Saturday, 29 March 2014

Having a sale when the shelves are bare

The shelves are getting rather bare at AEON (formerly Jaya Jusco) in Perda, Bukit Mertajam.
It is no secret that they are relocating their business to their own commercial building in Jalan Rozhan, just across the road from their main rivals, TESCO Bukit Mertajam.

I hear that AEON will open in Jalan Rozhan in June and in the meantime, they are winding down their operations at Perda.

When I visited the shopping complex last week, their staff were already clearing off most of the stuff from the shelves, despite there being a sign saying that their relocation sale would be held until the 15th of April. What sale can there possibly be when the shelves are bare?

I'm not going to speculate who will be the new anchor tenant of the Seberang Prai City shopping complex when AEON moves out. Could just be about any business silly enough to move in here. The problem with this shopping complex is that it had been built by the Federal Government-controlled Penang Regional Development Authority (Perda), and one of Perda's conditions for anyone doing renovation is that a Perda-approved contractor must be appointed. With their rates being hardly competitive at all, where's the fairness if no-one else can compete with them in doing business? This would be the downfall of Perda in the long run.

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the hypermarket,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The hypermarket was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.





Friday, 28 March 2014

How to bring colour to your cheeks: a Hong Kong drama

For our first morning in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district, we tried to wake up as early as possible in order to take the MTR to Sunny Bay station on Lantau Island. Sunny Bay station is where you alight if you want to catch the connecting train ride to Disneyland Hong Kong. (Yes, our destination today!)

Not knowing where to find breakfast, we wandered around Sheung Wan until we came across this eatery, Cafe de Coral, somewhere near the Western Market.

There seemed to be lots of patrons going in to search for a quick breakfast and so, we decided to join the crowd. We found out later that this eatery was never meant to be anything more than a place of convenience for fast food, Hong Kong-style. Their presence seemed to be everywhere. However, nothing was particularly good tasting.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed their glutinous rice steam-wrapped in a large lotus leaf, but our other fare was only quite average, in my opinion. Congee? Well, I can take it or leave it. So I left it. Anyway, we only wanted to fill our stomachs as quickly as possible.

We found our way to the Sheung Wan MTR station again and took a quick ride to the Central station. Unfortunately, I found that we still had to walk a fair bit to the Hong Kong station. We should have taken the free Airport Express shuttle bus but it was too late for that.

And so, we decided to walk through the business district area towards the Hong Kong MTR station. Pretty soon, we arrived at a small clearing where I saw some interesting sculptures. I drew near to admire them.

All of a sudden, I heard a commotion behind me. A young couple was arguing very loudly in public. In their early twenties, I would believe. Facing one another and arguing, oblivious to their surroundings and people like us. Unfortunately, all were shouted in Cantonese and the reason for their altercation was lost on me.

Suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose. The young lady, possibly fed up to her false eyelashes, gave her boyfriend two to three tight slaps on the cheek. He stopped in astonishment and then continued yelling at her. One or two more slaps followed. I was wondering what would happen next, but without any more words, he turned and stormed away. The lady followed behind but at a much slower pace.

Surprisingly for a place like Hong Kong at a Friday morning around nine o'clock, this open walkway between the tall commercial buildings was rather deserted. I'm sure that nobody else seemed to have noticed this brief exchange of emotion. I looked at my wife, she looked back at me. Now, what was that all about???

March moon and Venus

I didn't meant to capture these shots on the camera but I happened to wander out of the house at about seven o'clock this morning to take a look at the mess which the dried leaves and flowers had left on the road. And it was just by instinct that I glanced upwards to see whether there was any sign of Venus in the brightening sky. Yes, I saw the miniscule Venus, still unblinkingly bright, but I also saw the thin crescent of the waning March moon. Pretty soon it will be the new moon again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Hong Kong's Time Square

From Sheung Wan, we took the MTR to Causeway Bay to meet some friends for dinner. This was our first underground journey since arrival and I had a bit of a bother trying to find the station. But eventually, we found the entrance. It was also the first time that we were using the Airport Express card to access the MTR network. The card didn't register any amount but all it required was for us to tap it on the card reader and the automated gate opened to allow us onto the train's platform. 

We ended here for dinner: a restaurant known as Crystal Jade located in the lower ground floor of Hong Kong's Time Square. The food wasn't bad but sorry, no pictures were taken at all of our dining experience.

According to my friend, rental rates at Hong Kong's Time Square are ridiculously high and thus there are huge overheads for the tenants. I really wonder how the shops here can make a reasonable profit with all the competition around them. Within the same block, I could sometimes find three or four identical outlets, possibly run by different owners.


As an aside, I was mentioning to my friend that I saw advertisement posters selling condominium units on the island for around HKD60 million. That's nothing, he replied. In the really high-end areas of Hong Kong, the price could go up to HKD200 million. Wow, that's really for the affluent, the rich and famous. Most ordinary people, even Hong Kong people, wouldn't be able to afford this type of high living.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Walking around Sheung Wan

I have to admit that the Ibis Hotel Sheung Wan and Central wasn't my first choice of hotel when my wife and I travelled to Hong Kong recently, but I am glad that I did choose it over many others.

Why wasn't it my first choice, you may ask. Well, in the first instance, I knew next to nothing about this part of Hong Kong island. I had only wanted to stay at a place which was near to the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal, and from the map, the Ibis was near enough.

In the second instance, I wanted a hotel that was on the route of the free shuttle bus service from the Hong Kong MTR station and I found that the shuttle bus would stop right at the hotel's doorsteps. How much more convenient could this be, right? The Ibis Hotel fitted both my needs.

The added bonus was that the price of the room was cheap enough. So that was where we stayed. And to our pleasant surprise, we found that the hotel was located right in the midst of old Hong Kong: surrounded by the Hong Kong that I had always imagined. A Hong Kong that is full of character and atmosphere.

After finishing checking into the hotel, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Sheung Wan. 

We came across traditional shops retailing dried seafood stuff like fish maw, abalone, scallops, shark fin, sea cucumber and salted fish. In addition, we found ourselves surrounded by traditional Chinese medical halls.

Everywhere we turned, we would find small shoplots selling all types of food. Nobody could ever go hungry here!

This lady was selling fresh vegetables by the roadside.

We found a coffin shop right in the midst of our walk. The coffins are all of the traditional designs, very unlike the versions we find here in Malaysia.

And suddenly, we found ourselves in Upper Lascar Row, also known as Cat Street. All types of antique dealers here.

When I saw this mask, immediately it reminded me so much of the British actor, Stephen Fry. Must be the prominent jowl.

And all too soon, we had reached the end of Upper Lascar Row and we descended the steps known as Ladder Street.

An interior of the Man Mo Temple, which is supposed to be one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong.

Anyway, it was built in 1847 and dedicated to the worship of Man Tai (文帝) and Mo Tai (武帝). That's how the temple got its name from.

Yes! We were in Hollywood. Hollywood Road, Hong Kong, that is.

Climbing further up Ladder Street, the roads became more empty and quiet.

And then we found ourselves inside the Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre. The first floor was akin to a huge hawker centre with tables laid out in all directions. Patrons could sit anywhere they liked as none of the hawkers could claim any part of the floor to be their personal corner.

And these two pictures were taken on the ground floor of the same building. It was a market, actually, selling both dried foodstuff and fresh meat. Needless to say, there were rows of butchers even at this late hour but when we were there, they were like shaking legs waiting for people to come round to their stalls.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A compromised SureLoc?

These two SureLoc padlocks are standard equipment with me every time I go travelling. I had bought them about five years ago because of some assurances on their reliability. And, I've been pretty satisfied with their performances.

It wasn't any different when I used these two padlocks again on my luggage during my wife and I's trip to Hong Kong a few days back. Like what I normally do, I'd zip up my luggages, put the padlocks on and then throw the keys into my pouch, retrieving them only when I reach my destinations.

But after arriving at the Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan, I discovered to my horror that I couldn't find the keys to the red padlock. Searched everywhere about my person but still I couldn't find the keys. Have I forgotten to bring them along with me? Horrors, what am I going to do with a locked luggage that could not be opened?

In desperation, I pushed the yellow keys into the red padlock's slot and started jiggling. Suddenly, I felt something had yielded inside. The mechanism must have fallen into place as lo and behold, the padlock snapped open. I gave a big sigh of relief as I quickly unzipped my bag.

However, I am puzzled as to how I could open a padlock with a key that doesn't belong to it. Whether of not both padlocks belong to the same manufacturer was irrelevant. The big concern here was how it could have happened at all. SureLoc is supposed to comply with some standards but I'm able to use a different set of keys to unlock this padlock.

When I got home finally, I searched through my cupboard and sure enough, I found the red padlock's keys there. They opened the red padlock smoothly enough. No jiggling whatsoever. Mmmm....

Monday, 17 March 2014

Goodbye, Laurence How

On the way back from Hong Kong this afternoon, my wife brought this obituary in The Star newspaper to my attention. "You know him, don't you?" she asked. I was shocked and devastated.

Laurence How dead? He was one of my fast friends. I had known him through chess since the mid-1980s. He was then the secretary of the Malaysian Chess Federation and we got on very well. But excellent organiser though he was, he was bad at documentation. As a result, I've known people who had moaned about having to tie up his loose ends at the end of every chess project. That's the Laurence How I knew.

Apart from chess, our interests also extended to the Manchester United Football Club. When he left the post of MCF secretary in the mid-1990s, he set up the MUFC Supporters Club Of Malaysia in Petaling Jaya.

Football was Laurence's other passion. He told me once that he used to play football but a bad knee put an end to his playing days. In the early days of the supporters' club, I helped him out with a mailing list and website. Often, he tried to interest me in going to visit Old Trafford but I never could make the trip. There will not be any more trips with Laurence How. Going to miss you, Laurence...

UPDATE (19 Mar 2014):  I was talking with one of his nephews yesterday. He told me that Laurence had been complaining recently about a lump in his throat and had been taking Chinese medicine. But about a month ago, he was persuaded to be admitted to a hospital where they diagnosed him with leukemia. He had undergone a course of chemotherapy and was in rather high spirits. Then about a week ago, some complications set in and he was placed in intensive care. Towards the end, his blood pressure dropped which was never a good sign. At the final moment, even the doctors knew that there was nothing more that could be done. Laurence passed away at about 1.45pm on 15 March 2014.

UPDATE 2 (20 Mar 2014): Apparently, I have just been made aware that I should know Laurence from way before the mid-1980s. If he was the first Secretary of the Chess Association of Selangor, then I should have known him from 1974. But yes, with my memory jogged, I do remember we talking a lot about Prof Dr Lau Kam Seng who was the CAS president before he migrated to Australia in 1976 or 1977.  Laurence had such high regard for Prof Lau.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Westlands Primary School mates

It may be easy to find old secondary school mates from among your group of friends but it is more difficult to come across old primary school mates. And it is indeed even more difficult to find them at the far corners of the globe away from your home town.

As such, it was a very pleasant surprise for me to meet up with three other people who happened to have our primary school education at the old Westlands School in Victoria Green Road, Penang. And to think that we four Westlanders met in Hong Kong this evening. Incidentally, we are all 60 years old this 2014.

And who are we, the Old Frees and Old Westlanders? That's Balakrishnan on the far left, Ong Charn Hong second from left and Cheah Cheng Hye third from left. I'm the one in the batik shirt, and the occasion was to celebrate Cheng Hye's birthday at the JW Marriott Hotel in Admiralty, Hong Kong.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Back to school

I was back to the old Alma Mater this morning. Brought with me Dr John Wu and his lovely wife, Margaret. Dr Wu had been invited to the Penang Free School to give a talk to the Sixth Form students and he touched on a subject matter close to his heart: his father, Dr Wu Lien-Teh, who would have been 135-years-old, if he were still alive today.

(Left to right: William Tan, Margaret Wu, John Wu, myself and the school's senior assistant for administration, Ho Nean Chan. Like myself, both William and Ho are also Old Boys of the School.)

And here we are, in the Headmaster's room for the first time in my life, prior to the start of the talk at the Lecture Theatre, Sixth Form Block. That's Jalil Saad, an Old Boy and current headmaster of the school.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Where it all started for the Wus

The Dr Wu Lien-Teh commemorative symposium starts this week and last night, there was a welcome dinner at the City Bayview Hotel for the participants of the symposium.

The biggest surprise was the homecoming of the Wu clan. I would estimate that of the 100-plus people at the dinner, about 85 percent of them were the descents of their patriarch, Ng Khee Hock. Dr Wu Lien-Teh was the eighth of 11 siblings.

From what I understand, this was the first time that the Wu clan had descended in such numbers for a family reunion and meeting with relatives that they didn't even know existed. And they came from the far corners of the world such as San Francisco, Belfast, Perth and Sydney. Nearer to home, some of them came from nearby Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, Ipoh and of course, Penang.

As a committee member of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society, I was privileged to have witnessed this gathering at the welcome dinner which also saw the official launch of the reprint of Dr Wu Lien-Teh's own auto-biography, Plague Fighter, by Areca Books. I've no idea yet how much it will cost when it hits the bookstands.

The book last saw print in 1959, the year before Wu Lien-Teh's death in his house in Chor Si Kheng Road, Ayer Itam, Penang. Maybe, there was only a single edition then as I doubt that it had a wide circulation. I'm one of a very few people that still owned a copy of that first edition, but nevertheless, I am still glad that there is now a reprint of this book. With careful promotion, I hope that many more of the present generation of Malaysians will get to know how great this man was.

Welcome speech by Anwar Fazal, the president of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society

What's that behind the red cloth?

Plague Fighter, Dr Wu Lien-Teh's biography. The people behind the launch of the book were: David Yeoh (representing Star Publications which sponsored the re-printing of this book), Dr Alex Ooi (secretary-general of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society), Khoo Salma (chairman of Penang Heritage Trust and the woman behind Areca Books), Dr John Wu (Dr Wu Lien-Teh's last surviving son) and Anwar Fazal (president of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society)

Of course, how could William and I not miss the chance to show Dr John Wu that section of Fidelis, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association, that featured his illustrious father?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

My old passports

I was digging through my cupboard and out tumbled all these old, expired passports of mine. Have been keeping them very diligently, especially the very first one. Some were used only once. Knowing how the latter-day passports had to be renewed after five years of usage, that shows how often I have managed to travel out of the country. Anyhow, I discovered that I did go to Hong Kong five times in the past 45 years, this former British colony coming a close second to Singapore.

The first time that I had ever set foot in Hong Kong was on 31 March 1978 when I was part of the Malaysian chess contingent that was invited for an official tour of the People's Republic of China.  At that time, there were no direct flights between Malaysia and China, the Malaysian government only allowed Malaysians aged 55 and above to visit their so-called "motherland" and our contingent of chess players were basically not more than 40 years old, and thus the Malaysian Chess Federation had to apply for a special dispensation from our government. Once that hurdle was overcome, our visas were issued by the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Our group entered Sham Chun (Shenzhen) in China through a train ride from Kowloon to Lo Wu. Click here for my take on his historic trip. Of course, when we left China, we had to exit through the same way we entered and I was in Hong Kong again on 16 April 1978. Technically two visits to Hong Kong in 1978 but for all practical purposes, it should be counted as only one.

My second trip to Hong Kong was in March 1979 when the Penang Chess Association took part in the first Asian cities team chess championship. It was a reward for having won the inaugural Malaysian team chess championship in the previous year. I remember that this trip was sponsored by Dato' Low Hooi Siah who was the patron of the Penang Chess Association. Low was a prominent businessman in Penang, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Han Chiang High School and could have been the president of the Teochew Association as well at that time, and owner of Lowe Motors in George Town that held the Mercedes Benz franchise.

In the first few editions of the Asian cities team chess championships, the Hong Kong Chess Federation was the host. The president of their federation was a private banker named Leslie Collings. I missed going to the second Asian cities team chess championship as I gave up my chances to some other chess players from Penang to go in my place, but I went to the third tournament in February 1981.

Somehow, this tournament stopped after a few editions but it was revived by the Hong Kong Chess Federation in August 1995. And that was where I found myself again for the fourth time, playing chess. I remember rooming with Ng Weng Kong, a good friend from our Ban Hin Lee Bank days and one day, he was taken violently ill after disagreement with some local food there. Anyway, with a lot of retching here and there, it wasn't a good trip for him or me.

We were walking down Nathan Road one evening and stopped outside a Haagen Daas outlet. For some time, we were debating whether or not to spend our money on this ice cream. Especially in those days, Haagen Daas was like the Rolls Royce of ice creams: very expensive. And we were reflecting on our peculiar position: rich people would probably come to a decision immediately because money was no issue to them. But for the two of us, we would probably have to weigh it up for some five to 10 minutes before deciding whether our money would be better spent here or elsewhere. I wouldn't want to disclose our final decision, though. It doesn't matter at all.

My last visit to Hong Kong took place in June 1998. Went there with my wife and aunt. Probably the only occasion that I ever took her so far away from Penang but I told her that I would want to take her inside Shenzhen so that she could at least step foot once into her so-called "motherland." How very old-fashioned her thinking was.

But there was one other reason why I wanted to make that trip with my wife. First, I wanted her to visit Hong Kong before the old Kai Tak airport closed down. I had always been explaining to her the thrill of landing at Kai Tak airport, how the aeroplanes would seemingly glide over the rooftops of Kowloon as they approached the runway, how we could practically look into the windows of the buildings. All these were very exciting to me. However....she wasn't very impressed with what she saw.

Oh, by the way, I was also mentioning a bit about Singapore earlier on. What a coincidence that both Hong Kong and Singapore were former colonies of the British empire. Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 while Britain took possession of Hong Kong in 1846. And then I was thinking to myself: gee, my alma mater, the Penang Free School, is even older than either Singapore or Hong Kong, it being established in 1816.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Journey

If there was anything that surprised me over the past weekend, it was to discover that when politics do not interfere with film-making, The Journey was indeed a very good film. 

My wife and I took time out to watch this movie with my daughter and found the cineplex almost fully packed with people even though more than a month had passed since it first started screening nation-wide on 30 Jan 2014. That's the eve of Chinese New Year.

Yes, it is still pulling in the crowds and as I understand it, The Journey has become the biggest box-office movie for a local Malaysian production, grossing RM15 million to date, and still collecting.

There are already way too many reviews of this movie on the Internet and I really wouldn't want to add my own opinion to all the accolades, but I think that I must still comment somewhat about it.

But first, to my friends in Singapore, I would like to urge you to catch the screening of The Journey in your local cinemas from the 20th of March.

The Journey is a story of many themes that I'm told are all so familiar to us: family, heritage, culture, traditions, expectations, forgiveness and acceptance. To which I would like to add nostalgia, sentimentality, life's impermanence, the ability to look hard at oneself and heart-warming old friendships that cannot be severed with the passing of time.

The film was shot in many locations around the country but it thrilled me to no end when the Penang Bridge loomed up on the big screen, followed by sequences at the Chew Jetty and one of the ferries in George Town. But my delight was somewhat dampened when the characters opened their mouths to speak and what came out was not Penang Hokkien but some other variation of the southern Hokkien language. For goodness' sake, why can't the movie's producer make the show more realistic by adopting authentic Penang Hokkien especially for the sequence filmed here? That was my main beef about the movie.

And another beef was that I couldn't understand half of the show because there weren't any English sub-titles. Besides, the Malay sub-titles flashed by way too fast for me. I finally gave up trying to read the Malay sub-titles, because it interfered with the developments on the screen, and decided to simply sit back and just enjoy the film.

Yes, I did laugh as the show progressed, demonstrating that you don't really need to understand the language when all unfolding before you are the daily, familiar aspects of our daily lives. (Actually, no, the hot-air balloon of recycled plastic bags doesn't occur naturally in our daily lives at all but what the heck, that was the director's creative licence if you know what I mean....)

P.S. Even if you don't understand the storyline at first, you will definitely enjoy the brilliant cinematography. And maybe, pine for your old hometown.