2017 – The Year That Was


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The First Morning of 2018

As we say goodbye to a mixed bag of nuts that was 2017, I thought I would look back at the year that was………..

January – The year could not have had a better start with the birth of my niece, Sofia.  Shortly, she will be one year old…….a happy, chatty one year old who loves to dance to latin dance tunes. (Well, I’ll be a Monkey’s Uncle)

February – I went to Japan to chill, eat sushi and attain inner peace amidst the zen environments there.  A wonderful experience despite the bitter cold.  Unfortunately, things in Malaysia was very far from at peace.  We were rocked by abductions of church pastors and social activists (who remain missing till today) and by “Cold War” style assassination conducted by agents of North Korea.   (Like in the Movies)

March – A quiet month which I spent daydreaming about my trip to Kyoto, Japan in February and fantasizing about going there again.  My thoughts was particularly on the wonderful bamboo forest made famous in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . (Bamboo Forest Arashiyama)

AprilJune – This squirrel shook his head at what was going on in the world and decided to curl up in a ball and cover his eyes with his bush tail and tried to wish the bad things away.  I kind of lost my way a bit and did not blog.  Sadly, when I came out of hibernation, the world was not much better and the Twitter-in-Chief was still a twit.

 

July – Still trying to find my blogging feet again, I found solace in the rich biodiversity of Malaysia and celebrated the first successful attempt to capture the beautiful but rare Bornean Bay Cat.  ( B.B.C. – Cool Cat)

August – When things are not going well in the country, there will always be groups of old men sitting in cafes drinking their coffees and gossiping about the scandals while whining and complaining.  Only natural but it is pointless unless more is done and action taken.  Don’t just sit and complain but get up and do something positive to make things better.  So this squirrel resolved to do more to be part of the solution and an important start was to join a 40 day national prayer and fast. (Being a Watchman)

September – Another year older and a computer that decided to throw a hissy-fit.  Despite my best efforts at dropping hints, nobody bought me a new computer as a birthday present.  So another year older with a computer that reminds me about becoming obsolete. (Beyond Road Kill)

October – I went on a pilgrimage to  Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  Some people walk for weeks to complete this long distance pilgrimage.  I kind of just went straight to the final destination by Uber – you know, a short cut!  This squirrel is not just a pretty face!   Part of my little foray into Portugal and Spain.  (The ‘Creaking’ Horror)

November – I was still recovering from the shock of being targeted by light fingered villains in Lisbon.  I’ve been in the market for a good tamper proof backpack ever since.  Despite my best efforts at dropping hints, I did not get said backpack as a Christmas present.  I am beginning to think my friends are either very dense or are ignoring my perfectly reasonable hints.  (A Series of Unfortunate Incidents)

December – This squirrel tried to avoid the trappings of the commercialized Christmas and spent time celebrating with loved ones as well as those going through difficult times; remembering that “the humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth;
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes;
But to shepards and street people, hookers and bums. (lyrics from Bruce Cockburn’s Cry of a Tiny Babe)  (Outside Looking In)

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Know Your Bear Adversary


We interrupt our regular programme and postponed our scheduled post to bring you the shocking news of a great big Bear Dump over at Debra’s place.  Yes! An enormous big pile of bear!

With the higher risk of human -bear encounters these days, I thought it only right to re-post this very important bit of information below.

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As you can see, from a squirrel’s perspective, grizzlies are just cute bundles of fur but black bears are clearly to be avoided.

Many years ago, I saved up for a holiday in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  My brother from Australia came over and joined me there.  Both of us do enjoy the great wilderness experiences but neither of us have had any exposure to being in bear country; there being no bears in Australia and my own dangerous wildlife encounters in Malaysia were more of the tigers, crocodiles and elephant variety.

That being the case, both of us paid attention when a local ranger orientated us to the attractions of Banff National Park as well as gave us practical tips including  how to behave in bear country and stay safe.  Things like, talking or calling out when trekking, keeping food away from sleeping areas and throwing rubbish in bear-proof bins etc.

We listened attentively and at the end of the little lecture, the ranger looked at my brother and decided to add, “You probably shouldn’t dress up in salmon pink shirts either”!

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Salmon Pink?  Maybe not in bear country.

Annnd….we’re off!


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.

Christmas Wish


Dear readers, what do you want for Christmas?  What is your Christmas wish?  I mean, really.  In all honesty, what is your heart’s greatest desire this season?

You can tell your Uncle Squirrel.  No need to be politically correct.  No judgment here.  Just watch the following video first ……….. and I hope it will inspire you to tell it like it really is.

Outside Looking In


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My blogging friend, Debra – She Who Seeks, just put up a post entitled “Blue Christmas”.  Apparently, it is a tradition at her church to hold a “special service of meditation, quiet reflections and readings which acknowledge and honour the fact that Christmas is not always a happy time for everyone.”

How strange,….. I was just thinking about posting about that very thing (or what another blogger described as serendipitous convergence); that Christmas can be especially cold, sad and lonely for many who do not have the support of family or friends around them  or are going through difficult times.

None of the churches that I have attended had a ‘Blue Christmas’ service.  However, for most of my life, until recently, I have always preferred to avoid all the festivities like going carol singing or attending loud joyous celebrations and parties.  There was a time that apart from attending church, I would prefer to just have a quiet night and sleep early.  I didn’t do any of the exchange of cards or presents either.

It took me a long time to understand that this shunning of festivities at Christmas was rooted in my own hangups ………specifically, that I felt that I did not deserve to be happy.   As a foreign student in the UK many years ago, I was on occasion invited to people’s homes for Christmas lunch or dinner with their families.  I always felt uncomfortable and was mentally squirming the whole time I was there.  Only years later, I understood that I felt uncomfortable because I believed that I had no business being there in their happy family gathering.  I felt like an undeserving interloper.

Regular readers will know that I went through a period of depression at one point of my life and this kind of thinking comes from that dark well.  Today, instead, Christmas reminds me that God loves me and that is all I need to chase the dark clouds away.

But all this is my way of saying that I know how it can feel to be the disenfranchised, the lonely, the foreigner, the migrant, the hurt, the grieving.  It is being outside and looking in.  Out in the cold with an empty stomach and looking through a window at a feast inside.  Seeing others celebrate but being left out.

So, I believe that the way to celebrate Christmas is to do our part to show God’s love to those around us.  Celebrate by serving, just as Jesus ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matthew 20: 28) and gave of himself.  Sure, it’s okay to have fun and celebrate at parties and dinners – I do so nowadays too but do more……..serve others too.

This year, I will be joining others to go caroling to those who are ill with cancer as well as to residents at a nursing home – to come alongside them, share their problems, pray for them and share joy.  At my church, we will also be opening our church on Christmas Eve for people to come in off the street for some food and drink.  We are making the church available to some of the foreign workers near us so that they can invite their friends to come in and join the festivities.

At Christ’s birth, the angels declared about peace and joy.  Perhaps, we should continue to pray for peace and help spread joy in this flawed world.  Blessed Christmas folks.

Bethlehem – Worst View


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.

 

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels