Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Swing Of Things

The past week had been a good one for me where work is concerned. Work has finally started to flow in, rather than merely trickle in. I had just settled into an easy routine which allows me to perform at optimum levels. The fact that I am able to generate the same income as I used to receive by working a mere 4-6 hours a day now makes me realise how underpaid all of us poor sods were, working 12-14 hours a day in stressful conditions for a salary that no longer seems all that lucrative to me. Just when I had gotten into the swing of freelancing, I received a call from the UNHCR today (July 1), offering me the position I had thought I was no longer entitled to, because it has been a month since my last interview with them.

I am gratified, humbled and ecstatic to be offered the position of Protection Assistant, i.e. Officer for Refugee Status Determination. Of course I accepted the offer graciously, and informed them that I would be pleased to start work this month. The written test and series of interviews I had to undergo upon being shortlisted by the United Nations were the most challenging and gruelling tests I have ever had to complete, and I wasn’t certain at all that I would be selected, since I am one of the few candidates without a Masters degree in Human Rights Law or International Relations. However, I had the impression that my interviewers were quite pleased with a paper that I had produced for the Bar Council upon the request of the Legal Aid Centre in my first year of legal practice, especially when they found out that it was the result of over 6 months of outreach work in the streets and working directly with the marginalised communities.

Why, then, I was asked, did I make the choice of working with the UNHCR, when it would appear to most of my associates that I have far more experience in work related to environmental conservation and animal rights and welfare? Not many know of my involvement in legal aid work, and how passionate I am about working with disadvantaged communities. In my opinion, working with marginalised communities is not a mark of idealism, but of pragmatism. I have always believed inclusiveness to be a vital component of the development goals of any country. When we fail to protect any group or individual, what we are essentially doing is prevent them from becoming productive and involved citizens. The disenfranchised cannot contribute positively to the economic and political stability of their host or home country. When we offer protection and an opportunity to lead productive lives to the marginalised and disadvantaged, we are taking steps towards making our country stronger.

And since the UNHCR is the only intergovernmental agency with sufficient financial leverage and political mandate to make a difference in the lives of these very vulnerable people, and to assist in the repatriation and resettlement of legitimate asylum seekers, I will be proud to be working for them.

This here soldier will be reporting for duty on July 16.

Thursday, 25th June 2009: Paya Indah Impromptu Day Trip

Since my schedule is at the moment flexible enough to accommodate a day trip, I joined some of my 4x4 buddies on one of their little offroading jaunts on Thursday morning. We drove along Jalan Kebun to see the ponds where he had spotted Black-Capped Night Herons and Little Grebes. We did see some grebes, but they were too far away to be photographed, and too spooked by our presence to come any closer.

An Acacia Mangium tree full of Baya Weaver nests. They were probably all constructed by the same bird.

We made an impromptu stopover at the Paya Indah Wetlands, which used to be privately run, but is now managed by Perhilitan (Dept of Wildlife and National Parks) and is open to the public, free of charge. Looking at the magnificent and elaborate buildings and chalets for rent within the resort premises, it is not difficult to conjecture that the previous management body went into financial difficulties because they could not recover their initial capital expenditure for the mega-project. My opinion is that they should have started small, set aside their plans for the grand-looking buildings, focused on attracting day-trippers and local visitors, provided only basic and inexpensive accommodation, and only go on an expansion exercise after they have recorded returns on their initial capital outlay. But of course, no one had the good sense of engaging me as their consultant.

A free-roaming Green Peafowl strutting around the Park.

An Indian (Blue) Peafowl making his way up the Auditorium steps. I waited for him to take the mike and make his speech, but he didn’t. I was truly disappointed.

A Javan Mousedeer (Tragulus javanicus) enjoying her meal, not realising that she was being observed.

Three hippos watching me warily from the lake, just waiting for me to come closer so they could take a big bite out of me.

We also spotted a Slow Loris and countless other birds that we didn’t get to photograph. I took a walk around the park before departing for home, satisfied with all the animal sightings I made throughout the day.

Friday, 26th June 2009: Requiescat In Pace, Michael Jackson

It was on Friday morning that Jake impassively informed me of Michael Jackson’s sudden death. I was initially sceptical, as hoaxes about the deaths of celebrities are not uncommon. It took some verification and corroboration from various news channels before I was convinced that MJ was no more. My heart went out to this incredibly talented yet grossly misunderstood man whose major crime was that of being ambiguous. He was neither white nor black, neither male nor female, neither child nor man, neither straight nor gay. So we condemned him for being inscrutable.

It took a little while for the memories to come flooding back. I was born in the ‘70s, and grew up watching “America’s Top 40”. We would make our own ‘mix tapes’ by recording billboard hits from Radio 4, with one finger on the pause button. And when we ran out of blank cassettes, we would simply stick cellophane tape over the ‘boxes’ in existing audiocassettes and record fresh songs over the previous ones. We recorded everything from “Billie Jean” to “The Way You Make Me Feel”. Everybody did the “Thriller” zombie dance in kindergarten. I sang “Beat It” in front of my class at age 6. (On a more dangerous note, most of us children did the fight scene from ‘Beat It’ with bread knives and broom handles. Miraculously, nobody lost an eye). We practiced moonwalking on the living room rug. When “We Are The World” was released in 1985 and broadcast on Malaysia’s latest TV station then, TV3, I would keep my eyes peeled for The Gloved One (and I must confess, Bruce Springsteen). I would cut out pictures of Michael Jackson (and yes, the A-Team) from the Sunday entertainment pullout that we used to get back then, The Viewer (they’ve discontinued it since), and paste the pictures in my scrapbooks.

As I grew older, I discovered other music groups and genres and MJ was left in the dust. At the grand old age of 15, I actually found his music contrived and too ‘commercial’ for my growingly esoteric tastes. Contrived! I guess I haven’t discovered how good The Jackson 5 was back then. My teenage years were filled with The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.

By the time MJ came to perform in Malaysia in October 1996, only a handful of my A-Levels classmates bothered to purchase his concert tickets. It was the year of the British (Re-)Invasion. The Beatles had released an anthology, and Brit-Indie labels like Blur, Pulp and Oasis were topping the charts. College sophomores chased down underpriced Ecstasy pills with hooch and moshed to Supergrass, Space, Underworld and The Prodigy. At raucous house parties, we drank Night Train or Red-Bull-&-Gin out of mismatched coffee mugs while headbanging (and doing less innocent things) to Chumbawamba, Ash and Edwyn Collins. The Michael Jackson concert, to us, was one very much for youngsters.

It wasn’t until 2-3 years ago when I started building up my 70’s disco and motown collection that I came across The Jackson 5 and learned to love Michael Jackson all over again. I was in awe of how pitch-perfect MJ was as a young boy, and I began to appreciate all the musical genres and musically gifted individuals that I had turned my back on for a decade.

Gone at 50. So this is the child singer we had loved, and the man we had persecuted for being different, for not wanting to grow up and for preferring the company of children. As Marc Anthony says at Caesar’s funeral, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr’d with their bones.” Perhaps it is time we cast our prejudices and bitterness aside and remember the good about others, for a change.

Requiescat in Pace, King of Pop.

Saturday, 27th June 2009: SPCA Saturday

Another ordinary Saturday at the SPCA animal shelter. Rose, Wonder Boy (whose real name is Brandon) and a new female volunteer were there clipping the hair of and removing ticks from two dogs when I arrived. I pulled on my gloves, mixed a fresh batch of Tactik EC solution and joined them behind the shelter office. We groomed, shampooed and tickwashed the dogs that had just arrived. We checked with Dr Pushpa and found that the dogs in Kennels E and F had not been tickwashed, and so we adjourned to the back of the shelter to wash the dogs. The girl volunteer was in jeans and sneakers and was getting herself dreadfully drenched. Well, we all learn through experience. The first time I came to volunteer at the SPCA 13 years ago, I was in jeans and sneakers too, and squelched out soapy water all the way home.

The sky was growing progressively darker as we washed the hitherto neglected dogs from the back kennels. 3 teenage girls of Korean ethnicity who had been watching us as they played with the puppies came forward, and in halting English, offered their help. I let them wash the more docile dogs and showed them how to apply the tickwash without getting any in the dogs’ eyes, nose and mouth. It had started drizzling by the time we were washing the last of the dogs. We finished washing 32 dogs that day, and we were happy in the knowledge that the dogs would sleep better that night now that they were no longer pestered by parasites. Brandon and I brought in the dogs that were at play in the Dogs’ Playground and shut them in their kennels for the night.

The younger volunteers left the shelter and soon there was only me, Thean and Sugendran left to clean the shelter. I swept and mopped the office while Thean and Sugen gave the animals their supper. I soaped, scrubbed and disinfected the Front Office/Reception/Admin area, the Cattery, the kennels behind the office and the Maternity Kennels. We finished cleaning the entire shelter and took out the trash by 1920 hrs. I went up to the Bungalow to shower and change, and drove back to the parental home later that evening. I spent the rest of the weekend cleaning the parental home, washing their cars, minding Amber and Chocky and doing yard work. It has been another productive and fulfilling weekend.

~ CO78, Over.~


Saya... said...


Congrats! What an exciting job and a chance to make a difference eh?

Co78... the next UN Sec Gen-in-waiting!

Saya... said...

My God,

Are you superwoman or what? Just read your weekend activities...can you do my house too?

Cat-from-Sydney said...

CO78, congrats on your new job. My Mama's workplace does a lot of work among IDPs while you will be busy with refugees. You two should meet!
As for this cat, that Paya Indah Wetlands sound like a fun place. Peacocks and peafowls strutting on the grounds, eh? growl...growl...growl....

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for your kind comments, dear Saya and Cat-In Sydney!

Saya, if I were to be the next UN Sec-Gen, I had better start deleting my comments from Major's latest post, lest someone use it to blackmail me or deem me of unsuitable and disreputable character 10 years from now! Where's your house, by the way? :o) Not that I am offering to do any cleaning or yard work... YET. Ha ha.

Cat-In-Sydney, does your Mama work with UNHCR Australia? I didn't think there would be IDPs in Australia, unless those displaced by drought, fire or natural disaster. Malaysia is a good transit point for asylum seekers, especially from Myanmar and Sri Lanka, so I will be kept very busy indeed once I start work! Much love to you and all the other kitties!

Saya... said...


hehehe..I was thinking the same thing bout that blackmail thingy...I can imagine the headlines plastered in the papers "Sec Gen candidate admits to ummmm...smoking a cigar in bathroom coz she loathes tangas?" Heheh.

hobbit1964 said...


I don't think Lynn is blameworthy.

After all, it takes two to TANGA.

Anonymous said...


Yes, the tanga would become the mother of all knickers when it has its five minutes of fame in the knotty papers.

we better put in our proposals to the military to replace the standard issues and make our moolah and spend the rest of our days smokin' em cigars and eating gouda in comfort.


~CovertOperations78~ said...

Re Saya and Major,

Haa haa haa! Hush! Not a word!

Unknown said...

Wonderful news from you! Congrates +++. I admire your commitment and tenacity.
From previous accounts,the management at the Paya Indah Wetlands suffered ' the run before you can walk mentality :(

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Keats! How good of you to be happy for me! Yes, the Paya Indah Wetlands failed because the first management body were too ambitious and aimed too high without looking at business and economic realities. The only way you can recover your capital outlay for constructing those fancy chalets is by charging something like RM200 a night, and once you charge a sum that high, you run the risk of excluding schoolchildren and local visitors from overnight visits!

Ellen Whyte said...

Great to see you've got the job. A toughy like you is just what we need in that area. Catch up after you start?

Angie said...

Congrats!! Sounds like this new job is right down your alley. Looking forward to reading more about what you do in this new job!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for your kind words, Ellen and Angie! Am really looking forward to starting my new job. Managed to locate and download the handbook online, from a collection of UN training programmes. Have read it cover-to-cover twice already. How's that for being keen?