Saturday, 30 November 2013

Best chicken rice

[Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement. Nobody has paid me anything to write this story. I don't even get any free chicken to eat. I'm writing this because I'm moved enough by the gastronomic experience.]

My wife always tells me to control my eating but how on earth can I do that when I am confronted by the best chicken rice that has passed through my lips?

I've always deemed the chicken rice shop in Cintra Street, George Town, as the best in Penang, but this stall at the Kwan Nam coffee shop in Chai Leng Park on mainland Penang is way ahead of all the competition. It serves the most succulent pieces of chicken I've ever tasted. Even the chicken breast meat, which is a turn-off for many people, is soft and delicious.

I know there are friends who swear that the chicken rice stall at the Maxwell Road food hawker centre in Singapore is the best but for me, having tasted that one in Singapore and this one in Penang, there is really no competition.

For me, the Chai Leng Park stall here, which my wife and I discovered by accident, is definitely the best chicken rice stall ever. Last Thursday was already the third Thursday in a row that I've been patronising the food here. It comes with a bowl of fish ball and a plate of crunchy beansprouts. However, the stall opens only from the evening onwards.

Friday, 29 November 2013

New airport? Bad idea!

I'm totally appalled. I could not believe my eyes reading the news items in online news portals like The Malay Mail Online and The Malaysian Insider where the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, had formally written in to the Acting Minister of Transport, Hishammuddin Hussein, asking him to approve the construction of a second runway at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas or alternatively, build a new airport for the state.

I can fully understand the need to build a second runway if land permits it - and from what I have learnt from Guan Eng's assertions, there is land for it - because the growth from Penang's tourism industry will outgrow the full capacity of the present airport.

But to build a new airport? Huh? Better be careful there. The last time that the issue of a second airport was raised, that wily old fox, Mahathir Mohamad, had wanted to build one in Sungai Petani. It was only due to the timely(?) providence that the Asian financial crisis hit Malaysia in 1997 that Mahathir's airport plan was scuppered. If not, all of Penang's airport tourist traffic would have been diverted to Kedah by now. Where then would that leave Penang?

And with Guan Eng suddenly asking for a new airport, this is just like providing the ammunition to the Barisan Nasional regime in Putrajaya and Alor Star from reviving this project again. No doubt, a calculated risk but positively not a good idea coming from the man who is supposed to lead Penang to greater heights. He shouldn't be opening his mouth like that without consulting his people, who should know better than to advise him in this fashion.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Driving down Dato Kramat Road

It was last Saturday afternoon. My wife and I risked a visit to the island to get some chores done. Our journey took us down Dato Kramat Road and what do you know: we got caught up in a traffic snarl going towards the Goh Pah Teng intersection.

While waiting for the cars to inch slowly forward, I took a few camera snapshots of the imposing KOMTAR Tower ahead of us, including one of the tower's top at the camera's maximum optical zoom.

I never fail to be impressed with the capability of my little compact digital camera when the lighting conditions are acceptable. Or maybe, it was because my camera settings just happened to be right at that moment. Anyway, it was a bright and clear day.

 (P.S. If you want to see the full panoramic view, please click on the above photograph.)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Quah (柯) surname in a nutshell

Although my surname is Quah (柯) (alternatively, Ke in Mandarin) and I belong to a closely-knit group of Ow Quah (後柯) clansmen who have our roots in a small village in China's Hock Kian Province, I have to admit that I do not know much about our origins. Where were we from? What was our history? Unfortunately, my ancestors' origins have not been well documented.

All I know about our Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) comes from the official Rules and Regulations of the Kongsi, which states that the clan house in Penang, Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂), was established in 1846 (Pia Gor year in the reign of Emperor Toh Kong (道光帝)) by the Ow Quah clansmen that originated from Tia Boay (village), Tung Uahn Kuan (district), Chuan Chew Hoo (prefecture), Hock Kian Seng (province), China.

In these Rules and Regulations, which were dated 5 Dec 1941, it was acknowledged that the Ow-Quah clansmen that had established the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi were members of the family of the Hye Inn Tong (海印堂) ancestral worship hall in Tia Boay. The It Keng Tong (一经堂) was the other main Ow Quah ancestral worship hall in the village.

It was related to me that during the 1960s when China was caught up in the midst of their Cultural Revolution, contact between the Hye Inn Tong in China and the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi was reduced to the point of zero communication. Attempts to re-establish links with the Hye Inn Tong in recent decades came to naught and instead, it was with the It Keng Tong that the link became firmer. The irony of it all, I heard, is that the members of the It Keng Tong are also members of the Hye Inn Tong. Perhaps one day in the future, we can re-grow this link again.

Without actually visiting the place, it is no longer so simple trying to locate my ancestral village in these modern times. As small communities grew bigger, they coalesced, boundaries were redrawn, and names of places were changed, sometimes significantly. For example, the jurisdiction of Tung Uahn Kuan in the early 20th century used to be quite extensive and important. The vast region it administered included the present-day Xiamen municipality, Jinmen county and the north-eastern part of Longhai city. In May 1997, Tung Uahn Kuan (in Pinyin, now known as Tong'anqu (同安區)) lost its earlier administrative status and became a district within the Xiamen municipality itself. It suffered further reduced influence in 2003 when five towns were split off to form a new district.

I know that in present-day China, the two worship halls of my ancestral clan house are now described in Pinyin as the Haiyintang (海印堂) and Yijingtang (hall) (一涇堂), located in Houkecun (village) (後柯村), Dongfuzhen (town) (东孚镇), Haicangqu (district) (海滄區), Xiamenshi (municipality) (廈門) in Fujiansheng (province) (福建省).

Anyway, Hock Kian Province in southern China was where most of the Quah family clan in South-East Asia would have originated from. In this part of the world, the Quah surname can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and probably dispersed elsewhere too, like Indonesia. Other derivatives of the spelling would be Qua, Keo, Kua, Kwa, Kuah, Kwah, Kuo, Ko, Cua, et cetera, but the Chinese character remains as 柯.

Here in Penang, our Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi is a closely-knit society with a small membership almost to the point of exclusivity. It is actually so small and steeped in Confucian values that I fear for its very existence and survival in 50 years' time.

Again from verbal stories told to me, it seemed that in the years before the Japanese Occupation, there was an attempt to reach out to all the Quah people in Penang to raise funds to purchase landed properties on the island. However, only those whose ancestors were from Tung Uahn Kuan responded. As a result, the society's board of trustees then decided that membership would henceforth be opened only to the local descendants of the Quah community from Tung Uahn Kuan. Among all the members, only the names of two notable persons spring to my mind and they were both from the long, distant past. The first one I should mention is Quah Beng Kee, while the other is Quah Sin Kheng. Both were very successful merchants and businessmen.

I should also mention that many people often mistake our Quah Kongsi for the more visible Chay Yeong Tong Sin Quah Chuah Chong Soo (济阳堂辛柯蔡宗祠) in Pulau Tikus, Penang. No, our societies are two separate entities. The members of the Swee Cheok Tong are exclusively descendants of the Quah clansmen in the Tung Uahn Kuan mentioned above, whereas the members of the Sin Quah Chuah can be made up of anyone whose surnames are Sin, Quah and Chuah. The three surnames are supposedly closely knitted (but don't ask me how), regardless of their origins in China. It is interesting to note again that people with the Quah surname whose ancestors were not from Tung Uahn Kuan are not eligible to join the Swee Cheok Tong but they can join the Sin Quah Chuah anytime.

Recently, I came across an old, undated newspaper clipping by Lim Lay Ling - it must have been from the 1990s when The Straits Times in Singapore used to run a regular series on Chinese surnames - which gave a short account of the Quah surname.
The family of Ke had their roots in southern China. They came from the state of Wu (吳國), which was a large territory roughly south of the Yangzi Jiang, in present-day Wuxi county, Jiangsu Province.
History records that Wu state was passed down by Taibo, uncle of King Wen, during the Zhou dynasty (周朝) 3,000 years ago.

[Note: Some explanations are required here before I get too confused myself: 

Ji Danfu (姬亶父) was a legendary figure who lived during the tail-end of the Shang dynasty (商朝). After he established the duchy of Zhou in the Wei Valley, he took the name of King Tai of Zhou (周太王). Ji Danfu had three sons: Ji Taibo (姬泰伯) who was the eldest, Ji Zhongyong (姬仲雍) who was the second son and Ji Jili (姬季歷) who was the youngest.

The Chinese historian, Szu-ma Chien, recorded that Ji Danfu and his son Ji Jili were both renowned for their wisdom. As a result, Ji Jili's two elder brothers Ji Taibo and Ji Zhongyong voluntarily renounced their claims on the throne and left in exile to the state of Wu. As Taibo had no heir when he died, the Wu throne was passed down to Zhongyong.

Ji Jili was later to become King Ji of Zhou (周公季). Ji Jili's son was Ji Chang (姬昌) who was also known as King Wen of Zhou (周文王). Ji Chang's son was Ji Fa (姬發) and later, was the King Wu of Zhou (周武王) who established the imperial Zhou dynasty (周朝) upon him overthrowing the Shang dynasty. Confused? You bet I sure am!]
At first, the place did not attract much attention but after several generations of hard work in the country by Taibo's descendants, the land slowly became known. They migrated southwards and became a prominent clan in southern China, especially in Fujian (Fukien) Province.

Besides the people from the state of Wu, other groups like the descendants of Jiang Taigong (姜太公), a well-known statesman in the Zhou dynasty and some minority ethnic groups also adopted Ke as their surname.

As in other clans, the Ke had their share of brilliant people.
One of them was Ke Su, an official under Emperor Song Shen-zong (1048-1085) of the Song dynasty. It was said that when he was an officer, he often helped and raised funds for the poor. Legend has it that two magpies often built tleir nests on the beams of his house. Later, when his official term was up and he moved to another place, the birds also followed him.This story was mentioned by Su Dongpo, a great poet who also lived during the same period, in one of his prose pieces.

In the Ming dynasty, there was a scholar of noble character named Ke Qian. His aloofness and casual attitude towards life, though quite uncommon in those days, was respected by many people.

Another scholar who deserves mention was Ke Qian's great grandson, Ke Weiqi (1497-1574), who rejected an officer's post so as to concentrate on his research on history. Although he was well-read, he only concentrated his efforts on historical research. He was so meticulous and serious in his work that it took him nearly 20 years to compile the histories of three dynasties - Song (960-1279), Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) - into one book. The book, called A New History of Song Dynasty, was highly acclaimed in the academic field.

Then there was Ke Tie. a patriot who came from Taiwan during the late Qing dynasty. He was a paper-maker. When the Japanese put pressure on the Qing government to give up Taiwan to them in 1895, Ke Tie and a few others led an armed resistance.

Although Ke originated in the south, some Chinese northerners also bear the surname. One of these was Ke Shaomin (1850-1933), a contemporary historian from Shandong Province in northern China. He was well-read and had a deep knowledge in history. In 1914, he was made the principal of Qingshiguan, a committee set up by the Republic government to allow a group of people to compile the history of the Qing dynasty.

Ke Shaodong was also the author ol several books. One of them was Xin Yuan Shu, a book on the history of the Yuan dynasty and the Mongolians, which was made the official history by the government. 
Personally, I believe it was wrong of the newspaper editors to say that the Ke was descended from Ji Taibo. It can't be that simple. Even the writer herself was silent about how it came about, especially since Taibo reportedly had no heir. However, in order to put the above narration into its proper perspective, here is an alternative story of the origin of the Ke surname - this time, from north of the Yangtze River - which I had extracted from a deeply-buried post in the soc-culture.china newsgroup, written by Chung Yoon Ngan on 22 April 1996. Read the two and you may be able to connect them together. According to Chung:
Ke means the stem of the branches of a tree or a grass, e.g., Ke is written as Mu (wood) and Ke (can). The surname Ke is about 3,100 years old and this is its history:

Jiang Shang alias Jiang Ziya (and also known as Jiang Taigong) was 32 years old when he entered a monastery. His ambition was to become an immortal. Needless to say, he failed.

During the reign of King Zhou of Shang (1154BC-1122BC), Jiang left the monastery. He married a woman who could not bear him a child. Later, he married again and this second wife bore him two sons. At first, Jiang went into business but he failed miserably as he did not have the know-how. Eventually, he became a part-time fisherman.

Ji Chang was the leader of the Zhou people who lived in the region of Wei Valley west of the great bend of Huang He (Yellow River). His domain was within the empire of the Shang dynasty. He was obliged to serve as an advisor in the Shang Court in the capital Chao Ge (present day Qi Xian in Henan province).

King Zhou was a wicked and cruel King. Later, he imprisoned Ji Chang for three years and also killed his son Ji Kao who was his assistant. After his release, Ji Chang returned to his homeland and died soon after. His son Ji Fa became the leader of the Zhou people.

Jiang Ziya had been employed by Ji Chang before he went to the capital to serve the wicked King Zhou. Now, Ji Fa appointed him as the commander-in-chief of the Zhou armed forces.

Under his command was a young general by the name of Ke Lu. As he was already very old and General Ke was still very young and capable, Jiang Ziya relied heavily on him to do all the active duties. General Jiang spent most of the time studying military strategies and tactics.

In 1122BC, Ji Fa destroyed the Shang dynasty and established the Zhou dynasty. He was known as King Wu. He rewarded the title Hou (Marquis) to Jiang Ziya for his services as the commander-in-chief. Later, King Wu delegated him power to rule a district called Qi (present day Linzi Xian in Shandong province). It was renamed as the state of Qi. With him was the young general Ke Lu who settled down in Qi. Ke Lu married and had many children whom he retained the surname Ke. That was how this surname began.

The surname Ke originated in an area called Ji Yang Prefecture during the Jin Dynasty (265AD to 420AD). Ji means "help, aid, relieve." Yang means "the sun, bright, clear, masculine, positive." The present day location of Ji Yang Prefecture is in Dingtao Xian in Shandong province China.

So this is about all I can gather about the origins of the Quah people and the Quah (Ke) surname, which dated back to the ancient Chinese states of Wu (11th Century BC - 473BC) and Qi (1046BC-221BC). These stories should not be accepted as definitive and I can see so many loose ends which I've not bothered to verify. And I can't! I'm sure that there are lots more stories that can be written but like most other records, they are already lost in the mists of time and would be grossly inaccurate.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Malindo Air's online booking

I got more than a little upset early this morning. The problem was with Malindo Air, you see, that upstart airline which was set up earlier in the year to muscle into the low-cost budget travel industry now being dominated by its big brother, AirAsia.

I don't mind the competition as long as the flying customer does not suffer from any lack of service. I've already flown into Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia, Firefly, and Malaysia Airlines before, while my family has used Berjaya Air. Therefore, I thought it would be timely for me to use something new for this weekend's trip.

The attraction of Malindo Air is that the passenger can choose to buy tickets for flights that land at either the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (Subang) Airport. For this trip, it makes little difference to me since my daughter could pick me up at either the KL Sentral (if I land at the KLIA and take the express train into the city) or the Subang Airport itself. But I chose Subang because it was close to her home.

My problem with Malindo Air was that their website was terribly slow and lagging last night. I should have heeded the pre-warning signal hours earlier when I tried to book my ticket through my iPad. Despite the 15-minute buffer time that Malindo Air had given people to key in their details and get charged through their credit cards or direct bank debits, my transaction had timed out. Luckily, a quick check with my bank showed that nothing had been charged to my account.

I should have left it at that and relooked at the other options, such as AirAsia. I wouldn't have minded landing at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) and take the bus-train combo service down to KL Sentral but I really wanted to try this new airline. So never mind, I would try again later.

Which I did, at slightly past midnight. This time, I decided to sit at my desktop to do the transaction. I'm a firm believer that a cabled connection from desktop to router would be so much quicker and more stable.

I was wrong with their website yet again. My session still timed out but I could have sworn that I did not use up the whole 15 minutes of online time. And unfortunately this time, my credit card had been charged with this transaction. Feeling peeved and angry, I telephoned Malindo Air but an automated voice said to call back at nine o'clock in the morning.

I was about to do so just now when I noticed a fresh message in my inbox. A new message from Malindo Air which confirmed the success of my transaction and which included the flight details. Okay, so I know now that my transaction went through successfully but because of the connectivity issues at the airline's end, it had caused me some hours of mild anxiety. Let's face it: sometimes it is not about the amount but rather, all the frustration of not knowing the outcome of what you have done.

With this problem now resolved, I am really looking forward to flying this new airline come Friday. Let's see how they measure up to their big brother's service.

[UPDATE: My web check-in on 29 Nov 2013 proceeded without a hitch, although their server speed was still slow. And until I checked in, I didn't realise that Malindo Air was also using the ATR72-600 for their flights between Penang and Subang. Nice....]

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Anand, Carlsen: It's all over; the fat lady has sung

The king surrounded, surely a sign of .... triumph?

As I had expected, Anand s/o Viswanathan had refused to give up his world chess championship without a fight. Rather than to agree a quick draw with Magnus Carlsen, he did not spare himself the gruelling hours of thought at the chessboard in Chennai, India, where the scheduled 12-game match had been played. Except that with Anand having already lost three games to Carlsen, the match was suddenly shortened to only 10 games.

Personally I am disappointed that Anand is no longer the world chess champion - I had really been rooting for him as an Asian - but there is really no resisting the march of time. Like it or not, time or age, was not on Anand's side. Come this 11th of December, he will turn 44. Compare his age with Carlsen who turns 23 on the 30th of November. So much younger, so much more energy, so much more ambitious. More so, Carlsen had been the world's top ranking player since January 2010. Anand, by comparison, was the world's Number Eight player going into this match. Therefore, all the signs were there that there would be change.

But coming back to the final game itself, as I was watching it unfold, I couldn't help getting a feeling that perhaps one of the reasons why Anand wanted to grind it out was because - other than wanting to exit honourably - he was still trying to hang onto his title for as long as he possibly could. I may be wrong but this was one of my impressions. And it was not being helped that despite Carlsen simplifying the position earlier through multiple exchanges of pieces, towards the end Carlsen holding the initiative meant that Anand had to fight for his life to safe another draw. Another loss in the 10th game would have been a real disaster for him. At the end, the game was drawn after both players had cleared the board of all pieces, safe for the solitary kings.

Carlsen now has the whole chess world at his feet. Not only is he still the Number One ranked player in the world - his rating points far outrank any other player in chess history, including Garry Kasparov's, and climbing higher - he now has the world chess champion's title. A destiny which many had predicted for him while he was still in his teens, now fulfilled.

As for Anand, his chess-playing career is at a crossroad. Will he still have the willpower to come back strongly and take his chances at qualifying for the next world chess championship cycle? Or will he simply be content with getting regular invitations to play in the top-class invitational chess tournaments around the world? Will he scale back his chess-playing commitments? Worse, will he want to retire totally from competitive chess like Kasparov before him? These are questions only he himself can answer. I can only hope that he will keep active in this game which he has loved playing since small. 

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.22"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[WhiteFideId "1503014"]
[BlackFideId "5000017"]
[EventDate "2013.11.22"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. d4 cxd4 5. Qxd4 a6 6. Bxd7+ Bxd7 7. c4 Nf6 8. Bg5 e6 9. Nc3 Be7 10. O-O Bc6 11. Qd3 O-O 12. Nd4 Rc8 13. b3 Qc7 14. Nxc6 Qxc6 15. Rac1 h6 16. Be3 Nd7 17. Bd4 Rfd8 18. h3 Qc7 19. Rfd1 Qa5 20. Qd2 Kf8 21. Qb2 Kg8 22. a4 Qh5 23. Ne2 Bf6 24. Rc3 Bxd4 25. Rxd4 Qe5 26. Qd2 Nf6 27. Re3 Rd7 28. a5 Qg5 29. e5 Ne8 30. exd6 Rc6 31. f4 Qd8 32. Red3 Rcxd6 33. Rxd6 Rxd6 34. Rxd6 Qxd6 35. Qxd6 Nxd6 36. Kf2 Kf8 37. Ke3 Ke7 38. Kd4 Kd7 39. Kc5 Kc7 40. Nc3 Nf5 41. Ne4 Ne3 42. g3 f5 43. Nd6 g5 44. Ne8+ Kd7 45. Nf6+ Ke7 46. Ng8+ Kf8 47. Nxh6 gxf4 48. gxf4 Kg7 49. Nxf5+ exf5 50. Kb6 Ng2 51. Kxb7 Nxf4 52. Kxa6 Ne6 53. Kb6 f4 54. a6 f3 55. a7 f2 56. a8=Q f1=Q 57. Qd5 Qe1 58. Qd6 Qe3+ 59. Ka6 Nc5+ 60. Kb5 Nxb3 61. Qc7+ Kh6 62. Qb6+ Qxb6+ 63. Kxb6 Kh5 64. h4 Kxh4 65. c5 Nxc5 ½-½

Friday, 22 November 2013

And so, the wildlife trafficking continues...

According to the Al-Jazeera television network, Malaysia's infamous Anson Wong, nicknamed the Lizard King by author Bryan Christy several years ago, is back at his old tricks trafficking endangered wildlife, despite what G Palanivel, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, may claim otherwise.

Watch the investigative reporting here and decide for yourself whether the government minister is talking through his nose or is really serious about enforcing the law. Why can't the authorities walk the talk? The problem doesn't go away just because you deny that it is happening, stupid!

Anand, Carlsen: Tying up and packing up

Is this about chess?

British grandmaster Nigel Short tweeted that this was "the end of an era" soon after the end of the ninth game of the world chess championship match in Chennai, India, and the message had upset quite a lot of people there. Obviously, these were the fans of Anand s/o Vishwanathan who felt that the message was premature and rather tactless. Nevertheless, the overall feel in the chess community is that there is very little hope left for India's favourite son of the moment. His supporters were right to feel indignant and emotional over the tweet but the writing was already on the wall since a few days ago.

Indeed, in my opinion, Anand with his back to the wall is definitely seeing through the last days of his reign as the reigning world chess champion. Short (sic) of a miracle, come tonight, we should jolly well welcome in a new world chess champion in Magnus Carlsen, although it is no certainty.

Anand came to the chessboard with all guns blazing in the ninth game yesterday and was well on his way to conduct a fearsome attack on Carlsen's king. The world champion had to, seeing how he was trailing his challenger by two points and he needed a win to come back into the match. But fearsome though the attack was, there was no immediate loss for Carlsen and he was hanging on tightly until Anand threw it all away with an erroneous move. The Indian grandmaster was rocked when he realised what he had done and he resigned the game almost immediately.

Anand's latest loss - his third in the scheduled 12-game match - meant that he now trailed Carlsen 3-6 with only three more games to play. Unless he can win these three games, which must surely be a near impossible task, he has no chance to take the match even to the tie-breaks.

Many chess observers are anticipating that tonight's 10th game may likely be a short draw - only a formality - that would give Carlsen the much-needed half-a-point to become the new world chess champion but in my opinion, this may not happen. I would suspect that Anand, being the great champion himself, may not want it this way.

He may decide to fight it out until the bitter end, not because he doesn't want to go out limply, not because he wants to show the world that he still has the fighting spirit in him, but because he would want to remain a well-respected professional till the end. "If you want my title, come demonstrate to me that you deserve it," may well be the focus of tonight's game.

Whatever the reason, it is about time to tie up the loose ends, pack up the equipment and sit back to enjoy possibly the last game of the greatest show on earth.

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.21"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2775"]
[BlackElo "2870"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "1503014"]
[EventDate "2013.11.21"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 c4 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. g4 O-O 11. Bg2 Na5 12. O-O Nb3 13. Ra2 b5 14. Ng3 a5 15. g5 Ne8 16. e4 Nxc1 17. Qxc1 Ra6 18. e5 Nc7 19. f4 b4 20. axb4 axb4 21. Rxa6 Nxa6 22. f5 b3 23. Qf4 Nc7 24. f6 g6 25. Qh4 Ne8 26. Qh6 b2 27. Rf4 b1=Q+ 28. Nf1 Qe1 0-1

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The acoustic ninja in Penang

I can't remember when exactly I got to know of this acoustic guitarist named Trace Bundy, but it could possibly be after the concert of Tommy Emmanuel at the end of last year. Immediately after that concert, I was searching through YouTube for Emmanuel's videos and I came across one of him playing with an impressionable, young South Korean guitarist named Jung Sungha. And as one video led to another, there was this video of young Jung playing Pachelbel's Canon in D with an American guitarist, Trace Bundy.

Though I was intrigued with Bundy's playing style, it did not exactly imprint itself in my mind. In fact after a while, I had totally forgotten about Emmanuel, Jung and Bundy.

Then came June or July (or it could even be later.) Brian Gan, with whom I had struck up a brief acquaintanceship after the Emmanuel concert happened to tell me that Trace Bundy would be coming to Penang. Okay, I told him, I shall see about buying the tickets when the time comes. And again, the name soon left my mind.

Can't blame me for this though, because Trace Bundy is not exactly a mainstream or familiar name in this part of the world. Only avid guitar fans would probably be more familiar with him. Not me; I only appreciate music and I don't know how to play any musical instrument unless you count the ability to blow my own trumpet or play second fiddle or harp on issues as playing music!

In October when my wife was telling me that she wanted to watch the Richard Clayderman concert in Penang, I remembered the impending Trace Bundy concert. So this November itself, we had treated ourselves to two music performances in Penang.

The contrast in the two shows couldn't have been more apparent: one was a big commercial sell-out at the Straits Quay convention centre because the pianist was so mainstream and thus catered to the tastes of middle-aged and senior uncles and aunties that made up perhaps half the audience (estimated 2,000 pax) while the other was a small intimate performance by a guitarist at the Wawasan Open University auditorium in front of a mixed audience of about 140 people comprising largely of youngsters, yuppies and Gen Yers. That was my impression.

It was very weird but right until the 16th of November, I had resisted re-visiting YouTube to look again at Trace Bundy's works. I really wanted to be surprised and thrilled with his virtuosity. But before we left the house, I decided to prep up my wife for the evening's entertainment. So out popped my iPad and before long, we watched two or three snippets of his songs. Of course, that Pachelbel song was one of them.

Elephant King kicked off Trace Bundy in Penang.

The audience warmed up to three local guitarists - Victor, Daniel and Shiela - before Bundy took the stage. Incredible stage presence, this guy, as he held everyone enthralled with his finger-picking technique. He could make his guitar sound very much like a piano, bell, violin, drum as well as, well, a guitar. Of course, there was also technical wizardry as Bundy demonstrated how some of his songs were played with the help of looping and echoing effects. But above all these technical effects, the show was all about Bundy as he extracted every bit of note from his acoustic guitar.

Pachelbel's Canon was a typical showcase for Bundy's technique

I've already mentioned in an earlier post about the autograph-signing session at the end of the show and so, I won't repeat it here. However, I just want to add that Bundy interacted so well with his audience. We were captivated by his stories as much as we enjoyed listening and watching him play. There was warmth when he opened up so much. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Hope he comes this way again.

Postscript: Only about half the auditorium was filled. Perhaps it had something to do with the show coinciding with the Penang Bridge Marathon. Whatever the reason, the response could have been better. I mentioned on facebook that anyone who had missed this show would not have known what they had missed. And in my opinion, they missed a lot! Trace Bundy can always be watched on YouTube but it is never the same as watching him live and up close on stage.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Anand, Carlsen: Time and tide waits for no man

A beaming Magnus Carlsen at the post-game press conference, and he is not even the world chess champion yet. Beside him, Anand s/o Viswanathan reflects pensively on his play in the fifth game.

It's happening right now. We are in the midst of change. The changing of the guard, that is. Be prepared for a new world chess champion to be crowned soon.

As I write today's entry, eight games have already been played in the world chess championship match between the defending champion, Anand s/o Viswanathan, and his challenger, Magnus Carlsen, and the situation does not look good, rosy, chummy at all for the Indian grandmaster. It fact, it is bad, gloomy, catastrophic.

After both players had drawn the first four games of the 12-game contest, which I wrote about here, Anand fell to two successive losses in the fifth and sixth games. Although he managed to steady himself by drawing the next two games, the damage has been done. The prognosis is not good at all for him.

With only a maximum of four games left to be played under normal time control, Carlsen's lead looks unassailable. The Norwegian grandmaster will only need a further 1½ points to secure his new title as world champion and he can do it lazily enough by drawing his next three games.

It is inconceivable to me that Anand can ever claw back to even up the match. Two wins in four games, wow, that will be a miracle indeed, if it happens. Although much has been said about the Indian's fighting spirit, I really believe that the opportunities to win are diminishing day-by-day, game-by-game.

In fact, Anand's body language suggests that he may have already given up all hope of holding onto his title. The seventh and eight games told me that he was now risking little to ensure that the points between him and Carlsen do not widen further. Methinks, he will be prepared to draw the remaining games till the end of the match rather than to risk another loss should he press for more. And that would mean that he is not playing like a world champion anymore.

As much as I am rooting for the older player to win -- after all, Anand is as Asian as I -- I've got to say this again: we are witnessing the end of an era. The ever constant change, like time and the tide, waits for no man.

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.15"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[WhiteFideId "1503014"]
[BlackFideId "5000017"]
[EventDate "2013.11.15"]
1. c4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4+ 6. Nc3 c5 7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qd3 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4 12. O-O-O Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8+ Bxd8 16. Be2 Ke7 17. Bf3 Bd7 18. Ne4 Bb6 19. c5 f5 20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7 Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rhf1 Rb5 24. Rf4 g5 25. Rf3 h5 26. Rdf1 Be8 27. Bc2 Rc5 28. Rf6 h4 29. e4 a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3 Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5+ 33. Kb2 Rd8 34. R1f2 Rd4 35. Rh6 Bd1 36. Bb1 Rb5 37. Kc3 c5 38. Rb2 e5 39. Rg6 a4 40. Rxg5 Rxb3+ 41. Rxb3 Bxb3 42. Rxe5+ Kd6 43. Rh5 Rd1 44. e5+ Kd5 45. Bh7 Rc1+ 46. Kb2 Rg1 47. Bg8+ Kc6 48. Rh6+ Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3 Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6 52. a4 Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4+ 56. Kc3 Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 Kd5 1-0

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.16"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2775"]
[BlackElo "2870"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "1503014"]
[EventDate "2013.11.16"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O Re8 7. Re1 a6 8. Ba4 b5 9. Bb3 d6 10. Bg5 Be6 11. Nbd2 h6 12. Bh4 Bxb3 13. axb3 Nb8 14. h3 Nbd7 15. Nh2 Qe7 16. Ndf1 Bb6 17. Ne3 Qe6 18. b4 a5 19. bxa5 Bxa5 20. Nhg4 Bb6 21. Bxf6 Nxf6 22. Nxf6+ Qxf6 23. Qg4 Bxe3 24. fxe3 Qe7 25. Rf1 c5 26. Kh2 c4 27. d4 Rxa1 28. Rxa1 Qb7 29. Rd1 Qc6 30. Qf5 exd4 31. Rxd4 Re5 32. Qf3 Qc7 33. Kh1 Qe7 34. Qg4 Kh7 35. Qf4 g6 36. Kh2 Kg7 37. Qf3 Re6 38. Qg3 Rxe4 39. Qxd6 Rxe3 40. Qxe7 Rxe7 41. Rd5 Rb7 42. Rd6 f6 43. h4 Kf7 44. h5 gxh5 45. Rd5 Kg6 46. Kg3 Rb6 47. Rc5 f5 48. Kh4 Re6 49. Rxb5 Re4+ 50. Kh3 Kg5 51. Rb8 h4 52. Rg8+ Kh5 53. Rf8 Rf4 54. Rc8 Rg4 55. Rf8 Rg3+ 56. Kh2 Kg5 57. Rg8+ Kf4 58. Rc8 Ke3 59. Rxc4 f4 60. Ra4 h3 61. gxh3 Rg6 62. c4 f3 63. Ra3+ Ke2 64. b4 f2 65. Ra2+ Kf3 66. Ra3+ Kf4 67. Ra8 Rg1 0-1

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.18"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2775"]
[BlackElo "2870"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "1503014"]
[EventDate "2013.11.18"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nbd2 Bg4 7. h3 Bh5 8. Nf1 Nd7 9. Ng3 Bxf3 10. Qxf3 g6 11. Be3 Qe7 12. O-O-O O-O-O 13. Ne2 Rhe8 14. Kb1 b6 15. h4 Kb7 16. h5 Bxe3 17. Qxe3 Nc5 18. hxg6 hxg6 19. g3 a5 20. Rh7 Rh8 21. Rdh1 Rxh7 22. Rxh7 Qf6 23. f4 Rh8 24. Rxh8 Qxh8 25. fxe5 Qxe5 26. Qf3 f5 27. exf5 gxf5 28. c3 Ne6 29. Kc2 Ng5 30. Qf2 Ne6 31. Qf3 Ng5 32. Qf2 Ne6 ½-½

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.19"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[WhiteFideId "1503014"]
[BlackFideId "5000017"]
[EventDate "2013.11.19"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. c3 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. Bf4 d5 14. Bd3 g6 15. Nd2 Ng7 16. Qe2 c6 17. Re1 Bf5 18. Bxf5 Nxf5 19. Nf3 Ng7 20. Be5 Ne6 21. Bxf6 Qxf6 22. Ne5 Re8 23. Ng4 Qd8 24. Qe5 Ng7 25. Qxe8+ Nxe8 26. Rxe8+ Qxe8 27. Nf6+ Kf8 28. Nxe8 Kxe8 29. f4 f5 30. Kf2 b5 31. b4 Kf7 32. h3 h6 33. h4 h5 ½-½

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Chinese tourist scam

One of my old office mates from our former Ban Hin Lee Bank days, Ng Fook Chin, went to China recently and came back with an interesting tale. No, he wasn't extolling the breath-taking beauty of China. Instead, he was commenting on one of the uglier sides of that country. Here is the tale, which I reproduce from one of his facebook posts:
During a tour in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, we were taken to visit a jade-cum-jewellery shop. The welcoming staff said that her MD, on hearing that we were from Penang, would like to speak to us personally.

We were led into a big conference room and treated like VIPs. I was curious why the MD would want to address a group of stranger tourists. He walked in and greeted us politely Thai-style and showed us his utmost respect. He said he wanted to fulfil his mother's wish to thank us and show his gratitude to all Malaysians especially Penangites who come to his shop.

Speaking in halting Mandarin, he introduced himself as a Thai whose family operates one of the largest precious stones-cum-jewellery business in Thailand. He said his company was involved in the supply of silver medals for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Suddenly, he asked: "Does anyone of you remember the date, 26th Dec 2004?"

I answered "Tsunami" and he nodded solemnly. He continued: "My beloved mother was touring Penang on that fateful day. When the waves came, she was lucky to be rescued by a Penangite. Amithaba…"

Since then, his mother had instructed him to personally thank and show gratitude to every Malaysian who visited this shop. He further said that he was a staunch Buddhist under the tutelage of a famous monk in Thailand. A fact that cannot be denied was that his face bore an uncanny resemblance to the Laughing Buddha that we see in statues, portraits and photos. He said he came to this part of China about eight years ago and his company had contributed much to the development of this area, such as building schools and other social welfare work. He even found love and was married to his beautiful tourist guide and now was a happy man giving back to society.

Now comes the interesting part. He selected a five-centimetre diameter jade medallion with a golden rim and hung it on my neck. He asked me to put my palms together Thai-style and repeat a mantra after him to supposedly bless the medallion, or was it to hypnotise me? Before I could react, he said that this piece could not be found in Malaysia and he was willing to sell it to me for a discounted price of RM22,000.

What! RM22,000? Do I look like a sucker? He got the wrong guy as I only wore a cheap watch and no jewellery unlike some show-off guys who wear thick golden necklaces and big precious stone rings and who are probably illegal money lenders or bookies.

I quickly took off the medallion and put it on the glass panel and said "No." The staff said credit cards could be accepted but I just walked away. My wife was so worried that I would take out my credit card and sign for it. I told her this would not happen as my mantra of "No Compulsive Purchases" when I travel was keyed into my smartphone home screen as a constant reminder.

Finally, our tour members bought collectively more than RM2,000 thinking that they had a good deal. Back in the bus, a member told us of her similar experience in another tour of China. The tsunami part was replaced by a road accident where a kind Malaysian had helped the trickster's parents. Our member said she was scared, uncertain and did not have the opportunity to inform us as everyone was busy looking at the jewellery.

Analysis of the well executed con:
  • A touching story faking his mother's tsunami experience to evoke sympathy and then showing gratitude in discounting his products.
  • He used religion to convince us of his piousness and even styled his appearance of a bald round face with a perpetual smile to look like the Laughing Buddha. The resemblance was indeed uncanny. He pretended well by struggling to speak Mandarin Thai-style in a slow and halting manner which earned our respect as we could understand Mandarin perfectly. Wow, a Thai speaking to us in our Mother tongue!
  • Sweet talked us of his wealth and philanthropic nature.
  • Free gifts and discounts of up to 60% exclusively for Penang Lang. Who wouldn't love that? Free gifts and discounts never fail to entice us to buy, buy, buy!!! This has to be our Number One weakness for sure.

To conclude, con artists would tell all kinds of stories to gain your trust and convince you to part with your money. In fact, most of us were taken in by his story which was well executed. If something is too good to be true, most probably it is a scam.

There you have it. He survived the scam. I've also a similar tale to tell but perhaps at another time....

Monday, 18 November 2013

Trace Bundy, totally unassuming, totally down to earth

It's not to say that I go watch a lot of live music performances but until last Saturday, I've never known of any musician that would be polite enough to stand up and greet each and every one of his fans with some small talk during the autograph-signing session.

So meet Trace Bundy, a 36-year-old American guitarist with amazing finger-tapping skills. Bundy was in Penang last Saturday evening (16 Nov 2013) to conclude his latest Asian tour: a tour that had taken him to China, Korea, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

His ever willingness to pose with his fans in photographs was already so clear to us as my wife and I lined up patiently to await our turn. And after he had autographed our compact discs, he stood up and there we were, asking people to snap away with our camera.

Much earlier during his concert in the Wawasan Open University auditorium in Northam Road, George Town, he took this picture of the audience. Peer closer and we can be seen in the fourth row. Unfortunately, my hand had happened to cover somebody else's view of the stage. Oops! I don't know who was that, but sorry to him for missing out on this massive moment. :-)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

As if it was so easy to whitewash out crime

Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic who had made such a name for himself in George Town, Penang with his endearing street artworks has suddenly found himself wading into controversy. Instead of expecting accolade from government authorities, he received criticism for his latest artwork at the opposite end of the peninsula.

"We are not amused," harumped the Johore Bharu city council, obviously with nostrils flaring. "Not only will such work portray the state in a negative light, but it will also instil fear among passersby," sniffed a public relations person from the council. An ironical statement, no doubt, because I have always regarded Johore Bahru as a cowboy town, one of the top petty crime hotspots in Malaysia.

(When I had to go to Johore Bahru with my sister in January this year, I made pretty sure that she stayed close to me when we walked the short distance from the JB Sentral to Jalan Segget. Though it was a bright mid-morning, I could feel all the bad vibes around me. I only heaved a sigh of relief when we made it to the bus that took us back to Woodlands, Singapore.)  

This was the original painting depicting two Lego characters that had appeared on the walls of a derelict building in Taman Molek in downtown Johore Bahru sometime around the first week of November. Fifth of November? Seventh of November? Who knows...

Anyway, by the end of the week, it had already gotten the council's goat. Come the 14th of November, barely two weeks after its appearance on the walls, the paintings had disappeared, completely whitewashed out by some council workers. As if it was so easy to whitewash out crime....

Friday, 15 November 2013

Anand, Carlsen equal after four games

(Photo from the official website)

As I write this post, I am mindful that the world chess championship match between world chess champion Anand s/o Viswanathan and chess challenger Magnus Carlsen is exactly one-third completed.

I have never been satisfied with short matches, especially at high levels of play such as the world chess championships, but I fully understand that long-drawn matches of the past will never be held again because of the huge expenses involved. We won't see any more 24-game matches, and 12-game matches like this own in Chennai are now much the norm.

With four games already completed, there are only eight left to play, which means that there is now very little room for either Anand or Carlsen to recover from any unexpected loss in their remaining games.

Like someone once told me, at their level of play, it is very easy for the two players to draw their games. They may finish a game quickly within two hours or they may fight it out in a six-hour game, but unless a gross blunder had been played, the game will more or less be evenly matched. Therefore, the first player to take a full point in the remaining eight games will very likely coast home and become the world chess champion.

As an Asian, I am definitely rooting for Anand to retain his world champion's title. He has the experience -- and the whole of India -- behind him. I am sure much of Europe will be rooting for Carlsen to bring the title to Europe. And the young Norwegian player may yet succeed, seeing how he continues fighting till the game in every game. This is bound to tire out the Indian eventually.

So far, though, they are even. The first two games were drawn quickly and only from the third game onwards did we see the first sign of both players getting serious enough. Both Anand and Carlsen got an advantage with the black pieces in the third and fourth games but their advantages never seemed enough to convert into full points.

The fifth game starts today at 0730 hours GMT (five o'clock, local time in Malaysia). I shall be watching live on the Internet from the official website. Other major websites are also carrying the games live, such as at the Internet Chess ClubChessdom, Playchess, and Chess & Bridge. Chessdom provides live feed to many chess blogs, such as Susan Polgar's.

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.09"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[ECO "A07"]
[Opening "Reti"]
[Variation "King's Indian attack"]
[WhiteFideId "1503014"]
[BlackFideId "5000017"]
[EventDate "2013.11.09"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 c6 5. O-O Nf6 6. b3 O-O 7. Bb2 Bf5 8. c4
Nbd7 9. Nc3 dxc4 10. bxc4 Nb6 11. c5 Nc4 12. Bc1 Nd5 13. Qb3 Na5 14. Qa3 Nc4 15.
Qb3 Na5 16. Qa3 Nc4 1/2-1/2

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.10"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2775"]
[BlackElo "2870"]
[ECO "B18"]
[Opening "Caro-Kann"]
[Variation "classical, 6.h4"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "1503014"]
[EventDate "2013.11.09"]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 e6 8. Ne5
Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 Nd7 11. f4 Bb4+ 12. c3 Be7 13. Bd2 Ngf6 14. O-O-O O-O
15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Nxe5 17. fxe5 Qd5 18. Qxd5 cxd5 19. h5 b5 20. Rh3 a5 21.
Rf1 Rac8 22. Rg3 Kh7 23. Rgf3 Kg8 24. Rg3 Kh7 25. Rgf3 Kg8 1/2-1/2

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.12"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[ECO "A07"]
[Opening "Reti"]
[Variation "King's Indian attack"]
[WhiteFideId "1503014"]
[BlackFideId "5000017"]
[EventDate "2013.11.09"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. c4 dxc4 4. Qa4+ Nc6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. Nc3 e5 7. Qxc4 Nge7 8.
O-O O-O 9. d3 h6 10. Bd2 Nd4 11. Nxd4 exd4 12. Ne4 c6 13. Bb4 Be6 14. Qc1 Bd5
15. a4 b6 16. Bxe7 Qxe7 17. a5 Rab8 18. Re1 Rfc8 19. axb6 axb6 20. Qf4 Rd8 21.
h4 Kh7 22. Nd2 Be5 23. Qg4 h5 24. Qh3 Be6 25. Qh1 c5 26. Ne4 Kg7 27. Ng5 b5 28.
e3 dxe3 29. Rxe3 Bd4 30. Re2 c4 31. Nxe6+ fxe6 32. Be4 cxd3 33. Rd2 Qb4 34. Rad1
Bxb2 35. Qf3 Bf6 36. Rxd3 Rxd3 37. Rxd3 Rd8 38. Rxd8 Bxd8 39. Bd3 Qd4 40. Bxb5
Qf6 41. Qb7+ Be7 42. Kg2 g5 43. hxg5 Qxg5 44. Bc4 h4 45. Qc7 hxg3 46. Qxg3 e5
47. Kf3 Qxg3+ 48. fxg3 Bc5 49. Ke4 Bd4 50. Kf5 Bf2 51. Kxe5 Bxg3+ 1/2-1/2

[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.13"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2775"]
[BlackElo "2870"]
[ECO "C67"]
[Opening "Ruy Lopez"]
[Variation "Berlin defence, open variation"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "1503014"]
[EventDate "2013.11.09"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8.
Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Bd7 10. Rd1 Be7 11. Nc3 Kc8 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bxe7 Nxe7 14. Rd2 c5
15. Rad1 Be6 16. Ne1 Ng6 17. Nd3 b6 18. Ne2 Bxa2 19. b3 c4 20. Ndc1 cxb3 21.
cxb3 Bb1 22. f4 Kb7 23. Nc3 Bf5 24. g4 Bc8 25. Nd3 h5 26. f5 Ne7 27. Nb5 hxg4
28. hxg4 Rh4 29. Nf2 Nc6 30. Rc2 a5 31. Rc4 g6 32. Rdc1 Bd7 33. e6 fxe6 34. fxe6
Be8 35. Ne4 Rxg4+ 36. Kf2 Rf4+ 37. Ke3 Rf8 38. Nd4 Nxd4 39. Rxc7+ Ka6 40. Kxd4
Rd8+ 41. Kc3 Rf3+ 42. Kb2 Re3 43. Rc8 Rdd3 44. Ra8+ Kb7 45. Rxe8 Rxe4 46. e7 Rg3
47. Rc3 Re2+ 48. Rc2 Ree3 49. Ka2 g5 50. Rd2 Re5 51. Rd7+ Kc6 52. Red8 Rge3 53.
Rd6+ Kb7 54. R8d7+ Ka6 55. Rd5 Re2+ 56. Ka3 Re6 57. Rd8 g4 58. Rg5 Rxe7 59. Ra8+
Kb7 60. Rag8 a4 61. Rxg4 axb3 62. R8g7 Ka6 63. Rxe7 Rxe7 64. Kxb3 1/2-1/2

Li Chun (立春), 2014

Li Chun (立春) is going to be very different for my family and I in 2014. No more can we depend on our old aunt to do everything when the first day of Spring comes rolling by. You see, she had passed away in May. It has been, what, half a year already! Time flies.

But life must go on with or without her, and we've got to continue with this tradition of getting ready to stick this piece of red paper with the Chinese character Chun 春 on the family rice bucket on the fourth of February. Luckily, I had already purchased several copies of it last year when she insisted that I do so. (Last checked: good for five more years of usage!)

As usual, though, my own ritual begins by consulting that reference book of Joey Yap's, The Ten Thousand Year Calendar, which I hope to get him to autograph at his fengshui talk in Penang next year.

According to the page on Year 2014, Li Chun will coincide with the fifth day of Chinese New Year and the time that Spring begins officially is at 6.05 a.m. That's the time when we shall have to stick that piece of red paper on the rice bucket.

Meantime, here are my past blog entries on Li Chun through the years:
Li Chun, 2013
Li Chun, 2012
Li Chun, 2011
Li Chun, 2010
Li Chun, 2009
Li Chun, 2008
Li Chun, 2007

Thursday, 14 November 2013

My so-called 64 million-dollar question

However did the Lord Buddha know about this, if he hadn't been the Enlightened One? All along, he had comprehended that we are one tiny speck of "intelligent" dust in the whole universe. It took several successions of scientists on Earth to just about acknowledge this possibility while all the time, some 2,500 years ago, the Lord Buddha must have already understood it perfectly.

I'm referring to this article that had appeared in The Star newspaper and online elsewhere, like in Huffington Post, just a few days ago.

I won't quote much from the story except for the opening paragraphs which I found so very interesting to my belief:
Space is vast, but it may not be so desolate: a study finds the Milky way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the same size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone - not too hot and not too cold for life.

Astronomers using Nasa data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone.

For perspective, that's more Earth-like planet than there are people on Earth.

As for what it says about the odds that there is life somewhere out there, it means "just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, that's 8.8 billion throws of the biological dice", said study co-author Geoff Marcy, a long-time planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.

Now, all my life I've grown up in a Buddhist family. My parents were of the Mahayana Buddhist faith and so were my grandparents and their parents before them. (Maybe they were more Taoist than Buddhist, but it didn't really matter because to most everyday Chinese, even till today, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism are considered inter-related though they should not be.)

But until a few years ago, I've never really questioned what Buddhism is all about. Hey, even today, I don't question my faith much. However, I do know that there is now more access to Buddhist teachings than ever before, and at any time if I want answers to certain questions about life and the existence of life, I could always turn to the Buddhist teachers for their explanations. Buddhist teachers like Ajahn Brahm or the late Reverend Suvanno or the many other Buddhist spiritual leaders have been great help to me.

I have to admit that sometimes, I have a stubborn streak. It is not enough that I get an answer from only one source. If the question is too complex for my simple mind to understand, I would want to ask it many times and see whether or not I get more or less the same answer.

In Buddhism, we are taught the concept of kamma and rebirth. (Let me digress to make a point. Newton's third law said that for every action, there is a corresponding reaction. That's what kamma is all about too: action and reaction. Doesn't that make Newton so very Buddhist in his thinking, huh?) Anyway, kamma is the blueprint of everyone's very existence. When the lifespan of a being ends, the being's accumulation of good or bad kamma will ensure that there is rebirth either in this plane or another plane of existence. We believe that kamma is pervasive; it follows everyone everywhere, irrespective of current way of life.

From my simple understanding of how things work, rebirth should be a rather straightforward progression from one life to another, from one plane of existence to the same plane or another plane. One being dies, it gets reborn. Another being dies, it also gets reborn. Ad infinitum through eons, unless nirvana is achieved.

At first, I couldn't reconcile this concept of rebirth with the fact that the Earth's population is growing exponentially. Where are the extra human lives coming from? And definitely, not only the human lives but also the animal lives. Where are they appearing from? Granted that there is progression from one plane of existence to another within this Earth, I couldn't understand with my simple mind why the number of living things kept increasing.

Then I got the chance to pose this question to a Theravadin Buddhist teacher. And another Buddhist teacher. And yet another one. I think all in, I must have asked about four or five of them. While there were slight deviations to their explanations, there was still one common thread among all of them. In essence -- IF I had interpreted them correctly -- they were saying that the Lord Buddha had taught that we should open up our minds to the universe.

But it was not until a few days ago that I made a connection. Do you see where the newspaper article above is leading to? Why, to the Lord Buddha's teachings, of course! If the scientists are correct in their calculations, it would mean the odds of life sustaining on other worlds have suddenly shot up beyond belief, even though the presence of life itself still cannot be proven with our present scientific instruments. But theoretically, there are billions upon billions of potentially life-sustaining stars; and as long as there are lifeforms of any kind, they are subjected to the universal law of kamma which would consequently affirm the Lord Buddha's infinite wisdom. The Lord Buddha had the answer all the time, except our own minds could not open up to the possibilities. It would take the Einsteins and the Hawkings to be part of a complex equation that would provide just the initial insight.

If we believe in kamma and rebirth, why should we limit ourselves to planes of existence only on this Earth? Could it not be possible that kammic energy can also flow across the billions of stars in our galaxy or even the billions of galaxies within the universe? As stars die and stars are born, could rebirth take place elsewhere within the infinite universe? I thought that I had gone beyond insular thinking but suddenly, I was now forced to think outside of a yet bigger box.

Wow, this was a revelation that literally blew my mind. An ancient teaching some 2,500 years ago which has now become so current with this very modern world. And not for the first time, I really appreciated the wisdom of the Lord Buddha. He understood the incomprehensible and he had explained it through his teachings. And it is only now that as a mere mortal, I can see it. I hope everyone can accept it too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Friday, 8 November 2013

Half a cup of coffee

I was having a cup of coffee this morning at the marketplace: the same stall that my old aunt had patronised regularly before she passed away six months ago. Day in and day out, nothing much has changed at this stall except that the price for a cuppa has since gone up from RM1 to RM1.10.

While I was mulling over this - the sad fact that inflation has been eating steadily into my savings and meagre income - I started to smile to myself.

It was about my aunt, you see. She had a knack of making friends with almost everybody. Why, only about two or three weeks back, I was having a late breakfast at a coffee shop in Chai Leng Park when the proprietress, whom I had not met for more than 10 years, suddenly came up to me and inquired after my aunt. I'm surprised that people still remember her so well.

Anyhow, back to my cuppa at the Kampong Baharu market in Bukit Mertajam this morning. While reflecting on the bubbles in my coffee and watching a guy at the next table pouring his cup of brew into the saucer to cool it down, I remembered that my aunt could get away with ordering half a cup of coffee from this particular stall owner.

And that was not all. I've seen her ordering half a plate of fried economic beehoon from the marketplace as well. Of course, she got charged at only half the price too. Wonders never cease whilst my aunt was alive...

Delightful delicatessen

There's a new family-owned eatery in town called Delight Delicatessen, and the food is delightfully delicate enough for everyone's palate.

The delicatessen is located in MacAlister Lane and open only from about four o'clock onwards. Reason being, the owner says, parking along this street is horrendous during office hours and thus, they prefer to open after the civil servants from nearby KOMTAR go home after work and vacate the street parking lots.

That bad, ah, I asked William, the head of the family that does all the cooking. Oh yes, he replied, the Municipal Council has removed all the coin machines in anticipation of their introducing the ticket parking system next year and in the mean time, parking is free along this road. The civil servants simply take up all the parking space by eight o'clock morning and won't budge until four o'clock.

Last Tuesday while enroute to the Richard Clayderman concert at Straits Quay, my wife and I decided to have our dinner at Delight. We both ordered their flame broiled mera mera chicken which arrived with fresh mushroom soup. A taste of the soup was enough to send me up to high heaven. The chicken itself was not bad. Very succulent. There was a choice of three sauce flavours: mild, pungent and very pungent. My wife took the pungent which left her fanning her tongue. As for me, I found their most pungent sauce still rather wanting. William, bring on your habaneros next, please!

The surprise of the evening was a complimentary drink of green apples with a dash of freshly squeezed lime, but there was more to come. As I was tucking into the ice-cream, a complimentary chicken pie arrived piping hot from the kitchen. Oh, yums, chicken pies are one of my favourites, if they are prepared well. And this one was good. It blew away all other commercial chicken pies that I've ever selected from bakery chains around the country.

And finally, William appeared with a complimentary piece of cake. Birthdays should be celebrated and not go unnoticed, and thank you for celebrating yours here, he declared. How ever did he know? Anyway, I wish to thank him for your fresh apple juice, chicken pie and piece of cake. Thank you for celebrating with me.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Philippe "Richard Clayderman" Pagès in Penang

My wife and I didn't quite know what to expect when we turned up at the Straits Quay in Tanjong Tokong yesterday evening for the Richard Clayderman concert. We had to ask the information desk on the direction to the convention centre. Helpful guy. Whilst walking there, we were joined by a lady who asked us to follow her. Turned out that she was from the E&O Management, and she had overheard us at the information counter.

So there we went into the lift that took us up to the sixth floor. We were quite surprised to see the immense crowd there. Because the doors into the convention centre were still shut, it added to all the excitement and anticipation. But there was a lot of exasperation too because the show was supposed to start at 8.30p.m. and people were still not allowed in to take their seats.

We bumped into a few old friends. Both Finian Lee and Johnny Phun were from my old days at the Ban Hin Lee Bank. As I do see Johnny occasionally, there wasn't as much catching up on old times as with Finian. I haven't seen him for, maybe, more than 10 years when we were part of the Information Technology Division: same division but different departments. We also bumped into Aik Eu and his family. He sits in my committee at the Swee Cheok Tong. And it turned out that his seats were just beside ours. Our tickets were numbered T48 and T49, while his were from T50 to T53. Wow, talking about coincidence, indeed!

From my seat in Row T, the stage was so very far away.

But there was an unpleasant surprise once we got into the convention centre. Somehow, the seating arrangements had not followed the layout plan that was shown to me when I purchased the tickets about two weeks ago. Then, I was rather resigned to having to sit five seats away from the aisle, stuffed in the centre of the row of seats. That wouldn't be too bad if my wife and I could still sit together.

However, the unpleasant surprise was that the organisers had added in more aisles between the chairs and suddenly, we found out that an aisle had come in between out seats. Never mind, my wife said. Okay, I told her. But the more I sat separated from her and being crammed on my right by a hefty guy who refused to budge even an inch, I decided to make a complaint. This can't be happening to me.

As luck would have it, I came across a smart young man (name of Kabir) who, somehow, stood out from among the rest of the people. When he confirmed that he was with the organisers, I told him about my predicament and showed him how the seating arrangement had split us up. Would you mind then, he answered, if he could find new seats for us? Would I mind? How could I mind. The only thing that mattered to me was to sit with my wife.

To watch the stage or to watch the screen??

Minutes later, Kabir came back and said he would like to upgrade our tickets and led us to a row of seats up in front but to the left of the stage. Although half of the musicians' back were to us, those new seats meant that we were still practically very close to the performance. Unfortunately, it also meant that Richard Clayderman's back was also to us and we couldn't see much of him unless we gazed up at the huge video screens. Nevertheless, we could see him clearly - actually, his side profile - when he stood up to connect with the audience.

But there was more. We learnt that there wouldn't be any autograph session at the end of the show. Looking at the capacity crowd, it would be impossible for any autograph session anyway. Everyone would want to meet Richard Clayderman in person and there were, I should estimate, perhaps some 2,000 people in the hall.

When I learnt that Richard Clayderman would not be appearing off-stage after the show, I made a small request to Kabir during the interval. Would Richard Clayderman, I asked, be able to do a small favour by autographing his record album? And I showed him the 1982 record that I had brought along with me. It was this very record that introduced Richard Clayderman to the British and from there, to the vast English-speaking audience worldwide. Well, no promises, Kabir said, and he disappeared with my record.

And soon enough, he reappeared with my record, the cover all autographed by the pianist himself. Richard Clayderman was in a good mood, Kabir said. What could I do but to thank him profusely. Kabir had gone way out to prove himself when there was no necessity for him to do so to a complete stranger. But he is in Corporate Affairs and I suppose this all came very natural to him. Very professional, indeed.

The only acceptable picture I have of Monsieur Philippe Pagès at the piano.

I have to admit that I couldn't recognise all or even recall some of the songs that Richard Clayderman played at his concert but certainly, I do remember that among them were Ballade Pour Adeline, a discofied interpretation of Beethoven à la Walter Murphy, one of the adagios from Aram Khachaturian's Spartacus, Earth Wind & Fire's September which set the audience clapping away, You Raise Me Up, the theme from the film show Titanic and, immediately after the intermission while I was still so engrossed with the autographed record cover, Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue which was the first song on Side Two of the record I was holding in my hands. Quite magical!

I gave up trying to keep track of the playlist after a while and decided to sit back and enjoy the show. But I still remember hearing the theme from Love Story embedded in a medley somewhere in the second half of the show. There was also a medley of Stevie Wonder party songs - My Cherie Amour, I Just Called To Say I Love You, Sir Duke and two or three more - which to me, was rather an odd choice because the Stevie Wonder segment was something that I would associate more with James Last. Anyway, that's only my opinion.

The support musicians were superb. Well, the Richard Clayderman retinue did include Oliver Toussaint who stayed firmly in the background and restricted himself to making the introductions during the show (but he's the one that co-wrote many tunes with Paul de Senneville) and French percussionist Daniel Ciampolini who mesmerised the audience with an absorbing display on the Hang. But this is the standard that is only to be expected from a musician who is almost a permanent member of Richard Clayderman's tour retinue.

No, I am referring more to the string section: a handful of local musicians that accompanied Richard Clayderman throughout the show. Always, there were six of them on the left side of the stage while on the right side were four others, including two cellists. Their playing were superb throughout and I really enjoyed the brief moment when one of them was thrust into the spotlight to play solo. I couldn't catch the fellow's name because of Richard Clayderman's thick accent but it could have been Penang's very own Lim Jae Sern.

Venus, the evening star

I was at the top level of the Straits Quay building in Tanjong Tokong, Penang yesterday evening while waiting for the doors of the convention centre to be flung open. Bored stiff, waiting for that to happen, my wife and I then decided to step out to the open corridor for some fresh air.

"What's that?" asked my wife, pointing to a small speck of light in the sky. Well, I answered, that is definitely not a star since it was not shimmering in the darkness. "There are only two planets we can see very clearly with our naked eyes without squinting. Mars is red, which this speck of light is not. Thus, what you see can only be Venus."

It was a calculated guess but as it turned out when I checked the astronomy guide this morning, I was correct. That was Venus in the night sky and it should be visible in the evening sky for some time yet.

I tried aiming my camera to capture the sight of Venus above the earth-bound surroundings and this one, with the least camera shake, turned out to be the best shot from the three or four pictures I took. Our nearest planetary neighbour is there, high up in the sky. See it? That very tiny speck of light above the lit Tanjong Tokong skyline?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Two faces of Kathina, 2013

Well, there we were again at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas yesterday to participate in their annual Kathina festival. Kathina is the period that comes immediately after the end of the Buddhist Vassa, the three month-long rainy season retreat that is observed mainly by Theravadin Buddhist monks.

For us Chinese Malaysians, Kathina is quite typically a solemn and serious affair. The first order of the day upon arriving at the Hermitage would be the symbolic pinabaht ceremony, which was the offering of food to the monks. This was done through scooping rice into the monk's bowls.

Everybody then retreated to the main hall to await the start of the Kathina procession. The ringing of the temple bell at 9.30a.m. would denote the start of the walk and the procession, led by someone holding a small stone image of the Lord Buddha, then slowly wound its way around the grounds: going past the river and dining hall, the monks' kutis, round the pagoda and then beside the bhikkunis' quarters before ending back at the main hall.

Back at the main hall, there would be the offering of new robes to a row of visiting and resident monks. The ceremony would end with some chanting before the meals are served to both monks and devotees at the dining hall. These volunteers below were packing up the non-vegetarian meals.

For a long time, the Kathina ceremony at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas had been a solemn occasion. But ever since the grand arch at the entrance was completed in 2008, the Burmese community have turned the Hermitage into their spiritual home-away-from-home and added their local touch to Kathina. It must be remembered that the Burmese workers around Penang and Kedah had contributed a lot of their time and effort in erecting this arch.

To the Burmese, Kathina is a time for great celebration and nowhere else in this particular spot of the country but here in Lunas was this more clearly seen.

When we arrived at the Hermitage yesterday, the open space in front of the kitchen had already been turned into a small carnival area. Yes, you read correctly. A carnival atmosphere. Tents had been set up and the Burmese were busily cooking away. Somewhere in the background, a small group were putting out the beats on their musical instruments. Except for one or two signs that betrayed the fact that this Hermitage was in the middle of semi-rural Malaysia, one would have thought that this rustic surrounds could be anywhere in Burma.

Fried beehoon, Burmese style

Burmese kerabu
Vegetable soup
Chicken rice, served the Burmese way
And then, there was Burmese laksa
Anyway, for a few short hours, the Burmese had taken over and this was showcase Burmese culture at its best. The crowd was unmistakably young and Burmese, and their conversations were all in their own language. The young Burmese men and women strutted and vied for attention. And of course, Burmese food was offered freely to everyone, including those Chinese devotees that dared to stray into the Burmese quarter on the Hermitage grounds.

Within the same area, the Burmese were also getting ready their Kathina trees or badaytha bin. I used to refer to them as money trees because they were decorated with currency notes. They still are, by the way, and the designs seemed to get more interesting with each passing year.

Meanwhile at the pagoda, various groups were milling around and taking photographs. All wearing their finest clothes befitting a grand occasion for celebrating.

And how did they celebrate Kathina? No, they did not participate in the Buddhist prayers at the main hall of the Hermitage. No, they did not join in the procession earlier. And no, they did not join in to offer any robes to the monks. At least, now while I was there, maybe they would do so later. I don't really know.

Then at about 11.45a.m., the Burmese started their own procession around the Hermitage grounds. Curious, I mingled in to see how they did it. Well, not vastly different from our own procession earlier except that, remember, they were in a carnival mood, complete with people playing their musical instruments. And one over-enthusiastic person dancing gangnam style to the beat.

So what do I think about this year's Kathina festival after seeing how we Malaysians observe it and the Burmese celebrating it too? Well, those are the two faces of Kathina. Ours is so solemn and serious; theirs is so light-hearted. But do not take their light-heartedness to mean they are anything less than devoted to Buddhism and the Lord Buddha. No, they are not, and friends who have been to Burma tell me the same. Indeed, I think the Burmese do know when to celebrate and be thankful for what they have.

And methinks we should also learn to lighten up and loosen up and regain some sense of humour. Religion should not always be straight and narrow. There is always room for flexibility and accommodation.