Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Day The Music Died

"I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died."

-Don McLean, "American Pie"

The past week has been another rough one for us here at the Bachelor Officers' Quarters. One of Jake's best friends collapsed and died of a heart attack on Monday (18th August). K.'s demise came as a shock to everyone and has affected Jake very badly. What made it even more difficult to come to terms with K.'s death is that he had just gotten married last month. Jake had attended his wedding in Ipoh, and Jess and I had viewed the happy photos of the handsome groom and his posse posing in their turbans outside the Sikh temple. K. passed away a day shy of the one-month anniversary of his wedding. I am filled with sorrow at the thought of his grieving bride. As they say, only the good die young. I can offer Jake little comfort at a time like this, and hope that time heals his wounds.

Career-wise, I can tell my time with this firm is up. I've come up against a brick wall. It's time for me to move on to an organisation where I can concentrate on making the most of my strengths and producing results.

I have to leave for the Asia for Animals Conference in Bali today, but my application for paid annual leave had not been approved, probably on grounds that the department is severely shorthanded and because the Partner in my department will be taking leave at the same time. I had submitted my application for paid annual leave 3 weeks in advance and had worked late every night to make sure deadlines were met. Sure sounds like a lot of effort just to have 4 days off, but I was still denied my paid leave. Under Industrial Relations law, if I were to go on leave for 2 consecutive days without the required approval, my employment can be terminated without notice and I would not have any claim to backpay, wages and other forms of compensation. The only thing I could do was to tender a seven-day notice of resignation, and then exercise my right to use a few days of my remaining paid annual leave during the notice period.

I tendered my resignation yesterday, which was also effectively my last day. I didn't know if I would be missed. The bosses were less than pleased of course, but they had clients with them in the office the entire day and did not have the opportunity to talk to me. I will probably have to see them when I return from Bali to collect my pay and the rest of my things. One of my colleagues who had contributed to the mess that I am in came up to me crying and asking for forgiveness. I don't bear grudges, so I hugged her and told her that things were going to be okay, that she was going to succeed in this firm, while I will have to seek success elsewhere. It isn't a bad firm -- although it does have its share of politics and favouritism, like most firms. I may be the only Chinese in an ethnically-homogenous firm but that wasn't the reason I was victimised. I guess you could say it was just a case of wrong timing, combined with a lack of positive communication, i.e. you only get to talk to the boss when something goes wrong.

The SPCA has offered me a part-time position in their Public Relations and Marketing Department and I will work out the terms of reference with the General Manager and Chairperson soon. I see this as a good opportunity for me to do more for the SPCA and remain to the animals that I love, while applying for other suitable positions elsewhere. Everything else I leave to providence.

The previous weekend had been another hectic one, but not as fraught with sorrow as in the previous weeks. On Saturday, 16th August 2008, I conducted Green Living-themed games for 30 boys from the Agathians Shelter, a welfare home for at-risk and disadvantaged boys, at the Kota Damansara Community Forest, as part of Freescale Electronics' corporate social responsibility project in aid of both Agathians Shelter and the Malaysian Nature Society.

I conducted two games for each session: The Green Living M&M Game and Water Savers. The boys were rowdy, impudent, undisciplined and often disrespectful. They yelled, interrupted, talked out of turn, snatched prizes, fought with one another, sulked, disobeyed instructions and either ran off with or damaged the games equipment. There were several boys who were quite helpful and enthusiastic but they were soon outnumbered by the more troubled ones who sabotaged the games.

I have been conducting children's nature camps long enough to know that I am not a poor disciplinarian and that my games are not so boring as to warrant their inattention and disobedience. Even the other volunteers and coordinators had to concede defeat and admit that these boys are really out of control.

A check with the key coordinator who had worked with Agathians Shelter before revealed to us that the boys receive very little in the way of guidance and supervision at the Shelter. When she had visited the Shelter one morning, she found the boys sitting around not doing anything productive -- not chores, or homework or hobbies. Just bumming around the house, loitering aimlessly or squabbling with one another. There are currently two female European volunteers at the Shelter, probably college students on their gap year, and they had accompanied the boys to the Community Forest for the outing on Saturday. The two girls were worse than the boys in terms of laziness and recalcitrance. They lay sprawled on the mats, refused to participate in any of the activities and did not assist the boys when they struggled to come up with their answers during the M&M Game.

"This is a good demonstration of how NOT to be a volunteer," I grumbled to Head of Services, Maye, as the lazy 'volunteers' took a nap while waiting for lunch to be served. Most young people do not have the privilege of being able to afford a gap year. Those that do should make the most of that privilege by doing as much as they can to directly aid and benefit the local community and natural environment that they come in contact with.

I was exhausted before 4 hours was up. I have handled a group of 80 children from a church before, 60 children during another event at the Community Forest, 45 children from the National Dyslexia Foundation and 20 children from the Taman Megah Home for Underprivileged and Differently-Abled Children, and I had felt nothing but satisfaction and renewed enthusiasm after the aforementioned nature camps. But these 30 boy-goblins had run me ragged, squashed 2 packets of M&Ms, fought over and broken the mechanical pencils I gave out as prizes long before they got home, and broken 8 and lost 3 out of 30 water pistols I used in the Water Savers game. Conducting any activity for these boys was turning out to be a ruinously expensive affair.

I was glad to be able to pack up my things and leave by noon. I drove my volunteer back to the train station, went back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, put Keisha in the cat carrier for her spaying appointment and went on my merry way to the SPCA.

After consulting with Dr. Pushpa, I put Keisha in a cage in the surgery with some food so she could be spayed on Sunday or Monday. I kissed Keisha goodbye and assured her that I would come and get her the following Saturday.

I went round the back to the Cattery to check on Keisha's 3 remaining kittens. Snowy has been adopted, which is very good news. Shadow and Mini-Me were still there. I bent down to take a closer look and was horrified to find that they both had nasty colds and Mini-Me had a really dreadful infection in her left eye. I inquired as to the reason the caretaker had not brought them to the vet to be checked, since I had expressly instructed the shelter staff to adminster medical treatment and inform me of the cost if any of my animals are found to be unwell during their stay at the shelter. The caretaker, Mazni, said that she thought their ailment would just run its course and go away. I was angry but held my tongue. I have never seen an illness run its course and go away at our animal shelter without taking at least ten animals with it.

I just am very glad that I had the cats vaccinated on July 9, so the kittens' chances of survival are quite high. I took my kittens out of the Cattery and brought them to Dr. Pushpa. Dr. Pushpa gave them antibiotic jabs and gave me antibiotic pills and eye ointment to administer to them daily. I put the kittens in the carrier to be brought home with me.

I assisted Rose with bathing and tickwashing the dogs before it started to rain. Soon it was time for Rose, the vets and the staff to go home, and Linda and I were left to feed the animals and clean up. Linda attended to the feeding duties while I soaped, scrubbed and disinfected the Catteries, the Maternity Kennels, the puppy cages, hospital, central area, and front reception/admin area.

A few visitors dropped by to inquire about surrendering their pets. It is tragic but due to rising costs of living, more and more people are abandoning or surrendering their pets at animal shelters. This makes me angry because this problem could have been averted if only people neutered their pets early. If they had realised that they could afford to feed two cats but not 20, why didn't they opt to neuter in the first place? I talked to them about the important of early neutering and informed them that they could save the lives of their pets by opting to neuter and thus eliminating the need to surrender or abandon their pets. I then handed out our Spay & Neuter Clinic info fliers and advised them to go home and think hard before making the decision to surrender.

I finished cleaning the shelter around 1930 hours, and proceeded to clean myself up and bring the kittens home. Tidied up the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, fed and cleaned up after the cats and went back to the parental home.

Woke up early on Sunday, 17th August 2008, as the Battletank was obstructing Dad's car and had to be re-parked. Gave Amber a bath and brushed her teeth and Cody's. Ironed my workclothes. Helped Mum prepare lunch. Cleaned the kitchen. Cleaned the parental living and dining rooms. Spring cleaned my bedroom. Read the Sunday papers. Washed the Battletank and Mum's car, mostly using rainwater and organic liquid soap. Sorted out the newspapers and other recyclables for recycling. Walked and fed Amber and Cody.

Went back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters after dinner. I was feeling quite ambivalent about my job by then. I used to be happy and productive at work, but now it's turning into a cancer. I need to get out.

During the following workweek, I diligently gave Mini-Me and Shadow their antibiotics twice daily, as advised. It wasn't easy trying to give them pills. They would hide the pills in their cheek pouches and then spit the pills out as soon as my back was turned. I then crushed the pills, mixed them with a little water and syringed the mixture carefully into the kittens' mouths. For a while, this method seemed to work.

Then on 21st August, the day after Dad's birthday, I came home from work to find Mini-Me wheezing and experiencing breathing difficulties. I realised almost immediately what had happened -- aspiration pneumonia. I must have accidentally caused her to inhale the fluid, and now there was liquid in her lungs. I felt like the worst human being alive. It was an agonising wait for morning to arrive. I did not want to bring Mini-Me to the 24-hour animal hospital, as it has a reputation for medical negligence.

I managed to get Mini-Me to my usual vet, Dr. Steven, in the morning and he immediately had her warded. Dr. Steven had Mini-Me nebulised and treated with expectorants and antibiotics. I was sad and anxious the entire day at work, and reproached myself bitterly for having caused Mini-Me harm.

Saturday seemed lightyears away. I rushed over to the clinic as soon as it was open to check on Mini-Me. She was still weak, but her condition had improved tremendously. She was no longer wheezing and she did not appear to be in any pain. My gratitude to Dr. Steven was immense. I arranged to have her boarded for the entire week that I would be in Bali, so the good vet could continue to monitor her progress and administer the necessary medication for Mini-Me's continued recovery.

I proceeded to the SPCA after saying goodbye to Mini-Me. It was about to rain when I arrived, and Rose and another volunteer, a teenage boy who has been helping out with the kennel work for the past month, were bathing and tickwashing the last of the dogs from the E and F Kennels. I hurried over to assist them and we managed to get all the dogs done before the thunderstorm began.

The storm raged for a few hours, threatening to take the shelter roof off. I put out buckets to collect the rainwater and swept the leaves and twigs out of the rain gutters to prevent blockages. Then it was time to clean the Cattery. I removed, scrubbed and disinfected all the cat baskets and litter trays before giving the cats clean bedding and litter. Then I swabbed and soaped the floor, shelves, drains and cages before rinsing everything clean and refilling the food and water bowls. Next, I cleaned the Puppy Area, followed by the Food Preparation Area and the Maternity Kennels. Our general worker Maran had let the dogs out to play so I could soap and disinfect all the cages. When I had completed that, I cleaned the front Reception/Admin area, swept the shelter office, answered a few vapid phone calls ("Hello, SPCA, what types of dogs do you have? Do you have Shih Tzu puppies?"), took out the trash, put away the broom (yes, we have only one left. They seem to have brooms for supper over there. I had to buy one and mark it with my initials to prevent it from going missing again), mop and pails, cleaned myself up, put Keisha (who is recovering well, post-spaying) in the Battletank and barrelled back home.

Back at the parental home on Saturday night. Bathed Amber and Cody/Chocky/Little Big Dog on Sunday morning. Tidied the parental home, mopped the floor and cleaned the kitchen. Went to Ganesha Illam with the parents in the afternoon. Walked Amber in the evening.

I should be excited about the Bali trip but everything is so uncertain right now. For the first time in my life, I left one job before having secured another. Somehow, I have the good feeling that I won't remain unemployed for long. I just need to know for certain that I will have a job before September is up. I need to know that Mini-Me will be okay while I am away. I need to know that the candidate of our choice will win the Permatang Pauh By-Election on 26th August. I need to know that my other babies -- Amber, Cody, Chloe, Pixie, Daisy, Halle, Keisha and Shadow-- will be fine in my absence.

Postscript: By the way, for those of my friends who are curious about the Branch Award for which I was one of the three recipients last month, you can read the citation on page 9 of our September newsletter here:
Pencinta Alam Sept 08

"Shines like a beacon"?!?!? Seriously, what were they thinking? There goes my street cred now!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Georgia On My Mind

So the Beijing Summer Olympics have begun. Who cares about the Games, there’s a war going on in Georgia. To hell with the opening ceremony! On the front page of the papers was a Georgian woman bleeding from the face and crying for help amid the rubble that was once her apartment building. To hell with the Games! Ayn Rand has got it all wrong about war. Not all people deserve the governments they get. Ayn Rand believes the ‘innocent’ should be destroyed with the ‘guilty’ in war, rather than waive one’s right to self-defense and retaliation. Bravo. So the bleeding, distraught woman on the ground is to be destroyed for being a passive supporter of her government’s decision to occupy South Ossetia. That’s Objectivism for you. Sure. Go ahead and attack the most vulnerable among us. It is mindset such as this that keeps the troops occupying South Ossetia and vindicates the bombing of apartment blocks instead of military installations.

The international community is useless. The UN could just as well stand for United Nothings. ASEAN’s ‘constructive engagement’ of Burma’s military junta did nothing more than rationalize the destruction of democracy. Nothing’s right anymore. Everything is relative. People and governments place more importance on feeling good than on doing right.

The Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony was not without its controversies either. Imagine you are seven years old and your government tells you that you are too ugly to be on stage for the Olympics. The only way the Chinese government can redeem itself now is by letting Yang Peiye sing on stage at the closing ceremony.

What a moral morass modern society is! Nothing is right anymore. Looking right has suddenly been accorded greater weight than doing the right thing. Somewhere in China, a child is robbed of her only chance of being part of the Olympics because she has a round face and slightly crooked teeth. And to think it used to be a communist country with ideas of equal opportunities and distributive justice.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

- “The Second Coming”, WB Yeats

Saturday, 9 August 2008

9th August 2008: Farewell, dear Shasta :’o(

I haven’t much progress to report on the issues of my clinical depression and Project Second Chance, except that I am off Xanax because it makes me sleep. With a workload like mine, I need something that could help me stay awake and survive on 3 hours of sleep a day, not something that would help me sleep. I could sleep at the drop of a hat because I am always so tired and unwell.

I took my skateboard out to Mayang Plaza, about 200 metres away from the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, on Friday night, to skate for 15 minutes in the hope that it would help me relax. I quit after a while because I found that my mind kept drifting back to Keisha and her kittens, who were still at the SPCA awaiting adoption.

I was at the SPCA very early on Saturday morning as I was anxious to see the cats. The rest of the kitties looked fine, but Shasta was doing quite poorly and looked really thin and gaunt compared to his siblings. His left eye, which had been swollen and rheumy even when he was still living with me, did not seem to be any better, even after all the medicine we had applied. It was worrying me but it looked as though he was losing his eyesight.

Rose arrived and we discussed the shelter animals’ chances of getting adopted. I got the tickwash and bath things ready and proceeded to bathe and medicate the dogs from Kennels G and H and the Pounds. Rose went off for a bit and I continued working solo until interrupted by Erica, a volunteer with a reputation for being pushy, needy and somewhat eccentric. I thought that she had wanted me to do her a favour again, but 4 years of working with legally insane clients have taught me patience and diplomacy, if nothing else.

“Yes, Erica, what can I do for you?” I inquired, keeping my tone pleasant. It was a good thing I did not sound irritable and unwelcome, because it turned out that Erica had seen me working through lunch and had doggie bagged some lunch for me. I was touched and grateful, and it renewed my resolve never to jump to conclusions or be gratuitously rude or impatient. I ate my lunch gratefully in the vets’ office, as the vets let me use their room whenever they are around.

Mazni, who is the shelter caretaker, called me away after lunch with the news that Shasta was having an epileptic fit. My heart sank with the news. I had suspected, after witnessing Shasta having a seizure in my home, that he has epilepsy on top of cerebellar hypoplasia, but I had hoped that it was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. The little one was in pain and bit himself, trembled violently and hurled himself against the bars of the cage, while his fearful siblings watched, uncomprehending. He soiled himself after the fit, and looked weaker and frailer than ever. My heart went out to my little fighter and I held him and tried to help him feel more comfortable.

I made up my mind to bring all the cats home with me, and after having informed Mazni of the same, I got to work cleaning the shelter. I soaped and disinfected the Cattery, the Maternity Kennels, the cooking area, the central area, the puppy cages and the front Recep/Admin area.

Around 1800 hours, I collected the cats from the Cattery at the back and got ready to bring them home. Reve persuaded me to leave Snowy, Mini-Me and Shadow in a big cage in the front area in the hopes of increasing their chances of being adopted. I agreed, on condition that the shelter staff hold on to my cats for me until I come back for them next Saturday. I told Reve of Shasta’s epilepsy and asked if she had any suggestions as to whether and how his health could improve.

Reve told me that as Shasta had multiple disabilities (progressive blindness being the latest one), it would be impossible for us to heal or help him or even give him a significantly higher quality of life. Shasta was, as I suspected, in frequent pain, especially after his epileptic fits, and would never be able to live a normal life like his siblings. I sensed as much, because he had stopped playing in the last few days. Reve asked me to consent to Shasta being put to sleep. I was overwhelmed with grief but I realized that Shasta has a very low chance of survival even if kept alive with medications. I cried and held Shasta, and Reve grieved along with me, but I finally signed the consent letter to let Shasta be put to sleep.

As I brought Keisha home, I prayed that Shasta’s soul would find peace and that I could do better by him in another lifetime. I felt so inconsolably sad and guilty that I wondered if I could ever find happiness again.

I’ve been despondent for so long that I believe there will never again be a day when I will not be sad.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

5th August 2008: Second Seahorse Data Collection Trip, 2nd – 3rd August 2008

Kar Mern and I checking on a pregnant seahorse. Note the rubbish Kar Mern picked up along the way.

Small island, lots of rubbish.
From left to right, front row, squatting/sitting: Rushan, Syazwani, Jashirinda and Ruzbih.
With back to camera: Andy Paul
Back row, standing, left to right: Kar Mern, Malini, Rushdy, Hui Min, Jashirita, me, Chee Kuang, Nik Waheeda, Bee Ni, Joyce, Jamie, Wai Tuck and Anne.

To visit my Seahorse Data Collection Trip photo album, please click HERE

August hasn’t exactly been a month of rest for me. Not that it’s news to anyone by now. Hardly a week after my return from Bangkok, I accompanied a group of 12 individuals, mostly members of the Kuala Lumpur Bar, to Johor for a Seahorse Data Collection Trip to volunteer with Save Our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia.

I had been looking forward to meeting my friends from SOS and the Malaysian Nature Society again, and I hoped that the trip to the seagrass bed would bring me relief from my constant melancholy. When disheartened and dispirited, I believe in pouring my energies into service to the community and the Planet. Organising the trip did not take much work, as Hui Min took charge of the booking and financial aspects and I merely had to take care of the registered participants.

The preparation for the trip was not without its issues. 2 weeks after our event announcement first appeared in the state Bar e-groups and forums, we received an e-mail from the port officials (I cannot go into details here or it may jeopardize the work of SOS) informing us that they have the authority to deny us access to seagrass beds. Upon conducting our due diligence with the relevant government departments, SOS project leader Chee Kuang and I learned that the aforementioned corporation has no jurisdiction over the area at all. 3 considered replies later, my guests and I were on our way to Johor for our volunteering and nature appreciation trip. I was adamant that the trip must go on, and that my guests were not harassed. I wanted at all costs for the trip to be a successful one, and would go to any lengths to ensure the safety, comfort and wellbeing of my guests.

Providence must have smiled down on us that weekend, because it turned out to be a wonderful volunteering experience for all. Except for one tardy participant who held up the entire group, the lawyers and pupils-in-chambers turned out to be a very obliging, accommodating, helpful and enthusiastic group. Friendships were formed with uncharacteristic speed and everyone looked out for one another.

Upon checking in at the Euro Hotel, we adjourned to lunch at a nearby banana leaf rice restaurant. We then proceeded in a convoy of 4 cars to the Kukup Island National Park, where we did the suspension bridge and canopy walk and then walked along the boardwalk to the mudlobster nests. We spotted Lesser Adjutant Storks, White Bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites, monitor lizards, fiddler crabs, giant mudskippers, blue-spotted mudskippers, blue crabs, volutes and all sorts of mollusks and arthropods.

We took the last boat out of Kukup Island National Park and proceeded to visit one of the floating fish farms, situated just off the coast of the National Park and in themselves hotbeds of biodiversity. The fish farmers keep marine fauna in temporary captivity in conditions almost identical to that of the fauna's natural environment to display to visitors. We saw cat sharks, bamboo sharks, prehistoric-looking oysters, sea stars, horseshoe crabs, a blue-spotted stingray, large crabs that curled up into balls and played dead when handled and volutes of all sizes and colours.
The trip participants were thrilled with the variety of flora and fauna they saw on the first day of the trip itself and were quite reluctant to return to the boats. However, dusk was falling and the participants had to admit that they were hungry and tired out by the long drive, so we returned to the Kukup Jetty by boat, retrieved our cars from the premises of the Marine Park office, and adjourned to dinner at Haji Yussuf's restaurant down the road. The food arrived on our tables fast, but being halal, was nowhere as good as the seafood from the Chinese establishments such as High King. Still, we were ravenous and demolished everything, soup, pudding and all.

The drive back to Euro Hotel was less than peaceful, because Chee Kuang, our marine biologist, kept calling every 5 minutes to see if we were anywhere near the hotel yet. Chee Kuang, his assistant Ooi, and our friends from the MNS: Serina, Mohala, Andy Paul and Serina's younger brothers Dy and Shan had been waiting for us for over 1½ hours.

Chee Kuang conducted the standard briefing on seahorse habitats and population density and on the duties of volunteers. I followed up with a quick briefing on the correspondence that had taken place between the port officials and me, and the fact that the port has no jurisdiction over the conservation site and no right to demand that we disclose our particulars to their security personnel.

I obtained everyone's verbal undertaking that they would not do anything that would give the port officials cause for complaint or a reason to detain us, and after that Hui Min distributed breakfast doggie bags to each of us, comprising fruit, buns, biscuits, a breakfast beverage carton and a Johor-style savoury hardboiled egg, as it would be too early for us to go out for breakfast the following morning.

After the participants had retired to their rooms, I went over to Old Town cafe with Chee Kuang to meet up with the others. Apparently, one of the port officials was there at the cafe earlier, as they know which hotel we normally reside in and where we normally hang out. He was probably there to eavesdrop on our conversation to see if there were any plans to commence legal action against the port for any alleged environmental offences, but that is not part of our plan for the trip. The trip participants from the State Bar are bona fide visitors on a nature appreciation and volunteering trip.

I retired to the room I shared with tenderfoot Kar Mern around midnight and was soon asleep.

I woke up at 0500 hours on Sunday morning and proceeded to make wake-up calls to the others on my cell phone. Thankfully, one or two of them were already up and using the washrooms. Kar Mern made me coffee as neither of us could survive without our first cup of joe in the morning.

We were soon our way to Pendas Jetty after an exasperating wait for the participants to get ready. I would have thought that my wake-up calls would eliminate that problem. The trouble with lawyers is that they are not often punctual. They just have more convincing excuses, often corroborated with non sequitors, to justify their tardiness.

I hurried everyone to the jetty and Serina and I made sure everyone had their lifejackets and dive boots. Our boat roared across the waters, went past the Second Link and pulled up close to the seagrass bed. Chee Kuang and I jumped into the shallow, muddy waters to pull our boat to shore. Two of my guests were nervous about jumping into what they felt was the open sea, but I demonstrated that it was quite safe to take one’s lifejacket off.

We divided the volunteers into teams and designated the areas they were supposed to comb. I saw many thorny sea cucumbers and sea snails, as I did last year, but fewer sea pens and anemone. I hope the team had taken water samples for testing for heavy metals. One of my male guests kept reporting aloud to me every 30 seconds.

"Guys," he would announce. "There is a fish here. It has blue stripes." A meaningful pause. "It's alive".
"Very good," I would approve, eyes trained on any movement among the seagrass blades.
"Guys", came announcement No. 2. "There is an anemone. It is white." Another pause. "It's alive".
This went on for at least 15 minutes. I had to exercise self-restraint not to ask him: "What, you expect to find them all dead, lacquered and price-tagged here or what?"

Overhead, the port helicopter hovered to monitor our activities. A surveillance boat from the port remained about 100 metres away but did not approach us. I asked my guests to ignore their presence and to let me do the talking if we were accosted. I will not have anyone harassing my guests and ruining an otherwise amazing trip. Thankfully, the port security people restricted their intrusion to mere surveillance and monitoring from a distance.

The team had spotted and tagged 4 seahorses and 3 alligator pipefish so far, and my guests were thrilled. They recounted to me how they spotted the seahorses and pointed out the spots where the seahorses were spotted and later, released, while I listened with a twinge of envy because I hadn't spotted one yet. They watched as the marine biologist, Ooi, tagged the seahorses with subcutaneous elastomer injections, and lamented the fact that we haven't found a pregnant specimen yet.

5 metres away, a young couple stood taking photographs of a seahorse they had found. They were not from our group, but had come on one of the fishing boats. I was surprised that other boats would have permission to bring visitors to the conservation site. I gently put the seahorse in my collection bag with a good deal of water and waited for Ooi to come over. The tide was rising fast and the water level had reached my knees. It will soon be time for us to get back to the boats before we drown. I asked the young couple to stay to have their names recorded for posterity in the data collection records and we then watched Ooi extract a baby seahorse from the male seahorse's pouch using a pipette. The purpose of this sacrifice is for genetic studies, in order that we may learn ways to help the seahorse population multiply and thrive.

The sea level was rising by the minute and the seagrass bed would soon be inundated and invisible again. We staggered our way to the boats and had to be helped back on board. The port security boat pretended to move away but in fact shadowed us to our next destination, Pulau Merambong, a Ramsar site. Pulau Merambong is a beautiful uninhabited island housing a few mysterious tombs and graves, and a great many secrets. The coast was full of rubbish brought in by the tides. I produced two packets of biodegradable garbage bags and encouraged everyone to help clean up the coast to the best of our ability.

It was sad to be reminded afresh of what a litterbug nation we are, but the participants kept their sense of humour about it and would call out to each other: "What brand of shampoo bottle did you find? I got a Rejoice and a Dove!" and "I found a bike tyre! Anyone missing a bike tyre?"

The boatmen told us that we were already running on full capacity and could not haul the rubbish back with us, but Chee Kuang assured me that he would be back tomorrow with a smaller team of volunteers to bring the rubbish back to the mainland.

We reached the jetty, clambered out of the boats and lurched our way back to our cars. Our final stop would be the SOS Research Centre. My guests were dumbfounded to find that our 'Research Centre' was a mere wooden village house with one PC, a printer, walls full of educational display materials, and 2 bedrooms with straw mats and sleeping bags for the marine biologists and volunteers. They had probably expected to see a well-staffed and well-equipped air-conditioned building. Welcome to the world of environmental activism, guys.

We took turns to shower while Chee Kuang printed out the certificates of appreciation. We had a little ceremony to hand out souvenir t-shirts and certificates of appreciation to the participants who had volunteered their Sunday in aid of the cause of marine and seahorse conservation. Chee Kuang gave me a baseball cap to add to my collection.

We returned to Euro Hotel to clean up and check out, and repaired to Old Town cafe for lunch. Waking up so early had given us appetites of enormous proportions, and some of us had seconds. I gulped down my bowl of noodles and Kar Mern's, as she was unable to finish hers. It just didn't make sense to waste food. When I die, I want to be reincarnated as a dump truck.

The drive back to Kuala Lumpur was long and tiring, although I'm afraid I was of little help to Hui Min as I fell asleep shortly after obtaining her confirmation that she did not need me to take over the driving. Arrived at the Bachelor Officers' Quarters around 1845h, greeted the cats, did the laundry and was soon on my way back to the parental home. It has been a rewarding weekend for all, and I am satisfied that we at the MNS and KL Bar Environmental Law Comm. were able to open up the eyes of at least a few members of the Bar to the wonders of nature that surround us.