Saturday, 31 December 2016

Having a happy new year?

Here's wishing everyone 
a very Happy New Year 2017

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Li Chun (立春), 2017

Ever since I've been writing about Li Chun (立春) (or Lip Chun) in this blog - which would have been in Year 2007 or 10 years ago - I've always been mentioning that this Chinese festival, signifying the Coming of Spring, falls on the fourth of February.

But apparently, this has not always been the case. I took the trouble to check up on past occurrences of Li Chun in Joey Yap's book, The Ten Thousand Year Calendar (万年历), and to my surprise, found that during the past 20th Century from Year 1900 till Year 1999, Li Chun had occurred 33 times on the fifth of February. That is a rather high percentage indeed.

There were even several cases on Li Chun falling on the fifth of February for three consecutive years but as the century rolled along, this became less frequent and the Coming of Spring last fell on a fifth of February in 1980. In the years since then, Li Chun had almost invariably fallen on the fourth of February. However, I should have been alerted that in Year 2000, Li Chun fell instead on the third of February.

But I've a good explanation for missing that fact: Yap's book was published in 2004 and it was three years later that I first became interested in knowing the time of day for every year's occurrence of Li Chun. It's now part of my household responsibility to continue with our tradition of pasting a new Chun (春) character on the rice bucket. If this Chinese character cannot be found, I suppose another auspicious character, such as a Hock (福), on the bucket will do just as well.

So what happens in Year 2017? After having written so much today about Li Chun falling on the third, fourth or fifth of February, it shouldn't surprise anyone now to learn that in Year 2017, the Coming of Spring will be on 3 February 2017 at 23.36 pm. Well before then, I'll be getting my new packet of rice and my new Chun (春) character ready for the rice bucket.

Meantime, here are my past blog entries on this Chinese festival:
Li Chun, 2016
Li Chun, 2015
Li Chun, 2014
Li Chun, 2013
Li Chun, 2012
Li Chun, 2011
Li Chun, 2010
Li Chun, 2009
Li Chun, 2008
Li Chun, 2007

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Westlands boys

When one mentions the Westlands boys, it can only mean the boys that passed through Westlands Primary School and NOT Westlands Secondary School. The Westlands Primary School was originally called Westlands School and in my book, Let the Aisles Proclaim, I had written in the notes:
The Straits Times of 30th September 1930 had reported that “In Penang a new English boys’ school at Perak Road, the Francis Light School, accommodating 500 boys was opened in January.” The earliest reference to Westlands School was in the 31st July 1934 edition of The Straits Times when Mohamed Rouse spoke in the Legislative Council of “the new Westlands School in Penang is to be opened shortly.” On 25th May 1937, the same newspaper wrote of “the Westlands School Boy Scout Troop (Third Penang) repeated their 1934 victory in a competition for junior troops for the Victoria Shield on the Empire Day sports and rally.” The three feeder schools – Hutchings School, Francis Light School and Westlands School – in turn received their intake of boys from the Wellesley Primary School. The New Straits Times of 30th May 1990 quoted a former Wellesley Primary School teacher as saying that the school started in 1929, but the school was known earlier as the Hillview Government School (Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 9th December 1930). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 7th October 1924 had reported that “In Penang the temporary Hillview School has been opened.”  The Straits Times of 8th December 1928 referred to “the Free School, Hutchings School and Hillview School at the present time corresponded to the upper, middle and preparatory schools of an English public school.”
When we had our pre- and post-bicentenary reunions of the Sesqui boys in Penang, we made it a point to gather round for a group picture only those old school mates who were also from Westlands School from 1960 to 1965. Our Headmaster then was K Balram and our school hall was named Cheeseman Hall. Sadly, the Westlands School in Victoria Green Road was converted into the Westlands Sports Training Centre several decades ago. Here are the two pictures.

This one was photographed at the pre-bicentenary reunion on 20 October 2016. The ones in the picture are Ling Heong, Chye Chye, Teik Wah, myself, Oon Hup, Seng Oo, Kar Keat and Kah Kheng.

This picture was taken at the school. More people turned up and consequently, more old Westlands School friends surfaced. From left, Kah Kheng, Chye Chye, Sugumaran, Siang Jin, Oon Hup, Ewe Leong, Subramaniam, Hean Guan and Teik Kooi. From right, Ling Heong, myself, Seng Oo, Teik Wah, Mokzani and Kumaraveloo. I can't recall the other two in the photograph.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The bicentenary reunions

Finally, I remember that we had some fabulous reunions of the Sesqui boys, pre- and post-bicentenary celebrations. The first of three was on 20 October 2016, held at Kim Guan's condominium unit at Gurney Drive. Quite a lot of us turned up and many drank themselves under the table. I turned up for what was supposed to be a short hello-goodbye but it eventually became a long-drawn hour's stay. Thinking back, how could I ever think about getting away with only a short 20-minute stay at that party? No way!

Okay, I shall do my best to identify all the old farts in this picture. That's Derek hidden behind Chin Chuan, followed by Chye Chye, Swee Poh, Teik Wah, Choi Choon, myself, Ling Heong, Nai Kwang, Oon Hup, Andrew, Benny, Kah Theang, Kim Bock, to be confirmed, Soon Chye, Hee Lye, Chim Jin, Sanan, Seng Oo, Thuan Chye, Thiruchelvam, Michael (up). Kheng Hock (down), Kah Kheng, Hean Guan and Kim Guan.

The second reunion was held at the school canteen on 22 October 2016 morning where we were treated to a nasi kandar lunch cooked by Mohd Noor. He was too busy looking after the food that he failed to join us in any of the group photographs. I had to arrive late for this reunion, having been caught up in a traffic jam coming out from Bukit Mertajam, and missed the singing of the School Rally. Still, I was among the first to receive a commemorative T-shirt.

As this group of old farts was even larger than the previous one, I will not attempt to identify everyone in the picture. But we had the presence of Johnny Ooi, our old History teacher and hockey coach. That's him sitting in the picture, the odd one out.

As if two reunions were not enough, we celebrated again over dinner on 22 October 2016 at the E&O Hotel in Farquhar Street, George Town. Another round of merry-making and meeting yet other old faces that could not make it to the morning affair at the school.

No point trying to identify the old farts here too but I love all of you, whoever you are!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Playing some chess again

Many thanks to The Old Frees' Association for releasing funds to sponsor the OFA chess team despite us having busted this year's budget for chess activities. But we have just had a whale of a time competing in the Penang Chess League 2016 at the Red Rock Hotel in George Town.

The team was very basic - comprising just Chuah Heng Meng, Chan Kim Chai, Terry Ong and myself - and we were not expected to make waves in the event. After all, there were a lot of high profile teams in the tournament and they were all competing for the top prizes. As for ourselves, we only wanted to finish as high as possible in the table standings. Such is our playing ambition nowadays. And except for our match-up in the first round and possibly the last round too, our opponents were rather normal and of average strength.

I wouldn't want to say much about our opponents save for two mentions. One, my beating Tan Khai Boon in the first round and then discovering later that he was a former national champion, which I had entirely forgotten, and two, Heng Meng's crushing defeat of long-time friend and foe Eric Cheah in the final round. I would think these were the two most satisfying games of all. Heng Meng was practically bubbling with joy after the game although he did say that he had beaten Eric before. As for me, this was my first and only encounter with Khai Boon but like Terry said in a whatsapp group message later, "Khai Boon has learned to fear Seng Sun's Benko." Unfortunately, I cannot take too much credit for this game, seeing that my opponent did come late and left himself with far too little time to settle down properly.

 First round. Despite my early victory against Khai Boon, my team members lost. Thus, we lost the match.

Eighth and final round. In spite of my loss, my team members carved out a wonderful collective victory to enable us to finish in a remarkable, unexpected, seventh position

It was so sweet to be able to appear on the stage and be acknowledged for our valiant efforts.

Friday, 9 December 2016

A little adventure

There are still opportunities for little adventures if one goes about to look for them. As for me, I had one little adventure just yesterday. My wife went to the island in the morning to attend a whole-day seminar on one of the hotels there. That she had to attend this seminar came at a moment's notice; in fact, she only came to know that she had to attend it just the day before. Unfortunately, we had already made plans to go out to the island late in the afternoon to visit a relative in hospital.

We were in a small quandary. The seminar meant that we would have to drive two cars to the island, me going out in the afternoon, and then meeting up somewhere after five o'clock. But I didn't fancy driving two cars. Not with traffic congestion on the roads during evening rush hour. So I came up with a plan. Tell you what, I informed my wife, you drive out to the island for the seminar and I shall find my way there.

What I had in mind was a train-cum-ferry combination trip. It's a do-able mode of travel to the island, especially now when the train services are so much more frequent that the near-so-distant past. So at 3.15 pm, my car was already parked at the train station parking lot and I had purchased my KTM Komuter Utara ticket to Butterworth. Cost me 60 cents only because I was eligible for the senior citizen discount. Was pleasantly surprised to find no queue at the Komuter Utara ticket counter whereas there was a deep line of people queuing up for the ETS tickets.

Passengers alighting from the KTM Komuter Utara train at Butterworth Station - Starpic

The Komuter train arrived promptly at 4.05 pm, right on the dot. That was another pleasant surprise. Scores of people got on board the train with me. The journey to Butterworth was uneventful, took about 10 minutes, passing through familiar scenery and the new railway bridge across the Prai River. I sat and observed the people in the carriage.

Previously when one wanted to go to the ferry terminus from the train station, it was a simple matter to walk along a long sloping corridor to the ferry ticket counter. Unfortunately, all that has changed. When I exited the train station, there was a long flight of steps up and then down. Walk a short distance and then along a new slope to the ferry counter. I wonder how old people and the disabled would be able to climb up and down just to connect from the train station to the ferry terminus. with my constant walking speed, I took almost 15 minutes to the ticket counter where I had to fork out RM1.20 in coin - no discount given for people my age - before the attendant allowed me into the waiting area. 

Darn it, I had missed the departing ferry and had to wait for the next one. How long would it take for the next ferry to arrive, i wondered. With only four ferries plying from pier to pier, the ferry efficiency had become notoriously bad. I just hoped that the next ferry would arrive soon. By 4.50 pm, I was boarded the Pulau Payar ferry together with countless foot passengers and about 18 cars that somehow found their way onto the upper deck. And by 5.10 pm, I was already making my way to the exit on the island. 

The waiting area at the ferry terminus in Butterworth. It got crowded very fast.

The cars went into the ferry first, followed by the foot passengers. When the ferry arrives at the other end, it would be the foot passengers that disembark first, followed by the vehicles

The wooden seats were all quite occupied.

The more impatient foot passengers wandered to the front of the ferry even while it was still some distance away from docking.

Another look back into the ferry as I readied myself to disembark.

A breath-taking view of the cruise ships at Swettenham Pier from the terminus.

Some things never change: the stall holders selling magazines, drinks, fried banana fritters and a newer cafe.

I crossed the overhead bridge to the other side of Weld Quay and walked through the old foot court to Victoria Street. Then onto China Street Ghaut before ending outside the OCBC Bank in Beach Street.

Rush hour traffic along Weld Quay

The food court in what used to be the old Market Street Ghaut. It was all rather quiet at 5.30 pm. Anyway, mind the gaping hole in the ground!

Although this building is now occupied by the Customs department, it used to be the Malayan Railway building on the island. But one had to cross the Channel to catch the train in Prai.

All the buildings on this side of China Street Ghaut, stretching from the present CIMB Bank building right until the Weld Quay junction, used to belong to the Chinese towkay, Yeap Chor Ee. But the UAB Building was sold off to the United Asian Bank when it opened a branch in Penang.

The lift inside the Georgetown Chambers, together with the one inside the CIMB Bank building opposite, are remnants from the past.

Soon, my wife arrived to pick me up, not outside OCBC Bank but Maybank. She lost her way and turned into the wrong road. Now, the big question is whether I would repeat this trip to the island. All things considered, I think I would if the same circumstances occur again.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Short trip

My wife and I made a quick overnight trip to the Klang Valley on Monday. She had a rare seminar to attend at the Subway Resort & Spa and wanted me to accompany her. Thus, we took the afternoon ETS train down to Kuala Lumpur, reaching there at about seven o'clock, and then switching to the LRT to the Paramount station where one of my cousins was waiting for us. Over dinner, I passed him a copy of my book, Let the Aisles Proclaim.

All my pictures were taken with my mobile phone; hence the quality left a lot to be desired. Here, there was an unusually reddish hue which I could not correct with software. I would suspect that the phone camera had been fooled by the colour of our T-shirts and the table cloth. By a coincidence, we were all in red, as if we have pre-planned it. 

He was to drop us off at the 33 Boutique Hotel in Sunway. This is just a small hotel opposite the Sunway Pyramid, a four-storey one-shoplot hotel with 30 rooms that were big enough for a queen-size bed or two twin beds. But I must say that the hotel is very decent and very clean, presumably because they had opened just nine months ago. What I liked about my room on the second level was the optimised use of the bathroom. The shower head was well positioned to allow for the water to spray onto the sliding door but the shower curtain prevented the water from spilling into the bedroom. Very cool indeed. And there was a lift to service all four floors. There was no breakfast but with eateries all nearby, breakfast wasn't exactly missed. The only disappointment was the lack of decent television channels.

On the next day while my wife was attending the seminar, I went to the Amcorp Mall. I knew that this place wasn't a premier shopping centre but I wanted to visit Joe's Mac and browse through his collection of second-hand records. Before I knew it, I had spent almost five hours there and came away with a handful of old records. I haven't played them yet since returning but I hope the sound quality will be decent.

Lunch was with one of my old schoolmates, Kee Thuan Chye. Spent about an hour talking exchanging opinions about the sorry state of the country here. We agreed that unfortunately, there's little hope of a solution unless the present regime loses at the next general elections. At four in the afternoon, I went back to the Sunway Resort to meet my wife and then we dashed off to catch the ETS train back to Bukit Mertajam, us reaching home after midnight.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Surrendering a banking licence?

I saw this notice in the Star newspaper two days ago (on 29 Nov 2016) but I don't know how to interpret its meaning or implication to the country. I'm confused: why would an international bank give up its banking licence in Malaysia, even if it is an off-shore banking institution operating in Labuan? How often does it ever happen in this country?

An update: Citibank has since then issued a clarification. They said that they had obtained permission to open a full-fledged commercial bank in Labuan and as such, the offshore banking licence would no longer be required. All their clients would be transferred to the commercial bank.