So what’s the plan?

I was asked this question almost every morning while drinking coffee with my sifu David. Some days I could reply straightaway—”I’m going to do this.” “I’m going to have lunch at ______.” Other days I would smile, and say something like “There’s no plan for today.” Meaning that I wanted to just chill and not do anything specific—or do stuff if and when I felt like it. For me, that’s my idea of a real vacation—not going out everyday to do things or see stuff, hell, sometimes I don’t want to do anything but to relax. That’s the way I play it. Moreover we sometimes make plans, and then later on we have to postpone or cancel them, due to unforeseen circumstances. For instance, we planned a trip to Monterey but David shelved that because there was a major event going on there and it was also predicted to be very cloudy. Not a major issue for me, and as a result I don’t set myself up for big disappointments.

Admittedly we do need to plan for a lot of things in our lives. But there are, and will be, times when it’s best to let loose the paddles for a little while, and to just coast along with the flow.


Time Out

We all need to take a break every now and then. So it was with me. I decided to head down to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a quickie—3 days, 2 nights. I flew this time and stayed at The Gardens Hotel, which is linked to two huge malls: The Gardens Mall and Mid Valley Megamall. I wasn’t planning on shopping—just browsing through the two big bookstores there—MPH and Borders. I really wanted time by myself to think, to contemplate…It was a very restful and enjoyable trip as the following pictures will attest.

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(Above) I had a very nice room on the 20th floor, equipped with all the amenities I could ever need. The king-sized bed was very comfortable and most importantly wireless broadband was available at no extra charge.

(Below) The bathroom and shower area. Just look at that huge basin! There were mirrors everywhere for the narcissist in me, LOL.

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(Above) On my first night I decided to give Tony Roma’s a try…and I wasn’t disappointed. I ordered the 8oz Fillet Mignon with broccoli and loaded mashed potato with ham, rice, and all kinds of goodies. Washed it down with bottomless iced tea—yeah, I decided to stay sober, heh heh. I was so full I couldn’t order any dessert.

(Below) I requested a morning call at 7 in the morning. After a quick shower to wake me up I headed to the 6th floor for my buffet breakfast at The Spread. This is a very nice all-day dining restaurant; the food was good and the staff pleasant and attentive. I even spoke to Sahadi, a tall girl who was interested in photography but was too shy to have her picture taken. Look at the goodies I’ve availed myself here—guava juice, black coffee, yogurt, some dim sum dumplings, sausages, hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, and Danish pastry. Needless to say, I skipped lunch and spent the afternoon walking in the two malls.

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(Above) I was tired out after doing so much walking so I was looking forward to putting my feet up on this wonderful couch made for one. I then realized that I had to take some self-portraits, otherwise who would believe I was there? My Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom came to the rescue. This little fella is ideal when travelling due to its light weight and portability. I know this isn’t my photo blog but I’m going to give you the details anyway: I used my Canon EOS 550D with the Speedlite 580EX II in bounce mode. The little white reflector in this amazing flash puts some catch lights in my eyes. I took around a dozen shots, this one was the most likable.

(Below) A shot of the lobby area in the hotel. I took this handheld without flash, and was amazed that it came out so well. The horizon is perfectly level (yeah, I’m boasting) and at the wide-angle end of my Canon 18-135mm IS zoom lens, it’s pin sharp. The pretty lady walking by was an added bonus!

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(Above) Here’s Bel (on the left) from Pakistan and Vicky from China. They both work at Tony Roma’s and I had the pleasure of talking with them. They made me feel so at home I decided to return again for more on the second night.

(Below) Here’s a photo of me and Vicky. Direct flash from my Speedlite 320EX was used since the ceiling was a tad high and dark brown in color.

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(Above) Second night at TR’s and this time I’m on to a 10oz New York Strip. The beef was tender and succulent; coupled with my favorite broccoli and a baked potato for a change (loaded with goodies). I had to give their desserts a miss again, I was so full after this fabulous entrée.

(Below) On my third and last day I was so glad I could meet up with Emily, a fellow blogger that I hadn’t met before. She was so kind to take a day’s leave just to meet up with me (thank you, Emily). We headed to Chili’s at Mid Valley for some Tex-Mex food and had an enjoyable time chatting like old friends. I was still reeling from the hotel’s buffet breakfast but I put on a brave front and decided to give it my best shot, ha ha.

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(Above) Emily chose the fire-grilled Chicken and Portobello mushrooms while I sheepishly ordered the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken (below) The portions were American-sized, meaning huge! It was delicious through and through.

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(Above) We threw caution to the wind and ordered a dessert monster, the Molten Chocolate Cake. Fortunately we ordered just one. Shamefully decadent dark chocolate cake with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream on top, smothered with tons of thick chocolate sauce. Both of us could barely finish this dessert so Emily took the rest of it home. It’d be a shame to waste it, no?

Soon after lunch I had to say goodbye to Emily, check out of the hotel, and make my way to Subang Skypark Airport. Till the next time—arriverdecci, Gardens!


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 9)

Editor’s Note: Sorry, readers. Still no luck in locating all those pictures of mine. They will be posted here when found.

The time: November 1983. I was already in my Senior year and this would be my final Christmas vacation before graduation in May 1984. I had been to the West Coast already for the past two vacations, and the same scenario was now playing up in my mind—the dorms will be closed during the Christmas break, what did I want to do?

It’s surprising how things work themselves out. I received a surprise phone call from one of my cousins, Beng Keat. Turns out that he was in Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) with his wife and son, doing a Graduate course in business management or something like that. Now BK (as I’ll refer to him from now) was always a joker in our Yeoh family. I still remember his comical side, when he told me over the phone that my parents wanted him to check up on the man “from the desert.” He asked me what I was doing over Christmas, so I told him. He told me that his family was planning a trip down to Walt Disney World and Epcot Center over the Christmas break, and they “needed a driver.” Would I be interested? Yeah, why not.

So one fine day again, I found myself at Tucson International Airport, with my baggage. I was now heading on an Eastern Airlines flight to Raleigh/Durham, with a change of flights in Atlanta, Georgia. BK and his family were at the airport to meet me. They had with them some Malaysian friends who kindly provided the transport to take me to BK’s housing unit on the university campus.

Again, this was a nice change of environment for me. Durham was very cool, misty, and raining lightly. BK and his wife were wearing heaps of clothing and generally shivering. Me? I had an Arizona t-shirt with a JC Penney’s jacket over it. “Yes, it’s really the man from the desert,” BK quipped.

The housing unit wasn’t big, but I didn’t mind. There was a small living room and dining area. There was a bedroom, a common bathroom, and that was pretty much it. BK gave me a sleeping bag, and since there was hardly any space, I slept on the floor facing their main glass windows, and let me tell you, it was cold during the nights, but I didn’t mind. BK’s wife was a pretty good cook, and I did my level best to help out by washing the dishes, and other household chores.

Needless to say, I had an enjoyable time visiting Duke University, and I recall that they even had a grand piano in the Student Union building. Anybody was welcome to play on it, and so I did. We also did some sightseeing around the Durham and Raleigh areas, plenty of nice spots there.

Finally, it was time for the Orlando trip. One big snag—we didn’t have a car. So trust BK and I to scout through newspaper ads and finally he settled on a used Toyota sedan. A blue-colored one, with auto transmission. In those days, we didn’t have GPS so had to solely rely on maps. BK and I would take turns driving and navigating. As it turned out, I did most of the driving and navigating because my cousin (bless him) loved to have a snooze every so often. Anyway, I didn’t mind, as the US Interstate system is not hard to figure out, and once we were out of Durham, driving along the I-95 heading south was quite straightforward.

So we made our way down, passing Charleston, South Carolina along the way. It was wonderful to see a different part of America. I recalled spending a night in Savannah, Georgia. Then it was on to Florida, the Sunshine state, and where I had a slight problem, similar to BK’s. The I-95 was so straight in places, I found myself nodding off at the wheel! Fortunately his wife was very alert about this, and would be poking me to keep me awake.

We finally arrived in Orlando, Florida. We already had our accommodation booked before we left Durham so we checked in and spent a wonderful few days taking in Walt Disney World and the newly-opened Epcot Center. I’ll never forget the Kodak 360° theater—that was so cool! Unfortunately, BK and his family came down with the flu half-way through our sight-seeing. I was fine, but I think they were feeling quite sick. So I drove most of the time on the way back to North Carolina.

All in all, it was another good vacation for me, and sadly, my final one in the States. The following year (May 1984) I graduated with my Bachelor of Music degree and returned to Malaysia.


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 8)

Editor’s Note: I’ve become extremely exasperated with myself because try as I might, I can’t seem to find the remainder of my photographs taken during my American vacations. I did succeed in finding two, so I’m including them in this post.

I’ve developed a love-hate affair with airports, over the course of my years abroad. On the one hand, they are the saddest places on Earth when you have to say goodbye to loved ones. On the other hand, they can be the happiest places when you see someone you love waving at you in the Arrivals area. I’ve been in a lot of airports—Singapore’s Changi, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci, Athens’ Hellinikon, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam’s Schiphol, London’s Heathrow, Tokyo’s Narita, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, and of course, San Francisco. This last one was pure déjà vu for me, because the following year (December 1983) I arrived in this city again.

This time I was the guest of Karl and Anita, two German friends who had known my parents for a few years. When my parents told them that I was in Arizona over the Christmas period, they said that it would be cruel for someone to spend Christmas all alone, so I was invited to their home in Fremont, California, which again wasn’t far from the Bay Area. I remembered that Karl worked with Intel at the San Jose headquarters, and he showed up at the airport with his white Mercedes Benz! Karl undoubtedly, was a German through and through. They had a very nice house in Fremont, and I was shown to a guest room with all things, an electronic organ (see the picture below) Moreover, I spotted a typewriter (remember what that is?) on a desk. “Type a letter to your parents when you feel like it,” Karl said, jokingly.

Of course I played the organ too, and Karl and Anita were smiling, having some music flow through their house (both of them don’t play the organ, don’t ask me why) I did enjoy my vacation with them, as they did take me to various places in the Bay Area. I remember Carmel very vividly, because they had a famous mayor—Clint Eastwood. And secondly, the Pacific scenery especially at this time of the year, was breathtaking. I also managed to call up the Dyers and exchanged greetings with them.

However, this time I was hungry for more. Before I left Tucson, I had thoughts of visiting (wait for it) Hawaii! So this time I would be spending Christmas in San Francisco and the New Year in Honolulu. And guess what? My parents to the rescue again (hurray for parents!) They had a Malaysian friend called Bennett who had his own business in Honolulu. Again, Bennett was very kind and said yes, he would love to have me over. So just after Christmas, I said my goodbyes (here’s that airport love-hate thingy again) to Karl and Anita, and boarded my flight to Honolulu.

The instant I landed in Honolulu, I knew I was going to like this place. The weather was a balmy 75°F with moderate winds—just perfect! Bennett was at the arrivals area to pick me up. I was garlanded on arrival and it felt nice. We were shortly cruising down the Nimitz Highway to the city and Bennett’s apartment. In contrast to Karl’s place in Fremont, Bennett’s apartment was quite spartan, but comfortable. He’d stocked up his fridge with a ton of frozen TV dinners!

Of course Bennett took me around to see the sights, like Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach (very popular spot, always crowded), we even saw the Governor’s residence (which doubled as Police headquarters in the TV series Hawaii Five-O) We went swimming in Hanauma Bay, where the water was so clear and blue, and fish were swimming in and around us! We also went to the northern part of Oahu to see the Banzai Pipeline. I had never seen such huge waves in my life, ever! And no, I didn’t try surfing.

Anyway, the fun part was when Bennett had to go to the Big Island on business. He was so kind to give me free rein of his apartment and his trusty Toyota. All I had to do was grab a map of Honolulu (no GPS yet), put some gas in the tank, and off I went! Ah, that was the life! I was out exploring the city, the malls, etc. and loving it, although I was alone. When Bennett returned, we spent New Year’s Eve at a hotel, he had his own group of friends, and the atmosphere was one of fun.

However, it was now time to return to reality, and to Tucson. Again, I had to say a sad goodbye to Bennett and wonderful Hawaii. That’s why I still have a love-hate relationship with airports up till today.

That's me at the organ in Fremont. Don't ask about the doll.  At Karl's house in Fremont. Am I looking preppy or what?


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 7)

My thanks to my fellow dorm mate John “Scrawny” Morrison, for shouting out “IT’S THE WEEKEND!!” at the top of his lungs in the hallway every time Friday afternoon arrived.  Sometimes I would open my door and shout back, “Hey! It’s quiet hours!” jokingly. Weekends were nice, I still had assignments and studying to do, but at least there were no classes. Holiday breaks were enjoyable too, like one Thanksgiving break where I was invited to a meal by my good friends Leisa and Randy. I had never eaten so much turkey in my life.

Fall semester ‘81 was drawing to a close, and everyone was looking forward to the Christmas break. Now I faced another dilemma. The dorms would be closed over the holiday period, and of course it wasn’t viable to return home to Malaysia again. I shrugged, and faced the possibility that I would have to find alternative housing somewhere else. However, as luck would have it, I met another fellow dorm mate by the name of Richard Dyer earlier on during the Spring semester. Other people called him Rich, but he always preferred Rick, so I called him that. We struck up a friendship, and we used to have dinners together, as well as going to the Gallagher Theater for movies, stuff like that. It was nice to have some company, and pretty soon we became room mates. I don’t exactly remember how it came to pass, but I did confide in him about the possibility that I’d have to seek alternative accommodation during the Christmas period.

I guess he had been talking to his parents on the phone, and one fine day prior to the Christmas vacation he asked me, “Phil, how would you like to spend the holidays with me and my family?” Wow! Of course I was thrilled, but I said I hoped I wouldn’t be imposing on them. Rick replied, “Of course not.” So it was a done deal. Rick’s hometown was in Danville, California—not too far from San Francisco. We booked our flight tickets on United, and I was very excited—imagine, this would be my first visit to San Francisco! A different environment, with a different climate, and not forgetting of course, this would be a vacation. To top things off, Rick’s parents would be picking us up from the airport and taking us directly to Davies Symphony Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra—awesome!

Well, as things turned out, we experienced the famous San Francisco fog first-hand—the captain of the United Airlines 747 announced that due to extremely foggy conditions in the Bay Area, we would have to be in a holding position above the city. What a bummer, we’d be late for the concert! We eventually touched down about 45 minutes behind schedule, it was a frustrating wait for our baggage, and Rick’s father was anxiously looking out for us. We said our hellos, and then zoomed off to Davies Symphony Hall. Arrived there, and had to wait for a suitable break before we could enter. This was a beautiful hall indeed (DSH opened in September 1980; it underwent another major renovation in the Summer of 1992) Never mind, at least I got to experience the Hallelujah Chorus first-hand, standing up, of course.

It was pretty late when the concert ended. Rick and I were both tired, don’t remember seeing anything much on the drive to Danville—I was practically asleep. Rick’s mom was on hand to greet us when we arrived, a room had been prepared for me, and I was so tired I fell asleep straight away.

Suffice to say that the rest of the vacation was fantastic—Rick’s family treated me like one of their own and took me to all the well-known spots in San Francisco. Places like the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown (the largest in the world, it seems), Japantown, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Ghirardelli Square (wonderful chocolate!). I had a first taste of the tram system and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was smooth and efficient. The weather was cold and foggy, this was a nice change from Tucson. We went by car sometimes, at other times we just took BART into the city. I love San Francisco, it has a charm of its own.

And the food—in a word, awesome! Whether we were eating out or at home, there was an overabundance of food. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a picky eater, thank God. It was a real breakfast almost every day, with cereal, fruits, bacon, sausages, generous amounts of coffee—man this was the life! Since the Dyers had a spinet piano, I’d be tinkling on it whenever, and that made them smile. Rick was the eldest, he had two sisters, Suzanne and Sally, and a brother Bill, who was the youngest. They showed me around the neighborhood, and the family car was affectionately called Moby. I drove Moby for a bit too.

I also remember going to Stockton to visit Grandma and Grandpa (we stayed there for a day or two) and again, I was treated like one of the family. Rick’s grandpa was a farmer and so he showed me his land (tractors, buildings, and all) and what do you know, I had my first taste of actually handling a rifle and shotgun (I didn’t mention this to my parents). They had to occasionally get rid of birds like crows that liked to pick on the crops. That was the only time I had ever fired a weapon in my life!

I also cooked chicken curry for the family. I tried to make it as mild as I could, but still everyone had running noses after consuming it. Oh well. The run-up to Christmas was wonderful too, as I took part in buying Christmas presents for the whole family. It was a fantastic time and one that I’ll remember as long as I live. If any of the Dyers are reading this, I love you all!

Pretty soon it was time to head back to Arizona—Rick and I left with heavy hearts, but you need to say goodbye before you can say hello again. The whole family came to the airport, we hugged and kissed each other (I think I almost cried) Our flight was boarding, and before I knew it, we took off for Tucson. Back to the salt mines!

Me and Rick in our dorm room Here I am with Rick's parents, in their home

L-R: Suzanne, Rick, Me, Bill, and Sally Golden Gate Park I love San Francisco!