Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Splendid display at Queensbay Mall

It was just as well that I was unable to drive into the multi-storey carpark at the Queensbay Mall in Bayan Lepas yesterday and had to go find a parking space in the open-air carpark opposite because otherwise, I would have missed seeing the festive decorations in the main lobby area of this shopping mall.

The moment I walked into the building, I was muttering to myself, "Oh, fuck, what a marvellous and most elaborate piece of work!" Every minor detail had been well thought out and lovingly taken care of, and people could really go up close to all the decorations and admire them.

No wonder the management had delayed taking down their Christmas decoration because this was a grand artwork that we seldom see in Penang. My hats off to Queensbay Mall for their inspiration, imagination and hard work to see their project through till a successful display.

A hope for the better

Amidst all the unfortunate bad news at the end of the year - floods and an aeroplane crash - 2014 promises to end on a warm and sunny note.

This morning, I had stepped out of the house at about 6.50a.m. to be greeted by the planet Jupiter shining directly above. It was the brightest spot of light in today's dawn sky. I could also see some faint stars twinkling, as well as wisps of white clouds with no tinge of pink. So yes, the sky is clear and 31 Dec 2014 looks likely to be dry, warm and bright. And with this positive remark, I wish everyone a Happy New Year with the hope that 2015 will turn out better for all of us.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Ajahn Brahm and the anniversary of my health crisis

My wife and I have just returned from the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road, Penang, where we had attended the second of two talks by the visiting Ajahn Brahm from Perth, Australia. Arguably, he is one of the most popular speakers on Buddhism that I've know. His talks always generate a very big crowd among the Buddhist fraternity here and often, there would be people lingering by the staircase at the back of the hall because they couldn't come in to sit down. Yesterday, he was speaking about peace of mind and today, the subject of his fascinating one-hour talk was the ego. Your ego and my ego.

We have been going to the Mahindarama temple for so many years now just to listen to Ajahn Brahm's end-of-the-year talks, although we know that much of what he would cover are repetitions of topics he had covered in the past and in his books.

If one hasn't heard him before, the ideas he shares are pretty informative and illuminative, but for anyone who has heard him in the past, you tend to know after a while where he is coming from and where he is heading to. Still, we come and listen to him. We come to pay him our respect. It's a yearly ritual. Well, almost yearly because the only time that I can remember which he had given Penang a miss was in 2012. Boy, we sure felt his absence during that year-end.

And what we'd normally do at the end of a session is to go up and meet him, to exchange a few words. This year, when we went up to him, I informed him that exactly one year ago, after attending his final talk at the Mahindarama for 2013, I was hospitalised for two weeks. In hospital after a severe bout of diverticular disease. And I told him tonight that I was glad to see him again because it marked the anniversary of the beginning of my health ordeal. He must come back next year in order to mark the second anniversary. We had a good laugh.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Payday for JobStreet (JOBST) shareholders

So today's the day. The day of the big pay-out from to their shareholders. With the money from SEEK Asia now in, as payment for's job portal business, the shareholders are set to receive the dividends of RM2.65 per share paid directly into their bank accounts.

But first, on 10 Dec 2014 when's shares (JOBST) on the Bursa Malaysia went ex-dividend, the price of the share was adjusted from RM2.92 to RM0.29. Effectively, this meant that JOBST now qualified as a penny stock.

The RM0.29 value for a JobStreet share reflects the residual value of the company which is actually still quite substantial. still has on-going investments in countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, and of course locally, and they have a building in Kuala Lumpur which is used to house the ex-JobStreet staff who now work for SEEK Asia.

And as penny stock goes, the JobStreet shares attracted a lot of interest on the stock market, mostly as I would believe from speculators. A total of 22,760,800 shares changed hands on that day, making it one of the most active counters on the Bursa. Even today, there is still a lot of transactions.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A rain with no thunder

The weather in the past four days has been very nice: it has been raining! And with it, the weather is so cool and nice, despite it being wet. But I like it. Like it better than the sunny weather.

Anyway, this rain only reinforces what I've been telling people - those who bother to listen to me - that the most prolonged rainy spells happen when there is no thunder or lightning. Take, for example, these past few days. Have you heard any thunder? Seen any lightning? No? Well, that's what's happen when thunder and lightning do not follow a rain storm. It just goes on and on.

But when you have a thunderstorm, chances are, the storm would be over in a matter of time. Possibly one hour, two hours, sometimes even shorter.

So for the past few days, it has been just drizzles. Constant drizzles. Persistent drizzles. Drizzles that wet the roads but not causing any real congestion to the roads and traffic. But enough to make you wet if you are so foolhardy to want to step outdoors without an umbrella.

To many people, this present rainy period has lasted four days already since the 20th of the month but to me, the continuous rainfall only manifested itself in the morning of the 21st. At about 6.30a.m. that day, I had gone outdoors to look upwards into the dawn sky as I wanted to look at the planet Jupiter. I had noticed Jupiter since about three or four days earlier when I was tracking the waning moon but I couldn't see the planet on the 20th or the 21st.

In fact, on the 21st, instead of the planet, I noticed that the sky had a pinkish hue. I had then messaged a friend in Kuala Lumpur that it looked like impending rain. By daylight, I could see that the sky was indeed grey. Uniformly grey without any isolated patches of blue. And then the showers began. They weren't heavy but as I told my friend, it would still make anyone wet. However, by six o'clock in the afternoon, it had stopped.

That night, the wind began blowing and I commented that I could hear it rustling the leaves outside the house. Cool night, as a result. Then after three o'clock on the 22nd, the rain began. Ever so lightly. And it became heavier after five o'clock. My thermometer registered a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 26 Celsius for the day. At daybreak, I stepped outside the house and noticed a thick cloud cover at the Bukit Mertajam hill in Cherok Tokun.

My observation on the 22nd afternoon was that it was still wet but with a very light rainfall only. "BM hill covered with mist," I informed my friend. No let-up in the rain as afternoon turned to night.

And today, it was still drip-dropping with rain at about 6.30a.m. The temperature recorded by my thermometer was a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 24.5 Celsius, the smallest temperature range that I've ever experienced in Penang for quite some time. It is only now at three o'clock in the afternoon that the rain has stopped. But for how long, I wouldn't know.

UPDATE (24 Dec 2014): The respite was brief. The rain came back again soon after I completed this post and for the better part of the late afternoon, it was intermittent. But the drizzles went on into the night and well into early this morning. I spent the early hours listening to the dripping of rain water on the metal awnings. The temperature recorded over the last 24 hours was a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 24 Celsius. So the daytime temperature wasn't that much different from the night-time.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Celebrating Tang Chek (冬至)

The Winter Solstice, or Tang Chek (Dongzhi, 冬節), is one of the most important festivals celebrated by our Hokkien community. This year, the festival falls on 22 Dec 2014, which is the date when the sun, as observed from the ground, is seen to move into the 22nd solar term of the Chinese luni-solar calendar which marks the winter solstice.

It so happens that this year, the date coincides with the first day of the Chinese 11th lunar month. This doesn't occur often - that Tang Chek and the start of a lunar month falling on the same day - and the last time it happened was in 1995. And before that, in 1984.

What I did this year at Tang Chek was to prepare for the worship at home early in the morning. We did not cook the glutinous rice balls as a friend had told us before hand that she would be giving us some.

Previously before my aunt had passed away, my wife and aunt would have spent the previous evening mixing and colouring the dough before pinching it into small pieces and rolling them up into balls.

So this year, like last year when we were not allowed to roll the rice balls on account of my aunt's passing within a calendar year, we had ours prepared by outsiders. We simply offered the rice balls in bowls as worship items to our family deities.

Having finished with this yearly ritual at home, I then made my way down to my clansman association, the Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) in Carnarvon Lane, to join in our annual Tang Chek homage to our Kongsi's resident deities and ancestral altar.

The worship here at the Kongsi would be more elaborate than the one we have at home. Normally for this occasion, there would also be a whole roasted pig offered at the ancestral altar. At the end of the worship, the pig would then be cut up and distributed to the Kongsi's trustees.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Getting back into the game

About 10 days ago, I went back to playing chess. Although the game had been so much a part of my life since my schooldays and throughout my working life into my retirement, I had not played at all for about two years now. I can't really remember when it was that I last touched a chess piece but as I said, maybe it was about two years ago.

At about this time last year when the Penang Chess Association was organising its Penang Chess league, I had cried off turning up in any of the Old Frees' Association teams because I was so unsure of my playing standard. Inactivity had bred doubts in my mind and I was undergoing a bit of mini-crisis.

But this year, I actually informed my OFA chess cronies that I wanted to play and in a further commitment to my friends, I told them that I was prepared to play in all rounds except one. Now, having made  that sort of commitment, it was very hard for me to go back on my words. And more so when I was placed in the B team, whereas in the past few years it had always been the C team for me. Wah...the confidence they have in me, one who hasn't played for so long and totally out of practice.

On the day of the competition on the sixth of December, I turned up at the Red Rock Hotel in MacAlister Road and nonchalently took my seat on the third board. Around me was Chuah Heng Meng on the first board, Lim Cheng Teik on the second board and Colin Chong on the fourth board. Our fifth player, William Lee was unavailable to play on that Saturday, but he turned up for all the games on Sunday.

Inwardly, I was very nervous although I was a picture of calm to everyone around me. How would I perform in the three games on the first day of the chess league? The first round did not give me any comfort although my team won easily against a team of very young players. My opponent was 10 years old while his even younger brother on the fourth board was only eight. Colin and I ended up helping the kids write on their scorebooks.

The second round opponents provided us with a sterner test. My team-mates won their games but I could only contribute a draw. In fact, my opponent came out with a slight edge in the middlegame but he wasn't adventurous enough and was quite satisfied to split the point after we went into a repetition of position.

My real test was in the third round when we were paired with the CLOBA A team and I found myself sitting down facing Loo Swee Leong. My opening went hay-wire and not only did I find myself down a pawn after some oversight but I was forced into doubling my centre pawns. Luckily, my opponent got lulled into a comfort zone and allowed me to counter-attack his king. Both of us got chances to double our rooks on the seventh rank but after a pair was forced off the board, the position became so sterile that we agreed to a draw.

As planned earlier, I sat out the fourth round on Sunday morning. My team were going great guns that round and we decided to field the same line-up for the fifth round. So, this was a round that I did not get to play too.

By the sixth round, I was already itching for some action. I emerged from the opening with an encouraging position but unfortunately, when my opponent presented me with a choice of continuations, I had to choose the worst among them and ended up with the worse position, having to defend an inferior game. But I dug in and my opponent then decided to present me with enough counter-play to squeeze a win from the position.

My final round game was yet another lucky escape. How many did I have in this tournament; three? I think so. I ended up with the exchange down but the position was just too close and my opponent just could not infiltrate in. I managed to exchange off many of the pawns and having neutralised his threats, the game petered off to another draw.

I must say that I felt rather upbeat and encouraged after returning to playing. Though my present form is nothing much to shout about -- repeatedly, I had to remind myself that I did not possess enough sense of danger in my games -- it makes me wanting to play again in the next team tournament. That would be the USM team open tournament that's slated for March next year.

Incredibly, we finished third! William, Cheng Teik, Colin and I with the PCA president, Lee Ewe Ghee.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Licenced FIDE arbiter

It was at the end of 2012 that I first heard about the decision by the World Chess Federation, FIDE, to compel all their international and Fide Arbiters - and I was already an international arbiter since 2000 - to pay a one-time licence fee before they could work anywhere as an arbiter in Fide-rated chess events.

In fact, I was encouraged by Hamid Majid, Malaysia's only Category A international arbiter, to get myself licensed as soon as possible. All right, I told him, I shall look into it. I dilly-dallied a bit and before long, 2012 soon segued into 2013. Never mind, I told myself, I am still resolved to getting my licence.

But then, some disturbing developments were taking place inside a dysfunctional Malaysian Chess Federation.

We have an ex-politician who was clinging desperately to the post of MCF president, which amazed me to no end because the position of the president - and all other elected posts in the federation - was purely voluntary with no monetary gain of any kind. Why on earth would anyone want to cling onto a voluntary post? If someone else wants the job, let him take over, lah! Also, when one isn't doing anything much to promote the game or raise funds for its activities, don't be so thick-skinned to stay and be ineffective. That's just killing the organisation. Nevertheless, he remained there all right, entrenched and surrounded by his president's men. A fractured MCF and a truly dysfunctional group of people representing chess in the country, if ever there was one.

It pained me so much to think that I had to make my FIDE arbiter licence application through this bunch of jokers in the MCF. How am I supposed to get the MCF to issue me with a letter to send to FIDE? This was the dilemma that caused me to delay my payment.

One month led to another and soon, it was already December 2013. At the end of the year, I was stricken with a serious bout of ill-health which landed me in hospital for two weeks. By the time I was discharged, months of recuperation followed. Chess was quite out of my mind during those long months.

Earlier this month, Hamid was in Penang, appointed by the Penang Chess Association to be the chief arbiter in the sixth Penang heritage city open chess championship. By some coincidence, another old friend, Leong Chee Weng from Singapore, had also turned up but as a player. For those that do not know, Chee Weng is the former secretary-general of FIDE. Since relinquishing this position in FIDE last August, he has been playing more chess. Together, Hamid and Chee Weng persuaded me to pay up my licence fee as soon as possible. And, Hamid emphasised that I need not channel my application through MCF. He said that I could and should correspond directly with the chairman of FIDE's Arbiters' Commission.

Which was why last week, I was pretty busy going to the bank to make a telegraphic transfer to FIDE's bank account and then informing the Arbiters' Commission about it. And I'm happy to declare that as of 12 Dec 2014, my name now appears in the official FIDE Licenced Arbiters list. Look out, people, I am now back in action.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ski resorts in Stratton, Vermont

More than a decade ago, one of my relatives showed me postcards of some of the most stunning winter landscapes in the world. "They are of the ski resorts in Stratton Vermont," he had told me then.

I am not totally unfamiliar with Vermont. For instance, I do know that it is a state in the New England region of the north-eastern United States. Vermont is also the sixth smallest in area and people-wise, it is the second least populous among the 50 United States.

Its main industry is tourism and while the vibrant colours of fall already attract quite a number of people to the state, it is in the winter months that a different kind of tourist - both international and domestic vacationers - descend on the snow-capped mountains there.

The town of Stratton in the Windham County of Vermont is usually the focal point of these visitors. From here in winter, they travel to the nearby Stratton Mountain to enjoy the most exhilarating skiing and snow-boarding experience.

It matters not whether the skiier or snow-boarder is an old hand or an absolute beginner, Stratton Mountain has much to offer visitors of various levels of experience.

There are 97 recorded trails covering some 38 miles (60 kilometres) across 670 acres (270 hectares) of skiable terrain. About 40 percent of these trails are rated easy and hence are suitable for novices, 35 percent can be enjoyed by those of intermediate skill, while the truly experienced skiiers or snow-boarders can look forward to the most challenging 25 percent of these trails.

At its highest point, Stratton Mountain stands at 3,875 feet above sea level, and it is a vertical drop of 2,003 feet to the base below. There are several ski resorts in Stratton that caters to different groups of tourists and from there, the tourists have a choice of using 11 lifts to travel from the base stations to the various skiing or snow-boarding points. These lifts are capable of moving up to 33,000 people in an hour. The average annual snowfall in Stratton is 180 inches (460 cm). Stratton also ranks in the top 10 of SKI Magazine for snow, grooming, lifts, terrain parks, service, lodging, dining, on-mountain food, apres and nightlife.

As a nature lover, if ever I get a chance to visit the eastern United States, I would place Vermont - and especially Stratton - as among the bucket list of places to visit. I really, really hope to be there one day...

Friday, 5 December 2014

An orchid surprise

I had a bit of a surprise when I peered into my orchid patch this morning.

Until yesterday, I had not really noticed that one of my plants was beginning to flower and thus, I was quite pleased to notice three flowering stalks of this cirrhopetalum orchid.  (Even after all these years, I haven't been able to track down the full name of this orchid specie. Can anyone help?)

They look like three complete flowers by themselves but actually, each comprises about nine to 10 individual flowers, all arranged in a semi-circular formation.

Unfortunately, the flowers do not last very long. At the most, they'll be around for about a week before they wither and drop off.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Zacharevic's latest street art

I happened to go to Balik Pulau with my brother-in-law and his family earlier this week. They are from Singapore but had come home to visit the old folks in Bandar Tasek Mutiara on mainland Penang. So I had been playing tourist guide and taking them to a few places on the island and try some of the well-known local food, char koay teow being on the top of their list. That's why we found ourselves meandering to Balik Pulau last Tuesday to hunt down the laksa there. And suddenly, while driving around, I remembered that that artist dude, Ernest Zacharevic, had just concluded drawing one of his wall murals in this town on the opposite end of the island. It didn't take me long to track it down.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Preparing a Japanese ramen egg

I remember that my wife, son and I were at a Japanese restaurant called Ippudo at the Pavillion in Kuala Lumpur just last August and we enjoyed the ramen there.

The soup was delicious but the most remarkable memory was of the whole egg that accompanied the dish. When bitten open, the yolk was still runny and it simply oozed out into the soup.

Since then, I have been wondering how the restaurant had managed to cook their eggs.

Apparently, these eggs are quite common in ramen dishes and it is possible to search through the Internet and find out how to make them. I'm saying this because I've tried it out over the weekend. And found that the technique is actually very simple indeed.

The recommendation was to use large eggs that weigh about 60 grammes each. And the ones I managed to buy from my regular supplier at the local market weighed exactly that!

The secret was to bring water to a boil and then place these eggs to simmer in the boiling water for six-and-a-half minutes. If the eggs came out straight from the refrigerator, boil them for seven minutes.

While they boiled, I prepared a bowl of ice water because after the  or seven minutes were up, the eggs were to be transferred into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. The eggs were kept there for another six minutes or so before they were de-shelled carefully. The cooked albumin should be firm, yet soft when pressed gently. Then, when I was ready to eat, just cut the egg into halves and own ramen egg.

Quod est demonstrandum (QED).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Family gathering

My brother-in-law and his family had arrived back from Singapore yesterday for a brief visit to the old folks and in celebration, we took the opportunity for a rare full family gathering at one of the seafood restaurants in Tambun on the mainland side of Penang. Thereafter, we adjourned back home to Simpang Ampat for this photo opportunity. I think everyone's here except for Michelle, Shirween and Adrian, but they are in Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, 28 November 2014

JobStreet's dividend history (JOBST)

I noticed that JobStreet Corporation Berhad, listed on Bursa Malaysia as JOBST, had issued their latest quarterly report on its consolidated results for the financial period that ended on 30 Sep 2014. As a former staff of, I am naturally very interested to see what's happening to my former workplace especially when there is such a lot of interest in its future direction.

Now, (almost) everyone would already know that JobStreet has already finished with its final stage of disposing off its jobs portal business to SEEK Asia Investment, and in fact, the deal was concluded on the 20th of this month when SEEK Asia transferred RM1,562.8 million into JobStreet's account. On that day, JobStreet's founder, Mark Chang, stepped down as the CEO of the company.

This protracted negotiation of the Proposed Disposal of the jobs portal business by JobStreet to SEEK Asia had been going on for quite a while - since February this year - but it was not without its own nail-biting moments.

While it was generally accepted that the sale of the business would go through smoothly, it had been recognised that there could be some sticky moments with the Singapore authorities who were concerned that SEEK Asia could come to monopolise the jobs portal business in the Republic as the latter already owned JobStreet's greatest rival, JobsDB. Together, JobStreet and JobsDB would corner possibly more than 90 percent of the business in Singapore.

But after a lengthy period of fact-finding investigation - during which time, the shareholders of JobStreet were all nervously put on edge - the Competition Commission Singapore (CCS) concluded that there would be no infringement of their Singapore Competition Act (Cap. 50B) provided that SEEK Asia implemented and complied with their own Proposed Commitments and the Proposed Divestiture Commitment (which are both too lengthy for me to disclose here but can always be read from the CCS or SEEK websites). In issuing the favourable decision, CCS accepted the Proposed Commitments offered by SEEK Asia in order to address the potential competition concerns that may arise from the Proposed Disposals.

But back to this quarterly report, it more or less summarised a lot of the recent developments of the company. Amidst all the gobbledy-gook in the report is the news of the payment of the Special Single-Tier Dividend to JobStreet shareholders on Christmas Eve. Yes, the money that has been received from SEEK Asia will be returned to the shareholders and it will be worth RM2.65 per share. Although the news is welcoming indeed for clarifying the occasionally nail-biting situation, it also brings some sobering thoughts because the company that we have known since 1995 will no longer be the same anymore.

Throughout its 10 years of listing on the Bursa Malaysia, the company has been paying out dividends, but none as good as in the last two or three years. It was listed at the end of 2004 but for that year, no dividend was paid. In 2005, it declared a total dividend payment of 2.75 sen against an IPO price of 54 sen per share. In 2006, the dividend payment was a modest 1.5 sen.

In 2007, JobStreet declared a bonus issue of two ordinary shares for every ordinary share of 10 sen each, followed by an immediate consolidation of two ordinary shares of 10 sen each after the bonus issue into one new ordinary share of 20 sen each in the company. What this meant effectively was that if you had bought 10,000 shares of JobStreet at its IPO price of 54 sen in 2004, you would now end up with 15,000 shares at an adjusted IPO price of 36 sen at the end of 2007.

Subsequent to this bonus issue-cum-consolidation exercise, the company declared a total dividend payment of 5.0 sen for 2007, 3.5 sen for 2008 and 3.0 sen for 2009. In 2010, the company announced a new dividend policy to return approximately 50 percent of the company's profit after tax and minority interests to the shareholders. As a result, shareholders received dividend payments totalling 6.5 sen in 2010, 7.0 sen in 2011 and 9.25 sen in 2012.

In May 2013, there was again a new dividend policy to return up to 75 percent of the company's profit after tax and minority interests to the shareholders on a quarterly basis, and also a share split exercise in September. Dividend pay-out for that year amounted to 9.25 sen. (To receive a total dividend of 9.25 sen is akin to receiving an interest rate pay-out of 25 percent on your initial investment amount in 2004; an impressive return on investment.)

For 2014, the dividends declared for pay-out till today amounted to 5.25 sen, excluding the Special Dividend declared. But will there be a fourth interim dividend declared next year or indeed, will there be a final dividend too? Remember, JobStreet was still earning from its jobs portal business until the 20th of November when SEEK Asia finally transmitted their payment over into JobStreet's account. So we may jolly well expect the last of JobStreet's generous dividend payments to still come through.

For a person who had invested RM5,400 for 10,000 JobStreet shares in 2004, converted to 15,000 shares of 20 sen each in 2007 and 30,000 shares of 10 sen each in 2013 , he would have received back RM9,387.50 in dividends through the years. Not too bad a performance for a company that started out simply by matching jobs to job seekers way back in 1995 and grew into the finest Internet company in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and India, and at one stage also with forays into Thailand, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The company still has on-going interests in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Penang Free School (PFS) school register

I've been making some visits to the Penang Free School archives to look up some of the old materials and documents in preparation for the PFS Bicentenary book that's due out in October 2016.

Of course, while looking through the mouldy old documents, I couldn't help looking at the old school registers that recorded our entries as pupils into this school. In particular, of course, the entries of all my old school mates that had entered Penang Free School from the Remove classes in 1965 till the Upper Six classes in 1972.

Extracted out the whole list of them. All in, we were 566 names strong, of which 291 had entered Form One together in 1966. We had another 150 who joined the school in 1965 as Remove class pupils but I don't remember all of them going on to Form One because when I joined Form One, there were only seven afternoon classes. Even assuming that each class consisted of 45 pupils, that would mean only 315 pupils. Thus, it was only a handful of Remove class pupils that were promoted to Form One at the Penang Free School in 1966. So what had happened to the rest of them? Dropped out? Transferred to another school?

In 1967, four more pupils joined our batch in Form Two and in 1968, so did another four pupils for Form Three. In 1969, we were in Form Four and the school register showed that we welcomed 30 more pupils that had transferred to the Free School from various other secondary schools in the state and elsewhere.

Form Five in 1970 was our Malaysian Certificate of Education year and there were four more pupils that joined our batch. In 1971, the school received 81 pupils - now young men and young women - into our Lower Six classrooms and in 1972 when we sat for the Higher School Certificate, two more joined our Upper Six classes.

In all, as I mentioned earlier, we were 566 names strong. Unfortunately, the register did not record those who had left the school at different paths of their education.

Also, I suspect that the school clerk did not record the names of anybody who had joined the school on Day One but had left almost immediately. I know of at least one friend who did that. He entered Penang Free School on the first day of school but left on the next day as his father had registered him into a Singaporean institution. His name was missing from the school register.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Movember me

I may look unkempt lately but hey, it's alright. After all, it's that time of the year. It's the month of Movember, remember? That's when I usually let my facial hair down and let it grow whichever way it may.

Of course, there is nothing much to crow about up there but at least, I can still let the rest of me assume that scraggly look. Especially when there's now a lot more white sprinkled among the black. Come to think of it, the whites have started to dominate the blacks already!

It's been close to four weeks already and my wife's been asking me when I'm going to take it off.

I reminded her that I've looked far more better (or worse) before. In 2000, I had actually sported a one-inch beard while working at Ban Hin Lee Bank and when I organised the Wah Seong Penang international master chess tournament, but I took it off in the middle of 2001 when I joined Making a new statement with a new job.

But this time around, there's no new job waiting for me; not when I'm already retired from full-time employment for several years now and I spend my time in writing and seeking clients who need a bit of my expertise as a personal estate planner. Scratching your head? Okay, to cut the puzzlement short, I help them to write their wills and set up their trusts.

But going back to the subject of my present unkempt and scraggly look during Movember month, I told my wife that I'd most probably shave them off after the first week of December. My deadline is the eighth or ninth of next month. Anyway, sometime during the second week of December. That would be just after the end of this year's Penang Chess League. I'm playing, see, and I want to keep my scraggly good looks on until that tournament ends. It will be a good talking point for people who sees me at the tournament hall.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Last words on Power 1 Walnut

In 2008, I had been following quite closely the saga of the Power 1 Walnut sex-enhancing drug ever since news broke of a spate of deaths in Singapore from people who had been consuming this pill.

Six years on, it is time for me to pull a stop on this thread since this Power 1 Walnut, like most other designer drugs, has fallen out of favour with its users.

What prompted this decision was this story in Singapore's The Straits Times newspaper today that said since 2010, sex drug dealers were now targeting lonely old men to buy and peddle their wares.

The modus operandi was simple enough: a foreign woman - usually from China (and why is it that I'm not surprised??) - zeros in on an elderly man at coffee shops and chats him up, often telling sob stories to gain sympathy and trust. Then, she'd start asking for a favour to have some packages delivered to the man's home, for which he gets paid between SGD150 and SGD500 per delivery. Some men would also receive sexual favours. When the man is busted by the authorities, the foreign woman simply disappears.

Apparently, from 2010 to last year, the newspaper reported that Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) had conducted 169 raids in Geylang and seized about 2.5 million pills and products worth more than SGD6 million.

Twenty-six people were either jailed or fined for peddling sex drugs over that period, and those caught faced up to two years in jail and/or a maximum fine of SGD10,000.

And yet, of course, some of these so-called "lonely old man" were not undeterred by the punishments because of the prospects of receiving easy money or, in some cases, the free sex.

But more significantly, this brief mention of the Power 1 Walnut drug at the end of the report had caught my eye.

According to the newspaper: "The notorious Power 1 Walnut, which was linked to a spate of deaths in 2008, is no longer sold here, said Prof Chan."

On this note, this shall be the last you shall hear from me on this matter.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Li Chun (立春), 2015

I was flipping through the calendar in the kitchen this morning and realised that today is the first day of the Chinese 10th lunar month, which meant that for the past 59 days, we had been living through an extended ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

This set me thinking because the ninth lunar month has always been the month of prayers and celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods. And I distinctly remember that we in Malaysia had been celebrating this occasion from the 24th of September until the second of October. Those dates would have made it almost two months ago and yet, we were still in the ninth lunar calendar month until yesterday!

At first, this did not make sense because how could a lunar month be 59 days long? Then I took a closer look at the calendar. The mystery unravelled itself. From the 24th of October until yesterday, the 21st of November, we have been living through what is known as the intercalary ninth lunar month.

This is an extra month inserted into the Chinese lunar calendar every third year or so to compensate for the shorter Chinese lunar year when compared to the consistent mean solar year (365.2425 days) which is the time it takes the sun to move across the sky and return to the same relative position in the sky every year as seen from the earth.

The intercalary month in the Chinese lunar calendar need not always be the ninth lunar month. It can be any month, depending on some complex calculations and astrological observations vis-a-vis the position of the moon and sun in the sky, but what it does is that it brings the Chinese lunar calendar into closer conformity with the other measurement of time using the Chinese luni-solar calendar which is roughly equivalent to 365¼ days.

For many of us, the Chinese luni-solar calendar is lesser known than the Chinese lunar calendar because many of our celebrations - such as Chinese New Year or the Dragon Boat dumpling festival or the Hungry Ghosts festival or the Mid-Autumn lantern festival or the Nine Emperor Gods festival - depend on the lunar calendar.

Yet the luni-solar calendar has its importance too and we have at least three significant dates that depend solely on the use of this calendar: the Lip Chun Coming of Spring (立春) on the fourth of February, Cheng Beng (清明) on either the fourth or fifth of April and the Tang Chik (Tung Chik) Winter Solstice (冬至) on either the 21st or 22nd of December.

At this time of the year, my thoughts always turn to the coming Lip Chun or Li Chun (立春) which marks the beginning of Spring in China and takes place officially on the fourth of February annually. On this date, the sun is deemed to have crossed the 315° longitude in the sky. The only question is to ascertain the time that it does so.

Without much reference material to read from, my only resource is this book by Joey Yap which is called The Ten Thousand Year Calendar (and yes, I got it signed by him, finally!)

It's a very useful book if you know what to use it for. Unfortunately for me, I've only two main uses for it and one of them is to find out when exactly is the time of Li Chun (立春) every year so that I can prepare for my annual family ritual of sticking that red piece of paper on my rice bucket to signify abundance for the forthcoming year.

Now having already established all this, let me tell you that this Ten Thousand Year Calendar book says that Li Chun (立春) will fall exactly on noon time (12p.m.) on 4 February 2015. For those referring to the Chinese lunar calendar, this is the 16th day of the 12th moon.

Meantime, here are my past blog entries on Li Chun (立春) through the recent past years:
Li Chun, 2014
Li Chun, 2013
Li Chun, 2012
Li Chun, 2011
Li Chun, 2010
Li Chun, 2009
Li Chun, 2008
Li Chun, 2007

Friday, 21 November 2014

Macau day trip

My wife has a habit: no matter whether we are at home or on holidays, invariably she would be the last person out of the door whenever we need to go somewhere. It was the same again when we were readying ourselves to buy our turbojet tickets to Macau in March this year. We were staying in Sheung Wan and I had to hurry her out of the hotel early enough to have our breakfast before walking over to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal. Once the tickets were bought, we were on our way.

The one-hour journey was smooth and uneventful, and soon we arrived at the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal. And immediately, we hit a problem: hardly anyone we met outside the Macau Government Tourist Office at the terminal spoke English, and with us not speaking Portuguese, Cantonese or Mandarin, our only course of action was to arm ourselves with one of their tourist maps so that we could point and gesticulate to the destinations we wanted to go.

So what's available in Macau that could interest us immediately? When I was younger several decades ago, I had already known that Macau was the centre of legalised gambling in this part of the world. In the same breath, whenever Macau's name was mentioned, visions of roulette tables, blackjack tables and slot machines would spring to mind. The Casino Lisboa was practically the face of Macau from the 70s till the 90s. It's that famous, see?

In 2001, the Macau government eased restrictions on casinos operating here and today, I've been reading that there are as many as 33 casinos in this Special Administrative Region.

Unfortunately, I've never been a gambling man and my forays into casinos anywhere have always been out of curiosity than anything else. Same as in Macau, the only casino that we wandered into briefly was the Casino Lisboa and that was only because it was located down the road from the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. But I'm sure that many other people would have found entertainment inside the many other big-name casinos here.

So there we were, we hailed a taxi at the ferry terminal and pointed out to the driver that we wanted to go to the ruins of St Paul's. Well, maybe not exactly to the ruins itself, but maybe, just drop us off a distance away so that we could walk and have a look around one of Macau's busy commercial centres. We got off at the Avenida do Infante Dom Henrique, got our bearings correct and strolled to where the Largo de Senado (Senado Square) was.

The direction to the ruins couldn't be any simpler to ascertain. We simply had to follow the crowd. Everyone in the square was practically heading in the same direction as us or they were heading back. But actually, if we were just to walk directly to the ruins without stopping to observe the culture and activities around us, we would have missed a lot about everyday Macau street life.

Obviously, we weren't interested in the big business outlets with their branded goods; they were more or less the same everywhere. Instead we were more curious about the little mom-and-pop shops along the way: the little shops selling souvenir items and the little shops selling tasty snacks like dried sweet meats, meatballs on a stick, grilled pork chops in crispy buns, almond cookies and of course, their famous Portuguese egg tarts, It would be unforgivable to leave Macau without eating two or three or even more of these egg tarts!

Macau is actually much more than the casinos or the ruins of St Paul's. As my wife and I were only there on a very crowded day trip, we never got the chance to move far from the Senado Square or the ruins. Nevertheless, we did manage to visit the St Dominic's Church, the nearby Na Tcha Temple, the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau building and Mt Fortress.

We came away from our brief trip to Macau convinced that next time around, we must stay here for a couple more days. After all, Macau is an amazing place, both historical and modern, and visiting this place can be a great experience, especially if your first visit was short or incomplete or if you haven't been here before.  So if my wife and I were to visit Macau again, what will we be doing?

First thing is to explore the Macau historical centre again which incidentally, is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Apart from the ruins of St Paul's, there are so many more attractions such as the St Joseph's Church, the St Laurence's Church, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Mandarin's House, A-Ma's Temple and the Guia hills.

But history and culture aside, Macau has other modern-day attractions. I'm talking casinos now. Yes, the casinos. We'd certainly like to step foot into the casinos - yes, really visit them intentionally - not to gamble but to enjoy the side attractions like the gondola ride at the Venetian Macau and the Wynn Macau's water fountain show which I hear is rather spectacular.

And above all, there are also equally charming tourist alternatives such as the wine museum, the Macau Grand Prix and the grand prix museum, Fisherman's Wharf or the Macau Tower with its bungee jumping attraction, not that I'm game enough to try it (but my wife may want to).

In the early evening as we took the same turbojet ride back to Hong Kong, we looked back at this former Portuguese colony and saw Macau's newest casino, the Sands Macau, fading away into the background. Hopefully, we'll be back in the foreseeable future to explore more of this place.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Mark Chang's final message to

Well, the journey's over and a new chapter unfolds. My part in the journey was comparatively small but it was still a very humble experience to have been part of this remarkable journey with my friend, Mark Chang, and I have to thank him for it. I joined in June 2001 and retired in December 2009, which means that I gave my all to Mark for 8½ years of the company's 20-year existence.

The official handing over of's jobs portal business to Seek Asia takes effect from tomorrow, and these are the final words from Mark who steps down today as JobStreet's chief executive officer.

Although the message was meant for the existing staff of the company (who will find themselves reporting for work tomorrow as staff of Seek Asia), Mark has requested that it be made known to all former JobStreet staff too.

So here it is, Mark's final message:
Dear colleagues,
It is almost a 20-year start-up journey for us and we are closing the deal and officially handing over the management to Seek management team. 
The most important message I want to say to you and all our former staff is "Thank you". Thank you for all your sacrifices, loyalty, hard work and unselfish contributions all these years. Other people can claim but I know you are the ones who have done all the real work. You are the real unsung heroes of our company. With you in my wing, I had confidence to compete with the best in the world and we became the most successful Internet company in this region to date and touch the lives of millions. With you, I have so much joy in my work and with you, I have found meaning in my life. A simple "Thank you" does not sound sufficient but it is through this simple "Thank you" which encompasses all my wholehearted tributes and all my best intentions to each and everyone of you. 
At the end of today, I will no longer your CEO but I will be your friend for life. I ask your forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done. It has been a wonderful journey travelling with you. We did not really change the world; instead, the world has changed us. 
I learn that real wealth is not money and the money that I earned, I will give most away for good causes. Real wealth is what money cannot buy such as health, good relationship, happiness and peace of mind. May we, the mortal and foolish ones, have the wisdom to pick the right choices.
May you find what you seek.
Mark Chang

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Double rainbow

While out on the island yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to spot a breath-taking rainbow over the northern channel. A closer look revealed the presence of a much fainter inverted double rainbow above the main one.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

My exercise regime

Prior to my sickness in January this year, my weight was hovering around 74 kilogrammes but after my hospitalisation, I saw my weight plummet to 68 kilogrammes and it even reached a low of 66 kilogrammes in February. I can't say that I was unhappy about this loss in my weight but I was hoping that perhaps I could maintain this weight from then onwards.

But I've been noticing over the past months that my weight has been creeping up gradually and I was averaging around 70 kilogrammes. Darn....

Luckily also, as a consequence of my illness, I've been taking up a bit more of exercising. Previously, I had been doing a bit of hill trekking up the Bukit Mertajam hill in Cherok Tokun, which I consider as my backyard. But a spate of weak knees saw me giving up this exercise. My wife recommended that I walk around the neighbourhood instead as it would be on level ground and not as challenging on my knees. But to be truthful, I don't like it as I prefer the coolness of the hill. My knees feel much better now, after going on a prolonged course of glucosamine and chondroitin over several months and lately, I've decided on going back to the hill a few times.

However, my main exercise nowadays is a spot in the gymnasium at the Safira Club in Seberang Jaya. We have been members there since the club was formed in the 1980s or so, but we haven't really been making use of its facilities.

Since the beginning of this year, however, I had decided that perhaps I should start using the gymnasium more often.

For a very long time, I had been going there only once a week to use the treadmill. At least, on the treadmill, I know that I can control my pace. Unlike free-style walking around the neighbourhood or trekking the hills where I can stop or slow down whenever I like, the treadmill exercise will force me to continue walking non-stop at a steady pace for as long as I want.

What used to be a once-a-week exercise affair has recently turned into a twice-a-week regime. But I had been inspired by one of my friends, Durian Seng, who religiously goes to the gymnasium at Farlim on the Penang island everyday. He and his wife exercise there not only every day but twice a day - in the morning and then in the afternoon! That's dedication to health!

So I've been inspired by him and since last week, I thought, why not try going to my own gymnasium at Safira Club thrice a week? I tried it last week and it wasn't bad. I could stand the pace of walking on the treadmill for one hour at a time. And already this week, I've gone to the gymnasium twice already.

Yesterday, I happened to be on the island in the morning and I headed to The Old Frees' Association in Northam Road. There's a small annexe building there that used to house the association's photography section but several years ago, the management committee decided to clear away the disused equipment. There's now a gymnasium there.

So there I was yesterday morning to use the OFA gymnasium. Spent 75 minutes on the treadmill there and completed about eight kilometres.

This morning, it was back at the Safira Club. Getting rather addicted, I tried to see whether I could top yesterday's effort. And I did. Was on the treadmill for 92 minutes and I covered 10 kilometres. My best effort so far on the treadmill. Feeling much pleased with myself. And I hope that I can keep up with this exercise regime. Wish me luck as I continue.

P.S. At least right now, my weight is fluctuating between 68 kilogrammes and 70 kilogrammes, depending on the time of day. Still okay by my reckoning....