Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Weekend Campout at Sg. Sendat

It has been a few months since I last went camping, and so when Mee Hong and her gang suggested a weekend campout at Sungai Sendat, Ulu Yam on 25th & 26th April, I jumped at the opportunity, although it would mean having to miss a weekend of volunteering at the SPCA.

And so the 12 of us descended on the campsite a little distance away from the waterfall at Sungai Sendat, Ulu Yam, on a scorcher of a Saturday morning. We checked out the site and found that it was to our satisfaction. After making a preliminary inspection for dead branches overhead, we got to work putting up our tents.

9 of our camping companions were to sleep in these 3 tents. A large canvas sheet spread out on the ground served as our picnic/dining/work area for the weekend.

The little stream next to our campsite was crystal clear, and we intend to keep it that way. We did our dishes bushcraft-style, with sand as a scrubbing agent and water from the stream. As we washed, little fishes and translucent shrimps swam right up to our hands and cookware and nibbled at the leftover food. I had, early on in our campout, assumed the duty of burying all food waste away from the water source.

A little trail in front of our campsite led invitingly into a secondary forest. We felt it safe to leave everything at our campsite as it is to explore the trail. I brought a biodegradable garbage bag with me to collect rubbish in, but any litter was thankfully negligible. We picked up the cigarette butts and fishing lines left behind by irresponsible daytrippers and took all the non-biodegradable waste out with us.

We had a steamboat (i.e. sukiyaki) dinner, expertly prepared by Soo Lung and Yeo, the best cooks of the dozen. Prior to dinner, we had a whale of a time splashing at a waterfall about 50 metres away from our campsite. This is a candid shot of Yeo roasting, or rather, charring, the sweet potatoes in the campfire. Despite our concerns about contributing to air pollution, temptation got the better of me and I created a bonfire for cooking in and to drive mosquitoes away with. We kept the fire going for a little over an hour before letting it extinguish itself naturally upon running out of fuel.

We had our dinner seated on our makeshift picnic mat. As the sky never gets completely dark in the Tropics, there was always enough light to see by if we needed to go to the stream to do our washing. We had a lively discussion during dinner on the topic of quarks and the string and superstring theories. We had another night trek after dinner before returning to the campsite for beer and bed. The temperature dropped drastically and many of us woke up at 0500 hrs in search of warmer clothes, as we were freezing in spite of our sleeping bags.

We departed from our campsite around noon on Sunday after a hearty brunch, and upon having ensured that we had left the campsite in a better state than we had found it. My buddies and I also went around removing tent ropes and plastic clotheslines left behind by previous campers that could potentially harm wildlife. I buried all our food waste some distance away from the stream and took our non-biodegradable waste out with us. I shall always look back on this weekend fondly as one that has brought together a group of nature-loving friends. May we have many, many more weekends of sleeping under the stars, cooking in the open air and bathing in rivers!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Eleanor Rigby moments

Ever since I commenced working here, I have had to be an Eleanor Rigby of sorts, wearing a face that I keep in a jar by the door. All the lonely people, where do they all come from? We're all just cogs in a machine, living an inauthentic existence and operating under the delusion that what we are doing is gratifying and significant.

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Saturday, 18th April 2009: SPCA Saturday and Glyn’s Farewell Dinner

SPCA shelter animals in need of good homes

I spent a good hour giving the Rowdies baths on Saturday morning prior to spending the rest of the day at the SPCA. The Rowdies all behaved commendably (for cats, that is), and there was less caterwauling this time around. The hair they shed in the shower, however, clogged up the entire drain outlet. I cleaned up after them and settled them on the living room couch to dry their fur before I left for the SPCA animal shelter.

There was good news when I arrived. The hamsters and rabbits have all been adopted, and apparently the rabbits would be taken to Dr. George for neutering once they were of age as well. I had brought carrots to the SPCA in vain, but the joy of knowing that the rabbits and hamsters had found homes surpassed this minor inconvenience.

Our adoption rates have dropped a little. As at 18th April, the surrender rate stood at 1,645 animals and the adoption rate stood at 568 animals. The SPCA shelter is currently home to approximately 450 cats and dogs and we are still operating above the recommended capacity. It is critical that animal care providers spay or neuter their companion animals, and important that animal-lovers adopt from shelters and pounds. The stray animal population explosion is a man-made problem and we have to make each person accountable for the animals under their care for there to be a permanent solution to this issue.

A lady, evidently of means, came by to surrender 6 puppies as she was going on holiday abroad and was no longer interested in looking after the puppies. Rose and I had a tough time trying to advise her against surrendering such young animals and explained the need for her to take responsibility for not having spayed the mother dog, but obviously her vacation was more important than saving the lives of animals that depend on her.

We deliberately charged her a high surrender fee in order that we may provide an allowance for a fosterer to care for the puppies until they could be safely vaccinated and put up for adoption. The puppies were without a doubt absolutely adorable, and in all likelihood, all of them would be adopted, but this would mean that 6 existing shelter animals would lose their chance of finding new homes. I wish there was a more effective way of deterring people from abandoning and surrendering their animals. I’d like to see them take responsibility for the vaccination, neutering and rehoming of the young animals themselves.

The other good news this week was that Thean and the general workers had tick-washed almost all the dogs, and so we volunteers could concentrate on other work this week. Rose was busy assisting with the adoptions and surrenders today. I washed some of the new arrivals and at-large dogs in the Central Area, and sprayed them with diluted Taktic EC solution, but was pleased to find the other dogs satisfactorily clean.

When I had finished washing the dogs, I proceeded to clean and disinfect the Hospital kennels and Kennels C, D, E and F. I let the dogs out to play in the Dogs’ Playground so I could clean their living quarters. I scrubbed the water bowls and gave the dogs clean drinking water.

Cindy and Cerys arrived at the Shelter for tea and a powwow just as I had finished cleaning the kennels at the back. I cleaned myself up and joined them at the warong for tea. Tea, cakes and crème caramel was my treat. Cindy had done a great job of representing Green Living at a corporate event, and brought back a cheque for the Malaysian Nature Society as her spoils of war.

After Cindy had taken Cerys home for a nap, I returned to the shelter to clean the Cattery. I don’t know who was on Cattery duty on Saturday but he must be one lazy, good-for-nothing so-and-so. There was no paper in the litter trays or cat baskets. All one had to do was to reline the litter trays with paper from the cat baskets and reline the cat baskets with clean newspaper. It hardly takes any effort to keep the animals comfortable and healthy, but any effort is simply too much for some people.

While I was in the midst of cleaning the baskets and litter trays, I spotted a blind cat in a basket right at the back. He must have been quite a recent arrival because he was not there last week when I was cleaning. The poor cat was so sick that it shocked me that they had kept him alive in misery. There was discharge from his eyes, nose and mouth the colour of dark blood. The paper in the basket was full of dried-up blood-coloured waste.

Obviously the poor suffering cat had not been able to come out of his basket since his arrival, and have not had any food or water. I tried to give him some water but he hissed at me, the way cats in great fear and pain do. He had been suffering for too long. I cried in frustration and anger. If the vets were able to help him, they should have done so immediately. If the poor cat is beyond help, then he should have been put out of his misery at the soonest instance. I don’t know how many days he had been suffering alone in the Cattery until I noticed him.

In spite of his hissing, I pulled off my gloves and laid my hands on his emaciated body and prayed with all my might. I recited my prayers in Pali, seeking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. I recited what I could remember of our Theravada tradition of transference of merit to the dying or departed. I wasn’t very diligent in my study of Buddhist scriptures, and so I wasn’t certain if I even had enough merit and good karma accumulated. But I figured that it would be a safe bet to transfer whatever I have to the poor kitty in order that he may be reborn into a life with less suffering. I could always try to acquire merit again from scratch.

I felt the cat’s body relax, as he realised that his pain may soon be over. I dried my tears on my incredibly dirty shirt and exited the Cattery to get Dr. Lim to humanely end the cat’s suffering. Even after Dr. Lim had euthanized the cat - my cat now, because I don’t want him to be without someone to love him in his death and meet him at the Rainbow Bridge – I could feel his presence linger on in the Cattery. I apologised to him as I cleaned out his erstwhile basket, and told him how sorry I was that the people in the Shelter had been too busy to care.

I was more at peace with myself by the time I had finished cleaning the Cattery. All the cats by then had clean bedding and fresh food and water. I moved on to clean the cages behind the Office. After I had scrubbed, disinfected and flushed the cages, I proceeded to clean the Office and Front Reception/Admin area.

I left Reve and Marianne to hose down the floor at 1900h while I went up to the Bungalow to shower, change and get ready for Glyn’s farewell dinner. I didn’t get Glyn anything that would remind him of Malaysia. Ever the pragmatist, I got Glyn a dynamo LED flashlight with a compass and utility knife, and he promptly went out to test the flashlight in the dark corners of the garden.

Cozy House Restaurant at the Great Eastern Mall .

The 7 of us – Nicole, Glyn, Murugan, Jacinta, Shahrul, Shahrul’s husband and I - went to Cozy House Restaurant in Great Eastern Mall. We had a lovely dinner, although we were all a bit sad that Glyn would be going back to the UK.

Our conversation moved from SPCA-related issues to whether the destruction of possums in New Zealand and badgers in the UK on grounds that they were carriers of bovine tuberculosis was all a big conspiracy. We soon found ourselves drifting inexplicably to ghost stories and started exchanging SPCA shelter haunting anecdotes. Shahrul was insistent that the presence in the storeroom was a benign one, but I think Linda, Muniandy and I know better, having experienced its wrath firsthand.

I regretted engaging in the conversation about ghosts and hauntings when I realized that I had a long drive back to the parental home in Rawang around midnight, and that there would be no streetlights along the Templer Park stretch, which, incidentally, is reputed to be haunted.

Our collective mood lightened up somewhat with the arrival of dessert. Of course, I had to order the biggest serving of ice cream available, and I managed to demolish my dessert faster than anyone else.

Went back to the SPCA Bungalow to feed the animals and clean up after the foundling kitten at the back. I had a mug of coffee so I would not doze off on the drive home. I shook hands with Glyn and waved everyone goodbye, and then barreled the Battletank back to the parental home with the radio on at full blast to scare away any lingering ghosties and nasties. That’ll teach me to share ghost stories again at night.

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Sunday, 19th April 2009: Covert Mum’s Birthday Eve

Covert Mum has the unfortunate distinction of having the same birthday as Adolf Hitler, and the dubious good fortune of having an offspring like me. As Mum’s birthday this year falls on a Monday, I decided to celebrate it with her a day early.

Covert Twin and I had agreed to delay Mum’s birthday celebrations until after payday, but I decided there was no harm in celebrating it twice, with or without my brothers. On Sunday morning, I gave Mum a Body Shop gift set (I had actually won this at the Raptor Watch Quiz. It was one of the toughest quizzes I have ever had to do), a box of her favourite dried fruits and berries and a card from Amber and me.

I spent the morning giving Amber a bath, washing my stinky SPCA clothes and cleaning Amber and Chocky’s kennels. Took the parents out for a nice lunch at one of the new franchise outlets in town. The food was good and worth the slightly steeper prices. Took the parents grocery shopping after lunch and bought Mum a cake for our tea.

In the afternoon, I cleaned the living and dining rooms and mopped the floor before taking Amber out for a car ride and taking both doggies out for a jog. Took the parents out to town again for dinner as I didn’t want Covert Mum doing any cooking or cleaning at all on her birthday. Spent the evening tidying the parental home before I went back to the BOQ.

Many Happy Returns, Mum, and here’s wishing you good health and happiness always.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Letter to the Editor: Fraser's Hill has lost its charm and identity.


I read with interest your report, “Only nature lovers visit Fraser’s, says Maznah” (Wednesday, 15th April). I beg to differ from Datuk Maznah’s assertion that the downturn in tourist numbers is not attributable to the fact that Fraser’s Hill is losing its charm.

As a nature-lover who used to enjoy birding in the trails of Fraser’s Hill, I can attest to the hill station’s decline from a tourist attraction with a ‘Little England’ identity to a dilapidated hill resort that has seen better days.

Fraser’s Hill used to appeal not only to nature lovers, but also to tourists seeking cool respite from the tropical heat, families and other groups who are attracted to the ersatz ‘English countryside’ feel of the hill station.

Unfortunately, Fraser’s Hill is sorely deficient when it comes to cleanliness and the maintenance of its hotels and lodging houses. When I visited Fraser’s Hill in 2002, the hotel we stayed in was filthy and the bathroom was so covered in mildew that taking a shower became a health hazard. Complaints to the hotel staff brought forth a typically Malaysian response; “Tak tahu” and “We are out of rooms”.

The subsequent year, when I visited Fraser’s again, despite having made room reservations early with a particular hotel, having taken into consideration the rise in tourist arrivals during the weekend of the International Bird Race, my friends and I were informed that our rooms had been given to members of the media and that they had no other rooms to offer us.

More regrettable still is the closure of the Gap Rest House, which used to serve a decent English tea to visitors waiting for ‘odd hours’ to go up the hill. With the closure of this colonial inn came the gradual demise of Fraser’s Hill’s old world feel.

The Tavern in the Town Square, to my recollection, no longer seems to serve the English-style meals that it was once so famed for. On my last two visits, most of the food listed on the menu was unavailable and we had to settle for instant noodles and carbonated drinks at what was once a quaint colonial restaurant and pub.

The more accessible trails in Fraser’s Hill are often full of litter, while the more challenging trails are often poorly maintained and lacking in safety features. For this reason, I applaud Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation and the Raub District Council in their efforts to restore the hill station.

For Fraser’s Hill to be a proper ecotourism destination, regard must be had to the impact that any development project may have on the environment and indigenous wildlife. There must be efforts to educate visitors and the local community to reduce the incidence of littering and collection of native flora and fauna, among others.

The facelift of Fraser’s Hill should also take into consideration ways to promote waste separation and recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and alternatives to private vehicle use.

Blaming the recent decline in tourist arrivals on the one-way system to go up or down Fraser’s Hill is illogical, given that the system has been in place for decades. There is little point in creating an alternative system up the Hill. The ‘New Road’ up the Hill was a colossal waste of money and should be a cautionary tale against the construction of more access roads into environmentally sensitive and structurally unsound areas. Fraser’s Hill does not need cable cars, new roads, tacky souvenir shops or ornamental street lighting, but a development authority that is committed to preserving its rustic allure and environmental integrity.


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Weeding My Kierkegaarden

I need to start weeding my Kierkegaarden. I refuse to sit passively and stew in my own existential guilt. I cannot afford to grow increasingly melancholic and bitter as the years pass me by and I wonder if this is what I truly want out of life. My true existence begins with me, and I need to challenge all those things that have provided me with a sense of security all these years. I shall make a leap of faith, and trust my own judgment and instincts that I will land on my feet and respond with moral courage in all that I do henceforth.

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Saturday, 11th April 2009: SPCA Saturday, and Another Soiree

Hamsters for adoption at the SPCA for RM50, including the entire Habitrail enclosure/living quarters/play area.

I arrived at the SPCA to find a large Habitrail enclosure containing 3 or 4 distressed-looking hamsters sitting on the floor of the front Admin/Reception area. Oh joy. Yet more victims of impulsive pet buyers who treat animals as retail goods, rather than sentient beings that depend on their human care-providers for life. Other than the hamsters, there were also 2 frightened rabbits being housed in the Cattery. The hamsters and rabbits all look as though they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown or cardiac arrest, due to the incessant barking of dogs and the proximity of cats.

This is another reason I am lobbying for greater restrictions against the retail sale of pets. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t tire of his or her hamsters or rabbits within a year of having them. What exacerbates this problem is that most parents are only too willing to surrender the animals, who are treated as mere inconveniences rather than companions or family members, to animal shelters, or abandon them in an undergrowth or secondary forest to fend for themselves. Companion animals are to them expendable and replaceable, the latter more often than not with a Game Boy or some other electronic distraction.

We will never be able to consider ourselves a developed nation until we learn to extend our circle of compassion to other specie. If we can’t inculcate a love of living things quickly and effectively enough in society, then the next best thing would be to protect animals by way of legislation and enforcement. We must severely curtail the retail sale of companion animals and pet breeding operations, and create sufficient deterrents in place against allowing pets to breed or to be abused or abandoned. For the time being, I hope some responsible and kindhearted souls will want to adopt the poor hamsters and rabbits.

The SPCA’s adoption rates have remained quite stable at 30%-35%. As at 11th April, the number of animals surrendered stands at 1508, while 521 animals have found homes. We have to work harder just to keep the adoption rates constant, as companion animals often end up casualties of any economic recession.

SPCA dogs hoping for a kindhearted visitor to give them a new home.

I joined Rose at the back of the Shelter to give the dogs baths and rinse them with tick wash. Some of the dogs have minor sores and wounds that I administered Dermapred ointment to. A few stray puppies had been surrendered by people who couldn’t take the puppies in, and I prepared canned food in warm water to entice the puppies to eat. I hope the vets will consider saving these puppies. Fleas and worms are not incurable, so the vets shouldn’t keep using preposterous justifications like that to euthanize animals with minor ailments. For all the hostility the Chairperson of the SPCA displays towards independent pet rescue groups, the rescue groups actually do a far better job of saving animal lives and getting them rehomed, despite having far fewer resources at their disposal.

It began raining heavily later in the afternoon, and so we stopped washing the dogs. I put away the dog-washing kit and started cleaning the Cattery. The cat baskets look as though they haven’t been scrubbed and disinfected in weeks, and there was a big hole in the roof of the Cattery on the right which made rain splash all over the Cattery floor and frighten the cats into a shivering, yowling, indignant mass.

Cats at the SPCA Cattery. Photo credits: MingChien Ng.

I finished cleaning and disinfecting the Cattery and all the baskets and litter trays, and provided clean and dry bedding for the cats to lie down on. Serina had bought me a Cat-It Scratch-and-Play pad for my birthday Pawed-Luck Paw-ty for which I had requested gifts for shelter animals. Once the Cattery was clean and dry, I set up the Scratch-and-Play in an elevated area for the cats to play with. It didn’t take them long to figure out what the toy was for, and for whom it was intended. I was pleased to see the cats, apprehensive at first, warm up to their game of chasing the ball and scratching the corrugated cardboard pad.

Reve and I started cleaning the Shelter after the last of the visitors had left. We let the dogs from the Maternity Kennels and Ready-for-Adoption kennels out to play so I could scrub and soap the cages and enclosures. I swabbed and disinfected the Front Reception/Admin area and the Office and flushed the floor and drains. I was feeling a bit sickly by then, and informed Reve that I had a brainworm (i.e. one of those headaches that you don’t have an explanation for and wouldn’t go away. Not to be confused with an earworm, which is a catchy song that you can’t get out of your mind).

Reve agreed to help me reline the cages with newspaper and wash the floor of the kennels behind the Office, so I could take a break until I felt better. I went up to the Bungalow to shower and get ready for Lynette’s birthday party.

My brainworm had the better of me when I was driving over to Alicia’s condominium for Lynette’s party, so I pulled over at a cab stand, took an acetomophine tablet from my First Aid Kit, and slept for 15 minutes. I felt a little better after a quick snooze and continued on my way to Lynette’s party.

I was happy to see Lynette and Alicia again and gave the both of them presents – A crystal turtle for Lynette, who collects turtles, and a red Balinese wind twirler for Alicia, who collects red things. Lynette apparently hasn’t been having such a great time at work either, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell just looking at her – she positively glows. We chatted while we waited for the other guests to arrive, and went through Alicia’s impressive collection of musical instruments and books. Alicia shares my obsession with lion dances, and showed me her lion dance scrapbooks. What I didn’t know, however, was that she had performed with a troupe as a child! Alicia regaled me with tales of playing the drums and performing with a lion dance troupe, and made me quite envious of the childhood she had.

Kiri, Lynette and I sharing a laugh.

The party really came alive when Kiri and her husband finally arrived, and we helped ourselves to the sumptuous spread. You know your hostess has been in the hotel industry too long when you find each dish accompanied by a little card to inform you what it is you’re having. I am sure “Vietnamese Rice Rolls” and “Seafood Pasta” taste better when properly named and labeled.

Being Malaysian, we discussed politics at the dinner table, behaviour which is probably unacceptable in any other civilized society. John expressed surprise when I again declined an alcoholic beverage, this time due to my brainworm. At the rate I am going, I will soon develop a reputation as a teetotaler.

Lynette’s tiramisu birthday cake was duly brought out around 2100h, and Alicia subtly informed us to gather around by playing the birthday song on her piano. We raised the roof with our off-key singing (all except for Alicia, who sings beautifully). The tête-à-tête continued after cake was served, and I found myself in the company of John’s friend, Major, a retired army officer, a most engaging and interesting person.

From left to right: Me, Tracy (who is Alicia and Lynette’s little niece), Alicia and Major.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and all the guests were surprised to find that it was already midnight. Alicia informed me that they didn’t need any help cleaning up, so I wasn’t to help. We hugged the birthday girl goodnight and made our way back to our respective cars. It had been a good day for me, and in all the camaraderie and laughter, I discovered that my brainworm had gone away, most probably due to the good company I was in. I am fortunate indeed to have such good friends who can lift me out of any blue funk, and who remind me of all the good there is in the world.

Many Happy Returns, Lynette, and may you always be blessed with good health, happiness and success.

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Thursday, 2 April 2009

Embracing Adversity

The past two weeks have been exceptionally challenging. My re-entry into legal practice had been really demanding on the old noggin, even when assigned nothing more exciting than document reviews and legal opinions. The learning curve here is so steep that I’m going to need metaphorical pitons, carabiners and nylon ropes to keep up.

We seem to be in no danger of running out of bad news anytime soon. A dear friend lost her 2 loyal dachshunds to a cobra last Sunday (You can read her post here: New Angels: Sonya and Sasha). An elderly friend in Australia had just undergone surgery for prostrate cancer. Yet another close friend had just been wrongfully dismissed from her job, which is infuriating because I know her employer well enough to impute bad faith on the part of the employer. My own little boy, Pixie, had to spend the night at the veterinarian's for urinary tract infection. He is now on ruinously expensive special food which he petulantly refuses to eat.

Oh well. Nothing else to do but to soldier on and do the best we can. Shakespeare says it best in Henry VI: "Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course."

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22nd March 2009: SPCA Saturday

Adorable Adoptables Looking For A New Home

I wish to reserve comment on the carrying-ons at the SPCA this week, as it may prejudice certain parties. Suffice it to say that I seriously question the leadership of those entrusted with the duty of managing the organisation and the animal shelter.

I arrived at the animal shelter around noon to find Rose attending to some visitors. I got the shampoo and leashes ready and mixed a pail of Taktic EC for use on the pound dogs. I washed the dogs from Kennels G and H and the new arrivals and let the tick-wash dry on their fur. Some of the dogs had minor wounds and I administered Ilium Dermapred on the sore areas. I wasn't in the mood to talk, so I finished my work in silence and with efficacy. At least now the clean and parasite-free dogs would have a better chance of being adopted.

Started cleaning the shelter after the last of the visitors had left and Reve had let the dogs out to run around and socialise in the SPCA compound.

Someone had given the SPCA a few bottles of homemade plant enzyme to use as a natural cleaning solution, so I mixed the rank-smelling liquid with soap and water for cleaning the Cattery and Maternity Kennels with. I swabbed and washed the Cattery, Maternity Kennels, Puppy Kennels and Front Reception/Admin areas. I was not convinced that something that smells like backwoods moonshine could have a disinfectant effect, so I scrubbed the cages and floor with a hard broom for good measure -- just in case the enzyme isn't as good at killing germs as its producer claimed it to be.

Went up to the SPCA Bungalow to shower after I was done with animal shelter work for the day. Glyn was still in a meeting, so Nicole and I attended to the Bungalow animals and discussed some of the recent events while we waited.

New van for the SPCA Inspectorate – finally!

Glyn, Nicole and I met up with Meem for dinner at Coca Restaurant in One Utama. We were horrendously late and were the last customers there. I was sorely tempted to have a beer after all the insanity of being an SPCA volunteer, but cautioned myself that I had more than an hour of driving to do after dinner. We enjoyed each other's company but there was always a slight sense of foreboding during dinner.

We parted company around 2300 hours, having reassured each other of our support and concern for each other. The next few weeks will be even tougher than this one.

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Saturday, 28th March 2009: Earth Hour Potluck Party

Caught up as I am in all my duties as a Malaysian Nature Society volunteer, I had not considered organising a special event (car-free and zero-waste, of course) for Earth Hour. I am not quick to dismiss such events as 'mere publicity stunts'. Earth Hour, like Earth Day and World Environment Day, can be a time for introspection, reflection, resolution and revolution.

Earth Hour isn't about sloganeering, and need not be an exercise in hypocrisy. It can be a time for Lights-Out participants to pledge to break out of wasteful and ecologically unsound habits, and to make lifestyle changes that will reduce one's use of energy and natural resources.

So when an MNS member, Dr. Ong, invited me to speak at her neighbourhood Earth Hour potluck party, I jumped at the opportunity to do environmental outreach work. Here are 15 upper middle class families willing to switch off all electrical appliances for an evening, and learn how to reduce their environmental impact. Their 30 children had laboured over weeks to conduct research and produce educational posters on topics (covered by our Green Living column) such as "Reducing Food Wastage", "Cooling Your Home Naturally", "Battery Use and Disposal" and "The Greenest Man On The Planet". How could I let them down?

Not only would I speak on living a greener lifestyle, I responded, I would cheerfully arrange for a video screening and organise an Eco Hunt for the young'uns as well. In return, I would encourage the families to use their own tableware, generate minimal waste, switch off all appliances (not merely the lights) if practicable and not drive for the entire evening unless absolutely necessary. They agreed to my criteria with an admirable "Can Do!" attitude that rivalled my own.

My very capable volunteer/subcommittee member Mee Hong joined me as a fellow speaker and guest judge (for the children's eco-poster contest) upon invitation, as we both lived not far from the township.

The Earth Hour party was a runaway success. The township's management corporation gamely agreed to turn all the streetlights out at 2000h, and most lights and appliances were out long before the stipulated Lights-Out hour of 2030-2130h. We had a candlelight potluck party at the tiny circular park in the middle of the street, and screened "The Story of Stuff" at 2000h. At 2030h, we flagged off the Eco Hunt, which lasted the entire hour. We judged the posters, gave out prizes, talked about conservation and had a green lifestyle pledge ceremony. The following photos bear testimony to what a great lights-out soiree we had.

(All photo credits go to Zuli Omar)

A zero-waste potluck party with homecooked food and non-disposable tableware: What a great way to get to know your neighbours!

The screening of "The Story of Stuff" took place before Lights-Out at the porch of one of the neighbours. The applause that followed the video credits took us by surprise - this was, after all, a video presentation and not a stage performance! We have no doubt about the positive impact this life-changing, mind-blowing video would have on the lives of the audience.

3 of the young'uns on the lookout for hidden clues. Mee Hong and I hid the clues for the Eco Hunt while they were watching "The Story of Stuff". I had spent the morning making clues. Each team was given a topic ("Fuel Economy", "Water Saving Measures" etc) on a slip of coloured paper. They had to look for 8 other slips of the same colour and rearrange the words written on the slips to form a sentence related to their topic (for example: "Set Computer Monitors To Go Into Sleep Mode").

Each family that had observed their pledge to use only permanent and not disposable tableware was given a pot of mint, coriander or parsley. This was a simple idea that I had suggested to the organisers, but the response was great! I was sorry not to get a potted plant. I didn't know that the organising committee had prepared a potted plant and other eco gifts for Mee Hong and me as a token of appreciation, to be given only at the end of the party.

Mee Hong and I were given the very tough assignment of judging the eco posters. All the posters were amazing and the standard was very high. The kids had done a lot of research and put in a lot of effort. I judged the posters based on the relevance, usefulness and appeal of the information, the attractiveness of the poster and their "pull" factor.

Thankfully, each child was given a small Earth Hour trophy for his or her effort, and to remind each of his or her pledge to put Planet Earth first.

Mee Hong and I were touched and surprised to receive a potted plant, a small Earth Hour trophy and a pair of salad tongs made of recycled teakwood each as tokens of appreciation for our participation. How very generous and thoughtful of the organising committee! Upon my suggestion, the children had also collected pre-loved books for Green Living. Whatever books not sold at our Pre-Loved Books booth will be donated to the children of Ulu Geroh.

We two volunteers, being no longer young, were completely flaked by the time the party was officially over at 2300h, but the energetic kids were still running relay races and playing with their skateboards and Ripstiks all over the unlit street. We thanked our hosts for a highly memorable Earth Hour party, and urged them to join us for the MNS Open Day celebrations in May.

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Sunday, 29th May 2009: World Water Day celebrations and MNS Open Day Recce

I had made arrangements to meet up with Vegan Eugene on Sunday morning so we could attend the World Water Day celebrations at the Puncak Niaga headquarters in Shah Alam. It would form part of our recce work for the MNS Open Day in May, as we have chosen water conservation & demand management as our theme for the upcoming Open Day.

We were fortunate to be able to network with a few other environmental non-profit groups at the event, and one had actually agreed to come and set up a booth at our Open Day. By a stroke of good luck, we also managed to meet journalist/environmental activist Karam Singh Walia in person and we exchanged ideas on creating awareness on freshwater conservation issues in Malaysia.

A simple yet effective postcard on the importance of repairing/maintaining water supply and transmission infrastructure.

We completed our recce exercise of the World Water Day celebrations around 1330h and proceeded to the Malaysian Agricultural Park (“MAP”), also in Shah Alam,

I am that blot in the distance trying to control the awful rented bike that came with calliper brakes that do not work. Vegan Eugene claims that his own bike at home is a thousand times better because it has cantilever brakes. I bragged that my T-Bolt has disc brakes, which makes it ten thousand times better. I wish the Park authorities would let us bring in our own bikes.

A view of the Mushroom/Hydroponics Garden, the alternative site for Open Day pending approval from the State Agri Dept.

A view of the bridge over a stream dividing the Mushroom/Hydroponics Garden from the rest of the Park. Eugene is trying to fix his awful rented bike's chain on the bridge, while I checked out the watchtower.

Showered and rested at Vegan Eugene’s bachelor pad before going back to the parental home to take Amber for a walk. I’ve been up at an ungodly hour on both Saturday and Sunday. Monday is not going to look pretty.

Vegan Eugene’s adorable furgirl, Pearl.

Messing with Pearl to see how much attention she could tolerate.

~ Semper Fi, Commando! ~