Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Aiwa AD-F800, my old friend

The cassette tape deck, like the record turntable, is like an old friend. You always appreciate an old friendship.

And today, I decided to look through my collection of old cassette tapes and insert it into my Aiwa AD-F800 stereo cassette deck. This was a collection of assorted songs that I had asked a music shop at KOMTAR in George Town, Penang, to compile for me way back in March 1983. That was a time when record shops were still flourishing. And they had no qualms about transferring music from their records to cassette tapes, customising them according to their customers' requests. So I'm guilty of music pirating, like hundreds or thousands of other music lovers then, ignorant of violating music copyright.

Initially, I wasn't expecting too much from an old tape that hadn't been played in a very long while. I half-expected the audio quality to have degraded. Maybe the spool would get stuck inside the machine or the magnetic tape would unravel. Maybe there'd be a lot of distortion in the music.

But I was surprised. The audio quality on this particular cassette tape seemed quite intact. The music that came out from my sound system sounded remarkably fresh. Of course, what couldn't be eliminated were the faint pops and crackles - the background noise - as these were picked up from the records during the taping process and not an inherent quality of the tape I used.

I feel encouraged. Perhaps I should bring out more of my old cassettes and see how they sound today. I'm sure to find a few more in near-pristine condition.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Seal of the East India Company

Would you consider this an historical find? It's exciting when one manages to get ones hands onto old documents which go way back into time. As for me, I was thrilled to see this document - part of a title deed - which dated back to the Year 1818, that is, 34 years after the founding of the Prince of Wales' Island as an English trading post by Capt Francis Light in 1786.

When Light died in 1794, his position as the Superintendent of this English settlement passed through several hands. The Prince of Wales' Island was later elevated to a Presidency of India with George Town as the administrative centre and governed through a Lieutenant-Governor who was appointed by the East India Company in Madras, India. In 1800, Sir George Leith was the Lieutenant-Governor but by 1817, this position of Governor was filled by Colonel John Alexander Bannerman who died in office in 1819.

What intrigued me most about this document was the red wax seal. Clearly, this was the seal of the East India Company in Prince of Wales' Island in 1818. I had a bit of a problem trying to make out the details on the seal as it is now 199 years old but I believe that I may have most of the marks identified. However, I may still be wrong in my conclusions.

Firstly, the semi-circular scroll in the bottom half of the seal. Without any doubt, it read as PRINCE OF WALES' ISLAND, the pompous old name for Penang as adopted by Light.

Secondly, adorning the top half of the seal in a semi-circular design were UNIT●E●IND●COMP which surely must have stood for the United East India Company. But I was bothered by the word UNIT or "United". Why was UNIT included in the seal? As far as I know, the United East India Company would refer to the Dutch East India(n) Company. Perhaps someone, a historian perhaps, can help shed some light on the matter.

Finally, the centre of the seal featured the cross of the East India Company and in the top left quadrant, I could make out a crown on top of a small shield. The shield itself was divided into four parts and there were some semblance of wavy lines in its top right and bottom left quadrants.

Friday, 26 May 2017

How a virtual coin scheme works

I copied this from someone on facebook. This is an illustrated flow chart to show how a virtual coin scheme works. Is this anywhere close to being a pyramid or ponzi scheme? Where is the money invested and how does the 50 percent bonus come about?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Digging into Swee Cheok Tong's past

It has been a long while since I wrote anything about the history of the Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂) because, well, with my superficial understanding of the history of the Quah Kongsi to which I belong, there was hardly anything that I considered worthwhile enough to add.

But in the past few days, I have uncovered some historical information that has astounded and made me feel all excited. What happened was that I had opened a wooden safe in the premises and instantly felt very curious about several packages there which were wrapped in newspapers. Among them was a stack of very old legal documents: poll deeds, trust deeds, indentures, conveyances, etc.

I decided to look closely into these documents. Clearly, they were all related one way or another to the properties that the Kongsi was holding. But the problem was that the documents were in very delicate condition. Some was almost brittle with old age and threatening to fall apart in my hands. (No great surprise here, seeing that this was very similar to the condition of the old books and magazines in the Archives of the Penang Free School when I was investigating the school's history some two to three years back.)

Coming back to the matter at hand, I checked that in November 2013, I had written this about the Kongsi:
All I know about our Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) comes from the official Rules and Regulations of the Kongsi, which states that the clan house in Penang, Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂), was established in 1846 (Pia Gor year in the reign of Emperor Toh Kong (道光帝)) by the Ow Quah clansmen that originated from Tia Boay (village), Tung Uahn Kuan (district), Chuan Chew Hoo (prefecture), Hock Kian Seng (province), China.
In these Rules and Regulations, which were dated 5 Dec 1941, it was acknowledged that the Ow-Quah clansmen that had established the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi were members of the family of the Hye Inn Tong (海印堂) ancestral worship hall in Tia Boay.
So far, the only physical evidence I could find about the Swee Cheok Tong's link to the Hye Inn Tong was the prominent plague above our main altar in the Kongsi House.

But none of the elders in our Kongsi, myself included, had any clue at all about how this had come about. Hardly surprising again, because we are from the generation that were born in the mid-1950s and only came to be involved with the Kongsi some 40 years later...in the mid-1990s. Some snippets of the Kongsi's unsubstantiated history were heard only verbally from our own elders. But it is true that there is a Hye Inn Tong temple back in our ancestral village in China. However, we have hardly any contact at all with the temple there.

I am happy to say now that after looking through some of the legal documents in our possession, I may have established the connection between the Swee Cheok Tong and the Hye Inn Tong.

This image below formed part of a document I uncovered: an Indenture made on the 31st of December 1913(!). Yes, the year was Nineteen Thirteen, more than a century ago. The particular sentence that caught my eye was:
"....as Trustees of the said Swee Cheok Tong Kongsee (which previous to the year 1868 was known as Hai In Tong Kongsee) are now..." 
Spellings aside, which I believe is no big deal since spellings do change through time, including the spelling of my own surname, this sentence not only affirmed that the Quah Kongsi had existed well before 1868 (established in 1846), but that the Swee Cheok Tong and the Hai In Tong (or Hye Inn Tong) are one and the same entity. A breath-taking discovery indeed.

Actually, Swee Cheok Tong and Hye Inn Tong are not the only names adopted by the Quah Kongsi in the past. When our ancestors arrived from China in the early or mid-18th Century, they had brought over a joss-stick urn of the Poh Seng Tai Tay (保生大帝) , also known as the Tai Tay Eah (大帝爷社) deity, for worship in the Nanyang.

The worship of Tai Tay Eah would be one of the few spiritual ties that the immigrants kept with their home village.

In some another documents I saw, there were constant references to a Tai Tay Eah Society, formed and established in and around 1846, and which later became the Swee Cheok Tong in 1868. See, for example, the image above from a Trust Deed dated 1898, which read: ".... in trust for the Tai Teh Yah Society otherwise called the Swee Cheok Tong Kongsee or the Seh Kwah Kongsee ...."

So we know as a certainty from these legal documents that at various periods in the past, the present Swee Cheok Tong was known as both the Tai Tay Eah Society (or Tai Ta Yah Society) and the Hye Inn Tong (or Hai In Tong).

But when did the name transition take place? When did the Tai Tay Eah Society become first the Hye Inn Tong and later the Swee Cheok Tong?

For that I've to refer to yet another document in which someone had scribbled in the margin a very long time ago. The scribbling said that the Tai Tay Eah Society was renamed as the Hai In Tong in 1864 and four years later in 1868, it assumed its present name of Swee Cheok Tong. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any other document that can confirm the 1864 date.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ball-less wonder

Hello, you ball-less mutt. It must have been about two years since I first met you in our neighbourhood. You were a handsome stray male dog then. You still are. I remember that I was on one of my evening walks when you came out of no-where and started following us around. I had remarked then to my wife that you were a very healthy dog for your coat of hair was shining.

One day, you went missing and we were wondering what had become of you. Then by chance, we met you at the nearby Kampong Baharu market in Bukit Mertajam. You were scavenging for food. But the moment you saw us, you came round and follow us around the wet market. So it went on for months. We would meet you either during our neighbourhood walks or at the market.

About a year ago, you went missing again and this time, you were gone for a very long time. It surprised us that we could miss you and on top of that, we were very concerned for your well-being. Thus, we were quite relieved to bump into you again in the neighbourhood after several months had passed by. But you had become very much thinner. Your once muscular frame was almost a bag of bones and your hair had become dull and very dirty.

But immediately when you saw us, you became excited. I had described it once on facebook how your tail started wagging non-stop in a circle. It wasn't a simple wag. Your tail twirled round and round and round, like a fan at full speed. Clearly you were so happy to see us. The feeling, you could say, was mutual. We were glad too to meet you again. But when I took a closer look at you, I was concerned that your mouth seemed to have been bashed in. Either you had been involved in an accident or someone had walloped you until your lower left canine tooth was hanging loose at an obscene angle.

A short while later, we found that someone in the neighbourhood had taken pity and had adopted you. You now has a mattress to sleep on, you are fed regularly, your coat of hair now shinier but best of all to our surprise, you have a female companion in the house. Inevitably, the bitch got pregnant. Initially, we thought that you were responsible for the female's condition but after a while, we began having doubts whether you were at all the father!

Why do I say this? It's because I've suddenly noticed that you have been neutered. Since when was this dastardly deed carried out? I don't know. But I believe it could have happened at the same time that your new owner had taken you to the vet to have your broken tooth removed. Possibly at the same time, you had your balls cut off too. Ouch! I know you have recovered from this ignominious ordeal but still, every time I see you during our evening walks, I feel a tinge of sadness to see you trotting along with us with a ball-less scrotum sack between your legs.

But you know what? I don't think it mattered much to you past the initial discomfort. If you do have feelings, if you do have pride, it does not show. You still follow us around the neighbourhood, barking at other dogs in their compounds and urinating everywhere to leave your mark. Lately, you would even plop down in front of our gate for a while - by now, you feel so comfortable in our presence - but we are sorry that we can't keep you. You have a new home now and that is where you belong. But don't worry, you'll still see us occasionally in the evenings.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta Penang 2017

So there I found myself, outside The Top's Grand Ballroom on Level 5 of the KOMTAR podium. Or what used to be the KOMTAR podium. At one time, this place used to have a very outdated food court which was accessible from the grand open-air staircase from Prangin Road or from the very inefficient internal lift outside the Pacific Hypermarket and Department Store. But since about six months ago when rejuvenation process was completed, the KOMTAR Level 5 has been transformed into The Top.

Just the day before, I was here at the very same place to buy my tickets to The Top's 65th and 68th floors of KOMTAR. But for now, it was to attend a very special seminar that would kick off the month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta, organised by the Penang Chefs Association.

Let me make it clear from the onset that I'm no chef although I must admit that my kitchen skills have improved from boiling an egg to cooking a decent chicken chop. All self-taught over a period of about five years. Anyway, I'm digressing.

I was just in time for lunch, starting at 12.30pm. All around me were men and women in white uniforms. Not nurses but chefs. Professional chefs from the hotels and restaurants, to student chefs from the colleges in Penang. Not knowing what to expect, I sat down at an empty table but it soon filled up with other people. Luckily, a friend came around to put me at ease. Have your lunch, he said, but be forewarned that there will be more to eat until tonight! Ooo, what have I gotten myself into?

Lunch over, we adjourned to another part of the Grand Ballroom, partitioned off, where there was an hour-long presentation on Potatoes USA. Interesting information. Who would have guessed that potatoes could be so nutritious? And who would have guessed that US potatoes should be kept frozen in their packages at temperatures of between -12 to -18 degrees Celsius? And who would have guessed that frozen potatoes should be cooked, for example, frying them, without thawing? Well, all that - and more - I learnt from the hour-long presentation.

Balinese chef Henry Alexie Bloem in his element during the cooking demonstration. Bloem is also the president of the Indonesian Chef Association.

The highlight of the afternoon, a cooking demonstration by Balinese chef Henry Alexie Bloem, came after the tea break. Chef Bloem delighted the audience with his various recipes that incorporated US potatoes into Balinese creations.

He started off with the US tater drums with sweet mayo and fried otak-otak US hash browns, and followed in quick succession with the US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal, US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon and US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, before rounding off his demonstration with the US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate. All I can say from watching the fascinating cooking demonstration was, burp!

Left to right: US tater drums with sweet mayo, fried otak-otak US hash browns, US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal
Left to right: US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon, US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate

At the end of the seminar, we were brought to the main lobby of The Top for the official launch of the Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta by Joani Dong, the Regional Agricultural Attache of the United States Department of Agriculture who is based at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Joani Dong (left) from the US Embassy launching the US Fries Fiesta together with Chef Audee Cheah (right) of the Penang Chefs Association

Ringing the audience were food presentations by 20 participating hotels and restaurants, namely, 45 Degrees Fahrenheit, Artichoke Café, Cititel Penang, Coco Cabana Bar & Bistro, D’Fat Mona Lisa Cafe, Escobar Wine & Deli, Hotel Royal Penang, Kaffa Espresso Bar, Kelawei, Lexis Suites Penang, Olive Pizza & Pasta, Perut Rumah Nyonya Cuisine, Pony Tale de Cafe, Richdad Coffee, Roxbury Pub & Bistro, St Giles Wembley, The LightBulb, The Northam All Suites Hotel, UMI Traditional Malay Cuisine and What the Duck Restaurant.

The month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta runs from 1-31 May 2017, and customers who patronise the participating outlets during the fiesta month will get to enjoy US potatoes cooked in the inimitable styles of the different establishments. Bon appetit, you have a whole month to enjoy the bee kok huan choo!

Representatives from the participating establishments after they had received their certificates from the US Embassy Attache

Some of the unique creations showcased by the participating hotels and restaurants. The common denominator among them was, of course, the US potato featured in all the dishes one way or another.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Busy week behind me

Last week was a particularly pre-occupied week for me. Had so much things to do on a personal level that I had almost no energy left at the end of every day.

For example, the whole of Monday morning was spent on a trip to Balik Pulau. No, it wasn't to enjoy the local food there particularly but rather, to catch up with a cousin who wanted to have wills written for herself and her husband. We travelled to the other side of the island (that is, "balik pulau"), got their wills signed and then proceeded to lunch at a coffee shop called the Kim Seng Kopitiam, not too far away from the Prince of Wales Island International School. I was told that the laksa here was the original McCoy that was sold at the coffee shop beside the old wet market in Balik Pulau town. The owners shifted their operations here about a year and a half ago and their vacated stall in town was subsequently taken over by a completely unrelated new operator. The occasional visitors and tourists would not be aware of this change but I am now. So thanks to my cousin for bringing us to partake in the original Balik Pulau laksa. I enjoyed it. Very much.

Tuesday morning was spent at The Top, one of Penang's newest tourist attractions. The Top was located at, where else, but the top of KOMTAR Tower in downtown George Town. For the month of April, The Top was offering a special discounted price of RM38 for Penangites to visit the 65th and 68th floors of the tower block. To my pleasant surprise, my entry fee was even cheaper at RM28 as a senior citizen. I'll elaborate more on this visit in a separate story.

On my way out from The Top, I bumped into a friend who invited my wife and I to a potato food fiesta that would be held on Wednesday. Be prepared to come hungry, he had warned us, because there'll be food, food and more food until the end of the event. So that was were I was on Wednesday when I went alone -- my wife, unfortunately, could not join me as she had another function to attend -- to the US Potato Food Fiesta at The Top. Again, this occasion calls for another separate story to do justice to it.

Before I go on further, perhaps I should also add that Wednesday was tempered with the sobering news that one of my old school pals, one that I had been friends with for some 55 years had died in a motor accident in the wee hours of the morning. Md Noor s/o Mohideen Pakeer was travelling with his son when another car crashed into theirs in Bridge Street (now known as Jalan CY Choy) and overturning it. My poor 62-year-old friend, a very unassuming nasi kandar businessman, died on the spot. His funeral was on the same day and I felt so awful that I couldn't attend. Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.

We had known one another since Standard Two schooldays at the Westlands School in Victoria Green Road, Penang, From Westlands school, we proceeded together to Penang Free School. In the last 10 years or so, I began reconnecting with him, visiting him at his nasi kandar shop in Tamil Street which was beside the Chowrasta market in Penang Road. The last time I saw him was in mid-January this year. I saw him at his shop. He offered me his nasi kandar but I had declined as I was full. But over a glass of cold drinks, he would tell me again of his son at the University of Limerick. You could see the pride in his eyes every time he spoke of his son's achievements, attained without accepting any help from the Malaysian government. Everything his son achieved was by dint of personal hard work and nothing else. Md Noor was immensely proud of that.

Thursday brought me further back to normality. time for my visit to the General Hospital in Penang for my scheduled check-up at the out-patient eye clinic. I've always been forcing myself to the eye clinic every time because I really don't like the medical officers putting all sorts of eyedrops on my eyes to dilate the pupils. Always, this leaves me in discomfort because I find myself unable to drive after every session. And thus, I've to trouble my wife to follow me to the hospital just in case that I'm unable to drive. There was one particular bad session maybe one and a half years ago when my brother-in-law had to drop her off at the clinic after hours because I just couldn't see.

Anyway, when I arrived for last Thursday's session with the MOs, I discovered that the clinic had been temporarily relocated to another block some distance away because the hospital wanted to renovate the old premises. Unfortunately, the move brought on new problems for the clinic because the temporary premises was so much smaller, meaning less seats while waiting to be seen. And then it was a long walk back to the pharmacy to collect my medication. I had arrived at the hospital at about 8.30 am but we left at almost 1 pm. Four hours of waiting (patiently) and twiddling with the mobile to while away the time. Hopefully by my next visit in six months time, the eye clinic would have moved back to their old, refurbished premises.

Friday. My time last Friday was reserved for the Swee Cheok Tong. Myself, together with two others from the Quah Kongsi, had planned a visit to Bagan Serai in Perak for some time now, in order to meet with some other Quah clansmen living there but somehow, the trip only materialised last week. I would not want to disclose the objective of our trip but I can say that it was fruitful enough and if we, the Quah Kongsi, want to follow up on the matter, there'll be a lot of work that must be done. Are we up to it? I hope so.

At least, Saturday was relatively easier for me although I still had to spend time making a tray of my special mango-flavoured agar-agar jelly for my wife's mini-reunion with her own school friends. They were treating themselves with an overnight stay at someone's house in Tanjong Bungah, all nine of them, away from their respective husbands. (I don't know who were more relieved to be rid of their spouses even temporarily...the wives or the husbands. As for me, I whoopied through the night with a bowl of my favourite ginger paste chicken rice from the Old Town White Coffee restaurant in Bukit Mertajam.) I heard from her later that the jelly went down very well with her friends.

Then finally on Sunday morning, I rushed over to the island for the annual general meeting of The Old Frees' Association. Sat through the whole meeting and brought up an issue of my own at the very end of the meeting. I requested the chairman, who was also the association's president, to quickly respond to the school on a request for financial assistance to send a group of three pupils to Los Angeles where they would be participating in the prestigious INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition in May as representatives from Malaysia. the boys' project, S.A.L.T. (Saponin Anti-Larvae Treatment), had won the Gold Award during the state-level Science Innovation Competition in 2016. The boys emerged Champion and brought back the Penang State Director of Education Department’s Challenge Trophy for the second consecutive year. During the national-level Science and Technology Competition in November 2016 in Langkawi, the Free School emerged as the first Runner up in the Team category. They were now seeking sponsorship to defray some of the costs of their participation. I really hope, after having raised this at the AGM, the OFA management committee will respond fast as the competition is just 12 days away.