It’s been a while since I read a book from cover to cover, and I have to admit this one kept me hooked to the pages, always wanting more, even at the very end.
Considering that it is but a simple tale of an equanimous and plucky puss with his master, you would scoff at how riveted I was to this story. I must confess everything about this book resonated deeply with me, being a cat lover myself. Yes, I said it – I’m an ailurophile.
It’s not that I dislike dogs and other popular pet animals; it’s just that cats and me, we just tend to be on the same wavelength. Oh, and cats are simply super adorable, so that helps.
But back to the book at hand.
When I use the word simple, I mean it in the purest and most literal sense – the translated writing is an unassuming, uncomplicated prose that draws the reader in and takes us on a road trip through a magical land.
Except there is no magic involved, at least not the high fantasy, otherworldly and vividly colourful type magic. But the story definitely binds you with a spell.
In gentle words and soft treads belonging to a cat lover, Ms. Arikawa navigates the idyllic cities and countrysides of Japan through the eyes of the protagonist – a stray cat named Nana.
Yes, you read that correctly. The cat is a male. Named Nana. Yes, like what you would call your granny. Maybe you should go call her now, it’s been a while.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles starts off like any other romance novel – cat meets boy, boy likes cat, love ensues, and they lived happily ever after, dancing away into the sunset. Don’t worry, no spoiler alert necessary, I’m being a little facetious here in case you didn’t notice. But I’m not pulling your leg when I say this is a love story. A simple love story between a cat and a man, and their travels around the world.
The calm pace of the story, the tranquil descriptions of the world they occupy, the interaction of humans and pets and nature – and there is hint of something more. Surely there must be something underneath it all?
I must say though, Nana’s owner, Mr. Satoru, is clearly one of those guys that only exist in fiction, those too-good-to-be-true, heart-of-pure-gold type characters. Calm and conscientious, providing pure, unadulterated love and care for his one and only cat. Sure, he does show hint of a tiny flaw here and there, but really the truly relatable character is the cat.
And I must say, the author really pinned a cat’s thoughts and behaviour down to a hair! Everything Nana says (or at least thinks or expresses in cat language) and does is precisely something an actual cat would do, with motives not altogether far-fetched from an actual feisty feline.
Nana is the entertainer, the comic relief, the one who says what he thinks and does what he wants. The snake, the charmer, the genie – all in one. His wish is his command.
Now although I use words like ‘simple’ and ‘tranquil’ and ‘discombobulate’, this story is by no means without heart and emotion. All the characters are grounded and face real-world problems with believable backstories. All have suffered in some way, such that it would be impossible for readers not to relate to the characters on some level. And when you think everything is hunky-dory, the peaceful plot bats you off the ledge with a left hook you thought you saw coming but it’s too late you’re sobbing through your black eye and now you realise you want a cat so bad.
I’m kidding – it’s certainly not a heavy book, no War and Peace, no Grapes of Wrath, and definitely no crying involved. At least not by the reader.
All this because of a cat.
To say I was deeply touched by this book would be like saying Disney made some nice cartoons. I went into it thinking it would be a mildly droll tale, and then bam! Curiosity killed the cat. Not literally, of course. No animals, fictional or otherwise, were harmed in the making of this review. And the original story. I think. Oh wait, there was that accident.
This book didn’t just make me reminisce my cat or dream about travelling to Japan, it made me marvel at how our sweetest little companions can bring people together, can make worlds collide or come crashing down, and how sad it would be for someone to have never known the pure, unconditional love that an animal can give.
I daresay this love story could rival any of those top romance dramas out there, as the love a human has for their pet can rival and outshine the love one feels for another human being.
Perhaps I’m being melodramatic, or perhaps you simply haven’t known the true extent and depth with which a human can love and bond and care for his or her soul animal, loyal companion and unwavering friend, and how said animal can return that love.
But animals cannot possibly fathom the depth or intricacies of love that we humans experience, you might say.
I know not what deep or profound love it is you speak of, except that of two souls travelling together through life in harmony, caring for each other despite their differences. A simple bond, a simple love. What more do you want? What more do you need?
Cats recite the poetry of nature, dogs sing the songs of the earth and sky, and do I sound like furry now or what?
You know, I’ve never been certain what this whole furry movement is about, but I damn sure ain’t talking about that kind of animal love, mmkay?
All this because of a cat.
Anyway, kudos if you got this far. My review has almost turned into a bit of tale itself. If you like pets and animals, go read the book. If you don’t, then…go read the book and you might find you’re missing out on something.
Reading scientific papers and journals may seem like a daunting thing, what with the big walls of text and scientific jargon. But don’t be put off – it’s not as scary as it seems! Let’s break down some scientific papers, shall we?
Please note that the material below is borrowed from official sources and I do not lay claim to any of it. Also, the explanations below are merely my own views and interpretations and should not be taken in lieu of professional medical opinion and consultation.
Below are excerpts from a paper published by a group in Beijing on their methods of isolating and inactivating their chosen strain of the Covid-19 virus. For the actual paper, please go to this Science journal page.
Firstly, every scientific paper begins with an Abstract section. This Abstract is a convenient summary of the entire paper.
Imagine you’re reading a novel, and at the start of the book is a full synopsis of the novel you are about to read! So now you know what the whole novel’s story is about, and you only need to read the actual novel if you want the nitty-gritty, raunchy details.
So this paper is about how this group of biotech scientists in Beijing, China isolated a particular strain of the Covid-19 virus, and proceeded to inactivate and replicate it to test whether it produced an immune response in live animals (mice and macaques).
Firstly, they explain how they selected the strain of the virus (because like any organism, there are variants and mutations which creates different versions of the organism). They chose one of the more commonly occurring strains of the Covid-19 virus, CN2.
They then went about inactivating the virus so that it would still appear to be a live virus that would generate an immune response in the host, but not actually cause the illness and have the full detrimental effects that a regular Covid-19 virus would.
For the viral inactivation, the group used a substance called β-Propiolactone. This substance is an organic compound of the lactone family. It is described as a colorless liquid with a slightly sweet odour, and is highly soluble in water and miscible with ethanol, acetone, diethyl ether and chloroform.
Here is what the compound looks like:
β-Propiolactone is an excellent sterilizing and sporicidal agent, which means it is great at killing micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi.
However, it has been found to cause cancer, so although it was once widely produced as an intermediate in the production of other chemical compounds like acrylic acid and its esters, these days it is not heavily produced.
After they used this chemical to power down the Covid-19 virus, they gave it to a few groups of mice and measured the level of Covid-19 antibodies that these mice produced over time.
The Sham group refers to those mice that were not given any virus and used as a control group.
A significant difference was observed, which is what the scientists wanted to see, and so they continued pumping the inactivated Covid-19 virus into animals that more closely resembled humans – primates like the macaque.
Random aside: a species of Malaysian macaques have been observed devouring rats! Here is the article. Be warned: graphic imagery within.
They actually ate so many that they saved the palm plantations from have to exterminate the rats.
These pig-tailed macaques had previously been considered a pest themselves as they do also eat palm oil fruits, but now they’re all good because they saved the companies pest control money.
Anyway, aside over.
And so the scientists pumped the virus into a few groups of Rhesus macaques, and monitored their Covid-19 antibody levels over time.
And to further confirm their tests, the scientists also took lung tissue samples from the macaques after injecting them with the actual Covid-19 virus. This is called the “challenge”.
So the results look promising! The vaccine caused a significant spike in Covid-19 antibodies in the macaques, and after challenge with the actual virus the group that had received the vaccine fared much better and did not exhibit full pneumonia that the control groups experienced.
As a final measure, the group performed multiple vaccinations on some more macaques just to see if the vaccine itself caused any issues. They pumped the vaccine three times at two week intervals.
Below are the results:
In order to show that the vaccine is safe, the scientists monitored a number of immune compounds in the macaques, namely cytokines. They also took samples of their lung tissue.
Cytokines are a class of little proteins in our bodies that our cells release in order to talk to each other, especially with regards to cell development and fighting off pathogens through inflammation and calling in defenses.
Basically, all you need to know is that when your body is responding to invading baddies like bacteria and viruses, your cells will release cytokines, so if cytokine levels go up, that means you’re preparing for battle!
This study found that cytokine levels didn’t go up with a few vaccine shots, and the lungs were all normal, suggesting that the vaccine is safe for use!
So the take-home message from all this is that there is a promising Covid-19 vaccine (at least for this specific strain that originated in China) and it works on our primate friends. This means they can start human trials now.
Human trials will take a block of time though, so don’t expect it anytime soon. But there is definitely hope for a vaccine.
I hope you found this Covid-19 vaccine study explanation useful and insightful. Feel free to post any questions you may have in the comment below!
Perhaps I should have started this years ago, having made the decision to return to my roots, having changed my country of residence several years back. My continent of residence, I should say.
Yes, I’m currently residing in Asia.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
I had a somewhat variegated upbringing, being schooled in both Asia and Australia. This is clearly something quite commonplace in this day and age, but mine wasn’t just foreign exchange – I went back and forth, spending a chunk here and a chunk there.
Was it confusing? Disruptive? Detrimental to my development?
I don’t think so – if anything I got the best of both worlds, in a sense.
Perhaps I’d like to think my experience is unique, having been exposed more thoroughly to both sides of the coin: eastern and western, tropical and temperate, English and Chinese, noodles and spaghetti.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time abroad and had the pleasure of experiencing different cultures and indoctrin-I mean, education systems, can attest to this. By considerable I mean anywhere from six months to a year and beyond.
Different language, different styles of education, different attitudes and mannerisms. The culture shock does make some yearn and fall back on the comforts of home, usually in the form of congregating with those of the same background. Foreign student clubs and unions, study groups, living quarters.
I had that to some extent – I mingled largely with the familiar crowd, the minority, those with the same roots and ethnicity, even if they may not think or speak the same way as my original Asian brethren. It was close enough and as good as it got.
So background aside, I eventually made my way back to where I am now – in Asia. South-East Asia, to be precise (clearly still super vague – I’m being facetious).
What is it like being back here, seeing what you’ve seen? Knowing what you know? For those of you who have lived abroad and come back to your home country or to the same vicinity, how did you feel when you first returned?
Clearly everyone’s experience is non-identical and distinct. Many report feeling disenfranchised, like an outsider, hints of racism, but also feeling warmth and kindness and something they would never have found at home.
Yes, I admit on some level, I always felt like I never truly belonged. Being a minority in a country has its effects, not just in the pervasive racial undertones from external parties, but even internally within our own communities, our Asian gangs and gatherings (I use the term “gang” in a jocular sense – we didn’t actually go around extorting protection money).
I spoke and wrote the language, just as well as any of the born-and-bred locals (I’d like to think). Perhaps not all the way to the local lingo, but if I didn’t provide any indication, just from reading this, you might not immediately guess which country I hail from.
I paid my dues and did my job and didn’t take advantage of the system, a system that hands out freebies to the impoverished and needy, an imperfect system but one that tries to provide a standard level of care for all. It wasn’t a bad or poor system by any means, although rigid and unyielding in some ways. There was support and benefits, and for the most part people tried to be civil and kind toward me and each other.
Being back in Asia I see the disparities, how different things are, a comparison across the board. Some things are better, some are worse, pros and cons.
Recently I visited the equivalent of the slums here in Asia.
Think high density and small living spaces. Like Hong Kong, but not nearly as bad.
The first thing that hits you is the smell.
There was more than rain pouring down from the skies.
Slums exist almost everywhere in the world, I imagine. But seeing it in your own hometown still comes as a shock. Seeing the living conditions and meeting the people there is a sobering wake-up call.
And unlike Australia, the local government here doesn’t give so many handouts to these folk. Not to say they are entirely disregarded – there are institutes that care for the families and senior citizens that reside in these government built apartments.
What struck me (apart from the rubbish raining down) was the way of life of the people staying there, their outlook and attitudes. Almost like a caste system, mentally resigned to their fate, prisoners in their own minds.
For a lot of these people, there is no way out, no escape from their situation, no saviour or redemption or change. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. The only way out is wrapped in a blanket or tarp.
And they will continue to subsist like this, day in day out.
And now in lockdown, they see no way of earning an income. Again, there is no way out. And so they wait – either for handouts, or for the sweet release of death.
Of course there are such places in Australia and other countries in the world, and the way they are treated and regarded is probably not so different.
At the very least, they tend to be more concerned about smells. Or it could just be the climate that enhances it.
Did you know that you smell better in a moister environment?
I imagine the parallel of reality and video game life is nothing new, most likely hackneyed. To be fair, our creations tend to mimic our inspiration and our every-day reality. And this means our games and entertainment reflect on our real world status – that our entire life and existence is just one sidequest after another.
Think about it – what do you do every day, day after day? Wake up, check your quest statuses, fill up on energy, finish some simple sidequests, like make coffee, brush your teeth and make the bed. Then you start work on some of the longer sidequests, like gain skills, earn money, help NPCs (those other people that just stand around all day waiting to talk).
Our hobbies are a whole subcategory of sidequests, designed to distract us from the main quest. Oh, there’s a main quest? What is it?
Not dying, I suppose.
You spend your whole life gaining EXP and levelling up skills and traits, so in the end you can…what? Make little you’s and give them the tools and guidance they need to not die in the coming Apocalypse?
We speak of progress, the progress of the human race. Reaching the stars and distant planets, so we can…what? Mine them for fish and gold and resources to continue exploring more places to multiply and pillage? What next?
Each sidequest is a means to gain or unlock another sidequest. We earn money completing sidequests so we can unlock new equipment or fast travel to different places.
Sure, we have fun and enjoy the journey. Some sidequests are definitely more fun than others. And each day some sidequests are just repeats of slaying the same rats and collecting the same berries over and over again.
Sure, each day is different from the past, although some may feel like someone hit the reset button and Groundhog Day-ed you. And so the sidequests change, ever so slightly.
Each day we have a list of sidequests, a mission to complete. If we don’t have a list of sidequests, or don’t manage to complete any, we call it “unproductive”.
When we get sick, when we get depressed, our sidequests get put on hold, to make way for easier, simpler sidequests. Just surviving, slowly healing. Breathing becomes a sidequest.
And so as we click and swipe away on our devices, sending electrical signals through conduits to databases of steel and electricity, what are we achieving?
Completing more sidequests, even faster than ever before. Getting that dose of dopamine, that hint of happiness, just by looking down and touching a piece of glass.
And so we do it more – sidequests on our device. We do sidequests with our friends, with anonymous people online. We make digital transactions, exchange numbers, increase virtual stats, trade bits and bytes.
Whatever makes us happy.
So at the end of it, we don’t die.
Is there meaning in our sidequests? What do these sidequests achieve? What do they add up to?
What is our main quest?
Save the princess? Prevent Doomsday? Kill the evil dictator? Get the highest score in the world?
We live in a world where we have a new wave of sidequests to distract us constantly, right in the palm of our hands. Is it better or worse than it used to be? Who can say?
At the end of the day, we’re just doing what our ancestors did, day after day – complete sidequests to not die.
Is that a depressing thought? Or a comforting one?
Do we keep going through the sidequest loop day after day, distracting ourselves with one sidequest after another, because we know that if we complete the main quest, the game will end?
If we complete our main quest, the story is over, our meaning for existence is gone, the credits roll.
Or will it signify the start of another adventure, a whole new main quest? Maybe that thought is even scarier and daunting.
If all we ever do can be summarised in our stat page, would we be happy with what we see?
Your Lifetime Stats
Rats killed: 35
Roaches killed: 128
Video games completed: 46
Distance travelled: 11,578 km
NPCs interacted: 589
Sidequests completed: 2,195
If life were but a game, what stats would you be interested to see?
Hopefully your life’s sidequests add up to something significant, something worthy of a video game.
Maybe you’ve even discovered your main quest. If so, stop distracting yourself with sidequests and go complete that main quest. After you’ve levelled up enough from the sidequests, of course.
Today is meme day! And a real artsy fartsy one, at that!
Hijacking a friend’s hilarious doggo meme to reflect how I feel about my ludicrous cartoons.
Maybe it’s time to draw less cutesy cartoony stuff, and focus more on…still life.
You know, I hear people make a good living drawing nudes. And not just regular nudes, but the real wacky, nigh unimaginable stuff. Basically stuff you couldn’t possibly recreate in real life. I guess that’s what art is all about!
Yay, art majors are relevant now! Fulfill the human fantasy!
I…think I’m just going to stick with memes.
Anyway, why don’t you go and check out that amazing doggo (a Samoyed breed, by the way) on its own Instagram page?
Oh and here’s the template if you want to make some memes: