The Passing of a People's Warrior (Bishan Singh)

on Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dear friends,
In these last few days, there has been much bad news in Malaysia. News that makes me feel anger, disappointment, dismay and hopelessness. I felt driven to write about some of these matters and share it with you, so that you might understand that all is not right in sunny Malaysia.....and perhaps I will still do so later. However, all these pale in comparison to the news I received yesterday on the death of this dear gentleman in the early hours of the 29th of November.

Mr. Bishan Singh was many things to many people because his heart was always for the people. In Malaysia, he might even be considered the grandfather of social activism. Amongst his achievements include establishing the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (FOMCA), the Sustainable Development Institute (SUSDEN), and winning the Langkawi Award for contributions to the environment in Malaysia. He has been the tireless champion for the proper management of Chini Lake and the welfare of the indigenous peoples there. He also helped in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. More details of his career are in the article below.

As I type this, his funeral is happening in Kuantan which is about 3 hours drive from here. I am unable to attend due to a combination of food poisoning and a work commitment this afternoon over which I have no control. So even as his many friends and family gather there to say goodbye, I thought I would share in that moment by putting this tribute on to the internet.

I have known him for a relatively short 5 years, yet he has left a strong impression. Bishan was a man of vision, passion and heart who stood by the principles of social justice and also the conservation of the environment as he recognised that the two were inter-related. He was a spiritual and intellectual giant, yet he remained a humble man. He was a great teacher and someone who invested in building up the next generation. We have served on the same committee and there were times with myself as chair as well as when Bishan was chair. While I was chair, I appreciated that he was patient, generous and always constructive with this young whipper-snapper and when he was chair, he was understanding, discerning and purposeful, which made him easy and natural to work with.

Bye Bishan, you will be missed by many.

Social activist Bishan Singh dies

KUANTAN: Social activist and environmentalist Bishan Singh Ram Singh passed away yesterday after a short illness. He was 62.

His wife Mary Wai, 66, and children Sunitha, 35, and Jeevan Ram, 33, were by his side when he breathed his last at 6.43am at the Tengku Ampuan Afzan Hospital.

His death was listed as due to “pulmonary embolism”.

Bishan Singh had undergone a series of medical check-ups since October. His condition worsened over the last two weeks.

Bishan Singh: His death was listed as due to ‘pulmonary embolism’
The illness had not stopped him from keeping abreast with the latest developments on his favourite topics – community and social work.

To Bishan Singh, Tasik Chini – the country's second largest freshwater lake – was special in so many ways.

He had been in love with the lake since his secondary school days and wanted it to be revived.

Bishan Singh spearheaded a campaign to save the lake and received strong support from the private sector.

“My father has no regrets. He has chosen his path in life and did what he loved best,” said Sunitha.

“Just look around the house compound. He planted his own vegetables as well as tended to the garden,” she added.

Bishan Singh was president of Fomca and the Pahang Consumers Association and was a former Kuantan councillor.

He held the presidency of Sustainable Development Network and was a board member of the Pesticide Action Network, Asia Pacific.

He had offered his services in consultancy for more than 20 years in 22 countries.

His efforts did not go unnoticed and he was the first recipient of the Consumer Advocate Award, and most recently was named the recipient of Langkawi Award by the King.

Born on May 31, 1944, in Nibong Tebal, Penang, Bishan Singh had a Masters in Development Management from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila.

Fomca secretary-general Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah described his demise as a “great loss to the nation and NGO community”.

Bishan Singh will be cremated at Bukit Ubi crematorium today.

The public can pay their last respects at his residence in A617 Taman Koperasi, Lorong Selamat 24, Kuantan, before 11am

LGS Cultural Tour No: 3 - The Funniest Man Ever

on Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Most of the world today seems to remember Peter Sellers as the great and tortured comedian, thanks also to the wonderful film, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" but have overlooked his long-time colleague, Spike Milligan. However, Spike was voted by the British public in a BBC Poll in 1999 in which he was described as the "funniest person in 1000 years". His fellow comedians also voted him into the top 50 and a scientific study accredits him as the originator of the world's funniest joke which I have included at the end of this entry.

It gives me great pleasure to pay a little homage to this great man who exceled in comedic innovation, suffered mental illness and fought for the environment. He was a poet, an author, including children's books, actor, comedian and activist. I would like to share two of his poems, an extract from the scripts of the Goon Show (radio program) and ending with the world's funniest joke.

Doctor O'Dell
Dr. O'Dell fell down a well
and broke his collarbone.
Which proves that doctors should attend the sick,
and leave the well alone.

Indian Boyhood
What happened to the boy I was?
Why did he run away?
And leave me old and thinking, like
There'd been no yesterday?
What happened then?
Was I that boy?
Who laughed and swam in the bund*
Is there no going back?
No recompense?
Is there nothing?
No refund?

Excerpt from the Goon Show
Greenslade: The Affair of the Lone Banana, Chapter Two. With the banana secreted on his person, Neddie Seagoon arrived at the Port of Guatemala where he was accorded the typical Latin welcome to an Englishman.
Moriarty: Hands up, you pig swine. [Spits]
Seagoon: Have a care, Latin devil - I am an Englishman. Remember, this rolled umbrella has more uses than one.
Moriarty: Oooo!
Seagoon: Sorry. - Now, what's all this about?
Moriarty: It is the revolution señor - everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty: Right in it - you see, señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty: There are no sides - we are all in this together. Now señor, if you don't mind - we must search you.
Seagoon: What for?
Moriarty: Bananas. You see señor, we guatemalians are trying to overthrow the foreign-dominated banana plantations in this country. Any foreigner found with a banana on him will be shot by a firing squad and asked to leave the country.
Seagoon (aside):Curses - I must think quick. Little does he know I suspect him of foul play.
Moriarty (aside):Little does he know I've never played with a fowl in my life.
Seagoon (aside):Little does he know that he has misconstrued the meaning of the word foul. The word foul in my sentence was spelt F O U L not F O W L as he thought I had spelt it.
Moriarty (aside): Little does he know that I overheard his correction of my grammatical error and I am now about to rectify it - aloud. [Ahem] So, you suspect me of foul play spelt F O U L and not F O W L.

On 9 June 2006, it was reported that Professor Richard Wiseman had identified the world’s funniest joke as decided by the Laughlab project which involved people voting on-line. Professor Wiseman said the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag - anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise. It turns out to be a variation of a joke written by Spike for the Goon Show in 1951.

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?"

This bright light finally faded from this world on the 27th of February 2006. At the death of his long time friend, fellow Goon and famous tenor, Sir Harry Secombe, Spike quipped," I am glad he died before me because I didn't want him to sing at my funeral." So quite appropriately, a recording of Secombe singing was played at Spike's funeral. There is so much more to mention about his contributions to books, film and the environmental cause but "ying tong iddle i po" and "needle nar noo". Looks at the hairs on my wrist which were synchronised to the hairs on Big Ben and realise time has flown.

To know more about the man:
To read more of his poems:
To enjoy more from the highly esteemed Goon Show

Wonders of the World

on Sunday, November 26, 2006

Will wonders never cease? It seems the world is ready to get rid of the old 7 wonders of the world and bring in a new 7. This is set to occur in Lisbon, Portugal on the very auspicious day of the 7th of July 2007 or 07/07/07. Cute! This campaign to replace the old wonders was started in 1999 by Swiss adventurer, Bernard Weber. Weber "felt it is time for something new to bring the world together" and to "symbolize a common pride in the global cultural heritage," said Tia B. Viering, spokeswoman for the campaign.

The first known list of wonders was put together by Antipater of Sidon around 2nd century B.C. and had evolved with contributions form others over time until it came to be known as the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World sometime in the Middle Ages. This list included the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus of Rhodes, and Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus. Sadly, Lone Grey Squirrel can quickly confirm that he has been to none of these sites which is not surprising on account of LGS’s financial situation and the fact that only the Great Pyramid remains today with 2 Wonders having long ago gone up in smoke and the other 4 Wonders brought down by earthquakes.

Anyway, when the campaign started to find the new 7 Wonders in 1999, over 200 sites were nominated from around the world. Nominations were whittled down by public votes to 77 last year. Then a panel of architectural experts, chaired by former UNESCO chief Federico Mayor, shortened the list to 21. All this time, Lone Grey Squirrel was oblivious to this process but if you too were unaware, it is still not too late to be involved. Visit and you can still cast your vote for the final 7.

Machu Pichu (stevenellem)

The final 21 contestants are (in no particular order);
1) the Statue of Liberty, USA. 2) the Pyramids, Egypt. 3) Eiffel Tower, France. 4) Taj Mahal, India. 5) Machu Picchu, Peru. 6) the Acropolis, Greece. 7) the Hagia Sophia, Turkey. 8) the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, Russia. 9) the Colosseum, Italy. 10) the Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. 11) Stonehenge, United Kingdom. 12) the Alhambra, Spain. 13) the Great Wall, China. 14) the Kiyomizu Temple, Japan. 15) the Sydney Opera House, Australia. 16) Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 17) Timbuktu, Mali. 18) Petra, Jordan. 19) Statue of Christ Redeemer, Brazil. 20) Easter Island and 21) Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Hagia Sophia (guenter11)

Petra (maryjanesolomon)

Sadly, Lone Grey Squirrel can also quickly confirm that he has been to only one of these sites, Sydney Opera House. I hope those of you who have traveled more extensively will vote wisely. Nevertheless, I have chosen 7 in my ignorance. Let me know what your choices are and why.

My choice for the new 7 Wonders of the World;
1) the Pyramids (hey, they were already in the old list); 2) Machu Picchu (can you imagine having to build on such steep slopes?); 3) the Acropolis (have to give a nod to the immense influence the Greeks had on civilization); 4) the Great Wall (can be seen from space.); 5) the Hagia Sophia (two cultures meet and it just impresses me…truly); 6) Taj Mahal (a monument to love. How can we leave that out?) and 7) Petra, Jordan (endorsed by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Squirrels and Buried Treasure ....Arr... Arr

on Saturday, November 25, 2006

Photos credited to terisuz

Eastern Grey Squirrels are very important in the life-cycle of many trees and are major agents for reforestation in Canada and Eastern USA. They achieve this due to their habit of collecting nuts and hiding them. Nuts may be collected and hidden in caches in hollows in trees or buried in the ground so as to be retrieved later for food in winter.

Spikey introduced me to this behaviour. One autumn afternoon, the two of us were communing on the deck outside my basement apartment, enjoying the sunshine and sharing some peanuts. I was seated on my low folding chair and Spikey was a comfortable bound away eating his peanuts. Spikey is not a quiet nor neat eater. He makes a chattering noise with his teeth when he eats and reminds me of a buzz saw because as he eats a nut, you can see specks flying off from the side of his mouth.

Anyway, after apparently being sufficiently gorged, Spikey took a nut and hopped off on to the garden and scouted around for a nice place to bury the nut. This was always very entertaining. He would wander around, sniffing, and then deduce a prime location via some unknown squirrel wisdom and then proceed to bury the nut. This he does by basically ramming the nut into the soft soil using his upper body strength with his forearms stretched out. He would do this repeatedly, reminding me of a construction worker with a mechanized jack-hammer……rat-atat-tat-tat. Then he would come back to the pile of nuts and repeat the process.

Another interesting observation was that he would actually check if the nut was whole (just like the trained squirrels at Willie Wonka’s Chocholate Factory). If it was not whole or spoiled or chipped, he would eat it. Only complete, viable nuts are buried. This is very much in line with the squirrels’ role as tree planters.

Of course, in good years, a squirrel will plant more nuts than he can consume over winter. During winter and early spring, he will use his keen sense of smell to locate nuts and uncover them and eat them. Contrary to popular belief, he does not find them from memory nor does he keep a pirate’s treasure map as some of us with too much imagination might suggest. Nor does he uncover only his stash of nuts. In fact, squirrels uncover whatever they can find by smell and that is very often a nut buried by some other squirrel.

Finally, spring arrives and many nuts remained buried and forgotten and thus they have a chance to germinate and grow to be the next generation of forest trees. Many thanks to crazy squirrels with a bury a nut compulsion.

Thanksgiving for Comics

on Thursday, November 23, 2006

It came to my attention that this is Thanksgiving weekend for our American friends. A time for gathering the family and stuffing oneself on stuffed turkey and giving thanks for all of God’s blessings. As a tradition which strengthens family ties and reminds us of God amidst our often busy lives, it is to be highly commended. I wish all Americans a happy thanksgiving.

However, the cynic in me cannot help but note that the number one thing Americans should be thankful for was that the Native Americans did not massacre the Mayflower pilgrims when they had a chance. Instead, they even taught the early settlers how to survive winter and introduced them to new foods. In hindsight, a bad decision by the native peoples.

However, it’s not my intention to become all political on this joyful occasion. Instead, I was thinking of thanksgiving which led me to think about turkeys (which by the way was proposed by Benjamin Franklin at one time to be the symbol of the USA . It’s true. Can you imagine instead of the 101st “Screaming Eagles”, we would have the 101st “Clucking Turkeys”? I think in this alternate universe, America would be more peace-loving. It’s harder for turkeys to go to war!!!). From turkeys, my mind wandered to hunting for turkeys for dinner which led me to the great turkey hunt which led me to the comic strip, B.C., which has a great turkey hunt as a recurring theme which led me to think that I am very thankful for the influence of various comic strips in my life which led me to this blog entry. I like to call it lateral thinking but friends call it the wanderings of a nutcase.

Comic strips have been a major source of education in my life. Seriously. The first and most influential was “Peanuts” by Charles Schultz. This was full of wonderful ideas and lessons on philosophy and human psychology. I remember that Charles Schultz once said that there is no humor in happiness which therefore meant Charlie Brown was to suffer a lot in the name of humor from unrequited love, insecurity, a rebellious dog, a losing baseball team, etc. But Charlie Brown was also a lesson in perseverance and hope and a belief that trials make you stronger. Hence the famous quote, ”Good Grief”. There was even a book entitled; “The Gospel according to Peanuts.” Which did a good job of illustrating the good news about Jesus through the thoughts and actions of the Peanuts gang.

Next, I learnt about political systems and beliefs through the work of Johnny Hart in “B.C.” and with his collaboration with Brant Parker in “Wizard of Id”. B.C.’s adorable but clueless cavemen introduced me to the war of the sexes and to sarcastic humor. For a while I went around trying to be the king of sarcasm, then learnt that you made few friends that way. Valuable life lesson. Wizard of Id made me think about despotism, feudalism and other forms of government and how it impacts the people. I remember an episode where the king promises firewood in every home and a chicken in every pot and was surprised that the people were angry until an aide explained that the people would rather have a home and a pot first! Some people have even less than we could imagine.
My favourite quote from Wizard of Id - “If people from Cyprus are called Cypriots, what do they call us citizens of Id?”

The Adventures of Asterix the Gaul, by Goscinny and Uderzo, was the next influential comic. The diminutive Asterix showed that size does not matter but most of all I learnt a lot about Roman and European history as I followed his adventures throughout Europe, Egypt and even the new world. From this, I also learnt to appreciate different cultures and picked up my interest in traveling. Quote from Asterix has to be - Romans: “These Gauls are crazy.” Gauls: “These Romans are crazy.”

Bloom County’s weird assortment or should I say menagerie of animals and humans, by Berke Breathed, was more accessible to me than Doonesbury and allowed me to understand a bit more about U.S. politics and also about big business. I also liked how the strip drew inspiration from a wide variety of forms and topics. Most memorable moment:- Opus to animals being experimented on/tortured in a cosmetics laboratory, "You're not volunteers, are you?"

Next comes, Groo the Wanderer, by Sergio Aragones. The perfect antidote to the macho barbarian archetype like Conan and the Beastmaster. The series focuses on the misadventures of an idiot with only one skill – that is to slay anything. Yet along the way many important social and environmental issues are examined. In one series, Groo lands on an island paradise but due to his ignorance, he begins to upset the balance of nature turning abundance into shortages and leading to distrust between villages, the introduction of fences and finally war. The lesson was that people depend on the intricate balance of nature or biodiversity. Famous Groo saying, “Did I err……again?”

My latest discovery was Bone by Jeff Smith. This has revived my love for good story telling. There is little in this gem that is not good but one highlight is the episode entitled, “The Great Cow Race”. I am proud to be a Bone Collector.

Finally, the Lone Grey Squirrel would like to end with a valuable lesson about squirrels which surprisingly comes from the comic strip, Blondie, where the husband, Dagwood, learns the following from a pet shop owner,” He is nobody’s squirrel. He is his own squirrel.” He could have been speaking about Spikey.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 2 : Han-sur-Lesse

on Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I celebrated my 21st birthday in the company of strangers while stranded in Brussels due to a general strike which paralysed the otherwise efficient public transport and train services. I shared my birthday meal with an unemployed English parole officer, a Canadian Microbiology student and an Irish musician sitting in a restaurant within a relatively deserted Grand Place on account of the rain. I am reminded of this, as this is my 21st blog entry and both are a milestone of sorts.

I enjoyed Belgium very much. The people were friendly and helpful in many languages, that is to say that as a people, they were very impressively multi-lingual. Life, at least in the countryside, is bucolic and slow-paced. The beer was both good in quality and abundant in variety. Belgium may easily have the greatest number of beers in the world. Finally there are the frites which are thick French fries ( I do not support the campaign to call them freedom fries – it’s very immature). Frites are served with a variety of sauces and it’s the sauces that make it particularly memorable.

There were two places in Belgium that stood out in the Lone Grey Squirrel’s little mind. Today, I would like to share about Han-sur-lesse. Located in the Ardennes and near the scene of the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War, even today the painful memories are awaiting in the mass cemeteries of war dead that are maintained in the area. Yet, strangely, I felt at peace there in the midst of the lush, green pine forests.

The main attraction tourist attraction at Han-sur-lesse is the grotto consisting of a cave and underground river. However, the whole atmosphere, the green sights, the sound of water and the smell of pine all contributed to a tranquility of mind and spirit. I arrived late in the afternoon which meant it was too late to visit the caves and I would have to spend the evening there. In fact, the time was well spent sitting on rocking chairs at the Youth Hostel deck, swilling back Belgian beers and swapping travel stories with an English father and his teenage son who were cycling through Europe and a Canadian stained glass craftsman. We drank and talked late into the night as the peaceful darkness of the Ardennes Forest enveloped us.

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The next day was the trip to the caves which was interesting enough with a fair complement of staglatites and staglamites and other rock formations. (How to remember the difference between the two? “tights” come down while “mites” climb up). The highlight of which for me was definitely coming out of the cave by boat on the underground river as it emerged back to the surface. Frequently, there is a mist that forms near the cave exit and the mist hovers over the river making for a very mystical feel. Once again, with the river flowing through the forest, I felt peace, wonderful peace, in my soul.

(Dear reader, blog technology has not advanced sufficiently yet otherwise you would have had a rendition of me singing the last part of the sentence which is italised and in bold. I am actually a very good singer but for best effect, it may help you to just imagine Andrea Bocelli singing it to the tune of an inspirational hymn and reaching a crescendo. Thank you. I am now imagining your applause.)

Defend the Oceans

on Sunday, November 19, 2006

Canada, I love you but lately the Government has been making some really bad decisions on the international environment scene.......decisions that impeach the previously good reputation of the country on these matters. Please wake up and stand for what is right for our world. Remember our children need a world to live in too. May it still be a beautiful and life-sustaining one. As for the oceans, overfishing and damaging fishing techniques have already resulted in much grief and diminished fish stocks around the world. Now is the time to put a stop to these destructive activities. I show this with a heavy heart and a hope that Canada returns to being a "green" nation.

My thanks to for creating these messages.

Stephen and Su Kim; God bless and long life


Stephen & Su Kim
on the occassion of their Marraige (18th November 2006)

Stephen and Su Kim, we are all so happy for you. You are good for each other and you are great together. We wish you a very happy and blessed life together.

It was a night of celebration, a gathering of clans, Malaysian (Peranakan) and New Zealanders (Kiwis). A union of two life-embracing spirits with a shared passion for languages and peoples. The various speeches and emails from a round the world testify to how loved this couple are.

It was a night where languages and cultures mixed freely and happily. English in both Malaysian and Kiwi accents and slangs were heard and even Singlish from our neighbours to the south. Malay with a Peranakan twist was heard too and we were also treated to a good dose of Maori. Finally there was liberal use of chinese "Yam Seng" when the couple were repeatedly toasted by friends and family.

Carrying on with the literary theme. The groom gave a beautiful rendition of a poem he wrote entitled "Cape Richardo" which spoke of his desire to fly to be by his love's side. It was wonderful but way too long for this nutter to remember and report. The bride replied with equal eloquence and shared a traditional Peranakan pantun (poem). Fortunately this traditional poem is short by nature and hence I am able to recall it here;

"Kita belayar, laju, laju,

Menuju ke kota Singapura.

Lupakan layar, lupakan baju,

Asalkan jangan lupakan saya."

In English the poem says; " We are sailing fast, heading for Singapore. You may forget the sail or even your clothes, but never, never forget me." This is in the traditional pantun style where the first two lines tell a story which has little meaning but is followed by two lines that convey the deep message.

Before I end, I must mention my good friend Harriet who was very nervous about giving her speech. It turned out to be warm and humorous. A job well done.

White Surprise

on Friday, November 17, 2006

I was feeling whimsical tonight and was just reflecting on a "few of my favourite things". When quite suddenly, I had an epiphany. I realized that I have a strong preference for things "white" when it comes to food.

Pure Vanilla Ice Cream
Now it cannot be denied that I enjoy almost any food in any colour but if I were to try to give myself a sensual treat, then most of the things I desire are all white. I started with contemplating my favourite ice cream flavour - vanilla, of course. Chocolate is nice. I even like sherbets very much but vanilla is king for ice cream. I always thought that this reflected my predilection to purity; that ice cream was meant to be a pure clean flavor like vanilla and that all other flavors just distract from perfection. At least in this, I have chosen the top flavor which is also the top choice of 29% of the population (see

"Tau Foo Fah" or Soya Bean Curd
served with ginger and pandan flavored syrup

But "white" continues to dominate my other favourite sensual or comfort foods; full cream milk, Ambrosia rice pudding, soya bean curd and soya bean milk. I prefer white chocolate to milk and mocha or dark chocolate flavors. I even discovered while in Spain, a wonderful white, milky drink made from the puree of tiger nuts called Horcata which is served chilled and is wonderfully refreshing with a hint of volatile, aromatic oils.

When Malaysians are abroad, they often miss local foods such as nasi lemak, roti canai, maggi mee noodles and various curries. Strangely, the thing I missed most was soya bean milk. When I had the opportunity to visit Chinatown abroad, I would frequently end up with several liters of the cool white soya bean milk.

I don't have an explanation. Do you? Strangely enough, according to Dr. Alan Hirsch, vanilla lovers are colourful, impulsive, risk takers with high goals and expectations. It seems I am gregarious, easily suggestible, expressive, idealistic and private person. I don't know, Dr. Hirsch, I do not quite recognise myself in that description. If you want to know what Dr. Hirsch thinks of your ice cream flavor choice, then visit

Good night, Ms. Legatt

As we travel through life, we pick up a lot of junk. Not surprising, I am a bit of a pack rat and will not allow things I collect to be put out for a yard sale without a fight. For me, these are more than just items, they are symbols of my life journey. More than things though, we each meet a whole host of people. Some have been a big influence on our lives while others less so but they all touched our lives and were part of the shaping of who we are and what we believe. Some of them taught us great life truths and yet others got us wondering about life.

Tonight, I find my mind traveling through time and space until I find myself sitting by the bedside of Ms. Legatt. My younger self was a thin insecure teenager who found himself thousands of kilometers away from home in a strange and cold place called Brighton, United Kingdom, so as to have the opportunity to study. Once a week, I took part as a volunteer in a community out reach project. My assignment was to visit shut-ins. These are elderly people who are pretty much bed-ridden or house bound. Food is sent to them by Meals-on-Wheels which are run by other volunteers and they get a visit from the community nurse a few times a week. Very often their only other visitors and social contact was with volunteers like myself.

Brighton Pavillion

The truth was that for many of the community volunteers, visiting shut-ins were the least desirable of assignments. There was always the smell of urine or worse. The rooms or apartments were generally unkept and you might be asked to clean mouldy dishes or throw out the rotting garbage. Many felt that the hour spent there was the most boring way to spend 60 minutes.

Not for me. I was able to ignore the lack of hygiene and cleanliness and perhaps I was also alone in a strange land, I was genuinely able to enjoy the fellowship and because of that I was able to learn quite a lot. So I spent many hours visiting and sharing a cup of tea and a cookie with Ms. Legatt at her bedside. Ms. Legatt was pretty much alone in the world. She had no close family. She was diabetic and bedridden with an amputated leg.

However, we made a connection and in her tales and stories, she was a young girl with the world at her feet. She was thrilled to learn that I was Malaysian. It seemed that she spent the best part of her life traveling in the Far East. She was adventurous for her time. She took on a job with the British Foreign Service and left the dreary British shores soon after the end of the Second World War aboard a warship. Her first port of call was in Singapore where she served in the British Administration and took part in the post war rebuilding. I know many British, like Ms. Legatt, were really carrying out their imperial and colonialist duties. Yet, I believe Malaysians inherited a relatively prosperous and peaceful country at independence and in part it was because of the services and sometimes sacrifice of these servants of the setting Empire. So in all sincerity, I wish to say thank you to all of them.

Ms. Legatt spoke of some girlfriends of like mind and spirit. They made Singapore their playground. They partied and attended all the social events. They rubbed shoulders with high society and my eyes opened wide at some of the adventures and hi-jinks that she related that she sweared involved the crown prince, heir to the Sultanate of Johor.

It was a colorful and exciting life. Ms. Legatt was one of the flowers that shone brightly at the twilight of the Empire in one of the most exotic parts of the world at that time. Somehow she never married, eventually came back to Britain and grew old alone. Somehow she was forgotten.

I remember Ms. Legatt tonight and wonder about my own life. How would I be remembered? All my memories, the victories I celebrate, my loves, my friends, my struggles, my fights, what would they mean when I am old. Who would remember? Who would care? What would my life really count for? Why am I pondering these things? Well, I am about the age where I am due to have a mid-life crisis and as one of my friends is prone to say, “it’s right on time.”

Seriously, I think it is good to take stock of our lives from time to time to see if the things that occupy us, whether it is our work, careers, hobbies, friends, dreams, problems really remain as important against the test of time. As for me, I think you lived a full life, Ms. Legatt and you contributed to shaping a great country. Many may have forgotten but I remember and I enjoyed tea, cookie and friendship. Good night, Ms. Legatt, wherever you are.

Playing Music with Food

on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I have raved and given the highest praise to that wonderful, poisonous and yet delicious buah keluak seed but is it possible that there is still something more to this versatile food that I forgot to mention? Yes, indeed. It can be recycled and made into a musical instrument like this rattle which was spotted at the market in Ubud, the cultural and crafts center of Bali. No waste here.

I wonder what other food stuffs could be made into musical instruments. This might be made into an interesting themed menu for a restaurant where ingredients or leftovers from the main courses be later used by the resident band to make sweet melodies for the night's entertainment. It would be great. For me, it would give me a lovely excuse to play with my food.

World Food Spot 2 : Buah Keluak (Peranakan, Malaysia)

on Monday, November 13, 2006

My mother is a Nyonya, which is to say that she is part of that distinctive, historically significant and culturally rich group called the Peranakan ( The Peranakan culture, is a lively blend of Chinese culture with the polyglot of local cultures found in the Straits of Malacca which from the 12th century onwards was a major crossroads of the spices trade. The cuisine is a similar blending of flavours with adaptations to local delicacies, fruits and vegetables. One specialty is the Buah Keluak and this has been for me, an all time favourite since childhood.

It is usually cooked together with chicken or with pork ribs to form a rich, spicy stew which is flavoured with spices and the buah keluak. Buah Keluak or the Keluak Fruit is a very special, geographically limited, rare and unusual ethnic food. It is not a fruit nor is it a nut, although it resembles a nut and is often mistaken as such. Instead it is a very toxic seed from a very toxic fruit of a very toxic tree but when properly treated and cooked, it is ambrosia. Some call it the “truffle of Asia”. I would best describe it as “savoury chocolate”. To be honest, it is like nothing else so any comparison is quite whimsical.

The Black Buah Keluak with Chicken

Buah keluak seeds come from the “football fruit” of the Kepayang tree or Pangium edule which is probably only found in Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia. This forest tree can reach 60 m in height and has thick, waxy broad leaves. Almost every part of this tree and fruit are poisonous and in fact extract from the crushed seeds can be used to make poisoned tipped arrows. The reason for this is that the plant material is rich in cyanide or prussic acid. To prepare the seeds, they are often buried underground coated in ashes for as long as 40 days, then boiled and cleaned. This process should remove the poisons. Visit for some good visuals of this unusual plant and its seeds.

For those who would like to try to cook this dish, I suggest you visit Be warned, it is a lot of work. Once the buah keluak is prepared, a small opening needs to be created by using a cleaver. The buah keluak can then be cooked. The fleshy part should turn soft and black with a strong nutty flavour. Some master chefs insist on extracting the flesh, mixing it with a bit of meat and re-stuffing the flesh back into the seeds. This extra work ensures a more even and consistent flavour.

The cooked dish is served with rice. You would place one or two pieces of meat on a plate and liberally douse the rice with the flavourful sauce. Then take a buah keluak and using a chopstick or fork, extract the flesh from the seed. Mix the flesh with the meat, rice and sauce. Enjoy.

If served with this dish, I could easily consume up to five times my normal intake of rice because it just goes so well together. What makes this such a great culinary experience? 1. Its nutty flavour, 2. Its creamy texture, 3. Its heady aroma, 4. its rarity and uniqueness and 5. its contribution to a rich cultural history. The best way to try this is to visit Malaysia and ask around for a Peranakan restaurant or even better, befriend a Peranakan who knows the recipe and get invited home for dinner. Sorry, there isn’t any easy way to do this but it will be so worthwhile. Hurry, this great dish of my childhood is getting increasingly harder to find with each passing year and because of the rarity of the tree, this will truly remain a regional ethnic dish even in today’s global village.

Celebrating a Love Story

on Thursday, November 09, 2006

I was happy to note that the counter recording the “number of nuts collected for winter”, had reached 100; that is to say, this blog has had 100 visits since it started last month. My thanks to everyone who visited but I wish more of you would leave a comment or note so that this experience could be more interactive. Nevertheless, 100 nuts is a milestone that should appropriately be marked by the telling of a special story from the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel – a Love Story.

That first squirrel autumn, I had many opportunities to observe the comic struggles of our protagonist, Spikey (the everyman squirrel) and the bully, Speedy (the ninja squirrel). Despite, Speedy’s physical advantage, Spikey generally did better than his adversary. Spikey had a good sense of my comings and goings and therefore was more likely to be around when I was inclined to dish out peanuts. Being sympathetic to the under-squirrel, I often sat on my little boardwalk in the garden and while I was there, Spikey was free to eat or hide nuts as he pleased without Ninja interference. However, Spikey was also industrious and innovative. He soon developed a habit of coming by early in the mornings, much earlier than Speedy ever appears, and he will go up to the tiny window which is my eye to the skies for my basement apartment. Then he would rap on the window pane.

“In the morning with eyes still dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

Whether to wake up bright and cheery or succumb to sleep somemore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.`
'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Back to sleep’s call, my eyes closing, restlessly tossing and turning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore
-Behold I saw at the window rapping, a Grey Squirrel that implored;
-'Peanuts! Are there any more?’

(with apologies and acknowledgement to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven)

Anyway, my point before I digress too far, is that for much of that autumn, I only saw the shenanigans of those two squirrels. However, it was my better half, who at that time was not working and therefore had more time to observe the neighbourhood going-ons, that first alerted me to a third squirrel. She had much more red in her fur so that she did not have Spikey’s salt and pepper grey but was more of a golden colour. We assumed it was a “she” because “she” was too pretty to be a guy. Her tail was also very bushy and her fur looked immaculately preened. She was also very shy and would often be seen only in the branches of the nearby maple tree from which she could retreat to the roof and disappear. We named her Loonie on account of her golden colour which reminded us of the Canadian one dollar coin called the Loonie. The reason the Canadian one dollar coin is called a Loonie has nothing to do with squirrels but with another quintessential Canadian animal, the Loon, but that’s a different story.

The lonesome Loon depicted on the Loonie
She looked perfect to play the part of Meg Ryan to Spikey’s Tom Hanks. But would we see the fairytale, Disney-ish, romance develop. At first our observations were unrewarded. There were times when Spikey was at the feeding station and Loonie was in the tree but there seemed to be no interaction. Then one day, my better half called me excitedly to the window. We saw that Spikey had climbed the tree to meet Loonie. His approach seemed very unsure and hesitant. For a while they were just inches apart but did not seem to know what to do next. Then, magic. They reached over and planted a kiss on each others cheek. Then they coyly ran off in opposite directions like giddy teenagers. However, there was no looking back. We would later see Spikey feeding Loonie with nuts and generally fussing over her. Our hero had found his leading lady.

One wonders why Loonie did not end up with Speedy. Scientists argue that when looking for a mate, an animal would seek the strongest or fastest or one with the best qualities for survival. I like to think that Loonie chose Spikey because “he made her laugh”.

LGS Cultural Tour 2: Malaysia – Truly Asia; Concert in the Rainforest

on Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lone Grey Squirrel finds himself in Taman Negara in the midst of some of the oldest rainforest in the world. It is now late at night and it is all dark outside the cabin with only the sounds of cicadas breaking the stillness. I now regret researching for my previous Halloween post on the Banshee of the forests because tonight I find myself outside my comfort zone and in the world of the night creatures.

To distract myself, I want to share with you the strange experience I just had of enjoying one of the best cultural dance performances I had ever seen here in this 130 million year old forest. I am here to participate in this year’s Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference or APECO and tonight the State Government of Pahang hosted a dinner for participants and put on a great cultural show with their very own state groomed cultural troupe.

Malaysia is truly a microcosm of so many Asian and even non-Asian cultures; a legacy of being a major player, destination and crossroads in the spice trade routes of the 12-19th century and the rich and diverse indigenous peoples of the land. This is something that I have always been particularly proud of about Malaysia.

However, I have been far from proud or impressed by most of the Malaysian cultural troupes that carry out performances in line with Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism’s tagline of Malaysia – truly Asia. Most of the performances are lackluster and sometimes even embarrassing. When a good friend from the UK visited recently, I took him to one of the more famous regular cultural performance and dinner venues in Kuala Lumpur ( and there are not many), but even there the food outshined the performance and the food really was not that great.

But tonight, I saw a superior performance and it made me wonder what made the difference. For one thing, the dances were all well researched and accompanied with an explanation of its meaning and its origin, including descriptions of the cultural influences that helped to shape the dance. This understanding helped to engage the audience but also was reflected in a sense of pride in the performers.

Representation of the Sewang dance of the Orang Asli (aborigines)

Malaysia's Indian Heritage

The Tenun Dance showing off the Fine Weaving of Pahang

The Chinese Heritage

The next special ingredient was the attitude of the dancers. They were proud of what they were doing and of their culture and they appeared to be having fun. This is very important as a plastic or fixed smile always puts me off when viewing cultural dances.

The choreography and choice of dances are also important. The troupe tonight chose dances that very effectively showcased a very wide variety of the different cultural influences. I was pleased that they included dances from the indigenous peoples and the people of the forest. Unfortunately, very often they are forgotten or left out because of bigotry or a strange ill-placed shame some Malaysians feel for what they consider the more “backward” segments of the Society. Tonight’s troupe had none of that nonsense and celebrated the contributions of all these communities to the rich cultural canvas that is Malaysia – truly Asia. Tonight, we celebrated the cultures of the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the aboriginal peoples, the Thai, the Arab traders, the Peranakan or Nyonya amongst others including local cultural traditions.

Celebration was another key concept that made a difference. Again the troupe should be commended that they chose songs and dances that were lively, happy and celebrated life and invited the listener to also give thanks for being alive. When one has only got about 30 minutes to do a performance, I believe it is time squandered if many of the song choices were melancholic or too self-important. The participant should feel encouraged to tap his/her feet, clap his/her hands or even get up and dance.

A fantastic overall performance. The Lone Grey Squirrel enthusiastically approves it but wishes to advise Ministry of Tourism to drop the obligatory song finale of “Malaysia – truly Asia” because it just is not a good song. Some songs just do not work. I leave you with a snippet of another Government commissioned song from a recycling campaign;

“Recycle, Recycle
Show that you have taste,Eliminate your waste!”

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