Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ice Cream Anyone?

An ice cream parlour never fails to become everyone’s favourite hangout.

RUMOUR has it that this ice cream parlour owes its beginnings to a rich young man who, for want of some place romantic to take his date, had specially built a dessert café for his lady love. This way, the two lovebirds would have a café all to themselves whenever the lady wanted a cold, sweet, treat, which was quite often as she loved ice cream. Most importantly, the private nook would also eliminate the prospect of competition as the young, wealthy suitor was rather possessive of his beautiful fiancée.

But, when the owner of Sidewalk Ice Cream Lounge, Alvin Lew Kean Chong was approached to verify the story, the first thing the 40-year-old father of two did was to burst into a loud incredulous laugh.

Perfect match: Alvin and wife, Oi Ling of Sidewalk Ice Cream Lounge.

“Where on Earth did you get such a story? This is the first time I have heard it and we opened for business in 1991,” queried the unbelieving Lew.

To set the story straight, Lew denies that he had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The eldest of three siblings, Lew, a credit supervisor’s son, said that the ice cream lounge had been made possible through hard-earned savings. The former Michaelian had worked 12-hour days for three years as a cook in Holland.

The lady love, however, was real. Cheam Oi Ling, 34, whom Lew married in 1996, had appeared a few months after he opened shop, thanks to his cousin Wendy Ee. At the time, Cheam and Ee were in Form Five and the visit to the ice cream lounge had been part of the Main Convent girls’ school holiday itinerary.

“The first thing Lew said was ‘Hello, can I get you some ice cream?’” said Cheam, recalling the first thing her future husband had said to her.

Though Lew would forget what his future wife had ordered on her first visit, Cheam clearly recalled that it had been a Snowy Mount Fuji. Made up of three scoops of ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce, desiccated coconut and angel flakes, it was also flanked by peaches, watermelon and nata de coco.

To have such fond memories of one’s early business days has undoubtedly acted as a source of strength and inspiration for Lew.

“When I first opened the shop, critics commented that I would soon close shop. Unfortunately, I am still here,” he joked.

Woodlands Butterscotch: A scrumptious creation of almond flakes, whipped cream, cornflakes, rice crispies and home-made butter scotch sauce over three scoops of ice cream.

When he first opened, there was only one other ice cream parlour in Ipoh. That one soon closed down when the owner lost interest in the business. The idea, he revealed, had come from his aunt, Alice Goh, who had advised him to venture into business instead of seeking employment.

“I thought an ice cream parlour was ideal because it was simple enough to start. Furthermore, ice cream is a universal food. If you look back, some of our fondest childhood memories involved ice cream. Mine was of a scoop of cold delight sandwiched in between a bun, a favourite after-school snack,” he pointed out.

On the psychological aspect, Lew also said that the smooth creaminess of ice cream had the ability to stimulate the pleasure centre of the brain, which is perhaps why his ice cream lounge is a favourite spot for courting couples.

“Some of my first customers came here on their very first dates. When they got married and started their families, they brought their children for my ice cream. Now the children are bringing their dates to my lounge,” said Lew.

To date, Lew has no less than 20 different ice cream creations in his menu. Creativity and artistry, he said, had played a sure hand in maintaining the lounge’s quality.

“A successful sundae requires a sure knowledge of how the fruits, sauces, toppings and ice-cream flavours will work together. For example, while vanilla will go well with almost anything, the same cannot be said for a stronger flavour like chocolate. In this case, one must know how to blend the different flavours so that it will harmonise with the taste buds. Otherwise, the end result will be bitter,” he pointed out.

Royal Dutch Chocolate: Four scoops of ice cream enriched with ladlings of chocolate sauce, fruit cocktail, whipped cream and chocolate rice.

To ensure freshness, Lew revealed that the fruits are bought fresh from the market while the chocolate sauce and butterscotch are made in-house. As for the ice cream, Lew would only say that they have been sourced from different suppliers whose names he has chosen not to reveal.

“Suffice to say, I have sourced for the best flavours from each supplier,” he assured.

Sidewalk Ice Cream Lounge is at 26, Lengkok Canning, Ipoh Garden, 31400, Ipoh, Perak (% 016-562 6844). It is open daily from 7.30pm, except on public holidays when it is open from 2pm onwards.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jasmine Raj's Charitable Brush

Noble: Jasmine, who only paints for charity, showing off a booklet of her works.

Jasmine Raj embarked on a new pursuit, painting for charity, to help her deal with breast cancer.

It was surprising to find that Jasmine Raj would balk at the idea of sporting skin art on her face for a photo shoot.

For this abstract artist who paints exclusively for charity, her face, she insisted ‘was all she has left’ after undergoing close to 40 surgeries and procedures in her fight against cancer.

While a bit of face painting would be peanuts in comparison, Jasmine a former model did not think she could carry it off.

Not that she is the timid type.

This mother of two had thrown a champagne party a day before her bilateral mastectomy in 2003 and is the type of patient who will sneak out of the hospital just so she could attend a New Year’s Eve party.

Still, when it comes to her face, this attractive and very youthful-looking 40-year-old, we suspect, is a bit of a vain pot who has a penchant for painting her shapely lips in a bright red hue.

And it was with red lips that Jasmine led us to her first painting, The Awakening.

The piece, which seemed to throb and pulsate, is done entirely in red, with hues of yellows and orange to create a sense of texture.

Staying positive: Jasmine at work in her garden.

Done in 2004, Jasmine revealed that working on it had been “an awakening” for her as she embarked on the artistic path to help her deal with her cancer. The Awakening had come about the time when Jasmine came to the decision that she would not wallow in despair over her condition.

This monumental piece, her very first conscious attempt to paint her will to live, graces the path to her kitchen and is not for sale.

This does not apply to her other works of course, which have gone towards helping other cancer patients under organisations like PRIDE and MAKNA.

In an exhibition for PRIDE last October at the Matahari Gallery, Jasmine raised over RM70, 000 for them.

“I am not commercial. I paint only for charity,” said Jasmine affirming herself.

Revealing how this had come about, Jasmine recalled that her foray into art began as early as when she was12, having been influenced by her mother Jaclyn Raj who painted as a hobby.

In 1999 after having met her future husband, Leo Ariyanayakam, now 45, and a successful stint in the arena of interactive marketing, Jasmine took folk art where she learned the ABC’s of painting.

She also went under the tutelage of Karl-heinz Mesbach, an American painter who taught her shading techniques and with his encouragement, she moved on to the big canvas.

But the biggest push and ironically, the major driving force that had driven Jasmine to paint for charity had been her battle with breast cancer.

Will to live: Jasmine standing in front of her first work, The Awakening.

Her quest to find a way to ease her mind of the worrisome baggage of her disease would not go unnoticed and soon, she found interested parties enquiring if she could lend them her talents for fund raising purposes.

“That was when my girlfriends rallied to help organise the logistics and they diligently sat down and factored the time and materials for my paintings so that I could put a price on them,” revealed Jasmine.

In explaining how she works, Jasmine revealed that she is dictated by no one.

“From the onset, I have insisted that I will only paint what I want and what inspires me,” she said.

And from the looks of it, Jasmine is never short of inspiration.

From the hilly ranges of her hometown in Gombak to the abstract images of a family basking in contentment, Jasmine seems to have recorded all her deepest and most profound memories on canvas.

And to watch Jasmine at work is likened to seeing someone take a leisurely stroll.

A swathe of colour here, a dab of something else there and time off to pick a bristle in between ...

“I never know what the final result of my painting is going to be like. Somewhere in between I’d think of something else and that will go into my work,” said this artist who incorporates plenty of greens, yellows and reds to indicate her positive state of mind.

Still one cannot help but wonder if Jasmine, who is into her third remission, has ever had her grey days.

“I was never frightened because I have always known that I will be all right. I have my pillars of strength in Leo, my mother, mother-in-law, my children, sisters and my friends.

“Still I would not term myself as ‘courageous’. That word is better reserved for those who have been there for me as I think it is harder to be a caregiver than someone who is receiving care,” she concluded.

For more on Jasmine’s work, log on to

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Magical Element of Pinky Loo

THERE is a very good chance that you would have met Pinky Loo at the opening ceremony of some shopping mall or at some VIP’s grand birthday bash, but hers is not an easy face to recognise. But, then, this is not surprising, as the 21-year-old usually has her face hidden behind a mask.

Loo, a fair, slender beauty who hails from Kuala Selangor, is a magician who practices the ancient art of mask changing, which she affirmed has been her strongest act for the last four years.

There would be more to come, Loo promised when we met at the apartment of her boyfriend’s parents in Ampang. Mark Yong, 24, is also a magician by profession, and the pair had hit it off during a show. The duo has been collaborating under the name of Vivas Magic for three years now, and they have a pet Maltese which they have named Little White.

Collaboration: Loo and Young form a formidable act as Vivas Magic.

“It is very difficult to form a partnership when you’re a magician – there is always the fear that one’s act will be stolen by an unscrupulous partner, who will then become a direct competitor. But then, there is the advantage of strength in numbers, and a partnership means a bigger and more exciting act. That is why, at times, one cannot be held back by doubt,” surmised Loo on the business aspect of her profession.

And, no, magicians cannot wave away their troubles with their magic wands. One example was the mess of costumes and props in the living room that had to be cleared before Yong’s mother, a teacher, returned from school.

“Magic is all about fooling the audience. There is no enchantment or witchcraft involved. It’s just a matter of the hand being faster than the eye – an illusion, to be precise. In reality, a lot of body skills and hidden physical movements are involved,” Loo said, adding with a sigh that housekeeping still had to be done the normal way.

A former student of Chung Hwa Chinese school in Sasaran, Kuala Selangor, Loo, the eldest of four siblings, said she would never have opted for any other career, except for one in showbiz. Her father Jack Loo, 48, a show promoter who is known for bringing acrobatic acts from China, had exposed Loo to magic tricks from a very young age.

“My father would take me to the trick shops and it was like being let loose in a toy store because he’d buy a whole lot of trick sets for me to practise on. By the time I was 16, I was ready to go on stage with a simple repertoire of appearing and vanishing acts,” recalled Loo.

But, when she was 16, Loo watched a mask-changing act that her father had brought from China.

“I was totally mesmerised with the speed of the mask-changing performers. This was when my father decided to send me to Hebei, China, for half a month to learn the technique,” recalled Loo.

After about a month of practice, Loo was convinced of her ability and took to the stage ... only to bungle in her first performance.

“I got a friend to stand in one corner so that she could signal me. A nod would mean that all had turned out well; a shake of the head meant that nothing had changed.

“To my utter horror, she kept on shaking her head. I was at my wit’s end but I kept on strutting around the stage. Finally, I had to forgo the entire show. Luckily, the audience thought that it was just an act and didn’t realise that the masks had not changed,” she recalled.

Later, Loo discovered that the constant pressing of her headgear before she went on stage had caused the inner mechanics to malfunction. It was a mistake that she would not repeat in her subsequent performances.

Loo surmised that her foray into the entertainment world as a magician had begun with a desire to be “different”. Psychologically, it might have had something to do with the fact that Loo’s mother, Kua Wan Bee, now 44, had been a popular singing artiste in the 1980s and had recorded seven albums in Mandarin and Hokkien, and that Loo wanted to present an act more breathtaking than what Mum used to do. On a simpler level, however, Loo attributed her career choice to the typical path of a modern girl who thrives on her own individuality.

“I like the idea of being in charge of my own destiny. I want to be able to determine and execute the concepts for my shows, be in charge,” Loo stressed.

And, one aspect on which Loo had worked was to give the mask-changing act a modern feel, by replacing the traditional-style Chinese masks with a more contemporary harlequin kind of look. Loo does not see this as defying tradition but rather, as her way of honouring the advice of her mask-changing sifu: that, “In life, you must always go and seek out new things and new ways of doing things.”

There can be no doubt that Loo has taken this advice to heart. In addition to learning new magic tricks, the computer studies graduate, who has a penchant for sushi and Kentucky Fried Chicken, also has plans to brush up on her English.

“One day, when I go up on stage to receive the award for being the best magician, I don’t want to just say ‘thank you’ and walk off, but to present a speech which I hope will inspire more girls to join the profession,” Loo revealed. To contact Loo, visit her website at or call 016-688 8302.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A world of dreams alive on stage

A THEATRE performance presented by children’s theatre company The Jumping Jellybeans at The Annexe in Central Market in June of 2007 reminds one that the imagination is indeed limitless.

The play Terra Arata promised the flyer, would take the audience to “a world of dreams”. It was supposed to take the audience through a journey filled with tales from near and far where birds and bulls and fishes would come alive before their eyes.

A mermaid would turn into a spider, a flamenco dancer into an injured goose, and a Cambrian golden snail from the Indian Ocean would come and grant wishes to other animals with his golden scales.

The journey begins: Sukania starting off the show as a dancing emcee in her flapper costume. The working gramophone was another point of interest with the kids.
What came on stage, however, disappointed this writer, who was expecting a circus show of high-tech special stage effects and over-the top costumes. Instead, there were three ladies in black leotards, prancing on a minimally decorated stage draped with yards of white cloth, with a slide show of weird animal images as a background. This writer wanted to leave.

Her four-year-old, on the other hand, did not share the same sentiment. Sitting on a cushion-strewn carpeted floor, the children were transfixed as Sukania and Shantini Venugopal and Cinzia Ciaramicoli skipped, spat, squatted, squawked, staggered and generally jiggled and jabbered with abandon.

Lessons on the importance of following instructions were imparted in the tale of a tail-less dog that went against the Cambrian snail’s advice.

A murmur of excitement rippled through the children when live goldfish came into the act. Laughter would give way to horror when Ciaramicoli swallowed what seemed to be a live goldfish in a skit where a cheating gamer makes off with her prize at a funfair. Later, she reveals that the “live goldfish” was actually a carrot.

With minimal props and barelythere lighting on the set, these ladies compensated with boundless energy which had the children transfixed from beginning to end. The interaction was remarkable. They gasped as Ciaramicoli, as a bull burdened by its yoke, appeared to stumble and collapse near where they sat. They “oohed” and “aahed” as Shantini come on stage as the golden Cambrian snail and they tittered at Sukania as she played the tail-less dog and the mystical lizard which insisted on payment to perform her magic tricks.

To have an audience of children sit through a play is no easy task and the three ladies were visibly sweating from their efforts at the end of it.

Farming scene: A farmer sows his seeds in ‘Terra Arata’. Leave it to the imagination and be transported to a tilled field in a farm somewhere in a sunny countryside.
Watching Tera Arata requires a sense of childlikeness where fantastical imagination rules. Remember when fantasy games of make-believe served to entertain during dull afternoons and rainy days? Those were the days when one was transformed into Buck Rogers by Gran’s silver belt or Ms Universe with Mummy’s high heels.

It is too bad that as we grow up to be sensible adults, we lose this sense of imagination. Thus, we cheer the children and the ladies from Jumping Jellybeans to remind this so-called sensible adult that once in a while, it is good to let one’s imagination go.

Life would be so much happier this way….

Inspired by a surreal painting by Spanish Catalan painter Joan Miro, Terra Arata stars Cinzia Ciaramicoli, Sukania Venugopal and Shanthini Venugopal. The play is directed by Zahim Albakri with costumes by Dominique Devorsine and projected animation by Octagon Creative. For info on other Jumping Jellybeans productions, email thejumpingjellybeans@

Reza Salleh's Fantasy World

A singer-songwriter has a thing for superhero stories.

THE sun was streaming into his bedroom and singer-songwriter Reza Salleh, was settled comfortably in bed with a comic book.

Entitled 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the comic series had won the Eisner Award for best serialised story in 2001 and this 27-year-old, who has been a comics and anime fan since he was 14, said that this was one of his favourite titles.

Avid gamer: If left to his own devices, Reza can ‘game’ through the whole night.

The story, as Reza revealed, was about a guy in a suit who went round giving people a briefcase filled with a gun and 100 untraceable bullets, plus evidence revealing the whereabouts and identities of their enemies who had wronged them. The plot, Reza said, was interestingly filled with twists and turns, walking the thin line between right and wrong and adding to the element of suspense was in establishing the identity of this man and how he had come to play the role of the vigilante.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Reza was on a roll academically – studying in Melbourne, Petaling Jaya, Kedah, Kuala Lumpur and then Melbourne again, in that order. This former Bukit Bintang Boys School student revealed that comics, fantasy, anime and playing computer games (he has been known to ‘game’ for whole nights without sleep) have become mainstays during his leisure time.

But just who is Reza Salleh, you may ask? For one, this prolific musician who holds a degree in business and IT is the main person behind the Moonshine series of musical gigs for the past three years. With over 35 shows in his credit, Reza explained that the main objective of Moonshine was to act as a platform for young performers to showcase their music.

Reza’s work was recognised when he won the KLue Blue Chilly Award three years ago for his efforts. The award, he explained, was in recognition of young people who had excelled in their respective fields and are blazing the trail for others to follow. His EP, Smokecity, has been slowly making its rounds among fans and to regular subscribers of Facebook, an online mail and chat portal, Reza is but an all too familiar name.

And while it is his guitar which inadvertently makes him tick, Reza admitted that when he needs a break, it is his well-kept collection of comics, anime and computer games which keeps him going.

“I have a vivid imagination so that is why I like reading about things that are beyond reality, like getting in touch with a character that shoots laser from its eyes or to follow the chronicles of the last human being on earth as in Y The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Gueria, Jose Marzan, Jr and Paul Chadwick,” said Reza with a boyish laugh.

Reza recalled that his earliest collection had been from a small bookshop in Kedah, where he had spent his primary years.

“I was a bit of a kaki bangku then. While the other kids were playing football I was more into reading. I guess I was a bit of a ‘culture shock’ to the other Kedahan kids because I was the only one with an Australian accent, having spent my kindergarten years in Melbourne,” recalled Reza.

Over time, Reza, who now gets his literary fix from Kinokuniya said his penchant for superhero stories have diverged into the fantasy novels set within medieval and the modern Japan.

“One of the most riveting titles I have read is Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami, who has the ability to take you on an unbelievable imaginative trip. There is also another book by the same author, In the Miso Soup, which tells about a tour guide who unwittingly takes a psychotic murderer around Tokyo,” said Reza of his recent reads.

And while Reza fully realises that these works are nothing but fiction, he admitted that he cannot help but feel for the characters. Case in point is an anime entitled Full Metal Alchemist, a story about two brothers of whom one would lose his body and had to walk around in a suit of armour.

“Damn the writers for such a sad story! What had disappointed me the most was that at the end of the stories, the characters were back where they started despite all the suffering and hardship they had gone through,” said Reza.

At the end, when asked if Reza derived his songwriting inspiration from his literary collection, the answer was a surprising ‘no’. Coming from a family of three siblings with a librarian mother and an engineer turned business man father, Reza maintained that his head has always been screwed fast to reality.

“Most of the stories are too far-fetched and my songs are about my experiences in real life, so the two don’t correlate,” smiled Reza knowingly.

If you have a story to share with Reza, e-mail him at or visit

Monday, May 11, 2009

Zoo Negara officer out to stop needless killing of serpents

Zoo Negara media relations officer Tayalan Raman is on a one-man crusade to promote snake conservation.

“Snakes are a misunderstood lot because people find it hard to relate to them.

“It does not help that some societies regard their presence as a sign of evil.

Show of fangs: The mangrove tree snake is mildly venomous but the poison emitted from its rear fangs is only harmful if the victim has a low level of antibodies. The toxin may result in high fever, swelling and itchiness

“There is also the misconception that all snakes are venomous and as such, they end up being killed,” said the 27-year-old.

As a result, Tayalan said many snake species were now endangered.

“Snakes are not only unloved, they are also exploited for medicinal purposes.

“Their skin is sought after by Chinese medicinal halls and they are also caught for anti-venom production,” he said.

This is a cause for concern because, as carnivores, they serve an important role by keeping the balance of the food chain intact.

“In agriculture, for example, snakes play a part in keeping the rodent population in check.

“This prevents the mice from growing in large numbers and destroying the crops,” Tayalan said.

Snake lover: Tayalan shows how gentle handling can get one acquainted with a reticulated python.

Snakes also act as thermometers for the environment as they are very sensitive to atmospheric changes.

“One reason why snakes are always flicking out their tongues is to pick up chemical signals from their surroundings. The chemical molecules that they collect with their tongue are placed inside their mouth and then inserted into the Jacobson’s organ. The Jacobson’s organ analyses the information, and tells the snake about the surroundings.

As snakes are cold-blooded, Tayalan also revealed that they have to rely on their surroundings to control their body temperature and this is the reason why a large number of snake species are found near the equator.

“The habitat of snakes is divided into four categories: arboreal (lives on trees), terrestrial (lives on land), aquatic (lives in water), and burrowing (lives underground). If they leave their habitats, then something is wrong,” he pointed out.

In reaching out to the public to play their part in snake conservation, Tayalan urged that seeing a snake was not reason enough to kill it.

“Most snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. Do not bother them. Just move away if you happen to come across one.

Yunnan striped snake: This non venomous species is rare and can only be found in deep lowland forests

“If you should get bitten by a venomous snake, remain calm. This may sound hard but if you panic, it will cause the venom to travel faster in your bloodstream. Apply a tourniquet above the bitten area and seek help,” said Tayalan who was bitten by a viper two years ago.

In addition, he also advised the public to read more literature on the subject to help them identify the venomous snakes from the harmless species.

“The fear of snakes is mostly due to conditioning which may begin from childhood.

“With education, the public perception may change and in due time the snake may even be appreciated for its beauty and its role in the ecosystem,” said Tayalan.

Tayalan can be contacted at 012-6091450.

Faiz Khaleed's Zest for life

Karate, drum jamming sessions, capoeira and dancing are some of the things that occupy cosmonaut Major Dr Faiz Khaleed’s free time.

Major Dr Faiz Khaleed’s entrance was nothing short of dramatic.

Having burst into the meeting lounge of the National Space Agency (ANGKASA), the cosmonaut-in-waiting proceeded to pump the hand of a startled gentleman whom he assumed was the photographer.

Action hero: Faiz strikes a ‘Tony Jaa’ pose

On discovering that the man was waiting for someone else, he let out an apologetic “oops”, flashed his signature grin and recovered from the faux pas by proposing an adjournment to Alamanda, a mall in Putrajaya.

It is anyone’s guess why Faiz had opted for a change of venue but in retrospect, this hyperactive Virgo must have wanted to placate a hungry tum, having burnt off the remnants of his breakfast darting around all morning.

And true enough, the first pit stop he made when we arrived at Alamanda was to head for Rotiboy, whose coffee-flavoured Mexican buns are a great favourite of his.

“I love the smell of coffee,” affirmed this famous Johannian as he dug into the aromatic breads with relish.

Having said so, this army dentist admitted to being a loyal patron of San Francisco Coffee and Starbucks.

Alternatively, he might head for Secret Recipe for its marble cheesecake or savour an ice-cream cone.

While the weight watcher would have balked at the calories, this lithe, zippy bachelor brushed aside all thoughts of gaining weight on his favourite chow.

As long as one took care to watch one’s intake of carbohydrates and fats on a daily basis, Faiz surmised that an occasional indulgence was perfectly okay.

Furthermore, he also leads an active lifestyle.

Karate, drum jamming sessions, capoeira and dancing are some of the things that occupy this bachelor’s time on his days off.

Even on work days, Faiz perks up his mornings by doing a jig in front of the mirror.

Faiz, however, confessed that he no longer practises karate as much as he used to due to his work commitments with ANGKASA but it was an activity which had dominated his secondary and university days.

Cheesecake lover: It’s okay to indulge once in a while, says Faiz.

“Karate was something I seriously went into after my father, Khaleed Abdullah, 59, put me up to the challenge when I was 13.

“It started when I asked him to buy me a gi and he remarked that there was no need to since I’d grow tired of it after a few classes.

“He was, of course, referring to the time when I joined the Boy Scouts, something I subsequently lost interest in.

“But karate was different as it required me to develop a rhythm with my hands and feet. It was about timing, coordination, speed and accuracy.

“And mastering these would take up most of my weekends as I went for karate classes,” recalled the Universiti Malaya graduate.

The intensity of his karate training sessions must have concerned his mother Mazenah Mohamad, 54, who tried suggesting that the boisterous teen take up a sport with less physical contact.

The possibility of her son losing his front teeth must have been too much to bear.

“My coach would invite exponents from other classes to spar with us and they were usually much older.

“In the beginning, the bouts were often one-sided because I always got whacked.

“Over time, I developed a level of resilience. I still got whacked but I managed to stay in the ring,” recalled Faiz, a 1st Dan, who flashed his signature grin again to reveal that he had survived the ordeal with his teeth intact.

The eldest of three siblings, Faiz said he had grown up in a close-knit family, adding that time spent with his parents, brother, Faizal, 26 and sister, Faira, 23, was something he greatly cherished. It is not unusual to find the whole family huddled together in front of the TV when Faiz is home.

“My brother and sister share the same set of friends and we often hang out together. We’d call each other to find out where the other was going and meet up.

“And because everybody knows everybody, it’s always a fun affair,” said Faiz who loves to frequent the cafes in Sri Hartamas and Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.

Game for anything: Faiz with his Sony PSP.

Otherwise, this gregarious character can be found testing his reflexes in front of his X-box game console.

“I love to play video games because it sharpens your reflexes. When I am on the road, I always have my Sony PSP with me so that if I have to wait, I can pass the time with a fighting or race car game.

“I prefer quick games rather than the long, complicated ones where you have to complete tasks to get to the next stage.

“The other thing that draws me to them is the graphics, which makes the game rather realistic,” he said.

Video games aside, Faiz is also a movie buff and revealed he had worked at Mid Valley’s Golden Screen Cinema as a popcorn vendor during his university days.

“That was the time when Scorpion King (starring The Rock) and Batman (starring Michael Keaton) were playing,” recalled Faiz who has an affinity for action movies.

Faiz cited Tony Jaa of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong fame as one of his favourite action heroes.

And of course, Faiz has a favourite line to reflect on when things get tough.

“One line from the movie Iron Man (starring Robert Downey Jr) that struck a chord was, ‘We’ve been through worse weather before’. So whenever I am feeling down, I think of that and it lifts me up,” said Faiz.

Faiz can be reached at faizkhaleed@yahoo. com

Made to measure

Boots and shoes, are painstakingly produced to individual tastes.

The strong smell of glue seemed to emanate from the rows of leather boots and gentlemen’s shoes on display in Rahmat Mokhtar’s shoe shop. How this boot-maker and his staff of three were able to work in the chemical-laden air is a mystery.

“We’re used to it but maybe you should step out of my workshop. You might get dizzy,” said the 39-year-old Rahmat with genuine concern. But there was nowhere to go. So for the writer’s sake, Rahmat fastened the caps on some opened cans of glue, hoping this would make a difference. It didn’t.

Rahmat may or may not be aware of the dangers of prolonged solvent inhalation but either way, this Negri Sembilan native did not think it was a matter of great importance.

Sense of fun: Rahmat Mokhtar isn’t averse to playing dress up for our cameras.

He reckoned that if he could survive a head-on crash with a lorry in 1991, the smell of glue was a trivial matter.

“The accident made me realise that I should never do things in a hurry,” said Rahmat of the life lesson learned from the ordeal. Today, the scars on his face and forearms serve as a reminder that life is to be appreciated.

Rahmat, the youngest of seven siblings, said he had taken up shoe-making soon after he left his hometown of Serting Ulu for Kuala Lumpur at the age of 18.

“I started work as an assistant for Mohamad Affendi, an Indonesian who specialised in leather products. He treated me like a brother and taught me how to make leather boots. One reason I had taken a liking to the craft was because he was such a good teacher,” recalled Rahmat.

With no formal training, Rahmat had to rely on experience to be his tutor and that was how in 1989, Rahmat became a street cobbler in Jalan Chow Kit.

Then there was no institute offering shoe-making courses so he learned everything through observation. One of the first things he recalled doing was to help Abang Pin prepare the materials needed to make footwear in addition to sweeping up before closing shop. Those early years, he recalled, were fun because Abang Pin was the ‘sporting’ type.

Take your pick: Colourful boots for all occasions line the walls of Rahmat’s shoe shop.

“One important value that my family taught me is when it comes to choosing one’s career, it is very important that you like what you do,” said Rahmat.

And making shoes, decided Rahmat would be his calling. Today, equine riders usually find themselves at Rahmat’s shop to have him measure their feet for riding boots. Even the repairs of their reins and bridles are done by him.

“It is not exactly a glamorous line to be in. Most times, it’s a matter of ensuring that my customers’ boots are made according to their specification and they are mostly equine sportsmen who are more particular about safety features rather than style.”

Still, the crucial point for Rahmat has always been the fit of the footwear he makes.

“One of the biggest slip-ups I made resulted in a customer not being able to zip up his boots because I had made a mistake with the measurement of the boot top. That kind of thing, I do my best to avoid,” he smiled sheepishly.

Meanwhile, the rate of production for Rahmat’s handcrafted boots is three pairs for every two days but customers are requested to give him at least 10 days for a job well done.

Prices start from RM200 for casual gentlemen’s shoes and RM350 for boots.

For the sake of trivia, in all his 21 years as boot-maker, Rahmat has never owned or worn a pair of boots, preferring the comfort of slippers instead.

The father of three girls aged 10, 9 and 3 said: “I don’t see the necessity as I don’t ride horses or own a motorcycle. Besides, it’s cooler to wear slippers as I move around a lot.”

Leather Point is located at FF22, Bazaar Pertama, Pertama Complex, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, or call 012-357 7295.

Overcoming the sound barrier through dance

Wei Yujie was visibly incensed and her gestures showed it.

As she pumped both hands in a circular motion to sign her vexations, the 16-year-old from Shanxi, China, stormed off from the interview and settled among the comforting presence of her fellow dancers to cool off.

The deaf lead dancer, who performed at The Awakening concert by the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe which took place in the Plenary Hall in KLCC recently was having a mini tantrum.

The next day, however, at the lobby of The Palace of the Golden Horses, Wei had visibly cooled down enough to revert to her playful self by fluttering her eye lashes to convey her apologies for last night’s tantrum.

Mentor: Wei (right) with her dance teacher Wang Jing.

But, Wei certainly had not put the matter to rest. Having gone through a night of soul-searching, she had come prepared to defend herself.

Dance, she said in sign language, was about the dancer and her ability to touch her audience through her art.

While it may be public knowledge that Wei is deaf and that she will never be able to hear the music that accompanied her movements on stage, Wei insisted that by no means would a discerning audience allow a dancer to use her disability as an excuse for a dismal performance.

As such, though being handicapped may be a criterion to be a part of the troupe, it does not mean that their performance would be overlooked.

So, in the end, though Wei may be deaf, she still had to work as hard as any other hearing dancer to maintain her place in the troupe and as such, was entitled to the same recognition as bestowed to an able-bodied dancer.

As it is, the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, founded in 1987, is an internationally rated dance troupe which does 150 performances a year.

Graceful and opinionated and sure of what she wants, summed up this slender Chinese beauty who began dance lessons at the age of five.

Wei, who lost her hearing during infancy after a botched up injection, said that she had never allowed anyone to push her around.

“I’d fight back, she gestured with a kung fu pose. But don’t get me wrong, she signed again. I am not some street hooligan itching for a brawl. I prefer to love instead of fight, she maintained.”

It was such qualities that had endeared Wei to the troupe’s talent scout when she was spotted at a dance competition in Hubei at the age of nine.

“I had liked her at first sight because I felt that she possessed an inner strength and for someone so young, she looked very sure of herself. Also she had such a charming smile” recalled Wei’s dance teacher Wang Jing, 41, who is also the vice-president of the troupe.

Of course, Wei, who is the only child had also benefited from the advantages of having broadminded parents.

Preferring to keep their identities anonymous for reasons of privacy, Wei revealed that her mother, a teacher, and her father, who holds a management post in an international firm, had ensured that she received a proper education and was sufficiently exposed to the outside world.

“One thing for sure, they did not hide her away for shame as some parents would have done. This is why, she is able to advance to such a level,” said Wei’s teacher.

But though Wei, who is based in Beijing, now holds the esteemed position of lead dancer, a teen will always be a teen.

“She keeps a diary and of course that is strictly private. She likes to read and when she is not dancing, her nose is perpetually buried in a book,” said Wang.

But one of her biggest pleasures, Wei communicated in sign language, was to indulge in cheesecake. The chances are few and far between as such fattening foods are strictly off limits for the troupe’s dancers.

Meanwhile, this bubbly teen hopes she will inspire her readers with this message - Never Give Up!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Patch up job

Ngadia Sunarpi and Rahmawan are the people to see if you want to repair that old pair of jeans.

DO you have a pair of old and frayed jeans you want to repair?

Look for Ngadia Sunarpi and his son, Rahmawan, jeans repair and leather works specialists at Pertama Complex in Kuala Lumpur.

Precision work: Leather and denim have to blend smoothly.

Of Javanese descent, Ngadia, 52, and Rahmawan, 20, like many of the jeans repairers and leather works people in Pertama Complex, are self-taught tailors.

Ngadia, who started out as a cobbler, learned the trade by observing his Pakistani peers, while Rahmawan began working in his father’s shop at the age of 15.

To patch up old jeans, they use a series of zig-zag stitches and another cloth to act as backing for the frayed material. They can also patch the affected parts with leather and give the jeans a whole new look. And they guarantee it will not end up looking like patchwork quilt.

Now, why take so much trouble with a torn pair of jeans? Would it not be better to replace it with a new pair?

Ngadia said some people have an attachment to their pair of well-worn jeans, like children and their security blankets.

Ready to ride: The cowboy look, with studs.

“Most of my customers are reluctant to throw their old jeans away. In most cases, the part most worn out is the part that covers the derriere, while the other areas are still in perfect condition. Most owners will therefore try to salvage the garment because of this,” said Ngadia, who also cited reasons of thrift for the decision to repair the jeans.

But leather patchwork is by no means an economical solution as it may cost the customer at least RM80, depending on the design. So those who opt for this do it mainly for the sake of fashion.

“The trend of leather patches in jeans had come about in the late 80s. It coincided with the advent of the popularity of big bikes. You know the tough biker look with leather jackets and boots? Well, this is a spin off from the trend,” explained Ngadia.

According to Ngadia, the look reflected the rough and tumble lifestyle of the biker crowd.

“Essentially, the leather was a safety feature. If you fell off the bike, the tough hide will prevent your skin from getting scraped,” he said, and indicated how one customer had customised his jeans with built-in knee guards.

While this may be haute couture, it is not a task for an amateur.

Rahmawan revealed that one needs tailoring skills to merge two different types of materials together in a series of smooth seams. Achieving this “flow” can be a challenge as the texture and flexibility of denim and leather are worlds apart.

“The most complicated part, which is also the most common area that our customers want to work on, is the crotch area. As this part also forms the backbone of the jeans, it is likened to disassembling the entire structure of the garment only to reassemble it again after the introduction of a patch of leather. This is where you need to be very, very precise to ensure that the garment does not lose its shape. One slip and you’d end up with a crooked waist line or a bad fit,” he pointed out.

This is one disaster they never want to encounter.

“Most times, only the customer’s favourite pair of jeans is accorded such treatment, and in most cases, they are usually Armanis and Dolce and Gabbanas. If you ruin these, you’d have to face a very disappointed customer,” said Rahmawan.

As to what types of leather are suitable for this purpose, Ngadia who has 23 years of experience, advised that thicker leather be used for the crotch and derriere, while the front areas like the trouser legs and fly could do with a softer grade like goat skin.

“But the whole idea of incorporating leather patches into a pair of jeans is to make it last so that should be taken into consideration above everything else,” added Ngadia.

In retrospect, leather has its own allure, noted father and son. Guys who wear leather come off as macho and girls who do are seen as attractive. But leather patched jeans will give one a different look from the others.

“Your jeans will definitely leave a lasting impression,” they concluded.

Leather patched jeans aside, they also tailor leather pants and jackets and repair racing suits, leather jackets, gloves and handbags.

For enquiries, call 016-343 6813 or visit at FF12, 1st Floor, Pertama Complex, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100, KL.

Working beyond their limitations

To prove that disability should not be a hindrance to earning one’s keep, a total of 30 physically-challenged participants showcased their business and artistic acumen at the Photography Exhibition and Disability Employment Aware-ness exhibition at the Sunway Pyramid recently.

Carrying the message, “Productivity Beyond Limitation,” the event was organised by the Beautiful Gate Foundation (BGF) to encourage people with disabilities to promote their products and services.

In her speech, the foundation’s executive director Sia Siew Chin, 42, pointed out that the exhibition was an awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the need for public and private bodies to provide employment for the physically challenged.

It was also to show the obstacles and barriers that are preventing the disabled from being financially and physically independent.

Art without hands: He does her calligraphy by strapping a brush to her right stump.

“When we talk about employment, we are not only talking about jobs, but it is a whole package that involves accessible transportation, housing, employment support system, accessible workplace and other facilities,” she said.

The exhibition, which also acts to symbolise the determination of people with disabilities (PWDs), is one way to acknowledge their capabilities and economic contribution.

The event, said Sia, was a concerted effort to provide a platform for PWDs to create business partnership opportunities in order for them to achieve self reliance and be economically independent.

One of the participants who lauded BGF’s effort was Chinese calligrapher, He Xue Mei.

The 38-year-old who lost both arms at work due to an accident in a fireworks factory at age 18, recalled that the first few months of her recuperation had been full of despair and frustration.

“In the beginning, I had to rely on others to do everything for me, but it did not take me long to realise that I had regained my independence.

“The process of relearning how to function without my hands and picking up a viable skill helped me to snap out of my depressive rut,” said He who hails from Zhuhai, China.

She went on to practice Chinese writing by strapping a brush to her right stump.

Today, the mother of two daughters aged 14 and 9, is a calligraphy teacher when she is not travelling.

“There has to be a sense of purpose in one’s life and this is not possible to have if you cannot sustain yourself financially,” said He.

Unique: Wong Sai Choo’s image of a woman cutting fruits won second place in the adult category of the photography contest.

Dealing with the question of employment has also led wheelchair-bound Raymond Teoh, 26, to the exhibition.

Teoh, whose forte is in web and graphic design, is now the creative director of his own company, At Home Creative, with another fellow PWD, Aw Yot Kong, 35, a graphic designer.

The duo promoted their latest line of merchandise, printed T-shirts carrying an environmental theme, at the exhibition.

“The last thing we want is for people to sympathise with us. Instead, we want them to appreciate us for our creativity,” said Teoh, who operates his business from a rented house in Cheras.

Also displayed at the exhibition were prize-winning photographs of a photography contest on the disabled. For enquiries, call Beautiful Gate Foundation at 03-7873 6579.