Monday, 18 September 2017

Old pirate

I was given this old record by a former colleague from my banking days when I was down in Parit Buntar last month. Obviously, he doesn't have a use for it now as he doesn't own a turntable any more. So I very gladly accepted the gift.

The record is not an original press; it is what was once popularly known as a pirated record. That is, a locally pressed record by some unknown enterprise to satiate the needs of music lovers who would like compilations without bursting their bank accounts. The record was  slightly warped and very dirty. The record label was dirty as well. A thick layer of brown gunky stuff came off when I cleaned it. But I was surprised that after I got the gunk off, the sound quality was acceptable. In fact, very acceptable. And what songs were on it?

Side 1: When will I see you again (Three Degrees), Whatever gets you thru the night (John Lennon), My melody of love (Bobby Vinton), Tonight (The Rubettes), Dirty Old man (Three Degrees), Angie baby (Helen Reddy), Bank of the Ohio (Olivia Newton-John), Honey honey (Abba)
Side 2: Love me for a reason (The Osmonds), Please Mr Postman (Carpenters), Somethin' about you baby I like (Tom Jones), #9 dream (John Lennon), Never ending song of love (Bobby Vinton), The bitch is back (Elton John), Free and easy (Helen Reddy), The river's too wide (Olivia Newton-John)

Friday, 15 September 2017

Flesh trade in colonial Penang

The late Leong Yee Fong - he passed away in 2015 - used to teach History at the Penang Free School when I was studying there, although he never did teach me. Then he left to join the University of Science Malaysia and had a very successful career. The last I met him was in February 2015 when he was already long retired. Although he was by then also seriously ill, he seemed rejunevated in the presence of his former colleagues and the old boys.

About 16 years ago (has it been that long??), he spoke at the Penang Colloquium and his topic was on prostitution in colonial Malaya with a special reference to Penang. Even as long as six years ago, I was debating on whether to reproduce his paper here since it's quite long. Maybe I should, so here goes:
This paper is a preliminary version of a larger paper that will probably be presented at the international conference in Penang in April next year. It is the intention here only to stress certain salient aspects of prostitution in colonial Malaya and especially Penang which was a colonial port-town with a thriving flesh trade in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The main issues emphasised here are: firstly, prostitution in Penang was a part of an international sex trade and a form of flourishing business for several parties involved in the trafficking of women and children. Secondly, the evolution of the flesh trade from licenced brothels in late 19th century to sly prostitution in the 1930s accompanied by the emergence of new forms of entertainment for the Penang community. Thirdly, some possible explanations for the existence of licenced prostitution during the colonial period and finally the spatial distribution of prostitution in Penang and its social hierarchy within the profession.

The Phenomenon in Malaysian History
Prostitution in colonial Malaya and Penang should not be measured against western and modern concepts of ethics and conventions but rather should be seen within the social and economic context of the period under survey. It is all too simple a generalisation to state that prostitution was morally degrading and that prostitutes were despicable creatures of society. Within the context of colonial society, they provided a service to the frontier society and prostitution should be seen from the viewpoint of the social order of the day. They were historically migrant labourers following the massive stream of labour inflow from China that provided the basis for the growth of the colonial economy that modern Malaysia and Penang have subsequently inherited. Prostitution was a form of economic opportunity in a land that was wanting in employment opportunities for women. With their sexual skills they had tamed to a certain extent the turbulence of a frontier society and had contributed to the evolution of a more orderly and stable society. Prostitution, after all, was a legalised profession and so were all the other vices such as opium smoking and gambling that were sanctioned by the colonial authorities. Even the wealthily Chinese had condoned its existence while some had indulged in it as an outlet for their uncontrolled passions. In any case the keeping of mistresses and concubines was the order of the day and some turned to prostitutes, particularly along Campbell Street, as what J.D. Vaughn said "...their wives who were young, pretty and graceful once but for want of exercise soon renders them obese and unwieldy and after bearing a few children they generate into ugly bags". Brothels were centres of social entertainment performing a public service. In traditional China it was known that merchants and government officials transacted their business in brothels and scholars wrote some of their best lines in whorehouses. Chinese society in Penang was an extension of traditional china and what was good for China was good for them.

The Flesh Trade
Japanese and Chinese prostitutes (Karayuki-san and Ah Ku) were two main categories found in Penang. Their existence was the end result of an international network of trafficking in women and children that was centred in the seaports of Nagasaki, Shanghai, Ningpo, Amoy, Canton, Macao and Hong Kong. It was in these seaports that the buying and selling of girls and women were transacted and Hong Kong was the main centre for the export of this human cargo for the vigorous market in Southeast Asia. Singapore with its unrestricted possibilities for traffickers was the hub of the movement for prostitution in Southeast Asia. The port-city as the distributing centre for traffickers who intended to dispose off the women and girls to the main towns in the Federated Malay States, and some invariably landed in Penang brothels where the brothels keepers would eagerly seize them. The continuous export flow of potential prostitutes to meet the vigorous demand in Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia was sustained by the poverty stricken condition sin South China particularly in the Kwantung and Kwangsi areas, the Akamasu Island and Shimbara Peninsula in Kyusu Island in Japan: the patriarchal system of the family tradition in which female children had little value and the close network of traffickers, procurers, ship captains, and brothel keepers. It is necessary at this stage to examine the existence of licenced prostitution in colonial Penang; it is necessary to look into the macro socio-economic forces that impinged on rural societies in china and Japan and also to look into the increasing economic prosperity in Malaya and Singapore at the turn of the century. On the words of James Warren, it was stated in his book Ah Ku and Karayuki-san, that prostitution was big business. The prices of prostitutes ranged from $150 to $500 or more depending on the women's virginity, age, beauty and origin. It played an important role in providing the capital of the growth of Chinese and Japanese enterprises in Singapore and Malaya. It was prostitution that spawned a host of retail shops and business - restaurants, drug shops, tailors, boarding houses, hairdressing salons and others.

The Justification of Licenced Prostitution
The Chinese community in Penang neither openly accepted licenced prostitution nor did they officially protest to the authorities. It was only on the 1930s that the comments were rampant on the necessity of suppression. The colonial government, on the other hand, officially sanctioned prostitution, as it was considered a social necessity. Demography is a vital consideration as it was considered as to why the authorities regarded licenced prostitution to be important to the social order. Without going into the statistics of Chinese immigration at this stage, it is generally known that there was a massive gender imbalance in Malaya and Penang. This imbalance was only rectified in the 1930s following the onset of the World Depression when a new ordinance was introduced imposing a quota on the immigration of Chinese males into Malaya while female immigrants were exempted from the quota. Until the 1930s the booming economy from the 1880s to the 1920s saw the unprecedented influx of male Chinese, the majority of whom were bachelor labourers. Penang, one of the entry points of Chinese labourers, had virtually become a Chinese city outside China. From the colonial point of view, it was this gender imbalance that prompted the authorities to sanction the existence of licenced prostitution.

Apart from considerations of social necessity, prostitution was permitted as a means of controlling the incidence of venereal disease. Venereal disease was a concomitant development of prostitution and concubine, the latter of which was common among the young European planters in the estates. The alarming fact was that the British community was reported to have incidence of venereal disease on the 1890s and at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, the control of venereal diseases was not thought in terms of suppression and closure of licenced brothels. For the authorities, sexual indulgence had to be condoned. The hot equatorial climate had a stirring effect that a man in England could not fully appreciate. For the vast majority of Chinese labourers and the British bachelors in Penang, sexual passions were aroused by the hot and damp equatorial climate. It was thought that the fires of passion could best be dampened through the channels of licenced brothels, be they Japanese or Chinese. Recognition would entail registration, compulsory medical examination of prostitutes to ascertain that they were safe for consumption and, in general, to check venereal disease from reaching epidemic proportions. It seems that the colonial government tended to blame everything on the climate - the evergreen tropical rainforest, Indian adultery problems in the estates and the uncontrollable sexual appetite of Chinese labourers and the British. It could also be said then that venereal disease thrived under hot climatic conditions.

Spatial Distribution of Licenced Brothels
By 1893 prostitution was already well established in the Straits Settlements. It was estimated that there were 1808, 958 and 150 licenced prostitutes in Singapore, Penang and Malacca respectively. In Singapore, brothel prostitution was located within the precincts of Hylam, Malabar, Malay and Bugis streets with European and Japanese prostitutes predominating. Chinese opium-smoking brothels in Singapore were mostly found around Fraser and Tan Quee Lan streets, the Smith Street area and the Chinatown district in the Kreta Ayer neighbourhood. In Penang, the boundaries of brothel areas were also well demarcated: along Campbell Street where the higher class prostitutes and virgins were located for the wealthy, Cintra street where Chinese and Japanese brothels were found, Rope Walk and the Kuala Kangsar Road area (behind Chowrasta Market) where services could be obtained at budget prices for the coolie class and the rickshaw pullers.

With the passing of the Contagious Diseases Ordinance in 1870 both the brothels and prostitutes were registered and each brothel had to keep a list of inmates with their respective names, ages and nationalities. The registration exercise invariably brought the prostitutes into closer contact with the officials of the Chinese Protectorate through frequent inspections of brothel premises and interviews with prostitutes. The registration system not only defined brothel prostitution within certain boundary limits but also subjected prostitutes to vaginal examination by colonial doctors. Prostitutes who were certified clean and healthy were each issued with a certificate of good health.

The brothel houses carried with them alluring names signifying fragrance, entertainment and pleasure, passion and everlasting happiness. In 1899 it was estimated that there were more a hundred brothels in the red-light district of Penang town. Below are names of the brothels along Campbell Street in 1900:

Cuixiang Lou, Dongyang, Fengyi Lou, Fuhe Tang, Huihua Lou, Tinxiang, Qiong Lou, Qunxiang Lou, Shunyi Tang, Weichu Quan, Xyiu Tang, Xinhehe, Xingshengda, Yangfeng Lou, Yuanfu Tang, Yuechang Tang

It was obvious that many of these names were imported from China where brothels with such names had existed in the main towns of China, some of which were made famous in Chinese novels.

Social Hierarchy
It was generally known that the distribution of brothels was related to the popularity of individual prostitutes. Popularity in this respect was concomitant to the relationship between prostitutes and their clients, and their level of acceptance. It should be noted that popularity was determined by beauty, age and adroitness. As a corollary to this, popularity commanded the ability to levy higher charges for sexual services thereby classifying them into higher, intermediate and lower class prostitutes. It could be a coincidence that the gradation of prostitutes was related to their physical locations subjected prostitutes to physical locations within the red-light district of Penang. The higher-class prostitutes were found along Campbell Street, followed by the intermediate class in Cintra Street and the lower class along Kuala Kangsar Road. As such, while the wealthy and the less wealthy frequented the Campbell Street and Cintra Street brothels, the coolies and rickshaw pullers thronged the Kuala Kangsar Road brothels.

There was little doubt that the status of prostitutes changed in the course of time. With advancing age and changing conditions of health, beauty and adroitness popularity tended to fade away. Consequently, the status of prostitutes descended from Campbell Street to Kuala Kangsar Road. However, not all experienced the descending process on account of suicides and venereal disease affliction. It was known that a kongsi house existed for brothel-keepers and prostitutes, believed to be located along Rope Walk. The kongsi not only functioned as a meeting ground for brothel-keepers to settle disputes and squabbles among the inmates but also as a sanatorium for the infirm and disease ridden prostitutes to rest out their dying days.

The hierarchy of prostitutes was also determined by the essence of relationship between the brothel-keepers and prostitutes. Relationship here was dictated by the prostitutes' origins and financial relations with the brothel-keepers (kwai po). There were three main categories in this relationship. First were the sold prostitutes whom the keepers had purchased from the traffickers. In Chinese they were known as kongchu and considered as "adopted daughters" of the brothel keeper. Second were the pongnin who were pawned or hired to a house and in most cases were girls working off a debt on behalf of their poverty-stricken parents in China. Third were the tap-tang or voluntary prostitutes who were allowed to retain half of their earnings while the other half belonged to their keeper.

From Licenced to Sly Prostitution
Sly prostitution had all along existed alongside with licenced prostitution but its significance and prominence had been overshadowed by the latter. It was only in the early 1920s that sly prostitution attracted the attention of the Secretary of Chinese Affairs, W.T. Chapman. This was largely in connection with the control of venereal diseases and the involvement of European men. The sly prostitutes in Penang were principally Chinese, Malays and Siamese who were subsequently joined by the Japanese in the 1920s. The patrons of sly prostitutes were mostly Europeans, Malays and some Chinese of middle and wealthy class origins. W.T. Chapman, in this respect, enumerated several factors that contributed to the popularity of sly prostitution in the 1920s:

1. In 1909 Lord Crewe, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, issued what was known as the "concubinage circular, warning all officials in colonies not to keep concubines or mistresses. This was in the interest of preserving the image and prestige of the British as the ruling elite in Malaya. The circular had the effect of leading to the concealment of their activities and their patronage of sly prostitutes for it was damaging to British prestige if they frequented the regular licenced brothels.
2. The increase in the number of cinemas in the main towns of the Federated Malay States and Penang. Cinemas provided a convenient means for sly prostitutes to display themselves and where men could contract the service of one without the publicity associated with licenced brothels.
3. The closure of Japanese brothels because the presence of karayuki-san had an adverse effect on the image and prestige of Japan as a ruling imperial power in the east. Consular representatives were ordered to close down all Japanese brothels and to repatriate all the Japanese prostitutes. Invariably, some evaded repatriation and turned to sly prostitution while others worked as waitresses in restaurants.
4. The post-World War One slump had affected the economic viability of a few establishments, which were forced to close down. The prostitutes followed the footsteps of the karayuki-san and became sly prostitutes and extended their clientele to other nationalities.
5. The raising of the entry age for licenced prostitution from 16 to 20 was also responsible for the increase of sly prostitution. Some of the girls who were below 20 and who had been trained as prostitutes inevitably turned to sly prostitution. As to why Europeans and Sikhs resorted to sly prostitution, W.T. Chapman had the following to say. To quote from Chapman:
6. "Among Europeans, the feverish and insatiable thirst for gaiety and excitement which finds its e expression locally in indulgence in the various sensuous forms of jazz dances. I believe that the result of the excitement produced by participation in these dances is to drive many young men out to find women willing to satisfy the desires aroused."
7. "Sikhs are forbidden by their religion to have intercourse with a woman other than their wives. There are very few Sikhs here who are married, subsequently the bulk of this class of the community are driven to the cult of sly prostitution, instead of patronising the inmates of regular brothels." In the case of the Malays, Chapman claimed that:
8. "Many Malay women are married at 13 or 14 to very young husbands. After they have been married a few years the husband tires of his wife and divorce her. By this time she is at an age when she is sexually vigorous. Before marriage a Malay woman is kept carefully shut up and looked after, but as a divorcee, she enjoys a practically unrestrained freedom to which she has hitherto been unaccustomed. In addition to this she has been put to shame by her husband and it is small wonder that she decides to give reins to her sexual desires, and have a good time either as an enthusiastic amateur or a professional. In the present state of education of Malay women a divorcee unless she happens to get remarried, has few interests to which she can devote herself."
9. As to why Malays resorted to sly prostitution, Chapman explained that it was due to the increase in the amount of mas kahwin for the marriage of an anak dara. It was said that the amount, which used to be $22.50 had increased as much as between $100 to $125. Thus, instead of marrying in their teens, Malay males tended to postpone it to 25 or 26. As a result, more and more young Malays were driven to illicit intercourse to satisfy their sexual desires. In the case of women, it was the ease with which a Malay man could divorce his wife that drove them to become sly prostitutes. According to Chapman it was this marital problem that had led to the appearance of sly prostitutes in the sex market.

Sly Prostitution in Penang in the 1930s
By the 1930s social conditions had changed in Penang. Cinemas with sound-track movies such as Majestic, Cathay and Odeon, had become popular entertainment outlets for the Chinese community in Penang. They were exposed to the antics of such notable Chinese actresses as Li Hsiang-Ian who used to sing ever-popular songs - The Fragrance of the Night and China Night - as well as the dimpled and sultry smile of Butterfly Wu and Pai Yang. Coffee shops mushroomed and became popular centres for social gatherings and social discourse on the issues of the day. Dance halls, cabarets and singing cafes appeared, the earliest of which was Wembley Park where the more enthusiastic could dance cheek-to-cheek with taxi dancers. Dancing had become a form of popular culture as dance clubs flourished and provided instruction in the techniques of waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and the tango.

Invariably the changing backdrop provided new modus operandi for prostitutes whose carriers were rudely disrupted by the compulsory closure of licenced brothels in 1930. Being forced out of licenced prostitution, many of them continued their profession as sly prostitutes under various guises. Some worked as domestic servants in lodging houses, which used to accommodate newly arrived immigrants to Penang but on account of the depressed economy following the World Depression were transformed into sly brothels. Some became girl cashiers and waitresses in coffee shops where their coquettish looks became a source of attraction for customers. However, it should be said that not all girl cashiers were sly prostitutes. Nevertheless the more respectable classes of the Chinese community regarded that they were so. The editorial column of a Chinese newspaper, Chung Hwa Siang Pao, in this respect, reflected the general opinion of Chinese society at that time.

"Since the Government's prohibition of prostitution, those pitiful creatures who depend on prostitution as a means of living were forced to become sly prostitutes, but as the Government is also adopting drastic measures to put and end to these, the more ingenious ones therefore, after racking their brains over this problem, hit upon a plan to earn a living by becoming girl cashiers, as this title sounds sweeter to the ear. They think that this sort of occupation is legal and that the Government has no right to prohibit it. Moreover they think that they can do whatever they like. Now, if we were to look at their dresses and their behaviour, we can be perfectly sure that eight or nine out of ten of these girl accountants were once either licenced or unlicenced prostitutes."

The third avenue for sly prostitution was the cabarets and dance halls. The cabaret was a new form of male leisure activity in which they could enjoy the music and songs, the pleasure of dancing and the company of taxi dancers. Taxi dancers were not registered and it was not possible to know whether a taxi dancer was a former prostitute. It was not difficult for prostitutes to work as taxi dancers as they could master the skills of dancing easily. Their earnings were derived from coupon-dancing, sit-outs (providing companionship with an accompanying charge) and sleep-outs when sexual services were offered beyond their duty hours.

Concluding Remarks
Licenced prostitution was a colonial phenomenon in the 1920s. With its abolition in 1930 it was succeeded by sly prostitution but its preponderance as a social phenomenon gradually diminished with the eradication of gender imbalance and the stabilisation of social order with the massive inflow of women in the 1930s and the transformation of the majority of bachelor labourers into a family-centred labour force. However, brothel prostitution together with gambling farms and amusement parks resurfaced during the Japanese Occupation. Women were rounded up and kept in military brothels to service the imperial army. Open prostitution came to an end with the return of the British in September 1945. Sly prostitution resumed with the reopening of cabarets such as Wembley and City Lights, amusement parks and bars. It has persisted until this very day but it is a far cry from the prevalence of sly prostitution in the 1930s.

(Please note that for the purpose of this draft paper, footnotes are omitted. Comments are invited for any correction, improvement or elaboration. Thank you. Leong Yee Fong, 5 December 2001.)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A record rescued

Two views of the same record, one that I bought during my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur. I had gone to a shop at the Ampang Park shopping mall, which faces closure in one or two months' time, and had picked up several records. One of them, this one, was in particularly bad condition. When I removed the record to inspect it, I found that several small insects had died and their dried shells had been compressed against both surfaces of the record. A thick crust of dried insect exoskeleton. I showed it to the store owner and she agreed to reduce its price.

After I returned to Penang a few days ago, I put this record through my usual cleaning process and managed to remove all traces of the dried insects. The rescued record, I must say, looked in quite pristine shape. I must also add that the sound was unaffected, safe for the usual slight clicks and pops that I would normally expect from an old record.

So here now is the record playing on my turntable: Baroque Brass by The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.

Side 1: Sonate A 7 (Heinrich Biber), Sonate from Die Bankelsangerlieder (Anon), Intrada (Melchior Franck), Intrada V (Hans Leo Hassler), Sonata for Trumpet and 3 Trombones (Daniel Speer), Sonata for 3 Trombones (Daniel Speer), Sonata for 4 Trombones (Daniel Speer), Sonata for 2 Trumpets and 3 Trombones (Daniel Speer), Canzona A 10 (Samuel Scheidt)
Side 2: Chorale "Nun Danket Alle Gott" (JS Bach), Aria and Fugue in Imitation of the Postillion's Horn (JS Bach), Sonata K380 (D Scarlatti), Sonata K430 (D Scarlatti), Sonata K443 (D Scarlatti), Menuetto and Courante for Solo Tuba (JS Bach), March (CPE Bach)

From the liner notes:
Side 1 begins with a Sonata by the Bohemian violinist/composer Heinrich Biber (1644-1704), and is a typical example of baroque trumpet writing using fanfare motifs. Like most of the trumpet pieces of this time its strength lies in its simple form and bold colour heightened by the addition of timpani. The anonymous Sonata (c.1684) comes from a collection of Northern German vocal and instrumental music under the general title 'Bench Singers Songs', while the Intrada of Melchior Franck (1573-1639), composer and kapellmeister of the Duke of Coburg, is one of a collection published in 1608. Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) studied in Venice for a short time with Andrea Gabrieli and this Intrada from his 'Lustgarten' collection of 1601 shows clearly, in its warmth and suavity, the Venetian influence. Daniel Speer (1636-1707) wrote important treatises on musical theory and the manner of playing all the current instruments of his time. These Sonatas show his ability to write effectively for brass. The Canzona of Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), which closes the first side of this record, comes from a collection of 32 dances in four and five parts published in 1621. This one lends itself to stereo treatment and it has been revoiced for two answering groups of five players each.
Side 2 opens with a sonorous Chorale from cantata no.79 by JS Bach (1685-1750) and is followed by the last two movements of his Capriccio (BWV 992) entitled 'on the departure of a dearly beloved brother'. The departure is signalled by the postillion's horn, creating the best possible excuse for transcription onto brass. Three Sonatas by Domenico  Scarlatti (1685-1757) transcribed for us by Stephen Dodgson (whose original brass works we have recorded on earlier Argo discs) were the result of a conversation one day on the possibility that Scarlatti was influenced somewhat in his compositions by the small town bands he must have heard while living in Spain. Be that as it may, K443 certainly begins in a very brassy fashion. Cello music is not generally associated with brass instruments, but the two movements from Bach's Cello Suite No.1 lend themselves to reincarnation on John Fletcher's tuba, an instrument invented some 100 years or so, after Bach's death. The record ends, appropriately for brass, with a rousing March attributed to CPE Bach (1714-1788).

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The student leaders in our midst

Together with four other friends, all Old Frees, I've been spending the whole of Saturday and Sunday at Penang Free School where we completed a second Student Leadership Workshop for some selected schoolboys from our Alma Mater.

It would have been a shame if we Old Frees do not contribute to the betterment of the Free School in whatever way we can. And my friends and I - Lim Siang Jin, Dr Cheah Swee Poh, Lim Teik Wah and Loh Lean Kang - thought it best to give our time to coach the potential leaders of our society on some soft skill development.

This workshop was actually the second half of two workshops that we had promised the boys. The first was held in April this year (click here to read my earlier story about the April workshop) and we had been amply encouraged by the response to conduct a follow-up for the same set of participants. At first, we had intended to have shorter follow-ups in May and then June, but time just did not allow them to happen. But finally, everything fell into place and the school agreed to find space for our second workshop.

As Old Frees who had celebrated the School's Bicentenary last year, we felt that the feel-good momentum must be maintained as much as possible and the beneficiaries of the momentum must be the present Frees themselves. My friends and I agreed that there was no point in celebrating for the sake of celebration alone if we could not do anything positive for the School.

Unfortunately, we are in no position to help raise money. We are not influential; we can't raise the millions required to improve the School physically. Neither are we capable to challenge the School in any sportive or recreational activity. The schoolboys will run rings around us any time. However, what we can do is to stimulate their minds intellectually and to guide them along on developing their soft skills.

Thus, these workshops were devised. Credit to Siang Jin for his meticulous planning and eye for detail. Lean Kang is a superb former corporate guy who contributed his experience and brought a lot of practical advice to the leadership workshop. Whereas, Swee Poh, Teik Wah and I reprised our roles as coaches to the boys. (Actually, Teik Wah had stepped in as a very capable replacement for Prof Tan Soo Choon who had some other work matters to attend to.)

I also contributed an after-dinner talk on Dr Wu Lien-Teh to make these boys understand how great a man he was. He saved the world from the scourge of the Black Plague but for all his international achievements, Wu Lien-Teh is only remembered in the School through a House that's named after him. Some of us hold the personal opinion that he was the greatest Old Free that Penang Free School had ever produced, greater than any other Old Free dead or alive!

Coming back to this Student Leadership Workshop, coaching these boys was a joy. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by young impressionable minds. The workshop materials made them punch well above their weights and they responded in a way that made us realise that there will always be a lot of hope for Penang Free School. Like I mentioned five months ago, we have many smart boys in our midst and if they were willing to absorb all new ideas thrown at them and served them back to us intelligently, the least we can do is to continue giving them the direction and encouragement to grow.

Again, I wish to emphasise that if you can touch the life of even one Free School schoolboy, you will have done your little bit for Penang Free School. My friends and I have managed to contribute a bit of our time through four long days with them and we now hope that others will do so too.

Finally, we thank headmaster Omar Abdul Rashid, senior assistant Syed Sultan Shaik Oothuman, The Old Frees' Association president Billy Yeoh and The Old Frees' Association committee member in charge of Alma Mater matters Lee Eu Beng for their support of our endeavours. Billy and Eu Beng actually came by to see for themselves how we worked. Much appreciated, guys, it's all for the School! Fortis atque Fidelis.

Attempting to solve a crossword puzzle

Happy faces absorbing in the information

Molding their minds through actual activity

The boys holding their own group discussions

Below and above, we had the boys reacting to the six coloured hats of Edward de Bono.

Au revoir to this group of boys. We hope to see a batch of new faces next year!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Senior moments

It is so easy to get an international chess rating nowadays. A real FIDE chess rating, not one that's calculated by a national chess federation or given by an online chess portal. A real FIDE chess rating that's recognised everywhere and comes from playing in FIDE-recognised tournaments worldwide.

In the far distant past, like in the 1980s or 1990s, the floor of the FIDE ratings have been gradually reduced from 2200 points to 2000 points till 1600 rating points today. With such a lowered rating floor and a subsequent popularisation of chess among the world-wide population at large, it has now been possible for more people to attain their chess ratings than ever before. Indeed, there are now three different types of international chess ratings: classical chess ratings for long time-control games, rapid chess ratings for short time-control games and blitz chess ratings for quick time-control games.

I never had an international chess rating until 2011. Indeed, I was a qualified International Arbiter long before I was a FIDE-rated player. In 2010, I was persuaded to participate in the Seniors open tournament at the Malaysia Chess Festival of that year. That was the first nine rated games that I played against other FIDE-rated players. Then in 2011, I played again in the Seniors open tournament and could claim another nine rated games, which was enough for me to get my first-ever international chess rating.

But then I stopped playing long time-control chess and only dabbled in the occasional rapid chess tournaments mainly in Penang. My FIDE rating became dormant. This year, however, I decided to play again in the Seniors section of the Malaysia Chess Festival. A six-year gap between my last game in 2011 and my first game in 2017.

Needless to say, there is a lot for me to catch up with. Like I mentioned in facebook, when I looked back on the games that I played in Kuala Lumpur last week, many of my chess strategies and chess thoughts were downright leaky, illogical and if I may add now, stupid. They might have looked logical enough when I was seated across from an opponent at the chess board but definitely, now a total embarrassment. But as one of my facebook friends commented, everyone below 2200 have the same problems, not only me. I shouldn't feel that discouraged. Ah well....

Maybe in a future post, I shall write something about one or two of the games I played in KL last week. They were not complete disasters. In fact, I could say that I was quite pleased with some of my leaky strategies. But that will be for the future. As for my chess rating, I fear that I could have lost some 40 points playing in that event and I should emerge from it with a mid-19 hundreds. But I shouldn't be discouraged about it too. Losing or gaining rating points, that comes with the game. The important thing is to enjoy playing and not over-stressing myself.

Thursday, 7 September 2017


Good morning! I woke up suddenly to find our very familiar celestial neighbour, still very full and round, shining directly at me through the window at 5.53am.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Riding for gold - a thirst for adventure

I had an interesting afternoon yesterday. At the last moment, I decided to attend the flagging off of David Wu's two-year cycling quest around the world in an attempt to raise funds for childhood cancer, in collaboration with the National Cancer Society Malaysia. It is an honourable project and he is accompanied on this venture by a young cameraman, Ving Lee.

For quite some time already, Wu had been bitten by this bug which made him want to go out of his comfort zone to raise funds for various projects.

For example, he had attempted to walk solo from Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan a few years back and he raised enough money to rebuild a house for a flood victim there. He had called it his #projectwumah then, an ingenious play on his surname.

Then, in a more ambitious project, he decided to cycle his way to his ancestral home in China, which took about four months to complete. On this venture, he was joined by two other friends who accompanied him into Thailand.

And so this is his latest adventure. Now irresistibly bitten by the travel bug, he decided that it should be nothing less than to cycle around the world to visit the seven wonders of the world. Forty countries, 35,000 kilometers. Originally, he was meant to do it alone but Ving Lee somehow got into the act to accompany him. Lee, I had gathered, is also a cameraman or photographer by profession and we can expect some wonderful pictures from him in the next two years.

Their travels will take them overland through Asia and Europe, and they will fly to the Americas and thence back to Asia to continue their cycling adventure down from China and back home.

Several weeks ago, Wu had expressed some difficulty applying for a visa to enter Pakistan and I had offered him some help to contact the honorary consul in Penang but eventually, I learnt that he had resolved the problem on his own in KL. Good for him.

So there I was at the National Cancer Society Malaysia headquarters yesterday. Just in time to hear the concluding speeches and then the flag-off from the society's premises.

With both Wu and Lee doing their bit to make a difference in this nation of ours, we can all also chip with with a ringgit or two of our money for this worthy fund-raising cause for childhood cancer.

To donate, bank in to Public Bank Berhad account no: 3988587622 in the name of The National Cancer Society of Malaysia.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Heavenly lovers

On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, we remember the greatest love story in Chinese mythology: the cowherd and his fairy princess.

A long time ago, the story goes, a fairy princess - the seventh daughter of a Goddess - descended to Earth and fell in love with a mortal cowherd. They married and had two children

The Goddess was angry and banished the princess back to heaven and forbade her to return to her lover, separating them with a wide river that is depicted by the Milky Way.

But one of the other Gods then took pity on the lovers and decreed that they could meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that day, a flock of magpies would form a heavenly bridge to connect both sides of the celestial river, thus allowing the fairy princess to be reunited with her cowherd.

As the Chinese day formally begins at 11pm every day, my family will worship the Chinese lovers every year at 11.30pm on the sixth night of the seventh lunar month. So it shall be tonight too.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Penang Street

Fancy that. In the eastern London Borough of Tower Hamlets, there is a short, quiet road that is named after Penang. Our little island is remembered in England; this is a part of England that is forever Penang! Unfortunately, I don't see any other Malaysian state similarly honoured although there is a Singapore Road to the west of Greater London. Penang Street is a quick four-minute walk from Wapping Station. 

The Farthing Fields end

The Prusom Street end

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Uninterruptible power supplies

I'm a firm believer of using the uninterruptible power supplies to connect up the sensitive computer equipment and electronic devices in the house for fear of having them fried during violent thunderstorms or sudden power blackouts. However, it still surprised me to discover that I have not one but three UPS units lying around. Just very recently, I was forced to replace the rechargeable batteries inside these UPS units as one by one, they decided to give up their ghosts. One by one over a period of several weeks, their alarms began sounding off, indicating the end of their battery life. I had no choice but to replace them. Now I'm left with the question of disposing these old batteries. Where can I go to dispose them off? I can't simply chuck them away in the rubbish bin.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Kalama Sutra

The Kalama Sutra, as taught by the Buddha.

Over a period of about three weeks, I had been posting these messages every few days on my facebook page and I must say that they did strike a chord and went down well with many of my friends. Actually, my opinion is that these are all very down-to-earth lessons from the Buddha, advice that are equally applicable to everyone from all walks of life. People should not look at them solely from the religious point-of-view. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Abdulla 37, again

Eight years ago, I tried to uncover some information about the notorious Abdulla 37 and got no-where. All that I ever achieved was some nonsense that read like this:

Last week, I saw an old facebook story by one of my friends in Singapore. I don't know where he got his information from but I felt that it was too important not to reproduce it here. Worthwhile stories on facebook tend to get buried through time but at least on blogs such as mine, you can still dig them out. Here it is, saved for perpetuity:
The Famous ABDULLA 37. Apparently, Singapore and Penang used to have two famous ladies of the night named after this cigarette brand. One plied her trade in Keong Saik Street in Singapore, the other along Chulia Street in Penang. Met a former mamasan who knew the Abdulla 37 lady of Penang. She was reportedly about 18 years old in the Sixties, much prettier than the famous Rose Chan and used to ride in a trishaw, the trishawman being the pimp who will be her bodyguard as well if the client misbehaved. The Abdulla 37 in Singapore was rumoured to have married and gone off to Penang to live whereas there is no word about the one in Penang except that unfortunately, she died of cancer. Wonder if they were one and the same lady? The cigarettes would be packed in gold leaf and the unfiltered brand of cigarettes in those days was Capstan.
Thanks, Stephen, for poking your nose where it's not supposed to be!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Drummer boy

The Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂) was invited to attend the 25th anniversary dinner of the Youth Section of the Chay Yeong Tong Sin Quah Chuah Chong Soo (济阳堂辛柯蔡宗祠) last night. My apprehension in attending such dinner functions was somewhat tempered when I learnt that my vice-president would also be seated at the same VIP table as me. Well, not the VVIP table - that would be left to the officer-bearers of the Sin Quah Chuah main committee - but still considered important enough to be seated with the representatives of other Chinese associations from around the country.

What I didn't expect was to be invited up on the stage to participate in a drum session. They had to call my name for me to realise that I would be required to be present together with a host of other "drummers." Oh well.... Anyway, the appreciation gift will be kept at the Swee Cheok Tong later when we have one of our committee meetings.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Simon Junior and Patrina

I thought calamity had struck me a very long time ago when I managed to spoil one of my prized 45rpm records. Due to some mishap - I have forgotten what had happened - the record cracked and an edge had chipped off which left it in an unplayable condition. Imagine the heartbreak that followed. This was a rather unique song by a local Indian singer named Anura Simon. He went by the stage name of Simon Junior and had released quite a number of 45s singing Chinese songs with English lyrics. But he was also a member of a Singapore band called Maurice and the Melodians, playing drums. In the 1960s, Maurice and the Melodians were a popular A-Go-Go instrumental band that backed countless Chinese singers.

By some good luck I laid my hands on a replacement copy of this same 45rpm record more than four years ago when the family of a late friend gave me the latter's record collection to me after he died. I didn't notice the record's presence until several months had passed when I finally sat down to go through my new treasure chest. Hey, here was the record again and this copy was intact.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Wimbledon underwear

I read this commentary in the online version of the UK's The Guardian newspaper. It was about the Wimbledon dress code whereby all players were required to wear white on the courts:

Of all the rules at Wimbledon – and there are many – surely none is more outdated than one referring to players’ clothing. Not the part that insists they should wear “almost entirely white” attire, something players do not mind. But rather the one that refers to the colour of their underwear and how visible it is during play. First Venus Williams was asked to change her pink bra in a first-round match, which drew a suitably clipped response to a media inquiry: “I don’t like talking about bras in press conferences. It’s weird.” On Wednesday, four junior doubles players were asked to change their underwear because it could be seen under their white shorts, and on Thursday the 18‑year‑old Austrian Jurij Rodionov was asked by a supervisor to show her his underwear. “Yesterday I wore black pants and nobody said anything and today I wore blue and suddenly it’s a problem,” he said. “It was a big surprise for me.” Rodionov said Wimbledon provided him with two white pairs. “One was a little bit too big but these ones were OK,” he said. Asked if the rule was outdated, he said: “Wimbledon is always special. Maybe it’s a little bit too much but I like that the players only have to wear white. It’s tradition.”
There seemed to be an interesting thread about this dress code thingy, especially when it concerned Wimbledon officials demanding players to show them the top of their underwear in order to verify the colour, like in this story:

Junior player told to change underwear after falling foul of rules
A junior player at Wimbledon was made to lower part of his shorts to reveal the colour of his underwear on Thursday as part of a crackdown on non-regulation clothing. Play was delayed for at least 10 minutes when Austrian junior Jurij Rodionov was ordered off court to change his non-white underwear because it contravened Wimbledon’s strict dress code. In a bizarre scene, the 18-year-old had to pull down his shorts a little at the request of a female official so a call could be made. After the game, he said it was a “big surprise” as he had worn the same dark underwear in his first game and they had gone unnoticed. 
Of course, this news report did not go unnoticed and it prompted a reader to make a little wisecrack (sic) of his own in the newspaper itself:

Durian interlude

Hopefully, this will be the start of something fresh at the Swee Cheok Tong (Quah Kongsi): an annual fun get-together for the members apart from the more staid annual dinners or committee meetings. On Sunday, I had arranged for the committee and their family members to go for a durian eating session in Relau on the south-eastern part of the island. Although we have 16 committee members in total, only seven responded to the outing. Two others pulled out eventually at the last minute, leaving only five members. Still, I managed to round up 10 people who, together with our host, then sat down for lunch before we opened the fruit. Everybody did enjoy themselves and I would want to get this group together again next year, hopefully with a better response.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Steppenwolf - For ladies only

I remember that in my late teenaged years - I could have been in Upper Six at school - I had borrowed this record, For Ladies Only, from a record shop in Campbell Street (Wing Hing Records, to give the shop its name). Steppenwolf was a Canadian band and some of their well-known songs had included Born to be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride. As I was familiar with those tunes, I had brought home the record with some anticipation. Imagine my surprise when I opened the gatefold - in those years, albums were all plastic-wrapped until bought - to find a picture of a car along Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Not any ordinary car but THIS car. I like to imagine that this car is still around somewhere in the United States but I would wonder how much preserved the vehicle is now. Who owns it? Is it still usable? Does anyone still drives it around?

Unfortunately, I had to return the disc to the shop after a few days because after all, it was borrowed. It was not until decades later when I went back to listening records that I managed to track down the album from a second-hand store. Such was the deep impression that the inner gatefold cover had given me! Although the cover wasn't in tip-top shape, the record itself was still in decent condition. Dusty but nothing like a good cleaning could remove but most importantly, no scratches and very little pops and crackles.

Side One: For ladies only, Sparkle eyes, Shackles and chains, Tenderness
Side Two: The night time's for you, Jaded strumpet, I'm asking, Black pit, Ride with me, In hopes of a garden

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Pasar malam

I can't remember when was the last time that I had went to the Friday pasar malam in my neighbourhood but after all these years of absence, we went there yesterday and were surprised by the wide variety of street food available. The stalls would start appearing at Cangkat Damai in Bukit Mertajam as early as five o'clock and in my opinion, the best time to go the pasar malam would be around 7pm when the road is not so packed.

The pasar malam is not only about food. There are traders selling all sorts of household and other stuff, but what I'm going to show here are just the street food vendors

The food must be pretty good to have so many people waiting patiently so early in the evening.

 Taiwanese burger, according to this hawker's signboard

 Fruits galore

 Taiwanese sausage

 One of three stalls selling koay kak

 This Pak Cik sells the ever-popular Malay version of pan cham koay

 More fruits on sale. The going price for the chempedak was RM10 per kilo which was immensely exorbitant considering that at the market last year, I could buy the Chempedak Champion for RM7 per kilo.

 The Malay lekor, which is more popular on the east coast rather than here.

Care for Vietnamese popiah

Now, this is something that's very rarely seen. Marinated pork wrapped in a thin layer of pork fat.

Of course, there must be the kampong durian

Uhmm...I wouldn't know what to call these fried stuff but the ones in the foreground are yam balls.