Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Crime does not pay?

No, no, no. They are not the criminals. They are my students.

Now, the one on the right is Chung Keng Quee (or Kwee), the famous gangster leader (OK, they are called secret societies) from the late 19th Century, leader of the Hai San secret society who fought in the infamous Larut Wars, all for the sake of a few tin mines. Oh, yes, the British loved him and he was respected, millionaire philanthropist, founder of modern Taiping, member of Perak Advisory Council and a survivor in the face of adversity. So, let's just ignore the gangster bit.

In October 2007, I wrote about the bus drivers from Adelaide. Well, they are back. OK, not the same guys, except for Matthew. This is six years in a row that the University of South Australia students have come to work with my students at USM under their international Planning Visit Study course. This year the heritage walk started at the Peranakan Museum which was beautifully restored at a cool RM4 million. It used to be the mansion of Mr. Chung or Kapitan Chung.

This is the air well. Quite inspiring opulence.

The USM and UniSA students being given a tour of the museum by a heritage guide. We had the same guide (Mr Yap) last year and he is so full of interesting anecdotes we have to constantly remind him of the time. Can you guess which one he is?

There's this courtyard painted green with lots of green plants so if you just sit there like a Mandarin (like Matthew here), you also become green.

One of the places we stopped at was a joss-stick maker. He is a living heritage. He looks very healthy at 80 years of age and still makes joss sticks at a prewar shophouse near to the Goddess of Mercy Temple. He's been there for 71 years, doing the same trade which he learned by secretly observing the workers who used to make joss sticks at the Temple nearby. He still lives in the double-storey shophouse with his wife, all his children having moved out. The building was rented for about RM20 per month in the good old days, then went up to about RM50 until the Rent Control Act was abolished in 2000. He now pays RM300+ per month (on a two year contract) to Ban Hin Lee, the owner, which is a holding company of a famous Penang family founded by a barber (Yeap Chor Ee). The joss-stick maker remembers that as a youngster he saw Yeap visiting the Temple regularly but by then Yeap was already a very old man walking with the aid of his wife (probably a young one?).

Before I left, I asked for his name. He said Lee Meng Chuan. Wow. So, I told him my name. He instantly jumped up and went inside and took out some joss-sticks with Chinese characters written by him wishing me luck. Apparently I am "chin lang", or relative.

Friday, 5 September 2008

My Green Diary II

Nice propaganda on the back of the bus. I buy the idea. 80 people go to work in 53 cars. Or just one bus.
As it is, I can't afford to spend 5 hours commuting to and from work.

On Nov 17, 2007, I wrote my first Green Diary.

So, I tried to be green again today. OK, I was "forced" to be green today 'cos my car broke down on the Penang Bridge yesterday. So, here's the dairy.

6.15 am - wake up, brush teeth, shave.

6.20 am - went downstairs (yah, you noticed the time). Noticed the broadband still on, so checked email. Replied to a couple.

6.30 am - had breakfast with my wife. Muesli (brought back from Adelaide) with cold milk and coffee with milk, no sugar.

6.45 am - did my usual "business"

6.50 am - watched a bit of BBC News

7.02 am - left the house with my wife and daughter, picked up a passenger. Dropped off the kids at school.

7.32 am - wife dropped me at the Megamall RapidPenang bus station. Enquired with two gentlemen about taking the bus to USM. They happened to work for RapidPenang. I found I should take either 704 or 705. So I sat down to wait. There is no bus schedule placed anywhere at the bus station.

8.00 am - got bored of waiting. Tried to stopped the negative thoughts (like you know "stupid bus company .." etc) by taking out the book on "CitiesPeoplePlanet" by Herbert Girardet. Quite an engaging book on sustainable cities (what else).

8.28 am - wife called "where are you". I laughed. Still waiting. I asked her to check for the schedule. She calls back and says there is one at 8.50 am. So OK, not too bad.

8.58 am - still no bus. But wait, what about that other bus that just drove in on the opposite lane. I walked out to check the bus number. Hey its 705! Damn, why is the bus on the other side when all the passengers are waiting on this side (ehmm there were only about 5 or 6 people waiting). So I walked over. But the bus driver said "lama lagi" (still a long time to go). When? we asked. 9.30 am, the driver replied. What happened to the 8.50?

9.30 am - on the dot, the bus left. In the meanwhile, the bus air-con and engine was on the whole time. Bus fare to USM RM2.50.

Took us about 10 minutes to get to the Bridge toll plaza. No special lane. Maybe that's why they don't operate during the crazy peak hour. Driver paid with prepaid card but seated too high to touch the device.

Traffic on the bridge still heavy but moving smoothly except for short standstill near the mid-span.

It started to rain. My wife called. Hey, I am on the bus. Did you bring the umbrella. Yes, I did.

This is the sign I see almost everyday. Yet I couldn't remember the number when I needed it most. Maybe its the way it is presented. Try 1-300-1-300-03

10.00 am - dropped off at the Sg Dua bus stand.

Total time to get to work? 7.00 am to 10 am - 4 hours!! (Oops, my wife tells me my maths is very poor. That's 3 hours in case you missed it.)

Then I walked to HBP. Read the newspaper at the lounge. A couple of the younger lecturers stopped to chat about APEX U and plastic bags. And then Hassim came and we talked about RapidPenang. Apparently the buses are now equipped with GPS so customers can call up their control centre to find out where the bus is. I can imagine the nightmare of trying to get through to the call center. I suggested to Hassim who is a transportation planner that may be we can work with RapidPenang to target USM staff - study their trip patterns, where they stay and organise daily trips to transport staff to and from work; bring the RapidPenang buses into the campus. OK Hassim, waiting for your working paper. I think it would be fitting with our APEX U status to work to reduce our carbon emissions from work-related travel.

Later I checked the RapidPenang website to look at the schedule. There's supposed to be buses from Megamall at 6.00 am (the notice on the bus says buses start at 6.30 am), 7.00 am, 8.50 am and 9.30 am and then 12 noon and so on. OK, I guess the route is not very popular (there were only 6 of us on the bus). But now you see why it is fruitless to even check the schedule ahead of time?

Now, the schedule says there should be a bus coming from Bayan Baru at 15.45. Can I trust that?

Its 15.28 now. Come back for more!

Continuing the diary at 9.08 pm, at home. Martin Yan yakking and frying away on TV.

OK, going to back track a little:

11.00 am (or there abouts) - still drizzling. Started walking back to my other office. Decided to walk to the Durian Valley because I had received reports of illegal dumping of construction debris. No one was there but evidence clearly there. Sigh. I accidentally bumped into a similar activity in 2005. Guess these constractors are always trying to make a quick buck. Going to have to report it to the higher authorities. The last time I did that, they send the "cops", actually our security guards, to interview me as though I was the one who had violated the law.

Walking in the rain is fun.

Notice the double-yellow line? Yes, we have too many cars on campus.

The bus which circulates around campus spewing out lots of fumes.
Abe told me that USM is buying 6 more buses. Me? I want to get rid of them.

11.40 am - got back to the Kampus Sejahtera office slightly sweating. Abe came in to chat. And then Mervin. So the three of us set off to our lunch appointment at the Red House with Kah Hing to talk about the student-organised Environmental Conference and Plastic Forum to be held on 10th Oct and 1st Nov. More of that later.

12.00 noon - lunch, strategy meeting, pacifying ... apparently, one or two of the volunteers needed a heart-to-heart talk; hope I am not stressing them out with too high expectations.

1.30 pm or so - back in office; continued to chat with Abe.

2.00 pm start blogging - that's what you read way up there.

3.30 pm - decided I couldn't depend on the RapidPenang schedule so headed for the Minden Gate instead. More buses heading for the Jetty.

3.45 pm - reached the bus stop but a bus zoomed by. Damn.

3.46 pm - bus 301 arrived. Is this the bus to the Jetty? Yes. The lighted sign is readable from far. Fare RM1.50. Quite crowded. The bus goes through Jelutong, Jalan Sungei Pinang, then Komtar and ...

4.15 pm - arrived at the Jetty.

4.35 pm - Ferry finally arrives.

4.55 pm - Ferry docks in Butterworth and I walked to the brand new temporary Penang Sentral where RapidPenang hangs out.

5.01 pm - waiting for RapidPenang bus for Air Tawar. There is no notice board or schedule anywhere.

5.16 pm - got fed up of waiting. Went to the window which says "Information". No it is not a RapidPenang counter but yes she can help. So when's the next bus to Air Tawar. She checks. There should have been one at 5.15 (but where is it?). The next one? 5.45 pm. I'm not waiting. Is the old bus company still operating. Yes, on the other side.

So I walked over, hunted for the UTC bus in the mess of long distance buses, puddles ... Got on the bus which says "Kuala Muda". Fare RM1.20. No air-con, old, a little dirty and crowded.

5.45 pm - got off the bus on the main road.

6.00 pm or so - Hi, honey I'm home. My wife had just got home and was already putting the soup to boil. Total travel time 2 and half hours.

OK, I hear your question. Why do you live so far from your place of work in the first place? Good question. Come back some other time for the answers.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

TapauWare Party

Ramadhan (fasting month) is when the food stalls spring up and make a roaring business around USM (Sg. Dua Gate and RST area). Muslim students also favour buying back food to eat in their rooms. So the students from KAS came up with a brilliant idea to work with Tupperware to promote the use of reusable containers. In the TapauMania campaign, each student or staff who eats at the canteen or buys back food using reusable containers gets one coupon at participating cafeterias. At the end of the campaign period (18th Sept), the students and staff can redeem the coupons for gifts from Tupperware and also stand a chance to win fabulous Tupperware sets, sponsored by Tupperware. The aim of the campaign is to reduce the use of all types of disposable containers, whether eco-friendly or otherwise.

A stall is also currently set up at the Dewan Kuliah foyer where students and staff can buy Tupperware products at 30% discount. The stall will be open until 12th September 2008.

Observations at the canteens shows that a huge number of students are bringing their own reusable containers. So, we can be proud that our campaign has achieved a great measure of success.
Composite picture of students tapauing with own containers. (Apologies for the special effects)

Now, our big problem is the stalls outside the campus. As you can see from the pictures below shows, students are coming in with lots and lots of polystyrene containers.

We are organising a campaign at the Sg Dua gate on Monday 8 Sept 2008, 5.00 - 6.30 pm. Come and join us to promote a more sustainable lifestyle. Reduce waste, reduce consumption.

Penang Bridge emergency No. 1300 1300 03

Ever been stuck on the Penang Bridge during peak hour? Well, I was this evening, driving home from campus after the Minister of Higher Education delivered the good news that USM has been selected for the APEX University programme. OK, some lecturers don't think its good news. I heard that lecturers in other universities have told USM lecturers they are quite happy not being at the APEX.

But I digress. I should have known better. In the morning while driving to campus, the car had sputtered a couple of times. What to do? I drive a 13 year-old car. Of course I send it for regular maintenance but if any part wants to die it will just die.

I was on the ramp coming from campus heading home when the car just sputtered a few times and just die. And I was obstructing traffic and vehicles had to squeeze slowly by. And I couldn't push the car to the side because it was on an upward incline. After a few minutes, a young man got out of his van and asked "Uncle mau tolak ke tepi?" (Uncle you want to push to the side). Man was I grateful. Then his partner came down and both helped to push my car to the side. I didn't even get to thank them. After a few tries, I got the car running again but for only about 50 metres. Fortunately, the space here was wider so I wasn't obstructing traffic anymore.

So, who do you call when you car breaks down on the bridge? The Mechanic? The emergency number? What the hell is that number? Something 1300 1300 something. I see it everyday! Well, I decided to call my wife. Yes, my wife. When my windscreen shattered, I also called my wife. She contacted our mechanic, he called me. He told me it was likely the fuel pump. He tried to call the insurance company which has a towing service. Bad news, the tow trucks are banned from the bridge during peak hour. I tried calling 1300 1300 13 but got some funny message. So I packed my backpack and started walking to get to the emergency phone. After 50 metres I turn around and saw a man zooming in on my parked car and pointing at it. One look at him and I knew he was a mechanic. All he had was a bag of tools. It seems he makes one round of the bridge every two hours during the evening. He said that on a bad day (good day for him lah) during heavy congestion, 7 or 8 cars break down on the bridge.

He asked me to start the car and in less than one minute figure out that it was the fuel pump. But don't worry, he can fix it to get me home. He warned me not to drive the car anymore after that until I get the pump changed. And don't use the air-con. I was a little skeptical but had no choice. He said it will cost RM60. Highway robbery, you think? Hmmn, it is the age of talent. And talent is expensive. He drained some petrol from his motorbike, mixed it with a little black engine oil. He then squeezed them into various parts of the engine. I was instructed to turn the ignition and he was under the hood making the engine roar. All done in less than 15 minutes. And I got home safely. So tomorrow, I got to take the public bus to campus.

BTW, the Penang Bridge Patrol showed up when the mechanic was almost done. They seems to know each other very well. Didn't even bother to ask me if I needed help. Oh well, they did park right behind my car to protect my butt. Thanks guys.

Oh, try to remember this no. 1300 1300 03.
I had to check the Penang Bridge blog for the correct number. All in I was stuck for about 30 - 40 minutes. I am pleased nobody rammed into me (I had my hazard lights blinking). Should I buy a new car? Hhmmm .... I am quite attached to my old faithful.

So you know what to do next time you car breaks down on Penang Bridge?