Golden Pavilion (Kyoto)


My very first trip to Japan was many, many years ago.  I was there on work assignment to attend a meeting of conservationists.  It was a great opportunity to discover this singularly unique land and culture.  But at that time, the cost of living in Japan was probably the highest in the world.  Furthermore, I had only been working for a couple of years and I soon found out that I could barely afford more than a meal of instant noodles.  I certainly could not afford to make the train trip from Tokyo to Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto.  It was disappointing to be so close but…….no.

Then in December last year, I finally got to scratch my travel itch by going to Kyoto (only some 20 years late).  Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to share some highlights of my trip.

Let me start it off with the stunningly, radiant vision which is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

This beautiful site dates from the 14th century but the pavilion had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1950.  There is a saying that “all that glimmers is not gold”.  However, in this case, it is! The structure is covered in a thin layer of gold leaf.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

We went on a cold December day but the sun came out from behind the clouds and the pavilion seemed to be radiating rays of light.  Definitely go when it is sunny for full effect.

I am usually not a fan of ostentatious, gaudy and self indulgent architecture but in this case, it works!  The pavilion seemed to naturally belong amongst the tranquillity of the reflecting pond and zen-like gardens.  The heron seemed to think so too.  Can you see him in the foreground of the picture above?

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

There was of course a whole gaggle of tourists on that day as well as a number of school groups making a nuisance of themselves.  But the magic of the place was still able to give inner peace.  If you do plan to visit though, try going on a weekday and as early as possible to avoid the crowd.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

This was the first time I had ever seen anybody sweeping the moss!  There were a lot of beautiful landscapes in the temple garden with water and moss which as you can see here was lovingly maintained.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

One can follow the trail up the hill behind the Golden Pavilion and look back down on the pavilion, the pond and the gardens.  There you will find a number of viewing points, a shrine and the unavoidable gift shop.  You might also find this charming lady tending to the moss with the pavilion in the background.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

Another gem is this tea garden located in amongst the trees.  A great place to meditate on the wonders of a warm cup of tea on a cold day.  I actually did not stop here for tea but went back to the entrance where we could get Japanese soft serve ice cream.  So on that crisp and brisk winter morning, my wife had black sesame and I had green tea ice cream.  Very ying and yang.

More of Kyoto to come.  Watch this space!

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Like in the Movies


Most of us like action movies.  The explosions, the guns blazing, the mayhem and usually the good guys win and they look cool doing it.  For a couple of hours we escape into a fantasy world of thrills without any bodily risks or consequences.

But as recent incidents around the world has demonstrated, it is completely awful when it happens in real life and impact real people.

This last couple of weeks, a couple of Hollywood type stories played out on the streets of my city, Kuala Lumpur; stories with drama, action, suspense and intrigue.

Abduction

Pastor Raymond Koh was driving his car on an errand to deliver a food gift to a friend who was about to travel abroad.  At least three black SUVs screeched in,  blocking off  the road and boxing in his car. Men with black balaclava masks poured out.  A couple of them stopped oncoming traffic and another was seen apparently filming the incident.  Pastor Raymond was forced into one of the SUVs and the three vehicles then sped away together.  He has been missing since the 13th of February.

Pastor Raymond is active in a number of Christian charities and was the founder of Harapan Kommuniti (Community Hope) which holds free tuition classes for children and English lessons for adults from low income groups.  In 2011 though, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais), in a controversial move, raided a community thanksgiving and fundraising dinner at a church and accused Pastor Raymond’s organisation of proselytising Muslims.

There has been no ransom demand or any communication from the abductors and despite numerous eyewitnesses and CCTV footage, the police have not reported any progress in their investigation.

Many Malaysians (including me) have been praying daily for his safe return.

Assassination

Our international airport was the ground on which our tale of international intrigue and skullduggery occurred; real James Bond stuff.  A Korean man traveling under the name of Kim Choi was making his way across the airport concourse to catch his flight to Macao when two young women approached him from different directions and appear to reach from behind and cover his face with a chemically laced cloth.  They then left as quickly in opposite directions.  After seeking help,  the man collapses and dies shortly later.

It is now believed that Kim Choi is actually Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  The two women have been identified and arrested.  One is a Vietnamese national and the other an Indonesian.  The Indonesian woman claims she was approached by some men and paid to carry out what she had been told was a prank for a TV show.  Police have also arrested a Malaysian man and a North Korean man.  Interpol has been asked to help hunt down four other North Korean men who left the country the same day as the incident.   The North Korean government has also objected to the autopsy investigation.
Malaysia continues to be making the news for all the wrong reasons.  Come on 2017, start getting better.
I will keep praying for Pastor Raymond and for Malaysia.  However, I promise to nudge 2017 along in the right direction by having more positive posts in the next couple of weeks.

Well, I’ll be……


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A joyous announcement to the big, wide world,

Celebrating the birth of a bouncing baby girl,

My niece made her debut  on the 26th of January

Two days shy of the Rooster and still a Monkey

Her beautiful name is Sofia but pronounced Safia

So wonderfully appropriate, like the “sa” in sapphire

Shining brightly of joy, love and hope realised

Know that  you are now and forever cherished

And while in your mother’s arms you snuggle,

I suddenly realised that I’m a Monkey’s uncle!

Dearest Sofia,

As you get to know me, you’ll get to appreciate my off kilter humor…… I hope.

Love,

Uncle ‘Tiger’ Squirrel

Monkey Go – Rooster Crow


Image result for monkey rooster zodiac

Chinese New Year is on the 28th of January.  On that day, we say goodbye to the Year of the Monkey and greet the Year of the Rooster.

I am sure that for most of us, last year has been a bit of a shocker. The monkeys have really been up to their monkey business.

One hopes that the Rooster will crow in a better year and so that is my new year wish for all of us.  May it be the break of dawn after a dark night.  May it be a return to sunnier times.

There is an additional point of interest for me this year as my sister-in-law is expecting her first child, a daughter.  Her due date is 26th of January.  If she is on time or early then, the baby would be a Monkey according to the Chinese Zodiac but just a couple of days later and the child will be a Rooster.  With no track record (being her first child), the bookmakers are refusing to offer odds.

What do you think? Monkey or Rooster.  Either way, I pity the child cause we all know Tiger is best, Squirrel is ‘best’-er and Tiger Squirrels are the super ‘best’-est!

Hallelujah! Christmas Blessings!


‘Tis the season to remember the gift of God to all mankind.

For unto us a child is born, a son is given….. (Isaiah 9:6)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

May you and your loved ones experience the joy and love of God this Christmas – a love that compelled God to send Jesus from the glories of heaven to be born in a lowly manger, to live faultless amongst ordinary men and women, and finally to lay down his life for our sake on the cross of Calvary.

It is reason indeed to rejoice and praise God. This following video is of Kaylee Rodgers, a 10 year old from Nothern Ireland who has autism and ADHD. She began singing as a way to build her confidence. Together with the Killard House School choir of special needs children, she sings a Christmas worship version of ‘Hallelujah’. Jesus would be pleased.

Lyrics for “Hallelujah Christmas” by Cloverton

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

For the Technologically Impaired


A friend of mine in Singapore has been involved in an initiative to reach out to senior citizens and improve their quality of life by educating them to the joys of computing and the internet.  This helps to keep them alert and engaged and some even go on to help charities and social programs using their newly learned skills.  A worthy effort.

One obstacle amongst the seniors is an inherent fear of technology and bewilderment brought on by unfamiliarity with the rapidly changing technology and technological jargon.

I confess that I too feel that I am falling behind the technological curve and in the danger of being left behind.  So as a public service, the Lone Grey Squirrel, wishes to share this informative video designed to be able to communicate at the level of senior citizens.

Yellow and Red and Black and ….


Below is an excerpt from the highly esteemed BBC talking-type wireless show (or so they claimed for themselves), The Goon Show.  Written by the rascally Spike Milligan, the episode entitled “The Affair of the Lone Banana” has our intrepid but dumb hero, Seagoon, going to South America in search of a missing British citizen.  But when he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of much social unrest…………

Seagoon:  Now, now what’s all this about?
Moriarty:  It is the revolution señor – everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty:  Right in it – you see, you see señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty:  There are no sides – we are all in this together.

I used to think this was so funny even though I knew that sometimes reality actually sails very close to this.  Unfortunately, it has now even come closer to home, to Malaysia.

On the 19th of November, thousands of Malaysians put on yellow shirts and attended the Bersih 5 rally on the streets of the capitol, Kuala Lumpur.

Aerial view of just one of the rally locations:- How many yellow shirts? (some say 50,000; police say 15,000; one establishment newspaper claimed about 5,000)

But they were not alone.  Just like the Affair of the Lone Banana, there were other parties present too and they were all in it.  I hope to try to give some clarity to the situation.

Yellow Shirts – these are the peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-transparency, pro-electoral reform, anti-corruption, pro-justice, pro-change, anti- current Prime Minister Najib, supported by past Prime Minister Mahathir, non-sectarian, civil society groups and opposition parties.

Red Shirts- these are the thuggish, bullying, sectarian, anti-yellow shirts, anti-free press, pro-government, pro-status quo, pro-establishment, pro-Malay, pro-Prime Minister Najib, ruling party.

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One of several sad incidents involving red shirts attacking a yellow shirt some days before the rally

Black Shirts – anti-rallies, anti yellow shirts, defenders of the law against protests, newly set up party with ties to establishment.

MJMM president Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah (centre) posing for photographs outside the Dang Wangi police headquarters. — Picture by Melissa Chi
Black Shirts posing outside police station

Orange Shirts – anti-yellow shirts, pro-Prime Minister Najib, pro-Indian, pro-government party launched by the Prime Minister.

Purple Shirts – pro-yellow shirts, pro-protection of yellow shirts from red shirts.

In the end, the yellow shirts far outnumbered the rest.  There were probably more than  50,000 yellow shirts and about 2,500 red shirts.  The red shirts dispersed before long.

The police arrested many yellow shirt leaders and a few red shirt leaders briefly.  However, Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections was jailed and placed in solitary confinement under an Act designed for action against terrorists.  Malaysians of all kinds of color shirts held nightly vigils for her release and she was finally freed after 10 days although the police say they are continuing their investigation of her.

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The nightly vigil for Maria’s release from solitary confinement.

If all this was rather confusing, let me just a summarise it for you.  In a nutshell, we are in a lot of trouble in Malaysia and no matter what color shirt, we are all in it.  If we are not careful, we will all sink in it.  What is needed is for us to drape ourselves in the multi colors of our national flag, put down our own selfish interests and fight for a country with justice, equality and opportunity for all Malaysians.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels