Sunday, 28 February 2010

Magically uplifting!

Do you feel sagged down by worldly problems? National problems? Home problems? Personal problems? You need not worry about them anymore! If you are feeling downright deflated for whatever reason, here's the right solution to uplift you. Spotted this banner in Bukit Mertajam yesterday:

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Kek Lok Si's Kuan Yin pavilion

Ahh...the Temple Of Supreme Bliss. That's the Kek Lok Si Temple in Ayer Itam, Penang. I'm greatly awed by the sheer size of the gigantic statue of Kuan Yin there.  

Went there on Friday evening and saw for myself the magnificence of this statue, lit up in all its splendour together with the rest of the temple complex. The statue used to be unsheltered from the elements until the temple trustees decided to build a pavilion over it. If I thought the Kuan Yin statue was big enough, I wasn't prepared for the gargantuan size of the pavilion. It's immense, rising some 270 feet from the base to its tip. That's even over-shadowing the Kuan Yin statue. Three layers of roof rest on 16 carved columns. Dragon pillars, I believe they are called. An immense engineering feat that calls for the columns to support the weight of the roof which I hope can do its job to shelter the statue from nature's elements. The pavilion was finished last year and consecrated on 8 Dec 2009 amidst a lot of chanting ceremonies.

So there I was, joining a very queue of cars patiently driving along Ayer Itam from the direction of the city. Obviously, a lot of people had the same idea in mind: to visit Kek Lok Si. Therefore, even though it was already more than three weeks since the lights at the temple complex had been switched on for Chinese New Year, throngs of people are still arriving to visit the place.

From as far as the Chung Ling High School, I noticed the pavilion lights for the first time. This was even before we reached the Ayer Itam roundabout. This says a lot for the statue and its pavilion's strategic location on the hill slopes of Penang Hill.

Needless to say, the Ayer Itam village was jammed and traffic on the road leading up to the Kek Lok Si moved along so very slowly. Basically, it was a stop and go all the way. The first car park was full and we had to divert to the second car park. But I was really surprised by the road's steep inclination. It wasn't that apparent to us when we drove up but when we were coming down, we saw how steep the incline was.

Parking the car here was actually a god send because that was where the Kuan Yin statue was located. We didn't have to enter from the front and fight with the crowd to take the temple's short inclined lift ride. We stepped out of the car and there it was, a 120-foot tall bronze Kuan Yin towering above us, reputedly the tallest suxh statue in the world. Ironically, after enduring a two-hour drive up to the temple, it took us only about an hour to appreciate the place. No, we did not queue up to take the temple's lift down to the lower level to visit the pagoda or gape at the lanterns and lights.Had already done that last year. This year, we only wanted to visit the Kuan Yin statue. Now, it's done.

As to be expected, the sheer size of the statue means that even the tallest people are dwarfed by comparison. When we were at the pavilion, a group of visitors were going around the base of the Kuan Yin Statue, dropping a 10 cent coin into every one of the alms bowls. I was told that there are 108 of them.

To this lady, it was insufficient to just walk around the base. At every alms bowl, she would prostrate herself and only then, drop a coin into it. She did it 108 times. That's devotion for you, that's complete surrender to the Kuan Yin.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Snip snip: lost in the editing

There are subtle differences between what's written originally and what eventually gets into print.

Sometimes the edited versions make better reading but sometimes too, a lot of meaning gets lost in a sub-editor's need to cut stories short to fit the space. So what people read of my stories in the newspaper need not necessarily be the full story.

I'm already reproducing many of the newspaper's version of my stories in my other blog, It's All In The Planning!, but I'm seriously contmplating about posting my original versions here. If nothing else, it's just to fulfil a need to document "SSQuah Uncut" on the Net.

Should I or shouldn't I?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Australian travellogue: Pushing towards Freo

6 Nov 2009. This is almost the tail end of our driving adventure in Australia. Today, we are heading back from Busselton towards Perth but first, there'll have to be a big detour through Fremantle (or Freo, as people seem to be calling this city).

It rained the morning we left Busselton's jetty but the rainstorm was quite short. For a long while, the storm clouds lingered in the heavens.

Nevertheless, we were soon travelling along a picturesque coastal stretch to Bunbury. Nice houses along this road and nice interesting beaches, although I don't know whether this particular stretch is due to pollution or not.

To top it up, we came across this mobile grocery below. It's all probably a very common activity: grocers opening up their stalls in wide open spaces near residential areas to sell their vegetables to residents. But why do tourists like us become so excited to see them?

Initially, I had planned was to spend some time at Bunbury and enjoy the town but because we had left the Abbey Beach Resort late, we were running behind my original schedule. However, it was a no-brainer for us to decide that between Bunbury and Fremantle, we would rather have more time at the latter.

So all we did at Bunbury was to take a short drive to look at their lighthouse - nothing impressive, by the way - and then cut through the town's commercial district and thence northwards to Freo, passing through Rockingham.

Like I mentioned a few days ago, the GPS unit decided to act up at this stage. We were on the Kwinana Freeway but the GPS unit just refused to acknowledge it. To the GPS unit, we were in the middle of nowhere and weren't driving on any road at all. Strange.

Somehow, I got us off the freeway, stopped for lunch at a Hungry Jacks and then used my instinct to continue heading north towards Fremantle. At some stage during this drive, thankfully the GPS unit decided to come back to its senses and guided me through the streets of Freo.

Next: Fremantle
Previous: Busselton jetty

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Breaching the Bamboo Curtain

I was going through some old photographs over the weekend and uncovered these two old washed-out group pictures from almost 32 years ago, taken at Badaling and Ting Ling respectively. Badaling is where tourists normally go to visit the Great Wall while Ting Ling is the site for the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

At first, I was upset at the quality of the photographs. Time had spoilt them. The colours had run and no amount of computer graphics retouching could recover them sufficiently. But soon afterwards, fond memories came back of not only my first trip out of the country but also a very significant trip behind the Bamboo Curtain.

I still remember the date for both photos: 11 Apr 1978. At that time, not many Malaysians could visit China as special permission was needed from the Malaysian government. Thus, it was a great wonder that all 11 of us Malaysians made it there, more so as official guests of their government.

The invitation came because of China's appreciation of Malaysia's role in sponsoring their entry into the World Chess Federation in 1974. So this was an official trip to the People's Republic of China. I sneaked in because my name had been proposed together with the Penang Chess Association president, Fang Ewe Churh, but while permission was not granted to him, it was given to me. Most probably, it was because I was still an active national player then. Nevertheless, Fang did get his chance to visit China a few years later when the Asian team chess championship was held in Hangchow.

I still remember that on the eve of our departure, we had to endure a briefing at the Ministry of Home Affairs where we were told how privileged we were to be able to enter China, what we could do and what we couldn't do, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We would be accompanied by two Ministry officials, one of them would be the head of the Malaysian delegation. They didn't need to tell us but everybody knew that they were there to keep an eye on us. They weren't chess players, they couldn't tell a bishop apart from a pawn. Why, were they afraid that we chess players were so weak-willed that we could be indoctrinated simply because we breathed the Chinese air and walked the Chinese soil? Mmm...such fear, such narrow-mindedness from the government of the day.

There was also an old man at the meeting. A person whose identity was unknown to me at that time. He spoke atrocious Bahasa Malaysia and yet, he commanded a great deal of respect from the government people. It turned out that he was supposed to be the 12th person on the official trip to China but he was pulling out at the last minute. The government officials were curious. They kept asking him why, why was he pulling out and would he like to change his mind? But no, he kept apologising for his decision, giving the reason as "gua tak senang, lah". Later, I learnt that both his name and his wife's name had been submitted to the government for approval but his wife was not allowed to join him. So, he decided he wouldn't want to go either. His wife was more important to him that the rare chance of visiting China! Who was this man? Turned out that he was a sponsor for the Malaysian delegation (RM10,000 in those days was a lot of money) and his name was Lim Goh Tong. That was my first and only brush with the famous man of Genting fame.

Our point of entry into and exit from China was through Sham Chun (Shenzhen). We entered Sham Chun by rail from Hongkong on 1 Apr 1978 and proceeded to Canton (Guangzhou). At that time, Sham Chun was just a small agricultural town accessible from Lo Wu (the northernmost station on the Kowloon railway line) by a footbridge over the Sham Chun River. As we walked across the bridge, we felt like in a goldfish bowl. All around us, we were constantly under the quiet gaze - psychologically oppressive - of the armed soldiers of the Chinese army, their eyes following us. They only relaxed when eventually, we reached the main building and were greeted by some Chinese officials. From there on, it was VIP treatment all the way until we crossed this bridge again.

From Canton, we flew to Shanghai, detoured to Hangchow (Hangzhou) and Soochow (Suzhou), and finally continued onwards to Peking (Beijing) before flying back to Canton, a trip of some 16 days. Our internal flights in China were by courtesy of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) air service, at that time still run by the People's Liberation Army Air Force. I think they were either the Soviet-made Ilyushin aircraft or Trident or at least the Lockheed that we boarded. Don't count on luxury with CAAC, though. It was all very basic travel needs and the only items served on board for each flight were sweets. Yes, Chinese sweets! No drinks. But at least, they provided towels before the descent.

The people in the photographs below consisted of the Malaysian chess team (including MCF president Tan Chin Nam and MCF secretary Victor Vijiarungam), the two Ministry spooks and representatives of the Chinese Chess Association, including their two official interpreters who spoke impeccable Bahasa Malaysia. I wonder where most of them are now.

Great Wall, Badaling

Back row: Chan Swee Loon, Chinese official, Subramaniam Ramiah, Chinese official; Middle row: Christi Hon, Yusuf (I think that was his name, from you-know-where), Chinese official, Wan Ahmad Radzi (also from you-know-where), Chang (Chinese official), Tan Chin Nam, Victor Vijiarungam, Ms Chao (junior interpreter), Mdm Hu (senior interpreter); Front row: Hu Yu Kuang, Chinese player, me (of course), Abdul Rahman Ahmad, Tan Bian Huat, Chinese player

(Christi and Bian Huat were both wearing the horrendous dark blue MCF batik shirt made specially for this occasion. Subra was all zipped up but beneath his wind-breaker was also the same batik shirt. Mine is already misplaced somewhere but I'm not sorry for losing it.) 

Spirit Way leading to the Ming Dynasty Tombs at Ting Ling

On the stone camel: me (again), Chan Swee Loon; Standing: Mdm Hu, Tan Chin Nam, Chinese official, Wan Ahmad Radzi, Chang (Chinese official), Yusuf, Victor Vijiarungam, Abdul Rahman Ahmad, Christi Hon, Ms Chao; Squatting: Chinese official, Chinese player, Hu Yu Kuang, Chinese player, Subramaniam Ramiah, Chinese official, Tan Bian Huat

Monday, 22 February 2010

Penang's Chinese New Year cultural and heritage celebration 2010

There is a lot of pride in George Town being listed as a UNESCO world cultural city. Last Saturday, locals and foreigners alike turned out in full force for the Chinese New Year cultural and heritage celebration in the historical enclave of the city.

The celebration was supposed to start from the afternoon but it was not until about 7pm that people began to throng the area. When I arrived with the family at about 7.45pm, the whole area was already filled with people, noise and excitement. We had difficulty finding a place to park the car and eventually, had to settle for the old Sia Boey market in Prangin Road. That's quite a long walk down Carnarvon Street. Cars were parked in the centre of the road but hey, nobody cared and the police didn't mind.

From Acheen Street, we turned into Cannon Street where we disappeared into the Khoo Kongsi compound. A choir was singing outside the Kongsi building and soon, it was the turn of a Penang youth symphony orchestra directed by Woon Wen Kin. Glad to know that he is still so actively involved in the Penang music scene. Bumped into some old friends, notably Janice Yeap, my old colleague from Ban Hin Lee Bank days, and her parents, Stephen and Irene Yeap. For once, Irene did not enquire after my sister because she was so busy talking to other well-wishers.

We left the Khoo Kongsi, cut into Soo Hong Lane and emerged at Ah Quee Street. A short walk took us to Pitt Street and our next destination, the Han Jiang Teochew Association in Chulia Street. A Teochew street opera show caught our attention momentarily. We went into the temple and was entertained by the 24 Seasons Drums.

Later, along Pitt Street, a Chingay performance and then, a Lion Dance. To us the Lion Dance proved to be the highlight of the whole evening. Bumped into Boon Sui, my former staff at the bank.

Before calling it a night, we walked through Armenian Street to catch the tailend of a baba nyonya dance performance. I half expected to see Susan Tan at the performance and I wasn't wrong. Susan is also another former colleague and she was the secretary to Jimmy Yeap when he was still alive. According to her, she has been "happily retired" for the past 10 years and this was one of her ways to fill time. That's her on the far left, below.

Would I want to come again next year or even in July this year when George Town finally celebrates its Heritage Day? You betcha!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Australian travellogue: Busselton jetty

6 Nov 2009. Before we left Busselton, there was one place that we simply had to have a look. The iconic Busselton Jetty.

Although I was aware that it was no longer possible to take the two-kilometre walk till the end of the jetty, I knew that we still had to see the place for ourselves. The problem was, the weather in Busselton had turned bad in the two days we were there.

There were choppy seas and storm clouds around us as we arrived at the beach and it quickly put paid to any idea of us walking on the jetty itself. We had to contend ourselves with looking at the jetty from afar. As we left the beach, the sky opened up.

Next: Heading towards Freo
Previous: Getting around

Friday, 19 February 2010

CNY celebration

As far as I can remember, the previous Barisan Nasional Penang government had never held the state-level Chinese New Year celebration on the mainland. This year, it was different: the Pakatan Rakyat state government took the CNY celebration to Bukit Mertajam with the venue practically just a stone's throw away from my doorstep.

So there wasn't any good reason for me not to visit the celebration and see what it was all about.

Tonight, my whole family drove to the Kampong Baru market and then walked to the Taman Maju area. My first observation: there were lots of people. The whole place was jam-packed like sardines.

However, I wasn't impressed. Don't get me wrong. It's a very fine gesture by the Penang government which was very much appreciated by the people of BM. But there was nothing much for me to see. Nothing to connect me to my grassroots. Nothing to get excited about. Except for the stall offering a free bone density scan, I would think the whole celebration was a waste of time. Especially in this hot weather. If the state government decides to move the CNY celebration back to the island next year, I would not miss it. Really....

Beggaring belief

I know there are many beggars in Penang but nowhere else are they more evident than during the Chinese New Year. The main point of congregation is the Kuan Yin Temple along Pitt Street in George Town. It's impossible for anyone to avoid them. They'd be standing or sitting at all the entry and exit points of the temple - basically, blocking them - hoping that worshipers and tourists alike would spare them a copper of two.

When I was at the temple on Monday, a throng of them - I would estimate them at around 50 - suddenly lined up single file outside the temple. Word had gone round that someone was going to give some money to beggars.

I was perplexed. Beggars? Some of them looked too dressed up to be beggars. And yet, they were all lined up patiently. And as suddenly as they had lined up, the line broke up. All of them were trying to gather around a man who was giving out money. But the man's largesse couldn't last. A handful of them received nothing but they continued to run after and pester the man who could do nothing else but wave them away.

In the meantime, all that was left of the crowd in the temple's compound was this solitary Buddhist monk. He had been standing there before the beggars appeared, and he continued to stand there well after the beggars had disappeared.

So...expiration dates are meaningless!

One of my extended family members is a great follower of food and medicine expiration dates. No sooner has the expiration date been crossed - even if it's only by one day - she gets so fearful that she wants to throw them away regardless of their condition. I've been telling her that it doesn't mean that the food or medicine will suddenly turn bad just because the expiration date has been crossed but she doesn't listen. Better to be on the safe side, she told me.

Today, I saw a wonderful online article on Slate that sort of vindicated all of my beliefs. I would urge everyone to read it. Here's an excerpt from it:

The fact is that expiration dates mean very little. Food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored. Moisture and warmth are especially detrimental. A package of ground meat, say, will stay fresher longer if placed near the coldest part of a refrigerator (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit), than next to the heat-emitting light bulb. Besides, as University of Minnesota food scientist Ted Labuza explained to me, expiration dates address quality—optimum freshness—rather than safety and are extremely conservative. To account for all manner of consumer, manufacturers imagine how the laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens might store and handle their food, then test their products based on these criteria.

The last sentence should be read and re-read until fully understood: "To account for all manner of consumer, manufacturers imagine how the laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens might store and handle their food, then test their products based on these criteria."

Snow storm

Meet 25-year-old Mathieu Crepel. 

He's the French representative in the skateboard halfpipe event at the Winter Olympics 2010 in Vancouver. 

Presently, he's causing a snow storm all over the world because of his fake, drawn-on moustache. 

It's so, eh.... French-like, don't you think so?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Belden speaker cables

I've just been handed this pair of Belden Brilliance Low Cap speaker cables in black PVC outer jacket (top pair). Presently, I'm using a pair of the white QED Micro High Technology speaker cables (bottom pair). 

I'm going to plug the Belden speaker cables into my Technics SU-A900 integrated amplifier today and see how the music comes out from my pair of Wharfedales. Should be fun!

Has your perspective changed too?

I saw this facebook comment recently and thought it relevant enough to share with people reading this blog. Would you agree with the statement? I do...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


In the last fortnight or so, I've never been happier than today to see dark skies and rain clouds. The sky finally opened up about 15 minutes ago and it's raining now. However, I don't think it will last long, but I hope it will be just long enough for me not to water my plants this afternoon.

Forecasting Malaysia's merry weather

As you can see, I'm still complaining about the heat during this Chinese New Year. On returning from my obligatory visits to my friends and relatives on Sunday, I could feel my arms tingling with a strange sensation. Apart from my crown, they were the most exposed parts of my body to the relentless rays of the sun. And yesterday when my sisters-in-law and their families came to see us, well, the glare from the hot afternoon sun was almost unbearable. 

Are we going to get a respite from this exceptionally good weather anytime soon? According to and the Weather Underground websites, there are good chances of thunderstorms in the area soon. (In this type of weather, a 30 percent chance of precipitation is good by my standard.) These websites are predicting rain until the weekend. Good news. I can only hope that their predictions will be correct.

But these are foreign websites. Why would a foreign website be able to predict weather conditions better than a local, hands-on expert, right? After all, we have our Malaysian Meteorological Department here on our shores and they have been watching our weather long? More than 50 or 60 years?

Oops, I was wrong. I've just gone over to the MMD website and it's shown there that they began observing the weather conditions in Penang and Malacca since 1883. That's 127 years already! That's an incredible achievement by anyone's standards. Something to be proud of, actually.

They even have a Vision and a Mission. Again, from the MMD website, their Vision is "to be a world-class meteorological center providing excellent services nationally and internationally" while their Mission is to be "committed to providing effective meteorological and seismological services for improved protection of life, property and the environment, increased safety on land, at sea and in the air, enhanced quality of life and sustainable economic growth".

Unfortunately, stating a Vision and a Mission is one thing; putting them into practice is quite another. And these lofty aspirations of the MMD do not extend or translate easily to the services they tout on their own website.

True, anyone wanting to know how the local weather conditions are like can always find a general weather forecast for the whole country from the MMD website. But unfortunately, that's all. I hit a blank wall today when I attempted to find the specific forecast for the major towns and tourist destinations in the country. I was surprised and disappointed. This service used to work marvellously several months ago but now, it's a completely different story. If the MMD knows about it, they are not even reacting to it. It leaves a sad impression on visitors to their website. A really frustrating impression. Notch one negative point for the Malaysia Boleh hype.

Temple visits

Visited some temples on the second day of Chinese New Year on Monday. Here are two of them. The first was the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas which we went in the morning. Took the opportunity to capture this magnificent scene of the pagoda there.

And the monks walking to the dining hall for morning dana.

Later, went to the oldest temple in Penang: the Kuan Yin Temple in Pitt Street, George Town. As usual, it was full of worshipers during the festive period. Could hardly keep our eyes from streaming tears both from the heavy smoke and the blazing heat of the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Snakes alive!

Here's a Chinese New Year tale. However, it's very un-CNY-like. It's a creepy story of two snakes, told to me about a week ago.

When I warded my aunt in the private hospital last week, sharing the same ward with her was a woman who had just had the ring finger on her right hand amputated. I didn't realise it until she showed me her hand, all heavily bandaged up but with only her thumb and remaining fingers visible. What happened, I asked.

Bitten by a cobra, she said. It was about a week earlier. She stayed in Junjong, in the interior part of mainland Penang near to Kulim. It was one of those kampong-type houses with an unkempt backyard where almost everything that's not immediately needed were thrown there. She went there to search for something, saw what she was looking for and put her hand in to pick it up.

Immediately, she felt something stung her. She pulled back and saw two punctures on the skin of her ring finger. As blood oozed out, she saw out of the corner of her eyes a cobra slithering away. Her screams brought her daughter running who took one look at the wound and decided to suck out the blood and poison. Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do because I heard that the poison could have affected the sucker too.

But anyway, the family immediately took the lady to the Kulim hospital where they treated the wound and the poison. But her finger wasn't getting any better. The family then took her to the specialist private hospital where the surgeon took one look at the finger and decided that it had to go. "I am lucky to be alive," she told me. "The hospital said that cobra bites are very poisonous and usually fatal. And if I had waited longer, the effects of the poison would have spread to more areas of my body."

This will teach me not to walk in the undergrowth of the Bukit Mertajam hill. It's best to keep to the beaten track.

Anyway, by a coincidence, that very same night I received a telephone call from a friend in Kulim. Less than an hour ago, he had killed a cobra lurking at the back of his house. The snake was hiding behind some planks or household stuff and he heard a distinct hiss. Must be a snake, he thought and true enough, not more than a yard away was a cobra. It had reared itself and flattened its upper trunk into a hood, all tensed up and ready to strike.

My friend picked up a stick and took a well-aimed whack at the snake. A few more whacks killed it. When it was stretched out, he claimed that it measured four feet, the length of four floor tiles. Echoing the lady in the hospital, I told my friend he was very lucky to have killed it. But be careful, I warned him, because snakes are known to travel in pairs and the other one may not be far away.

I know, he replied and said that he had heard the same tale too. The dry months of January and February are normally their mating period. He did look around the compound but couldn't find the other snake.

These two close encounters reminded me of a conversation with a doctor recently. According to him, snake poison was a neurotoxin. Once it travelled in the bloodstream to the nervous system, the body's defence mechanism would shut down and paralyse the victim. All muscular movements would be affected, including the heart. Unless treatment was immediate, death could occur within hours. So the lady was very, very lucky indeed.

So what to do in case of a snake bite? Tie a tight torniquette as close to the wound as possible and the victim should be advised to lie down still on the ground until help arrived. While it's not possible to prevent the flow of the poison through the bloodstream, it would be important to slow it down as much as possible.

Creepy, isn't it?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Australian travellogue: Getting around the South-western

This is my GPS unit, bought about a month before Saw See and I left on our Australian holidays last year. When we bought it, it came with only a navigational mp of Malaysia and Singapore. As we had planned to drive around in Western Australia, I had to search for a compatible map to install in the GPS unit. It took a while for me to get what I wanted and of course, we hadn't any idea whether the map would work well over there.

My fears proved unfounded as we discovered - to our great delight - that it worked! From the moment I switched on the unit at the Perth international airport, it located the satellites without any problem. The directions proved to be reliable but I also uncovered some quirkiness in the GPS unit's usage which I put down to two main reasons: a rather out-of-date map of Western Australia's south-western region and perhaps some wrong settings in the GPS unit itself.

For instance, during our drive from Northcliffe to Pemberton, the GPS unit kept telling us to make a U-turn when there was only one main road. I knew for sure that we were on the right track but the unit kept saying "where possible, make a U-turn." Eventually, I had to switch it off.

Then, while travelling from Bunbury to Fremantle, the GPS unit couldn't detect the Kwinana Freeway and we were practically driving blind trying to determine the turn-off to Rockingham. I think by then, we were getting too dependent on the unit.

For our holidays, we rented the Nissan Tiida from the Red Spot counter at the Perth international airport. It was a small compact car but you should not let the size of this vehicle fool you. Beneath the hood was a 1.5-litre engine that had great power and which enabled the car to pull away effortlessly on the road. A bonus feature was the cruise control which I found to be most useful on Australia's wide open roads. There was always a temptation to travel faster than the speed limits and the cruise control kept us below the speed traps (if there were any). I did most of the driving but my wife did take over the wheel during those times when I wasn't up to it. Here are some photos of us with the car.

Comfort Inn, Belmont, Perth

Petrol station near Serpentine

Lavender and Berry Farm in Pemberton

Next: Busselton jetty
Previous: Abbey Beach Resort

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Cool cat

I haven't been able to find any decent photograph of a ferocious tiger to commemorate this new Chinese New Year and so as an alternative, I suppose this picture of a totally cool cat will have to do. See how relaxed it is? When cats are totally at ease in their environment, they put down their guards completely and lie back on their backs with their legs in the air. Just like this one...

May you also have enough

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Chinese New Year run-up

Well, this is the end of a very busy week. For me, anyway. This run-up to the Chinese New Year has been busy. Obviously when you are at work, you do not realise the amount of things that need to be done at home. So this is a new experience for me.

But for the first time, I noticed that it was hot. Freakingly hot. And of course, it means running up a huge electricity bill in the process.

Second, I had to divide my time this week between the home and the hospital. I had to ward my elderly aunt because she was suffering from what the eye specialist said was orbital cellulitis: an inflamation of the retina caused by an infection in the eye. Oral antibiotics did not work fast enough and the doctor suggested a regimen of four intravenously-given antibiotics at 12-hourly intervals. This would require a "three-day, two-night" stay at the hospital. Luckily, this stay was fully within our control, not one of those indefinite stays at a hospital, so I checked her in on Monday and promptly checked her out on Wednesday.

Just an observation: why must hospital food be so bad? I can understand if the food at the government hospitals are unimaginative, unpalatable and unappetising. But at private hospitals too? You would think that with patients paying through their noses, the private hospitals would be able to provide better food. But no. My aunt seldom complains about her food but there were lots of comments about the quality of the gourmet food from the hospital's kitchen.

I happened to bump into an old school mate who is now the chief pharmacist at this hospital. Tell me, I asked him, does the hospital have a dietician or someone to look into the quality of the food served to patients? No, he replied, the hospital is still searching for one to fill the post. So that explains it. Without a proper dietician or a person to look into quality control, no wonder the food is left at the mercy of the cooks. Were these cooks previously working in the government hospitals and had brought their unique talents over? Very likely.

Thirdly, my daughter is back in Penang. Went to the airport on Friday morning to pick her up. She's glad to be back for a week and I'm glad to have her back for a week. So is my wife. And so is my aunt. We are a complete family again: me, wife, daughter, son and aunt. Tonight...the ooi lor. Anyway, to all my readers, I wish you a Happy Chinese New Year. May you continue to have enough for the years ahead!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Historical climate records

This weather is getting me down. Now that I am no longer working (read it to mean that I'm now no longer enjoying the free air-conditioning in my former workplaces), I am suffering almost every day from the heat of the afternoon sun. I would estimate the temperature at about 35 Celsius. It's the traditional Chinese New Year heatwave allright, not only in Penang but also in many parts of the Malayan peninsula.

Idle minds are dangerous, and my mind is presently so idle that I have all sorts of idling ideas. Chiak pah siao eng, my wife would be telling me if she reads this. Luckily I don't expect her to read this until well after next week. I have a week's respite. Anyway, my idling mind was asking me recently whether or not I could remember how the weather condition was like when I was born. My first reaction was to knock my own head. Siao! As if anyone could remember the very first moments of his life, let alone his very first day. Was it hot? Was it wet? Was it .... snowing?

Anyway, I soon found that that the amount of information we can find on the Internet nowadays is so staggeringly large and varied, unlike my initial experience on the Internet way back in the early 1990s. And not surprisingly, I could find the historical records of the weather in Penang .... as far back as January 1949. Of course in those days, the meteorological department in Bayan Lepas was not keeping daily records yet, so there weren't any records for many months and many days. Or maybe they did but the old records have gone missing. Nevertheless, the nearest available data was two days after I was born. So yes, I can clearly imagine now. I was feeling rather comfy at that time because the maximum daytime temperature never went beyond 27.8 Celsius. The night was equally nice too as I enjoyed a cool air of about 22.8 Celsius. The moon was waxing and from my cot, there was excitement in my little heart as the full moon was only three days away. As I laid back in warm comfort in my cot, I was listening to a slight pitter patter of rain outside the window but on the next day, I was so scared when a thunderstorm dumped 26.92 millimetres of rain on Penang. I remember calling out to my mum in baby language: "Mummy, where are you?"

Okay, okay, enough of my daydream for now. But you know what I mean. You can get such unimaginable details from the Internet nowadays. But whether or not such records are useful to us in our daily lives is debatable. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that they are available IF we were to need them for whatever reason!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Worms update

It's been almost three weeks since my old school pal, Derek, went back to Singapore. Back in January, he had spent five or six days in Bukit Mertajam at a Chinese sinseh's shop trying to find the elusive cure for his sinus problem.

Ever since then, he had been ringing me now and then from Singapore to report on his progress. When I say progress, I really mean it because every time we talk, there's nothing from Derek except words of praise for the sinseh. He says it was well worth the time and money spent on the treatment.

My friend doesn't suffer from sinus problems in the morning nowadays and he says that even his hearing has improved remarkably. If ever there is living proof that the treatment does work, the proof is in my friend. Even his cousin, who is a doctor, couldn't believe it but sometimes, you see, you have to believe in the effectiveness of non-Western medication.

Derek's enthusiasm really knows no bounds. Not that I'm complaining. I'm very happy for him. Anyway, he called again today to say that he has convinced one of our mutual friends in Singapore - and as it turns out, he's another old school pal of mine - to come round to Bukit Mertajam just to see this sinseh fella And, he had asked, would I mind showing him around? Mind? Perish the thought. What's more important to me right now is to reconnect with as many of my old school friends as possible. So, no, I wouldn't mind at all. In fact, I'll gladly be his tour guide for the day....

Monday, 8 February 2010

Tunku's vision

As we remember our first Prime Minister's birthday today (he was born on 8 Feb 1903), this story in today's The Malaysian Insider, which reports on a speech by 26-year-old Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Muhriz, is an exceptionally good read.

Tunku Zain is the second son of the new Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan. He's also the founder of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), a new think-tank set up to promote democratic ideals rooted in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision for the country.

Here is an excerpt from the news item:
To him, the Tunku was a man and leader that believed in unity and a Malaysia for all.
He had wanted to steer Malaysia in that direction, towards building a foundation of liberty and justice when he fought for independence, said Zain.
But amid the “Allah” row and the raging communal politicking, Zain said the country “has taken the wrong direction”.
Zain said that the country is now plagued by patronage politics which makes “seeking for political office for the suicidal and the deranged.”
“It is clear that Tunku was a proponent of Malay unity, but it was unity in conjunction with Malayan and Malaysian unity. Today, so many who champion “Malay unity” do so in opposition to perceived threats, for the purpose of intimidating others or for Machiavellian politics. I fear that this important distinction has been lost as the term has bandied about by those with divisive agenda,” he said.
Zain then said there have been many slogans employed by the Tunku’s successors, the latest being current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia concept, an idea similar to the Tunku’s Malaysia for all.
“To my mind these are all mere reaffirmations of what was an articulate vision for the country from the moment Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. Despite these slogans, the standing of our institutions has withered. Tunku could never have imagined there to be such cynicism and distrust,” he said.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The height in swimwear fashion

Okay, I know that these are old photos from somewhere - I looked up the website mentioned in the pictures but couldn't find them anywhere - but they show that creativity knows no bounds. And without a doubt, this kid - or at least, his parents - has taken creativity to new heights.

You too can emulate their appealing flair for fashion. And it's not too expensive too. The plastic bag is from your friendly neighbourhood hypermarket but actually, any decent-sized plastic bag will do just as well. Oh, I forgot to add...there's no flaunting your fashion sense on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday though. They are all "no plastic" days in Penang.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Popping the cherry

I'm not going to say anything much but let this headline in the story below do all the talking....

Friday, 5 February 2010

Chess reinstated in MSSM calendar

So at last, the Education minister has acknowledged the folly of removing 11 sports from this year's MSSM calendar and reinstated them. At first, the MSSM had claimed that the ministry had cut back the annual allocations from RM6.5 million to RM1.5 million, a reduction of RM5 million. Then, the MSSM said that because of the reduced allocation, they had to reduce the number of sports from 24 to 11. Chess was one of the sports affected.

Although it was never mentioned as such, the implication -- as I saw it -- was that the MSSM and, inter alia, the ministry had effectively bared their bias between the sports that they favoured and the sports that they thought they could do without. Favouritism rearing its ugly head.

There was also the implied excuse that these 11 affected "less favoured" sports required more money to support (RM5 million) as compared with only RM1.5 million needed to organise the other 13 "more favoured" sports competitions. This, I sure, can't be true. This implied excuse rings hollow. If they say it is more expensive to hold a chess competition than, say, football competition, then I'd suggest to them to switch the allocation of funds and see which sport can derive better benefits.

Anyway, I'm glad that chess is back in the MSSM calendar for at least one year anyway. To know more, you can refer to this Bernama report.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Behind bars

I've been a bit slow with the blog these few days. Not because I've nothing to write about but because I've been busy with spring-cleaning the house ahead of Chinese New Year. Having spent the weekend sprucing up the children's bedrooms - really a heavy-duty clean-up job - the last three days have been spent painting the gate and grilles. In my opinion, that's one of the most boring jobs I've come across. But a job's a job, and thank goodness that it's almost completed. Still at least a day more to go. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow or maybe I'll take a short break and wait for the weekend.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Two big games

Quite an eventful Sunday yesterday, wasn't it? I just spent 250 minutes of my time watching not one but two sport events: the finals of the Australian open tennis competition at Melbourne Park in Melbourne and the Premier League game between Newton Heath - oops, I mean, Manchester United - and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in London. Yes, two big events at almost the opposite ends of the globe.

The football was excellent and I couldn't believe my eyes when the Arsenal goalkeeper tipped his ball into the net for an own goal. A Nani shot across the goal and Almunia's hand reached up to try and tip it over the bar but it went short. That caused me to walk right up to the television screen to watch the replay of the goal. But there were more thrills to come with goals from Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung.

However, the really big game yesterday was the Grand Slam. First time in my life that I had the time to sit down to watch the tennis. The matches always take a long time to complete and I always get bored when sitting down for too long but Roger Federer versus Andy Murray was always too big a game to miss. Well, I wasn't disappointed (although inbetween points I did sneek a look or two at the Asian Food Channel to watch two crazy blokes in Tasmania catch crayfish in some absurdly stormy weather).

It was a big game but once Federer got his two-set cushion, it was clear that the Swiss maestro wouldn't be losing his grasp on his 16th Grand Slam title. Murray tried hard but he was federised all the same. It just wasn't his day.

In Melbourne last year, Federer had cried uncontrollably after losing to Rafael Nadal and the images went around the world. Yesterday too, as did those of Murray as a packed Rod Laver Arena responded warmly to the Scot's speech of touching self-deprecation. "I can cry like Roger," he said. "It's just a shame I can't play like him. I'm done...sorry"