Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Private dinner at OFA Restaurant

Quite an enjoyable and interesting experience I had last night when I was invited to join a private dinner with friends and acquaintances at the OFA Restaurant in Penang. Dinner was hosted by Anwar Fazal whom I know personally in several capacities such as he being the president of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society and the chairman of Think City Sdn Bhd.

His main guests at dinner were Mary Hughes and her husband. Both had been in Malaysia for about four weeks already, and they had been travelling around the peninsula on sort of a homecoming trip. Mary is the daughter of JMB Hughes who was the last British headmaster of the Penang Free School and had lived in the old Headmaster's Bungalow on the school grounds from 1957 until 1963. In fact, she was born in Kota Bharu when Hughes worked there prior to his transfer back to Penang. "I came home," was how she described her trip to Malaysia.

JC Rajarao arrived from Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Rao was another Old Boy of the school and he was also a teacher in his Alma Mater. Lately, I have been corresponding with him as I wanted to tap his memory for information about the Indian National Army (INA). I had known that during the period of the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945, he had a brief stint in the youth section of the INA. Certainly, he had a very colourful past.

Nik Rahiman was another guest at dinner. He is an architect by profession and presently, his firm is undertaking some restoration work for the Penang State Museum in Farquhar Street. That building used to be the former premises of the Penang Free School and later, the Hutchings School. At the tail-end of the Japanese Occupation, half of the original building was destroyed by Allied bombing.

He was telling us that the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, was informed that it could cost about RM7 million if the state government wanted to rebuild the bombed half of the school. The story goes that the CM shelved the idea when he heard of the cost involved.

Nik Rahiman isn't an Old Free but his partner in the architect firm is. A by-product of their state museum restoration work is that they have documented the architectural features of the present school building in Green Lane too. They have more or less finished with that task and they plan to publish the results anytime.

Finally, we had Khoo Salma and her husband, Abdur-razak Lubis. Khoo Salma needs no introduction at all as she is the president of the Penang Heritage Trust. I've known her for a very long time partly because she is cousin to Eric Cheah, a long-time chess friend in Penang. Moreover, her ties with the Free School comes from her father being both an Old Boy and teacher at the school.

And so at dinner, it was a foregone conclusion that the topics of discussion would revolve around the Penang Free School and heritage issues in Penang. Personally, I found the discussions quite informative but it is not appropriate for me to say anything here.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Bullock cart express, part 2

In June 2013, I had written something about the bullock cart express. Yes, that's right, I'm was referring to the Malaysian postal services. Nothing has changed in the intervening two years. We still get the same bullock cart treatment from the same service provider, namely, Pos Malaysia.

Only this time, my experience is with posting out a letter to Singapore, not receiving one. Here is what happened.

When I returned from Singapore earlier this month, I had to send back to my old school pal there something that belonged to him. So I went to the post office in Bukit Mertajam on the morning of 12th May with my letter. The lady at the counter issued me with the stamp and even gummed an airmail sticker to the envelope without me asking for it. Destination: Singapore. By airmail. How slow could it take to arrive at its destination?

I just found out. My pal in Singapore received my letter yesterday. That's the 22nd of May. Eleven whole days for a letter to travel from Bukit Mertajam to Singapore by airmail. Wow, talk about efficiency from the Malaysian postal service!

Just to place matters in its proper perspective, let me add that the letter was dropped into the post box inside the Bukit Mertajam post office before noon on 12th May -- that's well before their daily cut-off time of 1p.m. -- and the letter bore a Butterworth post mark dated 14th May. Imagine, it already took the postal services TWO DAYS for the letter to travel from Bukit Mertajam to Butterworth. I guess the poor postman must have walked the 11 kilometers from one post office to the other.

And then there are the remaining nine days for the letter to move from the Butterworth post office to my friend. Who is at fault: Singapore Post or Pos Malaysia? How long does Singapore Post take to deliver mail within their borders? And how long does it take Pos Malaysia to ensure that an airmailed letter would travel from Penang to Singapore?

Eleven whole days for delivery. Excuse me, there are scores of flights everyday between Malaysia and Singapore. Did my letter actually travel by air from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore? Or did it travel by air directly from Penang to Singapore? Or, did the postal services simply ignore their own airmail sticker and send my letter over surface mail, meaning, overland? I dread to think that if it had taken so long for an airmail delivery, how much longer it would take if their counter staff had not affixed that sticker on the envelope.

Do Singapore Post and Pos Malaysia have a KPI for their delivery processes? Definitely, I am owed an explanation. There are just too many occurrences of inefficiencies in the delivery system.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Remembering William B Kelley

I first got to know William B Kelley more than 20 years ago when he came to visit Penang with his close companion, Chen Ooi, who happens to be my god-uncle.

You see, we Chinese have this time-honoured tradition where good family friends like to accept one another as close relations. So it was in the mid-1950s that my paternal grandparents took care of the son of one of their family friends and eventually, accepted him as their god-son, which made me a god-nephew to this fellow. He was just two years older than I, and we got along quite well. We played together whenever we got the chance. After Form Five, he suddenly decided to seek his fortune in the United States where he settled down later in Chicago with William Kelley whom he got to know over there.

I think it was in the mid-1990s when my family was still living in Seberang Jaya that my god-uncle and William Kelley - whom my son and daughter would call Uncle Bill - came to visit Penang. It was the first time that I had ever met Bill, a distinguished man about 10 years older than Chen Ooi.

Their second trip to Penang was more sober. Chen Ooi's mother had passed away and they came for the funeral. And their third trip was several years later when my god-uncle wanted to visit the columbarium and temple, and pay his respects to his mom. I would take them on a tour of the island, visiting places like the Kek Lok Si temple, the Ayer Itam dam, the Khoo Kongsi, Butterfly Farm, etc. These three visits of theirs and our numerous email exchanges brought me to understand Bill and his work better. Definitely, knowing Bill helped to broaden my outlook of life.

For you see, Bill was a human rights activist in the United States. But he was not just any common human rights activist; Bill was more special. He was an LGBT rights activist. Almost throughout his whole adult life, he breathed and worked to promote LGBT rights. Unfortunately, my friend Bill passed away in his sleep at home in Chicago on Sunday, 17 May 2015, and today is his funeral.

Bill was born in Missouri but he moved to attend the University of Chicago in 1959. By 1965, he was a member of the Chicago branch of the Mattachine Society, an early gay organization, founded in 1950.

In 1966, he helped organise the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations and helped found the Chicago Gay Crusader newspaper.

In 1967, along with some of the great names in American LGBT history, he picketed Independence Hall in defense of equality of rights before the law for gay people.

In 1977, Bill was one of the representatives of the LGBT community to have met with President Carter at the White House.

In the last few years, he had witnessed many landmark decisions to overturn anti-gay legislation in the United States. When Bill first moved to Illinois, it was illegal to be gay in all of America's 50 states. By his death it was legal for gay couples to marry, and Bill was instrumental in this battle.

My memories of Bill would include him visiting my home for the very first time and calling my aunt (and Chen Ooi's god-sister) Busu-chi or Sister Busu. Also, in February 2013, I had arranged a Skype hook-up with Chen Ooi and Bill in Chicago so that they could talk with my aunt who was already in great pain and in the last few months of her life.

Also, I remember Bill as a very well-read man who was very proud of his family lineage. While I could trace my own ancestors in Malaysia back to my great-great-grandfather, Bill could count on ancestors that fought in the American Civil War.

Healthwise, I knew that Bill had suffered from a heart attack maybe about eight years or so ago. Thankfully, he had recovered sufficiently to carry on with his life's work for the LGBT community in the United States. But anyone with a similar health history as him would certainly realise that every new day would be a bonus. Bill knew that of course, because he told me:
"I'm recovering well from my heart attack, though I occasionally still get a little short of breath. Apparently the heart damage, though considerable, wasn't as much as the cardiologist thought at first. I never took care of my health before, except that I ate fairly well, and have been fortunate in usually having good health. There's not too much I can do now that the damage is done, except try harder to eat well and (ugh!) exercise, take my medicines (now down to a few more than half a dozen a day), try not to waste time, and consider it a signal that I probably won't live many more years, given my cardiac heredity and the fact that I've already had an attack."
Apart from his activist work, it may be unnecessary for me to add that Bill loved music and concerts, good food and travelling. In addition, I could sense that he loved nature deeply. In the last month of his life, I had noticed that he was more appreciative of the natural beauty that surrounded their house in Chicago.

Rest in peace, Bill, rest in peace. Your work is done.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Strained shoulder muscle

I think it was during one of those fist-pumping, arms-waving activities at the Anthony Robbins seminar in Singapore recently that I injured my shoulder muscles. I don't remember any other occasion that would have caused me so much pain in subsequent days of my stay there.

On the second day of the seminar, I was already feeling uncomfortable while moving my right arm. I had to move the arm gingerly as any sudden movement resulted in a searing pain running down from the shoulder to the elbow.

I found that only with some effort, I could touch my  left shoulder with the right hand. And I could no longer position my right arm behind my back. The pain did seem to subside a little during the afternoon but I must have aggravated it again whilst turning my body because later, the nagging pain just simply would not go away. I can tell you that it was a cause of concern both to me and my wife.

When we went for dinner with my old school mates, I found that I was required to reach for the food in the centre of the table with chopsticks. At first, I didn't find this a problem but as the night wore on, it became difficult for me to stretch my arm out. Further, I discovered that I could not even touch my left shoulder now, no matter how much I tried to bear with the pain.

Friends and relatives all urged me to seek immediate treatment and in fact, I wanted to. But there was also the traditional medicated plaster that I thought I should try first. Yes, luckily they did provide me with some comfort.

Upon my return to Penang on Sunday, I rushed to my physiotherapist at the Carl Corrynton Hospital in Green Lane on the following day. The physiotherapist confirmed that it wasn't a ligament problem; just a strained shoulder muscle. He's a young chap, just 25 or 26 years old, but he is good. Just two treatments on Monday and Thursday and the pain is almost gone. I've recovered maybe 95 percent of the use of my right arm. There is still a slight pain when I move the arm in a certain direction but he assured me that it should disappear with time and the proper exercises. Here's hoping that he's correct!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Expensive reunion in Singapore

Another small gathering with my old school mates and their families while I was in Singapore last week. Great to see all of you guys!

Seated, left to right: Mrs Kok Chuan, Kok Chuan's daughter, Kok Chuan, Kheng Hock, myself, Saw See; standing, left to right: Mrs Kah Keat, Kah Keat, Nai Kwang, Evelyn

We were at the Imperial Court Restaurant on the first floor of the Grassroots Club in Ang Mo Kio. The restaurant had some sort of promotion going on during that weekend, it being Mother's Day. Still, the bill came up to SGD698++ (plus 10% and 5%, if I understand correctly) which meant that that night's dinner amounted to a staggering RM2,176 after doing my exchange rate conversions! Thank you, fellas, we'll stick to bak chor mee in Upper Thomson Road next time okay?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Our Tony Robbins experience

My wife, son and I were in Singapore last week to attend the Anthony Robbins TOTAL SUCCESS seminar. While it had been promoted as a three-day event, Robbins appeared for only two days.

The last day was filled with various other speakers who tried so hard to hard-sell their own seminar programmes to us. While they were entertaining enough on their own and they did provide quite a lot of useful information,

I found their hard-selling tactics to be a great turn-off. Nevertheless, we tried to stay till the very end of the third day and left only because a more pressing engagement awaited us that night.

It would be rather difficult to describe everything that went on during the two days of the Tony Robbins seminar and I think it would be better for me to provide some pictures and try to explain the circumstances behind them.

We were outside Hall #1 of the Singapore Expo grounds, where the Anthony Robbins seminar took place. Just before we entered the hall itself. We managed to buy the Silver tickets which cost RM1,217 a piece, but the organisers had offered three tickets to us for the price of two which meant that our tickets effectively cost about RM800 each. Not a bad deal, actually.

 I had wandered to the far back of the hall in order to see how large the crowd was. According to the organisers, there were more than 6,000 people here. Impossible for us to gauge correctly, of course.

Tony Robbins first appearance onstage which caused the crowd to erupt deliriously. During the two days, Robbins whipped the crowd up into a frenzy several times. He is truly a master in motivating his audience.

 One of several occasions when Robbins left the stage to walk along the corridors and get up close with the audience. This close-up interaction probably did a lot to reinforce his popularity.

 Unfortunately, this is about as close and I could get to take a photograph with Antony Robbins.

Robbins had a few one-on-one sessions with a few select people from the floor. Here, he was walking round and collecting handbags from a few ladies. The crux of this example was, he asked them why they had bought their own particular handbag and then he analysed their decision.

It was almost impossible to get up close with Tony Robbins. Unless he approached you, no-one could approach him. Reason? The three burly minders that you see above. They were always around him: walking ahead of him, trailing behind him or checking out the routes beside him. As if the audience would suddenly become uncontrollable and pounce on him. Or maybe they would?

Taking part in a role-playing session. Jeremy's new-found friend trying to pumped a message into his sub-conscious mind.

It's almost the end of the road now. One for the road. I do hope my son has learnt a few things from this seminar. It is not often that a person of Tony Robbins' calibre passes through this region. The last time he was here was six years ago. He had also come to Kuala Lumpur but I was told that he had an unpleasant experience with Immigration or Customs and was held up for several hours at the airport. He vowed never to step foot into Malaysia again.

Thailand's big contingent to the Tony Robbins seminar. Indonesia and Vietnam had equally large contingents too but they are not in the picture. Those who were not fluent in English were provided with translation headsets, available for a fee. But I was told that the translators could not keep up with Robbins' presentation and many were left disappointed. Also, reception was rather erratic in the hall and there were many blind spots where there was no reception at all. I could see people rushing from one area to another in order to pick up the translations.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Short holiday in Singapore

I'm heading down to Singapore today with my wife and son. Haven't been there for about two years already, no thanks to the exchange rate for the Singapore Dollar, but I've to make this trip because my wife has signed up the three of us for an Anthony Robbins seminar there.

So whether I like it or not, I shall have to bear with the unprecedented SGD1 = MYR2.70 exchange rate for the next six days. Luckily, we are able to stay at my brother-in-law's apartment in the Ghim Moh area of Singapore. That's our accommodation well taken care of, thankfully, and we only have to worry about our transportation and food.

But transportation in Singapore is a no-brainer with their super-efficient MRT service. Between the Singapore Expo and the Buena Vista stations, it is just a single MRT line - the East-West line - although there is a need to change trains at Tanah Merah. Plus, it is so easy to connect to everywhere else. And a wide variety of interesting food is available in all corners of Singapore. I shouldn't be complaining about this too, and I won't.

And finally, while in Singapore, I am also looking forward to meeting up with some of my old school mates again. We shall have dinner for sure, to catch up on the good old times.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Musical echoes from Penang's past

So there I was, having just removed this accompanying compact disc from the back of the book, Just For The Love Of It, which chronicles the growth and development of popular music in Penang from the 1930s till the 1960s, and fed it into my CD player. Pretty soon, the most awesome local music from the past years began filling my living room.

Not only was the next 75 minutes a trip down memory lane, it was also a discovery of much of the local music that I wasn't even aware of.

It sure made me feel a bit embarrassed. Some friends do look up to me as a somewhat knowledgeable source of information on the foreign pop and rock music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but sadly what happened in my own backyard had certainly passed me by.

But that aside, I must say again that I enjoyed the music on this compact disc immensely, from the very first track, Tanah Pusaka, composed by Ahmad Merican and performed in 1964 by the Ger van Leeuwen Orchestra in the Netherlands right until the final song, Please Don't Talk About Me, which included a short ukulele solo from Clive Scott.

In between these two opening and closing tracks, there are 22 other songs composed or performed by notable Penangites such as Ahmad Nawab, Ahmad Daud, P Ramlee, Zainal Alam, David Ng, Jimmy Boyle, Rubia Lubis, Frankie Cheah, Colleen Reed, Ooi Eow Jin and Bryan Jeremiah.

Let me list down the songs on this compact disc (and while my personal favourites are highlighted in red, it doesn't mean that I don't like the rest of the selection - I do like them too):

  • Tanah Pusaka
  • Keindahan Bintang Malam - composed by Ahmad Nawab and sung by Zaharah Agus
  • Kasakazan Do Bambazon - composed and performed by Peter Pragas, which became the signature tune for Radio Malaysia Sabah's Kadazan service
  • Senandong Malaysia - a bilingual kerongchong song performed by Ahmad Daud
  • Getaran Jiwa - composed and performed by P Ramlee for the film Antara Dua Darjat
  • Rose, Rose I Love You - performed by the inimitable Zainal Alam in four languages
  • Slamat Malam - composed by David Ng and performed by David Ng's The 4 Saints
  • Bengawan Solo - a popular Indonesian folk song played in a Country and Western style by Clive Scott
  • Chendering - composed and performed by Jimmy Boyle
  • Royal Hawaiian Hula - performed by Edwin Rajamoney and the Island Rhythmics
  • She Was Happy Till She Met You - performed by Rudy Baum 
  • Sungai Pahang - composed by Jimmy Boyle and sung by Rubia Lubis
  • Putera Puteri - Jimmy Boyle's most recognisable tune which was sung by Frankie Cheah
  • Just One Of Those Things - performed by Colleeen Reed and the Inn Jazz Quartet
  • Who Can I Turn To - performed by Fred Cheah
  • S'wonderful - performed by Ruby Rozells and the Jazzocrats
  • Am I Ready - played by Vince Chu and the Tyros
  • It's Impossible - sung by Raja Din Wan Mat and backed by the Ooi Eow Jin combo
  • Ping Quah - a Chinese song performed in English by Syed Agil and the Flamingoes
  • Siapa Bilang Aku Tak Sayang - performed by Teruna Ria
  • Thunderbolt Twist - played by the Thunderbolts
  • Dendang Pontianak - sung by Ahmad Daud and backed by the Swallows, from the movie Pusaka Pontianak
  • There's A Love Knot In My Lariat - sung by Bryan Jeremiah at the first Bakat TV finals
  • Please Don't Talk About Me

And so, my final words about this compact disc: if you are curious about Penang's - and indeed, Malaysia's - rich musical heritage, this compact disc just about covers a lot of ground already. This collection of popular local music is a gem not to be missed and it is only available if the book, Just For The Love Of It, is purchased. The CD is not available anywhere else, certainly not in the music stores. Go grab it now and you won't regret it.