Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Monthly Bucket List September 2015

1. Make a new friend

I have been a regular volunteer at Beacon of Hope for almost one year now and had previously communicated mostly only with the students and the coordinator of the centre, Mr. Henry. Recently I got to know some of the other teachers better, including Zubaidah, who teaches at a regular school in the daytime and has a severely disabled daughter. It is admirable that she teaches at Beacon in the evenings despite the challenges she is facing. My day job of drafting legal documents and opinions must seem like such a doddle compared to hers.

Nadia is a Homeless Hairwash volunteer who I took an instant liking to. She is young, passionate, helpful and really fun to have around. I invited her to my Mid-Autumn Housewarming Party and she turned up with ratatouille and made friends with everyone including my parents and my cats. She's the kind of girl who gets invited to everyone's parties.

For my Mid-Autumn housewarming party, I invited friends to bring their partners or a friend, and so I was introduced to 3 guests who I have not met before -- Winnie, who is Shirlyn's sister; Dishen, who is Shamini's partner, and Gibran, who came with Shyam. They are really lovely people and I am glad I extended the invitation to them. Dishen is especially helpful, and Gibran is such a charmer.

2. Help a stranger.

(i) I coordinated the Shoebox Project in 2009 to collect shoeboxes filled with school supplies and toys for refugee children, and this project apparently so inspired my friend Lisa that she decided to coordinate a Shoebox Project to bring gifts to Orang Asli children in indigenous communities this December. I was happy to contribute and filled up two 5-litre food storage containers (I didn't have clean empty shoeboxes at hand, and besides, these boxes are useful and sturdy) with school supplies, pocket board games and other practical and fun items for children of either gender within the 6-13 age group. I am really pleased with my boxes although I went way above budget and will be proud to deliver them to Lisa soon. I know these boxes will bring joy to the children and some financial relief to the parents who will not have to spend as much on school supplies for the upcoming school year.

(ii) Through The Revolving Library's volunteer Facebook group, I got to know of the plans of Teach For Malaysia fellow Rachel Lim to raise funds to take her students, who had worked very hard to learn English all year, on a trip to Kuala Lumpur. The students would require the sponsorship of RM250 each and the trip would widen their horizons and open up a world of new experiences to them. I spread the word on Facebook and chipped with funds to help her plans materialise. Within a week, she had raised enough (I think! I hope!) to ensure that none of her students (who live in a rural community and cannot afford the trip otherwise) would get left out of the trip.

(iii) When I learned that the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee was collecting books and magazines for the prison library from 20th Sept to 7th October, I sorted through my books and magazines for reading materials suitable for mostly working-class men of subaverage literacy levels. I know they would prefer non-fiction, and magazines pertaining to natural history, travel, science, mechanics and spports. I even parted with some of my prized collection of World Cup souvenir magazines because I know many of them are football fans and would enjoy reading about their favourite sport and players. Back issues of Malaysian Naturalist would also be appreciated because there would be pictures of wildlife and birds they can identify, or marvel at. I lugged a huge bag of reading materials to the KL Bar Office after court in late September knowing that these books and magazines would be put to good use.

Frustratingly, though, when I shared the appeal on Facebook, many friends offered to 'donate' completely unsuitable reading materials such as romance novels, old textbooks, outdated business magazines and toastmaster newsletters. I fired off a sarcastic response because I am frustrated that many people do not think about the recipients or beneficiaries when they want to make a donation. They just want to declutter and get rid of their things as expeditiously as possible without thinking of whether there is a more suitable recipient. Despite their university degrees and certificates, a lot of educated people can show a grave lack of practical intelligence and awareness of the needs of others. I hope people will put more thought and consideration into the things that they wish to give to charity. Give something because it will benefit a disadvantaged or needy individual or cause, not because you want to feel good about having contributed and want a convenient way of getting rid of clutter from your home.


Aravind and I have been trying to catch two kittens, one of them injured, from the flats near his home for veterinary treatment and spaying. Although we failed to catch the kittens in September, we managed to catch another one, a young adult calico, for spaying before she could get pregnant. I named her Frida Kahliko and Aravind thought it was a good name. She was duly spayed and cared for and has been returned to the apartment car park, where she is living a reasonably good life with Aravind feeding her and the other stray cats and dogs every day.

(v) On 26th September, I coordinated a visit-and-volunteer session at the TTDI Edible Project and recruited close to 30 volunteers to help them weed and clear up their community edible garden.

(vi) Apart from the above new beneficiaries and causes, I have been helping out at the SPCA shelter, Homeless Hairwash, Beacon of Hope community tuition centre and the Malaysian Nature Society on a weekly basis as usual.

Due to the haze, I bought Beaphar lubricating eye cleaning solution for cats and dogs and cleaned the eyes of all the SPCA animals to reduce the risk of eye irritation due to the annual Southeast Asian haze. ASEAN countries have been discussing a solution to the transboundary haze for years but lack the political will to take any concrete action. We are beginning to see citizens' groups instituting public interest litigation against the plantation companies reported to have been involved in forest clearing in Indonesia. I wish them every success and will lend them all the support I can.

Although this is not a new cause, we did something different at the Malaysian Nature Society Urban Nature Centre in September. Under Koon Hup and Balu Perumal's guidance, we are converting the wasteland behind the Urban Nature Centre into a seed bank and community garden. Aravind and I joined the other volunteers in clearing the place up of rubble, litter, old construction materials, fallen branches and weeds. It was messy and tiring work, and not very rewarding just yet because it's not quite ready for planting or visitors yet, but hopefully after a few more visits it will begin to look a lot more presentable, welcoming and garden-like.

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.

I drove down to Taiping with Aravind for the Malaysian Nature Society Annual General Meeting in early September and we ended up eating in several nondescript little restaurants, food courts and stalls in Taiping Town. I even had a cuboid ice cream cone in the Taiping Lake Gardens. What rum.

Karen took me out to dinner at Hadramawt, The Curve, in exchange for my agreement to house-sit and cat-sit for her for two weeks. We had Mulawah bread, spice-infused hummus and vegetable stew. It was crazy good and reasonably priced.

4. Go someplace I've never been.

I've been to Taiping on two occasions, and this time, although I stayed in the Flemington Hotel in the Taiping Lake Gardens again, I attended the MNS AGM at the Taiping Perdana Hotel. It was in a different part of town, where most of the government offices and cooperative shops are located. That night, Aravind and I decided to skip dinner at the hotel (since it did not look in the least promising and had already run out of lunch for us when we arrived) and drove to Kuala Sepetang after making an appointment with a local boatman for a firefly tour. Unfortunately, it rained and stormed like crazy at nightfall and so the boat ride had to be called off. Well, çést la vie. That's the way it is with nature. There's always next time. We ended up exploring small shops on the way back to town, including a wholesalers selling local snacks and sweets. I ended up buying four packs of illustrated erasers for my students at Beacon. Those kids occupy my mind even when I am away.

In September, I also attended KL Car Free Morning, which technically doesn't fall in this category since it is an event and not a place. Still, I've never cycled in the middle of the road downtown and it felt very liberating and exhilarating to do so. I also bumped into many friends from volunteering and greenie circles and my yellow bike made a lot of new friends as well.

On the 26th of September, I coordinated a visit-and-volunteer session at the TTDI Edible Project and thus visited the community garden in real life for the first time after following them on Facebook for over a year.

5. Learn something new.

In September, I learned how to load and unload my bike into/from my car quickly for trips and events.

6. Declutter and cull 25 items.

Now that I've moved out of the landfill I used to rent with two of my friends, there isn't much for me to declutter here. I try to declutter the parental home on my short visits there on Sundays, but it isn't every Sunday that I have the time to spring-clean. In September, I sorted out around 40 books and magazines for prison library.

I also went through my collection of football socks and removed 8 pairs of almost-new socks for Kedai Jalanan. Our homeless friends have been asking for socks because mosquitoes have been biting their feet at night. Some have skin conditions that need them to apply ointment and antifungal creams on their feet and legs and put socks on to stop the ointment from rubbing off too quickly. I hope my socks will bring them some small measure of comfort.

8. Give up something for a month.

In September, I gave up cleaning my Wee Green Flat more than once a week. After a few months of living on my own with my cats, I realised it is sufficient to mop the floor and wipe all the surfaces and clean the bathroom only once a week for each task. My previous rented home never felt clean even though I mopped twice or thrice a week, thanks to housemates who tracked dirt and clutter in several times a day.

In September, I also took a month-long break from DIY and home improvement projects and just enjoyed being in my apartment without feeling the need to break apart or remodel something.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Mid-Autumn Soiree at the Wee Green Flat

The full-orbed moon with unchanged ray
Mounts up the eastern sky,
Not doomed to these short nights for aye,
But shining steadily.
~ Henry David Thoreau.
I had planned to hold a housewarming party at the Wee Green Flat for some time now, but with Shadow and Chloe's deterioration and untimely demise, I had put it off until I felt ready to celebrate. My little home is a cheerful, welcoming place that radiates with kind and generous intentions, and I am sure Shadow and Chloe enjoyed what little time they spent in it. I am also sure that they would want me and the other cats to be happy in our home.

I finally organised an outdoor poolside party to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of my favourite observances. I informed the apartment management in advance and booked the largest poolside gazebo for our party. On 26th Sept, after our Green Living visit-and-volunteer session at the TTDI Edible Project, I got my place ready for my guests. And my friends and family arrived, happy and uncomplaining and bearing gifts of food, despite the haze which made a dreadful return the same morning.

Around 30 friends and family members showed up. Those who arrived early helped me carry my folding tables and stools downstairs, set the table and put up lanterns. I put some games (Boggle with pens and paper, Jenga, Rubik's Cube) on the side for those who might want to play games. I made my famous fiesta taco salad, sliced up 2 pomelos and a box of mooncakes, and put drinks in my large cooler box to chill. I ordered vegan fried rice from Vegelife and nasi impit, kuah kacang and rendang from the apartment cafeteria. There was way too much food as usual, but I had the foresight to have takeout containers ready, so everyone went home with some food and drinks.

Everybody mingled, chatted, ate and had fun. Only two (Joe and I) were silly enough to swim in such hazy conditions, though.

My bestie Nicole got me a housewarming fruit flan!
Homeless Hairwash represent!
Nadia came upstairs to play with the cats. Katniss allowed herself to be kidnapped but Pix managed to slink away.
My friends helped to clean up after the party and carry things back to the Wee Green Flat. The cats were thrilled to see so many people and assumed that they were there to play with them. Happily, my friends obliged and it was like the head-skritching, cat-petting, face-stroking Olympics for a good part of an hour.
Here's to many, many more parties and happy occasions at the Wee Green Flat!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Letter to the Editor: Shark Fishing Neither Accidental Nor Negligible

It is with incredulity that Malaysians responded to the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Dato’ Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s statements that there was no necessity for a ban on shark finning in Malaysia as it is not a domestic industry, and that sharks were not caught on purpose (Oct 6).
This flies in the face of statistics supplied by wildlife conservation organization, TRAFFIC, which reports that Malaysia has the eight highest rate of shark catch in the world, with 231,212 tons caught from 2002 until 2011. For an ‘industry that doesn’t exist’, this number is alarmingly high.
For an ‘industry that doesn’t exist’ in Malaysia, finding sharks and shark fins being sold openly also seems to be a worryingly common sight. In fact, a feature story in The Star in Oct 2014 even tries to pass off the sale of a juvenile shark as ‘ecotourism’.
To conclude that there is no need for a ban on shark finning because ‘sharks are not caught on purpose’ shows a grave lack of awareness on the Minister’s part on environmental issues in Malaysia. Once this excuse is made on behalf of poachers and fishermen, there will be no shortage of individuals catching endangered species for profit and consumption and claiming that sharks, turtles and other protected species were accidental by-catch.
There is also no logic to the argument that there should not be a ban or restriction on a destructive activity simply because it was unintentional. Whether the sharks were caught by fishermen on purpose does not detract from the fact that shark populations in Malaysia are under threat.
A 2014 study published in conservation journal eLife reports that 25% of all shark species are under threat of extinction. Blacktip reef sharks and spot-tail sharks, found in Malaysia and frequently sold and consumed, are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List.
Despite being portrayed in popular culture as merciless killers, sharks actually have a vital role to play in the marine ecosystem as top predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid. As sharks usually hunt old, weak or sick prey, they help to keep the prey population healthy and strong, enabling these more naturally fit animals to reproduce and pass on their genes. Sharks also trim down many populations of marine animals to the right size, and therefore mitigate the harm these species cause to the marine ecosystem through overpopulation. Sharks regulate the behaviour of prey species, and prevent them from over-grazing vital habitats. The effects of removing sharks from ocean ecosystems, although complex and rather unpredictable, are very likely to be ecologically and economically damaging.
Sharks are an incredibly fragile 'keystone species', partly due to the fact that sharks are slow-growing animals that mature late, live long, and have a low reproduction rate. The depletion of shark populations may cause the entire marine food web to collapse, resulting in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species as well.
It is clear to anyone from the high rates of shark fishing in Malaysia that sharks are a targeted and not accidental catch, and that there is a market in Malaysia for shark meat and shark fins. A ban on shark fishing would therefore go a long way towards protecting shark populations. From a human health point of view, heavy metals and other environmental toxins accumulate in plant and animal tissues through the well-documented process of bioaccumulation. Sharks are prone to bioaccumulation through diet, as they incorporate metals very efficiently and eliminate them slowly. Eating shark meat exposes the consumer to these potentially dangerous toxins, in particular, high levels of the methyl mercury. While a certain amount of mercury in the environment is natural, growing worldwide pollution of our oceans is increasing the risk of high mercury levels in the fish we eat, particularly fish at the top of the food chain like sharks. Consuming sharks will increase the level of mercury one ingests, which will in turn increase one's risk of neurological disorders, coronary heart disease and other serious health issues.
It is critical that there is legislation to monitor fishing vessels and their fishing methods to prevent overfishing, and to ban shark fishing and enforce penalties for the capture of and trade in sharks. Apart from targeted fishing, sharks are also threatened by pollution and habitat destruction. As such, marine protected areas must be established to protect marine ecosystems and habitats to mitigate the effects of pollution and habitat loss to shark populations.
As a concerned citizen, I hope that our ministers will demonstrate clear thinking and good judgement in addressing environmental and other issues, and work together with credible advocacy groups, including conservation organisations, to obtain verifiable data and information that will assist them in making the best decisions for the country.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Helping Hands at the TTDI Edible Project

Urban edible gardening has been growing exponentially in popularity in the last 5-10 years, less for economic/subsistence reasons, and more as a quiet, peaceful way of protesting the high levels of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in conventional vegetable farming, and the hectoring methods of big agricultural companies.

Besides, gardening is calming and therapeutic, and it is always beneficial to convert wasteland and unused land into farms that can feed humans, animals and insects, and provide shade and other ecosystem services such as pollination opportunities for insects, habitats and food sources for animals, birds and insects and improvement to air, water and soil quality.

Also, community gardens and natural spaces bring people and communities together. People get to have face-to-face conversations and share their knowledge about and experience on plants and insects and germination and cultivation methods.

The TTDI Edible Project is a network of volunteers and social media users that was established in December 2012. The community edible garden is located next to the TTDI Community Centre tennis courts. I have been an enthusiastic follower on Facebook, and when one of its co-founders appealed for volunteers to help clear its overgrown garden in August this year, I organised a Visit and Volunteer Session for the Green Living Special Interest Group on 26th September, since Green Living places a lot of emphasis on doing hands-on work for the betterment of our communities. I brought along my citronella mosquito repellent spray and the gardening gloves that we have been using for the past 2-3 beach and jungle cleanups. Those things do last, all they need is a good washing.

Around a dozen Malaysian Nature Society members showed up to help, and we were joined by 18 young members of the Royal Rangers, a Christian scout movement.

Volunteers hard at work clearing weeds.


Green Living subcommittee member Jack is a shining example of a diligent volunteer who is all action, zero talk.

Annieson clearing weeds from the Brazilian spinach patch.

Liza and me -- Green Living subcommittee members, represent!

Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sissoo)
Ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus), one of my favourite salad vegetables.
A lonely drumstick bean (Moringa oleifera)
Terung pipit (Solanum torvum) -- perfect for curries!
Koon Hup found a sprouted tennis ball! So that's where tennis balls come from!

A group photo for posterity. Spot the sprouted tennis ball in the photo!

Green Living sponsored a waste-free breakfast for everyone (bananas, chiffon cake, banana cake, soy milk, juice) but I was unable to take photos as my hands were full and I was busy pouring drinks for everyone.

Many thanks to everyone for showing up and helping out despite the haze. For more information on the TTDI Edible Project, please visit their website and Facebook page. For more information on Green Living, please visit our official blog, our Facebook group and the Malaysian Nature Society website.