Not Going Swimming Soon

on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On the 21st of January 2007, off the coast of Japan, a strange sea-serpent like creature was spotted by fishermen. They alerted marine biologists who observed the creature and decided that it must be either injured, sick or in some other form of distress as it appeared disorientated. The creature was brought to the Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo, and placed in a seawater pool but unfortunately it died within a few hours.

Despite a lot of attention and speculation about the creature in the media, this creature is not unknown to science. It was in fact, a frilled shark, Chlamydoselachus anguineus, is a primitive species, of the family Chlamydoselachidae in the order Hexanchiformes. (Chlamydoselacus = frilled cartilagenous fish; anguineus = eel). This species inhabits the deep waters of the sea along the continental shelf and is a an occasional bycatch of deep sea trawlers. If caught it is either sold as food or processed for fish feed. Its appearace in shallow waters, however, is very rare. It is more ancient than the sharks that most of the public are familiar with. It has 6 gill slits as compared to the more common 5 gill slits.

"Prominently mentioned in books on sea serpents, the frilled shark can easily qualify for this designation. It is certainly serpentlike in appearance; in fact, it looks more like an eel than a a shark. (Its specific name, anguineus, comes from the word for eel.) Where other sharks have plain gill slits, this creature has a collar of frills, and its mouth, instead of being underslung as the mouth of a shark is supposed to be, is terminal. Its teeth are three-pronged (trident-shaped). Surely this must be the archetypal sea serpent, and it would be -- if it ever grew longer than six feet. " (Source: Richard Ellis)

Photo Credits : xoxotyshka
This is a rare opportunity to see this unusual animal alive and swimming albeit for such a short period.
I don't know about you, but I am intrigued and put-off by the animal in equal portions. Although it is not thought to be dangerous to humans, I just know I'd freak out if it was swimming any where near me. You won't see me swimming in the sea anytime soon.

Camera Nut-Case

on Tuesday, February 27, 2007

As you can tell, I just love photography. Have camera will travel. Have camera will annoy friends and even strangers! I would very much like to share more of my photos with you but most of the good ones exist only in print or slide format and not yet in digital (Santa failed to deliver the photoscanner I was hoping for). Nevertheless, I recently got a digital camera and I allowed my self to be self-indulgent and decided to post four of my favourite photos here. These were all taken with an Olympus Mu camera with the exception of the photo above which was sent to me by my friend Lefter.

Museum , Washington D.C.

My very first camera was a Kodak Instamatic which was really just like a toy camera. I was totally unhappy with it. So while still a student, I saved up a considerable sum of money for that time and purchased an Olympus OM10 which is a semi-automatic SLR camera which allows for a full manual mode. This may sound a little technical but basically it meant that I could buy and use exchangeable lenses and play around with speed and aperture. In short, I could begin to experiment and become creative with my camera.

Firedance, Ulu Watu, Bali.
I'll be honest, I probably liked photography cause it was a lot easier to be creative with a camera than with other mediums like painting. Press a button versus slaving over a canvas and a palette. It was a "no-brainer". Of course, I had to learn all kinds of technical stuff like zooming, depth of field, bracketing a shot etc. , but its all fun. Like many males, I just enjoy playing with technological toys.

Seaside at dusk, Durban, South Africa
Once, I had the Olympus OM10, my obsession or addiction with photography was able to blossom.
Today I laugh at Japanese tourists who carry a shoulder full of lenses and tripods, and who set up in the most inappropriate places such as lying down in the middle of the road, so as to get the perfect picture. I shake my head at people who wait 5 hours for the sun to reach the preferred spot for the photograph. But in both cases, that was me, that was me.

God-daughter and her dad, Malaysia

Finally, there was an occasion when I went on a picnic with some University friends and as usual, I brought my camera along. I took some really great portraits that day. Later, when we were looking over the photos, we had such a good time laughing over the funny antics. Then suddenly, it hit me like a falling ACME safe from a Warner Brothers' cartoon. It was such a fun day and the pictures showed everyone having so much fun but where was I? I was behind my camera, recording memories but not making them. It sobered me up. I have been more controlled in my camera use now. It's good to record life but it shouldn't get in the way of living.

The Kiss in the Bedroom

on Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Kiss

“The Kiss” is the only piece of art that is displayed in my bedroom. Of course, it is only a reproduction but its presence is in contrast to the otherwise minimalist décor of the room. It is there because I really like it. The original still hangs in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, Austria and I have made the pilgrimage to see it there as well as many of the other works of the artist Gustav Klimt which can be found all around the city.

Some basic information for those inclined to be serious students of the arts; Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was a founder and leading proponent of the Secession art movement and what has come to be known as Art Nouveau. His patrons included the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I but Klimt was always pushing the limits of expression and some of his work which was originally commissioned for the University were deemed too provocative, even pornographic, and banished from public display. I believe a new movie about his life was released last year with John Malkovich taking the lead role.

Judith I

It is true that nudes are prominent in many of Klimt’s works. However, I do not think they were meant to be erotic. I am no expert but my impression is that in many of his earlier works, his “women” were always portrayed as powerful individuals, almost perfect beings, goddesses.

A good example are the murals that Klimt did for the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. These feminine images representing Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities can be found adorning the staircase of the museum. Judith I is also a portrayal of a powerful woman; a heroine from the apocryphal Book of Judith. Notice that she holds the severed head of Holofernes. Less of a sex object and more of a femme fatale.

Later on, as in the Beethoven Frieze, the nudes, both male and females, seemed to be more like props for the scenery rather than drawing attention to themselves. Again, I must qualify this by saying this is my untrained opinion.

My all time favourite is of course, “The Kiss”. Here there is no nudity but if anything, I find this to be a particularly sensual work. It has been noted that the female in this painting is in a submissive pose which is quite different from how his female subjects are normally portrayed. Intellectuals offer various interpretations to explain this. I like to think that by this late stage of his life, Klimt had discovered real love with a woman (Emilie Flöge) and this was reflected in this work where women are no longer idealized as in his earliest works nor are they in tension with the male sex as I find in the Beethoven Frieze. It is a painting of true, everlasting love based on mutual respect and mutual subservience of the partners.

But forget all the psycho-babble above. I just like it very much.

Part of the Beethoven Frieze

P.S. I would also to thank kat for this original picture in the pointillism style during my blue period.

Muddy Waters

on Friday, February 23, 2007

The river to Taman Negara (National Park) used to be clear. Today, it is "kopi susu" .

Many urban Malaysians believe that the natural color of Malaysian rivers is, in the local parlance, "kopi susu". That is to say, the water is the color and consistancy of coffee with milk. This is in fact the color of many rivers in Malaysia today. It surprises them when I show photographs of rivers which are clean and clear and find it hard to believe that those were Malaysian rivers. While such rivers still exist today, they are really the minority.

It was not always so. About 50 years ago, almost all the rivers were clean and clear. During that period, massive land clearing for urban development, agriculture and cash crop plantations, (especially in the 1960-1970s) resulted in extensive soil erosion and siltation of rivers. Similarly, uncontrolled or poorly managed logging in many watersheds also contributed to the problem. Regretably, it is only in recent times that more effort has been made to manage river basins more sustainably and reduce the negative impacts of development. The result is a whole generation have forgotten the sight of naturally clean, clear waters in their rivers. It's sad.

Neighbouring Singapore invested a lot of time, money and resources to cleaning up their main river and have succeeded. The river is no longer the color of coffee with milk and fish and river life has returned. Where it once was important in trade and transport, it is now earning its living as a tourist destination. It is a beacon of hope and an example that it is not too late to save rivers if appropriate action is taken with determination.

In Malaysia, the Sepang River was once considered the most polluted river. It received a substantial amount of untreated effluent from unregulated pig and poultry farms. The net result was a river that was so black it looked like a tarred highway in photographs. Then, a disease outbreak occured (Nipah Virus) and the farms were closed down and relocated. The river has had more than ten years to heal and today it is almost back to being naturally clear.

The blackwater Sepang River is almost clear again

I hope that more Malaysians realise what they have lost and are losing and act to help place river rehabilitation and protection onto the national psyche and agenda.

All this talk of muddy waters has brought to mind a very old Christian song by the British composer, Adrian Snell. I haven't heard any song from Adrian for more than 25 years. Recently, a friend imported a CD and tried to introduce me to his music. I recognised Adrian Snell immediately and I was reminded of the following song that meant so much to me in my early Christian walk. Wish I could sing it for you but I hope you will appreciate the words. Our souls too need to be renewed.

Lord Jesus, You are everything that I will ever need,
Despite my sin, you took me in and gave your gift of peace.
On the muddy waters of my soul,
You poured the living stream,
That washed away my sorrow and my pain.
But the stream became a river,
Till the muddy waters cleared
And the beauty of your face was mirrored there.

The Indiscrete Truth

on Thursday, February 22, 2007

I hope that most of you have seen Al Gore in the Inconvenient Truth, presenting indisputable evidence of Climate Change as a result of global warming. This is a serious warning backed by the majority of the world's scientist. If you have not seen it, please try to do so soon. I have posted on this before and included a short remix of the Inconvenient Truth.

However, some may still find Al Gore's presentation still a little too technical to understand and even more so some of us may still find it hard to relate to what it means to us practically. To help address this issue, the Lone Grey Squirrel has gone beyond the limitations of the Inconvenient Truth to bring you the Indiscrete Truth below.

In science, we call this "positive correlation". Women are obviously a good indicator of temperature changes. As the world gets warmer, women undergarments become skimpier and men begin to feel the temperature rising. The Indiscrete Truth.

(Disclaimer: Although this is done in jest, I hope the message on climate change is getting attention and causing us to make life changing decisions because I honestly believe it is currently the biggest threat facing the world. Read about the doomsday clock and Stephen Hawkin's view).

Pigs Have Years

on Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The ReUnion Dinner Menu
双 喜 齐 捞 生Double Happiness Yee Sang
菜 胆 鳳 展 翅Double-Boiled Shark’s Fin in Chicken Wing
港 式 沙 皮 乳 豬BBQ Suckling Pig Hong Kong Style
虾 子 酿 脱 参Braised Stuffed Sea Cucumber with Prawns Roe
鲜 竹 云 耳 蒸 龙 趸Steamed Deep-Sea Garoupa with Fresh Beancurd Skin
Black Pepper Beef
Rice Seasoned with Preserved Meats And Chinese Sausages
贵 妃 金 沙 露Sweetened Pumpkin with Yam
酥 皮 窝 餅Chinese Pancake

Gong Xi Fa Cai. May I wish one and all a happy and prosperous Year of the Pig. To commemorate this event which was on the 18th of February, I had intended to write about the Family Reunion dinner which occurs on the eve of the New Year. The reason this post is late, was because I was rather embarrassed. I had intended to take a photo of each and every one of the dishes of a Chinese nine course meal. My good intentions was frustrated as there was a long delay between courses as there were just too many patrons at the restaurant and the staff were unable to cope with the numbers. As a result, I forgot to take the photos the minute the food arrived and suffice to say it disappeared very quickly. There. With my confession out of the way, let me tell you more about the reunion dinner.

The menu is given for your perusal. We took the chef’s recommended menu and made two alterations. In Malaysia, the chef will normally prepare three menus of increasing prices but the number “8” must appear prominently. This is because the words for “8” and for “prosperity” are very similar phonetically and it is considered good luck. Hence, our basic menu cost RM 888/- per table and other menus cost RM 788 and RM 1088. This incidentally is my 88th post.

This year it was just my parents, myself and my wife and my eldest brother and his family attending the dinner. Things have changed within my lifetime. The reunion dinner was something that no one missed. However, the realities of modern living has made that tradition increasingly difficult to observe. I have two other siblings but they and their families no longer live in Malaysia.

My eldest brother is an architect. His eldest daughter is working as a personal assistant to the Director of a manufacturers association. His youngest (son) is studying Mass Communications. One other daughter married last year and so will spend the reunion dinner with her in-laws.

As I said, times and traditions have changed in my lifetime. When I was young, no one works on reunion dinner night and that includes restaurants. In fact many businesses close for at least a week and some for as long as 15 days. Everyone expected to be with their families and have a home cooked meal for New Year’s Eve. Some very traditional families still observe this and even the choice of dishes is predetermined to represent some form of good luck for the coming year. As time moved on in the 1970’s, some restaurant owners tried to stay open during the Chinese New Year period but they had to pay their staff triple salary and the returns were poor as most people continued to eat at home. Today, most families have their reunion dinner at restaurants and the staff are expected to work without extra compensation. This change has been driven by a weakened economy.

I miss the old days. The celebrations and the family gathering were given a higher level of importance and priority which is sadly lacking today.

Here are some of other customs that are also observed but less frequently within the Malaysian Chinese population. Chinese New Year is not just about the day itself but here are 15 days of celebrations and observations. Likewise, one is also expected to carry out certain observances before in preparation for the New Year. The first is the ceremony for the Kitchen God. According to Chinese traditional beliefs, the Kitchen God is like an official sent from Heaven to oversee the well being of the family (he is often represented by an altar in the kitchen). However, a week before the New Year, the Kitchen God returns to Heaven to give a report on the family. Therefore it is important to offer the Kitchen God specially made sticky cakes made from lotus root and other sweets. It symbolizes sealing the mouth of the Kitchen God to prevent him from giving a bad report and if that failed, sweetening his words. It’s implied that the Kitchen God will keep his mouth shut in return for such offerings. In fact, it is a form of theologically inspired bribery.

Another belief which is held strongly by the older generation is that from the eve of the New Year for at least 24 hours, you should not use a broom to sweep the floor because it signifies sweeping all the good luck out of the house.

Firecrackers, which were a Chinese invention, are meant to scare demons away and to usher in prosperity. In Malaysia today, there is a ban on firecrackers for safety as well as noise control reasons. So like it or not the traditions are changing.

One final thought, for many Chinese, the Year of the Pig is generally an auspicious year for having babies. So watch out for a baby boom.

Portland in Blues

on Monday, February 19, 2007

Please click on photos to get a bigger picture (all photos by lgsquirrel)

Please bear with me as I could not resist having one more post in my current "blue" period. This is actually more of a photography posting as I wanted to share with you the top three pictures. However, I will natter on a bit about the background to these pictures.

I am quite proud of the pictures which I took from my hotel window as dawn breaks across Portland, Maine in late autumn 2005. The deep blues and glowing reds are the classic colors seen in the Singapore Girl photographs that I mentioned in my last post; so you can see that I have been influenced greatly by that series. At a personal level, I find such colors soothing and inviting. I try to get shots like these whenever I can. I hope you like them.

My visit to Portland, Maine was way too short - just three nights and two days. As I was there to attend some meetings, there was in fact little time to do any sightseeing. I did manage some and I plan to share more about this and about the wonderful people of Portland at another time. For now, I just want to share with you what I did at the start of each of those two wonderful mornings in Portland.

After taking those photographs, I was out into the freezing cold by 7.30 am. I could have eaten at the hotel but hotel food is hotel food the world over and it was not friendly to the pocket either. No, I purposely was out of the hotel earlier than I had too so that I could cram in as much of local life as possible. Most of my colleagues ventured no further than the convenience store further down the block for a hot coffee and sandwiches for breakfast. I, though wanted to be a bit more adventurous.

I wandered much further, allowing my nose and my stomach to lead me. At first, I was disappointed as nothing much seemed opened. Eventually, I headed down to the harbour area. I had to cross a very busy road but near the commercial harbour area there was a diner and it seemed very popular with the locals. It was functional and unpretentious but little touches like its community bulletin board suggested friendliness. It was "Becky's".

I never found out who Becky was and I did not ask but I found myself fitting right in even though I must have stood up like a sore thumb. The waitresses, the cook and the patrons were all engaged in cheerful banter with exchanges of greetings and well-wishes flying about at a regular rate. After ordering from the small menu, I found myself at the counter rubbing elbows with the locals; some of the burly, barrel chested men, I imagined must be weather-hardened fishermen. Others, from their conversations were clearly local artists and craftsmen, a couple of retirees and even some students. I was even sharing and exchanging sections of the local newspaper with others on the counter.

I was very pleased with the unhealthy size of my breakfast when it arrived. As I dug in, I was a silent listener to all variety of gossips and exchanges of local news which appeared to carry on with gusto despite the obvious presence of a stranger. This was great. I felt right at home. I even joined the locals in wishing one of the waitresses well as she planned to quit to carry on her studies. This was done surreptitiously as apparently the boss (Becky, I presume) had not yet been informed. Before I left, several locals told me the best place to get mussels, clam chowder and of course lobster for lunch. I took their advice and it turned out to be an equally friendly local haunt. I left Becky's full and satisfied in stomach and in spirit.

I was back the next day again but this time I considered myself one of the regulars!

My cheerful waitress

Nothing like a cold-busting Maine Breakfast

The friendly diner, counter and patrons

Singapore Girl in Blue

on Saturday, February 17, 2007

Here's a little insight into my thought processes; What shall I post? --> My last post was "Feeling blue" --> Okay, I'm still not quite out of the blues. --> Need to project a more positive attitude. --> Blue doesn't have to be bad or sad. --> What is blue and positive? --> Blue accentuated photography (like in previous post) can be beautiful. --> What photo series is both blue and beautiful? Something I like. --> Singapore Girl.

"Singapore Girl --- You're a great way to fly". This advertisement campaign started in 1972 at the very inception of Singapore International Airlines or SIA. It has been one of the most successful branding exercises in Asia and after 35 years, one of the longest running advertising campaigns. Wonderfully taken and quality photographs of beautiful girls in kebaya with warm, welcoming smiles against fantastic and sometimes fantastical backgrounds were a regular theme and blue was a prominent colour. It won many fans, who like me, collected their postcards and calenders just to admire the photography. "Singapore Girl" would come to mean more than that though and become an icon of both an airline and a country.

"The Singapore Girl
The personalization of the Singapore Airlines brand is the mixed male and female cabin crew, where especially the flight stewardesses commonly referred to as Singapore Girls have become very well-known. SIA engaged French haute-couture designer Pierre Balmain at the inauguration of the airline in 1972. He designed a special version of the Malay sarong kebaya as the uniform which later became one of the most recognized signatures of the airline. A very designated and visual part of the entire brand experience.

The Singapore Girl strategy turned out to be a very powerful idea and has become a successful brand icon with an almost mythical status and aura around her. The Singapore Girl encapsulates Asian values and hospitality, and could be described as caring, warm, gentle, elegant and serene. It is a brilliant personification of SIA's commitment to service and quality excellence. The icon has become so strong that Madame Tussaud's Museum in London started to display the Singapore Girl in 1994 as the first commercial figure ever.

Singapore Airlines also runs one of the most comprehensive and rigorous training programs for cabin and flight crew in the industry to make sure the SIA brand experience is fully and consistently delivered.

The social status of the Singapore Girl has also reached near-celebrity in Asia. This has allowed Singapore Airlines to be highly selective in the recruiting process for talent which has added further to the strength of the brand icon and the myth around it. "
(Extracted from

Last month, SIA announced that it was possibly bringing to an end their 35 year relationship with Batey Ads and invited other ad agencies to submit proposals and make bids for the future. This sparked speculation that the "Singapore Girl" may fade into history.

Critics say that "Singapore Girl" has gone on too long, that it is sexist and dated. The image projected of the "sub-servient Asian woman stereotype" is offensive according to several women's groups.

Supporters, of which there are many, counter by saying that it is actually a celebration of womanhood and represents qualities of warmth and hospitality. They also note the success of the campaign and urge SIA "not to fix what ain't broke". When news of the possible change of ad agency was announced, more than 3000 emails from around the world was sent within two days in support of continuing the "Singapore Girl".

What would be your advice to Singapore Airlines?

Feeling Blue

on Friday, February 16, 2007

Very often, after or even during some holiday or festival season, I get the blues. In the midst of the merry making, I often get retrospective. However, this Valentine's Day was exceptionally bad for real.

Although, my wife and I do not go in to the hype that is Valentine's Day but we would still like to spend it together. Unfortunately, this year, my wife had to work till past midnight and we were unable to spend the day together. And then, ....there was trouble at work.

I supervise about 30 people at work. I try to be a good boss. It's something that I put a lot of effort into and take seriously. My understanding of being a good boss, has to do with leading by example, treating everyone with mutual respect, refering to them as colleagues and not subordinates, and mentoring the weaker ones as well as fighting for their welfare. So, the winds disappeared from my sails when I discovered on Valentine's day that one of them had written a poison pen letter about me.

So I am feeling blue at the moment. I am in a blue phase and a blue place.....which is why I chose this stark blue picture above. Of course for me, the best thing to do when I have the blues is to take a long walk in the cold or in the rain and to come to a place like that shown in the picture. It helps me re-focus and realise that the world goes on. Occasional soul searching is good for the soul. It's like checking the compass during a sea-squall to see if the boat is still true to course and before long, fine weather and sunshine reappears.

(I stumbled on this picture and I do not know where it originally came from and so am unable to credit the photographer but I credit God for creating it.)

It seems I am a True Romantic

on Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stolen from (thank you) HeiressChild

Your Candy Heart Says "First Kiss"

You're a true romantic who brings an innocent hope to each new relationship.
You see the good in every person you date, and you relish each step of falling in love.

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a romantic dinner your sweetie cooks for you

Your flirting style: friendly and sweet

What turns you off: cynics who don't believe in romance

Why you're hot: you always keep the romance alive

We are Family

on Monday, February 12, 2007

Take a very good look at this youngster. Examine his fine features. He's quite handsome don't you think?

I hope you thought that he was handsome, because he is apparently a close relative. Do you see the family resemblence?

The enchanted animal from yesterday's post is a colugo. Molly who suggested that it was a sugar glider is fairly close as they do resemble one another. It is a mammal which distingushes it from sugar gliders which are marsupials. Colugo is the native Malay name for this animal which is also misleadingly known as the Malayan Flying Lemur. It is actually not a lemur at all and it does not really fly. In fact it is one of only two species in the family Cynocephalidae of the order Dermoptera. The family name suggests that the animal has a dog-shaped head and the order name that it posesses a wing made of skin. This skin membrane which stretches between the animal's limbs allows it to glide as far as 70 m between trees.

The colugo is found in South-east Asia. The photographs in the previous post was taken in Langkawi Island. I, myself have only seen this animal three times and only once in flight. It is a nocturnal animal, active at night, and often seen at dusk gliding from tree to tree. It has been observed at a number of locations to follow a routine. Therefore, it is often able to anticipate a colugo gliding between two trees based on its observed habit. This makes it a readily anticipated sighting for hotel guests at a number of resorts in Malaysia.

So the colugo is active at night and may be seen gliding or "flying" between the same two spots night after night. Its saucer eyes are ideal for seeing things in the dark of night. These descriptions included words that were found in the two songs in the last post .

There was a scientific paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) entitled "Mammalian mitogenomic relationships and the root of the eutherian tree". According to the paper, an examination of mitochondrial DNA, seems to indicate that the colugo is a close relative of primates.

"Flying lemurs have the same ancestors as the Anthropoidea, that is, apes from the New and Old Worlds, including human beings. We are more closely related to flying lemurs than we are to half-apes," says Professor Arnason.

Ah, we can chose our friends but we cannot chose our relatives. So once again I hope you thought that he was handsome and cute.

Some Enchanted Creature Looking for Love

on Sunday, February 11, 2007

My good friend Tropic Temper, managed to take some photos of a rather special creature. Care to guess what it is? In keeping with the Valentine's Day mood, lyrics of two famous love songs lyrics are provided and the bold words in the lyrics are clues which describe aspects of this animal to help you identify it. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see herAgain and again.
Some enchanted eveningSomeone may be laughin',
You may hear her laughin'Across a crowded room
And night after night,As strange as it seems
The sound of her laughterWill sing in your dreams.
Who can explain it?Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,Wise men never try.
Some enchanted evening When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side, And make her your own
For all through your life you May dream all alone.
Once you have found her,Never let her go.Once you have found her,Never let her go!

The look of love is in your eyes

A look your smile can't disguise

The look of love is saying so much more than just words could ever say

And what my heart has heard, well it takes my breath away

I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you

How long I have waited

Waited just to love you, now that I have found you

You've got theLook of love, it's on your face

A look that time can't eraseBe mine tonight,

let this be just the start of so many nights like this

Let's take a lover's vow and then seal it with a kiss

I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you

How long I have waited

Waited just to love you, now that I have found you Don't ever go Don't ever go

Love: The Early Symptoms

on Friday, February 09, 2007

Today I shall pretend to be an expert on “love” and shall attempt to give a discourse on the subject, focusing on the affliction in the early years of life. My credentials, you ask? Have I ever behaved erratically around girls? Have I been compelled to do something stupid which is as embarrassing today as it was then? Have I tortured flowers by plucking their petals ? (“she loves me, she loves me not”). Did my dad ever talked to me about the phone bill? Have I contributed to deforestation with all the failed love poems crumpled in the waste bin? Has my heart ever ached? Did the power of speech ever leave me? (Err, Em…Ah…That is… I mean…). Yes to all the above, which is why I believe I am qualified.

Puppy Love:-
This is the earliest manifestation of the ailment. Wikipedia says, “Puppy love is an informal term for feelings of love between young people, especially during adolescence, so-called for its resemblance to the affection that may be felt towards a puppy dog.”

Photocredit: lopsidedsmiley

Hmmm. Just imagine. “Sugar, I love you just as much as I love Rex. You’re both so cute although he catches frisbees better than you.”

Photocredit: jonlewis1975
I beg to disagree with Wikipedia. I think the term merely means a love between two extremely young and immature kids who don’t know better yet. What I mean is that when we are very young, our knowledge of the world is constantly expanding and growing bigger. We might fall “in love” with someone until we realise there’s more fish in the sea. For example, I may only have tried vanilla or chocolate ice cream and decide I “love” vanilla. Later I discover Baskin & Robbins, Ben & Jerry etc and I forget vanilla and chase after pistachio almond fudge instead. (Actually, in real life, I still actually love vanilla ice cream. I am faithful to my first ice cream flavor).

Okay, to summarise:- Puppy love does not last because it’s like making a choice from the appetisers section because you haven’t yet seen the whole menu.

Wikipedia says, “Limerence, as posited by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, is an involuntary cognitive and emotional state in which a person feels an intense romantic desire for another person (the limerent object). Limerence can often be what is meant when one expresses "having a crush" on someone else. It is characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual”


I think a crush is when one of the puppies (see above) dumps the other puppy because she realises how cool the leader of the pack is. She likes it when the alpha dog shows her attention. The huge age gap does not matter. Alpha dog is just the greatest creature that ever lived. But this cannot end well because when the alpha dog runs with the pack, the puppy just can’t keep up. She’s still got some growing up to do.

By the time, she comes to her senses, puppy love has discovered pistachio almond fudge and moved on. This leads to an important cross-road in life. She can either choose to be like Avril Lavigne and write angry young woman angst or she can seek comfort in the collective sorrow of country music.

As we mature, we actually take a few steps back. I think in puppy love and crush stages, we actually care about the whole person. For example, alpha dog cannot do wrong. He’s got good fashion sense; he’s cool, he’s kind, he’s the smartest, he’s everything you ever wanted to bring home to meet mom.

Infatuation is going backwards; it’s not about the whole person. Some may say focused; others, more shallow. The afflicted will spend hours day-dreaming about his or her nose; or some other superficial physical feature that has tugged the heart strings. Maybe this is “desire” or “passion” learning how to crawl. Okay, I confess, my very first infatuation was with someone’s hair.

Infatuation is empowering. It makes you feel that you have supernatural powers. You can slow down time and watch her hair move from side to side in slow-motion. It makes you invisible (or so you think, until her mother catches you in the bushes) as you stalk her with your camera to take her photo. It gives you super energy that you are willing to cycle 10 kilometers to her neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the kryptonite in this scenario is when you realise that the hair is attached to other less attractive parts and the final straw is when you discover she thinks basketball (your other true love) is boring.

Thankfully for everyone and especially parents, we then progress into remission and go through a period of staying away from the “stupid” other sex.

This concludes my discourse on “love ….the early symptoms,” as told by a squirrel and illustrated with dogs.

Love is.....

Love is but just a word that signifies a state of being,
Not a physical reality but a feeling that is fleeting.
Just chemicals in our blood that send our senses reeling
Its hormones and pheromones to which we are reacting.

The purpose of the bond, is for the sake of reproduction.
It’s sex and not love that drives the species propagation.
Your heart may grow fond, but its just a chemical reaction.
Love is nothing more than a tool in the course of evolution.

A mother’s sacrificial love, which we elevate as pure,
Is but a selfish act and nothing, nothing more.
A mother’s driven to protect her offspring, sure.
But it’s to protect her genes, that she does it for.

For Science when applied with all brains and no heart
It cannot understand, cannot measure, quantify nor even start,
In a world of logic and sense, love has no part,
It needs to run free, chose its own master, follow its own path.

There is no reasoning for the choices Love makes,
For it might find beauty in what others see misshaped,
Looking beyond skin and physique, the soul it celebrates
It reaches far beyond just the need to succeed, to pro-create.

A mother is justly proud of children strong and smart,
Yet the weakest and the smallest also shares in equal part,
The love that she can give, the strength that she imparts,
To see them through shattered dreams and broken hearts.

A man and a woman with a lifetime to share,
Have hopes and dreams and a plan to get there,
Yet illness may shatter plans, and one may need care.
Love keeps the other willing to serve, cherish and bear.

The mysteries of Love continue to unfold
Why some lovingly raise another’s child as their own
Taking on problems, many would wish to forgo
It’s not about selfish genes, unlike what we’ve been told.

As we transverse across the tapestry of time
An amazing love will like occasional jewels shine.
The ultimate sacrifice, the fate of two lives entwined,
One giving that the other may live, a mirror of love divine

How then do we measure Love’s length, breadth and height
Or give account of its strength and might.
It is from God, to love with His love, to see with His sight,
A gift that allows man to rise up into the light.

This is my second poetry posting. With Valentine's Day round the corner, I have chosen "Love" as the theme; but it is love viewed through the eyes of a scientist and the heart of a believer. My inspiration has been the stories of strength, joy and struggle that have been found on many of the blogs that I visit. Thank you.

How to Have Fun With Squirrels!

on Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Specially dedicated to two strong women, csl and squirrel - hope it brings a smile.

Click on the Squirrel to go to Squirrel World.

The rest of you riff-raff can come along too if you want. (Do not attempt to pose on bird feeder - this was done by trained professionals. Do not try it at home).

Music of the Sun God, Inti Illimani

on Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I present to you, Inti Illimani, a group of Chilean engineering students and part-time musicians who became their country's de facto musical ambassadors and spokespersons when their country entered a dark period of its history. The group was established in 1967, consisting of students from Universidad Técnica del Estado in Santiago, Chile and will celebrate 40 amazing years in 2007. They were on tour in Europe in 1973 when President Allende was deposed by General Pinochet. In the subsequent chaos, many of the members had friends and relatives who were arrested and some were never seen again including their friend and national musical icon Victor Jara. (It is reported that Victor Jara was executed in the stadium that today bears his name. He was machine-gunned and had over 70 bullets in his body).

In fear of their own lives, they lived in exile in Italy but continued to develop their music and to rally for a return to democracy in Chile. They rapidly gained recognition for both. To this end, Horacio Salinas was the group’s musical director while the political compass was provided by Jorge Coulon. Sadly, after all these years, the group split in 2001, Salinas and two others left and started another band while the two Coulon brothers remained and rebuild their band. Unfortunately, both continue to call themselves Inti Illimani but most fans recognise Salinas’ band as the historical band.

The name means “Sun of the Mountain” or “Sun God” and is actually a Bolivian name. This was an early indication that they musically were not going to be bound by Chilean music traditions only. Indeed these engineer-musicians, have combined their different disciplines and experimented with the physics of sound and were even awarded honorary degrees in music for their efforts. They also sought to combine instruments from different traditions to create new sounds. For example, in one of their pieces, they combine a Persian instrument with the African colimba and an antique Andean flute. They were the forerunners of World Music before it became fashionable.

I was first exposed to the group when they recorded the soundtrack for a BBC documentary entitled the “Flight of the Condor” way back in 1982. That was the first time I had listened to the use of Andean pan flutes in an haunting and evocative orchestral arrangement. Over the years, I occasionally got to hear one or other of their projects but for the most part, I had little access to their music.

Then in 1992, they came to Ottawa while I was a student there. I was ecstatic. Future wife and I went to see them in concert. It was a cold winter’s night and the journey to the venue was far but it was entirely worth it. Seeing them in person made me realize that they were more than musicians but musical scholars. We were treated not just to a concert but a laboratory of sound. There was one song performed entirely out of the beating of ordinary packing crates. There was another in which the band faded off by a deliberate and measured drop in sound level carried out in unison. Sure, fade outs are done all the time with the help of electronic equipment but when you hear it done manually, you know you are in the presence of extraordinary musicians. They also dazzled us with an array of over 30 wind, string and percussion instruments from around the world.

Once again, I have used too many words when I should let the music speak for itself. Enjoy the videos and the music tracks. Illi Intimani, congratulations on 40 years and may your tradition of music scholarship continue to another generation.

Song with African Kalimba

A modern song with traditional Andean instruments

Beautiful vocals - one of their big hits and one of my favorites

A very traditional folk piece

How I came to be out in the Cold

As it is my way, I made no effort to protect the guilty in yesterday’s post. However, I did take some literary liberties so that the main point of the narrative was clear. Today, I will fill in on some of the detail omitted such as the awful English weather. Make sure you are snug and warm as you sit back to read about (DA DA DA Dahhh! Dramatic organ chords), “How I came to be out in the cold” or “ It was a dark and stormy …day.”

Charlie and I arrived on Friday evening and enjoyed exploring the surrounding environs of the hostel which was on the eastern shore of Bassenthwaite Lake. Sitting in comfy chairs by the hostel lounge fireplace was conducive to late night talks and starting the male bonding process. I remember sleeping well with the sound of a small waterfall located behind the hostel, my lullaby that night.

The next day, fortified with a heavy Cumberland farm breakfast, we were in high spirits as we set off to on the trail behind the hostel to climb Skiddaw at 931 m high. Although, the day had started sunny, rain in the form of a light spray was coming down when we began our ascent. Charlie was better equipped than me with proper walking boots and a rain parka. Being a poor student, I was making do with my light spring jacket that was water resistant and my sports shoes. The light rain did not put me off as I enjoy walking in the rain.

Our route would take us past the waterfall and then past farm land. As we climbed, the vegetation will become more scarce and wind-swept and the ground more rocky. Once we reached the summit, we planned to walk the top of the ridge southwards and end up in the town of Keswick. We had been told that it would take about three hours but we allowed ourselves four hours. We took our time, often stopping to enjoy the view and to talk.

However, the rain got progressively heavier throughout the morning. I got more and more worried as I felt the cold and wetness slowly penetrating my jacket and jeans. Just before we reached the summit, it was clear that we were in the midst of a heavy storm with lashing winds. I was soaked through and struggling with both the cold and the weight of my waterlogged clothing. We huddled against the wind and consulted. We reckoned that we were about the halfway mark of the hike and it made little difference whether we turned back or continued. So with bravado, encouraged by our testosterone loaded, “men must be men” agenda for the weekend, we pressed on. In retrospect, it was wiser to turn back because as we traveled along the ridge, we had no protection at all from the driving wind and rain.

Soaked and Cold

Photocredit: kwagar2

So, cold, miserable and waterlogged, we plodded on. We passed a man on the ridge. He was fully decked out for the wet weather with heavy duty raincoat. He didn’t say anything to us but he shook his head. Then we passed an elderly lady who was apparently walking her small dog. She was also well insulated against the elements but her dog despite wearing a doggie jacket was clearly wet and miserable. The lady pulled us aside and berated us,” You fools! What are you doing up here in this weather in those clothes?”

No need to antagonize the natives, I thought. “Good afternoon, ma’am. We are just enjoying a walk in this bracefully, refreshing weather.”

But here was no appeasing her. “You idiots. You have no idea what you are doing. Get off this mountain IMMEDIATELY! In this weather you’d either walk off the edge or freeze to death.”

Charlie and I were both grew a little annoyed at this yapping woman. That’s no way to talk to men who knew what they were doing. Charlie retorted, “Ma’am don’t worry about us. We know what we are doing. But you, ma’am should take better care of your dog. You’re lucky we don’t report you to the RSPCA!”

She showed us the finger and left in a huff carrying her dog. We laughed, celebrating our victory until we swallowed mouthfuls of rainwater. We were quite proud of the way we, “men” had handled the situation.

Strangely, after that encounter, neither of us felt cold at all. We happily chatted all the way down the mountain and when we had reached Keswick town, the rain had stopped. We found a place away from prying eyes, stripped and tried to wring the water from our clothes to get rid of the excess weight of water. We redressed and walked into the City Hall which doubles as the information centre. While we were there, we both noticed a large notice saying “Storm Warning. Hiking on the Mountain Trails is Prohibited.” We giggled. We laughed at each other for not checking the weather forecast but we were proud that we had done the hike.

As it was about one o’clock, Charlie suggests we take our pack lunches at Frair’s Crag down by Lake Derwentwater. Feeling positively warm despite our dripping clothes, we set off to the lake. On the way, we bought some ice cream as the sun had made a brief appearance. As we sat on some rocks with our feet in the icy cold water of the lake, eating our ice cream, we could see storm clouds literally rolling in from the southern end of the lake. Charlie asked me what we should do with the storm looking to reach us in about fifteen minutes. I said, “Plenty of time to eat our lunch and then sit back and just enjoy watching the storm break over us.”

Charlie concurred with the suggestion. So we ate our lunches, and about this time, Charlie suggested we make the pact to do this trip again next year and for both of us to remain romantically unattached for at least one more year. After all we had been though, how could I say no. Charlie punched me on the shoulder which is a sign of affection amongst men and then we both sat back, enjoyed the rain pelting down and ooh-ed and ahh-ed as the lightning arcs lit the sky.

Storm breaks over Derwentwater

Photocredit: icecandygirl

Astute readers will have realized that both Charlie and I were suffering from hypothermia which impaired our judgment and made us behave irrationally. At advance stages, the victim actually stops feeling cold. In truth, we could have died out there. We ourselves only realized this when we reviewed what had happened the following day. Nevertheless, thankfully having survived, we were very gung-ho about our deepened friendship and very firm about our pact.

We kept in touch regularly for the next few months but then Charlie disappeared off the radar and he never contacted me about our follow up trip the next year. Later that year, I bumped into James and asked him for news on Charles. I was dumbfounded to hear that Charles met up with this sweet young thing not three months after our trip and had been going steady since. Charlie brought her along to our Christmas get-together but neither of us ever mentioned our pact again. There seemed very little point in it; clearly another good man had fallen to the female wiles. I was happy though to have outlasted all these big-talking men. And that is the story of how I came to be out in the cold…..twice.

No Girls Allowed....

Photo Credit : musicman226

It is my considered opinion that guys take a long time to become mature adults. Some may even take a whole lifetime. Someone wise once opinioned, “In every girl there is a woman but in every man there is a kid.” Nowhere is this more evident than in our dealings with the opposite sex. The accomplished, respected man’s man is just waiting for the right female to come by so that he can degenerate into a lobotomized clown. (This world view is reinforced if you watch Chinese romantic comedy movies where the women are perfect and the men are love-struck idiots). One good example of lingering immaturity is the “No Girls Allowed” rule which men evoke whenever the going gets rough. What’s that? You don’t agree with my hypothesis. You want proof, you say. Well, then sit back, sip your coffee and read about ….(dramatic organ chord)….”No Girls Allowed” or “How I came to be out in the cold.”

Charlie, was a man’s man. He was an Eagle Scout in the days where Eagle Scouts still did manly things like getting lost in the forest. He was in fact, a scout amongst scouts; the only one who could actually put on weight on campfire food. He enjoyed the camaraderie and reveled in the pungent testosterone-scented aroma of unwashed male bodies that have hiked in the tropical humidity in the jungle. He was proud of the “No Girls Allowed” club.

There came a time when we all grew into gangly teens and a group of about five of us left our home country to study in the United Kingdom. Although we were all friends and I was invited to one of their homes for Christmas dinner, I was a bit of the outsider, the odd man out. This was because the others were all scouts, the four musketeers, and every time we met, they would regale all present with another of the tales that bind them so closely together in a brotherhood.

It was at the end of my first year of University in London when James, one of the fabulous four, called me on the phone. “Charlie is in a bad way. He’ll probably call you and ask you to go hiking with him in the Lake District. He really needs for you to go. Don’t turn him down. He needs this.”

It seems Charlie called James up and invited him for the trip but James had promised his girlfriend to take her shopping in Paris. Not too worried, he called Thomas but Thomas was spending that weekend with his girlfriend’s family. Charlie told Thomas that he was disappointed in him but never mind, he’ll call Simon to go and Thomas will just miss out on the fun. So Charlie called Simon but Simon told him that he would have to check with his girlfriend if she didn’t mind him going off. Charlie didn’t even wait for the answer but hung up the phone in despair.

And so, I suddenly became Charlie’s new found best buddy on account that I was free of any female entanglements and was able to accompanying him on the trip. He was so enthusiastic about us bonding together in the wilds of the Lake District. The more he enthused though I got increasingly jittery that his idea of bonding involved manly rituals like eating raw deer meat or cutting our wrists and exchanging blood in an oath of brotherhood.

It really wasn’t like that. We spent the time hiking in the beautiful Lake District and had plenty of time to talk. I am good at listening and he just needed a willing ear. I think we did in fact bond as friends. He poured out his feelings as we climbed up to one of the mountain tops. While we had lunch by a beautiful waterfall, he shared about his disappointment that these “girlfriends” have weakened the close bonds of the musketeers. We discussed the sanctity of friendship and the value of true friends as we headed down the scree slopes. We also talked of other things too such as our studies, our plans and our hopes for the future.

Eventually, we made it down and sat on rocks and twiddled our toes in the icy waters of the lake or mere. It was there that we made a pact; though thankfully it did not involve blood exchanges. It was a pact to make this trip again next year and for at least one more year, we would keep females out of our lives and interfering with this most valued of friendships. No females. No dating. No girlfriends that we had to consult before going out with the guys. No girlfriends, period, for one more year. It was Charlie’s idea but I was feeling flushed by this important place I was taking in Charlie’s life of best buds and since I had no romantic liens at that time, I happily agreed.

Tomorrow, I will continue to explain “How I came to be out in the cold”. For now, I am basking in the warmth of the memory so far.

Photo credit:

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