How Long I Have Been Married

Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rediscovering Penang, The Island of My Maternal Grandparents

Penang is naturally close to my heart for the simple reason that my maternal grandparents called it home after my grandfather retired in the early 80s. On top of that, my mom's younger siblings all married Penangites, so the blood ties with the island once called Prince of Wales Island is strong in our family.

The demise of my late grandfather last year meant that the only family ties left on the island are my uncles and aunts whom also chose Penang as their home. I am determined not to dilute those ties by attempting to swing by as regularly as I can. Furthermore, my grandparent's final resting place are just next to each other at Masjid Jamek Sg. Gelugor not far from their residence in Minden Heights (next to the Universiti Sains Malaysia campus).
However, have to admit that my work schedule and own family commitments in KL sort of prevented me from going up north as often as I would have liked.

I think the last time I came was in March 2009, when my grandfather passed away. Yeah, that was the last time I really visited Penang. Subsequent visits to the island from that point onwards was merely for transfer from the Bayan Lepas International Airport to the mainland of Seberang Prai Utara or further up to Sg. Petani, Kedah; strictly work-related.

Hence I was determined to give the island of my maternal grandparents what's due - a full-fledged visit. And it couldn't be even more fitting that to bring my wife and kids for our year-end family vacation to Penang, before school re-opens in a week's time.

It was kind of spontaneous, and I thanked my wife for making all the arrangements. We reserved a beautiful junior suite at the swanky and contemporary Hydro Hotel perched on a hilltop overlooking Miami Beach, one of the sub-beaches sandwiched between Shamrock Beach and Golden Sands Beach, collectively known as, yeah you guessed it - Batu Ferringhi.

My daughters Farisya and Azureen were of course excited. Any place with a swimming pool excites them.

We travelled to Penang on Christmas Eve, on Friday evening. I would have love to leave earlier but my wife who is now a senior government educator had some work to do (she is an SPM paper examiner this time around), so we only managed to hit the road at around 4.00 pm. The entire journey took 6 hours, with a one-hour pit stop at the Sg. Perak R&R area for refuelling and early dinner.

We finally checked-in at Hydro Hotel, Penang at 10.00 pm, as I was what the Americans say "Doggone Tired." I slept like a log that night.

Our hotel - Hydro Hotel, Miami Beach, Batu Ferringhi, Penang

The following day, on Christmas, our first official day at Penang, we decided to play real tourists by rediscovering the island I once frequented as a boy, teen and young adult. But being me, I refused to succumb to the usual garden-variety tourist spots, because I am not a tourist, I am a traveller.

Even before leaving KL, I already knew one place which I wanted to visit - the newly restored Suffolk House at Jalan Air Itam, which was once the former residence of the Governor-General of Penang (then known as Prince of Wales Island) during the reign of our British colonial masters.

So, we paid a visit to Suffolk House which is now managed by an NGO known as Badan Warisan. The sight that met us was breathtaking. It is indeed a magnificient mansion, with a well-manicured lawn surrounding it, and the Air Itam river flowing dramatically besides it. Well, the river looks more like a polluted stream nowadays. I am sure it was crystal blue 250 years ago.

Suffolk House, which was once doomed after decades of neglect, has been restored to its full grandeur through an intensive fund raising campaign by the Penang Heritage Trust. I regretted not taking a better picture of the house with its lovely manicured lawn as the foreground.

Anyway, there is some dispute regarding the actual history of the house. The most consistent version is that it was built by who else than Captain Francis Light, the British East India Company officer who founded Penang in 1786. It is highly likely as Light hailed from Dallinghoo of Suffolk County, East Anglia, hence he aptly named the mansion Suffolk House to remind him of his home country back in England.

The house back then was built within Captain Light's pepper plantation and the naval captain resided there for about eight years before he died of malaria. The British Empire then took full control of the house, making it the official residence of its Governor General for Penang, and even at one time, for the Governor General of the Straits Settlement.

In the years that followed, Suffolk House continued to be the grand old lady of Penang, playing host to numerous social and official events of the British Empire until the 1920s when the Crown decided to sell off the property to a local Penangite, Lim Cheng Teik, presumably a tycoon of the island at that time. That marked the start of the house' downfall as it was then in turn sold off by Lim in 1928 to the Methodist Church of Malaya for the purpose of constructing a Methodist missionary school. In fact, the church petitioned to demolish the house to make way for the school complex but fortunately, the Penang Municipal Councillors at that time rejected the motion. Instead, the church built the school adjacent to the house which still stands until today.

World War 2 then followed where the house was used by the Japanese military administration and after that, the era of neglect began. For some cruel reason, the house was left to rot and declared unsafe for occupation in 1975 as deteriorating conditions hit the peak, on the verge of collapsing.

Fast forward to the year 2000 where restoration efforts officially kicked-off by a group known as the Penang Heritage Trust, with full support of the Penang State Government and I believe also with the blessings of the Federal Government.

View at the top floor of the house, with its magnificient pillars and wide verandahs, typical of colonial mansions built at the height of the British Empire

Fund raising was a monumental challenge as the State government only granted sufficient funds for structural reinforcement. The rest was up to generous contributions by various quarters which trickled in slowly but surely. Just when all hope was lost in completing the restoration, HSBC Bank came to rescue by injecting a cool RM2.5 million which assured the rejuvenation and reincarnation of Suffolk House. It opened its doors to the public early last year and charges RM10 as admission fee. Fair enough as they would need all the money to maintain this grand and stately home.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My New Year's Resolution(s)

Since it's been almost a month since I posted anything in this pathetic blog of mine, I thought best if I shared my New Year's resolution considering that 2011 is just around the corner.

Just to recap, I think 2010 was a great year for me, careerwise, as I completed my first year at my current position (since my promotion in October 2009) and personal wise too in terms of my travelling as I clocked a new personal best of three overseas trips in January (Phuket; Thailand), July (Bali; Indonesia) and earlier this month (Krabi; Thailand).

However, it was quite a challenging year in terms of me managing my deterioting relationship with my wife of 11 years, though of late, I am pleased to report that things are slowly but surely getting better.

Anyway, here's my 2011 resolution which I pledge to attempt to do :

1. Worry less about the wellbeing of someone whom I really care about at the office as she already has a husband to do that job.
2. Focus more on patching things up with my wife by really cracking my head to come up with ideas to re-ignite the fire of romance which for some cruel reason has been lost after more than a decade of marriage.
3. Increase my savings for rainy days ahead.
4. Give more attention to my kids who will be in Year 4 and Year 1 of primary school especially in helping them with their homework.
5. Be a better leader and manager of my department by upskilling / equipping myself with all the necessary leadership elements / parameters / qualities set by my employer.
6. To spend less on expensive lunches and after work drinks.
7. To catch up on my reading - less fiction and more self-help books.
8. To lose a significant amount of weight by committing to a workout regime which includes a diet regime in tandem.
9. To focus, cherish and savour the company of true friends who really care about you rather than harbour hope to be inducted into the circle of friends of individuals who don't really care about you and just obliged to be nice to you because you are their superior or colleagues.
10. To rely less on my most capable subordinate so that I won't be so miserable in her long absence sometime next year.
11. To take my wife and kids to Gold Coast, Australia.

There it is, 11 resolutions for 2011.

May the force be with me...