You know, I was not always the handsome, debonair, upwardly mobile, world dictator wannabe. Oh no. Like everyone else, I had to start from the bottom and let’s face it, your bottom and my bottom may not be the same!
Errr…..what I mean is that some lucky sods start at the bottom of the pile but I had the fate of starting even further below that …….underground, so to speak.
My first job could be described as that of a “fecal surveillance hydrologist technician”. But of course, I never heard anyone refer to me as that despite all the fancy name cards I handed out with that title proudly emblazoned.
No. Instead I was kind of known as the Sewage guy or worse, the Shit Guy. (…Cable Guy doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?). You see, my job was to develop tests and to use them to detect the presence of water borne, disease causing pathogens in drinking water and since most of the nasties originate from the feces or shit of infected people, I was really looking out for traces of shit.
Yup, that was my job. It involved taking water samples from all sort of water sources. At the clean end, I collected tap water from a city distribution system. But I also collected water samples in bottles from clear mountain streams, less clear rivers, deep wells, aquifer pumps, shallow wells, muddy holes in the ground and at the other end of the spectrum, from sewage ponds.
In fact, I remember that my boss had a framed photo of himself in his office proudly showing him squatting next to a stinky sewage pond and reaching out to get a sample of dark, suspicious looking water. I, on the other hand have burned all such photos of me doing that. I have also over the years had to burn or bury many of my stinky work clothes! Needless to say, my social life in those dark times was zilch.
But on a serious note, waterborne disease are estimated to affect billions and kill about 2.2 million annually. In many countries, clean treated potable water is still a privilege rather than the norm. It is in these countries, that the need for simple, quick, portable and cheap tests for monitoring water quality remains high.
To summarise, finding shit in drinking water……bad. Doing something to remove the shit in drinking water ……..good.
What was your “start at the bottom of the pile” job?
Things are bad in my country these days. When I remember the country from the time of my youth and consider it now, the thought that comes to mind is “how far we have fallen”. Corruption, racial disharmony, falling education standards, injustice and religious intolerance all seem to be on the march. Sure the country could be worse but it was certainly once a lot better.
For a number of years now, Christian leaders have been urging Christians to come together and pray and to take part in a 40 day fast for the nation; to cry out for God’s mercy and transformative power to restore the country. In the past, my involvement in this had been rather patchy but this year, I am committed to take this seriously, to be a watchman for the nation as described in the bible (Ezekiel 3). A watchman keeps watch and warns of danger.
Now, I am a novice at fasting. Before this, I have only fasted a couple of times. So, trying to fast for 40 days is a big deal. I mention this not because I am seeking praise or recognition but to encourage all Christians to take on the role of watchmen and to pray for their countries with serious commitment.
How does one fast? Some I know refrain from eating for 24-48 hours at a time while others understand fasting as giving up something for that period like meat or chocolates or these days, even internet. There is nothing magical about the act itself or the form that it takes. My understanding of fasting is to refrain from eating and to give that time over to seek God, to wait on Him, to read His word, to pray and to listen. The key is time in prayer with God.
For me, I try to give up one meal or sometimes two meals a day and spend 1-2 hours in prayer. Currently, I have fasted 6 days out of the first 8 days. Last Sunday, I attended a wedding and dinner and did not fast ……….and last Friday, I gave in to the weakness of my flesh. Ahem.
But what I really want to share with you here is that despite the hunger pangs, it has been a wonderful experience. Whenever we set apart time to be with God, He meets us and even as we pray for transformation and restoration for the country, He transforms and restores us.
So, I urge all Malaysian Christians to make the commitment to join the 40 day prayer and fast; it is our responsibility but it will also be our joy. Most of us find it easy to criticise and to snipe at our leaders and to complain about conditions in our country and yet treat it like it is someone else’s problem and we don’t need to lift a finger. That is wrong. The country’s problems are our problems. We are the country. So instead of criticism and sniping, let us pray for our leaders and our country, for wisdom, integrity, grace and justice for all. (click here to get the NECF booklet that guides our fasting, prayer and reflections for the 40 days)
For readers from other corners of the world, pray too for your own countries and light up the darkness.
Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun. But this time, it is EXTRA SPECIAL. The following post was about a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation centre and when I posted it back in January 2011, it was a very new work and the assistant keeper that I mentioned was still a graduate student. Well, he is now Dr. Wong Siew Te and this month he was named as a CNN Hero. Congratulations!
BEAR NECESSITIES (January 2011)
Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island. However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world. adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres. Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.
I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild. Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in. Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.
The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly. Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting. I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male. There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of personalities. There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers). Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way. On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.
Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage. These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple. There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid. Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure. The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest. Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage. Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat. When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate. Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again. Interesting, no?
This work is in its infancy. Hopefully the work will succeed though. This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.
Now, despite my views of Mr. Trump, I have been keeping relatively silent about the going-ons in the White House for the last 6 months. One, because there is already too much coverage on it in the media and on the internet and two, out of respect for those who still support the man. I may disagree with your views but I felt it would be wrong to deride or ridicule them.
And then, I came across this wonderful gem below on the internet which touched on the recent short 10 day term of Anthony Scaramucci as Trump’s Communications Director and other current news. It has been reposted so I don’t even know its original source but I thought it was really creative and funny. So forgive the squirrel for this lapse in said principles above. But this deserves to be celebrated. Mago, I think you would particularly enjoy this.
Try singing it to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and have fun.
I am sure that most of you have by now heard of the song Despacito by Luis Fonsi and featuring Justin Beiber. This month it became the world’s most streamed song of all time with over 4.6 billion streams. In fact, you have probably seen the video and heard the song so many times that you are beginning to lose your grip on sanity. Everywhere you turn, the song or the video is playing for the umpteenth time.
Well, not in Malaysia. If you need relief, come to Malaysia. It is a Despacito free zone; at least you will not hear it on any government run radio station or see it on any government run or government related TV channels. The Malaysian government, at the behest of self appointed religious police, has declared the song lyrics obscene and banned the song.
These are the same people who recently tried to ban the use of names like hot dogs, pretzel dogs, Coney dogs etc because it was offensive to those who considered dogs to be unclean.
Anyway, being a passive aggressive squirrel, I have decided to do an act of civil disobedience by posting this cover version of the song that is being played using the traditional Malay “gamelan” instruments – although it is by a group from our neighbor, Indonesia.
………..because you just can’t stop the squirrel! Hope you like it.
Last week, I attended a funeral with some friends. It was for an eighty year old lady who had been sickly for awhile and had finally succumbed. I did not know her at all. She was a distant relative of one of my friends.
She had traveled half way round the world to my neck of the woods to visit her son and then poor health intervened and prevented her from leaving. She spent the last 3 years of her life unable to return home. Apart from close family, few people here knew her. Those that did, only knew her as a sickly, bedridden woman who was totally dependent on others for her care.
But if some of us who attended the small service had been inclined to feel pity for her, we would be chastised. When we learned more about her, we realised that she had lived a long, love-filled and inspirational life. She had raised five children of which three were adopted and of different race and cultural backgrounds. She also was foster parent to scores of other children over the years. She was also active in her church and as an advocate for children welfare. I shamefully admit that I would never had guessed.
Her ashes are being returned home where there will be another memorial service – one that I believe will be attended by many, many people; lives that she had touched, helped and nurtured by her love.
Yesterday, I ran into an elderly gentleman whom I hadn’t seen for a few years. He was quietly having a meal at a cafe with a friend. He is a small man with a nondescript walking cane and a hearing aid. Soft spoken and not one who naturally draws attention, he would easily have gone unnoticed. Quite invisible to most of the younger patrons of the cafe, I think.
I went over to shake his hand and to greet him. He was happy to spend a few minutes exchanging news and pleasantries. To me and those who know this humble man, he is a giant.
He was responsible for setting up a major government department and ministry when Malaysia was nation building after independence. His achievements garnered international recognition and he was asked to help set up similar ministries and departments in other newly independent nations within the British Commonwealth. He serve the country for decades with great distinction.
He was also active in Christian charity and church work and he continues to do so till today at the age of 101. A giant of a man.
Why am I sharing these two stories? Well, I have been kind of reminded that we tend to make assumptions of people based on first impressions and too often our assumptions are negative and frequently wrong.
I grew up in Asia and am a product of the Confucian philosophy that is part of many Asian societies . We are taught from an early age the importance of respecting our elders and to honor our teachers. So I was surprised when I went to University and one of my revered professors told us lowly first years during orientation week that while he did not know us from Adam, he would always expect that some of us, if not all, would achieve more in our scientific careers than he had. He saw that each of us had potential that remained undiscovered. We were not lowly students but potentially Nobel Prize winners.
(Editor’s note: regular readers will now understand why the Lone Grey Squirrel remains obsessed with the Nobel Prize and why he hasn’t got one yet!)
That professor taught me a valuable lesson about seeing the good and the potential in others. I have always remembered that and tried to do so in my own life.
Indeed, the bible teaches this very thing;
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philipians 2:3-4)
I am still trying and frequently have to remind myself to see others through my limited mindset but to value them and their potential for greatness, beauty and love. I look but do I really see? You know what I mean?
Two posts in a row on cats! What is wrong with the Lone Grey Squirrel? Has his little squirrely brain gone nuts …….more than usual? Is it a case of cat scratch fever?
Editor’s Note:- Cat scratch fever is a real thing! And just another reason to get rid of your cats and adopt squirrels instead. Just another public service announcement.
The cat that I refer to in this post is the palm civet cat. It is also known as the toddy cat and in Malaysia as the “musang”. It’s scientific name is Paradoxurus hermaphroditus. However, just to confuse things, it is neither a true cat nor a hermaphrodite. Confused yet ?
But all this is unimportant to the telling of this true story.
What you need to know is that the musang is about 40 in or 100 cm from nose to tail and that it can sometimes be seen in urban areas. Being a nocturnal creature, it comes out under the cover of darkness and run across the roof of houses causing such a racket with their clawed feet that house owners are often awakened from slumber, thinking that a cat burglar is trying to gain entry.
I was once called to attend to a case involving the civet cat. The cat had fallen down an airwell into a house and had found its way into the master bedroom. Now trapped and panicky, it was running around scared, ripping the bedsheets with its claws and peeing and pooping all over the place.
The home owners knew me personally and knew that I was working as a science officer at a nature conservation organisation and called me to come help them out. It was meant to be a capture, relocate and release operation.
Now, we did have colleagues that were trained field biologists with practical experience in handling wild animals. Unfortunately, they were all out at that time doing their thing in the jungle. There was just Andy and me. Andy was our PR guy and I was actually trained in microbiology which meant that the only thing I knew how to catch was the flu!
The house owners were placing their hopes and expectations on us. Little did they know we both felt as scared and as panicky as the civet. We had zero field experience and zero equipment with us other than a large burlap bag in which we hoped to capture the animal. So there we were entering a room with an angry, scared and cornered wild animal and we all know a cornered animal is a dangerous one. I was thinking, if it bites me, I will have to get painful rabies shots. Yikes.
What followed was like something out of Keystone Cops. First we tried to get it to run towards us and the bag but when it started to run towards us, we dropped the bag and fled in fear. Then we tried to jump on it with the bag but it flashed past us leaving us in a heap. We tried chasing it but it ran way faster than us. We tried driving it into a corner but it got so angry that our courage failed.
Eventually it ran under the bed and stayed there. When we peered under the bed, we could make out its beady eyes in the darkness. And we stared at each other for a very long time; both civet and humans glad to have a pause in the frantic running around.
Andy and I did not really want another round of chase the cat. So we discussed what we would do instead and all the while the civet stayed put in the gloom under the bed.
That was when we had an eureka moment. The civet cat felt safe under the bed not just because the bed was a physical barrier but because being a nocturnal animal, it would always prefer to seek the safety of darkness.
We went out and brought back a long cardboard box, a broom and a couple of strong torchlights. We placed the box down with one end open. We then took positions on either side of the bed and then at the count of three we both switched on our torchlights. The civet had lost its dark hiding place and with the further inducement of a prodding broomstick, streaked out of there. But where would it now go? It ran straight into the safety of the dark interior of the box.
We quickly closed the box. Ta-da. Mission accomplished and I may add, the civet seemed to calm down quite a bit in its new dark sanctuary. After that, we were able to transfer the animal to a forest reserve and release it without further drama.
We were both proud of our newly learned civet catching skill but strangely enough we were never ever called to use that skill again.
Oh, did I mention that though we escaped physical injury, we both stank to high heaven from being around the civet’s secretions. There was a definite dip in social life for the near future. Yeah……on second thought, I am glad I never had to do it again.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels