Tuesday, 26 June 2012

With Ambiga

Picture taken on Monday at the inaugural conference of the ASEAN Coalition for Clean Governance, organised by the Penang Institute at the E&O Hotel in George Town, Penang.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The OFA durian party

Saw See and I decided to join the OFA durian party in Balik Pulau this morning. Found out that there would be more than 100 OFA members and their spouses with the same idea in mind.

Accordingly, we left in two buses and reached our destination in no time at all. Turned out to be the same place that we had gone to many decades ago when Ban Hin Lee Bank first organised a durian trip for its staff.

I remember then that the durian offered us were rather common; I also remember that the owner of this orchard used to sit on the floor shirtless and tanned, and he held the durian with the soles of his feet - he wasn't wearing shoes - while hacking away at the fruit with a heavy cleaver. All these haven't changed much these years. In my opinion, the durian still weren't the best in Balik Pulau and now, the durian were being hacked open the same way by the owner's sons or grandsons. But at least, one was now wearing sneakers instead of holding the fruit still with their soles.

For the next two hours as we sailed into the durian and then the rambutan, chempedak and mangosteen, we felt like kids again, caring little about whatever medications we were on.

 Group photo by Loh Keng Jin.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Dumpling festival

Today being the fifth day of the Chinese fifth lunar month, the Chinese everywhere in the world are celebrating the Dumpling Festival. We are no different. But as my family had decided not to make any chang this year, I have to thank thoughtful friends and neighbours who shared some of their dumplings with us.

While partaking some of these dumplings, I must say that the types we find in Malaysia constitute possibly the best in the world. Better, I must say, that even the ones found in China. The chang may have originated there but the Chinese there simply have no imagination when it comes to using ingredients.

When I was in Shanghai earlier this month, our tour bus had stopped outside some eateries. As we wandered through the building in search of food, we saw an eatery advertising their dumplings. There was a very long queue of possibly some 30 to 40 persons deep. Surprisingly, everyone was inching their way patiently and orderly towards the counter.

Soon, we reached the head of the queue and placed our orders. Despite the varieties that the eatery claimed to have, there were only two or three types on sale. We paid for our purchase and adjourned to the side of the shop to collect the dumplings which were already pre-packed in individual plastic bags.

The real surprise came when we ate the dumplings. Whichever corner we bit, we found only glutinous rice. We found a small piece of pork somewhere in the chang but that was it. What a disappointment. If ever there was a case of misleading advertisement, this would qualify. But that wouldn't have mattered to us. After all, we were on tour and this was a trip to see a small part of China. But our bigger disappointment was that the Chinese chang tasted quite unremarkable. Quite, quite ordinary and very bland, actually.

Therefore, as I sank into the dumplings which my neighbours have given us today, I must be thankful that we Chinese Malaysians have evolved to the stage where the quality of our food has surpassed that cooked by the Chinese themselves.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

The real So You Think unveiled

I was a bit upset when So You Think was sold off to the Irish about a year and a half ago. This was an incredibly handsome horse with a confident stride, and I had marvelled at its performances during the 2010 Australian racing season. After So You Think was moved to his new base in Ireland, he continued racing. There were successful runs but there were also disappointments. In my opinion, the highest profile races which the horse did not win were at last year's Royal Ascot and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and this year's Dubai World Cup.

Then came word that this year's Ascot races in England could jolly well be the horse's final appearance before he was sent back to Australia to assume his stud career. So You Think would be taking part in the Prince of Wales' Stakes again.

In the race yesterday, So You Think (left) was again installed as the favourite to win but he came against a very strong challenge from Carlton House, owned by Queen Elizabeth II herself. When they thundered down the final furlong, Carlton House was about a half length in front of So You Think but the jockey, 19-year-old Joseph O'Brien, urged the horse to give a final kick that saw him power through and finish two and a quarter lengths ahead.

All the words can never describe So You Think's superlative run but there is now YouTube to enable us to feast on the Royal Ascot and this 150th anniversary of the Prince of Wales' Stakes. So here it is...

Irresponsible Indonesians

When I was in Shanghai, China earlier this month, I had thought that the haze situation there was bad. There we were, standing at the Bund along the Whampoa River and we could hardly see clearly across the body of water to the other side.

When we reached home and saw our sky, I was rather thankful that we could still see that it was blue. I wrote in my facebook: "Happiness is in seeing blue skies. Had missed that for several days!"

But it so turned out that my smugness for the Malaysian weather was shortlived. Within a few days, a haze had descended on this country from Indonesia where the irresponsible people there are continuing to practice open burning. As usual, our government is powerless is act against this brazen invasion of our air space. This has curtailed our activities much. For one thing, my visits to the Bukit Mertajam hill at Cerok Tokun have stopped temporarily. The Kuala Lumpur Marathon is scheduled for this weekend and I've already had to advise my daughter to take things easy.

This morning, I crept out of the house to take this picture of the hill. Like yesterday, the day before it and several days earlier, the hill can hardly be seen clearly. It had been particularly worse yesterday and today, though, as the hill's summit is now shrouded in a thick haze and the transmission towers are completely obliterated from sight. For us residents in Bukit Mertajam, we know the hill is there and it is easy for us to trace its outline although we cannot see it clearly enough but for visitors to this town, it will take them some effort to realise that the hill is there at all. Wouldn't be surprised if they miss the hill altogether.

Here is another consequence of the haze. I could simply stand in the open and take pictures of the morning sun. It's something that you can never do when the sky is clear.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Brandenburg Concertos on period instruments

I had been waiting 15 days for this package and it arrived through the post today. The sounding of the horn by the Pos Malaysia's deliveryman brought me running downstairs. And once it was in my hands, I lost no time in ripping it open to unveil my latest acquisitions through ebay: two vinyl records of Trevor Pinnock's recording of the six Brandenburg Concertos played on period instruments.

The record surfaces looked clean enough but nevertheless, I had to put through my regular wash process before I attempted to play them.

So here they are, on my turntable. I've played through all four sides of the two records and I must say that it was an absolutely heavenly sound. The faintest touch of the harpsichord came through clearly. There were almost no pop or crackle but I would be untruthful if I were to say that there was absolutely none. There were, but they were hardly noticeable. That's the quality of  the near-mint records I bought.

Side One: Concerto No. 1 BWV 1046 in F major
Side Two: Concerto No. 2 BWV 1047 in F major, Concerto No. 3 BWV 1048 in G major 

Side One: Concerto No. 5 BWV 1050 in D major
Side Two: Concerto No, 4 BWV 1049 in G major, Concerto No. 6 BWV 1051 in B flat major

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Dallas is back!

I just got to know yesterday that the long-running television series, Dallas, has been revived in the United States. The series actually began in 1978 and it ran for 13 years before it ended. I do remember that in the 1980s, my family were literally pulled to the TV screen whenever an episode came on air. What made this programme irresistible to watch was the interaction between the main characters of the show, personified by greedy JR Ewing and the righteous Bobby Ewing. Plus, of course, the cliff-hangers at the end of every season. I didn't watch the series from the very first episode of the first season. I think that I only became a more-or-less regular viewer towards the end of the "Who shot JR" season. The third season, was it?

Anyway, I was just reading through an online newspaper when this news of the revived Dallas caught my eye. More than curious, my wife and I sat down to watch it. Needless to say, we were glued to our seats for the whole of one hour.

Yes, bad old JR is back to his old dastardly business but when we found him, he was languishing in a nursing home suffering from dementia. It took his son, John Ross, to bring him around back to his scheming ways. Did I say his son? Definitely. Because between the end of the old Dallas season in 1991 and this new season in 2012, John Ross and Christopher Ewing (Bobby's adopted son) are all grown up and leading their own lives. But true to the nature of this television series, their lives are intertwined and drawn back together into a new season of corporate and family intrigue.

John Ross started the show by drilling oil quietly on the Southfork ranch while Christopher was looking at alternative energy sources. Their paths crossed, as well as that of Bobby and JR. And what is Dallas without the scandals? Even as Christopher gets married, it is revealed that he still has enough feelings for the bridesmaid, who was his ex-fiancee.

For the next nine episodes that's promised by the TNT television network in the United States, we'll have the same ol', same ol' that we had in the 1980s. Can't wait to catch all the episodes. They'll keep me well occupied until September when the third season of Hawaii Five-0 begins.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dangerous weapons

Vampires are supposed to be scared of the common garlic but this Barisan Nasional federal government of ours? Why, they are also scared shit of common innocuous items you will find in every household. Yes, a bottle of water and some salt! Together, they cost not more than RM10. But they shall be all it takes to overthrow their government! A stupendous revelation! How much simpler can it get? Read it here and here. But sorry, nothing mentioned in the mainstream press yet.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Penang free wifi

Just look at the people present at the Insadunia food court in Bukit Mertajam. They weren't there only for the food but also to attend the launch of the Penang Free WiFi by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng. Judging from the tone of his speech, I would think that the various Penang Free WiFi launches around Penang are speculation enough that the general elections must be round the corner....

Monday, 11 June 2012

NZ travelogue: Day 7

Day Seven of our stay in New Zealand's South Island was the final day of our vacation. After having driven from Christchurch to Queenstown via Twizel and Wanaka, and then to Dunedin and Oamaru, we were back in Christchurch.

We had travelled and taken in the sights of the snow-covered mountains as well as the sea (although we never got the chance to touch neither snow nor sea water.) Now what was left for us was to explore the biggest city in the South Island, a city that had been ravaged by earthquake, and we had a full day to do so. For that, I have to thank an old friend and chess kaki, Alan Phang, who had settled down in New Zealand some 14 years earlier.

But first, having arrived from Oamaru at dusk the day before, we checked in at the Christchurch Motel in Riccarton. This would be our final accommodation. Quite comfortable accommodation, although the room was rather small. We could park the car directly outside the room. We tidied up and then decided to go walk along the main road in front of the hotel. The hotel manager had told us that there were some eateries down the road, perhaps some 20 minutes away.

We walked, crossing one road junction after another but we never looked like coming across a restaurant interesting enough for us. Finally, we went into a dairy shop. Seeing that the proprietress was Indian, we asked her for the nearest Indian food. "It's that way," she pointed in the direction that we had come from. "Go down the road and turn right into Ilam Road. You'll find the restaurant on the left. You can walk but it's going to take you at least a good half an hour to get there." She glanced up at the clock and added, "I wouldn't recommend it."

So we turned back, collected the car and headed off in the direction that she had given us. Sure enough, we soon pulled up at the Tandoori Palace. I was quite surprised that the restaurant was quite packed. We did not want to wait and so we went to their take-away section. It was also filled with people.

Their food must indeed be good. One way or another, we would have to wait. But this time, we just didn't feel like searching for more places to eat and we decided to just order some naan bread and curry from their take-away menu. I took a glance at the menu and straight away, added their palak paneer, spinach with generous chunks of cottage cheese, to our order. I just want to say here that I did not regret ordering it. It was a great dish and I'm saying it not because I was famished!

Here are two pictures of the Christchurch Motel in the morning before we checked out. We were due to meet up with Alan at the Riccarton Bush but before then, I had a surprise for my wife: an unannounced visit to an unexpected place, but more about that later.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival

I've been enjoying these two records from that American rock band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, with John Fogerty on lead, Tom Fogerty on rhythm, Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums. A load of classic songs between them. The first album was Pendulum and the second was Cosmo's Factory. Both records were released in 1970. Don't know which one I like better, actually....

Side one: Ramble Tamble, Before You Accuse Me, Travelin' Band, Ooby Dooby, Lookin' Out My Back Door, Run Through the Jungle
Side two: Up Around the Bend, My Baby Left Me, Who'll Stop the Rain, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Long as I Can See the Light

Side one: Pagan Baby, Sailor's Lament, Chameleon, Have You Ever Seen the Rain?, (Wish I Could) Hideaway
Side two: Born to Move, Hey Tonight, It's Just a Thought, Molina, Rude Awakening Number Two

Friday, 8 June 2012

Durian 2012: poor season expected

The durian is in season now; it started perhaps about a week ago. But be forewarned: the fruit farmers in Balik Pulau have been hit hard this year because of the rainy weather. According to Durian Seng of the Bao Sheng Durian Farm and Homestay in Sungai Pinang, about 13 kilometres from Balik Pulau town, the rain had caused a lot of damage to the flowers. As such, the harvest this year has been greatly affected.

How has this reduced your durian harvest, I asked him earlier this week at Bao Sheng. "I lost about 80 percent of the flowers," he told me. "This is considered okay already lah," he continued, "because other farmers have reported losses of flowers of around 90 percent."

"See this tree?" he asked. "There are just four or five fruits. Last year, the branches were filled with fruits."

Salvaging these fruits for the market is a big challenge, he admitted. According to him, the poor harvest is forcing wild animals like squirrels to come into his orchard in search of food. They are competing with us humans for the durian.

So while the season has begun, durian afficionados are well advised to begin their feasting early. Wait too long and for sure, there may not be enough durian around to satisfy everyone's craving. Worse, I foresee that the durian prices can only go north as the weeks progress.

For more information on Bao Sheng, their website is here. But just a note: do not drop by the durian farm without making an appointment or otherwise, you may be disappointed. Moreover, the prices for the durian packages are only indicative. It's best to contact Durian Seng directly and book your visit.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

OFA's durian party

I just read a notification from The Old Frees' Association today about the annual durian party. It's going to be on 24 June 2012 with the bus leaving the Northam Road premises at nine o'clock for Balik Pulau. The party is going to be heavily subsidised by the OFA as the cost to the members and their spouse is only RM10 per person.

It's not about the money but the question is, should I go at all? Maybe I should as I haven't joined in their durian trips before; almost made it last year but I forgot all about it at the last minute.

Anyway, I do remember that the auditor made a big fuss about it, questioning whether the association had received value for the amount paid to the durian orchard owner. That stumped me for a while there....

Would you feel self-conscious too?

A very spectacular view of Venus making a very rarely seen transit across our sun on Tuesday, picture courtesy of NASA. When I looked at this picture and others that were available readily on the Internet, I was thinking that if the planet was an intelligent object, it would have felt very self-conscious with so many eyes from Earth suddenly trained on it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Rough waves off Lover's Isle

The tide around Penang has been pretty high the past few days, no doubt due to the effects of the full moon. However, because of the rainy weather we've been experiencing too, the seas were also pretty rough, what with the strong winds churning up the waves.

I was on my way to Balik Pulau yesterday to visit a friend at the Bao Sheng Durian Farm and had decided to detour through Gurney Drive. At first I thought it would be an ordinary drive and didn't pay any attention to the sea but then I was startled when a wave came crashing against the embankment and sprayed onto the road.

Now that was unusual for Gurney Drive. I had not known of the sea reaching almost up to the road before but here, as I headed towards the roundabout, the mudflaps had all but disappeared under the high tide.

Leaving Gurney Drive, I didn't give this phenomenon any further thought. After all, my mind was set on Balik Pulau. But then, as I began driving along the northern coastal road, it struck me again that the sea level was very high. Higher than I've ever seen before.

And I could see the strong waves coming inshore. Wave after wave, they kept pounding the shoreline all the way towards Teluk Bahang. I wouldn't want to be around, I thought to myself, when the waves break and sweep up on the beach. The energy would be unpredictable and possibly fatal too.

Much later, as I came back from Balik Pulau, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to stop by a sandy area off Lover's Isle to see this force of nature up close (but not too close, okay?).

The result was this video, one minute and 40 seconds of sheer energy. Watch out for the initial "explosion" at the 49th-second mark of the video. There's also another impressive spray at the 56th-second mark. Howling winds, salty air (yes, Andrew, smell, smell, smell), darkening skies, raging seas, disappearing horizons. The drama of them all. This wasn't even a mini-tsunami but the occasion was still enough to leave anybody awe-struck.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Full moon in June, 2012

I awoke at about 4.30a.m. this morning, disturbed by the bright light shining onto my face. Strange, I was thinking to myself, although still half asleep, why should the street lights be streaming into the room? Rather unusual for that to happen because I had always drawn the curtains properly to cut out the piercing light.

But here I was, on the bed, and my pillow was bathed with light. Forcing the eyes opened wider, I could see that it wasn't the street lights but that source of light in the night sky. Yes, the full moon. And its light was shining straight at me.

Although still groggy from being awoken at an hour when I should be fast asleep, I had the presence of mind to whip out the camera. Yah, time to test out the manual features on this Fujifilm F500EXR. I had meant to test it a month ago during that Super Moon episode but I was still struggling to master the camera's features.

Guess I'm more aware of the functions now, although it still required a far bit of fiddling with it. But eventually, I managed to set the ISO and learnt how to control the aperture and shutter settings. The only problem was that I had to handhold the camera. My groggy brain still could not fathom that I should use a tripod for better effect. But from years of using a camera, it's now second nature to me to prop myself against something solid and unmovable in order to reduce the camera shake.

So there I was, holding the camera against the window sill and resting my elbows on a table, I aimed it high up at the sky and started taking several photographs of the moon. Some turned out bad but this here was one of the few that came out right enough despite the slight shake.