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.

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