Sunday, 28 February 2021

An inspirational poem

William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Have a Pengat today

Pengat, that sweet dessert that's the hallmark of a Penang Straits-born or Nyonya family, is normally cooked once a year to mark Chap Goh Meh which is the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year. This year, my family decided to share our Pengat with the Buddhist monks of the Nandaka Vihara meditation society in Bukit Mertajam.

In the video below, one of my ex-colleagues from the Ban Hin Lee Bank days, Jack Ong, shares his agak-agak method of cooking pengat. I must say that his method largely mirrors the style of my own family, which goes back at least four generations. My mother cooked it this way too, same as her mother and her mother's mother. Like Jack Ong and many other Straits-born families, we use only white sugar and not gula Melaka in our recipe. But I must try his style next time by putting in the purple tuber last.

Note: Because of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has been raging in Malaysia since last September, my Kongsi has not been able to celebrate Chap Goh Meh with the usual worship session. Everything has been very low-key and scaled down, including the amount of food and fruits offered to the deities and ancestors, and this year's worship was attended by only me and my Vice-President.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

The sports houses of Penang Free School

Last Monday (15 Feb), I was contacted by Reena Sekaran, a journalist with Free Malaysia Today, who wanted to do a story on the sport houses of Penang Free School. Of course, I obliged her. Nothing less that I can do when it comes to The Old Lady herself. 

We spoke for about 10 minutes, during which time I fed her with all the information she needed for her story. By the way, she has also done a lot of homework herself too and she told me that as an Old Girl from St George's Girls' School, with a brother that had also studied at Penang Free School, she was quite familiar with Penang. So it was quite a pleasant conversation and I promised to send her some pictures to accompany her piece.

Today, I discovered that her story on the sports houses of Penang Free School was already published in the Leisure section of Free Malaysia Today. Here is the link to the story, but I shall want to reproduce it here too.

Legacy of Penang Free School’s sports houses lives on

Reena Sekaran @ FMT Lifestyle -February 20, 2021 7:30 AM

Penang Free School, the oldest English-medium school in Southeast Asia. (Quah Seng Sun pic)

PETALING JAYA: If you grew up in Penang, you’d have heard of the constant rivalry that existed between the schools on the island. Parents, teachers, students – all joined in.

“My son studies in Penang Free School,” mothers would proclaim, noses up in the air, eyes ablaze.

Established in 1816, this 205-year-old school has produced many a notable figure including Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, legendary artist P Ramlee and world-renowned physician Wu Lien Teh.

The school also has the honour of being the oldest English-medium school in all of Southeast Asia.

However, up till 1928, sports houses were non-existent.

According to Quah Seng Sun, author of Let the Aisles Proclaim, a biography that commemorates the once-in-a-lifetime Bicentenary celebrations of Penang Free School, students were originally grouped by age.

The school has eight sports houses, named after headmasters, teachers and students. (Quah Seng Sun pic)

Quah tells FMT that it was headmaster D R Swaine who made the move to introduce the house system in 1928. There were five in total – Hargreaves (Brown), Pinhorn (Blue), Hamilton (Yellow), Cheeseman (Red) and Wu Lien Teh (Green).

Interestingly, the first three sports houses were named after Swaine’s predecessors.

William Hargreaves was the first academically qualified headmaster for Penang Free School in 1891 and ended his career as a headmaster in 1904.

He was replaced by Ralph Henry Pinhorn, who took charge of the school till 1925. When Pinhorn retired owing to ill health in 1925, William Hamilton became headmaster till 1926.

The next time you find yourself in Penang, look up Pinhorn Road, Hargreaves Road and Hamilton Road, all named after these three well-respected and much-loved headmasters.

Penang Free School. Quah Seng Sun pic)

The fourth sports house, Cheeseman, was named after a teacher who taught in the school itself – Harold Ambrose Robinson Cheeseman.

He joined the teaching staff in 1907 and remained at the school for 15 years. While here, he produced the school’s first ever school magazine.

By the time he retired from the Malayan civil service in 1948, he had risen in rank to Director-General of Education, Malaya.

If you’re familiar with the roads in Penang, there is a road named after him, Cheeseman Road.

A bust of Dr Wu on the grounds of the Penang Institute. (Quah Seng Sun pic)

The Covid-19 pandemic definitely brought to light the many accomplishments of Penang-born legendary plague fighter Dr Wu Lien Teh, who designed a face mask that eventually became the N95 mask.

In 1935, he was nominated for the Nobel prize for his fight against the 1910 Manchurian plague and for identifying the role of tarbagan marmots in the transmission of the disease.

And yes, this brilliant scientist was a scholar at Penang Free School, receiving his primary and secondary education here.

However, he never forgot his roots and would make numerous visits back to his alma mater to deliver talks and lectures to students.

A road near the school has been named after him – Wu Lien Teh Garden.

The sixth house, Tunku Putra (Orange) only came about in 1967 after the school celebrated its 150th anniversary.

The library was the brainchild of the nation’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. (Quah Seng Sun pic)

Tan Boon Lin, who was the headmaster then, announced the formation of this new house in conjunction with the nation’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was also the guest of honour at the celebration.

Tunku who is an old Free himself contributed to the construction of Kutub Khanah Tunku, Penang Free School’s first ever library. This was in 1969.

Fastforward to 2009 and two final sports houses were introduced by headmaster Haji Ramli Din. These were Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin (Purple) after the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail and P Ramlee (Grey).

Interestingly, both Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin and P Ramli, Malaysia’s silver screen legend, studied together here.

Penang Free School has a rather interesting phrase, ‘Once a Free, Always a Free’. It’s not hard to see why.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Seventh day of Chinese New Year

Traditionally, the seventh day of Chinese New Year refers to the birthday of mankind which the Chinese in Penang, typically the Nyonya community, celebrate with a yellow rice noodle dish called Lam Mee, comprising ingredients including bean sprouts, shredded omelette, sliced pork belly, prawns and sometimes fish ball. The broth is made from boiling pork bones, meat and prawn shell. My wife and I served this dish to the Theravadin monks at the Nandaka Vihara meditation centre in Bukit Mertajam for their lunch today.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

My Chinese New Year tradition

One of my Chinese New Year traditions - I don't know whether any other household practices it or not - is to give the image of Kuan Imm on the altar an annual symbolic cleansing. About two or three days before the New Year, I would place the stone image in a pool of fragrant water and slowly pour cupsful of the scented water over it. But don't ask why I do it. This has been practiced in my family for a very long time...since the days of my grandmother. I don't question it as it's actually quite therapeutic for me. For a reason, I find myself relaxed after completing this ritual. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

An exceptional Chinese New Year

Well, this has been a pretty much exceptional Chinese New Year in the midst of a pandemic that seems to be abating world-wide but not here in Malaysia. Infections are raging in the community and until the vaccination programme kicks off in March or April, I do not see the numbers decreasing until then. My age-group puts me squarely in the second stage of the programme which should begin from May this year but my wife will not be able to get hers until much later as she will be in the third stage when the rest of the population will get their chance.

So how more exceptional is this Chinese New Year? For one, there's this silly sohai Minister who had set the rules for this year's family gatherings and reunions. Only members of the same family staying in the same household can hold their Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinners. What crap. That's no difference from a normal lunch with all your family members on a normal day. That's gross stupidity for you, courtesy of an idiot who doesn't understand the culture of the rest of the people in the country, the product of a skewed education.

Anyway, I'm thankful that my son can still be with us at the reunion dinner even though my daughter cannot. I do miss her physical presence terribly, same with my wife, and we're hoping for the day when the movement control order is relaxed enough for her to come home for a visit. She's working in the Klang Valley and had to celebrate her Chinese New Year with friends instead.

But although it is a quieter and more sombre Chinese New Year, we still needed a reunion dinner with at least the son. Therefore, the cooking and the preparations. We tried to cut down on the amount of food, seeing there were only three of us at the dinner table, but it seemed almost impossible to do that. We still had to buy the ingredients for a reasonable dinner, meaning, we had to have the too tor soup, jiu hoo char, roast chicken and stir-fried prawns. Our son brought back some roast pork from the island and we also bought some lobak from the market here. All our must-have Chinese New Year food which would see us through the first few days of the festival until the wet market opens again.

The eve was also quieter because there weren't many houses in the neighbourhood letting off their firecrackers or fireworks. Usually around midnight, we'd be hearing lots of firecrackers being let off and seeing fireworks in the sky. Not this Chinese New Year though. What a damper, indeed! Perhaps there'll be more such activities come this 19th night -- the eighth day of Chinese New Year -- when the community shall pray to the Tnee Kong or God of Heaven.

Since the movement control order has also forced us to limit our movements within a 10-kilometre radius of the house, we also do not expect many visits from the relatives and friends, if at all. On our part, we can't even visit my in-laws in Bandar Tasek Mutiara because the place is in Province Wellesley South, a different district from ours, which the movement control order prohibits us from crossing. So it was through whatsapp video connections that we have been exchanging New Year greetings. 

Don't expect angpows to be greatly reduced. They have all been prepared before hand. What have to be given will be given, if not now then later. There's no escaping that. Some relatives, I hear, have resorted to crediting the angpow money into the recipients' bank accounts online but this is not something that I contemplate doing. Angpows should be given in person to make it meaningful, even though we have to wait until we meet up eventually. Still a traditionalist in many ways.

Together with the anticipated reduction in visits, we had decided to cut down on buying the festival cookies. This year, we only bought a bottle of kueh kapit folded with meat floss to supplement our annual frying of dried buah binjeh slices. We even cut down on the preparation of buah binjeh because we anticipated not being able to distribute them to our usual friends and relatives. To our surprise though, we have been receiving more New Year cookies than ever before. Our daughter asked us to collect some cookies from her friend on the mainland and then, some other friends decided to send us more cookies and dried foodstuff through courier delivery. So now, our table is filled with cookie bottles, a few still unopened but many already part consumed by the family. 

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! May you keep safe and healthy this 2021, and hope that next year's festival will be better!

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Ten Thousand Prosperities (萬興利) - Part 2

I received some good news by email yesterday. The graphic designer of my book, Ten Thousand Prosperities: the Story of Ban Hin Lee Bank, sent over the layout with the chapters completed and all the images inserted. Of course, I still need to go over the PDF file and correct whatever omissions I can find. That'll keep me occupied until Chinese New Year, I'm sure! But I'd like to give a peek here of the first page of every chapter in the book, plus the one picture of the man who made it possible for the book to be even written in the first place. That man? None other than Yeap Chor Ee. 

Chapter I: The Founding covered the pre-war years in the Straits Settlements, touching on Yeap Chor Ee's arrival in Penang and the growth of his business empire. In Chapter II: Surviving the War Years, I covered the period from the Japanese Occupation until the 1950s. 

Chapter III: Forging a New Image talked about the struggles that the bank faced in navigating its way through the difficult years of the 1960s and 1970s while Chapter IV: The Busy Eighties detailed the busy years after the bank had successfully reinvented and rejunevated itself for the future.

After the successful public listing exercise in 1991, the progress of the bank knew no bounds, as described in Chapter V: Roaring into the Nineties. Then in Chapter VI: Merger, I covered those crucial two years or so when the banking industry was pressured into mergers.

In Chapter VII: Across the Causeway, I delved into researching the history of the bank in Singapore and was delighted to find gems of information that were previously unknown. Chapter VIII: The Pursuit of Technology covered the bank's progress from a different point of view: firstly through mechanisation and then the computerisation of its banking services from the early 1980s until the merger in 2000. 

The bank was probably one of the pioneers that looked into incorporating financial services into its everyday banking business, which I covered in Chapter IX: The Financial Services. Finally, Chapter X: The Quest for Control touched on the changing board of directors and how in the 1980s, it accepted the inevitability of bumiputra equity participation, plus in the 1990s after the public listing, the pressures of takeover attempts.

There are also six appendices in the book of which the most interesting ones should be Appendix Five which touched on the bank's two logos and Appendix Six which was a reminiscence by an old staff of the bank before his retirement in 1980. In Appendix Seven, I attempted to reconstruct a list of the bank staff from 1935 till 2000. I have to admit that despite having more than 3,000 names here, I have missed out on many, many others because of incomplete records. It's regrettable, of course, but regardless of whether or not a name appeared here, this book is dedicated to them, all of them who had contributed to the success of Ban Hin Lee Bank.

Monday, 1 February 2021

It's a mighty world

Side 1: It's a mighty world, I've been told, Reminiscing, Hush hush Mamie, Camphorated oil, Bull jine run 
Side 2: Come a lady's dream, Sweet potatoes, Chevrolet, Love proved false, One man's hands, Got my mind on freedom

NPR, or National Public Radio in the United States, once ranked this album, It's a Mighty World, by folk singer Odetta Holmes as number 41 is its list of the 150 greatest albums made by women. This studio album was recorded in 1964.In describing this album, Michele Myers of the KEXP-FM radio station wrote:

During her fifty-year career as an American folk icon, Odetta Holmes was a singer, guitarist, actress and activist who inspired generations of folk, blues and rock musicians. Exuding intelligence, outrage and hope, the 1964 album It's a Mighty World showcases Odetta as a folk original. Fans of Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and (most notably) Bob Dylan may be shocked to hear guitar and vocal arrangements usually credited to those musicians on this record in their original form. In context of her struggles as an African-American woman in a brutally oppressed time, Odetta believed in free will. The might of her truth and persistence, particularly on this album, is undeniable. On it, Odetta leads the listener through powerful melodic histories of the oppressed, including old spirituals, prison camp and slavery songs, transforming them into anthems of liberation. Odetta said she read in her elementary school books that slaves were "happy and singing," so when she discovered folk music, her intention was to rewrite false and oppressive history. The words of folk music helped to voice her and others' hatred of oppression, and she once said: "It got to a point that doing the music actually healed me." Many of what she called her "interpretations" (Odetta did not often compose) became part of the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement of the '60s, inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to name Odetta the "Queen of American folk music." Yet another mark of Odetta's genius is that most of these recordings still feel relevant, thanks to her unique guitar work and her vast vocal range, which soars through a variety of styles from field calls to operatic to bluesy. 

The liner notes of this album carried quotes from many sources that had written about Odetta previously. The New York Times said of Odetta at the Newport Folk Festival, "The focus of the first concert was on Odetta whose mahogany hued sonorous voice offered what this listener felt was the crowning performance of the weekend." The New York Herald Tribune said, "She makes her words understood - and, there is thunder to their meaning and depth and power and punch." Variety magazine said, " direct and powerful as a blow torch, as deep and resonant as an old master viol....Odetta goes off to thunderous applause." And the Miami Herald wrote, "She stepped back an extra foot from the microphone and turned loose her two octave voice in full power. It left the audience stunned."

If you ask me, the only modern equivalent I can think of which comes close to Odetta's voice is that of Tracy Chapman singing Talkin' Bout a Revolution or Baby Can I Hold You from her seminal self-titled album of 1988.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

The voice of Africa

Side 1: Nomthini, Willow song, Langa more, Shihibolet, Tuson, Qhude
Side 2: Mayibuye, Lovely lies, Uyadela, Mamoriri, Le Fleuve, Come to glory

I first heard Miriam Makebe when she was introduced by Harry Belafonte on his album, Returns to Carnegie Hall. Here was a voice that sounded so forceful and could be very sweet at the same time. She impressed me to no end. For decades thereafter, I kept hearing about her. Then I came across this record called The Voice of Africa. 

In the liner notes on this record in 1964, Hugh Masekela, himself an accomplished musician, wrote:

Nothing can stop the eruption of a volcano, the bursting of a cloud, the rising of the tide, the blowing of the wind or the shining of the sun. The break of dawn is an inevitable but beautiful phenomenon.

Africa's dawn is breaking, her liberation flows south, her "winds of change" whistle across her plains, her ocean's tide of freedom rises. the cloud has burst and the long drought of oppression will soon end.

Africa's music has always flowed, its strains travel with the breeze, it suffers no droughts, it rains on its young crops, it has risen like the tide and now erupts - the world hears its sweet melodious strains in pleased amazement.

The force of Africa's endless but beautiful music gives birth to countless musicians, singers, dancers, poets, authors, actors and philosophers. Miriam Makeba is a gigantic tree in this great forest of art. She is the pride of her people. At home, we call her "Zenzile," "Nut Brown Baby," "Nightingale," and we speak of her with deep joy.

At home, audiences had pleaded with her to repeat a song as often as ten times. She is the first eruption of lava and rock to reach these shores; the volcano still roars and more lava and rock can be expected.

Most of the songs in this album were sung in fond remembrance of all those people at home who make music and the people for whom they make it.

Mayibuye is a cry to the people to come together and share their difficulties in the manner and fashion our forefathers, Chaka, Moshoeshoe, Ngika, Sekhukhuni, Nzilikazi, Khama and Hintsa would have been proud of.

Uyadela is an appeal to a friend not to give up so easily, and in the language of our forefathers it says: "When all the beasts of the earth had gone to fetch their tails, the rock-rabbit had long given up all hope, hence the absence of his tail."

These two songs are performed as they would be presented at home. These are the sounds of our Friday and Saturday midnight-to-dawn dances.

The instrumental choir behind Miriam has Ramapolo, a young Johannesburger, on trumpet, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone and Morris Goldberg (from Cape Town) on alto.

Langa More sings of one of our dances, the "tap tap": "Come all and see him feed us the food for the feet, we will go mad from the beauty of this dance."

Qhude is the call to the new bride to wake up; the cock has crowed and she must fetch water from the stream; the dawn ushers in a new life to the people.

Mamoriri is a call to the people to witness a miracle; there is someone in the fields milking a bird.

Nomthini is a love song. "Beyond those mountains, on the other side of those rocky hills, there lives a beautiful girl, Nomthini. I am without wings, else would I fly to her side. I have never seen Nomthini, not when she was alive."

These songs are sung at weddings for hours; the instruments substitute for the choir.

Le Fleuve is from West Africa. It speaks of the miracle of the constant flow of the river, the river that can never be stopped.

Come to Glory is a West Indian gospel chant. It is complemented by the voices of Beverly, Judy and Fran White. These three ladies have been surrounded by music all their life, thanks to Mr. Josh White. They sing behind Miriam here and the musical dialogue can be traced back four hundred years.

Lovely Lies was written in Johannesburg by a fellow artist, saxophonist Mackay Davashe. Guitarist Samuel Brown and bassist Bill Salter are like two great rocks behind Miriam's wailing.

Tuson is from Cuba and proves Miriam's versatile musicianship.

Shihibolet is a song from Israel. It is sung after the good harvest to express gratitude to God for a good crop.

Willow Song (from "Othello") is yet another diversion in the "Nightingale's" unpredictable repertoire. Miriam's accompanist, Mr. Marvin Falcon, is on guitar and her drummer, Auchee Lee, plays the flute.

All my gratitude to Miriam for all the flowing, bursting, rising, blowing and shining sounds she makes. A child of Africa's dawn, erupted from the burst of the long-dormant volcano.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Meaningful buildings

There are several buildings on Penang island which mean something to me. The first is obviously my childhood home: the house in which I grew up. And in fact, it was this house at No.10 Seang Tek Road that I lived with my parents and grandparents until I was 26 years old. There's a lot of attachment and many, many fond memories that goes with it.

The second is my secondary school building: the Penang Free School building in Green Lane where I had enjoyed seven years of schooling before stepping forth into the wide world. Again, a lot of attachment to it, and many, many fond memories too. Since 2012, I've stepped into the school premises again on countless occasions. Reliving my schooldays in a way.

The third has to be the former Ban Hin Lee Bank building in Beach Street which is now occupied by CIMB Bank. For 23 years, I was in the employment of this bank and I spent 18 years in this heritage building. So there's a lot of attachment here as well.

But there's a fourth building among two or three others that meant something to me. It could have been my primary school building, the Westlands Primary School building in Victoria Green Road or the Straits Echo building in Penang Road where I had my first meaningful employment, but no....I should refer instead to the Equatorial Penang building in Bukit Jambul on the south-eastern part of the island.

People may be curious to know why I should rank the Equatorial Penang building as one that means something to me. Well, it is because it was within the bowels of this building that I had spent eight-plus years employed at Yes, after I had resigned from Southern Bank in 2001, I joined this Internet job search company until my retirement at the end of 2009. 

For more than eight years, I crossed the bridge to reach Equatorial Penang from my residence on the mainland. Parking was always in the basement of the hotel. From there, lifts would take me either up to the ground floor where was most visible through its sales, finance and administration offices. But there was also an executive search office further inside and a network control office too. I shared space with Ted Targosz, Teoh Eng Soon and Wong Yew Tuck who became good friends from my JobStreet days. 

Then several months later, I moved to the Lower Ground Fifth floor - deep down the Equatorial Penang building - to engage more with the software engineers in the research and development department of 

In those days, all the job search application software were developed from the Penang office of and the staff in this particular department probably numbered around 30 or 40 people. That's quite a large workforce to support the demands of a job search company which range from the job seekers to the companies advertising their job positions. Proprietary matching tools were developed to pair job positions with potential job seekers. part of my job was to check the correctness of the language on the website and that used for the mass emails that the company send to the job seekers. 

Working in a place such as the Equatorial Penang building gave my colleagues and I plenty of opportunities to enjoy the restaurants at the hotel. Although we would usually have our lunch in Bayan Baru town, there were always occasions for celebrations and get-togethers in the hotel premises at the slightest excuse. Thus, places such as the Kampachi Japanese restaurant, the Golden Phoenix Chinese restaurant or their coffee house for lunch, The View restaurant for dinner or the Blue Moon pub to unwind after office hours. Plus, the time spent just sitting around and watching people passing by. 

I also like to mention the long and winding corridor on the Lower Ground Second Floor where the view was magnificent. Just standing there alone for five or 10 minutes, all serenely quiet and the wind sometimes blowing in the face, and looking out onto the Bukit Jambul golf course and the impressive bungalow buildings below was enough to soothe anyone's nerves. It brought me a therapeutic calm. 

All these are coming to an unfortunate end. After 32 years of being Penang's first five-star hotel in the southern reaches of the island. The management of Equatorial Penang has already informed the public that their hotel operations will cease from 10 February 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The only consolation, so I hear, is that the tenants of their office block on the lower ground floors will function as normal. Nevertheless, the hotel will definitely become a much quieter place after this date.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Dark side of Joey Yap

On the eighth anniversary of this picture appearing on facebook (it appeared originally on 27 January 2013), I want to say this: the seated person is an obnoxious character whose head has gotten far too big for his hat. 

I'll tell you why. Ever since the pandemic struck last year, he has switched his talks online with great success as he can now reach out easily to participants from around the world. That's very clever of him to see the opportunity to promote his business amidst the health crisis.

About a week ago, his team sent an email to invite people to sign up for one of his online talks yesterday, that is, on 26 Jan 2021. (As an aside, I must stress that there was nothing in the email to suggest that the talk would be in anything but English. Even the email content itself was written in English.) 

But to the surprise of many, his talk was conducted in the Cantonese dialect. To those people who asked why he was talking in Cantonese instead of English, he repeatedly called them "saw hai". Trust me, this is a derogatory term. You wouldn't use it on your mother, your sister or your wife, much less on people that had signed up for his online talks. 

No apologies at all for the oversight in the email which was clearly his and his team's alone. He thought so highly of himself that he even asked his team to kick out a participant after a comment was made. In my opinion, it wasn't even a rude comment at all, just asking him to admit his mistake, I think. 

But that's Joey Yap for you, obnoxious to the point where he has lost his empathy for the people who had contributed to his success over the years.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Ten Thousand Prosperities (萬興利)

Okay, after much hemming and hawing, we – meaning myself, my sponsors and my publisher – have made a final decision on the title of my book on Ban Hin Lee Bank. 

It's no longer Boundless Prosperity or even Bountiful Prosperity. We have agreed to use Ten Thousand Prosperities, which is the literal translation of Ban Hin Lee (萬興利) from the Penang Hokkien dialect into the English language.

Ten Thousand Prosperities had always been used by the bank right from the beginning but when I was writing this book, the feedback I received was that this translation had little meaning in the English language. 

Thus began the process of convincing the former directors – Goh Eng Toon, Stephen Yeap and Yeap Lam Yang – to agree to a more contemporary translation of the bank's name. 

They said 'yes' to either Boundless Prosperity or Bountiful Prosperity. But then about two weeks ago, my publisher had a change of mind and suggested that Ten Thousand Prosperities was, after all, quite appealing as the term was already so well known in the community when speaking of the bank.

So here again, there was this process of putting forth the new title to the former directors. Of course this time, there was little objection to it and I can now heave a sigh of relief that one more milestone of the book has been reached.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Coronavirus numbers

Exactly 10 months of various permutations of the movement control order in Malaysia and we have come to this. The data is not pretty and they don't instil much confidence in the fight against this pandemic if the numbers, that is, the confirmed infections, keep going up.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Coronavirus update

As we all know, a second round of the Movement Control Order has been imposed in Penang and five other states in the country since Wednesday due to the escalating cases of the Covid-19 virus. The coronavirus pandemic is threatening to spin out of control. But I was both shocked and concerned over the situation yesterday. 

In the morning, my wife and I decided to shop for fresh provisions at the public market in Taman Selamat. We don't usually go there as our normal wet market is the one at Kampong Baru. But for a change, we went to Taman Selamat yesterday. 

I was shocked. There were at least two or three entrances which were either not manned by the City Council staff and people were walking in and out of the market building freely. Only at one end of the market was there a Council station where the MySejahtera QR codes were displayed and the temperature taken of people walking in. As could be expected there were only a few people walking in through this entrance while the inside of the building was....packed!

Yes, packed. There was no social distancing. Everyone was crowding everybody else, jostling for position at the stalls to buy their foodstuff, shoulder-to-shoulder with one another. We felt so distressed that we decided to leave then and there. I felt so upset that I forgot to take a few snapshots as evidence of the shoppers' lackadaisical attitude towards their own health. Moreover, if the City Council could not impose their control strictly on this market or have lost control over the situation there, I am not going to shop there ever!

And then in the evening, I learnt that there were 4,000-plus cases of the coronavirus reported nationwide. A record number of cases, although this record is nothing to be proud about. Selangor alone recorded more than a thousand cases but then, this figure is nothing new for the state. This is a worrisome statistic and fingers should be pointed towards the irresponsible people AND politicians who make this happen. I say politicians because if they continue to do stupid things like distributing free food to people who are not reminded about observing social distancing, the numbers are bound to increase. 

This actually happened in Putrajaya a few days ago. Politicians distributing free chicken to the people. But it is not only in Selangor that the situation may be getting out of hand. Penang island too has seen an unending surges in Covid-19 infections, in particular, Mukims 12 and 13. Mukim 12 is in the South-West District of the island while Mukim 13 is in the North-East District. They are adjacent to one another and that's why infections are so rampant there. But the infections are slowly and surely creeping northwards towards the city. It is becoming worrisome there.

I'm particularly worried because my daughter stays in Petaling Jaya and my son is in Glugor, both among the coronavirus hotbeds in the country. My frustration is that I am unable to drive across the Penang Bridge into the island, let alone travel all the way to Selangor. I can only hope that they are able to take good care of themselves by themselves until such time when travel restrictions are lifted.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

More old red packets

Last October, I posted a picture of old Chinese New Year red packets from Ban Hin Lee Bank, going back to a time when red packet designs were simpler and not as elaborate as the ones we see from the financial institutions presently. Well, I've now uncovered more old red packets but this time, they are from other banks and finance companies. 

Prior to Year 2000, there were still finance companies in the country, both large and small, multi-branched and single entities, but these were phased out through takeovers and amalgamations into the larger banks. Today, we do not have finance companies any more and any mention of them is bound to cause confusion in many people's minds. In fact, the banks and finance companies named below do not exist anymore, having been taken over after 2000. I'm not going to attempt to explain what these banks and finance companies were except to give some brief comments about them.

The red packets in the above two pictures were issued by MBf Finance Berhad which was later merged with Arab-Malaysian Finance.

Malayan United Finance and MUI Finance were the names of the same entity, subsequently merged into the Hong Leong Bank Group.

EON Finance was a subsidiary of the EON Bank Group, now merged into the Hong Leong Bank Group.

United Merchant Finance was a subsidiary of the United Merchant Bank Group, which was taken over by the CIMB Group.

Hock Hua Bank was based in Sarawak and a different bank from Hock Hua Bank (Sabah). This bank was merged into the Public Bank Group in the 2000s.

First Malaysia Finance was little known but it was acquired by Arab-Malaysian Finance, now part of the AmBank Group.

Kwong Yik Bank was a subsidiary of Malayan Banking and was later to become Development & Commercial Bank or D&C Bank. It is now absorbed into the RHB Bank Group.

This red packet was from Oriental Bank which was ultimately owned by the Hong Leong Bank Group.

Leong Hin Finance was another small finance company. 

Hong Leong Finance was a well established finance company which was later absorbed into Hong Leong Bank.

Red packet issued by Bank Rakyat.

Pacific Bank was bought over by Maybank subsequently.

Bank Bumiputra became Bumiputra Commerce Bank, which the CIMB Group acquired ultimately. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

A poignant comparison

I hope Global Times will not mind if I were to repeat their opinion piece here. It makes so much sense to compare the reactions between the storming of the Hongkong Legislative Council in 2019 and the storming of Capitol Hill in 2021. But with a taste of their own medicine, do you ever think the United States will have learnt a lesson and think twice before imposing their brand of democracy/justice on others again or even shooting off their mouths (sic)? Nope, I doubt it. I doubt it very much. They'll be up to the same tricks again, soon. 

(Of course, Penang people should not forget too that in 2014, a group of UMNO goons had also forced their way into a sitting session of the Penang State Assembly.) 

Chinese netizens jeer riot in US Capitol as 'Karma,' say bubbles of 'democracy and freedom' have burst

Jan 07, 2021

Words like "Karma," "retribution" and "deserving" were frequently mentioned in Chinese netizens' comments when they saw the latest episode of the US' real version of House of Cards - which saw Trump supporters storming the Capitol, messing up House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, clashing with police officers and looting items. The pictures went viral in US, Chinese and international news outlets after the riots began Thursday morning. 

Chinese web users still remember the distress and anger they felt when they saw rioters in Hong Kong storming the Legislative Council Complex, scrawling graffiti, smashing and robbing items, and, instead of condemning the violence, US politicians hailed the "courage" of these mobs, Western media praised the "restraint" of the rioters, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even called it a "beautiful sight."

Now, this "beautiful sight" is taking place in the US. A Chinese netizen commented, "Pelosi can enjoy the beautiful sight - even at her office desk! For such a long time, US politicians called rioters 'freedom fighters' in other countries. Now, they finally have retribution!" 

"It was like watching a thrilling action movie!" That was how Chinese netizens described the scenes early Thursday morning. 

When a similar scenario happened in Hong Kong's LegCo in 2019, some US politicians like Pelosi praised rioters in the city as fighters for freedom. This has inspired some talented netizens to come up with a slogan for US mobs to continue their protests. 

"Five demands, not one less. Liberate the US, the revolution of our times," they said, intimating five demands and slogans made by HK rioters to pressure the HK government.

The five demands include recognizing the Democratic Party cheated in the presidential election and denying that Biden is the new president; revoking the definition of "violence"; revoking the charges against the protesters; establishing a commission to investigate police violence and holding a second presidential election to ensure justice and fairness.  

A photo of protesters seemingly holding Pelosi's office chair has also gone viral on Sina Weibo, prompting netizens to joke that there's still a smell of "flattery" left on the chair which Pelosi would call "a beautiful sight."

As of press time, the topics "Trump said he would never concede" and "Trump supporters storm Capitol" were in the "mostly searched and seen" list on China's Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo. 

Many Chinese netizens "confessed" in their comments that they saw the "chaos in the US" as revenge. After inciting so much chaos around the world under the pretext of "freedom and democracy," the US finally tasted the "karma" of its double standards. 

"This is the first political coup to happen in the American continent without the involvement of US embassies," mocked one netizen. 

Many Chinese netizens found it hilarious that US President Donald Trump's Twitter account had been suspended for 12 hours.

Mohamad Safa, a Lebanese diplomat and also Permanent Representative to the United Nations, made his comment on the incident on Twitter, saying that "If the United States saw what the United States is doing in the United States, the United States would invade the United States to liberate the United States from the tyranny of the United States." 

His tweet has received more than 41.8K "like" as of press time on Thursday.

Different from its previous active attitudes toward similar incidents in other places across the world, the US Embassy in China's Sina Weibo account has kept silent for what was happening in the US. 

But Chinese netizens seem to "give no mercy" to unveil the Embassy's double standards and hypocrisy - they swarmed into the Embassy's account as early as 7 am, asking "Why don't you come to work on time? We are all here waiting for you to talk tall of US democracy and values." 

"For a long time, US politicians criticized China for its efforts in cleaning up online rumors and disinformation and defamed us for 'hurting freedom of speech.' What are you doing right now? President Trump enjoys his right to freedom!" a netizen commented. 

Chinese netizens also put pictures online of what is happening in the US and China at the same time - while pro-Trump rioters are climbing the walls of the Capitol, Chinese workers wearing protection suits in Dalian of Liaoning Province are pushing a trailer carrying daily supplies to fight COVID-19. "A sharp contrast! While Chinese are busy saving lives, the US is showing the world how it is collapsing!" a netizen commented.

Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, told the Global Times that Chinese net users' comments on the storming of the Capitol are "the plain and true and sincere feelings of the Chinese."

The storming of the US Capitol happened at a symbolic point of power transition, and was the first time it has happened in US history. Netizens commented that this symbolic moment clearly demonstrated the "falling of the beacon of democracy."

What happened in the US Capitol and the US' response to it have burst the bubbles of "democracy" and "freedom" and "universal values" that the US has long used to coax others, Shen said. 

The US National Guard moved to deal with the rioters in the Capitol, which is also a slap in the face for the US over its previous remarks on similar incidents in other countries and regions and in China's Hong Kong. "How hypocritical of it to criticize other countries for using police to deal with rioters!"

Many US allies also expressed their concerns over the protests. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the scenes as "shameful," while Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said they are "unbelievable scenes" and "totally unacceptable attack on democracy."  

Their voices also irritated many Chinese netizens, who slammed their double standards when it came to interfering in China's Hong Kong affairs.

Chinese netizens commented, "Why didn't Boris Johnson say he backs the US 'freedom fighters' for fairness, the way he said he backs Hong Kong protesters 'every inch of the way?'"

Tom Fowdy, a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities, told the Global Times, "What we see tonight is the product of an extremely polarized political environment in the US." He added that it could be described as "cracks" in US democracy, as such a system only works if it has legitimacy amongst all its stakeholders. 

Fowdy said that there is a noticeable contrast in discourse as to how the two events are portrayed in Hong Kong and in the US. When rioters stormed the HK LegCo, it was heralded as an act of brave rebellion by "pro-democracy" protesters, but when Trump supporters stormed the US capitol building it was described by the BBC as a "violent, pro-Trump mob."

"There is a clear media double standard. The United States has long held a belief that unrest in its own country is always objectively wrong, but ought to be encouraged for political purposes elsewhere," he said.

Global Times 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Boundless Prosperity

I can now reveal that for the past nine to 10 months, I've been working on a project to write a story on Ban Hin Lee Bank. 

The project is almost at an end now - for me, anyway - pending a final review of the draft by both my editor and my publisher. After all the final kinks are ironed out, the draft shall go for layout and then there will be another round of checking to ensure that the layout designer has done his job correctly. By this, I mean that the story is laid out correctly and the pictures are all in the right places. My publisher estimates that the middle of April would be about the time that the book can see print. I've got to keep my fingers crossed.

The book is divided into 10 chapters covering the bank's journey from 1935 till 2000. There are also five appendices including one in which I had attempted to reconstruct the names of the Ban Hin Lee Bank former employees. Not an easy task, especially for the period after 1995 because the intake of staff was no longer recorded in the bank newsletters.

This may sound strange but it is true. When Ban Hin Lee Bank was taken over by Southern Bank in 2000, and Southern Bank was in turn swallowed by CIMB Bank in 2006, many of the old Ban Hin Lee Bank records disappeared as if they were irrelevant and no longer important. But those were the gems of history. Once they were gone - disappeared, misplaced, destroyed, whatever - there was no way to trace them again. 

Thursday, 31 December 2020


When I stepped out of the house to take in the full moon at about 11.15pm yesterday, I couldn't help but be drawn to a brilliant whitish-blue spot directly overhead in the night sky. It must be Sirius. The Dog star. In the constellation of Canis Major. 

And this can only remind me of one thing: that Spring is just around the corner. In fact, we Chinese shall be celebrating the Coming of Spring, or Li Chun (立春) on 3 Feb 2021. That's only 34 days away. 

(Note: The picture was cropped from a digital image of Sirius that I took last night with the zoom lens set at its maximum 150mm focal length on my little Olympus E-PL7 camera. Not the best of equipment, I'm afraid, but that's all I can play with.)

Before that, I would want to wish everyone, especially my followers of this blog, a Happy New Year. But we should keep our feet firmly on the ground and not be delusional. Don't expect changes. Next year will not be any much different from this year; 2021 will only be a continuation of 2020. Therefore, please keep safe and keep healthy. Practice social distancing, sanitise your hands often and wear a mask when doing anything outdoors. Happy New Year....again.

Friday, 25 December 2020


A heart-warming story I discovered through social media this Christmas. It is a bit long, but worth your while to read the first few paragraphs. Then I assure you that you shall continue reading till the end!

In 1979, I was managing a Wendy's in Port Richey Florida. Unlike today, staffing was never a real problem, but I was searching for a someone to work 3 hours a day only at lunch.

I went through all the applications ,and found that   most people were  looking for full time or at least 20 hours per week. I found one however, buried at the bottom of a four inch stack that was only looking for lunch part time. His name was Nicky. Hadn't met him but thought I would give him a call and see if he could stop by for an interview. When I called, he wasn't in but his mom said she would make sure he would be there.

At the appointed time, Nicky walked in. One of those moments when my heart went in my throat. Nicky suffered from Downs Syndrome. His physical appearance was a giveaway and his speech only reinforced the obvious.

I was young and very sheltered. Had never interacted on a professional level with a developmentally disabled peson. I had no clue what to do, so I went ahead and interviewed him.

He was a wonderful young man. Great outlook. Task focused. Excited to be alive. For only reasons God knew at that time, I hired him. 3 hours a day, 3 days a week to run a grill.

I let the staff know what to expect. Predictably the crew made sure I got the message, " no one wants to work with a retard."

 To this day I find that word offensive. We had a crew meeting, cleared the air, and prepared for his arrival.

Nicky showed up for work right on time. He was so excited to be working. He stood at the time clock literally shaking with anticipation.

He clocked in and started his training. Couldn't multi task, but was a machine on the grill. Now for the fascinating part.....

Back in that day, there were no computer screens to work from. Every order was called out by the cashier. It required a great deal of concentraion on the part of all production staff to get the order right. While Nicky was training during his first shift, the sandwich maker next to him asked the grillman/trainer what was on the next sandwich. Nicky replied, "single, no pickle no onion." A few minutes later it happened again. It was then that we discovered Nicky had a hidden and valuable skill.

He memorized everything he heard! Photographic hearing! WHAT A SKILL SET!!

. It took 3 days and every sandwich maker requested to work with Nicky. He immediately was accepted by the entire crew.

After his shift he would join the  rest of his crew family,  Drinking Coke like it was water!  It was then that they discovered another Rainman-esque trait.

 Nicky was a walking/talking perpetual calendar! With a perpetual calendar as a reference, they would sit for hours asking him what day of the week was December 22, 1847. He never missed. This uncanny trait mesmorized the crew.

His mom would come in at 2 to pick him up. More times than not, the crew would be back there with him hamming it up. As I went to get him from the back, his mom said something I will never forget. "Let him stay there as long as he wants. He has never been accepted anywhere like he has been here." 

I excused myself and dried my eyes, humbled and broken hearted at the lesson I just learned.

Nicky had a profound impact on that store. His presence changed a lot of people. Today I believe with every fibre of my body that Nicky's hiring was no accident. God's timing and will is perfect.

This Christmas, I hope we all understand what we are celebrating.

We are all like Nicky.

 We each have our shortcomings. We each have our strong points, but we are all of value. God made us that way and God doesn't make mistakes. Nicky certainly wasn't a mistake. He was a valuable gift that I am forever grateful for.