Friday, 29 August 2014

2 Houses provides climax to George Town Festival 2014

Last Wednesday, I spent an interesting evening on the grounds of the development-threatened mansion known as Soonstead in Northam Road (renamed quite some time ago to Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), George Town enjoying a unique performance of a drama called 2 Houses which was specifically commissioned to close this year's highly successful George Town Festival 2014.

I call it a unique performance because the drama unfolded in various locations around the mansion, including the sea-front lawn at its back. As the play moved from room to room, the audience too was required to move together with the cast members.

For instance, we went from the front lawn to the mansion's hall, then to the back lawn before returning indoors and proceeding up the main staircase to the landing and the balcony. Down a side staircase we went before stopping by a porch, then through the dining room and ending up at the main hall.

No wonder we were forewarned that with all the walking involved, we should be wearing comfortable walking shoes.

So there I was on Wednesday evening, meeting up with several of my old school chums who had also come to see the play. Actually for the George Town Festival, 2 Houses had been slated for a four-night performance only on the 28th to the 31st of August, but tickets had sold out very early despite its RM150 price tag. Through some wonderful arrangement, the producers managed to give two special matinee performances on the 26th and 27th. I heard some people referring to them as full-dress rehearsals. Whether this was true or not, I don't know and not particularly interested to know, but it sure gave the production team and the cast an opportunity to iron out any last-minute hiccups. Anyway, together with these friends, we managed to pick up our tickets for the 27th August show.

This date turned out to be a very good choice for us because the weather was fabulous and cool. It had been raining almost ceaselessly the day before and in fact, even on Wednesday itself, it was raining for much of the morning. But the rain had stopped by afternoon and the weather held. The grounds at Soonstead were damp and a little undulating but it didn't cause much problem at all. And because it wasn't raining, we had the benefit to enjoy the outdoors live band. The audience was milling around in the front lawn, drinking and eating finger food, and basically waiting for the play to begin.

2 Houses weaves a bit of history into a fictional tale. This drama evolved around a wealthy Straits family caught up in a difficult situation during the Second World War. Of course, in this part of the world, it was the start of the Japanese invasion in December of 1941. Kota Bharu had just fallen to the Japs and their army was making their way slowly but surely down the peninsula to Singapore. But first, there was "Fortress Penang" to defend.

Unfortunately, "Fortress Penang" was only in name. With the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse sunk in the afternoon of 10 Dec 1941, there was to be no sea cover nor air cover for the northernmost part of the Straits Settlements. The land resistance was soon to be routed.

The drama opened with the fictional Heah family organising a state committee party at their imposing Heah Gate Mansion with the outward intention of seeking the British colonial office's assurance that Penang would be defended at all costs. But there was a private and secondary motive too, untold and unknown to the guests at the party. The proud Heah family, like the rest of the rich families in the Settlement, was desperately seeking British help to escape the island.

But there was to be no British saviour. The local population, rich and poor, would be left to their own devices as the Japanese army over-ran Penang. For the Heah family, there was a grudging offer of a safe passage for only one person in their family and even then, as a cabin boy who would be required to work his way on board the ship. The senior Heah's only son turned down the offer, balking at the idea of scrubbing floors and the like. His future wife, whom the Heah family looked down like second-class relatives, offered a solution: her long-suffering brother would go and help safeguard all the Heah family assets and title deeds.

When the play resumed after the interval, the time had fast forwarded to December 1948. The Japanese had already surrendered and Malaya was well set on a course for a new future that would unshackle British rule and include ultimate self-rule and independence. But first, the country was caught up in the Malayan Emergency and days earlier, news had emerged of the Batang Kali massacre. Historically, British troops had shot and killed 24 unarmed Chinese villagers suspected of helping Communist insurgents in the area.

There was new tension at the Heah Gate Mansion. The senior Heah was facing accusations from the British authorities of being a Japanese sympathiser during the Occupation. But worse, one of their man-servants who had gone off to join the fight against the vanquished Japanese was suspected to have returned to the island and could be coming back to the mansion. But definitely back on home soil was the junior Heah's brother-in-law who was now a successful lawyer. In the rising tension as all the parties came back together for a final confrontation with one another and the British authorities, and the ensuing confusion that followed, two shots rang out and with that, the show soon ended.  

To know the final outcome of the story, it would be necessary to watch 2 Houses but unfortunately, it is all full house for the remaining performances. Although there have been requests to extend its run further here, there won't be any. The performances will stop after the last show on 31 August. For that matter, I hear that there are no immediate plans to even stage it anywhere else later - for lack of a suitable venue which is an empty mansion - despite interest from Singapore, which is a pity because there is so much potential to develop the play further.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The usual old farts

I've always maintained that my old school pals, especially those of us who are in Penang, do not meet up often enough. Well, some of us have had quite a number of reunions in the last fortnight or so, taking Thuan Chye's presence in Penang as the excuse to meet up. And they won't be the last ones.

Thuan Chye, as many people would know, is one of the cast members of the "2 Houses" drama production that's being staged as the closing programme of this year's George Town Festival. The shows are only in the evenings, which means that he has lots of time in the afternoon for get-togethers with us.

Standing (left to right) - Kean Chuan, Leong Teik and Anna, Andrew; seated (left to right) - Thuan Chye, Teik Wah, Seng Sun, Kim Guan

Left to right - Thuan Chye, Hock Thiam, Teik Wah, Andrew, Eng Siang, Kim Guan, Seng Sun

Left to right - Kim Guan, Thuan Chye, Kah Theang, Teik Wah, Seng Sun, Andrew

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Saving Soonstead

Tomorrow night, I shall be making my way down to Soonstead - that heritage building in Northam Road, now renamed as Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah - to attend a theatrical performance called "2 Houses" as part of this year's George Town Festival 2014.

By the way, my old school chum, Kee Thuan Chye, is one of the cast members but it is not only because of him that I want to watch this drama.

According to the GTF2014 website, "2 Houses is an epic tale of make believe, spun from the imagination of an avid listener of old Penang family fables, myths, stories and research. Truth or lie? Conjecture or fact? The audience disregards these questions as they move, room to room, through the twists and turns of this sparkling drama about two of Penang’s elite families. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War and Emergency years, the drama follows the loves, lives and losses of those that witnessed the birth of Penang’s identity." The audience moving from room to room with the actors as the story, that is something I want to experience.

But coming back to this blog post of mine, Thuan Chye isn't the only reason why I want to attend this drama performance which uses Soonstead as its ... what do you call it ... its background prop? Rather, I am intrigued by news that the fate of Soonstead the building is under the threat of redevelopment.

Apparently, the proposed redevelopment would see the demolition of a part of this heritage building - the dining room wing and annexe buildings - and the construction of a 13-storey commercial block at its back, which is nearest to the sea front.

Now, seeing what had happened in the past to the old grand Homestead which is further up the road from Soonstead, I am appalled by the suggestion that a hotel may now appear on the grounds of Soonstead.

The redevelopment of Homestead - for a very long time, the home of Yeap Chor Ee and his descendants, Yeap Hock Hoe and then Yeap Leong Huat - into the main premises of the Wawasan Open University had seen a blue high-rise building erected behind that majestic mansion.

In my opinion, that unsightly building with its blue-glass facade is totally incongruous with the rest of its surroundings. Building it meant the destruction of several of the Homestead's most appealing features.

There used to be a dining-cum-kitchen wing at Homestead and it was demolished. Once, there was also a stable at Homestead and its gone too. Private yachts used to berth at the back of the property but no more. The open courtyard which once was filled with private functions, well, that unsightly building stands there now.

So you see what I mean when I say that I am feeling appalled? Coming from someone who used to work at the now defunct Ban Hin Lee Bank - and Yeap Chor Ee himself established the bank in 1935 - it is not too difficult to see why I feel this way when I look into the Homestead grounds today.

Because of what has happened to Homestead which other people have seen for themselves too, there is now an on-going campaign by the Penang Heritage Trust to save Soonstead from a similar fate. It will do you good, dear reader, to read the background information from the PHT. Since a few days ago, the campaign has been gaining traction from like-minded people who doesn't want to see more desecration of the so-called Millionaire's Row in George Town. As such, I have already placed my name in an online petition to object against the redevelopment and I would urge everyone to do so too.

So please help out to save one of Penang's heritage buildings by signing the Save Soonstead Petition here. It may not be too late yet!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Why the delay to return the headmaster's residence?

Why is there a delay in returning the headmaster's residence to the Penang Free School? Is there something we don't know? 

It has been four months since the infamous Police raid on the then Puspanita-run homestay bungalow on the school grounds. That raid had uncovered 88 people staying in the bungalow on the weekend, of which 60 of them - including 15 students - had tested positive for drugs (cannabis and methamphetamine).

Following that incident, the Penang State Secretariat had terminated Puspanita's lease and taken back control over the bungalow which, traditionally, had always been the official residence of the headmaster of the Penang Free School until sometime in the last decade.

The question that has been on my mind, and also on the minds of several other people and parties, not least the school's authorities themselves, is what the State Secretariat now intends to do with the Headmaster's Residence.

I understand that this bungalow, as well as a stretch of some eight or nine bungalows on the far side of the school field, does not belong to the Penang government. As far as records show, the title to these buildings are still in the name of the federal government but somehow along the way, the responsibility over their management had been given to the state government. This has even been informed to the Chief Minister quite some time back, possibly in 2011 or 2012, and so the State Secretary has to keep this foremost in mind.

I still maintain my opinion expressed in this blog four months ago. At that time, I had expressed that the state government taking back the bungalow could not have come at a better time when the school's Board of Governors were clamouring for the headmaster's residence to be returned to the school.

I had written then that perhaps right now, the state secretariat would take notice of the Board's request and do what's right for the school. With the Bicentenary coming up in 2016, there were plans identified about two years back that the premises would be an ideal location to house the School Archives permanently.

So what say you, Mr State Secretary? How about giving the Headmaster's Residence back to the Penang Free School? It belongs to the school; it has always been part of the school's heritage. Please don't have any other funny ideas to allow some other unrelated organisations from occupying the premises. It would be preposterous that a new unrelated organisation has impunity to enter the school grounds at all hours and hold their activities. Please return it now.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sonny Soon, the last occupant of Soonstead

Incidentally, I was having lunch with a few old school mates just the other day and one of the surprise guests at our luncheon was Sonny Soon Ewe Yin. He is a septuagenarian now but I recognised him well enough.

Sonny Soon, a terror on the tennis courts and an Old Boy of the Penang Free School too. Thus, his presence at my luncheon date was not totally out of place. My friends and I welcomed him the same as we would welcome any Old Free into our little gathering.

Sonny Soon was just about the last owner-occupant of Soonstead, an old heritage mansion along Northam Road in George Town, before he sold it off in the late 1970s for something like RM5 million, if I remember him saying correctly. Soonstead had been in his family for a very long time and he had inherited it from his grandfather, Soon Eng Kong.

In his will, the elder Soon had bequeathed the building, previously called Northam Court, to his "first-born grandson", no name mentioned, and Sonny Soon had to prove that he was indeed Soon Eng Kong's first paternal grandson. So the property passed from grandfather to grandson, bypassing the son, Soon Cheng Sun, who retained the rights to stay in Soonstead. According to Sonny, he survived a litigation action when his father, as one of the trustees of his grandfather's estate, attempted to sell off the property in the early 1970s. An interesting snippet of information.

UPDATE (29 Aug 2014): Soonstead was sold off to the millionaire, Loh Boon Siew, either in his personal capacity or his company's. I heard that after the title changed hands, the iron grille fence fronting the main road was removed and taken to Loh Boon Siew's only mansion which was further along Northam Road. In its place was the present concrete fence with balustrades. Soonstead remained empty all this time and it was not until this year that information emerged that the Boon Siew Group had submitted plans to build a 13-storey hotel on the grounds of this mansion. There is now an on-going campaign spearheaded by the Penang Heritage Trust to save Soonstead from partial demolition.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Now everyone can loan

I was at the Kampong Baharu market in Bukit Mertajam this morning. Had decided to park the car in an area different from where I normally parked, and then walked towards the market. I was appalled by the brazen display of illegal mini-banners that had sprouted on the lamp-posts.

All were "promoting" their so-called business loans but you know, and I know, that these are all about the Ah Longs or loan sharks in our society. All this brazen display of devil-you-care attitude only points to the ineptness and helplessness of our law enforcers to bring these loan sharks to book.

And I'm meaning the local councils as well as the Police.

Especially the Police. If they can be so efficient in tracking down the identities of a few fellas - even foreigners - who chose to move about in the buff, why can't they be equally efficient in chasing after the Ah Longs. Go arrest them. And go arrest their bosses who are hiding in fancy houses within up-market residential areas.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Old school pals, again

My pals and I are usually around when Kee Thuan Chye comes to town for his book reading activities. The latest one was organised just yesterday at the Sinkek studios in Malay Street, George Town. A two-hour of interaction between Thuan Chye and the audience during which time he read excerpts from his latest book, Can We Save Malaysia, Please!

When my wife and I arrived at Sinkek, we were forewarned that it was already full house and we may need to stand if seats could not be found. We found some seats with mine most appropriately behind a makeshift sales counter for Chye's books. Later, someone placed some mats on the floor to enable some of those standing to sit down.

Thuan Chye added an entry into his facebook and commented that local bookstore Gerakbudaya and Sinkeh had been the joint hosts for this event. Together, they facilitated probably his first and only reading from Can We Save Malaysia, Please! in Malaysia. No-one else, it seemed, was willing to risk hosting him!

And later, I bumped into Marcus Langdon and Gooi Mong Kim. The former is an Australian who is now resident in Penang. He is most well known as an authority on local Penang history, and he told me that the second volume of his Penang, the Fourth President of India 1805-1830 should be out on the shelves before Christmas. I'm really looking forward to its publication since a chapter in this book is dedicated exclusively to the establishment of the Penang Free School in 1816. I was quite relieved to hear this as several months ago, I had heard from a usually reliable source that the second volume could be shelved because of lack of funds.

Anyway, the latter named above is a former freelance photo-journalist who, during his 30-plus years of work, had made contributions to established publications like Time magazine and the New York Times newspaper, as well as to leading American, European and Japanese television networks. He had written an interesting story on Master Wan Kean Chew, a local pugilist expert, for inclusion in FIDELIS, the coffee table book of The Old Frees' Association, two years ago.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

If you smile at me...

I've been a fan of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young for as long as I can remember. Although I do not claim to know every public information about them, there are still a few interesting details worth knowing.

For instance when I was listening again to their very first album, their self-titled Crosby, Stills & Nash (without Young), I was struck by the evocative mood of the first track on Side Two.

To me, Wooden Ships - co-written by Crosby, Stills and Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane fame) - was a song of surviving and hoping. The song had very profound lyrics, and the most memorable were the opening lines that went:
If you smile at me I will understand, 'cause that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language.
According to Crosby's notes in the CSN CD box set released in 1991, he had borrowed this simple and strong message from a signboard in a little Baptist church in Florida, USA. It should be a timeless message as well but in this age and times, there's very little of this understanding now. What a pity!

Side One: Suite: Judy blue eyes, Marrakesh express, Guinnevere, You don't have to cry, Pre-road downs
Side Two: Wooden ships, Lady of the island, Helplessly hoping, Long time gone, 49 bye-byes

Friday, 15 August 2014

The JobStreet reunion

If I were to be still working in today, I would be spending my 15th year in this company. I joined it in June 2001 and left in December of 2009. Eight-and-a-half years in this fabulous dotcom company. But despite having left some 4½ years ago, I still harbour attachment for the people and the work culture that I left behind. That was why when news of a possible reunion of former JobStreet staff was mooted some seven months ago, I had made up my mind to attend it.

And what a reunion that I've just had in Kuala Lumpur. After several false starts, the reunion of former colleagues, together with some present staff members, finally materialised at the Publika shopping mall in Sri Hartamas.

Throughout the whole evening, all that I experienced were the warmth and friendship of my former JS colleagues. Met up with people like Chong See Ming, Tan Chew Lian, Suresh Thiru, Divya, Simon Si, and of course, Mark Chang, who had all been a part of my later working life.

As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I had been planning for this trip a long while ago, just waiting for it to take place and when it did, there was no second's hesitation before I booked tickets south. Unlike me, my wife isn't a former JS staff but she had met Chang, the founder and chief executive officer of the public-listed company, before. So she was just as keen as I was to go for the function.

The reunion was actually two-fold. Apart from the opportunity for people like me to touch base with some former colleagues, it was also meant for the launch of a book called The Tales of the dotcom Legend.

The idea for the book was conceived by Tan, one of the longest serving JS staff and he's still there, way back in March this year after news became public the month earlier that the company was selling off its jobs portal business to Seek Australia. He felt that the story must be told from the view-point of people who used to work or are working in the dotcom company.

Four months later, the stories from 75 contributors were ready and compiled, warts and all, into The Tales of the dotcom Legend. The only thing left was to find a suitable date for the book launch. An earlier attempt to fix a date fell through when the main subject of this book could not make it for the reunion. This date with Chang was finally secured for the ninth of August.

That was when I bought the tickets to go down to Kuala Lumpur. This was a reunion that I wasn't going to miss. If the JS business was going to be hived off, I had wanted to meet up with my old friends from the company - as many as possible - before it disappeared. And I must say that I came home with no regrets of attending the reunion although I did not get to meet everyone that I hoped to meet.

After coming back, I had mentioned in one of my facebook messages that at the end of the day, only two reunions remain meaningful to me. The first one is with my former Ban Hin Lee Bank mates and the other is definitely with my former colleagues. All you guys are truly wonderful.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Weekend of music at Eurasian Fiesta 2014

This story below is reproduced almost verbatim from the Media Release of the Eurasian Fiesta 2014 which takes place from six o'clock this Sunday afternoon, 17 Aug 2014, at the Che Hoon Kor Moral Uplifting Society building in Macalister Road, Penang.

I had attended the 2013 edition of the Fiesta last year at the St Xavier's Primary School in Pulau Tikus and found it utterly fascinating. Stayed back a long while to enjoy the live music played by incredible musicians and was so reluctant to leave at the end. This year, I shall be bringing my wife along to the festival and I know that she will love it too.

The timeless story of the Eurasians is set to be played out via music, food and cultural activities at the Eurasian Fiesta 2014.

The past and the future are set to collide in the present ….. and find that they get on very well. Poised to become the largest and most exciting gathering of Eurasians from Malaysia and beyond, the Eurasian Fiesta is an annual event ensconced within the George Town Festival in Penang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is a celebration of the unique history and culture of the Eurasians - the descendants of marriages between locals and the Portuguese, English and Dutch who colonised Malaya at different points in history (and geography), as well as the Spanish, French, German and other Europeans who sailed with the trade winds of the time. The result was a community bursting with vibrancy, with a rich culinary and musical culture.

Even as the Eurasian Fiesta celebrates this fascinating history, it will help to chart the community’s course in current waters, cementing a bond of fraternity and unity. This year, the event will be held at the Moral Uplifting Society building in Macalister Road, Pulau Tikus, starting at 6p.m. and going on till 11p.m. Admission is free, and the fiesta is open to the public with over 3,000 visitors expected.

Veteran entertainer James Rozells initiated the Eurasian Fiesta in 2012, along with fellow musical alumnus and partner Kathleen Rodrigues. According to James, Pulau Tikus is the natural choice for the event venue, also known as Kampong Serani, as it was the birthplace of the Penang Eurasian community.

Eurasian food is a marriage of European sensibilities and local flavours, and the Eurasian strongholds of Penang and Malacca differ slightly in their cuisines.

The spice trade was what brought the initial Portuguese sailors to Malacca’s port in 1511, and you will find that many of the community’s dishes are heavily-spiced. A similar sense infuses Penang Eurasian delicacies, but the English influence is stronger on the island, so you’ll find colonial favourites like corned beef stew, a descendant of the traditional English stew, or mulligatawny (known colloquially as pepper water) on offer.

The fiesta will see Eurasians coming from far and wide to renew old ties and weave new ones - and a delicious time is promised to all.

Families will dig deep into their recipe treasure chests to come up with culinary gems for the evening, with staples like debal devil curry, semur and salt fish pickle on sale. As every family has their own interpretation and secret touch for their dishes, expect a glowing tapestry of flavours.

As any Eurasian will tell you, no celebration is complete without its rich and fragrant cakes and pastries. Making its debut last year, the Blue Ribbon Sugee Cake Contest uncovered the best Eurasian Sugee Cake in the land with the winner being Kathleen Rodrigues from Penang. Among the distinguished panel of judges were Joe Sidek (director of the George Town Festival), Helen Ong (food author and critic), Tommy Lee (boulanger and owner of Tommy Le Baker), Marina Emmanuel (NST Penang bureau chief 2013), Narelle McMurtrie (owner of China House/Bon Ton), hotel General Managers, executive chefs and restaurant owners.

This year’s “Blue Ribbon Contest” seeks to crown the Eurasian Pineapple Jam Tarts queen (or king).

An eclectic musical line-up at the fiesta will include three generations of top Malaysian Eurasian performers, and will take the evening well beyond expected heights. From country & western to good old-fashioned rock & roll, bluesy numbers to hard-edged rock, the fiesta will have it all. Classic golden oldies will rub shoulders with the contemporary. Covers and originals will schmooze - and all will get along just fine!!

Eurasian entertainers have played an important and influential role in the country’s musical evolution, particularly from the 1950s. From Penang, the likes of Jimmy Boyle and Larry Rodrigues, Joe Rozells, Rudy and George Baum, Kathleen Rodrigues, The Rozells, the Scullys and the Jeremiahs have all made their marks on the Malaysian soundscape.

They’ve blazed the trails, and a new generation of Eurasian artistes now looks to the future as they create a sound of their own – like the edgy, youthful Volatile who perform their own original numbers (available on iTunes now!!).

Stalwarts of the music scene like the smooth EZ Band from KL featuring the likes of Eddie Zachariah, Ronnie Felix and Jerry Ventura and the eponymous Rozells will be joined onstage by strong performances from bands and musicians from as far as Singapore like John Silva and Finian Lowe, Tres Cambrados from Malacca and Brian Duorado from Ipoh. Penang Eurasian bands -Transmission Ends, Volatile, Somebody Who featuring Christopher Estrop and Jonathan Scully, Endangered Species and Penang’s Darrin Rozells make up the host’s music list.

Also on the musical menu are Michele Baum, Bonnie Jeremiah, William Scully, George Baum and Leander Jeremiah among others, and a 12-piece Eurasian Acapella singing group.

Eurasian dances, cultural and modern, representing the Portuguese, Dutch, English, European and Asian Eurasian communities will definitely be a colourful and delightful addition to the fiesta.

The Eurasian Fiesta promises fun, good food, great music and more. A photo exhibition depicting Kampong Serani’s historical significance and another showcasing the Eurasian music heritage of Penang will be on hand to commemorate the birth of the Penang Eurasian community. There will also be books on Eurasian history, Eurasian music CDs, and unique arts & crafts for sale.

The Eurasian Fiesta will be an evening of eating, drinking and making merry … of celebrating old memories and creating new ones.

ASEAN integration is imminent with the date set for 2015. “Building Bridges” with Eurasian communities overseas such as in Thailand, Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong and other ASEAN countries who have had similar historical experiences as a result of world trade routes and inter-marriages is the Fiesta’s theme and objective for 2015.

Plans to expand the Eurasian Fiesta internationally and extend invitations to these Asian Eurasian communities, who too have their own special history, music and cuisine worthy of recognition, are already in the pipeline. The Fiesta aims to be the catalyst that will put Penang on the world map as the “Eurasian Cultural Capital of Asia”. We have content, talent and the history to justify the dream.

For media inquiries and more information, please send an email to: or or call James (017.4861885)/Kathy (017.4750913).

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Depression is more than a state of mind

American actor Robin William's tragic suicide on Monday highlights the fact that depression is a serious mental health problem that strikes people in all strata of society.

People normally assumes that depression is a condition that afflicts the poorer levels of society, or the less fortunate, who find it hard to cope with the challenges of life, but William's death illustrates that depression does affect the rich too. Depression knows no social barriers. Each person that undergoes a bout of depression will usually have their own unique stories to tell, and their own reasons for sinking into this mental state.

Fortunately, depression is not incurable. The first stage towards reducing depressive tendencies is to recognise its signs. For instance, a person who is withdrawn and generally shows an unsociable lifestyle may be a candidate for depression. Or a person who exhibits repetitive habits or irrational behaviour could be a candidate as well. Also, bipolar disorders or mood swings, especially the angry or violent type. The depressive candidate may be a senior citizen or a teenager, but very likely the ordinary man-in-the-street in the prime of his life may be a candidate too.

If depression is left unchecked, it can lead to serious consequences for the sufferers. Most of them end up injuring themselves. At the worst-case scenario, there is suicide. Williams wasn't the first celebrity to die from severe depression but he certainly won't be the last either.

So what can be done to help people that exhibits depressive traits? Apart from seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications, one other way, in my opinion, is to direct them to people who can help. The Befrienders programme in Penang and elsewhere around Malaysia has helped countless sufferers who thought they had no place to turn to. The Befrienders organisation is helmed by volunteers who will talk to sufferers who call in to their hotline.

Lately, I've learnt of another organisation in Penang who does a similar job of reaching out to people with mental health issues too. This is the D’Home Mental Health Association, based in Bukit Jambul on Penang island, which was established by Dato' Leslie Lee who knew first-hand what it was like to care for a loved one with mental illness: his own elder brother had been a schizophrenic for the past 42 years. It was this experience and a growing passion for loving kindness that propelled him to provide an avenue for others to learn more about mental illness and find support and encouragement.

And incidentally, all of us can chip in to support the Befrienders and D'Home Mental Health Association. On 24 Aug 2014, from 10.30a.m. to 6p.m. at the China House in Beach Street, George Town, as part of this year's George Town Festival 2014, a movement known as the Penang Depressed Cake Shop will be selling cakes to raise public-awareness and funds for these two organisations.

The Penang Depressed Cake Shop is a quirky pop-up cake shop selling grey and sad (but delicious!) cakes, confections and sweet treats to raise awareness surrounding depression and mental health issues in Malaysia. Through this cake sale, the organisers are working towards putting an end to discrimination and prejudice against those who suffer from depression and encourage better understanding of mental illness.

The cakes are donated by professional and home bakers from Penang, as well as other regions in Malaysia. As the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Befrienders and D'Home, please do come and contribute generously towards the cause of helping mental health sufferers around you.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams is dead

Farewell, Robin Williams (1951-2014), we shall miss your humour very much.

Orson: The report, Mork.
Mork: This week I discovered a terrible disease called loneliness.
Orson: Do many people on Earth suffer from this disease?
Mork: Oh yes sir, and how they suffer. One man I know suffers so much he has to take a medication called bourbon, even that doesn’t help very much because then he can hear paint dry.
Orson: Does bed rest help?
Mork: No, because I’ve heard that sleeping alone is part of the problem. You see, Orson, loneliness is a disease of the spirit. People who have it think that no one cares about them.
Orson: Do you have any idea why?
Mork: Yes sir, you can count on me. You see, when children are young, they’re told not to talk to strangers. When they go to school, they’re told not to talk to the person next to them. Finally when they’re very old, they’re told not to talk to themselves, who’s left?
Orson: Are you saying Earthlings make each other lonely?
Mork: No sir, I’m saying just the opposite. They make themselves lonely, they’re so busy looking out for number one that there’s not enough room for two.
Orson: It’s too bad everybody down there can’t get together and find a cure.
Mork: Here’s the paradox, sir. Because if they did get together, they wouldn’t need one. Isn’t that zen-like?

(From Season One, Episode 21 of the television series Mork and Mindy (1979), starring Robin Williams as the alien Mork in his first successful television show.)

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Heading to a reunion

Here I am yesterday, waiting at the junction of Lorong Medan Tuanku Satu and Jalan Sultan Ismail to await an ex-colleague from my days. My wife and I were heading to the Publika Shopping Mall in Hartama Heights for a reunion dinner with many other folks.

And I hope this sign on the building will still be around on my next visit to this area in Kuala Lumpur come a few months down the road.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

What's happening?

Incident at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford, England, where a charity match was held on 7 Aug 2014 to raise funds for the local football team. The Salford City Football Club is owned by Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the two Neville brothers, Gary and Phil, who are aiming to take the team from the Northern Premier League Division One North to the Northern Premier Division. I can only hope that the Class of '92 can inspire their team northwards instead of southwards. :-)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Of course, blame it on something else

And here you have it, the Chief Minister of that state down south who is trying to squirm his way out of a bad situation

It was reported two days ago in the Malaysian Digest news portal that a poor understanding of the English language had been identified as the main reason that led to the Malacca High School relocation fiasco.

Idris Haron said he had called for an investigation to be conducted on the safety of "highland schools" such as Sekolah Menengah Sains Muzaffar Shah but this was misinterpreted by certain quarters as "land at the high school."

All I can say is, really? Poor understanding of the English language? You mean that Malacca's exco meetings are conducted in English? Well, well, well, that's a revelation indeed. Good for him that he is trying to get his executive councillors to improve their language skills. But better still if he tries to improve the language skills and understanding of the government servants under his charge. If they - the government servants - can misinterpret government decisions to their liking, it says a lot for the quality of selecting and hiring competent people to helm important posts in the state. So this does not absolve him or his government from this controversy.

Anyway, I'm happy for the Malacca High School. At least, the alumni can now stand down from their protests.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Herd mentality, herd instinct

I have been reading today that there are scores of Malay Malaysians protesting - sometimes violently and threateningly - outside McDonald's outlets in several parts of the country, the reason being McDonald's alleged funding support for the Jewish state of Israel.

Darn, are they so shallow until they have no mind of their own? Don't they understand that all these boycotts and protests will never change anything in the world? Business will continue to go on for McDonald's. The only people that will be hurt are the staff in these local fast food outlets: these innocent people who have nothing to do with the Jews or non-Jews but only seeking a decent and respectable living for themselves.

If these protesters are so diligent in boycotting McDonald's or some other businesses, here's a level-headed perspective from one of my cousins, Amy, which they should very well heed:

Let's all boycott everything US. Why only McDonald's or Starbucks... 

  • Let's boycott all Hollywood movies - go watch only our local movies (go watch Mamak Cupcake)
  • Let's boycott Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, Skype, etc... all these are also US products, right? They too might be supporting indirectly, right?
  • Let's boycott all mobiles, computers and tablets from the US.
  • Let's boycott all franchised outlets from the US. Stop eating US brands.
So now that we are boycotting all US products (just to be safe), let's close down all your Facebook, Twitter, email accounts, etc.
Wanna boycott? Let's boycott properly and not just on a few only because we suspect they have links to Israel. Remember, you are not allowed to sentence anyone until you can really prove them guilty! Go and get all the financials and do your research before you sentence any organisation as guilty.
By the way, those people who work in Starbucks, McD are just earning their honest wages. They are not guilty; so stop harassing them. If you think what they are doing is wrong, then go employ all these people. Else, you are guilty of breaking their rice bowls. 
If you cannot do all that, then please stop all this nonsense.....
Well said, Amy!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

High hypocrisy!

All those holier-than-thou politicians who have expressed outrage over a few people traipsing in the buff on some secluded beaches in Telok Bahang, Penang are nothing but self-styled morality police and sex-crazed pricks trying to take the moral high ground.

Surely, there are more important issues endangering the moral fibres of our country that must be addressed, are there not? 

Primarily among them are the hypocrisy of those in high places. Then there is corruption and inequality. And not least, the ever presence of racism which doesn't seem to be snuffed out by the authorities but instead, is being quietly fanned and encouraged to fester.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lover's isle, revisited

Possibly one of the more famous islands off Penang's main island. Lover's Isle is its name and it is located somewhat halfway between Batu Ferringhi and Telok Bahang. Have known of this little clump of rocks since small but have had very little chances to see the isle up close. This is the closest that I've been, on a clear, good day. The last time I was here to view this rocky outcrop, there was a huge storm brewing and waves were crashing on the beach. Definitely not a good time to get up close with nature!

In the 1960s, there was an attempt by the state government to change the name of this isle to something more mundane but thankfully, following protestations by residents and outstation visitors, the idea was dropped. So Lover's Isle it was then, Lover's Isle it is still today.

This is the video of the rocky islet which I filmed two years ago:

Does it matter?

Bloody hell, of course, it matters. It matters every time we play them, anywhere in the world. Wot a question to ask!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Message of peace

NO WONDER that I had missed out on this coffee shop when I drove past it late Saturday afternoon. The shop's name had been covered up.

I had been told that there would be a series of mini-concerts on the island, held in various cafés and coffee shops in the heritage quarter of George Town, during what is now famously known as the annual George Town Festival.

This year's Festival during the whole month of August is jam-packed with all sorts of artsy-fartsy activities - too many for me to fathom - and most of them are free. The Konsert Kopitiam, for example, is one of the free shows around the city. There are five mini-concerts in all, and the first one on the second of August, the one that I was trying to find, was being held at the Asia Café.

I was told about this first mini-concert two days earlier when I bumped into Cecil Rajendra, a long-time Penang-based poet, at another function and he invited me to come attend the Asia Cafe do where both he and Anwar Fazal would also be reading some poetry. Well, I had told myself that I just might drop by, seeing that I had a Member's Night dinner to attend later on at The Old Frees' Association.

But the problem on Saturday was, although I knew that the Asia Café was located somewhere along Pitt Street, I couldn't place it exactly. And I had even driven past the coffee shop without realising it. Heck, I could have just stopped my car a distance away and walked.

Eventually though after some further driving around, I did notice a good crowd milling around outside a coffee shop and I took a chance to park the car and go find out for myself.

I wasn't wrong. I noticed Anwar seated there while Rajendra was walking around all over the place and kind of setting up his court there. Outside, the new Gerakbudaya bookstore had set up a temporary booth to promote some local books. Gareth Richards, you don't have to express mock horror that I haven't visited your bookstore yet. I will, some day soon, promise!

This then was the Asia Café and the people were eating food from the hawkers outside the place, drinking kopi-o or some other concoction and generally, having a whaling good time listening to the band playing.

My believe is that it is a spiffing good idea to involve the small businesses in the city in this once-a-year cultural activity. Got to make them feel that they belong to the George Town heritage celebrations and what better way than to provide them with some opportunities to earn money from patrons that had come to attend the functions?

The Asia Café is just one of the coffee shops and cafés that will be the venue for the Konsert Kopitiam mini-concerts.

I'm told that the others are the Hock Leong Yen (Sun Kee) coffeeshop at the junction of King Street and China Street on 8 Aug, the Hock Poh Lye at the junction of China Street and Penang Street on 15 Aug, the Eng Loh Café at the junction of Penang Street and Church Street on 22 Aug and the Hwa Pin in Church Street (in front of The Phoenix Press) on 29 Aug. Performances start from six o'clock.

But it was too bad that I couldn't hang around the Asia Café until the session ended at eight o'clock. I really had to make my way to my own dinner function.

Unfortunately, I never got around to hear Rajendra deliver his poetry but at least, I did get him to autograph his book on Rose Chan called No Bed of Roses. And I did get to listen to Anwar recite his poem, Remember, We Are One.

He's immensely proud of this poem which he wrote more than 10 years ago. I had included an abridged version of it when I was editing the FIDELIS coffee table book two years ago. But here is the poem in full:

We all drink from one water 
We all breathe from one air 
We rise from one ocean, and we live under one sky. 

Remember, we are one. 

The new born baby cries the same 
The laughter of children is universal 
Everyone's blood is red, and our hearts beat the same song. 

Remember, we are one. 

We are all brothers and sisters 
Only one family, only one earth 
Together we live, and together we die. 

Remember, we are one 
Remember, we are one 
Peace be on you, brothers and sisters 
Peace be on you.

Now, why can't we deliver this appeal for peace and togetherness to the areas of conflicts in this world? The people of Gaza and Israel need peace like never before; the people of Iraq need peace, the people of Afghanistan need peace, the people of Syria need peace, the people of Ukraine need peace. Need I say more?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Meliora Hic Sequamur

We are both located on the west coast of the peninsula but one is in the north and the other is in the south. Together, we have achieved almost 400 years of presence in the Straits Settlements, Malaya and now Malaysia. I'm referring to the two educational institutions in the country that have existed since the 19th century: the Penang Free School in the north, founded in 1816, and the Malacca High School in the south, founded in 1826.

In the last few days, news have been emerging that the very physical presence of the Malacca High School in the Malacca UNESCO cultural heritage core zone is under threat. There are plans in high places to relocate the school and the reason given by the state authorities and the education department is that there is too much traffic congestion in the vicinity of the school.

Naturally, there's a lot of public outcry in Malacca, especially from the old boys of the school. In this age and time when public awareness and pride of cultural heritage and values are at an all-time high, no-one would like to have their Alma Mater bandied with when their old school is so much a part of this country's history.

I do feel for the old boys of MHS. I would react the same way too if my own beloved Alma Mater is similarly affected by a suggestion to relocate. Luckily, the Penang Free School had already moved far away from the old town centre to an almost deserted Green Lane in 1928. If it had stayed put in Farquhar Street until today, there is no doubt about it that it would by now be pressured to move too.

And in this respect, I hope there is no proposal to relocate the St Xavier's Institution or the Convent Light Street from Farquhar Street and Light Street respectively. It would be scandalous to even think about it, but it can happen if the authorities in high places turn their sights on these schools. (The Malacca High School too had its last relocation to their present premises in 1928 - so there is a similarity with the Penang Free School - but whereas Green Lane in Penang was pretty much in the countryside then, Jalan Chan Koon Cheng was quite close to the bustling old Malacca town centre.)

The biggest puzzle about the proposal to relocate the Malacca High School is the lack of transparency by the authorities. Nobody has suggested what they intended to do with the land should MHS ever move out. Suspicions are running high among the old boys of the High School that some unnamed developers are already eyeing the plot of land, that it was all about money and never about traffic congestion.

It has also been suggested that the traffic congestion around the MHS was not caused by the school but due to massive commercial development in the surrounding areas. It was claimed that the massive jams only occur during weekends, public and school holidays.

So unless the Malacca government can come clean and give a more extensive and plausible explanation why the school must indeed move, the ordinary Malaccans will never accept that traffic congestion is the real reason. In fact, they are voicing that their state government should be defending and protecting their heritage rather than supporting the proposal. And I hope that this is a valuable lesson which the authorities in George Town will take heed of too.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Celebrating the life of the Tiger of Jelutong

It was quite an interesting evening that I had last night. I was attending the book launch of Tim Donoghue's updated biographical work on the late lawyer and parliamentarian, Karpal Singh, at the Wawasan Open University in Northam Road, Penang.

As the book went on sale in the foyer before the programme started, three of Karpal's most prominent sons, all lawyers and law-makers in their own right, were mingling with the crowd of about two to three hundred people. Although they tried to keep a low key, seeing that the evening actually belonged to Donoghue, they ended up autographing the book on their father.

The book launch started with addresses by Steven Sim, member of parliament for the Bukit Mertajam constituency, and Anwar Fazal, chairman of Think City, before Jagdeep Singh, Penang state executive councillor, spoke. And at the very end, there was a panel discussion led by Liew Chin Tong and Ramkarpal Singh.

All in, there were valuable insights and reminiscences into Karpal Singh, the man and the legend. His image will continue to loom large and cast a shadow on the Malaysian political scene. Definitely, the book will keep me well occupied for the next few days....

Author Tim Donoghue with the family of Karpal Singh: sons Ramkarpal, Gobind and Jagdeep and wife Gurmit Kaur