Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Splendid display at Queensbay Mall

It was just as well that I was unable to drive into the multi-storey carpark at the Queensbay Mall in Bayan Lepas yesterday and had to go find a parking space in the open-air carpark opposite because otherwise, I would have missed seeing the festive decorations in the main lobby area of this shopping mall.

The moment I walked into the building, I was muttering to myself, "Oh, fuck, what a marvellous and most elaborate piece of work!" Every minor detail had been well thought out and lovingly taken care of, and people could really go up close to all the decorations and admire them.

No wonder the management had delayed taking down their Christmas decoration because this was a grand artwork that we seldom see in Penang. My hats off to Queensbay Mall for their inspiration, imagination and hard work to see their project through till a successful display.

A hope for the better

Amidst all the unfortunate bad news at the end of the year - floods and an aeroplane crash - 2014 promises to end on a warm and sunny note.

This morning, I had stepped out of the house at about 6.50a.m. to be greeted by the planet Jupiter shining directly above. It was the brightest spot of light in today's dawn sky. I could also see some faint stars twinkling, as well as wisps of white clouds with no tinge of pink. So yes, the sky is clear and 31 Dec 2014 looks likely to be dry, warm and bright. And with this positive remark, I wish everyone a Happy New Year with the hope that 2015 will turn out better for all of us.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Ajahn Brahm and the anniversary of my health crisis

My wife and I have just returned from the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road, Penang, where we had attended the second of two talks by the visiting Ajahn Brahm from Perth, Australia. Arguably, he is one of the most popular speakers on Buddhism that I've know. His talks always generate a very big crowd among the Buddhist fraternity here and often, there would be people lingering by the staircase at the back of the hall because they couldn't come in to sit down. Yesterday, he was speaking about peace of mind and today, the subject of his fascinating one-hour talk was the ego. Your ego and my ego.

We have been going to the Mahindarama temple for so many years now just to listen to Ajahn Brahm's end-of-the-year talks, although we know that much of what he would cover are repetitions of topics he had covered in the past and in his books.

If one hasn't heard him before, the ideas he shares are pretty informative and illuminative, but for anyone who has heard him in the past, you tend to know after a while where he is coming from and where he is heading to. Still, we come and listen to him. We come to pay him our respect. It's a yearly ritual. Well, almost yearly because the only time that I can remember which he had given Penang a miss was in 2012. Boy, we sure felt his absence during that year-end.

And what we'd normally do at the end of a session is to go up and meet him, to exchange a few words. This year, when we went up to him, I informed him that exactly one year ago, after attending his final talk at the Mahindarama for 2013, I was hospitalised for two weeks. In hospital after a severe bout of diverticular disease. And I told him tonight that I was glad to see him again because it marked the anniversary of the beginning of my health ordeal. He must come back next year in order to mark the second anniversary. We had a good laugh.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Payday for JobStreet (JOBST) shareholders

So today's the day. The day of the big pay-out from to their shareholders. With the money from SEEK Asia now in, as payment for's job portal business, the shareholders are set to receive the dividends of RM2.65 per share paid directly into their bank accounts.

But first, on 10 Dec 2014 when's shares (JOBST) on the Bursa Malaysia went ex-dividend, the price of the share was adjusted from RM2.92 to RM0.29. Effectively, this meant that JOBST now qualified as a penny stock.

The RM0.29 value for a JobStreet share reflects the residual value of the company which is actually still quite substantial. still has on-going investments in countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, and of course locally, and they have a building in Kuala Lumpur which is used to house the ex-JobStreet staff who now work for SEEK Asia.

And as penny stock goes, the JobStreet shares attracted a lot of interest on the stock market, mostly as I would believe from speculators. A total of 22,760,800 shares changed hands on that day, making it one of the most active counters on the Bursa. Even today, there is still a lot of transactions.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A rain with no thunder

The weather in the past four days has been very nice: it has been raining! And with it, the weather is so cool and nice, despite it being wet. But I like it. Like it better than the sunny weather.

Anyway, this rain only reinforces what I've been telling people - those who bother to listen to me - that the most prolonged rainy spells happen when there is no thunder or lightning. Take, for example, these past few days. Have you heard any thunder? Seen any lightning? No? Well, that's what's happen when thunder and lightning do not follow a rain storm. It just goes on and on.

But when you have a thunderstorm, chances are, the storm would be over in a matter of time. Possibly one hour, two hours, sometimes even shorter.

So for the past few days, it has been just drizzles. Constant drizzles. Persistent drizzles. Drizzles that wet the roads but not causing any real congestion to the roads and traffic. But enough to make you wet if you are so foolhardy to want to step outdoors without an umbrella.

To many people, this present rainy period has lasted four days already since the 20th of the month but to me, the continuous rainfall only manifested itself in the morning of the 21st. At about 6.30a.m. that day, I had gone outdoors to look upwards into the dawn sky as I wanted to look at the planet Jupiter. I had noticed Jupiter since about three or four days earlier when I was tracking the waning moon but I couldn't see the planet on the 20th or the 21st.

In fact, on the 21st, instead of the planet, I noticed that the sky had a pinkish hue. I had then messaged a friend in Kuala Lumpur that it looked like impending rain. By daylight, I could see that the sky was indeed grey. Uniformly grey without any isolated patches of blue. And then the showers began. They weren't heavy but as I told my friend, it would still make anyone wet. However, by six o'clock in the afternoon, it had stopped.

That night, the wind began blowing and I commented that I could hear it rustling the leaves outside the house. Cool night, as a result. Then after three o'clock on the 22nd, the rain began. Ever so lightly. And it became heavier after five o'clock. My thermometer registered a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 26 Celsius for the day. At daybreak, I stepped outside the house and noticed a thick cloud cover at the Bukit Mertajam hill in Cherok Tokun.

My observation on the 22nd afternoon was that it was still wet but with a very light rainfall only. "BM hill covered with mist," I informed my friend. No let-up in the rain as afternoon turned to night.

And today, it was still drip-dropping with rain at about 6.30a.m. The temperature recorded by my thermometer was a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 24.5 Celsius, the smallest temperature range that I've ever experienced in Penang for quite some time. It is only now at three o'clock in the afternoon that the rain has stopped. But for how long, I wouldn't know.

UPDATE (24 Dec 2014): The respite was brief. The rain came back again soon after I completed this post and for the better part of the late afternoon, it was intermittent. But the drizzles went on into the night and well into early this morning. I spent the early hours listening to the dripping of rain water on the metal awnings. The temperature recorded over the last 24 hours was a low of 23.5 Celsius and a high of 24 Celsius. So the daytime temperature wasn't that much different from the night-time.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Celebrating Tang Chek (冬至)

The Winter Solstice, or Tang Chek (Dongzhi, 冬節), is one of the most important festivals celebrated by our Hokkien community. This year, the festival falls on 22 Dec 2014, which is the date when the sun, as observed from the ground, is seen to move into the 22nd solar term of the Chinese luni-solar calendar which marks the winter solstice.

It so happens that this year, the date coincides with the first day of the Chinese 11th lunar month. This doesn't occur often - that Tang Chek and the start of a lunar month falling on the same day - and the last time it happened was in 1995. And before that, in 1984.

What I did this year at Tang Chek was to prepare for the worship at home early in the morning. We did not cook the glutinous rice balls as a friend had told us before hand that she would be giving us some.

Previously before my aunt had passed away, my wife and aunt would have spent the previous evening mixing and colouring the dough before pinching it into small pieces and rolling them up into balls.

So this year, like last year when we were not allowed to roll the rice balls on account of my aunt's passing within a calendar year, we had ours prepared by outsiders. We simply offered the rice balls in bowls as worship items to our family deities.

Having finished with this yearly ritual at home, I then made my way down to my clansman association, the Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) in Carnarvon Lane, to join in our annual Tang Chek homage to our Kongsi's resident deities and ancestral altar.

The worship here at the Kongsi would be more elaborate than the one we have at home. Normally for this occasion, there would also be a whole roasted pig offered at the ancestral altar. At the end of the worship, the pig would then be cut up and distributed to the Kongsi's trustees.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Getting back into the game

About 10 days ago, I went back to playing chess. Although the game had been so much a part of my life since my schooldays and throughout my working life into my retirement, I had not played at all for about two years now. I can't really remember when it was that I last touched a chess piece but as I said, maybe it was about two years ago.

At about this time last year when the Penang Chess Association was organising its Penang Chess league, I had cried off turning up in any of the Old Frees' Association teams because I was so unsure of my playing standard. Inactivity had bred doubts in my mind and I was undergoing a bit of mini-crisis.

But this year, I actually informed my OFA chess cronies that I wanted to play and in a further commitment to my friends, I told them that I was prepared to play in all rounds except one. Now, having made  that sort of commitment, it was very hard for me to go back on my words. And more so when I was placed in the B team, whereas in the past few years it had always been the C team for me. Wah...the confidence they have in me, one who hasn't played for so long and totally out of practice.

On the day of the competition on the sixth of December, I turned up at the Red Rock Hotel in MacAlister Road and nonchalently took my seat on the third board. Around me was Chuah Heng Meng on the first board, Lim Cheng Teik on the second board and Colin Chong on the fourth board. Our fifth player, William Lee was unavailable to play on that Saturday, but he turned up for all the games on Sunday.

Inwardly, I was very nervous although I was a picture of calm to everyone around me. How would I perform in the three games on the first day of the chess league? The first round did not give me any comfort although my team won easily against a team of very young players. My opponent was 10 years old while his even younger brother on the fourth board was only eight. Colin and I ended up helping the kids write on their scorebooks.

The second round opponents provided us with a sterner test. My team-mates won their games but I could only contribute a draw. In fact, my opponent came out with a slight edge in the middlegame but he wasn't adventurous enough and was quite satisfied to split the point after we went into a repetition of position.

My real test was in the third round when we were paired with the CLOBA A team and I found myself sitting down facing Loo Swee Leong. My opening went hay-wire and not only did I find myself down a pawn after some oversight but I was forced into doubling my centre pawns. Luckily, my opponent got lulled into a comfort zone and allowed me to counter-attack his king. Both of us got chances to double our rooks on the seventh rank but after a pair was forced off the board, the position became so sterile that we agreed to a draw.

As planned earlier, I sat out the fourth round on Sunday morning. My team were going great guns that round and we decided to field the same line-up for the fifth round. So, this was a round that I did not get to play too.

By the sixth round, I was already itching for some action. I emerged from the opening with an encouraging position but unfortunately, when my opponent presented me with a choice of continuations, I had to choose the worst among them and ended up with the worse position, having to defend an inferior game. But I dug in and my opponent then decided to present me with enough counter-play to squeeze a win from the position.

My final round game was yet another lucky escape. How many did I have in this tournament; three? I think so. I ended up with the exchange down but the position was just too close and my opponent just could not infiltrate in. I managed to exchange off many of the pawns and having neutralised his threats, the game petered off to another draw.

I must say that I felt rather upbeat and encouraged after returning to playing. Though my present form is nothing much to shout about -- repeatedly, I had to remind myself that I did not possess enough sense of danger in my games -- it makes me wanting to play again in the next team tournament. That would be the USM team open tournament that's slated for March next year.

Incredibly, we finished third! William, Cheng Teik, Colin and I with the PCA president, Lee Ewe Ghee.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Licenced FIDE arbiter

It was at the end of 2012 that I first heard about the decision by the World Chess Federation, FIDE, to compel all their international and Fide Arbiters - and I was already an international arbiter since 2000 - to pay a one-time licence fee before they could work anywhere as an arbiter in Fide-rated chess events.

In fact, I was encouraged by Hamid Majid, Malaysia's only Category A international arbiter, to get myself licensed as soon as possible. All right, I told him, I shall look into it. I dilly-dallied a bit and before long, 2012 soon segued into 2013. Never mind, I told myself, I am still resolved to getting my licence.

But then, some disturbing developments were taking place inside a dysfunctional Malaysian Chess Federation.

We have an ex-politician who was clinging desperately to the post of MCF president, which amazed me to no end because the position of the president - and all other elected posts in the federation - was purely voluntary with no monetary gain of any kind. Why on earth would anyone want to cling onto a voluntary post? If someone else wants the job, let him take over, lah! Also, when one isn't doing anything much to promote the game or raise funds for its activities, don't be so thick-skinned to stay and be ineffective. That's just killing the organisation. Nevertheless, he remained there all right, entrenched and surrounded by his president's men. A fractured MCF and a truly dysfunctional group of people representing chess in the country, if ever there was one.

It pained me so much to think that I had to make my FIDE arbiter licence application through this bunch of jokers in the MCF. How am I supposed to get the MCF to issue me with a letter to send to FIDE? This was the dilemma that caused me to delay my payment.

One month led to another and soon, it was already December 2013. At the end of the year, I was stricken with a serious bout of ill-health which landed me in hospital for two weeks. By the time I was discharged, months of recuperation followed. Chess was quite out of my mind during those long months.

Earlier this month, Hamid was in Penang, appointed by the Penang Chess Association to be the chief arbiter in the sixth Penang heritage city open chess championship. By some coincidence, another old friend, Leong Chee Weng from Singapore, had also turned up but as a player. For those that do not know, Chee Weng is the former secretary-general of FIDE. Since relinquishing this position in FIDE last August, he has been playing more chess. Together, Hamid and Chee Weng persuaded me to pay up my licence fee as soon as possible. And, Hamid emphasised that I need not channel my application through MCF. He said that I could and should correspond directly with the chairman of FIDE's Arbiters' Commission.

Which was why last week, I was pretty busy going to the bank to make a telegraphic transfer to FIDE's bank account and then informing the Arbiters' Commission about it. And I'm happy to declare that as of 12 Dec 2014, my name now appears in the official FIDE Licenced Arbiters list. Look out, people, I am now back in action.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ski resorts in Stratton, Vermont

More than a decade ago, one of my relatives showed me postcards of some of the most stunning winter landscapes in the world. "They are of the ski resorts in Stratton Vermont," he had told me then.

I am not totally unfamiliar with Vermont. For instance, I do know that it is a state in the New England region of the north-eastern United States. Vermont is also the sixth smallest in area and people-wise, it is the second least populous among the 50 United States.

Its main industry is tourism and while the vibrant colours of fall already attract quite a number of people to the state, it is in the winter months that a different kind of tourist - both international and domestic vacationers - descend on the snow-capped mountains there.

The town of Stratton in the Windham County of Vermont is usually the focal point of these visitors. From here in winter, they travel to the nearby Stratton Mountain to enjoy the most exhilarating skiing and snow-boarding experience.

It matters not whether the skiier or snow-boarder is an old hand or an absolute beginner, Stratton Mountain has much to offer visitors of various levels of experience.

There are 97 recorded trails covering some 38 miles (60 kilometres) across 670 acres (270 hectares) of skiable terrain. About 40 percent of these trails are rated easy and hence are suitable for novices, 35 percent can be enjoyed by those of intermediate skill, while the truly experienced skiiers or snow-boarders can look forward to the most challenging 25 percent of these trails.

At its highest point, Stratton Mountain stands at 3,875 feet above sea level, and it is a vertical drop of 2,003 feet to the base below. There are several ski resorts in Stratton that caters to different groups of tourists and from there, the tourists have a choice of using 11 lifts to travel from the base stations to the various skiing or snow-boarding points. These lifts are capable of moving up to 33,000 people in an hour. The average annual snowfall in Stratton is 180 inches (460 cm). Stratton also ranks in the top 10 of SKI Magazine for snow, grooming, lifts, terrain parks, service, lodging, dining, on-mountain food, apres and nightlife.

As a nature lover, if ever I get a chance to visit the eastern United States, I would place Vermont - and especially Stratton - as among the bucket list of places to visit. I really, really hope to be there one day...

Friday, 5 December 2014

An orchid surprise

I had a bit of a surprise when I peered into my orchid patch this morning.

Until yesterday, I had not really noticed that one of my plants was beginning to flower and thus, I was quite pleased to notice three flowering stalks of this cirrhopetalum orchid.  (Even after all these years, I haven't been able to track down the full name of this orchid specie. Can anyone help?)

They look like three complete flowers by themselves but actually, each comprises about nine to 10 individual flowers, all arranged in a semi-circular formation.

Unfortunately, the flowers do not last very long. At the most, they'll be around for about a week before they wither and drop off.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Zacharevic's latest street art

I happened to go to Balik Pulau with my brother-in-law and his family earlier this week. They are from Singapore but had come home to visit the old folks in Bandar Tasek Mutiara on mainland Penang. So I had been playing tourist guide and taking them to a few places on the island and try some of the well-known local food, char koay teow being on the top of their list. That's why we found ourselves meandering to Balik Pulau last Tuesday to hunt down the laksa there. And suddenly, while driving around, I remembered that that artist dude, Ernest Zacharevic, had just concluded drawing one of his wall murals in this town on the opposite end of the island. It didn't take me long to track it down.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Preparing a Japanese ramen egg

I remember that my wife, son and I were at a Japanese restaurant called Ippudo at the Pavillion in Kuala Lumpur just last August and we enjoyed the ramen there.

The soup was delicious but the most remarkable memory was of the whole egg that accompanied the dish. When bitten open, the yolk was still runny and it simply oozed out into the soup.

Since then, I have been wondering how the restaurant had managed to cook their eggs.

Apparently, these eggs are quite common in ramen dishes and it is possible to search through the Internet and find out how to make them. I'm saying this because I've tried it out over the weekend. And found that the technique is actually very simple indeed.

The recommendation was to use large eggs that weigh about 60 grammes each. And the ones I managed to buy from my regular supplier at the local market weighed exactly that!

The secret was to bring water to a boil and then place these eggs to simmer in the boiling water for six-and-a-half minutes. If the eggs came out straight from the refrigerator, boil them for seven minutes.

While they boiled, I prepared a bowl of ice water because after the  or seven minutes were up, the eggs were to be transferred into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. The eggs were kept there for another six minutes or so before they were de-shelled carefully. The cooked albumin should be firm, yet soft when pressed gently. Then, when I was ready to eat, just cut the egg into halves and own ramen egg.

Quod est demonstrandum (QED).