Wednesday, 30 June 2010

What language do YOU use?

Soo Ewe Jin and I have one or two things in common. Our alma mater is the Penang Free School. However, I believe that he entered the school in my final year so I don't think our paths ever crossed. Nevertheless due to some inexplicable reasons, one Old Free tend to recognise another.

The other common trait we share is the journalism line. Currently, Ewe Jin is the deputy executive editor at The Star newspaper while I am just a freelance columnist with them. Ewe Jin also contributes a weekly write-up in the newspaper and only last Monday, he came out with a very eloquent story on the official language that referees use at the World Cup to make themselves heard above the vuvuzelas. Okay....I made up that part about the vuvuzelas. My bad.

Anyway, Ewe Jin opened up by writing: "THIRTY referees from 28 countries, including our very own Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh, are officiating at the World Cup in South Africa. Have you ever wondered what is the language they use to keep all the players, plus the coaches on the sidelines, in check when things get a bit fiery?

"The lingua franca is English. Of course, this is not to say that everyone on the pitch speaks the language. In the heat of the moment, more colourful language, in all sorts of tongues, will invariably come out. But the authoritative language is English."

Get it? The language that referees use to communicate on the pitch is English, the language of the world. There is no way that any country can avoid using the English language if they want to get ahead in life. Even countries like China and Indonesia, both traditionally non-English speaking and both very proud of their respective Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesia, believe that the way forward for their countries to progress economically in this modern, globalised society is to increase the use of the English language.

Ewe Jin was quoting Raja Zarith Idris, the Sultan of Johor's consort, as lamenting that this is a problem that we can no longer ignore: that most Malaysians cannot speak or write well in English, compared with the ability and ease with which older Malaysians speak and write it.

“The English language has unmistakably achieved status as the world’s lingua franca through globalisation. English is now the official or dominant language for two billion people in at least 75 countries. According to the British Council, speakers of English as a second language probably outnumber those who speak it as a first language, and around 750 million people are believed to speak English as a foreign language,” she had said recently at a conference in Kuala Lumpur.

While the world is moving forward, the Malaysian government has adopted a completely different stance. I was dismayed with the de-emphasis on the English language, bowing to political pressure to re-adopt Bahasa Malaysia as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics in the schools. I would have expected the government to expand the usage of English in schools rather than reduce English to a mere subject.

Of course, the whole shameful episode is the Federal government's own undoing over the years. By pushing through this language agenda since the 1970s, they have produced a vast majority of teachers who, frankly, are completely inept when conversing in the English language, let alone trying to impart knowledge to their charges in this language.

The Federal government knows that with globalisation, it is impossible for our country to live forever in a closed society and be unaffected by events happening right across the other side of the world. However, when it comes to taking unpopular decisions, this government is not willing to make them. This political short-sightedness is all to the detriment of our country's future. Mind you, the economical consequences are already being felt in our society. Heck, it has even affected Bernama, that institution which as Malaysia's official news agency should be the bedrock of our English language efficiency. Yet, the Federal government today still continues to harbour the citizens and dish out largesse when there is little to share around. The only way out is to free the people, provide them with the tools and allow them to compete globally on an equal basis. To do that, the government must do away with protective policies and the learning of the English language in schools is simply one of them.

In the past, I've written here and here that we must not stop using English in schools. I've even gone further by voicing opinion with friends that the government should perhaps bring back elitism into schools and allow some of them to convert fully into the English language medium. I've often wondered why should the government or the people feel threatened about this because in the long run, these students who will be the beneficiaries of an education policy change are ultimately the future engines of this country. Shoot the politicians, it will be commerce and the economy that guarantees whether Malaysia progress or regress in the decades to come.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Enough said

Another Ip Man movie hits the cinemas

I've read more books in the last six months than in the last six years put together; I've also watched more movies in the cinemas during the last six months than in the last six years together too. That's the extent of which I've had more time to enjoy myself with my personal pursuits while attempting to re-build my interest in the estate planning business (but that is altogether another tale).

My interest in the movies was rekindled after my friend Hamid brought me to see James Cameron's Avatar at a cinema in Kuala Lumpur last January. Since then, I've also watched the ho-hum remake of Clash Of The Titans and Ip Man 2. Watching the latter film prompted me to search for a DVD copy of Ip Man.

Can't deny that I'm actually hooked onto this historical character after watching the two films even though I know that the films' producers took a lot of liberties with the story lines. But then, what movies we see have not been guilty of this? How much is real and how much is fictitious? Unfortunately, movies blur this line until ultimately we ourselves become confused and subconsciously assume that the fiction may be true.

But I don't want to go into a discussion about this. Purely from the entertainment viewpoint, Ip Man and Ip Man 2 were stuff to make us leave the cinema feeling that good had triumphed over evil once more. Ip Man was all about the fight against the barbaric often heartless Japanese invaders while Ip Man 2 focussed on the brash, arrogant and corrupt British kwei-lo. Typically, both continued to be portrayed as the real (ever present) enemies of the Chinese people, the cruel oppressors and racists that needed to be destroyed or put down. Honour of China and the Chinese people at stake, blah blah blah, which was all very well if the cinema audience comprised wholly the mainland Chinese. But as a Chinese who ancestors left the "old motherland" at least a century ago, it was a bit embarrassing to hear such fervour being repeated ad nauseum. So for me, the two shows were mainly entertainment and nothing more. I never read too much into the sometimes not-to-sublime messages that the producers convey.

Nevertheless, do I have enough of the Ip Man genre? Apparently, not. Two days ago, I took my family to the cinema for "The Legend Is Born - Ip Man", the supposed prequel to the two earlier films. In truth, I enjoyed this show. I enjoyed it so much more than the two other Ip Man films. Although the story line should again be taken with a big pinch of salt (for instance, it was never explained how his adopted brother get to learn karate and judo if he was assimilated into the family at the tender age of 12. I'm so confused...), I must say for the third time that I enjoyed it. Fast and furious, that's all I can say about the action in this movie.

And who was the bad guy in this movie? Bonus: there were two. First was the knucklehead of a clueless and naive British kwei-lo who was quickly put down in a short fight after he mouthed something like Chinese pigs (Hey, I'd get insulted too, okay? Never insult the food I eat) and the second was the corrupt and evil Japanese businessman and his private army intent on taking over the community. So at least for this show, there were two profiled enemies for the price of one cinema ticket.

My verdict for this show: plot is all so very typical but it's redeeming point is the incredible fight scenes involving well-respected actors. So, definitely well worth a watch if you have to spend a mindless two hours in a fantasy land.

Monday, 28 June 2010

George Town Festival 2010: Exorbitant prices for Emily of Emerald Hill

I am proud to call myself an Anak Pulau Pinang, born and raised in the city of George Town. Although circumstances later forced me to relocate to the mainland, my bond with the island and the city are intact and permanent. And no one can accuse this particular Anak Pulau Pinang of not being an ardent supporter of the first George Town Festival 2010, the month-long festival in celebration of the city of George Town's status as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. I am, and various people knows it.

And naturally, I am very excited with the wide variety of programmes that the Festival's committee had drawn up to involve not only the people of Penang but from elsewhere too. Not to say that many of the programmes are anything new, of course, because most of them are basically the same general stuff that are strutted out year in and year out during other festivals. But there are some exclusive new programmes too, like the Emily of Emerald Hill show with its Peranakan background which should appeal to the general public that still keep in touch with their cultural heritage.

Yet somehow, I feel it is all wrong that the organisers of Emily of Emerald Hill are taking lots of liberty to fix the prices of the tickets for sale to the general public at RM150 per ticket, even at RM250 per ticket for the "better" seats, when I sense that there is a substantial number of complimentary tickets being given away free of charge.

To me, the unmistakable feeling is that the genuinely-interested public is being short-changed. They are being made to pay high prices while a lot of the free tickets are being offered out to people with the right connections, regardless of their interest in the show or the occasion.

Don't forget what we are celebrating. The state government and the organisers of this George Town Festival 2010 should be encouraging more of the Anak Pulau Pinang to come celebrate the city's listing as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. I know there are already lots of free programmes for the general public to join in and the three Emily of Emerald Hill shows are considered more exclusive. But it doesn't make it proper for the organisers to keep ticket prices so high for the general public, because are they being made to subsidise the free tickets? Or are the cost of the shows already paid for with sponsorship money? These are the questions that should be answered openly in the interest of competency, accountability and transparency. If the costs of the shows are indeed being borne by sponsors, why do the organisers need to keep prices high? More affordable ticket prices at RM80 and RM120 will ensure continuing interest by the public in many other things that are Penang, if not exclusively Peranakan

The danger of reserving so many tickets to be given out free is that how many of the ticket recipients are truly appreciative of their opportunity? Will all actually be present for the shows? Worse still, at such exorbitant prices - even if the shows come with a nyonya-style dinner - how many tickets do the organisers expect to sell to the public? They are pricing themselves out of the reach of many people. And the publicity....the shows are only days away and I do not see much publicity being generated except for something in The Sunday Star yesterday.

At such prices, I hope the organisers are confident that they can sell all the tickets and get a full house for the three performances. Best of luck to them. Or otherwise, they may be forced to give away even the unsold tickets to ensure that people do turn up for the shows. Now, not only would that be a big shame, it would also be a gross injustice to the general public who had paid so much for the tickets in the first place! So again, competency, accountability and transparency must be addressed here.

And finally, this paragraph is written as an after-thought. When I alerted a friend in the state government about this odd practice, I was a bit incensed when told that if I felt that the show won't be worth the money, then I shouldn't go. This is completely unacceptable. What is public feedback if it is not appreciated? The solution is not for the public to boycott any of the programmes for the George Town Festival 2010 but for the state government, as the main stakeholder, to ensure that everything is properly organised and completely above board. There must always be transparency where public participation is required and money is involved for the public good. It's important not to fall back on the old ways where fund raisers for projects are allowed to thumb their noses at people and tell them "So what? I'm the one that raised the money. You don't have a say in how I spend it."

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Penang Botanic Garden arches will go!

Yes, I am glad that those concrete arches at the Penang Botanic Garden will be demolished. According to the Star Online this afternoon, the Ministry of Tourism announced that the tilting arch and its companion will both be demolished.

The two silly structures had cost RM150,000 of the taxpayers' money but in my opinion, they were totally incompatible with the environment. An environmental disaster. Nevertheless, the damage has already been done. The land outside the Garden's gate has already been flattened and I fear that it will never recover. At least, not till its original state.

However, in making this announcement today, I could still detect a tinge of sour grapes in the Minister, Dr Ng Yen Yen, when she said: “The beautification project was meant for the people and if they are not happy, we should not force them to accept it.” It did not sound like a total recapitulation in good faith but one done grudgingly because the tilting arch had also become unstable.

But in the first place, she shouldn't have forced this project down the throats of the people, regardless of whether this was done in Penang or elsewhere. It's just not right. Does she mean that the Federal Government can do anything at its own whims and fancies without consulting the stakeholders who are the most affected by any project? Well, that's the impression that I still have, that the federal government can jolly well do that.

She is dead wrong. We are not mindless simpletons who are swayed by federal largesse. We can think for ourselves and criticise and object and oppose whoever we see having made mistakes. It's not about politics. It's about our unalienable place in society. We are here because we exist; we exist because we are here. That, the federal government has got to understand.

Riddle of the black rain

On the day that my wife was born, it was reported in The Straits Times that "it rained with a difference at the village of Jemaluang, 13 miles from Mersing in Johore."
The villagers gasped with surprise when they found that the rain drops were black. Streams in the locality were filled to the banks with churning black water. No-one could explain the phenomenon. Samples of the black rain will be sent to Johore Bahru for examination.
The mystery was cleared up about two weeks later. According to the newspaper again, the Meteorological Department in Singapore had analysed a sample of the "black rain" water.
A Department spokesman said that the black sediment in the rain water was found to comprise "essentially vegetable debris, that is woody vessels, vegetable fibres or carbon soot." Its finding seems to settle a riddle and confirm a theory put forward recently by Prof. C. J. Eliezer, Dean of Science at the University of Malaya.
Prof. Eliezer was reported to have said that in his opinion, soot from a nearby fire had been blown in the direction of a rain-forming cloud. "As condensation took place, the soot particles dissolved into it forming black drops of rain," he added.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Stretching a tennis record

My father left me two lasting legacies: a love of reading and a love of music. From young, the radio and records, books, magazines and newspapers have always been my constant companions. Unfortunately in the past 10 years or so, I had not been able to indulge myself with reading. Not until the past five months or so. Now, I do find myself enjoying my reading again because I have more time. at hand

In my teenaged years, I used to pour over the newspapers every day. Maybe not every page of a newspaper (definitely not the classifieds or the shipping pages) but yes, I did read them. They helped to broaden my general knowledge of the world around me. Of course, it's almost impossible to remember anything of what I read so long ago but curiously enough, when this year's Wimbledon tennis grand slam tournament began some five days ago, a little bit of forgotten trivia popped up in my mind.

I can't remember where I read it -- could be the New Straits Times or The Malay Mail or The Straits Echo or The Eastern Sun or The Star -- but there was a picture showing two players slugging it out at Wimbledon 1969 (actual date of play was 26 Jun 1969, I believe) with a caption saying that Pancho Gonzales had beaten Charlie Pasarell in a marathon match that went to 112 games and lasted more than five hours. It's true, there was such a picture in one of our local newspapers then. I won't say anything more about this historical match because there's so much reference to it these few days.

Therefore, it was with more than a passing curiosity that I read in the online newspapers during the past two days of the herculean effort between John Isner and Nikolas Mahut at Wimbledon 2010, how their first-round match had surpassed all other tennis records in history (except one, which was the speed of the fastest serve). It was incredible how the two players had been unable to get the better of one another until 138 games had been contested in the fifth set. This special historical moment in world tennis has now become sports lore. I won't say anything more too because there's a lot written about this match now.

Anyway, when I plonked myself down in front of the television to watch the drama at Wimbledon 2010, I was at the same time surfing the Internet and visiting the Wimbledon website, especially their live update page. Quite surreal to see a first-round match from a distant Court 18 garnering so much world-wide interest and prominent coverage on one of the Astro sports channels.

I noticed that there was a delay of about 10 minutes in the tennis "live" telecast. I wondered why. Was Astro worried that one of the Williams sisters may make an unexpected appearance in the men's competition wearing one of her dresses like in Paris, and that would require an on-the-spot censoring? Or maybe, to blank out Maria Sharapova?

When the Isner-Mahut match was finally over, I had sent a text message to my friend Eric at about 11.45pm but the closing stages of this match was only shown over television at about 11.55pm. A bit of disappointment over the 10-minute delay, really. But it allowed me time to snap this picture from my TV set.  Their expressions spoke volumes. That's over-the-top John Isner (United States) towering over down-in-the-dumps Nikolas Mahut (France) and chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani (Morocco) who looked almost clueless about his own place in tennis history which most probably would be the seven hours-plus that he spent on the chair on the second day without going to the washroom. Real dedication to the game but obviously can only be at the eventual expense of his own health.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

My Dendrobium's finally flowered

After more than two years of watering and patiently watching over this Dendrobium orchid plant, I'm finally rewarded by two sprays of flowers with another one on its way. Mind you, the flowers are not as yellow as depicted below; they are more of a light green which I'm unable to reproduce accurately here. Nevertheless, I'm happy with them.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Hard Rock

Going to the Hard Rock Cafe? Don't go to the wrong one! 

Monday, 21 June 2010

Farts equal cleansing, blue equals ultraviolet

Had a short, rather flippant on-line conversation with a friend from the old office this morning. That was before he hurriedly left the office on a mission with the rest of the guys. For no other reason than a wish for anonymity, I have removed the name of the newspaper he was referring to. Here is the flow of my conversation but his rant:
me: still drinkie lotsa coffie in offie?
Ted:  only 3 in 1, 2 in 1...seldom brew one to drink
me:  i was told by a nutritionist yesterday to cut down because caffeine does no good to the bones
Ted:  i c... don't believe everything they say
me:  sure, i don't take in everything too but there are certain truths, i suppose
Ted:  (the newspapers are) also full of bullshit health claims. very bad science/health editing...  some stories are obvious advertisements for quack treatments/potions. if u can't tell i'm set off by one story...bullshit claim that blue LEDs can hurt your eyes
me:  didn't read that story
Ted:  they mix together a bunch of true recommendations about eye strain, with bullshit claims that blue LEDs damage your retina and try to suggest you buy some supplements to counteract it
me:  half truths
Ted:  and keep adding the word  'blue'  to 'ultraviolet' 
me:  haha
Ted:  ultraviolet of course does cause damage
me:  all this in yesterday's papers?
Ted:  just one story...but seems like every sunday i see some bullshit story like that. i don't mind the advertisements...but i think its bad for the public to put such things in as newspaper articles
me:  ahh....ted of little faith. of course, you must believe all the gospel truth in the newspapers you read. if it is in the papers, it must be true...
Ted:  i don't of course...but my chinese family does... in fact they have one of those bullshit oxygen generators bubbling their drinking water and they claim it makes them fitter and produces more farts
me:  oh no....don't they realise that they are contributing to the green house effect?
Ted:  they equate farts = cleansing, but of course their farts have nothing to do with the bubbled water

I would have loved to carry on with this fascinating small talk but unfortunately, he had weightier issues to consider, like having to run out for breakfast....

George Town's city status: The Queen responds

A bit of history. Would you know that on 21 Dec 1956, the Federation Government announced that Queen Elizabeth II had ordered that George Town be raised to the "status and dignity of a city" from 1 Jan 1957?

The Queen's decision, recorded in the London Gazette, followed a petition sent to her on 31 Aug 1956 by the George Town Municipality which on 1 Jan 1957 would celebrate the centenary of the Straits Settlements Municipal Act enacted in 1857.

The motion to submit the petition was introduced in the Municipal Council by the then Alliance Whip, Mr A.M. Abu Bakar.

Leaders of the new city's quarter-million people - George Town claimed 230,000 of the Settlement's total population of nearly 550,000 - hailed the Queen's decision as "a truly royal gesture."

With George Town's elevation, the election of Penang's first Mayor on 2 Jan 1957 would assume greater significance. The two leading candidates for this office - the Alliance's Mr G.H.Goh and Labour's Mr D.S. Ramanthan - both welcomed the Queen's gesture.

The Municipal Secretary and Treasurer, Mr S.V. Adams, said: "I am very pleased. There will now undoubtedly be greater rejoicing during our centenary festival, especially as the granting of this status comes so soon after the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Penang."

"But," Mr Ramanathan warned, "a mere change of status without any improvement in the city's conditions of living will, in the final analysis, bring no great joy to the common man in George Town."

Mr Goh said he shared fully in the feeling of pride of every man and woman in Penang.

"George Town may not be a very big city of the future but it has rich traditions," he said. "We are certainly proud we shall be the first city of the Federation."

The retiring Municipal President, Mr J.S.H. Cunyngham-Brown, said that the elevation of George Town to city status was "a royal gift to Malaya on its first great birthday as an independent nation."

He added: "As in the past, so in the future this city will stand or fall by the continuing wisdom and integrity of its Councillors. The tasks that will face the new City Council are many and vital."

The only discordant note came from Penang UMNO which sent a memorandum to the Malayan Chief Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, protesting against the Municipal Council's petition to the Queen.

It objected on the grounds that the petition was submitted without prior consultation with UMNO and that the granting of city status was unnecessary with merdeka less than a year away.

Che Aisha binte Sheikh Ahmad, Secretary of Penang UMNO's Kaum Ibu (women's section), reiterated: "We still stand firm by our protest."

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Going Dutch with Anneke Gronloh

It would be very foolish to assume that this was an uncommon record in this part of the world. No, this seven-inch extended play 45rpm record was very popular in the early 1960s and no doubt, buyers of this record - my father included - were greatly smitten by the Dutch singer, Louise Johanna (also known as Anneke) Gronloh. She not only sang well but looked fabulous. In fact, she was a teenage idol and had represented Holland at a Eurovision song contest.

I remember that in my pre-teen years, I was spinning this record endlessly on the old gramophone at our Seang Tek Road home. Was I also smitten with her? Or was I just carried away by the catchy songs? No matter, because the four songs on this record just stayed with me.

But when I was down in Kuala Lumpur recently, I happened to see a shop selling this compact disc. Memories of the endless hours playing the songs came back. Weak-kneed, I picked up a copy and continually played it in the car stereo on the drive back to Penang until my wife said "enough was enough."

Yah, okay, I do admit that two hours listening to the same 12 songs on this compact disc can stretch anyone's patience but now I know that I can always slip this disc into the home stereo and listen to it any time while my wife's away at work. After all these years, Anneke Gronloh's bubbly songs still bring back fun memories.

Note: Anneke Gronloh is Dutch but she was born on Celebes island in Indonesia during the Japanese Occupation of South-East Asia. After the War, her family emigrated to Eindhoven, Holland and it was there that she started her musical career. She normally sings in the Dutch language but for her tour of the Far East in 1962 in which she appeared on stage in Malacca and Singapore, she made special effort to re-discover her Indonesian roots and learn several songs in the Malay and Indonesian languages. The songs on this compact disc are testimony of the comfort she had singing in these two languages.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Alex the parrot

Got bored on a lazy Saturday afternoon, so I thought that I'd get entertained by this talking bird. It could distinguish between colours and shapes. It had a vocabulary of about 150 words which it used intelligently. Alex the parrot died in September 2007, so this video that I found on YouTube is a little tribute to it.

Contrasting emotions

 We are not amused....

....but we certainly are!

Friday, 18 June 2010

It's official: Public holiday on George Town heritage day

So finally, the Penang State Secretariat has seen it fit to inform various parties in the state about 7 July 2010 being an official Penang state public holiday. 

This matter had been dithering on for quite without the government making any official announcement. Last month, I was constantly poking a friend in the state machinery to make clear the government's stand on this holiday. Has the holiday even been gazetted and announced? He replied that the government departments and schools in the state would be observing this holiday but I told him that it wasn't enough. It just wasn't good enough.

It's not that I want another holiday. As I'm now retired, it makes utterly no difference to me whether or not the seventh of July of every year would be a public holiday but the state has to take into account more than the public servants and the school students.

Where is the pride in George Town being accorded UNESCO world cultural heritage status when the state does no follow-up on their initial pronouncement on celebrating this listing? Don't they want the general public to join in as well? Why confine the holiday to only schools and government offices? If they want the business community to acknowledge our UNESCO status and have the option to celebrate the occasion, they must let them know officially. It's not at the spur of the moment that businesses in Penang can declare a holiday for their staff. Even giving them a one-month notice such as this may not be enough. However, I'm satisfied that at least, this official announcement has now been made and the business sector can plan to embrace it, maybe not this year but in later years.

But how I wish that the Penang government can make a more constant effort to promote the UNESCO status. Heritage has already come under the Chief Minister's Office but I just fear that the engine to proceed full steam with heritage programmes in the state (not just the City) may still require more than a kick-start.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Penang Botanic Garden arch tilt worsening?

Well, it is about time that the Ministry of Tourism stop all this nonsense of collecting further feedback from the stakeholders of the Penang Botanic Garden and decide on bringing down the two arches. No further amount of public feedback is necessary if it has become clear that the arches, once deemed as monstrosities, are now dangerous as well.

Last month, there was a news item which claimed that one of the arches was beginning to tilt. As usual, there were the denials and posturings that the tilt was all just an illusion of the eye.

However, there is now further claim that the tilt has indeed worsened. If it is true and at the rate it is said to be tilting, how can the soil around the two arches be stable any more? With the rainy spell upon us, no-one can predict how much damage is occurring under the ground.

I don't see why the Ministry and their Minister cannot admit that the poorly planned Penang Botanic Garden expansion project is now in jeopardy and the only way out is to dismantle the dangerous arches.

Please don't wait for more studies or public opinion. It's no longer about Federal Government versus State Government. We, the people of Penang, cannot afford to wait for Mother Nature to get any more angrier. This is all about public safety. Yes, and this is the right opportunity for the Ministry to exit honourably before the situation gets any worse.


George Town's city status: Petitioning the Queen

A bit of history. Would you know that on 31 Aug 1956, the Penang Municipal Councillors signed a petition to Queen Elizabeth II seeking city status for George Town? The city status in 1957 would coincide with the centenary of the Straits Settlements Municipal Act.

A motion to send the petition was introduced by the Alliance Whip of the day in the Council, Mr A.M. Abu Bakar, on a vote of urgency which was carried unanimously.

Mr Abu Bakar said: "This petition has been a well-kept secret. I think the time is opportune for us to ask for city status in view of the centenary which we shall be celebrating next year. The granting of city status to this oldest settlement on the eve of Malaya's independence would also be most appropriate."

The petition traced the history of Penang's growth since its establishment as a British settlement by Francis Light in 1786.

During the adjournment, Mr C.M. Hashim (Nominated) urged the Council to consider building a city hall that would commensurate with the new status being sought.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Survey results turning farcical

Every now and then, I find myself travelling away from my base in Penang which means to say that I'm away from the Internet unless I bring my Macbook along. I don't usually take the laptop along because most times, carrying it on trips is a hassle indeed. The laptop's backpack is too bulky.

I was away on Sunday and came back late yesterday evening. I was too tired even to switch on the Macbook after I returned and only got to go into the Internet to catch up on all developments over the past two days.

I've already stated my position very clearly on the two concrete arches at the Penang Botanic Garden. For the good of the Garden, the arches must go. The environs must be brought back to its original state, not marred with man-made imports like monster arches. The Garden must have attractions that blend into its surroundings and say to say, arches like these contribute little to preserving its original objectives. It has to be a quiet and cool green lung, not an open tourist attraction without places to shelter from searing heat. And that's what building the concrete arches under the Ninth Malaysia Plan has helped to destroy: the pristine nature and greenery of the Botanic Garden.

This morning, I revisited the Ministry of Tourism home page to see the latest development on the survey they are carrying on retaining or removing the two arches. What I saw wasn't pretty. In fact, there are few words to describe the outrage when I saw how the poll results are being manipulated by people with no sense of public decency. Before I went away, there were about 2,300 people that had voted in the poll. Even at that time, I was starting to have some misgivings because I could see that within a day or so, the number of "Yes" votes (to retaining the arches) had increased from a number less than 100 to more than 200. Still, I thought nothing much of it, putting it down to some people - maybe from within the Ministry itself - who had been asked to push up the "Yes" votes to a more decent percentage. Now, within two days of me being away from the computer, the number of votes has ballooned to an astonishing 13,100. I can't imagine an increase of almost 11,000 votes within 48 hours. Somehow, there must be a concerted effort by people with ulterior motives to use this survey for their own selfish ends. Maybe, by two sets of people. One trying to manipulate the survey with a "Yes" vote and another group manipulating back with a "No" vote". Although the survey still shows a healthy preference for the Ministry to bring down the arches, in the end how can the results be taken as the true wishes of Malaysians? I'm greatly appalled by outsiders who chose to trivialise a matter that holds dear to the Penang people who are most affected, one way or another, by the arches themselves.

UPDATE: I am distressed by the absurdity of the manipulation. Within half an hour or so of me writing this blog at about 8.30am, the survey has registered 4388 votes for "Yes". Within half an hour, that's an increase of 246 votes. And 16 minutes later at 9.22am, the number of "Yes" votes jumped by another 153 to 4541. That's totally unacceptable by any measure. It can only suggest that the manipulation process now seems automated and is going out of hand. The Ministry of Tourism cannot ignore this. Unless they accept that their survey has been compromised, there will be accusations that the manipulations are coming from within in order to preserve their foolhardy project. They must either come out with a more fool-proof survey or take alternative means to gauge the proper feelings of the stakeholders of this Garden expansion project.

UPDATE 2: As at 5.40pm today, I notice that the survey has been brought down. It no longer appears on the Ministry of Tourism's home page. No thanks to all those people who sabotaged the effort to engage the opinions of stakeholders in this Penang Botanic Garden arch project.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sultans of Swing

This is the self-titled debut album by Dire Straits, the British rock group fronted by Mark Knopfler. I reckon that it's one of the best of all Dire Straits albums before the group became labelled as too commercialised. In addition, it featured that hit single, Sultans of Swing.

There's a little history behind this song in Malaysia because for years, it was banned over the local airwaves. No local station, least of all RTM's Radio Four, was allowed to play this song from the 1980s to the early 1990s simply because the title contained the word "Sultan". Those zealots at the Information Ministry thought they were doing the country a big favour by banning all manner of intellectual works which contained this supposedly sensitive word without investigating further into its usage. As a result, this song fell victim to their misplaced patriotism.

It was left to the ingenuity of one local radio announcer named Alan Zechariah to get the government to lift the ban on this song. I think it was in the early 1990s that Angkasapuri, the home of Radio Television Malaysia, was celebrating one of its numerous anniversaries and one of the live programmes from Angkasapuri showed the infamous Mohamed Rahmat, who was then the Minister of Information, touring the premises before midnight. You've got to remember that it was an anniversary, so the politician had to show his face at Angkasapuri. So there he was, walking from studio to studio, visiting the duty radio announcers, with the television cameraman towing behind him so that everything could be recorded and televised live across the nation.

Eventually, Mohamed reached the Radio Four studio where Zechariah was on duty. In the midst of their small talk, Zechariah suddenly whipped out this record, put in on the turntable and asked Mohamed to listen to it. "How do you like the music," asked Zechariah, hopefully. Mohamed said that it sounded nice. Obviously, it was the very first time he had ever heard of this song. So Zechariah pressed on further and asked whether it could continue to be played over the airwaves. To his credit, Mohamed listened further to the song and said: "Why not? There's nothing wrong with it."

Watching this episode at home, I was floored. Because of the courage of Zechariah (who must have been a Dire Straits fan in order to have the album lying around conveniently enough in the radio studio) to corner Mohamed before a nation-wide audience looking and listening in live on television, we now have Sultans Of Swing freely playable by all radio stations in Malaysia.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Dumpling festival 2010

In three days' time, we Chinese will be celebrating the Dumpling Festival again. Yesterday, my wife went off to her mum's place and returned with a bunch of the freshest, nicest and most frangrant bak chang I've tasted in a long while. There's nothing like a perfectly prepared bak chang. Just imagine the anticipation from unwrapping the leaves to reveal the tightly-packed glutinous rice. Certainly the occasion is incomparable.

According to my wife, they spent four hours in wrapping and tying the dumplings and another two hours waiting to boil them. And that's not including the time spent in preparing and cooking the ingredients. A lot of work indeed!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Colours of Bukit Mertajam hill

My wife didn't like it one bit when I told her that I was going up the Bukit Mertajam hill in the rain. "Take care, it's bound to be slippery," she said. Her concern came after she learnt that last week, I had swung myself over a muddy patch of earth on the hill slopes and came home with a dirtied T-shirt. The ground was indeed slippery and I had held on firmly to a tree branch as I heaved myself up the slope. Never mind, I had told myself, at last I had managed to snap a few good photos during my walk. And you know what? Never think of nature as only greenery. If we look carefully, it's also full of other wonderful colours. Here they are...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Adult breast-feeding

Oh boy...this must rank as the most mind-blowing story that I've read online today. I don't know whether to classify it under "Humour" or "Food" or anything else. Probably none of them. To unravel the wonder of the full story, click here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chess in bed

It was a serious chess tournament going on at the Dato Arthur Tan Chess Centre in the Wilayah Complex, Kuala Lumpur and what do I see? A double-decker bed in the tournament hall. I suppose if any player needs a rest between games, he can just catch his 40 winks on it.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Please say NO to the Penang Botanic Garden arches

I've written a few times already about the desecration of the Penang Botanic Garden by the Federal Government and the way that the Ministry of Tourism rides roughshod over the state of Penang, disregarding the environmental impact. But maybe for once, we have a chance to get them to listen to the people.

Today, I've just visited the website of the Ministry of Tourism. On the right side of their home page, the Ministry is running a survey to determine whether the two arches at the Penang Botanic Garden should be retained or removed. I hear that they are going to use the survey results as the reason to keep or bring down the arches.

I would like to urge my fellow Malaysians - whether or not you are a Penangite, whether you are living in Penang or outside Penang, whether you are living in Malaysia or anywhere else in the world - to participate in the survey and vote with your heart and conscience on the two arches

You know exactly how I feel about them. You can either disagree with me and vote to keep the arches, or you can agree with me and say NO to the concrete arches. Either way, your vote counts. Please consider the positives and negatives of the project and above all, consider how your voice can contribute to environmental change in this country we call home. 

Remember, please participate in the survey here. All I'm asking is that if you agree with my point of view, please choose the NO button in the Ministry of Tourism survey. 

Thank you.

Penang's tale of two parks

I greatly suspect that it's hardly coincidental that the improvement works at the Ceruk To'kun Forest Park at the foothills of the Bukit Mertajam hill are going on at the same time as the expansion works at the Penang Botanical Gardens.

Both are being carried out with funds from the federal government, not the state government as I had assumed initially, and presumably both projects were approved at the same time. But there's a lot of unhappiness about how the federal government has bulldozed it's way through with scant disregard for the wishes of the stakeholders, especially the people of Penang.

While the works at the Penang Botanic Gardens have come in for a lot of criticism and protests from environmentalists who claim - rightly, as I would like to believe and wholeheartedly support - that the very soul of the Gardens is being destroyed, the on-going works at the Ceruk To'kun Forest Park has hardly garnered any adverse comment.

I suppose it's because there's none of the monstrosity that's affecting the Penang Botanic Gardens permanently. The federal government had approved the plans to build two huge concrete arches near the entrance to the Gardens and allocated RM7 million of tax payers' money to it. In the process, a lot of the vegetation has been cleared and destroyed. Many hawkers who used to operate near the entrance has also been displaced. What's left currently is an eye sore: a vacant clearing with the two arches and tarred road surfaces all around it. With the clearing of the vegetation, the silence of the Gardens is broken by the jarring sound of guns firing from the nearby Penang Rifle Club. All these have not been considered by the federal government and indeed, the writer of this blog said that the architect couldn't even give any justification for his plans. Sad, indeed.

By contrast, I'm relatively happy that the RM500,000 works at the Ceruk To'kun Forest Park on the mainland is being carried out with almost no public complaints.

I suppose it's because there's no destruction of the environment here. Work started late last year with the cementing of the banks of the stream that flows through the Park. Today, hordes of people come in the afternoon to take in the cool fresh air and the local boys (and the occasional monkeys) use the pools for a dip.

At the entrance to the Park, all that's seen is a modest archway but what the authorities can improve on is to redraw the parking lots. More thought should be put into this as there is a dearth of parking lots during peak hours.

The old nursery is currently being rebuilt as well as the nearby surau there.

But if there is anything to object about all the work here, it has to be the building that's coming up on what was once a small field that campers use in the Park grounds. I haven't been able to figure out yet what's this building for. By the time I do, it will most probably be too late. I only hope this project can only improve the Park and not destroy it.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

George Town Festival

Even though there's still no official word from the Penang government on the holiday status of Penang Heritage Day on 7 July 2010, I see that plans are at least in place to celebrate George Town's status as a UNESCO world cultural heritage city.

It's been disclosed today that the second anniversary of our city attaining this status will see various activities during the whole month of July.

Dubbed as the George Town Festival 2010, there will be more than 30 programmes to promote arts and heritage in the state by the Penang government, Penang Island Municipal Council, George Town World Heritage Incorporated and Penang Global Tourism.

The George Town Festival will include theatre, music, dance, film, arts, food, fashion, photography, talks and visual spectacle, all taking place within the heritage core zone.

In particular, the streets of the city will come alive on 7 July 2010 with a heritage trishaw treasure hunt in the morning, day-long free entrance to normally restricted heritage buildings like the City Hall and the Town Hall, a guided heritage shophouse trail in the morning, and a street cultural celebration in the late afternoon.

Crocked player

This is a haunting image. The pain in his eyes, the despair in his look, the realisation in his mind. I really felt for him when I heard the news.

There is no other worse image than that of England captain Rio Ferdinand moments after realising that his damaged knee ligament injury during the team's first training session on Friday, suffered even before the first ball is kicked, has now dashed his hopes of playing in the World Cup in South Africa.

The injury is serious enough. It could even mean that he will miss the start of next season's Premier League in August. Yes, maybe he's jinxed from the start.

As the seriousness of the injury sank in, the rest of the England team stood around shocked. Apart from realising the loss of their captain, they were also sensing that their prospects of landing top honours in the competition have dimmed some. 

Meanwhile, for a bit of comic relief to take the spotlight off the injury list in South Africa - Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben being crocked too - my friend, Colin, got the wax image of this neither-coach-nor-player by the golden balls recently at Madame Toussaud's in London. P.S. Don't tell me that it's distasteful to put up this irrelevant picture in the same blog post as English football's latest national crisis because I know that it is. But what the heck...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Flag Counter statistics

Although this blog goes back to February 2007, I've only had Flag Counter included here in October last year. I've also ClustrMaps, Sitemeter and FeedJit installed. Don't ask me why I'm such a stickler for traffic statistics.

Day after day, I've been fascinated by the number of people who actually visits. Naturally, the bulk of my visits are from people here in Malaysia but there seems to be a sizeable percentage from elsewhere too.

Last night at about 10.06pm, the Flag Counter counter for Australia reached a landmark 1,000th visit. FeedJit told me that it came from someone in Sydney, Australia. Now, I have been waiting for this to happen for quite a while, and I'm glad that it has happened at last.

Flag Counter says that people from 140 countries have seen my blog since last October. Interested to add Flag Counter to your website or weblog? Just register here.

Friday, 4 June 2010

In defence of our Chinese dialects

The Chinese Malaysians are really a diverse lot. In the last six hundred years or so since our ancestors arrived on these shores from various parts of China, we have the Hokkiens, the Cantonese, the Foochows, the Hakkas, the Teochews, the Hainanese and others, all actively interacting socially with one another and the other races.

As a race in today's modern society, we still observe a lot of the old Chinese cultural practices. Religions may differ but cultural practices are largely retained. Including the dialects. Typically, people of my generation converse a lot in our local dialects with large smatterings of English, Mandarin and Bahasa Melayu thrown into the conversation.

But I fear that this may not last. Slowly but surely, unless we Chinese in Malaysia are serious enough to arrest the situation, we stand to lose this sub-culture which we call our dialects. This aspect of our heritage may be gone within the next two or three generations.

Although I say this now, it is nothing new to me. In fact, I have been observing this unwelcome trend for quite a while now. Take this morning, for example, which only reinforced my observations.

At the food court, I was sitting near a middle-aged couple who had brought their grandson along for breakfast. The boy was probably not more than three years ago. While the couple was talking to one another in Hokkien, to their grandson it was totally in Mandarin. I asked them whether they speak to the child in Hokkien? They said no, and his parents don't too.

Why on earth, I wondered to myself, couldn't they talk to the boy in their own dialect? Okay, I accept that in today's world it is important for the Chinese here (and elsewhere too) to master Mandarin and it is never too early to start off on this language.

But modern parents in their haste to give their children this linguistic head start in life are also depriving their children from recognising and using their own rich, local dialects. This, I find to be very disconcerting.

Mandarin may be the unifying tongue for the Chinese people in China and of course, it is important too that the Chinese Malaysians know the unifying language of their ancestors but for heaven's sake, learning this language should not be made at the expense of our own heritage here in Malaysia.

Our forefathers came to Malaya to make better lives for themselves. They toiled hard and while they assimilated well into this land, they never forgot or shed their own local dialects. Like I said earlier, the dialects are our sub-cultural heritage. In the past, they were strong focal points of socialisation, unification and loyalty, but of course today, these features have become less significant.

Nevertheless, I still believe in this concept of the dialects as focal points in our Malaysian society. The dialects still have an important part in play in our Chinese Malaysian culture and is an integral part of our heritage. That's what makes it so rich and fascinating. That's what makes it so unique here too, a melting pot of dialects within such a small country. We should be proud of our ability to understand the dialects and never give them up.

So to the modern parents, I urge them to please help to pass down this sub-culture which I call your dialect to your children. Make them appreciate their heritage and make them be proud to know and use their dialects.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Hard of hearing

An elderly gentleman has had serious hearing problems for a good number of years now. Finally, he went to the doctor and the doctor fitted the man with a set of hearing aid that allowed him to hear as well as before.

After a month, the elderly gentleman visited the doctor for a follow-up. The doctor checked him and said with a beam: "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."

The gentleman replied casually: "Oh, I haven't told any of my family yet."

"And why not," enquired the doctor.

"I prefer to just sit around and listen to the conversations around me," the old gentleman said with a wry smile. "You know, I've changed my Will three times already!"

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Once bitten, twice shy

It was about three o'clock in the afternoon yesterday. The sky was getting gloomy again. Then the skies opened up. Not too heavy but yet, a steady downpour. In the distance, just a hint of rolling thunder. I ignored the sound and continued doing some work on the Internet.

Soon, the unmistakable sign of the intensifying rainstorm appeared. The thunder getting louder. That meant lightning couldn't be too far away now. With a sigh, I went to unplug the telephone line from my modem. Better be safe than sorry. Once bitten, twice shy. Having already experienced a meltdown of the Internet connectivity in my house just about two weeks ago because of a thunderstorm, I was being cautious - nay, even ultra cautious despite having a surge protector near my equipment - and alert every day to avoid further modem malfunction. Too much hassle and time wastage if the modem dies again. I haven't even gone yet to the Kedai Telekom to exchange my old spoilt modem for a new one. My existing package is a lifetime warranty which means Telekom will have to let me have a new modem should the old one gets spoilt. Presently, I'm still using a spare D-Link modem.

So I unplugged the telephone cable from the modem and went back to my work. My house wireless network now being useless, I switched to a free wireless signal in my neighbourhood and continued surfing. Good, the signal was strong. Three bars out of four.

But I couldn't ignore the lightning and accompanying sound of thunder. They were getting more frequent. And suddenly .... there was a tremendously bright flash outside the window and an immediate thunderclap. Immensely loud. Almost jolted me out of my skin. Phew, I thought to myself. Lucky that I had yanked out the telephone cable. If not, for sure, my equipment would have been fried again. I prided myself for that.

However, I didn't reckon with the storm affecting the other telecommunication equipment in the neighbourhood. The first inkling of problem came when I couldn't surf through the free wireless signal anymore. The signal was still strong but all attempts to reach a website proved useless. Oh, great, there goes the rest of my afternoon, I thought. Time to curl up and go to sleep. That's what this weather was meant for, in the first place.

After about an hour, the storm had abated and I tried to use the Internet again. I replugged the telephone cable into the modem and waited for the lights to appear. A minute passed. Another minute passed. Strange, there wasn't a DSL signal. Can't be happening again, can it? Not after I had taken exra precaution.  An inner voice asked me to lift the telephone handset. I did. No dialling tone. Only silence. Darn it. Now, the telephone service itself was down. Even when I connected the telephone directly to the wall cable, there was no dialling tone at all.

I phoned my wife in the office, asking her to make a report to Telekom that our telephone line was down. They asked all sorts of questions. "Is the modem working properly?" "What are the lights showing on the modem?" Heck, she was just reporting that the telephone service itself was affected and there they went to ask about the Internet connectivity. Anyway, she did manage to get the message through to them eventually.

In the meantime, I was playing Sherlock Holmes at home. Got a bright idea to phone my immediate neighbours. Were their telephone service affected too? With my mobile, I phoned the neighbour two doors from me. Their phone rang but no one picked it up. Then I made a call to another neighbour and this time I made extra effort to listen carefully over the ledge. Nope, no telephone ringing in their house either. So now I knew. The whole bloody neighbour has been affected by the thunderclap. It wasn't me alone.

For the rest of the night, there wasn't more that I could do except to watch television. And to watch my wife doing her work on the desktop. She didn't need to go into the Internet for that. Eleven o'clock and telephone line was still down. What a bummer of a day. Might as well retire for the night now, I told my wife.

This morning at about 7.45am, I was curious. Would the line problem persist for another day? I lifted the handset. Glory be, the dialling tone's back. Telekom has fixed the problem. I replugged the cable into the modem, waited until the DSL light woke up and here I am, reconnected to the rest of the village. Please welcome me back!