Nan Lian Garden

Today is Deepavali.  We will never forget last year’s Deepavali when we started our trip stuck behind four and half hours of traffic jam crawling from Singapore to Malaysia.  I put my bladder to the ultimate test.  Since then, we have not driven to Malaysia.  According to local news, earlier this year, when Malaysia Customs first rolled out the fingerprint verification system, the traffic jam had extended to eight hours.  The only time I could hold my pee that long is when I am having a very good sleep.  I cringe thinking about such scenario.

This year’s Deepavali, Cynthia and I are in Hong Kong.  If you have not visited Nan Lian Garden, you ought to pay it a visit.  The nearest MTR station is Diamond Hill.  The garden is filled with rare plantations and fossil stones imported from, I presume, China.  Today was my second visit.  Inside a souvenir shop that I must have missed in my first visit, I spotted tiny pieces of fossil stones no bigger than an abalone selling from HK$10,000 to 30,000.  I could only imagine how much those gigantic fossil stones scattered in the garden would cost.

There is a Chinese vegetarian restaurant inside Nan Lian Garden.  It opens at noon and it is popular.  My dad got a queue number before noon and we did not have to wait for our table.  The decoration is tradition and elegant and the atmosphere is clean and cosy.  The beetroot and carrot soup was complimentary.  So was the fruit plate.  For the four of us, we have ordered:

  1. Braised Mini Beancurd Patty with Mixed Vegetables
  2. Yellow Porcini Mushroom with Beancurd Casserole
  3. Eggplant with Diced Oyster Mushroom Casserole
  4. Deep-fried Curry Puff with Mixed Mushroom
  5. Stir-fried Noodle with Bean Sprouts
  6. Dessert

All in and it costs HK$420 (about S$70).  I think it is rather reasonable for a yummy and healthy meal.  The restaurant inside our Botanic Gardens in Singapore would cost more, if I remember correctly.

As the four of us admired the fossil stones in Nan Lian Garden, my parents would say: Look, that is a tiger.  Look, that is a dragon.  Look, that is a human.  And look, that is a sheep.  Every time when I saw a stone that demanded our imagination, I would whispered to Cynthia: Look, that is a panda.  Look, that is a panda too!  Yes, we are still in joy.  Thank you Blizzard.

My mother often pokes fun at how slow I am to process my photographs.  This year, when I click the shutter, I aim for total perfection.  Every click matters.  The only tweak I need to perform is white balancing.  I think that is the bare minimum in term of digital photo processing.

10th Wedding Anniversary, Festival Of Lights, And A Grueling Drive To Fraser’s Hill

Friday morning, I woke up feeling woozy.  Cynthia has been having this bad cough at night lately.  When we reached the bridge that connects Singapore to Malaysia, on a Friday late morning, I was not able to comprehend what the signboard said.  It said: A back-flow of traffic from [I can’t recall the village name].  What does back-flow means?  Have they reversed the flow of traffic?

Clearing the Singapore Customs was a breeze.  As we drove through the 2nd link from Tuas (the 1st being the one in Woodland), our spirit was high.  We love road trips.  For our 10th Wedding Anniversary, Cynthia has suggested to stay over at Fraser’s Hill – our favorite location to relax in Malaysia.  And then, we saw it!  I was hyperventilating.  I wanted to pee!  If someone from Singapore Customs was to stare westward, he or she would see a massive built-up of traffic flowing from Malaysia to Singapore.  That explains “back-flow”, probably.

Friday was a public holiday.  It was Deepavali.  The story is rather romantic.  And I shared it with Cynthia as we crawled through the three-soon-to-be-expanded-into-four lanes of traffic.  A story I heard from my Indian colleague.  It goes something like this.  Once upon a time, there was a titan.  A good titan who ruled over the world (or the Indian part of the world).  When the titan was given the power by the gods, he started to abuse his people, making them suffered.  The only person who could stop this titan was his mother – the goddess of mother earth.  When the titan was finally struck down by the goddess, before his death, he asked his people to celebrate his death in a festival of lights (hence Deepavali).  Legend says that the good titan was corrupted by power.  And with power, he lost his humanity.  I love this story.  It causes us to reflect on what the wielding of power can do to us.  After I finished my story, we were still stuck in a massive traffic jam.

I did a timing.  At worst part of the jam, it took us 40 minutes to move 500 meters.  The jam was 4 to 5 km long.  You can do the maths.  That was why I panicked.  We had no water and food in the car.  And I wanted to pee.  I read somewhere (or was it in a movie?) that someone was holding his pee for too long and his bladder exploded.  He died painfully of course.  What a horrible way to end one’s life!  Throughout the FOUR AND A HALF HOURS traffic congestion, I saw one driver opened the car door and emptied a plastic container of fluid onto the road.  I did not want to know what that was.  I also saw one kid holding out a plastic bag of fluid.  I also did not want to know what that was.  Some left the cars or buses and have decided to walk to the Malaysia Customs.  One Malaysian BMW broke down.  Engine overheated or out of petrol, I have no clue.  I felt for the young couple.  There was little chance that a tow truck could reach that Bimmer before dawn.  Every inch of the road was utilized by vehicles.  We saw one Malaysian driver alternated between pushing his car and driving it.  That was critical fuel saving mode!

By the time we got through the Customs, it was late.  Some cars raced pass us in some ungodly speed.  Maybe there was some real emergency trying to reach the toilets not too far ahead.  Before we could see the petrol station, we saw another jam.  There were some police labeled cones and there was a road block.  Since all of us have suffered through a 4.5 hours jam, I feel that it was really cruel for the police to set up a speed trap right after the Customs.  Who wouldn’t speed?  Fortunately, I have mind over bladder.  I stayed at 110 km per hour for that few minutes of short drive from the Customs to the roadblock.

Fraser’s Hill is about 500 km away from Singapore.  In a normal day, it takes between 6 hours to 7 hours and 20 minutes to reach.  The last 7 km was called The Gap.  The road is so narrow that it can only be a one-way traffic.  So odd hours to go up, even hours to come down.  The gate closes at the 40th minute so as to make sure that the last car enters is able to cover the 7 km (in worst scenario, one may need to wait for 1 hour and 20 minutes for the gate to open).  By the time we left the highway, it was pitch dark.  The road was wet due to raining.  Occasionally from afar, we saw the fireworks.  A celebration of Deepavali by the villagers.  It was a pretty scene.  Fireworks on our 10th anniversary!  That momentarily suppressed our supreme hunger and worries (did you know that petrol stations such as Petronas that do not have a higher quality fuel selection are not allowed to sell petrol to Singaporean cars because standard petrol is subsidized by the govenment?) and I muscled the car through the hilly and windy, wet and slippery roads.  I could hardly see what lied ahead but there was no time to waste.  Time to switch the car to sport mode (there is really such a mode, and not figurative speaking) keeping the accelerator floored.  When we reached The Gap, it was so late that it was free for all.  As we drove up, we had encountered 5 cars coming down.  That was the reason why we needed to press on and cover The Gap asap.  We reached Smokehouse before 10 pm.

On Sunday, when we came down via The Gap, it was a totally different scene.  Fraser’s Hill is now so commercialized that there is a huge tourist bus taking tourists up and down the highland.  It took the bus half an hour to cover the 7 km distance.  Emerged from The Gap, we were stuck behind a train of traffic.  It was real exciting to go wheel-to-wheel with the cars in front during our overtaking maneuvers through the non-existence straight lines and some really tight corners.  Some were more defensive than others.  Nonetheless, we were very determined to hit the Malaysia Customs asap.  Because I have a F1 race to watch on TV at midnight today.

We love to stay at the Smokehouse.  Cynthia said that it is her 2nd home.  As for me, I count Hong Kong as my 2nd home, Bandung as my 3rd, so Smokehouse has to be my 4th.  Over the years, Fraser’s Hill has become more and more commercialized.  Now, according to Henry, the man-in-charge (OK, he is not the boss but he is in charge when the boss is not around), there are budget hotels being built and new F&B areas being built.  In a way, Fraser’s Hill has lost a bit of the charm we initially fell in love with.  There were so many tourists visiting the Smokehouse for breakfast and tea.  Some only wanted to stop by and take photos of the unique British cottages.  We miss the serenity.  Perhaps we shall visit Fraser’s Hill on a non-peak period.

So what do we normally do in Smokehouse?  We love to read books in the garden, sitting on the swing.  We love to play Scrabble in the living room.  The tea and scone served between 3 to 6pm is divine.  We love the British bed-and-breakfast feel.  If they were to serve steak and kidney pie (the one at Cameron Highland does I think), that would be perfect.  Henry (and his team I believe) comes from Myanmar.  It is such a joy chatting with him even though he always remembers us as somebody else.  Four months ago, he had a bad motorcycle accident.  Lost a few teeth, has quite a few stitches all over his face.  But he survived.  That is good news.

We played the Spanish Scrabble this time.  Boy, it was hard!  As you can see in the snapshots above, both of us were referring to the dictionaries all the time.  We have learned a few new words.  I hope in time to come, this will become much easier.  In fact, it reminds me of the time when I first played English Scrabble.  I struggled no less.