Sunday, November 30, 2008

Twins Henry and Helen as kids

Henry was born two minutes before Helen. Here is an old pix of them celebrating their birthday. What a lavish spread Mum put on for them. The baby of the family, Grace is four years younger than them.

Henry left home at 12 years old on a Sarawak Yayasan scholarship.

Helen went to Australia at 15.

Doulos Ship in Auckland

The Doulos ship made its swan song journey. We braved the winter bittery cold gale to travel by rail, and walk to Princess Wharf. We were entertained by an International crew including a Swiss and a Mongolian.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Voodoo doll

The Voodoo Doll

It was the early colonial days on the island of Minau. Minau was known before the white man came to conquer them as Land of the Head Hunters. Even though the white rulers had outlawed this gruesome tradition, the mountains were remote and the rulers couldn't do a thing. The people believe in animism, vampires, mystic and spirits. Casting voodoos were rampant on people who upset you and they continued to chop people's head off.

Christopher Granada was one happy man. He beamed and grinned to himself. He was just promoted to be one of the youngest school principal in the country. Though the school was up in the mountains, it was his school and he was the principal. It was a primary school of forty children. His new wife, Nancy was posted to be the teacher and school matron.

Christopher and Nancy packed their luggage, emergency first aid and medicine and boarded in the motor boat for a two day's journey.

"The school is very remote, after the motor boat ride, the head man, Chief Waretini will wait for you in a long paddle boat at the town of Kano. He will take you to the school." Advised Alfred, the education officer.

Christopher and Nancy sat in the motor boat looking at the other passengers. They were natives from the mountains and had tattoos on their arms, legs and face. Their lips were darken by the tattoos. They were also sharing the boat with ducks, chickens and dogs. Some of the passengers looked fierce and Nancy wondered if their decision to move up to the mountains was a right one.

When it was mid day, some of the passengers opened up their food parcel of dried fish and taro. They offered their lunch to the new school master and his wife.

"Thank you, we brought our own," and quickly stopped at there. Alfred had reminded them that the natives were very hospitable people.

"Make sure you accept food offered to you, otherwise it will be seen as an insult and they will think you are snubbing them. But you offer some of yours in return."

Christopher and Nancy took a bit of the fish and taro and ate as though it was some gourmet food. Then Nancy opened her picnic basket and offered the fellow passengers some of her chicken sandwiches.

When they eventually arrived in Kano, it was late afternoon the next day. Nancy was quite happy to get off the motorboat and stretch her legs on the tiny jetty.

"You must be Mr. Christopher Granada, I presume!" Said the fifty something grey hair man.

"Yes, I am, you must be Chief Waretini, this is my wife Nancy." Replied Christopher.

"Welcome to Kano, Sir Granada and Mam Granada. Tonight, we sleep in a communal rest house, and tomorrow we paddle up to your school."

Nancy had not expected to sleep in the rest house. In deed, it was communal. There was no separate sleeping area. Thin mattress were rolled up like futons and kept at a corner.

"You may like to take the right hand corner, and I will take the left hand corner. I suspect some of the passengers will be sleeping in the rest house as well." Said Chief Waretini.

Chief Waretini took them to a small coffee shop where they had their dinner and then back to the rest house.

Nancy felt quite amused having to sleep on the floor. Never in her wildest imagination had she thought of how primitive the place was. The thin mattress didn't give any cushioning and Nancy didn't sleep a wink that night.

The rooster was crowing at the break of dawn, as though it was saying, "Welcome to the mountians."

"I did tell you that we were going up to the mountains. You don't expect a nice soft warm bed and a nice hot bath." Said Christopher.

The next morning, Chief Waretini brought them two hard boiled eggs each.

"Eat up! We start rowing as soon as you have finished. We need to travel a full day."

The Granadas or now known as Sir and Mam quickly ate their breakfast and packed up their luggage and followed Chief Waretini to the jetty. Waiting on the jetty were two boys about the age of twelve.

"These are two of you oldest students, they have come to help paddle the long boat."

Chief Waretini helped the Granadas load their luggage on the tiny long boat with no roof. Then he gave Nancy a big conical grass hat and a paddle.

"Do I have to paddle too?" asked Christopher.

"Well, if you want to reach the school before sun down."

So Christopher and Nancy each took a paddle and tried to synchronize with Chief Waretini and the two boys.

In a jovial mood, Nancy started to sing "Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver." And Christopher joined in making the rowing less tiresome.

They didn't stop for lunch, but just passed around more chicken sandwich and hard boiled eggs. The boys ate the chicken sandwich ravishly.

Eventually, they arrived at the jetty of their school. It was some fifty feet from the jetty and some girls were waiting to help them unload their luggage. The school was tiny, but The Granadas didn't expect it to be this tiny.

"It doubles up as the church chapel on Sundays." Chief Waretini told them. It is a Roman Catholic Church. The school was built by the mission. Sir, you are the first lay person to be our principal. In the past, we always had a priest."

"Behind the main school building was another rectangular shaped building. The end nearest the school is your living quarters, in the middle is the mess, and the far end is the kitchen."

The Granadas followed Chief Waretini on the grand tour of the school. In another smaller block was the dorm. The dorm was divided into two, one end for the boys and one for the girls. Again Nancy noted there was no bed. Thin kapok mattresses were rolled up and placed against the wall.

"We don't have a cook, the older girls will help you, Mam to cook for the children."

Nancy felt aghast, no where was there written in her job description that she was to be the cook. But it's too late now, Christopher was so enthusiastic in taking up the job that they forgot to check everything. She brushed back her tears and pretended that something got into her eye.

"The generator will provide the electricity in the evening. Make sure it is lights off at 8.30pm."

"What about us? Do we have to have lights off too?"

"You have a powerful torch light."

"Have we gone back in a time machine?" Asked Nancy.

"You have everything here, once a week, I will come with the food supply and the district health nurse will come once a month." Said Chief Waretini.

The Granadas worked hard in their little school. Both of them were liked by the students and their parents. They did not expect the extra added bonuses of eggs and chicken when the parents came to visit.

Christopher wanted to have a vegetable garden, Chief Waretini organised a community project and the parents, uncles and aunties and grand parents came for two days. Such co-operation was heart warming and soon they were self sufficient in vegetables, and starch roots like, sweet potatoes and taro.

Nancy was happy knowing that Christopher was elated. One day when the health nurse came, she confirmed that Nancy was pregnant. They were happy but Nancy was not overjoyed.

"How am I going to bring up a child in this remote place?" Nancy questioned herself, but she did not let Christopher know of her apprehension.

Nancy became sick, the health nurse suspected she had a miscarriage. "You work too hard here."

Much to Nancy's chagrin, Christopher didn't seem too upset, "Don't worry too much, we are both young, we can have another."

Nancy became pregnant again, but tragically she lost the baby again. She didn't recover physically from the lost. Her system got muddled up and she was constantly having cramps in her stomach and her hair was dropping in clumps.She feared she was turning bald.

Chief Waretini's wife came secretly to Nancy. "I don't think your health problems are due to natural causes. I think there is something supernatural about this."

"What do you mean?"

"I think some one cast a hex on you."

"Why would they want to do this?"

"I am not sure, I can ask our clairvoyant for you if you like."

"Christopher will never agree to witch craft."

"Do you value your life or not?"

In desperation, Nancy heeded Mrs. Waretini's advice. On the pretext of visiting a student's home, Nancy went with Chief Waretini's wife to the village clairvoyant.

In the clairvoyant's hut, lined against the wall were many shelves. On the shelves were bottles of magic potion with insects and herbs in them. She had darkened teeth, and covered her hair with a long black scarf. But bits of fizzy white hair could be seen sticking out at her forehead. She lit some red candles.

The clairvoyant gave Nancy some homebrew and asked her to spit out part of it on the floor. After saying some mumble-jumble words, the clairvoyant fell in a trance and prostrated on the floor. When she came through, she looked horrified.

"It's evil. Some village girl is jealous of you as the wife of our handsome young Sir. She wants you dead so that she can be the new Mam."

"What can we do?" asked Mrs. Waretini.

"The evil girl would have gone to a witch doctor and got her to cast a voodoo on you."

"How do I get rid of it?" Asked Nancy.

"We must find the source of the voodoo, she must have hidden a voodoo doll some where near the school, when you find it, you bring it to me, and I will remove the spell."

"Who could do such a hideous thing? I will enlist my husband Waretini to help."

"Please keep this a secret from Christopher, he will think I am superstitious to believe in this voodoo thing"

"When you live in the mountains, where most people are animists and not Christians, you have to believe that people resort to voodoo." Said Mrs. Waretini.

Chief Waretini scoured the whole school compound especially about the dense bush that surrounded the school. After two days, he struck gold. He found what he was looking for. Hanging upside down was an eight inch voodoo doll wrapped in red cloth, and bounded tightly in black string. Without touching it, he saw thorns stuck in the abdomen area. Parts of its hair had been pulled out leaving bald patches.

"No wonder the Mam had been losing her babies and getting bad stomach ache and dropping her hair."

Chief Waretini quickly got a student to rush the clairvoyant to come to school. They told the students to remain inside the dorm. The clairvoyant said her prayers, and removed the thorns stuck to the voodoo abdomen area, unwound the two metre long black string and the red cloth. Then she poured some kerosene and set the voodoo on fire until it became ashes. She swept up the ashes into a little gourd.

"That was a good job you located the voodoo doll. Now your job is to catch this vicious girl who wanted our Mam dead."

Every day and every night, Chief Waretini hid in a bush waiting to catch the culprit red handed. For ten days, he had no success and was about to give up.

"No, Waretini, you must be patient. For the sake of our beloved Mam, you must persevere, her life depends on you. " Said Mrs. Waretini and the clairvoyant.

It was a full moon night. At mid night Chief Waterini was getting sleepy. He heard a morepork hooting melancholy and he looked up. He saw the morepork sit conspicuously at a nearby tree. As a child, Chief Waterini heard that when this owl hoot melancholy, it had been with the spirits and something bad was going to happen. He felt the air suddenly become cold and the atmosphere become eerie.He even smelt the smell of death.

Out of the bush came Tania, the belle of the village. She was considered the most beautiful girl in the village but her pride had led her to reject all the suitors from near and far. She confided in her aunty that these local men were not good enough for her, and she was waiting for her knight in shiny armour.

"So she had decided that Sir was the knight, and so evil had she become that she was willing to kill Mam to get Sir."

Chief Waretini threw his fishing net on Tania so she couldn't escape. Then he bound her hands and legs with rope. He found she had a bottle of formic acid presumed to be used to splash and dissolve the voodoo. In such a terrible act, she had intended to kill the Mam.

In the mountain way of justice, he marched Tania to the clairvoyant's hut. The clairvoyant told Mrs. Waretini to cut off Tania's hair and smear charcoal and ashes on her face. Tania was to be the clairvoyant's slave for as long as the clairvoyant deem necessary and after she felt that Tania had become remorseful.

Christopher still dismissed the voodoo doll as mumble jumble. Miraculously Nancy recovered with no medical intervention. Her hair grew long and luscious.

Not too long afterwards, she had twins, a boy and a girl. Chief Waretini and his wife hosted a big party where they symbolically became the twins' grand parents.

Reader's comment:
I enjoyed this story. I do feel like you set me up though. I expected more from the husband. He is an educated man. He should have been suspicious. I also feel that the Nancy cared more for Christopher than he did for her. I would like to see more investment in the emotions of the villagers. Christopher needs to have some interaction on a personal level with Tania. Otherwise their forbidden love (one sided of course) could not even be imagined.

The Immigration Offender

The Immigrations Offender

The small town people of Aloh avoided Pearl's family like avoiding the plague. They alleged that Pearl and Jake were so unscrupulous they would swindle anyone who had the bad luck to come in their path. They cheated customers, defrauded suppliers. They broke their promises to their investors high returns in the little grocery store.

Their family stood by them refusing to believe all the allegation and gossips. It was until Pearl cheated her uncle and her first cousins. Then they believed the rumors and decided that was it and have nothing to do with this black sheep in the family. Pearl had purportedly ripped off her own uncle.

"Her father's own brother, Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!" Everyone said disapprovingly.

"Lock, stock, and barrel." Pearl told her uncle. "Everything in this store is yours."

"You are getting the best bargain for my mini market. Others have offered a much higher price, but since you are my uncle, I am offering it at a basement discounted price." She gave her uncle and aunt a brief tour of the store.

Despite being warned by friends and relatives about this wolf in sheep's clothing, the nave uncle was tempted by the rock bottom price.

"After all, would a niece cheat her uncle?" Her uncle assured his wife.

As soon as the deal was signed, Pearl and her husband Jake absconded. People suspected they were hiding in a very remote part of the country. It was so inaccessible that creditors didn't bother to go after her.

Her creditors came round to the store and insisted that the new owner paid Pearl's debts. Despite the uncle's protests that he was the new proprietor and he was not responsible for Pearl's debts, the creditor controllers of his suppliers threatened that they would not supply any stock until he cleared Pearl's debts. To make things worst, the stock on the shelves did not tally with the books. Pearl had inflated the quantity of the stock by forty per cent. On close examination, a lot of the cans and boxes were reaching expiry date. Pearl had been buying from shoddy sales representatives stock that was almost expiring at a cheaper rate.

After their flight to Chaltem, they took a bus to Kanza town . Kanza town was almost as remote as Timbuctoo, Pearl survived on their swindled money. Life in Kanza was like going back in a time machine set forty years back in time. There was no electricity and tap water. Pearl didn't like her plight, but she knew she couldn't go back. She befriended women who came to do her laundry and cooking and house keeping for a token. These women were happy to come to listen to her radio, and cassette tapes and drink her instant coffee.

A leopard doesn't change its spot. Pearl was bored in this one horse town. She persuaded her husband that it was safe to go to the town.

"Nobody would recognize us."

They wore big sun glasses, and Pearl's husband Jake stuck a false mustache, they took the rickety bus to the nearest town. At the shanty pub, she met a man who seemed flashed with money. Jake treated him a local beer and asked what the news was in the big town.

"My name is Angus McFarlane, and I am a consultant for a very rich country Sirdindia." Angus handed Jake his business card.

"What kind of consultancy are you involved in?"

"All sorts, business migration and labor recruitment teams."

"What do you need for business migration?" asked Pearl.

"You will need half a million dollars out front and you need to deposit the money in the country. Then you have to operate a business in Sirdindia."

"I don't have half a million dollars, what about labor recruitment?"

"For ten thousand dollars per head, I will arrange for you to enter Sirdindia to work. It is very lucrative working there. In five months, you can earn double your investment."

"Wow! That's a good deal. Let me go home and get the twenty thousand dollars."

Jake and Pearl went home, and took out all the money they had swindled and arranged to meet with Angus. Angus drew him a map of Uranga district of Sirdindia they were to go.

"Remember, when you arrive at the immigrations, you tell the officers that you were touring the country. Make sure you have one thousand dollars and your credit cards when you arrive so that the officer would not suspect you were going to work."

Jake and Pearl went by bus and took the plane from a neighboring country, Chaltem.

At Sirdindia, the immigrations questioned them because they didn't know the language and didn't seem to be tourists, but there was no reason to stop them from entering the country.

"My friends say that Sirdindia is a very beautiful country."

"Why are you visiting in winter?"

"We come from a tropical country, and I want to see snow." lied Pearl by the skin of her teeth.

Once out of the airport, Pearl and Jake took a city bus and went to the downtown bus terminal. There they boarded a bus to the small town of Condor in Uranga. The foreman met them at the bus terminal and drove them to the orchard.

"You are not to leave the orchard until your three months is up."

"I thought we were going to work for five months."

"Sorry mate, you are in the country on a social visit pass, you can stay only three months and you are not supposed to work, so you make yourself very "small" when you are here."

"The bloody Angus, he lied and cheated us."

Pearl was assigned to work one shift in the orchard and to cook for fifty men and do the dishes for all the three meals. Jake had to work two shifts and do the maintenance of the equipment. Earning the promised money was not easy. Work was arduous, Pearl and Jake had never worked so hard before. But it was too late, they had to work otherwise Angus had reminded them that their twenty thousand dollars would be forfeited.

Pearl lamented that her fingers were getting callous from doing all those dishes. Jake said he was in no better condition than her. They said living in boring Kanza was heavenly compared to their situation then in Uranga.

When their three months were up, they vowed they would never be back to this hell hole. They took their plane to Chaltem country, boarded a bus and arrived at Kanza. There in Kanza, they lied to the people what a fantastic holiday they had in Sirdindia. The women were happy again to come to work for Pearl.

Six months later, they saw Angus again in the pub.

"I have been looking for you!" shouted Jake.

"I have been looking for you too!" echoed Angus.

"Thanks very much for sending us to a hell hole. You bugger!"

"But you earned a lot of money, didn't you? And did I ever promise you that Sirdindia's roads were paved in gold?"

"Oh forget it, what are you looking for us for?"

"I have a better business proposition?" said Angus.

"It better be good."

"Jake, you don't have to go this time, you just have to find ten women to go with Pearl,"

"What do I get in return?" asked Pearl.

"For each woman, you get five thousand dollars, and Pearl doesn't need to pay her ten thousand dollars."

It took quite a while to convince ten peasant women's husbands to let their wives to go with Pearl to Sirdindia and for them to find ten thousand dollars. Many had to borrow from friends and relatives. Jake promised them that it was very safe and they would be away for only four months, and when they came back, would be rich. Eventually, after all the formalities were done and passports issued, they were ready to go.

The peasant women whom Pearl felt embarrassed to be with were behaving like country bumpkins.

"You gals don't do the talking, I know the language, and I talk." Pearl was very proud to have picked up smithereens of the Sirdindia language from the three months she was there before talking to the other workers.

They were a bunch of nervous looking women when they arrived at the immigrations, they were interviewed one by one. Pearl was interviewed first.

"What are you coming here for?"


"We suspect you are here to work."

"No! no work, holiday."

"Were you here in Sirdindia before?"


"What were you doing then?"


"Did you work?"


"No? You are lying, we have in records in our IRD. IRD means Inland Revenue Department. You see, any one who works in Sirdindia has records in our IRD."

"What's going to happen to me now?"

"We will deport you on the very next flight back to Chalthem."

"Those ten women, are they with you?"

"No! I don't know them."

"You are lying again, they all said you asked them to come with you, and they have the same address that you were going to."

"They wanted to come themselves."

"You are lucky we stopped you, vulnerable women like you have been sold into prostitution."

"Oh Bloody Angus."

"Did you say Angus McFarlane?"

"Yes, Angus McFarlane!"

"He's been arrested for being in a syndicate for bringing illegal workers to Sirdindia."

But the time, the immigrations officer had finished with Pearl and her band of ten women, they had been in the airport for six hours.

"I am sorry there is no flight for you to be repatriated back to your country. You have to wait for three days. I am sorry there is no room in the airport for you. We have to send you to the Nukau police station. They will lock you up in the holding room so that you don't escape."

Pearl and her ten friends were hand cuffed and driven in a paddywagon to the Nakau Police Station. They spent three days in a police station holding cell together with prostitutes, druggies and thieves.

When they got back to Kanza, before Pearl and Jake could pack up and abscond again, the whole village torched their little hut and warned them, "Don't you set foot again in our village and abuse our hospitality."

Pearl and Jake did not learn their life lessons. They tried again to enter Australia without the right documents with the intention to work. They were stopped at the immigrations because Sirdindia had an agreement with Australia to share information of illegal aliens. They were jailed two years. In jail, they reflected on their actions, and thought of the life lessons they had to learn in a hard way.

Medicinal Plant: Mimosa

Don't expect this Mimosa to be the Mimosa which is a cocktail-like drink composed of three parts champagne or other sparkling wine and two parts thoroughly chilled orange juice. Though the effects may be similar.

This mimosa grows wild in lawns and fields in Malaysia and Singapore. It has thorns and is a gardener's nightmare. It can spread like a carpet and is very difficult to get rid of. At the neglected allotment of the NTU gardening club, once they establish themselves, they evade the neighbouring plots, and is a nuisance. The flower is pink and soft and fluffy. As a kid, we used to take a stick, and induce the leaves to "sleep."

The Malaysia stuff this into pillows for babies and adults alike to help give them a peaceful sleep to cure insomnia.

This plant is also called a sensitive plant. The leaves close when you touch it. At dusk, the leaves also close until the next morning. This is probably why the Malays think that they will give tranquil sleep.

So if your baby doesn't sleep through the night, next time you go to Malaysia or Singapore, go and look for some.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How to serve a Christmas Pudding

My friend A, gave me this English Christmas pudding. It is the real McCoy, she made it herself from her old English recipe.

Here is my sister Grace demostrating, "How to serve Pudding."

1: Steam the pudding
2: Pour brandy over the pudding.
3: Light the pudding until it flames all over,
4: Smell the delicous aroma.
5: Eat the pudding with custard and ice cream

Here is my lovely niece Jessie eating the pudding.

Ruth and her hair stylist

This is my niece Ruth. Recently, it was reported on National TV, that a monkey worked as a waiter in Japan.

Here is Ruth having her hair groomed. No wonder she has such beautiful long hair. With such a hair stylist, who will have a bad hair day.

Medicinal Plants: Blue Ginger

My mum had big bushes of this rhizome, and I knew it as the Blue ginger or lam keong. Whenever she braised ducks or belly of pork, she would tell be to dig a sliver of it. It is very difficult to dig the rhizome in the dirt. Your hands get all muddy and the rhizome is very tough to cut. You have to be careful not to dig too much, otherwise you injure the plant. We kept our own ducks, and we slaughtered a lot of them. So there was a lot of digging and muddied hands. Mum She says it helps to remove the gamey smell of the duck.

I too, grew a big bush in the NTU gardening club allotment. It is more than eight feet long. I don't use it because my husband didn't like it's flavour. So well did I grow it? It was for nostalgia.

In Singapore, it is called Galangal , But it has different names in the different South East region. It is grown for culinary and medicinal uses. The Malays and Indonesian use it for their fried rice Nasi Goreng, it is a must in the Thai Tom Yum soups. The Vietnamese use it in their braised pork like my mum did. You can buy them as a whole root, or cut or powdered.

As a medicinal use, in the Southeast area, mix with lime juice and drink it as a tonic. In man’s quest for youth, some drink it claiming its prowess as an aphrodisiac, and a stimulant. Galangal oil is also used regularly in various forms of oils for anointing.

Medicinal Plants: King of Bitters

King of Bitters : Andrographis Paniculata or Chuan Xin Lian in Chinese. Chuan Xin Lian (穿心蓮) ...

No, it is not the kind you buy in the pub or bar, but a small Chinese medicinal herb.
As the name implies, a tea made from the leaves is very very bitter. Used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.

It contains ingredients which possess astringent, anodyne, tonic,and alexipharmic properties.

It has been traditionally used in healing dysentery, cholera, and diabetes. Influenza, bronchitis, piles, gonorrhea, hepatomegaly, skin disorders, fever and worm infestation. Useful in healing wounds, ulcers,leprosy, and diarrhea. For red eyes, sore throat, tooth ache.

This little herb has been in my great grand mother's garden as long as I remember. I used to dread to take the concoction, and now, in turn my kids won't touch it.

The Chinese SING SAY or doctor says, according to the herb grower, you must use, 3, 5, 7 leaves, always in single form. I don't really believe, I just use some when I feel heaty or general unwell. It keeps your mouth fresh and rids the flurry feeling.

My friend B says, " It is very good for sore eyes , Just make a tea, and wash your eyes.
Most Chinese say it is good as a gargle for sore throat.

My younger sister Margaret. who is a professor in plant pathology remembers, “ Whenever we complained about headache, Mother would ask us to go downstairs and pick a few leaves of the bitter leaves. Then we said, "No more headache" But Mother would prepare for us and we took with a spoonful of sugar after that. “

Christmas Party and trains

My Sister Helen and her sons Thomas, Lincoln and Daughter Olivia made these lovely
cup cakes for Thomas' kindy party. Thomas likes the Thomas Train. Thomas trains are a great hit in my family, no matter if they are in Borneo, Singapore, New Zealand or Australia.

In 1986, Karen gave D a set of Thomas books at christmas. There is a steam engine in Glenbrook at Waiuku. I took D for a ride when she was little. Now she ride a fast electric train as a daily commuter. It is called the MRT, Mass Rapid Transit in Singapore.

It is Christmas season and year end for schools. Everyone is celebrating.

Andrew's Funeral

Yesterday, an plane belonging to Air New Zealand crashed in the Mediterranean near Perpignan. A chill shuddered my spine and all New Zealanders. You see, it is exactly the anniversary of the Mount Erebus disaster.

On 28 November 1979 the 14th flight crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crewmembers aboard. We, the Kiwis were in shock.

Yesterday's news tugged my heart string. It was a week ago when I marked in silence, the anniverary of my baby Andrew's passing. I once wrote a peom.

Losing a baby is like the culmination of nine months of planning a long holiday.

It was going to be a joyious time of watching the celebrities at the Cannes festival.
Instead without notice, the plane crashes.
You are alone on a Meditteranean island.
You are alone holding your dead child.
For the rest of your life, your life is like a puzzle.
One piece is missing, life will never ne the same again.
If you are lucky, you will have friends to hold your hands.

My Andrew: 29 September - 22 November 1989.

Henry in Rome

My "little" brother Henry, actually he is far from being little. He is almost a 6 footer. But he will always be my little brother because he is eleven years my junior. He is the older of a set of twins, my great grand mother called him "Little Big Brother."

Henry is an anthropologist, and gets to travel a lot. Here he is in Rome. I am very proud of him, my big "little " brother.

Whanau Day

Whanau is family in Maori.

My school, Point Chevalier School held her Whanau day and invited parents, grand parents, uncles, aunties, children and babies to our school.

It was great to see about two hundred visitors to join us today to share in some of our activities. Our students are always very enthusiastic about having their families come into school and see what fantastic learning is taking place here.

Visitors were welcomed with a powhiri in Te Whare Pupuritanga led by Emerson Nikora and our kapahaka group. This solemn event is an eye opener to me as I had not been closed up to a Karanga or a call to welcome the visitors. As a respect, during the Karanga, there were no further entries into the Te Whare Pupuritanga or Auditorium. We remembered our students who died in the WW1 and WW2. The formal ession ended with a Hongi, which is a Maori greeting by rubbing noses.

Throughout the day, our mini showcase gave visitors the opportunity to view some of our bands, our Jump Jam aerobic teams, both of our choirs and to hear about some of this year’s projects from the Envirogroup. Visitors were welcomed to attend class time with their children. I had a mum come to my ESOL room to see what her son was doing with me.

In the evening, we had a Rock concert in our auditorium.Featuring School Rock Bands from neigbourhood schools featuring :Pasadena Intermediate (The Wild Cage Creatures), Ponsonby Primary (Workbench), Point Chevalier School (The Dynamites, The Chevrolites, and The Pt Chev R&B singers) and LE Rock Tutors. I took Sam and his two friends to the concert. We raised food for the City Mission. The music was loud, I wished I was young again.

St Andrew's Day

New Zealand is a country of diversed ethnicity. The Maoris came, then the Pakehas meaning foreignors. Among the British stocks are the Scottish. My Sisiter-in-law Karen originally from Christchurch has Scottish ancestry. Dunedin proudly claims to be the the most Scottish city in New Zealand.

New Zealand is one day ahead from and yesterday, we celebrated St Andrew's day with Scottish Bagpipes, Drums and men wearing Scottish Kilts.

St. Andrew's Day is the feast of Saint Andrew, celebrated on 30 November each year. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and St. Andrew's Day is Scotland's official national day,

Very little is really known about St. Andrew himself. He was thought to have been a fisherman in Galilee (now part of Israel), along with his elder brother Simon Peter (Saint Peter). Both became followers (apostles) of Jesus Christ, founder of the Christian religion.

St. Andrew is said to have been responsible for spreading the tenets of the Christian religion though Asia Minor and Greece. Tradition suggests that St. Andrew was put to death by the Romans in Patras, Southern Greece by being pinned to a cross (crucified). The diagonal shape of this cross is said to be the basis for the Cross of St. Andrew which appears on the Scottish Flag.

*** A perverbal question: What is underneath that Scottish Kilts? A news broadcaster Tamati on National TV refused to confirm or deny what was under it.***

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rubber Tree

More than a century ago, an Englishman went to Brazil and stole some rubber seeds aka Hevea brasiliensi. He germinated them and grew them in the Kew Gardens in London.

From those stolen seeds, they grew to supply the rubber gardens in Malaysia and Borneo.
The original rubber trees were very good, but took too long to reach a productive age. Then the good old scientist developed a smaller tree but produced more and called it high yielding tree.

My plant is a miniature tree. It's a tribute to both sets of my ancestry. It was rubber that brought them to Borneo.In 1907, my Great Grand father was scouted to lead a developing company to grow this important cash crop.

I often go on a walk-a-about on the university campus. I found a cluster of five rubber trees. Some one wanted to do an article on the trees of the bygone era. I told them where to find them. I even got Sam to do an experiment on tapping rubber to get latex like his fore fathers before him. We didn't get any latex because it poured that day.

This species is different from a decorative Indian Rubber tree aka Ficus elastica.

***A bonzai is a tree manipulated to form a miniature tree, originally from Japan.***

Mickey Mouse bush, Ochna serrulata 2

Francis, my 6th Uncle used to buy motor bikes like my Grandpa saying, changing bikes like changing shoes. He was was staying with us and my parents were living in Sarikei.

I was seventeen. One day, out of the blue, Francis asked if I wanted to ride his bike. Boy! did I want to ride his bike. He showed me the ropes and I was off. Our road was a private cul-de-sac. On both sides were long lalang grass, and Mickey Mouse shrub.

I got on the bike with wind blowing in my face and zoomed. I wasn't very steady and before I knew it, I had crashed the bike to a Mickey Mouse bush. I fell and the bike landed on top of me.

Francis asked, if I was hurt.

I replied, No, just a few scratches from the sharp lalang grass. It was my ego which was bruised. I never rode a bike again.

Francis died prematurely at 55. I was in Singapore when the family rang me. When I see the mickey mouse shrubs, I cry a tear for him.

Fellow blogger in the Philippines mentioned a plant they call Mickey Mouse. It is interesting that different regions call different plants by different names. In two much older posts, I posted with passion this Mickey Mouse plant.

Mickey Mouse bush, Ochna serrulata,

I have good memories of two persons when I see the Mickey Mouse bush or Ochna serrulata. The first involves my UK/NZ friend A.

A group of gardening enthusiasts requested and requested the university to give us a plot of land. Eventually they did, and we were glad to have allotments.

One of the rule was, we could only grow small shrubs, veges, flowers but not a tree. We agreed, beggars can't be choosers. Alas, the garden was built near a bellowing dragon furness. The soil has been baked hard that plants won't grow. Besides, the garden was covered by overhead rain forest trees and blocked the sun.

Most gave up their allotment, and I was the die heart secretary. You see, if I didn't take care of the garden, the university would revert it back to lawn.

One day, A. came and asked if she could grow her avocado tree in the allotment. As it was against the rule about planting trees, I told her she could plant it at the edge.

As I have no idea what an avocado tree was like when I saw the tree slowly grow more and more like a Mickey Mouse bush, I didn't query A.

A. was certain it was an avocado tree as she had personally planted the tree from a seed after she had eaten the avocado.

Soon, it was evident that it is a Mickey Mouse tree because it started flowering. Apparently, a little bird decided to help A.'s in her garden in her house. It is like a cockoo bird laying her egg in other people's nest.

Both A and I have left Singapore for New Zealand. The Mickey Mouse shrub is still there. People might be wondering why any one would grow a wild shrub.

NTU was once a jungle. On both sides of the road to the campus, there are a line of Mickey Mouse shrubs.

Why do you think it is called Mickey Mouse tree? It's because the big leaves look like the ears of Mickey Mouse.

***We happen to call a plant which looks like yours, mickey mouse plant. It has yellow & red tiny flowers with black bean eyes. CP likes this plant. Chinese call it tea plant for its leaves look like tea leaves. Though the leaves are much bigger than the tea leaves. Comment by a reader in Malaysia***

Mother-in-law's tongue

Who ever named this plant long Mother-in-law tongue and short Mother-in-law tongue must be a vicious person.The Scientific name is Sansevieria trifasciata.It is also commonly called the snake plant, because of the shape of its leaves, or mother-in-law's tongue because of their sharpness.

The Chinese have a saying, "A kitchen can't have two women."

A friend from China refused to take this plant. She felt it was disrespectful. She said, if it was anything, the long tongue should be aptly called daughter-in-law.

I never lived with my Mother-in-law who lives in Malaysia. If I have, my tongue will probably grow longer than Pinocchio's nose.

***This is actually a good plant, it helps obsorb dangerous rays from your TV and Computer***

***Reader's comment: also known as sun sin kim ( God's sword).***

Makes me think twice before I use my tongue for behold the Sun Sin Kim will do justice.

Lady of the night

This plant has tiny white flowers, and little orangy fruits. You can smell the scent miles away. The Chinese name is seven mile flower. The flowers will start blooming only at mid night.

The lady of the night isn't a good name. It is given with the connotation of a woman with the oldest profession in the world. She smells nice and comes out only at night.

Usually in Malaysia and Singapore, this is grown as a hedge, as it provides good privacy. I stole cuttings from the road side. We had a good discussion among gardeners and non gardeners alike. A friend joked that the plant can be used as a signboard advertising the madam inside.

***From a reader: I like the ad., about the 7 mile flower.***

Yummy Food in Singapore

It was the water engineer's big 50. I haven't made a cake for a long time. Sam and I made this. The icing was a rich butter and the cake a mud chocolate cake. My Dad's best friend K's wife taught me to weave a basket. The cake is not perfect to look at, but it was made by his favourite persons.

You can see the red rice I posted about in my post on rice. I cooked Sarawak black pepper prawns, Thai Tom Yum Khuong soup, and lots of veges.

The Bert and Ernie plate is a souvenir we bought from a road side store in Bangkok.

***The green bits in the prawns are fried curry leaves. They are from my tree. They are crispy and very fragrant.***

Sam and Miss Fries

Sam was born 7 years after Andrew died. He is my pride and joy. God made me whole again.

Sam started reading very early, and here he is at two years old reading to my American teacher. She was so impressed that she made a recording of him reading to take back to America.

Warnings in Singapore 2

The fish is very very big, big enough to pull off your hand if you don't heed the warning.

Warnings in Singapore

There are many warnings and fines in Singapore. A foreignor may feel that it is an infringement of their rights.

This is at a water playground at the Singapore Zoo.

Sam had a marvelous time cooling off.

Medicinal Plants: Neem

My dad was always planting trees. We used to move house a lot because dad was a Senior Government Officer. Besides planting papaya and banana trees, he planted a lot of non fruiting trees.

Mum used to query him why he did it, since we would move in a matter of years. he answered, it didn't matter, some one in future would enjoy the shade. I asked why he didn't plant fruit trees. The houses in Sarawak then were not fenced in, and he didn't like people come and steal the fruits and cause trouble.

He is the first tree arbor lover I know.

I wasn't to know that I too would become a tree arbor lover. I might have left Singapore, but I have left my legacy. I have planted two neem trees and my friend A goes from New Zealand to Singapore and checks on the trees for me.

I have 2 trees which the Malays ask for their leaves to relieve chicken pox itch. The Indians say it is a wonder tree. My Indian friends say in India, pregnant women brush their swollen tummy to relieve itch. They also use the twigs as tooth brushes and tooth picks.

I gave those trees tender loving care. When they were saplings, after a heavy thunder storm, they would topple, and I would pain stakefully go and support them with timber poles.

I have bought Neem toothpaste.


Neem or Margosa is a botanical cousin of mahogany. It belongs to the family Meliaceae. The latinized name of Neem - Azadirachta indica is derived from the persian

Azad = Free,
dirakht = Tree,
i - Hind = of Indian Origin

which literally means: 'The Free Tree of India'.

Baldness:-applying margosa oil on the bald portion,
preferably at night and washing the head in the
morning stops the falling of other hair and helps
in their growth.
Other hair disorders :washing the hair with water
boiled with margosa leaves stops falling of hair and
helps to grow, be black and lustrous.

This is also useful to kill lice in the hair.
(Precaution to be taken that this water should not
enter the eyes).

Dental disorders
Using fresh margosa twig piece as brush for
cleaning the teeth makes the gums strong, eliminates
foul smell and cures pyorrhoea.

Drinking and gurgling with margosa water (in which
fresh new leaves are boiled) stops dental decay and
pain in the teeth.

Gargling with margosa decoction (made with boiling
of leaves, flowers, fruit, root and branches equal
portion) gives relief to toothache by eliminating
infection in gums.

Cough :-gargles with lukewarm margosa juice mixed
with a few drops of honey cures cough trouble.

Please do not take my word for the above, I have NOT
use the neem. But I am not telling where my trees are.

However, it must be good because there were a few
international court cases regarding this plant. It is
used in a big way in USA for pest repellent.

cooking curry?

Two main ingredients necessary for cooking curry.

These are from my garden in Singapore: lemon grass and curry leaf.

My curry leaf plant is ten feet tall, and supplies free of charge curry leaves for the NTU neighbourhood. You can cook butter prawns with them, many Thai recipes call for them

My neighbour downstairs wanted to inherit my plant when I left for Auckland. I told her yes, on the condition that my friends are allowed to continue to pick them.

I just love my herb abd flower garden. i do not use a lot of them. WE thinks I have a jungle. I just love to see them grow and grow and be the envy of many who don't seem to make them grow. You see, Singapore is in the tropics, and these are tropical plants. Friends from America or UK don't seem to get the hang of it except for my friend A & M.

Lions in Singapore Zoo

We like the great outdoor away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The zoo and the bird park are the favourite places to go with children. In Singapore, there is also the night safari, which is next door to the Zoo. You can see a malayan tapir close-up.

Grandpa's 71st birthday

This was a very formal event. Here he is wearing the formal attire of a royal offical of the Ming Dynasty. It was a black silk top on top of a black silk gown.

Mum made his cake. An aunt brought some red chinese cutting of auspicious words. Making it a perfect fusion of East and West. For beakfast, all of us were served with sweet long noodles. yes, you read it right, the sweetness signifying a sweet life, and long noodles for long life to all who ate this noodles.

There was great feasting, and hundreds of guest were invited. My dad told me that at the birthday of a very healthy and successful person, people like to come to these parties. Some even gate crash. They believe in taking away a bit of the luck of this birthday boy. They will take away uneaten food to share with their family at home.

Vice versa, if the birthday person was a sickly person, people will avoid going to the party. It is seen as taken home the bad luck of the sick person.

Father's 50th birthday

This was taken during Dad's 50th Birthday.

Yes, there are a lot of us. Mum and Dad have nine of us.

My maternal grandma came to help celebrate. This was about the last time we had a family photo with my Mum, she died in 1988. (Margaret was in New Zealand.) Charles and his Kiwi Wife came back from Christchurch, and I just returned from Canada.

My grandfather and youngest sister Grace.

This is among the few photos left of my grandfather. This one was taken with my youngest sister Grace in 1975.

My dad's house was later rented out when Mum and Dad went to live in Australia. The storeroom was infested with termites. Gone were all our paper work, photo albums and all our souvenirs.

Grandpa always wore traditional Chinese emsemble which looks fisherman style tops and pants. He had his head cropped with 1/2 inch of hair. He was a fan of Bruce Lee, and people mistook him to be a Kung Fu master or See Fu.

teletubbies come to Singapore

Sam's daily dose of teletubbies. His favourite was Dipsey. He watched so much that I was worried he won't talk as there had been reported that the children who watch Teletubbies don't communicate.

Po is a Chinese who says Fai Di Fai Di which means hurry up, hurry up.

We don't speak Chinese at home, but I will say Fai Di, Fai Di to the kids.

Beach at NTU

More fun at Nanyang View "Beach."

Sarawak Ibans aka Sea Dayaks

These natives, the Dayaks have a reputation. See their finery. They live in longhouses.

A popular Tourist place in Singapore

Sam's sand pit had visitors from kids from all over the world. This was also our home school. The lovely white sand comes from Australia. We had a big balcony facing giant rain forest trees. We also have a special swing that the water engineer made from an old tyre.

My poor husband had to carry sacks and sack of the heavy sand up. In the end, I told him, I had enough.

Here the sun birds and the Hill Minahs come to sing. Humming bird come and get the nectar from my flowers.

Sam writes funny

Sam's teachers used to get really mad with the way he held his pencil. I asked many educationsits, and they say not to worry about it. I bought Japanese pencil grips, he didn't like it.

At 12, he still holds his pencil funny.

Sam's Kindy friend

This is Shun Otaki, he is a Japanese boy who takes the same school bus. He was Sam's first friend outside NTU community.

Graduation Day parade

Sam, school bus

I tease Sam that he went to school in a big Mercedees. Yes, it was a Mercedees, it was a BIG bus. He loved his bus uncle who sometimes lets him sit next to him. His Malay bus aunty was very good but very strict. She says Sam is no trouble. The one who was trouble sometimes was Sam's mum. Sometimes, she forgets to go 3 story downstairs, and the bus Uncle or bus Aunty would take him upstairs. They were ok because Sam was the last out in the route. He was also the first in. We lived in NTU, the country of all countries in Singapore.

The Uncle says," You have a car, why do you let Sam take the bus?'

Sam loved his bus journies. he started drawing road maps, road maps and more road maps.

***Here is Sam waiting for the bus with his Dad.***

Singapore Kindy Graduation

It is very formal in Singapore. When Sam graduated, he wore a full graduation regalia and a mortar board. They had a concert and a party.

He went to Jurong Christian Church Kindergarten and went by bus.

A dolls' cradle

Double bed has taken a whole real meaning.

In Auckland, the kids played hours in this cradle or as my American friend S says, crib. her daughter liked it so much so I gave it to her, as Sam didn't want to play with dolls.