Monday, 31 October 2011

OFA coffee table book

It was with some caution last week on 28 Oct 2011 that I accepted an invitation from the Old Frees' Association to attend an editorial board meeting. They have been trying to get their commemorative book project off the ground for some time already but have not been too successful. I can see why. the original person that was supposed to be the editorial consultant, while an Old Free, is based in Kuala Lumpur. How on earth is he going to move constantly up and down from Kuala Lumpur and Penang to get work done is a little beyond me.

Anyway, I found that his guy has given up and left the Old Frees' Association in a lurch. Could be that the material he had collected so has not been returned to the OFA and so, the association is practically back to Square One.

I don't know whether I can disclose this but at this exploratory meeting - it was an exploratory meeting for me as I haven't really decided whether or not I should join their editorial team - the members were bandying about appointing a new experienced media guy who is based in Penang as the chief editor and the OFA will have two co-editors assisting him. I'm supposed to be one of them, if I decide to join in. Anyhow, this chap also has his pre-conditions if he was appointed.

I still haven't given my commitment to help yet. Perhaps in one or two days' time. Got to wait and see....

Sunday, 30 October 2011

State before federal?

Over the past few months, we have been hearing one rumour after another that the General Elections were imminent or that we would have a snap election and it could take place on such and such a date. Come the date and we are all left hanging in the air. We are now quite used to it, actually. We are immune to these rumours now.

Then of course, there was speculation that if the Najib regime were to call for the next General Elections, the Pakatan-held states - Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Kelantan - may not want to dissolve their respective state assemblies and prefer to sit out their full term of five years before calling one. Again, they all turned out to be just rumours.

But here's a thought. If it is left to the respective states to dissolve their state assemblies, is it possible for them to go for a snap state elections before Parliament is dissolved? Good food for thought. I think it should be possible because there were real chances in 2009 that the Perak state assembly could have been dissolved and new state elections held when the Pakatan-held state government was sabotaged by frogs leaping into the netherworld.

If it could have happened then, I'm sure there is no obstacle to say, Penang, dissolving its state assembly today and calling for a new mandate from the people. Mmm, it sure would be interesting to see how the Najib regime or the Election Commission would react.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Smear campaign

Lies are bound to be exposed in the end, but that has never been a deterrent to the dim-witted.
THE chess community in Malaysia is a tolerant lot but we are not amused at the way the royal game has been thrust unfavourably into the limelight in the past fortnight by some bloggers in the country.
I wouldn’t want to repeat all the nonsense that has been bandied about in their blogs but I want to state that the use of an image of a totally unrelated person to further the bloggers’ agenda is really irresponsible and unwarranted.
How or why they selected a picture of an innocent woman chess grandmaster is beside the point. It could have been any other picture they picked up from the Internet, but all the same, I wished that it had not happened to anybody, especially when it is without basis. Such lies are bound to be found out in the end.
As it stands, I know that the family of Anya Corke is distressed over the whole matter and rightfully, too, as they have no connection to and no roots in this country.
The only brief occasion she was ever in Malaysia was in September 2005 when the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) organised the Asian zone 3.3 chess championship and she took part as the representative from Hong Kong.
In a statement which was forwarded to the local press here last week, Corke registered shock and dismay over the way her name was dragged into the matter.
“I have never met or even heard of any of the people involved. I have never been physically assaulted in any way. I have never been victimised in any way by this boy or his family. The only way in which my ‘modesty was outraged’ has been by the publication of my picture in connection with these scurrilous and unfounded rumours,” she said.
Corke was the Hong Kong national chess champion four times – in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Her talent was very clear from a young age and she was included as a member of the Hong Kong national men’s team at the Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, in 2004. It was there that she earned the woman grandmaster title.
When the MCF held the zonal championship in 2005, she was the only woman participant among the other 43 players. She secured 3½ points from the nine games and finished the competition tied in 32nd to 37th positions.
Corke is presently an undergraduate at the prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts, the United States.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Somewhere over the rainbow

I was listening to the radio this morning. Not any of our local radio stations here in Malaysia, mind you, but through the Internet. Radio stations worldwide are starting to stream their broadcasts live through the Internet and entertainment has never been easier!

A few days ago, I had written about the fabulous TuneIn application. It enabled me to receive radio stations while on the move with the ipad2. Today, I visited their website to have a look around. I truly say that everyone must bookmark this site for the links they provide to the radio channels from the far corners of the world.

Anyway as i was saying, I was listening to this radio station, The Coast FM, through the Internet and suddenly, this wonderful piece of music came on the air. A mesmerising rendition of that old Judy Garland song, Over The Rainbow, played by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay) and accompanied only by a ukulele. It was the first time that I had ever heard this song played this way and intrigued, I searched the Internet for more information about this singer.

What I discovered was that Israel Kamakawiwoʻole was one of Hawaii's most famous singers. A huge man who was terribly obese throughout his life. But what a wonderful voice. When he died in 1997, the Hawaii flag flew at half mast and he was accorded a rare state funeral. The funeral and the scattering of his ashes were featured in this music video by Mountain Apple Company for his cover of "Over the Rainbow". Do give it a listen. And after you do, you can read an excellent piece about him here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Deepavali's in the air

Two days to Deepavali (or Diwali, as some people prefer to call it) and I happened to wander into Little India in George Town's heritage enclave at around lunch time. Saw the whole area already in festive mood. Shoppers were slowly coming out in full force, shops were open and make-shift tents were erected by the side of the road.

Went into the newly reopened Shusi banana leaf restaurant. It had been closed for four months after the previous owner, Jeya, decided to give up the business. "My wife and I are getting too old to look after this business," he had told me then. So they sold it off to someone down the road to carry on.

The restaurant reopened on 4 Oct and curious, since I was already in the area, I walked in to have my lunch. The food looked almost the same although the prices have increased. A banana leaf rice with three different helpings of vegetable and a chicken dish cost RM8. Taste-wise, of course, I prefer my old friend's cooking. It's never the same any more, despite the retention of the restaurant's name.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

NZ travelogue: The freshest salmon we could find

This is an attraction that will be definitely missed by any tourist who moves about in group tours. No tour bus will bother with stopping at this place. Even tourists who choose to move around in rental cars are liable to miss out on this place too. The irony is that the High Country Salmon Farm is not even off the beaten track. It's just beside the road, along the highway that connects Twizel to Wanaka.

For us, the farm was a pre-planned stop in our itinerary. I was already eyeing this place long before I set foot in New Zealand. So I told my wife that we shall be foregoing lunch at Twizel after we come down from the Aoraki Mount Cook national park. Yes, we did stop in Twizel but it was just for half a mo' to refresh ourselves before continuing with our journey south.

Just beyond the outskirts of Twizel, about three kilometres from the town, we crossed the Oahu River which drained the water from the Ruataniwha Lake. Water from this lake was fed mainly from the Lake Pukaki by a hydro canal and also from the Ohau Lake. This mix of source water meant that the colour was a lesser creamy turquoise blue than the Lake Pukaki itself.

Immediately after the bridge, the High Country Salmon Farm loomed ahead on the left. Reasonably spacious visitor parking lot but during our stop, there were no other cars beside ours. Could be because the place was not so well indicated. The only sign I saw along the highway was a small billboard that proclaimed "Fresh Salmon".

True that you can also see this sign but it's right on the property itself and not so evident when travelling on the highway. (By the way, we didn't get to feed the salmon. We were hungry and that was the first order of the day! And after we finished eating, we had forgotten about feeding the fish. Pity!)

This is where they farm the Chinook salmon, fed by the pure glacial waters of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Most of the fish are sent to the main cities in the country but visitors can also be assured of partaking in the freshest salmon sashimi of their lives. I looked around their stock of prepared sashimi cuts and chose a packet. Looking at the orange-coloured sashimi itself is enough to make the mouth water and the knees weak, what more to pick up a piece and savour it slowly.

Mmm, that first bite of the fresh sashimi in the mouth was the sweetest, firmest, crunchiest and most heavenly experience I have had of salmon meat.

Superb quality. Every bite was firm and crunchy, so unlike the salmon sashimi we get back here in Malaysia. After experiencing the salmon here, it's almost impossible for us to go back to the Japanese food from the local Malaysian restaurants. Talk about our pampered taste buds. But it's true, you know, you only need to try the sashimi at the High Country Salmon Farm to understand our feelings on this matter.

 Above: freshly dressed salmon awaiting pick-up by customers.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

OFA's 88th annual dinner

We came back from the island quite late last night. It has been many years since we last attended the annual dinner of the Old Frees' Association and I thought that I should reconnect with some of the Old Frees again. I had hoped to meet up with some of my old schoolmates who are still in Penang but was disappointed on this score. Only bumped into one of them. I suppose the rest were simply....disinterested.

But I did meet up with a few other fellas whom I had lost touch with for several years now, people like Soo Kar Wong (formerly the general manager of the Hotel Merlin) and Lee Hock Choon (former colleague at Ban Hin Lee Bank). And Cheah Hooi Seng and his wife still looked pretty hale and hearty.

This year's function is already the association's 88th anniversary dinner, coinciding of course with the Grand Old Lady's 195th anniversary itself. Five more years and the school shall be celebrating its bicentenary. That means 200 years of the school's existence, people!

An interesting point brought up by the OFA president during the function: the old Headmaster's House has been converted into a homestay by Puspanita.

It's sacrilegious!

Who was responsible for it: the federal government or the state government? Whoever approved the deal, it was made in very bad faith. How can anyone ever convert a building in the school premises for the use of outsiders? We can't have non-Old Frees running around in a corner of what is essentially the school's premises. The Old Frees' Association is right in wanting the building back so that it can be used to house the school's archives.

Among the shows during the night, the school's Drumline put in a rousing display. I should think that any performance by the school will always get an enthusiastic response from the Old Boys. If I'm not mistaken, these boys might have performed during the funeral procession of Dr Lim Chong Eu last year.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Hawaii Five-0 still irresistible

I'm still finding the reboot of Hawaii Five-0 irresistible and by the fifth episode of the second season which aired Monday night in the United States, the fractured team is back together again. Kono Kalakaua is back after it was revealed that she was working undercover for Internal Affairs. But no more! Best bits in the episode:

  • Steve McGarrett and Vincent Fryer in a big macho argument;
  • McGarrett landing Fryer a huge uppercut, saying; "Nobody messes with my team"; 
  • McGarrett shaking his hurting right hand in the background after landing that huge blow; and
  • The slow-motion Hawaii Five-0 walk as the show ended.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Scumbag lies, damn lies

I would like to think of myself as rather detached from the local political scene but for the past three days I had been seething. And agonising over a decision that I had to take.

Ever since I was alerted three days ago about the illegal use of an image as an alleged victim in an unsubstantiated accusation, I had been debating with myself whether I should write anything about it at all, whether in this blog or next week in the newspapers. Yesterday, the issue came to a head when everything was revealed publicly that the accusation was false.

Politics in this country is dirty, very dirty. If you have been living under a coconut shell, let me summarise what happened. Back in May, one of those pro-UMNO bloggers twittered that the 16-year-old son of a VVIP in Penang was sexually harrassing a fellow female schoolmate and the issue was being covered up. Then earlier this month, the issue blew up when this accusation started appearing in some pro-UMNO blogs. Somewhere along the line, an image of the alleged victim was pasted up on these blogs.

When I was urged to take a look at this image, I was hugely surprised. The alleged victim wasn't unfamiliar to me. I had seen the picture before, here, except that this picture had been cropped conveniently to hide the truth. This picture was copied from the website of one of the most respectable chess sites in the world. The bastards who had chosen this picture of a woman chess player as their alleged victim had simply pulled it off from the Internet, not caring at all whether or not they were hurting an unsuspecting person.

So now, these pro-UMNO bloggers have been outed and confirmed to be the lowdown unscrupulous life forms of the gutters. How much lower can they go? Have they no sense of dignity? Nothing seems sacred to them. They would go to despicable ends to spread lies for their own ends. Really, they are the scums of the earth. And I know that the scums that they are, they will not bother to retract their baseless accusations and hope that other people will go on and copy them.

As a chess writer in this country and one who has been involved with the national and international chess scene for decades, I have to speak up on behalf of the chess community. I cannot remain quiet as the reputation of an innocent chess player is being sullied here in Malaysia. An innocent foreigner who doesn't even know what's going on. If I were in her shoes or her father's shoes, I would think seriously about seeking retribution against these pro-UMNO scumbags. Bring them to book. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it so easily.

Let me give some facts to refute their vicious lies:
  • Woman chess grandmaster Anya Corke was born in the United States and raised up in Hong Kong. She is the daughter of a Scot father and a Chinese mother. She is not Malaysian.
  • Anya Corke is 21 years old today, not 16 years old, and she is studying at the prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts, United States since 2009. She is not a Form Four student in a local school in Penang.
  • Of course the DAP doesn't know it but Anya Corke's only known visit to Malaysia was in 2005 when she competed in an international chess tournament in Kuala Lumpur (and I'm not even going to say "when" exactly). She has not been to Malaysia since then, and certainly has never set foot in Penang at any time.
So there you have it. All the relevant facts of Hongkong's first and only woman chess grandmaster. Now, I would like to see those pro-UMNO buggers retract their accusations and apologise for creating mayhem among the chess community in Malaysia and possibly beyond. I can tell you, we chess players are not amused.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

NZ travelogue: Sawyers Stream

During our drive up to the Aoraki Mt Cook national park, we came across several such bridges built across dry river beds. The narrowness of the bridges meant that traffic from one direction will always have the right of way but traffic from the other direction is required to stop and wait for the road to clear before proceeding with the crossing.

Rather intrigued with this, I stopped our car at a place called Sawyers Stream to have a closer look at the river bed. Dry as a bone and full of gravel that gave the river bed and banks that unique whitish-grey look. Does it ever get wet here? Does a river actually flow during the wetter periods of the year? Or is it perpetually dry?

But what I do know is that Sawyers Stream joins up eventually with the braided river system that flows into Lake Pukaki, that uniquely turquoise-coloured lake in New Zealand's South Island. Even from Google Maps, the colour of this lake's water is unmistakeable, what more to look at it for ourselves. It was so unlike anything that we had ever seen before.

Monday, 17 October 2011

TuneIn radio app

It has been a very long while since I ever thought about buying one of those Internet wifi radios. The idea appealed to me a lot. As far as I can remember, I had been playing around with short-wave radios, dialing in to all sorts of radio transmissions from across the world, whatever I could like audible on the radio waves. I wasn't into it in any big way, though. More like dabbling with this stuff. And my radio-listening hobby began most probably from my primary school days.

The very first transistor radio in my possession - actually, bought by my father - was this Hitachi WH-817. My first window to the world. Practically slept with it. With the adjustable lever on the front, I could switch from medium wave to short wave. It's long been spoilt and thrown away but I saw the exact same model in a museum in Sitiawan last year, still with its original leather case. So you can imagine my excitement. Wow, wow, wow.

This was my favourite transistor: the Sony ICF-7600D which I bought in Singapore. The price then was a cheap SGD100 and at that time in the mid-80s, the Malaysian Ringgit was still at near parity with the Singapore Dollar. It's still in good working condition but where I'm living right now, I shall need a good external antenna to pull in any decent signal. All things considered, the Internet radio would be a logical progression for me in this modern age. Many radio stations have turned to streaming and I would been able to pick up their radio streams easily.

How long has it been since I was eyeing a wifi radio to buy? I think it must have been at least two years. There were a few models that I was drooling a lot after, in particular the Philips Streamium MCi298 and the Logitech Squeezebox Boom (and later, the Touch).

The Streamium was supposed to be launched in Malaysia but despite all the hoo-haa and hype on their webpage, the model was never released locally at all. After a while, all traces of information on their webpage were removed. I tried to get in touch with the Philips office but always, I would hit a blank. Moreover, there was nobody replying to their customer service emails. Well, nobody answered my emails anyway.

Disgusted with the lack of information and response from Philips Malaysia, my attention turned to the Boom. I happened to be in Singapore and friends directed me to Sim Lim Square. If ever there's a place where you can find computer peripherals, this must be it! But despite walking all the floors, I was disappointed. None of the outlets carried the Boom but there was one shop carrying the Touch which they claimed was a newer model than the Boom.

I was rather hesitant because what I was looking for was a portable Internet radio that I could carry around the house. The Streamium or the Boom would have been ideal. The Touch would require it to be hooked up to a hifi system or at the very least, a pair of small portable speakers. I wasn't particularly interested in keeping a radio that could not be moved anywhere easily, although the idea of connecting it to my hifi system was very appealing.

So I didn't buy the Touch as well. A second visit to Singapore followed months later. By then, my resolve was already weakening. Surely, this time I will buy a unit. But as fate would have it, I didn't. Again, I hesitated. I'm due to make a visit there again sometime next year. Surely, I will pick it up then? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Then yesterday, a Singaporean friend asked me to download the TuneIn radio app for my new ipad. It's really good, he said, lots of good channels. Stephen knows me well enough; he knows what I want and he knew I was still searching for a good Internet radio.

True enough, TuneIn is a very interesting app for the ipad. It pulls in streaming signals from all over world so I'm able to listen to transmissions from far-flung places like the States or Britain or Australia or wherever. I'm only limited by the speed of the Internet line.

And last night, I wondered how the sound would be like if I were to connect the ipad to my hifi system. Well, it sounded alright. The music resonated out through my speakers with clarity and good separation. No fuzziness or distortion at all. I suppose it would be the same if I were to hook up the Touch to the hifi system as well but now, I'll never know.

I'm glad that I did not buy the Touch earlier. To me, the ipad performs just all well. It serves my purpose and that's all I want.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Four heritage sites in George Town

I came home yesterday thoroughly spent, having endured more than five hours under the blazing sun with my old classmate, Siang Jin. We were walking up and down the so-called Street of Harmony in the core heritage zone of George Town. He was taking photographs of the heritage sites while I was telling him where to aim his camera.

You see, I am mighty glad that my collaborative work with him is now almost at any end. It was an assignment that began in December last year, which means that almost 10 months have been spent on it. Ten months, 10 long months.

I had spent all this time to talk with people, research for information from long-forgotten books and documents, and spent hours piecing together new documentations for 10 heritage sites in this small area. Most of the work was completed between December and February. And now, all that remained was the photography work. This would be a job that required my friend to come up from Kuala Lumpur. After all, it was his initiative that the assignment ever got off the ground at all. Now he was here to finish it up.

Just like to share a few of the pictures that I snapped with my little Panasonic camera.

This is, of course, the interior of the Church of St George the Martyr in Farquhar Street. This is a perspective that's not normally seen. We asked permission to go up the staircase to the floor above the main entrance.

I think most people would be too familiar with the richness of the Khoo Kongsi's main building in Cannon Square by now. Therefore, I thought that this picture of one of their stone bamboo windows would make a nice change.

Elaborate carvings on the pillars that adorned the Kapitan Keling Mosque in Pitt Street. During one of the last restoration projects for the mosque, the carvings were uncovered after the workers had peeled away the multi-layers of old paint.

Our last stop at the Kuan Yin Temple in Pitt Street. It coincided with Kuan Yin's birthday itself, so the temple was full of people and smoke. These are just some of the big joss-sticks in the front courtyard of the temple.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

NZ travelogue: Pinegrove Cottage

This is the Pinegrove Cottage which is located along the North West Arch in Twizel. It's a nice decent cottage with two self-contained apartments. Sliding glass doors open into a large living area with a dining room table, sofas and a television. The kitchen was large and well stocked with utensils. There were two bedrooms with queen-size beds. The bathroom was large with a huge shower.

The entire unit was very clean and comfortable. Of course, the moment we arrived and unloaded our stuff, the living room became totally well-worn. Later when we went out for dinner, our hostess, Joh Ingram, came in and left us our breakfast basket. Very healthy living!

As we had arrived quite late in the evening from Christchurch, we didn't get a chance to look around the grounds although we did get a breath-taking view of the night sky.

So it was only in the morning after partaking our breakfast and checking out of the cottage that we managed some time to walk through the spacious gardens. There's even a spot for people to do some barbequing if they are so inclined but at the tailend of autumn itself, that would be out of the question for hot climate folks like us!

We didn't get to meet much of our hosts, Alastair and Joh Ingram, except for the brief moments of checking in and checking out. In fact, when we were checking out, Alastair was already no where in sight, leaving Joh alone to cope with her guests.

I did hear that they were thinking of selling off the cottage and moving elsewhere. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A blast from the past: Ghulam-Sarwar

I opened my computer this morning and wasn't surprised to see an email with "Hi" as the subject line. I do receive such emails occasionally. But I was surprised when I saw that this message was from Prof Dato' Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof.

This man is not unfamiliar to me. In fact as long ago as in 2008 when I was writing about the early years of the Penang Chess Association, I was already mentioning his name in this blog. And we had exchanged some "strong" words in public some 39 years ago. Not exactly proud of what my friends and I did then, but that was at a time when we lived more carefree lives as students.

Basically, he had a big role to play in forming this new association in 1972. However, his tenure at the association was very brief. By 1974 when the association held its annual general meeting, he was already out of the  picture. And I wasn't in Penang to really know what had happened in those two to three years.

So this morning's email from Ghulam-Sarwar shed some light on his role. Below is an extract from his email. I know he won't mind me sharing it here. It basically explained his activities in Penang - not only in the local chess circle - circa 1972:
Interesting that you should mention your surprise at my involvement in the Penang Chess Club. Why? I don't know. Just one of those things, I was involved in so many things before I left for Hawaii to do my PhD in 1972. I had to resign from more than twenty committees. Once back,  the same thing happened and it still happens, even though on each occasion I know I am doing too much.  
Prof, so glad to hear from you.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

NZ travelogue: Day Two

The time we spent on the road during the second full day of our holidays in New Zealand turned out to be longer than expected. It wasn't that we travelled a farther distance than the previous day. I think it was about the same distance. But somehow, we spent a longer time driving around on Day Two. Perhaps it was due to us stopping a bit too often to take in the sights. At the Archway Motel in Wanaka where we stayed at journey's end, I joked with the proprietress, telling her that we had taken too much time stopping practically every 100 metres or so.

There is a little grain of truth in this, actually, because we were so taken in by the scenery. Okay, we might not have stopped every 100 metres of the way, but we stopped every time we saw something interesting or breath-taking.

For example, we left the Pinegrove Cottage only at 10 o'clock in the morning. We wanted to leave earlier but we were so taken in by the garden. Little stone statuettes, pine trees, huge pine cones and a fat, inquisitive tabby cat that refused to let us carry him. But as you can see, we did manage to do that eventually! Huge monster.

So we left Twizel at 10 o'clock. Set our GPS for Aoraki Mount Cook and drove all the way along the Lake Pukaki to the Mount Cook national park. Then it was another long drive back along the same road to Twizel before continuing along the highway to Wanaka. We only arrived at this town at about 6p.m. by which time it was almost dark.

The drive from Twizel to the national park was when my wife got her first reasonably close look at snow (this being one of the reasons why I wanted to go to NZ in the first place). The rolling hills had given way to the snow-capped alpine mountains. This, unfortunately, was about the nearest that we got to the snow experience.

When we stopped at the Glentanner Park along the way to the national park, we wanted to take a helicopter ride to the snowy mountain top and perhaps stop there for a few minutes. However, we were told that it was too windy that morning for the helicopters to fly. So that put paid to our intention. My wife would have to admire the snow from a distance.

Omarama? Where's Omarama? Oh, you mean that sheep town that we passed right through without my heart skipping a beat? Great, that was one of the few hiccoughs of our travel. We missed out completely on the town. Had meant to stop at this large merino sheep sculpture at the corner of Omarama Avenue and Chains Hill highway. The sculpture is representative of the town's main obsession with its livelihood, sheep rearing. What was I doing, forgetting about that??

That apart, the rest of the drive was interesting but not particularly uneventful. Uneventful meaning nothing happened. Interesting because we had to wind through the Lindis Pass. The drive took us up the mountain and down again, up another mountain and down again, etc. Drove at speeds not exceeding 65 kilometres per hour at many stretches. Here is one of the stops along the way.

Quite liked the interesting rock formations, especially this layered limestone outcrop. There were many others. Seemed to me that even in a small place like the South Island, different areas have their own distinct geological differences. But of course, it isn't totally unexpected because the country as a whole is located in a geologically active region. The landscape is ever changing.

And finally, just before we entered Wanaka itself, we crossed this magnificent one-lane bridge on Kane Road which crossed the beginnings of the massive Clutha River system. The bridge is obviously very old and must have been an engineering feat in the past. As no attempt had been made to widen or modernise it, still features only a single lane for traffic to get through.

Monday, 10 October 2011

New toy, old toy

I had been thinking of getting one of these play things for a very long time but had put it off for one reason or another. But mind you, it's not because of a certain Mr Steve Jobs (deceased), okay? None of that. It's just that several weeks ago, I happened to see the usefulness of the ipad2 for presentation purposes. Quite a nifty little machine, that! So I went to the Switch store at Queensbay Mall this afternoon to pick up this 16Gb+3G baby. What I'm left with now is for a friend to return from overseas so that I can copy the presentation slides from him....

Thursday, 6 October 2011

On death

I found a copy of Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford University on 12 Jun 2005. Here is the part that interested me most. I think he must have been a Buddhist at heart:

Steve Jobs at Apple's "Let's Rock" media event in San Francisco on 9 Sep 2008
"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

"About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

"I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

"This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

No more Jobs

Stories are everywhere on the Internet. Initially, I read it here and here, but then I saw it here, here and here. No doubt, I'll see it there, there and there too, eventually!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

NZ travelogue: Drinking in the Milky Way

The second shock we encountered in New Zealand was that although technically you could be well within the town limits, certain roads may not be lighted at all. For example in Twizel, we were confronted with roads without any street lights as we made our way back after dinner to our cottage along the North West Arch. Luckily, we had the GPS to guide us back without incident but even then, we had to inch our way slowly through the dark in order to find the entrance into the compound.

But the pitch darkness had its advantage too because there is no light pollution. I think it was about nine o'clock at night when I decided to brave the cold and step outside our cottage. I put on my jacket, slid open the glass door and stepped onto the lawn. Everything around me was dark except for the lights from the cottage.

Then instinctively, I turned my eyes upwards and the wonderful sight of the Milky Way in the southern sky hit me right there and then. As my eyes began to get more accustomed to the darkness, more stars appeared until a whole swathe of twinkling stars stretched from one end of the sky to the other.

As this was something to be shared, I called out to my wife to put on her thickest clothes - and jacket - and join me outside. It's something you won't regret seeing, I assured her, as I knew that she'd preferred to be warm inside the cottage than freeze outside. You'll never see this back home in Malaysia, I added. It was like waiting a lifetime but eventually, the door slid open and she joined me.

For a long while we stood outside, looking upwards. We peered here and there, trying to locate the Southern Cross. There was a formation that looked like that constellation but I couldn't be sure. But ultimately it didn't matter to us because more importantly, the sheer enjoyment of the brightest and clearest night sky was more meaningful to us than just one constellation. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Toppled down

Gosh, I just heard about this construction boom toppling down at about midnight and crushing two pre-war houses at the junction of Transfer Road and Sri Bahari Road. Worse, one man was reported to be killed while three others suffered serious injuries. And I can see the other end of the boom resting on the highrise building in the background. Surely, the force from the falling boom would have damaged that building too? From newspaper reports, the crane was being used to build a 20-storey hotel diagonally across from the destroyed houses.

AFTER the accident
BEFORE the accident

While the authorities are trying to find the cause for this accident, I've a hunch why it happened. I'm sure there is a combination of reasons but I would guess that ground stability is the main one. I hear that a big ditch or canal used to run parallel or beneath the road. The ditch or canal could have been filled up but the instability of the soil would remain. Who knows but this proposed 20-storey hotel could be coming up on this unstable land? If so, the construction boom would have been dangerously erected and it won't take much force, like violent gusts of wind, to bring it down. Just my speculation, of course.

Monday, 3 October 2011

This urinal has little room for error

The stock market has been lousy lately but it should be a good time to pick up some good stock as the prices are depressed. The only question is that we don't know how much lower the prices may plunge. Anyway, I was at the Bukit Mertajam branch of HwangDBS Investment Bank this morning to make payment for some stock that were picked up last week. (But don't ask me what they were, okay? Just know that their prices went down again this morning.)

Right, as I was about leave the building, I had to visit their washroom. Had drank too much water and slurped too much soup this morning so much so that my bladder was calling out for relief. I stepped into the washroom and saw two urinals side-by-side. Walked up to one of them and was surprised to see its unusual height. The other one was just the same.

As I was doing my business, I was thinking that gosh, the contractor that did this job must have run short of the concealed piping and decided to mount the urinals higher up on the wall. The urinals would be comfortable enough for any six-footer man to use but if a five-footer man were to walk into the washroom, he would most probably have to stand a little back and aim his shot upwards into the air and let gravity finish the job for him.

As for me, I could just about able to get my dick comfortably over the top of the urinal's base, still with some little clearance of course! So this is a good gauge to guess that I'm somewhere between five feet and six feet tall. The only positive consolation for this badly mounted urinal is that if a user of average height is prone to poor aim, there isn't much room for his golden shower to spill out of that blasted contraption!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Solving problems with money

Back online since yesterday at about 5pm, thanks of course to a new adsl modem. Who says all problems cannot be solved with money? Here is one that was solved with money. My money, All RM45 of it. That's the cost of the new adsl modem.

At first, I went to the one and only computer shop on the first floor of the AEON Seberang Perai City shopping mall. You cannot miss it because it's just two shoplots away from the entrance to the Jaya Jusco. However you SHOULD give it a miss, unless you don't have time to shop around anywhere else on the mainland.

For one thing, the prices there are generally steeper than other computer shops that I know on the mainland. I know that people would usually say that since they were already at the shopping mall, they might as well buy from the shops there. But do you shop at the spur of the moment? Very few people do that nowadays. They would have considered choices and prices and head to the shop that offered the best deals. If you are one of such folks, then this computer shop at the AEON Seberang Perai City should be struck off your list because of their pricier-than-normal price tags.

Another thing is that despite the size of the outlet, the stock level is very low. There was only one unit of the adsl modem on the shelf so if you really wanted to buy it, there wasn't much choice but to pick that one up. I asked one of the staff for network cables. She didn't understand me and had to refer to someone else who told her and she then told me that they weren't carrying cables.

And I've also to mention that inflexibility. Of course, I was desperate for a new adsl modem. So of course, I had to pick up the last one on the shelf. Cost was RM49, which I was willing to pay, but by credit card. But the cashier refused to accept my card, saying that they only accepted card payments if the amount was at least RM50. Come on, there was only a RM1 difference between the modem's price of RM49 and their policy of RM50. I believe they could have used their discretion and accepted my payment. No amount of persuasion could change them. They were adamant. I too can be stubborn. I refused to buy from them and told them straight off that instead of closing a sale, they had lost one customer. And all for RM1.

So where did that leave me? Why, PC Depot near the Pacific Megamall, of course! I didn't mind going there from the AEON Seberang Perai City because I knew that the guys at PC Depot could be rather helpful. I went into the shop, spoke to one one of the staff there, quickly got what I wanted - and there were so many in stock - made my payment of RM45 by credit card without questions, and breezed out of the shop within 10 minutes. A satisfied customer, having saved RM4 some more...

At home, the installation process went smoothly enough; I just followed the step-by-step instructions once I placed the installation disk into the desktop. Almost idiot-proof. No hiccups encountered. Finished everything at 5pm and started getting back online.

At 6.20pm, received a call from TMNet asking whether my connectivity problem had been resolved. I said yes. End of conversation. Didn't want to say much to them. But as I'm typing this, I'm just wondering how much their technicians had been doing at that end in the 24 hours since I reported the fault to them. Okay, so this was basically an equipment failure on my part instead of a line problem on their part but I really, really wondered what they were doing. Perhaps nothing more than to monitor the traffic on my telephone line, I suppose, and when they saw traffic back as normal, decided to give me a call to confirm it.

As an afterthought, my suspicion that they could have been monitoring my Internet activity might be correct because just a few seconds before I received the call from them, I noticed that my connectivity was momentarily lost and then it came back on again. Maybe they were just removing their equipment from my line...