Thursday, 27 April 2017

(2006 - 27 April 2017)
My quiet and sensitive little Daisy left us last night. Her health had never been stellar and we didn't think she would survive kittenhood.
I gave her the best care and food I could afford and loved her every second of every day. She was a special, empathetic and sensitive little old soul. Food allergies and mouth ulcers meant she was continuously on a special diet and medications for the final three years of her life. I'd like to believe the medications kept her reasonably comfortable and pain-free, because she really enjoyed eating and playing.
I know I am not supposed to play favourites but she always got twice the amount of treats as everyone else and always got to open the Christmas and birthday presents first, maybe because I knew her time with us would be short. She led the way in my Easter Egg hunts and got the best boxes that I brought home from the office. She and Mini-Me were the only cats who knew how to massage (i.e. knead) my back on request. She was so smart that she learned how to switch off the alarm clock so I would lie in bed with her a little longer (and she made me late for work). She would read books with me every night and make suitably intelligent "hmmm...hmmm" sounds.
Her decline was rapid and sudden even if not unexpected. One day she was climbing on furniture and playing with a rediscovered toy and the next day she was listless and had no appetite.
I would like to think she had not suffered very much or very long. I would like to think she enjoyed being my daughter as much as I enjoyed being her mama. Goodbye Daisy-Meow, I love you more than words could express. If reincarnation or Heaven were real, I would like to be reunited with you someday.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Close call for Heckle and Jeckle

I was about to leave my office to attend my friend Eddin's jazz performance at No Black Tie on 21st March when my good friends Rudhra and Angela sent a message to our Whatsapp group informing me of two glue-covered mynahs they had rescued.

There was no question about what I should do next. I was there within half an hour.

I will let Rudhra tell this story in his own words:
"I was about to begin my run yesterday evening when a man walking ahead of me stopped in his tracks and beckoned. By the wall of the TTDI primary school, amidst a heap of rubbish, leaves and branches lay a mynah. It didn’t look injured although its movement was inhibited -- upon closer inspection, we discovered that its body and feathers was coated in a sticky substance. I suggested bringing it back to Angela (my wife’s) house to get it cleaned up and just as we were leaving, out popped a second and larger mynah from under the branches. Unfortunately, it was in a similar state so we gathered both mynahs and left.

By the time we got home the mynahs had become rather distressed. After a while, the man (whose name was Paul) had to go and wished us the best. Angela and I spent the next half hour trying to clean them (or find them) as they hopped and hid all around the garden, behind pots, plants and in the drain.

I decided to contact my friend Ee Lynn for advice -- Ee Lynn has a lot of knowledge and experience in caring for and rescuing animals so if there was anyone I knew who could help, it was her. She gave me a list of things to do (and NOT to do) but feeling a little overwhelmed and uncertain of my ability (I feared causing them further distress or worse, injuring them) I asked if she would come over. Despite having plans to attend a show later that night, she said yes – she’d be right there and boy, was I relieved.

Ee Lynn arrived about 20 minutes later and spent the rest of the evening just being Ee Lynn. With unreserved patience, care and compassion she set about the task of cleaning and comforting both mynahs. After over an hour of oiling and scrubbing, she had gotten nearly all of the gunk off so we placed them in a box with water and food to dry off over the night. Ee Lynn was late for her show of course, but it did not matter – making sure the mynahs were OK was her priority and thankfully, they were.

This morning, Angela and I released them in the park. They hopped around, flew a bit and made for the bushes and trees. Their wings were still a little damp but it’s a hot day outside and I imagine they’ll be ok once they’ve dried off completely. Thank you Ee Lynn for saving these mynahs and, as always, for being an exemplar of kindness and humanity. You rock."
(All photo credits: Rudhra.)
I named the mynahs Heckle and Jeckle, even though I know that in the animated series, Heckle and Jeckle are magpies, not mynahs.
This is the state that Rudhra found the Jeckle in.
First, I carefully rubbed talcum powder onto the bird's feathers to make the glue less sticky and easier to handle. From its viscosity, texture and appearance, I think the birds have gotten themselves stuck in a glue trap. They must have also tried to free their feathers from the glue using their feet and beaks, which were all covered in glue as well.
I massaged each bird carefully with lots of olive oil and gently rubbed the glue off.
Each bird was then shampooed and rinsed off and the cycle of oiling and shampooing was then repeated 3-4 times until there are no traces of gunk left.

Angela and Rudhra put the exhausted, wet and frightened birds in a ventilated box with some uncooked rice and drinking water so they could rest and recover overnight.

The birds were still a little wet but looked much healthier and stronger in the morning.
Goodbye and good luck, Heckle and Jeckle! Take care! We love you!

It helps to remember these very basic things to do when you find a bird covered in glue from a glue trap:
1. Switch off all ceiling and table fans to prevent the birds from getting themselves killed while trying to escape.
2. Close all windows, toilets and anything that a panicking bird could fall into or out of, and get killed or injured in its attempt to escape.
3. Use powder or flour on feathers to make the glue easier to handle. Avoid getting any in the bird's eyes, nostrils or beak. It may be easier to apply the flour/powder if you pour the flour or powder into your hand first.
4. Now use oil and massage it into the feathers gently. Use your fingernails to GENTLY and LIGHTLY scrape off the glue.
5. Lather the feathers with shampoo. Again, avoid the eyes, nostrils and beak.
6. Rinse.
7. Repeat steps 4-5 until there is no stickiness left.

Here is Birdlife International's basic guide on what to do when you find a bird in need. If you live in KL/Selangor, you can also contact Dr. Jalila Abu of the Avian Vet Unit of UPM at 03 8946 8340.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Letter to the Editor: Protect Ulu Muda from Logging

The report of continued logging activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex (The Star, 9 March 2017) is a cause for alarm. The Green Living Special Interest Group of the Malaysian Nature Society supports the call of Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the Penang Water Supply Corporation to terminate all logging and quarrying activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex immediately.
The 160,000-hectare forest complex, covering 7 forest reserves, is a critical water catchment area for the northern states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang and supplies water to, among others, the Ahning, Muda and Pedu Dams. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, the Ulu Muda forest complex supplies as much as 96% of Kedah’s, 50% of Perlis’ and 80% of Penang’s water supply.
The Kedah State Government has been aware of the logging activities in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve for years, and the Kedah Water Supply, Water Resources and Energy Committee had assured the public since last year that it would look into the issue of logging permits and the possibility of gazetting the entire forest reserve as a water catchment area (The Star, 16 May 2016).
The 2016 drought affecting the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia is directly linked to logging activities in the Ulu Muda forest complex, which affected climate and water cycle patterns, resulting in a massive decline in dam water levels and a postponement of the paddy planting season.
In addition to providing water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use, Ulu Muda also provides vital ecological services such as climate regulation, soil erosion prevention, biodiversity conservation and maintenance of soil, water and air quality. Without the root system of this rainforest complex to absorb and slowly release rainwater, heavy monsoon rains would end up washing over the exposed cleared forests, resulting in soil erosion, landslides, flash floods and the silting of rivers.
Forest clearing releases stored carbon dioxide, which traps heat and contributes to atmospheric warming. A fully-grown tree releases 1,000 litres of water vapour a day into the atmosphere. The reduced ability of a cleared or decimated forest to absorb solar energy and release water vapour leads to higher temperatures and a decline in rainfall. One can imagine the ecological fallout if logging were allowed to continue in Ulu Muda.
From a human dimension, Ulu Muda provides economic and sociocultural services which include ecotourism, the harvesting of forest products and a home for indigenous and rural communities.
The preservation of the Ulu Muda forest complex is not a political issue and not merely the concern of environmental organisations. It affects the very survival and food and water security of a significant percentage of the population of Peninsular Malaysia. When the survival of present and future populations is at stake, apportioning blame to political parties and previous administrations is unproductive and downright harmful.
Malaysia stands to gain more economic benefits from keeping its forests intact and biologically diverse, than from issuing permits for logging, mining and road construction in forested areas. The economic benefits of logging are short-lived and can sustain only 1-2 generations at most. If the federal and state governments wish to cultivate long-term prosperity, they need to afford greater protection to rainforests, which are worth more alive than dead. There is little point in governmental and municipal initiatives such as recycling and tree-planting campaigns, which smack of environmental tokenism, if state governments and the Federal Government are unwilling to cooperate to conserve and protect the Ulu Muda forest complex.

Friday, 3 February 2017

January 2017 In iPhone Photos

1 Jan:
I organised another forest reserve cleanup on New Year's Day. Around 15 volunteers showed up to help, and we cleaned up the trails, lake and park. This is our haul of rubbish for the day. Not too shabby at all for two hours of work, considering that some of our volunteers are very young children. This was followed by a potluck picnic, Lucky Draw session (in which everyone won something) and a tree-planting session with some of the saplings I brought.
1 Jan:
While cleaning up the lake, Hari found part of a turtle or terrapin's skeleton. Jay and Geok Chunn's girls found other bone fragments, so we played at being amateur natural historians and tried to piece it back together.
1 Jan:
Marking New Year's Day 2017 by planting indigenous trees.
3 Jan:
First bento of 2017. Rainbow pizza, with fruits for dessert.
7 Jan:
Photographing street art in downtown KL on a Saturday morning after leaving Scott's apartment. I took a photo of this mural in Lorong Panggung.

7 Jan:
'Rage Against The Machine', an Ernest Zacharevic installation in Jalan Sultan.
7 Jan:
The SPCA shelter no longer has a fulltime vet. But it does have a weekend Ee Lynn, and that's not too shabby now, is it?
7 Jan:
Looks like I've found a new place to read a book and enjoy a fairtrade cuppa.
8 Jan:
Fresh vegetables, fairtrade coffee, homemade ice pops and garden parties at the Titi Eco Farm Open Day.
12 Jan:
Lunar New Year celebrants shopping for flowers and plants.
13 Jan:
I allow myself one ovo-lacto cheat day a week while transitioning to full veganism, and on this cheat day, I treated myself to an ice cream cone from Hail's Soft Serve.
14 Jan:
Bathing dogs, administering flea and tick treatment and cleaning ears at the SPCA shelter on a humid Saturday afternoon.
14 Jan:
Acrobatic lion dance performance by Kun Seng Keng, national high pole lion dance champions, at One Utama.
 15 Jan:
When your kicks match the Rapid MRT train seats and all is neat and orderly in your universe.
16 Jan:
Serina gave me bagsful of toys and books for my community service projects and for reuse. My little niece Hailey inherited the plastic farm animals, while my cats and I got the dinosaurs. We've been playing 'dinosaurs' every night here at the Wee Green Flat. Preloved toys are rawrsome.
16 Jan:
The real reason for dinosaur extinction.
17 Jan:
Malcolm was in town so I invited him out to dinner at Garage 51, a hipster cafe near my workplace.
 17 Jan:
Vegan mushroom sandwich and lots of chips for me at Garage 51. It was alright but not remarkable. Not even sure if it deserved a dab.
18 Jan:
I created the cheeriest little office windowsill vegetable garden ever.
 19 Jan:
"What a strange thing!
To be alive
Beneath cherry blossoms."
- Kobayashi Issa, Poems.
21 Jan:
Doggie-Doos Washing Day at the KL Pooch Rescue shelter today.

24 Jan:
Taco Tuesday with my good friend Ellen -- we had mushroom soft tacos and sweet potato fries and I had a strawberry mojito. Yums!
24 Jan:
Taco Tuesday with Ellen at Thyme Out, a cosy little place across the road from my office. Love the company, and love the food!
24 Jan:
I love the stained glass pendant lights at Thyme Out Sunway.
25 Jan:
Vegan nasi lemak set at Kukus TTDI. I think I died a little and went to heaven.
26 Jan:
Lion dance on the occasion of Australia Day at my office.
28 Jan:
Lunar New Year family staycation by the beach.
30 Jan:
Lion dance performance at my good friend Audrey's housewarming do.
30 Jan:
Solo walk in the woods on a quiet afternoon. If anyone doubts that the state ban on plastic bags and styrofoam containers can effect behavioral change, I can categorically state that there was a very marked reduction in plastic bags and styrofoam food packaging spotted during my usual trail cleaning rounds.
31 Jan:
Things I do on my day off. The SPCA was rather shorthanded that day so I took over some of the cleaning duties as well.
31 Jan:
LED lion dance at Symphony Walk, IOI City Mall.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Letter to the Editor: Benefits of Plastic Bag Ban Far Outweigh Inconvenience


The Selangor State Government’s ban on polystyrene food packaging and free plastic bags has been in force for over a week, and so far the objections to the ban are as follows: 
(i) That having to buy reusable bags and containers or pay for plastic grocery bags is a financial burden on consumers; 
 (ii) That consumers end up having to buy plastic rubbish bags for waste disposal; 
(iii) That the ban will not reduce waste or pollution; and 
(iv) That plastic bags can be safely and cheaply recycled or incinerated and there is therefore no need to ban or restrict their use. 

In response to the above arguments, it is pointed out as follows: 

(i) Reusable cotton and canvas bags and washable food and beverage containers can last for years and over hundreds of uses. Therefore, investing in good quality reusable items is better for human and environmental health and makes economic sense in the long run. 

The only reason that ‘free-of-charge’ plastic bags and polystyrene packaging appear affordable to the average citizen is because they are not aware of the cradle-to-grave environmental and economic costs of plastic waste. 

Plastics Kill! 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that between 550 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and most of it end up in our oceans. 

Worldwatch Institute reports that at least 267 species of marine wildlife are known to have suffered or died from entanglement or ingestion of plastic marine debris. A European Commission study on the impact of litter on North Sea wildlife found that over 90% of the birds examined had plastic in their stomachs. 

If consumers had to bear the cost of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife, mitigating and repairing damage caused by flash floods and clogged waterways and cleaning up plastic litter, plastic packaging would not be free or inexpensive at all. 

The reason states and nations have had to impose bans or taxes on disposable plastics is to encourage and expedite behaviour change, which would not take place on its own with sufficient effectiveness if we were to rely on voluntary plastic bag reductions. Governments, retailers and environmental organisations have spent millions on outreach and awareness campaigns with only minimal results. Education and awareness campaigns have little positive impact on an informed but apathetic population, and as such, different strategies are needed. Bans and fees for plastic bags are the catalyst for consumers to reduce their plastic bag usage. 

(ii) The most common argument of consumers who claim to ‘need’ free plastic bags is that they need the bags to dispose of household rubbish in, and would now have to pay for rubbish bags. However, most of the plastic bags given out by retailers and vendors are lightweight, single-use plastic bags that are almost never reused. 

To resolve this problem, the authorities should implement a policy allowing only the distribution of plastic bags above 20 micron (0.02 mm) in thickness and with a minimum capacity of 5 litres, and to charge consumers for it, to ensure that these plastic bags are reused for storage or waste disposal. 

Unfortunately, the regulations and policies currently in place seem to mostly encourage the replacement of plastic bags with paper bags, purportedly ‘biodegradable’ bags and cheap non-woven shopping bags. None of these are environmentally sustainable alternatives. 

Oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, oxy-degradable, oxy-biodegradable, and degradable plastic bags are merely plastic bags with a chemical additive. This chemical additive breaks the plastic molecular ties and expedites the disintegration of the plastic. Over time, these bags break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers, which eventually contaminate our soil and water, and enter the animal and human food chain. Only bags that conform to compostability standards ASTM D6400 or EN 13432 are truly biodegradable. 

Paper bags have a high carbon and water footprint, as more water and energy are used in the production of paper bags compared to plastic bags. However, as they are less harmful to wildlife and less toxic to human health, they can be safely used as food packaging. Considering their high water and energy use and low durability, the use of paper bags should be restricted to the sale and serving of food, and not as grocery bags and shopping carrier bags. 

 Non-woven polypropylene bag 

Non-woven shopping bags, referred to colloquially as ‘recycle bags’ although this is grammatically and factually inaccurate, are made of polypropylene and are therefore also plastic although they look and feel like fabric. These should be avoided as they are not durable, break down into plastic fibres easily, and cannot be repaired, recycled or composted. Further, tests by consumer groups found that a large percentage of these bags contain lead. 

It is thus reiterated that paper bags, non-woven reusable shopping bags and most brands of ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags do not reduce waste or harm to the environment. The solution to the problem of plastic pollution and waste reduction should incorporate the banning of small, lightweight plastic bags, the distribution only of larger, thicker plastic bags for a small fee, the elimination of ‘greenwashing’ alternatives such as non-woven polypropylene bags, the restriction of the use of paper bags only to food vendors and the implementation of incentives such as rebates and express checkout counters. Long-term solutions include practical initiatives to encourage and increase recycling and composting to reduce household waste and correspondingly reduce the need for rubbish bags. 

(iii) In response to the claim that the ban will not significantly reduce plastic pollution, it is pointed out that many countries have banned, taxed or charged for plastic bags, and these measures have been proven successful. 

In Denmark, since the introduction of a charge on plastic bags in 1993, the usage of plastic bags has been halved from approximately 800 million bags to 400 million bags, or only 80 bags per person annually. The People’s Republic of China banned lightweight plastic bags and imposed a charge for thicker, bigger bags, and reported a 66% drop in plastic bag usage. CNN Asia reported that China will save 37 million barrels of oil each year due to its ban on free plastic bags. 

A plastic bag tax levied in Ireland in 2002 has reportedly led to a 95% reduction in plastic bag litter there. A study by San Jose, California found that a 2011 ban instituted there has led to plastic litter reduction of approximately 89% in the storm drain system, 60% in the creeks and rivers, and 59% in city streets and neighbourhoods. 

The European Union, Rwanda, Bangladesh, India and many other nations already have plastic bag bans or taxes in place, and these jurisdictions have seen significant gains from less plastic pollution. Considering that plastic bag bans and taxes have been successfully implemented and upheld in both developed and developing countries and jurisdictions, there is no reason why it cannot be workable and effective in Malaysia. 

(v) Despite the claims of the plastics manufacturing industry, most plastics and polystyrene cannot be recycled. Only plastics categorised under codes 1 and 2 are actually separated and collected for recycling. Polystyrene is hardly ever recovered for recycling due to its light weight, low scrap value, prohibitive cleaning and transportation costs and the fact that it is almost always contaminated with food, grease and other matter. It costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one, and as such less than 1% is actually recycled. According to Jared Blumenfeld, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment: “It costs USD4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for USD32.” 

As polystyrene and plastics are still made from petroleum, a non-renewable and heavily polluting resource, benzene used in the production of polystyrene is a known human carcinogen, and polystyrene and plastics release noxious gases including styrene, xylene and hydrogen bromide when broken down and incinerated, one should seriously question the flippant claim that plastics and polystyrene products could be safely and cheaply incinerated. 

Some tips to help consumers remember to bring their reusable shopping bags and takeaway containers with them include the following: 

1. Choose lightweight and portable reusable bags that can be folded neatly and tucked into your handbag or backpack. Make a habit of carrying them with you whenever you leave the house. 

2. Keep your shopping bags in your car if you are in the habit of driving to run errands and go shopping. 

3. Keep your reusable bags by the door that is the most frequently used in your home, where you will be most likely to see and remember them as you are leaving the house or putting on your shoes. 

4. Plan your shopping and include a written reminder in your shopping list. 

5. Purchase or DIY a foldable, lightweight bag that is small enough to hook to your keychain, so you will always have at least one reusable bag with you even when you are not driving or carrying a backpack. 

6. Wash your fabric reusable bags on laundry day (they hardly take up any space) to kill germs and remove dirt and odour, and hang them out to dry. Once they are dry, fold and stow them away immediately in your car, handbag, or backpack so you don't leave them behind on your next shopping trip. 

Plastic waste reduction measures should not be seen as a burden or sacrifice, but merely an adjustment. The environmental, societal and human health benefits of reducing plastic usage and waste are numerous and far outweigh the initial inconvenience of having to remember your reusable bags and containers.