Sunday, 31 July 2011

My impressions of George Town world heritage day 2011

It's already the end of the month. I know it's already a little too late for me to give my impressions of this year's George Town World Heritage Day celebration (on 7 July 2011) but this is my blog, right? If I want to be two months late with writing, that's my problem, Anyway, here are some of the pictures that I had taken.

Some of the participants of the vintage bicycle ride from Pitt Street to who-knows-where. As I was hoping to see something really unique, like a penny farthing, I was a little disappointed. Nevertheless, I was amused by their colourful costumes.

Don't get to see this often, but these figurines of Chinese mythological characters are made from flour and then coloured and molded by hand. There are some great details in the figurines.

It's not quite a dying trade. Can still find these intricately carved wooden panels in the city. But it takes a steady hand to create all the details in the panels, which are then given a coat of gold-coloured paint.

The traditional way of making joss sticks. The joss stick material is a mixture of sandal wood and gum wood, which is then compressed by hand onto a stick. This old gentleman has been in this business for almost 70 years, Dying trade, because most joss sticks are now imported from China.

This lady is hammering out the details of a wayang kulit character. Believe it or not, the material is actually of goat skin. Like all the other trades on display, it takes a lot of time and hard work to come out with the finished product.

These ladies are selling real nyonya laksa. A fabulous creation which, in my opinion, is on par with the assam laksa that's rated seventh by CNNGo. The only thing I disliked about their stall was the continuing use of styrofoam containers for the food.

And this is real authentic nasi lemak, Chinese nyonya style. Smell the fragrance of the rice. It was cooked with coconut milk. But same thing: I disliked their use of styrofoam containers. The organisers of the George Town world heritage day celebration should play their parts to encourage their participants to use alternatives that are environment-friendly.

The savoury bak chang and the nyonya chang. The size of the former was fascinatingly large but unfortunately not the taste. Have enjoyed better ones elsewhere.

A performance with traditional Malay instruments. I was lingering around Acheen Street, near the Armenian Street junction, when this wonderful soothing music filled the air. So I wandered closer to take a look. I really enjoyed the performance. But just two comments. First, I was disappointed that this traditional performance in Acheen Street did not attract a bigger audience. Maybe it was a little way off the beaten track as visitors were concentrated around Pitt Street. Second, I noticed that there was a sizeable proportion of local Chinese visitors among the audience. Yes, there were others like me who appreciated this music.

A musician tuning up before the Chinese orchestra gave a stirring performance to an appreciative crowd outside the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple in Chulia Street.

These performancers were relaxing on the Chinese opera stage in front of the Guan Yin Temple in Pitt Street before they went inside to continue putting on their make-up.

A unique juxtaposition of two cultures. Where else but in George Town can we see a lion dance performance a short distance away from the Kapitan Kling Mosque in Pitt Street?

And finally, inside the Han Jiang Ancetral Temple, there was this lesser seen dragon dance performance.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Groucho and me

I've just turned to reading this book, Groucho and Me, written by Julius Henry Marx. I'm now on page 62 and there are still about three quarters of the book left. Don't be fooled by the title, though, because Julius Marx is Groucho Marx's other half. Why his nickname became Groucho, however, was never explained. Maybe he was a grouch?

And this is certainly a "rags to riches" story, written in a manner that is wholly and unmistakenly Groucho's. He wrote like he talked. But if you expect this to be an accurate account of his own intimate life story, you'll find that it's not. Every anecdote he wrote about his journey through life (until page 62, anyway), ends with a punch line. I don't know whether to believe him or not, but the entertainment value certainly makes up for its (apparent lack of) believability.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Finally freed from inhumane detention

Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj
(Penang Free School, 1967-1973)

Rightfully or wrongfully questioned?

I was appalled that the police in this country have targetted a fellow blogger from Penang, Lilian Chan, for investigation over a twitter tweet that she made earlier this month.

I was also appalled that the police report which was made against her was so expeditiously investigated while there are obviously so many other small targets that the police could and should have gone after.

Foremost in my mind are the small-time criminals in Penang like the snatch thieves who preyed on the citizens, the Ah Long representatives who openly defy authorities by pasting their stickers on public properties, the road bullies who think their bigger and more powerful cars give them the right to speed and intimidate all others on the road and the recalcitrants who continue to doublepark their cars and cause hardship to other road users. Maybe, these are moving targets which the police find themselves hopeless in chasing after. Never mind, what about the 24-hour computer gaming outlets that contribute so much to the juvenile delinquency in this country? This is definitely not a moving target which the police should raid. Computer gaming outlets should not be allowed to operate round-the-clock.

Why can't the protectors of our community have more urgency to stamp out these society ills rather than going after a blogger? Lilian Chan may, by her self-acknowledgement, be an obnoxious mum, but I would like to believe that she is far from being a threat to this country.

Pah, I say to all this nonsense. She doesn't deserve this type of attention. And shame on the person who in his own self-righteousness and self-importance made this report in the first place!

NZ travelogue: Making plans

When my wife and I had a vacation in Western Australia two years ago, I had booked the self-drive holiday through a travel agency at the MATTA fair in Penang. The package covered accommodation and the car rental. Food was totally on our own, as well as the flight arrangement.

This time around when we decided on another vacation, I went back to the same travel agency, plonked myself in front of the boss and asked him about their prepared itineraries for New Zealand's South Island. I've known this guy for years, me as a staff of Ban Hin Lee Bank and he as a customer, so we could be very frank with each other.

The first question he asked me was, what for do I need him to make my arrangements. Gosh, I thought to myself, here I am wanting to give him my custom and here he was telling me otherwise. "You don't need me," he repeated. "Just arrange everything yourself through the Internet. New Zealand's such an easy place to do all that." And then he pushed two or three booklets into my hands. "These contain all the information you need to make your holiday totally trouble-free," he said as I walked out of his office. Funny guy, this chap.

So there I was, out in the hot sun, thumbing through the booklets and nowhere near deciding on a personal itinerary. All I had confirmed were our flight tickets: from Penang to the KLIA low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) and from there to Christchurch.

I had booked our tickets way back in December 2010 just as AirAsia X announced the commencement of flights to Christchurch. I wanted to go in April but my wife said her schedule would make it inconvenient to travel. Then we talked about May and she said that she wanted to avoid the days leading up to Wesak Day. All right then, we'll plumb for the second half of May. So I searched through the AirAsia website and got the dates that I wanted.

But the problem was, you see, in all my enthusiasm in booking the flight tickets, I clean forgot to factor in the season. Days after booking the tickets, it dawned on me that end of May also meant the end of autumn in New Zealand. The weather could turn very cold and I already know what 20 degrees Celsius meant to my wife, let alone temperatures like 10 degrees Celsius.

What to do? Tickets have already been bought. Nothing more that I could do except to tell her to bring her thickest clothing.It also put paid to any of my idea of hiring a campervan for our travels. She wouldn't want to step outside the vehicle in the cold. So we'll stick to a hired car instead. Just like in Perth.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Rummenigge on FIFA

"I don't accept any longer that we [should be] guided by people who are not serious and clean, because knowing something is wrong is an obligation to change. Sepp Blatter is saying [that he's cleaning up shop] but the fact that no one believes him tells you everything you need to know. I'm not optimistic because they believe the system is working perfectly as it is. It's a money machine, World Cup after World Cup. And for them, that's more important than serious and clean governance."

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Subramaniam speaks out

Finally, I read here that the Human Resource Minister, Dr S Subramaniam, has broken his silence on the detention of Sungai Siput Member of Parliament Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj and five others. It is, of course, unclear whether he was speaking on behalf of his political party or in his personal capacity.

Nevertheless, he is quoted as having urged the Inspector-General of Police and the Home Ministry to review their detention under the Emergency Ordinance (EO) and to charge them in court "as quickly as possible" if they had indeed committed chargeable offences. "The IGP and Home Ministry should review the continual arrest of Dr Jeyakumar and five others under the Emergency Ordinance.To date the police have not shown any convincing evidence that they were involved in an armed struggle to overthrow the government. There are also confusing signals that they were arrested because of their involvement in Bersih. They were, however, arrested much earlier than the Bersih event. Moreover many others involved in Bersih have not been arrested and those arrested have been released."

I am glad that Subra has spoken out, although his statement was couched in very careful language. Both he and Michael may be on opposite sides of the political divide but in some ways they are similar. Both are medical doctors and, more importantly, there is the old school tie that binds them. Michael was junior to Subra at the Penang Free School by one year.

Kimma's banner

I read an interest piece of crap on an online news website several days ago. First, however, I want to qualify myself as I do not mean that the website or its news item was crap. What was crap was the subject of its news coverage.

There was this incredible news item, see, on the freemalaysiatoday website which reported how Najib decided to cancel his family holiday because he wanted to spend more time with Malaysians. Okay, we know that this is crap anyway. He is under real pressure politically from "friends" and foes alike following the fiasco of the Bersih 2.0 clampdown and the revelation of his wife buying a cheap ring. There's some under-current political manouevring going on, I tell you. Anyway, he doesn't want to be seen sleeping on the job overseas; he would prefer now to be seen sleeping on the job while at home.

But this is not what I want to write about. Buried deep in this incredible news item was the mention that a banner unfurled at the airport by the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) bore the signatures of "1.2 million Malaysians" backing Najib's leadership. This is where incredibility becomes incredulity.

Sometimes, my friends accuse me of being pedantic, that I can become overly concerned with minute details of little consequence. Maybe this is one of those moments. You see, I was so intrigued with the "1.2 million" signatures. Never mind how they were collected, never mind too the size of a banner, but is it really possible a banner could hold that many number of signatures?

How big is a signature, anyway? My own signature easily occupies a space of about 12 square centimetres. Yours may occupy more space or less space. I know of a Commissioner of Oaths in Seberang Jaya whose signature takes up the whole width of an A4 size paper. Serious! I went there once to get something done and came away feeling awed.

Let me just assume that on this banner, the signatures are all of equal size, say, about three square centimetres so that you can pack the most number of signatures into the smallest of spaces. Three square centimetres to a signature. For 1.2 million signatures, Kimma will need a banner space of 3.6 million square centimetres or 360 square metres. I can't fathom how big or small is 360 square metres, but I know that if the height of a banner is one metre, the length must be 360 metres. If the banner's height is two metres, the length is 180 metres. Make the height three metres and the length shortens to 120 metres.And so on and so on.

I don't know about you but a banner which stretches 120 metres or 180 metres or 360 metres must have made an impressive sight indeed. And anyone who has been paid to hold the banner would most probably want to be seen holding it too, for his own personal or political benefit. So a one-metre high banner stretching for 360 metres would seem most logical. But it would have been very difficult to unfurl or even to tie up inside the airport. Immediately, I became suspicious of this claim. Who is Kimma trying to fool?

But hey, on the freemalaysiatoday website again a few days later, I spied another news item with this interesting picture. Say, the signatures are not that small after all. At the most conservative estimate, each signature is the size of two clenched fists, or about 200 square centimetre space.

Therefore, with 1.2 million signatures, etc, etc, etc, the banner now covers 24,000 square metres of space. I'm not even going to speculate on the length of this banner now but it suffices me to mention that 24,000 square metres is the equivalent of the land area of 162 terrace houses in my neighbourhood.

Just make your own pedantic conclusions, won't you?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Online purchases

The very first time that I ever used ebay was in the mid 1990s. I would think that it must have been 1997 or later because I remember bidding for an item after Ban Hin Lee Bank, or BHL Bank, had relocated from Beach Street to Northam Road at the end of 1996.

Back then, I was eyeing a compact disk of Jacques Loussier, the celebrated French pianist who made it his business to interpret the works of classical composers but mainly that of Johann Sebastian Bach in a modern jazz vein. That was my first brush with ebay and I could feel the joy of winning a bidding war over the Internet. I learnt early that the secret to winning a bid, if you are serious about the stuff you want to buy, is to be logged into ebay during the dying minutes of a bid item so that you are always aware of someone outbidding you at the last second. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave all that up after getting that Jacques Loussier compact disk because I couldn't spend the time to be on ebay during office hours when the bidding war would usually end.

Lately, I've been finding myself turning back to ebay occasionally and of course, turning to other commerce websites as well, to search for impossible-to-find items. Items that are impossible to find locally in Malaysia or if I can find them, they are too expensive to buy from the local dealers, even with local postage charges thrown in.

However, buying from ebay can also come with a few risks. The primary risk lies in trusting the seller to give you the exact goods you are buying. The second risk being whether the overseas and local postal services will handle the goods with enough care. The third risk is finding myself having to pay duty on my imported goods. And the fourth risk I can think of is whether our local Customs department will delay the release of the goods for delivery. I've heard from a friend in Kuala Lumpur that he has had stuff delayed for weeks and it took him visits to the Customs office to get them sorted out. The inefficiency there is defintely not good.

So far,  I've been lucky in the sense that the sellers have been trustworthy, my goods have arrived intact (except for twice when my compact disk casing cracked but at least, my compact disks were unharmed), I haven't paid duty on any of the goods yet although once I had to go down to the Customs office at the Butterworth post office to collect a parcel and open it up for them to inspect the contents, and none of my stuff has been unnecessarily delayed.

But I'm always very nervous when three weeks pass by without receiving the parcel. There's actually no way to trace the exact location of the goods. All I can be confident about is that the parcel is "on its way". Where exactly, I don't know. So you can imagine the relief when I hear the postman beeping their horn in front of the house. That's the signal that my consignment has arrived and I'm required to sign an acknowledgement for it.

To date, I've still waiting for the arrival of the last two parcels. They are books that I ordered from two bookstores in the United States. One is a second-hand book that is now totally out of print and the other is a print-on-demand book. I don't anticipate any problem with them getting through Customs or their deliveries but my only question is, when will I receive them....

Monday, 25 July 2011

Knee-deep in snow

There's no pleasing the New Zealanders. At the beginning of June, they said that the previous month was the warmest May that they have had for a very long time. At the beginning of this month, they said the same thing; that June was the warmest that they had experienced too.

Then they were speculating that their whole winter - from June to August - may be among the warmest on record too. Balmy weather. Travelling on the road wouldn't be a hazard because there's no snow. Yet, the ski operators were all worried stiff. No snow? Then what's going to become of their season? There won't be tourists visiting them if there is no snow. No tourists, no money.

Then the goddess of the antartic heard them. She sent a loooong breath of cold air towards them. The result: it has been snowing heavily in the South Island for more than a week already. The ski operators are happy; finally, they have real snow, not some stuff that's artificially created by their snow machines.

But what a havoc it created for the rest of the country. The whole of the South Island's snowed in and major parts of the North Island as well. The worst blizzard in 16 years, the newspapers said.

I just received an email from a friend in the South Island. He migrated there some 14 or 15 years ago. The snow in Christchurch, so he said, is about knee-deep. The schools are closed and he's been working from home. He grows lengkuas in his backyard. Or maybe I should say now, he used to grow lengkuas in his backyard. All died already, bitten by the frost and snow, his email message said. Oh....

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The age of dying

I woke up around 3 o'clock or 3.30 this morning, as I am wont to do nowadays, and the first thing I did was to whip out my mobile phone and check my Yahoo email inbox. I was expecting an important message to arrive from someone in the States. A bit disappointed not to see that message. So, I thought that I'd look in at the BBC website and was surprised to note that they were reporting the death of a present-day singer by the name of Amy Winehouse.

Now, I don't know anything about her character or her music except that she was a rather ugly but flamboyant person to pass off as a popular singer. I would probably not be commenting on anything at all about her death but I learnt that this Winehouse lady passed away from some drug-related problem at the age of 27.

Twenty-seven. This number actually struck a chord with me because I had just finished reading this book, Back to the Garden, in which the author had commented that several of the most popular rock stars of hippiedom, the era of the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, had also passed away at this same age.

James Marshall (Jimi) Hendrix was one of them. He died on 18 Sep 1970 at 27 years old, drowned in his own vomit. Then there was Janis Lyn Joplin who died on 4 Oct 1970 at the same age of a combination of drugs and alcohol. A third musician that passed away from substance abuse on 3 Sep 1970 at the age of 27 was Alan (Blind Owl) Christie Wilson, a co-founder of the American blues band, Canned Heat. Interestingly, all three had appeared at the Woodstock music festival in Bethel, New York in August 1969. Of course, I am not unaware that Jim Morrison of The Doors had also passed away on 3 July 1971 at this age from drug overdose.

Four rock music celebrities who had died at this age. And now, they are joined by this Amy Winehouse. Twenty-seven must indeed be a fearful age for musicians.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Adapter meltdown

One of the recent lessons I learnt is that it is very important for end users like us to know the quality of the appliances that we plug into our house's power points. For instance, this is - or, was - one of my adapter plugs. I used it on my uninterruptible power supply (UPS) which, unfortunately, had only the iec female outputs. Last Thursday, I was alarmed to smell the odour of melting plastic while doing some work on my desktop computer. Bending down, I discovered the cause of the problem and immediately, I switched off the power to the UPS and pulled the cable from the power source on the wall. I was lucky to detect the problem. It could have short-circuited and destroy my machine. Now, I wonder whether the manufacturer provides any guarantee for their products.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Penang Hill railway

Sometimes, we get what we did not ask for. In the case of the Penang Hill funicular rail system, all we wanted was for the system to be repaired so that it would not break down ever so often. We did not ask for the Middle Station to be bypassed so that the coaches could travel continuously from the Bottom Station to the Top Station and vice-versa. We did not even ask for new coaches. This was more than we bargained for and this was what we received through the "great generosity" of the Ministry of Tourism.

However, I've yet to experience this fast new funicular train service at Penang hill. Not that I fear for the breakdown of the service but it's because I don't have any reason to sit in the new train coaches yet. Eventually, I suppose that I will but it's just not yet.

But talking about the new Penang Hill train service, it has been beset with technical problems since the upgraded system, which cost RM73 million, started operations on 25 Apr 2011.

Eight days into its operation, the service broke down on 3 May 2011 after a stray dog hit a sensitive component of a coach. Strange that it should happen because I thought the designer, consultant, engineer, whatever, would have anticipated all the possibilities before embarking on the upgrade.

Then on 3 Jun 2011, the service stopped again after there was an electrical problem in one of the two coaches. The mind boggles. I'm not going to repeat what I think about the work of the designer, consultant, engineer, whatever.

Four days on, there was another disruption on 7 Jun 2011. This time, it was due to the failure of an electronic component in the power supply module in one of the coaches. Thankfully, I haven't heard of any more hiccups after that, so I hope these breakdowns are just teething problems.

Still, they are causing an embarassment to the state because all the work has turned out sub-standard despite all the money spent, and people think wrongly that this is a state government project. But no, it is not a state government project. It is a federal government project which was handed over to the state government after the project was completed. So in my opinion, if there is any sub-standard work, the Ministry of Tourism must shoulder the blame when this service breaks down.

Why do I say this is a federal government project? Because there's a huge signboard at the bottom station which proclaimed, blatantly and obscenely: "PROJEK KEMENTERIAN PELANCONGAN MALAYSIA KERAJAAN BARISAN NASIONAL KEPADA PENDUDUK-PENDUDUK PULAU PINANG."

They don't have to seek all that publicity, right? They could have just been modest about their great "financial assistance".

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The original yellow Digi mascot?

Can anyone tell me who this was and where did this image come from?

Tune Hotel at Sepang, KLIA-LCCT

My wife should have seen her own face when we entered the room at the Tune hotel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (KLIA-LCCT). We had arrived some time close to one o'clock in the morning. We were tired and, having failed to locate the hotel's shuttle bus service, we decided to walk the half a kilometre distance to it.

On the way, I primed my wife on her expectations of the room. It will be clean with a king-sized bed but it's not big. There'll only be space to place our bags upright; we can't spread them out on the floor. And there's no air-conditioning because we're not going to need it for the few hours that we'd be spending in the room. Anyway, the fan should be cool enough. And the toilet: there won't be any bath towel or soap but don't worry, I've had it all planned out already. If you need a cup, we will only need will be to buy some drinks from the convenience shop on the ground floor.

Okay, she told me cheerily. I was hopeful. But I also knew that the smile could be wiped off her face when she saw the reality of the room. I wasn't wrong. "Oh, so that's how big it is," she commented. Not even a table or cupboard in the room. However, she brightened up when she saw the decent-sized toilet and the foldable table at the foot of the bed. At least, there's some place to put some of her things!

All in, I think we spent only four hours there. We awoke at 5.30am (didn't actually sleep), checked out at 6am and took the shuttle bus to the LCCT to catch our AirAsia X flight to Christchurch. It's the start of a brand new adventure for us.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The plight of Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj

For slightly more than a week now, my status on facebook has featured this simple do-it-myself appeal to the Najib regime to set free the Sungei Siput member of parliament, Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj. I could have used one of the more elaborate pictures from the Internet but I would believe it doesn't really matter.

What really matters to me is that the Najib regime must release Kumar and his other five detained political party colleagues as soon as possible. The longer Kumar and company are detained, the more scorn is poured on the Najib regime. Nobody in the 21st century can truly believe that Kumar and his Socialist Party of Malaysia or Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) are expounding communism from a few T-shirts and banners confiscated from them or capable of waging war on the country. They are just convenient scapegoats.

Except for those with thick skulls in the Najib regime, everyone else knows that communism is outdated. China's communism ideology now embraces capitalism. The Chinese have the sign of the good old dollar firmly within their sights. If the Najib regime is serious about communism infiltrating into this country, then go and condemn China. The only more visible communist states left in the world are Cuba and North Korea. It doesn't take more than a dunce to see how their ideologies have affected their economies. So why on earth would Kumar and the PSM want to support communism? The Najib regime doesn't have a decent excuse to detain them further except perhaps to break Kumar politically. That's how evil, heartless and shallow the Najib regime is exposed to be.

Now, I don't know Kumar other than knowing that he is an Old Free like me. He was one year my junior in school but I must confess that I do not know him at all. But all the same, as part of the Old Boys network, I am very unhappy that Kumar remains jailed up and I want him to be freed as soon as possible.

After Form Six, Kumar went to Yale in 1974-75 but he decided to return to Malaysia to do Medicine at the University of Malaya. During his schooldays, he was already deeply aware of the social problems faced by many on the country but his years overseas reinforced his determination to help the disadvantaged back home. The was reflected in some of the courses he took at Yale: history, philosophy, sociology and political economy.

In the middle of Kumar's second year at Yale, he returned to Malaysia. He had felt that these Social Science courses had diverted him away from his medical studies. So he came back, completed his medical degree locally and readily volunteered to serve in rural Sarawak where he felt his services would be needed the most. How many of our present-day medical students can share Kumar's personal sacrifice?

One of my classmates commented to me that some people may think that Kumar wasted two years in the United State but more than that, those two years had actually developed his very different sense of awareness and purpose. Kumar sees the hardship and suffering of the many under-privileged and marginalised people who look to him for help, regardless of their race, creed or religion. On a daily basis, Kumar the humanist wrestles with this injustice.

I know that Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Association, which represents some 5,000 private doctors nationwide, has publicly called for the release of Kumar from detention. Prior to this, 176 medical practitioners in Perak have also issued similar calls for his unjustified freedom.

But I hope that we can all do more for Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj. And I appeal to the Old Frees' network in the country to look beyond Kumar's political views and lend their voices to support the release of a man who is, after all, an Old Free with a good heart in the right place.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Penang Free School revisited

It has been a good 39 years since I left the Penang Free School.and frankly, Alma Mater or no Alma Mater, there was very little reason for me to go back there. True, maybe I had paid some brief visits on three or four occasions but apart from those, the only other time I could remember going there was perhaps some 10 years ago. It was a Saturday - a mid-morning, I think - and my old classmate and I were wandering along the deserted corridors on the upper floor. A rude shock awaited us when we wanted to come down and found the metal gates firmly shut and padlocked. Luckily, one of their supervisors saw us and let us out. We were relieved. We weren't looking forward to spending the night at the school with whatever ghosts that were supposed to walk the corridors.

Anyway, I found myself briefly at the old school again last Friday to deliver about 30 new chess sets to them. At first I was debating whether to give them to the Penang Chess Association or the PFS Chess Club, but I was convinced that donating them to the school would be a much more meaningful gesture. The PCA is rich enough to acquire their stock of chess equipment whereas the school chess club would surely appreciate equipment that they can use for years to come.

So there I was, entering the school gate, going past the front porch then turning the corner to approach the canteen. The old basketball and volleyball courts are no longer there but at least, the old Gardening Club is still around. I wonder whether students are still tending to the plants or is there a full-time gardener?

Driving out, I had to go counter-clockwise round the school field. A pleasant enough drive, though still a bumpy one. After all these years, the road remains uneven. Nothing much has changed in this part of the grounds; it was like reliving the 1960s and 1970s!

The neat staff quarters are still there; so are the school library, the hostels and of course the bungalows in the far distance. But what's this I see?

The school pavillion, now painted in beige yellow and orange, instead of its original white. That came as quite a shock. The old headmaster's quarters is still standing but it is now no longer part of the school complex. Some other organisation had gotten possession of it, renovated it and made it commercial, which is a pity. A great loss to the school.

I saw a group of boys milling around the cricket pitch and I stopped to watch them throw a few balls. Nice to know that cricket is still being played at the school. Back then, the only times we held a cricket bat were during the afternoon PERA sessions. But the game never caught on in the country and the PFS remains one of the very few schools left that tolerate the game. The boys quickly came around me. "Sir, do you play cricket?" 'Are you an Old Boy here?" They told me that a school team had toured Australia earlier in the year and were beaten in all the games. No surprise there. And as quickly as they came to talk with me, they said goodbye. I'm now left alone again at the corner of the field but newly filled with memories that have now resurfaced.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Somewhere in Penang

While travelling along one of those small roads in Province Wellesley, I rubbed my eyes when I came across this depiction of the twin towers, made from empty plastic water bottles. For realism, there's even a helicopter and a jet plane hovering nearby. Cool.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bao Sheng's KL durian party

It was an opportunity that I couldn't decline. Last month while I was visiting Durian Seng's durian farm in Sungai Pinang - on the other side of Penang island - he asked me whether I had the time to follow him and his friends down to Kuala Lumpur.

We are delivering some 600 durian to a private function there, he told me. But I'll just be in the way, I replied. What do I know about your durian except to eat them when opened? I don't have a durian penknife to open the fruit and even if I have one, I wouldn't know how to use it. Don't worry, he assured me. All he wanted was to recruit some friends who could join in the drive. It would be a long day, he warned me, because we would be going down in the morning and possibly be driving back in the middle of the night.

Well, I was all game. As I said earlier, this was an opportunity not to be missed. Six hundred durians. Of the best quality. From Balik Pulau, Penang. All the Hor Lors, Red Prawns, Bak Eus and whatever else. I'd be surrounded by a treasure trove of the finest quality durian.

On the day we were supposed to go down to KL, Durian Seng called. Sorry, he said, his customer has now requested 900 durians and so, he has to use the morning to source for more fruits from his siblings' farms. You see, it's not only his farm alone that's producing those durians. He has several brothers, all durian orchard owners too, but he is the most visible among them.

Eventually, he came to Bukit Mertajam and picked me up at about 12.30pm. By the time we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, it was 5.30pm. Just about one and a half hours left to unload the fruits and wheel the containers into the clubhouse.

So this is what a carload of 250 durian fruits look like, the first thought that came into my mind when I opened the boot of the Avanza. That many, huh? And there were altogether four cars. Inside the clubhouse, it was left to Durian Seng and his wife to separate out the durians. They were the experts. They knew which were which.

This then, was the lull before the storm. All the durian had been stacked nicely at the back and also beneath the tables. Durian Seng was getting ready to open one or two fruits for display. For variety, there were also rambutans, mangosteens and langsats. When the guests started arrive from 7.30pm, Durian Seng and his friends got busy opening the fruits. Me? I stood in the background, my job being to help them clear away the empty durian skins. And I tell you, it was hard work and agony. We worked non-stop right until 10pm.

That was when we finally had time to catch some breath and had something to eat. But before long, people started pushing forward again, this time to take back those unopened durian. They knew that the best among the fruit had been reserved for last, and this was what they were waiting for.

It's funny how people can react to durian with the wildest abandon. When it comes to this fruit, sometimes they lose all their reservations and inner inhibitions and you see their starkest, unadulterated characters. Their behaviour is either at their best or their worst. So if you are a student of behavioural science, you can certainly draw conclusions from seeing how people react to the durian fruits.

Anyway, this was just my observation. At 11.30pm, we started packing up for the long drive back to Penang. We left the clubhouse way past midnight and I reached home at about 5.30am. Funny though, despite the long drives and the hard work, I didn't feel tired at all. I only managed to catch some sleep at nine in the morning. But it took me two days to get over the experience and return to my normal routine. And I still don't know anything about opening a durian with a penknife.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wesley Sneijder

There are speculations that it's almost a done deal, but I'll believe it when it's finally official!

Bersih 2.0: An inconvenient truth

Here's more on the Tong Shin Maternity Hospital fiasco which has been in the news since last Saturday when the police fired tear gas cannisters and sprayed chemical-laced water into the hospital compound.

The blatant, shameless lies of the politicians are being refuted by a group of doctors at the hospital. The doctors' statement below is reproduced from an entry that I saw in facebook.
We, the undersigned doctors, wish not to enter into the polemics of the Bersih 2.0 march on 9th July 2011 but would like to clarify the inconvenient truth.

We are outraged at the incidents, and the subsequent responses from the authorities, to the events where tear gas and chemical laced water were shot into the compounds of Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity Hospitals, two adjacent buildings along Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, with scant regard for the safety of patients, staff and the general public who were at the buildings that afternoon.

Hospitals are considered as safe sanctuaries for all, even during war times, but these consecrated places of refuge and protection were violated by the defence forces that afternoon. Police even entered the buildings in search of some of these peaceful marchers. What was most frightening and witnessed by many was the unprovoked violent assault within the hospital compounds and apprehension of several protesters who had merely run into the hospitals to seek shelter from the tear gas and the water cannons!

It is repulsive that the authorities entrusted with policing the nation and protecting the weak and needy, have shamelessly denied publicly, the occurrence of these incidents  IN SPITE of countless photo/video and eye witness accounts of what was evident to all independent observers.

A few of the undersigned were actually visiting or working in the hospitals concerned at the time of the events and will gladly provide sworn affidavits, if required, as to veracity of the incidents.

The Malaysian public expect holders of high public office to honour their positions accorded by the citizens, by discharging their duties with moral integrity, dignity and transparency.

Their failure to do so raises the public's doubts in their competence and credibility as much as it demeans those high offices.

Dr Ng Kwee Boon - Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
Datin Dr Low Paik See - Consultant Paediatrician
Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin - Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist
Dr Mazeni Alwi - Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist
Dr David Quek - Consultant Cardiologist
Dr Sheikh Johari Bux - Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
Dr Steve Wong - Consultant Plastic Surgeon
Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa - Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Dr Ng Swee Choon - Consultant Cardiologist
Dr Mary Cardosa – Consultant Anaesthesiologist
Dr Jeffrey Abu Hassan – Consultant Chest Physician

Penang's giant water lilies

Looks like the giant water lilies are growing at the Penang Botanic Garden. I dropped by the Gardens recently and took a walk around, curious to see whether the lily garden was already opened to the public. Yes, it was.

Now, this place had been closed off for several months - maybe even for more than a year - while the Ministry of Tourism had tried to improve it. At first, two montrous looking arches had been erected here but they had been demolished following fierce resistance to the idea by Penangites and local conservationists who claimed that the arches would completely destroy the beauty of the Garden. 

But it was not until Mother Nature decided to lend a hand to the protests that the arches were taken down. What the Ministry had not considered in their plan was whether the ground was stable enough to withstand the weight of the arches. Or maybe,  there had been some cutting of corners. Whatever, just as the arches had been completed, one of them started tilting.

At first there were denials that the arch was tilting but why deny it? All it would take to confirm it was to hang a plumber's line from the top and see whether the arch was perpendicular. In the end, the Ministry had to accept that the arches had to come down. A victory for the Penang people who hadn't wanted the part of the Penang Botanic Garden expansion plan in the first place.

So instead of the arches, the Ministry went back to the drawing board and based on an expert's recommendation, decided that an open air water lily pond with giant water lilies would be a more appropriate alternative.

During my previous visits to the Garden, I had noticed that the area was cordoned off as the lily garden was being built. As recent as the Penang Floral Show several weeks ago, the lily garden was still closed to visitors although from afar I could see that the giant water lilies were already planted and thriving. Earlier this month, I dropped by again and was pleased to see that at last, I could walk around the place.

Now, although we normally call this plant the giant water lily, is it actually the one known as the Victoria amazonica, named in the 19th century after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom? (It was a trend in the dominions of the British Empire to name as many objects as possible after their queen. Hope she was amused and not embarrassed by all the fervour outpour of allegiance.) I am really unsure because when I searched the Internet, the pictures of our giant water lily don't totally resemble the V. amazonica.

The original V. amazonica in its natural habitat in Amazon River basin of South America can grow to a gigantic size. The leaf can grow up to a diameter of three metres and despite it being very delicate, it can support a weight of a small child sitting on it.

But unfortunately, the giant water lily at the Penang Botanic Garden does not come close to this dimension. I don't know why because I'm not a botanist. Could it be because our weather here is not similar to the weather in the Amazon River basin? It's just my guess. I would believe that the maximum diameter of a leaf at the Garden was only about 60 centimetres. This was about the size that the leaves would grow to before they would start breaking down and decay.

Nevertheless, the plant was certainly impressive. This was the first time that I had ever seen a real giant water lily after having read about it years ago and seen pictures of it. I only hope that the plants will continue to thrive in our climate. Back in their natural habitat, it would take scarab beetles to polinate the flowers. What then would it require to polinate the flowers here? Would there be seeds to ensure the propagation of the giant water lilies here?