Hello…Happy New Year 2017! Thank you for visiting.
Here’s my own technique for making yummy, healthy pomegranate juice AND tea, without any wastage.
1. First off, you need the pomegranate seeds, or more correctly called “arils”, and there are various techniques taught on the Internet. I opted for the following method.
1a. Slice a bit off the top and bottom.
1b. Next, look for the ridges and make shallow cuts all along the ridges where the fruit will break open.
1c. Gently pry apart the fruit, which should open along the cuts made earlier.
1d. Now gently pry the arils off the peels in a bowl of water. The water helps prevent the arils from bouncing off everywhere. I find this most helpful. The white pith will float in the water for easy removal too.
2. Use a large strainer to catch the arils and pour into a container. Now you can store these in the fridge for a fairly long period (I don’t really know how long they will keep) until you are ready to consume them. You can scoop with a spoon and eat straight off as a morning before-breakfast snack, or use for juicing as what we are discussing now.
3. For juicing, I use a simple “Shake n Take” blender. Whichever blender you use, I suggest that you use the pulse mode to gently extract the juice from the arils without breaking their inner seeds. I imagine the inner seeds, if crushed, may affect the taste of the juice. But then some say that adds more healthy stuff to the juice. It’s your choice.
4. I pour the pure pulpy mixture into the centre strainer of my tea pot and use a pestle to gently coax more juice out of the pulp. The strained juice is then poured out from the teapot into a container to chill for a refreshing healthy drink later.
5. I then add about 3/4 pot of hot boiling water to my teapot and then immerse the strainer (which contains the pulp). I pour the remaining hot water through the top of the pot/strainer. Don’t try to pour a whole pot of hot water through the strainer. The strainer is choked full of the pulp and will surely test your patience if you try that!
6. There you have it! The combined large and medium sized fruits give about 500ml of pure juice. The pulp makes one teapot of pomegranate tea. It may be a rather weak tea to some, but hey, no waste!
I was wondering whether to use the peels for my vermicasting or as garden mulch. But I discovered that the peels have many healthy uses. See the links below.
If you do try any of the health tip below and find it works for you, please share for the benefit of others at my other website, Free2Cure ( www.free2cure.com ), which publishes first-person testimonials on natural remedies to eliminate doubt and hear-say.
Yesterday I had guests over for dinner. In preparation for the drinks, I checked out my wine collection and I happened to have Merlot, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon. I decided to conduct a research about them to make for a light drinkers’ conversation piece – a talking point. I discovered these three wines originated from the Bordeaux Region with a fascinating history about them. The Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a cross between two grape varieties found in Bordeaux, the Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc, giving rise to the famous Cabernet Sauvignon while the Merlot is supposedly the most widely grown grape in Bordeaux. To my surprise, a Bordeaux red wine is actually a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And when you order a Bordeaux red wine, the taste depends on whether the winery is on the Left Bank or the Right Bank of the Gironde estuary which cuts through the center of the Bordeaux region.
If the winery is located on the Left Bank, the blend created will have more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot. If the winery is instead located on the Right Bank of the river, the wine will have more Merlot in the blend than Cabernet Sauvignon. (ref: http://vinepair.com/wine-101/bordeaux-what-is-bordeaux-wine/ )
Now, a disclaimer. Not all my three wines are from Bordeaux, France. My Merlot is a Taylors’ 2007 from Clare Valley, Australia while my Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is from the Santa Rita winery in Chile. Only my Bordeaux 2008 is from Bordeaux, France; hailing from the Chateau De Potiron with an appropriate appellation from Bordeaux.
And the verdict?
All my guests and I thought the Cabernet Sauvignon was the best.
I have not developed my taste buds and palate to be able to describe the wines beyond the simplistic sweet/dry/tannin/smooth language. So here goes:
In terms of sweetness/dryness, the wines are ranked in the order Merlot, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Cabernet Sauvignon the driest. The Australian Merlot was a pleasant medium sweet/medium dry wine and the French Bordeaux had a slight tannin taste. But the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon was really smooth and delightfully dry.
That made me curious about the Santa Rita winery and why do they label their wine “120: Honouring 120 Heroes”. The story I uncovered follows:
Santa Rita’s internationally popular, best-selling “120” Series of varietal wines recalls the heroes of a pivotal event in Chile’s successful 19th century struggle to overthrow Spanish rule. History relates that in the early 1800s Doña Paula Jaraquemada, then proprietor of the Santa Rita manor house and estate near the Chilean capital of Santiago, famously gave refuge in the cellars of her property to 120 Chilean patriots. When a brigade of Spanish soldiers arrived at the expansive one-story ranch house in search the band of rebels, the feisty matriarch stated she would rather see the Spanish burn the property to the ground, with her inside, then let them step foot within her family home. Thus it was that band of 120 men lived on to fight another day, and the dwelling, now site of Santa Rita’s highly acclaimed Doña Paula Restaurant, occupies a unique place in Chilean national history.
Isn’t that interesting! What was supposed to be a quiet dinner and wine among friends turned out to be a pleasant evening of discovery of some little snippets of history of the wine.
So ends my first (hopefully of many to come) wine story. Cheers!
HBO’s new TV series, “The Brink” shows why you should be very afraid; that World War III is just a sneeze away. Considering that the people who run the affairs of the world are very human after all; they are not infallible, they are not unique, they are very ordinary humans with human weaknesses that can wreck havoc with our world and our lives.
Each episode is only 30 minutes and that is enough as you really need to surface for a breath of air; any longer than that and you many be brain dead.
I was either not paying attention to the run-up advertisements or there was no fanfare, and the series just crept up on me, with the first episode on HBO on 21-June-2015. I was just surfing the Astro channels looking for something interesting to record and saw this new series with its first episode later that night. I recorded it and viewed it later and boy! I was blown away.
The series is a dark comedy featuring a geopolitical crisis somewhere in the world and how the main characters react to it or caused it. The first season will focus on Pakistan. The main characters (at least in Episode 1) are a womanising, alcoholic Secretary of State, Walter Larson (Tim Robbins), a low-level Foreign Services officer based in the US Embassy in Pakistan, Alex Talbot (Jack Black) and Navy fighter pilot Zeke Tilson (Pablo Schreiber) who pops pills. Episode 1 ended with POTUS (President of the United States) ordering a pre-emptive strike on a Pakistani nuclear site and a Navy jet streaking in to bomb the site. May God save us all!
Episode 2 has just aired. Catch the two episodes before it gets too far into the season.
I have been very keen in herbal remedies ever since 1998 when my mother-in-law was saved by a herb after doctors had given up hope on her when they deemed her renal failure was no longer treatable.
When she recovered after we put her on a course of urena lobata (“Sar Boh Chau”) herbal tea, and she went on to live a healthy life for 22 more years, I started a website, Free2Cure, to put on record her case study (https://www.free2cure.com/chronic-renal-failure/)and to solicit first-person testimonials of any other successful natural remedy to help anyone in need.
But I am also acutely aware that my brief description of the herbal tea preparation, typically the common advice of “boil 3 cups until 1 cup” is too vague and does not instill confidence for anyone who needs to understand the “how’s and why’s” of the herbal tea preparation.
As such, I scoured the Internet and researched this topic and what follows, I believe, is the definitive guide to making herbal tea. It should provide answers to the “what, when, why and how” of herbal tea preparation. If there’s any gap, error or falsehood in this guide, please post your comment here, and together we’ll continually improve and add to our collective knowledge.
First off, “herbal tea” in its common usage, is a misnomer, since “tea” is actually a beverage prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
“Herbal tea” (or more accurately “tisane”) as referred to and described in this article, does not involve the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, but is any beverage made from the infusion (hot tisane) or decoction (boiled tisane) of herbs, spices, or other plant material and usually does not contain caffeine. But, we will call it “Herbal Tea” here as it is commonly referred to.
A herbal tea is often consumed for its physical or medicinal effects, especially for its stimulant, relaxant or sedative properties.
Herbal teas generally have lower antioxidant values than true teas but there are exceptions (eg. Misai Kucing) with antioxidant properties comparable to black teas.
Since the liquid medium is water, herbal tea is only useful to extract water soluble active chemicals from the target herb and to release the volatile essential oils (if present).
To extract non-water-soluble active chemicals, other methods like tincture may be used.
Maceration, tincture, elixir, tonic, syrup, etc. to extract the beneficial constituents of a target herb will be discussed in a separate article. Top
Infusion is made by bringing freshly drawn water to a light boil and then adding the hot water to the herb in an appropriate container. The container must be covered to retain the volatile essential oils, and the herb is steeped in the hot water for the desired duration.
As such, infusion is used to extract minerals, vitamins and volatile essential oils from the soft parts of the plant such as leaves or flowers (fresh or dried) or citrus peelings or fruits.
Pre-heat the pot and cup by swirling hot water and pouring off. The warmed tea pot will prevent the water from cooling too quickly so that the full flavour of the tea is not lost. Another good reason to do that is avoid cracking your glass tea pot through a sudden drastic change in temperature which may happen if you just dump the full volume of boiling hot water into the pot. After you have pre-heated the pot, add the appropriate amount of herb followed by the lightly boiled water.
Some herbalists recommend not to stir but to just let the herb(s) steep within the confines of the pot or cup. Probably, this is to prevent the loss of the volatile essential oils if you lift the cover to stir.
While tea is normally steeped for only 1-3 minutes to avoid excessive bitter tannins, herbal tea is steeped for at least 5 minutes and usually 10-20 minutes. Some herbalists recommend the use of higher dosage to make a stronger herbal tea rather then a longer steeping time. Top
While “infusion” generally refers to “hot tea”, you could also use cold water instead of hot water especially for the more delicate herbs that may be adversely affected by heat.
Cold infusion gives a different flavour to the herbal tea as the chemical balance will be different from that imparted by hot infusion. As before, use freshly drawn water (filtered or mineral water) and add the cold water to the herb(s) in the glass/porcelain tea pot and keep covered. Allow it to steep for up to 24 hours. Dosage is similar to that for hot infusions.
But be very careful; the dried or fresh herb must be clean as there is no heat to kill any bacteria that may be present in the herb. In case of doubt about its cleanliness, do a quick rinse of the herb with boiling water, before using for the cold infusion.
Use a pestle and mortar to crush whole herbs to “open” them up before the cold infusion.
Drink the finished tea as is or chilled or sweetened; whatever your taste. Some may prefer to gently warm up the tea to drinking temperature.
Use a bottle or jar instead of a tea pot to make larger quantities. Top
Sun Infusion (Yang)
Sun infusion supposedly harnesses the sun’s masculine yang energy to stimulate the water and herb(s). Use a big jar and fill it with clean freshly drawn water to keep the herb(s) submerged. Keep the jar open or cover with some fabric like muslin cloth to keep dirt out. Put the jar in a sunny spot to infuse for at least 4 hours. The tea is ready when it is fragrant and the liquid is full of color. Strain and drink throughout the day. Top
Moon Infusion (Yin)
Moon infusion supposedly harnesses the moon’s feminine yin energy which is more subtle, cool and passive than the sun’s energy.
Apparently, moon infusions under the different phases of the moon will impart different effect on the infused herbal tea although generally it seems like a good idea to do it under a full moon.
Again, keep the jar open or covered with a fabric like muslin cloth to keep dirt out. Moon infusions are generally kept overnight in the moonlight.
The beauty of making lunar infusions is the ability of these to capture the energy of the moon phases and their relative teachings into the tea. A full moon tea will bring more bright, illuminating, and culminating energy to a blend, while a waning moon infusion will invoke a remembrance of rest, calm, and letting go. Herbalists pay close attention to the moon and we use the moon for harvesting. We harvest some flowers and plant tops under the light of the full moon, when the energy of the plant is lifted like the tides into the highest part of the plant. And we harvest roots and tubers under the darkness of the new moon when the energy is calm, the tides are low, and the plants have their intelligent life-force nestled deep into the earth below.
The guiding principle is that herbal tea is meant for its therapeutic value rather than its flavour, unlike the case of drinking tea.
Therefore, the material of the container must not contaminate the herbs. As such inert material is preferred over clay or cast iron, two of the popular types of tea pots for making tea (not herbal tisane).
The recommended material for the pot for herbal tisane is glass or porcelain. Metallic containers like aluminium and copper may react adversely with some herbs. If you have to use metallic pots, I believe stainless steel is inert and will not react with the herb. Other sources recommend enamel pots but I would not use use them as the enamel can chip off and expose the metal (cast iron or mild steel) which can rust. Traditional Chinese tea is usually infused in clay or ceramic pots. For our herbal tea, stick to glass, porcelain or stainless steel. Glass has the added bonus of a delightful visual sense to add to the enjoyment of the herbal tea. The downside of glass is that glass is a poor heat insulator and tends to cool down quite fast compared to clay (or porcelain).
The longer you infuse the herbs, the stronger and more effective the active constituents will be. But the flavour may alter with different steeping times, so experiment to suit your taste with a minimum steeping time of 10 minutes.
And remember, the pot must have a cover or lid.
Choose the size of the container appropriate for the quantity of herbal tea. Do not use a large pot for a small quantity of herbal tea. Top
What is the recommended dosage?
Generally, the recommended dosage is about 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of dried herb or 2 tablespoons of fresh herb per 8 oz (240 ml) of water (1 cup). But this is only a guideline as different herbs have different potency.
Add 2 tablespoons of fresh, or 1 tablespoon of dried herb (or crushed seed) to the pot for each cup of water, plus an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried “for the pot.” (For iced tea, increase to 3 tablespoons of fresh and 2 tablespoons of dried herb to allow for watering down by melting ice).
Therefore, if making 2 cups of hot tea, you would use 6 tablespoons of fresh herb or 3 tablespoons of dried herb in a pot.
Alternatively, a very general guideline is to take a cupped handful of fresh herb for a quart (0.88 litre) of water.
From the foregoing, you will notice that if you are using fresh herbs for your tisane, use twice the amount you would use if the herb were dry. This is because the water content in fresh herbs dilutes their flavor. As one herbalist wrote, “Let your hands, eyes, nose and heart guide you”.
Note: 1 g dried herb approx = 1.5 tsp dried herb
The average dosage is usually 3 to 4 cups in a day. Top
A decoction is used to extract primarily the mineral salts and bitter principles of plants from hard materials such as roots, bark, seeds and wood. These hard materials generally require boiling for at least 10 minutes and then are allowed to steep longer, sometimes for a number of hours. The word “decoct” means to extract the essence from (something) by heating or boiling it. The tea is boiled down and concentrated so that water may need to be added before drinking, in some cases. But a general guideline is to use 3 bowls of water and boiled/simmered until 1 bowl.
Put 1-3 tablespoons of cut herb, seed, root, bark, etc into a pot of 16-32 oz of water and allow to sit in non-boiled water for at least 5-10 minutes. Set on stove and bring to a slow boil then turn down to a simmer for 10-30 minutes. Strain and drink. Will keep about 72 hours if kept refrigerated. Most decoctions can also be brewed via single cup through a regular infusion process as noted above but without the strength.
The decoction method is used for hard, woody substances (such as roots, bark, and stems) that have constituents that are water-soluble and non-volatile. (Red clover is an exception, because red clover flower decoction will extract more minerals that the infusion.)
Decoctions extract mainly mineral salts and bitter principles. Decoctions are intended for immediate use.
Store for a maximum of 72 hours in the refrigerator.
Amounts can vary, depending upon your taste and the potency of the herbs, however 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb mixture to each cup of water is a good starting point. Roots and barks are more concentrated than the lighter leaves and flowers used in infusions, so less is needed. Top
Heating method for the decoction
There seems to be conflicting views as to how to boil the herb(s). The following methods are extracted from different sources.
Start with cold water over a low heat and slowly bring herb mixture to a simmering boil. Keep the pot covered and simmer for ten to 20 minutes. Take off heat and leave covered while your decoction cools to drinking temperature.
Use this method when the material you want to extract is a bitter, or mineral salt. The whole herb, roots or seeds, or the bark of a woody plant are soaked in cold water for several hours, then brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes.
Add 3 cups of water to the herbs and bring the mixture to a boil using relatively high heat. Reduce to medium heat and continue to boil (for approximately 20 minutes) until 1 cup of strong, dark liquid remains.
Strain the liquid into a large glass or ceramic container. This is the first dose (the strongest) of your herbal medicine.
Add 2 cups of water to the previously cooked herbs. Continue to simmer under medium to low heat for approximately 20 minutes, until 1 cup of liquid remains.
Strain the liquid and pour it into the same container holding the previous dose.
Repeat the last two steps one more time to make a third dose of medicine, which you again combine with the previous two doses.
When finished you should have approximately 3 cups of herbal medicine, and can now discard the cooked herbs. You will generally take 1 cup of your decoction three times a day, but this depends on your individual condition. Decoctions should be drunk slightly warm (like tea). Some herbs may taste a bit bitter, and if so you can usually sweeten them with a small amount of honey. Your decoction should keep for about 2-3 days if sealed and refrigerated.
I personally adopt Method 3 most of the time.
Why you boil a decoction three times
It is important to boil the herbs three times for 20-minutes each time, rather than all at once for one hour. Many of the herbs in your formula will contain some volatile aromatic oils as active ingredients. These oils will be retained in a short 20-minute boiling, but will probably evaporate after an hour at high temperature. Other components of your herbal formula (such as the active ingredients in hard roots or nuts) might take an hour to be fully extracted, however.
Thus the best method of preparing the decoction is to boil the herbs for 20 minutes three times in a row, combining and mixing all three doses. This ensures that all the various active herbal ingredients are present in the final medicine. Top
A mortar and pestle can be used to crush the herb(s) to aid in the infusion or decoction of the herbal tea, especially anything tough or hard, like nuts or barks.
For the freshest tasting cup of tea, you should always use mineral water or freshly drawn water direct from the tap that has been running for a while. Standing water loses oxygen, and the resulting tea tastes flat. If your tap water is chlorinated, a compromise can be reached by drawing fresh water and letting it stand uncovered for a couple of hours to allow the chlorine taste to leave the water; although, using mineral water is a quick and easy solution. Boiling the water for long periods also removes oxygen from the water, so always use fresh water (do not re-boil it), and use the water quickly after it comes to a boil.
Traditionally, in Asia, water is always brought to gentle boil before one prepares tea. Boiling water eliminates many harmful germs and bacteria. Though water quality has improved vastly, boiling in the water in this fashion can help to bring out tea’s flavor. The water should be heated until a steady stream of air bubbles gently rise to the surface. At this point, the water is sufficiently heated and also has a preferable oxygen content. In contrast, using water that has been held at a fierce, rolling boil can leave tea tasting dull and flat.
Try this the next time you use your juicer to make fruit juice. Make sure the container for the pulp is clean before you start juicing. After juicing, the collected pulp can be put into a tea bag/filter and used for fruit tisane infusion. Now you can have your juice and fruit tea, no waste!
I used my juicer to make some fruit juice as usual, but this time instead of throwing away the pulp, I used the pulp to make a fruit tea (infusion).
3 large green apples
1-litre fruit juice, and pulp sufficient for 3-litres of fruit tea.
The above ingredients produced almost a litre of fruit juice while the pulp was sufficient for 3 litres of fruit tea. I packed my teapot’s strainer full of pulp to make a fresh infusion of fruit tea. The balance of the pulp was kept in the fridge and used over two days to make two more pots of fruit tea.
My brother recently asked me…is a Zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Here is my reply: There are two types of Zebras. A white one has black stripes and a black one has white stripes. As with most things in this world. …. Lau Kean Lee, 29-March-2014
Have you at some point in your life waxed lyrical over a seemingly profound statement or article? And did that P word, “Philosophy”, come to mind? In my case, my first brush with a profound idea must have been the time (when I was 12 or 13 years old) I saw a picture of a “thinking man”; a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin of a naked man sitting on a rock with his chin resting on a hand, deep in thought. The caption on that photo read, “I think therefore I am”, by René Descartes. “Wow, that sounds pretty deep, but what did it really mean?”
“I think therefore I am” – René Descartes
I thought to myself. And that started a life-long journey to understand and make sense of this thing called Philosophy.
Most people, and I am one of those, would just go through life without really digging deeper into Philosophy and just take whatever small doses that may come along in our day-to-day living. Sometimes it comes in the guise of comedy, as when Charles M. Schulz made his Linus character in Peanuts say, “I love Mankind; it’s people I can’t stand!”. Or sometimes it gets splashed in my face as when watching my favourite SciFi, Star Trek and Spock spoke the memorable line, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. And in later life, one finds that spirituality is steeped in profound ideas, as this website’s by-line ascribed to the Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
I am now making an effort to actually understand what exactly is Philosophy. In my library, I found three books to educate myself on this nebulous subject.
1. The Story Of Philosophy – Bryan Magee
Prof Bryan Magee from the Oxford University was also a Fellow of the Yale University. He wrote this surprisingly readable book on a difficult subject.
In just four pages, the prelude “An Introduction To Philosophy” pages 6-9, the meaning of Philosophy shone with clarity. In any field of human activity, we can question the fundamentals normally taken for granted. Prof Magee introduced the concept gently by giving simple examples in diversed subjects or disciplines, like when one asks what is Freedom and what is Equality and are they in conflict, as in politics (Political Philosophy); or when one asks what is Justice in law and is that the same as social justice (Philosophy of Law); or when one asks is there perfect health, and if not what is the meaning of cure (Philosophy of Medicine).
“What is the nature of whatever it is that exists?” “How, if at all, can we know?”
While this demonstrates that there can be a philosophical discourse in any subject, the greatest philosophers go deeper than that and questioned the most fundamental aspects of our existence and our experience. The two fundamental questions at the heart of Philosophy are: “What is the nature of whatever it is that exists?” (ontology) and “How, if at all, can we know?” (epistemology). Prof Magee then rounds off his introduction to philosophy by stressing that Philosophy, Science and Art are not at odds with one another. All three confront the mystery posed by the two fundamental questions to try to achieve a deeper understanding. All three rely on inspiration and criticism and make their findings public to be shared. And yet because they follow different methods and different paths, they appeal to different temperaments. (Note: this last word, “temperament” makes for interesting reading by itself… ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments). The rest of the book then delves into the different great philosophers and their respective era.
2. The Dream of Reason – Anthony Gottlieb
Anthony Gottlieb was from Cambridge University but he was a professional journalist having served as Science Editor and Executive Editor of The Economist even though he was also a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. So it is interesting to read Anthony’s take on Philosophy from a journalist’s approach, viz. “…to rely only on primary sources, whenever they still exist, to question conventional wisdom, and … to explain it as clearly as possible.”
And so you find in “The Dream of Reason” (A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance), a readable journalistic account of philosophers’ stubborn or obstinate effort to think clearly.
I found his Part 3, Chapter 13, “Three Roads to Tranquillity: Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics” particularly interesting. Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC marks the start of a new era, the “Hellenistic age”. It means that Alexander’s former domain became Greek-ish rather than purely Greek. It brought a new era in philosophy as well, with three main schools of thought; the Epicureans, the Stoics and the Sceptics. If an Epicurean said one thing, a Stoic would say the opposite and a Sceptic would refuse to commit either way. How interesting!
In the final Chapter 14, we learn that in AD 529, a Christian emperor, Justinian, put an end to the philosophical squabbles by closing down the philosophical schools in Athens in favour of his own imperial university in Constantinople and wanted to ban non-Christian philosophy throughout the Roman Empire. And so philosophy languished in the “haven of piety” for the next thousand years.
“I was struck by the large number of falsehoods I had accepted as true in my childhood.” – René Descartes
Enter the French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes (1596-1650), who developed the rigorous mechanistic model where he “consider(s) false any belief that falls prey to even the slightest doubt”. This is considered “Rationalism” and Descartes earned the title, “Father of Modern Philosophy”.
Gottlieb intended to write a second volume to continue the tale from Descartes to the present day, but as far as I know, it has not been published until today. Hopefully, it will be witten and published in due course.
3. Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
Jostein Gaarder was a Norwegian high-school teacher of Philosophy. He used his teaching capability to write a popular novel which effectively covers the 3,000 years history of philosophy from Socrates to Sartre. Very much like how modern-day management books are written as business fables, Gaarder first published his novel in his native Norwegian in 1991, revolving around a 14-year old girl, Sophie, who progressively learnt Philosophy through a prolonged correspondence with a fifty-year-old philosopher, Alberto Knox. The novel begins with Sophie receiving a mysterious letter with a question, “Who are you?” and then a second letter with an equally intriguing question, “Where does the world come from?” The third mail came in the form of a postcard addressed to another girl, Hilde, c/o Sophie.
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” – Francis Bacon
What followed were a series of philosophical lessons taught to Sophie by Alberto. How Hilde fit into this story, if told here, would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that in the course of the novel, Sophie and Hilde (and thus we the readers) are taken on a grand tour of the history of Western Philosophy.
Where Gottlieb left off, Gaarder continued from Descartes, Spinoza, Locke and others to The Enlightenment (the Renaissance) and Romanticism until the Present.
The novel is reputed to have been translated into fifty-three languages, with over thirty million copies in print. In 1997, Jostein Gaarder and his wife, Siri Dannevig, established the Sophie Prize (named after the book), a USD100,000 annual international award for environment and development. Unfortunately, Gaarder found himself embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism after he wrote an article in 2006 criticising and condemning certain aspects of Israeli politics and Judaism.
I was intrigued by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and read up on him on Wikipedia.
“Bacon has been called the creator of empiricism. His works established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today.”
As it turns out, while Descartes and Rationalism were widely populart in Europe, Francis Bacon’s Empiricism in England can be seen as a counter-point to Rationalism.
Leibniz, a rationalist, said “There are two kinds of truths: truths of reasoning and truths of fact.” While John Locke, an empiricist, said “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience”. It must be noted that Prof Magee wrote that Locke is considered the chief founding father of empiricism.
In the ’50s and ’60s, there was hardly any palm oil plantation (maybe none at all) but we sure had many very neat and tidy forests, a la our rubber plantations. The rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis) were grown in neat rows and were favourite playgrounds for children then. Somehow conditions seemed so much safer then, and parents did not care that the children routinely ran into rubber estates to play.
The mature rubber trees bear flowers and hence seeds once or twice a year (I forgot. Does anyone remember?) and gave rise to the seasonal “fighting rubber seeds” game. The idea was to find a seed that could outlast any other seed when squeezed together. The two competing seeds were held in the palms of your hands and squeezed together using your thighs for leverage. The one that cracked and broke, lost. It’s somewhat like the British children’s game of conkers using the horse chestnuts to “battle”, except in conkers, the horse chestnuts are threaded and then swung at each other, while the rubber seeds are actually squashed together until one broke. How do I know about “conkers”? From Beano, Dandy, Topper….children’s comics of that period!
The rubber seeds were picked from the rubber estates (it seemed as if there was always a rubber estate near wherever you lived). I recall a rich variety of seeds; there were large ones, small ones; generally rectangular but there were also triangular ones. Generally, the smaller seeds were the tougher ones. We would break an unwanted seed to use its core to rub and polish the favoured seed until it had a wine red sheen. Then it was time to do battle. There were cheats, of course. A common method was to make a small hole at the top and to squeeze in additonal core material to compact the interior of the “fighter seed”. That way, it would not break so easily. A more insidious way was to pump glue into the fighter seed. The “super glue” (cyanoacrylate adhesive) was not available at that time, but even the ordinary glue was enough to give an unfair advantage. Great care had be taken to ensure that the hole was well disguised so that the opponent did not know.
Another simple game of the baby boomers. They were all seasonal games. A time for “Kotak”, a time for “Rubber Seeds”, a time for “Kites”, a time for “Marbles”. Do you remember?
Header photo of a “rubber estate” and photo of a tree being tapped for latex were taken by Wang Sun Chan at the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, 17-Feb-2014.
The photo of the rubber seeds is taken from Wikipedia, reproduced here under the Creative Commons Licence.
Proverbs, anecdotes, poems and quotations influenced all of us to some extent when we were growing up, whether we knew it or not and whether now in later life, we care to admit it or not. Some of them would have shaped our outlook, attitude and even our personality, hopefully for the better.
A poem which greatly influenced me is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm Of Life”.
I’ll first reproduce the poem in its entirety here without any distraction, and then below it is an annotated version to help explain its meaning (to me). Maybe it will also inspire someone else who reads this now.
A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Hover your cursor over the highlighted text to get its annotation. Hope this will help you appreciate the poem better.
News on Bumblebees infected with Honeybee diseases.
Additional photos added.
Proverbs, anecdotes, poems and quotations influence all of us, to some extent, when we were growing up, whether we knew it or not and whether now in later life, we care to admit it or not. Some of them would have shaped our outlook, attitude and even our personality, hopefully for the better.
One such anecdote that greatly influenced me tells of a French entomologist August Magnan and his engineer friend discussing a bumblebee one evening in the 1930’s.
… because the bumblebee doesn’t know that it is not supposed to fly, it can and does fly …
The engineer apparently did a back-of-napkin calculation and “proved” that aerodynamically, it was not possible for the bumblebee to fly. But we all know and can see with our own eyes that a bumblebee can indeed fly. That day in my youth, when I first heard of this anecdote, it was not the science (that actually showed a bumblee can fly) that concerned me. The profound idea that struck me and stuck with me to this day was the lesson it conveyed; that just because the bumblebee doesn’t know that it is not supposed to fly, it can and does fly along happily, and it flies very well too, I might add.
And that’s the way my attitude is shaped; that one should not be seeking too much advice from others as to whether something can be done, if indeed that something is what you have a strong desire to achieve. Believe in yourself and just go ahead and do it. If the results are not forthcoming, your vision is not worth anything; dreams have no value until the results are achieved. And to get there, be a bumblebee.
Now it’s your turn. Which proverb, anecdote, poem or quotation provided a life’s lesson for you?
Footnote: When was the last time you actually saw a real live bumblebee? For me, it must have been years since I last saw one. So what are the odds of a bumblebee appearing and hovering around me just after I wrote about it? And what are the odds that I’ll have a camera (my iPhone) with a newly installed app “Burst Mode” to snap 100 shots with one click? I wrote the first draft yesterday and this morning a bumblebee paid me a visit. And I shot a few sequences of it darting among my flowers with my iPhone in Burst Mode. Not exactly tack-sharp pictures (I was quivering with excitement), but what a photo-moment it was. Click on the thumbnails below to see the flight sequences.
According to Bumblebee.org, “Bumblebees are large, hairy social insects with a lazy buzz and clumsy, bumbling flight. ”
Most people like the bumblebee as it very rarely stings anyone. When I was a kid, I thought the large, round, black blobs flying around our garden was a bumblebee. And even up to when I was writing this article and sharing the photos above of the unexpected “bumblebee” that visited me, I didn’t think I was wrong.
However, I learnt at Bumblebee.org that are six species of bumblebees and the black one is not one of them. See the photo of a “Bombus Pratorum” queen shown here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it here in our country.
Another view of a “Bombus Pratorum” bumblebee.
The black one looks like a Bumblebee but is actually a Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea).
However, for me the black round blob that flies “when it shouldn’t be able to fly”, will always be the “bumblebee” to me. It epitomises the lesson adequately.
In the 50’s, 60’s, cigarettes were sold in boxes somewhat like bigger versions of matchboxes, where the covers slide out of the base boxes. The covers were varied and colourful from the many brands that were available. For simplicity, we will just call them “kotak” (boxes), although in actual fact only the covers were collected.
“Kotak” were avidly collected; there was “555”, “Rough Rider”, “Captain”, “Craven A”, “Player’s”, and many more, all stuffed in a ubiquitous Jacob Cream Crackers (“kiam piah”) bisquit tin.
Each kotak had a value that was generally acceptable and agreed by all the children then. Or maybe only by the neighbourhood children, since our neighbourhood was essentially the whole wide world (“www”) to us then.
For example, “Rough Rider” may be worth only a few points, since it was a cheaper brand, widely available then. Whereas “555” may be worth more points, as a more desirable brand.
The things to note are:
a. Smoking was widespread and common then, with many different brands available, making for a collector’s dream with the numerous varieties of empty cigarette box covers.
b. Jacob Cream Crackers bisquits were standard fare for most families, with the familiar bluish-green patterned rectangular tins used as storage boxes for many things, including the “kotak” for kids.
c. It is amazing to think that way back then, even kids can have a common understanding and agreement on the acceptable value of each brand of cigarette box, without Internet or other mass media communication to reach that consensus.
The “Kotak” game is generally a boys’ game where two or more participants will agree on a starting value of say 10 points. Each player will then produce his share of 10 points’ worth of cigarette box covers. These are then lined up (each standing upright, side-by-side) across a quiet street (there was hardly any busy street then), with one end declared the “Kepala”, or “Head”. To identify the kepala easier, a cigarette box cover is placed on top of the first box cover, like a flat roof over it.
To establish the starting order, all players then had to do the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy. Actually, in our time, it was “stone-water-cup”. The loser had to start first and while standing behind the line-up of “kotak”, he would throw (fling) a flat “striker” to a distance away from the line of kotak. The winner of the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy get to throw last.
Here the things to note are:
a. The “striker” is like your carrom striker today, except that each kid had to make his own, usually fashioned out of a discarded terrazzo tile, into a round disc. There is no rule for the size, but you would want to have a balance of size and weight, as the reason will be obvious shortly.
b. Whoever flung his striker the furthest away from the lineup of “kotak” would have the first chance to throw at the “kotak”. So now you can understand why you wouldn’t want your “striker” to be so massive that you cannot throw it far enough from the lineup, such that you may end up being the last kid to get a chance at hitting the “kotak”.
When all the players had thrown (flung, like a pebble skipping the water surface) their strikers, the player whose striker is the furthest got the first chance at the “kotak”. This time, the aim is to strike the “kotak”. Assume the “kepala” is to the left of the player facing the lineup. If the player struck the “kepala”, he got to keep all the “kotak” in the lineup; the grand winner, so to speak. If he did not strike the kepala, but say the fifth box from the kepala, he got to keep all the kotak to the right of the that fifth box. So the game can get very intense as each player took his crack at the lineup. Usually, if you are the last player, there would be nothing left for you.
What a simple and interesting game! Look at the lessons to be learnt:
1. How much “wealth” you start with (number of kotak) depended on your personal diligence in scouring the neighbourhood and collecting your kotak.
2. You quickly learn that it did not pay to be too greedy or ambitious to make a massive striker such that you could barely fling nor control it easily.
3. You had to learn by trial and error and continually make improvements (grind against the coarse road surface; tough work!) to your striker, to improve your winning chances.
4. While the game was essentially a game of skill, there was the element of luck as in real life. The kid who won the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy had the privilege of flinging his striker last, away from the lineup.
5. There is also the need to strategise and to take risk. For example, there is no need to always fling your striker the furthest, since you may want to take a calculated risk that the furthest two players may miss their mark. So you fling your striker nearer to the lineup and take your 3rd position to throw at the lineup.
6. If you lose everything, you need not despair for as long as you are prepared to work hard to go out and start collecting the “kotak” again.
Wow! How many kids’ games today provide so much for so little?
Here are 91011 tips¹ to save money from my personal experience. But let’s get something clear first, to avoid unnecessary quibbles about spending money. These tips are NOT meant for you to stop spending. It’s about spending less than you need to; it’s getting the biggest bang for your buck. And these are things that I personally do (or will do soon) so these tips are not some rehash of some other articles from the Internet.
OK, let’s start, in no particular order other than whatever comes to my mind first.
Throttle down your aircond. My family is one of those who cannot live without aircond and I’m not here to tell you to fix ventilators to replace your aircond. I just want to point out a fact about coolness and comfort. A common definition of “room temperature” is 27 deg. C. Since coolness and comfort are subject to personal preferences, we can generalise that a comfortable cool environment is between 24 deg. – 26 deg. C.
Aircond is for comfort and not to freeze yourself.
Personally, I think 25 deg. C is cool enough for me without causing undue discomfort. Now quite a number of you will start disputing that (including my son) and claim that you need to set your room aircond much lower than that ( and especially your car aircond ). But why? If you have been to a temperate country (or locally to Genting or Fraser’s or Cameron ), you’ll recall that when the ambient temperature is 24-26 deg, it’s already cool enough; and at night when the temperature drops lower than that, you really have to wear warm clothings. Here’s what I think. If your room (or car) aircond needs to be set at a “lower” thermostat setting before you feel cool, then your aircond needs to be serviced. It is simply taking too long to bring the room temperature down to your required set temperature. The filters may be dirty or the refrigerant needs a refill. The physics is simple. If you feel cool in Genting when the ambient temperature is 24 deg, there’s no reason why you won’t feel the same, if your room aircond has brought the room temperature down to 24 deg. Service your aircond, set your thermostat to 24-26 deg and not any lower. While you are at it, set to Auto so that the blower fan will also be throttled down. Aircond is for comfort and not to freeze yourself.
Upgrade to 3-phase. If you’re like me with more than 3 airconds, you may benefit from changing to 3-phase power supply. When we were on the original single-phase power supply, our monthly electricity bill was hovering around RM450-600. After changing to 3-phase, our monthly bill is now less than RM400. My December bill is only RM242.50.
Shop online where possible. I have stopped going to Low Yat Plaza for my gadgets and gizmos. No more car jams, tolls, parking aggravation.
No more car jams, tolls, parking aggravation.
Recently I bought a cassete player with USB output (for converting my tapes to MP3) and a 50-feet HDMI cable (for my home theatre) from online shops and they cost me less than if I were to buy locally. Delivery by parcel post and no import duty. And no sweat. In fact, you should be able buy almost anything, from books to clothings to the latest electronic gadget online today; usually at a lower cost too.
Try eating slower. If you have been spending too much on food and putting on too much weight in the process, try eating much, much slower. Chew, chew your food. You will find that you need less than what you normally eat. How to beat that? Save money and save your health. It seems to be working for me.
Look for house brands. Do you know that the larger retailers like Tesco, Carrefour (previously), Watson and even Guardian have house branded products that are much cheaper than the equivalent global brands?
House branded products … are much cheaper than the equivalent global brands.
I buy my cat food from Tesco (branded Tesco). My wife found Guardian mouthwash at about 50% cheaper than the equivalent Listxxxxx brand. Oh, incidentally, I’m sure you know that salt water would make just as good a mouthwash, right?
Last minute sales or near-expiry date products are generally much cheaper, if your consumption is immediate or imminent. For example, you know that confectioneries and doughnuts go real cheap just before the store’s closing time each night. And many stores start marking down the prices of goods whose expiry dates are approaching. I’m sure you know this yourself. But you must be agonising over the expiry day and wondering if it’s still fit for consumption right? Educate yourself on shelf life and expiry date (not the same) at Wikipedia, and then read this Time article. Now make your own decision.
Be a vegetarian. If you have been contemplating to be a vegetarian, now’s the time to do it, especially when food prices are skyrocketing. No, I don’t mean eating at the fancy vegetarian restaurants that are just as expensive as regular ones.
If you have been contemplating to be a vegetarian, now’s the time to do it.
I mean, common sense will tell you that an ordinary vegetarian meal will cost less than a meal with fish or meat or fowl. In fact, most vegetables can be grown easily at home too. I plan to do that and will write about that in a future article. But beyond our individual pockets, you might want to re-think your dietary choices if you read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals.
Use energy saving lamps or LED lamps. I was debating with myself whether to include this or not, since it does introduce the problem of safe disposal of the energy saving lamps. I will investigate this further in the local context and report in another article. But for the purpose of saving money, this is now beginning to be achievable. For a long time, it was frustrating to buy a more-expensive “energy-saving” lamp for long-term savings only to find that the lamp’s short life has made any savings a fantasy. It was in fact more costly. But today, the lamps seem to last longer. We use these energy-saving lamps for our perimeter lighting all night long and that doesn’t seem to hurt our electricity bill much. By the way, night-time perimeter lighting is reputed to deter break-ins a lot.
Spend more time at home. Have a hobby (photography?), home theatre, music, books or even the Internet. No reason to go out more than you should. Entertain others and yourself at home
¹ Make your own household cleaner with Garbage Enzyme.
I have almost forgotten about this. Looking at the prices of detergents and cleaning liquids nowadays, it’s time to revisit this great way to be “green” and save money along the way. The method is well-documented in many websites. These clear instructions are from BMS Organics.
11. Use Gas for Heating
If LNG is cheaper in your location than electricity, use gas for heating purposes such as boiling water, instead of electrical kettle. In addition, when using the electric rice cooker, start with hot water to reduce the time required by the electric cooker to cook the rice.
Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. – The Buddha