Category Archives: friends

The Answer


It is strange how this post came about.  I had a few competing ideas for a post but decided I wanted to share a song here.  But then, there were a few new songs that I thought were “share-worthy”.  So how to narrow it down and pick one?

While I was still pondering my choices, I visited some blogs.  A couple of blogs had posts that made me remember a dark period in my life when I went through a life sapping depression or rather it reminded me of how I was able to escape its chains.

First, Beth posted a short quote by Eugene Kennedy about friendship and somehow it was a powerful trigger for memories of a dear friend whose unquestioning, non-judging, accepting, patient friendship was like a lifesaver that kept me from going under.

Then, I read the post by Caralyn, who has a wonderfully powerful and inspiring blog in which she shares about her journey through the “throes of anorexia”.  In this post, she openly answers the questions that many ask her – “How did I break free? How did I embrace recovery when I was so sick.”  Her answer was “It was God”.  She made the choice to begin her journey of recovery and asked God for His help and found that God gave her all  the strength and help she needed for that journey.  Well, that would be my answer too about how I recovered from shattered self worth and depression.

For these reasons, I would like to share with you this beautiful song “The Answer” by Corrine May.  I only recently heard this song.  Its melody is actually that of “Jupiter”by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite which is probably my all time favorite classical piece.  But the lyrics by Corrine May reflects what I have shared in this post and what I hold true to my own heart. (Incidentally, Corrine is from Singapore which is my part of the world – so go buy her music!)

Hope you enjoy it.

I believe You are the answer to every tear I’ve cried
I believe that You are with me,
My rising and my light. 

Give me strength when I am weary
Give me hope when I can’t see
Through the crosses I must carry
Lord, bind my heart to Thee

That when all my days are over
And all my chores are done,
I may see Your risen Glory
Forever where You are.

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Enchanted


You may have noticed that the Squirrel has been missing for awhile.  The excuse truth is that with all the bad stuff happening in the world lately, I was just hiding out in my panic room.  Well, while it is true that the shit  (please excuse my mild Deadpool language) has not stopped flying, the squirrel has decided to surface because there was a spot of light shining.

su lin

I refer to the momentous and happy event of the marriage of two of my young friends. Their combined ages is equivalent to mine.  (Sigh).  In Malaysia, we would call them “young cikus”.  A ciku is a type of fruit – fleshy, sweet and distinctly aromatic.  A “young ciku” has a similar meaning to the phrase “still wet behind the ears”.

Anyway, why has this brought the Squirrel out of his dark hole?  Well, the joy and love from this tying of hearts was truly “uplifting” for all who witnessed it.  I present evidence (see Exhibit A- otherwise known as the photo above) that gravity can truly be conquered by the power of true love.  It was…it was…like a enormous weight had been lifted from us.

But I digress unnecessarily.  I really wanted to share about these two “young cikus”.  Let’s call them Simon and Sue.

Sue is the one in the white gown, in case you hadn’t figured it out.  She is very young; an idealist;  one who believes in fighting for social justice for all and that money holds little value unless it can be used to help others.  And she is an incurable romantic and I mean, of the Disney Princesses’ happily ever after variety.  She has always dreamt of a fairy tale wedding and she wanted to have an enchanted forest theme for her wedding and celebration dinner.

Simon is the one in the grey suit and it is possible there may be a colony on the moon before we see him wear a suit again.  He is a simple man with simple tastes.  Indeed, he seems allergic to many society conventions.  He is his own boss and shows up to work (and indeed to most events) in T-shirt and sandals.  He has learnt to be extremely thrifty; some might even say miserly.  He would rather save money than splash it on a flashy wedding.

And so we witnessed this apparent mismatch; the hopeless romantic dreaming of a fantasy enchanted forest with her Prince Charming and the real world Simple Simon who would like the no-frills package.

Bit by bit we saw Sue’s dream of the enchanted forest slip away.  There would be no big church wedding or wedding dinner at a fancy hotel.  Instead, both would be held at a re-purposed industrial warehouse building. There would be no fancy caterers for the wedding reception but instead cakes and cookies baked by friends.  Decorations, sound system and even photographer were all friends.  Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, there would be a self service buffet.  But if Sue was a little  disappointed, she did not show it.

But Simon really worked hard.  Despite all his cost saving measures, in the end we could all see the thought, effort and love that he put into it.  Sue had wanted a photo booth that was the in-thing for weddings these days but it was deemed too costly to rent.  Well, Simon built a photo booth himself using a camera, a laptop and printer and a wooden box and had the whole thing mounted on a forklift from the warehouse. It was charming in an industrial chic kinda way.

Hats off too for Simon as under his direction, the warehouse was truly transformed into a magical enchanted place for the dinner.  He had done it with just a little budget but with great heart and not a little elbow grease.  It no longer felt like a warehouse but a beer garden in some enchanted woods.

su lin dinner

But there was still more.  Unbeknown to Sue, Simon and his 6 groomsmen had put in long hours of practice.  At the dinner, when Sue thought they were supposed to go round to talk to the guests, Simon took her and sat her in the middle of the room and then he and his backup danced and gyrated for her like court dances performing for the Queen.  It was as risque as a family event would allow and had Sue squealing with glee and the guests cheering.

Then came the speeches.  Sue acknowledged that they had known each other for 8 years and that Simon had been there for her all that time – a rock through thick and thin.  They both thanked their parents.  Simon said that he knew that there would only ever be one person for him and he knew it was Sue from the very beginning.  He then confessed that for him, the whole wedding preparations had been a very difficult experience for him and was so not his scene.  Indeed for someone who has seen his share of difficult times, he said that the whole wedding ceremonies and dinner thing was the hardest thing that he had ever done.  And then he said that he would do it all over again for Sue.

And there was not a dry eye in the house. Even Simon’s eyes were wet but he calmly informed everyone that he had something in his eye.

In the end, Sue had placed her faith in Simon and Simon did his best to live up to that faith.  Spending big money on a wedding isn’t necessary as long as the love is allowed to express itself – the love of the couple for one another and the love of all those gathered there for the newly weds. What a day! What a night! It was enchanted.

And even this cynical old squirrel believes that they had the best start for their life adventure together.

Chew


His name is Chew Keng Lin.   When I think of Chew, I think of a man of simple tastes and a happy disposition; more contented and at ease in the depths of the rainforest than enjoying creature comforts of city dwelling.  He loved nature and being out in nature. In fact, he made protecting nature his life’s work.

chew

I first got to know him at this place – Endau Rompin.

endau rompin

We were on the same team; I was team leader.  Together we contributed to the building of a field centre for scientific research and nature education in a relative pristine forest are. Today, it is part of the National Parks of Johor or “Taman Negara Johor”.

Chew continued on and became a senior officer in the Parks Corporation.

Tomorrow is Chew’s funeral.  He was only in his forty’s.  I don’t know much but was told he had some kidney problem; sudden and unexpected.

Although I have not met up with him for some years, I feel a bond to everyone who worked together on that team.  We accomplished something important and we all did a lot of growing up together.  That means something.

I am sad that he is no longer with us. I am sad that he passed on so young. I am sad that I will not be able to be there at his funeral to honor and remember him.  I pray that he is in a better place.

Bye G ….we’ll miss you


A month ago, I learned that an old friend, G, had gone missing in the U.S.  She had left her office in San Francisco mid-morning but did not return.  Her colleagues searched for her and reported her missing to the police.  News of her disappearance spread and all round the world her friends prayed and hoped for her safe return.  Those that could, helped directly in the search.

Unfortunately, about five days later, G’s body was found in the bay.  She had drowned.

It is always sad to lose a friend and it is painful to think that G was all alone in her final moments.

The sadness makes me want to just curl up in a ball and retreat into silence but I feel that I need to write this post and mark her passing.

Truth be told, we were not the closest of friends.  We had been work colleagues and I greatly admired her creative spirit and her passionate activism for environmental and social justice.  She had a spirit of calmness that was always a source of encouragement.  She was often our touchstone of sanity when the rest of us were running around in frenzied panic.

Yet,we were not the closest of friends.  I knew little about her outside of work and we never socialized outside of the office. I had never met her family, her children, even though she had shared stories about them to me.

But at a deeper level, we had a strong friendship; one that was forged in the crucible of crisis.  There are times in our life’s journey when we get an opportunity to do something really special for a fellow pilgrim.  I had that opportunity with G.  The favor itself was small and the deed was easy to do.  There was a risk involved but it paled compared to the life defining crisis that G was going through.

I am glad that I was there and was in a position to help when she needed it.  I am so glad that I did not choke or fumble when the moment came.  I am glad I was able to give her the helping hand, that small push to help her on her way.

We haven’t seen each other since. It has been ……I don’t remember but it must have been at least 15 years.  More recently, we kept in touch through the very occasional Facebook post.  And that is how it has been until a month ago.

And I am sad.  Despite the separation of time and space, I feel her loss deeply.  I am sad that my fellow pilgrim’s journey on this earth has ended.  I feel more alone and I feel the world has gone a lot darker with the extinguishing of her light.

Rest in Peace. May God’s mercy shine on you and may His grace carry you.  Thank you for lighting up my life and those of so many others.

rest in peace

Ipoh – Food Glorious Food, Fellowship and Fun


A couple of weeks ago, I was absent for a short while as I went along to my church annual family camp. It was a great time of hearing God’s word, fellowship and ‘fai lo’ ship (local slang for sharing meals together). This year our venue was the town of Ipoh.

Ipoh is the capitol of the state of Perak in Malaysia.  At one time, it was one of the richest cities in the region with scores of multimillionaires and resplendent with mansions on large grounds.  It had grown rich on the back of tin mining.  The city then fell into the backwaters when the price of tin fell catastrophically in the 1970’s.

Today, it is seeing a resurgence due to tourism.  It is surrounded by beautiful limestone hills and caves including some interesting temples built into the limestone caves.

However, we were there primarily to receive spiritual food; teaching from God’s word.  We had invited a Singaporean preacher who encouraged us not to be just pew warmers but to be true disciples of Christ, we had to be, well, disciples; following his example and obedient to his teachings and commands.  Specifically, we were challenged to a) have compassion for others and be relevant in our community; b) have a real and living relationship with God through prayer and reading the bible; c) have a vibrant relationship with one another, helping and encouraging one another in our Christian walk and finally d) to obey Christ is actively sharing His Good News to those around us.  We also looked into the book of Nehemiah and how different people (and not necessary the best qualified people) were assigned to rebuild different sections of Jerusalem’s fallen wall.  The important thing was being willing and working as part of a whole effort.

But a very good secondary reason for going to Ipoh is to enjoy the food because Ipoh has its own well know cuisine. Some of it is shown in the photos above. Use your mouse to hover over the photo and you can read the associated caption.

Some of the famous Ipoh cuisine are said to be due to the qualities of the spring water there that is used in the cooking process.  Hence, the Ipoh Hor Fun noodles is extremely soft and silky – unmatched anywhere else in Malaysia.  Similarly, the Beansprouts chicken is great not just because of the way the chicken is cooked but because the special spring water has made the beansprouts particularly plump, crunchy and juicy.  In the same way, the dessert – sweetened soyabean curd is silky smooth.

There are many more Ipoh food highlights including seafood, popiah (a type of soft springroll), beef noodles, Ipoh’s own white coffee, the pomelo fruit…….. the list goes on and on but it serves us all little good to keep talking about it here.  Internet technology hasn’t reach the stage where you can enjoy the food remotely.  You’ll just have to take my word for it ……or go there yourselves.  But be warned, Ipoh is hazardous to weight loss diets.

Kinabalu Fail


It is often said that “a handicap is only a state of mind“.  Boy, I think I have just the tale to regale you with that demonstrates that very point.

I regularly go hiking with a group of friends into the hills near my home city.  However, some of the group have graduated to bigger things (specifically, bigger mountains).  Some went to the Himalayan foothills last year and last week some went to climb to the top of Mount Kinabalu which is the highest peak in South East Asia at 4,095 m asl.  I, of course applauded and cheered them on from the comfort of my armchair.

Anyway, the ascent is normally taken in two stages.  The plan for the first stage was to climb for over 6 hours to the Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,270 metres and then to attempt the second stage to the summit very  early the next day.  The plan is to get to the top while it is still dark and then watch the sunrise.  Apart from being a fantastic sight, going to the summit any later in the day and most likely the view will be blocked by clouds or bad weather.  The following day, they would make a 7.5 hour descent off the mountain.

mountain
Photo credit: Soong Mei Ling

 

view
Majestic View (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)

 

Upon their return to civilization, my friend Timothy, shared with all the armchair travelers, the tales of their adventure.  He told of the hard but rewarding climb to Laban Rata rich with beautiful flora and grand vistas.

Unfortunately, he told us, that on the morning that they were to make their assault on the summit, the weather closed in with rain and mist.  The team leader decided to cancel the final ascent citing “POOR VISIBILITY”.

Poor Visibility at the Top (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)
Poor Visibility at the Top (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)

We all were listening to Timothy’s account with great interest and all commiserated with him and the rest of the team for going so far but yet failing to reach the top due to poor visibility.

Ironically, I came across the following newspaper article a couple of days later about a group of seven climbers that made it to the top the very next day.  Truly, “a handicap is only a state of mind”.

blindnews

Well how about that for “poor visibility”, Timothy?

(Editor’s Note:  Despite giving Timothy a hard time about this, the truth is that the Lone Grey Squirrel was to chicken to even attempt the climb in the first place).

Jungle Janes


I was feeling a bit nostalgic and decided to blow the dust off some old photo albums that I had put away in storage.  It was then that I came across these couple of pictures from my early working years.

I was in public health at that time and was doing research on new field kits for testing microbial water quality.  Basically I was trying to develop simple, cheap and easy field kits for monitoring drinking water safety in a developing world setting.

Somehow, I managed to convince my superiors that I simply had to get baseline data from pristine jungle streams which was how I managed to wrangle myself onto a scientific expedition into what was then a relatively unexplored part of the Malaysian jungle.  Carrying and using the heavy gear in the jungle would be hard work but I liked the idea of going to places few people have ever seen; I had a kind of a David Livingstone obsession in those youthful days.

Ah, but there was a catch!  My supervisor wanted me to take her two visiting Dutch medical students along for the jungle adventure.  I groaned.

And then I met them, Ilsa and Laura.  Two gorgeous beauties (with wonderful personalities) and since we spent most of the time in and out of the rivers collecting samples, they were most often two gorgeous beauties in swimsuits.

Now I am sure you can imagine that this “Tarzan and Jane” scenario is a fantasy of most of the men in the almost totally male expedition camp.  Suddenly, everybody seemed to want to be on our research team and go out on the trails with us.  I became popular! Suddenly, rough, anti-social, jungle hardened veterans was giving me the time of day, so as to get closer to the girls.  Safe to say, there was a lot of chest beating going on around camp!

Tarzan stand-in double demonstrating the chest beating trademark move
Tarzan stand-in double demonstrating the chest beating trademark move

 

Ilse (L), Laura (R) and me (hidden in the back) testing the pristine waters of the Endau Rompin jungle (circa1992)
Ilse (L), Laura (R) and me (hidden in the back) testing the pristine waters of the Endau Rompin jungle (circa1989)

 

Two Beauties and the Beasts
Two Beauties and the Beasts in the wilds of Malaysia

 

These days, Marja is my Dutch sweetie but as you can see I had the privilege of knowing these two Dutch Jungle Janes’ somewhat earlier.  The other great thing was how all these guys left me offerings of food and drink in return for the opportunity to be introduced to the girls.

Dear, Ilsa and Laura, thanks for the good memories.  I hope that you are both well and happy and the intervening years have been kind.  And if you happen to read this post (stranger things have happened on the internet), do make contact and leave a comment.