Thursday, 30 April 2009

UNESCO team in George Town to check on hotel approvals

Looks like it's crunch time. Over the past days, a team of people from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre have been making their rounds in George Town for a crucial evaluation of four high-rise hotels coming up in the heritage zone and, by extension, our world cultural heritage status.

Seems that the four approved hotel projects would exceed the maximum height of 18 metres required for buildings in UNESCO world cultural heritage core and buffer zones. How approvals had been given to the four hotels when Penang was in the midst of applying for UNESCO world cultural heritage listing for George Town remained a puzzle. A classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. Or maybe there was more to it? But surely, the authorities would have been aware of the heritage guidelines a long time ago. Work had started on some of the sites and it may be impossible to ask them to stop and go back to their drawing boards.

Much will depend on the talks between the UNESCO people, the state government and the hotel developers.

The controversy had erupted last November. Of the four hotels, the Rice Miller boutique hotel in Weld Quay, the Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel in Downing Street and the E&O Hotel extension in Farquhar Street - were approved by the previous state administration. The fourth approval was given by the present state government to the Low Yat Group for their hotel in Northam Road just days before UNESCO approved the joint world cultural heritage listing for George Town and Malacca.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Malaysia's swine flu secret

Of course in Bolehland, there's nothing like an excessive dose of the Malaysia Boleh spirit to set my incredulous eyes rolling!

On a long-drawn day when several countries around the world began confirming that they have been hit by swine flu and, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), experts were working on a vaccine but said it could take five or six months to develop, our very own Veterinary Services director-general, Dr Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin, has stepped forth to say that Malaysia already has the vaccine for swine flu.

I don't know whether or not this guy is on the same wavelength as the WHO. Here we are worrying about transmission of swine flu from human to human and the absence of a vaccination against swine flu, and this guy goes off to say that he has the vaccine for pigs.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Ground-shaking silence

Strange. It's baffling to me why the English language newspapers in the country had failed to carry a news-worthy story such as this one.

Last Friday at about 11.15pm, a huge explosion rocked Butterworth town in Province Wellesley. According to the Chinese press, the explosion was caused by leakage from gas tanks in a shophouse. Colleagues told me that there was speculation that these could be illegally-filled gas tanks.

The ground-shaking explosion was felt some three to five kilometres away. Fire razed through the row of shophouses. Nearby shoplots had their windows shattered and rooftops blown away. It was much like a war zone. To see some pictures of the destruction, click here.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Player of the year 2009

"I've been fortunate to win a lot of trophies in my career. I won the young players' award but this is the big one. It's right up there with personal accolades - it's the best to have as it's voted by your fellow players. A lot of credit must go to the manager. He's been massive in my career, I first met him at 13 years old. He knows me better than anyone and our relationship has been brilliant, it keeps getting better. There's a big thank you to the manager who has supported me and improved my game. I don't think about what would have happened if I hadn't gone to Manchester United. I've been so fortunate to have such a good career and play with so many great players."

Abdulla 37

After I had written on Friday about the Good Old Days last week, I had friends and colleagues wanting to know more about those two infamous ladies of entertainment, Rose Chan and Abdullah 37.

Some wanted to know whether or not I really had the photo. They wanted to see Rose Chan in her full glory. I would very much like to but I don't think I should. Not now, anyway. As for Abdullah 37, I have even less information about her. I tried a Google search but always, it came out blank. Nobody of our generation remembers her. She's history, consigned to a small footnote in the darker side of Penang's glorious past.

Nevertheless, I managed to dig out something extra: the brand of cigarettes that she had been named after was actually spelt as Abdulla 37.

I even found a picture of an ashtray bearing this name. Abdulla 37 was only one of several brands made by the cigarette specialist company, Abdulla & Co Ltd, of Bond Street, London.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Sampans in George Town, circa 1968

I'm really in a reminiscence mood! This is an old picture of sampans at the old George Town waterfront, taken from the Church Street pier. It probably dated back to 1968 or so. Those two buildings in the distance are still standing but the one in the centre is in a terrible state of disrepair. To the left of the clump of trees is the Customs building.

In the background, the double-storey building on the right is today the Wisma Yeap Chor Ee. At that time, the huge roof-top neon sign for Ban Hin Lee Bank had still not been erected yet. That appeared only in the second half of the 1970s. "Your needs ... our concern", that was Ban Hin Lee Bank's famous motto: a small neighbourhood bank that placed the customers first before anything else. Later, that advertisement was to become a welcomed sight for people crossing the channel, especially in the evenings. You either watched it loom large before you as the ferry neared the Raja Tun Uda Pier or watched it recede away as the ferry moved away towards the Sultan Abdul Halim Pier in Butterworth. The green building in the centre also still stands today.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Really, they were the Good Old Days

Two nights ago, I was with some friends and we were enjoying a bit of a nostalgic yak about the good old days in George Town. Long before KOMTAR was conceived and built, this part of the city was a thriving entertainment and transportation hub from the 1960s to the 1970s. Maybe, even earlier.

Where the Prangin Mall is now located, there used to be an entertainment centre known as the Great World Park. Together with the New World Park in Swatow Lane, they were George Town's two main centres for entertainment. There were a number of amusement arcades, cabaret joints and gambling dens but obviously being too young to understand more about them, our recollection was rather poor.

But the legendary Rose Chan must have performed here often. There was mention of another rather notorious lady known as Abdullah 37, named after a brand of cigarettes, and she used to be transported around on a trishaw. She was an entertainer of another inclination.

We tried to recall the cinemas that used to exist at the Great World Park and its vicinity. There were quite a lot of cinemas in those days. The Capitol cinema, the Paramount cinema, the Royal cinema, the Central cinema and the Eastern cinema. Possibly another one called Ambassador. At the New World Park, there were the Lido and the Globe, the latter being a semi-open cinema.

Then, of course, there were the Cathay cinema and the Odeon cinema in Penang Road, the Rex cinema in Burmah Road, the Federal cinema and the Star cinema in Dato Kramat Road, the Gala cinema in Aboo Sittee Lane, the Majestic cinema in Phee Choon Road, the Sun cinema in Drury Lane off Campbell Street, the Metro cinema in Perak Road, the Wembly cinema in Noordin Street, the Kok Pin cinema and the Choong Nam cinema in Ayer Itam and the Movieland cinema in Leith Street.

There were also two Chinese schools near the Great World Park: the Li Tek School and the Confucius School. Both relocated elsewhere.

Maxwell Road, Gladstone Road and the Magazine Circus no longer exist. Gladstone Road had once cut right across the present-day KOMTAR complex from the Magazine Circus to Sia Boey. Maxwell Road ran parallel to Prangin Road, and the bus companies that had their termini here were the Lim Seng Seng Bus (green), Penang Yellow Bus (yellow) and Hin Bus (blue). They had very specific routes: the green buses went to Ayer Itam, the blue buses went along the north coastal road to Teluk Bahang, and the yellow buses took the southern route to Bayan Lepas, Balik Pulau and northwards to Teluk Bahang. By taking a combination of the blue and yellow buses, it was possible to go around the island. Someone also mentioned about the Sri Negara Bus. The George Town City Council itself ran its own bus services all over the island.

Ahh...those good old days!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Monkey testicles

Oops! There's suggestion of some monkey business going on in the Premiership game between Liverpool and Arsenal yesterday morning.

The online version of the Daily Telegraph wondered how Andrei Arshavin had managed to score four goals against Liverpool.

"Well, judging by the history books, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that the Russian may have injected himself with monkey testicles," the story claimed.

Fascinated? Well, then you should click here to read the whole story.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Big tree at BM Hill

I was inspired enough to take a photograph of this impressive tree along the popular track up the Bukit Mertajam hill at Ceruk To'Kun last Friday. See how the buttress roots compare with the people walking beside the tree. Unfortunately, the picture's quality wasn't good because I was using my mobile's in-built camera. Possibly, there are larger trees around but if there are, they are not within easy view of the public. The stream flows on the other side of the tree and up ahead is the repaired concrete walkway over the stream that I've often talked about.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Stephen Hawking "doing well"

I came home this evening to read that Stephen Hawking is expected to make a full recovery from a respiratory infection that had landed him in hospital and raised alarm around the world from people who are familiar with his work.

"He is being treated very satisfactorily," his first wife, Jane Hawking, said. "I have been to see him at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and he's fine. He's doing well and I don't think his condition is life-threatening."

Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. He is as famous for his studies into the black holes of space as for being the world's most well-known sufferer from motor neurone disease. Meanwhile, his website has been receiving unprecedented visits and been reduced to a minimalist look.

Football perks

Now I know why our Malaysian footballers suffer on the big stage. They have been disadvantaged by the lack of suitable nutrition.

Seeing where Malaysian football stands now, the Football Association of Malaysia will have nothing much to lose if they were to emulate the Bolivians. If it works, no problem...they will improve on their standing in the eyes of the general public. If it doesn't work, no problem too...they will also improve on their standing but in the eyes of their wives or girlfriends. Either way, it is still a good deal for the Malaysian national footballers.

Stephen Hawking "very ill"

I've just read from the Net early this morning that renowned scientist Stephen W Hawking has been rushed to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. He's reportedly "very ill" from a chest infection. However more information is not forthcoming and all that is revealed at this stage is that the 67-year-old Hawking, who has motor neurone disease, had "been unwell for a couple of weeks".

Professor Hawking is famous for his book, "A Brief History Of Time" which studies the basic laws that govern the universe.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Blame game

I was caught in a traffic jam in Bukit Mertajam last Tuesday morning. I remember commenting to a colleague that it was a shitty morning. As I drove along Jalan Permatang Rawa, the reason for the jam became clear enough. People were slowing down to gawk at what used to be a row of six plank-walled shophouses. They had been razed to the ground in a big pre-dawn blaze at 3am.

I've to admit that I also contributed to the jam because I too slowed down my driving sufficiently to capture these pictures: the aftermath of the blaze.

Right after the blaze, finger-pointing soon emerged. Some were pointed at the Fire and Rescue Department. They said that the firemen were forced to use water from a single hydrant quite a distance away from the blaze. It was also said that water was pumped from the drain and also, the firemen had allowed the fire to die down on its own. Fingers were also pointed at the Penang Water Supply Coroporation for the low water pressure at the time of the blaze. Today, it emerged that the water pressure was high enough and it fact, it was claimed that the water could shoot up to about 50 feet in the air on its own.

On Friday, the Penang government came out saying the responsibility laid squarely with the Local Government and Housing Ministry. Years ago, said Penang state exco member Lim Hock Seng, RM8 million had been allotted to fix all damaged hydrants. "It has been years but some hydrants are still not repaired," he said and pointed out that a hydrant nearer to the site of the blaze had been vandalised and thus, not functioning. "Hydrant maintenance is the responsibility of the Fire and Rescue Department under this Ministry. Where has the money gone to?" he asked.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Grumbling mood

My aunt's in her grumbling mood again and there's good reason for it. Remember that one, singular tecoma tree outside our house? It was blooming about a month ago. After that, I could see the seed pods. For the past few days, the pods have burst to scatter the seeds to the wind. Most just drop down to the ground and she has been sweeping them away from the drive way. But no sooner had she cleared them than the next wave drops from the tree. So, she has to sweep again. She grumbles to me that it is a never-ending task twice or thrice a year. First she has to sweep away the dropped leaves, then she has to sweep away the dropped flowers, and now she has to sweep away the seeds. Below: her dustpan filled with tecoma seeds.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

When one's scared of losing...

... excuses start to come in. First of all, he said this: "Too much effort and resources are being wasted when the nation should be concentrating on strengthening the economy." [My take on this: Strengthening of the economy should have been done months ago instead of denying that we would be affected.]

Then, he went on to say that the country does not need another by-election:"Too much time and energy and ringgit are being spent on by-elections that are actually unnecessary." {My take on this: "unnecessary" from whose point of view?]

And finally, he hinted at skipping Penanti: "Don't know yet (whether we opt out or not). We will look first, but I don't rule out any possibility. I will raise the matter at the next Umno supreme council meeting. If I don't have the time, I will bring it up to the political bureau, and discuss with the BN component party presidents." [My take on this: Oh will be the first time that the BN boycotts a by-election.]

Personally, I think he's scared shitless of losing again. I wouldn't be surprised if the Elections Committee takes the cue from all these open hints and chose not to accept the resignation letter of Fairus next week, just like the EC refused to accept the resignations of those three turncoat buggers (okay, two buggers and one buggerette - "buggerette": is there such a word?) from Perak.

Strange stranger strangest

I just want to share some amusing pictures that I saw recently. They are good as a pep-me-up!

An openly blatant sign in Turkey. Yes, how genuine can fake watches be?

Seems that any reason is a good enough reason in this American town!

Antiques made to order? Makes me wonder whether people are so gullible!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Fog the foggers

No, this is not a scene from a war movie. This picture was taken in my neighbourhood last week. The Province Wellesley Municipal Council was fogging the whole neighbourhood in an attempt to kill mosquitoes and their larvae. I was standing outside my house as the workers walked nearer and nearer...

Thursday, 16 April 2009

(The ballad of) Clement Freud

I spent hours of my youth enjoying Clement Freud (that's him in the picture, standing on the left, with Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams, while seated in front were Ian Messiter (left) and Nicholas Parsons). He was a politician, a cookery expert, a press columnist, a businessman, a gambler but above all, he was a marvellous radio game show contestant. That's how I got to be acquainted with the deadpan wit of Clement Freud, through a BBC radio game show called Just A Minute.

I first heard this half-hour radio programme over the local radio (a re-broadcast, of course) and got so addicted to it until I had to tune in to the BBC World Service to listen to the programme when the local radio service no longer carried it.

It was an addiction that lasted for several years until I grew out of it. Part of the addiction arose because of Williams and the other part was because of Freud. He owned a deep, mournful voice and from the way he intoned his lines, you'd have thought that there was a tragedy in the family.

Anyway, Clement Freud died yesterday at his home, on 15 April 2009, nine days short of his 85th birthday. He was the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud but he never lived in his grandfather's shadow. He was born in Berlin or Austria but his family later fled to Britain to escape from Nazi Germany.

In February last year, he wrote in The Times newspaper:

"Last week, 58 years, five children and 16 grandchildren later, my first wife (we remain together, I call her “my first wife” to keep her on her toes) asked whether I had made a will. Not for a while, I admitted, and determined to do it all over again. So, January 2008. Sound mind. Last will and testament; our Portuguese Maria to be the witness.

"Things have changed, the way they do. My fortune has increased. I lost Sigmund's night-shirts and the heavy leather luggage, but have quite a lot of wine, the odd painting, a letter from Margaret Thatcher and a picture of me with Muhammad Ali. I took my children around our flat in turns to glean who wanted to have what when we died. They all wanted all the wine, my wife's desk, my collection of cookery books and the same picture, so that will be no trouble. When it came to money, all are hugely well heeled and what I leave, especially a fifth share of what I leave, is likely to be an embarrassment: what they tip the milkman at Christmas."

Finally, here a little anecdote about him from today's edition of The Times: "... he set up a restaurant and club on the top floor of the Royal Court Theatre in central London. The club did well, and is reputed to have given cabaret work to various unknowns including Dudley Moore and Rolf Harris. Freud claimed to have suggested the line: "Hold my platypus duck, Bill" to Harris, for the song Tie Me Kangaroo Down which went on to be his first hit."

Warning, amaran

No comment...

Penang-Singapore air route opening up

I read yesterday that the air route between Penang and Singapore will be filled with more traffic very soon. Starting 1 Jun 2009, more airlines will be connecting the two premier island cities in this part of the world. Now, what could be more exciting than that, other than the 3-2 aggregate win that Manchester United had carved from Porto early this morning?

According to a statement by Singapore's Ministry of Transport, their carriers will have increased traffic rights to operate a total of 70 services a week to Penang. Currently, Singapore carriers operate only 18 miserable weekly services to Penang.

On the Malaysian side, the main beneficiary of this decision will be AirAsia but I suppose Malaysia Airlines will also want their share of the pie. I saw this little piece of news in The Star print version but could not find it online. So there you have it...AirAsia will fly from here to Changi airport twice daily from 1 Jun 2009 too.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Mongolian rice

Whenever my colleagues and I go to the food court at Sunshine Square, the chances are very good that one of us will settle for this plate of food comprising a bowl of rice drenched with an unknown sauce, a fried egg, a dollop of vegetables and a choice between fried chicken or fried fish generously topped with the stall's signature sauces.

With tongue-in-cheek, many people don't refer to it by its rightful name, Mongolian Rice. Nope, nobody also calls it after Altantuya, the poor girl who was murdered and then blown up with C4 stuffed in her mouth. That would be so dishonourable. So what is it called then? I shall leave it to your imagination. First one to get it right can come and see me. I'll belanja you a plate of it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Penang's super-efficient coastal highway

Every time I cross the Penang Bridge and turn south to Bayan Baru, I get confused. Am I travelling on the "new" so-called coastal highway or am I on a country road? Refer to it as a country road and I'm wrong. Refer to it as a highway and I'm also wrong. A "new" highway -- or even an "old" highway -- should offer a smooth ride from one end of the highway to the other. It should provide the driver with a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Not the so-called coastal highway which leads from the island side of the Penang Bridge down past the Queensbay Mall to Bayan Baru and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone to the Penang International Airport. These are the important landmarks on the island which are served by one common artery, which is the so-called coastal highway.

I consider the so-called coastal highway as a great embarassment to Penang. Smooth ride? No, it is as rough as the Rough Rider. The whole stretch of the road is so uneven that every day, I am subjected to a bone-rattling experience. I would think a roller-coaster ride would be smoother by comparison. My car bounces whenever it has to negotiate the bumps which have been on the road for years without any authority taking responsibility for its upkeep.

We have manufacturers that transport their goods to their factories, we have foreign corporate figures who come visiting, we have tourists and dignitaries who travel between the airport and the city or the beaches ... and inevitably, they all use this so-called coastal highway. I wouldn't be surprised if, from their experience on this road, they get the impression that Penang's infrastructure is non-existent. It may not be non-existent but it is certainly very poor and in very bad condition. Some authority must take responsibility for the road and make the decision to repair it now. As tax payers, we request nothing less.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Cameron Highlands meals

This is the last of my travelogue on Cameron Highlands. This place is not known as a food paradise but it is still possible to find nice meals there. Of course, breakfast was partaken at the Century Pines Resort & Hotel where we stayed but for our other meals, we took them at various places in Tanah Rata and Brinchang.

On the day we arrived, lunch was at a cosy place called Downtown Cafe. Food was agreeable with my family but the dish we liked best was fried koay teow with venison meat and ginger slices. There's plenty of free WiFi in Cameron Highlands and the Downtown Cafe is one of them.

Dinner was at Brinchang. We would have preferred to take anything but steamboat, but could not succumb to the temptation. When the food came, we were a little disappointed to see lots of vegetables hidden beneath the miserable chunks of meat and fishballs. But surprisingly, the vegetables were good. And after we had cracked the eggs into the steamboat soup and added in the beehoon, it seemed like a feast. Here's a little secret: ask the restaurant to give you some freshly fried garlic in garlic oil. That dash of garlic oil really enhanced our steamboat beehoon soup experience.

And finally on the day we left Cameron Highlands, we decided to revisit the T-Cafe for lunch. I guess we ordered too much from the menu because the meals never seemed to finish coming. Our favourites: the T-Cafe scones served with butter, fresh cream and homemade strawberry jam. Another little secret: the T-Cafe doesn't have any WiFi service but don't let it discourage you from stealing the free WiFi signals emanating from the Merry Brown outlet directly below the T-Cafe.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Finally, repaired!

Anyone going up the Bukit Mertajam hill lately would not have failed to notice the subtle changes to the area. I've written before about the authorities finally removing the eyesore of the broken bridge at the foothills. It was an unwanted landmark: a bridge that spanned nothing, a bridge that was broken, and a bridge that has now been torn down. Thank goodness for that.

But I've long griped about the erosion at the foothills too. Anyone taking a walk up the hill track would have noticed the soil erosion. It was so clear that only a blind man could miss it, because the track would take a person directly to the concrete pathway.

See that wooden beam in the picture? Previously there was a concrete slab but it collapsed more than a year ago. Water had eroded the soil beneath the slab and it finally gave way way back in January 2008. Every time I passed this place, I had been taking snapshots to put in this blog in the hope that somehow, some day, someone will take notice of the situation and take quick action. Of course, for a long while, nothing happened.

Then on Friday, when I went up the hill, I thought there was something a little different about this area. As usual, I did take a photo but I was distracted by the swollen stream. If I had been more observant, I would have seen that finally, the authorities have done something!

There's a new concrete slab in place and it has been nicely cemented up. No more doing a small detour around the old hole. So all my months of complaints have paid off. Someone in the Penang government finally sat up, oiled the wheels and put them into motion and actually did something for the local community. I'm not going to mention names but I've got to give them my heartfelt thanks, even though it's for a simple job that took 15 months to complete...

Back door man

Whenever I think about the new Minister of Unity and Performance, I am reminded of Robert Plant singing the following lines from Led Zeppelin's second album:

"Shake for me, girl
I only want to be your back door man"

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Cirrhopetalum (2)

I took more photos of the cirrhopetalum orchid this morning because there's so much beauty in the orderly arrangement of nature. The flowers are now fuller, having opened a bit more since last night. I can see more of the creamy petals when I look down at the bunch from the top. Even then, this array is only slightly bigger than a 20 cent coin.

This is a more common view, as seen from the side. Nothing very spectacular unless I'm seeing it for the first time. I can almost peer into the flower.

And I consider this a very unique view. Having seen the flowers from the top and the side, I wondered how it would look from the bottom. I turned the plant on its side and aimed the camera upwards into the array. Interesting, there's no break in the concentric ring of individual flowers.

Finally, this is a real close-up look. The flowers are so small, yet the detail was breath-taking. My lens was no more than one centimetre away from it. I had to be careful not to allow the flowers' secretion smear the lens.


I believe that I may have waited for more than a year to capture this scene. Everything gelled together: the full moon low in the sky, the reflection in the water, myself going to work at 6am on a Friday, crossing the Penang Bridge at the right moment and a place to stop the car momentarily at a stretch of the bridge's unopened third lane. This was the best shot from about eight or nine pictures that I took - the rest were blurred from the long shutter speed (2.5 seconds handheld but resting against the bridge's concrete railing -- apparently not good enough to cut down on camera shake as I could feel the road rumble whenever heavy vehicles passed me by).

Note: why did I say that I had waited about a year to take this photo? It's because the last time I saw a similar scene - the full moon and it's reflection in the water off the Penang Bridge - was about a year ago. Unfortunately at that time, I didn't have the camera with me but even if I did, there wasn't a place to park on the bridge then. So it was quite a providence that everything clicked together yesterday morning.

Misty on BM hill

While on the way home yesterday, I was commenting to my friend Eric that the Bukit Mertajam hill wasn't looking very inviting. It had been raining quite a lot lately and the hill was shrouded in mist. Could I attempt a walk up the hill in this weather? Just a week ago, my wife and I were completely drenched as we didn't bring an umbrella with us. However, my spirits were lifted when I arrived in Bukit Mertajam. No rain, just mist.

I couldn't help but notice that the stream was swollen. Ground was very damp and soggy at places. As I walked up, I also noticed that at several places, big and small trees had fell across the track. I could still pass beneath the fallen trees but had to bend my head to pass through. Never had to do that previously. There's a particular danger at one point because the fallen trunk was huge and it was precariously perched up at one end against some other trees. Give it three or four years and I would think the trunk will collapse eventually. But in the meantime, it'll still be a possible danger to people who had to bend down to go through.

Anyway, I finally reached the tea house. The whole place was rather misty with cool breeze blowing at me. It was an absolutely wonderful feeling.