Bears Just Wanna Have Fun

on Saturday, September 29, 2007

I know I have been giving bears a hard time on my blog recently but the truth is that bears like anyone else should not be stereotyped. For all the good and gentle bears out there, I offer this as proof that not all bears are big and bad.

Theory of Relativity ...... Explained

on Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If you are expecting me to explain to you Einstein's Theory of Relativity, you are in need of medical treatment. Please seek the help of a health care professional or refer to Wikipedia for an explanation of THAT theory. Suffice to say that there is something about how time slows down in relation to speed and gravity.

I will instead be explaining the LGS's Theory of Relativity. This theory similarly predicts that certain physical parameters such as quantity, distance and time may change in relation to one's cultural upbringing. Don't understand? I am not surprised. Pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is often more confusing than the real thing. However, do not despair. All will be clear after you read the following examples of the phenomena.

A story is told about a missionary who was befriending a native tribe in the rainforests of Papua at the beginning of the 20th Century. This tribe live in very small family groups in a very remote part of the forests and have had little contact with other tribes. As the missionary began to earn the trust of the leader of one of the family groups, he also learned much about their culture and their beliefs.

One interesting thing was their counting system. They had words for the quantity or numbers 1 to 5. The word for "5" was "liman". "Liman liman" was the expression if the number was more than 5 and "liman liman liman" when they wanted to express a very large number.

Another pecularity was the way the different family groups often fought each other over small disputes. The fighting was ritualistic with small group of warriors facing each other at a predetermined location. They would fight with great ferocity but as soon as someone was killed, the fighting would end and one side would accept defeat and pay compensation in form of fruits and livestock. Some others though may later die of their wounds. Usually not more than "liman" were killed. It was a rare fight where "liman liman" were killed.

Nevertheless, the missionary worked amongst the family groups and eventually managed to get them to stop these petty wars and to resolve their differences over a peace table. The family group leaders generally were happy with this change and the missionary became their good friend.

Then there was the outbreak of the First World War. News of the war reached even into this jungle interior. The missionary met with one of the family groups in the jungle and the leader of the group could see that the missionary was sad. He asked the missionary what the problem was and the missionary said that he was sad because men were dying in a great war.

The leader asked if "liman" had been killed. The missionary shook his head. More. The leader kindly said to him, "It is sad that liman liman have died. Too many have died. It is time to offer fruits and pigs and make peace." The missionary wept. He knew that the old man would never comprehend that millions had died in the war. Even "liman liman liman" was never meant to mean millions.

An American Woman was traveling on her own in Ireland, driving through the countryside just following her whims and fancies. As she drove past some beautiful pastoral country with rolling hills and sheep farms, she came to a fork in the road. The road sign was most peculiar as there was an arrow in each of the two directions but each arrow had the name of the town Donnegal and both said 30 kilometers. She stopped the car and pondered about it. Seeing a farmer nearby in the field, she got out of the car and called out to the farmer.

The farmer came over to the farm wall next to the road and asked how he could be of assistance. She asked if the road sign was correct and that both roads led to Donnegal. The farmer said that was right. She then asked if it was true that it was 30 km to Donnegal on either road. The farmer replied pensively, "Aye, that would be right."

"Then what is the difference?" she asked curiously.

"Well now, the road on the left would be the longer way." the farmer replied.

"But both roads are 30 km from Donnegal" she protested.

"Now there, young lady, if you take the left road you will find it is longer than if you took the right road." the farmer persisted.

The woman did not understand but she thanked him and said goodbye. She then drove on taking the left road. She was very happy to have taken the left road as it went along the coast and there were spectacular views of cliffs and beaches. She stopped in many places along the way to walk and take pictures. As a result, she got into Donnegal after dark and had a little trouble looking for a place to stay.

Eventually, though she found a place and as she was registering she explained to the clerk at the B&B that she was late because she had seen so many wonderful sights along that road. The clerk nodded knowingly and said," Yes well, you took the long way here, that's why you were late. If you had taken the other road, it would be much shorter as there is nothing to see."

Suddenly she understood what the farmer meant.

The American couple had hired a local guide from among the Orang Asli or Aboriginals in the Malaysian jungle to guide them to the Buaya Sangkut waterfall. The couple who had been hiking in the area were told by other travelers about this spectacular waterfall in the jungle but they were also warned that it would be a difficult and long trek.

When they got to the staging point, they could not find anyone who could speak English well but managed to get the guide through a mixture of pointing at maps, gesticulting and a few English words. Nevertheless, they were in high spirits as they followed their guide into the jungle.

At the start of the journey, there were lots of animals and plants to distract them and they did not notice the time passing but after they had been walking for about two hours, the guide allowed them to take a short break along the trail. They asked him how much further and he replied, "Not far now."

However, another hour passed and they were still on the trail. "How far now?" they asked and the reply was "Not far now". But the trail seemed to be endless and endlessly going upwards. So they stopped the guide, pointed at their watches and said "How far? How many minutes? Don't say not far now."

Now Orang Asli have no use for watches and they measure time by the sun. They do not have the concept of minutes. But as the American couple kept pestering him about how much longer the journey would take, he took out some tobacco and rolled himself a cigarette. He lit the cigarette and said to the couple, "Not far. One smoke away."

The American couple were relieved. They estimated that it meant that their destination was only about another 15-20 minutes away. They sat there for about five minutes taking a break and when it was finally time to move on, the guide put out the cigarrete with his fingers and put it in his pocket. They would walk for another hour before he took the cigarette out again during a break and smoked it. Again he put it out and kept it in his pocket when it was time to move on. In the end they did reach their waterfall but that "one smoke" turned out to be 3 hours.

Be Thou My Vision

on Monday, September 24, 2007

I previously posted on the song "Just As I Am" which was the first Christian song that was meaningful to me after I first became a follower of Christ. My knowledge and preference for Christian songs was to grow and change even as I grew in my young faith and journeyed along life's road.

The next song that held a special place for me is this lovely hymn "Be Thou My Vision". Having placed my trust and surrendered my life to Jesus, I found my experience of God to be just wonderful and vibrant. This song, in my opinion, is a love song to God and most suitable for this was the time I was caught up in the wonder of God's love and loving Him back in response. The words of the song were originally in ancient Irish and is at­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill, dating from the 8th Cen­tu­ry (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Com­di cri­de). It was then translated to English in 1905 by Mary E. Bryne and versed by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912.

I also just love this melody. I really like Celtic and Irish music and this lilting tune is a fantastic representation of the genre and tradition. It was derived from an old Irish folk melody called Slane which in turn recalls how in 433 AD at Slane Hill in County Meath, the Christian Missionary, St. Patrick defied the High King Logaire of Tara by lighting candles to celebrate Easter. The King had forebade anyone to light a fire on that day as it was his privelege to light a bonfire on Tara Hill as part of the pagan Spring Festival. However, instead of punishing St. Patrick, King Logaire was impressed by his bravery and devotion and allowed him to continue spreading the Gospel of Christ.

I only learned most of that in recent times through the wonders of internet. So as interesting as the history and stories related to the song are, it was the sincere and honest words of the song that would most entrap my heart. This now is my love song to God and my prayer that from now to the end of life, no matter what may befall me, He would remain my Vision always.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Bumper Crop

on Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dear Blogging friends,

Your generosity and kindness is quite overwhelming and I thank you for these awards that you have bestowed on me within this month.........

First of all, I got the blame for Claudia's obsession with ice cream this summer. I would have been bummed but it came with this rather innovative award which is a license to spread the blame to others! Mwahahaha!

Next, I was awarded this by one of the nicest persons herself, Stock City Girl.

Finally, my good friend, Mrs. Wolfe says that I make her smile. Awwwww. What a nice thing to say.
Now I think you can understand that this has given me a really, REALLY, BIG Headache! Somehow, I have to blame people but to do it in a nice way so that I don't tarnish the "Nice Matters Awards" and make them smile while they are getting lambasted.

Okay, let's see. I have to accuse and blame people for things but in a nice way and leave them smiling. According to the rules, I have to blame 6 people, be nice to 7 and keep 4 smiling.

Aaaarghgghghhghghghghh! (Squirrel going nuts! Unlike "squirrel going for nuts", "squirrel going nuts" is not a good thing). Can you see the impossible dilemma that I am faced with? I suspect that climbing Mount Everest nekkid while reciting the value of Pi and discovering Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden there would be an easier task.

So unless you want to see me foam at the mouth (Rabid squirrel), I plead with you to allow me to quietly just keep the awards with thanks and to blame all of you for being way too nice and for bringing smiles to my face when this squirrel is in the blues.

I will, however, blame Evalinn, Claudia and Becky for putting me in this dilemma in the first place. Thank you ladies.

The Sting in the Twist

on Saturday, September 22, 2007

Photocredit: New Straits Times
This pretty and happy girl is Nurin. She is eight years old and has two sisters. On August 20th this year, she went to the night market which was just a 100 m from her home. She disappeared.

For the last month, her parents have left no stone unturned in their efforts to find her. In fact, her case has galvanised people from all segments of the community to do what they can; from helping to distribute posters of the missing child to raising money as rewards for information leading to her being found.

As I mentioned in my previous post, last Monday a body of a young child was found stuffed in a sports bag that had been left in a stairwell. The police called Nurin's parents to identify the body. To everyone's relief, Nurin's father emerged from the morgue to announce that the dead girl was not his daughter and asked that efforts to find Nurin continue unabated. The girl in the morgue remained unidentified and unclaimed.

This sad story took an unexpected twist with a nasty sting in its tail. Yesterday, the police announced that DNA tests had confirmed that the dead girl was indeed Nurin. The parents could not accept the news. My heart broke as I read his reported statement in the newspapers, “I am Nurin’s father...I know my daughter better than anyone else. My heart is saying the body is not my daughter."

Sadly, the DNA evidence seems to be quite conclusive. Finally, today, the parents agreed to receive the body for burial. Pictures were circulated in the newspapers of the body but I have chosen not to reproduce them. I want this post to have the image of Nurin being happy.

Nurin had been missing for almost a month. During which she was abused and tortured and had bruises all over her body. She had lost a lot of weight and appeared gaunt. Her murderers had shaved part of her hair off. Her teeth appear large because death had caused her lips to become thin and taut. These may be the reasons why Nurin's parents did not recognise her.

Of course, it is said that the first stage of grief is often denial. Perhaps there was an element of that here with the parents not willing to recognise that battered body as their daughter's because with that comes the end of hope.

Now all we can do is offer our condolences and prayers to Nurin and her family and hope the police will be able to apprehend her killers and to give her justice.

Tragic Child

on Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Picture : New Straits Times

This post is graphic in nature. You may find its contents upsetting.

This is a multi-faceted tragedy with each facet vieing with the others for tragic prominence. The picture above shows some of the Malaysian public responses to the death of a little girl.

On Monday morning, a bookshop in Kuala Lumpur opened for business and one of the staff saw a sports bag in a small recess next to the stairwell. Thinking that it belonged to the shop's owner, she moved the bag into the office. However, when the manager arrived, he confirmed that it was not his bag. They were shocked when they opened the bag to examine the contents.

Inside was the abused body of a young child who is believed to be about 8 years old. Police forensics would reveal that she had been dead for about 3-6 hours. This child had been assaulted and tortured with foreign objects inserted into her private parts. She would have been in immense pain as the assaliant had caused her intestines to rupture which is believed to have led to her death even though there were also strangulation marks.

This girl's fate is tragic at so many levels. Clearly, her death had been violent, frightening and painful. The way her body was callously packed into a small sports bag and abandoned in a stairwell also shows the total lack of respect of her as a person. Even worse, if that is possible, no one has claimed her body or reported her missing. Did no one care for this child? Where are her parents? Her family? Was she homeless? Was she abandoned or was she kidnapped form far away? Could it be her parents are seeking her but unaware of her fate? Will she be buried unclaimed, unidentified and unloved?

There is a sense of sadness in many Malaysians this week as the news and information about the child unfolded. There was a close circuit camera of the shop which show a man and a woman who used the stairways prior to the discovery of the bag and they are being sought by police for questioning.

Incidents like this always lead us to ask the question "Why?". Perhaps we may feel uncomfortable that such evil could come out from the dark side of men; that humans can be so inhumane. But whatever we feel, we must not look away. We must not forget. Most of all, we must not be silent. We must cry, we must grieve and we must rage and act against the evil.

Dogs' Day in Court

This is for our Kat who loves dogs and did a series of posts on this topic. Thought you might enjoy this cartoon.

Barter Trade

on Monday, September 17, 2007

PhotoCredit:- Kate by LGS

The train journey out of Yugoslavia was interesting in its own right even though it lacked the drama of my train journey into that country just a few days earlier. As I boarded the train at the Zagreb station at eleven at night, I had used up almost all my local currency earlier. I was quite hungry as I had not eaten since morning but with the last of my local currency I bought a bottle of water as I decided thirst was even harder to ignore than hunger pangs.

When finally the train pulled out of the station on its way to Austria, I found myself alone with an attractive Aussie backpacker in the train compartment. Strange as it may seem, I was however, more distracted by the sight and smell of the doner kebab that she was eating. We exchanged pleasantries and I learned that her name was Kate. After a short conversation during which she had made no offer of sharing the doner kebab with me, I decided to excuse myself and to try to put the gnawing hunger out of my mind by catching some shut-eye. Not an easy task as visions of food danced before me.

Not long after, a uniformed soldier with a rifle came into the compartment and sat next to me. As I did not have a pleasant experience with soldiers on my way into Yugoslavia, you will forgive me if I was a little alarmed at his presence. However, he seemed friendly enough, flashing a smile at both Kate and I. He had stored his kit bag away so it seemed he would be our companion for the journey.

He said something to Kate in what must have been Serbian. Kate just shrugged her shoulders to indicate that she didn't understand and went back to her book that she was reading. The soldier tried a few times but got nowhere with Kate.

The compartment settled down to some quiet with only the sound of the train on the tracks and the passing wind to be heard. I was actually about to nod off when suddenly I felt the soldier prodding me. I open my eyes to see a smiling face but I couldn't comprehend what was happening.

He said something to me in Serbian. I shrugged. He pointed at my backpack. I followed his gaze and realised that he was pointing at a little white book that I had in my backpack's side pocket. It was in fact a small travelers' phase book for the Balkans which had English, Serbian and Italian phrases alongside one another.

I took it out of the pocket and showed it to him. He was delighted. His eyes lit up as he opened the book. He scrutinised it for awhile and then he pointed to the book.
I looked and his finger was showing me the phrase, "Hello. My name is..." and then he said "Josef". Okay, I got the idea and so using the phrase book, we had the rudimentary tool for communication, although we were stuck with phrases like "where are you going?", "where did you come from?" and such. We seemed to have made a connection.

This went on until, he found the phrase "this is home-made". He took out a bottle from his kit bag opened it and offered it to me. "Slivovitz", he pointed out in the book which in the English translation read, "plum brandy". At his insistence, I took a swig from the bottle. How should I describe it? Liquid fire comes close. It did have a kick and I felt instantly warmed from the inside.

He then produced an apple and gave it to me. I was overwhelmed by his friendliness and generosity. As I bit into the apple, he reached over and took the phrase book. He looked something up and then he went over and sat next to Kate and showed her some phrase. Kate nodded in response. Then they both got up and made their way out of the compartment. As she walked past, she winked at me and mischievously said, "He's invited me out for a smoke. Don't wait up for us though."

Then, suddenly I was alone in the compartment. As I finished off my apple, I suddenly realised that the soldier was a real smooth operator and that he had been after the phrase book all the time so that he could make a move on Kate. I felt used. Still, I reasoned, I was hungry now I am fed and besides, I had a bottle of liquid fire to dull the sense of humiliation. I wouldn't see either of them again for at least a couple of hours and when I did, they were both positively giggly. I did get my phrase book back eventually but it had become dog-eared from recent use.

Post-script:- After we ditched the soldier at the border, Kate and I got to know each other better and we were to spend the next few days as traveling companions in Vienna, Austria.

Go West, Bears!

on Sunday, September 16, 2007

I am short of time as I actually find myself facing a 3 hour commute to attend a wedding dinner in a small town. However, I wanted to put up a quick post and here it is.

This one's for Kat. Thanks for the positive thoughts and the Hex. Together, we can see off all marauding bears. In the meantime, in celebration .........

13th September

on Friday, September 14, 2007

In 1999 there are 300 men and women living and working on a base on the Moon, Moonbase Alpha. On 13th September 1999, stored nuclear waste on the Moon explodes, flinging the Moon out of orbit. Drifting on a random course through deep space, the Moon and the crew of Alpha encounter aliens and strange worlds.

This was the basic premise of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's TV sci-fi cult success of 1975-1977. Many people associated with the series would become leading exponents of their field. Special effects director Brian Johnson and most of his team would later go on to work on Ridley Scott's Alien as well as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The lead character of Commander John Koenig was played by Martin Landau who at that time was relatively unknown except for his role in TV's Mission Impossible. He would later be nominated for the Oscars three times, finally winning for Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for his role in the movie Ed Wood.

This was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. The beautifully designed and crafted models of the Eagle Transporter was the work of Martin Bower who also did work for Aliens. The Eagle Transporter was one of my most common subjects when I drew or doodled during a boring class session in school.

The opening sequence of the show always replayed the crucial fireworks of 13th September 1999 which started the moon and its stranded adventurers on its hurtling journey through space. Such fireworks are a fitting way to celebrate another anniversary on the same day (though not same year) birthday.

I had a great birthday yesterday which I spent seeing off a pesky bear and then celebrating with a large crab dinner. It was a good day.


on Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sometimes you think you are doing the right thing but you still get into trouble. Do you know what I mean?

Click picture for larger, clearer view.

This cartoon strip is by Berke Breathed and I think he has excellent story telling skills and wonderful comedic timing.

Odd One Out

on Sunday, September 09, 2007

I have a knack of being the odd one out in a crowd. As I mentioned before, I have been the only guy in a group of ladies for many occasions in my life. What you may not have known is that on other occasions, I was the only Chinese in a hall of Irish patriots, the only Chinese in a Jewish synagogue and the only non-Muslim in a closed fundamentalist Muslim community. These are stories to be told at another time but which clearly demonstrate that I have a knack of ending up as the odd one out and standing out like a sore thumb.

Well, I did it again last Friday. My assistant told me that the women's wing of a political party were inviting people to attend a meeting to discuss common concerns. I work for an environmental and conservation organisation and so for me common concerns related to the environment. Although generally, not keen to attend political party meetings, I happened to be very near the venue of the meeting and agreed to drop in after I completed some work.

I went to the registration desk, they took my name and then ushered me personally to my seat. As I entered the hall, I suddenly became aware that there were about a hundred women seated there and as I scanned around, I could not spot another male anywhere (where were they, the cowards!). My usherer insisted on taking me almost to the front. I am sure my arrival was the focus of everyone's attention. I sat down and my spirits plummeted further when I read the program and saw there was nothing on the agenda on the environment. In fact the order of the day was a discussion about "Violence against Women".

As the discussion got going, I began to sense a lot of hostility in the room to the male gender and so I tried not to attract any attention while my eyes surveyed the nearest exits in case a quick get-away was needed.

In the end though, they were very civil about my presence. I also got to learn a lot and at the end I really thought that more men should indeed have been there to listen.

I was particularly shocked to learn how callous the bureaucacy treated women who had been victims of violent crimes in Malaysia. I was disappointed to learn that one-stop Rape Crisis Centres in hospitals had been axed in cost cuts. I was appalled to hear of police officers who asked rape victims if they enjoyed the experience.

Police officers were clearly in need of learning gender sensitivity. Some told victims that the way they dressed implied that they invited sexual attack. Others have actually told some rape victims that they were not pretty enough to attract any one to be interested to rape them.

Honestly, I had no idea that things were so bad. I applaud those who are trying to make a difference. In Malaysia there is even a male organisation that exists to speak out to other males against domestic violence. Malaysia just celebrated 50 years of independence but our attitude and treatment of women clearly shows that we have not matured as a society.

Stop the World......It's Rugby World Cup

on Saturday, September 08, 2007

This last week has not been a great one at work with some bad news and some aggravating correspondence. The sort of things that just seem to take the wind out of your sails and sap your enthusiasm and concentration for the job. I could be feeling a little down in the dumps as a result but I am not. This weekend is the start of a month of first class international rugby at the Rugby World Cup 2007 in France. I am going to park my worries aside and enjoy myself this weekend.

Long-term readers of this blog will already know that rugby is one of two sports that I really get into and have blogged about it before.

This starting weekend has not failed to entertain. It began with a surprise upset in the opening match between the host France and Argentina. France is considered the best European team having won the 6 Nations Championship in both 2006 and 2007. Argentina in contrast is not generally considered to be one of the major players and are not one of the eight seeded nations in the World Cup. However, Argentina may be the boogeyman for France as they have won four of their last five encounters with France and they did it again winning 17-12. France must now be cautious with all remaining games if they are to live up to their pre-tournament expectations of reaching the finals.

The second game was between the tournament favorites, New Zealand and the very credible Italian team. This Italian team had won three games in the 6 Nations Tournament in 2007 which makes them one of the better European teams. However, New Zealand was able to convincingly stamp their superiority with a final score of 76-14.

Doug Howlett scores 3 tries for NZ

As I type this, Australia is trashing a spirited Japanese team by 84-3. This was always going to be a bit of a mismatch between an ex-World Champion and one of the minnows of the sport. However, even if the Japanese look dimunitive against the large Australian players, their spirit was inspirational and the crowd appreciated the Japanese efforts.

I am then going to overdose on rugby by watching the England vs USA until the wee hours of the morning.

This grey squirrel's eyes will be red by tomorrow morning. Ta Ta for now.

Squirrel's Secret Spot No: 9 Bruges

on Thursday, September 06, 2007

PhotoCredit: LGS (1. View from Belfry; 2. The beautiful canals; 3. Jerusalem Church; 4. Inside the Church; 5. Windmills; 6. Romantic canals and horsedrawn buggies)

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a gem; a portal to a different age. The old town centre transports you magically back to the Middle Ages for this compact 430 hectare site has hardly changed since its heyday from the 12-15th Centuries when it belonged in the Flemish court. Today, it lies within the boundaries of modern day Belgium.

This city made its wealth as a trading port and as a centre for the wool trade and for weaving. Later, it would also become famous for producing intricate lace. This delicate craft is still demonstrated and displayed at a local museum.

For the visitor though, it is like a wonderland with its cobbled streets revealing historical and architectural marvels at every turn. You can find the influences of the First Crusade in the form of relics found in certain churches. The Jerusalem Church is said to be a replica of a church found in that distant Holy City. Another landmark is the Belfry with its 47 bell Carillion which is still played till today.

The canals are beautiful and both surround the city centre as well as penetrate into it. Some parts of the canals weave past tightly packed buildings and might be reminiscent of Amsterdam or Venice while others are bordered by belts of green which are a great place to rest weary feet and have a picnic. Around the edge of the city there are also picturesque windmills to enjoy.

At a certain time of the year, the streets come alive with clourful and gay period costumes and parades which represent all the guilds that once made the city wealthy. This is probably one of the best times to visit except for the accompanying crowds.

Bruges is a place to immerse oneself in history in a pleasant environment and at a wonderfully slow pace. It is also a very romantic location and to top it all off, the cuisine and the local beer are also exceptional. It packs a lot into a small compact space. You could probably see it all in a day but it would be so much better to savour its charms over a week.

Unburied Nuts from 5th January 2007

Squirrels always scavenge for fresh food and nuts but when things are scarce, they will unbury a nut from one of their caches either in the trees or buried in the ground. Likewise, when I am stressed for time or if I find new ideas for blogging scarce, I uncover an old post for recycling. This unburied nut is called........

Romancing Gravestones

div align="left">If you like this post, you might like to visit my fellow grave vulture, Dave.

Fort A' Formosa, Melaka

I am not sure when my fascination with graveyards started. It seems I have always had that interest. Perhaps it was when I visited the ruins of the Portugese fort, A’Formosa, in the ancient trade city of Melaka. I was quite young then, maybe about 8 years old. The fort had once defended the Portugese dominance of spice trade and control of the vital shipping lanes in the Straits of Malacca.

Anyway, there are some large tombstones that can be found leaning against one of the walls of the fort. These were marked in Portugese and Dutch. The Portugese built the fort after defeating the Sultan of Melaka in 1511. The Dutch were to in turn expel the Portugese in 1641. I was mesmerized. I ran my fingers along its eroded carvings, trying to make out the letters and the words, piecing together a puzzle into a story. I wondered who they were, how they had felt being so far from home in essentially an exciting but dangerous place and I wondered how they had died. These questions would remain unanswered since I could neither read Dutch nor Portugese. Yet, my mind was alive with visions of these youthful adventurers, soldiers and their possibly reluctant wives and families.

Dutch graves in Bogor, Indonesia
It was when I studied in England, that I advanced this hobby further. There I was introduced to the practice of taking brass rubbings of tombstones which made me also appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of some of these tombs and markers. However, in England I felt empowered to learn more about the stories behind the tombstones because I understood the language and there were usually good supporting historical records.

Nicholas Gaynesford, esquire of the body to Edward IV and Henry VII, and wife Margaret, gentlewoman to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York, c. 1485, Carshalton, Surrey

One adventure into the past took place in a small Oxfordshire village which I happened to stop at while traveling along the Oxford Canal by canal boat. I came across a small but ancient English church with a lovely churchyard with many gravesites. However, it was in the church itself that I made an interesting discovery. There was a plaque on the west wall of the church that had names of some of the Pastors that had served at the church. What stood out was the fact that over a short two year period in the 1350’s, there had been at least 6 different pastors. Why did this happen? Was it a period of dispute within the church? I was fortunate that when I asked one of the local parishioners, he was able to explain the history behind the plaque.

It seems it was related to the coming of the Black Death. In many neighboring villages, the people and the priests fled when the disease began to appear in their areas. However in this village, the pastor saw it as his duty to stay with the sick and tend to them. Not surprisingly, he himself fell ill and died a few months later. His subsequent replacements were similarly inspired by his example and they all stayed to minister to the sick and those who could not flee. In quick succession they too shared in his fate. I felt honored to learn about these men and their selflessness and am glad that a record of their deeds is etched in stone.

It was in another country village in Sussex, England, that I would make my most unsettling and yet poignant find to date. It was autumn and it was wet and dreary as I made my way through this small cemetery. This was not particularly well kept and there was lots of fallen branches, overgrown bushes and decaying leaves all over the place. There were parts where low hanging branches forced you to bend over to proceed. The damp decay of autumn can make a graveyard appear to be a less friendly place. I was not expecting to find much of interest as the graves were relatively new.

Then, I stumbled across it and was physically shocked. There was something black and rotting sitting next to a gravestone. It was about a foot high. I had goosebumps. Swallowing hard, I plucked the courage to go closer. Fortunately, the dark shape never moved. When I got close enough, it still took me a moment or two to comprehend what I was seeing. Finally, I realized that the dark shape was actually made out of wicker which had been tightly woven into the shape of a teddy bear. The wicker had gone dark and was rotted in places giving it a very macabre look. Even more bizarre, was the fact that the wicker bear was hugging fresh flowers.

The grave was for a young girl who had died at age 6 and was only about two years old. I suppose the grieving parents had a wicker bear made to accompany their child in her slumber and to watch over her grave. They probably visit regularly and place fresh flowers. It is always so sad when a child dies. The parents’ grief was still evident. I was quite overwhelmed by the scene. However, even today, thinking of that black, rotting bear still gives me the creeps.

Don't Move.....Be Quiet.

on Wednesday, September 05, 2007

As far as movies go, I think the British are superior at making the historical drama. They seem to be able to create a sense of realism that is true to the period and yet reaches out and enthrals the modern day audience. The recent success of movies based on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, staring Helen Mirren are such an example. To further illustrate the point, here is a short clip from a film done by a well known British actor (Lenny Henry) and set amidst the carnage of the English Civil War.

September Morn

on Sunday, September 02, 2007

It is the beginning of September and I noted a number of my blogging friends from the Northern Hemisphere are lamenting or at least marking the passing of summer. However, a few like me are ready to welcome September and the beginning of autumn. September has always been a special month for me. It seems like some of my happiest moments have been tied to this month or at least this season. In celebration of September, I offer this posting on the theme of "September Morn". Below is a famous painting by Paul Chabas and the music is by Neil Diamond.

"September Morn" by Paul Chabas

Quoted from Bonnie Bull
"On a September morning in 1912, French painter Paul Chabas finished the painting he had been working on for three consecutive summers. Thus completed, it was aptly titled "Matinee de Septembre" (September Morn). As was typical of his style, the painting was of young maiden posed nude in a natural setting. This time the icy morning waters of Lake Annecy in Upper Savoy formed the natural setting and the maiden was a local peasant girl. The head, however, had been painted from the sketch of a young American girl, Julie Phillips (later Mrs. Thompson), which he had made while she and her mother were sitting in a Paris cafe. Apparently, he had found her profile to be exactly what he was looking for.

The completed painting was then sent off to the Paris Salon of 1912 to be exhibited. Although the painting won Mr. Chabas the Medal of Honor, it caused no flurry of attention. Hoping to find a buyer, the artist shipped the painting overseas to an American gallery. It was here in America that the painting was destined to receive undreamed of publicity and popularity.

One day in May of 1913, displayed in the window of a Manhattan art gallery, it caught the eye of Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Horrified by what he saw, he stormed into the store, flashed his badge, and roared: "There's too little morn and too much maid. Take her out!" The gallery manager, however, refused to do so.

The ensuing controversy was given wide publicity by the press and the painting was simultaneously denounced and defended across the entire country. Meanwhile, curious crowds filled the street outside the shop straining to see the painting that caused such a stir.

Soon enterprising entrepreneurs were reproducing September Morn on everything conceivable: calendars, postcards, candy boxes, cigar bands, cigarette flannels, pennents, suspenders, bottle openers and more. Purity leagues tried to suppress it. Postcard reproductions were forbidden in the mails. The painting became the object of stock show gags and even inspired an anonymous couplet that swept the country, "Please don't think I'm bad or bold, but where its deep it's awwful cold."

The painting went back to Paul Chabas who sold it to a Russian collector for the ruble equivalent of $10,000. After the Russian Revolution it turned up in Paris in the Gulbenkian Collection. Ultimately the painting was purchased by Philadelphia Main Liner Willaim Coxe Wright and donated to Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum in 1957 after being refused by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it had no significance in the twentieth century stream of art. It's estimated market value in 1957 was $30,000. The painting still hangs in the Metropolitan Museum as an example of 20th century French works and reproductions can be purchased in the museum's gift shop."

I had to disable Neil Diamond as he keeps insisting to sing even when visitors are looking at a different post. You can listen to him here.

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