Friday, 9 December 2016

A little adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wooden seats were all quite occupied.

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

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

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

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

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

Rush hour traffic along Weld Quay

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Short trip

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Surrendering a banking licence?

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

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

Monday, 28 November 2016

Four against the wall

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

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Bangkok, part two

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

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

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

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

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

Novice monks studying in the Grand Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 November 2016

Happiness tinged with some sadness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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