Friday, 30 April 2010

Around the Penang Botanic Garden

Here are some pictures taken at the Penang Botanic Garden recently. The first one here was snapped at the lily pond.

A very simple shot (below) but I was much impressed by the vivid green of this shoot. It's so contrasting to the background.

I just chanced to look up this tall tree and noted that it was actually supporting some other plant life.

Sorry, nothing much to say about this picture, though. I just liked the huge leaves.

And I just liked these flowers too. It's rather unusual to me.

Finally, this is a close-up picture of a rotting tree trunk beside a path. A whole ecological system hidden beneath the bark, I'm sure.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Lunch with old mates

Lunch on Wednesday at the old Sin Kheang Aun restaurant in Chulia Lane, George Town with three of my old mates from school. That's Derek and Kah Kheng in the middle, and Oon Hup on the right. The restaurant was empty when I arrived there slightly before noon but it had filled up within the hour as its regular patrons arrived. Why I say "regular patrons" is because the restaurant's proprietor, Ong, seemed to know many of them by name. In fact, Kah Kheng seemed to know him quite well too. As for me, I don't know him. In fact, I haven't been to this restaurant for, what, 20 years or so? Maybe.

The Sin Kheang Aun is actually a very old restaurant in the city. The moment you step into the place, you are transported at least 50 or 60 years into the past. It exudes a laid back, old world charm which I've always liked. Time stands still in the restaurant but not the prices of the dishes, according to Derek. They have gone up tremendously but then, what hasn't increased in the country lately? Yet, with the old, loyal customers keeping to come back, it says a lot for this quality and quantity of food in this restaurant.

Just an inkling of some of the dishes we ordered: the pomfret (tau tay) in the curry was super-fresh, the prawns were very fresh too and stir-frying them the asam way brought out a particular zing to our tastebuds, the bittergourd fried with meat and salted duck egg was totally out of this world, and the kerabu prawn kept me wanting more and more of the stuff. I hear the restaurant also serves chicken chop which is a popular dish of the Hakka community in Penang.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Fancy a durian farm homestay?

I've known Chang Teik Seng for more than 16 10 years now. Almost every year, I contact him at around this time to catch up with him. He lives in Balik Pulau on the other side of Penang island but normally, I'd meet him at his shop in Farlim Ayer Itam. Not this year, though. I may want to drive all the way to see him at his home.

You see, he's pretty excited. Durian season is starting on 15 May 2010 and his durians are fruiting well. Therefore, Chang (popularly known as Durian Seng among his circle of afficionados) is all set to launch his special “eat-all-you-can” package at his newly opened Durian Villa.

For a RM88, durian lovers can get a one-day pass on his durian farm to eat as many durians as possible throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he told me over the telephone. However, if this burpy durian feast is far beyond your ability to experience, there's also a RM25 package to enjoy the durians for breakfast, a different RM35 durians-for-lunch package and a RM45 package for dinner.

In return, you'll get to enjoy different award-winning strains of durian going by such exotic names as the Hor Lor, Red Prawn, Kun Poh Ang Bak, Green Skin Ang Bak, Lipan, D-600, Little Red, D-604 and D-11.

But come, lah, he cajoled me, come to my Durian Villa in Sungai Pinang. Recently, Chang had two air-conditioned villas built at his durian farm so that visitors can also enjoy a bracing homestay on the other side of the island.

Chang told me that he spent more than RM70,000 to build the villas and there are plans to have more. Presently, the two villas are equipped with king-size beds and 32-inch LCD televisions, and they share a swimming pool.

"We are set amidst lush greenery all around us. If you come here, you can watch the sunset as you enjoy the fruits,” he said. "So come lah, bring your friends with you for a sumptuous durian party." I'd love to, Chang, but I've also got to watch my diet. But don't worry, I may take up your invitation to go visit you soon.

In the meantime, here's a short video clip of Durian Seng's Durian Villa. But you'll have to pardon the colour. I must tell him to upload a more colourful version soon. This one's too Avatarish. Anyway, do enjoy the great view and listen to the birds chirping away:

Jose's to blame

How can I have missed this classic quotation from The Special One?

At the press conference last week after Inter Milan had beaten Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, he said that Barcelona would probably accuse him of causing the Icelandic volcano eruption which disrupted the Spanish club's travel plans.

Mourinho said: "The way they are, tomorrow we will probably read I am to blame for the volcano." Then he added: "Maybe I do have a friend in the volcano and I am responsible for that."

BTW, be ready for the second leg of this semi-final clash between these two teams at 3am tomorrow morning. Should be fascinating to see whether Barcelona can overturn the deficit from the first leg.  

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Touring Beijing

I may not want to write a travellogue on my recent trip to Beijing but that doesn't mean that I cannot comment anything about it. And boy, do I have several observations to make.

Touring in a Group
First thing is, big group tours are inconvenient but may be necessary evils. A group that is no bigger than 10 persons is fine but not when it consists of about 30 people. Why? Because it is impossible for the tour guide to meet the needs and demands of everyone in his group. There's also a lot of compromise required of the tour group. Some will want to go here, some will want to go there; some will keep within the time allocated for visiting a place, some will exceed the time and then keep everybody else waiting. My wife and I were in a group of about 60, so that made the situation even more challenging for all.

If I have a better choice, I would want to visit Beijing, or any other place in China, at my own pace and leisure, but I know that it is difficult because both my wife and I can hardly get by without knowing Mandarin. Maybe she does understand this language slightly better than I. Me? Sorry, lah. So the only option possibly open for me is to join a tour group to China. Safety in numbers. Assistance in numbers.

Of course, this is my own shortcoming, so I cannot put blame on anyone for it. I was complaining to my friend, Herbert, that it's so difficult to learn a new language. Is it our age, I asked him. (We were born just days apart.) He said it's because we don't expose ourselves to the language constantly day and night. He was suggesting an experiment. Why not, he said, that I just turn on a Chinese language programme on the radio day and night, and try listening to it though I cannot make head or tail of the conversation at the beginning. Sooner or later, the jigsaw puzzle will fall into place. That's his theory of learning a new language. I forgot to ask whether it had worked for him.

Cultural Show
The first time I looked at the itinerary, I moaned out loud to my wife: "Oh no, not the obligatory cultural show." Why must group tours to China start off with a visit to an acrobatic show? I'm sure you can envision it: girls twirling table cloths with their toes or balancing spinning ceramic plates on rods, men prancing about through hoops or showing off their cheoreographed Wu Shu movements, women balancing on men's shoulders or swinging about in the air on trapezes or ropes, the whole works. Sigh...this visit is obligatory on us. But of course, you still have to be impressed with them. They have practised so hard till perfection.

Then there's the question of food during a group tour. Somehow, the food can always be better. The restaurant can always be better. They are never the nicest places. They are never the most delicious of meals. They are all rather standard fare. If you see an omelette in one restaurant, you will see the same omelette dish somewhere else too.

Then it's every man (and woman) for themselves. Never mind your table manners. It's not like home where it's good manners to leave the food on the main plates until you actually want it. On a tour, if you like something, take it first or otherwise someone else will take it. So food gets piled up on your own little plate. You may look greedy but this is a fact when sitting down at a table with strangers.

Speed. Don't eat so daintily or slowly during travel for the same reason: the food will disappear all too quickly from the table as you masticate your first mouthful. It's not like you are travelling just the two of us together, remember? This is a group tour with lots of other people. It sounds rude but if they don't care about leaving any dish behind for you, why should you care about them in return?

Finally, just a little comment about groups consisting of people with different religious backgrounds. For common meals, food is always restricted to what they can eat and what they can't eat, where they can eat and where they cannot eat. And that's no joy during a holiday.

Tourist Spots
Neutral areas in Beijing like the Imperial Palace or the Great Wall are fine to visit for tour groups comprising people of different beliefs or backgrounds, but places that suggest - even remotely - of having been used previously for the purpose of deity or ancestral worship are definitely out of the question.

For example, in China today, Cheng Beng has lost it's original significance. It's now a cultural practice rather than something considered as religious. During Cheng Beng in China (and we were there at the right time), the Chinese people still visit their ancestor's grave but it's just for the purpose of cleaning it up, not ancestral worship.

Similarly, public temples have lost their original purpose. Though in private, the Chinese people may still worship a deity or two in their homes, none is seen in the open. Point of fact: the Temple Of Heaven is definitely a tourist spot. Has been for many, many decades. It used to be a place of worship for the Chinese emperors but now, if you go there, people are visiting the complex to see the buildings, take in the view and basically have a good time by relaxing, participating in group social activities like singing, dancing and gambling, and even treating it as a playground or exercise yard. All very innocuous. Nothing suspicious, nothing ulterior, nothing indoctrinating, nothing to fear. And yet because of the word "Temple" in the name....this tourist attraction was not in our itinerary. Similarly, the Ming Tombs was also not in our itinerary although we could have visited or passed through the place while enroute to the Great Wall.

Of course, you can still visit such places but they will have to be optional tours and at your own time. If it is not too much out of the way, the tour bus may still drop you off there and pick you up later but entrance is on your own and touring the place is on your own. Getting lost is also on your own.

I've griped enough for today but I'm not done yet. I've still one more thing to say about shopping in Beijing but I shall leave that to another day.

Monday, 26 April 2010


I'm dumbfounded. Canadian folk music legend Joni Mitchell has just labelled her equally legendary folk music contemporary, American Bob Dylan, a "plagiarist". That's a very strong word for one icon to hurl at another icon in the modern music industry.

According to Mitchell, "Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I."

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fade away, not!

"It is rubbish. There is no truth in it. I have no intention of retiring. As I've said time and time again, the only thing that determines my staying here is my health. Unfortunately for you lot, I'm in rude health. You'll be gone before I'm gone, don't worry."

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Lily pond's back to normal

Whenever I am at the Penang Botanic Garden, which is not often enough, I always try to make it a point to stroll to the lily pond. In my opinion, it's the best place to be at the Garden as it's more secluded and cooler than the rest of the place. Here is the entrance to the lily pond which is next to the Orchid House.

The two parallel paths to the pond are short walks, probably not more than 50 metres from the road that goes round the Garden. The paths are well shaded and the whole place is, well, full of greenery. To complete the picture, there's even a small stream flowing between them.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I visited the pond on Wednesday. The water has returned and the pond is brimming with life. I don't know when this had happened, but I was greatly disappointed the last time I was there in June last year. Then, the pond was dry as a bone.

Here's another view of the pond. I think it's fantastic how the lilies are thriving.

And yet another picture. I was impressed that the water was clear. No murkiness at all. The Garden authority has done a good job to revitalise the place.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A song of joy

It's an old, old story but often repeated. A long-forgotten piece of music is picked up for radio play by a present-day announcer or host and an entirely new audience takes an instant pleasure to the music and the song shoots up the charts and becomes a best-seller.

On 10 March 2010, someone called Rush Limbaugh (he may be a big radio celebrity in America but he means nothing to me here except a name) played a piece arranged by Argentine composer-conductor-arranger Osvaldo Nicholas Ferrara - his version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's first movement of the Symphony No. 40 in G Minor K550 - and the exposure pushed the song's popularity from #136,705 to #1 on's rankings.

Until then, Ferrara - better known in music circles as Waldo de los Rios - had almost faded into oblivion, having died in 1977. In my opinion, his most memorable contribution to present-day music was his interpretation of Ludwig von Beethoven's famous Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy, that was given a dramatic lungful by Spanish singer Miguel Rios in 1970.

Don't expect too much from this album if you are a classical music purist. In the 1970s, symphonic rock was at its most popular and Ferrara was just one of many musicians attempting the classical music-rock music crossover. Way back then, adding modern-day rhythms and percussion to classical music helped to open up a whole new audience. And even today, this album continues to attract people who seldom appreciate classical music. My wife, for instance, took one brief, fleeting listen to this album yesterday morning and asked that I play it for her this Sunday afternoon.

Nevertheless despite the growing awareness for Ferrara's music, there may be better interpretations of classical music out there. My own favourite symphonic rock-classical music crossover comes from an obscure band known as the Munich Sound Symphony Orchestra. I've only their music on cassette but in the 1970s, this band released some of the meanest interpretations of classical music that I had ever heard. It started me off on the road to appreciating real classical music.

Anyway, Grandes Exitos is the title of a compact disc, a recent compilation of Ferrara's music, from which this Rush Limbaugh had lifted the Mozart Symphony No. 40 for airplay last month. This is not Grandes Exitos but Sinfonias, where the song originated from. 

Side 1: "Ode To Joy" Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in D Minor (4th movement), Schubert's Eighth Symphony in C Minor (1st movement), Mozart's Symphony No 40 in G Minor (1st movement), Brahms' Third Symphony in F Major (3rd movement)
Side 2: Dvorak's Symphony No 9 (4th movement and 2nd movement), Haydn's Symphony Of The Toys in C Major (2nd movement), Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 5 in E Minor (2nd movement), Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony in A Major "Italian" (1st movement)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

"please kindly fill out our Customer Registration Form"

At the risk of yet again being labelled a grumpy old man by an ex-colleague from my old JobStreet days, I'm airing a frustration - an unhappiness, actually - over a recent small incident.

There I was, making a simple email enquiry from a company in Taiwan about two of their products and my initial message to them was forwarded to a sales staff.

After waiting two days - that's how fast and eager they are about procuring new business, a lady there finally wrote to me and asked me to go to their website and fill in a form " order to reply to you and offer our service to you more quickly and more efficiently..."

Thanks but no thanks. Gosh, all I really wanted to know was the price for the product and the shipping cost to Penang. It really baffled me that the company was unwilling to disclose the information until I completed the registration form. No time for all that, unfortunately.

Maybank2U's (almost useless) TAC request

[This is a brief update dated 29 Nov 2013: I've been noticing that this post of mine does receive some viewing occasionally. It was written way back in April 2010. Connectivity conditions have improved considerably. Getting a response to the Maybank TAC requests are now much faster. So if anyone still wants to read the rest of this story, please go ahead. Just bear in mind that everything I wrote about is now rather old news. Thank you.]

For a long time already, banks here in Malaysia have instituted a security measure known as TAC.

This acronym stands for Transaction Authorisation Code, a security code that is sent to a user's mobile by SMS whenever an online transaction is attempted.

TAC provides a second layer of identity authentication before a person is allowed to do specific online transactions. If a TAC is not requested or if the TAC is not keyed in (or wrongly keyed) into the online field, the transaction stops there.

Maybank, of course, is one of these banks employing this security measure. For a long time, for perhaps two years already, I've been trying to avoid using Maybank for online transactions. Not that I'm not confident about the security of their system. No, it's because I'm so fed up with the tardiness of their system. Two years on, and Maybank still haven't improved on it.

Just this morning, I thought that, well, let me give the bank a chance to see whether their services have improved. So after logging into Maybank2U, I tried a transaction and requested for a TAC at 10.27am.

I waited....

And waited....

And waited still some more....

Boy, do I have the patience to wait. A real sucker, aren't I?

If after a while the user does not log out from Maybank2U, their system will warn him that they would log him out in 30 seconds. Three such messages appeared on my laptop and three times, I had to click and tell them to continue with my session.

And finally, at 10.41am, the TAC notification came in by SMS to my mobile. That's a 14-minute wait to complete a TAC notification. And that is completely unacceptable for a huge bank like Maybank. It's supposedly Malaysia's premier bank and yet, their TAC service is shitty and inefficient. Nothing has changed in this respect in the past two years.....

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Choong Khuat Hock's murder: Police no nearer solving the case

I've written much on the drama of Choong Khuat Hock, the financial analyst who was found murdered in a ditch off the Karak Highway in Pahang. A suspect was later picked up by the Police. According to a recent story in the Sun2Surf website, the suspect has been cleared of the crime. Clearly, the Police is no nearer finding a solution to the murder mystery today than yesterday. Here is an excerpt from the news item:
KUALA LUMPUR (April 13, 2010): The Algerian arrested in connection with the murder of the country's top financial analyst Choong Khuat Hock has been cleared of the crime but is being held for allegedly committing other offences. 

Bentong police chief Supt Rosli Abdul Rahman said the 33-year-old foreigner has been remanded further to be investigated for cheating and extortion cases reported in the Klang Valley.

He said the man is also being investigated for offences under the Immigration Act for allegedly tampering with the entries in his passport. It is learnt that he had entered the country in 2005 but his passport showed his entry into Malaysia two years ago.

He said police had contacted the Algerian embassy and their officials are assisting investigators.

The man who was a close friend of Choong was arrested after he surrendered himself to police on March 30 and was remanded till Friday.

About a week after Choong's body was found police had released a photofit of the Algerian after calls for him to surrender failed.

Rosli said police also detained a Nigerian who is also said to be a close friend of Choong in the Klang Valley last week to assist in the probe.

However, he said the man will be released soon as investigators found no evidence to linking him to the case.

"We found no incriminating evidence linking both these foreigners to the case. We are still gathering clues and hope it leads us to the person behind the murder." he said.

He urged those who may have information which can help solve the case to call the Bentong CID at 09-2222222.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Being despotic

Whatever they are selling, I'm not interested to buy. Not from a shop that calls itself ... Despotic. No way!

Monday, 19 April 2010

BM hill: Reached the top

So finally after a break of almost three weeks, I've resumed my exercise regime at the Bukit Mertajam hill. And yesterday afternoon as I drove into the park at the foothills, the first thing I noticed was that the new archway at the entrance had been completed. Mmm, okay, I thought to myself, not bad at all.

I decided to go up the way of the dam. Occasionally, I do use this track. It's a well-worn hill path that skirts the left edge of the whole park and while it goes to the top of the hill, which is about 430 metres above sea level, I've always emerged after about a 40-minute leisurely climb to join the tarmac road.

But yesterday at the spur of the moment, I decided to follow another fellow hiker and climb all the way up to the top. I haven't done it before but then, there is always a first time for everything. It was a slow climb, that was for sure, because I didn't know what to expect. The way was certainly tougher than anything I had encountered before on this hill. At certain parts, it was almost an 80-degree climb and I had to support or pull myself up with the tree trunks. Nevertheless, there was never any danger along the way. Just had to take it easy and pace myself for the whole journey.

The climb ended at the transmission towers and I took almost an hour to reach there. The effort was not too bad except that during the latter part of the climb, there was just nobody else using this path beside the other hiker and I. The earth track, though well worn, was devoid of other people, even on a busy Sunday afternoon.

As a footnote, I should just mention that the most boring part of the climb was the descent. The condition of my knees being the way they are, I could not risk going down the same way as I went up. So it had to be a long monotonous walk down the tarmac road. Fifty minutes of dull monotony.

No pictures taken of this climb, however. I left my regular cameras at home as I had not anticipated climbing this way when I left home. And the in-built camera on the mobile has started to give me problems. It just won't snap any picture any more. Darn!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Leech up your nose

Nose-dwelling leech? Right. This story on the BBC website had me imagining for a while whether there could be anything grosser than that!

Indeed, a gross nose-dwelling leech. Discovered by an international team of scientists in Peru three years ago.

According to the story, they extracted the leech, measuring 65 to 70 millimetres, from the nose of a nine-year-old girl who admitted bathing in lakes, rivers and streams. The girl's parents had noticed a black worm moving inside her right nostril and sought medical attention.

It has been given the name Tyrannobdella rex which means tyrant leech king. The making of another T Rex.

This Peruvian story is enough to give me goosebumps. So what else has my wild mind been imagining? Methinks, the only common leech up anyone's nose would be this one.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Fog you!

My neighbourhood looked so unreal, as if some distant volcanic ash had descended on Bukit Mertajam and given us a spectacular sunset. But truth was, the foggers from the district health department came at about 6.30pm today to carry out a widespread fogging exercise of the whole neighbourhood.

Time to do my taxes

Yes, there's no escaping that time of the year again.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Donganmen Street, off Wangfujing

A friend cornered me about a month ago. He had a kind of concerned look on his face. "I heard," he said finally, "that you are going to China on holiday?"

"Yes," I answered, "what's up?"

"You're not attempting another travelloque of your holidays there, are you?" he asked.

I looked at him. He tried his best to look normal but his fidgeting betrayed his slight anxiety.

"What if I do?" I replied provocatively.

"Well, please don't! Please don't write a travelloque about China," he blurted out. "I can't take it. A travelloque about Australia is fine. Telling us what you did in Australia is fine but please....not about China. Especially, not about...Wangfujing!"

Aha! So that was what our conversation was all about. My friend was not looking forward to knowing what happens at Wangfujing in the evenings.

But first, what can I write about Wangfujing when I haven't even been there? Until I spoke with him, I must declare that I haven't even heard of Wangfujing, let alone visit the place. But now that it has been mentioned, how can I avoid not going there now?

It turned out that Wangfujing is one of the poshest tourist places in Beijing. You won't find any locals shopping there, only foreign tourists. The road is lined with eating outlets and shopping malls stacked with designer clothes and all eyeing the magical foreign currenc. Yes, even in a communist land, money is King.

Oh yes, the road also sports an adult shop. It's positioned strategically below a restaurant, see. When we were there, I noticed one of Saw See's colleagues and her 12-year-old daughter seemingly peering into the adult shop. A liberated mom, I thought. But I was wrong. They were only looking at the restaurant's neon-lit menu on display above the adult shop.

People think that Wangfujing is home to the night food market. Actually, the market is not along Wangfujing Street at all but along Donganmen Street which is a road off Wangfujing Street. However, the place is not so difficult to find. Just follow your eyes, nose and ears and you will see, smell and hear people heading towards the night market.

The speciality of the place is the exotic fare on display there. Don't go there if you are easily offended. Don't go there if you feel squeamish looking at all sorts of strange stuff. Don't go there if you are an animal rights activist. The Chinese will sell anything that moves and have their backs to the sky. And they include starfish, silkworms, beetles, grasshoppers, sea horses, crabs, scorpions and animal innards and offals such as the intestines, kidneys, hearts and what not. See what I mean? The only thing I did not see were roast rats but I'm sure they'll be available if you ask!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

How do you say "Kyrgyz"?

One geographical fact I learnt today. Kyrgyz is the name of the ethnic group and language of the people in Kyrgyzstan. I don't know whether you'll agree with me or not but Kyrgyz is a beautiful word. I'm fascinated with it. This six-letter word doesn't contain any vowel at all and yet, it is totally pronunciable. 

According to a very helpful guide to pronunciation on the BBC website, we have got to say this word as KUR-giz, with the emphasis on KUR. The zed is pronounced as in the word "zoo".

What brought on this guide is that with Kyrgyzstan in the news lately, many people from non-eastern European countries are having difficulty taking in all those Kyrgyz names. Personally I do not have much problems with most Cyrillic-sounding words although I don't understand their language at all. I don't know, maybe years of reading chess books have helped. Many top chess players come from this part of the world and you get to know their names and how to say them. And I can tell you, they can be pretty weird.

Anyway, as much as the BBC guide was helpful, it was also filled with some incomprehensible verbosity. Take this as an example: "...the original Kyrgyz pronunciation of Kyrgyzstan contains sounds which are unfamiliar and "foreign" to many native English speakers, such as the close back unrounded vowel and the voiced uvular fricative."

Aiyoh...what's the meaning of "close back unrounded vowel" and "uvular fricative"? I've no time to find out, actually, so I shall have it leave them at that.

That same BBC guide also included something else: the pronunciation of the word Manas, which is the site of an American airbase in Kyrgyzstan. I shall leave it to you to go see how its pronounced correctly on the BBC website. You'll be amused.

Lizard ballad

This, here, is Axl Rose. lead vocalist of the American hard rock band Guns N' Roses.

And this, here, is NOT Axl Rose.

But he looks like a decent clone of Axl Rose, doesn't he? If you still don't know who he is, take a look at this video first.

Still clueless? Well, perhaps this picture below will help.

The Axl Rose near-lookalike is none other than the American billionaire Warren Buffet making a cameo appearance in this music video promoting GEICO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Motorists in BM, beware!

Looks like the residents and visitors to Bukit Mertajam have to get used to the presence of the enforcement people from the Province Wellesley Municipal Council (MPSP). As far as I can remember ever since I moved to this town some five years ago, I've never come across any MPSP staff roaming the streets.

But not today. I was in the town centre this afternoon to collect my new pair of spectacles and as I was parking the car, I noticed a chap walking round the other cars to issue parking violation tickets to those that did not display any parking coupons on the dashboards.

So, finally, I see them getting serious about it. It's about time and I hope it's for the long term. Let this not be a short-term effort. While I'm sad that there isn't any more "free" parking places in the town, I hope that at least this MPSP effort will open up more parking opportunities for motorists. There'll be the urgency to park, do your business and go away quickly. People won't be so selfish any more as to leave their cars in the parking bays the whole day long and deny others from using them.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Beijing revisited

I don't know why there are some people, especially from the South-East Asian countries, who are so enamoured with China that they would want to go visit that country every year.

Though my ethnicity is Chinese and I'm proud to have 100 percent Chinese blood coursing through my veins, in no way do I have that special attachment to or infatuation for the country of my forefathers. I'm sure that I still have very distant relatives back there but I'm dashed if I know who they are. I haven't even attempted to uncover my roots. Four generations of staying in Penang (even longer if I were to consider my maternal grandparents' side of the family) have put paid to the idea that I'd want to visit my ancestral village. No no, finding my distant Chinese relatives will have to remain taking a back seat in my life.

Okay, so I've spent five days travelling to China and back recently together with my wife and her colleagues on their annual company trip.  This year, the destination was Beijing. There were only three main reasons why I wanted to follow her there.

First, I wanted to see how much Beijing had changed in the last 32 years. The last time I stepped foot in Beijing, it was still known as Peking and the city was still trying to recover from an internal power struggle. Back in 1978, wherever we went, the tour guides would preface any explanation with the phrase "After the fall of the Gang Of Four.....". It was so important that the guide tried to emphasise that their country was changing and attempting to progress after Jiang Qing and company were arrested.

Back in 1978, there were very few cars on the roads. The whole place was filled with people on bicycles whichever way I turned. Now, the city is filled with impressively big cars, especially BMWs, and there are traffic jams everywhere from sun up to sun down. Needless to say, "after the fall of the Gang Of Four", the Chinese people have progressed greatly.

At the very least, where fashion is concerned, they have shed their old monochromatic thickly-padded Mao jackets for the very latest fashion designs. The whole place reeks of capitalism within the socialist context. Impressive shopping malls stocking original designer goods to rather ordinary shopping complexes plying original fake goods. At these latter shopping complexes, bargaining is the order of the day. The traders will let you know that they would be making a loss selling to you at your offer price but don't you belief them.

Second, I wanted to climb the Great Wall with my wife. I wanted to be up there walking with her. We did climb the Wall at Badaling and I think it was at the fourth tower that we turned back. We were always very wary of the time that the tour guide had allotted to us.

Third, I wanted to visit the Temple Of Heaven, a tourist spot which I had failed to visit in 1978. We went there on the fourth day when our group split into two and we decided that we wanted to go see the place.

So, I achieved all three main objectives of this visit and I'm satisfied. Yes, there was a fourth objective: to take as many snapshots of Beijing as possible. This, I've also achieved. Like I said, I'm satisfied. I wouldn't pine about visiting Beijing again, not in the next 32 years.

 Tiananmen Square, just outside the entrance to the Imperial Palace

Temple Of Heaven

 Great Wall

 Beijing's newest tourist attraction: the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium

Monday, 12 April 2010

Howler from Bernama

I have just seen this news report on the Kuala Lumpur open chess tournament by

The report on Hou Yifan winning the competition is correct but the portion on Nicholas Chan is horrendously wrong. I should know. When Bernama was interviewing Nicholas, I was standing barely three feet away from him and the interviewer, and I heard everything between the two of them.

Nicholas talked about his target being the International Master title. Never did he mention anything about being "elevated to Grandmaster status following the endorsement of the Federation International des Echecs (FIDE)."

I'm quite embarrassed. It was all in the mind of the reporter. Soo Heong, how did your reporter get that all wrong?

KL Open 2010: Final round impressions

Well, so today sees the final round of the Kuala Lumpur open chess tournament at the Olympic Sports Hotel.  There will be big match-ups on the top boards as the major prize moneys are up for grabs. Oooh, I can just feel the tension in the hall but unsurprisingly, there's none at all on the top board.

It's the game between Chinese lass Hou Yifan and Indonesian Susanto Megaranto. Yifan has won the tournament yesterday with a round to spare. An unassailable seven points from the previous eight games. The closest competitors are a full point behind her. So, she'll just need a draw from this final game. But wait, the chief arbiter has just reminded the competitors that there should be no draw before 30 moves are played.

Both players are in no mood to fight it out in this game. She needs the draw but she cannot offer one. Her opponent is also waiting for the draw offer but does not want to wait for 30 moves. Nevertheless, the draw came early, after only 15 moves. A three-fold repetition of position. A loop hole in the regulations, no doubt but how was the arbiter to prevent that? He had no choice but to accept that result. 

In the meantime, the fight continues on all the remaining top boards. Oh, I just noticed. The eighth board is still empty. The White player is missing. Most probably still sleeping. He's late and in the meantime his clock is ticking away. Actually, it's a very common malaise among some chess players: the habit of turning up late for their games. They are doing themselves no great favour, actually, because they are losing time on their clocks. That game has finally begun. White turned up some 40 minutes late.

Ah, Nigel Short just waltzed into the room. He looks relaxed and ready to leave for the airport. He'll be expected in Bangkok later this afternoon. Aren't you concerned about the situation there, I asked. Just make sure you write a nice obituary for me if anything happens, he replied. Right, I said, I'll write one where you'll have no opportunity to reply or complain. Ha ha...our private joke, best left unexplained.

Mikheil Mchedlishvili is pacing the hall. He must be having a good game against Niaz Murshed in this round. Now, that's another one who seldom on time for his games. Although Mchedlishvili is the top seed in this tournament, he has been overshadowed by a lot of other grandmasters. But yesterday afternoon, he climbed back into contention for the top prizes after taking apart Malaysia's top performer in this event, Nicholas Chan. Nicholas seemed in great awe of him even before the game. Not good for his game but it's always a psychological problem when a lowly-rated player meets a highly-rated grandmaster.

Okay, so that's all for the time being. Maybe I'll write more as the round progresses but I have a lunch date with an ex-colleague coming up. Funny how she got to know that I'm here in KL. I suppose word does get around.....

Clash Of The Titans: Ho-hum 3D version

This show is supposed to be screened in 3D but it is a big rip-off where I'm concerned. I put on the glasses, expecting to be wowed along the lines of the last 3D movie I saw, which was Avatar 3D, but all throughout the show, there was hardly any special experience. I'm not impressed at all. If the Hollywood studios think that 3D will always sell, well, they will be wrong. If they continue with this sham, it will definitely turn people off other genuine films advertised as 3D.

I was also not totally impressed by the storyline which, to me, strayed from the original 1981 version of Clash Of The Titans. Of course, the end result was the same: the slaying of the Kraken but the adventure that Perseus and company underwent took a different interpretation. Maybe it was to be expected.

Sam Worthington, playing the Perseus character, tried hard but his acting was always rather wooden. Plus, I keep commenting to a friend that there were so many parallels with Avatar itself, especially when Perseus flew off on Pegasus or when Perseus fought with the monsters. Haven't we seen all that with Jake Sully on Toruk Macto? Worthington risks being typecast as the fantasy hero. And the giant scorpions? They kind of reminded me of The Scorpion King. Finally, I missed little Bubo from the original film. The mechanical owl only made a cameo appearance in the new film. What a disappointment.

On the plus side - which was very little - I liked the new depiction of Medusa, and also the depiction of Charon ferrying the soldiers across the river Styx. Those were the only plus points in this film's favour, unfortunately.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

KL Open 2010: First impressions

Well, here I am today, in Kuala Lumpur for the third KL open chess tournament. Actually, I arrived yesterday but the wifi service at the Olympic Sports Hotel has been bad. Although the signal was strong, I had been unable to connect to any site at all.

Today is not any better but I am now at the tournament hall and using the wifi connection of the OCM. Signal is very weak but at least I'm able to connect through.

Event is very strong and there is a great depth in the players. That Chinese girl, Hou Yifan, has been sitting at the top table for some rounds already and barring any unusual end to the tournament, I think that she should win it. Her closest rival is Vietnamese grandmaster Nguyen Ahn Dong, also going great guns and matching Yifan point-for-point. They drew their mutual game earlier but I believe her break is slightly better.

Not many local faces in the event, though, only 20 of them. I would have thought that the strong local players would take the opportunity to play against these foreigners. I know that it's for reasons best known to themselves BUT surely, more of the top players should be here. Instead, we are left with the likes of Nicholas Chan, Ronnie Lim, Jimmy Liew and youngster Yeoh Li Tian to lead the local charge. Li Tian, by the way, is going great. After six rounds, he had scored one win and five draws. I haven't taken a look at his game in the seventh round yet. [Update: He lost.]

Caught up with Nigel Short yesterday. He gave a clock simul over 10 boards and could have wiped them all off the board. However, an indiscretion in one of the games saw the British grandmaster struggling to contain his opponent in the endgame. In the end, he defended well and had to concede a draw.

P.S. Photos may come later. Wifi connection is real slow and erratic.

Something about insurance nominations

It's a confusing point for lay people like me who knows little about the insurance laws in Malaysia but recently, I was apprised of a little of the situation by a knowledgeable friend who used to be in the insurance industry. He's not active in the industry anymore but to me, he's still a useful font of information. Anyway, I did check up what he told me with other reliable sources and they corroborate with his advice to me.
So, if you are wondering what's the difference between the insurance nominations made under Section 166 and Section 167 of the Insurance Act 1996 in Malaysia, please do click here to read the post in my other blog.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Australian travellogue: Journey's end

7 Nov 2009. A mid-morning visit to Perth's Central Business District was the final tonic we needed to ensure that our holidays ended on a high note. So it was from the King's Park to the car park at Wellington Street, next to the Perth City YHA.

A short walk took us to the Murray Street pedestrian mall. I think we would have enjoyed it more if Christmas was really around the corner but in November, Christmas was  still about six or seven weeks away. Except for the junctions, only a few shops had put up their festive decorations. In the daytime there really wasn't anything much to admire. Still, there were many interesting sights to see...

Mostly, we spent the time people watching. Did little shopping, window or otherwise. We weren't in the mood to buy anything substantial because we didn't want to repack our luggage in the car park. But eventually, we did end up in a souvenir shop and went away with a large paper bag of t-shirts for ourselves and the children. Ahh, what the heck!

Lunch was in a Japanese restaurant at a joint called Edo Shiki along Forrest Place just off Murray Street. It looked like serving authentic Japanese food (sushi, sashimi, ramen, udon, etc) and yes, there was even a Japanese chef. Well, at least he looked like a Japanese to us. The food looked appealing enough - maybe we were hungry - and tasted good. But it was strange to see Chinese dim sum thrown up with the Japanese food though I have to admit that they were also palatable.

So that's it: the final instalment of our Australian travellogue. The end of our all too short eight-day self-drive holiday through Western Australia's south-western region. A journey that took us to the region's cities, suburbs, towns, hills, forests and beaches. Basically, we experienced the Australian diversity, their culture, their heritage and of course, their people.

Our drive-through itinerary was prepared by MSL Travel here in George Town and the travel agency had also booked all our hotel stays and the car rental. I planned most everything else by myself, especially the places to visit. Everything went according to our Big Plan and there was little hiccup from start to finish.

Previous: Wild flowers

Friday, 9 April 2010

Four TV stars....dead

It has been a rather bad month for TV entertainment as these four stars of tremendously popular television shows in the 1960s to 1980s died within a spate of three weeks.

Peter Aurness (known professionally as Peter Graves) of the Mission Impossible television series from 1967 to 1973, in which he played the character of Jim Phelps, died on 14 March 2010; Robert Martin Culp of the I Spy television series from 1965 to 1968, playing Kelly Robinson, died on 24 March 2010; John Forsythe of the Dynasty television series from 1981 to 1989, playing the character of Blake Carrington, died on 1 April 2010; and Christopher Cazenove also of the Dynasty television series, playing the role of Ben Carrington, died on 7 April 2010.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Australian travellogue: Wild flowers

Springtime in Western Australia is a heaven for anybody with an interest in flowers.

It's that time of the year when the plants shake off the winter to push through their new growth. When we were travelling around the south-western region, we could practically stop the car anywhere we liked and take in the sights around us. Yes, that was how bountiful the flowers were. But of course, not all of them were impressive. Some looked quite small and plain but generally, there were magnificent flowers everywhere.

Here is just a very small selection of the wild flowers we came across. Except for the yellow Banksia in the first picture, which was unusual from my perspective because the other Banksia flowers we came across were all red, I've absolutely no idea what the rest are!

Later: The business district
Previous: Kings Park