29 November 2010

Favourite BodyJam Tracks

I've been replacing Les Mills BodyJam classes for the past few weekends, specifically: 30 Oct (FF), 6 Nov (FF), 12 Nov (FF), 13 Nov (FF & FS), and 20 Nov (FF).

Every instructor will invariably have their favourites - these are the songs that are usually crowd pleasers and stuff instructors will pull out when they haven't had time to properly plan a tracklist. Rehearsing for my replacement classes have really made me think of what my members will like vs. what I would enjoy teaching. Hitting the sweet spot between those two requirements is a constant struggle, especially when I don't meet those members every week.

That's a discussion for another day though. Ever wondered if we shared the same favourite tracks? Take a look:

  • BodyJam 33 - Hey Mama: The Black Eyed Peas have that magic touch when it comes to creating beats that make people move! This classic is great when there's 5 minutes in the first half to fill up.
  • BodyJam 34 - Rich Girl: Still one of the sexiest recovery tracks ever. Here's a little bit of BodyJam trivia for you - Since BodyJam 33 (May 2005), only THREE recovery tracks were exclusively sung by white artistes. Gandalf Archer has predominantly favoured urban R&B songs by black singers for recovery tracks. Therefore, doing Rich Girl once in a while provides a nice change of style.
  • BodyJam 37 - Jazz Rock block: One of my all-time favourite blocks that showcase the genius that is Gandalf. I know I'll never get another BodyJam block that is as technical and challenging as this. Although at a long 22 minutes, you never feel it because there's so much to absorb and so many little details to execute. And if you look at it from a choreographer's viewpoint, it's just amazing how G structures the learning process.
  • BodyJam 38 - Ran Kan Kan block: Again, there's so much texture in this Latin block that I can do it for 15 more times and still find something to improve on. Featuring one of the fastest turns in BodyJam, I always find myself coming back to this when I'm bored by the diluted choreography in today's Latin tracks.
  • BodyJam 41 - Trash Jam: I'm a sucker for Jazz tracks and this one is just a cardio killer!
  • BodyJam 44 - Warmup: New Day and Conga make an unlikely alliance to start a class right. Although New Day has some foot work that might confuse new members, Conga is a great way to introduce the Latin feel before more complicated routines later.
  • BodyJam 45 - Warmup: The transition between the intro and the Bollywood hip-hop is pure magic, and so are the moves. It gets pretty dragged out towards the end though.
  • BodyJam 45 - Global Electro block: Super fun and super cardio, again with lots of technical details in the House footwork to master.
  • BodyJam 46: The whole release rocks!
  • BodyJam 47 except Beat Goes On: The majority of this release is also pure BodyJam magic!
  • BodyJam 49: Sandcastle Disco is my favourite warmup ever and the class also finishes with the best Womanizer remix on the planet. WIN.
  • BodyJam 50: Another faultless release, except maybe the fact that it is a cardio killer and I'm always left breathless within 30 minutes!
  • BodyJam 52 - Tektonic Bouncy Madness: The music in this second half really takes the cake - each song makes me want to dance harder and better. The first song sets the party, but the moment Right Hand Hi kicks in, my heart rate lifts just anticipating what's to come.
  • BodyJam 53 - Disco Twenty Ten: Show me one person who doesn't like this. Anyone? The members go absolutely gaga over it!
  • BodyJam 54 - Warmup: Warmups for the past few releases have always started out being chill and groovy. This one was such a nice change - it was like a bolt straight to your heart. And Toni Braxton totally surprised me with Make My Heart.
Other blocks that I really like but do not know how to teach include the Dance4Life block (39), Krump Klub (40), Jam de Podium (42), and Disco (43).

Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, sound out in the comments :)

27 November 2010

First Look: Straits Quay Mall Penang

(Update: Check out the night shots from my second look at Straits Quay.)

Two new malls opened in Penang this week, the centrally located 1st Avenue Mall and the seaside Straits Quay Mall. As I was at Island Plaza for some work-related training this week, I took the opportunity to visit Straits Quay Mall just now. It officially opened today and from the look of things I feel excited about its direction!

There are only a handful of shops currently open for business, but aggressive shop renovations are going on and pretty soon it'll be buzzing with people, especially come Christmastime. I love the feeling of the place, both expansive and expensive! E&O managed to bring the colonial charm of its downtown hotel onto this reclaimed land in Tanjung Tokong. You can't help but feel glamorous walking around this place... until the wallpaper salesman pushes a flyer into your face.

With Gurney Plaza getting unbearably crowded (parking is horrendous and traffic crawls during peak hours), Penang is primed for a refreshed shopping experience. I expect 1st Avenue Mall to absorb the upper middle class urbanites while Straits Quay will squarely aim for the big pocketed.

While the view would undoubtedly be spectacular at night, you'll have to make do with some late afternoon photos shot with a camera phone :) Do yourself a favor and go soak in the nice relaxed atmosphere before the crowds spoil it all come December.

Quick 360 degree view from the quay-side:

Parking ramps are a bit tight so please be careful if you're coming in your Merc S-Class

Inland-facing side

The largest Xmas tree in Penang will be lighted up 3rd Dec 2010

Just imagine side walk cafes in 4 months time

I'd love to celebrate my birthday in the tower

A nice sea facing walkway for families and friends to gather

Nice architectural touches

Question mark?

Some booths have set up operation

Residents can access the mall easily - convenient or security risk?

Getting there: GPS Coordinates 5.45810, 100.31329

View Larger Map

26 November 2010

Lebuh Carnavon Duck Rice

After my negative reviews on a Taiping food court last Friday, I'm afraid today's review won't be equally kind.

There are a few famous Duck Rice stalls in Penang, and this is undoubtedly one of the top. I last had this many years ago and decided to pay a re-visit for the purpose of this blog. Unfortunately we didn't even get to eat it so this is more of a rant post.

The problem is that they do not have a good system of tracking orders. Furthermore the coffee shop operator claims that they are unwilling to hire extra hands. Hence you have a husband who does the butchering and a wife who takes and serves orders to the roughly 30 hungry customers.

What could possibly go wrong?

Take away customers eyeing their lunch hungrily
We arrived at 12.45pm to a packed place, but we found a small table at the far end of the coffee shop. It was actually located along the outside corridor, and so was not highly visible. And as it turned out, "out of sight, out of mind" was the motto that the wife operates on.

We were prepared for a longer than usual wait, but when customers who came much later were served before us, it's really hard not to get hot around the collar. Two reminders went unheeded, and after 30 minutes we stormed out of the place.

Look at how many ducks they'll sell in a day!
All the wife needed to do was to write down orders as it came in to avoid this problem, but success breeds failures in this case. As they will always have overwhelming support, they do not have the economic incentive to improve their process. One or two pissed customers will hardly hit their bottom line!

At any rate, if you would like to try this, I recommend going at 11.30am. I won't be returning here anytime soon.

It is located at the corner of Lebuh Carnavon and Jalan Cheong Fatt Tze

How to get there:

24 November 2010

Silver Fern Job Search Visa

Note: This is in the series of blog posts I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. The original date stamps will give you an idea of how time-consuming migration takes. At the end of each post, I will add in new details. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

[Originally written on 30/3/2010]

I was already eyeing this new visa type when it was announced late last year. Now that more details are out, I'm considering applying for the Silver Fern Job Search Visa instead of a Working Holiday. The online application opens from 27 April, and the main impediment is the quota of 300 places annually. 300 places for the whole wide world?! I expect it to run out by the first month...

The reason why I couldn't apply immediately on 27th April is because my degree has not been assessed by NZQA. It will take at least 2 months to get the results back. I will courier everything over to NZQA by early April and hopefully I'll get a favourable result from NZQA while there are still spots for the visa.

Fingers crossed...

[End of original post]

[Originally written on  27/4/2010]

The Silver Fern Visa is a new group of visas introduced in 2010 to attract highly skilled workers to NZ. Only 300 places are allocated a year, and they were offered beginning 27 April 2010, 10am. All 300 slots were snapped up in half an hour, and I'm really thankful I'm one of them.

I set my alarm to go off at 5.55am. Pulled myself off the bed and logged-in, and was pleased to find that there were still slots available despite my initial fears. I have been waiting for this since end-2009, after all!

The form is pretty basic and simplified from the residency application. Thanks to my earlier practice run, I could fill up the form very quickly. I had a minor shock when my MasterCard wasn't accepted for the NZ$200 application fee. I might have been a bit blur in that ungodly hour and mis-typed a number. Anyway, I quickly whipped out my Visa card and it managed to go through with a receipt number of #22. Phew!

I now have 3 months to submit all the required documents (more on that next time) to the Bangkok receiving branch. My main concern now is my NZQA assessment of my Bachelor Degree. By default I qualify for Level 7 but if there's something the assessor doesn't like and she downgrades me to Level 6, I can kiss my NZ dreams goodbye.


Well, not goodbye but it will be very very difficult.

[End of original post]

I consider myself very lucky to have obtained a spot on this visa program. It is very rare for countries to offer open work visas when one does not have a job offer. Since this visa was just introduced, awareness is still low. While I was surprised that all 300 were taken within half an hour, I expect next year's response to be stronger once people learn of this great visa.

22 November 2010

The Wizard of Oz by Sri Pelita School

The Sri Pelita international school in Penang stages a musical every year. It is also done as a fund-raising activity - one would think an international school would be sitting on a pile of cash from the school fees but apparently not!

This year the students put on The Wizard of Oz, a classic for both kids and adults. It was my first time attending their annual play but I went away impressed. Costumes were great, lines were delivered with aplomb, and I was wholly impressed with their efforts to coordinate so many young children. It was cute when some of the younger children broke out of character and waved excitedly at their parents!

I have to give most of my kudos to the girl playing Dorothy - the lead character. (Could someone fill me in on her name?) It was definitely not easy to remember so many lines and do most of the acting. I have a feeling she'll grow up to be a Rachel Berry ;)

Photos were taken with my Nokia C6-00, and you can see the dark environment is really pushing its limits.

Dorothy in Kansas

Ding dong the witch is dead!

Dorothy meets Scarecrow

The Cowardly Lion tries to bully our travellers

Arriving at the gates of Oz

The choir sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Curtain call

For a minimum donation of RM25, it was certainly an evening well-spent. I won't be around for next year's staging, but do keep an eye out and support local artistic endeavours. We keep talking about moving away from an examinations-centric education system, thus we should encourage such holistic approaches by actually attending them!

(Hat tip to Scott for recommending this musical last Saturday)

New template again

For all you RSS readers, come check out my new blog template. Something cleaner and less cluttered while I think about where to take this blog in the future.

19 November 2010

Restoran Taman Tasik, Taiping

Hey, who knew my flogging* would go regional! We stopped here for lunch on the way back from Kathina at SBS. Alas this will not be a kind review. In fact I have purposely removed the maps and coordinates in the hope that you would get lost finding this place, thus ending up someplace nicer.

This is not an attack on all Taiping food - I know there are fantastic places to eat. I just doubt this is one of them. Feel free to direct me to where I can get great Taiping hawker fare in the comments.

Very close to the iconic Taiping Lake Gardens, this food court is fairly large. There were 4 carfuls of us and I didn't hear anyone praising the food. Let me do a quick run down of what we had:

If you see this, move along.

Hokkien Mee - salty

Pan Mee - decent

Wan Tan Mee - salty

Bak Kut Teh - soup was unremarkable and yam rice was not fragrant

Koay Teow Th'ng - best among what we had but still average

I didn't manage to take photos of the chicken rice, but it was rated unfavourably too.

Where are the great Taiping food guys? I know it has something more to offer than kaya kok and heong pneah.

* flogging (v.): Food-blogging

17 November 2010


Note: This is in the series of blog posts I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. The original date stamps will give you an idea of how time-consuming migration takes. At the end of each post, I will add in new details. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

[Originally written on 29/3/2010]

I took my IELTS Academic paper on the 20th of March 2010 at Cititel Hotel, Penang. I will be able to get my results this Friday.

We were arranged similarly, with fewer candidates and better carpeting (from Jack Hynes/Flickr)
A huge thanks to Ivan for sharing his e-notes and practice papers with me. They were extremely helpful! I think I aced the Listening and Reading tests. A few tricky questions as always but I think I won't get more than 3 wrong answers.

Writing was a little tricky. When I reviewed my Question 1 answer in the last 10 minutes, I realized I interpreted the charts wrongly. The base conclusion should still be the same, but I assumed that Chart 2 is a progression from Chart 1, when in fact they are representing different data at the same time period. I hope I don't get penalized too much for that.

Speaking was the worst module for me. It was the only thing that I couldn't practice the format properly. And coincidentally, the examiner was Rovena Capel, my old teacher from high school. I worked with her on the school debating team and school magazine. I'm not sure if this helped me (she knows I have a decent command of English) or hurt me (she expects a stronger command of English from me), but I will find out soon enough.

It didn't help that the topic of my Speaking interview was about childhood memories. Ugh! I have a bad memory and it's hard for me to dredge up the past. I would have preferred forward-thinking topics like global warming, the death penalty, or delinquency. As a result, I stuttered quite often and didn't perform up to my best. I literally saw my Band 9 result vanish in front of my lips.

Waitaminute.... Band 9? Ya that was my idealistic target. I wanted to prove to myself that the excellent student in college still existed!!! But after the Speaking test, I'm revising my expectations down to a Band 8, which is still pretty damn excellent!

I shall update once I get my Test Report Form.

[End of original post]

[Originally posted 2/4/10]
I scored the following IELTS scores:

Listening 8.5
Reading 9
Writing 8.5
Speaking 7.5

Overall Band 8.5


As a funny anecdote, I lost my candidate slip with my candidate number on it so I spent an hour guessing the combination on their results website. I knew it was something simple with a few 1's and perhaps an 8 or 5. In the end I gave up and called up British Council to get my number back. If I knew they were so willing to give out the number, I would have called them up earlier. But it's definitely a privacy concern.

[End of original post]

15 November 2010

Kathina @ Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary


On 7 November I went to Taiping to participate in Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary's (SBS) Kathina celebrations. If you've never heard of Kathina or SBS, you can read the provided links above.

October and November is peak Kathina season in many Theravada Buddhist temples. I haven't been to many Kathinas in my life but I can safely say that the one in SBS is extremely well-organized.

I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3.45am on Sunday morning. We left home at 4.30am and after picking up other carpoolers, we set off for Taiping.

As SBS is nestled on top of a hill, there is limited parking and driving up the steep slopes is something best left to experienced 4WD drivers. To avoid having the devotees hike up the hill, volunteer 4WDs have been roped in to transfer us up and down. It was very well planned out and there were traffic marshals at both ends making sure there's only one way of traffic at any one time.

Offering of Kathina cloth to the monks
I estimated more than 500 people there, and it could well be pushing a thousand. Another sign of the massive scale of this event were the roughly 10 stalls dishing out free food. And this isn't the usual diluted red bean soup and cold fried noodles either - we're talking about fresh bowls of laksa, curry mee, char koay kak, and even a Burmese dish that tasted unlike anything I've had.
Devotees helping themselves to breakfast
At nearly 10.30am the main event for the devotees began. In a line that snaked through the entire compound, devotees stood ready with a small cup of rice. The rice was managed by a group of well-trained youths. After offering a few grains of rice to each of the 18 monks, the plastic cups were collected and re-distributed to others down the line.

Devotees offering a small scoop of rice to each monk
Closely following the monks were 2 groups of kappiyas (helpers). The first group held a tray of requisites for the monks, while the second group held a tray of souvenirs. It was in this latter group that I was roped in to. After a thorough briefing on what was expected of us, we took our assigned spots. We walked directly behind the monks, and with each devotee we were supposed to let them "offer" the tray. This is done symbolically by either lightly lifting the tray or touching the offered items, and then saying "Sadhu" (a word of praise in Pali language).
Kappiyas bringing around trays of requisites and souvenirs for each monk
This turned out to be a very spiritual experience for me. The entire walk through the compound took 65 minutes, and as I continuously mumbled "Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu" to the devotees I had time to reflect. I also enjoyed the brief moment of kinship with each devotee as they sincerely offered the tray, negating my feelings of thirst and the soreness in my arms. Plus, the feeling of walking barefoot was quite enjoyable! (Except on gravel.)
Requisites prepared by Burmese devotees
This event has rekindled my faith somewhat. I've always thought of Buddhism as a beautiful and intelligent religion, but I'm turned off by the organized portion of "organized religion". I've seen first hand how the involvement of humans tend to mess things up. Politics are bound to creep in and I often witness people enforcing "their" interpretation of what's right on the masses. This might involve ousting people who disagree with you and even influencing temple abbots to be on their side. Yes, just like national politics!
Offering souvenirs to Kumei Sayadaw and 17 other monks
As I offered my tray of souvenirs to Kumei Sayadaw, the most senior of the 18 monks present this year, he looked into my eyes and his gaze pierced through me. You just know when it happens. It's that knowing feeling that someone has seen beyond your eyes. It was a brief moment, but it will stay with me for some time.

12 November 2010

Lebuh Cecil Food Court

After the last 2 reviews of middle-range establishments (Daorae and Azuma), it's time to go back to Penang's roots: cheap and good hawker food!

This food court is a favourite place for Dad and I to go on Sunday mornings. (In fact, the food shown here was taken over 2 visits on 2 separate weekends) They are next to a wet market (which is currently being rebuilt) and we find that food courts attached to wet markets have cheaper prices. I'm not sure if this is true for everywhere, but it definitely is for Anson Road Market, Terrenganu Road Market, and today's spotlight: Lebuh Cecil Food Court.

Front facade

This food court is open throughout the day, with different shops open at different times. All the food shown here are available for breakfast, and I have not verified with shop owners if they are open till lunch or dinner. Basically, your mileage may vary.

One unique thing is that you will see many repeat stalls. For the morning session I counted at least 3 Loh Mee/Hokkien Mee stalls, 3 Koay Teow Th'ng stalls, at least 2 Char Koay Teow stalls, and so on. I've taken photos of the stalls so that you will order from the right one, but I see no harm trying out the other stalls. I believe each have their own clientele that keeps them operating for so long!

I had this excellent duck meat koay teow th'ng that comes with slices of lean duck, meat balls, and fish balls. It was good value for something under RM 3 (I forgot the actual price, sorry!). It seems to have a brand name, and I can see the whole family helping out on Sunday. Though they seem eternally busy, my bowl of noodles arrived less than a minute after I sat down. Amazing speed!

Duck Meat Koay Teow Th'ng

Lum Lai Duck Meat Koay Teow Th'ng

This is an excellent Char Koay Teow to try! I've tried 2 stalls and this is by far superior with more flavor and less oil.

Char Koay Teow (RM 3)

She sells other food besides Char Koay Teow

Not featured here is a plate of Jawa Mee (RM 2.80) just opposite the CKT stall. Though the tomato gravy had a good sourish kick, the cook skimped on the ingredients and it came out pretty bland and forgetful.

On our second visit there, we started off with what must be one of the cheapest chinese pancakes (commonly called Ban Chang Kuih/Ban Chean Kueh/曼煎糕) at only 50 cents for the basic version (crushed peanuts). You can have it with extra fillings but even this basic version is crispy and delicious, getting your appetite ready for the other foods on their way.

Ban Chang Kuih (50 cents for plain crushed peanuts)

Another great value find at this food court is Char Hor Fun for RM 2.80! Check out the substantial portion given. There's a perception that dishes like Char Hor Fun, Hokkien Char, and Ee Foo Mee are premium hawker and they are commonly charged higher, something like RM 3.50 to RM 4.00. But this stall just proves it otherwise. And of course, the taste delivers too.

Char Hor Fun (RM 2.80)

Char Hor Fun/Yee Foo Mee/Hokkien Char

Parking will be tough during peak hours as it's located in the heart of the old town, but come on a Sunday morning and you can literally park on its door step. The chicken rice here is also good but only opens late morning. There's a lot of variety on offer here, and I look forward to showcasing some other good picks from this place soon.