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Spinal column: the one thing vertebrates have in common that is easy to remember long after other bits and pieces are forgotten and new vertebrates may be discovered by science.

Helping the son do his science homework last night which included several pages on vertebrates, not only gave me an idea for this week’s post, it also brought back a few memories. That Biology exam I perfected in ninth grade, fancying becoming a medical doctor, falling in love with RJ, the town doctor’s son and dating him briefly (can’t blame myself – those red roses, as red as that vertebrate on the above photo, love letters and cards he sent while away in medschool were just lovely), RJ himself becoming a surgeon later and chatting me up live on Facebook recently to explain things while he was removing my son’s ruptured appendix….

Did RJ bend his spine while performing laparoscopic appendectomy on a fellow vertebrate? I wonder.

Apparently I did one morning in Laos while playing with another vertebrate, Malcolm Red. I named him after my own pet Malcolm Black, who gilled his last years ago. Next to humans, fish are some of my favorite vertebrates. They are fascinating in literature, animation and movies.

1 James Pond a fish in a video game based on a James Bond styled fish
2 Freddie Fish in the Freddie Fish Series
3 Cleo a goldfish owned by the word carver Gepetto in Pinocchio
4 Dory a palette surgeonfish in Finding Nemo
5 Flounder a tropical fish, Ariel’s sidekick in The Little Mermaid
6 Mrs Puff a pufferfish in Spongebob Squarepants
7 Edward Bloom in the Big Fish
8 The Crested Basketfish in Astonishing Animals by Tim Flannery
9 Swimmy a blackfish in Swimmy by Leo Lionni
10 Ikaroa a longfish in Maori mythology
11 Namazu a giant catfish that causes earthquakes in Japanese mythology
12 Oscar a bluestreak cleaner wrasse in Shark Tale
13 Inspector Gill an anthropomorphic fish in the Fishwrap Comics

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13

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Unbearable Lightness of Yoga Booking

It is – or not – a laptop. It is – or not – a tablet.  The Yoga Book by Lenovo is in-between and that is futuristic, at the same time familiar, describes Lauren Goode. She reviews, “it is an incredibly thin and light tablet-like machine with a flat, touch-sensitive surface that lights up into a glowing keyboard….”

I notice that alright, and to echo Cornelius Fudge, that’s that. I bought my Yoga Book when I thought I wanted to come out of a blogging hiatus. Despite limited knowledge on techy stuff, I am curious so I tried something new to me and now I am still finding my way around this thing.  Forever perhaps. I can see myself flying a helicopter more than mastering this machine. How unbearable.

1 Civilization is unbearable, but it is less unbearable at the top.
~ Timothy Leary

2 I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect. ~ Oscar Wilde

3 To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable. ~ Erich Fromm

4 I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. ~ Bob Hope

5 Television has made dictatorship impossible but democracy unbearable. ~ Shimon Peres

6 I love us so incredibly, insanely deeply; it’s almost unbearable to see what we do to ourselves. ~ Alice Walker

7 Without art the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable
~ George Bernard Shaw

8 Often, I can scarcely hear anyone speaking to me; the tones, yes; but not the actual words, yet as soon as anyone shouts, it is unbearable. What will come of all this, heaven only knows. ~ Ludwig Van Beethoven

9 Comedy without darkness rapidly becomes trivial. Darkness without comedy becomes unbearable. ~ Mark Haddon

10 By making college unaffordable and student loans unbearable, we risk deterring our best and brightest from pursuing higher education and securing a good-paying job. ~ Mark Pocan

11 How unbearable at times people who are unhappy, people for whom everything works out. ~ Anton Chekhov

12 The ecstatic insanity of romantic pursuit can be so enhanced with music that entire romantic conquests, victories and ruinous crushing defeats can be tied to songs to such a degree that it is almost unbearable to listen to them again as they bring back the memories so vividly. ~ Henry Rollins

13 I’m aware that many of my friends will be saddened, shocked or shocked-saddened, over some of the chapters of ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Some of my best friends are children. It’s almost unbearable for me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf, out of their reach.
~ J.D. Salinger

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13

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Terrace of the Leper King

‘Built in the Bayon style under Jayavarman VII,’ the Terrace of the Leper King is located northwest of Angkor Wat’s Royal Square. The name, they say, is derived from a 15th century statue discovered on the site.  I do not remember seeing such statue.  If it still exists then I missed it.  Next time I will do more than just snap pictures – pay enough attention to a guide to ask if something (I should have seen) was available for viewing.

Why Leper King?

The statue was called the “Leper King” because discoloration and moss growing on it was reminiscent of a person with leprosy, and also because it fit in with a Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king Yasovarman I who had leprosy. The name that the Cambodians know him by, however, is Dharmaraja, as this is what was etched at the bottom of the original statue. (Wikipedia)

Rows of statues behind the terrace are arranged like a little maze. Quiet. Eerily peaceful. Free from the scorching sun. The stone sculptures exhale oxygen moisturizing human skin. I spent more time wandering here than in any other part of the largest religious monument in the world.

The first association I know of leper or leprosy is that of the Bible.  Miss Chiu, our second grade teacher would exclaim, ‘unclean! unclean!’ to explain to us eight year-olds that that was what lepers would shout to warn people of them.  Today as I read around I realize that leprosy seems scarier than cancer or AIDS. But these lepers probably did not have to shout unclean…

1 John Early – soldier / USA (nation’s most famous leper)
2 Otani Yoshitsugu – lieutenant / Japan (…unification of Japan)
3 Nguyen Trong Tri – poet / Vietnam (lovers and crazy poetry)
4 Baldwin IV of Jerusalem – king / Israel (when you’re a rich leper)
5 Damien of Molokai – priest / Belgium, Hawaii (voluntary leper)
6 Alice of Schaerbeek – laysister / Belgium (hagiography bull****)
7 Miriam – prophetess / Israel (why was she punished so harshly?)
8 Joab – army commander / Israel (cursed for avenging someone)
9 Moses – (adopted) Egyptian prince (momentary leprosy)
10 Simon – meal host in Bethany (hair and perfume commotion)
11 Uzziah – king / Judah (if the incense is not your job…)
12 Naaman – army commander / Syria (go wash in the river)
13 Gehazi – servant / Israel (when you misuse your authority)

ABC Wednesday  /  Thursday Thirteen

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Spectacular Saint Basil

Saint Basil view from the Moscva River

Except the nice breakfast my hotel served that day, this was the first photo I ever snapped in Moscow. Pity I forgot to instruct my photographer to take a shot of this icon without me. Knowing I had very limited time, I attempted to take it all in at once. Those multi-colored onion domes!

Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The ultimate edifice of Russia.

A few fast facts –
* Address: Red Square, Moskva, 109012
* Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00. Close on Tuesdays
* Height: 65 m
* Built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century (1561)
* Saint Basil’s Cathedral became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990

As the cold curdled my blood, my heart rested warm and easy among thoughts on this iconic piece of architecture.

i.    Thank you, Pyotr Baranovsky – people’s travel experiences are enriched further by the spectacle that Saint Basil is. An architect and restoration artist, Baranovsky defied Stalin’s orders to demolish Saint Basil, and spent five years in the gulag for that.

ii.    What luck! For lack of time the French troops were unable to blow it up

iii.   Humans. At least those who are keen on destroying beautiful things, have they no thought for posterity?

iv.    Vasily from which Saint Basil is now known for, beside predicting the 1547 fire that burned nearly a third of Moscow, was probably called holy fool for his suffering for Christ.

v.     That Ivan the Terrible blinded the architects Barma and Posnik so they could not replicate Saint Basil is a legend that may not be very hard to believe considering Ivan’s nickname.

vi.    Then some claim that at Basil’s funeral, Ivan the Terrible himself acted as pallbearer.  Would Basil have minded if he knew before his body gave out from all that suffering?

vii.   Specify! The anthem of my lecture to a bunch of undergrads working on a business presentation which will serve as their final exam. We meet again soon. If I see no improvement, I will start using Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokus on the Moat (Saint Basil official name) as example on how to make a descriptive title.

viii.  Like Order of the Rose, of the Garter, of the Spandex, so on. Just specify.

ix.    Saint Basil would probably not appeal as much or set anyone in childlike awe if it had retained its original white and gold colors

x.     According to one theory, Saint Basil symbolizes Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God which I have always thought as such until a friend told me stories of his years in Israel working for the UN.

xii.   Jerusalem as a heavenly city has walls decorated with precious stones. So that is where the colors come in. I cast a searching glance at one of my drawers. Someone has not worn those turquoise, rose quartz, onyx, jasper necklaces in awhile.

xii.    A theory that makes me want to play The Holy City on the piano. Alas, this apartment I am in right now has none of that instrument so I’ll make do with some lyrics – A dream so fair / Jerusalem, Jerusalem lift up your gates and sing / Hosanna in the highest…

xiii.  ‘The sun grew dark with mystery, the morn was cold and chill…’ I finally found the line that perfectly describes the way Saint Basil looked and felt when I first saw it.

ABC Wednesday / Thursday Thirteen


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Red Square

It was around 11 a.m. when I arrived, but it felt like 6 a.m.  The temperature improved – about nine degrees. It was zero only twelve hours back. The sun seemed undecided whether it would come out already or not.  I was too excited to mind.

“Snow fell two days ago,” Julia, my guide remarked.  “Do you think I might be lucky today?” I responded, “the last time I saw snow was nine years ago in England.”

The weather remained predictably unpredictable.  No snow. Red Square soon became bright as the sun finally shone. Probably the same way it did in 1941…

i.    The name Red Square has nothing to do with the color of surrounding buildings, eg. the State History Museum is very red, all red; nor does the name have to do with communism
ii.    At one time Red Square was called ‘krasniya’ which means beautiful
iii.   Red Square became an official name in the 17th century
iv.   In the 1400s it was a site for rabble rousing
v.    Red Square began as a slum, and a place where the low lives, i.e. drunks and criminals, dwelt.
vi.   Red Square was once called “Fire Square” after a number of times medieval Moscow burned.
vii.  Red Square had a brutal past being the site of fierce fighting and public executions
viii. By the 20th century it became the site of military parades displaying Soviet armed forces might
ix    1941 – cadets marched through the square and straight to the front line less than 50 kilometers from Moscow
x.    1945 – Nazi standards were thrown in front of the mausoleum and trampled on by mounted Soviet commanders
xi.   2000 – celebrations to mark the end of World War II were done in the square.  Imagine the fireworks here when the world welcomed the new millennium
xii.  Around Perestroika, Red Square became the site for large musical performances, fashion shows, festivals, etc.
xiii. I thought the sound of your footsteps on Red Square sounded similar with those you make on The Shambles in York, UK.

Source: (#1-12)
ABC Wednesday / Thursday Thirteen

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(Wikipedia) Fast facts:
~British rock band formed in 1970 in London
~Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (lead guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals), and John Deacon (bass guitar).
~Their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert has been ranked among the greatest in rock history by various music publications.
~Estimates of their record sales range from 150 million to 300 million records
~They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

My 13 favorite Queen hits:

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. We Will Rock You
  3. Don’t Stop Me Now
  4. Another One Bites the Dust
  5. We are the Champions
  6. Somebody to Love
  7. Killer Queen
  8. Too Much Love Will Kill You
  9. Radio Ga ga
  10. Love of my Life
  11. Friends will be Friends
  12. Fat Bottomed Girls
  13. Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Last night I stayed up late watching a documentary of Freddie Mercury’s last days. Suddenly The Great Pretender seemed such a lonely song to listen to.

As soon as it was announced that Queen was coming to The Big Mango, I ‘stampeded’ my way to get a ticket for a chance to see live the greatest band on Earth – only to find out I had no cash on hand.

Manic at the agent: please hold a seat for me (turning my purse upside down) or I swear I’m gonna have a Sheer Heart Attack.

Ticket Agent: (looking intently at my terrorized purse) Madam, how about using your MasterCard? Would you then like to insure your ticket?

Me: I will if you stop calling me Madam, but what MasterCard? (suddenly remembering I do have one but realizing it’s the emergency fund) Oh, well this is going to be an emergency if I don’t snag a seat in the next 3 minutes….

While my seat was sorted, I thought of how crazy I sounded trying to make sure that I get to see a set of aging rock stars. The money I was spending to do that did not come in cheap.  I did not even care about who replaced the dearly departed among them. I just thought this would be my way of saying ‘I wish you were still around, Freddie.’

Queen Brian May playing God Save the Queen on the roof of Bucking Palace, 2002

My main motivation probably was the fact that Queen has been part of my childhood. At twelve I got spanked in the butt for practising Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano instead of a two-score worship song that my mom, the head chorister in church wanted me to master.

A few hours before heading off to the concert venue, I shared a video on Facebook with this caption: Brian May, commander of the British Empire, see you in the flesh tonight.

Sounds and laser lights. Six tennis courts capacity smoke machine – an epic show for a bunch (thousands really) of delighted Bangkokians. I sat emotional and nostalgic as Freddie Mercury materialized on stage to deliver Queen’s most legendary hit, and Impact Arena exploded.

If my mental telepathy was successful that night, Mother could have heard her happy rebel daughter tell her as she sang along Bohemian Rhapsody, “Mama Mia, that spanking drama has come full circle. Justice is served.”

Thursday Thirteen  /  ABC Wednesday

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Prepping for cremation

“As the royal cremation completes the most glorious reign the Thai people have ever known, we are saying goodbye to a great king whose final departure will take with it a collective part of us, the Thai people.” ~ Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

King Bhumibol Aduljadej, 1927-2016

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch will be laid to rest on Thursday, October 26th, a year and thirteen days after his death on October 13th last year.

Final preparations have begun as early as the beginning of October. It is a five-day public event. Building of the crematorium, procession rehearsals, arrivals of heads of states and representatives of countries who are attending the funeral ceremony have kept the capital in solemn motion.

On the day the king died I picked up the phone to tell my son who was based in the Philippines that time. He was quiet after I broke the news. Unlike the usual things he pitches after pleasantries are exchanged like “Mom, buy me this; Mom, buy me that…” he breathed a quiet, “oh.” I like to think that was His Majesty’s philosophy of self-sufficiency economy working wonders on a Thai subject – offshore.

King Bhumibol plays the piano; Queen Sirikit looks on

Thursday, 26 October, 12:19PM. I sit alone in my apartment watching the funeral alternately on TV and social media. These are things I would want to remember from this day –

i    He played the piano and that appeals to me

ii   The cremation pyre has been built for over a year. It represents a sacred mountain, Mt Meru and the area around it represents heaven. Surrounding the pyre is an element that depicts the King’s life’s work: water.

iii  Out of around 4000 royal projects, 3000 were water-related

iv  Holy water in a conch shell is poured over the chariot by a high priest before all the craftsmen set to work.

v   Prapasok Ratmai, head sculptor emphasizes perfection in their work

vi  “We pay attention to every step of the process.” ~ PR

vii  Sacred animals are placed on the first platform. Horses to the west, elephants to the north, lions to the east (Dharma teaching) and cows to the south (abundance)

viii  At the moment, funeral procession is going on. It starts from the Grand Palace where the King’s body lay in state since last year

ix  The king’s coffin has depiction of garuda, a mythical creature believed to carry his spirit to the heavens. The royal urn is placed in a chariot which, along with the king’s body is taken to the pyre for cremation among the pagodas

x    King Bhumibol presented himself as a caring monarch

xi   He built his prestige by connecting with his subjects in a way they understood and grew to love

xii  “His legacy is a highly personalized monarchy”

xiii  A popular king no doubt. He held a demigod status but “is this love the people are showing genuine?” asks a BBC reporter of Narisa Changkrabongsri, a relative of the king

As an expat for twenty years, I echo Narisa’s answer: yes.

Thursday 13  / ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

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