Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Rainforest world music festival 2019

My wife and I visited the Rainforest World Music Festival last year and I promised to be back again to enjoy the music. Well, we were back in Kuching again this year to attend the #RWMF, this time with my daughter since our original companions last year did not find the occasion interesting enough for them. Obviously, they don't like music as much as me!

Since we've been here before, we knew better than to turn up at 10 o'clock in the morning. So it was way past one o'clock when we arrived. Lunch was at the 88 Buntal Seafood Centre in Kampung Buntal, about 15 minutes away from the Sarawak cultural Village in Santubong.

The merchandise office of the RWMF. I had hoped to pick up their official T-shirt but the design was not as nice as last year's. So, no T-shirt for me!

Even the dustbins can be decorated for a reason!

I forgot the name of the stall but the grilled catfish was delicious. We ordered two.

Duplessy & The Violins Of The World. Mathias Duplessy (France), Naraa Puredorj (Mongolia), Guo Gan (China) and Aliocha Regnard (France) came together to create a dazzling and emotive display of stories and landscapes spanning the East and West.

The Druk Folk Musicians from Bhutan
These two main stages will be at the centre of all performances after the sun sets
While waiting for evening to fall, we wandered into the handicraft centre

As night began to fall, the open space in front of the Jungle and Tree stages began to fill up. The ang mor and the pek mor mingling with the boh mor.

The moon began peeking out from behind the tree tops, followed by a very bright Jupiter

KEMADA, from Sibu in central Sarawak, were the opening act. They are dedicated to preserving the traditional Iban music, games, culture and especially the Gendang Pampat – the old drums usually played during rituals and Gawai Dayak celebrations.
Six voices, two tom drums, 12 hands and a tambourine made up SAN SALVADOR, a band that combined Occitan poetry with hypnotic vocal harmonies propelled by surging percussion. The band flew into Kuching in the morning, stayed one night after their performance and then flew out the day after. What a waste not spending more time in Kuching to savour the occasion, in my opinion.
The Ballet Folclorico de Chile, Bafochi, emerged as an independent artistic company in 1987 where its creator, Professor Pedro Gajardo Escobar, was inspired to showcase the origins of different cultures that made up the Chilean people. The dances of Rapa Nui are a mix of Polynesian origins with ancestral legends dedicated to the gods, nature or warriors. Undulating hips, expressive hand movements and spectacular costumes all contribute to the mystique and the harmony of the dancers and their artistry.

Next up was DARMAS  a band made up of six young musicians. They are driven by the rhythms derived from traditional Malay classics like the Joget, Zapin and the Canggung. The central focus of their colour comes from the kulintangan, an ancient series of gongs from the Sabah tribes, presenting a kaleidoscope mix of Malaysian eclectic sounds. They were World Champions of at the Performing Arts (WCOPA) 2019 in Los Angeles, winning five golds and three silver medals.

According to the stage announcement to this act by MACKA B, this would be the first time that a reggae band was being featured at the Rainforest World Music Festival. MACKA B, a Rastafarian with political consciousness and songs devoted to spiritual and social messages, was an instant hit with the crowd. He has been called the UK’s most influential dance hall toaster. His brand of humour and laid back charm worked with devastating effects on the crowd. His set included an encore during which he extolled the virtues of ganja. Medical ganja, that is. But ganja, all the same.

By the time MACKA B ended, it was way past ten thirty. Faced with a long day ahead of us on the next day, we decided to forego the remaining two acts and leave the festival grounds. We headed back to our airbnb commode, arriving almost at midnight. Do you think we'll be back again? Can't commit but let's see.....

Sunday, 21 July 2019

The Spirit of the Bicentenary lives on

The Spirit of the Bicentenary lives on in those of us who attended the charity premiere of The School that Built a Nation at the GSC Queensbay Mall this morning at 11 o'clock. Not a full house, however, which must have been quite a disappointment for the co-organisers, The Old Frees' Association and the Yayasan Penang Free School. But for those of us who turned up for the screening, it was the Bicentenary all over again, although three years down the road.

The documentary film brought back many vivid memories for my wife and I because we were there in Dittisham in Sept 2016 to await the arrival of the convoy of 4WDs that had began a 15,000km overland journey from Penang three months earlier. Therefore, seeing images of the St George's Church in Dittisham as well as the stained glass windows bearing the name of Robert Sparke Hutchings really brought lumps to my throat. And to hear Helen Woodman interviewed brought back even more memories.

The documentary moved along at quite an even pace. Nary a dull moment. The interviews with Tan Boon Lin, Anwar Fazal and Marcus Langdon were absorbing, as also the interviews with John Hughes, the Saw brothers and others, which had been expertly crafted into the documentary to tell a very compelling story of Penang Free School. Tan talked about his experience while a pupil during the war years, Anwar spoke of his spectacles and more importantly, gave a brief background on Wu Lien-Teh, and Langdon spoke of his connection to the Free School through George Porter who was the third head teacher of the school.

To those who had not seen this film for whatever personal reason, I can only wish that they had seen it. I think it was a missed opportunity. They would have enjoyed it immensely. Really!

But like I told some people, this film is not wholly about Penang Free School nor is it wholly about Robert Sparke Hutchings and his vision. No, this film is more than that. To me, this film documents the history of education not only of Penang but of the country. And how education had spearheaded the country's march towards Independence and beyond. This should be a film for everyone to see, not only the Old Frees and the present Frees.

I'm surrounded by the School Prefects. Hope it's not detention class in their minds!

Sitting practically in the front row.

Mahyidin Mustakim giving his "brief" opening remarks before the start of the screening. He's wearing two hats as the President of the Old Frees Association Kuala Lumpur & Selangor and the President of the Yayasan Penang Free School.
The audience of Old Frees, teachers, present Frees and invited guests.
After the show. A group picture of most of us who were present.

The spirit of the Bicentenary

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Lunar eclipse

For the most of last week, I was in Sarawak with my wife and daughter. Overall, we spent five days there (but my daughter had six days there, having arrived with her friends one day before us) of which two days were in Kuching and three in the Mulu national park. I wouldn't want to elaborate on our trip to Sarawak yet but confine this story to the moon.

The moon from Santubong on the evening of the 13th of July.
Yes, the moon. Because on the first day, we went to the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong where the 22nd Rainforest World Music Festival was going on. While waiting for the main event in the evening to start, I glanced right above us and there, the gibbous moon in its 11th day of waxing was looking down on us revellers. The moon wasn't totally round yet but there it was, ascending in the early evening sky with a very bright Jupiter trailing slightly below it.

Over the next two nights while we were at Mulu, I saw the moon waxing further. On the first night, the moon was very clear and bright, totally unaffected by any city lights. But for most parts, it was obscured by the folliage around the national park. On the second night that we were there, some dense clouds covered the moon and it couldn't be seen very well.

The moon from Mulu on the evening of 14th of July.
By the fourth day, we had already returned to Kuching. That evening, we walked along the waterfront. Above us was the moon, now very much rounder and only a day away from it at its fullest. Admittedly, I didn't pay much attention to it at all although it turned up in several shots taken by my wife on her mobile phone.

I awoke before dawn of the fifth day and staggered to the hotel room's window for no apparent reason. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the moon to the right but it looked kinda funny to me. Strange, I thought to myself, now more fully awake. Only a few hours earlier, the moon had been full and round but now, at 5.40am in the morning, it looked thin and elongated.

The moon from Kuching in the early hours of 17th of July.
I groped for the camera and managed to get a few snapshots in the dark. Magnifying one of the images, I got a shock. This was what I saw: a crescent moon! How on earth could a fully rounded moon become a crescent moon within a matter of a few hours? I couldn't explain it. How strange indeed!

During daylight a few hours later, I finally learnt the truth: that while most of us were asleep, there was a partial lunar eclipse that could be seen from much of Asia. If you were awake in Malaysia, anywhere from Perlis to Sabah, at five o'clock in the morning, you would have seen the eclipse at its maximum. I was lucky to have woken up at the right time on the 17th of July, or else I wouldn't have witnessed this celestial sight at all.

Postscript: The full moon day on the 16th of July also happened to be the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the space mission which took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin would go on to become the first and second men to walk on the moon four days later. That there was a lunar eclipse on the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 was indeed coincidental.

The real moon walk

Fifty years ago. It was the evening of 20 July 1969 in the United States. Over here in Malaysia, it was already the morning of 21 July 1969. Conveniently, a Monday morning, a school day. I was in Physics class at that time. How apt, learning Physics. In Form Four Science One at Penang Free School. Suddenly at around 10.30am, the school's public address system came alive. A crackling sound that alerted us to someone going to make an announcement. But this time, it wasn't any ordinary, run-of-the-mill announcement. The Headmaster, Poon Poh Kong, said we would be hearing a live broadcast from the Voice of America. Relayed through Radio Malaysia, of course. Such a momentous occasion. Quite unprecedented for the school. Unprecedented in the sense that the Headmaster saw it fit to interrupt all the classes in the school and let us listen to a live broadcast from overseas. For the next hour or so, all lessons stopped. Everyone was visualising, listening intently, mesmerised, the teacher included. He was watching over us like a hawk, feeling quite awed himself. Gesticulating with the palm of his hands, he emphasised the American astronauts walking and bouncing on the surface of the moon. Down here, teacher Tan Sean Huat. Up there, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, and Michael Collins piloting the command module above. That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Pause for an advertisement

Message from The Old Frees' Association with regards to buying tickets to the charity premiere of The School that Built a Nation. Note: All proceeds from the screening will go to the PFS Foundation Fund to help Penang Free School:
Too busy to get the ticket? Don't worry! You can now secure your ticket at your fingertips. Just follow the simple steps as follows:-
  1. Fill up the Google Form (⇦ click for the link) and secure your ticket(s).
  2. The OFA will be in touch with you and send you the e-ticket (s) within one working day once the payment is made.
  3. Exchange for actual ticket(s) at the Ticket Exchange Counter @ GSC 10am on 21st July 2019.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Efficiency, Maybank-style

I followed my wife to the Seberang Jaya branch of Malayan Banking today. This branch is just across the road from the Sunway Carnival Mall. At three o'clock in the afternoon, there was hardly any walk-in customers at their transaction counters. I dropped my wife off at 3.10pm and went to park the car, joining her in the transaction hall about five minutes later. She was just about to have her thumbprint scanned before the transaction could proceed.

Maybe I should mention here that all she was trying to do with to uplift a fixed deposit that had matured. No point continuing with Maybank, you see. All they could offer for a 12-month deposit was 3.1 percent per annum whereas many banks elsewhere were giving much more attractive rates. And then we sat down to wait. My wife read her newspaper while I played with my mobile.

After a while, I mentioned to her that the bank was taking a long time to process the withdrawal. I looked at my watch: 3.35pm. Twenty minutes had passed by in an almost empty hall and the transaction was still not completed. We walked to the counter. Saw three or four of their staff crowding round the bank officer's table. Don't know what they were doing, though. Waited. And waited.

Then finally, at about 3.45pm, the clerk called my wife and handed her the transaction slip. Wow. A half-an-hour wait to do a fixed deposit withdrawal in an empty transaction hall. That's efficiency for you, Maybank-style.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ippudo service

On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, my daughter and I ended up at the Ippudo Japanese ramen restaurant at The Gardens Mall in the Midvalley complex. We both ordered the same bowl of ramen, the Kuro Tamago, which comes with a complete salted soft boiled egg. We tucked heartily into the ramen when it arrived. Yum!

Then I took my first bite on my tamago egg. What's this? The yolk was almost solid. That's their tamago egg? I called one of the staff over. "Is this what you called a soft boiled egg?" I asked him. He took a look and told me yes, that was how their tamago egg looked like. I looked at him. He slunked away from my table. Without an apology.

Obviously, I wasn't satisfied. I called another staff over. "Say, your tamago egg, why does it look like this?" This time, the Ippudo staff was all apologetic. Wait a second, she said. Then she returned with an empty bowl to take away my egg to the kitchen. And in a jiffy returned with a new egg.

"Please see whether this egg is okay," she said. So I poked my chopsticks into the egg and presto! it was all soft and gooey inside. Just like how a proper tamago egg should be. Methinks, Ippudo should simply sack that first staff of theirs without question. Or at the very least, retrain him.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019


Two images of the Bukit Mertajam hill at sunrise taken from the vantage point of the railway station. The top picture was taken with my Vivo handphone on 7 April 2019 at 7.17am while the bottom picture was taken with my old Fuji camera on 13 May 2019 at 7.35am which, unfortunately, decided to die on me about two weeks ago.

But let me tell you more about why I was at the rail station on both days. Simple: to go down to Kuala Lumpur of course! And rail travel today is the most convenient for me. Hopping on the ETS train at about 7.30am or 7.35am and arriving at KL Sentral by noon time. KL Sentral is one of the most centrally located buildings in Kuala Lumpur. From there, public rail transport is all within walking distance and can take me almost anywhere.

The only problem is that even with five ETS trains daily between Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur, the seats are usually sold out very fast. The daily frequency has not been increased to six but it is still difficult to get tickets at the last minute.

About two weeks ago, I was invited to attend the Malaysian Chess Federation annual general meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Initially, I had decided to make it a day trip, that is, to take the first train from Butterworth at 5am and then returning by the 5.30pm train. But then at the last minute decided that it would be too tiring for me to wake up at such an odd hour. Therefore, I decided to go down a day earlier. Unfortunately, all the seats were sold out unless I didn't mind arriving at KL Sentral after midnight. 

So what could I do? I checked the availability of seats on the ETS train services between Padang Besar and KL Sentral, which bypasses any of the stations in Province Wellesley, and found that I could catch the 1.20pm train from Taiping. All I had to do was to find my way to Taiping separately and I could do that with a 10.50am KTM Komuter Utara train from the Simpang Ampat station. 

This was just a 40-minute journey, by the way, meaning that I had almost two hours to kill in Taiping. But it didn't matter to me. I would find things to do over there. But it was easier said than done. Didn't reckon with the blazingly hot sun walking into Taiping town from the train station. Plus, I couldn't find any e-hailing service around the station. Where were they when I wanted them?

Seeking respite from the heat, I decided to try the Hainanese chicken chop in Taiping. I had heard that there was one shop which had been around for about 100 years. Name of Yut Sun Restaurant. Just look up its location on Google Maps or Waze. It's there. And I must say that yes, the chicken chop there was delicious. Yummy! Very much better than many other Hainanese and non-Hainanese restaurants in Penang or Kuala Lumpur. I won't name them, however.