Category Archives: New Zealand

Remembering Kaikoura


More than 6 years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Kaikoura in New Zealand’s South Island.  The town is part of a small peninsular that juts into the ocean and it has the majestic Kaikoura mountain ranges as a background.  It is blessed with abundant marine life and a great place for going out to watch Sperm Whales, the kin of Moby Dick.  Although when I went, it was decidedly choppy and photos taken were handicapped by my advanced state of seasickness.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place and I thought that it must be wonderful to wake up each morning to live in a place like this.

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So I am sorry to learn that it has been badly hit by the earthquake a couple of days ago and that the town has been evacuated and there were a couple of deaths.  My deepest condolences.  I hope that Kaikoura will recover from this before too long.

(all photos by LGS)

Solving the Mystery


Life is full of mysteries. You know…….like just how something like “Twilight” could have made so much money!  Or why humans with all their stupidity haven’t killed themselves off yet and left the world to the superior squirrels!

I know that I kind of left my readers in a lurch and created a mini-mystery of my own when the Lone Grey Squirrel disappeared for the last 13 months.  Astute readers will point out the similarity between the Squirrel’s disappearance and that of another famous writer. Agatha Christie, whose mysterious and extraordinary 11 day disappearance in 1926 remains unexplained to this day.

The Lone Grey Squirrel had thought of selling the true story behind his disappearance to some tabloid media but decided that he owed his fans and loyal serfs the truth ,,,,,,,,FOC.

The sad explanation is that LGS was just keeping his head down.  Regular readers (all two of them), will know that despite my megalomaniacal desires for world conquest, I am quite mild mannered and not prone to foul language in the slightest.  However, there just is no other appropriate way of saying this ………….

“When the SHIT hits the fan and starts flying, you had better shut your mouth and duck!”

And here in Malaysia where I live, the shit has been flying.

First, we had the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 in March 2014, with 239 souls on board and the accompanying embarrassing public relations fiasco by Malaysian authorities.  LGS worked through the grief and kept blogging.

Before we had time to comprehend what had happened, in July, just 4 short months later, Malaysian Airlines MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine by a missile and the bodies of the 298 who lost their lives had to suffer the indignity of many days unburied due to the conflict of the warring parties in that region.  Like all Malaysians, LGS also tired to keep going through this second and equally unbelievable tragedy.

Until these incidents which were both out of the ordinary, Malaysian Airlines had one of the best safety records around.

Then came, what felt like a knock out blow.  In December 2014. Indonesia Air Asia flight 8501 crashed into the sea in bad weather with the loss of 162 lives.  Thus, Malaysian airlines scored a one – two – three for the worst airplane disasters of 2014.

Things continued to go bad in 2015.  We had political scandals; allegations of misappropriation of billions of dollars worth of funds involving a government run company which is now being investigated in USA, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong; we had massive street protests; we saw a very public rise in racial intolerance and divisive politics; we saw our currency drop some 20% against the US dollar to reach the lowest point in 17 years and earning us the accolade of the worst performing currency in Asia; we saw the introduction of a new goods and service tax, we saw our petrol prices rise even when price of crude fell round the world; we saw our national airline declared technically bankrupt by its new CEO; we learned that our education system continued to fall (coming in at 52nd place out of 65 countries evaluated) with a World Bank economist saying that the situation is alarming etc……..

And starting with the contradicting and sometimes mind boggling stupid and inane statements some government representatives made immediately after the disappearance ofMH 370, a firm track record has been established for laughable statements and excuses by Malaysian politicians, officials and leaders.

People are even beginning to make money selling books such as Unbelievably Stupid, which record the long list of stupid and unintentionally funny statements. Even the Crown Prince of the state of Johor has called for the replacement of government ministers who are considered “jokes” with intelligent people (article here).

I know for many of you, Malaysia is very distant and it is difficult for you to understand what is going on here but it does feel as if the world is laughing at Malaysia right now. Below is an example: it involves a case in New Zealand in which a Malaysian diplomat is accused of breaking and entering and committing indecent assault on a woman.  He apparently stalked the woman, followed her home, watched her from outside her home, pooed on the patio outside her front door, broke in, accosted her in her bedroom while naked from the waist down but fled after a short struggle.  In his defence, he gave the following excuses – i) he had to take an emergency toilet break in her garden which was why his pants were down, ii) he was only doing that because he believed it was part of a black magic ritual to win the love of the woman and finally iii) he was not in the right state of mind at the time.

The following video of this story being reported on a New Zealand news channel sums up how the world seems to be laughing at Malaysia and why the squirrel has been keeping his head down these last 13 months.

Laugh or cry.  Sometimes you just have to do both.

Here’s hoping for a better 2016.

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.

Sinkhole-in-Malaysia-near-Jalan-Pudu-KL-photoshop-memes-Malaysia-20140703-05-620x315

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.

Two-hurt-by-falling-metal-beam-(1)

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!

Church of the Good Shepherd


Now New Zealanders or Kiwis as they are affectionately known, are not generally an arrogant bunch.  Yet, they refer to  their homeland as  “God’s Own Country”.  What cheek!  What audacity!   It seems to implies that they share the same postal code with God while the rest of us non-Kiwis live in the slummier side of creation.

Now, of course, I believe that God is omnipresent which means that He is everywhere and He does not solely hold a New Zealand passport.  Indeed, the wonders of God’s creation can be seen in so many things and places all around the world.  Yet, one has to agree with the residents of Aotearoa, the “Land of the Long White Cloud” (yet another fancy name they have for their country), that they seem to have more than their fair share of natural beauty for such a small piece of real estate.

This being Easter week, the week in which Christians remember Jesus’ journey to the cross of Calvary, I thought about the worship of God and decided to pay a visit to “God’s Own Country” and specifically to the little Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo.

Now I have seen many impressive cathedrals with towering spires, massive domes and ornate carvings.  Some of them have been awe-inspiring but I have found others too over-the-top and gaudy.  And really, my favorite place to meditate and worship God is really on a mountain top; not surrounded by any man-made structure but amidst God’s wonderful creation.  Of course, out in the elements like that can be rather cold and wet at times!

So this is why the Church of the Good Shepherd is rather special to me.  Rather than some elaborate and ornate man-made altar, this simple chapel of stone just has windows which allows the beautiful mountains and the glistening Lake Tekapo to be the main feature of the altar.  I think it is stunning and a wonderful place for communing with God in prayer or in praise.

The Church of the Good Shepherd (Photo by LGS)
Lake Tekapo (Photo by LGS)
The Awesome Altar View at the Church of the Good Shepherd (Photo by LGS)

Invariably, Lake Tekapo and the small stone church is very much part of the tourist circuit these days but even so, there is still sufficient awe and tranquility to make a visit worthwhile.  Another interesting attraction is a bronze statue that rightfully honors the faithful service of the New Zealand Collie Sheepdog, without which, New Zealand would not have been able to become a nation with more sheep than people.  2009 figures indicate a human population of 4.2 million while there were actually 40 million sheep.

The New Zealand Collie Sheepdog is Honored in Bronze (Photo by LGS)
Sheep Not-so-much in a Rush Hour (Photo by LGS)

 

French Toast


Even the Band Does the Haka

Well, this is a post on the run.  Having  just recently nervously survived watching the Rugby World Cup final in which the team I was supporting, the New Zealand All Blacks hung on to beat France 8 points to 7 points, I am now at the airport awaiting my flight to Mongolia.

Already the celebrations are going on all over New Zealand and amongst their fans around the world.  Apparently, one newspaper headlines reads, “French Toast”. Hahaha.  Although that is not really fair cause the French team played really well and looked liked they could have stolen the game but the All Blacks will savour the victory even if it is by one point.

All Blacks - Celebrate as World Champions 2011

Observant readers will have noted that the Lone Grey Squirrel is in transit to the land of Genghis Khan where the men are tough, the women tough and the food tougher.  All Blacks beware, there is great potential for a Mongolian rugby team.

Future World Rugby Champions?

Rumble in the South Pacific


There is war in the South Pacific!  Once every four years, warriors from some 20 nations meet in contest on the field of war.  This testosterone laden spectacular is known as the Rugby World Cup and in 2011, it is being fought on New Zealand soil.

For rugby fans like the squirrel, the next six weeks is an adrenaline feast of action, drama and machismo strutting.   New Zealand’s team, also known as the All  Blacks are the winning-est team in rugby union history.  They have won 75% of their international matches since records started in 1903.   Only 5 other nations have ever defeated them in a game.  They are also the leading point scorers of all time and the only international team with a winning record against every other nation that they have ever played.

Yet, despite such credentials, New Zealand has only won the Rugby World Cup once in 1987 which was the very inaugural World Cup.  Since then, Australia won twice in 1991 and 1999;  South Africa also won twice in 1995 and 2007; while England picked up the title in 2003.

South Africa returned to world cup rugby only in 1995 after being boycotted due to its apartheid policies.  However, with Nelson Mandela at the helm of the country, he made it a point of ensuring that South Africa’s team was racially integrated and represented all South Africans.  Much beyond expectation, the team,the Springboks, managed to narrowly defeat New Zealand in the finals and in doing so helped galvanise and unite the newly democratic nation.  This inspirational story is captured in the Clint Eastwood film, “Invictus” which starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Based on performances in the last four years, the All Blacks should be the overwhelming favorites and they were named the international team of the year for 2006, 2008 and 2010.  Yet, they lost their last two international matches immediately before this World Cup against arch-rivals  Australia and  South Africa and that makes some wonder if the All Blacks will continue to under perform in this World Cup.  Based on recent form, Australia must be considered a real threat to All Black’s aspirations.

I know that has been a lot of sports talk in the paragraphs above.  So as compensation to the ladies, I offer to you a video of hunky, sweaty men and much testosterone flying about.  This is the confrontation between New Zealand and the Pacific island nation of Tonga in the opening match of this Rugby World Cup 2011.  Both teams perform their traditional Haka (New Zealand) and Sipi Tau (Tonga) which are their respective, traditional ways of offering a challenge to their enemies on the field of war.  Be afraid……be very afraid.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Year So Far (2011)


I had earlier joked about how a tough year this was going to be with the evil Rabbits in charge (Beware the Year of the Rabbit).  But the humor seems very flat as the year has indeed turned out to be a tumultuous one thus far and it’s not even the end of February yet.  In an earlier post, “Feeling Flat“, I wondered about the unprecedented floods in Queensland, the uber powerful cyclone Yasi, the drought in New South Wales, the flooding in Victoria and the forest fires around Perth.  Australia was reeling under the combination punches.  There was also the political turmoil, starting with the ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and then the “who would have thought possible” ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt by popular uprisings.  That chain of events is not over yet with the on-going protests in Libya, Yeman, Bahrain, Iran etc.  There was also the issue of religious freedom and oppression which I covered in “Say no to Intolerance“.  Did I say that it isn’t even the end of February yet?

In Malaysia too, the news has been less than encouraging and upbeat.  In no particular order, here are a few.  First, there has been a rash of very public suicides and murder-suicides (mother kills child and then commits suicide).  This was followed by a recognition that Malaysian suicide rate per 1000 pax is at least as high as that of the USA and is most likely under-reported.  Then, there is the continuing saga of the inquiry into the suspicious death of a political aide, Teoh Beng Hock, where justice still seems to be wanting.  The latest is that the family and the state of Selangor has withdrawn from participating in a Commission of Inquiry after there objection to the fact that there is a conflict of interest had been rejected.  The conflict arises as the officers of the commission were also officers of the Attorney General’s office and the AG’s office is currently making a court appeal to have Teoh’s death declared a suicide.  How can officers of an organisation which is pursuing a particular judgment be also the impartial officers of a supposedly “independent” commission of inquiry?  It is just the latest of a series of things that Teoh’s family has had to suffer.  Meanwhile, there has been a rash of  deaths of young people taking part in National Service Camps.  In each case, the deaths were reported as sudden and mysterious onset of illnesses.  I think it warrants an “independent inquiry” but I don’t have much faith in that either.  This morning, I read that an “anti-establishment” student political group had all 33 of their student council delegates (both those who won and those who lost in recent student council elections) disqualified immediately after the election.  This was based on one un-investigated complaint.    After, student protests, the decision was rescinded.  But instead of taking the University officials to task for trying to tamper with an election and for breach of protocol and procedure, the authorities are trying to appear magnanimous by saying that they do not intend to “punish their naughty children”, i.e. the students, for their protests.   Well, now that I think about it, this sort of news in Malaysia  isn’t unique to  2011.  No, it’s same ol’, same old.  It’s tiring and life sapping though.

But, the latest earth-shaking  incident (literally), was the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand and the surrounding area at around 1 pm on Tuesday 22nd February.   My condolences to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.  Every loss of life is a tragedy and there have been many lives lost in this incident.  With the rest of the world, I await news of the rescue operations going on and celebrate with each news of someone pulled out alive.  For many, their lives will have forever changed by injury or by loss of loved ones.  I am glad to report that Marja of Dutchcorner is well as is her immediate family.

For now, the most important thing is still the on-going search for survivors but after that will come the task of cleaning and re-building.  It will be a long and difficult task.  I have heard that some survivors are experiencing severe mental stress especially as strong aftershocks are still occurring regularly but the trauma may extend deeper than that.  Christchurch  has always been a charming and small close-knit community.  If I were to volunteer a couple of words of description, I would say “tranquil” and “safe”.  Now something big and ugly has appeared to shatter that cocoon of safety and tranquility and the scars of fallen and damaged buildings will be around for a long time to remind them of this threat and vulnerability.

Still, New Zealanders are definitely tough and resolute people and I am sure that they will rise from this despite the difficulties.  I had wanted for a long time to post on New Zealand and Christchurch which I had visited twice before, but I had procrastinated.   Here below is a picture of Christchurch which typically exemplifies the safety and tranquility of the city.  Here is a salute to a wonderful city and an inspiration to rebuild and to regain what has been damaged.

Oh, and the year so far?  It sucks.

 

Peace and Tranquility (photo by LGS)