Friday, 29 April 2011

Weddings are a bore

I'm sure the estimated worldwide audience of two billion people were concentrating on This Moment rather than on the little bridesmaid's look of utter boredom. I'm not amused, Grace van Cutsem was probably thinking to herself. Totally adorable, this god-daughter of William. But give her a break: she's only three years old.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

They take us for fools

Either the Federal government think we are stupid or they themselves are stupid. Either they think we are gullible or they themselves are gullible. What is this that I've been reading in the news media in the last few days? A free 1Malaysia email address for every person above 18 years old? Heavens forbid!

Common, what sort of nonsense is the Federal government trying to push? As if there are no free email addresses anywhere in the world. I've been using Yahoo mail and Gmail for goodness knows how long and I haven't any problem with them. My son and daughter use Hotmail and they don't have any issue either. So why try to reinvent the wheel?

And then the government said that this email service will be secure. Any email transaction, especially with government departments, should be secure, they say. But it puzzles me. Whatever for do I need any extra security for my emails. I would expect that my present email service providers are already responsible and they ensure that all messages and attachments that are sent through them have sufficient security measures and the packages that go through the Internet are encrypted with the latest technology. So again, why try to reinvent the wheel?

Moreover, I should think that if I want to transact anything online, whether it be a financial or non-financial transaction, whether it's commercial or non-commercial website, whether it is with the government or non-government, the responsibility should be on the website to provide the necessary security.'s website is pretty secure; our local banks' websites are very secure too; and I buy my airline tickets from Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia with full confidence that my financial data is safe when it goes through their servers. So what's the big deal about security unless by inference, Najib is suggesting that right now, his government department websites lack even the most basic of security. That all this while, we have been filing our online income tax returns on an unsecured server? Makes me wonder whether I should demand to go back to paper filing of my returns from next year!

So if they are trying to scare us by saying security is a concern, I think it is no issue at all. To me, it is incomprehensible that we should be forced to own this so-called 1Malaysia email address to maintain communication with government channels. It will be a real waste of tax-payer's money.

And then I hear that this is no longer a government initiative but instead a privately-led initiate. The government claims that they would not be spending any money on the 1Malaysia email addresses. It would all be borne by a relatively little-known company called Tricubes. Tricubes will bear the cost of the system and we citizens will not be arm-twisted into signing up for their email account. It will be on our own free will if we want their email account, etc, etc, etc...

But wait a second. You really want to own this fantastic email address? Then you need to have a USB dongle from them, purchased exclusively from them, of course! But wait another second. There's news that the government departments will be required to send out emails to us common plebians through Tricubes, and that's where the government departments pay and that's where our tax money goes to. For every transaction that Tricubes will deliver, the company stands to earn 50 cents. So that's where their income is coming from: from our pockets indirectly. Income that will finance the company's very own survivorship. Isn't it all so very devious? IMO, YES!

I'm sure that 10 million email messages that Najib sent over the Chinese New Year period was only the initial testing ground. I still don't know how those buggers in Najib's department managed to get their hands on my email address, and I'm still pretty sore over the episode. But I'm sure the government baulked at the amount they had to pay to the external commercial email service providers in order to send those damn messages. So I'm sure they have seen all that and then decided that instead of paying all those sums of money to people they don't know, why not set up their own email system and then transfer the money from the public right pocket to the private left pocket instead? I greatly suspect that's what they are trying to do, all at the expense of us people whom they think are gullible enough to swallow all their propaganda.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The old Westlands gang from 1965

I find that as we grow older, we tend to look forward to the reunion of old school friends. My last secondary school reunion in February brought together only about 40 of us. We felt that it was an accomplishment to even get this number together. Well, if secondary school reunions are already that difficult, just imagine how much more difficult it is to have a reunion of primary school friends.

Recently, I just happened to catch up with four old friends from my Westlands Primary School days. It wasn't even planned as a reunion. We were just five folks who happened to be at the right place at the right time. (Or at least, I was.)

So here we here, a picture taken at the 1926 Heritage Hotel in Burmah Road. That's Johnson on the far left and beside him is Oon Hup, just recently returned from England. Ch'ien Cheng is in the centre and next to me is Seng Oo.

After our lunch at the hotel's Hainanese Delights Restaurant, we went on a tour of the premises. Before 1999, the whole place was actually old government quarters. There were two rows, one facing Burmah Road and the other facing Immigration Road. The Penang Development Corporation converted these old quarters into a heritage hotel and tried to run it. As was to be expected when people are placed into unfamiliar roles, the hotel didn't have much of a success. I heard that the management changed hands a few times.

Anyway, it turned out that Johnson had actually lived in one of the old quarters along Immigration Road. So the short inspection of the hotel brought back a lot of nostalgia for him.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Serious audit

So there I was, this morning, at the 84th annual general meeting of the Old Frees' Association in Penang. And right on time too. I walked right smack into a secret ballot. The contest for the position of the association's president was just starting and the ballot slips were being distributed. Apparently, there would be only one position contested because the rest of the positions had closed with only one nomination each. Boy, judging from the furious debates that had happened earlier at the meeting and also later, I would want to wish the new president well.

Anyway, I just want to quote here an extract from the honorary auditor's report. As far as I know, the honorary auditor has remained unchanged for many, many years. Year in and year out, he is reappointed. And apparently, as any self-respecting auditor will do, he takes his role very seriously.

In this year's report, he found himself questioning the annual durian party that the OFA organises for the members. I found his comments a bit incredulous, if not hilarious. Just take a read:
"The members who attended the Durian Party enjoyed themselves tremendously. However for the purpose of audit, a record must be made upon arrival at the durian farm the total number of durians OFA members will receive, if possible the number according to the variety e.g. how many Ganja, Hor Lor etc. Once the figures are verified, the durians can be open for members to enjoy. The verification process will I am sure take not more than 5 minutes with the presence of so many members. The OFA needs to know how many durians we are paying for and the variety so as to ascertain the money spent for the durian party is value for money."

Gosh, you mean we have to COUNT the durians before we eat?? Serious?? Duh.....

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Syed Kechik "400 million ringgit" problem....

There are not many people who can accummulate RM400 million in their lifetime. I think any person with this much amount of money in their pockets would have been placed on the list of the top 50 or top 100 richest people in the country.

So when news emerged that a very prominent retired politician and businessman had died two years ago and had left this much behind, it pricked up my ears. After all, busybody that I am, I'm always interested to know how people distribute their estate to the next-of-kin. In fact, I was more than doubly interested here because the deceased was a Muslim and according to the Syariah law, the Faraid would determine the proportions that his heirs should receive. The problem is, just as most non-Muslims do not bother about writing their Wills, Muslims also have a tendency to ignore their Wasiat. Muslims would normally say, "Ahh, we are governed by the Syariah, so let the Faraid determine the distribution for us." Unfortunately, they fail to realise that the Faraid only identifies the heirs and determines the proportion of distribution to them. They would still need an Executor or an Administrator to carry out the process of distribution properly. Leaving it to the heirs to sort it out among themselves is no solution at all. So writing a Will or a Wasiat is most helpful, if only to appoint someone as the personal representative when the person dies.

I do have a basic idea of the Syariah estate distribution process. In fact, I take pride that I understand much more than the next non-Muslim Man-In-the-Street. The subject can be quite fascinating. But to me as a non-Muslim, the Faraid is fraught with the most complex of calculations, full of equations and fractions, with classifications like Quranic heirs and non-Quranic heirs, and with the rule that male heirs getting twice as much as female heirs. Get the idea how complicated it is? It is no wonder then that many Muslims are also unsure of how the Faraid works for them in the distribution process.

Okay, that's all the lesson you will get from me this morning regarding the Muslim estate distribution process. What I really wanted to say that I was scanning today's print copy of The Star newspaper - the northern edition, that is - and was puzzled to find missing the story of the conclusion of the legal battle surrounding Syed Kechik Syed Mohamed Al-Bukhary's RM400 million estate. This wasn't even a legal tussle to determine distribution; it was just a court case to decide who could be appointed as the administrators to the estate.

For you see, Syed Kechik, for all his financial acumen and worldly outlook on life, had overlooked that his family could get embroiled in a murky legal battle once he was gone. He had a son from a first marriage that had ended in a divorce. He married a second time and was blessed with two daughters. It was of no surprise that the son could not get along with his step-mother and half-sisters, and that was where the battle line was drawn. The ladies wanted to be the only co-administrators of Syed Kechik's estate so as to continue with the father's big family business without interruption but the son wanted in as well to protect his own self-interest. The case went from the High Court right up till the Federal Court. And that's just to affirm that the four of them, Syed Kechik's heirs, would be equal co-administrators.

If anyone is interested, I have a summary of the long and complicated legal saga written here, with links to various news reports over the past two years.

It's not the end of the story though. The real test begins when the four of them - or rather, the lawyers for the four of them - sit down to work out the details of responsibility and distribution. There's already so much bad blood between the two sides. Can they ever agree to anything across the negotiation table?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Gleen gleen glass

It was towards the end of the wedding reception. The main table was empty. The happy couple and their parents were already at the entrance of the restaurant, waiting to thank their departing guests and accept their congratulations.

Meanwhile inside the restaurant, the entertainment -- if you could call the singing an entertainment -- was still going on strong. During the whole evening, except for the brief interludes of speeches and toasts to the health of the wedded couple, the performer had been belting out one song after another. Mostly in Mandarin but once in a while, his repertoire would include an English number.

Perhaps mindful that the guests were no longer listening intently to him - hey, do dinner guests ever listen much to the stage anyway? - he decided to exercise his lungs with an English song. But what a song he chose to sing! I wrote two days ago about people singing inappropriate songs at wedding functions.

Well, here is one. This fella was not only belting out his version of Tom Jones' Green Green Grass of Home, he mangled it up by mispronouncing everything. Even though I wasn't paying much attention to the song as my wife and I walked towards the entrance, this fella's murder of the English language hit me face on. I told my wife: "Listen, did this guy just say Gleen Gleen Glass of Home?" and my wife stopped momentarily and then answered, "Yes."

So I just had to whip out my camera and take a quick snap of this occasion for posterity. Too bad the lighting wasn't good enough or else you'd see the guilty party more clearly.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Visitors, I thank you.

Cool, my visitors from around the world, from 8 Feb 2010 till 13 Apr 2011, according to ClustrMaps. Quite logical that the bulk of my visitors are local-based (38.1 percent) but the next four are visits from the United States (15.6 percent), Singapore (7.6 percent), United Kingdom (5.5 percent) and Australia (5.1 percent). The rest of the world makes up 28.1 percent. Hah, there are even visits from Greenland and the middle of the Pacific ocean! None from North Korea, though...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Wedding dinner songs about impending death

I can never understand why these two songs below are so popular among so-called "professional" singers or even karaoke singers during Chinese wedding functions here. Is it just because their melodies are so easy on the ears that they must be sung at all costs? Don't the lyrics mean anything to them at all? But more importantly, do these singers actually understand what they are singing?

Come on, these are weddings, the celebration of two lives tying the knot as one happy couple, and yet....the singers don't have anything better than to sing of death and impending doom. What can be more suay, what can be more pantang, what can be more depressing for the couple and their families to hear such fatalistic words, especially when the singers suddenly decide - on inspiration - to dedicate these songs to the happy couple??

Excerpts from Tom Jones' "Green Green Glass of Home":
Then I awake and look around me, at four grey walls that surround me
And I realise that I was only dreaming.
For there's a guard and there's a sad old padre
Arm in arm we'll walk at daybreak.
Again I touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they'll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree
As they lay me beneath the green, green grass of home.

Excerpts from the Bee Gees' "I Gotta Get a Message to You":
The preacher talked with me and he smiled
Said, Come and walk with me
Come and walk one more mile
Now I'm crying but deep down inside
Well I did it to him
Now it's my turn to die
I've just gotta get a message to you
Hold on, hold on
One more hour and my life will be through
Hold on, hold on

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Pros in the city

I've an old school mate working in the United States. Near Washington DC, to be more precise. I've known him to be working there for donkey's years. So long, in fact, that I don't know when it was that he had settled down there. We usually keep in touch by emails only and once in a very long while, he'd come back to his old hometown for a visit to his remaining relatives here. Unfortunately, these visits also getting fewer and farther apart because the number of old folks are dwindling.

But that's beside the point. He often tells me that if ever I'm in his part of the world, I should give him a shout. There are lots of cultural events the whole year round in America's capital city but if I'm game enough to go there in winter, I should pencil in the annual DC New Years Eve Gala. "There's no New Years Eve party like this one," he assured me.

"It's very cosmopolitan," he said. Huh, even through email, I could detect his gushing enthusiasm. "You won't feel out of place. Come here, lah, to savour the delights of the various continents. It's not only about food, you know, it's also about music, culture and people." Wonderful, isn't he? He's more than 30 years out of the country but that little "lah" in the conversation betrays his origin. Our little inflexion of the English language. Just can't get it out of our system.

Sounds so very interesting. People? Meeting 3,000 partying people? Erm, maybe not my kind of crowd. Will be kind out of place, even should my friend pulls me along. But music, that's okay with me. Culture, that's okay with me too. Why don't you go give them a virtual tour first, he suggested. So I did and I ended up at this New Year DC site.

Yah, my friend wasn't joking. Even for us Asians who may happen to work or visit the States at the end of year, the Professionals In The City's annual New Years Eve Washington DC Gala is indeed a rousing event for everyone regardless of ethnicity. The organisers claim to have searched the world for the best New Year celebrations and combined them all into one truly unforgettable evening, and they have been doing this for more than a decade. It's become an institution.

For example, there was a Latin Fusion Salsa Room for everyone to samba the night away to their live salsa band. Don't know how to? There were even on-the-spot lessons. Cool. Samba's a nice lively dance. Or maybe a Mexico City Fiesta to get your blood up. There was also the elegance of Viennese music to waltz to, played by a live orchestra.

For us Asians who may want to be closer to home, my friend told me the organisers had lined up an East Asian themed Fountain of Youth with music and culture most popular in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Kyoto. Or maybe, stray into the Bollywood Hills Underground Club to enjoy exotic Hindi, Punjabi, Ghazals and Bollywood pop songs, and learn Bollywood dances. And not forgetting the chance for anyone to show off their talents - good or bad - in the Japanese Karaoke Room.

All very interesting, right? Maybe, lah, I wrote back to my friend. Maybe, if I do pass halfway around the way and happen to be in his neighbourhood, I'll give him a call. In the meanwhile, he can go to this year-end's New Year's Eve Gala by himself first. And tell me later. Haha...

This was what I found on the Internet. Gosh, it's really wild and exciting:

Friday, 15 April 2011

Your right to be heard

On the eve of the Sarawak state elections, I hope the people there knows how to exercise their rights truly and fearlessly. Good luck!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Feng Shui

How would you define the ancient system of Feng Shui? I know Feng Shui has undergone some beating in Hong Kong recently due to the high-profile Nina Wang estate battle in the law court but that basically could be pinned down to the greed of one man. Just like one swallow does not make a summer, neither does one maverick taint the whole Feng Shui industry.

The way I look at it, Feng Shui has nothing to do with any religion or religious practice. It's just simply an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics that developed from an understanding of the harmony and balance between the laws of astronomy and geography, and the natural energy that flows and synergies the two. As an inhabitant of this earth, we are all caught up in this infinite, ever changing relationship whether we like it not.

Feng Shui was first recognised by the Emperors in China as long ago as 6,000 years. Feng Shui is not a "new age occult or religious practice" like how some persons would portray it. Basically, it just stems from a lack of understanding of how this ancient system works. It's natural for anyone who lacks understanding of any subject to feel threatened and brush it away.

Just take acupuncture as a typical example. Even as close as 40 years ago, acupuncture was treated with disdain, even suspicion, in the West. But it had been widely used by the Chinese with remarkable success for thousands of years. Time has hacked away at the shield of conservatism and acupuncture is now firmly accepted as a branch of modern Western medicine. One of my friends, a medical doctor, has been running a successful acupuncture centre in Australia for several years. Acupuncture taps on improving the flow of a body's internal Qi energy.

So does Feng Shui, except that this practice is concerned with the flow of the external Qi energy around us. There are things around us that can and cannot be controlled. As an intelligent creature, Man has that very basic instinct to be a control freak. Anything that can be controlled will be controlled. And for those things that cannot be controlled, well, Man is still stubborn enough to try. Who knows, Man may yet succeed. But in the meantime through the millenium, Man understands that even uncontrollable things have positive features that can be tapped. Of course, Man learns to avoid the negative ones too. That's how it works with Feng Shui. The practitioner tries to harness to the best of his abilities the juxtapositioning of positive Qi energy that flows within the space and time continuum, within the heavens and the earth. 

My own understanding of this ancient system is still very shallow but day by day, I learn a bit more. And I've come to accept that yes, Feng Shui can indeed be very relevant to our lives. The practice of this ancient system is here to stay. I'm a living example of the natural force of Feng Shui but it's not for me to share my experience right now. Perhaps some other time when I'm more up to it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wu Lien Teh (Part 2): His 1960 obituary

After having written yesterday's piece, I came across this obituary of Dr Wu Lien Teh that appeared in the British Medical Journal of 6 Feb 1960. There are several small errors which I've left them as they are. Maybe there are less obvious ones too. Regardless, this is a fascinating insight into one of Malaya's most illustrious sons.
WU LIEN-TEH, M.D., Sc.D., Litt.D., LL.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Wu Lien-Teh, who died in Penang on July 21, at the age of 81, was a remarkable doctor who rose to a high position in the medical services of China, where he was first director of the Manchurian Plague Prevention Service and physician extraordinary at first to the Emperor and then to successive presidents. He resigned from his posts in China in 1937.

Wu Lien-Teh was born in 1879 in Penang. A brilliant student, he swept all before him at home and abroad. He went to Cambridge with a scholarship and took a first-class in the Natural Sciences Tripos. He went on to St. Mary's Hospital with a university scholarship, and graduated M.B., B.Ch. in 1902, having won the Cheadle gold medal in clinical medicine, the Kerslake scholarship in pathology, and other prizes. With a research studentship granted him by Emmanuel College he spent a year working under Ronald Ross at Liverpool and then went on to Germany, Paris, and Baltimore. Having proceeded M.D. at Cambridge with a thesis on tetanus, he held a resident appointment at the Brompton Hospital before returning to the Straits Settlements, where he joined the Institute of Medical Research at Kuala Lumpur.

He went to China in 1907, when he changed his Malayan name of Gnoh Lean Tuck to Wu Lien-Teh. On his return to Malaya in 1938 he lived and practised in Ipoh.

Sir PHILIP MANSON-BAHR writes: The name of Wu Lien-Teh arouses many memories. In my student days it was almost a legend, and in my estimation this has gained in lustre ever since. His name stood for a good deal: it stood for what a poor Chinese boy, born in Malaya, could do with the educational facilities provided by the British at that time, which gained him a Queen's scholarship and enabled him to enter Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Everyone fell for this brilliant and versatile Chinaman, and his Western contacts made a durable impression on his mind. He was, and remained, a loyal son of Cambridge, and never throughout his long life ceased to reminisce about his undergraduate days.

After the grand tour he returned to Tpoh in Malaya, where he worked as a general practitioner until 1908, when he was called by the Chinese government to Tientsin as vice-director of the Imperial Medical College there. Thus Wu entered on his official career in China, in which he successfully served unperturbed through several revolutions and regimes, as he so picturesquely recalls in his autobiography.

At the age of 31 came the chance of his career. He was appointed head of the mission to fight the terrible epidemic of pneumonic plaguie then raging in Northern Manchuria. The name of Wu Lien-Teh flashed forth as a monument of devotion and courage. We can never cease to admire his staunchness. He had no doubts what he was up against. At that time diagnosis of pneumonic plague was a sentence of death, the mortality being 99.9%. There were no known remedies and only the vaguest notions of defence. It took a long time before the danger of droplet infection sank in. Doctors stood in front of their patients in full blast of their breath to examine their chests. They paid the price, and the death rate among the medical personnel amounted to 46%. The most unbelieving was Dr. Mesny, the French representative, who, refusing any kind of mask, very soon succumbed. There was little hospital accommodation for these poor refugees and little or no skilled assistance. With the ground iron-hard, graves could not be dug. Sometimes six weeks elapsed before the frozen corpses could be disposed of, even by burning. Eventually in one month some 1,416 were soaked with paraffin and cremated. Altogether the death roll amounted to 52,462 before the miraculous end on January 31, 191 1, when the gruesome bonfire was at its full blaze and celebrations for the Chinese new year had commenced. It may have been connected with the firing of crackers inside the houses, in place of in the customary street, that scotched the plague bacillus. Eventually the origin of the plague epidemic was traced to the marmot trappers who had inhaled Pasteurella pestis from the skins of the tarabagan (Arctomys bobac).

These and many other allied questions on the genesis of plague were brought forward by Wu at the International Conference on Plague at Mukden in April, 1911, and this led to further research on plague in susliks (small marmots) and other wild animals and to the recognition of sylvatic plague. After this episode he became world-famous, but this never affected his innate modesty.

Wu's activities were innumerable. Besides attending conferences in every continent, he became the world's leading expert on the opium trade. He reorganized and modernized Chinese medical education. He wrote much on plague, cholera, anthrax, and venereal disease, as well as on narcotics and medical education. His Treatise on Pneumonzic Plague (1926) is a classic work. Only last year he produced his " magnum opus," Plague Fighter, the Auto-biography of a Modern Chinese Physician, occupying 667 pages, and it is a most remarkable book, packed full of episodes of all kinds, but revealing the author as a great warm-hearted family man, intensely proud of his kith and kin and of his offspring. It reveals him also as a philosopher, tolerant of all the sins and failings of the European West. All through the book he conveys a warm affection for his British friends and admiration for their characters. Until the end, " Tuck," as he was familiarly known, would flash upon the scene here in London from time to time to make contact with his old friends and to show once more the miraculous resilience of a remarkable and lovable old man.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Wu Lien Teh

This dedication had been long in coming. I had planned to write it quite a while ago but somehow, had been putting it off for various reasons. Today's the day that I get to tackle this topic. Finally.

Ask any Old Free or a current student of the Penang Free School and he will not hesitate to tell you that he is very familiar with the name of Wu Lien Teh. We either belonged or did not belong to the Wu Lien Teh House. I wasn't in Wu Lien Teh House; I was with Hargreaves House. But Wu Lien Teh House was our competitor on the sports field, so we couldn't ignore this name even if we wanted to.

But who was Wu Lien Teh that was so honoured with a House name in Penang Free School? Hargreaves, Pinhorn, Cheeseman and Hamilton, I can understand. At one time or another, they were either illustrious teachers or headmasters of the school. I can also understand naming Tunku Putra House after our first Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman.

But Wu Lien Teh House? Nope, it was never explained to me in school and I had to find out the hard way: through my own investigations. If you cannot wait to read this dedication till the end, you can take a short detour to the ultimate wikipedia guide on Wu Lien Teh here.

On the world stage, Wu Lien Teh (born 1879) is a revered figure in China. In the winter of 1910, the Peking Foreign Office summoned him to go investigate an unknown epidemic which was killing 99.9 per cent of its victims. This turned out to be the beginning of the large pneumonic plague that swept through Manchuria and Mongolia, and which ultimately claimed 60,000 lives. Within a short period of four months, he identified the source of the disease and ordered the cremation of the victims. This was the turning point of the epidemic. The suppression of this plague changed the face of modern medicine in China.
A lesser known aspect of Wu Lien Teh was that he was from Penang. He came from a very big family and had his education at the Penang Free School. He won the Queen's Scholarship in 1896 and studied medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, registered as Ngoh Lean Tuck.

In 1903, he returned to Penang and went into private practice. He was very involved in social issues and founded the Anti-Opium Association in Penang. As a result, he found himself facing off against the powerful shady forces that controlled the very lucrative trade in opium. Inevitably, the dark forces found a way to fix him up. In 1907, a mere one ounce of tincture opium discovered in Wu's dispensary was declared illegal and it led to a trial that attracted worldwide publicity. But he was also noticed by the Chinese Government in Peking which offered him the post of Vice-Director of the Imperial Army Medical College in Tientsin one year later.

In 1937, with the Japanese occupying much of China and the Nationalists in retreat, Wu moved back to Malaya where he adjusted to a life of relative obscurity and worked as a General Practitioner in Ipoh. But he never did escape the Japanese in the end because as we know, Malaya was occupied by them in 1942. How Wu had survived the ordeal, I don't know. Nevertheless, in a letter Wu wrote on 4 Oct 1945 to some friends at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in the United States, he said: "We have all gone through terrible times during the past four years. Some have lost brothers and sisters, others fathers, others again have themselves suffered injuries and personal losses."

I've heard that in Ipoh, he gave free medical treatment to those who were too poor to pay. He spent much of his time over his collection of 2,000-plus volumes of books on Chinese, European and Indian art, philosophy, science, history and culture, which were later donated to the Nanyang University (later known as the University of Singapore) in 1957. He practised medicine right up to the age of 80 and then decided to move back to Penang for his retirement. He suffered from a stroke and died two days later on 21 Jan 1960, at the age of 81 years, merely a week after moving into his new home in Chor Sin Kheng Road.

So there we have it, a nutshell recollection of a most remarkable man who was lauded around the world for his medical achievements. But except for the House named after him at the Penang Free School, Plague Fighter Extraordinaire Dr Wu Lien Teh (or Dr Ngoh Lean Tuck) remains little recognised in the state where he was born. There's supposed to be a Taman Wu Lien Teh somewhere but I cannot recall where it is. A very pity indeed. Interestingly, Perak has also honoured him with a Jalan Wu Lien Teh in the suburb of Ipoh Garden South in Ipoh.

As a postscript note, the Singapore-China Friendship Association is organizing a talk on Wu Lien Teh at the Sales Gallery of Eastern & Oriental Berhad in Beach Road, Singapore on 14 Apr 2011. I hear that next year in China, there'll be a big international gathering in Harbin to commemorate him on 13-15 Jan 2012. Already, there exists a Wu Liande Memorial Hospital and an associated Wu Liande Museum in Harbin. But little nothing in the country of his birth. Shameful.

Right, LOL...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

So in less than two months' time - on 1 Jun 2011, actually - delegates to Fifa will have to choose whether they still side with incumbent president Sepp Blatter or choose Mohamed bin Hammam as the new Fifa president. That's not much of a choice really, because all the delegates will be doing is to choose between the devil they know and the devil they know. No, it's not a typing error. I really do mean it. Fifa elections mean nothing when you know that one of them is too dim to understand that the game needs to evolve with new technology and the other is too devious and also brimming with his own self importance.

Friday, 8 April 2011

More on Larry Parr (1946-2011)

I was given to understand that this may well be one of the last few photographs taken of Larry Parr at his apartment home at the Nomad SuCasa in Kuala Lumpur. I've cropped the picture to maintain privacy for the rest of his family.I was a little shocked when I first saw this picture. It's Larry alright, but so unlike him too. I could really feel that he was making an effort to maintain normalcy and enjoy himself at this family gathering.

It was Christmas 2010 and two days later, he admitted himself to the hospital for observation. According to friends, he had not been feeling well for quite some time. Unfortunately, the hospital's diagnosis wasn't encouraging and it forced him to prolong his stay. Family and friends had hoped that his constitution would be strong enough to fight the illness but it was not to be. He himself recognised the seriousness and he even wrote his final Will about two days before he died.

I have written more about Larry here and here. The second story is, of course, reproduced from my column in The Star today.

It's actually pretty sad that there are vicious people around the world who tried to make light of Larry's demise. I was pretty upset to see an unidentified person in the* Usenet who masqueraded as Larry's email address to post a message. I did not find that funny. Larry might have been a vocal and opinionated contributor to chess literature but he deserves better in the Usenet and other chess forums. It's deceitful and the undentified person who tried to spread lies should realise his own shame and folly. Anybody who has experienced a similar loss in their family should know better than to play this type of sad joke.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

(Almost) LOST

I did something rather silly yesterday. I went up the hill. To be exact, the Bukit Mertajam hill at Ceruk Tokun. But going up the hill itself is not anything silly. Far from it. It's perfectly logical to go up the hill. It's good to exercise and it's good to sweat it out a bit. In fact, I've been hiking up the hill for years. So what silliness did I do yesterday by going up the hill?

Well, it's not that straightforward. There are several ways up the BM hill. The most obvious is Path A which is to follow the tarred road all the way past the 2020 station and the Tea House till I reach the top where the transmission towers are. But it's the most boring walk of all.

Path B would take me beside the stream and up a well-worn track which I can exit at a flight of steps after about a 25-minute walk. Path C continues from this point for another 20 minutes when I emerge at the Tea House.

On the other side of the tarred road, Path D takes me beside the Ceruk Tokun dam and then a 90-dregree right turn up a lesser used hill track. I could then emerge after about 35 minutes onto the tarred road somewhere between the Tea House and the 2020 station. But I could also continue further up the forest track along Path E for another 30 or 35 minutes before ending my climb at the telecommunication transmission stations. Yes, these are my four tracks up the BM hill. My choice would depend on my fitness and time. Needless to say, Path E is the least popular choice as I would then have to spend something like 2½ hours going up and down. So you see, there are various ways of getting from Point X to Point X (repeat: Point X, not Point Y).

My silliness - my wife would most probably call it foolhardy silliness - happened because I veered off-track yesterday. Quite dangerous actually, because I was alone, I had not told anyone and I didn't see anybody else along the way. It was that secluded and I was completely isolated.

What happened was, as I was walking beside the dam I noticed that it was filled with water. Just less than two months ago, the dam had been quite dry but yesterday when I walked the same path, there is was, filling with water. Curiosity got the better of me and so instead of climbing up the hill along Path D, I continued walking around the dam until I reached a certain spot that looked like an old abandoned barricade of sorts.

I said to myself that since I was already there, maybe I could explore the track for a short distance ahead. So I walked on. Came across some obstacles and without a thought, continued clambering over them. Never mind, I thought, I should be able to find my way back. Same direction down, what's so difficult about that? But it was difficult. After having climbed up over rocks and tree roots at 70-degree inclinations, I found that I wasn't so fond of climbing down the same way.

What to do? The only alternative was to continue going up and hope that the track would join up with Path D eventually.

I was wrong. The track did not join up with Path D. It just went on and on and on, or up and up and up. Many times, the dirt track would disappear and I had to climb over rocks and fallen tree trunks or go into the thickets.The only consolation was that the way was well laid out with markers. Every few feet, I came across red ribbons tied to tree trunks or paper stapled onto branches. At least, there was no way of getting lost: just keep a lookout for the next marker. But  I must admit that there were two or three occasions when anxiety crept in whenever I missed a marker. Once, I couldn't see a ribbon anywhere and that forced me to backtrack a few yards down, in my opinion, an impossible slope. But inevitably, I would pick up the trail again.

So silly me, knowing that it was almost near impossible to descend the same way that I had ascended, had to follow the markers all the way up the rest of the hill until at last....I saw something like a transmission tower hidden behind some trees. It was a great relief to emerge eventually from the thicket. It was a journey of about one hour 20 minutes one way, and it took me about the same time to walk down the tarred road to the car.

An ordeal? Not really. At any time, did I feel that I would be lost? Actually, except for those few anxious moments, I felt quite safe when I thought back about it. The only advice I would give is, if anyone wants to go up this way - Path F - it should be important to do so with a companion or two. Never be as foolhardy as me and simply climb up this relatively quiet way on your own. I was lucky; I emerged unscathed from the adventure.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


I'm waiting for the release of Quakebook, the story of the Japanese Earthquake and its aftermath. This book is going to be out any time soon, probably within a day or two. It is a Twitter-sourced charity book about how the earthquake at 2:46pm on 11 Mar 2011 is affecting all of us. The 2:46 Quakebook project started with a tweet and is on the verge of becoming something significant. We can all play our part to buy this book and help all those hit by the event.

Led by OurManInAbiko, a call went out across the Twitter world for contributors to create a book to raise funds for the Red Cross Japan. The idea was to share the stories and experiences of people actually on the ground during the earthquake, whilst raising funds for the Red Cross.This concerted effort will be the end result of all that collaboration.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Junk newspaper

Aiyoyo, finally, it's wonderful to know what a junk newspaper looks like. Not that I'm narrow-minded but I thought mainstream newspapers do not stoop so low. This newspaper stooped so low that they are scraping the bottom of the gutter. Perhaps that's how gutter journalism got its name. Ah, but maybe I'm wrong to think that this is a mainstream newspaper. Or maybe, the Home Affairs Ministry needs to come out with a new definition of "mainstream newspaper" and a new category of permits.

Whatever the case, if YouTube can yank a questionable video clip from its server on account of the video violating its own terms of service, aren't there similar codes of conduct for the print media to decide what's smut and what's not?

Oh, you mean YouTube's definition of pornography is too narrow to apply locally. What's good for a responsible YouTube is not good enough for an irresponsible Utusan, huh? Well, here's to Utusan then. May your future be forever stained with your new status as a junk newspaper.

Greater Penang, the greater good

The first time I saw this news headline, I had some misgivings. The Penang government sleeping with the Enemy? It can't be true, can it? Shades of 1969 happening all over again? It can't be. Then I realised that the date of this news item was "April 01, 2011". Aha, this must be an April Fools joke. The Malaysia Insider must be pulling a fast one on their readers. Can I ever believe this piece of reporting?

Then I received a cryptic message from someone. "Remember idris jala?" Oh yes, I remember now. How could I have ever forgotten? Idris Jala is a minister in the prime minister's department. He is also the chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu). He was in Penang last February for some behind-the-door discussions with Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng after the latter had commented that the state had been left out of the nation's economic transformation plan (ETP). Not that I was privy to the discussions. I only knew he was here; I know nothing of what transpired! So this story was indeed the truth. No joke about it. But the timing! They couldn't have selected a more appropriate date to make this announcement.

So what I see now is a cooperation between the Federal government and the State government to cut across the political divide to develop a Greater Penang Transformation Programme and accelerate the northern state’s growth in an “inclusive, sustainable and holistic” manner. Now, that's more like it! They should have put their political differences aside long ago because this is a purely an economic and development issue. But children being children, they need to squabble first. Your marbles and my marbles, that sort of thing.

Pemandu mentioned that prime minister Najib Razak wanted Penang to “synergise” its RM17.9 billion investment under the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) with the ETP to become a top urban centre in the Bay of Bengal and the Golden Triangle. That's neat, a mention of the Bay of Bengal. That was a reason how Penang first came to the notice of the British East India Company in the 18th century. John Company wanted an eastern trading post in the Bay of Bengal to protect its vast trading interest and Penang presented itself as the most strategic choice. More than 200 years later, it still is.

The 10MP infrastructure projects for the state include the Penang Bridge, Penang International Airport, Penang Port expansion as well as the construction of a second Penang bridge, an electrified double-track and the Juru-Sungai Dua bypass. And one of the proposed initiatives is the rejuvenation of George Town and Butterworth through a Hong Kong Island-Kowloon-style waterfront development which will link the twin urban centres through “seamless” land and waterway connections.

In response, Guan Eng said the state was willing to set aside their completed Penang Blueprint and Industrial Masterplan for 2011-2015 in favour of this Greater Penang Masterplan. "It is a sign of a stable and mature federal-state relations and proves that despite political differences, the Pakatan Rakyat-led Penang was willing to work for the greater good of the people. Putting public interest first ahead of political interest has always been the governing creed of the Penang PR state government. We will not compete with the Federal government in improving the lives of the people as long as there is a public benefic. Rather, the PR state government will also redouble efforts to improve services to the people."

He agreed that in order to create a viable and competitive international city, Penang would require major infrastructural enhancement that included improvements to public transportation, roads, airports, port services, internet penetration and communications. There would be other challenges, he said, like in improving human capital development. “Human talent will drive the success of a city and in Penang it is our policy to train, retrain, retain and attract the required human resources,” he said. Focus was also needed to prevent brain drain and attract regional and foreign talent into the state. For this to happen, Penang must be able to provide a high quality of life. "Any development plan, including the Greater Penang Masterplan, must necessarily be people-centric in scope." And for the state to escape the middle-income trap, the government needed to double Penang’s current gross domestic product (GDP) of RM48 billion in 2010 to RM95 billion by 2020, thereby increasing its gross national income (GNI) per capita from US$10,000 (RM30,300) in 2010 to US$15,000 (RM45,400) by 2020.

But I just want to tell the State government to be careful. You may have to pay a political price for this cooperation. In fact, it has already started. Najib has already said he will recapture Penang come the next general election. Not that the voters are easily fooled, of course, but you can never tell the mood and the pulse in one year's time. I know the Great Penang Transformation Programme is for the good for Penang but Guan Eng will have to tread carefully and not allow this development to overshadow everything else. If it does, then what an ironic "transformation programme" it will have turned out to be!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Looking forward to 2011 durian season

Durian season is almost upon us and the good news, while we await the season to begin, is that the weather is turning drier. The flowers have a better chance of remaining on the trees and hopefully, we'll see a bountiful harvest.

According to my durian friend TS Chang who owns the Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Sungai Pinang, near Balik Pulau on the island, the first flowers started appearing last month (that is, March) and these fruits should be available in June. He says there are more blooms on the way.

There are so many varieties of durians on his estate that sometimes, he needs to come out with a little time table to help aficionados satisfy their annual cravings. Here's what he told me: D604 (1-28 Jun); Lipan (5 Jun-4 Jul); Kunpoh angbak (8 Jun-4 Jul); Little red, Green skin angbak and D600 (10 Jun-6 Jul); Kapri and D11 (12 Jun-10 Jul); Horlor (18 Jun-22 Jul); Red prawn (20 Jun-25 Jul); and finally, Green skin D15, D99 and D15 25 Jun-30 Jul). Just bear in mind that these dates are approximate but the chances are good that they will be available during these ranges of dates.

And he says that his farmstay is open for people who wants to book an overnight experience that combines a breath-taking view of the sunset on the other side of the island with a durian feast that can last the whole day if the guest is up to it.

Here's where you can learn more about Chang and his Bao Sheng Durian Farm. He can be contacted at +60124110600 or

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Great sax moments

I consider these songs as the three best examples of saxophone use in modern-day pop music. When listening to them today, they sure do bring back a lot of pleasant memories.

The first is from 1975. Al Stewart named his song as "Year Of The Cat" after the Vietnamese animal zodiac sign but we Chinese would recognise it as the Year Of The Rabbit instead. Every time I hear the saxophone played in this song, it sends shivers down my spine. Of course, the piano intro is equally superb. Actually, everything is perfect with this song.

The second video is from 1978. Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" has an incredible saxophone riff throughout the song. The song just makes me feel so lazy. Warm and lazy memories, a complete contrast to the gloomy atmosphere in Rafferty's music video. By the way, he passed away on 4 Jan 2011.

And the last example of great sax play comes from 1984 and it is none other than George Michael's "Careless Whisper". The bloke comes across as totally heterosexual but who would have thought then that he would end up different? Nonetheless, the song simply oozes with great sax (pardon the pun)!

So would you agree with me that these three songs are simply the best examples of sax play in pop music?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Larry Parr (1946-2011)

It is with utter sadness that I learn of the passing of yet another chess pal, Larry Parr, this morning at 6.52am.

Lawrence Arthur Collard Parr was a friend and familiar face to many chess players in Malaysia. I first got to know him in the mid-1970s when he used to turn up occasionally at chess events in Selangor. In the last 20 years or so, I would never fail to see him at chess tournaments whenever I went to Kuala Lumpur.

For a while, Larry was the editor of the U.S. chess magazine, Chess Life, and he contributed to this magazine right until the end of his days. For many years, he was working with Dato Tan Chin Nam and he co-authored Tan's autobiography, Never Say I Assume.

Larry was born in Seattle, USA on 21 May 1946 and he studied at Washington University. He had been warded at the Subang Jaya Medical Centre this past month. His family (wife Samboon, daughter Christiana and son Ian) were with him when he died. I understand that Larry's remains will be cremated and his ashes taken back to Seattle for burial.

Larry, I shall miss all your wonderful stories....

Update: For anyone who knows Larry and who would like to attend a Memorial Service for him tomorrow (3 Apr 2011), please make your way to the Montfort Boys Town in Shah Alam. Please be punctual as the service will begin at 5.30pm.

Penang's role in Napoleon's downfall

It doesn't take a history buff to have heard about the Battle of Waterloo. I'm not particularly interested in history but of course, I have heard about this great battle. I learnt about it at school but I'll be danged if I remember much except that it was fought between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington in 1815. (Methinks the battle was also fought between the likes of ordinary folks like Alain Fontaine and Geoffrey Abbott on the opposing sides of the line dividing the two armies but since they were only bit part, low-ranked foot soldiers in the campaign, nobody remembered them or bothered about the loss of these inconsequential collaterals.)

Anyway, Napoleon Bonaparte was that short, pudgy and vain French emperor who is popularly pictured with his right hand tucked inside a waistcoat which looked two sizes too small for him. I said he was vain, right? He'd rather be seen in that tight outfit of his rather than in more comfortable rags.

And the victorious Duke of Wellington is always painted as the handsome dude on horseback charging and leading his men into glorious battle. That's how history wants us to remember this battle.

But who exactly was Wellington and would you know that through him, there was a connection between Penang and Napoleon? All will be made known at the end of this story but anyone interested to learn more about the Duke can first check up the facts in Wikipedia. There's a rather detailed write-up about him. Not only was he a career soldier, rising in rank to become the commander-in-chief of the British Army, he was also later a prime minister of the British Isles. Before he was created a Duke, his first known common name was Arthur Wesley.

There's something about Wellington that's not mentioned in Wikipedia: a little anecdote that I came across while reading this newly acquired book, The Penang Adventure. When still known as Arthur Wesley, the 28-year-old Colonel with the 33rd Regiment of the British Army stayed briefly at Northam Road, Prince of Wales Island from April 1797 while awaiting orders to proceed to the Philippines to fight the Frogs.

As it was several months before the orders arrived from India, Arthur Wesley occupied himself by studying how to fortify the island against hostile pirate attacks from across the mainland. His eldest brother Richard Wesley (or Richard Wellesley as he now preferred to be known, being a typical aristocratic snob and having reverted his surname to what he considered as more ancient and proper) who was by then the Governor-General in India agreed that in order to "guard the Prince of Wales Island's back door", it would be necessary to negotiate with the Sultan in Kedah as soon as possible to grant a strip of the latter's coastal land on the mainland from Sungai Muda in the north to Sungai Krian in the south with enough hinterland to give the island the necessary protection.

Arthur Wesley returned to India soon afterwards and taking the cue from his brother, also changed his surname to Wellesley in 1798 before getting the itch and going off to war again. Thus, it was left to George Leith, the Lieutenant-General of the Prince of Wales Island, to conclude a new treaty with the Sultan and take formal possession of Britain's first territory on the peninsula in 1800. Leith named this narrow strip of land as Province Wellesley in honour of Richard Wellesley, the Governor-General in India, and not Arthur Wesley or Arthur Wellesley. Henceforth, both the Prince of Wales Island and Province Wellesley together became known as the Settlement of Penang.

So there we have it, the Penang connection with Napoleon Bonaparte, courtesy of Raymond Flower's book, The Penang Adventure, which by the way I find to be very light reading. Nothing heavy, read like a novel. The book's just fine with me.

Note: The title of this story is sort of an inspiration from Spike Milligan's war memoirs - both a hilarious and at the same time, sad collection of personal reflections - called "Adolf Hitler: My Role In His Downfall", which I had read in the late 1970s.

Friday, 1 April 2011

PFS Bicentennial kick-off

It's been exactly a week since I attended a simple dinner at the Old Frees' Association premises in Northam Road, George Town to kick off the awareness campaign among the Old Frees for the Penang Free School's bicentennial in 2016. The old school was founded on 21 Oct 1816 by the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings, which will make my Alma Mater exactly 200 years old in 2016.

Bicentenary celebrations do not come around often, so it is up to us who will be lucky enough to partake in these celebrations to prepare for them as early as possible. The year 2016 is only five years away but it is important that public awareness of the occasion must be there. The Penang Free School Bicentennial is a George Town heritage celebration as much as it will be a celebration by the people who have passed through the school's corridors.

So there I was at the OFA last Friday to join in the get-together. Naturally, the hall was full and while we were half eager to hear of the kick-off plans, we were also rather eager to sail into the food. Penangites, Penangites, don't we ever learn to keep to the time? But first, before we even started the evening, we observed a one-minute silence for JMB (Mike) Hughes who passed away last month. Hughes, who was 94 years old when he died in his native England, was a much respected former headmaster. He never owned any airs around him throughout his stint in the school. He was the headmaster until 1963.

There were only two main speakers that night of the get-together but sorry, I can't say that I paid any attention to what the OFA president, Dr Ong Hean Tee, was saying. Too immersed with my eating and chatting with old friends around the table. But I definitely listened to Abdul Rafique Karim's turn. He's presently the chairman of the school's Board of Governors, so he should have both his ears to the grounds where the bicentennial preparations are concerned.

So what's in store during this lead-up period? Only two main projects were mentioned presently but I'm sure there'll be more to come as 2016 creeps nearer.

The first was an announcement that the school plans to plant 200 trees (or are they saplings?) around the compound. Old Frees are much welcomed to adopt the trees. Their names will appear on a plague beside the tree/sapling. Hopefully, the trees will have grown to a decent size in five years' time. Hah, I hope so too because the last time I heard of a commemorative tree being planted by no less a celebrity than Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh himself somewhere in the mists of time, not enough care was given and it died. I wonder how taking care of 200 trees will be like. Good luck to the school gardener.

Rafique also announced that a Bicentennial scholarship fund will be set up to provide some financial assistance to needy students for their tertiary education. This will be something in line with the present Sesquicentenary scholarship fund that the OFA is managing for the same objective.