The Windup Bird Chronicle

January 13, 2018 Book Review No Comments

The Windup Bird Chronicle
Haruki Murakami

It’s a dark place where I got lost.

A novel in layers: the real world, and parallel worlds of fantasy and dreams. The writing reverberates with the now, the future and the past, real and supernatural.
A tale of questions asked, but often not answered. Its a tale of coincidences.

The story begins with the search for a missing cat. The mystery begins with Kumiko having gone to the end of a deserted alley where an empty house stood and had not told her husband, Toru Okada about it.

Here too, are Murakimi’s love of deep wells, cats, music, cooking. Western classical music and jazz, his penchant for women’s delicate shell- shaped ears, women elegantly attired: suits, skirts and crisp blouses, hand bags, hats and heels. All mundane on the surface but really not.

Two wells, one deep-dry, cold, silent. Lieutenant Mamiya is thrown into it, a well pierced by a daily shard of sunlight that appears for a few moments each day and at the same time. The other a deep-dry, dark, silent well. Toru Okada voluntarily spends time in it. “Poor Mr. Wind-Up Bird” climbs down into the well to seek meaning to his life. Here he encounters out-of-body experiences. Okada’s forays into the dry well allows him to find an alternate world, mysteriously peopled, and though he is confused by their secrets he seeks the experience. Eventually both men are saved from their deep physical wells, one turns into a philosopher. Okada is saved when the well suddenly fills with water. He carries on with his search.

Most gripping chapters of this novel are the historical, WWII, episodes, terrifying war stories told by Lieutenant Mamiya. This man, a stranger, makes Okada’s acquaintance when he brings a rather mysterious gift, bequeathed to him by Honda, an old psychic friend. A friendship develops between the two.

We come across strange coincidental happenings and meet a number characters. Kumiko, Okada’s wife disappears and her brother, Noboru Wataya, has a strange hold on her. May Kasahara, the teen-ager, is often present in Okada’s life without being there with him. Sisters, Malta Kano and Creta Kano, are both steeped in mystery. Malta predicts bad things could happen and warns Okada beware. Creta knows that she appeared in Okada’s dreams. Nutmeg Akasaka and her son, Cinnamon, are able to appear and disappear, they play a big part in Okada’s life. Mamiya, the stranger, turns up with a gift from Honda, the psychic. Female characters resort to prostitution and easy sex. In much of Murakami’s writing there is “The violence and sex abuse” which he says, “are a kind of stimulation”, mmm.

The structure is often one of disconnect; and is unusual. There are abrupt breaks between sections that go back and forth, portraying past and present and future, real and surreal. Questions asked are not answered. Mysterious phone calls are not accounted for. There are long paragraphs of telling that often add explanations.

Lack of reason and logic makes the tale indecipherable on first the read. A second reading will be required to reach the depth of this story.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, paperback, 607 pages of small font, by Haruki Murakami proved to be most challenging.

…“It’s a dark, cool place, and you have to be careful, or you’re lost. . . . You have to leave yourself.” – Haruki Murakami.


Paperback from Gerakbudaya Books, Penang.

Arundathi Roy

October 18, 2017 Book Review 2 Comments

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

“To me, there is nothing higher than fiction. Nothing. It is fundamentally who I am. I am a teller of stories.” Arundhati Roy

And stories, she tells them well. I have read God of Small Things three times and listened to the audio-book. Each time, the novel overwhelmed me with emotion and passion. Each time, I was struck with admiration and awe for this fine writer. Each time, structure and the depth of her story, her language and detailed observation amazed me.

She is a fine essayist too, and has written a great deal of political non-fiction. The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002) is an eye-opener. She is a daring fighter for the cause of the downtrodden and the marginalized in India, and has led protests for the causes she believes in. She has endured threats and lawsuits. She has an in-depth knowledge of India and its history. She is also a global philosopher.

This second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a 445-page hardcover, fearless attempt at part fiction, part history, part politics, is an ambitious project bound up in social and political angst. She dazzles us with much beauty, and exposes herself brilliantly with amazing storytelling skills. From time to time the writing is poetic, the language colourful and unique, showing detail and acute observation.

But much of the book introduces a glut of characters with their unpronounceable Muslim and Hindu names, slowing readers down. We come across a large number of place names unfamiliar to most English readers. Further confusion is added with generous splashings of dialogue, poetry and quotes in Hindi, Sanskrit and Urdu … I think. It becomes a little tedious. The book covers vast swathes of history, and with this much information, a reasonable clarity of momentum cannot be maintained.

The first part gives us deep insight into the lives of the marginalised Hijra. It introduces, clarifies to the reader, the culture of genders other than male and female and the cruelty they suffer. Brilliantly written is the section on how Anjum makes a home in a cemetery which then becomes a colony for anyone seeking refuge form ‘Dunia’, the male/female world.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness feels like three novels in one:

The story described above could easily be Book One.

We have Toli’s story, about a former architecture student closely resembling the author, and her mother’s story, transparently biographical. The Tilo-Musa love story could be Book Two.

And Book Three could recount the India/Kashmir/Pakistan tug of war with all its horrors.

There is much narration, and a feeling of information overload. Though all plots are tied up, the work feels laboured.

The many stories of India’s 70-year history, stories bound up with a vast number of different people, different languages, different religions and different cultures, is too diverse to be the subject of one book and one telling. It begins to border on the tedious, and makes for a vast continent of confusion. We go back to the partition of India and Pakistan, we cover the Pakistan-Bangladesh war, we get glimpses of the Sikh massacre after Indra Gandhi’s assassination. There is the Bhopal disaster, the Poolam Devi story, the Maoist revolution, the Hindu-Muslim riots and atrocities of Gujarat, the emergency, terrorism, the treatment of Dalits. There are classes, castes and different genders. Horrors and brutality abound.

I can understand the author’s anger at the way minorities have been treated. She speaks with passion about outrageous atrocities carried out by both sides in the Indian-administered Kashmir tug of war with the pro-Pakistan Kashmiris.

Though the events are woven together seamlessly, there comes a point when one begins to feel enough is enough.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is one of Utmost Misery. Almost relentlessly so.

My last visit to Kashmir was one of joy and peace. I found the Kashmir Valley and mountains of great beauty, of hospitable people, Moghul gardens filled with rose scents and the riotous colours of flowers, tranquil lakes and shikaras (small boats), houseboats and snow-covered mountains, clear streams. I can compare The Ministry of Utmost Happiness to this valley with expanses of beauty, but tamped down with soldiers and police, terrorists and jihadis, informants and torture, horrors and killings, spies and counterspies.

Now that she has covered the political history of India, here’s hoping this brilliant writer gives us stories of a less complicated kind.



Mywriters Penang Retreat

September 29, 2017 Writing 2 Comments

Anna organized the retreat and Diyaa arranged the Batu Ferringhi accommodation.

Rest of the group: Eashwer, Leela, Liz, Shrivatsn, Soo, Wan Phing, Wilson.

Nine writers of various genres and levels of fiction came together. An intensive writing and discussion session, Friday 15th Sept to Monday 18th Sept. We settled in and started off with goal setting where each member talked about what project they were engaged in and what their plans were for the four days.

The Gang


Flourishing and Budding Writers

Every day we had a time to write and a time to discuss what each one of us was doing. We arrived bursting with ideas, some ready to blossom and others needing tending and a bit more work.

Hard at Work

Efficient Eashwer brought his computer table, his compact PC and a big monitor.

Have Machine

ON 18th, after noon, we broke up, feeling like zombies, especially the writers who stayed up till 4am the night before. With goodbyes all round, the writers from Penang were meeting again that evening for some critique work.

In the meantime, there was another break-up afoot — a new tribe on the scene.

Committee Meeting
(secretly photographed)


Let’s wreck the cars — tear off their number plates (paparazzi in the bushes)















Wan Phing











Nobel Prize for Literature

September 7, 2017 Concerns No Comments


An Oversight

In October 2016, Bob Dylan was described by the New York Times and the Guardian as the ‘first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature’ for his discography of around 500.

In 1913, Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore, as significant to literature as Joyce, Eliot or Proust, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His poems and songs are credited as over two thousand. His significant contribution Gitanjali (geet song) and (anjali offering)

Notes from Angad Roy, thank you.


September 1, 2017 Poetry No Comments

Hiding from Invasion

Motor bikes roar to the gate,
men in green, Myanmar men,
arrive masked and ready
carrying machinery heavy and
light: weed-eaters, brooms, rakes.
Grass cutters to mow the lawn. Noisily
dinning the quiet neighbourhood
spreading grass scent raw, warm.

Sunday peace torn apart.
Mr. Spooks will have none of it.
Gone the observation deck
atop parked motor car.
Sun-snooze on best chair.
Stretch on the damp grass.
Roll in mud.

In Hiding

He seeks solace indoors.
He shuffles himself against papers,
keyboard and books on table.

Studying me his muted gaze says,
‘Don’t look, this is not me,
I am not here.’





August 17, 2017 Concerns No Comments

Cool it, Mr. President.

“Fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Trump

You not only seem bent on destroying your own country but the rest of the world as well.

The world does not belong to you. Not even America belongs to you. Your people have chosen you as the President to look after them for four years. And in doing that well you could enhance other lives around the world.

No peace can be achieved with threats of annihilation. In seeking to wipe out N. Korea – one leader and his army, you will destroy friends and foes and kill millions of innocent human beings. Win or lose, or lose as in the case of Vietnam, and Iraq, now Afghanistan, war brings decades of hardship and irreparable destruction. Aid given after the destruction of a human race is little compensation compared to human cost. The dead, the living maimed and plagued with ills.

You know little about North Korea, a proud nation, with its ancient culture. America has, for far too long, given millions of dollars and military support to the South and shunned the North with sanctions. Surely by now we know sanctions don’t work, they only help place much hardship on citizens, create poverty, malnourishment and ill health. Isolation creates enemies, suspicion and hatred.

Why do you have to conduct joint military exercises with South Korea right on the doorstep of North Korea at a time when you complain about the sanctioned North? I think it a foolish threat.

Pay attention to one of your distinguished politicians, Donald P. Gregg, a highly-qualified statesman, a North Asia specialist who knows more about the North Koreans and their sovereign state than “any living American.”

Gregg says, “Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s current leader, is smart, tough, and a risk taker who sees his nuclear arsenal as protection against a U.S. attack.” He says, “People are shocked when I tell them Pyongyang is an attractive, functioning city…The North Koreans aren’t suicidal. They don’t want a war… Despite the rhetoric and the propaganda, North Korea’s leaders are thoughtful, well-educated pragmatists.”

Other countries like Israel and Pakistan, who own large arsenals of nuclear weapons, are friends of America. These ‘friends’ have received millions in aid and weaponry. Israel’s cruel suppression of the Palestinians, Pakistan giving shelter to Afghan Taliban is well-known. How many wars do you plan for your four-year term? You threaten Iran, China, Russia. You have your own home grown terrorists.

How different are you from your many enemies? Your threats and counter threats put you in the same basket as those who threaten you. Eradicate your “dangerous rhetoric”.

You are brilliant businessman, find diplomatic ways to help people.

Cover of The Darjeeling Affair

How a book cover came to be …

In the story, there is a landslide, so I walked a whole month carrying my camera, early mornings and evenings, walking up and down the lonely lanes and shrubbery paths of our hillside, looking for a suitable mini-landslide or rockfall.

I photographed scenes that seemed perfect to my naked eye but in print they did not look genuine enough to seem like a landslide. I realized that portraying the landslide that occurs in my title story, The Darjeeling Affair, was out of the question. I should have waited another month, at which time we experienced quite a few storms that brought about a few major and minor landslides, but I couldn’t wait – I needed a cover photo.

My idea was to capture a simple scene. I decided on a background without a distracting texture, a pouch that looked like it had been dropped, spilling its contents of diamonds. I discussed this with Don and we thought it was a good idea.

The Leela-Don Think Tank got to work, thrashing out the idea in more detail: location and type of light, not too bright, not too dark but dim enough to create a little mystery. Done. We chose our concrete back patio floor for the background, grubby and photogenic. The time of day was to be quiet, moody … light created as sun went down.

I found an old jewellery pouch in a drawer. We purchased a pair of diamante earrings from Little India in Penang. Prising out the ‘diamonds’ turned out to be a difficult task as the mirror backing of diamonds stuck to the super-glue that fixed them to the earring mould. We had to go back for another pair to have enough stones. We carefully placed the diamonds by the pouch to look as if they had just spilled out. Most of the diamonds insisted on sitting on their flat surface exposing the pointy rust-coloured ends. With a pair of tweezers, I turned every diamond to face the best way.  They had to be sitting facet-up in carefully arranged disorder.

Now it was all up to Don. Out came the Canon 5D Mark III, the 100mm macro lens, and a reflector. Photographing had to be at the right time and quick. If too early there were too many branch and leaf shadows from the trees behind our home where the sun was setting. If too late it was too dark. Tropical sunsets are dramatic but too quick. By the time the first shots were checked, the light had gone. It took three evenings of sunsets and three evenings of rearranged diamond sets before we got the right light.

Success on the third evening. The last set of photos looked just right, and we chose the best photo to send to the art director.

The Darjeeling Affair cover was born.



July 4, 2017 Poetry No Comments


Lost in the Jungle

Lounging in style,
Smiling, and at ease.
Proud trees fearsome and
In sky black, branches sway
Rivers roil, gurgle dark.
The earth beneath me
Rumbles, shivers, quakes.
With frightening grace
Forest creatures fly, leap,
Some crawl, others climb,
Run, roll, and amble by grey.
Cawing, hissing, chanting
Growling, grunting, trumpeting.




Book Review — Nutshell

Nutshell by Ian McKuan

“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams.”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I am a big fan of Ian McKuan. My love for his writings goes back to the Cement Garden (1978). Since then, I have read nearly every book he’s written, and I eagerly await each new masterpiece. No disappointment, each novel strong and precise.

Nutshell is a story told by a child in the womb. A tale of much humour, wit, cleverness. It’s insightful and suspenseful and often  times gripping.  But what appeals to me most as a writer is the author’s way with words.

The tale: in order to spend time with her lover Claude, who is her brother-in-law, Trudy asks her husband to give her a little time and space by moving out of their home, his inherited family home, while she is pregnant. John obligingly moves out. Claude, John’s brother, moves in to give Trudy some company and support. Together they plot to kill John so Trudy can inherit the family home and sell it. The lover and she then can enjoy their life together. There are no plans for the baby-to-be.

A tale of few characters …

An unborn child who is confused and worried about his future. He also wants to save his father from being murdered. The foetus would prefer “to get born and act” and not “lie idle and inverted wasting precious days”. He also worries about his mother, who will be an accomplice if they murder his father. The foetus says: “could my mother who never had a job, launch herself as a murderer? No pay, no perks, no pension but remorse.”

Trudy, a beautiful, manipulative mother-to-be, does not love her husband. She is carried away by love for her brother-in-law, and does not worry too much about the unborn child.

John, the father of the unborn child, is naïve and sees little beyond his interest in poetry. “His visits don’t end they fade” sums up much of the father’s character.

Uncle Claude wants the house and his brother’s wife and has hardly a thought for the unborn child. He’s prepared to resort to murder to achieve his goal.

A brilliant story, brilliantly written.

P.S. The author goes into descriptions of wines in too much detail, I thought — they border on too much telling — but the novel’s readability and interesting plot compensates for this slight irritation.



The Dragonfly

May 24, 2017 Poetry, Writing No Comments

Hanging from a Dewdrop


The Dragonfly

Let me hang from this dewdrop

My gossamer wings at rest.

Colours scintillating,

Iridescent eyes aglow

Hum stilled.


Before me drifts a mist curtain.

Floating, veil-like, tranquil

In windless whispers.

Poppies crimson and beyond the green

A shimmer of light refracting

No shadows embedded

In my dawn dream


Haze nearly gone,

Sun rays nearly here

I will not soar yet,

Not yet.





“You Mean The World To Me”

May 12, 2017 Film No Comments

Hokkien Movie You Mean the World to Me

A Penang Hokkien movie.

Saw Teong Hin’s semi-autobiographical script written by him and set in Penang, where he grew up, portrays scenes that show much of the island’s past and present uniqueness. It’s his personal story of not being able to live and deal with his drunk father, and with having to see his mother’s life turn desperate. She had to cope with financial difficulties and care for his  autistic older brother, besides looking after his sister and him. He walked away, leaving all responsibilities to his sister. He even missed his parents’ and brother’s funerals. Saw’s story, true to life, is one everyone can relate to. A story funny and sad, never verging on sentimentality. A story of many things left unsaid and unresolved.

Saw says, “Your parents are the easiest people to take for granted as you think it is their responsibility to care for you.”

Lost Love

If there were no subtitles the scenes would still speak for themselves beautifully due to the brilliant cinematography of Christopher Doyle. The unfolding story and the flashbacks are seamlessly woven, causing no confusion. Doyle’s perfect style of framing and camera movement gets us deeply involved, and his quiet slow pace makes for a meditative flow. Doyle, a multi-award winner who has collaborated with director Wong Kar-Wai in many well-known films, is the perfect cinematographer.

You Mean The World To Me is a film of an international quality.

Director – Saw Teong Hin
Cinematographer – Christoper Doyle

Main characters
Frederick Lee …Sunny
Neo Swee Lin …Cheng, mother
John Tan …Ah Boy, brother
Yeo Yann Yann …Hoon, sister

Produced by Astro Shaw and Real Films
Theme song by Taiwanese Zhao Chuan titled Kam Sia Li (Thank You in Hokkien).
Original title Hai Kinn Xin Loo, the old Hokkien name for Penang’s Victoria Street, (new road by the sea front) was first performed as a play.


March 15, 2017 Poetry No Comments



Photo from “Are You an Echo”

Alex, my nephew, has never asked me why I am a vegetarian. Many friends, and people I meet, often do and I’m usually reluctant to tell them why. Some of my freinds are vegetarians for religious reasons, and others for health. My reason is neither.

This morning Alex and I were chatting and I chose to reveal my reason.

Soon after our chat I came across this poem by Misuzu Kaneko (April 11, 1903–March 10, 1930)

“It’s staggering generosity of empathy and existential truth conferred with great simplicity” what I feel and believe in, Ahimsa, not to take the life of another sentient being.


At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold
for the tens of thousands dead.

(from her collected works “Are You An Echo?”)


A Daughter’s Dad

February 6, 2017 Family No Comments

A Daughter’s Dad

Dear Shanta,

Dad put you first. He admired and appreciated you. He could never find the right words to tell you how proud he was of you, to speak of his appreciation or show his emotions. He could only speak through deeds.

Dad loved you.

A Daughter, Shanta.

You inherited his stubbornness of spirit, his independence, his conviction in his ability to carve his destiny. You inherited his sense of fairness. You inherited his inventive, artistic and creative quality. And you inherited his wild humour and ability to laugh at himself.

To all that you added the joy of life.

You took life as it came with confidence. You handled your fair share of challenges with generosity, adapted to circumstances high and low, made things right for your family and yourself, and never forgot to give to others.  You looked after a sick husband and two young daughters, studied for a degree, and pursued a career providing income. No small feat. And throughout you gave yourself time to chill – watching nature, painting, listening to music, dancing, and socializing.

You sparkle with talent and exotic glamour.
You fill me with awe and wisdom.
I love you Shanta.

Dad could not have asked for a more special daughter.

Thank you for this touching, grateful and funny eulogy for him.

“Port Talbot South Wales
2:30pm 06/01/17

Having only been allocated three minutes today I hope that you will bear with me if I over run slightly. As Terry’s only child I have found it no easy task to compress our fifty-two-year relationship into a few short sentences.

What can I say about my dad?

Well, he certainly had his moments and at times he could be a difficult man to love as some of you here well know. He could be obstinate, single minded, stubborn and opinionated.

He could also be unbelievably generous and considerate. He cared for and financially provided for my maternal grandparents as if they were his own and I know that my mother’s family will always remember him fondly for this.

He also had a cheeky and mischievous streak as his sister Jean will attest to; only last month despite his ill health he was bumping his mobility scooter into her chair for his own amusement.

There were times when I was growing up that my mother had to run interference as my dad and I squabbled like siblings over the remote control or who ate who’s chocolate.

As a child I was in awe of his ingenuity and seemingly endless skills to fix or build anything be it a car made from shell casings or rewriting an entire house. He was one of those rare individuals who could achieve anything he set his mind to, often with only sheer will power and determination.

I am grateful to both him and my mother for providing me with a near perfect childhood, growing up as I did on not one but two tropical islands. I will treasure those memories, from riding on the back of his Norton motorbike to and from school in Penang to having his sisters come and visit us in Hong Kong and the hilarious mayhem that ensued.

On a more serious note though, despite his own lack of formal education he ensured that I received the best one that money could buy; providing me with a solid educational foundation with which to face the future.

For this I am truly grateful, as I am for all the adventures and journeys that we had traveling the world, from Expo70 in Japan to pony trekking in Nepal. This small-town Welsh boy helped open my eyes to the wonders of the world and enthralled me with stories of his time in the air force overseas and anecdotes of working in Vietnam during the war.

Of all his achievements and traits, I admire my father the most for his business acumen. He had a natural instinct and talent for it and an uncanny ability to find a great deal or bargain. I will certainly miss his invaluable financial advice as well as the numerous long calls that we exchanged putting the world to rights.

I would like to take a moment to thank Flor for looking after him so well in later life, despite the distance between us it gave me comfort to know that he had someone there to care for him.

My father had a great love of Asia and the many happy decades that he spent there but he always returned to his Welsh roots of which he was so proud. And so it is only fitting that I stand here today in the land of my Fathers and pay tribute to a man who passed on to myself and my two daughters not only his Welsh heritage but also the strength, tenacity and determination that goes with it.

Thanks, dad.”


January 24, 2017 Concerns 2 Comments

Sent A Chill Through Me

Never has any political event troubled me or affected me so deeply.


Trump’s inauguration came upon me as a finality soon after the shock of the American people having voted him in. This person will vastly affect our world values and its future. Negatively.

A quote from one of my favourite authors. Ian McEwan:

Charles Darwin could not believe that a kindly God would create a parasitic wasp that injects its eggs into the body of a caterpillar so that the larva may consume the host alive. The ichneumon wasp was a challenge to Darwin’s already diminishing faith. We may share his bewilderment as we contemplate the American body politic and what vile thing now squats within it, waiting to be hatched and begin its meal…this unique tragedy of national self-harm whereby a suspected con-man … this narcissistic and cynical vulgarian of limited attention span becomes the most powerful man on earth, ready by his own account to begin his assault on liberal democracy, rational discourse, civil liberties, and all manner of civil decencies, which are known to him as political correctness.

Trump’s inaugural speech was one of negativity and bleakness: giving voice to his assumption that America is not great, not proud, not safe, not strong, not wealthy. This leader, well documented for twisting the truth, promised “We will make America great again”, not have this “carnage” of “inequality, abandoned factories like tombstones” and “the crime and the gangs and the drugs”, “disrepair and decay”. He promised “America First”, prompting shades of Nazi sympathizers.

His address did not invoke hope and joy for a new, greater beginning. “We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” says he. A well worded threat to future immigrants.

Saturday, 21st January, his first day in office. While Donald Trump was at the National Cathedral asking his god to forgive his sins and lies and to guide him in adding billions to his and his cronies’ coffers, more than a quarter of a million people came to Capitol Hill. The Women’s March called him a ‘misogynist’ and ‘reprehensible’. They marched against his immigration reform. They marched in fear of repression of minorities. They came to seek religious freedom. They declared they were against racism. They asked for protection of the environment. They were concerned about healthcare. They feared his pro-life and anti-LGBTQ-rights views. A nation divided.

For many of his followers, Trump’s  campaign slogan – “Make America Great Again”  is another way of saying “Make America White Again”.

It was at this precise time I came across how white Americans tried to keep America white in the early 19th century.

I was reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. A quote from the novel.

They had not traveled long when Martin stopped the horses. He removed the tarpaulin. “It will be sunrise soon, but I wanted you to see this,” the station agent said.

Cora did not immediately know what he meant. The country road was quiet, crowded on both sides by the forest canopy. She saw one shape then another. Cora got out of the wagon.

The corpses hung from trees as rotting ornaments. Some of them were naked, others partially clothed, the trousers black where their bowels emptied when their necks snapped. Gross wounds and injuries marked the flesh of those closest to her, the two caught by the station agent’s lantern. One had been castrated, an ugly mouth gaping where his manhood had been. The other was a woman. Her belly curved. Cora had never been good at knowing if a body was with a child. Their bulging eyes seemed to rebuke her stares, but what were the attentions of one girl, disturbing their rest, compared to how the world had scourged them since the day they were brought into it?


November 20, 2016 Concerns No Comments




To the great thrill of Trump followers, to the huge disappointment of the democrats, and to the horror of the world, Trump has emerged as the next president of the No-More-United States of America. The best con the world has seen. Time for an Idiot’s Guide on How to pull off a Presidency.

An election won with followers holding up placards portraying the lady opponent with a noose around her neck. Won with shouts of “lock her up”, with hordes of supporters raising their fists in the air, shouting, ‘Kill her’. So much venom, shades of the Ku Klux Klan. One political button said: “KFC Hilary Special: Two Fat thighs, two small breasts, one left wing” – such disgusting personal attacks by Trump followers. Not only did the president-to-be condone what was said and done but he himself had a whole list. He called her a nasty woman, said she was a liar, and insulted her with personal and gender remarks.

A new ugly tribe is born.

Time to wonder how a democracy can get it so wrong. A flawed and an unique American election in which one party can get fewer individual votes and win.

Trump does not have to spend time worrying about running his country or building relations with the rest of the world. He has his family, and his team of advisers to do that. He can attend to urgent matters – Him…The Tweeter. Emperor Tyranny Trump.

“Y’all just go make America big, do you hear. Make it the best in the world.”

One might ask:

What about China?

“China, don’t worry about them. Just cancel all trade deals. Bring all the Chinese companies to America so they can work in-country. We need those cheap goods. We don’t even have to pay them minimum wage. Keep our people safe from those dangerous factory floors. We can keep an eye on those foreigners who manipulate our currency, steal our intellectual property.”

What about Free Trade?

“What Free Trade? What Geneva Convention? What NATO? Rip them up. They’ve been no good to anybody.”


“Putin and I, yes, we are pals. It is not like I’m in Alaska looking out of my window to see Russia. We have a relationship; we have a deep understanding. He can do whatever he likes. I am all for that. Lock up all his dissenters, torture them. I trust him.”

You are conservative, right?

“Who? Me, a conservative? Nah, I have gone through two wives, now married to a third. My children have different mothers. My wife has posed nude. You know she has a beautiful body. Go check the internet, if you don’t believe me. And what more I love women. I have groped so many young women, they just love it. I’m a family man with values.”

What about LGBT?

“No. I don’t tolerate those. I am a Christian. The Christian God did not make them. Some other god must have created them. That is why I feel we should not tolerate other religions. Like the Muslims. No more! They are not going to come our country spread terrorism. All those who are here should go back?”

Back to where?

“To anywhere, to where they came from. If they have nowhere to go that’s their problem. We will not allow Muslims into this country.”

What about your friend, the Malaysian Prime Minister, the man cleared of billions involved with 1MDB debt? He’s a Muslim.

“He’s an exception. He’s my favourite prime minister, Najib Razak. We are golf buddies. I even signed a selfie of us for him. ‘To my favourite Prime Minister’.”

Climate change?

“No I don’t believe in all that, it isn’t real. But if you ask me about El Nino. Now there’s something to worry about. The reason I want to build a 2,000 mile wall. Keep the Mexicans out, all those El Ninos and the El Ninas.”

It’s been said you are against abortion. You have been accused of being a racist, a sexist, a cynic. They say you are a homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic promoting hate, preaching intolerance’.

“All lies, not true. Lies!  Listen to what I say not what is said about me.”

What are your plans when you are in the White House?

“I have an eight-year plan in the White House. I am all for transparency. It is going to be the best reality show. The world will get it live, stream it through the universe.”



… of the world as we know it. Let us not be lulled into a new norm.




Hungry Ghosts

October 13, 2016 From Penang No Comments


Hungry Ghosts 2016

Giant Paper Effigy

Giant Paper Effigy


The opening of Hell Gates usually falls on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. The ghosts descend en masse and roam among the living. They are given one month to taste their favourite food, enjoy worldly pleasures and settle old scores. Yes, settle scores, so watch out.

Temporary sheds and stages are built to the side or in front of Taoist temples, where offerings of food and drink are placed.

Food and Drink

Food and Drink

Every night, Chinese opera, puppet shows and concerts of pop songs and dance are performed for the ghosts, though the dances seem to be a shade too sleazy – I guess mostly to appease some of the male ghosts.

For one month, we, the non-ghosts, appease the Hungry. We set out offerings of rice and noodles and cakes, vegetables and fruits, chicken, meat and seafood. Offerings are not only set out at temples before paper deities and the Emperor of Hades, they are also set out at temporary shrines outside homes, by the roadside, on the beaches or in the parks.

Elaborate Joss Sticks

Elaborate Joss Sticks


Giant Joss Sticks

Giant Joss Sticks

Offering of paper hell money, paper gold ingots and paper everyday objects such as household effects, cars and mobile phones are made. There are even paper partners for the unmarried ghosts. Joss sticks, candles, lamps and red lanterns light up places where offerings are made, all to provide for another year of afterlife.

Hell Money

Bags of Hell Money

On the 30th day of the 7th moon, the ghosts, properly satiated, no longer hungry or yearning for food and material goods, are sent off with huge bonfires into which are cast the paper money and paper gold, paper replicas and paper effigies. The ghosts leave earth. They roam no more. With relief and satisfaction, we can get on with what we do best … living.




Do Not Enter

Do Not Enter


There are things one should not do during this auspicious month.

Most important is try not to die if you can help it.

Do not step on offerings that are placed on the ground for the ghosts, and if you do please apologize loudly.

The month is also not auspicious for moving house, starting a new business or getting married.

Limit night-time outings just in case a ghost is tempted to lure you away, especially if you are a good-looking woman. On the other hand, if your looks could scare a ghost, then you really have nothing to worry about.

Do not go swimming, a drowned person’s ghost might need company.

Don’t wear red. Ghosts love red, though they are normally known to stick to white or black.




And try not to be born in this month. Aiyoo … such bad luck, la!

Most Hungry Ghosts prefer Penang, as the island is famous for its wonderful food. This is a little unfortunate as this is the same time we celebrate the month-long George Town Festival. So if you must see shows at night, try to avoid the first and second rows of VIP seats, as they may be taken up by ghosts who want to see the same show.

And so our connection between the living and the dead and our world and the other worlds continues.









August 24, 2016 Writing No Comments

Early Bird Warning

Researchers have long known that chickens and birds can hear through their eggs—allowing them to imprint things like who their mother is, and after hatching enjoy the relationship and become capable of fending for themselves.



However, recent research has found birds singing to their eggs late in development may give the young a headstart in dealing with warm weather once they hatch. The heat the parent bird feels from the weather will be given to their offspring as an early weather advisory right through the eggshell.

Blind but all faculties working

Blind but all faculties working



This acoustic signal is potentially being used to program the development of offspring. Hearing the call affects growth relative to the temperature that is experienced.

Animals have very subtle ways of inferring how the environment is likely to change, and (being able) to develop and adapt accordingly.

Mother patiently singing, waiting

Mother patiently singing, waiting






(Adapted from

Photos: Leela Panikar




August 1, 2016 Writing No Comments

This magnificent dance had me in fits of laughter, besides tempting me to join in. The music, which possibly came about after the choreography, is perfect.

That dance better be spectacular in the presence of the lady you are trying woo. She is giving you careful consideration. “Is he impressive enough to be the father of my children or shall I just have him for dinner?”

Talk of spiders gives most people the shivers. Dark, ugly, scary and scream come to mind. Not rainbow colours and fancy antenna-work.

For Jurgen Otto, the Australian entomologist, the study of rainbow spiders of the genus Maratus has taken him more than a decade.

“Typically, he collects the beautiful arachnids from the bush then drives them to his home in Sydney, where he photographs and records their mating dances in a dedicated “spider room.” He then returns them to the wild, sometimes a 28-hour round trip.”

So far 48 species have been studied and catalogued and another 16 are waiting to be studied.

Otto, besides being busy doing scientific research, enjoys giving his pet arachnids
fun names like hokey-pokey, sparklemuffin and skeletorus. 



July 22, 2016 Writing No Comments

Paid to be sexist.

If you are a boy chick, within a day of being born (hatched), you will be separated from the rest of the gang. You’ll never get to know your mother and your siblings. You, with no egg laying capacity, are of no use to the chicken-egg framer and of no use to the chicken-meat man as your flesh will not be good enough, no breasts, see!


So chicken-sex experts known as ’sexers’, separate you from the female chicks. You,a male, will be grabbed by the neck, or a leg or a fragile wing, and hurled down a chute. Panic and scream for mother and wave your wings about all you want. Your tiny body will rush down mutilating you as you toss about. But don’t fret you are still alive.

Alive, torn you go into a grinding machine. You have been saved … as feed. You are now food for other animals that feed humans and their lucky pets. You’ll never know what happiness or love is. A family, nature and sunshine and the joy of playing on green cool grass. No one will know you, your intelligence, curiosity and sensitivity.

But take heart, you are not alone – over 30 million male chicks are disposed of in a year by us humans.


July 5, 2016 Book Review 2 Comments

The Vegetarian by Han Kang


A three-part tale skillfully translated by Deborah Smith.

“The Vegetarian” is not about vegetarianism and it’s not about Korean culture. It’s a compelling, stunning tale of choice. This elegant, poetic writing and story portrays deep insight into the human psyche. The hopelessness of seeing no other escape except to go into oneself. The interesting monologues reveal the space within.

Change in the lives of Yeong-hye and her husband is triggered by bad dreams the wife has. She decides to refrain from eating meat, a drastic decision against ordered social norms, that her her husband and her family can’t accept.

… Continue Reading


June 13, 2016 Concerns No Comments

Now, in this much enlightened time, why does the Bhutanese authority decide to add to green house gases and destroy its precious ecology.

A country globally admired for its policy of Gross National Happiness is going against all Buddhist principles in promoting violence and bad karma by moving into mega cattle rearing and promoting meat eating. Quite disgusting.

Spare Sentient Beings

Spare Sentient Beings

‘Dharma Voices for Animals is a non-profit organization based in the United States of America whose mission is to increase awareness of the suffering of animals within the Buddhist Dharma community.’


May 27, 2016 Concerns No Comments


Let each one of us make eye contact with everyone we meet. Let us show love and understanding, eradicating hate. Let us leave peace as our legacy for the children of the world.

Let us create a world free of nuclear weapons.

Today, Friday 27 May 2016, time stood as I listened to President Obama’s powerful speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. I was choked with emotion as he recalled the horrific tragedy of 6 August 1945, 71 years ago when 70,000 men, women and children were directly killed in Hiroshima with the dropping of one nuclear bomb.

Let us not repeat this tragedy.


January 21, 2016 Writing No Comments
Single Book Single Room

A Single Room A Single Book

Slow down, read a book.

Recently I came across a short article about an interesting concept. A Japanese book shop, Morioka Shoten, concentrates on one author at a time and the bookshop stocks only the one title of an author for a period of six days… book of the week. Copies of that one title are available to the public.

With thousands of authors publishing and marketing books every day this concept could become overwhelming when deciding to choose which author is worthy of dedication. On display besides the book are artwork and photographs relating to the book, the subject matter and the author. Book readings are organized. Intimacy with the writer is created as the author is present to answer questions from readers and would be readers.

… Continue Reading

A Halloween Tale

October 31, 2015 Writing 4 Comments

The Singeing Shadow

The kerosene lamp almost out of oil. The children gone to bed. The animals shut away.

Ah Chai surveyed the shadows outside. It was late; no light appeared from the neighbouring huts. The rain had passed leaving the air moist and the trees heavy, wet in the dark night. There was no sign of their two dogs. ‘On the prowl again, fine guard dogs they make,’ he said.  He was surprised there was no barking from the village dogs either. It was too quiet except for a faint strain of Peking Opera from someone’s radio. He tossed his cigarette stub out, a neat smouldering arc. He spat, warm, smoky. He checked the door was properly fastened for the night.

He was about to secure the tin sheet that served as the door when he felt a presence. … Continue Reading


October 29, 2015 Writing No Comments

Recently, at a luncheon with some close friends, our cheerful conversation took a wrong turn and some rather staunch Christians began to talk about the atrocities of Muslim fundamentalists. Torture, stonings, mutilations and beheadings were brought up, just before my favourite dessert, Kuih Talam was brought in.

I tried with a little timid interruption to mention that religious zealots, and armies in times of war, were equally brutal, if not more so. There were a few loud dissenters. I mentioned the War of the Roses and Joan of Arc and treatment of bonded labourers and slaves who were given the task of building the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids, in quick succession. One person at the table looked at me like he could be agreeing but the rest grew even more vociferous.

I tried to recollect a few more facts on torture and terror used for displaying and maintaining power, horror that men could inflict on fellow humans, but little support came my way.

A few days later in one of my readings I came across some of the ancient atrocities that were committed.

… Continue Reading

A Nuclear Weapons–Free World

August 8, 2015 Concerns No Comments

On this memorable day, 5 August, the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima’s devastation, death and suffering, let our plea be a nuclear weapons–free world.

10 years ago, on 5 August, I posted this message:

Sasaki Sadako was given only twelve years on the wings of a thousand cranes.

Today on the wings of every child’s crane let there be this request:

“Please bequeath the universe to us intact, in peace, and in love. Let us live.”

Are we naive to think we are closer to this request?


January 26, 2015 Writing 7 Comments



Don, Spooks and I have moved to Penang. We absolutely love it. We have acquired our selves a lovely and decrepit old bungalow with a garden. Quality of life is great. People here are kind and friendly and smile a lot. Weather is pleasant except between noon to 3pm when it is too hot to be walking about. Food, selection of different regions and fusion, is excellent, and is most reasonably priced.

We had always thought of of ourselves as Hong Kong people, had never thought we would ever leave our lovely home and garden in Ha Yeung, but pollution — air, noise, light, and tourist — has forced us to make this decision. We love this new paradise. All the same we miss you, Hong Kong.

Now where could they have hidden my village?

Now where could they have hidden my village?

But we’re Penang people now.






December 26, 2014 Writing No Comments

Today, 26 December, Don and I send our love to all those who lost family and friends in the tsunami ten years ago. We share their pain; remember the day that brought so much destruction to the regions in the Indian Ocean. From our breakfast table on the beach we saw the giant wave approach. We had an easy escape.

Death Mattress

Death Mattress

A floating mattress from a bed in our hotel, Le Meridien Khao Lak, Thailand. Bright sun and sharp shadow deceive us. The mattress is floating on a 4- or 5-metre wave of muddy water and debris that drowned all those on the ground level and level one of the hotel, all those who were having a relaxing morning in their beds after a wild and joyous Christmas party at our hotel the night before.

Our diaries of the event – 2004 Tsunami






December 18, 2014 Concerns, Writing 1 Comment

Imagine a Boy

Bloom ready for Bloodshed

Bloom ready for Bloodshed


Imagine a child, a boy 3 or 4 years old, from a family of six to ten children, too poor to give him a full meal, a proper home or education. Or imagine an orphan with no one to care for him. This boy will be taken on by a Madrasa run by fundamentalists. They will feed him and clothe him and educate him. He will spend his growing up years in the company of boys and men.

He will not learn anything but Koran related and religious matters, and of the might that once was held by the Muslims. He will learn of the suppression of the Muslims, according to the fundamentalists. He will learn of the atrocities and  the decadence of the West, the evil and sinful ways of the rest of the world. He will only get to know the harm done to the fundamentalists. He will read no newspapers or watch television.

He will grow up never ever having played with a girl, or ever having known the love of a girl or woman. He would never have been hugged by a female. As a teenager it is possible he may not know what a woman looks like except for a face or a pair of eyes. But there is a much promise for this young man: Virgins in paradise.

This parallel world produces the fundamentalists.


November 10, 2014 Concerns, Writing No Comments

Aurhor Haruki Murakami

Encouragement from a great source for the Hong Kong Occupy Youth.

“Accepting the award on Friday, he spoke of his own memories of the Berlin Wall prior to its fall 25 years ago this weekend, and attributed ongoing conflicts throughout the world to a system of walls that drive people apart based on intolerance, greed and fear.

Murakami said it is the task of novelists to help readers penetrate these walls, and that harnessing the power of each person’s imagination “could be the starting point of something.”

A world without walls can be created “in the quiet but sustained effort to keep on singing, to keep on telling stories, stories about a better and freer world to come, without losing heart,” he said. “We can see (a world without walls) with our own eyes, we can even touch it with our own hands if we try hard.

“I’d like to send this message to the young people in Hong Kong who are struggling against their wall right now at this moment.”

Murakami, Haruki3_

Student led peaceful protests in Hong Kong began on 28 Sept 2014 and is still going strong.

“Student-led blockades of major roads in Hong Kong have continued since Sept. 28 (2014) in response to an Aug. 31 decision by authorities in Beijing to restrict candidates for the territory’s 2017 leadership election to those vetted by a committee.

Six weeks into its struggle for democracy, the once-carefully planned Occupy movement has grown and shifted in ways beyond the imagination of organisers. And that raises a question: is the protest still a civil disobedience campaign?

More than a year before Occupy kicked off, its founders discussed their plans, organised meetings and wrote articles on their thoughts for a civil disobedience campaign. They published a detailed “manual of disobedience” for protesters to follow.

The ultimate aim of the campaign is to establish a society embracing equality, tolerance, love and care. We fight against the unjust system, not individuals. We are not to destroy or humiliate law enforcers, rather we are to win over their understanding and respect. We need to avoid physical confrontation, and also avoid developing hatred in our hearts.”

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Floating Petals
Bathing Elephants
The Darjeeling Affair