Monday, 20 August 2018

Chess sojourn at Cititel Midvalley

After weeks of sometimes frustrating planning, my team-mates and I were finally at the Cititel in the Midvalley Mall for the 15th edition of the Malaysia Chess Festival. The Old Frees' Association team would be taking part in the Merdeka rapid team open tournament for only the second time. Our hopes of winning anything from this event were not high; in fact, we were more interested in just taking part and playing chess. Playing well would be another matter.

In the end, we finished in exactly the middle of the table. In the 53rd position out of 104 teams. Out of the nine opponents we played with, our team won four matches, drew a match but also lost four matches along the way. Not to say that we didn't put in the extra effort but there were no easy opponents. Not even in the first round.

First day of the competition, on 17 Aug 2018

Brimming with confidence before the start of the second round

Third round, still on the first day of competition

Second day of competition. Finally, we get to wear our, erm, colourful T-shirt

That's me with Zhu Chen, former world women's chess champion from 2001 to 2004. She now represents Qatar, having married Qatari grandmaster Mohamad Al-Modiahki

And that's me stealing another selfie, this time with Arkady Dvorevich who is vying to become the next FIDE President. He's obviously here campaigning and I believe the Malaysian Chess Federation is supporting his candidacy. Wikipedia says he was Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in the Dmitri Medvedev government until 17 May 2018 but I was told that in Russia, there are three of four deputy prime ministers at the same time and they get changed very frequently. So its not a very big deal. Except that this one was also involved in the organising of this year's football World Cup in Russia. Perhaps that counts for something? Anyway, there were several policemen at the tournament hall during the prize giving ceremony. Looking out for these fellas, I suppose...

Friday, 17 August 2018

The turn of the Sixth Formers

Touching more lives, this time the Sixth Formers at Penang Free School. Granted that most of them came into the school only a few months ago and that their attachment to the school and the traditions were rather superficial at this stage, yet we felt that this should not be held against them. Rather, we looked at this as an opportunity to build up their rapport with the Free School and to make them proud of belonging to an institution with a rich legacy.

Therefore, over two weekends, we held the latest edition of the PFS student leadership workshop for the Sixth Formers. First time, actually, that the Form Six students were included into the programme. Just four of us coaches were involved - Lean Kang, Siang Jin, Soo Choon and I - but we had lots of assistance from the student coaches (Afan, Yan Tatt, Aryan and Alif) as well as a host of Old Free observers.

Several of my schoolmates turned up to address the participants briefly but the featured guest speaker for this workshop was Andrew Lim, the managing director of GAMA Supermarket, who spoke at length to impart his words of wisdom.

We were much impressed with the participants. Obviously, they being in Form Six and having passed through their SPM public examinations, they were very much matured in their thinking. We could see it in the questions they asked. They challenged us (almost) as much as we challenged them, which was good.

First weekend (28-29 July 2018)

The registration process

Informing the participants on our expectations

Yan Tatt and Aryan, two of the Fourth Formers that assisted us 

Lean Kang with three of the observers

Deep in discussion

So what's the action plan?

Headmaster Omar bin Abdul Rashid addressing the participants: a sign of how much importance the Free School placed in our workshops

Why? The question was why??

The Old Free Association president, Lee Eu Beng, came to give us the support

Measuring the height of Eiffel Tower?

The participants listening intently to me talking about some prominent Old Frees
The coaches with the participants of the first weekend's workshop

Second weekend (11-12 August 2018)

The start of the second weekend. This time around, we were joined by six Upper Six students who had missed the previous weekend.

What colour is your thinking hat?

Listening to the featured guest, Dato' Andrew Lim of GAMA Supermarket


Lean Kang with the Headmaster, Omar bin Abdul Rashid

Siang Jin with three of the student coaches, Alif, Aryan and Afan

The participants with their certificates. Not all received though, as only the participants who completed both weekends were given the certificates.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Maiden attempt at chess coaching

Well, I've been pretty pre-occupied since the end of July and there's only a short respite before I travel down to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow for the weekend. One programme after another in Penang, starting with a request from an ex-colleague to coach her group of five players in chess.

Now, chess coaching is something that I have never attempted in my life, which is very surprising since almost everyone knows how closely associated am I to the game. I've always taken a hands-off approach to this aspect of my life as I had never considered myself good enough to teach anything, least of all, chess.

But my ex-colleague friend was very persistent. Even though I was keeping quiet most of the time when she messaged me. I suppose that exasperation (or desperation) finally got hold of her and she called me. How was I to turn her down now as she spoke to me?

Eventually, I relented and agreed to five sessions with her office colleagues. Five sessions lasting two hours each. All except one had utterly no knowledge of playing chess. The one who knew how to play had originally played at his school district level. So as far as I was concerned, he was okay. The other four were plain beginners in the game.

So over five lessons, I tried to coach them to the best of my ability. Surprisingly, it was fun. Good inter-action between me and them. And I hope that I have really achieved something with them. But ultimately, if they want to remain in the game - or give up their knowledge altogether since their tournament's over - will depend solely on them alone.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Lunar eclipse

I had read that there would be a lunar eclipse visible in my part of the world on Saturday morning with the maximum eclipse occurring at 4.21 a.m. and it would be the longest in the 21st century. Well, even if it was the longest this century, I wouldn't be wanting to disturb my precious sleep by stalking the moon in the middle of the night. But however much I had wanted to ignore this event, there was no escaping it because the moon was still visible from my bedroom window. In fact, I had woken up at about six o'clock because in spite of my drowsiness, I could sense the moon looking down at me! So reluctantly, I stirred to search for my camera and managed to snap this image of the moon. It was still in its eclipse stage but starting to emerge from the earth's shadow.

By comparison, I took another picture of the moon this morning (below). Can see the world of a difference just about 23 or 24 hours later. A full, round moon bathed by the sun. Colours are all original; no digital editing or enhancement of any sort except under-exposing with my camera to accentuate the shadows on the moon and, of course, cropping.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Rainforest World Music Festival 2018

Well, this is it! It has always been my intention to attend the 21st Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak, at least once in my lifetime and this objective was achieved this year. Rainforest? Yes, rainforest. The music festival is so called because the venue, like the rest of Malaysia, is surrounded by a rain forest.

No point being coy or secretive over my visit to Kuching. I visited Kuching more than a week ago with my wife and several friends and took the chance to enjoy a whole day of music, music and fun with them. And got baked in the process, such was the heat and humidity at the Sarawak Cultural Village at the foothills of Mt Santubong, about an hour's drive north from our hotel in Kuching.

We only got to attend the final day of the three-day festival and immediately, I regretted not having come earlier for the first two days as well. I can't speak for the others in my party, though. I think for them, this one visit is sufficient to last them forever.

Being first-timers at the RWMF, we were unsure of what to do or where to go despite arming ourselves with a copy of the festival guide. Besides, the Sarawak Cultural Village proved to be a distraction by itself as there were so many other non-musical attractions there. But soon enough, we formed a game plan and got into our stride. Not for us those wellness and lifestyle talks, activities and demonstrations. We wanted to experience the real music.

Initially taking shelter from the sweltering sun, we wandered into the air-conditioned Theatre and discovered four people in the midst of their practice. We were there for barely 15 minutes before deciding to have our lunch. Then back we trooped into the Theatre for our first full music programme of the day by Cuatro Minimal. It turned out that this Cuatro Minimal band was the same quartet that we found practicing earlier!

Their music blended roots music and oral traditions from Mexico and Asia with contemporary music, improvisation and deep collaborative experimentation. According to their website, the group was formed in 2011 in the rice fields of Nanto, Japan. Cuatro Minimal are made up of singer and composer Juan Pablo Villa and guitarist Fernando Vigueras, both from the contemporary music scene of Mexico City, the traditional Korean percussion master Chang Jaehyo and one of Japan’s most respected world musicians, Sakaki Mango, who plays African thumb-piano and the gottan, a string instrument from Kagoshima region.

From the Theatre, we moved next to the Amphitheatre which was across the road from the cultural village. We had wanted to see the United States Air Force Band of the Pacific. However, it turned out that this wasn't a full-fledged band; just a five-piece Pacific Brass outfit that played through several traditional jazz pieces from United States history.

Before we moved off back to the main venue of the festival, we stayed to watch some cultural performances by the Sarawak Cultural Village troupe. Now, that was much more entertaining, in my opinion.

Now back to the cultural village, we made our way to the Theatre again and managed to catch the conclusion of Elisouma's performance. The band hails from the Comoros islands and comprises three members. In fact, the band is named after the three of them but you'll have to figure this out by yourself, just like I did. Eliasse Ben Joma is the youngest of the trio and is the guitarist, Athoumane Soubira is the guardian of the Comoran traditional music and plays the old traditional instruments, and Mwegne M’Madi is known for his unique and impressive Dzendze (box zither) playing groove. Unfortunately, I don't have much comment at all about them as I was more thankful to have escaped from the afternoon heat.

We then sauntered over to the main arena of the cultural village. There, a Chingay demonstration by a Penang troupe was holding centre stage but a distance away, there was another small crowd surrounding a group of percussion players were enjoying themselves. We ignored them and decided to sit down and await the main performances of the night on the Tree and Jungle stages.

Right on cue, the show began at 7,30 p.m. with a 10-minute performance by Danai Kuwai, a local Sarawakian band playing Orang Ulu music on traditional instruments like the sampe and sape. Their music has travelled far and wide and has bridged borders, generations and musical styles.

Then SwarAsia Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur took to the stage. It was a stirring performance of fusion eastern and western music by seven talented musicians led by sitar maestro, Samuel J Dass. Dass was the winner of seven gold medals in the World Championship of Performing Arts in Hollywood in 2006 and was acclaimed as the Champion of the World Plaques at the BOH Cameronian Arts Award for best original composition.

Volosi was an energetic five-piece Polish band. The musicians' main inspiration for the music comes from the people living in the Carpathian. Carpathian refers to a mountain range system that forms an arc roughly 1,500 km long across Central and Eastern Europe, making it the second-longest mountain range in Europe. Volosi are not afraid to include many elements borrowed from Balkan, gypsy and oriental music.

And finally, the last act we watched were Balkanopolis from Serbia. The band is fronted by a talented multi-instrumentalist named Slobodan Trkulja. At one point in this show, he was playing with bagpipes but from a distance, we could swear that it looked like he was holding a pig under his arm. Trkulja also possessed an incredible vocal range. Truly memorable performance but unfortunately, we had to leave the cultural village at 9.30 p.m. in order to catch the early shuttle bus back to Kuching, thus missing the last two acts by China's Shanren and Chile's Combo Ginebra. 😞