I once asked a Catholic friend of mine which festivity her family took more seriously, Christmas or Chinese New Year, and her reply was unhesitating: “Chinese New Year!” 

It’s the time, apparently, that it’s almost guaranteed the whole family will get together. 

When I was growing up, however, I knew very little about the festival. All I knew was that it was almost always very hot, and we didn’t have to go to school. And on its eve, the sound of firecrackers exploding late into the night. 

It always thrilled me and my brothers although, I think it annoyed my parents no end. 

In the 1960s and early 70s, Seremban pretty much came to a stop for at least a week during Chinese New Year. My mother used to hoard provisions before the fact; a practice generally followed by most of our neighbours. 

And if you depended on your bicycle – as did all my friends – your goose was cooked if it suddenly developed a puncture during the period because the only bike-repair shop within walking distance of my house would inevitably be shut and remain so for a week.  

I grew to admire such people after a while. I mean, the bike repair guy could not have been making much, but he was always cheerful and worked like crazy throughout the year so that he could enjoy a week with his family without worry.

You’ve got to admire such stoicism. 

As I grew older, my high school classmates would occasionally invite us over. We used to go in bicycle packs: there’s courage in numbers. 

Apart from the traditional cakes, there was always cold Orange Crush which even today I cannot drink without triggering some youthful memory. 

And there were the salted melon nuts or the ubiquitous kwa chi. That stuff was positively addictive. 

I’ve been married for a long time now and my wife’s family is a truly Malaysian mishmash, so we get invited to quite a few family reunion dinners.

The only difference is that the Orange Crush has been replaced by beer or something a lot stronger.  

Which reminds me there is a lot to be said for Chinese New Year because it’s the only time you can buy beer at almost 30% discounts. I find this custom laudable and urge beer companies to extend this throughout the year because it will make for great corporate social responsibility. 

When we were living in Section 6 in Petaling Jaya in the 1990s, we struck up enduring friendships, with some single neighbours and couples, that have lasted despite many of us moving to different neighbourhoods. A curious, if quirky, tradition also evolved out of it. 

We don’t remember who started it, but we decided to adopt the festival because, among other reasons, my wife has some Chinese blood from her paternal grandmother. 

So, we decided to have reunion pot-luck dinners, too, but on the day itself, and not its eve because one of us is a Chinese guy and he always spends the eve with his mother. 

It’s been going on now for over 25 years and it’s been a lot of fun. 

Happy Chinese New Year everyone. 


It’s often been called man’s best friend and with good reason.

A dog that’s been waiting in the middle of a road for more than 80 days for its owner to return has sparked an outpouring of emotion on Chinese social media, after a video emerged of the pet standing guard near where its owner was reportedly killed.

The state-owned China News Agency reported the dog in the city of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, had been sitting by the guard rail in the middle of the road for almost three months.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Indeed, the dog in China has nothing on Japan’s famous Hachiko, the Akita dog that waited for its dead owner for more than nine years outside a train station in Tokyo in the 1920s.

Do you see that happening with a cat?

Fat chance. You see, in ancient times cats used to be worshipped as gods and they have never gotten over that. So, while dogs look up at you, cats look down to you and generally sneer at everyone until it’s mealtime. 

 They also think everyone’s Egyptian: those were the idiots who started the cat-worshipping cult.  

I admit it, I’m not really a cat person. This is a generally well-known fact. In fact, when I was living in Petaling Jaya in the 1990s, one of the neighbourhood cats got killed. It was actually curiosity that killed the cat but, for a while there, I was a suspect. 

Dogs not only agree enthusiastically with everything you say but greet you every day as if you were a member of the Beatles.

And dogs have functions. There are police dogs, sniffer dogs and bird dogs. 

Which reminds me, have you heard the one about the talking sheepdog? After he’d collected all the sheep, he tells the farmer, “OK, that’s it, that’s the 40 for you”. 

Farmer protests, “I’ve only got 37 sheep.”

Dog: “I know, I rounded them up.” 

And when’s the last time you saw a seeing-eye cat? 

In fact, the beasts can be notoriously picky. I once was  neighbour to a couple – Sugu and his wife Annabel – who seriously adored their cat Ben Hur. OK, it used to be Ben until it had kittens. 

That was a joke and the curmudgeonly cat was really called Bennie. They so doted on the fastidious feline that they even acquiesced to its demand that it be only fed with either lamb or lemon sole. 

Once Sugu thought he would fool the finicky feline and offered the rascal ikan kurau or threadfin. He got scratched for his audacity.

Whenever I visited them, I would seat myself on one of the chairs on their balcony that Sugu told me later was generally occupied by Bennie. 

That explains it. I used to wonder why the cat always used to slink past and regard me with the barely restrained menace of an axe murderer. 

Still, I am pleased to report that its extravagant diet seemed to suit Bennie who lived on to become the Methuselah of cats. It lived until the ripe old age of 24 – over a 100 in our time – and was accorded all the pomp and pageantry of a state funeral. 

Let’s face it. If we leave out pit bulls and Rotweilers, the average dog is a better person than the average person.

 I first wrote this for the Star sometime in November, 2018


I can’t remember whose idea it was to form a band, but I can tell you this: at the very least, you need some money for without it, it’s hell. 

But we were young and needed money to date girls. So, the two of us tooled down Jalan Gasing on Ramani’s motorbike one evening after our classes – we were all in University Malaya then – and stopped at the first pub we saw.

It was called Que Somee – now it’s the Lotus restaurant – and it was run by two big-hearted Eurasian gentlemen. Donny loved music and was impressed by the fact that we were undergraduates: it was the 70’s after all and I think there were only two in the country then. 

We were duly given an audition later in the week. It consisted of the two of us singing accompanied by me playing guitar. Our third member was a keyboard player but there were no keyboards around so he sort of stood around encouragingly while we auditioned. 

It didn’t seem to faze either owner, and we were hired.

We were so thrilled that we refused to let our lack of equipment get us down. Luckily Guru could also play guitar and we resolved to use two acoustic guitars – both of which we borrowed – with me picking out the bass notes. 

That was our way of differentiating ourselves. 

The next hurdle was amplification. We got around that very simply because the pub, for some reason, had a lot of microphones. So, each of us just plopped a live mike into our guitars and hoped for the best. 

When you have a live mike in your guitar, it’s best to play sitting down and with a very straight back. While it’s generally recommended for your posture, it is not at all comfortable.

But believe me, it’s the only option because the slightest unnecessary motion will cause the mike in either guitar to go “WHOMP” or screech alarmingly. It’s not generally recommended when you’re attempting two-part harmonies. 

But it’s amazing what Malaysian audiences will put up with. And we became skillful at good posture. The fact that we were poor undergraduates may have had much to do with audience goodwill and, after a while, it didn’t matter: the bulk of our audience on weekends rapidly became fellow alumni and devout supporters. 

But, on other days we occasionally had to put up with some less than supportive folk. One day, a large group of North Indian gentlemen sauntered in, somewhat the worse for wear. 

When they requested a Hindi song, we were unfazed. Our one staple, and the only one we knew, was the theme from the hit-movie Bobby which was easy enough to play as it could pass off as a straight waltz. In fact, Ramani sang it well so we felt confident.  

It was a hit. Then they only wanted people of North Indian descent to be represented on stage, so they wanted me off. They assumed Ramani was like them as he was fair. Guru, our keyboardist-turned guitarist, sported a turban so his ethnicity was quite clear. 

I prudently left while my two bandmates gamely did the Bobby theme four more times. It was agonizing. 

Now I know what the phrase “you could have cut the tension with a knife” really means. 

Most of the customers, however, were pretty decent folk and we rarely had to pay for our drinks. In fact, we made a number of friends there.

But there is no accounting for tastes. For me at least, I think three songs should be banned from the face of the earth. 

They are More Than I Can Say (until Leo Sayer saved it from itself): Country Roads, and, horror of horrors, Beautiful Sunday. 

OK, you had to be there.


You can live to be a hundred if you forego all those things that made you want to live to be a hundred in the first place

Woody Allen

I recently attended an older friend’s birthday party. I mean, there were so many candles on the cake we had to keep a prudent fire extinguisher about. 

And even though I attended, the median age of the guests was still 70. Ok, I lied: the only reason the median age there was 70 was because we had a child at the do. 

Tempus fugit or, literally, “time flies”. And how it does, irretrievably and with an awful finality. One minute I was a teenager who couldn’t wait to grow up to find out about girls, and the next, I was in my mid-30s and somebody had pressed the fast-forward button on my life’s time clock. 

I realise now that I fairly whizzed through the phase when I used to be adik (little brother) to anyone who did not know me. The salutation made me feel that everything was hunky-dory in my world. 

Then, one day when I was lining up to pay for my lunch at the canteen of the New Straits Times’ offices, a mere slip of a girl at the counter intoned matter-of-factly: “Tiga ringgit abang.” (Three dollars, older brother).

Now, of course, I’ve graduated to the grander title of “Uncle” from people I’m perfectly sure aren’t related to me. 

And the worst part is receiving it from people that shouldn’t be calling you that in the first place. 

Example: I called a cab recently and the driver turned out to be a fellow who should have had no business driving anything much less a cab. I mean, he had to be somewhere in his 70s. 

And he had the cheek to ask: “Going to the club-ah Uncle?”

How does the Road Transport Department even give them permits?

It’s been over 40 years since I graduated, and my marriage has entered its 37th year. Yikes! It used to be about spills and thrills. Now it’s about ills and pills. Next, it’ll be about wills! 

I kid you not.  

There are the things you miss. Hair, for instance. I used to have masses of it. In university, I grew hair long enough to rest on my shoulders because I could. I also played guitar in a band and I thought it looked cool.

Sometime in my 50s, it began “thinning.” Now, that’s a grim word and I regret all the snide jokes I used to tell my bald friends.

Sample example: I was about to tell you a joke that would make half the hair on your head fall out, but I see you’ve heard it….


I have even briefly considered a wig but most hairpieces are easily detectable, and although they do not show it, I suspect most people are slightly contemptuous of people who wear wigs. 

And the really nice wigs, the ones that could pass off as genuine: those can go for as much as a few thousand bucks. I mean, that’s too steep a price toupee, surely? 

And don’t for a minute, buy all the garbage they say about “growing old gracefully.” It’s just a nice way of saying you’re slowly but surely looking worse. 

My wife still looks great though which brings me to my greatest fear. 

It’s when people start openly asking what she’s doing with such an old man!