Sunday, 17 June 2018

Bukit Mertajam hill damaged

We decided to go up the Bukit Mertajam hill in Cherok Tokun a few days ago. Driving in, we had to stop before the main gate into the forest park because it was closed to all vehicular traffic. We asked the guard why and he replied saying that the road leading up to the summit had been destroyed due to the heavy rain about two weeks ago. That must have been the thunderstorm we experienced on the night of 28 May. Several roads in the town had been inundated with flood waters then. We didn't realise that it had affected the hill too.

But can we go in, we asked the guard hopefully. Okay, lah, you can go it, he replied. If he did not let us in through the gate, he was sure that we would have tried to sneak in somewhere else. Might as well let us through. So, thankfully, we walked in and he closed the gate shut again after us.

As we walked towards the second car park, we could see the extensive damage. Rushing water could be very unforgiving as it destroys everything in its path. In this instance, the water had brought down the earth and soil from further up the hill and the mixture of water and debris had further eroded the road surface and embankments.

I would suppose it is going to take the Forestry Department months before all the damage could be repaired and the park opened to the general public again.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Festival weekend

Here's wishing a joyous Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to my Muslim friends and a feastful Dumpling Festival to my Chinese pals.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The signs were there

Had it been a momentous enough 14th General election for you, right from the word "Go" when Parliament was dissolved on 7 Apr 2018? In a sense, it really was. I believe the ditching of the most corrupt Barisan Nasional government that had ruled the land since Independence in 1957 was indeed momentous. Unprecedented. Akin to pressing the reset button on a computer. An opportunity to start anew. Only thing is that there will be a lot of resistance from the remnants of a population that had lived on dedak for the most of their lives and who still want to believe that their race is superior over others. That will require a lot of political will by the new Pakatan Harapan government to overcome. But I'm confident that with time, they will succeed.

I was quite nervous but hopeful for an upset victory. Sometime at the end of April, I was having lunch with a few childhood friends and we were talking about the obstacles that the previous government had put in the paths of the Pakatan Harapan. Obstacles like gerrymandering of voter borders, giving a notice of deregistration to Mahathir's Bersatu party, the inability of contesting under a unified PH logo, and many more. And of course, challenging times gave rise to ingenious solutions, such as the decision for all the Pakatan parties to campaign under the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) logo. That, in my opinion, was the most brilliant solution. I don't think anybody in the Barisan side could have foreseen this happening but even if they had done, they would have dismissed it. So confident of retaining power, those people.

But on the ground, the tens of thousands of people that came out nightly to attend the Pakatan cheramahs told a different story. People were fed up with the rising cost of living, people were fed up with corruption. People wanted change. All these signs of impending trouble were dismissed by Barisan. So sure again were they of retaining power.

In Penang, of course, the signs pointing to a victory for Pakatan at the Federal level were not so clear. After all, Pakatan have held power in Penang for 10 years already. The cheramahs in Penang were rather insipid affairs. No fire in whatever the candidates were saying. We already knew all the issues. And they were simply defending their positions. We felt comfortable. Excited though we all were, we were not totally caught up in the whirlwind sweeping the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, I tried to caution my friends that they should tread carefully and be aware of what their political enemies were up to on the ground. Know thy enemy, I told them.

I believe the turning point in the campaign was on the third day of May. Mahathir had gone into Pekan, his archenemy's liar to give a cheramah. It was reported that hundreds of Felda settlers turned up to hear him speak. Perhaps the numbers were not in the thousands, unlike other towns and cities, but it was still a respectable number. Then on the following day, the newspapers reported that Najib would be turning up in Langkawi where Mahathir was standing for a parliamentary seat. "Into the rival's den" was how The Star newspaper had described it. Now, that would be interesting, I had thought to myself. How big a crowd would the sitting Prime Minister attract? I was disappointed when subsequently, I learnt of the purpose of Najib's visit there. Goodness, he wasn't in Langkawi for a cheramah; he went there to meet with some business leaders for a dinner function. Was that all? In the middle of an election campaign, was that all? How many of them were there? What sort of business leaders would you find there, anyway? No cheramah for the people? I knew then that he would be in trouble if he was passing up a chance to speak before a crowd, no matter how small it was. Here was a Prime Minister who was too afraid to meet the people. He was afraid that nobody would turn up to hear him speak. How pathetic! From that point on, I began harbouring a growing belief that there was now a better than good chance of Pakatan Harapan pulling off a win at the polls.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Three days in KL

Came back from Kuala Lumpur last night, where my wife and I were attending one of Joey Yap's seminars. I was quite amazed that again, not once did I nod off during the three-day event. Am I getting better with my attention span, or did the topics get more interesting for me? Anyhow, I did stay awake the whole time, again.

We took the eight o'clock train back to Bukit Mertajam. Uneventful ride, although the ETS train was delayed. We were only allowed down to the platform at KL Sentral at about 8.20pm to await its arrival from the north. Noticed that the carriages were not full when it pulled out from the station and the air-conditioning wasn't working too well initially.

The delayed departure meant that we arrived at the Bukit Mertajam station about 20 to 30 minutes behind schedule. There was a mild concern when the weather turned bad after Taiping and I could see the rain pelting down against the carriage's windows.

There were also postings on facebook to warn people of an impending thunderstorm in the north of the country. Would it be as bad as last November, I wondered? Would the taxi driver be able to pick us up at the BM station? Luckily, by the time we arrived, the thunderstorm had stopped. 

Nevertheless, it was a gingerly drive back to our house. When the driver reached the centre of the town, the roads around the Police station were at least six inches deep in flood water. Luckily there was little traffic at the junction which enabled him to navigate slowly round the bend without letting up on his already slow speed. I'm sure everybody released a silent sigh of relief. The next potential obstacle was a spot of lower level ground in my neighbourhood which was very susceptible to flooding. But there was no problem here as I told the driver to take an alternative route to the house.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Congratulations, CM Chow Kon Yeow

New haircut also, ah, CM Chow? 😁

Local government elections

I would like to feature here a write-up by Jeffrey Seow, as taken from his facebook, on the local government elections which some elected representatives are pushing for Kuala Lumpur. Heck, they should be pushing for the revival of the third vote for the whole country. I know that for one, the Penang government will fully support this move. Make the local councils responsible to the people!

Maria Chin Abdullah and Lim Lip Eng said they are going to push for local elections or council elections and suddenly people are curious and asking questions about that, like, is it the same as DUN elections.
Local Government elections or Council elections are not a new thing and no, they are not the same as Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Assembly) or Dewan Rakyat (Parliamentary House of Representative) elections.
Local elections refer to the elections of the people who will lead a Municipality i.e. head of Town Council or City Council i.e. the Mayor, and his body of Municipal Councillors.
George Town's Municipal history dates back to at least 1800, the time of Penang's Governor George Leith, with the formation of her Committees of Assessors who were partially elected - they were nominated by their respective communities, and invariably included their respective Captains (Kapitan) like Chinese Captain Koh Lay Huan, Malay Captain Syed Hussain Al-Aidid and Chulia Captain Cauder Mohideen Merican (Kapitan Keling). The Committee of Assessors looked into a variety of things, which today are part of the responsibility of Municipal Town and City Councils, like sanitation, for example.
1857 saw the formalisation of that role with the establishment of that entity known as the George Town Municipal Commission led by the Resident Councillor of Penang (automatically appointed by virtue of his position per the Municipal Commissions Act), two Commissioners appointed by the Resident Councillor, and three other Commissioners elected by the Rate Payers of George Town. So just as people who pay taxes have a right to representation at a State and Federal level today, in those days, people who paid Municipal Rates e.g. Assessment or Cukai Pintu, got to vote for their Municipal Commissioners (later called Municipal Councillors). Former George Town Municipal Commissioners or Councillors included the likes of Koh Seang Tat and Lim Cheng Teik.
Local Government elections were suspended in 1913 but revived in 1951. with nine members to be elected out of a total of fifteen members of the Municipal Commission of George Town, Penang. At that time George Town, for the purposes of the elections, was divided up into Tanjung, Kelawai and Jelutong wards. By 1956 all the members were elected and George Town became the very first municipal body to become a fully elected one. The number of divisions or wards at tat time came up to five, each of whom were to elect one councillor each year, the position of President of the Council to be elected by the members of the Council. Does that sound familiar? It should, because that is how our Prime Minister was also chosen.
On the 1st of January 1957, just months away from Merdeka, George Town was made, by Royal Charter under the hand of Queen Elizabeth II, a City and her Council transformed from a Town Council into a City Council, her first Mayor was D. S. Ramanathan.
Fateful Merdeka. Not long after, the death knell was to sound over local government elections elections when the federal government suspended them in 1965. By that time George Town's City Council was the wealthiest municipal council in the whole of Malaya with an annual revenue almost twice the size of the Penang state government, and one cannot but wonder if greed was the motivation for that. Allegations of maladministration and misconduct gave the federal government excuse to transfer the fuctions of the George Town City Council to the Chief Minister of Penang in 1966.
A Royal Commission of Enquiry cleared the George Town City Council of those allegations of corruption and recommended restoring municipal elections but federal authorities refused to see this done. Instead, in 1971, the George Town City Council, together with the Penang Island Rural District Council, were taken over by the Penang state government -- Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu suspended local governments - cheating George Town residents (and residents of Penang Island's rural southwest) of their right to local representation, or representation at a municipal level.
Having lost her local elected government, George Town also lost her City status when, in 1974 the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Island Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Anwar flexing his muscle!

I'm giving space below to my old schoolmate, Leslie Lee Kim Guan, to give his analysis and opinion on Rafizi Ramli's public outburst yesterday after the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, had appointed Lim Guan Eng, Mohammed Sabu and Muhyiddin Yassin to head the Finance, Defence and Home Affairs Ministries, respectively.

Anwar flexing his muscle!

In our Malaysian politics sometimes there is more than meets the eyes.

In my earlier prediction,  the absence of Azizah during the press conference on the three Cabinet posts by Tun Dr Mahathir may be attributable to her unhappiness that PKR was unfairly accorded. This is understandably so.

I strongly believe that Rafizi was doing his boss' bidding because of some of the reasons I stated earlier which to me have justification.

I recall in 2008 after Selangor fell to Pakatan Rakyat that Anwar appointed his brother to be the Economic Adviser to the Selangor government.

I personally did not agree with this move by Anwar then as it was not merit-based for the people's interest but nepotism rearing its ugly head and DEFINITELY contradictory to Reformasi. OTOH after hearing and having personally met Nurul Izzah, notwithstanding she is Anwar's daughter, I am impressed by her capability, competence and sincerity to serve our nation, and I believe given time in Ministerial experience she will make a good Prime Minister for our country and its people in the same way Lee Hsien Loong has done for Singapore.

Fast forward to the current situation, I felt that Rafizi Ramli is personally not interested in the position because he believed in a good, capable and efficient government of the people, by the people and for the people with effective checks and balance. This was said during his campaign. He is still relatively young but intelligent and capable, and he realised there is a dire role that he can play to transform the country for the better. He opted for the uphill difficult obstructive challenge of Reformasi instead of an easy path through UMNO. This speaks volumes of his unquestioned character.

However if his party or the Pakatan Harapan government appoints him in any ministry including Finance, I think he will do a good job. As for our new Finance Miniaster, Lim Guan Eng, I believe that he will be discharging in time to prove himself as the best Finance Minister just like what he has done for the people of Penang as Chief Minister.

Washing dirty linen in public is another issue altogether. In any case what PKR wanted is consensus or agreement by PKR in any major decision by the current Pakatan Harapan government or by Mahathir since PKR now has the largest number of MPs followed by DAP closely behind.

From this outburst PKR indirectly is serving notice to Mahathir not to bulldoze his way like what he did as Prime Minister during his previous 22 years when UMNO was the majority partner. UMNO practically got its way in all decisions taken with all the other coalition minority partners including MCA and Gerakan without consensus. Thus no checks and balance, no discussion nor consultation or deliberations and was the main contributary cause for the demise of MCA, Gerakan and MIC.

In fact, in Barisan Nasional's final phase, practically almost all government policies were decided by the UMNO Supreme Council and not the BN Supreme Council nor by the Cabinet. The BN Supreme Council and the Cabinet were mere rubber stamps. The unchecked power and arrogance of UMNO led to its abuse and mismanagement, corruption, etc etc. UMNO was the main cause of the BN's failure in GE14.

Anwar is now telling Mahathir that although he is PM, the big brother is now PKR and therefore PKR will not agree to unequal/unfair distribution of Cabinet posts. This is precisely what Mahathir did  during his previous administration to his minority partners in BN.

I believe Mahathir will similarly do it this way if this GE14 resulted in Bersatu having a majority number in MPs.

Mahathir realising his 12 MPs are too small in number hence this may explain why he is keen to accept crossovers especially from his good friend Taib's PBB and indirectly reduce the percentage of PKR's. Politics is a numbers game.

I noted that Mahathir recently constantly emphasised that PH's four-party partnership is an equal partnership although obviously with 12 MPs viz-a-viz PKR's 47 and DAP's 42 his number and percentage is lesser. I guess he had conveniently forgotten his different tune whilst he chaired BN.

What TM wanted is equal distribution of all Cabinet posts to all four parties. If I were to be in his shoe I will do the same. However statistically it is two for Bersatu (PM and Home) whereas ONLY one each for the rest. Understandably, PKR is unhappy because the party has only the Deputy Prime Minister post without a ministry.

The outburst by PKR, whilst is not reflecting good signs of PH solidarity to the public, may now result in Mahathir to get Anwar's and DAP's agreements in major future PH's decision, for example, in the composition of the rest of the Cabinet positions. Further, Anwar is supposedly going to take over the helm in two years' time.

Mahathir has to adjust that his premiership this round can no longer be autocratic like before in BN's time. It is limited to two years as agreed and he has to obtain consensus from all and particularly from big brothers PKR and DAP.

In any new partnership/relationship the honeymoon period (getting rid of Najib) is over and the jostling for position and power is now just beginning. This may explain why the Press had to wait three to five hours yesterday whilst possible serious haggling was taking place on the other side of the wall.

There will be more haggling coming up in Round Two (in one week's time) for the balance of seven ministries out of the initial 10, and in Round Three (in the next two to three weeks) for the balance of 15 ministries. The time frame for forming the entire Cabinet is now longer than originally scheduled!

One thing for sure which is good for the country is that despite this internal bickering, Mahathir cannot be autocratic like before in the current PH government. He is determined to rectify all the wrongs in government and our institutions, and DEFINITELY those acts that were inflicted upon him personally.

PH must not deviate from the main focus about correcting the ills and reforming our new Malaysia for the benefit of the people and country in a better tomorrow.

Most importantly the PH government should reflect on itself to the public as a viable, cohesive, harmonious, competent, responsible, accountable and united coalition party and not a party of  marriage of convenience, and be honourable and fair to each other internally in its relationship amongst itself, thereby guiding andharvesting the fruits for the people as per its manifesto. The promise to deliver has to be carried out including the two years for PM tenureship.

Should PH be one single multi-racial and multi-religious united party for the future of Malaysia and for Bangsa Malaysia in the foreseeable future? Can PH achieve what Dato Oon Jaafar failed?

With our natural and human resources, can Malaysia be as developed as Singapore in the coming decade or two from now under PH?

Is Anwar prudent to flex his muscle yesterday (DAP, Ananah has to be thankful or otherwise) or should he wait till two years later when he assumes the PM's chair? Time will tell as politics is not a static game.

Leslie Lee

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Friday, 4 May 2018


The former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in an election rally at Putrajaya last night, used the Tamil word Podah on the caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Razak.

In his campaign speech, Mahathir had said: “A so-called 'religious warrior'? Podah! I picked him but now that he has become the PM, he wants to have me arrested instead. It seems I had accused him of being involved in the alleged sabotage of the plane I was on last Friday. How does he know that I was wrong, when he didn't look at what happened? Even the civil aviation authority (DCA) did not come to see me or check the plane,"

But what exactly does podah mean? I tried asking my Indian friends but none has come back with a response. I had to search for the term on the Internet before finding it as well as other colourful Tamil words. This list below, will be interesting reading:

  1. Dei - The verbal response to someone who does or says something stupid, idiotic or asinine. For example, "Lee turns to walk out the door to my office, but instead runs into the wall." Dei!!
  2. Podah / Podeh – Podah means to "get lost, man" and Podeh means to "get lost, girl". For example, "I don't want to see you around here anymore. Podah! or Podeh!"
  3. Elek – This is a verbal response to mean “don’t have”. For example, "Hey, man, have you seen my iPhone?" Elek.
  4. Sapade – Directly translates to mean "eat". For example, "Aneh, sapade order here!
  5. Aneh/Anah – This is the Tamil word for “Bro”. For example, "Aneh, teh tarik satu!"
  6. Kunji – Directly translates to mean "penis" in Tamil.
  7. Thani – It means "water" in Tamil. But here in Malaysia, we use it for drinking alcohol. For example, "Eh, bro, tonight thani ah?"
  8. Pundek – A Malaysian Tamil word for "vagina".
  9. Thangachi – This is a polite word for "younger sister". But here in Malaysia, we use it to call both of our guy and girl friends. For example, "Hey, thangachi, apa buat!"
  10. Macha – Literally, this is a term for "brother-in-law". It is commonly used to address our friends. For example, "Macha, we’re going to the club tonight. Wanna join?"

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Nomination day, GE14

Me with Steven Sim
Nomination day today for the 14th General Election in Malaysia. Had taken a decision yesterday to locate and support my local candidates-to-be when they walk to the nomination centre at the Jit Sin High School in Bukit Mertajam.

Steven Sim with his aunties....erm, I mean, supporters.
Chong Eng, the incumbent for the Padang Lalang state constituency arrived a few minutes after me and went around to greet the Pakatan Harapan supporters. "Remember me?" I asked her. We had met at the Red Rock Hotel on the island last December when she opened the Penang Heritage City chess competition. I had mentioned then that, like her, I was a "BM lang". Not that I was a true born-and-bred BM lang but one transplanted from the island a long time ago due to circumstances.

Steven Sim Chee Keong, incumbent candidate for the Bukit Mertajam parliament seat, was the next to arrive. "Hey, Quah, sorry I couldn't reply you on facebook. Very busy nowadays," he greeted me. Never mind, lah, I'm here anyway. I managed to find the information I wanted.

Lee Khai Loon (Machang Bubuk), Steven Sim (Bukit Mertajam),
Chong Eng (Padang Lalang) and Heng Lee Lee (Berapit)
Soon later, the new hopeful for the Berapit state seat, Heng Lee Lee, arrived. First time seeing her in person, of course. Almost didn't know who that lady was. And a short while later, car horns honking loudly, Lee Khai Loon, who is defending his Machang Bubok state seat, arrived too.

The quartet having gotten themselves ready, the walk towards to nomination centre started. Around the corner we went and there we were, at the barricade set up by the Police. The Press went busy to work with their cameras. We supporters followed suit. Then the Police opened the barricade slightly to allow the quartet through together with their proposers and seconders.

A question of the Press going overboard with taking pictures?
All of us that remained behind had to wait where we were, under a sun that was getting hotter as the morning progressed. Eventually we were forced to retreat to the shades to wait for the emergence of the candidates from all the political parties who were admitted into the nomination centre.

From where we stood, I could see the supporters of the rival political parties assembled at the far distant end of the road. From a distance, there were the Barisan Nasional supporters, the Party Islam supporters, the Party Rakyat Malaysia supporters.

Seeking respite from the blazing sun
And that's how I spent my morning today. Mostly in the company of strangers. Almost all unknown to me but connected through a common bond to see our political party win in the General Election.

But it was strange that I did not see any of my friends there. Friends who had supported the same candidates five years ago. Friends who had turned up at the nomination centre then. All absent today. I wonder what's up? I wonder why?

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Kirkby-trained teachers

The following article was published in the New Straits Times on 22 September 2001 in conjunction with the Kirkby College Golden Anniversary on 15 Sep 2001. The author was Mohamed Yunus Raiss, then the Founder and Principal of Sels College, London. His curriculum vitae is long but from what I can gather from it, he is obviously an advocate of life-long learning.

New Straits Times 2* Sep 22, 2001 Opinion
The nation-makers without a peer 
By Yunus Raiss
SOME people said it was a waste of money to send Malaysians to train in England as teachers. In the early 50s such a reaction would have been exceptional, but by the 60s there were clear demands to close the two training colleges for economic reasons.
The first group of 148 students were sent in the winter of 1951 to train at an emergency teacher-training college in a tiny hamlet about six miles from the city of Liverpool, called Kirkby Fields. The place was literally farm followed by farm. It had been a munitions factory in the Second World War. They sailed on S.S. Chusan on a 21-day journey.
The selection for the two-year training course at Kirkby looked for able candidates, with the potential for a degree course, who would on their return serve as teachers in the Education Department for at least five years. 
Among those chosen were young men and women from rural areas and poor families, who could not have gone on to Higher Education unassisted. The good mix of candidates from well-off and educated families and the children of labourers and farmers produced a magical quality that benefited Malaysia in no small way.
Kirkbians can be expected to say that even God smiled on this pioneering educational programme that had a Malayan curriculum taught in England by well-qualified staff, most of whom were graduates from such universities as London, Oxford, Cambridge and Aberdeen.
The place was redolent with friendliness and open-minded discussions, high thinking and good manners. The content of the courses and the pedagogy were eye-openers for most of the trainees, who took home innovative approaches and a liberal attitude to learning. Education as a whole was elevated to a higher plane.
On Sept 15, a group of over 500 Kirkby teachers had a social get- together in Kuala Lumpur, with Tuanku Bainum, a former Kirkby teacher, as the guest of honour. It was a very happy occasion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Kirkby.
Yet this momentous occasion seems to have passed by without some form of recognition of the invaluable service given by Kirkby (and later Brinsford Lodge) teachers towards building the nation.
The Ministry of Education seems to have regarded these teachers as sheep in sheep's-clothing with insufficient clout to be rewarded with official recognition for their service to the country.
They were not sheep. They were enthusiastic intellectual stalwarts who played a vital part in training the young to build the nation.
Until Kirkby-Brinsford Lodge started training teachers, the best schools had one or two Raffles graduates alongside the normal trained teachers. No Kampong school had a teacher who was a graduate or of near-graduate quality. Malay schools, of course, had SITC trained teachers. 
Arriving at Kirkby or Brinsford Lodge was a unique experience at a time when very few people had the opportunity to fly to England. Going to either college was an exciting experience. Some students had the opportunity to go to the University of Malaya in Singapore or Queensland but chose England because it was England.
Besides improving their knowledge and honing their pedagogical skills, they learnt to view the world in a wider perspective. They came as raw young men and women gawky in gait, and returned home polished ladies and gentlemen with savoir faire.
They left a lasting legacy of good manners and friendship with the tutors, the people around the two colleges and, of course, the schools where they taught. They were excellent diplomats for Malaya and returned to Malaya as high commissioners for the good of the land.
Any sense of inferiority they might have had wore off soon after the first year. They could see their pivotal role in a global view of Malaya as a developing nation.
Those who had never been to a museum or an art gallery, heard an opera, seen a ballet, or even heard good English, took home a wealth of knowledge and culture that made them feel competent to inspire their pupils to aim for excellence in all things and to look forward to studying and working with confidence.
They gave their pupils the opportunity to develop their minds by encouraging them to inquire and seek, as opposed to merely regurgitating facts pumped into them by their teachers. They became models for the students in dress, manners and cultivation of the mind, and they fired their imaginations to do better and better for the greater good of the nation.
Of course, there were a few who failed to make the grade. And there were those who had become Mat Sallehs who would want only fish and chips with knives and forks. But such orang puteh were a rare breed. 
It is a pity that the Ministry of Education regarded them as only slightly better than the ordinary teacher, both in terms of pay and other employment conditions. I hazard the guess that about a third of them left the profession to become lawyers, doctors, accountants, businessmen, diplomats and so on.
What a pity they were not given a better status to encourage them to stay on! If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, as they say.
I could write a book about the educational contributions made to the nation by Kirkby-Brinsford Lodge teachers, but I must conclude my piece by one last observation that I consider has played a vital role in welding a Malaysian nation.
Raffles College and later the University of Malaya in Singapore were the only two institutions which made the students regard themselves as Malayans. Kirkby-Brinsford made every student feel, think and act as a Malayan. They were no longer Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Sikh or Eurasian. They were Malayans from a country called Malaya who presented a united front despite differences in appearance and speech.
Without the Malayan badge, there was no place for them in these institutes. They learnt one another's customs and traditions, forming an amalgam called Malaysian culture.
Creme de la Creme, they did their country proud while they were in the UK and contributed handsomely to educating the young for nation-building on their return. They were the harbingers of goodwill to all that still prevails.
Malaysian nationalism might have been at the back of their minds when the British decided to set up Malaysia Hall in London, and Kirkby College and Brinsford Lodge later. All three institutes were a counter-weight to the onslaught of the CTs.
Kirkby College and Brinsford Lodge were closed down more that three decades ago. Malaysia Hall is now sentenced to extinction in the name of economy.
Great teachers and nation makers, I salute thee on behalf of your country. You were truly the catalyst that produced Malaysia and Malaysians. You helped the country become rich and famous. Magnanimity from the Ministry of Education would have been a bright jewel in your crown.
Che sera sera!

Monday, 23 April 2018

Late notification

With the annual general meeting of The Old Frees' Association taking place on 29 Apr 2018, I'm just wondering why I have only received my copy of the notice of meeting and the annual report today. I thought that the rules of the association would require that the members be notified of the meeting at least 14 days before it is held.

One of my friends in Kuala Lumpur received the notice of meeting last Friday, which meant that the letter from the OFA travelled faster from Penang to KL than within Penang itself.

Anyhow, I wanted to check when exactly did the OFA post out the letters to the members. Even here, I drew a blank because the cancellation mark on the envelope was mysteriously missing a date. How on earth can we ascertain the date when a letter was sent when Pos Malaysia doesn't add it to their cancellation??

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Who will do better for George Town?

Who do you think will do better for George Town's status as a UNESCO world heritage site? The present Penang government under Pakatan Harapan or a would-be Penang government under Barisan Nasional, if they take control of the state in the forthcoming 14th General Election (GE14)?

I read that the Penang Barisan Nasional had, on 15 April, launched its state manifesto, themed “Save Penang: Penang BN Pledges” which outlined six core pledges with 60 initiatives to be implemented if BN were to wrest Penang from the Pakatan Harapan government. Among them is a pledge on tourism and heritage which would:

  • Encourage more direct flights, total stopovers of cruise ships in Penang.
  • Limit sales of heritage building to foreigners.
  • Preserve status of Georgetown as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Create “Penang Food Heaven” zones and improve food tourism activities.
  • Revive, upgrade “ Living Heritage”, Artisan Streets at George Town World Heritage sites
  • Maintain, conserve, Penang historical buildings and create World Musical Fiesta Tour.

In response to these election promises, the DAP Penang chairman, Chow Kon Yeow, today issued this media statement below. I shall leave it to my readers to judge for themselves which side has made their point better:
George Town recognized by UNESCO as an "Good Example of Heritage City Management"
The Penang Barisan Nasional has made several promises on heritage issues in their 14th General Election Manifesto.
As the caretaker State Government, together with George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) and Penang Island City Council we like to respond to these issues. We want to reassure Penang BN and the people that we have been recognized by UNESCO as a "Good Example of Heritage City Management" and we will surely do better than Penang BN.
1. To limit the sale of heritage building to foreigners
Data from 2008-2017 indicate that foreigners (non-Malaysians) own 194 premises or 3.5% of the 4,100 Category II heritage buildings within the George Town World Heritage Site. The statistics indicate that the ongoing drastic demographic changes do not relate to the owner’s nationality as much, but more on the attitude and appreciation of heritage property owners towards our shared heritage.
The Penang State Government mitigate these challenges by identifying the root cause, and manage the problems with the most constructive and sustainable strategies. Limiting the sale of heritage buildings to foreigners will not solve the problems as it is not a thorough approach.
In 2017, the State Government initiated the RM3 million Heritage Habitat Seed Fund for the George Town World Heritage Site as the pilot approach in mitigating the ongoing challenges. The fund aims to aid the physical restoration of heritage premises to provide relief on the restoration cost, thereby preventing an increase in the rent charges and maintaining long-term tenancy at the site.
Qualified premise owners will receive an incentive to refurbish or conserve their premises, and subsequently charge affordable rent for 10 years. Both tenants and owners shall agree to conserve the premise according to heritage regulations and will be provided with related training. The Fund provides housing for long-term tenants who have contributed to the conservation of the cultural heritage and Outstanding Universal Values of the heritage site, while ensuring that long-term tenants can remain within the site.

We believe this is a better approach to ensure conservation of heritage properties and keeping long-term tenants in the World Heritage Site.

2. To preserve the status of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
George Town and Melaka were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008 for their remarkable examples of historic colonial towns on the Straits of Malacca that demonstrate a succession of historical and cultural influences.
Since 2008, the status of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site has been well maintained with the strong political commitments from the State Government. It established George Town World Heritage Incorporated in 2010 to be the one-stop site manager. George Town World Heritage Incorporated has been delivering its mandate and has proven to be one of the best site managers in Malaysia and Asia. It has been recognised by UNESCO Office Jakarta as one “Good Example of Heritage City Management” (Malay Mail Online, 1 March 2018).
The State Government has enacted the State Heritage Enactment and gazetted the Special Area Plan as the main guidelines of management. A Heritage Technical Reviews Panel (TRP) is also established in MBPP to scrutinize all development applications to ensure heritage guidelines are complied with before approvals be given.
The State Government has also engaged in several heritage conservation projects, demonstrating its strong commitment to sustain the Outstanding Universal Values of George Town.

The State Government has also collaborated with international experts in promoting and conserving artefacts and objects in Penang.

3. To revive and upgrade “the Living Heritage” and Artisan Streets in the George Town World Heritage Site
The annual George Town Heritage Celebrations conducted on 7 July has mobilised over 20 local communities to document, present and share cultural heritage topics through themes such as Living Legacies in 2014, Eat Rite: Ritual Foods of George Town in 2015, Mai Main: Traditional Sports and Games in 2016 and Walk the Talk: Oral Traditions and Expressions in 2017

The Penang State Government has initiated the Video Documentation Project on the Artisans and Practitioners of George Town (2015-2017) to document and archive the intangible cultural heritage of George Town. The ongoing Oral History Documentation from 2013 till 2018 has produced at least 111 interviews with the artisans, practitioners and long-term residents of George Town.

The Cultural Heritage Education Programme (CHEP) was launched since 2016 to promote local cultural heritage to the younger generation (aged 10 to 17) through creative educational programmes. This is the only heritage programme offered to school children in Penang and Malaysia.

George Town was also invited as a working partner by UNESCO Category II Centre: The International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (ICHCAP) under the auspices of UNESCO to collaborate on intangible cultural heritage related projects.

There are more constructive and practical initiatives to be adopted by the Penang State Government to safeguard George Town’s living heritage.

4. To maintain and conserve the historical buildings in Penang
Conservation of heritage buildings requires strong institutional commitments, sufficient resources and sustainable human capacity. Since 2013, George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) has been conducting heritage conservation workshops for the public to enhance their knowledge and increase public capacity in conserving heritage properties using the proper methods. Through these workshops, we train heritage property owners, contractors, architects and other professional consultants on the principles and techniques of conservation, requirements and guidelines for conservation work, and the documentation needed for the restoration and renovation of heritage premises.

It has also conducted heritage building inventories throughout the state of Penang. Among the projects completed are the Inventori Warisan Ketara Pulau Pinang in 2012, Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Utara in 2013, Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Tengah in 2014 and Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Selatan in 2015. Penang State Government is in the process of getting the consent from heritage property owners before gazetting the property as a heritage building under the Penang State Enactment, 2011. It is only with the active participation of heritage property owners that the conservation of heritage properties in Penang can be sustainable and meaningful.

Since 2008, the Penang State Government and its agencies, together with the stakeholders and communities have committed to the preservation and maintenance of the World Heritage Site in accordance to the Heritage Management Plan. The various initiatives and programme carried out since 2008 has shown great success in making George Town a vibrant, lively and enchanting heritage city.

We believe we can do better for George Town.

Thank you

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Reliving the Westlands days

Met up with some really old school friends for dinner last night. We go back a long way to our primary school days at the Westlands Primary School. That was from 1960 (some from 1961) to 1965. Then we went our separate ways to the Penang Free School, Westlands Secondary School and Georgetown Secondary School. But inevitably like last night, some of us have come together again to re-acquaint ourselves with one another and relive the old times.

Standing: Ewe Leong, Keng Lam and Ong Seng huat. Seated: Lim Seng Huat, Kah Kheng, Oon Hup, Chye Chye, Guan Khim, Lip Chye, myself

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Ban Hin Lee Bank reunion 2018

It was quite incredible. Seventeen years on from from the takeover of Ban Hin Lee Bank (BHLB, BHLBank), we could still find about 200 former staff at the most recent reunion on 10 Mar 2018. This year would have been the 83rd year of the bank's founding in 1935 but sad to say, it lasted only until 2001.

But never mind the old history. What mattered was that there was still so much memories and enthusiasm for the old bank. We had our former chairman, Goh Eng Toon, in attendance as well as Stephen Yeap, Irene Yeap and Yeap Lam Yang all here at the City Bayview Hotel. With a well supported cast that included Tan Kuan Hai and Neoh Choo Kean who were asked to re-enact the fondly-remembered water pistol fight from very long ago. Plus some of the oldest ex-staff in Khoo Boo Hean and Tan Hun Wee who must be edging close to or past their eighties now. Nobody's getting any younger....sigh.

We all had a g.o.o.d. t.i.m.e. playing catch-up at the reunion but I won't be highlighting anyone's pictures here except to introduce my readers to this immensely talented artist. Debbie J Mcintyre was my former colleague at Ban Hin Lee Bank and ever since the bank was taken over, Debbie has found a new calling in life as an artist. But I never knew how good she is until recently.

She lives in Kuala Lumpur, does a lot of drawing professionally and there was this wonderful painting that was showcased at our reunion dinner. She had been preparing it for the occasion but left the finishing touches to be completed on that night itself. If you like Debbie's work, you can view more from her website and instagram accounts, and @artbtdebster

[Above pictures were taken by Ng Khye Wai. They originally appeared in the exBHLBankers group on facebook where you can view all the other photos by him and Peter Liew.]

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

PFS student leadership workshop 2018, sessions 1 and 2

My friends and I have begun the 2018 edition of the PFS Student Leadership Workshop at Penang Free School, a four-day programme for selected student leaders from the school. Like last year, we have the commitment from the Headmaster, Omar bin Abdul Rashid, to conduct the workshop not only for the Fourth and Fifth Formers but also the Sixth Formers. For the present, however, we are concentrating on the first group of boys, but we shall be holding another session later in the year when the Sixth Formers come in.

Our approach this year is slightly different from last year's. Back in January or February, one of my friends made a short presentation to the teachers to apprise them of what we do. But more important, we wanted the teachers to play a more meaningful role by selecting the potential participants themselves. We would then conduct interviews with the boys in order to know them better before the workshop. Soo Choon and I basically talked to most of the boys at the end of February, while Lean Kang and I wrapped up the interview sessions with the rest of the boys just before the workshop.

My impression was that apart from the hostel boys who were much reserved and less talkative, most probably due to their difficulties trying to converse in English with us, the bunch who attended the first interview session were quite articulate and quick on their feet. They expressed themselves well. Certainly, the teachers have done a good job in picking them for us!

Unfortunately, I could not attend the first weekend of the workshop for these Fourth and Fifth Formers because I had some other functions that weekend. Nevertheless, I've been told by my friends that the two sessions on Saturday and Sunday went well. We shall have the third and fourth sessions with them later this month. In the meantime, here are some pictures:

We had Lee Eu Beng from the Old Frees' Association coming to observe the workshop in the morning of the first day. As Eu Beng sits in the OFA management committee as a vice-president and is in charge of Alma Mater matters, this workshop was just right to interest him.

Headmaster Omar bin Abdul Rashid came by to address the boys in the morning of the first morning. You could see how supportive he was of the workshop.

Seated on the stage were Umar and Norman from last year's workshop, who had been roped in to help us. Then there was Lim Siang Jin, Loh Lean Kang, Omar bin Abdul Rashid, Prof Tan Soo Choon, Lim Teik Wah and Chegu Syed .

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Rabindranath Tagore, Wu Lien-Teh commemorative mural

It was back in January that we got to learn that the Hu Yu Seah would be commissioning a painter to put up a wall mural at the association to commemorate two outstanding citizens of the world; the two personalities being Rabindranath Tagore and Wu Lien-Teh.

Why they should be so singled out for recognition was soon revealed when the committee members of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society were invited to a press conference on 25 Jan at the Seah. We were told that both the Indian Nobel Prize laureate for Literature and our own Dr Wu had each laid foundation stones for the Hu Yu Seah buildings in the past.

On 14 Aug 1927, Tagore had visited Penang and he was invited to lay the foundation stone for the main Hu Yu Seah building. And on 25 Dec 1938, it was the turn of Wu to lay a second foundation stone for an adjacent block in the Seah premises.

Anyone travelling along Madras Lane in the subsequent weeks would not have failed to notice the British painter, Gabriel Pitcher, busily use the front of the vernacular primary school, the SJK(C) Hu Yu Seah, as his canvas. By and large, the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society was invited back to the Hu Yu Seah on 10 Mar 2018 for the official launch of the commemorative mural. Coincidentally, as the 10th of March happened to be the 139th birthday anniversary of Wu Lien-Teh himself, this was a very special occasion that pleased many of us.

For the uninitiated, Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta, India, on 7 May 1861. He was a Bengali poet, short-story writer, song composer, playwright, essayist and painter who introduced the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature. He also participated in the Indian nationalist movement in his own non-sentimental and visionary way. Gandhi, the political founder of modern India, was his devoted friend. Tagore was knighted by the ruling British Government in 1915 but within a few years, he resigned the honour as a protest against British policies in India. He was highly influential in introducing Indian culture to the West and vice-versa, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding creative artist of early 20th Century India. In 1913, he became the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Extracted from a Think City press statement dated 10 Mar 2018.)

Much has already been written about Dr Wu Lien-Teh in this blog but again, for the completeness of this story, I would say that he was born in Penang on 10 Mar 1879 and was educated at Penang Free School and received the prestigious Queen's Scholarship to study medicine at Cambridge University. He is celebrated as "The Plague Fighter" who saved thousands of lives in the north-eastern China in the early 1910s when an outbreak of pneumonic epidemic was successfully halted by Dr Wu, working out of the city of Harbin using new scientific approaches to prevent the spread of the killer disease. He set up the Anti-Opium Society in Malaya and fought against colonial racism. He wrote extensively and was recognised globally. In 1935, Dr Wu Lien-Teh became the first Malaysian to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. (Also extracted from the same Think City press statement.)

The mural was painted by Gabriel Pitcher, an artist from Britain who first visited George Town in 2014 to help a friend set up a solo exhibition and was so charmed by George Town that he extended his stay till today. His work takes him all around the world but he has made Penang his base. Gabriel's work focusses on expressive figurative portraits and he has done various outdoor murals in Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States.

The Rabindranath Tagore-Dr Wu Lien-Teh mural was funded by the Hu Yu Seah in collaboration with Think City, the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society, Penang Gandhi Peace Centre, Ming Art and CanCan Public Art. (Think City is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Berhad and is funded by Yayasan Hasanah. It is a community-focused urban regeneration body established in 2009 to help rejuvenate the heritage city of George Town. It has since established its presence in Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.)

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Tung Uahn (同安)

So finally, I've completed my Cheng Beng obligations for this year. My wife and I left the house later than usual at just past seven o'clock. Previously, it would be 6.30am on the dot and we'd arrive at the Batu Lanchang cemetery while the sky is still dark. This year, it was bright all the way to Batu Lanchang. After paying my respects to my maternal grandparents, it was the turn of my paternal grandparents at the nearby Siamese cemetery in the Wat Pimbang Onn grounds. Cost of getting people to spruce up the two graves, that is, to clear the area of undergrowth and overgrowth, was RM180. Finally, we went to the Triple Gem temple in Pangkor Road, this time to pay our respects to my parents and aunt. All in, we finished just before lunchtime.

I had one additional objective when doing this year's Cheng Beng. It is common knowledge that Chinese gravestone heads would contain information about the male deceased's district of origin in China. It is a useful way to let descendants know where their ancestors had come from.

I know that my paternal grandfather came from an old district called Tung Uahn (同安) in the Hokkien Province. In fact, the forebears of the present Quah members from the Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) all originated from Tung Uahn in China. So it was very gratifying - and re-assuring - to see these two Chinese characters engraved on his gravestone. But then, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my maternal grandfather's headstone also featured the same two Chinese characters. So his fore-fathers had come from the same district in China too!

Of course, China being such a large place, it is impossible for me to find out exactly where in Tung Uahn. Their villages could jolly well be next to each other or they could have been hundreds of kilometres apart. Nevertheless, it was sufficient for me to know that both my grandparents were Tung Uahn lang.