Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Standard Chartered, You Suck!

I went to the Standard Chartered branch in Lot 10 to open a Saadiq Saver-i account. After waiting half an hour, it was my turn.

When I explained to the Associate Personal Financial Manager (APFM) what I wanted, she said I'd need to go to the Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) branch to open the account because they didn't have the service at the Lot 10 branch.

I was surprised because I had called up the bank's customer service line the day before. And the agent there said I could open the account at any branch. The paperwork/documents will be sent to the TTDI branch for processing and everything should be completed within 7 working days.

When I told the APFM that, she looked lost and her colleague who was standing nearby suddenly said I could open my account there. I think the colleague must be her supervisor or something.

Then they asked how I was going to make a deposit? I told them I wanted to transfer from my existing Standard Chartered current account. They said I cannot do so; I'd need to use fresh funds. Apparently the bank doesn't want a slew of customers transfering their funds because of the better interest rates that Islamic Banking offers.

Now I would like to ask Standard Chartered these questions:

  1. First of all, how can you make your customers wait for half an hour when customers at other banks only have to wait 5 - 10 minutes max, even during peak hours?

  2. Secondly, why did your customer service agent at the call centre and the APFM gave me different answers? What kind of training and briefing did you give your staff before launching the product?

  3. And lastly, why don't you allow customers to open an account by transfering from an existing account? I did that when I opened my Maybank Premier Mudharabah Account-i. It's also an Islamic account with similar way of calculating interest rates. But opening that account was a breeze.

Since I didn't have any deposit with me, I told the APFM and her colleague I'd come again in 2 days to open the account.

Yes I'll definitely come back, but this time to close my existing account. I'd rather put my money in banks who give better services that are hassle free.

Sorry ... but Standard Chartered ... you suck and you've just lost another customer.

Back to Work!

Coming to work this morning was a breeze. Human traffic was a lot less today on the KTM Komuter and Monorail. Most denizens of Kuala Lumpur were still on Chinese New Year (CNY) leave.

My office building had that eerie feeling because there were not many people around.

And when I stepped into my office at at about 9.30am, only two colleagues were in; the rest were on leave. Great! I'll have the whole office to myself!

I switched on the computer, made myself a cup of instant oats and filled up my water bottle. Then checked emails, read blogs and Facebook.

After a while the office got so quiet it felt like working in a mortuary. So I played Janet Siedel and The Chieftains from my computer. But made sure it was not too loud till it distracted the others.

I'm gonna take a long lunch today - need to go to Isetan Lot 10 to exchange a blouse I bought for my mum for CNY. It didn't fit her and I learned my lesson never to buy clothes for someone who's not there to try it on. And since my mum's not here again, I'm gonna exchange the blouse for something for myself. That's another excuse to get something for my wardrobe :-)

Work today is a bliss ...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Laos - Expect the Unexpected

On the day before I came back to KL, I sat by the Mekong in Vientiane with a Beerlao in my hand, reminiscing about my adventures in Laos.

To wrap-up my trip to the Jewel of the Mekong, here's a list of memorable moments (in random order) of my trip there:

  1. Drinking Beerlao by the Mekong.

  2. Watching the sunset on Phousi with almost every tourist in Luang Prabang.

  3. Pissing in the bushes by the roadside on the way to Luang Prabang. It was difficult without a penis.

  4. Admiring the tranquility of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers in the cool hours of the afternoon.

  5. Hiking to the top of the Kuang Si Falls.

  6. Sitting in a bus for 12 hours from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

  7. Having to pay 5,000 Kip (USD 0.60 or RM2.10) toilet fee at the Pak Ou Caves. Exhorbitant ... but I had no choice; my bladder was bursting.

  8. Enduring a 2-hour boat ride to see the disappointing Pak Ou Caves. And then had to endure the 2-hour journey back. What made the trip uncomfortable was the ultra hard seats on the boat which was not butt-friendly at all. After that incident I refered to the caves with a vulgar name that sounds like its original name, if you can guess what it is.

  9. Watched in disbelieve as a female Caucasian tourist scolded a Lao girl and stomped out of the shop just because the girl spoke English with a Lao accent. Super bitch! Don't travel if you can't accept the locals.

  10. The friendly Lao people who never stopped smiling. They're one of the friendliest people I've met.

  11. Saw 7 men and 1 lady piss in the Mekong in broad daylight.

  12. A bunch of locals who sat on stools in the aisle of the bus for 12-hours from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Despite the long and uncomfortable journey, they smiled at me every time our eyes met.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Who is This Beautiful Laotian Lady?

When I was in Laos during the Christmas hols last year, I 'met' a beautiful Laotian lady whose identity remains a mystery to me.

I 'met' her at Pat That Luang in Vientiane:

At Mala Guesthouse in Luang Prabang:

And again in Luang Prabang at a roundabout:

Who is this mysterious woman who collects her Rapunzel-like hair into a ponytail at the top of her head and sweeps it to the left and sometimes to the right? Is she a goddess? Or maybe a queen?

I asked the receptionist at the guesthouse I was staying in in Luang Prabang. He mumbled something but I didn't understand what he was saying.

Please leave a comment if you know who she is. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Look What Fazu Gave Me!

Last Friday Fazu, Fadzilah and I met up at Little Penang Cafe in KLCC for dinner to catch up on things.

After a satisfying dinner of char kueh teow, otak-otak and cendol, we decided to call it a day.

Just before we left, Fazu pulled out something from her bag and passed it to me.

"Here, a Chinese New Year present for you," she said.

It was totally unexpected and I thought how kind and thoughful of her.

When I went home, I opened the box

and guess what was inside - pretty little red satin bags, each stuffed with packets of Chinese tea! There were:

  • Pu Erh Tea
  • Ti Kuan Yin
  • Xiang Pian Tea
  • Sen Cha (Japanese Style) Tea
  • Oolong Tea
  • Green Tea

I'm gonna get a Chinese Tea fix!

There was also a bar of Cadbury Gold Fine Chocolate.

Thanks Fazu for the present. I love it!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Climbing Phousi in Luang Prabang

They said the climb up Phousi is tough - 328 steps in all, where the first 100 steps is a killer.

So before starting my climb I made sure my knapsack only contained essentials like water and face towel so that my poor back won't have to bear the brunt of the load.

I started the climb at about 4.00pm on 28 December 2008. At the half way mark I paid the 20,000 Kip entrance fee and continued my journey to the top.

It was like climbing St Paul's Hill in Malacca or Batu Caves in Selayang - not too difficult. But if you've been Mr or Mrs Couch Potato for a while, then you might find certain parts of the climb a wee tad difficult.

After about 7 minutes, I saw my sister sitting on a bench. She started the climb first and I thought she was waiting for me to continue climbing together. But she told me I've reached the top. Hey ... it was not difficult after all. My regular gym workouts must have paid off :-)

So what's at the top of Phousi?

Well, there's a temple at the top of the hill (Didn't find out the name though):

You can even see a breathtaking view of the Nam Khan river: Or the Mekong:
But most importantly, hundreds of people climb to the top of Phousi to see this:

... The famous sunset.

Notice the many heads in the pic above. It was so crowded I had to jostle my way to book a spot and stood there for about an hour waiting for the sun to go down. And afer all that, I managed to take this pic:

So it was not a bad experience after all.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Luang Prabang - Where Time Stands Still

Now back to blogging about Laos ...

When I told my friends and relatives I was going to Luang Prabang, the usual reactions would be: "Where the hell is that?" or "What's in Luang Prabang?"

In this entry, I'll tell you why I made the trip to Luang Prabang, which was a harrowing 12-hour journey by bus from Vientiane.

Luang Prabang is an idylic town located in the middle of Laos. It is truly a travel photographer's haven. The numerous tourists with their fierce cameras and powerful lenses made me and my little Canon A80 feel like anchovies amongst great whites.

So what's to see and do in Luang Prabang?

First of all there are numerous wats that you could visit like Wat Xieng Thong, which is Luang Prabang's most magnificent temple.

Apart from wat, wat and more wats, the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan river offers many activities. You could take a boat ride up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves that houses more than 10,000 Buddha statues.

But I must warn you that it's a 2-hour boat ride to get there, and another 2-hours to get back. And the caves were not so impressive to me after all.

You can sit by the Nam Khan river and watch the local kids have a splashing time.

Or even have lunch by the Mekong.

That's my curry fried rice I had for lunch. It tastes like Maggi goreng but with rice instead. Yummy!

Another must-see in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si falls which is 32km south of Luang Prabang.

The turquoise water will mesmerise you.

Many tourist also climb Phousi which is a hill in the middle of Luang Prabang town.

I'll tell you in my next entry what's to see at the top of Phousi and why tourist climb it everyday.

In the heart of Luang Prabang town there are many lovely quaint buildings, each with its own unique characteristic and charm.

You can walk into a lane to discover more hidden gems like lovely wooden guesthouses, mysterious temples and cosy restaurants with luscious gardens.

If you have totally nothing to do, just sit back and admire the magnificent landscape.

Luang Prabang is a place to go if you want to relax your mind and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. It's a place where time stands still.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Planning My Birthday Present

I'm taking a break from blogging about Laos. Too many entries bout Laos might bore people to death.

I'm going to celebrate my birthday in a couple of weeks. Since I hardly receive presents on my birthday I promised myself in 2007 that I'd buy myself a birthday present every year.

So in 2007 I bought myself an insurance savings plan for my retirement. Last year I bought myself a Tissot watch.

And this year I plan to buy myself ... drum roll ... tada ... a mobile phone.

The current phone I'm using is already bout 5 years old. Techies who change their phones like changing clothes might think I'm mad to keep a phone that long. Hell, they don't even manufacture that model anymore.

Well, you see ... I'm a sucker for using an item till it wears its life out. Like they say, if it ain't broken don't fix it. In my case if it ain't broken, don't get a new one.

Eventhough my current phone is still in good working condition, it has scratches and marks all over it. So I think it's high time I get a new one. And since I'm a Nokia die hard, it's going to be another Nokia. The question is which Nokia...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Journey to Luang Prabang - Of Sliding Buses and Peeing in Bushes

My sis and I arrived in Vientiane on Christmas Day and managed to see all the attractions in one day - Wat Si Saket, Patuxai, Pha That Luang and Talat Sao. By the second day we were totally bored and spent our time snoozing in the guesthouse cause there was nothing to do.

So I was really looking forward to going to Luang Prabang on our third day in Laos.

We had bought our VIP bus tickets to Luang Prabang through the guesthouse where we stayed for 165,000 Kip each. This includes pick-up from the guesthouse to the bus station to catch the 8.00am bus.

If we had gone on our own to the station to buy the tickets, it would cost us only 120,000 Kip each, but then we would have to fork out 3 times tuk-tuk trip to the station. And I tell you, tuk-tuk rides in Vientiane ain’t cheap. So 165,000 Kip is considered reasonable.

I initially wanted to take the night bus to Luang Prabang cause I felt it would be a complete waste of time being stuck for 8-hours on the bus during the day. But there were no night VIP buses from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

This is the VIP bus that we travelled in to Luang Prabang.

Included in the ticket price is a bottle of mineral water and cake each.

Sorry no pic of the cake cause I ate the cake and then realized I didn’t take a pic of it :-)

Some of the roads were winding and muddy cause it rained the night before.

But the picturesque landscape and mountainous view along the way made up for the long journey.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants. We could choose either rice with dishes or noodle soup and this is included in the ticket price.

I chose noodle soup and gave the meat in my soup to a stray dog.

Eventhough the bus had a toilet, the driver stopped by the roadside for toilet breaks along the way.

I wish I had a penis.

Those of us who didn’t have a penis or didn’t have anything to release into the wild bought fruits from the roadside stalls.

As I mentioned earlier the roads were muddy and as we were going up a hill, the bus slowed down suddenly it started sliding backwards into a ditch and the back tyre got stuck in the mud.

We all got off the bus and waited by the roadside. Many of us started clicking our cameras the moment we stepped off the bus - for remembrance sake ...

The driver and his assistants tried to get the bus out of the ditch but to no avail.

Then some guys from a passing mini bus stopped and helped us. They tied thick chains to the bus tyre and were successful.

We all clapped as the driver drove the bus out of the ditch.

While everyone was busy looking at the 'rescue mission', some female passengers (me included!) took the opportunity to relieve ourselves in the bushes. That was the first time in my adult life I did such a thing.

Sorry no pics! Hahaha ....

After continuing our journey for what felt like eternity, we finally reached Luang Prabang at about 8.30pm. That's approximately 12-hours on the bus. And they told us it was an 8-hour journey. Imagine the toil it took on my butt.

So if you're planning to go to Luang Prabang by bus, be prepared for incredibly long bus rides, sliding buses and peeing in bushes. Some people might consider it a horrendous experience, but for me these are experiences that adds spice into travel. Definitely makes me want to travel more.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

What the French Left Behind in Laos

The French ruled Laos more than a hundred years ago. Despite gaining independence in 1949, Laos still has much French influence till this day.

Take for example the Victory Monument or Patuxai in Vientiane.

It is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Like they say in Laos: "Same Same But Different"

According to Lonely Planet, the Patuxai was built in 1969 with cement donated by the United States for the construction of a new airport.

Maybe some joker at that time decided to use the cement to fill up that space in Vientiane instead, and used their former conqueror’s Arc de Triomphe for inspiration.

Next, signboards and roadsigns - most of them are in French too apart from Lao:

Being able to read basic French certainly came in handy while I was in Laos.

Another French legacy is the baguette which can be found in every nook and cranny of Laos:

The baguette is usually used to make sandwiches that look like this:

You can choose either chicken or pork filling for your sandwich. And the seller will add lettuce, cucumber, tomato, mayonnaise, chilli sauce and any other ingredients and sauces that you would like. Delicious!

But I think the most distinctive legacy of the French in Laos is the ability of the older generation to converse in fluent French; just like this ice-cream seller whom I met in Luang Prabang. Meeting him has inspired me to continue studying French!

Apparently he learned French while in school eons ago, and he is the last generation who had the opportunity to study the language in school. French is not thought in national schools these days. More emphasis is given to English instead.

So I guess when his generation passes away, what will be left of French legacy in Laos would be the Patuxai ala Arc de Triomphe, signages & roadsigns in French and the ubiquitous baguette, amongst others.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Writing Endeavour Revealed

I mentioned in my entry titled My Latest Endeavour - Freelance Writing that I will reveal the mag I'm working with when it hits the newstands. Well, here it is:

I was at Times Bookstore this afternoon to get the January issue of Female mag. And to my surprise Cosmetic Surgery & Beauty mag was on the newstands as well, fresh from the press.

I quickly turned to the Editorial section and heaved a sigh of achievement to see my name in print.

I'll scan all the articles I wrote for this issue soon and post 'em on this blog.
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