Monday, 15 May 2017

Ball-less wonder



Hello, you ball-less mutt. It must have been about two years since I first met you in our neighbourhood. You were a handsome stray male dog then. You still are. I remember that I was on one of my evening walks when you came out of no-where and started following us around. I had remarked then to my wife that you were a very healthy dog for your coat of hair was shining.

One day, you went missing and we were wondering what had become of you. Then by chance, we met you at the nearby Kampong Baharu market in Bukit Mertajam. You were scavenging for food. But the moment you saw us, you came round and follow us around the wet market. So it went on for months. We would meet you either during our neighbourhood walks or at the market.

About a year ago, you went missing again and this time, you were gone for a very long time. It surprised us that we could miss you and on top of that, we were very concerned for your well-being. Thus, we were quite relieved to bump into you again in the neighbourhood after several months had passed by. But you had become very much thinner. Your once muscular frame was almost a bag of bones and your hair had become dull and very dirty.

But immediately when you saw us, you became excited. I had described it once on facebook how your tail started wagging non-stop in a circle. It wasn't a simple wag. Your tail twirled round and round and round, like a fan at full speed. Clearly you were so happy to see us. The feeling, you could say, was mutual. We were glad too to meet you again. But when I took a closer look at you, I was concerned that your mouth seemed to have been bashed in. Either you had been involved in an accident or someone had walloped you until your lower left canine tooth was hanging loose at an obscene angle.

A short while later, we found that someone in the neighbourhood had taken pity and had adopted you. You now has a mattress to sleep on, you are fed regularly, your coat of hair now shinier but best of all to our surprise, you have a female companion in the house. Inevitably, the bitch got pregnant. Initially, we thought that you were responsible for the female's condition but after a while, we began having doubts whether you were at all the father!

Why do I say this? It's because I've suddenly noticed that you have been neutered. Since when was this dastardly deed carried out? I don't know. But I believe it could have happened at the same time that your new owner had taken you to the vet to have your broken tooth removed. Possibly at the same time, you had your balls cut off too. Ouch! I know you have recovered from this ignominious ordeal but still, every time I see you during our evening walks, I feel a tinge of sadness to see you trotting along with us with a ball-less scrotum sack between your legs.

But you know what? I don't think it mattered much to you past the initial discomfort. If you do have feelings, if you do have pride, it does not show. You still follow us around the neighbourhood, barking at other dogs in their compounds and urinating everywhere to leave your mark. Lately, you would even plop down in front of our gate for a while - by now, you feel so comfortable in our presence - but we are sorry that we can't keep you. You have a new home now and that is where you belong. But don't worry, you'll still see us occasionally in the evenings.



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta Penang 2017


So there I found myself, outside The Top's Grand Ballroom on Level 5 of the KOMTAR podium. Or what used to be the KOMTAR podium. At one time, this place used to have a very outdated food court which was accessible from the grand open-air staircase from Prangin Road or from the very inefficient internal lift outside the Pacific Hypermarket and Department Store. But since about six months ago when rejuvenation process was completed, the KOMTAR Level 5 has been transformed into The Top.

Just the day before, I was here at the very same place to buy my tickets to The Top's 65th and 68th floors of KOMTAR. But for now, it was to attend a very special seminar that would kick off the month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta, organised by the Penang Chefs Association.

Let me make it clear from the onset that I'm no chef although I must admit that my kitchen skills have improved from boiling an egg to cooking a decent chicken chop. All self-taught over a period of about five years. Anyway, I'm digressing.

I was just in time for lunch, starting at 12.30pm. All around me were men and women in white uniforms. Not nurses but chefs. Professional chefs from the hotels and restaurants, to student chefs from the colleges in Penang. Not knowing what to expect, I sat down at an empty table but it soon filled up with other people. Luckily, a friend came around to put me at ease. Have your lunch, he said, but be forewarned that there will be more to eat until tonight! Ooo, what have I gotten myself into?

Lunch over, we adjourned to another part of the Grand Ballroom, partitioned off, where there was an hour-long presentation on Potatoes USA. Interesting information. Who would have guessed that potatoes could be so nutritious? And who would have guessed that US potatoes should be kept frozen in their packages at temperatures of between -12 to -18 degrees Celsius? And who would have guessed that frozen potatoes should be cooked, for example, frying them, without thawing? Well, all that - and more - I learnt from the hour-long presentation.

Balinese chef Henry Alexie Bloem in his element during the cooking demonstration. Bloem is also the president of the Indonesian Chef Association.

The highlight of the afternoon, a cooking demonstration by Balinese chef Henry Alexie Bloem, came after the tea break. Chef Bloem delighted the audience with his various recipes that incorporated US potatoes into Balinese creations.

He started off with the US tater drums with sweet mayo and fried otak-otak US hash browns, and followed in quick succession with the US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal, US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon and US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, before rounding off his demonstration with the US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate. All I can say from watching the fascinating cooking demonstration was, burp!

Left to right: US tater drums with sweet mayo, fried otak-otak US hash browns, US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal
Left to right: US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon, US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate

At the end of the seminar, we were brought to the main lobby of The Top for the official launch of the Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta by Joani Dong, the Regional Agricultural Attache of the United States Department of Agriculture who is based at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Joani Dong (left) from the US Embassy launching the US Fries Fiesta together with Chef Audee Cheah (right) of the Penang Chefs Association

Ringing the audience were food presentations by 20 participating hotels and restaurants, namely, 45 Degrees Fahrenheit, Artichoke Café, Cititel Penang, Coco Cabana Bar & Bistro, D’Fat Mona Lisa Cafe, Escobar Wine & Deli, Hotel Royal Penang, Kaffa Espresso Bar, Kelawei, Lexis Suites Penang, Olive Pizza & Pasta, Perut Rumah Nyonya Cuisine, Pony Tale de Cafe, Richdad Coffee, Roxbury Pub & Bistro, St Giles Wembley, The LightBulb, The Northam All Suites Hotel, UMI Traditional Malay Cuisine and What the Duck Restaurant.

The month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta runs from 1-31 May 2017, and customers who patronise the participating outlets during the fiesta month will get to enjoy US potatoes cooked in the inimitable styles of the different establishments. Bon appetit, you have a whole month to enjoy the bee kok huan choo!

Representatives from the participating establishments after they had received their certificates from the US Embassy Attache

Some of the unique creations showcased by the participating hotels and restaurants. The common denominator among them was, of course, the US potato featured in all the dishes one way or another.





Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Busy week behind me


Last week was a particularly pre-occupied week for me. Had so much things to do on a personal level that I had almost no energy left at the end of every day.

For example, the whole of Monday morning was spent on a trip to Balik Pulau. No, it wasn't to enjoy the local food there particularly but rather, to catch up with a cousin who wanted to have wills written for herself and her husband. We travelled to the other side of the island (that is, "balik pulau"), got their wills signed and then proceeded to lunch at a coffee shop called the Kim Seng Kopitiam, not too far away from the Prince of Wales Island International School. I was told that the laksa here was the original McCoy that was sold at the coffee shop beside the old wet market in Balik Pulau town. The owners shifted their operations here about a year and a half ago and their vacated stall in town was subsequently taken over by a completely unrelated new operator. The occasional visitors and tourists would not be aware of this change but I am now. So thanks to my cousin for bringing us to partake in the original Balik Pulau laksa. I enjoyed it. Very much.

Tuesday morning was spent at The Top, one of Penang's newest tourist attractions. The Top was located at, where else, but the top of KOMTAR Tower in downtown George Town. For the month of April, The Top was offering a special discounted price of RM38 for Penangites to visit the 65th and 68th floors of the tower block. To my pleasant surprise, my entry fee was even cheaper at RM28 as a senior citizen. I'll elaborate more on this visit in a separate story.

On my way out from The Top, I bumped into a friend who invited my wife and I to a potato food fiesta that would be held on Wednesday. Be prepared to come hungry, he had warned us, because there'll be food, food and more food until the end of the event. So that was were I was on Wednesday when I went alone -- my wife, unfortunately, could not join me as she had another function to attend -- to the US Potato Food Fiesta at The Top. Again, this occasion calls for another separate story to do justice to it.

Before I go on further, perhaps I should also add that Wednesday was tempered with the sobering news that one of my old school pals, one that I had been friends with for some 55 years had died in a motor accident in the wee hours of the morning. Md Noor s/o Mohideen Pakeer was travelling with his son when another car crashed into theirs in Bridge Street (now known as Jalan CY Choy) and overturning it. My poor 62-year-old friend, a very unassuming nasi kandar businessman, died on the spot. His funeral was on the same day and I felt so awful that I couldn't attend. Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.

We had known one another since Standard Two schooldays at the Westlands School in Victoria Green Road, Penang, From Westlands school, we proceeded together to Penang Free School. In the last 10 years or so, I began reconnecting with him, visiting him at his nasi kandar shop in Tamil Street which was beside the Chowrasta market in Penang Road. The last time I saw him was in mid-January this year. I saw him at his shop. He offered me his nasi kandar but I had declined as I was full. But over a glass of cold drinks, he would tell me again of his son at the University of Limerick. You could see the pride in his eyes every time he spoke of his son's achievements, attained without accepting any help from the Malaysian government. Everything his son achieved was by dint of personal hard work and nothing else. Md Noor was immensely proud of that.

Thursday brought me further back to normality. time for my visit to the General Hospital in Penang for my scheduled check-up at the out-patient eye clinic. I've always been forcing myself to the eye clinic every time because I really don't like the medical officers putting all sorts of eyedrops on my eyes to dilate the pupils. Always, this leaves me in discomfort because I find myself unable to drive after every session. And thus, I've to trouble my wife to follow me to the hospital just in case that I'm unable to drive. There was one particular bad session maybe one and a half years ago when my brother-in-law had to drop her off at the clinic after hours because I just couldn't see.

Anyway, when I arrived for last Thursday's session with the MOs, I discovered that the clinic had been temporarily relocated to another block some distance away because the hospital wanted to renovate the old premises. Unfortunately, the move brought on new problems for the clinic because the temporary premises was so much smaller, meaning less seats while waiting to be seen. And then it was a long walk back to the pharmacy to collect my medication. I had arrived at the hospital at about 8.30 am but we left at almost 1 pm. Four hours of waiting (patiently) and twiddling with the mobile to while away the time. Hopefully by my next visit in six months time, the eye clinic would have moved back to their old, refurbished premises.

Friday. My time last Friday was reserved for the Swee Cheok Tong. Myself, together with two others from the Quah Kongsi, had planned a visit to Bagan Serai in Perak for some time now, in order to meet with some other Quah clansmen living there but somehow, the trip only materialised last week. I would not want to disclose the objective of our trip but I can say that it was fruitful enough and if we, the Quah Kongsi, want to follow up on the matter, there'll be a lot of work that must be done. Are we up to it? I hope so.

At least, Saturday was relatively easier for me although I still had to spend time making a tray of my special mango-flavoured agar-agar jelly for my wife's mini-reunion with her own school friends. They were treating themselves with an overnight stay at someone's house in Tanjong Bungah, all nine of them, away from their respective husbands. (I don't know who were more relieved to be rid of their spouses even temporarily...the wives or the husbands. As for me, I whoopied through the night with a bowl of my favourite ginger paste chicken rice from the Old Town White Coffee restaurant in Bukit Mertajam.) I heard from her later that the jelly went down very well with her friends.

Then finally on Sunday morning, I rushed over to the island for the annual general meeting of The Old Frees' Association. Sat through the whole meeting and brought up an issue of my own at the very end of the meeting. I requested the chairman, who was also the association's president, to quickly respond to the school on a request for financial assistance to send a group of three pupils to Los Angeles where they would be participating in the prestigious INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition in May as representatives from Malaysia. the boys' project, S.A.L.T. (Saponin Anti-Larvae Treatment), had won the Gold Award during the state-level Science Innovation Competition in 2016. The boys emerged Champion and brought back the Penang State Director of Education Department’s Challenge Trophy for the second consecutive year. During the national-level Science and Technology Competition in November 2016 in Langkawi, the Free School emerged as the first Runner up in the Team category. They were now seeking sponsorship to defray some of the costs of their participation. I really hope, after having raised this at the AGM, the OFA management committee will respond fast as the competition is just 12 days away.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Facebook scammers


It starts off very innocently enough. You log into your facebook account and find that facebook has made some suggestions for you to befriend this and that person. Sometimes, the suggestion may come to you via an automated email from facebook. The name of one of them looks very familiar to you - you think, it must belong to someone you know - and so, without further hesitation or further checking, you click on the "Add Friend" button. That's when the problem begins. One or two days later, you or even your other genuine facebook friends suddenly receive scam messages on facebook or even scam telephone calls from overseas. If you are unlucky, you may fall for the scam. Very expensively. And you don't even know how it started.

Well, this is just one way it started. By befriending someone on facebook, or even LinkedIn, without conducting due diligence on the request. I'm always careful when it comes to befriending people on facebook. There are at least 50 friend requests outstanding in my own facebook account which I don't bother to do anything about. I just let them be. Better be safe than sorry.

What brings on this story? Well, a few hours ago, my wife was alerted by an old friend that facebook had suggested that he be friends with her. But he knew that my wife was already his facebook friend. Why would she be opening another facebook account? So he checked on that suggestion and found that there was another facebook account with her name but which sported a different profile picture. In fact, a picture of a young bald male giving the Nazi salute. Immediately, he contacted my wife. Naturally, she was distressed and asked me to do something about it. Actually, there is nothing I could do. Technically, her real account wasn't compromised. It was just simply someone from across the world randomly using her name to open another account...the scam account. Report to facebook? Yah, sure. Only problem was that facebook makes it so difficult for anyone to contact them. I still haven't found out how.

But what I can do in the meantime is to contact the people on this scammer's friends' list. Contact them to tell them to unfriend themselves from this bugger immediately. Thank goodness that I've managed to get four of them off the list. And some of them told me that either they or their friends have received mysterious telephone calls from overseas over the past two days.

The moral of this story: be careful of who you befriend on facebook or other websites like LinkedIn. The name of the requester may be familiar but please double-check on the profile picture, if it is available. Otherwise, it may be wise for you to contact the other person the old-fashioned way to ascertain that it is really him or her. Stay safe on the Internet.



Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Tree trunk cleared at Wat Pinbang Onn



I meant to write this story about two weeks ago but had to put it off for a while. It will not do anyone justice if I were to delay the story again. What I meant to write about was to put on record that the fallen tree at the cemetery in the Wat Pinbang Onn in Green Lane had been removed in possibly double-quick time.

I don't know when the old rotted tree had fallen but when I had gone to the cemetery on 28 March 2017, I was shocked but relieved that the tree had barely missed the grave of my grandparents by just a few feet. I was quite skeptical that the Siamese temple authorities would remove the tree at all but I was proven wrong, happily.

When I went to the cemetery again on 31 March for Cheng Beng, to my surprise, the tree was gone. The people whom I had asked to spruce up my grandparents' grave said the tree was removed two days earlier, which meant that the temple authorities had acted on the 29th. Looking around, I could see the chopped up tree trunk laying at the edge of the cemetery several feet away.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Fish pie to rival Jamie Oliver's


We cooked a version of fish pie as a treat for our daughter today and I dare say that it was as good as any that Jamie Oliver may have baked himself. Perhaps even rivalling the one we ate last September at the National Gallery restaurant in London too.  

The fish that we used was the Ang Choe. This is the common name for the fish in Penang Hokkien. In English, I think it is called the Golden Snapper. The Malay name is Ikan Jenahak. More information on the fish here.

Anyway, 400 grams of the Ang Choe went into the 10-inch dish. The fishmonger was requested to filet the meat and at home, I then cut up the flesh into huge chunks for the pot.

The other main preparation was one kilogram of finely mashed potatoes that would cover up the pie. Other ingredients that went into the pie were 500 grams of blanched spinach, half a can of thinly sliced button mushroom, two stalks of blanched sliced celery, green peas and two hard-boiled eggs.

The roux was made from the fish stock, flour, butter and evaporated milk. I know that this is all very rich but it did make a difference to the dish. The pie was completed with a generous layer of the mashed potatoes and then then baked to perfection for 45 minutes at 200 Celsius.

My daughter enjoyed it. First time that she had experienced fish pie, our version of the traditional English fish pie, learnt from a Hainanese friend whose grandfather used to own the Springtide restaurant in Tanjong Bungah almost eons ago. Here, you can see the bits of the baked potato crust, peas, spinach and fish all drenched in the rich gravy.














golden

Monday, 10 April 2017

Foot tapping ends for Brian Matthew


As a schoolboy in the late 1960s - possibly from the end of 1968 onwards - I was enjoying many of my Saturday nights listening to the syndicated programme, BBC Top Pops, over Radio Malaysia's English service. That was the very first time that I had been exposed to the British radio DJ, Brian Matthew, who played hit after hit of 1960s pop music. Brian Matthew died last Saturday (8 April 2017) after a brief period of grave illness, aged 88.

For a long while, I had forgotten about Matthew and his music programmes but last November when I sort of "discovered" that I could listen online to the British Broadcasting Corporation over the Internet, I have become a very regular follower of the BBC's Radio 2 and sometimes Radio 6. But it was on Radio 2 that I found the greatest satisfaction in radio listening. Matthew was a constant on Radio 2. Though well in his 80s, he kept presenting the two-hour Sounds Of The Sixties on Saturdays until after the 19th of November 2016 when a fall prevented him from returning to the programme.

Then in January this year, the BBC announced Matthew's retirement from hosting that radio programme, citing ill health as the reason. Matthew voiced irritation that he hadn't been consulted on his retirement, and that he was willing to continue. He described it as an “absolute balderdash” and fans agreed that the decision to replace him was premature. More than 5,000 of them signed a petition calling for him to be reinstated.The furore forced the BBC to backtrack somewhat and allowed Matthew back to the studios to record one last episode of Sounds Of The Sixties which aired on 25 February with a promise to bring the old presenter back for some special programmes.

"I must say I’ve enjoyed every minute of my 27 years in this chair. I’m saddened to leave, but I’ll be back on Radio 2 in the near future with something new, so keep your eyes open for further information,” he had said then at the end of his final show, adding: “This is your old mate Brian Matthew saying that’s your lot for this week, see you again soon.”

Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. For some people who were forced into retirement from doing something they had really enjoyed, the enforced retirement - and hence, lifestyle change - occasionally brings about periods of ill health. Some could get really sick due to the inability to readjust, like possibly in Matthew's case because I was really surprised a few days ago when the BBC erroneously reported his premature "death".

On Wednesday, 5 April, the BBC reported that Matthew had died whereas in fact, the broadcaster had been told by his family that he was critically ill. Less than three hours after announcing the veteran DJ’s death on air, the corporation issued an embarrassing clarification. “We were informed by close family and friends that Brian had passed away in the night. They have since been in contact to say that he remains critically ill,” a statement said. But on 8 April 2017, it was finally announced - correctly - that Matthew had died in the morning.



Friday, 7 April 2017

Urgh...Windows Explorer crashing on me!


I had problems with my File Explorer application on my desktop yesterday. For no known reason, that is, no reason known to me, every time that I opened up File Explorer, it would crash on me. It reached a stage where I thought that I would need to re-instal Windows 10 on my personal computer as a last resort. But first, I understood that some investigation could be needed. Was this a problem that other people were also experiencing?

Apparently, yes. There were many other instances of File Explorer crashing on users in the last few days and of course, people asking for help and assistance, like me. It was time consuming to read through many of the forums, blogs and websites before I finally had a vague idea of what to do.

Firstly, from this webpage, I learnt that the the Event Viewer application would help to identify the cause of the crashes. To start up Event Viewer, do a right click on the START button and choose the Event Viewer function on the menu. When Event Viewer opens, go to the Windows Log and choose the Application tag. You will find lots of error logs reported. Check the latest error that coincided with the time that File Explorer crashed. Below the window, you can see the details related to that particular error. In the case of my desktop, I saw:
Faulting application name: explorer.exe, version: 10.0.14393.953, time stamp: 0x58ba5aa4
Faulting module name: CompPkgSup.DLL, version: 10.0.14393.953, time stamp: 0x58ba5c12
Exception code: 0xc0000005
Fault offset: 0x000000000000349d
Faulting process id: 0x760
Faulting application start time: 0x01d2aed8b47aea57
Faulting application path: C:\WINDOWS\explorer.exe
Faulting module path: C:\Windows\System32\CompPkgSup.DLL
Report Id: 7ea04522-fc33-4619-b3eb-e413c990ef51
Faulting package full name:
Faulting package-relative application ID: 
All this actually made no sense to me but I could put two-and-two together to guess that the CompPkgSup.dll was the culprit. Somewhere along the way it had gotten corrupted and now, it was affecting my system. So what is this CompPkgSup.dll? More googling turned up that in March 2017, Microsoft issued a Windows 10 update known as KB4013429 which included a new version of CompPkgSup.dll. Some tech fellas suggested that affected users could uninstal this March update of Windows 10 and everything would be fine again.

Easier said than done. How to uninstal this update? After some more groping around the Internet for answers, this I learnt: in order to proceed, click on the START button and choose Settings from the menu. Then select the Update & Security option, go to Update History and then choose Uninstall Updates. You'll see a long list of updates for your computer. Scroll down until you see Security Update for Microsoft Windows (KB4013429). To uninstal this update, click on it and then on the Uninstall an Update link at the top of this window.

You will have to be patient while the computer goes through a long process of reverting to the previous version of Windows 10 during which time the computer may reboot once or twice or maybe more times. Anyway, be patient. At the end of the long process when Windows 10 finally boots up, test your File Explorer again. It worked for me and I hope it works for you too. But please don't blame me if it doesn't work, okay? Do it at your own risk!



Thursday, 6 April 2017

Tacomas for my compost


The Tacoma tree outside my house is flowering again. Pink tacoma flowers. I can expect the next week to be very busy indeed. Very busy, that is, to sweep away all the flowers. The only good benefit is that I will get to replenish my compost heap.



Monday, 3 April 2017

The future leaders of Penang Free School


Far too often, I hear some of my fellow Old Frees pouting statements like "why should I help the Free School when the school is no longer like before" or "their standards have fallen since my time in the school". In my opinion, these statements are uncalled for. We live in different times. Your time, my time and their (the present Frees) time. If you feel that the education standard has dropped, why not do your little bit to try and prop it up?

Don't get indignant, don't complain; just do your little bit to improve the School. If you can touch the life of even one Free School schoolboy, you will have done your little bit for Penang Free School. I assure you, there are still many, many boys in the School - the potential leaders in many fields - who are in a position to do us proud in the future. These will be the impressionable young men who can surprise you with their maturity of thought and understanding of the world they live in today. Encourage the boys, don't criticise the School or the education system.

Over the past weekend, I participated as a coach in a private Students Leadership Workshop which my friends (we are all retired or semi-retired) had devised for the benefit of the student leaders that the School had identified for the programme. The initiative came from Siang Jin and Lean Kang, and the two-day workshop had been planned by them with the full support of the Headmaster, Omar bin Abdul Rashid. Three others - Swee Poh, Soo Choon and I - were then roped in to assist as the facilitators and coaches. We readily agreed to contribute our time and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly in the process.

Don't feel disdainful towards the present batch of schoolboys. You'll be surprised: there are a lot of bright sparks among them. All eagerly absorbing new information, and asking us intelligent questions. No different, I would guess, from the schoolboys of your time or my time. I came away from the weekend exhausted but deeply impressed. We felt it was well worth our time. There is hope yet for Penang Free School.

The registration process.

Introduction by Siang Jin

all Frees, irrespective of backgrounds

 The Headmaster, Omar bin Abdul Rashid, arriving with Johari bin Yusoff of the Parent-Teacher Association.

Omar addressing the boys.

Except for a bunch of Form Three boys (the Hostel Prefects), the rest were from Form Four.

The boys getting down to an exercise

A sense of achievement.


Still feeling elated

One of the boys in deep concentration

My talk to the boys about a few notable personalities of the Free School and how they had shown leadership qualities. 

Left to right: Loh Lean Kang, Syed Sultan bin Shaikh Oothuman (Senior Assistant for Co-Curriculum), Johari bin Yusoff (Chairman of Parent-Teacher Association), Omar bin Abdul Rashid (Headmaster), Prof Dr Tan Soo Choon, myself, Dr Cheah Swee Poh and Lim Siang Jin.



Thursday, 30 March 2017

History in the making


An historic journey into uncharted waters. Two scenes from a packed House of Commons as British prime minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 on 29 March 2017 to leave the European Union.





















Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fallen tree at Wat Pinbang Onn



I had a shock when I went to the Siamese cemetery at the Wat Pinbang Onn temple in Green Lane, Penang, this morning to find someone who could spruce up my grandparents' grave before we go for Cheng Beng this Friday. There was a fallen tree at the cemetery and it had narrowly missed my grandparents' grave by not more than 10 feet. Apart from some broken bits and pieces of the branches that had fallen behind the gravestone, it was very lucky that the grave had not been affected physically at all. Some of the graves were not so lucky as the tree had fallen right on top of them. I heaved a big sigh of relief when I could finally size up the situation. The tree was huge and tall, black with age and possibly already dead, and must have had fallen many months ago during a thunderstorm or heavy winds.

I don't know how long it will take the Wat Pinbang Onn to remove the trunk. The temple does not have a good track record in looking after the cemetery grounds which, after all, belongs to them. I remember that about 18 years ago, another huge tree - a much bigger tree than this present one, actually -  had crashed down in the cemetery. Miraculously again, it had missed my grandparents' grave by several feet. It was as if some invisible hands had swiped the tree aside. It took the temple some three or four years before that tree trunk was finally removed. Not good enough, in my opinion. Will it take that long again for the temple to respond to this latest incident? And will the temple learn from this second disaster to check and chop down the other old and possibly dead or rotten trees in the cemetery? The responsibility is theirs.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

When's Cheng Beng (清明)?


Over the past one week, I've been receiving messages from friends asking me about the date of this year's Cheng Beng (清明) festival, as if I'm an expert on such things, which I can assure you that I'm not. But they weren't the only ones inquiring. I've been hearing other people ask whether Cheng Beng would fall on the fourth or fifth of April. The usual reply I know is that this Chinese festival will fall on the fifth of April except when it is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar. The extra day on 29th February would push Cheng Beng day forward to the fourth of April.

But apparently not. Intrigued by my friends' request, I've made some investigations and discovered - lo and behold! - that Cheng Beng falling on the fourth of April actually occurs quite regularly. Does that mean that most of us may have been going to the graveyards to pay respects to our ancestors on the wrong date 25 percent of the time? Oops!

For example, if you have suffered a bereavement in your family, you are required to visit the deceased person's grave on Cheng Beng day itself for three consecutive years. After that, you can do your Cheng Beng visitations anytime within a 19-day period: 10 days before Cheng Beng to 10 days after Cheng Beng, with the Cheng Beng date being counted as Day One itself.

The last time that I had to observe Cheng Beng at the Batu Gantong cemetery on the exact date itself (4th April 2016) was the third anniversary of my aunt's death last year. Before that, it was on 5th April 2015 and 5th April 2014, both exactly the dates for Cheng Beng in those two years. So I'm safe; I haven't been wrong. I haven't gone one day late to Cheng Beng. Bless my aunt. Phew!

Anyhow, I've prepared a table of actual Cheng Beng dates for the next 15 years. The trend is easily ascertainable from the chart: two years of Cheng Beng on 4th April followed by two years on 5th April, and it repeats. The time shown in the third column is based on the apparent movement of the sun as it crosses the 15th-degree celestial longitude into the fifth solar term of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. You can read about the lunisolar calendar here. Happy learning!






Friday, 17 March 2017

Fund-raising appeal for Ooi Eow Jin

An Appeal to Old Frees for Funding
For the Staging of
SWORDFISH + CONCUBINE
(a play written by Kee Thuan Chye, an Old Free)
To Raise Funds for Old Free DATUK OOI EOW JIN

Two years ago, I was much humbled to have been able to play a small part in highlighting Ooi Eow Jin's plight to the general public and the response was generally very well received. Today, I am calling on all Old Frees to rally around their fellow Old Free again. 

In particular, I am calling on the Old Frees to help fund the staging of Swordfish + Concubine, a play by Kee Thuan Chye (also an Old Free), to raise funds to help Ooi Eow Jin, who is 78 and suffering from Alzheimer’s and whose son recently underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour.

Penang-born Eow Jin retired many years ago as RTM Orchestra conductor. After that, he was a lounge pianist at Hotel Majestic in Kuala Lumpur until he was stricken by Alzheimer’s.



What the play is about
Swordfish + Concubine takes two myths from Sejarah Melayu and re-enacts them in a highly theatrical fashion, full of comedy and spectacle, to reflect on Malaysia today. Previously entitled The Swordfish, Then the Concubine, it was judged one of the top five plays in the International Playwriting Festival 2006, organised by the Warehouse Theatre in the United Kingdom. It has already been staged twice in Singapore but not yet in Malaysia in its original English language.

The play is written for a vibrant physical and visual staging. It is replete with song, movement, elements culled from traditional Malay theatre, colourful costumes, and music by a gamelan ensemble.

Kee Thuan Chye is staging Swordfish + Concubine for the first time in English in Kuala Lumpur in October 2017. 
Proceeds from the show will go to Ooi Eow Jin and his family.


What sponsor/contributor gets
For the aid provided, the contributor will be duly credited.
  • RM5,000 to RM45,00 – Contributor will be credited in the souvenir programme.
  • RM50,000 onwards – Contributor will be credited in a half-page advertisement in the souvenir programme.
  • RM100,000 onwards – Contributor will be credited in a full-page advertisement in the souvenir programme.
Complimentary tickets will be given to every contributor to any performance of their choice. Other special benefits that the contributor may require can be discussed.

About Kee Thuan Chye – Producer, Director and Writer
Kee Thuan Chye is producer, director and writer of Swordfish + Concubine. He has written numerous plays for stage and radio since 1973 and is best-known for 1984 Here and Now, The Big Purge and We Could **** You, Mr Birch. All three plays have been published and are available from Amazon.com.
  • 1984 Here and Now is included in an anthology called Postcolonial Plays edited by Helen Gilbert and published by Routledge (United Kingdom). When it was first staged in 1985, it played to full houses.
  • The Big Purge was selected as the play to close Typhoon 4, a playreading festival organised by Yellow Earth Theatre in London in May 2005.
  • We Could **** You, Mr Birch is being studied in several Malaysian universities. It also played to full houses during its first run in 1994. The following year, it was invited to the Festival of Asian Performing Arts in Singapore.
His subsequent play, The Swordfish, Then the Concubine, was judged one of the top five plays in the International Playwriting Festival 2006, organised by the Warehouse Theatre in the United Kingdom. It has been staged twice in Singapore – by W!ld Rice in 2008 (directed by Ivan Heng) and by Young ’n’ W!ld in 2011 (directed by Jonathan Lim).

Kee has also written numerous radio plays many of which were broadcast on RTM in the 1970s. He has been a judge of the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize. He has been invited as a guest writer to numerous writers’ festivals in Australia, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Britain, the Philippines and Singapore.

He is also an actor who has had speaking roles in international films like Entrapment, Anna and the King as well as TV productions Marco Polo (for Hallmark) and Secrets of the Forbidden City (for BBC and The History Channel)
On stage, he has acted in countless productions since 1977, including lead roles in the Australian plays Gulls and Honour, and in the one-man play The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole by Kuo Pao Kun. He considers his best stage role as that of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. He has also directed a dozen plays for the theatre.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Love without end 不了情


I discovered this 45rpm record among my collection four nights ago. This record, together with many others, had been given to me by the wife of the late first president of the Penang Chess Association. After her husband had died four years ago, she called me to her house one day and passed me a small bag of some 20 to 30 pieces of 45rpm records.

However, I just didn't have the time to look through them all these years...until four nights ago. Lots of unfamiliar titles, including records that he had picked up from his chess travels through Yugoslavia in the early 70s. Then I came across this record.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. A precious gem of a find. I had the record cleaned up and then put it on the turntable. Imagine my hair standing on end when the first bars of the piano were heard. That unmistakable, dramatic piano intro followed by the sorrowful, maybe regretful, voice of Linda Lin Dai, then possibly the most glamorous leading lady among Hong Kong's film stars. Love without end (1961, Shaw Brothers production). 不了情。Unfortunately I'm too much of a yellow banana to know exactly what she was singing about, but the message was clear. And the tune, memorable.



Thursday, 9 March 2017

Campbell Street in 1963


I must admit that my heart did skip a beat when I first saw this picture which someone had posted in the Penang Heritage Trust (PJT) Discussions facebook page. A scene of Campbell Street in 1963. Campbell Street. So full and vibrant in those good old days. Full of people, full of bicycles, full of motor vehicles. Still a two-way street.

I recognised not so much the road but the RECORDS sign on the left side of the road. How can I ever forget that unmistakeable sign? It belonged to Wing Hing Records. This was the shop of my father's friend, whom he had called Ah Leong. My father used to buy all his records from this shop. And the best part was that his friend allowed him to borrow the popular long-playing records of the day. I would be so happy when he brought home the records because it would mean new music in the house, albeit only temporarily. Later, I would strike up my own friendship with Jimmy, Ah Leong's son, and started borrowing records on my own.


UPDATE: A comment by Chew Weng Huat on the above facebook page went:
The vertical sign boards reflect chinese culture too well, becos few other cultures have individually written characters strung together to make a phrase, in a top to down, then right to left format. 
Even the neon signs in modern cities like Hong Kong, retain this vertical format and density. A ubiquitous feature that immediately identifies chinatowns in South East Asia from "other" towns. 
Alternatively, the super large characters of the shop sign is cast in concrete or plastered onto the rounded or chamfered columns lining the five foot ways in front of the whole row of shops. A good example of signs integrated into a column is visible on the left side: the name of "Wing Hing Phonograph"). 
To me, the column sign is ingenious, as its visibility is much higher than the cheaper, simpler but unidirectional ones painted directly onto flat vertical boards. Moreover the bas relief effect of the characters shows off the calligraphic beauty better than those on the flat boards, yet they dont intrude physically into the crowded street space as much. 
However this chinatown effect has practically disappeared from the largest cities in mainland China. 
Does this say a lot about the cultural difference between the overseas Chinese and the mainland Chinese?


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Walking up Penang Hill


We went up Penang Hill last Sunday. No, we did not take the funicular train to the top. Rather, we walked from the Botanical Gardens. Along the jeep track beside the gate into the Gardens. Saw the dead tree there, of course. What a sad sight. A great pity. The Gardens curator should arrange for the seedling of a new majestic tree to be planted there once this one is removed.

Anyway, this was the first time that I would be walking this jeep track up to the top of Penang Hill. In the past, I've used other alternative ways. Like, for example, during my schooldays, the Penang Free School would hold annual hikes up the hill at the end of the year. The hike would start at the Moon Gate, perhaps some 200 metres away from the Gardens entrance, and take us along the hill trails and undergrowth before joining up with the jeep track at or around Station 84. However, I don't think the annual Penang Hill hike is held anymore, which is a pity. The pupils would love it.

When I first started working at Ban Hin Lee Bank, some of my former colleagues had organised some rare hikes to the top from Hye Keat Estate in Ayer Itam. Maybe two or three hikes, that were all, before everyone lost interest in them. I remember having to pass through a small Chinese cemetery on the way. Again, this hike would take us to the Station 84 and join up with the jeep track.

And then in 2008, we went hiking again with some of my former colleagues. Although we were all so much older by now, our adventure spirit still burned within us. We decided to climb through a circuitous route that took us to the Ayer Itam Dam, through vegetable and fruit farms and Tiger Hill.

Fast forward some nine years and here we are at the base of the jeep track on an early Sunday morning (5 March 2017) waiting with some one or two hundred other people for the start of the D"Home Mental Health Association's Hike for Health. This hike was organised to raise money for the day-to-day running of the association. D'Home is doing a marvellous job with raising mental health awareness and their public activities such as this are definitely worth supporting. We didn't expect to be participating in the climb because we thought they'd want us to be volunteers but a week before the climb, we learnt that they needed more participants than volunteers. So here we are, donning their t-shirts and making our way up the hill. Slowly up the hill.

Our lack of fitness showed. Our progress was slow. We stopped so many times, especially when the incline became so very steep. We struggled at the start of the climb when the jeep track was steep, and we struggled again towards the end when the track again took a challengingly steep incline. But we made it, finally, after about two hours and 40 minutes. As stragglers, we missed out on the medals for the first 100 participants to finish but there were free bowls of Penang Hill ais kachang waiting for us at the food court. Yum yum, worth the effort after all......😋😋😋

We stayed at the summit for some three hours. The rain came and everything became wet and misty. Eventually we called it a day and proceeded to the upper train station to take the funicular train to the lower station. As usually, it is a very eventful train ride if you take the first carriage where you can see the train practically rolling off the track at the half-way point. Almost like a roller coaster ride at this juncture, it elicited screams from the ladies in the carriage. Heh heh....

A 4WD vehicle making its way effortlessly up the steep hairpin drive while we have to struggle step by step all the way to the top.

Even motorcyclists can make it to the top effortlessly but the track is also difficult for cyclists.

I'm puzzled by this old milestone as it still showed the distance in miles and not kilometres. VI MILES, it read. Six miles as measured from where, I wonder?

Wonderfully thick foliage lined both sides of the track.

Whoops, I came across this mean beast which easily measured six inches long from claw to sting. It was just at the side of the road. It was a stand-off. The creature was eyeing me at the same as I was eyeing it. Warily, of course, seeing that its tail was poised to strike forward. I'm sure it would be a lightning strike. Would I be able to avoid it, seeing it already has a lifetime of practice to get to this big a size. I doubt so. Back off, my inner voice told me, back off. So I did, after getting close enough to get this picture. Luckily it did not advance forward as the camera went closer. Nevertheless, my wife was concerned with the scorpion's well-being and asked me to remove it elsewhere. What? Pick it up?? Didn't she notice that the tail was ever ready to sting anyone or anything that threatens it??? I pick up a harmless millipede and she asks me to put it down. Here is a dangerous six-inch scorpion and she asks me to pick it up. 😆

And finally, reaching the Grace Dieu bungalow, a sure sign that the summit wasn't too far away. Unfortunately, I must have missed the Ban Hin Lee Bungalow and the way to Crag Hotel, the latter being the location for the British television series, Indian Summers, some three or four years ago.