The Stars Shone For The Forest

on Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Last Saturday, I was at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. I really am a homesbody so that was my first time there. However, this was a special night. It was to celebrate a successful public petition campaign that my organisation had held in 2006-2007. The petition collected 80,000 signed postcards and sent it to both the Federal and State Governments which eventually led to the Belum Forest being gazetted as a State Park and protected from logging. This is an area about four times the size of Singapore and rich in large mammal species like tigers, rhinoceros and elephants.

This success could not have happened without the help of many partners and supporters and so this dinner and concert was to thank all of them and also to raise funds and awareness for our second campaign this year which is to ensure that the newly formed park will not be encroached upon by some proposed development and that an adjacent forest of equal size, Temengor Forest is also protected because the two forests are really one ecosystem.

That was the reason why the dinner was held but for me it was also an opportunity to pose for photos with pretty girls and to enjoy some great and varied music. Firstly, the picture above shows a rare phenomena of the Lone Grey Squirrel surrounded by beautiful women. Immediately on either side of me are two of the celebrity ambassadors who helped us with the campaign; on the left is Joanna Bessey and on the right, Lina Teoh. Joanna is a wellknown actress and director. Lina is an actress and a model and she was the second runner-up at the Miss World 1998 beauty pageant which was the highest placing ever by a Malaysian lass. Both Joanna and Lina also were the main stars for the long running sitcom Kopitiam on Malaysian television. At either end are my colleagues, Yvonne and Swee Lyn.

The entertainment included a traditional aboriginal native group from the Semai tribe. Note that the man is playing a relatively rare and unusual nose-flute.

There was also a band in the tradition of Malay bands which consist of a guitar, accordion, violin and drums.

There was also the percussionist group called the Three Drum Circle with one of them playing with his hands a form of a miniature Caribean Steel Drum.

There was the husband and wife team of Hassan and Markissa who sang a number of environmental protest songs which they wrote.

There was even tap dancing and belly dancing.

We really ought to celebrate more often.

Of Crooked Bridges and Crooked Lawyers

on Monday, January 28, 2008

Recently, a friend, Tropic Temper, posted concerning a parody article about Malaysia which can be found here. I found the article quite funny although I suspect you have to have a good grasp of Malaysian culture, history and current affairs to really appreciate a lot of the "insider" jokes. Of course, it was also full of foul language and some jokes which were in bad taste, which often really detracts from the funny. However, as Tropic Temper pointed out, Malaysians and especially Malaysian Government officials have no sense of humor at all.

"...Uncyclopedia, a parody of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has been labeled by the Malaysian government as dangerous. The Internal Security Department of Malaysia issued the warning today, saying that the site has "messages and information insulting Malaysia". (From Wikinews)

The same warning urged Malaysians not to distribute the contents of the site.

So as a good Malaysian, I have not distributed the content of the site. But then you already know where to go to read it for yourself. Ooops!

The Internal Security Department of Uncyclopedia responded by issuing a statement of their own which reads, "This article has been declared of PUBLIC CONCERN by the Malaysian Department of Homeland Security. This is because there is no word for "parody" in Malay." and went on to advise readers, "The Internal Security Department of the Uncyclomedia Foundation has identified Malaysia as a dangerous country which has messages and information containing insults, contempt and awareness of the content of Uncyclopedia. It warned its people not to use the country today."

The sad truth is that sometimes we Malaysians are so good at making ourselves look like fools that there is no need for parody at all. For example, we may be the only country (but I could be wrong), where a leader tried to exhort the country to spend billions to build a crooked bridge to replace an existing straight causeway, just to prove that we can do it and not listen to other countries that did not want a crooked bridge. Good argument. Please don't tell Malaysians it is stupid to build an escalator one mile high to nowhere which nobody wants cause then we will have to do it just to prove we can.

To the left: proposed discontinued straight causeway; to the right: proposed crooked
bridge to rejoin the Singapore side of the causeway.

In more current news, a Royal Commission is investigating the possibility of the high level fixing of appointment of judges and court cases. This is derived from a video taken using a cell phone that appears to show a prominent lawyer, Lingam who is on the phone. The audible conversation implies that he is offering someone to fix the selection of judges and the Chief Justice of the country. During the conversation he appears to refer to information that should only be known by just a handful of top personnel and should be considered as restricted information.

His defence may be summarized as " It looks like me and it sounds like me (in the video) but it isn't me. However, if it was me then it must be that I was drunk and if can be shown that I was not drunk then maybe I was just bragging to a potential client."

Honestly, I could live without such silliness. Here is an example of good parody and heck, I am even a fan of Shakira's but it is funny nonetheless. As all good parodies do, it invites us to laugh at the subject and then also at ourselves. My wish is that real life should be less of a joke.

You Make My Day, Bloggers of the World

on Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clearly, low on brain energy and imagination, the title of this post is actually derived from combining the words of two awards. To my surprise, it actually makes some sense and also happens to be true. Checking up on what's going on in the blogosphere is definitely a daily necessity which I fail to do only when extremely pressed for time. Anyway, these awards very pleasantly came my way a little while back and it is time for me to pass it on.

My good friend, "this is another fine mess that you have got me into" Claudia, gave me this award saying, "Squirrelly and I share a mutual horror for the tragedies of the world. Kenya, Burma, Malaysia… He’s one of the few people I know who can write as eloquently about the tragedy of ethnic cleansing and his love for great food. And through it all, he works to create peace in his life."

I award this to some of the blogs that I visit almost daily and have often made my day.

  1. Josie at C'est la Vie cause visiting her is like spending time in a warm kitchen with fresh baked apple pie. Josie's always got the coffee brewing and there's always pleasant company gathered there. Great way to start the day.
  2. Jessica at daysgoby cause it always feels like playtime at her blog as she welcomes us to the loving chaos that is her family.
  3. MedStudentWife at Another Day in Paradise cause her crazy humor never fails to hit the spot and brush the cobwebs from my mind.
  4. Becky at Words of a Wolfe cause her thoughts and almost daily meditations from God's word is like nourishing chicken soup for my soul.
  5. Dave at In My Head cause when I drop in, it feels like we are off beachcombing the shores of life and finding treasures and curiosities along the way.

Marja, very much a blogger of the world herself, gave me and others this award saying, " The following people from all over the world are not only very nice they all have some deeper understanding about life."

I award this to some of the bloggers that I visit that make the world a smaller and better place by sharing their cultures and perspectives from their corners of the world and who are keen to learn from others too.
  1. Meggie at Life's Free Treats cause she widens my mind with tales from a wide traverse of time and space with an Antipodean flavor.
  2. Claudia at On a Limb With, Claudia cause there are no spectators at her blog. It won't be long before you are participating in something that will make you a better person and this world, a better world.
  3. Evalinn at Stock City Girl cause she's a great ambassador for Stockholm and she's always exploring the world. Even now I am waiting for her to return from her South American adventures and to enlighten us about it.
  4. Proxima at The Echo Tree cause she's a multi-cultural festival, a spiritual experience and an intellectual feast all in one.
  5. Tom at Patterns of Ink cause he is both looking deep within his roots and is also expanding his view of the world today and we get to come along for the vivid experience.
But to all of you, thank you for making my daily blogging experience a wonderful and fulfilling one. Thank you for contributing to my daily addiction. (I am not above receiving donations for my rehab treatment).


on Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sometimes life knocks you off your feet with a three punch combination which I like to refer to as the WHAM! BLAM! KA-BLAM!

I was expecting the Wham! For the last month I have been anticipating last weekend to be a rough one. The reason for this is that it was time for the quarterly assessment meeting at work and I knew that apart from being a very long working Saturday, it would be another round of the much anticipated showdown between bear and squirrel. The squirrel had been in training and though he was expecting to be bruised, felt confident he knew the technique to bring the bear down. As it turned out, the WHAM! was no more than a pin-prick. The bear failed to show up and the squirrel won by default. Although it did not carry as much satisfaction to have won that way, nevertheless the squirrel felt good about the rest of the weekend sans bruises to nurse.

So the meeting ended at about 6pm and I was in a happy mood. I called home and offered to get some takeaway from the neighbourhood shops. Food is so easy to come by in Malaysia that I thought nothing of going to three separate but closely placed shops to buy three different takeaways to satisfy the diverse food cravings at home.

I got to the shops which were all in the same block. I placed my first order, waited and collected it. Elapsed time was just 2 minutes. I proceeded to the next shop and it began to rain lightly. I was not worried as I had my umbrella and my car was not more than 30 meters away. I got my second takeaway. Elapsed time was about 6 minutes.

It was now raining very heavily.....I mean very,very heavily. Still with only one more order to make, I was not worried. I placed my order and it took just about 5 minutes for the dish to be cooked but in that time, the rain had been pelting down and I could see the water in the drains begin to swell up. I paid for the takeaway and was ready to make a dash for my car when......BLAM!

The shopkeeper did not have change for my payment. He had to nip over to another shop to get the change. He was not gone for more than 5 minutes but in that short delay, the drains overflowed and flooded the road with about two feet of dirty, smelly water. There was nothing else to do but when he came back with the change, I held all by purchases tightly, opened out my umbrella and stoically walked the 30 meters in 2 feet of smelly flood waters. When I got into my car, I thought that at least the day could not get worse. That was until "Ka-Blam!".

I got home, took a quick shower, changed and dried myself and then had dinner with my family. However, before the end of the dinner, I felt a sickly itch all over my legs. I knew this was due to the extremely dirty flood water that I had waded through. I went back under the shower and liberally soaped my legs and feet. It was because of the heavy lathering that I somehow felt my feet slip from under me as my whole body flipped to a horizontal position and I fell heavily on the bathroom floor.

KA-BLAM! I landed heavily on my buttocks and the base of my spinal column. I also hit my head and neck against the bathroom wall. I was truly winded and rolled about initially unsure of what was happening. The pain was intense and I was in shock. I was immediately afraid that I done some major injury on myself. It was a couple of days of bed rest before I was sufficiently recovered to walk properly again.

So, to re-cap, I was expecting WHAM! but that turned out to be a bit of a damp rag, a non-event. I underestimated BLAM! and was completely taken unawares by KA-BLAM! and I was out for the count. Friends, this is why I had no post up over the weekend and how I came about to be nursing some tender bruisers after all.

Hieroglyphics for Dummies

on Thursday, January 17, 2008

Two weeks ago, I had a post on the Two Ronnies showing how to speak English, the Swedish way. In the interest of promoting better global understanding and world harmony, I am posting this sequel which helps us ordinary people to understand some of our classical languages. In this case, it is Egyptian or at least hieroglyphics.

For a long time, hieroglyphics were a mystery. No one knew what stories were locked behind those wonderful symbols. However, the French were to discover a stone that had hieroglyphics on one side and other known languages on the other sides. This allowed the hieroglyphics to be translated against the corresponding word in the other language. This stone, the Rosetta Stone, was the key to unlocking the ancient language.

Fortunately, we no longer need to spend half our lives in musty University libraries to understand hieroglyphics, thanks to the availability of materials such as that famous series, "Hieroglyphics for Dummies". Here, the Two Ronnies present a video tutorial from the series.

Here Mijbil! Here Edal!

on Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PhotoCredit: Bill Lockharts (Ring of Bright Water)

I love this photo. It is entitled "Ring of Bright Water" which I do not know whether it was intentional but is also the name of a book by Gavin Maxwell. This book was written in 1960 but I somehow came across it in my early teens and it made a big impression on me. Perhaps my love for squirrels had its seeds here, for the book is about the life of the author and his friendship with a particular otter, Mijbil, that he had picked up as a pet from the marshes of Iraq.

Maxwell did not know it at the time but Mijbil would turn out to be the only living specimen ever found of what is now believed to be an extinct sub-species of the Indian smooth coated otter. The sub-species was named after him, the Maxwell Otter or Lutrogale perspicillata maxwell. The book were full of amusing misadventures as the inquisitive otter found new ways to create mayhem and social disaster. On one occasion, Mijbil brought a whole train to a stop by pulling on the emergency chain.

The message was clear. Even though Mijbil had a relationship with Maxwell, in its core, it remained a wild creature that belonged to no one but itself. Perhaps I was attracted to this, recognising that having any kind of relationship with a wild creature is a privilege and a blessing. Something that I recognised in my own relationship with my little circus of squirrels.

Maxwell developed relationships with other otters too which he covered in other books including "The Rocks Remain" and "Raven Seek Thy Brother". Today, the romping grounds of Maxwell and his otters are conserved and can be visited at the Eilean Bàn Trust and Bright Water Visitor Centre. There you will find a monument to Gavin Maxwell and a statue of another of his famous otters, Edal.

Perhaps, it may surprise you to learn this but till today, my favorite animal is the otters. They are such a joy to watch, both their play and antics as well as their underwater ballet of movement. I admit that I enjoy otters more than even squirrels but squirrels are far easier to handle. Or is the squirrels that know how to handle me? Hmmmm.

Edal at play (Photo from Ring of Bright Water)

World Food Spot 9: Vlaamse karbonaden

on Monday, January 14, 2008

I did this. I mean I cooked this. It is one of the few dishes that I do reasonably well. I realise that this photo looks like a pile of *unmentionables* but that is more the fault of my poor photographic skills and poor sense of food presentation than any fault of my cooking. It may look a bit suspect in this photo but trust me, it is delicious. I last cooked this for a Christmas party and suffice to say there were no leftovers and it got many compliments.

My last "World Food Spot" post focused on Belgian beer and this dish is both Belgian (Flemish, to be exact) and uses beer in the recipe. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, "Vlaamse karbonaden" or "Beef Braised in Beer".

Recipe:- (to serve 4)

  1. 800 g of topside beef cut into 2.5 cm cubes.
  2. dust with seasoned corn flour.
  3. Fry 2 thinly sliced Spanish Onions in 50 g of butter using low heat until onions are golden in color.
  4. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and use oil in pan. Raise heat and brown the beef in the oil.
  5. Return onions. Stir over moderate heat. Use some corn starch in water to thicken if necessary.
  6. Gradually pour in 600 mL of dark beer. I used Guiness Stout.
  7. Add bouquet garni consisting of 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme sprig, 1 bay leaf.
  8. 1 tablespoon of tarragon wine vinegar.
  9. Add sugar to taste (about 1 tablespoon)
  10. Add Pepper and salt to taste.
  11. Cover and cook on low heat for 1 hour.
  12. Take a slice of brown bread. Remove crust. Spread a tablespoon of dark French Mustard or Honey Dijon Mustard on the bread.
  13. Tear the bread into 3 cm square pieces and add to the pot.
  14. Continue to simmer on low heat for another hour, stirring occasionally and allowing the bread to disintegrate and thicken the stew.
  15. Check taste at end and serve.
The net result is that the beef melts in the mouth and has a mix of bitter and sour taste that works very well the beef flavor. I love this and I recommend this dish highly.

Happy cooking.

Crying for Kenya

on Friday, January 11, 2008

I have met a number of Kenyans and two have been close friends. One of them, Mbithi, was a fellow colleague and student at my University in Canada back in the early 1990's. He is an incredibly hardworking and focussed individual. He was there for a couple years alone but with single minded determination, he studied, worked and saved enough to bring his wife and daughter over for the last part of his studies. He is currently a lecturer and a medical researcher at a University in Kenya.

I met Edwin while taking part in a study tour and although we were only together for three weeks, we grew quite close. He is a cheerful, thoughtful and altogether pleasant individual. At that time, he was working on reducing corruption within the Kenyan government that was resulting in medical supplies intended for rural hospitals from being hijacked and stolen before reaching their intended destinations and helping the people in need. More recently, he has joined the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

In both these cases, I was struck by the quiet determination of these men to make Kenya a better country and a better place for their people.....for all Kenyans. I grieve with them over the recent civil unrest, violence and murder that has been occurring across Kenya after the last elections. I have not heard from either and can only hope and pray that they and their loved ones are safe and well.

Below are excerpts from an interview with renowned Kenyan novelist and playwright, Ngugi wa Thiong'o with the BBC.

"The picture of men and women burnt down in a church where they had gone for refuge still haunts my mind. A child running away from the fire was caught and hurled back into the flames.

One of the few survivors was quoted as saying: "But they knew me; we were neighbours. I thought Peter was a friend - a good neighbour. How could Peter do this to me?"

I had heard the same puzzled cry from Bosnia. I had heard the same cry from Iraq. I had heard the same, same words from Rwanda: "We were neighbours; we'd married into each other. How could this happen?"

And now I hear the same cry from Eldoret North in my beloved Kenya. For me this burning of men, women and children in a church is a defining single instant of the current political impasse in Kenya.

And this must be separated from accusations and counter-accusations of rigged elections by the contending parties.

Rigged elections is one thing - it can be righted by any mutually agreed political measures - but ethnic cleansing is another matter altogether.

What is disturbing is that this instant seems to have been part of a co-ordinated programme with similar acts occurring in several other places at about the same time against ordinary members of the same community.

Ordinary people do not wake up one morning and suddenly decide to kill their neighbours.

Ethnic cleansing is often instigated by the political elite of one community against another community. It is premeditated - often an order from political warlords.

Or it may be the outcome of an elitist ideology of demonising and isolating another community.

Either way the aim is to drive members of the targeted community from the region.

Frantz Fanon, the intellectual visionary of the Third World, had long ago warned us of the dangers of the ideology of regionalism preached by an elite whose money can buy them safe residence in any part of a country.

A single instance of premeditated ethnic cleansing can lead to an unstoppable cycle of vendettas - a poor-on-poor violence - while those who tele-guided them to war through the ideology of hate and demonisation are clinking glasses in middle-class peace at cocktail parties with the elite or the supposed enemy community.

This crime should be investigated by the United Nations.

If it is found that a political organisation has run a campaign on a programme that consciously seeks to isolate another community as a community, then they ought to be held fully accountable for the consequences of their ideology and actions.

It is often easier to blame a government when it is involved in massacres. This is as it should be.

A government must always be held to higher standards, for its very legitimacy lies in its capacity to ensure peace and security for all communities.

But what about if such a massacre is inspired by a programme of an opposition movement?

This ought to receive equally severe condemnation from all and sundry, for being in opposition does not give an organisation the right to run on an ideology of isolation and hate targeted at another community."

15th Anniversary

on Tuesday, January 08, 2008

from our first year of marriage (LGS)

(a poem by LGS to his beloved)

To think that there is someone special for each of us
Somewhere in this world, sometime in this life
Seems illogical to the mind, yet was our experience
You surely are that special one for me, dear wife.

From the beginning you intuitively knew all this,
But I was ensnared by fear of closeness and heartache
Yet your love gave me the courage to take the risk
To entrust to you my heart for to nurture or break

And now many long years have come and gone
Fifteen times the passing of the earth around the sun
Through all that time, our love’s kept growing strong
As we faced life’s challenges and problems as one

You have been for me, the eyes for my heart
Through you I have seen beauty and compassion
Witnessed love burning bright against the dark
Allowing me freedom to experience life’s passions.

You have been for me, ears that listen to my soul
My loftiest dreams, deepest thoughts and rawest feelings
You have been for me, hands that help, soothe, uphold
Hands held in prayer or clapping, cheering, encouraging.

You have been for me, the bosom to rest my head,
Warm, inviting, my source of calm and peace
My sanctuary from a world of turmoil and dread
Where love’s magic restores my heart to bliss.

You have been for me, my all in all, my everything,
And I thank God for these fifteen years as one united
For every precious moment, cherished memory and blessing
And for many more yet to come ‘til life’s journey’s ended.

Everyday Kindness

on Monday, January 07, 2008

"It's another fine mess that you have got me into." I am addressing my good friend, Claudia who is always Out on a Limb and expects us to follow. Somehow I always give in to her as she weaves these ideas and memes. The latest idea that came out of her sparkling mind sounded so wonderfully great that I rushed in to volunteer to do it too and now I am in deep dodo.

I refer to Claudia's Everyday Kindness challenge and you can read more about it and about the other accomplices that have taken up the challenge here.

Basically, we have all committed to do one act of kindness for every day of 2008. So it has been 5 days, so how did I fare?

Day One: Bought donuts for everyone in the office.
Day Two: Took someone out for lunch.
Day Three: Took someone else out for lunch who was feeling lonely.

Hmmm. Do you see where I am in the deep dodo? I am trying to be on diet and the only act of kindness that I could think of had so far involved food.

Day Four: Fate intervened. I came to know of a friend's mother being ill. I prayed for her mother.
Day Five: Helped an office colleague with some work.

Already, I realise that it is not going to be easy. Partly because I meet so few people other than at work that I have little opportunity to interact with people. Even so, I am not giving up. I realise that I may have to plan my week so as to give myself opportunities to show kindness. So be it. This is a great challenge. If I make it to the end of the year, it will be quite and accomplishment and would have made me a better person for it.

If you want to join this challenge, declare yourself at Claudia's. Go on. Just do it!

English for Swedes

on Thursday, January 03, 2008

I enjoy listening to accents, especially those with a lilting melodic characteristic. The Welsh accent is probably my favorite with the Indian and Swedish accent close behind in this category. Malaysians' do not speak English with an accent as much as speak a pariah mix of English and Malay which we lovingly call Manglish. However, that is a topic for a different post.

Today, I'd like to share with you this wonderful clip from the British comedy duo of "The Two Ronnies" which illustrates how easy it is to speak English with a Swedish accent or otherwise known as "Lessons in Conversational English for Swedes". Before we proceed further, evalinn and other Swedish readers, please forgive the bad squirrel for posting this video and to the rest of you, enjoy.

Happy 2008

on Tuesday, January 01, 2008

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