Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival
Nighttime, Lantern Festival.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fight for the reef

Fight for the reef 

If you've ever been to the Great Barrier Reef, you know what a wondrous world it is, and what a criminal act it would be for anybody, let alone an ELECTED government, to purposely trash it, kill the wild marine life and biodiversity and delete a World Heritage Site.

And if you haven't been to the Great Barrier Reef, you will never get to see it and experience its wonder, if you allow this ELECTED government to purposely trash it, kill the wild marine life and biodiversity and delete this World Heritage Site.

So Vote against the government's move, fight to save your Great Barrier Reef for yourself and the generations to come.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese New Year, A Look Back

Year of the Water Dragon, 2012.
  Gong Xi Fa  Cai.                                                                  Written Jan. 22nd.,2012

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year, 2012, the Year of the Dragon. In China and Malaysia and Singapore it's already 9.30 am of New Year's Day and the children are happily engaged in opening their little red money packets, the 'ang pows'.

I remember how it was over Chinese New Year when I was a child in Malaysia. Customs  have not changed much over the years.

On the eve of the Big Day, which actually was less than 24 hours ago in Asia, the big family reunion dinner takes place in the husband's family's place. So there could be any number of people: sons and their wives and children, unmarried sons and daughters and the 'venerable old couple'. All the married daughters would be with their husbands' families.

On the actual day, Buddhist/Taoist families have a vegetarian dinner. Those who don't have the vegetarian dinner will have the grand feast on this day, when the married daughters would be home with their spouses and children. For the vegetarians of New Year's Day, the big feast will be on the second day of New Year.

The temples are crowded with the faithful, the smell of incense and joss sticks  pervade the atmosphere.  All will be  praying for a good, prosperous, healthy and happy New Year.

ang pow, little red packet with money , given
 to unmarried children on New Year's Day.
Back to the ang pows.  The littlest children might get something like fifty cents. What do they know ? It's just the excitement of the grown ups fussing over them and wishing them galactic fame and fortune.The older children will get a bit more, like maybe five dollars, and the teenagers, perhaps twenty dollars.  Not only children, but unmarried adults, too, get gifts of ang pows, and certainly a bit more than twenty dollars.
Everybody has a new dress or outfit on, and new shoes. Oh, no shoes are worn in the house of course, only outside. Dirt from the street is never walked into one's house in Asia. Doesn't that make a lot of sense?   

There is great excitement in the house. After an early breakfast of all the goodies made in the preceding weeks, the children will be out of the kitchen, either outside playing or indoors being looked after by the older ones, who might also be playing cards or board games. There is no fighting or any ill feelings allowed, for the bad luck it will bring. There are plates of New Year goodies on the tables - the yummy sweet biscuits and cakes that have been made and stored for weeks before the New Year. And oranges and plates of red-dyed melon seeds, 'kwa chee'.
Plates of 'nian gao', oranges and ang pows.
 Image Courtesy Google. Nian gao sliced, dipped
in egg and flour and fried.

. And the absolutely unique New Year's cake 'nian gao', made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and brown sugar (or 'wong tong' in Hakka ) and steamed in a tin lined with banana leaf. In its newly cooked form it is very thickly sticky and yummy, but it is not really eaten that way.  Instead, it is made way ahead of Chinese New Year and put out in the sun every sunny day to dry. When dry, it  is, well, dry. And fairly hard. I like it sliced, dipped in egg and flour, fried on both sides till brown and rolled in freshly grated coconut. Mmmm!

Dinner is the gargantuan feast everybody has been looking forward to and cooked by mother/mother-in-law and daughters/daughters-in-law.  One dish I loved and which my mother made unbelievably well was the five-spice roast or deep fried chicken. If I may borrow a phrase,  'oh, m-a-a-a-n!'  Then there is the lettuce leaf roll:  take a leaf of lettuce (large leaf type), put into it bits of meat, cooked vegetable, whatever you want from the table. Fold or roll up the leaf to enclose the titbits, dip in hoisin sauce. Bite into the bundle. Wow!

We kids also had an extra treat at the New Year's dinner: fizzy orange squash or sarsaparilla, sodas we hardly ever had the rest of the year (except Christmas).  The adults could have a little wine or beer, but we were teetotallers in my family.

The rest of the day was spent just socialising within the family, catching up on the extended family news and gossip and eating ourselves into a delicious euphoria.

Gifts of food are exchanged at visits between neighbours
and friends.
The second day of New Year, everybody went visiting friends and neighbours and exchanging cakes and ang pows. The kids really enjoyed this enriching part of New Year's, dressed in their new finery and receiving ang pows whatever house they entered.

On the seventh day, everybody is one year older.  This is called 'yan yat', 'people's day'. Temples are again crowded with the faithful praying for a great year. They usually go to restaurants to celebrate their birthdays.
 On the ninth day, the Hokkiens celebrate a big thanksgiving, with tables and prayer altars set up in the garden.  The legend is that they were singled out by the emperor (which one) for slaughter as he thought they were barbarians, not being able to speak the common language. They went into hiding in sugar cane fields. On the ninth day of the New Year, the emperor stopped the slaughter, when he realised they were Han Chinese with a different dialect and he had learned enough to understand them. Hence the laden thanksgiving table with a pair of long sugar canes prominently displayed, and joss burning.

The gorgeous lion dances
Fireworks are set off on the eves of the New Year, seventh day and ninth day, and any day between.  We used to have firecrackers, but they are not allowed any more, which is just as well. They are deafening.  All through the season, there are lion dances all over towns, villages and cities, and the drums have to be heard to be believed. Your heart starts to beat in synch with them.

The last day of the New Year's celebration is the fifteenth  day, there is a final celebratory dinner, and then life returns to normal. A wonderful tradition has been celebrated again, family ties have been renewed and reviewed and hopefully strengthened.

These are just some of my memories of an important tradition of a  long-ago period of my life.

The fifteenth day is also called, with its Hokkien name, Chap Goh Mei. Traditionally, this night is the only one in the whole year when single maidens are allowed out in the streets but only if accompanied by a chaperone. Single youths, too, are out in hopes of meeting the young maiden and asking for her hand in marriage.  Presumably they must have met previously.

In modern times, on Chap Goh Mei night, young ladies dress up and go to temples to pray in hopes of finding and acquiring a sweetheart.  Another courtship activity has young ladies writing their names and phone numbers on oranges and casting them into a lake, river or other body of water.  This signifies they are available for marriage.  Chap Goh Mei is known as the Chinese Valentine's Day.


Lion dancers taking a bow.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Li'l Tuscany, A Li'l Bali

Via Cavalieri. A lot of the streets in Pisa are narrow .
My friend MLZ gets very excited about certain things and then she's like the dog with a bone. Well, this time it was Julia Roberts' 'Eat, Love, Pray'. I wasn't that crazy about it, but she would go on about a pilgrimage to Tuscany, India and Bali.
Yes, Pisa is in Tuscany.
India wasn't that doable, because for one thing, it's too hot and for another no one else wanted to go besides herself and she wasn't about to go on her own.  But Tuscany! Now, that was everybody's idea of romance and good food and wine. B&B's perched on mountaintops, olive groves stretching down the valley into the sunset, winding mountain roads, and Yves, our imbibing French friend-chauffeur whom we had befriended on our first trip to Mougins, in the south of France, on the Mediterranean. That was ready made romance.Not Yves, I meant Tuscany .

Yves, always cheerful
Anyway, this post wasn't going to be about Tuscany, because the third country Julia Roberts went to was Bali, and that's where six of us landed last September. It was love at first sight for all of us, although we didn't get  to stay in a rice field. We would have, only the foreign investors had got there ahead of us and bought up the vacation houses and charged unashamedly. So we went local. We signed in to the Kuta beach hotel, a most enchanting Balinese hostelry with beautiful smiling young things greeting us with hands clasped in front of their bowed heads. And the gorgeous plantings, oh those flowers!  I felt like a film star. 'Selamat datang'  indeed.

With Sambo, our lovable driver and guide. That's me, one of his escorts.
Entrance to the temple is behind us.
The hotel was almost smack in the middle of the town but only accessed through a  long back lane, so it was quite private and quiet. There was also a large courtyard. We walked out on the first day and could not walk anywhere without a bunch of youngsters following us, calling out the names of their massage houses and their fees. It seemed they knew that all foreigners came to their country for their massages. And they were ridiculously cheap.  $4 an hour?

We obtained the services of a van with a driver for the duration of our Bali stay. It happened that we stopped at a roadside stall where a young man had a sign advertising trips and tours, and he just knew where we could get a van with driver. He made a phone call and voila, we had our driver and tour guide, Sambo.

Our driver was young and hip, had a long ponytail, cheerful, courteous, and very knowledgeable. He knew every inch of the country, it seemed. He took us to all the known tourist sights and some unknown ones, and my fellow travelers decided to fund the economy. Four of them had massages every day and all of us bought everything in sight.
The beautiful soloist Temple dancer .
Temple dancers in Batubulan. Dancing
the Ramayana.
I loved the greenery, the people, the cultural shows.  We went to the temple in Batubulan (Moonstone)  for the traditional Barong dances, which mostly told the story of the Ramayana. On our second night we were part of a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Uluwatu Temple, at the edge of a cliff, 200 feet of a drop to the Indian Ocean. We witnessed the spectacular Fire Dance where we were sure we were in danger of incineration because it seemed some accelerant was used and there was a fairly strong breeze coming in from the Ocean. The dance, as is usual among the traditional dances, tells of the fight of Good over Evil.

terraced ricefields
Sambo took us to terraced ricefields and to waterfalls. He found us the little shop that served the local roast pork, babi guling (disappointing) and the vendors of durian! Now that was worth the whole trip. Were we in heaven?  The vendors (wearing gloves of course) opened the hard durian shells and gave us the extracted kernels in a small plastic food bag. We sat at the roadside and fed our faces. The ridiculous price wouldn't have bought two mangoes in New York. Repeat: were we in heaven?

The outside of the jewelry  shop owners' home
When our driver took us to a gold and silver shop  in Celuk, the girls' trip was made. The pieces were absolutely gorgeous. The shop was owned by the designer, a pretty, very elegant young lady from Sumatra, and her handsome Balinese husband. They live in a separate house behind the shop, and when we gasped over how beautiful the Balinese-style house was,  they welcomed us to tour it. Their traditional wedding picture was hanging on a wall. They looked like some Malay royalty and he gave me permission to photograph the picture.

Wedding picture of the young couple who owned the
gold and silver shop. I had to photograph it  (with his
permission). They are so beautiful.
Every one of our four days in Bali was filled with fun and excitement. My most precious souvenir is a pair of silver and marcasite dangle earrings from our very hospitable jewelry hosts. I have their card somewhere among all the misplaced items from my recent move.

Peaceful Balinese village.  We left Bali regretfully. The concensus was: 'I could live here.'

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Giant Monster Dog and the Apartment Board of Directors.

In Westchester County, New York, the Attorney General's office says that if a dog or any other pet animal is kept by an apartment owner for 90 days, without being hidden, is walked in full view of the public and not snuck in and out hidden in a basket, then it becomes a legal resident of the apartment, free from threats of eviction.

 There is such a law because in the recent past dog owners have been harrassed by lawyers kept by apartment buildings. This in spite of the said dog and its owner being totally law-abiding:  it has not been a public nuisance; it has not urinated within the building nor on someone's legs outside the building; its droppings have been promptly picked up by the owner and appropriately disposed of.

Well, into this friendly scenario comes my daughter, returning home from Texas with a mid-sized part-Staffordshire terrier and part-boxer, a gentle, sweet, timid brown pooch who only said 'woof' several times as a deterrent to house invaders.  Let's call her Lily for anonymity.

Well, Lily and her owner are completely, totally devoted to each other, besotted I'd say. And they lived peacefully with me in my apartment for over three months when lo and behold!  someone started mumbling at them each time he saw them  and darting looks to kill.  And suddenly I got a letter from the apartment manager,  that I was harboring a dog and if I didn't get rid of it, I would be fined and maybe have my 'lease terminated',  robber- language for  'apartment seized'.  

It so happens that there are several other dogs in the building, a few cats, and I've heard some birds chirping. Why pick on me?  Because I was easy meat, no guy in the picture, small and kid-sized and never said Boo to anybody?  I had to be made an example of?

Well, said manager and the Board members were unrelenting in their persecution, until, with a full time job and no time  nor financial resources to back myself, I helped my daughter and her dog leave, within the final time limit given by the manager. In my next maintenance bill, came an extra $600 for legal expenses. Yess?? Huh??

No arguments. Questions and appeals to the Board members yielded, 'Sorry, but you broke the law.'  I refused to pay and said manager added $50 each month until it totalled almost $2000.  I finally wrote to the Board President and asked when she was going to stop that nonsense and harrassment. It seemed she did not know of the manager's actions in raising the 'fine' .He had taken it on himself to be  executioner. I wondered where that money would have got to if I'd paid up.

It wasn't long before the united clamor of the apartment owners got that manager the sack - or rather, a reassignment within the same office.  He was too good of a servant to let go.  The succeeding manager reduced my fine to about $200, which I had to pay on the advice of my lawyer or I couldn't sell my apartment.

And that is the story of how a little pooch terrorised the big bad wolf.  She still doesn't know what she had done wrong, and neither do I.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Allnighter

Hello, it's 1.19am on January 4th., and I've just now stopped loading ads. on my websites and also trying to get backlinks  to/from other websites.  That backlink business is the hardest thing on earth to do.  You're supposed to comment on other people's blogs, posts,  articles, what-have-you and leave your name and  website with your comment.  Then you wait for the blog owner to approve your comment before your website is linked.

Now, it might take 2 weeks for you to know if you've gotten linked even if the blog owner has approved your comment right away. That's because it takes the Google spider that long  to crawl the web to find that site with your input in it..

 And it takes a lot of time to find articles to comment on because 1) they don't all want you to leave your website (they give you a little rectangle for it if they do)  and  2) the articles you find might be on subjects totally foreign to you, like space exploration, herpetology, raising transracial adoptees, internet games or building solar houses.  So that's why I'm still up. This is some process!

It stopped raining a couple of hours ago.  I liked the sound of the raindrops on my small sort-of-roundish roof.  My roof is about seven feet above the level of the apartment building roof because the original owner of my studio hacked a hole out of the original roof to build this loft.  Bless him for this extra space!  This is where I live and work.

 I go downstairs for cooking, eating and everything else and sometimes take a walk out of the building to breathe some  pollution.

I'd better call it a day now and get some Z's and recharge.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Two Little Entrepreneurs

Two little Entrepreneurs. Free image, http://image.photobucket

New Year's Eve, 2011. I was on my way to C-Town on First Avenue for a shoulder of pork for Roast Pork with Cranberries, requested by my friend for dinner that night. My trusty little Nikon was in my bag, has been since the shutter bug bit a few months ago.

 Walked down 88th St.  And there, leaning against the railing of that huge apartment building, was a regular metal cardtable chair. On that chair was a cardboard box, maybe 2'x1'x1'.  Next to the ensemble was another chair with a framed print standing on it. I didn't get to study the picture.

'Everything a dollar,' two little girls, a Caucasian and a Chinese, were trilling out at passersby, some of  whom stopped.

I got up to them. "Everything one dollar,' they sang at me. 'Two dollars for the picture.'

'Well, what have you got?'

The eagerly pointed out and picked up items to show.

Not much of interest, some little kids' readers, a puzzle or two, a small doll. But there was a small hard cover 'Campfire Songs' for children, with a CD on the inside cover and words of the songs. It was beautifully illustrated.  'Ronan will like this', I thought. My 4 year old grandson.

'I'll take this.'

'One dollar.'

'Do you charge tax?'

'Hunh?'  Four wide eyes and two mouths agape.

'You know, tax.'  I was grinning. 'Never mind. When you grow up you'll hear all about it.'  Taxes is my bugbear.

I drew out a dollar bill for their money box. They were so sweet, I asked, 'May I take a picture of you and your stall?'

They looked unsure. "Oh, I'll have to ask.'  The one called McKenna looked back, and there, sitting behind the apartment's entry gate about fifteen feet back and looking on, was a white-haired lady.  The little girl ran to her and I followed.

"Is it okay if I photographed the girls?'

'Oh, I don't think so. Their mother might not like it. I'm only guarding them today. You never know these days....' A lot left unsaid. We understood.

I sighed. "All right. I understand and can respect that. Goodbye.'

So there you are. Sign of the times. A friendly innocent overture rebuffed because of some criminal internet predator-monsters. Sad, but maybe necessary.

Anyway, I walked back the same way after my shopping and the girls were still there, with a few items left. They had been successful. Looking hopefully at me, they said, 'two dollars for the picture.'

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Little Office.

I just moved to my little studio apartment in New York City, 'The City', in capitals, to New Yorkers. I was speaking to somebody in the south of New Jersey about my non-need of a car since moving to the city, and he asked, 'Which city?'.  Which goes to show, you don't take for granted you're the center of the world.

And here's my little office, all 10' x 8' of it, by eyeball measurement. It's the loft, which you ascend to via an antique black cast iron winding staircase that I'm rather fond of, so I polish it now and then. I haven't started speaking to it yet.

 My computer takes pride of place on the 3' x 2 1/2' computer table in the  corner between the top of the staircase and the wall. The printer is behind it on a shelf  which is part of the table. Below the table  proper is a small sliding shelf for my note book, and below that, a tiny shelf  for  'Most Important Mail'.  Isn't it neat, how computer tables are designed? There's even a footrest.  My daughter got it on sale from Ikea for $12. Used to be over $40. I love bargains
I have one of those little plastic round  rotating things with  lots of compartments, for pens, scissors, glasses, keys etc. I'm all set for my second career.
By choice, this is also my bedroom, so the rest of the apartment downstairs, with its beautiful polished wood floor, can be kept in visitor-condition.  My bed is a wonderful Posturepedic single mattress and box-spring on the floor. Talk about a great night's rest!  I get it all right. My lights go out when my light goes out. Zzzzzz.

I digress. This little office is where I'll make my living writing, something I've wanted to do all those years I was a nurse. The grey matter is a little rusty, lazy and reluctant, but I'm polishing it bit by bit. I've taken on Internet Affiliate Marketing, and I'll keep you posted how I'm doing as time goes by.

I have great faith in my little office.