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Archive for May, 2012

I was in lower secondary when I first came across “Sejarah Melayu” or “The Malay Annals.” It was also known as “Sulalatus Salatin” in Arabic and was written by Tun Seri Lanang during the 17th century. Chapter Four of this book chronicled how Singapore was attacked by shoals of swordfish as a result of a curse and how a brilliant boy saved the day. It was a popular story back then. I am not sure whether “Sejarah Melayu”  is still taught in schools. When I asked some students whether they have heard of the story “Singapura dilanggar todak” or “Singapore attacked by swordfish”, they were like, “Huh, what is that?” A lot of blank faces stared back at me!

This is how the story goes:-

Hundreds of years ago, a merchant cum missionary from Pasai (a district in Sumatera) by the name of Tun Jana Khatib, came to Singapore. He was a pious and charitable man and soon became popular among the locals.

One day, while walking past the palace of the ruler of Singapore, Paduka Sri Maharaja, Tun Jana Khatib saw a betel palm tree which was standing next to the palace. Being curious of a tree he had never seen before, he walked towards it and touched the trunk. Immediately, the tree split into two and tumbled to the ground.

Unknown to him, the queen was standing near the palace’s window and was looking out onto the street. When she saw what had happened to the betel palm tree, she was shocked. Tun Jana Khatib walked away from the spot and was soon on his way home. The queen quickly told her husband what she saw. Thinking that the holy man was trying to show off his magical powers to the queen, the ruler became very angry and ordered his guards to catch Tun Jana Khatib and have him executed at once.

The holy man was dragged to a place called Hujung Pasar (present day Kampung Gelam) and was killed there. Before he died, he cursed the ruler of Singapore. According to legend, this is what he said, “Hey, you! I am willing to die for this but remember, a cruel ruler will not escape from punishment. He will have to pay a price for his cruelty. And believe me; a calamity will soon befall on this land!” Having said this, he was stabbed several times by a keris (a short shield) before collapsing onto the ground.

But what happened next was almost unbelievable. His body immediately vanished but his blood on the ground remained. The people who came to watch the execution became worried and frightened. Minutes later, a huge storm brew and the sky became very dark. The people fled from the place when they saw the ground turned into a patch of red stones. Some said his body reappeared in the island of Langkawi!

Not long after this incident, shoals of swordfish began to attack the shores of Singapore. They came in with the tide. The fishermen who went to sea saw them. They got very frightened and ran back to the beach but some of them got pierced on the neck or waist and die. Soon, more and more swordfish came to attack and more people got killed by them. In the end, the sea off Singapore turned red and piles of dead bodies lined the shore.

The news of the attack soon reached the ears of Paduka Sri Maharaja. He quickly got on the back of his elephant and rode out to the shore to have a look at things with his own eyes. He was completely taken aback and ordered his men and those standing near the shore to form a human shield with their thighs. Needless to say, many more men died from his foolish order. Those who disobeyed him and ran away were caught, branded as traitors and cursed to death.

Just as mayhem reigned at the shore, a little boy of seven called Hang Nadim stood out and said, “Our land is full of banana trees. Why not we cut the stems and use them as shields instead? That way, the snouts of the swordfish will be trapped by the stems and nobody needs to die anymore!”

The boy’s idea appealed to the ruler and immediately he ordered his men to cut down as many banana trees as possible. The stems were used to line the shores of Singapore. Shoals and shoals of swordfish came in with the tide but this time their snouts were trapped by the barricade of banana stems. The people were overjoyed that they finally managed to trap the fish and kill them. Today, this place was called Tanjung Pagar or “Cape of Stakes.”

Instead of rejoicing, the ruler’s advisers became worried. Paduka Sri Maharaja was about to reward the boy when his men whispered this into his ears, “Look, Your Majesty, this boy, Hang Nadim, was only seven years old and already he was so brilliant! What will happen one day when he grew up? He will surely usurp Your Majesty’s throne!”

Alarmed, the tyrant ruler asked, “What shall we do with him then?”

“Just have him executed and our positions will be saved!” they replied.

“Do just that, have Hang Nadim executed at once!” the ruler commanded.

The little boy was lured to the palace on the pretext of rewarding him but instead, he was killed and his body was tossed to the sea.

If this story was removed from our school syllabus, I am sure by now, you can guess the reason why, can’t you?

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For some time, Ah Q was not seen in Weichuang village until he suddenly appeared again one autumn night in his favorite wine shop again. This time, he looked prosperous in a set of new attire and a big purse loaded with silver and copper. It seems Ah Q worked as a servant for an officer in the town. He began to brag to the villagers how life was more sophisticated in town compared to that in the village. Ah Q even described in detail how decapitation were carried out in town and this had the villagers in complete awe. They too, wanted to see it firsthand.

Ah Q also brought some silk materials and skirts from town to sell to the women in the village. The rich ladies all made a dash for these fashionable items but in the end when they demanded more, Ah Q had no choice but to spill the beans – he was actually a thief and those were stolen items!

One night after a few cups of wine, Ah Q began to hallucinate that he had joined the revolution although he has no idea what it was all about. He thought joining the revolution would enable him to do things he likes – like taking revenge on those villagers who had bullied him in the past, to loot the two rich families of their gold and furniture as well as to impress some women to marry him. The more he thought about this, the more convinced he became and before long, he fell into a deep sleep.

The next afternoon he learned that some revolutionaries from town had come to the village the previous night and the sons of the two rich families had joined them, hoping to get some powers or positions. They did not invite Ah Q who had overslept that morning. Of course he was angry for being left out of the fun but again he comforted himself by saying, “Maybe they still don’t know that I had joined the revolution!” Yes, he had joined the revolution, but only in his imagination!

Despite the revolution, nothing changed except more people have their pigtail tied up. Thinking this practice is good enough to be considered a revolutionary; Ah Q did the same too. He began to feel important with his pigtail tied up but too bad, nobody took any notice of his transformation. Worst of all, even the beggars had their pigtail tied up and this made Ah Q very mad because he thought they were below him and with this, they are now on par with him!

When the scholar son of the Zhien family got a medal from the revolutionaries, Ah Q realized that to simply say he is a revolutionary and has his pigtail tied up is not good enough. It won’t get him far. He really needs to join them in order to be considered one of them. He wanted to be in action.

One day, Ah Q went to the Zhien’s house with the intention to join the revolution but was chased out of the house. Feeling very dejected, he went to his favorite wine shop for a few cups until late at night. On his way back to the temple, he heard a commotion along the street and quickly went to hide near a corner. From where he was standing, he saw some revolutionaries robbing the Zhao family of their gold and furniture. Ah Q instantly recognized they were men from the Zhien’s house. Slowly it dawned on him that the Zhiens went to rob the Zhaos.

After the robbery of the Zhaos, the villagers were pleased because there was one less rich and powerful family to fear. Ah Q was pleased too for the same reason. However, four nights later, a group of soldiers and police with rifles came to the village. They stormed the temple and dragged Ah Q out. They brought him back to town.

Once there, Ah Q was brought to a court and later thrown into a small and dark prison which he shared with a few other criminals. For three days in a row, he was dragged to the court and made to confess to the robbery of the Zhaos. Ah Q was denied the chance to explain and in the end, he just remained quiet. When asked to sign his death warrant, he just drew a circle on it. Ignorant of what was written on the paper, he was more concerned with the circle – he wanted it to be a perfect circle because he was afraid people might laugh at him for not being able to draw well.

Even at the doorstep of death, ignorant Ah Q thought that everybody have to go through these procedures at some time of their lives –being dragged in and out of court and prison and being asked to draw circles on papers which he could not read.

After a brief debate between the judge and an officer, the judge decided to proceed with the execution. His reason was, “Punish one to frighten one hundred!” With this, a white vest with black characters was put on Ah Q and his hands were bound behind his back. He was dragged out of the court and put on a wooden cart along with a few criminals. They were paraded around town to a large crowd of curious onlookers.

Although a bit frightened at first, Ah Q thought that everybody has to go through an execution some time in their lives. He began to think of a song to sing but tried as he did, he could not decide on which one. In the end, all that he could manage to say was, “In another 20 years, I shall be another stout young fellow.” It was a phase often used by criminals before their executions, to show their scorns of death.

“Good, good,” the spectators roared back at him. By now he was already standing at the execution ground. Seconds later, hails of bullets blasted through the air and Ah Q’s lifeless body slumped onto the ground. The crowd dispersed. All the villagers agreed that Ah Q must be the culprit. Once a thief, always a thief, they reasoned.

Nobody feel sorry for him; on the other hand they were disappointed that he died from hails of bullets and not from a blade on his neck. They were eager to see how a decapitation was carried out. They also felt cheated for not hearing Ah Q sing some songs before he die. They felt they came to town for nothing!

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Have you heard of the name Lu Xun? He was a famous 20th century Chinese writer, majoring in short stories and essays. His works were and remained highly influential and popular even to this day. He was so famous that an asteroid and a crater on Mercury were named after him! 

Lu Xun (left) started out as a medical student in Japan in 1904. One day, his Japanese medical lecturer screened a slide showing the public decapitation of an alleged Chinese spy taken during the Russian – Japanese War (1904-1905). Lu Xun was appalled at the complete apathy of the Chinese onlookers. They were callous and numb. Those gathered around the victim had come to enjoy the gory spectacle very much.

Disgusted, Lu Xun left medical college and began to write about the outdated traditions and backward mentalities of his people, hoping his writings will wake them up. Among his most popular works was ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ which was written in satirical style to mock a village bumpkin and the rest of the villagers.

Here, I have summarized the story into two parts. It makes an enjoyable reading because we could easily relate to some of the characters in this story.

This story took place in 1911 in a village called Weichuang in China. The protagonist was Ah Q (right). The author painted him as a typical and conservative Chinaman of his time.

There were two rich men living in the same village as Ah Q – Mr. Zhao and Mr. Zhien. The former’s son had just passed the county examination. The good news was announced with beatings of gongs in the village as was the normal practice.

Ah Q, drunk at that time, pranced around with excitement even though this achievement has got nothing to do with him. In his intoxication, he declared that he shared the same surname with the successful scholar, hoping some of the glory will rub on him. Sure enough, the villagers stood in awe of Ah Q. But alas, this instant glory did not last long for him.

The next day, a bailiff dragged Ah Q to Mr. Zhao’s house. There, he got a good verbal bashing from the old man. For not being able to give a satisfactory explanation to someone who was wealthy and powerful, Ah Q got slapped hard on his left cheek by Mr. Zhao before being shown the door.

Once outside, he got another round of scolding from the bailiff himself. After that, he even had to thank the officer profusely and paid him two hundred cash before being let off. When the villagers learnt what had happened, they said what a great fool Ah Q was and all the admiration they had for him just evaporated into thin air.

The villagers only appreciated his manual service and treated him as a laughing-stock; nothing more. They don’t care about his background. Ah Q has no family and used to sleep in a dark room in the village’s temple. He has no education, no regular job or fixed income. He does odd jobs like cutting wheat or grinding rice for anyone that needs such services. When there is a task to be done, the villagers will suddenly remember him and once that task had been done, they will quickly forget all about him.

Despite this, Ah Q was an arrogant man and looked down on all the other villagers, especially those poorer or weaker than him. Even in front of people who are well-off, he would say things like, “I used to be much better off than you! Who do you think you are anyway?” When he heard about the successful sons from those two rich families, he would comfort himself by saying under his breath, “My sons may be much greater!”

Ah Q has some ugly ringworm scars on his scalp. When he became angry, these scars will turn reddish in color and this made him uneasy. To avoid facing this reality, he barred anyone from mentioning certain words such as ringworm, bright, light, lamp or candle in front of him. But the villagers enjoyed working him up into a bundle of fury by deliberately uttering such words in front of him. Quarrels and fights would ensue without fail for Ah Q was not one to control his temper beautifully.

In these fights, the villagers loved to pull his pigtail roughly or bang his head against the wall several times. After giving him a few punches, they would whisper into his ears, “A man beating a beast!” before walking away triumphantly. But Ah Q refused to be humiliated. He would quickly slap himself and say, “It is as if I was beaten by my own son!”

Deluding himself that he was beaten by his own blood and flesh instead of others made him feels better. In good spirits, he then took to the wine shop, downed a few cups before going back to the temple to have a good sleep and by morning, all were put behind him as Ah Q has a good ability to forget unpleasant things.

One day after a fight with a beggar over whose body has the most lice; Ah Q was in a foul mood because he has less. While walking away, he encountered the son of Mr. Zhien who was also a successful scholar. Ah Q was annoyed that this young scholar had disposed away his pigtail. Disgusted, he picked up a fight with the younger man but got whacked by the latter instead.

Dashing off to seek relief at his favorite wine shop, he saw a young nun on his way and thought she must be the source of his misfortune that day. Conveniently, he put the entire blame on her and tormented her cruelly by rubbing her shaved head. “If a monk can paw you, why can’t I?” he said, pinching her very hard on her cheeks.

Hurt and humiliated, the young nun fought back and cursed him by saying, “Ah Q, may you die sonless!” Ah Q laughed very hard for he felt his bad luck had been avenged. What made him even more pleased was that the spectators inside the wine shop cheered him on and this made him very pleased with himself for his feat was admired. He felt elated, as if floating on air.

Once back in his room at the temple, Ah Q could not sleep that night. He kept thinking how soft and smooth the young nun’s face was. Although he used to look at all women suspiciously and contemptuously and regarded them as social pests, Ah Q was attracted to the young nun and was even bewitched by her soft and smooth face. That night he suddenly thought it was time for him, at age thirty, to take a wife who could later bore him a son.

Henceforth, Ah Q began to watch out for any woman who would take a fancy on him but unfortunately, there was none. Some even distant themselves when they saw him. This only makes Ah Q even more desperate for a woman’s companionship.

One night when he was taking a rest after grinding rice for Mr. Zhao, he saw Amah Wu. She was Mr. Zhao’s servant and she too, was resting after washing some dishes. When she tried to strike up a conversation with him, he thought she was trying to seduce him. Grabbing her, he exclaimed excitedly, “Sleep with me!” When she recovered from her shock, she screamed loudly and ran away. Before he could do anything, Ah Q was beaten by Mr. Zhao’s son with a bamboo pole.

He managed to escape but found himself in trouble. Ah Q had to atone for his sin by presenting some red candles and incense sticks to the Zhao family. He could no longer set foot into the Zhao’s house again or demand his wages from them. He must pay for the service of a Taoist priest to exorcise evil spirits in the rich man’s house. Lastly, if any misfortune befalls the servant, he will be held accountable.

After this incident, more women avoided him. They rather stayed indoors when they saw him on the streets. His favorite wine shop refused to give him credit anymore. The temple’s care taker asked him to leave at once. To add salt to his injury, nobody give him odd jobs; they preferred to give them to some beggars instead. To contain his throbbing hunger, Ah Q stole some turnips from the convent of the young nun who has a soft and smooth face and was chased by a very fierce dog.

To be continued……..

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This morning my young daughter said to me thoughtfully, “Wouldn’t it be nice if little animals know tomorrow is Mother’s Day?”
 
 “Why?” I asked her. This girl is always fascinated by animals.
 
“Then, they too, can celebrate Mother’s Day!” she replied.
 
 Yes, she was right. Each year we never failed to celebrate Mother’s Day with cards, flowers, chocolates and sumptous dinners with our moms.
 
But what about animals? They too, have great moms, this I am sure.
 
So to make my daughter happy, I am going to feature some of the greatest animal moms on this planet.
 
Animal Moms: Elephants

After an elephant mom endures a 22-month pregnancy, she gives birth to the largest newborn of the jungle, a 250-pound calf that’s almost entirely dependent on her for survival. Because her baby is born nearly blind, the elephant mother helps her calf to use its trunk to discover the outside world—and its mother’s unconditional love.

Animal Moms: Polar Bears

A female polar bear gets pregnant in the spring and promptly gains over 400 pounds, often doubling her original weight. She’ll need all that extra fat. When the hunting season ends in the fall, she slows way down, entering a hibernation-like state inside a maternity den. She stays half-asleep through the birth of her cubs, and by the time she emerges from her den she’ll have fasted for as long as eight months.

Animal Moms: Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins, like other mammals, nurse their young. Because nursing can be a little tricky under water, a mother may help her calf suckle by ejecting milk from her mammary glands. The calf nurses for about a year and a half, but even after weaning a young dolphin knows it has a good thing going and stays close to its mother for several years.

Animal Moms: Cheetahs
A cheetah mom typically gives birth to a litter of three to five cubs and raises the cubs on her own. She spends the first year and a half of their lives focused almost entirely on teaching her cubs how to hunt and avoid predators. When the cubs have become sufficiently independent, she gives them a little tough love by abandoning them so they’ll learn to survive on their own.
 
Animal Moms: Alligators
The alligator mom is smarter than she may let on. Instead of being stuck sitting on her eggs to keep them warm, she puts the eggs in a mound of rotting vegetation that produces heat as it decomposes. Eggs kept at 86 degrees (Fahrenheit) or lower produce females; those 93 degrees or higher will be males. Mom’s more hands-on after the eggs hatch; for about a year, she’ll protect them from predators (like other alligators).
 
Animal Moms: Orangutans
The orangutan mother may be the animal kingdom’s ultimate advocate for “attachment parenting.” She carries her newborn constantly, never breaking contact for about the first four months of her baby’s life. She won’t wean her baby until about age four, and then may allow the baby to continue nursing during times of stress for another three years or so. Orangutans stay with their mothers for about eight years, longer than any other animal besides humans.
 
Animal Moms: Weddell Seals
Weddell seal moms may have to endure the bitter cold of their home near the South Pole, but at least parenting poses relatively few complications for them. For example, it takes just one to four minutes for a female Weddell seal to give birth. She’ll nurse her pup for only about six weeks—after that the pup can pretty much take care of itself. At least give a call on Mother’s Day, right?
Animal Moms: Meerkats
A meerkat mom is kept busy, having up to four litters a year, typically with two to four pups in each litter. The pups are born in underground burrows, where they stay for at least three weeks before emerging for the first time. The pups’ debut is quite an event—the whole meerkat clan comes to watch. As the pups mature, mom gets help from “babysitters” among the clan and even from the father.
 
Animal Moms: Hippopotamuses
Hippo moms typically give birth underwater and then immediately help the newborn calves to the surface for air. Baby hippos can suckle underwater or on land and will continue to nurse for about a year. Because they share their aquatic homes with predators like crocodiles, hippo moms need to protect their calves for the first year or so of their lives.
 
Animal Moms: Cougars
Cougars make devoted moms. For nearly their entire adult lives, female cougars are either pregnant or raising kittens. Every couple of years or so they give birth to litters of typically two or three kittens, who are born blind and completely dependent on their mother for survival. The kittens nurse for about three months, spending most of their time with their mom in dens for protection. Even after weaning and learning from mom how to hunt on their own, they tend to stick around with her until they’re about two years old—just in time for her next litter!
 
Animal Moms: Gorillas
Female gorillas start having babies at around 10 or 12 years of age. A gorilla mom carries her newborn in her arms while she forages for food and makes new nests each day. After about three months, the baby starts riding on its mom’s back by holding onto her fur. Mother and baby maintain a strong bond. Even after the baby learns to walk, at about nine months, it will continue riding on its mom’s back for another couple of years.
Animal Moms: Koalas
Even more than the rest of us, koalas would be completely helpless without their moms. Just 35 days after becoming pregnant, a female koala gives birth to a baby (known as a joey) that is only a quarter-inch long, hairless, blind and without ears. Immediately after birth it crawls down into its mother’s pouch, where it stays for six or seven months doing little other than nursing and growing ears, eyes and fur. It then starts to eat small bits of its mom’s “pap,” a kind of feces, which inoculates the joey’s digestive tract with the micro-organisms it’ll need to be able to digest otherwise poisonous eucalyptus leaves. And you thought you and your mom had a unique bond!
 
Animal Moms: Lions
It takes a pride to raise a lion cub. At least, lioness moms in a given pride may team up to help each other raise their cubs collectively. First a lioness will synchronize her reproductive cycle with the other females in the pride so they’ll all give birth at roughly the same time. Then, after a period of six or eight weeks in isolation with her cubs, the lioness and will rejoin the pride at about the same time that other new mothers and their cubs are also returning. A lioness mom will continue to nurse her own cubs, but she’ll also pitch in to nurse any other cubs in the pride. This communal rearing gives the cubs a greater chance of survival and protects the cubs from threats both inside and outside the pride.
 
Animal Moms: Giraffes
After a pregnancy of 13 to 15 months, a female giraffe will give birth while standing to a calf weighing around 150 pounds and standing 6 feet tall. Like a horse, a baby giraffe can stand and even run very soon after birth, but it’s still very vulnerable to predators. The mother will nurse her baby privately for its first month or so, but then the calf will join a “nursery group” of other calves, allowing its mother a little mom time to forage for food and water.
 
Animal Moms: Japanese Macaques
Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, form strong bonds between mothers and their babies that last a lifetime. They live in troops of 20 or 30 individuals, and a mother’s social rank will often determine her child’s place within the troop’s strict dominance hierarchy. A newborn macaque will cling to its mother’s stomach for the first month before learning to ride on her back. An infant macaque will sometimes cling to other adult females in the troop as well, but after about six months of age, it’ll cling only to its own mother. It’s only fitting.
 
By now, I am sure you will agree with Alexandra that we should also wish these mommies a “Happy Mother’s Day” on their kids behalf!
 

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Happy Wesak Day

“Three things cannot be long hidden:

the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

This year’s Vesak Day falls on 5th May, 2012. Vesak , is observed during the full moon of May.  Vesak celebrates Buddha’s Birthday, or Buddha Day, and is celebrated in honor of the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha.

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Other related link
Happy Vesak Day to All…  ~ May 4, 2012 by Muddyestuary

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