Monday, 24 June 2019

Penang screening (latest)

I'm really looking forward to attend the screening of this 50-minute documentary film in Penang. 

With a title like The School That Built A Nation, it has built up a lot of anticipation in me.

As can be seen from this image, The Old Frees' Association in Penang has also released the details for this charity screening, which will be at the Golden Screen Cinema at Queensbay Mall on 21 July 2019 at 10 o'clock in the morning.

Tickets are available from the Free School office as well as from The Old Frees' Association. They are priced at RM100 each and the proceeds will be channelled to the PFS Foundation Fund. I do hope that the Old Frees and non-Old Free well-wishers will seize the opportunity to go and watch the documentary. Please do not let any personal hang-ups prevent you from re-living and appreciating your good old schooldays.

The Penang Governor will be present and from what I know from people in the OFA management committee, the Chief Minister has also been invited. Hope he will give some face and attend.

Here is the teaser trailer for anyone who haven't seen it.

Note: The School That Built A Nation was commissioned by the Old Frees' Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor as their contribution towards Penang Free School's Bicentenary in 2016, chronicling the history of Free School right up till the Bicentenary celebrations. This documentary completes the contributions by the three PFS alumni associations in Malaysia and Singapore. In 2012, The Old Frees' Association had produced the book, Fidelis, while The Old Frees' Association Singapore came out with Live Free in 2016.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Hargreaves House

Hargreaves House. One of the original five sport houses in Penang Free School when they were set up by Headmaster David R Swaine in 1928 to replace the old system. The other Houses were named after Pinhorn, Hamilton, Cheeseman and Wu Lien-teh.

During my time in the school, from 1966 till 1972, Hargreaves House was the joker in the pack. Never first among the six sport houses (Tunku Putra House was added to the list in 1967) at the School Sports and usually languishing last or near the bottom in the standings.

An empty streak that lasted from 1959 till 1977. Significantly, ever since the School began keeping records after the Second World War, the boys (and girls) Hargreaves House only woke up in the Sports Day of 1958, 1977, 1987, 1994 and 1996. All somnambulists in the other years' competitions.

Therefore, I was quite amazed when I turned up for Sports Day at the Free School on 27 April 2019 to find Hargreaves House leading the field. At the top of the heap. This was the grip that the House held throughout and as the day progressed, the gap grew wider. Such was the dominance of Hargreaves House that I couldn't resist having a picture taken with the scoreboard. After all, this is still my House. I'm proud of their turnaround 😂

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The PFS spirit in Beijing

Faces familiar to me at the Penang international airport this morning. The boys and the two accompanying lady teachers were flying off to Beijing for the World Scholar's Cup, an international student debating competition. The three boys on the right are now studying at INTI International College in Penang, but they still have no qualms at representing PFS in this competition. The Free School spirit still runs deep within them. Fortis atque Fidelis.

The text below is adapted from an appeal letter to potential sponsors last April:
We are always seeing discussions about the state of affairs in our alma mater and how standards in Penang Free School have dropped in parallel with the education standard in Malaysia. But it may interest you to know that our energetic Headmaster has been doing many things to improve PFS standards and the education of Frees. 
One area is English. He resuscitated the Debating Society in the hope of improving the standard of English in the school. He started a Speaker’s Corner where a Club or Society is given a topic to prepare and present to the student audience monthly or on a regularly basis.
Earlier this year, the School had sent eight teams to the World Scholar’s Cup Regional Round in Penang (compared to Han Chiang Private which sent 81 teams). In any case, one team won First Place in Debate (there are a few categories) and qualified for the WSC Global Round in Beijing together with another Free School team. This Global Round will see 5,000 participants from about 50 nations. 
The two teams of six students are keen to go to Beijing and carry the PFS banner further. Their parents have agreed to support them for their flights, accommodation, visa and other incidental costs. However, the potential show stopper is the daunting registration fee of RM3,200 per student. My friends and I were helping them to source for funds so that they could go. We are hoping that their success and trip would inspire others to learn English more seriously or even join the Debating Society. There were about two or three Form One boys who took part in the WSC Regional Round and won multiple awards for the school. We think the HM’s strategy of improving the usage and study of English in the school via the Debating Society is seeing positive results.
All these six boys who are going to Beijing went through our PFS Student Leadership Workshops last year and this year, and were some of the obvious leaders in the school and hopefully, in their adult lives in rebuilding Malaysia. They worked very hard to revive the Debating Society and mentoring their juniors. They worked very hard to compete. These young leaders now have the audacity to go beyond what they were given by the school, and aim for breakthroughs. And they are willing to work for it. They are going for a moon shot chance to show their worth in Beijing!

Monday, 17 June 2019

Joe McBride

I first heard this song playing constantly in some test transmissions of a local radio station several years ago. Catchy tune throughout. However, I was unable to place a title to it because it was never announced. Frustrated in this sense, I recorded a short portion of the song and uploaded it to the watzatsong website in the hope that someone would be able to identify it.

After 855 days and some false leads, someone finally identified the tune and pointed me to a YouTube clip which featured Joe McBride playing Keepin' It Real. There's no entry about him in Wikipedia but his own website described him as having been born and raised in Fulton, Missouri. He started playing the piano at four years old, and his earliest influences were gospel music, bebop, straight-ahead jazz, Motown, and ’70s R&B and funk. In his teens, he began singing and playing at jazz clubs. But also around this time, he was stricken with a degenerative eye disease that eventually claimed his sight. But his passion for music didn’t diminish and, taking inspiration from Ray Charles, another blind musician, McBride continued his musical studies at the Missouri School for the Blind and Webster University in suburban St. Louis, where he majored in jazz performance. He also attended the University of North Texas.

His website says that McBride has nine compact disc albums to his credit and Spotify lists six of them, including Keepin' It Real, from which this song was taken.

Monday, 10 June 2019

A mini Penang open

I was at the Heah Joo Seang Hall past 11 o'clock on Sunday morning. Intention was to attend the opening minutes of the Penang Chess Association's annual general meeting. Had been invited by the president. However, I found that the meeting was already over. It had been held the day before, on Saturday. "I've lost on time," I texted the president. "Oops," she replied, and then adding after a while, "Sorry, my bad." She had misinformed me. The AGM was supposed to be on Saturday but she told me Sunday.

Never mind, I said. At least, the ninth and final round of the mini Penang open chess tournament was still going on. But it being the final round, most of the games had already concluded. Walking around the hall to look at the remaining games, I was impressed by the game on the fourth table between Wong Jianwen and Li Bo. Wong is a local player from Kuala Lumpur while Li is an international master from China, a rather eccentric character if I may add, and this was his second third time playing in a tournament in Penang.

[Event "2nd Mini Penang Chess Open 2019"]
[Site "St Xavier's High School, Penang, Malaysia"]
[Date "2019.06.09"]
[Round "9"]
[Board "4"]
[White "Wong, Jianwen"]
[Black "Li, Bo"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A36"]
[WhiteElo "2287"]
[BlackElo "2330"]
[PlyCount "149"]
[EventDate "2019.06.05"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "MAS"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 O-O 5. e4 c5 6. Nge2 Nc6 7. d3 d6 8. O-O a6 9. h3 Rb8 10. a4 Ne8 11. Be3 Nc7 12. d4 cxd4 13. Nxd4 Ne6 14. Nde2 Nc5 15. Rb1 Nb4 16. f4 b6 17. Nd5 Nxd5 18. cxd5 Bd7 (see first diagram)

When I began watching this game, this position had just been reached. Li was attacking the a4-pawn with his bishop and knight, and Wong could have played 19 b3 to protect it. But no, he coolly ignored the threat and brought his knight to a central position. Would his opponent take the bait? Apparently, yes.  Here is the continuation of the game:

19. Nd4 Bxa4 20. b3 Bd7 21. b4 Na4 22. Qd3 b5 23. Rfc1 Rc8 24. Nc6 Bxc6 25. dxc6 Nb2 26. Qb3 Nc4 27. Rxc4 bxc4 28. Qxc4 Qc7 29. e5 dxe5 30. Qxa6 (see second diagram)

Connected passed pawns on the queenside, pair of double bishops, how can Wong lose? He didn't, he didn't lose. But Li was a stubborn fella, full of resistance. Somehow to his credit, he managed to convert the game into an opposite-coloured bishops ending. Drawn in most cases but this game was far from being drawn. The pair of unhindered passed pawns on the queenside could still tilt the balance in Wong's favour. At the end, Li refused to accept the inevitable loss and continued playing the game until checkmate.

30...exf4 31. gxf4 Qd6 32. Qc4 e5 33. b5 exf4 34. Bc5 Qf6 35. Bxf8 Bxf8 36. Rf1 Qe5 37. Qxf4 Bc5+ 38. Kh1 Qxf4 39. Rxf4 f5 40. Rc4 Be3 41. Rc3 Bb6 42. Ra3 Rb8 43. Ra6 Bd8 44. Ra7 Bb6 (44...Rxb5? 45. c7 wins) 45. Rd7 Kh8 46. Bf1 Ba5 47. Kg2 Bb6 48. Kf3 g5 49. Bd3 Rd8 50. Bxf5 Rxd7 51. cxd7 Kg7 52. Ke4 Kf6 53. Kd5 Kxf5 54. Kc6 Ke6 55. Kxb6 Kxd7 56. Ka7 h5 57. b6 g4 58. hxg4 hxg4 59. b7 g3 60. b8=Q g2 61. Qh2 g1=B+ 62. Qxg1 Ke6 63. Qd4 Kf5 64. Qe3 Kf6 65. Qe4 Kg5 66. Qf3 Kg6 67. Qf4 Kg7 68. Qf5 Kh8 69. Qg5 Kh7 70. Kb7 Kh8 71. Kc7 Kh7 72. Kd7 Kh8 73. Ke7 Kh7 74. Kf7 Kh8 75. Qg7#  1-0

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Market steps repaired

The most convenient market for me to visit in Bukit Mertajam is the Kampong Baru market. If I were to walk there, the market is just a mere 1.2 kilometres away. But normally in the morning, I would drive and park there. Sometimes, it would be along the main road, the Jalan Kampong Baru, or sometimes I'd choose to park at the back of the market, somewhere in Taman Perpaduan.

Because of the crowds leading up to Chinese New Year, I had been finding myself parking in Taman Perpaduan more often than not. And then it would be a short walk along an unnamed road and up a flight of metal steps to reach the market.

In February when I was climbing this flight of steps, I had found that some of the steps were rusting away and were in danger of collapse. A user would have to step gingerly on them. For me, there was no problem because I was already aware of the impending danger but I also knew that a lot of other users, especially the senior marketing ladies, may not be. The metal steps were their connection to the market. I was actually fearing for their safety.

I decided to inform the authorities. But who should I contact? The Province Wellesley Local Council? Or the State Assemblyman (or in the case here, the State Assemblywoman)? Between the two, I decided to contact the State Assemblywoman. No point being elected a State Assemblyman or Assemblywoman if he or she does nothing to help the constituents.

So I dropped her a whatsapp message on 27 March: "Dear Saudari Heng, it will be greatly appreciated if you can look into replacing this flight of steps at the back of the Kampong Baru market which is rusting away and posing a danger to people climbing it daily to get to the market." She responded with an emoticon as an acknowledgment.

Then at the beginning of April, I saw that one of the shaky steps had already given way. Some kind soul had attempted to warn users by pasting pieces of paper on the railings to say "be careful" but what good would these pieces of paper do if nothing else was done. And it wasn't just this particular step that had collapsed. One or two more were going to collapse soon. People who continue to use this metal structure would have to lift their legs high to climb up or down two levels of the steps. It was dangerous.

So on 4 April, I sent another whatsapp message to Heng Lee Lee: "Dear Saudari Heng, please note that one of the steps has collapsed and many others are also in danger of collapsing too. Your immediate attention will be very appreciate." This time, I got a longer reply, no emoticon but a worded reply: "Saudara Quah, my office will call you regarding this issue. Thanks for informing me the update."

(By the way, she used to be one of the political secretaries of Lim Guan Eng when he was still the Chief Minister. But in the last General Elections (GE14), she was elected to represent the Berapit state constituency.)

But I never did receive any call from her office. Several times, I would walk to the back of the market to see whether any repair had been carried out but there was none. No visible work had been done.

Getting concerned whether our elected representatives were doing their work or not, I shot off a third message to her on 12 May: "Good morning, Saudari Heng. I wish to provide a small update here. Since my message to you on 4th April, no work has been done yet to repair the metal steps. I have also not been contacted by your office. Hope the repair work can be initiated soon. Regards."

This time, her office did contact me. Within an hour or two, a lady called me to explain that yes, they had been looking into this matter. They had called for tenders and were in the process of appointing a contractor for the job. And yes, they hoped to complete the repair work soon. Alright! My persistence has not been in vain.

Then on 5 June, I made another trip to the back of the market to look at the steps. Would I be disappointed? As I approached the steps from afar, I noticed that it sported a fresh coat of paint. It was no longer the dirty brown but light green. My hopes suddenly lifted. Had the steps finally been repaired? Yes! I was told later by Heng's office that the repairs were done on 16 May. The rusted step had been replaced and all the other metal pieces and the frame had been tightened up.

Of course, having seen through this episode from start to finish, I had to drop my State Assemblywoman a final message to thank her: "Dear Saudari Heng, I notice that the metal steps have all been replaced. Thank you very, very much. Regards." She replied with a brief "thanks" and a thumbs-up emoticon.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Putra Lecture 2019


You are cordially invited to
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Lecture 2019
Saturday, 22nd June 2019, 11.00am
Penang Free School Hall, Jalan Masjid Negeri, 11600, Penang

Lecture Title
Entrepreneurship: Creating the Future You Want

Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal
Director, Right Livelihood College (RLC)

Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal is often described as a “Multiversity” for his vast and diverse interests. Trained in Economics, Business Administration, and Education at the University of Malaya, he also received Honorary Doctorates in Law and Philosophy from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) respectively.

He commenced his public interest activism and social entrepreneurship 55 years ago as President of the University of Malaya Students Union and the National Union of Malaysian Students. He has been a prime mover of “start-ups”, over a dozen local, national, and global civil society groups including the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Transparency International Malaysia, Penang Gandhi Peace Centre, Pesticides Action Network, Health Action International, Dr. Wu Lien-Teh Society, and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). He served as President of the International Organisation of Consumers Unions, the first third-world person and, at age 37, the youngest ever then. He was also the Chairperson of the Environmental Liaison Centre International based in Kenya. He worked with the United Nations Development Programme as head of their Urban Governance initiative for Asia and the Pacific and also with the Universiti Sains Malaysia as a Visiting Professor. He is currently Chairperson of Think City, a subsidiary of Khazanah, which is a creative platform for rejuvenation of cities and has done some 500 projects. He is also Founder and Director of the Right Livelihood College, an innovative global network of academics and activists with nine campuses present in Argentine, Chile, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Nigeria, Sweden, Thailand and the United States of America.

For his work on the social entrepreneurship and actions on environment, consumers’ rights, interfaith issues, corruption, and health, he received several awards including the United Nations Environment Global 500, the Gandhi-Luther King-Ikeda Peace Award and the Right Livelihood Award, popularly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”.

Anwar studied at the King Edward VII School in Taiping and later moved to the Penang Free School (PFS). While at the PFS he obtained the “Colours” awards for four games; cricket, rugby, hockey and athletics, a rare achievement. He held the school records for the half mile and one mile race and also the Penang State athletics record for the 1,500 meters. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of PFS.

Admission is Free
The Lecture is open to the general public but seats are limited and early registration is advised. Kindly provide your name, contact number and email when registering with the following, preferably not later than noon of Monday, 17th June 2019
Putra Lecture Coordinator
C/o Penang Free School
Phone: 604-2815814 Fax: 604-2817737

About the Lecture
The Lecture is named in honour of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaya, and later of Malaysia. He studied at the Penang Free School from 1916 and then proceeded in 1919 to Cambridge University. Previous distinguished persons who have delivered the Lecture include, in chronological order, Tun Musa Hitam, Professor Dr. Wang Gungwu, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, Dato’ Dr. Mazlan Othman, Mr. Marcus Langdon, Dato’ Seri Lim Chong Keat, Tun Hanif Omar, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, Prof. Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Datuk Dr. Anis Yusal Yusoff and Dato’ Emeritus Prof. Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin. This is the 13th Lecture in the series.

About the Organisers
The Penang Free School Foundation & the Penang Free School.
The PFS Foundation was launched in 1996 by the alumni of the Penang Free School in Malaysia with the aim of promoting education excellence and to assist students of the school and elsewhere to aspire toward the best. The Penang Free School is the oldest school in Malaysia and celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 2016.
Arrival of guests
MC welcomes guests
Address by Headmaster of PFS
Tuan Omar Abdul Rashid
Address by President of Yayasan Free School & Introduction of Speaker by
Dato’ Mohd. Mahyidin bin Mohd. Mustakim
Lecture: “Entrepreneurship: Creating the Future You Want” by
Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal
Q & A session
Closing remarks by
President, Yayasan Penang Free School
Presentation of gift to speaker

Thursday, 6 June 2019

The school that built a nation

Coming to a cinema near you in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, the screening of this documentary film, The School that Built A Nation, which commemorates the Bicentenary celebrations of Penang Free School in October 2016. 

The documentary in Kuala Lumpur on 1 July 2019 will be graced by the presence of the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail who, like his father Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail, is an Old Boy of the School.

The tickets - priced at RM1,000 and RM100 - are already on sale and the monies collected will go to the Old Frees' Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor's scholarship and association funds.

"This is a good opportunity to reconnect with school mates and to reminisce with old friends as well as to support the scholarship and association funds. Do get in touch with Melvyn, Adi or any of the committee members for your tickets!"

The date for the Penang screening has yet to be announced but it is also expected to be in July. An announcement by The Old Frees' Association is forthcoming.

The School that Built A Nation was commissioned by the OFA KLS to mark the Free School's 200th anniversary in 2016. The production team had even travelled to London and Dittisham. The latter was the birth place of the founder, Robert Sparke Hutchings. In London, the team met up with John Hughes, the son of the School's last British headmaster, JMB Hughes. John Hughes himself was born in Penang.

Here is the teaser trailer for anyone who haven't seen it.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Memories of Dr Wu Lien-teh

I attended the annual general meeting of the Dr Wu Lien-teh Society a few weeks ago. Came across this huge reproduction of the cover of a book written by Wu Yu Lin. She had written it to commemorate the life and work of her late father, the world famous plague fighter. So I took the opportunity to be photographed with this placard. Others saw me and wanted to do the same too.

Don't know who is Dr Wu Lien-teh? Click here to find out.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Khoo Chuan Keat memorials

The first order of business was to observe a one-minute silence for our old, dear departed schoolmate, Khoo Chuan Keat, who had passed away in Kuala Lumpur last February. Some of us had known Chuan Keat since primary schooldays in 1961, but most had been friends with him from secondary schooldays. As for me, I've known Chuan Keat since 1962 when we were both in the Standard 2A express class of Westlands Primary School. We studied together until Upper Six in Penang Free School. We then went our separate ways but since the late 1990s, had reconnected as we began searching for our old, long-lost school mates.

Several weeks ago, we decided to hold two memorials for him in Penang for slightly different sets of friends from outstation. Many of us responded positively to the idea and it was finally decided to hold them at The Old Frees' Association where he had been a life member. The president agreed to let us us the Library for this purpose and that was where we found ourselves at about nine o'clock on Thursday.

We spent the next hour or two talking about him and also about the old times. There was a long discussion about the plans that Chuan Keat was putting together as he was approaching retirement age ten years ago. He wanted to establish a sophisticated, high-end retirement village for senior citizens where they could mingle with their peers during their golden years. The retirement village would be self-contained with activities and medical facilities. In fact, one had already been set up in Kuching, but Chuan Keat was exploring Penang to expand the business.

No meeting like this would ever be complete without someone opening a few bottles of whiskey to celebrate the memorial. Chuan Keat, who used to run a wine outlet in Penang in the last decade, would probably have approved of our activities.

Standing, from left: Seng Sun, Choi Choon, Teik Wah, Chye Chye, Ling Heong, Andrew and Kim Guan; seated, from left: Chin Chuan, Michael, Kok Yong, Hock Thiam, Wee Lork and Thuan Chye

Standing, left left: Michael, Lin Heong, Chin Chuan, Teik Wah, Chye Chye, Thuan Chye, Andrew, Hock Thiam and Siang Juan; seated, from left: Choi Choon, Wee Lork, Seng Sun and Kok Yong
Having a meal before the start of the second memorial at The Old Frees' Association this Saturday. Seated, from left: Jessie, Kok Yong, Charles, Chei Jin, Mrs Chei Jin, Kok Hin, Teik Wah and Andrew. Standing, from left: Michael, Kim Guan and Seng Oo

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Wesak moon

Picture taken at 6.06 am this morning
Most people tend to look at the full moon only at night but it is also possible to view the moon in the early hours of dawn. That was what I did this morning, not because I had purposely woken up to look at it but because the bright moon was visible through the window and the moonlight had woken me up.

I grabbed my camera, fiddled with the settings on the zoom lens and shot off a few frames using the maximum f-stop (f5.6 only, unfortunately, as this was a kit lens that came with the camera) and playing with the shutter speeds. But it was good enough and I finally got one shot that I was happy with.

The time was 6.06 am. As the full moon had occurred at 5.11 am, I was actually 55 minutes off the mark. But to the naked eye, the round image of the full moon was still there. Now, if I had taken the picture only at night, I would have seen some very slight blurring on the southern edge of the moon as that segment would have begun to move into the shadow of the earth. So I was a bit lucky to have seen the moon in the morning instead of the evening.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Wesak eve @ Nandaka Vihara

Burmese devotees making their way up to the Sima Hall

Followed by the local devotees

Devotees ringing the bell as it moves to the Sima Hall

More devotees making their way up the slope to the Sima Hall

Arriving at the Sima Hall

The monks are ready to begin the ceremony to bring the Buddha Relic down to the Meditation Hall

Opening the Buddha Relic container 

The Chief Abbot, Dharmasudhbo, getting ready to place the Buddha Relic onto a bed of jasmine flowers 

Here we are, all ready to go!

Down at the Meditation Hall

A group picture of the Nandaka Vihara Wesak Day main committee

Devotees waiting for the night ceremony to commence

Paying homage to the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree

Friday, 17 May 2019

A different view of KL

We were off to Kuala Lumpur for two days earlier this week. Took the morning ETS train from the Bukit Mertajam station and watched a colourful sunrise.

The train journey itself was uneventful but the carriage was cold. Luckily, my wife had brought her jacket along while I borrowed her scarf to cover my hands. Still, it was cold and only a cup of hot kopi-o could keep them somewhat warm for a short while. We kept ourselves entertained watching the on-board TV programme.

Arrived at KL Sentral on time. That's what I've got to say about the ETS service: their trains are now almost punctual to a fault; perhaps 95 percent of the time the trains arrive or depart on time, which is excellent. Anyway, we arrived at the station in Kuala Lumpur just slightly after noon. So where would like to eat, I asked my wife. But without waiting for her answer, I suggested an Indian vegetarian restaurant about 200 metres away. After all, we were practically in the Brickfields area and we weren't laden with any big bag to lug around.

So off we went to this place called Mr Naan and Mrs Idly. Quite a unique name for a restaurant. We forsook the offered buffet lunch and opted for the menu items. Rava dosa for the missus and kashmiri naan for me. Also ordered the palak paneer and a plate of their bendi masala. Superb quality vegetarian food. Quite satisfying, indeed.

From there, we proceeded to check in at this hotel called the Regalia Suite. It's somewhere off the Chow Kit area. The closest LRT station was PWTC but it would require you to walk quite a distance around the Sunway Putra Mall. It's definitely easier to catch a taxi or a Grab car from wherever you are. You'll be dropped right at the hotel's doorstep.

Our room was on the 37th floor with a breath-taking view westwards. The room was decently spacious enough and clean. My only unsatisfactory comment is that there wasn't any complimentary bottle of water in the room. I would expect that two bottles of mineral water would be standard in any hotel worldwide.

On the same floor was their swimming pool. My wife had brought her swimming suit along when I told her that there was a pool. But I hadn't told her about the infinity pool and therefore, she was greatly surprised.

Me? I don't swim. Thus, no swimming trunks for me. No, thank you. I'll just sit on the deck chair and look across the far edge of the pool at a mesmerising view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline.

It's such a nice hotel, you know. From the poolside, you can sit, sip whatever drink you want, feast your eyes on the ladies swimming or look further away at the Twin Towers, the KL Tower and all the high-rise buildings from left to right. That's what I did.

Later at night, you can return to the same spot and watch the ever-blinking lights of the KL skyline. It was quite an experience.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Back in the studio

My old pals found ourselves in the studio recently, this time in Penang, as we went through some voice-over recordings for the videos we are making. It was the first time for Jimmy and for me, only the second time. We needed a voice like Jimmy's. all gravelly and polished, to make our videos sound impressive. But it will still be some weeks before I can see the final products. Kumar shall ensure that they will be ready before the start of  our fifth student leadership workshops for the Penang Free School students in July.

Jimmy was in fine form but we made him read some parts over and over again

I contributed a small part to the voice-over

Fooling around in the studio

Our friend, Suku, came to give us some moral support

Saturday, 11 May 2019

A painting of Penang Free School

Like I mentioned yesterday, today, the 11th of May, marks the bicentenary of the St George's Church in Penang. Not only is this Anglican church already 200 years old, it stands as the oldest Anglican church in the Far East.

I couldn't make it to the church this morning for the launch of their commemorative First Day Cover by the Chief Minister of Penang, Chow Kong Yeow, as I had a prior engagement in Bayan Baru but I did rush down immediately from there once my engagement was over. In fact, I just made it into the compound as someone at their heritage centre said they would be closing in five minutes' time.

So I was a bit thankful for that tiny window to pick up my two sets of pre-ordered First Day Cover folders.

This was only the second time that I was purchasing a First Day Cover folder set. Three years ago on 21 Oct 2016, I had bought the First Day Cover folder set issued to mark Penang Free School's bicentenary celebrations.

Now what made me buy this St George's Church folder set was the painting that was reproduced on the folder's front and also on the RM5 Cinderella commemorative stamp. This was a watercolour painting by Charles Henry Cazalet of "The English Church, Penang" done in August 1856.

Do you know what's remarkable about this painting? When I was busy with writing Let the Aisles Proclaim in 2016, I had come across this picture on Page 390 of Marcus Langdon's book Penang the Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830, Volume 2.

I had noticed that in the background stood a row of buildings on the painting's right. What could these buildings be? Were they part of the St George's Church, or were they something else?

As it turned out, these buildings did not belong to the church. But by virtue of they being located next to the church itself, on the same grounds which was known as Church Square, these buildings were neighbours to the church. Now, what could be neighbours to the St George's Church back in those days?

If this description still haven't rung a bell with the Old Frees yet, let me disclose now that these buildings in the background of this painting were part of the first permanent buildings of Prince of Wales' Island Free School!

The school buildings were constructed in 1821 while Cazalet's painting was done in 1856. I was intrigued. I couldn't believe it then. I remember having mulled over the painting for days but finally, I concluded that it must be Free School in the background.

I took a chance to say that much in my book: on Page 45, I had written a caption to the picture saying: "Details of the Free School buildings are clearly visible in this old water-colour painting. The buildings stood in stark contrast to its neighbour, the St George's Church and the Francis Light memorial."

Akin to modern-day sleuthing, perhaps, but I was very convinced then that I wasn't wrong.

As an afterthought, I must also mention this architect drawing from Mohamed Hafiz Hashim's little-known book, Penang Free School Bicentennial 1816-2016: An Architectural Heritage Perspective and Vision, which gave a fresh new viewpoint of the Free School buildings in the 19th Century. It is a superb book of architectural drawings of all three Penang Free School buildings in Church Square (1821-1896), Farquhar Street (1896-1927) and Green Lane (1928-present). This particular picture, like the other drawings in the book, is the copyright of Arkitek Urbanisma Sdn Bhd but it is worthy of reproducing here.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Bicentenary of St George's Church Penang

Tomorrow is the 11th of May, 2019. That is the day that the St George's Church in Penang (or to use their official name, The Church of St George the Martyr) will celebrate their Bicentenary. Wow, this Anglican church will be 200 years old tomorrow, three years after Penang Free School celebrated hers.

But then, the St George's Church and Penang Free School shared a common heritage. Both institutions were connected to Robert Sparke Hutchings, the Chaplain of the Prince of Wales' Island settlement. Hutchings founded the School and it was under his watch that the East India Company commissioned the Church. For many years, from 1821 till 1927, the School and the Church were neighbours along Farquhar Street.

Anyhow, this is a milestone celebration not only for the Church but for Penang too. Apart from the Church service in the afternoon, there'll be a dinner for the church members and ordained ministers to celebrate the occasion. But in the morning, the Chief Minister is expected to launch their first day cover and stamps.

In 2012 when I was doing some research for a project, I had written up a short history of the St George's Church. Here is an extract:
THE Church of St George The Martyr, completed in 1818, is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. A memorial to Francis Light stands in its grounds. The church was first restored after being badly damaged during the Second World War. It was restored again in 2011 after being designated a National Heritage in 2007.
The seeds of Anglicanism in Malaysia were sown in 1786 after Captain Francis Light established the island of Penang as a trading post for the East India Company.
Soon attracted to this new settlement were traders, merchants, adventurers and immigrant people from both the East and the West, who introduced to this melting pot their own cultures, traditions and of course, religion. The early European settlers that arrived with Light – or soon afterwards – brought with them the beginnings of the Anglican church. The religion was a practice on the long sea voyages from England, and it continued to be practiced when they came ashore. In fact, Anglicanism was established here on the island for some years before a church building was even conceived.
The first Anglican church service on the island was recorded officially in 1800. In that year, Sir George Leith who was the Lieutenant-Governor of the settlement had appointed a magistrate judge, George Caunter, as the first official lay chaplain – this position being the equivalent of a licensed lay reader today – with duties to baptise, marry and conduct services to bury the Christian faithful. Four years later, the Reverend Atwill Lake became the first full-time chaplain with Thomas Cullum as his clerk and schoolmaster.
Also in 1800, Leith had submitted plans to the East India Company in Madras to build an Anglican church. The approval only arrived in 1816 and another year had to pass before the foundation stone for the Church of St George The Martyr was laid on the present land, formerly known as Company’s Square, during the term of William Edward Phillips who was the settlement’s acting Governor. The building was completed in 1818 under the administration of Phillips’ successor, Governor John Alexander Bannerman. It had cost the East India Company 60,000 Spanish Dollars to build the church entirely with convict labour.
Following its completion, the first service at the new building was held on Christmas Day of 1818. Before then, services were conducted mainly at the Fort Cornwallis or the Court House, and sometimes at the residence of the Governor. On 11 May 1819, the Church of St George The Martyr was consecrated by the visiting Bishop of Calcutta, The Right Reverend Thomas Fanshaw Middleton.
There are many stories surrounding the Church but a particular one is rather extraordinary. Do you know that there was an interment in the Church? It was the only one in its long history, and remarkably there was a whiff of drama behind it.

Beneath a black marble slab in the chancel are the remains of Harriet, wife of Robert Fullerton who was then the Governor of the Straits Settlements. His wife died in 1830, just 48 years old. It was said that during her lifetime, she was never kind to her household slaves. They hated her so bitterly that when she died, they declared that they would curse her grave so that she would never rest in peace. This threat thoroughly scared Fullerton. Nevertheless as the Governor, he had to bury her in full public view. He arranged a burial for his wife at the old Northam Road Protestant Cemetery, attended by the prominent residents in the settlement. But much later, it emerged that it was only a mock ceremony and there was nothing in the coffin but earth.

What actually transpired was that under the cloak of darkness that same night, the church doors were opened to allow for a secret burial service, witnessed only by Fullerton. A coffin with Harriet’s body was lowered into a hole dug in the chancel floor. A thoroughly shaken Fullerton remained in Penang for several more months, after which he went back to England and died in 1831.

I was one of the lucky few to have seen this slab because normally it is hidden by a carpet away from the public view. But in 2011 when the Church was undergoing renovation, I happened to visit it just as workmen were rolling up the carpet and I got the opportunity to take a quick photograph of it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! The black marble slab in the chancel floor reads: ”Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Harriet, Wife of the Hon’ble Robert Fullerton, Esq., Governor of this Settlement, who departed this life, on the 30th June, 1830. Aged 48 years”.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Old mindset in new Malaysia

Monday was the first day of Ramadan. Muslims every where have begun their month of fasting from dawn to dusk. And I wish them Selamat Berbuka Puasa. Today and everyday till the eve of Aidil Fitri.

Monday was also the day that I went out to the island for some errands. Finishing up at about 4.40pm and travelling along Weld Quay, I thought to myself, "Why, it's not even five o'clock. Why not take the ferry across to the mainland and save myself a trip across the bridge? Besides, there's hardly any queue at the ferry terminal. Just three or four cars away from the traffic lights."

So I joined the line. Waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, then red, then green again, red, green.... The queue wasn't moving. I should have taken the cue then and cut my loss. Recapitulate and take the bridge back. But the obstinacy in me - or was it the optimism - said to remain in the line. I've waited so long already. Surely, the line would start moving soon?

But it wasn't until about 5.10pm that we were allowed to drive into the ferry terminal's compound. Despite only two lines of cars waiting in the compound, we were not allowed to drive into the terminal's holding area until about half-an-hour later when we were ushered in to wait.

I alighted from the car and peered into the distance. No ferry in sight. There was a policeman there, seated at a table. I went up to him and tried to strike up a conversation. Long wait for a ferry, huh? Yes, he said. One of the ferries broke down earlier and there were only two ferries plying between the island and the mainland? Only two ferries? I was incredulous. Yes, he said again. The next ferry was expected to arrive at six o'clock and depart at 6.20pm.

I felt disgusted. Here was the afternoon peak hours and there were only two ferries working. What happened to the promise to improve the ferry services? Last year, I think it was, the ferry services was pawned off to Prasarana and they started calling the ferry services as rapidFerry. I saw the signboard right above where my car was parked. What an embarrassment, if really the people behind Prasarana can feel the embarassment.

rapidFerry, where a channel crossing may take up to two hours to complete? Why, I remember that in the 1980s, the present ferry could take only 12 minutes to make the crossing. Today, it was more of a 25-minute wait on board the vehicle from one end of the ferry terminal to the other end.

I texted a friend who knew people working at the ferry terminal. "Frustration," I said, "is finding only two ferries plying island-mainland during afternoon peak hours. Or is it (an) everyday (experience)??" After a while, he texted back, "You won't believe what rapid told me. Puasa month. All tired. Many on mc (medical leave). Sadly the manpower planning of the old mindset remains. Shocking!"

Yes, shocking, indeed. There's simply no honour among them. There is also no dignity or shame. Just like yesterday afternoon on the TRAXXfm radio station. The announcers were discussing a story about how an elderly man in Labuan was getting impatient about the service in a fast-food joint. The announcers said the man was wrong. Should have cut some slack for the workers this puasa month.

I beg your pardon, you TRAXXfm announcers? Cutting them some slack? Common, I have great respect for the fasting month of Ramadan. I have great respect for the Muslims who show great willpower to fast from dawn to dusk. Sometimes, I tried to emulate what they do. Went a full day without breakfast and lunch, just to find out how it was. And I found that I still had the energy (or call it willpower or determination) to get through the distraction of hunger until dinnertime. Anyhow, I wouldn't eat in front of my fellow citizens who are fasting. That's showing them the sensitivity, the respect. But to use fasting to justify slowing down their work rate? Sorry, that doesn't cut any ice with me. Try another reason, please!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Young emotion

I was messaging Dr Teoh Soong Kee in Ipoh last week, asking him some questions about his schooldays and brought up the subject of his book, Young Emotion, which he wrote some years back. I asked him whether I could reproduce one particular essay he wrote in another of my blogs. Yes, he replied, I could use his story.

Then he asked whether I had a copy of his book to which I replied that I owned a photocopied edition of it. He offered me a complimentary copy, which he would send through the post. Ah, okay, I thanked him.

I promptly forgot all about the book until it arrived on Monday. Delivered by the postman. I wasn't at home. Neither was my wife. So the postman threw the envelope into the compound. Then it rained and the envelope became partially wet.

I was particularly happy when I discovered the envelope. The upper edge of the book was damp and water-stained. I had to do something fast. Experience had shown me that if I had left the book to dry by itself, it would take ages and the book would basically be damaged beyond any hope. Warped pages and all that.

Quickly, I started tearing sheets from the toilet roll and lined them between the damp pages of the book. The reason was to absorb as much water as possible from the pages. Between every few pages, a sheet of toilet paper was inserted. And I did this for the whole book. Every few hours, I would replace the damp sheets with fresh dry ones.

This went on for about 24 hours until I was satisfied that the residual water could now be removed by ironing the pages dry. After having done that, I sat the book flat on the floor and piled up six or seven heavy and thick books on the cover.

Today is already Wednesday, two days after receiving the wet book. Well, the book's completely dry now. And flattened as much as possible. But the pages remain slight warped. I Guess that's how they will stay from now on. Dry but warped. But at least, I still have the book, intact.