Category Archives: Indonesia

Civil Disobedience

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.

Derailing the Horror

Do you know what’s scary?  Answer:- the way I procrastinate.  If you look back over the years, readers will find that I will be making New Year Resolutions and wishing every  one a Happy New Year sometime towards the end of January.  Likewise, I tend to leave my Christmas decorations up and try to disguise them to make it look like I put them up specially for Chinese New Year a few months later.  So just yesterday, I finally got to watch the movie that I had set aside for Halloween.

It’s a Korean movie titled, “Train to Busan”.  As if train journeys are often not horrific enough, they throw in large numbers of evil, undead zombies.  It is a big hit in Korea and you know what?  In my humble squirrel opinion, it deserves every good review it has received.  As with any zombie movie, it is not so much a  spine chilling horror experience but more of an adrenaline racing, heart pounding action movie.  But the human element is well crafted into the story and the acting surprisingly good; especially the young girl in the story.  I recommend it.

You know what else is scary?  The real world!  Starting with Korea where the Korean President is alleged to have been unduly influenced by the daughter of a cult leader (BBC story); to Indonesia where thousands took part in violent and fatal protests in the capital Jakarta because they do not want a popular (and generally held to be an effective) non-Muslim governor overseeing a majority Muslim city; and finally the insane circus of the current U.S. Presidential elections.  Hilary or Trump?  The squirrel shakes his head at both but trembles in fear at the thought of President Trump.


And so, we squirrels have decided to intervene for the sake of the world.

Squirrel knocks out power to Miami County elections board

Hungry squirrel tampers with presidential election

We try to help.

War Dance

It all started a week ago when Rais Yatim, the Malaysian Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, made a statement that the Tor-Tor dance and Gordang Sambilan drums would be added to the Malaysian National Heritage Law.  This created a furore in Indonesia and with passions high and anger stoked, a riot ensued in Jakarta which led to the burning of the Malaysian flag and damage to the Malaysia Hall from missiles of rocks and pieces of wood thrown by the rioters.  The Indonesians are upset by what they perceive as a Malaysian attempt to claim Indonesian culture as their own.

The problem lies in that many South East Asian countries share cultural elements that pre-date existing national boundaries.  The Tor-Tor dance for example, is a dance of the Mandailing people of North Sumatra.  Although their cultural heartland lies within Indonesia, from very early on, the Mandailing were seafaring and the Mandailing people have planted themselves throughout the region and with that, many of their culture has contributed to that of their host countries.  Some Malaysian Mandailing have  supported the move of the Minister of Information, arguing that the Minister’s statement that the Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan  would be added to the 2005 National Heritage Law was only meant to be a recognition of the heritage of the Mandailing peoples of North Sumatra that have lived in Malaysia for many years.  However the Indonesians are concerned that the wording of the law seems to imply a claim of ownership.

This “cultural dispute” is not the first of it’s kind between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Star Newspaper reported;

“Irate Indonesians took to Twittershpere to vent their anger over the Mandailing Tor-tor dance issue, calling Malaysia a country that is “deprived of culture”.

Twitter hashtags like “#tortorpunyaindonesia (Tor-tor belongs to Indonesia)” and “#MalaysiaMiskinBudaya (Malaysia is poor in culture)” were trending among Indonesian users of the micro-blogging site ever since the controversial issue came to light over the past week.

“Semiskin itukah Malaysia sampai mengklaim kebudayaan kita?? #TorTorPunyaIndonesia (Is Malaysia that poor that they have to claim our culture?)” read a tweet by @Anak_Twitter.

User @ranyaani said: “Tor tor has been indonesia’s for centuries, so dont you just claim that its yours.. #taritortormilikindonesia”.

A tweet by @Shafwan_MZIFC read: “Banyaknya Budaya & Makanan yg diKlaim Negara malaysia menunjukan betapa Kayanya Indonesia (Malaysia has claimed so many of our culture and food, it shows how rich Indonesia is)”.

Some extreme comments include a tweet by @ANTI_MALAYSIA4 which read “ayo kita bersatu ganyang malaysia (Let’s unite and crush Malaysia)”.

Angry users established a hashtag called “#HapusMalaysiadariASEAN”which literally means “kick Malaysia out of Asean”.”


Wow! Such Aggro!!!  Well, to be honest, most Malaysians have no idea why our Minister has gotten us into this mess.  Over here it is a storm in a tea cup.  I am not ridiculing the Indonesian concerns but frankly the Tor Tor dance is not really something that is all that well known amongst Malaysians and most of us could care less.  I think my position is shared by Malaysian Twitter users who rushed to the defence of Malaysia over the issue ……… well, kind of……

“Malaysian Twitter users were not too defensive over the issue, with many claiming they were not even aware of the existence of the dance.

“What on earth is TorTor?” tweeted @TheRealAzrul while @pretty_chanteq wrote: “Who ever wants that tortor dance, please take it.”

Other Malaysian users meanwhile used the haze issue as a bargain chip.

“Keep your dances and your culture. While you’re at it, keep your haze to yourself too. Thanks,” said @mediha_m.”

So, what do you say?  Wanna dance?



Rolled Pig

Vegetarians may want to skip this post.  It is also very, very non-kosher and non-halal.  Dieters should also avoid reading this.  There! That should take care of all disclaimers.

“Babi Guling” literally means “Rolled or turned pig” in Bahasa Indonesia but it actually refers to “suckling pig”, a famous Balinese dish.   The suckling pig is stuffed with herbs and shoots and then roasted on a spit until cooked and with its skin crackly and crispy.  And if you were in Bali, everyone would tell you that one of the best places to try this local delicacy is at a small stall or warung caled “Ibu Oka”.

Ibu Ora's the place to go for the best Babi Guling

Ibu Oka is located in Ubud which is a town in the foothills of central Bali.  Ubud is well known as a centre for culture and the arts.  The local temples are full of artistic carvings and are often the sites for cultural dances and performances.  Beautiful pastoral scenes of green paddy fields surround the town and are often the settings where some of the best restaurants and warungs are found.

The Crowd Gathers Early for Lunch


The crowd gathers early for lunch and seating is limited so it would be wise to go early.  There are some tables and seating in the garden area.  Inside, everyone sits on the floor and eats from a low table.


You're lucky to get seating on the floor.

Once you have found a seat, then all that you can do is wait for the pig to arrive.  Watching them prepare the pig can be quite entertaining.


The Pig is Roasted with Herb Stuffing
Yum Yum Yum


With so many hungry customers to serve, the wait at Ibu Oka can be long but if some of your group holds on to the seats, you can wander off to the nearby temple and admire the carvings.

Cultural Distractions Nearby

But the connoisseur generally prefer to wait patiently and try to reach a zen state while waiting to have their  senses blown away by the taste of sweet roasted meat, crackling skin and herbs.

Or You Can Wait and Beg


Our friend Mago does a series on his blog called “Sunday Music” and just recently he covered a song by Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985).  In his post, he included the use of that song in an animated version of the Ramayana story.  A rather unusual combination which you should check out.

Anyway, this reminded me that I had a related post that had long been on the back-burner and I decided it was time to bring it to a boil.

In Bali, Indonesia, there is a dance called the kecak dance in which dancers enact the Ramayana story with musical accompaniment provided by the rhythmic, hypnotic chanting of a large group of men.  It is quite an experience.  I have had the good fortune of witnessing it twice.  Once, I saw it as part of a dinner performance at an international beach hotel in Nusa Dua (which is where all the photos  below were taken) and once at a sunset ceremonial performance at the clifftop temple at Uluwatu.  Of the two, I really must recommend the spectacular setting at the Uluwatu temple which also includes a fire dance.  If you are ever in Bali, this is definitely one of the highlights not to be missed.  To tantalise you, I have included a video by Hawaiian filmmaker and reknown hula dancer Kimokekahuna at the Uluwatu temple.

The Ramayana is a classic Hindu story.  In brief, the kecak dance is about the hero Rama and his beautiful wife Siti.  One day while in the forest, Siti sees a golden deer and begs Rama to capture it for her.  He leaves Siti under the protection of his brother Lakshmana and chases after the deer.  Sometime later, Siti is misled into thinking that she hears Rama calling for help.  Fearful for her husband, she pleads for Lakshmana to go and search for Rama.  Lakshmana is reluctant to do so at first but eventually gives in to her pleas and disappears into the forest looking for Rama.

But it was all a ploy to get Siti alone and unprotected and she is kidnapped by the demon King Ravana and taken to his kingdom of Lanka.  The rest of the story is about how Rama defeats Ravana and rescues Siti with the help of the white monkey king, Hanuman and his army of monkeys.


Kecak Dance and Dinner at the Grand Hyatt, Nusa Dua, Bali.


The Bad Guy Appears


Fight! Fight! Fight!


Left to Right: The Golden Deer, Little Tourist and Some Character that I Can't Remember


The Bad Guys After Losing Again


The White Monkey King Giving Me the Thumbs Up


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Isn’t Nature Entertaining?

“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.”

Have you hear this rhyme before.  Apparently it is part of a nursery rhyme called “The Siphonaptera“.  I actually learned this at University. Honestly.   My Professor introduced the rhyme to us to make the point that all creatures harbour parasites….even parasites have parasites.
Now it seems the same principle holds true for mimics.  In 1998, scientists studying the shallow seas off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia found a strange species of octopus which has a talent of mimicking other sea-creatures.  The Indonesian Mimic Octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus is the first known species capable of mimicking multiple species.   One would think that ol’ T. mimicus might be pretty smug about his talents.  But it seems, what goes around, comes around.  Just recently, scientists discovered a small jawfish that turns the tables on the octopus by mimicking it.  Now isn’t nature entertaining?

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This has inspired this poet squirrel to mimic a famous rhyme………

“Some creatures are plagued by mimics that mimic them,

But these mimics have their own pesky mimics and so ad infinitum.


A Hammock With a View

You can’t escape from your roots.  We can’t escape from the strong influences of our childhood experiences.

I like traveling and if you were to ask me what my travel or holiday preference is; I would naturally say that I enjoy being near rivers and lakes and in the mountains.  I do not think of myself as a beach person.

But here’s the thing.  When I was growing up. about the only holiday that we had as a family was a beach holiday in a place called Port Dickson in Malaysia, which in its heyday could rival the best beaches in the world (today it has been ruined by excessive and irresponsible development).  So I grew up with a great love of the beach and sea.

I am not sure, why I drifted away from this early passion but I spent most of my adult traveling away from the beach.  However, in the last five years, I have had the opportunity to visit Bali, Indonesia on three occasions.   Now Bali is much more than just the beach.  It has culture, arts, crafts, history, festivals, music, rice fields, temples, volcanoes, a unique way of life, charming people and much, much more.

But especially this last trip, I re-connected with the sea and the beach.  This trip I made it a point not to travel all over the island in pursuit of culture and sight seeing.  This trip was all about relaxing on the beach; enjoying a dip in the sea, playing with the exciting surf and beach-combing during low tide.  And for most of the time, just lying in the shade of beach side trees, catching the cool sea breeze, snoozing or enjoying the view.  And though I was enjoying the experience in the “now”, it also re-awoken the child in me and the childhood memories of Port Dickson.

So, the Lone Grey Squirrel went away on a mission to be a beach bum………mission accomplished!  I just wanted to share with you the view that I had from my spot under the shade trees which I lazily took with my camera while still in a reclining position.

The View Above Me - Blue Skies
The View In Front - Blue Seas
The View to the Side - Blue Bikini

Ah, a feast for eyes and senses.

Say No to Intolerance

Regular readers will know that apart from my Chicken Little – the sky is falling approach to the topic of climate change and the very rare, occasional rant,   I try to keep this blog a bright and happy place.  But there has been too much happening in the news to keep the dark clouds away.

The situation in Egypt and Tunisia is one of great tragedy.  It starting in Tunisia when a poor street vendor,  Mohamed Bouazizi, was prevented from trading and earning an income in a place with 30% unemployment as a result of petty corruption and bureaucratic indifference.  The young man, left with no options or hope, set himself alight in front of the governor’s office and died of his wounds.  His cry for a chance to live with dignity and freedom resonated with the Tunisian people and was the spark that led to the protests that brought down the government of President Ben Ali.  And the vision of a chance for a better life spread to Egypt where the protests have claimed more than 300 lives already.  However, there have been uplifting moments too.   I cannot feel but inspired when I heard about how Christians and Muslims in Egypt are uniting for the common good.  Specifically, it has been encouraging to hear of both Christian and Muslim services conducted to pay respect for the dead or when the Christian protesters stood on guard by providing a cordon of protection for their Muslim brothers while the latter performed their Friday prayers in Tahrir Square – the epicenter of the protests in Cairo.  While we hope for a good outcome to all this for the people of Egypt in the future, it is already a blessing to see this kind of mutual inter-faith cooperation and respect.

Unfortunately, religious intolerance is still all to real and prevalent in the world.  Now atrocities committed in the name of religion has occurred throughout history.  So much so that atheists like Richard Dawkins point to such atrocities as proof that religion is a subversive delusion and he claims that atheists would never commit the same atrocities.  I don’t happen to agree with Richard Dawkins on a lot of things (after all did not atheist Stalin create the Gulags?  or atheist Chairman Mao oversee the Cultural Revolution in China that killed millions?  or how about the Khmer Rogue?) but religious intolerance really reflects badly on religions and give atheists a lot of ammunition.

I am sure most of us are glad that things like the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust has been relegated to history and hopefully with vigilance, never to return.  However, I have been disturbed by recent news from Indonesia and Afghanistan which are the anti-thesis to the religious cooperation shown by the Christian and Muslim protesters in Egypt.

First, I refer to the attacks on religious minorities in Indonesia.  In the video below, an inflamed mob attacks a small community of a minority Islamic sect, the Ahmadiyya.  Buildings and property was destroyed but worse of all, three men were stripped naked and beaten and stoned to death.  Several others are hospitalised in serious condition and two are missing.  The police are seen in the video doing little to stop the violence and to protect the victims.  The government reiteration that they will protect the minority groups ring hollow when the President seems to imply that the sect brought the violence on themselves by not agreeing to stop their activities as per their “agreement”.

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Christians are another religious minority  in Indonesia that have suffered from some form of religious discrimination for many years.  There have been civil unrest that have resulted in loss of life.  Last year, there were 45 officially recognised cases of attacks on Christians or their churches in Indonesia; ranging from vandalism and desecration to church closures to stabbings and bombs.  Like in the case of the Ahmadiyya attack, many civil society and human rights group wish that the authorities take more concrete and practical steps to protect minorities.

From Afghanistan, a video has emerged which graphically shows the stoning to death of a young couple sometime in August last year.  According to one report, the young couple eloped and fled to Pakistan.  However, they were enticed to return to their village by promises that the families were willing to reconcile and to give them a proper wedding.  Instead, on their return, they were sentenced by the Taliban to death by stoning for having a love affair.  The video of the merciless and brutal stoning of first the woman and then the man is so horrific that I do not want to have it on this blog.  Yet more people should see it and speak out against it.  If you want to see it, follow this link

Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 “honour killings” are carried out every year where girls (and sometimes guys) are killed by family members for shaming the family.  In a recently highlighted case in Italy, a young woman, Hina Saleem, had shamed her family by refusing to an arranged marriage, smoking and living with her Italian boyfriend.  In an interview, the father claimed to be a good father and that he loved his daughter.  He slit her throat 27 times and then with the help of others buried the body.

If these things upset you or if you agree they must be stopped than please take action.  I appeal to people and religious leaders everywhere and of all creeds and religion to speak out against religious intolerance and the lack of respect for human life and dignity.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

P.S. Please do not think I am singling out Islam (although I do wish the Ulamas and Islamic intellectuals take a much stronger stand against these acts) but these have been the recent examples of intolerance in the news.  The truth is no religion has been free of intolerance which I hold as a problem of  human beings rather than  the tenets of any religion.

Bali 2010 – Pura Taman Ayun

I have posted on Bali before as I was first blessed with an opportunity to visit the island in 2006. I had earlier written about its Beaches, the handicraft centre and peaceful paddy fields of Ubud and on Balinese Culture.  Do visit the links to enjoy even more photos and info.

As early as the 9th Century AD, it was already recorded that Buddhism and Hinduism had become major influences in what is today, Indonesia.  The height of Hinduism’s influence was during the reign of the Hindu Empire of Majapahit (circa 1290-1500).  Bali fell to the power of the Majapahit empire in 1343.  Later, as the Majapahit Empire began to crumble under pressure from the rise of many small Islamic Kingdoms in Java and finally falling in 1515, many dedicated Hindu believers including priests, craftsmen, artisans and nobles fled to the sanctuary of Bali.  This exodus of talent into Bali helped create Bali’s golden age and its current rich religious, cultural and artistic heritage.

However, Bali’s Hinduism is quite different from other forms of Hinduism.  It has developed its own unique form as it blended Hinduism, Buddhism, animism and local beliefs in spirits and demons.  In their belief system, good and evil (or positive and negative) is always at odds but neither will triumph over the other, instead what is sought after is a balance or equilibrium point between the two forces.  So they seek this balance in their elaborate rituals and in their many temples or puras.

For today’s post, I would like to share with you, my experience of visiting Pura Taman Ayun in the foothills of Western Bali.  It is located about 18 km north-west of  Denpasar and about 8km south-west of Ubud.  Pura Taman Ayun was built in 1634 by the Raja of Mengwi, I Gusti Agung Putu and is known as a ‘Pura Kawiten’ or family temple.  This is a special temple where the deified ancestors of the Raja Dynasty of Mengwi and important gods of other temples are honored.

It also has the reputation of being one of Bali’s prettiest temples and is known as the “Garden Temple”.  In fact, “Taman Ayun” actually means “beautiful garden”.

Key features of the Temple is that it is surrounded by an outer moat.  There is also an inner moat and a low wall which surrounds the inner temple complex.  Tourists are not permitted into the inner complex but the low wall is not an obstacle to good views of the inner complex and there are also a couple of vantage points.  To the front of the temple are some well kept open grass fields and to the rear are some more natural forest and gardens.  Very picturesque with the water filled moat on either side.  It was one of the more peaceful temple sites.  Few tourist venture to the garden and forest at the back which makes it quite a serene experience.

Pura Taman Ayun
Entrance to Pura Taman Ayun (Photo by LGS)
Pura Taman Ayun
Candi or Gate to Inner Temple Courtyard (Photo by LGS)
Pura Taman Ayun
The Front Gardens (Photo by LGS)
Pura Taman Ayun
Inner Temple Court (Photo by LGS)
Inner Moat (Photo by LGS)
Pura Taman Ayun
Outer Moat and Gardens (Photo by LGS)
Pura Taman Ayun
A Balinese Bale in the Temple Gardens (Photo by LGS)

Bali Squirrel Cult

Hi  guys and gals.  The Lone Grey Squirrel is back from his short week in the magical Indonesian island of Bali.  I am happy to report that Bali is exceedingly squirrel friendly.

I am not just talking about the wonderful beaches, the therapeutical ocean waves and breezes, the famous Balinese hospitality, the meditative sounds of the gamelan, the stimulating culture or even the mind numbing and body pleasing Balinese massage.  Bali is a place for healing frazzled squirrels.

Why there is even a God of Frazzled Squirrels! (see photo below).  I found this statue of the God of Frazzled Squirrels near the hotel where I stayed in Nusa Dua.  Clearly, people seeking the favor of the God and his help for a frazzled squirrel friend, come to the statue and make offerings and sacrifices which are placed in the convenient offering holder at the base of the statue.  Strangely, the offerings consist mainly of sweet or ice cream wrappers.

Squirrel Rubbish Container
The God of Frazzled Squirrels with receptacle for offerings.

The cool thing is that after the offerings are made, a squirrel can enjoy all the pleasures of the island and before the week is out, the frazzled squirrel has been replaced by a chilled out and relaxed squirrel (as seen stretched out on a poolside deck chair)

Squirrel on chair
Squirrel Chillin' on Poolside Chair

So, like the squirrel in the photo, I had a wonderfully relaxing time doing things slow.  Normally, I am the type that has to cram in and see  most of the top twenty tourist attractions  of any holiday destination.  You would not normally find me just chilling by the pool or reading a book while enjoying the sea breeze at the beach but that was exactly what I did this trip.  I spent only one day doing the mad tourist and spent the rest of the time bumming.  It was a good way to spend the holiday.

One of the last things that I did was to treat myself to a Balinese massage.  It was blissful.  Your body becomes so relaxed, that you feel that you could melt away ….and your mind reaches a new state of consciousness and wonder.

Specifically, I wondered whether the fact that I have been stuffing my face with food, drinking beer and had a massage would make my meat tender and evenly marbled with speckles of fat like what happens to the cattle in Kobe, Japan.  Would I be  a Bali version of Kobe Squirrel?