Monday, 31 December 2012

The first MSSPP chess competition in 1972

The year 1972 was a watershed year for chess in Penang. Not only was the Penang Chess Association founded in that year, the state's first Penang Schools' Sports Council's (Majlis Sukan Sekolah-sekolah Pulau Pinang, MSSPP) chess competition was initiated in July 1972. This resulted from a flurry of chess activities that had swirled around the state since the beginning of the year.

Of course, the momentum has continued unabated ever since. For instance, that year ended with the Malaysian Schools' Sport Council's (Majlis Sukan Sekolah-sekolah Malaysia, MSSM) chess competition at the grand Dewan Sri Pinang auditorium in December 1972. I have touched before on the first MSSM chess competition, which started off as only a team event, here and here.

Today, I would like to mention something about the first MSSPP chess competition instead. In 1972, I had already started to document some of the early chess events in the state. While reading through my old notes, I realised that there are a lot of memories which should be shared with other chess players for posterity.

The first MSSPP chess competition was organised over five days by the Han Chiang Primary School starting at 3p.m. on a Friday, 7 July 1972. See? I had even taken note of the time that the first round was supposed to begin! At that time, the Penang Chess Association president, Fang Ewe Churh, was also the headmaster of the primary school. It did not come as a surprise then that he would offer his school to run the first MSSPP tournament.

As there were 14 teams, it was decided that for the Preliminaries, they be divided into two groups of seven teams each. In each group, they would play a round-robin and the first two teams would then advance to the Final of the competition. As this was the very first time that a chess competition was being held in the state, there were no chess clocks. I would believe that nobody owned a chess clock in Penang except for perhaps the PCA president and even then, maybe he would have one or two only. So it was announced that everybody would have to observe fair play and not delay making their moves on purpose. I think there was some threat of action if the participants ignored the rule.

Unfortunately, I did not keep any record of all the teams that played in this first ever MSSPP competition but in the group which included the Penang Free School - and naturally enough, I was a member of the team - we had Georgetown Secondary School, Methodist Girls' School, Saint George's Girls' School, Saint Xavier's Institution, Technical Institute and Tunku Puan Habsah Girls' School as rivals. The teams in the other group included Bukit Mertajam High School, Chung Ling High School, Han Chiang High School and Padang Polo Secondary School. No idea about their other three teams. Our PFS team comprised Tan Seang Beng, Wong Peng Hung, Khaw Teik Kooi, Khoo Chuan Keat, Toh Kok Chuan and I.

According to my notes, we beat GSS 4-0, beat SXI 3½-½, drew with TI 2-2 and then mopped up MGS, SGGS and TPHGS with identical 4-0 scorelines to top the group. The Saints finished second behind us.

As can be deduced from the scores, our toughest match in the preliminary rounds was against the Technical Institute. I had observed then that our team underestimated our opponents. Halfway through my own game, I felt that something was going wrong with our common strategy. One of my youthful team mates, Peng Hung, was careless and had lost to the TI's Cheah Khye Peng. Luckily, I was able to restore the balance by beating Saw Boo Pheng. This match proved to be a titanic struggle. After about 3½ hours of play, the officials called for a 10-minute break (a quirky rule, this) during which time, my team mates huddled and decided that in the interests of fair play, they would agree to split the points in the two remaining games. So at seven o'clock, the PFS-TI match was declared as a 2-2 draw.

Below are some old pictures taken by one of the Han Chiang teachers at the start of the preliminary rounds. There are a few commentaries below some of them. The story of the Finals continues after the pictures.

Lim Swee Aun of the Saint Xavier's Institution in the short-sleeved shirt on the right.

 Tan Heng Boo (left) of the Bukit Mertajam High School.

The SXI player beside Lim Swee Aun (same shirt) was Ooi Gim Eng. At the top of the picture were Toh Kok Chuan (Penang Free School) laying against Khor Bean Hwa (Technical Institute).

The two teams at the back of the playing hall were Penang Free School (facing the camera) and Technical Institute (back to the camera). The three PFS players seen here were Toh Kok Chuan, Tan Seang Beng and myself. 

There was about a month's break before the Final of the first MSSPP chess competition was contested. It started on 8 August 1972 and last five days. This time, the PFS team came better prepared after the experience of the preliminary rounds. Moreover, we knew that the opposition was going to be much tougher among the top four teams that qualified from the two groups.

I had written in my notes: "In the first of the round-robin system of play, the Penang Free School team set the ball rolling by overcoming the team from High School Bukit Mertajam 4-0. The Chung Ling High School team scored a 3-1 win over Saint Xavier's Institution. In the second round, Chung Ling High School beat High School Bukit Mertajam by 3-1, while Penang Free School beat Saint Xavier's Institution by 3-1. In the last round of play, Penang Free School and Chung Ling High School drew 2-2, and Saint Xavier's Institution beat High School Bukit Mertajam 3-1."

And I concluded: "With the completion of the rounds, Penang Free School became the champions with a score of nine points, Chung Ling High School became the runners-up with eight points, third were Saint Xavier's Institution with five points and fourth were High School Bukit Mertajam with two points."

Friday, 28 December 2012

My Straits Echo Press days

For a very long time, people used to think that I worked at The Star newspaper. This misconception arose because of my chess articles that had been appearing regularly in the newspaper since 1980 (give or take several stops and starts during this 32-year run).

But no, I was never a staff of this newspaper. I was only a contracted writer, a freelancer for them, with the sole objective of writing about chess. All this stopped in March this year when I was politely informed by the Star2 editor, incidentally an old friend from Penang who also happened to be an ex-colleague from my days at the Ban Hin Lee Bank, that this was an editorial decision to change direction.

(By the way, I do not know who were responsible for making this "editorial decision" jointly or individually but it occurred just a few weeks before the infamous Erykah Badu incident in the newspaper that saw this editor and another fella suspended before being transferred later to other duties in the organisation. Of course, this is another story altogether.)

So let me reiterate: I was never a staff of The Star. I was never offered benefits which the newspaper's management had given to their staff. When the newspaper listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, I did not expect nor was I offered any pink form. When the newspaper celebrated its anniversaries, I did not expect nor was I ever invited to any of their functions in Penang. But I was invited once to a "meet the contributors" function in Petaling Jaya that I had to decline because I couldn't travel down from Penang on that day. And while the newspaper gave salary increments and bonuses to their staff, my once-in-a-blue moon adjustment came at the whims and fancies of the newspaper's management. Mine was strictly a contract to write a regular chess column for them. If I write, I get paid; if I don't write, I don't get paid. That was all: a very simple arrangement.

Having set the record straight, let me add that I did undergo a stint in journalism a long time ago, so I do know something about newspaper ethics. I'm proud to say that for six months of my life, from Dec 1977 till May 1978, I was working at The Straits Echo Press, a Penang-based newspaper owned by someone named KK Liew. We operated from a 2½-storey building in Penang Road (at the junction with Dato Koyah Road) and the editorial team took up the whole of the first floor. The ground floor was occupied by the advertising department at the front and the printing section at the back. Up the narrow staircase at the side of the building and we'd reach a landing with a long corridor. Down the corridor would be the newsroom.

Wilson de Souza was the chief editor of the newspaper but during my six-month tenure there, I don't believe that I ever had the opportunity to speak with him more than five times. Most of the time, my interactions were with the senior editors Cheah Cheong Lin and Sunny Lim. Of the two, Sunny Lim was practically the force behind the newsroom, breathing fire most times. On the other hand, Cheah Cheong Lin was a genial old man, more of a father figure to the reporters.

The chief reporter was the very loud G Ratnam and his two assistants were Allan Tan and Yang Yeoh. Like sentries, they would be the first persons anyone would come across after passing through the corridor so nobody, absolutely nobody, could sneak in or out without one of the three noticing.

Across from them was the reporter's desk, mostly empty throughout the morning but from the afternoons, would gradually be filled with people returning from their assignments and banging out their stories on the old battered manual typewriters. Newbies like me would cut our teeth at the magistrate and sessions courts. Months later, I was assigned to the police beat. I would remain there until I resigned to join the Ban Hin Lee Bank.

I always found the police beat interesting but it played havoc with my time because at any moment I would have to rush off when informers or even the police headquarters in Penang called us. Some were hushed up assignments when the police wanted to raid a place. I remember following them once up the hills in Paya Terubong to ambush some moonshiners but naturally, the latter were always a step ahead of the force.

All our stories would be submitted to the chief reporter or his assistants who were the first level of checking. Some of the stories went to the senior editors for a second level of checking if the chief reporter felt that our stories were skirting on some controversy or sensitive issues. Sometimes we'd be called in for a critique of our writing which could be rather uncomfortable but we understood that the senior editors were there to offer the check and balance necessary in a newspaper's newsroom.

Anyway, just next to the reporter's desk was the sub-editor's desk: a semi-circular table seated with five or six of them. They would either be subbing the reporters' work passed out from the chief reporter or senior editors or the news received from the teleprinters. Their other main job was to plan the layout of all the pages for the next day's edition.

There were two teleprinters in the office: one was connected to the Bernama news service while the other to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Beside was a telex machine for inward and outward communication. The stories, after being sub-edited would be passed to a group of typesetting typists whose jobs would be to input the text and format it into columns according to the sub-editors' page layout.

The layout department would then prepare the page. In the days before computerisation, page preparation was always done by the manual and messy cut-and-paste method. Scissors, rulers and glue everywhere. After the final vetting through by the sub-editors, the pages would be sent for preparation of the huge film negatives, bromide print and ultimately, plate preparation. When everything was in order, the plates were passed to the printing section at the back of the ground floor.

I should also mention that the newspaper had its team of photographers. Five or six of them. And a small darkroom as well with standing space for at most two persons. It was always fascinating to see them develop their own rolls of black-and-white film and making their own prints.

This was then the set-up of the newsroom at The Straits Echo in the 1970s. The reporters and photographers worked two shifts. The morning shift was regular working hours from nine to six while the afternoon shift would mean that we would work until midnight or sometimes one o'clock in the morning depending on the evening's activities. The sub-editors would turn up at about three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Same with the typists and the layout staff. By one o'clock in the morning, unless there was some important late-breaking news, everything for the next day's edition would have been completed.

I never studied journalism formally but I sure learnt a lot during the six-month stint in practical journalism at the newspaper. I made good friends there and I still keep in touch with many of them despite the lengthening years.

One very important code of ethics that we lived by was to ensure balanced reporting. By balanced, I mean we had to make sure that our stories had to be honest, fair and objective. For news pieces, we were not allowed to be opinionated or make assumptions or presumptions. If there were two sides to a story, we would be required to present both views. If there was anything that couldn't be confirmed, we left it out. As journalists, we prided ourselves for our professionalism in our career. Click here for more.

Having said all this, I was taken aback to read a ridiculous claim yesterday by a lawyer which was representing Utusan Malaysia in a court case in Kuala Lumpur. This lawyer had the temerity to claim that newspapers do not have the “luxury of time” to ascertain the truth of their news reports.

What utter nonsense, what utter rubbish. This claim flies against journalism's code of ethics. This claim is an affront to the integrity of all self-respecting journalists in the newspaper business. How can anyone ever suggest that the newspapers are even prepared to print stories without verifying their correctness of their sources or without allowing both sides of a story to be heard by their audience just because the newspapers do not have the time to do so?

Real bullshit and cowshit spewing from the mouth of this man. Does he really believe what he says? Initially I wanted to say that this was no better than gutter journalism but I forgot: UM is already a gutter newspaper. Using its pages to line birdcages is already giving the newspaper too much face.

POST SCRIPT: As a tribute to some of the people from The Straits Echo that I have had the honour to know through the years, apart from those already mentioned above, I would like to name them: Tan Poh Soon, Gerry Teng, Tan Gim Ean, Siew Mee, Ong Thean Seang, Alfred Teh, Vivian Loh, Koh Su Chun, Patrick Ho, Kee Thuan Chye, Ooi Kee Beng, Ung Mah Pheng, John Meow, Amiruddin, Ong Ah Tee, Goh Seng Chong, Chan Looi Tat, Henry, Anthony, Tony, Kung and many others whose names I have unfortunately forgotten.

When The Straits Echo closed down subsequently - but not before they changed their name to The National Echo and moved their headquarters to Kuala Lumpur - some of these people moved on to other newspaper publications like The Star or The New Straits Times. Others sought their livelihood overseas either in the same industry or another. But deep down inside us, we appreciated that The Straits Echo was THE organisation that gave many of us the first real break in our lives.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The champion cempedak

This arrived at the market yesterday. Had been waiting for months for this fruit to appear. "Have patience," the vendor kept telling me. "It should be available in January," he added.

Well, it had arrived a bit earlier than expected. My aunt alerted me to it yesterday morning and I made a beeline to the vendor. "See? It has come. The cempedak champion has come, all the way from Gurun," he said, perhaps a little too triumphantly. And there, stacked in a corner of his stall at the Kampung Baru market were about 10 of the fruits. All huge ones.  Those not in the know will buy the local versions which are smaller and yellower; those who know will go for the champion!

I bought one and after a moment's hesitation, bought another one for a friend. Mine weighed in at five kilos and cost me RM22. My friend's fruit was slightly heavier and it cost RM24. He opened it this afternoon and started posting it to his facebook. Aargh, how could he? And how can I wait until tomorrow then? I have to slice mine open tonight.

I know it is difficult to ascertain the cempedak's length from this picture but I assure you, it measured 15 inches from end to end.

Huge arils, glistening yellow and very sweet. Did not count the number of arils in this particular fruit but I ate only five of them. Need to watch my diet. Don't want my blood sugar to shoot up uncontrollably. My wife and aunt ate about the same number too. The rest went into the container, waiting for my son to arrive home tonight. But I doubt he can finish all of them. 

There you have it, the cempedak champion now stripped of all the arils. All that was left was the long, slender stalk.

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas feeling

I've just finished re-cleaning these two records. To me, they are so representative of Christmas. I try to take them out and play them on Christmas Eve itself, just like I'm doing so today. Although I am not a Christian, I share in the values of the Christmas spirit. Peace and goodwill to all mankind. And sharing this spirit with my fellow citizens of the world does not make me any less a Buddhist because at the heart of Buddhism is compassion towards all beings.

I have been listening to A Festival of Lessons and Carols from the King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, since the early Eighties. Come Christmas Day, I would tune into the BBC on my shortwave radio just as they would start broadcasting the recorded service from the King's College Chapel. It was almost like a ritual then. And then I got my hands onto a cassette from the British Council and made a tape copy of it. About seven or eight years ago, I finally managed to get my hands on this vinyl copy and I've been listening to this version ever since.

Side One: Processional Hymn - Once In Royal David's City, The Bidding Prayer, Invitatory, First Lesson - Genesis III, Carol - Adam Lay Ybounden, Second Lesson - Isaiah IX, Carol - I Saw Three Ships, Third Lesson - St Luke I, Carol - Gabriel's Message, Carol - God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
Side Two: Carol - Sussex Carol, Fourth Lesson - St Matthew I, Carol - In Dulci Jubilo, Fifth Lesson - St Luke II, Carol - Away In A Manger, Hymn - While Shepherds Watched, Sixth Lesson - St Matthew II, Hymn - O Come All Ye Faithful, Seventh Lesson - St John I, Hymn - Hark The Herald Angels Sing

And this was the second album that I normally listen to after the first record. This album was released in 1984 but remarkably until today, the message is still as fresh as ever. Who would have thought that 28 years have passed by since its release?

Side One: Do They Know It's Christmas (Trevor Horn remix)
Side Two: Do They Know It's Christmas (Standard mix), Feed The World

Anyone who is less than 30 years old today will probably not know of this album's significance but this was the album that pricked the world's conscience over the famine in Ethiopia. Months later on 13 July 1985, Bob Geldof and his musician friends organised a worldwide concert to raise funds for famine relief. The concert raised about STG150 million at the last count. Despite this humanitarian aid, famine is still ravaging East Africa. That is the magnitude of the problem. It's sad. There's no permanent solution. There are still people dying from hunger caused by environmental change and of course, conflict on the battlefields.

If you are too young to know what Band Aid stood for, here is a video from YouTube. Never mind the personalities, just watch the video and understand the message of helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves. There are other versions, including the original, that you may wish to watch later, but take a look at this first. Merry Christmas, I say to you.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

No one can purify another

By oneself is evil done;
By oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone;
By oneself is one made pure.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself,
no one can purify another.

-- Dhammapada 165 --

Friday, 21 December 2012

Low-key Tang Chik at home

So what have I been doing today on the winter solstice or, as we Chinese like to term it, Tung Chik or Tang Chik, the Chinese Christmas? 

First, it was to the market to buy a small plastic bowl of glutinous rice balls. That was what I thought it was but my aunt told me that these were not made from glutinous rice but potato powder.

She wanted a break from the old ways (and I'm surprised because it was usually a difficult task to persuade elderly people to do just that). In fact, the break extended to her not preparing any rice balls at all yesterday. I was a bit perplexed. It was already about 11 o'clock at night and she was still happily watching television instead of kneading rice flour into balls. But I left it at that. Didn't want to question her. Sometimes it can be d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s to ask too much. I certainly know when to keep my big mouth shut. Could be that she didn't want to tell me that she had already finished that job.

So how did the potato balls taste like? Well, it was different. Not smooth like the traditional glutinous ones but sort of slightly lumpy. But they were edible and grew on me after a while.

Later in the morning, it was a trip down to the Quah Kongsi in Carnarvon Lane for the Tung Chik prayers to the Kongsi's resident deities and the ancestral tablets. Didn't see too many people at first but soon later, the members turned up.

Had a lot of informal discussions with the committee members on how to take the Kongsi forward. This settled quite a lot of outstanding issues and I'm glad.

Being busy meant that I didn't get to take many photographs and indeed, this was the only one snapped of the ancestral altar.

Happy Tung Chik, everyone! The next occasion to look forward to is next year's Li Chun. Invariably, it's going to fall on 4 Feb, as always, with the exact time being 15 minutes after midnight (UTC 1615 hours on 4 Feb 2013).

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Be very scared, people!

In case you are still a dint worried about the world coming to an end tomorrow at 7.11p.m. local time, perhaps I should alert you to take a look at Lilian Too's 2012 Fengshui Almanac calendar. 

According to the Chinese almanac, tomorrow is not a good day for business ventures, marriages, moving houses, travel or renovation -- the whole gamut of normal human activities. More than that, her almanac calendar says that the most inauspicious time on Friday - in fact, the only inauspicious period tomorrow - falls between 7p.m. and 9p.m.

What a coincidence! With everything sure bad luck one on that day, you don't have to worry much already about the sky falling down on you, right? Fire and brimstone, bring them on! Ha ha...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

MPPP, good luck to you!

If these are the new saplings that are meant to replace the previous Weeping Figs (right) at the small plot of land along the main road outside the Fort Cornwallis, then I have to wish "good luck" to the people responsible from the Penang Island Municipal Council (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang) and their erm, hopefully well-meaning botanists/advisors/consultants. I do hope they are already starting to look for a miracle because...

...the saplings look far more dead than alive!!

And this below is the stump -- all that remains -- of the poor Casuarina tree that the MPPP claimed was old and decayed, could no longer be saved and a hazard to people who visit the Esplanade, blah, blah, blah...

All my earlier posts on this destruction of the environment appears here, here, here and here, all within the past 30 days.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

On the fringe of madness

There are various ways of defining madness but if the latest episode from the Klinik Kesihatan Seberang Jaya is anything to go by, this must be the latest addition to the ever-growing list of definition.

As one grows older, the chances get higher that sooner or later we will be inflicted with the most common of ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Some people are more unfortunate and succumb to even more serious health problems. I've been fortunate: most of my health problems are mainly the blood pressure and sugar and for many years already, I've been on daily medication.

About three years ago after my retirement, I decided to switch my consultations to the KKSJ. After all, why should I pay something like RM100 monthly to the private clinic (for a person who is out of work, this is a strain on my pockets whether I like it or not) when I can still get my supply of the same medicine - or its equivalent - for only RM5 per visit to the government clinic once every three months?

So for years, I've been going to the KKSJ. Over the course of time, the doctors there had added medication for cholesterol to my needs. But my cholesterol level is not high to warrant taking this medicine, I had protested then. You see, I'm a firm believer of taking a capsule of Omega-3 fish oil every morning and my cholesterol level is still within the accepted range.

"Nonsense," the doctor told me, "at your age, it is better to start some control now before it suddenly shoots up without notice." Then he added lovastatin to my list of medication. "Don't worry," he tried to assure me, "this is the minimal dosage, just 20mg every alternate day."

The bastard, I thought to myself, I'm going to have a big problem trying to remember which day I had taken the medicine and which day I had not. Maybe I should just cut the tablet into two halves of 10mg each and take one half every day. Which was what I've been doing consistently ever since.

Then on Monday after my latest visit to the government clinic, the pharmacy there issued me with this strip of eight 40mg Simvor tablets.

"You'll have to cut it into two," the lady behind the counter told me.

Strange, the word bastard sprang into my mind again without any prompting. Split the pill into two, I muttered to myself. Heck, more likely, I shall have to split it into four.

So here I am today with my pill cutter all ready at hand and trying my best to cut the first pill into four pieces.

But first, this is the pill in my palm, see? Notice how big it is? No matter, if I have to cut it, then cut it I shall. So I positioned it carefully in the pill cutter, making sure that the blade would come down neatly on the dividing line in the centre of the pill.

Darn, the blade must be misaligned a bit when I looked.down at my first attempt. One of the halves was bigger than the other. Never mind, what's done is done. Now to slice up both halves into quarters.

After another moment's work, I ended up with four pieces. But that wasn't the end of the story. Suddenly, I thought to myself that maybe this wasn't right.

Perhaps I should have eight pieces instead of four. That's taking leave of my senses, you see, basically because by this time I was rather enjoying the work of cutting up my medicine. Chop, chop, chop.

So finally, I ended up with eight uneven pieces from one big pill.

Unfortunately, what a mess I've made. Oh well, silly me, I can't be level-headed all the time, right?

But seriously, why can't the government clinics issue me with their normal supply of cholesterol medicine? There have been absolutely no problem in the past one year or so. Why the sudden change in the medication?

I'm lucky because I know how to read and reason (although not always without hilarious consequences) but this constant changes in government medical supplies is probably why some senior people get confused after they visit the government hospital and clinics.

My mother-in-law is one such hapless victim of government inefficiency. After every visit to the government clinic, she would come home with a big bundle of medicine and invariably, one or more of her medication would be packed differently. The dosage is still be the same, the pharmacy would assure her but the fact that one, she is illiterate and two, the blister strips or the medicine cartons are differently packed or presented means that she is absolutely confused every time.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Our Dongzhi or Tang Chik festival has nothing to do with the Mayans

Sunday was the committee meeting of my clansman association. Towards the end of the meeting, my vice-president reminded everyone of the Tung Chik or Tang Chik winter solstice prayers at our Kongsi House this Friday. I asked him, Tung Chik on 21 Dec? Yes, he confirmed. But shouldn't it be on 22 Dec, I asked him again. No, it is not, he answered.

Then I remembered. This year, 2012, is a leap year. With February having gotten an extra day, everything in the Chinese solar calendar that happened this year after that date, would have been pushed one day earlier. That's why the actual Cheng Beng date was moved to 4 April 2012 instead of the usual 5 April. And that is why too that the Tung Chik date will be 21 Dec 2012. It's like that every four years during a leap year.

So it is not because of the end of the Mayan calendar that we Chinese are celebrating Tung Chik one day earlier this time around.

Anyway, we also don't believe this shit about the world ending on 21 Dec 2012 just because some fella in South America supposedly couldn't or didn't want to count beyond this date. And the people who actually fell for this prediction and have stocked up on candles, torchlight or foodstuff, I say: go get a life. Ha ha....

By the way, in case you want to know what is Tung Chik, the day is supposed to mark the longest night in the year. Of course, the effect is most fully felt in the northern hemisphere but for us living in the tropics and especially near the equator, the effect is less clear. Still, we are able to distinguish that in December and January, the sun rises later in the morning. This phenomenon lasts until 13 Feb 2013 when sunrise starts getting earlier again. Or haven't you noticed??

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Opening a locked door

My aunt, that is, my father's sister, who stays with us, is getting long in her years. Just about a week ago, she accidentally locked herself out of her bedroom. Without realising that she had pressed the lock, she closed the door and could not let herself in after that. She called out to my wife and I. What were we to do? We aren't locksmiths and so, we do not have the tools of their trade.

Like a wise guy, I suggested banging my shoulder onto the door, hoping that the force could somehow dislodge the mechanism. Not so wise. After several failed attempts, I gave up. My shoulders were sore. So much for the cops and robbers shows we see on television. Nothing like that ever works in real life.

Telephone calls to friends and relatives proved fruitless as well. Nobody knew how to open a locked door. So I told my aunt, you may have to sleep on the sofa tonight. She gave me a kind of look. Sure-lah, I told her, "Why didn't you give me a duplicate key to keep? Why keep everything to yourself? It's not as if you have anything valuable worth stealing. Now you see what happened? Not only are you locked out, most probably I will have to get you a new door knob next week." Actually, I was being wickedly harsh. Maybe not nice to scare a dear old woman but sometimes, got to make sure the message sinks in too.

Anyway, one last resort before she actually had to sleep on the sofa in the living room. I unbent a wire clip and slipped it into the knob. Just a last resort. I wasn't very confident that it would ever work, knowing that a lock such as this would have unseen tumblers inside.

I pushed in the wire and jiggled it left, right, left, right, forward, backward, every which way I could think of and all the time, applying slight pressure on the door and turning the door knob too when suddenly, the door opened. I can still remember my relief, my joy. But I can't quite remember whether I felt any mechanism giving way inside the door knob. Fuck, I couldn't give any more damn when the knob turned and the door opened. Success, finally. But don't ask me to do it again. Most probably, it will not work again...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mr Statistics

December has not been a good month. The month is not even half over and I've already learnt of the passing of three persons who are known to me.

One of them was a particularly nice lady that lived in the road behind my house. A friend of my aunt. Until about a year ago when her doctor warned her about walking too much, she had always accompanied my aunt on her daily walks to the market about a kilometre away. When she gave up walking, she reverted back to cycling. Still, they would sooner or late end up at the market's hawker stalls with others for their daily gossips. She died last week on Wednesday after a long bout of sickness. Three weeks as an in-patient of the Lam Wah Ee Hospital where the doctors and nurses could not do anything more with the ravaging cancer except to make her as comfortable as possible.

I've already written here earlier about the second person. In case you want to know more about Fang Ewe Churh, here is the link to that story.

And the third person? Coincidentally, he also died on the same day as Fang. However, he was in Bangkok when he passed away. Khoo Lai Seng had joined a group of Chung Ling alumni to the Thai capital for some sort of worldwide gathering when he was found dead in his hotel room. I was told that the night before, he was enjoying himself immensely at the official dinner and had gone around to take photographs with many of the guests there.

Lai Seng was my colleague at the defunct Ban Hin Lee Bank. He joined at a time when I was just about relinquishing my duties as the bank's statistics officer. He took over this function until he left Southern Bank or CIMB Bank for the al-Rajhi Bank. Still, wherever he went, he looked after his employer's banking statistics reports. It was rather momentous that soon after he took over from me, Bank Negara had begun computerising the submission of BNM statistics. Lai Seng plunged into this project with great gusto and under his care, the pain of consolidating all the branch returns manually were consigned to the dump.

I last met him in Penang earlier this year at the gathering of former Ban Hin Lee Bank colleagues. Everyone had looked older and greyer but the familiar laughters were still ringing round the dining ballroom. Lai Seng, as he moved around the hall, still had that big smile for friends and the peculiar laugh that endeared him to his former colleagues during the banking days. He was forever cheerful and come to think of it, I haven't heard of anyone ever commenting that they had seen a serious side to Lai Seng except when he was concentrating over his beloved numbers. Even when he couldn't balance his statistics, he could laugh it away. Away from his Excel worksheets, he was the faithful manager of the BHLB netball team for many years.

Well, I can safely say that Lai Seng will be greatly missed by his friends when we former BHLB colleagues meet again next April for another reunion.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

First impressions of Penang open 2012

About a year ago, I mentioned to Lee Ewe Ghee, the current and fourth president of the Penang Chess Association that the PCA should be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012. The association had been founded in 1972 and is possibly the oldest surviving chess body in the country, being established even earlier than the Malaysian Chess Federation which was formed two years later. Obviously this significant opportunity had not been lost on Lee and his committee because the moment I stepped into the Grand Ballroom of the Red Rock Hotel in downtown George Town yesterday, this was the banner I saw:

Notice the "40th Anniversary" tucked away in the top left corner of the banner? Yes, that's the absolute fact that the members of the Penang Chess Association should be proud to mention to any other chess player friends from overseas or outstation. I can't speak for them, of course, but personally as one of the association's founding members, I'm immensely proud of the long journey which the PCA has covered so far. Long may the PCA still thrive.

The joy of experiencing the 40th anniversary is somewhat tinged by the revelation that the association's founding president, Fang Ewe Churh, had passed away only nine days earlier, on 2nd December. I wasn't around for the opening ceremony in the morning but I did hear that a one-minute's silence was called on the players and officials present to observe before the start of the first round. This is a fitting tribute to the man who galvanised the chess movement in the state.

The opening ceremony was officiated by one of Penang's most active State Assemblymen, Ng Wei Aik, who made the ceremonial first move on the top board game which was played on the stage, while the other games took place in the ballroom.

When I moved through the hotel and walked its narrow corridor before mounting the stairs to the first floor, I had not exactly prepared myself for the size of the tournament venue. I had to take a deep breath when I walked in. The ballroom was immense and suddenly I remembered that this was actually the old Gala Cinema. Years ago, this was one of newest cinemas that had sprung up on the island in the 1970s. Then it closed down and was used as a church premises for several years. The cinema hall had reverted back to the hotel when the new owners bought up the complex in 2007.

As I said, the size of the tournament hall was immense. Yet with the 200-plus participants here, the playing tables stretched from one end of the hall to the other and from one side to the other side. The players could not have asked for a better playing venue. It is a shame, though, that the PCA had to pay close to RM20,000 to use this impressive hall for five days. It is a greater shame that the hotel management had not deemed it fit to give the PCA a better discount especially since I heard that the association had also arranged to reserve 50 rooms for outstation players.

Definitely, I must comment on the hard work by these boys who were tasked with data entry from the players' scoresheets. They were so efficient that I was surprised to see all the games from the Open section already updated to within an hour or two after the end of the rounds. Great achievement, this. Do keep it up.

Now Music 1984

I dug out this double album yesterday to give it a listen, not having heard the music on it for quite a long while. It set off another wave of nostalgia for the sounds of the 80s. Here are the songs on the two records. How many do you recognise?

Side One: The Reflex (Duran Duran), I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Nik Kershaw), Thinking Of You (Sister Sledge), Locomotion (OMD), Dancing With Tears In My eyes (Ultravox), Pearl In The Shell (Howard Jones), Don't Tell Me (Blancmange), Against All Odds (Phil Collins)
Side Two: Two Tribes (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), White Lines (Grandmaster and Melle Mel), Nelson Mandela (Special AKA), Love Wars (Womack and Womack), You're The Best Thing (Style Council), One Love/People Get Ready (Bob Marley and the Wailers), Small Town Boy (Bronski Beat)
Side Three: I Want To Break Free (Queen), Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper), Love Resurrection (Alison Moyet), Young At Heart (Bluebells), Robert De Niro's Waiting (Bananarama), Doctor Mabuse (Propaganda), What's Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner), When You're Young And In Love (Flying Pickets)
Side Four: Wake Me Up Before You Go Go (Wham), You Take Me Up (Thompson Twins), It's Raining Men (Weather Girls), Dance Me Up (Gary Glitter), Susanna (The Art Company), One Better Day (Madness), Red Guitar (David Sylvian)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What's in a name, really!

During my last visit to the Bao Sheng Durian Farm last Friday with my brothers-in-law, I was asked to hold onto Jackie Chan's wife. And I obliged. But don't get me wrong. She wasn't there in person. All I was asked to do was to hold this durian which had been named after her.

So allow me introduce you to Lin Feng-jiao. Why it is so called, I don't know. But I do know that I won't be exactly happy if someone names a fruit after me, even with my consent. Will it be a credible honour? Or will it be a dubious honour? Anyway, now you have been properly introduced to the Lin Feng-jiao durian, you can start to get to know this fruit better. I know I did. And my brothers-in-law can vouch for me.

Let me add that the many varieties of durian on the local market have all sorts of exotic names. Maybe about 10 or 20 years ago, we would only hear of the D11 or D25 or D604 but today, you would get confused over the newer names. Okay, maybe some of the names are not really that new but they are there to trip you up nevertheless.

Going back even further, when I was young, life was even simpler. All that I was ever familiar with were the local durian kampung -- selling in heaps at the five-foot way of the townhouses opposite the Kuantan Road junction -- as opposed to the humongously huge Thai durian which we would all treat with utter disdain. "Thai durian? Nah! All sweetness with no particular fragrance. All volume with no particular taste. All noise with no particular melody." Yes, all noise with no particular melody, like some political parties in Putrajaya. As a child, I was already aware of the sub-standard Thai durian.

Over at the Bao Sheng Durian Farm, there are at least 10 different local varieties available at different times of the season with the D604 dropping earliest. Then there are the Centipede (Lipan), Kun Poh Ang Bak, Little Red, D600, Capri, D11, Hor Lor, Red Prawn (Ang Heh), Green Skin, D99, D15, Kunyit, Bak Eu and Ganja.

Despite having known TS Chang (Durian Seng) for more than 20 years, I have yet to taste all the varieties that he claims to have. But I can assure you that his D604, Centipede, Kun Poh Ang Bak, Hor Lor, Green Skin, Bak Eu and Red Prawn are among the best I've ever eaten. Give yourself a treat at his durian plantation on the other side of Penang Island, and then scoot on down to the quaint little Balik Pulau town for a bowl of steaming laksa.

At my last visit on Friday, after delighting me with the Lin Feng-jiao, he surprised me with another durian variety that was named Monkey Durian. "You haven't tasted it before? It's from my wife's family's estate. This fruit here is the last from that tree," said Chang.

See what I mean when I said that there are all sorts of exotic names for the varieties? The mind boggles...

Monday, 10 December 2012

Penang Chess League 2012

Results summarised in six words: We did not play particularly well enough.

 OFA A: Ronnie Lim, Jonathan Chuah, Evan Capel and Marcus Chan (guest player)

OFA B (left): Khor Shihong, Lim Cheng Teik, Colin Chong, Eoh Thean Keat (not in picture) and Chan Kim Chai; OFA C (right): Terry Ong, Quah Seng Sun, Eric Ooi (not in picture), S Kannan and Chuah Soon Pheng

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin

Me with the displaced but legitimate Chief Minister (Menteri Besar) of Perak, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, whose office was hijacked by questionable tactics of the Barisan Nasional regime in 2009. Let not the people of Perak forget the injustice that had been wrought on them!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Dandy Book 1966

LONDON, Dec 5 — Britain’s longest-running comic The Dandy produced its final print edition on its 75th anniversary on Tuesday and will relaunch as a purely online publication. 

In its 1950s heyday, The Dandy, featuring Desperate Dan, Bananaman and Korky the Cat, sold two million copies a week, but circulation has dwindled and is now around 8,000.

I must admit that when I read the above brief news item from AFP a few days ago, it brought a lump to my throat. The early 1960s was a time when the Dandy and Beano comics were my early exposure to life - albeit an unrealistic life - outside the cocoon of my home.

My father ensured that the two comics would be delivered to the house every week by the Indian newsagent stall that operated on Dato Kramat Road, opposite from the Kuantan Road junction.

Unfortunately, all my weekly Dandy and Beano comics have been lost because by 1966, I had completely outgrown them. The only evidence I have left from that era is this hardcover The Dandy Book 1966.

Friday, 7 December 2012

MPPP's response

Well, finally, I received a more appropriate reply from the Penang Island Municipal Council regarding the chopping down of the trees at that small patch of land outside the Fort Cornwallis in the city. At least, the MPPP now admitted that the trees had been removed, unlike that earlier email which tried to deny the fact completely.

Even though I still hold on to my conviction that the action, that is, the chopping down of the trees, was totally wrong, there is nothing more that can be done to salvage the situation. The trees are gone. Period.

Basically, what the MPPP said in their report were:

a) They trimmed the two Casuarina trees so that there would be a clear line of sight from the top of the lighthouse. I wouldn't want to argue with this as I do not know how high were the untrimmed trees in the first place.
b) The Council claimed that one of the Casuarina trees was dying and had to be felled before it became a danger to the people.
c) The Weeping Figs had been replanted elsewhere in the city. Really? I hadn't heard of this being done and anyway, I do not know when it was done or where the replanting took place. But I am not very confident that the trees will survive. I hope they do, but I'm not hopeful at all.
d) The new saplings on that plot of land are those of the Penaga Laut which the Council claimed is "more significant" without giving any further explanation. But I'm still puzzled. If the Weeping Figs were't that high in the first place, why bother even replacing them at all?

It's all very sad indeed.....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dave Brubeck's last time out

I have just learnt that Dave Brubeck, the great American jazz pianist who broke new grounds with his time signatures, died yesterday from heart failure. He would have celebrated his 92nd birthday today. There are already numerous tributes to him on the Internet but I particularly liked this one as the writer described how Brubeck just managed to avoid being sent to the front in World World Two.

Side One: Take Five, I'm In A Dancing Mood, In Your Own Sweet Way, Camptown Races, The Duke
Side Two: It's A Raggy Waltz, Bossa Nova USA, Trolley Song, Unsquare Dance, Blue Rondo A La Turk, Theme From Mr Broadway

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

No smudges on my camera lens either!

My earlier posts appear here and here.

Before anyone even suggests that I've been, uh, rather creative with my words and camera, I would like to show these pictures, the BEFORE and AFTER pictures of the topic under discussion, just for comparison's sake. The BEFORE pictures were taken in July 2010 and the AFTER pictures were snapped just yesterday as I purposely drove by the Fort Cornwallis:

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Question: Is my camera haunted??

Some two weeks ago, I happened to write a story about the chopping down of some nice trees that had been growing on a plot of land outside the Fort Cornwallis in the UNESCO cultural heritage core zone of George Town, Penang. My original story, with pictures, appears here.

Apparently, someone from the Penang government did read the story and referred the incident to the Penang Island Municipal Council (otherwise known as the Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, MPPP), requesting to know what had happened. As the writer of the story, I was of course informed.

Two weeks passed rather quickly without any further information from the other end. It so happened that this morning, I remembered my story and that someone was supposed to be looking into it. So I wrote in to ask for the results of their investigation. This was the attachment that I received through email:
To: "Farida-Hani M.Yacob"
From: Akbar Mustapha
Date: 11/20/2012 05:15PM
Cc: [six email addresses removed]
Subject: Re: Complaint from the public - Esplanade
Tidak ada sebarang kerja-kerja pemotongan pokok dijalankan di Esplanade, Padang Kota Lama sepertimana yang dilaporkan. Pekerja MPPP dar Bahagian Landskap hanya memangkas dan membawa turun daun-daun kering dari pokok Royal Palm di sepanjang Jalan berdekatan dengan padang Esplanade.
Kerja-kerja ini adalah kerja penyelenggaraan pokok dari masa ke semasa bagi menjamin keselamatan orang ramai.
Sekian, terima kasih.

There is no chopping of trees at Esplanade as reported. MPPP staffs had just cleared the dried branches and leaves from the Royal Palm trees along the road side at Esplanade. 
This is the normal maintainace of road side trees by the MPPP Landscape Department.

"There is no chopping of trees at Esplanade as reported." I (almost) rubbed my eyes when I read this. Despite the photographic evidence, this was the reply that was forwarded to me. Any right-thinking citizen would think that the MPPP, especially its Landscaping Department, are being run by a bunch of dolts who speak without thinking. So I wrote back to the Chief Minister's confidential secretary as follows:

Dear Ms Faridah-Hani,
Thank you for your email and the especially interesting reply from the MPPP. Am I to accept that at least 20 to 30 trees, including one huge tree that must be at least 25 metres tall, have all magically disappeared from beside the Fort Cornwallis? Were the trees just figments of my imagination then? Was I dreaming that the trees were there in the first place? Thank you.
I'm so very curious to see what will happen next....

Waterproof, or not!

It is quite certain that my old faithful footwear, the Hi-Tec Altitude IV, are not as waterproof as they used to be. This pair of walking shoes has lasted me since 2007.

They have been well-used: my companions on my hikes up the hills in the country, including Mount Kinabalu. They have also followed me on all of my overseas trips to Australia, China and New Zealand.

On two or three occasions, they even triggered off some false alarms at the airports' security check points because of the imbedded metal bars that are part of the soles' design but still I stood by the shoes. It reached a stage where, even before I reached the security counters, I would voluntarily remove the shoes -- sorry, MY shoes -- and placed them on the counter so that the security officers could check them till their hearts' content without them having to ask me first. But they must have seen this type of walking shoes a million and one times before, because once they realised the source of the false alarms, they let me through without any more trouble.

But for the third time in the last two weeks when I wore these shoes up the hills in Bukit Mertajam and Taiping, water had seeped into them during the rain. The rains weren't particularly heavy and despite me using an umbrella as well, I had come home with my socks soaking wet. Yes, my walking shoes are not what they used to be. They are still fine for fair weather use but no longer waterproof in the rain.

On the subject of waterproof, this is my latest companion for wet weather walking: the HyperGear waistpac.

I redeemed the waist pouch recently after curiosity got the better of me. It is waterproof up to a stage because once it is secured properly, rain water can be prevented from spilling into it. So far, it has managed to keep my wallet, camera and mobile telephone dry during those rainy day hikes up the hills.

But don't blame the manufacturer (or me) if you choose to ignore the warnings and your belongings get damaged after you decide to jump into the sea or the swimming pool with it. There are other more suitable products for those sort of activities.

Monday, 3 December 2012

NZ travelogue: The 2011 devastation in Christchurch

So there we were, my wife and I being led by my old chess friend, Alan, into the centre of earthquake-hit Christchurch, as near as we could possibly get to the city's Central Business District.

All along the way, we were a bit awestruck by the amount of destruction to the buildings. We could imagine how much people's lives had been changed by the earthquake. It's not only the destruction, which was so widespread.

We stopped by the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Clearly, this was a very impressive building but it was now in ruins. Two of the domes had collapsed but there was still one dome basking proudly in the early afternoon sun. Just next to the cathedral, the Music Centre of Christchurch had also been affected.

We parked at Cashel Street and walked towards the Bridge of Remembrance. We crossed the Avon River. In happier times, people used to enjoy punting along the river. While we were there, all such activities had ground to a halt, including the tram service. We walked up to the barricade and peered into the distance. We could see the Hotel Grand Chancellor, once the city's tallest building. It survived the first earthquake in 2010 but after the tremblor in February 2011, it was shut down for good and would be demolished. I hear that it has been brought down totally by May this year.

We walked along the river bank towards Worcester Boulevard. More destruction everywhere we turned, such as this building:

We stopped at the Boulevard and looked into the CBD. Beyond the barricade on the left was the destroyed Municipal Chambers.

In the distance was all that remained of the Anglican Cathedral of Christchurch. Its most well-known features, the tower and spire on the building's left, had been reduced to rubble. I hear that until today, the whole building is still being dismantled slowly amidst opposition from groups that included the UNESCO world heritage centre.

After this, I told Alan, "Well, enough is enough. We came here hoping to see the happy side of Christchurch but instead, this is the unfortunate side of the city." My wife and I really hope that the city can recover fast from the earthquakes.