Journal 21-3-2015

How time flies. It is almost months ago that I published my last Journal! Before I start forgetting what I did, I better write an update ..:-)

In February we visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. We enjoyed very much their hospitality and visited interesting places. During our 12-days trip I took more than 800 pictures and I am still struggling to write a trip report. Here are a few, just to get an impression.

On 19 February the Chinese Year of the Goat started. Last year on the first day of CNY, I visited Houses of Worship in KL with my friend Joe Yap. This year we decided to explore Putrajaya. There is a lot of interesting architecture in this government capital of Malaysia, resulting again in many pictures. Full report will take some time, here a few highlights of our visit. I find the older buildings rather megalomaniac, but many modern ones are beautiful and stylish. Like these ministry buildings.

Putrajaya

Making a trip with Joe on the first day of CNY might become a nice tradition. Like having CNY lunch with my friend George, this time on the 2nd day. But of course I also went to Parit Baru, Aric’s hometown to to celebrate CNY with my adopted family…:-). After first visiting a “new” waterfall with Siang Hui and Nick. Another tradition, they celebrate CNY in Teluk Intan, not far from Parit Baru, and the last three years we have visited new waterfalls in Perak on the 3rd day of CNY: Lata Naga Air (2012),  Ulu Licin  (2013) and Upper Damak (14). This time our target was two waterfalls in the Klah river, near Sungkai. A beautiful trail and nice waterfalls. Detailed report later…:-)

My friend Rani joined this waterfall trip and came with me to Parit Baru for the CNY party of Aric’s family. Quite a crowd. There was food and fireworks. Here is the official picture. One Indian, one Malay, one Kwai Loh and many Chinese. There was a penalty if you were not wearing red and I was upset that my orange shirt was not red enough…:-)

CNY Parit Baru

Two weeks later I was back at Sg Klah, this time with Edwin, Janine, Paul and Fahmy. During my first visit we thought that we had found the second fall, Lata Tujuh, but comparing my picture with the one on the Internet, that was not the case. Looking at the Google Earth map, we had an idea about the possible location of this Tujuh fall, so I went back. True, we found another fall on that location, but again, not Lata Tujuh. However, it was a very pleasant trip with nice company. Looking for a suitable place for lunch, we found a nice shop, Nasi Bamboo Sg Klah. Will sure come again!

Of course I still walk regularly in Bukit Kiara. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Recently I joined a group of hikers for a long hike, from TTDI until Desa Park City! A fun group, we had a birthday party, with cake, under the highway..:-)

I became a member of Friends of Bukit Kiara. We are worried about the plans of JLN to turn the park into a “recreational arboretum”. Here is a letter, written to the STAR by Pola Singh and me. Will it have any effect?

Upgrade of Bukit Kiara - Keep us in the Loop, Metro Star 18 March 2015

For another article Pola asked me if he could use some of my flora pictures. Of course no problem, so I selected a few. Here is the beauty of Kiara..:-)

We have started a cleaning and renovation exercise in our condo. Throwing away a lot of stuff. Like my old specs and my outdated computer and programming books. Bought a new bookcase for my books. The storeroom looks much better now. More to come…:-)

Close Encounters

The Close Encounter concept has been introduced by ufologists, people who believe in ufo’s and aliens. You will not be surprised that I don’t, although, to be honest, the Spielberg movies  E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, belong to my absolute favourites….:-)

Close Encounters

The close encounters in this blog post are different and more prosaic . Not between humans and aliens, but between spacecraft and “celestial bodies”. In the past  fifty years hundreds of close encounters have taken place, with spacecraft flying by, orbiting or even landing on planets, moons, comets and asteroids in  in our solar system. If you are interested in the whole list (314! and counting), surf to NASA’s National Space Science Data Center and select “Planetary Science”.

In this year there will be two memorable and exciting close encounters.

DAWN

Next week ( 6 March), the Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit around the asteroid Ceres. Here is an artist impression of Dawn and its travel to Ceres, starting already in 2007

Dawn

The asteroid belt is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is, with its diameter of  950 km, the largest of the asteroids. When it was discovered in 1801, it was considered a planet for some time. As you see, on its way to Ceres, Dawn has first explored Vesta, the second-largest asteroid (diameter 525 km). Here is a composite image of Vesta taken by Dawn. Note the three craters, nicknamed the “snowman” and the “bump” at the south pole, a mountain twice as high as Mount Everest…:-)

Vesta

Dawn left Vesta in September 2012 and is now closing in on Ceres. Here is a picture taken by Dawn ten days ago, on 19 February. Note the two bright spots. The scientists have no clear idea yet what they are, and of course they are getting excited…:-)

Ceres

Ceres is the final destination of Dawn. The coming months it will explore the surface of Ceres  from various distances and finally settle down in a stable orbit (July 2015). You can follow Dawn on the Dawn Blog

NEW HORIZONS

On 19 January 2006 the New Horizons spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral. Destination: Pluto, at that time still the ninth planet of our solar system. But not for long, because later that year Pluto was degraded to the status of dwarf planet, together with Ceres. The left picture shows the trajectory of New Horizons, with its actual position on 28 February, the right picture gives an artist impression of the spacecraft closing in on Pluto and its moon Charon.

New Horizons trajectory

New Horizons and Pluto

After passing Jupiter in 2007, the spacecraft has gone into hibernation for considerable times, to save energy. Every now and then waking up to let Earth know that it was still alive…:-). Last year in December, it became fully awake again.

As you see, Pluto is an outsider, with its very elliptical orbit. We know consider it a member of the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft will fly by on 14 July this year and come as close as ~ 10.000 km! How will Pluto look like? Here is an artist impression of Pluto’s surface, its moon Charon and the Sun. Yes, that is our Sun, not much more than a bright star. Communication with New Horizons takes more than 4 hours, one way.

Pluto

If the spacecraft keeps functioning, we will know a lot more about Pluto after the fly by. Exciting!

New Horizons will not go into orbit, just fly by. With the little fuel left, it will try to visit a few more members of the Kuiper Belt, and then leave our solar system, like the two Voyagers before. But that is a topic for another post.

ROSETTA

One more memorable event in 2015. I have reported a few times already about Rosetta, now in orbit around the comet 67P. This comet will reach its perihelion (closest to the Sun) in August this year. Already part of the comet is evaporating (forming the famous “comet tail”). Rosetta is still exploring the comet from various distances. The left picture, taken from far, shows the evaporation. The right picture is a close-up from the surface, taken from a distance of 8.9 km only!

67P

close up

The location of the Philae lander is still not accurately known. The scientists are hoping that soon this lander will get enough sunlight (it is probably in the shade of a rock wall) and will wake up again. Let’s keep our fingers crossed..:-)

 

Anwar & Saiful

On 10-2-2015  the Federal Court of Malaysia upheld the ruling by the Court of Appeal  that  Anwar Ibrahim was guilty of sodomising his aide Saiful Bukhari in 2008, and sentenced him to five years’ jail. Article 377B of the Malaysian Penal Code was applied.

Anwar

Saiful

The last few days I have received concerned questions from family and friends, if it was still safe for gay people to live in Malaysia. My answer is: don’t worry, this was a political process, a successful attempt by the powers that be, to eliminate the charismatic opposition leader.

Why then was I so shocked and depressed the last few days? Pity with Anwar? Not really, he has behaved as a typical alpha male, like Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Chua Soi Lek, just to name a few. But I am worried about the future of Malaysia, my 2nd home.

In this blog I will give some background information, as I have noticed that there is a  lot of misunderstanding.

Let me start with the “infamous” article 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code. And not only of  the Malaysian one! It occurred in 42 (!) of the former British colonies. An archaic law, repealed by now in some of the more civilised ones.

Here are the relevant parts of article 377:

377A:  Any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person is said to commit carnal intercourse against the order of nature.

377B: Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.

377C: Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature on another person without the consent, or against the will, of the other person, or by putting the other person in fear of death or hurt to the person or any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.

I like to draw your attention to two points

  1. The definition in 377A mentions “another person”, NOT “another man” . So it covers anal/oral sex in heterosexual relationships as well.
  2. ONLY the man who puts his penis in the mouth or anus of “another person” commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature and will be punished. The other person goes free.

An archaic law. Here are results from a recent American sexual behaviour survey

Sexual Behaviour

Just an example: In the age group 30-39, an astonishing 59% of the women gave a man a blowjob. And mind you, although the woman is active, it is the man who is committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature. Sodomy? In the same age group, 22% of the women were sodomised!  The percentages for homosexual oral and anal sex are 6% and 3 %  “only”

Would the results for Malaysians be very different? If the law would be applied, the prisons would be flooded…:-) Actually the law is not applied often. According to the Human Rights Watch organisation, article 377 has been applied only 7 times since 1938! In recent memory, only two convictions, both concerning Anwar. By the way, note that in this article it is also mistakenly assumed that 377 is about LGBT!

Back to Anwar and Saiful. In 2008 Saiful started to work for Anwar as an aide. On 28 June 2008 he makes a police report alleging Anwar had sodomised him at a condominium in Bukit Damansara between 3.10pm and 4.30pm on 26 June 26 2008. Here is a timeline  published by the New Straits Times.A short resume: Anwar denies, claims that semen found in Saiful’s anus has been put there to incriminate him. In 2012 the High Court acquits and discharges him of sodomising Saiful. The prosecution appeals and in 2014 the court of Appeal sentences Anwar to 5 years. The Federal Court has upheld this verdict.

Here are the two main actors for the prosecution, the Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail and the Public Prosecutor Mohammad Shafee. Shafee may well become the next AG. Both men are long time adversaries of Anwar.

gani

Shafee

Time to give my own opinion!  Did Anwar and Saiful have sex?

Personally I am convinced they did. And I am sure it was consensual. I even would not be surprised if Saiful had started making avances. Does that mean Anwar and Saiful are gay? Anwar is a good husband and a grandfather. But he likes men too, so he is bisexual. About Saiful I am less sure. Apparently he is married now, but what does that mean.:-)? I understand that he has been fascinated by VIP’s. And from this wedding picture he has reached his goal…:-) Here the MB of Kedah is paying his respect. That is Mukhriz, by the way, the son of Mahathir. Another adversary of Anwar…:-). Coincidence?

Mukhriz & Saiful

Here is my reconstruction of the period before Saiful reported to the police on 28-6-2008. Bold by me

  1. Some time after Saiful started to work for Anwar, they get intimate. From a IPU reportMohd Saiful lodged a police report claiming that not only had Anwar sodomized him on the afternoon of Thursday 26 June 2008, but that he had been sexually assaulted some eight or nine times against his will by Anwar over the previous two months. Eight or nine times against his will! When it is remarked how a 61-year with a history of back pain can do that to a 23-year old, this part of the report is no longer mentioned. So the charge becomes 377B and not 377C
  2. On 24-6-2008 Saiful visits Najib. About a scholarship, but the topic of his “relationship” with Anwar is also discussed. Can that be true? He may also have met police officers. Why?
  3. On 26-6-2008 his last encounter with Anwar. He buys KY Jelly! From a Bernama report: Mohd Saiful, in his evidence, had spoken of his previous encounters he had had with Anwar, the unpleasant sensation of pain and the reason for bringing the KY Jelly lubricant.
  4. The next two days  Saiful doesn’t pass motion, and doesn’t rinse himself, “to keep the evidence intact”. Why wait two days?
  5. He then lodges the police report on 28-6 and next visits three hospitals to get his anus examined. Report by the Borneo Post

Looks like Anwar has been framed, don’t you think so?

I am not the only one thinking like that. Here is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Caught in political sex trap, quoting Wikileaks info:

The cable that deals with Dr Anwar’s sodomy case, dated November 2008 and released exclusively to The Sun-Herald by WikiLeaks, states: ”The Australians said that Singapore’s intelligences services and [Singaporean elder statesman] Lee Kuan Yew have told ONA in their exchanges that opposition leader Anwar ‘did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted’.”

The document states the Singaporeans told ONA they made this assessment on the basis of ”technical intelligence”, which is likely to relate to intercepted communications.

The ONA is also recorded as saying that Dr Anwar’s political enemies engineered the circumstances from which the sodomy charges arose.

”ONA assessed, and their Singapore counterparts concurred, ‘it was a set-up job and he probably knew that, but walked into it anyway’,” the cable states.

Of course the publicity after Saiful lodged his report was enormous. Confronting the press he was accompanied by his “Uncle Pet”. Here he is, two pictures, one with Saiful’s lawyer, the other one giving an interview to Malaysiakini.

uncle pet

uncle_pet

Here is the interview. Uncle Pet discusses Saiful’s visit to the several hospitals and voices his indignation about an article by RPK in Malaysia Today , suggesting that Saiful might have been sodomised by uncle Pet himself.

Although that was a preposterous comment by RPK, it is also clear that uncle Pet was not good for Saiful’s credibility, so not surprisingly he has “disappeared” and is never mentioned in the court proceedings.

The main argument for the Federal court to uphold Anwar’s sentence was that they considered Saiful a credible witness. Credible in his account of what happened between Anwar and him on 26-6-2008. That may be true. But if my reconstruction above is correct, it should not necessarily have come to a court case. Consensual “unnatural” sex between two adults. Illegal, true, but hundred thousands of Malaysian couples do the same. Why only select and punish Anwar?

Shafee acknowledges that it has been a (legal) conspiracy.  It was sodomy, he argues, and all legal means are allowed to punish the culprit. Well, he will have a huge job to punish all (straight and gay) sodomites, when he will become the AG.

Shame on him. It was a political conspiracy. Selective persecution. Aimed exclusively at Anwar. I feel sorry for Malaysia.

Japan invades Malaya 1941/42

On 8 December 1941, just after midnight, Japan invades Malaya, one hour before the attack on Pearl Harbour. Less than eight weeks later, on 31 January 1942, the British Indian army has to retreat across the causeway to Singapore. A fascinating chronology of the invasion can be found here

One of the most decisive battles between the Japanese and British Indian army in the Malaya campaign has been fought near Kampar, the Battle of Kampar. The Japanese army advanced along the trunk road nr 1 and the British army had built fortified positions on the Bujang Melaka hill ridges near Kampar, overlooking the trunk road. My friends Chadel and Keong explored one of these ridges a couple of years ago and Chadel asked me recently if I was interested to go again and explore more. I was….:-)

We decided to follow the retreat of the British Indian Army from Kuala Kangsar until Serendah. In the three maps below (click to enlarge), the old trunk road nr 1 is highlighted in black. Red circles indicate points of interest. In what follows, I will comment on these “red spots”

tripmaptotaal

 The Sungei Perak bridges

On 19 and 20 December, heavy fighting took place on the Grik-Kuala Kangsar road near Lenggong. Japanese troops used the Cenderoh lake and the Perak river to float down in rafts, in the night bypassing Kuala Kangsar. It would be a disaster if they would take the two bridges (road and railway) across the Perak river, therefore the commander of all troops west of the Perak River, ordered on 21-12 an immediate withdrawal across the Perak river. This withdrawal was complete on 23-12 and the two bridges were demolished.

Here is where our recce started. We drove along the highway to Kuala Kangsar, where we had lunch in the Yat Lai shop, boasting on the best halal pow of Malaysia..:-) It was crowded and we shared a table with Ali, a friendly Malay gentleman, 83 years old. Of course I asked him if he had memories of the Japanese invasion. Not really anything  memorable, of course he was still a young boy, living in ‘remote’ Sauk.

The two bridges are still there, repaired of course, the impressive  Iskandar bridge still in use. The scenic Victoria railway bridge has been replaced by a new railway bridge parallel to it.

Intermezzo 1

Following the nr 1 trunk road to Ipoh, we passed Sungai Siput. It was here, 16 June 1948, that at the Phin Soon and Elphin plantations three European managers were killed by communists, leading to the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). A few years ago I had looked for these plantations and found them, but no sign of a memorial. So it was a surprise to notice a signboard now at the entrance of the Phin Soon estate. Followed by disappointment when the security guard told us that a visit of the memorial was only possible with permission of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association in KL. After some sweet talk we could meet the estate manager, who was cooperative and willing to bring us to the memorial shed, but he didn’t have the key, so we could not enter. We will have to come back here.

Chemor

The British plan was to delay the advance of the Japanese army in order to give the troops in Kampar time to fortify their defensive positions. Chemor was one of the locations where the Japanese would be lured into an ambush. My military background is non-existent so I do not really understand the details of the ambush, except that it failed completely. The text pages below are from “Escape from Singapore” The limestone crop, mentioned in the text, has now been partly destroyed by the Lafarge Cement factory…:-)

The Kuala Dipang bridge

Our last stop for the day was at the Kuala Dipang bridge, near the confluence of the Dipang and the Kampar river, a few km north of Kampar. The present bridge over the Kampar river is a new one, but on a picture stumps in the water, remains of the old bridge, were still visible. On 28 and 29 December 1941 heavy fighting took place here. The bridge was demolished, delaying the advance of the Japanese army.

We found the new bridge over the Kampar river, but did not see any stumps. A friendly local angler explained that those stumps had been removed already quite some time ago, but that some bits and pieces could still be found in the field next to the river. And indeed, we found some old remnants, nothing spectacular, but still interesting

We stayed overnight in Kampar. The Rumah Rehat (Resthouse) was fully booked, but hotel Fully Well (what’s in a name, lol) was a good alternative. We had dinner with claypot chicken rice, one of the best I ever have tasted.

Kampar must have been a small village during the war, a few streets, between the slopes of the Bujang Melaka and the numerous tin mining ponds. With a famous school, the Anglo-Chinese school, which became the headquarters of the Japanese army during the occupation. Now the town has expanded a lot, many tin mining ponds have been filled in and become residential areas and the location of the TAR college.

The Battle of Kampar

Just before Kampar the British Indian army had built fortified positions on three ridges overlooking the trunk road, Thompson’s ridge, Green Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. It is here that from 30-12-1941 until 2-1-1942 the battle of Kampar was fought. Chye Kooi Loong, a Kampar teacher and local historian has written a monumental book about it. We would have loved to meet him, but he passed away last year April. The book is also available online (in pdf format)

When Chadel and Keong explored the Green Ridge a few years ago,  there was still a signboard. It had disappeared now, so we had to find our own way. Not easy, no trail, swarms of mosquitoes. We found a few trenches, got lost a bit, found our way back. According to Chadel there should be more remnants, but we could not find them. On our way down we followed the stream between Green Ridge and Thompson’s ridge, with even a nice waterfall…:-) A pity that the authorities apparently are not interested to preserve this part of Malaysian history..:-(

After lunch in Kampar we relaxed at the Batu Berangkai Fall. A big pool, nice cascades. When I went back to the car to get my swimming gear, I managed to lock myself out… Fortunately Chadel turned out to be an experienced car thief, breaking into his own car!

The resistance of the British Indian army was so fierce and the Japanese losses so considerable that after four days of fighting the Japanese commander seriously considered to retreat and fall back to Ipoh. But at that same time, the British Army became aware that Japanese troops had landed at Teluk Intan. They were worried that these troops would cut off the main supply route from the south, and decided to pull back, to the surprise (and relief) of the Japanese! Would history have been different if the Japanese had retreated earlier…:-)?

The British Indian army retreated along the trunk road to Trolak and Slim River, where on 7-1-1942 the Battle of Slim River took place. We followed them, 73 years later…:-)

The Trolak Bridge

We had seen a picture of the Trolak bridge, a few km before Slim River, fallen undamaged in the hand of the Japs. After studying the maps we found it. The trunk road 1, as it was in 1942, is not everywhere identical with the present one! After the war this road has been “straightened” in several places. Look at the map. The original nr 1 road is in black, the straightened parts are in red. Near Trolak it is only a small stretch, but from Slim River to Tanjung Malim it is a completely new road. Actually the first toll road in Malaysia! My friends still remember that you had to pay 50 cents toll, until later the highway (green color) was constructed.

In Slim River the Rumah Rehat had rooms available. I always like to stay in these Resthouses, originally built for traveling civil servants. Sometimes quite basic, but often in a nice location. We had to pay RM 10 more, because we were not civil servants..:-). Slim River was a small kampung in 1942, now it has grown into a village, no problem to get food.

 The Battle of Slim River

The two Slim River bridges are far apart, not easy to defend. The map below gives the defensive positions. Main line of defense was at Trolak, where railway and road run very close. See map. It became a disaster. The Trolak force cold not stop the Japanese army, and through miscommunication, the troops near the Slim River bridges were not aware that the Japanese were approaching, resulting in such a chaos that the two bridges fell undamaged in Japanese hands! Here are the two bridges, the railway bridge has been made double track, the road bridge could well be unchanged since the war. You can read more about this debacle in Britain’s Greatest Defeat

The old nr 1 road from Slim River to Tanjung Malim (now the A121) still evokes a feeling of the past. Very winding and quiet. Could the enemy be waiting around the corner?  Here is a short video

Intermezzo 2

On our way back home, we made a detour to Batang Kali, to find another location related to the Malayan Emergency.  On 24 December 1948, six months after the killing of the three planters in Sungai Siput,  twenty four unarmed villagers were killed by British troops in what now is known as the Batang Kali Massacre. The British government has always denied responsibility for this war crime. There are plans for a memorial, I know the location of the plantation where it happened, but we could not find anything, it looks like the plantation doesn’t exist anymore. Here too we have to come back another time

The Battle of Serendah

After the debacle of Slim River, the British commanders decided to give up Selangor (including Kuala Lumpur!)and Negri Sembilan and fall back to Johore for a final attempt to stop the Japanese approach to Singapore. Trying to delay the advance of the Japanese army, a Gurkha detachment fought a battle with the Japanese at Serendah, 10-1-1942. The frightened population had sought refuge on the Chinese cemetery, looking down on the village.The Gurkhas lost the battle and destroyed the Serendah bridge, but the Japanese were quick to repair it and the following day they entered Kuala Lumpur.

After lunch in Ulu Yam (famous for its loh mee), we had a look at the bridge and drove to the top of the cemetery, with a view of Serendah and the tin mining ponds. So peaceful now!

A fascinating trip. We are thinking about another one to Johore. The battle of Muar and Gemas, the massacre of Parit Sulong and of course the fall of SIngapore.

Meet your great-(~10 million times)-grandmother

In my blog The Tree of Life, published a few months ago, I wrote about the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of all placental mammals, that it was a shrew-like animal, living about 65 million year ago. Terrestrial, with insects and fruits as food.

Our maternal ancestor

Yesterday Yale University has published an interesting update. Our ancestor most probably was not terrestrial, but lived in trees. More a squirrel than a shrew. This conclusion was drawn, based on a study of fossil ankle bones of Purgatorius as our LCA was named.

purgatorius

Flooding in Malaysia

Every year, during the North-East monsoon, flooding occurs in the Eastern states of Peninsular Malaysia. Last month the country has been hit by the worst monsoon floods in decades. Not only Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were affected, also Johor and Perak were suffering. I have collected a few pictures from the Internet, to give an impression, especially for those readers who do not live in Malaysia.

The main highway between KL and Kuantan on the East Coast was blocked by flooding. Here is an aerial view of the Temerloh exit, together with a Google Eart screenshot

GE_Temerloh

temerloh

As the (old) trunk road was also flooded, it was impossible to reach the East Coast by road! The National Park Taman Negara was closed and tourists staying in the posh Mutiara resort had to be evacuated.  Here the Tembeling river near to Kuala Tahan and the Mutiara resort, next to the “normal” situation

Taman_Negara_floods_231214

Kuala Tahan

Kuala Krai in Kelentan was very badly hit. Using the Streetview option in GE, I managed to find the location where the “flood” picture was taken.

GE Kuala Krau

Kuala Krau

A few pictures of the devastation, after the water had receded. This is the region around Kuala Krai

Many landslides occurred because of the heavy downpours. Left the  road leading from the Cameron Highlands to Gua Musang. Right the Grik-Jeli highway

NEWS

Grik Jeli

 

 

It will be clear to everybody that this season is not very suitable for waterfall trekking…:-) Two “for and after” pictures of waterfalls. Left the Pandan fall near Kuantan, right the Lata Rek waterfall in Kelantan. (Click to enlarge)

Pandan fall

Lata Rek

More than 200.000 people had to be evacuated to relief centers.

evacuation

Meanwhile Najib, the PM of Malaysia, was playing golf with Barrack Obama in Hawaii, until he was urgently called back by his angry people.

Najib and Obama

This was his defense

First, Razak said that Obama had personally invited him to play golf, so he couldn’t really turn it down. Second, he said that the trip was booked so long ago that it would have been awkward to cancel it. And third, he said the trip wasn’t even really about fun, because it was more of a “golf diplomacy” mission.

 

Street Art in KL

During a recent visit to KLCC I spent some time in the Petronas Art Gallery to have a look at an exhibition about Street Art in Kuala Lumpur.

Last year in September, fifteen young Malaysian artists have created six large mural paintings on walls of buildings in KL. The project, sponsored by Petronas, was called  #tanahairku 2014 where Tanah Air Ku means My Homeland. In the exhibition small scale versions of the paintings were presented and in a folder the locations were shown. In a modern way, by giving the GPS coordinates…:-).

Petronas Exhibition

map

 

Quote from the folder: “Projek #tanahairku 2014 aims to encourage 30 million Malaysians – a unique melting pot of cultures, traditions and heritage – to come together, draw from our strength in diversity and unite towards a common purpose

We decided to have a look at the paintings ourselves. Here I present pictures of each of them, with the title, name of the artist(s) and a short description, as given in the folder

1. Smile by Keep It Simple a.k.a KIS

Welcome to a surreal fantasy - a mural featuring a plethora of 
national symbols, elements and historical icons

Mural

Mural

2. We Are All In The Same Boat by District Creative

A boat and its passengers. 
A country and its people. 
A juxtaposition of imageries. 
A message of strength in diversity.

MuralMural

3. Brave by Anokayer & Yumz

An artistic take on the youth of the nation portraying the many 
compilations and contradictions in one visual

Mural

Mural

4. The Village and The City by Kenji X Cloak

The coming together of two worlds - an allegory of Malaysian 
life, and a wall-sized caricature portrait of the two artists

Mural

Mural

5. Makmur, Teguh, Luhur by Phiberwryte Connection

Three essential words chosen by the artist for the youth of the 
nation to embrace.

Mural

Mural

6.The Malaysian Model Heart Kit by KangBlaBla X Reeze

What is a Malaysian heart made of? What are the attributes and 
qualities that keep us going and define us as Malaysians

Mural

Mural

Altogether an interesting collection. Colorful, often graffiti-like. The description (given by the artists?) does not always help in understanding the significance of the mural, but never mind ..:-)

A few times you see 1957 in the murals. In 1957 the Federation of Malaya became independent, celebrated yearly on 31 August. The state of Malaysia was born 6 years later, in 1963. But that is a topic for another post…:-)

A nice project, I hope the murals will be maintained properly. Very different from the murals in Penang and Gopeng. Which us good! On our way back to our car we came across another one, not related to the #tanahairku project. I wonder how many more murals there might be in KL..:-)

Mural

The project got its name from the poem Tanah Air (Homeland), written by a Malaysian poet laureate, Usman Awang (1929-2001). My knowledge of Malay language is not good enough (actually almost non-existent) to understand the poem, but apparently it is popular. Recently a  very niceYouTube video has been created of this poem.

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As you may know I am quite worried about the future of Malaysia, with a government who is stoking racial unrest, just to remain in power. A project like this and the video offer a glimpse of optimism.

 

Journal 2-1-2015

December is not a very suitable month for waterfall trips. It is the season of the East monsoon, with lots of rain not only in the Eastern states, but all over the country. Not advisable to visit remote falls with a lot of river trekking. Early December I had visited the nearby Kanching Falls, we were back just before the rain started..:-)

Kanching

One week later I visited another waterfall with Janine, Edwin, Paul and Fahmy. I had been there before with my friend Eddie Yap, who has “discovered’ this pristine and unspoiled fall. He wants to keep it that way, I promised him to keep the location secret. We started early to avoid rain and we were lucky, the weather was splendid.

When at home, I spend much of my time with my computer, actually I must try not to get addicted (hey, you are already, some of my friends will tell me). Recently my computer chair broke down, I bought a new one in IKEA. Quite easy to assemble it…:-)

Chair

IMG_2470

My friend Chuan has recently discovered the hobby of bird photography and is a fast learner. One of his pictures, a heron in flight, is very nice and I had promised him that, after some editing, I would have this picture printed and framed. Here I am handing over the result, during a lunch in our favourite Black and White stall. The other picture is taken at the house of my friends Joseph and Beatrice. Christmas Caroling, very enjoyable even for a non-believer like me…:-)

Chuan Christmas Caroling

The weekend before Christmas I went to Sabak Bernam, to attend the wedding dinner of one of Aric’s cousins. It was a big event, more than 70 tables (that is the way the size of a Chinese wedding dinner is counted, one table is for ten people). Among the more than 700 guests there was one Kwai Loh (me) and one Indian (brother in law of the groom).  This time no pictures of the food (which was nice), the cutting of the cake, the uncorking of the champagne bottle, the yam seng singing. Just a few pictures of me…:-)

On Christmas Day we went to KLCC with Aei Ling, Aric’s older sister. Because her husband died recently, she and her kids will in general not visit family and friends during the mourning period of 100 days.  Therefore they did not attend the wedding dinner. We walked around in KLCC, crowded with everybody in Xmas mood;  later we had a nice dinner together.

A few days later there was a big family gathering in Damansara Mutiara, near to where we live. Everybody was supposed to bring some food, I had prepared eggs stuffed with salmon and cucumber. They liked it…:-). It was a pleasant meeting, Aric is a very popular uncle with the many kids around.

Here is the official picture

Family gathering

New Year’s Eve we stayed at home, as usual. This time we had decided to prepare a gastronomic dinner for the two of us, with Aric and I each preparing 5 dishes. We started with the first course at 7 pm and finished just before midnight. Big fun. Here is what we prepared.

dinner

From left to right and top to bottom:

1. Pork Liver Pâté  2. Avocado with prawns 3. Shiitake Soup 4. Scallops with vinaigrette
5. Salmon with herbs from the oven 6. Tomato stuffed with macaroni, olives and cheese
7. Salad 8. Cheese 9. Ricotta with strawberry coulis 10 Ice cream with warm berries

Wines: Merlot, Chardonnay, Sake and Monbazillac. We also had a bottle of champagne but we decided to keep it for another occasion. Don’t worry, we did not get drunk.

Wine

Because of the severe flooding in several states (more than 200.000 people evacuated!), the government had decided to cancel the traditional firework celebrations. Usually we watch the fireworks from our balcony, this time it was a quiet countdown.

Happy New Year

Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year

Have you ever wondered why Christmas is celebrated on 25 December, and why the New Year starts on 1 January? Most probably because both events are close to the Winter Solstice on 21 or 22 December. A huge amount of information can be found on the Internet.

Winter Solstice

Because the Earth axis is tilted, the Sun is not always above the equator, but moves between the northern Tropic of Cancer and the southern Tropic of Capricorn.

seasons

This causes the seasons and the variability of the day length. When the Sun is above one of the Tropics, he “stands still” before moving back. This are the Solstices (latin: the sun stands still).

In Roman times after the Winter Solstice there was the celebration of the birthday of the Invincible Sun God (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) on 25 December. The day length was increasing and the Sun was growing stronger

 Christmas

The birthday and even the birth year of the historical Jesus are unknown. Probably in spring, 1BC or 4BC, a lot of theories exist. In the beginning it was not considered an important event and In the first centuries of Christianity his birthday was not even celebrated. Only when emperor Constantine (306-337) adopted the Christian religion, it was decided to let the Dies Natalis of Jesus coincide with the birthday of the Sun God on December 25.  Below are two coins from Roman times. Left with the Sun God, right with Christ.

Sol InvictusChrist

One reason for choosing this date may have been to make it easier for the “pagan”  Romans to convert to Christianity. There are other theories, for example that the date was chosen, nine months after the supposed conception in March..:-)

New Year

Choosing a date for the beginning of a new year is completely arbitrary from an astronomical point of view. Therefore  there have been numerous conventions throughout the ages. The original Roman calendar started with the March equinox, had 10 months and ended in December. September, October, November and December still have (latin) 7, 8, 9 and 10 in their names.The winter days between December and March were unnamed. Only later two more months were introduced, January and February. January was named after the god Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward, the other one looking backward. Why the beginning of the year was moved from the equinox to the (winter) solstice? Possibly related to the big year-end party of the Saturnalia, held in December. Quite a wild party!

saturnalia

The Saturnalia were a kind of festival of light, again related to the winter solstice. Gift giving, banqueting caroling, candles. Many elements can be found back in the present Christmas and New Year celebrations…:-;

The Roman calendar has been refined several times, by including leap days, and as Gregorian Calendar is now accepted all over the world. Even in Malaysia, where the three ethnic groups have also their own calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, so the Islamic New Year (1st day of the month Muharram) moves 11-12 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar.

The Hindu and Chinese calendars are lunisolar. The length of a month is determined by the moon. So also here the New Year shifts 11-12 days to an earlier date every year. To keep the New Year in the same interval of the solar year, leap months are introduced every now and then. A more detailed explanation of the Chinese Calendar (and other calendars) can be found on my website

So the Chinese festivals (there are many) have no fixed date on the Gregorian Calendar. In 2014 the Chinese New Year was celebrated on 31 January, in 2015 it will fall on 19 February. Not moving to an earlier date, but to a later one. Because the present year is a leap year, it has an extra month…:-)!

There are two exceptions, where Chinese festivals follow the solar calendar. One is the Cheng Beng festival, the festival of tombs, when Chinese honour their ancestors. It falls always on the 15th day after the Spring equinox, 4 or 5 April.

And the second one? The Winter Solstice! It is called the Dongzhi festival and it is celebrated in the family with prayers for the ancestors. Traditionally it is the time of the year the family prepares Tang Yuan, glutinous rice balls that symbolise reunion and togetherness.

This year we celebrated it with Aric’s family. Everybody helped to prepare the balls which later were put for a few minutes in boiling water.

Preparing

the balls

On the day of the Winter Solstice (this year 22 December) they are served with sweet syrup

finished
Happy Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year!

Of Bacteria and Men

My recent Tree of Life post described how all living creatures share a common ancestor. Both Homo Sapiens and the E. Coli bacterium in his bowels belong to the same “extended” family!

Leonardo-da-Vinci-Vitruvian-Man

2_jpg35416396-ead4-4bc6-9cb4-3632839dad1cLarger

In that post I promised to write another blog about bacteria and the human body. Here it is..:-)

We humans are multi-cellular organisms consisting of roughly 10 trillion cells. For those not familiar with the naming of big numbers, one trillion = 1000 billion = 1000000 million. And for comparison, the global human population is at the moment ~ 7.3 billion, so there are ~ 1500 times more cells in your body than there are people living on our planet.

Bacteria are single-cell organisms. How many bacteria do we have in and on our body? A staggering 100 trillion, 10 times as many as we have body cells! They can be found on our skin, on our teeth, basically everywhere, but most of them live in our bowels, the so-called gut flora . The size of these bacteria is roughly 10 times smaller than an average human body cell,  their total mass is estimated to be 1-2 % of our body mass. Mind you, that is still a lot, about 1 kg of your body mass is bacterial!.

Probably you will have been taught that bacteria are bad and dangerous. Wash your hands, keep everything clean, etc. And of course there are bacteria that can harm you, even kill you. But most of the bacteria in/on your body are harmless and many are even needed for your survival. You would die without your gut flora!

Here are a few  things your gut flora will do for you:

  • The bacteria will do part of the digestion and help forming your stool
  • They are important to build your immune system and keep it in good order
  • They will fight harmful (pathogen) bacteria
  • They are needed for the production of Vitamin-K
  • Etc, etc

Together, all of the bacteria in the body would be the size of a large liver, and in many ways, scientists say, this microbiome (as the whole community of microorganisms in our body is often called) behaves as another organ in the human body: the Forgotten Organ…:-)

As the importance of our  microbiome has been recognised more and more in the last decades, some scientists nowadays consider us as superorganisms  or see us as an ecosystem!

Or, as a microbiologist recently formulated it, in a rather extreme way: “we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.

A project of the US National Institute of Health, the Human Microbiome Project has been researching the human microbiome. Here is a survey of what they found (click on the picture to see details).The various parts of our body have different bacterial communities.

HMB project

What about a baby, is it born with a gut flora? No, the womb is sterile (although maybe not 100%). But as soon as the baby has left the mother, the bacterial invasion begins and within days the gut flora is there. Essential to build the immune system of the baby!

Interesting detail: the composition of the gut flora is different for Vaginal delivery and Caesarean section delivery. Now it is well known that babies delivered by Caearean section run a higher risk of asthma, allergies and several other health risks, because of the different gut flora. Here is an interesting solution

gut flora

Can you believe it…:-)? It is true.

What about this. The Clostridium difficile bacteria is a common bacteria in soil, but can also live in your bowels. Pathogenic strains of this bacteria can cause diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, especially when the normal gut flora has been damaged by antibiotic treatment. The bacteria itself is resistant against most antibiotics, so it takes over the gut flora. Here is a picture of the bacteria.

clostrdiff

Infection with C. Difficile can be life-threatening, it kills approximately 14000 people yearly in the USA.

A promising solution?  Fecal transplantation therapy. Or, in common English: Stool transplant! Take some of the feces of a healthy donor and put it in the colon of the patient. It often works!!

The bacteria in the stool are able to restore the balance in the compromised gut flora of the patient.

Can you believe it…:-)? It is true. Here are some success stories: The Power of Poop