Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Letter to the Editor: Forest City Development Project DEIA is timely and necessary

Letter to the Editor:
Forest City Development Project DEIA is timely and necessary
(Pulau Merambong in 2008. Photo credits: Serina Rahman)
Environmentalists and civil society activists await the Forest City reclamation and development project DEIA report decision with a mixture of trepidation and hope.
Apart from concerns over the transboundary impact and strain on diplomatic ties between Malaysia and Singapore, it is important for the developers and Johor state government to recognise the adverse impact of the said project on the local community and environment.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and its volunteers have carried out data collection and coastal cleanup projects at Pulau Merambong, Pendas, Sungai Pulai, Tanjung Piai, and Pulau Kukup in the past and can attest to the diversity of flora and fauna at the site of the proposed reclamation and development project. These ecologically-sensitive sites provide food and shelter for many organisms including seahorses and dugong, and are a nursery ground for commercially-important prawn and fish species, and thus contribute to local economic activity.
Over the years, however, coastal erosion and environmental degradation have adversely affected the water quality and marine biodiversity in the said sites. The seagrass meadows at the proposed development site are almost completely destroyed and depleted, despite their importance to the environment and local communities.
Seagrass meadows provide coastal zones with a number of ecosystem goods and ecosystem services, including stabilising the sea bottom, providing food and habitat for other marine organisms, maintaining water quality, supporting local fishing communities, wave protection, oxygen production and protection against coastal erosion. Seagrass meadows account for 15% of the ocean’s total carbon storage. It is estimated that per hectare, seagrass meadows hold twice as much carbon dioxide as rainforests. Yearly, seagrasses sequester about 27.4 million tons of carbon dioxide.
It has been observed by environmentalists that the coastal development projects along Johor's shoreline have not only affected marine biodiversity and water quality, but also disrupted bird migration patterns. Johor, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan form a major part of the flyway of migratory birds, including raptors such as the Oriental Honey-Buzzard and Black Baza, from East Asia to Australia. Birdwatching events and excursions are major ecotourism products in Malaysia, which makes the claim that the Forest City development project would be a 'tourism hub' even more outrageous. What is left for tourists to see and appreciate when seahorses, dugongs and other marine creatures are dead and bird populations have dwindled?
There are also concerns over the safety of the local communities and fishermen, who now have to travel further out to sea to avoid the areas undergoing reclamation, and have to cope with changing sea currents from the reclamation project and the risk of colliding into the project site at night due to a lack of lighting. The daily catch of the fishermen have decreased at an alarming rate, directly affecting their economic survival. The fact that some of the local villagers have accepted compensation from the developer is not a testimony of their consent to the reclamation project, but rather, their desperation in the face of grim economic challenges.
Further, the fact that the proposed development project includes an 80-room hotel raises serious concerns as to energy and freshwater use, and how and where the waste and wastewater generated will be treated and disposed of. The high density of the proposed development project would mean that it is prima facie unsustainable, especially when taking into consideration the fact that it would be on a man-made island in an ecologically sensitive marine zone.
The initial DEIA for the project contained many shortcomings and left many questions unanswered. In addition, there was no shortage of allegations that local communities, including the indigenous Orang Seletar community, fishermen and environmental organisations such as Malaysian Nature Society Johor and Save Our Seahorses Malaysia were not consulted. This naturally generated suspicion and misgivings against the developers. Such conflict could have been alleviated if all the relevant and affected parties had been consulted.
In the short term, it would appear that the development project has the potential to create jobs and attract investment. In the long term, however, this project would destroy the soul and identity of indigenous and local coastal communities, generate more waste and pollution than can be sustainably managed, destroy important fisheries and cause irreparable harm to the environment.
For all the above reasons, as a concerned citizen, I hope that the developer and State Government will reconsider the Forest City development project, or at least take concrete and lasting measures to mitigate the harm it would cause. Cities, hotels and business districts can be constructed and developed just about anywhere -- so why choose an environmentally sensitive site?
Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Paw-ty for a good cause

For the past 4-5 years, SPCA Selangor has been conducting Santa Paws Christmas fundraisers in early December to bring friendly dogs and dog guardians together and to raise funds for Mission Help projects to subsidise neutering, vaccination and deworming costs for animal rescuers and stray animal feeders. For approximately 4 years, the beneficiaries have been the rescuers who operate around Jaya One shopping centre.
The stray dog and cat population in the area had been rather high because of the available food sources (uncovered rubbish bins, food courts) and the fact that dogs brought in to guard construction sites were often abandoned once construction was complete and the buildings started getting occupied.

This year, the funds raised from Santa Paws would be used to neuter the dogs in the Kwong Tong Cemetery, not far from my former workplace. A number of my friends live nearby and have been feeding the dogs in an effort to make them friendly and trusting enough to be approached and hence, trapped for neutering.
The above are 3 of the SPCA's ongoing Trap, Neuter, Release and Manage projects for 2014 - 2015.
I was happy to see my friend Pyo again, although the SPCA officers and staff were understandably busy that morning.

It was a Christmas Fair for both companion animals and animal-loving individuals. This merchandise booth had the cutest animal-themed stationeries and trinkets imaginable.

I had spent the day before the event bathing and tickwashing dogs and Frontlining cats at the SPCA to get them ready for the event and to increase their chances of adoption. Estrella here had been given a bath in the morning but had managed to dig a hole the size of a diamond mine in the SPCA backyard and gotten herself gloriously filthy again by evening. I had to bathe her and dry her off and keep her confined to an enclosure all night so that she would not get out to dig holes for people to fall into again. She does look a bit indignant here, doesn't she?

Our teen volunteer Dhanya doing a good job of manning the merchandise booth.

Our friend Gregor with his rescued dog, Mojito, who he hopes to find a good adopter for. I hope Mojito finds a good home soon.

I was thrilled to meet Hugo, a Dogue De Bordeaux.  He is a sweet and gentle soul.
Oyster the Cat must be one of the chillest cats ever. He even has his own Facebook page.  What a handsome little charmer.

Animal guardians out doing their Christmas shopping with their undeniably well-behaved canine charges.
  Cuddling with the SPCA dogs in the Off-Leash Play Pen area.

The objective of this event is not only to raise funds but to encourage people to bring their sociable and well-adjusted canine charges out to animal-friendly public spaces, raise awareness on animal rights and welfare issues, provide a place for animal rescuers and adopters to meet, create economic opportunities for rescue groups and local companion animal-related businesses and encourage and support rescuers in their efforts to trap, neuter, release and manage stray populations.

If you are a rescuer or need help in getting community animals neutered, please observe the following procedure in applying for subsidised neutering and other assistance under SPCA's Mission Help initiative:
1. Submit a request via their website. Provide helpful and accurate information as to the location and number of animals.
2. Play your part. If the animals are aggressive, fearful or skittish, help the SPCA by feeding the animals for at least a few weeks until they are trusting enough to be approached. If you are not able to approach them, there is a high likelihood that the SPCA rescuers and inspectors will not be able to, either! We can't block off entire roads and buildings and we don't have magic skills. Help us corral or leash the dogs/cats in an enclosed area, e.g. a yard or warehouse, until the SPCA van arrives. Too often, people submit requests to Mission Help and expect us to do all the work ourselves. When the Inspectorate van arrives, the animals run helter-skelter and our staff end up wasting an entire day chasing after aggressive dogs and fearful cats.
3. Sometimes, difficult decisions will have to be made. Some animals are ill, injured or diseased and are therefore not medically fit for neutering. The SPCA does not have x-ray equipment or other resources for diagnosing serious medical conditions. Your options include:
- Leaving the injured/ill dog/cat behind in the hope that they will recover on their own, and proceed with the neutering of the healthy animals instead.
- Making an arrangement to take the injured/ill dog/cat to a vet of your own choice and paying for the treatment yourself. The SPCA can help you promote your appeal for assistance or adopters on social media but genuinely does not have the resources to pay the bills for you.
- Arranging to foster the dog/cat in your home until he/she recovers and is strong enough for neutering and release/rehoming.
Helping animals is a difficult and thankless job. Please be considerate to animal rescuers and welfare organisations and help them in order that they can help you and animals better.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Old-School Games and New Friends at the Taman Za'aba Public Park

Sometimes protest doesn't come in the forms you expect it to.
Sometimes protest comes in the most subtle, gentle and delightful of forms.
This event came at the right time for our hurting country. It has been an emotionally-charged week, what with the UMNO General Assembly delegates spewing venom filled with racial and religious hatred and the one-sided use of the Sedition Act to silence and oppress students, activists and opposition leaders.

I had already made plans for the weekend of November 29 - 30 when I saw this poster being shared on Facebook. I was both intrigued and thrilled. The organisers of this informal community event just wanted to bring members of the public together to play old-school playground games from our childhood, in an effort to take a walk down memory lane, encourage people to get to know their neighbours and make new friends, introduce children to traditional schoolyard games that do not involve toys or electronic devices, and strengthen and heal the community.
I doubt they had politics or protest in mind when they organised it, but for those of us who had attended it, the sense of solidarity and camaraderie was palpable. This was our way of thumbing our nose at the racist rhetorics of the ruling coalition and the atmosphere of fear and suspicion they try to create.
And so in spite of a weekend schedule packed with volunteer commitments, chores and vet appointments, I managed to carve out time to attend this event at the Taman ZaƔba public park. Aravind accompanied me there, although he is too much of an introvert to want to join in the games, and we brought chips and chocolates to share with the families picnicking and playing games at the park.
Boisterous games of rope-jumping, hopscotch, seven stones and rounders were in progress when we got there, but I was fascinated by the giant bubbles being blown by a gaggle of children and adults in one part of the park.

A Good Samaritan had anonymously engaged a giant bubble service to give out soap bubble solution and loan out bubble-making equipment for free. I think the adults were more gleeful about the bubbles than the children. The children seem a bit blase, but back in my day nobody had bubble rental services or giant bubble-making equipment.

The park was filled with exclamations of wonder and triumph as we released huge, iridiscent bubbles into the air. It took only one or two tries to get the hang of making giant bubbles using wands and string loops.
Then it was time to move on to something else. I observed these ladies jumping rope for a while before I asked if I could join in.
I was always horrible at girls' games such as rope-jumping and hopscotch, even as a child. This time, however, it didn't matter. The school playground is a place fraught with danger -- petty quarrels, jealousy, popularity contests and the humiliation of being picked last for games. Once you're an adult, however, it doesn't matter. Especially not on a beautiful Sunday morning like this.

Syed Azmi (yes, he of the I Want To Touch A Dog fame) had a go at the rope and almost succeeded in clearing the jump. Way to go, my friend!
I suggested a few other schoolyard games that do not require equipment, including the traditional village game of "Laga Lutut", or knee-jousting. Azmi was curious, and we tried it out.
Basically, participants stand in a chalk circle with one knee raised. At the word 'go', you slam your knee against your opponent's knee without falling over. The first one to step out of the circle, cease standing on one foot, or lose one's balance loses the match. Such a simple but fun game.

Guess I don't know my own strength because I knocked Azmi out both rounds.
My new friend Natasha wants to play, too.

A youngster steps up to challenge Azmi. The heat is on!

With the crowd building up, it was time for a big, boisterous round of the multigenerational game, "Tuju Kasut", also known as "Baling Selipar". Azmi explains the rules to us and we split into two teams.

The rules are that one team will build a pyramid/wigwam of 3 flip-flops or shoes, and try to protect it from being destroyed. The other team tries to knock the wigwam down using another flip-flop. Once the wigwam is down, the attacking team takes out the defending team's members one-by-one by hitting them with the flip-flop used in the initial attack, while the defending team tries to rebuild the wigwam without getting hit. It was like a combination of a beach rave, marathon, war zone and fish market out there. Even passersby stopped to watch, point and laugh.
By this time, my camera phone was out of battery but it didn't matter, savouring the moment and being present was more important than taking photos for posterity. I looked around and saw sights that filled my heart with contentment -- a grandmother teaching her granddaughter how to play Seven Stones with tiny handsewn beanbags, a teenager giving random children rides on "upih pinang", or palm fronds, as the children screamed with laughter, babies in prams gurgling at the bubbles and joyful noises surrounding them, children climbing up a surprisingly high climbing frame without the supervision of anxious nagging parents, families picnicking and sharing food, several participants cleaning up the park, some others just sitting under the trees, soaking in the Sunday smiles and trying to catch their breath before the next round of rambunctious games.
All I could think of on the way home is: I am glad I came. I am glad I made the time to come. My friends who had seen the post had expressed doubts that they would not know anybody there. Well, I didn't when I arrived either, and now I have made a few new friends (several of whom are into environmental protection and education, volunteering, animal rescue and trapping, neutering and releasing stray animals). I am glad I came and I am grateful for the community-minded individuals who organised this. I really hope they will organise this again.
On this morning of playing old-school games and making new friends, I am reminded again of how healing and energizing play and laughter can be. I look back on this event and how friendly, welcoming and inclusive everyone was, and I know that Malaysia's going to be just fine.
(Postscript: Next time I will bring my 'congkak' set and we will have a marathon congkak-playing session. If anyone can defeat me, I will buy him/her an ice cream cone, so pick your flavour and turn up!)

Friday, 12 December 2014

December Birthdays Are The Best

So I had a birthday three days ago. And I took the day off work, despite the fact that I am entitled to so few vacation days here at the new office, because heck, birthdays are worth it even if you're going to spend it at home doing chores.

I did spend a good part of my day doing chores, but I also received hundreds of birthday messages from thoughtful friends, which made me feel very loved, and I managed to carry on my birthday tradition of donating blood.

My 45th whole blood donation at the National Blood Bank. Service was excellent, as usual.

The vegetarian meal set for herbivorous blood donors. The only difference from the non-veg version is that our fried noodles are vegan. Mine has tempeh and tofu in it. Thank you, National Blood Bank!

The lobby area of the National Blood Bank is all prettied up for Christmas.

I went out with 6 of my best friends -- Serina, Shalan, Nicole, Sonu, Karen and Aravind -- for dinner and post-dinner entertainment that night. There was no drinking because Aravind and I had just donated blood and the following day was a workday.

A shallow but happy thought occurred to me on the night of my birthday: December birthdays are the best! When you go out to celebrate, it looks as though all the shops and streets made themselves pretty, sparkly, jingly and festive in your honour!

 We (or rather, I) had a pre-dinner cupcake and macarons at Cupcake Chic while waiting for the others to arrive.


The whole centre court of The Curve was transformed into a winter wonderland.

Serina suggested dinner at Johnny Rockets and I agreed. We've been curious about trying the food there for some time.


Serina, Nic and I fell in love with the retro American diner ambience of Johnny Rockets almost immediately. It reminded me of the many roadside diner meals I had in the States.

There was even a little old-timey jukebox playing rock-and-roll numbers.

So good to have my best friends around me for dinner on my birthday.

As you can see, we were pretty enthusiastic about the food. I went for their vegan entree, the aglia olio pasta.
Then, as with Johnny Rocket outlets all over the world, the service staff came out to perform a cute little song-and-dance number.
When the staff came out to perform the second time around, I thought they were going to sing Christmas songs, but nooooo......
It was to sing me the birthday song! Serina and Aravind had informed them that it was my birthday, so they came out bearing a birthday sundae with a candle in it, and a plate with a birthday message written on it in ketchup.
Serina had informed them of the correct way to spell my name but they still got it jumbled up, which amused us no end.

I had a task to complete before I could enjoy my birthday sundae. I had to blow out the candle from about 1 - 1.5 metres away using a straw. I nailed it at the first try. Thank you, Johnny Rockets, for a fun and memorable birthday dinner!

After dinner we walked towards the games arcade through the promenade and shopping mall. Everything looked so pretty and magical during the holiday season.

On our way to the arcade, we passed by the ice skating rink, which we love, and Serina and I made plans to return next week to skate.
The arcade is one of my favourite wastes of money! Look at all of us crowding round the basketball hoops! We were all shouting with laughter at one point!
Here is Lan laughing as he watched Aravind and I play the pirate shooting game.

Will ya look at the concentration on our faces!

Of course I had to try the K-Pop dance machine. Even if I do suck at it. If I sucked any harder, I could sell off my vacuum cleaner.

Serina and Lan raced against each other, and Serina won! Attagirl!

Meanwhile, I engaged in a car race of my own. There was nobody around but Serina and me, but  I waved to the non-existent crowds anyway.

Throwing in one final round of Street Basketball before we parted ways for the night to get ready for work the following morning.
We had a state holiday two days after my birthday, on account of it being the Sultan's birthday. So in the Sultan's honour, I woke up early, weeded the whole garden, cleaned the house, took Katniss to the vet, met up with my conveyancing lawyer, visited my former colleagues, volunteered at the SPCA shelter and went to help out at the SPCA booth at a Christmas fair.
Frontline treatment for the SPCA cats and kittens, especially the rescues and strays. Poor baby doesn't look very happy, does she?
And then I was off to help out at the SPCA booth at the Christmas Fair at Midvalley. Kelvin was there with another volunteer and sales were brisk! We sold out on so many items that Kelvin had to email the office to deliver fresh stocks.

Our dog-and-cat coin box has been given a fresh coat of paint and Santa hats. Don't they look life-like and adorable?

The woodland Christmas theme at Midvalley this year is positively darling. It definitely is the most wonderful time of the year!

Thank you all for being there for me as I made another trip around the Sun! It's been quite a ride!