(Old blog) Day 3: A "great" vegetarian nation

Today's talking point was a presentation that was not in the original programme.

It was a presentation given by a delegation from China. For the last couple of days, the delegation of about twenty people had caught the attention of everybody by its high profile presence, with banners and a film crew doing shooting, reporting, interviewing and all that. I supposed that with China gaining more and more prominence on the international stage, the organisers realised that it was only appropriate that the group be given some air time. After all, it was suggested that China might bid to host the congress in 2010.

After attending the presentation and having observed the activities of the delegation in those few days, I couldn't help feeling that the whole thing was a futile affair. As is the case in other international occasions, be it sports, culture, art or politics, the country is desperately trying to show the world that it is a great, honourable nation worthy of respect. But the sad truth is that it is still so out of touch with the standards and values of the civilised world that the sheer propaganda attempts, coupled with some eyebrow-raising behaviours at times, produce exactly the opposite effects as what are intended, and those who are engaged in the game are fooling nobody but themselves. Seeing the poker-faced, Putonghua-speaking woman reading a long speech extolling the merits and historical significance of Chinese vegetarianism stretching back to as far as 2000 BC, with an interpreter standing beside her reminded me so much of the countless other equally exaggerated but soulless public speeches made by Chinese leaders and officials. It also reminded me of what Prince Charles said in his diary entries about his feelings towards the show put on by the Chinese in the 1997 handover ceremony: the "Great Chinese Takeaway", "appalling old waxworks", an "awful Soviet-style" performance, "propaganda". It was most unfortunate that such words were just as applicable here. Also, after all that was said and done, the few people I had spoken to in the congress knew only too well that it's a country in which dogs and cats are eaten, and I was not ashamed to tell them that in fact we have a saying in Cantonese that "anything with its back facing the sky can be eaten" and that effectively excludes only human beings.
(I was to learn later that the delegation's participation in the congress, as well as some of the messages in the presentation, was reported in a China Daily article that can be accessed online at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-09/14/content_688454.htm.)


(Old blog) Day Two: From Asana to Gujarat

It has been a fulfilling day.

It began with a 1.5-hour Asana yoga session at 6:30am, and those of us who were willing or able to crawl out of bed so early were richly rewarded. I considered myself very lucky to have my first ever yoga lesson taught by an Indian instructor with a PhD, who works in a university in Mumbai and has been a professional footballer for many years. I particularly liked the way he taught us to enhance our awareness of the mind by focusing on our breathing. (He was to give a talk later in the day in which he demonstrated that he was as masterful in theory as in practice.)

The presentations began after breakfast, and participants fluttered across the rooms like butterflies. By the end of the day, our appetites were well whetted. Not only had we collected our fair share of pollen in the form of knowledge and inspiration about "Healthy Lifestyle Vegetarian Way", which was the theme of the congress, we were also treated to three excellent vegetarian meals at the resort restaurant where we got to mix with all sorts of very nice and special people from around the world.

India must be one of the best places in the world to host this congress, not least because it has the world's largest vegetarian population (220 million people according to 2004 statistics). If vegetarianism is, as the speaker in the opening address pointed out, "an expression of compassion" and "a way of life", it is only fitting that we come to learn from a country that is so steeped in history and culture and has so much to offer about spirituality and life.
At night, as I walked back to my room after seeing the Gujarat folk dances, I thought about the Biblical commandment "thou shalt not kill", and I asked myself what it is that we shall not kill. Is it just "people", as suggested in the Chinese translation we have been taught since childhood? Or does it have a broader meaning? I believed that maybe "reverence for life", a principle that was so clearly promoted in the congress, provides a clue to the answer.


(Old blog) Day One: Goa

I was on the plane to Goa, not knowing what to expect from this city and this World Vegetarian Congress. The experience leading up to this trip, in which some promised registration documents never arrived despite my repeated enquiries, the warning about the country I had read from the guidebook, and the scenes I had witnessed at the sorry-looking Delhi airport did not exactly help my confidence.

I leafed through a magazine that came with the local paper. In it was this article called Raisin' Health. The article, which began with this beautiful definition that "raisins are nothing but grapes and sunshine", contained the history, some facts, stories and recipes about this food. The article quoted the following from the Bible:

"... And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights." ---1 Samuel 30: 12

I switched to the sports page of the paper and learned that Martin Navratilova had made it to the final of the mixed doubles of the US Open with partner Bob Bryan. The 49-year-old tennis legend was firmly in the mind of adding to the long list of achievements in her illustrious career by winning it one last time. She was quoted as saying:

"You are only as old as you feel and I certainly don't feel forty-nine. I just wanted to inspire people."

Outside the window, day was breaking. The plane was floating on the marshmellow-like clouds again the backdrop of a multi-coloured sky made brighter every minute by the rising sun.

Maybe I didn't have to feel quite so wary of the country, the Congress and everything?


Living and dying by the serve

Venus Williams, the player with the fastest serve in women's tennis history, says that she steps up to the line trying to orchastrate three elements in concert leading to point of contact - her mood, technique and tactics.

While the 3x3 of tennis serving mentioned in the old blog I posted yesterday mainly involves "technique" and "tactics", it does not cover "mood". In simple terms, mood is about confidence, which is what many experts consider to be the most important aspect of serving. "As with any shot, 90 percent is just confidence," says Taylor Dent, whose successful comeback to professional tennis after three career-threatening back surgeries I wrote about in two blogs in September last year. "If you're feeling great about your serve, you're probably going to serve well."

Conversely, you can land yourself in deep trouble if you do not feel confident about your serve, and according to sports psychologist Allen Fox, the serve is the shot one is most likely to lose confidence about. "Of all the strokes," says Fox. "The serve is the most problematically psychological of the bunch ... the most prone to the yips."

Apparently from nowhere the fear cycle takes over: "When you get the 'Oh my God, what's wrong' thought, you start to do some very bad things," says Fox.

Which was what Jana Novotna did in the 1993 Wimbledon Final when she handed Steffi Graf the match after serving three double faults in four points, having been up a set and a double break in the final set. It was one of the greatest choking in tennis history, and in the prize presentation ceremony the devastated player burst into tears on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder.

That sort of fear is crippling and is something that players have to learn to actively conquer. "Most people never become the best they can become because they're afraid of failure,"says Nick Bolletieri, whose tennis academy has nurtured so many world class players and champions. He faults the parents and coaches who focus a youngster's serve on just putting it into play and implanting a mentality of not taking chances: "Champions don't wait for opponents to give them the match. ... You can't do in crunch time what you probably haven't done during training."
And that is probably where the secret to Venus Williams's serve lies. "When I step up to the line I really just kind of go through how I want to play the point and set the point up and just come to the line with a plan I want to execute," Williams says. "You gotta have the technique to make the shot so that when the pressure comes you know you have the technique to make it.That's when the technique really counts — under pressure." To be able to put the technique, tactic and, above all, confident mood together requires training, day in and day out.
"I've hit more serves over my lifetime than 99 percent of the population," Taylor Dent says. Most of us do not serve as well as him because we are in that 99 percent, but through training we can definitely build that confidence that would enable us to serve better than many.


(Old blog) 3x3

Over a drink after playing tennis with a friend, we started talking about techniques and strategies.

I blabbered about how you can serve in at least nine ways: 3 (flat, kick, slice) x 3 (to the middle T, to the body, out wide), which parts of the ball the racquet face should be in contact with when making different serves.

I said it is more effective to mix it up and keep your opponent guessing than to try to hit with raw power.

I said that the serves of some professionals are so well disguised that when they make different serves, the toss and the service motion are the same. That makes it very difficult for the opponents to make the serve.

Not that I can serve like that of course, but I believe this is something important to know. I've heard it said that success in a profession rests on one's ability to make finer and finer distinctions between differences, and I think this can be applied in all sorts of domains.

So maybe there's much more to know about tennis serving than just these 3 x 3 ways?


Red wine and concert

I envisage myself to be extremely busy in the couple of weeks, so I would like to the few entries in my old blog here. They do stir up some nostalgic feelings and awakens some fond memories.

Like this one about a trip to Macau:

It’s the Macau International Music Festival again – one of the annual events I always look forward to. Monday’s concert, by Musica Antiqua Koln, was one of the three I am to attend this year. I am not too crazy about Baroque music, finding it a bit too tidy in its architecture and structure, but I enjoy the feeling of going back in time, especially when listening to the harpsichord, and this quintet is renowned in Europe. The venue, Teatro Dom Pedro V, is itself also an attraction. Built in 1858, it is the oldest theatre in Macau and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. So I was hoping that it would be worth the trouble of queuing up for the tickets one hot summer morning in July and the hassle of catching the 6pm turbojet right after work.

I took a taxi to Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, which was a 5-minute walk from Teatro Dom Pedro V. There was about half an hour left for a quick dinner, so I went a Portuguese restaurant called Vela Latina, which was just opposite Largo do Senado. After flipping through the menu and placing a quick order, I tried to forget my urgency temporarily and blend in with the leisurely mood of the place and the people. It was then that I noticed the western woman sitting at the next table, obviously a tourist because she was reading a travel brochure. When our eyes met, she smiled and offered me the small bottle of red wine she couldn’t finish. That set off a polite conversation, through which I found out that she was an American living in Laos and had eight days to spend in Macau, and she found out that I was from Hong Kong and coming to Macau for a concert that would commence in twenty minutes’ time. Then I went back to my dinner and she went back to her reading.

It was when I asked for the bill that we spoke again. I thanked her for the wine and she said she would like to go to the venue of the concert with me to see whether there were still tickets available. I wasn’t very confident about that, since the tickets had been on sale for three months, but I felt that I should oblige to the curiosity of a tourist, so we walked to the theatre together. To my surprise, when she asked the usher whether there were any seats left, she was led to a counter. A minute later, she came back, a smile of victory on her face and a ticket in her hand.

I was happy that in this chance encounter favours were exchanged – she gave me the wine and I presented her with a chance to enjoy the concert at a delightful historical venue. Encounters like this make traveling interesting, even though it was just a short trip to neighboring Macau.


Clicking away

For a long time, I've been interested in observing people using electronic gadgets when I travel on a train. To say that I have noticed that more and more people are doing that in recent years is like stating the obvious, but it is true. Out of a row of six people on an evening train (for obvious reasons, there are more evening commuters using electronic gadgets than the morning ones), there can be five or six who occupy or entertain themselves by listening to their iPods, watching a movie or a TV series on their iPhones, gaming on their consoles or gossiping on their mobiles.

Why are these gadgets so popular? Why don't the people just have a rest after a long wretched day at school or at the office? Apart from the pervasiveness of the gadgets and their content, one important reason is that modern people are so unused to or even afraid of quiet times. Left to themselves, they will feel lonely and lost. So taking out the gadget and burying oneself in it once boarding a train is no different from switching on the TV once arriving home. It's a way to banish the uncomfortable feeling of emptiness when left alone.

No wonder these products have such a huge market.


Why are cold calls "cold"?

Why are cold calls "cold"? According to Wikipedia, the word "cold" is used "because the person receiving the call is not expecting a call or has not specifically asked to be contacted by a sales person". To me, they are as offensive as someone splashing a bucket of cold water on you.

"Cold calls are at best a nuisance and at worst an intimidating intrusion into our lives." Ceri Stanaway of Which?, the British consumer group, said. "Three quarters of the people we asked said they'd like the practice to be banned outright."

What is it that makes cold calls so loathesome? To me, a lot. First, the mere fact that they are unsolicited makes them an intrusion. Second, they are frequent. According to a survey by Which?, people in the UK on average receive six cold calls per month. My feeling is that there are more than that here. I receive more anyway. Third, those callers typically go about their business very badly. I've said before that some of them don't even get the gender of answerers right. Some use a very fastidious sales pitch. Worst of all, the way they highlight what they are promotion as a "special offer" or as something "free" is very insulting.

It has now got to a point when I feel that I've had enough and have started to take action to prevent them. At first, I simply did not answer when the number displayed was not on my acquaintance list, hoping that they would stop calling because it would just be a waste of time. I soon realised that it wouldn't work. The callers may be using autodiallers to phone multiple numbers (which might explain why they sometimes get the gender wrong - they haven't had enough time to listen before speaking to the person who answers) so they are not wasting much time anyway. Now what I do is quickly decline the "special offer" and ask to be removed from their contact database. It seems to be working so far, as such calls have become less frequent.
I have always actively resisted any such calls. My philosophy is simple. Why should companies pay someone to introduce some offers to you? Is it simply because they are so "special" or "free" for you? It simply doesn't make sense.


Same or different?

Following up the blog yesterday about the hate campaign against Comic Sans, I would add that instead of passing judgement about something based on our own conviction, it may be better to also take the context into consideration.

Take the following picture as an example (Picture credit: Beau Lotto at http://www.lottolab.org/index.asp).

Look at the two circled tiles. Even now, when I know the absolute truth that their colour is identical (I've confirmed this through the reading provided by my graphic design software), my brain keeps refusing to accept it. It is so "obvious" that the one in shadow is bright orange whereas the one under bright light is dark brown.

So in some cases our brains are so naturally attuned to situational factors when we judge what we perceive, such as colours, size, angles, light and shade, that we even subjectively reject what objective measures inform us. These are the situations where we are so easily fooled by illusions.
The message is very clear here. We make sense of the world and we function by considering, knowingly or unknowingly, the contextual information. That is how much of our judgement should be based.


You're just not my type

Sometime ago I saw this T-shirt which makes a joke out of font types.

I didn't realise that in real life, a certain font type is actually so loathed by some users that there is even an online hate campaign going on.

The target of the campaign is the typeface called Comic Sans.

I may not be a great admirer of Comic Sans, but there are certain situations where the jaunty, friendly font-type is the most natural choice, as when I made materials for a class of primary summer school children a couple of months ago.

So what is all this revulsion about? Simon Garfield argues in an online article for the BBC Magazine that it is partly because the ubiquity of the font type has led to so much misuse. Holly and David Combs, the couple behind the website bancomicsans.com, agree. They say that the misuse of the font is "analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume".
But then is that the wrong choice or the misuse the fault of the costume or the user? And how about occasions when a clown costume is the best choice, as when you are celebrating your four-year-old child's birthday? Would you wear a black tie instead?
As Simon Garfield says in an online article for the BBC Magazine, "[Comic Sans] looks homely and handwritten, something perfect for things we deem to be fun and liberating. Great for the awnings of toyshops, less good on news websites or on gravestones and the sides of ambulances."
So just make sure that your beloved won't use Comic Sans on your gravestone and you're fine.
But then, maybe why not?


A mathematical principle of cauliflowers

These are some beautiful images created with mathematical shapes known as fractals, which were discovered by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot who died recently at the age of 85.
In his seminal work, Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension and The Fractal Geometry of Nature, he argued that seemingly random mathematical shapes in fact followed a pattern if broken down into a single repeating shape. "If you cut one of the florets of a cauliflower, you see the whole cauliflower but smaller," he said.
His mathematical principle I don't think I can understand, but the shape of a cauliflower is repeated over and over in the florets, well, this I do seem to notice when I cook.

A marvel of ants

This photo, entitled "A marvel of ants", made Hungarian photographer Bence Máté the winner of the coveted title Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

When he tried to photograph the leaf-cutter ants in the Costa Ricanrainforest in action, he tried to find out about their complex society and spent hours watching and following them.

"They proved to be wonderful subjects," he said. "The variation in the size of the pieces they cut was fascinating."

But showing them in action was not easy. "The were only active at night, which made my job very difficult," he said.

Of his winning photo, he said: "I love the contrast between the simplicity of the shot itself and the complexity of the behaviour."


Un sourire

Here's a lovelyFrench poem about a smile, author unknown.

Un sourire ne coûte rien et produit beaucoup,
Il enrichit celui qui le reçoit sans appauvrir celui qui le donne,
Il ne dure qu'un instant, mais son souvenir est parfois éternel,
Personne n'est assez riche pour s'en passer,
Personne n'est assez pauvre pour ne pas le mériter,
Il crée le bonheur au foyer, soutient les affaires,
Il est le signe sensible de l'amitié,
Un sourire donne du repos à l'être fatigué,
Donne du courage au plus découragé
Il ne peut ni s'acheter, ni se prêter, ni se voler,
Car c'est une chose qui n'a de valeur qu'à partir du moment où il se donne.
Et si toutefois, vous rencontrez quelqu'un qui ne sait plus sourire,
Soyez généreux donnez lui le vôtre,
Car nul n'a autant besoin d'un sourire que celui qui ne peut en donner aux autres.


Not the most gracious losers

Chinese athletes and sports fans have not always been known to be gracious losers. My own most vivid memory was the 19 May 1985 World Cup football qualifying match between China and Hong Kong. China were the overwhelming favourites before the match, a much stronger team than Hong Kong and needing only a draw to go through to the next round. But after little David defeated the mighty Goliath, a riot broke out outside the Workers Stadium in Beijing. The players and coach were forced into hiding for three whole days as their quarters were surrounded by angry fans.

An even more serious riot broke out after the 2004 Asian Cup Final between China and Japan. Throughout the tournament, which took place in Beijing, fans who were fuelled with anti-Japanese sentiments, had repeatedly booed the Japanese team, burned Japanese flags and surrounded the Japanese team coach. After the match, the protests became all-out riots. Trouble flared outside the stadium and more than 5,000 policemen in riot gear were deployed to restore order.

Obviously, for these fans, the only measure of national pride was winning, not showing the world that the nation could take a painful defeat on the chin.


A 'friendly' basket-brawl match

A couple of days ago, the media showed ugly scenes in the "friendly" basketball match between China and Brazil in Xuchang, China.

The fight was triggered by a foul call against China which was protested by the Chinese players and coach. Play became rough until, finally, open fighting broke out.

The Chinese Basketball Association apologised to the Brazilian side afterwards and said its players are taking time to "deeply reflect". The players were made to attend classes on good sportsmanship.

This was not an isolated case of basketball violence in China. In July 2001, a brawl occurred in a match between China and Lebanon in Shanghai after the final buzzer. Fans threw objects at the Lebanese players, injuring several of them before the fight was broken up by police.

In August 2005, a nasty brawl ended the game in Beijing between China and Puerto Rico prematurely.Two Chinese players rushed off the bench to fight Puerto Rican players who had inflicted a hard foul on a Chinese player. Again, angry fans were involved.

I wonder if back then the players also took time to "deeply reflect" or were made to attend good sportsmanship classes.


"Your faith has saved you."

I have saved one more picture of the rescued miners in Chile for today's blog. That picture is a good illustration of the gratitude that I talked about on 10 October. That gratitude is the difference between being healed and being saved. Here we see the miner giving thanks to God after he was lifted from the mine.

No doubt Jesus would be pleased. No doubt he would say: "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

Well done, miner!


Club sale hiccup as Hick's up

This is another picture of celebration from the media yesterday.

Not quite as ecstatic as the celebration for the rescue of the miners in Chile, but it is for a good cause nonetheless.

It shows Liverpool Football Club Chairman Martin Broughton and Board members Ian Ayre and Christian Purslow celebrating with the fans the ruling by the High Court that the attempt by the much maligned co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to oust Ayre and Purslow from the Board and block the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures as unlawful.

The celebration proves to be shortlived, as there is a new twist in the proposed sale. Shortly after the High Court ruling, Hicks succeeded in getting a Texas court to grant him a restraining order to block the sale of the club.

There is no tell for how much longer the saga of the sale of the football club, which are right now languishing in the relegation zone, will go on.


Olé, Chile!

There are hardly any pictures more touching than these, which show the melange of emotions expressed by those who witnessed the rescue of the miners trapped for 69 days in the collapsed mine in Chile.

Some of these beautiful pictures show the miners' families turning from worry and grief to absolute.

Some show how people are overwhelmed with elation and relief at the resurface of the miners and their reunion with their beloved ones.

Every one of these faces is poetry.

These pictures exhibit the noblest aspect of humanity, which is the compassion towards people in trouble or distress, whether or not they are related, whether or not they even know each other.

This is something we are all capable of.

Sadly, we do not always remember.

And some of us don't even know.


Kindle with a pink cover

Nosing around two colleagues at tea time one day, I saw that one of them was marvelling at the new toy of the other - a Kindle reading device. Despite being a conservative who thinks that the object of reading is a real book that you can leaf through rather than an e-book that you browse on a screen, I have to say I was impressed. The size and weight, which are about the same as a 200-page paperback, are just right. With no glare or backlight, the user can, as my colleague proudly testified, read for hours without straining the eyes. And in that pink cover that set her off another USD35 on top of the USD139 for the device itself, the unit looked beautiful. The nice picture of my colleague elegantly reading an e-book on a train popped up in my mind.

"I've been really busy during the weekend," she said. "I didn't expect the two devices I ordered at different times arrived almost at the same time and I had to figure out how to use them.

The other device she was talking about was an i-Phone 4. I asked whether she had ordered it online or from a local store and how long it had taken for delivery. She said she placed the order in an Apple Shop about three weeks ago.

No wonder the stock price of Apple has recently reached a historical high. I am sure that Amazon must be doing pretty well too. Instead of the traditional way of sales where companies make the products and display them on shop shelves for consumers to take home, and in so doing incurring costs and risks, today the marketing and logistics of these giants make it possible for them to start the manufacturing process only after an order and, better still, full payment have been received. Faithful consumers are only too happy to wait a couple of weeks for the products to arrive at their doors. Selling software, such as e-books, songs and computer programs, online is even better. It is true that, as my colleague crooned, e-books are sold at much cheaper prices than print books, but one must not forget that there is no production cost involved. Mind you, I'm not saying NO COST, but when all they are delivering to you online are megabites or gigabites of computer files, they don't have to spend any money on printing, binding, reproducing, packing, storing, delivering, selling and all that. Is this not an absolute dream for anyone doing business?

I haven't rushed home to place an order for Kindle, but to be honest, I am quite tempted. One thing is for certain though. If I do own a Kindle, it won't be with a pink cover!


A forty-year wait

There may not be many in life worth waiting forty years for.

But American photographer Jay Fine said he had been waiting 40 years to get the picture above, which captures the moment a lighning bolt appearing to strike the Statue of Liberty in New York.

It is hard to say whether the picture is worth the wait, but it is definitely a masterstroke.

I mean the shooting. Not the lightning.

And how about another two pictures of lightning below, one taken above the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the other taken in Zurich?

I wonder how long the photographers had waited for these ones?


Healed but not saved

The Gospel today (Luke 17:11-19) brings out the important distinction between being "healed" and being "saved".

Ten lepers asked Jesus to have pity on them. They were all healed, but only one, a Samaritan, returned. He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

"Stand up and go," Jesus told the Samaritan. "Your faith has saved you."

It is obvious that whoever is in trouble, even those who suffered from the horrible disease of leprosy in the Biblical time, as long as he asks Jesus, he will be "healed". But if we then take the healing for granted and fail to remember God's grace and glorify or thank him, we are not truly "saved".

That gratitude, which Naaman in the first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17) also demonstrated when he returned and gave thanks to Elisha who had cleaned him of his leprosy, is the difference between being healed and being saved. Let us be like Naaman and take "two mule-loads of earth" back with us, as reminder of our gratitude to God.


My first ever bubble

This is the first blog entry I ever wrote, as Cheval Sans Tête, in another site some four years ago:

"So why start my blog?
After all, I don't think I have that much to say.
I don't think I'd like anyone to know about me, or who I am.
I don't think I can keep it going.
But these are precisely the reasons for starting. I would like to put these ideas to test.
Maybe writing blogs is like the bubbles I blew in the water of the swimming pool this morning. There were lots of them - big ones, small ones.
They didn't go far.
And they didn't last.
But if you look more closely, each one has a world in it.
And they looked quite nice, in the water, under the sun.
So why not start blowing some bubbles, I mean blogs, here?"


Le Cheval Sans Tête

Faceless Book is actually not my first blog.

There was another one that I started about four years ago, one for which I wrote a few entries. Sparingly. Back then I didn't have the determination to make a sustained effort. The only exception was when I went to Goa to attend the World Vegetarian Congress.

That blog was called "Cheval Sans Tête", which I named after my favourite French book Le Cheval Sans Tête by Paul Berna. was published as The Horse Without a Head (a literal translation) in the United States and A Hundred Million Francs in England.

It is only now, when I think about the names of my past and present blogs, that I see something very similar. "Faceless Book". "The Horse Without a Head". Very illustrative of how I prefer to be invisible.


"The first airline with four leg room"

Of course it is wishful thinking that we take our cats with us when we travel overseas. Apart from the complications of transporting animals across the borders, which sometimes involving a lengthy period of quarantine, there is also the problem of most housecats being exactly what the name suggests, and nothing else. They are the lords of the house - lording it in their domestic territory, but scared stiff once being away from it. That's probably why all these years I've only seen cats being taken for a walk once - in a park in Nagoya, Japan. The brave feline, which travelled on a crib, even allowed total strangers like us to touch him/her.

In big countries, when people take pets on long domestic trips, they either drive them or fly them. Airlines usually provide options for pets to travel under seats or as cargo - with extra charges of course. In the US, doting pet owners who do not want their pets to travel in such undignified or uncomfortable ways can book them up on a flight with Pet Airways. Their pets may then be treated as valued "pawsengers". As they said in their creative slogans, they are "the first airline with four leg room" and "the first airline where pets fly in the main cabin, NOT in cargo". While on board, the pets get carriers tailored to their sizes, constant attention of the pet attendants and regular potty breaks. And they are available for pick up at the Pet Lounge at the destination 30 minutes after arrival.

Not a bad way to travel for our four-legged friends, huh?

The picture below shows an aircraft Pet Airways use for their flights. Make no mistake about the big puddle of water on the ground. It has absolutely nothing to do with the pets!


When are you coming back?

We have started to plan our Christmas trip. We are doing it early to make sure that our places for transport and accommodation for our preferred dates are available. We would also like to make sure that someone will come over to take care of our pets.

Until about two and a half years ago, we did not have any cats to leave at home when we travelled and so did not have any such responsibility to shoulder. But now when we are away on trips, we feel a little guilty. Of course we make proper arrangements to ensure that their physical needs are satisfied, but it is the affective side that becomes a problem. Not only do we miss them during the trips, we also know that they miss us badly, especially Parker who wouldn't leave us out of his sight and is always tagging us like a dog. The worst thing is that since there is no way we can "tell" the cats how long we will be away, they must be very despondent when day after day after day we have not come back and they have no idea when and whether we will. When we come back from trips, it is always painful to see how they have lost weight and how visibly dejected they have been.

If only we could take them with us when we go away.