Food, life, and fun in my "kampung,"(village), KL (Kuala Lumpur). Did I mention "food?"

A Tale of Two Choirs

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

After wending our way up to that chaotic swamp of humanity otherwise known as Genting Highlands and fighting with daytrippers who were jockeying for the best position to do whatever, we eventually settled into our shiny hard plastic chairs and awaited the opening strains of arguably, the worlds' most famous children's choral group, The Vienna Boy's Choir.

Much to our surprise, the opening act was our very own Operafest Children's Choir. We sat back, looking forward to this very highly acclaimed piece of Malaysiana. We'd been told during the introduction that they were international award winners and choral groups of children are at their very worst, endearing.

The opening chords proved me wrong.

Their diction was garbled, so whatever they were singing was unintelligible. The poor sound system did not help matters. During the Toreador's solo from the opera 'Carmen' the boy who was supposed to be singing was yelling. I'm not certain if he was taught to sing that way, but if he carries on, he will damage his voice well before his 20s. Singing is like playing a piano or learning a musical instrument. If you think of your voice as a musical instrument you can learn to play it and maximise its capabilities. If you don't, you can damage the instrument. Imagine banging on a piano day in and day out for 10 years with no proper care.

And they carried on in that way singing and prancing their way around the stage like little marionettes pulled by a very determined puppet master.

Furthermore, 'Carmen' is a very adult opera with very adult themes. It is a beautiful Bizet opera, grand, fiery, passionate but dealing with themes like sexual love, jealousy, and crimes of passion. It seemed incongruous that a children's group was singing some of the numbers.

At the end, the conductor, one Mrs Kam Sun Yoke, ascended the stage with her shawl flowing behind her like an avenging Valkyrie and exclaimed almost bitterly, "We are of international standard. Please give my children a chance."

We feel that the audience were quite willing to allow the children their moment in the spotlight, but after that the mood turned decidedly uncertain and for some, unforgiving.

Then came The Vienna Boy's Choir. And the almost unbearable stifling warmth. For some reason best known to the organisers, they decided not to switch on the airconditioning. Most of the doors were closed so ventilation was at a minimum. With about 2000 people in the hall, it got stuffy very fast.

The first act was vintage Vienna Boys Choir. Tight harmonies, good rhythm, and fully at ease while performing the song. No nonsense, technically perfect singing. If you closed your eyes, they would sound and feel the same as when you watched them.

The second act was livelier but technically a huge let down. The mikes failed. One of the boys had to have 1 technician run out on stage to fix the problem. He was a little tyke who just stood there with a grin on his face. And he just picked up where he left off. Thoroughly the professional. I think people don't know how tough it is to maintain your focus like that for a stage production. Technical mistakes are awful and can only be laid at the feet of the organisers.

So, let's just sum this up;

Bad parking - DON'T GO TO GENTING
Hordes of ill mannered people - DON'T GO TO GENTING
Awful technicians masquerading as people who know what they're doing - DON'T GO TO GENTING
Bitter local conductors - DON'T GO TO...ooo I guess I can't lay this at Genting's door.
Bad performances by local groups with delusions of grandeur.

The were only one group of stars that afternoon. The children.

Bigger IS Better!

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

For certain things anyway! >;-)

Lest the more lurid minded of us begin to get carried away, I'm actually referring to my new purchase of the Nikon D70 D-SLR. I left the last few letters as an abbreviation because if you know what that stands for you'll be really happy for me (I hope). If you DON'T know what it stands for, then you'd be bored to tears hearing me talk about it.

I love it love it love. Did I mention I love it?

I've been positively snap happy over the course of last week and the only thing that has been closer to me has been my underwear. ;-)

For those of you who are not quite sure what type of camera it is (I certainly hope you figured out the camera bit) check this out. http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikond70/

Alias Chin Peng

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

For most, the name above will not mean anything. Even for me, a relatively well read late Baby Boomer, Chin Peng is a name that was spoken of only in derogatory terms and a person only seen in fuzzy black and white pictures in the context of National propaganda.

Chin Peng for me is as "real" as perhaps Henry VIII is for school kids in the UK. I never connected him to a real person. Instead, he was associated with events in Malaysia's past. Our history. And when history takes over, the person is lost.

For those who don't know who Chin Peng is, he is the man who led the Communist Party of Malaya or CPM during the dark days of the Communist insurgency and the Emergency during post war Malaya. Yes, without the 'si.'

I read an article in The Star which made me want to find out a little more about the man. And since he had visited Singapore (or so I read in that article) I went to The Straits Times of Singapore (their online version since by agreement, they cannot sell their newspaper in Malaysia) to do a little research.

I found the same article but with pictures of the man. Bald, liver spotted, looking distinctly uncomfortable in his suit and tie, sitting next to Santa Claus. I think that was the guy who wrote Chin Peng's memoirs. Ian Ward.

All of a sudden, there was a face to the name and what Hollywood would call, a backstory. Basically, this was a man who was someone's son, probably someone's brother, someone's husband who was driven to fight and kill for what he believed in.

Please don't get me wrong. I don't and can't subscribe to what he believed in or how he did it. But I cannot help but have some sneaking admiration for someone who created such a large swathe of history. I don't think he or anyone who creates such history actually sets out to do it. All they do is to have the courage of their conviction to do what other people can only complain about.

In many ways, he casts as large a shadow over our history as our first Prime Minister or our immediate former Prime Minister. Not necessarily in a good way, but the footprint is still there, whether we care to look at it or not.


By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

How do you know passion when you see it?

Adam Farouk!

4 of us went to Le Bernadin to listen to him play. He has a guitar he calls "Willow" and you could feel the guys love for what he does. No, not love. Passion! His heart and his soul exude from him when he sings.

Just after a successful run at Actors Studio in "I Have Dreamed" he performed at this French Restaurant on Changkat Bukit Bintang and it's one of the more electrifying concerts I've ever been to. He sat on a stool and was basically himself. And the audience loved him.

More and more, its a privilege for me to meet people who are true to their life calling. Those who do what they do because they have the heart for it. I count myself lucky.

Questions and Answers

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

A dear dear friend's - she's actually like my little sister - grandmother passed away this week. I think to a large extent, while tears flowed, there was in large measure, relief, as her grandmum had been suffering from cancer for months. In the last 2 months the old lady had been bedridden, drifting in and out of sleep, alert and comatose in equal measure.

From what we were told, her grandmum could not move on and was clinging to life because she was worried about the family, despite reassurances from various family members that they were ok.

We told my friend that another good friend of mine could...and I struggle with how exactly to say this...speak to souls, those on the verge of death and those who haven't quite moved on.

So we decided to ask my friend if indeed the old lady was worried about anything and whether or not she could help her move on.

When her reply came back 2 days later, I clicked on it with some trepidation. And it read like a message from the other side. There were things which she had never been told about my friend's grandmum which she expressed.

Just so the reader understands, my friend who speaks to souls doesn't do this for a living. She's a mother who lives outside of Malaysia who until recently was very adamant that her "gift" was something to be ignored. When she chose to embrace it, she didn't do it for the money or any other motivation than to help people, dead or alive. To help the dead move on and the living find closure.

On a very real level, I believed it could be done but not until I received the reply to that query did I really internalise the fact that she was the real deal.