Like a Thief in the Stillness of the Night

When the truly unexpected occurs

On 27 December 2016, I received a telephone call at about 11.30am from an old friend who I have known for more than fifty years. David ( not his real name ) seemed to be very emotional and had some difficulty speaking coherently on the phone and I had trouble understanding him. Sensing his difficulty, his wife, Rosemary (not her real name ) took over the phone and informed me in a matter of fact manner that their eldest son, aged 38, had unexpectedly passed away that morning! It took a while for the devastating news to register.

No one ever prepares you to receive such unexpected, shocking and distressing news.

It is my belief, and that of many others too I am sure, that no parent anywhere in the world, should suffer the cruel and heartbreaking fate of having to bury a child. It is not in the natural order of things.

A Loving and Successful Family

This is a loving and successful family in every sense of the word. The father is a Malaysian Indian and was a prominent trade union official. He used to work for a well-known British plantation company in Kuala Lumpur and rose over the years to a senior administrative position.

He was also a respected union official both within the union as well as by the company itself. He had travelled to many countries on union business during his active years. He was also a responsible family man and a truly filial son to his parents. One of his uncles served as a parish priest in Penang for over 60 years and a nephew of his is a priest in Tamil Nadu, India.

The mother, a Malaysian Chinese originally from Malacca, was a secretary with a Malaysian bank for many years. Even after retirement, she continued to work for a law firm and is still very active in voluntary work.

She is a convert to Catholicism and today serves on a number of church committees.

Rosemary takes her faith seriously and regularly attends retreats locally as well as in India and the Philippines. She too comes from a big and close family.

Three Professionals Emerged

They have three children, two sons and a daughter. They provided a loving, conducive and nurturing environment and encouraged their children to excel. In the process, they made many personal sacrifices so that their children could succeed in school and university.

To their great credit, all three children rose to the occasion and became fully fledged professionals. The eldest son became an engineer, the second child, the daughter became a doctor and the youngest also graduated as an engineer. Both sons worked abroad… one in Newcastle, England and the eldest one ( the individual who passed away suddenly ) was based in Dubai. The daughter works in Kuala Lumpur.

What Actually Happened

The eldest son had gone out with a few friends to catch up on old times and to have a jolly good session at a restaurant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. He returned home in the wee hours of the morning, at roughly 2.00 am, informed his French wife that he was tired and that he was going to hit the sack. Those were his last words.

The next morning, the family understandingly let him sleep for some time. At about 10.00 am, his wife went to wake him up. She tried her best but he did not respond. She thought his body felt cold and then immediately gave him CPR. At the same time, she shouted out for her mother in law. When the mother in law arrived, the wife simply said: He is gone! The mother in law retorted: What do you mean, he is gone?  It then dawned on them that sometime during the night, her son / her husband had tragically passed away.

It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

They then went about calling for assistance. A number of the son’s close friends responded promptly and stepped forward to render assistance to the grieving family. First, the doctor daughter/sister had to come and ascertain the nature of the problem and to confirm the matter. Next, someone had to make a police report on the sudden demise of this relatively young man. Once the police officers came, they took the body away to the hospital for a post mortem. This is a standard procedure in such cases. It was all happening much too fast and the family was still in a state of disbelief and shock.

Some Incredible & Intriguing Facts

  1. The eldest son had not been back to his parents’ home for Christmas for four years. I believe he had some sort of premonition, desire or urge to return to his roots. He had initially worked in the United Kingdom before being posted to the Dubai office of an MNC. He chose to return last Christmas to be with his family. That surely is a blessing.
  2. He passed away in the family home where he grew up, was nurtured and was given the right values in life. He was back in familiar surroundings and when he did pass away, it was in the family home. He did not pass away alone in some foreign, distant land.
  3. His two close friends and his Scottish boss who flew down to Kuala Lumpur for the funeral service gave heart-warming eulogies extolling his fine qualities as an individual, as a friend and as a professional. His younger brother gave a eulogy describing him as a brother who truly cared. These eulogies spoke volumes about the man and the son/brother he was.
  4. The church service was packed with relatives, friends and colleagues. More than four hundred people were present. That, in itself, says a lot about the young man and the family.
  5. The funeral service was con-celebrated by five religious personalities: three priests, an archbishop emeritus and Malaysia’s recently ordained cardinal. That was indeed a high honour.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is never easy to bear such a heavy cross! It is doubly hard for aged parents to have to deal with the loss of a child, especially a brilliant one with a most promising career. We have, however, been repeatedly told that death sometimes comes like ‘a thief in the stillness of the night’. And it was decidedly so in this case.

I believe we have to live our lives with this admonition always in mind. It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

Have we kept the faith?  Have we been true to family and friends? Have we set aside time for our families? Not just immediate families but also extended families.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

Have we willingly and regularly shared some of our blessings with the less fortunate? Have we been big enough to forgive those who have hurt us, intentionally or otherwise?  These are some questions that we have to wrestle with honestly and in all sincerity.

Be a Blessing to Others

If we do answer these questions, then when the time comes for us to leave this world, we will not have any misgivings. We can go quietly and peacefully in the stillness of the night, knowing that we had tried to do our very best.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

This is that golden time and that phase in our lives to use our experience, knowledge, skills and expertise if any, to help others. We should carry out this assistance in a quiet manner, without fanfare and in all sincerity. In doing so, like best-selling author Bob Buford says, we become a blessing to others. This is the real source of that elusive significance.

A Singular Privilege to Have Been a Teacher!

at La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

On 14th January 2017, I attended an enjoyable La Salle Secondary School Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Class of 1969 reunion dinner and fellowship event. Prior to that, a few former teachers and I had received many invitations over the years from various groups to attend their reunion gatherings.

Wherever and whenever possible, I try to attend these wonderful reunion gatherings for a couple of reasons.  If former students still remember me and make it a point to invite me to attend their reunions, then the least that I can do is to return the kind courtesy and join them at the event. The other reason is that we (  former teachers ) must have had a positive, lasting impact and influence on these former students.

Successful but still Down to Earth

Many of these former students, I am pleased to report, are now leading academics, successful entrepreneurs, busy professionals, senior government officers and seasoned corporate leaders. A number of them, at least ten by the last count, have been bestowed high state honours and in one case, federal honours.

If these old boys really wanted to have had a closed door event, then they would not have invited the former teachers. Some of these groups even go so far as to provide transport for these teachers to attend the events.

Who are these Amazing Teachers? 

Having served as a teacher at this school for fifteen years ( 1966 to 1980 ), these are the few teachers that I vividly remember. I will name them in no fixed order.

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service.

Mrs Diana Yeoh was the teacher who taught mathematics with an uncommon passion. She is married to Mr. Yeoh Jin Leng, a former art lecturer at the Specialist Teachers Training Institute in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur and a well known Malaysian sculptor. She was a teacher, who dressed very simply, tied her hair up in a ponytail and got down to teaching with great skill and determination.

Extra Classes for Weak Students

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service. This was truly service above and beyond the call of duty and thus was hugely appreciated.

Influence for Good

A former student, years later, even wrote to the editor of a mainstream newspaper to remark that he decided to specialise in mathematics while at the university because of Mrs Diana Yeoh.

Mr Denis Armstrong is best remembered as a teacher, a feared disciplinarian and a formidable athletics coach. When I first arrived at La Salle Brickfields, Denis was already the supervisor of the Secondary School. Technically speaking, we were not recognised as a school but as a number of secondary classes attached to La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1. The headmaster of the primary school, the late Mr Albert Rozario also doubled up as headmaster of the secondary school.

Why was Denis a feared but respected disciplinarian?

Brickfields at that time had a poor reputation. Our students came mostly from socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Brickfields, Old Klang Road and Bangsar. Petty crime was rife and small time thugs made life miserable for many residents. Denis did not want this situation to be the norm at the school. Denis, I must add, is a black belt Tae Kwan Do exponent.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated.

Tough Love at La Salle Brickfields

He imposed his brand of discipline with an iron resolve. But he also knew when to relent and look the other way on occasions. Many old boys recall that when they entered Denis’s office, he would allow them to choose from among his range of canes. He had thin ones, slightly thicker ones and a thick one. The whole episode consisted of three parts: having to wait agonisingly for him to arrive; having to choose the right sort of cane; and having to endure the number of strokes.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated. None surprisingly expressed any resentment whatsoever! In fact, I remember a former student, Jeffery Felix, now an accomplished musician and a well-known glass artist residing in Alabama, USA saying something to the effect that they certainly needed such tough love!

A Passion for Athletics

Denis was also a highly competent athletics coach as attested to by many old boys who excelled in athletics. During his tenure as a coach, La Salle Brickfields became a powerhouse in the district and in the state much to the chagrin of bigger and better-equipped schools.

Such was Denis’s fame and stature that I once heard an old boy remark that had Denis coached the US 4 X 100 metres track team in the 1968 Mexico Olympics they would not have fumbled with the baton change! It is high praise indeed. It is worth mentioning that in all these athletics-related activities, Denis had one faithful and reliable colleague to assist him, Mr. K. Raja from LSB Primary School 1.

Mr Yong Hin Hong was a Brinsford Lodge, United Kingdom-trained teacher with an uncanny ability to teach effectively especially the subject of general science. When it was time for his lesson, the whole class had to move over to the well equipped and spacious science laboratory.

For many keen students, this trip to the science lab generated their interest in the subject. You will recall that it was an era when the first man, astronaut Neil Armstrong, landed on the moon! Science was and still is an intriguing subject and greater emphasis was being given to that subject.

A Rough Diamond

I remain grateful to Hin Hong because he was a truly supportive colleague and we got along well. At my request, he willingly assisted me by covering a part of the agricultural science syllabus. He was small in size, had a short fuse but a truly big heart. It was something in his DNA because both he and his father suffered from heart problems.

Success on the Soccer Field

Hin Hong was also the able coach for the soccer team. He and many of our students then followed the English Premier League ( EPL ) with a passion that I could not understand. He cultivated this love for soccer, coached his players with skill and competence and this usually translated into success in the field. The La Salle Brickfields soccer team did very well in district and state level championship competitions. Hin Hong sadly passed away a few years ago.

Some Other Teachers

There were, of course, many other teachers like Mrs Suan Fredericks, the talented teacher who taught art and who was responsible for the lovely, striking mural on the outside wall of the new building block at La Salle Brickfields.  The others including Mrs Theresa Oh who taught history, Mr Eric Koh who taught physical education and Mr Low Kim Seng who taught agricultural science have all migrated to Australia.

Mr Lucas Wong who taught general science, Mr V Sequerah who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue and Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran who taught English Language still live in the Klang Valley. Mrs Thana Ponnudurai, a state level hockey player and who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue now lives in Switzerland.

Some Quotes on Teachers

An arrogant individual in the past is reported to have famously made the following mean statement: ‘ Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.’ Be that as it may, there is always another side to that argument.

There is the celebrated case of how a primary school teacher in the US once put a high-flying chief executive officer in his place when he talked down to her at a social event.  He had cheekily asked her what she makes i.e. her salary.

She coolly, calmly and in a measured manner said: I teach children how to read, I teach them mathematics, I also teach them about the importance of good manners and civility. In addition, I teach them about respect….for their parents, for elders etc. I make a difference in their lives. What do you make sir? There was a stunned silence from the duly embarrassed individual.

I would, however, take some measure of comfort in the thoughtful statement attributed to Lee Iacocca, former celebrated chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation. He said: ‘ In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.’

And as you and I know, in these days, we do not live in a completely rational society.

No Text Book for Agricultural Science

On my part, I was tasked with the teaching of agricultural science in my very first year at La Salle Brickfields. It was a newly introduced subject in some Malaysian schools and none of the teacher training colleges had prepared budding teachers for this task.

There was not even a text book out at that time but I was nevertheless required to teach the subject to the best of my ability! It was a tall order indeed.

With the kind assistance from a senior agricultural science teacher at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur who willingly lent me his notes, I was able to carry out the task with some success.

Promoted Debating Activities

In addition, for many years, I was also the class master for Form Three Yellow.

I also taught English Language to my class. I enjoyed teaching that subject and perhaps did it with some degree of success. This assessment is based on the feedback I received many years later from some of my former students. I also actively promoted debating activities. Many students were reluctant and shy to engage in debate but over time, they somehow got the hang of it.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms.

It is good to keep in mind that many students spoke dialect at home i.e. either Malay, Cantonese or Tamil. Thus, debating in the English Language was seen as a task too far! But I persisted, coached and cajoled them and over time they came to appreciate the merits and joy of that activity.

Acclaimed Actress’s Words

At a recent academy awards ceremony in the US, one of the greatest actresses of our time, Meryl Streep, said something to the effect that being an actor was a special privilege. She added that this remark originally came from another well-known actor, Tommy Lee Jones.

Taking that as my cue, I now feel somewhat along the same lines. The few teachers and I from this school have been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless series of reunions / dinners.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms. These former students, to their great everlasting credit, have been unfailingly courteous, kind and grateful for all that we did.

It was for them, I believe, the sum total of the whole edifying La Salle educational experience where due emphasis was given not just to academic activities. The unique mix of ethos, culture, traditions and extra mural activities played a huge part in the whole educational process. In addition, by being in a small school with a small enrolment and a small group of teachers, everyone got to know each other pretty well.

In that La Sallian spirit and on looking back with a degree of nostalgia, I cannot help but feel that teaching and teaching at La Salle Brickfields, in particular, was a singular privilege that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

What do you think? If you like what you’ve been reading, I hope you will consider following me on either Facebook or LinkedIn

Too Lazy to Really Think

Why Many Choose Instead to React 

I read somewhere recently that the true purpose of thinking is to understand our world as best as is possible. It is a fact that our minds have evolved over the centuries to think… if we care enough to exercise that important activity in earnest. When I say think, I mean really and seriously think about a matter or matters in a mature, careful, considerate and thoughtful manner.

Need To Engage in Thinking Seriously

Why is it necessary for us to indulge in the act of thinking seriously?

This is because we can then better understand and adapt to our environment. By indulging in the serious act of really thinking, rather than mindlessly reacting to issues, individuals or situations, we are better able to make smarter decisions.

In this manner, we are better able to ‘ survive ‘ and live regardless of whether this is a family situation, an office environment, a neighbourhood association or even in a social club setting.

Biased, Distorted and Uninformed

It is a fact that a lot of our so called low level, what I term as Division 3 thinking is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed and / or downright prejudiced. Just listen to the speeches or utterances of hate mongers throughout the world and you will understand what I am trying to convey.

They shamelessly and recklessly peddle their version of ‘ the truth ‘  badly disguised as information. In this manner, they appeal to those low-level Division 3 individuals who are much too lazy or indifferent to think and evaluate the speech or utterances for themselves.

Politicians Appeal to This Segment

In recent general elections held in Australia, a number of countries in Europe and the United States politicians from the far right and the extreme right were quick to seize the opportunities presented by a biased print and electronic media. Some of these media companies have impressive but hollow tag lines like: ‘The Most Trusted Source of News’.

Many news organisations have chosen to conveniently forget or ignore the basic tenets of professional journalism! A quick check to discover who are the owners of these news organisations will reveal why they have opted to adopt this biased  and unprofessional approach.

The fact that these organisations have to broadcast this tag line repeatedly is an indication that many do not trust these bodies to give clear, unbiased news to their viewers / readers. Many of the hate speeches and utterances were repeated with annoying frequency on television as a daily diet for Division 3 thinkers.

And it worked because these individuals voted en masse for such candidates and also on important issues in their respective countries. In addition, because these politicians understood the mentality and the poor thinking skills of Division 3 individuals, they were able to tailor their messages for such lazy thinkers.

Benefits of Critical Thinking

One must understand that the desire by an individual to engage in critical thinking has to be both self–guided and self-disciplined. The onus is thus on the individual to first carry out an honest audit of his current level of thinking skills.

When we engage in critical thinking, we are indulging in reflective and independent thinking. Mobs of lawless individuals running around causing havoc and mayhem are often under the influence of a puppet master.

None of these individuals is able to think for themselves and readily take their cue from the puppet master. When asked the reason why they participated in the protest or demonstration, they appear clueless and stunned.

These then are some of the benefits of critical thinking.

  1. it improves our ability to better understand logical connections between ideas;
  2. it assists us to carefully identify, propose and evaluate arguments;
  3. it assists us to detect inconsistencies in reasoning; and
  4. finally, it helps us to solve or overcome problems with a degree of confidence.

From my experience, it takes humility, patience, courage and maturity to develop the ability to think and that too, to think critically!

It is important to note that most problem-solving efforts will require one to engage in creative thinking as a natural consequence. The same is also the case for proper planning and decision making.

Some Excellent Examples of Lazy Thinkers

A Company Scenario
A manager walks into the office of his chief executive to discuss a relevant problem or issue. He proceeds to inform his boss of the problem and the resulting implications of not being able to overcome the problem. He then very conveniently passes the buck to his boss and requests him to deal with the matter.

What is wrong here? Has he correctly identified the problem? Has he thought through the problem or issue and has he come up with a proposal(s) to deal with it effectively? Is he now wishing to get his boss’s opinion on the best way forward? It is none of the above.

He is simply much too lazy to engage his brain in this manner. It does not seem to matter to him that he seems to be a manager in name only because he is clearly unable to manage. This is essentially because he is unwilling to think and to think seriously!

A Political Scenario
An individual proposes a line of action to deal with a pressing social issue. This is debated within the party and the issue is given a proper airing. After much discussion and debate, a way forward is proposed. This is then announced to the print and electronic media by way of a press conference.

In an immediate reaction, an individual from another party, who does not agree to this proposal, threatens the other party. He also issues veiled warnings, indulges in intimidation and for good measure delivers a personal insult to the other leader. What is wrong here?

Has the individual concerned sought clarification from the other party? Has the individual proposed to have a meeting or discussion with the other party to get more information, in a civil and decent manner? Has he proposed any counter measures? It is none of the above.

Once again, rather than exercise his brain, this so-called leader chooses to react emotionally instead of thinking rationally. This modus operandi is then followed by other rabble rousers who delight in showing the community and the nation, the might of their puny brains! They are like drug addicts, always with an unquenchable craving for publicity, the more the better and it does not matter that this is often mere cheap publicity.

A Nugget of Wisdom
More than thirty-four years ago, I was chosen to attend a six-month course in Applied Research and Educational Developmental Planning at Innotech in Manila, Philippines. Innotech is one of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation ( SEAMEO ) training facility. There are such training facilities in all ASEAN countries. Malaysia has one for Science and Mathematics ( RECSAM ) in Penang and Singapore has one for English Language ( RELC ).

One day, I went in to see the director of Innotech on a matter of some concern. While waiting for her to look up, I noticed a prominent sign behind her chair and on the wall. It read: Are You Here with the Solution to the Problem or Are You Part of the Problem? It was certainly food for thought.

Many years later when I was heading a professional body in Malaysia, I thought it would be good to have that sign on the wall behind my desk. And whenever someone chose not to think about an issue properly, I was sure to ask him or her to read that sign. It had a sobering effect on the reader and he or she often left my office sheepishly.

So are we all ready to be self-guided and self-disciplined? This is because that is precisely what is called for if we are to seriously and deliberately engage in the art of thinking in earnest. It will also liberate us from the shackles of being manipulated by sinister forces. Finally, being able to really think and see issues in their true light will be an eye opening and mind liberating exercise for many of us.

 

What do you think? If you like what you’ve been reading, I hope you will consider following me on either Facebook or LinkedIn

Going on a sea or river cruise

A one of a kind experience

 

In a 1996 Harper’s magazine essay initially titled  Shipping Out  celebrated novelist, short story writer and essayist, the late David Foster Wallace was critical of cruising as a holiday option. David was also a professor of English and creative writing. This article of his appeared in the magazine with the revised title ‘ A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.’  That was David Wallace’s opinion.

However, there are literally thousands who are regular cruisers who beg to differ. Some have gone on five cruises; others have been on more than 12 cruises!

There is even one senior widow with means to match, who rather than stay in an upmarket retirement home, chooses to go on cruise after cruise in the same ship. She likes the way she is treated by the crew, all the cleaning is taken care of in a professional manner and the meals are excellent. There is nothing more she could ask for.

My wife and I embarked on our very first cruise some years ago when we went on a  Royal Caribbean International cruise from Shanghai, China to Fukuoka and Kobe in Japan and then to Seoul and Jeju in South Korea before returning to Shanghai. It was a short cruise lasting a mere seven days. It was a unique and joyful experience.

Many Intriguing Stories

We had heard many intriguing stories about cruises… both good and bad and were, therefore, somewhat apprehensive.  However, we both really wanted to experience this holiday option for ourselves.

We also took the necessary precautions and brought along some special pills to take to prevent sea sickness. We were joined on this cruise by a couple from Australia. The husband happened to be a schoolmate of mine from St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Both my wife and I took the special pills as a precaution before the ship sailed from the port of Shanghai. My friend and I enjoyed the experience but both our wives were initially affected by the cruise. It was not all that plain sailing for them.

They felt seasick, wanted to throw up and decided to retire to their cabins to lie down. By the way, cabins on cruise ships are given grand names i.e. stateroom. However, I must say that both recovered soon enough to enjoy the rest of the cruise.

Rough Seas and Stabiliser Fins

Crossing the seas to get to the Japanese port cities proved to be quite an experience as the seas were quite rough. However, modern cruise ships are equipped with huge stabiliser fins on either side of the ship. When conditions warrant it, like in this case, these fins were deployed and that helped a lot. I must also add that the rest of the cruise was plain sailing and enjoyable all the way.

Major Benefits of Cruising

We have gone on two other sea cruises since then and recently we experienced our very first river cruise. That is a whole different experience altogether.

So what are the benefits of cruising?

1.It is a very relaxed and enjoyable way of having a holiday

Yes, as you might have suspected most of the passengers are retired senior citizens…  some in their seventies, others in the late eighties and a few in their nineties too! Quite a few are with their walking sticks and a some get around in their comfortable, high-tech motorised wheelchairs.

2.There is a wide variety of good food in the various dining locations on board the luxury cruise ships

Passengers can choose to dine in a formal setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner or they can choose to go for the informal, buffet options. We chose the formal settings because in the Royal Caribbean International cruise ships, you are assigned a particular table for all your meals. You are also assigned a particular waiter to serve you during the meals. In addition, there is no pushing and shoving especially by some uncouth passengers in the buffet locations. In the buffet locations too, you can also invariably witness a few passengers displaying their ugly side by piling food on their plates!

In addition, food is available at no extra charge throughout the day and even late at night, if you are still hungry. However, you will need to pay for beer, wine and martinis if those are your preferred poisons!

3.We were able to keep up with our exercise regimen throughout the cruise

We went for brisk walks on certain decks and were able to walk all around the huge ship. We normally aimed to complete three rounds. This was certainly a most pleasant way to exercise while taking in the lovely scenery and at the same time watching the ship sail majestically through the calm waters. At times, in the morning and also at sunset, the views were simply breathtaking.

4. The Eagerly Awaited Shore Excursions

We were able to make brief visits to interesting places when we docked at the ports of certain cities. These excursions were quite enjoyable but I must confess that these were often fairly rushed visits and somewhat overpriced. The best part, however, is that they are properly organised and comfortable transport is provided. The onus is on the ship’s crew to see to it that we return to the ship in proper time and before the ship sets sail again.

We are also advised by the ship’s crew in charge of the shore excursions on the difficulty level of each shore excursion. They even recommend the type of shoe to be worn for certain walking tours. In a few cases, even bicycle tours are arranged for the more athletic types!

There are cases of individuals who decide to go on their own to explore the city and in some unfortunate instances get lost or arrive late at the port. The ship does not wait for such passengers. It is their responsibility then to get to the next port of call in order to rejoin the cruise! Hopefully, it is a lesson well learnt.

5. Pack – Unpack – Repack

Unlike well conducted and escorted tours of cities with reputable travel and tour companies like Trafalgar and Insight in the United Kingdom, there was no need to pack, unpack and re-pack at each port of call. This was a real hassle during escorted tours. Here your stateroom travels with you and it gets properly cleaned and maintained twice a day by the housekeeping staff.

6.  Entertaining Shows Every Night

Every night there are two shows that one is able to watch in the ship’s large, grand and comfortable theatre. If you decide to go for an early dinner, then you can opt to catch the second show for the night. Those who decide to go for a later dinner are able to catch the first show.

These daily shows last for about an hour plus and feature mostly talented crew members. Occasionally, some of the entertainers come on board at certain ports. Though these are not great shows, they are nevertheless quite entertaining. There is a different show each night. While the show is on, waiters and waitresses walk up and down the aisle taking your orders for drinks.

7. Other Facilities and Services

For those who love to gamble, all these cruise ships have casinos which only operate while we are in the open seas. The casinos are closed while the ship is in port. We gave this activity a miss because it is not our cup of tea! There were many who we noticed making a beeline for the casino when the ship was at sea. We chose instead to spend time in the comfortable library which was most conducive for some light reading. At other times, we joined a few passengers and played deck games.

8. Shop till you drop

And for those who like to shop, these big cruise ships have shops where you can shop till you drop. There are shops selling watches, pens, clothes, liquor, sweaters and shawls etc.

9. Swimming pools

There is also a decent sized gym on board and usually at least two swimming pools within the ship.

10. Personal care

In addition, these ships also have a beauty parlour for the ladies and a spa for those who wish to be pampered with a variety of massage options.

11. Delightful Champagne Jazz Brunch

Finally, for those looking for that extra oomph, there are usually a few speciality restaurants on board each cruise ship. One has to pay a fee of between US 10 to US 25 per head to dine in these restaurants. We felt the food was good enough on board the ship and so did not opt for this extra.

However, on one of our cruises, we opted for a promotion i.e. A Champagne Jazz Brunch for which we paid a mere US 10. It was well worth the price because the brunch and drinks were delightful and the jazz music by the 7 piece band was simply wonderful.

River Cruises Are Also Interesting

In addition to that first cruise, we also went on a Baltic cruise with RCI and a Mediterranean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line. Of the three cruises, I rate the Mediterranean Cruise the best thus far.

It was simply very relaxing, the seas were super calm and delightful and the seas seemed to shimmer with a beautiful shade of blue and green. By the way, NCL is partly owned by a Malaysian gaming company that is based in Genting Highlands in Pahang, Malaysia.  Cruising with NCL offers one the opportunity to enjoy their version of it, minus the formality of other cruise lines. They refer to theirs as “ Free Style Cruising ‘. They do not assign you a table, nor a particular waiter throughout your cruise. You are free to choose your table. In addition, there is less formality on board.

Cruising On The River Rhine

In September 2016, we went on our first river cruise with another company called Ama Waterways. This is a fairly established company and they offer cruises not just in Europe but also in Asia and Africa.

We decided that we wanted to experience a different type of cruising. We also thought that the majestic River Rhine would be a great way to enjoy this new experience. Our 7 night The Enchanting Rhine cruise began at Amsterdam and took us on a leisurely trip initially to explore the legendary canals of Amsterdam.

After that, the cruise proceeded to Cologne, where we were able to catch a city tour and view the imposing Cologne Cathedral. From Cologne, we moved on to Koblenz where we had the pleasure of a pleasant evening walking tour of the small city. From here we moved on to the impressive Rhine Gorge. We saw many quaint medieval castles here as the ship sailed slowly past them.

We had two options to choose from when we arrived at another ancient city called Rudesheim: either a Wine Tasting session or a Gondola ride. We chose the gondola ride and we were surprised when what was on offer was a ride up to a hillside in a cable car!

Well, I guess, the choice of terminology can sometimes give you a wrong impression.  The ride up the hillside was exhilarating, to say the least, and the weather was just perfect for such an outing.

We continued on to other interesting towns like Heidelberg, Speyer and Strasbourg in France before returning to Breisach. The last leg of our journey was to Basel in Switzerland.

Differences between These Two Types of Cruising Options

In a sea cruise with the more established cruise lines like RCI, NCL and Holland America , it is quite common to have as many as 2,200 plus passengers on the ship together with a crew of 1,200. However, on a river cruise, the ship is much smaller and can accommodate only about 130 plus passengers with a crew of around 60.

The river cruise is much more sedate. There are no rough seas to deal with. There are, however, locks to contend with. So from time to time, we have had to patiently wait to go through locks before proceeding to the next destination. This marvellous engineering option allowed the ship to travel both upstream as well as downstream.

The staterooms are about the same size and like in sea cruises are thoroughly cleaned twice a day. On our ship, there was a tiny swimming pool, an even tinier gym where at the most only two people could exercise at the same time and a hair salon plus a spa.

All the meals were served in the main dining room which was small compared to the ones on sea going vessels. Those who did not wish to have a proper lunch or dinner could go to another part of the ship for a light meal. I must add that there was a free flow of wine and beer during lunch and dinner at no extra charge. At other times, one had to pay for a beer or a glass of wine.  Water, coffee, tea and biscuits were always available for hungry passengers in the common and comfortable lounge.

As you can see, cruising is gaining in popularity and they even have cruises for young adults who wish to have a more rugged and less costly experience. In addition, to further differentiate, there are also cruises for the more well-heeled passengers …. these are more like 6 or 7-star cruises, with a much smaller passenger load and with loads of extras thrown in.

So do consider taking the plunge and go on a cruise. My advice is to opt for a relatively enjoyable and safe cruise especially in the Mediterranean, the Baltic region or even the Greek islands. Then go for a river cruise to experience the difference. And finally, if you are prepared to brave the seas and the unexpected, go for an ocean cruise.

Vilnius, Lithuania reveals her many charms

Civic Pride and Cleanliness Reign

 

Recently my wife and I had another incredible opportunity to spend 12 nights in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This came about because we had received an invitation from a close relative to come and discover the city. This relative has a smart, up-market two room furnished apartment right in the heart of the city and alongside the main road i.e. Gedimino Avenue.

We accepted the invitation and soon discovered many interesting and unusual facts about the city.

Where is Vilnius, Lithuania?

But first, where exactly is this country called Lithuania? It is a small country in Europe with a population of some three million people. The capital, Vilnius, has a population of 250,000 inhabitants, eighty per cent of whom are ethnic Lithuanians, eight per cent are Russian and another seven percent are Polish.

Lithuania is bordered by the Baltic Sea, another small country called Latvia and also Poland. It also has the unusual Russian enclave of Kaliningrad! It is one of the safest countries to visit in the whole of Europe. We can attest to that because we felt very safe and secure throughout our stay in Vilnius.

Early History and Growth of Vilnius

Vilnius is amazingly attractive and alluring with its labyrinthine Old Town cobblestone lanes and courtyards. It has its very own distinctive ambiance that is both charming as well as endearing. With proper shoes, walking on the well laid cobblestones can be quite a lot of fun.

Its first period of growth took place south of Cathedral Square right in the heart of Old Town. Standing majestically here is the imposing Cathedral – Basilica of St Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus. It remains to this day, the most important Catholic building in Lithuania. It was first built way back in 1251! It was partly destroyed and rebuilt a number of times.

Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

Next to it is Vilnius Cathedral Belfry… and it became a belfry only in the 16th century. Seeing it first hand, I was astounded to learn that the belfry is 57 metres high and quite wide at the bottom. No mere description can do justice to this building.

Dazzling Architectural Styles

Old Town in Vilnius achieved UNESCO world heritage status sometime in the early nineties. After walking through the Old Town on many occasions during my brief stay in the city, I can well understand why it earned this highly coveted status.  Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

It was such a pleasure to walk leisurely to Old Town and to take in the sights, sounds and feel of this wonderful, well preserved place. To me and my wife the whole city is clean but I later revised my opinion when I had a chance conversation with a senior gentleman from the Netherlands. To him, and I must stress here that this was his 5th visit to the city, he said that the city was not just clean but very clean!

Civic Pride and Cleanliness

He remarked that compared to the streets of Amsterdam which he said were quite dirty, Vilnius was exceptional. I had to agree with him because I have been to some major European cities and generally the streets are quite dirty because, in part, many of these cities have very many tourists on a regular basis. This was not the case with Vilnius. It has, I believe, yet to be discovered by hordes of tourists.

My wife and I did a lot of walking around to get a real feel for the city. We walked all over New Town as well as Old Town. We however liked Old Town better because of its unique charms and buildings.

No Cigarettes Butts on the Streets!

Walking was made that much easier because the pavements for pedestrians are wide enough and not crowded like most busy European capitals. There were thrash bins placed at strategic intervals and people actually used them. And nobody threw cigarette butts on the streets! Amazing self control or is this just a matter of civic pride?

It was also pleasant weather for the most part and the people of Vilnius did stop and help us out when we asked for directions……………….each and every time. Best of all, the people of Vilnius, not just the university students but also the middle aged and the not so young individuals all spoke and understood English. Let me add though that outside the capital of Vilnius, English is neither widely spoken nor understood.

Vilnius City Fiesta

It was just our good fortune that the day after we arrived in Vilnius, the city began three days of celebration. Titled Vilnius City Fiesta – 2 to 4 September, it was held on the avenue for about a mile just below my relative’s apartment building. How convenient for us!

There were properly erected, sturdy stalls set up the day before the event on Gedimino Avenue.  There were stalls selling cooked food – Lithuanian food is mainly hardy fare of meat and potatoes. Nothing was too exciting but solid stuff for the masses. There were also stalls selling grilled sausages of all types, cheese, biscuits, cookies etc. There were also stalls selling jewelleries, furniture, art works and paintings. Some stalls sold clothes, hats, caps etc.

For me, the best part of the City Fiesta was the  element of music …there was enough variety for all ages and groups. Two huge stages were set up at both ends of the avenue. From these stages, rock groups belted out popular numbers and I could see people moving and occasionally dancing to the beat. Families with young children were all over the fiesta grounds having a really good time.

People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.

It was all good, heady stuff and I enjoyed the shows. Further down the avenue, we heard a jazz quintet playing beautiful music. As we walked along the avenue, we also heard buskers belting out numbers to a vey appreciate crowd. It was simply good clean fun…there was no rowdiness, fights or drunken displays by anyone in the crowd.

On day 4 when we came down from our apartment, we noticed that all the stalls had been dismantled and removed and the place cleaned up and restored to the way it was before the event. Such discipline is to be admired.

Other Strange Facts and Information 

  1. In addition to the city being very clean, I also noticed very little graffiti in the city. Most major cities of the world have the scourge of graffiti plastered all over the city. Vilnius is spared this scourge to some decent degree. Once again, I think it is civic pride that is so ingrained in the people.
  2. People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.
  3. English is widely spoken and understood. Where this is not the case in a restaurant or department store, they will immediately summon someone who can assist us.
  4. There are no cigarette butts, cigarette packets or plastic wrappers carelessly thrown away and littering the streets!
  5. The country has a very small population of Sunni Muslims, about 7000 who, I have been informed, have integrated well with the rest of the population. These Muslims are very supportive of the government.
  6. Believe it or not. …………the first Lithuanians came to the country thousands of years ago from India!
  7. This information was conveyed to me by our guide who said he is also an amateur historian, during our brief visit to the resort town of Trakai. He said the Lithuanian language and Sanskrit are very similar. In addition, I would like to add that Sanskrit has been very important in the origin and development of comparative Indo-European linguistics.
  8. Cost of living in Vilnius is really low. Three racks of meat on the bone cost 3 Euro. A can of beer ( larger than normal ) 42 cents and I purchased a bottle of fairly good wine ( Merlot ) for about 3 Euro.
  9. There is a wide variety of good restaurants including those that cater for the Asian palate i.e. Thai, Chinese, Indian and Japanese.
  10. All statues of prominent Russian personalities and heroes i.e. Stalin, Lenin etc have been removed from the capital and relocated to a small town 120 kilometres away.
  11. Unfortunately, Vilnius too has its share of rogue taxi drivers. The taxi ride from the airport to our apartment was a whopping 15 Euro by a truly dishonest young taxi driver. However, our trip to the airport for the return journey home by a middle aged taxi driver cost us only 5 Euro. Even the tourist brochures warn us to be careful about this matter.

Trakai: Picture Postcard Perfect

Towards the end of our stay in Vilnius we decided to visit the resort town of Trakai. It is just a 45 minute drive to the town in a comfortable, medium sized Mercedes Benz bus. Trakai only has a population of about 7,500 residents. It has all the other facilities of a modern town, complete with hotels, restaurants, post offices, hospitals, pharmacies etc. However, the one drawback is the lack of sufficient and decent toilet facilities for the crowds of tourists.

My first impression of Trakai is of a picture perfect postcard setting. I marvelled at how tranquil the place seemed. Trakai boasts thirteen beautiful and charming lakes within and around the town! We stopped at the regular rest area which happened to be directly opposite the only remaining castle. Even this castle was only partly ancient, the bottom part and partly modern….which made it look rather incongruous!

There were two other castles there in the past but these were destroyed during the occupation.

The rest area was dotted with a succession of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants and we stopped at a restaurant for a local meal. We had a local version of curry puff but there was no curry in it…… it was just meat, potatoes and cheese. It was more like a pasty… a convenience food. A pasty is actually a baked pastry.

I noticed many sturdy wooden houses here. Some seemed old and weather beaten while others looked fairly new and impressive. It gave the town a different feel and seemed to fit in well with the town’s image as a tourist draw.

Go For the Path Less Travelled

If you are tired of the packaged tours and the usual countries to visit in Europe, then do give a thought to visiting Vilnius. It has much to offer and you do not need to book any tours or need a guide. Cost wise, it can be a dream vacation and from a safety angle, it is a place that is relatively free of crime. Here you can choose to be a real traveller rather than a tourist.

Some of my friends just came back from a holiday to Italy and another to France. Both said these countries had very interesting sights to see and marvel at. However, they felt unsafe, especially from pickpockets in some places. One friend also grumbled about racist shopkeepers, the huge crowd of tourists and unfriendly sections of the population. This is the price one has to pay to visit the popular countries. In that sense, Vilnius will be a complete change and it will also be easier on the pocket.

The Alluring Grace of Social Intelligence

Why It Really Matters

I have sometimes wondered why a few otherwise smart, intelligent individuals are oftentimes prone to make insensitive, callous and sometimes toxic statements.  I also notice that these same individuals have much difficulty communicating in a pleasant manner with others in a group or club. They tend to be unnecessarily brash, sometimes crude and unfeeling in certain situations.

Some ninety-six years ago, Edward Thorndike defined social intelligence as the ability to understand and manage men, women and girls and to act wisely in human relations. Why were boys not included in this definition? That remains a mystery. It is also equivalent to interpersonal intelligence.

Another way of looking at social intelligence is like this: ‘ Social intelligence is the capacity to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.’

Social Intelligence Defines Us

Ross Honeywill believes social intelligence is: ‘ An aggregated measure of self and social awareness, evolved social beliefs and attitudes and a capacity and appetite to manage complex social challenges.’

Now that is quite a challenge in itself.

And quite tellingly psychologist Nicholas Humphrey believes it is social intelligence, rather than quantitative intelligence, that defines us as human beings!

We need to pause for a while and cogitate deeply on that bold statement to really understand its full meaning and context.

Social intelligence, on the other hand, is mostly learned.

Developed from Experience

Permit me at this stage to elucidate.

According to experts, intelligence or IQ is largely what you are born with. Social intelligence, on the other hand, is mostly learned. It is developed from experience. For social intelligence to manifest in tangible forms, one must be willing and eager to learn as we go along in life.

For far too often, some individuals have remained closed to the process of keenly observing, learning and then internalising what they have learned. However, this is a ‘must do’ activity throughout our lives if we are to progress as decent, caring and concerned human beings.

In professional circles, they talk about this by emphasising the regular need for continuing professional development or education………CPD or CPE for short. As such, professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants for instance, regularly update their professional tool kit to stay abreast of changes in their field or of legislation.

These professionals from the established professions as well as professionals from newly emerging professions like IT, marketing and communications make it a point to stay up to date.

Age with Joy and Finish with Grace

A well known American, Christian philosopher and educator, Dr George Sweeting, in his best-selling book, ‘ The Joys of Successfully Aging ‘ said: ‘ You can age with joy and finish with grace.’

To age with joy and finish with grace, we have to first make that commitment.

Now, that is certainly a great and wonderful way of living and ending our lives here on mother earth.

To age with joy and finish with grace, we have to first make that commitment. And make it with all sincerity. In doing so, one will find that it is incumbent on us to develop, nurture and sustain a degree of social intelligence. This is so necessary if we are to integrate well and harmoniously in the family, the work environment and in society at large.

A 17th Century Nun’s Prayer

I am reminded, from time to time, of this beautifully expressed prayer that a 17th-century nun used to say in order to keep her herself truly grounded at all times. The prayer goes like this:

“Lord, keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from the craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.”

This is just part of that nun’s lengthy prayer. It goes to show that she had indeed developed a keen sense of social intelligence.

If we reflect carefully and honestly on the gist of the nun’s prayer, we will be certain to remember some occasions when silence would have been golden!

On a few occasions, some people remark that we are being sensitive when we object to some rude and personal remarks made in front of many others.  They conveniently ‘choose to forget’ and ought to be reminded, there and then, that in reality, it is these individuals who are being insensitive!

Why Individuals Stay Away

Sometimes, a few individuals choose to resign from their jobs because of unpleasant characters in the office or because of the toxic work environment. At other times, some individuals stay away from meetings at the club house or neighbourhood associations because of a few pompous, highly opinionated and egotistical personalities who ride roughshod over the feelings of more docile, gentle and refined individuals.

Yes, these are outwardly successful and intelligent individuals… but they are not ones with any degree of social intelligence. Had they taken the trouble to develop this aspect of their personal tool kit, they would not be so despised within the club or association. They are, however, the last to know how they stand within the club or association!

Lose Their Bearings as Decent Human Beings

Rank, titles, wealth and honours have gone to their heads and they seem to have lost their bearings as decent human beings. Some of these individuals seem to demand special treatment when they talk to the staff of the club or association. They make arrogant statements like: Do you know who I am? Just because they have ‘forgotten’ who they are, they take it out on others!

They also talk rudely and occasionally shout at these poor, defenceless individuals! Where is the milk of human kindness in these individuals? There is not one iota of social intelligence in these miserable individuals!

It pays, therefore, for all of us to make an effort on a regular basis to increase our level of social intelligence. When we have acquired the requisite level of social intelligence, we will find that we are able to get along well with bosses, colleagues, neighbours, friends and associates. Now that is a win – win situation for all of us.

Connecting the Lights

Facts, Mysteries and Eurasians

Two weeks ago, I received an email notification of a very interesting and fascinating Sunday afternoon programme at a leading hotel in Penang. After carefully perusing the attached flyer, I decided to make a trip up north and to attend the programme which incidentally featured a distinguished panel of speakers.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light?

Now what was this programme, ‘ Connecting The Lights “ all about? It was about Sir Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang, his son Colonel William Light and his wife and William’s mother, Lady Martina Rozzels.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light? Who was that elusive and highly attractive Eurasian Lady, Martina Rozzels? So little is written or captured about her in the various historical documents.

Penang Continues to Fascinate

I must confess that I have always been fascinated with the island. Part of the reason could be that I spent a good two years on that island during my younger days at the small teacher training college, St Joseph’s Training College, meant to prepare La Salle Brothers to be teachers.

The La Salle Brothers also took in a few lay students, like me, who after training taught alongside the La Salle Brothers in the many mission schools throughout Malaysia. My college hostel was in Burmah Road and right in the heart of Pulau Tikus and next to the Eurasian Village ( Kampong Serani ).

Cultural Melting Pot

In addition, the whole island was and still is a cultural melting pot. I could see on a daily basis a procession of young Thai girls, dressed stylishly in jeans of all hues walking past our hostel. They were on their way to the local commercial institute in the area to be trained in typewriting, shorthand and secretarial skills.

In addition, when we attended local parties on some weekends, there was always a good mix of guests: Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and even Australians. The Royal Australian Air Force had a base in Penang and its personnel mixed very well with the locals.

Even then, Penang was an established culinary paradise. It had such an array of local dishes and one only needed to know where to go for a particular dish. For me then, it was Gurney Drive for char kueh teow and Dato Keramat for Leng Chee Kiang and / or Lobak! There were other places to go to for Nasi Kandar,  Assam Laksa and Cendol.

Distinguished Panel of Speakers

The organisers of the event, George Town Festival, had invited the following individuals: Marcus Langdon, a Penang-based author; Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff, a Kedah historian and a former district officer in Kedah; Kelly Henderson, a social activist and Parklands advocate from Adelaide; and Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert, Eurasian historian.

One of the collaborators in the event was The Royale Bintang Penang, a 4-star hotel which is housed in a heritage building built in the 1890s which belonged to Boustead & Company. This event was also to mark and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Penang Heritage Trust.

Marcus Langdon’s Contribution

Marcus Langdon was given the honour of making the first presentation.

Marcus has extensive knowledge of Penang’s early history because he has spent many years and much time researching the matter. He himself has a connection to Penang because one of his great, great grandfathers was the principal of Penang Free School!

In addition, Marcus has published two major books: Penang – The Fourth Presidency of India 1803 to 1830 Volume 1 ( Ships, Men and Mansions ) and Volume 2 ( Fire, Spice and Edifice ).

Some Facts about Francis Light

We were informed by Marcus that Francis Light enlisted in the Royal Navy at the tender age of thirteen! We were also told that he was a linguist. Francis Light could speak Bahasa Malaysia / Indonesia very well. He was also conversant with the local customs and traditions and was able to get along well with both the Sultan of Kedah as well as the Thai King. He also served for a brief period in Aceh, Indonesia. Believe or not, he was able to even read and write Jawi.

He could not only speak the Thai language quite well but he had taken the trouble to master the refined form of the Thai language used in the Royal Court. This must have surely impressed the royal families in both Kedah and Thailand.

What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education.

In addition, we were informed that Francis Light was a man of impressive diplomatic skills. Furthermore, he was equally adept in negotiations and was considered a superb negotiator.

Keep in mind that this was a man who had enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen. What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education. All these remarkable qualities and abilities of his must have impressed his ultimate bosses in the East India Company ( EIC ) in Calcutta, India.

Enigmatic Lady Martina Rozzels

Lady Martina Rozzels remains to this day an enigma! What we do know is that she somehow managed to capture the heart of Francis Light. She had two children with Francis Light… a son, Colonel William Light and a daughter.

William Light, like his illustrious father, also joined the Royal Navy initially but later on, he became an army officer rising to the exalted rank of colonel. Part of the reason for his rapid rise in the military may have been due to his birthplace being given as Suffolk, England. He was thus seen and accepted as an Englishman. Was this for strategic and career reasons?  In actual fact, he was born in Penang and is a bona fide Eurasian.

One of the speakers at the event, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff made a fairly startling claim. According to him, a Kedah princess named Siti Zubaidah had taken on the identity of Martina Rozzels in order to marry Francis Light. She had used this Portuguese name to assume that identity. This revelation, for what it is worth, only deepens the mystery of who actually is Lady Martina Rozzels.

There are other accounts that state Lady Martina Rozzels moved from Phuket to Penang with a number of other Eurasian family members because of war and unrest in the Thai island at that time. She is to be credited, in part, for opening the doors for the La Salle Brothers coming to Penang. St Xavier’s Institution was the first La Salle school to be established in Malaysia.

Contributions from the Other Speakers

The other speakers, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff and Kelly Henderson also gave brief presentations. Datuk Wira touched on the Kedah connections in general while Kelly Henderson talked about William Light’s role in the founding of Adelaide.

William Light admired his father’s role in the founding of Penang and wanted to leave a similar mark. As such, just as Francis Light has a statue in his honour in Penang, William Light too has a statue in his honour in Adelaide. Like father, like son!

Like his father, William Light too was a noted linguist. His plans for the city of Adelaide are considered priceless, especially his efforts at surveying for the ideal spot to locate the city. It is readily acknowledged that his decision to locate the city in that particular part was simply brilliant.

Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert however, did not turn up due to unavoidable circumstances. His contribution was nevertheless presented very briefly by one of the organisers.

Kudos to Joe Sidek

Credit should be given to a remarkable person i.e. Joe Sidek for the success of the event. As festival director for the George Town Festival for many years, he has managed to make it a successful annual happening.

It should be borne in mind that the George Town Festival started out as a celebration of George Town’s heritage status. The fact that it has since evolved into an international showcase of arts, culture and music is a great tribute to Joe Sidek, his team and the enthusiastic volunteers who lend valuable support for its various activities.