Wednesday, 29 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 15 (teachers' attitude)

I cannot resist giving this entry a sub-title, teacher's attitude, and I shall explain why very soon.

It is D-31 days. Based on my conversations with the OFA president and my co-editor last Saturday, I raised the point that we must have some independent people to do the proofread for the book. Already by Monday, Molly had come back to say that she has a church friend who was qualified enough to help. But one may not be enough. Although both Molly, Hwang and myself can also do the proofread, more eyes will certainly be better.

The OFA president, Rajendren, stepped in yesterday to say that the Penang Free School headmaster had suggested two teachers who could assist us. He duly texted me their mobile numbers and accordingly, I texted them and tried to arrange for a meeting at the school at 3.30pm so as not to inconvenience them from travelling outside the school.

One of the teachers replied to say that he would be at another meeting but never mind, I could update his colleague and she could update him on the proceedings. With that in mind, we agreed to meet up at the school at 1.30pm instead. Rajendren, Hwang, Molly and her friend would also be present.

I felt rather hopeful when I arrived at the school. The others were late so I had a brief talk with the lady teacher, Mabel. Then she dropped me a bombshell. She said that she would not be able to help much as she had just received an order transferring her to another school in nine days' time.

But, I tried to persuade her, we only wanted her help until next Thursday at the most. Technically she would still be a PFS staff. We left the issue at that because soon afterwards, my other OFA friends had arrived.

So it was against this background that the meeting began. Rajendren asked her to reconsider her decision not to help us but she persisted in saying that she couldn't. And she left the meeting soon afterwards. Of the other teacher, Tan had not even bothered to follow up with us.

This, unfortunately, demonstrated the unfortunate state of affairs everywhere, not only at this particular school, my Alma Mater. Like Rajendren told me earlier, let's find out at the meeting whether they were volunteering their services or were being asked by the headmaster to help. I guess that I don't have to give an answer. Their attitude has already answered all our doubts. Teachers with more than 10 years of service to the Penang Free School not showing their loyalty to the institution where they teach.

Anyway at the meeting, we sat down to exchange the latest developments regarding the book. Everything, yes, everything, must be handed over to the layout designers by next Friday. And Everything here means the proof-reading, corrections and a second round of checking to ensure the changes were made correctly.

That doesn't leave us with much time left. I tried to impress on the meeting that at this late stage of the project, we the final proof-readers can only check for spellings, grammar, vocabulary and punctuations. A proof-reader's job is not to be able to do a wholescale correction of passages. That would be the job of a copy editor and I had doubled up as the copy editor. I do appreciate the proof-reader's enthusiasm but everyone must appreciate that there is a style guide that had been adopted right from the very start of the project. We just don't have the luxury of time to veer off-stream and do major changes anymore.

I don't want to step on anyone's toes but that is the reality we face right now....

Saturday, 25 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 14

Officially there were 66 people at this morning's special general meeting at The Old Frees' Association this morning. Unofficially, more people had turned up after the attendance book had closed. When I arrived at the association this morning, all I saw were happy faces. That certainly gave me a boost for the rest of the morning.

People were actually coming up to congratulate me on this job. Certainly this is something new to me, and the job's not even completed yet!

Anyhow, when it came down to discussing the budget of RM50,000 for the coffee table book, there were no dissenting voices from the floor. Everyone seemed to agree that it was a jolly good idea because when it came to the vote, the budget was passed unanimously.

But there was a comment from someone that his friend, an Old Free who was staying in Sydney, had complained to him that nobody from the Editorial team had replied to his email. And since the president said that this matter would be looked into, I asked this chap for more details after the meeting. Found out later that I didn't know his friend. It had nothing to do with us; most probably he had emailed the person who was supposed to be the editor before Molly and I agreed to accept this job.

By the way at 11.48pm last night, I received more of the draft layouts back from the graphic designers. That was quick! But it hardly affords me any breathing space. I will have to redouble my efforts next week!

Cheap publicity

When nonsense spews from the mouth:

“CM Lim Guan Eng, I’m half a Penangnite. You just said that you want to reduce the people’s burden. Secondly, you have earned a lot of money. I want to say that you have been misleading the people. Cukai pintu is going up and the cost of living is going up. Also at 10.30pm, I witnessed it twice. Despite there being no cars on the road, you have asked your enforcement officers to tow cars away, causing bloody fights. How do you intend to solve these kind of problems? Is this what you call reducing the people’s burden?”

Is she talking about Penang, or what??

Friday, 24 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 13

Okay, so tomorrow, Saturday, the 25th of February 2012, is going to be the decision day for The Old Frees' Association's coffee table book project. The special general meeting which the OFA president has called will convene at 10 o'clock in the morning to approve or reject the budget of RM50,000 for this project.

So far, I think that the general membership of the association is quite favourable towards this coffee table book. I hear that there has been only one comment about it that seemed somewhat neutral. Still, you can never tell what's going to happen tomorrow.

Definitely, I'll be there to cast my vote and there's no secret about how I'm going to do it.

But there's only one little concern. According to the agenda, the management committee is proposing to print only 1,500 copies of the book. There are about 1,200 members who shall be getting a copy each free of charge. That leaves only 300 copies which have to be given to the dignitaries, contributors, libraries, et cetera, which means that there will hardly be any copy left for sale to the general public.

I would believe that there are many Old Frees out there, who are not members of The Old Frees' Association, who would like to own their copies too. Therefore, I hope someone from the floor will also voice out their opinion on this and get the management committee to consider at least a 2,000-copy run for this commemorative book.

In the meantime this week has been busily spent finalising the articles before giving them to the company that's going the graphic layout. I'm supposed to check only for standardisation but the more I looked at the stories, the more I see that I've got to do some minor edits as well.

Since Monday I've been uploading the finalised articles to their server in batches and I'm starting to get the first draft back even before I can finish my side of the job. The draft on the history of the OFA looked good but there is room for general improvement.

Two days ago, I even had to go down to the association to look into the application for the ISBN code. It had been hanging in the air for so long without anyone doing anything and now, it's a big rush to fill in the forms and get the necessary documents ready. Not too difficult to complete the forms, actually, but it needed coordination to get the president to sign, the OFA office to provide copies of the association's certificate from the Registrar of Societies and myself to prepare a quick mock-up of the cover. Uninspiring but not bad for a hurried job, eh? Took less than 10 minutes to rifle it up and print. The only difference from the final cover will be that the background of the cover will most probably be in deep blue, the colour of the Penang Free School. Luckily everything's here been completed and the forms were couriered to the National Library yesterday. Will be waiting anxiously for the National Library to get back to us next week!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Another break from chess

I received a piece of not-so-welcoming news this afternoon. An email from a friend and former Ban Hin Lee Bank colleague who is now working as the editor of the Star Two section of The Star newspaper. Harbinger of bad news, he turned out to be, but it was his duty after all. A short message to tell me that the chess column in the Friday edition of the newspaper will be discontinued with effect from 2 Mar 2012. Terrible news, he admitted to me, but the newspaper was considering its editorial content and well, specialised columns like chess would likely be among the favourites to be reviewed first. Despite, of course, that the chess column remains well read around the country with even an overseas audience.

But it's okay, the last four years have not been that bad. Although I might have slogged a bit more in churning out my chess essays, I am actually proud to admit that I had made so much more inroads to make the stories more interesting and gripping for my readers. Some readers and acquaintances actually asked whether I was there, overseas or local, to see the action for myself. That, I would take as a compliment for my work. If people can believe that I was there to witness a chess game up close, it means that I had convinced them enough through my output.

In the last four years over a course of about 200 weekly columns, I must had added the weight of another 240,000 words to The Star's library. The last I estimated, until 2006 or 2007, my output was already about a million words. But unfortunately there is no way for me to actually confirm my exact output.

So that's it, my dear chess friends, that's it for The Star's chess column. I don't know whether there is any going back to the newspaper soon. It may be several more years before they have another round of editorial revamp. By that time, I wonder whether I'll still be able to write about chess activities or gone on to other fascinating aspects of life.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The BHLB reunion

It was a reunion of more than 100 people. There I was with Saw See at the CitiTel in downtown Penang Road and we were walking in with our uncle, Kuan Hai, whom we had met in the car park. Some small talk took us up to the third floor of the building where the reunion of former Ban Hin Lee Bank staff was going to be held.

We were numb with wonder the moment we left the lift. All the familiar faces, all the familiar voices, all the familiar mannerisms. All washed upon us. Happy faces, happy voices, happy mannerisms. Gosh, for many of us, we haven't had the chance to meet so many of us together on a happy, solid occasion. Everytime the lift door opens, the eyes of everyone near the lift automatically turns to face it. Who else would be walking in?

We were supposed to register ourselves first, but who cared about the formalities? First order of the evening was to greet my former colleagues like long-forgotten pals. In fact, they were long-forgotten friends. No longer colleagues, but friends. No racial barriers between colleagues but bonds between friends.

Many are still in Penang but many are already living in the other states. Don't know whether anyone among us there are working overseas, though. A big number among us had even made the journey from down south. As far south as Johor Bahru and Malacca.

A sizeable number among us are retired but many are still working. Either still in the banking industry (many are) or in other lines. One of my old pals, Pak Chun, told me that he had retired just the day before. Another old pal, Hiong Wah, said he had a few more months to go. These are the ones that had chosen optional retirement at 55 years rather than slog another five more years for their present employer.

And inevitably, there was the close scrutiny of each other's health and physical self. Concern over former colleagues who were not in the pink of health. Passing notes to compare our common ailments. True, we acknowledged that we were no longer spring chickens. Everyone in the lobby either had white hair, were losing their hair or had lost their hair. Creases on the face, lines crossing the foreheads and showing up when we laughed. Only the ladies looked, well, still fresh enough despite the years.

We rolled back the years over dinner and then one of the highlights of the evening: a nostaligic trip down memory lane with a presentation of the old Ban Hin Lee Bank days. And above everything else, a night like this will never be complete without our evergreen Soo Hock crooning out some songs, just like 10 years ago, 20 years old. Friends, pang yeow, that's what he sang to close the evening...

(Above picture courtesy of Ng Khye Wai)

Friday, 17 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 12

Came back from an informal meeting on the coffee table table at the Old Frees' Association this afternoon. It was called at a short order to discuss the pictures that would be going into the book.

We have a problem here because many of the photos that we want for the book are of rather poor quality. The president thought that there would be great photos at the office but I cautioned him that I've more or less looked through the whole stack of photographs and frankly, I'm not impressed at all. I think after he looked through the albums himself, he may have come to the same conclusion. We've got to do the best with what we have then, and there aren't many.

Anyhow, the meeting turned into a discussion about meeting the deadline for the book. Since the Raja of Perlis and the Penang Governor have already confirmed their attendance at the Old Frees' Association's function on 31 Mar 2012, that's the deadline facing us now for the launch of the book. Everything will be proceeding full steam ahead from now on.

Luckily, I've already received my co-editor's half of the write-ups. My new task now consists of going through her stories to ensure that there is standardisation of format. Huge job to do there, as I haven't even completed all my existing tasks! Therefore, if you see less updates to this blog in the weeks to come, please pardon me as I won't be breathing easy until 31 March is over!

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Life can be difficult whe one is elderly and suffering from the various types of illnesses that come with old age. For instance, my father-in-law is in his late seventies and he is under regular medication for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure. The three commonest ailments in everyone's lives. Every few months, one of my wife's brothers or sisters would take him to the government hospital for a regular check-up. As a pensioner and with lots of time on his hand, he doesn't mind the long wait. Besides, the treatment is free for him.

Unfortunately, he is being issued with a long list of prescribed medications. Not that I am complaining about this but sometimes, the doctors are just too helpful and concerned for the people's health. But occasionally, the government pharmacy wold substitute one medicine for another. Whether it is because of stock running out or the hospital searching for cheaper drugs or the manufacturer repackaging their medicine, I really don't know.

But I do know that these changes ultimately confuse my mother-in-law because she is the one dispensing the pills to him every day. She is so afraid that with these constant changes, she may one day underdose or overdose him.

I can vouch for this. Just this morning, I asked to see their medicine chest. She brought out all that that were prescribed to him. Among them were several boxes of the same medicine, only difference was the dosage level. The dosage on one box said 5mg while on another box, it mentioned 10mg. I asked her why two different dosages. She didn't know but a peek into his medical booklet gave me a clue. Seemed likely that the hospital had run out of the 5mg pills temporarily and had issued him with the higher dosage. In this case, all she should have done was to give my father-in-law only half of the 10mg pill.

Unfortunately, what she had ended up doing was to give him both pills, effectively overdosing him! And it had been going on for the past three weeks or so! No wonder she complained of the medicine running out fast. But that was beside the point. I was alarmed. Here she was, overdosing the poor old man simply because she could not understand the instructions and was confused over all the different types of medicine.

I don't blame her for her confusion. So I stepped in gently, cautioning her to go slow on everything she had been doing lately. I would need to sort out everything for the old couple. Luckily this problem has been nipped early or otherwise I would dread if this matter of overdosing had gone on for a longer time without anyone's notice.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

BHL connect

So it looks like the gathering of the former staff of the now non-existent Ban Hin Lee Bank is going ahead with full steam this Saturday. I had been rather hesitant in commiting myself to this function but on Monday, after having received a telephone call from Annie Khor, I made up my mind to join the fray. I'm told that the number is fast closing in on a hundred attendees.

Actually, I don't know why I had hesitated so much. It would be good to meet up with all those people from the good old banking days again. People that I had known for 24 years of my working life. From 1977 until 2001. A period which I had given my everything to my employers. Commitment and loyalty. Only to see the establishment swallowed by Southern Bank in 2000. I remained with the enlarged entity for one more year until I decided that enough was certainly enough. Southern Bank was cold compared with the warmth of Ban Hin Lee Bank.

Just a while ago, I was looking through the exBHLBankers page on facebook. I see there are 309 former Ban Hin Lee Bank staff who are members of this page. While some are still in the banking industry, the majority have dispersed widely into other industries or they have, like me, retired. But we are all drawn together by a common past. The camaraderie is still there and everyone is now only reminiscing instead of looking to the future. Someone even posted photographs of porcelain coinboxes that even I had forgotten they existed. And the old BHL Bank identification badges? And keychains? Wow, people are still keeping them.

And someone else asked whether anyone remember the old corporate song. I wouldn't be surprised if it is suddenly sung, provided a copy can be pulled out from an archive somewhere. So yes, there's going to be a lot of nostalgia this Saturday.

Monday, 13 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 11

Over the weekend, I learnt that the president of The Old Frees' Association will be calling for a special general meeting on 25 Feb 2012 to approve two items on the agenda, one of which will be a budget for the coffee table book. As I am an interested party in this project, I will be present at the special general meeting in order to cast my vote in support of the book. We have gone too far forward to have this worthwhile project stopped. To all my friends who are members of the OFA, I wish to appeal for their presence and support at the meeting. See you there!

I was too busy during the weekend to take a real close look at the explanatory notes but my co-editor, Molly, stepped up admirably to add these few words:

This is an important heritage project for the PFS and The OFA. The PFS is the oldest school in South-East Asia and it rightly deserves to have this CTB as a record of its glorious history, academic excellence, great sportsmen and rich traditions. George Town is now a UNESCO World Heritage City and though the PFS is not listed as a heritage, we should ensure that we have our own heritage record of our Alma Mater. The PFS heritage will be seen in the old photographs of its majestic, beautiful colonial buildings, stories and articles between the blue covers of this CTB. These photo-essays will take many Old Frees on a nostalgic walk down memory lane. Moreover, they are also important because they can tell the young Frees of today something about their renowned school that not many are aware of, and give them written treasures to be proud of. In this way, the CTB bridges the past and present, providing a vital link between the Old Frees and the new generation of Frees.

The OFA CTB is lastly a work of inspiration. After the sections on the histories of the PFS and The OFA, many illustrious PFS alumni who responded to the OFA CTB circulars sent to all OFA members and those in the OFA Google Group wrote inspiring articles on how their Alma Mater had been their firm foundation of what they are today. Some reflected on their memorable and mischievous school days. Others wrote on their achievements today, none of which would be ever possible without the education which they had received in the PFS. Again, such articles would motivate young Frees and all readers to move onward to win and gain new laurels, no matter how strait the gate nor how charged with dangers the goal, as the PFS alumni have moved their own mountains with heart and soul.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

NZ travelogue: Day 5

We could afford ourselves a slightly later-than-normal breakfast during our stay at the Albatross Inn in Dunedin. The reason was because it would be a comparatively shorter drive from Dunedin to our next destination for the night in Oamaru. They were just about 110 kilometres apart and therefore even a slow drive would take us from Point A to Point B in perhaps not more than 90 minutes.

With this in mind, we set out to explore the region. My original plan was to go wander around the city centre and take in the old Victorian and Edwardian architecture. I had also made a reservation at the Cadbury Centre. Who could ever resist a tour of a chocolate factory? Not me!

But I was also in two minds about wanting to go outside the city. One of the reasons for coming to New Zealand was to enjoy Dunedin's eco-tourism, their nature and the natural landscape. And I had heard that there were a diversity of attractions beyond the isthmus of the Otago peninsula.

In the end, we drove up to the Royal Albatross Centre at the end of the peninsula. I think what settled this decision was that we could also visit the Larnach Castle along the way. This was the only such castle in the whole of New Zealand and sounded like an interesting place to visit.

Unfortunately we ended up spending too much time at the castle, we even had our lunch there, and it meant that we could only drive up to the Royal Albatross Centre for a quick look around. It turned out that it wasn't even a "quick look around." We only managed to make it as far as their visitor's centre for the obligatory photograph:

By the way, this was about as close as we ever got to an albatross, even if it was only a stuffed bird:

And then we went all excited like two little kids when we saw some of the merchandise selling at the centre, namely, these items:

Yup, you read correctly. Belly button wamers and willy warmers. To keep you warm during the cold nights. Made from genuine possum fur. And no, we didn't buy.

We also stopped by the Sandfly Bay Wildlife Refuge to take in the vista. This photograph is just to say that, well, we were there, even if it was just for a few fleeting minutes. Really, unless you have the time to go tramping around and particularly, down to the sand dunes far below, there's no point staying for long. It was the end of autumn and daylight was against us. Nevertheless, it was a very refreshing view of the Southern Ocean. We were looking towards the Antartic.

From the Royal Albatross Centre, we took a lazy drive back to Dunedin along the Portobello Road. The road hugs the sea all the way to the city and we could imagine that at high tide the water would reach up to the road. Worse, if ever a tsunami were to strike, the road would be totally immersed.

By the time we arrived back at Dunedin, it was past three-thirty in the afternoon. The time for my reservation at the Cadbury Centre had come and gone. We had missed the factory tour. As a result, we had also missed the free chocolate goodies they were giving out to visitors. Darn. Our only consolation was to drown choke ourselves on their chocolates with our money. I must say that the varieties and quality were far beyond my expectation. There were varieties that we would never ever get back home. And they were selling for such ridiculously low prices! A big bar of imported Cadbury chocolates (made in Australia) costs almost RM20 but here in the Dunedin Cadbury factory, the same big bar costs only NZD3 (equivalent to RM7.50 at the most). Incredibly cheap. We ended spending something like NZD30 on chocolates for the relatives back home.

There was to be a final stop for us at Baldwin Street in Dunedin before we finally bade farewell to this interesting city. Time was already after four-thirty. By the time arrived in Oamaru, it was after six o'clock, and it was again driving in the dark for the third day in a row. Only wished we had more light and more time...

OFA coffee table book, part 10

I can't believe this is my fourth amendment to the history of The Old Frees' Association. Everytime I look at the draft copy, there is always something new to add or change. What started out as a short history has turned out into a much longer version. Plus, the events have been brought up almost to date as the story includes the opening of the annexe building in Bay Avenue which is beside the Queensbay Mall.

This morning, I attempted to format the history into a two-column layout, since this was agreed by the editorial board recently, and put in quite a number of essential photographs. Big learning exercise here as I had to shift the pictures here and there to ensure that there will be at least a photo when the pages are opened out flat. There are 28 pages in all, inclusive of the two blank end pages but really, I want this to be a good pictorial.

Right, let's keep left

I've been told that this sign was spotted in a basement car park in Penang. Although Penang is such a small place, it is still impossible to guess right where this "Keep Left" sign appeared. Can anybody help??

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Nandaka Vihara, revisited

My family went to the Nandaka Vihara Buddhist retreat centre at the foot of the Bukit Mertajam hill in Cheruk Tokun yesterday.

The last time I ever wrote about this place was in September last year. Although not much has changed, there are plans in the works to expand the retreat centre to provide separate meditation halls for male and female devotees and also to build more dormitories for people going on retreats. As all these will require a lot of private funding, I dare say that people's generosities are much welcomed.

I can truly confirm that the place is very well kept and beautiful. Even if you are not into meditation, a visit to this secluded place, which is nestled among the greens of nature, will soothe your jagged nerves.

Words will never describe the place adequately and therefore, I shall have to leave you with these images. Do enjoy them. They are freshly downloaded from my camera, so you can almost listen to the silence and smell the crisp air...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Glibenclamide, again

Ahh, an interesting story from Singapore's AsiaOne website that has just come to light today.

It's about the controlled substance known as glibenclamide which is used to lower the level of blood sugar. This substance is common enough in medication prescribed to diabetics but for non-diabetics to take glibenclamide, it can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels and subsequent complications.

Unfortunately, the Power 1 Walnut pills, a sex stimulant which may still be widely available in Singapore's red-light district of Geylang, contains a high dosage of glibenclamide and the health authorities there said that in the past week or so, four people had been admitted to hospitals there after consuming "illegal sexual enhancement health products."

Funny how AsiaOne still referred to these sex-enhancing pills as "health products." Why not drop the word "health" from their reports?

Anyway, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) had said that of the four patients between 30 and 78-years-old, two were unconscious upon arrival at the hospitals and the other two were confused and weak. Although they were no longer in a critical condition, one of the patients who was initially unconscious was in a "non-communicative state", while the other could hold only simple conversations.

Tests showed that their urine and blood contained glibenclamide. Of the four of them, three were non-diabetics and one was a diabetic. However, the diabetic was not prescribed glibenclamide for the treatment of diabetes.

UPDATE (15 Feb 2013): According to a press release by the Ministry of Health Malaysia:
Glibenclamide is a controlled medicine for diabetic patients and is not allowed to be formulated in a product which is classified as a traditional product. Glibenclamide can only be supplied by doctors or available at pharmacies upon a prescription. The usage of glibenclamide without proper diagnosis and monitoring by the doctor can cause serious adverse events such as hypoglycemia (excessive reduction in blood sugar). Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include dizziness, tremor, sweating, confusion and lethargy. Severe hypoglycaemia may lead to convulsion, unconsciousness or coma. Hence, these products can cause detrimental effects to consumers who are diabetic and who are at high risk of getting these adverse events. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Chap Goh Meh and the pungat (or pengat)

Today is the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. Tonight, the people of George Town will be going into another celebratory mood for Chap Goh Meh (literally meaning "15th night"). In the past, Chap Goh Meh used to be the time when shy damsels of marriageable age are allowed by their families to don their jewelleries and dress up in their finest clothes before being chaperoned on a slow spin - sometimes, many spins - around the town. Eligible young bachelors gawked in admiration at them. Should a damsel take interest in any of the bachelors, she would throw an orange to him. It was actually a code to say that she wouldn't mind being approached by a matchmaker from the bachelor's family. That's the romantic view of Chap Goh Meh.

You don't see such subtleness nowadays. Shy, sweet damsels no longer throw oranges at their would-be husbands. The romance has been lost from Chap Goh Meh. Many, many years ago, realising that this orange-throwing tradition could be a culture of the past, the state government started promoting this as a tourist event on Chap Goh Meh. Throw an orange and make a wish. Success in your work? No problem. Passing examination? No problem too.  Any wish is possible.

There's now even an orange-throwing competition, most probably to gauge who can throw the most oranges away. Women of all ages, young and not-so-young alike, would turn up to dispose of their oranges. The main point of congregation in the past used to be the Esplanade but I don't know where they go nowadays. Perhaps it's still there or perhaps ithe focus is now the Straits Quay. All I can say is that it is no longer a dainty throw out of the window of a slow-moving car but a potent weapon in the hands of any Amazonian-like female. A hefty throw could land any unsuspecting victim into the outpatient ward of a hospital.

Ah, the pungat. Another tradition of Chap Goh Meh is the cooking of the delectable pungat. Ordinary folks would call it bubur cha-cha but they don't know any better. It is actually us, the descendants of the Baba Nyonya folks in Penang, who will call this sweet dish the pungat or pengat. Even the peranakans of Singapore have tried copying it but failed. To my mind, the bubur cha-cha is a poor copy cat version of the pungat. It is so watered down that we'd sniff at eating it at Chap Goh Meh.

My family's pungat is the real stuff of Baba Nyonya culture. As far as I can remember, my maternal grandmother was already cooking this in the 1950s. No doubt she learnt it from her mother or mother-in-law. And it has been handed down from one generation to another ever since.

It comprises the richest ingredients and the richest colours. No ordinary bananas are used but only the best pisang raja goes into making this dish. Then it will also be adorned with generous chunks of yam and of course, the yellow, orange and purple colours of three types of sweet potato, all cooked in santan or coconut milk. One taste of the pungat will often make our visitors yearn for more but this is our once-a-year speciality! One thing for sure, diabetics and cholesterol-challenged folks better watch how much they consume this stuff!

Friday, 3 February 2012

OFA coffee table book, part 9

We've just had a meeting of the editorial board of the Old Frees' Association coffee table book project this afternoon. The book is progressing well enough. I would believe that by now there is enough material to fill about 176 pages although after today's meeting with the company that's doing the layout designing work, the book may get closer to 192 pages.

If this is indeed where we are heading, then I must say that our initial projections have been proven wrong. Not to say that we are unhappy about this but far from it, the whole editorial board is excitedly happy. At the start of the project, we had wondered whether we could have enough response for a 96-page book.

So what's the latest status today? For a start, we went through the guidelines with the layout designers. After viewing his first draft of some selected articles, we have now decided that having a two-column book will afford us greater leeway with designing the pages. We have also streamlined the number of sections in the book, reducing them to four. I think that was a rather good suggestion by the OFA president.

The four sections of the coffee table book will now cover the Penang Free School, the Old Frees' Association, prominent alumni who are now deceased and personal reflections from present Old Frees who continue to make their marks locally and around the world.

Among the prominent Old Frees that have passed away, we shall be featuring Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Dr Lim Chong Eu and Dr Wu Lien Teh. We've also lined up short biographies of people like P Ramlee, Zainul Abidin bin Sultan Mydin and Husain Abdoolcader. Old Frees that contributed to modern Singapore would be their four distinguished judges: Wee Chong Jin, Tan Ah Tah, AV Winslow and AWD Ambrose.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A blundering bigot and a social scumbag

I am so disgusted. He calls himself a Malaysian but he knows shit about other people's culture. Don't tell me that he has lived so old and yet he does not understand the multi-culturalism of this country. He is a failure and a damn embarrassment to the Malays that he claims to represent. His blunders are proof of his lack of understanding and insensitivity. Everything he does are just political ploys. Everybody is sick and tired of his antics and the diarrhea that spews from his orifices.

Claiming ignorance of other people's cultures does not cut ice with me or anyone. Haven't we heard before that ignorance of the law is no excuse? Likewise ignorance of other people's culture - especially when we all grow up in the same plural society - is no excuse. If you call yourself a politician, you are expected to know a lot of things about the people whose paths you will cross.

Imagine if a doctor does not understand what goes on inside a human body; imagine if a teacher does not understand the subject he is teaching; imagine if a salesman does not understand the products he is selling; imagine if a pilot does not understand the controls in the cockpit; imagine if a fishmonger does not understand how a fish dies outside of its environment; imagine if a fruit seller does not understand when his fruits have gone bad.... I can't imagine all these people not knowing anything about the things they do. Similarly, I can't imagine how people can call themselves politicians and champions of their races when they do not understand other cultures' points of view. How can they ever make comparisons when they only look at events from a single direction?

Ibrahim Ali is the worst type of political ignoramus that lives among us. No, ignoramus is too polite a word to use on him. Social scumbag, perhaps, is a better term but I'll be dashed if he even understands it. But the important issue is, how can he claim to be a champion of Malay rights when he doesn't know anything about the cultures of other races. How can he tell when his Malay rights are being challenged when he doesn't understand other people at all? Does he even understand his own rights in the bigger picture?

That he was going around on Chinese New Year to give white packets to the elderly Chinese is an affront to the Chinese everywhere.

I don't know how in the first place these elderly Chinese folks were convinced to attend this questionable function but I heard that the arrangements were made by this chap from a Chinese political party. If he had his wits around him, he would have protested the moment that white packets were distributed. In fact, he should have distanced himself from this event right from the start. But no, it looked like a happy collusion. This is a sell-out of his own culture. Idiot, you have just shamed the Chinese community that you claim to represent!

It doesn't take a ten-year-old child of any race in this country to understand that RED is the colour of celebration for the Chinese. White, you shameful bigot, is the colour of death and mourning. You don't even need to be taught this basic observation of Malaysian multi-culturalism. If you had just kept your eyes open, you can see for yourself that Chinese New Year and RED go together. Unfortunately, your mind is a closed book. A thin, closed book with no printing. That's you, all right. And no amount of blundering sleight of hands or excuses is going to change that ugly perception of you.