on Monday, February 23, 2009
I am not an art person. I do not particularly enjoy museums and have no ability to appreciate good art. Maybe that's why I've never been interested in visiting Europe. Sometimes I wish I did, but, well, I am who I am. Not really an art hater - it's more of an indifference to it.

But I love Islamic art. It's not about painting naked people or throwing paint at a canvas. It's about geometry. It in no way, shape, or form resembles the geometry that we suffered through in middle school. It's all about turning quantitative lines and shapes into qualitative, beautiful things. "Geometry is an objective manifestation of the principles of creation". Hmmmm.

Islam forbids making likenesses of the Prophet Mohammad, so all of their art is people-less. And Islamic art is manifested through their architecture. You start with a line, every line turns into a shape, every shape turns into a group of shapes which turns into a wall or a carpet or a picture that makes up a building which supposedly represents God. And there is purpose behind it: "For architecture to be significantly effective in enabling us to experience ourselves as complete, embodied spiritual beings, all the senses need to be addressed simultaneously." Quite different from growing up in a church building whose geometric lines were made from the floor of a basketball court.
Even the Petronas Towers (below) in KL were created to reflect designs in Islamic art.

Mosques are beautiful places. Churches are certainly beautiful too, but I haven't been to any of the old architectural wonders of Europe etc. Christians don't place such a high value on their buildings, which is fine because we see and discover God in different ways. But we can at least appreciate the beauty and the meaning behind it.

I went to KL last week for some UNHCR meetings. I myself didn't actually get to go; I gave up my spot so that someone else could attend. But because of that, I got to visit the Islamic Arts Museum in KL. Which is great because Reuben hates to go, but it happens to be one of my favorite spots in the city. Geometry made beautiful galore. I have been there three times and have fallen in love with their gift shop. The pictures below are from the National Mosque, built right next door (from my 2006 trip-a few might be from other mosques, too. It's been long enough that I can't remember).
The National Mosque also had a rather large and intimidating "Boycott America" banner posted out front, condemning America's 'support' to Israel during the Palestinian attacks.

It has big logos of Colgate toothpaste, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola with big fat red X's through them. Although I was stupid enough to admit that I was American when I went in (I often claim I'm Canadian - who doesn't love a Canadian?), I was still received warmly. I even had my own personal escort.

Note: I love this picture. I snuck my camera into the museum and stumbled upon this big old painting on which, upon closer inspection, the entire Koran was written. You wouldn't be able to read the words anyway; they're in Arabic.

Glorious rain!!

on Friday, February 20, 2009
Yesterday I went into my bathroom and smelled something hideous. It seriously smelled like something died in there. I checked my cupboard - yup, it smelled, I checked the shower - yup, it smelled. Man, I thought to myself, I really need to clean up around here. The mold is starting to build up. Then I stepped out of my bathroom and realized that the whole apartment smelled like it. Finally I had a hankering of what it could be, so I stepped onto my balcony which confirmed my suspicions - it smelled like rain! Normally rain smells refreshing and cool, but this particular rain yesterday smelled awful. Penang hasn't had any good rain in's the dry season. My non-scientific opinion is that this rain yesterday possessed all the icky pollution and smog that has been hanging out in the air for the past month or two.
Every year during the dry season the Indonesian forests of Borneo and Sumatra go up in flames - fires from land clearing and deforestation. BBC calls it an "air pollution disaster." The Sultanate of Brunei has actually threatened to sue Indonesia if they don't stop. Malaysia, to my knowledge, hasn't threatened to sue because, well, they're burning too!!
I took these pictures last year in Sabah (N. Borneo)

Imagine this picturesque scene turning into this:

which then turns into this:

or this [palm oil plantations]

or occasionally this: [shrimp farm]

Poor forest didn't even stand a chance.

As you can see in the picture below (NASA took this two years ago), this smoke can be seen from space. [Note: I'm under there, somewhere, suffocating.]

So my non-professional guess is that all of this smog fell down yesterday with the rain, causing the horrendous smell in my bathroom.

Sideways man can!

on Thursday, February 19, 2009
This is the Leader Garden pool. It is freezing cold. And it is bigger than it looks in this picture. And yes, that is a picnic table right in the middle.

Today I was simply minding my own business doing my laps in the pool in peace. All of a sudden I spot sideways man coming my way. Sigh. Sideways man is the man who comes in his teeny little Speedo and thinks he rules the pool. I do my laps down the length of the pool, as does every other normal swimmer that I know. You swim the LONG way. Sideways man swims sideways, therefore interrupting the rest of us swimmers who do it the normal-person way. It's like he's the frog in Frogger who is trying to veer past all the cars and trucks in order to get to the lily pad.
I am the car or the truck who is just trying to do things the normal way while the Frog is risking death to get to the other side. It's not my fault if I run into him.
This reminds me of the time when I found the old Atari in our cabinet. Madie and I tried to revive it (because who can resist frogger or the bowling game) but it was so old that none of the cords were adaptable with our tv. We went on quite a Yakima quest looking for the right cords or whatever, but to no avail. Apparently they are not a very hot commodity.

BUT today it was different! Sideways man started out swimming sideways, but after a length or two he gave up and started swimming the long way. Finally, sideways man can!! I'm sorry I ever doubted him, and yet I have no doubt that that he will revert to his old ways when I leave the pool. Then after that I don't care.
There's all sorts of strange motions and movements all disguised as exercise going on among the Chinese. I often walk or run in the morning on the road behind my apartments, and many of my neighbors do the same. After doing this for a year or so, you start to get to know people. There's Clapper Man, who walks up and down the hill swinging his arms and clapping the whole time. There's also a Swinging Arm Woman (who bears no relation to Clapper Man) who walks while flailing her arms across her body. Then there's all sorts of hip-shaking movements and enough other stuff to really make you laugh, except for the fact that I see it all the time, so therefore it's not that funny anymore. The one thing that still really makes me laugh is the old man who does his stretches on his balcony every morning in his underwear.


on Tuesday, February 17, 2009
My computer has been giving me some rather threatening warnings that it is going to shut down and stop working. It says that the C drive is full. I therefore have the task of downloading everything off my computer and onto my external hard drive. Perhaps what is responsible for this is the 15,695 pictures that I have on my computer.

I was looking through some of my pictures, not all 15,695 of them, of course. I revisited just enough to realize how ridiculous I am. I do ridiculous things and I laugh when I look back at it.

Like the summer I did an internship at the Marine Fisheries lab at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi. I fished all summer long, and got paid for it. I had never fished before so I don’t know why they chose me, but I had a good time, and haven’t fished since I left the great state of Texas. Ridiculous.

Getting up at 4am every day lets you see beautiful sunrises. Plus, the day is done by noon!

Then there’s the time in Ethiopia where myself and a few friends of mine went searching for a child that they were sponsoring through World Vision. We drove through Shashemene, home of the Rastafari where all the hippies live and smoke pot. We went out from there into the country-side and found the school that the boy supposedly attended. We didn’t find him there, because the boy just happened to be playing hooky that day. Great first impression. In the end, however, we learned that he had stayed home to plow the family fields with his ox. I got a chance at steering this great beast, but I think I ruined part of the land in the process. Oops. Another ridiculous moment.

The CBS Early Show decided to air from Yakima once. Madie and I were the perfect pair to be involved in another ridiculous experience. We showed up at the Capitol Theatre downtown on the morning of the shoot. We got there ridiculously early, because of course we wanted to be standing in front. So Dave, the traveling-host man, didn’t talk to us on air or anything, but we did have our millisecond of fame when we made it onto national TV. Standing right next to us was a goat that kept pooping all over the place. We had ridiculous signs. Put the two of us together and we never fail to do something ridiculous.

Then one time in Kenya the monkeys had gotten on our nerves enough to convince us that something should be done about it. Someone had 'heard' that catching a monkey and attaching a bell to it would scare all the other monkeys away. So that's exactly what we did. One of the Kenyan guys made a trap and caught one poor victim for our scheme. We dressed it in an old toddler tee (we had to make room for the tail, of course), and sewed a bell on the front. Actually it wasn't a bell; it was more like a washer and a lug nut attached to string. As optimistic as we were about this non-lethal approach to our awful monkey problem, it did not work. We never saw it, or the t-shirt with the bell, again. It was a hilarious day, though.
Poor monkey.

Once I went spelunking in Arkansas. Caving. We were at this National Park, I forget where, that was known for caving. I was feeling rather adventurous so I suggested that we try some of the more 'exciting' caves. Problem was, we didn't know where any of them were. Lucky us, as we were walking back to the car we ran into this group of people that were covered in mud and slop from head to toe. So we asked them, where did you go??? And they said, over there - and we'll take you in if you'd like! I was having a great time and thought that I had overcome my fear of claustrophobia until I got stuck in one of the cracks. Really stuck - I seriously couldn't move. Luckily the girl that was with us calmed me down and talked me out of it. Twist your body down then over. Ha! My greatest realization was that caves stink. They're full of rotting mud and yuckiness, and I was wearing Chacos. Disgusting. Note: this picture is not "the cave". This is another 'novice' cave.

And thats just a few of my ridiculous moments. More to come. I just have to look through more of my 15,965 pictures.

Good job Angelina

on Monday, February 16, 2009
Last week Angelina Jolie and her hubby visited a Karenni refugee camp on the Thai/Myanmar border. She came to speak out against the violations of human rights that the Rohingya people have been subject to by the Thai government. She asked that "the Thai authorities to show the same generosity to Rohingyas as they have to tens of thousands of other asylum seekers fleeing from Burma." Other asylum seekers like the Kachins, Karens, Chins, and Mons.

Thailand wasn't very happy with this. Apparently the UNHCR sent Angelina to the wrong camp - not the camps that the government gave her permission to visit. So now the Thai government is reprimanding the UNHCR for allowing her in. Ugh. Just the fact that they're making such a huge deal out of it means that something smells fishy

The Thai government is saying that the Rohingyas are a greater threat than the rest of the Myanmarese tribes because they are Muslim, because they come in large groups, and because they are mostly men. The Refugee Resettlement Watch criticized Jolie's actions: "Jolie needs to know that they are Muslim, some of them are trained as jihadists, they do not get along with other groups, they are highly aggressive and intimidate other people, and many other facts before she passes judgment. Angelina Jolie is a bright woman. She should think over what she has learned and ask some Thais why it is that their country has been hospitable to these other refugees (many of whom are Christian) while turning away the Rohingya."

Just because a handful of people have gone bad doesn't give Thailand a reason to violate the rights of an entire people group. It doesn't give them the right to dispose of them like animals. In case you don't know, stories have just started to emerge about the Thai navy towing hundreds of Rohingyas out to the open sea in boats without motors or food or water. These boats have started appearing in far-fetched places like the Andaman Islands with very few survivors. Some died of dehydration, some jumped off and drowned, and some were apparently eaten by sharks. They say that 800 Rohingyas were "disposed of" this way - who knows how many have died. Whatever the number, the Thai government denies it all. Perhaps the most ghastly thing is that the Indian government (the Andaman Is. belongs to India) is going to ship the survivors back to Myanmar, the very nation that they risked their lives to flee from. The BBC recounts a survivor's tale:

Myanmar appeared in the news last year because of the typhoon, but like all news stories, it has been long since forgotten. The Burmese government wouldn't let anyone into their country, so we still know nothing about it, except from the mouths of the survivors themselves. What's happening in Myanmar and the stories that I have heard are appalling. Rape, murder, slavery, religious persecution, you name it, it's happening in Myanmar. The people might not be drowning from the typhoon floods anymore, but they're still dying. And they're fleeing their own country more than ever. And more than ever, their neighboring countries are rejecting them. The UNHCR is trying its best, but with both Thailand and Malaysia rejecting the UN convention on refugees, they're not free to do what needs to be done. What a shame.

Angelina does so much that no one else can do. People pay attention to what she does and where she goes and what she says. I would do what she does, but frankly, no one would's just little old me. She has 6 kids and still visits refugees all over the world. She's adopted three children from the places she's traveled. If only more celebrities and people in the limelight would do the same. So good job Angelina, I wish more people in the world were like you. Well, sort of.


on Sunday, February 8, 2009
Thaipusam is a masochistic Hindu (Tamil) holiday celebrating the birthday of Lord Murugan, the God of War. 50,000 devotees came to Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthabani aka Waterfall Temple in Penang yesterday to go on a 'pilgrimage' to fulfill their vows. This includes carrying pots of milk, piercing the skin, and carrying heavy burdens.

Shaving heads is an act of devotion

Fish spa

on Friday, February 6, 2009

Fish spas are the rage all over asia, and Penang is no exception. This was said of our local Penang branch:
"At Happy Feet Fish Spa, you will experience a myriad of feelings – the warm ambiance, the friendly staff, the laughter and smiles, the relaxation as you sit and enjoy the sensation as the fishes feast on your feet. This wonderful experience also comes with an additional benefit which is known to human race as one of the essence of life – Laughter! When the fishes start to swarm your feet, you will feel the initial first minutes of ticklish sensation which will make you laugh and squeal or at least, giggles for the shy ones!"

It would be more appropriately called flesh-eating fish. "Known as Garra rufa, the silvery inch-long fish originate from hot springs in Turkey. It's there that they developed an appetite for the only food around — human flesh." But because they don't have teeth, they technically "kiss the skin" as one salon owner puts it, sucking off the dry skin. The spa "Dr. Fish" says this about maintaining its tanks and fish: "The fish stay well fed on a steady supply of human skin. Over the past few months, technician Le has watched them double in size." Oh man.


on Thursday, February 5, 2009
Lonely Planet describes Singapore as the following:
"A fine cocktail of Western predictability and Asian enthusiasm." Ultra modern, immaculately organised, and a little snobbery thrown in, it's certainly the cleanest place you'll find in Asia. But whatever the case: if you like to shop, and you like to eat, Singapore is the place to be. There's quite a few parks and nature reserves to satisfy the outdoorsy type, NOTE: it definitely lacks in the beach department. Go to Thailand or Borneo.
If there is such a thing as a national obsession, Singapore's would be food.

My favorite fish was shredded chicken porridge. You have to taste it to believe it. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Although Singapore is known more for creating the artificial, they also create 'natural' pretty well. Unfortunately for me, all I brought were two flimsy pairs of flip flops. Not particularly great for hiking, but I managed the best I could. Six hour hikes in flip flops is fun!

They even manage to maintain a "lifeless earth"!

Lots of monkeys to be found!!

This is the proboscis monkey, only found in Borneo. The Singapore zoo is the only place in the world that these guys can be found outside of Borneo.

Crazy Singapore:

Crazy Trees

Crazy Christmas

Crazy street lines