Monday, 3 August 2020
So after the ice cream, house router, the Kongsi's caretaker and the car battery, what other event of significance could still await me in July? Thankfully, the month ended on an all's well note. My son said he would be bringing back a new television set for the house. A SHARP 50-inch television set to replace the SONY 40-inch which we have had for quite some time already. I tried to remain cool but inwardly I was looking forward to this new electrical item in the house.
So many questions to ask. How high would it stand on the television cabinet? Would I have to tilt my head backwards to watch the screen? Would it connect well to the house WiFi? Was it a 4K set? My answers were answered when I unboxed the set. Yes, it was so much more bigger than the old TV. Took my son and I just to lift it up onto the cabinet. Not that it was heavy. It was unwieldy, and it took up more space on the cabinet. But surprisingly, I felt comfortable watching it from the couch. No need to tilt my head back more than necessary. No need to buy a new cabinet to place this TV set.
And it connected well to the house WiFi. Better than the Sony ever did. And more intuitive too. The on-screen menu walked me through the installation process rather quickly. Less manoeuvring with the up, down, left and right functions on the remote control. But no, it wasn't a 4K set. A bit of disappointment there, but never mind. At least it came with Android TV functions. My face lit up. I was able to access my Netflix account, as also to my Spotify account. Connecting to YouTube and TuneIn were a breeze too. I plugged in my thumbdrive. No problem watching movies from there. However, I did not find a digital audio output on the set. That means I can't hook up my soundbar to the Sharp TV with my optical cable. I tried connecting the set to the soundbar with an RCA cable. So far, no success. There must be something I have missed. Will have to investigate further.
Meanwhile, I find that I've been spending too much time in front of this new television set. Watching too much Netflix movies and too much of YouTube. Should begin cutting down the time sitting in front of this smart idiot box, or else everything else will suffer. My work will suffer. Will have to make up for the lost time already.
So these were the few things that happened to me and my household in July. Might not have seem much to other people but to me, they were plentiful. What began pleasantly, ended pleasantly too. But in the middle were discomforting. Could do without them. Anyway, I hope August will be back to normal for me.
Sunday, 2 August 2020
So I've talked about the ice cream, the breakdown of the house router and the discovery of the whereabouts of my Kongsi's erstwhile caretaker in my last story. All in the month of July. To add to all these, the family car broke down. Yes, the Prius C broke down.
Actually, it was not that the car developed any mechanical problem. Mechanically, the car was fine although the absorbers are starting to be somewhat problematic. No, the issue was with the hybrid battery. When my wife and I decided to buy a new car in 2012, we chose a hybrid car for its fuel efficiency. Most times, we could get more than 20 kilometres to a litre of petrol. With some luck, we could push till 25 kilometres. We were aware that the battery of a hybrid car was expensive but we didn't think too much of this in 2012. After all, the battery came with a five-year warranty. And Toyota was confident enough that their hybrid batteries could last longer than that, that they extended the warranty period to EIGHT years soon afterwards. As the car aged, I learnt that the lifespan of the hybrid battery was winding down. It was going to die sooner or later. The only question was when. Would it be before or after the warranty period finishes? Nobody could tell, least of all the Toyota service centre. All they could tell me was that there was about 25 percent usage left. And it was about six months to a year ago.
Anyway on the 22nd of last month, we were crossing the Penang Bridge to get back to the mainland. We proceeded along the highway and turned into Seberang Jaya. And then, the warning signal appeared. Stop the car immediately and check the hybrid system, the message flashed on the dashboard without warning. Oh oh, I thought to myself, here comes trouble. Something's the matter with the car now. I pulled over to the side. Luckily, it was a wide road and the car wasn't blocking any traffic. I called Toyota and was told to have the car towed to the service centre. So I made arrangements for a tow truck. Took about two hours before the truck arrived. By the time we arrived home it was almost eight o'clock.
The next day, the service centre confirmed that the issue was with the battery. But never mind, it was still under their warranty. They would replace it without charge. Was I glad to hear that? You bet! The hybrid battery died three months before the warranty expiry date in October. But I had to wait until Thursday week before they could replace it since the part had to arrive from Kuala Lumpur first. Under my breath, I was muttering that they could have asked for a month and I would have agreed with them. Readily agreed with them. Anything to avoid forking out RM6,000 for the battery. Yes, that's how much it would have set me back if it had conked out after October! Not to mention their labour charges and the battery disposal cost too. Would have set me back a tidy sum.
You know, this was not the only time that I had benefited from Toyota's warranty. In 2006 when my Avanza was still within its warranty period - less than 30,000 kilometres on the meter - the automatic gearbox started giving problem. Whenever I hit a certain speed, I heard a roar above the engine's sound. I took it to the service centre and was given a new gearbox. FOC. Free of charge. But I nearly flipped over when they asked me to sign on some documents and I saw that the cost of the gearbox was something like RM28,000. So thank goodness for the car manufacturer's warranty. Came in useful for me twice.
To be continued....
Saturday, 1 August 2020
I'm very glad that July is over. I've had enough excitement in a month - too many things that happened to me and my household - and I hope it doesn't spill over into August. It started on 07 July, the 35th anniversary of our wedding. There were the usual congratulatory messages that came in through facebook and then in the evening, someone delivered three tubs of ice cream to the house, courtesy of See Ming. First got to know her in 2001, from my JobStreet days and we have kept in touch ever since.
That was a big and very pleasant surprise, the ice cream, that is, from a friend in Kuala Lumpur. But just a few hours earlier there was a big shock. Lightning. And Thunder. An overhead lightning strike at an electrical pole directly outside my neighbour's house. Immediately, BOOM and the electrical supply to my house, and several other houses to my left and right, shut down.
The neighbour to my right had her ceiling fans damaged. The neighbour to my left suffered damage to several of his electrical items. As for me, my Internet connection went down. My mobiles and laptop could still connect to the router by WiFi but there was no connection to the outside. My desktop, linked to the router by cable, was unaffected although I also could not link to the outside world. Luckily for the laptop and mobiles, my neighbour was kind enough to share her WiFi password with us. So my wife could at least continue working on her laptop. As for my desktop, I couldn't run a cable to her house and thus, I was totally cut off. Not that it affected me a hundred percent. At least, it gave me time to do my writings with little distraction from the Internet world.
Nevertheless, I had to report the problem to Maxis, my home broadband service provider, to get it resolved. Report was made on the seventh evening but through a miscommunication, basically on my part, their technician could come only on the 10th, a Friday. He did some checks and said the problem was with the modem which belonged to TMNet's unifi service. So he had to inform TMNet too for their technician to come to my house too. That would to be the following week, unfortunately. Come the 14th, another Maxis technician turned up to relook at my problem. He quickly determined that it was the Maxis router that had conked out and not the TMNet modem. So after a quick replacement of a new router, poof! My Internet came back alive.
On the 24th morning, I went to the Kampong Baru market like I usually do every few days to buy our provisions. As I was walking around, I felt a sudden pain on my right thigh. Searing pain. I quickly rubbed the outside of my shorts trying to relieve myself of the itch. I knew it was an insect bite and the insect must have somehow flew up the end of my shorts. But the sensation was like nothing I had felt before. A longer sustained pain and itch. As I didn't see any insect parts fall off, I couldn't ascertain what type of insect it was. The pain lasted almost forever. I kept rubbing the itch. When I got home, I was horrified to see the damage on my thigh. A stretch of eight insect bite marks. All red rashes, the biggest about the size of the newer 20 cents coin. Quickly applied some ointment on them. I thought the rashes would subside by the next day but no, they did not.
Curious about the bites, I tried to find out more about the unknown insect. I've heard about the Charlie or rove insect that would leave quite a considerable damage on their victims but the rash on my thigh did not look anything like a rove insect bite. In that sense, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was lucky in an unlucky way, or unlucky in a lucky way. It took eight days for the rashes to almost subside. Today, the rashes have turned into a very light brown colour.
Last January, two or three days before Chinese New Year, the live-in caretaker of our Quah Kongsi collapsed and fell unconscious at our Kongsi premises. He was discovered by our vice-president and quickly, an ambulance brought the caretaker to the General Hospital's emergency ward. But somehow, this caretaker who I will call Ah Beng, mysteriously disappeared from the hospital. We couldn't locate him anywhere. We feared for his safety. I asked some friends what could be the likely reason. In the worst case scenario, could our caretaker have ended up in the mortuary? Not a pleasant thought but it was one of the possibilities. But nope, we made a few discreet telephone calls to check out the mortuary. No such name there. So we knew he was still alive. But where could he be?
We held an emergency meeting. One of our trustees said a police report must be made to safeguard ourselves. So I had to go make a missing person report at the Patani Road police station on the island. A police sergeant even came to the Kongsi to nose around. Looked through the caretaker's barebone of a bedroom upstairs. Found nothing out of the ordinary. It was a mystery to him and to us.
Several weeks later, the Secretary told me that he saw a message of appeal on social media asking for any information about the relatives of one person. That person was, of course, our old caretaker Ah Beng. Somehow the day after his admission to (or escape from) the hospital's emergency ward, a good Samaritan had brought him over to an Old Folks Home. There, he had been well looked after, cleaned up properly, given proper daily square meals and most importantly, a decent place to stay. Not to say that the Kongsi wasn't decent enough, it is, except that it is very quiet alone in an old house. We didn't want to disturb him since he looked so contented in his new environment. We would decide on the next course of action at a committee meeting.
So at the next meeting on the 19th of last month, as I was bringing everyone up-to-date with the developments of our wayward former caretaker, the Secretary, who was checking the Old Folks' Home's facebook page, suddenly surprised all of us to say that hey, Ah Beng passed away six days earlier and his funeral had already been held. He had been cremated and his ashes strewn into the sea. What a big shock to all of us. There we were, in the midst of deciding what to do with his belongings at the Kongsi when fate took a hand to decide for us. But in the end, everyone felt a big relief. Ah Beng had quite a miserable life. He was alone in this world, no-one to call as his relatives. It was only in the last few years of his life that he found shelter at the Kongsi. We installed him as the live-in caretaker so that there would be someone in the premises should a Kongsi member want to come in to worship at the ancestral tablets. Of course, there is nobody to do this duty now and I greatly doubt we will be able to find another person to replace him. Oh well....
Then the car broke down.
(To be continued....)
Tuesday, 21 July 2020
Made a return to the old school yesterday after months of self-imposed semi-quarantine due to the Movement Control Order. Was at the school to give a talk to the new intake of Lower Six students. Very receptive as the new boys and girls listened attentively to the story of Penang Free School. Met a few familiar faces among them too.
Loh Lean Kang was the other invited external speaker. He was the motivator between the two of us; I was just in a supportive role to warm up the students but I don't mind. Meanwhile, I was surprised to find The Old Frees' Association president, Lee Eu Beng, there also. He was there before Lean Kang and I arrived, not to give any talk to the students - he did anyway, after being invited at the last minute by the school organisers - but to look at the Pinhorn Hall's facilities as the OFA may want to hold their annual general meeting there next month instead of at the Association. Social distancing and all that would warrant looking for a bigger space so that the attendees can be seated further apart.
The headmaster, Omar bin Abdul Rashid, is already on leave prior to his retirement on the 28th of next month. His role in the School is being temporarily taken over by Ho Nean Chan, the most senior of their Senior Assistants. But I bumped into Omar all the same. He happened to be around as the School was being audited. So we chatted, all four of us, well until three o'clock. I think he looked very relaxed with the pressures of Penang Free School now off his shoulders. Or soon to be off his shoulders.
|Hope we are recognisable with the masks covering half our faces. We tried to practice social distancing for this picture but it was not quite possible. But at least, our face masks were socially distanced. 😁|
|One of the slides in my presentation|
Thursday, 16 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 2020
I've been off the Internet for a week and only managed to get back online yesterday when Maxis finally did resolve the problem of my home broadband connection. The problem was not theirs to begin with but they took an awfully long time to troubleshoot it.
I had to leave it to the Maxis technician to make the arrangements. We'll call you, he said. So I waited and waited. On Sunday - they work on Sunday?? - the Maxis service centre called and said they'd be turning up with TMNet on the 14th morning.
And on the 14th morning, the Maxis technician turned up but alone. A different guy. He diagnosed the problem as the router, not the modem. Maybe that's what he informed back to the service centre because the TMNet personnel did not even show up. Anyway, the Maxis technician changed my equipment to a new modem and quickly set up my WiFi network. It worked like a charm with my wife's laptop, iPad mini and my mobile. I plugged in my Lan cable and presto! my desktop connection came back alive. So everything is back to normal. Mighty glad that almost everything's turned out alright. Now to look into my USB ports...
P.S. My DEC phone is dead but that is another problem.....
Monday, 6 July 2020
Two images of the almost full moon in July. I said "almost full moon" because technically it is virtually impossible to take a picture when the full moon is at exactly 100 percent. Besides, the full moon occurred at 12.44pm on 5 July 20202 when it was daylight over Penang. We wouldn't have seen it over here.
Sunday, 5 July 2020
I would believe that this old image of the staff of Ban Hin Lee Bank Ltd can be found in the House of Yeap Chor Ee, a museum set up by his descendants to remember the old man. At one time, Yeap Chor Ee could have easily been the richest man in Penang. Not only did he run a vast business empire which included this Ban Hin Lee Bank, he owned large tracts of land on the island.
In this picture, taken on 04 November 1939 which was just four years after Ban Hin Lee Bank was incorporated and a year after the bank moved into the beautiful Beach Street premises, the founder was of course seated in the centre. He was flanked by his family members, all also directors of the bank. On his right were Goh Hock Siew (son-in-law) and Yeap Hock Hoe (son) while on his left were Yap Kim Hoe and Yeap Hock Hin (both also his sons). Missing from this picture was his Singapore-based son, Yeap Lean Seng.
The rest of the people were the staff. My former contemporaries from the bank would be interested to know that, standing second from left, was Ong Chin Seng, who had joined the bank in 1935 after completing his schooling. The features were unmistakenly him, no question about it. But in this picture was yet another person whom my former colleagues would know as well: Chew Chik Phoy. The name sprang up as I was scrutinising the names below the picture. There he was, standing right in the centre of the line, directly behind the old man himself.
Monday, 29 June 2020
An intriguing period in Penang's past was the time of the Japanese Occupation. Penang fell to the invading Japanese army on 11 December 1941 and it was not until 15 August 1945 that the Pacific War ended. The formal instrument of surrender was signed in Penang on 2 September 1945.
When I was writing the history of Penang Free School in 2015 and 2016, I was trying my hardest to find out about the Occupation days in Penang: what actually happened in the days, weeks, months leading up to the invasion, and what happened to the school and the people associated with it. I found out quite a bit and a lot went into the book. Whatever was relevant to Penang Free School went into the book.
Now, I have another writing project to complete and again, I've to delve into the period of the Japanese Occupation. It was quite a traumatic yet exciting period, actually, for those who lived through it. In Singapore, the National Archives there had the foresight in the 1980s to talk with their senior citizens to extract memories of the War from them. Not so in Penang, there is little opportunity to find out what happened, how our people suffered. It's too late to seek out the survivors of the Japanese Occupation that ended 75 years ago; they would be too old to remember anything now. What a waste.
Almost immediately after the War ended and the British Military took over Malaya and Singapore, it was estimated that as much as $750,000,000 in Japanese currency notes was in circulation. By October, a clearer picture emerged. The Japanese themselves estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 million worth of Japanese notes were issued, and all became worthless after the British Military Administration refused to recognise them as legal tender. As a matter of fact, vast fortunes were lost when the banana notes became worthless.
There was a curious story that appeared in The Straits Times on 08 September 1945. Referring to the banana notes, the writer wrote that the Malays had given the currency a "peculiarly expressive name which is unfortunately unprintable." I posted this story to a Down Memory Lane facebook page to invite comments from the other members. For most part, nobody seemed to know anything at all and frankly, I was getting a little exasperated. Surely, someone would know? Fortunately, someone did venture a plausible explanation and I'd like to think that he was correct. According to the reply given, "If you look at the Japanese Dollar Note then... You can see a bunch of bananas hanging from the tree. In Malay this is termed as Batang Pisang Berjuntai or a rod hanging down...which is a derogatory remark. In the same tone, some might have added other obscene names for the infamous worthless currency."
So there you have it: batang pisang berjuntai. Rude enough, derogatory enough to warrant blushes in the newsroom of The Straits Times in 1945.
Friday, 26 June 2020
So what's the benefit to me, I asked. Firstly, it's free, she replied. Secondly, it would enable me to record up to 1,500 movies from astro whereas my present box only allowed 200 movies. That's great, I told her, but I haven't even recorded a single movie on my decoder box. Why should I want to upgrade? Well, she replied, it will give you the capability if you want to. Almost sold me on this reason alone but wait....I've one more question.
And will I need to extend my contract with you, I asked. I know their tricks, you see. I was hoping that she'd say No but she said Yes. Yes, she replied, your contract will be extended by two more years. Mmm, thanks but no thanks. It's a good try, astro, but I don't want to record movies from you and I certainly don't want to be tied down to another contract.
Sunday, 21 June 2020
In case people are getting excited or alarmed over a message from Joey Yap that has been making its rounds in social media yesterday and today, let me say that solar eclipses are nothing out of the ordinary. Solar and lunar eclipses are natural phenomena that happens several times in a year. But we do not notice them much because the eclipses are not visible in every part of the world and if they do, the eclipses are not total but only partial, which leave a lot of people disappointed if they tried to look at them.
Interestingly, Joey Yap wrote two messages in his facebook. He's the world's foremost expert on metaphysics; so everything he says is related to his knowledge of the subject. The first was that "It's very rare for an Annular Solar Eclipse to happen on the SUMMER SOLSTICE day! Annular means there is a FIRE RING around the Moon. The areas most affected by this eclipse are Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, Xiamen China. The rest of the world above and below these countries, are only partially affected." And his second message said, "June 21 is an annual solar eclipse, which means at a certain angle you can see a Ring of Fire . In most tradition of metaphysics (western or eastern), solar eclipses are not a good omen. There are reasons of course. However, this June’s eclipse is not the worst (as compared to the one coming in December). I will explain fully on my voice message in telegram. Different countries will have different timings and different animal signs may be immune and or be affected if exposed."
To his second message, I had responded with a "Malaysia is not particularly affected by this solar eclipse. Only about 10% of the sun will be covered by the moon and in the context of the sun being the most dominant object in the sky, there's practically no difference in brightness over Malaysia. In the higher latitudes such as Myanmar or northern Vietnam, there may be a more significant difference. But the path of totality will pass over Taiwan and a large swath of central China." (Joey Yap gave my comment a thumbs up.)
And the path of totality? It can be seen here from this diagram which I've obtained from the timeanddate website. The path of totality is a very narrow corridor starting from somewhere around the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean and cutting a swath across Taiwan, central China, northern India, central Pakistan, across the southern part of the Saudi Arabian peninsula and into central Africa where it ends in northern Congo-Brazzaville. Apart from this narrow corridor, it will be a partial eclipse for everybody else. The Americas, New Zealand and much of Europe and Australia are not affected at all. So I repeat, no need for anyone to get so alarmed over nothing. It's just a regular celestial occurrence.
P.S. The last time that Malaysians witnessed a solar eclipse was last year, in November. People, especially the local astronomers, were flocking to Tanjong Piai at the southern tip of the peninsula where totality was experienced. Elsewhere in Peninsular Malaysia, it was only a partial eclipse. So you see, solar eclipses are not so rare after all. But as Joey Yap said, for it to coincide with the Summer Solstice, well, that makes it rare enough. The Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere is the day when the sun, making its apparent journey northwards, touches the imaginary latitudinal line known as the Tropic of Cancer and then reverses its path southwards towards the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere six months later. Stonehenge in England is a popular spot to watch the rising or setting sun on this Solstice day although I don't know how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect those summer revellers travelling there this time.
Wednesday, 17 June 2020
The commented games aside, which I'm not going to reproduce here, what struck me was Goffin's vivid observation of life in Penang in 1974. I have kept faithfully to Goffin's narrative and have not changed anything in his story. But I need to add here that the Chinese Assn he mentioned in the third paragraph was the Hooi Lye Tung Hneoh Hoay (Hooi Lye Association) in Kimberley Street. This place became central to chess players meeting in Penang from June 1974 until the end of the 1980s. Goffin titled his story:
- P.B. Goffin -
On a fine morning early in December, six intrepid chess players, namely, A. Day, P. Goffin, D. Flude, M. Chandler, P. Clark, R. Gibbons took off for Penang in Malaysia to participate in the first Asian team tournament. The tournament was organised by the Malaysian Chess Federation to wind up the F.I.D.E. 50th Anniversary celebrations. Teams from Zone 10 countries were invited to attend the tourney and seminar. F.I.D.E. were at the same time holding a Bureaux meeting, so quite a gathering of international chess personalities were expected.
The team, after several adventures on the way, duly arrived in Penang and were met by Mr. Fang and Mr. Gong of the Penang Chess Assn. The first sight of Penang came during the drive from the airport to the city of Georgetown which is the main town on the island. The fact that we were in a tropical climate was immediately apparent although the temperature - around 80F was not oppressive. The trees and vegetation were so different that an unreal sensation came over you, as if you were living in a dream. The people and buildings also contributed to this feeling. The influence of Chinese and Indian architecture, the temples of various religions, the Malay, Chinese and Indian people who live on the island, all made a tremendous visual impact, that I will never forget. On the road to the city, we passed ramshackle dwellings which were the houses of the poorer people. the fact that they were set back in the jungle on the side of the road made them look a bit exotic and I should think the reality of life in those conditions would be far from easy.
The street where we were staying was typical of one of the secondary streets in Georgetown - narrow, with open-air stalls, eating places, masses of people, cars trishaws, noise and smells! The sense of smell was reawakened in Penang. It was not a question of offensive smells but new and different ones.
The place we were staying at proved to be a bit spartan when viewed in the light of N.Z. conditions. The rooms each had two low wooden couches with wooden slatts on them and a hard thin mattress, pillow and one blanket. A wash stand and a fan, which was built into the roof and could be operated at varying speeds completed the furnishings of the room. However, sleeping on these beds was good and the hard surface produced a very comfortable and deep sleep.
A new experience was the Chinese bath. This is a large basin with a plug hole in the bottom. It is built into the corner of the bathroom which had a mosaic tyle floor with a drain in one corner. The idea is to fill the tub with water (cold), stand on the floor naked, lather up the old torso with soap - then, taking a plastic bucket, fill it with water out of the tub and toss it over yourself. The effect on the person involved tends to produce loud inarticulate sounds usually originating from the throat such as "arrrgronchraanggabakkerbut" etc. In fact, if you take an early walk down a Georgetown street, you can hear Chinese taking their baths and the sounds heard are as varied as the smells smelled.
However, we soon settled into a routine and had a very pleasant 4 days pottering about the shops, sampling the different food and seeing the various places of interest. We learnt the art of bargaining as were told never to pay the price asked for something. D. Flude proved to be an expert at this and we had some merry moments watch him whittle away the profit of some unfortunate streetside trader. One such incident I recall is Flude walking off in a huff muttering to himself "If he came down to $4 each I would take them", and the trader shouting out to the by now out of earshot Flude "two for $4!!" Needless to say the rest of us burst into laughter, much to the surprise of the trader.
We discovered a restaurant which sprecialised in Western style food and we soon found ourselves heading that way for lunch each day. The food was delicious and with French wines at about $2.00 a bottle, we spent many enjoyable hours eating and drinking at this place. We tried the local foods and found that the Malay was the most interesting and although very spicy, not too bad. They specialised in seafoods, fish, crab, crayfish, prawns etc. The Chinese food was much the same as you would get in a good Chinese restaurant in N.Z. but more varied with different vegetables. We were not game to try the Indian curries as were told that they were very hot.
We visited several very interesting places during those few days. Mr. Gong took us to the Pagoda of the 1,000,000 Buddhas. We climbed to the top of the Pagoda and had an excellent view of the city. The Temple was set amongst low hills and was approached by a winding path. This path was set on either side by a huge bazaar with hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of things ranging from ivory chess sets to floppy hats. A great deal of fun was had in seeing who could beat the traders down to the lowest price!
We also had a look at a reserve which was a sort of Botanical Garden. The unusual feature of this was the monkeys, which are everywhere on the Island, being fed by hand. You could see the monkeys swinging from branch to branch in very tall trees and I was interested to see Day and Gibbons steering well clear of those trees. Cows might not fly but monkeys in tall trees might be just as bad!
Well, the 4 days holiday passed quickly. We played some practical games to try and build up a bit of form but these were not successful due to the environment in which they were played: high temperatures, noise, etc.
On the 5th day of our sojourn in Penang we moved into the Merlin Hotel which was where all the teams were by now staying. The Merlin is a modern, air conditioned tourist hotel with about 5 restaurants, bars, snack bars, swimming pool, sundeck and barbecue area. We had been given rooms on the 6th floor which gave a tremendous view of the city and water-front. The rooms were very comfortable, furnished in European style and we quickly settled into the new routine. However, we continued to eat at the Eden Restaurant as the Hotel prices were very high.
On the evening of the 5th day was the opening ceremony. This was a splendid occasion in true Eastern style with flowery speeches, a live chess display featuring the game Torre-Portisch, which Torre won. The teams were welcomed by the Governor of Penang and the Tourney was officially under way.
N.Z. did well to finish in 5th place as most of the teams were at full strength. The play of Day in patches, Chandler and Clarke was very good and fitted in well with the plan of the team. On the other hand Goffin, Flude and Gibbons had a brief flash of form and for the rest played badly.
The team had several days in Penang before flying to Kuala Lumpur and these were spent in more shopping and sightseeing. We entertained several teams and had some lightning chess in one room after the tourney. We spent a day in Kuala Lumpur and were royally looked after by Mr. Singam of the Malaysian Chess Federation. Then a long flight direct to Sydney, by-passing Darwin, then home on Boxing Day to New Zealand.
Saturday, 13 June 2020
I was given the unenviable task to be the headmaster of the Grand Old Lady in 1993. The education fraternity then was talking about “The Effective School Movement” and “Schooling with Character”. Also, globalisation was a buzzword then. It has been said that arguing against globalisation was like arguing against the laws of gravity. How could we then enjoin these movements effectively for the school without the availability of sufficient funds?
Indeed, money, we did not have much. It was embarrassing and frustrating, for example, to see our school band being unable to be in the forefront of the bands of a few other premier schools. A neighbouring school band received an allocation of RM240,000 from their Parents-Teachers’ Association. To stage a musical drama, to send our boys to play friendly games against established schools outside Penang, we needed monetary support from the PTA, Board of Governors and all the Old Frees’ Associations. In 1995, the Penang Free School returned the visit of the Togi High School hockey team from Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. The OFAs came to the aid the school and brought in the Rotary Club to send the school hockey team to Ishikawa Prefecture to play friendly hockey matches with Togi High, renowned for producing junior Olympic players. The parents of the players paid the other half of the expenditure. This was only one instance of support from the Old Frees and the PFS had more than 40 sporting clubs and societies!
The final draft manuals of the Education Act, 1996 were in circulation then. Sections 59-63 of Chapter 11 of the Act dealt with the “Dissolution of Board of Governors of Government or Government-Aided Schools.” As the headmaster, I was concerned that down the line, one of my successors, maybe an over-enthusiastic Pengetua of SMK Penang Free, might opt to dissolve the Board of Governors. We realised that we had to be pro-active as we envisaged that it would be too cumbersome to ‘douse the fire’ later. We were all aware that the BOG has been an integral part of the Grand Old Lady. Members of the BOG in the full tradition of the Penang Free School used to welcome the Resident General or the Commissioner before Merdeka and now His Excellency Tuan Yang Terutama to grace our Speech Day without fail on every 21st of October.
I went into deep thought and dreamt of schemes that were solidifying in my mind but when I tried to share them with a few Old Frees initially, it was just like gathering clouds. Eventually, I came up with the idea of the PFS Foundation. Sometime in 1995, I held informal meetings with some senior Old Frees among the teachers: Khoo Poh Keng, Kong Fun Chong, Tan Chong Eng, Ch’ng Gim Leang and Mrs Ruby M Janet. These stalwarts, together with Puan Balkis, put my ideas into a concept paper. The dream was now unfolding into a vision, so to speak. Excerpts from the concept paper were presented to Yeoh Poh Seng and Datuk Dr Ong Hean Tee who were then the chairman of the Board of Governors and the president of The Old Frees’ Association respectively. The two Senior Assistants and I then had two rounds of preliminary discussion with Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Sheriff bin Kassim, the president of the Old Frees’ Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor at the KL Merlin Hotel.
Foo Say Keow, an Old Free and a lawyer, took up the challenge of drafting the Constitution of the PFS Foundation. A pro-tem committee comprising representatives from the Board of Governors, the Parents-Teachers’ Association, the Penang Free School Board of Trustees, The Old Frees’ Association, the Old Frees’ Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor and the Old Frees’ Association Singapore was then formed. The Headmaster took up the position of the secretary.
With much enthusiasm, Yeoh led his Board of Governors, well supported by the three OFAs, to hold an inaugural General Meeting of the Foundation at the Merlin Hotel, Penang on 14 January 1996. Dato’ Anwar Fazal Mohamad was elected one of the three committee members. Foo, meanwhile, persevered on with the Constitution. Subsequently, the PFS Foundation was officially registered on 19 April 1996. Unfortunately, much of the details leading to the registration of the PFS Foundation have not been objectively and systematically documented.
At a subsequent meeting, the Foundation allocated an initial sum of RM29,000 for the school to spend on academic excellence (15%), sporting excellence (15%), leadership excellence (15%), professional excellence (15%), youth development (15%), school occasions and tradition (15%) and physical and heritage (10%).
The school experienced a very busy schedule in 1996 due to the celebration of the 180th anniversary, coupled with the historical visit of the late JMB Hughes on the 11th of March, the annual sports meet and the Speech Day, all carried out without compromising the academic standard of the students. A month before the official launch of the PFS Foundation, the Old Frees’ Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor played host to a National Convention on the Seventh Malaysia Plan and raised RM153,000.
The PFS Foundation was launched officially on 15 September 1996 by the Deputy Prime Minister who was then Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Among the 350 guests who attended the official function were Mohd Sheriff who was by now also the first president of the PFS Foundation, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, then the Chief Minister of Penang, Tengku Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ahmad Rithauddeen, Tan Sri Dato’ Elias Omar and Dato’ Mohamed Zain Mohamed Yusuf. The accumulated capital fund then stood at RM675,000.
In the years after the launch, the PFS Foundation and the school embarked on a project to produce the Old Frees Networking Directory. The driving force behind it was Anwar Fazal. Since then, this great Old Free has been striding selflessly to promote the Foundation through the series of Putra Lectures.
In 2010, further donations increased the accumulated capital fund to RM1,060,000. But is this enough? For that, I shall leave it to you to ponder. Let us put our shoulders to the wheel to bring the total to RM5 million, the original sum that we dreamt about in 1996.
It matters neither how strait the gate,
Nor how charged with dangers the goal,
Let the tempest rage and fell odds inflate,
We'll to it with heart and soul.
FORTIS ATQUE FIDELIS
Friday, 12 June 2020
This beautiful structure is the Millennium Monument at the Esplanade. It was constructed in 1999 or 2000 to coincide with the millennium celebrations in Penang. Within the conical dome is a time capsule holding artifacts from the 20th Century.
|From the BHL Bank Annual Report 1999|
While the monument might have attracted a lot of derision from conservationists initially, it is my opinion that the structure blends in very well with the surroundings. Who says modernity or futurism cannot co-exist within a heritage enclave? This one does. Unfortunately, there's no sign board to say what it represents, which is a shame considering its prominent location.
I hope that once the Esplanade upgrading project is completed, the Penang Island City Council and the George Town World Heritage Incorporated will have plans to restore the monument to its former splendour and also give Ban Hin Lee Bank the recognition it deserved as Penang's once very own home-grown banking institution. It was, after all, an institution widely known to the older generation of people in Penang. Their services were much appreciated by their customers too.
Thursday, 11 June 2020
This picture was posted by Ganesh Kolandaveloo on the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) Discussions page on facebook recently. It depicted Japanese soldiers holding back the cheering crowds along Weld Quay as they welcomed the Royal Marines back to the island on 9 Sept 1945.
There was a question asking what the Japanese army was doing to welcome the British Royal Marines. Weren't they at war? The simple explanation was that at that point of time, Japan had lost the war and signed the instrument of surrender in Tokyo on 2 Sept 1945. Thus, the Japanese soldiers were waiting for the arrival of the British soldiers to formally surrender their arms and go into captivity. Someone commented that "it was the Communist Party of Malaya that fought the Japanese. The British had chickened out and ran away to India or England to fight the Germans. However, they came back to Malaya to claim victory for not fighting the Japanese."
However, I found the following exchanges between these two persons, Pompey Casmilus and Stefan Dawson, very stimulating.
Casmilus' first comments: "Never mind the fact that they were welcoming back their colonial oppressors who had shamefully abandoned them during the initial Japanese invasion; back then, the population must have been so relieved to see the end of the Japanese Occupation that they were pleased to have the British back and regain some kind of normality - my parents were children at the time, and the brutality of the Japanese Occupation was unmatched. There was widespread fear of the Kampeitai, my grandfather often told me stories about them. He said they were so happy to see the back of the Japanese that they threw away all the Japanese-issued banknotes, he wished he'd saved a few as souvenirs later on... but at the time, everyone was so relieved the war was over."
Stefan Dawson then commented: "Colonial oppressors is really quite strong language, no? There’s a lot of blame being dumped on the plate of the British but much of it is probably nationalist sentiment mixed up with poor understanding of context and facts...them scurrying off was not just ghastly but also an incredible military blunder based on poor information from poor planning and a completely wrong strategy expecting a sea invasion. They really truly trusted the Siamese and got completely duped! I find it strange that Malaysians never held the Siamese accountable ever but instead hold the British in such contempt. It makes it so skewed that it no longer appears to be objective but more reactionary and may even be considered a way to appear popular by lampooning the “colonial oppressors” Growing up with grandparents (who lived under both British and Japanese rule) and listening to their friends as well, the conversation from their generation seemed more balanced and they did have things to say that the British did badly (such white only clubs, and some forms of racial lines being unnecessarily drawn) but they were also positive about the various good that was done, and how many of those practices disappeared post-Merdeka. It’s not unexpected therefore to connect their memories and sentiments, and the imagery in the photo above, to see that the British were well liked and even if they were colonials the locals got along with them as there must have been a great degree of benevolence demonstrated. If they were oppressors there would have been a lot more upheaval and fighting with them (like with Dutch in Indonesia or the French in Indochina)."
And the reply from Casmilus: "I think local experience of British colonialism can vary - for the most part, the British were far more benign than the Dutch or French as colonisers, but as for the whole colonial project itself, it was founded on racism and exploitation of resources. When the Japanese invaded, the British abandoned Penang and fled, leaving the people there to fend for themselves (there is documentary evidence of that) and endure Japanese bombing, they didn't even officially surrender; surely witnessing the white man's humiliation before another Asian invader must have indicated to the local population that their rulers had feet of clay. My grandfather didn't have many complaints about the way the British ran things, but they took the segregated ferries and the white only clubs simply as a matter of fact. In his 80s, my grandfather visited Australia for the first time in his life and the saddest thing was how he was incredulously watching white men working, loading garbage into trucks... it was a sight he never imagined he would ever see, and it turned his old world upside down. The fact that people of that generation could have been indoctrinated in that way is one of the tragic consequences of colonisation. The fact that Britain once ruled over much of the world is also tragic for the British and how they view themselves today! To summarise, just because the British were largely benevolent, by the standards of the time, and brought much (capitalist) development to Malaya, it doesn't necessarily justify the whole colonialist project itself. Note that China, India etc. were all trading peacefully between themselves before the Europeans arrived and decided a takeover was necessary."
Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Far away from Malaysia, on the other side of the world, a piece of history, a statue erected in 1895, has been pulled down and chucked into the river. He was a slave trader, among many things, but that wasn't why his statue was erected, although it was why it was torn down and chucked. The statue was erected to commemorate his philanthropy.
History is history, and elsewhere I wrote this, and have thought to write this again for the rest of you to read,
'Why didn't anyone think of creating a memorial to capture, the pain, the anguish, the utter wrongness of slavery and put it up adjacent to the Colston statue, to say, this is what happened, and that there opposite is the one to helped make it happen?
Recently Facebook banned me for failing to meet its community standards on dangerous organisations because, in a FB group, Picture Perfect Penang, I had had a post on the Japanese Occupation and included a real historical photo of a German U-boat pulling up alongside Swettenham Pier, in George Town, Penang.
After studying the 'offensive " photo, it occurred to me that FB was reacting to the German Naval Flag flying from the sub's mast that was made up of a Swastika over a cross. It was not a Swastika arm-band. It was not a bunch of people cheering and waving Swastikas.
But I got banned for 24 hours.
Further back, in Penang, they changed the name of the road where I was born, Scott Road named after Captain Francis Light's business partner, Captain James Scott, to D. S. Ramanathan Road, after the first Mayor of the city of George Town, replacing the memory of someone whose connection with the island went back to 1786, with someone at the center of a much smaller event in 1957.
Without history, without understanding it, without learning, there can be no growth and development.
World War II and the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and yes the arrival of the Germans at Penang, all these things happened.
Captain James Scott, reprehensible as his actions may have been -- he was Penang's Shylock, loaning out sums and then seizing the properties of all and sundry who could not repay his terms on time -- happened.
Instead of trying to pretend it did not, why don't we take the effort to explain what happened and why it was so wrong?
I guess because it is easier to destroy than to create.
We need to move from tolerance to acceptance. I am reminded of the legendary words of a self-proclaimed famous pirate, one Jack Sparrow, 'The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that some day. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy?'
And so, despite what is happening over there in the homeland of Asia's biggest drug pusher, England, I choose to remember that if had not been for Captains James Lancaster, Alexander Hamilton, Francis Light, James Scott, and later other officials from the Honourable the (English) East India Company, the Madras and Bengal Governments, and those sent over by the Colonial Office, we would not be anywhere near where we are today, enjoying the conveniences we have today, and I would not have had the education I had, that now allows me to write this.
Sunday, 7 June 2020
The only explanation I can think of is that the postal authorities, Pos Malaysia, are not doing their jobs properly. They have slacked. Why do they have to accumulate all the letters and then deliver them all at once? That's pretty insane. What if there happens to be an urgent letter that awaits delivery? And they have the gall to complain about not doing well and facing all sorts of competition from the courier service companies. Well, if Pos Malaysia continues with this flawed strategy, there is no more hope for them.
Not to say that the courier companies are beyond reproach themselves. Last month, I sent off a letter by courier service to my daughter in Petaling Jaya, and it took a week to arrive. Granted that the Hari Raya holidays fell midst during the delivery period, it should not take seven days to deliver a simple letter. It was all very inefficient and expensive. Talking about paying for inefficiency!
Saturday, 6 June 2020
Friday, 5 June 2020
No, I did not manage to take a picture of tonight's full moon because I missed it by a few minutes. I did see a brilliantly bright full moon but after I rushed into the house to take my camera, a very think cloud cover had already rolled over the moon. Even now, the moon is no-where to be seen. But I was lucky enough to take these pictures at about eight minutes past midnight. The first picture showed an almost full moon. Only the eastern edge of the moon was not quite so defined yet. Then I noticed a strange halo around the moon and that is seen in the second picture.
Tuesday, 19 May 2020
This is a free-form poem by Khoo Soo Hay in tribute of the Plague Fighter, Dr Wu Lien-Teh. The poem was published online today by Penang Institute as part of their wider coverage on the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The poem is rather long and it is with my apologies if you do see unwanted advertisements added in by Google.
The Plague Fighter - A Brief Retrospect
By Khoo Soo Hay, 8 Mar 2014
Founding Member of the Dr. Wu Lien-Teh Society, Penang
One hundred and thirty-five years ago on 10th of March 1879, there was born
The eighth son of a Sinning couple by the name of Ng Khee Hock and Lam Choy Fun,
Who named their fourth son Ng Leen Tuck, meaning in Chinese, “Five United Virtues”.
Or in Mandarin, “Wu Lien-Teh", but in Penang Free School registered
As “Gnoh Lean Teik” by the Hokkien School Clerk, Mr Kam Im-Keat,
And when in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he ended up as Gnoh Lean Tuck.
Whether it was Ng, Gnoh, Wu, Teik, or Tuck, he was an Old Free,
Penang-born on China Street, brought into the world by a Malay bidan,
And like his ten siblings all breast-fed by their mother, no condensed milk then.
In 1886 he entered Penang Free School at the age of seven.
In 1893 through to 1896 under Head Master Mr William Hargreaves,
Gnoh Lean Tuck’s academic achievements won him the Queen Scholarship
And he applied and was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Under the advice of Mr R.J. Wilkinson, then First Magistrate of Penang.
Gnoh Lean Tuck embarked on 7th August on the P. & O. boat “Pekin”,
And at Colombo on the 11th, changed to the larger vessel, “Ballarat”.
Before reaching Gibraltar, he decided to rid himself of his queue,
Hallmark of the Chinese world-wide, but in reality
The very symbol of Chinese servitude to the Manchu Emperor.
Remember this was before China became a Republic.
Emmanuel College, founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Midway
Produced John Harvard, (1607-1638) who emigrated to America,
Prospered and founded Harvard University in Cambridge,
Near Boston, Massachusetts in 1636 with a gift of 780 Pounds
And two hundred and sixty books, which in its 378 years
Has been at the forefront of seeking knowledge
And producing Nobel Prize winners.
Wu Lien-Teh spent five and a quarter years in Cambridge
From 1897 to 1902 when he qualified as M.D. well before his time
At the age of twenty-four, and had to wait for another two years or more
Before officially being awarded the coveted Degree.
While at Emmanuel he won two Awards, that of Exhibitioner in Natural Sciences
And also made a Foundation Scholar, both of which carried some financial reward.
From Emmanuel he spent his University Scholarship at St. Mary’s Hospital
At which he was the first Chinese student ever admitted.
While at St. Mary’s he won four prizes, The Special Prize in Clinical Surgery,
And in Medicine, the Kerslake Scholarship in Pathology, all in 1901
Followed by the Cheadle Gold Medal for Clinical Medicine in 1902.
He reported that it was at St. Mary’s Hospital that Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin.
He spent six months as House Physician at Brompton Hospital
For Consumption Disease of the Chest in South West London,
Before accepting the Emmanuel College post-graduate Research Studentship
Which he elected to do at the Institute of Medical Research in Malaya.
Prior to returning to Malaya, he spent eight months in 1903
At the Halle-an-der-Salle institute under Prof Karl Frankel,
And at the Pasteur Institute in Paris under Prof Metchnikoff,
Both of which were well known for their research into bacteriology.
Wu Lien-Teh arrived back in Singapore by ship at the end of September 1903
And was met by Dr. Lim Boon-Keng, the first Queen’s Scholar,
Whose sister-in-law, Ruth Huang became his fiancée,
Their marriage was solemnised at the American Methodist Church
In Singapore in July1905 two years later.
According to Wu Lien-Teh, he was fortunate that he was not required
To convert to Christianity and continued to be a filial son,
Sticking to his Taoist and Confucian family roots.
As for his first family history, it was tragic in a sense, in that
Ruth died quite young in 1937, at 53 years of age.
And his three sons also died prematurely.
The eldest, named Davenport, Chang-Keng, born in 1906 at Love Lane, Penang
Survived long enough to obtain his tertiary education and M.D. in the States
And London, and worked for the Peking Municipality.
However, he died, age thirty-six, of tubercular infection in November 1942 in Peking
His second son, Tommy, Chang-Fu, born in Tientsin, China,
Died of pneumonia complications in 1925 at the age of sixteen.
The third son, Willy, Chang-Ming, born in 1911 died six months after birth
Due to bacillary dysentery in Yamei Kin’s Hospital, Tientsin.
Wu Lien-Teh's second family began with his marriage to Marie, Shu Chiung,
Who was born in Kirin, Manchuria, of Cantonese parentage.
From her he had three daughters and two sons, all of which survived him.
The eldest was Betty, Yu Lin, followed by Ellen, Yu Chen, Fred, Chang-Sheng,
John, Chang-Yu, all of whom were born in China,
And the last, Pearl, Yu Chu was born in Ipoh, Perak,
Whom I used to know when the family lived in Penang.
After his time at the Institute of Medical Research was over,
He started his medical practice at Chulia Street and lived in Green Hall,
Until he was invited to accept the appointment by the Grand Councilor,
Yuan Shi-Kai of China to be the Vice-Director of Imperial Army Medical College in Tientsin.
He left early in May 1908 for Shanghai in the North German Lloyd liner, “Prinzessin Alice”.
Prior to his leaving for Tientsin, Wu Lien-Teh paid a visit to England,
Where he attended a big Anti-Opium Meeting at Queen’s Hall in London,
Where he gave an address which was well-received by the participants.
Before that, while he was in Penang, he carried out anti-opium activities,
Which led to his prosecution by the authorities for possessing, without license,
“An ounce of tincture of opium” and was fined one hundred Straits dollars.
In 1910, he was called to Harbin in Manchuria to end the bubonic plague,
A disease that was claiming thousands of lives, both Chinese and Russian.
How he did it has been well-recorded in his autobiography,
And in the medical history of bacteriology in the world, more than a century ago.
You can read a short summary of Wu Lien-Teh’s life, in an article
Published in the book, “Doctors Extraordinaire” by Ho Tak Ming in August 1983.
All I can say is that in his autobiography, you will not only find his life history
And contribution to medical science, but the amount of history
And important people who lived at that time and their contributions
Should actually be a text book for historians, medical and political.
It is with much regret, in retrospect, that only a century after what this medical man
From Penang Free School had contributed, that at last we are giving him due recognition
Of his life and what he had done for the world, and by reflection for his country,
Malaya then, with the formation of the Dr. Wu Lien-Teh Society of Penang, spearheaded by none other
Than my good friend, an old Free, Dato’ Prof Dr. Anwar Fazal
At its Inaugural Meeting on 14th October 2012 held at the Penang Medical College.
The Society was duly approved by the Registrar of Societies.