Monday, 23 March 2009

On A Wing And A Prayer

13th-15th March 2009: On A Wing And A Prayer

The 10th annual Raptor Watch Weekend , organised and coordinated by the Malaysian Nature Society , took place on the second weekend of March, as it does every year, due to the fact that the seasonal migration of birds of prey back to their breeding grounds in the North can be witnessed almost exclusively in the months of March and April in the southern states of Peninsular Malaysia, chiefly in Tanjung Tuan, Melaka.

Tanjung Tuan is important to the migrating raptors as it forms the narrowest point between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia and is therefore the most ideal stopover point for the exhausted birds. The coastal and mangrove forests of Tanjung Tuan are also important wildlife habitats, and the Malaysian Nature Society is proud to have been instrumental in the conservation and gazetting of the forest reserve.

However, Raptor Watch this year was fraught with its own problems and conflicts. In addition, due to unfavourable weather conditions (windy weather, cloudy skies, frequent rain), the bird count for that particular weekend was far lower than that of last year (Over 46,000 in 2008, only 16,000+ as at 15th March 2009).

A few of the recommendations we made following Raptor Watch 2008 (see my 2008 entry ) had been adopted, including that of providing catered food in a dining hall rather than packaged food that had resulted in excessive disposable packaging and food wastage the previous years. They had also eliminated the practice of distributing bottled water. However, as with all undertakings, there is always room for improvement.

The Green Living Special Interest Group placed emphasis on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) this year. Our very creative and resourceful subcommittee member, Mee Hong, made the "Waste Not!" t-shirt banner for our booth and many crafts using old t-shirts. Siew Hua brought a sample of fruit and vegetable waste enzymes that can be used as a household cleaning solution. I prepared the signage, literature, recycling bins and everything else. I am grateful to have the assistance of dedicated, helpful and capable volunteers such as Joo Wee and Horng Yih as well. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

The happy Green Living crew, from left: Zawalan, me, Mee Hong, Siew Hua and Joo Wee. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

Some of the items displayed at our Green Living booth, including the Battery Collection Bin. Photo courtesy of Wan Yeng.

Batteries collected in the bin to be brought to the scheduled waste recyclers. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

11-year-old Clarissa trying her hand at making crafts from old t-shirts at the Green Living booth. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

Birders posing for posterity in front of their booth. They had worked very hard all weekend-- recording resident and migratory bird data, answering natural history queries, promoting birdwatching and the Malaysian Nature Society and coordinating the making of bird crafts. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

This little Common Bronzeback visited the Green Living booth on Sunday afternoon and then sought refuge in one of my book baskets. Hurnain took the little snake away to be released in the forest, away from all the noise and people. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

Me, all ready for the Lighthouse Run. I didn't win it this year, though, not that it matters. It was all in the spirit of participation and fun. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

Amazing shot of a low-flying Oriental Honey Buzzard by Horng Yih.

Oriental Honey Buzzards coming in riding on thermals on Sunday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Horng Yih.

Liverpool FC trashed Manchester Retarded 4-1 on Saturday night. We had watched the game at the Saloon at Eagle Ranch and it was a raucous and joyful affair. Poor Patricia Zahara was kept busy all of Sunday painting Liverpool crests on the faces of exuberant fans. Photo courtesy of Wan Yeng.

Patricia Zahara giving Hurnain a Liverpool crest to celebrate Liverpool’s big victory. Photo courtesy of Wan Yeng.

Melissa giving Vegan Eugene an energy-saving CFL lightbulb, courtesy of Phillips, in exchange for an incandescent one. Photo taken by Horng Yih.

The photographer gets photographed – Horng Yih looking for a Barbet he had spotted up the tree earlier. Photo courtesy of Wan Yeng.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Feeling Brand New

My month of unstructured activity and unfettered freedom had been a most satisfactory one. I have had the opportunity to catch up on social commitments and had more time for rest and reflection than I ever had since I graduated ten years ago. I, who have never been not gainfully employed from the day after I completed my final exams, had found my unscheduled break from the workforce to be a blessing in disguise. I started my new job today, as a litigation associate in a big corporate firm, and I re-enter legal practice with greater ambitions than ever of productivity, success, job satisfaction and progress.

Saturday, 7th March 2009: A Musical Soiree

Drove over to Alicia’s condominium of a Saturday evening after having spent half of Friday and a good part of Saturday at the parental home, tending to Amber and Chocky’s needs and cleaning the parental home and garden. Alicia had invited about 20 of us over to her lovely home for an evening of good food and music. I brought her a bottle of red wine, remembering how she loves anything red, not least wine. It was fabulous to see Lynette and Alicia and their dear Mum again.

Halfway through my plateful of sushi and salad, Alicia announced that it was time for a musical interlude. She sang ‘La Ci Darem’, from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” with her music teacher with such feeling and haunting beauty that we were mesmerised. This was followed by a solo, Gluck’s ‘Che Faro Senza Euridice’ (Microsoft Word keeps trying to ‘correct’ my spelling as ‘Eurydice’ – well, this is Italian, not UK English!), Schumman’s ‘Du Ring Ai Meinem Finger’ (my favourite: it’s simply exquisite!), Brahms’ ‘Wiegenlied’ (we all joined in this one) and a selection of songs in English, ‘Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love’, and Chaplin’s ‘Smile’. One of Alicia’s sisters accompanied on piano for some of the songs. They really are a highly gifted bunch, and I was happy to see their mother beaming with pride as her daughters performed with confidence, class and aplomb.

Dessert was served after the music and we chatted heartily over cake, fruit, cheese, crackers and coffee. I was mindful to let Alicia know unequivocally what a privilege it had been for me to be among such talented friends, and how much I enjoyed their company.

Sunday, 8th March 2009: A Jaunt Down History Lane in Melaka.

One of my friend's differently-abled friend from the People’s Republic of China, Hawk, was in Malaysia for a week to attend to some business concerns, and through a friend who acted as an interpreter, had informed my friend that he would like to visit Melaka. I was invited along to act as an interpreter, and I was happy to be of service. I was able to provide Hawk with a lively and often mildly scandalous commentary on Malaysian history, the significance of Melaka, and Malaysian current affairs in my rather dubious Mandarin.

Hawk and I posing at the back of Fort A Famosa, constructed by the Portuguese in 1511. I informed Hawk in my dodgy Mandarin that the Dutch broke off part of the Fort, and the British wanted to break it too, but Stamford Raffles stopped them because he thought it was too pretty to be smashed up.

Hawk is born with deformed arms but is a successful businessman running a tour outfit in Kunming and commands a fleet of over 20 offroad vehicles. He can use chopsticks, operate a digital camera, drive a standard transmission vehicle and do pretty much everything on his own. I think he is awesome!

A view of Fort A Famosa and St. Paul’s Church, which I am sure isn’t the original name for it. The Church was constructed by the Portuguese, but the Dutch later used it to bury their dead. It’s like being a cuckoo, only in reverse -- you drop off your dead instead of lay your eggs in someone else's nest.

Hawk and I checking out the Royal Malaysian Police’s decommissioned armoured vehicles (used in the 1940s and 50s) at the town square.

Enjoying an after-lunch walk in front of the Stadhuys, constructed by the Dutch in 1641. Hawk wasn’t terribly impressed with its age – apparently a building constructed in the 1600s is small potatoes in China.

Hawk wanted to know what the skull and crossbones on this tombstone in St. Paul’s Church means. Sorry, buddy, but I don’t read Dutch either. It probably has nothing to do with pirates, though.

Hawk enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed his, but I could tell he wasn’t awfully impressed with the historical landmarks in Melaka, probably because China’s history goes back further and their buildings and historical landmarks are better preserved.

We did have a good lunch and dinner in Melaka, though, and I had enjoyed visiting the places of interest again. We would unanimously like to see better preservation of heritage buildings and better management of tourist spots in Malaysia to prevent things from degenerating to the point of tackiness.

Tuesday, 10th March 2009: SPCA Tuesday

It has been a very busy ‘final week of freedom’ for me, what with the upcoming Raptor Watch Weekend and all. I had gone back to the parental home at least 2 days a week to spring clean the house, keep the parents company and tend to the dogs.

I went over to my new workplace on Tuesday morning to sign my letter of offer and speak to the Office Manager about things like a parking space and my Bar Council Practice Cert.

After saying goodbye to my friends Clement and Mun Yee who work there, I left the office and made my way to the SPCA. I went up to the Bungalow to change into my ‘grunt work’ clothes and to visit the 5 new puppies who were being fostered at the Bungalow until they could be safely vaccinated and put up for adoption.

My dear friend Cindy, who lives close by, dropped by with some books for my team to sell at the Green Living booth during the Raptor Watch Weekend to raise funds for our environmental education projects.

It was a quiet day at the SPCA animal shelter, as it was a weekday. Thean asked me into the Surgery to see an adorable black puppy that had just been vaccinated. Her name was Bee Gee (for ‘Beautiful Girl’) and she was a roly-poly playful little thing with a tendency to squeal with alarm as soon as she realised we were going to put her back in her enclosure and leave.

It was fine weather for washing dogs and I washed a number from the Maternity Kennels, as there were new arrivals that may not have been given a tick wash yet. When the weather turned cooler, I put the dog-washing things and Tactik EC away and started cleaning the Shelter.

I swabbed the Front Reception/Admin area, Puppy Areas, Cattery, Maternity Kennels and Food Preparation Area with biodegradable soap and disinfectant and scrubbed the grubbier areas with a hard broom. A young female groomer had been helping out at the Shelter for the day and offered to help me wash the floors. We hit it off instantly and chatted companionably as we went about making the Shelter clean and healthy for our animal friends.

Muniandy, Thean, Joanne (the groomer) and I went to the warong for tea after completing our duties for the day. Tea and cakes was my treat. As each of them left for their respective homes after tea, I went up to the Bungalow to shower and change. Glyn and Nicole were hard at work mopping the Bungalow stairs (one of the dogs had probably decided it was a good idea to pee on the staircase). We chatted about work, the Shelter, euthanasia procedures, the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) accreditation and our social lives over dinner at Studio 5.

I went back to the BOQ late in the evening to attend to the cats and the housework, and to make new signage for the Green Living booth. It has been another productive day.

Kitty making sure we know who owns the bed.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Carey Island and Jugra Day Trip

As I had no pressing obligations on Thursday, 5th March 2009, I decided to join a friend on a day trip to Carey Island, Selangor. The historical town of Jugra was later added to our itinerary. We had an enjoyable excursion despite the wet and chilly weather.

Taking five at a coastal road in Carey Island, Selangor, a plantation island that is better known for the indigenous community that lives there, the Mah Meri.

Young Mah Meri artisans at their workshop in Kampung Sungai Bumbun. Thanks to the efforts of UNESCO, UNDP and the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, the Mah Meri culture is preserved and passed on to the younger generations.

Mah Meri woodcarvings, representing ‘moyang’ or deities/spirits (of plants, animals, and natural phenomena – they have a ‘Tornado Spirit’, a ‘Rice Spirit’, a ‘Shellfish Spirit’ and so on) are carved from a fast-disappearing hardwood known as Nyireh Batu. The carvings are of such high quality that they have been accorded the UNESCO Seal of Excellence. Each carving is made from a solid block of wood. The links in the chain these ‘spirits’ are holding are formed by chipping away at loops marked in the wood until the links separate into rings.

Black-shouldered Kite spotted at Carey Island, Selangor.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle spotted at Carey Island, Selangor.

The Royal Mausoleum in Jugra, situated in the Royal Town of Klang, Selangor, is the final resting place of Sultan Abdul Samad. Jake has written a fine feature story on Jugra, and you can read all about it here: Historical and Scenic Jugra

I trespassed an archaeological excavation site to have a closer look at this ancient well, which is estimated to be at least several hundred years old.

Checking out a bit of an ancient wall that remained standing within the fenced-in archaeological excavation site.

Pre-War shophouses in Banting.

At a paragliding site at Jugra Hill, waiting for the paragliding operator to arrive. Unfortunately, the outfit is open only on weekends or by reservation.

A great view of Klang town from the top of Jugra Hill. You can see the sea from here. It was a wet, foggy day.

The lighthouse at the top of Jugra Hill is now managed by the Maritime Department of Peninsular Malaysia.

At a small airfield about 2 km away from the foot of Jugra Hill. If I had the opportunity to do some gliding that day, this would have been the field where I was supposed to land.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Chances and Choices

“Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?”
- “Nowhere Man”, The Beatles.

There is no lack of opportunities for those who are willing to work honestly, hustle and produce results. I am immensely grateful to have been made 3 offers, the advantages and disadvantages of each which I am still weighing. I will, in all likelihood, accept the second offer as it will entail a mix of work that I am familiar with as well as more challenging work.

I am, in the meantime, making the most of what’s left of my days of leisure before I return to the blessed workforce. I am looking forward to donning my court whites again. Friends who know of my current situation have been remarkably helpful and unnecessarily sympathetic. I can live quite comfortably on my severance package for at least two or three months, guys. Although I appreciate being showered with dinner treats, organic soybeans, ice skating outings, potted ferns and whatever else I have been given, it really isn’t necessary. I’ve been keeping busy both in and outside the BOQ, and living life to the fullest. I can sleep in as long as I like after having spent the night catching up on my reading. By reading, I don’t mean improving books (to borrow from Jay Gatsby) like Walter Woon’s ‘Company Law’ or my admittedly lugubrious tome of Sartre’s essays. I’ve been losing myself in utterly self-indulgent baloney like Top Gear’s “Midlife Crisis Cars” and “The SAS Survival Guide”.

The political situation over here is still ghastly. At the rate we are going, we will still be in economic and political uncertainty when the Earth’s magnetic poles flip around again.

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1st March 2009: Thrice Bitten

SPCA Jumble Sale

Our SPCA had another mini jumble sale on Sunday to bring the donated items in our Charity Shop and storeroom (yes, the haunted one) to a more manageable level. Chelvy has decided to organise a mini jumble once every other month to generate income for the animal shelter and to promote the 3Rs (reducing, reusing and recycling), which will see greater acceptance due to the sluggish economy.

I arrived at the Shelter only at midmorning, having spent the night drafting a partnership agreement and deed of trust for someone as a personal favour. Also, I am aware that we now have regular school/college groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides coming in to volunteer for the Jumble, so my absence would not be felt. My services would only be critical around noon, after the Charity Van had picked up the unsold items and the young ‘uns have gone home.

Chelvy reported that the Shelter made over RM5,000.00 from the mini jumble, which isn’t too shabby by our standards. Our surrender rate currently stands at 868 animals, while the adoption rate remains encouraging at 309 animals. The Shelter is still operating at full to overcrowded capacity and we still need homes for all our animals.

The Charity Van arrived around lunchtime to remove the reusable items for resale or redistribution. We bagged up and carted away junk that could never be cleaned up, repaired or reused. The young volunteers, most of whom are students from INTI College, helped me remove rubbish and sweep the floor so I could wash and disinfect the Office, Charity Shop, Front Reception/Admin and Central Areas where the Jumble had been held.

Once the grunt work was done, Rose and I got the shampoo, Tactik EC solution and leashes ready and got to work washing the Pound dogs. These are strays and former strays that had been taken away for rehabilitation or euthanasia by the SPCA, and are generally aggressive and not very sociable. Wonder Boy (I don’t know his real name but he’s an affable chap about half my age who comes to help out sometimes and has managed to rehabilitate and tame Sparkle, an albino Spitz-cross with a churlish temper and jaws like a steel trap) joined us at the Pound and we managed to leash and wash 3 of the dogs.

One of the dogs bit me on the forearm and started shaking her head vigorously as though trying to break the neck of her prey. With much yelling and stamping of feet, we managed to get her to release my arm, which was thankfully protected by gloves and there was therefore only a closed wound. We finished washing her with much haste and then endeavoured to lasso another dog.

The other dog bit my hand and pulled my glove clean off. Wonder Boy had the good sense to hose the dog directly in the face to make him drop my glove. We had to run all over the Pound trying to corner him so we could wash him. It was like chasing chickens, only with a higher risk factor. I had purple rows of bite marks all over my hands and forearms when I was done.

Once we were done with the Pound dogs, we washed the new arrivals from the Maternity Kennel and Kennels E and F to prevent parasite infestation. Rose and I then called it at day and I rinsed out and put away the pails and things. I proceeded to clean and disinfect the Cattery and clean out all the cat baskets and litter trays.

Jane cleaned out the cages of the smaller dogs and let them out to play while I scrubbed out and washed the cages. I finished cleaning around 1640h and went up to the Bungalow to shower and change and have a powwow with The Glycol. They had visited the Singapore SPCA over the weekend and had bought me a gorgeous planner with photos of shelter animals on it as a gift (Thanks, guys!). We walked over to Studio 5 for an early dinner and discussed the recent shelter audit and the steps that could be taken to reduce the chances of animal deaths, infectious diseases and injuries.

I said goodbye to The Glycol after dinner, as I had to be at Mee Hong’s house for our t-shirt reusing and repurposing brainstorming session. We have only 2 weeks left until Raptor Watch Week and everything is still pretty chaotic right now. Siew Hua, Mee Hong and I ended up bickering over which ideas to keep and which to scrap.

Siew Hua raised a very valid point that many people do not have Mee Hong’s needlework skills, and the more complex projects, although interesting and impressive, would be too intimidating for beginners. We stopped for a dinner of dumplings and the puddings I brought for dessert, inspected Mee Hong’s homemade rice wine and fruit peel enzymes, and went back to the t-shirt scraps on the floor. It was an exhausting affair, trying out ideas that would work and finding out which wouldn’t. We finally settled on one simple project and I asked Mee Hong to bring her samples over anyway so we could make a 3R project display corner. I find projects for children to be a tiresome affair and would prefer dealing with adults over children any day. I just am very grateful to have the assistance of a few highly capable and intelligent volunteers.

Went back to the BOQ sometime around midnight, tidied the place up, checked the Battletank’s engine oil and radiator water levels and hit the sack with two rambunctious kittens.

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3rd March 2009: Local Agenda 21 Seminar

One of the best things about not having to go to work is that I could attend seminars and conferences on environmental issues on weekdays, the attendance of which I would otherwise have delegated to others as I would have wanted to concentrate on my work.

The MNS Secretariat had asked if I could attend a Local Agenda 21 Pilot Project Seminar organised by City Hall, and Vegan Eugene and I had accepted the challenge. The Seminar was attended mostly by government officials, industry players, business owners and some representatives from non-governmental organisations like us.

There was so much greenwash being dished out that I could repaint the BOQ with it. There were, of course, the obligatory PowerPoint presentations with disturbing photos of landfills and sewage pipes clogged with grease. I find it disgraceful that people would pour grease down the sewers. It shows a marked lack of disrespect for the Ninja Turtles and Master Splinter.

Bored out of my skull, I started sketching anti-heroes based on the attendees of the Seminar and scribbled notes on their anti-powers. Among them are:

Suspenders Man: Taking Cluelessness To New Heights!
”You just can’t improve stupidity!”

Greasetrap Man: Speaks at the Speed of One Word Per Minute!
“There’s just no substitute for dimness!”

Monolingual Man: Strives Not to Make Himself Universally Understood!
”If it’s good enough for Great-Grandmaw, it’s good enough for me!”

The Microphone Hogger: Says Nothing Of Any Consequence!
“I have no points to make but my presence!”

Pie Guy: Starts His Speech With A Prayer, and Says Nothing Worth Your Attention After!
“I take ten minutes of your time to speak to my God!”

Vegan Eugene posed questions on the Solid Waste Management Bill which made the City Hall officers and waste collection contractors shit their pants. Thankfully, they had brought spare pants with them. No, not really. That’s an outrageous lie. I don’t know why I am telling such whoppers in my blog. Vegan Eugene posed questions which made them very uncomfortable, so they made some sufficiently ingratiating and conciliatory response.

I was then asked to present the perspective of a non-governmental organisation, and I made some off-the-cuff astringent remarks about memorandums that went missing or unread, privileges extended to business concerns without the knowledge of citizens, misleading information on environmental issues, and the disenfranchisement of citizens and consumers.

I was mobbed by so many people (largely supportive) over my comments during the coffee break that I think it is best I remain incognito for the time being, before City Hall, the Federal Government, government contractors, manufacturers and the Malaysian Plastics Forum hunt me down, baying for blood.

The Seminar was over by 1645h, and Vegan Eugene and I made a dash for the train station as big, lazy raindrops started plopping on the sidewalks. We parted at the station as he had to go home, while I had another interview to attend. When it was finally over and I was ready to go back to the BOQ, I found out that the heavy rains and flash flood had caused the Light Rail Transit system to break down and commuters had been stranded at the KLCC station for the past hour or so.

I made the most of it by waiting it out in KLCC instead, and I spent 3 blissful hours browsing at Kinokuniya and Times Bookstore.

Flash flood in Kuala Lumpur, near Masjid Jamek, on 4th March 2009. What an irony that this happened right after a Seminar on making KL a safe, beautiful and clean city.

As it was a Tuesday, the rest of the week stretched ahead languorously, like an endless balmy beach lined with swaying coconut palms. Life is good if you are willing to convert adversity into better prospects.

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