My Other Elf

on Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Possessing a rare combination of wisdom and humility, while serenely dominating your environment you selflessly use your powers to care for others.

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Galadriel is a character in the Middle-Earth universe.

Take the quiz and discover your other self.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Oooooh! This is so much better than the dumb names I got from the "name generators". Thanks to Just Jump In for posting this quiz site on her blog.

World Food Spot 5: Horchata, the Elixir of Tiger Nuts

on Monday, January 29, 2007

I read about it in some travel book and was intrigued by the way the writer raved about it. So when I had an opportunity to visit Valencia, Spain, I was on the look out for this mysterious white drink. At first, it looked like I might be disappointed. This drink is popular served ice-cold in the summer and Valencian’s like their horchata made relatively fresh. I was there in winter which was the wrong season for it. Almost at the end of my stay, I found a couple of places that still kept some from the last summer. Although the thought me mad to request the drink in winter, they obliged and served it to me. I imbibed. It was quite unlike anything I had drunk before. This squirrel was bowled over, which I suppose makes it a four paws-up recommendation.

“Horchata” today, is used in reference to several vegetable beverages made from ground almonds, rice, barley or tiger nuts. The name is believed to be derived from the Valencian “orxata”, which itself may have arose from “ordiata” which means “made from ordi or barley. Mexican and Central American horchata is normally based on rice and may be flavored with almond paste, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, orange or lime. The version from Ecuador uses ground sesame instead of almonds while the Salvadorean version includes also cocoa and the Morro seed.

It is clear that the drink in the Americas was brought there be the conquering Spanish. The Spanish in turn were introduced to the drink by the Muslim Moors who controlled Valencia from the 8th to 13th Century. The drink in Valencia was derived from tiger nuts.
The practice of making drinks from tiger nuts is actually believed to have started from the region of Chuf, Sudan where tiger nuts or “chufas” were cultivated.

King James I of Aragon (the Conqueror) captured and liberated the city of Valencia from the Moors on the 28th September 1238. Legend says that since capturing cities was a thirsty business, soon after the King sought liquid refreshment and he was offered a milky beverage by an Arab maiden. He asked the name of the drink and the maiden replied that it was the milk of chufas. Impressed by the refreshing qualities of the drink, he is reported to have replied “Això is not llet, això is OR, XATA” (“This is not milk. This is gold, girl.”). Which is how legend explains the name Orxata de xufes (Horchata de Chufas), which is now used to describe the drink made from tiger nuts.

With regards to an earlier post in which I had mentioned horchata, Tai asked me “what were tiger nuts?” I did not know. Well, I looked it up and surprise, surprise, they’re not nuts at all. Tiger nut, Cyperus Sculentus, is a vigorous plant with leafs in rosettes. They are actually a kind of tuber, like a potato. Most of these tubers are grown today under the strict control of the Regulating Council of the Denomination of Origin, Chufa de Valencia. Only a small group of 16 villages produce the tiger nuts and the village of Alboraia is well known for the quality of the tiger nuts.

Why are they called tiger nuts? Well, they do resemble small nuts. I would like to think that they were named “tiger nuts” on account that these small nuts pack an impressive taste with a kick in it. Try it if you have the chance in eastern Spain. See if you would agree with King James I that it is liquid gold.

Tale of 2 Fast Food Conversations

on Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's been a while since my last post. I have been working very hard this last week as opposed to hardly working which is my preferred state. I am still a little zombie-fied so I thought I would start with an easy post about two conversations I overheard while waiting in the wrong (meaning slow) queues at two different fast-food joints.

Conversation 1

This last week, I have been sleeping late and waking up early and degenerated to picking up breakfasts at the local fast food joint before rushing off to work. It was here that I witnessed this conversation between two middle-aged sisters and a sweet young thing of a server at the counter.

SYT: "Good morning, can I help you?"

Sister 1: " I want fish. Do you have fish? Do you serve fish in the morning? Where is your menu?"

Sister 2: " Their menu is up on the wall, see? You have only 2 choices. Set A or Set B." (actually, there are 8 choices in the menu on the wall but they look at only the nearest two.)

Sister 1: "that's no use. There's no fish. Why don't you serve fish in the mornings?"

SYT: "Actually, we do serve fish."

Sister 2 :" Then why isn't it on the menu?"

SYT : " is." (trying to point to the other choices on the wall).

Sister 1: "Never mind, if there is fish, I want fish."

SYT: " Would that be just the fish burger or the set?"

Sister 1: " What's in the set?"

SYT: " As it says on the menu, it consists of fish burger, hash browns and a coffee or tea."

Sister 1: "How much is that?"

SYT: " RM 7.00"

Sister 1: " How much if I order each of that separately?"

SYT (exasperated, she lies) : "It's the same price."

Sister 1: "In that case, I'll have the set."

Sister 2 : "I'll have set B."

Sister 1: "But there is no fish in set B.'

Sister 2: "I don't want fish. You want fish."

SYT: "Would you like coffee or tea with your set?"

Sister 1: "Which is costlier?"

SYT (voice creeping up to high pitch, speaks through gritted teeth): "It's a set. They're the same price."

This goes on for a long time, to the dismay of all queued behind them. Later, they actually go back with their receipt and asked why the receipt merely says set, condiments and drinks and asked if the receipt would actually read fish burger, hash browns and coffee. It's a tough life behind the counter of a fast food joint in Kuala Lumpur.

Conversation 2

This happened when a group of us was visiting in Singapore and we had arrived early for a meeting and decided to catch a quick breakfast at a fast food joint. Our server was a young man with a dour expression and dark sleepy eyes.

Me: "I'll have set C, please."

Server: " Yes, sir. Will that be tea or coffee.'

Me: "Tea please."

Server: "that'll be SIN $5.00, thank you."

Friend : " I'll also have set c but can you just give me water."

Server: "Set C comes with tea or coffee."

Friend: "I just want water.'

Server: " Then, sir, you have to order the burger and hash browns ala' carte and I can give you mineral water. that will be SIN $ 10.00."

Friend: "What? No. I don't want mineral water. I'll drink tap water. Just give me set C but no coffee, no tea, just water."

Server: " But , sir, set C comes with coffee or tea."

Friend: " I cannot take caffiene. It gives me gastric."

Me: " Just punch in set C, but just give him water instead of tea.'

Server: "A set is a set. We do not allow changes to a set."

Friend (exasperated) : "forget it. let's just forget it."

Me: "Wait a minute. Just listen. Give him a set C. But when you make the tea, can you pour the hot water into the cup but don't place the tea-bag into the water. Just leave the tea-bag on the tray. Can you do that?"

Server: " Of course I can do that. We aim to please."

And so, my friend got his water with set C and an extra tea-bag on the side. It's a tough life on the customer side of the counter in a fast food joint in Singapore.

Six Weird Things About Me

on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

There is no rest for the wicked. I am being punished for making fun of the most powerful man in the world (see previous post). Claudia has tagged me to do this. Okay, Claudia, YOU asked for it. Here it is......


1. SQUIRRELS: First the obvious. I am obsessive about squirrels in general and grey squirrels in particular. I have not dressed up like a squirrel and climbed trees but it may be just a matter of time.

2. FOOD: I like “white food”. Favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla. Favorite non-alcoholic beverage is soya milk which is white in color. My comfort food includes full cream milk, Ambrosia rice pudding and soya bean curd, all of which are, you guessed it, white. I prefer white chocolates to dark. I even discovered a wonderful exotic white drink in Spain called Horcata which is made from tiger nuts.

3. TV : I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best conceived, written and acted shows ever. I know the show has its fans but most of my friends who know me as a mostly serious, semi-over-weight, middle aged guy are flabbergasted when I extol the virtues of the economic use of words in Buffy or even worse when I sing songs from Buffy the musical. I am also reduced to tears by some of the more poignant episodes.

4. GRAVEYARDS : Regular readers will already know about my interest in spooky graveyards, tombs and catacombs. We can’t all be Egyptologists and discover tombs in pyramids. I get my kicks of learning history through the stories of the departed.

5. BANANA : I am a banana. That’s what they call Chinese who cannot speak Chinese or whose English is better than their Chinese mother tongue. i.e. yellow on the outside but white inside. To be fair, I can speak some Cantonese but only to the extent of being able to order food in a restaurant which is something I can do even in French and German. It’s one of my regrets that I did not practice it enough when I was young and now have lost its use.

6. MIRACLE. I’m not sure it qualifies as weird but it is unusual. I used to suffer from recurring lower back spasms and occasional slipped discs. When an episode occurred, I could be incapacitated for a very long time. The problem was that its, frequency had increased over the years from once or twice a year to once every month. After a particularly bad episode that left me paralyzed in pain for 3 hours on a stair landing, an X-ray was done and the doctors told me I had scoliosis. My right hip was an inch higher than my left. Over the years, my spine twisted to the right, resulting in a rounded back, flat feet and chronic pain. The doctors taught me some exercises to help control the pain but warned that it was likely to progressively get worse as I aged. From then on, I lived with chronic back pain with an occasional paralyzing spasm every few months. However, about 5 years later someone from church who has a ministry of praying for the sick had just given a talk and offered to pray for all who were at the meeting. As she prayed for me, God acted despite my own lack of faith and I felt my bones realign and immediately the pain was gone. By the end of the week, my wife noticed that I had developed the small of the back which had been missing for years. Most importantly, I have no pain since then (7 years ago) except one occasion after lifting an extremely heavy weight improperly. Today, I am pain free and no longer have flat feet. Praise God.

I am going to tag dave, le nightowl, squirrel and nancyle.

My Stand In

on Monday, January 22, 2007

Dear friends,

It had to happen. I am swamped under with work and there's no way I can spend time blogging these few days. I work,work, work and work and all I get is peanuts. Anyway, when I am in such dire straits, I am so pleased to have my big brother, President Bush to stand in for me. Please treat him with the same kindness you showed to my recent poem and to Rodney the Rat.

Night Market

on Sunday, January 21, 2007

Markets are another favorite place to visit when I travel. I feel that a visit to a market is the quickest, easiest and one of the most enjoyable ways of immersing oneself in to the pulse of the daily lives of a city or town. Here you rub shoulders with the local people going about their daily chores and activities of living. Here you get to see them raw, natural and real. You also get to see, smell, touch and if you are lucky, taste some of the local cuisine, specialities and fruits.

Today, I invite you for a short tour of my local night market which is held on Sunday evenings where market vendors take over several busy roads and set up their stalls and sell their wares. Most of the stalls will sell vegetables and fruits but poultry, meat and fish are also available. Another major section of the market will sell street or hawker food. Also available are hardware, homeware, clothing and even pirated VCDs and DVDs. The last two clearly are modern additions to the night market's range of products.

Here you can see a typical fruit stall. This one happens to be selling the green coloured starfruit and the red-coloured rambutan.
The starfruit is a refreshing, juicy fruit which can be very sweet but can also be occasionaly sour. If cut in cross-section, it is star-shaped - hence its name.
The rambutan is a hairy fruit. Once you peel the skin, you will find revealed a sweet firm translucent flesh surrounding a woody seed. This flesh is very sweet and has been described as a firmer version of lychee.

Vegetables aplenty. Starting underneath the man's basket and moving clockwise we have; a local form of lettuce, a local form of sweet leeks, green chillis, red chillis, okra or ladies fingers and round cabbages.

More vegetables and fruits. In the foreground, we have the brinjal which is similar and yet distinct from the eggplant behind it. Also in the picture are some local corn, chillis, cucumbers, four-angled beans, pineapples, carrots and one other item that I rather embarrassingly cannot remember its name.

Did I mention that you can also find flowers including exotic orchids like the one here?

There is also all kinds of hawker food representing the multi-cultural mix that is Malaysia. This includes Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai food. It can be rice, noodle or buns. It can be fried, barbequed, steamed or boiled.

In this picture, you can see the famous "Fatman Steamboat" which is a buffet on wheels. You select from the spread of food provided, place the skewered food into boiling broth and cook it yourself. When cooked, remove, dip in sauce and consume.

By now, as you leave the market, you would have incredible will-power not to be leaving with bags of produce or a plateful or two of food securely in your tummy. See you again at the market next Sunday.

Winter Sanctuary

on Saturday, January 20, 2007

Photocredit: travelandtransitions

Wherever I have been in this world, I have always tried to find a special place, a sanctuary that I can retreat to and be quiet, alone with my thoughts. It is important to me to have such a place. It does not matter what my state of mind is, it will always be improved by a visit here. When I am troubled and burdened, I will come to this island of calm, reassuringly unchanged and unchanging, unfazed by the problems of life and find I can lay my worries out and discover God's counsel. If I am happy, I find my joy and thanksgiving amplified.

I recently asked "Just Jump In" to share about her sanctuary or quiet place and she had a very nice and cosy one. It was indoors which is perfect when the winter winds are blowing and ice storms are causing havoc. Generally, most of my sanctuaries are out in nature where I can commune with the sky, the water, the earth and the life around. However, that really was not possible or comfortable at -40 degrees Celsius.

When I studied in Ottawa, Canada, I was in need of such a sanctuary in winter which was protected from such extreme elements. Otherwise, I might strike a medatative pose in a park and as I fade into comatose, wonder if it will only be in Spring when they realise my frozen form was not a park ornament.

I was pleased and surprised to find my winter sanctuary in the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. Now the art pieces are all very interesting and pretty but it was the courtyards in the centre of the building which were my prized discoveries. In particular, there was a water court and a green court, for want of better names.

Photocredit: smirk101

I am a sucker for water. Someone once pointed out to me that almost 90 percent of my photographs had some body of water in it. The water court had slowly rippling water. The sound of it is as peaceful, soothing and stress draining as anything I know. People throw coins into it and that just makes it a bit different and interesting each visit. It could only have been better if they would let me wiggle my toes in the water but I believe such behavior is frowned upon. Anyway, I could lose myself for hours, listening to the flowing water, watching the ripples and the patterns of the water flowing across the glass.

Photocredit: sdelavoya

Then there was the "green" court which to me was like a meadow of wildflowers meeting the edge of a verdant, dark but friendly forest. Green is the most soothing color for the eyes and this place was green in abundance especially when compared to the grey skies outside. The green though was contrasted with the reds of the flowers which spoke of the promise of spring and eternal re-birth. It was peaceful, soothing and yet as primeaval as life itself.

Photocredit: Philip Greenspun
If you ever get the chance to go to the National Art Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, by all means enjoy the fine art collection but save some time to visit these courts. I hope what I have tried to explain here will be self-evident to you and you will come away recharged and with new zest.

Malaysia Floods and the Clock Ticks

on Thursday, January 18, 2007

West Malaysia has been hit by floods for the last two weeks. Some 20 people have died and an estimated 100,000 have been evacuated to temporary shelters. Both in extent of damage and in surface area affected, it is being called the worst flood in 100 years but it may well be the worst flood on record. Much of the southern state of Johor is flooded and many parts of neighbouring Pahang as well.

The floods were due to extremely heavy and prolonged rains in combination with high tidal levels at the coast which preventd the flood waters from disappating into the sea. In the opinion of this observer, it is no coicidence that this is happening in 2007, the year climatologists
believe will prove to be the hottest year on record for the whole world. It is another predictable weather event associated with climate change.
The economic cost will be high. Immediate damage costs is estimated to be at least Ringgit 100 million. Another Ringgit 500 million has been pledged to help businesses recover. Palm oil production, one of the main sources of income for the country has been down 30% since November.
Disease is the next concern. Much of the environmental ills in Malaysia is rearing its head during this crisis including its polluted rivers with untreated sewage and open landfills. For these reasons, outbreaks of waterborne diseases is a concern. Already 2 have died and another 5 others taken ill by the relatively rare rat urine fever or leptospirosis.
Neighbouring Singapore is also experiencing flooding but not to the extent and severity of the Malaysian floods and many people are asking why. In my opinion, the major contributing factor has to be the state of Malaysian rivers and drainage canals. Due to lack of protection of watersheds from logging and development, we get rapid runoff during rains causing rivers to swell quickly. The rivers are also chocked with sediment from hill developments which affect their ability to cope with extra rainfall. Lack of river basin management also causes the rivers to be choked with solid waste.
Another contributing factor on the Malaysian side is the loss of the mangroves which when present can act as a buffer, reservoir for flood water and reduce the impact of tidal levels.
Coincidentally, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted by scientists on Wednesday the 17th January 2007 to 11.55 pm, an advance of two minutes towards Doomsday. This symbolic clock has been maintained since 1947 to show how close man comes to destruction. This was the 18th time the clock has been adjusted over the years, both forwards and backwards. In the past, the main concern was nuclear war.
On this occassion, the proliferation of countries like North Korea with nuclear capability was one reason for adjusting the clock but also for the first time, climate change was the major factor.
Cosmologist and mathematician Stephen W. Hawking said global warming has eclipsed other threats to the planet, such as terrorism. "Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people," Hawking said. "Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global warming rather than the war on terror."

"We are transforming, even ravaging the entire biosphere. These environmentally driven threats -- threats without enemies -- should loom as large as did the East-West divide during the Cold War era," said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science.
We may have already entered the Day After Tomorrow.

Global Warming ..........Tempers Flaring

on Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Global Warming ........and it's getting ugly at the polar caps. Tempers are flaring and mindless voilence is on the increase as captured in this video footage.

Do your part to fight Global Warming. Listen to the Wombat.

Romance at the Speed of Light

on Monday, January 15, 2007

Recently, Dave, managed to dig up an old advertisement poster where the Canadian Government tried to encourage women to go west and get married with statements like “anything in skirts stands a chance”. It of course reminded me of how different things are today. Women, for one would not stand for this kind of malarkey. We have all grown more mature as a global culture and are better educated on issues like etiquette, equality, respect and commitment. Yeah, right (sarcasm).

In today’s mad rush of living, is there time for love, romance and family? Many people are finding it hard to cope. Some caring governments are once again entering the fray to help out and surely the award for the most “caring” government goes to Singapore.

Singaporean professionals are too busy spending more hours than there are in a day, just to achieve the minimum 5 C’s required to enter the dating game. How are the poor dears ever going to find a match and get married? The super-caring Singapore Government has been in a huff and a puff over the fact that fewer citizens were getting married and many of them later in life. Even when married, the couples were not productive. According to statistics for 2002, Singaporean women give birth to 1.37 babies in a lifetime, down from 1.87 in 1990. Since a replacement level of 2.1 is required to keep a country’s natural population stable, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong elevated baby-making to a national priority. The concern was that the declining fertility rate would lead to economic crisis, increased security risk and political instability.

With admirable determination, the Singaporeans took action on bachelors and bachelorettes. In 1984, the Working Committee on Marriage and Procreation was formed with the task of increasing the birth-rate. Figuring that Singaporeans respond well to financial incentives, they introduced the “baby bonus’ incentives. I do not have figures to show how successful this program was.

This did not solve the issue of fewer and later marriages. Thus the Social Development Unit or SDU was formed which came out with 70 recommendations for increasing baby production. SDU was to succeed where earlier efforts failed because they would tackle issues like dating and matchmaking because as was said earlier, hardworking Singaporeans do not have time for such distractions. SDU’s efforts have earned them the nickname of Single, Desperate and Ugly.

Not swayed by such popular opinion, SDU went on to implement their plan which included compulsory dating courses in the first year of Universit, the “Love Boat Cruises” and the “Love Plane Flights” which include on-board lectures on seduction. The latter two, were subsidized holidays for singles and I believe, if any couple ended up getting married, the fare for the holiday was reimbursed.

Nowadays, Single, Desperate and Ugly hides behind their campaign brand of “Romancing Singapore” which organizes state-sponsored matchmaking events like speed dating (e.g. meet 6 guys/gals in 60 minutes), rock climbing for couples (an opportunity to get sweaty), love boat river race and midnight walks, just to name a few.

SDU produced an official eight-page guidebook called "When Boy Meets Girl! The Chemistry Guide” which teaches busy engineers and IT nerds how to court a girl, where to go, and what to do on a date.
Don't you hate it when
the chemistry's all wrong?

Singapore even has its own celebrity love guru, Dr. Wei, who also is known as Dr. Love. Dr. Love runs love cruises, Baby Planing Camps and was planning in 2004 to do an "edutainment" reality TV show called “Dr. Love’s Super Baby-Making Show”. This never materialized, perhaps because it went too far for “prudish” officials, despite Dr. Love’s assurance that it would be done very clinically. Hmmm, very romantic indeed.

And has all this government plotting worked? In 2003, Durex did a sexual habits survey amongst 34 nations and Singapore ranked last for the second consecutive time. With Singaporeans reported having sex less than 8 times per month on average or 96 times per year. For the curious, it was the Hungarians, fortified with spicy paprika that took first place with 152 rolls in the hay per year.

Alas, so sad to see the fine efforts of Single Desperate and Ugly produce such poor results. Perhaps the expert readers in the blogosphere can give some advice on how we can avoid a movie entitled, “The Last of the Singaporeans”.

"I am a Satire, yes?"

Ida Wished Me Well

The Wonderful Ms. Ida McBeth

Serendipity is the act of accidentally finding something wonderful. Not too long ago, I found myself with a mixed group of people wandering the streets of Kansas City on a dark, cold autumn night. I have to admit that I did not know much about Kansas City and what little I knew was gleaned from travel books just days before I arrived. I heard they had a Jazz Museum but was disappointed to learn that my group’s itinerary did not enable us to visit the museum. Our group had one night on the town and I was determined to make it a musical one.

The problem was that none of us knew where to go. As we walked, though, we came across an establishment called Jardines. We went in hoping for dinner and music but the place was packed and the waitress told us it was standing room only or an hour wait for a table. The rest of the group did not want to wait and we all left.

After further aimless wanderings and differing opinions and suggestions, I told the group, I wanted to go back to the Jardines and take my chance with the waiting instead of wandering blindly. Only Tracy said she wanted to do the same and so we left the group on the sidewalk still debating their options.

We scurried back to the Jardines and to our surprise, the waitress told us straight off that there was a table for two available for dinner but warned it was a bit loud as it was actually next to the stage and by the loudspeakers. We took it and the position could not be better. These were front row seats. When the guest singer took her seat and started singing, she was practically spitting in our food. It was difficult to hold a conversation except during the interludes but it did not matter as we were here for the music.

They announced that Ms. Ida McBeth was taking the stage. I had no idea who she was at that time but she, her music and the Jardines would be my serendipitous discovery of the trip. She amazed us both with her rich vocals and her range of music genres including jazz, blues, pops, show tunes, R & B and even gospel. We did not at all mind her spitting in our food. Close up we could enjoy the emotions and expressions that lit up her face as she sang. During the intermissions was when the locals, told me that they were very proud of their Ida and many felt she was the best singer in town.

I had a chance to talk to Ms. McBeth, take her photo, and get a signed autographed copy (“Wish You Well! Ida”) of her CD “Special Requests” in which I just love her version of “I can’t make you love me” The Jardines was a warm and friendly place too. The fact that I cannot remember the food merely shows how enraptured I was with the place, people and the music. From now on, Kansas City is music city for me and the lucky place where I got to learn about the wonderful Ida McBeth. The locals say, “Come prepared to be Ida-lized”.

Kansas City - Alive with Music at the Mall

Looking for Poetry in All the Wrong Places

on Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dear friends,

I know many of you are far more literate , knowledgable and well-read than I am. That is just a statement of fact which I know from reading and learning about the arts and literature from other blogs and even comments posted. Unfortunately, I may have spent my youth unwisely and sought to learn about the world and about the arts from the wrong sources. See below.

Bloom County Poetry by Berke Breathed

I used to write poetry when I was only one third as old as I am now which is a long time ago. I have not written since and on top of that I cannot be better than my teacher which happens to be a ficticious comic strip penguin who sucks at poetry. Nevertheless, I started this blog to help my rigid, analytical scientific side to get to know again, the carefree, emotional and artsy side. So for the first time, in 27 years, I've written a poem. I hope you will treat it with as much kindness as you showed Rodney the Rat.

Return of the Poet: First Flight

As if arising from slumber deep, the poet wakes
To heed a clarion of high calling
With wild anticipation, the soul doth shake
For with pen on paper, its secrets outpouring.

What treasure long hidden and held secure,
Should now be returned to light
What joys revived, grow all the more
Re-lived in prose and given flight

Should I with abandon, indulge in memories
Of love’s wonders in the flush of youth
Perhaps recall happy moments in life’s journeys,
Or the pain in learning life’s truths.

No, for tonight, my heart seeks to sing a different song
Of simply playing in my Father’s garden
Climbing to tops of mountains, to watch a new dawn
With mists arising from emerald Eden.

Before long, the birds and insects join in chorus,
To welcome the sun’s warming rays.
I, in turn, praise God for the world He made us.
And hope to honor Him, all my days.

For thought it may seem that I sit all alone,
High above the waking world,
In these moments with God, I am most not alone,
These moments more precious than gold.

We Have Been Warned

on Saturday, January 13, 2007

Inconvenient truth remix

World Scientists' Warning to Humanity
18 Nov, 1992.

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

1.1 The Environment
The environment is suffering critical stress:

1.1.1 The Atmosphere
Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests and crops.

1.1.2 Water Resources
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40% of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and ground water further limits the supply.

1.1.3 Oceans
Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste -- some of it toxic

1.1.4 Soil
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive Land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded -- an area larger than India and China combined -- and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.

1.1.5 Forests
Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.

1.1.6 Living Species
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.

Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain -- with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe -- but the potential risks are very great.

Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.
Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threat.

1.2 Population
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.

2 Warning
We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

2.1 What we must do
Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on.
We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to third world needs small scale and relatively easy to implement.
We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.
We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war -- amounting to over $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required -- a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convince reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists -- natural, social, economic, political;
We require the help of the world's business and industrial leaders;
We require the help of the worlds religious leaders; and
We require the help of the world's peoples.
We call on all to join us in this task.

Prominent Individuals among more than 1500 Signatories

14 Good Ones

on Thursday, January 11, 2007

This is where I proposed 15 years ago

Tuesday, 9th of January, 2007. It's early in the morning and I am lying in bed with my thoughts still in slumberland where I am dancing with sugarplum fairies. All of a sudden, my wife pounces on top of me and when I open my eyes a crack, I see her smiling face (she can look very cherubic at times, the picture of innocence) and she chirps, "What day is it?"

I wake up with all alarm bells ringing. My eyes dart around the room looking for clues. Birthday? No. Ummm. Ummm. "Happy Anniversary!", I venture and am rewarded with a kiss. Yea! Got it right.

My wife and I have been blessed with 14 years of maritial bliss. I thank God for guiding us through and blessing us all those years and providing friends to help us in our life journey together. I look forward to growing old together.

We celebrated with a meal at the fancy Sudu Restaurant in the Kuala Lumpur Hilton. It is a nice place with friendly staff and we felt very at ease. The Sudu concept is that you order a main meal but starters and dessert is available from a eclectic buffet spread. Lobster was available but I decided to go for the beef which was served with truffle sauce. I had never, never tried truffle and was curious. I was a little disappointed when the beef arrived but there was nothing physically recognisable as a truffle on it. My wife being more socially confident than me, asked the waiter about it and he confirmed that the truffle had been mashed into the sauce. However, he was kind enough to return from the kitchen with two thin slivers of truffle in oil, just for me. Once again, I was blessed to have a wife that complimented me so well and made us a winning combination.

About the truffles, nice texture and aroma and taste but I am still amazed that it is such a costly condiment. The funny thing is if you explain to a Malaysian what a truffle is and you mention that pigs love it - it puts them off straight away cause in our culture, pigs are considered filthy and what pigs love cannot be very good.

Anyway, a nice dinner, a pleasant evening and we are keeping our love alive and exciting. All seems well in the world tonight.

Unusual Articles in Local News

on Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Crime and Punishment
By the Crime Beat Reporter

Young Rodney awaited the Hanging Judge’s judgment with baited breath. The evidence against him was overwhelming; CSI officers determined that his stool samples reeked of sour cream and onions, his blood showed unhealthy levels of salt and preservatives consistent with having chewed on plastic and consuming large amounts of commercially available potato chips, and finally, he was apprehended while trying to break-in and return to the scene of the crime.

The accused in the Docks.

His court appointed lawyer tried to protest on grounds of entrapment since a rat trap was used and baited with meat. But the Hanging Judge would hear none of it. Rodney tried to invoke sympathy, using his large round eyes to good effect and twitching his nose whiskers. Finally, the verdict was handed down ……..GUILTY on charges of pooping and stealing and eating junk food.

The judge relented to the pleas of the jury and the public and decided not to hand out the maximum penalty of death by execution. His judgment on this sad case of teenage delinquency read as follows;

“Rodney Rat, that you are guilty of the charges against you, there is no doubt and it has been established in this court. However, as severe and as serious these crimes are, I have been petitioned on your behalf to look at the extenuating circumstances. It appears you grew up living off the scraps from the restaurants; it was a tough neighborhood where you were always bullied by larger ruffian rats. Your mother disappeared one night and you decided to move to the suburbs where you began your life of crime. It will be noted that you were down on your luck and had recently been evicted three times. Some character witnesses said that you were a product of a deprived environment. It is therefore the judgment of this court that you will be rehabilitated by relocation into a better, richer and more affluent neighborhood, where it is hoped the better environment will enable you to turn from crime and make an honest living in their garbage cans. If, however, you return to crime, at least you will be stealing from the filthy rich and not hard working citizens dependent on their junk food for solace. If you never want to appear before this court again, then take this chance and from now on steal only from the rich who won’t even notice it’s gone!!”

Rich Neighborhood Rocked by Strange Incidents
By City Beat Reporter

Residents of the ultra-rich and exclusive gated community of Bayu Angkasa are demanding the police investigate the strange incidents of the night of the 8th January 2007. The whole thing started when a strange car was seen circling the area after midnight. The car was very conspicuous as it had just been raining heavily and there was almost no one else out on the road. The guards at the guardhouse notified the police at 12.15am but by then the car had disappeared round the corner.

One resident with insomnia was looking out of his balcony window when he noticed the car stop by the side of the road. He later reported that he saw a figure come out of the car and took what appeared to be a cage from the passenger side of the car. The witness said that although it was dark, he was sure that some large animal was released from the cage and there were several flashes of light and then the car was driven off. He said he felt a chill down his spine and wondered if he had just witnessed a black magic ritual in which some magical animal had been released to haunt the housing complex.

This reporter also found another resident who said that she heard from someone who heard from someone else who also saw the incident and that person was sure that the driver had thrown a body into the drain. She insists that a search should be done on all drains.

The car was driven off at speed and the driver mad good his escape even as the police sirens could be heard in the distance. The final twist in this story comes from an old man walking his dog. This witness saw the car fly down the hill and into town. He swears that as the car flashed passed him, he could see that the driver was wearing a mask – like the Lone Ranger and shouted something that sounded like “Muhahahaha”. Police dismissed the witness as a unreliable drunk.

Until the matter has been resolved and investigated, the police urge calm and also for residents to stop spreading rumours of two small dark beady eyes peeping in on them at the windows.

Rich Gated Community of Bayu Angkasa

Alledged Site of Release of Beady eyed animal

1,000th Visitor – You May Already be a Winner!

on Monday, January 08, 2007

My, my, my. Sometime during the 8th of January 2007, just slightly under three months since this blog opened its pages to the world, it received its 1,000th visitor. Was it you? Did you drop in to find the counter saying “1,000 nuts collected for winter”? Then, it was you!

In Malaysia, such landmark events like being the 100,000th person to sit on the Kuala Lumpur new monorail might be celebrated with the award of a prize to that special person. It might even be a Kancil city car. Before you think that it’s a major windfall, you might want to check the car out.

Well, you know, I have no way of verifying whether you are that person. However, my post title could still be correct. You may already be a winner, having won something somewhere else but…. I cannot help you. Thanks for dropping by.

I am in the position of providing a “reward” to a different visitor. Over the last 2 weeks, my wife and I have laid in bed at night and when I wasn’t typing away on my laptop, we heard the cute sounds of the pitter-patter of little feet. It was when the owner of those “pitter-pattering” feet tried to build a nest behind our water cooler that we decided that this visitor had over-extended his visiting rights.

I refer to Rodney, a fine specimen of the Asian black rat (Rattus rattus domesticus) or the domestic rat. It is so called because it does little household chores like chewing through food containers, rubbish bags and steals tissue paper to tidy up its own nest. This is completely different from the habits of the Malaysian jungle rats, some of which can be as long as 2 feet. Jungle rats are not domesticated. They run wild. The jungle is their realm. They know where to find food in the unforgiving jungle. Of course if they can mug a naïve camper and relieve him of his dehydrated food packet or bags of rice, they have been known not to pass the opportunity by.

Why Rodney? Well, Rodney Rat sounds quite distinguished and I am sure we are not able to pronounce the name Mrs. Rat gave her enterprising son. Anyway, we laughed to ourselves when we evicted Rodney from our water cooler. We giggled when we evicted him from the laundry drawer and we smirked when we kicked him out of the boiler cupboard which he had elaborately padded with stolen tissue papers. However, patience was wearing thin when he began to poop all over the place (obviously not as domesticated as we would like). The last straw was when Rodney chewed his way into my junk food collection.

Question. In a taste choice test, which flavor would a rat chose? Pringle’s Traditional flavor or Pringle’s Sour Cream and Onion? Well Rodney chose the latter twice. This means something and is not just a comment on your personal choice of Pringle’s chips. Maybe Pringle’s could try the slogan, “ Sour Cream and Onions – because rats have more sensitive taste than us!”.

Okay, I told my wife. Rodney has to go. It’s him or me. She says, “That’s nice. It’s good you have a hobby other than blogging.” I begin to think she doesn’t believe I will go hunting for Rodney. Well, I don’t. Using my superior walnut-sized brain, I set a trap and get Rodney to come to me. MuHaHaHaHaHaHaHa! (Mad Scientist laugh, that is taught in the final year at University just before final exams).

Well. Mrs. Rat did not raise a bright one. Rodney is snug in my rat trap/cage contraption even as I type this. As I said earlier, it is time for Rodney to get his just rewards for the crime of pooping and choosing Sour Cream and Onions. Can you imagine the smell of his poop?

The Perp is behind Bars.
It’s been a long while since I’ve had to deal with a rodent like Rodney. Should it be the death penalty? Death by hanging, gassing or drowning. I know it can be humane to kill a lobster by putting it in the freezer but my wife is against the idea for Rodney. Or should we parole him on good behaviour? I’d like to hear your opinion.

Finally, Mr. or Ms. 1,000th visitor, please reveal yourself and I am sure I can find your just rewards too. MuHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!

Not a Dry Eye in the House

Photocredit: makeupvixon

I don’t always but at the funeral I attended around New Year’s Day, I cried. At the service, the husband gave a moving speech. He spoke of his special plans to celebrate their 25th wedding Anniversary; a special trip after years of austere living, but they only made it to 23 years of marriage. Nevertheless, he thanked God for the gift of his wife who had been truly his life partner for those years and ended by saying that he was now saying goodbye to his beloved and returning her to the care of her Beloved in heaven. At the end of his speech, there was not a dry eye in the house.

My wife calls me a “sensitive new age guy” after a title of a song because I occasionally shed a tear. I don’t know why she makes such a fuss about this after all we have long left behind the era of the stoic, unemotional male. The way that she goes on, you’d think I fall apart at almost anything. It’s not true. I did not shed a tear for Ali McGraw in Love Story, nor were my eyes damp when Bambi lost his mother.

However, there are certain scenes from the movies and TV shows, that can be relied upon to just open the faucets in my eyes and allow the tears to roll unabated, no matter how many times I have already seen it. You might call this the confessions of a sensitive new age guy but anyway, here are some of those scenes;

“Final farewells between parents and child.” (Scene from the movie, Running on Empty)
River Phoenix’s character and his brother has been on the lam together with their parents, all their lives. The parents are fugitives because they accidentally killed someone in an anti-war protest and have been hunted by the FBI all this time. Although a tightly knit family held together by love, the parents realize that River’s character is becoming a grown man and will miss out on a real chance to study at University, to develop his musical talent and to have girlfriends if he continues to follow them as they hide from place to place. Motivated by love they arrange for his estranged grandparents to take care of him. Finally, the family packs up into the car and is about to leave when he sees them. When he realizes they are leaving, without hesitation he wants to get into the car and leave all the opportunities behind. However in a tearful farewell (at least I will be tearful by this stage), the parents say their goodbyes to him forever from the car windows and offer him back a chance to live his own life. They then drive out of his life. Pass the tissue paper please.

“Tears of a Clown.” (Scene from TV series, M*A*S*H)
Viewers of M*A*S*H which is set around the goings-on in a mobile army surgical hospital in Korea during the war there, will remember Hawkeye as the good, well meaning doctor who kept morale up with his humor and pranks. It was therefore unsettling when in this episode, we find the indefatigable Hawkeye in a psychiatric hospital as a patient. The psychiatrist keeps asking Hawkeye to relate what happened when he and some other doctors took a bus of orphans and refugees for a day at the beach. Hawkeye tells the story again and again and something funny always happens but he does not reach the end of the story. The psychiatrist tells him that he is using humor to avoid facing his pain and until he stops and faces the pain, he will not be cured. Finally, with much coaxing, he finally relates how they were caught out by enemy troop advancements and had hidden the bus –trying to remain undetected from the enemy troops. There was this baby crying and wouldn’t stop. He desperately told the mother to keep the baby quiet, breast feed it, do whatever it takes, cause otherwise its crying would give away their position and they would all be killed. Finally, the baby was quiet and the danger passed. It was then that Hawkeye discovered, that the distraught and panicked mother had smothered the baby and killed it to keep it silent. This was the ending he could not tell. As he remembers this, tears roll from his eyes and mine. There are few things sadder than the tears of a clown.

“Holding on to the Memory, Keeping Them Alive” (Scene from TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Willow’s long time girlfriend, Tara, has been killed by this guy, Warren. It’s been awhile and she has been hurting inside. Now it seems like she is moving on and a new girl Kennedy is interested in her. Willow at first tries to push Kennedy’s advances away but eventually in the heat of a moment, they kiss. To their horror, Willow begins to change into Warren. At the end of the episode, we realize that Willow has turned into Warren due to a combination of a spell by a jealous witch and her own guilty feelings. When finally confronted with her suppressed guilty feelings, Willow keeps changing between herself and Warren’s visage. In this state, she asks Tara for forgiveness for killing her (she identified with Tara’s killer, Warren, which is why magically she took on his image). She felt she had killed her, because she had guarded Tara’s memory closely all that time but when Kennedy kissed her, she let slip for a moment and she felt that she had let Tara slip away, she had let Tara die in her memory. At this stage, I would be crying with her. (Okay, I know this might be a bit difficult to follow for those who do not know this show. Suffice to say it was a cult hit and was about vampires, witches, monsters and those that fight them. Also please get over the fact that it is a lesbian relationship and appreciate the very human qualities of trying to hold on to our memories of a loved one).

Well, that is pretty much my soul laid bare for you to see. Please reciprocate and share what gets you sobbing at the movies and TV.

Wicker Bears - Non-spooky Variety

on Saturday, January 06, 2007

Photocredit: Shananaginz

Romancing Gravestones

on Friday, January 05, 2007

If you like this post, you might like to visit my fellow grave vulture, Dave.
Fort A' Formosa, Melaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow Off the Candles and Make a Wish

on Thursday, January 04, 2007

It seems like a statistical impossibility but three ladies (a significant portion of the sample population) whose blogs I read frequently all have had a birthday in the week on either side of the new year. These three ladies are further linked because they all love nature and all have a passion for a particular animal (which strangely has nothing to do with cute squirrels but then there's no accounting for taste).

Anyway, in a celebration of nature's wonders and your birthdays, please accept these simple greetings from your totem animals.

Atlas Moth from Malaysia (World's largest moth)

Elephant Festival (India)

Canis lupus (Grey Wolf; North America)

Squirrel’s Secret Spot No: 3c (Bali/culture)

For josie, to help you decide.

Bali is rich in art, crafts and culture which probably developed due to an abundance of food and hence more leisure time, availability of suitable raw materials such as tropical woods for carving and volcanic pumice rock for sculpturing, and drawing its inspiration from nature and their religious beliefs. Their religion is actually a mix of Hindu and animalist beliefs.

Much of the folklore, dance and theater for example have their roots in Hinduism and in Hindu classical literature such as the Ramayana. However, this is tempered by a unique Balinese perspective. Balinese believe in the forces of good and evil but unlike many modern religious beliefs, they do not believe in good triumphant over evil. Rather, they believe that good and evil occur naturally and that evil is not actually viewed as bad but natural and must exist in balance with good to achieve harmony.

This is reflected in their culture. For example, in the Barong dance, the mythical Barong beast must protect the villagers from the evil witch creature. However, in the story, neither the Barong nor the witch creature is sufficiently powerful to completely defeat the other. Therefore the happy ending of the story is not good triumphing over evil but that evil and good reach a compromise. The symbolic colours of the Balinese is a black and white checkered cloth. Again this symbolizes the balance of evil and good. There colors are worn as sarongs or head-dresses for Balinese warriors and are also found wrapped around the ubiquitous shrines all over Bali. The Barong dance is a regular staple for visiting tourists.

The Barong is in the middle

I recommend the Kecak Dance more than the Barong because the Barong is more sedate as opposed to the vibrancy of the Kecak dance. While the latter is more unique as it uses the rhythmic chant of the male dancers for its music. The Kecak can also be seen performing at an open aired amphitheater at the Ulu Watu Shrine. This is a spectacular location that sits on top of cliffs overlooking the sea with a wonderful view of the sunset. The Kecak also uses fire in its dance choreography so is best seen at dusk and early evening.

The Kecak Dance at the seacliffs of Ulu Watu

Fiery Finale of Kecak Dance

The Balinese build their shrines and temples everywhere and offerings are made daily and as you travel from village to village, you are likely to find a religious ceremony . These are worthwhile as you will be treated to genuine hospitality, culture and food. Their temples are usually built near forests, cliffs, caves, springs and volcanic mountains.

The holy springs at Tirta Empul have been built into bathing pools. Men and women bathe in the two pools at different times and one pool is to give blessings of health and the other blessings of prosperity. President Sukarno of Indonesia built a magnificent palace on the hill immediately adjacent and overlooking the springs. It is gossiped that from his vantage point, he would spy on the women bathing at the springs. The palace is still used for official meetings and to house foreign dignitaries.

When I was visiting Tirta Empul, I stumbled across a magic ceremony being carried out by a female bomoh or witch doctor. In the pictures, she is dressed in black. The ceremony was to cleanse a young married couple of evil spirits because they have been suffering ill health. The ceremony sounded a bit like the Christian baptism in that it refers to a death and resurrection. The bomoh places the woman into a death-like trance in which to observers like myself, she is hardly breathing and completely oblivious to the world. She is laid on a woven mat and rolled up init which symbolizes death. The ceremony is supposed to fool the evil spirits to leave as they believe that their ”host’ is dead. The bomoh will chant over the still and “dead” body and finally reawaken her and give her a drink of blessed medicine.

When I saw this being done, I could not tell if the woman in the trance was breathing or not. It seemed quite convincing. When the ceremony was done with the man however, it was less convincing as he kept scratching his nose!

This theme of being possessed by spirits is also common in Balinese dance. In the Kecak dance for example, the main characters are actually believed to become possessed by the spirits of those they portray. Hence, their will always be a priest or bomoh at one side to pray that they will be protected from harm and the spirits will cease their possession after the dance.

All in all, Balinese culture is rich and very different from what most of us are familiar with. With an open mind, the Balinese culture can be fascinating and exotic and another reason why Bali is a unique Secret Squirrel’s Spot.

Black magic ceremony

Holy waters of Tirta Empul

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