Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Of KLIA, LCCT and the KLIA2

Like all Malaysians, my thoughts had gone out to the families of those that had perished in the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that went missing on the morning of 8 Mar 2014. Although I had not said anything at all previously, the fate of the flight had always been in my mind. I know how difficult it is to have lost a loved one. Especially for calamities like this, the grieving period will be long and painful, and full of unanswered questions.

Days after MH370 went missing, my wife and I were winging our way to Hong Kong on board another of Malaysia Airlines' flights. Throughout our journey to Hong Kong and back, MH370 weighed a lot on our minds. I was sure too that the missing flight weighed heavily on the minds of the aircraft's crew as well. But nobody dared to broach the subject with them. It was almost a taboo subject while in the air.

As long as the aircraft is still missing, the search should go on until some concrete evidence is found. Until then, there will never be closure for the crew and passengers' families. As much as I dislike the Chinese for their loudness and boorishness, I do sympathise with their pain. But we also need to share the same sympathy with the crew's families too. They may only be doing their jobs but in the last few moments of the flight going down, the crew were just as human as the passengers too. I think this is one aspect of MH370 that we should never forget. Anyway, this is all that I want to say about the missing aircraft.

On a slightly different matter, my wife was telling me that she has lost confidence in using Firefly when travelling to Kuala Lumpur. "There's always a delay," she huffed to me last night. Of course, her "always" referred to her two most recent flights from the Subang Airport to Penang on the seventh and the 28th of this month. I told her that the delays could be coincidental but no, she refused to accept my lame explanation.

She could accept the occasional delay in a flight. But to have her flights delayed twice consecutively, although they were a fortnight apart, she felt that they were way too much of a coincidence. Last Monday, her 8.10p.m. flight was delayed to 8.40p.m. and then delay to 8.55p.m. She actually marched right up to the Firefly counter at the Subang Airport and demanded a reason for the delay.

"That's a bit too much," she told me on arriving home all tired. "Next time, please book me on Malaysia Airlines." But the KLIA is more inconvenient for you, I reminded her. "Never mind," she said, "anything but a delay."

And on yet another slightly different matter, I've been reading today that the KLIA2 terminal - that's where the budget airlines will be operating from - will be open for business from the second of May. Malaysia-based Malindo Air, the Philippines' Cebu Pacific Air, Singapore's Tiger Airways and Indonesia's Lion Air and Mandala Airlines will begin initial operations from this budget terminal on Friday, while AirAsia and AirAsia X will shift their operations there only on the ninth of May.

Personally, I think that is a wise move for AirAsia to delay flying in and out of KLIA2 until a few days later. There is bound to be teething problems once a new terminal opens, and I do foresee flight delays to be quite the norm until the airlines and the control tower sought them out. Mind you, I wouldn't say that AirAsia's flights won't be affected by delays once the shift-over happens but a few days grace may mean a world of a difference to flight schedules.

I still remember when the KLIA first opened on 27 Jun 1998, my wife and I - and my aunt - were flying out to Hong Kong for a short. I wanted them to savour the experience of flying out from a new airport at KLIA and the thrill of landing at Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport which was to close down within the week. The Malaysia Airlines flight left the KLIA in the morning, delayed by only about an hour or so, but while we were in Hong Kong, we heard that all other flights were subjected to horrendous delays for the rest of the day. Luckily, we were not affected when we flew back a few days later. Everything had been sorted out by then.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Time to reclaim the headmaster's residence

To me, it was rather ironical that while the annual general meeting at The Old Frees' Association was debating the continuing use of the Penang Free School headmaster's residence in the school compound as a homestay bungalow run by the Puspanita organisation, we did not know that the Police had raided the bungalow in the wee hours of the same morning and arrested 88 people there. The Star's story here.

It turned out later that of the 88 that were nabbed, 60 of them - including 15 students - had tested positive for drugs (cannabis and methamphetamine). So it was a drug den that the Police had uncovered, right under the noses of the people that were running the Puspanita homestay.

For at least three years already, The Old Frees' Association had been very unhappy that the headmaster's residence had been taken over by the Penang government and rented out to Puspanita. In the first place, this bungalow as well as the other bungalows on the PFS land do not sit on state land. There are documents to show that the title still vests with the Federal government, and this has been told to the Penang state secretary.

Also, the Penang Chief Minister is well aware of this, as well as the Penang Governor. But it seemed that they have been unable or reluctant to do anything. Was it because of the perceived fear of the powerful position of Puspanita? What's Puspanita, anyway? It stands for the Wives of Civil Servants and Women Civil Servants Association and in this case, it was the Penang branch of the nation-wide organisation. So it stands to reason why the Penang civil service was very reluctant, especially, to upset the aprons behind the senior civil servants in the state.

All this has changed since the raid on the bungalow premises on 20 April morning. Immediately after the incident came to light, the Penang deputy state secretary issued a statement two days later saying that the government was taking back the bungalow from Puspanita.

“The incident has tarnished the image of the state government and in accordance with the instructions from the Chief Minister, the state government decided to terminate all contracts made due to violation of the terms of the agreement with Puspanita. The State Secretariat has been instructed to take over the management of the building effective immediately,” he said in a statement.

That the state government had taken back the bungalow could not have come at a better time when the school's Board of Governors are clamouring for the headmaster's residence to be returned to the school.

Perhaps right now, the state secretariat will take notice of the Board's request and do what's right for the school. With the Bicentenary coming up in 2016, there were plans identified about two years back that the premises would be an ideal location to house the School Archives permanently.

Well and good if the school were to get the headmaster's residence back. But in the first place, how was it that the premises was not occupied by the headmaster? Since the Penang Free School relocated to Green Lane in 1928, it is a tradition that the headmaster would always stay here.

When I was a student here, Tan Boon Lin, Poon Poh Kong and KG Yogam stayed here. I would presume that their successors had also been residing here. So who was the last headmaster that stayed in this bungalow? It must have been many, many years already. Whoever was the succeeding headmaster that gave up the chance to live here should disclose why he did not choose to uphold one of the school's traditions. As an Old Free, I would be most interested to understand why for history's sake.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

In Giggs, we should trust

Nowadays, very little disrupts my sleeping routine. In the past five years or so, my routine is to retire for bed at 12.30 a.m. at the latest unless there is something urgent concerning health or family matters to attend to. Not even football can persuade me to stay up and watch 22 men play with a ball in a field. I really do need my beauty sleep. It's such a precious commodity.

And so it was too last night. I slept at 12.30 a.m. but then at four o'clock in the morning, I was suddenly wide awake. No matter how I tossed and turned, sleep could not come back to me. In resignation, I knew that at the back of my mind, there must have been a tinge of regret in not staying up to watch the football game between Manchester United and Norwich City. It was the first game with Ryan Giggs in charge as the interim manager and I chose to sleep. And thus, missed it.

I reached out for the iPad and went to the sports section of The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News. Read the headlines: a 4-0 win against Norwich. Eagerly poured over all the news reports and looked over the pictures. The stadium erupting in adulation for a true son of Manchester United. Having satisfied myself with that, I tried to go back to sleep. But it was not until past six o'clock that I managed to nod off until about eight in the morning.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Samplings from the Penang World Music Festival 2014

I went unprepared to the first day of the Penang World Music Festival at the Penang Botanical Gardens a fortnight ago: I had not cleared up the old images in my camera, and thus the memory card was short on storage space. Often, this left me frantically deleting the old images and videos on the spot in order to accommodate the newer ones. But I was still grateful for being able to capture some video snippets of a few of the performances. Here they are:

The modern gamelan orchestra comprising students from the Tengku Abdul Rahman Secondary School in Nibong Tebal, Province Wellesley, Penang.

South Africa's Carlos Dje Dje performing African Children with guest guitarist Darren Rozells from Penang.

Guinea's N'Faly Kayoute and his tribal musical instrument known as the kora.

Oh, and here's one more video clip. Although it wasn't taken by me, I just have to share it here. It features a group of local musicians who called themselves La La Li La Tam Pong.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The many feats of Poh Seng Tai Tay (保生大帝)

There is no shortage of stories about the legendary feats of Poh Seng Tai Tay (Tai Tay Eah) (保生大帝), the resident deity of the Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi. You should pick up a copy of the bilingual booklet, Biography of Bao Sheng Da Di (Deity of Healing), published by the Cheng Leong Keong temple (Tai Tay Eah Ahm) in Jelutong, Penang. Here are three stories from the booklet:

Controlling the flood at Bai Jiao Xiang On one occasion, Bai Jiao Xiang (which was Tai Tay's home village in Tong Aun District, Quan Zhou Prefecture, Hock Kian Province in China) was badly flooded. The water current was alarmingly strong and swift, and houses were on the verge of being swept away. At this crucial moment, Tai Tay was seen appearing on a white crane in the sky, exercising his divine power to control the flood. In a short while, the flood water began to subside. The entire village was eventually saved without suffering much damage. As a token of appreciation, the people built a shrine to house his image and apotheosised him.
Helping Emperor Song Gaozong to escape from captivity (The legend known as Ni Ma Tu Kang Wang (泥馬渡康王)) During the time when Emperor Gaozong (高宗) of Song was still a prince, the Jin (金) (a barbaric tribe north of China) invaded the country. The Song defenders failed to stop the invading enemies from advancing. The Song called for a truce and surrendered the prince to the Jin as a hostage and the prince was subsequently kept in captivity in a Jin prison. One night several years later, the prince found an opportunity to escape under the cover of darkness. He ran as fast as he could to make his way home until he reached the Cuizi Temple (崔子廟). However, he still could not find a horse to ride. There, amidst his anxiety and fear, he suddenly heard a horse neighing nearby. He found the horse and rode off quick. As he reached a river side his captors were catching up fast with him. Feeling very worried and helpless, he prayed very hard for assistance. Almost immediately, there appeared in the sky an army of heavenly soldiers carrying the bearing with Tai Tay's name. The heavenly army quickly came and routed the enemy. The prince was quick to take this opportunity and hurriedly crossed the river and returned safely to the Middle Kingdom. Some time later, the prince ascended to the throne and he discovered that it was Tai Tay who had aided him at that critical moment. To show his gratitude, he issued a royal decree to build a temple named after Tai Tay in Bai Jiao Xiang and to hold regular rituals and praying sessions every year at the temple. This was the oldest temple for Tai Tay in Bai Jiao Xiang, known as Ci Ji Ling Gong (慈濟靈宮). Tai Tay was conferred the title of Da Tao Zhen Ren (大道真人). and was thus also known as Da Tao Gong (大道公).
Assisting Emperor Ming Taizu in battle During the period between the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in China, Zhu Yuan Zhang (朱元璋) (who later became Emperor Ming Taizu) was in battle against a warlord named Chen You-liang (陳友諒) at Lake Poyang. During the confrontation, a tempestuous storm suddenly developed and raged through the lake. The battleships of Zu and his army were badly hit by the storm and Zu was faced with an imminent defeat. At that very moment, Tai Tay appeared with layers and layers of banners waving in the sky, which changed the direction of the raging storm and saved Zu from the brink of defeat. Zu was finally able to beat the enemies and win the battle. Later, Zu successfully founded the Ming Dynasty and ascended to the throne in Nanking, declaring himself as Emperor Ming Taizu. In 1371, the Emperor conferred upon Tai Tay the title of Wu Tian Yu Shi Yi Ling Zhen Cun (吳天御史醫靈真君), meaning Great Royal Officer and Master of Healing.
As the third and final extract from this booklet is rather long, I shall reproduce it in a later post.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Moyes is history

I just got wind of the news that David Moyes has been sacked by Manchester United Football Club. And, Ryan Giggs is appointed as caretaker manager until a new permanent manager is identified.

What a relief! I used to think that the success of a football club was driven solely by the players on the field and that a manager's role would be peripheral but not any more. Ever since Moyes took over from Alex Ferguson, I have come to realise that a good manager is indeed always needed to push the team forward.

Unfortunately, Moyes has not been able to do that. The last 10 months under his guidance has been such a disaster for the club.

Knocked out of every conceivable tournament in England and Europe, in danger of missing out altogether from games in Europe the next season - certainly from the Champions League - and finishing in an absurdly low position in the Premier League.

An excerpt from theguardian newspaper summed up the feelings in the dressing room: "A lot of the analysis will inevitably feature on the way Moyes has "lost" the dressing room. The truth is actually that he had never had the dressing room. Not properly anyway. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, important players at Old Trafford, could never be won over. Ryan Giggs, who understands the place as well as anyone, has been thinking about not just retiring but also quitting his coaching role and walking away from the club altogether. When senior players rebel, younger ones follow. Danny Welbeck, the only other Mancunian in the squad, has just let it be known that he wants a move." And et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, it is time to look past this forgettable season and towards the future for my club's fortune....

The challenges of driving on Jalan Rozhan

My normal route from home to Simpang Ampat would usually take me through Machang Bubok because of the lesser traffic there, but because I was coming from a different direction this morning, I decided to use the Jalan Rozhan way.

Halfway through my journey, I realised suddenly that the road had changed tremendously in the last few years and the 5.5-kilometre stretch was now sprouting all sorts of developments, both residential and commercial.

TESCO already has a presence along this road for two or three years now and practically across from it, AEON is scheduled to complete its relocation from Perda to their new commercial outlet within the next two months or so. Jalan Rozhan will definitely become a very busy thoroughfare, if it is not already considered busy as it is now.

Travel along this road used to be a very leisurely affair. I remember that when I first moved to Bukit Mertajam about 10 years ago, I had driven along this road and it was only a single lane in either direction without much development in sight. Both sides of the road were lined with oil palms and night time was pretty dark as street lamps were dim and rather far apart.

And now, this road has been widened from the Permatang Tinggi junction until a bit after the Jalan Sejahtera junction. There is also a flyover over the Malayan Railway double-tracking project so that motorists no longer have to wait for the trains to pass by.

On my way back from Simpang Ampat, I deliberately used this road again. And I counted a total of nine sets of traffic lights from one end to the other. Two were still not functioning as the developments they will serve were not completed yet. But eventually, they will. And when they do, I can bet that driving here will become even slower and inconvenient with the frequent stops and starts. but then, progress does not come without a price.  

Monday, 21 April 2014

The ugly side of cowardice

Not long after I had written a short post today on my blog about yesterday's Annual General Meeting of The Old Frees' Association that I was surprised to retrieve a small brown envelope in my letter box. A small brown envelope with my name and address affixed on it, and post marked the 15th of April, 2014.

Inside was an anonymous, poison letter making an allegation that the land and building of the OFA premises in Northam Road, Penang, had been sold off to a well-known property developer. The anonymous letter made some further allegations of kickbacks and corruption, which I do not see fit enough to reproduce here in full.

Frankly, I am disgusted by anonymous letters flying around. If the sender had the guts to put his name on the letter, I would admire and respect him, but having chosen to hide behind a cloud of anonymity, making allegations which cannot be substantiated by ordinary means, that, to me, is a sign of great cowardice.

Of course, if this person's intention is to bring the matter up to the attention of all OFA members, he has succeeded, assuming of course, that he had sent this letter to everyone in the membership list. It would have cost the perpetrator of this letter a fair bit of money too to reach out to all the members. Postage alone would have cost him more than RM700, and that's not even taking in the time and effort, and the cost of envelopes and photocopying the letters. But it cannot hide the fact that only cowards resort to making such anonymous allegations in the first place.

And a final comment: I am wondering how on earth did this person manage to get my name and address? I am hoping that it did not come from the OFA management office. I would be very disappointed if it is proven that it had.


Heated but civilised

I attended the annual general meeting of The Old Frees' Association yesterday. Normally, I wouldn't bother to arrive until about half-way through the meeting because there is always so much work to be done at home on Sunday mornings, but for this particular AGM, I decided that perhaps I should be present from its start to view the complete proceedings. And I did stay till the end for once too.

Many other members must have felt the same way, that they had to attend this AGM, because it had been a long time since the OFA hall had been jam-packed with so many people. Unofficially, I heard that there were 189 or 190 members present. 

I have to admit that my decision to arrive early was also based on an item on the Agenda where the out-going Management Committee was proposing an amendment to the association's Rules. Through the grapevine, I had already heard that many members were pretty unhappy about the proposed amendment. I really wanted to see for myself whether the proposal could be adopted or so.

Apparent not, because from the onset the feedback from the floor was very much against the proposal. Speaker after speaker did not mince their words, until the out-going Management Committee finally decided to pull back the proposal.

Personally, I just felt that the objections were not completely justified. As far as I could see, there was no ulterior motive by the Committee in proposing the amendment. The Old Frees' Association sits on a pot of gold and it would be irresponsible for any Management Committee not to look into maximising the use of its assets even though there may be no immediate need to do so.

So while I agree with the floor that the OFA should not make it easy to sell or dispose of this asset, we should still look into ways of increasing the value or income of what we enjoy presently. If there is a reason for redevelopment of the land and premises for the better of The Old Frees' Association, and if we need to amend the rules to make it easier to achieve our goals fast, I am for it. Just don't sell off the land, that's all I ask, and that's all I want.

Before the meeting began in the morning, the Chairman called for a one-minute silence to be observed for the late Karpal Singh. I felt that this was a very good gesture for Old Frees to stand by the Old Xavierians when the latter had suffered an irreplaceable loss like this. The demise of a towering Malaysian like this law-maker should be felt by Malaysians from all quarters and not simply from a section of society.

Do you get the impression that the letters 87TH were added to the backdrop only as an afterthought? Not only are they crooked, they do not balance. The whole design is lop-sided.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Karpal Singh, RIP

So much has been written in the newspapers and online media about the shocking death of Karpal Singh yesterday that I have lost track of them completely. All that I can say about the matter is that I am grieving together with all right-minded Malaysians. I never knew or met the man (which surprises even me!) but I have long admired him from a distance.

Of course, I had heard about Karpal Singh a long time ago, but it was more about Karpal Singh the lawyer rather than Karpal Singh the lawmaker. I remember when I was very much younger, many times I came across the office of his law firm in Green Hall, just a stone's throw away from the Penang Supreme Court building. Like all law firms, the only indication that it was his office was a small black sign board. I thought to myself, ah, so that's where his office was located, and that's where he and his staff worked and strategised on defending people in the Courts. But of course, I had no reason to step into his office and I left it at that.

Through time, one learns many new things, and one of them was Karpal Singh's political struggles. His uncompromising defence of civil society, his uncompromising defence of the weak and oppressed against the big bullies, his uncompromising call-a-spade-a-spade stance that often got him into trouble with friends and enemies. Above all, there was his defence of the country's Constitution from the onslaught of the extremists, racists, incorrigibles and belligerents. Sadly, he is no longer around to carry on with his work. I do hope that there are other lawyer politicians of impeccable qualities who can take inspiration from Karpal Singh's fighting spirit and continue with his unfinished business.

Death is one subject that we must always broach with respect. Civilised society demands nothing less than that. That is why I find it all so disconcerting that there are certain cowards in this country that are expressing joy over the death of Karpal Singh. Only the cowards will find the courage to speak ill of a dead person when the latter is no longer in a position to defend back. These are the lowest lifeforms of the Malaysian society; these are the lowest despicable slime of this earth. They don't deserve anyone's respect.

Karpal Singh, when you were alive, I had admired you. Now that you are gone, my admiration for you and your life-long commitment to Malaysian society continues. Rest in peace, man, rest in peace. We will make sure that your demise will not be in vain.

Mother's anniversary

It's been 29 years since the death of my mother in 1985. We still hold prayers on the anniversary of her death. It's a very simple affair, nothing elaborate. Just three types of fruits. Oranges, grapes and her favourite, mangoes.

We remembered how it was like at the beginning of this year when we held the end-of-the-year prayers for my parents and grandparents. We forgot to inform the Door Spirits of the prayers and for quite a while, we couldn't get confirmation that my ancestors had "arrived". Read about it here.

This morning, my wife reminded me of it and said that the Door Spirits should be informed first thing. So I did just that. And you know what? The very first time that I threw the pair of coins, they came up head-tail. So my mother and her entourage had arrived after all and had been let into the house.  :-)

After about an hour's wait, I wanted to know whether they had finished. And so I threw the coins again. And again, they came up head-tail on the first attempt. So whether you wanted to believe it or not, it really didn't cost me anything to follow a few time-honoured traditions. Especially if you wanted to get the job done.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Curry mee in the city

Recently, I was introduced to this curry mee stall along Kimberley Street in George Town, Penang, by my fellow Old Free, Heng Swee. (This composite picture was copied from his facebook entry.)

Therefore, when I was on the island on Monday on the occasion of celebrating the official birthday of my Kongsi's resident deity, Poh Seng Tai Tay, I remembered to take some time off from my schedule to partake in this popular Penang hawker food.

I must say that my friend's enthusiasm was not misplaced or found wanting. This hawker's version of curry mee was really excellent.

I had mine with some extra ingredients thrown in - a squid and a pair of chicken claws - and together with a cup of steaming hot local black coffee, the price was just RM7.60. Definitely affordable and enjoyable as a treat while spending time with friends or family.

Looks messy but boy, oh, boy, the taste was fabulous.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A matter of seeking divine permission

Yesterday was the 15th day of the third Chinese lunar month and as usual, I was at the Kongsi in George Town, Penang, for our prayers to the Poh Seng Tai Tay (also known as Tai Tay Eah) on the occasion of our resident deity's birthday.

Hardly had I alighted from the car that the excited voice of my vice-president came floating to my ears. That's strange, I thought to myself, he doesn't normally come around to the Kongsi this early when we have such prayers. I looked at my watch and it wasn't even ten yet. But like I said, he sounded excited.

The moment I stepped into the premises, he told me that the joss-stick urns for the deities were not aligned properly. We have two urns on the main table and I took a close look at them. Yes, by golly, he was right. But not only were the urns not placed centrally on the table, they were also very slightly turned away from the main door. My suspicion was that some people could have been careless while cleaning the altar and urns previously, and had shifted the latter out of their normal alignment. Not many people would have noticed that, if not for the eagle eyes of my vice-president.

Then we should correct them as soon as possible and there's no better time than today when it is the deity's birthday, I suggested. He agreed. And so began our task of shifting the urns. First of all, we had to ask our resident deity for permission.

"Erm, you better do the asking," my vice-president urged me. And he reminded me that the first time we wanted to change the position of two boxes on the altar during the Tung Chik prayers last year, I had allowed one of the Trustees to seek permission and it was denied him. It should have been me doing that, he said.

Oh well, if as the Kongsi's president, I have to do it, then I must. The ceremonial task is mine. So I picked up the two red blocks of chiao pai wood, went to the altar and asked the deity for his divine permission to shift the urns and change the positions of the two wooden boxes on the altar.

When I threw the chiao pai and they were falling down, I was thinking to myself: what if they come up head-head or tail-tail? Lately with my luck and past experience performing such tasks, it was very likely that I'd get a denial from the deity. And you can ask only once. I can't throw the wooden blocks continuously until I achieve a head-tail combination. It doesn't work that way.

When the wooden blocks turned up head-tail on my first attempt, I heaved a silent sigh of relief. Okay, we can proceed. So under my direction, my vice-president started moving the first urn, the one made of copper. He pushed it bit by bit while I was facing the altar to give direction. Then it was the turn of the ceramic urn. Again, he tried to rotate it slowly until I told him to stop. Yes, that's it, I said, enough. Let me give them a small minor adjustment, I added. So finally, the urns were aligned properly with the altar now.

Let us ask whether the deity was now happy with the re-positioning, I said. So I threw the chiao pai blocks again, more confident this time, and was so glad when the head-tail combination appeared on the first try. Yes, our Tai Tay Eah was satisfied and therefore, we were satisfied too. Hopefully with this re-alignment, our resident deity will shower us with his blessings and we can take the Kongsi forward.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Poh Seng Tai Tay (保生大帝)

Today being the 15th day of the third lunar month in the Chinese calendar, I am heading down to our Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi in inner George Town, Penang to offer personal prayers of thanksgiving to our clan association's resident deity, Poh Seng Tai Tay (保生大帝), otherwise known as Tai Tay Eah, on the occasion of the deity's birthday and my recovery from an ailment that had landed me in hospital at the beginning of the year.

Poh Seng Tai Tay is known throughout the Chinese diaspora from Hock Kian Province as the Deity of Healing and indeed, the image of the deity that we worship in our clan association was brought over from our ancestral village in China.

Recently while visiting the Cheng Leong Keong (Tai Tay Eah) temple in Jelutong, Penang, pictured here, I came across a bilingual booklet which traced the legend of the deity. The booklet does not seem to have a large readership and perhaps if I were to reproduce an extract here, I can help to propagate the worship or understanding of Poh Seng Tai Tay.

The title Poh Seng Tai Tay is a shorter version of the full title Wan Shou Wu Ji Bao Sheng Da Di (萬壽無疆保生大帝) bestowed in 1425 to Tai Tay by Emperor Ming Renzong of the Ming Dynasty of China.

Poh Seng Tai Tay (meaning Great Protector of  Life) is a popular diety of healing among the Hokkien community, and he is more affectionately called, in the Hokkien dialect, Tai Tay Eah or Tay Eah Chor. He is traditionally apotheosised by Chinese physicians and druggists. His birthday is celebrated primarily on the 15th day of the third lunar month and to a lesser scale, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

Poh Seng Tai Tay has several other royal titles which were bestowed upon him by emperors of various dynasties of China through the ages in appreciation of his divine assistance and service rendered to the royal families and the people. These titles include Wu Zhen Ren (吳真人), Da Dao Gong (大道公), Hua Jiao Gong (花轎公) and En Zhu Gong (恩主公).

Poh Seng Tai Tay was born into a Wu family and was given a name called Tao (吳本), and pseudonyms Hua-chi (Hua Ji) and Yun-chung (Yun Dong). He was born on the 15th day of the third lunar month in the year 979 during the Sung Dynasty in the village of Pai Chiao (Bai Jiao Xiang) of Tung Uahn (Tong Aun) District (同安縣), in the Prefecture of Chuan Chew (泉州府) of Hock Kian Province (福建省) in China. The villagers of Bai Jiao Xiang were reportedly the descendants of Emperor Tai Bo of the Chou Dynasty.

For generations, the ancestors of Tai Tay were conscientious cultivators of high virtues and supererogation. They were ever ready to assist the distressed, help the poor and perform meritorious deeds whenever and wherever possible. Tai Tay's father, Wu Tong, and mother, Huang Shi, were well respected in the village for their thriftiness in home management and generosity in performing dana.

According to legend, the birth of Wu Tao (that is Tai Tay) was not an ordinary one. It was told that when Madam Huang was giving birth to her son, she had a vision of Heavenly messengers, Tai Bai Jin Sing (太白金星), Nan Ling Shi Ze (南陵使者)and Bei Dou Sing Jun (北斗星君), escorting a divine boy (that is, the deity Zi Wei Sing) (紫微星) to come to transmigrate to be her baby. At the very moment of his birth, some extraordinary phenomena occurred. The room where he was being born was filled with a scent of divine nature and brightened with rays of varied colours. Looming over the house were layers of multi-coloured clouds and flooding the house compound was an air of heavenly bliss. This was an extraordinary sight and indeed a good omen.

During his childhood, Wu Tao was extremely intelligent and bright, fond of reading and studying. He was admirably known as a wonder boy. As he grew up and attended school, he read very widely books of various disciplines. He could remember whatever that he had read. He was extremely learned not only in the fields of astrology and geography but also in the disciplines concerning etiquette and ceremonies, music, law and administration. Being particularly interested in medicine, he deeply engrossed himself in medical research, making substantial and significant contributions in medical science.

According to one account, at the age of 17, Wu Tao got to know one wise man from Mount Kun Lun, Xi Wang Mu (西王母), quite by accident, and learned from him the Taoist secret of making medical Dan (i.e. pills) and powder as well as the Taoist way of cultivating towards attaining enlightenment.

He became a government official when he was only 20 years of age. At the age of 24, he passed the second stage of the Imperial Examination (that is, Ju Ren), and was consequently appointed by the Imperial court as a royal official.

The greatest ambition in life that Wu Tao cherished was to be able to serve the community well and help the sick, poor and needy. He was very kind and compassionate, attaching little or no importance to fame, wealth, authority and position. In consequence, during his term of office as a royal official, he was very clean and incorruptible, righteous and straight.

He served as a government official for only a few years. Later he resigned from his post and retired to his home village to lead a secluded life in the eastern region of the Mount of Great Wild Goose in Bai Jiao Xiang. This marked a crucial turning point in his life. He became a very strict vegetarian, cultivating self purification and practising the Dao (i.e. the Great Way to Enlightenment). He studied with full enthusiasm the wonderful Dao of mystics of the highest order. He spent a great deal of his time and energy in furthering his medical skills. He mastered the magical skill known as Shang Wu Fei Bu Fa (三五飛步之法). With compassion he resumed his medical practice, making prescription in accordance with the patient's sickness and conditions. At the same time, he engaged himself in manufacturing special medical pills and powder and in applying the mystic power of talisman for the purpose of treating the people of their diseases and solving their problems and difficulties. Countless number of patients were treated, cured and restored to full health. Wu Tao was thus a man of great compassion, and a physician of profound medical skills. His good reputation began to spread far and wide.

In the year 1036, on the second day of the fifth lunar month, Wu Tao sucessfully perfected the Dao of self purification and attained the state of enlightenment, ascending to heaven on a white crane. He was then only 58 years of age.

The second extract from this booklet will follow later.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Penang world music festival 2014

We attended the Penang World Music Festival 2014 at the Botanical Gardens on the Penang island last evening. First time we had ever attended a world music festival anywhere. Hence, we did not know what to expect. All I knew was that the festival would showcase ethnic music from around the world, courtesy of the foreign and local participants.

We arrived at the car park and took the shuttle bus to the entrance of the Gardens. A short walk along the waterfall road to the ticket counter, we exchanged our coupon for tickets and there we were, inside the festival grounds. Two stages side-by-side, so that the audience need not have to wait between performances while the acts readied themselves. We were quite apprehensive about having to sit on the grass but we found a convenient spot on the granite steps quite close to one of the stages.

For appetisers, first off was a Bhangra dance followed in quick succession by a traditional Chinese dance and a performance by a local Penang group, Aswad.

Then came the first featured performance of the evening: a Gamelan orchestra comprising entirely of students from the Tengku Abdul Rahman Secondary School in Nibong Tebal, Province Wellesley, Penang. The performance wowed the crowd which kept asking for more.

After that was the session from an Uzbekistan quartet called Oxus, playing rather forlorn Uzbek music on their traditional instruments. Long performance of about 40 minutes. But it was a very trying performance. Personally, I never felt so bored since entering the festival grounds. The crowd obviously felt the same because the applause was polite but muted. There was none of the raucous hand-clapping or whistles that had accompanied the previous acts. Oxus definitely don't deserve getting such a long time slot at the festival.

Nading Rhapsody's performance of the music of the Iban and other Sarawak indigenous people was a refreshing change after that. Apart from the music, we quite enjoyed their costumes.

The second foreign performance was by Carlos Dje Dje with his brand of reggae music. Being from South Africa, his slot of South African music, which I had already been aware from the music of Paul Simon's Graceland album, was full of references to the late departed Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife, Winnie Mandela. Although Mandela was a great person, perhaps milking his name here was a bit overdone. That aside, it was a mesmerising half-hour show.

I never knew that Mohram, a group of musicians from Kelate (Kelantan), could sound so modern but it was announced that this group already had lots of international exposure. To see Mohram perform here was thus a treat. If anything, it confirms that local musicians can groove with fusion music too.

N'Faly Kouyate was the final foreign act of the evening. This guy originated from Guinea in West Africa but later moved to Belgium. Earlier in the evening, I had noticed him walking about the festival grounds but dressed up in formal attire. I had suspected that he would be performing later but I never did expect him to come of stage dressed in his traditional Guinean robes. Here, you see N'Faly playing his celebrated instrument called the kora.

The evening closed with a light-hearted performance by a group of local Penangites calling themselves Culture Shot, also known as La La Li La Tam Pong, and they entertained the remaining crowd with their amusing renditions of local Penang ditties.

Too bad though that my wife and I shall not be attending the second day of the Penang World Music Festival 2014 on Sunday.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

All the right moves

It has been two long years since I wrote my last chess column. Two years, one month, one week and four days, to be more exact, till today. I thought that I had been forgotten by the people in The Star -- you know how things are: out of sight, out of mind -- but then I was surprised one day in February with an email from one of their sub-editors to ask whether I would agree to be interviewed to mark the 30th anniversary of their Star2 pull-out. "Not all our present or past columnists will be featured," she told me almost apologetically, "and we'd like to include you in. Your stories have been so fascinating." This, then, was the story that had appeared in The Star on 1 Mar 2014:
This writer had all the right moves!

BACK in the 1980s, there was no Internet. And if you were a chess enthusiast in Malaysia wanting to know more about the international chess scene, there was one place you’d turn to – Quah Seng Sun’s Chess column in The Star. His words, printed fortnightly, every Friday, were precious nuggets of information for the Malaysian chess buff.

For 32 years, Quah kept us up to date on tournaments, upcoming events and blow-to-blow accounts of tense competitions – written in his meticulous, straight-to-the-point style.

Writing about something he loved was never planned however, but rather an accidental adventure. He’d had some journalism experience, reporting for the now defunct Penang-based Straits Echo as a young man back in the 1970s. That was eventually superseded by a career in the banking sector.

Eventually however, the writing itch must have got to him. He found himself replying to an advertisement for freelance writers at The Star out of pure curiosity, his first article with us was published in 1980. His contacts with overseas chess organisers in Europe and the United States and a natural interest in chess made the sport a natural topic to pursue, and voila! that’s how a void in the Malaysian chess scene came to be filled.

Quah describes what it was like sourcing information for his column back then – he communicated and received details about chess events through foreign organisers, via snail mail or fax.

Of course, over a course of over 30 years, things change. As the Internet – and information about chess – became more widely accessible, Quah says he moved from pure reporting to more opinion-based pieces, giving colour to the local and international chess scene. “It was never about the money,” he says. “The column served as a platform for chess education in Malaysia as a whole.”

When Quah’s column finally came to an end on March 2, 2012, many felt a loss – some readers even filed an online petition to bring his column back. Despite the paper’s editorial decision for a change in direction, Quah’s contributions will always be remembered for the invaluable voice it gave to Malaysia’s chess community. The many letters and feedback from readers, including some chess grandmasters and an unusual letter from the World Chess Federation (no less!) are proof that his work was widely read, and not just in Malaysia.

Incidentally, the piece of correspondence from the World Chess Federation was a request for clarification on an opinion they had taken issue with, from one of his articles. Quah took it as a compliment. “I never realised that my column was sometimes read in high places. Power of the Internet, you see.”

Friday, 11 April 2014

Cloning my desktop hard disk

I guess that I am one of the very last few people here that actually uses a desktop computer, but it's true, I still use one. Although I have a laptop computer, a notebook computer, a Macbook computer and an iPad2 in my possession, my main fall-back equipment is still the trusty desktop computer. I use it for almost everything, including as a media player since the desktop is connected directly to my home hifi system.

I've been using a desktop computer since the early part of the 1980s. It was powered by an Intel 286 chip then. Pretty fast in those days but with technology breezing by so quickly nowadays, I can't keep up with the changing knowledge. All I know is that my current desktop is running on an antiquated i3-core Intel chip. I think "antiquated" is the right word to use as the motherboard doesn't even support USB3.0 devices.

When I assembled this desktop some four or five years ago, I had bought a 1TB internal hard disk and thought that it would be sufficient to last me. Boy, was I wrong. About a year ago, I began realising that the capacity wasn't enough. My hard disk space was filling up fast and that, even after transferring most of my data to a 2TB external hard disk.

Two days ago, I decided finally to buy myself a new internal hard disk. And this time, I chose a 2TB one. Maybe it is still too small but well, my existing 1TB hard disk, once reformatted, will become an additional storage to the new 2TB hard disk. Won't be so bad after all, I should think!

The problem is to install the operating system into the new hard disk and then go through all the program installations again, which I know is a BIG chore for me. It was not something that I would like to do. The alternative was to try something new, like a hard disk cloning program that would copy everything from the old hard disk to the new hard disk.

I found such a program on the Internet, which was called EaseUS Todo Backup Free (free for personal use on one computer). Installation was very quick and it created a boot-up disk. Having done that, I shut down the computer, fixed the new hard disk into the casing and booted the computer from the optical disk drive. The program kicked in and all I did was to follow the on-screen instructions to clone from one hard disk to another. The only drawback was that the cloning was done sector-by-sector, and it took almost five hours to complete. In the meantime, I sat twiddling with my iPad.

There was another problem. When cloning from a smaller hard disk to a larger hard disk, it left me with a huge amount of unallocated space on the new hard disk and I had to search the Internet again for a solution. Found a free program from the same website, called EaseUS Partition Master. The process of moving and resizing the partitions went very smoothly indeed but it took another two to three hours before I could use my desktop again.

Anyway, it's all done and finished. I've a new hard disk installed on the desktop computer but everything else remains the same under the hood. If I don't mention it at all, nobody will know the difference....

My next project, short of buying a new mother board and new processor, will be to open up the casing again and fit in another 4GB of memory space to speed up the processing time. But that will be another time, to be considered once I replete my funds.

(Note: Nobody is paying me anything to promote EaseUS. It is just that I am so very satisfied with using these two software programs from the company. You want to know more about them? Just do a search and find out for yourself. I'm not even going to link to their website.)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Singing the RTD blues

Every time that I need to renew my road tax at either the Road Transport Department or the Post Office, I am filled with a sense of trepidation. Both their computer systems are connected, see, so that it is possible to renew the road tax and driving licence at the Post Office without having to step into the Road Transport Department.

But always, I dread having to deal with either of them. Always, these questions run through my mind. Will the RTD's computer be up and running? Will the RTD's computer be slow? Will the Post Office's system be on-line to the RTD network? I've experienced RTD's downtime or slowtime on so many times before that every time my road tax renewals loom, I often say that I've to make time the whole day long just to get them done.

But don't get me wrong; I don't have so many vehicles that it becomes a regular chore for me. No, I just need to do it five times a year (out of 365 days in a year) but it is bad enough. One car under my name, another car under my wife's name, an old car registered in my son's name, my daughter's car which she uses in Kuala Lumpur and of course, we still have an old motorcycle.

Luckily, my trip to the Post Office at Chai Leng Park on mainland Penang went smoothly enough this morning and I was able to catch two birds with one stone. The RTD's computer was running fine and I was able to renew the road tax for both my daughter's car and the motorcycle.

I remember that in November last year, the RTD computer system was running slow and it was impossible for me to renew a road tax at the Post Office. "You'd better go directly to RTD and hope that their system is available," the Post Office staff told me.

And so I went there. And the hall was filled with people. There were more than a hundred numbers ahead of me in the queuing system. At the counters, the RTD staff had displayed a sign telling people that their system was down. What to do but to sit down and wait, and hope for the best? But after about an hour of waiting and the queue numbers not moving, I had decided to go home.

I went back to RTD again after a few days and still saw a large crowd in the hall. But at least, their system was up, and intermittently down. And it was exasperatingly slow when up. Again, I sat down for a long wait. Eventually, my turn arrived and I crossed my fingers hoping that their system would not die while processing my road tax renewal.

It didn't. I managed to get my renewal done. And their computer system went down again.

Now you see why I was so relieved that I could walk in and out of the Post Office within 20 minutes this morning? I've the whole day before me now, thank god for that....

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bleak is the future of my Kongsi

My clan association is so small that we couldn't get a quorum for an annual general meeting last week.

Therefore, we had to convene one again this week at the same time and place. Again there was no quorum. However, our Kongsi's Constitution allowed us to continue with the meeting and make decisions postponed from the week before.

Although I am glad that the AGM went ahead, I shouldn't be too happy with it. I foresee that this will continue to be a problem for the Kongsi for years to come. Have the clan associations outlived their usefulness?

I've a friend that opined that the survival of the clan associations would depend greatly by parts played by the existing members, exposing their children to join as members for continuation and subsequent managing the association's affairs. If there is no new membership, and with demise of the old, lack of interest by the young, no association can continue with their perpetual existence over time. This, he said,  was a problem facing most clan associations today. The only solutions are to get the younger generation's involvement and constant membership drive.

I couldn't agree more. However in today's world, it is rather difficult for the clan associations to answer the simple question posed by would-be members and which is, "what's in it for me?" And you know, in a moment of optimism about three months ago, I did mention to one of my fellow clansmen that I did not foresee the association surviving beyond the next 50 years. Upon reflection, it may even end sooner!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Moon and Jupiter

The problem with my old Fujifilm F500EXR is that it is only a compact camera. No doubt it has a lot of features but unfortunately, I cannot get it to focus till infinity. As a result, whenever I try to focus the camera directly on the moon, it always comes out bleary and out of focus.

Last night was very typical of my effort to photograph the moon. Every time I pointed the camera skywards and pressed the shutter button halfway to focus, I couldn't get a sharp image. Perhaps I've been setting the features wrongly and if so, I'll appreciate anyone giving me pointers to correct myself, short of asking me to invest in a DSLR.

Anyhow, this was just about the best shot that I could capture with the camera at about 8.30 p.m. last night. It had been raining a few nights before but last night was clear. For most parts of my brief stay outside the house, the sky was clear and the moon bright.

I couldn't help noticing a bright spark of light a short distance away from the moon. Unblinking in the night sky, it could only be a planet instead of a star. Venus was out of the question as it would only be visible in the early morning at this time of the year. Mars was also out of the question because I know that it looks red. I can't see planets like Saturn because my eyes are not that keen anymore. So this bright light can only be Jupiter. And yes, when I checked various websites later, they told me that Jupiter was the most prominent point of light in the sky now, and it would be seen quite close to the crescent moon.

So here it is, a picture of our moon with that tiny prick of light from Jupiter. Too bad I couldn't include any earth-bound landmark in the picture and too bad too if the moon appeared a wee bit too much over-exposed or slightly out of focus. But that's me and my F500EXR.

Tecoma frustrations

For much of last week, the road where I live had turned into a mini flower park. For about the first time since we moved here about 10 years ago, the Tecoma tree on the pavement bloomed profusely. On both up and down the same road and on other adjacent roads too, other Tecoma trees were also in full blossom. As a result, the whole roads were almost unrecognisable with deep pink, light pink and white Tecoma flowers everywhere.

(Pretty, no doubt; breath-taking, no doubt; but....)

Unfortunately, Tecoma flowers do have a very short lifespan and daily, we've been seeing our front porch together with the roadsides, pavements and drains covered with a very thick layer of flower petals, particularly after a heavy windstorm and rainstorm. It had been a very difficult chore trying to clear the ground of these petals because no sooner had I done so would a fresh batch of flowers start to drop.

The petals that fell within my compound were swept into the trash bag and I was kind of surprised to note how heavy the trash bag had become. Just flowers filling up perhaps slightly less than half a trash bag but boy, were the flowers heavy. Moreover, the decaying flowers left a trail of liquid that quickly stained my cemented porch floor.

As for the petals outside the house, I managed to sweep all of them up and left them by the roadside. It was a huge pile of fresh pink and dried brown flowers. I wouldn't have been able to throw these away by myself and would have to leave it to the Province Wellesley Municipal Council (MPSP) workers to clear them away when they do their once-a-week rounds.

I was really frustrated and in my frustration, I had posted on my facebook, not expecting any reaction from anyone: "Much has been said and written about the beauty of the Tecoma trees that are blooming all over the Penang island and mainland. I would now like to ask the MPPP Watch and MPSP Watch, as well as the powers-that-be in the Penang Government when they can take responsibility over the decision to grow such trees and start clearing away the decaying/decomposing/dried mess of Tecoma flowers on the roads, roadsides, pavements, drains and even the compounds of people's houses??"

Then two days ago, I decided to log into the Citizen Action Technology website (better known as the #BetterPenang website) and lodged a suggestion: "May I have MPSP arrange for their people to clear the roadsides DAILY of the fallen Tecoma flower petals? Thank you." It was already late on a Saturday afternoon. I would presume that if anyone would respond, they would only do so on Monday.

(I should also mention that MPSP's sweepers service my neighbourhood only once a week which is grossly insufficient. Lately, since MPSP took full charge of this responsibility after terminating the services of their contractors, I have been noticing MPSP staff coming around on Wednesday mornings to clear the drains and sweep the roads - something that had seldom happened under the old contract system. But this is clearly not enough if roads are left dirty for the remaining six days of a week. Are the rate-paying residents meant to contribute their free time by sweeping the roads outside their houses during these six days?)

Anyhow on yesterday morning (a Sunday), I notice suddenly that the drain outside the house was surprisingly clean. No fallen flower petals floating about. A clean fresh drain indeed. Very thankful for the unseen person or persons that had come to remove the flowers. I looked up and down the road but nobody was in sight. Unfortunately, I had not seen them come around or surely, I would have thanked them for this.

And today (a Monday), as I was about to leave the house at 8.30 a.m., I noticed that the big pile of flowers that I had left by the roadside had vanished as well. My neighbour, Ean, was pottering around outside her gates but she said that she hadn't noticed anyone coming by. And certainly, it wasn't her that have cleared up the pile. So I can only assume again that the unseen hands of the MPSP had come swiftly by to do their job. I'm ever thankful as the pile of decaying flowers was beginning to look very gamey.

Thankful, I've just taken to the #BetterPenang website again to send a feedback saying: "***This is not a complaint but a feedback on a suggestion that I lodged two days ago. *** I would like to say Thank You to the MPSP for their fast-acting action concerning the mess of dropped Tecoma flowers in Lorong Jernih 4. Yesterday morning, I discovered that someone had cleared the open drain outside my house of the flowers. And today, I noticed that the decaying flowers from the roadside, which I had swept into a huge pile, had been removed. I did not witness anyone doing both actions outside my house and can only assume that the MPSP workers had moved in. If so, I wish to thank them for the fast work."

Since yesterday, I have noticed that there are lesser flowers dropping from the Tecoma tree. Stands to reason, of course, because the bulk of the flowers have already dropped. Nevertheless, I would estimate at least one or two thousand flowers remaining on the branches. Definitely, it will be less of a challenge to me.

But I suppose that I shouldn't be too happy that there will now be less flowers for me to sweep up until the end of the flowering season. Already, when I looked out of the window this morning, I can see the lengthy seed pods forming in the tree. I know that shortly, after the flowers are all gone, the seed pods will mature and burst to distribute the translucent winged Tecoma seeds and these will fly everywhere the winds take them. My front porch will again be filled with the winged seeds and I shall be filling in another trash bag just to hold them until thrown away. Such is the vicious life-cycle of a Tecoma tree that I'm caught within.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Disneyland: Feeling younger again

Not long after we had returned from Hong Kong, my wife was telling me that someone she knew had been so amused when he learnt that we had visited Disneyland there. Of course, what he was implying was that we should be too old to have enjoyed Disneyland. It's a park for children, that's what he meant but was too polite to say out loud.

To this fella, I would like to dedicate this picture to him. It was taken of one of the popular rides there: the Dumbo flying elephant ride.

And there was this pair of senior citizens who got on board one of the Dumbo cars. So you see, there are young children and then there are older children. Older children of all ages. And we are proud to be classified here.

Anyway, visiting Disneyland was never on our minds until this opportunity to visit Hong Kong presented itself to us in mid-February. Once we had decided to visit the former British colony, it was just a matter of deciding how best to make use of our limited time there. Thus, Disneyland became a natural destination for us. To my wife, she had always dreamt of visiting a Disneyland somewhere in the world and this was a dream coming true.

The moment we stepped off at the Sunny Bay MTR station, it became clear that the Disneyland mood was already pervasive.

When the connecting train pulled up at the station, we were blown away by the coaches. Can you imagine that all the windows of the coaches were shaped as Mickey Mouse? Or that the handrails were all also shaped as Mickey Mouse too? Yes, they were.

The tickets cost us HKD450 each just to go through the turnstiles. However, once inside, all the rides and attractions were free of charge.

Food wasn't free, though and to our relief, the prices weren't that much more expensive than in the rest of Hong Kong itself, although quality wasn't up to our expectations. Other than that, we found that merchandise shopping was like a throw in your face. Everywhere we turned, there'd be shops and stalls selling souvenirs. In fact, even before we even gone through the turnstiles, we were confronted by this merchandise stall. That's how aggressive Disneyland is. (It is to be noted that Disneyland also have several off-site shops selling their souvenirs. There's one at the departure lounge of the Hong Kong international airport itself to cater for people with last-minute shopping pangs and who had regretted not buying enough stuff at the theme park itself.)

We took this taxi down Main Street, Disneyland

 Who can resist not getting off at the Snow White Castle, the entrance into Fantasyland?
Tell me, can't I enjoy a bit of the merry-go-round? Can I, can I?

One of the attractions that I'd fully recommend: the 12-minute-long PhilharMagic show featuring experience of 3D effects, scents and water amidst a number of characters from various Disney movies. Yesss, put on your pair of 3D glasses, please!

The entrance to "it's a small world" (all in small letters, no caps) which features a very long queue of people waiting patiently to board their boat rides that would take them to enjoy more than 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls dressed up as children of the world. A Wikipedia entry describes this attraction has children "frolicking in a spirit of international unity and singing the attraction's title song, which has a theme of global peace."

Yay, the afternoon Flights of Fantasy parade has started.

And from Fantasyland, we jumped into Adventureland where we took this jungle river cruise. We saw lots of audio-animatronic animals along the way and I must say that they looked very realistic. Pretty entertaining.

Tarzan's treehouse. Very realistic from across the water and in fact, also realistic when viewed up close until you touched the leaves and tree trunks and discovered that they were, after all, artificial. But the tree house and environs did fool me at first.

Have always enjoyed a roller-coaster ride and this one at Grizzly Gulch wasn't different. I really enjoyed the ride and would have gone for a second round if time had permitted it, but it was already turning dark and a slight drizzle had come.

Snow White castle at dusk.

An almost nine-minute-long impressive fireworks display nightly at 8 p.m., as viewed from the end of Disneyland's Main Street.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tecoma mixed feelings

I took a look out through the window when I woke up this morning. Experienced a bout of mixed feelings. Really mixed feelings after seeing this: a profusely flowering Tecoma tree. (I glanced at my neighbours' trees across the road and they were flowering just as gaily. Thus, I'm not the only one with a flowering tree.)

Although the pink Tecoma flowers looked grand in the trees, I knew that before long I shall have to contend with sweeping all the fallen ones away. That was one of the main grouses of my aunt while she was still alive. Sweeping the porch was a never-ending chore for her. If not the dried leaves, it would be the fallen flowers; and if it were not the fallen flowers, it would be the seeds and fallen branches. It was a never-ending cycle and she grumbled loud and long. And now, it's my task to continue with it - the sweeping, if not the grumbling. Lately, this is one of the stories of my life.....

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Unexplained forces at work

Something inexplicably unexplainable happened to us during our first Cheng Beng session this year. As has been usual with us for the umpteenth year, we would visit my grandparents' graves at the Batu Lanchang Road Hokkien Cemetery and the Wat Pimban Onn Siamese Temple Cemetery in Green Lane.

The only difference this year was that with my aunt no longer around, the Cheng Beng duties fell squarely on my wife, son and I to fulfil. I had spent the better part of the last two weeks preparing a checklist of everything that had to be done. Well, almost everything, because as we discovered later, there were one or two minor details that needed done too.

Anyway, we were at the Batu Lanchang cemetery at first light - we arrived at about 6.45 a.m. as parking would always be a big problem - and had already finished praying by eight o'clock.

Of course, before we cleaned up the fruits and burned the paper offerings, by tradition we would ask my grandparents if they had finished "enjoying" the fruits we had brought along. This would be done by throwing two coins on the ground after encircling the joss-stick container. A head-tail combination would denote satisfaction and closure, while either a head-head or tail-tail combination would mean that the spirits hadn't quite completed yet.

So there I was, making the first throw of the coins. Tail-tail combination. "Oh, they haven't finished yet," I announced to my wife and son. I waited a while and threw the coins again. Another tail-tail combination. "Strange," I mumbled to myself. I'm their only grandson and they should be happy that I'm was trying to communicate with them about the offerings. But here they were, not giving me the nod.

The third time, a head-head combination turned up. Tried a fourth time and obtained another tail-tail combination. Then came a head-head combination again.

"You better try," I told my wife, and so she did. Her first try turned up two heads. Then came two tails and the last time she threw the coins, it came up two tails. Now, this was decidedly not funny. Something unexplainable was happening. We had thrown the coins eight times and not once did we get a head-tail combination. Probability speaking, this couldn't be happening. For every throw of two coins, the chances of striking a head-tail combination was 1:2 and for us to miss for eight consecutive throws, the chances of that happening was 1:256.

My son offered to try next. We were hopeful that he would get a Yes from his great-grandparents but again, it was yet another tail-tail combination. That bumped the odds of it happening stretched to 1:512.

My wife began wondering out loud whether there was something that we had missed this year; something that we had done during Cheng Beng on previous occasions that we didn't do this time. And suddenly it struck her mind that missing was the offering of a cup of coffee! And so, she asked my grandparents to forgive our forgetfulness and threw the coins again. Immediately, a head-tail combination appeared. We were relieved. So that was what they wanted: a cup of coffee.

Strange that 48 years and 34 years after the demise of my grandfather and grandmother respectively, such little details still mattered....

As a post-script, I should mention here that I had written about such mysterious happenings before. For centuries, we Chinese believe that the deceased can communicate with a Yes/No by such simple use of two coins thrown into the air. The last time it happened to us was during the few days that led up to this year's Chinese New Year when we were praying to the ancestors. Details here.