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.

Mumbai Sorrow

on Sunday, November 30, 2008

Photo by Reuters

How many greeted that sunrise brimming with the joy of hope?
How many awoke that morning bowed by the burdens of life?

Perhaps some anticipating happy reunions at the rail's journey end.
Or some enjoying late evening dining and romancing with loved ones.

Others in fleeting transit on business or on pilgrimage to Ghandi's nation.
Many just coming to the end of a day of toil and ready for simple rest.

Surely not one expected to die in a hail of bullets and bombs that day.
Not one deserved that their lives, their hopes and dreams ended that way.

They had no part in creating the hatred and madness that overtook them.
But for their memory, let us strive for this hatred and madness to end.

Real Life Award

on Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reception after the Ceremony (Photo by LGS)

Monday the 24th of November 2008 was a very special night for me. Although I have generally avoided talking about my work on this blog, I feel the need to mark this occasion.

At a very special function, which was held at the base of the famous KLCC Twin Towers and which was attended and presided over by the Prime Minister of my country, awards were given out under several categories for outstanding contributions to the country. This was a new national award that was launched last year in conjunction with the 50th year of Independence. The very first inaugural award recipients were named at this function.

There were 5 categories. The first for Community and Education was won by a well known scholar who studied poverty and influenced the development of the country's education system. Another category was for Science and Technology and that was jointly won by a) the medical research team that risked their lives during a fatal disease outbreak which led to them discovering a new disease and b) to a doctor,researcher and lecturer who has greatly influenced diabetes research and treatment in the country. The award for Economic Contributions was given to a gentleman who discovered the way to greatly increase the yield and profitability of the oil palm crop which became a major source of income for the country. There was no award winner this year for the category for Scholastic Achievement.

The final category was for the Environment and it was awarded to the organisation that I work for. I was one of 10 representatives and supporters that were invited to receive the award on behalf of the organisation. It was a great experience. The award recognised the persistent effort of the organisation for more than 14 years which eventually led to the protection of a very large tract of wilderness forest. The award clearly belongs also to all the volunteers and partners that helped along the way.

Standing with all the other award recipients was very memorable as I have a deep respect for all of them (and especially for the medical research team) and therefore felt incredibly blessed to be counted amongst them. The award comes with a RM500,000 cash prize which will be a great help to us as we continue to try to get adjacent forests protected as well. But for me, it has been by far a most welcome encouragement to myself and to all the staff and volunteers that have given their hearts to the cause of conservation of our country's natural heritage.

I had a ball. I am now a little hung-over from the post-adrenaline rush. But the work must now go on. Nose back on the grindstone!

Neither I Condemn You

on Sunday, November 23, 2008


This Sunday, I would like to share with you, one of my favorite passages from the Bible. It so happened that I was reminded of it during the church service today.

John 8:1-11
1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them.
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group
4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"
6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?"
11 "No-one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
(NIV)

A woman is caught in adultery. The religious leaders made her stand in shame before the crowd. In the narrative, it is clear that nobody cares or has any sympathy for the woman. They obviously thought that she was deserving of any humiliation she was facing and in fact they thought that she should be stoned to death. But before they condemn her, they figure that they could have some sport with her and even use her to lay a trap for Jesus. They were fed up with this upstart that was making the general people question their authority and position as interpreters of the scripture. If Jesus had always talked about love and compassion, this was an opportunity to expose his empty rhetoric.

As they paraded the woman before Jesus, if Jesus spoke out to release the woman that would clearly show everyone that he had no regard for their religious laws. If instead, he agreed to stone the woman to death, then he was no different than the religious leaders that he was decrying as lacking love and compassion. What would Jesus do? How would he get out of this situation?

I like the way that Jesus made them wait for his answer and when it did come, what a wise answer it was. In one sentence, he protected the woman and convicted the religious leaders of their own guilt. "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

In this, Jesus recognises the law but reminds us that all mankind are sinful and guilty and therefore have no right to judge others lest we also are judged. At the same time, his words must have been both comforting and liberating for the woman. Even more so when he says"Neither I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus is holy; that is he is sinless - the only man to ever achieve this. Therefore, if anyone there could have righteously condemned the woman, it was Jesus. Yet, this is the comforting message that Jesus has for all of us. Though we are sinful and are enemies in the sight of God, God sent Jesus to earth, not to condemn us but to provide a way for reconciliation. We are not condemned but if we turn from our sinful (Godless) way, then we will be reconciled with Him.

This is also an example for all of us to be more generous and less judgmental to those around us. On a personal note, I am so grateful that Jesus came not to condemn but to save. His message to me and to all of us is the same; "Neither I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

This is one of my favorite passages as it reminds me of God's love, compassion, fairness and wisdom in dealing with us.

My First!

on Saturday, November 22, 2008

This post is about my first, my very first .............. stuffed toy. What did you think it was going to be about? I have quite a collection of stuffed toys and toy figurines which were all given to me by friends and loved ones. For some reason, I got a reputation of being a stuffed toy collector and the toys kept coming.

My wife is also a collector and of course, I have contributed to her collection as well. If you could see our bedroom, you will find her menagerie neatly arranged next to her side of the bed and mine in a playful jumble on my side.

My reputation for stuffed toys started with a few which came as gifts from close friends and took off from there. My very first one was very special as it was hand made by my girlfriend, Julie, at that time. Although it has seen better days and is a little tattered, it still holds a lot of sentimental value for me.



This picture which was uncovered from a current archeological dig, shows a very much younger me posing with the stuffed animal perched on my shoulder. I was a student living in University accommodation at Chelsea College, London, England. This photo is very important for two reasons. One, it shows the object of the post today and two, it is scientific proof that I was skinny once!

Anyway, if you have not already guessed, the animal on my shoulder is a penguin. No ordinary penguin, mind you! He goes by the grand name of Oliver Noona-Nanook of the North. He was dubbed "Oliver" in remembrance of a trip that Julie and I had shared on a boat named the "Cromwell". I am sure most of you would know about Oliver Cromwell from English history. "Nanook of the North" was actually the world's first full length documentary and was about an Inuit and his family in the Canadian artic and was filmed in 1922. It was just a way in my crazy mind to link the poor little chap to his frozen northern heritage. Finally, "Noona" was just added as it sounded like a nice accompaniment to "Nanook". Also, my friend, Helen the Greek Goddess, told me it was a term of endearment in Greek. While she was not always the best source for reliable information, I used it anyway.

And so, Oliver Noona-Nanook of the North was christened. Needless to say, it did not take long for him to be called by the shorter pet name of "Ollie". So he became, Ollie the penguin.

Over the years, I have also had "Cedric the Snake" (cause bureaucrats are snakes and Cedric sounds like a bureaucrat's name)and Tubby (the cap wearing rabbit-bear thingey, on account of his pot-belly, just to name a couple.

My wife's collection is much larger but two recent acquirements were a couple of bears dressed in the style of the Roaring Twenties which she got on special offer at Starbucks. Very imaginatively, she named the female bear, "Starr" and the male bear, "Bucks".

What strange animals cuddle next to you in your sleep? .....And please no jokes at the expense of your spouses.

Physics For Adolescent Males

on Thursday, November 13, 2008

Okay, I admit to being a big fan of Shakira and her mesmerizing hips. I blame this on my physics teacher back in school. In trying to explain the concept of simple harmonic motion to us impressionable youngsters, he used the example of the sway of a woman's hips. For you cold scientific types, the swing of a pendulum is a more commonly quoted example of simple harmonic motion or SHM. I guess that he thought that young adolescent males who have probably never seen a grandfather clock would have very little interest in pendulums. Swinging pendulums versus swinging hips - no contest, he probably thought.

So if you catch me looking at swaying hips, I am merely studying physics or so I try to tell my wife. Even as I write this the following words from the song "Girl from Ipanema" comes to mind;

"Tall and tan and young and lovely,
the Girl from Ipanema goes walking and,
when she passes, each time she passes,
I go ......aaaaaaaahhh."

Anyway SHM or Shakira's Hip Movements is the extreme example of Simple Harmonic Motion or SHM. For your introduction to physics, I have included two videos. The first is Shakira, herself performing during the 2006 World Cup (Soccer) and the second is a video of a bunch of Shakira wanna-be's and some of them aren't half bad and some of them are real funny.

The real thing.


The imitations.

A Better Way

on Sunday, November 09, 2008

Muhammad Yunus (Photocredit: LGS)

The current economic crisis has revealed the flaws of an unregulated free capitalistic financial system. The biggest flaw to the system is clearly the greed of men but closely associated to it is the expectation of continuous growth and ever increasing profits. Doing business to achieve maximum financial profit is just not a sustainable model for the world. It does not eventually, for the majority, promote a better standard of living, a healthy environment nor reduce the widening gap between the poor and the rich.

I am not an economist but I realise the current profit first approach and profit always increasing expectations are fundamentally wrong in that it does not recognise a real world with finite and depleting resources. It's time to replace that approach with a new sustainable approach. There must be a better way.

I recently had the privilege of hearing Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, give a speech. Muhammad Yunus and his bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for this reason:

"Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries. Loans to poor people without any financial security had appeared to be an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed micro-credit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty."

Basically, Muhammad Yunus lent small loans, primarily to women to help them develop business ventures that would enable them and their families to break out of the poverty cycle. An example would be where a woman sews clothes for a living. Hand sewing, she can maybe complete 5 dresses a week and earn barely enough just to keep the family fed. However, with a loan of just USD1oo, she could buy a sewing machine. With the new machine, she can sew about 20 dresses a week, earning enough to repay the loan and slowly enable her to extract her family out of poverty. The large traditional banks would never lend money to poor people in this manner.

The Grameen Bank has now helped more than 7 million people in this manner and has remained profitable with a high repayment rate and a low but achievable interest rate. It is now a model that has been copied in other parts of the world.

During his speech, he told a story about one of the earliest woman that took part in the scheme. She was able to build up her business and provide for her family and break out of the poverty cycle. Years later, she invited Yunus to attend her daughter's graduation from University with a doctor's degree. Yunus showed a picture of him posing with the woman and her daughter on that graduation day. He then asked the audience to consider how the daughter was different from the mother. Was she more intelligent? No, he proposes that the only difference was that the daughter had the opportunity that her mother never had. Microcredit creates the opportunities. He stressed that the mother was not poor because she was not intelligent but because she had never got the opportunity to do better.

It was not an easy road for Yunus and the Grameen Bank either. There was opposition from violent radical leftists to the conservative clergy who told women that they would be denied a Muslim burial if they borrowed money from the Grameen Bank. Nor did the voices of conventional banking and business think highly of his efforts. In commenting on his Nobel Peace Prize award, The Economist stated explicitly that Yunus was a poor choice for the award. In their words "...the Nobel committee could have made a braver, more difficult, choice by declaring that there would be no recipient at all."

This may not be a total answer to what ills the world but might it at least be pointing to a more realistically sustainable financial and business model; one that addresses the issue of sustainability and defeating poverty. Maybe this is one way towards a better way.

Political Cows

on Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On this night, many will be watching the news and following the results of the U.S. Presidential elections as they come in state by state. Obama or McCain? Democrat or Republican? Black or White? Change or Experience? Left or Right? Socialist or Conservative? More taxes or less taxes?

Well, in my opinion, politics is all bull and hot air. Nevertheless, as a public service, the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel is posting a simple and well known explanation of the politics and economic systems as explained by cows. Maybe this will help the undecided voters to make their final choice.

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.

SOCIALISM: You have 2 cows; you give one to your neighbour.

COMMUNISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.

FASCISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.

NAZISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you.

DEMOCRACY: You have 2 cows. You hold an election to chose someone to decide how much milk will be taken and who should get the milk.

RELIGIOUS FANATICISM: You have two cows. You cannot get the milk as you are not allowed to touch their private parts.

BUREAUCRACY: You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away...

SURREALISM: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.

A FRENCH CORPORATION: You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'cowkimon' and market it worldwide.

A GERMAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You decide to have lunch.

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

A SWISS CORPORATION: You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.

CHINESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity, and execute the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You worship them.

IRAQI CORPORATION: Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of a Democracy....

WELSH CORPORATION: You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.

AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate

A BRITISH CORPORATION: You have two cows. They are both mad.

Of Ghosts and Monsters

on Sunday, November 02, 2008

Here is another "tall tale" or rural folklore which when you think about it was the rural, agricultural community's version of the modern urban legend. Perhaps, it is actually more correct to say that urban legends are the modern equivalent of these rural folklore. This one is said to originate in the rough farm country of Nova Scotia in the nineteenth Century. If it has changed in substance, it is only because I cannot fully remember the original version but in the ways of oral tradition, have embellished the story when needed. There are probably many versions of this core story around today.

A poor widow had to move into an old abandoned farm house which the locals all shy away from because they said it was haunted. Recently widowed and almost penniless, she also had to take care of her mother and her two young children. So, haunted or not, she was just glad to get a roof over her family's heads. The whole family were of frontier stock; tough as nails and strong in spirit. She had two sons. The older lad, James, was a strapping, tall youth of 15 years and her second was but a toddler of five years of age. The toddler's name was Tom, named after his late father and like his father was of stocky build and short temper. Indeed, if all their problems were not enough, many pitied the poor widow because she had to cope with young Tom's wild and loud tantrums.

The family coped the best they could at the old haunted farm house. They did sense an eerie presence in the house but soon learnt that it could be accommodated as long as they did not venture into the basement larder at night. Whatever that presence was, it was strongest there. During the day, they ran down the stairs and as quickly as they could, take whatever food supplies they needed and then ran back upstairs. But they, never ever went down after sundown.

One cold and dark winter night, Tom was throwing a terrible tantrum in the kitchen and wanted applesauce on his boiled oats. He refused to eat and threw cutlery and plates about and yelled as loud as he could,"I want my applesauce!" His poor mother tried everything to placate the child but he was adamant that he wanted his applesauce and carried on and on. Finally, the Grandma said that she could not take the noise anymore and said that she would go down to the basement larder to get the applesauce. The widow reminded Grandma about the spirit down there but Grandma said she would risk it and go down.

At this point, young James, who felt the burden of being the man of the house said that it would only be appropriate that he go down and get his brother the applesauce. And so, with his heart pounding, he took a lighted candle and went down the dark stairs. When he got to the bottom, he opened the larder door and went in. Almost immediately a chill wind blew out his candle. He fumbled with his matches to re-light the candle but when he did, he saw a hideous ghostly face in front of him. The terrifying apparition said, "I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. Be afraid, be very afraid."

James ran up the stairs screaming in fear and told his mother and Grandma about the ghost in the larder. Now as I have said, they were of frontier stock and tough people. Grandma knew that it took a lot to scare a brave lad like James but she also figured that she had faced up to many scary things in her long life and that she could stand up to this ghost. So Grandma, grabbed a lantern and went down the stairs. At the bottom, the hideous face appeared and went right up to Grandma's face and bellowed in an angry voice, "I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. Be afraid, be very afraid."

Grandma was so scared that she ran up the stairs, jumping two steps at a time despite her arthritis. Little Tom asked for his applesauce and when he saw that Grandma had not got it, he started yelling again.

Now a desperate mother will do amazing things for her children. Despite what James and Grandma saw, she could not stand not doing anything to placate her youngest child. So, girding up all her courage, she told herself to just close her eyes, run down and get the applesauce and run back up. And so, she tried but once in the larder, she had to open her eyes to look for the applesauce and there right in front of her was the hideous face and the ghost boomed out loudly, "I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye. Be afraid, be very afraid."

Up ran the poor mother without the applesauce and joined James and Grandma cowering at the far end of the kitchen.

When Tom saw that his mother also came back empty handed, he jumped from his chair and before anyone could stop him, he went down the stairs. They were all so afraid for Tom but none dared to go down after him.

After what seemed like an eternity, Tom came back up the stairs holding a bottle of applesauce and licking it from his hands. His mother scooped him up in her arms in relief but asked, "Tom, didn't you see the Ghost with the One Black Eye down there?"

Still enjoying his applesauce, he lifted up his fist and replied, "Sure I did but now he has two black eyes!"


NOW FOR SOMETHING REALLY SCARY!!!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!


A Halloween Tale

on Friday, October 31, 2008


There was a certain small town in Maine which had grown round an old cemetery. As it took a long time to walk round the cemetery if one wanted to go to the opposite side of town, it was not uncommon for late night revelers to take a short cut through the cemetery. Tom worked the late shift at the local coffee shop and normally finished past midnight and would cut across the cemetery to get home.

One autumn night, it was particularly dark and there was some ground fog rolling in from the sea. Tom was making his way across the cemetery but he was finding it difficult to see well in the dark and fog and he kept bumping into gravestones. He was halfway across when he suddenly fell into a deep hole. He was stunned for awhile but as his eyes got accustomed to the dark, he quickly realised he had fallen into a newly dug grave.

He tried jumping and catching the edge of the grave so that he could climb out but the sides of the grave must have been at least eight feet deep and he could not jump that high. He tried doing a running jump but he still could not jump high enough. After trying for about twenty times, he got tired and sat down at the side and prepared to wait till morning when the groundskeeper would most likely find him. Before long, he dozed off.

About an hour later, he was awakened to the sound of drunken singing. It was a late night reveler taking a short cut through the cemetery. However, before Tom could call out, the man fell into the very same hole. From where he sat, he could barely see the man but he could hear the man get up and brush the dirt from his clothes while cursing under his breath. He then heard the man attempt to jump and catch the edge of the grave as he had and he also heard him fall heavily to the ground again.

After hearing the man try a few times and fail, he could tell that the man was beginning to panic. Therefore he reached out and put his hand on the man's shoulder and said " You're not getting out of here tonight."

The next thing Tom knew, the man screamed, jumped straight up in the air and was gone!

I Wish to Make a Police Report

on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I hope you enjoy the picture. Regretably, the rest of the post has had to been erased.

The Squirrel is Back for Season 3

on Monday, October 27, 2008

Da Squirrel is back! Sorry it has been a few days longer than the three weeks I said I would be gone for. However, the time is well spent and I feel quite refreshed and ready to rumble. And what did I do in those three weeks?

The official story is that I went off to a monastery to meditate on life, the universe and everything. Now enlightened, I am back to share the wisdom of the Universe as revealed to my small brain. I have only one word to sum it all…..”overload”. Well, what do you expect when all that wisdom is poured into a tiny receptacle of a brain. It could easily have been “overload and burned-out” but luckily my brain has a built in overflow where the overwhelming large number of unrelated and useless bits of information can escape harmlessly into. It’s called writing a blog.

The truth is that I accomplished quite a bit in the three weeks I was away. I did a lot of exercise, traveled to a far-a-way place (details in later posts), got a lot of intellectual and professional feeding, had quality time with the wife, achieved some major successes at work and may even have seen the end of the big bad bear problem.

Coming back to this blog after an extended absence was not easy. How does one just start up again? What should one write about? How to make it interesting? I thought I could try some of these approaches………

Sensational Approach:- Mystery of Lone Grey Squirrel’s disappearance solved! Was abducted by aliens! Discovered wandering dazed along a country road last week, he could not remember much but was reported to have said this to the police, “Elvis is alive! I have seen the King!”

Speculative Approach:- Lone Grey Squirrel disappeared just after the financial crisis hit Wall Street. Was he somehow involved? Was he behind the fall of Lehman Brothers? And is it true that he once had a secret affair with hunting supporter, Sarah Pallin?

Studious Approach:- The blog entitled “The Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel” has actually been running for just over two years now. Both the blog and the squirrel have been subjected to intense scientific study and the panel of scientific experts have all come to the same conclusion…….the squirrel is nuts.

Expose Approach:- Reporters on the trail of the missing Lone Grey Squirrel have made an important discovery …….the squirrel is actually a middle aged man with a slight beer belly!

Medical Approach:- Friends of the Lone Grey Squirrel have released a statement that the squirrel was just suffering from “exhaustion” and was admitted to the Betty Ford Clinic for housetrained Celebrity Animals. He checked himself in and is expected to be out soon. Insiders claim that he is actually a recovering nut-a-holic.

Religious Approach:- The Lone Grey Squirrel was away meditating at the Ashram of the Great Guru Maharichie Rich and have come to realise that after selling all his worldly belongings and giving it to the Guru has not made him a happier squirrel. He noticed though that the Guru is so happy, he was seen laughing on the way to the bank. Squirrel is now accepting donations for a new laptop for blogging.

In the end though, I thought I’d go with the intimate approach. Friends, I needed the down time but now I am back and refreshed and looking forward to our interactions once again. Thanks for checking in on me and my humble blog!

We Now Return You to the Scheduled Static

on Monday, September 29, 2008

Dear Friends,

"We now return you to the scheduled static." is my way of saying that I need to take a break from blogging for about 2-3 weeks. There is just too many competing matters in my life right now and I need the time to deal with them.

I will still be around and will visit your blogs when I can. I hope to come back with fresh ideas for this blog too.

Now that is the mundane explanation for my coming absence but here in the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, we try to banish the mundane. Therefore, the official press statement from the Realm is as follows........

"THE PEASANTS ARE REVOLTING!" There are unconfirmed reports from the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel that the unwashed masses are dissatisfied with the on-going nut credit crisis brought about by exposure to the U.S. Sub-prime crisis. Unlike the U.S. which is able to conjure and print up a batch of 700 billion dollars to help with the crisis, nuts only grow on trees and it will take a lot of squirrels many, many days to collect that many nuts.

When told that the peasants are revolting, the High Lord All Exalted King of the Realm replied, "They are indeed". When asked what he would do to address the situation, his Highness replied, "Giving them all a bath would be a good first step...........Oh, you mean the nut crisis! I am afraid that I will have to stop blogging for 2-3 weeks to marshal our nut harvesting efforts.

And so, farewwll and see you all at the other end of the three weeks.


The Hotel That Got Away

on Monday, September 22, 2008

It was 1994, I had been studying in Ottawa on a scholarship for more than 3 years. My stay in Canada was coming to an end and I saved up money so that my wife and I could enjoy one big Canadian travel adventure before we had to leave. My brother and his wife also was keen to visit Canada while we were there. So it was agreed that we would meet in Vancouver and drive through the Canadian Rockies to Banff and then on to Calgary.

While I was definitely excited about this and sharing the car rental helped a lot to stretch my limited resources, choosing accommodation became a problem. My brother and his wife were accustomed to a better quality or level of accommodation whereas I was more concerned about the costs.

As the date neared, I desperately scoured the Internet for information on the best deals for accommodation. In Vancouver, I narrowed it down to two places. The first was Sylvia Hotel. It seemed too good to be true. From the pictures, it looked like it had a lot of character and the price was incredibly reasonable. I could not believe the price and I suspected a con job. Back then, the web pages were not as interactive as today's travel pages and more importantly it did not have comments from previous customers. If we had that, I am sure we would have gone for it.

Instead, I delayed making a decision and lost the rooms. I eventually chose a place called Shatto Inn which was a bargain and near Stanley Park but it was not Sylvia Inn. When we finally arrived in Vancouver and saw Sylvia Hotel for ourselves, we could find nothing wrong with the place. It would become, in our family lore, the great hotel that got away.

A funny side-story was that I spoke to my brother on the telephone and told him to make his way to Shatto Inn when he arrived as our flight would arrive some 6 hours later. He thought he heard "Chateau Inn" which conjured up some thoughts of a rather opulent establishment and was therefore a little taken aback when the taxi took him to Shatto Inn - a three star rather than five star establishment.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, A Majority of Two, posted about the Sylvia Hotel and talked about the hotel in detail, even about a cat called Mister Got to Go. Please follow the link to read more about it. At that time, I mentioned that there was a song by Cheryl Wheeler about the Hotel and the cat is even mentioned.

Here is the only version I could find which is a cover version by a German fan who actually got to stay at the hotel. She heard the song first and was determined to see the hotel whereas, the squirrel never got to stay at the hotel but got to hear the song. Be warned that it is a soppy, sad, emotional type song and that it gets more interesting after the cat appears. Enjoy.

Unburied Nuts from 11th May 2007 : Anxiety Attack or Psycho 101

on Saturday, September 20, 2008

Squirrels often bury their nuts and when needed unearth them once again for consumption. On that flimsy excuse, I occasionally re-post something from the earlier stages of this blog which I think deserves a second chance in the limelight. It seems like the right thing to do again this lazy Saturday afternoon. Hope you will enjoy this.


ANXIETY ATTACK or PSYCHO 101


I just wanted to get a post out tonight. Yet when I came to the keyboard, I could not decide what to write about. I had so many ideas and yet none seemed right for the moment. I soon realised that I was suffering from an anxiety attack. I wanted so much to post something and to make sure it was an awesome post that in the end I am paralysed with indecision. This form of anxiety is known as performance anxiety. In my opinion, this tends to affect men more than women. Worse, women have no sympathy at all for male sufferers.

If you think that performance anxiety is just the whimperings and imaginations of a weak mind, you should try and pee at this lavoratory pictured below. Women are very often the cause of this form of anxiety.


Anxiety is often linked to paranoia; the mistaken belief that everyone is in a conspiracy to get you. Again, to those who are free of such ailments, paranoia anxiety seems so silly. What makes you think that you are so special that everybody even notices you, let alone conspire against you? However, if you have paranoia anxiety, you see evidence for this conspiracy everywhere. I noticed this advert recently. Being ethnic Chinese, I had to wonder why 30 Chinamen (and a zeppelin) was needed. Should I take offence, be worried? I am all of that but I am also very curious on how this practical joke will work.


Finally, anxieties tend to make me seek comfort in eating. Paradoxically, this can lead to its own set of problems in the form of food or diet anxieties. I worry and therefore I eat. But I eat so much that I worry. However, it is really, really bad if others worry about what you eat too.


Squirrels need to take care of their anxieties cause they already spend too much time with nuts.

Wise Sayings.........Not!

on Tuesday, September 16, 2008


As you would have learnt from my last post, I recently had one of those astronomical anomalies called a birthday which continues to push me somewhere beyond teenager and closer to old geezer. As one grows old, one can either become wiser or one can become more cynical. I choose to be more cynical cause it is a lot harder work pretending to be wise.

So here for your reading pleasure is my cynical take on some famous wise sayings.


"The first step is always the hardest"
LGS says, "This is hard to believe after watching people try to complete marathons. Those last steps seem pretty difficult too."

"Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."
LGS says, "Just try to scratch my back and I'll have you up on sexual harassment charges."


"Make hay while the sun shines"
LGS says, "Make liquor at night and call it moonshine."

"There is no smoke without fire"
LGS says, "Then why does the smoke detector alarm go off sometimes even when there is no fire?"


"The early bird gets the worm"
LGS says, "And why would I want to get the worm? Eaughhh!"


"Many hands make light work."
LGS says, "Is this another way of asking how many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Give him an inch and he'll take a yard."
LGS says, "Maybe he gets confused between the metric and imperial systems. It happens."


"Two heads are better than one."
LGS says, "What strange world two-headed world do you live in?"


"Walls have ears."
LGS says, "So that's what they put into those WALLS sausages."


"What you don't know, can't hurt you."
LGS says, "Then why do they always ask you about those things in the exams?"


"You can't have your cake and eat it too."
LGS says, "Well, you certainly can't eat your cake if you don't have it! What is this all about?"


"There's a black sheep in every flock."
LGS says, "Isn't this an example of politically incorrect racial profiling?"


"Blood is thicker than water."
LGS says, "And maple syrup is thicker than blood. What is your point?"

Another Year Older

on Monday, September 15, 2008

September 13th has just come and gone. I was born on that date many years ago but for most years, it is not marked by anything out of the ordinary. My family was never really very big on celebrating birthdays for the kids although we were expected to remember the birthdays of our elders.

The family album would suggest that there was a celebration of sorts until I was about six. I would be dressed in some outlandish costume - one of the best was this cowboy outfit, there would be a present - the one I remember most would be a small pedal car and there would be lots of cake with candles. I really have little memory of my early childhood and certainly remember little of these early birthdays. The kid in the picture seems happy and smiling but I think, a little lonely. There were no other kids to play with at these celebrations - just photos with my mother and sister.

When I was 12 years old, my sister was allowed a big birthday party on her turning 18. As our birthdays are just 2 days apart, I was allowed to invite five friends and have a piggy-back party concurrently. I guess I was excited at the time but looking back it was not much of a party. It was held in the afternoon but apart from food, there was very little to do. There were no games or such. My sister's friends were happy sitting around and chatting girl talk. That was the only birthday party I had as a child.

Before starting the final year of university, I decided to go on a journey of self-discovery while traipsing across Europe. So at one time, I found myself somewhere in Brussels, Belgium. I was trying to register to spend the night at a Youth Hostel. I filled up the registration form rather mechanically as it was getting late and I was tired, dirty and smelly. The clerk took a look and handed the form back to me. He said, "I think you have made a mistake. You filled birthday as same day as registration."

I was slow to understand what he meant. I stared at the two dates and shook the cobwebs in my head and replied, "No mistake". It was his turn to look surprised but then it dawned on him that I was in fact checking in on my birthday....my 21st Birthday. "Happy Birthday" he chirped.

I was surprised. I had been traveling long enough to have lost the sense of time and I had forgotten that it was my 21st birthday. The 21st birthday is usually an important birthday to celebrate in my part of the world. In retrospect, I would have preferred celebrating it at a more congenial location. Nevertheless, I spent the evening having dinner with a Canadian student, a Welsh Parole officer and an Irish artist.

After I got married, my wife and I would celebrate each other's birthday but it too were usually low key affair in the form of a romantic dinner for two. This year though, my wife thought of throwing me a surprise party. She booked a cosy restaurant and was going to start sending invitations to close friends and church members but I kind of derailed her best laid plans by previously agreeing to emcee a dinner for young people from church at someone's home.

Well, in the end, myself, the host and two young people had to jointly celebrate our birthdays in September with two cakes. It was not what my wife had in mind but I did celebrate my birthday this year with a large crowd of friends and it will be one to remember.

The World is a Funny Place

on Friday, September 12, 2008

"The world is a funny place .........so why am I not laughing." Somebody said that. I mean it is an often quoted quote but I can't remember who it was. It does not really matter who said it but I fully agree with him today. In the last two days I have seen and experienced a number of things which made me one to say just this.

To be fair, when we say the "world is a funny place", perhaps we need to qualify it further. There is always the "funny- haha" but there could also be "funny peculiar" or "funny -alarming".

Let's start with "funny-peculiar". Today, I was at a shopping mall and there was this escalator between the first and second floors. The escalator going up was working but the one that was meant to go down was stopped and obviously not working. As I was waiting for someone for lunch, I casually looked out across the atrium and saw this very well dressed lady in her thirties approach the top of the elevator. When she got there, she saw that the downward escalator was not working. I expected her to just walk down the stopped escalator but that was not what she did.

First, she looked to the right and to the left. Then she turned around and walked away, as if she was uncertain what to do. She came back to the escalator and examined it more closely. She went off to look for a security guard or mall officer but not finding one, she came back again. She even gave the escalator a kick. In all she was there for about five minutes. Finally after seeing someone else walk down the escalator, she too walked down. Now that is funny-peculiar.

For funny-haha, I give you the bizzare story of the impeachment of the Prime Minister of Thailand. Before becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Samak Sundaravej was the host of a popular TV cooking show. He apparently was involved in four episodes after he became Prime Minister. This would seem to contradict the Thai Constitution which states that the Prime Minister must have no other job. So Mr. Samak who has been linked to several bribery and corruption scandals finally is removed from office because he was cooking on TV. The story does not end there because his party is re-nominating him as prime Minister and if his coalition allies support that nomination, he may be returned to that post again. Wow, think about what Clinton got away with during his presidency while the Thai's don't want their PM cooking anything!

Finally, I watched the animated movie "Barnyard" last night. There is something seriously wrong with the animals in the movie, especially the cows. What's wrong? There are no cows and bulls. There are only male cows and female cows. That's right. All the bovine characters have udders which make them all cows but some were clearly male cows and others with ribbons around their ears were clearly girl cows. Where did all those involved with that movie get their education? This is funny-alarming.


Postcard from Luxembourg

on Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I am a little short of time tonight so this won't be a long post. I was also searching for inspiration and thought if I could just select an old photograph from my collection, I might just write a quick story about the photograph. And then my eyes came across an old post card that I picked up 25 years ago. It was a postcard from the small European nation of Luxembourg.

The City of Luxembourg is small but very hilly and wooded and was the very first walled city that I had visited. Its towers, walls and embankments are visible in much of the city which made it very interesting. Here and there, one was filled with the urge to shout " Man the Ramparts!" and rush silly-nilly to the wall and play act at repelling the invaders.


All of which leads me to these closely linked to pictures below. The first one shows my partner in crime. His name is Joseph. He is an American and we met I think on the train and decided to pair up to take in the sights of Luxembourg. What can I say about him? He is pretty much your average American backpacker, full of exuberance and derring-do. Oh, there was one other thing. He was the son of the cartoonist who did the comic strip "Frank and Earnest". My tiny claim to fame!

Okay, back to the story. Since I am telling it, I will say that the innocent Malaysian was led astray by the seasoned American traveler. Yes, that's my story and I will stick by it.

At any rate, we walked around the city the whole day and eventually found our way on a winding road in a heavily wooded area. As we were on a hill, we could make out the city below us in between the top of the trees. The truth was that we were lost and it was getting dark rapidly. We kept on walking. By my reckoning we should have been close to a monument called "Les Trios Glands" or the "Three Acorns" (see last picture below).

Soon we were walking in pitch darkness and not liking it at all. Suddenly through the trees on the slope below us, we saw very bright lights. So Joseph suggested we cut through the woods and go down the slope towards the lights. It seemed like a better option than continuing along the pitch black road.

So off we went, half running, half slithering and half falling (okay, I know my maths ain't great) down that slope. As we were reaching the bottom, we could hardly control our momentum and suddenly we found ourselves launched into the air. Luckily, we did not fall too far but as it turned out, we landed on the top of the roof of the Trios Glands.

We briefly enjoyed the view which few tourists would have enjoyed as the roof of the monument was officially out of bounds and the monument was in fact closed for the night. We stealthily exited by jumping down to the slope on one side of the building. It was very exciting trying not to be caught.

We left the building behind laughing and in good spirits. The adrenaline was high from falling down the slope and then avoiding detection in a prohibited area...........and that is the only reason I have for what happened next..............somehow we accidentally put out the eternal flame that was burning at another monument nearby.

Well, that was my little tale of misbehavior in Luxembourg during my young and foolish days. Nowadays I am still foolish but too old to jump off rooftops. I hope that the Luxembourgian police will not appear outside my door tomorrow morning. If they do, I have only two things to say to them. One "Lighten up" and two "It was all Joseph's idea."


Jedi Squirrel

on Sunday, September 07, 2008

Has it been two weeks? I am so sorry. I meant to put this up earlier but it has been a hectic two weeks. However, I really appreciated it when my friend the Urban Animal gave me this "Kick Ass Blogger" award, coming as it did around the time of the big showdown in my own life. It was indeed a very good and welcome encouragement. I like this award. It makes small tree rodent mammals feel big.


Here are the rules (because there are always rules):

* Choose 5 bloggers that you feel are “Kick Ass Bloggers”
* Let ‘em know in your post or via email, twitter or blog comments that they’ve received an award
* Share the love and link back to both the person who awarded you and back to Mamma Dawg
* Hop on back to the Kick Ass Blogger Club HQ to sign Mr. Linky then pass it on!

Okay for my 5 "Kick Ass Blogger" Inductees (which urban animal would have been one if she hadn't already got the award).

  1. A Little Off Kilter. A single parent building a happy home for her kids and herself. She's come a long way and with much grace in the last year. A kick ass inspiration for us all wrapped up with a blog of wonderfully eclectic content and great pictures.
  2. Trying to Fill the Unforgiving Minute. She's scared of squirrels (can you believe that?!?!), amongst other things but she doesn't let them small matters interfere with her living a sparkling, giving and humor filled life. Another kick ass inspiration with interesting posts on her blog.
  3. The Walking Man. If I met Mark in person, I think I would be definitely intimidated by this man who has seen and done so much with his life, both good and not so good. Such a full experience of life is wonderfully captured in his poems and reflected in the character of the man who has also bravely endured much physical pain over the years. I think he deserves to be called a kick ass salt of the earth character.
  4. Odat's Mumblings. Odat's taking a break from blogging but like many of her readers, I hope she'll be back soon cause there is no denying her inspirational character and her kick ass blog.
  5. A Majority of Two. One blogger, in my opinion, has maintained an incredibly kick ass blog from the days of my first forays into bloggerworld till now and so I'll have her end this list. One of the most personable and humble persons with the most interesting things to say in what she calls "her boring little blog". Well, it's her boring little kick ass blog really!

Well, many thanks for the award again. Here's the best kick ass squirrel picture I could find.

Alas, We Barely Knew You......

on Thursday, September 04, 2008

Even as the already high rate of species extinction is likely to accelerate with global warming (see previous post), new species continue to be discovered. This shows that we do not know enough about the plants and animals in our world and many are disappearing before we even learn about them. So when new species are discovered, I cheer for the discovery but eventually I get bummed by the thought of species loss. Still, I hope these two recent discoveries will be of interest to you.


THE OLIVE-BACKED FOREST ROBIN

Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new
species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was, until now, unknown to the
scientific community. Their findings were published in the
international science journal Zootaxa today, Aug. 15.


The newly found olive-backed forest robin (Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus)
was named by the scientists for its distinctive olive back and rump.
Adult birds measure 4.5 inches in length and average 18 grams in
weight. Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly,
olive back and black feathers on the head. Fem
ales are similar, but
less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in
front of each eye.

PLEASE read the entire article at EurekAlert!


WORLD'S SMALLEST SNAKE

Excerpt from BBC News:

By Jennifer Carpenter

Science reporter, BBC News



The world’s smallest snake, averaging just 10cm (4 inches) and
as thin as a spaghetti noodle, has been discovered on the Caribbean
island of Barbados.


The snake, found beneath a rock in a tiny fragment of threatened
forest, is thought to be at the very limit of how small a snake can
evolve to be.


Females produce only a single, massive egg - and the young hatch at half of their adult body weight.


This new discovery is described in the journal Zootaxa.


The snake - named Leptotyphlops carlae - is the smallest of
the 3,100 known snake species and was uncovered by Dr Blair Hedges, a
biologist from Penn State University, US.


Read the full article at BBC News online.


Melting Point

on Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Doomsday Clock must surely be clicking towards midnight. This year another climate change landmark has been reached and this is a serious cause for concern especially as it has happened way ahead of most projections by at least a decade or two. I refer to the fact that the North Pole has become an island for the first time in human history.

The last time this occurred is estimated at 125,000 years ago. The famed legendary Northwest Passage to the Orient for which so many died, which lies through Canadian waters, is now truly open for sea-traffic and is a reality. The Russian counterpart or the Northeast Passage is also open simultaneously.



What is Big Business' s reaction? The shipping companies are already jumping for joy and are barely able to contain their excitement. The Beluga group, based in Bremen, Germany, plans to send the first ship through the North-East passage next year, cutting 4,000 nautical miles off the voyage from Germany to Japan. Many others are expected to do something similar.

Comediennes might find some humor in suggesting that Santa will have to have a Summer Re-location Sale. Or they might suggest that now is a good time to challenge the records for the quickest walk to the North pole.

However, this truly is a dire development and one that must be seen in that light instead of being touted as a shipping business opportunity. Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist, described the images as an 'historic event' - but warned they added to fears that the Arctic icecap has entered a 'death spiral'. The next doomsday marker would be the absence of ice altogether at the North Pole during summer. Earlier projections suggested that it would be at least a century away but recent observations raise possibilities that it may occur as recent as in the next 5 years. The more optimistic project the polar meltdown for 2030.

How this massive meltdown and increase in freshwater will affect global climate systems and ecosystems is another serious question? For now though, the plight of the polar bears (my previous post here) is very real and very present. Previously, the ice floes on which they hunt were forming later in the year causing some to starve to death but now even those that make it to the floes are in danger of drowning as the floes melt earlier and more completely.

In a recently reported story, a group of 9 polar bears were found trying to swim to the polar ice cap after the floe on which they were hunting had melted. Solid land lies a mere 60 miles south of their position but they swam north expecting to find the ice cap. However, the receding polar ice cap means that the nearest ice is now 400 miles away. Without help, none of the 9 bears are expected to survive. A different group managed a journey of 100 miles but some in that group drowned. There is now talk of getting a ship up there to pick up the struggling bears.


Four weeks ago, tourists had to be evacuated from Baffin Island's Auyuittuq National Park in northern Canada because of flooding from thawed glaciers. Ironically,the park's name means 'land that never melts'.

I think all of mankind is now on shaky ground and the whole world with us. Our politicians should realise the life and death implications of climate change and stop fighting over small monetary issues. Let us leave a world for our children. Let us act to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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