Sunday, 29 January 2012

George Town's Chinese new Year celebrations 2012

I came down from the Bukit Mertajam hill at Cherok Tokun this afternoon with my mind still undecided whether or not to go out to the city for the Chinese New Year cultural and heritage celebration. At the last minute I said "why not?" and decided to go anyway. At six o'clock, the temperature would have cooled down by several degrees which would make walking along the streets more bearable than having to face the searingly hot afternoon sun.

But I was also anxious to avoid the traffic jam in the inner city. And I could see, as I turned into Beach Street from Weld Quay that it was going to be impossible to find any parking space near the centre of the activities. Accordingly, I made a detour to Penang Road and eventually parked the car at Khoo Sian Ewe Road.

This might seem like having to walk a long way but actually, it was not. If you take a slow walk - no worries because the celebration was still going to last a few more hours - and take in the sights around you, in no time you will have arrived at your destination.

So I arrived at the head of Acheen Street. The road had been closed to vehicular traffic and there was a mass of people already there. I turned right into Armenian Street, hoping to take a shorter route to Pitt Street and immediately, I walked smack straight into a Lion Dance that was just about ready to start. The first strikes at the drums pushed the waiting crowd even nearer the performers.

See how thick the crowd was. Everyone was milling around and movement was practically at a standstill. Even if I had wanted to continue with my walk down Armenian Street, it would not have been possible. What else was I to do but to stand around and enjoy the show as well. The failing light, however, made photography with my little Panasonic camera almost impossible. This reasonably sharp picture of the lion was only possible because the performers had paused dramatically in the middle of a choreographed movement.

All in, I think I spent about two hours at the celebration. My walk took me to the far end of Armenian Street where the Cheah Kongsi was, then a quick cross over to Ah Quee Street and Chulia Street before I finally walked back to my parked car. Of course, in the midst of all the celebration, there would be something like this which caught everyone's eyes. Not the street performers but rather, beggars taking full advantage of people coming down to the inner city.  Strange that the Municipal Council of Penang Island had not chosen to clear the area of them.

 Even at ten o'clock at night, traffic around the eateries and hawker centres was still horrendous. Maybe, this was a little tribute to people's main hobby of eating.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chinese New Year crawly tales

No, these are not our regular once-a-year Chinese New Year visitors. In fact, they come a-visiting many times in a year, so we are quite used to them already. It was just by coincidence that they chose to visit - or rather, their parent chose to visit - our plants this festive season.

Just the other day, I heard a shrill from my neighbour's maid. The shriek brought us running outside the house. She had discovered this huge, fat brown caterpillar making a feast for itself on our plant. A quick swipe of a spade brought the creature down from the stalk and into the dustbin.

We took a look at our plants. Alamak, almost all the leaves had been denuded by the pest. All around the base of the flower pots, the tell-tale signs of the caterpillar's droppings were strewn. As a precaution, we peered closely at the remaining leaves. Just in case we missed anything. Luckily we did so.

There, hidden among the young shoots was yet another monster. Easy to see as it was also brown. Must be siblings. Usually, the ones we caught were green and had blended right among the leaves. Not this one. So with another swipe of the spade, I deftly removed the second caterpillar. From the plant to the dustbin. End of story.

Wait, I haven't finished yet. There's another story. Also during this Chinese New Year week. There seemed to be no end to the invasion of crawling creepies or creepy crawlies. We found this three-inch-long slug - a shell-less snail which is rarely encountered - slowly oozing its way up on the porch wall on Chinese New Year day itself.  As usual, I had to be the defender of Threats to the family. So with my spade ready again, I gently prised the slug off from the wall and deposited it far away among some plants on the roadside. I know it will appreciate my kind action for what is there on my wall to feast upon? I know that it will be much happier frolicking among the decaying leaves in someone else's roadside plants.

Now, it's really the end of this story.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Honouring RS Hutchings

I just thought that I'd feature an old photograph unearthed recently from my visit to the Penang Free School's archives in December. A congregation of Old Frees and the prefects and teachers from the school on 21 Oct 1966 to toast the school's founder, Rev Robert Sparke Hutchings, at the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road.

Hard to recognise all the people in this picture but some of the prominent Old Frees were David Choong, AA Sandosham, Saw Choo Theng and Husein Abdoolcader. Among the teachers whom I believe were there included Lim Boon Hor and perhaps Cheng Hin. It took some time to identify the robed person on the left but he was the Rev. ACH Peatfield, the Archdeacon of North Malaya, who delivered the prologue at the gathering.

More pictures are available here.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Passport pain

I took my wife and son to the Immigration Department yesterday morning. The main reason was to apply for a passport for my son but we noticed that my wife's passport was almost near the expiration date too. So it was timely for her to renew her document as well.

We thought that it being the day after the Chinese New Year holidays, the Immigration Department would be near empty. Boy, were we wrong! The first sign of a bustling day ahead of us was when we couldn't find a place to park near the department. Eventually, I had to park quite a distance away.

On entering the building, this was the scene that greeted us: a fully packed hall with people lining up to get their numbers, people waiting for their documents to be processed, more people waiting to pay their passport fees and of course, people collecting their new passports. From the crowd, you'd think that there was an exodus to get out of the country!

Eventually, we managed to get everything done by 4p.m. by which time it was impossible for us to do anything more except return home. We'll still need to go back to the Immigration Department at nine o'clock today to collect the passports, though.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

NZ travelogue: The puzzling world in Wanaka

Actually, we had a lot of fun at the Puzzling World in Wanaka. The indoor exhibits were enough to occupy the whole morning without having to go into the outdoor maze. By the way, it costs you extra if you plan to get yourself lost in the maze. We didn't try it because we were running rather short of time.

One of the highlights of the Puzzling World was the Hall of Following Faces. There are models of some of the most famous faces in the world, such as Lincoln, Churchill and Mandela, and when we walked around the room, we could positively feel the faces of these figures turn and follow you around the room. And it isn't only a left-to-right movement; if you squat down or jump up, you can see the faces turn to look up or down at you, no matter where you are. It was creepy enough but the effect could have been worse if they had Hitler or the embalmed Lenin there as well. But of course, they didn't.

We entered the Ames Room next and were blown away by the use of false perspectives here. This was the same effect employed to good effect in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films when they had the tall Gandalf and short Hobbits together. When viewed from the windows, the room looked perfectly normal but once we stepped inside, we understood the science that went into making the room looked normal from the outside but distorted from the inside.

And the third main attraction for us was the Tilted House. Everything exhibited here were tilted at an angle and they completely fooled us at first as we couldn't imagine that we were moving about at an angle and not falling down. As you can see from the pictures below, the effect made us look like we were defying gravity.

So that's it, our visit to the Puzzling World. Lots of fun for kids AND adults alike. One last picture of Saw See attempting to hold up the main outdoor exhibit which is the Leaning Tower of Wanaka.

Old classmates 2012

Had a jolly good time with my old schoolmates from Penang Free School and Westlands Primary School at the BeerBQ Bistro watering hole at the newly opened Precinct 10 in Tanjung Tokong last night.

Standing, left to right: Michael Sak, Ang Seng Oo, Khoo Chuan Keat, Chan Soon Chye, Ong Kim Bock, Lim Chien Cheng, Yeoh Oon Hup; seated, left to right: Loh Choi Choon, myself, Saw Ewe Soon, Ooi Kah Theang, Andrew Choong, Lim Eng Siang, Lim Seng Huat.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Chempedak for reunion

For a change, we had chempedak for our reunion dessert two days ago. The chempedak champion, as the vendor assured me, will be as sweet as the sweetest sugar you've ever had. Serious, that was what he said to me: as sweet as the sweetest sugar.

So without any hesitation, knowing that my whole family loves this fruit, I bought this four-kilogram fruit from him.

Cost me RM16. I know that I consider this expensive but according to my daughter, it was cheap. Huh! Her value of money is different from mine. Mine is Penang kiam siap standard, hers is Kuala Lumpur standard.

Anyway, here are the only photographs taken of my slicing open the fruit. Just like opening a durian, right? Except that this was much easier.

It was messy, though, as the chempedak is one of those fruits that oozes out latex and it gets all gooey and the latex gets on your fingers and you can't handle anything else because your fingers will stick to them and you have a pretty difficult time removing the latex from everything! I'm sure you get the picture.

But the vendor was correct. This chempedak champion was one of the sweetest chempedaks I've tasted for a very long time. Only problem was, it didn't do any good to my blood sugar level. Oh darn, it's only once or twice a year.....

Monday, 23 January 2012

Reunion 2012

Although we do all sit down for dinner many times in a year, I'm still thankful that the whole family is around for the ooi lor reunion dinner. I tried carving the roast chicken but unfortunately didn't make a good job of it. We ended up by tearing at it with our fingers.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Penang's dying giant water lilies

I had been hearing some stories about the poor upkeep of the new water lily ponds at the Penang Botanic Garden; that the Victoria amazonica giant water lily plants were dying off. So naturally, I stopped at the Gardens recently to check on these stories.

Sad to say, the stories were true. Within a brief period of about six months, much of the water lily plants, not just the Victoria amazonica, had died off. When the new ponds were opened to the public about seven or eight months ago, there was quite a profusion of water lilies. The giant water lilies were touted as a new tourist attraction for the Gardens. Many people were excited.

During my recent stop, I found only a handful of these giant water lilies remaining. The ones that were still growing looked so much smaller than the ones I first admired in July last year. Some of the Gardens staff were trying to resuscitate the plants by clearing the debris and dumping in new fertiliser, but the root causes of the problem seem to be many-fold. I can think of three right away:

One, the decision to bring in the Victoria amazonica may have been made in haste without a proper understanding of our local weather conditions (did the experts check whether the giant water lilies can withstand the direct open sunlight?); two, the Gardens staff have not been trained properly in the maintenance of these water lily plants (why allow green moss to grow in the ponds and choke off the water lily plants?); and three, the irresponsible social attitude of visitors who threw rubbish into the ponds (it's a social dilemma but what can we do to educate the parents and their children?).

In the meantime, please enjoy what's left of the giant water lilies...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

NZ travelogue: Day Four

The day we left Wanaka for Dunedin marked the mid-point of our holidays in New Zealand's South Island. It was time for the long drive back to Christchurch. There were still lots more to see and do in the next four days though. And we weren't going back through the mountains. No sirree, we are moving down to the coast.

We left Wanaka at about 10 o'clock in the morning, later than I would have preferred. At the outskirts of the town we stopped by the Puzzling World for a good two hours. At first I had some doubts whether this place could hold my interest but I must admit that I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Unfortunately we did not get to the outdoor maze. Time was against us. Dunedin was still some 275 kilometres away and I really didn't relish driving long distance in the dark for another day.

Pretty soon we were heading down the state highway with Lake Dunstan on our left. Then, just as we were about to enter the little suburb of Lowburn, I screeched the car to a halt and turned back. I'd just noticed something by the side of the road and I wasn't going to miss its symbolism. It was this:

A marker by the side of the road to say that we were crossing the 45th Parallel at this very point. The 45th Parallel. The imaginary line that divides the southern hemisphere into two halves. The line passes right through New Zealand and at several points on the South Island, markers and monuments are erected to denote this fact. Gee, we were crossing the 45th Parallel but as usual, my wife wasn't impressed. So what, she had sniffed at me.

Eventually, we reached Cromwell. The town was right in the midst of Otago's orchard and vineyard region. We decided to lunch here at the Mall which was located in the Cromwell town centre. But it was pretty weird that although it was already one o'clock in the afternoon, we hardly met any people out walking or shopping. It was not like there were crowds of people. We wondered how the shops actually survived when there were no business.

It was pretty weird too when we came across this shop at the Mall which sold professional audio equipment.  Well, I guess the manufacturer does have a big presence in New Zealand or else it wouldn't have authorised resellers in small towns such as Cromwell.

This is our final look at the town as we drove off. We had seen the fruit sculpture from afar when we came into the town but didn't really appreciate its immense size until we drove past by it. There's a pear, an apple, an apricot and what I'm told is a nectarine peach. Outside the town centre after crossing the bridge, we stopped at the look-out point which gave us a breath-taking panorama of a sprawling Cromwell. The town wasn't that small after all; it was just that we didn't give ourselves half a chance to explore the place. Right below us was still the Lake Dunstan but at this point, the breadth of the lake had been reduced to that of a wide river. The Clutha River, actually, which had been dammed several kilometres downstream and caused the water to rise. Opposite from us was the old part of Cromwell town.

The journey south from this look-out point was a pleasant drive along a winding road that hugged the narrow arm of Lake Dunstan. At one point we had to halt for several minutes until rock blasting work was completed.  The next stop for us was outside the town of Clyde. From far, we could see the Clyde Dam stretching across the Clutha River/Lake Dunstan. So when I saw that there was something to see here, I turned into a side road which took me right till the edge of the lake. Marvellous site. Clear, pristine water.

Out stop was brief; just enough time for me to wander outside the car and enjoy the scenery around me. What I would give to come here again to enjoy the solitude. By now it was already three o'clock in the afternoon. Maybe just about two hours of reasonable daylight left. And there were still 200 kilometres to go on the road.

Clyde and Alexandra are practically neighbouring towns. Perhaps they can also be considered as a single township, such is their close proximity to one another. Without blinking, we passed through Clyde and ended up in Alexandra. We took a leek at their public toilet then walked briefly along one of the roads before continuing on our way. But after crossing the Half Mile Bridge, we decided to stop at the Frenchman's Point to look at the remains of the stone piers of the original Alexandra Bridge.

There was a final brief stop for us at Roxburgh after which we decided to press ahead to Dunedin without any further delay. By the time we passed by Milton it was already pitch dark. And eventually, we reached the Albatross Inn in Dunedin at about six o'clock.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

And, it happens!

It's happening in six minutes' time

Today, the Wikipedia community announced its decision to black out the English-language Wikipedia for 24 hours, worldwide, beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18 (you can read the statement from the Wikimedia Foundation here). The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate – that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

This will be the first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made. Here’s how it’s been described by the three Wikipedia administrators who formally facilitated the community’s discussion. From the public statement, signed by User:NuclearWarfare, User:Risker and User:Billinghurst:
It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.
Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.
On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States. The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead. We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Phobos-Grunt and I

I had known about the impending crash of the failed Russian space probe, Phobos-Grunt, since about two weeks ago after reading about it on the Internet. Sooner or later, the news reports said, the probe would come crashing down to the earth as gravity exerted a greater influence on it. After its launch sometime ago, it had failed two burns of its engine which would have taken the probe on its way to Mars. But never mind about all that.

I had given this story little thought but about three days ago, something started disturbing me deep inside. Suddenly, Phobos-Grunt came into my mind again. Why? I don't really know. Maybe, it was that survivor instinct in everyone of us. What started me worrying was the revelation that the Russians - nor anyone else - could predict the exact path of the probe's fiery re-entry into the atmosphere. Except for the northern American continent, no other country on the earth was safe. The Russians said that the path was unpredictable because of several variables in the atmosphere. Even the sun spots could affect the re-entry stage. The only broad certainty was that it would hit the surface sometime between two o'clock and six o'clock this morning. But where? Still, nobody could say.

So it was with some concern that I went to bed last night. There was no where to run even if I had wanted to; there was no where to hide. If you were supposed to get hit, you will get it no matter where you are. Thus, it was a big relief this morning to wake up and check that I am still in one piece, my wife was next to me, my son was sleeping in his room, the house was still standing, the birds were chirping outside the window, the neighbourhood was intact, the Internet was still functioning and the news that the probe broke up and is now about 1,200 kilometres somewhere to the west of the Chilean coast.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Li Chun, 2012

I was woken up in the middle of the night. Well, not exactly in the middle of the night but it was at about five o'clock this morning. My mobile phone had gone off; I had received a text message from one of my friends. "Hey," it read, "when are you gonna tell us about Li Chun this year?"

Omigosh, I have been so caught up in a project that I have failed to update this blog for several days now and my guilt has extended to my annual announcement about the Li Chun or the Coming of Spring. My apologies to everyone far and near who must have thought that I have disappeared from the earth's surface.

As always, I have to mention first that everything I know about Li Chun comes from this book by Joey Yap. His reference book on the Ten Thousand Year Calendar. And if you are still interested, here are what I wrote about Li Chun in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.

So what about the date for Li Chun 立春 in 2012? First of all, the date remains unchanged. It is always on the fourth of February. The date doesn't move about like most of the other Chinese festivities because Li Chun, like Cheng Beng and Tang Chik (Tung Chik), depends on the position of the sun in the sky. Not the moon.

Now having already established that, let me tell you that this Ten Thousand Year Calendar book says that Li Chun will fall exactly on 6.24pm on 4 February 2012. For those referring to the Chinese calendar, this is the 13th day of the first moon.

So there you have it. It will be in the late afternoon that the real New Year starts for us Chinese. Just remember to be at home at this time and date to stick that little piece of red paper onto the family rice bucket. That's our nice, quaint tradition...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Night view from Penang Hill

For a change, my wife and I decided to go up to the Bellevue Hotel at Penang Hill to usher in the new year. Thanks, of course, to my very old friend, Oon Hup, who had invited us to the hotel.

We arrived at the bottom station of the Penang Hill funicular train service at about 7.30pm. Not many people there at about that time and the coach was practically empty as we deliberately chose the compartment at the end of the carriage. Quite a different experience to see the bottom station disappear in the distance as the train pulled away rapidly. Anyway, the dark gave us a different perspective of the train ride and we could see the lights of Ayer Itam and Rifle Range opening up beneath us.

The top station was pretty misty when we arrived. Rather ethereal, right? Looked spooky, gloomy and deserted. Our first thoughts were, oh no, a wasted trip if we couldn't see anything. We passed by the entrance to the David Brown restaurant. They were offering a new year's eve buffet dinner at RM168++ per person. Very steep prices. I can only hope that those people who came here to celebrate the new year got their money's worth of food and entertainment. The David Brown restaurant was, however, not our destination. We walked on, passing by the stage and the old funicular train carriage on exhibit. Now there were people. They were milling about preparing themselves for the new year's eve countdown. I heard later that the Penang Hill Corporation had prepared some entertainment of sorts. Again, this wasn't our destination. So we just continued walking on. And finally, we reached the Bellevue Hotel, owned by Dato' Lim Chong Keat.

We moved to the garden at the back of the hotel which looked over the city. Breath-taking view. But at first, the mist persisted and so, we couldn't see much. Maybe, just some hazy lights in the distance. But after about 8.30pm, the mist rolled away to reveal the twinkling city lights. (The above picture was taken on manual mode with a time exposure of more than a second. Click on the picture to reveal better details.) We thought the weather would hold for the rest of the evening but right on cue at midnight, the mist rolled in again and totally obliterated our view of the city.

But then the unexpected happened. Fireworks going off at the top of the hill. This was part of the activities by the Penang Hill Authority. For some minutes, there were sporadic bursts of fireworks in the sky right above us. Well, at least this wasn't a totally wasted trip.

Leaving the hill was a bit of a nightmare. Because of the crowd that had lingered on at the hill, no thanks to the Penang Hill Corporation, we had to endure a 45-minute wait for the train to take us down. But once we had entered the carriage, it was just five minutes before we reached the bottom station. By the way, just because of the new year eve celebration, the trains ran past one o'clock just to accommodate the crowd. Normally, service would have ended by nine o'clock. My friend says businesses at the hill top are being held to ransom by the train schedule. Yeah, he's right....