Thursday, 30 March 2017

History in the making

An historic journey into uncharted waters. Some scenes from a packed House of Commons as British prime minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 on 29 March 2017.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fallen tree at Wat Pinbang Onn

I had a shock when I went to the Siamese cemetery at the Wat Pinbang Onn temple in Green Lane, Penang, this morning to find someone who could spruce up my grandparents' grave before we go for Cheng Beng this Friday. There was a fallen tree at the cemetery and it had narrowly missed my grandparents' grave by not more than 10 feet. Apart from some broken bits and pieces of the branches that had fallen behind the gravestone, it was very lucky that the grave had not been affected physically at all. Some of the graves were not so lucky as the tree had fallen right on top of them. I heaved a big sigh of relief when I could finally size up the situation. The tree was huge and tall, black with age and possibly already dead, and must have had fallen many months ago during a thunderstorm or heavy winds.

I don't know how long it will take the Wat Pinbang Onn to remove the trunk. The temple does not have a good track record in looking after the cemetery grounds which, after all, belongs to them. I remember that about 18 years ago, another huge tree - a much bigger tree than this present one, actually -  had crashed down in the cemetery. Miraculously again, it had missed my grandparents' grave by several feet. It was as if some invisible hands had swiped the tree aside. It took the temple some three or four years before that tree trunk was finally removed. Not good enough, in my opinion. Will it take that long again for the temple to respond to this latest incident? And will the temple learn from this second disaster to check and chop down the other old and possibly dead or rotten trees in the cemetery? The responsibility is theirs.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

When's Cheng Beng (清明) in 2017?

Over the past one week, I've been receiving messages from friends asking me about the date of this year's Cheng Beng (清明) festival, as if I'm an expert on such things, which I can assure you that I'm not. But they weren't the only ones inquiring. I've been hearing other people ask whether Cheng Beng would fall on the fourth or fifth of April. The usual reply I know is that this Chinese festival will fall on the fifth of April except when it is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar. The extra day on 29th February would push Cheng Beng day forward to the fourth of April.

But apparently not. Intrigued by my friends' request, I've made some investigations and discovered - lo and behold! - that Cheng Beng falling on the fourth of April actually occurs quite regularly. Does that mean that most of us may have been going to the graveyards to pay respects to our ancestors on the wrong date 25 percent of the time? Oops!

For example, if you have suffered a bereavement in your family, you are required to visit the deceased person's grave on Cheng Beng day itself for three consecutive years. After that, you can do your Cheng Beng visitations anytime within a 19-day period: 10 days before Cheng Beng to 10 days after Cheng Beng, with the Cheng Beng date being counted as Day One itself.

The last time that I had to observe Cheng Beng at the Batu Gantong cemetery on the exact date itself (4th April 2016) was the third anniversary of my aunt's death last year. Before that, it was on 5th April 2015 and 5th April 2014, both exactly the dates for Cheng Beng in those two years. So I'm safe; I haven't been wrong. I haven't gone one day late to Cheng Beng. Bless my aunt. Phew!

Anyhow, I've prepared a table of actual Cheng Beng dates for the next 15 years. The trend is easily ascertainable from the chart: two years of Cheng Beng on 4th April followed by two years on 5th April, and it repeats. The time shown in the third column is based on the apparent movement of the sun as it crosses the 15th-degree celestial longitude into the fifth solar term of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. You can read about the lunisolar calendar here. Happy learning!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Fund-raising appeal for Ooi Eow Jin

An Appeal to Old Frees for Funding
For the Staging of
(a play written by Kee Thuan Chye, an Old Free)
To Raise Funds for Old Free DATUK OOI EOW JIN

Two years ago, I was much humbled to have been able to play a small part in highlighting Ooi Eow Jin's plight to the general public and the response was generally very well received. Today, I am calling on all Old Frees to rally around their fellow Old Free again. 

In particular, I am calling on the Old Frees to help fund the staging of Swordfish + Concubine, a play by Kee Thuan Chye (also an Old Free), to raise funds to help Ooi Eow Jin, who is 78 and suffering from Alzheimer’s and whose son recently underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour.

Penang-born Eow Jin retired many years ago as RTM Orchestra conductor. After that, he was a lounge pianist at Hotel Majestic in Kuala Lumpur until he was stricken by Alzheimer’s.

What the play is about
Swordfish + Concubine takes two myths from Sejarah Melayu and re-enacts them in a highly theatrical fashion, full of comedy and spectacle, to reflect on Malaysia today. Previously entitled The Swordfish, Then the Concubine, it was judged one of the top five plays in the International Playwriting Festival 2006, organised by the Warehouse Theatre in the United Kingdom. It has already been staged twice in Singapore but not yet in Malaysia in its original English language.

The play is written for a vibrant physical and visual staging. It is replete with song, movement, elements culled from traditional Malay theatre, colourful costumes, and music by a gamelan ensemble.

Kee Thuan Chye is staging Swordfish + Concubine for the first time in English in Kuala Lumpur in October 2017. 
Proceeds from the show will go to Ooi Eow Jin and his family.

What sponsor/contributor gets
For the aid provided, the contributor will be duly credited.
  • RM5,000 to RM45,00 – Contributor will be credited in the souvenir programme.
  • RM50,000 onwards – Contributor will be credited in a half-page advertisement in the souvenir programme.
  • RM100,000 onwards – Contributor will be credited in a full-page advertisement in the souvenir programme.
Complimentary tickets will be given to every contributor to any performance of their choice. Other special benefits that the contributor may require can be discussed.

About Kee Thuan Chye – Producer, Director and Writer
Kee Thuan Chye is producer, director and writer of Swordfish + Concubine. He has written numerous plays for stage and radio since 1973 and is best-known for 1984 Here and Now, The Big Purge and We Could **** You, Mr Birch. All three plays have been published and are available from
  • 1984 Here and Now is included in an anthology called Postcolonial Plays edited by Helen Gilbert and published by Routledge (United Kingdom). When it was first staged in 1985, it played to full houses.
  • The Big Purge was selected as the play to close Typhoon 4, a playreading festival organised by Yellow Earth Theatre in London in May 2005.
  • We Could **** You, Mr Birch is being studied in several Malaysian universities. It also played to full houses during its first run in 1994. The following year, it was invited to the Festival of Asian Performing Arts in Singapore.
His subsequent play, The Swordfish, Then the Concubine, was judged one of the top five plays in the International Playwriting Festival 2006, organised by the Warehouse Theatre in the United Kingdom. It has been staged twice in Singapore – by W!ld Rice in 2008 (directed by Ivan Heng) and by Young ’n’ W!ld in 2011 (directed by Jonathan Lim).

Kee has also written numerous radio plays many of which were broadcast on RTM in the 1970s. He has been a judge of the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize. He has been invited as a guest writer to numerous writers’ festivals in Australia, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Britain, the Philippines and Singapore.

He is also an actor who has had speaking roles in international films like Entrapment, Anna and the King as well as TV productions Marco Polo (for Hallmark) and Secrets of the Forbidden City (for BBC and The History Channel)
On stage, he has acted in countless productions since 1977, including lead roles in the Australian plays Gulls and Honour, and in the one-man play The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole by Kuo Pao Kun. He considers his best stage role as that of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. He has also directed a dozen plays for the theatre.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Love without end 不了情

I discovered this 45rpm record among my collection four nights ago. This record, together with many others, had been given to me by the wife of the late first president of the Penang Chess Association. After her husband had died four years ago, she called me to her house one day and passed me a small bag of some 20 to 30 pieces of 45rpm records.

However, I just didn't have the time to look through them all these years...until four nights ago. Lots of unfamiliar titles, including records that he had picked up from his chess travels through Yugoslavia in the early 70s. Then I came across this record.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. A precious gem of a find. I had the record cleaned up and then put it on the turntable. Imagine my hair standing on end when the first bars of the piano were heard. That unmistakable, dramatic piano intro followed by the sorrowful, maybe regretful, voice of Linda Lin Dai, then possibly the most glamorous leading lady among Hong Kong's film stars. Love without end (1961, Shaw Brothers production). 不了情。Unfortunately I'm too much of a yellow banana to know exactly what she was singing about, but the message was clear. And the tune, memorable.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Campbell Street in 1963

I must admit that my heart did skip a beat when I first saw this picture which someone had posted in the Penang Heritage Trust (PJT) Discussions facebook page. A scene of Campbell Street in 1963. Campbell Street. So full and vibrant in those good old days. Full of people, full of bicycles, full of motor vehicles. Still a two-way street.

I recognised not so much the road but the RECORDS sign on the left side of the road. How can I ever forget that unmistakeable sign? It belonged to Wing Hing Records. This was the shop of my father's friend, whom he had called Ah Leong. My father used to buy all his records from this shop. And the best part was that his friend allowed him to borrow the popular long-playing records of the day. I would be so happy when he brought home the records because it would mean new music in the house, albeit only temporarily. Later, I would strike up my own friendship with Jimmy, Ah Leong's son, and started borrowing records on my own.

UPDATE: A comment by Chew Weng Huat on the above facebook page went:
The vertical sign boards reflect chinese culture too well, becos few other cultures have individually written characters strung together to make a phrase, in a top to down, then right to left format. 
Even the neon signs in modern cities like Hong Kong, retain this vertical format and density. A ubiquitous feature that immediately identifies chinatowns in South East Asia from "other" towns. 
Alternatively, the super large characters of the shop sign is cast in concrete or plastered onto the rounded or chamfered columns lining the five foot ways in front of the whole row of shops. A good example of signs integrated into a column is visible on the left side: the name of "Wing Hing Phonograph"). 
To me, the column sign is ingenious, as its visibility is much higher than the cheaper, simpler but unidirectional ones painted directly onto flat vertical boards. Moreover the bas relief effect of the characters shows off the calligraphic beauty better than those on the flat boards, yet they dont intrude physically into the crowded street space as much. 
However this chinatown effect has practically disappeared from the largest cities in mainland China. 
Does this say a lot about the cultural difference between the overseas Chinese and the mainland Chinese?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Walking up Penang Hill

We went up Penang Hill last Sunday. No, we did not take the funicular train to the top. Rather, we walked from the Botanical Gardens. Along the jeep track beside the gate into the Gardens. Saw the dead tree there, of course. What a sad sight. A great pity. The Gardens curator should arrange for the seedling of a new majestic tree to be planted there once this one is removed.

Anyway, this was the first time that I would be walking this jeep track up to the top of Penang Hill. In the past, I've used other alternative ways. Like, for example, during my schooldays, the Penang Free School would hold annual hikes up the hill at the end of the year. The hike would start at the Moon Gate, perhaps some 200 metres away from the Gardens entrance, and take us along the hill trails and undergrowth before joining up with the jeep track at or around Station 84. However, I don't think the annual Penang Hill hike is held anymore, which is a pity. The pupils would love it.

When I first started working at Ban Hin Lee Bank, some of my former colleagues had organised some rare hikes to the top from Hye Keat Estate in Ayer Itam. Maybe two or three hikes, that were all, before everyone lost interest in them. I remember having to pass through a small Chinese cemetery on the way. Again, this hike would take us to the Station 84 and join up with the jeep track.

And then in 2008, we went hiking again with some of my former colleagues. Although we were all so much older by now, our adventure spirit still burned within us. We decided to climb through a circuitous route that took us to the Ayer Itam Dam, through vegetable and fruit farms and Tiger Hill.

Fast forward some nine years and here we are at the base of the jeep track on an early Sunday morning (5 March 2017) waiting with some one or two hundred other people for the start of the D"Home Mental Health Association's Hike for Health. This hike was organised to raise money for the day-to-day running of the association. D'Home is doing a marvellous job with raising mental health awareness and their public activities such as this are definitely worth supporting. We didn't expect to be participating in the climb because we thought they'd want us to be volunteers but a week before the climb, we learnt that they needed more participants than volunteers. So here we are, donning their t-shirts and making our way up the hill. Slowly up the hill.

Our lack of fitness showed. Our progress was slow. We stopped so many times, especially when the incline became so very steep. We struggled at the start of the climb when the jeep track was steep, and we struggled again towards the end when the track again took a challengingly steep incline. But we made it, finally, after about two hours and 40 minutes. As stragglers, we missed out on the medals for the first 100 participants to finish but there were free bowls of Penang Hill ais kachang waiting for us at the food court. Yum yum, worth the effort after all......😋😋😋

We stayed at the summit for some three hours. The rain came and everything became wet and misty. Eventually we called it a day and proceeded to the upper train station to take the funicular train to the lower station. As usually, it is a very eventful train ride if you take the first carriage where you can see the train practically rolling off the track at the half-way point. Almost like a roller coaster ride at this juncture, it elicited screams from the ladies in the carriage. Heh heh....

A 4WD vehicle making its way effortlessly up the steep hairpin drive while we have to struggle step by step all the way to the top.

Even motorcyclists can make it to the top effortlessly but the track is also difficult for cyclists.

I'm puzzled by this old milestone as it still showed the distance in miles and not kilometres. VI MILES, it read. Six miles as measured from where, I wonder?

Wonderfully thick foliage lined both sides of the track.

Whoops, I came across this mean beast which easily measured six inches long from claw to sting. It was just at the side of the road. It was a stand-off. The creature was eyeing me at the same as I was eyeing it. Warily, of course, seeing that its tail was poised to strike forward. I'm sure it would be a lightning strike. Would I be able to avoid it, seeing it already has a lifetime of practice to get to this big a size. I doubt so. Back off, my inner voice told me, back off. So I did, after getting close enough to get this picture. Luckily it did not advance forward as the camera went closer. Nevertheless, my wife was concerned with the scorpion's well-being and asked me to remove it elsewhere. What? Pick it up?? Didn't she notice that the tail was ever ready to sting anyone or anything that threatens it??? I pick up a harmless millipede and she asks me to put it down. Here is a dangerous six-inch scorpion and she asks me to pick it up. 😆

And finally, reaching the Grace Dieu bungalow, a sure sign that the summit wasn't too far away. Unfortunately, I must have missed the Ban Hin Lee Bungalow and the way to Crag Hotel, the latter being the location for the British television series, Indian Summers, some three or four years ago.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Quah, Chuah and Goh surname connection

It's been a long time since I was able to uncover any new information on the origins of the Quah (Kē, 柯) surname but today, I came across something relevant on one of my facebook groups. I'm reproducing the information here, but re-written and with the grammar all cleaned up, so that the story flows much smoother. Here goes:
Although Quah (Kē 柯/姬姓柯氏) and Chua/Chuah (Cài 蔡/姬姓蔡氏) are two different surnames, they have the same origin. During the Shang dynasty in China (商朝, 1556 to 1046 BC), there were three brothers who were the sons of Jī Dǎn (姬亶 or 古公亶父 or 周太王) whose surname was Jī (姬/姬姓). Jī Dǎn was the leader of the Zhōu tribe (週部落首), located in Shaanxi province.
The eldest and elder brothers among them were Tài Bó (泰伯/姬泰伯) and Zhòng Yōng (仲雍/姬仲雍), who voluntarily left the Zhōu clan (先週) to the control of their youngest brother Jì Lì (季歷/姬季歷) and founded the vassal state of Wu (勾吳/吳國) near present-day Wuxi (無錫) in Jiangsu province (江蘇省). Tài Bó (泰伯) became the first leader (第一任國君) of Wu (勾吳/吳國) but as he had no male heir, his second brother Zhòng Yōng (仲雍) succeeded him as Wu's second leader (第二任國君).
A descendant of Zhòng Yōng (仲雍 by the name of Kē Xiāng (柯相, 6th generation, 7th Wu lord) adopted Kē (柯) as his surname, which was named after Kē hill (柯山), during a meeting of the vassal state lords. Kē Xiāng (柯相) could thus be considered to be the first in the lineage of Zhòng Yōng (仲雍) to adopt Kē (柯) as the surname. Kē Lú (柯盧, 9th generation, 10th Wu lord) also adopted Kē (柯) as his surname in memory of his great-grandfather Kē Xiāng (柯相).
Jī Fā (姬發), one of the grandsons of Jì Lì (季歷/姬季歷), Tài Bó's (泰伯) and Zhòng Yōng's (仲雍) youngest brother, later conquered the Shang dynasty (商朝) and founded the Zhou dynasty (周朝). Jī Fā (姬發) made one of his brothers, Jī Dù (姬度), lord of the vassal of state Cài 蔡 (姬度封蔡國). Jī Dù (姬度) adopted his state's name as his surname, thus founding the Cài clan (蔡氏始祖), also known as Cài Shū Dù (蔡叔度=姬度).
This story of the three Sin Quah Chuah surnames 辛柯蔡 (Xīn=Sin, Kē=Quah, Cài=Chua), which occurred during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (五代十國), an era of political upheaval in China from 907 to 960/979 AD, between the fall of the Tang dynasty (唐朝) and the founding of the Northern Song dynasty (北宋朝), is limited to the family of the senior official Cài (蔡大夫後裔) and does not apply to all other lineages of the Quah and Chuah clans from the Zhou dynasty (BC period).
The Wu or Goh (吳) surname shares a common lineage with the Quah (柯) and Chua (蔡) surnames through Tài Bó (泰伯) and Zhòng Yōng (仲雍) who had founded the state of Wu (勾吳/吳國). The last king of Wu (勾吳/吳國) was Fūchāi (夫差, 21st generation, 25th Wu lord) who reigned from 495 to 473 BC. In the latter part of his reign, Fūchāi (夫差) was defeated by Goujian (勾踐) of the state of Yue (越國) after several decades of conflict. Following this victory in 473 BC, Wu (勾吳/吳國) was destroyed and Fūchāi (夫差) forced to commit suicide. After the abolition of the state, Fūchāi's (夫差) three surviving sons were exiled. They and their descendants took Wu (吳) as their clan name.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Oldest schools in Malaysia

As a follow-up to my story on Penang's oldest schools, here is my non-exhaustive list of some of the oldest secondary schools in the country which were established before the Second World War and still in existence today. For the sake of comparison, I've also included the schools from Penang. Is there any school that I may have inadvertently left out?
Penang Free School (established 1816)
Malacca High School (established 1826)
St. Thomas’ Secondary School, Kuching (established 1848)
St. Mary's School, Kuching (established 1848)
St. Xavier’s Institution (established 1852)
Convent Light Street (established 1852)

Infant Jesus Convent, Melaka (established 1860)
St. Luke School, Sri Aman (established 1863)
St. Francis Institution, Melaka (established 1880)
St. Teresa’s School, Kuching (established 1881)
St. Mary's School, Sandakan (established 1883)
King Edward VII School, Taiping (established 1883)
St. George’s Girls' School (established 1884)
St. Michael’s School, Sandakan (established 1888)
Treacher Methodist Girls' School, Taiping (established 1889)
St. Michael's School, Penampang (established 1890)
Methodist Boys’ School (established 1891)
Methodist Girls’ School (established 1892)
SM Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Klang (established 1893)
Bukit Bintang Girls' Secondary School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1893)
Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur (established 1893)
St. Joseph’s School, Kuching (established 1894)
SM Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese Boys' School), Ipoh (established 1895)
Methodist Girls' School, Ipoh (established 1895)
Methodist Girls’ School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1896)
Methodist Boys’ School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1897)
Clifford School, Kuala Kangsar (established 1897)
SMK Methodist Nibong Tebal (Anglo-Tamil School) (established 1898)
St. Paul's Institution, Seremban (established 1899)
Convent Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur (established 1899)
Convent Taiping (established 1899)
Horley Methodist Secondary School, Teluk Intan (established 1899)
St. Mark's Secondary School (Butterworth English School) (established 1901)
Sacred Heart School, Sibu (established 1902)
St. Theresa’s Convent, Taiping (established 1903)
SM Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Kampar (established 1903)
SMK Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Sitiawan (established 1903)
All Saints School, Kota Kinabalu (established 1903)
Chung Hwa Confucian High School (established 1904)
St. John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur (established 1904)
Convent Canossian, Ujong Pasir (established 1905)
Malay College Kuala Kangsar (established 1905)
Confucian Private Secondary School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1906)
Sung Siew Secondary School, Sandakan (established 1907)
Convent Ipoh (established 1907)
Sultan Yussuf School, Batu Gajah (established 1907)
SMK Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Parit Buntar (established 1907)
Mahmud School, Raub (established 1908)
Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Star (established 1908)
Kuen Cheng High School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1908)
Anderson School, Ipoh (established 1909)
SMK Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Melaka (established 1910)
Port Dickson High School (established ~1910)
Keat Hwa Secondary School, Alor Star (established 1911)
Sulaiman English School, Bentong (established 1912)
St. David’s High School, Melaka (established 1912)
St. Michael's Institution, Ipoh (established 1912)
English College Johor Bahru (Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar) (established 1914)
Pudu English Girls' School, Kuala Lumpur (established 1914)
SMK Methodist ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), Seremban (established 1915)
St. George's Institution, Taiping (established 1915)
SMK Agama Al-Mashoor (established 1916)
Kuching High School (established 1916)
Chung Ling High School (established 1917)
St. Patrick's Secondary School, Tawau (establish 1917)
Jit Sin High School (established 1918)
Batu Pahat High School (established ~1918)
Penang Chinese Girls High School (established 1919)
SMK St. George (St. Anthony’s School) (Balik Pulau English School) (established ~1919)
Infant Jesus Convent Teluk Intan (established 1919)
Kajang High School (established 1919)
Methodist Girls' School, Klang (established 1924)
Infant Jesus Convent, Johor Bahru (established 1925)
Segamat High School, Segamat (established 1926)
High School Bukit Mertajam (established 1927)
SMJK Union (established 1928)
SMK Hutchings (established 1928)
Convent Klang (established 1928)
King George V School, Seremban (established 1928)
Klang High School (established 1928)
St. Theresa's English School, Sungai Petani (established 1929)
SMK Convent Butterworth (established 1930)
St. Andrew's School, Muar (established 1930)
Kolej Vokasional Batu Lanchang (established 1931)
St. Anthony's School, Telok Intan (established 1931)
Convent Father Barre’s, Sungai Petani (established 1933)
St. Patrick's School, Kulim (established 1933)
SMK Convent Bukit Mertajam (established 1934)
Convent Kulim (established 1934)
Convent St. Nicholas, Alor Star (established 1934)
St. Michael School, Alor Star (established 1934)
SMJK Convent Dato’ Kramat (established 1935)
Phor Tay High School (established 1935)
SMK Agama Al-Irshad (established 1936)
Maktab Sultan Ismail (Ismail English School), Kota Bharu (established 1936)
Convent Ave Maria, Ipoh (established 1938)
Convent Kajang (established 1939)
Kluang High School (established 1939)
Sarikei High School (established 1939)
SMJK San Min, Teluk Intan (established 1939)
Convent St. Joseph’s, Sentul (established 1940)
Convent Sentul, Kuala Lumpur (established 1940)

Saturday, 25 February 2017

My annual worship of Tua Pek Kong

Earlier this month during the Chap Goh Meh morning, my wife made the rare decision to follow me to the Quah Kongsi where we were having our annual worship session for the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. After that, we proceeded to Armenian Street as I had wanted to visit the Poh Hock Seah temple. This is the temple that houses the Tua Pek Kong deity.

On the 14th day of the first lunar month, the Tua Pek Kong would be taken on a procession around the city, starting from this temple, and wind its way to the Hai Choo Soo temple in Tanjong Tokong. At night when the high tide covered the biggest boulder in the sea, the chneah hoey or flame-watching ceremony would take place. The members of the temple committee would fan the urn until flames shoot out from the embers. The height of the flames would predict the prosperity of Penang until the next year.

And on the 15th day, the Tua Pek Kong would be invited back to his seat at the Poh Hock Seah, accompanied by firecrackers when the procession reached the temple's entrance.

Since about six years ago, after the worship at my Kongsi, I would make my way to the Poh Hock Seah. It's only a short walk away from the Kongsi in Carnarvon Lane, not more than 15 minutes, and no big deal for me. And in the past six years, I've been lucky to have been around Armenian Street once to witness the Tua Pek Kong arriving home. Even though I missed the event this year - the deity having already arrived back - I would pay homage at the temple.

That annual offering over, we ordered a plate of mee goreng from the mobile hawker across the road. In her quest to find the definitive plate of mee goreng in Penang, which she hasn't discovered yet, my wife wanted to taste the food from this particular stall. Who knows, this might be a gold mine.

Unfortunately, no. It turned out to be about the driest and most tasteless plate of mee goreng that we had ever had. In my opinion, the hawker, in his haste to earn the tourist dollars, had totally compromised on the quality of his fare. It was the worst of the worst. Unsuspecting outstation tourists may not know better but never again would we locals order anything from this stall. And I think nobody else should. Be forewarned.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A mysterious speckle

I woke up at about six thirty this morning and then decided to go outside the house. Unlike yesterday, the sky was clear and there it was, Jupiter hanging high up above me. I took out my camera and started shooting in multiple mode. Yes, this time, all four of the Galilean moons were visible when I digitally magnified the frames. But wait a minute. What was that very barely visible speckle of light that was moving up from the lower right corner of the pictures. Asteroid? Space junk? Dirt on my lens? Could be anything. The sequence below shows its migration.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Al Stewart and Peter White

This is a wonderful album which I never fail to take out from my collection to give it an occasional spin on the turntable. Year of the Cat is considered to be Al Stewart's best studio album. Doesn't the saxophone part give you a thrill when it comes on in the song?

Incidentally, playing the guitar on the album was Peter White. Who's Peter White, one may ask? Well, all I can say briefly is that he is an accomplished musician who is best known as a smooth jazz and fusion jazz guitarist. However, he also has a 20-year collaboration with Stewart on the latter's albums. He was part of a fusion jazz band called Windows, but also as a recording artist in his own right. I've three of his compact discs from the early 1990s, titled Reveillez-vous, Excusez-moi and Promenade. At the time that I started buying these compact discs, I had yet to know that White was an integral part on Stewart's team. That realisation came much later.

Side One: Lord Grenville, On the border, Midas shadow, Sand in your shoes, If it doesn't come naturally leave it
Side Two: Flying sorcery, Broadway hotel, One stage before, Year of the cat

Friday, 17 February 2017

New tools in the spiritual toolbox

When it came to retiring from my job at in December 2009, my office mates had thrown me a farewell party on the final day of my working life with them. The inevitable farewell speech was required of me and I stood up hesitatingly not knowing what to tell them initially. Then I remembered having read a book by Ajahn Brahm, the abbot of a Buddhist monastery in Western Australia.

Out of the many memorable and inspiring stories in the book, a few had left an impression in my mind and I resolved then and there to share my version of one of the stories with my soon-to-be-former colleagues.

It was the story of the emperor's three questions. Before I go on further, I may say that when I related it, there was full concentration from my former colleagues. Not a sound from them. I hope that the story had left an impression on them too.

Here then is the story of the emperor's three questions, as related by Ajahn Brahm in his philosophical book for all ages, Who ordered this truckload of dung? With apologies to the abbot, I have taken the liberty to exclude what I feel would be adding unnecessary length to my own post.
Long ago, an emperor sought a philosophy of life. He needed wisdom to guide his rule and govern himself. The religions and philosophies of the time did not satisfy him. So he searched for his philosophy in the experience of life.
Eventually, he realised that he required the answers to only three fundamental questions. With those answers, he would have all the wise guidance he needed. The three questions were these:
1. When is the most important time?
2. Who is the most important person?
3. What is the most important thing to do?
After a long search, he found the three answers on a visit to a hermit. What do you think the answers are? Look at the questions again, please. Pause, before you read on.
We all know the answer to the first question, but we forget it too often. The most important time is "now." That is the only time we ever have. So if you want to tell your Mom or Dad how much you really love them, how grateful you are for them being your parents, do so now. Not tomorrow. Not in five minutes. Now. In five minutes it is often too late. If you need to say sorry to your partner, don't start thinking of all the reasons why you shouldn't. Just do it right now. The opportunity may not come again. Grab the moment.
The answer to the second question is powerfully profound. Few people ever guess the correct answer. It saw deeper into the question than I'd ever imagined. The answer is that the most important person is the one you are with.
I recalled asking questions of college professors and not being fully heard. They were outwardly listening but inwardly wanting me to go. They were outwardly listening but inwardly wanting me to go. They had more important things to do. That's what I felt, and it was a rotten feeling. I also recalled rousing my courage to approach a famous lecturer and ask a personal question, and being surprised and so pleased that he was giving me his total attention. Other professors were waiting to speak with him, I was a mere long-haired student, but he made me feel important. The difference was huge.
Communication, and love, can only be shared when the one you are with, no matter who they are, is the most important person in the world for you, at that time. They feel it. They know it. They respond.
Married couples often complain that their partner doesn't really listen to them. What they mean is that their partner doesn't make them feel important anymore. Divorce lawyers would have to look for other work if every person in a relationship remembered the answer to the emperor's second question and put it into practice, so that no matter how tired or busy we are, when we are with our partner, we make them feel as though they are the most important person in the world.
In business, where the person we are with is a potential customer, if we treat them as the most important person for us at that time, our sales will go up and with it our salary.
The emperor in the original story escaped assassination by fully listening to the advice of a small boy on his way to visit the hermit. When a powerful emperor is with a mere child, that boy is the most important person in the world for him, and saves the emperor's life. When friends come up to me after a long day to tell me about their problems, I remember the answer to the emperor's second question and give them total importance. It is selflessness. Compassion supplies the energy, and it works.
Most of the time in your life you are by yourself. Then, the most important person, the one you are with, is you. There is plenty of time to give importance to yourself. Who is the first person you are aware of when you wake up in the morning? You! Do you ever say, "Good morning, me. Have a nice day!"? I do. Who is the last person you are aware of when you go to sleep? Yourself again! I say goodnight to myself. I give myself importance in the many private moments of my day. It works.
The answer to the emperor's third question, "What is the most important thing to do?" is to care. "To care" brings together being careful and caring. The answer illustrates that it is where we are coming from that is the most important thing.
So what again are the emperor's three questions? Here they are again, with the answers:

1. When is the most important time? Now.
2. Who is the most important person? The person you are with.
3. What is the most important thing to do? To care.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Stony stare

Every time I visit the Khoo Kongsi in George Town, I never fail to marvel at the pair of stone statues of Bengali guards which stand silently at the entrance into the main building. Especially, their watchful eyes stare dolefully, even disapprovingly, at the hordes of visitors. If the statues could think, I wonder what are in their minds?

Friday, 10 February 2017

PY 229

A week ago, I was wandering through the heritage precinct of George Town during Penang's annual Chinese New Year celebrations. Apart from the usual cultural exhibits of everything Chinese and the overwhelming presence of hawkers hawking Penang's street food at the turn of every corner, there was also a display of vintage cars.

I wasn't surprised to find this brilliantly red Mercedes Benz among the cars. My surprise was in seeing the car's number plate: PY 229. Why? Because this number plate used to adorn an old Datsun car in Seberang Jaya on the mainland. In the 1980s, it belonged to my father-in-law. It was his pride: the first and only car that he had ever owned. But he decided to part with his prized vehicle when the whole family moved to Bandar Mutiara in Simpang Ampat.

We had no idea what had become of the car but someone bought it up and transferred the number plate to this Benz. The number meant nothing to my father-in-law but it must have meant something to the number plate's new owner.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Penang's oldest schools

So today is the 100th anniversary of Chung Ling High School. My friends from CLHS are celebrating the Chung Ling Centenary with a grand reunion dinner on their school grounds tonight. Good for them. Congratulations. Yet another school reaching a respectable old age. That coming in the wake of my own alma mater, Penang Free School, celebrating her Bicentenary (200 years) on 21 October 2016 last year. Free School leads; others follow behind.

Which brings up the question of which other secondary schools in Penang have celebrated or will celebrate big milestones in their long histories? I've been doing some digging up and made up a list of those schools that were established before the onset of the Second World War. Naturally, the list is not exhaustive and chances are great that I may have missed out on a few great names or the year of establishment may be wrong. Either way, do let me know. Here is my list:
Penang Free School (established 1816)
St. Xavier’s Institution (established 1852)
Convent Light Street (established 1852)
St. George’s Girls' School (established 1884)
Methodist Boys’ School (established 1891)
Methodist Girls’ School (established 1892)
SMK Methodist Nibong Tebal (Anglo-Tamil School) (established 1898)
St. Mark's Secondary School (Butterworth English School) (established 1901)
Chung Hwa Confucian High School (established 1904)
SMK Agama Al-Mashoor (established 1916)
Chung Ling High School (established 1917)
Jit Sin High School (established 1918)
Penang Chinese Girls High School (established 1919)
SMK St. George (St. Anthony’s School) (Balik Pulau English School) (established ~1919)
High School Bukit Mertajam (established 1927)
Union High School (established 1928)
Hutchings Secondary School (established 1928)
Convent Butterworth (established 1930)
Kolej Vokasional Batu Lanchang (established 1931)
Convent Bukit Mertajam (established 1934)
Convent Dato’ Kramat (established 1935)
Phor Tay High School (established 1935)
SMK Agama Al-Irshad (established 1936)
Among the primary schools in Penang, I can only recall the following old ones that were set up before the War and are still in existence: SK Permatang Damar Laut (established 1864), SK Ayer Itam (Ayer Itam Government School) (established 1881), SK Teluk Kumbar (established 1882), Pykett Methodist School (established 1891), St. Xavier's Branch School (established 1906), SK Juara in Cherok To'kun (established 1908), Francis Light School ((Government English School Northam Road) (established 1922), Westlands School (established 1934) and Wellesley Primary School (established 1936). No doubt, there may be many more, especially since I haven't also dug up the Chinese primary schools.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

BM Hill, revisited

By my estimate, it must have been about six months since I last stepped foot on the hiking trail that ran beside the stream at the Bukit Mertajam recreation park in Cherok Tokun. I had the opportunity to do so this morning and by a good coincidence, I had decided to bring along my camera. So here are a few pictures that I took along the way: and no, I did not go to the hill's summit or even till the tea house. I exited the hill track at the metal steps and made my way down by the tarmac road.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A monk's bowl

I had the opportunity to take a peek inside a monk's bowl today and what did I see? I saw different morsels of food that devotees had contributed towards the monks' mid-day meals. A mixture of rice, cooked dishes, cakes and fruits...all still neatly arranged in the bowl. It could have been a worse combination, the Australian abbot Ajahn Brahm once said, having to eat curry and ice-cream together from the same container.