Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunday Focus: Ramblings: Paying RM9 at cineplex and being buffeted at dinner is too much

By S.H. Tan
13 August 2000

TED Dorall, a friend, dropped in and after the usual courtesies, said:
"Have you seen Dinosaur? "Nope," I said. "Haven't been to the pictures
for ages."

When he chuckled, I was baffled. So I asked him what was the joke.

He said: "Nobody says go to the pictures anymore.

When I blinked, he said: "Nobody says go to the movies either."

When my jaw dropped, he said: "Nobody says go to the thea...."

"All right, all right," I interrupted. I said that I had the hang of
what he was driving at. "So what do they say?" I asked him.

"Go to the cineplex," he said.

When I was perplexed, he said: "A cinema is five six or seven cinemas in
a shopping complex."

Embarrassed, I decided to do what companies do when they have been found
wanting.... reinvent myself. That Sunday, I took my wife and daughter to
see Dinosaur at the cineplex at the One Utama, Bandar Utama. Coo...
things have certainly changed since I last when to the pic.... I mean
whatever. To buy a ticket, instead of a tiny room with a tinnier hole
through which there was just enough room for me to slide my cash in and
for the ticket seller to slide a ticket out, there is a counter like
those in banks.

And transactions are carried out not surreptitiously but through wide
open grilles the length of the counter itself.

Chocs, popcorn and drinks can be bought at a colourful booth and not
from roadside hawker stalls or from a digny cubicle in the cinema. The
lobby is carpetted. So are the stairs. And the hall. What is more, the
carpet is so thick, it makes the mattress I sleep on feel like a tikar
(straw mat).

And as for the hall ...! The cushioned seats, tapestried walls,
decorated ceiling, and all-round sound system make the last cinema I
went to look and sound like a squatter hut.

How many halls are in this cineplex I could not tell as there was such a
crowd, I could not see the number for the people.

Finally, to go in there is one entrance and to go out there is another.
So when the show ended, there was no stampede with people going out
elbowing their way through those coming in.

The only complaint I have is the admission charge. It was RM9 whether
you sat in front or at the back.

The first time I went to a cinema. I paid one cent, it was a zinc
enclosure with no roof, the film was silent, the star was Buster Keaton,
the seats were benches and the grass was still growing under them.

All right, all right, it was so long ago you do not want to hear about

Ancient history aside, the last time I went to a cinema, there were 1st,
2nd and 3rd class seats, the 1st being upstairs or the balcony. And the
prices were RM3, RM2, and RM1. And I would cough up to RM2 only when
there were no more RM1 seats.

But RM9? There is no doubt about it... my cineplex days are over. It is
more thrifty to stay at home and watch TV.

No sooner had my general knowledge been enhanced than I was brought down
to earth again.
Siow, Ching Cherd, a former colleague, dropped in with an invitation to
his daughter's wedding.
When I glanced at the card, I said: "H'm ... dinner is not buff fat is

Unlike Ted, he did not chuckle. He looked at me in disbelief instead.

When I said that I could not stand buff fats, he said gently: "It is not
buff fat but boo fay."

"So what?" I said: "No matter how you pronounce it, it means the same to

As we had the whole afternoon for idle chat, I said that buff fats, boo
fays, or whatever are merely a stampede by too many people for too
little food.

More often than not, when the host or hostess hollers "come and get I "
pandemonium breaks out. The guests who have been behaving themselves
with decorum and small talk, suddenly go berserk.

The women are told "ladies first". So they trot to the table groaning
under the grub, garb a plate, and fill it with whatever catches their

And this is when the men have to keep a look out for the rustlers _
other men waiting for their turn to swoop in.

Women being women, they would take an unbearably long time to make up
their minds what is good _ or bad _ for their waistlines, their
resolutions or their taste buds. If some of the rustlers were starving,
their patience would be exhausted. They would then sneak in and join the

The louts among them would think nothing of falling either in between or
in front of the women and not queue behind them.

And this would be enough to goad the gentle men in charge in _ they were
dashed if they were going to allow the others to sapu (sweep) the meat
and gravy and leave them the skin and bones.

As the guests jostle with one another, the scene is like a free-for-all
at a refugee camp.

When Ching Cherd could not believe his ears, I said: "Now you know why
it is called buffet, never mind how you pronounce it. To scoop up a few
tit-bits, you are buffeted from left, right and at the back.

"Veterans of such campaigns like myself prefer to sit down and be
served. As I am timid, when I go to a buffet, I enjoy the spectacle more
than the spread. After all, who cares for soggy, left-overs, the
bishop's nose, or the skeleton of a pomfret?"

Ching Cherd assured me that at his daughter's wedding, I will not be
bufetted as it will be a Chinese dinner. So I accepted his invitation
with alacrity.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

All's not well in 'Welbourne'

Sunday, July 30, 2000
Aussie Life

By Phoebe Fong

WELCOME to our wet, wild, windy, woolly and
wickedly-wintry Welbourne. Er, Melbourne, to the
uninitiated folks then.

Whoever dreamt up that catchy touristy phrase
"Marvellous Melbourne'' obviously had never lived a
day in this chilly city in the dead of winter. Jordan
and I have just spent an entire day in Welbourne, all
attributed adjectives listed above included.

Although our day's adventures haven't exactly been
disastrous, we nevertheless both felt somewhat
exhilarated by some of our skin-of-our-teeth's
experiences. They were almost like a sick comedy of
twisted errors that somehow righted themselves at the
very last split-second.

Granted, the day could certainly have started off a
little better had I remembered where I had placed my
keys, which, of course, took some precious 10 minutes
to finally locate.

Well, if you must know, I had put them in my overcoat
pocket the night before so I wouldn't have to waste
time looking for them in the morning. Great idea,
negated by frightful dementia.

We had decided to take the train to the Big Smoke
solely because my four-wheeler had been spluttering on
me all last weekend and it had been at the mechanic's
for several hours the day before. Besides, I am a real
klutz when it comes to driving around the city.

So, I drove like a lunatic to our local train station.
Passengers were already alighting from the train by
the time I pulled into the station.

Panic bile rose as we raced up to the ticket counter,
only to find two women arguing like fish-wives with
the exasperated ticket-seller while the PA system
blared its final announcement for passengers to board
the train that was due to leave in 60 seconds.

If I hadn't had both hands full at that very moment, I
believe I'd still be cooling my heels at the local
cop-shop lock-up, waiting to make bail. Anyway, the
train was already starting to inch along the tracks as
Jordan and I jumped on board, minus train tickets.

Although I had to explain to an irate conductor why we
had no tickets on us, I was thankful we had not missed
the train altogether. What I didn't bargain on was
having to share opposite seats with those two loud
fish-wives so I snoozed all the way to the city.

Being unfamiliar with purchasing tram tickets from
vending machines, we approached several uniformed
station staff whose jobs are to send ignorant tram
patrons, like us, on wild goose chases all day long.
Eventually, I located one forlorn-looking tram ticket
counter, tucked way out of public view, that was
actually manned.

I had to bite my tongue and not spit venom back at the
ticket-seller's rudeness when she slammed the tickets
on the counter with one hand while stuffing a muffin
into her face with the other. Jordan gave her a dirty

Not wanting to miss my stop, I told the tram driver
that we'd be alighting at Queensberry Street. He
replied, "Sure, no probs.''

The tram was so sardine-packed neither Jordan nor I
could look out for the passing street signs. After a
dozen or so stops that didn't seem right, I asked the
person standing next to us if we were near Queensberry
Street yet.

She looked at me in mock wonderment and said,
"Queensberry Street? Well, that was two stops way back

So, Jordan and I hopped off at the very next stop and
trudged three city blocks back, in pelting icy rain.
We finally got to where we wanted and stood shivering
in 5 C temperature for several minutes before a
sleazy-looking character saw fit to let us through the
door even though I had re-confirmed our appointment an
hour before.

Five minutes after listening to his parasitic
complaints, I told him where he could shove the rest
of his spiel. Jordan looked bemused as he picked up
his knapsack, led the way out and opened the door for

By now, the rain was bucketing down outside with a
shocking vengeance and the winds blustered fiercely
all around. Like pathetic drowned rats, we managed to
seek some refuge from the elements at a bus-shelter
where I made a call to the person with whom we were to
meet next.

Thank goodness, this godsend of a lady took pity on us
and arranged to pick us up within 15 minutes. Only
problem was that she was new to the city herself and
had to find one of her colleagues to draw her
directions to where we were stranded.

After a couple of hours of sorting through some issues
with the lady while, thankfully, getting dried, Jordan
and I once again found ourselves out on the street,
soaked to the skin, in the ever relentless downpour.

I rang the next person on our day's agenda and
arranged to meet up at a particular tram stop. Yes,
you guessed it! The tram didn't care to stop where we
wanted it to but rolled around the corner and trundled
further down another street away.

Well and truly frozen to the bone and starving by now,
we spent the next hour in the nearest coffee shop
before realising that we had less than 30 minutes to
hurry back to Flinders Street Railway Station to catch
our train home. Of course, the train was already there
by the time we ran up to the platform, all puffed out.

Now, two hours after having arrived home, my fingers
are still frost-chilled, my knees rheumatoid
arthritic-stiff and the rest of me barely half-thawed
out. However, my exhausted little cherub has already
fed himself, taken a hot shower and snugly tucked
himself up in his warm-as-toast bed.

Before I go crash for the night, I need to upload this
article onto my website but my Internet connection has
gone on strike! Does WWW stand for Wrongly Wired

* Phoebe Fong is a freelance writer living in
Australia with sons Ian and Jordan. E-mail:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Break away from loneliness

Wednesday, September 13, 2000
Loneliness is often accompanied by other negative
feelings and also increases the likelihood of fatal
disease. Barbra Williams Cosentino advises on ways to
escape the loneliness trap.

LONELINESS is a universal experience known to every
human being--single parents, teenagers, divorcees and
even the happily married. No one is immune. Even the
rich and famous suffer from loneliness.

The late singer Judy Garland once said: "If I'm a
legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you,
being a legend is all very well if you've got somebody
around who loves you.''

Many more of us are probably lonely but reluctant to
admit it, feeling ashamed and stigmatised by our
loneliness and seeing it as a sign that we are
unlovable or defective instead of recognising it as
part of the human condition.

James Park, an existentialist philosopher, asks: "Is
there a person who has never known the eerie distance
of isolation and separation, who has never suffered
the pain of rejection or the loss of love?''

Park eloquently goes on to say that "loneliness is an
aching void in the centre of our being, a deep longing
to love and to be loved, to be fully known and
accepted by at least one other person.''

Experts say there are several kinds of loneliness.

Emotional isolation springs from the absence of close
emotional attachment. Dr Robert Weiss of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a social
scientist who did much of the seminal research on
loneliness, describes emotional isolation as the
terror of a small child who feels abandoned by his

Social isolation results from the lack of a social
network. Weiss characterises social isolation as the
mindset of a child who is bored and feels left out
when his friends are unavailable at a given time. It's
no coincidence that children often create imaginary
companions to chase away feelings of loneliness.

Spiritual loneliness stems from a void within
ourselves, a sense of feeling incomplete and
unfulfilled even when we have many loving people in
our lives. Psychiatrist Mark Epstein, the author of
Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, tells his
patients that instead of fearing this emptiness, they
should learn to embrace it.

He writes: "Only when we stop fighting with our
personal emptiness can we begin to appreciate the
transformation that is possible. Only then can we have
access to the still, silent centre of our own

Only the lonely ... people who suffer frequently from
loneliness also have to endure negative emotions
including sadness boredom, anxiety, restlessness and

Although divorce, moving to a new state or a child
leaving home can cause feelings of loneliness and
loss, such feelings are often based on an internal
sentiment rather than external reality.

Even a socially active, "popular'' person can feel
emotionally isolated when surrounded by a roomful of
superficial acquaintances with whom she lacks a true
emotional connection.

And people in a satisfying intimate relationship can
feel lonely if they don't have a network of friends to
turn to for support when their partner is physically
or emotionally unavailable.

Because aloneness is different from loneliness, we
need to tune in to the unique pleasures of solitude.
We need the freedom to devote hours to our passions,
the opportunity for self-reflection and introspection,
and space to engage in activities in which creativity
gushes forth so that we are oblivious to the passage
of time.

People who suffer frequently from loneliness find that
it is often accompanied by a host of other negative
emotions, including sadness, boredom, anxiety,
restlessness, self-pity and a lowered sense of

One lonely woman says: "I feel like my stomach is a
big cheese with a little rat gnawing at it--never
making any progress.''

In his 1977 book The Broken Heart, James Lynch of the
University of Maryland Hospital in the United States
makes a powerful connection between social isolation
and heart disease, pointing out that "reflected in our
hearts there is a biological basis for our need to
form loving human relationships.''

More recent research reveals that people who live
alone after their first heart attack are almost twice
as likely to have a second attack or to die from heart
disease than those who share a home.

Studies also show that people diagnosed with breast
cancer, malignant melanoma and other potentially
malignant diseases survive longer if they join a
support group.

These patients also show evidence of increased
activity of "natural killer cells'' that reflect
improved immune functioning.

To feel complete, we need to nurture a strong
connection with our inner selves as well as all kinds
of social connections--spouses, lovers, best friends
or mentors with whom we can share our most private
thoughts and feelings.

We also need casual buddies to "hang out with''
(shopping pals and let's-see-a-movie friends) and work
or church acquaintances who share common day-to-day

If you are lonely, here are some things to avoid:

Isolating yourself or escaping into endless sleep.

Watching TV excessively or surfing the Web for hours
on end.

Overindulging in food, alcohol or drugs to numb the
Here are some positive ways to deal with loneliness:

Seek out people _ If you're lonely due to a
situational factor (recent divorce, job loss or a move
to a new community), realise that your feelings are
transient. Give yourself some grieving time, and then
seek out people in a similar situation. Find a support
group, or join a community centre, health club,
theatre group or religious organisation where you can
meet other people and share something in common.

Explore chat rooms, websites for singles or divorced
people, single parents, folks in recovery from
substance abuse and others who might be prone to

Build social skills--If you're chronically lonely
because you're shy or don't relate easily to other
people, brush up on your conversational or social
skills. Force yourself to engage others in
conversation (remember, people love to talk about
themselves, so ask plenty of questions) and go places
where there will be people to talk with.

If your loneliness has led to serious depression, see
your doctor or seek psychotherapy.

Be active--Take part in activities you love. It's hard
to be lonely when you're smashing tennis balls back
and forth or soaring down a ski slope. It's also
likely that you'll meet people there who enjoy the
same kinds of things you do.

Text: LAT-WP

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cleverest of them all

Monday, October 2, 2000

With the completion of of the Human Genome Project
earlier this year, scientists can finally figure out
how many genes make up a human being. The result of
the count is not only surprising but also raises
questions about the further evolution of the human
race, writes MATT RIDLEY.

HUMAN self-esteem seems to depend on seeing our
species as exceptional. That is partly why the likes
of Galileo and Darwin went down so badly at first:
they made our planet and our species routine, not

The geneticists are about to deliver another blow.

It concerns the number of different genes that a
species has. The number of genes is a good measure of
how complex a creature is because it reflects the
quantity of information needed to put the body
together. The flu virus has eight genes, syphilis has
1,000 and yeast 6,000. The fruit fly has nearly 15,000
and a microscopic worm has surprised everybody by
having 19,000.

On this scale, because of our complex and clever
brains, we expect to be top scorer by a mile. Until a
year ago or so, scientists were predicting that human
beings would have about 100,000 genes, comfortably
more than any other species. But now, for the first
time, they are in a position to count them and the
score is only 40,000.

Scientific humiliation looms: we are only twice as
complex as one of the simplest worms. Worse, we might
find that some other creature--a budgerigar, perhaps,
or an oak tree--has more.

In vain do we comfort ourselves with the fact that
40,000 genes is still a very large number. Even to
list them all, let alone describe what they do, would
fill a decent book. Yet all over the world, people
will be seeking counselling for their wounded
self-esteem: just 40,000 genes is all they have.

However, reassurance is at hand. A brilliant new book,
Mendel's Demon, by the Oxford evolutionary biologist
Mark Ridley (no relation), argues that we are,
nonetheless, about as complicated as life can get. It
is unlikely that we are going to be overtaken.

Ridley sees the evolution of complex life as a matter
of combating genetic decay. The more genes a creature
has, the greater the risk it runs of accumulating
disastrous mutations, so it was not until
sophisticated proof-reading mechanisms were invented
that complex life even became possible.

One of these mechanisms was sex, which efficiently
purges mutations from the species. So does selective
mate choice.

Once these mechanisms were working, complexity was
bound to increase, as it paid dividends in the
struggle for existence, first through size, then
through intelligence. Despite occasional setbacks
caused by asteroids, the largest brains on earth
(relative to bodies) grew progressively larger until
the appearance of people.

Can it go further? Ridley argues that it cannot,
partly because we have probably relaxed the pressure
imposed by natural selection to purge mutations (we
keep alive people who might have died young in the
Stone Age; colour blindness has probably doubled in
frequency since civilisation began).

So the "mutational meltdown'' of our species may
already have begun: our genes are fraying. This is not
yet happening to our brainiest competitor, the
bottle-nosed dolphin.

In any case, Ridley calculates that we may be near the
limit of complexity for the current
mutation-correcting machinery and that a more complex
creature, such as a man with wings, is probably
impossible (although he bases his calculations on
60,000 human genes).--

 Telegraph Group Ltd, London