Friday, 31 October 2014

SEEK clears last hurdle in JobStreet acquisition

For several months already, ever since the announcement was made in February that would divest its job portal business to SEEK Asia Investment, a subsidiary company of SEEK Australia, the shareholders in the company had been wondering when on earth can the deal be concluded. Initially, it was believed that this acquisition by SEEK would proceed rather smoothly but as the weeks rolled into months, it became clear that there was one last potential hurdle to overcome.

Ironically, this obstacle did not come from the Malaysian authorities despite being public-listed on Bursa Malaysia, but from Singapore. There, the Competition Commission of Singapore was casting an eagle eye on the divestment plan as the merged entity (comprising and could potentially create a monopoly business in the island republic.

In Singapore, JobStreet and JobsDB are the two biggest job portals, competing neck-and-neck for market share. SEEK Asia Investment had already owned a hundred percent share of JobsDB and in buying over the job portal business from the Singapore arm of JobStreet Singapore, CCS certainly had their reasons to be cautious. Definitely, CCS recognised that both JobStreet and JobsDB were each other’s closest competitors and they needed assurance that the merger would not give rise to "non-coordinated" effects.

To address this concern, SEEK later offered the following behavioural commitments:
a.    To address the concern that the merged entity may be able to alter the structure of the market by demanding exclusive, “lock-in” contracts which prevent customers from switching away from the merged entity, SEEK commits not to enter into exclusive agreements with employer and recruiter customers. By deterring exclusivity and lock-ins, the behavioural commitments aim to retain the current practice of multi-homing (the practice of using more than one online recruitment advertising platform) by employers and recruiters, as well as jobseekers and aims to keep barriers to entry and expansion low, thereby preserving competition in the market for online recruitment advertising services.
b.    To address the concern that the merged entity may be able to increase prices post-merger, SEEK commits to maintain current pricing of its services capped at present day rate cards or current day negotiated prices, subject to Consumer Price Index variations. By capping pricing at current levels, the behavioural commitments seek to address concerns identified by market participants during the Phase 1 and 2 reviews that the closeness of competition between the Parties may cause prices to rise post-merger.
After a lengthy period of the CCS seeking market consultations and evaluating industry feedback, during which time shareholders of JobStreet were in the dark and left wondering nervously whether the acquisition could ever be cleared at all, there is now general relief.

This item just appeared under "Company Announcements" for on the Bursa Malaysia website. The good news for JobStreet shareholders is that the last hurdle of the sale of the JobStreet Singapore to SEEK Asia Investments has been overcome with the CCS granting conditional approval to the acquisition.

This announcement should be read in conjunction with the earlier announcements made on 19 February 2014, 21 February 2014, 29 April 2014, 12 May 2014, 14 May 2014, 15 May 2014, 24 June 2014, 1 July 2014, 19 August 2014, 21 August 2014 and 9 October 2014 in relation to the Proposals (“Announcements”). Unless otherwise defined, the terms used in this announcement shall have the same meaning as those defined in the said Announcements in relation to the Proposals.

On behalf of the Board, Affin Hwang Investment Bank Berhad wishes to announce that CCS had, as set out in their media release dated 31 October 2014, as attached, issued a favourable decision in respect of the Proposed Disposals.

The CCS concluded that the Proposed Disposals, if carried into effect, will not infringe the section 54 prohibition of the Singapore Competition Act (Cap. 50B), subject to the implementation of, and compliance by SEEK, with the Proposed Commitments and the Proposed Divestiture Commitment.

In issuing the favourable decision, the CCS has accepted the Proposed Commitments offered by SEEK in order to address the potential competition concerns that may arise as a result of the Proposed Disposals.

In addition, the CCS has also accepted the Proposed Divestiture Commitment offered by SEEK in order to address the potential competition concerns in respect of SEEK’s ownership and operations of in Singapore.

Please refer to the attached document from the CCS with regards to the Proposed Disposals for further details.

With the above favourable decision from the CCS, all the conditions precedent to the closing of the Proposed Disposals have been satisfied or waived in accordance with the terms of the SSA.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Board expects the Proposed Disposals to be completed within November 2014 whilst the Proposed Distribution is expected to be completed by the end of 4th quarter 2014. Further details will be announced in due course.

This announcement is dated 31 October 2014.

Old Schoolmates at OFA annual dinner

A different reunion of old schoolmates at the recent Annual Dinner organised by The Old Frees' Association on 21 Oct 2014. We were seated at different tables but then decided to come together for this group photograph. With more than 700 people in the banquet hall, there may be one or two other schoolmates that I may have missed meeting.

From left to right: (standing) Lee Hock Siew, Wong Chye Chye and wife, myself with my better half, Lee Kim Guan and wife, Leong Teik; (sitting) Wong Hang Yoke and wife, Ho Siang Juan and wife.

Of all the people in this picture, I've known Hock Siew since Standard Two at the Westlands Primary School in Victoria Green Road.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Thomas Withers safe

I went back to school this morning and the first person I met was the headmaster himself.

"Come in, come in," a bubbly Jalil Saad greeted me when I walked into his room. The headmaster's room. Still the same room as it had been all these decades since the Penang Free School relocated to newer, bigger premises in Green Lane from the previous buildings in Farquhar Street way back in January 1928.

I told him the reason why I was at the school today and he went off to get his office staff to open up the Archive Room for me. In the meantime, we talked briefly. My eyes strayed to an imposing antique wall safe behind him. "It's been here all this while," he told me, "and that would make it at least 86 years old."

So I crept forward to take a closer look at it. The manufacturer's name appeared on two metal nameplates riveted onto the metal door. Thomas Withers & Sons Ltd of West Bromwich in England.

Thomas Withers was one of three brothers who each had their own competing safe manufacturing business in the late 19th century.

When Thomas Withers died in 1887, his son, Joseph Thomas Withers took over until he himself died in 1927.

By 1943, however, the business had passed out from the family's hands, having been sold off to someone named John Izon Chesshire. The business folded in 1982. I may seem very knowledgeable about this safe manufacturer but no, all this information is readily available from the Internet.

The other nameplate below the horizontal metal bar, displayed the name of "The Borneo Co Ltd (Incorporated in England) Malaya, Siam, Dutch East Indies" which must have been the importer of these metal safes into then Malaya. The Borneo Co Ltd had an extensive business network that included Thailand and Indonesia (Siam and the Dutch East Indies).

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Cooking disaster

What a cooking disaster I've had today. I was planning to cook some soup for tonight's dinner and so, I had gone to the market to pick up some pork ribs, carrot, potato, onions, tomato and some sticks of celery. All that went into the pot. I turned up the heat and set the timer for 45 minutes, the normal time that it would take to cook the soup ordinarily.

Then came the telephone call. Someone called me and we had a chat. A chat that went on for far too long. Long after the timer's alarm had sounded, I was still on the line. And then suddenly, I remembered that I had something boiling on the stove.

No, it wasn't that I remembered. There was actually a burning smell emanating from the kitchen. Of course, i rushed downstairs doubly quick. Horrors! Smoke was coming out from the pot. Turned off the gas flame. Could still hear sizzling sound from inside the pot.

Carefully, I removed the lid. A whole lot of smoke came out of the pot. Choking smoke. Burning smoke. So I turned on the cooker hood. Turned on the exhaust fan too. Threw open all the windows. Turned on the kitchen fan and directed the air towards the stove and open windows.

Looked inside the pot. Didn't like what I saw. First thing, no liquid left in the pot. Second thing, the parts of the meat and vegetables that were touching the bottom and sides of the pot were charred black. Clearly, there is no way that I can salvage anything from the mess inside. Gingerly, I tried to remove as much as I could from the pot. The rest was stuck to the bottom and side.

Now came the hard part; the cleaning up of the pot. But luckily, my culinary disaster was confined to this one pot. Poured in water to soften the charred-black unrecognisable pieces. Scraped them off. Poured away the dirty water and poured in fresh water. Repeated the scraping until everything came off. Then completed the wash with liquid detergent. Luckily, this was one tough pot. It withstood the heat from the gas stove when all the water was boiled away. It's back to normal, waiting to be used, not abused, again on another day.

Sorry, dear, dinner's spoilt. Now, where shall we go for a replacement meal tonight?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Almost flawlessly correct...

... except for the opening paragraph to this story that appeared in The Star's Metro North section today. However did the writer or the sub-editor come to the conclusion that the Penang Free School was 187-years-old when the institution was established in 1816? Methinks, a different calculator was used so that 2+2 had added up to 3.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

God bless the willy-nilly

It's true; there is a building in Dixon, Illinois that looks like a penis when viewed from heaven, and it belongs to the Christian Science Church.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Remembering Hutchings, 2014

Some pictures from the memorial service that was held for Revd Robert Sparke Hutchings at the Protestant Cemetery in Northam Road, George Town, at the break of dawn this morning, marking the 198th anniversary of the founding of the Penang Free School in 1816.

While Reverend Hutchings is the founder of the Penang Free School, he is also regarded as one of the prime movers of the establishment of the Church of St George the Martyr. He died in 1827 at the age of 45 and was buried in this cemetery.

This morning's memorial service was attended by 19 of the school's prefects and students, four teachers, two members of the St George's Church and myself in my personal capacity, although I'm from The Old Frees' Association, and led by the Revd Ho Kong Eng (who also happen to be an Old Free.)

Countdown: PFS bicentenary minus two years

Today is the 198th anniversary of the founding of the Penang Free School. We are just two years short of celebrating our alma mater's bicentenary.

As you read this, I have already come back from joining the school's prefects at the grave of the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings in the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road. He was buried here and his grave is just one of many other early settlers of the Straits Settlements who had made the Prince of Wales Island their home in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hutchings actually has good company around him: the grave of Penang's founding father, Captain Francis Light, is here too.

But I'm already at the school hall in Green Lane where this year's Speech Day is currently taking place. For all Old Frees everywhere, who can forget the hallowed corridors of their alma mater? I, myself, spent seven years of my life walking along these corridors, moving in and out of classes.

Today, as I seat myself among the guests in the hall and looking at the on-going prize-giving ceremony on the stage, I remember that a year ago, I had shown a newspaper clipping that the Penang Free School had re-located to the present premises here from the old one in Farquhar Street not in 1925 (as mistakenly reported in the school magazines for several decades) but on the ninth of January, 1928.

About 10 days ago, I saw another irrefutable evidence that 09 January 1928 was indeed the correct date.

Somewhere on the web, someone from the school had posted up an image of an original announcement of the official opening of the school's new buildings. The guest-of-honour was Ralph Scott who was the Resident Councillor in colonial Penang at that time.

By the way, it is a tradition of the school that its Speech Day is always graced with the presence of Penang's Head of State. Prior to Independence in 1957, this would of course mean the Resident Councillors such as Scott in 1928 but since Independence, the ceremonial Penang Governors of the day have now become the annual guest-of-honour. Unfortunately he is absent this year because I hear that he is vacationing overseas.

The spotlight this year fell on my old classmate, Mohamad Bakke bin Salleh, who is today the CEO at Sime Darby, one of the country's biggest conglomerate with a presence everywhere. On stage, he reminisced about his school days and gave some valuable advice to the students who were present in the school hall.

I can't remember everything he mentioned but these I am able to share: "never say no to opportunities, never reject anything that challenges your character, find the right focus in life, never fall victim to destructive thinking, and remember to latch on to any opportunity to learn."

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Monkey man

I haven't gone up the BM Hill in Cherok To'kun, Bukit Mertajam, for quite a while but this afternoon, my wife and I decided to go there for some exercise. She wanted to go by the hill track beside the stream but seeing how it had been raining cats and dogs in Penang for the past two or three days, I decided that we should use the tarmac road instead.

As expected, at 5.30p.m., the whole of the foothills was swarming with people. Luckily, we managed to find a parking space just in front of the fruit stalls and set off on our walk until the 2020 station. Along the way, I was rather taken aback by the amount of erosion on the hill slopes. I don't really think that the problem can be solved by just covering the affected areas with the blue canvas. The erosion can't be due to land clearing because the whole hill is a gazetted area and there are no developments all the way till the summit.

Possibly, it's caused by changes in the weather pattern, notably the rain. With the rainfall being so unpredictable and forceful nowadays, the authorities must be more serious about how they are going to tackle this problem. But surely, covering up the soil is not going to solve the problem. What do they hope to achieve other than to create an immediate eye-sore?

Anyway, on our way down to the foothills, we noticed a small blue car parked at one of the grass verges. This guy is there most of the time but he doesn't climb the hill. Always, he would play music from his karaoke car's sound system and create a huge ruckus. But Malaysians being Malaysians, he has been tolerated all this while.

This afternoon, he wasn't playing any of his Chinese songs. Instead, English songs were blaring out. My wife and I laughed at his change in choice. From afar, we noticed that he was sitting in his car, front door open, and all around him were the macaque monkeys.

He was feeding them but the strangest thing was that the monkeys were all behaving very orderly. It was as if these were semi-tame monkeys but actually, these were all wild animals from the forest park. But strangely enough, they were sitting or walking about in front of the man, waiting patiently to be fed. Stranger still, every few seconds the man would bark out at the group of monkeys, "lai", or "come" and the monkeys, patiently waiting their turns, would come one-by-way to pick up the foodstuff from his hands. Incredible....

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Subang airport shuttle coach service

Last month, I flew into the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport - otherwise more popularly known as the Subang Airport - in Selangor when I last decided to travel down by air from the Penang international airport at Bayan Lepas, Penang.

Nothing much has changed at this Subang Airport. It is still being serviced mainly by Fireflyz, Malindo Air and Berjaya Air which use the reliable ATR72 twin-engine turboprop for their short-haul flights around the region.

But one additional service introduced here since October 2013 - and this was the main reason why I chose to fly into Subang this time - was an airport shuttle coach service that takes passengers to-and-from the Subang Airport and various points in Kuala Lumpur.

Presently, there are two services provided by KL City Airport. One takes passengers from the airport to the nearest LRT rail station at Kelana Jaya.

The other route plies from this airport to the centre of Kuala Lumpur, and along the way it would stop opposite Sunway Pyramid, outside the Kampong Dato Harun KTM station, Bangsar LRT station, KL Sentral, the old KTM railway station before ending at the Pudu bus terminal.

There are plans to introduce other routes as well. but for the moment, these are the existing routes.

The shuttle services to Kelana Jaya LRT station and Pudu bus terminal both start from 6a.m. and end at 10.30p.m. every day. The buses are scheduled to run every half-hourly during peak hours and every hourly at other times of the day. Fares range from RM3 to RM13 depending on the distance travelled. I don't have the fare chart with me but I feel that the prices are very reasonable. I travelled under comfortable conditions - good leg space and everything else - and there were enough racks on the coach for anyone to put their luggages. Whoever introduced this shuttle service must be commended.

By right, the shuttle bus service should prove very popular with travellers but I found that many people are still unaware of them. For instance, when I arrived at the airport at 9.30a.m. the other day, apart from me, there was only one other traveller who hopped on board the bus to the city centre. But it is rather early days for them although I don't know how they are going to make themselves better known to travellers.

For the time being, however, this KL City Airport shuttle is very convenient and cheap for me. If one is not in a hurry and doesn't don't mind waiting for the bus to depart, it affords you a very relaxing journey to wherever you want to be dropped off along their routes, If you are in a hurry though, coupons for the airport taxis can be purchased easily while the more daring ones can choose to cross the busy main road and wait at the public RapidKL bus station. There are enough options around.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Glacial calving

The horror of glacial calving captured on camera. The consequences of global warming. Breath-taking but horribly chilling. Please take care of Mother Nature.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

School's speech day next week

I had received this invitation through the post yesterday, an invitation to attend the Founder's Day or Speech Day of my alma mater, the Penang Free School, on 21 October 2014. That's on Tuesday week.

It is not everyone that receives this annual invitation and so, I do feel rather chuffed that someone at the school still thinks enough of me not to erase my name from their invitation list. :-)

But I am still in two minds thinking of whether or not I should be attending this year. Maybe I should. 

The only problem is that I will have to wake up at a pretty unearthly hour -- four-thirty in the morning, in fact -- if I also want to go to the Protestant cemetery for the annual service to honour the school's founder, Revd Robert Sparke Hutchings. This solemn ceremony is actually a semi-private affair which is attended by the representatives from the Penang Free School and Hutchings School but there is no stopping anyone from joining them at the founder's graveside at six o'clock. For me, I just go there on my own accord, in my personal capacity.

It is a pity that apart from me, no other Old Free think this occasion is significant enough to warrant their presence at Hutchings' grave. However, with the school's bicentenary coming up in two years' time, perhaps more attention should be paid to the time-honoured school traditions like this one. After all, if not for Hutchings, there would be no Free School.

Last year's service at Hutchings' grave here.

Chilaka! Typical low-life in today's Malaysian society

No one disputes the fact that the mamaks also have a right to use the Speaker's Corner at the Esplanade in Penang for their anti-anti-sedition act speeches. But when such attempts at their so-called "intelligent" public exchanges of opinion descend into chaos and threats of bodily harm against people who do not agree with them, then such acts must be condemned as defiant hooliganism.

It doesn't take any right-thinking Malaysian to conclude that in the first place, the mamak hooligans weren't interested in a civil exchange of opinion. Indeed, their recent actions at the Esplanade can only be explained as carried out at the behest of their dumbo masters. As usual, their boorish attitude and threats can be put done as a reflection of their poor upbringing.

But more disturbing is the fact that the Police allowed such disruptive acts to continue by just looking on instead of doing something concrete to protect the people. If such cowardice acts are allowed to continue, I have concerns that the country risks sliding into a fascism, if it has not already happened.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Blood moon

I had missed the lunar eclipse yesterday. I was driving to the island and although I looked everywhere towards east, where the full moon was rising, I could not detect it because of obstructing buildings. By the time I was able to get a clear look at the eastern sky, the eclipse was over and all that I could see was a very bright full moon.

Luckily though, very much earlier in the day, I had alerted a friend to be on the look-out for the so-called blood moon, because it would acquire a deep magenta colour during the phenomenon. Though he was also on the move in the early evening, he did manage to capture several images of the moon. Fortunately for him and for me, there was this one shot that was sharp enough and it clearly showed the eclipsed moon:

(Picture by Tang Long Kin)

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Chess is about people playing

I know that this year's Malaysian Chess Festival is all over already but I simply must post a few pictures that I took - and also taken by one other photographer - during the few days that I was there as a guest of the organisers.

I know that this picture isn't clear but it encapsulates the grey hairs and the white hairs fighting it out in the KLK Lee Loy Seng seniors open tournament.

It was really a big crowd at the festival's main events: the Arthur Tan memorial international open in the foreground, the Bukit Kiara Properties chess challenge and the seniors tournament in the background.

And a few days earlier, the Swensen's rapid age-group open tournament got underway. (Picture by Khong Wai Cheong)
A rather candid picture of Tan Chin Nam at the chess board. No, he wasn't playing in the seniors tournament; he was just visiting to see everything for himself. But he is truly the man behind the festival.

Year in and year out, the man behind the Malaysian Chess Festival, Hamid Majid. That's him in the centre. (Picture by Khong Wai Cheong)

The chief arbiter's table.

Players and spectators milling round to watch a crucial game.

Rows and rows of players at the blitz tournament.

The photographers photographed.


One of the VERY few photographs where Tan Chin Nam is caught smiling! On my left is Ng Kay Yip, a director of whom I did not get to meet at all during my eight years in the company. Fancy getting to know him at this festival! (Picture by Khong Wai Cheong)

Hah! A very crucial game during the ninth round of the Malaysian Chess Festival. Too bad it wasn't played in any of those three main events. Naturally, I was winning against the Grand Old Man of Malaysian Chess but I dragged on the game till the endgame where, to my chagrin, suddenly I saw his unimpeded passed pawn march two squares at a time down the board. I allowed him to promote his pawn and then called out a draw. Must note that he wasn't really cheating. At his age - 90 next year - I've got to give him a little bit of leeway with his eyesight. (Picture by Khong Wai Cheong)

I mustn't forget a geek and his computer toys :-)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Hokkien mee in Bukit Mertajam

It is not often that I write something about hawker food in my blog but I simply must say something today. It regards my continuing search for the elusive best hokkien mee stall in Penang.

Despite what I've written in my Penang hawker food update posting which can be read elsewhere on this blog. I am still searching for the definitive hawker mee stall, one that can make me go back and try again. But you know, the search is both hard and difficult. Personal tastes do change and what is nice to me on one day may turn out to be only palatable on another day.

Just a few days ago, I received a message from an old friend asking me to join him at what a mutual friend of ours had described as the "best hokkien mee in Penang."

Naturally, I was intrigued. I wanted to join them but circumstances that day did not allow me to. So I messaged this mutual friend to find out more about his claim and I got back this reply. He had been disappointed too because his favourite hawker wasn't selling that day. Anyway, we agreed that should I go try searching for this hawker later, he would give me further pointers on finding him.

But you know what? I am not the only person looking for the best hokkien mee stall in Penang. Others are looking too. And I so happened to come across this item in the PG Food Hunter A Team 槟城美食探索A队 group on facebook.

Like all other facebook groups, this one started out small to satisfy food enthusiasts who were in search for good or new food establishments in Penang. Who would know that today, the number of foodies who had joined up has now surpassed 64,000 members. This is a no mean feat.

Anyway, just a few days ago too, someone posted in this facebook group that he had found his best hokkien mee stall. But his posting was rather short on details. All that could be ascertained was that the stall operated from a food corner behind a Tua Pek Kong temple in Bukit Mertajam.

The mere mention of Bukit Mertajam pricked up my ears. Well, if this was indeed his "best hokkien mee stall", I woouldn't mind having a go at it myself. The bonus was, of course, I won't have to travel far too. Not to the island, to be exact. This stall would be within a 15-minute reach from my home at the most. But the problem was that the story was short on details, especially the stall's location.

Nevertheless, there were some visual clues in the various pictures that this chap had posted up. I recognised the building and the extension on top of the building. why, I've been to this food corner several times already but each time, however, it was only to order the koay teow soup. Today, I must go there again and order the hokkien mee. Find out for myself whether its quality was worthy of the description that I can read on the facepage group.

So here it is, my bowl of hokkien mee.

The presentation is different from my previous experiences elsewhere. I had three pieces of deep fried chicken claws thrown into my bowl but of course, they had been soaked through until the skin was quite softened. There was also a big fresh prawn in my bowl. I didn't ask for it, but the big prawn arrived together with the usual condiments: slices of prawns, lean pork meat, egg and a spoonful of chilli paste. I understand that there are also pork ribs but unfortunately, they had finished when I arrived past 8.30a.m. today.

For all these ingredients in my bowl, the damage to my pocket was RM4. Still, this is a pretty cheap breakfast for all comparisons. For instance, at one of my more regular hokkien mee stalls near the Kampong Baharu market, also in Bukit Mertajam, I would have to pay RM3.50 and there weren't any chicken claws or big prawns.

But all these additions to the hawker fare are relative only. The real difference is in the soup, and each hawker jealously guards his own list of food ingredients. However, everyone knows that the hokkien mee soup comes from the prawn head and prawn shells that are boiled for hours on end. Here at this stall, the soup was delicate yet delicious. The prawn stock was fantastic as I slurped up the spoonfuls of goodness. I commended the hawker for the quality of his soup and he felt ecstatic. Could tell from the big smile that he gave me at the end of the meal.

All things said, I am still searching for the ultimate hokkien mee. Will I find it at Taman Tun Sardon if I were to go search for this stall in the weeks to come, or is this already it?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Eight old farts

Last Sunday, we eight old farts from way, way back got together for a small dinner party at the Zheng Ho Restaurant. The nyonya restaurant in Hutton Lane, George Town, opened only about a month ago and it features a small private museum on its upper floor, which is still unfinished work in progress.

Left to right: Chin Chuan from Saskatchewan, Canada, Jimmy from Clove Hall, Penang, Kah Theang from Klinik Peh & Ooi, Penang, Thuan Chye from Petaling Jaya, Ling Heong from Washington DC or is it Singapore, myself, Hock Thiam previously of Aboo Sittee Lane, Penang, and Oon Hup previously from London town, UK