Saturday, 31 March 2012

Launch of PFS Bicentenary celebrations

The Penang Free School Bicentenary Celebrations were launched officially by a distinguished Old Free, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail, the Raja of Perlis, at a gala dinner function at the E&O Hotel, George Town on 31 March 2012.

 Tuanku is a military man but he was looking suspiciously at the cannon. Was it the real thing?

 Well, the only way to find out is to pull the lever, right?

So here goes...

Boom! Only paper confetti? 

Mightily relieved that the cannon turned out to be a fake, after all....

A moment of reflection.

Fidelis, the OFA commemorative book, part 29

Today is D-day. The day of reckoning. The day of launch of the Penang Free School Bicentenary Celebrations. To me, the most significant will be the launch of FIDELIS, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association.

The books will be on sale at the E&O Hotel later in the evening once the launch is completed by the Raja of Perlis. I understand that the price will be RM100 per copy.

At yesterday's meeting, I had my first peek at FIDELIS. The consignment had been fully delivered to The Old Frees' Association. But everything is strictly kept under lock and key, away from prying eyes and inquisitive minds.

I was really over-awed to be able to hold a precious copy in my hands. Although I had realised earlier that it was going to be bulky, I never expected it to measure two centimetres thick inclusive of the hard cover and eventually tipping the scale at one kilogramme. A great deal of satisfaction over everything that I had achieved in the past five months. I have done my duty to The Old Frees' Association.

And tonight, my wife and I will be making our way to the E&O Hotel for the Gala Dinner. So, to everyone who have already purchased their tickets from The Old Frees' Association, see you there!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Fidelis, the OFA commemorative book, part 28

I wasn't surprised to receive an email from The Old Frees' Association office a few days ago requesting for my presence at a meeting this afternoon. After all, today is D-1 days till the launch of FIDELIS, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association.

But more importantly, tomorrow will see the official launch of the Penang Free School Bicentenary Celebrations by the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail, at the E&O Hotel in George Town. He shall be launching the Bicentenary celebrations first, followed by that of the book.

So by 3.15pm this afternoon, I was already at the OFA clubhouse. I sauntered in and was met by William and Boopalan. Pretty soon, Rafique, Rajendren and the rest of the Bicentenary Committee members arrived. There were also representatives from the E&O Hotel, the PFS and two or three others.

I could see clearly that there were lots of concern over the organisation of the Gala Dinner function at the E&O. The committee had rightly worked themselves up into a frenzied worry over the past fortnight and I could see that the tension was most telling on Ban Seang, who was the organising chairman for this Gala Dinner. But he's used to it, I am sure, and all his experience came in very useful.

He was the one calling most of the shots at this meeting and he, together with Rafique and Rajendren, wanted to ensure that everything went according to clockwork. This was one occasion where nothing, absolutely nothing, could afford to go wrong. He went through everything in his checklist and made sure that the persons in charge of every little detail fully understood their roles and responsibilities.

Everything single action and consequence was being anticipated, from the playing of music, the grand entrance of the guests of honour, the order of the speeches, the serving of the dinner, the movements of the hotel's waiters, right until the careful choreography of the launch which would include the firing of confetti from the toy cannon and the unveiling of FIDELIS. Oh yes, including the singing of the School Rally. Everything that could be thought of was brought out for discussion in detail.

To me, there was a lot of underlying frustration over the protocol that everyone was required to observe. So far, it would seem that the ADC from the Penang Governor's office had been the most demanding, insisting that this could be done and that couldn't be done, and the Bicentenary Committee was powerless but to agree with them. But I can tell you that once the ADC from the Palace in Arau comes into the picture later, all of that will become useless in the face of final instructions from the Palace's ADC. Even the Governor cannot over-ride the Raja.

Suddenly, I found myself without a significant role to play at the function. Originally, part of the plan at the launch of FIDELIS was to call the co-editors to meet with the Raja of Perlis on the stage but with the insistence from the protocol people that only certain designated persons would be allowed on the stage - and the co-editors are not among them - all that's left for my wife and I to do at tomorrow night's Gala Dinner will be to enjoy the occasion and our food! Others may feel miffed with this new development but to me, it is no great deal whether I'm allowed on the stage or not. Such things have never bothered me much.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fidelis, the OFA commemorative book, part 27

It is D-2 days till the joint launch of FIDELIS, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association, and the start of the PFS Bicentenary Celebrations at the E&O Hotel in George Town, Penang. Apart from the Raja of Perlis and the Governor of Penang, the other distinguished guest will be the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng.

Guan Eng's attendance at the gala dinner function at the E&O Hotel was the subject of many speculations in the past week or so.

Firstly, I've got to make it clear at the onset that we - and by "we", I mean the PFS Bicentenary Committee and The Old Frees' Association (and naturally, myself too) - had absolutely no idea that the date of the dinner would become a source of contention. To me, all these were just innocent arrangements and coincidental. There was nothing ominous or deliberate about them. Nobody was stealing anyone's thunder away. No body-snatching beneath anyone's nose. But I'm writing this in my personal capacity only, and based on my private conversations with some members of these two committees.

It so happened that the PFS Bicentenary Committee had wanted the Raja of Perlis, he being an Old Free himself and who is also the Royal Patron of The Old Frees' Association, to launch the Bicentenary celebrations. Several dates were suggested to the Palace in Arau and word came back from the Palace that 31 Mar 2012 would be a convenient date. We were also informed that the Penang Governor would attend too. As such, with the two distinguished guests having confirmed their attendance, everyone hoped that the Chief Minister of Penang would soon follow suit. And he confirmed soon afterwards.

Everybody was elated and the Gala Dinner sub-committee then went their way to book the venue at the hotel and make all the other necessary arrangements. I was well aware of this as at the same time, our Fidelis editorial team was working on the commemorative book and much information was being shared among us all.

Then out of the blue, I received a text message from an old friend who happened to be an Old Xavierian. "Aiyoh," he texted me, "SXI planned their 160 years on 31 March and all of a sudden, PFS did the same at E&O." In another message, he said that the Chief Minister had already agreed to attend their SXI function on the same evening. And he added, "I kena from the former PFS corporates for snatchng CM away. Too bad, SXI planned for almost six months."

More in alarm than anything else, I emailed Rajendren to ask whether he was aware of the Chief Minister's whereabouts on the evening of 31 March and if not, it would be prudent to re-check with the Chief Minister's Office. The reassuring reply from the OFA president was that he was aware of the SXI event but he confirmed that the Chief Minister would be at our function.

Then in The Star's Metro North section today, a very interesting story appeared about both the Penang Free School and the St Xavier's Institution. Somewhere in this story, the writer touched very briefly on the unenviable position of the Chief Minister, saying that he was due to make an appearance at the PFS Bicentenary launch but only after he officiated the SXI dinner.

I suppose everything must run at clockwork if the Chief Minister must arrive at the SXI to officiate at their grand celebration which starts at 7.20pm before rushing across the road to the E&O by 8.30pm in time for the arrival of the Penang Governor and the royal party.

I am confident that a warm reception awaits the Chief Minister. But it can jolly well turn into a hot or cold reception too, depending on what the Chief Minister says in his speech at our Bicentenary launch. There are several matters that he can touch on which will interest the Old Frees.

For instance, on the 14th of September last year, the PFS Board of Governors had paid a courtesy call on the Chief Minister on the 28th floor of the Komtar Tower. During this courtesy call, there were some important discussions on issues affecting the Penang Free School.

I was told that the first matter raised with the Chief Minister was on the Penang Free School Trust Fund, originally established under the Laws of the Straits Settlements to provide scholarships and prizes to the school’s pupils. As the Chief Minister is officially a trustee of this Trust Fund, the Board requested the Penang Government to contribute at least RM20,000 annually to the Fund.

The second issue was about the heritage status of the Penang Free School. Actually, this should be a matter for national consideration but seeing how the decisions of the National Heritage Department tended to be swayed more by federal politics instead of down-to-earth, matter-of-fact considerations, the Board of Governors urged that the Penang Government should take the lead to declare the Penang Free School as a state heritage.

And thirdly, the Board of Governors requested the Penang Government to return the Headmaster’s residence to the school and not let Puspanita use it for their homestay programmes. This is very unbecoming and desultory for both the Penang Government and Puspanita to use the Headmaster's official residence for such an activity that's totally incongruent with the school's objectives. Moreover, proof has been given to the Penang Government that this particular building within the school's vast compound does not belong to the state but the federal government.

Six months have passed by since that Board of Governors' visit to the Chief Minister. I am hopeful that at the Gala Dinner on Saturday, the Chief Minister will be responding with favourable news to the Penang Free School, The Old Frees' Association and the PFS Bicentenary Committee. However, I am not holding my breath.

Cheng Beng reunions

It has long been said that as one grows older, the opportunities for relatives meeting one another grow lesser. In the past, weddings and funerals were mentioned as the only occasions when they do get to meet! Well, we can add one more occasion: the annual Cheng Beng festival.

This morning, this was about the fourth or fifth year in succession that my family was able to meet with different sets of cousins and other relatives from the Klang Valley. Where did we bump into them, you may ask. And let me tell you: at the Batu Lanchang Road Hokkien Cemetery and the Triple Wisdom Temple in Pangkor Road. My maternal grandparents were buried in this cemetery while my parents' memorial tablet was at the temple.

I should also mention that it was a pleasant experience to go for Cheng Beng in the middle of the week. The cemeteries were rather bare of visitors and it was a big relief to find ample parking spaces at the sides of the roads. I'm certain that come this Saturday and Sunday, all roads leading to the main cemeteries in Penang will be choked with vehicles and human traffic. For one, I wouldn't want to move along Batu Lanchang Road, Batu Gantong Road, Scotland Road, Gottlieb Road, Bagan Jermal Road or Mount Erskine Road at all! 

At the Batu Lanchang Road Cemetery.

At the Triple Wisdom Temple.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Liverpool, oh, Liverpool

Recent orchid blooms

In the last few weeks, some of the orchids have been blooming again. Not all, mind you, but just some of them. The two pictures below show the ones that have been flowering quite regularly, and they both come with a deep fragrance:

(Above) The flowers are quite small, hardly half an inch across, and last four days at most but they exude a distinct chocolaty fragrance in the mornings. (Below) The flowers are most lasting and can usually last several weeks. And each day, the air would be filled with the fragrance of vanilla.

I always break into a smile when I see this cirrhopetalum spiking. It doesn't occur often, though, maybe twice or thrice in a year but every time it does, I'll just go out to the plant and wonder at the creamy white flowers. As can be seen in the picture below, I was rewarded with two spikes recently.

But the best present in recent weeks were these three orchid plants below. This first one had not flowered for a very long time. I would suspect that it was because of my wanton efforts in trimming them. So much so that it affected the plant's growth. It used to flower rather often previously but had been barren for at least the past year. Barren, that is, until now.

The other two were a different story altogether. Due to some carelessness on my part, these two plants had almost died. Fortunately, I was able to keep a small part of these plants alive. And after looking after them for almost three years, they suddenly rewarded me with these flowers.

(Above) This is another cirrhopetalum orchid. The flowers are arranged semi-circularly at the end of the spike. It lasted only about a week but I enjoyed every day of its blossom. (Below) A bit strange that this orchid no longer produces any fragrance. Before, there was also a hint of fragrance in the air whenever I came close to it. The flowers should last a few more weeks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Not talking bullshit

When I learnt that Kee Thuan Chye would be coming back to his hometown on Sunday to read from his latest book, No More Bullshit, Please, We're All Malaysians, I knew that I should be going to the Queensbay Mall to lend him my support.

You may say that one good turn deserves another - he had rallied round by contributing a story for Fidelis, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association - but more than that, I just felt that I should show my old fellow retiree some support. Ever since his retirement from The Star newspaper in the middle of 2009, he has begun a new chapter in his life by writing hard-hitting political commentaries for online local news portals that are very critical of today's federal government.

His acute observations and objectiveness had often left me rather breathless and many times I told my wife that he was awfully brave to slay the government with his damning opinions about their excesses and stupidity. Of course, these were articles that would never see the light of day in our everyday government-controlled mainstream newspapers but that's really beside the point. I do believe that there is a ready audience for his criticisms regardless of the medium - print or web-based - and he has his legion of followers, if not supporters.

The problem is to reach out to new audiences that are not normally exposed to him. Thus, this reading of his book would show Kee Thuan Chye in the flesh, and he was real and serious enough to meet any sorry critic who would dare engage him face-to-face in a debate over the issues affecting Malaysian society today.

I've known Thuan Chye since school days. We entered Form One from different primary schools - he was from Francis Light School whereas I was from Westlands Primary School - but we had progressed together through the Penang Free School for seven years. We lost touch after that but somehow, our paths crossed again when briefly, we became colleagues at the now defunct National Echo newspaper. After that, we went separate ways again. I left the newspaper industry but he went on to join the NST Group and Star Publications. The arts had always fascinated him and it didn't surprise me when he also became well-known as a playwright, poet and actor.

Anyway on Sunday, I had arrived at the bookstore in Queensbay Mall a bit early. His reading was supposed to start at three o'clock and  I was already there 15 minutes earlier. I looked around and suddenly saw an old school mate at the payment counter. Chang Meng was holding Bullshit in his hands. I showed him my own Bullshit. Okay, so I was not alone...

Then I bumped into Oon Hup. And then in quick succession, Leong Teik, Teik Wah and Eng Siang, all proudly showing off their Bullshit. Golly, we were all there together in the same place for the same reason. Our common objective: to give our support to our old school mate. It would be easy to say that we were surprised to meet one another there but on reflection, we were probably doing what we thought was right to support an old friend.

This picture was snapped after our late-night steamboat dinner. She didn't want to but we asked Thuan Chye's wife, Choy Wan, to sit on his lap. Andrew, another old school pal, joined us in Kimberley Street. Needless to say, we were oblivious that the restaurant was closing up for the night. The restaurant staff didn't say anything to us but suddenly, we realised all the other tables around us had been cleared up and the chairs stored away.
Oh yes, before I forget, I was searching high and low for the book at the start of last week. I went to three outlets of one popular bookstore chain in Province Wellesley before I could find a copy. The counter staff drew blank looks when I asked them for it. Finally struck lucky, of course, only to discover that Thuan Chye's book was propped up beside a book by his favourite Prime Minister. Maybe Mahathir was hoping that his fiction could sell by association if it was placed next to a non-fiction best seller!

Monday, 26 March 2012

USM team chess competition 2012

Slightly a week after the end of the annual team chess tournament at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, I've finally managed to get my hands on the pictures of the two Old Frees' Association teams that won the first and fourth prizes respectively. Thanks to Thean Keat for these two pictures from the prize-giving ceremony.

This is the Old Frees Association "A" team, or as I would like to call them, the Team Arses. They won the top prize at the competition which was worth RM1,000. Kudos to them, from left to right, national master Jonathan Chuah, Chuah Heng Meng, Eoh Thean Keat and Lim Cheng Teik.

Then there is this Old Frees' Association "B" team, alternatively called by me as Team Bollocks. They took the fourth prize of RM350. I'm part of this team but no, I'm not in the picture as I wasn't playing on the second day of the tournament. Instead, here you can see someone else standing in apparently for me at the prize-giving. Actually, no, he's no chess player at all. Not by a long shot. But Dr Teoh Siang Guan, who is the advisor of the USM Bridge & Chess Club, happens to be my old classmate and is thus also an Old Free. Left to right, Colin Chong, Chan Kim Chai, Ung Tay Aik, Siang Guan and Ng Weng Kong.

We had also fielded a third team, the Old Frees' Association "C" team but I'd rather not say what the "C" stood for. They were a little unlucky to miss out on the lower prizes but they fought a very good fight to upset one of the more fancied teams and allowed the Arses team to lead all the way to the finish line. Their players were Terry Ong, Ng Yong Quan, Chan Kean Sheung, Chuah Jay Leong and Chuah Soon Pheng. Can't offer anything more than this picture, unfortunately:

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Three reunions

My recent trip to Singapore was quite unique in the sense that I had three separate reunions with families or friends.

This was the first one with my sister's family. The lunch reunion was held at a Chinese restaurant called simply the Soup Restaurant in Causeway Point, which connected to the Woodlands MRT station. The food was not too bad and everyone agreed that their signature Samsui Ginger Chicken dish was excellent. I wouldn't mind having another go at that plate!

Obviously, this is not family at all. Rather, these four other guys are just some of my old school pals who now stay in Singapore. Not sure about Kah Kheng but Kok Chuan, Nai Kwang and Teik Kooi have all given up their Malaysian citizenship, some long ago and some quite recently. The dinner was held at a Chinese restaurant called Pu Tien along Kitchener Road. The food was unique but good. We met up with Derek for a late night meal of crabs and prawns in Toa Payoh. On another night, Kheng Hock, Michael, Teik Kooi and us went to the Geylang area for beef hor fun. So it was eat, eat, eat all the way!

Now, this was definitely family on my wife's side. A whole bunch of relatives who are now staying in Singapore. Apart from my brother-in-law and his family, we were visited by my father-in-law's two brothers. That's the three of them seated on the left.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Post-press conference

I was woken up this morning by a text message from Rajendren, the president of The Old Frees' Association. Four days after the press conference was held, The Star has finally reported on it in its Metro North section.

THE Old Frees Association (OFA) will be organising a dinner on March 31 to launch the Bicentenary Celebrations for the Penang Free School (PFS), which will be turning 200 in the year 2016.
Bicentenary committee chairman Datuk Abdul Rafique Abdul Karim said the celebrations would begin this month as it was too momentous and historical an event to be celebrated in just one year.
“As the bicentenary is an important milestone in the history of Penang Free School, many programmes have been arranged from March 31 till Oct 21, 2016,” said Abdul Rafique.
About 400 Old Frees (alumni) and guests are expected to attend the dinner at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, where a commemorative book Fidelis will be launched.
OFA president M.S. Rajendren said the title of the book was extracted from the school’s motto Fortis Atque Fidelis (Latin for ‘Strong and Faithful’).
“This is an important heritage project for the PFS and the OFA where it contains records of the school’s glorious history, academic excellence, great sportsmen and rich traditions, as well as those of OFA which was founded in 1923,” said Rajendren.
The 208-page commemorative book will be priced at RM100 and is expected to hit bookstores nationwide soon after its launching on March 31.
The dinner also serves to raise funds for the Bicentenary Celebrations, among which are to establish a Bicentenary Scholarship, to be launched on Oct 21, 2016.
Abdul Rafique said the dignitaries who would attend the dinner include the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail, Raja Perempuan of Perlis Tuanku Fauziah Tengku Abdul Rashid, Raja Muda of Perlis Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail, Raja Puan Muda of Perlis Tuanku Lailatul Shahreen Akashah Khalil, Penang Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas, Toh Puan Majimor Shariff and Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The prices for tables are from RM1,000 to RM5,000 while VIP tickets are priced at RM1,000 per person.
Tickets are sold at the OFA in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah which is open from 10am to 6pm on weekdays and 10am to 1pm on Saturdays. For details, call the OFA at 04-2269290.
Penang Free School is the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, founded on Oct 21 in 1816 at a rented premises in Love Lane by Rev Robert Sparke Hutchings, an Anglican chaplain.
The school then moved to its first building in Farquhar Street which now houses the Penang State Museum prior to its present location in Jalan Mesjid Negri in 1928.
The now 196-year-old school has produced notable luminaries such as the country’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, legendary plague fighter and the first Malaysian Chinese Noble Prize winner Dr Wu Lien Teh, former Penang Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, actor and singer Tan Sri P. Ramlee and four-time All England badminton champion Eddy Choong.
Old Frees from all over the world are encouraged to provide suggestions to the Bicentenary Committee on ways to hold the four-year celebrations after they kick-start on March 31.
For details, email to
I've just a little comment to make on the above report. All the information is basically correct except for the fact that Dr Wu Lien-Teh was never a Nobel Prize winner. Certainly, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1935 - the nominator being Dr WW Cadbury, the professor of medicine at the University of Canton in China - and his nomination was evaluated but he was passed over in favour of someone whose contribution was, in the words of the Nobel Prize committee, "for his discovery of the organizer effect in embryonic development".

I wonder how the discovery of the organiser effect in embryonic development measures against the millions of lives saved from certain death through plague. How do they do this sort of evaluation anyway? I'm sure that if Dr Wu had been a Westerner instead of an Asian, the Nobel Prize would have been his. Such was his immense contribution to society and medicine.

PFS School Rally, part 3

It is very clear to me that the impending approach of 21 October 2016, though still some four years away, has made Old Frees become more aware of the Penang Free School's rich history and traditions. The Grand Old Lady of Malaysian education will be 200 years old then.

Last November when I visited the daughter of GS Reutens to ask about the School Rally, Esther had expressed much surprise that this was the first time in decades that anyone had ever asked about the School Rally or about her father.

She shared with me the original music scoresheets of the School Rally, all painstakingly written down in her father's immaculate handwriting. I had taken several photographs of the scoresheet then. My intention was to write a story on the origin of the School Rally for Fidelis, the commemorative book which The Old Frees' Association wanted published.

Last week, Esther and her husband, Teck Chye, visited the school and presented the music scorebook to the headmaster, Jalil Saad, for safekeeping in the School Archives. It is wonderful to see her doing that. The school will see to it that the scorebook will be stored properly for posterity. It is a part of the school's long history.

Throughout the decades, I have noticed that the School Rally has undergone several ever slight changes, no doubt through the misinterpretations of (well meaning) people who may not have fully comprehended the lyrics. In order to settle all the confusion over who's right and who's wrong, here below are the hallowed lyrics of the School Rally, as GS Reutens had originally written them. Do sing along with gusto as you read, especially the Old Frees:

Let us march on to fame, let the aisles proclaim,
Till our anthem will dare us to do.
Let us onward to win and new laurels gain,
Free School for the brave and for the true.

It matters neither how strait the gate,
Nor how charged with dangers the goal,
Let the tempest rage and fell odds inflate,
We'll to it with heart and soul.

When duty calls be it school or state,
We to it with God by our side,
For the sons of Free School don't hesitate,
Nor let cool their zeal and pride.

Let's all then join in this jubilee,
All with one loud voice to proclaim,
Our true loyalty and our constancy,
To our Mater still remain.

Further reading:

PFS School Rally, Part 2
GS Reutens and the PFS School Rally

Friday, 23 March 2012

Fidelis, the OFA commemorative book, part 26

D-8 days till launch. There is nothing else that we can do now except to wait for Fidelis, the commemorative book of the Old Frees' Association, to be ready. After all the hard work of the past four to five months, I'm left twiddling my thumbs most evenings.

This afternoon though, there was still one thing to do. We all met up at The Phoenix Press print factory in the Prai Industrial Estate on the mainland, having been invited there by their chief marketing officer, TC Hon. While we had initially hoped that, maybe, we could see the pages in the process of being printed, we were told instead that the pages had all been completed.

The few of us at The Phoenix Press. Left to right: Saik Mun, Jin Teik, myself and Rajendren.

It's not exactly rolling off the press but there is still a kind of excitement in seeing the commemorative book in the raw.

They were now in the process of being folded into their signatures and stitched together. The cover is being printed separately, as well as the slip cases, but with the others in a hurry, we could not see the processes.

Part of the book being carted from one area of production to the next.

Nevertheless, we have been assured that the whole book will be ready before the launch of the Penang Free School Bicentenary Celebrations by the Raja of Perlis on 31 March 2012. In fact, as we were leaving The Phoenix Press, Hon was already discussing with Rajendren and William about the delivery next Thursday.

My Nokia is now a junk mobile

My mobile is on the blink. The problem started at the end of December last year when I noticed that the touchscreen on the Nokia C6 was becoming less sensitive. It would take me two or three taps before the next window would appear on the screen.

At first, I thought nothing of it. Just some minor hiccup that I could live with. Then by the end of January, the problem became more serious. I found that not only was the sensitivity getting bad, its accuracy was also now getting affected. I had to tap on a part of the screen some five to 10 millimetres away before I could continue to the next window.

I tried to do a screen realignment but it did not work. A friend suggested that I perform a hard reset on the mobile - but please remember to make a back-up first, he warned me - so I did, but that didn't change anything either.

Since last month, I had to resort to using the keypad instead of the touchscreen. For a moment, I was relieved because it allowed me to continue using the mobile. But I knew that this solution could not really be permanent. Sooner or later, I would have to take my mobile to the nearest Nokia service centre for their technician to take a look at it. (This would be the second time. About nine months ago, I had to pay about RM150 to get the service centre to change the touchscreen after I had exerted some pressure on the mobile and the screen had cracked. A virtual crack on a touchscreen.)

The first opportunity I had was after my return from Singapore last week. On Monday, I went back to the service centre. The customer service guy looked at my mobile and shook his head ever so slightly. From across the table, I noticed. I knew it wasn't going to be good news. He checked into his system, added some figures together and told me that it would cost me RM311 just to get everything repaired.

I looked at him. He looked at me. RM311, I asked him. RM311, he echoed back. Well, I might as well get a new mobile. Yes, he shrugged his shoulders and answered, there's no point paying so much to get my old Nokia repaired. Just top up a few hundred ringgit and a new mobile is yours, he said.

Really, that's it. It is time to junk this old mobile. It's not working anymore and it's not worth repairing. Not worth spending almost RM460 in total just to repair a RM600 mobile. Now, the real question begins: what should I get as a replacement? For sure, I may not wish to buy another Nokia. This C6 model has not been to my satisfaction. Would other Nokia mobiles be the same too?

So what have I been using in the meantime? Why, my wife's old Samsung phone. An old clam shell mobile that has been superseded by many new generations of Samsung phones. Surprisingly, her trusty old mobile still works although I am bereft of my 3G connection. It looks cute on me, my friends at The Old Frees' Association told me wickedly two days ago. So unlike you, they said. What to do but live with their sniggers for the next few weeks while I decide on what to buy?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

NZ travelogue: Larnach and his haunted castle

The day after our arrival in Dunedin, we decided to go on a drive around the Otago peninsula. We had already set our sights on the Larnach Castle after hearing about it from the hostess of the Albatross Inn. "It's the only castle in New Zealand," she had told us, "and the garden is huge and pretty." But do note, she advised, going into the castle itself will require extra payment of entry fees.

Oh, great, maybe this castle could be haunted too. I would like that. The thought of any extra payment would be the last thing discouraging us from visiting the place. Good marketing pitch, yes?

After breakfast, we checked out from the guesthouse and were on our way. Despite the GPS, I missed a turn somewhere but it wasn't a big deal. We soon found our way on the Highcliff Road which actually wound its way along the ridge of the Otago peninsula. And soon enough, we reached the fork in the road which led us to the entrance of the Larnach Castle grounds.

As can be seen from this picture above, the grounds was immensely large. The basic entry fee would allow you to wander around much of the grounds. At various places, it was possible to look down at the natural Otago Harbour which stretches from Dunedin to Harrington Point. Port Chalmers somewhere on the northern shores of the harbour is a deep water port. From the Larnach Castle grounds, the panoramic view was rather breathtaking. If you were to stretch your neck further, like I did, it's possible to look at the Dunedin city centre itself. If you squint your eyes, you could even make out the steeple of one old church somewhere in the city.

Pretty soon, we turned our sights on the castle gardens itself. Very well maintained although the cost of maintenance must certainly be tremendous. Here are a few pictures from around the place.


And this here was the flight of steps that led visitors to the main door of the castle. Two stone lions stood guard on either side of the steps. On another level were two stone falcons. As we walked up, the doors suddenly opened slowly before us. No creaks but noiselessly. Although we continued climbing without skipping a heart beat, was there a slight chill running down our spines? Has the haunting begun in bright daylight already? Erm, no, just two workers anticipating our entry and opening the door for us.

The castle was reportedly built sometime between 1873 and 1887 as the residence of William Larnach, a prominent entrepreneur and politician in colonial New Zealand, who later committed suicide when he discovered his third wife having an affair with his son. Tsk, tsk. Theirs was a tragic family because the whole of the Larnach clan suffered one calamity or scandal after another and they scattered to other parts of New Zealand. The finished house, which contained more than 40 rooms, including a ballroom which has now been turned into a restaurant, and needed 46 servants for various chores, soon fell silent and into a state of disrepair.

Seen any apparition lately?

We went through most of the stately rooms including one that had been turned into a museum. Sorry, despite its eerieness, we did not encounter any chills or super-dark damp corners or heard any rattling bones. But we did climb up the narrow steps and emerged into bright sunlight onto the roof of the castle's tower. This must be the highest point for miles around.

After many years of abandonment, the whole place was bought by Barry and Margaret Barker in 1967 and carefully restored. From the main castle building, we moved to the adjoining ballroom for lunch. Out of curiosity, I ordered their kumara and ginger soup and it turned out to be nothing but a thick soup of blended potato and ginger. Saw See had something more familiar: an omelette.

I should also mention that someone once wrote in The New Zealand Herald newspaper about the eerie episodes at the Larnach Castle.

In 1994, the new owners tried to cash in on its spookiness by arranging a play about the Larnach family tragedies. "Larnach - Castle of Lies" was performed by Dunedin's Fortune Theatre before 100 invited guests in the castle ballroom. It turned out to be a night for the guests, performers and castle staff to remember.

Said Margaret Baker: "As the guests arrived a terrible storm blew up from nowhere. The smoke from the fires blew back down the chimneys so that you couldn't see - and your eyes hurt. Hail crashed on the iron roof so that you couldn't hear. Doors mysteriously opened by themselves and it got very cold. In the play - just as Larnach shot himself there was a blinding white light. Afterwards at supper people were talking about the lightning strike as Larnach held the gun to his head. I said 'Oh no that was stage effects.' We asked the stage manager. He said 'It was none of our doing, it was lightning.' I think that Larnach was present that night. He didn't like the play."