Last Raid on RAAF Georgetown (Part 1)

on Saturday, December 27, 2008

Like many international incidents, this story had a seemingly innocent beginning. It began with the meticulous 6 month planning of a class of forty independent minded 13 year olds. The objective was to have a week holiday in the island of Penang or the Pearl of the Orient as it was known with minimal supervision.

First, we had to find a suitable place to stay. We searched the classified adverts and found it. The place was an old Catholic clergy retreat facility. The advert said, plenty of beds in small dormitories, large kitchen facilities, space for outdoor games and a sea-view. On top of that all, it was exceedingly cheap. We booked it straight away.

Next we had to find suitable teacher advisors that would satisfy our parents and school regulations and yet allowed us to achieve our objective of minimal supervision. After some negotiations, we recruited Mr. X and Miss. Y. Both of them were from Penang and would rather spend time with family rather than babysit us and so an arrangement was made that Mr. X would meet us every other day in the morning and Ms. Y would keep in touch with us by telephone. That was our understanding, one which we kept secret from both our parents and the school.

We then booked the school bus and worked out our itinerary and all was set for the greatest minimally supervised adventure of our lives.

However, when we finally got to the old Catholic Retreat, we learnt a valuable lesson about the power of advertising and positive spin doctoring. The place was located on a hill and it did indeed have a sea-view from its lofty perch but the beach was in fact almost 30 minutes away by foot down an extremely steep hill. The place itself was a large old wooden mansion. Entry into the building was by the kitchen which occupied all of the ground floor and had tables and benches that could sit at least 60 people and functioning though ancient kitchen utensils. In fact the whole ground floor looked like it came out of a gothic horror movie.

Upstairs, we were pleasantly surprised by a large open hall which ran from the front to the back of the building. It was fantastic; cool and breezy and ideal for all the board games and card games that we wanted to play.

Next we realised that our accommodation was in rooms on either side of the main hall. Into these tiny rooms were packed so many double-decker bunk beds that the Black Hole of Calcutta came to mind. The bunk beds were so ancient that they creaked even if the wind blew. Worse, the springs on the beds were so badly mangled that it hardly gave any support and many of us believed they were custom built for the Hunchback of Notre Dame and apparently his 40 other siblings.

Although there was a small field at the front of the building, we had to be very careful when we played soccer. Just to the left of one of our goal posts was a shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Clearly, we would be in deep trouble if the shrine or statue was damaged. This led to some strange soccer games where the goalkeeper was more concerned about stopping volleys from hitting the shrine than protecting his goal. Also, being on the top of the hill meant that every time the ball was kicked out of bounds, there was a high probability that it would roll all the way down the hill.

It was when we tried to retrieve the ball that we discovered that there was an additional hazard in the form of a pack of stray dogs. If the pack saw only one of us try to retrieve the ball, they would snarl and threaten to attack. So retrieving the ball had to involve at least 3 -4 of us waving sticks which would cause the pack to retreat.

Despite all of these peculiarities, we loved it cause it was an opportunity for adventure without our parents. Just to complete the picture, something must be said about the surroundings. On one side of the hill, was a hospital and though the nurses quarters which was nearby gave us some ideas, it was protected by a barb wire fence and a sharp cliff face. On the other side and near the foot of the hill was a very large and expansive complex of low buildings which formed part of the Royal Australian Air Force Centre in Georgetown, Penang. The facility served the needs of the RAAF personnel based in nearby RAAF Butterworth who flew Mirages and Sabres as part of a South East Asia Treaty Organisation agreement which was meant to counter fears of the Vietnam conflict from spreading and causing a domino effect throughout South East Asia.

To get to this facility, one could take a long way around following the road down the hill but that approach was very closely guarded as it was near the main entrance of that facility. We soon found that there was a short-cut which was in the form of a stairway down the side of the hill from behind our kitchen facility. This was a broad covered cement stairway which had no lights and had dense vegetation at its sides which look like they would recolonise the structure within a couple of years. However, this led straight down to a block of single storey buildings near the heart of the RAAF base.

The scenario was all set. It was only a matter of time before there would be an outburst of hostilities between the 40 young hormonally maladjusted Malaysian school kids and the 5,000 foreign servicemen of the RAAF base. All that was needed was an incident to light the smoldering fuse and it did not take long for that to happen. (continued in next post)

Disclaimer: The names of people and places have been changed to protect the innocent, hide the guilty and because the memory of the author is suspect in certain cases. Other changes have also been made in the name of artistic license. Some facts and truths may have also been distorted or exaggerated in the same tradition as television docu-dramas. That leaves about 50% which are mostly true but I won't swear by it!

Christmas is....

on Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas is the time to remember that God reached out to mankind by sending His son to be born in a manger. It is the time to remember that the greatest gift ever given was God's gift of His son; that the story that started in Bethlehem would end in Calvary; that by His birth, light entered the world and by His death and resurrection, hope and reconciliation with God. It is a time of celebration of God's love gift.

It is a time for people to come together and even in celebration, reach out and share love with others.

It is a time to reflect thankfully of all that we have and remember those less fortunate.

Robin of Sherwood

on Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Legend of Robin Hood, the folk hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor and hid in the forest of Sherwood with his merry men and who had a thing for Maid Marion is a well known and well loved story. It's appeal is in a hero that fights against oppression and wins despite the odds. Is this character real? Probably, but it is hard to perhaps distinguish truth from legend now. And what about the enigmatic name, "Robin Hood"? Well, the squirrels say that one day he divesting one aristocrat of all his money and effects and some say even his clothes. However as he turned to disappear into the forest, the aristocrat shouted after him, "The sheriff will catch and hang you one day, you dirty robbin' hood." The rest as they say is history.

Needless to say, there have been numerous versions made on film and TV on this legend. But which was the best? Well, for me, clearly the worst was Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves". The reason for that was cleverly delivered by the Robin Hood (played by Cary Elwes) in Mel Brook's comedy version "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" when he said, "Unlike other Robin Hoods, at least I speak with an English accent."

However, I have to say that in my opinion, the best Robin Hood version ever is a little known British TV show called "Robin of Sherwood" which was telecasted originally between 1984-1988. This series lasted just three seasons but it was a magical head above all the other Robin incarnations. Robin was played by Michael Praed (and later by Jason Connery, Sean's son).

What made it stand out was a combination of gritty realism, artful fantasy, alternatively bright and then dark and brooding cinematography, a clever melding of pagan beliefs into the legend and strong development of characters. In this version, Little John, Frair Tuck, Wilf Scarlet and the others are not just background props but have interesting stories of their own. This version also introduced for the first time the character of a Saracen brigand called Nasir. An idea clearly pinched for Morgan Freeman's character in the "Prince of Thieves".

Finally, the one thing that had me glued to my TV every time this show was on was the music. The haunting and atmospheric music was something I had never heard before and it was soul captivating. This was my introduction (and many others too) to the Irish band "Clannad". In fact, the show's original soundtrack, Legend, was released in 1984 and won the BAFTA award for Best Original Television Music and was pretty much the beginning of Clannad's rising star.

Clannad is certainly worth another post but for now, honestly, look at these three below and tell me which is the best looking Robin. Then, go on to watch the video which will introduce you to some examples of the type and quality of characters and cinematography in the series, "Robin of Sherwood". I will warn you that the first 30 seconds may be a bit disturbing as it shows how dark and brooding the series can get but if you get past that stage, I think you will really enjoy how the music so complements the scenes. Enjoy "Robin of Sherwood" with music by Clannad.

Seasonal Gift Ideas

on Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let me start with a simple question.

Question:- "What do you get a man who has everything?"
Answer:- "Multi-action antibiotics!"

Bada-boom! Did you get that?

Seriously though, some people are hard to get presents for. They either have everything or they are very particular about what they get or in some cases, they really don't want anything. This post provides a helpful suggestion as to what to get them this coming Christmas.

How many of you are procrastinators? Raise your hands. Ummm....or perhaps maybe it is better if you leave a comment and fess up to it. Don't worry. I am a well known procrastinator too and that is my point. A large portion of the general population are procrastinators. Give them 3 months to write a report and they will spend 2 months and 29 days watching TV and get started on the report on the night of the last day before dateline. Their motto's include "Don't do today what you can put off till tomorrow" and "No matter how much time you have been given to do something, make sure you use up all that time to complete it."

Well, have I got the gift suggestion for you to give them. Get them a "round tuit". Round tuits are very rare but they are now available on internet at on-line stores such as Quantum Enterprises. It is the perfect gift for procrastinators because it enables them to finally complete the task or project that they have been meaning to do for eons.

Below is a special internet scanned version of a round tuit which was brought to you at great expense by the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel. If you need one, just copy and print.

They come in a number of styles; including the complex (like above) or the simple (below).

Yet other round tuits can be very ornate and elaborate like this following one.

Finally, Irish round tuits have been known to have instructions written on them to help the Irish peoples put them to good use.

Happy Christmas shopping! If you haven't done it yet and are running out of time, don't forget to print that first round tuit and then you can get round to getting it all done.

Before and After Magic

on Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I know that my recent posts have been on the dark side so I thought I would step back into the sunshine with this one.

I once had a discussion with a friend about going into a partnership to set up a gym for those who want to lose weight. This business venture did not go very far. In fact it kind of broke down when we realised that we were both overweight ourselves and would be poor publicity for such a business. Someone did suggest that we could pose for the "before" photo but we would have to hire some skinny look-a-likes for the "after" photos but we lost enthusiasm for the project.

Anyway, here are some equally improbable before and after photos for your incredulous enjoyment.

"Way to go, girl!"

"I feel like a new man!"

"Is that what happened to Michael Jackson?"

"After many dental appointments and many,many, many years later......"

"Whoa! Dem things look like gills!"

"Your results may vary"

I hope you have enjoyed the magic!

Tragedy on the Slopes

on Sunday, December 07, 2008

Malaysia has suffered three major landslides in the last week. The first was a landslide that killed two young sisters in their sleep and damaged a couple of houses. Then on Thursday, there was a spectacular landslide affecting the car park of a major bank located in a posh commercial district of Kuala Lumpur. In this incident, no one was killed but 11 cars were seriously damaged or destroyed. Casualties and deaths may have occurred if the landslide was just 15 minutes later when a lot of workers would have finished work for the day and would have been in the car park on their way home. Finally, just this Saturday morning at about 4 in the morning, a large part of the hillslope at Bukit Antarabangsa just gave way, sweeping as much as 14 houses on its lower slopes. This time, as many as 4 have died and some are still missing. This latest incident is just a stone throw away from the site of the Highland Towers tragedy of 1993 when a highrise condominium came crashing down due to a landslide and killed 48.

Heavy rain was a major factor. The monsoon rains in Malaysia used to be light to moderate heavy but could continue for a few days. Today due to global warming and local changes in the micro-climate, we seem to be experiencing shorter but far more heavy and violent downpours.

The second factor has been the continued building on unstable and steep hillslopes and hilltops despite numerous calls, promises and directions from politicians to stop allowing those types of developments in the wake of previous landslide tragedies. After yesterday's landslide, the Prime Minister again called for no more developments on risky hillslopes. Will this time be different? Will we learn our lesson or forget it within a week and return to business as usual?

This series of incidences also hit close to home. If you look at the first photo below and specifically at the half-buried car on the left.......... well, my wife had parked our car just one parking lot to the left and in front. God was gracious and I got away with nothing more than a mud covered car, a broken tail-light and a very excited wife. But 11 cars were either seriously damaged or destroyed.

I do hope that this latest in a string of landslide tragedies will finally put a stop to developments on unstable and steep slopes. Unfortunately, many Malaysians would consider me an optimist rather than a realist cause they have seen this too many times before.

Landslide in Bank Parking Lot

Closer view of damaged cars

Major landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa

Houses damaged in Landslide.

All Photos by The Star Online

Mama Africa

on Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Miriam Zenzi Makeba, singer and activist, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008."

I was thinking of a topic for a post when suddenly "The Click Song" came to mind. This song was made famous by Miriam Zensi Makeba the South African songbird. However when I started searching around for videos of the song, I discovered that this great artist, at the age of 76, collapsed and died just last month in Naples, Italy, while performing on stage at a concert in memory of six Ghanian immigrants killed apparently in a gang slaying.

So now the purpose of this post, is more than introducing an interesting song but to also mark the passing of a great woman. She was known as Mama Africa Makeba and loved not just for her songs but for being one of the most vocal and visible anti-apartheid champions. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.

She initially stayed in the USA and collaborated with Harry Belafonte on some projects and won a Grammy with him in 1966. Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.

She also became involved in the civil rights movement in America and was popular in many countries (she was given citizenship by 9 countries). However, some of her actions were also controversial and loss her some popular support. Nevertheless, she remained well known and loved and was called to sing in the concerts celebrating Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

The Click Song is the English name ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa) because the song involves the "click" sound which is found in some southern african language but has no equivalent in English.

She also collaborated with Paul Simon in the Graceland album project and took part in a number of his African tour concerts.

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