December 28, 2007

Identity theft

Every now and then, there will be reports in the newpapers of people coming forward to report that someone has forged their identity to apply for loans, credit cards and the likes. Or worse, someone had used their identity to purchase a vehicle which was subsequently identified as being involved in some criminal activities. At times, it’s reported that these incidents occur when the victims lost their identity card or driver's licence but that is not always the case, so it makes you wonder how these crooks lay their hands on other people's identity.

Identity theft can actually happen anywhere to anyone. It can occur while queuing in line at the store cashier, going online at home or even when buying your morning coffee. If your identity is stolen, you can get into a real mess trying to clean up your credit and struggling to redeem your good name. One may already be a victim, many times over, and not even know it as most victims will only discover the theft after they've been turned down for a loan or run into trouble with the law.

There are steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you. Simple things you can do like shredding any unused documents which contain your personal information, ensuring someone collects your mails when you are out of town, never leave personal information unprotected in your home where it can be viewed by outsiders coming into your home such as home repairmen or deliveries and protecting your personal computer or laptop from unauthorized access. Or you can sign up with LifeLock, America's number one identity theft prevention program. If you think you may be at risk of identity theft, you can consider enrolling in their Identity Theft Protection system. LifeLock will guarantee your identity up to $1,000,000. By quoting the LifeLock promotion code, you will receive additional protection or discount on your annual subscription price of LifeLock. Hop over to for more information and tips on protecting your identity.

Welcoming a new member of the family

No, no, no…it's not what you think. I'm not pregnant, not yet. It's my younger sister. Her due date for her second child is December 23, so she's several days past her due date. She went for a check-up early this week and her O&G scheduled her for induction today. She's due to check into the hospital at 8am this morning. So we are now eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new baby to usher into 2008.

December 26, 2007

Hotel reservations for Taiwan

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (touch wood!), our family of three will be going to Taiwan in mid-January. As I like to travel independently instead of following packaged tours with a packed itinerary, we will need to make our own arrangements for hotel, transport, etc. We plan to stay in Taipei most nights, making day trips to places of interests around Taipei. The only night out of Taipei will be at Hualien or Taroko Gorge. We are still contemplating whether to spend a night in the hot springs city of Wulai.

With Hotel Reservations, booking accommodations for this trip is just a simple few clicks on my laptop. With different offerings of hotels, motels and resorts, we have a wide range of choices, all with competitive rates and great discounts. So that's one major headache taken care of.

Christmas at the malls

Over the last week or two, we made trips to the malls to look at the Christmas decorations. We've been to Sunway Pyramid, the Curve, Midvalley Megamall and 1-Utama. The theme in Midvalley this year is "Fairytale Christmas" while that at 1-Utama new wing is "Toy Soldier". Pyramid has a mini railway track as part of the Christmas deco, while it was a white, wintry Christmas at the Curve.

Here are some snapshots at the different malls. Which one do you like best?

December 25, 2007

Christmas with Barney and Friends

We happened to be at 1-Utama today and stumbled upon Christmas with Barney and Friends at the old wing. We were there at about 2.30pm and the next show was scheduled at 3pm. Unfortunately all tickets for the 3pm show had been given out so we made our way up to the first floor to try to get a vantage point to view the show. We managed to squeeze into a tight corner with a slightly angled view of the stage, not perfect but at least my little Barney fansee had a good view of her favourite characters. Just before the show started, the whole concourse and the first floor area were packed. The show lasted slightly more than 15 minutes before those lucky ones with tickets got a chance to go onstage to have their photo taken with the purple dinosaur.

Notice the crowd at all levels of the concourse?

December 24, 2007

Update on Yiu Yiu

I'm happy to report that Yiu Yiu has more or less fully recovered from her bout of illness, though she's coughing still. She was extremely clingy last week at the height of her illness and stuck to me like a koala bear. The slightest move on my part to lay her down on the bed would trigger the floodgates. We even took her to see a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner last Saturday, since she still has persistent cough despite taking her medicine for almost a week. The Chinese physician from Beijing was apparently trained as a neurologist before taking up Chinese medicine. She advised us that Yiu Yiu has a "cool" body, so we have to avoid giving her cold drinks and even herbal tea.

Anyway, she woke up on Sunday a cheerful girl and has since reverted to her usual active self. Now all that's left is to complete her course of antibiotics and cough syrup. Hopefully, her cough will disappear soon too.

December 19, 2007

Taiwan will have to wait

No, I'm not writing this from Taipei…I'm still on Malaysian soil. We were supposed to fly off yesterday afternoon but at 5.30am in the morning, Yiu Yiu woke up with a burning temperature. I was horrified when I got 39.9oC on the digital thermometer. I quickly took off her clothes and sponged her down and by 8.30am, her temperature went down to about 38.7oC.

Hubby and I knew that she couldn’t travel in this condition. We were in two minds whether we should still go ahead and leave her at the babysitter but I knew that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the trip with a sick toddler at home. Postponing the trip was the only option we had but deciding on another date proved difficult as there are only limited seats in each flight for redemption tickets. On the dates when flights are available, either hubby or I have something on at work. We finally managed to re-book our trip in mid-January. We incurred a penalty of USD60 for changing the flight tickets and USD65 for cancellation of our hotel room. But I guess this is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Anyway, Yiu Yiu seems to be slightly better today. The fever has not fully subsided but at least her temperature is <38oC. But she vomited again this morning. She coughed after taking her milk so that triggered the vomiting. She hardly had any food yesterday so her cheeks seem to have sunk. I'll be picking her up from babysitter in a short while and I hope I'll be greeted with a healthier Yiu Yiu.

December 18, 2007

Places of interests in Brussels – Part 3

Continue from here and here.

The King's Palace, Palais Royal (Royal Palace), which overlooks the Parc de Bruxelles, was begun in 1820 and had a grandiose face-lift in 1904. The older side wings date from the 18th century and are flanked by two pavilions, one of which sheltered numerous notables during the 1800s. Today the palace is used for state receptions. It also contains the offices of the current King Albert II, though he and Queen Paola do not live there. When the national flag flies, it means the King and Queen are in Belgium.

Place Royale, Brussels' royal square was laid out in 18th-century neoclassical style and graced by an equestrian statue of the leader of the First Crusade, Duke Godefroid de Bouillon. The Bellevue Museum is located here. A former 18th century luxury hotel, it also used to be a royal residence. A fascinating, underground extension of the Bellevue Museum is the Palais du Coudenberg (Coudenberg Palace), more accurately the excavated ground floor and foundations of this sometime palace of the dukes of Burgundy and the Habsburg emperors that burned to the ground in 1731.

The Musée Instrumental (Museum of Musical Instrument) is just steps away from Place Royale. Only 5% of the museum's immense collection is shown at one time so the collection rotates periodically. Palais de Justice (Palace of Justice) is the court complex housed in an extravagant neoclassical building. Dedicated to the might and majesty of the law, it was completed in 1883 after 20 years of construction.

Palais de Justice

Between Place Royale and Palais de Justice are the city's premier collections of both historical and modern art in a single institution, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museums of Fine Arts). These two museums, the Musée d'Art Ancien (Museum of Historical Art) and the Musée d'Art Moderne (Museum of Modern Art) shows off works, most of them Belgian, from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Further down the road is Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of the Sablon), a flamboyant late-Gothic church, dating from the 15th to the 16th centuries. The construction was paid for by the city's Guild of Crossbowmen, and was their guild church. Inside is a celebrated statue of St. Hubert, stolen from Brussels and taken to Antwerp but was seized and returned to the church in 1348, where it has remained ever since.

Musée Instrumental & Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon

December 17, 2007

Bad timing

Just as we prepare to fly to Taiwan, Yiu Yiu got sick. She developed a slight fever last night, accompanied by quite bad cough. We immediately took her to the paediatrician this morning as we wanted her to be well enough to travel tomorrow. She was prescribed amoxicillin, paracetamol, cough syrup and Ventolin, and the paediatrician gave the go-ahead for her travel.

When hubby fetched her from the babysitter's this evening, she was her usual chirpy and alert self. We assumed she was feeling much better but half-way home, she vomited her dinner and made a mess of papa's car. She must have felt much better after vomiting as when hubby asked if she was hungry, she nodded and asked for food.

When I got home, she was already asleep. She's still running a temperature but at least her cough has subsided. The babysitter asked us to reconsider bringing her along, as she would be tired out by the trip and may exarcebate her condition. I really hope she'll be better tomorrow coz I wouldn't want to leave her behind.

By the way, she's now 9.2kg. I'm pleasantly surprised by her weight, coz she has been stagnant at 8kg for the longest time ever!

Places of interests in Brussels – Part 2

Continue from here.

Designed to celebrate the half centenary of Belgium's 1830 independence, the Parc du Cinquantenaire (Golden Jubilee Park) was a work in progress from the 1870s until well into the 20th century. The most impressive structure in the extensive gardens is the triumphal arch topped by a bronze four-horse chariot sculpture, representing Brabant Raising the National Flag. The gardens are flanked by several museums. Among them are the Musée du Cinquantenaire, a vast museum of an eclectic collection of antiques, decorative arts and archaeology and the Musée Royal de l'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire (Royal Museum of the Army and Military History), one of Brussels' often forgotten museum since Belgium is not and never has been a great military power. Opposite the Musée Royal de l'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire is the Autoworld, with a display of 500 historic cars set in the hangar-like Palais Mondial. The collection starts with 1899 early motorized tricycles and moves on to a 1911 Model T Ford, a 1924 Renault, a 1938 Cadillac that was the official White House car for Roosevelt and Truman, a 1956 Cadillac used by Eisenhower and then by Kennedy during his June 1963 visit to Berlin, and more.

Parc du Cinquantenaire and the various museums in the vicinity

The European District, home to the European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Ministers, and related institutions, is a short walk away from Parc du Cinquantenaire. It encompasses 12.7 million sq. ft. of office space packed with 20,000-plus Eurocrats to back up its "capital of Europe" tag. European Union national flags billow proudly out front the X-shaped Palais de Berlaymont (Berlaymont Palace), the Commission's headquarters. On its far side, a soothing stroll through little Parc Léopold brings you to the new, European Parliament and International Conference Center complex, an ultramodern gleaming complex in white marble and tinted glass.

European District and Parc Leopold

European Parliament

(to be continued...)

December 16, 2007

Places of interests in Brussels – Part 1

Brussels has a variety of things to see and do – more than 75 museums, impressive public buildings, leafy parks and interesting squares. The first stop is definitely the Grand-Place. Strolling from one of its fairly ordinary side streets into the historic Grand-Place is a unique experience in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage site of ornamental gables, medieval banners, gilded facades and rooftop sculptures, the Grand-Place is considered the most beautiful square in the world. This splendid esplanade is surrounded by Flemish Renaissance-baroque guild houses from the 17th century, the 19th century neo-Gothic Maison du Roi (King's House), and the 15th century Gothic Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). The 91m (300-ft.) tower of the Town Hall bears a spire, on which perches the Archangel Michael, patron saint of the city. The building is still the seat of the civic government, and its wedding room is a popular place to tie the knot. The Maison du Roi, despite its name, has never housed a king. It has served as a covered bread market as well as a prison and now houses the Musée de la Ville (City Museum), displaying a varied collection focused on the art and history of Brussels.

Maison du Roi & Hotel de Ville

Grand Place - unfortunately my photos do not do justice to the place. It really is a lot more impressive than it appers in these photos.

To the left of the Town Hall is the statue of Everard 't Serclaes, a hero of 14th-century Brussels who freed the city from the clutches of the counts of Flanders, and who later died from wounds received while resisting another would-be conqueror. Rubbing the bronze statue is said to bring you luck. A fountain in the shape a urinating child, the Manneken-Pis is a famous small bronze sculpture two blocks south of the Grand-Place. It is Brussels' favorite character, gleefully doing what a little boy's gotta do. No one knows when this child first came into being. Among the speculations are that he was the son of a Brussels nobleman who got lost and was found while answering nature's call, and also that he was a patriotic Belgian kid who sprinkled a hated Spanish sentry passing beneath his window. Yet another theory is that he saved the Town Hall from a sputtering bomb by extinguishing it with the first thing handy. The statue itself is a lot more ordinary than the hype surrounding it. Minutes away from the Grand-Place is the ornately decorated Bourse (Stock Exchange), an example of the French Second Empire architectural style, dating back from 1873.

Everard 't Serclaes & Mannekin-Pis

On the way to the Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula) is the Galeries Royales St-Hubert (St. Hubert Royal Galleries), the world's first shopping mall. The Italian neo-Renaissance style gallery with three connected wings opened in 1847, is a light and airy place with boutiques, bookshops, cafes, restaurants, a theater and cinema. The famous chocolatier, Neuhaus is located here. Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule is dedicated to the city's patron St. Michael, and to St. Gudula. Begun in 1226, it was officially consecrated as a cathedral only in 1961. The 16th-century Habsburg Emperor Charles V donated the superb stained-glass windows. The sparse interior decoration focuses attention on its soaring columns and arches while the bright exterior stonework is beautiful sight.

Galeries Royales St-Hubert

The beautiful stained glass windows of Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule

Belgians are crazy for cartoons. Called the CéBéBéDé for short, Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (Belgian Center for Comic-Strip Art) on a side street not far from the Grand-Place, is dedicated to comic strips. Situated in a restored Art Nouveau department store building from 1903, the library of 30,000 books and its permanent and special exhibitions feature popular cartoon characters such as Tintin, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, Charlie Brown, and Suske and Wiske, yet does not neglect the likes of Superman and Batman.

A nation obsessed with cartoons...even the buildings are painted with cartoon characters

(to be continued…)

December 14, 2007

Onwards to Brussels

The following few posts are continuation from this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this, all backdated posts of my trip to Europe in September.

September 21 – 22 (Friday – Saturday)

One would not visit the United States without seeing Washington, England without seeing London, France without seeing Paris, Italy without seeing Rome. So how could I visit Europe without seeing its capital? Yes, Brussels is the capital of the European Union (EU). It is chosen as the capital of Europe partly because it is at the heart of Europe, a mixing pot of Germanic people from the north and Latin people from the south.

The city of nearly one million inhabitants, Brussels is made up of French-speaking Walloons (80%) and Dutch-speaking Flemish (20%). Every sign in Brussels is written in both languages. Brussels is written as Bruxelles in French and Brussel in Dutch.

The train from Amsterdam to Brussels took about 2.5 hours, arriving at about 3.30pm at Gare du Midi train station. The hotel which I've booked online has pick-up services from the train station and arrived shortly after I called them. After checking into the hotel, I wasted no time to start exploring the city as I was to leave for Paris in about 24 hours.

December 12, 2007

Taiwan, here we come!

I have close to 39,000 Enrich points which will expire by December 31, 2007. As MAS will charge RM0.017 plus processing fees should I with to extend my points, it'll mean that I need to pay close to RM700, which I'm not too keen on doing. As such, hubby and I were discussing about potential places to visit during the Hari Raya Haji and Christmas break, since we'll get several days off in a row if we take leave on Friday (Dec 21) and Monday (Dec 24) off.

Our first thought was Langkawi, since hubby has never been there. But we shelved the plan since it's the rainy season and we didn't want the rain to spoil our holiday. The next option was Yogyakarta to see the Borobudur temples, but since we can probably get cheap tickets from Air Asia, we decided against it. Another option was Taiwan, as it's one of the few countries in Asia which I've not been to. Our hubby was keen too, so since yesterday was a public holiday in Selangor, we headed down to MAS head office in Jalan Sultan Ismail to redeem our tickets. We initially planned to purchase Yiu Yiu's ticket but it turned out that she has to pay 75% of the adult fare since she has turned two, which came up to more than RM1700. As such, I redeemed three tickets for a total of 105,000 points. There went 2/3 of my points, which I had painstakingly collected since 2001. I'm not complaining though, at least we get free tickets for a family holiday.

Our free flight tickets to Taiwan

I'm quite excited with this trip. Though we've been to Hanoi with Yiu Yiu early this year, this will be our first threesome family holiday as Hanoi was with the whole brood from my side of the family. Furthermore, Yiu Yiu was probably too young to remember or know anything. But she recently kept telling us that she wants to sit in an aeroplane whenever she sees an aeroplane flying overhead so I'm sure she'll be quite excited by this.

This is really a last minute thing and I now have to plan our itinerary and most importantly, book rooms to stay. I called up few travel agents to enquire about their ground arrangements in Taiwan but they don't sound very optimistic. Apparently Taiwan is quite full around this time. I'm praying hard that we will work out all the arrangements soon.

Amsterdam side trips (Part 3b) – Rotterdam

Continue from here.

Across the road from Blaak is Oudehaven (Old Harbour). Much of Oudehaven was destroyed in bombing raids during World War II. It has largely been rebuilt in daring and avant-garde styles. The first skyscraper in Europe, the White House, was built here in 1898. Historic ships are the perfect adornment to the now popular entertainment area.

Oudehaven and the White House

Heading towards to the Erasmusburg (Erasmus Bridge), one can see the Maritime Museum and the Harbour Museum. Just outside the Harbour Museum is the Walk of Fame. Here, 200 national and international celebrities such as Tina Turner, Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias have been immortalized in concrete. Eramusburg, a Rotterdam icon, is a single-span suspension bridge linking the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam which are separated by the Nieuwe Maas river. The 800-metre long bridge has a 139-metre high steel pylon, secured with 40 ropes. The shape of the pylon gave the bridge its nickname, "The Swan". Another bridge spanning the river is the dark red Nieuwe Willemsburg. At the foot of the bridge is the docking harbour of the Spido Harbour Cruise. The basic harbour trip is a 75-minute tour of the city's waterfront from which the entire harbour can be explored from the vantage point of an excursion boat. As I didn't have time, I had to unfortunately give this supposedly unforgettable experience a miss. Likewise, I decided not to venture to another Rotterdam's landmark, the Euromast.

Walk of Fame

The bridges separating the northen and southern part of Rotterdam - Erasmusburg on the left and Nieuwe Willemsburg on the right

My next destination was the museum area. The unusually designed Kunsthal (Art Hall) plays host to cutting-edge temporary exhibitions, sometimes several at the same time. About 25 exhibitions are held here every here, from classical art, modern art and design and photography. Opposite the Kunsthal is the Natural History Museum. Located in a former villa belonging to the Van Hoboken shipping family, a skeleton of a 15-metre sperm whale adorns the entrance hall. The Museumpark, part of the extensive Van Hoboken family estate, is a beautiful green lung and is a pleasure to stroll about. At the end of Museumpark are the Chabot Museum, the Netherlands Architecture Institure (NAI) and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Every year some 20 temporary exhibitions on architecture, urban development and spatial are held at the NAI. The permanent exhibition provides an overview of developments in Dutch architecture from 1850 to the present day. Rotterdam's leading art gallery, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, houses a large collection of classical and modern art. A short distance away is the Sylvette, a sculpture created jointly by Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso. Using the technique developed Nesjar, Picasso had his small sculpture of the woman he admired in the period around 1958, enlarged.

Clockwise from top left: Kunsthal, Natural History Museum, the Sylvette, the NAI


In 1859, Westersingel was constructed as part of a water project, mainly to improve the water management and thereby hygience in the old city. Most of the buildings in Westersingel are from the 19th century and were designed for the "better classes". A prominent building along Westersingel is Café de Unie. Before the bombing of 1940, it was on Coolsingel. In 1986 the replica was built at the current location. The bar, restaurant and cultural centre, with its primary colours blue, yellow and red, stands out among the 19th century buildings. Along the road across of Café de Unie are a collection of elephant sculptures. From there, it was a short walk back to the Central Station to catch the train back to Amsterdam.

December 10, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 3a) – Rotterdam

Rotterdam is only an hour away from Amsterdam but it's centuries away from both in appearance and personality. Unlike Amsterdam, Rotterdam retains traces of its ancient history in only one tiny section, Oude Haven (Old Harbour). World War II takes the blame for that. Almost the entire inner city was destroyed during a bombing raid on May 14, 1940, and in 1944 Nazi occupation forces sent demolition squads to finish off the entire harbour. By the end of the war, Rotterdam was utterly devastated. Immediately after the end of the war, reconstruction began in earnest. Rotterdam owes it contemporary image to this rebuilding – a spacious feel, modern and courageous architecture. Today Rotterdam is a bustling metropolis of over one million with the largest port in Europe.

I arrived in Rotterdam by train at about 2.30pm. First thing I did was to visit the tourist information centre near the Central Station and the helpful lady suggested I take a walking tour since I only had about three hours. She gave me a route map, with descriptions of some of the places of interests.

Ever since it opened in 1953, Lijnbaan has been the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam. It was Europe's first predestrianised shopping area. Nowadays it offers a choice of large stores and small boutiques, with well-known brand names and chains such as Diesel, Esprit and Mango. Nearby Stadhuisplein, with its many bars and pavement cafes, is a popular place for Rotterdammers to gather. The war memorial, Monument voor de gevallenen, consists of two men, a woman and a child, representing the past, present and future, is a tribute to the people of Rotterdam who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.

Linjbaan shopping street & Monument voor de gevallenen

Opposite Stadhuisplein is the City Hall. Queen Wilhelmina laid the foundation stone for the City Hall on July 15, 1915. The monumental building has a symmetrical design, constructed around a courtyard, with the main entrance in the middle. Walking down Coolsingel from the City Hall is the bottle green Beurs/WTC. Built in a functionalist style, it was the first building to be restored after the war. The World Trade Centre, the superstructure of the 90-metre high stock exchange building, dates back to 1986.

Lost between towering office blocks is the Het Schielandshuis, the oldest building in the city. Named after the Dyke Board of Schieland, which moved into the premises in 1665, the building with Dutch classicism with baroque details has been gloriously restored and now houses the Historical Museum. It shows off Rotterdam's cultural heritage through displays of paintings, silverware and furnitures.

Left - Right: City Hall, Beurs/WTC, Het Schielandshuis

Behind the shopping street of Hoogstraat is the Grote Kerk or Sint Laurenskerk (St. Lauren's Church), named after the patron saint of the city. Built between 1449 and 1525, St Laurenskerk is the only building from the Middle Ages still standing in Rotterdam. During the bombing raid of 14 May 1940 most of the church was destroyed, but it was rebuilt after the Second World War and opened again to the public in 1968. A stone's throw away from the Laurenskerk, in Grotekerkplein, is the oldest statue in the Netherlands, the statue of Desiderius Erasmus. The university, the largest hospital in the city and a bridge is also named after the humanist and philosopher, born in Rotterdam in 1468.

At the end of Hoogstraat, the Blaak metro station with its roof suspended from a massive steel arch, resembling a flying saucer comes into view. Next to the metro station is the geometric chaos of quirky apartments known as the Kijk-Kubus (Cube Houses). Set on concrete stilts and tilted at a crazy angle, each house has three floors. Residents have specially designed furniture to fit the sloping rooms.

(to be continued…)

December 09, 2007

Falling asleep while eating

My little girl doesn't like to take her afternoon nap. She will try her best to avoid going to sleep during the day even though she's visibly tired. It's as if sleeping is a waste of her precious time which she could have put to better use to tear the house down, mess up her toys and eating.

She woke up at 6.30am today and had been up playing before we went out for breakfast and ran errands. When we reached home at about 12noon, I told her, "Yiu Yiu take bath, then go sleep, OK" to which she replied, "Want to take bath, don't want to sleep." And true enough, after her bath, she refused to go to sleep.

After a while, she started to get cranky and asked to have a piece of fruit cake. Few minutes later, this was what I saw.

Mind you, this is probably the 4th or 5th time my little girl fell asleep while still holding food in one hand! Talk about multi-tasking

December 08, 2007

Taking medicine – 180-degree turn

Yesterday evening while at work, I got a call from the babysitter. She informed me that Yiu Yiu vomited while she was being fed dinner. I asked her how Yiu Yiu was, whether she was still active, etc. As she was still active and playing with the two boys, I decided that I probably didn't need to rush her to the paediatrician.

I worked rather late last night as I had to rush some stuff and only got to the babysitter's place at about 9pm. The babysitter said she didn't vomit any more since then. As she was having slight fever, we fed her some paracetamol at the babysitter's place, as Yiu Yiu was already sleepy and would probably fall asleep in the car. We willingly took the medicine and even had her mouth open when the babysitter was pouring out the medicine.

She woke up this morning with the slight fever still persisting. While having her milk, I told her that I'll give her some medicine after she brushed her teeth and she was happy hearing that. And true enough, when we got down to the kitchen, she eagerly opened her mouth and waited for the medicine. This is such a far cry compared to early this year, when we had to literally pin her down and force the medicine into her. And I have no reason to complain for this turn of event.

December 05, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 2) – Marken and Volendam

The IJsselmeer (pronounced eye-sselmeer) has a surface area of around 1,200 sq. km (460 sq. miles), and hosts fleets of traditional boter and skûtsje sailing ships, fishing smacks, modern sailboats, powerboats, and canoes. Its waters are an important feeding ground for migrating and resident birds. The IJsselmeer actually was once a sea, until the Dutch decided they didn't want it to be one any longer, since it was always threatening to flood Amsterdam and other towns and villages along its low-lying coastline.

For centuries the Dutch have been protecting themselves from encroaching seas, and snatching more land to accommodate their expanding population. One of their most formidable opponents was the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea), an incursion of the North Sea that washed over Frisian dunes to flood vast inland areas. Over the centuries, the Zuiderzee continued to expand, and in the 1200s a series of storms drove its waters far inland. In 1932, in an unparalleled feat of engineering, the North Sea was sealed off, from Noord-Holland to Friesland, by the 30km (19-mile) Afsluitdijk (Enclosing Dike), and the saltwater Zuiderzee became the freshwater IJsselmeer. Since then, a vast area has been pumped dry, converting fishing villages into farming villages, and joining islands to the mainland. Among the cluster of picturesque old villages and towns in this area are the fishing villages of Volendam and Marken, along the shores of the Ijsselmeer lake.

Volendam is 18km northeast of Amsterdam. The village has about 21,000 inhabitants and is still growing. Volendam is well-known for its old fishing boats and the traditional clothing still worn by some residents. The women's costume, with its high, pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is often featured on tourist postcards and posters (although there are believed to be fewer than 50 women now wearing the costume as part of their daily lives, most of them elderly). Meerzijde, one street back from the harbour, is a maze of alleys and and mini-canals with quaint looking houses. From Volendam, there is a regular ferry connection to Marken, a peninsula close by.

The harbour and the main commercial street of Volendam

The beautiful neighbourhood of lovely it must be to be living here

Houses with huge compounds and no perimeter nice

Marken, with a population of about 2,000 is a former island. Since 1957, it is connected to the Noord Holland mainland by a 2km long dyke. The dyke runs from Marken to the town of Monnickendam, just north of Amsterdam. It has a pretty harbour surrounded by traditional green houses. It used to be an important fishing harbour but now also caters for the leisure craft. The green houses were once fishermen's cottages, but are now mostly tourist shops and restaurants. In many ways, it is very much like Volendam, only smaller, quieter and more rural. Its population is Protestants, while Volendam is Catholic. The houses in Marken are built close together, with only a small alleyway in between, since there isn't much space to build on this 'island'.

The picturesque Marken harbour

Typical 17th century gabled timber house in Marken

December 04, 2007

A toy and a gadget

Over the weekend, there was a small Diethelm warehouse sale, mainly to clear stocks of Mattel toys, which Diethelm will no longer be distributing from next year. Papa was rostered to be on duty on Sunday. He went early and managed to get these for Yiu Yiu before the crowd started pouring in…both for only RM10 each. Papa's little princess is very happy as Baby Bop is her favourite character. And she hasn't stopped showing off her new Barbie watch to everyone she meets.

December 03, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 1b) – Zaanse Schans (Clogs & cheese)

Continue from here.

There is also a clog maker's workshop, the Klompenmakerij, a workshop, as the name suggests where wooden klompen (clogs) are made. About three million pairs of clogs are still produced yearly, mostly by machines which can churn out a pair of clogs within five minutes, compared to two hours by hand. A block of fresh poplar wood is inserted into the machine which works very much like a key duplicate machine to cut out the shape, followed by creating a hollow in which to fit the foot. The clog is then dried under the sun for four weeks before being smoothen with sandpaper, polished and painted. The photos taken are the making of a pair of clogs to fit a four-year old.

Top: a fresh block of poplar placed into the machine and cut according to the mould
Bottom left: a cut block, bottom right: another machine to cut the inside of the clog

Left: Cutting off excess wood from the front, right: the completed clog in the worker's hand

Dutch people once wore clogs all the time. They were tough (great to prevent injury from cows stepping on your feet while milking) and water-proof (good for walking through muddy and cow-dung ridden fields). Clogs were readily available because they were produced from the poplar tree, a local and plentiful source of wood. Clogs are still a fixture in many farming areas, where they're much more effective against wetness and cold than leather shoes or boots. Those with pointed toes are for women and rounded toes are for men, and they are worn with heavy socks. They are also used for garden work and wall decorations.

On the way to Volendam, we stopped by to visit a typical Dutch farmhouse where cheese is still being made the traditional way.

November 28, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 1a) – Zaanse Schans

The windmills so characteristic of Netherlands first appeared in the 13th century, transforming the rotation of their sails into mechanical energy via a system of cogs and gears, providing plenty of free power. Of the many thousands that once stood in towns and villages, and in rows on the dikes, less than a thousand working examples survive today.

Beautiful countryside scenery on the way to Zaanse Schans

Windmills can be seen at their best along the stretch of the River Zaan, where the winds powered an early industrial centre of worldwide significance. They were employed to grind wheat, barley, and oats; crush seeds to create mustard and vegetable oil; crushing pigments for paint; hull rice and peppercorns; and power sawmills and other industrial machinery. Most important of all, windmills kept the fertile polder land dry by pumping away surplus water and draining it into the rivers by way of a network of stepped canals. At its height, the Netherlands had about 10,000 windmills, 1,000 of which were located in the Zaan region.

On the northern edge of the Zaanstreek, on the east bank of the Zaan, is the picturesque windmill village of Zaanse Schans. It is a replica 17th- to 18th-century village made up of distinctive green-painted timber houses, windmills, and workshops that were moved to this site when industrialization leveled their original locations. The aim is to re-create the way of life along the Zaan in the 17th century. Most of the buildings on the 8-hectare (20-acre) site are still inhabited by people.
The village is crisscrossed by canals and paths that cross the water on bridges. There are four different kinds of big industrial windmills here, lined up along the Zaan shore. From south to north from the boat dock, these are Mosterdmolen De Huisman, where the renowned Zaanse mustard is produced; a sawmill, Houtzaagmolen De Gekroonde Poelenburg; Werfmolen De Kat, specialized in producing paint; and two mills that produce vegetable oil, Oliemolen De Zoeker and Oliemolen De Bonte Hen. These are among the dozen out of more than 500 windmills by the end of the 17th centuty that have survived intact in the Zaanstreek.

(to be continued…)