Sunday, August 28, 2016

A very thorny issue

In Malay culture, there is this peculiar term known as `saudara durian'. It is a sarcastic phrase which literally translates to `durian relative'. To properly explain its meaning, allow me to provide you with an example.

Let's say that you are a city-dweller. You have a relative back at your hometown or village who owns a durian orchard. At the time of the fruiting season, you would visit this relative and partake in the copious consumption of this delicious fruit (absolutely free, of course) with the further chance of the kind relative packing some more of the fruits to take home. At other times of the year, it never crossed your mind to visit this relative or even ask about his/her well-being.

Nasty, isn't it?

Well, I hope I'm not placed into such a category. I am not much of a durian kaki anyway. I very seldom buy durians from the market and can hardly tell the difference in taste between a D24 grade and the Musang King variety. Nevertheless, if some kampung relatives do send me some of these fruits, I gladly accept them. It is very impolite to decline such gifts.

Two weeks ago, I texted a cousin of mine, asking him about the yield of his durian trees. The previous year, he had dropped by my house and gave us a sackful of the so-called king of fruits. This time around, I noted that the local markets are already teeming with the thorny fruits but yet no news from my cousin of his harvest. He texted back, saying that this year's yield is not as bountiful as last year, but there is still more that enough for personal consumption. He invited us to visit his dusun so that we can collect some for ourselves.

Yesterday, the missus and I made the trip to Pontian and met my cousin at his fruit orchard. The orchard has about 15 durian trees plus some mangosteen, duku, rambai and rambutan. By the time we arrived, there was already a large pile of durians that my cousin had gathered. He sliced opened a few for us to eat. I probably ate only 4 or 5 seeds. Really, there is only so much that you can eat. Otherwise you should be prepared to experience the rise in body heat if you consume too much. The fleshy pulp of the durian fruit has this unnerving exothermic property.

In addition to the freshly consumed ones at the orchard, my cousin gave us a sackful to take home. The sack contained 9 fruits of various sizes. This morning the missus used 3 to make serawa durian and bubur kacang hijau. The remainder would cause that distinctive pungent smell to linger in our house for another few more days.

King of fruits, the kampung variety

Monday, August 15, 2016

Moving on to a new brand

In my final post of the previous year, I wrote about my brand loyalty to Sony mobile phones. The full article can be read here -> Is it worth being brand loyal?

I have now given up on Sony and would never purchase another phone from this manufacturer or recommend any of my friends to buy it. Two weeks ago, my Xperia M5 Dual phone which I bought in September 2015, gave me problems for the second time. This time, the phone had trouble in detecting the telco network, causing difficulty in making and receiving calls. When I sent it to the local authorised dealer, I was told it was either a software problem or a system problem. If it was software, the repair could be done in a day or two. If it was a system problem, then they would have to send it to their main office in KL and this would take much longer.

After two days, I called the dealer and was told that my phone has a hardware problem and they may have to change the motherboard. The repair would take up to 3 weeks. Crap...

I cannot wait that long and not have a phone. Unfortunately, the phone that I used prior to the M5, an Xperia V which I had from 2013, was also not working due to a faulty power charging port. I made the decision to cut my ties with Sony and buy a new phone.

This time, I opted for an HTC Desire 626 Dual. It is not the top model of the HTC range of smartphones. In fact, it was the cheapest of the 3 models on display but it had the minimum specs that I wanted, namely two nano-simcard slots and a separate microSD card slot. More importantly, it met my budget. Feature-wise, it is very much inferior to the M5. For example, the camera is less powerful (lower resolution, poor macro focus) and the operating system is still Android 4 (Kitkat). Nonetheless, at this moment in time, connectivity is more important to me than features.

So let's see how this new phone from HTC perform. Maybe I'll write a review on it later.

Dual sim with 5" display, 13MP main camera and 2GB RAM

Friday, July 29, 2016

No escape from the taxman...

In the previous post, I mentioned how this year's Aidilfitri is somewhat special because it coincides with my birthday. It was supposed to be a joyfully memorable day and which I shall remember for many years to come.

Well, it turn out to be memorable indeed, but all for the wrong reasons.

As in previous years, with the exception of the last, we would celebrate the 1st day of Syawal at my parents' home in Singapore. Since my parents are the eldest living relatives in our clan, most of my cousins in Singapore from both father and mother's side, would visit them on the first day of Aidilfitri. This means that their tiny flat in Bukit Batok would be filled to the brim with guests coming by throughout the day.

On the last day of the fasting month, my wife had slogged throughout the day to cook various dishes for the hari raya celebrations. This included the traditional chicken rendang and a large pot of nasi briyani. It was nearly close to midnight when her dishes were ready and it took another hour or so for us to be ready to load the food and our other stuff into my son's car. By the time we left our JB home to head for Singapore, it was technically already Wednesday the 6th of July 2016.

When we reached the immigration checkpoint at the Johor side of the causeway, my passport was cleared. So were the passports of my eldest son, daughter-in-law and youngest son. But there seemed to be a problem with my wife's passport. My wife and I had to alight from the car and go the Immigration Office to find out what the issue was.

The lady officer checked her computer and told us that my wife is on the Inland Revenue Board's blacklist for alleged non-payment of income tax and therefore barred leaving the country.

What?!

My wife left the employment scene 21 years ago when she was pregnant with our 3rd child. She has never been in full-time employment since then. In my own tax returns, I declared that my wife has no income and for which I'm claiming spouse relief. It therefore came as a huge surprise that IRB is chasing her for unpaid taxes.

Of course we had a thousand and one questions to ask but the Immigration officer was not in a position to give reply. All she could do was offer her sympathy and say that many people have been caught in similar situations. She is only doing her job in following IRB's directive.

My wife and I are not tax evaders. I know that IRB has set this procedure to go after those who owe the government tons of money in unpaid taxes. But the least that IRB can do is to first notify us of any possible outstanding amounts instead of resorting to this drastic method of preventing people to travel outside the country. My wife had never received any letter or other forms of communication from the taxman prior to this. In today's age of information technology, IRB cannot say that they don't know of my wife's current address. In fact, they could have relayed the information to me by mail, e-mail or telephone call. My income tax file is very much active and all those contact details are there.

It was turning out to be a bleak hari raya for us. We were not allowed to spend the special day with our parents. We had to turn back. My wife was so crestfallen.

When we got home, my son took out our luggage and rearranged the stuff in his car boot. He and his wife then retraced their route to their grandparents' home in Singapore. They became our representatives for the family gathering. No doubt my son would face endless questions from the relatives on why his mother and father are not home for hari raya.

To add salt to the wound, the long holiday break meant that we had to wait for another 6 days until Monday before we could visit the Inland Revenue office to find out more about our case. This we eventually did. For now we have reached an interim solution with them. It's not fully cleared yet so I'll perhaps write on that part after the case is settled.

So what did we do on the first day of Aidilfitri? We decided to visit my maternal uncle and aunt at my mother's hometown of Pontian. At least we did something meaningful to wash away the sorrow caused by a government who claims that they have the rakyat's needs as priority.... rakyat didahulukan. Ya lah tu...

I'm sure you can detect my sarcasm.

A different type of hari raya this year

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A special Aidilfitri

Today marks the last day of the holy fasting month of Ramadhan for the Hijri year 1437. Tomorrow is the first day of the month of Syawal where Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri.

It would be a very special Aidilfitri for me because, for the first time as I can remember, the 1st of Syawal (Hijri calendar) coincides with 6 July (Gregorian calendar). It is also my birthday tomorrow. Praise to the Almighty for this special occasion.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all Muslim friends and readers. May all of you be in good health and joyful spirit.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Double exit

Last week, the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union, not by an overwhelming majority, but by simple advantage of 52% against 48%. This means that a very significant number had chosen to remain. Indeed over the few days after the referendum results, social media was abuzz with so-called claims that many have regretted the exit choice.

Brexit does not affect me directly, so I cannot claim to have a keen interest in the subject or have good knowledge of the implications. Nonetheless, having stayed in the UK for a number of years, I do have fond memories of the country. If I am there now and have a right to vote, I would have chosen to leave.

But who would have thought that Brexit would be an ominous sign for another departure a few days later. England was knocked out of the Euro 2016 football tournament by minnows Iceland.

I have not watched any of the group matches over the past few weeks. A bit strange for me actually, to have minimal interest in the current tournament. Especially since my favourite EPL team Liverpool, has 12 players in the different Euro squads, joint top club with Juventus of Italy. Somehow, the interest has waned compared to previous years. I have stopped being a supporter of England many years ago. In the previous World Cup, I cheered for Holland. But Holland failed to qualify for Euro 2016 so this time around I guess I'll cheer for Wales.

The Wales vs Northern Ireland match was the first one I watched live on Astro. I am rooting for Wales because I studied at Wrexham in North Wales for a short while. Before that, I had not known that the Welsh speak an entirely different language from English. In their language, their country is known as Cymru. It is a pity that I had not taken the opportunity to learn more of the Welsh language and culture while I was there.

I do hope that Wales beat Belgium in the next game and progress to the semi-finals. The chances may be slim but we can always dream. Give me hope, Joe Allen...