Monday, 24 June 2013

Moon's blurry perigee

There seemed to be a bit of a flurry on facebook last night over the incidence of the so-called super-moon, a natural phenomenon when the orbit of our terrestrial neighbour moved it closest to our planet. 

Let me repeat: this is a natural phenomenon but inorder to understand it, one must realise that the moon's orbit around our planet is not circular. It is elliptical which means that sometimes, the moon is farthest away from the earth (apogee) and sometimes, the moon is nearest to the earth's surface (perigee).

Well, this time on 23 Jun 2013, the moon happened to be skirting round nearest to us. When conditions are right - when moonrise is at night and moonset is in the morning, and also when the sky is clearest - we should be able to see the moon in its fullest glory. Unfortunately, with all the haze around us in the past week or so, the issue of whether or not we could see a clear moon became a matter of interest.

Some people in the country said that they saw a red moon which was not improbable because the dust particles in the air do contribute to light refraction and absorption. There were others who said that the moon was all blurry. We in the north could have been slightly luckier because there were photographers who managed to get pin-point sharp images.

As for me, my old Konica Minolta Dimage Z5 has never been able to give me a sharp resolution because it is such an old camera already. Even if I put it on a tripod, I can get anything better than a grainy image at the longest focal point. I thought the newer Fujifilm F500EXR would serve me better but I am also disappointed with it. Perhaps the only solution is to buy a third-party long telescopic lens with the biggest aperture to go with my son's Nikon D5100. But it has to be within budget too. However, all things considered, this is only wishful thinking because why should I get such a lens if I'm not going to use it for anything else? Must be practical with my expenditure.

Yesterday morning, I was woken up at about five o'clock by the bright moon shining through the window. The only thought that came to my mind was, gosh, what a bright moon. Not again! Then I turned over and went back to sleep.

This morning, it was almost six o'clock when I noticed the moon again. For the second time, it disturbed my sleep. But since it was almost time to get up anyway, I decided to grab both these two cameras - the Dimage and the Fujifilm - and tried to make do with the best of the situation. Unfortunately, with me holding the cameras without any support, almost all the images turned out blurry. This image below was the best I could get away with. Mind you, I've got better moon pictures elsewhere on this blog.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The MacAlister Road tragedy

This Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) video below gives a technical explanation of what could have happened when the concrete structure at the Menara UMNO broke loose and punched the ground below.

From what I understood after watching the video, the concrete did not fall flat on the road because the impact area was relatively small. Rather, it drilled straight into the ground like a nail. As the original structure was about 38 metres high and only about 10 metres of concrete laid exposed on the ground, the MPPP believed that there was still about 28 metres of concrete below the surface. When it fell, it dragged the right side of a car, including the driver, into the ground as well.

There was no way to recover the man's remains beneath the remaining concrete. Heart-breaking news for everyone, especially the family members of the victim.

The MPPP also believed that the design of the top of the building could have a contributory factor to the concrete structure breaking off. Because of the shape of the wall and the direction from which the gale was blowing, the flow of air around it became strong enough to attack the weakest points on the rooftop. All the forces added up and they tore off the lightning arrestor and supporting concrete.

In my opinion, this is the latest evidence of how global warming and climate change are going to affect our daily lives. I would expect that from now on, strong winds and gale-force winds will be regular features of our tropical weather here in the northern part of the peninsula. As the polar icecaps start melting and the ocean temperatures go up, the wind patterns will change around the world. It's a global phenomenon. We may live far away from the melting icecaps but there is no way that we won't be affected too. This tragedy in MacAlister Road on 13 June 2013 is just a warning sign of more natural disasters to come.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Penang public library

I decided to visit the Penang Public Library in Seberang Jaya, Province Wellesley on the mainland of Penang today. Haven't been there for quite a while. Despite it being the middle of the week, there were people inside. Mostly doing their reading but there were a few who were nodding off on the easy chairs. Don't blame them, of course, because the library was so darn conducive for this kind of activity.

As for me, I headed towards the mini-exhibition on the upper floor of the building. The library had put together some interesting facts on the Governors of Penang.

Prior to Independence in August 1957, there was a whole list of people who had been appointed Resident Councillors, Resident Commissioners, Governors, Lieutenant Governors and even a Military Governor. Some were appointed only in an acting capacity. There were those who served for several years but there were also those whose tenure lasted only for a few months. Interestingly, during the period of Japanese Occupation in the Second World War, several Japanese military bigwigs assumed this post in Penang. They might have brought terror to the people here but to their credit, crime was at a minimum level.

Francis Light was, of course, considered as the very first person to govern the Prince of Wales' Island, as Penang was called initially. He was the first Superintendent of the island from 1786 till his death in 1794.

From the upper floor of the Penang Public Library, I wandered downstairs to the Lincoln Corner which was set up in 2008 as a collaborative effort between the Library and the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. This is only one of several Lincoln Corners in the country.

If the aim was to share information on Americana with Malaysians, I must say that I wasn't much impressed by the current collection of books and magazines. It was really very modest. I really believe that the United States Embassy could have done better. Surely, there is a wealth of cultural information to share with us through your books. And surely too, your magazines can do with better up-to-date copies. The latest copy of any magazine I saw was dated October 2012, and this was already June 2013 when I visited.

But I know that there will be people who will say that my criticism is unwarranted. Perhaps they are correct because I am actually measuring this little Lincoln Corner against the original yardstick which was the immensely grand USIS Library that used to occupy India House at the corner of Beach Street and Church Street Ghaut for about 18 years until November 1970. Walking into the place then was like walking into a very august institution with all sorts of hallowed traditions. Really missed that place.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bullock cart express: 10 days for letter from Singapore

Something to ponder about. Are we living in the 21st Century or the 20th Century? I just received this letter from Singapore which had been sent by registered post. It was postmarked 7 Jun 2013 in Singapore but the postman only came to deliver it today, 10 days later. Some more, it was by special delivery because I was asked to sign for it.

It makes me wonder why the letter had taken so long to cross the causeway. It is not like Malaysia and Singapore are worlds apart. In fact we are separated by only a narrow sliver of water and are extensively connected by air, road and rail. In the case of this letter, it was very clear that though the "Air Mail" sticker was affixed, "bullock cart express" was the preferred mode of transportation.

Just dunno who has to take responsibility for this absurdly long delivery period: the Post Office in Singapore or the Pos Malaysia here? No other date stamp apart from the Singapore mark. But on the reverse side of the envelope was a sticker marked "RS16 110 635 1MY". A bit of an irony, actually, because of the "1MY" at the end of this string of identification number.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Relatives @ Bao Sheng

Busy day for me yesterday. Had been arranging an afternoon trip to the Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Sungai Pinang - 10km driving distance from either Teluk Bahang or Balik Pulau town - for my far-flung, some long-lost relatives from the Oh clan (my mother's side of the family). Some had driven all the way from the Klang Valley just for this mini-reunion.

Oh yes, after driving down from Sungai Pinang, I stopped by the Eurasian Fiesta at the St Xavier's Branch School in Pulau Tikus. Had a whale of an interesting evening, stuffed with good food and good entertainment.

Friday, 14 June 2013

When Mother Nature visited Penang

So where were you when the gale-force winds hit Penang yesterday evening? 

Just like the Indian Ocean tsunami that affected our shores on 26 December 2004, this latest tragedy is a reminder that Mother Nature is still the greatest force to be reckoned with on our planet. We can plan all we want but Mother Nature will still know how to expose and exploit our weakest points.

As for the strong winds that ripped apart the concrete and lightning arrestor at the 21-storey UMNO building in MacAlister Road, George Town, we should grief for the unfortunate victim that died and hope that those injured would recover quickly. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When the storm broke at about seven o'clock, I was at the Sentosa hawker centre in Bukit Mertajam, buying dinner for my wife and I. Just as the hawker finished cooking the food, a huge deluge of rain descended on the town, followed by huge gusts of wind.

Obviously, as it was impossible for me to even run to the car, I decided to wait out the storm at the hawker centre. Right in front of me, lamp shades were swinging wildly. I could also see the weighted bamboo awnings flap around in the wind. They were blowing open and then blew shut again. Nervousness showed on the faces of the hawkers nearest to the awnings. Nothing like this had been experienced before.

One of these huge awnings even flew up on the roof of the hawker centre and stayed there for several minutes. One moment it was there flapping away but the next moment, it was gone. Actually, I thought the wind had torn it away but no, the part of the awning was still fastened securely to the building and the awning had swung up to rest on the roof. Only after several more minutes did the strong gusts of wind finally send it swinging down again and crashing on the side of the building.

Just as fast as the winds came, they died down rather quickly. The rain also eased to a trickle, long enough for me to walk back to my car and drive back home. Soon later, word reached us about the disaster that had hit George Town. The rest, as we all know, have already been reported in the news and social media.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Penang senior citizen appreciation programme

It was in the first half of last month that we received my aunt's copy of the letter from the Penang government regarding the distribution of RM100 in this year's Senior Citizens Appreciation Programme.

As my aunt was already warded at the USM Hospital in Bertam, it was up to me to go collect the money for her at the Maybank branch in Seberang Jaya. Even if she wasn't warded, it would have been very difficult for her to go personally to the bank.

But first, I had to go see my nearest state assemblyman to obtain a Letter of Indemnity. I had already learnt the hard way that the banks would require this letter before they could release any money. So in the morning of 18 May 2013, I made my way to the Maybank branch nearest my house to get this letter and later at about noon, my son and I stopped by their Seberang Jaya branch to collect the money on my aunt's behalf.

As it turned out, this would now be the last RM100 that she would ever collect from the state government. She passed away on the next day.

I was commenting to my wife yesterday that good though this Senior Citizens Appreciation Programme was, the Penang government could certainly try to improve on it. What I was thinking aloud about was that instead of giving out a flat RM100 contribution to all registered voters in Penang who are at least 60 years old, why not structure the programme such that the older senior citizens would be eligible for more?

For example, RM100 could continue to be given to people above 60 years old but RM150 could be given to those above 70 years old and RM200 to those who are 80 years and older. The rate would increase with every 10 years of a senior citizen's age. And the Penang government can afford to be even more generous if they want to, within budget constraints, of course!

I am sure that these increased contributions would not unduly overburden the Penang government. After all, the number of people that would be eligible under this suggested structured scheme would decrease as their age brackets go up. Personally, I doubt there would be many senior citizens who are 90 years old or older. But think of the goodwill in return. Effectively, the extra contribution would recognise the citizen's seniority in the state even more.

As a footnote, I need to add that as my aunt's closest relative, I have already submitted her death certificate to the local DAP office here in Bukit Mertajam. This is not about collecting the one-time bereavement contribution from the state but rather, to act responsibly to ensure that the file on my aunt can at last be closed.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I Musici Di Roma at the George Town Festival 2013

My wife and I had a little treat last Friday (7 Jun 2013) when Italy's oldest chamber ensemble, I MUSICI DI ROMA, gave a signature performance at the Dewan Sri Pinang. The internationally-acclaimed I MUSICI was the opening act at this year's month-long George Town Festival celebrations.  We took pride that George Town was one of only two South-East Asian venues during their current Asia tour, the other being Singapore a few days later.

We arrived early and sneaked into the Dewan Sri to escape the heat and humidity outside. Empty stage with an almost empty audience. Of course, the people started coming in soon afterwards and it was a full house with all tickets having sold out.

Lim Guan Eng, the ever popular Chief Minister of Penang,even took some time off to share in some friendly banter with the people. Would you see this elsewhere?
Antonio Anselmi received the Brand Laureate award on behalf of I MUSICI.

The I MUSICI ensemble with the Chief Minister and some other personalities before the start of their one-and-a-half-hour performance.

The first set of the programme consisted of Overture from Barber Of Seville (Rossini), Variations on a Theme from Moses in Egypt by Rossini (Paganini), Prelude from La Traviata (Verdi), Une Larme for cello and strings (Rossini), Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) and Sinfonia from Nabucco (Verdi).

I MUSICI returned after the break to perform one of their most famous pieces, the full set of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Then, garbed in the George Town Festival T-shirt, the musicians presented two stirring encores.

The people that waited patiently after the concert were rewarded with an autograph session by all the musicians at the Dewan Sri Pinang's lobby.

I didn't realise it then but here I was with my wife, caught lining up during the autograph session. This picture was lifted from the George Town Festival page on facebook. Of course, I had brought along my booklet of the Brandenburg Concertos double-CD that had been performed by an earlier incarnation of I MUSICI during the 1990s. Francesca Vicari, the only lady amongst the present 12-member ensemble, was totally engrossed with the booklet.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Farewell to my aunt

Today marks the 25th day that I had been away from my blog. The absence had not been planned or on purpose. It was just that I had been very busy trying to get over a personal loss. It hadn't been just me; my whole family is now trying to adjust ourselves to a home without my old aunt, my late father's sister. She passed away two days after my last blog entry.

For a long time already, she had been suffering from osteoarthritis in her knee joints. Both left and right. Then in October or November last year, she began complaining about a back pain. We took her to so many doctors and specialists. Injections she had, pills she took, but the pain persisted. One doctor even suspected a problem with her renal system because that was the general direction where the pain was coming from.

And eventually in February, just a week before Chinese New Year, we persuaded her to be warded at a private hospital in Province Wellesley. It was there that we finally learnt that her back pain was caused by a compressed T12 bone in her spinal column.

It must have been from a fall a very long time ago as she couldn't remember when or how she got it. I suspected the ache must have been there all this while but with age and her osteoarthritis catching up with her, she was now feeling the discomfort even more. And with the bone pressing on her nerves, the old injury was now affecting both her hips and knee joints. The orthopaedic surgeon said that at her age, it would be very risky to operate and the only solution for her was pain management through medication and physiotherapy.

Despite the pain, my aunt still wanted to get on gamely with her life. As she could no longer take her daily morning walks to the market, I had to drive her there. At least, the brief time at the market would keep her mind and body busy. But from April onwards, she asked me even to stop taking her there. It was becoming almost impossible for her to walk unaided anymore.

At first, she started using a walking stick, one with four mini-legs for more stability but later, I decided on a walker. It helped her mobility but by early May, even that became an ordeal. She couldn't be on her feet for long.

We heard of the Institut Perubatan dan Pergigian Termaju (Advanced Medical and Dental Institute) in Bertam. This was a research hospital run by the University of Science Malaysia. A very modern hospital with good facilities but basically little known and consequently under-utilised. The orthopaedic specialist warded her for observation. This was the eighth of May.

We could see that her medications were working and her pain was actually getting less. But she kept complaining that her appetite wasn't improving and she still suffered from lightheadedness and dizziness, and couldn't move her bowels well. There were occasional bouts of vomiting as she couldn't put her food down. All this we had expected as she had been complaining about them even a long time ago.

When my son and I went up to see her on 18 May, she was well enough and happy. We thought everything was beginning to be alright with her.

Then in the morning of 19 May - can't be sure of the time but it could possibly be around nine o'clock or so - we received a very innocuous call from a nurse at the IPPT telling us that my aunt wanted broth for lunch. So okay, my wife started to prepare this broth. Just before noon, another call came in to ask why we weren't at the hospital yet. We were told that my aunt was in critical condition and would be moved to the Kepala Batas Hospital. For the first time, we were alarmed. What had suddenly happened to the old lady?

By the time we arrived at the IPPT, we were told that they had already moved her to the Kepala Batas Hospital. We rushed there to find her in the critical ward, basically already semi-conscious and with two or three tubes stuck into her. The prognosis wasn't good. The resident doctor there told us to actually prepare for the worst. They would try to help as much as possible but with her condition, the chances were deemed very slim.

We hunkered down, expecting a very long night. About a quarter before midnight, my wife noticed that her breathing had become shallow and her heartbeat was suddenly slowing down. The nurses tried to revive my aunt, even by using a defribrillator, but there was nothing more that could be done. My aunt's date of demise: 19 May 2013.

My family's style has never been to prolong the mourning period for more than three days. So the funeral was held on the 21st of May and my aunt's remains were cremated. We collected her ashes on the next day and her urn was placed at the Batu Gantong columbarium next to that of my father and mother.

The 24th of May being Wesak Day, we carried out one of her final wishes by doing dana for her at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas. The next day being the seventh day of her demise, we held prayers at the columbarium followed by one at the Triple Wisdom Buddhist Temple in Pangkor Road on the island and then another offering of dana at the Sri Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road.