Monday, 28 November 2016

Four against the wall

We, four Old Frees, found ourselves up against the wall at a KRI Morning Talk organised by Khazanah Research Institute at the old Bangunan UAB in China Street Ghaut, George Town, this afternoon. Who is the odd man out? Must be me because the other three are Old Frees prominent in their own respective fields. Me, I'm only a busybody blogger.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Bangkok, part two

Our second day in Bangkok took us to the Grand Palace. The whole place had been cordoned off because the body of the late King of Thailand was lying in state in one of the stately buildings in the Grand Palace complex. Thus, security was very tight as we had to move shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists and the local Thais to move past the security checkpoint. All the Thais were donned in black whereas we tourists had been advised to wear dark colours. Thus, it was very surreal to see the locals moving everywhere in the Thai capital in black clothes, even in shopping malls in the city, as if this was a common, everyday thing to do.

 Everybody's trying to go through the security checkpoint. We were requested to show our passports to the Police before we were allowed through.

 But once through, we found wide open spaces since the roads around the Grand Palace had been closed off to traffic.

 The ceremonial guards taking a rest before their turns to stand motionless at the various entrances.

 I think that I did the best impression among the five of us!

Novice monks studying in the Grand Palace

 In the evening, we were taken on a dinner cruise on board the Chao Phraya Princess. This was the pier at the River City shopping mall. 

 Hundreds of other tourists waiting for the cruise ships to arrive. There were at least five that belonged to the same company.

 Abundant food, but needless to say, we enjoyed the scenery more than the food...

 ...such as this, which is the Grand Palace at night.

On the third day of our stay in Bangkok, we were left well alone by the tour guide, it being a free-and-easy day. My fellow Old Frees who had been to Bangkok before jumped right in to a shopping frenzy while others, like my wife and I, were only beginning to discover what Bangkok had to offer in terms of shopping. We were advised to go to the Platinum fashion mall where the latest and cheapest clothes were being sold but for us to even go there, we had to pass through - and be detained for about three hours at - their 24-hour open-air weekend market. We thought it was already heaven to shop here for clothes.  

Our ultimate destination, the Platinum fashion mall. This is, of course, a paradise for women. Men will also find plentiful of new clothes in this mall. The problem with shopping here is that almost all of the shops do not have a fitting room and thus, shoppers have to take a risk with their purchases. The only consolation is that the clothes are cheap.

 Our final destination in Bangkok was to go up to the top deck of the 88-storey Baiyoke Sky Hotel where we saw a 360-degree panaramic view of the city. After that, onwards to their Rooftop Bar for a round of drinks. Cheers!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Happiness tinged with some sadness

I'm writing this either late at night of the 17th of November or the early hours of the 18th, depending on how fast I can finish this post.

I've just returned from the 93rd annual dinner of The Old Frees' Association on the island. This was supposed to be a happy occasion because finally, the Bicentenary Committee has acknowledged my role in this year's Bicentenary celebrations: the time that I had spent on Let the Aisles Begin and my many other activities, all in the name of the Bicentenary.

I have to admit that I was surprised to be called onto the stage. Never expected it. But here at the St Giles Wembley's ballroom, I went up to receive an appreciation gift from the Bicentenary Committee chairman, Abdul Rafique. I suppose it sort of partially compensated for being overlooked during the official launch of the book by the Raja of Perlis on 21 Oct 2016. Can you imagine an author not invited for the launch of his own book?

Me and my school pals: Huan Chiang, Swee Poh, Michael, Kok Hin, yours truly, Andrew, Kim Guan, Oon Hup, Chye Chye, Kah Theang and Teik Wah.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a happy occasion - and it was a happy occasion until I received a whatsapp message from a friend to inform me that Soo Ewe Jin, an executive editor at The Star Publication had passed away earlier in the day.

This news had a very sobering effect on me because even though I knew that he was battling cancer, I had on occasions exchanged messages with him through facebook. Our latest exchanges were on the 8th of this month but I never realised that they could be our last.

Ewe Jin was, of course, an Old Free some five or six years my junior in school. Unfortunately, I never had the occasion to meet him face to face, either at school or when he was working in the mass media.

I had wanted to see him last year on one of my rare trips to the Klang Valley but a traffic snarl on the North-South Expressway meant that I arrived late in Kuala Lumpur and meeting up with him was postponed. We never did manage to arrange another date. My loss and anyway, it's too late for that. So all I can say right now is that my thoughts are with his wife and two sons.

Below was his last message to me. Guess I won't be receiving any more from the late Soo Ewe Jin. Rest in peace, my friend.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

PFS 200 years video

This video below was first shown at the Bicentenary Dinner of Penang Free School.

Much, if not all, of the information in the video was based on the draft manuscript of my book, Let the Aisles Proclaim, which I had released to Mahyidin Mustakim who is the president of both the Old Frees Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor and the Penang Free School Foundation.

P.S. Today being the 17th of November, my wife and I shall be celebrating the 93rd anniversary of The Old Frees' Association at the OFA Annual Dinner in George Town. Other than my own school mates, the Sesquicentenary boys, I hope to meet up with lots more Old Frees friends of various ages. See you there!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Maeklong and Damnoen Saduak

There are already so many videos about the Maeklong railway market that mine would seem so insignificant among them. But like I mentioned in the notes to my video, the train passing through the market may be excitement to the tourists but for the traders at the market, this is definitely a ho-hum affair for them four times in a day. For example, just look at the lady at the lower right corner of the video. She fascinated me. Even as the train approached, she was busily chopping away and quite ignoring everything around her. Even when the train trundled through, she was still chopping away with her knife. But for first-time visitors, watching the spectacle of the folding and unfolding of the canvas canopies for the train to pass slowly through was probably as memorable as it could get.

From Maeklong, we visited the Damnoen Saduak floating market next, which is probably the most popular floating market in Thailand. Most visitors to Thailand would want to visit a floating market and I would dare say that many of them would end up here. To get here, we hopped into a long-tail boat at the pier for about a 15 to 20 minutes noisy ride along the narrow canals. On both sides, we could see small wooden houses on stilts fringed the banks. As it was high tide, the water was lapping into the compounds of many of the houses. But my concern was whether the canal water would overflow into my boat. Apparently, not. Pretty soon, we arrived at the market place and was on dry land again.



Monday, 14 November 2016

Supermoon, November 2016

I was bemoaning that the rainy weather of the past few hours had put paid to my hopes of seeing the so-called supermoon tonight. Luckily by 9.30 pm, the weather had cleared up to leave a brilliantly lit orb of light in the night sky.

According to the website, the full moon over George Town would occur at 9.52 pm on 14 Nov 2016. I consider myself lucky to have been ready with my camera to capture the moon at its most magnificent at this time.

Camera setting: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/2000s, aperture f5.6

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Bangkok, part one

Normally, I would avoid group tours because the rest of the people in the group would be strangers that shared little or no common background with me. Thus, it was with a little apprehension when I signed up for a trip of Bangkok with other members of The Old Frees' Association. Granted that we were all members of the OFA, there was still some disconnect when we met at the Penang International Airport on the morning of 4 Nov 2016. But the uneasiness dissipated very fast because there were at least two familiar faces among the 11 of us. Those who were strangers quickly became known as we exchanged pleasantries. Perhaps it was that old school tie feeling after all, the ground-breaking question being "what year were you in school?"

I signed up for the Bangkok trip basically because I saw a visit to Maekhlong in the itinerary. I had always wanted to go there to see that famous railway market that would fold up whenever a train approaches the Maekhlong station. But the journey from Bangkok to Maekhlong was a long one, about one-and-a-half hours each way. To travel to Maekhlong on my own would be perhaps out of the question. Thus, seeing that the whole tour group would be taken to this town made me sign up unhesitatingly for the trip.

However, this was a trip that almost didn't happen subsequently. Soon after I had signed up for it with the OFA office, I was persuaded to make the trip to Dittisham instead. Of course, Dittisham would be impossible for me to miss amidst all the excitement of Penang Free School's Bicentenary celebrations but to go to Bangkok as well would stretch my resources a lot. Hence, I almost gave up on the Bangkok trip except that my wife persuaded me not to. It wouldn't be nice to pull out after you have committed to it, she said. And that was why the fourth of November found us on a 4D3N trip to the Thai capital.

Bangkok turned out interesting but the demise of the Thai King put a somewhat damper on our visit as we found the city largely in mourning. I would believe that no-where but in Thailand where the late King was so respected that I would find the common folk willing to wear black clothes, or at the very least dark-coloured clothes, as they go about their daily lives out of respect for their late monarch. And not for one day only; perhaps for the next 100 days from 13 Oct 2016 until the funeral. Entertainment establishments were asked to stop blaring their music publicly although indoors could be another different matter altogether. Thus, when we visited Khaosan Road in the evening of the first day for our dinner, we found a street still full of tourists in colourful attire, it was a music-less occasion and quiet except for normal conversation. The shops and restaurants were manned by Thai people wearing black. Quite dreary, in my opinion, but there was nothing more shocking than to visit the Grand Palace on the second day to find the whole place filled with Thai citizens and all in black as they visited to pay their last respects to the late King. We tourists were asked to wear dark-coloured clothes and pin a small black ribbon on our sleeves as a mark of respect too.

ART IN PARADISE (3D interactive museum)

Don't expect too much in this tourist destination which is located on the fourth floor of a quiet shopping mall. However, the exhibits did bring out the kids in us, even from 70-plus year-olds.


Touristy place, full of foreign backpackers but also full of tourists from the Asean region. We had about two hours here, of which the first hour was spent on locating local Thai food. We were famished and we found one such restaurant there.

Would you pay 10 Bahts to take pictures of their exotic fried insects and eight-legged friends? Grasshoppers, scorpions, worms, larvae...pretty disgusting. No, I didn't partake of these food and no, I wouldn't pay money to take pictures of them. This was taken with the longest zoom on my camera, and then cropped further. Hence, the image is not as sharp as I wanted it.