Wednesday, 31 December 2008

George Town's old coat of arms?

Can this be George Town's original coat of arms? The design is lost in the mists of history and I only managed to dig this up recently through a search on the Internet.

According to a comment left by someone named Andrew Yong, he seemed to think so but it could not be confirmed.

The first Malaysian schools' sports council's chess championship (2)

Twenty-six years ago on 30 Dec 1972, the first MSSM chess championship concluded. Unfortunately for much of the championship, there was no news coverage in the newspapers. It was not until the last day of the event that we saw the local newspapers picking up on the results.

This story appeared in The Straits Echo on 31 Dec 1972:
PENANG, Sat - Selangor emerged champions of the Malaysian Schools Sports Council's three-day inter-State chess championships which concluded at the Dewan Sri Pinang today.

Penang were second and Negri Sembilan third. Selangor obtained 4 1/2 points. They defeated Penang by 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 and drew with Negri Sembilan 2-2. Penang had 4 points and Negri Sembilan 3 1/2 points.

Perak, Kelantan and Trengganu, who were all in Group 'Y', were challenging for the fourth, fifth and sixth places. Perak finished fourth with 6 1/2 points, Kelantan fifth with three points and Trengganu sixth place with 2 1/2 points.

At the prize-giving ceremony and dinner tonight the Deputy Chief Education Officer, Encik Hashim Mydin, addressed the gathering. Mrs Tan Teik Beng gave away the prizes.

The results of the final rounds are:

Round One: Group X - Penang bt Negri Sembilan 2 1/2 - 1 1/2, Group Y - Trengganu drew with Kelantan 2-2
Round Two: Group X - Selangor bt Peanng 2 1/2 - 1 1/2, Group Y - Perak bt Trengganu 3 1/2 - 1/2
Round Three: Group X - Negri Sembilan drew Selangor 2-2, Group Y - Perak bt Kelantan 1-3
And his story appeared in The Star on 31 Dec 1972:
PENANG, Sat - Selangor scrapped through to win the Malaysian Schools Sports Council chess tournament by a drawn last game against Negri Sembilan today.

The draw earned them 4 1/2 points to edge runner-up Penang who obtained 4 points while Negri Sembilan secured third position with 3 1/2 points.

It was only in the last game that the decision was known when Lee Yee Meng of Selangor drew with Chua Poh Soon of Negri Sembilan.

Had Poh Soon beaten Yee Meng, Penang would have been the champion, since at that stage Penang already had 4 points, Selangor 3 1/2 and Negri Sembilan 3.

Other results in this game are: (Selangor players mentioned first): Wahid Karim drew with Wong Chee Foo, Woo Beng Keong bt Lee Tin Kha and Peter Wong bt Lew Wing Kwong.

This morning, they defeated their arch-rival, Penang 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 points in a hard-fought game of the final rounds among the three finalists. The other finalist is Negri Sembilan.

The first match between Selangor's captain Peter Wong and Penang's Beh Hoong Pin ended in a draw. This was followed by another draw between Lee Yee Meng of Selangor and Lee Teik Leong of Penang.

The third match between Selangor's Woo Beng Keong and Penang's Khaw Teik Kooi also ended in a draw.

Then came the most exciting match of the morning between Wahid Karim of Selangor and Quah Seng Sun, the Penang skipper.

Seng Sun battled desperately for a win to enhance Penang's chances of winning the championship.

However, the cool and steady Selangor player managed to hold back the Penang captain's attack. After nearly two hours of sheer determination and lots of concentration, Wahid managed to defeat Seng Sun.

Wahid's victory over Seng Sun was perhaps the deciding factor in deciding the championship.

Penang had earlier defeated Negri Sembilan 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 points.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Ajahn Brahm: Mindfulness is more than you think

From my vantage point about 50 feet from the stage, here are some photos from Ajahn Brahmavamso's 2½-hour talk at the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road, Penang, last evening. By my estimate, easily 400 to 500 people must have packed the hall at the Temple to hear the Bhante.

If the pictures look too grainy and noisy to you, it's because I was pushing my little camera to its practical limits: ISO set at 200, zoom set at its telephoto range most of the time, shutter speed often reduced to 1/5th second, aperture as wide as possible but f4.5 is never wide enough, hand steadied by holding it against the wall. All the tricks I could think of were used but the limitation was, of course, the camera. It was never meant for such extreme use.

First, a wide-angled shot of the A. Pemaratana Hall at the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple. That's on the top floor of the building behind the main worship hall. One aspect of his talks is that he is able to attract people of all religions and races, excluding (naturally) the Malays and Muslims. I saw a number of Indians, Ceylonese and non-Asians in the audience.

Next, a closer look at Ajahn Brahm sitting beneath the serene statue of Lord Buddha.

Lastly, the Bhante in a jovial mood, regaling us with his anecdotes and lessons. The uninitiated may think that Buddhist talks revolve entirely around the religion but it's not true. There's no doubt that the lessons all point back to Buddhist practice eventually but they are mostly down-to-earth practical advice that is so relevant to us during these turbulent times.

That's us with Ajahn Brahm after his talk. I hope that he'll be back again with us next year!

Football's unwanted record

David Pratt, a striker with non-league side Chippenham Town, may have set a new record for the fastest send-off in senior football when he was given the red card for a wild tackle on Bashley's Chris Knowles three seconds into the game on Saturday.

"I felt hard done-to by the ref's decision but he thinks it was a red card so I have to take it. The world record is not a big deal for me. It's not something that I'm proud of."

The previous fastest sending-off is generally accepted to be 10 seconds for Bologna's Giuseppe Lorenzo after he struck an opponent in a 1990 Italian league game.

English football's previous "best" was 13 seconds when Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman handled outside his box in a game in 2000. Also in the same year, English amateur player Lee Todd was sent off after two seconds when he responded to the referee's whistle to start the game by saying "fuck me, that was loud" and was dismissed for foul and abusive language.

Monday, 29 December 2008

BM Hill's NATO: no action, talk only (Part Two)

I took a decision last night that I would climb up the BM Hill this morning. I was well rewarded for my effort. Truly enjoyed the solitary climb up the hill track. But met only about three or four people along this path. Only the sound of my own footsteps and panting. Tea hut was shrouded in mist. Loud people talking away with abandonment there, so I chose to sit well away from them to enjoy the fresh air and the mist. Cool breeze on my face brought with it just a hint of dampness (well, it did rain late last night).

Being there at the tea hut, I felt quite unhappy that someone had felled two sturdy trees for no apparent reason. Whoever did this was really irresponsible. Why would they want to do this to trees that provide shade to weary people who rest beneath them? All I can say right now is that nobody has been made accountable for this destruction of nature.

And talking of destruction, again nobody at the state forestry department or state government cares about the erosion at the forest park. The erosion at this particular spot is GETTING B I G G E R. This has been my constant beef in the past few months. Bringing it up again and again, a promise made after another promise but eventually, nothing gets done and everything gets forgotten. Sigh...

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Another take on Green Silk Store's impending closure

I see that The Star has finally come around to report on the closing down of Green Silk Store at the corner of Bishop Street and Beach Street. There's quite a bit of history surrounding this iconic shop, as reflected by the current owner. You can read The Star's online report here or my own very short blog item here. Nothing comparable to The Star's comprehensive report, of course!

Edelweiss cafe, Armenian Street

More than two months ago I wanted to write a little note about this restaurant in Armenian Street but I never gotten round to doing so. Now's as good a time as any to say that the Edelweiss Cafe serves good European alpine food with a local touch. If you love German and Swiss sausages and pork dishes, here's the place for them. However, if I ever find myself there again, maybe I'll try their cheese fondue next.

But I don't want to talk about their food. I find the interior decoration to be as much a talking point as their food. For one, feast your eyes on this huge clock that reaches almost to the ceiling. It still works but there are no chimes on the hour or half-hour. Would have been great if it still did but the chimes could have been deafening to their customers.

Then there are the nyonya paraphernalia: collections of side boards, old photographs, tiffin carriers, grinders, weighing utensils and what not that were supposed to transport you to the past. If you are curious about some of Penang's heritage features, I suppose the Edelweiss Cafe is a good place to get you started. But don't expect too much after your initial curiosity is sated. Nevertheless, tourists seemed to like the atmosphere very much and when I was there with my family, many of them were enjoying themselves at the space where diffused light beamed down the air well.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Ajahn Brahm in Penang

Ajahn Brahmavamso, the ever-popular Buddhist monk with a wicked sense of humour, is finally here in Penang and he'll be conducting a three-day retreat at the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road to a group of lucky people who had registered early with the Temple committee.

But don't fret if you aren't one of them. You can still enjoy the wit of Ajahn Brahm because he'll be giving two talks at the temple on Sunday and Monday evenings. Both talks are open to the non-Muslim public (you don't have to be a Buddhist to understand and enjoy his talks) and they will begin at 8pm. There's also the usual Question And Answers sessions at the end of the talks.

The topic for Sunday is quite interesting, considering that we are in the midst of an economic downturn. "Calming your worrries in uncertain times," that's what Sunday's talk will cover. Then on Monday, Ajahn Brahm will talk about "mindfulness is more than you think." You can take it from me that both talks will be quite up-to-date and not rehashed material.

KOMTAR, once the pride of Penang

I was at Howe Cheang Medical Supply on Wednesday afternoon to pick up something and since I had a bit of time at hand, I decided to cross over to the KOMTAR building. I haven't been there for a very long time but I've been hearing (horror) stories about how dilapidated the place had become. It was time to see the condition first-hand.

KOMTAR was the brain-child of Penang's second chief minister, Dr Lim Chong Eu. It was an ambitious urban renewal project that would see the inner city transform into a mighty business centre. The show piece would be the 65-level tower which was once the tallest building not only in Malaysia but also South-East Asia. Because of its immense size, the project was envisioned to be completed in phases.

The first phase comprised the original four-level podium block, the tower, a geodesic dome and a hotel. When it was being built, I remember that everyone marvelled at the tower as it began to grow higher and higher. There was also the fateful day in January 1983 when the 43rd floor of the uncompleted tower caught fire. Firemen were unable to put out the flames as it was too high up. The flames eventually burnt out after about eight hours. From across the channel, we could see the raging fire. Impressive, immense, breath-taking. Yet sad and a great tragedy.

In the 1970s and 1980s, KOMTAR was the nerve centre on the island. Nothing could seem to go wrong with it. Department stores like Yaohan and Super were the anchor tenants and the place boasted of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, certainly at that time the two biggest fast-food chains in Malaysia.

Then, the administration under Dr Koh Tsu Koon allowed the KOMTAR complex to fall into neglect. Maintenance became very poor and even non-existent. On the Level Three of the podium block a low-class pasar malam sub-culture developed. The big tenants pulled out and it affected the smaller tenants. Businesses began closing at KOMTAR one by one when people no longer cared to come around to shop.

When I walked the corridors of Level Two and Level Three, all I saw was a very sorry state. By my estimate, more than 60 percent of the shops had closed. Shuttered. Boarded. I don't know how the remaining businesses will survive. As I walked along the corridors, people in the still opened shops looked at me with curiosity just as I looked at them with equal curiosity.

On Level Three, I came across DB Music Centre. I was surprised to see it still operating as other similar shops at the podium block had closed. I walked in to see a familiar face. I looked at Alice, the wife of the boss, and she looked at me. She recognised me, not by name but by my previous job. "You used to work in the bank, right?" I grinned at her and asked about her and her husband. "Surviving," she answered. I went to the inner room where Tan Si Keong was sitting at the computer. Another round of recognition. We talked like old friends did. He related how bad business had become because of the neglect. Once, he said, people had the money to spend but there wasn't enough goods to sell them. Now, you can source for anything you want but there isn't enough money to buy them. He said that he bought his shop unit for about RM90,000 and when KOMTAR was at its most popular, the asking price of his shop unit was RM400,000. Today, he said he would be lucky if anyone wanted to offer him RM50,000 for it. This is the actual reflection of the state of KOMTAR.

Surviving, that's how he also described his business. Where once his monthly turnover was about RM50,000 it has dwindled to about RM30,000. That's not factoring inflation into the value. He still sells his compact discs and cassettes but his customers are now the Malays and the foreign work force. The Chinese no longer come around to his shop any more. True enough, when I was there, there were three Malay customers listening to music. At the height of his business, he used to open 363 days in a year, shutting only for Chinese New Year. Today, he still opens 361 days in a year. He's also now closed for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. He told me that the whole of KOMTAR would be filled with foreigners during the weekends. "You just need to stand outside CIMB Bank on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday and you'll see the whole place flooded with them," he said.

But, I asked, isn't the present government trying to rehabilitate KOMTAR? The Pacific Departmental Store has opened. Not good enough, he said. The rehabilitation programme has not done him any good because it's too far away. "It's on the other side," he motioned with his hand and I automatically turned to look at ... a blank wall. Too far removed from the other end of KOMTAR's podium block.

Well, I know that it's tough for this government to undo what the previous administration had permitted but I hope that the rehabilitation project does not stop with the Pacific Departmental Store. The rehabilitation process must be wider. It will certainly take a lot of money but we need to bring life back to KOMTAR. It's not only for the sake of businessmen like Tan Si Keong but for the good of our community. KOMTAR was conceived to eradicate poverty and redevelop George Town's inner city. Instead, it is slowly but steadily becoming the city's most high-profile slum. To the present state government: please do your best to arrest its decline.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Heritage: George Town's city status proclamation

I had meant to post this item only on 1 Jan 2009 on the 52nd anniversary of the city status but the happy news yesterday prompts me to bring forward the post. As reported by The Malaysian Insider yesterday and The Star today, the Penang government will be celebrating George Town's City Day in a week's time. The City of George Town ... that's the pride of Penang. Although the celebration will be on a small scale, it will be significant to show those fellas in Kuala Lumpur that George Town is the country's first city and no amount of political posturings, manouevrings and attempts to re-write history can remove this fact from us.

If you go to the Penang Museum, you'll still be able to see a photograph of the original proclamation by Queen Elizabeth II. Last September, I had a lot of trouble locating it in the museum because the frame was lost among all the exhibits. Eventually, I found it hanging on a wall together with another photograph showing the petition made by the municipal councillors to the Queen. I would recommend to the Penang Museum that this exhibit be given the appropriate pride of place. Please relocate this exhibit downstairs so that it would be the first item to greet visitors when they step into the museum.

Here is her proclamation of City status for George Town:

ELIZABETH THE SECOND BY THE GRACE OF GOD Of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen Head of the Commonwealth Defender of the Faith To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting Whereas the inhabitants of the Municipality of George Town in the Federation of Malaya are a body corporate by the name and style of The Municipal Councillors of George Town And Whereas We being desirous on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Straits Settlement Act which inspired the growth of local government by the inhabitants of George Town to bestow a mark of Our Royal favour upon them by raising the said Municipality of George Town to the rank of a City Now Therefore Know Ye that We of Our especial grace and favour and mere motion Do by this Our Royal Charter will ordain constitute declare and appoint that the said Municipality of George Town shall on the first day of Kanmuary in the year of Our Lord One thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven and for ever thereafter be a City and shall be called and styled THE CITY OF GEORGE TOWN instead of the Municipality of George Town and shall thenceforth have all such rank liberties privileges and immunities as are incident to a City And We do further declare and direct that the Municipal Councillors of George Town shall thenceforth be one body corporate by the name and style of THE CITY COUNCIL OF GEORGE TOWN will all such powers and privileges as they would have had as the Municipal Councillors of George Town and as if they had been incorporated by the name of the City Council of George Town And Further Know Ye that W trusting in the discretin fidelity and care of Our trusty and well beloved Sir Donald Charles macGillivray Knight Commander of Our Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George Member of Our Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Our High Commissioner for the Federation of Malaya Do give and grant by the tenor of these Presents unto him the said Sir Donal Charles MacGillivray full power in Our name to declare and make known Our Plesure herein In Witness whereof We have caused thse Our Letters to be made Patent Witness Ourself at Westminster the twentieth day of December in the fifth year of Our Reign

By Warrant under The Queen's Sign Manual

A festival of lessons and carols

Though I'm a Buddhist, Christmas used to be the time when I tuned in religiously to the BBC World Service's Christmas radio programmes. Unfortunately, I don't do it any more. But decades ago when the Sony ICF-7600D was my constant companion, it was my window to the world. In my opinion, the 7600D was one of the best world-band receivers I've ever had. I bought it in Singapore in 1984 or 1985 and it's price was only slightly more than SGD100 at that time. Not more than RM240 at the prevailing currency conversion rate.

On Christmas eve, I would listen to the BBC World Service broadcast of A Festival of Lessons and Carols from the King's College Chapel, Cambridge. There's nothing more magical on Christmas Eve than to hear the choir sing the processional hymn, Once in Royal David's City. It would commence very quietly and then build up as the choir enters the chapel. The readings of the Lessons would soon begin and occasionally interspersed with carols.

This year, I shall be listening to the record instead. It'll bring back the memories of straining my ears to listen to their faraway sound on my Sony shortwave radio. To my Christian friends....Merry Christmas. To my non-Christian friends....Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

George Town to be a city again!

Here's what I wrote in my blog on 31 Aug 2007. My wish for my beloved George Town to be recognised officially (and celebrated) as a city again. Looks like I'm going to get my wish!

You can imagine my joy at seeing this news item in The Malaysian Insider this morning. The best news of the "bestest" news I've read today. The state government intends to revive the city status of George Town. For the uninitiated, George Town was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 Jan 1957. And I've always had the suspicion that the status was taken away by those sneaky Federal government fellas in the 1970s because they wanted to ensure that when Kuala Lumpur was made a city, it would be the first in Malaysia. Tough titties to them!

The Malaysian Insider story went on to quote Dr Goh Ban Lee, a former Penang municipal councillor and now a consultant with SERI, the Socio-Economic Research institute, in Penang as saying:
"Lim is on the right track. Governments in developed countries use cities as branding tools to further drive their economies forward. Many people choose to live and work in cities because they believe they gain a better quality of life there. Cities are the new engines of growth. We have a city called George Town which nobody uses. Penang is not a city; it is a state.”
Goh believes that George Town has many attractive features to draw in investment from outside Malaysia as well as from within. He points out its fair weather all year round and its nearness to the beaches, the sea and the hills. It is about time the state realises George Town’s economic potential, says Goh.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Birthday cake for a birthday boy

"The cake was nice"

(but I hope the company was nicer)

Happy birthday, Ted!

Slowdown looms big in crystal ball

A confession. For the best few weeks now, I've been sinking slowly into a state of mild despondency. You'd feel the same if you continue to read all the dire warnings in the newspapers and online sources. However, it's better to read and confront them than to ignore them. The news and predictions are all bad: next year is going to be a very bleak and trying period for Penang. But for all the doomsday predictions, I hope they are not going to be self-fulfilling prophesies.

There is no denying that the electronics industry is undergoing a big slowdown and it's dragging down the supporting industries too. I've been hearing of manufacturers implementing cost-cutting measures: reducing workdays, reducing benefits, lengthening the shutdown at the year-end. There's also the dread R-word: retrenchment. In short, there are just no new orders coming in and it's affecting the local economy.

And the latest forecast from the Human Resource Ministry: nearly 5,000 to be retrenched in the electronics industry within the next three months. Yes, next year is going to be tough.

The Malaysian Insider, in its report on Penang yesterday, says: "Penang's economy is wobbling. One by one, the factories in Penang are extending their year-end shutdown period from one week to two, triggered by the slowdown in sales orders. Salaries have been slashed. Work hours have been halved." If this is not bad news, I don't know what is.

The report went on to say that "Guan Eng himself is leading the pack to woo new investors to open up shop in Penang and create more jobs for locals. Several major players have already signed on."

But have the investments come too late? How soon can their plants be set up? How fast can their products come on-stream? How quick can our people find employment with these new investors? By my estimate, at least one or two years. It's not going to be a magic wand that'll be the instant cure for Penang's economy. It'll still take time and it'll test the resilience of the people to ride out this storm.

UPDATE: I just came off the line with a friend. We agreed that politics aside, the present Federal Government should have started to acknowledge the fallout from the economic downtown at least six months ago. Instead of sitting comfortably on their butts in denial, they should have started the process to recognise and accept that this country is not insulated from the global mess ... and do something about it pro-actively! We need pro-active measures, not political wars to see us through the downturn. Forget about the "ketuanan melayu" bullshit. Why can't the Federal Government think about the people as a whole for once, regardless of creed or colour, race or religion? How can it be "business as usual" when we are going through unusual times? As it stands right now, it may be too late to try and arrest the deterioration in the economy. We have factories closing down - for example, Western Digital in Sarawak - and retrenchments in Singapore which may affect Malaysians working there. Johor claims to have the safety net to absorb any retrenched people into their Iskandar project. I only hope they are right.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Doing the quintuple??

One down and four more to come? It's ridiculous to think of it but it's a remote possibility, right? Now that the Red Devils have won the Club World Cup in Japan, can I challenge them to do the mind-boggling quintuple in one season? Imagine: Champions League title, Premier League title, FA Cup and Football League Cup (previously the Carling Cup).

Sunday, 21 December 2008

In celebration of the Winter Solstice 2008

This is the Winter Solstice. In China, it's supposed to be the shortest day in the year, or the longest night of the year, depending on how you view it. The middle of winter. Of course, it is not so evident here in Malaysia where we are in the midst of the tropics. Still, when I woke up at 6.30 this morning, the sky was dark. It didn't lighten until about 7.15am. We normally call this day simply as Tung Chek. A bowl of glutinous rice balls in light syrup. That's how my family observed Tung Chek this morning.

Two orchids

Two of my refreshing orchid flowers captured this morning on my camera.

What if the shoes had found their target

I'm in the mood for video clips on YouTube. We may snicker about this scene but to the Iraqi journalist who lost his shoes, it wasn't a laughing matter. In fact, he was carrying on and on about dogs. You'd need to be a Middle-Eastern person to understand him or his anger but you needn't be a Middle-Eastern to understand whom he was referring to. But take it from me that the journalist was calling George W Bush a dog. And if the shoes had hit him, it would have been the greatest insult ever landed on a world leader.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Jerry Lewis: The typewriter

If you haven't seen any of Jerry Lewis' madcap comedy before, here is a good place to start: Jerry Lewis playing with the old-fashioned typewriter. Never mind the first part of the clip. What matters is the black-and-white sequence that follows. It's classic Jerry Lewis. Vintage stuff. His masterpiece. Enjoy:

BTW, The Typewriter - composed by American Leroy Anderson in 1950 - reminds me of an old radio news programme that used to air on the English service of Radio Malaya (that is, before Malaya became Malaysia). It's a really old song...

Friday, 19 December 2008

Closing down

Green Silk Store has been around for a very long time. By my reckoning, maybe at least 40 or 50 years operating at the junction of Beach Street and Bishop Street. When I was still working at Ban Hin Lee Bank, I would sometimes go there to buy my long-sleeved shirts or a tie. Green Silk Store also sell custom-made suits and warm outer-wear for travellers.

Pretty soon, this iconic textile shop will disappear from the face of George Town, overtaken by progress or the economic downturn. When I passed by Beach Street on Tuesday evening, the first thing I noticed was the Closing Down sign. I went in. There weren't many items left on the shelves or the counters. The sole elderly lady staff looked at me with rather forlorn eyes as she followed me around the shop.

"Closing down, eh?" I asked. She could only nod her head. "This shop's been around for a very long time," I commented, trying to make conversation. She nodded again. The sadness showed on her. I gave her a smile and I walked out of Green Silk Store, perhaps for the very last time.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Two great albums from the past: Hair and Godspell

At long last, I have managed to find these two vinyl records to supplement the compact disc versions. They arrived yesterday by Pos Laju just as I was returning from lunch. Of course, I couldn't wait until I got home before I opened the package to see the condition of these two records. They are not new but purchased from the vibrant second-hand market in KL.

Well what can I say about this album that I've not said before? It's so quintessentially hippy culture at its most expressive, put into song and words. The singing may not be all that great - there are better covers by other artistes - but nevertheless, it's a message of peace and love. It was in this record that I heard about every sexual practice possible, inter-racial conflict and romance, and of trying to come to terms with the daily ironies of life. I had seen this album on sale at Hinsons in the 1970s but failed to pick it up. But at least, I have it now.

The second album is also a blast from the past. Infectious music but they have such strong religious undertones. Very few non-Christians will bother themselves with the album or its music but let me just say to my fellow non-Christians that we can also choose to be open-minded and simply enjoy the music. That's what I did with Godspell.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Yet more BM Hill tidak apathy

Way back in September, I was bemoaning that the Penang state forestry department was not doing anything to improve the condition at the BM Hill forest park. At that time, I wrote:
"The Penang state forestry department is just not doing their work. Nobody at the department seems to give two hoots about the environment or its conservation. Irresponsible, that's what the people in the department and their workers are."
Today, almost three months later, despite some promises that the matter would be looked into, the soil erosion along the track up the hill has not been arrested. In fact, I would say that it has only become worse. It's good providence that no untoward incident has happened yet but it is still an accident that's waiting to happen.

But of course, nobody at the Penang state forestry department cares. They'd rather sit pretty in their nice air-conditioned offices at the Komtar tower or at the ranger's office at the foothill and go up the BM Hill's tarmac road in their nice comfy cars or on motorcycles.

Who cares about the hill track, right? It's only dirt and earth. Who cares about lives being injured or property being lost, right? After all, we're not talking about Bukit Antarabangsa here, we're only referring to a small area of an undeveloped clump of earth passing off as a hill.

(This photograph was taken at the beginning of Dec 2008)

The first Malaysian schools' sports council's chess championship

Chess in the schools only started taking off in 1972. With chess now accepted into the Malaysian schools sports calendar, we had for the very first time various state education departments pushing for state-level chess competitions among the schools. It culminated at the end of the year with the national-level chess competition. Penang seemed to be the most prepared to host the inaugural event and this report appeared in The Straits Echo on 17 December 1972 (exactly 36 years today):


PENANG, Sat - The Malaysian Schools Sports Council will hold its first national students team chess championships at the Dewan Sri Pinang from Dec 28 to 30.

It is being held here to coincide with the Pesta Celebrations and will be officially declared open by the Minister of Education, Dato Hussein Onn at 3pm on Dec 28.

Following the opening a chess display of an internationally well known match will be held by pupils of the Han Chiang Primary School on a board 32 feet square. The pupils will be dressed as chess pieces.

Ten States will be taking part in the championships and they are divided into three groups for the preliminary rounds which will be on the league system.

The winner of each group will qualify for the final rounds also on the league system for the first three places.

The runners-up of each group will then play a round robin for the fourth, fifth and sixth places.

The groups are: 'A' - Selangor, Trengganu, Perlis, 'B' - Negri Sembilan, Perak, Kedah, Pahang, 'C' - Kelantan, Johore and Penang.

The teams are Selangor: Wahid Karim, Woo Beng Keong, Lee Yee Meng, Peter Wong - Manager: Rene Cheang

Trengganu: Phua Chuan Seng, Chan Chong Leong, Mohd Noor Harun, Tan Boon Tat - Manager: Lim Chin Eng

Perlis: Annuar Abdullah, Abdul Razak Abdullah, Kamaruddin Kasa, Mohd - Manager: Akil Ali

Negri Sembilan: Chuah Poh Soon, Wong Chee Foo, Lew Wing Kwong, Au Leck Chai - Manager: Lee Thean Hoe

Perak: Liew Yoong Wah, Chuah Han Leong, Phan Leong Kim, Thye Fook Keong - Manager: Tan Chong Wah

Kedah: Ong Boon Keat, Lim Ee Seng, Lim Soon Keat, Asit Chatterjee - Manager: Tan Kok Huat

Pahang: Ng Kam Weng, Goh Ching Woo, Thong Thiam Seng, Abdul Rashid Hassan - Manager: Abdul Rahman Sabri Hamid

Kelantan: Bakhtiar Md Fakruddin, Ahmad Raddi Ahmad, Wee Tiong Keow, Wan Ismail Wan Yusoff - Manager: Rawi Abdul Rahman

Johore: Jamaluddin Hashim, Lee Boon Kwang, Tan Hai Hong, Tan Sung Hee - Manager: Tan Seng Hui

Penang: Quah Seng Sun, Low Khea Wah, Yeo Khee Huat, Lee Teik Leong - Manager: Gong Wooi Mau

Competition chairman Mr Fang Ewe Churh, Headmaster of the Han Chiang Primary School here, stated that during the championships an exhibition of photographs taken by him at the 26th Chess Olympiad for men and the Fifth Chess Olympiad for women in Skopje, Yugoslavia, would be held.

Mr Fang, who captained the Malaysian team there, also took several slides of the championships and these would be shown as well.

The chess championship will end on the evening of Dec 30 when prizes will be given away by Mrs Tan Teik Beng, wife of the Chief Education Officer, Penang, at a closing ceremony.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

New Malaysia: What about SXI, CLS and PFS?

Wong Chun Wai, seems to have stirred up a small hornet's nest by questioning why illustrious old schools like St Xavier's Institution, Convent Light Street, Chung Ling High School and Penang Free School were not featured on the latest stamps issued by Pos Malaysia.

I don't want to wade into the issue but I'd like to show here the singular honour given to my alma mater when she celebrated her sesquicentenary (150 years) way back on 21 Oct 1966.

Of course, I can afford to feel indifferent over the whole matter since my alma mater had already been featured on the stamps but I share the indignation of others who felt that their old equally illustrious schools should appear on the stamps too. Passion can indeed run very deep when one talks about one's own alma mater.

I'm looking forward to the school's bicentenary on 21 Oct 2016. That's just eight years away. I do hope there'll be another First Day Cover for the occasion.

Bridge traffic congestion? An over-exaggeration...

I think it was an over-exaggeration when the newspapers reported of heavy congestion on the Penang Bridge yesterday during the trial run of the tidal flow system there.

When I passed through the the toll plaza yesterday morning at about 8.15am, I actually found the traffic flow to be rather smooth before reaching the toll plaza. Nothing out of the ordinary. Cars were queuing up to pay the toll but that was normal. And it's true that there were traffic controllers at hand to halt traffic about 300 metres from the toll plaza and then allowing the vehicles onto the bridge in batches but there were no sign of vehicular queues that stretched for 2km from the directions of Seberang Jaya or Juru.

So okay, maybe the blardy system did not work upon it's implementation at 7.30am yesterday. Maybe there was some chaos at the start. Perhaps there was a lack of communication between the traffic controllers and policement. But by the time I used the bridge, I didn't see "thousands of users...caught in the morning rush hour."

BTW, this morning, there was no sign of the tidal flow system. I didn't see any traffic controller. I didn't see any vehicle queuing before or after the toll plaza. In fact, all I saw were some policemen booking an errant driver. That was all...

Crude price up, pump price down

Somebody better explain this to me quick. I see the price of crude oil rising to almost USD50 per barrel but our federal government just announced a 10 sen reduction per litre at the pump. Why? I must be missing something but what?

I'm not complaining but if I were you, I'll go out to the petrol stations and fill up my car's tank to the fullest before the government wises up and raises the petrol prices. Seems that they are trying to tell us that (1) our pump prices need not follow the natural laws of economics or (2) there's a by-election coming up soon or (3) they do not follow the world news.

I think its the third reason. Our federal garmint fellas read only the weekly digest of the world news. Or maybe it's the second reason. Our federal garmint fellas think the quickest way to win voters' hearts is to through their pockets, so they reduce the petrol prices. But then, it could be the first reason too. Our federal garmint fellas still think it is Malaysia Boleh today and forever!

So I really think somebody had better explain Malaysianomics to me real quick before I flunk my Economics 101.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Renewing old chess ties

A confession. I've almost forgotten how much fun a chess tournament can be especially when your objective is not to win the top prizes but just to play for fun and the participation. That's how I had approached this year's Penang Chess League with nothing more in mind than to take part and renewing acquaintanceship with chess players that I've known since long ago.

I'm sorely out of touch with many of the impressionable young men who have grown into their careers and have become family men. Hearing them telling me what they've been up to in the last five to seven years filled me with an almost indescribable satisfaction. James, for example, is now a medical officer. I remember him as a small boy from the St Xavier's Institution. His father and I were colleagues in the now defunct Ban Hin Lee Bank. Others told me that they were working at Intel, Altera, Dell, Prudential or any of the big named companies in Penang. They hadn't forgotten their chess roots and they had all come back to play chess.

Another confession. I'm rusty. I played three games on the first day of the competition. The first was an easy win. My opponent did not see the checkmate coming. Then I lost the second game to a cheapo trick. Okay, I admit that I shouldn't have played the way I did but having more or less extricated myself from the mess I put myself into, I walked right into a fork. And in the third game, I wasn't in the proper frame of mind when I agreed to a draw with my opponent desperately short of time. That's chess. But at least today, I managed to win both the games I was involved in: a positional constriction in the fourth game and a patiently dull dull dull endgame in the fifth one. So overall, three wins, one draw and one loss. Not too bad for a rusty old chess rascal. Could have been worse, like my other team-mates commented.

When I arrived at the tournament venue today, I noticed this group of people all milling at one corner of the playing room. One was even perched on a chair as he attempted to peer over the shoulders of others who were taller or beefier than him. What was going on? The answer: a critical game between Filipino grandmaster Bong Villamayor (WHH Seniors) and Ronnie Lim (OFA A). Tense affair but Ronnie soon ran out of options. But it's excitement was infectious, judging from the crowd around the game.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

CD vs Vinyl Record audio comparison using Joni Mitchell material

Lately, my friend Eric has been urging me to re-listen to Hits, a sort of "Best Of" compilation of Joni Mitchell's songs on compact disc. In particular, he was asking me to give her track California a good listen. Well, I took his suggestion early this morning and I must say that my breath was taken away by the sharpness and crispness in her voice. I put this track on repeat mode and I think the player must have played it five or six times.

In the meantime, I was curious enough to rummage through my vinyl record collection for The World of Joni Mitchell. This album is practically as good as a Greatest Hits collection since it contained very familiar titles like Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock, Both Sides Now, The Circle Game and of course, California.

So I did a little experiment. I tried a direct comparison of the common tracks that appeared on both Joni Mitchell's CD and record. My verdict: the vinyl record versions have better warmth and they had more punch in the bass. The songs on the vinyl came over as more natural. (Note: This is not unique. I'd also noticed it before with Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water: better bass from the vinyl record. Is that the way analog music originally sounded before it got digitised?)


I'll be heading to the Dewan Sri Pinang in George Town in a few hours time for a chess tournament - the so-called Penang Chess League - but before I do, here's a snapshot of a dragonfly on one of my plants during yesterday's twilight. Taken with the in-built flash unit on my Dimage Z5.

Friday, 12 December 2008

A short story: A tailor and his needle

I'd like to share an old short story with you.

A tailor was at work. He took a piece of cloth and with a pair of shining, costly scissors, he cut the cloth into various bits. Then he put the pair of scissors at his feet.

Next, he took a small needle and thread and started to sew the bits of cloth into a fine shirt. When the spell of sewing was over, he stuck the needle on to his turban.

The tailor's son, who was watching him, asked: "Father, the scissors are costly and look so beautiful but you throw them down at your feet. This needle is worth almost nothing. You can get a dozen for an Anna (*) and yet, you place it carefully on your head. Is there any reason for this illogical behaviour?"

"Yes, my son," the tailor replied. "The scissors have their function, no doubt, but they only cut the cloth into bits. The needle, on the contrary, unites the bits and enhances the value of the cloth. Therefore, the needle to me is more precious and valuable. The value of a thing depends on its utility, son, not on its cost price or appearance."

Similarly, there are two classes of people in the world: those who create dissensions and disharmony and who separate man from man, and those who bring about peace and harmony and who unite people.

[* An Anna is an old monetary unit used in Burma, India and Pakistan. It's worth about 1/16th of a modern Indian rupee.]

Thursday, 11 December 2008

An admission of failure

If nothing else, this is as much an open admission that the ban on heavy vehicles using the Penang Bridge at peak hours - two hours in the mornings and two more hours in the afternoons - is not working well. The ban is not producing the desired effect.

Congestion sets in every morning immediately after paying the bridge toll when multiple lanes all converge into two lanes at the start of the bridge. Moreover, the second toll plaza building is just a GREAT deception. Where do you think traffic flow to after paying the toll? A miraculous short-cut to the bridge? No! Drivers that use this plaza find that it is a double whammy. The traffic flow immediately narrows into two lanes - and you are competing with lorries here - which then flow join into the main bottleneck. Such a sheer waste of money to construct it. The bottleneck area is what motorists have to endure most mornings and afternoons.

Moreover, the situation is never lightened as immediately at 8.30am, all the lorries, trailers and other heavy vehicles are let loose on the bridge. I'm alarmed when I see lorry drivers trying to outdo one another by overtaking the slower ones. When two heavy vehicles race side by side on the two available lanes, one can only hope that they will not collide and block off the bridge totally. It would be a disaster.

Iomega zip drive

Remember the Iomega zip drive? It was sometime in the mid-1990s that I bought my first and only Iomega zip drive. At that time, the zip drive was causing a big buzz among computer users because at long last, a company with the correct vision had come out with a portable high capacity disk that had a lot of potential to replace the ubiquitous 1.44Mb floppy disk. The first generation Iomega zip drive came with a 100Mb zip disk. Wow, a zip disk of this size meant that I could transfer about 70 pieces of my floppy disks and then throw them away. The only drawback I could see at that time was to carry the zip drive everywhere I went but hey, it wasn't such a big deal and besides, it looked cool to show off the gadget.

However, after about a year of use, the drive developed problems. At first, it struggled to read its own disks and then one day, it died. Completely. I felt devastated, even cheated by the technology failure. It was the one and only Iomega zip drive I ever bought. I never replaced it. My data on the zip disks? I had it copied out somewhere else to CDs.

Of course, Iomega went on to make bigger capacity drives and storage devices. But I couldn't be bothered anymore. In Penang where they had a factory, the company underwent a restructure and became known as Venture Electronics Services. Today, in the newspapers, it is reported that the company has retrenched 70 management staff, including six managers, due to the global economic downturn. Sad.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Penang food hunt 2008

Yesterday was another busy day for me. Late for the closing ceremony of the Penang Food Hunt 2008 because I over-slept. But it was a good night's sleep after being dead tired on Saturday. Most of the sponsors and partners were already there when I arrived and the closing was well on its way. Dominic was just starting out to explain the answers to the participants and everyone were having a good laugh over their silly inventiveness and imagination.

I was called to give away some of the prizes but unfortunately, my camera's settings were wrong and the photos ended up all blurry. No way that I could rescue any of them so I think there's no choice but just to include small thumbnail sizes of these photos here. Evidence of my own ineptitude.

But here is a photo of the sponsors and partners together with the winning team. I've no idea who they are or where they are from but it was remarkable that they solved all the Penang Food Hunt questions correctly! Some of the guys in the photo: Calvin (Shell), Timothy (Penang Heritage Trust). Clarence (New World Park), Toong (Digi), Jeffrey (SACM - you go figure!), my old friend and chief organiser Siang Jin (Rasarasa/Food Sense) and Freddie (theSun).

Yes, it was a fun occasion even though I didn't take part, and I even met more old friends from among the competitors too, among them being Goh Teck Koon (he came all the way from KL), Stephen Chin, Liong Chian Min and Philip Yeoh.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Bukit Antarabangsa landslide


Tragedy struck the Bukit Antarabangsa area in Kuala Lumpur early yesterday morning. Four people died in this massive landslide and at least one person is still missing, according to The Star.

Why should landslides like this keep on happening in the country? Nobody seems to have learnt the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy in 1993, and that was just 1.5km from this present one. We still have both developers and governments continuing to play roulette with people's lives. Why are they still taking calculated risks against nature? Do they think they can win? Unlike people, nature has lots of patience. The developers are greedy and the government authorites irresponsible. No amount of posturing will bring these victims back. There's already too much destruction of nature around us. And the way hillside developments are also going on on Penang island, we have better WAKE UP to the possibilities of similar tragedies happening here too.

Penang Food Hunt weekend

Boy, was I bushed yesterday. Woke up early to go to the island where I had a breakfast appointment with my cousins from Johor Bahru. They had arrived the day before to deposit their dad's ashes at the Batu Gantung columbarium and they were wondering where to place his memorial tablet next. So had a discussion with them here. Anyway, hadn't seen them for a very long time, so it was good to catch up with them although not under happy circumstances.

Next...a trip to the Paradise Sandy Beach Hotel in Tanjung Bungah where I helped to flag off some cars in the Penang Food Hunt 2008. Would have participated in it but this would be a very crammed weekend. Originally, only my brother-in-law from Singapore was supposed to be back visiting the folks in Penang - that would already have taken up my time - but with my JB cousins making an unscheduled trip here too, it was well nigh impossible to take part in the treasure hunt. Even my colleagues in the office failed to form a team in my absence (why was nobody interested except for one?) so we pulled out at the last minute. Sad.

But I felt that I had to be there at the start of the event. Wouldn't have been right to be absent when the company is one of the web partners. Almost a hundred teams again and with a sea of red filling the hotel's ballroom, the whole place was brimming with Chi energy. I sat through about half an hour of the explanations before it was time for us to flag off the Hunt. Anyway, met a few friends and made a new one here!