Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The dedication page

To our Founder,
Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings,
All Past and Present
Headmasters, Teachers and Staff
the Diaspora of Old Frees
For their Contributions and Sacrifices
Towards the Growth of the
School and Nation

Monday, 29 August 2016

Janet and John

Memories are made of these. I came across these pictures on the Internet recently. They were taken from a book; a book which brought me back to the year when I attended kindergarten. While this was not the very first book that I owned, it was certainly from this book that I learnt story-telling. Through a series of pictures, I learnt how to spell the names of the characters, and how to tell a simple story. From that time on, I have been fascinated with books. And through the years, books have been my constant companion in opening my eyes to the world. Thank you, Janet and John.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Reviewing the book's mock-up

I have been spending the past two days looking through the mock-up of Let the Aisles Proclaim. Searching for some last-minute errors or enhancements to the pages before giving the word "Go" to the printers to proceed. A nervous process, this, as once the go-ahead is given, there is no turning back! So far, everything looks good. I did uncover some minor improvements and the layout designers have already accommodated me. At this late stage of the book production though, I have uncovered one more picture which would be nice to have been included into the book but the deadline is looming and I can't afford any more delays.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

White-breasted kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

For a long time, I had been planning to bring along a camera during one of my morning or evening walks around the neighbourhood but never really gotten round to doing it because I hated to carry a camera bag with me. But a few days ago, I bit the bullet and brought along my camera bag because I had been noticing often a brilliantly bright blue bird perched on a railing. As a blue-coloured bird is not so often seen in my neighbourhood, I knew that this visitor - a white-throated kingfisher (alternatively known as a white-breasted kingfisher) - must be photographed.

So I stalked that particular area of my walk and soon enough, I was rewarded with not one but two separate kingfishers. They didn't fly together and kept themselves apart, as if they were territorial. My efforts are taking photographs of them did not go too well though as many of my images were blur. I also had to keep my distance because the birds were suspicious of people creeping up on them. Hence, my images were relatively small although I had used the telescopic end of the zoom lens. Here would be my best image. Sorry, still not sharp enough.

Monday, 22 August 2016

356 pages

During the layout and proof-reading processes of Let the Aisles Proclaim, so many changes were made to the manuscript that after a while, I lost count of my total output in the book itself. The choosing of the pictures for the book, adding captions to all the pictures, adding or removing certain information, correcting the spellings and grammar, checking the layout, etc, all had contributed to it. 

At the last count, I had almost 146,000 words committed to paper. My original manuscript, which excluded any picture, had spread over 265 pages on A4-sized paper. This would consist of the front material for the book (inner title page, contents pages, ISBN page, foreword and preface), the 12 chapters of the book, four appendices and a bibliography. Initially, I had hoped to include an index too but gave up the attempt after realising the amount of work that would go into compiling it. And I was working on a very tight deadline.

My preference would have been to adopt an A4-size format for the book but the chairman of the Bicentenary Committee, Abdul Rafique bin Abdul Karim, preferred a slightly smaller format. "It's more book-like," he tried to persuade me. In the end, we agreed to his suggestion. One of the consequences of his choice was that the book being smaller, the number of laid-out pages would increase. Also, adding in the pictures would bump up the number of pages even more. 

The problem with an historical book like Let the Aisles Proclaim was that there were going to be very few pictures from the long distant past. In fact, there were none from the 19th century that I could uncover. The earliest picture was provided by the local historian, Marcus Langdon, who gave me a picture of the third School Master, George Porter, who happened to be one of his ancestors. 

I then decided to see how many of the pictures from the old school magazines could be used but unfortunately, the first issue saw light only in 1909, and there weren't any pictures in them until possibly 1916. Moreover, many of the issues from the pre-WWII era, that is, between 1909 and 1941, had been lost or destroyed. Whatever school magazines from that period which I could still lay my hands on from the School Archives were also in a tremendously delicate state. Brown, brittle pages made it impossible to even photograph them. I gave up after a while. But yes, I still managed to retrieve many grainy pictures from those magazines.

The post-war magazines were no better. The pictures were still grainy right up till the 1980s. And it was still a wonder that post-WWII, the School Archives could not have a complete set of school magazines starting from the 1946 issue. I had to rely on friends and acquaintances to look at the 1964 and 1965 issues. The 1954 issue remained missing despite all efforts to trace a copy. Although pictures from the 1990s onwards were plentiful, frankly, I couldn't use any of them because they were not historical enough. Nevertheless, at the end, there are at least 180 pictures and illustrations, big and small, in the book.

Thus, with all the layout and pictures included, the book has now grown to a respectable 356 pages. There will only be a hardcover edition with an accompanying jacket in full colour. The book will be launched by the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail on 21 October 2016, which is the 200th Anniversary of the School. I hear that the Bicentenary Committee has priced the book at RM80 each. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A lesson to learn

When I was fleetingly watching the semi-final match between Chen Long and Viktor Axelsen last Friday, I did not give a thought about who the Danish player actually was. But then I was surprised to learn that he is currently placed Number Four in the whole badminton rankings. It was actually very befitting that the badminton world's Numbers One to Four players would be contesting in the semi-finals of the men's singles tournament at the Rio Olympic Games 2016.

However, more surprises were to await me. At an interview that Axelsen gave to China's CCTV5 channel, he spoke in what I was told was flawless Mandarin. It had taken him slightly more than two years to learn this language. Why did he do it, that is, learn Mandarin?

In a 2015 interview, he hoped that learning the language would be a key step in securing future sponsorship and lining up potential coaching jobs when he retired from the game. “I started to take it up last New Year (2013),” Axelsen had said. “Coming into 2014 I had a talk with my former coach and he thought it was a good idea to begin learning it. I wanted to start something new and ever since it has been a one-way street. I am just getting better with each week and I hope that it will open some doors in Asia with sponsorship and work.”

This revelation comes at a time when certain quarters in the Malaysian society are retreating behind Bahasa Melayu and refusing to open up to learning international languages such as English and Mandarin. They just don't get it that knowing an additional language can open vistas for their children, or even themselves, to improve in their work and life. Their own Bahasa Melayu will never suffer but knowing English or Mandarin will offer employment and business opportunities originally not available to them. How can they ever improve just knowing your own language? They'll be stuck in a rut forever. and don't go blaming others for overtaking them.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

ISBN received

As I had mentioned in facebook two days ago, happiness is receiving the ISBN approval from the Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia. Yes, finally, we have received the last piece of the jigsaw to complete our puzzle. Not that we had to wait long for it.

On Monday, the layout designer had faxed across to the National Library a copy of the ISBN application form (Form B2) for Let the Aisles Proclaim. The ISBN was a necessity or otherwise the book would only be confined to an internal circulation and we would not be able to sell the book publicly. Not after all the hard work that had gone into researching and writing it.

However on the day itself, I received a call from someone there who said that as the Penang Free School Foundation (the publisher of the book) had not been registered with the National Library before, we would be required to submit another form to them. The Form B1, they called it.

But wait a minute. The Form B2 had been signed by the Foundation's president who is based in Kuala Lumpur, whereas we were in Penang. Could someone one sign on the Form B1, I asked, and I crossed my finger while waiting for the lady at the other end of the phone to assure me that that would be okay. A sigh of relief. So I managed to get this form signed in Penang and faxed over to the National Library on Tuesday itself.

Wednesday passed with no word from the National Library and then on Thursday, I received an email from them to inform me that the ISBN approval had been obtained. 

So we can now proceed with the printing. The layout designer is in discussion with the printers to iron out the technical details while I await them to give me a mock-up to check. Once we approve of the mock-up, the actual printing, binding and wrapping will proceed.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Not doing enough homework

Last Saturday, The Star newspaper published an article on our Malaysian cyclists being gagged from talking to the media until their events were over.

Soon later, a reply purportedly from John Beasley, Malaysia's Head Coach Track Cycling, surfaced on social media. Whether or not it was for real, the story highlighted one of the most common faults of newspaper writers: the lack of doing some or a bit of homework before attending media conferences. I should know, because although I don't speak much to the press people, I've met several of them who had simply asked basic instead of probing questions.

Not that I blame them, of course, because their news editor could have given them the assignment only the evening day before - or worse, on the morning itself - but a bit of homework or background check would have put the occasion into its proper perspective.

But this purported reply from Beasley is worthy of reproducing here in full:
Good afternoon Phuah, I am sorry you feel that way, I just read your story and it is very typical of the Malaysian press. I gave you full access to the athletes during the press conference though very few questions were asked, why? Because you guys don't do your homework, why is it that the Malaysian press come to press conferences without doing their homework? All the performance data is out there accessible on the net and yet still you ask us what is your records?
Further more we get asked the same old questions every time we are interviewed. I think it's you guys that need a big kick in the back side to do some preparation before coming to interviews. I can only speak for cycling here and honestly you guys call your self professional, it's more like a holiday as there is rarely a story worthy of reading as there is no substance in your stories.
The Malaysian press are like a broken record, we are always open and available to you guys. Let me point out one fact, you got the opportunity to speak to us when we arrived, where is that content, Oh sorry I had a moment lapse of memory, you did not ask many questions did you? if you ask me it is your fault. Yes, we train over sea's, I have been well noted for pointing out the reasons why and this is only to give your athletes their best chance to perform on the big stage,
We also educate them off shore also something you guys need a lot more schooling on. We are at the Olympic games, do you know what that means? We are racing the best of the best from all around the world, every body is a champion that has just qualified to make the games team. Most athletes train a life time and never get to represent their country, though in Malaysia that is not good enough for you guys, our athletes you have the hide to call them failures, what is wrong with you people.
Regardless of what happens here in Rio we have left no stone unturned on our journey to get here and we have provided Malaysia with some great results over our journey, now grow up and let us get on with doing our job.
John Beasley Head Coach Track Cycling

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

August full moon

I haven't had a moon shot grace my blog for ages. Here are two. The first was taken yesterday evening at around 6.35pm while the second was taken just a few minutes ago at 9.45pm. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, it is the full moon tonight but....according to calculations, full moon over George Town is only supposed to happen tomorrow (18 Aug) at 5.26pm.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Roads named after Old Frees

Discounting three roads in the Green Lane area of Penang which are named after Penang Free School itself -  Jalan Free School, Halaman Free School and Taman Free School - presently, I have uncovered 53 other roads in Malaysia and Singapore that have been named after various Old Frees. This list would also include a road named after the School's founder and five roads named after three Headmasters and a towering teacher.

Prominent among these roads are the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway and Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Penang. In Kuala Lumpur, there are Jalan Syed Putra, Lingkaran Syed Putra, Medan Syed Putra Utara, Lorong Syed Putra Kiri, Persiaran Syed Putra and the five roads named as Persiaran Syed Putra 1-5.

Two roads in Singapore are named after the Old Frees, while there is one in Alor Star, three in Taiping, five in Ipoh and two more in Kuala Lumpur. But it is in Penang that I found the most number of roads, totaling 32, which reflected the prominent roles that the Old Boys had played in Penang's past.

Here then are the remaining roads named after Old Frees: Jalan Sir Husein, Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, Jalan Aziz Ibrahim, Jalan Cheah Choo Yew, Jalan Cheah Seng Khim, Jalan Dato’ Dr. Cheah Toon Lok, Jalan Choong Lye Hin, Solok Choong Lye Hin, Tingkat Hock Hin, Jalan Choong Lye Hock, Lebuh Tye Sin, Jalan Foo Wha Cheng, Jalan Dato’ Khong Kam Tak, Lebuh Dato’ Khong Kam Tak, Jalan Khoo Sian Ewe, Jalan Seang Tek, Jalan Lam Looking, Jalan Lim Eow Thoon, Jalan Kek Chuan, Jalan Chow Kit, Jalan Chow Thye, Lorong Chow Thye, Jalan Ismail Cik Matt, Lebuh Noordin, Lebuh Ong Chong Keng, Jalan Saw Ah Choy, Lorong Saw Ah Choy, Kheam Hock Road, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Toh Khay Beng, Taman Wu Lien Teh, Jalan Wu Lien Teh, Jalan Yeoh Guan Seok and Jalan Zainal Abidin, I shall leave it to readers to figure out which are the roads considered outstation to Penang. 

The ones named after the Founder and the old educationalists are Taman Hutchings, Jalan Cheeseman, Jalan Hamilton, Jalan Hargreaves, Lilitan Hargreaves and Jalan Pinhorn.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Joseph Schooling

I congratulate Singapore for their achievement. I applaud 21-year-old Joseph Schooling, a third-generation Singaporean, for his success in the swimming pool at the Rio Olympics 2016. Heartiest congratulations to him on sharing the podium with your swimming heroes. Kudos for winning the gold medal in the 100m butterfly final. Felicitations for setting a new Olympics record in your favourite event. 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Penang's place in the world

I was attending this Penang in the World Conference 2016 which was organised by the Penang Institute at their new conference hall in Brown Road last weekend. Turned out to be quite a crowd - about 300 people - who had come to listen to local and international speakers touch on key issues and challenges that are of relevance to this state of ours.

There were two highlights of the two-day event, both occurring on the first day itself. The first one was a keynote address by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, while the second one was a dinner lecture by Dr Muhamad Chatib Basri who is a former Finance Minister under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

While there were many other interesting talks, what I found most absorbing was the first session on Sunday morning, Penang's software: History, culture, liveability, which covered areas of great interest to me, which are Penang's local history and culture. Thus, I would say that Wong Yee Tuan of the Penang Institute and Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid of the Universiti Sains Malaysia did a more than competent job of educating the audience here.

I was surprised when one of the later speakers of the morning, Muhahid Yusof Rawa, the Member of Parliament for Parit Buntar, was introduced to us as an Old Free. I did speak with him after the conference was over, and he said that he finished his Sixth Form in 1983. "Green House," he said, but he couldn't remember the famous name that was associated with it. "It's Wu Lien Teh," I told him. I asked him about his father too and Mujahid gleefully said that Yusof Rawa had indeed studied in the Penang Free School in the 1930s. He also offered some other snippets of information about his father.

I was actually a bit relieved to hear all that. It just proved that my little entry on Yusof Rawa which shall be appearing in Let the Aisles Proclaim was not wrong. Of course, I am not writing so much about this man in the book but just for common knowledge, Mujahid's father had gone to Mecca after he finished school and worked in an export-import company there. He came back to take over his father's printing company in Acheen Street and later expanded the business. His own company, The United Press, printed religious books for schools throughout the country. He also printed books in Arabic and Jawi. Yusof joined the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP) in 1951 and famously unseated Mahathir Mohamad from the seat of Kota Setar Selatan in the 1969 general elections. In 1983, he took over PMIP which by then had assumed the more commonly known moniker, PAS. When PAS joined the Barisan Nasional government, Yusof was appointed the Deputy Minister for Primary Industries. Later, he became the Malaysian Ambassador to Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, and represented Malaysia at the United Nations. The dark side to Yusof Rawa was that he led PAS down the path of hardline Islam. Within the party that he led, he surrounded himself with the ulamas and adopted the concept of an Islamic state as official policy. The ideology Yusof Rawa spouted, and now adopted by PAS, made him a dangerous man and Malaysia is now starting to spiral down a path that is unpalatable to secular-thinking, democracy-believing people in the country. My regret is that an Old Free had to be responsible for all this. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Let the aisles proclaim

I had a satisfying meeting with Rafique Abdul Karim and Gene Lim last Wednesday (3 Aug 2016) to discuss the Bicentenary book project. In the last 12 months, I haven't really written much in this blog about the progress of the book. Guess I was too busy to get myself distracted. But now that we are almost at the tail-end of the project, I do have a bit more time to disclose what's happening.

First, I have to introduce Rafique as the principal person in the Penang Free School Bicentenary celebrations as we move closer to the actual date itself, which is 21 October 2016. Rafique is the chairman of the Bicentenary Committee and he is also the chairman of the school's Board of Governors. He's pretty much hands-on with the preparatory work and can be available at short notice for meetings. I don't have any inkling of whatever's been going on in the main committee itself, but where the Editorial sub-committee is concerned, I can request for a meeting on any day after 5.30pm and he'll be there. Gene is an Old Free and she's the layout designer for the book. We've been working together on the production since around May or June.

Anyway, I had a satisfying meeting with Rafique and Gene on Wednesday. The layout for all the pages are more or less completed but there are still corrections to be made. Generally, little errors spotted here and there, and recommendations from Rafique to consider. All the photographs have been approved for inclusion, including a wonderful aerial view of the grounds given to us courtesy of David Wong who flew his drone over the school recently. Then there are the old, familiar pictures on the school which are all there, but we do have several pictures that haven't been seen for a very long time. These were taken from the old school magazines.

So at this stage, Rafique says that the book's title can now be safely disclosed to the general public but in particular, to the Old Frees. We don't have to keep it under wraps any longer.

Choosing an appropriate title proved to be difficult. Calling it Fidelis was out of the question since it had been used in 2012 in The Old Frees' Association's own publication. Strong and Faithful? Fortis atque Fidelis? For the Brave and for the True? Nah, they did not resonate well as a book title. For want of a suitable title, I was quite resigned to even accepting Rafique's suggestion of The Grand Old Lady. Until an inspiration struck me.

I looked back at the School Rally. Why not take something from there? After all, this was a stirring song and it really rallies the troops, which in this case means the Old Frees and the present Frees in the school. The line which inspired me came from the chorus of the School Rally: Let the aisles proclaim. Yes, why don't we use that?

Let the aisles proclaim. Proclaim what? Proclaim our heritage, proclaim our traditions, proclaim our long history, proclaim our successes, proclaim our allegiance to the School and nation. In fact, proclaim anything we want. and proclaim loudly too.

And so it came to pass that Let the Aisles Proclaim was agreed upon unanimously by the whole of the Editorial sub-committee and there were no objections as well from The Penang Free School Foundation when the title was presented to their committee in late June.

The cover of the book depicts a view from the far corner of the west quadrangle. While the main building and the hall can be seen from this angle, the school dome, resplendent in white on a most glorious day, is the most prominent feature of the photograph.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Re-setting up my HiFi system

Well, it's a long story today. Be prepared for it. In January last year, my wife decided to resign from the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers where she had been the manager of the Penang branch for some years. The working condition in the branch she said, was bad with back-biting and little co-operation between the staff. No amount of carrot-dangling and counselling can ever get the staff to change their habits. Although the pay was good, the hours were long. She would come home exhausted. In the evenings, there was no respite from work. From our home, she would have to catch up on her office emails. Her mood was glum and that was one of the surest signs that she had to leave the FMM's employment sooner or later.

Of course, I welcomed her resignation from her employer from hell, if ever there was a term I could use to describe the situation. I welcomed her presence in our home 24x7 because we can see more of one another. She began to work from home. The pay was less than what she used to get but we survived because she was much happier with lots less stress in her life.

The downside was that I had to surrender the desktop computer to her. She still had to work at the computer and basically, this was the fastest machine I had. So I surrendered the use of the desktop machine to her. My blog postings became affected because I had less chances of using the desktop to do my postings unless she was out of the house to meet her clients. But a bigger sacrifice was giving up the access to the home hifi system. You see, the desktop computer was located right next to the hifi set. This being so in order that I could run the cables to hook up the computer to the amplifier. With such a hook-up, it would be easier to channel audio from the computer to the amplifier and also music from my turntable to the computer where I could digitise my vinyl records and cassette tapes. With the left Wharfedale speaker sitting on the table top right next to me, it's easy to imagine how anyone would be affected with loud music blaring from a speaker that's a foot away. Music-in-the-face, so to speak. So I gave up listening to my records and my cassette tapes.

At first, I was wondering what I could do without the computer or music. Luckily, I had a project coming up. In the last 12 months or so, I have been involved with the Penang Free School Bicentenary book. I was commissioned by the PFS Bicentneary Committee to write a book for the occasion. The project had consumed all my free time. If I wasn't out of the house to visit the likely sources of information - this will be a separate blog story altogether - I would be writing the book.

For that, I had little choice but to resuscitate an old laptop back to life. The laptop doesn't even belong to me. I only have a small netbook which is slow. Very slow. Ultra slow. With a small screen. Well, you know how small netbooks are. Took ages just to boot up as well. No way that I could do my job on this machine. Luckily, my son had this old laptop with him. Still slow but nevertheless, good enough for me. After all, I was going to use Microsoft Word most of the time. Maybe the Paint application that comes with Windows 8, and maybe too, the Google Picasa program. That was all I required actually.

But I couldn't place the laptop next to the desktop. No place for the machine. My wife wouldn't like it if I were to say that she had commandeered the rest of the workplace for her work stuff. But yes, that was the reality. As there was no place for the laptop, I retreated to the bedroom instead. There, at least, I still have a table to use. Not the most perfect place though because while I could see right out of the bedroom window, I was facing west and sweating from the afternoon sun. Turning on the air-conditioner became a norm for me. Pull the window curtains shut and turn on the air-conditioner. Cool comfort for me and not-so-cool comfort for my wife because she wasn't going to be mobile with the desktop.

Did I ever disclose that my wife is a fervent follower of fengshui? She would never fail to attend the annual start-of-year Joey Yap seminars in Penang. I tag along with her, like a dutiful husband should, listening to Joey Yap, getting entertained by him, taking snapshots of all his slides. But much of what is said doesn't register with me. More of a process of getting older rather than not paying attention. This year, 2016, the north sector of our house is not that good for people, according to this year's fengshui reading. This disturbed my wife a bit because that's where her desktop is located. After a lot of looking at alternatives, which included re-locating the desktop in the bedroom, an arrangement which I wasn't very keen on for various reasons, we decided that a new laptop would allow her to be mobile as well. So now, she works in the bedroom as well. Same like me.

However, the production stage of the Bicentenary book project required me to use a lot of the printer which is hooked up to the desktop. I needed to print the pages of the book for proof-reading. Pretty soon I gravitated to using the desktop for more of my work. The bonus was that I realised that I could use my hifi system again. Out came the compact discs and the cassette tapes. Then the jewel among my music collection, the records.

But horrors! Because I had not used the turntable for a very long time, the stylus on the tonearm's cartridge dropped off when I began brushing it to clear it of dust. It just dropped off, leaving me with a stylus-less tonearm. Couldn't even re-attach it myself. It's such a fragile thing. No other choice but to buy a new cartridge for the turntable. So I phoned the guys at the Wisma Audio Central at the Penang Plaza in Tanjong Tokong to arrange an appointment to bring in the headshell. Darn, a simple act of replacing the cartridge set me back RM450. The cartridge is still the Ortofon MC-1 Turbo but I am very happy with it. When I play my music, the soundstage seems to have opened up. I'm hearing sounds which I'd like to believe that I haven't heard before. An incredible transformation of my hifi system.

First though, I had to carry out a few tweaks to the turntable. Basically, what I wanted was to reduce the vibration to the turntable. To do that, I had to place the turntable on a solid base that, in turn, would stand on sturdy spikes. Weeks ago, I had made an order for four brass-tipped rosewood isolating spikes for the turntable. Ordered on-line from Do Good Audio Ltd, which is based in Liverpool, England. The small package arrived within two weeks. But the spikes did not include the spike pads. My bad, actually, because I had failed to see that I had not included the spike pads in the order. I was quite prepared to use coins as the replacement pads when I happened to go down to Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago.

While there, a friend told me about the annual Kuala Lumpur International Audio Visual exhibition which was taking place at the JW Marriott Hotel in Bukit Bintang. I popped in, saw a vendor sell some audio accessories and managed to pick up the spike pads from him. While wandering around the exhibition, I also picked up a new cork mat for the turntable. Not that the original felt mat needed replacement, but I had read that cork mats would be better because for one, it doesn't trap dust as easily as felt mats. Buying these spikes and cork mats set me back another RM250 or so, but it was enough. Also weeks ago, I had ordered a piece of 8mm-thick glass pane from a vendor in town. Originally, I was toying with using a piece of thick plywood as the base for the turntable but later opted to use glass instead.

Having acquired these accessories, I set out to assemble them. I removed the turntable from the shelf, balanced the piece of glass on the spikes and then replaced the turntable on top of the glass. Took me about 15 to 20 minutes to do all that, and then there was the difficult task of re-balancing the tonearm, It's something that I haven't tried before because I've always had someone else to do it for me! For this this, I sweated out for perhaps half-an-hour before I managed to get it right. I hope so. With the Ortofon cartridge, I'm employing a vertical tracking force of 2gms which I balance with an equivalent amount of anti-skating force. For fine-tuning, I used a reference record that allowed me to lower the tonearm on a grooveless portion of the record to determine whether the tonearm would swing to the right or left. I think I've got it done pat. I hope so, again.

All these accomplished, I'm enjoying all my record albums again. With the volume knob on the amplifier turned up to the 11 o'clock mark, the music that's emerging from the speakers are, oh, so sweet and marvellous. Who says that vinyls are dead? No, records are very much alive. The vinyl record is receiving a revival among audio enthusiasts who know better, and I'm just lucky to be in possession of some 700 records that I've acquired through the years. Time to spin them again....

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

To Perth again and back: Fremantle (part two)

We left Serpentine shortly after two o'clock and proceeded to Fremantle. It was quite an uneventful drive except that it rained a bit just as we were approaching the town. Finding our accommodation proved a bit problematic. Although I had booked our stays in Fremantle and Margaret River through Airbnb, I never did have the time to key in the places into my Garmin. As such, I had problems trying to locate the road on the GPS map. But through trial and error, I did finally manage to locate Holland Road and the house.

Andrea, the house owner, was not in but she had told me where to find the key. Not hidden under the mat but somewhere else. I'm not sure that I would like to disclose where because I'm sure she would normally leave the key there for her house guests. It's her secret and no point revealing it.

I hauled in our luggage and was just preparing to unpack when Andrea returned. Andrea turned out to be a most perfect hostess, telling us where to go for our meals in Freo but more importantly, where to park the car discreetly and indefinitely to avoid parking fees. The next morning upon our checking out of her house, she also recommended to us a cafe just down the road from her place where we would have a nice meal before driving off.

But for our day in Freo - or what was left of the day - we drove to the town centre, left our rented car in an almost deserted private car park and walked into the central business district. The whole area had been closed off to traffic and street performers were all out to entertain the crowds.

We visited the Fremantle Market but couldn't see much as it was almost closing time and vendors and stallowners were packing up for the day. Still, we managed to buy four huge nectarines for an almost ridiculously low price of five Australian Dollars.

For dinner, we went to the Kailis Fish Market Cafe on the waterfront in the fishing boat harbour. The place was packed. We had been here once before and had found the scallops and lobsters very nice. This time, while my wife still selected her scallops, I plumbed for something else: grilled fish and chips. We also had a bowl of seafood chowder. Although it was a pleasant dining experience, somehow we agreed that there was something missing from dinner this time, but we couldn't figure out what.

That done, we went back to collect the car, drove around for a while and then decided to go back to Andrea's place. Luckily, I had saved Holland Road in the GPS unit, which facilitated my driving quite a bit. Truth be told, I was very tired at that point and after a quick bath, fell asleep very soon afterwards.

Perhaps I should give a word of advice to would-be vacationers. If you intend to drive around on your own, it would be preferable if one does not fly using an airline's red-eye service. Because, if you cannot sleep in the aeroplane - I could not sleep because i was too fascinated with the movies showing on board the aircraft - you are sure to arrive at your destination all tired and sleepy. I can assure you, driving around in an unfamiliar place while sleepy isn't the cleverest thing to do.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Joe Hasham

It has been quite some time since I brought out my records to play. When I tried to do it last week, I had an unplesant shock when the stylus came off. I was attempting to dislodge some lint from its end when the stylus dropped off.

No choice then, but to buy a new cartridge from the only reliable audio shop that I knew in Penang: the Wisma Audio Central in the Penang Plaza, Tanjong Tokong. "Just unscrew the headshell from the tonearm and bring it in," the boss told me, which was what I did on Monday. The whole operation set me back RM450 for a new Ortofon MC-1 Turbo cartridge. So here I am, at home again, with a new cartridge on the tonearm and eager to play through some of my old records. and I can say that with a new cartridge in place, my music has taken on a new perspective. They seemed sharper and with more definition in the treble, mid-range and bass in the music.

Side A: Yesterday when I was young, Blowin' in the wind, Father & son, Simon smith and his amazing dancing bear, Nobody loves you when you're down and out, Have you never been mellow

Side B: What'll I do, House of the rising sun, She's my wife, Sad Lisa, Reflections, New world in the morning

I had acquired this record quite a long time ago but thought that I'd bring it out again for a spin. In the 1970s, Joe Hasham was a popular television actor and singer in Australia. In 1984, he migrated to Malaysia, married Penang-born radio and television personality Faridah Merican and set up the Actors Studio in Kuala Lumpur. Hasham's self-titled album contained his interpretation of many popular songs of his time.

Faridah Merican has a connection to the Penang Free School although she did not study there. Her father was Basha Merican, an Old Boy of the Free School who taught in his Alma Mater where he was appointed the Scout Master. Later, he became the Chief Inspector of Schools in Province Wellesley and the Penang Scout Commissioner.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Robert Sparke Hutchings, a jolly good fellow

I made an unscheduled stop at the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road yesterday. Well, maybe it was not an unscheduled stop, because I had been planning to drop by the place for quite some time but never made it. The last time that I had visited this heritage site was on 21 October last year.

The rain had just stopped when I walked in through the gate. As I had expected, there was nobody there. Not a soul. Nothing stirred. The old cemetery was well and truly dead and forlorn. What would you expect? I had heard that plans were underway by one of the state authorities to spruce up the place, perhaps even give them a fresh coat of paint. Someone told me only earlier this week that the work had been completed but I can assure you that nothing of the sort had happened.

I walked in and headed straight for the grave of the Revd Robert Sparke Hutchings. My fellow Old Frees will recognise that Hutchings had established the Penang Free School in 1816. He and his Original Plan had laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Prince of Wales' Island Free School. Hutchings died in 1827 after contracting malaria at his home in Mount Elvira, which he had named after his wife, and was buried at the Protestant cemetery.

Inexplicably, I lost my way and found myself staring at the grave of Francis Light instead. Captain Light was the founder of Penang as a British settlement on 17 August 1786 and he had called it the Prince of Wales' Island. For eight years, he was the Superintendent of the settlement until his death on 21 October 1794. Was it planned or a mere coincidence that the Free School opened on the anniversary date of Light's death? I think it was more coincidental than planned. It was logical to open a school at the beginning of a week, and 21 October 1816 was a Monday after all.

Eventually, I did locate Hutchings' grave a short distance away. Although it looked about the same as last year, minus all the wreaths and flowers, I was surprised to see the grave getting discoloured. Patches of yellow were beginning to show on its top. So here I'm wondering whether the Penang Free School Bicentenary Committee is doing anything to spruce up Hutchings' grave ahead of the Bicentenary celebrations which are less than three months away.

The tradition of visiting Hutchings' grave on the anniversary of the school's founding, that is, on the 21st of October every year, began in 1948 during Dennis Roper's spell as the Headmaster. He started this tradition which continues till today.

I would have thought that during the Centenary celebration in 1916, Ralph Pinhorn would have led his staff and prefects to Hutchings' grave on 21 October 1916 to commemorate the occasion but there is no evidence of this having occurred. The May 1917 issue of the Free School Magazine (Vol IV No V) was devoted extensively to the celebrations but as not a word was written about a visit to the Protestant cemetery, I would conclude that none was made.

The annual visits to the cemetery continued through the decades. The most celebrated one was in 1966 during the school's Sesquicentenary. The Board of Governors, Headmaster, teachers, prefects, scouts and representatives of The Old Frees' Association assembled at Hutchings' grave for a special commemorative service which was then followed by the unveiling of a special plaque to mark the occasion. That particular honour belonged to Tan Ah Fee who in 1964 had retired from teaching in the Free School. Tan Ah Fee was the brother of Tan Ah Tah, one of the school's Queen's Scholars who made a name for himself later as a Supreme Court Judge in Singapore.

In 2012, I decided to join the school representatives at Hutchings' grave at seven o'clock in the morning of 21 October. I had no other reason to go except wanting to have a feel of the old tradition. Since that visit to the Protestant cemetery, it has become quite a routine for me to turn up again in the following years. Last year's ceremony was the biggest yet, with many Old Frees also joining in. I would dare say that in this Bicentenary year, a bigger crowd of people can be encouraged to turn up. I hope The Old Frees' Association can lead to organise their members for this annual visit. One need not be of the Christian faith to be present there. I am not, and there's nothing that will discourage me from attending.

But in all past years, the short service at Hutchings' grave have been nothing but solemnity itself. It puzzles me why this must continue to be so. Is there no other way to celebrate the life of Robert Sparke Hutchings? Sure, the service must be there: the readings, the prayers, the laying of the wreaths and the singing of the School Rally. But how about re-introducing the bugle call? Or even, at the end of it all, a bout of boisterous singing? After all, he was a jolly good fellow to have founded the Penang Free School. Wasn't he?

Monday, 11 July 2016

Bless you, Capt Neo Kim San

In 2011 when we were preparing FIDELIS, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association, I received a submission from Captain Neo Kim San from Singapore. Capt Neo was a former secretary and oftentimes committee member of the Old Frees' Association Singapore.

At first, I welcomed his contribution but after I had opened his file to take a look at it, I began having second thoughts about including the story into FIDELIS. And it was a decision that was backed up by the others in the Editorial committee. For you see, no amount of editing could have done any justice to the good captain's rather, umm, colourful story.

But now that Capt Neo has passed on - he died on 24 July 2015 - perhaps I should now reproduce his article as a fitting tribute to this man. He lived his life to the fullest. Here it is.

In 1963 while I was in Form Six, and due to my involvement with the Four Holes, I was invited as a guest of the State. My father, realising that any prospects I had had were greatly curtailed, decided to send me to Singapore. Through the intervention and recommendation of  my pastor, David Nilsson, I had been slated to attend Trinity Theological College. (more of that later)
Sending me to the ferry point, my father gave me RM50 and a TITONI watch, saying sheepishly that that was all he could afford. He admonished me not to get into trouble again, gave me a pat on my back and sent me on the way to the Prai railway station.
Reaching Singapore, I walked from Tanjong Pagar Railway station to Chin Chew street where my mother had arranged for me to stay with my uncle.
The next day I went to call on Pastor John Nelson at the Dukes’ Road Lutheran Church. He took me to Trinity college on Mount Sophia and enrolled me. However, a few months later, when the semester started, I did not report as I felt I did not have the calling and it would not be fair to the Lord to take up the place and deprive the Lord of a more committed servant were I to take up place. I thus did not commence my studies. After a few weeks of interaction, Pastor Nelson, impressed with my command of the English language, offered me a position as supervisor of the Lutheran church kindergarten at Queenstown at $60/= a month plus the servants quarter to stay in.
There being no classes on Saturdays, I had a lot of free time and started missing school life, especially detention class where I was a constant attendee. I had brought a copy of the 1962 School Annual with me and glancing through it, I saw a letter from Mr Lim Thean Soo addressed to the school, under the auspices  of the Old Frees Association, Singapore. The address given was No 13 Jalan Belangkas. I decided to pay him a visit to see if he could connect me to the other Old Frees. Reaching No 13 Jalan Belangkas, I rang the gate bell and instantly a boy came to the gate and asked me what I wanted. He replied in the positive when I asked if Mr Lim Thean Soo lived here. I continued by telling him I am from the Penang Free School and was looking for the Secretary of the Old Frees Association. He said he understood and asked me to wait. Returning to the house, he came back with a sheet of paper. It was a cyclostyled list of members of the Old Frees Association of Singapore. Thanking him profusely, I took my leave. On the way back, I studied the lists, rating names like Ernest Clark, Kok Weng Qn, both of Frasers and Neave, Dr GK Lim, TQ Lim, Dr Chan Kong Thoe and Woo Kam Seng (Shell). I had a hankering to better my station in life and thought that the Old Frees might be able to help me and might have opening where I could fit in.
That Saturday morning I reserved the office telephone for my use. At about 10am I rang Woo Kam Seng. The reply was “Tadak, tadak, tadak Woo Kam Seng.” Thinking that I might had dialed a wrong number, I asked if this was Shell’s office. The reply was “Ya, ini Shell, Batul.” I reiterated “Mr Woo Kam Seng, Sales Director, please” to which the reply was “Tadak Woo Kam Seng, Ada Makan Singh.” I then realised that Shell works five days a week and the phone must have been transferred to the watchman or jaga whose name must have been Makam Singh.
H3 Double
Still thinking of a higher pay than $60, I looked again at the list but by this time I had met one of my classmates, Lim Weng Yoke, who was working in Singapore. I invited him to join me on a visit to Heah Hock Heng since he was in our class. The address was at Cluny Road. Dropping off the bus at the junction of Farrer and Bt Timah, we made our way to Cluny Road. Cluny Road was very long and after thirty minutes we came to the house. We rang the door bell and a stout gentleman of about 30+ opened the door and we asked whether Heah Hock Heng lived here. He replied that he is Heah Hock Heng. Weng Yoke and I were stunned as he was not the Heah Hock Heng of our year. We apologized profusely and explained that we thought he was the Heah Hock Heng, one of our classmates from the Penang Free School. He said he is an Old Free. We were only too happy to meet him and we chatted for an hour about the school. He asked us for our contact numbers and promised that the OFA Singapore will contact us. With that, we took our leave and left for lunch.
At the end of march 1967, I received an invitation and application form to join the OFA Singapore. Accompanying the form was an invitation to attend a picnic in one of the colonial bungalows. When Weng Yoke and myself reached the venue, a goodly number of members had turned up. We were welcomed by Mr Heah Hock Heng who introduced us around, especially to a Mr Wee Chong Jin who was Chief Justice then. Both of us were in awe of him but also proud to be Old Frees. Mr Wee sat on an armchair on the porch and watched the members and their families frolicking in the sea and on the shore. A repast had been prepared and everybody had a good time.
In early October 1967 I received a notice to attend an AGM at the Kelong Restaurant, Cathay building. Payment was $30. I sent back my returns declining since attendance would have meant 50% of my pay.
For the rest of 1967 and half of 1968, I worked at various odd jobs on top of my supervisory job and managed to accumulate $100, so when I received the notice towards the end of  September, I was prepared to attend the AGM again to be held at the Kelong Restaurant at Cathay Building. When I reached it, I found it to be a small cozy restaurant. I felt at home immediately with the crowd using Penang patois which could be distinguished among the bubble. When the AGM was called to order, I found myself seated next to member Kok Weng On who introduced himself to me. He told me his father was also a customs officer when he heard I was staying in the Customs village, Bukit Glugor. A friendship developed between us and which has been cemented with time. I immediately had a feeling of euphoria enveloping me. The friendship formed that day has withstood the test of time and has in fact grown stronger.
When the meeting concluded, I made a promise to attend every meeting which I did without fail until 1975 when someone made a serious mistake and proposed me for the post of secretary. Well and good. Remembering the first picnic I attended, I hankered for another. So the first function I organised was a picnic, not at the seaside but at Mitsukoshi Gardens in Jurong. My wife had learnt to cook Penang laksa, probably from my kaypoh cousin of Siam Road, so she provided the laksa for the picnic. No doubt the venue had no salt tainted air but all in all we had a good time.
Over my many terms of office, two incidents remained clear in my mind. The first was Dr GK Lim or to give his full name, Dr Lim Geok Khooi. I remember him telling me Somerset Waugham (sic) was a personal friend. Somerset Waugham was the author of “Pygmalion” later made into the film “My Fair Lady”. GK graduated from the Hong Kong Medical College, joined the British Army and was the first Asian doctor of the Royal Medical Corps, He took over Rommel’s’ troupes of the German Africa Corps in North Africa on the surrender of Germany. After he was demobbed, the Military Administration rewarded him with any residence of his choosing. GK chose No 37 Stevens Road. Perhaps he smoke “Abdulla 37?” Who knows?
I had made it my task to fetch GK to and from the committee meetings. On one occasion, I was five minutes late from our appointed time. He was not waiting for me outside his gate, as was his wont. I called out to him. He opened the front door and told me he wasn’t going to the meeting for virtue of  my being late, he will be late and might be labelled as being tardy.
(My note: Capt. Neo got it wrong here. W Somerset Maugham was not the author of Pygmalion. The person who wrote this book was George Bernard Shaw.)
Sometime in early October 1978, the committee met at the Goodwill Restaurant in Hong Leong Building to finalise arrangements for 21st October AGM. After the agenda had been dealt with, the Committee sat down to dinner. In the midst of partaking the food, a committee member called Oh Kean Hock said, "I hope you guys do not mind me bringing up an item out of the agenda. It can be itemised under any business.” Ernest Clark gave him the green light to proceed. Kean Hook then went on to state.
“What is the OFA for? To eat, yak and hold useless meetings now and then? Let us do something useful and meaningful for once. I propose we do something to help the families of the 17 victims of the Spyros accident. Don’t just yak and enjoy yourselves.”
GK Lim immediately sputtered with the food he was masticating while Ernest Clark stood up and begged to be excused from the meeting. GK then pronounced that he had never been so insulted in his life but he had best answer Oh Kean Hook.
“Kean Hook,” Dr GK. said. “please consider carefully before shooting off your mouth next time. Do you know that to do what you have suggested we would need to call for an EGM, obtain the approval of the majority of the members before we can even collect one cent? We are on the committee not for our own glory but to plan activities and functions for our members, ex-students of the Penang Free School and also to remember and honour our school.”
Kean Hook had no answer to that except to get up and follow Ernest Clark’s lead and excuse himself from the meeting and leave.
To my memory, the most hilarious committee meeting was during the tenure of Dato Ng Kong Yeam. Following the tradition of the OFAS, whereby the newly elected President had to stand the committee to dinner at the first committee meeting, thus Dato Ng invited the committee to dinner at his Queen Bee Restaurant in Johor Baru, to be followed by drinks at his Queen Bee lounge to watch a strip-tease performance, not surprisingly the full committee turned up. In actuality, the Queen Bee was to give the Merchinta  nightclub, a well established strip-tease club in JB, a run for its money.
Well and good, everyone did not eat but rather gobbled it down, eager to adjourn to the lounge for the show. Dato Ng took us over to the lounge as soon the plates had been cleared. Was he eager also? The lounge manager met us at the door and Dato instructed him to close the doors for a private show.
The manager complied (which manager would not at the behest of his boss) and the music started. Presently a gossamer clad girl sashayed out from behind the curtain, Ernest Clark exclaimed “wow” before moving his chair to the edge of the catwalk to get a closer look (at what?). The dancer went through her moves, moving closer and closer to Ernest Clark (who must have been on cloud nine by now) and before he could realise it, the dancer had plucked his spectacles from his face, did a pirouette and dropped his spectacles down the front of her G-string. She performed another number, edging closer to Ernest again, took the spectacles out of her G-string and gave it back to Ernest. The spectacles were all fogged up with the dancer’s body heat. Asking for a piece of tissue paper to wipe his glasses clear. I quipped him “Careful Ernest, she may be infected with VD.”
Ernest rejoined angrily, “Shut up, stupid, wearing the glasses won’t infect a person with VD.” All this time the committee members were in stitches at Ernest’s discomfiture. To console him, I said, “Ernest, I do not mean Venereal Disease, I meant Visual Diarrhoea.” Ernest harrumphed and came back to our table, receiving hearty claps on the back for his bravery.
In all my years as an office bearer of the OFA Singapore, I had tremendous support from the following co-committee members, who were unstinting in their support, never missing a meeting unless more important things cropped up. They include Moey Sek Pan, Chin Pak Kim, Goh Khek Sian and the following members who gave their moral and vocal support, chief of whom were Hwang Tiaw Hoe, Hwang Tiaw Sooi, Wee Chong Lim, Tan Ban Hoe, Lim  Chong Hock, Teng Lye Hock, Loh Peng Chee, Oh Siew Leong, Professor Chan Kong Thoe, Gory Yeang, Khoo Boo Aik, Yam Mow Lam and the happy-go-lucky Larry Lim Yam Hum.
Oh, before I forget, my thanks to each and every member who has encouraged and bolstered my passion for the OFA in their own individual ways.
The title of this caption has been chosen with care and after much thought for it captures the heart and soul of the Old Frees. I say this with conviction because of two incidents where the Old Frees truly and unstintingly demonstrated their compassion.
One evening, I received a call for Mrs Yip Mun Kong imploring help from Lee Seng Teik to attend to her son, who had just suffered from a deep cut on his cheek. She was frantic, afraid that her son would be saddled with with an ugly scar on his face for the rest of his life. On reflection, it could be that Mrs Yip was afraid that no girl would marry her son, depriving her of grandsons or granddaughters. I thus called Lee Seng Teik who was at dinner. When he heard my request on behalf of another Old Free, he left his dinner there and then, and rushed to the general hospital. The last I heard, Mem Kong’s son has a scar but a very faint one.
Another incident, which strengthens my passion for the OFA Singapore. In 1996, I needed an X-ray report for my employer and my thoughts turned to Chin Wah Seng. Proceeding to his clinic, I registered myself and waited for my turn. When my turn came, I was pleasantly surprised when Wah Seng himself walked up to me and conducted me to his laboratory. Strapping me to a large machine himself and switched it on. The machine rotated for a few minutes and stopped, Wah Seng told me to put on my shirt and I dressed up .
Stopping at the registration counter to make payment, I was taken aback when the receptionist told me that Dr Chin had taken care of it. I did not leave but waited at the receptionist area to thank Wah Seng personally but the number of patients waiting made me leave after an hour so as not to disrupt Wah Seng’s schedule.
I was diagnosed as diabetic in 1998 and was weak when I visited Yam Mow Lam. A few days later, I received a call to lunch with Ooi Teng San. Over lunch he enquired about my diabetic condition. After hearing about my details, he told me that should I have to be treated by dialysis, he is willingly to sponsor a dialysis machine so that I can self-treat by dialysis at home as treatment at dialysis centres are very expensive.
A word of caution to all readers. Anybody who bad-mouths the Old Frees will have me to contend with.
I cannot recall when we started holding our AGM at Kings Hotel, perhaps when they launched the Penang Food Promotion but I remember when we changed venue for once in 1999 and held it at the Concord Hotel. At the registration desk, three young men approached me and, their spokesman told me they were from Free School and wanted to be members. Handing me their name cards, one name stuck out - Malcolm Tan Ban Hoe. He then asked how they could help out. Having matters under control, I thanked him and told him I will let him know later.
When the AGM started, the president thanked me for the years of accepting and discharging the duties of hon. secretary through the years and since I was leaving to take up a post in China, the OFA would like to present me with a gift in appreciation. He then gave me a Samsonite briefcase by courtesy of Gary Yeang who was the Samsonite representative for South East Asia. As the office bearers had not been elected, I announced to the meeting that we are very fortunate that there are three young Old Frees who have volunteered to help in any way and I suggested that such enthusiasm should be rewarded by being elected to the committee. They stood up and graciously accepted to be elected. Thus Malcolm Tan, Boo Aik and one other (the name which I am unable to recall) were elected.
During Chong Soon Khean’s term of office as President, he narrated an incident that occurred just before he left for the meeting. He confessed he is very forgetful (Alzheimer’s?) and many a time had to return home to retrieve items that he had forgotten. He told us that it will be a thing of the past from now onwards as he has formulated a system to overcome his memory lapse. He told us he has composed a ditty to remind himself each time he leaves the house and has pasted the ditty behind his door. The ditty goes like this
He then recounted to us what transpired between Sue (Mrs Chong) and himself as he left the house. He chanted the ditty and as he chanted, Sue said “Jimmy you can take the first three but leave the last at home” to which Soon Khean rejoined “cannot, lah, I will have no courage to do business if I leave them.”
ADDENDUM- the Advent of OFA Singapore
When I first joined the OFA, I remembered Weng On telling me the OFA was born in 1962. My thanks to Mr. JC Rajarao who corrected me on 15th November 2011 where he was my the guest at the Committee meeting. He pronounced that he has a newspaper clipping and photo  of the Committee taken in 1953 perhaps in tribute to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.
Submitted by
Neo Kim San @ Neo Ah San


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Brexit explained

As the United Kingdom stands on the brink of remaining or leaving the European Union, I am reminded of this excerpt from the Yes Minister television series of long ago. Season One, I believe it was, when this exchange took place:

Sir Humphrey: "Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it's worked so well?"
Jim Hacker: "That's all ancient history, surely."
Sir Humphrey: "Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased, it's just like old times."

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A Hatyai shopping weekend

My wife and I took off on a weekend holiday to Hat Yai with some friends last week. This trip had been in the planning since the beginning of the year but only materialised about three weeks ago when the friends we knew suddenly agreed to come along with us.

So there we were at the Bukit Mertajam railway station last Friday morning to await the arrival of the 7.37a.m. KTM ETS train to Padang Besar. Once we arrived at the border and having cleared Malaysian and Thai immigration, we boarded the State Railway of Thailand's diesel railcar service to Hatyai, arriving in the Thai city at about 9.45a.m. local time.

A 10-minute walk took us to the Kosit Hotel. The Kosit was an aged hotel but the accommodation was still clean and comfortable enough. We were allocated a room at the end of the long corridor which turned out lucky for us because it was quiet. However, it was not so lucky for two of our friends who were given a room near to the lift lobby. Throughout the night, there were people loitering around the lobby and chattering away without a care for the guests in the rooms. My friends should have complained to the hotel's reception, which they did not.

Lunch on the first day was at a Thai restaurant across the road from the hotel. Our first authentic Thai meal during our stay. And after we had finished, it was a walk into the business district of Hatyai. We found our way to the Kimyong market for purchases of some foodstuff and cheap clothes. Thereafter, we made our way by the tut-tut to the Central Festival Mall, an upmarket shopping centre catering mostly to tourists. Dinner was at one of the restaurants there which served kurobuta pork.

Our second day in Hatyai began with a filling breakfast of pork porridge at a coffee shop across the road from the hotel. Thereafter, travelling by tut-tut to their main wet market. Nothing much to buy there, seeing how the roads around the market were in a chaotic mess and we not knowing where exactly to go. As a result, we went from the market to the Lee Garden Plaza instead, from where we took a lazy stroll back to the Kosit.

By this time, it was close to checking out time. A quick lunch of chicken rice at the same coffee shop and we were soon on our way to the railway station. We boarded the diesel railcar which left at one o'clock and arrived at Padang Besar at 2.50 p.m. Malaysian time. Seeing that we still had about two hours to kill before the ETS train would depart, some of us made our way to the Padang Besar shopping arcade for, yes, still some more last-minute shopping.