A trip up Penang Hill

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It’s been more than 30 years since I last visited this iconic Penang landmark. I remembered as a kid, my brother and I would go up and stay in one of the government bungalows with my other cousins or friends during the school holidays. I’m sure a lot has changed, so this morning I took a ride up using the modern funicular railway—very nice, no lines. The train was air-conditioned and went quite fast. After reaching the summit of this 2300 foot hill the exit erroneously led me to some coffee shops and an Owl Museum…no, I didn’t pay to go in. I managed to find the proper exit and went out. Nothing much to explore, there was a Hindu temple there, a playground, and some buggies with drivers waiting for tourists to hire them.

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As luck would have it, the weather wasn’t that ideal for photography; it was rather hazy and murky. I bolted a polarizer onto my lens and tried to make the best of whatever blue skies there were. Visited this nearby platform where there was a long fence and couples chained locks to it with their declarations of love. Um, in other cities having this kind of thing, they are usually on bridges and once you’ve snapped the lock shut you’re supposed to throw the keys into the water. So what would they do here when there’s no water source? Just wondering. Sorry, I’ve become a little cynical of love lately.

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I had to take the obligatory selfie to prove I was here. And it’s also because I carried my tripod along for this trip. It was so warm, I was sweating buckets, blah blah blah. You get the picture (pun intended).

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After that I went for a long walk…needless to say a lot of tourists were hiring buggies and having themselves driven around. Not me, I like the exercise. I like the solitude and I can do without all that useless chatter.

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Here’s a view of downtown Penang. As I said, the weather wasn’t cooperating but what the hell, I’m already here.

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I was also disappointed because I wanted to try David Brown’s restaurant (supposed to be good) but when I got there it was closed. And it looked like it was closed permanently. Ah well, lunch will have to wait. I think the nicest shot was of these colorful leaves.

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There was a huge crowd of mostly noisy locals when I wanted to make the trip down…I had to stand inside the train since it was packed like sardines. I don’t think I’ll be making another trip up here again…nothing really much to see.

 

Dinner with some old friends

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Well it isn’t every day that you have a Facebook friend visiting your town. My friend Doreen did just that, with her husband Stan, all the way from Adelaide, South Australia. In fact she emailed me weeks earlier about her trip, but I (blush) forgot. However, it was a nice surprise to receive a Facebook message from her saying that she was in Penang and would I like to join Stan and herself for some dinner. So I did, and not only that, they brought loads of chocolate, cookies, and granola bars for me—awww, thank you, guys! I dunno, but it seems like whenever I’m hitting rock bottom the good Lord sends someone kind to soothe my soul. The picture shows the three of us relaxing after our dinner with Irish coffees and a Baileys for me. The last time I saw Doreen was in England, 30 years ago!!

Lunch with the Peacocks

Alan and Liz Peacock

I’ve known Alan and Liz Peacock for a long time. They’ve been frequenting the Penang Parkroyal for many years and I am glad to have them as friends. Alan is now retired after lecturing for years, both in the UK and here. He used to come out to Penang on working vacations, now it’s all holiday, no more work—wonderful isn’t it.

So today I took both of them to Chilli Corner in downtown Penang for a meal—wonderful food at this restaurant. Don’t be aghast with the picture, the three of us had much more than plain cucumbers (which was just the hors d’oeuvre)

I’ll be seeing both of them tomorrow night since they’re planning a dinner at the E & O Hotel. Great friends, and good times. Alan, you can take a deep breath now—you’ve got your 15 minutes of fame in my blog.

Lunch with my brother

Well it isn’t everyday that my brother and his family come out to Penang from Melbourne, Australia. This time he was here for about six weeks and he has invited me to the same Chinese restaurant not once, not twice, but three times! Not that I’m a piggy (you read that right, Miss Miller) but since the food is good, why not. Today was the final day for him in Penang so we went to Foong Wei Restaurant again, and had some wonderful fish steamboat (somewhat akin to fondue for my Western readers) All in all, good stuff (and I was stuffed!)

Bon voyage, Kenny. See you the next time, and I’m buying.

L to R: My brother Kenny, my mom, Sarah, and Gaik Hoon.

My mom fumbled a bit with my Canon, but she managed to take the shot.

And here’s our fish steamboat, with oodles of noodles and fish. Yummy!

Piano Idol: The Day After

After the euphoric high of yesterday’s Piano Idol finals at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel, today seemed a letdown in comparison. As one of the judges, I was really psyched up for the finals, and barring some disappointing song choices, I had an absolute whale of a time, just like the preliminaries held in September. So today seemed to be like a hangover; fortunately it was a public holiday, so I spent most of the time glued to my computer, checking my blog and website statistics. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that the most number of reads were for the Piano Idol posts. Modesty aside, if you did a Google search for “piano idol” you’d find my blog there, on the first page Tongue out.

So what should I do now that PI is over? I confess I can’t wait for next year’s to come along, and hopefully Mr. Fong and Swee Lin will choose me to judge again, heh heh. Alright, back to more serious stuff, I thought I’d talk a bit about my observations regarding the present Piano Idol.

  1. I was pleasantly surprised to find some amazing young talent among the contestants. Of course, the Ong brothers (a formidable force) comprising Vincent and Jason bowled me over, especially the former, who is playing some serious Chopin at the ripe age of 7! Jeez, he makes me want to dig up my Nocturnes and Polonaises to play again. Jason, the Xepher guy, wasn’t bad too. I mean, when I first heard him playing that song in the preliminaries, it was like, “Wow! What was that?” Keep up the good work, guys. Congratulations too, to Lim Jie Ying for a jazzed-up version of Greensleeves, Cheong Yi Wei for Barnyard Boogie, Philip Khor for tackling a Chopin etude, Jesselyn Wang for a Chopin waltz, and Tan Jin Yin (the Senior section winner) who came all dressed up like a professional pianist and played some mean Rachmaninoff. This lady really showed off the extreme dynamics of the Yamaha C3. Well done!
  2. It was also wonderful to see so many parents and friends, etc. turning up to lend support, both for the preliminaries and the finals. The preliminaries held in September was almost a day-long affair. And yet, what I heard from Mr. Fong and Swee Lin was that many parents stayed back to watch the whole thing, even though their children had finished playing. Give yourselves a clap, parents!
  3. Mr. Fong and Swee Lin are old friends of mine, and I really appreciate what they’ve done with this competition, to raise the standard of piano-playing in Penang. The amount of time and resources they undertook to get this whole thing running smoothly, well I tip my hat to them. When they asked me to be a judge, I was honored. Really, really honored. Thanks, Fong and Swee Lin!

Now I don’t mean to act like Simon Cowell. but here a few of my own personal tips for aspiring contestants (and teachers of contestants) preparing for the next Piano Idol:

  • No more Richard Clayderman, please! I like his music, in fact I play some of his pieces at the hotel. Unfortunately they just aren’t suitable for a competition like Piano Idol. And Ballade for Adeline is a song that’s been played to death (and back) so please, don’t choose this song. Slow pieces tend to make the audience (and the judges) feel like falling asleep, so unless you can pull off a slow piece with lots of chops and expression (like what Vincent did), go for a moderate to fast piece.
  • For a piano competition, good technique will really make a contestant stand out above the rest. Choose something like Flight of the Bumble Bee (Rimsky Korsakov), Chopin’s Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas, Etudes, etc. Want something extremely challenging? For Senior contestants, try Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique op. 4 no. 4 (hear it in my website playlist). Pieces which make the judges sit up and take notice, understand? If you’d rather prefer Jazz pieces, go for boogie woogie, or something like Dave Brubeck’s Take Five (I play it in E flat minor, the original key). Or one of Gershwin’s Preludes.
  • How you sit at the piano and your posture is important too. If you’re using the right sustain pedal, the heel of your right foot should always be in contact with the floor. Never pump the sustain pedal up and down with your whole right leg! You’ll also need to adjust the piano bench from the piano, depending on your height. The worst thing a contestant can do is to go straight to the piano and start playing immediately. Pause and take a deep breath before you begin the first note; it’s great for calming yourself down.
  • Nerves are part and parcel of any competition or exam, and Piano Idol is no different. Here are some tips. Practice the piece to the best of your ability. Enjoy yourself and enjoy creating the music. Don’t even think about the audience, or the judges. Act as if you’re alone, playing. And think wonderful and positive thoughts.
  • Although we judge contestants primarily on their playing proficiency, dressing and appearance play a part too. I’ve noticed very few contestants smiling (a lot of them looked rather solemn). I was glad to see all the contestants nicely-dressed for the finals (the Candy Rock group really excelled at this. Well done, Carina, Joy and Rachel!) But dress appropriately for the preliminaries as well, ok? Which means, no sandals or slippers. If you want to dress like Maksim, make sure you can play like him!

Guess that’s about it for now. Don’t be shy to comment, there’s a comment link for every blog post. Or use the Contact Me link. You can also find me on Twitter, on Windows Live Messenger; in fact I wonder how I can manage to be in so many places. I enjoyed meeting all of you contestants, and I look forward to seeing you again for the next Piano Idol!

Take care, and remember: perfect practice makes perfect.

Bad news for Penang

Just read in today’s The Star that the Federal Government has decided to defer two major projects for Penang: the Monorail and the Penang Outer Ring Road project (PORR). And the reason for this decision? “Soaring costs.” So why the hell didn’t they do it years ago? And if they “defer” these projects to 5 or 10 years from now will the costs decrease? Will the traffic madness decrease? Give me a break! They might as well use the word cancel instead of defer.

The short-sightedness of politicians is something that makes me want to throw up. I guess it’s the same all over the world. And it’s always the citizens who have to suffer and pay the price for their dumb decisions.

Alright, end of my rant. Enough of this political BS.