Thursday, 19 November 2009

Rhythm of the falling rain

So Malaysia has plunged from 47th to 56th place on the Corruption Perception Index this year. Should I even expend any energy to express surprise? The preposterous transgressions of the rule of law, democracy, the doctrine of separation of powers and justice in the last 16 months alone are enough to make misanthropes of the most optimistic of people. What can I say that hasn't already been said, except that I will do all that is within my power to do, as an individual and a mindful citizen, to uphold the principles of integrity and fairplay?

I have been on hotline duty all week, and am loving it. I can't disclose very much about my job except that I enjoy it and find it meaningful. I witness every day how we help improve the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable people. And my job has made me more grateful for the good things that we do have in this country, such as freedom of expression (to a commendable extent, actually), freedom of association, freedom of religion and all the opportunities we have to earn a livelihood and lead a comfortable life by legitimate means.

I've been busy blogging for FT the past week as well. Any votes for my blogposts would be highly appreciated!

Rimba Ilmu Botanical Gardens

SPCA-DBKL Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic

Saturday, 14th November - Sunday, 15th November 2009: Blustery Weekend

It has been a rainy week, the kind that leaves your shoes sodden and your laundry smelling musty. I will have to wait for the monsoon period to abate before I can go surfing again.

My canine and feline babies have been lethargic due to the chilly weather.

Amber the weather-predicting dog gets up on the garden bench to keep her dainty feet dry.

Daisy has fun with the empty boxes set aside for our Shoebox Project for refugee children and other needy youngsters.

Halle has a second supper to help her develop a layer of blubber to insulate her against the cold weather.

Mini-Me just wants to curl up with a good book.

I took Covert Mum, Covert Dad, Covert Twin and Covert Twin's girlfriend out to dinner on Saturday night on the occasion of my parents' 38th wedding anniversary. It had been another productive day for me back at the parental home. I washed Amber and Chocky, cleaned the parental home and polished the furniture. I would have enjoyed the dinner even more if Covert Dad weren't suffering from sciatic nerve pain. I told him that I would trade places with him in a heartbeat if I could, so he wouldn't have to bear the pain anymore. Covert Dad said that it was an insensible thing to ask for, as it is an "old man's ailment" and that I would not be able to wash dogs at the SPCA, go tramping with the MNS or drive all over the country distributing food aid to indigenous village folk and needy families if I had nerve problems. I just wish I could find a permanent cure for his condition. It hurts me to see him in pain and discomfort.

Went to the SPCA as usual on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to arrive before it started raining. Diego and another young volunteer were there sitting on the steps outside the Surgery when I arrived, and they promptly got up to help me get the shampoo, leashes and Tactik EC tickcide solution ready so we could wash the dogs.

We washed all the dogs in the B-Extension Kennels within an hour, before it got cloudy and drizzly again, as it is wont to do in the afternoons. Diego and the girl washed the dogs while I administered tickwash. I put away the dog-washing kit and soaped and disinfected the kennels when we were done.

After the youngsters left, I started cleaning the shelter. Reve let the dogs out to play in the compound after they have had their supper. I soaped, scrubbed and disinfected the Cattery, cages, litter trays, Maternity Kennels, Front Office/Admin Area and Central Area. Reve attended to the Puppy Area and other kennels.

We were done by 1930h, by which time the rain had pretty much let up. There was an albino guinea pig put up for adoption in the Cattery, and I would have adopted her if I didn't have so many cats and dogs already. I hope someone (without cats, dogs or other carnivorous animal companions) will give her a good home. She is absolutely adorable. I posted her pictures on Facebook in the hopes of finding her a good home.

"Please adopt me! I cost next to nothing to maintain! I squeak, whistle and chatter when excited! I let myself be gently handled and petted!

Please let me live in a home again! Come get me at the SPCA Animal Shelter in Jalan Kerja Air Lama, Ampang Jaya!"

If you or someone you know are able to give the sweet guinea pig a good home (they eat oat bran, rabbit food, grass and vegetables), please come and get her at the SPCA animal shelter in Ampang Jaya!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Of Stegodonts, Sick Bay Dogs and Sunday Soirees

6th November 2009: Late Quaternary Mammals of Borneo

Judging by the turnout at the first of the Malaysian Nature Society (Selangor Branch) talks for the current administrative year, it’s going to be a great year for science and conservation-based talks. The audience occupied every seat in the Rimba Ilmu Auditorium and spilled out into the aisles. I didn’t know that there would be so much interest in the Late Quaternary Mammals of Borneo! I almost thought that I was in the presence of a rock star!

Lord Cranbrook outlined the evidence of changes in the mammalian fauna of Borneo during the Quaternary, which was a period of very variable climate dominated by cyclic Ice Ages. The main information comes from archaeological work in the caves of Sabah and Sarawak, notably the huge cave at Niah.

Lord Cranbrook's first appointment was at the Sarawak Museum in 1956. After a short period on a post-doctorate fellowship in Indonesia, he joined the Department of Zoology, University of Malaya (1961-70). He was associated with the Royal Geographical Society Expeditions to Kinabalu (1964) and Vanuatu (as Deputy Leader, 1971), and the joint expeditions to Mulu (as Deputy Leader, 1977-78) and to Belalong in Brunei (as Joint Leader 1989-94). He has published many books on Southeast Asian wildlife, including Mammals of Borneo (1965), Birds of the Malay Penninsula Vol 5 (jointly authored, 1976), Belalong: a tropical rainforest (jointly authored, 1994) and Swiftlets of Borneo (2002). In recognition of his services to the State of Sarawak, Lord Cranbrook was awarded the titles of JBS (Hon) in 1997 & PNBS (Hon) in 2005 (the latter carrying the title Datuk Seri); he was recently (May 2006) elected an Honorary Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. He is an Honorary Life Member of MNS.

So what’s a Late Quaternary Mammal when it’s at home, if you please? Why, Ice Age Mammals, of course! Stegodonts such as this handsome fellow here walked the plains of Borneo in the Quaternary Period.

The talk covered topics such as:
- Mammals as environmental indicators
- Origins of mammal remains in cave sites
- The Borneo Anomaly – Quaternary Climate Change
- Past fauna and past environments

What else is waiting to be discovered in the limestone caves of Borneo? The plot thickens!

Many thanks to Committee Members Ilyas and Cindy for organising such a successful talk, and of course, to Lord Cranbrook, for being so obliging despite his hectic schedule!

8th November 2009: SPCA Sunday and Tiny Tots Party

I spent Saturday back at the parental home, cleaning the house, spring cleaning the kitchen cabinets, giving Amber and Chocky their baths and walks, taking apart and scrubbing the garden fountain and generally making myself useful. I have been very busy with a few year-end projects for needy families and underprivileged children, and I am grateful for my parents’ support and understanding. I think they have come to terms with the fact that they will never have a ‘normal’ daughter, and that my personality is such that all my time and energy will be spent on service, and they have responded by giving and sharing whatever they could afford.

I woke up on Sunday morning to find that the Battletank had two flat tyres. Major Bummer! This must have occurred at the Templer Park landslide area on my drive back to the parental home on Friday night! It took me over an hour to change the tyres and get them repaired at the Michelin shop in town. It disrupted my plans to be at the SPCA as early as possible to help out while the weather remains fine.

I arrived at the SPCA animal shelter ravenous after my morning exertion. I went to the warong across the street for a late breakfast and was pleased and surprised to bump into Saya a.k.a. Tashkent Blues there having an early lunch with her delightful girls.

Hurried back to the SPCA after breakfast and proceeded to get the things ready to bathe and tickwash the Sick Bay dogs with. There were two teenage volunteers around, 14-year-old Rachel (i.e. Rugrat Rachel, not to be confused with Dysfunctional Divorcee Rachel) and her friend, Diego, an exchange student from Argentina. Both youngsters are highly reliable and helpful, and have been volunteering faithfully every weekend in the past few weeks. I engaged their help in helping me shampoo and rinse the dogs. It was good to see youngsters who are not afraid of hard work. They even sang as they worked. Diego was amazing with the dogs. I wish he were my son. (Proviso: I have reached that point in my life where everyone seems less than half my age, and that is okay).

I roped and leashed each dog and coaxed them gently into coming with me to the bathing area. The youngsters washed them clean, while I applied tickwash and Tactik EC spray to destroy parasites. Another young lady came up to us, peered over the gate and asked if she may help. I opened the gate, welcomed her and let her jump right in. We worked together companionably, singing or whistling and uttering sweet nothings to the forgotten and neglected dogs of Sick Bay.

We finished washing over 20 dogs and the young volunteers moved on to help Rose and Reve with some other duties, while I put the washing things away, tidied up, showered and got ready for a party I was to assist with.

My favourite small person, Cerys, turned 3 last week and her parents planned a party for her at Palate Palette restaurant, as it is managed by their friends. I was only too happy to help with the planning, and offered to do the face-painting and eco-conscious games for the toddlers. Our guests would mostly be from the 2-6 age range, and it would be fun to see what lessons we could teach to toddlers.

Cerys blows out 3 candles on her cupcake tower.

The Birthday Committee: Me, Loretta and Cindy.

Tiny tots learning how to play mancala/congkak.

Outdoor dining for tots and parents.

Mian Ying plays with the glass bead curtain while Imran has a go on the hand drums.

Sticker Hunt, hurray! Look at those professional-looking used envelopes – those were my idea, to encourage reuse and to reduce consumption of paper products.

Kim’s Game for toddlers, with environmental lessons thrown in! What should be reduced? What can be reused or recycled? Where does this grow? What happens to this if our water and soil gets polluted? What happens to this if the rainforests are cleared?

A green balloon for me to take home to my cats! Not very eco-friendly, but they were sponsored by a guest, and no, we won’t release or landfill them!

I'd like to give a big shoutout to Cindy and Teckwyn for having me and all those who helped to make little Cerys' birthday so very special. Thank you, all!

I had a lovely and productive Sunday, which is proof that not even two flat tyres can get your spirits down if you make up your mind to make the most of your day.

By the way, I have two new posts in my Savoir Vivre KL Blog!

Please vote for me! Please copy and paste the URL if the voting button doesn’t work:

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Deeds: Brian Lariche

Art Deco Walk 4: Oriental Building, Jalan Tun Perak

Thank you for your kind visits! Please leave a comment if you have the time. I’d love to hear from you.

Friday, 6 November 2009

S-s-s-ssssuch Excitement!

It's hard to believe that a mere snake could bring so much joy and excitement to the office.

I came in late to work today to find a fire truck and Fire and Rescue Brigade officers all over our parking lot, which is just an open grassy yard with ground that looks as rutted as a motorcross track.

Apparently, some of our staff spotted a snake hanging off one of the windows, and called the Fire and Rescue Brigade. I ran into my cubicle, grabbed my camera and waited out by the fire truck in the hopes of a good photo opportunity.

Some of the interns have never experienced anything so exciting as the intrusion of a snake into their office before, so they trooped out behind me, jabbering like mynahs after the rain.

We waited for the snake to emerge. The fire brigade guys waited. The Human Resource officers waited. The cleaning staff waited. The interpreters waited. We all waited. And the snake didn't oblige us.

Our human resource assistant returned from the cafeteria with cans of carbonated drinks for the fire brigade guys.

"What's the soda for?" one of the interns from Germany wanted to know.

"Oh, it's to entice the snake out with," I replied airily. "Snakes love the sugar rush".

And would you believe it, the poor kid believed me! I laughed so hard, I would have scared away an entire nest of cobras.

The snake wasn't a cooperative one, so the fire brigade guys had to leave empty-handed. The interns and I were all rather disappointed that we didn't get to see it.

"Think of all the cool photos we'd post on Facebook if the snake did turn up", one of them lamented wistfully.

I may not have had the good fortune of seeing the snake, but my colleagues made up for it. The snake got bigger, longer, meaner and deadlier with each retelling of the story, especially by those who didn't see the snake.

Ah well. If any of you herpetofauna types out there can identify a huge black snake with long fangs and glowing red eyes for me, I'd be most grateful.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Easy Like Sunday Morning? Hardly!

2nd November 2009:The Terry Fox Run 2009, Kuala Lumpur

If you were faced with a debilitating disease, what would you do? If you were informed that you had a terminal illness, or had to lose a limb, what would your response be?

Terrance Stanley Fox (Terry Fox) was a sports-loving young man who was only 19 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer for which the causes are still largely unknown. Upon diagnosis, the only known way to treat the cancer was to amputate young Terry's right leg several inches above the knee.

At the age of 22, Terry Fox established the Marathon of Hope. He decided to run from coast to coast in Canada with the objective of raising $1 from each Canadian citizen for cancer research. Terry Fox had run 5,085 kilometres by the end of his training, in preparation for the Marathon of Hope. This was in spite of his existing heart condition, left ventricular hypertrophy.

Terry Fox began the Marathon of Hope at the Newfoundland coast. He intended to finish in Victoria, British Columbia. Sadly, Terry Fox never completed the Marathon of Hope. His cancer had metastasized to his lungs and he had to stop running after 143 days. Terry Fox died on 28th June, 1981.

But Terry Fox's courage and spirit lives on in the Terry Fox Run, which has evolved into a worldwide event to raise funds for cancer research, to commemorate the determined young activist who died too soon and as a show of solidarity and support for those affected by or who had lost their lives to cancer.

The Terry Fox Run is exceptional in that it has no corporate sponsorship, is non-competitive, and has no winners or awards. The purpose of the Run is to create public awareness and raise funds for cancer research. The Terry Fox Run was first held in Malaysia in the early 1990s, and Malaysians, ever generous, have never failed to show support for the event by participating in ever-increasing numbers.

I arrived too late to assemble with the rest of the participants, but it is never too late to join in the Run! There is no registration requirement. Participants merely have to purchase the t-shirts for RM25.00.

Let’s follow the high-spirited crowd to the Lake Gardens. Participants can skate, walk, run, bike or even ride in prams, if too young!

A capoeira troupe lends a South American flavour to our Sunday morning run at the Lake Gardens.

Leisure boats cruise lazily along the waterways in the Lake Gardens as we jog the final 100 metres to the finishing point.

T-shirts for sale to support the cause of cancer research.

Mounted City Hall officers on horseback to keep order at the Lake Gardens.

Years ago, the cause of ‘cancer research’ would be one that would not rest easily on my animal-loving conscience. Would it entail gratuitous cruelty to animals? Could vivisection ever be justified? Is it ever right to put animals through prolonged suffering? In the last few years, I have come to terms with the fact that animal testing could be categorised into ‘unnecessary’ and ‘justifiable’ testing and research. In addition, since it is always animals with immune responses that are the most similar to human’s that are used in medical research, perhaps advances in cancer research could bring progress to the field of veterinary oncology as well. Also, I am persuaded that cancer research in the last decade or so entails more sophisticated techniques than merely animal testing. Human genome research and human cell and tissue culture testing are all growing alternatives to animal testing.

Cancer knows no political or geographical boundaries. The Terry Fox Run doesn’t, either. Whatever cancer research necessitates, we must acknowledge that more research is required to ensure that cancer can be prevented, treated and managed. Available statistics reveal that cancer causes an estimated 13% of human deaths. The price of inaction is simply too high. For this reason, I salute the heroism, courage and resolve of Terry Fox, who never gave up, who had faith in himself when no one else did. And I salute all the Malaysians who gave up their Sunday morning to run in loving memory of those who had succumbed to cancer, in solidarity with those who live with cancer, and in celebration of the indomitable attitude of a young man who never said die.

Vote for me! Please copy and paste the URL if the voting button doesn’t work:

2nd November 2009: Malaysia's Biggest Breakfast, in aid of NASAM

After leaving the Terry Fox Run event grounds, I decided to drop by Bangsar Village to participate in Malaysia's Biggest Breakfast, in aid of the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM).

The promotional banner hanging outside Bangsar Village.

The event was a collaborative effort by at least 23 food and beverage outlets in Bangsar Village and Bangsar Village II, in which customers could purchase a breakfast set from any of the participating outlets for a minimum of RM15.00.

The breakfast sets were made available between 10.00 and 11.30 a.m. on Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1.

Good Day, Sunshine! A cheery orange-and-white banner festooned with balloons inform shoppers of the worthy cause and invite us in for a cup of joe!

The difference between this event and other fundraisers is that the breakfast sets are fully sponsored by the respective outlets and all proceeds collected from this event will go towards the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM). This means that the entire cost of the breakfast would be borne by the participating outlet, and all proceeds, and not merely the profits or a certain percentage of the proceeds, would go to the intended beneficiary.

I had the big breakfast set at Bisou Bake Shop, as I needed the energy for all the hours I would be putting in at the SPCA animal shelter later. The service was good, the staff were friendly and courteous, and the food was worth coming back for.

The National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM) operates 8 centres in Petaling Jaya, Ampang, Penang, Perak, Melaka, Sabah, Johor and Kuantan. According to the official information on their website, NASAM centres function as places for stroke survivors to help themselves in their rehabilitation process, to interact with fellow survivors, and to get information and group support for themselves, as well as for their carers.

I was gratified to see entire families and groups of friends enjoying hearty breakfasts at the participating outlets in aid of this praiseworthy cause.

Although there will always be detractors who argue that it is better to just donate cash directly to the intended charitable organisation, I believe that fundraising events such as the Malaysian Biggest Breakfast are important for the role they play in raising awareness on the causes they champion, empowering local communities, providing opportunities for the corporate sector to contribute to charitable programmes and bringing families and friends closer together.

After all, merely putting small change into a collection box does not engender occasion for discussion and reflection the way a weekend breakfast gathering would.

I knew I would be feeling peckish at the SPCA later, therefore I bought cupcakes from Bisou to share with the staff and other volunteers. I've never met a confectionary I didn't like!

Very few conscientious individuals would decline to commit one morning a year to raising funds to aid those afflicted with, and affected by, stroke.

NASAM’s long-term mission is to open a centre in every state in Malaysia to provide rehabilitation programmes and facilities for stroke survivors.

For more information, kindly contact:
National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM)
12 Jalan 7/2, 46050 Petaling Jaya,
Tel: 03 7956 4840 Fax: 03 7954 2275

Please vote for me! Please copy and paste the URL if the voting button doesn’t work:

2nd November 2009: Food Not Bombs, Kuala Lumpur Chapter

The Food Not Bombs KL logo, reproduced with kind permission. The universal FNB logo is one of a fist holding a carrot. This is a localised one of a fist with rice.

When I was still the coordinator of the MNS Green Living Special Interest Group , I was intrigued by the emergent interest our members have on issues such as food security, distributive justice, vegetarian activism, mindful living and how all of these relate to the topic of food wastage , which I covered in two issues.

Recent conversations with my friends convinced me that I should pay Food Not Bombs, a local volunteer-based organisation, a visit to find out opportunities for volunteering and donating surplus garden produce. I first found out about Food Not Bombs KL seven years ago when I started assisting Brian L. with his food collection project to purchase food and provisions for welfare organisations that seem to have slipped under the radar of most donors and sponsors. I was most supportive of the fact that they were uncompromising about serving only vegetarian food to their clients. Vegetarian food is not only better for the environment and human health, but also non-violent and non-denominational.

I knew that Food Not Bombs KL (hereafter, FNBKL) was still serving food to the homefree (we don’t use the term homeless) and other clients at the corner of Jalan Gereja every Sunday evening, so I made arrangements to spend an evening with them. I was lucky in that I had 2 young volunteers to help me at the SPCA in the afternoon, and so I managed to wash and groom the dogs, spring-clean the Cattery and finish cleaning the front half of the animal shelter by 1700 hrs. I washed up, purchased a bag of dukong manis and made my way to downtown KL to share my food with strangers.

At 1800 hrs, a little sidewalk ‘stall’ was set up and the dedicated volunteers started ladling out rice, vegetables and herbal soup to their clients. I closed in, placed my food contribution on the table, introduced myself to Thilaga, Husni and Yew Hun and offered to assist in serving food and doing the dishes.

'Business' was good today. There is nothing left except dregs of Husni’s lovely herbal soup. I did not take any photos of the clients because I appreciate their need for privacy.

The official creed of Food Not Bombs KL reads as follows:
“Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur (FNBKL) is an independent, do-it-yourself, non-hierarchical collective consisting of a number of individuals who organize and participate in the collection, preparation and distribution of free food for the city's homeless (homefree) and the destitute.

We believe that hunger and poverty are not necessary, especially in a society which disposes of so much perfectly edible and safe foodstuff out of commercial interest. We save and recycle "commercially-unwanted" foodstuff by gathering it from commercial outlets around town. We will then cook and serve free meals on the streets of KL every weekend.

We do this as a form of protest and also in order to raise awareness to the problems of wastage and unfair food distribution in our society. We also aim to empower the urban homeless & destitute community with solidarity, knowledge and basic living skills.

Help is always needed from you. We are in constant need of your solidarity, donations and manpower to keep this activity consistent and effective. We are thankful for anything which you can help us with, and appreciate your efforts in providing our fellow human beings struggling on the streets with their basic needs which the society at large took for granted.

We all look forward to working with you to tilt the scale back to equality.”

Volunteers and clients doing the dishes together. I was glad to know that as practicing ‘freegans’ and ‘freecyclists’, FNBKL would be happy to accept the plant waste enzyme (as a biodegradable, phosphate-free cleaning solution) that our Malaysian Nature Society members have made a surplus of.

Yew Hun, Husni and Thilaga wish to keep a low profile because they are doing this without any vested interests and without any desire for self-glorification.

Members of our society are always too quick to dismiss our youth as spoilt and indifferent, and the destitute as indolent and unproductive. FNBKL shows us that the way forward is not by passing judgment on others, but by helping one another so that the nation can become strong. As I have always averred, a nation is only as strong as its weakest members. When we exclude and disenfranchise certain members of our society, what we are essentially doing is preventing them from becoming involved and contributing members of our community. This is why we should make inclusiveness as much a developmental goal for Malaysia as having adequate infrastructure and technology.

As I bade goodbye to my newfound friends for the night, I assured them that I would be back soon, and that I would compile a list of the items and supplies needed and disseminate it to MNS members who would be able to contribute.

So come on by if you are able to assist, or have anything to contribute. At FNBKL, everyone is a volunteer, a participant, a decision-maker, a contributor, a client – and most of all, a friend.

Please vote for me! Please copy and paste the URL if the voting button doesn’t work:

Thank you for your kind visits! Please leave a comment if you have the time. I’d love to hear from you.