Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tubing on Mt Titlis + Quick Herring Spaghetti!

If you live in Switzerland like I do, you need to take advantage of the numerous mountains with visitor-friendly facilities such as chair-lifts, cable gondolas and Rot-air bubble cars. Not to forget free 'tubing' runways.

On Mount Titlis at Engelberg, hundreds if not thousands of visitors swarm the place - tourists from China and Taiwan (even the cable guy has learnt some Mandarin greetings for the Chinese New Year) as well as locals and residents who want to ski and snowboard.

(above right) You feel like luggage being conveyed up a 'belt' with your tube before spinning down again.

In the snow cave somewhere on the top slopes, there's a display of buttons for you to press. One of the buttons plays 'Negaraku', the Malaysian national anthem. In the Rot-air gondola, there are greetings in myriad languages including Indonesian and Malay. The only difference between the two is how 'keretakabelgantung' is all one word in Indonesian. ^_^ Old women from China like to stick their faces in the 'face holes' of cut-out figures of extreme skiers and snowboarders -- to show their friends back home gleefully, perhaps. Not that it'd fool anyone.

If you don't ski or snowboard (those crazy gravity-loving sports!) like me, you'd appreciate tubing. You sit on an inner tube covered in canvas and push off a winding path. Soon it careens out of control and you're facing backwards and sideways. You learn to relax and enjoy the ride because it's all out of your control. At the most, you might spill over the snow bank and sprain a muscle or two. It's not likely you'd break your neck and die.

And then, when the skiing friends and family converge at the igloo bar outdoors, you can join them in the oh-so-strenuous apres-ski activity of eating and napping in the sun in a hammock or lying sprawled on the bean bags so considerately provided by the mountain ministers.

After you come down from the mountain and an hour's drive home, you'd want a quick hot meal, right? (I'm entering this in Presto Pasta Nights Break out a can or two of herring or mackerel in tomato sauce, cut up some onions, boil a pot of spaghetti. Heat a bit of oil in a saucepan, cook the onions with some parsley or coriander, add a generous sprinkle of chilli powder (or sliced fresh chillies), salt and pepper, throw in the canned fish, break it up, and finally swoosh in the cooked spaghetti. Turn it a few times and voila! A hot, appetizing meal within minutes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Interview with Bissme S

Here is my email interview with Bissme S, one of the writers of 'Dark City 2', who contributed the story, 'Dad'. He is a journalist with The Sun in Malaysia.

1) What is the difference between writing fiction and journalistic writing (your day job)?

With journalistic writing, you deal with facts. You write what you see. You write what you hear. For example, when you are interviewing an actor and he talks to you about his life, about his career, about his love life and about his future projects. It is your job then to present these facts as interestingly as you can.
Fiction is an entirely a different story. You start everything from scratch. You create the characters. You create the mood. You create the beginning and the ending. Your imagination can go as wild as you want. The way I see it, with fiction, the ball is in your court and you can do whatever your heart desires.

2) Does one inform or enrich the other?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. Journalistic writing helps me to add realism to my work. Journalism is also about meeting deadlines. It builds the discipline in you to keep writing.

But there is also a drawback. As a journalist you spend eight hours chasing stories and typing them in front of the computer. So when you get home, the last thing you want to see is a computer and the last thing you want to do is to type another story. You literally have to drag yourself to the computer to write fiction.

3) Which authors' works do you read, including Malay ones if any? How do they help you in your writing?

I do not have one particular author that I adore. Instead I will pick some of my all-time favourite books.

a) 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens

This is my all-time favourite book. My favourite character is the spooky character Miss Havisham who got ditched on her wedding day. Since then she has not changed her wedding gown and has left her wedding cake to rot. Then, as part of her revenge, she adopts a child and trains her to break men's hearts.

b) 'Keluarga Gerilla' by Pramdoeya Ananta Toer

The story centres on a family during the fight for independence. My favourite character is the mother who went mad thinking of the sad fate of her favourite son who has joined the revolution to fight for freedom.

c) 'Flowers In The Attic' by VC Andrews

This was my favourite book when I was a teenager. Recently I had the opportunity to re-read this book and I do not feel the same passion for the book as I used to feel. Still, there are moments in the book which thrilled me. A mother who's willing to kill her four children just to gain wealth.

d) 'God Of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy

I wish I could be as talented as Arundhati. The way she uses words to describe situations and feelings is simply amazing.

e) 'Reading Lolita In Tehran' by Azar Nafisi

It takes place in the Islamic Republic Of Iran, where lecturer Azar Nafisi secretly gathers seven of her committed female sutdents to read the forbidden western classic. I love her usage of words. The book simply tells you that you can't take the simple things for granted.

f) 'Before Night Falls' by Reinaldo Arenas

It is the autobiography of the cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas who recounts his difficult childhood years and being oppressed under the regime of Fidel Castro. Another writer whose writing style I wish I could emulate.

g) 'Choke' by Chuck Palahniuk

His imagination is simply superb. The way he writes is never to impress.

4) What are your fiction-writing habits like? Do you only write when you're inspired or do you put in a number of words every day or week no matter what? What are your inspirations?

I would love to say that I write every day. But that is not case. I try to write as much as possible. As for inspiration , I just have to look around me. Finding inspiration is never a problem to me. But turning my inspiration into a full-fledged story is where the trouble is. I have so many ideas roaming in my head. But I never take the trouble to turn them into stories. I have to confess that I am a lazy writer. *hahaha*

In fact, late last year, I had a bad episode in which the computer caught a bad virus and wiped out my hard disk. This included all the short stories and poems I had written for years. This fact has demotivated me to write. I am slowly picking up the pieces and learning to write my stories again.

5) What are your ambitions as far as fiction-writing is concerned? Do you intend to submit more stories for 'Dark City 3'? Will you author your own novel or anthology?

I have submitted a story to 'Dark City 3'. Whether it will be accepted will depend on the editor/publisher. It is my dream to have an anthology of short stories published. When this dream will become a reality - that is something I can't say for sure.

6) Which is/are your favourite story/stories in 'Dark City 2'?
'The Neighbour' by Jennifer Tai. I must confess I loved the emotional impact the story had. It was written rather beautifully. Best of all, the story sounds real. It is as if the events really took place. I like fiction that sounds real... very real.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year + Poppyseed Honey Cookies

A very happy, healthy and prosperous Chinese year of the Rat to you and your family.

With my brother and sisters in Malaysia and Australia, it is a quiet day indeed. Only on Saturday will we throw a party for a few friends who have volunteered to provide some CNY cuisine while I, as usual, make a fav curry of the moment, carrot-celery-head pickles and biryani rice.

There's no holiday here and the other half was out of town for work, so I went to visit a friend up in a village 10km away for lunch. The dog I'm dog-sitting was left at home to mind the floor. (Didn't think she'd appreciate the twisty bus ride up some mountain roads.)

Dog-ward for five weeks Tigi says: 'Call me Sister Tigi. I was self-ordained. Did you say Year of the Rat? Yikes, bats without hats! Now be a dear and pass me one of those fragrant cats.'

I have made two batches of cookies for fun. Here is the recipe which I adapted from a nice square book called 'Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies':

Poppyseed Honey Soft Cookies

4/5 cup honey (that's almost a cup!)
50g butter
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs poppy seeds

Place honey and butter in a medium saucepan and boil for a minute. Remove from heat and stir baking soda into it. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees F). Beat eggs in butter mix. Mix baking powder and salt with flour, adding salt and poppy seeds. Stir flour mix into butter mix till dough stiffens.

Line cookie tray with baking paper. Drop a tablespoon of dough for each cookie, leaving 5cm space in between. Bake cookies for about 10 minutes, or when they're firm to the touch. Be careful not to overbake. Use spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack for cooling.

This soft, tender cookie has the lovely subtle taste of honey and the light crunch of poppy seeds - perfect for teatime or coffee!

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)