Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where there's smoke...

On this bright Sunday morning, at around 9.30am, there was a thick plume of smoke coming from somewhere in the direction of KL that was visible from my balcony. That got the whole household up watching. There was also a helicopter circling around, though it was too far away to see any distinguishing markings on the helicopter. From the picture, the smoke plume appeared to stretch across KL over KL Tower and KLCC. The smoke died down in about an hour’s time. Where there's smoke, there's fire...Must remember to check tomorrow's papers to see if the fire is reported and find out where is the actual location of the fire.
Fire Jalan Peel KL 27 May 2012, kebakaran di Jalan Peel
Confucius says: Never start a fire just to attract a fireman, the relationship will go up in smoke. The plume of smoke that stretched across the KL city skyline.

UPDATE - The fire is at Jalan Peel, Kuala Lumpur and caused more than 100 people to be left homeless. A total of 29 squatter houses were destroyed in the fire. Not too sure if these squatters were part of the 49 squatters along Jalan Peel that were handed eviction notice late last year for the Klang Valley MRT project.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cape Jasmine - Gardenia jasminoides

One of the fragrant flowers that one should have in the garden is Gardenia jasminoides. With glossy dark green leaves and dark greyish-brown bark, this handsome plant produces either single or double-petaled blooms that have a lovely scent. Gardenia jasminoides or Cape Jasmine has many synonyms including G. augusta or G. florida and this plant is known as 栀子花/梔子花 in Chinese.
Gardenia jasminoides, Cape Jasmine, Cape Jessamine, 栀子花
A Gardenia jasminoides flower.

The flowers are white, or off-white that may turn light yellow as the blooms age. Cultivars with blooms that turn yellow rapidly exist, such as ‘Aurea’ or ‘Golden Magic’, thus giving the effect of a yellow gardenia. Once the blooms are spent, they look like wads of tissue paper that had been thrown onto the plant. I did have a friend in university who where puzzled as to why students are so un-civic minded and were throwing used tissue paper on the gardenia hedge that was planted around the faculty building. Only when pointed out that those were the withered blooms of Gardenia jasminoides did she realised what it was.
Cape Jasmine, Gardenia jasminoides, 梔子花
As the flowers of Gardenia jasminoides age, the petals flatten out and eventually look like a wad of white/off-white tissue paper stuck on the plant.

After the blooms, small oval-shaped blooms may follow, and this fruit is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as to extract a usable yellow dye for food and clothing from it. The yellow colouring extracted from Gardenia fruits is called Gardenia yellow and can be used to colour ice-creams, candies and jellies. Besides saffron, Gardenia fruits represent another rich natural source of crocin, a carotenoid responsible for the intense orange colour of saffron.
Gardenia augusta, Gardenia florida, Gardenia grandiflora, 栀子花
The white flowers of Gardenia jaminoides contrast sharply with the dark glossy leaves.

I got the Gardenia as a discarded trimming of the hedge at the university. When the cutting has rooted, I left the pot on the garden (this was in Kajang, and I had a small garden on the front yard). The roots grew through the pot and the pot plant eventually became a tree that birds and even bees made nest in! From this tree, I gave cuttings to several people. Cuttings, especially younger ones, are easy to strike. The plant likes moisture but hates to have ‘wet feet’. Any water-logging (including putting a tray to catch water beneath the pot) would eventually result in root rot and death of the plant.
Gardenia jasminoides, Gardenia jasminoides veitchii, Pycnonotus goiavier, Yellow-vented bulbul
A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) fledgling perched in the cover of a huge Gardenia jasminoides bush. They are perched on a mulberry branch under the cover of the Gardenia leaves.

As Gardenia requires acidic soil, growing Gardenia in soil with high pH would result in chlorosis of the leaves. This is the result of impaired micronutrient, especially iron are impaired under high soil pH. Gardenias love light and usually filtered sunlight would suffice, but established plants can take full sunlight. My old Gardenia ‘tree’ gets a full day’s sun (east – west orientation) and the bush at J & A’s balcony also receives full sunlight. As long as there is enough moisture, a matured shrub would be very happy with as much sunlight as it can get.

The scent of Gardenia jasminoides flowers, despite smelling very strong, does not travel far unlike those of Jasminum sambac. Hence to smell the flowers, you probably got to cut the blooms and bring it in, whereas the smell of Jasmine travels with the breeze well, and leaving a balcony door open would suffice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

It is Mother's Day this Sunday, and gift shops and florists are feverishly pitching for sales of every kinds of gift imaginable. Of course an ever popular gift for Mother's Day is fresh flowers as nothing says it better than flowers.

According to Aboutflowers (, popular flowers for Mother's Day include:

  • Callas
  • Freesia
  • Gerberas
  • Hydrangeas
  • Irises
  • Lilies
  • Orchids
  • Roses
  • Tulips

Carnations are commonly associated with Mother's Day over here. Dianthus caryophyllus or Clove Pinks come in an assortment of colours. The name Dianthus is derived from the Greek, meaning divine (dios) flower (anthos). True blue carnations are not available naturally, as they do not produce the blue pigment delphinidin. Through genetic manipulation, a company in 1996 extracted certain genes from petunia and snapdragon flowers to produce a blue-mauve carnation, commercialized as Moondust.
The bluish mauve, genetically modified Carnation Moondust - picture from Wikipedia.

In Australia, the traditional flower for Mother's Day is Chrysanthemums. Logically, it is a very wise choice of flower since Mother's Day would fall around autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, and chrysanthemums would be in season then. Usually white coloured Chrysanthemums are given if the person receiving it is deceased and coloured if the recipient mother is still alive. I love Chrysanthemums, but do still find it a little odd to give Chrysanthemums. This is possibly the Asian side of it, with Chrysanthemums being solely used for worship and the dead, regardless of colour.

And what did I get for my mum? I got her a card with a rather cheeky saying in it, besides the usual headaches that I give her. To all mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Flowers and Colours of Wesak 2012

Here are some photos showing the flowers and colours of the Wesak Day celebration at the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields Kuala Lumpur and also the procession as it goes down Jalan Bukit Bintang.

We went to Brickfields late in the afternoon, and the traffic was already building up. Fearing that there were no parking spaces available nearer to the Vihara, we opted to park at the Girl Guides Headquarters’ grounds which cost us RM5. It was a short walk to the Vihara, but tolerable. As we got closer to Jalan Berhala, we could see that the Evangelical Lutheran Churh at the corner still have available parking spaces (at a higher price, naturally).
Flowers at Brickfields Maha Vihara KL
Beautiful bouquets of Cymbidiums and Gerberas on sale.
Wesak Day 2012 KL, Happy Wesak Day 2012
Chrysanthemum with candles as offering item.

As one turn into Jalan Berhala, the most obvious item that one sees on sale is flowers. There were nice bouquets of gorgeous Cymbidiums with Gerberas and filled with Solidago, Michaelmas Daisies and Dracaena canes. Besides these flowers, Chrysanthemum is another notably visible flower besides the usual Sambac jasmine flowers and roses.
Wesak Day 2012 KL Lotus buds
The quintessential Wesak Day flower i.e lotus buds being offered for sale as well as jasmine garlands and chrysanthemums that were snapped up like hot cakes by devotees.
Float for Wesak Day procession KL 2012
The Buddha all ready to paint the town red on a Saturday night in his new ride decked with fake lotus blooms.
KL Wesak Day procession 2012
The baby Buddha on a dragon's head, waiting for the procession to start. The dragon can turn its head around and spew smoke from its mouth!

The Buddhist Maha Vihara was filled with throngs of visitors and devotees. From the old to the young, many came to pray and make offerings to the Buddha as well as the monks. The main shrine hall was packed with devotees queuing up for the blessing service. Outside, monks armed with large palm fronds/dracaena were continuously sprinkling devotees who made a line for them.
Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields Kuala Lumpur
The main shrine hall packed with devotees for the blessing ceremony.
Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields KL 2012
Devotees collecting the blessed string after being blessed by monks.

The road leading to the temple had a carnival atmosphere, with stalls and peddlers selling goods that include helium filled balloons in the shape of Angry Birds, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Spiderman, Spongebob Squarepants, Snow White and not forgetting our local Upin & Ipin. There were also stalls that sold candle stands, various decorative knick-knacks, lanterns, vegetarian food and Indian sweets.
Stalls outside Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields KL 2012
Balloons anyone? Angry Birds, Spongebob, Snow White, Spiderman, Upin and Ipin plus Mickey and Minnie.
Stalls for Wesak Day 2012 KL
Something to cater to those with a sweet tooth - Traditional Indian sweet-cakes.
Stalls for Wesak Day 2012 Brickfields KL
An assortment of decorative items on sale. The atmosphere was very carnival-like.

After getting a sprinkling of water from the monks at the Vihara, we decided to go off before the procession starts. As we drove off, the VIP whom is supposed to flag the procession off went by, accompanied by police escorts. There was also a float that was just making its way to the queue of floats at the rear of the temple. We ended up in Bukit Bintang for dinner as we know that the procession will pass through Jalan Raja Chulan and onto Jalan Bukit Bintang before turning off into Jalan Pudu to head back to the Vihara.
Wesak Day procession 2012 Bukit Bintang KL
The baby Buddha on the dragon head. The head of the dragon turns around to and fro whilst spewing smoke from its mouth. This I think is the coolest float of the Wesak Day procession.

After a heavy meal at a Middle Eastern/Lebanese restaurant, we walked across the road at around 9.45pm to where BB Park is and waited for the floats to come by. Within minutes of leaving the restaurant, we could see the flashing of police cars and outriders, indicating that the floats were at the intersection of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Sultan Ismail. Slowly, the floats pass by, drawing an ever increasing crowd, especially tourist who were not aware of the procession. It was quite interesting to see the massage girls stopping their solicitation to watch the floats go by and ask for blessings from the monks.
Wesak Day float down Bukit Bintang 2012 KL
The second float in the procession - the Buddha flanked by two lit dragons.
Wesak Day procession in Bukit Bintang KL 2012
The float by Chempaka Buddhist Lodge, Petaling Jaya.

The best float I would have to say is the one by the Malaysian Buddhist Association, depicting a baby Buddha making his proclamation whilst standing on a lotus bloom that was on top of a dragon. The dragon could turn its head to and fro and spew smoke from its mouth. The thought of the baby Buddha making his final birth proclamation in BB Park instead of Lumbini Park strikes me as kind of funny.
Wesak Day celebration Bukit Bintang KL 2012
Another float with a seated Buddha flanked by flower arrangements using Alpinia purpurata, chrysanthemums and various plastic flowers.
Float for Wesak Day procession 2012 Bukit Bintang KL
One of the bright, incandescent bulb-lit floats - they have huge generators trailing behind to supply power to all the bulbs!

The Monthly Life Liberation Malaysia (the float that passed us at Brickfields) had a long, horizontal banner depicting the Buddha. When they stopped moving, they invited bystanders to join in the waving of the banner amidst loud cheers and cries of Malaysia Boleh!
Banner in Wesak Day procession Bukit Bintang KL 2012
The huge banner that many people joined in to help shake and wave it amidst cheers and cries of Malaysia Boleh!
Wesak Day procession going down Bukit Bintang KL 2012
The float by Ti-Ratana Welfare Society - LED trees and LED lotus.
Wesak Day KL 2012
The Jewel in the LED lotus.
Monk on float for Wesak Day procession KL 2012
For those who missed out on the holy water, this was the last chance for the day. Perhaps folks at Bukit Bintang might need more than just a sprinkling of holy water.

In terms of the number of devotees, involved the Wesak Day procession in KL seems to be huge when compared to those in Penang. However, I honestly think floats in Penang were more attractive and sophisticated. Even so, the procession in KL is still worth seeing. After waiting for the traffic to disperse, we got out of the parking lot and headed home, smack right into KL's Saturday night traffic. Happy Wesak Day!

Click here to see pictures of the Vihara/Brickfields on the eve of Wesak.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Rise of the SuperMoon

This weekend we will see the moon at its closest point to Earth for 2012. This perigee-full moon is also considered a ‘SuperMoon’, a term coined by astrologer Richard Nolle. Whilst this is not the one of the extreme supermoons in the 21st century, it is still one of the many supermoons occurrences. By definition, a SuperMoon is a perigee-syzygy, a new or full moon (syzygy) which occurs when the Moon is at 90% or greater of its mean closest approach to Earth (perigee). An extreme SuperMoon is when the moon is at 100% or greater than 100% of its mean perigee.
The rising moon on the evening of 4th of May 2012.

The moon reaches its closest distance to Earth (perigee) at about 03.34 AM GMT on May 6 and two minutes later, syzygy occurs at 3.36AM GMT. At perigee, the moon will only be 356953 km from Earth, the closest for this year. Unfortunately for us in Malaysia, the full perigee-syzygy will occur during daylight (11.36 AM on Sunday 6 May). However, the moon would already look somewhat bigger a day before and after the perigee syzygy, and this is especially noticeable when the moon is close to the horizon at moonrise and moonset.

Happy Wesak 2012

In conjunction with Wesak day today, I went to the Maha Vihara at Brickfields yesterday evening to light some lamps. The place is all set for Wesak today. There were flags and banners all along Jalan Berhala leading to the temple. The main shrine hall is also all spic-and-span. Some of the monks were putting on a huge flower garland, offered by a devotee.
Wesak eve at Maha Vihara Brickfields KL 2012
Flags and banners at the Maha Vihara, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.
Main Hall Maha Vihara Brickfields
Monks getting busy with putting on a huge garland on the image of Buddha in the main shrine hall.
Buddha at the Maha Vihara Brickfields
A bit to the left...a bit more...
Flags for Wesak Day 2012 at Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields
More flags strung to the main shrine hall.

A stage was set for the Malaysian PM who is supposedly there today. There was a trickle of devotees at the vihara yesterday, but most of the crowd were made up of volunteers getting things set up for events that start in the evening and goes on until tomorrow.
Stalls outside the Maha Vihara Brickfields KL 2012
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Wesak Day eve 2012 at Maha Vihara Brickfields KL
Flowers for sale from stalls set along Jalan Berhala.
Hmm, I wonder if I can get a ride in this bike...Monks walking towards the Maha Vihara.

There were many stalls selling flowers and small arrangements to be used as offerings. Besides those stalls, there were a few food and drink stalls already up and operating, plus a few more that was being set up in the evening. Happy Wesak and may all be well and happy!

Click here to see pictures of Wesak Day at Brickfields and the procession through KL at night.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Paradise Palm - Licuala mattanensis cv. ‘Mapu’

Licuala are palm trees (family Arecaceae) that are more commonly known as fan palms that have leaves which are mostly circular in outline, with sometimes undivided but more commonly divided wedge-shaped frond segments. Locally known as palas, the fronds are used for thatching and also as a food wrapper/container (think of ketupat daun palas). Examples of commonly planted Licuala include Licuala grandis - the Ruffled Fan Palm/Vanuatu Fan Palm and Licuala orbicularis – the Sarawak Palas Palm.

The genus name Licuala is the Latinised derivative of the local name for the palm in Celebes (Sulawesi), i.e. leko wala. There are about 145 species of Licuala, ranging from Bhutan and right down to Australia. The stems can be solitary or clustered, and in some species, subterranean.
Paradise palm Licuala Mapu, Mapu palm
Licuala mattanensis cv. ‘Mapu’

One of the lesser known members of this genus is Licuala mattanensis. Licuala mattanensis is an understory forest palm found in Borneo rainforest (Sarawak and Kalimantan). The strikingly tessellated foliage cultivar/variety called Mapu is sought after in cultivation. This palm is sometimes referred to as the Mapu palm or the Paradise Palm Mapu. The Mapu palm is slow growing and likes dappled light especially when they are still young. This palm is a dwarf when compared to the other Malaysian Licuala palms, and will only reach a height of 3 meters after decades of growth.
Licuala mattanensis 'Mapu'
The Paradise palm 'Mapu' after many years of growth.

I got this Licuala mattanensis cv. ‘Mapu’ from Fauzi (4zeplant – years ago. I then passed it to J & A who stays at the penthouse on the other block and it has been there since. After 5 years or so, the plant is still less than 15cm in height! The leaves have sort of a mottled appearance when young but now look more like tessellations. Though slow growing, the foliage is striking and the light requirements make it more suitable as an indoor plant.