Long Road Trip

on Thursday, August 30, 2007


Dear friends, I will be away for a few days on the road; attending to some work matters. So have a good weekend and I will see you next week.

As a treat, for the holiday weekend, I have included below a new in depth analysis of why Britain managed to defeat Nazi Germany despite all the odds...........

Those are the rules of the game.

Run Nurse Run

on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Jo Bune" PhotoCredit: LGS

Like stepmothers, I think psychiatric nurses have been given unfair treatment in the media. Just as not all stepmothers are evil witches busy concocting poisoned apples while preening themselves in front of magical vanity mirrors, then equally not all psychiatric nurses are oppressive, dictatorial demons as personified by Nurse Ratched in the movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". In fact, although I have no first hand experience, I believe that few psychiatric nurses behave like Nurse Ratched. Overall, psychiatric nurses are well trained, compassionate and dedicated to help some of the toughest patients there are. This post is a tribute to them and to thank them for doing a very difficult and often thankless job.

This is my friend, Jo. She is a nurse. She is one of the sweetest and kindest persons I have ever known. I don't know if she finally became a psychiatric nurse but as a student nurse, she had to do a period of on-the-job training at the high security psychiatric ward of a local hospital.

Once, soon after she started, I noticed that she had cut her hair short. It didn't really suit her and I asked why did she do it. "It's funny, really" she said with her characteristically pleasant drawl. "One of the patients tried to strangle me with me own hair." And then she laughed. I didn't think it was that funny to be strangled by your own hair but that was Jo; she laughed these things off and they became unimportant compared to the work, the good that she was doing.

On another occassion, a few of us were invited to a friend's apartment for dinner. When I got there, Jo and a couple of other student nurses were already there. They were seated in the living area and were laughing so hard that tears were rolling down their cheeks. Always looking for a good laugh, I sat down next to Jo and asked what was so funny.

Jo took a couple of deep breaths and dried the tears with a hankerchief before she related the tale to me. "Well, I started on the high security psychiatric ward this week on Tuesday, you see." I nodded as I knew about that.

She continued, "We had been briefed thoroughly on safety measures and I was all pumped up, you know. Adrenaline was rushing as they opened the security doors to let me in."

"I hadn't taken two steps in through the door when I came face to face with this big naked bloke. He stared into my face and I was too surprised to do naught else but to stare right back. Then I heard the voice of the matron yelling, "Stop him!"

"I looked pass the man and I can see a couple of the big male nurses running towards us with the matron behind them. But before I knew it, he slipped past me, through the security doors and was out in the general hospital area."

"I'm sure like me, you'd been rooted to the spot too, uncertain what to do. But suddenly, the matron shouted again for me to stop him and that jolted me into action. After all, if I have learnt naught else on this course, it is to snap to when the matron shouts an order." The other student nurses nodded their heads in agreement.

"So, what did you do?" I asked, captivated by the excitement of the tale.

"Why, I ran after him. I chased him down five flight of stairs, through the cafeteria and we were running along the walkway that runs around that small central garden; the naked bloke in front, me just a few steps behind, much further back a couple of burly male nurses and the matron bringing up the rear, still shouting. What a sight for all to see."

I was visualising it in my mind's eye. It was quite a busy hospital and this must have been quite a commotion. "So what happened next?" I asked in anticipation.

"Well, we were really running. Belting along in that order when suddenly it hit me; what would I, what could I do if I caught up with him."

"So what did you do?" I asked enthusiastically.

"So, I pretended that I got the cramps." she said jubilantly and with that all three nurses broke up into hysterics once more.

As I said, it takes a special breed to do this work. Thank you, Jo and all the others working with the mentally ill. Your patience, resilience, compassion and sense of humor is much appreciated.

Dark Whispers

on Monday, August 27, 2007

Photocredit: LGS

Sometimes even when we stand fully in the sunlight, we hear the whispers made in the dark and the warmth of the sun can become as an unholy chill. This is the reason of my writing this poem. This is its source.

I look back and the path is clear,
It was never that before,
The steps I took that led me here
The heartbreak that I bore
Now floating, glimmering in the air.

The grains of time, each one had fallen,
Taking their place on this mystic chart
Casting their light as if stars in heaven,
Glowing for the giving of love and heart
Marking the sacrifices mostly forgotten.

This child, this land, this tree has grown,
Nurtured by sweat, blood and love
A price paid in youth’s tender years flown
Nothing but the best for the beloved
Its needs and dreams became our own.

Our time, our duty, our charge is at an end
We have served the portion given us
Move on and live again free, my friend
With those words they comfort us
As if a heart that is torn apart can mend.

I give you away before I am forced to,
So you may not see the tears
That our parting seems happy, not blue
No dark uncertainties, no fears
But I will always watch over you

I pray that you continue to grow in stature
And be all that you can be
That is a blessing and a light for the future
Hoping you’d remember me
Not some dark effigy painted by whispers

Culinary Misadventures in Britain

on Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some regular visitors are probably wondering why I have not done my semi-regular "World Food Spot" series for quite a while now. The reason is simple. I am trying to diet and while writing about food is not difficult for me, trying to take beautiful photos about gorgeous food is well,.......mouth watering work. Definately something to avoid while on a diet. Don't worry. I will start that series up again once I fall off the wagon. As a low calorie alternative, I offer you this little rambling about the U.K. and food.

It was while I was studying in Britain in the early 1980's that I really learnt how to cook as opposed to my earlier adventures or rather misadventures in this area which I had described before.

Today, the U.K. might be very cosmopolitian and its food scene very vibrant but back in the 1980's everyone in the European Union were telling jokes about English cooking.

There was this one which says, "Heaven is where the French are the chefs, the Germans are the Engineers, the Italians are the lovers and the British are the police. Hell is when the French are the police, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the engineers and the Britiah are the chefs."

Misadventure 1 Condiment Confusion
When I first arrived, I tried the famous English Fish and Chips and I asked for Tomato Ketchup. "Huh?!" was the reply. "Ketchup for flavoring", I offered. "We use Vinegar here." he replied before attending to the next customer.

Hmmmm. For someone raised on Tomato Ketchup or Chiili Sauce and who had never ever thought of using vinegar as a condiment, it was a cultural shock. I tried the vinegar on the fish and chips and found the mixture to be very foul. However, I was starving and could ill afford to throw food away so I ate it up. Over the next four years, the British weather and food must have altered my senses or pickled my brain cause now I love pungent vinegar on my Fish 'n Chips. I also love soggy chips and mushy peas now though a better part of me remains that shakes his head at my declining food standards.

Misadventure 2 Exotic Foods
Now I also quickly learnt of some very exotic sounding dishes that raised my hopes about British cuisine. I was mesmerized with wonder over dishes with names like "Welsh Rarebit", "Toad in the Hole", "Bangers and Mash" and "Bubble and Squeak". I actively looked for opportunities to try these unique dishes. Needless to say I was soon disappointed when I actually discovered what they were. In retrospect, I now realise that if your cuisine is boring, you try to make up for its inadequacies by creating fanciful names. Spin doctoring, as it were.

For the uninitiated, here is a quick tour of the above;
a) Welsh Rarebit:- Is it a secret welsh recipe for rabbit or perhaps for a "rare bit of meat"? No, it is cheese melted on toast.

b) "Toad in the Hole":- Is this a special way of cooking a meat like fish steamed in bamboo? Is it really toad? No, it is sausages baked with batter.

c) "Bangers and Mash" :- Is this a special combination of food items? Do "bangers" release a powerful punch of flavors? No, it's just sausage and mashed potatoes.

d) "Bubble and Squeak" :- How fascinating? Is it an ancient recipe based on the days of witchcraft and druids? (as in bubbling cauldrons?). What's squeaking? Is it a mouse? No, it is cold cooked vegetables fried together with mash potatoes.

Imagine my disappointment.

Misadventure 3 Vegetarians Beware
After, I had been there in UK for about three years, I felt I had learned most of the idiosyncracies about British cuisine but there was one more surprise waiting to be sprung. Some of my nursing friends, decided to make some mince pies for a Christmas Party. I was present during their discussion and they asked me if I could help by buying the mincemeat. Anxious to enter the spirit of the season, I agreed. I asked how much mincemeat would be needed and they told me that about 2 kg would be enough. The alarm bells started ringing when I asked them if there was a preference for beef or lamb and should it be extra lean.

Apparently, the British with no concern for logic, make mince pies out of mincemeat but mincemeat is a mixture of raisins, apples, spices and vegetable fat. Conversely, they make mincemeat pies out of mince which is made out of meat.

So vegetarians beware and pity the poor squirrel whose little brain had to deal with all this gibberish.

Not Surprised

I saw this at odat's and the result was SO me that I had to share. (just read "squirrel" instead of "wabbit").
It is also one of my favorite books.

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Border Crossing

on Thursday, August 23, 2007

It was 1983. The Iron Curtain was still up. In Malaysia, the communist insurgency in the jungles was still a threat. The Republic of Yugoslavia was still one peaceful nation. That was the year that found me backpacking through parts of Europe. The furthest south and east that I went was to Yugoslavia and specifically to the Plitvice Lakes.

In preparing for this journey, many Malaysian friends warned me about visiting a communist country. Communism was very much the Boogey-man in South East Asia at that time with the fall of Vietnam, the cruel regime in Cambodia and the armed insurgencies raging in the jungles. A friend who made the trip earlier related how she was woken up in the middle of the night when soldiers boarded the train at the Yugoslav border. The soldiers entered her train compartment with force and before her very eyes grabbed a young man who was in the compartment and took him out without explanation. She recalled that the man was silent and appeared to be resigned to his fate and that was the thing that upset her the most about that incident. His resignation and his silence. No one slept for the rest of the journey.

So, it was with some trepidation that I found myself on the train to Yugoslavia. However, my experience was to be altogether quite different. First, there were my travel companions. I had booked a seat on the train but when I got to my compartment, I found one German backpacker and two large Greek women. This was a compartment that seats six people. The problem was that the two Greek women had baggage, bags, cartons of eggs, baskets of fruits etc, which seemed to occupy every seat and every baggage rack. After some mad gesticulation and the frantic waving of my ticket, they grudgingly moved their bundles of vegetables from my seat. Before I could celebrate my small victory, they started smoking in the non-smoking compartment and seemed to deliberately blow the smoke at me.

This rather uncomfortable travel arrangements did distract me from my anxieties but my heart began to race in anticipation when we finally reached the Yugoslav border and the train stopped to allow the immigration and border officials on board. I could hear compartment doors open and orders being shouted in a strange language. The opening and closing of doors grew louder until at last they reached our compartment. The uniformed official came in and demanded in several languages to see our passports. He looked at the German backpacker's passport and seemed to return it with a little salute. However, he was less courteous with the Greek women and scrutinised their passports for a long while before stamping and returning them.

Then, it was my turn. I gave him my passport with a lump in my throat. He looked at in for a very long time. He flicked through every page and kept looking up at me. He said something but I couldn't understand him. Then all of a sudden, while still holding my passport, he steps out of the compartment and takes out a whistle and let go three shrill blasts. To my horror, I could hear the sound of heavy boots running towards us from the front of the train.

Another uniformed man appears at the door. He is younger and clearly the first man's assistant. He had with him a very thick file which I estimate had at least a hundred pages. The two men appeared to be looking through this file while constantly refering to my passport. Needless to say, I was feeling quite concerned. Well actually, close to hysterics. I thought to myself that they must be confusing me with some criminal on their "wanted" list.

This went on for a long while and despite the chill of the night, beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I notice that the German was trying to look disinterested and trying to distance himself from being associated with me. The Greek women on the other hand were smiling and seemed pleased at my discomfort.

After what seemed like eternity, the older man came up to me and said, "Show!" while proffering a small pocket atlas to me. I had a glance at the thick file they carried and it was a list and description of countries. I learnt later that the two border guards had never seen a Malaysian passport, that Malaysia was not in their checklist of countries nor had they heard of Malaysia. I had to show them where the country was on the map. The older guard asked, "Malaysia is real?" So in the end, all my tension ended in comic relief.

They stamped my passport and returned it to me but before they left, he took one last look at me, muttered "Malaysia" to himself and then disappeared into the night. My racing heart did not slow down until the train began moving again.

I am an INFP

on Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The truth is that I have been hiiting the gym and in the last week, my stamina has risen. For example, when I re-started I could only do 1 km on the rowing machine. I now got it up to 4 km. I used to do 5 km regularly before my long lapse from the gym and that is my target this week. Anyway, I am so tired. I decided to take the easy way out and post the result of my personality test. Seems accurate enough.

You Are An INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

In love, you tend to have high (and often unrealistic) standards.
You are very sensitive. You tend to have intense feelings.

At work, you need to do something that expresses your personal values.
You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.

How you see yourself: Unselfish, empathetic, and spiritual

When other people don't get you, they see you as: Unrealistic, naive, and weak

Famous INFPs:
Mary, mother of Jesus
St. John, the beloved disciple
St. Luke; physician, disciple, author
William Shakespeare, bard of Avon
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Evangeline)
A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)
Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie)
Helen Keller, deaf and blind author
Carl Rogers, reflective psychologist, counselor
Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers' Neighborhood)
Dick Clark (American Bandstand)
Donna Reed, actor (It's a Wonderful Life)
Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis
Neil Diamond, vocalist
Tom Brokaw, news anchor
James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small)
Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
James Taylor, vocalist
Julia Roberts, actor (Conspiracy Theory, Pretty Woman)
Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap)
Terri Gross (PBS's "Fresh Air")
Amy Tan (author of The Joy-Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife)
John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Lisa Kudrow ("Phoebe" of Friends)
Fred Savage ("The Wonder Years")

Classical Hamlet and Desperate Housewives

on Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thank you all for the great advice on how to widen my classical music appreciation. I will definately follow up on some of the suggestions. Eastcoastdweller suggested Bach's Air on G-string which immediately struck a chord in the jumble that is my mind. Unfortunately, this melody is for me forever associated with a series of clever ads for a cigar called Hamlet which I will now share with you through the magic of youtube. (Squirrel General's Health warning:- Smoking is bad for you. Do not start. If you've started, try to stop. You are nuts to keep smoking and not "nuts" in a nice way.)

The Lone Grey Squirrel disapproves of smoking cause it is bad for you. I also disapprove of scandalous shows like the "Desperate Housewives". I am sure it is entirely sensationalised to tittilate and seduce viewers but its portrayal of the problems of housewives is misleading and has nothing to do with reality. To balance things up, I offer the following snippets that show a more realistic presentation about the lives of housewives.

This is good advice to common problems faced by housewives.

Classical Squirrel

on Friday, August 17, 2007

About two weeks ago, many of you were kind enough to take part in a poll to determine your collective opinion on which music genre I needed to expose myself more to. Thank you. Your collective wisdom suggested "Rock" (40%) and "Classical" (33%).

Today, I'd like to respond to the suggestion of "classical" music, leaving a discussion on "Rock" music for another time.

I actually agree with you that I am lacking in exposure to classical music. It did not catch on with me easily as I had little interest in listening to songs in Latin or Operas in Italian which I did not understand. Plus they are rather long and sometimes quite repetitive.

However, I am not a total Philistine. Over the years, I have come to love some classical music. The very first classical piece that actually make me sit up, quieten down and listen was Dvorak's New World Symphony. Dvorak wrote this piece taking elements that he had heard and drawing from his experiences in visiting America. I read somewhere that this peaceful and tender melody is suppose to represent the tears of Hiawatha.

My all time favorite classical piece though is Holst's Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity from "The Planets" suite. I enjoy the entire suite but Jupiter stands out.

I offer for you presentations of the two pieces. I welcome your advice on how to widen my appreciation of the genre.

Dvorak's New World Symphony, 2nd Movement (Part1) by the Dublin Philharmonic

Holst's Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity

This version of Holst's Jupiter is also worth looking at. There's beautiful ice skating choreography set to the music.

Have Gourd Will Travel

on Wednesday, August 15, 2007

There was once a very powerful Sultan who used to control much of the seas through which the great trading vessels of the Arabs, Indians and the Chinese had to travel. The tradewinds were such that the port of the Sultanate became an important harbour for these sail ships where they may spend a few months hiding from the storms or biding their time until the winds became favorable for their onward journey. In their holds, they carried the finest silk cloths, the prized blue porcelain, gems, precious metals and spices. The Sultanate grew rich from trade and taxes and the Sultan was respected by all. Why, even the Emperor of China, desirous of a trade agreement, sent a Han Princess to be the Sultan's bride.

Perhaps, because of this, the Sultan was particularly angry and annoyed that one of his subject showed him little respect at all. This man was named Tok Pandai. He was considered a wise and upright man but he felt that the Sultan had allowed power and fame to swell his self-importance to an extent that he had become arrogant and uncaring for his subjects. In a number of encounters with the Sultan, he humiliated the Sultan by publicly defeating him in challenges of wit and intellegence. Each time, the Sultan tried to arrest him on some trumped up charge, Tok Pandai was able to talk himself out of trouble with the soldiers or the officials sent to arrest him.

Finally, after an incident in which Tok Pandai insulted the Sultan's parentage, the Sultan called his most trusted Captain and commanded him to take an elite band of warriors to arrest Tok Pandai at the port at the river mouth and to take him by boat to the Sultan's palace which was located some distance up river where he intended to torture Tok Pandai. To prevent Tok Pandai from using his sharp tongue to icite the ordinary people to come to his aid as had happened too often before, the first thing the captain was to do was to gag him and place a cloth bag over his head.

The Captain and his warriors paddled a long boat downstream to the port and soon found Tok Pandai drinking with friends at a market stall. The Captain had some of his men stage a fight in the market square. Soon everyone's attention was diverted to the fight and they were able to gag and kidnap Tok Pandai and return to their boat before anyone knew what had happened.

They placed Tok Pandai at the back of the boat next to the captain. In front of them, twenty strong warriors manned the oars and started to pull away from the port. Once they were some distance from the port, the captain removed the cloth bag over Tok Pandai's head and took out the gag. He left Tok Pandai's hands tied though. He and the rest of the crew mocked Tok Pandai and assured him that he would not escape the gruesome torture that now awaits him at the Sultan's palace.

To everyone's surprise, Tok Pandai was very cordial and in good spirits. He congratulated the warriors on a well executed kidnapping and even joked about some of the torture he would soon face. As witty as ever, Tok Pandai soon had the crew laughing at his jokes. Even the Captain said "You are a nice fella but make no mistake, we must deliver you to the Sultan or it is on our heads."

Soon, the sun was beating down on the rowers who were also struggling upstream against the strong current. Now this was a very wide and fast flowing river. There was no way Tok Pandai could escape by jumping from the boat as the current would likely draw him under and drown him. The Captain was so sure of this that when Tok Pandai asked to have his hands untied because "Dear captain, if my sentence is torture when I arrive at the palace, then do not torture me beforehand for the rope is cutting into my wrists." The captain relented and untied his hands.

Tok Pandai cheerfully said,"Because you have been kind to an old man, I will make my self useful." With that, he collected all the water gourds. There were ten gourds in all which were placed one between two rowers. These gourds were filled with water for the rowers to drink and because it was so hot, most of the gourds' water had already been consumed. He collected all the gourds, brought them back to the back of the boat where there was a large water container and began to refill the empty gourds. Both the Captain and the men were pleased with this.

However, before Tok Pandai had even filled up two gourds, he said, "Captain, dear captain. I see that your men tire as they paddle against the current. At this rate, we may not reach the palace until nightfall and I hate to think that the Sultan would have to wait so long to have his revenge on me."

"What can we do about it?" the Captain asked.

"Let me teach the men a rowing song. It will help them row in unison and revive their spirits."

" How does this rowing song go?"

Tok Pandai said, "It is very simple. I will lead you in a chant and you will answer with the words 'let him, let him". All the men will strain on their paddles whenever they say 'let him, let him'." Of course, rowing songs were quite common in those days where you pretty much had to row everywhere and the men understood the concept easily.

"Okay. Here we go. The Captain wants to get a tattoo!" hollered Tok Pandai from the back of the boat.

"Let him! Let him!" the men in front yelled back enthusiastically as they rowed in time.

"The Captain wants an Arab maid for his next wife!"

"Let him! Let Him!"

Tok Pandai found out the names of the rowers and used them in the chant too.

"Ol'man Akir wants to drink potion to increase his libido" he shouted.

"Let Him! Let Him!" The men replied merrily. Their spirits were up, they were laughing at some of the funny chants about their friends and everyone knew that the boat was moving faster.

This went on for awhile and then Tok Pandai picked up the empty gourds, tied them around his chest and shouted "The captain wants to take over the chanting."

The men replied, "Let him! Let Him!"

With that, Tok Pandai surprised the Captain and jumped off the boat. The gourds kept him from being dragged under and he floated swiftly downstream. He was not out of danger because the captain could easily turn the boat round and with twenty rowers soon catch up with Tok Pandai.

After the initial shock, the Captain tried to raise the alarm. "Tok Pandai has jumped off the boat!"

"Let him! Let Him!" the men replied.

"Tok Pandai is floatig away on the gourds!"

"Let him! Let him!" they chimed in unison.

"No, Tok Pandai is getting away."

"Let him! Let him!"

"Men! He is escaping!"

"Let him! Let him!"

"Turn around now. The Captain orders you!"

"Let him Let him!"

And that is the story of how the let Tok Pandai escape.(This is a traditional Malay tale as re-told by a squirrel)

One Autumn Night

on Monday, August 13, 2007

Russia was in turmoil. Centuries of oppressive and conservative Tsarist rule had left the nation poor, impoverished in spirit and bereft of vision. For centuries, most Russians were enslaved by serfdom. However, there were a growing number of philosophers and thinkers who were frantic in their desire for Mother Russia and all Russians to prosper, cast off their chains and to have hope under a new social order. Their hearts were filled with passion and their eyes burned with zeal. Yet their path was to lead to the October Revolution of 1917 and the rise of the Bolsheviks.

Maxim Gorky was one of these thinkers and one of the voices for change, egalitarism and justice. He was born Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov but took up the name Maxim Gorky or "Maxim the Bitter". I was a young child when I stumbled across a series of short stories by Maxin Gorky. I did not understand the historical or political setting of his writings then. Nor would I learn until much later that he was hailed by the Soviet Union as a literary champion of communism (although he was also a brave critic of Lenin's excessive policies and some believe Stalin had him murdered) but I was deeply moved by his writing.

Two stories stand out after years of time. I do not remember the name of the first one but it was about a boy watching a fire as it burned down a house and it was all about his fascination and attraction to the dancing flames. It was wonderfully descriptive and somehow you felt you were peering into the soul of the boy even if it seemed like a very disturbed soul. The second one, is called "One Autumn Night" and made an immense impact on me. It is a self-effacing story, one contrasting scholistic and revolutionary pride with a reminder that some of the warmest displays of human greatness comes from amidst the suffering and the disenfranchised. I love it and I hope you do too.


Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and without a night's lodging.

Having sold during the first few days every part of my costume without which it was still possible to go about, I passed from the town into the quarter called "Yste," where were the steamship wharves--a quarter which during the navigation season fermented with boisterous, laborious life, but now was silent and deserted, for we were in the last days of October.

Dragging my feet along the moist sand, and obstinately scrutinising it with the desire to discover in it any sort of fragment of food, I wandered alone among the deserted buildings and warehouses, and thought how good it would be to get a full meal.

In our present state of culture hunger of the mind is more quickly satisfied than hunger of the body. You wander about the streets, you are surrounded by buildings not bad-looking from the outside and--you may safely say it--not so badly furnished inside, and the sight of them may excite within you stimulating ideas about architecture, hygiene, and many other wise and high-flying subjects. You may meet warmly and neatly dressed folks--all very polite, and turning away from you tactfully, not wishing offensively to notice the lamentable fact of your existence. Well, well, the mind of a hungry man is always better nourished and healthier than the mind of the well-fed man; and there you have a situation from which you may draw a very ingenious conclusion in favour of the ill fed.

The evening was approaching, the rain was falling, and the wind blew violently from the north. It whistled in the empty booths and shops, blew into the plastered window-panes of the taverns, and whipped into foam the wavelets of the river which splashed noisily on the sandy shore, casting high their white crests, racing one after another into the dim distance, and leaping impetuously over one another's shoulders. It seemed as if the river felt the proximity of winter, and was running at random away from the fetters of ice which the north wind might well have flung upon her that very night. The sky was heavy and dark; down from it swept incessantly scarcely visible drops of rain, and the melancholy elegy in nature all around me was emphasised by a couple of battered and misshapen willow-trees and a boat, bottom upwards, that was fastened to their roots.

The overturned canoe with its battered keel and the miserable old trees rifled by the cold wind--everything around me was bankrupt, barren, and dead, and the sky flowed with undryable tears... Everything around was waste and gloomy ... it seemed as if everything were dead, leaving me alone among the living, and for me also a cold death waited.

I was then eighteen years old--a good time!

I walked and walked along the cold wet sand, making my chattering teeth warble in honour of cold and hunger, when suddenly, as I was carefully searching for something to eat behind one of the empty crates, I perceived behind it, crouching on the ground, a figure in woman's clothes dank with the rain and clinging fast to her stooping shoulders. Standing over her, I watched to see what she was doing. It appeared that she was digging a trench in the sand with her hands--digging away under one of the crates.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked, crouching down on my heels quite close to her.

She gave a little scream and was quickly on her legs again. Now that she stood there staring at me, with her wide-open grey eyes full of terror, I perceived that it was a girl of my own age, with a very pleasant face embellished unfortunately by three large blue marks. This spoilt her, although these blue marks had been distributed with a remarkable sense of proportion, one at a time, and all were of equal size--two under the eyes, and one a little bigger on the forehead just over the bridge of the nose. This symmetry was evidently the work of an artist well inured to the business of spoiling the human physiognomy.

The girl looked at me, and the terror in her eyes gradually died out... She shook the sand from her hands, adjusted her cotton head-gear, cowered down, and said:

"I suppose you too want something to eat? Dig away then! My hands are tired. Over there"--she nodded her head in the direction of a booth--"there is bread for certain ... and sausages too... That booth is still carrying on business."

I began to dig. She, after waiting a little and looking at me, sat down beside me and began to help me.

We worked in silence. I cannot say now whether I thought at that moment of the criminal code, of morality, of proprietorship, and all the other things about which, in the opinion of many experienced persons, one ought to think every moment of one's life. Wishing to keep as close to the truth as possible, I must confess that apparently I was so deeply engaged in digging under the crate that I completely forgot about everything else except this one thing: What could be inside that crate?

The evening drew on. The grey, mouldy, cold fog grew thicker and thicker around us. The waves roared with a hollower sound than before, and the rain pattered down on the boards of that crate more loudly and more frequently. Somewhere or other the night-watchman began springing his rattle.

"Has it got a bottom or not?" softly inquired my assistant. I did not understand what she was talking about, and I kept silence.

"I say, has the crate got a bottom? If it has we shall try in vain to break into it. Here we are digging a trench, and we may, after all, come upon nothing but solid boards. How shall we take them off? Better smash the lock; it is a wretched lock."

Good ideas rarely visit the heads of women, but, as you see, they do visit them sometimes. I have always valued good ideas, and have always tried to utilise them as far as possible.

Having found the lock, I tugged at it and wrenched off the whole thing. My accomplice immediately stooped down and wriggled like a serpent into the gaping-open, four cornered cover of the crate whence she called to me approvingly, in a low tone:

"You're a brick!"

Nowadays a little crumb of praise from a woman is dearer to me than a whole dithyramb from a man, even though he be more eloquent than all the ancient and modern orators put together. Then, however, I was less amiably disposed than I am now, and, paying no attention to the compliment of my comrade, I asked her curtly and anxiously:

"Is there anything?"

In a monotonous tone she set about calculating our discoveries.

"A basketful of bottles--thick furs--a sunshade--an iron pail."

All this was uneatable. I felt that my hopes had vanished... But suddenly she exclaimed vivaciously:

"Aha! here it is!"


"Bread ... a loaf ... it's only wet ... take it!"

A loaf flew to my feet and after it herself, my valiant comrade. I had already bitten off a morsel, stuffed it in my mouth, and was chewing it...

"Come, give me some too!... And we mustn't stay here... Where shall we go?" she looked inquiringly about on all sides... It was dark, wet, and boisterous.

"Look! there's an upset canoe yonder ... let us go there."

"Let us go then!" And off we set, demolishing our booty as we went, and filling our mouths with large portions of it... The rain grew more violent, the river roared; from somewhere or other resounded a prolonged mocking whistle--just as if Someone great who feared nobody was whistling down all earthly institutions and along with them this horrid autumnal wind and us its heroes. This whistling made my heart throb painfully, in spite of which I greedily went on eating, and in this respect the girl, walking on my left hand, kept even pace with me.

"What do they call you?" I asked her--why I know not.

"Natasha," she answered shortly, munching loudly.

I stared at her. My heart ached within me; and then I stared into the mist before me, and it seemed to me as if the inimical countenance of my Destiny was smiling at me enigmatically and coldly.

* * * * *

The rain scourged the timbers of the skiff incessantly, and its soft patter induced melancholy thoughts, and the wind whistled as it flew down into the boat's battered bottom through a rift, where some loose splinters of wood were rattling together--a disquieting and depressing sound. The waves of the river were splashing on the shore, and sounded so monotonous and hopeless, just as if they were telling something unbearably dull and heavy, which was boring them into utter disgust, something from which they wanted to run away and yet were obliged to talk about all the same. The sound of the rain blended with their splashing, and a long-drawn sigh seemed to be floating above the overturned skiff--the endless, labouring sigh of the earth, injured and exhausted by the eternal changes from the bright and warm summer to the cold misty and damp autumn. The wind blew continually over the desolate shore and the foaming river--blew and sang its melancholy songs...

Our position beneath the shelter of the skiff was utterly devoid of comfort; it was narrow and damp, tiny cold drops of rain dribbled through the damaged bottom; gusts of wind penetrated it. We sat in silence and shivered with cold. I remembered that I wanted to go to sleep. Natasha leaned her back against the hull of the boat and curled herself up into a tiny ball. Embracing her knees with her hands, and resting her chin upon them, she stared doggedly at the river with wide-open eyes; on the pale patch of her face they seemed immense, because of the blue marks below them. She never moved, and this immobility and silence--I felt it--gradually produced within me a terror of my neighbour. I wanted to talk to her, but I knew not how to begin.

It was she herself who spoke.

"What a cursed thing life is!" she exclaimed plainly, abstractedly, and in a tone of deep conviction.

But this was no complaint. In these words there was too much of indifference for a complaint. This simple soul thought according to her understanding--thought and proceeded to form a certain conclusion which she expressed aloud, and which I could not confute for fear of contradicting myself. Therefore I was silent, and she, as if she had not noticed me, continued to sit there immovable.

"Even if we croaked ... what then...?" Natasha began again, this time quietly and reflectively, and still there was not one note of complaint in her words. It was plain that this person, in the course of her reflections on life, was regarding her own case, and had arrived at the conviction that in order to preserve herself from the mockeries of life, she was not in a position to do anything else but simply "croak"--to use her own expression.

The clearness of this line of thought was inexpressibly sad and painful to me, and I felt that if I kept silence any longer I was really bound to weep... And it would have been shameful to have done this before a woman, especially as she was not weeping herself. I resolved to speak to her.

"Who was it that knocked you about?" I asked. For the moment I could not think of anything more sensible or more delicate.

"Pashka did it all," she answered in a dull and level tone.

"And who is he?"

"My lover... He was a baker."

"Did he beat you often?"

"Whenever he was drunk he beat me... Often!"

And suddenly, turning towards me, she began to talk about herself, Pashka, and their mutual relations. He was a baker with red moustaches and played very well on the banjo. He came to see her and greatly pleased her, for he was a merry chap and wore nice clean clothes. He had a vest which cost fifteen rubles and boots with dress tops. For these reasons she had fallen in love with him, and he became her "creditor." And when he became her creditor he made it his business to take away from her the money which her other friends gave to her for bonbons, and, getting drunk on this money, he would fall to beating her; but that would have been nothing if he hadn't also begun to "run after" other girls before her very eyes.

"Now, wasn't that an insult? I am not worse than the others. Of course that meant that he was laughing at me, the blackguard. The day before yesterday I asked leave of my mistress to go out for a bit, went to him, and there I found Dimka sitting beside him drunk. And he, too, was half seas over. I said, 'You scoundrel, you!' And he gave me a thorough hiding. He kicked me and dragged me by the hair. But that was nothing to what came after. He spoiled everything I had on--left me just as I am now! How could I appear before my mistress? He spoiled everything ... my dress and my jacket too--it was quite a new one; I gave a fiver for it ... and tore my kerchief from my head... Oh, Lord! What will become of me now?" she suddenly whined in a lamentable overstrained voice.

The wind howled, and became ever colder and more boisterous... Again my teeth began to dance up and down, and she, huddled up to avoid the cold, pressed as closely to me as she could, so that I could see the gleam of her eyes through the darkness.

"What wretches all you men are! I'd burn you all in an oven; I'd cut you in pieces. If any one of you was dying I'd spit in his mouth, and not pity him a bit. Mean skunks! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and it's all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot... Miserable loafers'"

She cursed us up and down, but there was no vigour, no malice, no hatred of these "miserable loafers" in her cursing that I could hear. The tone of her language by no means corresponded with its subject-matter, for it was calm enough, and the gamut of her voice was terribly poor.

Yet all this made a stronger impression on me than the most eloquent and convincing pessimistic bocks and speeches, of which I had read a good many and which I still read to this day. And this, you see, was because the agony of a dying person is much more natural and violent than the most minute and picturesque descriptions of death.

I felt really wretched--more from cold than from the words of my neighbour. I groaned softly and ground my teeth.

Almost at the same moment I felt two little arms about me--one of them touched my neck and the other lay upon my face--and at the same time an anxious, gentle, friendly voice uttered the question:

"What ails you?"

I was ready to believe that some one else was asking me this and not Natasha, who had just declared that all men were scoundrels, and expressed a wish for their destruction. But she it was, and now she began speaking quickly, hurriedly.

"What ails you, eh? Are you cold? Are you frozen? Ah, what a one you are, sitting there so silent like a little owl! Why, you should have told me long ago that you were cold. Come ... lie on the ground ... stretch yourself out and I will lie ... there! How's that? Now put your arms round me?... tighter! How's that? You shall be warm very soon now... And then we'll lie back to back... The night will pass so quickly, see if it won't. I say ... have you too been drinking?... Turned out of your place, eh?... It doesn't matter."

And she comforted me... She encouraged me.

May I be thrice accursed! What a world of irony was in this single fact for me! Just imagine! Here was I, seriously occupied at this very time with the destiny of humanity, thinking of the re-organisation of the social system, of political revolutions, reading all sorts of devilishly-wise books whose abysmal profundity was certainly unfathomable by their very authors--at this very time. I say, I was trying with all my might to make of myself "a potent active social force." It even seemed to me that I had partially accomplished my object; anyhow, at this time, in my ideas about myself, I had got so far as to recognise that I had an exclusive right to exist, that I had the necessary greatness to deserve to live my life, and that I was fully competent to play a great historical part therein. And a woman was now warming me with her body, a wretched, battered, hunted creature, who had no place and no value in life, and whom I had never thought of helping till she helped me herself, and whom I really would not have known how to help in any way even if the thought of it had occurred to me.

Ah! I was ready to think that all this was happening to me in a dream--in a disagreeable, an oppressive dream.

But, ugh! it was impossible for me to think that, for cold drops of rain were dripping down upon me, the woman was pressing close to me, her warm breath was fanning my face, and--despite a slight odor of vodka--it did me good. The wind howled and raged, the rain smote upon the skiff, the waves splashed, and both of us, embracing each other convulsively, nevertheless shivered with cold. All this was only too real, and I am certain that nobody ever dreamed such an oppressive and horrid dream as that reality.

But Natasha was talking all the time of something or other, talking kindly and sympathetically, as only women can talk. Beneath the influence of her voice and kindly words a little fire began to burn up within me, and something inside my heart thawed in consequence.

Then tears poured from my eyes like a hailstorm, washing away from my heart much that was evil, much that war, stupid, much sorrow and dirt which had fastened upon it before that night. Natasha comforted me.

"Come, come, that will do, little one! Don't take on! That'll do! God will give you another chance ... you will right yourself and stand in your proper place again ... and it will be all right..."

And she kept kissing me ... many kisses did she give me ... burning kisses ... and all for nothing...

Those were the first kisses from a woman that had ever been bestowed upon me, and they were the best kisses too, for all the subsequent kisses cost me frightfully dear, and really gave me nothing at all in exchange.

"Come, don't take on so, funny one! I'll manage for you to-morrow if you cannot find a place." Her quiet persuasive whispering sounded in my ears as if it came through a dream...

There we lay till dawn...

And when the dawn came, we crept from behind the skiff and went into the town... Then we took friendly leave of each other and never met again, although for half a year I searched in every hole and corner for that kind Natasha, with whom I spent the autumn night just described.

If she be already dead--and well for her if it were so--may she rest in peace! And if she be alive ... still I say "Peace to her soul!" And may the consciousness of her fall never enter her soul ... for that would be a superfluous and fruitless suffering if life is to be lived...

To The Stars ....or Bust.

on Friday, August 10, 2007

Star Trek is a television and movie franchise that has many fans and perhaps has introduced more people today to the science fiction genre than any other work of fiction. I , myself am a fan of the series. My favorite is still the original with Captain Kirk, Spock and gang. At least they had to solve their problems with a mix of brawn and brain. Unfortunately, too often in Star Trek the Next Generation, Data wins the day by "reversing the polarity of the positronic matrix in resonance with the flux amplitude" or some similar pseudo-scientific gibberish.

My purpose in mentioning Star Trek is merely to point out one popular view of man's future. This view is optimistic; believing that science and technological advances will improve the quality of life, give us all forms of conveniences like the food replicator or the transporter. That it will gives us new toys to entertain us like the holodeck and all kinds of medicines to prolong life. This view believes in a bright future for man amongst the stars where even the superior races are impressed by man's intellect and drive and before long man takes there place amongst the star travellers as equals. "The Contact", starring Jodie Foster, also subscribes to this view of a bright and glorious future.

For many years, the science fiction community also promoted the opposite view. This is the view that man's future is a dark one, where man's own technology leads to a breakdown in society or worse where man's technology turns against him. "Blade Runner" and "Brazil" are examples of this vision of the future where society has lost its way and life and freedom are frequent casualties. This is also the world of the Terminator series and the Battlestar Galactica series where our robots and technology turn round and try to eliminate mankind in mass genocide.

The vast majority of science fiction stories fall into either camp. This in turn, I believe, reflects the confidence and beliefs of the general public.
Over the years, other more innovative variations of the theme have appeared. In movies like "Serenity", science and technology may advance but man's basic problems of greed, intolerance and lust for power remain unchanged. This may be considered a form of middle-ground between the Star Trek universe and the Terminator universe.

One variation which I really enjoy is the one portrayed by Arthur C. Clarke in his "Rama" series of books. In this story, an enormous cylindrical spaceship enters our solar system. The story relates how man prepares to meet this impressive sign of extra terrestrial intellegence. From the time it is first spotted going pass Pluto on its way through our solar system, all the nations work franctically to get a spacecraft up to meet it. Despite our best efforts, the cylindrical ship passed through the solar system without recognising man's efforts to make first contact. In fact, it ignores man. This is a very interesting view of the universe, which holds that man may continue to advance in science and technology and may one day reach the stars but when we get there, we discover that the superior races not only do not find us interesting, they ignore us as being insignificant. Would man then survive this blow to his ego?

Do you believe our future is the hands of technology is a bright one or a dark one?

Skin And Bones

on Thursday, August 09, 2007

Spurred on by Mark's comments (The Walking Man), I am re-embarking on my get healthy and lose weight campaign. If you could be so kind, you can be my cheerleading section. I weigh 210 lbs (95 kg). My ideal weight is 165 lbs (75 kg). My nephew is getting married at the end of October; about 2 months away. I would like to drop at least 20 lbs or 9 kg by then.

Today, I returned to the gym after an absence of a year. I tried rowing. I used to be very good at that. I normally rowed 5 km in 20 minutes. Today, I had to stop after only 1.5 km because I was getting severe muscle cramps in the abdomen. Altogether, I was only about 70 % of where I was the last time I was at the gym. I'll keep you updated on my progress. Did I inspire anyone to follow suit?


THIS IS ME, ...........DIETING!

What? Me Cute?

on Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Recently, someone made this comment;

"You know what you sometimes hide really well on this blog (but whichy comes through hugely in this post)?

You're really cute."

Because I am moderately "schizo", "schizotypal", "avoidance" and "dependent" inclined squirrel according to the online personality disorder test. (and I thought I was just being paranoid), I couldn't sleep for weeks. What was the meaning of this comment? Why did she say I was "really cute"? What does "cute" mean?

So I looked up the definition of "cute" in the Encarta Dictionary and this is what I found;

cute [ kyoot ] (comparative cut·er, superlative cut·est)


1. attractive in childlike way: endearingly attractive in the way that some children and young animals are
Are you trying to say I'm immature? I am way too old to be confused with a child or a young animal. Don't forget, I am a "grey" squirrel......and no spring chicken.

2. physically attractive: young and physically attractive
I wish! If you meant this, you must have been trying to be sarcastic. Why would you be sarcastic? Why? Instead of being sarcastic, send money for er...surgical enhancements.

3. pleasing: smaller than the usual size but nicely arranged or appointed
an apartment with a cute little kitchen

I assure you that I am the opposite of being smaller than usual size. Stop dropping hints! I am joining the gym soon to work on the problem! Honestly!

4. shrewd: sharply intelligent or wily

Did you mean this? I hope you meant this! Now finally this makes some sense. Still, I don't understand why you said that I hide it very well. Hmmmm. Are you trying to be cute?

(This blog was meant to be humorous. No squirrel was actually offended, left sleepless or in fact committed to a psychiatric ward before or during the course of producing this post. The management of this blog also hopes no commentor was similarly offended).

Just As I Am

on Sunday, August 05, 2007

Last week when I was doing posts on the Theme Songs through my life, Janice asked about spiritual songs which I had not included. Indeed, I could have traced my spiritual journey through a list of songs and Hymns. The earliest hymn, that meant something to me was "Just as I am".

This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835 and set to music by William Bradbury in 1849. There is an interesting story here. Charlotte was visiting some friends in West London and she was introduced to a Christian Minister, Cesar Malan. While seated at dinner, Dr. Malan asked if she was a Christian. She took great offence to being asked this and refused to answer the question. Dr. Malan apologised saying that he tried whenever possible to speak about God's good news and said he hoped that she would one day be a worker for Christ.

When they met again at another gathering a few weeks later, Charlotte confessed that since their first meeting and his question, she had been seeking her Saviour but did not know how to come to Him. To which, Dr. Malan replied, "Just come to Him as you are." With these words she came to the Lord and opened her heart and life to Him. She wrote this hymn soon after, in effect, a testimony to her conversion experience.

This was the same hymn that was being sung when I made a decision for Christ and so was part of my conversion experience too. Until that moment, I had tried to make deals with God asking for help but wanting to live life for myself and not surrendering it to God. So the words of the hymn held two meanings to me. The first was the realisation that I could not bargain with God because I had nothing to offer. The second was the realisation that there was nothing I could do to make myself worthy of His love and forgiveness but it didn't matter because it was all about His free gift of love and forgiveness. I came to Him bereft of bargains, pleadings, arguements and excuses and found peace, love and acceptance. I hope that one day this might be your experience too.

Photocredit: Groflow

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come

Still Not Going Swimming Soon

on Saturday, August 04, 2007

First there was Jaws; then the sequel, Jaws II:Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. Then there was Jaws III : 3D and the final movie in the series, Jaws IV: The Revenge. Imagine if there was another movie, might it be named "Jaws V: Gums - the Latter Years"?

I had previously posted about the discovery of a prehistoric frilled shark off the coast of Japan in January this year. That post may be found here for more detailed information. Just recently, I came across a video of the animal and it remains, for me, eerie and yet fascinating. Here it is.

Feeling generous, you will now get a chance to see a second rare, deep sea creature in this one post. This one is called the Megamouth Shark. Wikipedia says, "
The megamouth shark, Megachasma pelagios, is an extremely rare and unusual species of deepwater shark. Discovered in 1976, only a few have ever been seen, with 39 specimens known to have been caught or sighted as of 2007 and three recordings on film. Like the basking shark and whale shark, it is a filter feeder, and swims with its enormous mouth wide open, filtering water for plankton and jellyfish. It is distinctive for its large head with rubbery lips. It is so unlike any other type of shark that it is classified in its own family Megachasmidae, though it has been suggested that it may belong in the family Cetorhinidae of which the basking shark is currently the sole member."

Megamouths grow up to 5.5 metres in length and have a characteristic large and soft head and mouth.

Let The Men Be Afraid.....

on Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Yes, let the men be afraid, ...very afraid. And let the women ....drool. After reading squirrel and medstudentwife's comments, I decided that I would be a poor host if you had to scour elsewhere for video of sweaty hunks performing the haka. So here it is.

This first one is the traditional haka or "Ka Mate".

This second one is the new haka introduced in 2006 and is one that was specifically written for the All Blacks team. It is called "Kapa O Pango". This video is the recording of first time that this new haka is performed which was in a match with South Africa. It is also the first time that the haka is led by a non-Maori. The leader is the talented team captain Tana Umanga who is Samoan. Watch for the close up of the eye rolling and throat slitting at the end of the video. Extra marks if you understand the Japanese commentary.

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