Sunday, 27 August 2017

Kedah Prince Born Out of A Lie

Interesting tale related to the birth of Tunku Abdul Rahman, our Father of Independence.

His mother had to lie to his father, Sultan Abdul Hamid that she was with child to save a family. In fact, at that time she was not yet pregnant.

Click the link below to read the full story:

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Sungei Petani Food Treats

The KTM Kommuter service is efficient and very convenient.

Having 30 minutes on my hands, I decide to try check out the goodies around the Sungei Petani station.

For the rest of the story please click on this link:

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Vintage Straits Times Annual makes cover of Sunday Vibes

My story made the cover of Sunday Vibes. This 1968 Straits Times Annual magazine features a Malay lady clad in traditional attire standing beside an intricately carved boat.

To read the rest of the story, please click this link:

Straits Times Annual: Tracing the Nation's History

Check out my story about these much sought after magazines have become collectors' items in today's Sunday Vibes, New Sunday Times.

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Saturday, 19 August 2017

First Americans in Singapore: Story of the Balestiers

A chanced discovery of a letter sent from Singapore to the US

A chanced discovery of a letter sent from Singapore to the US sets Richard Hale on a trail to find out more about the first Americans to arrive in the young colony.

Check out my story in today's Saturday Pulse to glimpse into life in Singapore during the mid 19th century based on the letters of Maria Balestier who is related to the great American patriot, Paul Revere.

Please click on the link below:

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bargain buys, Ancient attraction

Visiting the Kuala Kedah pasar pagi was a truly amazing experience. Things are really cheap and fresh, especially the seafood. After that, do not forget to adjourn to the famed fort and learn about Kedah's historic past.
Please click on the link below to read my story in today's JOM! Travel, New Straits Times

Monday, 14 August 2017

Former Ford Factory in Singapore: Japanese Occupation in Singapore

Items from the Japanese Occupation in Singapore are well documented and displayed at this former Ford Factory in Bukit Timah. 

Read about my story by clicking the link below:

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Elephants in Malaya

Checkout my latest story in Sunday Vibes, New Sunday Times 13 August 2017.

Please click on the link below. Thanks.

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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Early education in Malaya

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Movie Magazines.... Premier Entertainment Resource of the Past

Lights, Camera, Action!....Read!

Raja collects recyclables from my area regularly. We donate generously because we know he uses the money to help fray his costs in transporting volunteers to the soup kitchen in town. One morning I happen to be outside when Raja arrives. I help him load two large stacks of old newspapers into his van. Then, just as I am closing the door, I notice an old magazine on his passenger seat. I can see it is an old copy of the Shaw Brothers Indian Movie News. I offer to buy the magazine thinking that he got it during one of his recycling trips.

Realising my interest, Raja then regales me with the story about how his father, being an avid movie fan, formed a vast collection of movie paraphernalia during his youth. Raja inherited the collection after his father's demise several years ago. He likes to read about the old movies and occasionally brings the magazines to read in his van. Curiosity gets the better of me and I ask to see his collection.

I am filled with mixed emotions when I arrive at Raja's house that afternoon. I am happy to see so many items ranging from movie ticket stubs, promotional posters, calendars featuring movie stars, film related magazines, black and white photographs of cinemas, movie fliers and even rare pass out cards. But at the same time it pains me to see all these priceless items being haphazardly thrown all over his study. I begin to study the items while arranging them in order.

After going through half of the items, I become consciously aware of the importance of marketing and promotions to the film industry. This is especially so during the golden age of local movies which spanned some three decades, from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s. Movie producers then placed a lot of emphasis on publicity to help sell their films. Their preferred marketing method was to produce magazines to constantly position their newly launched movies in the minds of the fans.

A vast majority of the entertainment magazines in Raja's collection were produced by the famous Shaw Brothers. I also see other smaller publications like Arena Film, Berita Film dan Sport and Bintang but the magazines produced by Shaw are much superior in terms of content and quality.

Although not the first to produce movie magazines in Malaya and Singapore, Shaw Brothers thoroughly understood their effectiveness. They owned a printing press, the Shaw Printing Works, that soon churned out a continuous stream of publicity materials. Shaw published film magazines in four local languages under the banner of the Chinese Pictorial Review Ltd which was incorporated in Singapore.

The first film magazine to come into the market was in English called Movie News. Going by the tagline ' movie people, for movie goers......' the 60 page magazine featured reviews and glossy photographs of newly released movies from Hollywood as well as those from the Shaw Studios in Hong Kong and Singapore. To further attract readers, the magazine featured full page photographs of popular stars as well as a series of contests. Fans usually flip to the contest pages the moment they get their hands on the latest magazine. Their purpose? To see if they can answer the quizzes correctly and hope to win prizes in the form of cash and complimentary theatre passes.

The first Movie News issue was printed in July 1948 with 5,000 copies going out to the Shaw stable of cinemas in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo. Shaw wanted the magazine to be affordable to everyone and priced it at only 20 cents a copy, making it the cheapest monthly entertainment magazine in the market. The first issue was an instant success, selling out in just a matter of days. The magazine was so popular that people would buy, read and then resell them for a profit. Realizing the huge demand for the magazine, Shaw increased the print run for subsequent issues.

Among all the Movie News magazines in the collection, the one I like best is the June 1964 issue because Elvis Presley is featured on the front cover. I also notice that the selling price had increased by 30 cents since its inception 16 years earlier. Four new movies were featured, namely Wild and Wonderful, Sex and the Single Girl, Honeymoon Hotel and Rhino. The personality feature for that month include Rock Hudson, Ann-Margret, Claudia Cardinale and Connie Francis. Like most other magazines in the collection, the Film Quiz, Film Flam and Jig Saw contest entry forms are missing. I guess the original owner must have removed them in order to participate. I hope the person won something.

The Editor's Chair section catches my eye as it refers to the annual Asian Film Festival in Taipei. It further reported that Shaw Brothers submitted a total of eight films for the festival, two in the Malay language and the rest in Mandarin. The editor ends by advising readers to look out for complimentary postcard size portraits of film stars included in the magazine. The Editor said that this generous gesture was in response to the overwhelming requests from many readers.

The reference to the film festival jolts my memory. Taipei played host to the 11th Asian Film Festival in 1964. I clearly remember the Best Comedy Film category was won by Madu Tiga. This black and white romantic comedy film was both directed and starred by the screen legend, P. Ramlee. The plot revolves around a childless couple, Jamil (P. Ramlee) and Latifah (Zaharah Agus). Jamil subsequently marries Hasnah (Jah Hj Mahadi) without his first wife's knowledge. After that, Jamil meets Rohani (Sarimah) during the course of his work and marries her as well. The scene becomes chaotic when the women realize that they were all married to the same man. Like most movies of that era, the film ends on a happy note when Jamil promises to be equally fair and loving to each one of his wives. In October 2014, The Straits Times called Madu Tiga a classic and ranked it among the top five greatest Malay films made in Singapore.    

On a more solemn note, the film industry lost one of its prominent leaders when Loke Wan Tho together with his wife, Mavis Lim perished in a plane crash on 20 June 1964. The couple had just attended the 11th Asian Film Festival days earlier. Loke's untimely death sent shockwaves throughout the movie making industry. Many of his peers knew him as a prominent film entrepreneur who built up Cathay Organisation and established the Cathay chain of cinemas throughout Malaya and Singapore.

Spurred by the success of Movie News, Shaw Brothers branched into other film publications - the Malay version, Majallah Filem and Indian magazine, Indian Movie News. Movie News circulation topped 30,000 copies by 1980 before declining rapidly due to the introduction of entertainment magazines from abroad. Finally, Shaw stopped the production of all its magazines in the late 1980s.

The Chinese language entertainment magazine was dominated by the 200 page monthly called Southern Screen. It was produced the Shaw Brothers Hong Kong division. Southern Screen was first published in 1957 when Run Run Shaw took over the Hong Kong film production from his brother Runde Shaw. Right from the start, Southern Screen showed a marked improvement from Rundme's Screen Voice Pictorial film magazine by increasing content on newly released films, producing high quality photographs of famous stars and even including lengthy commentaries on the latest gossip and news to come out of the Shaw Studios at Clearwater Bay.

Southern Screen quickly became the best selling film magazine of all time among all of Shaw Brothers publications. Monthly circulation hit the magical 100,000 mark in the mid 1960s, reaching readers as far away as the Americas and Europe.

Shaw did not only depend solely on print publicity to increase its fan base. Personal appearances by stars from Hollywood and Shaw Studios during movie premieres, cinema openings, festivals and charities in Singapore and Malaysia also helped promotional efforts greatly. Charity premiers were often attended by prime ministers of both countries as well as other important government officials. The dignitaries who once graced these gala events include Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Lee Kuan Yew and Yusof bin Ishak.

Sporting events were also used to promote films. Premier of the movie Around the World In 80 Days in 1956 was made extra special with a cycling race held in Alor Star. It was reported that more than 1,000 spectators turned up for the event. Two years later, the organisers took the opportunity to promote air-conditioning in cinemas during the Johore-Singapore walking competition. Signs with the words 'Every stride you take means you are getting closer to a Shaw air-conditioned cinema' clearly emblazoned on them greeted participants at each water stop. In 1960, a Vespa race was organised at the Great World Amusement Park by the Singapore Vespa Club to promote the Ben Hur blockbuster movie. Spectators received car bumper stickers, records, sunshades, postcards, stamps and bookmarks during these promotional events.

I turn to a bewildered Raja as I plastic wrap the last magazine and return it to the shelf. He must have been very surprised at the way I treat his items with such tender loving care. He could not believe his eyes when I showed the value of the Majallah Filem sold on social media these days. I nearly fainted when he said he nearly brought the items to the recycling shop last year. Fortunately, he changed his mind because of the sentimental value attached to the items. I thank Raja for a most enjoyable evening and leave with a warm feeling in my heart knowing that I have helped a friend preserve his valuable heirloom.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Sailing into Hong Kong's Seafaring Past

Li Juan puts away his spy glass and grabs hold of his water container. This is the third time he has taken a drink within the hour. The noon sun is bearing down on him with all its fury and yet he has to remain steadfast. The young man turns towards the narrow path leading down the mountain but his replacement is still nowhere in sight. He takes an additional mouthful hoping that it will help dissipate his growing hunger pangs. His watch at the top of Victoria Peak began just before dawn and there was hardly any time for breakfast.

He returns his gaze to the horizon. Still nothing. 'I hope Flying Cloud arrives during my watch,' Li Juan tells himself knowing that each successful spotter gets an incentive. That extra dollar will certainly go a long way in helping his family through lean times. Then, a tiny speck appears in the distance. Li Juan quickly reaches for his telescope to get a better look. Slowly by surely a mast appears over the horizon. The young man's heart beats faster as he watches impatiently. Finally, the ship's flag comes into sight. A wide smile spreads across his face when the unmistakable Chinese dragon twining around the Scottish thistle insignia comes into sight. Without a doubt, the ship is Flying Cloud returning to Hong Kong with its precious cargo from Europe and India.

Without wasting any more valuable time, Li Juan releases the homing pigeon from its cage while saying a silent prayer for the bird to fly safely to his employer's warehouse by the harbour. In less than fifteen minutes, Li Juan spots a fast cutter going out to intercept approaching ship. The cutter has only one mission, the most important mission of all - to get the bag of letters from Europe and then make a quick turnaround to bring the valuable information back to land quietly and without raising any suspicion. The merchants privy to this privileged news can then decide to either buy more stock or sell their remaining supply. By the time Flying Cloud finally docks in Victoria Harbour, their fortunes would have already been made.

This is the most effective technique used by European trading houses to gain an upper hand in 19th century Hong Kong. News can sometimes take up to six months to arrive from Europe. European business owners or more commonly referred to as taipans make handsome profits by just getting the news a little bit earlier than the others.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum at Central Pier 8 is the best place to learn more about how maritime trade developed during the early formative years. I start with the section highlighting the early China trade leading up to the Opium Wars. Right from the beginning, Hong Kong served as an important Chinese maritime centre due to its strategic location and deep harbour. The Tuen Mun region in the New Territories served as a port for pearl exploitation during the Tang dynasty while Lantau Island was famous for salt production up until the 10th century.

Chinese maritime influence expanded rapidly during the reign of Emperor Yongle (1360 - 1424). This period, considered the golden age of the Ming Dynasty, saw a sequence of epic voyages that began to radically change world history.

On 10 July 1405, Admiral Zheng He led a massive flotilla of 255 vessels from Nanjing on the first of what would be seven unprecedented voyages. His aim was to help affirm China's dominant geopolitical standing in the China Seas and Indian Ocean. Between 1405 to 1433, Zheng He, together with his second in command Wang Jinghong, guided the fleet to faraway places and established new relations with various coastal city states. Melaka was visited during the third voyage.

Unfortunately, this grand plan for maritime expansion came under threat after the sixth voyage. Yongle's half-hearted suspension order was enforced by his successor, Emperor Hongxi who only ruled for a year. A brief respite for the seventh and final voyage was allowed by Emperor Xuande (1425-1435) but by the time the last voyage returned, China began turning away from the sea.

Scholars speculate that there could have been many reasons for this change of mind. The Chinese court at that time was persistently plagued with disputes and power struggles. The ascendance of anti-maritime attitudes and fiscal tightening made matters worse for China's maritime sector. The Chinese change in policy served the rising European maritime expansion well. It allowed them to begin their move into the power vacuum in Asia.

The first foreigner to make his way into the region was Bartolomeu Dias who discovered a way past the treacherous Cape of Good Hope in 1488. Portuguese influence expanded further when Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, South India in 1498. Then, in just three short years, the Portuguese forces under the command of Afonso de Albuquerque took Melaka and the entire south coast of the Malay Peninsula together with it. The Portuguese aspirations in Asia did not end there. Two years later, in 1513, Portuguese explorer Jorge Álvares sailed past the Guangdong coast and hoisted the Portuguese flag on Hong Kong's Tuen Mun region.

Porcelain from southern China was exported from various seaports including Hong Kong staring from the early 15th century. Ships laden with these precious cargo were occasionally caught in violent storms and sank. There are several interesting exhibits in the museum which are displayed to resemble shipwrecks. I like the clever use of sand and barnacle encrusted storage jars to mimic scenes common to divers when exploring the ancient sunken vessels.

The series of 34 watercolour paintings provide a unique documentation of how the skilled craftsmen worked in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of the world. Scholars speculate that this unique artwork collection of artwork was used to explain the origin and use of porcelain to the western market. I like these paintings as they illustrate the different porcelain production stages, right from the division of labour until the time when the ready cargo is loaded onboard ships in Canton (now Guangzhou).

The Anthony and Susan Hardy Gallery features a rich collection of paintings and artefacts from the China Trade. It tells the story of the British unquenching thirst for tea and how they deviously corrected the trade imbalance by introducing opium to the Chinese. Tensions with the Guangzhou authorities started simmering in the 1820s. At that time, the British had already begun considering Hong Kong as an important naval base. By 1830, the British East India Company had about 22 vessels stationed at the north western point of the island.

Initially, British merely intended to use Hong Kong as a roadstead, an open but fairly sheltered anchorage with no port facilities. However, things began to change during the outbreak of the First Opium War in 1839. The British quickly saw Hong Kong's potential as an important military staging point to send warships and troops up the Pearl River Delta. The end of the First Opium War saw the Royal Marines hoisting the British flag at Possession Point at exactly 8 am on 26 January 1841.

The 'General Cannon' in the Pacific Basin Sea Bandits Gallery section is an important reminder of the Opium Wars. This huge piece of military equipment was once part of the impressive arsenal guarding the narrow entry point into Guangzhou called the Tiger's Mouth. It was captured during the opening battle of the First Opium War when the British attacked and overcame the forts guarding the city. After that, the 'General Cannon' was transported back to Britain and stored in the Tower of London. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum brought it back in 2010.

Fast facts
Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Central Pier No. 8, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3713 2500
Fax: +852 2813 8033
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 09:30-17:30
               Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays 10:00-19:00
Ticket Information: HK$30 for adults, HK$15 for seniors/students, children and disabled