Sharing life's recipes online
BY P. ANGELINA

COOK ON WHEELS ... Baking enthusiast Tan shares recipes online as well as gets tips oh how to overcome some baking problems.
FOR MOST of us today, accessing the Internet - whether it is to search for information, reply e-mail, chat, pay bills or read the news - has become part and parcel of our daily routine.

So much so that we might even be blamed for taking the Internet for granted. While the Net may be just a tool to enhance our daily routine, Peter Tan perceives it as being much more.

Penangite Tan, 37, was paralysed from the waist down as a result of a diving accident in 1984. He relies on the Internet to stay in touch with family and friends, to support himself and to express his views and feelings to the rest of the world through his website.

According to Tan, he started surfing the Internet about eight years ago.

"I am fortunate in the sense that I have functional use of my partially paralysed hands," he said. "So, I can operate the computer pretty much the same way as other people. I am right-handed but I operate the mouse with my left hand, which I have better control of. Basically, I am a two-finger typist, and very good at that, too!"

Tan said that he enjoys going on the Internet as it has helped him in many ways. "Surfing has helped to alleviate some of the boredom," he said. "It is better than doing nothing the whole day. At the very least, I get to exercise my hands typing on the keyboard."

"I have also made some very good friends via the Internet - disabled and abled. I do not go out as often after the accident and this is a good way to meet people," he said. "I met my present girlfriend in a chatroom."

Info gathering
According to Tan, he has not bought a newspaper for almost six years. "I get my news from the online version of The Star, as well as Yahoo and The Straits Times of Singapore. Just imagine how much money I have saved. I am still gathering information on spinal cord injury," Tan told In.Tech in an e-mail interview.

Tan pointed out that he searches for information on spinal cord injury because "there is only so much the doctor can tell you in the brief time spent in his consultation room."

"I have learnt more about my injury from the Internet than what the medical professionals had informed me," he said. "There is a wealth of information on spinal cord injury on the Internet, either expert articles or personal experiences."

According to Tan, he also trawled the Internet for information on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia when his late mother was diagnosed with the disease.

"I also joined mailing lists to enquire about treatment options, unusual symptoms and drug side effects," he said. "That helped a lot with understanding her problems."

Sharing the story
Earlier this year, Tan launched two websites that he had designed - a spinal cord injury website and a personal blog.

"I created my Spinal Cord Injury website (sci.petertan.com) because I wanted to tell the story of my injury and I felt that the Internet was a really good medium to publish it," he said. "This website is also for me to express my creativity to a wider audience. What is the point of creating something if you have no one to share it with?

"I have to say that my Spinal Cord Injury page is not the most comprehensive," Tan admitted.

"What I have put up there is from my own experience. Nevertheless, I have received e-mail and messages left in my guestbook telling me that they have learnt something useful from my site. I even received mail from my neurosurgeon's friend asking for his contact. I am happy that they got in touch again. Isn't the Internet wonderful?"


INTERNET ADDICTION ... Tan uses the Internet to surf for information, get the news, keep in touch with relatives and friends, as well as share his thoughts and experiences.
Personal site
"Later on, when I met my girlfriend, I created a site (www.petertan.com) and included the story on how we met and poems that I had written specially for her," he said. "Likewise, when my mother passed away recently, I created a site in her memory."

Tan's personal website features a gallery and a weblog.

"I have relatives and friends in other parts of Malaysia and overseas," he said. "This is an easier way to share photographs with them. The gallery is also a good place for me to show off my photography skills ? or lack of it, and showcase some of my favourite pictures."

The blog helps Tan to express his thoughts and views.

"Early this year I chanced upon a weblog and was fascinated by the interactive nature of it," he said. "You see, I kept a journal during my schooldays and this was something like it. I also liked the idea of having people leave comments about what I have written."

"As you can see in my weblog, I have a problem with my butter cakes not rising properly. I blogged about it and another cake baking enthusiast helped me troubleshoot the problem," he explained.

"For the past few months, I have also blogged about my mother's fight with leukemia," he said. "In part, this weblog has helped me overcome the intense grief that followed her demise by giving me an avenue to express my feelings. Total strangers, after reading the weblog, have left comforting words which helped a lot."

Tan's website also offers free web space for charities and nonprofit organisations.

"Unfortunately, none have taken up the offer," he said. "I have gained a lot from these organisations that helped me after I broke my neck. This is my way of giving back something. There are a lot of nonprofit organisations in Malaysia helping the disabled but only a handful have a Web presence. A lot more can be done to promote the work that they are doing if they have a website."

Building websites
According to Tan, some of the challenges he faced while designing his webpages included trying to make the layout turn out the way he wanted it.

"It is not easy when you have to learn everything from scratch in the beginning," he said.

Tan didn't let that stop him from learning though. He learnt HTML coding from a free HTML tutorial site. "It was a trial and error process to see what worked and what did not," he said.

Now, he can safely say that designing websites is what he enjoys most about the Internet.

"I have always had a passion for the creative arts," he explained. "I love writing, graphic design and photography. Webpages help me integrate all of these things into a single media and then publish it at almost no cost."

Tan said he designs webpages for fun. "It is a way for me to fill my time, which I have too much of, and to flex my creative muscles.

"I still code my HTML manually now, although programs like Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe GoLive help a lot by simplifying the formatting of the layout," he explained.

"There is a limited number of Flash animation on my site; these were created using Adobe LiveMotion. The graphics were created with CorelDRAW and photographs manipulated with Adobe Photoshop."

Although Tan's websites were initially hosted on Yahoo's Geocities site, they have since been transferred to his own domain name after he bought hosting space in January this year.

Communication tool
According to Tan, he also uses the Internet to communicate with relatives and friends.

"I keep in touch with relatives and friends through e-mail and ICQ," he said. "I also chat online every night with my girlfriend who lives in Kuala Lumpur. This has gone on continuously for almost four years now, except for those times when she's in Penang."

According to Tan, he also tries to initiate contact with people with spinal cord injury to share and exchange experiences.

"So far, I have corresponded, chatted online, via phone, and met Victor Liew (see In.Tech, Jan 2, 2001) who lives in Kuala Lumpur," he said. "Victor uses a voice-activated program to help him use the computer and navigate the Internet."

Aside from chatting, Tan said that he also listens to online radio stations, hunts for good recipes and checks reviews of hardware before making purchase decisions.

"The Internet is a virtual library where I go first to get information I need for everything," he explained. "I do realise that some of the information may not be correct. Nevertheless, it opens up a plethora of alternatives at the click of a few buttons instead of having to do laborious research in the library."

Tan said that he also uses Internet banking facilities to pay bills and transfer funds, which is very convenient for him as mobility is a problem.

According to Tan, the Internet also provides him with the means to support himself financially.

"I do some freelance copywriting jobs for a friend who has an advertising and communications agency in Beijing," he said. "I accept whatever she pays me which is around RM600 for a promotional newsletter and about RM100 for each loose job such as tent cards, thank you letters, etc. These jobs keep me occupied two weeks a month."

"Since she's based in Beijing and Hong Kong, we communicate mainly using e-mail, ICQ and Yahoo Messenger," he said.

Addiction and problems
Tan spends an average of about eight hours a day on his computer.

"I usually log in at about 10am and keep my connection on until around midnight although I may not be at my PC all the time," he said.

When he's not online, Tan claims to have withdrawal symptoms.

"The most obvious is when I am away from home for a few days. Then I start wondering if I have any e-mail or ICQ message waiting for me. I get fidgety thinking about it," he said. "Being without an Internet connection for a few days makes me feel like something is missing. And since I get all my current news from the Internet, I would be clueless about the latest happenings if I did not surf the Internet.

"Also, junk mail and spam hawking anything and everything from libido-enhancing pills to porn sites flood my mailbox everyday," he said. "That is very annoying. Add to that an unreliable and slow Streamyx broadband connection. All this really is a recipe for more withdrawal symptoms."

Culinary skills
Tan is not only creative technically. His also creative in the kitchen.

"Just recently, I started baking two or three times a week and to cook on weekends with my maid's help," he said. "Before my accident, I liked to bake bread, cakes and scones."

"My mother had been cooking for me all these years. I'd look for some interesting recipe from the Internet for her to cook which included cuisine and cakes. When she could no longer cook because of her illness, we catered food. But being Chinese, soups are always important, more so for the indisposed. Therefore, I cooked herbal soups and bean soups with the slow cooker for her everyday from recipes I found on the Internet," he explained.

"After she passed away, I had a yearning for some of the food that she used to cook. I looked for them on the Internet and even asked relatives for the recipes. As I am catering lunch for weekdays now, I only cook on Sundays, with a lot of help from the maid," he said.

Tan's latest creation is a rum and raisin cake which he proudly displays at his site.

One recipe you will also find at his website is this: Add some patience to a lot of creativity, a cupful of information and experience, sprinkle in some thoughts and feelings, and let the ingredients bake.

Surely, this makes for a successful life online.


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