Friday, 30 November 2007

Penang Food Hunt 2007

Can't wait for tomorrow to come by. There's this Penang Food Hunt going on, so don't be surprised if you see maniacs zooming by in their cars in search of their favourite food stalls or restaurants...

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Aging showgirls

Pardon me if I choose to compare this recent picture of Al Gore and George W Bush together to a pair of aging showgirls from a cabaret show. Hrmpph!

Dr Toh: I disagree with the country's leaders

I laud Dr Toh for taking this stance when the rest of the government leadership and backbenchers refuse to acknowledge that there is a real, big stink in the country. This is a letter, quoted verbatim, taken from the Malaysiakini website:

I disagree with the country's leaders
Dr Toh Kin Woon
Nov 28, 07 6:24pm

Several major marches and pickets, all peaceful, have taken place in our country over the last few months.

There was the ‘Walk for Justice’ organised by the Bar Council. This peaceful march called for a complete review of the country’s judiciary system with a view to restoring its independence, and hence put into effect the separation of powers so important for justice. This was followed by a march to the palace organised by Bersih, a broad coalition of political parties and NGOs, calling for free and fair elections.

The most recent, this time to hand over a memorandum to the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, in short. Although the stated objective of this last demonstration was to demand compensation for the exploitation of Indians from the British government, it was in effect to highlight the socio-economic and cultural plight of the Indians, especially their lower strata.

To all these must be added the numerous pickets called by the trade unions for higher salaries just to meet rises in costs of living so burdensome to the workers.

All these marches and pickets, especially those organised by Bersih and Hindraf, drew tens of thousands of people. And this, despite the authorities warning the public not to take part as these assemblies were all so-called “illegal”. Participants were threatened with arrest should they take part in all these illegal assemblies.

These marches drew flak and condemnation from almost all Barisan Nasional leaders. Their criticisms centred on their illegality, potential threat to peace, the possible destablisation of the economy including frightening away foreign investors. I disagree with the views of our country’s leaders.

Instead of condemning, one would have thought and hoped that they should have been more concerned over the grievances, frustrations and disappointments that have brought so many thousands to the streets in the first place and to seek fair and just solutions to them.

Is it true that there are lots of defects in our country’s judicial system? If so, what are they? What must we do to overcome these so that we can restore its independence, and give real substance to the separation of powers in order to strengthen our country’s democratic institutions?

Likewise, what are the shortcomings in our country’s electoral system, especially pertaining to the electoral rolls, election campaigning, access to media, etc? And on Hindraf, what are the grievances, frustrations and unhappiness of the lower strata of the Indian community, and that of all the other communities, pertaining to housing, education, health, jobs, equity and religious freedom?

Until and unless these and many more issues concerning our country’s judicial and electoral systems as well as social justice for the poor are looked into seriously and satisfactory solutions found, the discontent that has brought thousands to the streets over the last several months will remain. To me, it is this discontent and unhappiness that will be a greater threat to our country’s peace and stability, rather than the marches, pickets and demonstrations.

To be fair, the government did finally agree to the setting up of a royal commission of inquiry to look into the Lingam case that triggered the outpouring of dissatisfaction over the state of our judicial system. The terms of reference of this soon to be set-up royal commission have, however, not yet been announced. Hopefully, its scope of work will include getting to the bottom of why our judicial system has declined so precipitously over the years.

A truly democratic society that allows peaceful marches, an independent and just judicial system, free and fair elections, equal respect by the state for all religious faiths and social justice for the poor are, among others, the key pillars of democracy, peace and stability. Without these, no amount of coercion, including the threat to use the obnoxious Internal Security Act (ISA), can bring us the lasting peace and security that all Malaysians desire.

Finally, I find it extremely disturbing that a backbench Barisan Nasional MP who took a divergent stand on Hindraf should be so severely rebuked and chastised by a couple of BN leaders. This clearly does not augur well at all for intra-BN democracy.

The message sent seems to be that all BN elected representatives are expected to be meek and passive followers of the views of their leaders and that no space is provided for independent views, including those articulated by the larger civil society. I wonder how such a stance by the leaders can attract people who want to seek changes from within!

The writer is a member of Gerakan and Penang state executive councillor for Economic Planning, Education, and Human Resources Development, Science, Technology and Innovation.

Doing that "fun" thing in Tupah

A dream scene from Lord Of The Rings? No, it's just the Tupah Forest Park in Kedah.

According to an ex-bank colleague, Tupah is very popular with the locals in the state but in all honesty, I hadn't heard of the place until about two weeks ago. Even a search through my maps and atlases failed to locate it. But I've been there and I am totally taken in by the stream that flows through the park.

I resorted to googling Tupah and guess what ... yes, Tupah is popular with the locals alright but for the wrong reasons. Apparently just a few years ago, a couple was caught on film doing what came naturally to them...that "fun" thing. And it wasn't an isolated incident.

Pretty soon, I hope to make another trip to the Tupah Forest Park. An innocent trip, mind you, and not for any "fun" thing. Perish the thought! But I'll be making this trip only after my ex-colleague gives me the directions to go there. Honestly, I've forgotten how to get there except that I've to exit from the Sungai Petani North inter-change on the North-South Expressway.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Survey: teaching of Science and Mathematics in English

In recent days, discussion has been heating up in the local newspapers and on the air waves about the possibility that the Education Ministry may be on the verge of making a policy change and revert the teaching of Science and Mathematics in schools back to Bahasa Malaysia.

Whether or not five years is too short or too long a time to make policy flip-flops, I would like to seek some public opinion on this. I'm inviting you to participate in a short poll. Please click on this link to proceed. Thank you!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Kasparov arrested

Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov, who is now deeply involved in Russian politics, was sentenced to five days jail after he was arrested yesterday in central Moscow for organising an unsanctioned rally in protest of Russian president Vladimir Putin and refusing to obey police order.

After the sentencing, he told reporters the charges against him were "unfounded" and he accused the Russian leader with taking recourse to scare tactics. "What happened in court today looks like something unthinkable. Procedure was grossly violated. I will appeal but there can be no talk of justice anymore."

Yesterday, riot police grabbed Kasparov and a bodyguard, and bundled them into a police bus which drove away from where hundreds of opposition activists and members of The Other Russia coalition were in a tense standoff with security forces. "Freedom! Freedom!" supporters shouted after the bus.

Before his arrest, he had told journalists: "We pose no threat to public order. We only want to march peacefully to the election commission. The powers that be are simply afraid of people who express their dissent."

Sounds all too familiar. I wonder whether this same siege mentality pervades all over the world?

Penang heritage: China Street Ghaut

I took a walk along China Street Ghaut in Penang yesterday, so today's entry will be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. In fact, I was walking along Church Street Ghaut, Weld Quay, King Edward Place and Downing Street too. But I shall confine this entry to just China Street Ghaut. I haven't had the occasion to wander along this road for a very long time but I'm very intimate with this road which was where I had been walking around for almost 18 years of my life.

Nothing much has changed to the feel of this road except that many of the businesses there have folded. These photographs, taken on a Saturday afternoon, are a testament to that, but the deserted road added to the atmosphere and charm.

First of all, here is a satellite map of China Street Ghaut and its surroundings. I have captioned many of the landmark buildings.

I stood at the junction of Victoria Street and China Street Ghaut and took this photo of the Customs building. It's a nice building with an equally nice clock tower. I'd dare say that people sailing into Penang in the early 20th century would have treated the clock tower as a prominent landmark. It still is.

I moved to the centre of the road to snap the next shot. The Customs building is to my left and on my right is a row of buildings that had seen better days. The building on the far right is the Bangunan UAB. I believe until the early 1980s, the United Asian Bank was still operating a branch here. Then, it decided to merge with two or three of its other branches along Beach Street and this building has been deserted ever since.

Further down, you'll come to a building with a verandah on the first floor overlooking the road. Here is a snap shot of the intricate design beneath the verandah. It's of cement, not iron.

The Penang Premier Press was located here but the place is empty now. I took a peek inside the shuttered gates and tried to remember the hustle and bustle of a printing press during its heydays. You'd need a good imagine to succeed, if you haven't actually seen the place during its occupancy days.

I made an about turn to capture this garish building which now house the Wawasan Open University. Previously, this was the Boom Boom Restaurant and it added a lot of colour to Weld Quay with its rather risque evening shows. Further up the road, you can see the old Ban Hin Lee Bank building. It is now occupied by CIMB Bank. It's a very sturdy building. The bank's assistant manager in the 1970s, Teoh Beng Cheang, used to tell me that during the Japanese invasion of Penang, the staff sheltered in the strong room, safe from the bombs dropping from Japanese aircraft. Bombs went off all around but the building stood firm.

I decided to walk down towards the sea front and was confronted by this colonial pillar letter box.

It still bears the royal cipher of Edward VII (King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the seas, Emperor of India). This means that this letter box must have been erected here between January 1901 and May 1910. The letter box looks rather short and stumpy but that's because of the raised road level and the new pavement. The box's base is buried deep beneath the road.

And this is, of course, the Wisma Yeap Chor Ee. Like most of the other buildings along this road, it's totally unoccupied now. It had certainly seen better days. More recently, it was dressed up for Ang Lee's movie, Lust Caution, but after filming was over, it regressed back to its old, abandoned charm. As recent as the 1990s, it's main role was as a storeroom for Ban Hin Lee Bank's documents. Right in the middle of the city, on prime land, this was a storeroom!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Extreme absurdity

One of the most ludicrous events that may happen on our shores right now is the proposed march by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) on Sunday to the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

What is the Hindraf? It's supposed to be a non-political organisation that purportedly looks after the interests and grievances of the Indian community in this country. And like bloody hell, there are lots of grievances to air ... from the demolition of illegal Hindu temples to religious conversion controversies which Hindraf claims are not being addressed by the Barisan-led government or by their MIC representatives from within the government.

So there's a lot for the Indians to be unhappy about and they pin-point all these troubles to two centuries ago when the British brought in Indian immigrants to work in Malaya.

The purpose of the march is to submit a petition with 100,000 signatures to Queen Elizabeth II to appoint a Queen’s Counsel to represent the Indian community here in a class action suit against her British Government for bringing in the Indians as labourers and exploiting them.

But who do the Hindraf people think they are? Like, as if the Queen can do anything at all. As if the court action would succeed. As if the Indians here have nothing else to do.

If the objective is to protest the bringing in of Indian immigrants, what's past is already past. What do Hindraf hope to achieve from this march? Nothing. Their forefathers are already dead and gone. Are they (that is, their forefathers) going to benefit from this march even if the class action takes place, even if they win? And what will they win?

But if the objective is to prod our government into acting, do you think it will succeed? The people in power are in their ivory towers and are very secure and comfortable there. You'd think they'd care about the protests? Anything that goes against them is always deemed as against the national interest. Their interpretation of the national interest, which is their own interests. It'll simply be a class of wills and you know how it'll end. Might is right, and they have might on their side.

And all the money spent, all the sweat and effort that goes into this. I call it an absurdity because the poor in this country - regardless of race or religion - don't need this march to remind them of their dire situation. This march will fill them with false hopes of achieving something tangible but it will not. At the end of the day, nothing will change politically here, I assure you.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Party or personality?

I smell elections in the air. The strong, dense pong of a general election. In fact, everybody - from the ordinary people in the streets to the politicians in high circles - smell this smell of elections. It's pervading every fabric of society. Expectancy in the air.

Now, when it comes to making your choice, will you choose the personality or the party? Will you be swayed by what a vote for the party means to the governance of the country or will you be attracted to the persuasions of the individuals that represent their respective parties?

In my opinion, it should be choosing the party over the person. It shouldn't matter who the individual is, because when you look at the BIG PICTURE, it's always the party, not the individual. Which is the ultimate reason why you are exercising your voting rights in the first place, isn't it?

But then, when you look back at the present batch of people who have been voted into Parliament, you sort of like to think, gee, was my opinion correct? The utterances that come out from their mouths makes me think whether I, myself, should change my own opinion!

A typical example: when I look at this batch of people below, I think it's better that in the next general election, I should change my outlook to look at the personality rather than the party. I wouldn't want to be represented by a circus party. We don't need bozos like them....

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Out, damn spot, out!

Did you watch the England-Croatia match of the Euro 2008 qualifying round? I did not and what a perfectly good decision I made. At my age, the beauty sleep I get is worth more than anything showing on the boob tube.

But I did surf over to the football websites this morning to find out what happened at 4am this morning. England's out, crocked 2-3 on home turf by a hard-working Croatian team.

England needed just one point from the game and they mucked it all up. They even allowed Croatia the luxury of a 2-0 lead by the interval and had to claw themselves back to level at 2-2. Then, after achieving this, complacency stepped in and they played as if they were already qualified and could afford to step down a gear, and allowed their opponents to slip in their third goal.

What can you expect from an under-performing side that's full of prima donnas brimming with their own self-importance?

I'll be glad to see the backs of Lampard, Gerrard, Cole and even Terry (even though he did not feature in this game) after this debacle. If they have their dignities, they should do the right thing and quit the England team. But I won't be so harsh on old Becks...yet. Despite all you may say about him, he can still contribute. Yes, if I'm the new England manager, I'll grant him the honour of earning his 100th cap.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Mengkuang gems

At the spur of the moment, I took my family to Mengkuang Dam last Sunday morning. They didn't appreciate that I had woken them up at 5.45am but I believe they did not regret the trip.

It was the first time that we had visited the dam in the morning and we found the unfolding day very charming. Obviously, many people had the same idea as us because the car park was quite full when we arrived.

Here are some pictures I took that demonstrates the beauty of Mengkuang. Mengkuang gems, I call them.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Touring the Gold Coast hinterland

I'd never met Royd Wallace until I came along on this trip. He's the father of Darran who runs the Southern Cross 4WD Tours (SC4WD). Royd was also our tour guide and he spent the whole day to take us to Mt Tamourine and the Lamington national park. Of course, these are all the attractions in the Coast Coast hinterland, but you can already experience a lot from this tour.

Along the way, we travelled in the Australian-made OKA, a powerful 4WD vehicle that made nonsense of the toughest dirt terrains. The OKA can seat 10 people comfortably but there were only six of us that day. Even with a full load, I can assure you that there'd be enough power and ample leg room for everyone.

We climbed the dirt track to reach Mt Tambourine, had tea there, then travelled southwards to Sarabah for lunch before heading further south into the Lamington national park to the O'Reilly's Guesthouse. The final destination was the Tree Top Walk.

All in, we spent about 10 hours on the road and it was a trip that I'd fully recommend anyone. Gold Coast is not all about the beaches; it is about a wonderful hinterland also. The vista from the hills were wonderful and it's tour companies like SC4WD Tours that keep these alternative attractions of Australia alive.

You can always find this company on the Internet but you can also email them at to arrange your tours. A half-day itinerary is available but it's much worthwhile to sign up for the full-day package.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Ferguson's best 21

The Manchester Evening News, in celebrating Alex Ferguson's 21 years with Manchester United, has proposed these players as the best of the manager's signings. Every fan will have something to say about this list but I guess no one can dispute the MEN's ultimate choice as the BEST among these bests. Scroll down to see who the BEST is.

21 Brian McClair, 1987-98, £850,000
20 Henrik Larsson, Jan-Feb 2007, loan
19 Nemanja Vidic, 2006-present, £7m
18 Edwin Van der Sar 2005-present, undisclosed
17 Dwight Yorke, 1998-2002, £12.6m
16 Rio Ferdinand, 2002-present, £30m
15 Teddy Sheringham, 1997-2001, £3.5m
14 Andy Cole, 1995-2001, £7m
13 Jaap Stam, 1998-2001, £10.75m
12 Wayne Rooney, 2004-present, £27m
11 Gary Pallister, 1989-1998, £2.3m
10 Cristiano Ronaldo, 2003-present, £12m
9 Steve Bruce, 1987-1996, £800,000
8 Mark Hughes, 1988-1995, £1.8m
7 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 1996-2007, £1.5m
6 Ruud van Nistelrooy, 2001-2006, £19m
5 Denis Irwin, 1990-2002, £625,000
4 Ryan Giggs, 1990-present, trainee
3 Roy Keane, 1993-2005, £3.75m
2 Peter Schmeichel, 1991-1999, £550,000
1 Eric Cantona, 1992-1997, £1.2m

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Travel photos

I've just spent the past few days going through my recent holiday pictures to clean them up one by one. That's the reason why I had been rather quiet on this blog. But the main tasks are completed now. From about 1,300 pictures, I have trimmed them down to 500. This is still quite a lot by my reckoning but I've also an abridged version. Click on the picture (right) and it'll transport you to this version in my online album. Oh, and email me if you want to see the full version.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Are you an active voter?

I was listening to the radio on my way back from work yesterday evening. The announcer on RedFM was running a radio poll asking listeners to tell the station whether they were active voters or inactive ones.

By active voters, the criterion was that they must have been voting consistently at every general election since registering as voters. Inactive voters would be those registered voters who have not been exercising their rights to vote and also included those that chose not to register in the first place.

Although the announcer did not say how many people sent in their votes, he gave the results as 68 percent active voters and 32 percent inactive ones. This means to say that 32 out of every 100 people out there listening to this radio station admitted they had not bothered to vote at the general elections.

This is the group of ambivalent people who couldn't care less whichever political party is in power. Unfortunately, these are among the people who complain the loudest about common-day issues that affect them.

I'm rather pissed off. In my opinion, people who choose not to exercise their right to vote have no business to complain. Why complain when in the first place, they do not care about who they want to lead them in government? It's not that they supported the ruling party or the opposition. When you exercise your right to vote - even if your choice of candidate did not win - you have a legitimate right to complain about the way laws are made in this country, complain about the way laws are implemented in this country and complain about the way laws are interpreted in this country. In general, you have a right to complain about the way this country is run. But when you choose not to vote, please lah, what is there for you to say? Nothing at all...

So go out there today and register yourself as a voter. If you know what's best for you, make your presence and your vote count in the next general election.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Rothschild orchid

Isn't this a beauty? The Rothschild slipper orchid in its full splendour. I had been waiting patiently for it to bloom ever since I saw the bud a few weeks back. So, when I heard that it had finally bloomed, I made my way to see for myself what the fuss was all about.

I wasn't disappointed. Just looking at the colours alone was enough to take my breath away. And from side-to-side, each bloom measured about eight inches.

The Rothschild orchid is one of the most exotic plants in the world. It's natural habitat are the cool slopes of Mount Kinabalu and it is named after Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, a 19th-century connoisseur of orchids. The flower is rarely seen outside its natural habitat, so this is an especially wonderful occasion for me to view it, touch it and photograph it up real close. And here is a photo of the buds that I had snapped several weeks ago.

The Daily Telegraph tells the tale of how six plants were smuggled into England in 2005. Plant trafficking is rife and an orchid plant like this can fetch thousands of pounds. It's no kid stuff, this Rothschild orchid (scientific name: Paphiopedilum rothschildianum).

Sunday, 11 November 2007

PGCC forum in Penang

Several leading NGOs in Penang are organising a second Forum on the Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) project that is due to take place on the grounds presently occupied by the Penang Turf Club in Scotland Road.

The tentative date for the Forum is 23 Nov 2007 (Friday) at 8pm, and it will be at the Dewan Sri Pinang Rooms A, B and C. The Forum will focus on the analysis of the traffic and environmental impact of the PGCC project and an overview of merits of PGCC in Penang's priorities and needs.

The PGCC Campaign Group comprises the Consumers Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Aliran, Penang Heritage Trust, Citizens for Public Transport, Malaysian Nature Society, Tanjung Bungah Residents Association, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Badan Warisan Malaysia, Jesselton Heights Residents Association and Friends of Botanic Gardens.

Whether or not you agree with the PGCC, it will be educational to attend this Forum and hear the alternative news which you will never get from the developers, State government or the mainstream press.

I have my own thoughts on this project which you can read here.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

James Taylor

What's your favourite James Taylor song? I can't finger any particularone to be a favourite but I know that Fire And Rain and Carolina In My Mind are equal favourites.

Fire And Rain has such a message of despair. It's sad and heart-rending. But then, it's also a song of hope. What lifts up the song is the percussion bit towards its end.

Carolina In My Mind comes from his first album, his one and only album on the Apple label. I was so impressed with my vinyl copy that I just had to buy the CD when it was finally released.

Among the other vinyls in my collection, the Mud Slide Slim album stands out with You Can Close Your Eyes. The quality of this song easily surpasses his interpretation of the Carole King number, You've Got A Friend.

James Taylor, like Carole King, is an accomplished communicator. His songs, simple yet complicated, speak to you from his heart. He puts so much emotion into them that you really feel his anguish.

It's impossible for me to do anything more to describe my admiration for James Taylor's work except to put up this image of the records and CDs that I have of him. Get them and soon you'll be transported into his world too.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Sony Ericsson K750i

Picked this new mobile (the one on the left) up from Gurney Plaza last Friday. The old one (on the right) is already on the blink and no more can be done to coax it to prolong its lifespan. Even new batteries are useless.

So far, I'm satisfied with the Sony Ericsson K750i, especially the 2.0-megapixel camera. Have been using it around the past two days and I must say it performs better than my expectations. Only drawback, as far as I can see, is the lack of 3G and wifi but hey, RM699 is a good price to pay for everything else.