Saturday, 25 February 2017

My annual worship of Tua Pek Kong

Earlier this month during the Chap Goh Meh morning, my wife made the rare decision to follow me to the Quah Kongsi where we were having our annual worship session for the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. After that, we proceeded to Armenian Street as I had wanted to visit the Poh Hock Seah temple. This is the temple that houses the Tua Pek Kong deity.

On the 14th day of the first lunar month, the Tua Pek Kong would be taken on a procession around the city, starting from this temple, and wind its way to the Hai Choo Soo temple in Tanjong Tokong. At night when the high tide covered the biggest boulder in the sea, the chneah hoey or flame-watching ceremony would take place. The members of the temple committee would fan the urn until flames shoot out from the embers. The height of the flames would predict the prosperity of Penang until the next year.

And on the 15th day, the Tua Pek Kong would be invited back to his seat at the Poh Hock Seah, accompanied by firecrackers when the procession reached the temple's entrance.

Since about six years ago, after the worship at my Kongsi, I would make my way to the Poh Hock Seah. It's only a short walk away from the Kongsi in Carnarvon Lane, not more than 15 minutes, and no big deal for me. And in the past six years, I've been lucky to have been around Armenian Street once to witness the Tua Pek Kong arriving home. Even though I missed the event this year - the deity having already arrived back - I would pay homage at the temple.

That annual offering over, we ordered a plate of mee goreng from the mobile hawker across the road. In her quest to find the definitive plate of mee goreng in Penang, which she hasn't discovered yet, my wife wanted to taste the food from this particular stall. Who knows, this might be a gold mine.

Unfortunately, no. It turned out to be about the driest and most tasteless plate of mee goreng that we had ever had. In my opinion, the hawker, in his haste to earn the tourist dollars, had totally compromised on the quality of his fare. It was the worst of the worst. Unsuspecting outstation tourists may not know better but never again would we locals order anything from this stall. And I think nobody else should. Be forewarned.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A mysterious speckle

I woke up at about six thirty this morning and then decided to go outside the house. Unlike yesterday, the sky was clear and there it was, Jupiter hanging high up above me. I took out my camera and started shooting in multiple mode. Yes, this time, all four of the Galilean moons were visible when I digitally magnified the frames. But wait a minute. What was that very barely visible speckle of light that was moving up from the lower right corner of the pictures. Asteroid? Space junk? Dirt on my lens? Could be anything. The sequence below shows its migration.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Al Stewart and Peter White

This is a wonderful album which I never fail to take out from my collection to give it an occasional spin on the turntable. Year of the Cat is considered to be Al Stewart's best studio album. Doesn't the saxophone part give you a thrill when it comes on in the song?

Incidentally, playing the guitar on the album was Peter White. Who's Peter White, one may ask? Well, all I can say briefly is that he is an accomplished musician who is best known as a smooth jazz and fusion jazz guitarist. However, he also has a 20-year collaboration with Stewart on the latter's albums. He was part of a fusion jazz band called Windows, but also as a recording artist in his own right. I've three of his compact discs from the early 1990s, titled Reveillez-vous, Excusez-moi and Promenade. At the time that I started buying these compact discs, I had yet to know that White was an integral part on Stewart's team. That realisation came much later.

Side One: Lord Grenville, On the border, Midas shadow, Sand in your shoes, If it doesn't come naturally leave it
Side Two: Flying sorcery, Broadway hotel, One stage before, Year of the cat

Friday, 17 February 2017

New tools in the spiritual toolbox

When it came to retiring from my job at in December 2009, my office mates had thrown me a farewell party on the final day of my working life with them. The inevitable farewell speech was required of me and I stood up hesitatingly not knowing what to tell them initially. Then I remembered having read a book by Ajahn Brahm, the abbot of a Buddhist monastery in Western Australia.

Out of the many memorable and inspiring stories in the book, a few had left an impression in my mind and I resolved then and there to share my version of one of the stories with my soon-to-be-former colleagues.

It was the story of the emperor's three questions. Before I go on further, I may say that when I related it, there was full concentration from my former colleagues. Not a sound from them. I hope that the story had left an impression on them too.

Here then is the story of the emperor's three questions, as related by Ajahn Brahm in his philosophical book for all ages, Who ordered this truckload of dung? With apologies to the abbot, I have taken the liberty to exclude what I feel would be adding unnecessary length to my own post.
Long ago, an emperor sought a philosophy of life. He needed wisdom to guide his rule and govern himself. The religions and philosophies of the time did not satisfy him. So he searched for his philosophy in the experience of life.
Eventually, he realised that he required the answers to only three fundamental questions. With those answers, he would have all the wise guidance he needed. The three questions were these:
1. When is the most important time?
2. Who is the most important person?
3. What is the most important thing to do?
After a long search, he found the three answers on a visit to a hermit. What do you think the answers are? Look at the questions again, please. Pause, before you read on.
We all know the answer to the first question, but we forget it too often. The most important time is "now." That is the only time we ever have. So if you want to tell your Mom or Dad how much you really love them, how grateful you are for them being your parents, do so now. Not tomorrow. Not in five minutes. Now. In five minutes it is often too late. If you need to say sorry to your partner, don't start thinking of all the reasons why you shouldn't. Just do it right now. The opportunity may not come again. Grab the moment.
The answer to the second question is powerfully profound. Few people ever guess the correct answer. It saw deeper into the question than I'd ever imagined. The answer is that the most important person is the one you are with.
I recalled asking questions of college professors and not being fully heard. They were outwardly listening but inwardly wanting me to go. They were outwardly listening but inwardly wanting me to go. They had more important things to do. That's what I felt, and it was a rotten feeling. I also recalled rousing my courage to approach a famous lecturer and ask a personal question, and being surprised and so pleased that he was giving me his total attention. Other professors were waiting to speak with him, I was a mere long-haired student, but he made me feel important. The difference was huge.
Communication, and love, can only be shared when the one you are with, no matter who they are, is the most important person in the world for you, at that time. They feel it. They know it. They respond.
Married couples often complain that their partner doesn't really listen to them. What they mean is that their partner doesn't make them feel important anymore. Divorce lawyers would have to look for other work if every person in a relationship remembered the answer to the emperor's second question and put it into practice, so that no matter how tired or busy we are, when we are with our partner, we make them feel as though they are the most important person in the world.
In business, where the person we are with is a potential customer, if we treat them as the most important person for us at that time, our sales will go up and with it our salary.
The emperor in the original story escaped assassination by fully listening to the advice of a small boy on his way to visit the hermit. When a powerful emperor is with a mere child, that boy is the most important person in the world for him, and saves the emperor's life. When friends come up to me after a long day to tell me about their problems, I remember the answer to the emperor's second question and give them total importance. It is selflessness. Compassion supplies the energy, and it works.
Most of the time in your life you are by yourself. Then, the most important person, the one you are with, is you. There is plenty of time to give importance to yourself. Who is the first person you are aware of when you wake up in the morning? You! Do you ever say, "Good morning, me. Have a nice day!"? I do. Who is the last person you are aware of when you go to sleep? Yourself again! I say goodnight to myself. I give myself importance in the many private moments of my day. It works.
The answer to the emperor's third question, "What is the most important thing to do?" is to care. "To care" brings together being careful and caring. The answer illustrates that it is where we are coming from that is the most important thing.
So what again are the emperor's three questions? Here they are again, with the answers:

1. When is the most important time? Now.
2. Who is the most important person? The person you are with.
3. What is the most important thing to do? To care.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Stony stare

Every time I visit the Khoo Kongsi in George Town, I never fail to marvel at the pair of stone statues of Bengali guards which stand silently at the entrance into the main building. Especially, their watchful eyes stare dolefully, even disapprovingly, at the hordes of visitors. If the statues could think, I wonder what are in their minds?

Friday, 10 February 2017

PY 229

A week ago, I was wandering through the heritage precinct of George Town during Penang's annual Chinese New Year celebrations. Apart from the usual cultural exhibits of everything Chinese and the overwhelming presence of hawkers hawking Penang's street food at the turn of every corner, there was also a display of vintage cars.

I wasn't surprised to find this brilliantly red Mercedes Benz among the cars. My surprise was in seeing the car's number plate: PY 229. Why? Because this number plate used to adorn an old Datsun car in Seberang Jaya on the mainland. In the 1980s, it belonged to my father-in-law. It was his pride: the first and only car that he had ever owned. But he decided to part with his prized vehicle when the whole family moved to Bandar Mutiara in Simpang Ampat.

We had no idea what had become of the car but someone bought it up and transferred the number plate to this Benz. The number meant nothing to my father-in-law but it must have meant something to the number plate's new owner.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Penang's oldest schools

So today is the 100th anniversary of Chung Ling High School. My friends from CLHS are celebrating the Chung Ling Centenary with a grand reunion dinner on their school grounds tonight. Good for them. Congratulations. Yet another school reaching a respectable old age. That coming in the wake of my own alma mater, Penang Free School, celebrating her Bicentenary (200 years) on 21 October 2016 last year. Free School leads; others follow behind.

Which brings up the question of which other secondary schools in Penang have celebrated or will celebrate big milestones in their long histories? I've been doing some digging up and made up a list of those schools that were established before the onset of the Second World War. Naturally, the list is not exhaustive and chances are great that I may have missed out on a few great names or the year of establishment may be wrong. Either way, do let me know. Here is my list:
Penang Free School (established 1816)
St. Xavier’s Institution (established 1852)
Convent Light Street (established 1852)
St. George’s Girls' School (established 1884)
Methodist Boys’ School (established 1891)
Methodist Girls’ School (established 1892)
SMK Methodist Nibong Tebal (Anglo-Tamil School) (established 1898)
St. Mark's Secondary School (Butterworth English School) (established 1901)
Chung Hwa Confucian High School (established 1904)
SMK Agama Al-Mashoor (established 1916)
Chung Ling High School (established 1917)
Jit Sin High School (established 1918)
SMK St. George (St. Anthony’s School) (Balik Pulau English School) (established 1918)
Penang Chinese Girls High School (established 1919)
High School Bukit Mertajam (established 1927)
Union High School (established 1928)
Hutchings Secondary School (established 1928)
Convent Butterworth (established 1930)
Kolej Vokasional Batu Lanchang (established 1931)
Convent Bukit Mertajam (established 1934)
Convent Dato’ Kramat (established 1935)
Phor Tay High School (established 1935)
SMK Agama Al-Irshad (established 1936)
Among the primary schools in Penang, I can only recall the following ones that were set up before the War and are still in existence: SK Permatang Damar Laut (established 1864), SK Ayer Itam (Ayer Itam Government School) (established 1881), SK Teluk Kumbar (established 1882), Pykett Methodist School (established 1891), St. Xavier's Branch School (established 1906), SK Juara in Cherok To'kun (established 1908), Hutchings School (established 1928), Francis Light School (established 1930), Westlands School (formerly Government English School Northam Road, established 1922) (established 1935) and Wellesley Primary School (formerly Hillview Government English School, established 1924) (established 1936). No doubt, there may be many more, especially since I haven't also dug up anything on the Chinese primary schools yet.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

BM Hill, revisited

By my estimate, it must have been about six months since I last stepped foot on the hiking trail that ran beside the stream at the Bukit Mertajam recreation park in Cherok Tokun. I had the opportunity to do so this morning and by a good coincidence, I had decided to bring along my camera. So here are a few pictures that I took along the way: and no, I did not go to the hill's summit or even till the tea house. I exited the hill track at the metal steps and made my way down by the tarmac road.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A monk's bowl

I had the opportunity to take a peek inside a monk's bowl today and what did I see? I saw different morsels of food that devotees had contributed towards the monks' mid-day meals. A mixture of rice, cooked dishes, cakes and fruits...all still neatly arranged in the bowl. It could have been a worse combination, the Australian abbot Ajahn Brahm once said, having to eat curry and ice-cream together from the same container.

Ray Peterson: Missing you

The first time that I had ever heard of Ray Peterson was on Skeeter Davis' album called Here's The Answer. Unlike other records, Davis' album consisted of her singing answers to six original country songs. Thus, Peterson's song, Tell Laura I Love Her was answered with Davis' Tell Tommy I Miss Him. This album seemed to be very popular here because I've seen so many copies of it in second-hand record stores.

Peterson had at least two versions of this song and I particularly liked the version that had appeared in the Davis album. Recently when I listened to the version in Peterson's album, Missing You, which was supposed to be a collection of his greatest hits, I felt impassive. The song failed to register the same feeling of pathos and poignancy. It was as if it was sung by a different person.

Several years ago, I came across a YouTube video of Peterson singing The Wonder of You. I know that the song was made popular by none other by Elvis Presley but to hear it delivered by Peterson was to see the song in a different light. It was all tender and nostalgic. The Wonder of You is also featured in Missing You.

Side One: Corinna Corinna, Ya ya, Hey little one, Hooked on a feeling, Tell Laura I love her, Love the understanding way
Side Two: Goodnight my love pleasant dreams, The wonder of you, Me myself and I, Funny how time slips away, I can't help it (if I'm still in love with you), Missing you

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Three moons of Jupiter

I woke up a bit early today - actually, six-thirty in the morning is not early - and went out of the house to enjoy the cool morning air. It's second nature for me to glance up to look at the stars, moon and what-not, and I saw what I believed to be the planet, Jupiter, in the still-dark sky. So I went for my camera and snapped a few pictures for confirmation. Yup, I was correct. The bright spot in the sky was indeed the largest planet in our solar system. Plus, three of the four Galilean moons could be seen clearly. Couldn't view the fourth moon: I think it was either transiting in front of the planet or occulted behind it.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The solar terms defined

It is appropriate that today, being technically the first day of the Chinese New Year according to the lunisolar calendar, should be devoted to me saying something about the Solar Term.

The Solar Term is an ancient Chinese invention. But before I say anything else, I should first mention that just like the earth can be divided into 360 imaginary longitudinal degrees, so can the heavens above us.

Through thousands of years, the learned astrologers in ancient China made it into their art form. They divided the heavens, or sky, into 360 degrees with the zero-degree celestial longitude defined by the Vernal or Spring equinox, corresponding with the start of the new year in the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

The Chinese astrologers went further by grouping the heavens into 24 solar terms, with each solar term corresponding to 15 degrees of the sky. During the year, the sun will be seen to transit from one solar term to the next.

In technical terms, the Coming of Spring or Li Chun (立春) (or as we say in Penang Hokkien, Lip Chun) occurs on the first day of the first Chinese solar term when the sun crosses the 315-degree celestial longitude which is usually on a fourth of February. (There are occasional variations, like in this year which Li Chun occurs today, 03 February 2017. I had elaborated on this here.) The true Chinese New Year actually starts on this day, irrespective of the new moon's appearance any time between the 21st of January and 19th of February.

Likewise, we know that the Clear and Bright festival or Qing Ming (清明) (or Cheng Beng) takes place on the first day of the fifth solar term (sun crossing the 15-degree celestial longitude), usually on a fifth of April. I say "usually" because every now and then, there may be a one-day difference. Note: Cheng Beng occurs 45 days after Lip Chun.

Another pertinent point of interest in the Chinese lunisolar calendar is the Winter Solstice or Dong Zhi (冬至) (or Tang Chik) on the first day of the 22nd solar term when the sun crosses the 270-degree celestial longitude usually on the 22nd of December. Note: Tung Chik occurs 45 days before Lip Chun.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Najib wishes you Happy CNY

High School Bukit Mertajam's 90th anniversary dinner

I had the opportunity last month to attend the 90th anniversary dinner of the High School Bukit Mertajam, of which my wife happened to be an Old Girl of this school. When we first got wind of the dinner - that would be at the end of November - she had asked some of her friends whether or not they'd be interested to attend but then received no reply at all from any of them! She was disappointed and she told me that she wouldn't want to go either as a result. I had also approached one or two people whom I knew to be from the High School but they were not interested too.

I too was disappointed. You would think that their old school days would hold many pleasant memories for them; memories that would make them want to come back and enjoy the company of their old friends. Or were they waiting for their school's 100th anniversary to roll along before they join in the fun? I hope not. That would be in 10 years' time. Are you prepared to wait 10 years? You'll be 10 years older and no telling whether you'll still be free then. Or healthy then. No, don't wait. The time for your reunion is now.

I had already underwent that same ritual, having immersed myself fully when my old school, Penang Free School, celebrated her Bicentenary last October. I know how it feels to meet all your old school mates again. I would call on everyone to celebrate and meet your own school pals whenever you can. Or even if you think that you can't, please make time for it so that you can. You won't regret the decision!

Anyway, my wife eventually did go to the anniversary dinner. One of her friends came back from Kota Kinabalu and that was good enough a reason for her to buy a ticket (two tickets actually, because I went along too) at the very last minute. We even went out of our way to pick up one of her old, retired teachers along the way. My wife was happy and excited to have renewed her acquaintance and rebuilt her friendship with several people there and as for me, I was happy enough that she was happily enjoying herself.