Saturday, January 29, 2011

Monsoon Chores : Cleaning the Drain

Living in the tropics is not all about the exotic and the arcane, it is also about the plugged and the mundane.  And few chores can be as dull as cleaning the drain.

In just a few weeks after the LAST drain cleaning, vegetation and toads had once again taken up residence in our open drain around the perimeter of our house.  That the drain needed to be cleared was made evident by the increase in mosquitoes coming in nightly for a snack around our legs (watching TV) and heads (sleeping).  Stagnant or slow-moving water is ideal habitat for mosquitoes and their larvae.

Before - Habitat for Toads, Frogs and Mosquito Larvae

So, with a bit of reluctance, out came the primary tools for drain-clearing.

The primary tools are a trowel for cutting plants along the inside walls of the drain (9 cm/5 in depth) and pulling muck and plants up off the bottom of the drain (22 cm/13 in width).  A broom helps after the large chunks have been pulled down-drain for sweeping up the finer materials left behind.  A steady stream of water is also required to keep things moving along.  The "head-waters" of our drain is below the kitchen sink and dishwasher drain pipe.  Thus, a steady stream of nutrient-rich water washes along and picks up sand and dirt from outdoor gardening activities.  These all mix and become a sandy/muddy sludge on the bottom of the drain and plant seeds find this to be an ideal micro-habitat for growth and development.

Bathroom Drains, Home for Frogs and Toads
Along the way one will come to the bathroom drains which harbor toads and frogs.  Being cold-blooded critters, they need cool, dark hiding places to wait out the heat of the day before resuming their nocturnal feeding.  Often, while cleaning the drain, one of these pipe dwellers will come hopping out.

Where'd the Habitat Go?
With around 30 meters of drain to clear from behind the house, beside the house, and from in front (car park), a lot of mucky green rubbish is collected.  Most of this is washed down into the larger drain out front, but some is picked up and used for garden compost.

Around 30 meters of Drain

Compost from Drain Dregs
Finally, one is left with a clean and clear drain that will handle high-volume rainfall runoff and grey-water (sinks, showers, and clothes washer) discharge from the kitchen and bathrooms.  Only the black-water runoff (toilets) goes into the septic tank.  In hydraulic terms, I have both lowered the roughness coefficient (Manning's roughness, n, or Chezy roughness, C) so that the velocity can increase, and increased the cross-sectional area so that total discharge is higher.

After - Clear and Clean

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Photo of the Week: Empty Starbucks

Empty Expensive Coffee Shop
I don't know why I get such a satisfied feeling everytime I walk by this perpetually-empty Starbucks shop.  Located at one of Kuantan's major malls (there are only three), it is ALWAYS empty when I go by.  This photo was taken on a Saturday afternoon, right around lunchtime, when you would think that it would be full of hipsters and other cool people hanging out to be seen.  There was only one couple inside, and as you can see the outside is completely empty.  And NO it is not because it is hot and humid here.  This January has been nice and coolish and on this day, I would have sat outside if I were into overpriced coffee.  Chalk it up to Starbucks' failure to crack into the east coast tea stall/coffee-shop culture, I guess.  There are locally-owned coffee-shops that are nearly always full (Old Towne White Coffee, Kopi Kemaman, mamak shops), so it isn't because Malaysians typically prefer pulled tea (teh tarik).  Credit the fact that for the price of one Starbucks (RM18-20), you can enjoy 5-10 cups of coffee or tea otherwise.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday Open House

One holiday tradition for my family is to host a holiday season open house (rumah terbuka) for friends and colleagues.  Typically we hold these around the Christmas/New Year time although we did deviate one year with a Cheese Party at the end of one November.  It is a good time to reconnect with former colleagues, and meet the spouses of present colleagues.  This year our open house was set for 1 January 2011, a Saturday, 4-8pm, which meant that most people would be in town as the new school year started on Monday, 3 January.
So, what are the ingredients for a good open house?

Good Food
First of all, one must have both delicious and abundant food.  Typically we get the main dish from a Malay caterer since we want to ensure the guests are both familiar with the food and comfortable that it is halal.  One year we served a family turkey and they picked at it before asking for the chili sauce!  In the photo you can see the main dish -ayam masak merah (red sauce chicken)- in the tin at the back left.  In the left foreground is a tin of acar -pickled vegetables- which, with the nasi minyak (oil rice, but this version was more like confetti rice) makes the main dish.

Daughters of a colleague taking the rice

Nasi minyak, but looks like "confetti rice"
On the right side of the first photo can be seen the many varieties of baked goods that my wife makes.  She is famous amongst my colleagues for her baking and this spread included apple bread (with pecans), zucchini bread, fruit bread (two varieties), cinnamon bread along with chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate cake,  fruit tarts, tiny cupcakes and so forth.  Drinks in the form of sodas (Coca-Cola, Vanilla Coca-Coal, Zappel, Root Beer, F&N Orange, F&N Fruit) and water were served.  Usually we provide hot water for tea and hot chocolate, but this day Jabatan Bekalan Air chose to replace some pipes and thus the water was cut for the day.

Selection of sodas, but not drunk much by Malay friends
Secondly, after securing food and beverage, one must provide some entertainment for the children especially if, like me, you have many colleagues who are in the early child rearing stage of their lives.  We like to play Santa Claus so up goes a Christmas tree with presents underneath for the children.  ("What defines a child?" I was asked by a single adult hoping to score a present.  "If they are under 6 feet in height, or more intelligent than me" was my reply.)

Daughters of a colleague in front of Christmas tree
We like to give healthy presents so typically we wrap up a selection of small, hard candies and a fruit drink, maybe a chocolate or two (Cadbury's Choclairs are perfect - support Kraft products!).

To assist with babies and toddlers, we put down straw mats on the floor with a selection of toys -washed between open houses- for "free play".  The toys are all plastic as I discovered that metal toy cars were driven by the children (boys mostly) on the tile floor, not the mat, putting scratches on the cheap tile with which I had remodelled.  (Note to self: buy better tiles next time.)

Toys on a matt

Even babies like Teak's open houses!
Of course, it is not just children who enjoy Christmas trees; some of the adults like to have their photos taken in front and we enjoy telling the history of the tree's ornaments.  Some western families buy a new ornament or two each year (or receive such as gifts) and those ornaments tell a bit of the family's history.

Four Malay men from three different countries
Finally, one must provide comfortable and sufficient seating, whether on chairs or on mats on the floor.  We have a variety of chairs -rubberwood table chairs, teak chairs and bench, rattan-cane settee and couch with cushions, and also a newly-purchase teak-and-jute screen to hide the clutter corner where rain jackets, tools, and footwear hide out.

Teak bench with teak-and-jute screen
Of course, my favorite furniture is built from teak (kayu jati) from which I derive my nickname.  I even had a post about this beautiful wood back when this blog first began.

So there you have it, the three main ingredients for an open house.  Of course, what you do after providing the basics is up to you.  So the final ingredient has to be great conversation.