Friday, 30 December 2011

Glass mug

It is funny how small inconsequential items can suddenly trigger off memories of your youth. There I was, last week, accompanying my wife and aunt to the Bukit Mertajam town centre and we were wandering through many of the old shops along Market Street. We went into one of them that sold kitchenware. While they were busy with their bargaining, I came across this glass mug.

It jolted my memory. For a long time already, this mug had been out of my mind. I had even forgotten that such a design existed. But here it was again, neatly lined up on the shelf at eye level. If the shopkeeper had hoped to catch my attention, she sure did succeed.

Long ago when I was young, most probably still in primary school, my father used to drink from this type of glass mug. I had found the design fascinating so that's why the image had always been kept in the recesses of my mind, only to be brought out again last week. Yes, it used to be placed at a corner of the kitchen table and my mum would fill it with hot, black local coffee every morning. And my dad would always drink out from it. Once or twice, I would drink from it too but that would be when my father had gone off to work.

So yes, seeing the glass mug in the shop did certainly bring out the memories. Memories of my father.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

OFA coffee table book, part 8

As we close out the year, it is appropriate that I shall attempt to give a first report on my progress in the Old Frees' Association coffee table book project.

First, my write-up on the Penang Free School Rally has been completed. This came about after I managed to track the original music score which was still in the hands of GS Reutens' daughter. I've written about it here for an easier reference.

Second, the story on the history of the Old Frees' Association is taking longer than I had expected. I thought that I had everything completed until the Seventies but then I started to research for news about the OFA that might have appeared in The Straits Times of Singapore, and I came across huge chunks of information. It's almost impossible for me to totally assimilate all that information but those I did were not entirely appropriate for my project. A lot of the early newspaper reports carried news about the early education system. Should be good for my co-editor's side but I wonder whether she'd want to use all that.

Anyway, I sent the first incomplete draft of the OFA history to the association's president for comments and word soon came back from him that we should try and say more about the association's later developments. Yes, I do agree with him that we should but I also know it's not going to be easy. Also, he kept telling me that we could also use a lot of old photographs in the possession of A Nehru who was a past president of the association. However, the problem was to contact him and to sit down with him. I was told that he had just come out from an operation and wasn't answering his telephone much.

As chance would have it, I bumped into him at the association yesterday evening. He was hobbling into the premises to meet someone. That he was up on his feet meant that he was recovering well. So I hailed him and reminded him about his photos and old magazines. He assured me that there would be no problem. I hope so, seeing how notorious he had been with his past assurances.

I've also been chasing the Old Frees' Associations in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to get someone to contribute essays on their own histories. Frankly, I'm not very confident of seeing much progress here despite having written quite a number of emails to friends and contacts.

Third, I have to admit that I'm struggling with the short biographies on Dr Lim Chong Eu and Dr Wu Lien Teh. It was not the lack of material, though. On the contrary, there's a wealth of information and I just don't know where to begin yet. Dr Wu Lien Teh, wow, just look at his credentials and achievements! What can you say about this great man, except that he was there at the right place and the right time!

The biographies of Prof Arthur Sandosham and Dr Yeoh Bok Choon proved a little difficult because nobody seemed to know what had happened to them since the Eighties. Luckily, I soon found two leads for the Sandosham story - one from an interesting book titled Doctors Extraordinaire and the other from the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine. As for the Yeoh Bok Choon write-up, learning that his family had moved to Kuala Lumpur after his death did not help me at all. But luckily again, I had a contact from a Singapore gynaecologist and Old Free who could tell me something about him. So I've unravelled part of his problem.

The easiest biographies to research were on Zainal Alam and Dr Lee Kum Tatt. For Zainal Alam, there was an obituary on him in The New Sunday Times and I also had access to his daughter in Penang who provided me with a nice picture of her father. While for Dr Lee, this man had actually maintained an interesting blog almost right until the day he died. Well, actually, he didn't write the blog as someone else did it for him but the material was all his. Plus, the OFA Singapore helped out by getting a few pictures from his family.

So there you have it, you have some idea now of some of the personalities that will be mentioned in the coffee table book.

Fifth, I just want to mention that until this point, we have had some interesting feedback from several Old Frees who are responding well to the OFA's call for articles and stories. The Old Frees are a great lot for offering us their stories!

Monday, 26 December 2011

OFA coffee table book, Part 7

Let us indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Let it sweep right over us as we re-visit the grounds of the Penang Free School. I took these pictures whilst there 10 days ago with my co-editor and the graphic designer. Nobody in sight since it was already term holidays. These aren't the ones that are going into the Old Frees' Association's coffee table book, though. My co-editor shall be choosing them from the graphic designer's own collection.

Nobody takes a photo of the school arch from the main road anymore.
The garishly-painted school pavilion.
The main school building from the field.
 Who can ever forget resting in the shade of this old, imposing Angsana tree?
The main porch.
The porch on the East wing of the school.
Old frangipani trees in the east Quadrangle.  
And not-so-old palm trees in the west Quadrangle.
And finally, the old school tower.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tung chik, Winter solstice 2011

I woke up this morning to find this bowl of glutinous rice balls in the kitchen. Then I remembered that today is Tung Chik (Tang Chik), or the Winter Solstice. My aunt was no where in sight, most probably had gone off for her morning walk somewhere, but she had already prepared the glutinous rice balls and offered them to the deities around the house. I scooped up two of the rice balls with my spoon and tried them. Mmm, very smooth and nice. The syrup's not too sweet or over-powering too. Just right for my palate. Happy Tung Chik, everybody. Here's looking forward to the next year!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Four Old Frees at PFS

Here we are, four Old Frees at the old school. We were there last Friday to take photographs of the building and certain items from the School Archive. Other than myself on the left, the other three are Molly Ooi and her husband Hwang Hong Shi and William Tan Poh Eng.

Monday, 19 December 2011

NZ travelogue: Archway Motel, Wanaka

We stayed two nights at the Archway Motel in Wanaka. Okay, lah, it's not five-stars or even four-stars but it was a decent enough place, professionally run by husband-and-wife team Bridgit and Paul Parker. Big, comfortable room with both heater and electric blanket. There's WiFi available but it's not free. I bought four hours from them, costing me NZD8, which allowed me to catch up with all the news from home.

But there's one small incident which I think visitors should take heed of. No big deal but still significant enough in my opinion. Because we were staying there for two nights, we had expected the operator to provide us with a fresh bottle of milk on each of the two nights. Everywhere else that we stayed in New Zealand, we were given a complimentary bottle of milk every night (or every day, depending on your view point). Thus, I was a little surprised when Paul told me that their policy was to give only one bottle regardless of the duration of stay but I could of course buy extra bottles from them at a reduced price. I didn't want to argue with him but I think this must be pointed out. The expectations were there.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

OFA coffee table book, part 6

My co-editor and I were at the school again last Friday. A second trip to the archive room and this time, we had with us the people from the company that's doing the graphic designing layout for the commemorative coffee table book of the Old Frees' Association.

We had wanted them to take some photos of the archive material and also of the school's exterior. When I arrived at the school at about 9.40a.m., nobody seemed to be around. When I bumped into them later, they said that the external shots had all been completed. Darn, they should have waited for me. I would have wanted to go tramping with them around the school. There are certain angles that I really wanted them to take.

Anyhow, we were in the archive rooms next. Molly and I went around to select the prints that we wanted. However, I was a bit apprehensive about the way that the company's photographer went around to photograph the pictures. How on earth did he think the copies would turn out under dim lights and reflection? There is no doubt that when we finally decide on the prints, they will have to make another trip to the school to re-photograph them.

Our last assignment that morning was to photograph the school hall but unfortunately, the tables and chairs that had been set up for the examinations were not cleared away yet. Frankly, it was a big mess inside the hall. And worse, we heard from the Senior Assistant that the furniture would not be cleared away so fast because they would be used soon for yet another examination for the new intake of Form One boys.

The next best opportunity to photograph an empty school hall would be prior to the opening of the new school term. But there was also an alternative for the graphic designer to come in during the first school assembly. Let's wait and see....

Saturday, 17 December 2011

21 October 1816

In case anyone is wondering why some of my stories lately are kind of steeped with nostalgia and reminiscences lately, it is because I am now in the midst of a project that's allowing me to rediscover the roots of my secondary school education. Putting together all this information is not easy but each piece of new information brings with it certain fascinating facets of the Penang Free School's long history.

Of course, we all know that the old school will be celebrating the 200th year of its existence in 2016. Two hundred years is a very long time and no other original English school in Malaysia - or even South-east Asia - can claim to have existed continuously for so long.

My only regret is that the PFS used to be one among three top schools in Malaya and Singapore during the 20th century but unfortunately, due to the sorry debasement or deliberate mismanagement of the Malaysian education system and policy, we are left with a fraction of the school's original academic achievements.

But I'm not going to discuss all of this here. Back to my reminiscences for the moment. The date for the school's founding by the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings is 21 October 1816. It could not be a coincidence that 21 October is the same date that Captain Francis Light died. Light was the person who established Penang as England's first trading post in George Town on the Prince of Wales Island, Malaya on 11 August 1786. He was the first superintendent of the island until he died from malaria on 21 October 1794, a mere eight years after settling down here. The graves of Light and Hutchings are found in the Protestant cemetery along Farquhar Street.

So it could very well be that this date for the school's actual founding, 21 October, was chosen to coincide with Light's 22nd death anniversary. The year 1816 itself was the 30th anniversary of Penang's formal establishment by Light. Speculation? Maybe. Fact? Maybe, too.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Computer dust everywhere

Nuts, I'm being forced to open up the innards of my desktop computer at home earlier today. I've been trying to avoid doing this for a very long time because I really hate moving the computer out from its partition on my work desk, marking each and every cable before pulling them out from the back panel, removing the side covers and having to avoid all the wires and fans inside and then changing or installing new hardware.

This time, I have to change the Samsung DVD-writer from the rack. It's been giving me problems for the past few months as I've not been able to use it to write new DVDs and CDs. Worse, it also couldn't read my old archived material. So there's no choice but to replace it.

But possibly, it was also a good decision to do some spring cleaning here. When I opened the casing, the first thing I noticed was a thick layer of dust accumulated around the ventilation fans. I have four ventilation fans sucking away the heat from the microchip and mother board and they were thick with dust. I do remember reading somewhere that dust can actually hinder the performance of a computer. Under certain conditions, it was suggested that the tiny specks can actually help pass along mild electrical impulses enough to spoil certain hardware.

So there I was, vacuuming out the dirt before replacing the spoilt DVD-writer - my friend Eric from Kuala Lumpur asked how on earth could I spoilt my DVD-writer as his has been working fine for four or five years already - with another of the same make. In hindsight, perhaps I should have chosen another brand but I was too lazy to go shopping around on the island.

After that, it was the process of putting everything back together. And since I was already down on my knees, I decided to plug the Canon printer directly into the USB hub in the back panel. That too had been giving me problem for the past few months as it had kept asking me to go direct and not through an external USB hub. All problems are now solved and I can assure my wife that she can now do her work on the desktop without anymore interruption in the evenings.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Two little boys

Today's story is meant to complement my article in The Star newspaper tomorrow. Obviously with space constraints in the newspaper, I cannot include all these pictures there. So it has to be here that you will see the images and read more about the story.

Well, as you know, the Penang heritage city open chess championship ended last Saturday. There were two sections to the championship, the open tournament and the challenger tournament. Separate events but being played at the same time. This year saw a Singapore invasion. Someone counted more than 70 Singaporeans taking part in either the open or challenger events. That's good enough for me; don't have to know the exact number. Most of the Singaporeans took part in the challengers, ranging from very young kids to the adults.

When I arrived at the Tanjung Bungah Beach Hotel last Thursday, the fifth round was almost over. But then I learnt that there was a dispute in the challenger event and the Appeals Committee was being convened to hear out the matter.

When I entered the tournament hall, the chief arbiter, Hamid Majid, was already seated at a chess board and playing through the moves of the disputed game right until the point of contention. Actually, the crux of the appeal was that his decision to declare the game as drawn was being challenged by the young player and his mother. Here is the mother's appeal letter:

You may have to click on the image to see the content up real close. And for good measure, here is the boy's own appeal that accompanied his mother's letter. By the way, his name was Shawn Foo and he was playing with the white pieces. Alexander Chan was his opponent. Both boys were about the same age. And by the way too, this appeal letter should be read as just one side of the story. Alex was not appealing the chief arbiter's decision. Why should he? He already got his precious half point.

Cute; Shawn has even drawn a little smiley next to his name. So, the Appeals Committee was called in. There were seven members elected before the start of the championship. Five of them were around to form the committee sitting to consider this appeal. One of them was a Singaporean chess trainer. I actually questioned Hamid why he was allowed into the committee since both parties to the dispute were also from Singapore. Hamid said it was precisely for that reason that he was allowed in. He could hardly afford to take sides to favour one player over another. Or could he?

So this was the Appeals Committee that met. Except for Steven Hoh (in blue tops) who was an arbiter in this event and sitting in to assist the deliberation, the others in the picture were Lahiri Atanu (India, IM), Watson Tay (Singapore, trainer), Martin Greenwood (England, player), Mas Hafizul (Malaysia, IM) and Nguyen Van Huy (Vietnam, IM).

I didn't want to get myself involved so I went to sit at the back of the hall to watch. There were lots of arms waving around but the most animated and vocal of the group was the Singaporean trainer. Apart from the less animated Indian international master, the rest were pretty quiet. To me, it looked as if the Singaporean was trying to assume the mantle of leading the group towards a conclusion. It was okay with me, somebody had got to take the lead and if nobody else wanted to, why not him?

Eventually a decision was reached. The committee had decided to uphold the boy's appeal and let the game continue from where it left off. Personally, I was surprised. It was not often that a perfectly reasonable decision of an experienced chief arbiter was overturned by an appeals committee, but here was one. Since I did not venture near the committee to listen to their deliberations, I do not want to say more about how they arrived at the decision.

But I do have something else to say. I have my own opinion. Rightly or wrongly, allowing the appeal and overturning the arbiter's decision is one thing, but both players had already had the time and benefit to talk over the position with their coaches and parents. In all probability, with the help of some computer programs too. If there were any initial doubts as to how the game should be won or lost, both players would have definitely found that out by now. This can't be an equitable solution to the problem, can it? To me, it was grossly unfair to Alexander. Alexander himself might not have behaved like an angel in this game but the decision was still unfair to him.

In hindsight, I still believe the decision to include the Singaporean trainer in the committee that deliberated the appeal was questionable. It may be true that directly, he could hardly take sides in this matter but there are indirect benefits to him. After all, he was a trainer and he had his own players playing in the challenger event. The committee's decision, one way or another, would also benefit some of his players, for example, affecting the pairings in the subsequent rounds or the calculation of tie-breaks. That's why it was best if he had realised it and excused himself from the committee.

After the resumed game was really over, I peeked into the score sheets of both players. I was amused. There, at the top of Shawn's score sheet, he had written out a warning or reminder to himself: "do not say the word draw!!!"

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

NZ travelogue: Earnslaw and Walter Peak

Many people go to Queenstown for the adventure and the adrenalin flow: bungee jumping, skiing, jet boating, white water rafting. Many people also go to Queenstown for the food. My wife and I? We went there for the laid-back lake cruise on board the TSS Earnslaw.

The Earnslaw is the last surviving steamer to ply the Lake Wakatipu. Next year will mark its 100th year in operation. During the last century, it was a very essential mode of transport on the lake, ferrying passengers from one end to the other. After ownership changed hands a few times, the ship ended up as a tourist attraction. There are short cruises on the lake all day long but twice a day, the Earnslaw will dock at the Walter Peak High Country Farm which was to the south-west of Queenstown. This farm was where we were heading for lunch and the subsequent obligatory farm tour.

Despite the cold, many people chose to take the cruise out in the open. Hence, we saw these people all wrapped up and sitting around on the deck. We walked around for a while and then decided to take shelter inside where it was warmer. The Earnslaw had its resident pianist who kept himself busy on the keyboard during the entire trip.

At the farm, here is Saw See trying her best to imitate an itek. It started out as an attempt to feed the birds - trying to lure them with an empty hand - but they all wised up quickly and waddled away. You wouldn't realise how fast the ducks can move until you see them! And if they couldn't move away quickly enough, well, they had that extra advantage to fly off.

So no luck with the ducks. But at least, getting close up to the sheep was something else to look forward to. This time, we made sure that there would be some feed to lure the animal. However, with all the other tourists having the same idea in mind, it was difficult to catch a good moment to photograph the occasion. Sorry, my dear wife, this is the best picture I could find.

I also had the same bad luck with the animals...never could find a decent photograph of me near the right end of the animals. Perhaps that's why the New Zealanders always end up as the butt of sheep jokes.

And this is the Queenstown version of the Melbourne Cup. Sheep thundering down towards us. Not once or twice but several times these woolly animals were chased around the enclosure by the poor sheepdog. Here's showing you who's boss, the sheep or the dog!

Then there was this demonstration of sheep shearing. Remarkably by the time the man had gotten through the sheep, there was a whole load of shaven wool. Unprocessed wool. Dirty, oily with wool grease. Reminded me of New Zealand's celebrity Merino sheep, Shrek (1994-2011), which gained international fame in 2004 when he avoided capture for six years. By the time Shrek was finally cornered, the wool was so thick that it was enough to make suits for 20 men.

And all too soon, it was time to leave the Walter Peak High Country Farm. I lingered around to take snapshots of the snow-covered mountains behind us. It would be the last time we were surrounded by these peaks. Goodness knows when we can come back to this part of the world again.

Inside the Earnslaw, the pianist led the tourists on another sing-song session all the way back to Queenstown. I sat around for a while and then decided to brave the cold wind outside. There was only so much sing-along that I could stomach. So I went outside.

The wind was blowing even fiercer than at midday. There was nobody else that dared to venture on the open deck except for this sua pa kow who took the opportunity to explore the rest of the ship:

And of course, finally, there is this grand panoramic view of the approaching Queenstown just before the Earnslaw docked:

Monday, 12 December 2011

One with the boys

A look back into time. I came across this excerpt of a speech that the Tunku made some 45 years ago. The speech shed a little light on the privileges of being a little prince in those Old Malaya days.

"I take pride in being an Old Boy of the school. It is not because the Penang Free School is the oldest school in Malaysia, but because it provided me with the right type of training. It goes for other schools as well. It is for their own old boys to sing the praises of their schools. As for me, I sing the praises of my old school, the Penang Free School.
"It was here that I learnt my lessons. It was here that I learnt scouting. It was here, too, that I learnt to mix freely with the other boys - rich and poor alike. I became one of them. When I attended the Government English School in Alor Star (now the Sultan Abdul Hamid College), no teacher dared raise his voice to me. In the Malay school that I attended, I did not sit with the boys but occupied the same desk as the head teacher. In Bangkok, in the Theb Surin School, I was again accorded special treatment. 
"But here in the Penang Free School, I was one with the boys, learnt with them, played with them and fought with them. At home, it is said, a boy learns only what is taught to him. At school, he learns also from what is taught to others. This I found to be true, and the lesson has proved a valuable asset  to me in later years and in my present job."
(Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, speaking at the Sesquicentenary Speech Day of the Penang Free School on 21 Oct 1966)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

PFS School Rally, part 2

A lot has happened in the last three weeks or so since I last wrote about the PFS School Rally. Some fellow Old Frees had wandered into my blog and picked up that story as a point for email exchanges. That led to one thing after another, but it culminated in two main results.

One, I managed to contact Esther Reutens who is the daughter of GS Reutens, the man who wrote the School Rally for the Penang Free School. Two, I managed to touch base with Tan Boon Lin (whom I still respectfully call "Headmaster" in my conversations with him) who confirmed several aspects of the School Rally.

Reutens was one of those Old World teachers who was entirely dedicated to the Penang Free School. He spent 17 years of his life teaching in PFS before his transfer to the Hutchings School as the latter's headmaster in 1969.

I've often wondered why he was always called GS Reutens in the school magazines and elsewhere. In these publications, his name never appeared as Gerard S Reutens or if it did, it must have missed my notice. Well, apparently it must have been the vogue in the early part of the last century because many of those Europeans and Eurasians just simply adopted initials in their names, never disclosing their full names. For examples, W Hargreaves, RH Pinhorn, DR Swaine, JMB Hughes, etc. Only after some digging through did I uncover that Hargreaves was a William and Pinhorn was a Ralph (the aitch in his name remains a mystery, though). But DR is just one of the many initials that has flummoxed me until today.

But back to the School Rally. When I visited Esther, she showed me her father's original music score. She had kept this treasure all these years! The pages were yellowed but there was the unmistakably neat handwriting of GS Reutens. Apart from the version we all know and love today, there was also a version solely for the piano and a version for four voices. There in a corner of the music score, the year 1966 was written. So I was correct after all, the School Rally was written in 1966 in celebration of the Sesquicentenary Jubilee.

In one of the email exchanges I mentioned earlier, someone referred to the 1968 school magazine. I scoured through my own copy and read that this School Rally was first unveiled officially at the Speech Day in 1967. Headmaster confirmed it when I talked with him later. He said that it was never sung during the Sesquicentenary Speech Day in 1966 but only on 21 Oct 1967. But of course, there would have been practices and the singing of the School Rally during the school assemblies earlier in 1967.

I would think that this is the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We now know for certainty that the School Rally was written in 1966 and first sung at the Speech day in 1967. So if anyone were to suggest that he or she had heard of this stirring marching tune much earlier, well, that's wrong indeed.

One final word: on behalf of my fellow Old Frees, I congratulate Headmaster for getting his Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri (DSPN) Datukship award from the Penang Governor this year. Finally after all these years, he has been recognised for his role in Penang's society.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Train rides at Penang Hill

The family went up Penang Hill recently when my daughter came back from Kuala Lumpur for the weekend. Had always wanted to go up the hill with the whole family to experience the new funicular train ride together, so this was the perfect opportunity for all of us. I think the children were not disappointed with the ride or with the lunch at the David Brown Restaurant (the old tea kiosk at the summit).

Here are the videos I took of the train journey and they should be seen in sequence. First, the ride up to the summit. Always important to occupy the front cabin next to the driver for the best view.

Now, having seen how it's like to go up at 30kph non-stop, here is the corresponding trip down the hill. Again for the best view, take the back cabin as you go down. But be ready for the exhilarating roller-coaster ride, the only one and the longest one in Penang! Best to hang on to your seats at the middle station.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

OFA coffee table book, Part 5

I had not mentioned two days ago that Molly Ooi and I decided that we would jointly deal with the other two main sections of the OFA coffee table book, which were thea section on the deceased prominent Old Frees and another section for contributions from present Old Frees.

The latter section is the one that we are anticipating a bit of problem because we really do not know what to expect. We have so many Old Frees that had passed through the gates of the Penang Free School but how many of them would have received word that the coffee table book was being prepared? So here I am, making  my own separate appeal to any Old Free who happen to be reading this message that the Old Frees' Association wants you!

You can write about another present Old Free (or many of them grouped together) who has distinguished himself (or themselves) in this country or anywhere else in the world. Or you can write about how the old school had played its part to mold  or inspire you to become who you are today. My co-editor tells me that even poetry is acceptable if the message is couched along these two lines.

But just do take note that the closing date for our acceptance of stories is the end of this month. Also, the acceptance of any article is subject to the approval of the editorial board. Neither Molly nor I should be making unilateral decisions on accepting or rejecting any article.

Of the former section, we were in an initial quandry about what to do with it. Should we also include some prominent Old Frees that are still living? After a discussion with the editorial board, we have decided to play it safe by only featuring those Old Frees who have passed away. We really don't want any living prominent Old Free to feel slighted that we are not writing about them. It is a very practical decision, in my opinion.

Anyhow, you can be assured that the candidates that shall make their way into this section of the book will include at least Raja Syed Putra Al-Haji, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Dr Lim Chong Eu, Dr Wu Lien-Teh and P Ramlee. To my mind, these are the Big Five among the distinguished Old Frees for this book!

Monday, 5 December 2011

E&O Christmas party

I'd like to go back a few days to 1 Dec 2011. That was the day that my wife and I attended the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at the E&O Hotel in George Town, Penang. This was only the second time that we were ever invited to this event. The first time was last year. But apparently, E&O had been organising this tree lighting ceremony for their valued clients for several years now.

I was actually looking forward to meeting some friends there but while I bumped into Jack and Stephen, one notable absence from the merry-making crowd was Ted. Found out later that he was in Malacca for some sort of tennis match. But I did meet one of my cousins, Edgar, who was there with his wife.

At last year's party, the hotel was serving food in the lobby itself. This year it was different. For a long while, we were kept waiting in the lobby while the hotel carol singers belted out the traditional Christmas songs. But we were to learn soon enough why there was no food, only drinks.

Eventually, we were asked to walk towards the ballroom. At first we thought that we would be shown into the ballroom itself but no, we went past the entrances and headed for the exit door.

"Mean to say they are feeding us at the car park?" I was joking to my wife. But my wisecracks dried up as soon as we walked out the door. The ground floor of their new wing was completely lit up and inside was their newest and spankiest new restaurant. Of course when we arrived, we didn't notice it earlier. Not unless we had eyes behind our heads.

This would be the New Sarkies, I was told later. It would open for regular business from January onwards but in the meantime, it's being used for special occasions like this one. Before this, the only other time it was used was for a charity event.

Inside, the food wasn't anything different from the fare the hotel usually served at the original Sarkies. The usual familiar stuff like sashimi, prawns, roast duck, satay and others. But because all the food was free for the night, the guests really descended on the food like there's no tomorrow. Typical display of kiasuism, even by the non-Malaysians.

Not us, though. We preferred to keep our dignity, figuring that there was enough food to feed us without having to join in the push and pull. We were right.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

OFA coffee table book, Part 4

It is now about a month since I started on this OFA coffee table book project. The good news is that we are making progress with the project. My co-editor, Molly Ooi, and I are splitting the writing responsibilities between us, even within the sub-sections, because there are certain areas which best suits her and there are certain areas which suits me better. I'm not concerned about grammatical errors creeping into the book because as an English language teacher, she'd be able to zoom in quickly on grammatical mistakes. Like they always say, a cup of tea.

Molly shall be taking charge of the PFS section of the book, which touches on the history of the school and the old headmasters, but I'm helping out with the old history of Penang and researching into the PFS School Rally. Why the old history of Penang? Because we wanted a brief history that will seque properly into the PFS history. Setting the background, so to speak.

Meanwhile, the main bulk of the OFA section of the book will fall on my hands. The most challenging will be to put together the history of the OFA. There's so little history or news of the association available. Although the OFA was formed in 1922 or 1923, most of the records were destroyed during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. Like most other associations and societies, their committees had consigned the old records to bonfires in fear of retribution from the Japanese invaders. Even innocuous minutes could be used as so-called "evidence" to capture, torture or even kill the hapless victims. People were known to have disappeared in the middle of the night.

So there should be records of activities after the Japanese were defeated. However, it seemed that the post-war records were again consigned to the flames although this time around it wasn't intentional. The Great Fire at the OFA in November 1983 could not bring down the premises in Northam Road but it reduced all the paper records to cinders or mushy pulp after the firemen had finished with dousing the flames.

Nevertheless, I'm confident that we can unearth much of our history back. All I say is that it will be interesting work!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Yoyo kings

I was having dinner this evening with my chess friends - I tell you, I've known some of these guys from way back in the 1970s - and somehow, our conversation suddenly turned to the yoyo. Don't ask me how it happened but it just did. Now, I'm no yoyo expert. Nay, I'm not even considered a yoyo beginner. All that I know about playing with a yoyo is to throw it and hope that it is able to spin up and down the string.

However, I do know a thing or two about people whose passion is playing with the yoyo. To them, the yoyo is more than a hobby. So, I regaled my friends with a few tales about this fascinating toy, except that the die-hard exponents of the yoyo would hardly want it described as a toy. It's a precision piece of equipment. An equipment of their obsession. Some can be worth a few hundreds of ringgit.

Anyway, I promised to show them a few choice videos of the yoyo champions in the various divisions. Somehow, as can be seen below, the Japanese are very good at it. Don't ask me why, I don't know.

First, this video features Shinji Saito. He is the 11-time world champion in the 2A category. This video of his performance was shot at the 2006 world yoyo contest in Orlando, Florida. A brilliant display of showmanship with the two yoyos. Absolutely brilliant.

Then, here is Tsubasa Onishi who won the 4A category at the 2010 world yoyo contest, again in Florida. Actually, all the world yoyo contests have been held there. But back to this video. Fascinating, isn't it, the way that he controlled an off-string yoyo, especially when he pulled it back onto the string in mid-air?

And finally, here is Hiroyuki Suzuki who was champion of the 1A category seven times in the past. That's more than any other yoyo player. Nuts, manufacturers are still clambering after him for endorsements of their new yoyos! That's how good he is.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

NZ travelogue: Cardrona in the middle of nowhere

Anyone making a hurried trip along the Crown Range Road that connects Wanaka and Queenstown in New Zealand's South Island will very likely not miss seeing the front of the iconic Cardrona Hotel which is located about a 40-minute drive from Wanaka.

In the 1860s, the whole of the region was in the midst of a gold rush and Cardrona as much as Arrowtown saw an influx of Chinese workers and gold prospectors. There aren't any gold prospecting here nowadays - perhaps all the nuggets have been dug up and the original prospectors had left for greener pastures elsewhere - and Cardrona is left as a sleepy little township.

I suppose there is more to Cardrona today than just the front of the hotel. Maybe further down this Crown Range Road if we had bothered to investigate, we could have found some sort of daily activity in the small township. But we did not.

All we did was to stop the car for about 15 to 20 minutes - remember, we were rushing to Queenstown - and walk around the Cardrona Hotel compound. This much we had to do because I had been intrigued by some of the images I had seen on the Internet.

So this is it from afar, from the car park on the other side of the road: the front of the hotel (actually it's a pub or restaurant because the reception area turned out to be located behind this building), the vintage car that's parked permanently outside, the general merchant store that doubles up today as a post office, the old telephone booth that's more of a curiosity and the quaint disused Caltex petrol pump that's more suited for a museum. But then, the whole of this place is a living museum. And just next to the telephone booth is a gift shop.

It did not surprise us that the whole place seemed pretty well deserted. We expected it this way as Cardrona was actually in the midst of nowhere if not for the main road. We didn't bump into anyone. Even when we wandered round to the back of the general merchant store and we saw this signpost pointing out to various places near the hotel, we didn't see a soul. We caught glimpses of a double-storey building in the background - possibly the guest house itself - but we didn't detect activity of any sort.

As I said, we spent about 15 or 20 minutes here before going off on our way, but not before we decided to have this obligatory picture taken to show our kids that we were here, not as olden-day gold prospectors but just ... modern-day tourists.