Friday, 5 December 2014

Monthly Bucket List: November 2014

Monthly Bucket List, Nov 2014:

November brought with it many new challenges, but also new opportunities to learn, grow and serve.

1. Make a new friend.

Aravind and I got to know the Friday ReachOut volunteers a little better and became Facebook friends with one of them, Esther, who turned out to have a passion for animal rescue as well. We will, of course, be seeing more of Esther in future during ReachOut rounds and through animal rescue work, and we'd be happy to join in the Friday rounds more often in future.

2. Help a stranger.

Project Second Chance has 3 new Trap, Neuter and Release beneficiaries this month, namely, Horlicks, one of the stray cats that Aravind feeds near his apartment, and a black mama cat with her mackerel tabby (big!) kitten that was abandoned outside the Malaysian Nature Society office. The mama's name is Truffle (because black truffles are precious) and her baby's name is Tinker, because he is a bit of a tinker. We have yet to find a home for all 3 cats, although I have already set up Petfinder accounts for Truffle and Tinker. Please let me know if you or anyone you know are able to give any of these cats a good home!

Truffle and Tinker


On 23 Nov, we picked up a tiny ginger kitten found scavenging for food in the rubbish dumping area. We cleaned him up, named him Lennon and got our friends at the SPCA to help us improve his adoption prospects. Here's Lennon after his bath: 

... And here's Lennon with his new friends.
Lennon was adopted within a few days, and we could not be happier. Many thanks to our friends at the SPCA for helping us find our little rescues good homes.

On 29 November, I went to the SPCA shelter to volunteer as usual. When I was helping our cat caretaker Kak Mazni push a wheelbarrow of trash out to the rubbish collection bins, I spotted a tiny orange-and-white stray kitten under a van that was parked by the roadside. I called out to the kitten and crouched near the exhaust pipe of the van to try to get to the kitten. The kitten did not run away and actually came to Kak Mazni and me. We brought him back to the shelter and I gave him a bath. He was full of fleas and I had to use a lot of Frontline on him and clean his ears out using ear mite solution. Once he was clean, however, he looked a whole lot better. The vets gave him a deworming pill and we arranged to have him put up for adoption immediately. I hope the little guy finds a good home soon.

I have volunteered for Gerai OA in the past and made contributions in cash and kind to Reita for the indigenous communities she works with, but this was the first time she made a crowdfunding appeal to raise funds for new water pipes for one of the villages she works with. I pledged what I could afford as well because it wasn't fair that some indigenous communities are denied such basic necessities as clean water. 
Within days, the donors made good on their pledges and Reita managed to raise enough to cover the cost of the pipes.

I've been volunteering with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Merits Society for a few months at their recycling collection centre, but on 2nd November, I helped out with one of their other programmes. Aravind and I both agreed to volunteer for one of their programmes to provide financial assistance and scholarships to schoolchildren from economically disadvantaged families. We woke up unnaturally early for a Sunday and spent most of the day registering the children who turned up, checking their particulars and keeping track of guests and beneficiaries. We were both exhausted by the time it was over, and would have preferred to spend Sunday catching up on rest and quality time together, but it was a worthy cause and we knew we did the right thing in helping out. I will try, however, not to overcommit and overschedule in future, because we ended up volunteering for 3 causes that same weekend.

The Christmas Wishing Tree is up at the YMCA and I disseminated the wishlist compiled by the YMCA programmes coordinator of the Christmas wishes of the underprivileged children who will benefit from the annual Christmas programme. Many of the requests are for heartbreakingly simple things such as clothes, books, school supplies, school bags and shoes. I am delighted to report that many of my friends decided to adopt these wishes. 

Aravind and I adopted the wishes of 5 little boys who all asked for footballs. We decided that since they are such good boys with such humble, 'ungreedy' requests, we would reward them not only with footballs but with ball pumps, school supplies, art kits and pencil cases.

Some of my friends who are not in the country at the moment asked me for assistance in purchasing and delivering items on the list, so here are 5 Casio wristwatches sponsored by my friends Tuck Hong and Harjinder...

... And 6 backpacks sponsored by Tuck Hong and Andrea.

We chose the best quality gifts we could afford because these are children whose parents would not be able to replace damaged or substandard items.

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.

I met up with my old friend May Leng on 27 Nov and we had dinner at Just Heavenly, a cafe that is new to me. She had an avocado salad and I had chickpea falafels (another first for me), pumpkin soup (since it was Thanksgiving in America on the same day) and a fruit juice.

May's avocado salad.

My pumpkin soup was divine!

Chickpea falafels. They look like little bombs, don't they?

Aravind and I have eaten Sri Lankan 'paal appam', a steamed rice pancake made of rice flour, coconut milk and sugar, several times, but in November I ate the crispy Madras version for the first time, and it was absolutely delicious.

4. Go someplace I've never been.

My house-hunting expeditions have taken me to parts of town I have never been. I checked out an apartment complex I am very keen on and learned that there is a stream flowing through it and a forest reserve behind it. I am surprised afresh by the things I learn about places I have passed by or passed through but not really taken the time to notice.

Aravind and I went to Sunway Giza Mall on 29 November after volunteering at the SPCA to redeem a Groupon voucher for a Chinese massage and spa. It was supposed to be an early birthday treat for me. And what a well-deserved treat it was for the both of us!
Relaxing in the lounge after the spa, massage and Chinese cupping treatment.

A rather tasteful feng shui corner in the spa.

Sunway Giza Mall is a veritable winter wonderland already, and it's not even December yet!

On 30 November, I decided to join in a community event I saw posted on Facebook, and made my way to the public park in Taman Za'aba, a place I had never previously been, to participate in a day of traditional and old-school outdoor games with a bunch of other people wanting to relive their childhood and make friends. 

Giant soap bubbles galore for adults and children alike at the park.

Playing a game involving shoes, flip-flops and dozens of players from 3 different generations!

I am so glad I went and made new friends and met new people. I really hope netizens will coordinate more of such community-centred activities in future. I would be happy to help.

5. Learn something new.

My new job comes with a steep learning curve and I learn something new -- whether it is about law, industrial relations, trading or the manufacturing and construction sectors -- almost every day.
Many people have asked me why I left humanitarian service since I was obviously happy helping people. I reiterate that you don't have to be in humanitarian service to be a humanitarian, and you don't stop being a humanitarian when you leave the payroll of the United Nations. If I fail to learn and grow, then my ability to help others learn and grow is also limited. There are many ways you can help people and one way to is improve your knowledge and skills so that you are in a position to help others improve their knowledge and skills as well.

In November, I also attended a talk on Birds and Biomimetics by my friend Dr. Ille at the Malaysian Nature Society auditorium, during which we learned amazing facts about how birds process visual and auditory information, how they fly and how inventors are learning from nature to introduce innovation to the medical, aeronautics and engineering fields.

... We also got to play with Dr. Ille's very very cool USB microscope. I remember when using a microscope used to mean having to slice things thinly to put on slides and then adjusting the mirror of the microscope to ensure you can get enough light to examine your samples with. USB microscopes make all that unnecessary and outdated. The images we saw on the computer screen are clear, bright, colourful and sharp. It made our childhood microscope seem paleolithic in comparison.

Rangamal and her adorable little niece trying out the USB microscope in the foreground, while Dr. Ille tidies up in the background.

6. Declutter and cull 100 items.

The decluttering exercise in which I cull and dispose of/donate/recycle at least 25 items a week is still ongoing. In November, I cleaned out my laundry basket (which has unfortunately become a catch-all for my sports equipment, backpacks and clean sneakers), the magazine rack, the shoe cabinet, the cabinet under the sink in which we keep cleaning products, and the laundry area.

Now, however, there is renewed motivation to clean out the house and declutter, because we have just received the news from our landlord that he is planning to sell the house. I have been planning to move out for some time, and this will be the kick in the pants that I need. Without my packrat housemates, I will have very few items to bring with me and the monthly decluttering exercise will then be redundant. My cats and I don't accumulate clutter and we can keep the place clean without someone messing it up daily with their cigarette butts and packets, beer cans, food wrappers and daily trash and clutter.

7. Give up something for a month.

Starting a new job is usually one of the most effective catalysts for breaking out of bad habits. For years, I have had the bad habit of going to bed too late (I suffer from the "I'll get just one more thing done before I go to bed" syndrome) and oversleeping. It didn't matter so much before because I was so established and comfortable in my previous job that I grew complacent. I knew I could saunter in 20 minutes late and still get my work done before lunch. 

However, in the Transition Week before I started my new job, I resolved to be an early riser and to be punctual, and started sleeping and rising early even before I started the new job. It worked, and I have given up going to bed too late (after 3 or 4 a.m.) and rising too late and making a mad dash for work at 9 a.m.

For the whole of the past month, I have given up being habitually tardy and being a late sleeper and late riser. I have been going to bed before midnight and rising by 5.00 a.m. This is a habit I would like to strengthen and reinforce, not just for this one month. As an early bird, I might not be able to get as much done as when I was a night owl, but I have reached the point where I am questioning whether it is necessary for me to do ALL that I do late at night -- is it necessary for me to stay up to read an entire book? Do I really have to clean my bicycle and inflate the tyres at 3 a.m.? Why am I spring cleaning my closet and sorting clothes according to colour at 2 a.m.? The newsletter deadline isn't for another 2 weeks, surely I can complete drafting my usual Green Living column the following day?

I'm glad to report that breaking out of those old habits has resulted in a healthier, happier and more energetic me.

8. Letter to the Editor

One of the worst consequences of the fact that Malaysia is regressing back to an agrarian (palm oil based!) economy instead of a knowledge-based economy is that we have become incredibly dependent on cheap migrant labour, yet at the same time we treat migrant workers shabbily and inflict all kinds of human rights abuses on them.

I wrote this letter to the editor in a state of outrage over a ridiculous letter they published. Not surprisingly, my letter was never published. Apparently, in this country it is alright to blame "illegals" and "foreigners""for all social and environmental ills, no matter how far-fetched and spiteful the claims, but not alright to point out the existence of governmental corruption and exploitation of undocumented migrant workers by the authorities, security forces and employers.

However, an edited and abridged version that I submitted to Malaysiakini was published on 24.11.2014

In the comments section to my letter, someone had asked if my letter was recommending that we condone human trafficking. I guess this is the same kind of person who routinely misinterprets exam questions and clients' instructions. It is blindingly obvious that my recommendation is that we put a stop to governmental corruption and increase accountability and transparency to ensure that migrant workers are properly documented and that employers comply with all occupational health and safety laws and guidelines. It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that what I am recommending is that the licensing authorities do their job without fear or favour to take to task farm owners who flout environmental regulations, clear land illegally, exploit their workers and instruct their workers to carry out illegal or risky activities.

It's always easier to blame someone else, particularly someone of another ethnicity, faith or nationality, for our problems. It creates a sense of exclusivity and "otherness" and gives us a reason not to take responsibility for our actions and not to enforce or impose the same standards of justice and fair treatment to all. It's the easy and lazy way out, for simple and lazy minds.

Let's take a stand, instead, to demand responsibility and accountability of others and also ourselves. We can't move forward, as a nation and society and as individuals, if we refuse to assume responsibility for our failings and shortcomings.

So, onwards and upwards, December!

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