Friday, 23 March 2018

The on-going PFS vs SXI debate

I seem to have opened up an old debate about which school was the older in Malaysia: the Penang Free School or the St Xavier's Institution. The official stance and indeed, it should be the only one, is that the Penang Free School is the older of the two, although the St Xavier's Institution may claim that its roots go further back to the weeks following the founding of Prince of Wales' Island. But this is what I happened to stumble on during my research and revealed subsequently, without fear or favour, in my book Let the Aisles Proclaim.

First, this is an extract from from page 11 of the book:
One of the earliest Europeans to follow Light over from Kedah was the French Catholic missionary, Monsignor Domino Arnaud-Antoine Garnault. In November 1781, Garnault and several other members of the Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris (MEP) had found themselves expelled from Siam. Garnault arrived at Port Queda near Alor Star, Kedah, in April 1782 and become the first resident priest of a small Catholic community there.(Note 7) After landing in the Prince of Wales’ Island, he asked Light for permission to build a church. Light was cautious of Garnault’s presence and politics, but tolerated the Frenchman enough to allow him to erect his church about 400 yards from Light’s base, the Fort Cornwallis. In August 1787, this first Catholic Church was completed and Garnault was made its bishop. As bishop, he provided for the denominational education of the children of his parish by establishing a small vernacular school for girls at China Street and a "small college" for boys at Pitt Street.(Note 8)
(7) Father P. Decroix (2005). History of the Church and churches in Malaysia and Singapore (1511-2000).
(8) G.S. Reutens (1972). A Short Survey of the History of the Past and Present Buildings of Hutchings School, Penang (1816-1972). Private papers. Reutens was a teacher at Penang Free School and later, appointed as Head Master of Hutchings School which now stands on the former grounds of the old Free School.

Next, I offer the extracts from pages 20 and 21 of the same book:
In the 1823 annual meeting of the Free School, it was mentioned that the boys continued to be examined at the end of the year by the School Committee with the examination starting from the lowest classes and proceeding to the highest class. Regarding the use of the Madras System of Education, the following observations were made:
We cannot but feel great satisfaction that they have been introduced into this Institution and so suited to the circumstances of the scholars that that the happiest effect have been apparent. There is perhaps no place in the whole world where boys of so many different nations and languages are assembled together, and here learning one common language, the English. This circumstance gives a peculiarly novel and curious effect which, is heightened by the great disparity of size and age of the Boys who are placed together in the same Class, the little striplings in several instances having made the progress which has entitled them to instruct and to bear rule over boys twice as big and old as themselves. 
It is however satisfactory to observe, that the value of good education has become much more generally appreciated, and that the religious prejudices which have hitherto kept many Parents from sending their Children to the School, are now fast wearing away. They have now had abundant evidence, that it is far from the design of the Institution to interfere with the religious sentiments of any person.(Note 11)
To accentuate this point further, the 1824 annual report on the Free School reported:
The apprehensions and prejudices of the late Roman Catholic Pastor was supposed to have a very extensive influence in preventing many of his Flock from following the dictates of their own wishes and judgements. The expence (sic) of several years has given an incontrovertible proof, that whatever may be the religious opinions of those who are willing to submit their Children to the Rules of the Institution, those opinions will never be violated. The Children of Protestants are indeed most carefully instructed in the Principals of Christianity … To others the Instruction is, with fidelity to original engagements, strictly confined to the elements of useful Education and the Principles of Morality.(Note 12)
Despite all these assurances, a simmering tension between the Protestants and Catholics burst into the open in July 1825 when Porter was accused by the Catholic priest, Mgr. Jean-Baptiste Boucho, of punishing some Catholic boys for not turning up for service at the Protestant church, an accusation which was later dismissed after an extensive investigation by the School Committee. The managers went on to rebuke Boucho for “the interference of the Roman Catholic Clergyman with regard to the Education of their Children.” The tension continued until the end of the year when the Government, perhaps in an attempt to diffuse the situation and maintain neutrality, decided to contribute 100 Dollars per month towards a new Catholic school in Church Street.( Note 13)  Boucho called his school the Catholic Free School and in defiance of the proffered olive branch, coerced all the Catholic children to leave the Prince of Wales’ Island Free School and join his new establishment. The Catholic Free School was the precursor of the present Saint Xavier’s Institution.(Note 14) This unfortunate incident was perhaps the first recorded cold war between the two rival educational institutions that spilled into the open.
(11) Prince of Wales Island Gazette, 14th January 1824
(12) Marcus Langdon (2015). Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India (1805-1830), Volume Two, p. 247. Publisher: George Town World Heritage Incorporated.
(13) ibid
(14) G.S. Reutens (1972). A Short Survey of the History of the Past and Present Buildings of Hutchings School, Penang (1816-1972). Private papers.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Singapore's kampong

Although I've stepped foot into Singapore a number of times, I must admit that this was the first occasion that I had gone to Pulau Ubin. This is a small island to the north-west of the main Singapore island and the only way to get there is by a bumboat from the Changi Point ferry terminal. There are bumboats waiting for passengers all the time but one will only pull away when there are 12 passengers filling the boat.

I didn't know what to expect when I took the crossing with my friends but once I had arrived at the Pulau Ubin ferry terminal, I was blown away by the rustic charm of the little village. It was just like being transported back into the 1960s; time having stood still on the island while the rest of Singapore marched into the 21st Century. The closest I could compare this village with would be the backwaters of present-day Balik Pulau in Penang.

But this part of Pulau Ubin was anything but quiet since this was the first place that greeted visitors upon arrival. Bicycle rental shops lined both sides of what was supposed to be the main street. Restaurants and sundry shops too. And the obligatory Chinese temple and an accompanying stage.

We just walked away and took the direction of a tarred road towards the Chek Jawa visitor centre, passing by this small altar worshipping the Ma Chor deity. After a while, the tarred road gave way to well-worn dirt trails. Monkeys were a-plenty. Bold and completely unafraid of their human cousins. My friend's wife had her plastic bag containing unfinished food snatched out from her hand. Soon, we decided to arm ourselves with sticks to chase the monkeys away should any stray near to us. Wild boars too. We saw boars crossing the dirt trails. "Just stand still and allow them to move off," my friend advised me. But what if they are moving towards us? "Then start praying hard and hope you don't shit in your pants," he replied. Very practical.

Soon we arrived at the Chek Jawa visitor centre, housed in a double-storey Tudor-styled building which was once a holiday home for a British official about 80 years ago. Who was he? I don't know. Nobody seemed to know. From there, we walked further to the Chek Jawa boardwalk. Unfortunately, with time not on our side, we forewent the chance to walk out into the sea and had to retrace our steps to the visitor centre.

Walking back to the ferry terminal, we took a different route, slightly longer, that passed by the incredibly serene, submerged Balai Quarry. Another photo opportunity here. After this small detour, the trek back to the ferry terminal was relatively uneventful. No more boldly brazen monkeys to shoo away, no more wild boars to hide from but we saw a monitor lizard scampering away in the undergrowth, and no more dodging the bicyclists. Arriving back at Changi Village, it was time for .... food. We were famished!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Lee Kong Chian Reference Library

Whilst in downtown Singapore, I took the opportunity to visit their National Library Board building in Victoria Street. First stop was to the basement floor where the Central Library was located.

My main objective was to pass along to their Central Library two copies of Let the Aisles Proclaim. I had felt that it was very important that Singapore possess the book as the history of Penang Free School is so closely intertwined with the history of their Raffles Institution itself.

That done, it was also an objective to visit the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. Asking around, I was informed that my destination should be the 11th floor where I could seek access to the digital archive of the old Singapore newspapers. There are, after all, certain newspaper stories which cannot be accessed online from the Web and can only be referenced directly from their resident computer terminals.

The resources here were impressive and the staff very helpful. All in, I must have spent some two hours on this floor and was rather reluctant to move on. The Lee Kong Chian Reference Library is definitely worth visiting a second time and perhaps more often too.

Monday, 19 March 2018

We remain hopeful

When I learnt that my friend, Siang Jin, would be going down to Singapore this month to make a fund-raising presentation to friends and acquaintances who so happen to sit in the management committee of the Old Frees' Association Singapore, I had vowed to go too to assist in the pitching.

That they were also in the OFAS management committee was so much the better, in my opinion, because this meeting presented an excellent opportunity to let the Old Frees there learn of our activities vis-a-vis the Alma Mater in Penang. After all, the fund-raising would be for a worthwhile intention: the on-going leadership workshop that we were holding for the Penang Free School student leaders,

Therefore, on the 15th of March, I flew south and met up with Siang Jin and the OFAS management committee at the latter's monthly committee meeting. Siang Jin made most of the talking while I added some words of support to fill in certain blanks.

Do you think we succeeded? Yet to be seen. Pitching is always a work-in-progress and there's more work to be put in. But I remain hopeful. I'm sure some of our Singaporean friends will respond favourably. After all, it's for the school.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Four months to deliver

I arrived back home from a four-day trip from Singapore this afternoon to find this parcel on the table. "It arrived last Friday," my wife told me. So I ripped it open to find that at long last, my copy of Eric Berne's Games People Play had arrived.

I had almost given up on it. The book was ordered from on 17 Nov 2017 and despatched two days later with the delivery estimated between the 12th and 16th of January 2018. How wrong they were! I waited. And waited. And waited. The weeks passed after 16th January but I was too busy to inform that I hadn't received it yet.

Just a week ago, my wife asked me about the book and I told her that it could have been misplaced in the post. Such was the risk nowadays. "I'll write to Amazon when I get back from Singapore," I had assured her. So imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the parcel on the table. All in, it had taken four months, almost to the day, to arrive at my doorstep.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4

I guess it must have been close to 20 years already that I first bought this compact disk, E2-E4, by Manuel Gottsching. I was wandering around the now-closed Ampang Park shopping mall and came across the disk in Love Music. Mesmerised by the cover AND the title, I had bought the disk without any hesitation, such was my interest in everything chess.

I must add that I wasn't disappointed with the music. Basically, an electronically generated sound that did not grate onto the ear in terms of melody or intensity. Much unlike Steve Reich's compact disk, the fascinating but monotonous Music for 18 Musicians, which I also possess. (I wouldn't mind owning that record too, by the way.)

And recently, the opportunity arose for me to buy the vinyl record version of the same Gottsching compact disk. Again, without any hesitation after immediately seeing its availability on one of the facebook groups that I am a member of.

The album arrived yesterday. And I placed it on the turntable late last night. Shiok only, I must say. Again, the melody leapt from my speakers. But I noticed a slight difference in the music between the two formats. The record was about five minutes shorter than the compact disk. One of the tracks was six minutes long on the CD but only one minute on the record. That accounted for the difference. Other than that, no difference to the ears.

Oh yes, I must add that the record version came with rather lengthy interesting liner notes that described how Gottsching came up with the concept for the music. And how Richard Branson played a part in it. The compact disk version had nothing!

Side One: Ruhige nervositat (Quiet nervousness), Gemassigter aufbruch (Moderate start), ... Und mittelspiel (...And central game)
Side Two: Ansatz (Promise), Damen eleganza (Queen a pawn), Ehrenvoller kampf (Glorious fight), Hoheit weicht (HRH retreats), (Nicht ohne schwung) (With a swing), ...Und souveranitat (...And sovereignty), Remis (Draw)

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Take Five on fontana

I had posted this picture to one of the groups on facebook, of which I was a member. This picture, as can be seen, was of a seven-inch 45rpm record that featured The Dave Brubeck Quartet playing Take Five on the A side and Blue Rondo Ala Turk on the B side.

This record was passed on to me recently by an old friend who was giving away his old music collection. "Left behind in the house by my late father and also my siblings when they went off to live overseas," he told me. "You can have all of the records if you wish," he continued, which I thankfully did. All 96 pieces of long-playing albums and a handful of 45s. This one was among them.

Soon after I had posted up the picture, a quick-eyed member of the group responded with an interesting message, "I checked and the main release was on Columbia, so I guess that particular record is rare. What is unfortunately rare is how few jazz recordings made it to 45s. That tune was originally on the "Time Out" album in 1959, but released on 45 in 1961 and became a surprise hit."

Maybe it's not so rare after all. Columbia, which was a major US label, couldn't release their records under the "Columbia" label in the UK and the Commonwealth countries because EMI, the major label in the UK, already owned the rights to the "Columbia" name there. I do have several old 45s that featured the EMI "Columbia" label.

So Columbia (the US company) went into an arrangement with Philips UK to have their catalogue pressed under the Philips-owned "fontana" label for the British market. This convenient arrangement went on from the late 1950s until 1962 when Columbia finally launched the CBS label and started releasing their own American recordings outside the US under "CBS".

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?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Seeing in the New Year

I stirred from my bed at five o'clock this morning. Reason was because today is the start of the new Chinese luni-solar calendar, and I wanted to be up and about when the sun supposedly crossed the 315th degree celestial longitude into a new solar term at 5.30am. We term this occurrence as Li Chun (立春) or Jip Chun in Penang Baba Hokkien-speak.

Half-an-hour for me to get myself wide awake, but enough time for me to prepare a new piece of decorative red paper with the Chinese character 春 (Chun) for sticking onto the family rice bucket. I would also fill up the bucket to the brim with a new packet of rice to signify abundance. There's nothing religious about this practice at all. It's all very cultural and traditional.

Anyway, as I was mentioning earlier, Jip Chun signifies the start of a new year according to the luni-solar calendar. This is why many households here practice putting up red banner cloths across their main doorway on this day which is 12 days before the Chinese New Year festivities actually start on 16 Feb 2018.

As for me, I do not follow this trend as I would prefer to put up the red banner only after I have made my annual worship and offerings to my ancestors before the old year creeps out. This year, the worship will fall on 11th February. I shall carry out the worship in the morning and only then in the afternoon, will I be putting up the red banner.

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!