Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spider? Moving pile of trash? Alien invasion?

What is this?
We have no idea. It was snapped in Perlis by my husband, and is about 2cm (less than an inch) across.
The scary thing was that it ... moved. Yes, this heap of trash was alive. Sentient.
It appears to have legs. 
And are those sticky-out things antennae beaming messages to a hovering spacecraft?
It also seems to be carrying several dead bodies around with it, possibly insects and snails...
Is it a master of disguise? "Look, I'm just the local rubbish dump.." Is it perhaps some kind of street sweeper or trash collector on its daily rounds? Or a mortuary assistant collecting the dead?
Spider?  Land crab? Nanotechnology gone feral? 
Click to enlarge.
I have no idea, but would appreciate opinions....

And the answer has come in from Budak in Singapore. Check out the comments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

PERLIS: a favourite state

We had a long weekend last week, so we headed north to tiny Perlis, Peninsular Malaysia's most north-western state, bordering Thailand. It's also one of my favourites simply because it is stunningly beautiful.
 Above: Imagine yourself standing there listening to the calls of the White-handed Gibbons (they sound as if they are whooping up a football victory), while overhead two Crested Serpent Eagles display in courtship ritual and a troop of Dusky Langurs watch, their white spectacled faces making them look cross-eyed...
 Above: You can shop cheaply if that's your wish, buying their rice and fish products...
 Or just enjoy the vistas of limestone outcrops, rainforest, ricefields and plantations (teak and rubber and oilpalm)
 Above: Lake Timah-Tasoh (artificial)
 There is nothing quite as brightly green and fresh as newly-planted rice. It's such a vivid paintbox green...
And alas, there are also signs that even here there are the thieves and robbers that so blight Malaysia. Below, the brass(?) plate that once adorned this viewpoint to indicate what you are looking at is missing.
These metal thefts are beyond a joke. They cost the government millions of dollars -- thieves have stolen metal from pylons causing them to fall, from electric sub-stations with obvious power outages; they've stolen guard railings, ornamental fences, lamposts, and anything they can lay their greedy little hands on.

For us, also last week, this almost had a dreadful result. They stole the drainage grating in front of our gate. My husband fell into the hole. He is seventy and the result could have been ghastly, especially as the drain is well over a metre deep. Fortunately, he sustained no more than a severely bruised and skinned and bloodied knee, not to mention a ruined suit.

Did we report it? No. Everyone knows that would be a pointless exercise -- no police station would take it seriously. A pity really. If all the other five million or so people (my conservative estimate)  who have all lost gates, drain covers, and other small metal fixtures actually bothered to report the thefts, maybe the authorities would take these thefts seriously. How difficult is it to raid the metal yards and take a look at what they have that they have no explanation for? How many people have they killed so far by stealing the things that keep us safe? When do Malaysians say enough is enough?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This is the only post I am going to make on this subject. I do not want to be one of these people obsessed with their physical problems. They are best forgotten whenever one can!!

After some months of discomfort with an extraordinarily dry mouth that wasn't cured by drinking water, and scratchy eyes that felt as if I had something in them (if you've ever had conjunctivitis, you might know the feeling), I went to have a proper check up. This included a thorough eye test which included looking at tear production (which was abnormally low) and blood studies (which were normal) and a biopsy of my saliva glands (also normal).

Because of my symptoms -- and other side problems (osteoarthritis and pain, weakness, problems with concentration and focus, which may or may not be related) -- the specialist decided it was probably Sjogren's Syndrome, which is an auto-immune disease.  You can read a summary about it here, if you wish. It is incurable, but not usually fatal unless you are really, really unlucky. It can make life pretty miserable, or be fairly mild in its symptoms. At the moment, the latter is where I am at right now, although I don't think I could survive without eyedrops. In fact, not using them would probably lead to corneal scarring. I am on a drug which I hope might improve other symptoms, especially the saliva problem. (If that gets really bad, it can affect speech and digestion).

Given all the kinds of things that can happen to someone of my age, this is really not so bad. In fact I feel I'm very very lucky when I read of people so much younger becoming ill with more serious autoimmune diseases or unpleasant things like cancer.

 I don't expect it to make much difference to my life at this stage. I may write a little slower, but I think I can still manage one book a year. I shall still be doing all the other things that I've been doing in the past, like attending conventions, travelling, etc. Fatigue does make me a little slower at most things, but then that probably goes for most people as they grow older anyway.

Generally, then, I'm determined to stay fit and not to let this wretched syndrome dominate my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Titles again

Well, the last lot of titles had a pretty resounding "No way!"
So I am trying another title poll (see sidebar on the left) -- this one would be for the first book of the trilogy.


It's possible some of you may not know the word 'lascar' as it is something specific to the Asian region, or to British history. Feel free to answer the poll anyway.

AFTER doing the poll, if you don't know the word, come back and read the definition below, adapted from the Wikipedia article if you want...

Also Lashkar, Laskar.

A sailor or militiaman from the Indian Subcontinent or other countries east of the Cape of Good Hope, employed on European ships from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century.

The word comes from the Persian language, meaning military camp or army, and the Arabic word for a guard or soldier. The Portuguese adapted this term to lascarim, meaning an Asian militiaman or seaman. Lascars served on British ships under 'lascar' agreements. These agreements allowed shipowners more control than was the case in ordinary articles of agreement. The sailors could be transferred from one ship to another and retained in service for up to three years at one time. The name lascar was also used to refer to Indian servants, typically engaged by British military officers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Help!! A Poll on book titles...

NOTE: There are 2 polls...

As many of you know, I absolutely suck at choosing good book titles. So between now and the time when I actually submit book 1 of the trilogy, I shall probably poll you, my readers, several times about titles.

What happens after that is usually that the publisher says something very polite, which  translated is "You suck at choosing good titles", after which we start all over again...

This trilogy is about colonialism and the spice trade in mythical lands, fighting evil, with loads of nature-based magic.

You will see two polls in the sidebar to the left, with some titles. One poll is for the individual books of the trilogy; the other is for the trilogy title.

A good title is one that would prompt you to pick up the book!

NOTE: you can choose as many titles as you like.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Living with the natural

I've never been one for cities much. Not to live in. I tend to want something closer to the wild. Born on a farm; teenage years spent in a suburban area that had natural bush and a swamp close by (mostly tidied up now, less so then); even when we were in Vienna, we could walk into the Vienna Woods (and did, often).

A mealy bug destroyer!...yeah, that white thing. It's the teenager of a ladybug sp...
Our present house started off with forest and swamps close by, but now is pure suburbia, and not very attractive at that. So when it comes to buying a place for our retirement...we both prefer something less noisy and busy. (You know, somewhere where we are not blasted with the ugliness of loudspeakers for up to 3 hours a day, seven days a week, starting with a half hour session at 5.15 a.m. every day!) It looks like we are going to settle for a place next to a nature reserve on an estuary, with the wildness of an open sea a mere 2 kms away.

The following are just photos snapped by my husband with a digital camera, no fancy lenses, during our week in Western Australia in search of a place for retirement.
An oxidation pond with wood duck and a White Ibis
Wood duck strolling through a park
Crested Pigeon
Pied Oystercatcher
Birdwatching while househunting
Above & the 3 below: Len Howard Conservation Area -- bordering where we want to live
If you look close, you'll see preening comorants
Coot with chick
Wing drying...
Nankeen Night Heron
This is W.A.'s avian villain - The Silver Gull, denizen of rubbish bins/dumps, and expert thief
It must have been ladybird season -- saw at least 4 distinct species on this trip
Motorcycle frogs in my sister's frog pond -- and yes, they sound like motocycles
Locked out? There's always a way under the gate...
Peewit, Mudlark, Magpie-lark, Peewee. Whatever.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Walk on the Beach

This morning I was here.
It is supposed to be summer, warm, dry -- because this is Western Australia, and we were walking along a beach in Mandurah, which is where we intend one day to retire...
And it could have been a West Australian winter. Wet, blustery...intermittent showers and sun.
And my husband found this in the sand at the edge of the waves:
A piece of sponge...with attached mystery object, stuck to the stem.
That's an Australian 50c coin for size comparison.
The layers of "the thing" were hinged at the side where it was attached to the sponge.
So what does one do? Turn to the internet of course. Type in sea "egg case" and see what comes up. That led to pictures of whelk (conch) egg cases which seemed similar, and eventually to the Syrinx aruanus, or giant whelk...the biggest gastropod of all. According to one account, they can grow to 91cm long. That's 3 school rulers in length. Wow. When the snails hatch, they are 2 cms long.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A perfect Langkawi evening

Some final shots from our trip to Langkawi. On our last evening, we went to our favourite restaurant on a beach, for a superb meal that didn't -- by Western standards -- cost the earth, where we could watch the parasailing as the sun went down.
And one last memory to relate. We were lounging by the hotel pool, when husband got talking to a couple from the Middle East. Thirty-ish or so, good-looking, Western dress, she with a hubble-bubble, him with a can of Heineken, both with excellent English skills. They were from Damascus. At the time, the Syrian government, on a daily basis, was shooting mostly unarmed protestors in the streets of other cities, children included, all recorded on the ubiquitous camera phones and then emailed out as videos to the rest of the world...

"All lies," says the gentleman. "Damascus has no demonstrations, nothing."
His wife nods in agreement. "We're are very happy with our President. (Bashar al-Assad.) We don't want a change. Our government is a good one."
"All that you see on al-Jezeera, CNN -- all lies," he says. "Don't believe it! 90% of Syrians do not want any change. We are a prosperous country. These are terrorists, thugs, attacking our legitimate government."

I look around at the swimming pool, the palm trees, fronds waving gently in the breeze, the sound of children laughing and splashing. A waiter brings colourful  cocktails with umbrellas to a nearby table. The sun shines, the breeze is -- perforce -- balmy...

I think: enjoy this, my friend, while you may. Because if people like you won't acknowledge the true nature of your problem, how can you ever mend it?

And I am grateful, so grateful, I am who I am, living in this place, at this time. Or are we all living with our heads stuck in the sand?