Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Khoo Chuan Keat memorials

The first order of business was to observe a one-minute silence for our old, dear departed schoolmate, Khoo Chuan Keat, who had passed away in Kuala Lumpur last February. Some of us had known Chuan Keat since primary schooldays in 1961, but most had been friends with him from secondary schooldays. As for me, I've known Chuan Keat since 1962 when we were both in the Standard 2A express class of Westlands Primary School. We studied together until Upper Six in Penang Free School. We then went our separate ways but since the late 1990s, had reconnected as we began searching for our old, long-lost school mates.

Several weeks ago, we decided to hold two memorials for him in Penang for slightly different sets of friends from outstation. Many of us responded positively to the idea and it was finally decided to hold them at The Old Frees' Association where he had been a life member. The president agreed to let us us the Library for this purpose and that was where we found ourselves at about nine o'clock on Thursday.

We spent the next hour or two talking about him and also about the old times. There was a long discussion about the plans that Chuan Keat was putting together as he was approaching retirement age ten years ago. He wanted to establish a sophisticated, high-end retirement village for senior citizens where they could mingle with their peers during their golden years. The retirement village would be self-contained with activities and medical facilities. In fact, one had already been set up in Kuching, but Chuan Keat was exploring Penang to expand the business.

No meeting like this would ever be complete without someone opening a few bottles of whiskey to celebrate the memorial. Chuan Keat, who used to run a wine outlet in Penang in the last decade, would probably have approved of our activities.

Standing, from left: Seng Sun, Choi Choon, Teik Wah, Chye Chye, Ling Heong, Andrew and Kim Guan; seated, from left: Chin Chuan, Michael, Kok Yong, Hock Thiam, Wee Lork and Thuan Chye

Standing, left left: Michael, Lin Heong, Chin Chuan, Teik Wah, Chye Chye, Thuan Chye, Andrew, Hock Thiam and Siang Juan; seated, from left: Choi Choon, Wee Lork, Seng Sun and Kok Yong
Having a meal before the start of the second memorial at The Old Frees' Association this Saturday. Seated, from left: Jessie, Kok Yong, Charles, Chei Jin, Mrs Chei Jin, Kok Hin, Teik Wah and Andrew. Standing, from left: Michael, Kim Guan and Seng Oo

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Wesak moon

Picture taken at 6.06 am this morning
Most people tend to look at the full moon only at night but it is also possible to view the moon in the early hours of dawn. That was what I did this morning, not because I had purposely woken up to look at it but because the bright moon was visible through the window and the moonlight had woken me up.

I grabbed my camera, fiddled with the settings on the zoom lens and shot off a few frames using the maximum f-stop (f5.6 only, unfortunately, as this was a kit lens that came with the camera) and playing with the shutter speeds. But it was good enough and I finally got one shot that I was happy with.

The time was 6.06 am. As the full moon had occurred at 5.11 am, I was actually 55 minutes off the mark. But to the naked eye, the round image of the full moon was still there. Now, if I had taken the picture only at night, I would have seen some very slight blurring on the southern edge of the moon as that segment would have begun to move into the shadow of the earth. So I was a bit lucky to have seen the moon in the morning instead of the evening.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Wesak eve @ Nandaka Vihara

Burmese devotees making their way up to the Sima Hall

Followed by the local devotees

Devotees ringing the bell as it moves to the Sima Hall

More devotees making their way up the slope to the Sima Hall

Arriving at the Sima Hall

The monks are ready to begin the ceremony to bring the Buddha Relic down to the Meditation Hall

Opening the Buddha Relic container 

The Chief Abbot, Dharmasudhbo, getting ready to place the Buddha Relic onto a bed of jasmine flowers 

Here we are, all ready to go!

Down at the Meditation Hall

A group picture of the Nandaka Vihara Wesak Day main committee

Devotees waiting for the night ceremony to commence

Paying homage to the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree

Friday, 17 May 2019

A different view of KL

We were off to Kuala Lumpur for two days earlier this week. Took the morning ETS train from the Bukit Mertajam station and watched a colourful sunrise.

The train journey itself was uneventful but the carriage was cold. Luckily, my wife had brought her jacket along while I borrowed her scarf to cover my hands. Still, it was cold and only a cup of hot kopi-o could keep them somewhat warm for a short while. We kept ourselves entertained watching the on-board TV programme.

Arrived at KL Sentral on time. That's what I've got to say about the ETS service: their trains are now almost punctual to a fault; perhaps 95 percent of the time the trains arrive or depart on time, which is excellent. Anyway, we arrived at the station in Kuala Lumpur just slightly after noon. So where would like to eat, I asked my wife. But without waiting for her answer, I suggested an Indian vegetarian restaurant about 200 metres away. After all, we were practically in the Brickfields area and we weren't laden with any big bag to lug around.

So off we went to this place called Mr Naan and Mrs Idly. Quite a unique name for a restaurant. We forsook the offered buffet lunch and opted for the menu items. Rava dosa for the missus and kashmiri naan for me. Also ordered the palak paneer and a plate of their bendi masala. Superb quality vegetarian food. Quite satisfying, indeed.

From there, we proceeded to check in at this hotel called the Regalia Suite. It's somewhere off the Chow Kit area. The closest LRT station was PWTC but it would require you to walk quite a distance around the Sunway Putra Mall. It's definitely easier to catch a taxi or a Grab car from wherever you are. You'll be dropped right at the hotel's doorstep.

Our room was on the 37th floor with a breath-taking view westwards. The room was decently spacious enough and clean. My only unsatisfactory comment is that there wasn't any complimentary bottle of water in the room. I would expect that two bottles of mineral water would be standard in any hotel worldwide.

On the same floor was their swimming pool. My wife had brought her swimming suit along when I told her that there was a pool. But I hadn't told her about the infinity pool and therefore, she was greatly surprised.

Me? I don't swim. Thus, no swimming trunks for me. No, thank you. I'll just sit on the deck chair and look across the far edge of the pool at a mesmerising view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline.

It's such a nice hotel, you know. From the poolside, you can sit, sip whatever drink you want, feast your eyes on the ladies swimming or look further away at the Twin Towers, the KL Tower and all the high-rise buildings from left to right. That's what I did.

Later at night, you can return to the same spot and watch the ever-blinking lights of the KL skyline. It was quite an experience.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Back in the studio

My old pals found ourselves in the studio recently, this time in Penang, as we went through some voice-over recordings for the videos we are making. It was the first time for Jimmy and for me, only the second time. We needed a voice like Jimmy's. all gravelly and polished, to make our videos sound impressive. But it will still be some weeks before I can see the final products. Kumar shall ensure that they will be ready before the start of  our fifth student leadership workshops for the Penang Free School students in July.

Jimmy was in fine form but we made him read some parts over and over again

I contributed a small part to the voice-over

Fooling around in the studio

Our friend, Suku, came to give us some moral support

Saturday, 11 May 2019

A painting of Penang Free School

Like I mentioned yesterday, today, the 11th of May, marks the bicentenary of the St George's Church in Penang. Not only is this Anglican church already 200 years old, it stands as the oldest Anglican church in the Far East.

I couldn't make it to the church this morning for the launch of their commemorative First Day Cover by the Chief Minister of Penang, Chow Kong Yeow, as I had a prior engagement in Bayan Baru but I did rush down immediately from there once my engagement was over. In fact, I just made it into the compound as someone at their heritage centre said they would be closing in five minutes' time.

So I was a bit thankful for that tiny window to pick up my two sets of pre-ordered First Day Cover folders.

This was only the second time that I was purchasing a First Day Cover folder set. Three years ago on 21 Oct 2016, I had bought the First Day Cover folder set issued to mark Penang Free School's bicentenary celebrations.

Now what made me buy this St George's Church folder set was the painting that was reproduced on the folder's front and also on the RM5 Cinderella commemorative stamp. This was a watercolour painting by Charles Henry Cazalet of "The English Church, Penang" done in August 1856.

Do you know what's remarkable about this painting? When I was busy with writing Let the Aisles Proclaim in 2016, I had come across this picture on Page 390 of Marcus Langdon's book Penang the Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830, Volume 2.

I had noticed that in the background stood a row of buildings on the painting's right. What could these buildings be? Were they part of the St George's Church, or were they something else?

As it turned out, these buildings did not belong to the church. But by virtue of they being located next to the church itself, on the same grounds which was known as Church Square, these buildings were neighbours to the church. Now, what could be neighbours to the St George's Church back in those days?

If this description still haven't rung a bell with the Old Frees yet, let me disclose now that these buildings in the background of this painting were part of the first permanent buildings of Prince of Wales' Island Free School!

The school buildings were constructed in 1821 while Cazalet's painting was done in 1856. I was intrigued. I couldn't believe it then. I remember having mulled over the painting for days but finally, I concluded that it must be Free School in the background.

I took a chance to say that much in my book: on Page 45, I had written a caption to the picture saying: "Details of the Free School buildings are clearly visible in this old water-colour painting. The buildings stood in stark contrast to its neighbour, the St George's Church and the Francis Light memorial."

Akin to modern-day sleuthing, perhaps, but I was very convinced then that I wasn't wrong.

As an afterthought, I must also mention this architect drawing from Mohamed Hafiz Hashim's little-known book, Penang Free School Bicentennial 1816-2016: An Architectural Heritage Perspective and Vision, which gave a fresh new viewpoint of the Free School buildings in the 19th Century. It is a superb book of architectural drawings of all three Penang Free School buildings in Church Square (1821-1896), Farquhar Street (1896-1927) and Green Lane (1928-present). This particular picture, like the other drawings in the book, is the copyright of Arkitek Urbanisma Sdn Bhd but it is worthy of reproducing here.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Bicentenary of St George's Church Penang

Tomorrow is the 11th of May, 2019. That is the day that the St George's Church in Penang (or to use their official name, The Church of St George the Martyr) will celebrate their Bicentenary. Wow, this Anglican church will be 200 years old tomorrow, three years after Penang Free School celebrated hers.

But then, the St George's Church and Penang Free School shared a common heritage. Both institutions were connected to Robert Sparke Hutchings, the Chaplain of the Prince of Wales' Island settlement. Hutchings founded the School and it was under his watch that the East India Company commissioned the Church. For many years, from 1821 till 1927, the School and the Church were neighbours along Farquhar Street.

Anyhow, this is a milestone celebration not only for the Church but for Penang too. Apart from the Church service in the afternoon, there'll be a dinner for the church members and ordained ministers to celebrate the occasion. But in the morning, the Chief Minister is expected to launch their first day cover and stamps.

In 2012 when I was doing some research for a project, I had written up a short history of the St George's Church. Here is an extract:
THE Church of St George The Martyr, completed in 1818, is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. A memorial to Francis Light stands in its grounds. The church was first restored after being badly damaged during the Second World War. It was restored again in 2011 after being designated a National Heritage in 2007.
The seeds of Anglicanism in Malaysia were sown in 1786 after Captain Francis Light established the island of Penang as a trading post for the East India Company.
Soon attracted to this new settlement were traders, merchants, adventurers and immigrant people from both the East and the West, who introduced to this melting pot their own cultures, traditions and of course, religion. The early European settlers that arrived with Light – or soon afterwards – brought with them the beginnings of the Anglican church. The religion was a practice on the long sea voyages from England, and it continued to be practiced when they came ashore. In fact, Anglicanism was established here on the island for some years before a church building was even conceived.
The first Anglican church service on the island was recorded officially in 1800. In that year, Sir George Leith who was the Lieutenant-Governor of the settlement had appointed a magistrate judge, George Caunter, as the first official lay chaplain – this position being the equivalent of a licensed lay reader today – with duties to baptise, marry and conduct services to bury the Christian faithful. Four years later, the Reverend Atwill Lake became the first full-time chaplain with Thomas Cullum as his clerk and schoolmaster.
Also in 1800, Leith had submitted plans to the East India Company in Madras to build an Anglican church. The approval only arrived in 1816 and another year had to pass before the foundation stone for the Church of St George The Martyr was laid on the present land, formerly known as Company’s Square, during the term of William Edward Phillips who was the settlement’s acting Governor. The building was completed in 1818 under the administration of Phillips’ successor, Governor John Alexander Bannerman. It had cost the East India Company 60,000 Spanish Dollars to build the church entirely with convict labour.
Following its completion, the first service at the new building was held on Christmas Day of 1818. Before then, services were conducted mainly at the Fort Cornwallis or the Court House, and sometimes at the residence of the Governor. On 11 May 1819, the Church of St George The Martyr was consecrated by the visiting Bishop of Calcutta, The Right Reverend Thomas Fanshaw Middleton.
There are many stories surrounding the Church but a particular one is rather extraordinary. Do you know that there was an interment in the Church? It was the only one in its long history, and remarkably there was a whiff of drama behind it.

Beneath a black marble slab in the chancel are the remains of Harriet, wife of Robert Fullerton who was then the Governor of the Straits Settlements. His wife died in 1830, just 48 years old. It was said that during her lifetime, she was never kind to her household slaves. They hated her so bitterly that when she died, they declared that they would curse her grave so that she would never rest in peace. This threat thoroughly scared Fullerton. Nevertheless as the Governor, he had to bury her in full public view. He arranged a burial for his wife at the old Northam Road Protestant Cemetery, attended by the prominent residents in the settlement. But much later, it emerged that it was only a mock ceremony and there was nothing in the coffin but earth.

What actually transpired was that under the cloak of darkness that same night, the church doors were opened to allow for a secret burial service, witnessed only by Fullerton. A coffin with Harriet’s body was lowered into a hole dug in the chancel floor. A thoroughly shaken Fullerton remained in Penang for several more months, after which he went back to England and died in 1831.

I was one of the lucky few to have seen this slab because normally it is hidden by a carpet away from the public view. But in 2011 when the Church was undergoing renovation, I happened to visit it just as workmen were rolling up the carpet and I got the opportunity to take a quick photograph of it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! The black marble slab in the chancel floor reads: ”Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Harriet, Wife of the Hon’ble Robert Fullerton, Esq., Governor of this Settlement, who departed this life, on the 30th June, 1830. Aged 48 years”.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Old mindset in new Malaysia

Monday was the first day of Ramadan. Muslims every where have begun their month of fasting from dawn to dusk. And I wish them Selamat Berbuka Puasa. Today and everyday till the eve of Aidil Fitri.

Monday was also the day that I went out to the island for some errands. Finishing up at about 4.40pm and travelling along Weld Quay, I thought to myself, "Why, it's not even five o'clock. Why not take the ferry across to the mainland and save myself a trip across the bridge? Besides, there's hardly any queue at the ferry terminal. Just three or four cars away from the traffic lights."

So I joined the line. Waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, then red, then green again, red, green.... The queue wasn't moving. I should have taken the cue then and cut my loss. Recapitulate and take the bridge back. But the obstinacy in me - or was it the optimism - said to remain in the line. I've waited so long already. Surely, the line would start moving soon?

But it wasn't until about 5.10pm that we were allowed to drive into the ferry terminal's compound. Despite only two lines of cars waiting in the compound, we were not allowed to drive into the terminal's holding area until about half-an-hour later when we were ushered in to wait.

I alighted from the car and peered into the distance. No ferry in sight. There was a policeman there, seated at a table. I went up to him and tried to strike up a conversation. Long wait for a ferry, huh? Yes, he said. One of the ferries broke down earlier and there were only two ferries plying between the island and the mainland? Only two ferries? I was incredulous. Yes, he said again. The next ferry was expected to arrive at six o'clock and depart at 6.20pm.

I felt disgusted. Here was the afternoon peak hours and there were only two ferries working. What happened to the promise to improve the ferry services? Last year, I think it was, the ferry services was pawned off to Prasarana and they started calling the ferry services as rapidFerry. I saw the signboard right above where my car was parked. What an embarrassment, if really the people behind Prasarana can feel the embarassment.

rapidFerry, where a channel crossing may take up to two hours to complete? Why, I remember that in the 1980s, the present ferry could take only 12 minutes to make the crossing. Today, it was more of a 25-minute wait on board the vehicle from one end of the ferry terminal to the other end.

I texted a friend who knew people working at the ferry terminal. "Frustration," I said, "is finding only two ferries plying island-mainland during afternoon peak hours. Or is it (an) everyday (experience)??" After a while, he texted back, "You won't believe what rapid told me. Puasa month. All tired. Many on mc (medical leave). Sadly the manpower planning of the old mindset remains. Shocking!"

Yes, shocking, indeed. There's simply no honour among them. There is also no dignity or shame. Just like yesterday afternoon on the TRAXXfm radio station. The announcers were discussing a story about how an elderly man in Labuan was getting impatient about the service in a fast-food joint. The announcers said the man was wrong. Should have cut some slack for the workers this puasa month.

I beg your pardon, you TRAXXfm announcers? Cutting them some slack? Common, I have great respect for the fasting month of Ramadan. I have great respect for the Muslims who show great willpower to fast from dawn to dusk. Sometimes, I tried to emulate what they do. Went a full day without breakfast and lunch, just to find out how it was. And I found that I still had the energy (or call it willpower or determination) to get through the distraction of hunger until dinnertime. Anyhow, I wouldn't eat in front of my fellow citizens who are fasting. That's showing them the sensitivity, the respect. But to use fasting to justify slowing down their work rate? Sorry, that doesn't cut any ice with me. Try another reason, please!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Young emotion

I was messaging Dr Teoh Soong Kee in Ipoh last week, asking him some questions about his schooldays and brought up the subject of his book, Young Emotion, which he wrote some years back. I asked him whether I could reproduce one particular essay he wrote in another of my blogs. Yes, he replied, I could use his story.

Then he asked whether I had a copy of his book to which I replied that I owned a photocopied edition of it. He offered me a complimentary copy, which he would send through the post. Ah, okay, I thanked him.

I promptly forgot all about the book until it arrived on Monday. Delivered by the postman. I wasn't at home. Neither was my wife. So the postman threw the envelope into the compound. Then it rained and the envelope became partially wet.

I was particularly happy when I discovered the envelope. The upper edge of the book was damp and water-stained. I had to do something fast. Experience had shown me that if I had left the book to dry by itself, it would take ages and the book would basically be damaged beyond any hope. Warped pages and all that.

Quickly, I started tearing sheets from the toilet roll and lined them between the damp pages of the book. The reason was to absorb as much water as possible from the pages. Between every few pages, a sheet of toilet paper was inserted. And I did this for the whole book. Every few hours, I would replace the damp sheets with fresh dry ones.

This went on for about 24 hours until I was satisfied that the residual water could now be removed by ironing the pages dry. After having done that, I sat the book flat on the floor and piled up six or seven heavy and thick books on the cover.

Today is already Wednesday, two days after receiving the wet book. Well, the book's completely dry now. And flattened as much as possible. But the pages remain slight warped. I Guess that's how they will stay from now on. Dry but warped. But at least, I still have the book, intact.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Char hor fun @ Yeng Keng Cafe

Many people who know me don't know that one of my favourite food is char har fun. True, I've always been talking Hokkien mee and char koay teow with them, but char hor fun must rank a third in my list of favourite local hawker fare.

But the problem is, you see, whereas I can find good Hokkien mee and char koay teow in many areas of Penang island and the mainland, finding a place that serves good char hor fun is much more difficult. Let's just say that I have more demanding tastebuds when it comes to this dish. I remember a very long time ago, I could get good - and cheap - seafood char hor fun in a little shed somewhere a bit further than Tanjong Bungah but the shed and the hawker have long since disappeared.

Today, I mentioned to the wife that we should go to the Yeng Keng Cafe in Chulia Street because I heard that the char hor fun there was good. That was actually a little white lie as I only saw a picture of this char hor fun on social media, haven't smelled it before, haven't tasted it before.

Anyway, we made our way there. We ordered a plate of their char hor fun as well as a plate of Hainanese chicken chop. Both dishes arrived at the same time. Now, which one to start off with. I could have attacked the chicken chop while my wife started with the char hor fun. Or we could have reversed the order. But no, lah, our original objective was the char hor fun. Thus, we decided to begin with the char hor fun....together.

And what could we say? It was one of the best plates of char hor fun we ever tasted. No joke. It was exquisite. And flavourful. We really enjoyed sharing this plate. Big prawns, some fishcakes and generous pieces of chicken meat. There were no pork pieces but this wasn't something that I missed. It was good enough for both of us that we can count this Yeng Keng Cafe to serve perfectly delicious char hor fun should we develop a yen for it again.

As a coda, I should also mention that we also enjoyed the chicken chop. A generously big piece of chicken with an equally generous serving of fried potato and green peas with some slices of cucumber and green leafy vegetables. But nothing like their char hor fun.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Sitiawan's hockchiew food

Sitiawan is one of the few places in Peninsular Malaysia where you can find Hockchiew food. Hockchiew food is, well, different when compared to the more well-known Nyonya, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hockkien and Hakka dishes. We first tasted food in Sitiawan maybe more than 20 years ago and we liked it, and we never fail to go search for Hockchiew dishes whenever we are around the place. Right now, our favourite restaurant is the Lido Seafood Restaurant and as you can see from the pictures, these are our three favourite dishes.

Sitiawan mee suah cooked in red rice wine
Chunky fish maw soup

Sitiawan-style fried oyster in egg. Definitely crispier and less oily than the version in Penang