Thursday, 30 December 2010

Comic book journalist retires

Brenda Starr had been in the Malaysian newspapers since goodness knows when. I do remember reading this comic strip in the 1970s. The drawings were horrible but so were the story lines.

Then I stopped reading it for a long while when the local newspaper dropped it.

Brenda Starr came back into my reading horizon maybe about 10 years ago when The Star newspaper included the comic strip on its funny pages.

By then I had also begun following Brenda Starr online. Now I'm saddened because the strip's writers - June Brigman and Mary Schmich - have decided to retire our heroine. It's final. The last strip will appear on 2 Jan 2011.

Goodbye, Brenda Starr. Your readers in Malaysia will miss you.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Big scare no.2

Ever since months ago when the Penang Water Supply Corporation announced that there would be a water cut on 28 Dec - which, coincidentally, is today - from seven o'clock in the morning till seven o'clock in the evening, I'm astounded by the amount of fatalistic feedback in the newspapers and of course, on the online forums and facebook as well, from the people in Penang.

Truly astounded. They way they have been reacting, you'd think that the 12-hour water cut is akin to the world ending. All the vitriol and anger surfacing. All the unkind and unfounded words being said about the Corporation.

All these people do not seem to understand that every now and then, there must be some maintenance done to everything, water treatment plant included.  Even our own bodies need maintenance to stay healthy. Nothing can go working on forever without maintenance or come a day there will be a major breakdown. I would have hoped that there are educated and informed people out there who would understand the issues better than joining in the criticisms.

According to the Corporation, this is the first major scheduled supply interruption since 2006 and they needed to carry out upgrading and maintenance work at the Sungai Dua Water Treatment Plant to ensure continuous good water supply in future.

So the public has already been informed of the water cut on 28 Dec. What's so big deal about it? You mean to say that the taps will suddenly run dry at seven o'clock itself? You mean to say that there is no residual water in the main pipes that will continue to trickle into your house and your office and your factory? Maybe there won't be enough pressure to take a bath if there's no water tank in the house, but I'm sure that's all the inconvenience we'll ever face. And do you also mean to say that the water stops, the tap will remain dry until seven o'clock in the evening? Miraculously, water stops flowing totally during this 12-hour period?

Common, only an idiot will really believe that. Or want to believe that. I should believe that once the maintenance works are completed, the Corporation will resume the water supply immediately. Why would the Corporation wait until seven o'clock in the evening to turn on the main supply when their work had ended at, say, four o'clock in the afternoon? You think they really want to inconvenience the public beyond their work finishing? That they have a warped sense of humour? It would defy logic if they do that. To me, the seven o'clock to seven o'clock time frame is only to cater for a "worst case' scenario in case something does go wrong. If everything goes according to their plan, we may not even be aware of the water cut at all.

So, the irrational people should just calm down and let the Penang Water Supply Corporation simply do that work. If you are really afraid of the water cut, then wake up early and take your bath. And brush your teeth. And do your business. And store whatever water you need. Just be prepared, like a good scout would. The warning had been given months ago. Just don't whine as if there is no tomorrow. Enough said.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Big scare no.1

Does anyone remember the El Nino scare of the 1990s? I can't remember when exactly it was but it must have been in the second half of that decade. Maybe around 1997 or 1998. It happened after Ban Hin Lee Bank had relocated its head office from downtown Beach Street to the fashionable Northam Road part of the city where many other banks had also set up their branches.

I remember that Citibank was the first bank to set up its branch office along Northam Road. It was just across the road from the Wellesley Primary School. The road being very busy, the bank later built a pedestrian bridge to connect both sides of the road. Butterfly bridge, people used to call it then. It's still there.

Then there was the white and impressive MBf Tower, close to the old Pangkor Road/Kelawei Road/Gurney Drive/Northam Road roundabout. It stood in solitary splendour until another building sprang up beside it and Ban Hin Lee Bank moved over to occupy about a third of its floors.

By that time, I was entrenched in the Information Technology Division and we had taken up the whole of the third level of the podium block. Where we sat, we had a grand, unhindered view of the Northern Channel.

But back to the El Nino scare. One fine day, someone wrote an article about the El Nino and the possibility of nature wreaking havoc on our shores. A date was even suggested that the tide would come in so high that the water would creep inshore and flood the roads and buildings. If ever there was a doomsday warning, this must be it.

Personally, I was sceptical that this would ever happen. I was telling colleagues that the day that the tides crept in so far inland, the end of the world would be near. And it won't be happening in my lifetime or theirs, I assured them.

But of course, many people took the warning very seriously. Many people stocked up on sandbags because they had also learnt, possibly from the same source that issued the warning, that sandbags would prevent water from entering their house or compound, or at least delay the flow of water. The happiest people in Penang were the traders that sold gunny sacks and the traders that sold sand.

The problem with banks is that sometimes, the people in the banks are too cautious. Overly cautious. Or gullible. Or both. Somehow, someone in the Ban Hin Lee Bank managed to convince the management that the bank should also arrange for sandbags to be piled up at the entrance to the building. Just in case. After all, the building is just a stone's throw from the shoreline. If the water comes it, it will reach the building. And get into the ground floor. And flood everything. And spoil everything on the ground floor too. So sandbags are important. After all, we cannot be too careful.

So, one or two days before that fateful day, we saw lorries delivering sandbags to the front of the building.

Now, if you have seen the Menara BHL Bank - by the way, that's the name of the building, Menara BHL Bank along Northam Road, Penang - you will have noticed that the ground floor of the building is raised about four or five feet from the road level. It is NOT a disability-friendly building and you will need to climb up a flight of steps if you want to do your banking business.

And the sandbags were stacked up on the top of these steps, see. Neatly, bag by bag, they formed a barrier against any impending water rushing in from the sea.

Of course it never happened. The fateful or fearful day came and went. Anxious people were peering out into the sea, anticipating the calamity. But it never happened. In fact, we hardly noticed any rise in the sea level at all. The houses most exposed to the sea, those on the other side of Northam Road, well, they remained dry. Not even a hint of dampness on their grounds.

The fearful El Nino phenomenon had been a non-event. But it certainly left a lot of people with sheepish grins. Especially those who had cried wolf. Especially those who had recommended buying the sandbags. Especially those who had authorised buying the sandbags. Nothing more was heard about the El Nino in the newspapers. Nothing more was heard about the author of that infamous piece. But as I said, the incident left gunny sack traders and sand traders very happy. Very happy, indeed.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Little paradise on earth

For today, I want to share these pictures with you. Beautiful, aren't they?

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

What is Christmas without a Christmas tree, right? So, here's one for you.

And what's Christmas without carolling too? So, here are also some carol singers for you.

But Christmas is not complete this year without our personal wishes to everyone reading this blog and it includes YOU. If you celebrate Christmas, a very Merry Christmas to you; if you are just enjoying the holidays, then a very Merry Holidays to you. Whatever, just enjoy the cheer as we see out the old year and bring in the new one.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Brr, where's that ball?

Shall we start the game? On 16 January 1926, snow covered the ground as Arsenal and Manchester United readied themselves to kick off their game in the old Division One. For the record, we lost by 2-3.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

It's time to ... scream!

Standard supplies at the Bates Motel
After I snapped this picture, I had to look over my shoulder constantly to ensure that Ma Bates wasn't following me with a knife in her hand. I'm still suffering the effect....

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Penang's flower festival 2010

At the spur of the moment, I decided on Sunday to visit this year's Penang Floral Festival at the Botanical Gardens, right after the conclusion of the Penang Heritage City international chess championship in downtown George Town. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about travelling along this part of Western Road. It's never easy to travel here whenever there are functions at the Botanical Gardens or religious activities at the nearby Indian temples. I wasn't wrong. The jam began soon after the Western Road/Gottlieb Road traffic lights and I decided to park at the Youth Park exit's car park. But already it was almost full of cars and outstation buses. Seemed as if outstation tourists were flocking to the Gardens as well.

Parking there meant having to walk a considerable distance past the Indian temples, some apartment blocks, various other buildings, past the Moon Gate before reaching the unshaded open ground right before the entrance gate into the Botanical Gardens. Of course, the two horrendous arches have already disappeared. Work is now in progress to grow giant lily plants here. 

I've never been too keen about the Tourism Ministry's ill-conceived expansion plans for the Botanical Gardens because it meant the clearing of so much greenery. The Penang Rifle Club's building is now in full sight of anyone visiting the Gardens. And without the foliage to act as a natural buffer between the club and the Gardens, the noise from the club members' activities jar the tranquility of the place.

Last Sunday at the Penang Floral Festival, it was clear that the organisers of this event had failed to meet up with the management committee of the rifle club to work out a compromise for the week. Or maybe the organisers did but the compromise did not happen. Or maybe the rifle club's management just couldn't care less. I'm saying this because right through my visit to the Gardens, their members were merrily practising away with rapturous abandonment, simply being insensitive to the fact that the firing of the guns were creating a huge disturbance for the Festival's visitors. How would you like to have rifles firing away in close proximity to you? The rifle club could have been more graceful by suspending their activities for a week while this flower fair was going on.

But back to the Penang Flower Festival. Maybe, one good outcome of the Tourim Ministry's expansion plan for the Gardens is that it created an open space big enough for the festival. Unlike previous years when activities were crammed within a small piece of land outside the gate, there was so much space this time. Space for the commercial exhibitors to display their plants and flowers and enough space for the competitors to display their winning entries. This must be the biggest floral fair in Penang in years. I really liked it. I liked what I saw (not that I liked what I heard).

When I was showing some of the early snapshots to my wife last night, her first comment was why I kept photographing the same old flowers. You have taken them so many times before, she said and added that they all looked the same to her.

Wait, I told her, there are more to the flower fest than these common orchids. These early pictures I was showing her were taken at the commercial section of the festival. The commercial orchid growers were trying to sell off their plants. My later pictures would show her some of the winning plants and flowers. So here they are, some of the winning orchids and bonsai.

First, here are the leafy bonsai plants. Magnificent miniature trees.

Impressive? Then there are the leafless bonsai plants. Positively creepy. I don't know how they got this way but it's quite obvious that these are not dead plants. Not yet, anyway.... :-)

And now to the orchid section. These are but a small selection of the best orchids on display. Of course, I only photographed what impressed me and ths one certainly did. My own plant, bought some two years ago, still hangs forlornly in the driveway, leafing but with no flowers in sight and here, this one is showing off its magnificent blooms. Sigh...

Seen enough? If not, why not make a beeline to the festival itself? It's open until Sunday.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Flower-powered garbage truck

Time to stop and smell the flowers. Whatever you do, try thinking positive like these men, whose job isn't the most positive in this world. 

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The lucky few

There are guitar players, and then there is Tommy Emmanuel.

Tommy Emmanuel was the primary reason that I bought tickets for the Penang Island Jazz Festival, now in its seventh year. I've heard a lot about the Festival in recent years and had always wanted to go but being the practical person (call me lazy if you like), driving between Batu Ferringhi and Bukit Mertajam wasn't very agreeable with me. Besides, I'd be casting a wary eye on the weather too. Invariably, December brings with it a lot of rain in the evenings. The Festival is held in an open enclosure at the Bayview Beach Resort and unless you bring along some umbrellas, you'd be drenched. There are also very few chairs so it's best to bring a large mat to lay on the court or grass. But sitting down for long periods on the ground also present its fair share of problems to me! So you see, that's why I've never attended the earlier editions of the Festival.

But it would be different this time, see. As long ago as a few months, I had learnt that two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Emmanuel had agreed to perform in Penang at the end of the year. I've heard of him, I've read about him, I've listened to some of his songs over the radio, and I've watched some short clips of him over the Internet. I decided why not go and see him live since he was coming my way. I know that this year, there had already been some foreign artistes performing here but they had cut no ice with me. Patrizio? Nahh....too superficial. Air Supply? Nahh...too gooey and yucky. Now, Tommy Emmanuel was somethng else! The real thing, the fair dinkum stuff. I don't know how to play any musical instruments but I do know good music when I hear it. And I had heard enough about Tommy Emmanuel from the airwaves and the Internet. Now to see him live in person.

The funny thing was, come mid-November I had almost forgotten about his visit. My memory is not as good as it used to me, unfortunately, and I simply forgot about the Festival inself. Until one fine day I wandered into a CD shop at a shopping mall and saw tickets on sale. Thank goodness for that. My memory jolted, I immediately got two tickets for the final night of the Festival. Come rain or come (moon)shine, my wife and I shall to there for him. So that was how I ended up at the Bayview Beach Hotel, 46 kilometres one-way from home.

Tommy Emmanuel appeared on stage at 10 o'clock after all the earlier acts had come and gone. From the moment the lights dimmed and the spotlight shone on him, we knew that his performance was going to be something very special. From the very first notes that were played, I knew it was going to be a mind-blowing performance of a lifetime. There he was with his three well-worn and battered guitars, but not only was he finger-picking away, he was also giving his guitar bodies enough slaps, scratches and poundings to extract every bit of sound from them. Heck, he was a one-man band. When I closed my eyes, I could swear that I was listening to the bass, rhythm and melody all at once and occasionally with percusion thrown in as well.

If you see him perform, you will understand why Tommy Emmanuel is regarded as one of the best - if not the best - present-day guitar virtuosos in the world. That he could agree to play in the Penang Island Jazz Festival showed that he didn't mind playing before an audience of thousands or an audience of a hundred. Here in Penang, I would estimate the crowd at about 600 so that's somewhere in between. Everyone had come to see him play, so we are the lucky few that did. I bumped into Daniel from the SERI office in Penang, Eddy from my old NOMIS days and an ex-colleague Chee from my former JobStreet stint and we all confessed that possibly the one act that we had come to watch was this.

So there was Tommy Emmanuel on stage, lapping in all the adultation from the animated crowd. The programme notes said that Tommy Emmanuel would be presenting a 40-minute set but in the end, what we had was an almost unbelievable 70 minutes of entertainment. Thank you, Tommy, for a most memorable visit!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Worst nightmare

It certainly was a close shave for Manchester United. Can you imagine what it would have been like for football if the Myanmar (or Burma, if you wish) generals had full control of England's top football club?? I shudder to think about it. What's the worst-case scenario if despotic countries had decided to take over football clubs? Say, for example, if the Chubby Old Man from trigger-happy North Korea - the so-called "Democratic" People's Republic of Korea - had gone into the market. Ahh, can you imagine a wild scenario where football clubs are owned by despotic regimes? Hah, there'll be anarchy in football's board rooms. Instead of playing football, they'll be playing "Let's nuke'em" on the playing fields of England or Spain or Italy or France or Germany or...wherever else. Come on, come on, banish this improbable thought from your mind. Don't get delirious, don't get wild ideas. But the full story is out here, especially for Manchester United fans. Phew, close shave, indeed! Am I glad it's only a story.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Guitarist extraordinare

Caught up with Tommy Emmanuel on Sunday night in Batu Ferringhi at the seventh Penang Island Jazz Festival. Naturally, we were blown away by his performance. Awesome! More later....

Friday, 3 December 2010

Christchurch, anyone?

AirAsia X is finally flying beyond Australia and it's landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, from April 2011. Should be worth exploring around the AirAsia website today to see whether the deal is really that good. I know for sure that the cheapest one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland by Malaysia Airlines is almost RM1,800. My only apprehension is the likelihood of being stuck in AirAsia X's seat for about 10 hours. Can be an ordeal.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

National Instruments here, finally!

Goodness knows how long it has been since I last wrote about US-based National Instruments opening their facility here in Penang (Here's an update: I last wrote about NI on 30 May 2009, which makes it ... 18 months ago. That long, huh?) but it seems that all the anticipation is finally over. NI Malaysia Sdn Bhd held its official opening by Lim Guan Eng today.

Now, I don't have any connection with NI. The only reason why I have some curiosity about NI is because two years ago, I had wandered by chance upon a National Instruments press conference called to announce their investment of USD80 million into their new facilities in Penang.

Already, I was aware then that National Instruments was big - big in the United States and big around the world - but I just didn't realise how big it was. All I knew was that the company develops and manufactures software and hardware products that engineers and scientists use for testing, control and embedded design applications.  

So having been intrigued with them, I've been following up on this development whenever I could. Now I'm told that construction work on NI's permanent facility, located on a 17-acre site in Bayan Lepas, will begin by middle of 2011 and scheduled for completion in a year's time. The facility is eventually expected to house some 1,500 staff in manufacturing, R&D, product development, IT and finance. In the meantime, NI will operate temporarily from the Sun Tech Building in Bayan Baru.

There are only 40 employees presently but the company is expected to launch a broad recruimtnent programme for university graduates and experienced industry engineers and technicians. The aim, according to NI CEO Alex Davern, is to boost this number to 300 engineers by two years.