Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thrills galore

At the Lost World of Tambun, an adrenaline-filled adventure awaits – but first, do a bit of planning.

AT the Lost World of Tambun, it is the magic of the mountains that beckons first of all.

The enchantment begins as soon as the limestone hills in all their majestic glory are sighted. For those who are attuned to nature, there is a positive buzz, an indication of rejuvenating ions in the rich, oxygen-filled air.

Looking at the scene, one gets the impression that there are a series of hills in the background but according to the locals, the whole range is known by one name, Gunung Dato. It must be mentioned that Gunung Dato is the middle part of an estimated 60km-long limestone massive which stretches from Gunung Gajah in Kuala Dipang to Gunung Kantan in Chemor.

Fun with a view:Gunung Dato provides an enchanting background to the park.

Hymeir Kamarudin, 47, president of the Malaysian Karst Society, says the 448m-high limestone peak that overlooks the theme park is a result of deposited dead sea creatures and other shell animals which have been compressed millions of years ago. It was formed when these heaps were pushed up by land movements and this relatively young hill is believed to have been formed about 400 million years ago.

“What we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg, as 95% of this limestone hill is still underground,” says Hymeir, hinting that the hill can still “grow”.

Impressive as Gunung Dato may be, the jewel in this theme park’s crown has to be an upright, phallus-shaped 80m-high limestone formation, which has been politely called “The Needle of Tambun”.

Jokes aside, this is possibly a geological wonder – if not a miracle of nature! According to Hymeir, the splitting of limestone formations usually begins with the appearance of fissures and cracks in the wall that can be caused by the combinative elements of temperature change, wind and water. In most cases the fissures are usually jagged and when a split occurs, the shape is inadvertently an irregular one. In this case, by some blessing of nature, the cracks had run along the right lines to give the rock formation a clean split, as if both sides had been cut apart with a knife.

For those who believe in the power of nature, such sights will no doubt be a reminder of its subtle might.

The best way to suss out the whole place is to take a ride on the train

But enough of the view already! Those who have children in tow will quickly be reminded that staring at limestone hills is not the way to spend a day of fun at a theme park.

In an online review, one blogger made a snide remark that the Lost Word of Tambun is a lost case, calling the theme park a boring place with inadequate facilities for the ticket price it charges (RM30 for adult; RM24 for children below 12; FOC for children below 90cm).

Whatever it is that made this blogger unhappy, the first thing to remember when in a theme park is to throw away one’s inhibitions and have fun. Don’t be afraid of getting wet and to tilt your head up and taste the raindrops should it rain.

Never mind about walking around barefoot in wet clothes too – it is the fashion here.

For those with children along, remember that it is also your day to bond with them.

Nevertheless, it is still important to do a bit of planning so you can make full use of the seven to eight hours that you and your family will be there.

There is no fun to being stuck at the sandy bay even if it has a wave pool that generates seven types of wave patterns, or to be put on sentry duty guarding the family’s bags for the whole day. So it is advisable to change into your bathing suits and then chuck everything – towels, wallets, dry clothes, milk powder, baby bottles etc. – into a rented locker (RM10 per unit). That will leave your hands free and your mind at peace. The lockers are programmed to recognise your own specially-created personal identification number so you will not need to carry a key around.

Thrilling spin: Another way to dry off is to take a ride on the Dragon Flight.

The next thing to do is to hitch a ride on the vintage train, which is actually a modified tram. This will allow you to list down all the cool hangouts, the petting zoo included. Expect to spend two to three hours at the zoo to allow the children to make an educational connection with the reptiles and mammals there.

Then go for the tube slide or cliff racers rides and have an exhilarating time! Whizzing down any of these four giant slides, or the speed coasters, will surely shift your heart from left to right. We dare the reader to try out the biggest, fully open slide which is 155m in length!

Those with vivid imaginations are bound to feel that they are going to sail right into the air. But don’t worry, at the very worst you’d only end up with a big splash in the pool in the end. For a bit of suspense, try the totally enclosed slide where you zip downwards in total darkness.

Expect to be here for the next two hours as the children will want to go back for numerous rounds. One tactic to get the children to move from this addictively fun spot is to feign a fainting spell, as this writer did, citing vertigo and high blood pressure as excuses.

The 600m adventure river is your next best bet as it is right next to the sliding tubes. Plop in, relax and let the waves carry you along. Prepare to be amused by stone frogs that will spit water at you and look out for a drenching too as there is a giant tipping bucket along the way. You might want to rent one of those round floats (Single for RM18/ Double for RM22; deposit for both are RM10 each) to enjoy this attraction but make sure to keep a close watch over them as they have a tendency to “walk” off.

At the end of the river, there is a children’s wading pool. Here again, you’ll be expected to head the charge as pirate chief while the young ’uns run head first to the water cannons, spraying elephants and slides before clambering on the pirate ships.

Perhaps this is also when mum and dad may want to go at the dry rides at the amusement park. Judging from the thrilling options on offer, it will not need much persuading to herd the children to try these out as well. From personal experience, the swing chair ride is highly recommended.

After a round of thrills, this is perhaps a good time for one parent to visit the hawker stalls while one stands by to keep watch. Though there is no shortage of vigilant (and dishy looking) lifeguards here, there are clear signs to remind parents to keep watch over their brood at all times.

Having a picnic style lunch at the sandy bay is a great way to unwind. This relaxing spot with swaying palm trees is as good as being at the beach and the view of the limestone hills is, again, stunning.

One of the fun things to do in this area is to stand under the fountains and just let the water course down and allow the natural flow to cool and massage your weariness away.

For those who love warm baths, there is the deliciously relaxing hot spring dip by the beach area. As evening draws near and about an hour before the park shuts down, nothing beats a long soak in the hot spring where you can feel the prickly sensation of minerals on your skin.

The hot spring is so popular, the dipping hours have been extended on Fridays and Saturdays (from 6pm to 9pm) and aptly called “Hot Nights”.

For enquiries, call 605-5428 888 visit their website at

Published in The Star on Nov 22, 2009

Art everywhere, but who cares?

THERE is no lack of wall murals and public sculptures in almost every nook and corner, and from this display of artistic prolificacy, public knowledge on the Malaysian art scene should not be a matter of contention.

Sadly, the reverse is true.

“I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have no idea who the artist is,” answers one building manager when queried on a metre-long mosaic art piece in a landmark building.

Money matters: A mural depicting the world of ringgit and sen in the lobby of Bank Negara done by Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal in 1971. The artist, now in his 80s, was honoured as a National Artist in 1995. Ahmad earned his place in Bank Negara’s prestigious art collection after his entry won the National Bank of Malaysia Mural Competition in 1970.

Shockingly, representatives of another establishment even revealed that they were going to chuck the sculpture flanking the entrance of the building into storage because it was gathering too much dust and becoming a bother to clean. Others merely shrugged their shoulders and appeared content with their ignorance.

“This is a typical characteristic of develop­ing nations, where art is not considered important,” said Majid Amir, 38, a curator at the National Art Gallery.

For this curator who thinks nothing of waiting a whole day for stencil artist Albert Rat (he is notorious for keeping an elusive distance from the public and press) to show up, this sense of apathy towards public art work is disappointing.

“The field of public art is not for the ‘small guys’. This is because the structures that go on display in public usually take on a larger-than-life scale. This means that the work has to ‘interact’ with the public. It may be climbed on or subjected to all sorts of weather conditions. Crucially, it has to be sturdy and be able to withstand the elements.

“This requires the artist to have experience in architecture, engineering and a thorough knowledge of building materials, not to mention the talent to achieve an aesthetic form that will appeal to the eye. Ultimately, it will not be something that an untrained individual can handle. All the more, such pieces deserve recognition,” said Majid.

Hanging sculpture: A hanging sculpture by an unknown artist right above the stage in the centre court of the Putra World Trade Centre outlining the Minangkabau roof of the building. The beauty of this piece lies in its ability to present itself in a different form when seen from different angles.

Speaking from experience is sculptor Ramlan Abdullah, 49, who is best known for the giant keris in front of the Bukit Jalil Stadium and whose works have been displayed in KLCC and Sheraton Perdana Hotel in Langkawi.

“It is dangerous to think that art is insignificant because a country’s artistic heritage is a mark of its identity. Take, for example, how the Statue of Liberty is synonymous with New York. The presence of art gives one a sense of place, and for a nation, it is also a reflection of its technological advancement,” said Ramlan, who has 22 years of experience in the field with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn.

Installing a piece of public art is no cheap affair. Majid revealed that starting prices began at no less than RM100,000 but this was still subject to the materials, detailing and size. In answer to cynics who opine that such installations might be better replaced with more useful facilities, Majid argued that it was important to think about how art could contribute to a civilisation.

“Art is about using the left brain, the part which enables creative thinking. Nurturing this part helps society to achieve a balance between creative and logical thought which can sometimes be too rigid. The absence of art will leave a vacuum in civilisation,” Majid insisted.

Bond between man and beast: Illustrative details from the Selangor Turf Club Horse sculptures depicting the relationship between horse and mankind in the building of kingdoms, industries and chronicle their presence in the making of history.

So, where does an aspiring artist begin when it comes to entering the field of public art?

“Everything begins with a proposal,” Ramlan stated matter of factly.

The other thing is to take a bold step by submitting one’s sketches for competitions, a platform which has helped Ramlan gain recognition. Incidentally, Ramlan’s work bagged top prizes in Japan and the Philippines. The next step is to approach the architecture firms and he cited Hijjas Kasturi Associates as an example of a positive force in encouraging public art.

“Another useful tip is to do a bit of homework on who is behind a building project and to submit one’s work directly to this individual. Once this person takes a liking to your work, the deal is more or less set,” Ramlan said.

Published in The Star, Nov 17, 2009.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coming alive with colour

Just how do monks and nuns celebrate Chinese New Year? GRACE CHEN visits Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen monastery.

Jenjarom, Selangor (Malaysia) -- THE Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen monastery in Jenjarom, near Banting, Selangor, is a landscape of lanterns and flowers. In the gardens, the trees bend under the weight of pink cherry blossoms, and the tea trees have been sculpted into Bodhisattvas. At seven metres, they are a majestic sight.


As Venerable Man Dao comes to greet me, the first words to leap out of my mouth are: “Are those cherry blossoms for real?”

The 58-year-old nun laughs indulgently and explains that they are artificial. “But isn’t the effect spectacular?”

I nodded.

“We set up these decorations so that people will feel the joy and confidence of Buddhism,” explains Man Dao.

A former secretary, this KL-ite joined the order when she was in her 30s. She tells me the monastery will be open to the public from Jan 28 to Feb 19, 10am to 10pm, in conjunction with the coming lunar new year. Among the highlights is the Lumbini Garden (meaning “abundance of fruits and flowers”), which houses a tower of lapis lazuli.

The night-time scene is breathtaking >>

Thousands of potted plants within the monastery, most of them in full bloom, will fill the air with heady scents. Outside the main shrine, three brightly-lit animatronic figures of the Buddha and Boddhisatvas will sprinkle holy water from an elevated rail. There will be a yearend praying ceremony at 8pm, and at 10pm, the lanterns will be lit. Come midnight, devotees will line up to offer their first incense for the new year.

In front of the main shrine the bell will be struck.

“There will be volunteers all over the compound to guide the crowd. A hundred thousand or so devotees will line up for the incense-lighting ceremony to make their wishes for the new year. There will be a sense of harmony in the air and, though there is a big crowd, no one will push and there be no rush,” says Abbot Hui Xian.

“I don’t sleep but spend the whole night praying,” says Man Dao. “This is the time when I feel most at peace and in my prayers I wish for all the good things to come to mankind.”

The two-year-old monastery is expecting close to two million devotees. Last year 190,000 devotees turned up during the 4th day of Chinese New Year alone.

The monastery planned the logistics, like parking, security, traffic and crowd control, six months in advance.

“By organising this Lantern cum Flower Festival, we hope to educate the devotees on the way of Buddhist thinking. This is also a time to enhance and promote family ties,” Man Dao tells me.

And to think that monastic life is one of quiet contemplation and prayers!

Man Dao says that such perceptions of monastic life are outdated. “Monks and nuns no longer live lives of seclusion on faraway hills. In these modern times, we don’t hide away. The Fo Guang Shan (meaning Buddha’s Light Mountain ) aims to promote humanistic Buddhism by going into society to spread the Buddha’s teachings,” explains Man Dao.

Venerable Hui Xian, 31, remembers how he spent Chinese New Year as a layperson, when he was mostly concerned with himself and what he wanted.

“Now as a monk I am busier with more things to do. I start my day at 6.30am and don’t finish until 10pm. But we feel happier here because what we do is for the benefit of others, not for oneself. Before, I only asked to be blessed with prosperity and good health for myself. Now that we are bestowing those blessings on others, I feel them coming to me. This brings more joy and it makes a big difference,” he says.

Satisfaction in serving others

Ask any monk or nun as to why he or she has chosen to serve the religious vocation, and you are likely to get an interesting answer. Take Venerable Hui Shiuan, for example.


“When I was young, a fortune-teller told my parents that I would not live past my teenage years because I was such a sickly child. But I did. From the Buddha’s teachings, I learned that I had to be the master of my own destiny. Joining the brotherhood of monks, I hope to inspire others to uphold Buddha’s teachings,” says Hui Shiuan, from Tainan, Taiwan.

Do the monks and nuns take time off to be with their own families during Chinese New Year?

Venerable Hui Xian, who hails from Kelantan, says there just isn’t time. “It’s our families who come to us. My mother is very proud to have an abbot for a son. When family members come to the monastery they treat us with respect and call us si fu. They are happy to see us,” he says.

Abbot Hui Xian >>

But what about those whose family cannot make the journey?

“At first, some find it hard to accept but sooner or later they come to terms with it,” says Man Dao. According to Hui Xian, a monk’s priority is no longer himself but mankind.

“Our priority now is towards the people. The people in the monastery become our family. Our time is devoted to the study of the Buddhist scriptures,” he explains.

“As monks, we are not only dealing with ourselves but with mankind. When devotees come and tell us their problems, we have to help. We are living in very troubled times, so we have an important role to teach and guide them in the Buddhist way,” adds Hui Xian.

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Man Dao says there are sacrifices to be made when one takes the vows to become a nun. She takes the Buddha as an example.

“Gautama was so dedicated to achieving enlightenment that he left his wife and son to search for the truth. If he had not made that sacrifice, there would be no Buddhism today,” she explains.

Becoming a nun or monk is not as easy as one might think. Man Dao says the monastic order vets all candidates carefully before they are accepted. They prefer candidates who are single and have impeccable morals. Once chosen, the person goes through a period of study and exams before being ordained.

“There is no such thing as seeking refuge in a monastery just because someone broke your heart or because you are trying to escape the responsibilities of life. That only happens in the movies,” she asserts.

“And no, we don’t do kung fu or catch mosquitoes with chopsticks!” quips Hui Xian, the abbot.

To give us a glimpse of what life in the monastery is like, Man Dao takes us to the Buddhist College within Dong Zen. There the students wear grey uniforms and there is no idle chitchat or loitering before class.

“The discipline is strict. Students are required to sit up straight during lessons and when they are reading the scriptures. At mealtimes they have to line-up. In the dining hall, they eat mindfully. They sit up straight and there is no talking or choosing food,” she points out.

Yu Mei Ling, 32, who once studied hotel management in the UK, is a student at the college. She says that the learning environment in the monastery is very healthy. Yu’s fellow classmate, Lisa Ngadi, 32, from Indonesia, says the strict discipline helps to better one’s personality and allows better control of emotions.

It is not clear if these two will be ordained as nuns – for now they will only say that the learning has helped them to understand the Buddha’s teachings in a deeper way.

“Once you are ordained as a monk, it does not mean that there is no turning back. Should a monk decide to return to the outside world, he will go through a disrobing ceremony. After that he is free to leave the monastery.

“There be no shame,” she assures. W

To contact Fo Guan Shang Dong Zen call 603-31911533 (Malaysia)

Published in The Star, Jan 28, 2006.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the food trail

A trip to the Lost World of Tambun is fun. What makes it even better is the array of good food places along the way.

NOTHING brings out the appetite like a fun-filled day at the Lost World of Tambun in Sunway City Ipoh.

Sunday Metro, your faithful makan guide, looks at the big question of where to eat as we go on an adventure trail of food stops leading to and from this theme park.

Hearty breakfast

As the Lost World of Tambun only opens at 11am (on weekends it’s 10am), you will seriously need to consider the breakfast issue.

Hawkers’ paradise: Foodstalls at Jalan Medan Ipoh 5 offer everything, from rojak to seafood and noodles to grilled chicken wings.

For those who are looking at sampling Ipoh’s famous hawker fare, consider a short drive to the New Weng Fatt coffee shop in Tingkat Taman Ipoh, Ipoh Garden South, which is about 10 minutes from the Lost World of Tambun.

Here is where you’ll find Ipoh’s famous curry noodle and Hakka Mee, served by the Cheah brothers who have another shop in Jalan Theatre in Ipoh’s old town.

This stall in New Weng Fatt is run by Chan Kum Ho, 46, the boss’ wife. She reveals that they have been serving their Hakka noodles with toppings of minced pork for three generations now.

You’ll love the wide array of springy fish and meat balls and many diners have also given the crunchy foo pei and fried wan tan the thumbs up.

Eric Wong of Unique Seafood holding up a Spider Crab.

For a good morning boost, ask for a beef tripe and meat soup with beef balls to go with your noodles. A budget of RM5 per person will easily tide you till lunch time.

Not to be missed at the same shop is the Teluk Intan glutinous rice with lashings of curry and thinly cut char siew by Ng Kong Chiew, 46, a Teluk Intan native who moved to Ipoh.

Priced at only RM3, this recipe, according to Ng, is no less than 48 years old having been passed down from his grandfather.

What makes this meal so satisfying is the combinative balance of sweet and savoury flavours from the roasted meat and curry sauce. Note that one is not enough, so it’s best to have this as a side dish together with something else.

And don’t miss out on the white coffee at Weng Fatt. It is delicious, hot or cold.

Another ideal spot, consider it a pit stop, is behind the Giant hypermarket in Jalan SCI 2/2 in Sunway City itself which is less than three minutes’ drive from the theme park.

There you’ll find many mamak shops offering a rich fare of mee goreng, roti canai and nasi lemak.

One personal favourite spot is a place called The Coffee Shop run by Johnny Ng, an amiable and very boyish looking 50-something who used to run Rum Jungle, one of Ipoh’s happening night spots.

Johnny Ng’s eggs on toast at The Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop may look sparse from the outside but they have great half-boiled eggs on thick toasted white bread.

This simple breakfast priced at only RM2.50 makes for an ideal meal especially when you have very young children in tow, and dining here is an escape from the hustle of the busier mamak shops.

It is also less stressful in terms of catering to junior’s toilet needs as the restrooms are squeaky clean.

The chatty Ng, a Muslim convert, is also good company who strikes up pleasant conversations with all the patrons. There is also free wifi, which gives time for the adults to catch up on their latest Facebook postings.

Relaxing lunch

For lunch (by now we presume that everyone has amply soaked themselves in the adventure river and the wave pool at the theme park), the best recourse is the Waves Restaurant at the Lost World of Tambun itself.

Think fried chicken wings, burgers and spicy fried rice with sambal belacan.

It’s not exactly Ipoh fare as we know, but try cajoling a brood of excited children to leave the park just so that you can go for your bean sprouts and chicken with kway teow.

Tosai Anaconda at Nasmir

It will not work! The park’s marketing manager Mazian Nawawi, 32, recommends the deep fried fish fillet with potato wedges: Dory fish is used instead of fish cake patties, she says.

If choice is the issue, there is always the Kukuntalu hawkers’ section, which offers chicken rice, crepes, iced cendol and keropok lekor.

Nourishing snacks

If a light midday meal is more to your taste, the spicy tuna and chicken waffles at the Lost World of Tambun are a recommended option.

Fluffy with generous fillings, these warm, well-toasted waffles make for a wonderful snack and will give your taste buds a lingering memory.

Chow time: There’s lots of food to choose from and savour at the Lost World Of Tambun

Responsible for this novel idea is Sivaji Raja, 35, the assistant manager of food and beverage in the park.

The waffle inspiration, he modestly reveals, is nothing more than a combination of a light batter and a basic filling of mashed tuna and chicken mixed with spices and chillies.

“On a normal day, visitors can snap up close to 300 of our spicy waffles,” he says.

For teatime, the cherry scone at the Rimba Teahouse within the petting zoo is another edible gem.

Served warm with strawberry jam, butter and cream, it is very filling and one can be shared between two persons.

While the conservative palate may insist on washing this rich buttery confection down with coffee, Sivaji recommends the roasted rice tea, a special blend of honey, brown sugar, screwpine leaves and rice made exclusively for the Lost World of Tambun.

Tasty dinner

When the park closes at 6pm and everyone has towelled down and comfortably settled in dry clothes, you’d want to consider dinner. If you’re feeling plush, there is Unique Seafood in Persiaran Lagoon Sunway, just next door to the Lost Word of Tambun.

Barely a minute’s walk away, this place has a wide range of live seafood including spider crabs, lobsters and Scotland clams.

You decide on what you want, and these will be scooped up from the aquarium and cooked the way you want it.

For a sumptuous seafood treat of spider crab in a superior stock of dried scallop, pumpkin and free range chicken, be prepared to fork out no less than RM500.

Eric Wong, 29, the senior manager, gives full assurance as to the freshness of the seafood in this two-year-old Chinese restaurant, which is pork free.

There are also other meat and vegetable dishes ranging in price from RM6 to RM58 for a set lunch for four persons. Of note are the ostrich with XO sauce and crispy lemon chicken.

For the budget conscious, an option is Nasi Kandar Nasmir along Jalan Medan Ipoh 2 in Bandar Baru Medan (Ipoh Garden East, as locals call it), which is about six minutes’ drive away from the Lost World of Tambun.

Nasmir is famous for its half-metre-long Tosai Anaconda - one order at RM6 can easily feed three! They are also known for their briyani rice with ayam kampung (free-range chicken) and nasi kandar.

If you want a night out in the open, there is a hawkers’ paradise right across Nasmir’s in Jalan Medan Ipoh 5.

The food stalls, which at last count numbered more than 200, span the front and back streets and offer everything from rojak to seafood and noodles to grilled chicken wings.

Old-timer Dahapi Ismail, 70, who sells satay here says he has been doing business at the same spot for the last 20 years.

Dahapi is very much the chatty type and if you’re thinking of touring the rest of Ipoh after a visit to the Lost World of Tambun, he may be able to give you some suggestions on where to go.

To get to the Lost World of Tambun, drive along Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah Utara and then Jalan Tambun. Head for Sunway City. The theme park is just right after the Giant Hypermarket.