Monday, 13 November 2017

Letter to the Editor: Halt Logging In Vicinity of Forest Reserves

It is with grave concern that environmentalists and conscientious citizens read how state and forestry authorities rationalise logging activities in Batu Yon and land surrounding the Merapoh Forest Reserve in the Kuala Lipis area by claiming that the logging is carried out in land owned by the Agriculture Industrial Development Board (LKPP) and not directly on the forest reserve land.
The Merapoh forest, estimated to be 130 million years old, is home to endangered species which include elephants, tigers, tapirs, sun bears and deer, as well as rare flora such as the rafflesia. Its spectacular limestone caves form a vital part of Malaysia’s natural heritage. All of these natural wonders are now under threat as a result of logging and roadworks in their vicinity.
The fact remains that agricultural land bordering gazetted forest reserves are still critical water catchment areas and wildlife habitats. It is overly simplistic to claim that agricultural, recreational or rural residential areas bordering forest reserves are fair game for logging and development since they do not constitute the forest reserve land proper.
Opening up logging roads into areas surrounding forest reserves has knock-on effects and can and do affect the forest reserve area adversely. Statistical evidence has shown that logging roads everywhere from Russia to Central Africa and Southeast Asia have increased access for poachers and hunters into sensitive wildlife habitats and also increased the incidence of human-wildlife conflict and roadkill.
In fact, timber companies operating in areas such as the Primorsky Krai in Russia where serious decline in wildlife populations has been recorded since the opening up of logging roads are under great pressure to close up logging roads and carry out mitigation measures.
Sadly, here in Southeast Asia where up to 48% of all native mammal species are predicted to be extinct by 2100, roads continue to be opened up for logging and mining or for ‘transporting forest products’, despite the irrefutable data that forested land is worth much more intact than when depleted, logged or converted into plantations. The economic benefits of logging are short-lived and can sustain only 1-2 generations at most.
  Not only are the Merapoh Caves a sensitive wildlife habitat, they are also an important ecotourism site. Logging and deforestation in the areas surrounding the Merapoh Caves will have a severe negative impact on the rural communities whose livelihood depend on ecotourism and subsistence farming and fishing in areas that are now polluted, depleted and exposed.
Apart from the threat it poses to wildlife populations, logging and deforestation also affect air quality, climate and water cycle patterns. Healthy forests absorb solar energy and release water vapour, while forest clearing releases stored carbon dioxide, which traps heat and contributes to atmospheric warming.
The destruction of watershed areas will result in more flash floods, landslides and drought, thus costing the State and Federal Governments more in disaster management and mitigation than they are able to benefit from issuing permits for logging, mining and agricultural activities.
The growing number of environmental and citizens’ action groups in Malaysia calling for an end to deforestation and for the protection of the Merapoh Caves and forest reserve attests to the growing awareness of our interconnectedness with our natural environment and the importance of forests for the ecosystem services they provide. It is not merely fear for the loss of income from trekking and ecotourism activities that motivates concerned citizens to speak up. The Merapoh Caves and forest reserve were here long before the existence of humans. We cannot afford to lose any more of it in our age of collapsing ecosystems and anthropogenic disasters.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Letter to the Editor: Helping the Less Privileged Empowers and Uplifts, Does Not Create Dependency

I am angered and appalled by the condescension expressed by Jaline Wellington in her letter “Food for thought over the hungry in Malaysia” (The Star, 21 Oct 2017).
The fact that she had only accompanied a homeless outreach group on one of their sessions does not make her an authority on the credibility of the “apparently homeless-foodless” individuals or whether “they look truly malnourished or hungry”. It is ridiculous and patronising of her to assume that volunteers are capable of “encouraging these people to become sophisticated beggars” just by giving out food. Nobody wants to sleep rough and in unsafe and unhygienic conditions just to accept a free packet of food and worn clothes, if they had an option. Poverty isn't a choice. NGOs and the food we give out are not the reason people sleep on the streets.
I have been a volunteer with at least 5 different homeless outreach organisations for the past 11 years, and I uphold that these organisations and their volunteers are neither naïve nor foolish, nor are our street clients lazy, greedy, entitled or freeloading. Almost all these organisations offer basic counselling services, employment counselling and referrals, assistance to families and vulnerable individuals, legal advice and assistance, First Aid services and medical assistance, and opportunities for the homeless to find better jobs and re-enter mainstream society.
Most of the homeless individuals in Malaysia are not unemployed, but are working at low-paying jobs. Some have mental illness or are of subaverage intelligence and therefore unemployable. Some lost their jobs due to the deteriorating economy, personal problems, clinical depression or other medical issues. Some are victims of crime, sexual abuse or domestic violence. Some were cheated of their wages by employers, or had entered into business partnerships which failed. Some are senior citizens abandoned by their families and are unable to find a welfare home that is able to accept them. But many are just ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet and send money home to their families in other towns and villages.
The reason for the rising number of homeless people in the streets of Kuala Lumpur is the same as everywhere else in the world – urban migration for better economic opportunities, wage stagnation and rising costs of living. Rising rent, utility costs and fuel costs mean that low-income individuals who were previously able to rent rooms in the city are now no longer able to afford the same. While affordable housing is available outside of city limits, the cost of private vehicle ownership and the lack of a reliable public transport system mean that these individuals have no means of travelling to and from work. As a result, many opt to sleep in public areas not far from their workplaces.
Different homeless outreach organisations have different operating procedures. Some, like the Pit Stop Community Café, have a permanent place to serve their street clients from. Some, like Dapur Jalanan, use permanent tableware to cut down on packaging and waste. Some, like Yellow House KL, provide job training and job matching services and offer haircuts and hairwash services to help street clients stay healthy and clean and show up neatly for job interviews. Some, like Kedai Jalanan UM, reduce waste and reuse resources by redirecting used clothes and other donated items to the homeless and urban poor. Some, like Reach Out Malaysia and Kechara Soup Kitchen, distribute packaged food to street clients in different parts of the city because some of the said street clients may be asleep, still at work, unable to walk or travel to soup kitchens for their meals, or are only able to eat at a later time, and find packed food to be more convenient, portable and hygienic. Some, like Food Aid Foundation, collect surplus food from markets and factories and redirect them to organisations, welfare homes and the less privileged to reduce food waste. Some, like Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, provide free tuition to impoverished and street children. All these organisations assist in meeting the different needs of different beneficiaries. The reason why some of the street clients are seen to be discarding food is that some of the food given is stale or has gone bad, or non-halal food is given out to Muslim street clients even when they decline the same. This is the reason why individuals should work together with established organisations to find out the needs of the intended beneficiaries, and should refrain from giving anything that they would not themselves eat.
The writer also displayed her arrogance and ignorance in assuming that homeless outreach volunteers and our street clients do not play our part in cleaning up public places. Most of the organisations include cleaning up in their procedures and encourage our street clients to assist us in post-meal clean-ups. Some of our street clients rescue and care for stray animals, and volunteers assist them in getting the animals neutered.
The only insinuation made by the writer that I agree with is that Malaysians are a generous lot. This is because rational, compassionate people are aggrieved by the suffering of others. However, providing food and material assistance is only the initial step towards alleviating poverty and hardship. I am reminded of the words of Mary Wollstonecraft: “It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world”. Many groups and individuals are working towards improving educational and employment opportunities and providing medical assistance, legal advice and counselling services to improve the quality of life of the less privileged and help to change the status quo. It is good to remember that for every mean-spirited critic out there, there are at least 20 other Malaysians willing to put themselves out of their comfort zone to assist, encourage and uplift others.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Letter To The Editor: Explore Alternatives to Tree-Felling

As a Petaling Jaya resident, I am dismayed that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has made the decision to cut down over 1,100 trees for the construction of the Damansara-Shah Alam Highway (DASH). Petaling Jaya residents were previously informed that only 160 trees were identified for felling to make way for the highway construction project.
On 10th April 2017, the MBPJ confirmed that 1,100 trees of varying sizes will be felled for the highway project. Concerns are now raised as to the final number of trees already felled and to be felled, the basis for the increase in the number of trees felled, how the earlier evaluation had been made and why the earlier number could not be adhered to, and who stands to benefit from the felling of the trees.
Despite the fact that the highway developer Prolintas is required to replant two trees for every tree felled, it is submitted that these tree-planting efforts have only limited potential to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, compared to if mature trees were left intact and protected against disease and felling. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) averred in a special report in 2000 that tree-planting initiatives could sequester only around 1.1 to 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. Global greenhouse gas emissions, on the other hand, were equivalent to 50 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2004. Although replanting and tree-planting initiatives are better than no climate change mitigation efforts at all, the carbon sequestered through replanting is almost negligible.
Further, as concerned citizens, we would like to know where the developer and MBPJ propose to replant these 2,200 trees, the variety and species of trees to be planted, whether the tree-planting sites chosen will be afforded protection against land-clearing and future development projects, and what level of care these new trees are expected to receive to ensure their survival. Merely putting saplings into soil does not constitute reforestation and climate change mitigation efforts. A tree will only begin to be effective in absorbing CO2 in its 10th year. A 25-year-old tree will be able to absorb approximately 0.0011 tonnes of CO2 over a year. Over 25 years, we would need 36 trees to offset just one tonne of CO2. Disease, deforestation and reclamation of land for development will have an impact on whether a tree survives for 50 years and beyond.
The DASH project was proposed as a solution to traffic congestion in the Damansara area. However, any good it proposes to effect by reducing traffic volume and travel distance is invalidated by the destruction and damage to the environment caused in its construction. Urban trees play a vital role in temperature regulation, floodwater and stormwater absorption and pollution reduction, among others. Urban tree canopies provide shade, oxygen, habitats for birds and wildlife and recreational spaces for people. Felling mature trees and then pledging to ‘replace’ them is not the right approach. One cannot simply ‘replace’ a mature tree that has been providing oxygen and other ecological services. In addition, the felling of trees goes against the National Landscape Policy and defeats the purpose of tree-planting and urban renewal campaigns.
The developer and MBPJ should look into the possibility of realigning the highway construction plans to minimise damage to the environment and reduce the number of trees to be felled, and of relocating and transplanting the smaller and younger trees. It is clear that despite the wishes of the public and the concerns of environmental organisations, the developer and Selangor State Government fully intend to press ahead with the construction of the DASH Highway. It is thus incumbent upon the developer and State Government to take all measures necessary to protect, preserve and retain the existing trees and to reduce the environmental impact of the DASH Highway project.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Last Hurrah on the FRIM Canopy Walkway

When I learned that the FRIM treetop canopy walkway would be closing for good on 30th June 2017, I made a booking for a private party and invited my friends to join me on a Farewell Treetop Walk. The arborists have determined that the health of the supporting trees has been affected and it was best to dismantle the walkway and reforest the area. This is good news for the trees, although not so good for tourism. 16 of my friends joined me on this guided walk and we had a splendid time. I thanked each tree for the oxygen, support and joy they provided and we did our part in picking up litter from the forest trail and picnic areas on the way down.
Malaysian stingless bees (Kelulut) in their hive at the base of a ficus tree.
Massive ficus (strangler fig) tree that has killed its host.
The flower of the Barringtonia asiatica (also known as the Fish Poison Tree, or Tuba Ikan in Bahasa).
Listening to a briefing by our guide, Johnson.
Tacca chantrieri, also known as Bat Lily, Bat Flower and Devil Flower.
Trees exhibiting the Crown Shyness phenomenon. See, even trees know how to observe personal boundaries and personal space.
I love Elephant Ear Plants (Colocasia).
We finally arrive at the ranger's hut at the start of the canopy walkway. Our group is listening intently to the safety briefing from the forest ranger in this photo...
... Which was delivered by one of the rangers up in this watchtower hut! What a fun place to work. It's like having your office up in a treehouse or something.
Rangers hard at work in the canopy walkway watchtower office.
Finally it's our turn to go on the canopy walkway! Andrey goes ahead of me. I am still the sweeper, of course.
All smiles to be so close to the forest and trees that I love so much. Hello, trees! You're looking exceptionally stunning today! Hello, forest! My, look at you, you charmer!
And this how the suspended walkway is connected to the trees. I can imagine why the arborists claim that the health of the supporting trees is affected. Poor trees. Thank you, trees, for your wonderful service. We will free you of your shackles soon.
Can you spot the city in the distance? It's okay if you are unable to. Not really worth looking at when you have a fantastic secondary forest beneath your feet.
Doing the treetop dab. Photo credits: Marcus.
Approaching the next watchtower.
Adorable tiny fuzzy caterpillar. I shall name it the Teddy Bear Caterpillar.
Rudhra, Baby Ava, Angela and me enjoying our hike down. Photo credits: Hari.
A little waterfall and stream sighted on our hike down.
Our group crossing a little stream. Photo credits: Hari.
Spotted a knot on a vine that resembled a skull.
A yet-to-be-identified leaf of ethereal beauty.
My trademark big grin, next to a very tired, thirsty and grumpy Justin. I was trying to encourage him to keep going. Photo credits: Shamila.
Goodbye and thank you for the memories, FRIM Canopy Walkway!

Farewell, Ampang Park.

Malaysia's first shopping centre, Ampang Park, which has been operating since 1973, lost its appeal against MRT Corp for the acquisition of the mall for the MRT construction project. The initial plan to build the MRT lines underground and incorporate Ampang Park into its design could not be carried out. Demolition is expected to be scheduled soon. I have many fond memories of this charming old mall, and went to say goodbye to some of my favourite shopkeepers and take photos for posterity. 

Ampang Park has been overshadowed by its posh neighbours, Avenue K and Suria KLCC, but still manages to retain its charm, character and dignity.

Like many older malls, the shops are in rows and the common areas are not fully air-conditioned.

The best thing about older shopping malls like Ampang Park is that it is not a glass-and-chrome, hermetically-sealed, air conditioned monstrosity. Individual shops and booths are air conditioned but the common areas of the mall are not. Clever architectural features such as these round 'windows' allow for ventilation. I like to think these round 'windows' mirror the circular logo of Ampang Park.

There are two authentic Turkish restaurants in Ampang Park and this one bakes fresh simit and pogaca daily.

The open-air entrance to Ampang Park.

I shall be very sorry to say goodbye to Love Music, my favourite music store. The shop proprietor informed me that they will close down as music sales has been in decline since the introduction of music downloading. Not many people purchase CDs or records anymore. I used to come here on payday to buy a CD or two.

Love Music has been in business since 1974. I am very very sorry to see them go.

I found this banner very sad. I bought my first G-Shock from this shop, and when I was the Sports and Social Club President for MLJ back in 2002/2003, I used to buy watches for our company annual dinner lucky draws from this shop.

Ampang Park may be old and frumpy but it has lots of character.

Goodbye is such a difficult word to say, Ampang Park. I wish things had been different.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Batu Arang Exploration

I grew up not far from this place. Batu Arang was known for its coal mines and brick kilns from the 1900s until the 1970s. Most of its original residents have left the town due to increasing soil erosion resulting in sinkholes. It's now a heritage town with abandoned brick kilns, red brick buildings and sleepy old shophouses. I decided to go explore this semi-forgotten little town one weekend and invited my friends along.

The abandoned brick kiln which brought Batu Arang its fame and wealth back in its heyday.
Exploring the tunnels of the old brick kiln with Marcus, Hari and Jay.

Nature taking over, slowly but surely.

Ficus roots having a good grip on a crumbling brick pillar.

More unfinished red brick buildings -- these are the school caretakers' quarters.

The Chap Khuan Chinese primary school. The red brick walls kept the classrooms cool even in the hottest of weather.

A group photo at the town square for posterity.

The Chapel of St. Michael, probably constructed in the late 1930s. I was immensely excited to see this Art Deco masterpiece out in the boondocks.

April 2017 In Pictures


1st April: Clinic work at the SPCA on a ridiculously rainy Saturday.

2nd April: It's a burgers-and-beers kinda night at The Daily Grind with a couple of friends. I had the Portobello Mozza Stack -- hold the cheese! -- with a side of sweet potato crisps. All kinds of awesome.

5th April: So 'Luna' here gave us all a big surprise today. While being prepped and shaven for 'spaying', it was discovered that 'she' was, in fact, a tomcat. Don't ask -- maybe his dingle-dangle was too small to be visible, maybe he was just so black and furry down there that nobody could see a thing, maybe i just never checked properly. Anyway, his new name is Logan.

8th April: Reached home at 1.30 a.m. but still managed to get up in time to do the Chow Kit Run. 6km for a good cause.

8th April: Productive day at the SPCA. Some of the teen volunteers helped to exercise, train and bathe the dogs, and a scout troop from the neighbouring school helped to upgrade the dog playground as part of their Eagle Scout Project. Mama Brenda and her puppies, Clifford and Marilyn, are finally adopted -- together! -- and so we celebrated with cakes and champagne.

9th April: Logan rocking the bananas to help them go beddy-bye.

15th April: Another busy Saturday at the SPCA. Managed to bathe and tickwash the dogs before the rain. The Eagle Scouts have completed their habitat improvement project. Had the pleasure of the company of a 13-year-old volunteer, Liam, for lunch and we ended up discussing the implications of Brexit.

16th April: Annual Feline Easter Egg Hunt at the Wee Green Flat.

16th April: The Little One's first Easter egg hunt.  It has been raining so heavily all day, we had to hide the eggs in the porch and not the lawn.

17th April: My friend Farida came over to play congkak with the cats and me. Katniss here looks deeply concerned over her imminent defeat to Farida.

18th April: Time to put my jars and cloth carrier bags to good use at The Hive Bulk Foods. I love packaging-free shopping.

19th April: So this kinda sorta happened during an 8-minute phone call. I may or may not have gotten ink on my desk. I ran out of space for Raphael's sai.

19th April: Earth Day themed tuition class at the Beacon of Hope community tuition centre. I got my teens to work in pairs and gave each team one of my Green Living articles on energy and water conservation, fuel economy and the 3Rs, among others. They had to understand, summarise and interpret the articles, create a poster on the assigned topic and do a 5-minute presentation in front of the class. I am so very impressed with how far my teens have come. At the start of the academic year, they were so self-conscious that they would not even answer questions when spoken to. I am very proud of them for trying, learning and growing, and for their genuine interest in environmental responsibility.

22nd April: Earth Day cleanup at the Urban Community Forest, Malaysian Nature Society.

22nd April: Gasp -- so it's true, after all: I am pro-science! I believe in technological and engineering solutions to environmental problems! I believe in big-picture solutions and not merely reusing paper clips and making baking soda toothpaste! I don't think microwaved water kills plants or that Coke is used to clean bloodstains off highways or that shampoo will give me brain tumours! Time to sacrifice me at the altar of those rubbish natural living coconut-oil-and-deep-breathing-will-cure-cancer David Fraudocado Wolfe-type sites and stab me with my own compostable bamboo toothbrush!

23rd April: Bathing and tickwashing dogs at the PAWS shelter on a scorcher of a Sunday afternoon. So. Many. Ticks. Ugh! The Itchy and Scratchy Show!

 24th April: Hauled 7 bags of trash out of the forest reserve and park. Bloody macaques made a mess of the place and emptied the bins.

25th April: More than delighted with the quality and beauty of the original woodcut prints I ordered from social justice and art activist collective Pangrok Sulap. I purchased these during their fundraiser for Bro Oliver, one of the artists in medical need. Very proud to be supporting such brave local talents, and proud to be supporting freedom of artistic expression.

25th April: Just a random Batman bento because I wanted to store nuts and soybeans in the Batman container. I love Batman. He is the archetypal Byronic protagonist -- dark, brooding and badass. Also, because Batman is human and mortal (yes, I know he is a fictional character), he represents the ultimate in human potential and ability to me, and is therefore the Ubermensch.

29th April: Carrying heavy bits of wood and construction materials up a forest trail is way harder than I thought it would be. Clearly I need to work out. Photo credits: Justine Vaz.

29th April: A fun group photo, courtesy of Justine's helpers.

9th April: Rewarding myself after the morning's forest school construction and trail cleaning. So very glad I found this place. Food that nourishes both the body and conscience at Sala KL -- you have to try it to believe it's not vegan! I had the Nasi Lemak and Chili Bowl, hot tea and a brownie . Service is incredible and I am made to feel very welcome. The ambience is lovely and food is just delicious and lovingly made and served. This happy herbivore will definitely be back very soon.

29th April: Received a gift of Star Wars adhesive bandages from my friend Mun Yee in Singapore.

30th April: Early birthday celebration for Nic. This is just the first of our 2-3 desserts -- Raindrop 'Cake'. Ordered this for the sake of novelty, but seriously guys, I make waaaaay better agar-agar and konyakku jelly. Raindrop cake -- not worth the hype.

30th April: Ice cream sandwiches with Nic to end April 2017 with a bang!