Tuesday, September 27, 2011

THEY WILL BE MISSED

Sometime last week, I found out that R.E.M had decided to disband after 31 long years of making music. Though I knew they've been around for a long, long time, the knowledge that it was 31 years actually took me by surprise.

I got to know R.E.M back in 2001 when the song Imitation of Life was repeatedly played. The video, a pool side party in a reversed sequence was equally fascinating. I suppose that song made them popular in these parts, and two years later while Bad Day was receiving lots of airplay due to In Time, I actually won this CD of theirs in a promotional contest organised by a music TV station, which I listened to a lot back then due to my *limited CD collection (Channel V - which for some strange reason has ceased airing it's programmes here since last year) In a freak accident while cleaning up, the CD fell off the shelf and broke into two.

Eventually, over the noughties, I ended up being exposed to a lot of their stuff to the point that at one time, my MP3 player was actually dominated by R.E.M songs. Even iTunes, recently, in an attempt to allow it some independence in picking music for me, decided that I should listen to R.E.M among some other stuff it picked out for me.

Now, I can't really say I'm a great big fan of R.E.M - if i was, I'd have probably known that they've been making music for 31 years. I just like them, and find their music among those I like to listen to, not just the songs from In Time, but other songs as well. But somehow, the knowledge that they have decided to call it quits seems to be like an end of something, and it made me think something like - 'there goes another band that I actually like to listen to'. They will be missed. Indeed.

* CDs are insanely expensive here, hence the limited collection.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part VI - Volcanoes and The End

continued from The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part V

Although I had not mentioned anything about geothermal activity throughout any of the past posts from the Big North Sumatera Adventure series, Lake Toba and the areas surrounding it was actually once a very active area, so active indeed that whatever it was that formed Lake Toba was a supervolcano that erupted over 73000 years ago. 

Mount Sibayak and Mount Sinabung are both located near Berastagi. While Sibayak spews out sulphuric vapour every single day, having last erupted in 1881, Mount Sinabung had erupted just slightly less than 2 months before our visit. There also happens to be place where they had pools of hot water from the geothermal activity in that area. It looked like it was an extremely popular thing to do (so many people!), but we didn't take a dip there. 

We went back to the now cleaned up hotel, and stayed in for the rest of the night after dinner. We found a creepy looking 'mini house' with glasses in them behind the block where our room was, suspecting that it is used as a place where they keep a 'guardian' of some sort. We can't verify that, though, but it still creep-ed the hell out of the sister and I. 

 
Mt Sinabung

Mt Sibayak


The next day, we headed back to the Medan for our flight back. Before that, though we stopped at the market to look at stuff- like I said, we weren't there to buy fruits and lug them back all on a plane! We reached Medan by lunch time, had some lunch and had plenty of time to spend before having to get back to the airport. Now, while some cities may be interesting, I cannot say the same for Medan, especially not after seeing what the countryside had to offer. It was one shopping mall after the next. One thing though, they seem to place utmost care on their environment. There was this one mall which was built around a huge tree instead of them chopping it down, which I thought was wonderful. We did buy some stuff at the mall, though - just to finish up our converted currency, and sat and ate some lovely waffles with blue mint ice cream and lots of chocolate sauce.

We had some dinner, and then it was time to go. Surprisingly, at the airport, we were reunited with our little lost luggage, the pink duffel bag.

Both my sister and I agree that this is one of the best trips we've ever had in terms of relaxation. I also have to add here that we had the most awesome guide ever. He asked us to call him Do (and channeled a bit of Fraulein Maria by doing the Do Re Mi Fa So to emphasise the point, ha ha). He actually told us that he's not really keen on his job as a tour guide, but despite that he took real good care of us, had the same definition for punctuality as the both of us which made everyone happy.

The End.

THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND AT IT'S BEST

Over the past twelve to thirteen years, I've mostly been a light sleeper, unless I'm not feeling well, where I could sleep *like a dead log for hours and hours. I also happen to wake up with the sun - even in a darkened room, alas, although this makes waking up in the mornings extremely easy, much to the envy of those who often oversleep.

On Friday morning, however, I found it incredibly **difficult to wake up. The gentle tune of AC Newman's Prophets woke me up with a start at 6:15 am. I groaned as I hit the snooze button. (I do this every morning, but on most days, I'm usually really awake by 6:15 am. I hit the snooze button to fool myself that I'm getting an extra 10 minutes of sleep. Somehow, this actually works wonders)

Reluctantly, I got up, but found my toothbrush missing from it's holder. I looked under the holder, behind the place where the toothpaste was kept and even inside the bathroom sink to no avail (I had once lost a toothbrush, and it was found much later inside the bathroom sink although there was no way it could ever go there by itself) Resigned that I had lost my toothbrush, I went looking for a new one, and realised something was really wrong when I was inside a shop which had rows and rows of toothbrushes in many different designs on the shelves. And then AC Newman sang again.

Turns out, my ten minute snooze had my subconscious mind trying to convince me that if I couldn't get up and get to work on time, I could always give the excuse that my toothbrush went missing and I had to get a new one from the shop!

*  My parents often used to say this about people who could sleep so well that they are oblivious to the happenings around them
** Due to the flu medicine I had taken the night before. I only took it after 10 pm, and the effects had not fully worn off by the time I had to wake up.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Random Thoughts

1. It just hit me that I haven't done any random posts in awhile. And no, I can't explain why either...

2. I actually thought I had escaped unscathed from the flu that came visiting recently. I managed to get some rest and actually got better. This morning, however, I found myself sneezing violently again.

3. Which is worse? Having a colleague ask you if you are greying (at the age of 31), or finding out that the 'grey' is actually white paint that splashed onto your hair while you were investigating a problem with the particular paint?


Sunday, September 18, 2011

AND WHERE IS THAT AGAIN?

Around two years ago, a rather spiffy gadget walked into my life and ever since then, things seem so much clearer. My life suddenly had direction. And the gadget? (Drumrolls please! The GPS unit. Ha ha) 

Now, I've had a friend of a friend say that GPS usage makes you stop thinking as you try to make your way to a certain destination, and although I am the kind of person who is all for thinking, I just cannot toss the GPS unit away. You see, in the old days (before google maps and all), if I had to go somewhere new, I'd pick up the street directory and study it like I was going to sit for an exam using it's contents, copy important directions down neatly and store the copy as well as the original map in the car. One day before having to make the journey, I'd take the car, and the map and the copy, as well as the whole family and we'd all ply the route together to get it right before I attempted it on my own the next day or so. This method worked fine most of the time, but there was once, even with the one day before trial route, when I took the wrong ramp, realised it a bit too late and ended up in a long road to nowhere and didn't know how to turn back. I stopped at a petrol station to ask for the way back to not much help as the man at the petrol station himself wasn't sure which way I had to take. Thank goodness I had a colleague who knew the area well and he guided me out of the road to nowhere (it was actually leading to this place called Jinjang) via phone.

I just cannot bring myself to relive days like that.

Earlier, I was looking up the directions to a book warehouse sale, thinking that I should at least just go and check it out, but as much as I searched, I couldn't seem to find the given address on the GPS unit. In fact, the name of the street given leads me all the way to Singapore! A search on google maps indicated the same problem - not that it led me to Singapore or anything, but the name of the street just didn't exist on the map. After some more searching, it turns out that when you search for the place with the address given in the newspaper ad - Jalan Bersatu, Section 13/4, Petaling Jaya, google maps just gets all confused. Referring to an older map on the official site of the sale organiser to the following - Jalan 13/4 Section 13 Petaling Jaya, and suddenly, google maps and the GPS unit nod their imaginary heads and say - 'easy peasy' ;)

Anyway, some time back, a friend put up a google map *glitch which I thought was hilarious. This is what you do:
1. Go to google maps
2. Click on get directions
3. On A type China
4. On B type Taiwan
5. Get Directions
6. Check that it's on G70
7. Scroll down to direction no 56
8. Laugh.

*for the lack of a better word

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part V


continued from here: The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part IV 

The Journey to Berastagi 

The lake ends here
We left Samosir Island right after breakfast the next day by hopping onto the ferry and sailing out of there, bidding farewell to the lake. However, we still had a long journey ahead of us, once again through the winding inland roads, and through some really magnificent scenery after a rather early lunch.



One thing about Lake Toba is that it's elongated (check out the map above), and even as you drive away from it, you keep getting glimpses of the lake from the long, winding road, until you reach a certain point, that is, where the lake ends.  The moment you drive out of that road, there's no looking back, and no more lake. I don't know about my sister, but I did feel a wee bit sad when we had to leave that final bit of the lake.

Near the end point of the lake, however, is the Sipiso-Piso waterfall, named as such due to the narrow stream of water that makes the waterfall (Sipiso-piso means knife) Over here, you can actually walk down to the bottom using a set of built in stairs which makes going down safe, but coming up seem like a massive workout in the gym! Nevertheless, the view is simply breathtaking that the 'workout' is worth it. We didn't go right to the bottom, however. 

Sipiso-piso waterfall. Cuts like a knife ;)
After the waterfall, we headed away towards Berastagi, stopping for a bit at this farmstead where my sister got her Farmville fix. Cough. 


Adventure in Berastagi

Berastagi is another town in the highlands, famed for flowers and fruits, not that we were interested in fruits or flowers for that matter. It's just that you could check out a couple of volcanoes, and it's basically part of the normal trip anyone would take when they are in North Sumatera. The plan was basically to check in the hotel, and then go out back again. 

Just our luck! We arrived at the hotel amidst police patrol cars and debris on the street. People were grouped around the streets looking weary, and from what we could see, something particularly serious had happened there earlier. Turns out, a political figure had been there earlier (campaign, speech, we're not really sure), and there was a 'small' riot which explains the police and the debris. The hotel wasn't spared either as the glass walls and doors which encased the lobby were cracked in places. I initially thought someone had thrown a small bomb at the place. (Note: I'm not complaining about this, though... I've never seen anything like it, and found it interesting. This whole vacation had been filled with firsts - first time holidaying together with the sister, first time losing the luggage, first time seeing destruction from a riot first hand) 

Seeing the situation, we had to make an impromptu change of plans by visiting the volcanoes and the surrounding area first while the hotel staff did the cleaning and ensured that the place was safe.

Note: I took the map off the internet (google images and forgot which site it was). Photos in the North Sumatera series are all from my camera, though

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Indecision

Like a girl who can't decide what to wear and keeps changing her outfit, I keep changing the way my blog looks even when I'm down with the flu. Don't know when this madness will end. If it ever ends!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

I have been struggling with reading "The Descent of Man: The Concise Edition" for the past few months - since somewhere in February this year. In between, due to my frustration at being unable to digest the words as my eyes move over them from left to right and top to bottom, I had gone on a holiday and took it along with me for 'reading up in the air', left it in my bag with hopes that I'll pick it up again, read plenty of other books, and finally decided to neglect it in favour of reading lighter material. What's really horrifying about this is:

a) It's the bloody concise version! Imagine if I had the actual lengthy version  that goes on and on in my hands...
b) The topic is actually one of particular interest, and having the words pass you by is really, really bad. IMHO. 

I picked it up again about two weeks ago, seeing that I had a long break and could probably read it in a few sittings, but it wasn't meant to be as I suddenly had plenty of other things to do as well. I managed to reread the parts I thought I had covered earlier and I progressed further than I had over the period of the few months during the first attempt, but I still have a quarter of the book to go through. 

This time, however, I noticed something disturbing while reading the book. When I said that the words just dance in front of my eyes without registering any meaning whatsoever, that is what they actually did, and this they did without fail when I tried reading the book after coming home from work. I don't know how or when this started happening, but my brains seem to go on auto hibernation mode the moment I get back.

I can't read, I can't focus enough to churn out a proper blog post or write anything else for that matter, I don't even want to make the effort to switch on the modem to go online and stalk people on Facebook or listen to stuff on youtube, or even follow links on wikipedia and read interesting stuff. All I can do, is have some food, watch a disturbing episode of Law and Order (SVU), and then sleep. I think I'm in trouble.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part IV - The Lady of the Lake

Continued from here: North Sumatera Adventure Part III

While the name of the hotel escapes me, the memories of it will remain forever. There it was, right in front of the lake, the cold, chilly wind blowing against your face. Everywhere you look, you see the dark blue and green hues of the lake. But before anything else, we'll begin with something we observed behind the door of the room.

Tired? Or just a lazy ass? Ha Ha!
As I mentioned in one of the earlier posts, Lake Toba is one of the most relaxing places on the face of the planet, and there is nothing you really want to do other than relax, although I did read a bit at night, I was knocked out cold by 9:30 pm. That night I had a dream.

I was sleeping or at least was under the assumption that I was, firmly wrapped up underneath the blanket because it was cold. The wind was blowing, and the curtain billowed a little. It takes me awhile to realise there's a lady in the room. Slightly old and small sized, and dressed in a somewhat traditional looking costume, she makes her way towards the right hand side of my bed. She speaks to me in the local language (which is similar to the Malaysian language) asking me where the bathroom is. I point her towards the bathroom, saying something along the lines of there it is in Malay (which I presumed she understood). She thanks me, moves away and looks over my sister sleeping on the bed next to mine. My sister is in deep sleep and doesn't move, so the lady moves away towards the bathroom and disappears into it. 

What I find interesting though, is how vivid and real the dream was. You see, most of my dreams are always a mesh of things and places and people, for instance university friends doing some strange project in my primary school, or people whom I've only met online recently joining in a conversation with me and my grandfather who died 15 years ago. This dream on the other hand clearly occurred in the room I was in at that time and involved only my sister. The only odd thing about the dream is that it involved the old lady who came from nowhere and disappeared into our bathroom. What if she was really the lady of the lake and more than just a dream?

Edit: The sister says it was called Toledo Inn.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Big North Sumatera Adventure Part III

Continued from here

Simanindo is another part of Samosir Island. Here, we sat down under a small house-like structure to watch a local traditional dance. The dance itself had 7 steps and while at that time we actually had a paper explaining each step to us, the paper is nowhere to be seen now. Yes, I had not taken notes during this travel because I didn't want to get all touristy, and just wanted to sit back and relax, so I'm afraid there's not much information here. ONE thing I can tell, though is that at the end of the dance, the dancers will beckon you to join them in their dance. My two left feet trembled in fear. Would it be polite to decline? Could we just run away? Thankfully, it started drizzling there and then, and me and my two left feet, (as well as the sister and her two left feet) were saved from having to dance, and the dancers were saved from having to witness the worst dancers ever. So, it was a win-win situation.
The dance. It was still shining at this point before the rain saved us all.

We travelled a bit for lunch as most places were closed. It was Sunday, after all. The guide finally found us a place to eat at what looked like a restaurant run by a family. The proprietors were lovely people, and the food was excellent. Here's where we got to try the goldfish from the lake. It was simply delicious, although cooked in a very simple manner.

It may be called a goldfish, but it's definitely not a pet swimming happily in a bowl. I hope.
After lunch, we moved on again to yet another spot on the island, Ambarita. Now, if you're familiar with stories from the area, you might have heard of the Batak people, who at some point were labelled cannibals. And like all stories, the act of cannibalism here was grossly exaggerated, unfortunately. Here in Ambarita, we were told how it was, sans exaggeration. For instance, the acts of cannibalism are not random acts performed on unsuspecting strangers who accidentally stumble upon the path of these people, instead, it is a form of punishment to the vilest of criminals - usually unforgivable crimes involving dark magic, and it only happened in the really old days. 

Basically, when you enter Ambarita, you are met with the tribal village square, where the elders tried the criminal. Behind the square are a few houses, a model of how it was back in the old days
Ambarita: The houses at the background, and the tribal square in the foreground. The tiny chair covered by the box is where the accused criminal sits while the elders mull over his or her crimes.

After the trial, the criminal is brought over to the place where punishment commences. Our guide did a really good demonstration on how it was done, and I should have taken a video, but I had to conserve my phone battery as we had lost our luggage which had all of the chargers. And because I stupidly didn't take notes, I'd forgotten most of what was said.

The tools used during the execution of the criminal and where it is done

Just a few years ago, Lake Toba and the surrounding areas were very popular destinations. These days however, the number of visitors has dwindled and this has apparently affected the livelihood of the locals, especially those whose bread and butter relies on the tourism factor. This was really quite a sad thing, as you can see the ladies in the stalls practically begging you to buy something off them. Though the prices of the things they are selling are relatively cheap, there's only so much souvenirs you can buy before you run out of people to buy them for. 

We headed back to the hotel for the rest of the evening

Saturday, September 03, 2011

I Fought Gravity and Gravity Won

So, after the mishap with the ankle back in March, I've been ultra careful with my movements. I started walking up and downstairs (instead of running up or down, and skipping a step as I usually do), put on an ankle guard each time I go out, etc. But my accident free days were not meant to be.

Last night, I became a human bowling ball while stepping into the bathroom, got reacquainted with the bathroom floor, and somehow managed to hurt my left knee, my right elbow and wrist, the right hand side glutes and the back of my head. All hurt parts are fine now, due to quick action and the fact that I've had practice thanks to my accident proneness!

I don't know how it happened, but I must have slipped, and although I realised I was slipping and would eventually be outdone by gravity, there was no stopping it - I did try, though, which is how I explain the scratch marks on the wrist. I think I was more in shock than I was in pain.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Good Intentions Gone Bad

SPOILER ALERT!!! I'm rather convinced that what I'm about to write in the following paragraphs will include bits and pieces of spoilers from the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so unless you want to know what happened or just couldn't care less, kindly click the X on the tab that accommodates this page and check back in a week for something else - if you want to, that is. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy my less than thrilling take on the movie.

For some reason, fictional scientists are occasionally depicted as deranged and the kind that are out there to destroy the world as we know it, although that is not the case here. In fact, we have an extremely good looking scientist (James Franco! Yum!) who invents the cure to Alzheimer's - a good intention, no doubt, with the exception to how it's carried out in the lab he works in - animal testing, which may seem as an indirect subject approached by the movie - or so I see it. 

However, as experiments are apt to get, something goes terribly wrong, and that's only the beginning, but also the premise of the movie. I recall being riveted to my seat in the beginning scenes when one of the apes literally went ape because the scene was way too realistic. Turns out she had a bundle of surprise for our scientist, in the form of a baby chimp who had the Alzheimer's cure passed on to it, resulting in remarkable intelligence. You also find out why a cure for Alzheimer's is important for the scientist.

Naturally, as all movies go, things take a bad turn all over again, and quite terribly!

And here, you learn that it's not the scientist who's the bad guy, but more so the corporation he works for, in the name of greed, where ethics are tossed into a bin. In fact, looking back on this movie, you realise how terrible human beings are, from the way we treat fellow human beings, to the way we treat other animals for instance, so who can blame the apes for deciding that they have had enough of humans and want to be just left alone? And they did this without intentionally injuring anyone more than they had to, except for this man called Jacobs (Here's a small (and lame) joke - at one time, during the second wave of testing, they brought in an ape called Koba - creepy looking fella, though, who seemed to have a fondness for cookies. After he had been exposed to the Alzheimer's cure, he actually wrote out the word "Jacobs" on the touchscreen, and I actually thought he was referring to this -> Jacobs - the brand of the cookies!)

It makes you question things about animal testing, drugs  and cures for diseases, how wild animals in captivity are kept, the relationship between us and those animals, and actually how strong and scary wild animals can be and many other such things

I found the movie enjoyable and was incredibly glad that I watched it, what with the awesome effects and all. It's also good that they had decided to not use human actors to play the roles of the apes, because it's much more realistic this way. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I can't wait to see what happens next as they ended this movie with two future possibilities.