest of the three, this hyperactive charmer, who is known as Lan, had waltzed in, found a plastic snake on the floor and tried to scare his bandmates silly by waving it in their faces. His playful nature is a trait that has endeared him to his large brood of nephews and nieces – all 20 of them. Wrestling matches with the kids when he goes back to Ulu Langat, snooker games and eating out at restaurants, admitted Lan, were more his scene.

“You can catergorise Lan as ‘special’. As in the case of ‘special’ people, they have their quirks, but once he takes the stage, everything is forgiven. The guy really has charisma,” commented Taja with regard to Lan’s display of playfulness.

“What we have is a ‘mind’ connection,” affirmed Lan, referring to the sense of kinship with his bandmates, all self-taught musicians.

“One crucial aspect of ensuring the success of the band is to be able to see the logical side of things when it comes to dealing with important issues. There will be disagreements, stress and gossip to contend with, but in the end, we must know what we want and work towards a common goal,” added Lan, who used to work as a restaurant captain.

Up close and personal, raw and unplugged, this, affirmed Taja, was what real life was like for an indie rock band that had achieved overnight fame in 2007 when its debut single La La La…Kerja was chosen to be the opening soundtrack for Kami, a TV series produced by Lina Tan and aired over 8TV.

When asked if the three bachelors were living the high life as a popular rock band, the trio chorused out a loud ‘no’ in perfect unison.

“At the moment, we have a regulated monthly allowance of RM2,500 each, a measure that our manager has come up with to control cashflow,” revealed Taja.

It was a necessary move, he explained, to keep the band out of the red and to preserve longevity. So, no excesses for the time being, not until album sales have increased to a certain level and existing cheques cleared. But fame is certainly catching up with them.

“It has been rather trying for Lan. As the lead vocalist, he has been getting all the attention, and as a result, he gets mobbed on a regular basis when he comes out in public. As for Afat and me, we are still free to go wherever we please as we are always in the background,” grinned Taja.

In all honesty, Taja insisted, rest days were pretty scarce and far between, for the moment. In addition to singing engagements, Lan, for example, is still working for an events company. Afat, a talented cartoonist with the innate ability to sketch everything he sees, is currently working on a graphic biography which is targeted for publiscation by December this year.

Whatever free time that is left, inevitably goes to their menagerie which requires constant attention.

“But it’s worth it. When you come back tired from a gig and the cat comes and snuggles up to you, all the stress is gone. They give you a sense of fun because they are so hyperactive,” opined Afat.

So, for the love of their furry and fishy friends, one wonders if the men from Meet Uncle Hussain are contemplating vegetarianism?

Nah! Not to that level. Some animals are meant to be eaten but we’ll certainly not resort to eating wildlife like monkey’s brains, for example,” concluded the three.

To listen to Meet Uncle Hussain’s songs, log on to

Published in The Star, Metro Central May 19 2009.

Ducky joint

The food is Yummy-and it’s not all Duck.

THERE is nothing extraordinary about roast pork (siew yuk). Hung on hooks, these slabs of roasted pork flanks with their crackly orangey skin are a normal sight at any Chinese coffee shop with a chicken rice stall or at the morning markets. But finding good siew yuk is another matter altogether.

This is because roasting is a science. The fire has to be just right. Too hot and the skin will turn black. Not hot enough and the meat will smell like it has been exposed to burning joss sticks – the smoke has seeped into the meat.

Goose and duck talk: William Low holding up his crisp, golden skinned duck to show off a perfect roast.

For a sampling of how a premium roast should taste, head over to Yummy Duck, a roast house in Jalan Kuchai Maju, Kuala Lumpur.

Here is where you’ll experience a slice of heaven when you sink your teeth into the crackly skin and the rest just melts in your mouth. There is a beautiful balance in the layering of fat and lean meat, and the marinades are done just right, leaving a nice flavour and without an oily aftertaste.

The char siew (roasted pork shoulder) here is equally good, too. Lean, well done, slightly chewy and beautifully covered with a caramelised soya coating, what little bit of fat here has a translucent shade, a sign of the roaster’s skill.

It would be an injustice to leave out the roasted goose with its crisp, flavourful skin. This is quite a show stealer as it is ceremoniously brought from the kitchen to the front where it is expertly cut by the chef.

While many assume that the secret to a good roast is in the marinade – in Yummy Duck’s case, it includes salt (to make the skin crackle), five spice and garlic powder, and lam yue (red preserved bean curd) – the base ingredient, meat, is equally important.

Yummy Duck get their meats fresh, with the best cuts of pork belly for siew yuk (the hardest to source) costing them as much as RM17 per kg.

Ultimately, Yummy Duck, which was opened about three months ago, is a testament to the culinary skills of its director William Low, who is very fussy about quality.

Triple play: Noodles with a combination of siew yuk, char siew and roasted duck

To explain, Kang Moon, Low’s older brother, mentioned the springy egg noodles which are specially imported from Hong Kong. Despite constant urgings to order more to cut down on shipping costs, Low is steadfast about bringing in only enough for the restaurant, says Kang Moon.

Low’s reasoning is that ordering large batches will give the supplier the impression that they are doing a wholesale business, which might encourage them to offload their old stock on them. Low’s insistence seems to be paying off as the egg noodles have a wonderful springy texture.

Low, a 41-year-old father of two, began his career in the food business as a commis in Regent Kuala Lumpur’s Lai Ching Yuen (the present Grand Millenium). At that time, it was under the charge of Chef Mak Thong, who is now lecturing in Tunku Abdul Rahman College. Thong is well known for being a stickler for details and this, evidently, has rubbed off on Low.

After two years with Thong, Low left to open a chicken rice stall near the market in Sentul, KL, with a partner. Fifteen years later and pressured by six of his older siblings to move to somewhere safer and more permanent, Low set up Yummy Duck, so named because the original idea was to brand his restaurant as the place for roasted ducks. But as it turned out, it was the siew yuk that would become more popular.

Setting a contemporary tone with plenty of gold and woody notes, the interior of Low’s restaurant is definitely a far cry from the chicken rice stall in Sentul where diners had to make do with folding tables and plastic chairs and only a large tree for shade.

Thankfully, prices are still friendly. A plate of egg noodles with a combination of siew yuk, char siew and roast duck is only RM11.80 either dry or in a soup. The spicy version costs an extra RM1.

Added attraction: Yummy Duck has become popular for its delicious roast pork.

Considering the generous portions of meat, this is a pretty fair price. The siew yuk is RM18 per portion. The roasted goose is the most expensive item here at RM150 for a whole bird and RM80 for half. Again, Low justifies this with his insistence in using only fresh meat.

Apart from the roasted meats, Low also offers side dishes of deep fried silver fish (RM8) and soft shell crabs (RM12), and chicken wings stuffed with glutinous rice, char siew, sliced Chinese sausage and dried shrimp (RM12).

Do try the unique green coloured chili sauce which comes with the roast goose. Made up of finely-chopped green chillies and lime powder, this specially concocted dip is a surefire way to add some zing to your meal.

For dessert, try the tong yuen (glutinous rice balls) in either soya milk (RM5) or ginger syrup (RM3.80).

Yummy Duck is open from 11am to 10.30pm and is located at 9, Dinasti Sentral, Jalan Kuchai Maju 18, Off Jalan Kuchai Lama, (03-7981 6299).

Published in The Star, Sunday Metro on Nov 15th 2010

Holding on to traditions

Come Chinese New Year, many Chinese families usher in loads of new things but some choose to hold on to family traditions they grew up with.

THE Chinese New Year is a great time to remember – and practise ­– traditions that have been passed down the generations. As children, we looked eagerly to the festive season for so many reasons, partaking of practices that we didn’t quite understand but loved doing anyway.

Before the days of hampers and commercially-packed cookies, those celebrating the new year would send their children to the homes of their non-Chinese neighbours to deliver traditional homemade kuih and biscuits on a plate topped with mandarin oranges. And the plate would never be returned empty but filled with sugar or something sweet.

Power of prayer: Yap Kok Shan, 81, the temple treasurer, says that in remembering our ancestors, we are reminded of the lessons of hard work, perseverance and determination

Before children had new clothes just about every time their parents went shopping, a set of brand new home-sewn clothes, underclothes and even toothbrush and toys were highlights of the year.

Before reunion dinners were held at restaurants offering the same old fare, the womenfolk – and sometimes the men too – would toil for days over family recipes and delicacies that would only be served once a year.

Such lovely memories of the good old days.

Fortunately, in some households, these traditions still hold true.

Madam Y.H Lim labours every year over the reunion dinner. She has little choice as her family of four children and 12 grandchildren don’t want any restaurant fare but her once-a-year pork stewed with bamboo shoot, stewed duck, ham choy duck soup and other handed-down recipes.

All in the family: The Lims and their children (from front) Masni, 13, Razin, seven, Zulkamal, 12, and Ros, 18, cherish family togetherness and make it a point to ask forgiveness from their parents when they receive their ang pau.

Deep-frying the huge chunks of belly pork to be stewed with bamboo shoot is no mean feat. One year, recalls Lim, the wok cover flew up due to the pressure from the deep-frying; luckily no one was injured. This is one dish no one in the family wants to pick up!

“It takes me a few weeks of planning, marketing and cooking. It’s hard work as I have to do all by myself but it’s worth it when I see my family enjoying the food with such relish.

“My daughter says if the family loves these dishes, why can’t we have them more often instead of once a year? But then it wouldn’t be a New Year speciality any more, would it?” shares Lim, 68, who learnt most of these dishes from her mother-in-law who came from China.

Crockery that is only used once a year is taken out of storage and washed while chopsticks are brand new each year. Although meals are eaten daily on plates, rice is served in bowls at the reunion dinner.

And because everyone knows how much work goes into that feast, all are warned ahead that they should savour every bite and not rush through the reunion dinner.

After dinner, in keeping with the family tradition, all the grandchildren, dressed in brand new pyjamas, line up to receive their ang pau from the grandparents, with an exchange of salutations of “longevity, prosperity and good health” and “be good children, study hard”.

Modern take: Loh holding up the longevity peach buns which are symbolic of good health and plenty of offspring.

Food certainly plays an important part in Chinese homes, especially during the festive season. One family churns out pau in the shape of animals and other symbols for good luck and “ho yee thau”.

For Lee Kian Seong, 22, the Chinese New Year celebration is synonymous with novelty-shaped pau on the dessert table. His mother, Loh Mooi Kim, 43, explains that the longevity peach buns called yi shuen mun tong or”a garden full of grand children” in Cantonese is especially auspicious to the Chinese who put a premium on loads of offspring to ensure the preservation of one’s lineage. This is symbolised by the bigger peach being stuffed with smaller versions which altogether “make up” 19 in number. Again the number is another indication of long life.

Honouring the ancestors: Yap with his wife, Tan Siew Sin, 49, son Shang Feng and daughter Jyy Huey pay respects to their ancestors in the family temple

But Lee, a pastry chef, has innovated and added to the traditional longevity pau. He has introduced pink piggies, chocolate-eared puppies and prickly porcupines, to name a few; and his mum has creatively attributed to each an auspicious meaning. The pink piggies signify the Chinese saying of “chee long yap sui”, which, loosely translated, means “an influx of cash”. The porcupines, which are known as chin chee in Cantonese, signify the constant churn of activity which is necessary to bring in business. The puppies, as suggested by their homophone, aim to wish the diner long life and are also regarded as a sign of friendship as dogs are considered man’s best friend.

Recently, Lee added to his repertoire cat and leaf-shaped pau as the cat in Japanese culture is a symbol of welcome and leaves are synonymous with life and a fresh start to all of one’s endeavours.

To usher in the Chinese New Year, Haniff Lim, 46, a Seremban native of Hokkien descent, and his wife, Zulaila Damin, 43, will clean their aquarium and goldfish ponds by changing the filters and giving everything a good scrub.

His love for fish started as a boy but with financial independence as an adult, he started to take this hobby even more seriously and to a grander scale.

He now has no fewer than 70 goldfish of the ryukin and oranda varieties, to name a few. He also checks on his collection and replenishes his stock before Chinese New Year.

As a practice, he replaces every expired fish with at least three new members to make up for the loss.

“About a month or so before Chinese New Year, we’ll go to this aquarium called Fengshui Fish in Puchong and look at the latest breeds of fish available to add to our collection. The fact that the general manager is such a good salesman helps to make the decision easier,” says Haniff in jest.

The operations manager believes that his fishy friends’ state of health will reflect his personal happiness. If they do well, he and his family will be happy and thrive too, hence his conscientious care for his watery pets.

And needless to say, the fish are a great source of pride when visitors come to his home during Chinese New Year and marvel at his collection.

While some are very much into auspicious names and symbols, the Yap family prioritises an extensive get together at a family temple.

For Yap Seong Kon, 54, Chinese New Year would not be complete without paying respects to his forefathers in the Yap family temple Onn Kay Yeoh San Yap Ser Kah Chuk, off Jalan Ipoh, on the 14th day of the New Year.

“The practice of paying our respects to our forefathers is passed down through the generations. To date, there are 3,000 individuals bearing the Yap surname in Malaysia and come the festive season, you will find no fewer than 500 of our relatives gathering at the temple,” says the father of two.

He has been going to this temple since very young although it has been relocated several times. And he has kept the family tradition alive by bringing his children to the temple each year.

Temple treasurer Yap Kok Shan, 81, shares that in addition to seeking spiritual guidance, praying to the ancestors evokes the lessons of the past.

“Though our ancestors are no longer around, they were once individuals who strove to improve the lot of the younger generation. In remembering them, we are reminded of the lessons of hard work, perseverance and determination.”

Members of the Yap clan find the New Year gathering an ideal platform to network and be reacquainted with each other. At the same time, it is an opportunity to offer prayers and seek the blessing of their ancestors.

Yap, who runs a kindergarten, prayed for his young charges to be spared of the A(H1N1) outbreak last year and, he says, his prayers were answered. His daughter, Jyy Huey, 24, was granted her wishes for good grades in her CLP and a good career while her brother Shang Feng, 19, recalls that a simple wish he made as a nine-year-old for yee sang was granted.

Published in The Star, Sunday Metro, 7th February 2010

A time to be generous

Is it better to give than to receive? During Chinese New Year, the act of giving and receiving gifts is an art form.

WHEN it comes to gift-giving or soong lai during the Chinese New year season, most of us take it for granted and don’t give it that much thought. As long as there are the customary kum or Mandarin oranges in addition to other goodies in the gift bag, all should be well.

But this is where we are wrong. The older generation would be the first to tell you that there is an art to soong lai. Careful consideration must be given to the the items that make up the gift hamper or bag. You must consider the status of the receiver, for example, if it is the mother-in-law or someone of the older generation. Ideally, you should also know the receiver’s likes and dislikes and the significance of each item based on its value, what it symbolises or simply how the words sound.

Retired teacher Ho Soon Theam, who is in her 50s, takes great pains in putting the items together for soong lai as the gift reflects the giver too.

Even the number of items is important: eight is a good number as it signifies luck, nine denotes long life while 10 implies perfection.

Prepack hampers at Carrefour: When packing for soong lai, consider having eight items as 8 is a number that signifies good luck. 9 is also looked at positively as it denotes long life, while 10 denotes perfection

“Never settle for a count of four as it sounds like sei, as in ‘die’. Likewise, bookworms beware and not bring along books during pai leen (visits during new year) as the Chinese word for book, shee, sounds like ‘lose’ and is therefore not a positive element,” says Ho.

What goes into a goodie bag should also reflect the auspicious occasion.

She adds that the best is the gift of a box of Mandarin oranges as it denotes a chest of gold, which is symbolic in wishing the recipient much wealth in the coming year.

For close relatives, Ho advises against skimping. “Give the best such as bird’s nest, abalone and Chinese mushrooms which symbolise the arrival of many good opportunities throughout the year,” she says.

In the old days, it was also not uncommon to receive gifts of live chickens from close family members to signify togetherness.

Ho also recalls how daughters would present their parents with brandy to show filial piety, the reason being that it is an expensive item.

In the end, the best practice is to have sound knowledge of the recipient’s favourite preferences to make up the ideal goodie bag.

What you put into the bag for soong lai can also reveal your character, she says. recalling an incident when she was mistakenly given a box of half eaten roast duck. It turned out that her friend had bought two boxes, one for her own family’s consumption. But in the bustle of the season she had grabbed the wrong box! Though Ho kept mum, her friend realised the mistake and insisted on giving her a replacement despite repeated pleas on Ho’s part that there was no need to.

“Let’s say you find a mouldy orange among the soong lai items; don’t make a fuss. After all how much does a Mandarin cost? If you do, you may just shame the giver and though she is obliged to apologise and give you a new one, it may give the impression that you are calculating and petty,” reasons Ho.

She is such a stickler for the art of soong lai that her daughter has found it hard not to follow in her footsteps, agonising over what to put into the gift bag for her mother-in-law.

“Once, I was falling asleep and suddenly I thought of something that I had forgotten to put in,” says Ho’s daughter, who declines to be named, with laugh.

For close relatives, Ho advises giving the best such as bird’s nest, abalone and Chinese mushrooms

Rose Lim, 80, is another person who says that to pai leen during Chinese New Year without a goodie bag in tow is abominable. It is an absolute no-no to this former ICI dealer who used to spend no less than RM10,000 on hampers for her clients and suppliers in the days when her business was running full swing.

“How can one think of not giving anything to family and friends during Chinese New Year? It shows that one has no idea how to sek chou (know the proper thing to do). If you have no sense of what is proper, then others may see you as uncaring and may not want to do business with you. It is about believing that what goes around comes around,” says Lim, a mother of three.

The rule of thumb on soong lai for business associates and staff, she shares, is dependent on the volume of transactions over the year.

As a rule, the client who has placed the most orders should be rewarded with the biggest hamper. It is also important to remember the people who have helped you even though their contributions may be small. In such cases, even a small monetary gesture in the form of an ang pau or even a few Mandarin oranges can speak volumes.

The last word on soong lai, says Kelly Toh, 52, a mother of four grown sons, is not just about the simple act of buying gifts.

“What is more important is the sense of filial piety, the sense of respect on the part of the younger generation towards the elders. If a son or daughter has not accorded his or her parents the proper respect, then even the biggest and most expensive hamper will not make amends for this wrong. In fact, you’d be lucky if it is not thrown back at you,” Toh says.

Published in The Star on the 7th of February 2010.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Angel flies home

Come Chinese New Year, you won’t find Angel Wong in front of the cameras hosting any festive countdown shows. It is the time she finds her way home to mum’s cooking and bonding over the mahjong table.

HOME is where the heart is and that is where TV host Angel Wong insists on being every Chinese New Year. No matter what the expectations of her bosses or her work commitments are, she makes it a point to usher in the lunar New Year in Hong Kong with her parents and sisters.

While Malaysia is the work base for this host of the TV food programme 1 Day 5 Meals, which is currently in its third season on Astro Wah Lai Toi, Wong always makes it home to Causeway Bay for at least a week.

In her blood: Angel Wong, host of the TV food show 1 Day 5 Meals, which is currently in its third season on Astro Wah Lai Toi. This food critic gets her sensitive taste buds from her father, George, a former chef who used to cook for royalty.

“I spend about eight to 10 days in Hong Kong and my mother picks me up at the airport,” says Wong who tries to make it home at least two days before the reunion dinner.

There is, of course, some “gentle pressure” from her bosses to appear for countdown shows due to her popularity but Wong, who is in her mid 30s, remains firm. “I simply tell them: ‘Thank you, but I want to go home’,” says the actress and television personality.

Nothing will make her miss this occasion with her family, not even her three dogs whom she leaves under the care of a good friend. One emceeing job away from home on the eve of Chinese New Year was enough to put her off doing it again. “I felt terrible,” recalls this Taurean.

It is not so much a matter of missing her mother’s Shanghai-influenced cuisine or time with her family as she sees them four to five times a year. It is the significance which matters to Wong as she sees the occasion as the end of all things past and a fresh start.

Certainly, the food that her mum, Janet To, 59, prepares for New Year is worth making the trip home for. Her favourite dishes are chicken gizzard and pig’s tongue preserved with Chinese white wine (which is eaten as an appetizer) and drunken chicken, served cold, steeped in a mixture of Chinese herbs for a few days. Of course, there will be the traditional hot pot, too.

With her slim, toned figure Angel can certainly afford to indulge in all the festive goodies.

Wong’s timing is such that by the time she gets home, all the food preparation would be finished!

But Wong is not without her own culinary skills, too. Her forte is egg skin dumplings, a recipe she got from her mother.

“It looks like sui kow except that the skin is made from egg. To make the skin, beat some eggs and pour in a little oil. Heat the pan to medium and spoon the mixture into it with a tablespoon, turning it around to form a round skin. Then spoon in some mince meat as filling and quickly seal the edges before the skin is thoroughly cooked,” shares Wong.

With such delicacies on offer during the lunar New Year festivities, it is no wonder that Wong fears stepping on the scales after the feasting. Not that she needs to, weighing a mere 51kg.

Spending time with her mother and sisters, Anita, 30, and Anny, 37, is another treat for Wong who uses this time to bond with them – over the mahjong table!

All four will be earnestly pitting their skills against each other in the first four days of Chinese New Year.

This is the time when Wong’s father, George, 63, will pamper the ladies of the house by ensuring that they are well fed with all sorts of Chinese New Year snacks and delectables.

He was a chef who used to cook for royalty although it is Janet who takes charge of the kitchen. As Wong explains, there cannot be two CEOs in one company or tempers may flare.

Though her parents are originally from Shanghai, the family celebrates the New Year in Hong Kong as it can be daunting sharing the festive season with the large network of relatives in the mainland.

“Handing out so many ang pau will be a challenge!”

Wong shares that she would not be where she is today if not for her parents. Having graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, she was very aware of their concern when she decided to pursue a career in entertainment in Malaysia 12 years ago. But instead of kicking up a fuss, they let Wong pursue her dreams.

“I am who I am today because of my parents. During my growing years, they instilled in me a sense of independence and recognised me as an individual. They also let me make my own mistakes and when they do pitch in to help, it is done very quietly,” she says.

The biggest influence in her life is her mother, who has been appointed the family’s chief financial officer due to her prowess in the stock exchange.

“Though she is a housewife, my mum is always under pressure as she feels responsible for our investment portfolios. There are times when she will tell us not to give her any more money so that she does not have to worry about the outcome of our investments,” says Wong with a laugh.

Working on an extremely tight schedule for her TV shows and emceeing work in Malaysia, she is more than happy to be a couch potato when she is at home for the New Year. “That is what I mean by coming home. It wouldn’t make sense if I spent all my time going out when I am supposed to be spending time with my family, right?” she reasons.

The cue for her to return to Malaysia is when the Hong Kong Stock Exchange opens for business. Leaving Hong Kong after the New Year festivities is tough, though, and she has to will herself not to cry.

“This is why I choose to fly off on Sundays on the 2.30pm flight so that we can have a dim sum lunch before that. It is a good prelude to the ensuing farewell as everybody can just stand up, and then I wave goodbye and check in.

“You have no idea how much control I have to muster to keep the tears from flowing,” says Wong.

Though she is fortunate to be with her family every Chinese New Year, she feels that such privileges should never be taken for granted.

“I always believe that if you want to show your love to the elders in your family, do it now. Don’t wait. After all, how many years do they have left? That is why I always make time for them,” concludes Wong

Published in The Star, Sunday Metro, on 14th February 2010

Big ideas in little boxes

How one man bridges technology with everyday life

IT IS raining cats and dogs and Damian Mycroft, the senior design manager at Nokia, knows he will not be going anywhere. He whips out his mobile phone and, before long, the 42-year-old is online looking at Lamborghinis, an item he is planning to add on to his shopping list when he gets his bonus.

Just then, a harried PR account manager pops into the room to announce that the Nokia Comes With Music launch would begin in a few minutes in the Berjaya Hall of Bukit Kiara Equestrian Park, Kuala Lumpur.

As a retort, the Brit cheekily snaps a picture of her with his phone. He later summons her by pressing on her image, showing off the touch-screen technology and memory recall interface within the little box that he and his team have designed.

Future forward: ‘It is about envisioning the future and, to do this, one cannot have a mindset that is stuck in the past,’ says Damian Mycroft.

This includes the Nokia X6, a handphone which can offer up to 35 hours of music, 32GB on-board memory, an 8cm touch screen and a 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens.

It is an apt setting for Mycroft to demonstrate how far the mobile phone has evolved. From making calls and texts messages, it has become a little box of wonders for people to go online, manage mail, talk, share photos and play their favourite music.

It is also a case of sheer coincidence for the heavens to be pouring that day as this was exactly the same scenario that had inspired this Brit to put a mobile disco into a tiny box of a handphone some three years ago.

In recalling a walk on a busy street in India, Mycroft remembers the sounds of nature being drowned out by the jarring sound of metal works in the background. Then he spotted a young man wearing a pair of earphones, obviously trying his best to sort out the music amidst the surrounding din.

“My first thought was: ‘Why not make a louder phone?’” recalls Mycroft.

The idea, which has materialised into two strips of wafer-thin speakers by the side of the X6, also led to the creation of an advanced music player where songs can be downloaded into an 8GB microSD card. Feedback reveals that the X6 is an effective alarm clock, too.

The business of putting big ideas into little boxes is not alien to Mycroft who, as a boy, would cut out cereal boxes and paste the openings with clear plastic to make them look like computers.

To get on the same wavelength with this digital designer who is constantly looking at how he can change the way we see and interact, you’d have to imagine a mind that is able to bridge technology with everyday life.

“The first thing about making successful use of technology is to look into what’s natural and intuitive to its users,” says Mycroft.

Relevance the key

Using the slim speakers on the X6 as an example, he reveals that he could have opted to use sound bugs, which can turn any flat surface into a speaker. The drawback was, being the size of tea cups, they were not small enough.

“Here, making something intuitive for a mobile phone user, is to have something that he can put into his pocket and not to have to lug a lumpy object around. The day will come eventually, and this is where a close relationship with the innovative product groups comes in,” explains Mycroft.

Understanding human nature is a subject that is very close to Mycroft’s heart, having gone as far as sitting among the slum dwellers in Bombay just so that he could get a first-hand feel of how people from different walks of life live.

“I see how they go out, do business, arrange to meet their friends. I find out about things that are important to them. Then comes the part where these lifestyle habits can be related to the digital world, to bring about a more convenient way for people to live, so to speak. The keyword here is relevance. People must be able to use the technology easily,” says Mycroft.

And yes, even this boss – who studied industrial design at Manchester University, completed an MBA in design management at Harrow Business School, and has seven designers under his charge – has had his ideas shot down occasionally.

“I once thought I had a great idea about making a fashion phone, sporting different skins to match the seasons, like a handbag. It didn’t even pass the drawing board, chiefly because a phone is supposed to adapt to the user, not the other way around,” he smiles sheepishly.

Still, to have Mycroft’s way of thinking requires a bit of mind-bending, a skill he honed while pursuing a foundation course at the Chelsea School of Art in London.

“One of the first things that I learned to do was to see things as they are and not imagine them to be what I think they should look like.

“Take a covered chair, for example. If I asked you to describe the shape, you’d tell me that it has four legs, even without peeking under the covering. That’s looking at things as what’s already there. I had to break away from this mindset and look at the world without making assumptions,” says Mycroft.

Envisioning the future

Careerwise, Mycroft started on his first job at P13, a London-based design agency where he translated brands into tangible experiences. After that, he joined Frazer Design, an agency developing consumer electronics, and then, Philips in the Netherlands, where he was part of the consumer electronics design team. He joined Nokia in 2006, creating new concepts for lifestyle products.

In retrospect, while Mycroft could have opted to travel the path of an artist and run the circuit of gallery exhibitions, he admits that it is the very idea of technology that has pushed him to place his talents in a more relevant world.

Having fiddled with computers since the 1970s, thanks to easy access to the community library and being exposed to his mother’s architectural work in designing houses for Richard Rogers (a well-known architect in Britain), his entry into the world of digital design was a natural course.

In the end, the function of digital design, says Mycroft, who leads the team behind Nokia’s range of musical devices, is not only about aesthetics.

“It is about envisioning the future and, to do this, one cannot have a mindset that is stuck in the past. You’d go nowhere this way,” says Mycroft.

As for what is to come, Mycroft says that the day will arrive when mobile Internet becomes so advanced that a person in Bombay will be able to have meetings with someone from across the globe via video conference on his phone. This is when distance and time will become irrelevant.

His job will then be to present this software interface to the person on the street, and making it so user-friendly that even a five-year-old can use it.

Published in The Star, Star Two, on 18th February 2010.

Say Gong Xi! Gong Xi!

It’s the Year of the Tiger and Sunday Metro goes on the prowl to find out how celebrities and personalities spend their new year.

CHINESE New Year is often associated with noise, the good kind, of course. The loud bursts of fire crackers (despite the fact that the practice is banned), the clash of cymbals and sonorous beat of the drums accompanying the lion dances, and everyone wishing each other “Gong Xi Fa Cai” all add up to the cacophony of sounds that is the celebration of the festive occasion.

Home boy: Michael Wong has never celebrated Chinese New Year anywhere except Ipoh .

Ipoh-born singer, composer and actor Michael Wong, who is based in Taiwan, sums up this yeet lau mood pretty well.

“It’s a fantastic time that I love because everything is so ‘happy’. Happy songs, happy colours, happy people everywhere.”

Wong, who is best known for his hit single, Tong Hua (Fairy Tale), has never celebrated Chinese New Year anywhere except Ipoh where he gets to be with his nephews and nieces and they help him to forget about work!

For Sino-Kadazan Roger Wang, a solo acoustic guitarist based in Kota Kinabalu, the important thing is to spend this auspicious occasion with loved ones.

Chinese New Year has always been about family and relatives for Wang. Hence, he wants his his three-year-old daughter to meet everyone in the extended family.

Of course, the new year is also synonymous with food and a time to tuck in his mother’s Hakka cuisine, especially her sumptious kau yook, which is steamed pork belly with yam.

As Wang was born in the year of the Tiger, he is confident that all his efforts will mirror the courage, power and authority of this animal. For celebrity cook Agnes Chang, “going home” means travelling from her base in Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to be with her 85-year-old mother, her three grown children and six grandchildren for 10 days.

To let her put up her feet and not slave over the stove, her children will be treating her to a grand reunion dinner in a restaurant. But there is no keeping this chef from her wok and the doting mum will endeavour to cook all her children’s favourite dishes during her stay in Singapore. Among her signature dishes are stuffed oysters and Chinese cabbage soup with abalone and seafood.

At home: Agnes Chang (top) will be with her 85-year-old mother, her three grown children and six grandchildren in Singapore.

She says during Chinese New Year, she always remembers her late mother-in-law, a Teochew.

“She never failed to say ‘sin chia ju yee’ (which means peace and success throughout the year) when I served her tea on the first day of Chinese New Year,” Chang recalls. “In reply, I would say ‘tang tang ju yee’ which reciprocates the greeting.”

However, not everyone will be joining their families for the reunion dinner.

Hannah Tan, singer-songwriter and TV personality, will be one of those who will be missing out on her ang pau collection. This year, Tan will be in Tokyo for work. As the Japanese Government does not recognise Chinese New Year as a public holiday, it will be a working day for her. But being the tech savvy chick that she is, Tan will be extending her Chinese New Year wishes to her family in Kuching via Skype.

Zhang Zhi Chen (Z-Chen), the Malaysian singer who is based in Taiwan, is not as upbeat as Tan when it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year away from home.

Recalling the time when he had to do a few shows in Taipei during Chinese New Year five years ago, he says: “It was weird because it was filled with emptiness and loneliness.”

For Zhang, who is Fish Leong’s cousin, there will be no joy without his mother’s special yong tau fu and mahjong with his family.

Victor Tseng, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia, says he will not be going back to Taiwan and his two daughters will not be joining him for the reunion dinner here.

Staying put: Victor Tseng, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia , will remain in KL this Chinese New Year.

But he will nevertheless be kept busy making his round of visits to official functions and open houses in Malaysia.

Due to the nature of his job as a diplomat, spending Chinese New Year away from home is common. Considering that Taiwan is just a short four-and-a-half-hour flight away from here, Tseng says that his trips home are frequent enough throughout the rest of the year.

Naturally, Tseng has plenty of interesting tales to tell of his Chinese New Year experiences in foreign lands. In New York, for example, he was asked to make a lion head “come alive”. This is done by dotting the lion’s head with red vermillion and saying “Tien Lei Ti Tung”, a prayer which seeks the favour of the God of Thunder to stabilise the earth. It was an elaborate ceremony which saw two lion dance schools pitting their skills against each other and the paper shreds from the exploding firecrackers formed an inch-thick carpet on the streets. Later, Tseng found out that the organiser was the head of a Chinese triad!

Danny New, the violinist for the band It’s An Honest Mistake, which won the Voize Independent Music Award 2010 for the Best College Act, remembers a childhood which had been largely spent overseas. While in the United States and Thailand, New, whose father is a banker, made many Asian friends and had a gala time watching lion dances in city parades, having lou sang house parties, lighting firecrackers and doing the usual round of visiting.

Double celebration: The band members of An Honest Mistake (from left: Danny New, Darren Teh, and Kevin and Leonard Chua ) are celebrating both CNY and Valentine’s Day.

As Chinese New Year also falls on Valentine’s day this year, some will be opting for a double celebration. Leonard Chuah, the lead guitarist of the band, says he plans to send his girlfriend Mandarin oranges shaped in a bouquet complete with an ang pau (from his parents, of course) in Seremban.

Malaccan-born Lim She Ting, the NTV 7 Mandarin news reader, will be expecting her fiancĂ© to bring her a take-away of fried rice with abalone on New Year’s Eve as she will be working over Chinese New Year. This year will be extra poignant for her as it will be the last time she is receiving ang pau. To find out who the lucky beau is, catch her on The Breakfast Show tomorrow at 8.30am on 8TV.

In line with the festive mood and the Chinese tradition of uttering “auspicious words”, Danielle Dai, the host of Women’s Zone on NTV 7, is counting on her son’s ability to master a few choice phrases.

She hopes to get her 15-month-old son to wish the family “Gong Xi, Gong Xi” this year. He will be dressed in his new gold and red Chinese suit, she says, adding that she has been coaching him in preparation for visits to her friends’ homes in Kuala Lumpur.

For Kuala Pilah-born Fish Leong, who is the Queen of Love Songs to fans in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Singapore, this will be her first Chinese New Year as a married woman.

Leong, who tied the knot with Tony Zhao on Feb 1 in the Philippines, has this message for her fans. “Let’s hope that the stars of luck will smile favourably upon all of you for continuous good fortune and luck. Everyone should remember to smile and to be brave in facing all challenges for the coming year.”

Published in The Star 14th February 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Muscle Bike For a Muscle Hunk

Story and Photos by Grace Chen

Ask Terry Gallyot, Mr Asia 1999, who the real love in his life is and he’ll tell you it’s none other than his Harley Softail Springer 92/93. Of course, there is a Penang girl in the picture, but we will not go there. CBT is not a gossip pullout.

Just for a bit of epiphany, the Harley is Gallyot’s second ‘wife’ and it was very much a case of love at first sight when this muscle hunk set eyes on the V-twin 1340 cc stunner at a friend’s workshop in 1998 and decided that it was time for him to part ways with his Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic which he had been riding on for the past six years.

Parting with the Vulcan, as Gallyot reveals, was one of those long goodbyes. After all, it was the Vulcan that got him initiated into Headhunters MC, a motorbike club. Man and machine were initiated into the club in Phuket and while Gallyot prefers to keep the details of his initiation rite private, he discloses that it is not uncommon for newcomers to have to walk around in a box or to have their eyes blindfolded as they are asked to drink a ‘mysterious’ concoction.

Still, the split was inevitable. Gallyot has no regrets however, as he reckons that the Kawasaki had been the closest thing he could afford at that time and any avid biker will tell you that having any bike was better than none.

“Just like wanting to be a bodybuilder has always been in me, it’s the same way with the Harley. When I saw it gleaming at me in the workshop, I knew that we were meant to be together and the first sign was in the Malaccan number plate, my hometown,” recalls Gallyot.

To show off his new ride, one of the very first things that Gallyot did was to make a grand entrance with his new metal bride at the Mr Commonwealth event Melaka in 1998.

“When I reached the check-in area, there was a mixed reaction when I walked in with my leather outfit and Headhunter vest. I must have looked like a character out of ‘Terminator’ which was a stark difference from the other competitors who were looking tense and nervous,” recalls Gallyot who earned a second place in the event.

Gallyot’s affair with his Harley was no doubt an intense one. In the early days of their courtship, it was quite the custom thing for Gallyot to do a disappearing act (even while his gym was running on full!) just so that he could take his bike out for a quickie- a ride round the block and back. These, insisted this 125kg owner of Ultimate Gym in Wangsa Maju, were orgasmic moments. The rumble, the response of the throttle, the very thrill of riding on a Harley-it is a subject that Gallyot could write a book on.

“The Harley is a sturdy construction of steel, not unlike the Japanese models which is full of plastic bits which can easily shatter into smithereens on impact. A Harley however, can cut right through a car. That’s how tough it is,” says Gallyot

For Gallyot and his iron horse, being hefty, tough and macho is what life should be about.

“Don’t even suggest the idea of having ‘Hello Kitty’ painted on my bike. I’d break it!” exclaims Gallyot.

Not the type who will shy away from intimate details, it does not take much for Gallyot to talk about the more personal aspects of his machine.

To increase performance power, a two into one Thunderheader exhaust was fitted to boost back pressure and compression. The original fuel tank was replaced with a bigger 5 gallon tank and at present is able to go to about 350km on a full tank. That works out to about RM30 for a ride from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. A high flow petcock and an S & S carburetor was also added on. As Gallyot describes it, an extra bit of surge would be a great help especially when it comes to moving a King Kong sized rider like him along.

For better braking, twin calipers have been installed on both sides.

“I thought a bit of added braking power would come in handy when it comes to stopping. After all my bike and I are pretty heavy,” says Gallyot.

He also opted for drag handle bars for aerodynamic purposes and a La Pera Gunfighter seat for a more streamlined look, just so that it would not look like he was sitting on an overstuffed pillow. For a touch of unique subtlety, a special kind of black on black wrinkle effect paint in the shape of flames was airbrushed on the front fender. To give the wheels a chunkier look, Gallyot opted for Fat Boy solid aluminium disc rims. The engine and the Softail rolling chassis remains untouched as Gallyot does not want to run the risk of ruining the bike’s soul.

Expectedly, man and machine had some wild days. In the past, before the running of Ultimate Gym took up most of his waking hours, Gallyot would ride down to Hard Rock Café on Fridays, wait till the place was near closing time, jam the front brakes and spin the back wheels and smoke the place out.

“On one side, the manager would be running up to me and telling me to stop because he was afraid that I would chase all his customers away. The customers, on the other hand, would be clapping and asking me to do more,” laughs Gallyot.

For someone who is prone to such crazy stunts, it is sobering to hear Gallyot’s reminder that at any time, a motorbike will only have 2.54 cm of tyre touching the ground. That’s not much traction to speak of and the risk of losing that balance is ever present.

“If you wipeout, you might kill an innocent bystander. Remember that this person may have family and children. Killing him will effect everybody around him. So just think of that the next time you decide to have a few seconds of thrill,” says Gallyot.

For more bike and muscle talk with Gallyot, he can be found at Ultimate Gym, 12-2, Jalan 1/27F, K.L.S.C. Wangsa Maju, 53300, KL. Tel: 03-41436214. Open from 12pm.