Tribute To Death

NOT TOO LONG ago, I came across the news of the demise of a journalist from my former workplace, The Star. I don’t know RG personally but have seen her bylines before. RG died of a heart attack in August. She was only 48 and left behind two teenage children.

This brought me back to April 2011 when I stumbled upon an obituary of an acquaintance I made in 2009 in Macau. Though we only met once, Dr. Faustina – a dentist by profession – left a lasting sweet impression. Sadly, two years later, she’s dead at 48 and left behind two young children then.

And also recently, I read that a cameraman from another former workplace (a TV station), died in a freak accident. He was 48 too.

I am not too far from 48. I have two kids too. Silly to be saying this, but “Will my time be up soon?”

Star2 paid tribute to RG in a news article in September, overflowing with beautiful and kind words about her. Sadly, she will never get to read them.

I turned to my girls and shared with them this piece of news. And I told them, “If you have anything nice to say about Mommy, please tell me when I am still alive, not when I am dead!” To which, Little Em immediately responded, “I always do”… which is true.

That evening, Big M – a teenager with few words and normally hibernates in her room – remained next to me. She even took the other half of my ear plug while I was listening to Seo In Guk’s “I Can’t Live Because of You”. Together we listened to it, over and over and OVER again (it was on replay mode), as we read some online news. She even agreed that it was a catchy song; while Little Em hugged me tight as always.

(PS. At this stage in life when a teenager and a mom rarely see eye to eye, an agreement on a song choice – a Mom’s choice at that – is akin to striking lottery!)

Often, when the time comes to pay tribute to a dead friend, one finds it hard to express one’s thoughts on the spot. But over the years, tributes have come in the most unexpected form and even at times during common conversations. I have saved letters, emails and phone messages friends have sent me through the years, and thought they would make nice tributes when I am gone. It also saves them the trouble of thinking what “nice” things to say about me when I am really dead!

Here’s one I treasure…

“I was reading a copy of Calvin & Hobbes today. When I came to the last page, I realised then that it was a birthday gift from you. You wrote a lovely note: “Unlike Hobbes who is an imaginary friend, we are real friends. Thank you!” Its pages are yellowing a bit but it is most precious to me, esp now that the years have gone by. It’s such a wonderful, wonderful keepsake now.” … A wonderful “keepsake” phone message from FYP, 18 Nov 2013.

Others that I treasure are keepsake cards from my schoolmates of four decades, whom I paid tribute to in The Best of PESS.

The Death of Diana

DIANA, PRINCESS OF Wales died tragically in a car crash on 31st August 1997 in Paris, France. In the October 1997 edition of Forward View magazine that I was a part of, we paid tribute to the late Princess. I also contributed the following cover story.

Forward View magazine, October 1997

Forward View magazine, October 1997

The Princess and I

There is no denying that Diana, Princess of Wales, had touched the lives of millions of people all over the world, more than she’d ever know and more than we had even imagined. For me she was “my source of inspiration” that got me through my Masters of Arts dissertation (on Media and the Monarchy) in the United Kingdom in 1996.

I admit that I, like many other teenage girls then, was firstly fascinated by her fairy tale wedding to Prince Charles, future King of England, on July 29, 1981. How could I forget the carriage procession that led her to the steps of St.   Paul’s Cathedral; her ivory silk taffeta wedding dress with its 7.7m long train as she walked down the aisle was quite a sight. And what was dubbed the “famous kiss” on the balcony of BuckinghamPalace, was as good as a seal of happy ending to any fairy tale. Some 750 million viewers had watched live the royal wedding, dubbed the “Wedding of the Century”.

My fascination with her led me to cultivate the hobby of starting a scrapbook on her. Every little picture of Diana in colour or black and white found in the papers and magazines ended up in my scrapbook. And it is through the years of “looking” at her that inspired me to take an even greater look at the people who brought her to the public – namely the journalists, photographers and those in the media industry – when the opportunity arose. Thus, the birth of my academic work (made possible under the generosity of the British High Commissioner/Chevening Award) on the British media and the monarchy, which looked at the treatment of the press towards members of the royal family, with particular attention to the Princess of Wales.

Upon her death, people were quick to point accusing fingers as to who caused her death, directly and indirectly.

The paparazzi were the first to find the noose on their necks. Seven of them were reported to be hot on Diana’s trail when the Mercedes she and her companion Dodi al-Fayed were in, crashed on that fateful day.

The media proprietors will never wash their hands off the blame either. As Diana’s brother Charles, the 9th Earl of Spencer, said in an immediate statement following the death of his sister, “It would appear that every proprietor and editor, every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood in his hands today.”

Nor was the public at large spared. An Anglican archbishop was quoted in Canberra as saying, “Who should bear the guilt – those who harass and photograph, those who print or those who read?”

Not too long ago, Diana herself was the subject of accusing fingers for the state of the royal family she married into. She was always in full glare of the cameras and at the mercy of the media. She certainly would not have made the announcement to withdraw from public life in 1993 for no reason.

Media presence and intrusion proved to be too much strain for her that Queen Elizabeth was forced to make a request to the media to allow her some space. Media coverage of the state of her marriage to Prince Charles in the late1980s was one the reasons that prompted the British government to set up a Committee on Privacy and Related Matters in 1990 to look into press self-regulation which the British media enjoys.

Although there were considerable restrain by the media over personal privacy, the intrusive lens obviously could not sit idle. In May 1992, six photographers turned “peeping tom” and took pictures of the Princess stripping off at the pool side at the British Ambassador’s residence in Cairo, which happens to be the most heavily guarded quarters in Egypt.

Despite strong threats of legislation, the media appeared unperturbed. This was obvious when the Daily Mirror published photographs taken of the Princess while she was working out in a fitness club in November 1993. One can only read in disbelief why the culprit Bruce Taylor, owner of the club, had taken the photos with a hidden camera – “all out of love for Diana”; and then sold them to the Mirror and took off with the money!

In early January 1996, four freelance photographers on high-powered motorbikes, hunted the Princess down a darkened lane in London and caused her to break down in tears. Again, the Daily Mirror bought the photos and proudly published them under the headline “Picture Exclusive: Diana Weeps” claiming the photos demonstrated that the Princess was upset over her impending divorce.

These are just a few of the many cases of intrusion, if not gross intrusion by any standard. However, in what appeared to be too many media chasing after too few news, the scramble for royalty news had reached the level of harassment.

But all those are now in the past. Again, quoting her brother Charles, “Finally the one consolation is that Diana is now in a place where no human being can ever touch her again. I pray that she rests in peace.”

(Forward View, October 1997)


Had Diana lived, she would have been a grandmother today! (link)

MAX ’95 – A Rally To Remember

WRITING ABOUT THE Macau Grand Prix (link) brought back memories of a rally (albeit a friendship rally) that I was a part of  – the MAX ’95 Friendship Rally in the Philippines, 30th June – 2nd July 1995.

Proton“Themed “Friendship Though Motoring”, the rally brought together more than 30 Malaysian and Filipino journalists on a historic 1,183 km journey through villages and major towns across Luzon Island. For three days, the convoy of a dozen Malaysian national cars – 4 Proton Wiras, 3 Proton Perdanas, 2 Satrias and 3 Perodua Kancils – made heads turn as they conquered the Philippines roads. Although a non-competitive rally, we weren’t least deprived of the thrills and excitement of a real rally adventure.

The first-of-its kind rally was the result of Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Philippines President Fidel Ramos’s desire to demonstrate ASEAN friendship. It also served as a curtain raiser for the Malaysian Automotive Industry Exhibition (MAX ’95) held in the Philippines that July, following the successful launch of the Proton Wira there early this year.

The organisers were Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhad or Proton (the manufacturer of Malaysia’s national car), Edaran Otomobil Nasional Berhad or EON (the distributor of Proton cars), Usahasama Proton-DRB Sdn Bhd or USPD (the manufacturer and distributor of Proton Satria) and Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd or Perodua (the manufacturer and distributor of the second national car).

The group of 20 Malaysian journalists from the print and electronic media arrived in Manila on 28th June 1995 and checked into Edsa Plaza Shangri-La Hotel. That night we were introduced to our Filipino counterparts and briefed on the do’s and don’ts. Reminders like “do not overtake unnecessarily” and “do not drive recklessly” sounded simple enough to remember.

On 29th June, we took the domestic one-and-only flight daily from Manila down south to Legazpi City where the flag-off was to be held. After the 45-minutes flight, we checked into the Mayon International Hotel, named after the infamous coned Mayon volcano. 

Arrived in Legazpi City airport with Mt Mayon visible in the background; Group photo upon arrival.

Arrived in Legazpi City airport with Mt Mayon visible in the background; Group photo upon arrival.

We were taken sight-seeing to some popular spots, including the Cagsawa Ruins, from where we could catch a breathtaking view of the 2,400m Mount Mayon. History has it that the volcano erupted in 1814 and buried the whole town of Cagsawa in lava, leaving only the church steeple visible today. In an excitement to capture the scenic views, one of the journalists dropped and broke his camera. 

Left: The church steeple in Cagsawa Ruins; Right: Group photo against Mount Mayon in the background.

Left: The church steeple in Cagsawa Ruins; Right: Group photo against Mount Mayon in the background.

The tour also included a drive to a candy store (!) where both the Malaysians and Filipinos stocked themselves sweet with home-made candies and on to the market place where cheap handicrafts could be found.

Having relaxed and enjoyed the day, we were greeted with bad new during our briefing at night. The rally cars which were shipped from Malaysia much earlier apparently arrived at the wrong port in Manila. The slight setback was quickly solved by event co-ordinator Abdul Razak Dawood of EON, and his Philippines counterparts from Proton Pilipinas Corporation – the 30-odd members of the media were re-scheduled and packed into seven available Wiras instead, for the first of the three legs.

It was an early start on 30th June for a simple but meaningful ceremony. Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman and Mayor of Legazpi City, Imelda C. Roces jointly flagged off the cars, one at a time. Also present was Albay province Governor, Victor S. Ziga. 

The cars being flagged off.

The cars being flagged off.

(L) TV3 crew with Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; (C) All set to drive? ... well, not quite...(R) Back in the passenger seat where I belonged!

(L) TV3 crew with Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; (C) All set to drive? … well, not quite…(R) Back in the passenger seat where I belonged!

Armed with a rally tulip, a road map, new partners and a load of enthusiasm, the journalists set off on their mission to conquer the Philippines roads. For the Malaysians, being unfamiliar with the roads and left-hand drive cars, some opted to be navigators and passengers instead.

Within minutes of being flagged-off, all reminders of not speeding and overtaking unnecessarily flew out of the windows. Everyone just sped out of sight!

The first leg, from Legazpi City – Daet – Lucena City – Manila, covered 560 km. No sweat, it was like travelling from Johor to Penang, or so we thought, except that we had not anticipated the road conditions.

As we drove on the two-lane “highways”, Abdul Razak’s warning came ringing into our ears. “The stage between Daet and Lucena is very dangerous. It’s winding, slippery with broken road surfaces. PLEASE be careful.” It was almost a plea. It had fallen onto deaf ears till we saw it for ourselves. Certain stretches seemed to be going nowhere, some roads were bumpy, covered with mud while others have big potholes. Several times we encountered one-lane road and were horrified to find ourselves coming face-to-face with an on-coming vehicle.

Throughout the journey, we were privileged to be escorted and led by Filipino rally drivers who are members of the Activity Asia Association (AAA), their rally club. And for safety purpose, two tow trucks travelled along with three service vans and an ambulance.

One of the rally drivers had continuously cautioned us, “Jeepneys are the kings of the roads, not you. The roads are also the children’s playground, please watch out for them. Oh, and watch out for the animals too!” The warnings came again at lunch time.

What a nightmare when we found out he wasn’t just paranoid. Every now and then, we came across native kids playing by the roadside and pedestrians crossing the roads without a care in the world. Pouring rain that afternoon made the roads more muddy and slippery, but thank god for the native kids, even as they played by the roadside, they helped direct the traffic especially on those one-way stretches, by waving sticks tied with a green cloth to indicate “clear” and waving a red one to indicate “stop”.

The journey was memorable as certain stretches were close reminders of the coastal roads along Tanjung Bungah, Penang and the scenic views of padi fields brought to mind the rice bowls of Kedah.

By dinner time, we made it to Lucena City, dirty and tired while the cars, dusty and muddy. The feast at Sulo Sa Quezon was a great treat. Feeling fat and contented, the participants travelled in a close convoy to arrive safely back in Manila by 10pm. While some hit the sack, others found the energy to check out the night spots. And I still had deadlines to meet, being the only one in the group who sent stories and visuals home daily via feeds while the others wrote special reports only when they got home.

Everyone was up bright and early for the second leg of 473 km from Manila – Tarlac – Alaminos – Subic Bay. Lo and behold, the original fleet of Perdanas, Satrias and Kancils greeted us in front of the Edsa Plaza Shangri-La Hotel. And better news was that they were all fixed with communication radios. So throughout this second leg, the participants – who had now changed cars and partners – entertained each other with rounds of jokes.

After lunch at Maxine Restaurant in Alaminos, we were made to travel bumper-to-bumper. With the headlights flicking away, the white, red, blue, metallic green and silver cars attracted more attention and made heads turn as we travelled on better roads.

The highlight of the second leg was a visit to the Proton assembly plant in Pengasinan. It is the first Proton facility outside Malaysia which was jointly opened by Dr Mahathir and Ramos in January 1995. The rather barren land now will create 700 jobs and produce an average of 20 Proton cars a day when completed in 1997. The site provided a super special gravel stage where both the Malaysian and Filipino drivers wasted no time in testing out their racing skills and gave quite a performance. 

(L) Doing a stand-upper at the Proton Assembly Plant in Pengasinan; (R) The tables turned and I was interviewed by Philippines’ Auto Review journalist Lourdes Tan.

(L) Doing a stand-upper at the Proton Assembly Plant in Pengasinan; (R) The tables turned and I was interviewed by Philippines’ Auto Review journalist Lourdes Tan.

It was dark by the time we reached Subic Bay where we had a hearty meal at the Hollywood Steakhouse. Upon checking into the Subic International Hotel, I thought I had stepped into a military barracks, for the hotel was refurbished from one.

Everyone looked forward to the following morning. Not only was it the final day of the rally, but we also had a chance for some shopping at the duty-free haven. And mind you, not only the girls jumped with joy, the guys apparently had longer shopping lists!  We also had the opportunity to witness the good infrastructure and facilities that the Americans left behind when they left their largest naval base in Asia in 1992.

Group photo in Subic Bay.

Group photo in Subic Bay.

We re-fuelled our bellies at the Golden Dragon Restaurant (which was within minutes’ walk from the hotel) and geared up for the short 150 km drive from Subic Bay back to Manila. On that warm and fine Sunday, we took a pleasant three-and-a-half hour drive on the four-lane highway. As we entered Metro Manila, police escorts cleared the way for the convoy to move towards the Quirino Grandstand, Luneta Park. Present to welcome us were VIPs from the organisers and hundreds of locals.

The participants and the cars were introduced to rounds of applause. By then each car had collected six stickers from various Governors of the towns that we stopped by. Metro Manila Mayor, Alfredo Lim put on the final sticker as a grand finale and presented all participants with flower garlands. Everyone was a winner! 

The “winners” in a commemorative photo at the finishing line.

The “winners” in a commemorative photo at the finishing line.

Receiving the garland from Metro Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim; Yau CH of Nanyang; Zakaria of Mingguan Sukan.

Throughout the journey, we got to know our Filipino counterparts and their country better, while they got acquainted with our national cars. At the end of the rally, there were new friendships forged, several punctured tyres, a busted radiator, good reviews nevertheless, and despite one broken camera, rolls of photographs reminders of a blast of an experience.


At the MAX 95 Friendship Rally dinner & prize presentation in Shangri-La Makati Manila… (Top, L-R) Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines, Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; former colleague Louis Cheang of The Star; Sharif of NST and Leslie of Bostock Mohd; Abd Razak Dawood, Senior Manager of EON; (Bottom, L-R) With our Filipino counterparts, Nina Santaromano of Sports Life; Chris Tio of The Freeman; Conrad Carino of Business World.

(L) Standing next to “the king of the road” – a jeepney, a common sight on the Philippines roads as it is a popular mode of transportation; (R) Notice who has more shopping bags.

(L) Standing next to “the king of the road” – a jeepney, a common sight on the Philippines roads as it is a popular mode of transportation; (R) Notice who has more shopping bags.

Post rally we got together one more time for an appreciation dinner, thanks to TK who arranged it just before I left for my postgraduate studies.

Post rally we got together one more time for an appreciation dinner, thanks to TK who arranged it just before I left for my postgraduate studies.

Article in Berita Harian, 13 July 1995.

Article in Berita Harian, 13 July 1995.


News article in The Philippine Star, 3 July 1995.

Same Page With Siti

WHILE M PERFORMED on stage before three judges that included Datuk Siti Nurhaliza in her school’s talent contest in 2012 (link) and later had a photo taken with the multi-talented artiste, I told M that I once shared a page with the then-upcoming singer, incidentally in the same month of June, 14 years earlier!  Here’s the page.

Mikroskop magazine, Issue #32 (1-14 Jun 1997).

Mikroskop magazine, Issue #32 (1-14 Jun 1997).

“My Memory” of Winter Sonata

SERIOUSLY, I have NO memory of Winter Sonata, the hugely popular 2002 Korean television drama… only because I’ve never watched it, until this week, that is.

Despite the popularity of Winter Sonata in creating the Korean wave throughout Asia, I had never bothered watching it when it was first shown in Malaysia in 2002. It was reportedly the first Korean television series shown on TV3, the media company I used to work for. We had just returned from Washington DC the year before and I suppose I was busy re-settling after being away from home for more than three years and returning home with a family.

Recently I chanced upon the song “My Memory” an orignal soundtrack from Winter Sonata sung by Korean singer Ryu, on YouTube. I listened to it and as clichéd (even corny) as it may sound, I fell in love… with the song, that is 🙂 Love it enough to look up its piano sheet and attempt to learn it despite having stopped playing the organ aeons ago (an impossible task but wish me luck!). And love it enough to trigger a curiosity to finally watch the series and see for myself what the hype was all about, eleven years earlier.

Thanks to YouTube, I found the complete series and watched all 20 episodes, advertisement-free, in THREE days this week, ha2. Speaks volumes of the series’ alluring appeal, or simply my obsession to get it over and done with, and get on with my real life!

“My Memory” along with other original soundtracks make such pleasant listening, even little Em asks for it for her bedtime lullaby! The song “13 Jours En France”  (which by the way is not an original sound track from the drama) which was featured prominently throughout the series was an organ piece I used to play, thus bringing back memories of my three years learning the organ with Ms Leong.

Besides the OST, I was also drawn to Winter Sonata because the abundant snow and winter sceneries (shot on Nami Island in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province) were reminiscent of our three memorable winters in Moscow. The déjà vu brought back such lovely memories. Secondly the love story was both heart-warming and heartbreaking, but ended well (don’t they always? except for the blind bit). Nah, not reminiscent of my own experience… but ahhh well, everyone deserves to indulge in a little escapism once in a while 🙂 Finally the lead actor Bae Yong-joon and actress Choi Ji-woo were a charming couple to watch.

Well, I am STILL not  a Korean drama fan convert. For the record, Winter Sonata is only the FOURTH Korean television drama that I’ve ever watched in my life! I caught two Korean TV series while in Moscow (can’t even remember the series titles now), and recently completed watching the 20-episode A Gentleman’s Dignity even though NTV7 has just aired its 10th episode.