Thursday, 23 June 2016

Brexit explained

As the United Kingdom stands on the brink of remaining or leaving the European Union, I am reminded of this excerpt from the Yes Minister television series of long ago. Season One, I believe it was, when this exchange took place:

Sir Humphrey: "Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it's worked so well?"
Jim Hacker: "That's all ancient history, surely."
Sir Humphrey: "Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased, it's just like old times."

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A Hatyai shopping weekend

My wife and I took off on a weekend holiday to Hat Yai with some friends last week. This trip had been in the planning since the beginning of the year but only materialised about three weeks ago when the friends we knew suddenly agreed to come along with us.

So there we were at the Bukit Mertajam railway station last Friday morning to await the arrival of the 7.37a.m. KTM ETS train to Padang Besar. Once we arrived at the border and having cleared Malaysian and Thai immigration, we boarded the State Railway of Thailand's diesel railcar service to Hatyai, arriving in the Thai city at about 9.45a.m. local time.

A 10-minute walk took us to the Kosit Hotel. The Kosit was an aged hotel but the accommodation was still clean and comfortable enough. We were allocated a room at the end of the long corridor which turned out lucky for us because it was quiet. However, it was not so lucky for two of our friends who were given a room near to the lift lobby. Throughout the night, there were people loitering around the lobby and chattering away without a care for the guests in the rooms. My friends should have complained to the hotel's reception, which they did not.

Lunch on the first day was at a Thai restaurant across the road from the hotel. Our first authentic Thai meal during our stay. And after we had finished, it was a walk into the business district of Hatyai. We found our way to the Kimyong market for purchases of some foodstuff and cheap clothes. Thereafter, we made our way by the tut-tut to the Central Festival Mall, an upmarket shopping centre catering mostly to tourists. Dinner was at one of the restaurants there which served kurobuta pork.

Our second day in Hatyai began with a filling breakfast of pork porridge at a coffee shop across the road from the hotel. Thereafter, travelling by tut-tut to their main wet market. Nothing much to buy there, seeing how the roads around the market were in a chaotic mess and we not knowing where exactly to go. As a result, we went from the market to the Lee Garden Plaza instead, from where we took a lazy stroll back to the Kosit.

By this time, it was close to checking out time. A quick lunch of chicken rice at the same coffee shop and we were soon on our way to the railway station. We boarded the diesel railcar which left at one o'clock and arrived at Padang Besar at 2.50 p.m. Malaysian time. Seeing that we still had about two hours to kill before the ETS train would depart, some of us made our way to the Padang Besar shopping arcade for, yes, still some more last-minute shopping.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Free School gate

The imposing gate at the entrance into Penang Free School was built only in the 1970s and was never part of the original building plans some 50 years earlier. Here is an insight into the proposal to build the gate and the subsequent approval by the Board of Governors. This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book on the history of Penang Free School:
In 1975, Goon Fatt Chee first mooted to the Board of Governors the necessity to build a main School Gate and four smaller gates at the other entrances, although real discussions on this ambitious project were only initiated in 1976. Based on his estimates, the cost of constructing the main gate would be about $40,000 while each of the smaller ones would cost less than $10,000. Two years later, he expressed confidence to the Board that funds could be raised for the gates’ construction from donations and the School would not have to bear the expenses. 
A disgruntled voice among the Governors questioned whether the gates were needed at all, but the Headmaster argued that the School deserved a front gate worthy of its stature and prestige. Further, he said, proper school gates would help considerably in tightening security of the school premises and keeping trespassers out. Another of the Governors spoke of adopting a less elaborate design but in the opinion of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, “nothing short of the best and most impressive was worthy of the School.” Eventually, a vote was taken of the Governors with seven in favour of the project and one against. 
In providing more information to the Board, the Headmaster said that the design shown to the Board had been drawn up by the pupils of the School under the supervision of the Senior Art Teacher. Much attention and care had been paid to ensure that the design retained the motifs of the main school building so that it would be in congruity with the architectural design of the parent building. 
In 1977 Dato’ Ch’ng Eng Hye responded generously to the School’s appeal for donations to build the main School Gate. According to the School Magazine, three generations of the Choong family had studied at the School. Ch’ng was a pupil of the Free School from 1919 to 1923 – he was the Head Prefect in 1923 – and his sons, Eddy Choong Ewe Beng, Freddie Choong Ewe Eong, David Choong Ewe Leong and Louis Choong , were also educated here, as well as many of his grandchildren. The other Old Boys that donated to the cause were Loh Kah Kheng, Lim Seng Hock and Teh Choon Beng. 
The main gate, constructed at a cost of about $23,000, was modelled on similar arch patterns found in the School. The slanting roof, pillars, motifs of rings and criss-cross patterns were similar to those on the main school building. The project began in late 1978 and finished sometime near the end of the second term in 1979. The School Gate was declared open officially by Ch’ng on 29th September 1979. 
The Headmaster, in his school report at Speech Day 1978, paid tribute to the spirit of love and loyalty of the Old Frees who had rallied to the call of the Alma Mater. “The School required some gates that reflect the architectural grandeur of the main building,” he said, “and out spoke generous Dato’ Ch’ng Eng Hye, an Old Free. ‘I’ll donate the main gate to the Grand Old School,’ he had told the Board of Governors. We are proud of him. Other groups of Old Frees came forward too and said they too would donate for the two small gates.” 

Friday, 10 June 2016


So I've been visiting the school again during the school holidays. Nothing stirred except for the odd staff going about their jobs around the grounds. A good opportunity for photography, taking pictures of the nooks and crannies, some from unusual angles, without anyone getting curious, and then coming home to play creatively with the image enhancing software. Here's what I achieved playing about with Google's now non-supported Picasa program:

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The incomparable Viktor Korchnoi

It has been announced that Viktor Korchnoi had died at the age of 85. Korchnoi was possibly the strongest grandmaster during the post-Bobby Fischer era never to have become a world chess champion, He had played Anatoly Karpov not once but three times for the world championship title but he faltered each and every time.

In 1974, Korchnoi and Karpov played in the Candidates final match in Moscow, which Karpov won. And because Fischer refused to defend his title, the World Chess Federation declared Karpov as the new world champion. One year later, Korchnoi defected from the Soviet Union and left his family behind. Setting up his base eventually in Switzerland, he advanced to challenge Karpov again in 1978. It was an acrimonious match in Baguio, Philippines which was full of political tension but Korchnoi was unable to dislodge his opponent. In 1981, he played Karpov for a third time in Merano, Italy but by then he was no longer at his best. After this match, Korchnoi's family was allowed to leave the Soviet Union.

I first met Korchnoi in 1979. Together with some other chess players from the Penang Chess Association, we were then playing as the Penang team at the Asian cities team chess championship in Hong Kong. My team mates and I knew that Korchnoi was in town but we never expected to bump into him in the hotel lift. He saw us and immediately demanded our support for his latest cause, which was to petition the Soviet Union to release Boris Gulko, another Soviet grandmaster, from house arrest in Moscow. Effectively, he had us cornered in the lift. We had nowhere to run but to grin sheepishly at him. Later, Korchnoi was to give a simultaneous exhibition in Hong Kong.

In 1982 when the Chess Olympiad was played in Lucerne, Switzerland, I was able to watch Korchnoi from up close in many of his games. My admiration for this man grew. More than anyone else, he brought to the chessboard such boundless energy and attitude which, to me, very few other professional chess players displayed in their games. It was at this event that I witnessed his momentous first game ever with Gary Kasparov.

My last time seeing Korchnoi at work was at the Manila Chess Olympiad in 1992. I was amused to watch a black eye-patched Korchnoi who, despite recovering from a minor eye surgery, spending his recuperation by playing competitive chess and carving up most of his opponents.

Korchnoi's passing closes another chapter in the long history of chess. Rest in peace, Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi, chess player, born 23 March 1931, died 6 June 2016.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Dictionaries and English usage

Am I taking my English language too seriously? In the last few days, I had been bothered about the use of full stops in abbreviated words and I really needed some help to clarify this matter. I remembered that I do have some dictionaries, thesauruses and books on grammar in various places around the house and I set out to search for them. And this was what I found:

  • A copy of Advanced Learner's English Dictionary, from the COBUILD series
  • A copy of BBC English Dictionary
  • A copy of Essential Dictionary, from the COBUILD series
  • A copy of Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, by J.C. Wells
  • A copy of English Grammar, from the COBUILD series
  • A copy of 2,000 Essential English Verbs
  • A copy of Mastering Spoken English & Communication Skills
  • Two copies of Fowler's Modern English Usage, second edition, revised by Sir Ernest Gowers
  • A copy of Current English Usage, by Frederick T. Wood
This set of books do not include my father's copy of the Chambers' Twentieth Century Dictionary. It's still somewhere in the storeroom. I really loved that dictionary. It had kept me occupied during my youth when I really needed help with a lot of words. Plus, there are two or three copies of Roget's Thesaurus in the storeroom. I should dig them out too.

Why I have two copies of Fowler's Modern English Usage, I have no idea. I was pretty surprised to see them myself. This title, together with Current English Usage, were my most commonly used companion reference books in the 1970s and 1980s. I'm glad they are still very useful to me. And yes, I've the answer already to that perplexing question of using full stops in abbreviations....