The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hailstones at the Equator.

Kuala Lumpur is not far from the Equator. It is bathed in perpetual sun and is never less than sweltering. It is the last place one would expect to see ice. Yet, yesterday, that is exactly what I saw: hailstones falling from the sky.

I heard a rattle on the rooftop, outside my bedroom window late yesterday afternoon. I had just come upstairs and the last thing I expected to hear was the sound of solid objects hitting a solid roof. I looked outside and could not believe what I saw: there were hailstones melting on the roof and new ones bouncing off it, in a rapid machine gun rattle. It was the most unexpected weather phenomenon one could possibly have, in Malaysia, of all places.

I asked Fintan to go get a camera, and tried to photograph it, but the results were disappointing and did not capture what my eyes saw: the gloom required a flash and the flash reflected off the window in between obscuring vision.

Well, I spent the next half an hour watching ice fall from the skies, though the temperature outside was, no doubt, in the thirties (degrees centigrade). How bizarre.

The ice melted very quickly and became a stream gushing off the roof - but it lasted long enough to see what it was. Most of the hailstones were only about a centimetre or less in diameter, but a few were much bigger - perhaps two or more centimetres. These ones lasted quite a long time.

I know I have written of the weather recently and I didn't really want to do so again, so soon - but I felt that this strange day had to be marked by a post - because I have never seen weather so odd in all my time near the Equator (about a decade). So, the day had to be marked with a post: the day that hail fell beneath the Equatorial Sun.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:40 PM  7 comments

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The elasticity of time and space.

It is a little known fact, that Malaysian taxis are, in fact, time machines. They are able to stretch and compress time and space, at will. All you have to do, to show this, is to book a cab...and then very strange journeys become possible.

The other day, I had the chance to test the time travelling properties of a Malaysian taxi. We made the same journey between the same two end points, in two different taxis, in two different circumstances. The results could not have been more different. On the outward journey, the meter was running. This journey took a LONG time. The total cost for the journey was 11 Ringgits.

Now, here is the interesting part. On the way back, I had to use a "government controlled" pre-paid taxi service. This is a curiously Malaysian inconvenience in which one has to pay for the taxi in advance. The most inconvenient part about this is that, invariably, the fares are much higher than they should be. Somewhere along the line I see "government tax" written all over this service. I was charged 14 Ringgits 50 cents for my pre-paid ticket. Now, imagine my surprise when the return journey took about ONE THIRD of the time of the outward bound journey. When the driver was not working on the meter, but was working for a prepaid amount, he took the shortest route back. That route happened to be three times shorter than the outward journey. However, note it was more expensive than the longer route, owing to the price gouging of the government controlled taxi service.

So, the lesson here is that, often, a Malaysian driver will only take the optimal route if he is on a fixed sum for the journey. If the journey is on a meter he will invent the longest route possible. We "enjoyed" one fine example of this phenomenon once, when we took a cab to a new place we had never been to before. The journey distance was about 17 and a half kilometres. We thought it rather far but had no idea how far it should be - so we duly paid the driver. On our way back, we had a different cab driver. Guess what the journey distance was? Just over four kilometres. We were appalled to see by how much we had been conned.

Malaysia is a beautiful country - but it suffers from poor transport infrastructure. One of the poorest aspects of that infrastructure, is the presence of dishonest drivers. There are just too many drivers willing to take a foreigner, like me, on a scenic tour of KL every time we want to pop down the road. Mind you, this is not a uniquely Malaysian problem since I was sometimes cheated in this way, in Singapore, too. Yet, not all drivers are dishonest. It is because of the honest ones that I get the chance to make route comparisons and come to realize when I have been conned...though usually too late to do anything about it.

So, if you are visiting Malaysia, just remember this: the cab you get into might just be a time machine, and the journey length could be anything up to four or five times the correct length. The best bet is to have checked a map first, so that you know where to go and how long it should take. Then make it clear to the driver that you know what's what: only then can you be sure of not being cheated in a Malaysian taxi. Happy travelling!

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:17 PM  8 comments

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A land of elemental weather.

A couple of days ago, I got to learn the real meaning of "weather". It is not the meaning Europeans customarily know.

We were in a shopping centre and had just about finished up, when we heard the rain outside. It was not rain as you might think of rain, if you have never been to this part of the world. It was rain times a hundred. It was an absolute deluge.

We called a cab, but we couldn't get one.

We went outside to wait, under the shelter of an overhanging roof. Beyond the roof, the world seemed a dark grey, with every line blurred into a ghostly haziness.

Fortunately, a taxi arrived to drop someone off. One of the staff from the shopping centre got him to wait for us to approach.

Unusually, the driver helped us pack our bags into the back of the taxi.

Then there began one of the most bizarre taxi rides we have ever had. Though it had only been raining perhaps some ten minutes, the water was deep in the roads - many inches deep, perhaps a foot in places. As the car cut through it, a wall of spray shot up on both sides of us, about six feet high. Every time a car past us, at any speed, an avalanche of water would land on the taxi, obscuring the windows and making the driver temporarily unable to see anything on the road at all. The windscreen wipers fought back bravely...but they were far from winning.

I did wonder if all this water would drown the engine. Fortunately, though it was not quite deep enough to do that.

"We could almost do with a boat." I remarked, on seeing the depth of water ahead of us.

No-one said anything. I think at times like this, there is nothing more important to focus on than nature herself.

Then came the most bizarre moment of all. The taxi driver slowed, not because he saw anything ahead, but because he couldn't see anything ahead. The rain was so heavy, the skies so grey, vision so blurred that it was impossible to see why what was happening was happening. Cars were coming the wrong way down the road. They were turning around up ahead, driving back, then turning off onto the road to our left.

"They are all turning left." said the driver, a bit obviously, but with a strange puzzlement in his voice, since he was unable to see why.

Then there was a stirring in the wind, ahead. We could just make out the outline of a fully grown tree laying across the whole of the road ahead. No wonder they were turning around and coming back. The whole road was completely blocked.

"That could have killed someone..." I remarked unnecessarily, on noting no car beneath it, "and still could, since it is so difficult to see."

No one said anything. I think, by now, everyone was focussed on just getting through this incredible weather in one piece.

The driver turned left, onto the side road, like everyone else and drove us slowly to our destination...or should I say floated us to our destination.

It was the sheer suddenness of the weather that made it so surprising. When we went into the shopping centre, it was a hot sunny afternoon. When we came out, it was in the midst of a downpour unlike anything Europe has ever seen. Bright skies, had become dark grey - and within minutes, a huge tree that had stood no doubt for many decades, had fallen across our road home. It was quite surreal, and more than a tad dangerous, for visibility was measured in metres and every driver on that road was partially blind.

We made it home, however. A nice touch was that the driver got out of the cab, to help us with our shopping. Thanks to "John Ng", for his careful driving in such elemental weather.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:13 AM  6 comments

Monday, March 22, 2010

Too sweet to eat.

I had an unexpected experience, yesterday, in a Malaysian restaurant. It was called dessert.

I enquired as to one of my favourite deserts, from Singapore, with the waitress.

"Do you have Pulut Hitam?" I asked.

She shook her head. Then said something rapidly in Malay to my wife.

"It is a banana based dessert", my wife explained to me. "It should be nice."

I agreed to try it.

A few minutes later a yellow opaque soupy dish arrived. Floating in it, were some pieces of broken banana. I scooped one out and placed it in my mouth.

Ouch. It was almost so sweet, it hurt. The flavour was one of the most intense I had ever tasted. It really was trying too hard to call attention to itself. I decided to persevere, to see if it would get any better. However, three mouthfuls later, I had to give up. All that sweetness was making me feel queasy. It was simply too sweet to eat.

Yet, I understand, such excessively sweet desserts are normal in Malaysia. The country has the sweetest tooth, as a people, I have encountered. Everything seems to have sugar on it. It is both bizarre - and, in some ways, unpleasant. You see, the natural flavours of quite wholesome foods, tend to get lost in all the sugar that is thrown on them.

Interestingly, I have heard ads on the radio, recently, for an eat less sugar campaign. The ads claim that less sugar means better health. Now, of all the countries I have ever visited Malaysia certainly needs a less sugar campaign. They could start with the restaurant I ate at yesterday.

Anthropologically, I find this aspect of Malaysia interesting. For it shows that a nation can become accustomed to quite unpleasant degrees of excessive flavouring and not only see it as NORMAL - but seek it out, in preference to more normally (from the point of view of the rest of the world) made foods. Somewhere, along the line, Malysians fell in love with sugar. They have done so to such an extent, that some local foods could be construed as a hazard to foreigners...because they are shockingly sweet.

Anyway, I left three quarters of the dessert uneaten on my table, yesterday. This is not normal for me, since I usually eat whatever dessert I choose (since I rather like them!). Yesterday, however, the dessert was truly unbearable. However, it taught me a lesson: the only desserts I am going to eat, from now on, in Malaysia, are ones we make at home. It is a kind of culinary suicide to eat the desserts in Malaysian restaurants, if you are a foreigner and not used to such sweetness.

In a way, I suppose this situation is good: I might lose some weight, by avoiding the more sugary foods. It does occur to me, however, that no-one who had not experienced the dessert I ate yesterday, would know quite how sweet it was. It was the first time in my life, in which the sweetness could be described as noxious. It simply made me feel unwell to eat it. I suppose, unless you have experienced it, it might be difficult to imagine how sweetness can be like that...but it was. I wouldn't recommend it.

So, if you ever visit have been warned about the desserts. The main courses, however, are a different matter and can be rather tasty. Happy eating!

(By the way, one reason why there might be so much sugar in Malaysian food, is that it is subsidized and very cheap. That should go for a start.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:17 PM  8 comments

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