Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Animal Capers, Bi-Fuel Retrofit and other news.

Thurs, 23rd Oct - Monday, 27th Oct 2008: Festival of Wings 2008

With less than a week to go before my departure from my firm, I had been spending most of my working hours completing status reports and conducting due diligence on the files for which I was responsible. The Human Resource Dept had requested me to complete an exit interview, and Covert Boss spoke to me about it and thanked me for my 'honest, fair and generous' evaluation of the firm. He invited me to dinner on Thursday, together with 4 of the partners and another lawyer who was also leaving at the end of the month, and we adjourned to a restaurant-cum-salsa-club at a hotel for dinner.

I was horrified by the menu. The main courses were listed thus: "120-day old veal calf..." and "milk-fed baby lamb". What do they expect, that we'd exclaim: "Mmmm, yummy! Just what I've always wanted!"? I plumped for an avocado and rocket lettuce salad instead, as it was the only bloodless thing on the menu.

On Friday, the firm had a little post-Hari Raya Aidilfitri party at the office. We had invited former staff and some of the other people we work with, and we spent the entire day eating and being unproductive.

I left work early to go to the Kuala Selangor Nature Park on Friday evening, as the Malaysian Nature Society would be having its annual birdwatching event, Festival of Wings, at the Park.


I was happy to meet Bushcraft Ashleigh at the hostel. It was too dark to do any trekking or trail clearing by the time we arrived, and so we had dinner and waited for the other volunteers to arrive. Despite our earlier plans to booze the night away in the Great Outdoors, I was out like a light by 0030h.

We would be assisting with the Tree Planting Project and the guided mangrove walks on Saturday. We greeted the local schoolchildren in the morning, did a roll call, handed out the day kits to the participants, and proceeded to the tree-planting site. We put on our gloves and Wellington boots and took up a planting pole each. The seedlings were already at the site and the site was marked with bamboo pieces to let us know how far apart the plants should be. I asked the teenagers under my care to plant at least 10 each, and to pick up any litter they see (mangrove forests act as rubbish traps for the waste that gets carried downstream). I set a good example by working hard and planting at least a dozen trees, and the girls did a good job of doing the same. The boys were far more playful and inattentive and made me laugh with all their grunts, groans and sound effects while digging the holes, which prompted Ashleigh to chide them for not taking their work seriously.

We finished around 1230h and got the children to collect all the rubbish to be loaded onto the truck. We cleaned ourselves up after returning the wellies and gloves, which were heavy and black with mud. We then had lunch and let the teens rest before proceeding with the mangrove guided walks in the afternoon. As with the tree-planting session earlier, the girls again outshone the boys. Ash and I were delighted by the girls' knowledge of mangrove ecosystems and natural history. I foresee that in 20 years, the number of female cabinet ministers, corporate CEOs, scientists, doctors and professors would outnumber males 3:1.

Festival of Wings 2008: The schoolchildren are hard at work planting the mangrove saplings.

Hui-Min and I returned to our Hostel to shower after seeing the schoolchildren off, and it was then that Hui-Min proposed visiting the Firefly Colony that night. We managed to round up 7 others who were interested and booked our boats through the Park officers and left at 1900h for Kampung Kuantan.

We didn't have to wait long to board our boats. We got into our boats and pushed off to the banks of the river where the Berembang trees are. I was sad to see the depletion in the firefly population. The fireflies are part of our natural heritage and are unique because they are probably the only specie (Pteroptye Tener) to synchronise their flashing. Erosion of the riverbanks has destroyed many Berembang trees, and light and noise pollution has affected the fireflies' reproductive cycles. I intend to draft a petition to the State Government and the Sultan to create a buffer zone for the fireflies. It takes very little cost and effort on our part, and requires only political will, but it would save the firefly colony from extinction.

Returned to the Park to find that our hungry friends who had opted not to go for the firefly outing were still listening to the closing speeches and dinner had not been served. We sat through the final 2 speeches and prize-giving ceremony with them and devoured our dinner after that. Dinner was followed by music and dancing led by girls from an indigenous community. And so Saturday came to an end amid much laughter and camaraderie.

We didn't have any specific duties on Sunday, as our young visitors from several orphanages were there with their teachers and carers and did not require our assistance in their programmes. During breakfast, Hui-Min and I noticed a Silver Leaf Monkey begging for the cucumber slices from our nasi lemak. I pointed out that the monkey was badly injured and that part of the skull at the back of its head had been smashed open, and it looked like the result of a catapult attack. I was very upset that I didn't have my can of Woundsarex with me. Alas, it was Sunday, and all the pet stores and vet clinics were closed, and would remain closed until Tuesday, as Monday was a public holiday.

I went to the pharmacy and bought a bottle of acriflavine solution, and improvised and made a spray bottle out of my plastic cologne bottle. I went back to where I last saw the monkey and lured it down from the tree using a bunch of bananas. The monkey ambled feebly up to me to take the banana and I sprayed the acriflavine directly into his wound. He did not flinch but looked at me with knowing eyes, as though he realised that I was trying to help him get better. I sprayed the wound a second time and a third, to make sure I had covered all surfaces to prevent further infection. Maggots dropped out of the wound. The monkey did not scratch or struggle but merely let me do my work. We couldn't take him with us as he was a protected species and besides, we did not have a cage with us, so we engaged the Park officers' help in calling for a vet as soon as possible. I left the bottle of acriflavine with one of them so they could continue to administer the medicine after we had left.

I went back to the parental home in the late afternoon as it is on the way back to the City. The dogs were happy to see me. I gave Amber a bath and cleaned up after the dogs. I couldn't help but wonder how the silver leaf monkey was doing, and if there'd be anyone looking out for him in future.

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Monday was Deepavali Day, and I spent the entire day visiting friends. I had two breakfasts (at Devaky's and Bala's place), one lunch (at Vimala's place) and 2 dinners (at Suresh's place and at the Vellurajans' next door).

I must say the festive mood was somewhat affected by the detention of the HINDRAF members/activists and the declaration of HINDRAF as an illegal society by our not-too-bright Home Minister. My wish this Deepavali is to see true participatory democracy in my country; that one day any concerned party could deliver a memorandum to the Prime Minister without being arrested and deemed subversive. Until that happens, Malaysian society cannot declare itself to be a compassionate and inclusive one.

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Wednesday, 29th October 2008: Compressed Natural Gas Retrofit

My final day of legal practice was effectively 28th October 2008, and I left the firm on good terms with everyone and knowing that I would always be welcomed back into the legal profession if I so chose.

I spent the next few days getting my affairs in order before I started my new job. I had the Battletank retrofitted with a Compressed Natural Gas tank for greater savings and fuel economy, and because CNG vehicles, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have the following advantages over petrol ones:
* they reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 90-97%;
* they reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%;
* they reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 35-60%;
* they potentially reduce non-methane hydrocarbon emissions by 50-75%
* they emit fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants;
* they emit little or no particulate matter; and
* they eliminate evaporative emissions.

Although there may be arguments that choosing one fossil fuel over another is only delaying the solution (of finding cleaner, renewable, alternative fuels), alternatives are practically non-existent. Hydrogen fuel cell and compressed air vehicles are not yet on the market and public transport is largely unavailable at my new workplace. Having weighed all options, I made the decision to go for a CNG retrofit and I have been extremely proud of my little bi-fuel Battletank since. Having the option of a cleaner fossil fuel is better than having no alternative at all.

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Sunday, 2nd November 2008: World Animal Day Celebrations at the KL Tower

World Animal Day event announcement and poster.

Hui Min and I getting up close and personal with a white bull terrier. All white bull terriers remind me of Bodger from “The Incredible Journey” (remade as “Homeward Bound”).

For more photos of the event, please go to my SPCA activities photo album.

Eugene, Hui Min and I met up at the LRT station on Sunday morning as I had registered the 3 of us as volunteers for the SPCA World Animal Day Celebrations at the terrace of the KL Tower. This was to be the biggest World Animal Day celebrations in our country yet. The 3 of us were assigned the duty of Pet Marshals, to ensure that people cleaned up after their animal companions and kept them on leash.

A minor misunderstanding occurred between the SPCA people and the KL Tower management when we discovered that they had put up an exhibit of exotic animals in tiny, bare cages at the entrance to the event area. We stood firm on our stand that keeping such animals, even if captive bred, was wrong, and that it was against the very principle and objectives of World Animal Day. Thankfully, the KL Tower management was accommodating and agreed to remove the exhibits, although we could see that they were not entirely convinced by our argument and had no intention of doing away with animal exhibits in future.

The volunteers were given "Crew" t-shirts and assigned our posts. I was to lead the Pet Marshals. Nicole, Eugene and I briefed the other volunteers in our team. We had between us two pails, mops, disinfectant, toilet paper and pet waste bags.

While on my rounds, I was thrilled to find nature photos taken by our friend Andy Paul among the exhibited photos and called him up to ask him to come over. Andy came over with his lovely lady friend Maureen and bought us ice cream, and later I met some of my other friends from the Malaysian Nature Society and from college at the event as well. Hiphop dancers, capoeira exponents, goons in Star Wars suits and sponsors from the pet products and services industry made the event a colourful and exciting one.

The animal visitors were largely very well-behaved and their people were a responsible bunch, which made our work a joy. The people came equipped with their own paper and waste bags and picked up after their animal wards, and many insisted on taking responsibility for mopping up after any 'accidents'. Apart from a scuffle between 2 male dogs which left one with a torn ear (the SPCA vets were on hand to stitch up the poor doggie's ear) and 2 cats whose people did not realise that their cats were showing signs of heat exhaustion (I had to gently lead them to the misting fans, hold the cats up to the fans and give them water), everything ran as smoothly as you could expect.

It started raining around 1540h and we hastened to help the booths move their goods out of the way of the rain. The dog obedience and agility contests were still going on under the tents in the field, and Eugene, Hui Min and I commenced cleaning the Terrace area and putting things back in their boxes. All the visitors and most of the volunteers had left by 1800h, and I did not like to see the SPCA staff having to pack up on their own, so the 3 of us stayed to help clean, dismantle and pack everything and load them back onto the trucks.

We finished work around 2000h and were completely flaked. Nicole and Glyn gave Hui Min and I a ride back to our cars, and we were so tired we didn't even want dinner. It had been a backbreaking but utterly wonderful and rewarding day.

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Friday, 7th November 2008: SPCA Party Animals Night @ the Boathouse

Nicole and I helping Poodley and Mylo make friends at the SPCA Party Animals Night

I have always believed in everyday miracles and that good things happen to you when you least expect it, and last week I experienced one such Good Medicine moment. One of the Malaysian Nature Society senior volunteers, Kim, had asked for more information when I had forwarded e-mail announcements of the SPCA Party Animals Dinner. Kim then went to the SPCA office, paid for one ticket, and emailed me to inform me that she was making a gift of the dinner ticket to me, as she was not planning on attending the event anyway, but had wanted to support our fundraising efforts. "Enjoy yourself at the dinner," she had written, "You deserve it, for all the things you do for animals and the environment." I was very touched and grateful, and after Party Animals Night, I appreciated having been given the opportunity to attend it even more.

It was a pet-friendly event held at a restaurant whose owner has a rescued dog named Mylo. The highlight of the evening was not the food but the company of well-behaved, friendly and polite dogs. I had a great time in the company of cuddly animals and people who are as dedicated to their animal companions as I am. The food was excellent and in my opinion, really value-for-money and we were offered 2nd and 3rd helpings of everything, including dessert (brownies ala mode!).

It was good to be able to discuss animals for a few hours as a brief respite from political discussions and premature evaluations of Barack Obama, although I do enjoy reading and discussing politics very much. Whether or not Obama and the Democrats are able to deliver the promises made in their campaign manifesto remains to be seen. I would try to keep my expectations realistic.

Went back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters at midnight, in Python Mode after my huge meal, too sleepy to do anything but thank Kim by text message for my wonderful night out.

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Saturday, 8th November 2008: SPCA Saturday

Feel the love! This little doggie was trying to give me a kiss while I was cleaning kennels at the SPCA. Photo taken by Mun Yee on 8th November 2008.

Dropped the recyclables off at the community centre and arrived at the SPCA at noon. There were 6 student volunteers from The One Academy helping out at the animal shelter today, and they were wasting a lot of water, time and energy just hosing the floor down and sweeping water all over the place. I prepared 2 pails of soap and disinfectant and taught them how to clean out the cat baskets, cages and litter trays and swab and scrub the Cattery floor and gutters. I explained to them that keeping the animal shelter clean is essential to the animals' health and safety, and it would encourage visitors to come more often and spend more time with their potential adoptees. The boys were hardly enthusiastic and showed no real passion for the work, as they merely had to complete 10 hours of required community service for their school credits, but at least they were doing the work, albeit sullenly and in slow motion.

Mun Yee and Hot Rachel (not to be confused with Pub Buddy Rachel or Dysfunctional Divorcee Rachel) arrived just as Rose and I were about to begin washing and medicating the dogs in Kennels G & H. They joined Rose, the Kindest Man in the World (a middle-aged Caucasian man who volunteers twice a week at the shelter but whose real name I do not know) and me in washing each dog and rinsing them with tick solution. I let Mun Yee and Rachel take over the dog-washing duties while I removed all the food and water bowls and washed and disinfected each enclosure.

Under normal circumstances, we would not have spent too much time with the Traumatised Dogs, a subgroup of abuse cases who have never learned to trust humans again. We would have washed those that allowed us to wash them, and not be too insistent on going into battle with those who either bit us or harmed themselves if we so much as stared at them.

But the Kindest Man in the World wanted to stay on in the kennels and talk to the Traumatised Dogs to get them to see that not all humans are bad. I brought him some kibbles in a saucer so we could sit on the ground and talk to the dogs and feed them kibbles one by one. I felt sorry that I could not come everyday to help rehabilitate the dogs. Coming in once a week isn't often enough to help the dogs learn to trust again. The Kindest Man in the World then informed me that he would be coming in more often from now on to help rehabilitate the abused animals. My sense of gratitude was palpable. So shines a good deed in a weary world!

At 1600h it began to rain, as it is wont to do during the monsoon season. Mun Yee, Hot Rachel and I tidied the dog-washing things up and proceeded to clean the kennels instead. We cleaned the B-Extension, the cages and the puppy area. As the student-volunteers had earlier cleaned the Front Reception/Admin area and the Cattery, I had less cleaning to do today. We went out to the shops for tea, and Mun Yee handed me 3 bags of cat food for Project Second Chance before leaving with Hot Rachel.

I returned to the shelter after tea, put away the newspapers and donated items, cleaned up the administrative area, cleaned the Maternity Kennels and Hospital areas, cleaned myself up and rumbled back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters.

I've been quite the captain of industry these 3 weeks. This coming weekend I would be taking my parents down to Johor to join me on my third seahorse data collection and conservation trip. And so I bid you adieu.

Covert Operations, Out!
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