Tuesday 19 August 2014

The Nectar Of The Gods

Courtesy of Bing

What makes a good wine?  Ask a dozen people and get a dozen answers.  I'll state from the very onset that I have very limited knowledge about wine, no  connoisseur here, I only drink the stuff, so that puts me with the 99% who haven't a clue either.  Am I qualified to make comment then?  I think so, because it’s the 99% that drive the industry.  For these people only one criteria that matters - liking the taste or not.  

I was brought up in an area surrounded by some of the better wine growing districts in the world. (The French might not agree.)  Neither of my parents drank alcohol, so it wasn't until I became an adult that I started drinking wine.  Beer and spirits never appealed. One you had to drown in lolly water to make it drinkable, the other was bitter and bloating.  Wine is neither. After developing a palate for the reds tannin in preference to the mostly sweet whites, I found red to be the most satisfying to consume.  By volume, it doesn't  bloat and usually complements the food I ingest.  A glass of Shiraz goes down well with a McDonalds hamburger! (Philistine I hear you scream.)

This brings us to last night. Our friends invited us for dinner at their place and I was specifically asked not to bring a bottle as the host had a cupboard full that needed to be drank.  Been given the honour of deciding what to drink,  I inspected the 10 bottles on show and earmarked 2 for immediate drinking. Both were close to 10 years old. One of those, a Merlot 2005 from my old home town was opened first.

As most of us know, proper storage of wine is critical if you want to create the conditions necessary for it to reach its full potential.  You couldn’t imagine a worse case scenario in this case, storage in a non air-conditioned room standing up right.  

My worst fears were realised when the cork started to disintegrate during removal.  In fact, it broke in two and I could not get enough purchase on the remaining cork, so I did what any good wine expert (cough,cough) would do… use a knife to push the recalcitrant cork fragments into the bottle.

Finding a tea strainer and plastic container I filtered as much of the floating cork particles from the wine as feasible.  Two attempts later, all of the contaminate was removed or as much as the naked eye could tell.

Oddly the wine had little nose.  In other words, I couldn't smell anything that clearly resembled any wine I knew, just a nondescript slightly sweet bouquet.  The colour was unusual as well, chocolate brown with a dash of blood red.

All this pointed towards a tasting disaster, but to our utter astonishment it was tasting extravaganza. What a pleasure to the palate, smooth and silky, sliding down the throat, leaving a delightful after thought behind.  Even the non drinkers were impressed.  And to top it all off, we displayed no after effects the next day.


So it goes to show, in this case what should have occurred didn't happen. 

In the end it's the taste to you that matters and not any extensive wine knowledge.
Having said all this though, I have recently witnessed wine being mixed with coke! Now there is a limit to everything.

À la vôtre


Thursday 14 August 2014

On a Wing And A Prayer - Kota Kinabalu Airport

Wing Over Sabah

A bleak afternoon, thunderstorms and driving winds. I arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport 4 hours early for my flight back to Sandakan. Very early I know, but being the conservative person I am and the water rising in the street, persuaded me to err on the side of caution.

This airport is only 6 years old and I must say usually a pleasure to arrive or depart from compared with most. It's medium sized as airports go, the third biggest in Malaysia after KL, catering for about 12 million passengers a year who visit Sabah. It's modern, metallic and has 12 air bridges, never feels busy and you can easily find a place to sit away from others. 

After disembarking from the taxi drenched, I sloshed towards the check-in counter and waddled through the x-ray past immigration that appeared to make only a cursory glance at the screen whilst continuing their more important discussion on the day’s current gossip. Maybe I don't look like a terrorist. 

I arrived before my wife and her conference colleagues, waited  in a state of misery, some what exacerbated by the building's cold air-conditioning. 
Being a creature of habit I had immediately gone straight to my flight's departure gate, indicated by the electronic board as A8.

My wife and her friends duly arrived and as per usual discussed work, ignoring me. Feeling neglected, I got up and wandered around the terminal which is mostly empty of things to do. 

The major shortcoming in the departure hall is that most of the allocated shop spaces are empty. There are dozens and dozens of empty 'shop fronts, in a myriad of short passages coming off the main thoroughfare. It's possible to go into the bowels of the retail area and be completely alone. 

Interestingly there are two terminals at this airport which are diagonal across the runway from each other. The low cost terminal which is smaller is always very busy. It seems odd to me that they don't incorporate both under the same roof; more efficient way of using space and I suspect a way to enliven the retail areas. Anyway, the authorities must have their reasons, I suppose.

I happened to glance up at the departure board to discover, to my surprise, that the gate had changed to A6. I duly informed the others, so we gathered our belongings and moved to the new allocated gate. 

Upon arrival, only a small group of tourists  were milling around, we sat ourselves close to the front counter. The electronic board flashed up Sandakan and the flight number. A man sat there doing his paper shuffling and all seemed well. Except…

The gate next to us was experiencing some sort of commotion with a group  of about 10 passengers milling around an official all looking very animated. I had no idea what it was about, but can only assume it was something to do with a communication breakdown. ( maybe the infamous departure board) I couldn't hear anything from where we were, but it was highly entertaining and helped while away the remaining 45 minutes. 

Being the observant creature I am , I noticed as the departure time approached, a distinct lack of passengers and no aircraft in the bay. Besides that, the little man at the front counter had suddenly disappeared and the electronic sign board had stopped flashing Sandakan. I walked to the departure board and as I am sure you have already guessed, discovered we were now back at A8. !!!

A mad dash to the new gate ensured where we joined the throngs who were about to board the aircraft. ( How did they know and not us?) Throughout all of this there were no announcements on the intercom that things had changed.

Lesson to be learned.  Mistake on my part - If I hadn't constantly been checking the departure board we would have been blissfully ignorant of the transitory change.  Don't assume officialdom will tell you everything you need to know in this part of the world. Most information seems to be gained by the mysterious process of mental osmosis, you are just expected to know. For some reason, the authorities don't like giving out info unless it's deemed unequivocally necessary (to them). Who decides this is anyone's guess, so be prepared to expect the unexpected. 

One little side issue to finish, Just before take off, after the safety video, a short prayer was offered for the safe passage of the flight. 

Now that really does instil confidence! 

KK Airport

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Wiring Sandakan Style

Half way between the local shopping precinct and where I reside, there is the local district telecommunication exchange - sub station. Well, I think that’s what it's called. It is a metal cylinder about one and a half metres tall which contains thousands of multi-coloured insulated copper wires.

I know because frequently, when I’m doing my daily walk to the coffee shop, I see an army of technicians working feverishly on a bundle of these wires. Not a pleasant job in the tropical sun, but a job that seems to occur all too often.

Telecommunication infrastructure in Sandakan is fully stretched. The fastest Internet connection that one can buy is a paltry 4 mbps and that is limited to only a few areas in town.  We have just upgraded to 2 which is the highest possible in our street. They say 2 mbps but in reality if it crawls to 1.5 mbps we are ecstatic.

I shouldn’t complain really. Before the upgrade, the service would drop out 10 to 20 times a day. A technician investigated twice, 6 months apart. He assured us nothing was wrong with the phone line after inspecting the fore mentioned exchange. Miraculously the moment he left it’s been perfect ever since, well as perfect as it gets here. A little face saving I suspect. Anyway it's much better than it was, although downloading anything of substance takes forever.

The problem lies in the infrastructure. It’s old. The very poles that originally held a single phone line now attempt to hold numerous cables. They are thin and made of cast iron. Note the accompanying photographs.  The original pole has bent over at right angles due to rust and weight. At some stage a second pole was erected in an attempted to add support to prevent it from collapsing. As you can see, a further pole has been added to support the other two and not to forget the four guide wires to keep all three poles from falling down.  Crazy you say? Sure is. Why not replace the original pole in the first place with something that can support all the weight.

Theirs is not to reason why…………

Monday 4 August 2014

You Can Lead A Horse To Water, But...

I was asked by my wife to make sure that my nephew was studying after school for his Form 5 final exams that are coming up in the next few months.  
The response was as I expected, an excuse why he couldn’t do it right now ( this case a seemly urgent hair cut that couldn’t wait another day ) and a promise to get stuck into it as soon as he could. 

Well we go through this game a number of times a week which always leads to a grumpy studier and a frustrated and exacerbated instigator. 
Personally I couldn’t give a damn if he studies or not as he old and ugly enough to live by his own convictions; eighteen going on fourteen with not an ounce of foresight.

 Cruel you say? Maybe so, but as the old adage goes you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. After numerous speeches about how important these exams are for his future choices in life and only to find it falling on mostly deaf ears is infuriating and deflating. I don’t want to drag the horse along anymore. 

This drives  my wife, who spends an inordinate amount of time with him, to distraction, but she has more stamina and commitment to see it through than me.

A lot of his attitude is a reflection of his environment. Pro active parents are very important defining the early direction their children take. The school and social aspects of the provincial town he has grown up in has not been very inspiring. Small town mentality does not necessary embrace the big picture. Ambition beyond the town limits is limited or in most cases non existent.    

Success in life depends on a number of things, but innate intelligence and  drive - perseverance I think are the most important.

Interestingly I have seen intelligent people do very little with their lives because they have lacked drive and conversely I have known success coming through hard work with limited intellect.

Of course “ success” per se is subjective; one man’s success is another man’s failure. It depends on the focus. Making money is probably societies main gauge in marking success.   I personally endorse intellectual or humanitarian endeavour having never made any real money myself. I suppose if just before one kicks the proverbial bucket, one can feel satisfied in one’s life achievements than one has succeeded. 

Maybe being happy and content with one's lot is success. Who knows.
What ever the answer, the slate is always wiped clean in the end unless you believe in an afterlife, of course.  

 Perhaps we should all strive to be as good a person as we can be during our lifetime. Now that would be true success.  

Which line to follow?