London Revisited; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

on Monday, December 28, 2009

I am back in Malaysia and already in the real world of work, bills and responsibilities. My break in London was a good one though and i come back well rested and recharged.

As promised, I will be posting about this adventure. To start with, I thought I would give you an introduction and a general review which I will call the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of London today compared to the London I knew 25 years ago.

The Good
There were quite a few pleasant surprises. I arrived at Heathrow Airport at a terminal that I had never been before and was pleasantly surprised at the ease and efficiency of the place. This was quite different from the chaos that I remember from 13 years ago and given the increase of security procedures since 9/11, quite impressive. It was rather a long walk to the Underground train station but then the train whisked me effortlessly through the early morning right to Piccadilly Circus. I walked out into the crisp cold morning air and into a city that was just awakening to the rhythm of a new day. It was a good start.

Just a short 200 m walk and I reached the hotel and had a great reunion with my wife who had been traveling separately for the last fortnight on work assignment. I don't like it when we are apart so the re-union was very good.

Eros at Piccadilly Circus in the early morning (LGS)

I spent the first few days in and around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Soho Chinatown and Covent Garden. Generally, all of these experiences were good. I was particularly impressed with Trafalgar Square. It used to be pigeon and dove infested and felt very cold and unfriendly. Visitors spent their time avoiding the stale bird droppings on the ground and on the statues and ducking the aerial bombardment with the hot and fresh variety. Well, the birds are mostly gone and the space is very people friendly now. It feels more like a space that belongs to the people and to be used by the people.

I got a similar impression about the museums and the parks. They have begun to lose their stiff institutional demeanor and become more of a place to serve the public needs. Hence there were Christmas fairs in the park and open air ice rinks outside the august Natural History Museum. London has become less stuffy and more alive. Covent Garden too has become more organic and brimming with innovation and spirit. This new London is more fun and youthful.

Trafalgar Square (LGS)

Covent Garden (LGS)

Reindeer, both artificial and real at Covent Garden (LGS)

Carnival rides (Leicester Square) (LGS)

Skating rink outside the Natural History Museum (LGS)

Outdoor Ice Rinks - grooming future Torvil and Dean's (LGS)

The food scene has also improved tremendously but that still doesn't mean that London is where you would go for a culinary experience. The improvement is in the fact there are more reasonably priced variety available with an increased emphasis on fresh ingredients. For example, the chain, Pret a Manger, offers exciting variety of sandwiches which are a world apart from the traditional fried foods of yesteryear.

The Bad
As time has marched on, London has also lost some of its traditional charm. The traditional fish and chips shop has become a rarity. Most have either closed down or have morphed into a more up-market establishment (meaning costlier). I finally did find one traditional chippie way out in Fulham Broadway that served it just the way I remembered it. You are more likely to find Indian food round the corner.

I had hoped that the quaint but functioning fresh produce market that I used to shop at near Fulham Broadway would still be there with its individualistic and colorful stalls scattered along a narrow lane. A form of the market can still be found but it no longer lies within the atmospheric side lane but on the pavement of the main road itself. The supermarkets also seem to stock less of fresh produce and more of ready meals.

I went to visit my alta mater and had mixed feelings seeing the old student's residence (which was a dump) converted now to choice apartments along the swanky King's Road in Chelsea. Good to see the fire station which was the scene of many student-firemen water fights during orientation week is still there though.

The Ugly
And finally, there was the ugly. Well, there wasn't really a lot of that. I guess the ugliest thing was the cold, wet rainy weather that I had to had to contend with for most of my stay and which resulted in me having a bad cough. But then again, cold wet rainy and miserable weather is part of the quintessential London winter experience so one really can't complain, can one?

Carols from Trafalgar Square

on Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Carolling at Trafalgar Square, 2009

The Christmas Tree from Oslo

One of the highlights of my current re-visit of London is Trafalgar Square. This historical square at one point used to be filthy and pigeon and dove infested. This has all changed and it has been transformed into a truly people friendly spot worthy of being a focal point for travelers and Londoners alike in the very heart of the city.

For many years, the people of Oslo send a tree as a gift to the people of London and it is erected at Trafalgar Square. There, under the watchful eye of Nelson's statue and just across the way from the St. Martin's in the Field church, the tree is often the spot from which choirs and carolers sing and celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ. It is a wonderful location and passer-bys get to sit on the steps leading from the National Gallery into the Square while enjoying the performances and singing along.

My wife and I were fortunate to be there on such an evening recently. The video below is of the same event in 2008. I have also included a video of Josh Groban singing one of my favorite carols, "O Holy Night", which he is singing from Rockerfeller Center, the New York City equivalent of Trafalgar Square.

And so, dear friends, may I wish you a blessed Christmas from Trafalgar Square. May the light of love and hope that shone in Bethlehem's streets, shine also in your life. God bless.

Cold Day in Copenhagen / A Critically Warm Earth

on Sunday, December 20, 2009

Villager in Navua, Fiji, at his ancestral burial ground,
which is now covered by the sea at high tide due to rising sealevels.

I was forced to interrupt the planned regular program of posts which would have been on the on-going series about my trip to London to bring to you this important message:


It was a cold, cold day in Copenhagen when the recent Conference of Parties on Climate Change ended with no binding agreement on how to reduce the global levels of greenhouse gases. Leaders from some 190 countries met but failed to put the needs of the world first before selfish individual nationalistic aspirations.

There was no binding agreement to reduce levels of greenhouse gases effectively and there was no agreement to provide the USD 300 billion already believed to be needed to counter the effect of climate change and to equip the poorer countries to be part of the solution.

Cosmologist and mathematician Stephen W. Hawking said global warming has eclipsed other threats to the planet, such as terrorism. "Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people," Hawking said. "Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global warming rather than the war on terror."

But it seems all the world leaders are unable to play fair and work together to solve the climate change problems. Several images come to mind.

Image 1: "All the world's leaders and all the kings couldn't put the world back together again" (with apologies to Humpty Dumpty )

Image 2: "Our leaders fiddled with numbers while the world burned" (with no apologies to Nero)

Image 3: "Let's not scare the people and ruin our economy" (with no apologies to all the villainous, bureaucrats/mayors/leaders from Hollywood disaster movies like Jaws and others where they ignore the warning of scientists).

Let's tell our leaders that we don't want this sort of "business as usual" leadership. We truly need someone to come and rise up to this emergency and we all need to support them.

Climate Change is already going to cause death, suffering and economic lost. We need action and not more hot air from self serving politicians.

London Revisited: Omens

on Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear friends,

Here I am with my first post of several about my trip to London. I studied there and graduated some 25 years ago and as one dear friend quipped, "Why, that's longer than the sentence that most people get sentenced for man-slaughter." Great. Such a sweet comparison.

As I mentioned in my last post, this trip was my first real opportunity to visit London and to meet some friends since then. Many of you would have perceived that I had mixed feelings about this trip; a mixture of excitement and apprehension about what changes I would find.

Interestingly, if you believe in omens, there were two signs that did in fact represent my experience and reinforced my mixed feelings. For the first part of my trip, I stayed at a hotel and then in the second part of the trip, in a self-service apartment.

The first omen, was this sign that greeted me as I stepped out of the lift before reaching my hotel room. It had a very foreboding message and reminded me of that famous phrase, "abandon all hope, all ye who enter here".

Indeed I had a few bad experiences and disappointments in the first part of my trip but things did improve and I began to really enjoy myself in the second part. I was not surprised because I was uplifted by what I saw when I entered the lift at my self service apartment. The second omen was one of hope.


Lift - List. Get it? Schindler's Lift? Get it?

Now I don't believe in omens but I do believe in a God with a sense of humour leaving little messages for me. :)

A Brave New Adventure

on Thursday, November 26, 2009

Unrecognisable Hugh Laurie

Half a lifetime ago, I spent 5 years in the British Isles; three of those years as a poor University student in London and apart from a short stopover, I have not been back to visit for 20 years. Very shortly, I will be making that trip and I will be meeting up with old friends for the very first time since.

I am excited and a little apprehensive at what I will find. I already know that at least one of my old haunts have fallen under the wheels of progress and the relentless march of time. Will old memories come flooding back or will I find I no longer have a connection with this great city.

The London and indeed the Britain I knew must be quite different from what they are today. Mine was a Britain under the iron rule of Margaret Thatcher; a Britain where the fish and chippie shop was still common place; a country that still faced the problem of terrorist attacks from the IRA (I was nearby when bombs went off outside Harrod's Department Store); a country whose Queen was almost uniformly respected and adored; a country that fought a risky but (most people would agree) justified war for the Falklands; and finally, a country where Hugh Laurie played the straight-laced and proper mommy's boy sidekick to Rowan Atkinson in the Black Adder TV series.

Today, the time of Thatcher is like a distant memory. The fish and chip shop has been largely replaced by curry and rice shops. Thankfully, there is hope of a lasting peace in Ireland but London has been attacked by Islamic terrorists instead. The once unsullied Queen has suffered much bad publicity over her relationship with Princess Diana. Today, a commission is investigating the reasons why Tony Blair's government committed the country to an unpopular and possibly unjustified war in Iraq. And Hugh Laurie is almost unrecognisable as the caustic and cankerous Doctor House in the American TV series.

I have not seen the Millennium Bridge (or indeed any of the Millennium projects), the Princess Diana memorial, the London Eye, the Gerkhin etc. I'm hoping the old open air market in Fulham is still there. I'm hoping the kebab place near Golder's Green tube station still sells the best kebabs ever. I'm hoping to visit my old University residence and find it largely unchanged. I'm hoping Somerset Cider is as delicious as I remember it. I'm hoping that U.K. food standards have improved!

Most of all, I am hoping my old friendships will pick up where we left off some twenty years ago. Wish me luck.

Space Opera

on Sunday, November 22, 2009

No one will ever mistakenly accuse me of being high-browed and cultured. I certainly don't track with the black tie penguin suits of high society. Sadly, this extends beyond my lack of interest in participating in the extravagant social rituals of the aristocracy and my lack of money to pursue them. I genuinely do not seem to know how to enjoy or appreciate some of the things that are adored by this set. For example, I do not see the fuss made about foie gras. Please, it's liver! Apart from the debate about whether it is ethical to force feed the ducks to get the fatty liver which is made into foie gras (in humans, a fatty liver is medically a diseased liver), I never liked eating my liver and onions and hiding what it is behind a foreign (non-English) name still does not hide its intense liver taste.

Another thing that brands me solidly as a Philistine squirrel is my lack of appreciation of opera. Wikipedia says that "Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score. The word opera means "work" in Italian (it is the plural of Latin opus meaning "work" or "labour") suggesting that it combines the arts of solo and choral singing, declamation, acting and dancing in a staged spectacle." Hmmm. Well, that just sounds like a musical just like "West Side Story" or "Phantom of the Opera" but in a different language (just like the foie gras case).

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the modern musical. I just don't understand why people pay top dollar, get dressed to the nines and go an see a musical which tells a story in a foreign language that I can only understand from reading the souvenir program which I have to purchase separately at an extortionist rate.

It probably did not help that my early introduction to Opera was something from Wagner's Ring Cycle based on German and Norse mythology. It is of course sung in German, and as I remember it, sung by big women wearing fake blond wigs with pig-tails, armoured breasts (like Madonna's) and horned helmets. Even one of its more famous songs, "The Ride of the Valkyries", made no sense to me in German. It only became a song that I could really appreciate when it was used in a media that I could appreciate; and that was as the song "Kill the Wabbit" sung by Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. Now who said Saturday morning cartoons cannot be educational!

However, if Elmer and Bugs helped me to begin to understand opera, the one performance that really opened my eyes to the true wonders and possibility of Opera was the stunning performance of the Albanian songstress, Inva Mula Tchako, who was the voice behind the character Diva Plavalaguna in the movie "The Fifth Element". In it she sings an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (the mad scene), and “The Diva dance” song. I may still not understand the language but the way it is presented certainly helped me appreciate it. Allow me to share this song with you. For those serious Philistines like me, try to hang on till at least the 3.28 minute mark when a transformation occurs.

Double Blast from the Past

on Thursday, November 19, 2009

It is the habit of squirrels to bury nuts in the ground and when they think the nuts have sufficiently "aged", to dig them up again. On this flimsy pretext, I occasionally "dig up" an old post that I feel deserves to see the light of day again. On this particular occasion, I dug up a couple of posts from almost exactly 3 years ago which is soon after I first started blogging. I present the following unburied nuts from November and December 2006.

Cujo - or why I don't like cats

Photo credit: bellasproofs2

Squirrels don’t like cats which I think is obvious. It has to do with the way cats are always trying to catch, kill or maim squirrels. However, even my human alter ego is not fond of cats. The reason for this is ……..Cujo.

In the following story, none of the names have been changed to make sure that the guilty are fully embarrassed. There was a time when I shared a small apartment with this dude, Frank, and his cat, Poney. Poney is your typical calico tabby who had been quite used to being the queen of the house with all her needs taken care off and pampered. This living arrangement worked well until that fateful day when Frank called me into the kitchen to introduce me to this cute kitten he had rescued from the local pound.

He called him some sugary sweet name like Prince or Peaches. I cannot remember what it was caused he was soon dubbed Cujo which suited him so . But wait, I hear you protest! “Cujo is not a cat, but a mad dog.’ Believe me when I say that I have not met a cat or a dog before or since which was more psychotic and deserving of the name, Cujo.

Cujo was a very young kitten, barely a quarter the size of Poney. He had the red, orange and white colors of a tiger and had both a tiger’s ferocity and appetite. He also introduced fleas into the house and despite dousing him in powder, I would be tormented by itchy bites for weeks. Frank was oblivious to this, entranced as he was by Cujo’s playfulness and energy. Poney and I both knew there was something evil about this kitten.

Poney was the first victim. Cujo plotted to get rid of her. Despite Poney’s size, Cujo took to bullying her at meal times. At first, we would feed them both from separate bowls in the kitchen. That did not work as Cujo would chase Poney away and eat both portions. We then tried distracting Cujo by feeding him upstairs and then feeding Poney downstairs in the kitchen. That also failed because Cujo would actually run up and down the stairs to deprive Poney of either. Then, I locked him in my room while Poney fed in peace and I was rewarded by a well sculptured, steaming mass of cat poop on my bed. Poney loss some weight before we found the solution of locking Poney in a kitchen cupboard with her food where Cujo could not get to her. Apart from meals, Cujo continued to persecute Poney, chasing her from all her favourite spots in the house.

Cujo then decided to move up the food chain and targeted me. His campaign started by regular poop bombardments on my bed. After the fifth time, I declared my room a high security area, a cat free zone and made sure my door was closed 24/7. Frank apologized for his kitten's antics but remained bewitched.

One evening, I was in the kitchen and had a frying pan on the stove and I was frying up a batch of my famously delicious Malaysian Fried Rice. I had fried all the spices, onions and vegetables and had just added the rice. I was stirring the mixture to ensure it cooked without burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cujo jumps up on to the dishwasher which is some distance away but at the same level as the stove and from that vantage point shows interest in my culinary efforts. I wave my spatula at him and tried to shoo him but he ignored me. Then, in a flash, he jumped across and into my frying pan!!! To my surprise, Cujo landed with all four evil paws on my fried rice, stood there and began to eat the meal. That was the last straw. I threw away my delicious smelling fried rice which was now marked by Cujo’s paw prints, laced with some of his red hair and I suspected, also fortified with grit from the kitty litter. Defeated, I left Cujo to rule the kitchen while I went out into the cold autumn night to buy my dinner from the Chinese takeaway.

Cujo, probably decided that at this point he was just one step from being the top cat in the house and started to turn his attention on Frank. He started with sudden playful bites on Frank’s ankles. Frank adapted for awhile during which he would walk in a funny high-stepping manner to make his ankles a harder target. Frank liked to lounge around the house in his terry-cloth robe with nothing underneath. This made it a painful experience when Cujo invented the game of jump onto the robe and start climbing with all claws employed. Even then, Frank was stoic and refused to condemn the cute kitty. Cujo then escalated his campaign by leaving poop on Frank’s bed, in his shoes and on the morning newspaper.

One winter evening about 2 months after Cujo entered our lives, I came in from the cold into the warmth of the kitchen. Frank was standing by the dishwasher in his robe, drinking tea and the newspaper. Poney was curled up on a chair. Everything was peaceful. Without looking up from his paper, Frank said, “I went to the pound today and told them I had found this abandoned kitten and I gave them a donation and asked if they could find it a good home.”

Life was sweet after that but I often wonder whether Cujo lives on, tormenting some other poor household. Sends shivers down my spine.

Attention Cat-Lovers

In the interest of Blogging peace, Lone Grey Squirrel, hopes to assure all readers, visitors and cats that he does not really hate cats (just "demon cats" called Cujo).

To demonstrate, his sincerity, Lone Grey Squirrel can be seen here apologising to a representative of cat-kind (but only behind the safety of plate glass window!!!!!).

Photo credit:


on Monday, November 16, 2009

At Home with the Lord and Re-united at Last.

My father passed away in 2007 at the age of 93. Just a few days ago, on the 3rd of November, my mother, at the age of 87, followed him into heaven. It was almost exactly 2 years and a month later. Suddenly, even though I am a middle aged man, I feel like I have been orphaned.

My parents were a very loving couple and so very co-dependent that when my dad passed away, there were many from within family and friends who thought that my mother would not last very long. Well, she carried on for another 2 years. It was not an easy two years though. Even though she had no shortage of family, friends and visitors, it was clear that she missed him very much and had a loneliness and an emptiness that none of us was able to fill.

When they were both younger, she would always ask my dad to promise to allow her to die first for the very fact that she felt she could not bear being alone in the world without him. Very good naturedly, my father would assure her that he would definitely not go first so she was assured that he would be there to take care of her. However, as it turned out, that was one promise he was not able to keep.

And so, I think these last two years were perhaps for my mom a very sad and lonely time. There were, of course, happy days during this period. She particularly enjoyed the visits of her grandchildren. She still had a good appetite and was still able to enjoy her favorites like barbequed pork, fried banana fritters and durian fruit. On her penultimate day on earth, she asked me to get her some satay (seasoned meat skewers grilled over a charcoal fire) for dinner. To my everlasting regret, I was not able to do so because of heavy rain. She even placed an order with my brother for an Indian specialty called mee rebus for lunch the next day; and not any mee rebus but one from a particular shop that she used to take us to as kids.

Yet despite her relatively good appetite, she was extremely malnourished. I suppose, the scientific explanation would be that she was not able to absorb enough of the nutrients. However, our hearts tell us that she was sad and just wanted to move on.

She took to her bed and began to cut her ties to the world about three months ago. Perhaps the second anniversary of my father's passing weighed more heavily on her than we had imagined. A doctor examined her that very morning and declared that her lungs were clear and her heart beat was incredibly strong for someone her age. By noon, she had breathed her last, for no other reason perhaps than that she was ready, nay, desirous to go.

I am glad that she is beyond this period of loneliness and suffering. I believe that she is now home in heaven with God and reunited with my father; altogether in a much happier place and at peace.

For me though, the world seems a more dangerous and wild place as if a great source of love and light had been extinguished. Even though like all children, I sought to establish my independence from my parents, deep down I was always glad and relieved to know that their love and support was a constant in this tumultuous life. And now, with them both gone, I cannot help feeling like a 47 year old orphan.

To family and friends, I thank you for all your love shown. I thank you for your faithful visits to my mother, for your prayers, support, kind words and actions. God bless you all.

The Oily Man

on Monday, November 02, 2009

"Oozing charm from every pore,
He oiled his way around the floor.
Every trick that he could play,
He used to strip her mask away."
lyrics from "You Did It" (My Fair Lady)

Those lyrics tell of a slick operator with perhaps too much grease in his hair, applying his smooth moves to charm and disarm the ladies. I have always liked those few lines of prose. I find it amusing. But this "oily man" is quite benign compared to the one that this post is primarily about.

Still in keeping with the Halloween spirit which is sticking around like peanut candy between the teeth, I am going to share with you the story of one of the Malay legends. I refer to the "orang Minyak" or Oily Man.

The Oily Man is basically a man who creeps about at night, completely naked and covered in black oil. The oil covering makes him hard to see in the dark and also makes him very slippery which helps him evade capture and also helps him squeeze pass tight spaces such as between the bars on a window.

There were in fact a rash of burglaries and rapes in Malaysia in the 1960s which were committed by men who had disrobed and covered themselves with oil and grease. Such cases still surface from time to time even till today. The perpetrators in these cases are entirely human.

However, the legendary Oily Man is said to be supernatural in nature. He is said to be able to be virtually invisible in the dark. Some say that he is also able to slip through spaces too small for humans to do so. It is said that the Oily Man had made a pact with the Devil. In return for giving him supernatural powers and wordly desires, the Oily Man must rape 21 virgins in 7 days.

A typical story would occur in a house or a dormitory where there may be more than one woman asleep in the room. The room may be locked and though the windows are open, they are secured with wooden bars or metal grilles. No ordinary intruder can enter but then the Oily Man is far from ordinary. He is able to slip through those bars while the girls sleep.

One of the women who is a virgin may suddenly awake to see a dark form over her with penetrating eyes which are visible even in the dark. She finds she can neither struggle or cry out. She is subsequently raped. Finally, she screams and her room mates rush to her assistance. It may be that they never see the orang minyak because it is said that he is able to make himself invisible to others apart from his victim. Alternatively, the orang minyak may be seen but he eludes capture on account of his slippery oiled skin and is able to escape via squeezing out through the window bars.

Till today, we sometimes hear of cases or incidents in female student or worker dormitories which are classified by authorities as examples of mass hysteria or are they really attacks by Orang Minyak.

Monsters Wanted Bad

on Friday, October 30, 2009

Remember when men were real men, women were real damsels in distress and the monsters were real scary evil monsters. Ah, the good old days. As Halloween rolls by this year, it just isn't the same anymore. It makes a decent horror fan want to shout out; "Where have all the Monsters gone?"

Monsters are meant to lurk in the dark corners of our mind or in the dark basements of our homes from where they go on a rampage of mindless maiming and killing of innocents just because that is what they do and they are good at it. However, these days, our beloved monsters have been given a makeover by the spin doctors of Madison Avenue.

Let's start with Vampires. The two top hottest TV/Movie Vampire franchises at the moment are True Blood and Twilight. In True Blood, a synthetic human blood substitute has been created which means that vampires don't have to suck on a living human anymore and so many Vampires try to mainstream and become like any other normal citizen but they face discrimination, social profiling and prejudices. It is the new civil rights movement; "Equal Rights for the Victimised Vampires." If homosexuals fought to come out of the closet, vampires now fight to come out of the coffin, so to speak. Twilight takes the idea of the harmless vampire even further by introducing the concept of "vegetarian" vampires who choose not to harm humans.
Hmmm. So far from being the scary creature of the night penned by Bram Stoker, vampires it seem are socially disadvantaged, misunderstood and deprived of their rights. Heck, they can even be "vegetarian".

Werewolves or shape shifters were always my most favorite of the evil night creatures. But again, the modern werewolf is less primal beast and more sexy man and puppy dog charms. True Blood's Sam Merlotte changes into a cute puppy dog. Twilight's Jacob is a big hit with the ladies but his wolf persona also seems very much domesticated canine rather than vicious beast.

Sam shaved (L) and unshaved (R)

Jacob's Wolf impression isn't so impressive.

And so it goes. One by one all our favorite monsters have been emasculated and given a metrosexual makeover. Below are some of the taglines that are being used to change the way we view monsters.

DRACULA :- Just a tall, very,very dark and handsome romantic stranger in the night.

Werewolves:- In every man, there is a puppy dog trying to come out.

Frankenstein's monster:- A victim of a bad plastic surgeon. It could happen to any of you and has happened to many in L.A.

Witches:- Girls just wanna have fun.

The Squirrel wishes they would leave our monsters alone. Let them be the monsters that scared us in our childhood. Let them be all that they can be. Let them be BAD.

(Squirrel wants to know which is your all time favorite monster. Please take the poll on the side)

Still Monitoring the Airwaves

on Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear friends, readers and wandering visitors,

You may or may not have been wondering where the squirrel has been for most of the last month. Either way, the answer to my disappearance can be summed up in one foul four-letter word; "WORK".

Even so, in whatever small slivers of time that I could scrounge, I have kept monitoring your various blogs. I was able to do this by applying the latest available satellite dish technology available to the squirrel kingdom (as seen below). This special program is called S.E.T.I. or Squirrels Eavesdropping on The Internet.

Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel's SETI program

Well, here are a list of excuses for not posting that have been cleared by my PR team.
  1. I was overworked and have been working almost every day for the last month.
  2. I was overworked and I have been working some 16 hour days for most of the month.
  3. I was overworked and I was also traveling to places with no internet access.
  4. I was overworked and I preferred to use my spare time to eat, sleep and use the toilet.
  5. I was overworked and declared mentally unstable ("disturbed" was the term used by the doctor) and it is hard to type on the laptop while tied up in a straitjacket.
  6. I was overworked and I fell asleep on my laptop and drooled into my key board and shorted it out.
  7. I was overworked and so tired that it was difficult to type on the laptop as all the letters on the keyboard began to look like alien hieroglyphics.
  8. I was overworked and drank so much coffee to stay awake that I had coffee rings round my eyes which somehow made it hard for me to read the computer screen.
  9. I was overworked and distracted by all the tiny fairies and goblins that I was seeing all over the place.
  10. I was overworked and my mind was too confused to0 come up with good excuses for not posting earlier.

However, as I have said, my lack of posting does not mean that I have not been monitoring the blogosphere and keeping in touch with the latest in weird news from around the world. To prove this, I offer the following as a remark on two rather sad and strange recent incidents.

Well, fairly recent incidents. C'mon, give this overworked squirrel a break.

A Zimbabwean Story

on Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It seems that Jo at A Majority of Two is in need of good cheer in the form of jokes. As a gentleman squirrel, I felt duty bound to respond.

Tonight, I would like to share with you a Zimbabwean joke which I recently learned from a Zimbabwean student friend which again features a particular problem in that country.

There is a city on the western mountains of Zimbabwe which is relatively prosperous but on one occassion, it had a terrible problem. All the monkeys from the surrounding mountains all came into the city and caused a great pandemonium. The Mayor called out the army and the police and they came out fully armed and bristling with guns, ready to cull the monkeys.

However, a staff of the National Wildlife Department intervened, saying that the monkeys were rare and endangered so they could not be shot. The Mayor did not know what to do, given those circumstance.

So the army and police were both milling around due to the lack of instructions when a man appeared, claiming he could talk to monkeys and could rid the city of the monkeys. The Mayor asked him to proceed.

The man went to the city centre and whistled and all the monkey gathered round him. He said something to them and the monkeys all turned to look at the police and army men and nodded their heads solemny. Then the monkeys began to disperse.

The man whistled and again the monkeys came round him. He said something else to the monkeys and this time the monkeys all broke up laughing until some were hysterically rolling on the floor.
Once again, the monkey began to disperse.

The man whistled and gathered them a third time. This time he said something and all the monkeys fled the city and returned to the mountains.

The Mayor was pleased and rewarded the man handsomely. The police chief however, stopped the man and insisted that the man explain what he had said to the monkeys.

The man said, "the first time, I called the monkeys together and told them that all the men with guns were soldiers and police and that their job was to uphold justice in the land. The monkeys then nodded in silent respect.

The second time I called the monkeys, I told the monkeys how much you were being paid to be the noble defenders of the law and they laughed.

The third time, I merely said that you had come to recruit them to join the army and police and that is why they all ran away!

Kat Wants Bugs

on Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Here is a collage of some photos that I took at a Butterfly Farm in Penang. This is for you, Kat.

Ramblin' on the La Rambla

on Saturday, September 19, 2009

Here is another post in my series on Barcelona, Spain. I had previously done an introduction to Barcelona entitled "Barcelona Uno" and had also posted on the amazing work of art and architecture which is Sagrada Familia.

This time, I present for your viewing pleasure, a video on La Rambla which is a 1.2 km long tree-lined pedestrian mall which stretches from the old Barri Gotic to the El Raval part of town. More importantly, it is a street alive with interesting architecture and exciting city life. A favorite with locals and tourists alike, it is like walking on the pulse of the city.

If you ever get to visit Barcelona, this is as good place as any to start orientating to the local lifestyle. This video highlights the attractions on the street including architecture, crafts, food, street performers, monuments and the famous Mercat de la Boqueria (iconic fresh produce market). Also keep a look out for my wife who will be "cleverly" hidden thoughout the video cause she is "internet shy".

Oh, by the way, someone has done a photo portrait of the Lone Grey Squirrel. Please drop by using this link, Portrait of LGS, and let me know what you think.

Reflecting on 47

on Monday, September 14, 2009

"Do not try this at home".

Well, this is the first day after my 47th birthday and the first day of the rest of my life. I was completely pampered by my wife this last weekend and had a very nice gourmet meal at a fancy restaurant yesterday. So in many ways, life has been good.

However, as usual, I get introspective at these times. And as I took some time to reflect upon my life thus far, I feel very blessed, happy and contented.

My career hasn't turned out the way I expected but I have had fun doing it (for the most part) and come close to the top of my eventual career path. More important to me is that I feel that I have been fortunate to have participated in some projects that have brought benefits to the community.

I am happily married and my social life is quite satisfactory. Financially, I suffer the fate of working for a non-profit organisation. As such, I am not rolling in money but again, I am comfortable and thankful for that.

I have for a long time held that the secret of happiness is to be content and I find that it has worked well for me. However, one has to wonder if someone can be too content.

There is the anecdotal tale of the experiment where a frog is placed in a pan of water. As long as the water is heated gently so that its temperature increases very slowly, the frog will adapt to the slowly increasing heat and not sense danger. In this way, the frog will make no attempt to escape and will eventually be boiled alive. (Please do not try this at home).

The scientific accuracy of the story is doubtful but the story serves to warn against our tendency to accept small changes and not be alerted to its potential danger until it is too late.

Perhaps this is the inherent problem of being content; that we fail to make decisions or take actions which might further enrich our lives. Being content should not mean that we should have no dreams or aspirations.

Therefore, I think I should be more pro-active in making positive changes in my spiritual life, in my family life, social life and at work. In each, I hope to have a more positive impact on those around me; to build up my personal relationship with God and to be more of an agent of His love.

So as I begin the rest of my life, this is the pledge that I make to myself. After all, I don't want to end up as a boiled frog!

Adventures in the Fast Lane

on Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fast Food?

I apologise if you have lured you here under false pretenses. From the title of the post, you might have thought that this post is about living the life of the rich and famous ...... it is not. Or you might have thought that it would be the confessions of a drug abuser and speed addict ....... but you would be wrong. Or you might have expected tales from the life of a race car driver ...... but you would be disappointed.

Instead, I am writing about fasting. Fasting is the the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. It is now the month of Rahmadan during which Muslims all of the world fast from sunrise to sunset. No food or liquid should be ingested during the fasting period and this even means spitting out saliva instead of swallowing it.
The purpose of fasting is for Muslims to gain more noble values by gaining control of their natural desires and passions. Some Muslim friends have also explained that fasting makes them more appreciative of the suffering of those less fortunate.

Have you fasted before? I have four tales of fasting from my own experiences.

Tale No: 1 (The Early Years)
My first experience with fasting was in my early teens, when as a young Christian, I took part in prayer and fasting sessions. The purpose was to meet in groups to encounter God and to pray for issues and for one another. Aternating between periods of singing praises to God, silent devotion and prayer, these sessions would last from morning to evening (about 6 hours). We would often miss lunch as a result. The idea of fasting in this case was to put communion with God first before even our earthly desires. We used to do this about once a month and I actually enjoyed these sessions very much. Of course, not eating for just 6 hours isn't really a very long time but it was my first experiences in fasting.

When I was at University, I also took part in a couple of these fast to feed the world programs. The idea is to skip lunch and to donate your lunch money to a food aid charity.
Tale No:2 (The Surprise)
When I was studying in the United Kingdom for my A-levels, there was a short one week holiday and as I was staying in a hostel, a friend invited me to spend the holidays with his family. Now my friend is Jewish and his family home was in London. I had a great time and enjoyed their kind hospitality. My friend did tell me that there was a very important Jewish festival (I think it was Yom Kippur) during that week which they had to attend the synagogue. He told me that I could go off and do my own thing but I was keen to learn more about a different culture and religion. " When in Rome, do as the Romans do", as they say.

He was thrilled that I showed interest and even wanted to go to the synagogue with them. Now this is when he sprung the surprise. Apparently we had to fast for 25 hours. With the wild impulse of youth, I accepted the challenge. So I found myself fasting for 25 hours and attending an extremely long service at the synagogue (from morning to mid-afternoon).

Despite the length of the service, I was taken in with the paegent.ry and the strangeness of the language and the go-ing ons. As such, I was distracted from thinking about food but that completely changed after the service. The mind is a little foggy on this point but I think both my friend and I cheated on the fasting thing when his parents weren't around later. Still, it was the first time i felt truly challenged by fasting and gave me a better respect for those who practice it regularly.

Tale No: 3 (The Real Test)
A few years later, I was travelling through Yugoslavia. In those days the Yugoslavia dinar had no value outside of that country. Therefore, you needed to be careful not to change too much money if you did not want to be left with a bunch of notes that you cannot exchange back into any useful currency when you left.

Of course, being frugal, I exchnaged only a little of my traveler's cheques. As a result, I ran out of dinar on my last day in Yugoslavia and spent the last 8 hours effectively penniless while waiting for a train at the train station. I was hungry and very thirsty and all around me was food and people eating food but I was the penilless backpacker looking in on the feast.

It was a very difficult time. Unlike my earlier fasting tales, this was not voluntary and I could not stop even if I wanted to. In a way, this enforced fast made me understand the plight of the hungry more than any other experience.
Tale No: 4 (Still Unenlightened)
Some people say that fasting helps in self discovery and enlightenment. The earlier fasting experiences certainly taught me some life lessons and I am better able to fast voluntarily as a result. However, as this story shows, I was still very far from enlightenment or wisdom.

This final tale was set at the end of a long, tiring holiday. My girlfriend and I was on the way home after a long journey which included a long hike and bus journey. We were tired and dishevelled and had not eaten for about half the day when we got to the train station. We were taking separate trains from there. After buying our tickets, my girlfriend took the last of her money and bought me a hamburger.

She skips up to me and hands me the hamburger, served with a smile. Almost simultaneously, this homeless man comes up to me and asks for some small change for food. I looked and saw the hunger in his eyes. I had no money left either and so perhaps of the lessons I had previously learnt from fasting, automatically, I passed the hamburger to him. I remember two sets of expressions; the gratitute in the face of the homeless man and the sheer shock on my girlfriend's face. Perhaps i should have asked her if it was okay with her to offer the hamburger away. See......not so wise.

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

on Monday, August 31, 2009

Sculpture of Hang Tuah

Every country needs its heroes. For most countries, they have adopted heroes that best reflected their national character or aspirations. We have the freedom fighting heroes like William Tell for Switzerland. Then there are defenders of the helpless and oppressed like King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table for England. Then there are the heroes of ideology and the revolution like Che Guevara for Cuba. Robin Hood may also be considered an anti-capitalistic hero since he "stole for the rich and gave to the poor." However, Robin also fought for the oppressed. There does seem to be a lot of oppression going on in England.

Some countries like Australia have some strange national heroes. One of them is Ned Kelly the infamous bushranger which is a polite way of describing a murderer and a robber. However, he has become an icon of resistance against an unjust establishment. In some cultures, the cultural heroes can even be con men because trickery and even treachery is highly valued.

Malaysia celebrated its 52nd National Day today and I feel that we could do with some new heroes to inspire us. When I was growing up and even today, all the children are taught about the ultimate Malaysian hero, Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah was by all accounts the greatest Malay warrior ever. He became an admiral and champion for Sultan Mansur Shah of the glorious Sultanate of Melaka in the 15th century.

Hang Tuah defended Melaka from pirates, rival Sultanates and invaders. He helped represent Melaka on diplomatic missions and generally was intrumental in building the greatness of Melaka while having amazing aventures. He was brave, a warrior, a wise administrator and a stalwart of the Sultanate.

So far, not a bad hero figure for young minds. However, there is one virtue that is often said to be his greatest which was his faithfulness and loyalty. The following story is the most famous of all the romantic legends of Hang Tuah. After reading it, please share your opinion on whether he remains the right hero for the youth of today.

The Fight with Hang Jebat

Hang Tuah was part of a group of warriors who served the Sultan of Melaka (not unlike the knights of the roundtable of Camelot or the Three Musketeers of France). Hang Tuah was particularly favored by the Sultan because of his bravery, wisdom and services to the Sultanate. He eventually is promoted to the post of Laksamana (Admiral) which is very prominent and influential.

However, some in the Royal Court was not happy with his ascendancy and start rumours that Hang Tuah was taking advantage of his post to gain access to the Sultan's concubines. The Sultan hears of these rumours and he grew very angry and without seeking out any evidence, sentenced Hang Tuah to death by execution.

Hang Tuah was arrested by men led by the Bendahara (Chief Minister). However, the Bendahara only pretended to execute Hamg Tuah so as to buy some time to find evidence to exonerate hang Tuah. Instead, he smuggled Hang Tuah to a remote forest in the Kingdom.

Hang Jebat was Hang Tuah's childhood friend and closest colleague and brother in arms. After Hang Tuah, he was probably the best warrior in Melaka. Thinking that his friend had been unjustly accused and executed, he was wracked with grief and took to drinking. In a drunken fit, he took revenge on the Sultan by attacking the Palace. Running amok, he killed all that he met and took over the throne when the Sultan fled the palace.

The Sultan and his advisors was at lost of what to do until the Bendehara told the Sultan that Hang Tuah was still alive. The Sultan was happy at the news and regreted his earlier haste judgment. He offered Hang Tuah a full pardon and ordered him to kill Hang Jebat.

What followed was a duel with keris (curved daggers) between Hang Tuah and his friend Hang Jebat. When Hang Jebat saw Hang Tuah, he was very happy to see his good friend and invited Hang Tuah to join him to teach the Sultan a lesson but Hang Tuah refused saying that there is no excuse to ever go against the Sultan and to be unfaithful or disloyal.

After a titanic struggle, Hang Tuah kills Hang Jebat and proved his faithfulness and loyalty to the Sultan.

What do you think? It seems to me to promote some very feudal values such as loyalty to the leader above all else including justice and friendship. I think we need some new heroes.

In to Africa

on Saturday, August 22, 2009

For a very, very long time, one of the things that Ive dreamed of doing is to go on safari amidst the huge animal herds and carnivores of the African plains. One such place that you might do that is at Kruger National Park in South Africa.

In 2004, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Durban, South Africa and I had hoped to make this dream come through. However, as it turned out, a trip to Kruger was a little too costly for my means nor did I have sufficient free time to make the trip.

Instead, I went with some others to one of the many independent and privately owned safari parks. These were essentially large areas of relatively open habitats but which were basically fenced off private property. The animals in these safari parks are 'managed", not free ranging and are often bought from other parks.

So really, they are more like open air zoos rather than truly natural habitats. The number of animals are usually quite low and they are often not prime specimens due to excessive in-breeding. So though I am grateful to have had the chance of even visiting a safari park, I still hope to do a real safari experience in Kruger National Park one day.

This is the jeep that we used to make our way around the park.

Most people come to see the big five which are the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape Buffalo. Well, I saw no lions or leopards (often missing from these safari parks as the predators are much harder to manage and costly to feed). Nor did I see any elephants but I did get to see the following; Cape Buffalo and the rhinocerous.

I also saw the giraffe. Now that is a big animal! I wonder why it is not listed as one of the top five.

I also saw a rather scruffy pack of ostriches.

But for me, the real jewel for my visit, was the glimpse of the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius). This bird was so named because it is said to resemble a pompous British Government Secretary from the late 18th Century. It is a diurnal raptor and is seen on the coat of arms of the Republic of South Africa.

The apparent fading stripes on the rump of this Zebra is a sign of excessive inbreeding within the Zebra herd in this particular safari park.

Banff Squirrel

on Monday, August 17, 2009

What else could I be posting about if not about this now infamous Columbian Ground Squirrel? The story is that two British tourists visiting Lake Minnewanka in beautiful Banff national Park, Canada, wanted to take a photo of themselves with the lake and mountains in the background. They placed their camera on some rocks and set it to take the photo on timer.

However, attracted by the sound of the timer, this squirrel pops up just at the right time to crash the photo. The couple were so amused by this photo, they posted it on the National Geographic website and from there, the squirrel photo has made it round the world. In fact, the squirrel is now appearing in other photos too.

He is now a global celebrity. Way to go, brother.

Funny Laughter

on Monday, August 10, 2009

I thought that we could all use a laugh this Monday and so I decided to post on laughter. I admire people who know how to laugh at themselves and know how to make others laugh along. My favorite comediennes all knew not to take themselves seriously. The only thing that they took seriously was the art of making people laugh.

Some comic geniuses take it a step further and make it almost their professional duty to trip up their fellow colleagues and make them laugh. One good example and a favorite of mine was the Carol Burnett Show. As if the skits were not funny enough but the real icing on the cake were the one liner ad lib that the actors would throw out which often caused the other actors in the skit to laugh uncontrollably. Yet as good professionals, they would try to hide their laughter behind straight faces or available props, but often not very successfully. For the audience, the poor attempts to hide their laughter were some of the funniest things ever seen. Occasionally, an actor would lose it and laugh hysterically and that would just ignite the audience with wildfire laughter. When that happened, I would laugh until I cried.

There was something contagious about the laughter. "Laugh and the whole world laughs with you.", so the saying goes. I present for your amusement, one of the best examples of an infectious laugh. It is a little long but quite worth it. The fun really gets going at the 1.30 minute mark and all decorum goes downhill from there. Enjoy.

Moving to Blogland Lane

on Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Haven't you ever wondered what it would have been like to be among the pioneers moving in and establishing a new town in the middle of the wilderness? Well, a new community has been founded by KJ in Blogland Lane and she is inviting us to join her pioneer community.

Having accepted her warm invitation, my wife and I will be virtually moving in to 1313 Blogland Lane home this weekend. Allow me to take you on a virtual tour.

The cedar wood home is in a forested setting, on a small rise overlooking a nearby lake and with a stream gurgling nearby. The main living area will have high ceilings and tall glass windows with a view of the lake. Windows throughout the house take advantage of the views of the old growth forests.

Outback there is a deck with a hot tub, ideal for a soak while looking at the stars at night. Also a great place to catch some rays and to have a barbeque. There is also a screened area which is great for a snooze while communing with nature sans bugs.

The other obvious feature is the many squirrel feeders but being generous, birds are welcome too.

Visitors are always welcome for a chat and will be greeted with a cool beer in summer and warm chocolate in winter.

Visit HERE to have a look at some of my other dream homes.

a wide choice of available land
including double lots,
lakeside, ocean front,
small plots, rambling acreage,
dells with forest canopies,
tree lined, flat, or hilly terrain,
whatever you want.
Just put up a picture of your home/yard
on your own blog
and the place is yours!
Provide any details and descriptions you want,
and put out the Welcome Mat
or the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.
(Just leave a comment on her blog letting people know they can see
your house on your blog.)

Learning PR from Pigs

on Sunday, August 02, 2009

"One man's meat is another man's poison.", so the saying goes. However carrying on with the theme from the previous post, perhaps the saying should be "One man's delicacy is another man's bizarre food."

Why is that, I wondered. I think part of it is due to the accepted role of certain animals in our Society. In some parts of the world, they eat dog and horse meat. This isn't the case in most Western nations though and I think it is because these animals have elevated positions and roles in these societies. Dogs are just another farm animal in the East but in the West, they have been alleviated to pets, companions and for some, even one of the family. No one wants to eat their pet, companion or family member. Likewise in many parts of the world, the horse is just part of the livestock but in other parts they are elevated to racing champions and riding partners.

I am forbidden by wifely decree from eating venison under the pain of sleeping on the couch. It all started with a visit to Banff, Canada when a small herd of deer actually came up to the back of our rented lodge and shared our breakfast. My wife enjoyed hand feeding the deer. Somehow the bond was established and I am now forbidden to eat venison. If I ever suggested ordering venison at a restaurant, she will remind me that she fed those cute, big doe eyed innocent, trusting deer in Banff and that we could never betray that trust by eating venison now.

Hmmmm......and so I have been venison free for over 15 years now. This made this squirrel brain (more than just a food item) think. Perhaps, one way to dissuade people from eating squirrels is to change their perception of squirrels as vermin or forest bounty to that of cute, innocent, trusting friends.

This has been done before by my porcine friends. Remember "Charlotte's Web"? The book and movie was all about trying to save the piglet from being slaughtered. Now what sicko watches the movie, roots for the pig and then leaves the movie theater and orders a bacon burger? Hmmm, don't answer that.

Even more successful was the movie "Babe". There a cute little piglet thinks that he is a sheperd dog. Once again, we root for the cute, emotionally confused pig and once we identified with the pig, it is difficult to eat pork. Not convinced? Well, the Chinese Government was so concerned that it would brainwash its citizens and lead to a collapse of the vast pork industry that it actually banned the movie from China.

I think that the pigs were on to a good idea. So it wasn't long that the National Union of Tasty Squirrels (NUTS) embarked on a public relations campaign for squirrels by sponsoring a number of movies. Here are some examples which the intended PR message.

Scrat from "Ice Age": The lovable persistent and funny underdog.

From "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian":- The heroic and noble, defender of all that is righteous and just and good.

From "Squirrel with a Pearl Earring":- the romantic, sensitive and artistic squirrel.

What do you think? Do you feel this will work and get people to stop eating squirrels? If it doesn't work, I am afraid that the only other option is to bomb the Appalachians.

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