31 August 2008

Brown Recluse Spider Bite... Or Was It?

YG had forwarded me an email containing photos of a supposedly spider-bite victim. I really appreciate YG's genuine concern for my safety because it is a fact that I know very little about spiders.

The email started with this relatively mild photo:

Then the wound got progressively nastier:

I have deliberately omitted the last 2 photos in the email because I think they are too gory for this blog.

Warning: If I am not wrong, in the last 2 photos of the email, you could even see the bone in the open wound! However, if you are not affected by such photos, you can see them here. And if you enjoy viewing such photos (or intend to attend medical school), you can see more of the same kind here.

The wound was supposedly caused by the bite of a venomous brown recluse spider (BRS):

Not that I want to be a toxicologist but I am just curious. So I googled for more information.

It is indeed true that a BRS bite can cause necrosis (unnatural death of cells and living tissue). However, not all cases of necrosis are due to spider bites. In fact, medical professionals caution that an injury should not be classified as a spider bite unless the spider has been seen doing the biting. Many of the wounds may be from other kinds of infections and could even be the result of cancer.

Finally, I found this "Truth Or Fiction" website that says that the truth of this email (the photos of which first surfaced in 2002) is unproven.

In any case, the BRS is found in the US from the southern Midwest south to the Gulf of Mexico, certainly a long way from Singapore. If I see it, I may mistake it for a common household spider, otherwise known as daddy long legs. However, I don't think I will mistake it for a fighting spider.

But still, I would like to sincerely thank YG again for his concern for my safety.

28 August 2008

Caught A Spider

I caught a spider at Kent Ridge Park during lunch time today. However, I don't think that it is the fighting kind. Above is a photo of the spider I caught. What do you think? What species is it, is it a male or female, and most importantly, is it poisonous?

YG was concerned that I might not know about the dangers of handling spiders which I am not familiar with. His concerns are valid as I know very little about spiders. He had sent an email with pictures to Chun See explaining why. I have just received the email from Chun See. I will update this post when I get permission from YG to blog about it.

Thank you very much for your concern, YG. I am appreciative of it and am waiting in anticipation for your advice.

Earlier posts on spiders:

1. Fighting Spiders - dated 27 Jun 2008; and

2. Fighting Spiders (2) - dated 21 Aug 2008.

24 August 2008

Am I Superstitious Or What?

I am usually not superstitious. The lunar seventh month doesn't end till 30 August. As you probably know, this month is also known as Hungry Ghost Festival. The traditional Chinese believe that it is a period when spirits from the netherworld roam the earth. Whether you believe it or not, I think it is better not to mess around with such things. It is not advisable to do anything that might antagonise the spirits.

Recently one of my bicycles parked below my block had a flat tyre because of a leak. I am not blaming the spirits for it but this kind of thing seems to happen mysteriously every now and then. Whenever it happens, I always go to an old bicycle shop in Joo Chiat Road to change an inner tube. I have patronised this shop since a few decades ago. The shop itself must have been existence for more than half a century, i.e. older than me.

This man was a young boy when I first patronised the shop. Now we are both old men, although I think he's got more white hair than me, hehe.

As the shop location is about 5 km away from my block, I mounted the bicycle on a rack which was hooked on to the back of my car, like this:

My wife came along. On reaching an URA open-air car park near the shop, my wife alighted first. When I was reversing the car into one of the empty lots, my wife gestured to me not to park in the lot. The reason? There were some burnt-out joss sticks and candles at the back end of the lot:

Not wanting to take any chances, and respecting my wife's good spirit (pun intended) I moved to another lot. Just as I was almost done reversing slowly into the lot, I heard a loud bang. I was stunned for a moment as I didn't know what had happened. Then reality hit me - I realised that my rear windscreen was shattered!

Alamak! I had reversed into a pillar which suddenly jumped out into my path! :p The pillar pressed against the bicycle rack which was resting on my car's rear windscreen. The windscreen simply imploded.

Some glass splinters even flew to the front seating areas. My wife and I had a hard time cleaning up the glass splinters:

There were so many of them. At one point, I thought they looked like diamonds:

If they were, I would have been very rich indeed!

And who says that shattered tempered glass won't cut?

So I have instantly changed my car into some kind of convertible which is perhaps the only kind that I can afford:

I quickly checked my car's insurance policy. Phew, luckily all the windscreens are covered under the policy. I only have to pay an extra S$53.50 to have the privilege re-instated when I next renew my policy.

But one question - I avoided the joss sticks and candles - so why did this accident still happen? Hmm... it must have been due to my own carelessness and bad luck, not my wife's good spirit.

Last Monday, I made an appointment to have the windscreen replaced at the agent. It would cost the insurance company about S$1,400 - $900 for the windscreen and $500 for the labour to replace it. I took leave for that day. I had a foldable bicycle in the boot of my car which I used to roam around town while the workshop was replacing the windscreen. I went to the River Valley area and took this photo of Gianurn Building which used to be C K Tang, according to a recent post on Laokokok's blog, Times Of My Life.

21 August 2008

Fighting Spiders (2)

I blogged about fighting spiders here before. Today, I received a comment about fighting spiders on another post from a blogger by the name of Jeremy Lee. His account of fighting spiders is so fascinating and well-written that I could not resist but put it up here as another post.

Thank you for your very informative comments, Jeremy. I hope you don't mind that I am treating you as my guest blogger. Oh by the way, Marcus (your 1-year-old son?) looks so very cute!

Jeremy's comments are as follows:
Ahh spiders,

Used to keep many during my primary school days.

Had so many that I did not have time to feed all of them. So I ended housing them on my father's orchid plants. One male per pot. I stapled the leaves together so that it made instant HDB housing for the spiders, and they would most probably not run away.

The better males I will feed, the rest probably find their own food if I am too busy.

Most spider experts would also at some time or other see their best males go down the drain after too much exposure to the opposite sex. They actually mistake a male for a female! While attempting to court her (errr him!) he might just get badly bitten too.

Best time to catch them sometimes after light rain when they come out for a drink, but the water also makes the leaves stick together and you end up parting a lot of leaves but no spiders in sight.

On dry days, using a thin stick or pencil to prod leaves that looked stuck together is the fastest and safest way to check for nests. When you confirm the leaves are stuck then you take out a plastic bag and put around the leaves and cut the leaves off nicely. Then you go to a flat pavement to check your catch.

Can picture myself in the 70s'as a skinny boy of age 6-7 squatting down and staring up the vegetation hoping to see the shadow of spiders hiding in their nests.

Some people use more crude capture tactics like using clumsy fingers to try and pry open the nest far enough to see if anything is at home. Other just use two hands and cup and grab the nest (sometimes ending up squashing the spider instead and scaring away several others nearby).

Good large male spiders tend to be at the bottom of cluster of vegetation. Due to their alertness, they are also quick in jumping out of the nest on the first sign of threat. Hence going to pavements to check the catch. Newly caught males are very jumpy and you can easily lose it. Hence the nostalgic images of boys running quickly from the vegetation of the school fence with their hands cupped together with trailing bits of vegetation, and then squatting on the pavements nearby or basketball court checking their catch.

Spiders also have the knack of being able to return to their nests after you missed it the first time. So we often go back to the same spot and check the next day. Often a knotted stem serves as a marker for missed catches.

The crudest method of catching spider I have ever witnessed was watching a guy use a panel from a cardboard box and shove it at the base of a bunch of long lalang-like plants and just grab the whole bunch and thrash it against the cardboard... dislodging spiders from their nests and onto the cardboard.

Pandan clusters also tend to have lots of spiders (and mosquitoes).

Newly caught spiders are very jumpy and can easily be lost when they make quick jumps from your hand. One trick is to blow a gust of wind at them. They will instinctively crouch and stop moving. After a few minutes of handling, you can already see the difference. The spider becomes less weary and will just walk among your fingers.

Sometimes if you are alone and trying to spar your spiders, one might just walk too fast for your liking and end up near your neck or head. Best to put the other one down and take the stray one away from your head area. Not a very nice experience to have one run into your ear. The loud sound and the itch will send chills down your spine. Very tempting to just squish the bugger but the mess afterwards might not be a good idea. Just have to find a friend and use a thin stem to chase it back out. But the ordeal during those few minutes will make you more vigilant about not letting one get anywhere near your ear.

It was totally embarrassing the other day when I could not find even one spider to show my kids. I think the pesticides really do their damage. I cannot even find a fighting spider among the type of plants that I used to find them.

Ended up in the car park of Pierce Reservoir determined to show my 5-year-old daughter what a fighting spider is and met another middle-aged man trying to do the same. His son was a bit shy when I asked if he wanted to pit his spider against mine... and us two old-timers ended up fighting spiders.

What took the cake was when an Nparks official came up and told us to release the spiders back. Gave a half-cocked lecture about preserving our heritage.

So remember not to bring back the ants too when you go for picnics in the nature reserves ya!
So Mr Andrew Ngin, are you reading this?

14 August 2008

Do You Want S$11,600?

While Frannxis was shocked with his recent experience with a bank, I was elated. No, I am not 幸灾乐祸 (gloating over someone else's misfortune). You see, yesterday I received 3 signed cheques from UOB - one for S$7,000.00 and two for $2,300.00 - making a total of $11,600. I just can't believe my luck! Nobody has ever given me so much money before.

Make no mistake, the cheques are not specimens; they are real. They come with the banks' authorised signatures. I was really tempted to bank them into my account until I read the accompanying letter properly:
"Transfer your outstanding balances... to us... or get cash drawn... at this special rate of 2.88% p.a. for 6 months by banking in the cheques into your non-UOB account... The prevailing interest rate will apply thereafter."
Phew, lucky thing I know English... and a bit of Maths. ;)

With such easy credit available, it is little wonder why the number of bankruptcy cases is rising in Singapore.

09 August 2008

How Singapore Got Its Name

Since today is our National Day, it is appropriate to blog about our country.

The following passage about the origin of our country's name is extracted from a Wikipedia entry on the Asiatic Lion:
"The island nation of Singapore (Singapura) derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city), which in turn is from the Sanskrit िंसह siṃha and पुर pura. According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as a lion (Asiatic Lion). Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions have never lived there, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger."
Indeed, in the movie Saint Jack which I blogged about in my last post, the lead actor Jack Flowers (played by Ben Gazzara) was heard telling his friend William Leigh (played by Denholm Elliot) a similar story about the Lion City. Jack ended the story with the following statements: "The dummy couldn't tell a tiger from a lion. So what can you expect? A place that got started like that?"

My reply to Jack would be: "Well we didn't expect a lot but our country has certainly come a long way from where we started. Luckily we didn't call our country "Tiger City". If we had, it might have been added to the long list of outstanding contentious issues that we have yet to iron out with our nearest neighbour. (In case you didn't know, its national symbol is the tiger.)

Nowadays, even our primary school children know the difference between a tiger and a lion. However, when asked questions about our history and our national flag, some of them gave rather amusing answers. (The following questions and answers appeared in the Jul/Aug 08 issue of the Spring magazine which is published by the Northeast CDC. Portions enclosed within [ ] are my own tongue-in-cheek comments.)

Q: Why is Singapore called Singapore?

A1: Because Sir Stamford Raffles named it that way.
A2: Because there was this man from somewhere and he came and he named Singapore "Singapore".

Q: Who is Sang Nila Utama?
A: I think he is the man who escaped prison.
[Hello, I know it's a hot topic but does his name sound anything like "Mas Selamat"? There's a difference between a prince and a prisoner, ok? Is it really harder to tell them apart than for a tiger and a lion?]

Q: Why is Sir Stamford Raffles considered Singapore's founding father?

A1: Because he found Singapore.
A2: Because he liked to travel from country to country.
A3: Because he is a European man.

Q: Why is the National Flag red and white, with five stars and one crescent?

A1: Because they represent something.
A2: Because red is for good luck. There are five stars for five working days. And because the cresent looks like a banana.
A3: The five stars represent the five races.
[Hey, "foreigners" is not considered a race, hor?]

Alright, I understand that children can get away with almost any thing and that they, unlike adults and princes, should be quickly and easily forgiven.

For the record, the right answer for the last question is:

Red symbolises universal brotherhood and the equality of man, while white signifies purity and virtue. The crescent moon represents the rise of a young nation and the five stars stand for the nation's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

Happy 43rd National Day, Singapore!

03 August 2008

Second 2nd-Shot - North Boat Quay In 1979 And Now

This is my second attempt at a "2nd-shot". (The first one is in the last post.) I hope that you find this effort a better one.

I have blogged about North Boat Quay here before (although at that time, I mistakenly called it Clarke Quay).

The following 2 photos show the same view of the Singapore River from Read Bridge. The first one is a video-grab from the movie Saint Jack which was filmed entirely in Singapore in 1979. (Chun See blogged about the movie here.)

As you can see, before the 80s, Singapore River had a lot of bumboats. These bumboats carried all sorts of goods - rice, flour, beans, copra, coffee, sugar and other dried goods. The goods would be unloaded from the bumboats typically by Chinese bare-bodied coolies. Each coolie usually had a towel hung around his neck for two purposes - one was to wipe off perspiration - unloading 100-kati sacks is certainly hard labour in Singapore's hot and humid weather. In fact the word "coolie" came from the Chinese words "ku li" (苦力) which mean "hard labour". Do you know what is the second purpose for the towel? (The answer will be revealed by next weekend.)

The bumboat would be moored next to the river bank. Two long planks, each about 10-foot long and 6-inch wide would be placed side-by-side in such a way that they span the gap between the bumboat and the river bank. The coolie would walk skillfully over these planks to get to the boat, lift a heavy sack onto his shoulder and then walk back over the planks to the bank again. You could see the planks bending and vibrating more when the coolie was carrying a heavy load.

In the early 80s, I used to stay overnight quite often at a very good friend's house which was one of the old houses you see on the left of the photo. During those days, one of the coffeeshops in the row of old houses on the left sold very good bak chor mee (minced pork mee).

Many things have changed since then. Comparing the 2 photos, it should be quite obvious to you that the old buildings have mostly been rebuilt. (So much for the conservation of our old buildings.) The fact is that our nation has undergone many changes in its landscape in just under 30 years. And it is not only on the banks of the Singapore River that you see renewal and development - you see them everywhere on this tiny island. But just from the second shot, you can tell that there are many more buildings in the background now. In 1979, you could only see Hill Street Police Station (now MITA Building) and Peninsula Hotel. Today, you could also see (from left) Raffles City Tower, Excelsior Hotel, Peninsula Plaza, Swissotel the Stamford (the tallest building in the photo and formerly known as Westin Stamford), The Treasury, 3 of Suntec City's 5 towers, among other buildings.

I am not going to do a review of Saint Jack as you can read very good reviews of the film on the Internet, one of them here.

Update on 5 Aug 2008:

Two of my readers seem confused over the names and locations of Clarke Quay and North Boat Quay. Perhaps a map of this area from my 1963 "Singapore Guide And Street Directory" will help clear up this confusion. (Unlike the buildings, the roads in this area and their names have largely remained unchanged till this day.)

The road in front of row of houses on the left of the photo is highlighted in yellow in the map - it is North Boat Quay. The camera was on Read Bridge and its lens was pointing in the direction of the red arrow. Clarke Quay is on the left hand side of the map while Boat Quay is on the other side of the Singapore River.

Update on 6 Aug 2008:

Here is another shot of the bumboats on the Singapore River. Judging from the view - Asia Insurance Building in the background - the photo was probably taken from Elgin Bridge in a south-easterly direction. It looks like an image on an old postcard. I got the image from a (mass?) email sent by a friend some time ago.

Hmm... maybe this will be my third 2nd-shot? :)