Sunday, 26 April 2015

Remembering JARING

I felt quite dumbfounded last night when I surfed to The Malaysian Insider news portal and found sad news of Jaring, which was the country's first Internet service provider, facing liquidation.

When I subscribed to Jaring as a user in the early 90s, my subscriber number was 3xxx which made me one of the earliest persons to be tuned into the Internet.

I remember that there was a long form to fill in and I needed someone in my old office to approve it. And I remember that I did have a somewhat tough time convincing my immediate supervisor to sign on the dotted line because nobody in the bank had heard of Jaring, let alone the services it offered.

But I did manage to get the form signed eventually. I submitted it to Jaring a few weeks later when I was on a chess holiday to Kuala Lumpur and soon later, I received instructions on setting up my desktop computer and dialling into Jaring's server.

In those days, computers did not come with any networking capabilities and initially, I had to borrow an external modem to plug behind the computer. My borrowed modem - I think it was a Hayes-compatible model - was a rudimentary piece of plastic box measuring about two inches by one inch by five inches, which was popular among a very small community of bulletin board users here to connect to services like Compuserv or AOL. But with this tiny modem running at 300 bits per second, I had made my first Internet contact with the outside world. Later, I managed to buy a 14.4kbps internal modem, which was a quantum leap in speed, before upgrading to an internal 28.8kbps card.

Not only that, my Internet connection was by dial-up. The modem made all sorts of screeching noises and it connected with the Jaring server. And I could stay connected for long hours on one dial-up at a cost of a mere 10 sen. At that time, Telekom hadn't charged users on a "per minute" basis yet. Of course, staying on-line then meant that my house telephone line was tied up for a very long time and nobody could call out or anyone call in.

My very first email address, supplied by Jaring, was With this email address and UUCP protocol, my vista opened up as I was soon connected with friends studying in foreign universities. I joined USENET and was soon receiving messages from newsgroups. Essentially, it helped me in writing my chess columns.

Compared with today, the Internet was chugging along at a very slow pace. But it proved sufficient for protocols like Gopher, FTP and Telnet which allowed users to log into foreign servers and get access into the public areas of their computer network.

The World Wide Web was in its infancy then and Netscape was just about coming out. If I'm not mistaken, the first version of Netscape I used was not even version 1.0 - it was only a beta version - but it was just about usable on my old desktop running on an Intel 286 chip. The first HTML pages were exclusively text on a grey background, not like the present-day white background which everyone takes for granted.

Later, I joined instant messaging chatrooms such as IRC. Instant messaging gave way to connecting to chess servers like FICS. I even had an account with ICS, the commercial Internet Chess Server, which allowed me to play chess online with other chessplayers around the globe.

I did all this with my Jaring account. At Jaring, the name of Mohamed Awang Lah  was synonymous with the Internet service provider. He would come into the Jaring newsgroup and provide helpful advice to any problem faced by the Jaring subscribers. His people were equally helpful. I remember once when I had some technical problems with logging in, he asked one of his technicians to come round to my house in Seberang Jaya and troubleshoot it.

But he being in Kuala Lumpur and I being in Penang. we never had the chance to meet until sometime in the mid-2000s when I was already at Mohamed Awang Lah came visiting our Penang office at the Hotel Equatorial and that was I finally got to meet him face-to-face.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Caught in the act

Dove in Heng Swee's garden

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Just For The Love Of It

If there is one thing in my life that I regret not learning, it must be the playing of a musical instrument. Any musical instrument, be it the guitar, piano or violin. I missed all those opportunities in my youth.

But one good thing was that I had a radiogram in the house. Throughout my primary and secondary school years, this radiogram was my constant companion in the afternoons and evenings when I was back from school. So I'm not unfamiliar with music. My love for music has followed me through the years and it has remained unabated.

Therefore, when I learnt last week that there was going to be a launch of a book detailing a bit of history of the music of Penang, I was very much intrigued. I must get my hands on this book, I told myself. And got it I did, and I must declare that everyone with any musical interest will love this book.

Just For The Love Of It is termed as Penang's very own music book and there are very good reasons why this is so. From cover to cover, through all 22 pages of it, this book is a huge gold mine of information. Flipping through the pages of this book certainly brought to light the musical heritage of Penang from the 1930s till the mid-1960s. And of course, the musical journey doesn't stop here. It will continue. That's how rich Penang's contribution to the local music scene.

The book begins with a whole list of acknowledgements spreading over two pages and one can't help but start getting excited over the names that are mentioned here. People like Ahmad Nawab, Ooi Eow Jin, Richard Hoon, Alfred Ho, Bryan Jeremiah, Colleen Read, James Boyle, and many others. A veritable list of music personalities that can claim to have Penang as their past or still present home.

It is difficult to give a proper review of this book seeing that every page holds a wealth of interesting information but let me just go through the Contents page.

The book starts with a chapter on Penang's diversity of people and traditions; it tells the story of the Penang Wireless Society; the book continues by describing the development of Penang's popular music during the Second World War and that was perhaps the only bleak piece of news in this book.

After the war, musical development continued afresh with all sorts of dance clubs established in big name hotels and other venues like the amusement parks. Then there was the coming of Radio Malaya and Rediffusion, music in the cinemas, the growing popularity of vinyl records, the launch of RAAF radio in Butterworth, introduction of cheap transister radios in the 1960s and the coming of television.

Interspersed among all these information are write-ups on Penang's music personalities and bands of the 1950s and 1960s. Familiar names (to me, anyway) like P Ramlee, Jimmy Boyle, Ahmad Merican, Joe Rozells, David Ng, Albert Yeoh, Zainal Alam, Ahmad Nawab, Ooi Eow Jin Ahmad Daud and the Rajamoneys. More familiar names like The Mysterians, Richard Hoon Trio, Alfred Ho, Basir Ahmad, Bryan Jeremiah, Kathleen Rodrigues and Rubia Lubis.

Plus, at the very end of it all, a free compact disc in the book with more than 70 minutes of pure music treasure by Penang's music talents. Here is the list of the tracks on this CD: Tanah Pusaka, Keindahan Bintang Malam, Kasakazan Do Bambazon, Senandung Malaysia, Getaran Jiwa, Rose Rose I Love You, Slamat Malam, Bengawan Solo, Chendering, Royal Hawaiian Hula, She Was Happy Till She Met You, Sungai Pahang, Putera Puteri, Just One Of Those Things, Who Can I Turn To, Swonderful, Am I Ready, It's Impossible, Ping Quah, Siapa Bilang Aku Tak Sayang, Thunderbolt Twist, Dendang Pontianak, There's A Love Knot In My Lariat, Please Don't Talk About Me.

More about the music on this CD later.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Karpal Singh Forum 2015

There are certain people that you admire and there are certain people that makes you want to treat them with utter disdain. 

The late Karpal Singh was certainly one of those people that I group together in the first category.

He was a fine lawyer but he was a finer politician and law maker. One year ago, he met with an unfortunate road accident which claimed his life.

One year later when the Penang Institute decided to hold this forum on the country's Sedition Act 1948, it became appropriate that the forum would be known as the Karpal Singh Forum, in honour of the man who campaigned ceaselessly against this law and who was himself charged twice under it.

The timing for this Forum just couldn't have been more appropriate. Days earlier, the federal government had bulldozed through Parliament various amendments to the Sedition Act which made this despicable Act even more draconian.

Steven Thiru, the present president of the Malaysian Bar, gave a very explicit explanation of everything that are wrong with the Act in its newly amended form. Ambiga Sreenevasan, a former president of the Malaysian Bar, asked for pending charges against those who criticised the federal government to be dropped. Mahadev Shankar, a former Court of Appeals Judge, said the courts were the last hope against unjust laws. More here and here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Train travel

When we travelled to Kuala Lumpur a few days ago, we had decided to travel by day train from Bukit Mertajam instead of driving down. After all, I was already eligible for a half-fare travel on account of reaching the age when the government terms me as a Senior Citizen, and I intended to make use of this privilege on the public transport systems as much as possible.

In the meantime, we also weren't averse to train travel because nowadays, the journey had become quite smooth on the new electrified double tracks between Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur. Even though the much anticipated ETS service had yet to be implemented, travel time had now been cut down to almost six hours. Six hours is only slightly longer than five hours by car point-to-point and besides which, we were completely relaxed and felt stress-free.

So there we were, at the new Bukit Mertajam railway station at eight o'clock in the morning on the day of travel. The Express Rakyat train arrived promptly at 8.20a.m. and we settled ourselves into the Second Class seats. Comfortable enough, and for once, our seats were facing the right direction in the coach. No incidents along the way and the train pulled into KL Sentral at 2.17p.m.

For our return journey, we had decided to travel by First Class. The train was, however, delayed for one reason or another and we only departed from KL Sentral at 4.57p.m. instead of the originally scheduled 4.05p.m.

Fortunately, the double tracking allowed the train to catch up slightly on the lost time and we arrived at the Bukit Mertajam station at 10.29p.m., a half-hour behind schedule. Despite the delay, we didn't feel at all flustered and settled down into the coach as station after station whizzed by us.

I wrote earlier about the much anticipated ETS service that's going to be introduced later this year. Right now, the service connects Ipoh with KL Sentral and travel time on this sector on the ETS trains takes only two-and-a-half hours at the most.

Recent news reports suggest that the ETS service will be extended to Butterworth and further north to Padang Besar by August or September. I must say that I am really looking forward to this new train service.

If the news reports are correct, the rail journey from Padang Besar to KL Sentral will take four hours and 15 minutes to complete. Presumably from Butterworth or Bukit Mertajam, I would anticipate the journey to Kuala Lumpur may be reduced to a mere three or three-and-a-half hours. Even faster than driving.

As details are still very scanty and there's no official information at all on the Keretapi Tanah Melayu KTM website, we shall have to wait for tiny bits of information to be leaked out until the service is launched.

In the meantime, we are due to go down to Kuala Lumpur again in June. Maybe this time, we'll opt for the Second Class night berths going down and coming back.

P.S. I should add here that while we were in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to go on a little adventure with my wife and we travelled a great deal by the LRT and monorail services.

From KL Sentral, we decided to take the LRT to the Masjid Jamek interchange and then connect to the Chan Sow Lin station as we were staying at the Ibis Styles Hotel, Fraser Business Park. We decided to go to the Pavillion for dinner and so, we took the LRT from Chan Sow Lin station to Hang Tuah station and then changed to the monorail to take us to the Bukit Bintang station. During the two days that we attend the Qi Men Dun Jia seminar at The Gardens in MidValley, we took the LRT from Chan Sow Lin station to KL Sentral and from there, took the KTM Komuter service to the Midvalley station. Every step of the way, I exercised my right to half-fare as a Senior Citizen, and I must say that despite the risks of walking in a near deserted Fraser Business Park at night, we spent only a minimal sum on public transport.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The REAL hawker food of Kuala Lumpur

For far too long whenever I'm in Kuala Lumpur, my meals would be rather predictable. I would either eat alone at MidValley or through the good grace of my friends, be taken to such popular places such as Yut Kee or Suzy's Corner.

But my wife and I were blessed with some good luck last weekend when we went to Kuala Lumpur and stayed at the Ibis Styles Hotel at the Fraser Business Park. As it was a short distance away from Pudu, Imbi, Bukit Bintang, whatever, our daughter decided to take us to the new Bukit Bintang market in Jalan Kampong.

I must say that this was the REAL Kuala Lumpur. Visiting the hawker centre at this market was exactly what I've been looking for in Kuala Lumpur and yet been unable to describe. The real Kuala Lumpur where the people come to market and where the people come to eat.

Although we did not get to go inside the market, we sat among the local residents who had come for their breakfast. All around us, the tables were full of people and we had to wait a bit before someone left and we plonked ourselves into the empty seats. The table tops were still full of empty cups and bowls of food, and we waited patiently for them to be cleared away.

My daughter ordered toast bread, half-boiled eggs and two cups of milk tea. The bread was unbelievably well toasted and the filling of butter and jam simply melted away in our mouths. Sooner, my wife's wanthan mee arrived. Around us, we saw people eating many other types of popular hawker food but I had already chosen what I wanted: a plate of fried koay kak. All that I can say about my choice was, it was a very good choice.

The Bukit Bintang market's hawker centre....that's where I hope to go again the next time I'm in KL. Here are some photos. I bet it would make anyone's mouth water!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Dabbling with Qi Men Dun Jia (奇門遁甲)

We've just returned from Kuala Lumpur where we had spent two days attending a Joey Yap seminar on Chinese metaphysics. While the event was interesting enough, I wouldn't say that I am completely sold on the subject.

Yap had called his seminar "Getting Whatever You Want From Whatever You've Got." I know, it was quite a mouthful just to repeat it, but it attracted about 250 participants from around the peninsula, and there was even two ladies who had turned up from Hong Kong and the United States.

Since about 10 years ago, Yap had seen his popularity soar at the expense of other fengshui practitioners. His mantra of "location and direction" has become a common household saying among his legion of fengshui followers, my wife being one of them.

But as I said, I'm not completely sold on the subject. I do admit that there may be some truth to Chinese metaphysics studies but it is not something that I would wholeheartedly embrace. There is just something that leaves me sceptical. What is it? I don't know. It quite unexplanable.

During our two days at this Joey Yap seminar, the man explained quite a lot about Qi Men Dun Jia (奇門遁甲) which in a nutshell can best be explained as taking your own destiny into your own hands. He presented many techniques that can be applied and claimed that many of the people he had taught had already benefited from it.

In itself, Qi Men Dun Jia is nothing new, of course. The Chinese people centuries ago were familiar with it and had utilised the principles of this practice in their daily lives. Warriors and soldiers had adopted Qi Men Dun Jia in times of warfare and indeed, Sun Tzu's famed "The Art of War" could have been based on this metaphysical studies.

In Qi Men Dun Jia, Yap claimed that everyone has a personal guardian angel based on their date and time of birth, and this guardian angel can bestow help and favours on the person. There are also other guardian angels that can be called upon to assist when necessary. He even suggested a method to calm down a person, which then opens his mind to communicate with his guardian angels. Once your mind is still and open, he said, you can ask whatever you want from the guardian angel.

Personally, I haven't been able to count down slowly and unwaveringly from 64 to one successfully as my mind would race somewhere during the countdown process and I have to start all over again. Thus, it would mean that I haven't connected with my guardian angel yet. But my wife who is a bigger believer of Qi Men and fengshui than I haven't had the success either. She would tend to fall asleep as she counted down.

So what does this mean? If I can't even connect with our own guardian angels, how much can I rely on Qi Men Dun Jia to get whatever I want from whatever I've got? Is it a question of persistent practice to make it perfect? I really, really don't know at all....

Monday, 6 April 2015

Cheng Beng, paying homage to my ancestors

So this year's Cheng Beng has come and gone. In a whiff, Cheng Beng is over. As usually the case, this year's Cheng Beng was observed on the fifth of April.

In practical terms, Cheng Beng fell only 30 days after this year's Chap Goh Meh, which was the 15th day of Chinese New Year. That hardly gave my wife and I enough time to finish folding the incense paper for the two graves and a columbarium that we would be visiting.

This problem arose because we were unsure whether we could start the incense paper folding process even before Chinese New Year ended. It would have been fine if we were only folding the gold-stamped incense papers which was normal when offering to the deities but here, we were folding the silver-stamped incense papers which were offered only to the ancestors. In terms of custom, praying to the ancestors is one notch lower than praying to the gods and deities.

So to be on the safe side - and with nobody to refer this "sensitive' question to - we had decided to start the incense paper-folding process after Chap Goh Meh, and that would be the sixth of March. Thus, it was a frenzy getting enough of the incense papers folded in time for Cheng Beng. A race with time, so to speak, but like all races to meet deadlines, we managed to complete this task with a day or two to spare.

The problem with Cheng Beng last year and this year is that we have to pay homage to my aunt's memory on the actual day of Cheng Beng itself. According to Chinese custom, this has to be done for the first three year's of a person's death. With my aunt passing away in May 2013, we had no choice but to follow this custom for the second year in succession. Next year too, we have to do this.

Therefore, we had arrived early at the Batu Gantong columbarium yesterday to pray before the urns of my deceased parents and aunt. We expected a lot of people going to the cemetery and columbarium on the day of Cheng Beng itself but surprisingly, we found the crowd rather manageable. Still, we had to park the car quite a distance away and walk the rest of the way.

At the Batu Gantong cemetery grounds itself, there are several columbarium buildings. The newer ones were full of people because these contained newer urns. By comparision, the two older buildings had less crowd because the niches ans urns were quite old, and people had already come to perform their Cheng Beng obligations days earlier. Nevertheless, we had to pick our way slowly through the crowd because we had to pass by the newer columbarium buildings before we could get to the older ones.

And that's one of the features of Cheng Beng. Our Chinese custom allows us to observe Cheng Beng anytime within a 20-day period centering on the fifth of April. Thus, Cheng Beng would begin ten days earlier on the 26th of March and end ten day later on the 14th of April. Anytime during this period would be fine for Cheng Beng.

For my family, our practice would be to go for Cheng Beng earlier rather than later. Ever since I became aware of the significance of Cheng Beng during my youth, I can't ever remember any occasion when my family had done their Cheng Beng after the fifth of April.

When I was a small boy, I would follow my maternal grandmother and my mother to the same Batu Gantong cemetery to pray at the grave of my great-grandparents. We didn't own a car in those days and our normal mode of transport then was by trishaw. My grandma would ask me to remind a trishawman that stayed down the road from where we used to live in Seang Tek Road, that we would require his services.

In the late 50s and early 60s of the last century, trishaws were the accepted mode of moving around to areas not covered by the bus routes. Trishaws were respectable modes of transportation in the past, unlike today when trishaws are mainly tourist attractions.

So come the arranged dated, Uncle Sek Lim, as I used to call him, would wait at our doorstep at five o'clock in the morning to take my grandmother and mother. I would squeeze in between them, and with foodstuff and folded incense paper on the floor of the trishaw before us, the trishawman would peddle ever so slowly to the cemetery.

I remember he'd go along Dato Kramat Road and then turn into York Road before entering Batu Gantong Road itself. I also remember that the most memorable part of the journey would especially be along York Road. The road would be strewn yellow with the fallen flowers of the Angsana trees. As the trishaw slowly trundled along, small yellow flowers would continue falling down upon us in the open trishaw and we would arrive at Batu Gantong with a thin carpet of yellow on us.

But there are people who do perform their Cheng Beng obligations during the second half of this 20-day period. For instance, I've just heard from a cousin in the Klang Valley that she will be going to her grandparents' grave in Shah Alam only this weekend, on the 12th of the month.

Yes, but for us, we would prefer to get it done within the first half of the Cheng Beng period. For us, the earlier we get this ancestral homage completed, the better it would be. It would be one more year of Cheng Beng behind us as we look ahead.

I should perhaps also mention here that my annual Cheng Beng route normally takes us to the Batu Lanchang cemetery where my maternal grandparents' grave is, and the Wat Pinbang Onn Siamese cemetery in Green Lane where my paternal grandparents were buried.

After our visits to these two cemeteries, we would then proceed to the Triple Wisdom temple in Pangkor Road to pray before my parents's memorial tablets. But because we needed to visit the Batu Gantong columbarium for three successive years, we have dropped the Triple Wisdom temple from our itinerary for the time being. Of course, this will resume in 2017 when we no longer have to do Cheng Beng at the columbarium.