Category Archives: people

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 17: Mouraria


If you have read my last post, you will understand that I am, at the moment,  a bit allergic to popular tourist spots and their attendant crowds of tourists.  But also, I am sure we all realise that touristy places usually don’t reflect the lives of the locals very much.

So it is with a little trepidation that I share with you this quiet little gem in Lisbon which I am nominating as Squirrel’s Secret Spot or SSS #17 because I wouldn’t want this often overlooked place to be suddenly over run by the plague of locusts tourists.  Then again, I reassure myself with the thought that the number of readers of this blog would make up a very plague or a very lonely horde.  So we are probably safe if you keep the secret to yourselves.

Mouraria is Lisbon’s secret neighborhood.  Lying on the slopes of the hill and under the shadow of the imposing castle, Castelo de São Jorge, it is the sister neighborhood to the more famous and more frequented Alfama area which is on the other side of the castle. Both neighborhoods are probably the oldest parts of Lisbon as they survived relatively intact after the great earthquake of 1755 flattened most of the city.

Mouraria means the Quarter of the Moors because it was first settled by the Moors in the year 714 and even after Lisbon fell to the Portuguese in 1147, they were allowed to live on there.  It has always been a multicultural neighborhood and remains so today.

But why have I included Mouraria in my very select group of Secret Spots?  It is enchanting and it feels like a hidden secret.  One moment you are in a busy wide pedestrian avenue which seems typical of downtown Lisbon but just a few steps down a narrow opening between buildings and you enter a different world.  At once, you leave the bustle of the city  and you enter a peaceful, quiet village-like neighborhood.  It seems like magic.

Mouraria is one of several places that claim to be the place where the music genre, Fado was born (see last post).  The story goes that the very first star of Fado was Maria Severa Onofriana (1820-1846) and her house is still there in Mouraria.  Fado is all about lamenting one’s fate so it is perhaps no surprise that Maria Severa did not have an easy life.  She was a prostitute living in the slums and occasionally singing her sad songs in local taverns.  One of her lovers was an aristocrat, Francisco de Paula Portugal e Castro, the Count of Vimioso.  It was he that help elevate this song styling and made it popular among high society. Maria Severa died  of tuberculosis at the age of 26 and was buried in a common ditch at a local cemetery.

Rua da Guia is lined with portraits of famous Fado singers who contributed to the growth of Fado’s popularity.  Most are actual photographs but the one of Maria Severa is just a stylised drawing as no picture of her exists.

Mouraria’s narrow streets are also lined with 15 photo portraits of local residents.  These and those of the Fado luminaries were photographs transferred onto concrete or wood by a special process by British born photographer Camilla Watson.  She loved Mouraria and the people there and continues to be a member of the community and she wanted to thank the community for making her feel so welcomed.  These photos help the visitor enter into the community too.

There are lovely surprises around every bend.  It could be a quaint restaurant serving sardines, a charming little plaza, a park bench with a view, a street with neighbors talking on their doorstep or from their balconies, a neighborhood watering hole with no space to swing a cat but a long, long revered history, an old historic home, beautiful wall murals expressing the spirit of gratitude and hope in the community or it could be tables and chairs filling whatever space they could find along a narrow lane and serving the best samosas I have ever tasted, apparently for generations.  Mouraria is so many small gems that make me want to go back and spend a lot more time there.

But for me, my short visit ended by going past a street of brilliant murals, down a steep stairway and then with one step, emerged between two buildings and onto a part of busy central Lisbon that I had walked before without knowing that an enchanted place was hidden just out of view.

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National Costume ……..Reboot


Dear gentle readers, Malaysia is making the news again.  This time it is over our choice for national costume,

You see, the annual meat market …….. er…. I mean, the Miss Universe Pageant is rolling round again and one section of the pageant requires the young ladies who are proudly representing their countries to dress up in their national costume.

Now Malaysia is blessed because we are a multiracial country with a rich heritage and inspiration for a national costume could come easily from any one of our many races and tribes.  So, once upon a time, you might expect something like the following;

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L to R:- Iban, Indian, Malay, Chinese, Kadazan

But apparently, in this the 66th year of the Pageant, traditional national costumes seem to have become a bit stale.  After all, how many variations of the same theme can one do?  There is always the pressure of grabbing attention by doing something new and fresh.

After all, Miss Universe Thailand won best national costume in 2015, not dressed in charming traditional garb but dressed like Bangkok’s ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk.

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So, inspired by Miss Thailand’s success, our very own Miss Malaysia (Samantha Katie James)  decided to get dressed up as Malaysia’s favorite breakfast called Nasi Lemak.

I kid you not.  The key ingredients of this tasty treat are steamed rice in coconut cream, fried anchovies and peanuts, egg, cucumber slices and spicy chilli sambal.  This delicious combination is usually served on banana leaf.  It looks like this…….

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Mmm…..mmmm…….delicious.

And here is the nasi lemak inspired dress……..

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Now isn’t that yummy…… I mean, pretty.  Oh, I don’t know, man, I’m drooling…… I mean, feeling hungry.

And controversy doesn’t end there.  Some netizens are also crying foul.  It seems Singaporeans and Indonesians feel that nasi lemak is theirs and not Malaysia’s.  Well, the dress is certainly getting attention!

The Lone Grey Squirrel only wants to know if the dress smells delicious too.

Fame, Fortune, Happiness


Did you ever play that old board game, “Careers”?

This game was devised by a sociologist, James Cooke Brown, and was first made and sold by Parker Brothers in 1955.  At the start of the game, each player decides and writes down his victory target which consists of collect points for fame, fortune or happiness.   Assuming at least 100 points (the original game used 60),  a capitalist player may choose a victory formula of say “fame=15; fortune= 70; happiness= 15”.  A narcissistic player may choose “fame= 60; fortune= 30; happiness= 10” but the player with the inner hippie might want “fame= 15; fortune= 5; happiness= 80”.  They then roll the dice and make their way around the game track, making career and life choices that help them reach their winning formula.  Some may want to choose high earning jobs, others an education and still others aspire to be beach bums – whatever works for them.

If we were to just take a moment to reflect on this concept, what might we say was the winning formula that we have actually chosen for our real lives?  What has been our combination of the three?  Which one has had our emphasis and which one have we allowed to starve in the darkness?

How does one decide?  Won’t it be great if I could be rich, famous and happy?  Even Linus knows what I mean….

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If I am honest, I think I have always wanted a life formula of Fame= 20; Fortune= 30; Happiness= 50.

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Did you achieve your target or has happiness given way to fortune or has fame (like winning the Nobel Prize for Science) been elusive?

What was your formula for success and how have you fared? Curious squirrels want to know.

Bear Necessities -Revisited (Unburied Nuts)


Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun.  But this time, it is EXTRA SPECIAL.  The following post was about a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation centre and when I posted it back in January 2011, it was a very new work and the assistant keeper that I mentioned was still a graduate student.  Well, he is now Dr. Wong Siew Te and this month he was named as a CNN Hero.  Congratulations!

BEAR NECESSITIES (January 2011)

Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island.  However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world.  adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres.  Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.

I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild.  Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in.   Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.

The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly.  Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting.  I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male.   There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of  personalities.  There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers).  Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way.  On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.

Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage.  These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple.  There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid.  Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure.  The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest.  Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage.  Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat.  When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate.  Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again.  Interesting, no?

This work is in its infancy.  Hopefully the work will succeed though.  This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.

Bear Climbing – See the Characteristic White Marking and Those Long Claws
The Teenage Girls
Snooze Time

I look but what do I see


old or young
This famous drawing asks us what we see – the young woman or the old hag?

Last week, I attended a funeral with some friends.  It was for an eighty year old lady who had been sickly for awhile and had finally succumbed.  I did not know her at all.  She was a distant relative of one of my friends.

She had traveled half way round the world to my neck of the woods to visit her son and then poor health intervened and prevented her from leaving.  She spent the last 3 years of her life unable to return home. Apart from close family, few people here knew her.  Those that did, only knew her as a sickly, bedridden woman who was totally dependent on others for her care.

But if some of us who attended the small service had been inclined to feel pity for her, we would be chastised.  When we learned more about her, we realised that she had lived a long, love-filled and inspirational life.  She had raised five children of which three were adopted and of different race and cultural backgrounds.  She also was foster parent to scores of other children  over the years.  She was also active in her church and as an advocate for children welfare.  I shamefully admit that I would never had guessed.

Her ashes are being returned home where there will be another memorial service – one that I believe will be attended by many, many people; lives that she had touched, helped and nurtured by her love.

Yesterday, I ran into an elderly gentleman whom I hadn’t seen for a few years.  He was quietly having a meal at a cafe with a friend.  He is a small man with a nondescript walking cane and a hearing aid.  Soft spoken and not one who naturally draws attention, he would easily have gone unnoticed.  Quite invisible to most of the younger patrons of the cafe, I think.

I went over to shake his hand and to greet him.  He was happy to spend a few minutes exchanging news and pleasantries.  To me and those who know this humble man, he is a giant.

He was responsible for setting up a major government department and ministry when Malaysia was nation building after independence.  His achievements garnered international recognition and he was asked to help set up similar ministries and departments in other newly independent nations within the British Commonwealth.  He serve the country for decades with great distinction.

He was also active in Christian charity and church work and he continues to do so till today at the age of 101.   A giant of a man.

Why am I sharing these two stories? Well, I have been kind of reminded that we tend to make assumptions of people based on first impressions and too often our assumptions are negative and frequently wrong.

I grew up in Asia and am a product of the Confucian philosophy that is part of many Asian societies . We are taught from an early age the importance of respecting our elders and to honor our teachers.   So I was surprised when I went to University and one of my revered professors told us lowly first years during orientation week that while he did not know us from Adam, he would always expect that some of us, if not all, would achieve more in our scientific careers than he had.  He saw that each of us had potential that remained undiscovered.  We were not lowly students but potentially Nobel Prize winners.

(Editor’s note: regular readers will now understand why the Lone Grey Squirrel remains obsessed with the Nobel Prize and why he hasn’t got one yet!)

That professor taught me a valuable lesson about seeing the good and the potential in others.  I have always remembered that and tried to do so in my own life.

Indeed, the bible teaches this very thing;

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philipians 2:3-4)

I am still trying and frequently have to remind myself to see others through my limited mindset but to value them and their potential for greatness, beauty and love. I look but do I really see?  You know what I mean?

 

Hallelujah! Christmas Blessings!


‘Tis the season to remember the gift of God to all mankind.

For unto us a child is born, a son is given….. (Isaiah 9:6)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

May you and your loved ones experience the joy and love of God this Christmas – a love that compelled God to send Jesus from the glories of heaven to be born in a lowly manger, to live faultless amongst ordinary men and women, and finally to lay down his life for our sake on the cross of Calvary.

It is reason indeed to rejoice and praise God. This following video is of Kaylee Rodgers, a 10 year old from Nothern Ireland who has autism and ADHD. She began singing as a way to build her confidence. Together with the Killard House School choir of special needs children, she sings a Christmas worship version of ‘Hallelujah’. Jesus would be pleased.

Lyrics for “Hallelujah Christmas” by Cloverton

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

S for Shilpa, F for Fun


Well, there’s been a lot of bad news of late.  I think we are all overdue to have some FUN for a change and right on cue, famous Bollywood actress and celebrity, Shilpa Shetty, has come to our rescue. God bless her.

During an interview, she commented on the decision by Indian authorities to include Harry Potter books as part of the school syllabus.  She thought it was a great idea and threw in a suggestion or two of other books that would be a boon to young minds. (see picture below).

Image result for shetty animal farm

Inspired by her views on Little Women and Animal Farm, the internet wags have been a bit merciless in developing the theme of books that should be included in the reading programs of our children.  Here are some great suggestions;

Fifty Shades of Grey – an amazing colouring book. Children will  love it.

The Life of Pi – should be read by all children as it will enhance their mathematical skills.

Mein Kampf – is a nice guide on camping and other outdoor activities.

The Hobbit – is good.  All children should be encouraged to develop good hobbits.

Anyway, this squirrel pondered over the books in his library to see what books I might recommend too.  I came up with the following;

Gone with the Wind – learning about the fury of Nature and the power of tornados.

Stephen King’s IT – Never too young to start learning about computers.

The Maze Runner – sharpen your child’s mind with this giant book of crosswords, puzzles and mazes.

The Name of the Rose – introduce your child to the wonders of gardening and horticulture with this guide book to the hundreds of rose species.

V for Vendetta – the classic children’s alphabet book but with an updated and relevant twist. (A is for Apple Inc., B is for Brexit…….. Z is for Zika)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – teaching children about different career choices for when they grow up.

But  totally, totally NOT RECOMMENDED is Moby Dick.

Perhaps, dear readers, you have other books that you might suggest?