Friday, 28 February 2020

Videos, tour and quiz

This perspective below was from my friend, Lim Siang Jin, who wrote about the sixth PFS student leadership workshop in his facebook account.

The point of making things more meaningful? Part 5 -- An atypical lesson on the history of Penang Free School
During the recent PFS Student Leadership Workshop (February 22-23, 2020), Seng Sun and I managed to collapse a 350-page book down to 90 minutes of videos, a guided tour and a fun-filled quiz.
The 10 five-minute videos, made with a very limited budget and lots of help from our former classmates like Kumaravelloo, Jimmy Lim and Albert Quah, took us over a year to produce. Now on Youtube, they were aired during the session, much to the awe of the participants. You can view them here: 
A tour around the Pinhorn Hall (the school hall) was conducted by Seng Sun. On the huge wall plaques were names of luminaries like Gnoh Lean Tuck (Wu Lien Teh), Lim Chong Eu, Ong Chong Keng, Syed Omar and Yeoh Bok Choon, among others more. There were photos of former headmasters like William Hargreaves, Ralph Pinhorn, William Hamilton and Tan Boon Lin.
Perhaps the most engaging for the students was the highly-interactive and competitive quiz after the tour. There were 22 questions in all. Ten were "bonus" questions where the first group that rang the bell got to try; marks were deducted from those who tried and failed. The rush, the anticipation, the release of tension, etc, can be seen in the accompanying pictures.
This is one way of getting from the parts of meanings (with audio-visuals, fun and games) to the greater whole. One day, perhaps, some of the participants would be driven to read Seng Sun's 353-page "Let the Aisles Proclaim: The First Two Hundred Years of Penang Free School 1816-2016". Even if they did not, they now know there is a structured resource they can turn to on the school's history.
The other coaches were Loh Lean Kang (PFS 1969-74) and Tan Soo Choon (PFS 1969-75) who have led the overall workshops with us since the first set in 2017. This is the sixth set of two weekends each.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Dense as a brick

My wife received a call from an insurance agent this morning. Part of their conversation went like this: 
Agent: Good morning, would you like me to continue in Mandarin or in English? 
My wife: English. I don't understand Mandarin. 
Agent: My English is not good. Can I speak in Mandarin and you speak in English? 

Monday, 24 February 2020

Sixth student leadership workshop

My friends and I have concluded the first weekend of the sixth student leadership workshop for the Fourth and fifth Formers of Penang Free School. The final number of participants had been whittled down from the original 46 to 25. We had anticipated that right from the beginning. Some had unavoidable activities that couldn't be rescheduled for one reason or another, while some others were simply not interested at all. Their loss, I would say.

The workshop itself went well but of course, it was not without any pre-workshop drama. The surprise was that the school had, at the last minute, required the Form Five boys to attend an event to set their targets for the SPM examinations at the end of the year.

To say that we were upset over this would be an understatement. More than half of the participants would be affected. Luckily, the school Senior Assistants came to the fore: an arrangement was made to exempt the boys from attending that event. If they were required to be present at that event, I would dare say that my friends would have taken an unprecedented decision to cancel the workshop altogether. After weeks of planning, a spanner is thrown into the works. Who would have liked it? It wouldn't be a popular decision, though. The only ones to suffer would be the boys themselves. Luckily, a solution was found quickly and I've to thank Cikgu Samad for this.

So our event finally began last Saturday. But because the Parent-Teacher Association was using the Pinhorn Hall for their annual meeting, we were again required to use an alternative venue for the morning session. Normally, we would use the meeting room in the Archives Block but with the Wuhan coronavirus such a big issue nowadays, we felt that it would be better to choose a more spacious and airier place.

The Headmaster offered us the dining hall of the School Hostel. It wasn't a bad alternative: place was big enough and the windows could be opened on all two sides of the building. Unfortunately I could catch faint wafts of odour from somewhere. Others didn't. But then, my nose has always been more sensitive than many other persons'. Needless to say, the move back to our regular venue, the Pinhorn Hall, for the afternoon session on Saturday was a big relief to me.

The Headmaster turned up in the afternoon but he was clearly drained after chairing the Parent-Teacher Association meeting in the morning. Fully understandable, having to deal with the parents, some of whom are quite unreasonable. He was scheduled to speak to the participants but we decided to move it to the next day. He spoke off the cuff on Sunday but he had his pointers on his mobile. Anyway, I hope his speech will inspire the boys. It is full of wisdom. They can certainly take lessons from the video at the end of this story.

The coronavirus scare meant that we decided to take some precautions before, during and after the sessions on the two days. At the start of each day, we took the temperatures of everyone - participants, student coaches and even the coaches - and requested them to wash their hands or sanitise them often. Those with the occasional coughs were asked to wear their face masks. And similarly at the end of each day, their temperatures were taken again.

As usual, we have been starting each day with the participants singing the School Rally. It was a practice that I had introduced two years ago. Nothing like the School Rally to set the tone for the leadership workshop. I experimented on the second day by requesting the boys to sing the School Rally the way that the Old Frees do by dragging out the word "soul". I thought it timely to let them hear the difference.

For only the second time, we introduced a quiz into the workshop; all questions were based on the history of the school. Prior to the quiz, we had shown the videos that Siang Jin had made last year, and which were available on the Internet, and I had taken the boys on a tour of the Pinhorn Hall. The wooden plaques at the back of the hall were significant points of interest.

The second half of the sixth student leadership workshop will take place on 26th and 27th of March.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Five moons

I woke up early today, having waited patiently since about three weeks ago when I learnt that both the moon and Jupiter would be very close together in the dawn sky. True enough, it was a most brilliant sight. When I gazed upwards, there was the crescent moon and slightly above it was a very bright Jupiter. Of course, I took several shots of the brilliant duo in the sky and hoped that one of them would turn out right for me. Here it is below. It was a one-second exposure. The Olympus E-PL7 camera was handheld but braced against the top of a car for stability. Should have brought along my beanbag for extra stability but I forgot.

Two things stood out from this one-second exposure: the first is of course, the light from the earth shining onto the darkened surface of the moon. The earthshine was bright enough for me to see the darker and lighter patches on this surface. And the second was, of course, Jupiter's four visible Galilean moons, the only ones that can be seen with a telescope - or in my case, a tele-zoom lens - from earth.

Sometimes we are lucky to be able to see all four moons, and sometimes we see less than four because the moons happen to have moved either in front of or behind their mother planet. Today, I was lucky to see all four of the Galilean moons lined up properly. The second picture below is a digitised magnification of Jupiter and its moons. Not very sharp when magnified, though. I reckon that my pictures would have had a better resolution if I was equipped with a professional lens, but I don't.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Penang Free School and Church Square

I've always been very fascinated whenever I learn of a new source of really old Penang pictures on the Internet. I would always scour the website to see whether or not there are pictures of the St George's Church.

Actually, my interest is not in the church itself. Far from it, I'm more interested in some particular buildings beside the church  for these would be the first permanent buildings of Penang Free School: the first buildings before it moved to the double-storey structure that today fronts Farquhar Street and would be occupied later by Hutchings School and then Penang State Museum. The first Free School buildings in Church Square before the school moved to its present site in Green Lane.

There are numerous pictures of the old school building in Farquhar Street, and there are many more pictures of the present main Penang Free School building in Green Lane too. But it is very difficult to come across pictures of the original Penang Free School buildings in Church Square itself. I would always consider it a bonus if I can find part of the first Free School building in a picture of the St George's Church.

The latest art collection website that came to my awareness today is that of the Royal Collection Trust. The Trust looks after the Royal Collection, one of the most important art collections in the world, and manages the public opening of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth. The Trust holds several thousand pictures and among them are about 80-plus of old Penang. As luck would have it, there's a picture of the St George's Church in the collection.

Attributed to Kristen Feilberg (1839-1919) (photographer)

Elegant, isn't it, the church? The church has an octastyle portico and triangular pediment. Behind the pediment is a spire featuring a dark colour clock. But wait, what's that building in the background? The one with the white facade? It's a building that can be easily dismissed by the casual viewer of this picture. After all, its design was almost too simple, none of the grandeur of the church. However, it is to be noted that this was one of the first buildings of Penang Free School in Church Square, one of the five blocks built for the school and which were separated by verandahs. Here is a closer look. Impressive, isn't it? All the details preserved in a picture that's already more than 150 years old.

An update: The above picture is not new to me. I had seen it in 2015 or 2016 when I was researching for my book, Let the Aisles Proclaim. However, it was not used in the book. But it is good to see it again, especially when viewed in the greater context of the full Kristen Feilberg photograph.

Monday, 17 February 2020


My story on lift buttons [Note: Americans refer to them as elevator buttons] brings to mind a new and possibly useful 😝 word for everyone to know: fomite. It's a word associated with the spread of germs, viruses and bacteria through handling of dirty items. This information below is taken from Wikipedia, which I normally accept with a grain of salt but this one I do accept fully since it is simply a definition of a word:

A fomes (pronounced /ˈfoʊmiːz/) or fomite (/ˈfoʊmaɪt/) is any inanimate object, that when contaminated with or exposed to infectious agents, such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses or fungi, can transfer disease to a new host. For humans, skin cells, hair, clothing, and bedding are common hospital sources of contamination of fomites.
Fomites are associated particularly with hospital-acquired infections (HAI), as they are possible routes to pass pathogens between patients. Stethoscopes and neckties are two such fomites associated with health care providers. Basic hospital equipment, such as IV drip tubes, catheters, and life support equipment, can also be carriers, when the pathogens form biofilms on the surfaces. Careful sterilization of such objects prevents cross-infection.
In addition to objects in hospital settings, other common fomites for humans are door knobs, light switches, handrails, elevator buttons, television remote controls, pens, and other items that are frequently touched by different people and that may be infrequently cleaned.
Researchers have discovered that smooth (non-porous) surfaces like door knobs transmit bacteria and viruses better than porous materials like paper money because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the contagion, making it harder to contract through simple touch. Fomites include soiled clothes, towels, linens, handkerchiefs, cups, spoons, pencils, syringes, and surgical dressings

Friday, 14 February 2020

Tambun (tausar piah) biscuits

When I was having the get-together with some of my old schoolmates earlier this week, one of them brought out packets of tausar piah or tambun biscuits for all of us. Said that these were from one of his friends. Not selling in the open market but being baked on a small scale for people who wants them. But methinks, this was just to test the market before the tausar piah is launched.

I found the biscuits to be well made. The pastry was very light and fluffy and the filling was delicious. More flavourful, in fact, than the more commercially available ones from the likes of Him Heang, Ghee Heang, Ban Heang and all the other Heangs in Penang. Only drawback was that it was rather sweet. For me, anyway. And it means that I can only take one tausar piah per day. If the bakery can cut down on the sugar, I'm sure it would still taste all right. I have passed my feedback to my old schoolmate. I hope it will be taken constructively. 👍👍

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Lift buttons

Maybe I was in the wrong place at the right time, or maybe not. But the fact was that I happened to be on the ground floor of a flat on Penang island about a fortnight ago, waiting for someone to come down from his apartment unit. So there I was, sitting on a bench and watching people go by when suddenly, a garbage man passed by me with his garbage bin in tow.

He walked up to the lift and pressed a button with his gloved hand. When the lift door opened, he walked in and pressed a button there. Came out, waited for that lift to go up and then he pressed the button again to summon a second lift. All within sight of me.

I was horrified. We know how clean garbage bins are, right? They are hardly the cleanest of containers. In fact, they are dirtier than dirty. Wearing gloves will make no difference to cleanliness and hygiene if they are also used to touch garbage and everything else. The same gloves being used to press on the lift buttons simply transfers the contamination from garbage bin to the lifts!

Really! This was something that I saw this with my eyes. Imagine those who are not aware of the invisible dirt that has been transferred from the lift buttons to their own hands. All the germs, viruses and bacteria. Users blissfully pressing the lift buttons with their fingers and then touching their faces, their food and everything else! That's how clean lift buttons are.

And that is why for several years now, I've been telling my family that public amenities are not the cleanest things in the world. You just can't see the dirt that's been transferred from one spot to another. But assuredly, the contamination is all around us.

So what are we going to do on a personal level? Granted that we can't change society's habits, we can only change the way we do things ourselves, especially at this time when the Wuhan coronavirus is spreading around the world. So what we do when we are at the lifts? Easy, at the very least, don't press the buttons with your fingers. Use your knuckle instead. I would prefer to have unseen germs on my knuckle than have the germs at the tip of my fingers. And secondly, disinfect your hands at the earliest opportunity. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after you exit from the lift. That's the easiest way to reduce the germs, if not ridding them totally.

By the way, I hear that in our southern neighbour which has been harder hit by the coronavirus than Malaysia, even condoms have been flying off the shelves at an unprecedented rate. Whatever for? So that people can use a condom-wearing finger to press on the lift buttons? Don't laugh. This may actually be an effective way to lessen contamination.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Penang get-togethers

A very busy day for me yesterday. First, it was a timsum breakfast with some of my ex-colleagues from Ban Hin Lee Bank. Incidentally, we all live on mainland Province Wellesley, which makes it easier for us to get together. So we spent something like two hours there at the timsum shop, together with a long-time former customer of the Bukit Mertajam branch of the bank. Mr Hor is his name, and he is 82 years old (or young).

Then later in the day, I drove out to The Old Frees' Association for a Chinese New Year dinner with my old schoolmates. Another feisty occasion with flowing beer and wine. Naturally, enjoyed myself a lot too with my old mates. Curiously enough, some other schoolmates were also having a CNY dinner in Kuala Lumpur.

Timsum breakfast at the Chao Zhou Restaurant in Bukit Mertajam with ex-colleagues from my banking days. Left to right: Tan Seong Lye, special guest Mr Hor, Wooi Siew Phew, Tan Heng Boo, Ng Fook Chin, Wong Hionh Wah, Koh Seak Chin, Wong Yuen Chee and myself
Chinese New Year dinner at the OFA Restaurant with my old schoolmates, some with their partners. But basically, the batang-batang in this picture were, seated around the table from left to right, Wong Chye Chye, Cheah Swee Poh, Ooi Kah Theang, myself, Andrew Choong, Lim Teik Wah, Sim Hock Thiam, Leslie Lee, Sanan Buranakol and Wong Hang Yoke, with Sukumaran and Ho Siang Juan standing at the back.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Personal hygiene

We are living in very trying times indeed, what with the Wuhan coronavirus infections spiralling out of control. The most worrying point is that this is an invisible enemy. Some of my friends say a faceless enemy. But no matter what we would like to describe it, the virus is in our midst and the infected woman in Sungai Petani means that the virus is not very far from Penang. Who knows how much transmission and damage have already been done in the past few days while the lady's family members were moving around without caution?

Some say the best way to avoid infection is to wear a face mask in public so that other people's cough droplets do not get into your system. But my belief is that boosting up the immune system with Vitamins C and D and maintaining good personal hygiene are equally important. For example, I saw a Bloomberg story today that stressed on hand hygiene when flying. But the advice is equally applicable in our daily applications too. Let me quote from this Bloomberg story:
Hand hygiene. Contrary to what people think, the hands are the way that these viruses most efficiently spread. Top of the list is frequent hand washing, hand sanitising, or both. Avoid touching your face. If you cough or sneeze, it’s important to cover your face with a sleeve. Better yet, a tissue to be disposed of carefully, and then sanitising the hands afterward. Washing your hands and drying them is the best procedure. When that’s not easy to do, alcohol-based sanitiser is a good second-best.
Today too, I saw a notice advising people to take the highest precaution and in addition to wearing face masks in public areas, consciously to practice:
  • washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 70% alcohol content if soap and water are not readily available;
  • avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • staying home when you are sick;
  • covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throwing the tissue away in the trash;
  • cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objected and surfaces using a regular household cleansing spray or wipe.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

6th leadership workshop

Mobile numbers deleted to preserve privacy.
The start of yet another academic year means that my friends and I are getting ready to proceed with the sixth PFS Student Leadership Workshop for the fourth and fifth formers of Penang Free School.

Last Wednesday, Lean Kang, Swee Poh, Soo Choon and I were at the school to carry out an initial interview assessment of the Forms Four and Five pupils who had been identified by the teachers and prefects to attend this year's first weekend of the workshop later this month.

Initially, we were a bit apprehensive when we failed to receive a feedback from the school on the number of boys that would be called for the assessment, but on the eve of our return to the school, Lean Kang received a list of 47 names!

What a pleasant surprise! In the past three years, we have never had more than 30 persons responding to each our workshops. whether they be for the Fourth and Fifth Formers or for the Sixth Formers. And then with natural attrition, people dropping out because they cannot commit to all the four days of a workshop, the numbers would be whittled down to about 20, sometimes less than that! So to get this initial number, 47, for the assessment really surpassed our expectations!

Of course, these boys have still to make a final commitment. They have yet to speak to their parents or guardians. We can only know the final number on the sixth after the boys submit their application forms and make their deposits. Yes, we do insist on a deposit from them but we refund it after they complete the full programme. Otherwise, we shall pass the money to the school. So after they make a final commitment, we shall then know how many will be taking part in this forthcoming workshop. Keeping our fingers crossed!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

The start of China's mass cremation

[A NOTE: This story was originally meant to be released on 26 Jan 2020 but then, I realised that the 30th of January was only a few days away. Please read my story to find out the significance of this date, the 30th of January. Thus, I decided that I should defer my story till today.]

The emergence of the Wuhan coronavirus, like the SARS and the MERS coronaviruses before it, is nothing new. There have been epidemics sweeping the world before. One only needs to think back to October 1910, exactly 110 years ago. At that time, China was hit by the pneumonic plague. At the height of winter in January of the following year (1911), Dr Wu Lien-Teh travelled to Harbin to investigate an unknown disease which was killing 99.9% of its victims. It was the plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia and ultimately, it claimed some 60,000 victims. Wu Lien-Teh would be remembered for his role in asking for imperial sanction to cremate plague victims. In an extract from his autobiography, Plague Fighter (pages 28 to 31), he wrote:

When in January, Dr Wu paid a visit to the burial ground, he was shocked to see the dismal sight of this long row of coffins and corpses. This constituted a serious menace to public health, and something drastic and immediate had to be done to remove it. The only solution appeared to be mass cremation. But here certain almost insurmountable difficulties presented themselves. Such mass cremations were unheard of. To the Chinese especially, with whom ancestor worship was almost a religion and the care of ancestral tombs a mark of filial piety, asuch a mass cremation would be regarded as a sacrilege. It seemed that nothing less than an Imperial edict would be needed to overcome public opposition. But first the opinion of the local officials and leaders must be won over. To do this, Dr Wu invited such of the local officials as had the stomach for such gruesome sights to drive out with him along the line of heaped up coffins and corpses and see for themselves the true conditions.
After the drive, all the local leaders agreed to support Dr Wu in his petition to the Imperial government in Peking for sanction to cremate the plague corpses. In his telegraphic memorial to the Throne, Dr Wu mentioned the increasing danger to all concerned - both those on duty and the populace - from the presence of the 2000 unburied plague corpses.lying out on the open ground, the practical impossibility of finding sufficient labourers to dig the necessary trenches, the unwillingness of the masses to undertake such work, the danger of rats gnawing the infected bodies and later conveying the pest and also the discouraging effect on the medical staff caused by the sight of the unburied dead. Dr Wu ended his petition by guaranteeing that if imperial sanction is given, the 2000 bodies would be disposed of within three days. Everyone waited most anxiously for the expected imperial consent, which would indeed break all precedent not only in China but perhaps in world history. One day went by, followed by another, and still no reply. Late in the afternoon of the third day, a telegraphic communication was received from the Foreign Office, saying that Dr Wu's petition had been sanctioned by the Emperor, and that he could go ahead with his plan.

That was January 30. Forthwith Dr Wu arranged with Dr Chuan of the medical staff to engage 200 labourers and start work early next morning to collect the coffins and bodies and arrange them in tiers of one hundred. Mechanical pumps and hoses ordinarily used for fire-fighting were sent to the spot. Altogether, twenty-two piles were raised. At two in the afternoon of January 31, some senior medical officers as well as a few selected civil and military officials were invited to watch the first mass cremation of infected bodies in history. Kerosene was pumped onto the piles, and when this method was found to be rather slow, the more intrepid labourers, who had become interest in the operation, asked to be allowed to climb to the top of the piles with tinfuls of kerosene and empty the contents from there. Permission was gladly given, and before an hour was out, every pile had received its share of paraffin. Then the order was given for fires to be lighted, beginning with the pile nearest the gathering and ending with the one farthest away. In a short while the whole area was ablaze with burning coffins, and cracking and emitting black smoke. Photographs were taken of the historic scene, and soon the tall piles could be seen slowly crumbling down to the ground which had become softened by the intense heat, Great was the elation and relief of everyone concerned at this climax to their efforts, and it was generally felt that the most effective day of their arduous campaign had been achieved by this great and historical operation.
Other parts of the country soon followed suit, and all reported how much easier their task of succouring the living now appeared, when the dead could be simply cremated in the open crematoria without any fear of future complications arising from the gnawing of infected corpses by susceptible rats in the coming spring. 
A remarkable change for the better now took place in the anti-plague campaign. January 31, the day the bonfire of the plague corpses was started, coincided with the opening of the Chinese New Year, which was based upon the lunar calendar. In order to cheer the sad hearts of the people, who had lost almost one quarter of their entire number of 24,000, leaflets were issued by the Anti-plague Bureau, calling upon them to celebrate the auspicious occasion by burning the usual fire-crackers inside their houses instead of outside in the streets, as was done in former years. According to ancient Chinese beliefs, these fire-crackers, when let off, served two purposes: one, ushering in good luck to the accompaniment of the prolonged din, and two, dispelling any evil forces which happened to be lurking around. Since the plague evil had been in their midst for at least three months, doing incalculable harm to their families and material possessions, it was hoped that such burning of the popular fire-crackers within their dwellings might smoke out all the unseen spirits responsible for their woes. From the scientific standpoint, this mass experiment of widespread disinfection with the gases of sulphur from the fumes of the burning fire-crackers, might at least have a salutary effect, on however small a scale, upon the germ-laden air of the "haunted" houses of notorious Fuchiatien. 
Strange to relate, as if in answer to the prayers of thousands, the mortality figures began to decline from that very day, January 31. All through the month of February, progress continued without any relapse, and the figures diminished day by day, bringing fresh hopes to the people, who thus celebrated their New Year without something approaching their customary high spirits. These New Year celebrations were kep up, as usual, for fifteen days, and served as the only holiday truly enjoyed by artisans and labourers and their families.
The last case of plague was registered on March 1, though at other centres the outbreak lasted more or less severely for another month.
The cremation of these infected victims turned out to be the turning point of the epidemic, and the suppression of this plague pandemic changed medical progress in China.

[ANOTHER NOTE: I own the first edition of Wu Lien-Teh's book, PLAGUE FIGHTER, The autobiography of a modern Chinese physician, published and printed in 1959 by W Heffer & Sons Ltd of Cambridge, and the above extract was taken from that edition.]

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Four places of worship

Managed to visit four religious centres during this Chinese New Year. First, it was the Nandaka Vihara in Cherok Tokun, Bukit Mertajam on the first day. While the dharma talks were going on in the old meditation hall, I was taking a stroll elsewhere on the grounds. Didn't stray too far, mind you, just to the newer meditation hall and their newly-constructed pavillion.

The original meditation hall. Devotees listening intensely to the dharma talks.

As usual, the place was thronged with Burmese ladies in their best Sunday attire.

A group of visiting monks from Myanmar

Until last year, this huge image of Kuan Imm
 dominated the main hall of this place of worship.
On the third day of Chinese New Year, visited the Triple Wisdom Hall in Pangkor Road and the Kuan Imm temple in Pitt Street, both located in George Town.

The Triple Wisdom Hall is like an oasis in the city. Clean and quiet. The main worship hall used to have a huge image of Kuan Imm but last year, the whole structure collapsed due to a termite infestation. The Kuan Imm statue has since been replaced with three other images - the Amitabha Buddha in the centre and flanked by two Bodhisattas, including Kuan Imm on the right. Note: As the Triple Wisdom Temple belongs to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, we find the statues decorated more elaborately.

The main hall of the Triple Wisdom Hall today

As usual, the Kuan Imm Temple was packed with people - worshippers, tourists and the less privileged members of society. The latter would be waiting for handouts of red packets from the visitors. Because the public can no longer bring their lit joss-sticks into the temple building, it has become smoke-free and a more comfortable place to visit.

The main altar in the front hall

A priest waiting for worshippers who would wish to have some chantings done

A small, secluded garden at the back of the temple

On the fourth day, we felt that it was time to visit the Tua Pek Kong Temple in the vicinity of our neighbourhood. Normally, we would visit this temple on the first day itself after greeting in the New Year but this time, we decided to defer the visit. When we visited in the afternoon, we found the place almost deserted.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Long exposure

Readers and followers of this blog will realise that I have rekindled an old passion of moon photography. Of course, I don't have a telescope or long telephoto lens to do so; only a regular non-professional standard long zoom lens on my rather basic camera. With the little details that I can get through digital photo-manipulation, I'm quite happy and satisfied with all my amaterish efforts.

Back to moon photography, On the night of 26 Jan 2020, I had gone out of the house purposely to take a picture of the new moon. Last night, 27 Jan 2020, I wanted to step out of the house again to take another picture of the moon, now with a slightly more visible crescent, but I was surprised to see it right above my neighbour's house opposite me. Hovering low but still above the roof.

So here it is, the still relatively new moon on the third day (or night) of Chinese New Year. But there was more to last night's photography session. Seeing that I could rest my camera securely on the bonnet of my car, I decided to take longer exposure pictures of the moon. One second, two seconds, four seconds....even up to 10 seconds.

My conclusion was that despite resting the camera on a bean bag to eliminate shaking and using a time delay to trigger the shutter, anything above a four-second exposure was not ideal because of the earth's almost imperceptible movement. The four-second snapshot was satisfactory enough. And as can be seen, they showed up the faint outline of the whole moon: the bright crescent as well as the darker region lit up, I suppose, by earthshine.

27 Jan 2020, 7.44pm, ISO 200, f5.1, 1/40s
(third day of Chinese 1st lunar month)

27 Jan 2020, 7.58pm, ISO 200, f5.6, 2.5s
(third day of Chinese 1st lunar month)

Sunday, 26 January 2020

New moon

It is so much easier to take a photograph of the full moon because we can see the round globe in the sky all through the night. It rises at about seven o'clock in the evening and sets 12 hours later. However, it is very difficult to take a picture of the new moon on the first day because of its close proximity to the sun from the earth's perspective. In fact, the new moon is impossible to see as it is on the same side of the sky as the sun. During this time, the moon and the sun rise and set at about the same time.

There are other reasons too, of course. Since the sun is so over-powering bright, we cannot see the moon, Thus, what we can normally observe as a "new" moon is actually at least two days old. As it has moved slightly away from the sun already, that is the reason why we see it as a very narrow crescent. It can be very easily missed if we don't know where to look for it. Moreover, the "new" moon only appears very low in the sky and for a short time only before the earth's rotation moves it below the horizon.

Today, for example, I had to walk to the main road about five minutes away from my house in order to have a good view of the sky and horizon. So there I was at the road junction at about 7.40pm and peering away at the darkening sky during twilight. But for a good 12 to 15 minutes, I could not see any new moon in the sky. I had almost given up hope when suddenly at 7.55pm, I caught sight of it, a very faint, thin crescent. The first new moon of the Year of the Rat.

26 Jan 2020, 7.58pm, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/3s
(second day of Chinese 1st lunar month)

The Wuhan coronavirus

The most worrisome news of the week is the continuing spread of the Wuhan coronavirus with the death toll and infections rising in its country of origin and also affecting many countries around the world. Here in Malaysia, the word is out that four Chinese nationals who had slipped in Johor Bahru from Singapore were confirmed as having been affected by the virus. How they managed to slip through Immigration in Johore Bahru or why Singapore Immigration allowed them through their end is beyond me when they were already on high alert. With these cases here, nobody should take any chance. I think the N95 masks is a priority requirement when in confined public places like cinemas and shopping malls. Below is some information from The Guardian website.

[UPDATE: Singapore by road looks likely the exit point of the coronavirus into our country. It's not only these four cases. There is another potential one of a Chinese family trying to slip out of Senai airport last night after they refused to quarantine their baby at the hospital. Police nabbed the family at the airport.]

What is coronavirus and where has it come from?
Coronavirus has flu-like symptoms, which can develop into severe respiratory problems. The current outbreak is understood to be a new strain of coronavirus, not previously found in humans. The virus can be transmitted between humans and animals, making it harder to contain. Other strains of coronavirus are not as dangerous - the common cold is one. Authorities have said that the current strain of the virus originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China, which has seen the most severe outbreak of coronavirus. It is thought that the market was engaged in illegal wildlife sales, and has now been shut down.

What other coronaviruses have there been?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. Although Mers is believed to be transmitted to humans from dromedaries, the original hosts for both coronaviruses were probably bats. There are suspicions now that the new coronavirus may have originated in bats or snakes, and possibly then was transmitted to humans via an intermediary species. In 2002 Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.

What are the symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus?
The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Darker side of the moon

This is not a trick photograph. I did nothing to manipulate this picture except to crop the image and sharpen it. While outdoors to take photographs of the waning moon this morning, I was quite surprised to notice in the viewfinder that the darker part of the moon surface could be seen, but only barely, due to what is called "earthshine": light from the earth's surface shining and dimly lighting up the moon. You can just about make out the surface features on the moon!

Normally, I wouldn't have been able to see this in my pictures because the sunlit portion would have over-powered the darker surface but because the crescent was so thin there was not enough light to do just that. So here it is, our smiling moon on the 22nd of January 2020 at 6.08am. P.S. Chinese New Year is only three days away....

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

60th anniversary

The Straits Times had reported Dr Wu Lien-teh's death in the 22 Jan 1960 edition of the newspaper:

Dr Wu - plague fighter - dies, aged 81
PENANG, Thurs. - Dr Wu Lien Teh, world authority on plague, collapsed and died suddenly today in his new home in Chor Sin Kheng Road, Ayer Itam, here.
Dr Wu, 81, had only a week ago moved here from Ipoh, where he had been practising, to spend his retirement in his home-town.
He had been unwell for the past two days.
At 11.30am today, he had a stroke and died soon afterward.
Dr Wu, who saved millions of lives in China in the 1910 plague, recently published his autobiography, "Plague Fighter".
He leaves a widow, two sons, Mr Fred Wu, a lawyer in Singapore, and Mr John Wu, a medical student in Hong Kong, and three daughters.
Dr Wu was the fourth of 10 children of an immigrant goldsmith in Penang. He began his education at the Penang Free School and, at 17, won a Queen's Scholarship and went to study medicine.
In 1903, he became the first research student at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur.
Following his success in stopping the plague in China, he became surgeon-general to Chiang Kai-shek, health superintendent of the national railways and director-general of the national quarantine service.