Prepare to be Teleported

on Friday, June 11, 2010

Dear Gentle Readers,

The Lone Grey Squirrel has completed his re-construction process and is blogging again but the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel has relocated in the process.

Please click here to be magically transported to the new location.

See you on the other side, hopefully

Life Hiatus

on Saturday, May 08, 2010

Dear friends of the Realm,

Recent developments has made it hard for the plans for world conquest and regular blogging to proceed as planned. Suffice to say that my life is in the process of a major reconstruction. I regret that I shall have to take a hiatus of about a month to facilitate these life changes.

Until then, I shall try to visit your wonderful blogs.

Your friendly Rodent tyrant,

Unburied Nuts from 19th July 2007: Cats over Borneo

on Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From time to time, I uncover an older post and give it another chance in the spotlight. As I am not very creative at the moment, I thought it was time to do so again. As it happens, there have been a lot of visitors sniffing around this post having Googled "cats over Borneo" or "cats and parachutes". What strange things people use Google for! Well, if you had done so, you might have ended up unearthing this fact is stranger than fiction story. Enjoy.


Cats in Cat City, Borneo (PhotoCredit: LGS)

This strange piece of public art is found in the city of Kuching which is the capital of the state of Sarawak on the vast, equatorial and forested island of Borneo. The cats' theme is actually in tribute to the city because the name Kuching actually means "cat" in the Malay language. Hence Kuching is actually "Cat City".

However, Borneo is the setting of an even more interesting and bizzare cat related story. This story is often called "Cats over Borneo". The story is set in the 1950's. Malaria, the severe and potentially fatal blood borne disease, was rampant and it was known to be spread by the Anopheles mosquito. The relatively new and young World Health Organization (WHO) was fervent in their efforts to fight malaria.

They had just added to their arsenal of weapons, a new and effective insecticide, a chemical called dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT. Today, we are aware of DDT's problems including its long half life and tendency to accumulate in fatty tissue as well as its effect on non-target species. However, at that time, the pesticide was being used worldwide, and was widely touted for its safety and its effectiveness.

Anyway, the WHO sprayed DDT liberally in the Dayak villages of the Sarawak interior. Initially, this campaign was considered a success as mosquitoes were killed and the malaria rate dropped. Then authorities were hit by two mystery complaints. The first was very bizzare. The Dayak villages consisted of longhouses which accomodate several families and which were covered by a thatch roof. The villagers complained that their roofs were collapsing exposing whole communities to the elements. Although puzzled, the authorities were forced to act quickly and sent in corrugated metal sheets to be used as roofing material.

Before, they could even take a breather, they were surprised by the outbreak of plague and reports of famine as grain stores were decimated by a large invasion of rats. The authorities urgently investigated the matter and called the Royal Air Force for help. Citizens were also asked to donate cats and to help build special cat baskets. Operation "Cat Drop" was carried out in which hundreds of cats were parachuted by the RAF onto interior villages. This reinforcement of cats eventually solved the problem.

The Day They Parachuted Cats on Borneo by Charlotte Pomerantz relates this true story in the form of a rhyme. It is also featured in an article by Gordon R. Conway in The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development (1972) and a first-hand account of “Operation Cat-drop” is given by Tom Harrisson in the journal Animals published in 1965.

What transpired in the jungles of Borneo is a clear example and a cautionary tale that man does not know enough about the inter-connectivity of the web of life and many of our actions to address a single problem have often unexpected reprecussions. The DDT did infact kill the mosquitoes and also other insects in the jungle which were non-target species. One of which was a jungle wasp. These wasps in turn played the important role of keeping a certain caterpillar population in check by laying eggs on the caterpillar and when the larvae hatch out, the larvae feed on the caterpillar, killing it. When the DDT killed the wasp, the caterpillar population boomed and as the caterpillar fed on the roof thatching, the roofs started to collapse.

At the same time, the geckos which are a type of lizard which feed on insects were having a great time because it kept finding dead insects everywhere. However, as they ate, the DDT levels in their bodies continued to rise. The cats in the village in turn often catch and eat the geckos. Soon, all the cats died of poisoning. With the cats gone, the rats came out to play. Their population boomed, leading to the destruction of grain stores and the spread of plague. A situation that was only reversed by the airborne drop of cats over Borneo.

A strange but true tale and a warning to man to stop messing with the world's complex and balanced web of life. I did not even mention how all these imported cats caused a great upset to the indigenous squirrel population!

The Haircut: How the Pampered Have Fallen

on Friday, April 09, 2010

Sometime back, I wrote about how I was conflicted about going to have my haircut in one of the modern unisex hairdressing salons (The Haircut: the Estacy and the aqony). I initially felt uncomfortable with being pampered with someone washing my hair or giving me scalp massages but finally I gave in. So for the last four years, I had abandoned my proletariat roots and reveled in the decadence of the upmarket unisex salon.

However, economic realities and impending unemployment has recently forced me to seek more modest alternatives. And so, yesterday I found myself waiting in the queue at the bargain cut-price barber shop at the local mall.

It was very interesting comparing this budget establishment and the average unisex salon. Firstly, there was no nice sofa set or waiting room where you could read magazines or sip tea while you waited. The whole place was only really big enough for two barber chairs and we had to wait, sitting on three legged stools, outside in the corridor leading to the toilets.

The next noticeable difference was the cleanliness of the establishment or rather the lack of it. Let's just say that the floor had a heavy carpet of hair. The two staff was responsible for cutting and styling hair, collecting money, selling hair care products and cleaning up. Considerably overworked, cleaning and sweeping the floor of the cut locks by the staff only occurred when the layer of hair was deep enough to clog the wheels on their rolling chairs.

However, I thought the most interesting difference was in their approaches to hair styling. In the up-market hairsalon, the hairstylist expertly uses to cut the hair, getting rid of the unwanted lengths and then tidies up using an electirc clipper and a small pair of scissors. This is similar to someone using garden shears to trim back the unruly branches of a bush and then finally using an electric powered shears to finely sculpture the bush.

The highly expert budget stylist uses the electric clippers to shear you like a sheep is sheared for its wool and then uses the scissors to cut whatever remains sticking out. Using the analogy of the bush, it is more similar to using a chain saw to sculpture a bush and then tidying up the splinttered branches later with some shears.

I miss the up-market pampering but I like the price (which is at least 75% cheaper) and the haircut is actually quite good. Plus the people watching is more interesting. I think I can live with my fall from Grace. (Grace was the name of the up-market salon I used to go to).

Proud Malaysian

on Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I was watching the Amazing Race (Season 16, episode 8)on TV a couple of days ago and pleased to see that the competitors were in the historical and beautiful island of Penang in Malaysia on their race around the world. I thought the program did a good job of showcasing some of the more interesting aspects about the people and culture of Penang.

If you had watched the program, you would have learned, for example, that Malaysian taxi drivers need little encouragement to speed and drive recklessly and that we are capable of having traffic jams even on idyllic island paradises.

Seriously though, I particularly liked the way the program introduced the unique culture that developed in a place that has been a cultural mixing bowl for some 600 years. The team consisting of two cowboy brothers won the leg of the competition because they undertook to do the Chingay and did surprisingly well.

Chingay is a cultural performance that originated from China but was introduced to Penang by the Chinese people living there. The signature of Chingay is the carrying of gigantic bamboo flags in street processions. These performances have their roots in Taoist worship. The hoisting of gigantic flags have been recorded as early as 1905, and were performed to appease Taoist deities. The name "Chin Gay" means "true art" in the Hokkien dialect.

However, it is easier for you to see it for yourself rather than have me try to explain it in words. As the video shows, despite the Chinese origin, Chingay is truly a sport that has attracted practitioners from all the different races in Penang (the three main races of Malay, Chinese and Indian are shown in the video). This is a Malaysia that makes me proud. A Malaysia where all the races enjoys and appreciates the richness that their different cultures can bring. This is a Malaysia that is getting a little too rare these days.

In Christ Alone

on Sunday, April 04, 2010

Please take the time to watch this video and listen to the lyrics of the song that almost perfectly reflect my thoughts and feelings about Christ and His sacrifice at Easter. God bless.

A Good Documentary

on Thursday, April 01, 2010

In my last post, I lamented on how documentaries today have placed sensationalism and entertainment before education. As a result, instead of being taught about the wonders of the world and of nature and also being taught to respect nature and wildlife, we get documentaries where the presenter is trying to do something stupid like seeing how close he can get to a snake or crocodile without getting bitten.

Documentaries should return to a time when they all aspired to a higher standard. To demonstrate what I mean, have a look at this early Panorama documentary from 1957. Like any good documentary, it opens our eyes to things we may have not known before.

This video was filmed near the village of Lirpaloof.

Hot, Sweaty Men

on Tuesday, March 30, 2010

There are three posts in one.

Post No:1 Sensational Blogging

The Lone Grey Squirrel has succumbed to blatant sensationalism to attract more readers by pandering to the blogging demographics (overwhelmingly women) and has basically resorted to give them what they want.............HOT, SWEATY MEN.

It is a pity that cute, furry squirrels have not proved to be sufficient.

Anyway, all these pictures and the short video at the end were taken by the Lone Grey Squirrel for your viewing pleasure, ladies. The are all about a performance during an Earth Hour Event at a mall last Saturday night.

Post No: 2 Sensational Nature Documentaries

There were about 300 people gathered at this shopping mall open air atrium to observe Earth Hour. I am sure most of you know about Earth Hour but in case you don't , this event encourages people and cities around the world to switch off the lights for one hour. Switching off the lights for one hour barely makes a dent in our annual consumption of energy but the idea is to just raise awareness about the problem of climate change and our need to reduce our personal impact on the environment including our energy consumption. If those 300 people at the mall then just change their lifestyles to stop wasting energy and manage to reduce their energy consumption by even 10%, then that is what will make the difference that counts.

However, my thoughts drifted to the fact that the organisers had to organise a didgeridoo player, two clowns, one fire-eater, a whole troupe of hot sweaty men, a drum act, a band, two Malaysian celebrity singers and a choir from a children's home to get people to come for the event. They were all great but if we didn't have any of that, would the people have come just to sit in the darkness for one hour?

So regrettably, I note that people today need to be given eye and ear candy. It is not good enough just to support a good cause. The cause needs to also be entertaining.

I notice it is even true of once astute institutions like National Geographic or Discovery Channel. I grew up with nature and wildlife documentaries that introduced their viewers to the beauty of nature and animals while teaching a good respect for all things wild and promoting the common sense of keeping one's distance for the mutual benefit of wildlife and human viewer. Today, it is different. There seems to be a proliferation of documentaries that take great pride on how close the presenter can get to a snake or a crocodile without getting bitten.

In one recent documentary, the presenter takes a walk in a coastal forest at night and tells the viewers that the forest is a particularly dangerous place to be at night and that you would be foolish to come there at night.............and there he is walking there at night.

I did have a chance to talk to a film producer about this once and he said that the reality is that today, channels like Discovery, see their rivals as channels like HBO. In other words, documentaries are about entertainment first and education a distant second.

This is sad. We really have to draw the line somewhere and in my opinion, documentaries must first be about education.

Post No: 3 Sensational World
If you have made it down to this final post past all the sensational hot sweaty men, thank you. I have only one thing to say, "We do have a sensational world, let's keep it that way. Let us change our wasteful and selfish ways for Mother Earth."

Castaway's Choices

on Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hi guys and gals. I am just about ready to reveal my castaway's booty but first, I must thank you all for your interesting Desert Island Discs selections so far. As I said in the last post, you can chose 8 pieces of music (records or CDs), one book and one luxury item to take with you into exile on a desert island.

Mark and Jo have a strong preference for classical music to help them while their time on their tropical prison. Squirrelmama liked both classical as well as opera singing by the likes of Andre Bocelli. Geewits was the most eclectic and probably most similar to my own choices; but I also was introduced to a couple of musicians that I hadn't known, Leon Russel (Mark's choice) and Gato Barbeiri (Squirrelmama's choice).

Amongst the luxury items, the ladies opted for various skin care products and lip balm. Mark, always the rascal and pushing the limits of the rules, chose a yacht which is a very liberating luxury indeed.

Coming now to books, I liked all the choices. Moby Dick (Mark) and The Count of Monte Cristo (Geewits) seem like most appropriate choices given the circumstances but Jo's "Complete works of Somerset Maugham" hits close to home as some of his stories are based in and around Malaysia. Mago, on the other hand, wants to take eight books instead of eight pieces of music.

Okay, here goes. Drum roll please. Here's Lone Grey Squirrel's all alone on an island choices;

1. & 2. Classical music cause it is so uplifting and for watching the sunrise or sunset. One
would have to be the entire suite of the Planets by Holst and the other a compilation
of the
other great composers like Mozart, Beethoven etc.
3. Songs of Worship to praise God and to feed the spirit.
4. Billy Joel's Greatest Hits cause I love the Piano-man.
5. I need my jazz and I choose the uncomparable Ella Fitzgerald.
6. Showtunes and musicals. Either a compilation or the very first love, West Side Story.
7. When the stars come out and I need to party.....Black Eyed Peas.
8. I need the Celtic Touch. I choose The Chieftains.

Once I spent a lot of time alone at a forest research centre and it had one book. I remember that it kept me company for many nights with not one tale but with many; reading one a night like a modern story of Arabian Nights. So I choose this well tested and proven companion; the complete Short Stories of O Henry.

Why, it has to be a computer with internet excess so that I can continue to visit your blogs. What else could it be?

Castaway's Junk

on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Our friend, Cedarflame, has been forced to be a refugee of sorts when her apartment was water damaged. She had to move her stuff into another apartment and live elsewhere while they repaired her damaged apartment. In the post, she discusses a little about all the stuff that she has collected over the years.

I got to wondering about the things that we collect, do they help define us? Are they physical representations of our inner selves? Yes, squirrels can be come pensive and philosophical sometimes when the winter drags too %@#$ long.

Anyway, this brought to mind a BBC radio program called "Desert Island Discs". This radio program is still on but was first broadcast in 1942 and is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running musical program in the history of radio. The premise behind Desert Island Discs was to interview a famous guest and to have them imagine that they were about to be castaway and exiled on a desert island. They were told that they could bring 8 pieces of music (originally gramaphone records), one book (other than the bible and the complete works of Shakesphere which were already provided on the island) and one luxury item.

Some episodes of this program are now available as podcasts.

So what might your answer be. Let's play Desert Island Discs. 8 musical pieces or songs, one book and one luxury item. Perhaps we could modernise this to 8 CDs, that would still be desert island discs.

I have to give this one a thought myself and will give my answers in the next post.

Small Minded

on Saturday, March 20, 2010

Although I have been working in the area of nature conservation for the last 15 years, I was originally trained as a biochemist and later did my doctorate in microbiology. In retrospect, my doctorate has not been very useful to me. It doesn't get me discounts at cinemas or restaurants, for example.

It also gets me no respect. When I tell people that I have a doctorate in microbiology, they usually respond by saying, "Oh, so you're not a REAL doctor then". Then, there is usually a short pause before they ask, "So what is a microbiologist anyway?"

I like to tell people that a microbiologist is someone who knows a lot about very little. Yes, I think that is a good definition. Anyway, as a service to young readers who may be trying to decide what to study at university or even for older readers seeking a career change, I have compiled the top ten reasons for doing microbiology. I hope this will help you.


1. Microbiologist practice safe sex - we always wear protection and use sterile technique.
2. We know how to give you fever.
3. Self-diagnosis saves time at at the doctor's office.
4. We are really good at streaking.
5. We are used to different and diverse cultures.
6. Wanted to study to be a doctor but also wanted to party.
7. We know how to make small things look BIG.
8. The laboratory equipment can be used to make beer.
9. Get mistaken as doctors when wearing cute lab coats.
10. If we are really lucky, they will name a dreadful disease after us.

Shooting Star

on Monday, March 15, 2010

You blazed across my darkness
like a shooting star in space
And lit up all my emptiness
And filled me with your grace

Then all at once my world was light
So brilliant and amazing
The world was filled with colours bright
And with every shade and feeling.

And suddenly life overwhelmed me
With the richness of its tapestry
And things that I might have once ignored
Now are the very things that I thirst for
Like being on a long sojourn
Finding treasures at every turn

But in the presence of a blazing light
A shadow will be surely cast
An ugliness on this side of white
That had been hidden in the past

Though I now look upon darkened skies
I remember what I had seen
I had glimpsed life beyond the lies
And cannot return to what has been.

So though O star long extinguished
It is you I thank and want to say
My heart once imprisoned and languished
More freely beats in joy each day.

Marching in March

on Tuesday, March 09, 2010

This post should probably have come out soon after the new year as the ceremony took place on the 1st of January (which is actually a little inconsiderate for those friends who had wanted to see in the new year by getting sloshed till the wee hours of the new year. Nevertheless, this couple chose to get married on the 01/01/10.

I procrastinated about posting on this until this month cause this is the month of March; the month of the mad March Hare and in the words of the Neil Sedaka song, "the month to march you down the aisle". In Malay, March is spelled "Mac". So on that flimsy excuse, I thought I would also showcase what fun my new Mac is by creating a short video. As a bonus to the curious, you get to hear the voice of yours truly narrating the video.

This video is of a Sikh or Punjabi wedding. Punjabis are actually an ethnic group originating from the Punjab area of India. Sikhs refer really to followers of the Sikhism or the Sikh religion. Most Sikhs are Punjabis. In Malaysia, the Punjabis have a reputation that they earned since the colonial period under the British, of being brave and trustworthy and had traditional careers in security and police.

A Fallen Light

on Friday, March 05, 2010

Taman Negara (LGS)

Oh Ancient Mother, who watches over our very heart beats,
See, O see your children's desperate plight
Our forest had grown dark, the light fails and retreats,
It seems like life itself had taken flight.
The land was bleeding earth into brown choked rivulets,

Oh Ancinet Guardian, protector of all living things
Hear, o hear your people's despairing cries,
The land ails and fails to provide as once it did,
The water, the air poisoned with lies
Our bellys are empty and our children beyond comforting.

Oh Ancient of Ancients, who dwells in all we know,
Feel, O feel your spirits dire impotence,
As spirits of steel and smoke surround and grow
And care not for keeping the natural balance
Our familiars, our guides are silent and cold.

Oh Ancient One, our hope as in the rising morn,
From amongst us you arose a special son,
Your child, my child and our hope and light reborn
Born to stand in the gap of dreams and reason
To lead our people back from past beyond

Oh Ancient One, joy again brightened our face,
Aha! Aha! Aha! The sweet melody rings,
No longer do we sell the future of our race
To fill bellys and for forgetfulness drinks
With heads held high facing newly bright days

O Mother of Mothers, who comforts and dries tears,
Know that our hearts, briefly warmed have grown cold.
For the light flickered and fell before his years,
He bore his people's hopes, the boy who was old,
O Mother of Mothers, comfort him and dry his tears.

A Book, A Movie, A Song

on Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank you all for your wonderfully diverse but helpful comments and advice to the previous post. Like in that post, the squirrel remains in a pensive and philosophical mood and the wanderings of my mind led me to this discovery.

A number of times, I have come across bloggers who do a meme on the books that they have read. They would share about the latest books they have read, favorite author etc. and very often, which have been the books that have influenced their lives most.

I have always not participated cause, when it comes to books that have influenced my life, my brain usually draws a blank. One because I am not a prolific reader, two because I am not a serious reader (i.e. I do not like to read heavy intellectual tomes) and three, my reading list is a little embarrassing.

So, as I said, I was surprised to make a discovery of what may be the book that has been most influential in my life (apart from the bible) during my recent mental wanderings. The book is "Ring of Bright Water" by Gavin Maxwell.

Well, it is actually a series of books including "The Rocks Remain" and "Raven Seek Thy Brother". For those of you who are unfamiliar about Gavin Maxwell and his books, I have posted on it before. Follow this link. It is essentially an autobiography of a journalist, author and naturalist who purchases a small piece of land in a remote part of Scotland; his own personal bit of heaven which he named Camusfeàrna. The books also detail his relationship with a whole menagerie of otters; his first love, Mijbil; his long time companion, Edal; Teko who brought fresh hope; and the next generation including Mossy and Monday.

How has this book (or series of books) been influential in my life? Well, I first read "Ring of Bright Water" when I was about 13 or 14 years of age and I think it was the first book that taught me to love animals and especially animals in the wild. My current career in nature conservation some 3 decades later stems from this love that was first planted as a seed then. That makes it a major influence indeed.

The books were also a very brutally honest record of the difficulties, both personal and financial, that Maxwell faced in trying to make his little piece of heaven work. There were also the disasters and tragedies that struck. At that young age, this was my first time reading about a very human icon. He may be author and naturalist extraordinaire but he was far from faultless and far from knowing all the right answers. He made me appreciate that heroes are humans too and the real heroes are the ones that get up after being knocked down and start re-building again.

Maxwell could probably have continued his successful career or even entered into the diplomatic service but he gave it all up for a simpler life amongst his otters and outdoor pursuits in his tiny remote corner of Scotland. My dreams have been affected by his. Success is not as the world measures but by your own sense of happiness in doing what you love. I still seek a little piece of heaven on earth even now.

As I prepared for this post, I came across the old theme song for the movie based on the book. I had actually forgotten how wonderfully poignant and inspiring these words were to my younger self. They are wonderful. The song was sung by Val Doonican and here are the lyrics, followed by the song itself.

Where sun and wind play on a ring of bright water
That's where my heartland will be
The deer on the hill in the first snow of winter
the gull in the sky winging free

I wandered away from the dark crowded city,
Leaving my old life behind,
And came to a place where a ring of bright water,
Dazzled the care from my mind.
So I live with the wonder of the sky and the sea
And I'll always remember who revealed them to me

But now you are gone with your whirlpools of laughter
Racing me down to the sea
But I always smile when a ring of bright water
Echoes your laughter to me.

(key change)

But now you are gone with your whirlpools of laughter
Racing me down to the sea
But I always smile when a ring of bright water
Echoes your laughter to me.

Echoes your laughter to me

Friend or Foe

on Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sometimes, when the nuts are all gathered and safely stored, when the snow lies thick upon the ground and there is not much to do but to stay snug in the nest and out of the bitter winds, a squirrel's thoughts may turn philosophical.

On this occasion, I have been reflecting on the meaning of friendship. Is a friend someone who gives you support and love unconditionally? Or is a friend someone who stand up and risks even the friendship to tell you when you are doing something wrong?

Recently, I had a friend who wanted to take a very big life-changing step and who needed my help and direct support to achieve it. I did just that because I wanted to show my unconditional support but since then I wondered if I had done the right thing. Deep down, I have my doubts about whether my friend had made the decision for change for the right reasons and there is a fear that things will not work out as my friend had hoped.

So have I done the right thing by offering unconditional support? If so, why do I feel that I have contributed to a train wreck that is yet to happen?

The alternative would probably to tell my friend that he is about to make an ass of himself and as I friend I will not participate in his "ass-ification". I might lose him as a friend though and would be unlikely to have swayed his course. But would I at least achieve a "moral" victory? Hmmm.

When I look back at my own life experiences, I remember a time when a friend told me I would be certifiably insane if I pursued my desire to be a psychologist. Her point was that there were few career opportunities for psychologists in Malaysia and I would probably end up being a starving psychologist. I remember thanking her for her candid input but deep down I wondered why she would try to ruin my dreams and aspirations with mere facts and reality.

In hindsight, I am happy with the career that I did pursue even though it has little to do with psychology. Yet even though till today we remain close friends, that incident still shines like a beacon across the darkness of time to remind me that I did not get the support I wanted. The conclusion from my own experience would suggest that even I value support rather than the truth from a friend.

Yet, there is a part of me that would like to believe in the higher ideal that friendship must be about truth and what is good for the other person above all else ......even the friendship itself. In other words, better to be a good friend or even an ex-friend than a mere "yes"-man friend.

What do you think? What type of friend would you prefer? Please advice the squirrel.


on Thursday, February 18, 2010

A dreadful ailment is affecting Malaysian Grey Squirrels. The characteristic symptoms are blood-shot and droopy eyes and a tendency to drift into a comatose state in the middle of the day. After much research, medical experts conclude that the epidemic will be over by the beginning of March. But will the squirrels be able to survive till then?

And what causes the blood-shot eyes and comatose state during the daytime? Television. Or rather the television coverage of the Olympic Winter Games from Vancouver which unfortunately screens at the twilight zone hours of 1 am - 4 am in Kuala Lumpur. After several days of keeping such vampire friendly hours, my eyes are sore to the light of the sun, my skin has a ghastly parlor and my brain goes into REM sleep at work .

Just the other day, I struggled to stay awake with a gallon or two of dark hot coffee while trying to watch this particularly interesting winter sport with an exciting match between Team Canada and Norway. I desperately needed to sleep but the game had interesting changes in fortune that kept me glued to the TV set. I invested an hour and a half of my slumber time to watch the match and would you believe it...........the local station cut the coverage just 10 minutes before the close of the match. How frustrating!

Now what was this interesting sport that caught my attention? Well, here is where this post really starts. Are you familiar with that delightful rhyme that goes; "Stick and stones will break my bones......."? Well, this sport has sticks and has stones.

The stones are made of granite, weigh about 20 kg and have handles. The sticks are actually broomsticks. You also need a long stretch of ice with frozen droplets of water on the surface which are called pebbles. There is also a painted house with no walls and hog lines.

Briefly, there are four in a team and they take turns to throw the rocks at the house which is down the far end of the ice. One guy throws the rock, one guy tells him where to throw the rock and the other two use the brooms to sweep the ice so that nothing gets in the way of the rocks. The guy who throws the rock must also make sure he throws the rock before he crosses the hog line or else I think the hogs get angry.

Oh yes, this has also been called chess on ice cause it is obviously very intellectual. The Scots claim to have invented this game in the 16th century but the Lone Grey Squirrel doubts this. I think guys in kilts would not have a lot of fun on ice. Also we all know that Scots toss cabers and not rocks.

I am more inclined to believe that during the 17th century, a bunch of Americans from Salem set off to throw stones at some local witches but a peace-loving witch enchanted them and they ended up playing a game with their stones and the witches' brooms.

There! I have done my best to educate you on the special sport of curling but if you are still not satisfied, you might want to get the truth from wikipedia. Or you could watch this video.

Nor Sleet Nor Snow

on Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Last week, my wife found herself in New York after a two week working road-trip that saw her travel from Asia to Europe and finally to America. We were looking forward to her returning on a Wednesday evening flight from JFK Airport which would bring her back home just in time for the traditional family re-union dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

On Wednesday morning in Kuala Lumpur (9 pm at night in New York), my wife called and gave me the disappointing news that she might not be able to come back as scheduled. Earlier that week, New York had already been hit by a blizzard which resulted in all the airports being closed for three days. Now, barely two days later, another blizzard was rolling in. My wife's flight was scheduled for 9pm that day but the problem was that the snow storm was expected to roar in at noon. The travel agents and the airports were predicting that no flights would make it out that night.

Even worse, even if my wife could get on a flight the day after or the following days, she would be stranded in Singapore because all the flights from Singapore to Malaysia were fully booked for people traveling home for the Chinese New Year. There seemed noway that she would be spending the Chinese New Year holidays with me. Very depressing news indeed.

Anyway, later that day, it happened to be my weekly bible study group day and I shared the situation with them and challenged them to pray with me for something that if not impossible, seemed to be most improbable; that God would somehow get my wife home for the holidays. That was at 8 am New York time and a phone call from my wife confirmed that the snow was already falling and New York was under a blanket of white. The storm was still expected to peak in another 4 hours and her flight still a distant 13 hours away. The airports still were prediting cancellations.

Well, having committed the matter to God, I went to sleep and woke up the next day to find an exciting SMS on my handphone from my wife. Her flight was in the air and she was on her way back. Hallelujah!

It later turns out that Newark and LaGuardia airports were closed by the storm. JFK Airport remained open but one by one the flights were cancelled. Somehow, her Singapore Airlines flight was boarded, spent three hours de-icing on the runway but finally took off. It was to be the ONLY flight to leave that night.

I have said it before and I'll say it again. God is the best travel agent there is. Happy Chinese New Year! May great things roar in for you this Year of the Tiger!

Do You Know Where Your Coffee Has Been?

on Monday, February 08, 2010

Do you know where your food comes from? In these times of modern transportation, we can enjoy food that comes from around the world. For example, a visit to your supermarket may avail you of bananas from South America, grapes from Australia, cheese from France, olives from Spain, oranges from South Africa and rice from India.

But let's put food aside. I want to talk to you about your coffee because, let's face it, without that cup of java in the morning many of us will not be conscious enough to eat (which is my exciting new theory of how the dinosaurs died out. First the weather grew cold and the dinosaurs gew sleepy but there just was not enough coffee to go around and so they fell asleep and starved to death.)

Do you know where your coffee comes from? If you aren't sure, go ahead and go to the kitchen and check. I'll wait.

Dum diddle do diddle dum diddle dee. Yabba dabba doo skiddooo. Ying tong iddle i po.

Oh, are you back? So, was your coffee from Columbia, Ethiopia, Zambia, Philippines or perhaps even good old Malaysia? Suckers! You are settling for second best.

After lengthy investigations and travel around the world sticking his nose where it did not belong, the Lone Grey Squirrel has found the source of the world's best and costliest coffee. This coffee is so exotic and exclusive that only about 450 kg (1000 pounds) is processed a year and it sells at up to USD 600 per pound.

Where is this coffee from? Well, it comes primarily from Indonesia, Philippines and to some extent from Vietnam. More importantly the beans that make up the coffee is excreted out of the bum of civet cats. I refer to the Kopi Luwak.

Why is this coffee the king of coffees? Well, to start with, the Asian Palm Civet is highly skilled at picking the best and ripest coffee berries which it then ingests. Then something about the enzymes in the gut of the civet cat reacts with the beans of the coffee which effectively reduces the coffee's bitterness and makes for a smoother coffee. So just to re-cap, the skill-fully picked coffee berries go in one end, the enzymes work on the beans and finally they pop out at the other end. Fortunately, these skilled workers work for next to nothing and have never unionised or else the price of this coffee could be even higher.

The Lone Grey Squirrel is then told that the poop is then collected, the semi-digested beans are taken out, washed and then lightly roasted and wallah ............the world's costliest coffee. I am told that the human workers who have to collect and wash the poop do demand a higher salary and are unionised.

Weasel Coffeee (Photo by LGS)

Now, I can practically hear some of you protesting that coffee isn't ...... well, isn't your cup of tea, so to speak. Don't worry, for the discerning tea drinker, we have found for you, "Monkey picked tea". In this case, there is no eating of the leaves and passing through the digestive system and any of that nonsense. No, this tea is special cause the monkeys are skilled at picking the youngest and tenderest leaves. Why do they do that? Well, let's just say that in the middle of the jungle, there just isn't any toilet paper. What is a civilised monkey supposed to use?

Monkey Tea (Photo by LGS)

Skilled Third World Coffee Picker and Processor

Picture has been licensed under a GFDL

LGS admits to telling the truth here and there and making up everything else. Ooops! Time for my coffee break.

Music for a Funk

on Friday, February 05, 2010

I am feeling a little down. My wife is away, traveling and I miss her. I got the flu. Work is piling up and so are the bills. And, there is conflict at work. I don't do conflict well. I guess you can say that I am in a funk. I had no idea what to post tonight but I went over The Walking Man's blog and something happened as I read his poem, TIRED OF BEING WET AND COLD?

The poem somehow reminded me of the lyrics of a song that was a particular favorite of mine when I went through my depression period. This 1969 song was sung by the singularly talented Peggy Lee and was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The song was inspired by the story "Disillusionment" by Thomas Mann, written in 1896. You know that you are depressed when even the greatest joys, greatest excitements and the greatest loss leaves you with nothing but a numb, empty feeling.

So in line with my current gloomy mood and my philosophy of "why should I suffer alone?", I would like to share this dark song which is ideal for stewing in a funk. For those of you who mistakenly thought that I was going to play funky music, you can leave now. It's music for a funk and not funky music.

What Do They Mean .........?

on Sunday, January 31, 2010

"What DO they mean?" I came across this advertisement panel at my local shopping mall promoting a men's skin care facility. Another service for the enlightened metro-sexual male, no doubt. It even offers a facial and a tummy sculpting for the price of one procedure. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I could probably do with some tummy sculpturing but in my case, the end result will probably still not resemble hard and clearly chiseled sculpture abs like
that of Michelangelo's David; probably more like the abs on the Pilsbury Doughboy. But what really caught my attention was there pledge, boldly emblazoned across the advert, "Looking Good is Not an Option at MSC". Whatever DO they mean?

So, I may not be a hunk but at least I am cute.

Yes? Maybe? A little? Please?

Anyway, it got me thinking of a few examples of other similar failures to communicate appropriately in the English Language.

A common sign that you will see in Malaysian retail stores during our sales season reads, "Buy one free one". I remember one foreign tourist asking the sales clerk to explain; "If it is free, why do I have to buy it?" The intended message would be clearer if it said "Two for the price of one."

Sometimes, you can't be 100% sure that there was a mistake made or that the sign really does mean what it says. When the Petronas Twin Towers (previously the world's tallest building) first opened to the public, not all the lifts and escalators were fully operational. On one such lift which was meant to ferry visitors from the underground carpark up to the lobby was this sigh that read, "Lift is out of order. Any convenience is deeply regretted."

What do you think? A language error or the work of a sadistic maintenance worker?

Another favorite of mine was a sign at a teachers' training workshop which read like this; "After lunch, the Modern Maths workgroup will meet in the larger half of the hall."

The "larger half"? Is that what they mean by "modern" maths or is it that mathematics is finally reconciling itself to the fact that in this world, the reality is that all people are equal but some are more equal than others?

Here Lies Peter Rabbit And His Friends

on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Note: If the title of this post intrigued you, I'm afraid you will have to read through this long post as I only refer to it at the end. Of course, you could scroll to the end, there-by bypassing all the tripe at the front but that would be cheating and just "not cricket" as the British would say.

One of my unusual hobbies is to visit and photograph cemeteries. Since I started blogging, I have met a few kindred spirits who share in this particular interest.

Of late, I have had very little opportunity to visit interesting graveyards or cemeteries. So during my recent visit to London last month, I was straining at the bit for an opportunity to visit the famous Highgate Cemetery in north London. Unfortunately, I was thwarted by the unholy combination of foul (wet, cold and miserable) weather, inconvenient public transport routes and schedules, and an unwillingness of the guides (which you need to follow if you want to visit the more interesting part of the cemetery) to brave the winter winds except on weekends.

It's a pity. Did you know that you can visit Karl Marx's grave at Highgate Cemetery? But then, some people dismiss it as just another "communist plot". "Communist plot", did you get it? I made a small joke.

Anyway, instead of Highgate Cemetery, I placed my sights on Brompton Cemetery which was just round the corner from where I was staying.

Entrance to Brompton Cemetery (LGS)

Brompton Cemetery is located near Earl's Court in West Brompton which is part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It was part of the Magnificent 7 which were a series of private cemeteries which were commissioned through Parliamentary Bill in 1832 to address the fact that the inner city church graveyards in London were overflowing as result of the big population boom in London in the early part of the 19th Century.

Architecturally, it is interesting as it tried to follow an European layout and the design of its small chapel was meant to mimic St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

View of the Graves and Gravestones (LGS)

Today, the cemetery is managed by the Royal Parks and is open to the public to use as a park although funerals and burials still do occur. It is believed that there is in excess of 50,000 monuments and graves of every imaginable type. Below is a picture of a rather unusual and ornate copper clad coffin.

Ornate Copper Resting Place (LGS)

I particularly like monuments that rather imaginatively record the passing of entire families, like this one below.

The Cross Rises from the Family Plot (LGS)

The Chapel (LGS)

The Spirit Highway (LGS)

This cemetery is quite atmospheric and a real gem right in the middle of modern busy London. It is not surprising therefore that this has been used as a filming location for a number of movies including the films, "The Wisdom of Crocodiles", "Johnny English" and the newly released movie "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.

The Wilder Side of the Tracks (LGS)

There is a whole list of important and famous people who are buried here. For those of you who may be a dead celebrity watcher or a paparazzi who prefer a stationary target, you can follow this LINK for a list of the famous.

I was interested to learn that the Sioux Chief, Long Wolf, was buried here in 1892. He took part in a tour of the Europe as part of the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show but died of pneumonia. He was buried with a 17 month old Indian girl named Star Ghost Dog who is believed to have fallen from her mother's arms while on horseback. He was finally re-interned on tribal land in South Dakota in 1997 after spending 105 years in England's wet and green lands.

The other notable thing about this place is that it is the resting place of many childhood favorites. It seems that the famous author, Beatrix Potter, lived nearby at 2 Bolton Gardens and was a frequent visitor to Brompton Cemetery. For years there were rumours that she derived some inspiration from what she saw there. In 2001, James Mackay, a member of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery decided to investigate using recently computerised cemetery records and found a startling number of Ms. Potter's story characters were interned there. There is, for example, Peter Rabbett as well as headstones for Mr. Nutkin (which of course inspired the creation of Squirrel Nutkin), Mr. McGregor (whose walled garden is believed to be modeled on the colonnades in Brompton Cemetery), Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock and even a Tod (as opposed to the more commonly used "Todd").

The Nutkin Family (Photo by Rehan Qayoom)

That's me bravely investigating the spookier side of the cemetery. (LGS)

My Year, Baby!

on Friday, January 22, 2010


Princeton's Mascot

It's finally here! My year, baby! On February 14th, the day of lovers (Grrrrr!), the Chinese Lunar Calender roars into the Year of the Tiger. This should tell you just how old I am because I was born in the Year of the Tiger and the Chinese Lunar calender follows a 12 year zodiac cycle.

So Just How Old is the "Grey" Squirrel?
a) Older than the Pyramids
b) Sweet 16
c) 36
d) 48
e) 60
(answers given at the end of the post)

Not only that, this is the first Year of the Tiger for the 21st Century and as a result, nations around the world are also observing 2010 as the Year of the Tiger; a year to push forward with the conservation and protection of the world's remaining 3,200 wild tigers.

So this is my year times two. My year! My year! This year's all mine. If any of you lesser mortals want to use this year for something like going on holidays, getting married or watching Olympics or World Cup football, you will have to ask us Tigers for permission., seriously. Permission. You may write to me for the appropriate application forms. Permission will not be unreasonably withheld but a little bribe will go a long way towards speeding up the application process. Hint.

Thanks to a number of fellow bloggers and especially SquirrelMama, I came to learn that yesterday, January 21st, was Squirrel Appreciation Day. Wow, a special day for my squirrel alter ego right in the midst of my double Tiger year. Looks like everything is coming up daisies and daffodils. So what did you do yesterday to show your appreciation of squirrels? Don't worry if you did not do anything. It is not too late to make amends. Like any major religious holiday, Squirrel Appreciation Day have some traditions to help you celebrate the day. Here are some suggestions;

1. Bird proof all your bird feeders and leave it to the squirrels.
2. Give out specially knitted woolly jumpers for squirrels on account of the unusually cold winter.
3. De-claw and de-fang your cats.
4. Spend at least a tenth of your grocery monies on nuts for your squirrel friends.
5. Leave everything in your will to the Lone Grey Squirrel Charitable Fund for World Domination.
6. Vote for Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel to win the Oscar.
7. Petition for Lone Grey Squirrel to win a Nobel Prize.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. If you do some of these, I might consider sharing my year with you.

Here are the answers to the quiz above. If you answered;

a) Why you evil and vile creature! I banish you from this year.

b) That is too deluded even for me and you're not very good at maths, are you?

c) I like you.

d) MUST you always be right!

e) Be warned! Squirrels will pelt you with nuts as you walk by.

Disclaimer: If this year turns out to be a terrible year, I blame Climate Change ........and Avatar! Nothing has been the same since Avatar. If God intended us to watch movies in 3D, we would have been born with 3D glasses.

Squirrel's Secret Spot 14 : Regent Canal and Camden Locks

on Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hi folks. Sorry I have been away for so long. It hasn't been a great start to the year for me so far and that included being so swamped with work that I haven't been able to even go see "Avatar" for the last three weeks. But that is not the focus of today's post.

Instead, I want to carry on with my series of posts about my recent trip to London, England and coincidentally also add the 14th installment of Squirrel's Secret Spots from around the world (which is another series that I have not posted on for quite awhile).

Well, one fine winter day (which means typical wet, cold and miserable in England), having sated my appetite for tourist attractions and bored myself silly, window shopping along Oxford Street for the umpteenth time, I followed my nose (which was buried in a tour guide) and found myself at a rather interesting place.

I took the Underground to Camden Town, got out and went in the wrong direction and ended walking along the northern end of Regent's Park and took a circuitous route that almost took me back where I started but only after a walk of about 30 minutes. But I did not really mind apart from the bitter wind blowing because this route led me to walk along the blissfully charming Regent's Canal.

The Regent's Canal is a great place in summer to take a water tour by historical canal narrowboats from the Industrial Revolution period of the 19th Century. There is also a tow path that remains open for long walks in relative solitude long after the boating season is over. As the canal meanders its way between fields and buildings, walking along its towpath is like stepping back in time. I am a big fan of canals and canal boats. The calm surroundings, the brightly and gaily painted narrowboats, the often eccentric boat owners as well as the beautiful houses and buildings along the way would be more than enough to make me score this place very highly.

Stepping Back in Time (LGS)

Narrowboats (LGS)

Someone's Traveling Home (LGS)

However, the Regent Canal walk rewards its adventurers by leading them to the Camden Locks. This area was once the confluence of a number of different transportation modes. The Locks themselves were important to allow the canal boats to go upstream to a higher water level. Nearby there were the Camden Stables where many horses were kept. Also nearby are a couple of railway bridges which mark another important transportation mode. At sometime in its history, the area became depressed and many of these facilities fell into disuse. But more recently, the whole area has been revived with a mixture of recreational boating and a lively outdoor and indoor market scene, rich in arts, crafts and souvenirs.

Sure some of the stuff was tacky but a lot of the others were quite imaginative. My wife bought some Lithuanian amber at a great price. I, in turn was rewarded with a taste of Moroccan cuisine for less than 4 pounds sterling. Wonderful. And I ate it sitting on these cute seats made to look like mini-scooters and with a great view of the canal.

I loved it. I'd go back again. And so Regent Canal and Camden Lock Market makes it on to the Squirrel's Secret Spots' list.

Camden Locks in Action (LGS)

Art Climbing the Walls (LGS)

Camden Lock - Also Good Shopping (LGS)

Even the Stables Now Host Shops (LGS)

Art Galloping off the Walls (LGS)

Mini-Scooters by the Canal (LGS)

Oops! I Did It Again

on Sunday, January 03, 2010

I made the following post exactly a year ago but it would seem that somethings never change and it is as relevant today as it was a year ago.......Sadly.


Oh, and may I take this opportunity to wish you all a belated "Happy New Year's" greeting.

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