Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Know Thine Ornithology

My office Admin Department has been quite remiss in its duties lately. There are loose computer and phone cables poking out of a hatch in the floor directly behind my cubicle and no one has attended to it yet. Many an unsuspecting colleague has been snared by the serpentine links and tripped up by the wonky steel hatch, and so, being the civic-minded and considerate person that I am, I pasted this notice directly in front of the hatch:

Of course, the fact that someone who is looking at the floor with adequate heedfulness to read a sign would not stumble over a nefarious breach in the substrate anyway is a moot point.

One of my colleagues took exception (jocosely, I think) to the addendum that I put in parentheses, and recommended me for a Code of Conduct refresher training.

I averred that only a person of a singularly depraved mind would believe that I am referring to anything other than the Blue-Footed Booby (Sula nebouxii), a wondrous long-winged member of the Pelecaniformes order that populates the Galápagos Islands.

Blue-footed booby

I must say it takes a bad egg to know one's endangered feathered friends.

I am thus vindicated.

Tuesday, 18th May 2010: To Call A Spayed A Spayed

Whoosh is the latest (formerly) stray cat to be spayed under Project Second Chance. As a kitten, she was a victim of a road accident which left her with a broken jaw. A Good Samaritan picked her up and sent her to the vet for surgery and treatment. Upon recovery, she was released in the area where she was found, Jalan Choo Cheng Kay, 5 minutes away from my office.

My colleagues and I first met Whoosh while having our lunch at an Indian stall there. The elderly lady who runs the stall has developed an attachment to Whoosh and decided to keep her. I gave Whoosh's caretakers a large tube of Nutrigel supplement to feed her with and offered to take Whoosh to the SPCA for spaying. Whoosh's obliging caretakers gave their assent, and so on a rainy Tuesday night after work, I put Whoosh in a carrier and transported her to the SPCA for spaying.

Whoosh's people came out to wave her goodbye as though she were royalty. "Don't forget to bring her back here!" they reminded me anxiously. "Take care! Get well soon! Let us know how she is doing!"

"Help! I don't want to be here!"

Whoosh's sad face and plaintive meows told me that she was unhappy to be boarded in unfamiliar surroundings. I collected Whoosh after her surgery and brought her back to my Bachelors' Quarters to convalesce for a week or two before she is fit to be returned to her caregivers.

"Ha! More tuna and whitebait, please."

Whoosh is recuperating nicely in my house, and having her fill of canned goodies. There isn't a vitamin or supplement she doesn't like. I will be sorry to have to say goodbye to her in a week, but will be happy in the knowledge that she has people who love her and are praying for her safe return.

Saturday, 22nd May 2010: Kennel Kleanup and other matters arising

"I lurk in dark corners and pounce on giant smelly human feet as they walk by."

My erstwhile fosteree Estel, formerly known as Gypsy, has come back to me for boarding as VJ and Sara will be out of town for 10 days. Estel is a most delightful kitten. I am not sure if she is training for the Olympics or the World Cup but she sure is getting good at whatever it is she is practicing hard for. Right now she is battling the 'Scratch & Play' with grim determination. I think she is going to win this one.

Woke up uncommonly early for a Saturday again as I had agreed to guide and mentor a new batch of volunteers at the SPCA Shelter. CH and some of the other volunteer dog trainers have expressed their desire to help out with animal care and shelter work, and I was pleased to coordinate their efforts.

What a blow it was then that it started raining almost immediately after I got into the Battletank. Still, I could not keep the volunteers waiting, and suggested to them that we proceed with cleaning the shelter anyway, as it would also benefit the animals directly and help maintain health and safety standards in the shelter.

... And this is the way we swab the baskets with soap and disinfectant.

CH was disappointed that we didn't get to bathe the dogs today, but there'll always be next week.

We scrubbed, disinfected and cleaned the Cattery, Maternity Kennels, Kennels D, E, F, G and H and Central Area, took out the trash and put away the donated newspapers and towels.

It was still pissing with rain after 4 hours, so we called it a day and retreated to the SPCA Bungalow to shower and change.

I met up with an old friend, Sasha, at the Tropicana City Mall for a late lunch before going back to the Bachelor's Quarters. Sasha and I had become friends when we attended a Basic Journalism Workshop when I was 17 and she was 15, and we had lost touch when we were in our 20s. Thanks to the double-edged sword we call social networking, we found each other again. Although she had assisted me last year in one of my projects for needy schoolchildren, we did not have much opportunity to talk, so this meeting, 6 months late, was for the sole purpose of catching up.

Went back to the Bachelor’s Quarters to feed and clean up after the Rowdies and do my laundry before going out to a neighbouring residential area to check out a pre-Wesak Day carnival organised by a Buddhist organisation.

The event organisers had initially offered a booth to the SPCA for our fundraising and outreach work and allowed us to put animals up for adoption, but a mere few days before the event, they called up the SPCA and requested 30% of our booth profits, which we felt was exorbitant and unreasonable, given that this was a small-scale community event and the SPCA does not expect to make very much out of it anyway. All efforts at negotiation failed and so the SPCA withdrew from the event.

I decided to check out the event anyway to see if we had missed anything much. It didn’t look like a high-publicity or high-turnout event to me, but I would also take into consideration the fact that I arrived at the event grounds 2 hours before they officially closed. I had hoped to sample good vegetarian food, but I found that all their food was prepackaged in Styrofoam and so I left without dinner and went to the nearest Indian shop for thosai instead.

There was still a lot of unsold goods when I arrived at the event grounds.

"Dzambala bathing" is practiced by Tibetan Buddhists. Devotees use a ladle to pour water over a small upright idol of an infant Gautama as an act of ritual purification.

Children playing arcade games at the electronic games booth.

I have never felt inclined to assist in this particular organisation's soup kitchen rounds, because they utilise and distribute too many plastic bags and Styrofoam food packaging in their operations. If an organisation cannot evolve to embrace its role in safeguarding environmental cleanliness and mitigating harm to wildlife and scavenging animals, then it's not an organisation I want to work with.

Still, I hope their event was a successful and joyous one for them. It’s been an exhausting week and activity-packed weekend for me. With the MNS Open Day but a week away and a million other things on my to-do list, I am feeling a little overwhelmed. Okay, maybe not really overwhelmed. Maybe just plain whelmed.

Covert Operations ‘78, OUT.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A Weekend Warrior's Record of Recces and Sorties

There comes a time in our lives when we must answer the call to perform an uncharacteristically intrepid deed. For me, that means waking up early on a weekend.

Come to think of it, waking up early any day would count as a stupendous act on my part. I must regretfully confess that I have been late to work so often and have been leaving the office so late at night that my managers probably believe me to be either a werewolf or a vampire by now. Still, I can probably continue to get away with it simply because I work very long hours and have been producing results in a largely dependable fashion.

And so it was a rather scruffy and sleep-deprived CovertOps that turned up, like a bad penny, at the Malaysian Nature Society Open Day committee's reconnaisance of the event grounds at Taman Lembah Kiara on Saturday morning.

The Open Day organising committee, comprising Ilyas, Hashimi, Pasu, Leo and myself, has had an initial recce of the said event grounds but arranged to return to study the feasibility of conducting certain activities now that we have a better estimate of the space we will need to take up. It was a sunny morning and the park was full of joggers, picnickers, cyclists, skaters and gaudily-dressed wedding photography studio models who were led to believe that being photographed against a background of tea-coloured streams and sweaty Hash runners would help bring in customers.

I met up with Ilyas, Hashimi and Hashimi's little daughters at the stream, where they were busy conducting a stream ecology exercise.

This is the jogging path along which we will set up our booths and canopies, and yonder is the big tree upon which we will set up the gear for the Single Rope Technique exercise.

Tiny freshwater eels and riverine insects tell us that our stream ecology exercise will be a productive one.

This must be the strangest of coincidences! Of the dozens of MNS and other wildlife and conservation-based t-shirts we have, Leo, Hashimi's daughters and I all turned up wearing the MYCAT "Tiger Parts" t-shirt on Saturday morning. Fearful symmetry, indeed.

After the reconnoitre exercise, I made a sortie to the Bangsar Shopping Complex to meet up with my friends.

Jacinta, Nicole and Lynette manning the SPCA Outreach, Adoption and Merchandise Booth at the Bangsar Shopping Complex.

Lovely kitties waiting for good homes at the SPCA Outreach and Adoption Drive at the Bangsar Shopping Complex. 2 puppies were adopted on Saturday.

We'll be there again this weekend, 22nd & 23rd May 2010, from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. so please come on over and meet our adorable adoptables!

We discussed some matters pertaining to the shelter and certain education and advocacy projects before I left the Outreach Booth to go to the SPCA Shelter around 1130 hrs. Rose and I got to work bathing and tickwashing the dogs in the B-Extension Kennels and the free-roaming dogs in the Central Area at noon.

Moody Grunge Mama

Punk Rock Puppy

3 orphaned baby Asian Palm Civets were surrendered to the SPCA on Saturday afternoon. The man who brought them over seemed nervous and anxious when I asked him where he found the civets. We had to bring the civets to Zoo Negara as we could not keep civets. Asian Palm Civets are listed in Appendix III of CITES, which means their status is reeeeally dicey and wholly dependent on national legislation. Good luck, baby civets!

Rose and I finished bathing approximately 30 dogs by late afternoon, and I proceeded to clean and disinfect the shelter until 1900hrs.

Went back to the parental home on Sunday to clean the house, bathe Amber, take Amber and Chocky for walks, tidy the garden and complete some office work which I had brought home in my waffle-sized Netbook.

It's been a pretty awesome weekend, as far as Malaysian politics is concerned. DAP's victory in the Sibu by-elections is testimony that you can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time. (Credits: "Get Up Stand Up", by Bob Marley.) Corruption and crony-based politics is on its way out. The new generation of voters is not afraid anymore. Voters are no longer afraid of facing up to the truth. If the March 2008 General Elections has ever left a legacy, it is that of the courage to choose. And if inclusiveness and choice do not form the essence of a participatory democracy, what does?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Food Review: Vegelife Cafe, Taman Mayang Jaya, Petaling Jaya

Going vegetarian should never be a sacrifice. Vegetarian food should be as nutritious, satisfying and memorable as the best of non-vegetarian food. I am of the opinion that non-violence should not be the only objective and pleasure we can derive out of what is known in some circles as "compassionate eating" -- the meal itself should bring joy, inspire conversation and make us feel proud to introduce meatless meals to non-veg friends.

It is for good reason then that my favourite restaurant for the past 6 months or so is a cheery little establishment called Vegelife Cafe, located in my neighbourhood, SS26 Taman Mayang Jaya, Petaling Jaya.

The bold colour scheme, whimsical lighting and comfortable seating and dining arrangement is a refreshing change from the usual insipid interior of most Chinese vegetarian restaurants, where solitary Guan Yin calendars more often than not pass off as decor.

You can tell that cleanliness and ambience is a priority to those who manage and operate this outfit. You enter the restaurant cool, clean and crisp and exit cool, clean and crisp. Cooking is done in a separate area so that patrons are not subjected to the heat, grease and steam that define Chinese kitchens.

Service is quick and efficient, and the staff are friendly and good at remembering regular patrons' preferences (no garlic or onions for some; no dairy for Vegan Eugene, no plastic straws, paper napkins or anything disposable for certain inveterate treehuggers).

Vegelife's winning point, however, is the consistency in the quality of its food. Each visit convinces me that there is such a thing as affordable, tasty and healthy Chinese vegetarian food that isn't made up of gluten, starch and reconstituted-soy-whotsits.

An impromptu interview with the manager of the restaurant revealed that no monosodium glutamate or artificial flavour enhancers are used in their soup stocks. Instead, the restaurant makes its own soup stock using baby corn, cabbage hearts and other vegetables. The result? Soups and gravies that are naturally bursting with flavour.

My favourite comfort food, the VL Green Tea Lui Cha Rice, is more appetising than it looks. A rich green tea soup infused with mint, basil and pepper is served with brown rice, roast peanuts, salted vegetables, and diced tofu, spinach and long beans. I describe it as "spa for the stomach".

Their iced honey lemon drink is zesty and vitamin-packed.

Newbie vegetarians shouldn't have to miss out on their favourite foods. Eggless nasi lemak served with a soy-based cuttlefish sambal affords spicy satisfaction.

Pasteurised and carton-packed fruit beverages can never come close to tasting like freshly pureed watermelon juice like what is offered at Vegelife.

A sizable portion of fried yee mee with lots of vegetables provides a nutritious alternative to instant noodles and preservative-laden mock meat.

A taste of Southeast Asia -- Have a red bean dessert drink with a scoop of coconut milk and sago to round off your meal.

Thai green curry noodles with grilled eggplant, long beans and seaweed-covered vegetarian soy 'fish' offer a variety of flavours and textures -- all of them good!

Crispy bits of nori seaweed in the peppery and savoury seaweed fried rice makes this entree a definite crowd-pleaser.

My only complaint about this establishment is that the drinks are somewhat overpriced. Chinese tea is available, it's just that they don't put it on the menu because they hope that you will pick the RM4.50 smoothie or ice-blended concoction instead.

Most of the entrees on Vegelife Cafe's ala carte menu range from RM4.50 - RM 8.90 in price, which is rather more expensive than the average roadside vegetarian takeaway or chettinad mess hall, but the quality of the food to a certain extent justifies the higher cost. Perhaps it is just as well that glass bowls of colourful confectionary are placed on the counter and offered to patrons to sweeten the surprise of having to pay over RM10 for an individual vegetarian meal.

Still, if you want a different dining experience that is easier on your conscience and health than it is on your pocket, Vegelife Cafe will please even the most exacting of carnivorous and omnivorous palates.

Vegelife Cafe
Address: 2 Jalan SS26/6, Taman Mayang Jaya, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Contact: 016-3223377

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Mayhem in Melaka! Accounts of a not-at-all-restful staff retreat

Staff Retreat!

These two words evoke memories of an entire two days spent holed up in air-conditioned meeting rooms, as interminable golf games take place outdoors. Of volleyball games and bowling matches conducted with faux joviality. Of ostensibly hot dinners which are nothing but congealed lumps of cheesy potato wedges and gelatinous vegetable goo by the time we repair to the dining hall from the conference room. Of hours of simpering and cringing through 'ice-breaker games' which compel us to make animal sounds and tear around the conference room like genially demented kamikaze pilots.

And so it was with a great deal of moaning and sarcastic repartees that my workmates and I were pulled away from our workstations and our ever-growing mountains of files to attend a departmental staff retreat, at a location which I shall not disclose, in Alor Gajah, Melaka.

Reductions to our retreat budget meant that our accommodations had to be downgraded from a reasonably comfortable resort to very basic lodgings in an unheard-of location, which looked and felt as though it hasn't seen a vaccuum cleaner or a mop since Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.

Still, being restless and accustomed to working, nay, - thriving - in adverse conditions, my workmates and I descended upon the place with our usual gung-ho spirit. I was told the noise level in the district went up several thousand decibels upon our arrival.

I was one of the designated drivers, and am pleased to report that The Battletank performed quite heroically all the way there and back.

The chalets look picturesque from the outside, but are in somewhat poor repair on the inside.

It wasn't the air of shabby desolation about the place that dismayed us about the resort, however, for it did have a sense of quiet dignity about it. Rather, it was the fact that the people who run the resort are so overt about their religious zeal. There were tasteless and offensive banners and literature everywhere, essentially running down all other religions as false and inferior. I almost expected the staff to start speaking in tongues and the theme song from "Children of the Corn" to start playing in the background.

In the conference room, we learned from a plaque that the founder of the resort died the same year as his final mission, which, incidentally, was to Pakistan, and my colleagues and I speculated on whether he had been murdered in Pakistan.

It wasn't a politically-correct conversation to have, for sure, but the evangelistic atmosphere about the place was so oppressive that it was difficult for us to remain respectful and sensitive.

One of my colleagues came over to drag me out from under the bed as the brainstorming sessions begin.

The productivity and problem-solving seminars had the same air of hopelessness as the Chinese Communist Party's denunciation meetings.

Lunch provided some cheer -- the food was good and there were specially prepared food for those of us who are vegetarian.

We were supposed to build replicas of refugee camps in the open field, but the resort owners' dogs came and flattened everything. The dogs must have been agents of the military government!

Don't be deceived by the sad face -- these dogs are impossibly cheeky!

Even the so-called 'jungle trekking' session failed to impress. We tramped through what was obviously a former rubber plantation, swearing and cursing at the mosquitoes. There was no flora to speak of save recolonisers such as macarangas and other weeds. My colleague Nick managed to sneak a cigarette and a plastic tumbler of coffee with him on the trail. Clever sod.

The rope bridge across the stream, if you could call it that, was a great source of amusement for us.

The activity that we had most looked forward to was the aerial runway, also known as "Flying Fox". I was the first to go, since I have no fear.

Serves me right for being cocky. I slammed right into the truck tyre that was intended as a brake and suffered head and neck injuries as a result. For 3 days after the incident, I had to live with a whiplash injury, giddy spells and ringing in my ears.

And this is how we prune the foliage with our feet.

Some of us just couldn't get enough of the rope bridges.

We reviewed the photos later that night and I was so overcome with mirth that I fell off the bed howling with laughter. My laughter set the others off and we raised the roof with our collective baying. Rumour has it that we could be heard all the way down at the Mahkota Parade.

Our neither-relaxing-nor-productive 2 days came to an end on Friday evening. We managed to get one of the resort dogs to join in our group photo. The dogs were unfazed by all the noise and attention.

Our staff retreat may have officially ended at 1600 hours, but my passengers requested a jaunt to Melaka town in order to do a spot of shopping. I complied, because the pain in my neck and head were not of the degree of severity (yet!) that would require me to let someone else take over the wheel of the Battletank. All through the drive home, I asked my buddy and front passenger Amarjit to keep up a lively conversation to help me take my mind off my pain. It was with admitted relief that I dropped my passengers off at the office so I get a heat pack for my throbbing head and neck.

We may have wasted two days at a retreat that has brought us no visible benefits, but it was good that we spent it in the company of friends. It was a Friday night -- and the weekend brought with it the promise of football matches, helping out at the SPCA, spending time with my friends, a Saturday night dinner party, a Mothers' Day lunch, bike rides and other adventures. Now that's what I call a retreat.

Covert Operations, OUT.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Of Ferrets, Iron Man II and other matters arising

"The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows."

-- The Iron Man,
By Ted Hughes.

A perfect weekend should necessarily contain bike rides, Robert Downey Jr., caramel popcorn and happy tales of happy tails. Which pretty much sums up my weekend, although there was nothing essentially wrong with my utterly productive week. Granted, my workload has doubled, but I see this as an opportunity to assist twice as many people in need, and a way of appraising my own ability to work under pressure. So far, I am holding up rather well and enjoying the challenge of meeting new goals.

Saturday morning arrived like a welcome friend, and off I went to the SPCA animal shelter to put in my weekly 4-5 hours of animal care and kennel work. There was, as always, the promise of new volunteers to train and mentor.

Rose and I got to work bathing and tickwashing the dogs in the Maternity Kennels in the afternoon. I was told Reve has not been feeling well and has taken the day off. Our other expatriate volunteer Roli provided some assistance with some of the more skittish dogs. Many of the dogs, especially the new arrivals, had matted hair which needed trimming and grooming, which I did with pleasure. When I first started volunteering, I found grooming to be a messy, complicated and time-consuming affair, but as with everything else, I improved with practice and experience. Rose and I groomed about 2 dogs each after we had finished bathing all the dogs. I swept up the clumps of hair and washed and rinsed all our dog-bathing and grooming gear and put them away.

Mummy Dogs at the SPCA Maternity Kennels awaiting their turn to have a bath.

I can only hope that our efforts in bathing and grooming the dogs pay off and they find good homes soon.

I spoke to That Special Someone the night before, and was gratified to know that he too would be volunteering at his animal shelter over the weekend. I love it that we have started doing things together despite being half a continent apart. There were so many things I wanted to discuss with him, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Hulu Selangor by-election defeat, and the death of Lola who is one of our oldest shelter dogs, and the Liverpool-Chelsea match on Sunday, but when we meet online I am often overcome by I-don't-know-what and am content to just talk vacuities and swap music files and be in each other's presence. Ah well, at least we will be working together on an anti-vivisection signature campaign that would involve both our governments. I can't wait for him to come over so we can volunteer together and help other living things. In the meantime, I will have to clean the SPCA shelter on my own.

I started cleaning and disinfecting the shelter after our gates were closed to visitors. Sugen cleaned the kennels in the central area while I swabbed and scrubbed the puppy cages, Cattery, office/reception areas and Ready-for-Adoption kennels. It was in the Cattery that I met our latest neither-canine-nor-feline surrender, a little male ferret with the handsomest face and most genial disposition imaginable.

Say hello to His Ferrety Highness!

Surely it's a crime to be this cute!

Thanks to the wonders of information and communication technology, I snapped pictures of His Ferrety Highness on my 'Berry and uploaded them onto my Facebook right at the shelter to increase His Ferrety Highness' chances of adoption. My strategy worked, because I started receiving queries and inquiries almost immediately. By the end of the day, His Ferrety Highness was adopted by one of my buddies, Aza, who is a vet-in-training and a former SPCA officer.

Aza has a kind heart and a gift for connecting with animals. I can't think of a better caregiver for His Ferrety Highness.

I finished cleaning the shelter by 1800h, with a little assistance from Sugen. It was time for me to shower, change and meet up with my buddies Nicole, Jacinta and Moses. It was Nicole's birthday, and I had spent almost an hour queueing up outside the cinema the night before to purchase tickets for Iron Man II as part of a birthday treat for Nicole.

I met up with my friends at Tropicana City Mall, which is down the street from my bachelors' quarters. The management of the Mall had offered booth spaces to the SPCA and several other animal welfare organisations to put animals up for adoption and to promote the cause of spaying, neutering and responsible pet ownership. Response to the campaign was good and a lot of positive attention was generated, but a shopping mall really isn't the most likely of places to find adopters for animals. Only one puppy was adopted all day, although we did manage to sell a lot of merchandise and garner a lot of support for our "Animals Matter to Me" UDAW Petition.

Jacinta and Nicole tending to visitors at the SPCA booth.

Jacinta and Amelie attending to the needs of the kittens.

One for the album -- J, me and Nic on the occasion of Nic's birthday.

I helped with the tabulation of receipts and cash received and we tidied up the booth together with the help of 2 of our staff and several of our outreach volunteers. Moses turned up to help us with putting away the cages and banners. We hadn't any time left for dinner, so we washed up in the restrooms and rushed off to the movies.

Iron Man II was released in Malaysian cinemas on 30th May.

I must admit there is something deeply satisfying about craning your neck up at a giant screen in a darkened cinema, watching Iron Man thrash the stuffing out of drones, after a physically demanding day of animal care work.

It's not "Hable Con Ella". I don't have to think. It's not "Raise The Red Lantern". I don't have to translate scripts from Mandarin to English in my head. It's not "A Clockwork Orange". I can continue to scarf chips and soda while watching it.

What can I say about Iron Man II? It's not going to the Cannes Film Festival, of that I am certain. It does have certain scenes that makes one reflect on one's notions on power, courage and moral free will. But on the whole, it's just exciting Hollywood nonsense with impossible-looking superheroes and even more impossible-looking supervillains.

However, despite all the noise and explosions and broken skyscraper windows and blown-up drones, there was still a sense that there were questions left unanswered at the end of the movie. I spent the later half of the movie agonising over the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the movie. What happened to the bird in the end? Is the bird okay? Was he harmed in any way? And where's the disclaimer that's supposed to tell us that no animals were harmed in the production of the movie? What did they do with the cockatoo after that?

Back into the blinding light we trooped after the credits rolled. And back to the bachelor quarters I returned after a pit stop for an iced coffee at midnight. On Sunday I would go back to the parental home -- to bathe the dogs, clean the house, tidy the yard, read the papers and ride my bike -- but for now, just now, on a Saturday night like this, it feels as though the weekend would last forever.