Lawyer Ong’s one lucky man

(the star - Metro North, Monday December 5, 2005)

NOT everyone gets to wake up to a breathtaking view of the city at sunrise.

With a hilltop house on Penang Hill, lawyer Datuk Ong Eng Khuan, 59, is one lucky man who can enjoy the panoramic sight of George Town from his garden.  

For the last 11 years, Ong, who is president of the Penang Turf Club (PTC), has been staying at the beautiful historical bungalow aptly named Arun Rangsi or “rising sun” in Thai.  

A Thai diplomat had the bungalow built in 1932 as a gift to his German wife. In those days, choice locations on Penang Hill were only accessible to Europeans but the Thai official managed to acquire the site due to his diplomat status.

A nature lover, Ong understands how fragile the eco-system is and is deeply saddened by the deforestation and illegal farming going on in his neighbourhood.

Imagine waking up daily to a splendid view of the city through a misty shroud of fresh,crisp mountain air.

“I believe it will be man's folly if this balance is upset. The eco-system should be protected at all times. Our reservoir also needs clean and fresh water from the hills.

“Luckily, the serenity and the environment of Penang Hill are still intact,'' said Ong, who is the legal adviser of the Malaysian Nature Society (Penang) and one of the contributors to the book Nature Trails of Penang Island.

“I enjoy trekking and camping in the rainforest. I scaled Mount Kinabalu on my first attempt and have climbed various peaks on the main range like Gunong Batu Puteh (6,993ft) on the Perak-Pahang border and Gunong Yong Yap (7,110ft) on the Perak-Kelantan border,” he added.

Ong has also trekked through Nepal where he made his journey from the city of Pokhara to the glaciers of the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas. 
Since moving to Penang Hill, Ong has been commuting to work in the city.

Ong joined the PTC as an ordinary member in 1974, and was elected into the committee in 1993. In 2001, he became the club's president, a post that he still holds until today.

Having worked his way up practically from scratch has not made Ong a sniffy corporate figure.

Instead, he is a down-to-earth and nature-loving person who is probably the first public figure to live in the tropical rainforest of Penang.

Two years ago, he was made a 'Datuk' for his contributions to the PTC and the horse-racing industry.

Last year, Ong became the first Penangite to be appointed chairman of the Totalisator Board of Malaysia (TBM). Prior to his appointment, he was a board member for two terms from 1998 to 2000 and 2002 to 2004.

“It’s a great honour for the club. I hope to make racing more exciting and more accessible to the public,” said Ong.

He added that as TBM chairman, he hoped to address the many challenges facing the billion-ringgit horse-racing industry especially from other forms of gaming and leisure pursuits.

In a move to boost attendance and turnover, Ong said, he was advocating close co-operation of the three Malaysian turf clubs, the police and the Treasury.

The TBM was set up by an Act of Parliament – the Racing (Totalisator Board) Act 1961. The Act conferred on the Board a scheme for the operating of totalisators for racing betting by the public.

Other powers of the TBM include equine research, maintenance and improvement of turf clubs.

Besides racing revenue for the Treasury, the TBM donates millions every year to various social and charitable causes in the coun- try. The National Stud Farm at Tanjong Rambutan, which is the only horse-breeding farm in the country, is also owned by the TBM.

The TBM donated RM500,000 to the National Disaster Relief Fund in aid of the tsunami survivors in January 2005 and recently contributed RM4 million during the Force Of Nature Concert at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in March.

Although his work and travels have taken him to many countries, Ong is still very much a true blue Penangite.

“I come from a typical Penang Baba Nyonya family and I'm extremely proud to be a Penangite.”