Sunday, 28 November 2010

Farewell to Lim Chong Eu

I took the decision late last night to join the Old Frees' Association representatives at the state funeral of Dr Lim Chong Eu today. As far as I am concerned, it was the right thing for my wife and I to do. We just had to give this Great Old Free a grand send-off on his last journey. We walked right behind the Penang Free School Band which had the honour of leading the procession from the Dewan Sri Pinang to the end of Carnarvon Street. Here are some photos from this morning.

In the years to come, these boys will remember their contributions to the passing of this era in Malaysian politics.

It was a pleasant surprise to bump into Hwang Hong Shi. Though never my teacher, he was quite prominent at the school. He taught there until 1973 when he was transferred out to Westlands Secondary School. He said the headmaster of his time, Yogam, simply did not appreciate what he achieved on the sports field - he was deeply involved in scouting activities at the school and was the swimming coach and twice had been at the SEAP Games - but all these were lost on the headmaster who had him transferred out. Eventually, he left the government service at 50 years old and joined the Uplands School and later the Penang Club as its general manager. 

OFA deputy president Khoo Boo Yeang in the foreground and OFA secretary Gerald Clyde with the placard. They were all wearing the official blue-striped School Tie.... (Photo by Chan Lilian)

...all except me and Sukhindarpal Singh. I was rummaging through my ties the night before but I knew my luck was stacked against me. I don't have that tie because I had not bought it. Years ago while still in the OFA management committee, I had preferred to be different and bought this one (which I wore) instead. I would still consider it sort of a school tie since it still sported the motif (the school badge) on it. Sukhindarpal, also an Old Free, happened to wander into the crowd and saw this bunch of Old Flers holding a placard and wearing the old familiar School Tie. "Hey, I'm wearing the blue of Penang Free School on my turban," he insisted. Turned out that he was one year my junior in school. Sportingly, he joined us in the procession. (Photo by Chan Lilian)

Here they are, the Penang Free School Band marching smartly down Kampong Kolam Road. Despite a bout of nervousness at the start of the procession - there were some false notes - the boys quickly warmed up to the task as we proceeded along the 1.4-kilometre journey. Mind you, walking for an hour under the hot mid-day sun from 11.30am is not everyone's cup-of-tea, especially when they have to carry the heavy instruments, but they did it admirably well.

Finally, the cortege bringing up the rear. It was almost at the funeral procession's dispersal point at the end of Carnarvon Street, where the Su Beng Dispensary once stood, where Dr Lim once practised as a medical doctor before turning to politics, where his father Dr Lim Chwee Leong had also once practised, and where his elder son Lim Chien Aun has now converted into his own real estate/valuation law firm. The chartered buses were waiting to ferry people to the Batu Gantong crematorium. However, this was where we stopped to retrace our steps back to our cars near the Dewan. But having walked at the head of the procession...

...we weren't prepared to see this scene which brought up the rear. It was an overwhelming sight to see the people of Penang turning out in force to give their former Chief Minister his grandest farewell. (Picture from The Malaysian Insider)

Friday, 26 November 2010

An appreciation of Dr Lim Chong Eu

One of the best known figures in Penang has passed away. Dr Lim Chong Eu, second Chief Minister of Penang from 1969 to 1990, died at his house in Tanjung Bungah on Wednesday night without recovering from a stroke. He was 91.

Every true blue Penangite should appreciate that Chong Eu was not only a giant in Malaysian politics, he was above all the architect of Penang's recovery from the doldrums of economic stagnation in the 1960s. After his Gerakan political party wrested the state from the Alliance in the 1969 elections, he turned Penang from a largely agricultural, tourist and trading outpost into the engine of technological growth for the whole country.

I deeply respected him. In the late 1970s, I understood what he was doing for Penang. He might not have done everything right but he did everything necessary. But for him, Penang would never have recovered economically in the 1970s. He brought jobs to a state that was dying and stagnating after it had its free port status stolen away from it.

The lasting legacies he left Penang were the free industrial zones, the Komtar tower and the Penang Bridge. I would have loved it if the Penang Bridge could be renamed as the Dr Lim Chong Eu Bridge in his memory but I hear that the prerogative to do this lies solely with the Federal Government in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, I am happy to learn today that at least, within the Penang Government's powers, both the Jelutong Expressway and the Bayan Lepas Expressway have been renamed as the Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. Still a very nice way of showing appreciation of him.

Tributes to Dr Lim are everywhere on the Internet and I wouldn't want to add second-hand news to everything that have already been said. So let me try to add something different. It was related to me not so long ago that Dr Lim had once mentioned dryly that "every Old Free thinks that he is Somebody." Actually, I find this a very amusing (but perhaps outdated) observation. It says a lot about his understanding of the Penang Free School character. After all, he was himself a product of the old school. He understood what would make an Old Free tick. He understood how - and why - Old Frees think they are the centre of the Universe. But of course, he understood the part an Old Free still plays in today's society.

(Note: According to one of my old school mates, Abu Huraira, during the investiture of Dr Lim's Chief Ministership in 1969, he wore the School tie and this was captured on the front page of the then Straits Times Press.)

I never knew the man personally and could count meeting him face to face only twice in my life. The first time was in 1974 when he was the Chief Minister and the last time was in 2009 when he had long retired from the political scene. In July of that year, I was wandering through the aisles of a supermarket in Bayan Baru when I bumped into him. He was alone but soon to be joined by an executive staff of the supermarket once they learnt of his presence. I'm so glad for this grainy picture, snapped on my mobile. As far as I'm concerned, Dr Lim stood tall. Goodbye and thank you.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Cluttered mess

I was at a lawyer's office recently to get some stuff done and I couldn't help noticing all the files lying around. These are files of their client's cases, all tied individually with a filmsy string and then stacked everywhere. As long as there is an available space on the floor or a table top, chances are very, very good that there'll soon be several files piled up there. This is a sight which is common to almost all, if not all, lawyer firms in the country. One fine day when I come across a lawyer friend, I must ask him why lawyers do this. Is this a tradition or what?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The grounds of Suffolk House

This is a heritage building which was almost lost. It once stood on land belonging to the Methodist Church and had been earmarked for new school buildings. In 1956, the Church submitted demolition plans to the George Town Municipal Council but was asked by the Council's president, John Sjovald Hoseasom Cunnyngham-Brown, to preserve the building and instead, build the school on the rest of their land.

For many years after that, the building descended into a bad state of neglect. The Methodist Boys' School used the place as their canteen but in 1975, the authorities decided to cordon off the building and declared it unsafe. Below is a reproduction of a painting by Captain Robert Smith in 1818, that showed the building and the grounds it stood on. A river flowed lazily beside it. In the distance, a bridge.

Yes, that same familiar bridge which I wrote about recently. Okay, maybe it's not the original bridge but the reconstructed structure is mightily similar to the old one. Plus, the bridge still spans the Ayer Itam River and connects the grounds of the Suffolk House to the other side where there is now a condominium.

Many people believe that this same building was built by Francis Light, who founded the British settlement here in 1786, but it is now widely accepted that there were two separate constructions on Suffolk Estate, though not necessarily on the same spot (I don't know). The first was Light's original abode of timber and attap. He stayed here with his common law companion, Martina Rozells, until his death in 1794. Light's executors then sold the estate to William Edward Phillips in 1805. It was Phillips who built the present Georgian-styled Suffolk House. In the early 19th Century, Suffolk House was the official residence for several early governors of the Prince Of Wales Island (as Penang Island was called then). It wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that many historical and political decisions were made here. In fact, it is understood that Stamford Raffles was here for discussions that led eventually to the founding of Singapore.

Suffolk House's role as the centre of governance ended when the mansion and grounds were sold to a Lim Cheng Teik who in turn sold off the estate to the Methodist Church of Malaya in 1928. The Penang state government acquired Suffolk House in 2000 and conservation work commenced on the building. Today, Suffolk House is managed by Badan Warisan and open for public viewing. A fine dining restaurant occupies the ground floor of the double-storey building.

Fish head at Shusi

As usual, sometimes you have to be at the right place at the right time. For me, everything fell into the right place today where food was concerned. There I was, feeling famished after coming down from Batu Gantung and I decided to go for a banana leaf rice lunch at my favourite Shusi Restaurant in Penang Street, George Town. No sooner had I sat down and the rice and vegetables were plonked down on my banana leaf when the boss himself appeared with a fish head the size of a clenched fist. "You want it?" he asked.

Of course! It has been many, many years since I last had a fish head at his establishment. Normally, he would only serve fish meat but once in a long while, the odd fish head or two would find its way into the cooking pot. The odds of fish head being cooked and me visiting his restaurant at the right time must be pretty long itself. So I consider myself lucky today.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

What's this flower?

I wonder what this plant is but it's pushing up a mighty large flower. Saw this on Wednesday and I hope to be at the Bukit Mertajam hill again later today or tomorrow morning to see how it has bloomed or withered. I do remember seeing a similar flower stalk about a year ago at the same spot.

Eventful week

Boy, has it been a very eventful week for me! Felt almost like working. Even until today, there seems no letting up on the things that are happening all around me. Attended a function on Sunday, went for a meeting and a talk on Monday, sat in at a workshop on Tuesday, climbed the hill at Bukit Mertajam on Wednesday, attended another talk on Thursday, went for an appointment at a private hospital on Friday (note: thank you for your concern but nothing to worry about) ... and these were only the major things I did during the week.

What about all the minor ones? Among them, I had to fit in the wake of an ex-colleague's father on Thursday night and there is another to attend this afternoon of a close family friend and the funeral itself tomorrow. I really hate all the driving around but what to do? They have to be done.

Anyway, the first wake I attended was that of pensioner Mr Johnny Cheah. A man in his mid-eighties, he was the father of Inn Kheng, one of my ex-colleagues at Ban Hin Lee Bank. I got to know Johnny from the Old Frees' Association. He was never afraid to make his opinions known or to mess his words during the OFA general meetings. But he always stammered whenever he got excited. Because of this, many members never took him seriously enough during the meetings. But somehow, he and I got along rather well. Maybe, I provided him with a sympathetic ear. I could understand his pride and his fears. 

Last Sunday when I was at the association for a function, the secretary told me that some of the OFA members had visited Johnny at the General Hospital. He was in a bad way, Gerald Clyde said. This was news that kind of shocked me. Hospitalised. Well, I must see him. I told my wife that I would want to visit him. So I arrived at the hospital on Monday at about 6pm. What I saw was a person so unlike Johnny Cheah. Here was a bed-ridden patient in a very weak condition and moving in and out of consciousness all the time.

The medical officer said his heart was very weak but he should not be in such an emancipated state. The hospital was still checking his blood to determine the cause. Strange that the MO should say this because between being admitted on Thursday and my visiting him on Monday, there have been three clear days for the hospital to run enough tests.

But as I said, he was moving in and out of consciousness all the time. During one of those periods when he opened his eyes, he recognised me. Then he spoke something that struck a chord with me. "Seng Sun," he told me, his voice weak and quavering, "I can get better or I can die. I think I am going to die." He lapsed into a momentary sleep, then opened his eyes and coughed. He tried saying something else but unfortunately, though lucid, he was getting incoherrent. I couldn't understand more of what was said. I said my goodbyes to him soon afterwards.

When I left the hospital, the time was about 6.40pm. Storm clouds were already looming overhead. One hour later, Johnny Cheah was dead. A short message from his son came through on my mobile at 1.28am on Tuesday morning: "my father passed away at 7.40pm on 15 nov 2010."

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Beware of car waxes

I wonder what goes into car wax? What's it made of? How safe is car wax? Is it corrosive? I had always thought of car wax as only stuff that would need elbow grease to apply on and then wipe it off with a polish.

Recently, I had a rather unpleasant surprise. I have with me a can of Soft99 car wax. I've been using this brand of car wax for some six, maybe seven years. Apply, wait, remove, in that order and my car would be left shining.

The last time I really waxed the car was at the beginning of the year. I haven't done much to my cars since then. Last Sunday, I thought of waxing the cars again. So I went to take out the can from the storeroom. I was surprised.

First, I noticed a big hole at the bottom of the can. Whatever had been in the liquid wax had corroded through the metal can onto the floor. The wax had dried up and bits and pieces of dirty, greasy yellowish brown clumps of stuff were falling out from the hole. Clearly, my can of Soft99 was now worse than useless.

But there was more to bargain with. I took the can and carelessly put in on the cement floor outside the house while I went off in search of a plastic bag. When I returned, I was horrifed to see that some of the dried wax that had spilled from the can had stained the cement. No amount of washing could remove the stain mark. It's still there, on the floor, stained white.

And my third surprise turned into shock. As I tried to clear the store room of the mess that the Soft99 had left behind, I found myself staring at a gaping hole on the floor. It was a four centimetre-wide hole (about twice the diameter of a 50 cents coin) that was about five millimetres deep.

Now, what sort of chemicals are there in this can of liquid wax that can do so much damage? Clearly, it is very corrosive but there is little or no warning at all from the manufacturer. If car wax can do this to the floors in my house, what protection is there for our cars? Or even, how safe is car wax since inevitably, we must handle it with our hands?

Is it just Soft99 or are all car waxes generally the same? Nothing on the Internet seems to provide me an answer. Not even an inadequate answer. All I have are questions and the pictures on this blog to warn people of the dangers of car wax.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


This is somewhere on the island, not far from George Town, a very tranquil place to spend an afternoon - or morning - amidst lush greenery and away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Do enjoy these pictures of the place.

Mmm...let's take a closer look at the bridge:

Yet closer:

Let's look at the bridge from another perspective:

How about this:

Or this:

And this:

Friday, 12 November 2010

Welcome break

The orchid pots around the house have been quite barren lately so I was very glad to have this one shooting out five flowers. I hope they last a few weeks....

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Christi Hon

I'd like to introduce you to an old chess friend. I first got to know him in the mid-1970s when we used to frequent the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur on Friday evenings. At that time, the Chess Association of Selangor used to hold their weekly playing sessions for their members at the Spotted Dog and my cousin and I used to tag along a few chess friends from Petaling Jaya.

So one day, we came across a chap of around our age who showed a lot of potential. But he had a big mouth. He talked a lot. And I meant, a lot. Really. Not only was he wont to prattle on non-stop during those skittle game sessions but more often than not, they were filled with dry homour and full of double meanings. He was a master of working up the temperature and riling up his opponents. However, there was no denying that he had the talent for the game and he was deadly serious at the chess board.

He was the country's first Fide Master, a title earned from the World Chess Federation, but that was as far as he could progress despite playing for Malaysia a few times at the bienniel World Chess Olympiad. But at home, he made his mark by winning the national championship several times and that made him a fearsome player.

Apart from those playing sessions in the Klang Valley, the only other common chess bonds that I had with him were the official tour of China in 1978 (pictured) and the Chess Olympiad in Lucerne in 1982 when we were both team mates. 

He dropped out from chess in the mid-1990s when he fixed his sights onto other challenges. Once or twice, I would still bump into him at national chess events in Kuala Lumpur. He wouldn't be playing, though, just turning up to have a look-see around and catching up with people whom he still considered friendly enough with him. I've never had any issue with him, so to me, he was still very friendly, very chatty.

Again, after that, he dropped out of my radar screen. But then about two months ago, he showed up during the Malaysia Chess Festival at the Cititel MidValley. He still looked the same to me. Still talked the same way too although his ideas of life and his outlook of the world around him had now taken on a decidedly different colour. Difficult to know whether he was being serious or pulling your leg. So I decided, well, I must get this snapshot done for posterity. I don't want him to disappear again for a few years. Goodness knows when we can meet up again.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's Christi Hon for you...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


This album, Kojiki, marked my very first exposure to the music of Kitaro. Until about the early 1990s, I had been blissfully unaware of this Japanese but one day while visiting a friend, Sunny Kao, he unleashed the laserdisc version of this album on me. Kojiki, by the way, is the mythical tale of the creation of Japan and the birth of its people. 

Literally, I was floored. Seldom had I ever been so impressed by the music of New Age artistes. I remember that the only other time I really got caught up with this genre of music was listening to Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. And now, Kitaro was stirring the same familiar feeling of wide expanse within me. So there I was, sitting in my friend's living room, staring at his television set, watching Kitaro dashing from one instrument to another, and basically enjoying the richness of the music. Drums, strings, keyboards and all sorts of synthesised sounds immersed me.

Today, I put the vinyl version of this album on the turntable. It has been a long, long while since I had listened to it. I sank into the chair, closed my eyes and allowed the music to flow all over me. I was reliving the past and it brought back all those memories of life in the 1990s.

Side One: Hajimari, Sozo, Koi, Orochi
Side Two: Nageki, Matsuri, Reimei

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Golden coincidence

For quite some time now, I have been taking on-and-off peeks at the price of gold and have been noticing its upward trend since goodness knows when. For the past two weeks or so, the gold price had been hovering around USD1320 to USD1380 per ounce. This morning as I sat down at the computer, a little message flashed to inform me that as I was sleeping, the gold price had broken through the USD1400 mark.

The first words that came to my mind were Bloody hell. Only last night, I was watching the sixth episode of the original Hawaii Five-O's first season. In that show, Steve McGarrett (John Lord in the role) and his gang were trying to bust a gold smuggling ring (sic). The price of gold being negotiated at that time? In 1968, it was only around USD40 per ounce. Gosh, what a difference a few years have made!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Morning of the earth

I still can't believe that I spent 75 minutes on Sunday night watching this film, Morning Of The Earth, on the Australia Network. I had almost switched off the television but then I began hearing and noting the background music. I was thinking, hey, that's the type of music I was listening to in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Then I started paying attention to the film itself. Heck, an almost surreal videography lesson. Impressive scenes of clouds, the sunrises and sunsets, and of course the wide expanses of the ocean and breakers.

By the time the film had cut to the surfers, I was already hooked. It turned out that this film was made in 1972 with Bali, Australia and Hawaii as the locations. No story line at all but there wasn't a chance for me to get bored. Pangs of regret, maybe, but not bored. The film featured some of the best surfers in the world at that time. Ah, these surfers made the sport seemed so effortless. It was like ballet on water.

So there I was, sitting in front of the telly and watching them surf on and on and on, with the music in the back ground. It's now a classic cult film, no doubt about it

The only disturbing aspect of the film was the cock fight which was always going to be gruesome. It started innocently enough with close-ups of thin, sharp blades being prepared but once I saw them being attached to the claws of the cockerels, I knew what was going to happen next: a battle to the end between two cockerels with the loser ending up in the cooking pot. Literally.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Monkeys at work

Monkeys disturbed the latest sitting of the Penang State Assembly in George Town yesterday. Yes, that's right, you heard me correctly. Monkeys. A bunch of them. They swung along Light Street to shake and rattle at the gates of the State Assembly building.

Security was caught by surprise but luckily, swift action prevented these monkeys from leaving their mess in the compound. All that was left for them to do was to loiter along the roads outside.

As far as I could ascertain, a group of about 100 monkeys showed up outside to scream over some perceived land acquisition and relocation issues. There was also a second group of simians protesting against the 27% increase in water charges and the Penang Municipal Council’s move to collect parking fees from 9am to midnight.

And of course, completing the circus was a side show from a clown who tried to return a bag of money purportedly collected from some senior citizens who were afraid that the funds had come from gaming activities.

Such is life in Penang. Interesting, not?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Vive la france

At the end of the day, reality struck home for millions of people. So You Think ran out of steam in the race that stopped Australia (and New Zealand). Yes, it was Melbourne Cup Day at the Flemington race course in Victoria, Australia.

The Malaysian-owned stallion, untried over the 3200-metre distance, gave a courageous display and despite leading the field with 300 metres to go, it could not prevent the more experienced Americain to storm past. Maluckyday also edged past the hot, sentimental favourite to finish second. The winning horse had been flown over from France for the historic150th Melbourne Cup.

In the meantime, it's quite possible that So You Think may have run its last race. Dato Tan Chin Nam, the owner of this four-year-old, said "there's a good chance he could be retired now."

"I will speak with Bart (Cummings) again but his advice is that new horses will come along. I have had my good luck with this horse, but I don't think he can stay (the distance). He had his chance. The rain didn't help, it made it a harder race for him."

Monday, 1 November 2010

Wet week ahead

This image was taken from the Weather Channel just a few moments ago. It shows the cloud cover over the northern peninsula. There is a cause for concern because of the low pressure depression in the Gulf of Thailand. The northern peninsula looks likely to be wet for the next few days as moisture is drawn in from the Indian Ocean. Already, it has been raining lightly in Bukit Mertajam since yesterday evening. Hope it won't develop into anything heavier.

Be smart with your belongings

Here are some useful bits of advice that I've just picked up from the Internet. They may sound like simple common sense and actually, they are! However, many people don't think about it until someone tells them. Let me be this someone to you today.

Be smart with your car. Do not park in isolated areas where there aren't many people around. If it's still daylight but you plan to shop for a while, park under a street lamp or in a well-lit parking area. Always remember to wind up your windows and lock the car. I always use a heavy duty steering wheel lock. Time is the essense to thieves and they will think twice about wastng time in cutting off the lock.

If you go back to your car to stow packages, put them in the boot. Visible boxes and bags are magnets for thieves. Don't walk with so many packages that your purse dangles from your arm, out of your sight. And if someone tries to grab your purse, don't resist. It's not worth losing your life over.

You should know how to get home from your neighbourhood school or market or any visible landmark, right? I asking you this because if you have a GPS device in your car, use the school or market or visible landmark as your "home" setting. This way, if you lose your GPS device, the thief will not know how to get to your house while you're out. With GPS thefts on the rise, don't leave any visible trace of one in your car. This includes the mount on the windscreen and the cable from the dashboard.