Wednesday, August 31, 2011


The unassuming entrance to Idrus and Asmah's house. What lies behind those gates is a home that's worth millions in terms of the love and toil that went into building and nurturing it. It is a home that welcomes all who enter with a genuine old-world charm and hospitality that's rarely found these days.

I fell in love yesterday on the first day of Hari Raya Adilfitri. With a house. Not just any house, but the one that Idrus and Asmah built. I'm not referring to the brick and mortar structure of the house. That was built by some unnamed workers back in the early 1970s. No, I'm referring to the house, or more correctly, the home that this couple built over the past 40+ years. It is a labour of love, and a lasting testimony of what two entwined hearts and souls can achieve when they share the same vision.

Great idea to add the custom-built verandah and the steps leading up to it - gives the house a rumah kampung look. The front porch or garage is converted into an extended makan area for the open house.
Another view of the porch taken from the verandah.

Pak Idrus, 72, and his wife Asmah, 71, have transformed a single-storey link house measuring 22 x 80 sq feet into a quiet haven that exudes warmth and comfort in every nook and corner. The couple obviously saw the potential in the place when they bought it in 1973. Putting their creative ideas together, they have succeeded in converting the 3-bedroom house into a showcase home deserving of the cover and centre-spread of any prestigious Beautiful Homes magazine.

The living room radiates warmth and coziness.
Another view of the living room from the front door.
The dining area. Don't you love the ambience?

"My husband and I have an understanding about the maintenance of the house. He is responsible for the outside, while I take care of the inside," confides Asmah. With their three children all grown and living on their own, the house has become their dream retirement nest. It also serves as a veritable treasure trove of memories. Mementos from their numerous trips around the country and abroad are displayed in glass cabinets or hanging on the walls.

Idrus takes care of the little garden outside. This is just one corner of the garden that shares space with the verandah. You can tell there's an on-going love affair between Idrus and the plants.
Asmah lovingly maintains the inside of the house. This is the family TV room. Notice the photos on the wall from a by-gone era.

The couple knows they are truly blessed. Not only do they have each other, they are also enjoying their golden years in good health, with the support of loving family members and a wide network of good friends. As Idrus loves to say "You don't need a big house, a flashy car and lots of money to be happy in your retirement." Having been to his 'humble abode' and after chatting with his lovely wife and younger daughter, I can't agree with him more.

Hari Raya open house at the couple's house means lots of good food. There was plenty to go around for the friends who dropped by yesterday to wish Idrus and Asmah 'Selamat Hari Raya'.

Sumptious spread of homecooked chicken, beef rendang, sambal prawns and salad.
Curry taufu goreng, fried meehoon and ketupat with satay peanut sauce to die for.
Who cares about dieting when you have dessert like this. All home-baked. Those cup cakes are out of this world!
From left: Kim, me, Ee Lyn, Kevin and our gracious hosts Asmah and Idrus.

Footnote: I first knew Idrus through his blog Pak Idrus' Post. Yesterday at his open house I met a few of his blogger friends. It was a meeting of like-minded folks. I am reminded of the line on his blog that says "Strangers are friends that you have yet to meet". How absolutely true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In case you feel like snapping your fingers and moving your feet in celebration, here's some raya music from multi-instrumentalist Eizaz Azhar. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


A video excerpt from Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on 9 August.

The following is a transcript of the above speech. The graphics are sourced from the Ministry of Health's website. They sum up the main points made by the PM regarding healthcare for Singaporeans.

"The next five years - there is going to be rapid change. Our aging population is going to throw up new challenges and there will be other groups which will have specific needs which we have got to tackle. We will keep on improving our social safety net, enhancing it, keep the present approach but improve the schemes and I would like to talk about two things which we will be doing tonight. 

One is to do with medical care and particularly with outpatient treatment, especially for older people. Many Singaporeans worry about medical expenses, especially if you are older or you have an elderly member in your family. The 3M framework, Medisave and so on, works well for inpatient care but for outpatient treatment, I think we can do better. One group of these elderly is those who need long term care. They may be bed-ridden or they may have Alzheimer’s and I talked in the Chinese speech just now of some of the things we are doing to help this group. We will give more support, expand services, make the services more affordable.

Another group is patients who have chronic ailments, maybe high cholesterol, maybe high blood pressure, maybe diabetes and amongst the people who are in their 70s maybe half will have one chronic ailment or another. When you have something like this, you will know that you need regular checkups and you need long term medication. It is not that you take the pill 10 days and the problem is cured. You have these pills, take it for the rest of your life, every three or six months see the doctor, the doctor will examine you, adjust the dosage, six months later see again. 

Try and keep well for as long as you can. But the pills can be expensive, particularly over a long period of time and the low income patients tell me they may skip an appointment because they fear they cannot afford the pills. Or they may say “the doctor says I eat this every day but I take it every other day instead to save money”, which is not the way it is supposed to be done because if you do that, your condition will worsen and more trouble will come later on, serious complications. 

I think that we should make outpatient care more affordable and accessible for this group: the elderly and the not so elderly. We have a scheme to help elderly chronic patients like this. It is called the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS), which helps the low income elderly and disabled. What it means is: you have a card, you are registered, you can see your GP instead of going to the polyclinic but you get a subsidy like you are going to the polyclinic. It is more convenient, you have more choices and you probably get faster service. 

We will change this scheme which is now quite restrictive and where you have to be 65 years old before you are considered for this scheme. We will change it so that you can start at the age of 40. Because when you have high blood pressure or cholesterol or diabetes, by the age of 40 it is beginning to show up particularly if you have not looked after yourself. When you have conditions like this, the earlier you start treating, the better I think the results will be and you have to cooperate and we will improve the scheme to help you to be able to have consistent treatment over a long period of time. 

We will also revise the income criteria to include more households so that a broader range of households can come in under the scheme and can get consistent good long term care. We will also make the medication more affordable to lower income households. We will expand the drug list so that it covers more drugs and we will increase subsidies for the more expensive drugs with safeguards so that those with chronic ailments or cancer where chemotherapy can be very expensive, well you will get more help. 

I think these are major moves. We will implement them carefully and as we gain experience with them, we can consider how to fine-tune and how we can take further steps forward. We have to be very careful because you do not want to end up like the Americans where the government health schemes have eaten up a huge amount of the budget and financially and fiscally it is a big problem for them. But we can do better, we will do better and MOH is working on it and they will announce the details later on. So this is one area where we can improve our social safety nets."

Friday, August 26, 2011


Grace Schwermer, 69, with her suitcase containing all her belongings.
If you want to retire comfortably and not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, you need to have at least RM1 million, so the financial experts tell us. If you live in the urban areas, a more realistic figure of Rm5 million is needed to see you through the next 20 years after you retire.

While the jury is still out on the optimum size of our retirement egg, one woman shows us that it is very possible to live without money.

Heidemarie Schwermer, 69, has been doing just that for 15 years. In 1996, she quit her job, gave away all her possessions, closed her bank account, cancelled her health insurance and embarked on an experiment to prove that we don't need money to live. Her one year experiment was so successful that she continued with it for 15 years.

How did Schwermer do it? By using a swap and barter system, just like in the old days before money became a medium of exchange in transactions. The Star carried a one-page write-up about her recently. Click here to read more.

Her experiment attracted a network of mostly students and pensioners - people who were always short of cash. As word spread, Schwermer decided it was time to write about her experience. After her book was published, TV interviews followed and a documentary about her lifestyle helped spread her idea further. To date, the film has been screened at over 100 locations in 20 countries. There was a free screening in Singapore on 30 April this year. Debates and discussions are usually held after the screening.

Would Schwermer's idea work here in Malaysia and Singapore? We are so accustomed to using money to pay for goods and services, it would take a drastic shift in mindset to accept barter in lieu of money. However, a quick check on the internet shows there is no shortage of ideas on what can be swapped. People are beginning to discover that swapping is a terrific way to save money. With inflation on the rise, it's only a matter of time before swapping events become as common as product launches.

Click here for more information.

 Swapping clothes

A book swop in Singapore.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Caesar's Palace, Bellagio, Palazzo, Mirage, Flamingo, MGM Grand, Harrah's, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, Paris, Wynn are some of the big-name hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard.
Las Vegas comes alive when the sun goes down. During the day it's just too stifling hot to walk the streets unless you enjoy being roasted a dark brown. Vegas is an oasis in the scorching Nevada desert.

Some photos from my night stroll down Vegas' main street.
There are always long queues at the check-in counters whatever the time of day or night.
Las Vegas is Sin City, and proud of it. The label is on t-shirts and banners. So is the tagline: Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
In Vegas, no matter where you are heading, your path invariably leads you through rows of slot machines and gambling tables. There must be thousands upon thousands of them in this city.

Don't fancy gambling? How about some adult entertainment?
 Take your pick - Chippendales or Thunder?

This cabaret act 'Jubilee' comes on nightly at Bally's where I am staying. The most beautiful showgirls with curves to die for, and bodies barely covered with rhinestones.
Looking for free entertainment? There's plenty too along the boardwalk.
Eye candy. What would you give to be sandwiched between these lovelies?
This contortionist deserves a tip for his efforts more than Mickey and Minnie Mouse in the background who merely stand around in their costumes. I also spotted some Playboy bunnies, Marilyn Monroe, Darth Vader and Spongebob Squarepants.
This enterprising young man and his dressed-up doggie charmed quite a few ladies. The sign reads "The only Asian who plays guitar (with a dog) on the streets in US."
Snapped this shot of two city cops arresting these guys. Sin City has its fair share of crime from what I gathered in the local papers.
Some of the big names currently performing in Vegas. Also Celine Dion, David Copperfield, Barry Manilow and Garth Brooks.
Of the four Cirque du Soleil productions in Vegas, I managed to see "Mystere" and "Love - Beatles". Tickets range from USD55 to USD130 for most shows.
Plenty of shopping malls and restaurants that cater to tourists. The blue sky in the photo is actually painted on the ceiling of an underground mall to replicate a typical Parisian street scene.
Had to take a photo of these huge chocolate apples. Luckily I could resist the temptation to indulge! 
My final shot of Vegas from the airport. It's probably the only airport in the world that sits right next to a boulevard of hotels, casinos, night clubs and strip joints.

Remember Elvis in the movie 'Viva Las Vegas'?  

Friday, August 19, 2011


All quiet at McCarran Airport.
It's my first visit to Las Vegas, and probably my last. I doubt I want to be back here again unless I get an all-expense paid vacation, plus an extra couple of hundred  bucks just for tipping.

Yep, that's what spoiled my first two days here - everyone expects you to tip them, from the cab driver to the hotel porter to the chambermaid. One cab driver even had the audacity to tell me he was deducting his tip before giving me my change.

Here's a pictorial account of my first impressions of Las Vegas.
It would be rare to find workers of his age employed at our airports, especially handling heavy luggage at the check-in counters.

 One of the posters that greet visitors at the airport.
Shopping convenience at the press of a button - a vending machine for electronic gadgets, from the latest iphones to cameras.
An ad that caught my eye.

First time I see so many slot machines at an airport. There must be hundreds of them everywhere you look.

 You know you are in Vegas when you see ads like this...

or this...
... and this. Anything to draw folks inside. Competition is extremely fierce among the casinos.
Bally's where I'm staying.

It's a decent hotel, but charges indecent prices for food. Would you pay USD46.50 (RM140) for this room service breakfast of pancake, cinnamon rolls, hash browns, toast, egg and bacon?

This hotel not only charges tax, but also gratuity and tip!
Haven't had the chance to check out the city attractions yet. In case you are wondering, I'm in the city to attend the 4-day Toastmasters International Convention.

More updates to follow...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Hollywood Boulevard outside the Kodak Theatre - not as busy as I remember it.
Rodeo Drive still boasts high-end brand names and haute couture, but business seems to have slowed down.
The last time I was in LA was in 1994. It's my third day here on this trip. I have been revisiting places and feeling something missing in the city this time around. It has lost some of its former vibrancy.

The tourists are still there, but most are window-shopping or bargain-hunting. On every street you see vacant shops with the "For lease" sign displayed on the glass window. In downtown LA, the restaurants are deserted when they should be filled with evening diners. There are vagabonds at street corners begging for spare change. Many of them are elderly.

Shopping mall next to the Kodak Theatre - where are the crowds?
Unemployment is high at over 9%. The economy is sluggish, and Obama's approval rating has fallen to 39%. Here in LA, as you talk to cab drivers, read the business news and tune in to the grape vine, you begin to see why the US has lost its AAA credit rating. The country has a debt of USD 14 trillion, and there's no clear solution in sight.

When jobs are hard to come by, you have to come up with novel ideas to make a few bucks.
Venice Beach on Sunday was crowded, but I didn't see many people with purchases.
This tee makes a great gift for parents who spoil their kids.
All I bought in LA were these books from Barnes and Noble.
LA is going through bad times. I'll be leaving for Las Vegas tomorrow. Perhaps the city of lights is faring better than the city of angels and celebrities.