Monday, 30 September 2013

Themed night for OFA 90th anniversary dinner

Still three weeks away but what the heck, I've already collected my tickets from The Old Frees' Association. 

I notice that it's going to be a themed night and members are encouraged to turn up wearing their sport house colours. What's your colour? Mine's one of these. :-)

Friday, 27 September 2013

Giant trees

One of the well-worn paths at the Bukit Mertajam Hill in Cherok Tokun lies beside the stream. As you walk up the terraced path before entering the forest, this huge tree looms to the right. It cannot be missed at all as it is really big with an impressive set of buttress roots. You may think that this could be the biggest tree at the BM Hill but actually, the hill is still largely unexplored and there may well be some other surprises inside.

Earlier this week, I got a message from Long Kin to ask whether I wanted to see an even bigger tree at the BM Hill. Seemed that he himself was shown this tree not so long ago by some other friends and he wanted to share this discovery with me. Okay, I told him, let's go!

So on Wednesday, we met at the foothills and went walking up the same terraced path, passing the big tree by the stream. I paused to take a few photographs just in case I needed them for comparison later. You can see the size of this tree from the two pictures below.

About five minutes into our walk, Long Kin took us to a detour to the right of the main track. It's off the beaten track. Not many people had been here, I observed. There weren't many obvious signs of gravel wear along the track. Much of the way was rather narrow and steep, and at two or three places we were required to climb over fallen tree trunks, but that was all. No dramatic danger around. And best of all, no leeches. Along the way, there were also some interesting flora:

And soon enough, our destination loomed into full view. We had reached a small clearing in the forest where, for the first time in my life, I saw an absolutely immense set of buttress roots. If I had thought that the tree by the stream was big, this one was h-u-g-e. Yes, huge. You've got to see it for yourself to appreciate how big such trees could grow when they are not disturbed by human development.

The above picture was taken from one angle only. I had to pick my way gingerly round the roots before I could get this second picture snapped from a different perspective.

It is impossible to say how old the tree is. My guess is at least four or five hundred years old - but possibly even older because it would be very hard to put an age on this healthy, living tree - as it is located in a little known, uninhabited area of the hill, away from human beings with only animals and insects as its companions. Undisturbed, it had grown to this immense size. Seeing how awesome nature works when given time, I wouldn't be surprised if one day, someone else would uncover some other even bigger trees around here.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Singapore hawker food

I won't say much about the hawker food in Singapore except to limit my comments to this solitary post. But the general rule of thumb is that if you can find similar food in the Malayan peninsula, chances are very good that these are better alternatives than the Singaporean version.

During my brief stay in Singapore last week, I did get to try the food at the much ballyhooed Maxwell hawker centre. Tried the Tian Tian chicken rice, the peanut soup and the Zhen Zhen porridge. I didn't have the space in my tummy to try the fish beehoon soup stall, though. But at all three stalls - selling chicken rice, porridge and beehoon soup - there were long queues. I actually waited in line for about 30 minutes before I got to my porridge, just to determine whether the stall's reputation was deserved.

But first, the chicken rice. Okay, I do accept that the chicken was very well done. I could have requested for the chicken drumstick but I allowed the hawker to serve me chicken rice with breast meat. I had expected the meat to be tough but wonders of wonders, it was soft and tender. Yes, that part was worthy of their reputation. But the rice was only of average standard. Definitely, I can get better rice even here in Penang. That, unfortunately, was the reality.

The peanut soup was acceptable enough to me. The hawker asked whether or not I wanted the glutinous rice balls. One came filled with grounded peanuts while the other was filled with red bean paste. Not bad, but I can still get this equivalent peanut soup here in Penang, with the slices of yew char kueh thrown in, although without the rice balls.

While I was enjoying the soup, an old gentleman sat to share my table. He had with him a bowl of the fish beehoon soup. So I struck up a conversation with him. He said that he always travelled down to this Maxwell hawker centre because these were the original hawkers in Singapore and the food here was marvellous. Marvellous by Singapore standards only, I thought silently to myself. And what would he recommend me, seeing that I've already satisfied much of my hunger pangs? 

Try the porridge, he urged me and poured all sorts of compliments on the food. And that was how I joined the 30-minute queue. Some of the people in line, obviously office workers, were buying back three, four, five packets of the porridge and that contributed to the long wait. But at long last, I settled down with my own bowl of fish porridge. I stirred the bowl. Yah, thin slices of fish came up. But the porridge itself was a surprise. The grains were so broken down through the long hours of cooking that the porridge had become one uniformly thick, gooey constituency. But don't get me wrong. It was all right with me. The first few mouthfuls were okay but as I progressed further through my food, I began thinking, "hey, why am I still consuming this starchy paste?"

So that's my brief food adventure at the Maxwell hawker centre. Reputable though the hawkers there are - one had even received an endorsement from the celebrity chef, Anthony Bordain - I couldn't help thinking that Penang hawker street food is still very much better, by and large.

(Picture from
But the food items that are uniquely Singaporean are definitely worth experiencing. The bak chor mee for one. I didn't pass up the offer from one of my friends to take me to Meng's Kitchen, an 24-hour bak chor mee shop in Upper Thomson Road. As the place was packed, there was nothing to do but to wait until a table was freed. Soon, we were enjoying a bowl each. Ahh, here I must admit that this could be one of the best dry bak chor mee that I have ever had in Singapore. Just the right ingredients - pork, sliced liver, a small bowl of soup with accompanying meat balls - and perfect balance of sourness from the dash of vinegar.

And the other food item that is uniquely Singapore? Nothing else but their chwee kueh, which I located at the Ghim Moh market hawker centre. The old couple were busy attending to the short queue that had built up. Beside them was a large stack of small metal containers they used to steam their chwee kueh. I don't know how many are actually sold every day but I would hazard ... at least around a thousand? The name for this food item came from the small depression in the steamed rice cake in which a minute pool of water would condense and accumulate. The chwee kueh is best savoured with some minced meat and a dash of the hawker's chilli paste. Yes, I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Old friends in 2013

Well, I made full use of the opportunity to touch base with a few of my old school mates when I was down in Singapore over the weekend. We all met up at the Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant at the so-called Turf City because it was the old premises of the Singapore Turf Club. The old building is now home to restaurants and food outlets, much like we can see at many refurbished places in Penang nowadays. I was told that this Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant is just one of several outlets in the city state.

 Old mates: left to right, Leong Teik, Nai Kwang, Kok Chuan, myself and Teik Kooi.

Cost was world of a difference

Roast pork rice. One was ordered from the food court on the fourth floor of the Wisma Atria in Singapore last Friday which cost me S$4.50 (equivalent to RM11.70 at current exchange rate of S$1 = RM2.60). The other was ordered today from a coffee shop located opposite the Kampung Baru market in Bukit Mertajam and it cost me RM3.80. Both tasted about the same. Guess which is which from the pictures:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Nobody bothered, of course!

Still carrying on from my post yesterday, I had unearthed a little obscure news report in The Straits Times of 25 Nov 1960. I'm sure many of our politicians would feign ignorance by claiming to be too young (or not even born) to be aware of this news item but there you have it: as long as 53 years ago, educationalists were already warning us against lowering our educational standards. Today, the insidious federal government politicians have been exposed for their own self-serving mediocrity.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Feeling annoyed over education in Malaysia

I am feeling very annoyed and indignant today because there is this stupid kosong kepala of a federal government minister who said that those Malaysians who have no confidence in the country’s education system as outlined in the National Education Blueprint can send their children to study abroad. This, coming from Idris Jusoh who is the Education Minister II.

Does this mean that if we do not have the means to send our children overseas, we have to put up with your silly blueprint? No, we still have got to see that we can get the best possible solution in our own country. In this very own country. And if this means making proposals to improve the blueprint contrary to the recommendations, it has to be done.

So please, lah, don't talk about taking our children overseas. Be prepared to listen and improve. Sell your idea to us parents. Convince us that the blueprint is the right direction. Your antagonistic attitude is totally not helpful at all. Instead of engaging concerned parents and educationalists, the federal government wants to ram their new proposal down everyone's throat without dissent.

On another similar matter, I was alarmed to read a long post on facebook by Dr Ramasamy who is the Chief Minister II in the Penang state government. He was ranting and commenting on the slide in the global rankings of our Malaysian public universities, but he really had hit the nail on the head. His comments were quite informative, factual and well-argued. All these truths are, however, being ignored by the powers-that-be in the federal government and as we know, they live in their own misguided utopia.

"Are we surprised that the Malaysian public universities further declined in the global rankings of universities. Out of the 800 universities ranked by World University Rankings 2013/2014, the top 10 included universities from UK and USA. Malaysia was nowhere within the top 100 universities. University Malaya fell from 156 place in 2012 to 167, UKM 261 to 269, USM from 326 to 355, UTM went up from 358 to 355, UPM from 360 to 411 to 420, IIUM from 401-450 to 501-550 and UITM from 601 to 701. So how do you explain the dismal performance of our leading public universities. First, our universities basically serve as government departments catering for the employment of Malays. Qualified non-Malays are not taken as both lecturers and employees. Public universities in line with the racist policies of UMNO are meant as a Malay preserve. Second, research and development, quality teaching and critical exposure remains at the symbolic level. Dissent and critical thinking are not tolerated in public universities especially those ideas that directly challenge the entrenched powers. Third, UMNO is basically the guardian "angel" of public universities. Positions like deans, vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and others are meant for UMNO members or those who toe the line of UMNO. Fourth, very few qualified non-Malays are recruited as lecturers and promotions are few and far between. Fourth, promotions to associate professors and professors are not based on academic ability and quality publications, but rather how political networks are established and maintained. Fifth, given the lack of academic leadership, there is little or no competition amongst students to excel in academic studies. Sixth, publications by lecturers and professors are not of international standard. Quantity is more important than quality. I can go on stating more reasons as to why the Malaysian universities are on the decline and why without a greater political transformation, it would be impossible to rectify the system."

Monday, 9 September 2013

Escaping the pain

(This is not an advertisement but only a testimonial on the effectiveness of a sensitive tooth toothpaste. Heck, I'm not even mentioning the name of the product....)

Oof! I tell you, having a sensitive tooth is no laughing matter. It can strike at any time. One minute you are fine but the next second, the most horrendous twinges of sudden pain sweeps through your mouth. A visit to the dentist may turn out nothing but if the dentist is experienced enough, he would recognise the symptom as that of a sensitive tooth.

Since a few months ago, I have had these sudden twinges of pain. Sometimes it was just a short dull ache among the teeth but other times too, there'd be a short, sharp pain akin to a toothache. At first, gargling with salt water and even brushing my teeth with a mixture of toothpaste and salt seemed to resolve the problem. For quite a while, the problem subsided.

Then it came back with a vengeance. No amount of salt could save me. Every sip I took of my favourite kopi-o caused me a searing pain in the tooth. No more choice but to visit my favourite dentist.

After I opened up wide enough for him to pry around my teeth and gums, he told me that I had a sensitive tooth. The gum had receded somewhat and had exposed the dentine. So every time I ate something that was not quite agreeable, the pain would remind me that the exposed dentine was reacting to the food.

So what can I do, I asked the dentist. Nothing much, he replied casually. Hey, I'm the one experiencing the pain, not you, I protested. Yah, lah, he shot back, nothing much for him to do.

Then he tossed me two sample tubes of a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Just rub your teeth with this toothpaste every night and rinse away after five minutes. That's all? I asked him, feeling rather skeptical. That's all, he assured me.

For the past two weeks, I have been rubbing this paste over my teeth diligently every night. For good measure, I even resorted to doing the same in the morning too. And I'm happy to inform the world that yes, this toothpaste really works! It took about four days for the formula to start working but once it did, I haven't been feeling the twinges of pain again.

The problem is, I'm sure that this solution cannot last forever. There'll come a time when the pain will come back. So the only painless way to prevent the pain from returning looks like for me to continually use this toothpaste. If there's no more free sample, then I've got to buy it from the pharmacy...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Kong Hock Keong (Kuan Im Temple) reopens

The renovations to the collapsed roof at the 214-year old Kong Hock Keong, popularly known as the Kuan Im Temple, are almost fully completed but the temple trustees have already opened up Penang's oldest Chinese temple in Pitt Street, George Town, to the general public even as restoration work is still continuing.

The main entrance into the Kong Hock Keong.

 The main hall of the Kuan Im Temple. No joss sticks, no urns, no devotees praying.

The interior of the Kong Hock Keong is sparklingly clean. The old roof beams have been replaced and new tiles line the roof tops. The deities have all been given fresh coats of paint and new capes.  They look new but of course, I know that many of them are more than a hundred years old. Some, to my understanding, may even be closer to two hundred years.

The inner hall of the Kuan Im Temple.

A more significant change is that the temple authorities have now disallowed worshippers from burning joss sticks and paper within the temple premises. However, it was uncertain to me whether anyone could bring in their lit joss sticks into the building. The short time that I was at the Kong Hock Keong, nobody did.

Yes, "thank you," indeed. :-)

So where could people actually kneel down to pray? As far as I could make out, the temple authorities had placed two long rows of a low platform on the ground between the lion guardians. (You can also see them in the first picture.) People are requested to kneel here, I suppose, unshaded from the elements, whether it be the hot sun or the wet rain.

I didn't see anyone kneeling down under the hot sun! Would you?
All the old brass urns have been replaced with aluminium or stainless steel ones, and these are lined up in the open forecourt facing the entrance. A metal shelter has been erected there but I wonder whether or not this is going to be a permanent feature. The structure is definitely incongruent with the heritage status of the temple. It is ill fitting, out of place amidst our history and culture. Can be better designed. The temple trustees should consider alternatives. Public opinion is important. Practicality is also important.

The modern urns in the front courtyard

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

George Town by day, George Town by night

Buildings looked bigger at night than in the daytime, yes, no? Actually, what you see below were just tricks on the eye. Despite the height of the KOMTAR tower being relatively the same, the two pictures were taken from different perspectives and angles.

It so happened that I had a lot to do yesterday and consequently, I spent about 12 hours out on the island. I chose to travel by the Penang ferry on the outbound trip and came back via the Penang bridge. After the rains of the past two or three days, the haze cleared up and the sky was remarkably clear. Especially so at nighttime from the bridge, the lights of George Town and Butterworth were really brilliant.

I took some snapshots and I would like to think that these two pictures were the most representative from my little camera: daytime from the ferry and nighttime from the bridge. And as you know, the ferry and bridge provide completely different viewpoints altogether.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Thank you for voting Barisan Nasional

The people of Malaysia are now paying the price for the wanton spendings of a reckless federal government. Not just of this Najib regime alone, but also that of the Mahathir and the Badawi regimes. Your support of their corruption and blatant lies has now come back to haunt everybody!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia or Firefly? Or Berjaya Air?

I wrote this story way back in Year 2009. That's four years ago. And I know that a lot of people still read this story to find out the most convenient way of flying between Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Of course, much of the information in my original story still holds true but today, there is a fourth alternative if one wants to fly between the two cities.

So apart from using Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia or Firefly, travellers should also seriously consider Berjaya Air. They are not a new airline, by the way. Berjaya Air has been around for ages but all the time, the airline had been flying to Pangkor, Redang and Tioman from the Subang airport near Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur. Since from late last year or earlier this year though, Berjaya Air decided to extend their route to Penang. And all I can do is to shout out, "finally!" It is about time that travellers get another choice alternative.

I haven't flown on Berjaya Air before, but my wife has. My daughter has flown on this airline too, and so has my son. I'm the only one in the family who still has my feet firmly on the ground, so it seems.

How was the flight? I had asked my wife casually when she flew on Berjaya Air recently. Oh, it was quite all right, she replied. Coming from her, this understatement was already a compliment. Similarly, my son and daughter had only effusive things to say about flying Berjaya Air. The aircraft employed is the ATR72-500 which is the same type used by Firefly. My wife's recent one-way trip from Penang to Kuala Lumpur cost her RM98 and she landed not at the KLIA low-cost carrier terminal (KLIA LCCT) but at the closer Subang Airport at the outskirts of Petaling Jaya.

P.S. As someone commented, the taxi or bus fares to the Subang Airport mentioned in my original article do not apply anymore. So please do check out the prices yourself once you are there!

---ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Posted on 31 July 2009)---

I am thinking about making a short trip from Penang to Kuala Lumpur next week and looking at possibilities of using Malaysia Airlines to jet into the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or AirAsia and land at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) or be propelled by Firefly into the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (SAAS) Airport, formerly known as Subang Airport.

However, the problem I see with Malaysia Airlines is the rather high cost of the ticket. After throwing in the taxes and what not, a return ticket on my intended days of travel will amount to RM515, and I haven't even added in the cost of the KLIA Express tickets (another RM70) and the travel to KL Sentral to catch the train. It's going to cost something like RM600 for the round trip.

AirAsia, well, they are so much cheaper at RM161 for a return trip (could become more expensive if I delay booking my flight tickets) and the cost of a bus ticket from the LCCT to KL Sentral and back is only about RM14. However, the flight schedule does not really appeal to me. I'm only free to travel in the afternoon but by the time I get to Kuala Lumpur, the whole day is gone and wasted.

So, taking flight schedule into consideration, I think that Firefly is presently my best option. The return flight will cost RM239 (more than I expected, actually, but I don't get to waste the afternoon and evening hours) and I think that I shall need perhaps another RM70 for travel from Subang airport to my destination in KL. Total cost is around RM310.

According to the Firefly website, it only takes about 30 minutes of ground travel time from the airport to the Kuala Lumpur city centre. It doesn't elaborate but I think that Fireflyz meant the KLCC and not anywhere else. Where would the Kuala Lumpur city centre be if not the KLCC?

The website also has some useful travel tips for people who haven't flown by their new high-wing, twin turboprop ATR 72-500 aircraft before. I certainly haven't and I shall look forward to it. Anyway, I read that its capacity is 72 "seating" passengers. The interior of the ATR-72 500 looks quite nice from the picture, doesn't it?

(I just hope this description doesn't mean that Firefly - or AirAsia for that matter - is considering Ryan Air's controversial proposal to make some of their customers stand during flights.)

There are buses arriving at the Subang airport every 30 minutes between 6am and midnight: Rapid KL Bus No: U81 to/from KL Sentral/Central Market for RM2 (return) and the ticket purchased is valid for one day of use, and Metro Bus No: 9 to/from the Klang bus stand (near Kuala Lumpur's China Town) for RM2 (one way).

At the airport, taxi coupons must be purchased at the taxi counter near the Skypark information counter, and the taxi counter is open from 7am to 11.30pm. (I think it is a type error on the website because it says until 11.30am.) Anyway, cost per trip is RM35 to all destinations in Kuala Lumpur and RM23 to all destinations in Petaling Jaya, including the Kelana Jaya Putra Light Rail Transit (LRT) station.

I used to blog once about a shuttle bus service between the KLIA and the LCCT, and thought that perhaps there's a similar service servicing all three airports, but apparently there's none. Passengers between the KLIA and the LCCT should still take the shuttle bus but a trip from Subang airport to the other two airports and vice-versa has to be made by taxi. A one-way taxi trip to the KLIA will cost RM70 while to the LCCT, it will be RM75, that's what I've learnt so far.

From Subang, I'm tempted to take the taxi to the Kelana Jaya LRT station and thence to my destination in Kuala Lumpur but I don't believe the extra 40-minute travel time is worth saving me RM9 if I were to take the taxi direct.

Decisions, decisions .... Anyway, it's still early days to really consider my options.