Friday, 17 May 2013

End of an era

First David Gill leaves, then Alex Ferguson retires, Paul Scholes quitting and now, David Beckham hangs up his old shoes...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Vanishing sight, vanishing point

Yes, there are still breath-taking padi fields in some parts of Penang, although they are far from expanding. This - an almost 180 degrees picture - scenery was taken in northern Province Wellesley just last week. Will this plush expanse of green still be around 10 years from now? Or will the farmers sell out and resign themselves to the inevitable encroachment of concrete development?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Your friendly neighbourhood taxmen cometh

I had heard yesterday that a group of people from the Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri descended on Penang to conduct a spot check or survey on businesses operating in the Church Street area of George Town. I didn't pay much attention to this piece of news.

Then today when I was at an economy rice shop in Bukit Mertajam, I overheard people saying that there were several taxmen that had made spot checks on the small-time traders and merchants around the Kampung Baru market.

So maybe yesterday's news was true after all. Yesterday on the island, today on the mainland.

Immediately after that as I was driving through the Jalan Maju commercial area to the bank, I had a jolt when I came face to face with a bus and a van that bore the LDHN markings.

Some seven or eight people were pouring out of the bus as I whizzed pass, many of them carrying a bag slung over their shoulders. A few wore vests with the unmistakeable HASIL name on their backs.

As I was parking the car, I noticed this lady standing outside a shop and asking to enter. I doubt she was much interested in the collagen products that they were selling.

I noticed too this guy taking details of the shops along the road. I wonder whether any of them wandered into the bank further up? Nahh, they wouldn't be interested to befriend this big giant of an establishment. Or would they? I don't know. Perhaps one day, I'll just go and ask the bank manager.

DAP appreciation dinner

This was the huge crowd of about 400 people at last night's appreciation dinner at the Penang Chinese Town Hall which the Democratic Action Party had held for their members and people who had volunteered their services to the political party at the General Elections 10 days ago. It wasn't as formal as the one two nights ago for the Air Putih volunteers but definitely, it was more animated.

Mind you, this was an appreciation in kind in lieu of services volunteered. Nobody gave out any angpow. Nobody gave out any redeemable lucky draw ticket. No money, ever, changed hands from party to people or from people to people. No cash payment at all. Everything was above board. Just like to make it clear, as I saw it.

Of course, Lim Guan Eng spoke at the function. It's totally obligatory. Who else would you expect to speak at such a function if not for the party's secretary-general who so happens to be the Chief Minister of Penang as well?

He spoke of three significant classes of people who contributed to the success of the Pakatan Rakyat during the general elections:
  • In the first instance, he acknowledged the role of the first-time voters. Many had come back to Penang from working in the other states of the country while some had even chosen to return from overseas just to exercise their constitutional right. With touch-in-cheek, he termed them as virgin voters. 
  • Secondly, he was much gratified to observe that the youth in our country have finally come out to fight for their own future. They have a voice and they have a mind of their own, and they have chosen to make themselves heard,
  • And finally, he paid an immeasurable tribute to the women of all races, both young and old, who had joined the queue to make their votes count.

Later, LGE weaved around slowly from table to table to greet all the diners. Needless to say, everybody wanted a group photograph to be taken with him and Chow Kon Yeow, and that delayed his momentous stop at our table. But eventually, they did finish making their rounds.

But was there any respite for them and some of the other Members of Parliament who were around too: people like Jeff Ooi and Lim Wei Aik? You'd be rather silly if you think there was. Immediate after his walkabout and group photograph, he was waylaid by people all clamouring for his autograph. Rock(et) star treatment for this man, indeed. Such adulation, I haven't seen in a politician before.

By the way, during Chow Kon Yeow's pre-dinner speech, he was mentioning that the sales of merchandise - including T-shirts, vests, caps, badges, banners and stickers, Ubah toys and books - at the DAP Penang headquarters in Rangoon Road during the crucial weeks leading up to the general elections went far beyond their expectations.

The above picture does not do enough justice to my comments above as I took it about 10 days before the general elections but the crowd swelled up significantly as the date drew closer. Anyway from the sale of the merchandise, I heard from inside sources that more than RM1 million was collected at the DAP Penang headquarters alone, what more from the other DAP branches across the state? This amount excluded the moneys donated by the people of Penang at the political ceramahs during the campaign period. I did heard a figure mentioned as well but sorry lah, you'll have to excuse me. I can't remember everything I heard at my table. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Steel rod street art at Che Em Lane, George Town

I had a bit of extra time on my hands last Sunday as I headed down to the E&O Hotel and decided to stop at the junction of Beach Street and China Street Ghaut. For some time, I had wanted - very curious, actually - to see what the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) had cooked up for the wall art at our Quah Kongsi building at the corner with Che Em Lane.

Trouble was, you see, after we had given the MPPP the go-ahead to use the wall for one of their their steel rod sculptures in January, we had not heard back from them. We did not know whether the MPPP would go ahead with their plans or abandon this particular one, the reason being we had responded a little late to their request. And so, this was the first opportunity for me to visit that part of Beach Street and see what had developed since giving MPPP the permission.

My opinion of this type of street art sculpture? Personally, I would prefer the Zacharevic wall drawings over these steel rod sculptures. The former were more realistic and less confusing, though also less permanent. But for this particular design on our wall, well, it looks okay, lah.... Anything to play our part in promoting the cultural heritage of our old city of George Town.

Oh, by the way, I felt that the cemented wall imparted a real character to the sculpture as well.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Air Putih appreciation dinner

Some pictures from the appreciation dinner which the DAP Air Putih had given to their volunteers who gave their time at the recent General Elections on 6 May 2013. I was thrown into the melee of the GE13 when I became a polling and counting agent (PACA) at the Kong Min School in Ayer Itam. Memorable experience that came with witnessing a bonus scuffle, which unlike the infamous ink was really indelible in my mind. 

Met up with an old friend of some 20 years (Has it been that long, Jeffrey?) and made some new ones along the way. Willy nilly, we were all caught up in it together that afternoon and night at the Kong Min School.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

A bookmark in football history

Just a few memorable pictures from the team's final home game under Alex Ferguson.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Black 511 @ Batu Kawan Stadium

So this was the 80,000-strong crowd at the Batu Kawan Stadium in Province Wellesley, Penang on 11 May 2013. Speakers included Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng and Mat Sabu.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Penang exco line-up: Then and now (2013 version)

Since I did a comparison in 2008, it will be very pertinent if I were to make it again in 2013. So here goes, I present the Penang state exco 2.0 and compare it with the initial line-up announced five years ago.

2013 Government:
  • Lim Guan Eng - Land Matters & Land Development, Information, Heritage & Non-Islamic Religious Affairs
  • Mohd Rashid bin Hasnon - Industrial Development & International Trade, Co-operatives & Community Relations, Entrepreneur Development
  • Dr Ramasamy a/l Palanisamy - State Economic Planning, Education & Human Resources, Science, Technology & Innovation
  • Chow Kon Yeow - Local Government, Traffic Management, Flood Mitigation
  • Abdul Malik bin Abdul Kassim - Religious Affairs, Domestic Trade, Consumer Affairs
  • Chong Eng - Youth & Sports, Women, Family & Community Development, Arts
  • Lim Hock Seng - Works, Utilities (energy, Water & Telecommunication), Transport (Air, Sea & Train)
  • Danny Law Heng Kiang - Tourism Development, Culture
  • Phee Boon Poh - Welfare, Caring Society, Environment
  • Jagdeep Singh Deo a/l Karpal Singh - Town & Country Planning, Housing
  • Dr Afif bin Bahardin - Agriculture & Agro-based Industry, Rural Development, Health

2008 Government:
  • Lim Guan Eng - Industrial Development and International Trade, Land Affairs and Land Development Committee
  • Mansor bin Othman (replaced Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin) - Religious Affairs, Entrepreneurial and Co-operative Development and Information and Community Relations Committee
  • Dr Ramasamy - State Economic Planning, Education and Human Resources, and Science, Technology and Innovation Committee
  • Chow Kon Yeow - Local Government, Traffic Management and Environment Committee
  • Lim Hock Seng - Public Works, Utilities and Transportation Committee
  • Danny Law Heng Kiang - Tourism Development and Culture, Arts and Heritage Committee
  • Abdul Malik Abdul Kassim - Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Committee
  • Phee Boon Poh - Health and Welfare and Caring Society Committee
  • Wong Hon Wai - Town and Country Planning and Housing Committee
  • Law Choo Kiang - Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Flood Mitigation Committee
  • Lydia Ong Kok Fooi - Youth and Sports and Women, Family and Community Development Committee

Red replacement

Yes, this is David Moyes in 1982.

Black 505

Below was the scene at the Black 505 rally at the Kelana Jaya Stadium on Wednesday, 8 May 2013. I hope when the Pakatan Rakyat holds the rally at the Batu Kawan Stadium in Penang tomorrow, 11 May 2013, it will be equally filled up.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Gaffer goes!

Thank you, Alex Ferguson, for 26+ wonderful years at Manchester United.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Second term for Guan Eng

At Sri Mutiara this morning, the swearing in of Lim Guan Eng as the Chief Minister of Penang for the second term.

Monday, 6 May 2013

GE13: Commotion at Ayer Itam Road

What a day I've had! Yesterday morning saw me going to Taman Siakap in Seberang Jaya to cast my vote in the General Elections. As usual, the roads leading to the polling station, a primary school that my children had attended when we were still staying in this town, were jampacked with people and vehicles.

I only managed to park the car some distance away, squeezed between two other vehicles,and then walked pass the makeshift stalls that were set up by the supporters of the two main political parties, the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Parti Keadilan Malaysia (PKR). I didn't pay much attention to their last-minute attempts at canvassing for votes and proceeded directly towards the school.

At the gate, I was given directions to my voting lane but there, a mild shock awaited me. A queue of about 50 voters were already there waiting in line. Luckily, a cool breeze blew throughout my long wait till the front of the queue. Possibly waited about 50 minutes or so but the time passed by quickly enough. Friendly faces around who were all too willing to strike up a conversation with me.

Then it was my turn to enter the classroom. The polling clerks asked for my identification and then covered my left forefinger with their supposedly "indelible ink" which washed off later with soap and water. Then was issued with two folded slips of ballot paper and directed to the polling booth.

I took a look at the two pieces of paper. The only name that I could recognise was that of the parliamentary candidate for Permatang Pauh: Anwar Ibrahim. I have to admit that the other candidates were all aliens to me. In fact, when it came to marking my ballot slips, I had to make doubly sure that I was selecting the PKR symbol.

Voting over, I made my way to the island where, for the very first time, I was scheduled to volunteer my services as a polling and counting agent for the Democratic Action Party (DAP). My destination, the Kong Min school beside the roundabout at Ayer Itam, was one of four or five polling and counting centres for the Air Putih state constituency.

As I made a slow drive towards the roundabout, traffic was already heavy. I was wondering where to park when suddenly, I noticed an empty parking space on the opposite side of the road. Instinct made me mmediately swing my car round the roundabout and park there. As it turned out, it was a very good decision as the road from the roundabout towards the Ayer Itam village soon became the scene for dramatic vocal exchanges between groups of people supporting rival political parties.

At first, I had put all the noise down to rowdiness and people who were simply enjoying the carnival-like air of a general election. Air horns were blaring and shouts of "Ubah" were heard regularly. Then almost without warning, a group of young Chinese motorcyclists - obviously, these were the paid BN mercenaries - dressed in blue tees made their way down from Ayer Itam. As they rode past, they were jeered good humouredly by the DAP supporters. What would you expect? The moment ended but my fellow DAP volunteers who had gathered within the school compound knew that they would soon return.

True enough, around two o'clock or so, we again heard a commotion outside the school. Further up the road, a group in blue tees had gathered. The leader among them, a bulky Mamak gorilla with a permanent scowl on his mug led his Chinese machai riders right into the DAP supporters.

They were booed and jeered at the face-off. There were lots of tension when this happened. Though I had a vantage point from within the school compound, unfortunately I couldn't see much as my view was generally blocked by people.  

Suddenly, the blue mob turned around and the two groups of people began jostling one another. Amid pleas to stop from spectators on the road, plastic chairs and motorcycle helmets became projectiles. Sticks were suddenly being used to attack and whack people.

What made this incident into a farce was the attitude of the traffic policemen on duty. I know that they were supposed to deal with the traffic but to turn their back to the commotion which was just feet away and ignore it? Was traffic more important to them or stopping fights? A policeman is still a policeman, no matter what's his assigned duties, right? And it was several seconds later that a group of blue-clothes policemen donned their vests and rushed over to investigate the incident, by which time everything was over. Huh!
In my opinion, the provocation was all done by this mob of BN hooligans led by this Mamak gorilla. He was the instigator. Somewhere in the video below, you can see him gesticulating and waving his hand to urge his people onwards. If that is not provocation, I don't know what is. Anyway, here is the video of the incident. You can make your own conclusion.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

How much will our votes matter at the end of today?

Today is an important day for everyone in my family. We are going to the polls to choose a better Malaysia not only for ourselves but for all Malaysians of all ages, race and religion.

I shall be going to Seberang Jaya in a few hours' time to cast my vote in the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency while my wife will be joined by my daughter and son to vote in the Bukit Mertajam constituency. I have full confidence that they will do right with their choices.

This shall be the first time that my two children are able to exercise their constitutional rights. They are pretty excited over it. My daughter, while working in Kuala Lumpur, arrived home yesterday. My son returned from the island.

Yesterday, we were a complete family unit again and we sat down to dinner discussing the political process. We haven't done that before, imagine that!

Also yesterday, I bumped into a neighbour. He used to run a sundry shop amidst a Malay-populated area along Jalan Permatang Pauh - that's multi-culturalism for you - but gave up the business several years ago as he was getting old and no one among his children wanted to follow his footsteps. He asked me whom I was going to vote for. "Anwar Ibrahim," I answered unhesitatingly. "Me too," he told me. We looked at one another and laughed. There was an irony. Although we now stay in Bukit Mertajam, we did not want to change our voting centre from Permatang Pauh. We wanted to be a part of the history in this constituency.

My neighbour mused to me. He told me that he had been a party member of the Malaysian Chinese Association since 1969. Until 2004, he had been voting for the Barisan Nasional party. But after the injustices suffered by Anwar Ibrahim, my neighbour had been voting for the opposition since then. He told me that suddenly, he saw for himself all the excesses and hypocrisy of the ruling political party.

As for me, I do not remember the first time that I was able to vote. I registered myself late and so I think it was only in the 1980s that I began voting. Perhaps in the past too, I had been politically naive and just didn't care who won in my constituency. Sometimes, I just thought that all the candidates in my area were useless.

In fact, what I remember vividly was that in 1995, it was on purpose that I had spoilt my vote because I couldn't bring myself to vote for Anwar Ibrahim (at that time, he was still in the Barisan government) or his PAS opponent. But ever since that same year, 2004, it had been Anwar Ibrahim or his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, all the way.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Does Penang need the free port status?

I was greatly puzzled when first Teng Chang Yeow and then Najib Razak promised to return the free port status to Penang. Were they kidding? Ever since this status was removed from the island in the 1970s, time has moved on. With so much development in Penang, do we still need this status to survive? Okay, I understand that in the past, Penang island was mainly an entrepot. If you don't know what this French word means, just look it up in any dictionary. But basically, it means a centre where goods are received for distribution, transshipment and repackaging without incurring any Customs import or export duty.

It worked well in Penang prior to the 1970s. The whole of Penang island was a duty free area, but not Province Wellesley on the mainland. Movement of goods was very well monitored because there was only one link - the ferry services - between the island and mainland. Of course, it did not mean that nobody attempted to smuggle duty-free goods across because they did, and were generally caught. But as a whole, the Customs checkpoints at the Butterworth end of the ferry services were quite efficient.

I do remember the few occasions when I had to cross over from the island to the mainland. At that time, I was still staying on the island and going to the mainland generally meant to catch an inter-state bus or a train down to Kuala Lumpur. There were two ferry services: one connecting directly to the Malayan Railway station and the other connecting to the Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal. The ferry that connected to the SAH terminal was served by the ferries that existed until today (although the old ones have been replaced.)

No matter, whenever passengers alit from the ferries, they would be required to pass through rows of Customs staff who would open their bags and luggage to check for duty-free goods. Similarly, people that had crossed by cars were herded into lanes and asked to declare their goods. (We still see this today when passengers and cars cross over from Singapore to Johore Bahru.)

Generally it worked very well because there were only two crossing points. It took the ferries about 20 to 25 minutes to travel one way across the channel and this was more than sufficient time for the Customs to complete checking all the passengers and cars.

But Penang has moved on since the free port status was removed. We have become industrialised and there is now a Penang Bridge that facilitates quick travel between the island and the mainland. Pretty soon, there will be two Penang Bridges and in the longer term, an undersea tunnel as well.

I dread to think how the Customs will implement their checks if the free port status is returned to the island. Okay, the situation at the ferry terminal - there's only one now, unfortunately - will still be manageable but I don't see how Customs can work out the logistics nightmare at the mainland end of the Penang bridges and tunnels.

Will cars, buses, lorries and trailers be stopped for hours in order to enable a complete Customs check? Or will Customs close an eye, generally allow the vehicles through and only perform random checks? If so, that is a dereliction of duty by allowing duty-free goods to be openly smuggled across a free port boundary. Imagine the loss of revenue to the country.

And another thing: if this free port status is confined to only the island, I shall be among the first ones to protest this discriminatory implementation. Isn't the mainland not considered part and parcel of the state of Penang?

I would demand that Teng Chang Yeow and Najib Razak make the whole of Penang - regardless of island or mainland - into a free port. To order to provide equitable treatment to all the people in Penang, I would demand that these two fellas then shift whatever Customs checkpoints to the borders into the state wherever there is an access point ... along the north-south expressway, the federal highway, the Butteworth-Kulim highway and all the secondary roads that connect Province Wellesley to Kedah and Perak. Nothing less than this will satisfy me or else it will show up their chauvinism and insincerity.

Unless they are prepared to do that, please lah, don't make stupid promises to the people of Penang. We were actually very disappointed with the federal government when our free port status was removed but we moved on. We moved on to succeed despite all the odds against us. Now just because they are shaking in their boots and underwear with the General Elections round the corner, they are promising returning the free port status to us if they win back Penang. We see through you. Go bugger off, okay?