Do you believe in all this mumbo-jumbo about alternative universes, where things are just a little bit different from our own reality? Well, Steven Hawking believes they exist so that MUST make it true.
Anyway, for all you skeptics, the Lone Grey Squirrel would like to share some observations that prove that not only do these alternate universes exist, sometimes they spill over into our world.
(Cue Twilight Zone theme music and Rod Serling’s voice: “Ladies and Gentlemen, sometimes the best intentions can be twisted. I present for your consideration……one lone grey squirrel and his love advice given a technical makeover in …..the Twilight Zone!”
Back in February 10th, 2008, this very blog introduced Dr. Love, a famous witch doctor from Namibia who is his renowned for his advice on love (Advice from Dr. Love). Remember you heard all that good advice here first. Then, recently, the esteemed BBC did a report on Dr. Love………only he wasn’t the same guy and he was from Congo and not Namibia! Instead of dispensing love potions and traditional wisdom, he was giving out scientific advice and using mobile apps! What is going on? Alternate reality surely!
In the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, this is the charming and mystical Dr. Love (or Aikenvoodoo-U Cassanova Lovelace the Great).
And this is the guy from the BBC alternative reality report, the rather normal and scientific Dr. Love (or Dr. Aimé Lokulutu). If you want to see the original unbelievable BBC Report, follow this link.
And that’s not the only strange thing that’s been going on. I love Oprah. In my world, Oprah is a well respected, successful, media celebrity and all round good person. But suddenly, this alternative Oprah appears on the news and it seems this version is a political Oprah who might run for President of the USA. But the really strange thing is that this Oprah has three hands………..surely….only…in the Twilight Zone.
I am sure you will know by now that I am an amazingly handsome, incredibly sexy, phenomenally intelligent, immensely gifted individual. And it goes without saying, tremendously humble to boot! But I will grudgingly admit that I have no business sense.
I often come across businesses and business models that seem to me, doomed for disaster. Yet to my surprise, they turn out to be mega successes.
For example, I wondered what silly company chooses a logo of a partly eaten apple to represent it! And how could some Mickey Mouse outfit make it big in the cut throat world of movie making? And Hello Kitty, what is that weird merchandising blockbuster – is it a cat, is it a girl, why are people buying that thing? Why are shops like “Hush Puppies” and “Nose” selling shoes and not puppies or nose-thingeys?
Yup, I just don’t have a mind for business. And here is another example that confounds me……
I recently went to a store and since they refused to pay me anything for writing about them, I will just call them “Brand X”. I wanted a particular shirt but they did not have it in my size. I asked if any of their other outlets had the item in my size and they checked.
Apparently, none of the local outlets had the item but the helpful sales clerk pointed out that it was available from Brand X’s online shop. Great! He even helped me put in the online order. So far, exemplary service. Then it starts to get weird.
He asked for my address so that it could be delivered to my home. However, as I am usually not at home when such deliveries are made, and I had bad experiences in the past when packages ended up not being delivered. So I asked him if the item could be delivered to the shop and I could pick it up.
He said that regrettably, the shop only gets delivery of items monthly and if I chose for that arrangement, my item will only be included in next month’s delivery.
“Well, that won’t do” I said.
He then offered me an alternative. He told me that “Brand X” has an arrangement with a local pharmacy chain where items can be sent by “Brand X” to any of their pharmacies, as selected by the buyer, for pick up within 24 hours.
And so, I selected the pharmacy and less than 24 hours later, I picked up my item from the pharmacy………….WHICH HAPPENS TO BE NEXT DOOR TO THE BRAND X STORE!
As I said, I just don’t have the mind to wrap around modern business practices.
I recently attended a wake for an 89 year old woman from my neighborhood. I did not really know her but once I happened to be on hand when she had a blackout in the street and I had accompanied her to hospital. She spoke no English and my very poor Mandarin meant our communication was very limited.
She was often seen walking around the neighborhood, going to the shops for her meals. She had no children, her husband passed on quite some time ago and she had long outlived the rest of her immediate family. Some of her distant family had taken care of her out of family obligation but it was an uneasy arrangement and something of a burden to them. It is said that she was difficult, cranky and hard to like but I wouldn’t really know.
Then her health failed and she spent her last two years at a facility for the elderly where she had few visitors.
At her wake, there was no one who had a memory or a story to share. No one wanted to give an eulogy. Those that attended seem to be just going through the motions. The minister leading the service had a real difficult time.
On the coffin was a picture of her in her youth. She was a beauty. I reflected on how it must have seen to her when her picture was taken that the adventure of life still lay before her. What dreams she must have had, what hopes. I sat there at the wake feeling really sad at how at the end, she was being sent off, not by loved ones but by those who hardly knew her or those that did not particularly care. But the worse was yet to come.
The wake service was being held in a building adjacent to the crematorium. Actually it was more like a shelter with a roof but open on three sides. As the minister led us to sing a final hymn, a stray dog came in and before our unbelieving eyes, peed on the pedestal on which the coffin lay.
We were all stunned. It was like the world gave a final insult.
Like the minister shared, our hope is that she is in a better place now where she is enjoying the love and care of her Creator.
I found the whole thing quite unsettling. I realise that the reality is that for many, the final years may be ones stripped of dignity. It is sobering to know that “there but the grace of God go I”. But it also reminds us to be thankful for every loved one and friend that we have and to treasure them like jewels.
Well, my 2018 is already galloping like a runaway horse. In this first week, there’s been a birth, a wedding and a death – three major milestones of life crammed into the first 7 days.
First, the birth. It involves the bride from the wedding. No..no…no….it’s not her baby! Let me finish before you jump to all kinds of wrong impressions. Good grief.
You see, the bride’s cousin couldn’t attend the wedding cause she just gave birth to a baby girl on New Year’s Day and wasn’t feeling up to a long distance journey. Now for those who like to follow Chinese numerology, a birth on 1/1/18 (d/m/y) is extremely auspicious because in Chinese it sounds similar to the proclamation “definitely will be prosperous”. The fact that the baby girl entered the world 2 weeks ahead of schedule only adds to the mystique of being fated to be born on that auspicious date. The really superstitious ones might even be tempted to buy lottery tickets.
Secondly, the wedding. It was today and it was a great joy for me to have witnessed it. I have known the bride for many years starting when she was a teenager. So it was a pleasure to see her embark on this next chapter of her life and wishing her and her new husband that God grant them a long and happy life journey together. You know how they say long distance relationships are difficult? Well they made a 16,000 km courtship work. Amazing.
They also did a studio photography session where they get all dressed up and have soft-focus, romantic photos taken. A very common practice in Asia. Less common is to have a picture of the newlyweds in their finery but armed to the teeth with swords and bows and arrows, fending off a ravenous T. Rex. Certainly an experience to remember.
Finally, there was the death of an old gentleman. I attended his wake and funeral. More about this in a later post cause I had a few thoughts on him that I would like to elaborate.
But these three life milestones just reinforced for me the thoughts I had when the clock went past midnight and into 2018. I was thinking how time is marching on and for all of us, time will come to an end one day. We don’t know if that is distant or near. All the more reason to stop wasting our lives and truly live life to the full. Also reason to give some thought about facing eternity ; how will we face that.
And, finally, finally, a little comment about the bomb cyclone event in USA and Canada that is causing widespread extreme cold, flooding, freezing, deep, deep snowdrifts and howling winds. Sorry that you are experiencing all that and sorry for the loss of life. But once again, wake up to the new reality of increasingly extreme weather events due to global warming. Here to the clock is ticking.
But finally, finally, the most final of all, I also realise that in the midst of gloom, there is still beauty to be seen. Hope this video will bring some cheer. May this really be a Happy New Year for you.
With Christmas just round the corner and I reflect on Christ’s birth, I often think of the words of my favorite carol,
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth
And so, I was blessed to have just returned from a visit to the Holy Land and I got to go to Bethlehem. And just in time too, as with President Trump’s announcement of the USA recognising Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, things there are likely to become a whole lot more complicated and unsafe.
I have to say that Bethlehem was not at all what I expected. As per the carol above, I would always imagine Bethlehem as a quiet, sleepy little village. The reality is that Bethlehem is a noisy, bustling, dusty town. The streets are filled with traffic and there is a busy bus terminal a short distance from the Church of the Nativity (the supposed birthplace of Christ). I don’t think these days there is any “how still we see thee lie” or “Silent Night” in Bethlehem.
The other thing that I witnessed in my short visit was the animosity and fear. Bethlehem is under Palestinian Authority and Israel has built a very, very tall wall separating it from Jerusalem and Jewish settlements (part of a 708 km long barrier which the Israelis call a security barrier, the Palestinians call an apartheid wall and the International Court of Justice called illegal). In Bethlehem, the wall is up to 8 m high.
As a result of the barrier, Palestinians cannot easily travel around to Israeli controlled areas without permits and having to undergo security searches at the few gates in the barrier. I know of one former colleague whose 5 minute walk to work was transformed to a one hour commute due to the barrier. Similarly, Israelis cannot venture into Palestinian controlled areas with out due cause and permits and if they do, personal safety is always a worry. These difficulties have also reduced tourism, business and jobs in Palestinian areas.
I also witnessed the tension within the community. On the streets and in the shops, suspicion and wariness of each other was occasionally evident between the different communities. I also saw some Islamic extremist hate literature plastered on some walls and heard the duel between the Muslim call for azan and the pealing of church bells.
There is no peace and there is no quiet on the streets of Bethlehem today. What would Jesus think?
I think, Jesus would not be surprised. Man will be selfish, jealous, covetous and contentious. It is the nature of man, our sinful nature and this is why he came to be born; to give us a better way which is beyond our own means to attain. This is the hope that he brings. Peace and hope.
And if the world seems, for the most part at the moment, to be ignoring his message, perhaps it is no surprise either. The King of Heaven was born in Bethlehem but the world mostly ignored him then too. In fact, as we are told, there was no room for him at the inn.
On that note, I want to end this reflection with sharing about an inn or rather a hotel that I saw in Bethlehem. It gave me a chuckle amidst all the gloom. The hotel is right by the wall. It faces the wall. The management admits that it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world” and its rooms only get about 28 minutes of direct sunlight a day. This is Bethlehem’s answer to the famous Waldorf Hotel. It is the Walled Off Hotel.
I later learned that this hotel was set up by the famous artist, Banksy, to help create job opportunities for the Palestinians, support Palestinian artists (the hotel also functions as an art gallery) and make a statement about the political situation and the wall.
Ladies and gents ……….. I give you the Walled Off Hotel.
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.
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;
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.
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…….
And here is the nasi lemak inspired dress……..
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.
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….
If I am honest, I think I have always wanted a life formula of Fame= 20; Fortune= 30; Happiness= 50.
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.
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.
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?
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels