A Gift of Kindness

on Saturday, December 29, 2007

I was tagged by Kimber the Wolfgrrrl to do this meme which is in line with this season of goodness and cheer.

The instructions:
1) Post a note about a blogger you would like to see something wonderful happen for. Maybe one whose posts have touched your heart in one way or another. Include details as to why you admire them and what you wish for them. Be as supporting and affirming as you can.
2) Post your favorite memory around selflessness, giving, or doing for others. Something that has actually changed you.
3) As a postscript, name one thing you will actually do for someone in your life before December 31 that is born out of joy.
4) Tag 3 other bloggers who will play the game and find the spirit. Don't forget to leave a comment on their blog so they continue to share the good feelings.

Wow! This was the toughest meme that I have ever done. For this first section, I took the entire list of bloggers (more than 50) that I visit with some regularity and I mulled it over for more than a week. Finally I took a deep breath and managed to slice it down to 10. It took me a whole morning of trying to avoid making a decision and finally I narrowed it down to two and then finally one.

I wish something wonderful for Janice Thomson (Pursuance of Truth). If you visit Janice’s blog, you are treated on an almost daily basis to some pearl of wisdom or a beautiful and insightful poem; sometimes uplifting, sometimes humorous, sometimes deep and profound but always inspirational. As if that was not enough, she also treats us to a beautiful picture or painting which is an appropriate accompaniment to the prose.

Janice is clearly a person who gives of herself. She used to work as a nurse for mentally challenged adult patients. I admire all nurses but nurses doing palliative care or nurses working with the mentally challenged are in my opinion deserving even higher adulation.

In recent times though, Janice has faced a great deal of problems with uncertainty about her health and her abode. Yet, though there is an occasional acknowledgement of her problems in her blog, it is not long before she brushes it aside with more life affirming and life reveling prose. So I would like to wish something wonderful for Janice for the person that she is and for being an example of grace under pressure.

Favorite Memory Around Selflessness, Giving and Doing for Others. I have actually already shared my personal favorite memory about selfless giving (Juliet, Juliet, Wherefore Art Thou?). However, I would like to tell the story of someone else that I met. Her name is Mariliana Morales. I met her when I took part in a special study tour organized for representatives of non-profit organizations in 2005. The reason why I want to share her story is that I have always felt an empathy for prostitutes but unlike me who have done little to act on this feeling, Mariliana has put her whole life into helping them.

Mariliana was a successful business woman in Costa Rica and she was married to a successful businessman. Although a Christian, she was not an active one as running her business was her life. However, one day she just felt that there had to be more to life than being a slave to work. She turned to God in prayer for direction. Then as she was driving, she looked out and saw written in clouds in the sky, the word “Prostitutes”.

She pondered and wrestled with her vision for awhile and finally told her husband that she wanted to give up her business and work amongst prostitutes and to help them. The husband was supportive but incredulous. Mariliana was in the upper echelon of society. Until then, she was not even aware that Costa Rica had prostitutes. She told her husband that she would not even know how to start looking for a prostitute.

PhotoCredit: - LGS Chowing Down on Maine's Best Clam Chowder (Mariliana -second from right)

Before long, someone knocked on her door. It was a young girl who had been physically abused by a client and was on the run looking for sanctuary. It was the defining moment. Mariliana did not hesitate but took her in. Her first prostitute.

She went on to look for a place to house prostitutes, protect them from their pimps, provide re-training for another job, take in their children and give them education. Thus was founded the Rahab Foundation on November 12th 1997. In the first month alone 30 prostitutes found their way to this sanctuary. Many of them testify that they had prayed to God in their despair and had received a vision to look for the Rahab Foundation which was virtually unknown at that time.

In the last 10 years, thousands have benefited from Mariliana’s and the Foundation’s work. Today, they provide sanctuary for over 500 seeking to escape prostitution and to make a new life. Over the years, 70% of those who have come through the Foundation have found freedom to live a new life.

In my short interaction with Mariliana, I surmise her to be a strong, intellegent woman with a sharp business acumen and organizational skills but the prominent characteristic that all who have met her would go away with would be the sense of her spirit of servitude for others. She reminds me that I could do more for others too.

To do list before 31st December. Well, I plan to just come in under the wire and invite a friend who has been feeling a little down after her relationship with someone fell through to a little group caring at a gathering of old friends for a New Year’s Eve Party. She has not seen many of us for quite a while and I am hoping that our meeting will be like returning to a loving, strong and supportive touchstone.

Tagging others. I think I will have to decline tagging others as it would be unfair for them to try to do this meme before new year which is just a few days away.

Not Missing the Point

on Friday, December 28, 2007

A little joke that I heard;

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

"In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven." The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter.

He flicked it on. It represents a candle, he said. "You may pass through the pearly gates", said Saint Peter.

The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells." Saint Peter said, "You may pass through the pearly gates."

The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's knickers. St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just how do those symbolize Christmas?"

The man replied, "They're Carol's."


And singing carols is exactly how I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day. On Christmas eve, I went to a friends home and the husband and wife played host to family, friends and even neighbors. Everyone brought something along so that the hostess was not too worn out with the practicalities of providing for about 50 people.

The highlight though was that we put together a small band consisting of a pianist, 2 guitarists and a drummer and we all got together to sing Christmas Carols. I was made to be the song leader which I did with much enthusiasm. Being warm Malaysia, I was soaked in sweat by the end of the singing. I also shared a little about how Christmas was about God's gift of love and hope to men in their darkness, the gift of Jesus Christ. Today, Christmas may come up all wrapped up in gift exchanges, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and such like but to focus on that and not on Christ is like getting excited about the gift wrappings and ribbons but forgetting about the present itself.

On Christmas Day, our church actually took over a small actor's studio and stage and held a service attended bu about 300 people. There were two plays presented; one by the Sunday School kids of ages 10 and under and another by the youth. Both plays and the subsequent message focussed on the thought that we should not miss out on the most important thing about Christmas.

I found the play by the youth especially good. The play started in Bethlehem on that first Christmas and it focussed on how busy the innkeeper and his wife was because the hotel was full. So busy that they did not play with their children or tend to their needs. So busy that they did not notice the stream of shepherds visiting the baby in the stable. So busy that they failed to notice the choir of angels in the sky proclaiming the Saviour's birth.

The play then shifts to modern days and we see a young couple who have no time to play with their kids. They have too much work, too much church activities and too much other activities. So busy with buying presents, with cooking, with throwing parties that they miss out on the most important aspect of Christmas.....Christ himself.

I had a great Christmas. I hope yours was also wonderful and blessed.

Unburied Nuts from 23rd December 2006; "Not a Creature Was Stirring"

on Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Creature Stirred and Left These Mysterious Trails....

photocredits: Deep river

"Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse…….."

(Excerpt from poem by Clement Clarke Moore; 1822)

Snow had fallen thickly during the night and the wind had blown fiercely with its own melancholic howling through the trees. I was glad to have
been tucked in bed that night safe and snug. Christmas was a couple of days away and when I drifted off to sleep, I was soon in a dream world filled with the visions of the expected wonders of warm fellowship and the joys of the season.

I awoke the early the next day while the morning light was still dim, feeling fully rested and fresh. I excitedly went to my small basement window and as expected the night’s
storm had dusted everything with an inch or two of snow, creating a wonderland. The distant street lamps were still able to cast sufficient light on the newly fallen snow that everything seemed to sparkle like diamonds.

It was then I realized that someone had already been up and about before my eyes had opened to the new day. Just in front of the window was a wooden walkway and a small bush. Both were coated in snow but clearly visible all around them were tiny tracks. Spikey had already come by.

Grey Squirrels do not hibernate. They remain active during winter and are most active during the daytime when it is warmer. I had continued to feed Spikey during winter with nuts. Initially, I left them in a pile on the wooden walkway. However, I soon realized this exposed the poor creature to the blowing wind. I eventually found a large rock that was suitable as a feeding table because it had a shallow hollow on its top surface which was ideal for placing the nuts. I placed it next to a small bush.

I had chosen the bush because its network of leaves and branches created a scaffold for the snow to layer upon creating a snow igloo of sorts with the interior spacious
and ice-free. Spikey was able to enter and shelter under the snow-covered bush and feed while reasonably protected by the elements. The bush was also within easy view of my window which enabled me to observe squirrel behavior throughout the winter.

At the Feeding Station

photocredit: drroz2

Drawing from Anonymous. Animal Tracks, Stackpole Co., 1954.

The tracks of the grey squirrel in the snow is fairly easy to recognize and has been described as the double exclamation marks, “!!”. This pattern stems from the gait of the squirrel who first plants its two small front paws in the snow and pushes himself forward before his hind legs land in the snow, just ahead of where the front paws first was planted. The long strokes of the double exclamation mark is made by the relatively long hind paws while the front paws provide the periods for the exclamation mark.

For me, seeing a trail of “!!” was a real heart warmer on a cold winter’s morning.

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Lights and Sounds of Christmas

on Friday, December 21, 2007

As Christmas comes nearer, I am trying to put aside the distractions of the world and to really enjoy the season by remembering it is all about celebrating God's love for all of us. I am trying to see, hear, smell, touch and taste Christmas. In doing so, I hope to share with you some of the things that make Christmas real to me.

I am going to start with the lights of Christmas. There is something magical about Christmas lights especially if reflected on the white snow. It also reminds me that Christmas is about light entering into a dark world to give us hope. I think also of the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem to see the baby, Jesus. There is no snow in Malaysia but I still try to get the Christmas lights out and decorate the tree (again no real pine trees so I miss the smell of pine) and it gives me a sense of warmth watching them flicker in the quiet of the night.

This following video might be a little overboard on the lights but I admire the guy's spirit and his artistic creation.

Then there are the sounds of Christmas. For me carol singing and some seasonal songs are essential parts of Christmas. I enjoy singing along. With this next video I hope to capture part of the special sounds of Christmas. The song by the Drifters is one of my favorite popular Christmas songs.

Finally and perhaps most important for me is to also find some silence to remember the birth of Christ and to honor and worship him. This last video has Sarah MacLaughlin singing a very interesting version of my favorite carol, O little town of Bethlehem. The phrase "And in Thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight" reminds me of what was at stake with Christ's birth. I am reminded that God loved us and He gave light to our darkness and hope for our despair. Have a Blessed Christmas everyone.

Sinking Feeling

on Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Malaysia started 2007 with a splash with what turned out for the southern part of Peninsula Malaysia to be the worst floods for a century. Not only were the flood waters extremely high (one village was swept away when waters rose 100 feet above normal) but in some areas it did not recede for almost a month. The financial costs to the Government alone for repairs was over RM1 billion or over USD 350 million. The reason for the floods was cited as extremely heavy rain and unusually high tides which caused the waters in the rivers to back up.

Now it seems that Malaysia will end the year with another set of record breaking floods. While it is too early to see if the damage caused or the duration of the floods are comparable to the January floods or even worse, the total area affected seem to be much bigger. Again extremely high sea levels and high tides are said to be the main contributing factors.

Flooding was an annual event with the onset of the Northeast Monsoon until the 1970's when the building of bunds, proper drainage and irrigation and other engineering efforts brought the flood waters under control. That is until now. After more than thirty years of controlled flooding due to these engineering measures, why are these record setting floods occurring now? Can all of you say, "Climate Change" and ........"rising sea levels"?

If I Were God . . . . . . .

on Sunday, December 16, 2007

If I were to put myself in God’s place,
And desired to reveal myself to all mankind,
Whom might I choose as champion or face,
To bring an image of God’s nature to mind.

For God’s Almighty Power or strength,
To show what Divine Might is about,
There is no need to think at length,
It would have to be Hercules or the Hulk.

God’s power and His domain is over all nature
Over the living and all physical matter, the Lord of the Universe
Able to create or destroy, past, present and future
Calling up storms and throwing thunderbolts, it has to be Zeus.

When it comes to portraying God’s justice
To show that God’s law is all-important, His judgment right
Judge Dredd executes swiftly without prejudice
Allowing no excuses or remorse for all is black and white

And what of God’s Glory, its brightness and its radiance
The King of Kings, surrounded and worshiped by the Heavenly hosts
Perhaps Cleopatra with her subjects prostrate in her sight,
Adorned from head to toe with finest gold and jewels might come close

But now, how to show the softer side as well,
That God is also qualities like love, merriment and happiness,
They amongst the Greek and Roman pantheons dwell
Let the good times roll with the likes of Aphrodite, Pan and Bacchus.

But I am thankful that God is greater and wiser than me
That He does care for man and to show Himself, He had a plan,
God’s power, might, divinity, justice, glory, love, shown clearly
Not by warrior or king, not in gold and finery or mighty men,
To serve and not to be served, in humility came as a baby,
To save and seek the lost, the journey started in Bethlehem.

“For there was no other way, the God of Love could find,
To reconcile the world and save a lost mankind.”

Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Putting Words to the Pictures

on Friday, December 14, 2007

With reference to the previous post, here is the answers in words for all you bloggers to lazy to burn a few brain cells.

1. The answer is boldly written for all to see. I wonder how old you thought I was. One blogger had previously thought I was a teenager. At first I thought that it meant she thought I was youthful but then again maybe she thought I was immature. Hmmm. Incidentaly if you look at what is written on the car bonnet or hood, that is what I would like to do with my next birthday. Any ideas how to do that?

2. Actually there are a whole bunch of places I would like to go to but this just happens to be flavor of the moment. It is Dubrovnik in Croatia. A World Heritage Site. History, spectacular scenery and warm Mediterranean waters. Plus it is still slightly off the beaten path.

3. Lake Louise. I was in Canada for about 3.5 years. From my base in Ottawa, I managed to see Toronto, Quebec City, Niagara Falls, Alqonguin Park, Muskokas, Kingston, Burlington, Gatineau Park, Vancouver, Kamloops, Banff, Yoho, Lake Louise and Calgary.

4. Chili Crab or Sweet & Sour Crab. Mmmmmm. It has to be done with mangrove crabs though. The meat is sweeter and more abundant. I've posted on this before on my World Food Spots.

5. Nothing special here. I was born in this old missionary hospital (today it is a private hospital) in the early morning. My Chinese Zodiac sign is a Tiger. An early morning tiger is a sleepy, contented tiger (i.e. not fierce) cause I should already have eaten.

6. Place where I live.....the Petronas Twin Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world. Well, okay, I don't actually live there. It is meant to represent the city which I live in but I live near by. Well, okay, not that near but I can still see the towers in the distance from where I live!

7. I grew up with about three dogs in the house at any one time but they were always my mother's dog or my sister's dog or my brother's dog. I only ever had one dog which was my dog and it was an Alsatian mix. The name was given by my Mother and as the picture shows, it must be some exotic East European name. Losing this dog was very traumatic for me in my childhood.

8. Again I have many good friends rather than one best friend. I chose the one with the most interesting nickname. The picture show the natives of Papua New Guinea who helped ferry wounded Australian soldiers along the infamous Kokoda Trail during World War II. The Aussies gave these men a nickname. This also happens to be the name of a bear in children's stories and is the nickname of my friend.

9. What can I say? My first name sucks.

10. It was in a water quality test laboratory on a project to develop rapid methods to be used in poor, inaccessible rural areas to detect water contamination.

Picture Me This

Once again, another meme which I have stolen from Jess.

(Just type the answer to the following questions into Google Image, then pick from the first page.)

1. Age at My Next Birthday:-

2. Place I'd Like to Travel:-

3. Place I've Been:-

3. My Favorite Food:-

5. Place where I was born:-

6. Place where I live:-

7. Name of Past Pet:-

8. Best Friend's Nickname:-

9. My First Name:-

10. My First Job:-

Feel free to join the fun. (Answers in next post).

Scratches the Gypsy

on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Enchantress by Andrew Artoshenko

It has been awhile since I wrote about the world of squirrels that I encountered in Paradise. To recap, there was the original rapscallion, the everyman squirrel "Spikey", then I spoke of his nemesis, the big muscular bully "Speedy" and then I introduced Spikey's love interest and in fact mate, "Loonie".

The next squirrel I met was a young female. It was late autumn and I was walking through my small garden when I heard a squirrel barking off an alarm from the small tree at the corner by the sidewalk. I looked to see if it was Spikey but it was not. Instead, I saw a scrawny squirrel on the trunk of the tree with its head facing ground-wards. Just a few feet below and pacing excitedly was the landlady's Persian cat. The two of them were staring each other down.

I am sure it comes as no surprise that I responded immediately by shoo-ing the cat away. Being an aristocratic Persian, it did not run away but kind of sauntered away casually as if to imply "I was getting bored anyway."

Both the squirrel and I watched the cat disappear round the corner and into the house. When that happened, suddenly the squirrel came down the tree until we were at the same level, "face to face" as it were. She lifted her head towards mine, our noses just inches apart and she scrutinised me. I, in turn had a good look at her.

She was much smaller than Spikey, scrawny even. Her fur was not even and in some parts appeared mangy and bare. It gave the impression that she scratched herself until the fur fell out. However, these patches did look old and new fur were already growing round the edges. Nevertheless, I dubbed her "Scratches".

Scratches had a very distinct personality. My relationship with her seemed quite established from that first meeting. Whenever, there was a cat around, she would climb a tree, call out her alarm and wait for me to answer her call and come out to rescue her from her feline taunter. She soon figured out that I was at her beck and call.

Her relationship with Spikey was also interesting. I don't think they were related but Spikey being the gentleman probably tolerated her presence. She did not cramp his style. He would shamelessly go into his dance and begging routine to get peanuts from me even when she was around. Interestingly, although Scratches would also take peanuts from me, she demurred to Spikey when he was around and kept her distance.

However, what she did do was to follow Spikey around once he got the peanut. Spikey would often hop around the garden with his peanut, sniffing the air before deciding where to bury the peanut. Scratches would follow him at a respectable distance of a few hops. Spikey would then bury the nut and return to me for another. Scratches would then dig up Spikey's nut and eat it.

She reminded me a bit of a alluring gypsy girl. Wild, spirited - a blatant thief and yet you feel good that she stole from you.

She also expected me to give her undivided attention at times. Sometimes when we were in the garden together but I was not paying attention to her as when I was birdwatching, reading or quite likely sleeping, she would put her teeth round the back of my exposed ankles and bite gently but with increasing pressure until I responded to her.

In a way, she was closer to me than even Spikey. One cold winter morning, I came out of my hobbit-like apartment and into a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow. I was off to the bus stop to catch my ride to work. However, Scratches was up and about too that early morning. When she saw me, she barked a greeting. I said "Hi" and proceeded to trundle my way down the road.

Scratches came down the tree and ran after me, caught up and gave notice of her presence by trying to get her teeth round my ankles. I paused turn round and told her to go back and then started off again to the bus stop. Scratches ran after me again. Again I stopped and told her to go back. Anyway, I kept walking and to my surprise Scratches walked along with me. She was following me to work!

I had to stop make a U-turn and lead Scratches back to the apartment. I went in. Got her some peanuts and then said goodbye and went off again to the bus stop. This time she did not follow but with peanut in hands, she climbed a tree and watched me go off.

I felt great and I had a super day after that. I felt like I had come under the spell of the gypsy squirrel - the Enchantress.

The Truth is Way Out There

on Saturday, December 08, 2007

As a public service, the Lone Grey Squirrel has risked life and limb to reveal the truth behind some common icons of modern life. Be warned, the truth can be stranger than fiction! In fact, the "truth is way out there". It will shake the foundation of your world view and beliefs. Are you sure you are ready? Don't say I didn't warn you. Okay, the Lone Grey Squirrel presents the awful, shocking truth behind...............

......how electricity is really supplied to buildings!!!

........how the ATM machine really works!!!

.....who really makes that cup of coffee!!!

.......and who really is responsible for Wikipedia!!!!

Stay tuned for more investigative reporting from the Lone Grey Squirrel who is currently investigating how they found actors and actresses small enough to fit into a TV set........because inquisitive squirrels want to know!

Locked In

on Thursday, December 06, 2007

This post began its life after my post on Juliet and how I have tried to find my friends on the internet. Newly enthused to try finding people on the internet again, someone I knew for less than a year came to mind. I googled her name and this post has resulted.

If I were to imagine my worst nightmare, it would be to be fully conscious and yet unable to move or to speak; to be acutely aware of my surroundings but unable to communicate. Alive but not able to interact with life. For a rare few, this situation is a daily reality and a possible life sentence. It is called "Locked-in Syndrome" which was a term coined by Dr. Fred Plum, MD '47, former chairman of the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at Cornell's Weill Medical College.

Judy Mozersky was an active, vivacious young woman; a dancer and a student at Cornell. Then one day in 1990, the 19 year old suffered a stroke affecting her brain stem. She had no predisposition for stroke except that she had a history of severe migraine and that she was on birth control pills. No one had ever warned her that this could put her at risk.

After spending sometime in intensive care, during which she fought to get off the respirator and to get rid of the stomach tube, she was finally stable enough to return to her native Ottawa and was warded at the Rehabilitation Centre on Smyth Road but she was "locked-in". She was able to breathe, swallow with some difficulty but apart from that the only thing she could consciously move was her eyes and then only up and down.

I had been volunteering at the Rehab Centre for about a year and up to then I assisted in art and exercise classes for stroke patients. These classes were supposed to encourage rehabilitation of fine motor functions in a fun way. They were indeed a lot of fun. In fact, I learned a lot of crafts while helping out there.

I also played wheelchair basketball with some patients once a week. I really sucked at that but that did not mean I was not willing to risk life and limb competing with guys who knew how to use their wheelchair as an offensive weapon. Perhaps to spare me serious injury, my volunteer coordinator, Dale Patterson, asked me one autumn evening if I would like to try something challenging. Nursing bruisers and fingers crushed between wheelchair rims, I said that I would and thank you.

That's how I was introduced to Judy. Dale seemed to think I would know how to handle myself but I think I must have just stared and stared that first time. I did recover however and tried to make myself useful. I visited once or twice a week with Judy. I was meant to be part of her recreation time because other volunteers, family and friends visit her also but it was more to do work or to help her rehabilitate.

So I started to read to Judy. Sometimes, she would chose something. Other times she would allow me to bring something of my choice to read to her. One time, I brought the Secret Dairy of Adrian Mole to read to her because I was finding the book very funny and I though funny would be good. It went reasonably well until the book touched on Adrian Mole's sexual awakenings. I felt most uncomfortable because it seemed like a little inappropriate for me to be reading that to her and I was afraid that I had broached a subject that would upset her. I am unsure if she was uncomfortable or she sensed my discomfort but she signaled with her eyes for me to stop. She then told me to read a letter from a friend instead.

How did we communicate, you ask? Judy can only move her eyes up and down. She flutters them to get attention. Eyes up mean "yes" and eyes down means "no". Then we use a special board in which the alphabet is divided into quadrants. I would call out the quadrant number and she would indicate the correct quadrant and then the correct alphabet as I read it out. By using this letter by letter spelling, Judy is able to communicate and she can even dictate letters, essays and eventually a book.

Apart from that very first visit, I don't think I felt uncomfortable around Judy again. I believe that this was because, it was very evident that there was a very normal, active woman there and we were able to communicate. There was no overwhelming depression or despair nor any wallowing in self pity either. Here was someone who was looking forward and trying to get on with life.

Of course, there were moments of frustration and perhaps doubts. Initially, she was reluctant to have friends visit and was not keen to read their letters. It was painful for her to see their lives moving on while she was not able to keep a pace. It was particularly difficult around the time when her friends were graduating. Yet, it did not keep her down for long. She worked through it and began to enjoy receiving news from her friends and at the same time, set about trying to get her own life moving.

would also write a book entitled "Locked In" which seems to have become a very important book; a book that brings inspiration and hope to many stroke patients and their family. Many who have read it are struck by the positive outlook of the book, of Judy's. Today, Judy is finishing her degree course in psychology.

I was still around to witness some of the excitement and frustration when the medical personnel worked with Judy to try to get computers to recognise her eye movements and to operate things like lights, kettles and other household objects. This was in grand preparation for getting Judy to move out of the Rehab Centre and have her own customised apartment. I know they succeeded because Judy is now installed in her own apartment and she goes to the malls to do her shopping with some assistance from her friends or nurses. She is regaining her freedom, her life and she is moving on.

There is an old saying that goes something like this, "I was complaining that i had no shoes for my feet until I saw a man who had no feet." Having known Judy and her positiveness through what for me would be my worst nightmare has helped me to deal with life's lesser problems more positively too.

I met Judy's parents once and they thanked me profusely for my visits but I can honestly say that I needed no such accolades. When I think of what Judy has achieved and in such a short time, I feel I have done no more than hand a cup of water to a marathon runner. In return, I have learnt so much about the strength of the human spirit and it has been a privilege to have been even a small part of Judy's journey. Furthermore, I recognise that it has been a long hard journey of love and devotion by Judy's parents too and really, anything I have done pales in comparison to their dedication and commitment to their daughter.

My last meeting with Judy was a short one and a surprise. She was already installed in her new apartment and I literally bumped into her at one of the shopping malls. She looked like she was happy to be moving on with her life.

Maybe one day, we might meet again, Judy, and have a laugh about how embarrassed I was about reading Adrian Mole's Diaries to you on that winter's night so long ago. Until then, I wish you a full and happy life. God bless.

If you would like to read a more complete article about Judy, please go here.

Langkawi in Pictures

on Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Langkawi is considered a mystical place. Amongst its islands are white sandy beaches while in some places it is dark volcanic sand. It is one of very few places in the world that has mangroves growing over limestone. It has a mysterious field that keeps coming up with burnt rice from the ground and an enchanted lake which legend claims will cure infertility for those that bath in it. It has some of the oldest rock formations in South East Asia and on its western side, evidence of massive tectonic uplifting is visible. For these reasons and more, it was recently declared a UNESCO Geo Park.

It has 99 magical islands and in another mystery, the authorities decided it wasn't enough and built two more for a small marina and for a small micro-light airport. This was done at some considerable degradation of the surrounding environment but at least we now have 101 islands!

Langkawi's name is also interesting. The tourism office has created this romantic notion which it tells visitors that the name consists of Lang and Kawi. Lang is a version of the name of the sea eagles that are abundant in the islands and Kawi refers to limestone which is also a strong characteristic of parts of the island, hence Langkawi. I actually prefer a more scholarly explanation which to me is equally romantic. This explanation dates the name to about the 13th century when there were already trade boats plying between India and China. Langkawi is likely the landmark for sailors to set off sailing along the latitudinal line which will lead them directly to Sri Lanka. Therefore Langkawi means "the way to Sri Lanka".

Anyway, here are photos of the beaches on my recent trip. All photos by LGS. Note the local attire worn by many local Muslim girls for the beach. Also the fishing catch has deteriorated due to destructive development in some places.

Darkness in the Sunshine

on Monday, December 03, 2007

PhotoCredits: The Star
Paratroopers scattered around the airport and surroundings

Some landed heavily or were dragged by the wind

It was the 2nd of December, Sunday morning, and at the end of a three day enjoyable but hectic schedule on the magical, sun-blest islands of Langkawi. I was due to catch the 12.30 afternoon ferry back to the mainland. Until then, there was nothing else to do after breakfast but to finally take a swim in the cool, clear, inviting waters off Cenang Beach.

I was enjoying the relative quiet and calm, just floating in the calm sea and occasionally diving to the bottom to pick up some shell that I could see at the bottom. Earlier, the fishermen were dragging in their nets near the shore but that activity had stopped. Being a sleepy Sunday morning, the large hordes of tourists had not yet arrived and apart from a few friends tossing a ball about a hundred meters away and a handful of sun-bathers, there was nothing but the sea, the sun and the relaxing lapping of the gentle waves.

At about 10.30 am., the peace was to be shattered by the sound of the sonic boom of jet fighters. In two days time, the island was hosting LIMA 2007 (Langkawi International Maritime Aerospace). This showcase of the best in naval and aeronautical products was attracting planes, ships and buyers from around the world. In the lead up to the event, planes were flying and practicing their routines. The famous British Red Arrows Aerobatic Team was also present.

At first, I resented the loud intrusion to my quiet time but then I paid attention to the planes booming past. Someone had told me that there would be Harrier jets and that was a plane that I was interested in seeing. However, the jets had flown by and ended their runs. Instead, there were at least 4 large propeller transport planes slowly lumbering across the sky but they were divulging paratroopers as they went. Soon we were treated to the sight of long lines of parachutes floating slowly and gracefully to the ground. It was quite a wonderful sight.

However, we could not see from so far away that in fact the paratroopers were in grave trouble. The 138 paratroopers from the 10th Brigade Para based at Terendak Camp, Malacca were taking part in a full dressed rehearsal of a mock exercise in demonstrating the capture of an airstrip by airborne forces. This exercise is meant to be part of the opening ceremony for LIMA 2007. Unfortunately, the paratroopers were buffeted by gusts of high winds which resulted in lines getting entangled and up to 18 paratroopers blown off course. Some landed heavily at the airport and were dragged along the tarmac by the strong winds. Some landed on planes and other equipment, breaking bones. A few landed in the nearby town, smashing through roofs, getting caught up in trees or landing on cars. Some were carried out by the wind into the sea.

In the end, three died and eleven others were seriously injured. T
he dead which included two women were identified as Trooper Raimond Duncan, 25, from Simunjan, Sarawak; Private Nurul Wahida Yunos, 20, from Tanjung Malim, Perak; and Ranger Siti Hajar Yakub, 24, from Masjid Tanah, Malacca. One drowned and the other two died of hypothermia.

Of course, Malaysians are all shocked by this tragedy and we grieve with those whose loved ones have been lost or injured. For me, it seemed so surreal that while I was enjoying the sun and the sea, this life and death drama was unfolding in front of my eyes.

Death striking in the full glare of the tropical sun and tragedy painted amidst the peaceful, azure waters. It did not seem right. It feels like Paradise has been tainted and corrupted.

Others landed on top of planes and equipment.
(Planes of the RAF Red Arrows in background)

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