Category Archives: history

Fado


I recently made a trip to Amsterdam and Lisbon via London.  Only after the fact, I came to realise that I had just visited the capitol cities of the three European powers that once had colonies in Malaysia (the Portuguese came in 1511, the Dutch in 1641 and the British in 1786).  A fortuitous synchronicity that enabled me to learn more about my country’s own past.

I was particularly excited about visiting Portugal because Portuguese influence on Malay history, culture and language was quite significant.  There is still a Portuguese settlement in Melaka today and many Malaysians have some Portuguese ancestry.  Many words in our national language come from the Portuguese.

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As I was preparing for this trip, I got fascinated by fado; the music genre that is part of Portuguese national psyche.  Originating in the 1820’s in Lisbon, the music could be said to be a type of lament.  For example, it is suggested that, with reference to Portugal’s seafaring, exploration and global trade history, it may have been started by wives lamenting their husbands being away from them for many months and even years and sometimes never returning.

Said to be extremely expressive and profoundly melancholic, the fado songs speak of the hardships of daily life and a kind of resignation to that fate (which is the meaning of the word ‘fado’ – ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’.   Someone wrote that fado has the emotional power to wring tears from your eyes.

Wow, I thought to myself, I have just got to go and see a fado performance while I am there.  I am all into laments, melancholy and resignation to one’s fate.  Not kidding.  I have always liked to wallow in self pity and say “woe is me”.

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Dancing Sulking in the Rain

So, I sought advice from a blogger friend, Ana Bica ( a fellow microbiologist and more importantly, a hometown girl of Lisbon).  “Ana”, I asked, “where can I go to listen to some great fado in Lisbon?”

Ana suggested Clube de Fado.  A very good recommendation; one that was also top of many lists on various internet forums on the topic.  Now, in most fado establishments, the  package includes both the fado performance and a fairly pricey meal.  The consensus also seems to be that while the music is excellent, the food is pretty mediocre at these places.

Unfortunately, my traveling companions were definitely foodies first above all things and were somewhat skeptical of spending 3 hours listening to melancholic music and having their emotions ripped apart.  They opted for fine dining instead……the Philistines!

So I was not able to actually go to a live performance (drats) but I did listen to some fado music and purchased a couple of CDs.  One CD was in the more traditional style of the 1960’s and I must say, as much as I like the music,  I too doubt if I could have listened to 3 hours of suffering.  The second CD is by Ana Moura and represents a more contemporary style of fado; why the music was even occasionally upbeat even if the words were still melancholic!

Anyway, I have been listening to Ana Moura more or less continuously since then and wanted to share some of this music here with you.  For you musically inclined readers, fado is usually done with a female singer (the fadista) accompanied by a Portuguese 12 string guitar(which is supposed to be very hard to play), guitar, viola and bass.

This song is ‘Amor Afoito’ or “Reckless Love’ which seems to be about a woman’s love for a man even when he has not proven he is deserving of her love.

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The ‘Creaking’ Horror


Great Pumpkins!  I nearly missed out on doing a Halloween inspired post this year.  Nearly……but not quite.  I have been absent from the blogosphere because I was on a righteous quest to destroy the undead creatures of the nightmare dimension ……. ummmm….because I was traveling.  Ah, but now I am back and you cannot escape my Halloween expose!

Here it is…….the secret lives of Ghosts!

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But on a more serious and creepy note, let me tell you now, the story of the ‘Creaking Horror’!

A long, long time ago ……well, not that long ago……..actually last week, I found myself in what is rumoured to be the oldest hotel in the world in continuous use.  I refer to the Parador de Santiago de Compostela or, as it is also known, Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Santiago de Compostela is at the end of the long distance trails that has been traversed by pilgrims since as early as the 9th century.  The object is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which is said to hold the remains of St. James the Apostle of Christ.   Coming from Portugal, Spain and as far as France to this town in Galicia in the north-west of Spain, pilgrims could be walking in excess of 800 km.  The difficult journey was part of the spiritual experience.

Needless to say, things were a whole lot more difficult and dangerous during the ancient times and many pilgrims would arrive in Santiago de Compostela in a bad state.  So, in 1486, the Hostal was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to give shelter and aid to these road weary pilgrims.

My own journey there was by car and I arrived there on a dark, wet and foggy night.  The place was huge, ancient and quite imposing in the dark.  After checking in, we went through dark corridors with long shadows and creaking wooden floors.  Sometimes, the ancient timbers felt soft underfoot as if it might fall away due to rot but we couldn’t tell as it was covered by heavy carpets. Well, this is creepy, I thought to myself.

After dropping off our luggage in our room, which also felt every bit as ancient except for a very modern bathroom, my wife and I went snooping around.  By now, the lights had come on and most of the corridors were dimly lit.  We could also look out over the balconies onto grand courtyards.  But the place was confusing.

There were a number of courtyards and after a while you could get quite turned around, not sure how to get back to where you started.  All the time, as we walked, the sound of the creaking floor would resound along the dark, empty corridors.  Here and there, some brightly lit areas appeared.  Some were outside other guest rooms and some were outside larger rooms that had been re-purposed into small meeting rooms. And there was sometimes a plaque on the wall to tell a story or two about the rooms.

We found these plaques quite interesting.  There was a room where one of the Pope’s stayed on his first visit to Santiago de Compostela and other rooms to tell of famous digntaries, clergy and even musicians that laid their heads to rest there.

As we were moving along, we found a particular meeting room and the plaque duly informed us that many pilgrims used to arrive in critical condition and many were not even able to attend mass at the cathedral at the end of their pilgrimage.  For them, their journey would end in this room, where they could hear the priests carrying out mass in the courtyard below one last time before they expired.

Hmmmm.  This place has served as a hostal for over 500 years.  But a hostal was not just a place to find shelter, it had also served as a hospital, a hospice and invariably as a morgue at the same time.  And, over 500 years, many, many, many died there.

We don’t believe in ghosts and we reminded ourselves that as we hurried along the maze of darkened corridors (the creaking horror) trying to find our way back to the light……….

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Editor’s Note: Despite the squirrel’s mad Halloween tale, this is actually a very beautiful and historic 5 star hotel.  If you have the opportunity, stay here.

Korean War Memorial


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Cartoon by Berke Breathed (Bloom County Babylon: Five Years of Basic Naughtiness)

The cartoon kinda sums up my confused state of mind.    When I was a wee lad, I grew up  on a diet of television series like “Combat”, movies like Chuck Norris’ “Missing in Action” and Commando War Comics. All of which tended to give a glorified and sanitized portrayal of war, in that, the bad guys are usually clearly viciously bad and deserve to be killed by the virtuous good guy heroes who almost always just get flesh wounds.

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And so, I grew up playing soldier and even cowboys and Indians.  Only later did I begin to understand that war is almost never clear cut black and white and it’s not just the bad guys that get killed.  I learned about “collateral damage”, “civilian casualties”, “killing fields” and “genocide”. I began to see that war wasn’t cool.

Today, I consider myself to be firmly in the peace-loving, pacifist, flower-power camp.  Or at least, that’s who I grew up to be.  And yet, I confess that I was excited to have the opportunity, with my brother,  to visit the Korean War Memorial and their open air collection of war machines.  Please forgive this relapsing war-junkie as I guiltily present some photos from that visit.

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Enter Korean War Memorial (Photo by LGS)
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The front of the Monument showing the brave and valiant fighters (Photo by LGS)
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The rear of the Monument showing perhaps the suffering of the people (Photo by LGS)
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F86L Sabre (Photo by LGS’ brother)
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F-51D Mustang (Photo by LGS)
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The opposing MIG 19 (Photo by LGS)
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LGS valiantly defending against air attack (Photo by LGS’ brother)
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The Hardware of War (Photo by LGS)
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American Tanks (Photo by LGS)
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Cool-looking attack boat (Photo by LGS)
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This Patrol Boat actually took place in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong and still carries the scars of the battle to repel a North Korean naval incursion in 2002 in which 6 South Koreans lost their lives. The red holes are battle damage. (Photo by LGS)

The Good Ol’ Days


Ah, the good ol’ days.  Will we, in Malaysia, ever see the likes of those heady days again?

The year was 1980.  The nation was not that wealthy but we were rich in natural resources, bolstered by a burning hope for a brighter future and rich because we enjoyed a very special and unique heritage of multiculturalism in which there was much mutual respect and appreciation between the main cultural groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians and also amongst the other minority groups.

It was a Malaysia that many of us were proud of.  And perhaps rather emblematic of the nation’s psyche and indeed the state of the nation at that time, was our national soccer (or football) team.  1980 represented the pinnacle of achievement for Malaysian football.  It was the year that our ragtag team of part-timers shrugged off a couple of years of middling performance, rallied under a new coach, forged a strong sense of identity and defeated the much feared and favoured South Korean powerhouse in dramatic fashion.  They scored the winning goal in the last 5 minutes of the match to win 2-1 and it meant we qualified for the Moscow Olympics.  We even beat Arsenal and held other visiting professional clubs to a draw.

Unfortunately, the team did not get a chance to play at the Olympics as Malaysia joined the U.S. led boycott of the games in protest over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.  Yet, despite the disappointment, it did not seem to matter cause the country was filled with optimism that better days and greater achievements lay ahead for soccer team and for the country.

As it turned out, Malaysia’s fortunes in the beautiful game declined steadily since then.  Our FIFA world ranking fell from a high of 75th position to 174th position; placing us in the same group as countries like Timor Leste which doesn’t even have any proper soccer facilities.  Critics refer to the end of meritocracy, the rise of racism and political interference as well as corruption as the causes of the decline of the national team.  Sadly, this seems to have mirrored what has happened to the country in general.

This year, a movie was released called Ola Bola which its director claims is “inspired” by the true story of our national team’s glorious march to Olympic qualification in 1980.  In fact, much of the movie seems entirely true to the actual historical events.  The three main heroes of the movie were Tauke, Ahmad Ali and Muthu who were quite clearly based on Soh Chin Aun, Hassan Sani and Arumugum – the real three Malaysian football heroes who also happen to be Chinese, Malay and Indian respectively.  Many Malaysians enjoyed the movie because it reminded many of a better time when racial harmony was not only stronger but in fact held up as an example internationally.

Indeed, many urged Malaysians today to take up the message that Malaysia would be stronger if we were united despite our different backgrounds and not divided along racial lines.

A powerful message indeed and one really worth heeding but sadly, there is also a point of controversy.  The movie changed the winning score of that game with South Korea from 2-1 to 3-2; perhaps for the sake of greater drama. But the movie also changed the identity of the person who scored the game winning goal. If the movie were to be true to history, then the character Eric (who is based on the real life Malaysian soccer hero, James Wong) should have scored the last goal.  Instead, in the movie, Ali is the game winner; leading some to wonder if that decision was made so that a certain segment of Malaysian society would be more willing to watch the movie – which seems to compromise the anti-racist message of the movie.

Ah, Malaysia…..if only we could go back to that simpler, happier and more hopeful time.  I miss it so.

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Comparing the actual players and their respective movie characters from Ola Bola
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Some of the Real Heroes today :- (L-R)  Hassan Sani, Soh Chin Aun, winning goal scorer James Wong and Santokh Singh

Another Century And We Are Still At It


Two ants were sitting on an a mound up on a hill overlooking a battlefield.  From there, they could see men from two armies fighting viciously with guns, tanks and shells.  All over there were dead and dying from both sides.

The first ant said, “This is great!  Let the humans fight their crazy wars and when they have finished killing each other to the last man, then ANTS will rule the world! Bwahahaha!”

“Bwahahaha!” echoed the second ant. “Hooray! Ants will rule the world!”

After a short pause to think, the second ant asked the first ant, “Black ants or Red ants?”

 

And so, this is war.  Don’t know how or when humankind started sacrificing on the altar of war but it doesn’t seem we will stop.

This week in Europe, various ceremonies are being held to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War I.   Some 16 million people perished in 5 long years of fighting.  it was the war that marked the start of the industrialization of killing.  It had been called the “war to end all wars”.  Yet just two decades later, the world plunged into World War II and more than 60 million killed.  We were just getting more effective in killing.

800px-Cemetery_of_World_War_I_in_Auce,_Latvia(Photo by Simka)

And so, far from moving towards enlightenment, understanding, fraternity and peace, conflicts continue to plague us since.

Some (from atheist and humanist circles) claim that religion is the main cause of war and certainly there have been many wars fought that use religion to draw the battle lines.   But I believe that mostly that hides other motivations – usually, political, ideological and/or economic ………. and in some cases, just base pack mentality of “us” and “them”.

Just consider some of these non-religious dictators and the damage they inflicted on mankind (estimated killed);

 

I really believe that the root of it all is the desire “to want what others have and to deny others from getting what we have”.

Did you know that back in the 1930’s USA prepared a series of contingency war plans and the first one they came up with was codenamed, “War Plan Red” – the invasion of Canada?!?!?!

It was part of a plan to address the problem of the British Empire being an economic and global rival to America’s aspirations.

Sigh……………..

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ”

Let us pray for the peacemakers where ever they are and in whichever conflict they are trying to bring to an end.  Let’s not let the ants take over and rule the world.

 

Name Game


Be prepared for another rambling post.  It’s a mystery where the post will end up.  Let’s start……

Here is my Chinese name ………

chi leongMy very wise parents chose this name for me and I am often told either that the name suits me or that I have lived up to the name given me.  It is pronounced “ci liang” and means “kind and good”.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be named “rich and famous” but I  guess that is not a bad thing to have a name like “kind and good”.

One has to be careful with Chinese names because characters with similar sounds can mean something totally different.  For example, my brother’s name actually means “kind dragon” (which I think is really cool to be called a ‘dragon’, don’t cha think?).  However, with just a slightly wrong pronunciation and accent, such as might be said by a Westerner with no experience with the Chinese language , then “kind dragon” will suddenly be transformed into “pig sty”.

It is precisely because of all these mispronunciations of my name when I studied in the United Kingdom that I decided to adopt an Anglicized name.

I chose “Calvin”.  I like “Calvin”. However, in retrospect, it was not the wisest of choices.

If you were to look up the meaning of the name “Calvin”, it has only one unfortunate meaning…………”bald”.

BALD!!!!

Oh, yea.  Good choice there squirrel.  Can you imagine a bald squirrel?  No bushy tail?  Not a pretty sight, I think.

Many years ago, I went to Geneva, Switzerland and got to see a statue representing a rather famous “Calvin”……………John Calvin – a key historical figure of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  The statue is part of a series of Protestant figures in what is called the “Reformation Wall“.

Photo by LGS
Photo by LGS

 

Calvin is the second from the left.  Now, I am not 100% sure, but don’t they all look bald to you?

Apart from being an important church figure, they also named a beer after him called Calvinus Beer.  I tried it.  It’s okay but not great……certainly won’t put hair on your head.

Strangely, there aren’t a lot of famous ‘Calvin”s.   The 30th President of the United States was a ‘Calvin” but he is mostly known for being a bit strange and being a man of few words. The story is told that a matron, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.”   Another tale relates  that upon learning that Calvin Coolidge had died, Dorothy Parker reportedly remarked, “How can they tell?”

The only other ‘Calvin” that people seem to have in their consciousness is “Calvin and Hobbes”.

A Boy and His Tiger (comics by Bill Watterson)
A Boy and His Tiger (comics by Bill Watterson)

 

Now I don’t mind that association cause Calvin is kinda cool but it gets a little tiresome when people keep asking me “Where’s Hobbes?’

Anyway, what does your name mean and are you happy with it?

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 16 : United Nations Memorial Cemetery


In the middle of the bustling city of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, lies a 14 hectare oasis of tranquility.  It is the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, the only one in the world honoring those that have fallen while serving the UN cause.  Twenty-one nations sent men and women to serve in the Korean War and 11 of those countries are represented with plots in the cemetery.

However, it is still relatively unknown to many people.  When I made enquiry about it to a couple of local Korean tourist guides, they expressed surprise that I would be interested in visiting the place.  However, one of them came with me and left with a different and much more appreciative attitude.  She promised that she would recommend it to other visitors in the future.

The Korean War was the costliest conflict involving troops serving under the United Nations flag with about 41,000 killed or missing.  Among the casualties were not just soldiers but medical and aid personnel.  The United States lost 36,600 service personnel with another103,300 injured.    Last weekend, was Memorial Day in the U.S. which was the spur for this post.

When visiting a war memorial cemetery like this, one cannot help but ponder about the young men and women who served and died for a people and a place that they did not know and are now interred forever away from home.

There are 2,300 lie buried here including 4 known only to God.

The place is beautiful and serene.  The Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery (CUNMCK) has  done a wonderful job and the Korean soldiers that stand watch over the place give honor to those that died in service for their nation.

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly

Before they’re forever banned?

(Bob Dylan)

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(Photo by LGS)

 

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Memorial Chapel (photo by LGS)

 

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Flowers for the UN Fallen (Photo by LGS)
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The Gardens (Photo by LGS)

 

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For each of the countries that answered the call. (Photo by LGS)

 

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Those That Are Buried at the Cemetery (Photo by LGS)

 

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The Layout of the Cemetery (Photo by LGS)

 

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The Rows of the Fallen (Photo by LGS)

 

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The Stones Tell a Story (Photo by LGS)

 

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A Soldier’s Kit (Photo by LGS)

 

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Memorial to the British Soldiers (Photo by LGS)

 

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The New Zealand Memorial with Mauri Motif (Photo by LGS)

 

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Thailand – one of the many that contributed to the UN forces (Photo by LGS)

 

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To the Unknown Heroes (Photo by LGS)

 

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Canada’s Memorial remembers the sacrifice of the servicemen and their families (Photo by LGS)