Malaysia’s Lady in White

On All Hallow’s Eve, I thought I would regale you with a tale of the supernatural from the dark forests of Malaysia. Fear and superstition still reigns in many parts of the world even today but what I find interesting is that some beliefs have a similar theme. Are they the product of converging imaginations or perhaps based on a common truth?

One of the most common and oldest of these un-natural monsters are the vampires – the blood suckers. The Malaysian jungle is full of these blood sucking fiends. This is true. I have seen them and been bitten myself. Over here we call them mosquitoes and leeches. Ha! Ha! Just a bit of nervous humour before we get down and really describe the creature of the night that I have in mind.

Malaysia’s blood sucking fiend is the Langsuir. It is a female creature that may appear in two forms. Firstly, the Langsuir may be in the form of an owl and may often be seen perched at night on certain trees in the forests. Banyan trees are believed to be a favourite roost or perhaps a strangling fig. Do not go near if you value your life. The Langsuir is also believe to be able to appear as a woman. She is alternatively described by those lucky to escape as a hideous creature with long claws and fangs or as a beautiful woman. Some say that she takes on the latter to seduce male victims. In either form, she has long jet black hair reaching to the ankles and she is always wearing a white robe. Her hair hides a hole in the back of her neck which is the means by which she sucks the blood of her victim. In one version of the tale, the Langsuir actually possesses the victim and feeds from the inside.

The Langsuir is believed to form from women who had died within 40 days of childbirth after also losing their child. Elaborate rituals must be made on the body such as placing glass in the mouth, eggs under the armpits and needles in the hand to prevent the transformation. Otherwise the creature will transform and with a shriek, fly into the dark forests.

Garlic has no effect on this creature but if you somehow managed to do it, you can tame a Langsuir if you succeed in cutting its nails and stuffing her hair into the hole in the neck. At which point, she becomes a normal and very beautiful woman. Folk stories even suggested that men have married tamed Langsuirs; suffice to say not all those stories end happily.

The shriek of the Langsuir is also said to be so eerie that once heard, it is never forgotten. Interestingly, there a number of places in Malaysia which are named after the Langsuir including Gua Langsuir in Langkawi Island which is called the Cave of the Banshee in English. It is said, you can hear them there.

I hope this little Malay folklore has been interesting to you. Of course, it’s just a story but still if you have ever seen a banyan tree or a strangling fig at night in the middle of the jungle, you might understand why even seasoned forest travelers might give a cough, start to whistle and generally give these places a wide berth.

Believe it or not. Lone Grey Squirrel reporting from the Malaysian Rainforest.


Spirits of the Season: Fright or Hide

What thrills you? Gets your adrenaline up, gives you a buzz that lights up your smile and your sense of general well being. In fact it makes you feel like superman. The scientists call it the “fight or flight” response; our bodies are being prepared to fight or to run for our lives. Either way, the adrenaline tones our muscles in anticipation, our blood rushes oxygen and we feel powerful. For some, they get this high from riding roller coasters and kamikaze rides. Not for me, I just become catatonic – completely rigid, neither capable of fight or flight, not even sound unless you count moans.

(Pennywise the Clown from Steven King’s “It”.)

However, since it is Halloween, let us consider my other favourite way of getting thrills which is to watch horror movies or read a scary book or listen to a campfire ghost story. I call this the “fright and hide” response. This is where once again the adrenaline courses through the body, getting the heart beat up and blood rushing but the muscles are not primed to run but to crawl under the blankets and hide. A really powerful invocation of the response is manifested by other symptoms like “tingling in the spine”, “goosebumps” and “chattering teeth”. I love it. I much prefer this than actually risking my life on a roller coaster. Horror stories is just safe entertainment with no real risk of being flung to your deaths from a roller coaster ride. After all, there are no such things as ghosts and monsters………… right? Er, right?

What makes a good horror story? I much prefer good story telling than an over reliance on mutilated bodies. Hence, I discount movies like Halloween and Scream and such slasher movies as body count movies. Most times, a couple of dead bodies can be scarier than a bus load.

Camp fire ghost stories are just great because it makes use of our imaginations which is usually far scarier that special effects. Although, I did not think that the Blair Witch Project was exceptional, it made use of simple things to great effect. Think of the sounds outside the tent, the strange arrangement of twigs, the disappearance of friends. You never see the horror but you get hints of it. Right at the end when you see the man at the corner with his feet not touching the ground; well, you knewthen you had it even though you still did not see the horror. But you could almost touch it. Or worse, it could touch you. Brrrrr.

Perversion of innocence is another scary tool. This is where you take something sweet and innocent and turn it into evil personified. This worked well in “It.” A clown is turned into a monster with pointed teeth but he still looks like a clown all the way down to his red nose and balloon animals. If you can’t trust a clown,……. Just imagine cuddlying up to Barney and then seeing him transformed into a velociraptor. Now that’s scary. It did not work with “Chucky” because that doll looked like bad news even before he showed his demonic side. Children are also meant to be innocent and that’s why they can be very scary. In “The Ring”, we are actually led to sympathize with the girl, Samara. Oh poor little girl, how she was mistreated by her parents. Later, when we realize that the parents were actually scared of her that we feel the full impact of her evilness. Yikes.

Removing our comfort zones. Some of us have no problems watching movies about old haunted mansions or about werewolves lose in the Everglades. Why? Because we know that nothing will ever drag us to go to a haunted mansion or camp in the Everglades. It is far away from our comfort zone. Movies on Vampires in Transylvania? No problem since the last I checked, there were no direct flights from the Kingdom of Darkness to our international airport. However, what if the horror came into our house? What if it visits in our dreams even though we are tucked in our own beds? That is the premise that made Nightmare on Elm Street so horrifying (the sequels degenerated to a body count movie). What if hell itself wanted to draw you in through the static of the TV screen as it did in Poltergeist? Yaaaaah!

I think Hollywood horror movies have lost their way of late and have acknowledged that by copying or reproducing some of the scarier movies from Asia. The Ring, Dark Water and The Grudge are some examples. Even in the case of The Grudge, I would still recommend the Japanese version despite the fact that I am a Sarah Michelle Geller fan.

A few more that I would recommend from Asia include;
a) Shutter (2004; Thailand; The moment the hero finally understands what was happening was truly chilling.)
b) A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Korean; Is it real or is it imagined the evil that seems to appear?)
c) One Missed Call (2003, Japanese; Okay, not one of the top ones but I like how they use an everyday item like the handphone to rock us out of our comfort zone).

Happy halloween. Sleep well. Have pleasant dreams and watch out for your teddy bear.

Squirrels; More or Less?

Well, this is my landmark 10th blog entry and I thought I would allow you, my faithful of handful of readers to help steer the direction of this blog. A poll! That’s what we need as it is currently trendy to make decisions in this populist and democratic way. The Squirrel Content in this Blog which I should remind my precious few readers is after all called the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, is about 30-35% of the first 10 blog entries.

Give your opinion. Exercise your whatever. Make your views known and contribute to a better Blog. So; the Question is “Should there be more squirrel or less squirrel?”

The answers are;
a) More, more, Much MORE!!!!
b) Less, Less, the Least
c) Just Right
d) Aren’t squirrels really just tree rats? So what’s the fuss. or
e) This is the best blog ever. Don’t change a thing and accept all my life savings as a donation to carry on with your good work.

After your votes have been tabulated by the Lone Grey Squirrel, he will decide what to do next. If he likes what you say, he may use it or he may totally ignore it or just announce that you all agreed with what he had decided on all along. Isn’t on-line democracy just dandy?

Anyway, on-line polls, surveys can often deliver some strange conclusions but the people of today increasingly follow the herd. It is along the lines of “Peanuts……. ten thousand monkeys can’t be wrong”. You know what I mean. If 2 out of 3 Hollywood leading men choose to carry guns then that’s the right thing to do. If 6 out of every 10 top models suffer from bulimea, than thats normal for all girls to follow. Here are some real surveys that came from Do you agree with their findings? Lone Grey Squirrel has made a few well chosen comments.

1. If you were left on earth with just one person to reproduce all of mankind with, who would that be? Answer: Bill Clinton LGS says ” I am speechless”
2. Which animal is most intellegent? Answer: Cats LGS says “Squirrrels, man. Can a cat raid a bird feeder? I rest my case.”
3. Which is the best country to live in? Answer: USA LGS says”Hmmm. Bad Nut suspected.” 4. Which country is the worst off? Answer: USA
5. Which country has the prettiest women? Answer: USA
6. Which country has contributed the most to mankind? Answer: USA LGS says” I see a pattern developing”
7. Most beautiful animal? Answer: Giraffe LGS says ” The world must stop promoting the thin, long legged and long necked vision of beauty. Women should be told that chubby is acceptable”
8. What is the worst place in the world that you have visited? Answer: Public toilet LGS says, “at last, some sense. But where in the world is the worst public toilet?”

So enjoy this poll and look forward to the results.

You let me down, Indonesia

If you checked in on me at my last posting, you would have found me in an officially declared funk and that was at the beginnning of what had promised to be a glorious 5 day long weekend in Malaysia on account of the Hindu festival of Diwali and the muslim festival of Eid. Well, far from being the long anticipated break with which to spend top quality time with friends and family and to hone one’s blog writing skills, I instead achieved a rare state of being – that of being in a funk, in the middle of a haze and under the weather. That’s my long way of telling you that I have been ill and that I make a grumpy, irritable and irritating patient.

I have been coughing for weeks because of the haze from those peat fires in Indonesia which is just blanketing parts of South East Asia. Although it was only a dry cough, it weakened my immunity and probably made me susceptible to a flu bug that was conveniently hiding amongst one of the sweet, innocent, smiling children in my friends’ big broods. Sweet, innocent, smiling children are really the world’s best bio-terrorists as they are able to catch with ease the newest germ out in the market and pass it on as quickly. Tag. You’re it.

So with a sniffling nose and weepy eyes and a loud hacking cough, and while still delirious because of fever, I read in the local newspaper with great disdain that Indonesia’s parliament was not going to agree to Indonesia signing an ASEAN Regional Transboundary Haze Agreement. They decided to try to use their haze creating fires as some sort of bargaining chips for concessions on trade and fisheries with the neighbouring countries. Imagine having a neighbour who wants the rest of the neighbourhood to pay him to get rid of his health threatening bad habits. What are these politicians thinking? How can any one seem to find any benefit from keeping this choking haze around?

When the world faced the possibility of nuclear annihiliation because of the struttings of the USA and Russia, I was deeply comforted by the song by Sting which said “the Russians love their chidren too” and which implied no one was mad enough to condemn their future generations to the horrors of nuclear fallout. Sadly, I do not see such similar stirrings of the heart amongst the Indonesian Parliamentarians who are holding in their hands the fate of millions of Indonesians and other Asians condemning them to further exposure to toxic smoke so that they can bargain their gasps for fresh air for business and trade concessions. Shame on you.

“You let me down, Indonesia.
Your peatland and forest’s on fire
High toll on wildlife and on your people
but still your leaders, they want to quibble”

“You let me down, Indonesia.
You do not care for your neighbours
That much is clear, but yet we had hoped
that for the children, you’d stop the smoke.”

(to be sung to the tune of “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”)

Specially trained Squirrel checking on Veruca to see if she is a BAD nut. ( a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Similar medical exam. recommended for Indonesian Parliamentarians.

LGS’s Cultural Tour 1 : Leonard Cohen’s "Villanelle for Our Time"

Squirrels dance and make noises all the time. On those tissue-thin credentials, the Lone Grey Squirrel bases his right to give a tour of the cultural world and to throw in his views and comments. Critics nit-pick while squirrels nut-pick. Close enough.

Today, I am in a funk (funk n. a state of severe depression). I really cannot tell you if that I am in this funk because I have been listening to my new CD, “Dear Heather” by Leonard Cohen or that I was already in the funk which is why I went to buy a Leonard Cohen CD. Anyway, I have decided that a good funk and a Leonard Cohen CD were made for each other.

I generally enjoy Canadian artists. I find most of them refreshingly uncompromising about not selling out their art to commercialisation, at least that is the impression I get. I have enjoyed the “angry” young women like Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavine. I have actually seen the former in a street concert in Ottawa just before she became an international star. I have enjoyed the social crusaders like Bruce Cockburn as well as the fun-loving but strange bands like Crash Test Dummies and Barenaked Ladies (the latter, I was disappointed to learn is an all male group). There are many more and I will revisit them again.

For me though, two giants stand out because of their soul-baring lyrics. When you hear them, you feel as they have given you the most intimate of glimpses into their inner sanctum. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen was born and bred in Montreal. The singer, songwriter, poet and novelist is now in his seventies but has been one of the most influential song writers of the 20th century.

The lyrics of his songs are often emotionally as well as lyrically complex and seem to carry a message at several different levels. Many of the songs deal with the mysteries and complications of women and relationships. Some seem to be almost too painfully real and very potent in their ability to provoke an emotive response.

“Villanelle for Our Time” is a song that seems to appeal for all of us to search ourselves in the hopes that we begin to understand that people are more important than our differences whether they are petty or imagined to be big and is also more important than transient, personal gains. Truly a meassage for a fragmenting world, driven by unbridled capitalism. Enjoy the lyrics below, go out and get your own copy so that you can feel the impact of his complementarily, evocative music. Finally, join me in a long good funk.

words by Frank Scott (1899-1985)
music by Leonard Cohen
From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.
We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.
The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.
Not Steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.
Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

World Foods 1: Ćevapčići (Serbia)

I am no gourmet chef but I know what I like and in this series of Wolrd Foods, I would like to share with you some of the culinary surprises and highpoints from samplings from around the world.

To start the series off, I thought I would begin which would tie in nicely with the recent Special Spot posting on Plitvice Lakes, Croatia. Ćevapčići (pronounced “che-vap-chee-chee”) is a popular food of the old Yugoslavia and throughout the entire Balkan region and can also be found if you look for it in parts of Austria and Germany. Essentially, it is a grilled meat sausage but the taste is distinctive, praise-worthy and its mouthwatering properties is affecting me even as I write. It is all at once heady with spices, rich and meaty in flavour with a tinge of tanginess. It goes well with with kajmak or sour cream, fresh peppers, ajvar (a tomato and peppers based paste) and tomatoes and is often served on a pita like bread.

Of course, different regions all argue that the best ćevapčići is their version. I believe that the one that I had eaten was a Serbian version and I first tried it in Vienna. Some say that it is the blending of at least three meats (common in the Bosnian Version) that makes it a king amongst meat patties. It’s all good. Try it if you have the opportunity.

Haze! Haze! Haze! Stop the Fires!

“Blue skies, I’m wishing for blue skies….”. At the moment, my lament comes not from many days of dreary grey skies of a British winter but weeks of choking haze in tropical Malaysia. It is the Haze Season again and I have been coughing for days. The Haze Season. Years ago, there was no such thing as haze blighting the populations and countries of South East Asia. Then we had a serious incidence in 1998-1999. We blamed the El Nino, for the fires in Sumatra and Borneo that produced the acrid choking smoke and the fine particulates that make up the haze. Yet the problem persisted in non El Nino years and has now become a regular annual occurance.

The picture above is that of the beautiful island of Borneo in a shroud of acrid smoke. What has happened? Fires are set deliberately. Some point fingers at large companies clearing forests by fire for oil palm and forest plantations. Others point to the subsistence farmers who practice “shifting cultivation” which has also been called “slash and burn”. Others point to arson from unresolved conflicts and land issues. Who is really to blame? All of us, if we cannot collectively get past the finger pointing and take positive actions to stop the fires when faced with an ecological and environmental catastrophe of our own making.

To the companies that insist that burning is the only economically sound way of clearing the forests, I ask them to consider what is the value of the profit margin when placed alongside the suffering of the old and the young, the increased morbidity and mortality among the susceptible and the weak, and the long term legacy of illness that may be there for even those yet unborn. A good leader takes care of his community. He provides for his people, yes, but without taking away the essentials of living.

If we compare the two squirrels, Spikey and Speedy; Spikey represents the caring leader who is willing to share his expertise and his loot of nuts with the other squirrels in his immediate community. Speedy is clearly the stronger individual who always bullies Spikey and the other squirrels and as such is the dominant squirrel but he seeks the nuts and food only for himself. Regretably, our human society increasingly puts self-serving characters and corporations like Speedy on the pedestal to be praised and emulated. This is a tragedy of placing the individual above the community. The individual is important but must also find touch points within the community.

Today, we celebrate the festival of Diwali (or Deepavali as we used to call it in my youth). It is the day Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil; the Festival of Lights. Sadly, the lights are dimmed by the gloom of the haze and one cannot help feeling that evil is having the upper hand. The evil that dwells in the heart of men pursuing the God of money and profits.

I hope we can really prove that humans are smart enough to know that stopping those fires from starting is good for all of us including our smaller animal friends that share this world with us. I am fed up with coughing and shortening my life span. Despite the picture below, I do not feel like laughing till I see blue skies again.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels