About bees: swarming

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Docile swarm thing.

A docile swarm of bees descended upon my garden recently. Well, it seemed docile enough though I certainly didn’t dare to handle it the way it’s shown at the start of this  David Wolfe  clip.

The restful clump in my garden disappeared within 2 days, leaving no trace nor damage.

What is ‘swarming’?

When a honeybee hive gets overcrowded, a segment of the colony will branch off in search of a new home.

It makes a smooth cascade out of the hive and those fortunate to have witnessed the exodus say it’s a spectacular sight. The greyish humming cloud remains afloat for a while before settling on nearby foliage, the queen bee shielded in its midst.

Meanwhile, scout bees examine the options for a new home. After selecting the promising site, they return to the waiting swarm to communicate the information for a consensus. The swarm achieves “a form of collective intelligence” in its house hunting, a complex exercise that would be beyond the capacity of individual bees, Cornell University’s biology professor Thomas Seeley describes in his book Honeybee Democracy.

The bees fly to the agreed location to stake their claim. Workers that had gorged their fill of honey in preparation for their re-location secrete wax to build new honeycomb. The age-old cycle of foraging and brood rearing and keeping house begins soon after.

Swarming bees are less likely to sting than a settled colony of hive bees. These and more interesting facts are found in my coming book on bees and hive products.

If you must get rid of a resting swarm or a beehive, please do not kill the bees, they’re already disappearing at alarming rates around the world, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. In S’pore, contact Pollen Nation for help. They are a group of volunteers working at conserving bees and relocating them.




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Made Wijaya, master gardener

Remembering Made Wijaya (Michael White) who passed away on Aug 28.


Taken from the Contributors page of 'Tropical Asian Style' (1997).

Taken from the Contributors page of ‘Tropical Asian Style’ (1997).

The landscape architect and garden artist considered “the element of surprise” an important ingredient for his perfect garden. Whether it’s a pastoral setting around an old English country house or the serenity of a traditional Japanese palace, “it should be soul-lifting, and it should be thrilling”.

Wijaya was Australian born but converted to Hinduism after he adopted Bali to live and work in. He was deeply entrenched in her beauty and culture, and her staunch promoter through his writings, his friendships and his work. In return, he was much loved and is mourned by Balinese and others in the world who have known him and seen his flair and passion in his work.

He strived to project elements of contrast and theatrics in his gardenscapes, creating dream oases in cosy homes, spacious residences and the grounds of tropical resorts that beckon travellers.


Wijaya's bedroom and study at Villa Bebek, taken from the book 'Bali Style' by Rio Helmi and Barbara Walker.

Wijaya’s bedroom and study at Villa Bebek, taken from the book ‘Bali Style’ by Rio Helmi and Barbara Walker.


I met and interviewed Wijaya for a newspaper feature 20 years ago, walked through some of Singapore’s loveliest gardens he created, was shown images of his other works. And became forever enamoured of contemplative tropical gardens.

Straits Times, Life! 1997.

Straits Times, Life! 1997 / photos: Lau Fook Kong

Extracts from the interview:

“My idea of a garden is one in which I can feel an involvement of the senses. It must have a lot of surprises. It should be soul-lifting, and it should be thrilling.”

… His projects in Singapore may not exactly replicate the “ordered jungle” of Villa Bebek, his home in Bali, or the cosy English-style garden maintained by his mother, a nature lover who had influenced his garden aesthetics. Nor are his gardens “Balinese”, as people are fond of saying. If there must be a description, he says, then they are “tropical romantic” gardens.

… Creating a garden is like Balinese classical dance in which he is adept, a “cultural event”.

Being fond of using artworks with South-east Asian origins, he constantly encourages his clients to be more receptive of his ideas, to be more artistic.

 “There is a lot of tension here about wanting things to be spick-and-span, and absolutely brand-new, which is not possible with a garden. Don’t be too safe and unadventurous. Take some risks … just a little,” says the garden designer trained in architecture, whose plans to be a Singapore Airlines pilot were dashed when he presented himself for an interview wearing a red double-breasted suit. …

“I’m interested in lines. That’s how I’m going to start my lecture at NUS today. I’ll make the students stand up and tell them the good and bad of how they look, and say it’s all about lines … I’ll traumatise them,” he laughs.

… Wijaya reveals that though he loves to create poetic gardens, the composition of words in clear and simple language that everyone understands (he shuns architectural-type publications for their hyperbolic “babble”) is really his greatest passion of all.


I love old houses and Wijaya was easy-going and generous in granting me permission to view his modest sized rented bungalow where he stayed when in Singapore. He was away then but arranged with his friend to let me in to snap as many pictures of his home as my heart desired. It was a restful, colonial-style abode, raised on columns, whose inside is the sort you’d see in sleek coffee-table books on tropical residences — lush with indoor plants, rich with South-east Asian artefacts, elegant in tasteful timelessness.

Wijaya’s books include those on Bali’s architecture and tropical garden designs, and an early work titled Stranger in Paradise: The Diary of an Expatriate in Bali.

R.I.P. Made M.W. Wijaya.

May you be no stranger to Paradise.

More about him http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-30/made-wijaya-obituary-flamboyant-gardening-guru-remembered/7799384












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The sugar story #4 – nanny state vs personal choices


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Old-fashioned sweet gemmies.

Despite the evidence that too much sugar is very bad for health, many believe that whether one cuts down on it or not is a matter of personal choice. They say the State has no moral right to interfere in the private decisions of individuals.

But anti-sugar campaigner Dr. Robert Lustig, addressing the libertarian aspect that a person is in charge of his or her own health, points out in his book Fat Chance that all health debacles–cholera, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, vitamin deficiencies, pollution/asthma–were first considered a matter of personal responsibility before the sheer magnitude of sickness or death led to government intervention.

Vaccinations—“herd immunity”—such as that for the near eradication of polio, are important not only for the individual but also for the community. And HIV/Aids became a public health crisis on the basis of science, before the decline in prevalence was seen.

The “two biggest public health demons” are tobacco (where “the science was subverted for years” due to the power of the tobacco industry) and alcohol. Their use does seem to be a personal issue. But it has escalated to public health status because it affects others – second-hand smoke, drink driving…

“Addictive substances thwart all attempts at arguing solely for personal responsibility.” Not least problematic, people need food.

Public health education on addictive substances may not work because aside from the addictive factor there is their continued availability. In many places, soft drinks are cheaper than milk or bottled water.

Big sugar – or is it not?

Many from the health sector and nutrition and fitness fields, food industry representatives (and those backed by them), as well as individuals who believe in freedom to choose what one eats, are critical of Lustig’s uncompromising stance on sugar, which he considers to be a “substance of abuse”; sceptical of his red-flagging of fructose, or disagree with his ideas on tough regulatory controls.

They argue that the science presented thus far is inconclusive. More weight should be given to the larger picture involving other carbohydrates, the amount consumed, and the range of complex factors leading to the rise in obesity figures. Sugar is being unfairly vilified, they maintain.

Draft guidance of World Health Organization (WHO) advises that the daily allowance for an adult’s sugar intake should be drastically decreased—halved to about six teaspoons—to help avoid mounting health problems that come with obesity.

The amount is less than what is found in a typical can of soft drink. “Sugar” includes sucrose or table sugar and brown sugar, the sweeteners that food manufacturers add into food, as well as that naturally present in honey, fruit juices, maple syrup, and agave nectar.

The rose by whichever name…

In 2013, the European Union allowed the substitution of glucose and sucrose with fructose alone, on the basis that fructose has a lower glycaemic index (GI) and does not cause as high and rapid a blood sugar spike. Thus, European manufacturers can claim their food and drinks are healthier if they replace more than 30 per cent of the glucose and sucrose they contain with fructose.

Fructose has a lower GI only because it does not increase blood glucose; it raises blood fructose, beneficial only if a person is energy-depleted, says the child endocrinologist.

To further confound the issue of much added sugar in most processed food, the food industry has over 40 other names for sugar on food labels; and it need not state the actual amounts of added sugars on their labels, thanks to “proprietary concerns”.

WHO’s director-general has sounded a warning that the sugar industry remains a formidable adversary determined to safeguard its market position. Anti-sugar advocates have claimed that many studies that repudiate Lustig’s views can be linked to vested interests.

There are also accounts that certain highly-placed individuals who, having seemingly agreed with the contentious artificially-embedded sugar view, have had to stay further action on their personal belief so as not to ruffle big feathers.

To Lustig, and long before him, the first whistle-blower, late British professor John Yudkin whose life work and warnings were, tragically, dismissed, the evidence shows sugar is beyond doubt a sweet poison.

National health authorities are listening though many, including rich nations with capitalist interests at stake, are still pussy-footing around the sugar tax and leaving it to individual responsibility.

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The sugar story # 3

‘Substance abuse’ … ‘child’s alcohol’?

Healthcare practitioners have been advising people to add less sugar into foods. But our sugar culture is such that it is difficult to avoid store-bought foods with pre-added sugars. In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, anti-sugar campaigner and paediatric endocrinologist Dr Robert Lustig said: “Education has not solved any substance of abuse. This is a substance of abuse… you need personal intervention and societal intervention.”


Oil painting of ‘Sweet Hearts’

Lustig’s books, including Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease, and his 90-minute lecture ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth“, which has garnered millions of views on Youtube, present many interesting sugar and metabolism facts. He explains how, in the United States in the ’70s, the push to eat low-fat food, considered less palatable, first led to the addition of more sugar as taste enhancer; the science behind sugar’s addictive powers and harmful excessive intake; how politics and the food industry have led to widespread obesity and chronic disease. He explains the biochemistry of why we overeat and gives strategies to overcome that.

Lustig has also said that:

  • sugar is the ‘alcohol of the child’;
  • parents are loading their kids with breakfast sugars – for example, naturally sweet raisins in cereals could be pre-dipped in sugar solution to make them  sweeter;
  • the use of different names for the added sugars in packaging means the total amount can actually form the dominant ingredient;
  • infant and toddler food products may have about a third of its calories coming from sugar rather than its other nutritious ingredients that they are bought for.

Research shows that sugar junkies (and alcoholics) have increased amounts of visceral fat around their organs. High amounts of added sugar in our processed food harm our bodies yet many of us continue to buy such food, either through complacence or because we are not given more choices of healthier food products.

Sugar “flies under the radar,” Lustig warns in Fat Chance, and it is “no wonder Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes on the planet. No alcohol, but they’re drinking soft drinks like they’re going out of style.”

In USA, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a term first used in 1980, affects one-third of the population. Anyone can get it, overweight or not. Most people appear normal but projections show about one million Americans face death from the nutritional disease.

Lustig advocates that we should take more real rather than processed food. He is not saying individuals should eliminate sugar from their diets, or that parents should not serve processed dessert as a weekly treat.

Nor does he call for an overall ban on sugar. “As with alcohol, a small dose of fructose has been shown in some studies to have a beneficial effect on insulin secretion”. Only that they should reduce it to a non-toxic level that the liver can cope with.

He feels there should be some public health control, particularly regarding the marketing of food to children, considering sugar acts on the same reward pathways as drugs of abuse, and checks are in place for alcohol and tobacco.

The doctor has for years taken a strong stand against Big Food & Beverage in making people ill. He believes the food industry cannot be given carte blanche to make money by making people sick.


Next: The sugar story #4 – nanny state vs personal choices.


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The sugar story #2 – unequal calories

The findings

A 2013 joint-universities study in the United States suggested that sugar may be behind the global explosion in Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease.

There were 346 million people with the disease and 4.6 million die from it each year, said a European Commission report, Diabesity: A Worldwide Challenge (2012).

The US joint study (Stanford, UC-Berkeley and -San Francisco) found that sugar may have a direct and independent link to Type 2 diabetes–rather than possibly contributing to weight gain and obesity that predispose people to diabetes, as commonly thought. It examined data on sugar availability and diabetes rates from 175 countries over the past decade and found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates — regardless of obesity rates.

The study does not diminish the importance of obesity in the risk of diabetes; only that not all calories are equal from a diabetes standpoint. It found that more sugar was correlated with more diabetes and that the total number of calories consumed is irrelevant–it is the types of calories that count.


IMG_6978 medz ,millenia walk

No added sugar: Onion, garlic, saffron and paprika in chicken stock are the basis for this baked rice and seafood dish.


Besides indicating that added sugar may be *11 times more potent than calories from random meals at causing diabetes, the team also found that the longer a population was exposed to excess sugar, the higher its diabetes rate. The rates eventually dropped when sugar availability dropped—independent of changes to intake of random calories and physical activity or obesity rates.

While the findings do not prove that sugar causes diabetes, they support earlier studies that suggest sugar affects the liver and pancreas in ways that other foods do not.

The makings of scientific findings

Professor Robert Lustig, one of the researchers, explains: “Epidemiology cannot directly prove causation. But in medicine, we rely on the postulates of Sir Austin Bradford Hill to examine associations to infer causation, as we did with smoking.

“You expose the subject to an agent, you get a disease; you take the agent away, the disease gets better; you re-expose and the disease gets worse again. This study satisfies those criteria, and places sugar front and centre.”

Hill was the epidemiologist who pioneered the ‘Bradford Hill criteria’–a group of minimal conditions necessary to provide adequate evidence of a causal relationship between an incidence and a consequence. Together with fellow British epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll, he first showed the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

Despite the abundant science-backed evidence that has led the hard anti-sugar message into mainstream belief that is a far cry from mere conspiratorial connotations, there are individuals, including diet and fitness experts, who still scoff at the anti-sugar message.

They say people’s gullibility supports Lustig’s lucrative endeavours. I say it’s time one starts resisting Big Food. It’s far more insidious than Big Tobacco ever was. And the victims are far younger.


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The sugar story #1 — sugar is a toxin

The ‘barren’ sugars

As a steady diet, white sugar is worse than nothing, according to William Duffy back in 1986.

His book Sugar Blues refers to sailors in a 1793 shipwreck that was carrying a cargo of sugar. The five surviving sailors tried to sustain themselves by eating only that and drinking rum. They were found nine days later in a surprisingly wasted condition due to starvation.


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Sugar-loaded but tastes so good….. my sandwich sponge cake with freshly-whipped double cream and store-bought strawberry jam.

About a decade before Duffy’s call to be wary of sugar, British professor John Yudkin had tried ardently to alert the public of sugar’s harmful effects. But his attempts failed, he was disparaged for his life work.

“Science fiction”

Pure, White and Deadly (1972), which he wrote upon retirement, was largely derided and dismissed by a sugar research organisation as “science fiction”.

One can only imagine his anguish over the ruin of his professional reputation before he died in 1975, not knowing that his work will one day be cited as the foundation for the anti-sugar message.

The man who resurrected Pure, White and Deadly, now in print again, is Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at the University of California.

In his ground-breaking University of California lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, which went viral after its posting on Youtube, he said: “Everything this man said in 1972 was the God’s honest truth and if you want to read a true prophecy you find this book… I’m telling you every single thing this guy said has come to pass. I’m in awe.”

Professor Lustig’s strong message has been accepted as the catalyst for the anti-sugar movement. It calls for sugar to be treated as a toxin, like alcohol and tobacco, and for sugar-laden foods to be taxed, labelled with health warnings and banned for anyone under 18, just like the way other alcohol or tobacco are treated.

Lustig does not believe that sugar merely makes a person pile on fat; backed by increasing scientific evidence, he is convinced it is the cause of several chronic and very common illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And sugar is highly addictive too, he warns. More on Lustig’s message in a later post.


In recent times, watchdog groups have been keeping tabs on the latest scientific developments of what sugar in its various forms does to us. Nutrition and fitness writers, among others, are raising global awareness of the bad effects of sugar. Particularly of sucrose (white or brown beet or cane sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which is commonly added to processed food and drinks.

Across nations, sugar consumption has tripled in the past 50 years though the population has but doubled.

Over-consumption of sugar has typically been among the factors associated with obesity, which first caused concerns in the 20th century. Previously associated with the Western world, obesity is now prevalent in countries like China and India.

It became such a health hazard that in 1997 the World Health Organization recognised the condition as a global epidemic. In 2013, the Global Burden of Disease Study found that over the past three decades, there have been a “startling” increase in rates of obesity worldwide.

It is associated with several metabolic abnormalities, including insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which are key factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The chronic and deadly diseases linked to obesity and the resultant loss of lives and productivity as well as wasted medical expenses, have exerted a heavy toll on healthcare systems in many countries.

In Australia, where about six in 10 adults are overweight, the Diabetic Health Clinic describes the issues surrounding the obesity epidemic as similar to those that have surrounded the tobacco industry. It recognises that sugar, too, can become a “substance of abuse”.

It points to the food industry’s production of addictive processed foods, packaged and displayed appealingly on supermarket shelves as healthy choices.

In the Netherlands, obesity has doubled over the last two decades and more than half of Dutch adults are overweight. Its capital Amsterdam, where the sale and use of classified soft drugs in coffee shops will generally not attract prosecution, the head of the capital’s health service weighed in on an official website that “the most dangerous drug of the times can still be easily acquired everywhere”.

In the UK, obesity rates are 10 times what they were when Yudkin’s anti-sugar book was out four decades ago. The health department ruled out a sugar tax as experience showed that even steep increases on sugary food did not lead to meaningful behaviour change, only further saddling poor families, used to sugary foods, with raised bills.

In March this year, the chancellor announced that a sugar tax will be imposed on the soft drinks industry. TV chef Jamie Oliver was among the campaigners making a case against sugar in the fight against childhood obesity. But others against the tax believe it will not reduce sugar consumption and instead will add to the food bill of the poor.

Other countries that have introduced targeted tax measures on sugar include the US, Mexico, Denmark, France, Norway and South Africa.

United Nations figures have shown there are a third more obese people than undernourished people in the world. The European Commission has reported that taxes on sugar, salt or fat do lessen consumption. But it warned that higher taxes may cause people to circumvent the taxation by buying cheaper brands.


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‘Babi Pong Teh’

A fragrant Peranakan dish of fatty pork with cinnamon, shallots and fermented soybean.

babi pong teh

Babi Pong Teh tastes better overnight and freezes very well too.

Pork belly cuts taste best but I make it healthier by mixing in lean meat and lots of bamboo shoots — the canned type, which needs no preparation, unlike fresh bamboo shoots, which can have an overpowering smell.

I like it with a strong-tasting salad such as arugula or rocket leaves, and green chillies, traditionally broken, not sliced. Eaten with rice or bread.

babi pong teh.jpg 3Ingredients: About 1.5 kg meat; 2 handfuls or more of shallots (the more the better), sliced; 1 rounded tablespoon minced garlic; 4 tablespoons of thick, good-quality dark soy sauce; 5 rounded tablespoons preserved soy bean, mashed; 1 or 2 tins of bamboo shoots; 1 level tablespoon sugar (I used lumps of organic brown sugar); 1 level tablespoon cinnamon powder.

babi pong teh2 babi pong teh.jpg 2  Method: Heat 6 tablespoons of oil in wok; when oil smokes, fry shallots till soft and fragrant. Add preserved soybean, fry for a minute.  Add garlic, fry till fragrant. Lastly, add the cinnamon powder. Keep to medium-low heat throughout.

Turn up heat, add pork and fry till surfaces are sealed. Add enough water to cover meat, bring contents to a boil. Then simmer, covered, for 1 hour; 1 1/2 hrs if you like the meat tender. For less crunchy bamboo shoots, add into the wok a good 30 minutes before the dish is ready.

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