You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.

Imagine that lazy kitty, currently curled up on your lap, in its rare hours of activity tracing a trapped child in a disaster area by their scent, getting nearer and nearer before losing the trail. It circles the patch of ground where the scent is still barely detectable. Suddenly, it hears a tinny wail over the orchestra of voices and sets off like a gazelle sensing a leopard. The cat bounds over toppled barrels, dented car roofs and lands on an uprooted tree. Beneath it is a distressed child, hungry, tired and overwhelmed. This mission has been a success, thanks to the trained search-and-rescue feline.Mushu sitting

Photo: Kitten posing for the camera. (Janet Tan)

This scenario is based on the established fact that cats are the world’s best predator. In a research by conservation biologists José Sarasola, Juan Zanón-Martínez, Andrea Costán and William Ripple, in most ecosystems, the apex predator is a large cat, like a snow leopard, cougar or tiger.

Archaeologists Jean-Denis Vigne, Jean Guilaine, Karine Debue, Leal Haye and Patrice Gerard have unearthed proof of cats living among humans as early as 9,500 years ago. Remarkably, domestic cats have retained the hunting abilities that the first cats developed and fine-tuned over the course of feline existence.

Video: Kitten using its agility to turn away mid-chase before hitting the cat tree. (Janet Tan)

Mankind is on a constant quest to harness animals stronger, faster and more ferocious than us, and made them plough our fields, carry us and protect us. We have trained man’s best friend to be therapy dogs, detection dogs and guard dogs, all for our benefit. Why then, have we not expected the same of our domesticated moggies, those of sharp claws and sharper senses than most animals, despite them having lived among humans for nearly ten millennia? At the least, their excellent hunting abilities could be used in search-and-rescue missions, as the practice there is not dissimilar from hunting. Local vet Dr. Carla Pendini seemed to think they had potential, saying, “Well, I definitely think that you can [train cats], personally, [but] dogs can smell things from miles away […] and they are basically built to smell out those things, that’s why we have things like beagles and trained sniffer dogs.”

Animal behavioural training and sound localisation experts, Henry and Rickye Heffner, have established over years of studying laboratory animals that cats have a significantly broader range of hearing at both higher and lower frequencies compared to dogs. Another fact obvious to most is that cats are more limber than dogs. Wildlife biologists Todd Atwood, Eric Gese and Kyran Kunkel’s work prove that this correlation is apparent even when the animals being compared are scaled up in size to cougars and wolves. This agility would serve them well in disaster areas; they could access hard-to-reach locations that dogs cannot.

The wondrousness of cats does not stop here; Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, Paul Miller and Christopher Murphy, submit that because of anatomical differences, cats are likely to have better night vision than dogs. This night vision can come in handy during search-and-rescue missions in which time is of the essence. In situations where they can’t track with smell – if there has been rain or snow, for example – and as dusk falls, cats can continue the search using their sensitive hearing and acute night vision.

While it is still unclear how well cats can discriminate between different scents, animal behavioural experts at the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences of Oregon State University, Kristyn Shreve and Monique Udell, have found a potential link between smell sensitivity and the numbers of a protein (V1R) existing only in the sensory cells of most animal noses. This link indicates the distinct potential that domestic cats may be better than even tigers at distinguishing between different smells. No doubt more research is needed in this area but as wildlife ecologist Mel Sunquist and science writer Fiona Sunquist state in their book, Wild Cats of the World, the fact that odours play a significant role in cats’ lives – they urine-mark to indicate stress, their readiness to mate and even health issues – surely means they have good olfactory senses.

Having established that cats have enhanced perception, an important question comes to mind: can cats be trained? Loren Panno, a graduate in nanotechnology who has had both cats and dogs at home, came off as being non-committal toward the idea, saying, “I’m sure it’s possible,” but also admitted that she hadn’t attempted it with any of her cats.

When asked the same question, Dr. Pendini responded with, “I think cats do have the same capacity to learn the way that dogs do. I think they can be trained but obviously doing it from a younger age because the older that you leave it, their, sort of, skills to pick up new things does [sic] become a bit more delayed.”

Veterinary specialists Gary Landsberg, Wayne Hunthausen and Lowell Ackerman were more confident in their assessment that cats can learn if food is used as a reward. Since cats respond well to positive reinforcement, treats like cooked chicken and tuna can be used be encourage desired behaviour.

However, just because cats can be trained doesn’t mean they will use their powers for good. Seemingly, cats will only do things they want to do when they want to. Juxtaposed against the unconditional love that dogs are known to give their owners, the aloofness of cats appears to confirm that they view humans as feeding and cleaning machines. However, some cat owners would seek to dispel that notion. Country girl Kat Pullman believes that cats are capable of doing good deeds. “I had a cat, Nala,” she reminisced, “One time she met us after school and […] killed a big snake nearby.” It seems that at least some cats harbour goodwill toward their human companions and manifest this as protectiveness.

Video: Kitten doing what he wants by ignoring the toy and walking away. (Janet Tan)

In our conversation together, Kat further revealed the story of yet another moggy who was conditioned to only hunt rabbits, rats, mice, snakes, and never birds. These examples seem promising of a future where a legion of trained kitties is at the ready to embark on search-and-rescue missions, sniff out illegal substances and even work as service animals – the possibilities are endless. And maybe that future is not that distant after all. Perhaps all that is needed is a little more understanding of the way cats’ minds work, some patience and a lot of treats.

 

Advertisements

Émile Bayard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the title so aptly indicates, this is a poem I wrote with Les Miserables as inspiration. Hope you all like it.

 

Driving along made up lines

Listening to a pain different and distant

Dark lights reflect the quality of your inner self

Tears lighter than hydrogen saturate onyx hair

The book of history is unravelling

Its pages telling stories with the blood of angry men

A new land born from the ashes of the dead

Life can only exist when death survives

Red upon white in a monochrome world

Peeling away the scabs of despair

Scouring the clinging mold of decay

Shaking off the breath of yesterday

It takes an ancient eye to recognise the young

To pinpoint the beginning of beginnings

The sliver of fresh green that still lives within

Grey fossils that no longer walk

No more, no more shall the relics rule

‘Tis a universe for the hopeful and the bright-eyed

The sceptre of oppression will crumble in the light of liberty

To expose shaky young limbs of progress

One of my short stories, The Trouble with Expectations, has been published on Weekend Reads. Weekend Reads brings to readers short stories that provide the perfect weekend escape – or bring a bit of that weekend relaxed feel to a weekday. But more importantly, it allows new authors to publish and promote their short stories as well as make their consumption accessible to readers.

TroubleWithExpectations_cover

The Trouble with Expectations is a fictional short story set in Mount Compass, South Australia. It’s about a young woman named Alexandra who moves out to the country, taking with her a secret and a broken heart where she befriends a young man. The friendship leaves her feeling vulnerable yet hopeful about the future. But will the truth destroy the possibility of new love? Find out here.

Thanks for the support! x

This isn’t common knowledge but I am a fan of horror/thriller movies and novels. As it had been a while since my last horror movie, I’ve been reading quite few submissions on a website called CreepyPasta lately. Some of you may already be familiar with this site. For those who aren’t, CreepyPasta is a site where anyone can submit their own writing in the horror/thriller genre. Any piece of work published on the site is called a pasta and can be deemed “delicious” or otherwise by readers. I’ve tried my hand at a thriller short story before but have not gotten around to finishing it. I’m going to share with you instead, a poem inspired partly by CreepyPasta and partly by the happenings in my life of late. You’ll no doubt detect a distinct thread of sadness throughout this poem, so I don’t mind admitting that I am going through something that is quite disappointing to me. I hope you enjoy the poem. I haven’t thought of a good title for it yet so if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear it.

Husks scattered across the dirt

Membrane-thin and weightless

Thrown every which way by the wind, careless and wanton

Toyed, tired and desiccated

A sudden gust introduces specks of grit to the air

One finds your eye and makes itself comfortable

Refusing to dislodge no matter how you try

From that irritated and sore eye

The gale dissipates

The howling of the wind ceases

It’s as if all sound had been extricated from the world

But not quite all…

Don’t look back at the footsteps whispering behind you

Of little sneakers scuffing the ground

Don’t turn around to face that guileless little voice

That pleads you for assistance

There’s no one left on this land but you

And if your senses tell you any differently

That’s just the ghosts that once were

Trying to claim you as one of their own

Dad’s just left Adelaide to return to Singapore two days ago. I must admit that I miss him already. When I was a little younger, I sometimes felt irritated by his parental advice, not appreciating it for the concern it was. But I’m glad that now I’m a little older, I appreciate and love him exactly the way he is, with his little habits that used to drive me up the wall.

There is a lot of him in me and there’s a lot of my mother in me also. This week has just been somewhat emotional for me, what with my dad’s departure and other turns of events. The less said about the latter, the better, but I will just mention this: it’s remarkable that the ending should feel so similar to the beginning, marked by the same questions, doubts and fascinations. All that aside, it’s good to see some personal growth happening. I know I’m a little more mature for my experiences and that no matter how discouraged I may feel now, I am confident that I will spring back and be the cheerful, positive soul that I aim to be.

I’ll leave you all with a picture of my dad and I, taken at the maritime museum in Port Adelaide! Stay dry and warm, Adelaideans. For the rest of you who don’t live in Australia, stay cool and enjoy your summer!

Image

Snow in Adelaide – who would have thunk it! It has been remarkably chilly of late and I, just like most other people, have been guilty of sleeping in longer than usual and eating heavier foods. My dear ol’ dad is visiting from Singapore. When he arrived yesterday late afternoon, he was taken aback by the temperature, mistakenly thinking that it was supposed to be early spring here. I may have to take him shopping for a winter jacket… It’s been great to see him as I last visited him exactly a year ago, and it’ll be great to show him around the greater Adelaide region. As my dad is a lover of wildlife, I should think a trip to Monarto Zoo is in order.

On another writing-related note, author and editor Sylvia Kerslake was kind enough to conduct an interview with me several weeks ago. The questions I was asked include the challenges I faced when I was writing my book, the changes I’ve gone through since, and whether my upbringing has influenced my “sappy, funny and yet refreshing” writing. It was the longest interview I’ve had and I’d like to share it with all of you, my lovely followers. Here is the link to the interview.

Let me leave you with a photo of some meerkats from the Adelaide Zoo. The one standing taller was born a regular sandy colour but has gradually turned white over time. It’s a bit of a mystery…

 Albino and regular meerkat

I’m beginning to believe that good things happen in threes. In the space of one day, I’ve learned that my poetry collection ranks #3 on Amazon in the Australian/Oceanic poetry category, my Book Goodies interview has been released and the SO (significant other) is now officially an SO. That is, if he still remembers that tomorrow….

Read about my writing process, my mad scientist tendencies and my childhood summarised in 200 words here.

Well, I’ve received word from my editor recently with feedback on the first draft of my novel Tongue Tied. Good news is it has a solid plot line. Next comes the hard part, the changing and revision of the parts that don’t work. It’ll be quite a process, no doubt about it.

Having returned from a Ben Ottewell (singer from the band Gomez) gig, I’ve had a great time and discovered that I really enjoyed the opening act as well, a performer by the name of Carla Lippis. With her CD in hand, I shall charge into the morning bravely now. Her voice is quite haunting…

 

Dreams don’t realise themselves because you’ve rubbed a lamp and made a wish. Paving the way to a better future often requires a lot of hard work and even more guts. This week, I’ve accomplished several micro-goals that will (hopefully) take me down a life path that I’ve envisioned for myself. One of these micro-goals was to improve the distance I can run non-stop. I was able to run 5km on Monday morning with some burly lads in approximately 5 degree weather and was able to keep up with them for most of the run. And then yesterday, I handed my resume in to one of the local publishing companies and met the boss, who was such a nice man. Even though there weren’t any jobs available presently, he told me that he would hold on to my resume as they need someone with a business degree. It was a very exciting afternoon for me! Working with them and for them would be an ideal situation. It’s not living-in-a-beach-house-and-being-a-nomad-writer deal but it ranks up there near the top 5 on my list.

On another slightly not-as-exciting note, exams are coming up next week. I simply cannot suppress the excitement I have for these regurgitation activities. Hooray. No, really.

I’ve set my goal on improving my cardiovascular strength. My beloved trainer has advised a daily run, working up to a non-stop 10km dash. I started at the foot of that daunting mountain today, with a short, roughly 3km jog around half the city of Adelaide. I used to jog quite regularly with my father when I was still living in Malaysia and also in the summers here by myself, until last year. It made a difference having a jogging partner this morning and I was able to motivate myself with a little mental toughness technique bequeathed upon me by my other trainer. Many thanks to my jogging partner, A! Now to triple that 3km run to 9km and a little extra….

On one of my rare nights out last night, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Neko Case fan. How few and far between those are. He was the partner of a lovely lady I’d just met and through the course of our conversation, we encountered a couple of inebriated souls who could have benefited from having their drink confiscated. It led us to bond over our comparatively more level-headed behaviour. Once again, I’m struck by the voices of the quiet ones if you just care to listen.

Oak was written for my best friend, J. He’s always been the sort of person who would willingly give a stranger the shirt off his back if he thought someone needed it. This is more significant than you would think. He’s always been self-conscious about his own physical appearance and had never taken his shirt off in front of anyone. But despite the insecurity about his looks, he is ridiculously selfless and kind and sweet to everyone around him, even though he pretends to be uncaring. A little on the goofy side, he’s a little accident-prone, just like several of my other close friends, not to name any names (E and S!). He is protective and has a knack for leadership, whereas I am content to be led. Over the years, I’ve witnessed him take many wounded birds under his wing (so to speak) and try to nurse them back to health. But lame ducks are that for good reason, or at least they are not likely to change for their own good. And so these injured fowl accumulate… You have to let them waddle out into the open world eventually.

   

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 540 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: