Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dropping by Colmar Tropicale, Bukit Tinggi

My husband's relatives from Singapore came down to Malaysia for the Good Friday's long weekend. Thanks to them, I got the chance to go for a local sightseeing experience again.

Last Saturday, we paid a visit to Colmar Tropicale in Bukit Tinggi, Pahang. I've been begging my husband to bring me there for the longest time and finally he took me there with the whole family. I saw the photos of this place before and was smitten with its picturesque and romantic medieval French village setting. Colmar Tropicale is also commonly known as French Village in Malaysia. Seemingly, the development of this  French-themed resort was inspired by the original Colmar Village in Alsace, France. It's about 45 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur by car. Entrance ticket is RM 12 for adult and RM 8 for children.

Me, just arrived!

After we stepped out from the Resort's Lobby, we all were greeted by a clown, the entertainer, who made cute arts from balloons in seconds. He pumped the balloons, created a shape for the balloons in seconds and gave them away to the kids for free. My nieces got a heart shape balloon, a bear balloon and a cat balloon (which looked more like a tiger to me) from him. Adults and kids were amazed by his skill for balloon arts. This chap must have been practicing shaping balloons all day long for many years.

The clown and his balloons.

We walked around and climbed the tower in the village's square for a better view of the whole village. Thankfully, we didn't have to waste our breaths to get to the tower's top since there's a lift available for visitors.

A family picture from the Tower's top. 
外婆 wanted to take a photo with me.

View from the top: The French Village's Square - Facade in Bukit Tinggi.

Moving on, we had lunch at Le Poulet Roti. This restaurant serves food similar to Nando's peri-peri chicken's concept.

Not bad, but Nando's serves better food. Sorry.

There's not much activity for us to do around this French-Village so we all just loitered around the village and stroke poses with the unique architecture setting as the background. When we visited, it happened to be no scheduled attractions showing either at this place.

Silly pose with the clock tower.

Husband and I in front of the Wishing Well.
You don't want to look inside the well.

This place intrigued me to act as a Rapunzel.
In my imagination, the woman behind me was Rapunzel's Step Mother.
*joking*

Even the windows are good as photo backgrounds too.

Knights Armors like this one were everywhere inside the Resort.

Honestly, there were not much activities for us to do at Colmar Tropicale other than sightseeing and taking photos thus we were there for only about three hours. However, this place was quite interesting to explore as their French village's designs are quite charming and distinctive in Asia. This resort offers horse riding experience, Japanese Tea Ceremony and Rabbit Farm Visit too but we unfortunately we skipped these activities during our visit since we needed to pay extra money to enjoy all these.

Making Javanese Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng Jawa)

My mother-in-law is not in town today so I got the chance to prepare dinner today. With some left over rice from yesterday, I made a fried rice which is very closed to my heart, the Javanese Fried Rice. I am a proud Indonesian from East Java and always think so highly of Javanese culinary. In fact, I always crave for Javanese food.

My Mom used to cook Javanese Fried Rice at home when she got not much ingredients in her fridge. As I've been away for so many years, I hardly get the chance to eat her Javanese Fried Rice so often. Few weeks ago, I consulted her on how to make this and I've been making this for three times now. So far, I'm quite pleased with the result and its taste was pretty close to my Mom's authentic Javanese Fried Rice.

Javanese Fried Rice is a fried rice made using spice paste and cooked meatless. Nonetheless, we can also add chicken meat or beef or even dried shrimps (ebi) into the mix.

Javanese Fried Rice/Nasi Goreng Jawa

 My Nasi Goreng Jawa.

Ingredients:
  • 2 plates of cold boiled rice
  • Sliced cabbage (or other vegetables, optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp of sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • Cooking oil

Spice Paste:

  • 5 shallots or 2 big shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 5 cloves of garlics, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red chili (lombok besar)
  • 1 birds-eye chili (cili padi/ cabe rawit), optional
  • 1 tbsp of shrimp paste (belacan/terasi udang)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • A pinch of pepper powder

Tutorial:

1. Blend or grind all the ingredients for the spice paste by using food processor. I don't have a food processor so I used cobek dan ulekan (stone mortar and pestle to grind sambal in Indonesia) to grind the spice paste ingredients. Set aside.

Cobek dan ulekan I use to grind spices.


2. Preheat the cooking oil (as needed) in a wok. Put the eggs onto the hot oil and scramble them.

3. Sauté the spice paste onto the scramble eggs in the hot wok until fragrant.

4. Add in cabbage and cook for few minutes.

5. Put in the rice and stir until all the ingredients well-mixed. Add in the soy sauce and mix well. Taste the fried rice and add more salt or sugar or pepper again when necessary.

Making Javanese Fried Rice indeed takes more effort than the usual fried rice since we need to create the spice paste first instead of sautéing sliced onions/garlics but the final result is always rewarding. Some people garnish this fried rice with sunny side up egg and crackers to make this dish more appetizing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

10 Advantages and Disadvantages of Working as Full-Time Freelancer

Since I quit my office job in Singapore and relocated myself to Malaysia, I've been working as a full-time freelancer, taking up project-based works for almost three months by now. The reasons being for me not to look for an office job in Malaysia are (1) I don't live in Kuala Lumpur (in the town where I currently live, there is no job with my niche expertise offered) (2) I have no idea in switching a job field at this moment. I just can't figure out what else I can do to earn for living other than doing what I've been doing professionally thus far (3) I can't drive a car yet and am not familiar with Malaysia's roads (4) I have no confidence in taking public transportation in Malaysia to commute to Kuala Lumpur every day.

The plus and minus values of working as full-time freelancer that I state below may not be new stuff to those who've experienced earning a living by becoming a freelancer or self-employed or working from home. Based on my experience so far, the following are the positive values, challenges and drawbacks working as a full-time freelancer as compared to working as a full-time employee stationed in an office from 9am-6pm.


10 BENEFITS OF WORKING AS FULL-TIME FREELANCER:

1. No boss hovering around the room
Freedom due to the non-existence of a boss around is one of the best things to have when working from home as a freelancer. There's no more boss lurking around the room to eye on what we do during office hours or constantly check on our work progress. One thing though, we are usually required to regularly update our direct boss/employers on our work progress either via phone, online chatting or email during the course of the project at a specified time (weekly, biweekly, etc.). This being said, we have to make sure that we have everything to update ready whenever the boss checks.

2. Have more than one master and choose who we want to work with
Working freelance usually means we can work for more than one organizations and have the ability to choose clients (provided if we have more potential employers). We can extend our service to several employers but usually there are certain terms and conditions applied for this according to the respective work contract. Some types of work require full attention and longer lead time to finish the work product hence; having more than one employers for this kind of job may not be visible to do. Also, for this kind of job, if we were to engage multiple employers, what we can do is to finish the outstanding working contract with a particular employer then only extend our service to other companies once we are no longer bound with the previous company.

3. Own our sweet time
Working freelance or from home means we own our time. We can pursue our hobby more actively, even during the usual working hours, as long as this activity doesn't intervene the work deadlines or end result. For example, if I can complete the tasks that I need to do in one day, I finish my work earlier and do some baking before 6pm. Whenever I feel like taking a break, I can just go out to my garden and do some brief gardening. Also, when I have finalized a project with the company and there is a longer break in the interim, I can have a short holiday anytime without the need to apply leave to my employer.

4. No need to go to office
Freelance works generally imply working from home. Working from home means no need to go to office every morning, no need to waste time and money commuting from and to office every week days and no need to dress up. Once we wake up, we can straightaway hit our work station in pyjamas. As for myself, every morning I try to shower and dress up a bit (still in casual outfits but not pyjamas) before I start working so I feel refreshed and become more alert throughout the day.

5. Wake up anytime, take nap anytime
As mentioned above, working freelance means no need to go to office every morning nor have outside meetings anymore. As the usual working hours start at 9am, I try to maintain my working productivity by start working at 9am as well. However, working at 9am now doesn't mean that I rise and shine at 7am anymore. I can just wake up at 8.30 am then take a shower, get dressed and have quick breakfast, yet I still can start my work at 9am too. Another benefit from working freelance is also to be able to take a nap during the day when we feel drowsy and coffee is no longer an aid. One thing though, we have to make sure that we take a really short nap during the day especially when the work load is still heavy otherwise we'd have problems in meeting the work deadlines.

6. Lower stress level
No boss around and owning our sweet time definitely mean lower stress level at work. No need much explanation about this. Unless we have problems in meeting our work's targets then probably our stress level is not that low anymore. One thing to remember, freelance work doesn't mean stress-free.

7. Do whatever we want during official working hours
An instance for this point is by being so active in social media tools during office hours. Some companies block social media tools whereby we can't really play online games, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the kind during official working hours. Moreover, we need to be alert in playing with our smart phones in the office-setting during office hours as our bosses may not be so happy with this attitude at work. Working from home spells no restriction to all these. We can still comment our friends' status or photos on Facebook, tweet, read or update blogs during office hours.

8. More time for errands
Sometimes we can't really run errands when we work in the office and most companies don't operate on weekends. When we work freelance, running errands is definitely not a problem anymore. We can sneak out from work and run errands in town or finish some light house chores for a while during the day.

9. Find entertainment when we get bored
When we are bored in the office, we can't do nothing much. Most to most is to have a brief chat with a colleague in the next cubicle or get some coffee outside or browse some news in Yahoo!. Then continue working again until the clock ticks 6pm. Working from home gives us freedom to watch TV for few minutes when we get so bored at work, listen to our favorite songs in iPod whilst working (some bosses don't like this), etc. However, this entertainment dosage during office hours have to be carefully monitored, otherwise our job in-hand is neglected.

10. More time to spend with family
This last point is perhaps another best thing to benefit from working as freelancer. We can work all day long yet we don't really neglect our family. We can work overtime yet we still feel close to our family. We can eat lunch, breakfast and dinner with our family almost every day. As for me, working freelance means more time with my husband.

10 DRAWBACKS  OF WORKING AS FULL-TIME FREELANCER:

1. Extra efforts to set up the work station at home 
It's probably not a massive issue to create our work station at home but in the beginning, setting this up definitely takes extra efforts and our own pocket-money. Depending on the nature of the job, the basic things we need for working at home are usually a separate phone line for work (which means we have to apply a new number, buy the telephone and do the installation at home), internet, fax machine, printer, a computer/laptop and special software - as for me I needed to purchase Microsoft Outlook software for my professional email exchanges and it took one working day to settle my Outlook's account setting alone. Once all these are settled, we can start working peacefully.

2. Less income
Working freelance usually means less income, unless we can negotiate a higher fee to the employer, handle some multiple projects at the same time or have a side business other than the freelance work. For project-based freelance work, we are paid once one project is completed. If there are extensions to finish one project or follow-ups work need to be done, we won't get any extra money. Unlike working project-based job in a formal office setting, even though we miss the deadlines, we'd still receive the monthly salary.

3. No colleagues
Working from home means no interaction with colleagues. Even if we are supposed to liaise with them usually we do it either via phone, email or online chatting. Working life can be a little lonely sometimes as we have neither lunch buddies nor friend to bitch about work at times.

4. People don't really take you seriously
It's freelance. It's part-time job. We work from home. No title. No career advancement. Less income earned every month. We are seen to loiter around the house way too often sometimes. We wake up late. We take recurrent holidays. These are why some people look down at freelancers.

5. Tight competition
Usually those who are offered job as freelancers are people with extensive experience in their respective field. Senior people are given more trusts to finish their job from home, with minimum supervision. Therefore, to be able to take up a freelance job means we have to compete with those established senior people equipped with extensive work portfolios who usually possess their own professional websites. Furthermore, some companies prefer to have in-house workers instead of hiring freelancers.

6. Strong network is prerequisite 
Becoming a freelancer requires large and strong network in the industry we serve as these people can be our good source of potential employments in the near future. The more people we know and have good relationships with mean higher chance for being introduced to potential employers looking for freelancers.

7. Being sick doesn't really count
Sometimes, being sick doesn't mean that freelancers can have official excuse to not finish the work product on time. Although, of course, freelancers have the liberty to take rest any time when we fall ill but deadlines for project-based work mean deadlines. We get paid on project basis to finish our duties on time and because of this reason, missing deadlines for a freelancer means more pressures in the shoulder. We can be seen as a not performing individual and may not be offered more projects in the near future if our professionalism and end work product are doubted.

8. No employee's benefits or bonus
As an independent contractor, not an official employee of an organization, freelancers are sort of required to waive any claims, rights, benefits and privileges that a full-time employee entitled. These indicate no retirement plan, no pension fund, no insurance, no medical benefits and no potential profit-sharing or performance bonus received from the company we work with.

9. More personal administration tasks to do
Being a freelancer means we have to take care of our personal work-related administration things such as invoicing our clients. One of the things that I don't really enjoy doing is invoicing my company. I know it's important thing to do, as without this, I can't get my payment but this task can be quite tedious. Generally, some things that we should invoice monthly or per project include invoicing our service fee, phone bills (scanning the monthly phone bills and sometimes highlighting specified phone calls we make for a particular project then sending the file across to our employers) and transportation bills (if stated so in the contract).

10. Extra efforts required to maintain discipline and professionalism
There are lots of temptations and higher distraction levels when working at home. TV, social media platforms, online chat rooms, hobbies, house chores, errands, invitations to go out for a walk or dine out or even your bed's smell are some examples that can affect productivity of working from home. The key here is to always remember our professional commitment to our employers. Also, if possible, we should set a daily target of things that we are supposed to do and achieve them. Don't call a day off yet if 90% of the to-do-list of the day is not accomplished.

Working freelance from home means uncontrolled working hours and there are obviously advantages and disadvantages to work under this scheme. Some people are happier working from home then become more productive and tend to love their job more. However, as the distraction level in working from home is quite high too, self-motivation and diligence are the secrets to be successful in pursuing career as full-time freelancers. Therefore, excellent time management to get the work done in time whilst balancing the work-life issues are critical.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Planting Lettuce: Week 1 Quick Updates

It's been five days since I spread the lettuce seed in the pot. Actually since two days ago, I already saw some seedlings bursting from the soil but only managed to snap their photos today.

There are about 32 seedlings in total came out from the soil.

Day 5: A closer look on lettuce seedlings.

Thus far, I water these seedlings quite regularly and plan to separate them when they are >3 weeks old. Now they look very fragile (i.e. can die anytime) and are growing up facing toward the sunlight.

Four Tips in Growing Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas or Hortensias are loved for their delicate clusters of papery flowers. I tried to grow potted Hydrangeas from seeds before but my attempts on this were no success. When I visited the Cactus Valley in Cameron Highlands, I saw lots of pretty pink and blue hydrangea shrubs in the garden. I was so inspired to have them in my garden too. 

The color of young hydrangeas' petals is green.

Hydrangeas' color transformation.

A beautiful look of hydrangea.

The garden shops offered potted hydrangeas plants at relatively cheap price (already with big flowers on the plant!). After some discussions with the shop keepers, my husband finally bought one pot for me at RM10. He kind of interviewed the shop keepers on how to best take care of hydrangeas at home. I grasped probably 20% of their conversations as they spoke in Mandarin all the way. The only Chinese words mentioned repeatedly that I could understand during the conversations were 花 (huā = flower), 水 (shuǐ = water) and 种 (zhòng = to plant/cultivate). My Mandarin vocabulary on gardening stuff is very poor so once we left the shop, I interviewed my husband back and asked him to explain everything the shop keeper said to him, in English.

A close-up look of Hydrangea's paper-like petals.

Hydrangeas usually come in two colors: Pink and Blue/Purple.

Based on our conversations with the garden shopkeepers, here are some things to remember in growing Hydrangeas at home:
  • Water Hydrangeas twice a day, if possible. Unlike Cameron Highlands whose climate profile is cool, Hydrangeas grown in sunny and hot place like Seremban need more water. 
  • Hydrangeas thrive in full sunlights so if we have extra time to take care of this plants, best thing to do is to put the plants under the sunlight every morning and keep them back at a sheltered place in the evening. Hydrangeas flowers' colors range from blue to lavender to mauve to a vivid deep pink/blue.
    The color of the flowers' petals conforms the sunlight the plants receive. Less sunlight means lighter pink/blue color, more sunlight means darker or deeper pink/blue/purple flowers.
  • Hydrangeas flowers last up to 3-4 months in their tree. Regular deadhead encourages repeat blooms on the plant. Once the flower is dried up, we can cut the stem where the flowers dry so the plant can grow a new branch and start blooming again. 
  • Regularly put some fertilizers in the soil surrounds the plant. Don't put fertilizers directly to the roots or stem. 

Checking Out the Big Red Strawberry Farm, Cameron Highlands

Right beside the Cactus Valley is the Big Red Strawberry Farm, also known as Taman Agro Tourism. It is a one-stop garden and farm center where visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery and have some snacks at the Big Red Cafe at the end of the farm. This place claims to produce the biggest and best strawberries in Cameron Highlands - I am not certain about this statement as I didn't really buy and eat many strawberries in Cameron Highlands. There's no paid ticket required to enter this place and visitors can pick some strawberries at the farm too (not sure how much money we need to pay for this activity).

Big Red Strawberry Farm 's Welcome Board.

I personally feel that strawberry farms everywhere have similar sceneries and there are lots of strawberry farms in Cameron Highlands too.

The strawberry patch at the farm.

Thus, when I visited Big Red Strawberry Farm, instead of admiring their strawberry patch, I was way more interested in checking out their massive hydroponic lettuce farms. The 'green' view was just superb.

The lettuce farm: Green Coral, Red Coral, Romaine and Butterhead.

 Funny face with lettuce.

The Butterhead Lettuce Farm. 
They sell Butterhead Juice too. Care for one, anyone?

Done with checking the farms, we decided to have some snack at Big Red Cafe. We had their fresh strawberry muffin and a bowl of hydroponically-grown strawberry and lettuce salad. The muffin tasted no good but the salad was good.

Self-service salad bar: We can take as much salad as we can at one go but refill is forbidden.

Stacking up lettuces into my bowl.

Our morning snacks: A bowl of salad, a strawberry muffin and a cup of hot chocolate.
All these cost RM 13.

When I ever visit this place again, I'll definitely come for the lettuce scenery and salad.

Checking Out the Cactus Valley, Cameron Highlands

On Monday morning, right after we checked out from hotel and had breakfast in Tanah Rata, we went to the town of Brinchang in Cameron Highlands. The first place we checked once we were in  Brinchang was the Cactus Valley which hosts many varieties of cactus and whole lot of other flowering plants. The entrance ticket to this place is RM 4/pax. There are also gardening shops near the entry gate and parking lot where I could not resist purchasing some potted flowering plants at relatively cheap price.

Entrance to Cactus Valley.

Many varieties of cactus shown at Cactus Valley.

Massive Echinocactus display. 
This arrangement looks like the Borobudur Temple made of Cactus.

 Funny face with cactus. Take no. 1.

  Funny face with cactus. Take no. 2.

Cactus Flowers.

Mini cactus galore. RM 10 for 3 pots.

As mentioned above, this place is also a home of many flowering plants. I really had a good time walking around this place, admiring the beautiful beds of flowers and taking photos of them.

Pretty Hydrangeas.


Modelling in one of Cactus Valley's garden.

The Bird of Paradise and Me.

In the end, it was a pot of pink of Hydrangea which I brought home from one of Cactus Valley's garden shops. My husband and I felt bad for not giving any business to the other garden shop ran by an Indian man opposite the one we bought the flower plant from. When he noticed we carried a bag of hydrangea pot from his competitor to the parking lot, referring to his hydrangeas, he shouted "Ini tak mau? (You don't want this?) Aiyooo..."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Checking Out the BOH Tea Garden and Tea Centre, Cameron Highlands

The second place we visited when we arrived in Cameron Highlands was BOH Tea Garden and Tea Center in Fairlie. BOH is the largest tea producer in Malaysia and established the country's first highland tea garden in Cameron Highlands. My husband intended to bring me to the other BOH Tea Garden in Sungei Palas, but somehow we stranded in the other one, Fairlie.

It was pouring real hard that day so once we settled in the tea garden, we had some afternoon snack at BOH's Ummph! Tea Shop/Cafe next to the tea factory. We were told that this BOH Tea Garden is closed for visitation on Monday so we purposely visited this place on Sunday late afternoon. My husband and I arrived at 4.00pm and the cafe and shop close at 4.30pm daily. Just in time.

The BOH Tea Garden's Welcome Board.

Sipping BOH's Raspberry & Strawberry Tea 
whilst eating the Lemon Butter Cake and Strawberry Pie at the cafe.

Captured these striking red lilies whilst waiting for husband buying tea and cakes at the cafe.

Morning Glory found around the tea garden.

I love the yellow color here.

Once the rain stopped, we quickly left the cafe and tried to look around the place. The tea factory for visitation was already closed so we decided to view the humongous tea plantation from above. I never fancy hiking, hence getting to the View Point was indeed one of the 174 meters challenging journeys-to-the-top in my life, full of slippery and steep flight of mud stairs. I needed a help from my umbrella to climb the steps to reach this View Point. I am aging.

Staircases to the top.

My husband, trying to complete the 174m journey to the top of the tea garden.

When we were finally on top, we witnessed the magnificent view of tea mountains!

Me, taking a rest at the view point  with my helper, the umbrella.

Spotted this orange tree at the View Point. Rare.

Modelling in front of the old wooden house found at the View Point.

To conclude, a quote from the Bible on "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" indeed represents this trip to the tea garden's View Point best. It was a rough and long journey to the get to the top but once we are there, the reward we get, in this case is the view, is truly amazing.

Checking Out the Highland Apiary Farm, Ringlet, Cameron Highlands

First thing we did when we reached Cameron Highlands was making a stop at a Bee Farm, commonly known as Highland Apiary Farm (HAF), in Ringlet.  Ringlet is the first town to visit when we arrived to Cameron Highlands. It is located about 12 kilometers from Tanah Rata and one of the agricultural hubs in the region.

Highland Apiary Farm in Ringlet.

HAF is one of the three bee farms in Cameron Highlands with free admission. For a new visitor like myself, visiting a bee farm is a novelty. I was actually expecting bees buzzing around the place and beekeepers dressed in their special protection cloths maintaining bee colonies in hives. Not sure why at the time we visited there was no display of how local honey is cultivated in this farm. What I saw in this farm was actually a shop selling honey and honey-derived products and other souvenirs, mini displays fully protected of honey beekeeping, strawberry patch and flowers nursery.  Seemingly, bee farms in Cameron Highlands combine some other form of tourists' attractions to make their places more interesting, not a mere place to watch bees buzz around.

Bees at Highland Apiary Farms. Photo credit by my husband.

I was not too interested with the bees so I proceeded with walking around the farms taking pictures of the strawberries and their beds of flowers.

Pretty orchids I captured.

Checking out the mini strawberry farm.

Strawberries I captured in picture.

Me in front of the Gomphrenas.

 Pretty Gomphrenas. Photo taken by my husband.

Husband and I in front of the sunflower nursery.

The Sunflower I captured.

In the end, we didn't buy anything nor learn anything new about bees in this bee farm but our first stop at this farm made me excited about the whole trip idea since I was about to see lots and lots of pretty flowers ahead.