Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Seremban2 to honour chess masters

In mid-January this year while on a trip to Seremban and Malacca, I had stopped by the Seremban2 city park to take in the view. In recent years, this park with its main feature being a magnificent lake has become a premier oasis for the people of Seremban, supplanting the popularity of the Seremban lake gardens which for many decades had been a principal feature of the town.

Anyway, the city park in Seremban covers a sprawling area of about 15 acres. My wife and I took a slow walk around the perimeter of the lake and observed the many activities going on there: individuals walking, jogging or participating in vigorous mass zumba exercises; families strolling and relaxing with their young children in tow. Feeding the fishes in the lake also seemed to be one of the favourite past-times of the people and mind you, there are probably thousands of fish, especially catfish.

I had noticed a particular junction along the perimeter where three pathways joined up. A small, relatively flat space that overlooked the lake. I was told that there were plans by the developer of the sprawling Seremban2 township, IJMLand, to make something out of this land very shortly, possibly to complete before the Chinese New Year. It would be one of their CSR projects.

In the weeks that followed my visit to Seremban2, many curious people would have wondered why this 15-foot statue of a chess knight was being erected in that vacant space. But following its completion with no inkling of news on why the statue was there at all, curiosity has made way for quiet acceptance of its presence.

But of course, there is a purpose to this project. Very soon, I am told, possibly come the middle of May, there will be an official ceremony to dedicate this statue and the area around it to chess.

Chess may not be one of the more visible games in this country but I can assure you that the game has a sizable following. If we consider that:
  1. Chess is not exactly a spectator sport for the masses, 
  2. There are chess tournaments all year round ranging from higher-end internationally-rated tournaments for the more serious-minded players to the frequent much more popular lower-end rapid-chess tournaments that attracts 100 players on an average per tournament, 
  3. On the assumption that the chess population in the country consists of 10 percent hardcore chess players who have been playing the game all their lives, 25 percent of chess players who have been at the game for more than 10 years, 35 percent of chess players who have been playing the game for more than five years and the remaining being chess players who have competed in local chess tournaments (including at school level), and 
  4. There are unknown players who only play socially among themselves without ever participating in tournaments, plus an unknown number of people who read chess news off the Internet, 
  5. A growing chess coaching industry throughout the country ensures that more children, getting younger all the time, and their parents and guardians are getting exposed to the game,

Taking all the points above, I would venture to guess that the chess enthusiasts in the country would conservatively number around 100,000. A sizable following for a game that is not often in the public eye, and indeed, does not attract as much support from the Olympics Council of Malaysia as I feel it should.

But for all its grassroots popularity, chess does not have a local hero that the chess players can look up to. Considering that the Philippines have their Eugene Torre, India have their Viswanathan Anand and China have their Hou Yifan - and I'm quoting only three countries - Malaysia have none save for our five international masters. We have not grown beyond five because our culture does not permit state support or even provide ample recognition for our chess talents. Is it any wonder then, that our IMs do sometimes question whether it was really worth their while to have spent so much time in chasing their chess dreams and in return, benefit little or at the very least, see scant recognition for their efforts?

For the unheralded chess players in this country, there is now an attempt to give credit to these five international masters. If we need to grow our chess level, these five IMs should be the core of our development efforts. The country shall need to engage them in order for the game to progress further. By right, this should be the responsibility of the Malaysian Chess Federation but even after more than 40 years there is a perception that something is holding the federation back. By this perceived reluctance to fulfil their role and engage our titled players, private individuals and interested companies must instead step into the void created by the Federation.

Thus, I am glad that IJMLand is now prepared to step into this void. As starters, the public-listed company has erected this statue on their property, the Seremban2 city park. Come this May at the dedication ceremony, the company will unveil five park benches around the statue which shall honour our five international masters. Each of these benches will bear a caricature of a player and beside a chess board etched into the bench, will feature the player's most important game. To make this move meaningful, our five players have already agreed to lend their support to this project.

But while these will be the initial set of five park benches, it should not stop here. I am confident that IJMLand will be prepared to commit more of their benches around the statue to honour new international masters should more of our local players attain this title.

But what will happen if someone should go further and obtain the grandmaster title? I don't see this happening soon enough but when it happens, I would dare say that IJMLand may have other plans in mind to honour them. Who knows, perhaps naming their pavillions at their hill park that overlook Seremban2 after Malaysia's future chess grandmasters? When the time comes, that will be a fine gesture indeed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

My (close) brush with Lee Kuan Yew

This is my copy of The Singapore Story, the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew who died yesterday.

I had bought it a long time ago, and possibly more than a decade has passed by already. This particular book of mine has a very remarkable story of its own. And I'm only willing to tell it only because this is a tribute to Singapore's founding father.

It started in June 2009, you see, about a year after the General Elections of 2008 which saw Penang and Perak falling into the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat. Lee Kuan Yew or LKY, the Minister Mentor of Singapore and who was already 85 years old, decided to embark on a tour of Perak, Penang, Kelantan and Pahang.

I was intrigued when I heard the news. Here was a great man whom I'd like to meet, if I can. But I couldn't. It wasn't in LKY's itinerary to meet people publicly. He only wanted to meet the people in government and talk with them. (Personally, I had thought that he wanted to come to Penang to gauge and assess the new state government for himself, and see whether Singapore could work with Penang on mutual projects. To me, it was a fact-finding mission. And I believe that I wasn't too far off the mark in my assessment.)

Undeterred, I asked a friend in the state government whether it could be possible for LKY to autograph my copy of his memoirs. I knew it was going to be a long shot because I had heard that very seldom he would sign his books and if he did, a sizable donation would have to be made to some charity of his choice. Anyhow, my friend said that he would try but gave no promises.

As it turned out, LKY could not autograph the book then and there as he would be leaving soon for Kelantan. But never mind, someone in his entourage told my friend to just leave the book with them and if they can catch LKY in a freer mood, maybe, just maybe....

So apparently, my book left Penang and went to Kota Bharu and from there, it travelled with the Singapore entourage to Kuantan before they arrived back in Singapore. A week passed. What had happened to my book? I didn't want to ask my friend about it because frankly, he wouldn't know either.

More weeks went by without a word. I waited and waited, until one fine day he asked me to collect the book from him. The book had come back from Singapore after all. It had travelled in a big triangle from Penang to the east coast of the peninsula and then down south to Singapore before returning to Penang. It had finished a remarkable trip.

I flipped open the book and there it was, Lee Kuan Yew's signature. Definitely, this will be a book for me to cherish. A precious book for me, and a book for my family. It wasn't easy to get his signature, and it is impossible now to get it again. Rest in peace, Lee Kuan Yew, you did well for Singapore.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Solar eclipse 2015

There was a total eclipse of the sun on Saturday afternoon - starting from 3.41p.m. and lasting for about four hours - but it was not visible in my part of the world, South-East Asia. It was, however, seen from across the northern part of Europe especially above the Arctic Circle. Not having seen solar eclipses before, I had to scour the international news sites to experience this occasion. I wasn't disappointed because someone had decided to film the eclipse from an aeroplane. Wow, awesome!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

50 shades of pink

Today's post is all about the Tecoma flowers which have been blooming all over the place in my neighbourhood and in particular, along the road where I live. For about a week, I've seen the buds open into a glorious bloom of pink and I've seen the flowers wither and fall to carpet both the roadside, kerb and inside my porch.

I've been noticing that many people had chosen to walk along the road just to admire the trees in various shades of red, pink and white.

But while the flowers are beautiful indeed, sweeping away the fallen flowers have been a most tiring effort. The paper thin petals stick to the ground and while singularly the flowers are very light, they are quite heavy when swept together.

And I've been doing this both inside and outside the porch. I've bags full of wet and dry flowers to show as evidence, all waiting for the Municipal Council's garbage collectors to come and dispose off.

Earlier last week, I made a complaint through the Better Penang website that the Council sweepers have not been seen in my neighbourhood for a very long time.

More than a year ago, the Province Wellesley Municipal Council (MPSP) had terminated the services of their contractor. The MPSP had recognised that their appointed contractor hadn't been doing a good job and taken back the service of sweeping the roads and clearing the drains.

I hailed that decision because I had believed that the MPSP was serious enough about keeping their standards high to meet ratepayers' expectations.

Initially, I noticed sweepers coming round to my road on Wednesday mornings. But for several months already, the sweepers have been absent. I haven't been seeing them doing to rounds. Luckily, ours is a relatively responsible neighbourhood and our roads remain clear of falling leaves and other debris.

However with the Tecoma season upon us, I was concerned that clearing off the fallen flowers would become tedious. So I wrote to the Better Penang website.

Two days later, my wife noticed a group of men coming round to collect the heap of fallen flowers on the roadside. So she asked the supervisor why they hadn't been doing their jobs for so long and the answer she got was that there was shortage of manpower at the Council.

Shocking indeed! It's gross inefficiency for us ratepayers to suffer the manpower shortage at the MPSP with the Council taking little visible effort to address the issue. At least, that's my perception of the problem.

Thankfully today, eight days after the first flowers had bloomed, almost all of them have fallen off the branches, leaving behind a tree bereft of flowers and leaves. It is as if autumn had arrived in my neighbourhood except that the Chinese New Year weather remains hot, humid and stuffy.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

2015 durian season starting

I caught up with my good friend, Durian Seng, earlier this week and I asked him about this year's durian season. Will the harvest be bountiful? He broke into a big smile which said everything!

He's obviously happy. According to him, the hot fine weather has given rise to his trees flowering profusely. Right now, the fruits are starting to form. Some are already about two to four centimetres long, he told me, and the ripe fruits should be ready to be enjoyed by mid-May at the earliest. Different species of durian flower at slightly different times and with the rainy season starting soon, if any tree had not flowered before then, it would be barren come the durian season.

Anyway, with the present trees flowering, he knows that his season is set from end of May till the end of July. I promised him that I would release the dates for the availability of the various types of durian from his estate in Sungai Pinang, so here it is. Just keep a thought that the dates are all very tentative. But he is so experienced with the King of Fruit, which has been cultivated since the days of his father, that his dates can't be far wrong.
D604 (早花黄肉) 25 May - 5 July 2015. Yellow, creamy and dry, sticky.
Lipan (蜈蚣) 25 May - 5 July 2015. Beige, aromatic and creamy, sticky.
Kunpoh Angbak (坤宝红肉) 25 May - 15 July 2015. Old tree, reddish hue, sticky.
Little Red (小红) 25 May - 15 July 2015. Reddish; sweet and smooth.
D600 1 June - 5 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter.
Horlor (葫芦) 1 June - 20 July 2015. Golden yellow, aromatic, sticky.
D11 (十一号) 5 June - 5 July 2015. Beige, sweet, sticky.
Kunyit (黄姜) 5 June - 15 July 2015. Yellow, bitter sweet, sticky.
Kapri (甲必利) 10 June - 15 July 2015. Old tree, aromatic and bitter.
Green Skin (青皮) 10 June - 20 July 2015. Old tree, beige, sticky.
Lin Fong Jiao (林凤嬌) 10 June - 20 July 2015. Old tree, yellow, bitter sweet, sticky.
Bak Eu (白肉油) 10 June - 26 July 2015. White, bitter weet, aromatic, sticky.
Red Prawn (红虾)10 June- 31 July 2015. Pinkish, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky.
D15 10 June - 31 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky.
D99 15 June - 31 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky, thick flesh.
Ganja (长帝) 18 June - 31 July 2015. Yellow, bitter sweet, sticky.