Sunday, 31 January 2010

Penang's Chinese New Year events

With Chinese New Year being just about two weeks away, I'm looking forward not only to our annual family reunion "Ooi Lor" dinner - it's so good to have my daughter back from Kuala Lumpur and my son back from Tanjung Bungah - but also the various programmes that are lined up around the city.

In particular, I'm looking forward to two annual events: the lighting up of the Kek Lok Si Temple in Ayer Itam from 6 Feb 2010 to 14 Mar 2010 and the Penang government's Chinese New Year Celebration on 20 Feb 2010.

We Chinese are the same and yet so different: the Hokkiens, Cantonese, Teochews, Hainanese and Hakkas are all from the same Chinese stock but there are slight and sometimes significant cultural differences.

So again, to highlight our different cultural aspects, there'll be seven thematic "little towns" set up in the George Town heritage areas of Chulia Street, Armenian Street, Soo Hong Lane, Ah Quee Street and Acheen Street for each of our communities. The celebrations start at 3pm and will continue until midnight.

As for the Kek Lok Si Temple, it's best to visit the place in the evenings when the 230,000 light bulbs and 10,000 lanterns are lit up for 33 nights. A bonus from this year is to admire the completed pavillion that covers the outdoor giant Kwan Yin statue. I think the sight will be fantastic!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Newton Heath protest

If the above picture looks familiar, it should be. It's the Stretford End of Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. But no, the red stand in the stadium have not been ripped off and replaced.

Actually, someone with a bit of imagination and computer skill had done a marvellous job to change the colours to green and yellow.

Green and yellow represent the original colours of Manchester United when they were still known as Newton Heath FC, the club formed in 1878 as the football team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Today, the colours have been restored to prominence as the emblem of resistance against the Glazer family, owners of Manchester United since 2005.

United are £716 million in debt under the Glazers and fans angry at the club's perilous financial position are stepping up their efforts to force them out.

"And while City are practically swimming in money, United are operating at full steam simply to avoid drowning in debt which, at the last count, stood at £716.5 million. Hence the optimism at of a bright future Eastlands and the fear among some at Old Trafford of difficult times ahead." - Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph

Since the game with Hull City on 23 Jan 2010, fans are being encouraged to wear green-and-gold scarves as a colourful protest against the Glazers.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Two sides to Kuala Lumpur

No matter how the Cititel Express in Kuala Lumpur positions itself, it can never remove the fact that it is located amidst the old, rundown Chow Kit quarters of the city. No doubt the rooms are all spanking clean and tidy but one look out the window brings the occupant rudely back into reality, that there are people who struggle to make a living and indeed, they are also living in conditions that can hardly be termed as even basic comfort.

Three times in three months - November, December and January - I stayed at the Cititel Express. If I had not seen for myself the squalor behind the hotel, I would not have believed it. Here is the view from my room on the first floor of the hotel:

Thankfully, I had the chance to see this. It jolted me that Kuala Lumpur is not only a place of fresh opportunities and riches. It is also a city of lost hope and poverty.

Of course, if one stays on the higher floors of the building, one will miss all the depression. Instead, you'll be greeted with a breath-taking view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline with the imposing twin towers in the background:

Morning view at about 7 o'clock

Afternoon view at about 5 o'clock

Evening view at about 11 o'clock

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Earth Hour 2010

Mark down 27 Mar 2010 on your calendar.
That's when Earth Hour 2010 will take place.

I took part in Earth Hour 2009;
I will take part in Earth Hour 2010.

Please join me...

On Earth Hour 2010, hundreds of millions of people, organisations, corporations and governments will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple: turning off their lights for one hour. Earth Hour symbolizes that by working together, each of us can have a positive impact in the fight against climate change, protecting our future and that of future generations.

Participation is easy. By flipping off your light switch on 27 Mar 2010 at 8.30pm local time you will be casting your vote for action on climate change. On this date and time, Earth Hour will cascade around the globe, moving from one time zone to another, uniting the planet under a single, simple, call to action. So, set your clock!

Since its inception three years ago, Earth Hour’s non-partisan approach has captured the world’s imagination and became a global phenomenon.

Nearly one billion people turned out for Earth Hour 2009
– involving 4,100 cities in 87 countries on seven continents.

Will your city, town or village join in this year for Earth Hour 2010?

Last year, iconic landmarks from around the world that went dark for Earth Hour included:

  • Empire State Building
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • United Nations Headquarters
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Seattle’s Space Needle
  • Great Pyramids of Giza
  • Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro
  • St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City
  • Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London
  • Elysee Palace and Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • Beijing’s Birds Nest and Water Cube
  • Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong
  • Sydney’s Opera House
(The above story is modified from the original write-up on the Earth Hour 2010 website.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Kampung Buah Pala Ponggal festival

There we were at the Inniras Banana Leaf Restaurant, Brown Garden for a spot of lunch last Saturday. But what was supposed to be an uneventful meal quickly turned out to be quite an interesting diversion for a Saturday afternoon.

When we were approaching the playground in front of the restaurant, I commented to my wife that there must be something going on as there were quite a number of people hurrying about on the field as well as on the pavements.

Well, well....a kolam drawing competition was in full swing. And when I glanced at the playground, I realised that the people here were readying themselves for their Ponggal thanksgiving harvest festival. There was going to be a claypot breaking competition and a climb up a greased up 30-foot tall pole.

However, I was taken by surprise when this chap turned up out of the blue.

No other than the unassuming Lim Guan Eng, Penang's chief minister.

No protocol of any kind, someone just announced his presence, he was garlanded and then taken around to view the kolams before going into the field where he lit the oil lamp and later poured a packet of milk into one of the earthen pots. However, there was no fresh milk from a cow, just a packet of milk from the refrigerator or perhaps straight from a sundry shop.

Turned out that these were the remnants of the Kampung Buah Pala folks who were celebrating Ponggal in Brown Garden. Of course, Kampung Buah Pala is no more as it has been cordoned off and probably already flattened by Nusmetri for their development project. Nevertheless, it did not prevent the former KBP villagers from coming together once again to celebrate this annual festival at a new spot: the nearby Taman Brown Village Development and Security Committee Centre in Bukit Glugor.

Guan Eng wasted no time to tell the reporters hanging around the field that he was hoping that the former KBP residents would be reunited again when their promised houses were built by the developers. Again, he stressed that the woes of the KBP folks were caused by the previous Barisan Nasional administration in Penang, that they were the ones who sold off the rights of the residents. And, he hoped that the recent Federal Court decision would put an end to the fraudulent land title transfer scams that had caused so much pain among unsuspecting land owners.

I should also mention that there was a traditional pulli attam (tiger dance) by two men in supposedly tiger outfits but unfortunately the two young men looked so uncomfortable in their ill-fitting leopard costumes. Ha ha, but their gear even came with make-shift tails!

Woe is me....

Sunday had been terrible from my perspective. I was completely occupied with doing nothing but household chores.

Problem is, you see, we weren't able to hire a help from any of the maid agencies in town because they were all already fully booked. Normally, we would be able to get one from an agency to help us clean the house ahead of Chinese New Year but I guess we left it too late this time around. Not that we were procrastinating. We had been looking around the agencies since Christmas.

So what can we do then? Fall back on the old hubby, of course. My wife looked at me and said that since I wasn't office bound for the time being, I'll have to spend some of my time to spruce the place up. Okay, lah, I'll do it.

As a result during the weekend between running around to see one or two potential clients for my estate planning business (of which I'm attempting to pick it up again) and playing host to my Singaporean friend who had been travelling to the mainland the past few days, I've been knocking cobwebs from the ceiling, wiping the walls, mopping the floor, climbing the ladder and sorting out the wanted papers from the tons collecting in the storeroom. And that's just 10 percent of the job done. Woe is me....

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Saturday time off

Okay, let's see what's on my plate today....
  1. Leave the house at 11 o'clock this morning with the wife to go to the island on one of our private jaunts together. Nobody to disturb us, nothing to think about.
  2. Have lunch at the Inniras banana leaf restaurant in Brown Garden, Glugor
  3. Pay a momentary visit to a very distant relative in Lim Lean Teng Road to collect one of her wonderful, yummy, home-made chutneys
  4. Go to the Kwong Tuck Sundries & Liquors shop in Campbell Street to buy some dried foodstuff for Chinese New Year
  5. Visit the Kwan Im Temple in Pitt Street
  6. See Avatar 3D at the Gurney Plaza
Mmm, that's it. That's my schedule for today

Friday, 22 January 2010

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Worms in the head

Here, come let me introduce you to one of my long-time pals, Derek (left). He's from Singapore but I've known him for, what, 43 or 44 years? Yes, that must be correct. We were at the Penang Free School together. As school friends go, most of us had lost contact with one another immediately after secondary school. We reconnected about 10 years ago and I have been keeping in close touch with my old school pals in Singapore ever since. Hey, we even went to Kinabalu Park some four years back. The other chap is Teo Guan Cheong (right), an unassuming chain-smoking fella who even have had a state award conferred on him for his life-time work. Doing what, you may ask. For coaxing tiny white worms from your head. Serious!

Teo is a Chinese sinseh. He runs a small shop beside the Bukit Mertajam main market. His shop seems to be the small town's answer to the big town's private hospital. The work he does as a Chinese nose sinseh is the small town's version of the big town's ear, nose and throat specialist.

He only knows one job: to cure people of their sinus problem. For a long time, Derek has been suffering from a sinus problem which fucks up his hearing as well. He has been to many ENT specialists in Singapore but none of them has been successful in clearing up his problem. Expensive as well, according to him. "If those ENT fellas can't cure me with their sophisticated solution, perhaps I should also look at alternative medicine," he told me. That's how we found ourselves in this tiny shoplot yesterday morning.

Teo took one look at Derek and poked his nose with his finger. "Sinus," he said. What about me, I asked him out of curiosity. He looked at me, poked me once or twice and said, no, you are okay. What a relief.

So, what sort of treatment would my friend have to undergo? Nothing complicated. The sinseh just asked him to blow into a tube connected to a coconut shell that covered some mysterious Chinese herbs (a trademark secret, I suppose) spitting on a very hot clay plate that he had just removed from a stove.

"Blow as hard as you can into the tube," he said. Dutifully, Derek blew as hard as he could: once, twice, thrice. The whole process was repeated seven or eight times until we could see white, thready stuff, maybe about eight to 12 millimetres long, deposited on the hot plates. "That's the worms," the sinseh muttered as I went in to photograph the icky stuff. Methinks they were attracted by the smoke or were knocked out by the fumes.

Either way, Derek will be coming back for consecutive daily treatments in the next few days. The sinseh said that my friend would have to clear his head of all the "worms" in order to have his sinus problem cured. Come back tomorrow at the same time and no eating eggs or chickens, Teo told Derek as he issued him an appointment card. Gee, imagine that. A small town sinseh who issues appointment cards to his clients. Seeing that he was a chain-smoker, we casually asked whether smoking was okay. No problem, he answered. Yes, we had expected him to say just that!

When I related all this to my wife, she asked me whether or not the sinseh was keeping any treatment detail of his clients.

Whatever for, I replied. He doesn't do anything else. His treatment is all the same. He only needs to do one thing and that's to ask people to blow down the tube. That's all he does. What treatment record does he need to keep, right?

To know about the sinseh's location, click here.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Adventure and misadventure

Two lessons I learnt: one, you must get to the airport on time and two, always allow for the unexpected to happen.

Okay, so it was mostly my fault that I missed my AirAsia flight back to Penang on Sunday night. I did not provide for the inevitable delay. My fault? Sure. When I jetted down to the KLIA-LCCT on Saturday, I had timed that it had taken the bus (booked through AirAsia when I purchased the flight tickets) about 50 minutes to travel from the LCCT to KL Sentral.

However, I had failed to take into account that the bus would not leave immediately when I boarded it. I was lucky that upon arrival at the bus terminal, the bus had moved off almost immediately because it was already full. That lowered my guard and gave me a wrong impression.

Therefore, on Sunday, I had also assumed - wrongly - that the bus from the KL Sentral to the airport would also be shoving off soon after I boarded it. But it did not. About 10 minutes passed. I glanced at the signboard on the wall and it said that the bus would depart at 8.15pm. The time came and gone. The bus still didn't move. The bus company's gang of drivers were still outside chatting away. Obviously, they were not concerned. In fact, they couldn't have cared less whether their passengers had a flight to catch or not.

Finally, the bus left the station at 8.35pm. It was 20 minutes after the scheduled time. By the time it arrived at the LCCT, it was 9.35pm and my flight was at 9.50pm. All the time in the bus, I was feeling anxious whether I could make it to the check-in counter.

No, I didn't. The AirAsia counter staff said the counter closed 20 minutes before flight time. The passengers were already boarding the aircraft, she said, and there was nothing more that could be done, save to reschedule my flight. There's another flight later at night, I asked hopefully? No, she answered, the next flight would be at 6.50am the next morning. What to do except to fork up extra just to have my flight to Penang changed?

So the lesson to learn when travelling the Penang-Kuala Lumpur route. From Bukit Mertajam it looks quite safe to leave the house before boarding time. However, you'll need about three hours in Kuala Lumpur. Where KL is concerned, always expect the unexpected. There's less efficiency around.

Oh yes, there's Lesson Number Three. Forget about buying bus tickets online when you book your AirAsia tickets. The few ringgit you save will not be worth the hassle of missing your flight. And actually, there are plentiful of alternate bus services plying the two directions. Just pick and choose the bus that's moving off soon. You need not travel by AirAsia's recommended bus service which after all, is not even operated by them. Skybus is only a third-rate bus company that AirAsia ties up with. (I'm still smarting, see? So I'm entitled to write them off.)

By the way, the check-in hall at 9.35pm was a strange sight to behold. Normally filled with travellers, this time there was nobody at all in the big hall. Lights were dimmed and in the far corner of the hall, all I saw was one solitary AirAsia staff trying to complete her work for the day. She was the one that rescheduled my flight to Monday morning.

So what could I do after that? I didn't want to go back to the city centre, find a place to stay and then come back again to the airport at 4am. However, I had almost nine hours to kill before my flight. I tried the Tune Hotel nearby but sorry, all rooms were fully booked. No choice but to return to the terminal. No choice but to spend the night there. Luckily, McDonald's was open round-the-clock. I chose the most comfortable seat I could find and settled down for the night. As this was the first time (and hopefully the last time too) I had to overnight at an airport terminal, I was prepared for trouble. If anything were to happen, like being robbed, I was prepared for it.

To my surprise, nothing like that happened. There were policemen outside the terminal and .... people kept coming into the fast food restaurant. So most of the seats continued to be filled with people. People eating away, people surfing on their notebooks and of course, people sleeping or trying to sleep at the tables. Once I realised that, I was able to relax.

My watch showed 11 o'clock. 3600 long seconds passed and then it showed midnight, then 1am, 2am all the way to 6am. I surprised myself by not being able to sleep. Perhaps it was the cup of coffee I took. Incredibly, I was wide awake from 10pm when I settled down into the restaurant until I reached home slightly after 9am on Monday morning. My only companion was a paperback book to keep my wits about me while I waited for the grass to grow and the paint to dry.....

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A local Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) joint?

See the Big Nose on the poster outside the shop? This could possibly be the ultimate small town equivalent of the big-moneyed Ear Nose & Throat specialists that populate all the big cities and private hospitals around the country. Bukit Mertajam here ain't a big city and this shop here ain't a private hospital. Yet this small shop here in Bukit Mertajam fulfils the need for a private "nose job" hospital in a big city.

I was asked today by an old school mate, now a Singaporean, whether I knew of this Chinese sinseh in Bukit Mertajam whose fame was supposed to be known far and wide up and down the peninsula. Gosh, if he is reputedly known all around the country and people from as far as Singapore would come and seek him out, why is it that none of my family members has ever heard of him? It just shows how little I know about the town I live in. I gotta try harder!

Anyway, for my friend's sake, I managed to track down this unassuming shop, Tabib China Kim San Chi, located in an unnamed side road off Jalan Bunga Raya in Bukit Mertajam. Now I've got to wait for tomorrow to take my friend to see this sinseh. Should be interesting....

Australian roulette

The top seeds at the Australian open tennis championships -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray -- have their own legion of fans. A quartet of Murray's fans have already shown their hand. With Federer playing today, will we also see a quintet of his fans in similar R.O.G.E.R garbs?

Question of note: Will Federer land his career 16th Grand Slam from this Australia open? He knows that it's getting tougher at the top and the differences between the seeds have closed up considerably. It's no longer a god-given conclusion that Federer will win any tennis tournament that he plays in.

So Nadal will have a chance to pick up his seventh Grand Slam title provided his knees don't trouble him again, Djokovic has a chance for a second Grand Slam if he doesn't use heat exhaustion to retire from a match again, Del Potro also has a chance to win a second Grand Slam event while Murray quest to win a first Grand Slam title may be realised at this very event. Juicy prospects? We shall wait and see....

Nobody messes with James Cameron

Well, I was in Kuala Lumpur during the weekend to attend a chess meeting-cum-discussion called by Dato' Tan Chin Nam at his Dato Arthur Tan Chess Centre in Jalan Dang Wangi. I think there were about 30 people there comprising chess organisers, chess coaches and chess players and they were all giving their views and opinions on taking chess forward in this country.

There were lots of interesting ideas, all shared with great enthusiasm, but the problem is implementation. Who are in a position to implement them? Certainly not all these interested chess parties and certainly not the Malaysian Chess Federation too. So unless there is action to follow these proposals, I'm afraid we'll not achieve much from the meeting except that ideas and opinions are now out in the open.

But I do not wish to say anything much about this meeting here. No point. Not the right place, not the right forum. I'll just restrict myself to say that meeting aside, Hamid invited me to a very nice thosai dinner in town (a small non-descript Indian restaurant on the first floor of a shop house, with only a tiny signboard above a narrow staircase to acknowledge its presence) which was then followed by a cinema show at the Suria KLCC: a screening of Avatar 3D version.

I've only one comment about this show: nobody, nobody messes with James Cameron, the director of this show! Nobody! He's the master: the director of the moment, the director of the hour, the director of the year!

Story line was rather thin and predictable but the virtual reality special effects were awesome. And that's essentially the ingredient that makes today's movie shows stand out from the past: it's not about the story (although it helps to have a good script) but the special effects. I can understand why some friends go and watch this show multiple times....

Monday, 18 January 2010

Li Chun, 2010

As the date draws nearer, my aunt keeps reminding me that I should tell her when exactly this year's Li Chun, the Coming of Spring,would be. "I need the exact time," she keeps saying. So finally, this morning, I caved in to her persistent reminders and whipped out my copy of Joey Yap's book, The Ten Thousand Year Calendar.

Strange, I thought to myself as I turned to the year 2010 in the book. There doesn't seem to be any mention of Li Chun on this page!

Then I remembered. We had an intercalary fifth month in the present Chinese calendar which runs from 26 Jan 2009 to 13 Feb 2010. That's why Chinese New Year will fall much later on 14 Feb 2010.

And that's also why there are two Li Chun dates in the Chinese calendar. Though the two dates for Li Chun in our westernised Gregorian calendar are the same, 4 Feb, the equivalent dates in our Chinese lunisolar calendar are different: falling on the 10th day of the first month and then on the 21st day of the 12th month.

Cool, I thought, when I noticed this. Anyway, I told her that if she wanted to prepare for Li Chun - she'd only be glueing red paper with auspicious Chinese characters on the family rice bucket but maybe, if I can successfully persuade her this year, she would also want to hang out the red cloth over the front doorway to signify the official start of the new year - then the time to do so on 4 Feb 2010 will be at 6.49am.

My three freedoms

Throughout my working life, I have spent time to serve three voluntary institutions.

The first and of course my fondest was the Penang Chess Association (PCA) of which I am a founding and life member. I don't having any records with me but if I remember correctly - and readers are welcomed to correct me - I became the association's honorary secretary in 1978. It was a voluntary post that I held until 1982 when I was replaced suddenly at the general meeting.

I must admit that I was caught totally off-guard. I didn't see it coming and I was pretty much affected by that turn of events. I thought the world would somehow revolve around me and I was wrong. Totally, absolutely, dead wrong! Anyway after persuasion, I agreed eventually to continue serving in the association as a committee member.

Then, the PCA went into a deep decline from about 1986 onwards. Activities grounded almost to a halt and yet, nothing was being done to save the association. Every year, we simply went through the motions of an annual general meeting for the sake of keeping our relationship with the Registrar of Societies alive.

It reached a stage where a few members decided that enough was enough. To revive the PCA, the only way was to change the whole committee. That was in 1990. I was roped in to break the news gently to the incumbent president. It was a most difficult task to tell him that he was no longer wanted. But eventually, I succeeded and from then on, Dr Choong Sim Poey became only the second president of the Penang Chess Association. Unfortunately, I found myself thrust into the honorary secretary's position once again to support him. But in 1998, I decided that it was time for me to step down...this time happily and voluntarily. I had learnt a valuable lesson from some 16 years earlier: volunteer to go, don't wait to be kicked out.

I continued to serve as a committee member under Dr Toh Kin Woon, and I did so until 2002 when I decided again to step aside totally from all active participation in the association's management. But I did tell the PCA that at any time should they require my assistance outside the committee, all they needed was to ask. Until they do, I'll just remain a simple, happy life member. I'm quite contented with that.

In the mid 1990s, Dr Choong suggested that I play an active role in the Old Frees' Association (OFA). As I had a good relationship with him, I agreed to come into the OFA's management committee and was appointed to be in charge of the library. After four years, I decided that it was also time to relinquish the post. Nevertheless, I rejoined the OFA management committee two years later after much persuasion by a new OFA management committee.

This time, I was put in charge of the computer and photography section. An organised trip to Gua Kelam in Perlis for OFA members and PFS students was one of the highlights of my tenure. The other was the opportunity to be part of an OFA contingent that paid a visit on the Raja of Perlis in Kuala Lumpur when he became the Agung. But after a while, I found the demands of attending the OFA's monthly management committee meetings too heavy. So I decided to leave again after two years in the committee.

My final brush with volunteer work started in the mid-1980s when my father nominated me into the committee of the Swee Cheok Tong or the Quah Kongsi. This is a clansman association open to only people of the Quah surname whose descendants arrived from a village or district in the Fukien Province of China a long time ago. I am the fourth generation from my lineage living in Penang.

As a new committee member, I remained much in the background and left it to the elders to decide how they wanted to run the Kongsi. But I could see that almost everyone in the Kongsi were firmly entrenched in the old world. They could only look at the world with old eyes. Despite the 21st Century knocking on the door, they ran the Kongsi as if the time was the early 20th Century. They were living in a time warp.

In 1998 (again dates are approximate), I suddenly found myself thrust forward as the Kongsi's new president. I had been persuaded by the Kongsi's eldest member to accept this post because he said that my late grandfather and my father before me had been the presidents at one time or another too. It was one of the most ridiculous reasons at the time but I couldn't refuse him.

I resolved to take the Kongsi into the 21st Century by attempting to change the way it was run. For a while, things ran smoothly but gradually, I realised that there were under-current resistance to change. As much as I wanted, progress was very slow. I felt hemmed in, yet I continued. My biggest achievement was to resolve the Kongsi's biggest and longest-standing worry: the illegal occupation of a Kongsi property by a Tow Boo Keong temple. Evicting the temple which had been operating of the land for more than 30 years was not a viable option but we brought them to the negotiating table where we concluded a sale at a very fair price to us.

For a long time too, we had been very concerned about the physical condition of the main building which we called the Kongsi House. The interior flooded every time it rained. Moreover, the upper floor boards were infested with termites. We decided for renovation and called for tenders. The secretary and I recognised that we had to tread carefully because of the large sum of money involved. We went strictly by the rule because we recognised that those people who resisted change were willing to trip us up and sabotage our work for their own personal motives.

Well, by June last year, it had come to a head. I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate such nonsense any more. If the Kongsi committee wanted to abrogate the agreement with the appointed renovation contractor, it was up to them. I no longer wished to participate in their decision-making process. At the Kongsi's general meeting that month, I stood down as president. There's now a new team helming the committee but to my mind and several other level-headed ones, they have decided to retreat back into the 19th Century. I wish them well. The die's been cast and the cloth's been cut.

But I must reiterate that I left the president's post the same way that I had accepted it: according to the wishes of the members. But I'm totally relieved. A huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. The lessons that I had learnt from leaving the PCA and then the OFA have served me well. I have learnt to let go willingly. If you loved something, you should let it go. There's nothing to be sad about leaving a position but there's a lot to be happy about.

Penang Chess Association, Old Frees' Association, Swee Cheok Tong. Thank you for allowing me to get involved with your affairs through all these years. It had been a wonderful experience and journey. Would I want to be actively involved again in any committee in any society or association? Right now, I will say "no". I am enjoying a new-found freedom away from the responsibilities of holding voluntary office.

(Again, I wish to make it clear that the years mentioned in this post are all approximates because I cannot remember them clearly. I have never remembered most dates clearly all my life.)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Australia travellogue: Abbey Beach Resort, Busselton

Just to show you how big was the hotel in Busselton, here's a short tour of the grounds:

We are looking towards the reception counter. The swimming pool was at the back of the main building. Nobody was swimming at that particular hour in the morning. All stuffing themselves with breakfast, I presume.

And this is the pond. Can't quite call it a lake, so it must be a pond. See the duck swimming? There were so many of them. Below is the view as we rounded the far end of the pond to walk back.

Next: Getting around
Previous: Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Saturday, 16 January 2010

George Town's 53rd anniversary

My apologies. This item comes later than it should have but if anyone had realised my state of mind on 31 Dec 2009 and 1 Jan 2010 when I was undergoing a great transition in my life, they will let it pass. Now to matters at hand. In my opinion, my beloved George Town's 53rd anniversary of its city status on 1 Jan 2010 passed by with almost no fanfare this year.

At least last year, there was a function at the E&O Hotel in Farquhar Street in the city but I think there was none this year. Are we getting tired or what? I hope not. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the City celebrating its Heritage Day on 7 July 2010. By now, it should be confirmed as a public holiday in Penang.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: at the Gurney Plaza on New Year's Eve, it was announced that there'll be a Visit Penang Year to promote tourism here. But I'm rather perplexed that the "Year", as defined by the State Executive Councillor in charge of tourism, no less a person than Danny Law, runs from 2010 to 2012. It's a great stretch of the imagination to believe that there are 1096 days in a Year but I've got to give credit to this man that at least, he is trying! In the meantime, here's the latest news regarding his attempts to lure the tourist dollars to Penang.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Funny money

I wonder what a US$1 million dollar note would look like. Maybe it looks like this?

It's incredible, isn't it, the lengths that confidence tricksters will go to in order to fool people with counterfeit money. And it's also incredible that enough gullible people will get taken in every day. Well, I suppose if people do continue to get conned by scams, they'll believe in anything.

Anyway, the long arm of the law has caught up finally with this international fake. He claims to be richer than Warren Buffet but nobody knows where his wealth came from. He once pledged to donate RM1.04 billion to the National Cancer Council but question is, did the NCC really see the money?

It was revealed yesterday that he was arrested earlier this week in a hotel along busy Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur with a leather bag containing 60 pieces of “US$1 million” bills, 60 pieces of “US$100,000” bills and 40 pieces of “US$500” bills which all added up to US$66.2 million.

All funny money because you see, there are no such denominations in US currency. The highest legal banknote used currently in the United States is the US$100 note. There used to be a US$500 note issued in 1934 and which still has value. However, it can only be traded in the US Federal Reserve. The US$500 Federal Reserve Note features a portrait of President William McKinley.

The problem with fakes like Elie Youssef Najem is that there will always be people foolish enough to believe him and fall for his fakery and empty boasts. Just do a Google search for Elie Youssef Najem and see the results pour in. In particular, read this. He's wanted everywhere! What a trail of fakery, trickery, cheating and debt.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Junk or asteroid?

So this is the mystery object that had caused a flutter of excitement among scientists and astronomers since Monday: a space rock or space junk (astronomers and scientists' opinions are still divided over it but were united in naming it 2010 AL30) not bigger than 15 metres across that streaked across the Thursday night sky at about 8.47pm at a distance of 130,000km from Earth, which is about one-third of the way to the moon.

Its size meant that we were never meant to see it or in any danger of it crashing onto Earth. In all probability, it would've burnt up in our upper atmosphere and given us a spectacular heavenly fireworks display. However, it was not to be.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Who's going to be next??

Really, I think all these fear-mongering actions are getting a bit out of hand. I was surprised to learn this morning that a Sikh temple in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur came under a hail of stones last night, thrown in from outside the temple compound. Whether or not it was related to the Allah and the Catholic Church issue remains to be determined but luckily, nobody was hurt. However, the glass doors were cracked.

No doubt, the Home Minister will still say that it is isolated and not serious. No doubt, the Police will still call on the churches and now temples to guard their own premises. No doubt, the Police will continue to say that they are investigating the latest incident. No doubt, the Police will dust the stones for clues and try to lift fingerprints from them. No doubt, The Malaysian Insider will still use the word "imps" to describe the perpetrators.

But in the meantime, the zealots and the bigots are having a field day, emboldened by the snail's pace of this investigation. Where's the will to make it happen fast?

F-word in the M-kitchen?

Totally cool. Gordon Ramsay is one of the most entertaining celebrity chefs around and I know that several people managed to get fat just by watching his shows on television.

So now, the word is that he wants to highlight Malaysian cuisine next. May we have some expletives served with our food then?

When lightning strikes

I was having a somewhat frivolous conversation on facebook with English chess grandmaster Nigel Short recently and our topic turned to his first and last visit to Malaysian shores quite some time ago.
Nigel: I am trying to remember where I picked up hepatitis
Me: ahem....lightning seldom strikes twice in the same place
Nigel: one guy was struck by lightning seven times
Me: that's why i said "seldom", not "never"
Nigel: he was a ranger in Yellowstone Park. if I recall (he) committed suicide in the end. Roy Sullivan was his name. just looked it up.
All I can say is, poor guy...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Little devils

Aiyoyo, I noticed this news item in The Malaysian Insider today and couldn't believe what I saw. The headline said: Police: Imps broke Miri church windows

I was scratching my head. Imps? Did The Malaysian Insider really mean to use this word? Because to me, the most common meaning of this word is "a little devil or demon; an evil spirit."

Of course, imp also means "mischievous child, naughty kid, delinquent" and this is probably closer to what the news portal wanted to say in the headline. But the first impression I got was that the Police had started to believe in the supernatural and blaming all the arson and attempted arson not on "Acts of God" but "Acts of Imps".

Or have they?

Australia travellogue: Augusta lighthouse, Cape Leeuwin

5 Nov 2009. Of all the places we visited in Western Australia, I think Augusta has the grandest sounding name of all. Perth, Albany, Denmark, Walpole, Pemberton, Busselton, Margaret River, Bunbury, Rockingham, Fremantle.... In my opinion, none of them can hold a candle to Augusta's name.

Augusta's claim to fame is their candle in the wind: the majestic Cape Leeuwin lighthouse (aka the Augusta lighthouse) that's more than 100 years old, stands 35 metres tall and whose light burns with the intensity of a million candles, warning away ships from as far as 25 nautical miles.

Yes, we made it to the final guided tour of the day or otherwise I wouldn't be able to write this story. Of course, it was a bit of a rush driving down along the winding Cave Road from the Lake Cave but we made it all the same without breaking any spped limit. The most interesting aspect of visiting the lighthouse was the approach. As we walked nearer to the lighthouse, it simply loomed taller and taller over us until we were forced to crane our necks upwards just to focus on the top.

Before we went up the lighthouse, we walked along the boardwalk to this platform that proclaimed that we were looking out to the point where the Indian Ocean met the Antartic Ocean. Down south, they call it the Southern Ocean but I clearly remember my geography books refer to it as the Antartic Ocean. Anyway, we don't know for sure where exactly the two oceans meet but we were told to look out for some rocks a distance away where the waves would break dramatically.

The lighthouse has seven floors and 186 steps spiralling internally all the way to the top. The platform at the top, where we could walk all the way round, opened out to a view of the oceans and towards Augusta itself. The view is not only remarkable, it is breath-taking!

Next: Abbey Beach Resort
Previous: Lake Cave