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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Burma Lane's twin gems

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It's been well over a month since the inscription of our very own George Town and Malacca on UNESCO's World Heritage List, where these 2 former British Straits Settlements were jointly inscribed as Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca. Now as a World Heritage Site, I foresee an influx of both domestic and international tourists to George Town to savour its unique cultural blend of East and West.


George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site


In July, my parents and I visited George Town's famed Burma Lane, where 2 imposing Buddhist temples flank the narrow lane on both sides. Though sharing the same Buddhist tradition, both temples were built in completely different architectural styles. On one side of the lane stands Penang's oldest Buddhist temple, the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple 缅佛寺. On the other side of the lane is the more modest-looking Wat Chaiyamangalaram 泰佛寺, a Thai Buddhist temple that houses a 33-metre long reclining Buddha, one of the longest of its kind in the world.


Burma Lane, George Town, Penang
Left: Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple; Right: Wat Chaiyamangalaram

Our last trip here was at least a decade ago, and I could hardly remember it. Due to our confusion with the street names (we mistook Burma Road for Burma Lane), we ended up taking multiple turns along Burma Road in search of the gilded temples. It was not until we asked for directions from a local that we realized we had made this stupid mistake. And the funniest thing is that Burma Lane was just around the corner, so narrow and inconspicuous that one could easily miss it.


Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, George Town, Penang


Founded in the year 1803, the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple is a stunning piece of religious landmark. I especially love its golden stupas and façades, which are typical of the Burmese temple architecture. Hey, you don't always get to see Burmese temples in this country, do you? Despite the tourist flocks, the temple remains a peaceful and tranquil sanctuary for city folks who desire a short break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The calm and serene atmosphere is certainly ideal for those looking for some inspirations in life.


Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, George Town, Penang


The Sāsana Vaṃsa Sima Shrine Hall is possibly the centrepiece of the temple. It was built in honour of the Sāsana Vaṃsa, a work by the 19th-century Burmese monk Paññyāsāmi that dealt with the history of the Buddhist order in his country. Once inside, visitors are immediately greeted with a huge statue of Buddha, depicted in the traditional Burmese style. The head and feet of the statue were made of carved marble stones. And yes, one can spot a lot of wood carvings in and around the hall. Very impressive indeed.


Wat Chaiyamangalaram, George Town, Penang


Wat Chaiyamangalaram, located just opposite the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, is another popular tourist haven. However, this Thai Buddhist temple pales significantly in comparison to the elaborate architectural style of its Burmese counterpart across the lane. The entrance to the temple's main hall is guarded fervently by sacred beasts. Most tourists come here for only 1 reason: to see the famous giant reclining Buddha. It's interesting to note that, despite Malaysia being officially Muslim, many of the world's tallest and longest Buddha statues can be found within the country, with quite a number of them found home in the Islamist-ruled state of Kelantan. Isn't this ironic?

Everyone knows Burma/Myanmar and Thailand are neighbours geographically. Those who haven't been to Burma Lane would definitely be surprised to find these 2 being neighbours again in George Town, Penang!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

English pronunciation

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What would you guys do if you happened to encounter an English word that you couldn't pronounce properly? For me, I'd make sure that I turn to my dictionary for help. It's been quite a few years now since I started this habit and I'm glad to say that I can read those weird-looking phonetic signs with relative ease. Nowadays, I have an electronic dictionary installed in my mobile phone and it's so useful and convenient whenever I have problems with the pronunciation of certain English words. And when you have this seemingly geeky habit, you'd discover that a lot of words that you used to think that you're pronouncing correctly are actually terribly wrong!

In Malaysia, we have our own unique (and technically incorrect) way of pronouncing English words. And I'm not talking about Manglish, mind you. What's worse is that even those teachers specializing in the English subject can commit a big mistake in this particular area. But who the heck cares, right? Malaysian students just accept everything that their teachers feed them without even bothering to analyse whether the things they say are true or otherwise.

Here are some common English words and how most Malaysians read them:

  • their
    Malaysians generally read it as thee-ya. Yes, even your teachers taught you so! But could you please take the trouble to look into your Oxford or any English dictionary that you have and you'll be amazed to find that the phonetic signs for this word is similar to the word there. So there you have it, it's pronounced the same way as the word there, not thee-ya.
  • Wednesday
    Surprise, surprise! You never thought that this word would pop up here, did you? Now how do you read this? I'm sure over 90% of Malaysians that you met read it the way the word is spelled ~ wed-nes-day/wen-nes-day. No? It's wenz-day.
  • question
    Yet another common word that most locals here got it wrong. Some better ones will read it as ques-shen while others (like a few of my secondary school teachers) will read it as ques-tian (similar to the Chinese character 电). And the correct pronunciation? ques-chen.
  • Christian
    Same theory as above: not chris-tian, but chris-chen.
  • Protestant
    Not prou-tes (as in testimonial)-tant, but pra-tes (as in greatest)-tant
  • Reformation
    Not ri-fo(r)-mei-shen, but re (as in remedy)-fe(r)-mei-shen.
  • debt
    Pronounced as det, not debt.
  • doubt
    Silent b too, hence daut.
  • receipt
    In this case, the p is silent, hence ri-sit.
  • karaoke
    Not ka-ra-o-kay, but ca (as in carry)-ri-o-ki.
  • procedure
    An overwhelming majority of school teachers and professors (yes, especially those teaching physics/chemistry/biology) got this wrong, not to say Malaysians as a whole. It's not prou-si-dear for goodness sake, but pre (e as in water)-si-jer.
  • penis
    I can't believe I'm actually typing this word on my blog! Jokes aside, it's not read as pe (as in penalty)-nis, but pi-nes (as in harness).
  • photography, geography, geometry, democracy, biology, etc
    Malaysians tend to read these words the way they read their counterparts in the Malay language. So no... Not foe-toe-gra-fi, but fe (as in fern)-ta-gre (e as in water)-fi; not geo-gra-fi, but gia-gre-fi; not geo-me (as in member)-tri, but gia-me (as in merge)-tri; not de-mo-kra-si, but di-ma-kre-si; and bla bla bla.

So... Have you all been pronouncing these words correctly? Any more words to share? ;)

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Books; dinner at Winter Warmers Coffee & Tea House, Gurney Plaza


Bought some books from MPH book store during its big sale. Before somebody starts questioning me why I bought a book on Islam (since there's an unfounded paranoia of Islam among the Malaysian Chinese populace), I shall take this initiative to defend my move. While I vehemently disagree with the atrocities perpetrated by its followers in the name of God and religion (i.e. jihad in the wrong sense) throughout the course of history, I appreciate the contributions of progressive Muslims for the sake of humanity. After all, the Muslims built marvellous monuments such as the exquisite Taj Mahal and Istanbul's Blue Mosque which we all get to admire today. Even the Europeans incorporated the pointed arch designs of Islamic architecture into what would become the Gothic architectural style during the Middle Ages.

That night, I had my dinner at Gurney Plaza's Winter Warmers Coffee & Tea House. It's decorated like a traditional English tea house with floral wallpapers and frilly white window lace, making it look remarkably different from the cafés beside it. I ordered a set dinner and my, I absolutely love my Veggie Cheese Bake! Tried their lavender cheesecake and lavender milkshake too out of plain curiosity. :P