Saturday, October 30, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Deepavali

We're getting ready for Deepavali or Diwali, the "festival of lights" that is a major Hindu holiday.  It starts on Friday 5th November. The only problem is that my pals can't agree on what it celebrates.

After we agreed it's about prayers, lighting candles, world peace, and eating mutton curry and other goodies, I was told the origin of the celebration depends on where you are from.

For some the lights are a greeting to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. For others it's reverence for the goddess Kali, the death/life goddess with the 8 arms.  A third group say it celebrates the return of King Rama, Queen Sita, and their friends after their epic adventure (as told in the Ramayana) and the start of an era of peace and righteousness.

Although everyone argues about the origin, they all agree the holiday goes on for 5 days, and on the 4th day the official New Year starts.  So we'll be handing out ang pow (little gifts of money in colourful envelopes) again. There will also be lots of fireworks.

I'll be celebrating with friends, and curiously it is also a holiday in the UK.  November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day, a holiday that celebrates an attempt in 1605 to blow up parliament and the king. 
Fawkes and his Gunpowder Plot failed, but today the event is celebrated with fireworks and the burning of "guys" effigies of the chief conspirator Guy Fawkes.

So it will be fireworks all round I guess.

To get into the mood, here are some pictures of Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India.  Batu Caves lie just on the other side of Kuala Lumpur, about an hour from my house.

The tall statue is of Lord Murugan, a popular god who appears in many stories, and is usually a war-like character whose magical weapons slay egoes, pride and human waknesses as well as monsters.

To get to the temple inside, you've got to climb 260 or so steps, then enter the cave and climb a few dozen more steps. 

This last pic shows the temple inside.  As you can see, it's a MASSIVE cave and has some excellent stalactites. 

Happy Deepavali everyone!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Repost Friday: Cat Names

This post was first put up on Saturday, July 21, 2007

Weekend Cat Blogging: Cat Names

When Scoop decided he was moving in, and we thought we traveled too much to live with a cat, our cries of “Scoop that cat out of the house” didn’t put him off. Hence the name Scoop.

Au is named after his golden coat (AU for Gold) and also because he bites when we play rough games; so we’re always saying, "au, au, au!"

I love the whole process of cat naming and think the psychology of pet naming is worthy of academic research.a kitty named cat

Are those who give their pets aristocratic names like Duke and Datin (Malay for the wife of a baronet) trying to climb the social ladder or merely acknowledging the innate superiority of their cat friends?

Do cats with names like Alfred, Suzie and Annie live with humans who are more anthropomorphic than cats who are called Fluffy, Tiger and Tinkerbell?

Are cats with distinguished names like Augustus and Divinia more likely to be sedate than colleagues called Whirlwind and Lightening?

The best name I've heard in ages for a cat is Cockroach: because he eats everything in sight and moves like lightening!

Anyone have any other good cat names?

PS this pretty kitty is simply called Cat.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review Thursday: Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Ish
By Peter H. Reynolds
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd (September 5, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1844282961
ISBN-13: 978-1844282968

This cute little tale is about a boy who tries to draw and fails.  Everything turns out "ish"  vase-ish, book-ish and so on.  Yet when Marisol loves it, Ramon decides to keep going.

This simple little tale is really excellent and the drawings are lovely.  Unfortunately this book is not available at MPH so you should look for it elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

COT: Sneaky Cat Manoeuvres

I'm in my office, working on a piece, when Au walks in, headbutts my ankle, says, "Meow!" and marches out purposefully.

This is a signal that something serious is amiss.  Either his bowl of kitty crunchies needs topping up, or the water glass is not up to the standard our senior cat expects.

I get up and follow Au - who then suddenly ducks, double-backs, and jumps up into my office chair. 

Then he sits there, laughing at me, as I realise I've been tricked out of my chair. 

Au has a wicked sense of humour.

cats on Tuesday For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Target Speaks: I Was Almost The Destructor Kitty

Hello, can you see this?  It's me, Target! I'm purring very loudly because I'm furry excited to be blogging again. 

I've just discovered that I'm a member of the naughty kitty club.  Au says it's because the day after mummy cat brought me home, I climbed up the back of a 2 m tall antique mirror and PUSHED until it went down with a crash and smashed into a million pieces.

This is a picture of me afterwards. 

Mummy cat thought it was a sign that I should be called Attila or Destructor, but T-man thought that one mishap should not follow me throughout life.

Since then I have been very good.  I've only smashed mummycat's favourite tea cup, and a plate, and a glass, and a sort of bowl thing.  Mummy cat says it's OK because it's my kontribooshun to industry.  I think that means that I help employ people.

So I don't see why I should be in the naughty kitty club.  Or why Au calls me a clumsy fur brain!  Do you?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Shophouses

I'd never heard the word shophouse before I came to Asia, but once you're here, you can't help but see them everywhere.

Shophouses are fairly narrow buildings with 3 or 4 floors.  The bottom level is a shop, and the levels above are offices or flats.  Hence shop + house = shophouse.

Typically the top floors overhang the street level shop.  This creates a covered walkway that shelters pedestrians from the hot tropical sun.

The first picture was taken in Kuching, Sarawak a  month or so ago.  As you can see, Kuching people have a good eye and like to paint their shophouses in interesting ways.

The second is a shot of the street behind.  It looks a bit drab because the real action is hidden in the dark cool walkways. 

It's a bit of a metaphor for Malaysia really.  At first sight a lot of it looks a bit grubby on top but once you get past that, it's a really fascinating place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Repost Friday: New Arrival

It is Target's 3rd Gotcha Day today.  I really can't believe he's 3 years old already.  Anyway, in honour of this event, here's the first post announcing his arrival.

Friday, October 26, 2007


New Arrival

kittenWe've a new inmate in the house. A small marmalade and cream boy cat, a rescued stray who has been fostered by a very kind Malay lady in our neighbourhood.


We weren't ready for another cat but Au has been fretting since Scoop passed away. As much as we try, human people just don't have the necessary skills cat people have when it comes to patrolling and playing race and chase.


Au has been angelic. The first night he saw the kitten, he sat and watched with big eyes. When we put the kitten to bed, Au came to sit with us, sniffing us over intently.


The first morning, we let the kitten explore my office and Scoop's room. He's a brave little thing and he was careering all over the place, playing with a pingpong ball by lunchtime.


He sniffed over a sleeping Au in the afternoon, but when Au woke up and touched whiskers with him in a friendly way, the kitten puffed up like a blowfish and hissed. Surprised and hurt, Au walked off. That little scene was repeated later in the day.


Au playingOn the morning of the third day, yesterday, Au looked at the kitten, turned his back and stalked off. He stopped at the door, turned around and gave a theatrical hiss.


Surprisingly this did the trick. The kitten followed him about yesterday afternoon, sniffing excitedly at all the place Au touched. And Au has been looking at this little scrap of fur with a small smile. They touched whiskers last night (without hissing!) so I'm hoping they'll be firm friends soon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review Thursday: Nail Soup by Eric Maddern and Paul Hess

Nail Soup
by Eric Maddern and Paul Hess
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books 2009
ISBN-10: 1847800297
ISBN-13: 978-1847800299
Price: RM 35.40

This is a Swedish folktale retold by Maddern.  A traveler asks a sour old woman in the forest for shelter, and is given a space on the floor in a grudging manner.  However, he charms his hostess by telling her he'll make nail soup - and then persuades her step by step to cook for him.  

What's nice is that this story can be read as a funny tale or a moral one.  Also, the illustrations are bold and striking.  I think I would have liked this when I was little; it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

COT: Boris is the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal

Boris who is currently living in our front garden is a nice cat.  He eats twice as much as any cat I've ever known, and he is determined to sneak into the house and hang out.  When I catch him indoors, Boris closes his eyes firmly, and tries to pretend he's not there. 

Because of these traits, I am reminded of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy's Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, "a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous."

Here he is, pretending to be fast asleep on the treadmill.....

cats on Tuesday For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Living In Malaysia: When Duit Kopi Is A Way Of Life

If you look at the world map, there are precious few countries that can be described as "clean".  In most of the world, corruption is flourishing.

I grew up in the Netherlands and Scotland where corruption is the province of politicians and big business (remember the British MP expenses scandal earlier this year?) My first brush with everyday corruption was in the late 1980s when I went to live in Jakarta, Indonesia.

If you broke the speed limit, made wrong turn, or committed some other minor crime, the policeman would ask you for a bribe, rather than give you a ticket.  Often it didn't matter what you were doing either; they once demanded money because I stopped at red traffic lights! 

In those days fines for locals were 2000 rupiah and for us foreigners it was 5000 rupiah.  And if you didn't have exact money, they'd give you change.

I asked for a ticket every now and again, just to hear the guys explain why paying a bribe was so much easier for everyone.  But most of the time, I did what everyone else did and paid up.  In fact, I got so used to police demanding their money that payoffs became second nature. 

So when I went back to visit my mum in Spain, and I was stopped by a guardia civil, a member of the Spanish military style police force who are considered the heavyweights of law enforcement, I handed him some money without thinking about it.

The second I did it I could hear the clang of cell doors closing. 

Luckily I had two things working for me: I am rubia (light haired) and I speak horrible but comprehensible Spanish. I showed him my Indonesian driver's license along with my international one, and the guardia civil  turned all fraternal. "Don't do it again," he said, "You could get into terrible trouble."  And then we had a nice gossip about life in Indonesia versus life in Spain.

The guardia aren't particularly liked in Spain, especially by the older people who remember the days when they were the enforcers for the dictator of Spain, General Franco, so I think my newly made friend got a kick out of being nice to me, and a bonus frisson from feeling a little bit superior to his tropical colleagues. 



As i said, bribery is pretty common worldwide.  In the 2008 Transparency International bribery perception study, where a score of 1 is "Not at all corrupt" and 6 is "extremely corrupt", Indonesia was rated at 3.9 along with Argentina and the Czech Republic while Malaysia, Russia, Senegal, and South Africa were rated at 4. 

Malay slang for bribe is duit kopi or coffee money.  Police here wear button badges with the words Saya anti-rasuah (I'm against graft) inscribed.  You can read an old Star article about it here. The campaign is still ongoing.

Sometimes I wonder: if I ever go live in one of the few countries where the police are generally speaking squeaky clean, will I be able to adjust, or will I find myself behind bars before you can say, duit kopi?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Repost Friday: Recyclable Mouse

Dog Talk is out in The Star Weekender tomorrow.  Print version only.

This post first came out on Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Cats On Tuesday: Recyclable Mouse

Au and  his pet mouseA short while ago Au was trotting around the house with a tiny field mouse in his mouth. He disappeared into the garden, came home later without it, and we assumed the poor little thing had been dispatched.

Then he brought it in again, but through one thing and another it escaped. Then he caught it for a third time.

When the house tiger brings in the same catch three days running, we begin to ponder the existence of the recyclable mouse. Or perhaps Au wants a pet?

And here they are: Au and his pet mouse.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review Thursday: Bulldog Drummond Escapes



Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1939)

Ray Milland            As Capt. Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond
Heather Angel        As Phyllis Clavering
Reginald Denny      As Algy Longworth
E.E. Clive              As 'Tenny' Tennison

Directed by James P. Hogan

Runs 67 mins, Black and White

Set right after the First World War, this film introduces Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond, a tough, aristocratic hero with a stiff upper lip and a penchant for getting into and solcing murder mysteries.

In this one Bulldog meets a girl in the dark of night, and discovers she is being held by a mysterious  guardian who's up to no good.  Of course Bulldog has to leap into action!

What I love about this is the blend of action and the excellent humour, especially Tenny, the butler.  Also, Bulldog's girlfriend Phyllis is tough and not afraid to bash the bad guys over the head when needed.  Really, this is great fun and well worth seeing.

This film is in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

COT: Target And Snow

When Target moved in with us, there were several kitties across the street of roughly the same age.  Most have moved on to new homes, but a little girl cat called Snow is now a permanent resident.  


Target and Snow played together as kittens, and they are still good friends.  As Snow has a tarmacked drive, she comes over to play in our garden almost every day. 

However, yesterday, after Au chased away the orange cat, Target was all uptight.  So much so that when Snow came to say hello, Target jumped a mile and fluffed up.  As Au would say, Target is a fur brain.

cats on Tuesday For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Au Sees Off The Street Bully

There's this big orange cat in the neighbourhood who scares all the other cats to death. When he swaggers down the road, Target runs into the house growling and Boris hides under the Beetle.

This morning I left the door open in order to catch the morning breeze. The orange cat decided this was an invite and strolled in.

Before I could move, Au was off his chair and doing his best pufferfish impression. The orang cat turned around and streaked off. Au chased him all the way to the gate, howling fiercely.

Au is now lying on the bed, rolling about with pleasure, as Target hero worships his senior colleague.

As cats thrive on respect, Au is happy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Yawning Chasm of Cultural Divide

My friend Fred* is Malay, a devout Muslim, and although he's liberal in his views, he comes from a fairly traditional background.

I'm a Western European atheist, feminist, rebel at heart, with views that on bad days run to the right of Attila the Hun.

Although we're almost complete opposites, we have worked together happily on various projects for almost 10 years now. We also discuss religion, politics, race, and culture with one or both of us squealing "But how can you SAY that?" or "How can you BELIEVE that?". 

I find our chats very instructive. For one thing, I can ask Fred to enlighten me on all sorts of sensitive things that many other people in this country are too shy to discuss. But sometimes I am aware of this yawning cultural divide between us. Like the time we were working on some TV scripts together.....

We had about four mornings of work to do on a project, and as I have a home office, Fred was going to come to my place.  But when we were making arrangements, he became a bit twitchy and confessed he was worried about khalwat.

As Wikipedia notes, "Khalwat is the Sharia  criminal offence of "close proximity" whereby two unmarried non-relatives of the opposite sex are apprehended after being found "in compromising positions" by state religious police."

Even though Fred's wife gave her blessing to our meeting up for work, Fred was worried he'd be arrested for being in my house even though there isn't anything in the least "compromising" about our relationship.

The concept of khalwat is so alien to Western European culture that it is at these points you have to make a decision. You can either decide it's just too difficult and walk away, or you decide that your friend's worry has to be yours too.

Fred is my friend so I was prepared to offer a solution, but being me, I couldn't help teasing him. "You know I don't find you sexually attractive, right?" I asked him innocently.

Poor Fred went white, red, and then burst into laughter when he realised I was teasing.

We got round the khalwat thing by working in the house while my other half was at home marking exam papers and preparing lectures.

It's situations like these that make me realise what Kipling meant when he wrote, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."

Friday, October 08, 2010

Repost Friday:

This was first posted on Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cat Chat

Scoop and AuAu is lying in the hall, making small kitten sounds in order to entice me to come and play with him. Scoop is in the kitchen, watching the stray cats in the back from the lofty heights of the kitchen window sill.

I've been out and about, getting the usual errands out of the way, and now it's time to get to work. When the air hots up, around 11AM, I'm planning to wash the car. Both Scoop and Au really enjoy that.

They sit on the wall and watch as I soak the car, soap it up and then rinse it off. They adore the way the bubbles fly in the air, and squeal like kittens if they get a drop on their coats.

Afterwards they walk all over the Beetle, making sure it's properly clean - and decorated with little sandy paw prints.

Saturdays are fun!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Review Thursday: Top 100 Pasta Dishes by Annabel Karmel


Top 100 Pasta Dishes
By Annabel Karmel
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Ebury Press (13 May 2010)
ISBN-10: 0091937728
ISBN-13: 978-0091937720
RM55.90

If you've got kids, or are looking for a present to give someone with kids, then this is the book to go for. 

The first two sections are recipes designed for babies and toddlers. Each recipe states the youngest age kids can eat each dish, how long it takes to make, how many portions you can get out of the recipe, and whether it's suitable for freezing.  The other sections focus on poultry and pasta, meat, fish and veggy.

The ingredients are fresh but designed to work with dried pasta, dried herbs, and tins or bottles of tomato etc so you don't end up spending 3 hours in the kitchen making basic sauces. 

This book is also pretty and the hardcover means you can stuff it in your handbag when you go shopping for ingredients.  Really, this book is worth a look.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

COT: Target Begs For A Share

We used to have this house policy that cats are not allowed to beg.  However, when Target dislocated his paw last year, that went out of the window.

Now look what happens if I have a snack while sitting on the sofa.





Discipline? There's none left in our home!

cats on Tuesday For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Au Speaks Out: It's ANIMAL DAY!!!

It's Animal Day, de day dat efurrywon has to do exaktly what we fur friends want. 

De survunt says, "How is that different from any other day, Au meow?"

I'm not sure but i think it's bekos I'm going to be extra demanding.

Yes, ekstra breakfusts, treats and games all day long. 

We've had rost chikkun for brekfast AND fish and now we're hafing a long lie in bed.  Tonight I will play wild games wif my male survunt and put de bitey on de feemale too.  De fur brain is going to ask for ekstra bed making. 

Wot will you do for Animal Day? 

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Yellow is a Royal Colour



Today the cats and dogs of the bloggosphers are celebrating LIVE Day that will hopefully raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer.

The group behind it is Livestrong. If you live in Malaysia, check out the National Cancer Society.

Livestrong has lots of info on their web site so if you're surfing for helpful info, start there. The National Cancer Society's web site is less useful but do pick up the phone and give them a ring. They're great people, and very supportive. Plus, you don't need to give your name if you're shy.

Livestrong has chosen yellow as their colour, which is interesting as yellow is a royal colour in Malaysia and has special cultural significance.

Malaysia has 13 states, 9 of which are headed by hereditary Sultans. The Sultans elect one of their members to be Agong, King of Malaysia. These appointments run for 5 years.

While the post is elected, in practice the royal houses take it in turn. The current Agong is Mizan Zainal Abidin, the Sultan of Terengganu.

Other heads of state that are elected include The Pope, and the royals of Cambodia. In the movies there's Star Wars queen Padmé Amidala.

Yellow is a royal colour in Malaysia, so if one of the Sultans happens to invite you to an official party, you can't wear yellow clothes. However, you can wear yellow any other time you like.

Yellow is popular here because Malaysians tend to look good in it, especially if they have darker skin tones. I avoid it like the plague because with my skin and hair it makes me look like a banana.

If you are a cat or dog and want to take part in this day, check out zoolatry blog, and Milocat blog.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Repost Friday: Pulling My Tail

Katz Tales is out in The Star Weekender tomorrow.  Print version only.  

 This was first posted on Sunday, July 29, 2007


WCB: Pulling My Tail

We had a real monsoon rainstorm early this morning. Woken up by the windows rattling and the sound of gushing rain, I went downstairs, shut all the doors and then filled up the cat's bowl of biscuits and drinking water glass before curling up in bed again.

Just as I was drifting off, the two fuzzies appeared at the door. I heard Au's softest yik-yik-yik and then Scoop's answering rau-rau. Before I could hide under the pillow and play dead, Scoop jumped up on the bed and asked me to wake up.

I tried to tell him I had just filled both his bowl and glass but he insisted I got up.

Then when I did, Scoop rushed off, tail high in the air, followed by Au. I could hear them run into their cardboard box on the landing and I swear Au snickered.

Cats! They just love pulling my tail!

PS the two fuzz monsters are sitting on top of my car, watching our neighbour clean his car. They just love watching people sweat!