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Pil Seung

Location: Penang, Malaysia

September 29, 2006

The King of Rambutan

Rambutan is a pretty common fruit here. Everyone loves it. Here in Malaysia, we are lucky that we can enjoy it fresh from the tree. However, there is a catch. Having a rambutan tree in front of your house means you have to bear with ants, black and red, fast running and slow crawling types.

If you talk to friends who used to stay in the "kampung", they will tell you there is something more succulent than rambutan, i.e. the pulasan. It is not just a cousin of the rambutan, but people call it the king of rambutan. It is native to the Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia). Pulasan, rambutan, longan, and lychee are from the same Sapindaceae family.

Scientific name for rambutan is nephelium lappaceum, while surprisingly for pulasan, it is nephelium ramboutan-ake. It has a botanical synonym too, nephelium mutabile.
Malay name : buah pulasan
Thai name : ngoh-khonsan
Filipino name : bulala
Spanish name : pulasán
Dutch name : kapoelasan

I bought a few kilograms of pulasan at Carrefour two weeks ago at RM 4.00 / kg. They have never sold it before. My friend, one kilogram is not much considering its size and the weight of its skin (or shell). That was my first time in life seeing and eating pulasan. Once you have tasted pulasan, you don't want rambutan anymore. Damn good !!!

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September 27, 2006

Capsicum chinense jacquin

My first encounter with Habanero chilli was in the year 1999. At the groceries store in Oregon, it was sold along side with other varieties such as Anaheim, Jalapeño, Serrano, etc. It led me to do some searches on the Internet and found that it is one of the hottest in the world. TheScarms has more information on this exotic plant.

Fellow blogger, Khanasai helped me to get started with this minor agricultural project. I like to plant something that can be eaten rather than just beautiful flowers. It could be due to the fact that my favourite pastime is enjoying food. Only 2 pots of chilli for now, and of course, will multiply them from the seeds later.

I took many photos of my beloved chille plants, but since I am a newbie in photography, I consulted my co-worker who is also fellow blogger, Loctor Mayat to sort out those that cannot be shown to the public. I need to practise more.

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September 26, 2006

Parable - The Lonely Ember

After completing my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, there was a period that we were kind of "free to explore the world" for a short while. SPM is the Malaysian equivalent to the British General Certificate of Education - Ordinary Level (GCE 'O' Level). While waiting for the result, many of us were very eager to try out what it was like in the real working world. At the same time, some of us took some short courses as well, but that will be another story on its own. Earning some pocket money was something great rather than asking from our parents.

One of the interesting places to work was the KFC outlet. Back then it was still known as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Every year, this is the time for companies that need temporary manpower to recruit people. Between the employer and the potential employee, there is something known as "connection". Friends introducing friends. A friend of mine told me that there were a few vacancies in the "sales and marketing" line. The working world was very new to us and of course, we were pretty eager to "contribute to the total household income".

We joined a direct selling company. Well, it was really a direct selling company where we were paid a low monthly salary and we got commissions from our individual sales. Very much different than today's multi-level marketing companies where you have to join as a member, pay membership fees, "front loading", "you-don't-have-to-sell-anything", blah, blah, blah... disgusting. We were taught to do product demonstrations in a way that exaggerate the capability of the products. We learned the psychology of doing sales as well. Anyway, we later knew that the majority of the public did not welcome our presence too.

At that time, the Swedish Electrolux products were not sold in stores in this part of the world. They were sold though the direct selling method. The cheapest appliance was the vacuum cleaner which carried a hefty price tag of RM 1300, i.e. about USD 520 (In those days, the exchange rate was USD 1 = RM 2.50). Due to the nature of the job, team spirit was very important. We also had to ensure that all of us attended all the training sessions. During one of the training sessions, our team lead, Golf Papa, a man in his early forties at that time, shared with us a parable. By the way, he is a Christian. I found the story on The StoryBin recently and here it goes.

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going.

After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.

Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.

After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.

As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.

Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday."

September 25, 2006

The Chinese Malaysian beef story

I have been missing from blogging for 2 months again. As usual, bloggers will say that they are busy. It is true though. Looking deeper, it is all due to priorities. Every one of us has limited amount of time. When we decide to do something else first, we put it as priority numero uno, and de-prioritize blogging. Sometimes, we just take blogging for granted. We should be grateful that we still have this last frontier of freedom. Yeah! So, let's start blogging again.

Many people say that Malaysian is a plural society. However, we still remain separated and we don't actually understand each other cultures. There are many examples f0r this topic. However, there is one interesting practice by the Chinese Malaysian which I think, they don't even understand. When we were young, we were "trained" by many people that Buddhists do not eat beef. I was lucky that my father did not emphasize this kind of superstition on us. If you eat at a Malay "warong", "gerai", restaurant, or whatever, some of our Malay comrades who have less contact with the Chinese will look at you like you are an alien. Some will ask you in order to "double confirm" and explain to you specifically that the dish you ordered contains beef. Not too worry about this, but "Why the hell Malaysian Buddhists don't eat beef?"

To start with, many Chinese Malaysians who claimed to be Buddhists are not Buddhists. They are just "following" the Confucius teaching and mixing some of the Taoist rituals. However, the government just labels it as Buddhism. Surprisingly, many Chinese do not know how to differentiate too.

When you ask, people will tell you that it is because they pray to the deity Guan Yin. This is the simplest answer that you can get. Of course, it has multiple versions of legends associated with this statement. One version is that, the father of the deity Guan Yin was the "king of cows" and thus, it is a respect we show to deity Guan Yin. Some people come out with a standalone version where Buddhists respect cows for their contribution towards mankind. Cows supply milk to man, and do all the hard work in the field, etc.

Some people tried to linked this to the Indians who are mainly Hindus. As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was born a Hindu, abstinence from beef is a Hindu tradition that goes to China hand-in-hand with Buddhism. I thought it was Bodhidharma who brought Buddhism to China. Anyway, this is not so important here because we are talking about Chinese Malaysians. If someone tries to link it to the Indian Malaysians who are predominantly from Tamil Nadu, it does not make sense too as the Chinese and Indians are separated by the British under the "divide-and-rule" strategy. The Chinese worked in tin mines while the Indians worked in rubber estates.

Chinese Malaysians will be surprised that out of Malaysia and Singapore, beef is always present in the menu in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. People in these countries practise Buddhism too. The Goddess of Compassion (Guan Shi Yin Pu Sha) is known as Kanzeon Bosatsu in Japan, Kwan Se Eum Bosal in Korea, and Quan The Am Bo Tat in Vietnam. On the other hand, food lovers know the Japanese Matsuzaka-Gyu (松坂牛) very well. You can see beef in sukiyaki, teppanyaki, shabu-shabu, etc. Bulgogi is synonymous with Korean food, like Kimchi. Needless to say, my favourite Vietnamese beef noodle. So, "everyone" is eating beef, "What on earth is happening in Malaysia?"

This is just a speculation. Back in the days where the British took in loads of Chinese from mainland China to work in tin mines in Malaya, they might have planned this in advance. Due to the "divide-and-rule" policy, Malays, Chinese, and Indians were segregated to different industries and areas of residence. Since the Hindu Indians do not eat beef, they will not interact with the Malays when they need to buy meat. Indians and Chinese would not meet each other that much as the Chinese were mostly staying in towns and cities, while the Indians were mainly staying in rubber plantations. To ensure the Malays stayed away from the Chinese, it was important that the Chinese ate pork. As pig is "haram" in Islam, it would be easy for the British tell the Malays that these Chinese were unclean and eating "najis". Stay away from them!

Before the Chinese came to Malaya in big groups, there could be some or no pigs at all in Malaya. It will be easier for those to bring a pig with them on the boat than a cow. Once they were here, they started rearing pigs. Of course, pig rearers would encourage Chinese to eat pork. Otherwise, they would lose business. There was no turning back since then. Some people might cook up of a few excellent stories to keep Chinese from trying alternatives. Those local Chinese gangsters who usually involved in "associations" and "temples" might be responsible for those "don't-eat-beef" legends to keep their lucrative pork businesses. According to Kevin Hogan in his book, "The Psychology of Persuasion", 85% of the people are conformist. When it comes to religion, it is really easy to "influence" people in the name of god or goddess.

Fast forward to today. One of the famous legacies from the pork eating culture in Malaysia is the Bak Kut Teh, a Chinese Malaysian dish which you won't be able to find in China. I just guess that was how Chinese Malaysian evolve into eating pork and stay away from beef.