Monday, 31 May 2010

History: Yeap Chor Ee's secret

My fascination with the Yeap Chor Ee story continues here. About a week ago, I reproduced an old newspaper story that reported on the death of this Penang multi-millionaire who founded the Ban Hin Lee Bank. Sadly, I can't find any news about his funeral itself but I managed to dig up a follow-up story on this old Towkay that appeared on the day of his big, ceremonious send-off. There are two brief comments of mine in the story, which I've marked in red. The year in question, by the way, is still 1952.

Towkay Chor Ee's secret yielded him $100 mil.
(wrote Gunn Chit Thye in The Straits Times on 31 May 1952)

PENANG, Saturday: When the Penang banker, Mr. Yeap Chor Ee, goes to his final rest at his Bukit Gambier Estate tomorrow, it will mark the passing of a one-man dynasty in Penang. (This would be on 1 Jun 1952, seven days after his passing.)

For this towkay, with the touch of Midas, who came to Malaya without a cent at the age of 17, has now departed the richer, it is estimated, by more than $100,000,000.

Towkay Chor Ee called his firm Ban Hin Lee - the "business of a thousand successes." (When I was still with the bank, I've also heard the term translated as "ten thousand prosperities" which I think is closer to the original meaning as the word "ban" means "ten thousand".)

And so it has proved to be. From the humblest of beginnings, Ban Hin Lee has expanded so with the years that, in course of time, it became, inevitably, a bank.

What was the secret of this man of success?

Did it lie in his supreme confidence, his dogged and persevering spirit, his faith in this country? Or was it sheer luck?

Whatever Towkay Chor Ee's secret was, one thing is certain. And no-one will deny his credit for it: Throughout the 70 years he toiled in Malaya, he had never been known to take a holiday.

"We will never see the like of him again," one Chinese leader said.

"We simply haven't got men of this type any more. Times have changed and the present generation is too pleasure loving to be able to get up that early and work late into the night, day after day, without a rest."

Towkay Yeap Chor Ee was orphaned when he was only three months. When he came to Penang at 17, he was like most Chinese immigrants - penniless, having used all his money for his passage.


But he worked hard and, within six years of his landing, was able to open his own firm of Ban Hin Lee in Prangin Road.

With his foresight, which had by now become proverbial, Towkay Chor Ee dealt in the sugar trade and when the big rubber boom came early in the century, he was quick to realise the potentialities of the industry and, with characteristic enterprise, staked on it. It paid and young Mr. Yeap was soon a millionaire.

He next turned to rice, tapioca and other commodities. Everything he touched turned to gold.

With all his wealth, Towkay Chor Ee hardly ever relaxed. He was up early in the morning when younger men were still rubbing their eyes in bed.

Regularity in habits and at work simplicity in life, moderation in food and self-denial in everything -- these were his creed, his life.

Although in recent years his health had been failing him, Towkay Chor Ee still went to his bank every day. He made his last call on the Friday two days before he died at the age of 85.

There was nothing pretentious about the millionaire with the Midas touch. One would have expected a veritable merchant prince to be cold, haughty and calculating, but Towkay Chor Ee was pleasantly the reverse -- a humble, genial self-made man, unspoilt by success.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Is George Town Heritage Day still on?

I remember that way back in July last year and again in January this year, I was writing about the Penang government wanting to turn 7 July into a public holiday every year in commemoration of George Town's Heritage Day.

I wonder what has happened to it. The intention is good but there's been hardly anything mentioned in the newspapers since then. Is the Heritage Day public holiday still on? Or is it already off? The Penang government must clarify their position and time is fast running out on them. If 7 July is indeed a new public holiday in the state, I'd like to know whether it has been gazetted yet. And if it is gazetted, why aren't we told about it?

Although the holiday does not affect me one way or another, I'm saying all these because communication is important and I know that everyone would need to be told about it in advance.

In addition, is the government serious enough to instil the proper appreciation of our heritage? I feel that as we progress further in this modern world, we mustn't lose touch with the past and our heritage. The history we learn in school today is already so inadequate. Observance of the George Town Heritage Day on a large, state-wide level - not just limited to government departments and schools - will be a very good starting point to touch base with our rich local history again.

Therefore, the government should give everyone, including the important business community in Penang, an advance and proper notice so that plans can be made if they want to accommodate the additional holiday. If the holiday is sprung on them with little notice, I can safely say that very few people will be observing Heritage Day when the day comes around. Let not the government's effort go to waste.

Friday, 28 May 2010

A lotus on Wesak Day 2010

The lotus flower is a very powerful symbol of Buddhism. It represents purity, the purest of the pure. How very apt it was for me to find this one blooming in its full spendour at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas on Wesak Day today:

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Tennis sure is fun....

I know that interest in this year's French tennis open championship has been bumped up a notch with the participation of the Williams sisters. There is talk of Astro Supersports editing out Venus Williams' outfit if she continues to wear this further. How Astro is going to do it, well, I don't know....

"The outfit is about illusion, and that's been a lot of my motif this year, illusion. The design has nothing to do with my rear – it just so happens that I have a very well-developed one. These days I just have a lot of fun with my designs and designing and doing different things," explained the 30-year-old tennis queen.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Some call it a time waster. Others say it is a game to develop your reflexes. It doesn't really matter. If I fancy a spot of the good old-fashioned game of PACMan, here's where I can go to play this game online. You can, too. Just insert a virtual coin and off you go:

History: Yeap Chor Ee's death

A bit of history in today's post. Towkay Yeap Chor Ee, the founder of the Ban Hin Lee Bank in George Town, Penang, died on this day 58 years ago. I've just managed to extract this news item on his death which was carried on the front page of The Straits Times newspaper on 27 May 1952. Here it is:

The G.O.M. of Penang is dead
MILLIONAIRE banker Mr. Yeap Chor Ee, "grand old man" of local commerce, died today in his palatial home in Northam Road, Penang. He was 85.

Mr. Yeap had been in failing health, but went to his bank, the Ban Hin Lee Bank, as usual last Friday.

He died in the presence of his family.

Born in Nam Aun, Fukien Province, Mr. Yeap was orphaned when three months old and was brought up by his grandmother, who died when he was seven.

At 17 he came to Penang. By hard work and astute foresight, he worked his way up, until within six years he was able to open his own firm of Ban Hin Lee in Prangin Road, near the market in 1890.


Mr Yeap at first confined his activities to the sugar trade. When rubber engaged the attention of business interests at the beginning of the century, Mr Yeap, with characteristic enterprise,  staked on it and was fully rewarded.

He next turned his attention to the rice industry and again he was successful. It was the same with tapioca and other Malayan produce.

He invested in them with courage and foresight with the result that he reaped substantial profits.

Typical of his courage and judgment in business was his investment in tin ingots during the slump in the early thirties.

He continued to buy on a falling market, confident that the demand would reassert itself. At one time he held stocks of several thousand tons.

When recovery came, he was in a position to control the world market, and London and New York had to take notice of this unpretentious business man in Penang.

When he found his business enlarging, Mr. Yeap established his own bank, the Ban Hin Lee Bank, in 1918. The bank was made a limited company in 1935, with Mr. Yeap as chairman of directors.

A philanthropist, Mr. Yeap last year gave $250,000 to the University of Malaya Endowment Fund for the establishment of a Chinese library.

He also gave land for a new building for the Chung Shan Chinese School in Bayan Lepas.

Mr. Yeap leaves a widow, Madam Lee Cheng Kin, four sons, Lean Seng, Kim Hoe, Hock Hoe and Hock Hin, two daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Arrangements for his funeral are still being made but it is understood that it will not be this week.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Nine treasures

My family attended an eight-course Chinese dinner function at the Stone Bay Restaurant on the island recently. Although we enjoyed the food, I can't say that it was really very good. The Starview Restaurant at the New World Park is better. Anyway, the piece de resistance at the dinner was this very first course - a double-boiled soup course - containing delicacies that only we Chinese can really appreciate, such as scallops, fish maw, abalone and many others. I think it's called Nine Treasures. I overheard a passing comment that this soup dish alone cost RM300. Wow....

Monday, 24 May 2010

Mrs Yeap Chor Ee

Towkay Yeap Chor Ee, the founder of Ban Hin Lee Bank, may have died in 1952 but there is still a lot of unknown, untold or forgotten information about him and his family. For instance, I've just dug up an interesting photograph from a newspaper dated 14 Oct 1948 which showed Mrs Yeap Chor Ee nee Madam Lee Cheng Kin presenting the Malayan Chinese Football Association Cup (MCFA Cup) to Yeang Kar Chong, captain of the Penang Chinese team that defeated the Negri Sembilan Chinese Recreation Club 6-2 in the final played at Penang on 10 Oct 1948. Standing beside her was Yeap Hock Hoe. It's just a shame that the whole picture's watermarked over.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Do-it-yourself vinyl record cleaner

Do it yourself! This is the short video clip that I uploaded to YouTube a few hours ago of me cleaning one of my vinyl records.

The rotating base comprises a few pieces of non-slip rubber mats, a lazy susan, a round chopping board and a piece of car rubber mat cut into size. The solution for cleaning the record is made up of one part iso-propyl alcohol and three parts distilled water, with several drops of dishwasher detergent. I use a brush to dig up the dirt loosened from the grooves and non-woven cotton swab to clean the record surface.

A very manual way of cleaning the records but it works, and that's the most important result!

View from the top

I went up the Bukit Mertajam hill two days ago. It wasn't preplanned but I made a resolve to reach the peak which is about 1,760 feet above sea level. Once in a while, you have to make such a resolve. There's always a mountain to climb any time in our lives. You may have climbed a mountain once successfully but there is always another climb somewhere else, even if it is the same one. If nothing more, it's to prove that you still have the same determination and you relish the challenge. So, don't shy away from the mountains in your life.

Going up the hill track by way of the dam at the foothill, I reached the transmission towers after a slow climb of one hour and eight minutes. By the way, this wasn't a very popular route, especially on a Friday afternoon. Along the way, I met only three people. By contrast, I saw so many more people on the tarmac road as I was coming down, it being the busiest towards the end of the walk. My slow descent was also at a very steady pace and I made it to my car after an hour and 13 minutes.

This was the nicest view from my climb: a breath-taking vista of the Mengkuang Dam to the north of the BM hill. I don't get to see this view often. Indeed, I wonder how many other people appreciate the quiet beauty of this place.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Pure white

I always love this orchid plant when it blooms. The petals and sepals are all pure white while the lip of the flower displays a mild tinge of yellow. The best time to look at it is in the morning when the colours are at their most refreshing.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Malaysia's pioneering GREAT shared ATM network

I've been reading today that the man credited with the invention of the automated teller machine has died. John Shepherd-Barron began thinking about this hole-in-the-wall cash dispenser ever since he got locked out of a bank in 1965. It was his habit to withdraw money on a Saturday morning but on that day he had arrived one minute late and found the bank doors locked against him. While lying in his bath to contemplate his tardiness, he came up with the idea of a machine which could dispense cash from a person's bank account, much the same way as a chocolate-dispensing machine would, at any time of the day, anywhere in the world. He took his idea to the Barclays Bank and the next thing he knew was that the first cash dispenser was born. The only real difference from today's modern automated teller machines is that instead of a plastic card, his version required the use of a standard cheque leaf chemically coated with a mild carbon-14 radioactive material. No real health risk, he claimed, as a user would need to eat 136,000 chemically-treated cheques to suffer any ill-effect.

The first cash-dispensing machines were introduced in Penang in the early 1980s by the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation. I remember that two or three such machines were first installed at the bank's two premises in Beach Street and Downing Street in downtown George Town, and later at their Butterworth branch in Province Wellesley. It created a mild excitement and people started opening accounts at this bank just to apply for their Electronic Teller Cards, more commonly known as the ETC card. At that time, users were limited to only three cash withdrawals in a day and I think they were also limited to $200 per transaction. Nevertheless, the service was available from 7am until midnight daily, seven days a week. It was a little later that these cash dispensing machines were upgraded to full-function ATMs with other features.,

By the mid-1980s, the ATM card revolution had taken a firm footing in Malaysia. I'm actually quite proud to say that I had a part to play in its growth in the country. In 1986, a consortium of financial institutions formally announced the launch of the pioneer shared ATM network in the country. The company behind the consortium was called EFT Systems (M) Sdn Bhd but the network's name would be called GREAT, standing for GRoup Electronic Automated Teller. The six founding members of EFT Systems would be Ban Hin Lee Bank (BHL Bank), Oriental Bank, United Asian Bank, Arab-Malaysian Finance, Hong Leong Finance and MBf Finance. The GREAT network was actually competing with the rival MEPS network to be the first to launch and we beat them to it by several months. Sad to say, though, after the merger of banks in Malaysia in 2001, the GREAT network was swallowed up by MEPS.

I was thrust into this project quite by accident as my then supervising officer suddenly quit her job - the challenge of working overseas was too great, she told me much later - and left me to take over as the head of the ATM Centre at Ban Hin Lee Bank.

But first, before we could even implement the shared network, we had to get our own proprietary network up and running. The bank ran an internal competition to pick a name for the ATM card but eventually, the consortium decided that all the participating institutions should use the common GREAT name for group visibility and marketing.

Months of development work and testing of the proprietary ATM network followed. While the developers (the external developers working with the internal Information Technology staff) were busy upstairs, my operational team was ensconced with a development ATM in the bank's meeting room at the back of the building in Beach Street. On many days we would be living there from nine o'clock in the morning till five o'clock in the afternoon, feeding dummy transactions into the machine and testing it out in all sorts of manner to simulate technical and operational errors and faults. As a bank, it went without question that the integrity of any financial system must be secured because the security of customers' money was central to any banking feature.

At the same time too, we began testing the shared ATM network with the other partners. Using the same test script that had served us well at the proprietary level, we ran a whole range of comprehensive tests at the shared level. (Actually, the proprietary tests were based on the shared tests, but let's not quibble here.) At first the tests were carried out on a one-to-one basis and it all ended with a complete stress test with all financial institutions together a few weeks before the official launch in 1987.

Even after the launch of the shared network, I continued to be fully involved with the project for many more years. Running the ATM Centre meant that I had to attend monthly meetings at the EFT Systems office in Kuala Lumpur with the other ATM Centre representatives. Also, because Ban Hin Lee Bank was alone in being located outside Kuala Lumpur, I also had to participate actively in the technical meetings on the same day as the operations meetings. So I did learn a lot of stuff during my six or seven years in this project and made a lot of friends in the process.

Ban Hin Lee Bank's ATM service....they were some of the best years of my work life.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Fried, cooked, seared, whatever...

Finally, I'm back online. Both the ADSL modem and router went kaput during Wednesday morning's thunderstorm. Actually, either one or both of them were on their last legs already. Every few days, I had to switch the modem and router off and on to regain my connection. The severe lightning on Wednesday was the last straw.

I actually telephoned TM Net to report the problem to them - my package would enable me to have a free replacement modem - but I couldn't wait forever for their service technician to get back to me. So I had to buy a new modem. Fixed it up at home and found that though I could connect the desktop computer by cable to the Internet, there was just no response when I hooked up the old router to it.

No other choice, then, but to replace the router as well. Luckily, I did have an additional router at home. Went through the whole process of installing it and heaved a big sigh of relief when my desktop detected the signal. Heaved a second sigh of relief when my MacBook then detected the wireless signal. Everything's back to normal, but I've got to think seriously about getting a good surge protector to protect my equipment from now on.

I believe that I'm still eligible for a replacement modem from TM Net. Got to follow up with them...

The old (left) and the new (right)

Monday, 17 May 2010

No responsibilities

I must say that it's getting very pleasant to attend the Kongsi meetings lately. Ever since I ceased becoming the president last year, I've had a great weight removed from my shoulders. No more having to face the responsibilities of the position any more and that's a great feeling to have! No more having to deal with unreasonable people inside and outside the Kongsi and that's an even better feeling. So all I did at yesterday's meeting was to sit back and give a few opinions here and there, and left it to the present president to make all the sensitive decisions. What a life!

Oh yes, this is a recent picture taken at the Kongsi house. Snapped late last month when we celebrated the official birthday of the resident deity, Tai Tay Eah. Wahh...10 people in the picture. Here, let me name them for you so that you can recognise who is who in the picture. Ready? From left to right: Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah, Quah and Quah. Yessiree, that's right. We are a small, exclusive clansman family (for better or for worse). It was the first time in many, many years that we had so many people coming to the Kongsi for this occasion. In a way, it was good to see all those different but familiar faces.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

QUAH, by Jorma Kaukonen

Let me introduce you to this album that's called QUAH. Yes, you read it right: QUAH. Cool, don't you think so? An album after my own surname. An album of deft finger-picking blues and folk-tinged music that was released originally in 1974.

QUAH was Jorma Kaukonen's debut solo album after having performed for close to a decade as a founding member of Jefferson Airplane. There are 11 cuts on this album of which two tracks featured vocals by Tom Hobson.

People who first listen to this album never fail to be impressed with the very first song, Genesis. It's Kaukonen at his very best. I assure you, do listen to it and you'll be blown away too by his acoustic finger-picking. One of the best guitarists I've heard.

Side One: Genesis, I'll Be All Right, Song For The North Star, I'll Let You Know Before I Leave, Flying Clouds, Another Man Done Gone
Side Two: I Am The Light Of This World, Police Dog Blues, Blue Prelude, Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine, Hamar Promenade

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chess heroes

It is unusual for me to sleep at two o'clock in the morning. Unless there's an extraordinary reason for me to do so, I would be in bed by one o'clock at the latest. The last time I sleep late (or early, depending on your point of view) was the new day after the 2008 general elections.

This time, however, it wasn't about politics. It was about chess. In far away Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, India's Viswanathan Anand had just won the 12th and final game of his world chess championship match against Bulgaria's own Veselin Topalov. With this win, Anand proved to the world that he was still the world champion in this game.

For much of the early phases of the game, the position was sorta equal until Topalov panicked and committed two pawn blunders. Suddenly, the position came alive with Anand's pieces all swarming around the Bulgarian's king and threatening to end the game with a forceful checkmate. That the game could still continue for some 25 more moves said a lot for Topalov's resistance but the final decision was never in any more doubt once the position was opened up.

As an Asian, of course I'm happy that the Indian grandmaster had defended his chess title against one of the most resourceful and uncompromising in the world. For the past few days, ever since Anand allowed Topalov to win the eighth game, may people had been on tenterhooks, wondering whether the former could last four more rounds. But he did, and with great style too in the final game.

I thought that was that when I went to bed. This morning when I woke up all groggy to deal with a flat battery in my car, I was mildly amused to see online that the Indian newspapers in that sub-continent have been dishing out praise after praise for their chess warrior. One effusive praise after another. It's not going to abate soon, based on past experience. And I can really expect that the media there will work themselves up to another frenzy when Anand momentarily returns to Madras. Well, we can't really blame them. Everyone needs a hero and Anand is indeed India's favourite child of the moment. No question about that.

Which makes me think: why can't we have a real chess hero in Malaysia too? The closest we have to calling one is Mas Hafizul but I doubt that he himself would ever want to be associated as that. For a long time, he has been chasing after his first grandmaster norm but always, he has fallen short. For a long time too, he has taken time off from his work to seek his chess fortunes around the world but has been unsuccessful. He realises that he cannot do this forever and sooner or later, he would have to train his thoughts on more bread-and-butter issues back home. In fact, it's now sooner than later. He's back at his workplace in Terengganu but I hear that he's seeking a transfer to his employer's head office in Kuala Lumpur.

So who do we have left in Malaysia that can possibly "qualify" as a chess hero, if not Mas Hafizul. Jimmy Liew? I think he was our chess hero in the 1980s but no longer. Christi Hon? He have been out of the picture for far too long. Peter Long? He could have been one but his frank opinions have riled up too many people in the chess community. Mok Tze Meng? Nope, he creates and believes too much in his own abilities to the extent that people are now indifferent to him.

What about our younger charges? Wong Zijing? Nope, he's now fully concentrated on his academic career in aviation engineering. Lim Yee Weng? He tries to juggle chess with his law practice but lately, finds that he is not producing the right result. Lim Chuin Hoong? I think the demands of his career in medicine will force him to play chess only when he has the time. Nicholas Chan? Same, he will find the demands of being a new doctor will not give him much time to play. Marcus Chan? He has talent but he's too unassuming and prefers to stay in the background and concentrate on his engineering career. There are many more players that I've seen grown up to be successful doctors, engineers, lawyers and whatever else but they all have their careers before them too.

So there we are. For Malaysian chess, there's hardly anyone that I can label a hero. Quite unfortunate, really, because we really need one to emulate and focus on if we want to excel in this sport.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Plan B to KLIA-LCCT from KL Sentral

---- The information in this post is no longer applicable but is retained for archive purpose only ----

When I taking a flight back to Penang recently from the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), I was faced with a small dilemma. It had been raining hard the whole afternoon and the roads around KL were jam-packed with vehicles. I was a little concerned that should I take the shuttle bus from KL Sentral to the LCCT, I could be caught in a traffic snarl and arrive late at the terminal again. There's this phobia that I cannot shake off.

So I had to go by Plan B instead. Plan B would mean that I take the KLIA Transit (the train connecting the KL Sentral with the KLIA Main Terminal Building but stopping at three stations along the way) to the Salak Tinggi station and thence from there, by a connecting shuttle bus ride to the LCCT.

It was easy and a complete breeze. In fact, I would thoroughly recommend this method to anyone planning to take the next ride from the KL Sentral to the LCCT. The cost of the journey? Only RM12.50 one way. It may be slightly more expensive than a direct shuttle bus ride but this journey completely bypasses any traffic jam in the city and by comparison, you reach the LCCT much quicker too.

Of course, the tickets are only available from the KLIA ticket booth at KL Sentral (and also at Bandar Tasek Selatan and Putrajaya) but you should always inform the counter staff that you want to get to the LCCT. This is because the ticket for the shuttle bus ride from Salak Tinggi to the LCCT is not sold separately.

After a train journey of about 25 minutes, I found the shuttle bus already waiting for its passengers outside the Salak Tinggi station. I was surprised that the condition of the bus was excellent and the driver was smartly dressed and very professional too. This was so unlike the other direct shuttle bus services from KL Sentral where the drivers simply did not stick to their schedule. Plus, I only had to wait for about seven minutes before the bus pulled away.

Anyway, from Salak Tinggi, the bus ride is only 20 minutes and more importantly, there is no jam on the road. So if you do this journey, you may reach the LCCT well within an hour.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Bernama's latest embarrassment

The quality of English from Bernama is getting truly appalling. Where does the fault lie? With the reporter or the sub-editor? Or both? Here is their latest embarrassment which, I hope, won't get reproduced verbatim by the English language press tomorrow. How many mistakes did you spot?

The body of a man was found burned in the booth of a car in Ladang Sawit Elmina, Sungai Buloh near here Monday morning.

Gombak district police chief, ACP Abdul Rahim Abdullah, said the Sungai Buloh Fire and Rescue Services rushed to the scene after receiving a call at about 1am.

"After putting out the fire we found the burned body of a man in the booth.

"The police came later but could not identify him given that he was badly burned" he said when contacted by Bernama here Monday.

However, he said a burned identity card was found and the police Forensics Division was conducting investigation on the chip to determine his identity.

He said further checks on the car revealed that it belonged to a naval officer which was reportered missing since April 12.

The complainant, the Assistant Chief of Staff of Strategic Management of the Navy, First Admiral Datuk Rosli Idrus, had parked his car at a restaurant at 12.45am and which was subsequently reportered as stolen.

Abdul Rahim said the victim's body was sent to the Sungai Buloh Hospital for post-mortem and that police were checking on families of missing persons to identify the body.

Doesn't our opinion count at all?

One year ago, part of the grounds along the road leading to the Penang Botanical Garden was used as the venue of numerous orchid shows. It was also shared by some hawkers and traders who had been here for a very long time. Today, the whole place has been flattened and two monstrous arches are being erected.

The funds come from the Federal Government. The Penang state government has no say in it. In fact, the Federal people threatened to cut off funding for other projects in Penang if the state government did not agree to this project.

Sad. The Federal government is approving all sorts of projects in Penang with complete disregard to the opinions of the state government and the people of Penang. As a result, they are irreversibly spoiling the environment here. Previously, the dense foliage used to hide and muffle the noise of guns firing from the nearby Penang Rifle Club. When I was at the Garden last month, I could hear the noise in the furthest parts of the Garden. The place is no longer a peaceful sanctuary for people to visit or even for the monkeys and other animals. There must be consideration to relocate the club elsewhere as it has outlived its welcome here.

By the way, I was upset to see the very ironical red warning sign at the entrance to the club. "Kawasan Larangan," it said, with a rather graphic illustration of a trespasser getting shot. Rather insensitive. It conjures an image that if anyone were to stray into the premises or grounds of the club, the members would all train their guns and other weapons on the moving target.
Another disturbing example of the Federal government's heavy hand in disbursing funds is the on-going project to "improve" the funicular train service at Penang Hill. The train service has stopped since January this year so that the present tracks can be realigned into a single one. There'll be new trains that can whizz passengers from the bottom station to the top station in less than 15 minutes. I hope the engineers from the Federal government know what they are doing because if the train service fails in the future, it will be a disaster for tourism in the state.

Anyway, last week, there was an excellent story in theSun newspaper on the Penang Botanical Garden arches. The writer, Himanshu Bhatt, said that since "early this year, a scene some may well describe as one of utter horror has greeted Penangites and hundreds of visitors as they approach the island’s beloved Botanic Gardens, one of the oldest colonial-era parks in Southeast Asia. A huge swathe of land in front of the magnificent century-old raintree that looms above the gardens’ famous gates has been turned into a monstrous dusty scab, with two gigantic phallic structures built on it."

He couldn't have described it better. You can read the rest of his story here.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Many faces of Caleb

This is my cheeky nephew from Singapore. My sister's youngest child, now 3½ years old. They were visiting us over the weekend. Now, which of these pictures is the nicest?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

George Town featured on CNN website

I just noticed that the CNN website has a special pictorial feature on George Town. Here's the link to the story.

Friday, 7 May 2010

And the winner is....

The United Kingdom wakes up today to a hung parliament.

"Mick Jagger election, with no-one getting any satisfaction" .... Peter Hennessy, historian

In a nutshell, what this means is that the Conservatives hold the largest number of seats after the UK Elections, followed by Labour, with the Liberal Democrats trailing far behind. However, there are not enough seats for the Conservatives to have a clear majority; hence the hung parliament.

Bao Sheng's Durian Villa

I made a dash for the Bao Sheng Durian Farm on Wednesday to look in on the Durian Villa built by durian plantation owner Chang Teik Seng. Yes, like he had described to me earlier, the Villa comprises two small huts with a king-size bed, a cupboard, an attached bathroom and a flat-screen television, and separated by a small three-foot-deep pool. All in warm, earthy colours to complement the lush green settings of Sungai Pinang on the other side of Penang island.

When I arrived, workmen were still around to widen and cement the road at his farm so that visitors could park their cars in the compound more easily and there would be more open space to hold durian parties. There are plans, he told me, to build two more huts further down the road, spacing them further apart so that there'd be more privacy for homestay tourists.

I took a look around. It has been such a long time that I had taken in the breath-taking view of the south-western of the island which overlooks the town of Balik Pulau. Chang is lucky to live here away from the hustle and bustle of the city but more importantly, surrounded by such greenery, quietness and nature.

There was already a group of his friends around, no doubt all of them were durian connoisseurs. We were waiting for another small party of people to arrive. But today, there would be no big durian feast yet. The season still has not started so not many of the fruits have dropped yet. All around us, we could see fruiting trees. Some of the fruits were high up in the trees, so much so that Chang had to spread nets beneath the trees to collect those that drop. There were also fruits that were just at eye level.

Chang took us on a tour of his farm. Actually, farm is a misnomer because it is actually an estate or plantation land on a hill slope with trees and shrubs growing everywhere. There's simply no order at all. And there's no clear demarcation where it starts and where it ends. There's a path leading down the slope. "It takes five minutes to walk down," he said, "but 15 minutes to walk up." And he does that five or six times a day. Don't have to ask if he is physically fit; he is...

And ultimately, there was the durian tasting. As I mentioned earlier, it's still too early for the season to be considered started. But there were some early fruits that had dropped in the last 24 hours. Enough for our small group.

First of all, Chang took pains to explain the ins and outs of choosing durians. First, make sure that the stalk is fresh and not dried up. Sometimes, he said, durian sellers try to fool their customers by slicing off the tip of the semi-dried stalk to pass off the fruit as fresh. Next, place the durian close to the ear and shake it. If you can hear or feel slight knocks within the fruit, then it must be okay. If it knocks a lot, the durian may not be ripe and if it doesn't knock, chances are that it is soggy already. And finally, give it a good sniff near the stalk to take in the aroma. Now you know....

Interested to try the durians at Bao Sheng Durian Farm? Just call Chang at 012-4110600 to make reservations and check the availability of the fruits. Getting there is easy: turn left at the Teluk Bahang roundabout and travel for about nine kilometres. The Farm is on the right side of the road. You can't miss it; there's a signboard there. To know the rates for his all-you-can-eat durian parties, click here.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Alien abduction?

I just visited the website of The Sun newspaper in Britain. I was just scrolling around for some football when a face very familiar to me whizzed by. I scrolled back to take a second look.

Yes, there's that familiar face again. Fancy that, World Chess Federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's face was in The Sun. But was the story about chess? No. Was it of him being the president of Russia's autonomous region, the Kalmik Republic? Maybe. Was it a story about .... alien abduction? Yes.

According to the story, Kirsan had admitted on Russian television last month that he had once been abducted by space aliens on 18 Sep 1997. He said that as he was falling asleep, he heard someone calling him from the balcony. He went outside and saw a spaceship which was a "half-transparent half tube". He then went inside and met human-like creatures in yellow spacesuits. He said he could not communicate with the aliens but was later given a tour of their spaceship.

I thought this was an old, familiar story, no? Definitely not an April Fool's joke; wrong date. Anyhow, the story's appearing all over the Internet. AFP has picked it up here.

If I were Kirsan, I would be very upset over this story. Would it be a calculated attempt by some people to derail his prospects of seeking re-election as the World Chess Federation president?

MS-DOS, when I was younger

When I was at the Dato Arthur Tan Chess Centre on Sunday to look in at the 37th Selangor open chess tournament, I noticed this book among the many donated to the chess centre by the estate of Tan Boon Shih. Gosh, a book about mastering MS-DOS, the now obsolete Microsoft operating system that was de rigueur for many computers to function in the 1980s. I remember that even in the early 1990s, it was still hip and cool to show off your knowledge of DOS commands and especially the lesser known ones that could seemingly perform miracles on the monitor screen. The only person I know who could perhaps still remember how to use DOS is my colleague, Ted Targosz. As for me, I gave it up a long time ago and I don't regret it.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

My tribute to Florencio Campomanes

Florencio Campomanes touched different people in different ways.

The Western nations despised him, calling him a chess dictator who overstayed his tenure as the president of the World Chess Federation (Fide) and who played a very instrumental role in dividing the chess world. The Third World countries, however, saw him mostly as a champion who succeeded to the world body’s highest position and who opened up chess to the world and brought the game to its greatest prominence.

Who was right and who was wrong? Without a doubt, both sides would have their grounds and justifications to cast Campomanes as their hero or villain. Personally, I don’t believe that he cared very much for the labels. Ultimately, he wanted only results, not how the job got done. But all that is now behind him.

Last Monday, Florencio Campomanes, more popularly known as Campo to his friends and enemies, died in his native Philippines. He was 83 years old.

I first got to know of Campo way back in 1974 when he was already a Fide deputy president. Asia was his main playground then, and chess was just taking off in the continent.

At that time, the Malaysian Chess Federation was playing host to Fide which was celebrating its 50th anniversary and holding its Bureau Meeting at the Hotel Merlin in Penang. Campo came to Penang for the Bureau Meeting and the inaugural Asian team championship. At the conclusion of the championship, he received the challenge trophy from our second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak. Campo was truly the public face of the Philippines’ chess team.

In 1978, he organized the acrimonious world chess championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in Baguio City and in 1982, achieved his ambition to become the Fide president. His election to the world body’s top position, on the promise of elevating chess to greater heights, created a buzz everywhere. I was there in Luzerne when it happened and the euphoria was simply incredible.

He knew Juan Antonio Samaranch. As the Fide president, Campo sowed the seeds that would eventually see Fide being accepted into the international Olympic community. This wasn’t a short-term process; it actually took years before the walls could be broken down. But the process started with him. Story has it that when Campo and Samaranch met, the IOC president tried speaking to him in various languages but Campo was himself up to the task.

But his Fide presidency was also marred with controversy. By 1984, Garry Kasparov’s star was already in its ascendancy and he was knocking on Karpov’s door. But the 1984/85 world championship match was organized with rules different from today’s. It was a match where a player needed to score six decisive victories, draws not counting.

Karpov was unable to deliver the final blow and he enabled Kasparov to extend the match to 48 games. After five long months of play, Campo decided to abandon the match, citing players’ fatigue as the decision. There would be a rematch later in the year, limited to 24 games.

While this might have been seen as a logical decision – a tough decision actually – that any Fide president would have to make, it did not go down well at all with many chess federations in the West. They claimed that Campo’s decision was scandalous and unilaterally made to favour the tiring Karpov at a time when an invigorated Kasparov was starting to get stronger at the chessboard. They said there was no precedent to stop the match but precisely, it was Campo’s job to set a precedent if one was really required.

Anyhow, Campomanes weathered all the criticisms and went on to achieve his second high point as the Fide president by bringing the biennial Chess Olympiad to Manila in 1992. It was again a first for Asian chess as never before had any Third World country organized such a large-scale team chess event in this part of the world.

But chess was never the same after that. During Campo’s tenure as Fide president, Kasparov declared that his world championship title never belonged to the World Chess Federation and he could choose to defend his title any time he liked or wanted. Not surprisingly, Kasparov had the support of the western chess federations and most of the top western chess grandmasters.

So chess went in two separate directions. Kasparov had his own version of a world chess championship running for several years while Fide continued with its own regular world chess title series. It was not until 2006 that there was unification again.

The pressure on Campo began to tell and in 1995, he stepped down as the Fide president and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov took over. Nevertheless, Campo remained active in the chess world and he was made the Fide honorary president which allowed him to roam the globe as the ultimate chess ambassador.

He never slowed down, not even a horrendous car crash in Turkey in 2007 was able to stop him. Though seriously warded in a hospital with his neck in braces, he received all guests and insisted on playing chess with them on his hospital bed. That was his dedication to the game.

Campo turned up often in Malaysia because he was a fast friend of Datuk Tan Chin Nam whom he first met in 1974. It was mainly Campomanes that persuaded Tan to stand for Fide election in 1982. Every time that Campo came into town, he would come as a guest of Tan.

I can’t remember the last time I met him in Kuala Lumpur. It must have been at the early part of this decade. He was already frail of body but still sharp in mind. Impressively, he still carried with him a very distinguished and statesman-like air. Without any prompting, he could always remember my name but never once could he say it properly. But like him, I did not care. I did not care very much for the mispronunciations because I knew that he only wanted to be polite and address me, not how to call my name.

(This is a slightly different version of my story which will appear in The Star on Friday.)

New Voter registration

There was a state-wide New Voter registration exercise in Penang last Saturday, totally carried by volunteers stationed at various places in the state. According to one of my friends, Long Kin, the objective of this exercise was to bring on board those people who are eligible to vote but haven't been able to register themselves with the Elections Commission for one reason or another. Normally, these would mean the newly eligible ones who have crossed the age of 21 but the exercise was also targeted at older people who hadn't registered in the past.

My daughter was one of those who have just crossed this age threshold and it was just coincidental that she was back in Bukit Mertajam for the weekend. So my wife took her to the Insasdunia food court first thing on Saturday morning.

I hear that the registration exercise was very well received in Penang but I also heard that the Elections Commission could not give enough forms to the organisers. What a disappointment. Anyway, I only hope that there'll be a similar programme again soon and the people who missed the opportunity last weekend will come to register and make their voices and votes count in the next general elections.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Embracing life

I may be too busy to post anything in the next few days so I think that I shall leave you to enjoy this VERY IMPORTANT video in the meantime:

Monday, 3 May 2010

Touch my heart

I don't know what's going on at the Penang State Assembly building this morning but I'm sure that with all those photographers and pressmen around, we'll get to learn about it by tomorrow.


I had treated myself to a little bit of self-indulgence yesterday ....... Well, all things considered, it was more than "a little bit". Actually, a lot of self-indulgence yesterday.

I took the car for a spin from Bukit Mertajam down to Kuala Lumpur in the morning to test out our latest toy, the Garmin Nuvi 1250. This model's main difference from my old Nuvi 205 is the split screen giving 3D views of major road junctions. Plus, the 1250 is chattier. It just can't keep it's mechanical mouth shut, even warning us whenever we happened to exceed the speed limit or approach a camera junction. Shhh, but I shouldn't be saying this! Anyway, I found it more user-friendly than the 205, a little more accurate, but I can't say that I'm wholly satisfied with the unit. Like all GPS units, the 1250 still has its limitations.

My daughter accompanied me on this trip and she drove much of the way and within KL too. I just sat beside her and talked to her. As I looked at her sitting confidently behind the wheel (her first major drive along the north-south expressway), it struck me that my "little girl" is all grown up. You know how it is like with parents. In our eyes, our sons and daughters are always our "little boys" and "little girls" no matter how big or old they already are. But seeing her beside me, chatting with her and treating her as a grown-up, I realised suddenly that she is my "big girl" now with a life of her own and a career to call her own.

Anyway, we arrived at the Yut Kee restaurant in Jalan Dang Wangi a little after one o'clock in the afternoon. It was packed but it was just the perfect time for our lunch. And just the right day for a slice or two of the restaurant's fabled pork roast. The proprietor's son, Mervyn, saw me and beckoned me to two empty seats near the back of the restaurant. We ordered my all-time favourite Yut Kee French Toast with kaya and of course, their irresistible chicken chop.

Everything else that we did in KL was secondary after that, including a surprise visit to the expanded Dato Arthur Tan Chess Centre at the Wilayah Complex where the 37th Selangor open chess tournament was being played, a leisurely drive to the Mont Kiara Plaza and a short visit to the Mid-Valley Megamall.

Eventually, I arrived back home at 11.30pm last night. Whew, was I bushed, having taken all the major transportation methods available in a single day - car, train, bus and aeroplane - save for the motorcycle and the bicycle. It has indeed been a very long and tiring, but eye-opening, day for me.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dark tales

The Cu Chi tunnels of South Vietnam on the outskirts of Saigon remains firmly etched in my memory. It was one of the highlights of my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 2003 when I went there as a member of the Malaysian contingent to the SEA Games. The other highlight was the visit to the War Museum in downtown Ho Chi Minh City itself.

It's estimated that the tunnels at Cu Chi is some 75 miles long. These tunnels are themselves part of a much larger and complex network throughout Vietnam. During the American/Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975 (the Vietnamese call it the American War while the Americans call it the Vietnam War) the tunnels were used by the Viet Cong guerillas for hiding during combat with the American army, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters.

Today, the Cu Chi tunnels is a war memorial park and a popular tourist attraction. It is possible for tourists to crawl around in the safer stretches of the tunnel system but of course, with an experienced guide tagging along. The original tunnels were very narrow - but big enough for the small-sized Viet Cong guerillas to crawl through - but the tourist part has now been enlarged to accommodate the larger size of western tourists. The tunnels are still mostly in pitch darkness but there are now a few low-wattage light bulbs installed at regular intervals in the tunnel.

Crawling in the pitch dark tunnel is not for everybody. I tried it but had to surrender my attempt at the second exit point. What happened was that as I went deeper and deeper into the tunnel, I felt a sudden pang of anxiety and gloom. It wasn't only the enveloping darkness; I could feel the tunnel walls and ceiling closing in, hemming me inside with no possibility of going backwards but only forward. From a semi-crouching position, I was soon on my knees and crawling. I was gasping, as if I couldn't breathe properly. It wasn't a pleasant sensation. In the distant, I could see a dim light but it seemed miles away. Eventually, I reached the light and decided at that point to clamber out of the tunnel. Boy, was I relieved to see daylight!

I'm relating this story because on Friday, the world chess championship match between defending champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Veselin Topalov was plunged into momentary darkness. It wasn't the venue of the match itself but much of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. So for about 15 minutes or so, the fifth game of the match was played in semi-total darkness until a power generator was wheeled into the hall.

It may sound like a funny incident but it was not. When you have two players fighting for the highest title in the world, the last thing they'd need is a disruption to their games. However, both of them weren't in the least affected by the power failure. Chess players, especially those at their levels, would be able to analyse their games without sight of the board. There's such a thing as blindfold chess. I have a story about it here, so you can go and have a look at it later.

This also wasn't the first time that a power failure had affected a high-profile match. Way back in 1971, the (then) American grandmaster, Bobby Fischer, before he became the world champion, was playing the Candidates final match in Buenos Aires with Tigran Petrosian, a former world champion from the old Soviet Union and the lights went out during their very first game. The clocks were stopped while the organisers tried to restore the lights. In the meantime, Fischer continued sitting at the board in semi-darkness, pondering his move. Petrosian objected that his opponent shouldn't be thinking about the position while the clocks were stopped. The referee asked him to leave, but Fischer said he preferred to stay and that the referee could re-start his clock. Any player would prefer to play with lights on but Fischer was in trouble in that game and didn't want to pull himself away even if it meant analyzing in the gloom. Fischer won that game and eventually won the match with Petrosian to challenge Boris Spassky for the world chess crown one year later. The rest, as they say, is history.