Mom was a Socialite

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Mom was a socialite, but dad always insisted that meal time is when everybody sits together at the dining table. The irony was mom seldom sits at home lest to watch us eat our meals. She adores outside food and thus with all her ‘Tai Tai’ friends, they’d cluster together over meals in the most popular of Chinese Restaurants. And because we have lived-in maids, the maids are the ones who cook for us. They are simple dishes. Tau Eu Kay or Bak Cho, and Chai Tau Char. But we enjoyed it. Since young we relish what’s served to us. But she does however prepares herbal soups needed for us to grow. Our breakfast was usually liver with fresh ginger and soy sauce basked in hot water . Sometimes bread and butter with sugar sprinkles, fresh milk from the milkman, sometimes outside food and at times, boiled eggs with Milo. Except for my brother who is quite picky, otherwise we have no trouble adjusting ourselves, my sis and I. We too enjoyed the lavish dinners combing functions, celebrations and dinners my dad is required to attend. As children, we tagged along everywhere they go. That’s executive privilege. When dad goes to work, we usually remind him in sync with this daily recital “to be good, make a lot of money and come back soon.”

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Mom was close to her three sisters too. Especially my Jee Ee (2nd aunty) who is somehow always around. My 2nd aunty hos a company which organises variety shows and events in Penang. Inside her stable were Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore film stars and singers. I think she is quite successful in what she does because most of her stars are the very famous ones of that era. So are the band boys she manages. And together with my mom, both of them comb night clubs and bars sought of after dinner ritual if ever they are obligated to attend. Their favourite sport, drink, dance and chat till they drop.

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Thus in every aspect, our school life is inundated with our parents social preoccupations so much so that we hardly have evenings of quietness. My dad had his name inscribed on the plague in his alumni , attributed to the largest donor of his ex pupils association. He was also wearing many other social hats. That shophouse in Presgrave Street is our usual haunting ground. There, we played table tennis, mahjong games or simply scribble onto the blackboards. As children, we accompany them and we had our fun. Mom’s favorite sport is talking and there, she is at utmost ease, as she acquaints herself with members of dad’s club. She has her own alumni too. In that era, there wasn’t plenty of fun places to go to. And so I guess, that’s how our parents enjoyment is integrated with ours.A one stop fun club for families. Inside this association are also a full set of musical instruments my dad had donated. They have a band of their own which were regularly invited to perform at functions or religious ceremonies such as Ko Tai’s.

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Back in those days, beit at Great World Park or New World, where my dad’s association band sometimes perform, there are amusement games, merry go rounds, ferris wheel, open air cinemas and ad hoc stage. And there are in the midst, candy peddlers, kacang putih sellers. The grounds are usually sandy and wet on rainy days. Where the bands play, they usually have a sort of battle where the best of bands is judged by the crowd they could garner and thus, in between Chinese Pop songs. they will also belt out Western numbers by the spurts.

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My maternal grandma’s house was smacked right in the middle of town at Aboo Sittee Lane. And her tyre shop was in Prangin Road (now Lim Chwee Leong Road). Grandma was shrew. It could have been that after the war, she took over the business left by her deceased husband (my maternal grandfather) who was tortured and died in the hands of the Japanese. Or it could have been she managed that tyre shop for there were cousins and in laws in the business registration. Grandma used to ride on human powered trishaws, her grand Mercedes on three wheels, to and from work. Because of her, we had fun riding on these trishaws , to arrive at Goh Phar Teng where we’d have the best Koay Teow Thng, Hokkien Mee and Char Koay Teow. My grandma loves to cook Kiam Chye Ark, a salted vegetable soup broiled with shitake mushrooms and duck or chicken meat. That was my sister’s favourite soup. And from Kiam Chye Ark, the soup will transform into Chai Boey which from the same soup, leftover dishes were thrown in for the extra flavour and they’d relish and relish as they keep on adding the salted vegetables and soup in. Sometimes it takes them weeks to finish just this one dish. My sister is very close to my maternal grandma so, during those days, she sometimes stays with her. And together they’d go watch those Taiwan love movies and have a good cry. I really shook my head at this ‘paying to cry” movies. That is beyond my understanding because if dad brings us to movies or makan-makan (eat out), he’d usually order more than enough beit a Sunday at the Seafood restaurant at Tj Tokong or the cafe besides Cathay Cinema.

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On weekends, dad sometimes play hosts to his foreign friends and relatives who visits. He usually brought them sight seeing beit to Batu Maung, the aquarium, Batu Feringghi beaches, seafood restaurants, Snake Temple, Kek Lok Si temple or the Reclining Buddha. As children, we follow where they go to, with our Singapore cousins (mom’s side) , if and when they are are down on holiday. That is because both my Ee’s had their homes in Singapore.

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At home, we too had fun. When none of the relatives are around, we will play with our Lego set, Chinese or English chess, Happy Family, Ludo, Scrabble, you named it, we have it. Outside of the semi detached house, we’d cycle, roller skate ar play basketball all day. Dad had a net fixed at the balcony corner and we too have our own personal pond. It was a landscaped feature pool, but with a bit of imagination, it became our private wading pool. Actually it started as a fish pond where dad rears his Japanese carp. Later it became a tortoise pond after the hoards of tortoises we brought home found at the land in Jln Tengah. But we had them donated to Ket Lok Is temple years after because no one likes to regularly clean the pond. We also played kites, because our neighbours kids all play kites. One minute “s”, the next minute stamps. My sis, she reads fiction. Love fiction in particular. We also have a pet dog named ‘Poppy’. Such a lovable watch dog he was. The rest, dad rears following Poppy’s demise was just that, another dog. And everyday, the Indian Mee seller staying next door to our house will bring out his pushcart. There at the corner of our house entrance he ply his trade. And we had plates and plates of his mee because it was so delicious and tasty. At night, opposite our house at the corner of Jones Close, was a ‘Chai Diam Ma’ sort of s grocery cum provision shop. In front is a Rojak Seller (a kind of salad with fruits and condiments eaten with a sticky paste made of prawn). Behind our home, dad built a badminton court in no man’s land. There we had bouts of fun games and dad will invite all his friends to have a game or two. Dad was a sports freak. My brother and I followed him to watch football at the City stadium every time the Penang team plays. Dad himself excels in table tennis winning many times in inter-school alumni competitions and my sis herself was a hurdler also having strings of medals to take home. They are the only two in the family appearing in the trophy corner. And because our house was just a footwalk to Gurney Drive, we often spent our days and evenings there collecting seashells or had fun at the beach. Or just sit there by the pedestrian walkway to wile our time away. The best thing about our Jones Road house was, then, there weren’t much cars. We can literally follow the back path towards Pulau Tikus market and back. Pulau Tikus market is where everyone living in that vicinity buys their fresh produce from and also breakfast.

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But there is this place which I was literally fond of. My dad’s estate in Jln Tengah. It’s actually a pig farm he literally built himself out from scratch with the help of some sub contractors but he bought the materials himself and built his first few sheds I guess to cost save. He does that on his own by just by following the guides he gain from books. My daddy is my hero. And I can safely say I inherited his talents.

The pig farm has only one access, with three water convolvulus and hyacinth ponds to reckon with beside two streams that ran across it. And in between these ponds are rows of rambutan and durian trees not to mention banana and pink fleshy guavas. The farm flanked a paddy field. Both rivers sprang a lot of surprises. From monitor lizards as huge as goats to the Malay farmer batting fresh water prawns with their bare fingers, it’s the kind of adventure every child needs. Because every farm owner is entitled a shotgun, dad does his hunting for pests that would invade the fruit trees or the chickens living inside the estate. Sometimes to get us excited, he’d plan for evening hunts which two, or three of my paternal cousins will follow, one was my 3rd Kor’s son who later worked with my dad in the motorcycle shop then the gas shop, and the other two was my 2nd Kor’s sons, whom after school just did some odd jobs with my dad, who in a way feeds them. The farm was minded by my Tua Kor (eldest sis of my dad) and her family. My Tua Kor Tniau literally works for my dad. He was entrusted to look after the pigs. They have a VERY big family of their own and most of them resided there under my dad’s expense. Sometimes in the evenings. the lorries from the wholesalers would arrive, ready to pick the pigs to the slaughter house. And they pay their dues in cash. It is one of the most lucrative business my dad has ever been in, but because labour was scarce, dad was also half hearted. Then came the government who uses the land acquisition act to acquire the land, on the pretext of building low cost houses. The never did. Forty years later, it was sold to Suiwah for RM40 per square feet. Chong Eu, then Chief Minister was made their group Chairman. Dad was aggrieved and seek them out for a compromise where we would build the low cost houses and sell it to the government. They refused so dad brought them to court. Nevertheless, we lost. But not without a fight. Thence, we sold the land to them at RM1.38.

Inside the farm was a tool shed dad built. There, we had fun making our own imaginary space-aged gadgets or toy guns we as children played with. We even attempted at making kites. And many a time, there was the encounters with cobras who loves to hibernate inside bathrooms. Even pythons. Back in those days the new road was practically non existent, so we use the old road bypassing Sungei Ara and there at the crossroads, dad will stop to buy Cucuk Kodoks and Ham Chin Peng (Teatime Sweets). My brother and I will always sit at the river bank fishing, making our fishing rods out of bamboo sticks. They may be small cat fishes but there we were, having a great time exploring. But those were the Sundays without mom. or sis who was with my maternal grandma on most weekends. It’s like a boys club, with wildlife as friends. We did not have much luck with the durians, mangosteens or rambutans because that wasn’t our core business. The whole place is like a fruit orchard, only that gnarls of pigs is what one hears from a distance. But when they do grow, there we are perching ourselves on the trunks relishing the fruits send from heaven. Of course there were some chickens, ducks and goose. Goose acts as deterrent to snakes.

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With so much happening, I felt that as children, we are very blessed because then, there was a sense of family bonding. Until life took a turn when I was about 17 years of age. The misfortune taught me alot about face value and how most of daddy’s and mommy’s friends were literally just suckers. They suck the sweetness out of you like chewing gums, then spit you out once there is no more sweet left in you. And that is how I described their friends, even relatives for the matter. Because when my parents were left to borrow, only a handful came to the fore. And got thrashed by the rest. When news spread that we are no longer doing that fine, my sis was in England. Our Chinese New Year celebration, once a festive gala crowded with scores of people, even strangers are now empty spaces filled only with faint echoes of our once booming life. Back in those days, Chinese New Year was a grand affair. We had hoards of visitors, cards from minsters, and five lion dances to reckon with, from the societies that dad and mom are active in. My dad and mom was also politically active, both serves as chairman of the parties in the districts they were involved in. I was in my teens then but I was sensitive enough to understand what was happening. All the food and drinks that mom prepares were literally wasted. It was a traumatic experience for me. One that would remain etched inside my cerebral till this day because on every CNY, these memories will creep back. Unlike most Chinese, I may be the only one who will never enjoy Chinese New Year because it was a bit too traumatic for me.

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((To be continued)).

We Didn’t Have It Good Then.

 

Part 1.

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We didn’t have it good then. I mean there’s a high degree of separation between our childhood formative years and our adolescence period. We had it sweet in the beginning but after those years transcending till teenage and adulthood, it gets more bitter as time passes. Then came the plunge.

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My sister was the more brilliant of us two so she had the privilege to go UK for her further studies whilst I was, at my usual naughty self chasing skirts. I was brilliant in my primary but I guess after a few cracks on the head (one of which I can still remember the blood streaming down my face in Wellesley Primary), I think it took a toll on certain cognitive areas which affected my studies. My strength lies in creativity, I’m highly imaginative, expressive, organised, and a little obsessed with details. I am a sucker for system and to design and arrange things. Other than that, I have poor learning skills and I was always caught crying everyday when it comes to homework.

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My parents weren’t highly educated because they were the caught-in-between the Japanese Occupation and most of the time, they were busy thus, mom always relied on my 2nd Ee( mom’s sis) for the planning part. Mom has two sisters , the last (3rd Ee) was younger.

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Then, we were rich. In 1966, dad struck lottery. 2nd prize in the social welfare and for a reward of $60K at that time, he saw his goal changed thus he became a businessman. We moved from Jockey Road to Jones Road after my paternal grandpa passed away.

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Both mom and dad thence became instant celebrities, well at least to the Chinese fraternity. Mom was a socialite and so was dad. Dad’s was more of an obligation and duty. We had everything we wanted as a child. Dad bought us games and sports equipments. And taught us all he knew. He even had a basketball net installed at our balcony so we could have fun. Compared to my brother, I was the skilful one either in aiming, in roller skates, or in cycling. He dropped out from Kungfu classes. I did not. And I earned the privilege to demonstrate my skills at Han Chiang indoor stadium at a tender age of 13. And I learnt to net balls jumping on skates by myself. We had lived in amahs, drivers, gardeners, car wash boys. And though they were both Chinese educated, they sent my sis and I to English schools whilst my brother went to a Chinese one. I guess they did not have the luxury of time to even think nor worry about our future because things were going alright. Three cousins were staying with us and sort of help to guide us when my parents weren’t around. We also have our paternal grandmother around most of the time. And most evenings, we’d be tagging along to their numerous involvement in Chinese associations, clan, societies, temples that both my parents were involved in or one of their numerous dinners . My dad had a hall named after him in Presgrave Street, being the largest donor, and he was also Chairman of his alumni for years. They also organised regular getaways for their friends – picnics, bungalow stays, travels etc and as children, I must say we were made to feel wholesome. Dad was great with children and I’m proud to say that unlike his friends who usually attends functions alone, we are always there where he was. As for my mom, she can never get attached to kids.

Dad bought a 7 acre farm in Jalan Tengah where Sunshine Square now sits, and there he reared pigs for sale. We were then the second largest pig farmers in Penang, if not the biggest. And the returns was good. (He gave that up eventually because everyone was caught in the factory bug and he found it hard to find workers to clean the pig sties. Eventually the government acquired it for a pittance claiming they wanted to develop it for low cost housing. My dad counter offered to have it developed and share the earnings with the government but was declined. It went to court. We lost. That land never got developed. It was sold to Suiwah Group instead 40 years later with Chong Eu being made the Group chairman. The government bought ours for Rm1.38/sq foot but sold it at RM44/sq ft.

That farm was the place we spent most of our Sundays at, playing, catching fishes, perching on rambutan trees etc. We had our fun whilst dad took care of his itenary and stuffs. We also owned a land in Telok Kumbar, a house in Jalan Bunga Pudak, Tj Bungah. At that time, we were living in Jones Road. The home is still there after we sold it and the owner till today, did not change the facade.

Mom never need to cook for us because we have amahs so all she does was to order them around. She enjoys that Tai Tai lifestyle. Mom hardly stayed home. She chooses to eat outside everyday and every meal if possible. So between both of them, there’s so much going on. And of course her duty of fetching us home from school which left me stranded a few times. It never happened to my sister nor my brother. I was the unlucky one I guess. We owned a Gas Shop in Hutton Lane where dad’s trading company was also based, a motorcycle dealer shop in Jln Sungei Ujong, a petrol kiosk in Chain Ferry , Butterworth, and a beauty perm parlour at Kinta Lane. Dad even had his name on his own shampoo brand called ‘Lebon’ and we were then, sole distributors for Misasa Cosmetics. Each of these companies were helmed by their trusted friends. But little did it occur to them that fate would take a down turn. How? I don’t know. We were too naive to understand but as children, we were caught in the plethora of the storm.

In between their numerous fights, I could roughly gather that dad was promiscuous. But news in later years as gathered from cousins also claim that my mom also had her fair share of flings. During one fight, my grandma was also ploughed with a flower pot meant for my dad’s head when she tried to mediate. And we cried and cried. Mom also dragged us to follow her at times because she received tips of my dad’s whereabouts but it turned out to be false news. I guess she spent a lot of her money hiring investigators to trail him. One day, mom decided to leave, taking my sis and younger brother along with her. But left me with my dad. That wasn’t the time when they officially moved. When they officially moved out from Jones Road, I was in Singapore.

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Back to when chao truly happened, my sister was forced to return and so was my 2nd auntie’s daughter, both of them in UK. This eldest cousin of mine from my 2nd aunt, my parents help support them for awhile because my 2nd aunties husband, my 2nd Tniau, suffered a misfortune in his own investments. Then, he was GM of a big Singapore company. In fact he was caught first and my dad had to sell off the Jalan Bunga Pudak house to help him. (As how my dad puts it to me in later years, he succumbed to my mom’s pressure and my 2nd auntie kneeling and begging him for help) He also blames my mom for foiling his bid to get Honda motorcycle dealership direct from Japan when they came over because our sales outclass Boon Siews.) That enrages my granduncle very much because my grand uncle trusted my dad alot. My 2nd Tniau was brilliant, but succumbed to ambition and he was later sued for criminal breach of trust, which landed him in Changi Prison for 3 1/2 years. But this 2nd aunty of mine was quite enterprising in a small way even as a ‘Tai Tai’, like my mom is. Before her husband’s fate, she herself had a thriving event planning company and also serves as a ‘pop-band manager’. She organizes live appearances and performances for the rising stars of Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan music and film industries to perform in Penang. That was in the heydays and we as kids get to see these shows for free and had dinners and lunches with them. One of the stars wanted to bring me to Hong Kong but my parents thought I was too young to follow. I guess you could say my aunt’s family and ours was quite close at that time. And so, she ended up having to feed her three daughters in a rented apartment in Singapore and her eldest daughter has to start working to help feed their family. They lost their Green Lane house (Singapore). Eventually her two daughters grew up and flew with SIA till today, as senior flight stewardesses and the last, once Janice, now Dennis, had her sex changed, legally in Singapore. And so it was like this, ever since young, it was party, party and party for us.

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And I was a dandy. After my MCE, I was asked to help in the petrol station. I rode my brother’s bike there everyday (for two years? or so) and everyday without fail, I fooled around after coming back home. Because then, I only have eyes for women and I was dead bored at the petrol kiosk. The petrol business and gas shop was in my mom’s name. And there I was, in the midst, growing fond of a woman a year older than me, who came from a gloriously rich background from Kangar. At that time, as I found out, they were the second richest family after the Kuoks in Kangar. In between, I made trips to her hometown in Perlis, stayed in her home, and she also bunked in with me once, in Penang. Before that, there were other attachments but not like this one. The next minute I knew, her parents were visiting our place. Mom didn’t like that thought I think because both of us were very young. And so I thought in later years, she arranged with my 2nd auntie to have me sent over to Singapore, to get me away from this girl, got me a job in an architectural firm and also a place in Poly. So there I landed. I was worried for myself and asked my dad if I really need to go Singapore? He said “you better go” I guess being influenced by my mom about my attachment with that girl from Kangar. Years later when I was back, this girl I was subtly stopped from seeing passed away at 22. If I could remember clearly, from brain tumour. Those days when there was no internet, we literally corresponded and anticipate the slow mails. At one time it stopped. But little did I suspect anything amiss. I did go back to her parents holiday home at Ooi Thiam Siew Rd when my days in Singapore was over, but it was all totally dark. Neither did I suspect anything because people do move. It was only one fine day at the office as I was flipping the days newspaper did I come across her obituary which was already a year old.

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Eventually, after my parents separated (but not legally, because my dad didn’t sign the papers), dad moved to Hutton Lane in the gas shop we owned, with my 3rd Kor’s entire family, whose son worked for us. Dad paid for their bills even whilst his son gets his salary. My dad was always kind to his own poor siblings. whilst my mom moved to my grandma’s home in Barrack Road. I wasn’t with them when they moved and thus I didn’t have the privilege to take what was mine. At first my dad moved there too but was chased out by my mom after my Tua Ku allegedly claims my dad brought home a woman. Our family home in Jones Road was already sold then. And so are the rest of his properties except for the petrol kiosk and gas shop which was registered under mom’s name. My mom went to manage my grandma’s tyre shop in Prangin Road, after my grandma died. Unfortunately, my mom’s siblings were all vultures to a fault. No one wants to get involved in the running, but everybody wanted their share. Mom was named to manage the business because my grandma doesn’t trust her second daughter, my 2nd Ee. My mom was a kind soul and she never refuses anyone in need. And so her siblings depleted my grandmas savings and my mom, in need of cash, siphoned it from the petrol station which eventually made us lose the license. Dad was enraged. But she allowed my dad to operate the gas shop in her name. That was also the very last business we ever had. And moved my brother to work with him because he failed in his studies. Eventually they had my name and my brothers name inside the company but that was because my 3rd Kor’s son and his wife made a proposal to invest and dad agreed. After some years when they decided to venture on their own, my sis told my dad to relook at the accounts and that was when discrepancies were found. My cousin’s wife begged for mercy and eventually my 3rd Kor’s entire family moved out , so the company was again transferred back and remained with us. When dad passed away, my mom gave the key to the safe and running of the business to my brother because he was already working there with him and knew the ins and outs. I was caught in my own problems and gave my share in the company to my sis in law. That company was a disaster and day by day, I saw my dad continuously ran short of funds that he needed to borrow. Not like there wasn’t business and his overheads was low. I suspected something amiss and not until a year and a half later did I manage to convince him to look into his accounts and discovered that the company was actually making money! But that he spent it all on his gambling! He spends roughly RM6K per week on four digits alone. So before I left the company, I updated his accounts till the day I left. I liase with his accountant and they were all amused at my hurried effort. Apparently, dad did not update his income taxes for more than 15 years. The rest, I thought, was for my brother to worry about. I devised a plan for him to settle the sum owed and the loans he borrowed from. In three years, he’d be doing well and so I hoped. He agreed. The money came, his debts settled and as fate takes its toll, a few months later, he passed away. Somehow when his loan was settled as I sat there talking to the lenders, I could see a relive in him like a heavy burden came off his shoulder. But he didn’t live the day to see a better future before him.

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And so there I was, living with my 2nd auntie in Singapore whilst shuffling day and night working in an architectural firm, and nighttime, Poly. After some disagreements with her, a year or to later, I moved in with my 3rd Ee. I guess mom had a little arrangement with my aunties then but as for my own expenses, sometimes it didn’t come on time and I had to borrow money from my classmates, for my daily living. Mom ran grandma’s business and when coffers depleted, she borrowed alot to keep us going and trying her luck at the one-armed bandits at the Chinese Merchants Club. She struck twice but being greedy, she gave everything back. On her first strike, she let me keep her money. We convinced her to buy a home. But only two days after, what went into my account came out and returned to the one arm bandit. On her second strike, she let my sis kept her money. My sis didn’t return her. And so I thought it better to fend for myself when mom was in her darkest of days. What I got from the architectural firm was mere pittance, as I was only an apprentice then. So I went into modelling for some extra cash. Not that I wanted it, but I needed it. Also, I thought I was young, energetic and able and thus, I can exploit my looks to good use and that helps keep me alive so that I do not need to further burden my mom. Four years I stayed in Singapore, and came back to Penang in 84.

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(To be continued)

No One Calls no One Pendatang

“Having an occasion to speak does not warrant you the right to spew folklores that lacks historic affirmation. The Chinese has a saying, ‘If you keep quiet, no one shall accuse you of being dumb.” That said, I felt compelled to give you an insight into our local history so that you’d be enlightened.

From the years 1511 till 1957, Malaysia was a colony of different different countries. (I can feel the temperature rising already.) The colonizers manages everything whilst the local folks just went about their daily affairs. They made the rules and we execute them out. For 446 years no one calls no one ‘pendatang’. Fact is everyone of that era was a pendatang and that includes the ‘colonizers’. And all the pendatangs were busily trading with each other. The real ‘Orang Asal’ lives inside the jungles and there they thrive. They were also ‘takluk’ by pendatangs.

Before 1511 exists the kingdom of Malacca ruled by able Sultans, one in succession of the other, who believed in capitalism. That means for as long as anyone pays their dues and taxes, they get to stay or trade, never mind their origin. That edict made Malacca a robust trading port which captures the imagination of many an European seafarer looking for a sojourn along the sea route to the East.

Malacca was officially stated to be founded in 1402. by Parameswara, a pendatang Hindu prince from Palembang. Parameswara is a Sanskrit title that stood for the ‘Supreme Lord’ and is not a name. He flee Sumatra after the fall of the Srivijayan Empire in the year 1377 which succumb to the attack by the Javanese Majapahit. His able troop of Bugis bodyguards were the people who pointed him to that land filled with abundance after their brief stopover first in Muar, Johore, then Bertam. They bargained to be made aristocrats if Parameswara found favor with this new place. When they arrived, Parameswara was indeed smittened. Lush vegetation, freshest of water from streams, an abundance of flora and fauna. From where he stood, he named the place, ‘Malacca’, after the fruit tree that shaded his presence and honored his promise. He asked his entourage if anyone knew of the hill besides him. Bukit ‘Cina’ was their reply. (That simply means there were pendatangs who knew of the place way before they.)

One fine day, after making himself the Sultan amidst all the traders and having established some rule of law, he had a rude shock when he was enlightened that this place which he named Malacca, belongs to Siam. Without much hesitation, he sent his son to appeal to the King of Siam that he’d be allowed to stay on, with the condition that he will share his earnings with Siam and pay homage to them (which was how the triennial ritual of paying homage with ‘Bunga Emas’ came along). Malacca as it was, was a protectorate of Siam and Java, thus, homage was sent to these two Kingdoms. But Siam as Mahmoud had found out, oddly pays homage to China. He then thought it befitting to sidestep Siam and went direct to China instead. His actions enrages the King of Siam who sent his boats to the Malacca shore but as fate would have it, Siam succumbed. From then on, Siam relinquishes its rule over Malacca. For 130years, the Kingdom of Malacca was ruled by Sultans. Never did they regard anyone else as pendatangs.

Before that, there were many polities which were part of some larger empires straddling the Nusantara notably the Buddhist Sri Vijayan empire ruled by Rajah Chola, another Hindu from India. As a consequence, the many customary rites as observed in our local investitures and solemnization ceremonies was adapted from that era. Many Malay words were also borrowed from the Hindoo lingua. That was the time when trade was active between the Indians, Chinese and the little little polities around the archipelago, which remains submerged in our local history till today.

Then came another pendatang named Lopez De Sequeira whom after being chastised by Mahmoud’s advisers (when all they wanted was to be allowed to trade) reported back to his majesty who sent Alfonso De Albuquerque with a fleet to claim back his pride.) Mahmoud and his royal household flee. Some to Perak, some to Johore. From there, they scatter forming newer Sultanates. Then came the Dutch East India Company who drove out the Portuguese before they made a pact with the British in exchange for Java.

Pendatangs especially colonizers were also allowed perpetuity grants in the form of land titles in places such as Penang. Beneficiaries include James A Scott and David Brown, both whom were aligned to Captain Francis Light, the founder whose part of the deal is an offensive policy against the Bugis as agreed upon with the Sultan of Kedah in exchange for the possession of Penang that extends till Kuala Muda in Kedah.

Fast forward to circa 1940s, Onn Jaafar mooted UMNO. It was the period of the Malayan Emergency where many insurgents joint the communists because of their displeasure towards British rule.

Onn Jaafar was toying with the idea of Independence for Malaya, thus he raises his wish to the British overlords. Henry Gurney, then governor, told Onn Jaafar that independence will not be possible unless other races, especially the Chinese are included. Henry Gurney as it was recorded, became the catalyst and backbone to the setting up of the MCA under Cheng Lock and HS Lee. His concerns are simple. The Chinese are the workhorse and the engine of growth. He also fears that if the Chinese were to be left out, they will abandon support for the British and joined the MCP just like many Malays whom the British army had a hard time flushing them out from the jungle. That to him is an even more severe backlash because he is answerable to the Empire. If ever there is a commotion, it would indeed be disastrous. At that moment in time, nearly 7 out of 10 Chinese were triad members and 7 out of 10 were males deployed in the mining, rubber and port industries. As the story unfurls, Henry Gurney was later assassinated. So was his successor Malcom Mc Donald.

Onn Jaafar understood his request and tried hard to convince and convert Umno into the United ‘Malayan’ National Organization. But his second tier and grassroot members were not taken in. Feeling enraged, they called him a betrayer of his own race. Onn left Umno and eventually set up IMP (independent Malaya Party). In 1946 as a run up to the elections, UMNO , headed by Tunku, Onn’s successor, changes their manifesto by agreeing to work with MCA, the reason was that they were losing heavily for obvious reasons, that Onn Jaafar was a powerful figure to reckon with. Tunku also issued warnings to Umno members that whoever sided IMP or Onn would be expelled. In the elections, UMNO, together with MCA which forms the Alliance Party won. MIC came later. That paved the road to independence.

This is a factual account as extracted from many many historical records and accounts and is self explanatory. Never was it ever recorded that one race is a pendatang whilst the other is not since we were all colonized if you may by Hindus from 1402-1511, by Portuguese from 1511-1641 by the Dutch from 1641-1825, by the British from 1825-1941, by the Japanese Occupation from 1941-1946, again by the British from 1946-1957. Before all these, were the Buddhist Srivijayan Empire from the 12th Century. Recent archaeological discoveries has also pushed back the history of Kedah which may precede the Sri Vijayan Empire but they were without doubt linked to Siam. As of now, it is still uncertain thus, cannot be taken into account of. And even though so, it only extends the predates, not like it will corrupt all that we already know about our early and modern history.

It is indeed ironical that some concerned individuals mentioned that we were never colonized except for two years. (Where are your citations please? Better still, are you sure you are Malaysians?) And that some are pendatangs whilst others are not? It is as if without this term enshrined into our history, someone’s special rights would degenerate into some kind of illicit entitlements or are there underlying motives behind all these fiascos?

Our country will degenerate faster if we keep looking backwards busily sweeping off our tracks, whilst running forward. As if that is possible?

That said, if ever there is an award for the country with the most complications, our country will surely reign as the most expensive wristwatch around, because wristwatch value is measured by the number of complications it has on a single face. But to a Chinese, being very practical people, we will never buy it no matter how valuable they are for only one reason. If it breaks down ,it is difficult to find someone who could repair it. Just like our country. We are already so complicated, so we should be praying that it doesn’t break down. Because if it does, no one indeed can help us repair it. Same like the wristwatch. And in a wristwatch, every single part has its own function and it needs to be synchronized correctly to keep time. As Malaysians we should all be like the parts inside these wristwatches and be as harmonious as we can possibly be. One part fails and the whole mechanism stops working! We should not listen to those who attempts to destabilize the country, make them even more complicated than it already is.

Just saying.”

Hidden Rules

“It is alarming that Chinese has many hidden rules that even I am not aware of. Until I was recently made aware that the paint color used on tombstones, if it is gold, represents dead relatives and red, signifies the living. Thus on the grave of my grandparents, upon my discovery, my beloved cousins, siblings and I, have been dead for more than half a century already . Cant get more incredible than this years Cheng Beng. Drown me please somebody !”

Chneh Meh Kay

(Version in Hokkien)

Chneh Meh Kay

Tok Tiok Tharng

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(Version in English)

A blind chicken

Pecks a worm!

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About this saying:~

This phrase/saying is commonly used to describe how luck could strike undeserving people the same way a chicken , though blind, could peck worms.

The author/owner has compiled for record, a collection of early Hokkien sayings, proverbs, rhymes and ditties to capture the essence and spirit of his hoi polloi, a community originating from the southern province of Fujian, China where individuals climbed aboard bum boats, crossing the South China Sea to settle in faraway lands to escape the brewing civil unrest and a way out from hardship carrying along with them in their journey, nothing except their trademark ponytails and their beliefs, very much rooted in Confucianism. These ditties retell their story and their lifestyle way back then so that the younger generation can gain an insight and foothold to their origin..

Reunion table

Reunion is held on the first day of Chinese New Year. The servings on a reunion table according to Chinese tradition signifies abundance. Hence it is customary to have as wide an array of food available on this night. In contemporary society, fad and convenience has taken over tradition. Rarely does one still find whole chickens, suckling pigs, sharks fin, abalones, sea cucumbers, and all kinds of mushrooms and fishes being served except on important occasions as appeasing deities on the altar tables.

Ang Pow Giving

On the first day of Chinese New Year as Confucianist practice dictates, the entire household of an extended family would tidy themselves up, all nicely coiffured before presenting themselves to the head of the household, (generally the matriarch) to receive special blessings and ang pows (red colored packets containing money symbolizing good luck, prosperity, great health and joy). As receiving ang pows is hierarchical, so it is with the givers, each taking turns distributing whilst juniors kow tow and wish ‘Keong Hee Huat Chye’ as a mark of respect to the givers. In our family we went a step further by serving tea to the elders. It is also customary that once a child got married, they are obligated to give ang pows to their parents. The unmarried are exempted from ang pow giving because to the Chinese, they are still rated a child. Thus, any family members can receive ang pows for as long as they remained single. In our Hokkien tradition, only the womenfolk gives away ang pows. Reason is that the menfolk are supposedly the breadwinners of the family whilst the womenfolk are in charge of household affairs.

This is my extended family.

1st pic- my grandma Gek Kee, receiving blessings from my great grandma, matriarch Saw Kit, at Boon Siew Mansion. Generally as a senior in the family herself, my grandma is no longer entitled to ang pows but I guess that also depends on the generosity of individuals and the wealth of each family.. Matriarch Saw Kit’s life sized bronze statue still graces the Home of the Infirmary, Penang.

2nd pic- Aunt Guat Eng, Aunt Gim Ean (deceased), Aunt Guat Hong, Aunt Loh Ean, Uncle Kah Poh (deceased), unidentified Aunt and my mom (deceased). Aunt Guat Hong and 2nd Tniau Seng Leong kow towed.

3rd pic- Tiny tots group pic with matriarch. Kah Heng (deceased), Kah Bee, and Kah Kheng (deceased).

An extended family has added advantages except for privacy and at least three generations of one household lives and stays together. That was the in -thing of that period for well to do family’s with big houses.

Images copyrighted. Circa 50s.

Bedak Sejuk

“The making of ‘Bedak Sejuk’.

My mother’s concoction of rice powder for teenagers was quiet well known. It was supposed to give u a nice complexion and keep ugly pimples away. Her concoction was to soak rice grains for 24 hours and the decanter the smelly water every night b4 bedtime. This would go on for a couple of nights until there was no unwanted smell and the rice grains fermented completely.

To make them smoother she would have them put between the grinding stones and the substance came out smooth. Then she wld mix the paste with grounded sandal wood, maram grass roots and nutmeg seed also grounded.

When she got it to the right consistency everyone was invited to fill up their cones and drip the the drops on to a heshian cloth. Then dried out in the sun.

A cone would sell for 20 sen and a smaller one for half the price. Everybody swore to the efficacy of her ,Bedak Sejuk’. No pimples and claimed a smoother complexion.”

– Reposting an article shared by the late Tan Sri Ani Arope 5th Mar 2014.

Chiak Thor Tau, Chiak Lau Lau

“Chiak Thor tau,
Chiak Lau Lau.”
Is a Hokkien Rhyme frequently uttered during Chinese New Year. Translated to mean “Eating groundnuts, ensures longevity.”, it became customary to serve groundnuts during Chinese New Year because of this belief in the rhyme but Groundnuts, as according to old wives tales, is the primary culprit towards the dwindling of our Chinese population because it suppresses the male libido. Perhaps. Since peanut butter is very much paired to Elvis, and his underperformance as stated in Pricilla’s memoir. Anyway it’s just a tale. Nothing serious.

Mai Khiam Kuay Ni

“Mai Khiam Kuay Ni” is a Hokkien saying uttered before Chinese New Year. Translated, it means “don’t defer your debts till the next year”. Though this has no real life connotation as most big companies does owe, it grew into a widespread belief somehow rooted into the community. But no doubt it has its goodness. It’s good practice not to be a lousy paymaster because everyone during the festive season needs cash to prepare for the yearly ritual and celebration hence the practice of giving bonuses a week before Chinese New Year. Just like problems that doesn’t get solved, it will slowly pile up into one big unsolvable package. Below is the image of God of Wealth a deity if placed in your home will ensure prosperity in your household.

Correcting Peranakan Popular Believes

“The Peranakans weren’t Chinese immigrants who adopted the culture of the Malay archipelago. The word “adopted” as opposed to “adapt” is similar but not the same. It was more of an intercultural amalgamation at a time which saw different communities living together happily which resulted in the assimilation of local lingua into their colloquial and vice versa but of course there are amongst them, intermarriages, which saw Malay maidens being welcomed into the Chinese household. The Peranakans were and is truly Chinese whom at that time are pseudo-Buddhist hence their Confucian and Taoist values, rites, beliefs and practices. Cuisine is purely Chinese but a little experimentation with local spices and adaptation of cooking styles of other inhabitants led to newer recipes considered distinctive to the Peranakans. The comparison of taste from different curries will tell you. However, the many claims by die hard peranakans with regards to recipes such as Jew hu char, bali juak, kiam chye ark and curry kapitan has no basis simply because they were truly Hokkien and Hainanese dishes and not as claimed by these pseudo Peranakans. Most of these recipes were and is still found on the altar and offering tables of the Hokkien community during cultural and divine festivities which were by and large the single largest grouping ever to span the Straits Settlements thence comprising Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Cocos Keeling Islands and Dindings in Perak. Marital, birth and funerary rites were strictly pseudo-Buddhism celebrated in compliance to the Chinese calendar. The Peranakan’s ostentatious taste of finery, garnitures, crockery, embroidery, clothing and furniture are mostly commissioned from countries within and beyond the Malay archipelago, the most obvious being namwood furnitures from China and Czechoslovakian designed coffee shop chairs and enameled tiffin carriers. However it must be noted that highly skilled local craftsmen of Shanghainese origin were also producing pseudo-Victorian era furnitures and architectural motifs to cater to the taste of their English-speaking ponytailed clienteles. These often comprises sideboards, roofing gables and umbrella stands and they usually spot marble tops, claw feet and barley twist balustrades. The habit of chewing tobacco and betel nut is not Malay but archipelagic as observed from the designs of the sireh cutter which were folkloric to the Hindus. Peranakans has their own perkakas. The habit of wearing Baju panjangs and kebayas were a fashion statement of that time. However it should be noted that the keronsang that adorns the blouse differ in taste and make and so are the appliqués .

Corporate Commissioning

“Corporate commissioning, patronage and sponsorships must not be seen as an intrusion or incursion to commissioned works or its meaning related to it. In its purest form, sponsorships should be viewed as a necessary facility in which without it, art in the public domain can never materialize. There are always limitations in commissioned works. Funding, space availability, objective, approval from authorities, the go-ahead still depends very much on the versatility of that entrusted artist to deliver a convincing proposal. And as long as it fulfills it expectations and works well within the timeframe and budget, it is set to materialize, the interpretation of its existence from then on will evolve through generations of debate, depending on the quality of its viewer, the social mood of that period be it tumultuous or serene done with mutual respect. That said, when viewing commissioned works, one should not be cynical or cling on to a miniscule viewpoint questioning the existence and it’s purpose or the influence the sponsors has infused onto the artwork itself thus demeaning the work of the artist. There always exist mutual understanding, agreement and a liking before works can be executed.”

Peranakans versus Straits Chinese

“Most Peranakans are Straits Chinese but not all Straits Chinese are Peranakans.
For one to be a Chinese Peranakan (also known as Baba Nyonya), one needs to be born of Chinese/Malay parentage as a result of intermarriages between Chinese towkays of that era with local ladies without so much of religious restrictions and as a result, these local ladies adapted themselves to the Chinese way of living learning the husbands customary culture from the matriarch (her mom or grandmom in law) whilst raising her own family thus cross pollinating her own cultures in whenever the need suits them whilst her husband works or took care of matters outside the home. As a result, a new lifestyle bloom alongside a strangely mixed lingo of Hokkien and Malay (Hokkien was a widely accepted dialect amongst the Chinese then)- a culture identified with its unique food recipes, and a preference for ostentatious taste in fashion and lifestyle; most certainly an adaptation borrowed from friends and neighbors of different cultures also rooted in the Straits (Burmese, Thai, Laotian, Indian, Ceylonese whatever) which found acceptability with these Straits Chinese and thus became fashionable. The Straits Settlements is a British colony comprising mainly of Penang, Malacca and Singapore and to a lesser extent the Cocos Keeling islands, Christmas Island, Dindings, Pulau Pangkor and some smaller islands in Perak and that of Labuan. That is the entire British trading influence and how the Chinese within the S.S frequently addressed themselves as. The Straits Chinese community. To be a true blue Straits Chinese, one needs to be a local Chinese born during the British administration of the Straits Settlements from 1826-1946.
This explains why some Chinese families who claims to be Straits Chinese often wonder why they do not have Malay dna in their ancestry lineage. And of how everyday recipes very commonly found in the Straits Chinese household have Malay sounding names especially the ones imbued with local spices though some of these recipes are in today’s context non halal.
One can identify a Chinese Peranakan with their spoken patois very unlike the Hokkien or Malay as how it is spoken today. And generally these Chinese Peranakans are darker skinned and possesses sharper features. I had the opportunity to interact and acquaint myself with genuine Peranakan friends whose ascendants were distinguished personalities from the government fraternity living in then Emerald Hill. They are Western educated which explains how many of them after years abroad have adopted the Western religion unlike the many local Straits Born Chinese whom were and still is mostly Buddhist or Taoist.
I remembered those days as a lad we were taught to address Chinese damsels and lads in strict colloquial standards. We call them ‘Ah Nya’ and ‘Ah Bah’. Though I do not have Malay lineage, I often wonder why my grandparents and great grandparents were all heavily bedecked in straits jewelry from kerongsangs to silver belts down to the kebayas, baju panjangs and those heavily embroidered slippers. But I understand them now. They were fashionable in those days.
Btw that’s how antique I myself is. And no, I’m no Baba even though that was the form of address given not only to me but to other lads as well.”

Excess

If we care to look around, there is too much excess of everything. Especially those ostentatious hip cafes crowding the streets with chalkboard menus, coffee makers, cemented flooring, fungied walls, latte art, good words being chosen as names for these so called hip restaurants and motels that don’t do justice to the name, ill mannered waiters that do not speak English, standing there looking suave but does not know what’s inside the menu nor the art of waiting. If I maybe allowed to, I wish for more localized food instead of spaghetti, salads, watery soups and hot buns. As if that is our culture. Lol my list is long…

Khaw Sia

I grew up with 3 Khaw Sia’s orchid paintings hanging in my home. I remembered

sticking my nose as close to the painting as  any  kid  would  just  to  explore  the

magnification with my eyes leaving the tip of my nose  imprinted  on  the  glaze.  I

was having fun. It wasn’t the colors he uses, or how  he  paints  the  leaves  and

dewdrops that I was interested in. I was like any child would at  that  tender  age,

merely exploring. But because I was living with it, it  was  like  second  nature  to

my skin. Because of that, I remembered very well the paper he uses because  it

has a peculiar texture on it. Nowadays one could hardly stumble upon  this  type

of paper he uses anymore but in my younger years, most kids  have  fun  with  it.

And it is quite blotty.

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doyen of photography

~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~ image copyright Kris Lee 2013

~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prof. Ismail Hashim is the doyen of Malaysian photography. Passed away recently, this is a rare shot of him nestled in between subjects that matters to him most and quite often depicted in his works. Unknown to many, Ismail is camera shy and I was most privileged to immortalize him over a cup of coffee. Pictures taken at Kedai Kopi Chuan Foong, Jln Chan Siew Teong, Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

~~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~Ismail Hashim (1940-2013)~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the juggler

~the juggler~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

Perfecting a skill demands total concentration and sacrifice. I caught this guy infrequently flipping beer bottles against the revetment of Fort Cornwallis on sunny days and thought it would be interesting to watch how these bottles fly on stills.. Pictures taken at Fort Cornwallis, Esplanade, Penang.

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the juggler series~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

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alleys of old

~alley of old~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~alleys of old~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love these long forgotten alleys of old

Unplastered walls

Roots that grew to be heard

Incidentally, they were all planted by birds

Huge giants they are

But neglected

I love these long forgotten alleys of old..

~roots 1~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~roots 1~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~roots III~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~roots III~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~roots II~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~roots II~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

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(Pictures taken at Penang Pier opposite the Jetty, Weld Quay, Penang)

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extended family

~extended family~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~extended family~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

Overseas Chinese left their motherland at a tender age and through sheer hard work and good foresight, many astute businessmen found fortune and eventually became well-known philanthropists. Apart from contributing to society, these visionaries pamper themselves with homes large enough to fit a few generations of “extended family” leaving their wealth to be managed by trust funds. As a result, younger generations today still continue to enjoy the fruits of their efforts with children and grandchildren being sent overseas to further their studies and eventually migrate~ leaving these homes to the care of their faithful caretakers. Many of these homes were today rented out, leased or sold to commercial concerns as well as educational institutions because it is no longer cheap to maintain houses like this. One such house (as shown in pic) is currently leased to Kentucky Fried Chicken, an American fast food corporation who had tapped into the Penang market since the seventies. Picture taken at Larut Rd, Penang.

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palms palms palms

~palms palms palms~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~palms palms palms~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The name ‘Penang’ comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means Isle of the Areca Nut Palm (Areca catechu, family Palmae) and this palm tree appears on both the State Flag and its coat of arms. There are thousands of species of palm in this world and if one cruises down the streets of Penang, chances are one would stumble upon stunningly beautiful mature species such as these with captivating inflorescence. (At the time of posting, the palm pictured above has been felled to make way for development). Pictures taken at Jln Dr Lim Chwee Leong, Penang.

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~other palms~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~other palms~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~other palms~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~other palms~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

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an uncommon chapel

~an uncommon chapel~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~an uncommon chapel~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Built on top of a hill in the 1800′s, St Anne’s chapel amasses a yearly pilgrimage of more than a 100,000 on its feast day though it has but a seating capacity of only 300 at any given time. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is the legendary sighting of her apparition above the hill behind this chapel and the widespread accounts of her healing power and blessings she freely give to all who revere and believe in her. In short, she answers prayers. Many transformations has occurred on church grounds eversince and today it is a sprawling sanctuary that boasts a new church with a seating capacity of 1500- possibly the largest in this region. But this grand old lady has been kept unperturbed. This is an uncommon side view of the old chapel with its steeple as seen from the new church. The statue of the resurrection of Jesus is but a new addition. Pictures taken at St Anne’s Sanctuary, Bukit Mertajam, Province Wellesley, Penang.

~the old bell~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the old bell~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~archangel michael~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~archangel michael~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~the new church~ image copyright Kris Lee 2013

~new church~
image copyright Kris Lee 2013

~new church reliquary~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~attap house reliquary~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~guardian angel~ image copyright Kris Lee 2013

~guardian angel~
image copyright Kris Lee 2013

~holy water font~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~holy water font~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Studio of Hitori

~Hitori outside his Studio~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~Hitori outside his Studio~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the age of twenty, Hitori left Japan to pursue his interest in Art. He traveled across the art capital for the next twenty learning all the ropes to find himself settling curiously down with his lovely wife in Penang and last year happens to be their twenty-fifth year of residence. A little odd but very humble, Hitori is not an atypical Japanese that we know of. Blending in well with the local folks, he stays in a pre-war house filled with discards which he masterly assembles them into works of art- an interesting sort of collage between conceptual, assemblages and sculpture and finally outdid himself after being commissioned to create a gigantic ten storey high sculpture facing our easterly coast called the “One Blue Sky”. Hitori also initiated the “Penang Island Sculpture Trail” where all his well-known sculptor friends he invited from all over the world were encouraged to stamp their mark in Penang with their sculpture contributions hence leaving a trail of Art he gifted Penang. Picture taken at Stewart Lane, Penang.

~assemblage~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~assemblage~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~assemblage~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~assemblage~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~experiments~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~experiments~
image copyright Kris lee 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Riders, Three Pillions

~two riders, three pillions~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~two riders, three pillions~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

Motorcycles made its presence felt on the streets of Penang more than half a century ago and it brought smiles on the faces of many who were looking for a convenient and cheaper mode of transport to ease their daily activities. To the younger generation, it is this vehicle that paces their first step towards independence. Picture taken at Jln Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang.

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Acheen Minaret

~acheen street minaret~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~acheen minaret~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six years after the founding of Penang in 1786, a well known tycoon Syed Hussain Mohd Aidid shifted his base from Acheh, a popular spice route in North Sumatera to Penang. Of Arabian stock as well as a member of the royal house of Acheh, Syed Hussain was wooed by Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang to establish his base here. His bait, reasonable autonomy to trade and self govern his household, his slaves and his clansmen as in accordance to his custom and his Moslem belief. He settled himself where Armenian Street and Acheen Street is and from there, works his ways into the hearts and minds of its inhabitants thereafter establishes an enclave between these few adjoining roads for his clansmen together with other Moslems from the same area to trade, rapport and cohabit like one close knitted family. Francis Light was not wrong. His efforts paid off when Penang became a favored spice route and the choice embarkation point for Moslems on a sojourn to Mecca, their holy land. Twenty two years on, Syed Hussain embarked to built a proper mosque to serve the community and that was how Acheen Street Mosque came to being, a sturdy structure snugged in between inferior houses of timber and attap. Syed Hussain passed away in 1840 and as is customary, his mausoleum is built inside the mosque compound. This minaret stood as a legacy of his duty towards his own race and belief that made it all possible for him.

This minaret built in Mughal style has a conspicuous pothole. Tradition says it was the result of cannon fire although some octogenarians claim loud booms once came from it. Despite the dispute, record shows that this mosque possesses a cannon of its own and the firing once led to a serious clash between two factions of the town Moslems over the actual date of the end of the month of the ramadan period. Whilst one faction who attends the Acheen Street Mosque was celebrating Hari Raya, the other faction who venerates at the Kapitan Kling mosque a short distance away was still fasting. After that incident, the town community compromised and handed down a decree that town Moslems must alternate between both mosque for their Friday prayers and those caught venerating at the wrong venue would be penalized. Peculiar as it is, the rule still stands today. Picture taken at Armenian Street, Penang.

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Hainanese Bombe Alaska

~Bombe Alaska Hainan Style~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~Hainanese Bombe Alaska~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considered the mother of all desserts, ‘Bombe Alaska’, an ice-cream cake covered with an igloo of meringue emerging from an oven found its way into the hearts of Penangites through Hainan Cookboys. Hainanese were seamen from China but locally, they became favored cooks of our colonial masters because of their skill in conjuring up many western recipes with a peculiar twist and taste of its own, the result of having to imagine the descriptions of their bosses who speaks in a language they could hardly understand. When the British ceded control of then Malaya, many of these Hainan Cook Boys as they were called became chefs of their own restaurants serving delectable delicacies they use to serve their masters with like Choon Pneah, Asam Heh, Roti Babi, Barsteaks and Macaroni Pie to name but a few but as all popular recipes would, their own style of Bombe Alaska became one of the first that faded into oblivion until a revival of interest came right after Georgetown was accorded a UNESCO Heritage status. Today, some restaurants are competing for customers serving their own concoction of Bombe Alaska as a recipe proud of its origin. The fact is, it is a real show stopper to see it being served flambed and every time it emerges from the kitchen, it never fail to garner curious onlookers. Little did anyone know that this recipe was first whipped up to commemorate the United States purchase of Alaska in 1867. Picture taken at Yeng Keng Hotel, Chulia Street, Penang.

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Motor Mechanics

~motor mechanics~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~motor mechanics~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most motor mechanics like Ah Lung left school at a very young age to take up apprenticeship in blue collar trades. Like the rest, they leave their hometown and survive on mearger earnings living in shared apartments, only going home once or twice in a month or during festive seasons. Most of them never if ever left their trade but some lucky ones became bosses of their own repair shop.

~apprentice mechanics~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~apprentice mechanics~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

Over the years, as Ah Lung became a more formidable repairman, he was also given the task to head younger apprentices that was allowed into the stable. Currently, there are no guidelines compelling skilled work force to attain competency certificates thus, this cycle of how skills were handed down naturally repeats itself. Picture taken at Jln Nanning, Penang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The White Mens Grave

`the white mans' grave~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

`the white man’s grave~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaded under a canopy of cascading plumerias in Northam Road is an old graveyard that houses Penang’s early settlers, missionaries and administrators. Most of them succumbed to malaria at a very tender age including Captain Francis Light, the founder himself thus earning early Penang the epithet “the white man’s grave”. Thomas Leonowen, husband of the noted Anna Leonowen whose stint at the Siamese court tutoring the wives and children of the king which was later made into a hit musical called ‘The King and I’ himself is himself an early settler.

~other views~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~other views~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

~other views~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~other views~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

~other views~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~other views~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

This graveyard once stood at the edged of the town next to paddy fields and vegetable plots but as the city grew, it is today smacked right in the heart of the inner city attracting history buffs more than their descendants. Pictures taken at the Protestant Cemetery, Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah, Penang.

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Medicated Masseurs

~medicated masseurs~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~medicated masseurs~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the long wait, locals has a quaint attachment to traditional Chinese masseurs rather than those physiotherapists found in hospitals whenever they experience discomforts and pains in their joints. From whence thee treatment came about is anybody’s guess but their endeavor in providing comfort and relief to those in agony is a testimony to their immense popularity. Here, a sitting customer patiently anticipates his turn outside the treatment room where the ‘sinseh’ stations himself while a young disciple gets his relief playing games on a handheld gadget. Picture taken at Jln Samak, Off Federal Cinema, Penang.

~feel good wait~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~feel good wait~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

~kitchenette of oils~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~kitchenette of oils~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~agony and attestations~ image copyright Kris lee 2012

~agony and attestations~
image copyright Kris lee 2012

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Egret Below Fronds

~egret below fronds~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~egret below fronds~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migratory birds are many and depending on the species and flyway these birds are accustomed to, Penang is one of the habitual pit stops of these winged ones found scattered along the coastal beaches and mudflats of Tanjung Bungah all the way to Northbeach. Perched under the shades of coconut frond, an Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx Intermedia) or locally known as ‘Bangau Kerbau’ is spotted in full upright posture looking out towards the unending sea.

~legs of an egret~ image copyright Kris Lee 2012

~legs of an egret~
image copyright Kris Lee 2012

 

As compared to the Great Egret and the Little Egret, they are chiefly identified by their smooth ‘S’ shape neck without kink, a slightly domed head and a gape that ends below the eye. Their legs are generally dark. Picture taken at the coast of Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

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