Thoughts on Happiness and Chasing After Puppies

“Felicitas est parvus canis calidus”. This is Latin for “Happiness is a warm puppy.” It is actually a quote from the cartoon strip, Peanuts from the 1950’s. I’m not that old, but I probably came across it in my early teens and somehow that phrase has stuck with me all these years. It is clearer to me today, than all those facts on human metabolism that I spent months revising for my final university exams.

Happiness is a warm puppy. Is this statement true? How many of you would agree with it? The fact that I remember it so well through the flight of time must imply that it has struck a deep chord with me. The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence as one of the unalienable rights of the people. Honestly, there is a lot of pursuing happiness going on in the world today and it’s not just the Americans but everyone that’s doing it. But are most of us looking in all the wrong places? Might we finally find it in a warm puppy?

Singaporeans used to be told that they need to have the 5C’s in this life and this consideration should guide them in the choice of a life partner. The 5C’s has today increased to 7 C’s and are Cash, Car, Certificate (i.e. University degree), Country club, Credit card, Career and Condominium. (Ladies might even have the 8th C which is Carat, i.e. insist on a diamond ring). The idea is that happiness comes from wealth, prestige, elitism, superior intelligence (with a certificate to prove it), achievements at work and the best creature comforts at home. Singaporeans are also famous for not wanting to keep up with the Joneses. No, Singaporeans strive to be ahead of the Joneses and to rub the Joneses noses in it.

Before, Malaysian-Singaporean relationships deteriorate further, let me say that I use Singaporeans to describe a phenomena that is really spreading throughout much of the world and especially so in Asia. Happiness is cold hard cash, a cool reputation and a classy lifestyle. The pursuit of happiness as envisaged above lead many to put career and wealth ahead of family and friends. Fathers who work hard for their children’s future but do not have time to know their children and for the children to know them. Reminds me of a song called “Cat’s in the cradle” by Harry Chapin.

I have worked with native, jungle dwellers and been part of efforts to assimilate them into modern life so that they might have a better standard of living. While it is true that many will benefit from better health care and better schooling for their children, it is equally clear that they were very happy living in the ways of their ancestors in the jungle and transferring them out of the jungle into settlements has not brought them joy. Often, peaceful communities are torn apart by the introduction of money and the concepts of property amongst peoples who used to share the forests bounty with each other. Some of these projects have improved their economic situation but I really do not know whether it has brought happiness.

So, I return to “Felicitas est Parvus Canis Calidus”. I think it is a beautiful metaphor that all of us need to feel warm, secure and to have the feeling of loving and being loved. It has to do with people; friends and family. Happiness comes from being secure and content while surrounded by the mutual love and support of friends and family. If we are loved and supported for who we are, we do not need wealth or any other trappings to be happy.

So, Snoopy, I think you were right but it was not just because puppies are warm and cute. Perhaps you were more profound than you thought. Cat lovers, I can’t help you.


My First Meme – Christmas Theme

I know this is a little early for Christmas but I got this meme from daysgoby and I kinda promised that I do it soon. Please copy and use on your own site but link back to us.

merry little meme
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Hot Chocolate
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
I asked Santa to get the presents, wrap them up and place them under the tree which I also asked Santa to set up and decorate. Nothing happens. Could it be I have been a bad boy?
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Colored lights
4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Doesn’t grow around here.
5. When do you put up your decorations?
Whenever, we are free. One year, we just never took them down.
6. What is your favorite Holiday (Christmas or Thanksgiving) meal include?
Friends and family to share the meal.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?
Wow, that’s going back many, many years. Can’t remember.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
What truth? Has Santa been involved in a scandal? Is he not getting on well with his wife, Mary Christmas? Is he actually a 100lb weakling? Could his beard be a fake???? NOooooooooooooo!
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
I always insist that gifts should always be opened on Christmas day only but usually give in to pressure.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
Usual lights and ornaments.
11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love it. Miss it. Squirrels leave cute footprints on fresh snow that look like two exclamation marks. !!
12. Can you ice skate?
I can proudly say that I ice skate, tumble and fall.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
My first white Christmas with my fiancé and future wife.
14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
For Christmas, it is remembering Christ and that the baby Jesus grew up to die on the cross for all of us.
15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
I will eat anything sweet but my first love will always be plain Vanilla ice cream.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Hmmm. I guess I better start doing the same thing every year and start a tradition.
17. What tops your tree?
It’s a star.
18. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
O little town of Bethlehem. How still do we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. But in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. The Hope and Fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The Passing of a People’s Warrior (Bishan Singh)

Dear friends,
In these last few days, there has been much bad news in Malaysia. News that makes me feel anger, disappointment, dismay and hopelessness. I felt driven to write about some of these matters and share it with you, so that you might understand that all is not right in sunny Malaysia…..and perhaps I will still do so later. However, all these pale in comparison to the news I received yesterday on the death of this dear gentleman in the early hours of the 29th of November.

Mr. Bishan Singh was many things to many people because his heart was always for the people. In Malaysia, he might even be considered the grandfather of social activism. Amongst his achievements include establishing the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (FOMCA), the Sustainable Development Institute (SUSDEN), and winning the Langkawi Award for contributions to the environment in Malaysia. He has been the tireless champion for the proper management of Chini Lake and the welfare of the indigenous peoples there. He also helped in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. More details of his career are in the article below.

As I type this, his funeral is happening in Kuantan which is about 3 hours drive from here. I am unable to attend due to a combination of food poisoning and a work commitment this afternoon over which I have no control. So even as his many friends and family gather there to say goodbye, I thought I would share in that moment by putting this tribute on to the internet.

I have known him for a relatively short 5 years, yet he has left a strong impression. Bishan was a man of vision, passion and heart who stood by the principles of social justice and also the conservation of the environment as he recognised that the two were inter-related. He was a spiritual and intellectual giant, yet he remained a humble man. He was a great teacher and someone who invested in building up the next generation. We have served on the same committee and there were times with myself as chair as well as when Bishan was chair. While I was chair, I appreciated that he was patient, generous and always constructive with this young whipper-snapper and when he was chair, he was understanding, discerning and purposeful, which made him easy and natural to work with.

Bye Bishan, you will be missed by many.

Social activist Bishan Singh dies

KUANTAN: Social activist and environmentalist Bishan Singh Ram Singh passed away yesterday after a short illness. He was 62.

His wife Mary Wai, 66, and children Sunitha, 35, and Jeevan Ram, 33, were by his side when he breathed his last at 6.43am at the Tengku Ampuan Afzan Hospital.

His death was listed as due to “pulmonary embolism”.

Bishan Singh had undergone a series of medical check-ups since October. His condition worsened over the last two weeks.

Bishan Singh: His death was listed as due to ‘pulmonary embolism’
The illness had not stopped him from keeping abreast with the latest developments on his favourite topics – community and social work.

To Bishan Singh, Tasik Chini – the country’s second largest freshwater lake – was special in so many ways.

He had been in love with the lake since his secondary school days and wanted it to be revived.

Bishan Singh spearheaded a campaign to save the lake and received strong support from the private sector.

“My father has no regrets. He has chosen his path in life and did what he loved best,” said Sunitha.

“Just look around the house compound. He planted his own vegetables as well as tended to the garden,” she added.

Bishan Singh was president of Fomca and the Pahang Consumers Association and was a former Kuantan councillor.

He held the presidency of Sustainable Development Network and was a board member of the Pesticide Action Network, Asia Pacific.

He had offered his services in consultancy for more than 20 years in 22 countries.

His efforts did not go unnoticed and he was the first recipient of the Consumer Advocate Award, and most recently was named the recipient of Langkawi Award by the King.

Born on May 31, 1944, in Nibong Tebal, Penang, Bishan Singh had a Masters in Development Management from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila.

Fomca secretary-general Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah described his demise as a “great loss to the nation and NGO community”.

Bishan Singh will be cremated at Bukit Ubi crematorium today.

The public can pay their last respects at his residence in A617 Taman Koperasi, Lorong Selamat 24, Kuantan, before 11am

LGS Cultural Tour No: 3 – The Funniest Man Ever

Most of the world today seems to remember Peter Sellers as the great and tortured comedian, thanks also to the wonderful film, “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” but have overlooked his long-time colleague, Spike Milligan. However, Spike was voted by the British public in a BBC Poll in 1999 in which he was described as the “funniest person in 1000 years”. His fellow comedians also voted him into the top 50 and a scientific study accredits him as the originator of the world’s funniest joke which I have included at the end of this entry.

It gives me great pleasure to pay a little homage to this great man who exceled in comedic innovation, suffered mental illness and fought for the environment. He was a poet, an author, including children’s books, actor, comedian and activist. I would like to share two of his poems, an extract from the scripts of the Goon Show (radio program) and ending with the world’s funniest joke.

Doctor O’Dell
Dr. O’Dell fell down a well
and broke his collarbone.
Which proves that doctors should attend the sick,
and leave the well alone.

Indian Boyhood
What happened to the boy I was?
Why did he run away?
And leave me old and thinking, like
There’d been no yesterday?
What happened then?
Was I that boy?
Who laughed and swam in the bund*
Is there no going back?
No recompense?
Is there nothing?
No refund?

Excerpt from the Goon Show
Greenslade: The Affair of the Lone Banana, Chapter Two. With the banana secreted on his person, Neddie Seagoon arrived at the Port of Guatemala where he was accorded the typical Latin welcome to an Englishman.
Moriarty: Hands up, you pig swine. [Spits]
Seagoon: Have a care, Latin devil – I am an Englishman. Remember, this rolled umbrella has more uses than one.
Moriarty: Oooo!
Seagoon: Sorry. – Now, what’s all this about?
Moriarty: It is the revolution señor – everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty: Right in it – you see, señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty: There are no sides – we are all in this together. Now señor, if you don’t mind – we must search you.
Seagoon: What for?
Moriarty: Bananas. You see señor, we guatemalians are trying to overthrow the foreign-dominated banana plantations in this country. Any foreigner found with a banana on him will be shot by a firing squad and asked to leave the country.
Seagoon (aside):Curses – I must think quick. Little does he know I suspect him of foul play.
Moriarty (aside):Little does he know I’ve never played with a fowl in my life.
Seagoon (aside):Little does he know that he has misconstrued the meaning of the word foul. The word foul in my sentence was spelt F O U L not F O W L as he thought I had spelt it.
Moriarty (aside): Little does he know that I overheard his correction of my grammatical error and I am now about to rectify it – aloud. [Ahem] So, you suspect me of foul play spelt F O U L and not F O W L.

On 9 June 2006, it was reported that Professor Richard Wiseman had identified the world’s funniest joke as decided by the Laughlab project which involved people voting on-line. Professor Wiseman said the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag – anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise. It turns out to be a variation of a joke written by Spike for the Goon Show in 1951.

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?”

This bright light finally faded from this world on the 27th of February 2006. At the death of his long time friend, fellow Goon and famous tenor, Sir Harry Secombe, Spike quipped,” I am glad he died before me because I didn’t want him to sing at my funeral.” So quite appropriately, a recording of Secombe singing was played at Spike’s funeral. There is so much more to mention about his contributions to books, film and the environmental cause but “ying tong iddle i po” and “needle nar noo”. Looks at the hairs on my wrist which were synchronised to the hairs on Big Ben and realise time has flown.

To know more about the man:
To read more of his poems:
To enjoy more from the highly esteemed Goon Show

Wonders of the World

Will wonders never cease? It seems the world is ready to get rid of the old 7 wonders of the world and bring in a new 7. This is set to occur in Lisbon, Portugal on the very auspicious day of the 7th of July 2007 or 07/07/07. Cute! This campaign to replace the old wonders was started in 1999 by Swiss adventurer, Bernard Weber. Weber “felt it is time for something new to bring the world together” and to “symbolize a common pride in the global cultural heritage,” said Tia B. Viering, spokeswoman for the campaign.

The first known list of wonders was put together by Antipater of Sidon around 2nd century B.C. and had evolved with contributions form others over time until it came to be known as the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World sometime in the Middle Ages. This list included the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus of Rhodes, and Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus. Sadly, Lone Grey Squirrel can quickly confirm that he has been to none of these sites which is not surprising on account of LGS’s financial situation and the fact that only the Great Pyramid remains today with 2 Wonders having long ago gone up in smoke and the other 4 Wonders brought down by earthquakes.

Anyway, when the campaign started to find the new 7 Wonders in 1999, over 200 sites were nominated from around the world. Nominations were whittled down by public votes to 77 last year. Then a panel of architectural experts, chaired by former UNESCO chief Federico Mayor, shortened the list to 21. All this time, Lone Grey Squirrel was oblivious to this process but if you too were unaware, it is still not too late to be involved. Visit and you can still cast your vote for the final 7.

Machu Pichu (stevenellem)

The final 21 contestants are (in no particular order);
1) the Statue of Liberty, USA. 2) the Pyramids, Egypt. 3) Eiffel Tower, France. 4) Taj Mahal, India. 5) Machu Picchu, Peru. 6) the Acropolis, Greece. 7) the Hagia Sophia, Turkey. 8) the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, Russia. 9) the Colosseum, Italy. 10) the Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. 11) Stonehenge, United Kingdom. 12) the Alhambra, Spain. 13) the Great Wall, China. 14) the Kiyomizu Temple, Japan. 15) the Sydney Opera House, Australia. 16) Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 17) Timbuktu, Mali. 18) Petra, Jordan. 19) Statue of Christ Redeemer, Brazil. 20) Easter Island and 21) Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Hagia Sophia (guenter11)

Petra (maryjanesolomon)

Sadly, Lone Grey Squirrel can also quickly confirm that he has been to only one of these sites, Sydney Opera House. I hope those of you who have traveled more extensively will vote wisely. Nevertheless, I have chosen 7 in my ignorance. Let me know what your choices are and why.

My choice for the new 7 Wonders of the World;
1) the Pyramids (hey, they were already in the old list); 2) Machu Picchu (can you imagine having to build on such steep slopes?); 3) the Acropolis (have to give a nod to the immense influence the Greeks had on civilization); 4) the Great Wall (can be seen from space.); 5) the Hagia Sophia (two cultures meet and it just impresses me…truly); 6) Taj Mahal (a monument to love. How can we leave that out?) and 7) Petra, Jordan (endorsed by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Squirrels and Buried Treasure ….Arr… Arr

Photos credited to terisuz

Eastern Grey Squirrels are very important in the life-cycle of many trees and are major agents for reforestation in Canada and Eastern USA. They achieve this due to their habit of collecting nuts and hiding them. Nuts may be collected and hidden in caches in hollows in trees or buried in the ground so as to be retrieved later for food in winter.

Spikey introduced me to this behaviour. One autumn afternoon, the two of us were communing on the deck outside my basement apartment, enjoying the sunshine and sharing some peanuts. I was seated on my low folding chair and Spikey was a comfortable bound away eating his peanuts. Spikey is not a quiet nor neat eater. He makes a chattering noise with his teeth when he eats and reminds me of a buzz saw because as he eats a nut, you can see specks flying off from the side of his mouth.

Anyway, after apparently being sufficiently gorged, Spikey took a nut and hopped off on to the garden and scouted around for a nice place to bury the nut. This was always very entertaining. He would wander around, sniffing, and then deduce a prime location via some unknown squirrel wisdom and then proceed to bury the nut. This he does by basically ramming the nut into the soft soil using his upper body strength with his forearms stretched out. He would do this repeatedly, reminding me of a construction worker with a mechanized jack-hammer……rat-atat-tat-tat. Then he would come back to the pile of nuts and repeat the process.

Another interesting observation was that he would actually check if the nut was whole (just like the trained squirrels at Willie Wonka’s Chocholate Factory). If it was not whole or spoiled or chipped, he would eat it. Only complete, viable nuts are buried. This is very much in line with the squirrels’ role as tree planters.

Of course, in good years, a squirrel will plant more nuts than he can consume over winter. During winter and early spring, he will use his keen sense of smell to locate nuts and uncover them and eat them. Contrary to popular belief, he does not find them from memory nor does he keep a pirate’s treasure map as some of us with too much imagination might suggest. Nor does he uncover only his stash of nuts. In fact, squirrels uncover whatever they can find by smell and that is very often a nut buried by some other squirrel.

Finally, spring arrives and many nuts remained buried and forgotten and thus they have a chance to germinate and grow to be the next generation of forest trees. Many thanks to crazy squirrels with a bury a nut compulsion.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels