Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The new Yut Kee Restaurant

When landlords get ambitious and they start looking for other uses for their properties with promises of greater returns, there can only be so much that a tenant can bear. Once the breaking point is reached, the tenant will start looking for alternatives.

Such would have been the fate that befell the landlord that had been renting his premises at 35 Jalan Dang Wangi in Kuala Lumpur. For several years already, I have been hearing stories that the Yut Kee Restaurant, founded by a Hainanese chef, Lee Tai Yut, in 1928 which would make the place 86 years old today, would be relocating to new premises of their own.

And finally, they have, When I was down in Kuala Lumpur about 10 days back, my friend and I took an early lunch at Yut Kee's new establishment in 1 Jalan Kamunting, which is actually just at the back of their old premises. What used to be a row of hawker stalls in a lane behind the old premises are now hawker stalls in the same lane beside the new premises. (Incidentally, check out the mee rebus here if you have an opportunity, okay? Before it disappears with time.)

The new Yut Kee Restaurant is housed in a three-storey building with the ground floor completely occupied by tables. The place retains the charm of the old premises - which the owners had tried painstakingly to recreate by bringing over the old huge mirrors, signboards and picture frames of the old family patriarch, and there's the old radiogram that used to sit beside the window, it's here too - but it is definitely more spacious than before.

Although there were ample empty tables for us to pick and choose on arrival, we suspect that the place could still get pretty congested during peak hours like breakfast or lunch time. Whereas customers would have to stand patiently outside the old premises and wait to share tables with strangers, the owner has now thoughtfully arranged rows of red plastic seats outside the entrance for the people,

I am not exactly certain what the first and second floors of the building are being used for, but I can guess that the upper-most floor is being used as quarters for their foreign workers, some of whom have worked at the restaurant for donkey's years already, and somewhere up there is the kitchen and bakery.

There is a lift at the back of the building and while I was there, it opened and closed several times as the workers moved loads of freshly baked cakes and Swiss rolls from upstairs to the counter on the ground floor.

And what about the most important aspect of the restaurant? What about the food? I looked at the menu on the wall and all the old items are still listed there. I made my choice. My first order was my favourite Hainanese chicken chop and it came beautifully cooked and served with onions and fried potatoes, and drenched generously with their brown sauce.

I had also ordered a slice of their French toast which came with a huge dollop of fabulous egg kaya, the type which my mother used to make. To complete my lunch, everything was washed down with a cup of their local coffee - hot, bitter-sweet and delicious. The premises may be new but to me, the food remains like what I've known and enjoyed before. Ahh, it was just like old times. Bliss. I wish Jack and Mervyn (Lee Tai Yut's son and grandson) all the best at their new premises!

Related: Yut Kee to make way for boutique hotel

Monday, 29 September 2014

In deep prayers

At the Poh Hock Seah in Armenian Street, George Town, recently. I found myself at the right place and at the right time...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Google Streetview in Malaysia

When I was looking at Google Maps this afternoon, I had noticed that the map of Penang was showing some extra detail that I had never seen before.

For instance, a view of my part of Bukit Mertajam was showing even the backlanes. This was something new, I thought to myself. New but can be pretty confusing with the proliferation of supposedly new roads.

At first, I dismissed the new maps without giving it any extra thought but then at dinner, it struck me that Google might have finally introduced their much anticipated Google Streetview to cover Malaysia.

I know that previously when I clicked on the Streetview icon - that little yellow figure - at the bottom corner of Google Maps, only a few selected areas on Penang island would show up in blue. Would it be any different if I tried it now? So I did. I clicked on the same icon and, viola, almost the whole of the island and mainland showed up with a darkish overlay. Yes, it's confirmed that these are the areas now covered under Google Streetview.

In fact, Streetview now covers almost the whole of Peninsular Malaysia, and that's pretty neat. Only Sarawak and Sabah are not included presently and I really don't know when they will be added eventually. I hope it will be sooner rather than later.

Persiaran Bayan Indah

I really can't remember what brought me down to the south-eastern side of the island recently but I was early for an appointment (whatever it was) and I decided to stop by that stretch of road known as Persiaran Bayan Indah.

There is this beach that runs the whole length of this road and beyond - from the island end of the Penang Bridge till the Bayan Lepas free industrial zone - but this particular stretch is infested with several seafood restaurants which are possibly illegal and which the authorities may have a headache trying to clear up due to political reasons.

Anyway, it was morning when I stopped my car and wandered down to the beach. It was low tide. I noticed some people waddling ankle deep or knee deep in the sea water. Some were busily digging up the sand while others were walking about with a bucket in hand or engrossed in picking things out from the sand bed.

I walked over to see what they were doing. Apparently, they come here every morning to ferret out the siput lala from the sand. The brief time that I was there, I didn't see that much of this sea snail in their pails and I doubt whether they could dig out much daily.

But I do remember that in my youth, my family used to go to the Gurney Drive beach, when there was still a respectable beach, and came home with a reasonable amount of siput lala which we would then steam with salt and eat with much gusto. But that was in the past.

Today, the siput lala had all but disappeared from the dining table and these few people are those that ever bothered to dig them up from the sand.

So okay, these are some of the stalls that are located on Persiaran Bayan Indah. How many of these are legal and how many are illegal? If you ask me, I would dare say that none of them are legal.

They were probably set up as temporary stalls and when the authorities took no notice of them, they became bolder and erected permanent structures. And then when people started eating at these places and the stalls became popular and the businesses entrenched, the authorities could no longer evict them when they (the authorities) finally woke up and decided to take action.

This is a common tale all over the country. When authorities close their eyes to the initial set-up for whatever reason, they unleash a monster that has taken root. But I will be happy to be proven wrong if someone tells me that the businesses here have legitimate licences, including clearance from the health department, to operate. Nobody would want to come down sick from food poisoning.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Experimental theatre

I haven't stepped into the University of Malaya for a very long time. If my memory serves me correctly, 1976 would have been the very last time that I was at the campus.

However, I had the occasion to visit the country's oldest and most prestigious university when my wife and I took our nephew down to Kuala Lumpur at the beginning of this month. He had been accepted into the university's accountancy programme for the next four years.

As far as I could see, the physical aspect of the place hasn't changed much after close to 40 years. We came across the Dewan Tunku Canselor and beside it, the experimental theatre.

The experimental theatre. Just saying this name brought back some memories of the film shows that had been screened here during those good old days. Shows that did not see the light of day in our public cinemas for one reason or another.

A notable film that I remember distinctly was Gimme Shelter, a 1970 music documentary of The Rolling Stones' tour at the Altamont concert in the United States. The concert was, of course, infamous for the fatal stabbing incident off-stage that was captured on film but I really cannot recall whether the scene was cut out from the film version I had watched at the experimental theatre.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Floods in Bukit Mertajam

Gosh, it really rained throughout the night until early this morning! Welcome, folks, to the annual Nine Emperor Gods festival. It never ceases to amaze me how, despite the dates for the lunar calendar being dynamic and shifting year-to-year, the nine days of this festival is almost invariably always very wet. Right on cue, the rains will come and drench everything in their way.

This year, the rain started from about nine o'clock yesterday evening but it was only a light drizzle to begin with. However, it turned very heavy from about two or three o'clock in the wee hours of the morning. I should know very well, because the sound of the rain kept me semi-awake all the while. It eased off at about seven o'clock this morning.

I told my wife that traffic on the roads could be congested today and true enough, when I dropped her off at her office in Seberang Jaya, the road through Permatang Rawa was chockful with cars. People going to work, see? Therefore, I decided to make a detour through Kubang Semang and thence to the Kulim-Butterworth highway. Had to paid RM1.30 as toll but I got her to her office on time.

Earlier this morning too, she was informed by one of her staff that houses in Sungai Rambai were flooded. I had thought that the flood mitigation project in this previously flood-prone area had already eliminated this problem - and indeed, several days ago, I had even told a friend who once stayed here that floods were a thing of the past - but I guess that this early morning's deluge was exceptional.

The floods are back with a vengeance and our representatives in the State Assembly and Parliament should waste no time to pressure the state and federal governments to do more to implement additional flood mitigation projects here in Bukit Mertajam.

I understand that since last year, the Penang government had approved more than RM20 million for flood mitigation projects in Alma, Taman Sungai Rambai, Taman Makok and B Garden. The Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, Steven Sim, says that another RM15-30 million will be needed to have a high-capacity pump house in Autocity to facilitate quicker water flow from the Sungai Rambai into the sea. He said that this was a large amount of money for the state government but the reps were campaigning for its implementation.

And what's the federal government going to do? Sim said that in the last Parliament sitting, he asked why flood mitigation projects promised by the federal government under the Ninth Malaysia Plan had not been implemented, and he was told that it would be considered for the fourth Rolling Plan in the 10th Malaysia Plan next year. It smacks of irresponsibility that projects in Penang promised under the Ninth Malaysia Plan may only be considered under the 10th Malaysia Plan. Like that, and they want our votes!

On the way back from Seberang Jaya, my path took me through Jalan Song Ban Kheng. The road was on higher ground and thus, was clear of flood water but I noticed that cars had been parked on the bridge across the Sungai Rambai. I stopped to look at the swollen river. I think the water level had subsided quite a lot already but it was still massively wide and dangerous.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Remembering 2...Ne4

Whilst in Kuala Lumpur for the 11th Malaysian Chess Festival (today is the last day, actually!) I caught up with an old chess pal whom I've not met in person for almost 22 years. He's from Seremban but somehow from the late 80s till 1992, he has transplanted his family to Penang. Then he moved back to his hometown, where he has stayed ever since.

But during those years in Penang, we developed a friendship through chess and also from computers. He was a programmer and he had helped the Penang Chess Association develop a fledgling chess rating program at a time when the Malaysian Chess Federation's national rating system was still non-existent. It wasn't entirely accurate but at least, we in Penang had something to rely on when there was no other source for reference.

After Sonny Kow returned to Seremban, I would believe that I had met him only once more, and it was in Kuala Lumpur. Then we really lost contact with one another. A few months ago, I managed to flush him out when I discovered the name of the company that he was last attached to. Luckily for me, the company still had his contact number, and that was exactly when I was able to re-establish contact with him.

Yesterday, he travelled up from Seremban to meet me at the Cititel Midvalley in Kuala Lumpur. He was pretty excited to watch a chess tournament again. No, he told me, he hadn't touched a single piece since he moved back to his himetown. Wow, that was more than 20 years ago already...

Anyway, it was good to have met him again. We exchanged news on many fronts, not least about our families. Our own kids have grown up and flown the coop. Mine are in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, whereas his are in Seremban and Singapore. Our wives are still working but circumstances can change at any time. We promised not to let a further 20 more years to pass by before meeting up again. I don't know about Sonny, but I'm pretty sure that my own physical system would allow it to happen.

BTW, the title of this post, "Remembering 2...Ne4" is just a little private joke which only Sonny and I will understand. Don't get too worked up over it. Nothing sinister.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Golden globe

For a change, I got the chance to take some photographs of the sun. You know, it is almost impossible to photograph the sun because it is so bright. Just by aiming the camera towards the sun is enough to fry your equipment once the rays pass through the lenses.

But I was lucky. Yesterday morning at the Penang international airport, I noticed the lowly slung golden globe peering out through the mist. And the moment I saw it, I realised that this could be the opportunity that I had been waiting for. Here are the results of my long wait.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Soonstead reprieved

So, Soonstead Mansion along Northam Road is saved. According to a news report in The Malay Mail a fortnight ago, the online petition initiated by the Penang Heritage Trust, coupled with vocal calls from the public, to save Soonstead has stopped its present owner from proceeding with plans to demolish parts of the building to build an 11-storey hotel.

Local government and traffic management committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) received a letter from the architect of the project to say that they are reviewing development plans and the proposed building design to integrate the existing heritage building without demolishing any part of the structure.

“The Council had taken into consideration views from the public and also comments from George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) that the building should be preserved,” Chow told a press conference this morning. He said the council had asked the project architect to amend the building design so that it does not destroy the heritage building.

Following several meetings, the architect then sent a letter on the 29th of August to state that the developer had decided to preserve the original building and change its development plans and design for the project.

The developer, Bayview Hotel Sdn Bhd which belongs to the Boon Siew Group, had originally submitted an application for planning approval to demolish the dining room wing and annexe buildings of Soonstead and build a single block of 11-storey hotel with a multi-level carpark on 29 May 2014.

To date, the online petition started by the PHT to stop the proposed demolition of part of the building has collected at least 3,880 signatures.

Soonstead was originally known as Northam Lodge when it was built by James Stark, a prominent architect with the firm Stark & McNeill in the Straits Settlements, in 1911 for the rubber and sugar planter, Heah Swee Lee. The house was a focus of George Town’s high society.  At the housewarming, the Straits Settlements Legislative Councillor, AR Adams, had congratulated the owner on his "splendid domicile" and the architect on the "excellent results".

Soonstead at 46-B Northam Road is one of Penang’s castle mansions, the numbers of which are progressivley dwindling. According to the PHT, Soonstead was the fashion trendsetter for George Town's grand houses along the road which is still famously referred to as Millionaire's Row, so-called because rich plantation owners, the British and tycoons made their homes here between the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

Set among lush greenery and overlooking the sea, there are about 20 of these luxurious homes along the road. Soonstead sparked the construction frenzy of many other mansions such as Lim Lean Teng’s Woodville and Lim Mah Chye's Homestead, both also on Northam Road.

If the proposed development had gone ahead, Soonstead would have been irreversibly mutilated and dwarfed, like Homestead further up the road, by the 11-storey hotel block while its garden setting and relationship with the sea would be lost.

By 1935, ownership of Soonstead had passed from the estate of Heah Swee Lee, who died in 1924, to the Soon family. It's not documented the year when Soon Eng Kong changed the name of the mansion from Northam Lodge to Soonstead. Soon Eng Kong bequeathed the mansion to his eldest grandson, Sonny Soon, but allowed Soon Cheng Sun (Eng Kong's elder son and joint trustee of the estate of Soon Eng Kong) to stay there. Soon Cheng Sun tried to sell off the mansion in 1973 but he was resisted by his own brother, who was the joint trustee, and his son, Sonny Soon.

I believe that in the late 1970s, when maintenance costs ultimately proved too high for the occupants to bear, Soonstead was sold off to the Honda king, Loh Boon Siew, who later removed the gold leaf-plated fence and installed everything at his own Boon Siew Villa further down the road. A concrete fence was constructed in its place.

After that, Soonstead was left vacant for many years but it was still well-maintained. Recently, the mansion was used as the setting for a George Town Festival theatre production of "2 Houses", a play set in the 1940s.

Monday, 15 September 2014

World chess champions in our midst

As always, simultaneously with the publication of my story in the souvenir programme of the annual Malaysia Chess Festival, I shall reproduce the same here on my blog. But first, a disclaimer of sorts: Some of the facts or dates mentioned here may need further verification from MCF records, if indeed they are available.

The former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, visited Malaysia some five months ago in April 2014. At that time, his trip to these shores was meant to drum up support from Malaysia of his candidacy for World Chess Federation president's position at the FIDE elections scheduled for last month in Tromso, Norway.

As we know now, Kasparov failed in his quest to unseat the incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, by quite a wide margin.

I am not going to go into a speculative assessment of why Kasparov failed or why Ilyumzhinov succeeded, because frankly, FIDE politics are complex and beyond me. Either you are with Ilyumzhinov or you are not and it was clear that many chess federations worldwide preferred the devil they knew over the devil they didn’t exactly know, despite the latter being so well known during his time at the chess summit as the greatest chess player alive.

Many people here do not realise it but actually, Kasparov’s visit in April was the second time that he had visited Malaysia. I remember that in November 2009, he had made his first visit to our shores. However, it was a visit totally unrelated to chess. He had been invited as one of many speakers at the Youth Engagement Summit 2009 (YES2009) at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre. I was there to hear him deliver his choice words to about 1,000 youths from around this region. He spoke little of chess but gave lots of inspirational advice to the youth on how to succeed in life. If you have read his book, How Life Imitates Chess, you will have a general idea of what he talked about.

Just a few days ago as I was wondering what to write for this year’s Malaysian Chess Federation souvenir programme, it struck me that Kasparov certainly wasn’t the first former world champion to visit or pass through Malaysia.

Only four years ago in July 2010, his predecessor as world champion, Anatoly Karpov, had come swinging through Kuala Lumpur basically on a similar mission. In 2010, there was also a FIDE general election for the president’s position, and Karpov was mounting a challenge to Ilyumzhinov. Karpov came and tried to convince the Malaysian Chess Federation to vote for him. Whether he succeeded or not in getting his message through, I wouldn’t know too, but as we all know, Karpov also failed at the ballot against the incumbent FIDE president.

Like Kasparov, this too was Karpov’s second visit to Malaysia. The first time he came to Kuala Lumpur was in March 1990. It was a singularly big occasion for chess in Malaysia at that time because Karpov was playing Jan Timman in the final of the Candidates match. I remember that the world’s chess press had practically camped in our capital city to watch not whether the Dutchman could get the better of the Russian but how much he could salvage from the match. We know the answer was no, right?

A few months after that, in June 1990, I was alerted to news that a contingent of Soviet chess players (the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991) was going to transit through our then-international airport at Subang while on their way to the Manila Interzonal.

Through some good luck, I was there in the welcoming party to document their brief sojourn in the transit lounge. Among the former world champions present were Vassily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal. Among them was also a future FIDE world champion in Alexander Khalifman.

I would also like to mention that two other future world champions had also played in Malaysia, long before they attained that ultimate success in their chess careers.

Viswanathan Anand had played here on at least one occasion, if my memory serves me correctly, and that would be the Asian team chess championship at Genting in 1989. The other future world champion that played here was Rustam Kasimdzhanov. He had participated in an edition of the Asian cities team chess championship in 1998. I remember being pleasantly caught by surprise when Kasimdzhanov, from Uzbekistan in Central Asia, spoke just about the most excellent English when he spoke at the closing ceremony.

Going a little further back into time, Dr Max Euwe, world chess champion from 1935 to 1937 and FIDE president from 1970 to 1978, had visited Malaysia twice. The first time was in April 1972, and I remember that occasion just too well because it had more or less coincided with the start of my chess-playing days.

Through dint of good luck, I sat down before him together with some 23 other schoolboy chess players in a simultaneous match in Kuala Lumpur. I remember too that I got the better of him in the middle game but world champions being world champions, even ones that were long retired, he ground me down at the end. Euwe’s second visit came two years later in December 1974 when he was present at the inaugural Asian team chess championship in George Town, Penang.

However, all these visits by Euwe, Karpov, Smyslov, Tal, Khalifman, Anand and Kasparov came either before they had attained the chess summit or after they had become a former world champion. Was there any player that had visited this country while he was still a world champion? There was one, and the visit happened 81 years ago.
Long before there was Malaysia or the Federation of Malaya, British Malaya consisted of a set of sovereign states on the peninsula which together with the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) were under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries.

At the end of 1932, the reigning world chess champion, Alexander Alekhine, had announced that he would be undertaking a world tour in the following year to play exhibition matches. It was a tour that would take him to the Far East. Among the countries in his itinerary would be the United States (Hawaii), Japan (Tokyo), China (Shanghai), Hong Kong, the Philippines (Manila), British Malaya (Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies (Djakarta). There was an attempt to get Alekhine to Australia too but negotiations fell through.

His tour reached Singapore on 26 Feb 1933 where he battled 25 chess players in a simultaneous match at the Adelphi Hotel, and won all of them. According to a news report, “Dr Alekhine was merciless with men and women alike and gradually broke up all attacks.”

Alekhine left Singapore for the Dutch Indies after this display but one month later, he found himself back in Singapore. Not one to miss this golden opportunity, the Singapore Chess Club announced a second simultaneous match with the world champion willing to play blindfold against 10 players. So on 27 Mar 1933 at the Adelphi again, Alekhine sat with his back to the players as he methodically picked apart nine of his opponents. However, he had to resign a game to one of them when he found himself a piece down with no chance of salvaging even a draw.

But this was not the end of the story. While on his journey home through India, Alekhine made a brief stop at George Town. However, he did not give any simultaneous match there presumably because the chess community in Penang could have been poorly organised or non-existent at that time. Of course, it would be hard to blame them but all the same, what a waste of a good opportunity 81 years ago, I would think!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Tua Pek Kong galore

There are around 90 consecrated statues of the deity, Tua Pek Kong, specially brought in from several countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Burma, Taiwan and China, among them) on display this weekend at the Poh Hock Seah in Armenian Street, George Town.

In celebration of the joint seventh international Hock Teik cultural festival and the sixth Tua Pek Kong festival this year, the statues of the revered popular deity will paraded in a colourful grand procession around the city on Sunday beginning seven o'clock in the evening.

According to the brochure below, there are 57 floats in the procession which will follow this route: Poh Hock Seah at Armenian Street, Pitt Street, Farquhar Street, Northam Road, Penang Road, Burmah Road, Anson Road, MacAlister Road, Penang Road, Dr Lim Chwee Leong Road, McNair Street, Magazine Road, Brick Kiln Road, Bridge Street, Noordin Street Ghaut, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, Weld Quay, Light Street, Pitt Street and back to Poh Hock Seah.

George Town's north beach

Not very well known as a beach in Penang, but North Beach is there all right, tucked in front of the old Paramount Hotel (established in 1948) and its restaurant in Northam Road. This picture was taken at almost eight o'clock in the evening at very low lights, so do excuse the almost mono-chrome colour and poor definition. Fishermen still use this beach when they bring in their boats after a productive trip at sea, selling the freshest fish, prawns and crabs to the hotel's restaurant, I suppose.

Friday, 12 September 2014

One step forward, two steps backwards

This is the quality of the English language as practiced by the Malaysian society today. In my opinion, the English language here has gone to the dogs, no thanks to the education policy perpetuated by the federal government.
"Is so regret that one of our customer house was burnt. While the time we pay the visit. We found there are a lot of multi socket and extention cord were using. It really a very dangerous action. Anytime overload will caused fire. If you or your family & friends is do in this way. Please share this to them and ask them stop to do that. You can PM us your detail. We will arrange and do a free on site inspection for you, to ensure you are live safety.

**Base on first come first serve. Every week we only serve 20 customers. Temporary only for Penang island customer only. 
Please share this to them and ask them stop to do that."

New door

This is happening at the back of my house right now. Another house on the next street is being renovated rather extensively and the contractor had put up a new back door just a few days ago.

The contractor and his workers are at work today and the back door has been reopened. However, I noticed that this door had to be propped open so that it won't swing shut.

The first thing that came to mind was that the door has not been fixed properly.

If the door had been hinged correctly, it wouldn't open or shut on its own accord. It should simply stay open or shut, depending on how the user wants it. If a door can swing shut or swing open, then something must be out of alignment. I may be wrong but this is just my logical way of thinking on this matter....

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Chess reunion

I'm looking forward to travelling down to Kuala Lumpur next week to see the Malaysia Chess Festival 2014 for myself. No, I'm not in any way associated with the running of the show or even as a player. But as a long-time supporter of the annual Festival - I've been contributing stories for their souvenir programmes for a very long time - I have an open invitation to be there every year.

For a long while, I had thought that this year's Festival would have been cancelled. I clearly remember that at last year's event, the octogenarian Dato' Tan Chin Nam, who is the man behind the Festival for umpteen years already, had indicated that the 2013 edition, coinciding with the 10th Arthur Tan memorial Malaysia open chess tournament, would be the last that his business empire, IGB Berhad, would be sponsoring.

Apparently, Tan had a change of heart because just about a week ago, the main organiser called to invite me to KL and at the same time, asked me for a story for this year's Festival. "Or else the souvenir programme would be rather bare," he admitted.

"It is all rather last minute, isn't it so?" I had grumbled to him, but he said that the Festival had actually been announced by email as early as June this year. Oops, I must have missed his email in my inbox then.

Anyhow, I've already sent my story to him, just in time for print, and told him that I'd be there as always to drop into the tournament hall on the fifth level of the Cititel at the MidValley megamall.

Actually, the Malaysian Chess Festival is much more than just the Arthur Tan memorial Malaysia open. This year's event starts off with the 34th astro rapid chess tournament on 12-13 Sept 2014. Then there's the fifth Swensen's age-group chess tournament on 14 Sept 2014. Only then do we get to the 11th Arthur Tan memorial Malaysia open, the fifth KLK Tan Sri Lee Loy Seng international seniors open chess tournament and the ninth Malaysia chess challenge on 15-21 Sept 2014. And sandwiched in between the rounds of these three events will be the first Bukit Kiara rapid chess individual tournament on 18 Oct 2014.

So I'll be staying in KL next week from Thursday week till the end of the Festival. I'm raring to find out how happy can I continue to be while in the presence of my long-standing chess mates. I'm saying this because with each passing year, I am finding myself to be more and more irrelevant because the Internet had overtaken the traditional methods of chess reporting. News gets around faster at the speed of electrons than the printed word ever can.

Besides cavorting with my old chess mates, I also hope to use my time in KL to check up on some music stores, especially those that are still offering vinyl record sales to their customers. There is a bigger rejuvenation of record sales in the Klang Valley than in my hometown, Penang, and I would want to see how it is like there. And finally, I hope to catch up with several people that I've lost touch with for a very long time. It's really time for a reunion of sorts...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The legend known as Bob Marley

Without realising it, I heard my first reggae song in 1969. At that time, I didn't understand that it was a music genre known as reggae. All I knew then was that it had a nice infectious beat to it. Lyrics? I didn't know what was being sung and I never bothered to find out. What mattered to me then, and what mattered a lot to me now, is the tune. Lyrics are secondary. And over the years, I've listened to many more reggae tunes. But the very first reggae song that done me in was Desmond Dekker's Israelite.

Until very recently though, I have only one reggae record album in my music collection, notably Herbie Mann's Reggae.  However, all that changed when I chanced upon an album by Bob Marley and the Wailers in a local music store here in Penang. I mulled several weeks over whether or not I should buy the copy of Bob Marley's Legend album. Would I actually like it? So I did the logical thing that any music fan would do nowadays. Listen to the tracks on the Internet first and then decide whether to buy.

Many weeks later, I decided that perhaps I should buy it. After all, Bob Marley was the Godfather of reggae artistes and Legend was reputedly the best compilation album of Bob Marley and the Wailers. The original album was released in 1984 which was 30 years ago. At that time it featured only 14 tracks and appeared as a single album. Over the years, several versions were released as compact discs and more recently, Legend was expanded with the addition of two previously unreleased songs.

Anyway, I was surprised that the copy of Legend that I purchased was the 30th anniversary edition. Not only was it re-issued as a re-mastered vinyl record, my copy came as a limited edition double album and was pressed as tri-colour vinyl discs. I've just read that there's only 1,000 copies available world-wide and so, it must be a record of sorts that a local music store had managed to bring in at least one copy of it. By the way, the colours of red, gold and green is a celebration of the Rastafari movement of which Marley was a committed Rastafarian.

As a double album, this meant that there are less tracks on each of the four sides of the album, which allows for the reproduction of a better sound definition. Thus, not only were the music on the records very clear, there was little surface noise on them, which made for a very enjoyable listening experience. I'm rather chuffed that I bought this new addition to my record collection! Totally unexpected. Shows that modern technology does improve analogue music as well.

Oh yes, I've just read on the Rolling Stone website today that Legend is one of the best-selling albums of all time. Since its release in 1984, the "Best of" collection has sold over 11 million copies in the United States alone (worldwide sales not disclosed) and it has spent nearly 300 weeks on the Billboard 200. Yet, for all its accolades and achievements, Legend has never appeared in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart until this week. Billboard said that due to deal with Google Play where digital copies of Legend are on sale for 99 cents, Marley's Legend is on course to finish in the top 10 for the first time since 1976.

Side One: Is this love, No woman no cry, Could you be loved, Three little birds
Side Two: Buffalo soldier, Get up stand up, Stir it up, Easy skanking
Side Three: One love/people get ready, I shot the sheriff, Waiting in vain, Redemption song
Side Four: Satisfy my soul, Exodus, Jamming, Punky reggae party