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!


Unknown said...

Stumbled on your blog, walked through it and like many things here - dogs, trees, orang asli, the issues raised, the devotion and discipline in the writing - all the daily details and service chores told matter-of-factly which most people I imagine me included would think not worth writing about and yet in your hand has come out as meaningful, almost spiritual but written in a controlled and non=assuming manner.

More people should come and appreciate the abundance of humanity to be found here. But I suppose your social network must have shown you the appreciation which is somewhat missing here.

Just a word of appreciation from a fellow blogger.

Pat said...

Zaharan suggested that I visit this post, saying that I would like it.

And I did.

Don McLean's line perfectly sums up this post. To say it was a 'rough week', pure understatement.

Anything I say regarding your writing would seem crass and patronising, so let me just say you have a gift: for drawing in your reader and transporting her into your world, feeling your feelings, hurting your hurts, sighing your sighs.

I thought I loved animals. But your love for them is proven by your dedication and singlemindedness that puts what I call 'love' to shame.

I simply love your calling your folks' place the 'parental home'; and is 'bachelors living quarters' your place, or some place in the SPCA?

And your car's 'Battletank'? That's so cool! I wonder, could it be an old Volvo 240? I had one. Called her Helga. Note the past tense: My son killed her one night.

Let me just end by saying that I loved living in your post - and that I would like to return soon.



You know what the word verification for this comment is? d-u-c-k-i-e! The universe speaks!!!

Unknown said...

PAT: Read your comment. It is even more perceptive and appreciative than mine! You are a good befriender alright. I know I can rely on your support when I need it. There are many good bloggers out there who deserve more attention and I think she is one of them.

PAT wrote to me:

"What a gifted writer. I think there is a book or two or three in her. Her pathos and voice is unbelievable strong. I was mesmerised from the first words.

If you're friends with her, let her know this. I felt it was too forward to say it in my first comment. Patronising even. So I just said how and why I loved reading her."

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you so much, Abang Zaharan and Patricia! I am much obliged for your kind words and encouragement.

This is my secondary blog. My first one, created in 2002, is still updated as regularly as this one and has a network of readers, but contains too much personal info and is therefore a Friends-Only blog.

This is just a forum for me to post my letters to the editor, write-ups, trip reports and weekend ramblings. I am touched by and grateful for your support.

Many thanks,
Ee Lynn.