Thursday, 8 February 2018

Thieves amongst the civil servants

One of my old friends took a flight out from Penang to Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, enroute to England with his family. I know him very, very well; having known him since our primary schooldays at the Westlands Primary School. My friend is very frank and outspoken, and never once would I ever doubt his words. Today, while passing through the Immigration checkpoint (but I believe it is the Customs that are manning the scanners at the airport, isn't it?) at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas, he encountered a very unpleasant experience. Here is his story to his old school mates:
It beggars belief! I was about to lose my Tumi case (nice), skilfully snatched away by immigration officers at Penang Airport’s departure.
I had accidentally stored a power bank in my checked-in luggage. After being in departure, I was asked to go back to check-in and retrieve it. And on my way back, I let the Tumi bag go through the Immigration scanner. I was held back (to delay) by another officer, who ordered me back twice, again through the scanner.
When I got back to retrieve my other stuff, i.e. my belt, passport case, phone etc, I couldn’t find the Tumi bag!
The officers all looked blank - ahead of me was a European man who was putting his belt back. He looked at the female officer who was watching the screen, pointed openly to her that she was the one who took the Tumi bag. She gestured negative, but he continued, persisted in fact, and said that another officer from the adjacent aisle then came over to her and took the bag away. All quite fast.
I then looked over and spoke loudly: "Who took my Tumi!"
Then another officer at the other aisle lifted the bag up in the air and gave to me.
I then thanked the European who winked at me, his back facing them. He said he saw it all. It was very slick, he whispered and walked off. I stood there and stared at all of them.
Isabelle, my daughter them pulled me away to catch our flight to KL. Hey, it just happened, I would have preferred dinner with you guys! Really, thieves amongst Civil servants! Be careful indeed.
Yes, be very careful indeed! Thieves amongst the civil servants. Who would have thought?

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A review of Let the Aisles Proclaim

My book, as reviewed by Areca Books last year. 

Let the Aisles Proclaim can be ordered from the Areca Books and Gerakbudaya bookshops in Pitt Street, George Town, Penang or directly from The Old Frees' Association in Northam Road, Penang.
Product Description
Let the Aisles Proclaim commemorates the once-in-a-lifetime Bicentenary celebrations of the Penang Free School (PFS). The title was taken from one of the most recognisable lines of the PFS Rally, which was composed in time for the Sesquicentenary celebrations in 1966.
“More than being a chronological documentation of the history of Penang Free School, Let the Aisles Proclaim pays fitting tribute to the men and women who have passed through the portal of the Penang Free School and the institutions that are closely connected to the School itself. Let the Aisles Proclaim is also about the School’s long traditions and proud heritage, and bears testimony to our competitive spirit. We take inspiration from the successes of Old Frees and apply them to the Frees of the present. This book, therefore, commemorates our once-in-a-lifetime Bicentenary celebrations. Penang Free School has thriven through 200 years and we, the members of Society who have passed and will pass through the School, are confident that she will still progress through the next 100 years.” ― Dato’ Haji Abdul Rafique bin Abdul Karim, the Chairman of both the Penang Free School Board of Governors and Bicentenary Committee    ​
In the last 100 years or so, there had been various attempts by Penang Free School to document her long and rich past. While these early attempts did provide brief accounts of the Free School’s progress and achievements since its establishment in 1816, the finer details of the School were often overlooked in the effort to compress the rich history into a form concise enough to be appropriate as an overview. As a result, many of the historical details were lost or forgotten with the passage of time.When the Bicentenary Committee first decided on a long-term literary project to chart a more comprehensive history of the oldest English school in South East Asia, as a commemoration of Penang Free School’s 200th anniversary in 2016, the onerous task fell on the book’s author, Mr. Quah Seng Sun, to dig deeply into the past and take a fresh look at the School’s long history. Let the Aisles Proclaim, the story of the first 200 years of the Penang Free School, is the culmination of at least an 18-month work. The author’s love for his Alma Mater shows in the efforts that he had put into this diligent research. Although this is probably the most ambitious essay ever written to date about Penang Free School, the complete history can still never be told fully. But for the Old Frees of either gender, the present generation of Free School pupils, the local historians and heritage conservationists and any reader with a more than casual interest in the school’s history, this tome represents the new point of reference for all future works.
About the author: Quah Seng Sun studied at Penang Free School from 1966 to 1972. After a short spell as a newspaper journalist in his home state, which sparked his life-long interest in writing, he worked in the banking industry for 24 years and then in an Internet-based recruitment company. After his retirement, he returned to his passion of freelance writing.

Monday, 29 January 2018

51 belly dancer favourites

Another gem from the stack of records that was given to me by a fellow Old Free. This time, the music is appropriate for a spot of belly dancing to reduce the waist line. Well, at least, MY waist line! This is a record from the 1960s, in glorious monaural sound instead of stereophonic.

But the sound is good and clear, and gives an opportunity to determine whether my equipment is well balanced. Other than my own ear test, I ran the output signal through the Audacity application and the sound wave came out practically identical on both channels. What more do I say? What more can I ask for?

Here are the album notes on the back cover:
"In the last two or three years the ancient art of bellydancing has had a tremendous resurgence in the United States. The craze has swept through major cities across the country and shows no sign of abating. Prompted by this renewed interest in oriental and exotic music, we present for the first time ever, fifty-one tunes for your enjoyment.
"The selections collected here represent the outstanding dance music from Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Armenian sources .... and they couldn't be performed by a more capable or authentic orchestra than that led by Abdul Ahmed, foremost leader of oriental and exotic music in the Far East."
But it is strange that on the front cover, the leader of the orchestra is mentioned as Gus Vali. Surely there must be a mix-up somewhere although this in no way detracts from the excellent music. Excuse me, it's making me want to get up and dance again....

Side A: Medley #1 Turkish & Greek (Kashlarin inge inge, Erzurum, Delilo, Beyruit, Adanaly, Verisario, Itya, Golfo), Medley #2 Greek & Turkish (Yelakaiki, Nina nay nay, The canary song, Fiyeh fiyeh, Oglan oglan, Danny lo lo, The Maharajah, Moustafa, Vatikiotissa), Medley #3 Israeli (Hava nagila, Shalom alechem, Dayeynu, The tailor, And the angels sing, X'll take two, The peasant dance, Bei mir bist du schon)
Side B: Medley #1 Turkish & Arabic (Tamzura, Shee, Marinella, Arabamin atlari, Gelin gelin, Ishtar, Marmara, Rampee), Medley #2 Turkish (The procession of the Sardar, The wheat song, Sirun archik, Timuraga, Kara biberim, Dontor, Hos Bilezik, Tin tin, Birini, Yavrum), Medley #3 Arabic (Farfara, Uskadar, Konyali, Habon gonda, Shishkabob, Lookoomi, Arabic delight, Lorge, Bachelerde)

Friday, 26 January 2018

A P Ramlee record

I was given a precious stack of very old, dusty and sometimes mouldy records yesterday by a fellow Old Free after visiting him at his office in Pulau Tikus. "You might as well take everything," he told me. Among them was this gem of an album by P Ramlee, called Gelora, Jeritan Batin-ku dan Lain2. This could be a pirated copy (Donald Trump would likely call this a fake) although I can't be totally certain. The label looked suspect, anyway, despite the All Rights Reserved warning. But who would care if it sounded okay, which it certainly did after it went through my record-cleaning process.

Side One: Dari masa hingga masa, Jeritan batin-ku, Gelora, Tudong Periok, Di-mana kan ku-chari ganti, Malam bulan di-pagar bintang, Resam dunia
Side Two: Mangapa pilu saja, Hanyu di-kau, Sri bunian, Ma'af kan kami, Menchecheh bujang lapok, Malam ku bermimpi, Di-mana suara burong kenari

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Penang hawker food update 2018

My, how fast has three years flown by. I last updated the information on this story on 3rd March 2015 and today is already inching towards the end of January 2018. Methinks it's time for another update.

On the third day of Chinese New Year  in 2014 -- the second of February that year, actually -- I was alerted - pleasantly alerted - to a news story carried online in the British newspaper, The Independent. Many people would know what I'm referring to. This was a news story that recommended my hometown, Penang, as the Number One place to visit in 2014 for local street food. Although 2014 had come and gone, Penang still remains as THE place to visit in order to taste the best street food around. Indeed, my home State is the food capital of Malaysia, no denying it.

I just realised that 11 years have passed by since I first wrote a rather comprehensive story on Penang's famed hawker food. (An update was done five years ago but with this recognition from The Independent, I must always try and bring my own recommendations to the fore.) Now, I know that my preferences are still far from definitive but in my opinion, they are still comprehensive enough.

At that time in 2007, the article was simply an update of an even older webpage on Penang food that I had originally created in 1996 or 1997. In all probably, it could have been the forerunner of all the food blogs in Malaysia or Singapore. Today, there are multitudes of people writing about food. I don't intend to go down that road again.

Nevertheless, I would like to think that I should attempt to update my 11-year-old story every now and then for my own satisfaction. In my own way, in my own style. More so as during that interlude, George Town has become a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. Therefore here goes, call this the SS Quah Penang Food Award 2018, if you like. [Disclaimer: All these are still my own opinion and nobody else's. If you disagree with me, tough titties, I say!]

A quick intro to anyone who is not yet into Penang food: Penang is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia, Singapore and overseas. The first thing that people do when they cross the border by land, sea or air, even before they check into a hotel, is to ask: "Penang food, where, ah?"

Ais Kacang. Not many stalls can beat this well-known outlet at the New World Park. They used to be "anchor tenant" at the New World Park Hawker Centre but since about a year ago (maybe longer), they decided to open their own premises. Originally, the owners used to operate from the roadside at Swatow Lane for decades until the New World Park was finally rebuilt and they moved in. Along with the relocation, the prices of their ais kacang naturally increased too. But the stall continued to be well patronised, especially by the lunchtime crowd. The ais kacang comes with the usual sweet red kidney beans (large ones!!), attap nuts and sweet corn, all covered with shaved ice and laced with rose syrup, brown sugar syrup and sweetened condensed milk. For a bit more indulgence, ask for ice cream and sliced fruits like bananas and papayas. The Ais Kacang stalls in Lorong Selamat also serve similar irresistible versions. Over on the mainland, I find that the Ais Kacang stall at the nightly Sentosa Food Court (there are several but you should head for the one with the red stall lights) in Bukit Mertajam, corner of Kulim Road and Jalan Sentosa, serves a version with the smoothest and finest shaved ice. 

Apong. Originally cooked by Indians in small claypots over charcoal, most apong stalls now use small metal woks over gas fires nowadays. To me, this is not so interesting anymore and the taste is somewhat different. But it's still possible to find apong, the old fashioned way at the coffee shop at the Burmah Road/Moulmein Road junction (same coffee shop selling the Hokkien Mee described below). Available in the mornings until about 9am, after that,habis!

Apong Balik. Quite different from the Indian apong described above. The batter contains more eggs, lots more eggs, thus making the final cooked apong balik soft and fluffy. The most memorable stalls are along Burmah Road, just outside the Union Primary School. The Apong Guan stall is run by Ah Guan while Apong Chooi is run by, well, Ah Chooi. Figures, right? Anyhow, they are brothers who went their own separate ways a very long time ago after some family disagreements. And both decided to establish themselves on this road, hardly 20 metres apart. Apom Guan is definitely more popular but his brother's version is almost indistinguishable. For an alternative version, try the morning stall at the Pulau Tikus Lane-Kuching-Burmah Road junction.   

Bak Moy. It's more than moy (or broth) that the hawkers sell. Normally, I'd go for the mee suah. But no matter whether its moy or mee suah, the hawkers that used to sell at a roadside stall in Jalan Kampung Malabar, off Penang Road is quite well known. It's worth waiting 30 or 40 minutes just to enjoy a bowl.  It is to be noted that the stall has now shifted its operations to a shop further down the road, called Hon Kei. Business continues to be good but personally, I feel its standard has dropped a bit. Another bak moy stall, but one that is lesser known, is located in a coffee shop along New Lane. (A word of warning: don't get confused with the roadside stall that sells chee cheong chok. This bak moy stall in inside a coffee shop.)

Banana Leaf Rice [entry added on 17 July 2014]. This is of ethnic South Indian origin and comes served on a banana leaf with a standard serving of two or three types of vegetable dishes and papadom. You can usually choose between fish, chicken and mutton as a main dish or if you prefer, go vegetarian all the way! One of the oldest banana leaf rice restaurants is the Veloo Villas Restaurant in Penang Street. It's now my choice for traditional Banana Leaf Rice whenever I'm in the financial district of George Town, ever since the owner of the Shusi Restaurant, which I had been a regular customer for at least 20 years, decided to call it a day. Shusi is still operating but under a completely different management. Nearby is the Sri Ananda Bahwan Restaurant and the food's cooked by real Indian nationals. So, it is about the closest you'll ever get to authentic Indian food cooked by authentic Indians. However, if I'm around Glugor at lunch time, I would head to the Passions of Kerala in Minden Heights. The Passions of Kerala also have a branch at the New World Park in Burmah Road/Hutton Lane but being located there, the prices are more expensive and you'd generally be expected to pay at least RM4 more per person. 

Char Koay Kak [entry added on 17 July 2014]. For one of the best plates of this dish, you must go to MacAlister Lane. You can't miss this stall. You'll see it immediately on the left side of the road as you turn into it (it's a one-way street). Also, the ones at the Jelutong market are quite alright. For alternatives, you can try the stall at the junction of Burmah Road-Tavoy Road but I tell you, it's not that great. In the mornings, the stall at the SuperTanker food court in Taman Lip Sin. In the evenings, I have been surprised pleasantly by the palatable quality at the Taman Pekaka coffee shop, which is fried by an Indian lady! There's also an excellent roadside stall along Presgrave Street at night. In the morning in Bukit Mertajam, the stall at the Sri Sentosa Coffee Shop is run by the rudest and most despicable pair of hawkers that I've ever come across (actually, the wife is the culprit) but their version is actually not too bad.

Char Koay Teow [entry added on 17 July 2014]. Too close to call but my votes for the most expensive char koay teow would include the stalls outside the coffee shop at the MacAlister Road-New Lane junction, the one at Lorong Selamat and one other outside the Kimberley Coffee Shop in Kimberley Street. Mustn't forget the Ah Leng char koay teow in Dato' Kramat Road too. Yes, you get big delicious prawns but you get a huge bill too. Also, beware of the pieces of fried lard that's mixed into the fried koay teow. They're crunchy and give a distinct taste to the food but it's too oily for people watching their cholesterol. You can also try the roadside char koay teow stall that opens in the afternoon near the Anson Road/Siam Road junction. I'm told there are two or three excellent stalls at the Cecil Street food court and the best one could be the fryer that goes around barefooted. BTW, do give the Two Sisters stall in MacAlister Road a real miss. Serious! It's an over-hyped stall and they can even cheat you over an egg. I used to watch them fry three plates together and use only two eggs. Huh! Over at Chai Leng Park on the mainland, there is this same hardworking hawker that fries at a corner coffee shop opposite the wet market in the mornings and the Great Wellesley food centre (previously Chai Leng Park's only cinema) in the evenings, and I like his style of frying! In Bukit Mertajam, the specialty seems to be char koay teow with duck eggs. There are two roadside stalls to try this BM version: one is at the Kulim Road-Jalan Maju junction and the other is located next to the taxi stand in Jalan Pasar. However, if you want a better quality duck egg char koay teow, you must go to Wei Xiang Restaurant along Jalan Alma. Good for supper fare as all are opened only at night.

Curry mee [entry added on 6 Mar 2013]. When I was young, this dish used to be called curry mai fun but somewhere along the way, it has been shortened to curry mee. No matter, because this savoury soup dish is long a favourite with both Penangites and visitors. The one stall on the island that comes to my mind has long established itself at the coffee shop at the junction of Lorong Seratus Tahun and Nanning Street. It is still drawing in the crowds especially during lunchtime. Parking, however, is a real headache. [Update (28 Apr 2014): I just discovered a nice curry mee stall called Tuai Pui Curry Mee in Kimberly Street. The stall operates from a coffee shop about 50 metres from the Carnarvon Street junction. Wholly recommended.] Over on the mainland, connoisseurs of this dish will often direct you to a shop along Jalan Raja Uda in Butterworth. They used to operate a stall beside the road but as their business grew and development overran the area, they relocated eventually to a shop some distance away. Their curry mee is rather expensive but business is still as roaring as ever in the evenings. As for me, I frequent either the stall at the Ng Yam Huat hawker centre in Jalan Ciku or at the Taman Bukit hawker centre, both in the mornings in Bukit Mertajam. Don't try the other curry stalls in this town; they are all so hopelessly yucky.

Chendol, a dessert to cool down your hot days, made with green pandan-flavoured noodles and large, red kidney beans in coconut milk, brown sugar and shaved ice. There's a very famous stall along Keng Kwee Street, a side road off busy Penang Road. There's another not-so-famous one directly opposite it. If you want better service, try the less famous one. The quality is absolutely the same, so I dunno why people keep going to the other side of the road! I'm told that the stall at the Cecil Street food court is also excellent.

Chicken Rice. This seller used to have a stall tucked within a small coffee shop at Kampung Malabar but has now gone Big Time with his own shop in Cintra Street, called Wen Chang. A very popular place and I do not see any reason to disagree with its popularity. Friends from KL used to come by just to taste a bowl of the rice first, before diving into the chicken. On the mainland, the nightly chicken rice stall at the Kuan Nan coffee shop is one of the best around: the softest chicken meat I've ever tasted and even the breast meat is very tender!

Fried Oysters. Too oily for my liking but if cholesterol washes off you like water washes off a duck, you can try the stall at the Seng Thor coffee shop at the Carnarvon Street-Kimberley Street junction. Its reputation goes back decades as the business was handed down from father to son.

Hokkien Mee. I don't know why Pulau Tikus seems to be one of the better places for a bowl of Hokkien Mee - noodles served with eggs, small prawns, meat slices, bean sprouts, kangkong in a spicy prawn stock and sometimes coming with generous chunks of choice pork meat, pork ribs, pig skin, chicken feet and small intestines - but if you are around this area, do try the stalls at the Sin Hwa coffee shop and the Swee Kong coffee shop, both along Burmah Road. Be sure to go early as their food is usually sold out by 8.30am or 9am. You may also want to try the stall at the Burmah Road-Bangkok Lane junction but only at the last resort, mind you. But Pulau Tikus is not the only place on the island to try Hokkien Mee. Opposite the entrance into the Kuantan Road market is a Hokkien Mee stall that has been around for decades. I know it has been around since the 1960s (the original hawker was my neighbour) and the business has now passed down from the father to his son. The stall also sells Loh Mee where instead of the prawn soup, you get a thick brown gooey gravy made from tapioca starch and egg. Best taken with their chopped garlic in vinegar for a special tangy experience. In the evenings, head to the centre of Presgrave Street and search for the Hokkien Mee stall that's set up in one of the houses. On the mainland Penang, the place I'd go to is located behind the Tua Pek Kong Temple in the middle of the town. The stall opens in the mornings but sometimes I see them selling in the evenings too. There's also a very good stall in a coffee shop at the junction of Jalan Rozhan and Jalan Seri Impian 1. Then there is the Sri Sentosa Coffee Shop at Lorong Maju Jaya 1 in Bukit Mertajam. Go try the Hokkien Mee with their extras.

Koay Chap. There are many Koay Chap hawkers in Penang but the only hawker worth mentioning sells nightly from a stall in the middle of Kimberley Street. Just look out for the stall operators. You can't miss them. All of them are quite plump and round, no doubt a living testament to the quality of their own food. On the mainland, the stall at the Fresh Food Court in Nangka Road, off Song Ban Kheng Road in Bukit Mertajam, is worth a visit.

Koay Teow Th'ng. One of the better ones I've taken is at the Chai Leng Park market. Stall No. 14. It's served with slices of pig entrails, meat balls and minced meat. At night, I've been frequenting a stall along Kimberley Street quite often. Location is that short stretch of road between the Kimberley Street-Rope Walk and Kimberley Street-Cintra Street junctions. You can order pig intestines and chicken feet as side dishes. I'm told that there are some fabulous stalls in the morning at the Cecil Street food court too.

Mee Goreng and Mee Rebus. The stall at the coffee shop at the Burmah Road-Bangkok Lane junction serves acceptable Indian mee goreng and mee rebus. I wouldn't call the food good; just acceptable. There's also one at the Mamak food court at Gurney Drive, claimed to be from Edgecumbe Road originally. For the more adventurous, try the Mee Kuah Ketam along the Kulim Road in Bukit Mertajam on the mainland. It's just before the junction to the Bukit Mertajam Country Club. This place is packed in the afternoons, except Fridays when it's closed!

Nasi Kandar. Unfortunately, nasi kandar is too commercialised today and many of the old-style Indian Muslim sellers are no longer around in the land of its origin. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the stuff they cook. Nevertheless, among the most well-known is a place called Line Clear, in a lane off Penang Road, although its operation is now clouded by controversy over family disputes. One of the quaintest characters there used to be one of their elderly workers who could speak to you in Hokkien or Cantonese, depending on your inclination. But he is no more there. My current favourite is the stall at the Melo Cafe at the junction of Bishop Street and Pitt Street. The stall has been around for more than 60 years and it serves very traditional fare. If you have wheels, go to Jelutong on the outskirts of the city and zoom in to the Deen Restaurant along the main road. The nasi kandar there is as original as they come. By the way, I wouldn't patronise the shop known as the Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar. On principal, I would avoid that place because I feel their prices are too high. In Bukit Mertajam, there's this Nasi Kanchah Mamu along Jalan Rozhan. Worth a try, I tell you!

Pancake. Originally, there were two pancake stalls in the financial district of George Town. That was in the 1970s until perhaps 1990s. Then redevelopment of Beach Street and Union Street took over, and the two stalls were forced out from there. Nowadays, I can only find one similar stall in the mornings at the Kim Sun coffee shop in Macalister Road. The lady says she is the last in her family to sell this traditional fare. Nobody else seem interested to carry on when she stops eventually. So try her sliced banana pancake while you can. It's ultra delicious but perhaps a bit overly wicked too, seeing how she is generous with her margarine. 

Penang Laksa. People say the stall in Ayer Itam is the best but don't you ever believe it. It's one of those over-hyped hawker stuff. The soup smells heavenly but tastes quite bland. For me, I would prefer the stall along Lorong Selamat. It's garnished well and the Lemak variety is the best I've ever tasted in the city. If you have wheels, Balik Pulau town is the place to go for Penang Laksa. The stall at the Kim Seng coffee shop on the outskirts of Balik Pulau town is very authentic. They are one of the original Penang Laksa stalls over there; the one that's now operating at a nameless coffee shop (but I'm sure that it must have a name) in Balik Pulau town beside the outdoor carpark is the new pretender. There's another stall at the Chuang Heong coffee shop across the road. You can also search around the Balik Pulau market food court for Stall No. 26.

Po Piah. The best on the island so far is at the Padang Brown food centre. If you are on the mainland, do go the stall that's inside the one-storey coffee shop at the junction of Jalan Bunga Raya and Jalan Pasar in Bukit Mertajam. It's only available from 3pm until everything runs out! Others? I'm not very impressed but these two stalls makes me go crazy thinking about the po piah!

. Never had a strong liking for rojak but I'm quite partial towards this stall in Bukit Mertajam that's curiously called Rojak Orang Hitam Putih. Don't know why it's called that way, but the stall's located within the same coffee shop where you can find the Po Piah that I've described above. P.S. While you are there waiting for the food, order the local coffee. Now, that's my type of coffee: thick and delicious and guaranteed to keep you abuzz better than any expresso!

Wanthan Mee, or Tok Tok Mee from the sound of sellers knocking bamboo sticks together to draw attention to their ware. What used to be my favourite stall on the island is located at the first coffee shop you see on the right-hand side as you turn into China Street from Jalan Kapitan Kling mosque. It's available from 7am daily, except Sundays. On the mainland, one of the stalls at the Seberang Jaya food court beside the Seberang Jaya wet market is worth a try. Especially, try their curry wanthan mee for a refreshing difference! Another wanthan mee stall of note on the mainland is in the Tai Kar Lok coffee shop at the Jalan Rozhan-Jalan Impian junction almost diagonally across the road from the TESCO Bukit Mertajam outlet.

Yong Tau Foo. The only authentic Penang yong tau foo stall is located at the Padang Brown at the Anson Road-Perak junction. Others are poor imitations and there's really no competition for this stall. Try it for a memorable lunch or tea.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Clove Hall closes

Last night's nostalgic dinner with old friends was held at the premises of Clove Hall, a boutique hotel in Penang which is closing its doors at the end of January 2018. It was actually a farewell dinner, thrown by the soon-to-be Clove Hall ex-owners, Jim and Jo Lim. Jim is my old schoolmate; we have known each other since primary school days.

He had been running Clove Hall (the hotel) for the past seven years or so, but is now calling it a day. Retiring, he said, though I believe retirement is the furthest from his mind. It just frees up the time for him to go into other, perhaps more worthwhile, ventures. But he did admit that it was the right time for him to exit the business, seeing how he was faced with several bureaucratic problems.

On one hand, he said that the Penang government was trying to promote tourism - and Clove Hall happens to be one of the more premium and well-known boutique hotels in the state, having won many world-wide accolades and recognition - but on the other hand, the same government puts up obstacles which no amount of meetings seemed able to overcome. There's no flexibility on their part, he admitted to me and my friends.

So Jim and Jo will be relinquishing the hotel business at the end of the month. Already, they have stopped accepting any booking and the existing four or five staff will be released. The new owners will not be continuing with the hotel business. In the meantime, he invited some of his friends to Dinner@CloveHall last night. Fine gathering. Obviously, the 14 of us old schoolmates outnumbered the rest of his guests. We talked and we jawed, but eventually had to call it a night.

Thank you, Jim and Jo. Although we know that you will still be around in Penang, we shall definitely miss Clove Hall.

Left to right: Hock Leong, Boon Hoe, Ah Keat (aka Andrew), Kah Theang (aka Gordon), Sanan, myself, Oon Hup, Cheng Choo (aka Michael), Hock Thiam, Kok Yong (aka Kevin), Jalil, Teik Wah (aka Jim), Chye Chye and Kim Guan (aka Leslie)

Monday, 15 January 2018

Being religious versus spiritual

I read this earlier on facebook and thought it was worthwhile enough to post on my blog. As the origin is unknown, I'm unable to give credit to its author.

A classmate sent this, just like to share the interesting pointers, n open up the minds to understand better about human relationship;

▪ Religion is not just one, there are hundreds.
▪ Spirituality is one.

▪ Religion is for those who sleep.
▪ Spirituality is for those who are awake.

▪ Religion is for those who need someone to tell them what to do and want to be guided.
▪ Spirituality is for those who pay attention to their inner voice.

▪ Religion has a set of dogmatic rules.
▪ Spirituality invites us to reason about everything, to question everything.

▪ Religion threatens and frightens.
▪ Spirituality gives inner peace.

▪ Religion speaks of sin and guilt.
▪ Spirituality says, "learn from error".

▪ Religion represses everything and in some cases it is false.
▪ Spirituality transcends everything, it brings you closer to your truth!

▪ Religion speaks of a god; It is not God.
▪ Spirituality is everything and therefore, it is in God.

▪ Religion invents.
▪Spirituality finds.

▪ Religion does not tolerate any question.
▪Spirituality questions everything.

▪ Religion is human, it is an organization with men's rules.
▪ Spirituality is Divine, without human rules.

▪ Religion is the cause of divisions.
▪The spirituality unites.

▪ Religion is looking for you to believe.
▪ Spirituality you have to look for it to believe.

▪ Religion follows the precepts of a sacred book.
▪ Spirituality seeks the sacred in all books.

▪ Religion feeds on fear.
▪ Spirituality feeds on trust and faith.

▪ Religion lives in thought.
▪ Spirituality lives in Consciousness.

▪ Religion deals with doing.
▪ Spirituality has to do with the Self.

▪ Religion feeds the ego.
▪ Spirituality drives to transcend.

▪ Religion makes us renounce the world to follow a god.
▪ Spirituality makes us live in God, without renouncing us.

▪ Religion is a cult.
▪ Spirituality is meditation.

▪ Religion fills us with dreams of glory in paradise.
▪ Spirituality makes us live the glory and paradise here and now.

▪ Religion lives in the past and in the future.
▪ Spirituality lives in the present.

▪ Religion creates cloisters in our memory.
▪ Spirituality liberates our Consciousness.

▪ Religion makes us believe in eternal life.
▪ Spirituality makes us aware of Eternal Life.

▪ Religion promises life after death.
▪ Spirituality is to find God in our interior during life and death.

We are not mortal human beings who go through a spiritual experience. We are actually immortal spiritual beings who go through a temporary human experience.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Fleetwood Mac of old

There are two sides to Fleetwood Mac. One is the blues Fleetwood Mac and the other is the pop Fleetwood Mac.

Frankly, I've never appreciated the pop Fleetwood Mac much. This transition from blues to pop was precipitated when Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer left the group in 1974 and new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined.

I wasn't impressed much by the change of direction although I must admit that I do have a copy of their best-selling album, Rumours, in my possession.

I still yearn for the Fleetwood Mac of old because I felt that the band was at their most impressive when performing songs like Albatross, Black Magic Woman and Man of the World. This record below that I own, a double album, is a Dutch pressing although the liner notes are in German.

Side One: Black magic woman, Jigsaw puzzle blues, Stop messin' around, Doctor Brown, Evenin' boogie, Albatross
Side Two: Need your love so bad, I've lost my baby, Coming home, I believe my time ain't long, The sun is shining, Rollin' man
Side Three: My heart beat like a hammer, Merry go round, Long grey mare, Hellhound on my trail, Shake your moneymaker, Looking for somebody
Side Four: No place to go, My baby's good to me, I loved another woman, Cold black night, The world keep on turning, Got to move

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Japan, Day 3: Disneysea

It was actually a toss-up between Disneyland and Disneysea, and the latter won. So on the third day of our holidays in Japan, we spent our time at Disneysea from morning till night....and came away feeling not very impressed with it. Okay, sure, we managed to catch several of their attractions, including two of their roller-coaster rides but somehow, we felt that there was something missing that until today, we can't quite describe in words. Perhaps the theme park is too much of a family-orientated entertainment. Too sanitised. (And I can almost hear the riposte in response, "What can you expect from a wholesome theme park like Disneysea - or Disneyland for that matter? Well, all I can say is that by comparison, Disneyland Hong Kong was much, much better!)

 I never got to find out why all these people were sitting on the ground. What on earth were they waiting for??

This was basically our main mode of transportation within Disneysea. All in, we could have sat in this electric tram, going in either direction, five or six times. Better this than walking, actually!

It's advised to get the FASTPASS priority tickets for certain attractions in order to ensure there are places allotted to you, or otherwise you may have to join a long queue and wait your turn. But generally, I found that once the time passed seven o'clock in the evening, the queues would have disappeared and it was easier to take the rides.

The obligatory Disneysea fireworks, celebrating Halloween

This motif on a ceiling interested me more than the various attractions around me!

Judging from the merchandise bags, these are indeed happy faces next to me!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Japan, Day 2: Shinjuku (and a bit of Shibuya)

The trouble with holiday trips is that one can never see everything but just a very small snapshot of a place. Such as Shinjuku in Tokyo. My son wanted to go there, because he was searching for something specific to buy, so we all trooped there by train from Ikebukuro.

We alighted from the Shinjuku station and took a random walk down the road, not knowing where we would be heading. Then my son went one way and the three of us went the other way.

We slipped into a shopping mall - I think it was the Lumine - and got distracted by a bakery. Selling all sorts of cakes and buns. And drinks. And so we ordered some to eat. We searched for an empty table among the limited there. Couldn't find one. But there was one with a shopping bag resting on a chair. One of the shoppers - an elegant Japanese lady - motioned to us and quickly removed her bag. We thanked her and rested our feet. Not that we had walked much, but the rest still proved a blessing.

Somehow, we found ourselves at a tourist information centre. Where could we find somewhere interesting to visit around here, we asked the lady at the centre. She whipped out a map and suggested walking to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where we could go up and take a panoramic view of the district. There was also a park nearby, if we were interested.

This sounded good to us and so, like well-trained tourists, we followed her directions to the government building. But there was disappointment. There was a long line of people with the same idea as us. Only goodness will know how long it would take us just to reach the front of the queue. So we gave up the idea of going up the building. By this time, though, darkness had descended on Tokyo. We did make our way to the park and there was nothing much to see in the darkness except for a pavillion in semi-darkness.

We decided to make our way back to the Lumine building, re-tracing our steps through a road selling electronics stuff. We went into one which turned out to be the Shinjuku West branch of the Yodobashi chain of stores. While Saw See and Michelle, waited for Jeremy on the ground floor, I took a hurried tour of the upper floors. I must admit that I was quite floored by the widest selection of electronic goods that I had ever seen. It was with great reluctance that I had to go back down to the ground floor again.

The family now re-united, we walked back to the train station but my ears soon picked up a familiar sound. The sound of the Hang musical instrument. The last time I had watched anyone play this musical instrument was in 2014 when Richard Clayderman performed in Penang. But at this present moment, it was an unknown street performer who was playing with his Hang on the sidewalk.

Oh yes, we had to take a quick trip to the Shibuya station which was one stop away from Shinjuku because Jeremy still tried to find his stuff. A very quick trip. We emerged from the station and while Jeremy disappeared somewhere, the three of us slipped into a nearby department store and wandered around. We got tired after a while, waited for Jeremy to return, and then we took the train back to Ikebukuro. No, we did not go to the famed Shibuya crossing intersection.

It must be understood that this was our first day in Japan. Had landed in the morning without any rest and we were dead tired. Hungry too, if I may add here. So we took refuge at a Hanamaru Udon shop at the end of the Ikebukuro station. Needless to say, we wolfed down the food without thinking too much about it

P.S. But it was good in retrospect.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Japan, Day 2: Disk union

It was all a rush rush rush getting from airport to train station and then to the apartment. Now that we had settled in, it was time to take things more slowly and absorb in the atmosphere around us. Emerging from the building, we walked out to start looking at the restaurants. A few caught in the distance our eyes but we decided not to linger too long to decide on our lunch because the whole city was before us!

So we peered and then popped into the nearest udon shop, a little establishment name unknown to me, where we sat at the counter bar. But first, we had to buy tickets from the vending machine. First time again. Passed the tickets to the restaurant staff and waited. Watched them serve other customers first before us. Soon enough, our own meals came. Interesting bowls of noodles and a towering heap of bean sprouts on one of them. First and only time that we saw taugeh served with our meals, though.

Next stop for me was the Disk Union shop on the other side of the Ikebukuro station. While the family went exploring the area, I excused myself for a half hour to immerse myself in one of Japan's well-known music shop. Heaven is when you can browse through their hordes of records.

Okay, I got what I wanted. My spoils of battle. Now we can go elsewhere. My son said Shinjuku. Okay, Shinjuku it shall be. Let's go!

Previous: First feel

Friday, 5 January 2018

Japan, Day 2: First feel

You can say that our first contact with Japan outside the arrival hall was the 7-Eleven outlet at the airport.

We were famished. We hadn't eaten since the unexpected overnight stay at Incheon. So we filed into 7-Eleven and started gawking at the food sold there. All sorts of Japanese food imaginable, all telling us: "Pick me, pick me!"

We grabbed a few things, paid for them and started eating right outside. In front of people walking briskly between the airport and the train station. And all the time, my son kept telling us: "This is Japan, this is Japan. We shouldn't be blocking the passageway." So after we had finished eating, what now? To go to our airbnb apartment, of course! On our very first rail ride in Japan from Haneda international airport to the Ikebukuro station.

During the journey to Ikebukuro, I was actually a bit relieved that, thanks to Typhoon Lan, we had arrived in Tokyo during the day and not the previous night. This was a silver lining. If we had arrived late at night, I had feared that we could have missed the last train leaving from the airport station and we would be forced to buy the late-night express bus tickets to Ikebukuro station.

Not only would the bus tickets be way more expensive than the ¥750 for each train ticket, the bus would not have stopped where I wanted and we would have to walk right across the station. That wasn't a big deal but as first-timer visitors to Tokyo, I would want to be certain that the station would be open round-the-clock. Would it also close at midnight? Or soon after midnight?

Days before our journey, I had contacted the owner of the airbnb apartment to inquire about getting to his apartment. At first, I thought, wow, this Japanese guy can at least understand and communicate in English, giving me the required information and how to retrieve the keys from the postbox. But when I inquired further about the apartment's location and details on the Ikebukuro station, whether it was open 24 hours, the poor chap went completely silent after a while. It was then that I realised that my questions were now beyond him and I had better seek answers elsewhere from other people who had been to Japan. Poor me, poor him.

Anyway, we did find the building and we did locate the keys to the apartment. My impression can be summed in three words: clean, compact, cramped.

Yes, it was clean with everything in their proper place. All the conveniences of a holiday stay were there....well-stocked bathroom, bath towels, washing machine, small wardrobe for the clothes, kitchenette with accompanying utensils, foldable table and a chair, television set, a portable WiFi and most importantly, an air-conditioner.

And yet, it was small and compact, something which I was prepared for. I think the best way to describe our airbnb accommodation was that it would qualify as a studio apartment back home. If it was meant for one or two persons to stay, the place would be all right. But for four persons to live here even for only two or three days, it was cramped. Especially when the mattresses were lain down on the floor and with our respective luggage bags all opened up. Nevertheless, this was a holiday, right? We were prepared to accept everything and anything.

Previous: From Incheon to Haneda