Monday, October 31, 2011

Young and carefree





The water in this stream, called Sungai Meru near Taman Meru, Ipoh, Perak, looks cool and inviting. These teenagers, who live nearby, often spend the afternoon after school swimming or just splashing around. It is nice to know that in the age of the computer youngsters still enjoy the outdoors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet Diwali

 
 
 

 In Malaysia, as in India, Diwali  -- which means "rows of lighted lamps" -- is a time for Hindus to rejoice.

To prepare for Diwali, which is known as the "festival of lights", Hindus spring-clean their homes, prepare special meals and adorn dwellings and other buildings with lights.

On the day itself (Oct 26, 2011) they wear new clothes, say prayers, exchange gifts  usually sweets (pictures) and dried fruits and visit family and friends.


Life's Too Short wishes its Hindu readers a Happy Diwali.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guest Post: Four seasons

By Patrick Follez




Patrick Follez, who lives in Antwerpen, Belgium, shot the images (above) of this ornamental apple tree (malus) over 12 months covering the four seasons.I will share his musings on autumn with readers of Life's Too Short. Enjoy!

Autumn is here and the tree on the street before the house is showing its yellow and autumn colours. The tree is a malus or ornamental apple tree and it is used to line the streets.

Autumn is a reflective period as nature slowly retreats to its dormant state out of human view. The malus tree does it with a burst of colours and red berries inviting the blackbirds for a last feast before the meagre times of winter.

I have been watching this tree for nine years from the day I found that I could turn my webcam outside (modified with a 200mm old zoom lens) and brought the tree live as animated wallpaper on my computer. Over the years 12,000 images were stored in a backup copy that came to light when I was cleaning up the hard drive.

It is a treasure trove of images  of the slowly changing tree (and its inhabitants) from winter to spring, summer and autumn. The strange erratic shifting patterns of longer or shorter winters and snow in spring are revealed. That every generation of blackbirds are greedy berry eaters has become a fact!

There are two yearly events that stand out. Firstly, the spring opening of the buds and the first light pastel green leaves unfolding. And secondly, the autumn ripening of the berries and invasion of the birds.

I can still remember when the street was renovated some 25 years ago and they planted a small twig with a few leaves kept upright with a two metre high stick dwarfing the seedling. Now the tree is very big and a small world in itself going through the seasons and making my day when I look at it in the morning. This is one of the advantages of getting old: the privilege of looking back and marvelling at the changes.



Monday, October 17, 2011

It's only a creepy ghost story!



Kathy posted the following on her Facebook: "Nice cool morning ... but there was something (or someone) at the far right corner of the cemetery".

Several friends responded to the post and wanted to know more. Kathy, who lives in an apartment which overlooks a Muslim burial ground, offered details: "Caught a glimpse of movement when I opened the balcony door just now. Didn't wait to see more. It was just after 5am, I couldn't for the life of me imagine anyone being at the cemetery at such a time."

More comments followed. They mainly expressed fear, curiosity and caution. These reactions are consistent with the findings of those who study the phenomenon of fear. Admit it! Evil and horror are fascinating! The continued popularity of the horror genre -- both in literature and the movie industry -- bears testimony to this view.

But that will not make former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad happy. He expressed his dismay recently at the proliferation of horror movies on local television. Malaysia is trying to create a scientific culture and such movies, says Mahathir, only promote belief in mythical beings and would be counterproductive. "We, especially Muslims, should know that only Allah has the power over everything."

One would expect a man of science to offer that argument. But for many of us the fascination with fear is connected with a primal urge to understand the unknown. At night, danger lurks everywhere and there are mysterious lights in the sky and things that go bump in the night. Scary! Just so you know, I sleep with the light on.

Few can resist the lure of horror which dates back to ancient times. Events, forces or powers that cannot be explained by the laws of science have touched millions of lives in every culture. Stories about ghostly churchyards and cemeteries, haunted homes and restless spirits that have come back to haunt the living are the very stuff of myths (and literature) in all societies, both traditional and modern.

Frank Wilhelm, professor of psychology at the University of Basel, attempts an explanation: "Tension and excitement are often seen by people as positive, and in this context we talk of the 'suspense effect'. Besides this tension people experience when they come into contact with horror stories, however, there is another factor at work: the fear that is kindled in us by coming face to face with the supernatural. Notwithstanding that, human beings show an affinity with the "spirit world."  The first encounters people have with ‘spirits’ occur in their dreams, for instance when they dream of someone who has died. As human beings, we process knowledge and experiences on a metaphorical basis in our dreams. This is a culturally independent process. Furthermore, it’s known that if people believe a curse has been placed upon them this can result in major physical consequences ranging all the way through to heart failure and death." 

I'll bet you that Kathy has more spooky tales to tell. You can't stop people saying what they think.

The pictures above were taken in Shah Alam, Selangor during the 'hungry ghost' festival in August this year. Buddhists and Taoists celebrate it on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month. Devotees burn bundles of joss stick and paper hell money as well as food to appease and stop dead spirits from entering their homes and wreaking vengeance on those who had betrayed them. Photos courtesy of NST Photo Library.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

All roads lead to Ipoh


Illustration by JEHAN MOHD.


I have been spending a lot of time in Ipoh, the capital city of Perak state, Malaysia lately. My birthplace is Batu Gajah, some 40 minutes' drive away, but I grew up in Ipoh. When I am asked to name my hometown, the enthusiastic answer is Ipoh. Batu Gajah is an afterthought.

Ipoh is two and half hours by car from Kuala Lumpur, so it qualifies as a short journey. Each time I cross Hulu Bernam, the border town of Selangor and Perak, the excitement of getting close to "home" becomes stronger and I have to will myself to be patient.

Ipoh has that effect on me. It gives me a sense of place, a sense that I belong to a tiny haven of peace and tranquillity. I don't get that feeling when I return to Kuala Lumpur from Ipoh even though I have stayed in the city for a good part of my adult life beginning from the day I entered university. I learned about life's harsh realities in Kuala Lumpur but it is, essentially, my workplace, not my home.

When I am in Ipoh, I always make a quick trip around the city and inevitably to our old family home which now seems out of place. The surrounding area has developed to include high-rise buildings and their attendant problems. I have vivid memories of that house and at the time it was my whole world. I saw the current owner in the garden recently and wondered if she and her family were enjoying their stay there.

Ipoh -- which is known for its natural attractions (think limestone caves), food and affordable property prices, among other incentives -- is promoted as a retirement hot spot, a label I deeply resent. Why do many assume that only retirees would want to live there? My conversations with young Ipoh-born Malaysians who now work in Kuala Lumpur suggest otherwise. If they had their way, they would love to come home and build their careers in comfortable and familiar surroundings.

Buildings have mushroomed to meet the aspirations of growth. I don't recognise many new structures although the old ones look as if time has stood still, for example, the city bus station which seriously needs a facelift.

If you have come looking for food, Ipoh is THE place. As my niece guides me through the numerous eateries there, I thank God for the city's "small and cheap town" reputation. You can have a feast everyday. Take that Kuala Lumpur!

When I was in Ipoh last week, I met two returnees who had lived abroad for a long time. K was in the United States for 10 years before coming home; he now runs a cane furniture business.

SH had spent a good part of his life overseas and  felt the urge to return to Ipoh while drinking coffee in a cafe in Sri Lanka. As he sipped his favourite beverage and took in the ambience of the cafe and its environs, he realised that everything he ever wanted could be found in Ipoh. He packed his bags the next day and booked a flight to Malaysia. He is currently enjoying his landscape gardening enterprise.

These men had felt the sense of place that their hometown gave them. It remained real even though they were miles away from home. This is a sentiment that I totally agree with.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs: Words of wisdom

The Huffington Post remembers Steve Jobs through his 11 best quotes. Here are five.


"That's been one of my mantras -- focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."
-- BusinessWeek interview, May 1998



"Picasso had a saying: 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas...I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world."
-- 1994



"[Y]ou can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
-- Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.



"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
-- Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.



"My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people."
-- Interview with 60 Minutes, 2003