Category Archives: health

Dirty Job

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.

LGS is still testing water for your safety.

What was your “start at the bottom of the pile” job?

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.

What’s Your Poison?

The first time I was asked, “What’s your poison?” was at a British pub.  As a young, non-native English speaker, I was wondering what I did to offend my host so that he would offer me poison.  Since then, I have learned that it is just a way of asking what drink I would like.

Err….that is a way of asking what drink I would like, right?

But some of you gentle readers may be surprised to learn that one man’s poison is another man’s cure.  And so, here is a post on drink and poison.

I refer to the Korean practice of having the notoriously deadly and venomous Asian Giant Hornets and other stingers in their alcohol or soju.  I came across this in a market in the city of Sokcho which is in the northeast of South Korea and not too far from the border with the North.

It is said to give a richer flavor profile to the soju as well as a characteristic bitter after taste.  More importantly, like most such medicinal alcohols, it is supposed to give a boost to “male stamina”.  And so, for those of you gentle readers who may be interested in alcoholic drinks or traditional medicines or need help with “male stamina” or are poison wielding murderers in training or are just interested in the bizarre ……. try this poison!

This is the shop where the magic happens.  The metal distillers can be seen.
Ingredients for Traditional Medicines:- The usual dried mushrooms, roots, fruits and even eggs
And then, there are these – hornet hives.
The display shows some of the venomous stingers being used
The Hornet Nest is quite pretty, I think.
And finally, the drink with a sting (quite a few stings actually)

I could only find one video in English that covers this beverage. So here it is….

So….would you try it?

The Missus & the Wolf

Dear readers,

I have often spoken about my wife but I have never ever introduced her to all of you.  I think it is about time.  Drumrooooollll!  Here is Mrs. Squirrel………..

Mrs. Squirrel Driving


wife 2
Mrs. Squirrel at the Park

Astute readers will probably notice that the above picture is quite different from what one might normally imagine when thinking about squirrels frolicking in the park.  And Mrs. Squirrel isn’t trying to avoid paying speeding fines in the previous picture either.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Squirrel has to avoid the sun; not unlike Edward Cullen except her skin doesn’t sparkle like in the movies.  If you hang with us, you will have to get used to this sight.

About two years ago, my wife was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus or just Lupus . This has meant that she has to avoid ultraviolet light, stress and (somewhat surprisingly) alfalfa sprouts as these are known to be triggers for a flare or severe episode of the ailment.

If you have lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system and it attacks healthy cells and tissues. This can damage many parts of the body such as the Joints, Skin, Kidneys, Heart, Lungs, Blood vessels and  Brain. (source:  NIH).

Lupus actually is derived from the Latin word for “wolf” and it was thought that skin lesions that can sometimes develop with the disease resembles that of a wolf bite.  The singer, Seal, has scars on his face which was a result of a form of Lupus. Another common symptom is a rash on the face on either side of the nose which is said to resemble a butterfly shape.  Hence, Lupus is often associated with the imagery of the wolf and the butterfly.  Some other famous Lupus sufferers include Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez.


Lupus manifests differently in different people with different sets of organs affected and different level of severity.  Before the availability of the medicines we have today, the survival rate from this illness was quite poor.  It has improved greatly and for most sufferers, it can be managed.  Some may experience periods of remission but it is never ever cured.

But it can still be devastating.  A work colleague’s wife was diagnosed with Lupus about the same time as my wife but she passed away within months.  Currently, a friend’s niece  is experiencing kidney problems which may mean that she will have to rely on dialysis to live.  Sharon is just 25.  We just visited her in hospital which is one of the reasons for this post.

I thank God that my wife’s illness is responding to treatment and management. As a result, she has been spared the more severe symptoms.  But she needs to avoid sunlight.  Just 30 minutes of exposure can cause a flare in the illness.

So…… I do the driving during daylight hours while she cocoons herself in darkness in the back seat.  But she takes over at night.  Our home is maintained in cave like darkness during the day and beach holidays are generally a thing of the past.  Keeping her company has also caused me to develop a porcelain white complexion too.  But it is a small price to pay if it keeps her well.

Do say a prayer for Sharon; specifically that her kidneys regain some function within the next month  so that she might not be totally dependent on costly  and life impacting dialysis three times a week.  She has finished her university studies and would just like to be able to get a job and get on with living life.  Your prayers are appreciated.  Thank you.

(Haida style drawing of wolf by Joe Zoho)

Top 10 Reasons for a Sinking Feeling

Last week, two very large sinkholes opened up along a very busy stretch of road in the centre of Kuala Lumpur.   Construction work for a road tunnel had accidentally caused a burst water pipe and the escaping water led to the formation of the sinkholes.


Sadly, there’s been a lot of that sinking feeling here in Malaysia this year as we seem to be reeling from tragedy; political, racial and religious extremism; and many cases of “foot in mouth disease” by our leaders.  In fact,  if possible, we seem to be having a lot of “shooting oneself in the foot that also happens to be in the mouth” disease.

Here in no particular order is the TOP 10 Recent Reasons for  Malaysians to have a Sinking Feeling.

  1. MH 370 – the missing Malaysian Airlines plane had the world’s attention on Malaysia for much of the beginning of the year and it is considered  one of the greatest  aviation mysteries.  Where is the plane and what happened?  Apart from the tragedy of lives lost, Malaysian officials came across as arrogant, insensitive, incompetent and contradictory.  The handling of the matter and the treatment of the relatives of the victims has been terrible.
  2. Grabbing kids – in the last year, Islamic authorities have been involved in cases in which children, brides and even bodies have been snatched.   In a number of cases,  Muslim converts who had lost child custody cases in court went on to abduct their children from their Hindu mothers and despite the court ruling have been able to keep the children up to now.
  3. Grabbing brides – A Hindu wedding was raided by religious authorities and the bride was taken away in front of the groom and the 400 guests.  Although born and raised as a Hindu, the authorities consider her a Muslim because her father, who had abandoned the family in 1990,  had become a convert.
  4. Grabbing bodies-  Last month, a family was grieving and holding a traditional Chinese funeral for their loved one.  About twenty minutes into the ceremony, religious authorities interrupted the proceedings and took away the body claiming that the deceased had converted to Islam some 17 years earlier.  As you can imagine, this came as a terrible surprise to all her family members.
  5. Groping bodies – A Malaysian diplomat and military officer, Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, claimed diplomatic immunity when charged in New Zealand for burglary and sexual assault with intent to commit rape.  He had followed a 21 year old woman to her home from her bus stop, broken in, undressed and tried to assault her.  She fought back and with the help of neighbors alerted by her screams, forced him to flee.  Once again, the manner in which the authorities have handled the matter has been disgraceful.  They flew him back to Malaysia and denied that they were protecting him until certain communications with the New Zealand government were leaked to the press.  They also said that he would not be extradited but would be tried in Malaysia.  Then, under pressure, they agreed to return him to New Zealand to face the charges.  But now, the authorities claim that he is unwell and medically unfit for travel.  Although, so far the only thing that has been said about his medical condition is that he “was not looking good”, withdrawn and depressed.
  6. “Break bone Fever” – The mosquito borne viral disease, dengue fever, is characterised by severe joint pains (hence “break bone”) and in severe cases, internal hemorrhaging.  The number of cases and deaths have increased by about 250% from the previous year with about 40,000 cases and at least 80 deaths this year till now.  I personally, know of 5 people who have been ill and a friend has attended two funerals.  So apart, from dust from extensive construction going on in Kuala Lumpur and the suffocating haze from forest fires, I now am also unable to open my windwows for fear of the mosquitoes coming in.
  7. Dry taps –  This year also saw the largest urban area in the country, with 2.5 million people, facing water rationing for over three months.  Dry taps in a country with some of the highest rainfall in the world. Something is wrong with this picture.
  8. The K9 problem” –  The chairman of the commission on public transport had said in an interview that there would be no problem for guide dogs assisting the blind to be allowed on public transport.  Apparently, he was wrong.  The Deputy Minister for Transport said that city by-laws insist that dogs should be under the control of a capable owner (thereby implying that the blind are not capable) and went on to say that dogs would only be an inconvenience to the blind.  Religious authorities than chipped in to say that guide dogs were inappropriate for a Muslim majority country as dogs are considered unclean in the religion.  This seems like a strange statement considering that no such issue has been raised about the use of police dogs or security dogs.
  9. “Hell’s Kitchen” – This last couple of weeks has seen the authorities declare war on soup kitchens and the homeless.  Apparently, they are the great evil that is damaging our society.  The
    Women, Family and Community Development Minister

    Women, Family and Community Development Minister had implied that people are choosing to be homeless because they can get free food.  She also said that tourists are also taking advantage of the soup kitchens and therefore not spending tourist dollar on meals.  The Minister of the Federal Territories then proved that he was a man of action by banning all soup kitchens within 2 km of the city centre.    He suggested that the homeless were lazy and giving “his” city a bad image.  He also implied that building shelters for the homeless would make them complacent.  He also said that if they were hungry, they could always travel out of the city centre to soup kitchens further out.    Some soup kitchens plan to defy the ban and will face stiff fines for their defiance.

  10. The sky is falling! The ground is sinking!   – the latest round of construction activity all around Kuala Lumpur for the Mass Rapid Transport or MRT train line has been causing all manners of problems but of greatest concern is the safety of the public.  Large concrete and metal beams have now fallen on passing cars on at least two occasions.  The cars were wrecked but miraculously, the occupants although requiring hospitalisation, escaped with their lives.


And of course, there was the big sinkholes that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

So how do Malaysians deal with all this gloom? ……..with a sense of humor.  LGS proudly presents for your viewing pleasure a few examples of Malaysian netizen’s take on the sinkholes and WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

The "why the chicken crossed the road with the Hippo" theory
The “why the chicken crossed the road with the Hippo” theory


The "Pandamonium" Theory
The “Pandamonium” Theory


Surely it was Godzilla!
Surely it was Godzilla!

Nocturnal Squirrel

When I saw this article, I immediately thought of Mago.

According to the article,  a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania looked at lab mice that were kept awake to replicate the kind of sleep loss common in modern life, through night shifts or long hours in the office.   After several days of sleep patterns similar to night workers pulling three days of night shifts with only four to five hours sleep in 24 hours – the mice lost 25% of the brain cells in part of the brain stem.

Dear brother Mago, I remember when you did some night shift work some time ago.  So this is bad news for you …………and for me too.

This new research may finally provide a rational explanation why I have failed to win the Nobel Prize so far.  Several times in my life, I have kept those anti-social hours.  But if I do say so myself, I haven’t done too badly with the 25% loss of those brain cells or maybe I just don’t know any different.

My first bout of pulling all-nighters was when I was studying for my finals at University and I am sure many students over the years can tell the same sorry tale.   As the exams got closer, I found that I could concentrate better at night.  First of all, there were far less distractions at night than during the day.  While the sun was up, I might be tempted to leave the books and go enjoy the great outdoors.  But at night, it felt good to stay in with the books by the warmth of the table lamp.  Secondly, I told myself that I just enjoyed sitting at my table and looking out the window to see the darkening twilight and the lightening dawn.

However, I did take it to the extreme.   I took to studying after dinner at 7 pm and carrying on through the night until about 10 am the next day.  Then I would go out to do errands like grocery shopping, have my lunch and then sleep from about 1 pm to about 6pm.  Repeat cycle.  I did this for about two months.

I made it through my exams but there was a toll.  It  made me vulnerable to depression and for a long time after, I suffered from insomnia.

At the time, flushed with the confidence of youth, I thought I was being smart but I guess the sleepless mice experiment shows that I was probably getting dumber by the day.

So my advice is don’t skimp on the good night sleep.

NUKWIDLS: The Squirrel Who Went Up a Hill And Came Down Exhausted

Yes!  Here is the second installment post of the series entitled “NUKWIDLS” or “Now U Know What I Did Last Summer”.

Umm….that would be the summer 0f 2013.  Yes I know this is now the 10th day into 2014.  I have always been a bit behind the curve.  Anyway, do you want to know what I did last summer or not?

Well, one of the significant things I did last summer was to let some manic friends talk me into waking up at unearthly hours before the sun rises and then hiking up hills ………….apparently just for the “fun” of it.  The same friends readily join in on all of my own hare-brained schemes so I felt guilty saying “no” to their hare-brained hobby.

And so for the last 5 months I have been going hill walking with them in a small nature reserve within the city.  I won’t lie; it has been more than a decade since I did any serious hiking on a regular basis and there have been many nuts consumed since then.  So, I did not find it easy.

The Trails

The nature reserve has a number of hiking trails criss-crossing a series of small hills.  Typically, we hike for about 3 hours covering between 8-10 km.

The place is really family oriented with the trails given names such adorable names like “The Mother of All Hills”.   I have to say that “Mother” isn’t as gentle and nurturing  as you might think mothers ought to be.  “Mother” is about 120 m high with an average gradient of about 60 degrees. “Father” is higher and longer but gentler with only one short section near the top that is at about 70 degrees.

The foot of Mother
The foot of Mother

But this hill is but a molehill compared to some of the other hills that my masochistic friends climb.  There are a few of them that require up to a 6-10 hour hike.  So I admit, I am still on the beginners’ slopes.

The Speed

I almost always finish last (unless some fresh meat had joined our little sweaty band).  I am slow on the uphill sections, the flat sections and the downhill sections………I am all round slow.  If we were to imagine a scale of hiking speed, and the slowest was represented by an amphibian coming out of the primordial seas and learning to walk on land, then the fastest member of my group would be represented by the Starship Enterprise exceeding Warp 5 and I would be represented by an extra slow snail.   We even have a dog that’s a better hiker than me.

Snoopy -the dog beats most of us to the top
Snoopy -the dog beats most of us to the top

But I am thankful in the end cause this all must be good for my health ………right?  At least that’s what they tell me …… all those twisted ankles, popping knees, cramps, cuts and insect bites  are good for me.

In fact, I just went on one of these hikes this morning which I will try to briefly summarize below:

“pant…..pant…….wheeze…….cough…….sweating buckets…….pant…..pant…..ouch……aarrgh……..wheeze……”



My feet were close to perfect when I was newly born.  Two near perfectly formed, cute, pink feet.  It has been downhill since then.

Basketball accidents and a poorly executed Parkour move (an ill conceived jump down a flight of stairs) when I was a teenager resulted in weak ankles.  Badly fitting shoes led to deformed toenails.  I picked up a serious bunion on my right foot from a month of tramping  and backpacking across Europe one summer.  Scoliosis caused me to develop flat feet over time.  A combination of more bad shoes and years of working in wet and dirty environments gave me calluses, thick and cracked soles and the occasional bout of Athelete’s foot (which is a strange ailment to have for a non-atheletic couch potato).

My poor abused feet was looking pretty bad of late.  So bad in fact that my wife put her foot down and marched my resisting butt off to have a pedicure done at the local saloon.  And so, the Lone Grey Squirrel slides further down the slippery slope towards metrosexuality …..pushed along by his wife.  But to be honest, the experience was not as bad or as awkward as I had feared.  It was actually quite pleasant and my feet hasn’t looked or felt  so good in years.  But the look on the pedicurist’s face when she was first confronted with my “50 years of abuse” feet was very entertaining.  The poor thing……I left a big tip.

My Baby Feet
My Baby Feet
My feet after 50 years
My feet after 50 years

Failing to Sleep on the Job

Another sad tale from Malaysia.  A couple of days ago, a young trainee doctor was found dead in a restroom at the hospital where he worked.  The 29 year old was found together with a used syringe and attempts to revive him failed.  He was due to hold a wedding party in December.

Early reports had claimed that the trainee doctor had been on 24 hour call for at least 5 consecutive days and had worked in excess of 70 hours in the last week.  The hospital denies this claiming that such working conditions for trainee doctors have ceased with the introduction of a new Graduate Medical Officer Flexi Timetable system to address complaints about the long hours leading to mental health problems and depression amongst doctors.

The new system was introduced in September last year and under the system, trainee doctors can only be made to work a maximum of 60 hours a week and must have two rest days a week.  Authorities claim that there is no evidence that doctors were still being overworked.  However, reports of overworked doctors persist.

Many claim that the implementation of the new system has either been ignored by some hospital administrators or was not implementable because there aren’t enough doctors.  There are some statistics which might indicate that this is the situation.  Due to work pressures, a large number of doctors are being referred to the Malaysian Medical Council for review  for mental conditions and depression – an average of  5 cases per month.  In October 2011, after the new system was supposed to have been implemented, there were 20 such cases.

The current police theory is that the young doctor in the current case died from overdosing on some as yet unidentified drug that he was taking to help him cope with the long work hours and stay awake.  If true then, it is indeed a serious situation affecting both doctors and their ability to treat their patients.

If true, then a young doctor has lost his life, sacrificed either on the altar of despicable negligence of either the petty little Napoleans that are the hospital administrators of some hospitals or betrayed by the failure of the whole system to protect both doctors and their patients.

What a waste of a life that had so much potential.

Of Mice, Pigs and Roaches

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Well, my wife and I did something like that a couple of days ago and as with many discoveries, the breakthrough came by accident.

Recently, my brother-in-law bought a kitchen product called an “air fryer”.  The publicity material claims that “air frying” was the same as deep oil frying but without all that unhealthy oil.  Happy with his new toy, he treated us to some french fries, roasted peanuts and crispy bacon that he had prepared using the “air fryer”.

We were quite impressed by how easy it was to use and how crispy the frazzled bacon was.  When we went home, we took out a convection oven that someone gave us as a present many years ago but which we had only used once.  An air fryer is actually an improved version of a convection oven.  Both instruments function by combining high heat and a fan to blast the hot air over the food.  No oil is needed and oil from the food actually drips away to the bottom of the instrument.

We tried to roast peanuts and that went very well.  We were pleased with the results.  Next we tried to cook some bacon.  We loaded in about 300 g of streaky bacon and watched as it cooked.  After cooking for about 20 minutes, the bacon came out scrumptiously crispy and flavorful, while all the bacon fat that came out during the cooking, accumulated at the bottom of the oven.  The bacon was delicious.

When we were cleaning up, I had wanted to throw away the oil from the bacon but my wife wanted to keep the oil.  She said the flavorful bacon drippings would be perfect to cook omelets with the next day.  So I collected all the oil into a shallow bowl and I left it next to the frying pan so that it could be used the next day to cook breakfast.

The next morning, I returned to the kitchen to cook breakfast and what did I find?

There was a large cockroach dead in the bowl of bacon drippings. An expired La cucaracha.  It had obviously been attracted by that bacon smell, found the bowl of bacon dripping and thought that it had died and gone to heaven, stuck its head in to drink, fell into the viscous oil, drowned and went to heaven.

Ladies and gents, it may not be a “better mousetrap” but a bowl of bacon fat could be a better cockroach trap.  Now that I have posted my discovery on the internet, you will find me sitting in my living room waiting for the world to beat a path to my door.  Don’t take too long world.

This experience also helped prove two long held beliefs.

1.  Everyone loves bacon and


P.S. I’ve waited for more than an hour and the world still hasn’t beaten a path to my door.  Now why is that?  Is the internet broken?