Saturday, November 16, 2013

Two Weddings and a Memorial ...
Celebrating Life in Kuala Lumpur

Shortly before Pat and I left Malaysia for our summer sojourn in Michigan, we attended a series of events that celebrate the cycle of life. We attended two weddings, the start of a new life for two young couples.  We also participated in a small, private memorial ceremony to honor and remember an old friend who passed from the scene in 2005.

The first joyous occasion was the wedding of Adzam and Syazana.  Adzam is one of the geologists you saw in the last blog.  Pat and I drove down to Port Klang, the city that serves as the port for Kuala Lumpur and much of the rest of the country.  Syazana's family had held a similar reception at her home town near Ipoh, a few hundred km to the north, and now it was Adzam's turn to have one at his place.

Adzam's family had made the reception venue into a block party for the neighbors and friends; a tent with buffet and banquet tables was erected along the length of the road in front of the row of their townhouses.

Adzam had invited much of our construction company's site office to attend, as well as his family and the whole neighborhood.  The tables were full of neighbors and fellow workers, including us...

While the guests were feasting outside, Adzam and Syazana were receiving friends and relatives inside Adzam's parents' house, seated at their thrones in a traditional Malay bersanding.  Read about Malay weddings here.

So this is the happy couple!  I'm not sure what Zana thinks of her husband's work deep in the bowels of the earth mapping the rock formations behind a tunnel boring machine, but that's the farthest thing from her mind right now as they look forward to their life together!  Pat and I wish them the very best !

The second wedding was in the city of Shah Alam, about 25km west of Kuala Lumpur.  The bride is the daughter of Naim Yunus and Sabariah Moh'd Zain.  I "met" Naim on-line as a fellow member of Malsingmaps, a group of Garmin GPS enthusiasts who took it upon themselves to create road maps of Malaysia to use on their Garmin navigators when Garmin had no useful maps of the country.  Today, Garmin has adopted the Malsingmaps map as their standard Malaysia/Singapore map that they sell on their website.    Naim and Sab are world travelers and tireless bloggers.  Their daughter Nuraini ("Nuni") is a doctor serving her compulsory government service (for medical docs) in a rural district town, and her husband Zaman works for a land development firm. 

The afternoon started as these receptions usually do with a sumptuous catered buffet luncheon.  The reception was at the auditorium of the state museum in Shah Alam.  As the guests were finishing their lunch, the bride and bridegroom were being treated to a performance of the traditional Malay silat martial arts.  (The bride's in the picture seated at front, wearing the purple head scarf.)

 At the conclusion of the silat performance, Zaman and Nuni make their way to the auditorium's stage.  In their wedding, their bersanding well-wishers will go up to the thrones on the stage to wish them well.  In the first wedding the bridegroom was wearing a traditional Malay bridegroom attire.  Zaman, however, opted for a business suit.

The happy couple is seated at their thrones waiting for the MC to start the ceremony. After prayers, friends and relatives will make their way up the stage to wish them well.  At this point, Pat and I bid farewell to Nuni's parents and make our way back to KL.  (Today, I understand that Dr Nuni and Zaman are expecting a baby soon!)

Finally, we complete our celebration of life by accompanying Marion D'Cruz and Marge Martinez, old friends we've known for almost 40 years, to memorialize Marion's husband Krishen Jit, who passed away in 2005.  Krishen Jit is widely considered to be the father of modern Malaysian theatre.  Numerous articles, books, and academic papers have been written on his work.  But Pat, Justin and I also remember him fondly as a friend and also as Justin's kindly godfather (Marion being Justin's godmother).

When Krishen passed away in 2005, his ashes were scattered in the ocean outside of Port Klang, the port city that serves Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur.  Every year since then, at the anniversary of Krishen's passing, Marion goes out with some friends to scatter flower petals in the ocean off the ferry terminal in Klang.  This year, Pat, Marge and I accompany Marion.  Marion (in the yellow shirt) is checking out local motorboat operators who can take us out to the site.  In the background is a water bus that just pulled in from Pulau Ketam (Crab Island).

Marion strikes a deal with one of the speedboat operators, and we're off!  Marion has gone to a neighborhood flower shop near her house and has brought the flower petals with her.

We reach the site and throw the flower petals in the water, drinking a toast (we've come prepared) in the boat to Krishen.  We laugh and we reminisce before heading back to shore.

From the ferry pier, we make our way to the "Little India" section of Port Klang for a quick meal before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.  The streets are festooned with the flags of political parties for the upcoming general elections.

So we end our memorial outing with a lunch of Indian tosai, chapatis, potato pancakes, and mutton curry.  If Krishen were still with us, this is how we would have ended our outing as well! Cheers, folks!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) Breakthrough Ceremony

I've been remiss in cranking out blog entries.  I took a job with my old friends who are currently working on digging a water supply tunnel near Kuala Lumpur.  (See last year's blog entry about the tunnel.)  I've been too busy (tired, actually)!  I'm working part-time with the joint venture construction company that's building the tunnel, helping them with technical documentation for constructions claims.  (I'm waa---aaay too old to be working inside a tunnel site!)

This past Friday, we had a really impressive ceremony to mark the completion a tunnel stretch being excavated by one of our three tunnel boring machines (TBMs).  I've got a cool (short) video for you to watch!

First, some background.  This tunnel, a part of the Pahang Selangor Raw Water Transfer project, will deliver water from the Malaysian state of Pahang (which has lots and lots of rivers and water) over the mountains to the neighboring state of Selangor, where Kuala Lumpur and other population centers are located.  It is a classic "interbasin" water transfer project.  You engineers, earth scientists and other techies reading this can download this past issue (PDF file) of the magazine of the Board of Engineers Malaysia and read about the project starting on Page 42 onward.  The construction is funded 75% by Japanese aid, and 25% from Malaysian government funds.

Location Map

The tunnel is 44.6 km long. This makes it the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia, 11th longest in the world, and with the 8th highest overburden (height of ground above tunnel --- 1,246 meters in this case) in the world. The TBMs are gouging a 5.2 meter diameter tunnel through some pretty hard granitic formations.

Oh, by the way, don't let anybody tell you US companies can't compete overseas! The three TBMs in use here were designed and built to this project's specs by The Robbins Company of Solon, OH. Their PR hacks were here in droves to record the breakthrough (while the poor Robbins tunnel guys were slaving away at their TBM). Robbins is reckoned to be best of their class for the "hard-rock" TBMs, while their German competitors are reckoned to be better for "soft-rock (shield)" TBMs.

TBM Excavation Directions and Progress to Date

Of the 44.6 km of the tunnel, 34.5 km are being excavated by three TBMs. The rest (the red parts on the figure) were excavated by conventional drilling-and-blasting or by cut-and-cover.  As you can see from the figure above, TBM-1 is excavating downstream from the Pahang side, while TBMs 2 and 3 are excavating upstream from Selangor towards Pahang. It was TBM-3 that just completed its 28-month, 11.6 km run.  The other two have several more months to go.

VIPs ranging from senior Malaysian government officials, the Japanese ambassador (remember the funding source?), the design/construction supervision engineers, and invited guests like press, staff from subcontractors and suppliers, neighbors, local government folks, etc., were bused down "Adit 4" (access tunnel #4) that carried us down to the breakthrough spot.  Without further ado, here's what happened --- watch the video:

(In case you can't see the video in the box above, go to:

The VIPs in the front were covered with dust, but pretty soon they forgot the dust as the TBM-3 crew started emerging from the cutterhead that had just broken through:

Waving Malaysian flags, the TBM crew in red coveralls, the Malaysian geologist, Japanese and Indonesian tunnel engineers, and that Robbins guy in blue all emerged from a tiny maintenance hole in the cutterhead.  A Japanese kiyome site purification ceremony followed, with Japanese tunnel engineers from the two Japanese contractors in the joint venture "anointing" the exposed TBM-3 cutter head with salt, rice grains, and sake rice wine.  Then the VIPs started speechifying --- we'll skip that part.

After the speeches, the photo opportunities started.  For more than an hour after the speeches, long after the VIPs and most of the invited guests returned to the surface for a sumptuous buffet lunch, folks were taking pictures. First, the TBM crews that worked in the TBM-3 tunnel posed with the cutting face (strangely reminiscent of the sandworms of Dune.)

The tunnel engineers from the Japanese contractors broke out some Japanese flags.  With some of them clad in traditional happi coats for festive occasions, they roar their triumph with their Malaysian, Indonesian, and Bangladeshi staff.  The crews of TBMs 1 and 2, who will not have a public "breakthrough ceremony" like this when their tunnels meet towards the end of the year, also join in for a picture at the cutting face:

Before going up to see what's left to eat of the fancy buffet that's been laid out at the surface (courtesy of the Japanese Embassy), chief geologist Frank Pittard from the UK poses for a triumphant picture with his staff of Malaysian geologists.  Every day, without fail for almost three years, they've been mapping every inch of the rocks that haven been exposed by the excavation in various tunnels , determining what type of supports the engineers needed to keep the newly-excavated tunnel sections from collapsing:

Anyway, on behalf of Pat and myself, I'd like to say "hi" to our readers, and we look forward to seeing many of you in a couple of months' time back in Michigan! Please make sure the snow is gone by the time we get back! Cheers!