Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pakatan Rakyat rally

For the record, last night's mammoth Pakatan Rakyat ceramah at the Han Chiang High School grounds attracted some 70,000 people, all standing in the rain for five hours. Like Lim Guan Eng said, there was no free food, no free drinks, no free angpows at the ceramah but only free (rain) water for everybody. And yet, people came from far and near to listen and to support.

Sad to say though, I could only be there in spirit. I don't want to give any excuses for my physical absence but I'll willingly share the reason in private with anyone that cares to know. But thanks to Ubah.tv, I managed to catch some of the speeches. I did get to watch Anwar Ibrahim, Gobind Deo, Ong Kok Fooi, Chong Eng, Karpal Singh and Lim Guan Eng speak. The only frustration was that Ubah.tv's transmission terminated before Lim Kit Siang appeared.

I would like to congratulate the courageous folks out there that had braved the weather and the traffic jam, and who had readily donated some RM236,000 towards Pakatan Rakyat's general elections war chest. Such was the traffic congestion that I also heard some people arrived home past one o'clock in the morning.

My old mathematics teacher

Bumped into an old teacher of the Penang Free School. Haven't seen her for ages. She taught me mathematics in Form Three. Problem was, my mathematics wasn't the best in the world. It wasn't even of average standard. Fact was, at that time, my mathematics was on very shaky grounds.

I remember after one of the monthly tests, I received very appalling results and there were a handful of us in the class that were singled out for our, erm, outstanding results. When it came to me, she just turned around and looked at me with her eyes wide open. Then, very slowly and dramatically, she mouthed out my precious marks. I can still remember it. And still see it in my mind's eye. "Twenty five," she said voicelessly. Boy, the silence was so very deafening. You can just imagine my discomfiture. What could I do in response but to stick out my tongue?

I am unsure how this result affected me later on but to my credit, I did receive an A for my mathematics paper in the Lower Certificate of Examination (LCE). Maybe I was lucky and ting-tong-tiang'ed correctly in the objective test papers.

I didn't meet her again for several years. Then in the 1990s when I somehow got mixed in with The Old Frees' Association - I was in the management committee for three or four years - she was already involved as the Sesqui-centenary Loan Sub-committee chairman.

Eh? I didn't introduce her to you? Sorry, folks, please meet Ms Tye Chwee Hoon.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Blue Penang

I had a reason to go out to the island last Friday: to go search for a particular pharmacy along Campbell Street that sold a certain brand of Chinese embrocation oil for my aunt. Finally found the pharmacy but it was a rather long walk from Kimberley Street where I had to park the car. Whilst walking back to collect the car, I detoured into Rope Walk and was quite astonished to see the length of the road decked out with banners and flags.

On Sunday, I happened to go out to the island again to attend the annual general meeting of The Old Frees' Association. My homeward drive took me through the heritage zone of George Town and this time, I was truly appalled by the desecration of common property.

This was Kimberley Street on Sunday. Almost overnight, the flags and banners had appeared along the whole length of the road.

This was Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. As I drove down the road, I confronted this wall of blue flags outside the old Prangin Road market.

Even the street art in the city were not spared. Flags were shoved inbetween the metal railings without a care whether they would affect the artwork. 

Now, if these idiots do not appreciate our street art, how can they even appreciate the UNESCO world cultural heritage status that took George Town so long to obtain. How can we ever trust them to uphold our cultural heritage? Do you want to trust them to build the monorail line in George Town at the risk of our beloved city losing its UNESCO status? The Barisan Nasional party makes mockery out of all of us. With every promise, they mock us every step of the way.   

Mind you, these are not supposed to be political flags if the words of the caretaker Prime Minister in 2010 were to be believed. But does the corrupt Barisan Nasional regime care nowadays? They continue to indulge in money politics, more so during this General Elections campaigning period.

How much money has been thrown away to provide free food, free lucky draws, free entertainment to the people in Penang. How much money has been siphoned off too by the people who were contracted to provide these free. How much money goes into their personal pockets? How much?

I continue to see the corruption everywhere, and in blanketing the island and the mainland in swathes of blue, it has become a BIG turn-off. If those jokers had hoped to be able to sway the minds of every right-thinking Malaysian that free food and free entertainment can buy their political party support at the polling station, they better have another think coming!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

PACA for GE13

Come this Sunday week, 5 May 2013, I'll be doing something which I have never done before and that is, to be a polling and counting agent for a political party. How this came about is actually a long story but to cut this long story short, yes, I did agree to volunteer my services at a friend's request.

Previously, a very, very long time ago when I was still staying in Ayer Itam on the island, my father and I had worked as counting clerks. I think it must have been 1982. Or was it 1978? Can't remember exactly.

I also don't remember where we went to but all I remember of the occasion was that we spent the whole night at the counting centre until the wee hours of the morning waiting for the arrival of the ballot boxes, then the unfolding of the ballot papers, flattening them out, getting them scrutinised by the counting agents that represented the political parties, separating them into as many heaps as there were candidates, then starting the counting process as if we were counting currency notes.

It helped that I was already working in a bank then. The experience counting other people's money must have certainly come in useful. People were impressed with our efficiency. My father and I swiftly breezed through the pile of ballot papers with a lot of confidence. There weren't any hitch.

This time however, I shall be on the other side of the counting process. This time, I shall be scrutinising the counting clerks and ensuring that the interests of the political party I'm representing are looked after. People tell me that it is all very easy but I don't believe it. It is going to be a daunting task. There is a lot of responsibility involved. All I can say to my friend is that I shall try my best. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

An early Led Zeppelin mini concert

People who know me well will realise that I'm a self-confessed fan of Led Zeppelin.  Have been since 1969 or 1970. Back then, the Radio RAAF Butterworth was blaring out Whole Lotta Love a whole lotta times over the airwaves. I was so taken by the music that I saved up every dollar I could have until there was enough for me to buy not their better-known second album but the first, a bluesy kind of heavy rock music.

Recently, I learnt from this website, Guitar World, that there was some vintage, high-quality video from a 17 March 1969 Led Zeppelin television appearance in Gladsaxe, Denmark on surfaced on the Internet. The band — Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham — played four tracks from this first album. The videos are available on YouTube but I'm copying the links here so that I can enjoy them one by one in any sequence I want:

First off, this is Communication Breakdown. What a delightful way to start off the mini-studio concert.

Dazed And Confused. Not for the first time, though, that Page puts a bow to his guitar strings to draw out the magical notes. And Plant wailing away in unison. Ooh!

Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You. Plant in full flow again as he rend out a lot of emotion in this song. A fabulous effort.

And finally, How Many More Times closed out the four-song mini-studio concert. How lucky could those guys be, getting the chance to sit down before the nascent legends of rock music.

Friday, 26 April 2013

PFS 1816-2016

As my alma mater, the Penang Free School, gears up towards celebrating its bicentenary or 200th anniversary in October 2016, I see that this sign has been erected to the right of the archway at the entrance into the school.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Oh Seng Pin

Initially, I had thought of calling this post as "Oh Cheng Chan, part 3" as it followed naturally from my previous write-up on my great-great-grandfather but as this newspaper's clipping (The Straits Times of 18 July 1898) was a report on Oh Seng Pin himself, I think that I should name this post accordingly.

As can already be gathered from the intro paragraph, Oh Seng Pin was my great-grandfather. Actually, I wouldn't have known his name or that of my great-great-grandfather if not for information sent to me by one of my Oh cousins in the Klang Valley.

The National Library in Singapore filled in a vital blank when I searched through their online archives and managed to extract these short newspaper reports about my two ancestors. But as they were not exactly that prominent pillars of society in those days too, this is unfortunately all that I can uncover about their past in 19th century Penang.

In all likelihood, The Straits Times report was a reproduction from a Pinang Gazette story which read:

"We have to record the death, yesterday (14th) of On Seng Pin, a son of the late On Cheng Chan, a wealthy Chinese gentleman who, it will be remembered, was attacked by gang-robbers at "Belle Vue" last year, and died on the 14th of July. It is noted as a strange coincidence that his son, after only a day's illness, died on the same date. The news of his death came as a surprise on the Chinese community. The young man, who was 29 years old, only recently obtained letters of administration to his father's estate, and on Friday last received a cheque of upwards of $110,000, being his father's share in the late Singapore Opium and Spirit Farm."

The name of Singapore Opium and Spirit Farm featured very prominently in Penang's history. Many well-to-do people in Penang had investments in this lucrative business. I had heard that the business was owned by Cheah Chen Eok himself (the person who built the 60-foot Queen Victoria memorial clock tower in George Town and who owned, among many other properties on Penang island, the "Belle Vue" mansion in Western Road from which my great-great-grandfather had injured himself seriously) who later divested himself of all his shares in this Singapore Opium and Spirit Farm.

Without putting too much effort into starting conspiracy theories and the like, when I first read this news clipping, I was wondering how a healthy 29-year-old man, just five days after collecting a cheque of $100,000, could fall ill suddenly and succumbed within a day.

Strange coincidence, according to the news story, but was there more to it that met the eye? Perhaps the newspaper (Pinang Gazette) knew more at that time but they were not saying anything at all. And we, the descendents of Oh Seng Pin, are left not knowing the answer.

Oh yes, I managed to uncover one more news clipping dated 18 Sep 1908 in which Oh Seng Pin's name was mentioned:

"The marriage of Mr Ong Huck Khye, a nephew of Mr Ong Hun Chong, tin and pepper merchant, of Chop Ban Tin Lam, Penang, and Mr Ong Hun Siew, rice merchant of Chop Tin Seang, and a younger brother of Mr Ong Huck See, Penang, and Miss Oh Leang Cheen, the only daughter of the late Mr Oh Seng Pin, and the grand-daughter of the late Mr Oh Cheng Chan, of Chop Cheng Chan and Company, Penang, took place on Monday at Penang."

The above report may not be exactly correct because according to the family tree which my cousin was attempting to draw up, Oh Seng Pin had another daughter named Oh Liang Siok. Before he died, my great-grandfather also had two sons in Oh Joo Siew and Oh Joo Hock. Oh Joo Siew was my grandfather.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Election excitement

You know that excitement over the whole General elections thing is escalating wildly when people that you hardly converse with start talking to you about politics.

For example, while I was at the vegetable seller's stall at the Kampung Baru wet market in Bukit Mertajam last Sunday, the proprietor suddenly opened his mouth to tell me that there would be a Pakatan Rakyat ceramah (political talk) at the market's car park that same night.

Okay, so I do know this chap. He sees me every time I go to the market with my aged aunt - only nowadays, it is me that goes alone because she now walks with much difficulty - and we hardly say anything to one another. I would pass the vegetables to him and he would tell me how much they cost.

But not that Sunday morning. Like two guys in a conspiracy, he lowered his voice and told me to "come round tonight" to the ceramah. "Okay," I whispered back, "I'll be here."

So when eight o'clock came around, I left the house. A brisk 15-minute walk took me to the market. the public address system was already cranked up loud. I could here someone talk long before I reached the car park.

Already, there were lots of people standing around. Or sitting around the perimeter of the market. And all eyes were watching the speakers. One after another, the Pakatan Rakyat candidates were introduced to the people and they went on and on to talk about themselves, what they stood for and the excesses of the previous Barisan Nasional federal government.

I looked around. The crowd were enthralled, drinking in every syllable from the speakers. But I must admit that their words were mostly lost on me. Couldn't understand, see. For not the first time in my life, I regretted not knowing Mandarin. But around me, people were listening intently.

Despite my handicap, I was greatly surprised to find myself staying on for so long at the ceramah. Ordinarily, I would have left long ago, but not that night. Sorry, but I have no reasonable explanation for this. Perhaps, like the vegetable seller, I too had been caught up in the whole excitement of the General Election. Can't wait to cast my vote.

P.S. By my guestimate, there must have been around two to three thousand people gathered at the ceramah by the time I decided to make my way home.Now the question remains: since I can't catch a word of what they are saying, should I continue to attend these political talks??

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Unique Swiss souvenir

My wife attended the official opening of VAT Manufacturing Malaysia Sdn Bhd in the Batu Kawan Industrial Park, Province Wellesley recently and came back with an unusual souvenir from the Swiss-owned company.

"You wouldn't believe what they gave out as souvenirs," she told me when arriving home after work. "What?" I asked, "a Swiss Army knife? An Alpine cuckoo clock? A piece of Swiss cheese?" All failed to hit the mark, unfortunately, but my last answer was the closest to answering her correctly.

"Birnbrot (pear bread) from Switzerland," she replied triumphantly, and then she took out this itsy bitsy looking piece of cylindrical pastry in clingwrap. It measured not more than four inches long.

"What?" I asked again, "just this small pastry thingy?" Yes, she replied, but according to the people at VAT Manufacturing, this pear bread is a delicacy in Switzerland. Traditionally available only during the winter months but most probably now available all year round over there.

So I took out a knife and began slicing into it. When the first piece came off, we saw a rich mixture of figs and dried grapes tightly compressed within a very thin layer of hard pastry. "The VAT Manufacturing staff said to eat it with butter in order to extract the best taste from the bread." Erm, butter? She didn't need to tell me twice, I say!

Oh, by the way, having tasted the Birnbrot, maybe I should also mention that VAT Manufacturing is the world’s leading supplier of vacuum valves for state-of-the-art applications in the semiconductor industry, for manufacturing flat screens and solar panels, as well as for coating optical systems and tools.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Everly Brothers

Before I lose grip of my senses during the run up to the General Elections, I'd better retreat briefly into my little world and enjoy a spot of music on my hifi system. Just dug up this album which had remained in storage for a very long time.

Wow, I couldn't have imagined the amount of dust and dirt on the records if I had not seen them myself. Anyway, after cleaning up the four sides of this double album, the sound was perfect! I would believe that the original sound was in monaural but for the purpose of this album, the engineers had electronically rerecorded the tracks to simulate stereo. Good job.

Side 1: Bye Bye Love, Problems, Let it Be Me, Maybe Tomorrow, Be-bop-A-Lula
Side 2: Bird Dog, Love Of My Life, Keep A-Knockin', Leve my Woman Alone, A Brand New Heartache
Side 3: Wake Up Little susie, Like strangers, Rockin' Alone, Long Time Gone, All I have To Do Is Dream
Side 4: Til I Kissed You, Poor Jenny, Should We Tell Him, Lightning Express, Rip It Up

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Nomination day in Bukit Mertajam on GE13

I was supposed to go support a friend at a Nomination Day function somewhere on the island today but somehow, my plans changed almost at the last minute. With time a little free on my hands, I then decided to throw in my support for the Pakatan Rakyat parliamentary and state candidates in Bukit Mertajam.

So at nine o'clock in the morning, I found myself walking to the Jalan Song Ban Kheng-Jalan Betik road junction. The side of the main road was already filled with cars, supporters and yet more supporters! Found a vacant spot by the roadside and managed to squeeze my car into the space.

Possibly about 200 people - a mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians - were already there at the junction, mostly garbed in yellow T-shirts while I sported the Ubah T-shirt that I had bought days earlier from the DAP Penang headquarters about a week back. The flags of the DAP, PKR and PAS were flying everywhere, and the people were clearly enjoying themselves. Party mood.

A short distance away from us was the Police roadblock. Nobody bothered with them and they just stood staring impassively at us.

However, I found it disconcerting that barbed wire had also been stretched across the roadblock. Was it really necessary when everyone were in carnival mood?

The Pakatan Rakyat candidates were milling around with their supporters. Shortly after nine o'clock, they were allowed to pass through the Police roadblock. Only the candidates and their seconders were allowed through for the short walk to the nomination centre at the Public Works Department Office.

The four candidates (left to right): Chong Eng (DAP), Steven Sim (DAP), Ong Kok Fooi (DAP), Lee Khai Loon (PKR)

From my vantage point, I could see a similar roadblock set up about a hundred metres away to block off the opposing Barisan Nasional supporters. Very difficult to estimate how many of their supporters were there but it didn't really mattered.

About 10 minutes later, we noticed that from the other end of the road, the candidates from the Barisan Nasional had also arrived at the nomination centre.

Now the wait for the nomination period to close at 10 o'clock. Nobody was impatient. People were getting to know one another. Someone with a loudspeaker started informing the crowd to attend a ceramah that night in Machang Bubok. I walked around and bumped into a group of people I knew. Decided to take a few photographs with them. Here's one.

From left to right: cousin, acquaintance, old schoolmate, former work colleague, myself

Shortly after that, I decided to leave. The little time on my hands had ended and there were other things to do. So I took leave of this group of people, glad that I had at least now experienced the atmosphere during nomination day.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

An afternoon up the Bukit Mertajam hill at Ceruk Tokun

I missed the chance to go up Maxwell Hill on Monday with a group of die-hard speed walkers (not that I can keep up with them, because I can't) and so I decided to spend my afternoon with a slow trek up the Bukit Mertajam Hill at Cherok Tekun instead.

My objective wasn't to reach the summit but rather, to reach the three-quarters stage where there was a lookout point over the Mengkuang Dam. The last time I tried to reached this point, I had to turn back after the tea house because of an impending thunderstorm.

But on Monday afternoon, the sky was quite clear although at one stage, I could hear the sounds of thunder in the background. Also, there was a slight haze in the air despite the weather being wet a few days earlier. At the lookout point, I was rather disappointed that the distance was totally unclear.

Anyway, I had about three hours on my hands and I decided to make it a slow and determined walk. Took the well-trodden hill path beside the stream that ran through the forest park. Reached the first station after about half an hour, saw some other fellow trekkers resting and talking loudly, and quickly decided to push on past them. Very soon - actually, another 20 minutes or so - I reached the end of the track and emerged at the tea house at the half-way point.

A recently uprooted tree blocking the way. Had to climb over it.

The tea house at the halfway point

Decided to rest here for a while. There was a cool breeze blowing through. Very refreshing. Could stay here for hours but then told myself that I must continue if I wanted to make it to the lookout. However, the hill path had ended and from here onwards, I would have to follow the road. Took me about another 15 minutes to get there. The entrance to the lookout was just a small path off the road. It would be easy to miss but of course, I have been there before.

The huge bend in the road at the entrance to the lookout.

It would be all too easy to miss the secluded path.

As long as you can see this shed, you know that you have arrived at the lookout.

It would pay to heed the warning, as you will soon find out!

The view from the lookout. The vast expanse of water in the distance is the Mengkuang Dam.

I was actually horrified when I first saw this. Whatever had happened to the land beside the Mengkuang Dam? The last time I was here, it was still a vast stretch of rolling green land. And now, land clearing had overrun the place and replaced it with bare yellow soil. What was happening? The land is totally ruined!

I couldn't hang around for long, not with this scarred scene etched in my mind and open for every visitor to the lookout to see. So I walked away. And I hope the relevant authorities, be they the Pihak Berkuasa Air or the Penang Government, will explain to the public WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON at Mengkuang Dam?!

The rest of my trek downhill was pretty uneventful and I took the opportunity to photograph the unspoilt nature around me.

Hill ferns grew with wild abundance and it was quite interesting to get up close to observe the young fronds.

Typically, they mostly looked pretty hideous like some aliens from space.

But there were also some nice ones to behold.

And the tall trees that had been growing undisturbed for a very long time.

This wooded part of the road was about the nicest part of my walk down the hill.

Opportunities abound to get close to nature at the Bukit Mertajam Hill. Not only do you get to enjoy the greenery, there's also the different sounds of crickets and other insects that seem to come at you from all directions. Plus, if you are lucky, the added bonus of a cool breeze that makes you want to stay there with a good book.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Spotify is here in Malaysia at last

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