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.

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