Thursday, 31 March 2011

Flying Penang to Macau, NOT

So it has finally come to it. Exactly two years and 29 days after the service was introduced, Air Asia has flown the last of the direct flights between Penang and Macau. They call it an indefinite suspension but that's just putting it diplomatically. The reality is that the flights are not attracting people and there is little money to make from flying between the two cities. So now, if anyone from Penang wants to go and put their money down on Macau's casino tables, they will have to go through Hong Kong. Well, that's life....

Penang free wifi, phase 2

You know, when the Penang government first announced the launch of the Penang Free Wifi service almost two years ago, I was a little sceptical that it would ever happen. Something for free? Come on.... But apparently, two years down the road, I'm told that there are already 750 free wifi hotspots scattered around the island and the mainland.

So that is why whenever I go into George Town, my mobile phone gets to detect a signal called "Penang Free Wifi" in many places. But I can be very forgetful. Embarrassingly forgetful. Although I had written about this service in the past, I had been wondering where it came from. The only thought that came into my mind was: "Is this a wifi service from the Penang Free School? Wah, their transmitter must be very powerful indeed!" 

I'm better informed today. No, the wifi signal did not come from my Alma Mater. Yes, the wifi signal is the Penang Free Wifi service that the state government had said that they would launch. Unfortunately, it had been all too quiet. REDtone, the company behind the service, had been adding the hotspots quietly around the island. They had been going around doing this without fanfare. But on the other hand, they should have publicised their good effort too. No point having a service like this and nobody knows about it or uses it. I, for one, have not used it because it had slipped my mind! I hope Jeff Ooi & Company had not been waiting for buggers like me to publicise the service for them.

I saw on facebook recently that Lim Guan Eng had been asking his "facebook friends" to check out the free wifi locations on the REDtone homepage. I did, and it is indeed a long list.

You may say that I should be grateful for this service and I know that I should even if I haven't used it before, but I'm not. I'm disappointed with the lopsided attention given to its implementation. I actually did a count and I'm disappointed that out of the 750 wifi hotspots, there are only 209 on the mainland compared with 541 on the island. Say, the mainland is three times the size of the island. Still treating the mainland as the state's stepchild? I hope not.

That's why what I want to tell the state government is this: I know that you are investing RM8.5 million over the next five years for the second phase of this project to double the number of hotspots but since you are going ahead to launch it anyway, please give us mainlanders more consideration now than in the past. Okay? Can? Just tell me "yes" and we can move on....

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Viktor Korchnoi

Chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi turned 80 years old seven days ago on 23 Mar. It seemed like only yesterday that he escaped from the old Soviet Union, turned into their persona non grata, fought his way to become the official challenger in the World Chess Championship series twice (1974 not counted) and finally, gained Swiss citizenship and acceptance by the new Russia. All these trials are now firmly behind him.

I remembered first bumping into him in Hongkong in the late 1970s - was it 1977 or 1978? I'm not sure, it could even be 1981 - and he was campaigning passionaltely for the release of Boris Gulko from the Soviet Union. Very vocal, kept pressing me and my friends to support the campaign.

The other time I ran into him was at the Chess Olympiad in Manila. He had just undergone an eye operation but insisted that he would not miss this grand event. So he turned up every day with an eyepatch. Pirate Korchnoi was my nickname for him.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Annual Cheng Beng

Chinese graveyards are normally sited in wide open spaces that expose the graves to the elements. Nobody bothers to visit the cemeteries much except to bury the dead or for Cheng Beng.

Well, we have already fulfilled our Cheng Beng obligations for this year. We went a-visiting my grandparents' tombs on Sunday, leaving the house at 6.15am and arriving at the Batu Lanchang cemetery just before seven o'clock. Still dark but already, lots of earthly activities happening on the ground. Illegal car park attendants miraculously popped up to collect parking fees and in order to make their collection more "official", they even issued their so-called parking receipts! There was nothing much I could do but to grin and part with my RM2. Too many of them around to make a clean getaway.

Anyway, the advantage of driving into the cemetery grounds was that I could park practically outside my maternal grandparents' final residence! If ever there's a good way to describe their 2-in-1 tomb (they were buried side-by-side according to Chinese custom so that they would always together even in death), I would say "second row, first grave beside the drain."

There we were on the Sunday morning, stomping on the dirt and walking on the decaying vegetation. Tombcleaners were at hand to clear the graves of organic growth that had accumulated since the last Cheng Beng and we had arranged for our regular guy to remove all the growth about a week ago. Lazy bugger, he dumped everything into the shallow drain. At least, we had a nice, clean grave to visit. The whole time we were at the wide open cemetery, we kept our eyes glued skywards. It had been raining almost the whole of Saturday and frankly, even as the day began to get brighter, the sky was still very much overcast. A downpour could still come at any moment. We were lucky to miss all that at Batu Lanchang.

Next stop was at the Wat Pimbang Onn Siamese temple and cemetery about a kilometre away. Why my father had chosen this place as the final resting place for his parents in the early 1960s was far beyond me. Maybe it was because this cemetery also offered a cremation service in the past. Very convenient then, from the cremation spot to the grave. But this place is so totally different from Batu Lanchang and the other Chinese cemeteries. Worlds apart.

This Siamese cemetery had seen better days. Today, there's really no upkeep of the grounds any more. Many graves stand neglected; nobody visits, not even during Cheng Beng. The clearest signs of the neglect are the unkempt conditions around them: uncleared undergrowth and trees sprouting on the graves with wild abandon. A stone's throw from my paternal grandparent's tomb, there's even a tall tree growing right in front of one gravestone. Nobody cared, nobody bothered. And with so many trees growing everywhere, the cemetery may be shaded but it is a damp and gloomy place. A definite hotbed for mosquito breeding.

So this was my grandparents' final resting place. They were cremated here on this very same grounds and their bones collected in separate urns and then buried here. During their time in the 1960s, the cremation process was carried out openly. If anyone had wanted to watch the casket being burned, they could have done so. They could have watched the Indian worker shove firewood beneath the casket which was raised on a platform. They could also have watched the man pour kerosene on the casket and firewood, and then set them alight. They could have watched the casket being consumed by flames and perhaps see the gristly sight or smell the pungent odour of fire burning flesh. All these could be seen from the main road, Green Lane, which ran directly outside the cemetery. It was a wonder nobody complained about the cremation or the ashes flying everywhere. Or perhaps they did - I was too young to bother - and that was a reason why cremations finally stopped here.

Today, there are no more new burials here. Everything is, as I mentioned, in a very bad state of neglect. There are still families coming here every Cheng Beng to clear the graves and paying respects to the deceased, but the signs are there that sooner or later the numbers will dwindle and the whole graveyard will descend into its own eternal gloom.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Long wait, a very long wait

This book, The Penang Adventure by Raymond Flower, arrived this morning, carelessly flung over my gate by the postman. I didn't even know about its arrival until I went out of the house by chance to do something else. But whatever way it had arrived, I'm mighty glad that it did because it had been so long since I ordered it online from The Book Depository in England.

Frankly, it had been so long that it had begun to slip from my mind. I've known about this book from a friend, Stephen, more than six months ago, had gone to the local bookshops to search for it without success, and finally had to turn to the Internet to get a copy. I saw it on offer from The Book Depository and placed my order on 14 Oct 2010. Unfortunately, I did not realise that it was also out of stock with them. So the long wait began. And the longer the wait, the more that it slipped from my mind.

Until finally, on the eighth of this month, another email came to tell me that they have received their stock and would post out my copy soon. The package was well padded, so the thud when it hit the floor had probably not registered with me this morning. All in, it had been 166 days from order till delivery.

P.S. Maybe I should also say that I saw this title in a local bookshop about a month ago. Most probably, they were waiting for their stock too. But alas, I forgot to compare prices. It cost me USD11.83 (about RM36) inclusive of delivery.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Dead but never forgotten

I was a bit thrilled to see this unique sight in Seberang Jaya, Penang recently: a man cycling by nonchalently with his own tribute to Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Must have been his hero. Mind you, this is 2011 and that man had died in 1976.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A darker hour

Did I say wet morning? Well, it was a wet afternoon and a wet night too. The rain's stopped in Bukit Mertajam just a short while ago so I had no chance to go outside the house to see what the neighbourhood was up to during this year's Earth Hour.

But from my window, I did see an unusually dimmer road. Except for the porch lights, many of the houses were in darkness. Even for my neighbour two doors down the road, where a karaoke session had started at 7.30pm, the noise had died down by 8.30pm.

So I would say, yes, Earth Hour was probably better observed here this year than last year.

Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas

Went to the Buddhist Hermitage at Lunas today. It has been a wet, wet, wet morning but it hasn't stopped people from going there.

Noticed that a huge tree in the compound had toppled over during one of the strong winds. Luckily, it knew how to fall towards the river and not on the kitchen. In fact, it missed all the buildings.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Scumbag politics

I hear that they are being investigated under the Penal Code for possession and distribution of obscene materials. I think they should also be investigated for blackmail, defamation, etc. So shameful, the dirty depths that some politicians are willing to descend to. I only hope that the Police and the Federal government have the guts to prosecute them and see through the prosecution till the end.

When I was barely into my teenaged years, my father mentioned once to me that I should always be careful about politicians and would-be politicians. "Politics," he said, "is a dirty business." At that time, I accepted his advice at face value without asking why. No reason why I should want to know more when I was just 13 or 14 years old.

But of course, we learn as we grow older. In this country, especially, we know why politics is a "dirty business." Politicians and would-be policians will stoop at nothing to destroy other people. I don't have any strong political leanings but I know injustice when I see it. And this episode ranks as one of the worst attempts at dirty politics. Crooks, they say, have a code of ethics. Unfortunately, not scumbag politicians. Not by a long shot.

Earth Hour, Penang 2011

Yesterday while out on Penang island, I received a timely reminder from my mobile service provider on this year's Earth Hour event which is just two days away! For the past two years, I have been writing about Earth Hour on this blog and I know that I have been late in doing it for this year. Hope to make up with it with this post.

So this Saturday, 26 Mar 2011, I'll be asking my family to switch off the lights in the house again for one hour from 8.30pm. We'll be plunging the house into total darkness, save for the light we always maintain above our house altar. Even then, we have always been using "green" bulbs that do not consume much energy at all.

But Earth Hour is not only about saving electricity. In the bigger picture, it is about going green, conserving all our energy resources and saving the environment from global warming. I know that whatever we do this Saturday evening can only be symbolic but every little way we can play to contribute towards this event and make more people shed off their apathy will go to show our seriousness to make the world a better place for ourselves.

Unfortunately, we shall still be voices in the wilderness if the main perpetrators of environment rape do not heed our actions. The biggest culprits among them are the governments of the world. For example, we hear so much about illegal logging and illegal wildlife trading; all these are controllable and yet, they are not. By not doing anything or doing too little, it is a clear sign of a passive approval of such illegal activities. These activities must stop and I would urge my federal government to stop them as long as they are within their control.

I don't know about the other states but I do know that there is an on-going green campaign in my state Penang. For instance, since the beginning of this year, every day is a "no plastic" day. You'll be hard put to find supermarkets and most outlets in shopping malls willing to provide you with plastic bags now. Yesterday when I was at a bookshop at the Gurney Plaza, all that the counter staff did was to encircle a strip of paper around my purchase to signify its "sold" status.

Incidentally, the Gurney Plaza is one of the many shopping outlets in Penang that is actively promoting Earth Hour. After knowing that they were already doing their part last year, I wasn't surprised to see this big banner hanging from the mall's centre court. Unless anyone is blind or oblivious to their surrounding, this banner cannot be missed.

And just a final word about Earth Hour in Penang. If you happen to be around the Esplanade field near the waterfront this Saturday evening, please drop by the Penang state's symbolic Earth Hour event at 8.30am. Lights will be turned off at the Esplanade as well as at many iconic government buildings statewide (Komtar, City Hall, Town Hall, etc) and candles will be distributed to all participants.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A temporary drummer

Dave Brubeck was already a big star in the mid-1950s. He toured extensively with his own jazz band and had a vast following among college students and young professionals in the United States. He had even appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954.

During one of Brubeck's tours in 1956, his then drummer suddenly quit the band and a frantic search was made for a replacement for the remaining two weeks of the tour. Joe Morello agreed to fill in as the temporary, stand-in drummer. Twelve years later, he had recorded his 60th album as an integral member of that classic Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Joe Morello, that drummer extraordinaire, died on 12 Mar 2011, aged 82 years old. Thank you, Joe, you're the greatest!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Hughes lesson

It was quite obvious that JMB (Mike) Hughes had a tremendous attachment for the Penang Free School. Though he was the headmaster for only seven years, his tenure meant a great deal to him. It was just about the best years of his life. He touched the lives of the boys and girls who had studied in the school from 1957 to 1963 and left an indelible impression on them. Even after retirement, he returned to Penang several times for holidays and never once could he say that he was not the centre of attention.

I never got to meet him but having heard some stories about him, it felt as if I had. When my batch of schoolmates held our reunion last month and we had invited some of our own old teachers to the function, one of them even asked me whether I had any news about Hughes. She was mighty worried, she said, because she hadn't heard from him for a very long time. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could offer her.

Hughes was the guest of honour of the Old Frees' Association when he visited Penang in October 1983. As his trip would coincide with the School's Speech Day, it was proposed - and readily accepted by Hughes - that he should speak as the official OFA representative. Thus, it was a proud moment for him to return to the school on 21 Oct 1983, walk along the corridors, enter the hall and walk down the aisle, mount the steps onto the old stage, listen fervently to the School Rally and beam down on the expectant faces before him.

Someone emailed me a scanned article on the address that Hughes made during that Speech Day. I would like reproduce an excerpt from it here:

"From the time I first knew the Free School, it had a tradition - it looked back with reverence to its past: concentrated upon its present and anticipated its future. The quality and academic excellence it aspired to was the key to all three, linked closely to its pride in its performance on the playing field. This spirit built up over generations had made it a wonderful place to be in 20 years ago. It is still with you today.

"All of you are now on the threshold of adulthood and may look forward to positions of responsibility and trust. You will be thinking about freedom and you may realise that this is impossible without order. You may also seek liberty but you will find out that only through discipline can you have all three. Order is the key to freedom and liberty so that your fellow citizens may go about their daily tasks unimpared. But it is the kind of discipline which means self control to which I refer. A self control which will both enable you to succeed in your studies and also to take responsibility for others when that responsibility is given to you. Always be the master of yourself and others will respect you for it. However high you may rise in status and authority, never forget the problems of others less fortunate. Only then can you be complete, educated, men and women.

"It seems to me that Malaysia has progressed in an astonishing fashion. Ever since I arrived, people have swarmed around me eager and willing to take me in their latest Mercedes to see the latest development either soaring into the sky or stretching along the beach until former familiar places seem entirely new. With all these gains around you, you may be tempted to look for wealth first and seek knowledge second. Perhaps it might be advisable to pursue knowledge to its utmost and then it may not be necessary to look for wealth. I am sure the many men and women who have graduated from here may agree with me. The PFS Spirit implies this - perhaps it might help you also."

Note: The joint funeral of JMB Hughes and his wife Jean will be held today in Okehampton, England. Hughes died on 16 mar 2011 and his wife passed away five days earlier. Both had been sick for quite a while. A condolence book was opened at the Old Frees' Association, Penang last week.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Cheap flights

Here's a parody of the budget airlines. Don't laugh too much; it may come true for you:

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Super moon? What's that again?

Like I expected yesterday morning, the rain in Penang obliterated all opportunities to see the Super Moon in its full glory. Until about 10 o'clock, the weather was still wet over Bukit Mertajam but the rain stopped soon afterwards.

So my wife and I decided to step outside the house and peer into the high heaven. Who knows, it could be a romantic interlude for us; just the two of us in the quiet darkness of the front porch, ha ha. It was still very cloudy as we turned our sights skywards. We scanned the cloudy heavens and saw....a fuzzy blob of light almost directly above us.

"Oh, is that the Super Moon?" my wife asked, rather expectantly. I followed her gaze. Yes, I told her, that's the one that people around the world are going ga-ga over.

"But it's not any bigger than our regular moon and besides which, it's not clear at all," and then she walked in. Unfortunately, yes, I thought to myself as I followed her inside, our romantic interlude apparently over even before it started. There's actually nothing to it at all. So what if the moon is at its closest to us in the last 18 years. Nothing's going to happen up there tonight....

Then she suddenly turned to me. "Come quick," she said, "come let's take a picture of it so that we can show people what the Super Moon looks like over Penang, if anyone should ask."

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Super washout?

Here I am again, talking about the moon. Today's the day for the phenomenon known as the Super Moon, and tonight's the night when we are supposed to see the moon at its closest approach to our Earth since 18 years ago.

According to astronomers, the moon's orbit around the Earth is not circular but eliptical. This means that on an average, the moon can be as far as 364,000 kilometres away from us or as near as 364,000 kilometres to us.

And astronomers also tell us that tonight - or today, whatever - the moon swings its closest to us since 1993 and a "mere" 357,000 kilometres will separate us. Mathematically, tonight's moon is supposed to be 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than the moon at its furthest distance. But as if we can really tell visually from Earth.

Moonrise at George Town, Penang will be at 7.05pm and the full moon will occur at 2.10am. But with our luck here in Malaysia, most probably we'll see nothing! The weather has been wet and it is raining almost every evening. How on earth are we going to see the moon under this condition? Even if it doesn't rain tonight, I think what we'll see is just a hazy, fazy blob of diffused light in the sky. So much for the super, duper moon, I say! But nevertheless, I'll still be keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Penang map, 1836

This is an interesting map of Province Wellesley and the Prince of Wales Island in 1836. While the island seems to be already well documented 50 years after its establishment by Francis Light as a British trading post, the strip on the mainland still looks poorly understood. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

JMB (Mike) Hughes

It is with regret that I mention here of the death of J.M.B. (Mike) Hughes who was the last European headmaster of the Penang Free School from 1957 to 1963. He died on 16 Mar 2011 in Okehampton near Exeter in the United Kingdom. His death came five days after the passing of his wife, Jean Hughes. Both had been sick since Christmas with Hughes reportedly having suffered a stroke very recently.

Hughes was before my time as I only entered the School in 1966 but from what I've been learning from the Old Frees who passed through the School during Hughes' tenure, he was a well-liked headmaster. His old students held him in high esteem and the feeling was mutual.

He returned to visit the School many times after he went back to England and his last visit was in the 1990s when he entered the school hall with the headmaster of the day during the usual Monday morning assembly, walking stick in his hand, looking very healthy and strong, and beaming with pride. He spoke to remind the students about the importance of good education and of course, about the School itself.

Jalan Song Ban Kheng

As a resident of Bukit Mertajam, I am heartened to hear of the Penang government's announcement that one of the main arterial roads of BM town is set to be expanded into a four-lane carriageway. This good piece of news couldn't have come at a better time. Right now, moving in and out of Bukit Mertajam at most hours of the day is a big pain, what with the bad traffic jams resulting from the on-going double tracking work by Keretapi Tanah Melayu.

Let me talk about that first. No doubt, the laying of the double rail tracks from Ipoh to Butterworth and thence to Padang Besar can only be good for the country, and especially for Penang's tourism, but construction work always take a long time to complete. Moreover, when it is done close to existing infrastructures, the end result is always road narrowing and traffic congestion.

I grumbled so much that people asked me why don't I seek alternative routes out from the town? But are there good alternative routes to use, I asked them back. Consider this:
  • If I go through Jalan Rozhan, I'll run smack into the double tracking work at the end of Jalan Permatang Tinggi;
  • If I go through Taman Desa Palma and turn into Jalan Bukit Minyak, there is also a railway crossing there to consider;
  • If I use Jalan Maju, there is a huge flyover being built near the Jalan Song Ban Kheng/Jalan Maju traffic lights;
  • If I try to use the narrow Jalan Kampung Besar way, I will end up at the Berapit railway crossing and yes, the double tracking work is there too;
  • If I go through Jalan Sungai Rambai, there is a double whammy as this road goes through two railway crossings;
  • If I decide to go right through the town, I will join the traffic convergence at Kulim Road, Aston Road and Jalan Arumugam Pillai.

So the remaining alternatives are to go eastwards to Kulim and then get onto the Kulim-Butterworth highway or travel along one of the roads to Simpang Ampat or Valdor. But adding needless kilometres to my travel plans means that it is madness. What to do? Join the crowd at one of the congested exit points in the town, lah.

Of course, the flyover that connects Jalan Maju to Jalan Song Ban Kheng is the most welcome project of the double tracking expansion work in Bukit Mertajam presently. I would surmise that it may still take about one more year to complete but at least, I can see that it is work in progress and there is activity. I just can't wait to zoom across the flyover and miss the blasted traffic lights below.

But after having gotten across to Jalan Song Ban Kheng, another traffic congestion looms. This road was originally built as a dual carriageway to connect Jalan Maju to Jalan Kebun Sireh. Somewhere in the middle stretch, the road joins up to the Jalan Tembikai/Jalan Binjai junctions. When the road was first completed about five or six years ago, it was such a breeze to drive through. It's not so convenient anymore as traffic usage has built up tremendously.

Both sides of the road used to be empty land but now, there are all sorts of different development everywhere. As part of their projects, the developers were required to expand their stretch of Jalan Song Ban Kheng into four lanes. This, they have done. Unfortunately, the developments are not side-by-side to one another and accordingly, this road has become infamous for alternating between two lanes and four lanes at ridiculously short stretches. I'd be driving comfortably along a four-lane road and suddenly, it bottlenecks into two lanes. After a short stretch, it becomes four lanes again, and then two lanes, and then four lanes. And there are two main bridges along this road. Nobody's going to develop the land around the bridges and so, they will be permanent two-lane structures. Jalan Song Ban Kheng is the joke of BM Town.

So that is why I am glad that the Penang government has finally seen the point and taken upon itself to widen the whole stretch of this road - from the end of the flyover to Jalan Kebun Sireh - to a four-lane carriageway. Cost to the government is expected to be RM10 million with RM4.5 million to be spent on rebuilding the two bridges.

I hear this project may take off in the middle of the year and take about three years to complete. It could be sooner but there are earthworks to be done to strengthen the ground and provide a good drainage system. No matter, as long as the expansion is done, I shall be happy. But in the meantime, I shall still have to endure the daily jams.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Camera's back!

My camera's been away. My Panasonic DMC FS-15, that is. It had not been with me for the past three weeks. For a piece of equipment that accompanies me most every time I leave the house, I tell you, I missed it a lot. But I had to send it to the service centre.

The camera had been developing some small dark smudges on the images for quite a while now but lately, they had become more noticeable. I finally lost patience with it after I noticed the dark smudges becoming significantly worse, such as in this picture below. See them to the left of centre? There are more examples of the smudges here. No way that I could ignore them. I tell you, they spoil the mood completely.

So I took the camera to the shop where I had purchased it in September 2009. Handed it in to them on 19 Feb 2011. After about 10 days, I called them and they give me all sorts of excuses but basically they were pushing the blame to the Panasonic service centre: they have lots of equipment to repair, it's not only cameras but lots of other devices, the service centre haven't given a quotation for the repair yet, blah, blah, blah...

Well, all this I don't want to know, I told the shop. I deal with you only; I don't deal with the service centre. All I'm interested in is to get my repaired camera back as soon as possible and it is the camera shop's interest to look after the needs of their customers. Without reminders. For all I know, the camera could be sitting forgotten in their drawers. Luckily, I still have my older and obsolete Konica Minolta Dimage Z5 as a backup unit.

Lo and behold, on 10 Mar 2011 I got a call from the shop to tell me that the camer'a back in their hands again and would I be so kind as to collect it as soon as I can. So how many days was that altogether? Nineteen days. I can't believe that it took so long. Poorer by RM120 too. But at least, I have my handy pocket camera to use again. Mmm, I'm thinking about a basic DSLR. Wonder whether it's worth spending RM2,500 on it. My wife will probably say no, although my son will definitely say yes.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Don't press the panic button...yet

My wife showed me a text message which she received on her mobile yesterday. I took a look at it and immediately started laughing. "Don't you believe it," I told her, "such fake emails will inevitably emerge after a disaster. It's meant to scare you and want you to send it out to other people you know."

"Well, we can't be too careful, can we?" she asked. "How do you know that it is not true?"

"It's not true because the experts around the world are saying so," I replied. "So far, the nuclear emergency in Japan is still under control and the explosion was due to hydrogen, not the radioactive materials in the nuclear plant." (This conversation too place yesterday before the situation in Japan turned slightly worse today.)

"How do you know that the experts are telling the truth?" she persisted. "What if it is a cover-up?"

"Aiyah, you have to listen to me, lah. Besides, we are so far away from Japan. Whatever radiation there will not get to us and would have been dispersed by the wind," I said.

I thought this was the end of the matter. And then today, I saw this item on the BBC website. Looks like hoaxers are using the BBC's name to scare people worldwide with this same story. It's become such a concern to the BBC that they are forced to issue a denial:

"A fake text message warning people that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant has leaked beyond Japan has been panicking people across Asia. The text message, purporting to come from the BBC, has been circulating around Asian countries since Monday.It warns people to take necessary precautions against possible effects of radiation. The BBC has issued no such flash but it has caused particular panic in the Philippines."

And the BBC story further added: "Disasters such as that currently unfolding in Japan often trigger a rise in scam e-mails intended to fool users into downloading malware or simply to spread panic. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has told computer users to be wary of potential e-mail scams, as well as fake anti-virus and phishing attacks regarding the Japan earthquake and the tsunami disasters. "Such scams may contain links or attachments which direct users to phishing or malware-laden sites," it said."

There you have it, directly from the horse's mouth.


In my opinion, this is totally senseless. Why should the Chinese government demand more money from the New Zealand government for the grieving parents of the Chinese students who were killed during the Christchurch earthquake in February, just because of China's one-child policy? Of course, I would also grieve with the parents but I know that extra pay-outs will not bring their loved ones back.  But maybe, the onus must fall on the Chinese government themselves; they should be compensating their own citizens. After all, who was responsible for the one-child policy in the first place and did not know when just to rescind it after their economy grew?

Monday, 14 March 2011


Oops! He did it again! 
Second All-England badminton title, back-to-back!

Lee Chong Wei from Malaysia, Lee Chong Wei from Penang, Lee Chong Wei from Province Wellesley, Lee Chong Wei from Berapit

Super moon and the animal connection

There is a lot of Internet noise in the past few days about the occurence of the Super Moon on 19 Mar 2011. That day is supposed to be the day when the path of the full moon swings it nearest to the Earth. The last occasion of the Super Moon was in December of 2005.

Some people believe that the Super Moon portends the coming of great catastrophic events on Earth. In fact, they say that the Great Catastrophe may have already happened a few days ago. Of course, they are alluding to the tragic double whammy of an earthquake and a tsunami which struck Japan on 11 Mar 2011. And they pointed out that the great Indonesian earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami occurred in December 2005. So it can't be a mere coincidence, they claim. 

But there are also the scientists who debunk this theory. They say that the closeness of the moon to the Earth has very little effect at all. It's just "one of those things" that happen naturally, they say. "If you try hard enough, you can chronologically associate almost any natural disaster/event to anything in the night sky...comet, planet, sun," said one astronomer, David Reneke.

Well, I don't like to say that the Super Moon hypothesis is absolute rot but I've always believed that the phases of the moon do affect the Earth. The tides, especially, but who knows about the tectonic plates and the Earth's plasma too? Unfortunately, I can't quite recollect whether the Haiti or the Chile earthquakes fell easily within these parameters of my belief. Anyhow, if the moon's gravity can affect the tides, why can't it also affect the tectonic plates and plasma? You know, by giving them that little nudge that brings the plates' tension over the tipping point?

This hypothesis is pooh-poohed by some other people who say that the Japanese tragedy happened eight days before Super Moon. The timing wasn't smack on, so how to explain that? Well, maybe it doesn't require a Super Full Moon to add pressure to the plates. Maybe the Super Half Moon is good enough already. But I'm just waiting to read a better explanation from the believers.

Talking about quakes, it has also been suggested that some research be made into unexplained animal behaviour that seems to predict earthquakes. You know, the strange behaviour of birds, cats, dogs and other animals before a calamity strikes. They react to some unknown force, as if they are trying to escape from the area.

Perhaps there's some truth in this phenomenon although I also find it quite hard to find a scientific explanation. Do animals have some sixth sense that we don't? Maybe they can detect changes in the Earth's magnetic field? When tension builds up underground along the fault lines, do the moving plates affect the positioning of the Earth's magnetic core?

I'll be surprised if there is no connection at all. Perhaps this then can be used to explain the mysterious deaths of the hundreds of thousands of sardine fish thousands of kilometers away in the harbours off California about two or three days before the Japan earthquake. Maybe fish navigate by detecting the earth's magnetic field and they got confused when the field jumped ahead of the earthquake?

Ahh, actually, I've said more nonsense than necessary already. So, this is as good a time for me to shut up and let other people put the two and two together and do the talking..

Brainless twits

How utterly insensitive can Berita Harian be? Poking fun at other people's misery? Despite their apology, the damage has already been done.

Berita Harian shows its true colours with this brainless cartoon in the wake of the tragedy in Japan. Maybe the newspaper thinks that they are very clever but it just demonstrates the shallowness and mentality of the people behind the organisation. 

UMNO proudly claims that Berita Harian is their organ, their newspaper. Well, I suppose then that this cartoon also reflects their view. It's not only the newspaper that should apologise; the party behind the newspaper should also do so too. I'm disgusted.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Still interested?

"Nuclear energy is a reliable, high quality and cost effective supply of energy which is fundamental to attracting new investments as well as encouraging existing industries to expand into high value added activities."

I hope these words by Dr Mohd Zamzam bin Jaafar, CEO of the newly formed Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation, do not come back to haunt him and the Malaysian government.

Every Malaysian citizen must voice out against the very idea of having any nuclear plant or rare earth processing facility in the country! 

Japan's double whammy

I am humbled. Like most other people from around the world, I have been sitting in front of the television set in the home, unable to tear myself away from the images of the complete devastation in Japan. If the initial earthquake of magnitude 9.0 was terrible enough, the subsequent tsunami was even worse.

The pictures from the tsunami that destroyed Bandar Acheh in 2004 were all still images of the event's aftermath but after this weekend, nobody will ever forget the scenes from all the video footages of the Japan tsunami.

I first got to learn of the earthquake about half an hour after it happened. "Earthquake in Tokyo," a friend had texted me, and "Miyagi town to be hit by a tsunami of 20 feet high."

And sure enough, there it was on television with the first scenes unfolding of seawater rushing into a town centre, sweeping along ships, trucks and motor vehicles, waves crashing and bringing down buildings and then overflowing into the farmlands. Wow, a most impressive sight at first but very soon later, the enormity of the destruction sank in. The debris left behind when the waters receded. And countless persons unaccounted for. How many lives perished, unable to escape the rushing waters? 

I doubt Japan is really well-prepared to handle this disaster. No nation can ever hope to be absolutely well-prepared to handle natural disasters. And the rebuilding process: how long will it take the people to pick up the pieces after seeing their entire possessions destroyed within minutes? Ten years? Twenty years? For some, this is already their lifetime. And the psychological trauma that the tsunami is guaranteed to leave on the country.

All this, despite Japan being the third largest economy in the world. All the economic success in the world and yet, everything pales in the wake of nature's force. And how will it impact us? Though we are far removed from the tragedies there, somehow we are still connected and we will be affected.

The stock market, for instance. There was hardly time for the market to digest the true gravity of the situation last Friday but when the market reopens tomorrow after the weekend, I think the nervousness is going to show. The reaction may be bad.

The other concern is, of course, the industries which are linked to Japan: those whose production depends on component parts from Japan or final manufactured goods sent to Japan. Any disruption to the supply chain is likely to ripple through the whole manufacturing industry. The impact can be very serious. It's a wait-and-see right now, but I just hope that the 2008 economic downturn won't be repeated.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Heavy sounds

It's been such a long time since I listened to this album that I had almost forgotten how good it was. True, some snippets of the music still rolled through my mind once in a while but that was about all. Then it was two days ago that while rummaging through my long unheard albums, I came across Heavy Sounds again.

This was a rather unusual album for CBS. It showcased 11 of their most popular rock recording artistes of the Sixties at a time when performers were becoming more adventurous and experimental with their music. It was perhaps just after the cusp of flower power and psychedelia. For sure, music had taken a creative and most interestng turn.

So this album was unusual; it was as if CBS had come out with a promo album to bring these performers to the attention of a new audience. From my point of view, they succeeded. I took a risk when I purchased this album in the early 1970s. At that time, the only performers I was very familiar with from this album were Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears. Maybe, also Laura Nyro and The Byrds. The rest? No. From the risk of buying this album came a mind-opening adventure into music.

In my opinion, the first side of this record was, and is still, more interesting. The album opened with a near-nine minutes of heavy, electrified blues by the Big Brother & The Holding Company. There was no mention at all about their lead singer but the moment her voice emerged from the speakers, I knew that she was special. It was a voice that tore into me and evoked all sorts of pain and anguish. The singer? She was the late, great Janis Joplin. The song? Ball and Chain, from their Cheap Thrills album in 1968..

The very next song brought me back to earth, or maybe it was heaven. There they were, Blood Sweat & Tears, tearing me up with God Bless The Child from their eponymous 1968 album. I still get the shivers listening to this song as towards the end, the group's horn section sequed into a sequence that would have made any jazz trumpeteer truly proud. Breath-taking!

Killing Floor was taken from The Electric Flag's debut album in 1968 called A Long Time Comin'. I can't comment much about this track other than to say that it was gritty rock music, very soulful and peppered all through with a mean horn section.But I know now that the band's most famous members were Michael Bloomfield and Buddy Miles.

I was transported into a stupor the first time I listened to White Bird, the signature song by It's A Beautiful Day, from their 1969 album. The essence of psychedelia cannot be missed from this song which was about the rain, being caged up with nowhere to go. Basically, feeling miserable. I soared with the violin and was brought back to earth when the music ended. This was a track I could play again and again.

Laura Nyro was a songwriter of the late Sixties and this song, Sweet Blindness, was taken from her 1969 album, New York Tendaberry. I had been familiar with her music which had been recorded by bands such as Blood Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night and Fifth Dimension. But Nyro was also a recording artiste and this song tells me why so many other artistes picked up on her songs.

I won't go into the other tracks other than to mention that monumental track, Albert's Shuffle, from the second side of Heavy Sounds. Albert's Shuffle, from the Super Session album which was released in 1968, was an Al Kooper-Michael Bloomfield jam session, a really incredible music excursion by two very talented musicians. It was also one of the tracks that I could play over and over again. Even today, I never got tired of listening to it.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Penang's first recorded triple murder?

Is this possibly the first documented case of a murder (or multiple murders) in Penang? Maybe not, because I'm sure early Penang had its fair share of lawlessness in the early years after it became a British settlement. But according to a report in the Hampshire Telegraph & Portsmouth Gazette published on 13 Sep 1802, this was a notorious triple murder on the island:

A letter from Pelo Penang of the 23rd January, mentions the following murder to have been perpetrated there on the 12th preceding:- A Malay woman, her husband, and three other Malays, laid a plan to plunder the house of the late Peter Robertson, where there was only his daughter, a fine girl of ten years old, her mother, and a servant girl; to effect their wicked purposes, they made intoxicating cakes, and gave them to the people of the house to eat; after which they most inhumanly strangled the little girl, cut the throat of the mother, and stabbed the servant girl; the assassins then carried off the effects. They afterwards returned and set the house on fire; on the alarm of fire being given, several persons ran to the house, to see if the people in it were asleep, and to give them assistance; but as no answer was given from within, concluded they were not at home; after the house was burnt down, the three bodies were found, which gave immediate suspicion that they had been murdered; and by the activity of Mr Brown, the Provost, the murderers were found and have since confessed the enormous fact.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Lobo's first three albums

It took me two months before I could find the time to put these three records on the turntable. They have been given to me by my friend, Derek, from Singapore. At first, I was told that he owned only five records but what a gem of a discovery! Roland Kent Lavoie's first three albums: Introducing Lobo, Of A Simple Man and Calumet. Yes, Lavoie is known better as Lobo, the stage name he used on his records and in public. These three albums were released in the early 70s and earned him worldwide recognition. I won't mention the other two yet, perhaps next time, but I can assure you that they are also treasures!

Side One: Intro, Me And You And A Dog Named Boo, The Albatross, We;ll Make It...I Know We Will, A Little Different, Reaching Out For Someone (Country Feelings)
Side Two: She Didn't Do Magic, Little Joe (They're Out To Get Ya), I'm The Only One, We'll Be One By Two Today, Another Hill To Climb, Reprise

Side One: Intro, There Ain't No Way, A Big Red Kite, Recycle Sally, Don't Expect Me To Be Your Friend, A Simple Man
Side Two: I'd Love You To Want Me, Let Me Down Easy, Pee-ro Juan Valdez Sam Quixote, Running Deer, Gypsy And The Midnight Ghost, Am I True To Myself

Side One: How Can I Tell Her, Stoney, Rock And Roll Days, One And The Same Thing, Hope You're Proud Of Me Girl
Side Two: Love Me For What I Am, Try, It Sure Took A Long Long Time, Standing At The End Of The Line, Goodbye Is Just Another Word

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Who's afraid of credit cards?!

Got a long story to tell. I wrote it quite a while ago on my other blog but I've been told that it deserves a wider audience. It's a true story about someone getting into some messy financial problems. So if you ever need a story about what wanton borrowing can do to you, here it is. There are good guys and bad guys in this story. Obviously, I'm the principal good guy. The bad guys are the commercial banks. 

Okay, it is not an exciting tale but heck, if a story about a stammerer can win an Oscar, maybe I can win a Razzie with this one! That is, if anyone bothers to make it into a film!

Therefore hold tight, go and wash up, brush your teeth and settle back on your cushy, comfy sofa. Be prepared to get lulled into sleep as you read Getting Into Financial Debt, a "gory" lesson in six parts:

Part 1 - The Problem
Part 2 - No Solution
Part 3 - The Light
Part 4 - The Briefing
Part 5 - Submission
Part 6 - Conclusion

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Penang's founding in 1786

My problem with languages is that there are times when some words confuse me through infrequent use. Take the word "found" as an example. I know that it is the past tense of "find", but it is also used less frequently as a present tense, in which case the past tense becomes "founded", such as in "Francis Light founded Penang in 1786."

That's what we learnt in school as small kids. We were taught and we read in books that Francis Light was the founder (see note below) of Penang. As small kids soaking in all sorts of new information, my school mates and I would be so impressed. Wow, we used to think, until Light arrived to found Penang, nobody knew what Penang was or where Penang was. Did the island suddenly rise up from the sea overnight in time for Light to "find" it? Was the island an uninhabited jungle until Light set foot here?

But nowadays, we know that this was not true. People were already staying on the island well before 11 Aug 1786. Maybe not the Europeans but all the same, there was a sparse population of the Chinese, Malays and Indians. The local inhabitants certainly knew of Pulo Pinang and as a matter of fact, Light also knew of the existence of Penang island from as early as 1769. He was then moving a lot between Madras, Phuket and Penang island.

At that time, Kedah was a prosperous rice-growing region. But it was under constant physical threats from Siam and had to pay an annual sum to the King of Siam. So the Kedah Sultan of the day sought to play off the threats from Siam against the military might of the British East India Company in Madras, India. At the same time, Light wanted to set up a trading station somewhere along the northern peninsula away from Dutch-controlled Malacca.

It cut both ways that a deal was finally struck. The Kedah Sultan would give up his presumably useless island of Pulo Pinang in the south - and eventually receive an annual bounty of 6,000 Spanish Dollars - in return for British support against his enemies. Whether or not he eventually obtained the British protection he craved for was, of course, another matter.

So let me return to my original question: what is the meaning of "found" if it is different from the word "find"? According to my dictionaries which I've just been looking up, "to found" means "to establish". When Light founded Penang, what it meant was that he established Penang as a trading post or a trading station for the British East India Company. He did not "find" or "discover" Penang; the island was already here eons ago.

Light arrived on the island in July 1786. Under orders, the ground was cleared for the early settlement. It was perhaps at this point that we read stories of cannons being used to blast coins into the thick mangrove forest so that the natives and prisoners could clear the land in their scramble to find the money. Same as Rome was not built in a day, Penang was not emptied in a day too.

But by early August, much of the place had been readied. A site was prepared for the formal acquisition of the island by the East India Company, and this ceremony took place on 11 August 1786 with the first raising of the British flag on the grounds where Fort Cornwallis is today. That date marked the official day that Francis Light founded Penang. That's all it was, actually, purely down-to-earth. Nothing magical about it.

Note: Again, I have to be very careful of the language: "find" ( a verb) means "discover" while "found" (also a verb) means "establish". But "founder" does not only mean the "person who establishes something". The word is also used as a verb to mean "sink or collapse" such as in "the business was mismanaged until it foundered." Arghh, the English language....!!