Wednesday, 27 May 2009

MNS Open Day at the Malaysian Agricultural Park

I’m getting to be quite a consummate time traveler. It feels as though hardly 3 months have passed since our last MNS Open Day at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), and hardly one month since our Raptor Watch Week at Tg. Tuan, and now yet another biannual MNS Open Day has come and gone. Whatever happened to March and April? All of us seem to be just oscillating from one frenetic activity to another. At the rate I'm going, I might as well just declare myself a full time staff (or indentured slave, rather, since I don't get paid) of the Malaysian Nature Society.

There is nothing essentially wrong with having Open Days. The MNS Open Day is a useful awareness-raising and outreach event, and has successfully increased the number of visitors to nature sites such as FRIM and our own MNS Urban Nature Centre. It is an excellent opportunity for MNS members and curious visitors to learn more about our different Special Interest Groups and what we do, and get involved in local conservation issues. We have always welcomed school groups, corporations and other clubs and societies who wish to participate in our Open Day celebrations, and actively encouraged and accommodated residents of welfare homes and organisations, especially children, to attend our events.

It's just that it's always the same core group of volunteers like Eugene, Lillian, Pasupathy and I who end up doing most of the legwork, and we are feeling the strain. If you are of the opinion that 'no one is indispensable', you should try joining the MNS. The guilt of trying to foist work on those who are unwilling or unprepared to assume our responsibilities is so immense that we just carry on over-committing and over-Committee-ing ourselves, year after year. Pasu had coordinated the last Open Day, and Eugene had coordinated this one, and judging by their testimonies, it really is a full-time job!

I am concerned over how much of our resources is directed towards each major outreach event like Raptor Watch and Open Day. What worries me is that I cannot determine for certain if the social and educational benefits outweigh the environmental cost. At each major outreach event, we spend inordinate amounts of money on packed lunches (even if in Eco Pak and even if we bring our own drinking water), buntings/banners (even if made of recycled and recyclable Tyvek), canopy rental and transport allowance for volunteers.

Despite my misgivings about the environmental cost, I have to admit that our public outreach events are always highly successful in mobilising the support and assistance of other MNS members (including the occasional volunteers) and in inculcating a love of the Malaysian outdoors and an interest in environmental conservation in our visitors.

Our Open Day, held at the Taman Cendawan ("Mushroom Park") of the Malaysian Agricultural Park in Bukit Cherakah, Shah Alam, on 23rd May 2009, had everything a nature-lover could ask for. Our theme for this event is “Nilai Air Tanah-airku”, or “The Value of Our Country’s Water Resources”, as transboundary water and the construction of dams in vital watershed areas are hotly debated topics at the moment.

The Nature Guides took visitors on hikes and kayaking sessions and conducted lessons on responsible camping and trekking techniques, as well as firestarting and ropework classes. The Flora Group took visitors on Flora and Mushroom Walks. The Marine Group conducted a Turtle Workshop, among other things. LUAS had a booth conducting water quality and stream ecology-related activities.

As for Green Living, besides our usual exhibition of informative charts and posters, sale of pre-loved books, Q & A sessions, 3R Game and collection of recyclables, I had prepared new display materials, a Water Conservation Board Game and a Water Conservation Hunt/Challenge to raise awareness on and advocate good water conservation habits. I am fortunate to have the assistance of competent and experienced volunteers, as usual.

A little lake (a pond, rather. I think almost 30% of the water feature is shaded by vegetation overhang, and the water temperature is pretty even throughout, so it cannot, geographically speaking, be a lake) separating Taman Cendawan ("Mushroom Park") from the rest of the Park.

Young'uns from the Sri Inai Beaconhouse School exploring the event grounds and watchtower.

The MNS Registration booth, sans Powerpoint presentation, sans slideshow, sans everything it should have, thanks to a power cut. Whatever frustration I feel over not having our Special Interest Group slideshows screened is nowhere as maddening as what Eugene and Lill must have felt, as they have worked on the video for weeks, and Lill had apparently stayed up until 0500 hrs the morning of the event to record and calibrate the voiceover.

That's what comes of living in the Third World. Independent power producers like YTL Corp are making a killing from the government and ratepayers by constructing superfluous power transmission infrastructure, and the electricity is supplied to us only intermittently.

Birders conducting an Introduction to Birdwatching session.

The tent in the foreground is part of the Nature Guides educational session on Responsible Camping and Trekking.

Visitors registering for the Water Conservation Hunt at the Green Living booth.

Mee Hong and Siew Hua supervising the rugrats in the Water Conservation Board Game. I am good at conceptualizing educational activities and doing all the critical work, but hopeless at communicating with children. I talk at my pace and level, not theirs, and have a very low threshold for whiny, irrational or uncooperative behaviour. The ladies make it so much easier for me.

Water Conservation Hunt in progress. It was too easy. All the participants had to do was locate all the picture clues which showed instances of water wastage, and then list down the water conservation measures to be taken in relation to each picture. I should have made things more challenging for them. I should have buried clues in the ground with hidden mousetraps, suspended clues from hand grenade pins, or hidden the clues in pits watched over by Komodo Dragons and Gila Monsters.

Water Conservation Hunt Prize Giving Ceremony, sans microphone because the power supply was still out. Mad Props to Lill, whose voice is in inverse proportion to her size! She would make a great drill sergeant. I had planned it so that each team received a Green Living booklet and a set of Green Living pocket posters, and the top 3 teams received hampers of organic goodies in reusable cloth bags.

I hope that for the next Open Day, we will find ways to cut down on food and beverage packaging and disposable materials, utilize a location that is accessible by public transport or is within walking distance of residential areas, and find ways to reduce reliance on water, electricity and private vehicle usage.

~ CO78: Good work, Soldier! ~

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Bravo Zulu and Charlie Mike, Commando.

Saturday, 16th May 2009: Little Big Dog’s Gotcha Day

It has been a month of birthdays and gotcha days. We celebrated Chocky a.k.a Little Big Dog’s first gotcha day on Saturday with cakes from the Bark-ery, a one-person outfit making organic pet treats, operated and managed by my good friend Meem. Meem and I met up on Friday night at Ikea and we exchanged news about all the animal charities in the country and how they are responding to the Pulau Ketam abandoned dogs crisis.

We practically had to be shooed away by the Ikea cafeteria staff when it closed at 2300h. I adjourned to Tesco across the street to do my monthly grocery shopping. For someone who works the hours I do, I cannot even begin to describe what a boon it is to have hypermarkets that open until 0100h. It is delightful to be able to do my shopping long after the shrieking toddlers and casual browsers have left, when the aisles are quiet and the queues are short and orderly.

However, soon my penchant for shopping for groceries after midnight may no longer be a necessity. I have decided to go for Plan B, as working from home seems more and more attractive to me by the day. Working from home will enable me to set my own goals and produce the results I want without the aggravation of attending interminable meetings, suffering in sick buildings, completing endless status reports and getting mired in office politics.

I finished my grocery shopping, deposited my cloth shopping carriers into the Battletank and roared on back to the parental home in Rawang for the weekend. Amber and Chocky were playing in the yard when I arrived, and ran up to greet me with much display of tongues and wagging tails. I brought out the box of special muffins Meem made (made with ground lean meat, sweet potato, parmesan cheese and all sorts of good things) and gave them two each. Amber and Chocky went ape, prancing on their hind legs, barking, spinning and dancing with the fervor of dervishes.

I gave them more of the little muffins on Saturday as a reward for behaving well when I gave them baths and brushed their teeth, and saved the rest of the treats for their tea and dinner. We were having company for dinner, and so I cleaned the parental home, polished the furniture, washed the rugs, mopped the floor and swept the garden and porch. Covert Mum’s flowers seem to have thrived despite the diabolical heat and humidity, and the parental garden was a riot of colours.

Covert Twin came home in the evening with his girlfriend and her family, and took photos of the capering canines as they enjoyed their cakes. Chocky also received a proper birthday present – a large chew toy – and I wondered if Amber noticed that we didn’t get her a proper present on her gotcha day in January. All I did for Amber’s gotcha day was buy her a jar of dog biscuits and a bottle of chewable pet vitamins and take her on a car ride.

We (the humans, I mean) went out for dinner at a restaurant and I spent the rest of Saturday night tidying up the parental home and doing some translation and copywriting work as a favour for a friend. I haven’t all that much to report except that it’s been a fairly good week.

Chocky and Amber ~ Best of Friends!

Sunday, 17th May 2009: SPCA Sunday

I’ve been receiving news that the animal welfare groups involved in the Pulau Ketam dog rescue operations are feuding with one another and openly displaying hostility against one another on the island. Well, not exactly towards each other, but all the unregistered animal rescue/welfare groups are on one side and the SPCA is on the other side of the fight ring. The initial information I received was that some of those in the SPCA are trying to prohibit other animal welfare groups from collecting funds and attempting to rescue and rehome the strays, since these groups are not registered. The other groups are, of course, reciprocating with threats of their own because they were, after all, the first in on the scene, and the SPCA only came in later when the media brouhaha began.

Insanity has reached new heights, people. It is obvious that no single group could rescue all 300 abandoned dogs on their own, so why not work together to achieve a common aim? There are allegations that the SPCA asked the other rescue groups to ‘get off the Island’ and to relinquish the floating platform they had painstakingly built to the SPCA. Then there are counter-allegations that it was in fact the independent rescue groups that had ordered the SPCA off the Island, and jeered at the SPCA for having spent money on a new van for its inspectorate. Each side is equally antagonistic to the other. If only people spent the energy they invest in fighting in helping animals and the environment instead! Has the world gone mad? No wonder Malaysian politics is in the state it is in!

If I were the Chairperson of the SPCA, I would welcome the involvement of other rescue groups and draw up Terms of Reference to encourage recognized animal rescuers and animal welfare volunteers to utilize SPCA resources and facilities, such as the Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic. Instead, each interested party here is using the cause of animal welfare to promote their personal agendas and as a public relations platform to bring themselves fame and glory. Once again, we can witness how those with vested interests are undermining the causes of justice, transparency and service. Doesn’t anyone remember the value and importance of service anymore?

So far, the SPCA is doing a reasonably competent job of rescuing and rehabilitating the abandoned strays. A Buddhist organization has been footing the vet bills and all the rescued dogs have been washed, treated for mange and vaccinated.

Animal Inspector Cunera checking on the rescued dogs and ensuring their comfort and well-being.

Dogs being transported to the Inspectorate van to be taken to the vet (Dr. George) for treatment.

After checking on the rescued dogs (who were all napping in the afternoon heat in cages up at the Bungalow), I went down to the Shelter for my weekly 5-6 hours of volunteering. Reve was away in Australia to visit her grandchildren, and that left Rose and I as the only volunteers for the weekend.

Contrary to popular opinion, the SPCA is not losing its volunteers because the members of the public are apathetic; the SPCA is losing its volunteers because its staff and officers are apathetic. I don’t blame the first-time volunteers for not wanting to come back – the staff and officers can be downright rude, obnoxious, self-serving and indifferent. It is a myth that people work for non-profit organizations because they care more deeply for the causes the organizations champion than the rest of society does. Personal experience and empirical evidence tells me that people who work for non-profit organizations are often simply people who are too lazy, apathetic, bitter, maladjusted and unmotivated to look for jobs elsewhere.

At the same time, members of the public who want to make a difference, and be the difference they want to see, must bear in mind that they are volunteering their time, energy, skills and resources out of love and commitment to a cause, and not because they expect any form of acknowledgement and gratitude from the organization. Animal shelter volunteers must remind themselves that they are doing it out of love for the animals and an inextinguishable desire to make a permanent difference in the lives of these animals and to create opportunities for their subsequent adoption. There is, after all, no guarantee that you will not have to deal with unpleasant and rude people in your working life. If disagreeable clients do not impel you towards a life of genial unemployment, then why should a truculent animal shelter officer stop you from trying to help the animals you profess to love?

The Central Area of the Shelter was full of joyfully yapping dogs at play, released for a few hours of exercise. I gently leashed and led away those of them with mange for medicated baths and tick rinse. As I washed them, I pressed my cheek against theirs and told them how beautiful they are and how I wish that tomorrow will be their lucky day. The dogs pressed their wet muzzles against me and sighed with pleasure as I scrubbed their skinny bodies.

I let the dogs run around to dry off after their baths and proceeded to clean the Shelter. I swabbed and disinfected the Maternity Kennels, Cattery and kennels behind the Office. I was glad to see that the vets had finally spayed a number of young dogs that are now convalescing in the Hospital. I cleaned the Front Reception/Admin area and scrubbed the floor, litter trays and water buckets. I finally finished cleaning the Shelter around 1930h and did a final check on the animals together with our dedicated Shelter general workers, Muniandy and Mazni.

After having showered and changed at the Bungalow around 2010h, I drove on over to Serina’s erstwhile house to pick up the potted plants that she could not bring with her. Went back to the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters, cleaned the house and litter trays, fed the kitties, sorted out the things I needed for the upcoming MNS Open Day and read the newspapers in bed with the Rowdies sitting on the papers.

(As a postscript: I wouldn’t mind switching professions to become a writer for Top Gear or any reputable motoring magazine. Judging by what Jeremy Clarkson does, I wouldn’t have to know anything of any consequence about the cars I am reviewing. I can just waffle on in the most officious way possible about everything from the Labour Party to public schools, and include a superficial, flippant and offensive paragraph about the car I am reviewing, and still have car manufacturers clamouring to have me review their cars.)

Tuesday, 19th May 2009: Pixie’s Gotcha Day

We celebrated Pixie’s 3rd gotcha day back at the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters on Tuesday night. I had to work late again, so Jake and Jessica bought KFC and deboned it for the Rowdies’ dinner party. A fight broke out over who gets the best piece (well, Mini-Me did, in the end) and I came home in time to clean up the mess the Rowdies made dragging their dinner out of their bowls, off the placemats, onto the dining room floor and behind the computer table. Ah well. C’est la vie. Even the most rambunctious cat is still more civilized than the average lawyer.

Pixie, when I first brought him home in 2006. I found him in a drain behind my former office and brought him home on the train in a sturdy paper shopping bag.

Pixie the roly-poly warrior cat as he is today.

~ CO78, Over To You ~

To the reader from Kuala Selangor who Googles me every week

This entry does not require a comment or response.

To the reader from Kuala Selangor who Googles me every week:

I don't know who you are and it makes no difference to me whether or not you identify yourself.

But obviously you have been here more than once and continue to Google me and read my blogposts at least twice a week.

I would be much obliged if you would consider that each Google search produces at least 0.2 - 2 grams of carbon dioxide, whereas just viewing a simple webpage by keying in my blog address or bookmarking it so you can visit it again generates only 0.01 - 0.02 g of carbon dioxide.

Googling is hardly the most energy efficient way of getting to a website you are already frequenting. Would you drive to the post office to mail a letter to someone who you already know lives 3 doors away from your house?

Using search engines to locate something you have already found and already visit regularly is such a ridiculous waste of energy that I am compelled to speak up on this and address you to deter you from continuing to Google me endlessly.

Please stand advised. Thank you.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Wesak Day and Mothers’ Day Weekend

Monday, 11th May 2009: This Atlas has decided to shrug

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?
I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?
To shrug."

- From "Atlas Shrugged", by Ayn Rand.

I tendered my letter of resignation today. Plan B is in place, although I am confident that Plan A might just materialise and fall into place before my one-month notice period is up.

I have not felt so upbeat in weeks. With Liverpool second in the Premier League table, and the High Court deciding in favour of the rightful Menteri Besar of Perak (see: The Star, 11th May 2009), (Postscript: As at 12th May 2009, the deposed Chief-Minister-that-never-was has been granted a stay of execution on the High Court ruling. The people are now lobbying for dissolution of the state government to pave the way for fresh elections, which is the only truly democratic way to resolve the matter.), I really can't imagine how things could get any better than this.

Except perhaps success in rescuing all the abandoned dogs on Pulau Selat Kering and finding a permanent solution to the problem of stray overpopulation. (See this SPCA bulletin).

First of all, let me explain that the abandonment of the dogs was done out of sheer ignorance and apathy, not intentional cruelty. The international community and animal welfare groups have derided, criticised and condemned the impoverished and functionally-illiterate residents of Pulau Ketam enough. Let us now work towards developing a long-term solution to the problem of stray population.

Friends have been asking me if I were involved in the rescue operations. How could I, when I am stuck in a job which requires me to work 12-15 hour days and which leaves me sick with coughs and colds every week (Thanks to all my ailing colleagues who could not go on legitimate medical leave due to our incredible workload and the fact that our clients and bosses have the persistence of Jehovah's Witnesses even when our cellular phones are off)?

Over the weekend, however, upon discussion with Cunera, Murugan and the others at the SPCA, I have agreed to assist in coordinating efforts to draft veterinarians who operate private practices to sign up to volunteer their services, just for one day each, to spay and neuter the strays of Pulau Ketam. That way, we will not have to put undue strain and pressure on a small team of veterinarians.

If we could get every private practitioner and veterinary assistant in the Klang Valley to just pledge to come for one day each (based on the estimate that a qualified and experienced vet could neuter 5-10 dogs or cats a day) and ear-tip or collar them for identification, we could neuter almost the entire stray population within 2-3 months.

In addition, concerned animal lovers without veterinary qualification could also volunteer to assist in the quarantine area by giving the animals tick baths and providing post-surgery care until the animals could be safely released.

We will need the commitment of the local authority/town council to allow us the use of their premises for the makeshift surgery and quarantine area, to provide manpower in keeping the area healthy and clean and to transport animal pre- and post-surgery.

Until this programme could be implemented, the SPCA and other animal rescue groups need:
1. Animal food and jerry cans of fresh water;
2. Volunteers who are able to handle dogs; and
3. Anyone who could lend us their speedboats / any fishing boat with an outboard motor.

As for me, I believe that for the sake of efficiency, volunteers and contributions-in-kind should be redirected to areas most appropriate and most in need, therefore I shall continue to provide the assistance that I am best-equipped to provide: Helping out in the SPCA shelter, providing other forms of animal care, drafting letters, announcements and press releases and coordinating a taskforce when so required.

Friday, 8th May 2009: Wesak Eve

Left the hellhole of an office by 2130h, the earliest I have left the office in weeks, and walked over to the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields for Wesak Eve prayers.

The weather has been apocalyptical lately, fit to burn the tyres right off cars on the road. Steam rose from the hot asphalt as I plodded to the Vihara at 2200h in one of those rare occasions where I actually make time for worship.

The entire Vihara had the atmosphere of a fairground. Devotees and petty traders thronged the street, and lion and dragon dance troupes entertained the crowd. I made a cash donation, collected my little bundle of joss sticks and looked for a place for quiet contemplation and prayer.

I spoke to the Gautama and asked that humans learn to embrace their roles as stewards of the environment, animals and each other. I recited the transference of merit puja to transfer my merits from the entire week to the dogs of Pulau Ketam who had perished on the Island of Death. (My sins and transgressions are mine to keep; only my merits were transferred to the dogs.)

I've never been very diligent in praying and soon I found myself susceptible to intrusive musings again, such as whether the London cast of "Jersey Boys" is better than the Broadway cast, whether I should do penance for all the red lights I have run and illegal U-turns made, and whether Gerrard and Torres will stay injury-free long enough to lead Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table.

I spent some time in the main prayer hall reciting my Homage to the Buddha, Seeking Refuge in the Triple Gem and Panca Sila in Pali. After speaking to some members of the youth group who were interested in having me come over and coordinate an environmental stewardship session and some other volunteer projects for them, I left the Vihara, had a vegetarian rice dumpling for my supper and made my way back to the 'Quarters to spend the rest of the night on housework and my preparations for the upcoming Malaysian Nature Society Open Day.

Saturday, 9th May 2009: SPCA Saturday

Cleaned the 'Quarters, weeded the garden and turned the recyclables in at the collection centre before leaving for the SPCA. Rows of empty jerry cans and freshly washed gumboots outside the SPCA Bungalow told me that the Pulau Ketam dog rescue operations are still going at full force.

Went down to the Shelter to assist in washing the dogs. Reve and Marianne were dealing with the visitors and I was pleased to see that we had a few adoptions today. The Front Area was full of cats and kittens, and I got to work cleaning out the litter trays while Marianne prepared wet food for the fuzzy ones.

Next, I cleaned out the Cat Baskets and litter trays in the Cattery and soaped and scrubbed the place clean. The cats look healthy and I hope they all find homes soon. After Reve let the kennel dogs out to play in the compound, I cleaned and disinfected the Maternity Kennels and Kennels G and H. Later, I cleaned and disinfected the enclosures behind the office and the Front Reception/Admin areas.

The place was pretty near spotless by the time I was ready to leave. I showered and changed at the Bungalow, discussed a few possible projects with Nicole and Cune and then bade all my animal friends goodbye for the week before barrelling back to the parental home for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, 10th May 2009: Mothers' Day

Mothers' Day was a low-key affair for us this week as Covert Twin and I have already taken the parents out to dinner the week before. The parents had some construction workers over to do some repairs and so we had a takeaway Indian lunch in order not to have to leave the house in case the workers needed anything.

I cleaned the house, polished the furniture, cleaned the kitchen, gave Amber and Chocky their baths, weeded the garden and potted plants and played a round of Scrabble with Covert Mum. I asked Mum if she would like to have a new Scrabble set as a Mothers' Day gift, but she thought that it would be a waste of money since the old set was still usable. Perhaps I should get a set of Sharpies to fill in the letters that had been rubbed off instead.

In the evening, I took Amber and Chocky out for walks and gave them their dinner so I could take the parents out to an early dinner at a nice restaurant. Went back to the 'Quarters shortly before midnight to revel in the attention of the Rowdies.

CO78, Out.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

I Won't Say Goodbye, My Friend

"You and I will meet again
When we're least expecting it
One day in some far off place
I will recognise your face
I won't say goodbye my friend
For you and I will meet again."
- Tom Petty, "You and I Will Meet Again".

Mastering the skill of saying goodbye to close friends and loved ones comes with age and experience, but it doesn't make the separation any easier.

I spent the Labour Day weekend with my dear friend Serina, helping Serina with her move to Johor, where she will be doing her PhD in Coastal Management and working with Save Our Seahorse ("SOS") Malaysia.

It will be strange for me not to have Serina living close by anymore. She has been such a pillar of strength to all of us at the Malaysian Nature Society. Her leadership and management skills, commitment as a volunteer, compassion and courage are exemplary. I don't think we'll ever find another friend quite as special, unselfish and sincere as Serina.

How do you thank a friend who has enriched your life so immeasurably?

When the Offroadies and I planned our own relief mission down to Segamat and Endau Rompin to deliver supplies to flood victims in December 2006 and January 2007, Serina had been instrumental in supplying us with food, new clothes, school supplies and dry goods for the flood victims.

When Bernie and I worked on sourcing donors to buy school uniforms for the urban disadvantaged children whose families could not afford the necessities for the new school year, Serina turned up with close to 50 schoolbags for the young 'uns. The look of delight on the faces of the beneficiaries (many of whom have never had anything new of their own and didn't even know how to work the zippers and velcro openings) made me feel like a million bucks.

When I started Project Second Chance and was appealing for pet food and supplies for the animals under my care as well as adopters for my animal wards, Serina helped me find donors and new homes for the cats. And when she turned up at the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, it was not only with pet food and medical supplies for the animals, but also curry and bread for me, because with all the intuition only good friends are capable of, she sensed that I haven't had dinner and had been spending more time looking after my animals than after myself.

When I was overwhelmed with both work and volunteer commitments, Serina carefully hand-illustrated, printed and prepared the games equipment and took over the responsibility of coordinating the Eco Kids Camps to free up some of my time.

When I was fuming over the theft of 10 kilogrammes of aluminium cans that I had collected, rinsed and flattened for sale to raise funds for Green Living after Raptor Watch Week 2008, Serina made a better person of me by advising me that it could have been stolen by someone who was in grave need, and for whom the paltry sum derived from the sale of the cans would be of help.

Providence has given me the gift of a friend like Serina, and now that Serina will be moving away from the City and to a place where she can fulfil her calling, Providence has given me a chance to return a favour to Serina and assist her in moving and settling down in Johor.

We spent Friday morning packing up and transporting Serina's possessions to Johor. We took the trunk road to Johor and arrived at the SOS research centre around 2300h, but thankfully, unpacking took less time than packing.

The following morning, Serina, Zurina and I took a boat out to Pulau Merambong to collect seagrass and seaweed samples. Our capable friend and boatman Lan brought along two younger boys to carry out island cleanup work. Most of the rubbish washed ashore was carried there by the tides. We believe firmly that being able to make a little difference is better than not making any at all, and were pleased to bring 4 large bags of rubbish back to the jetty with us.

We walked around the uninhabited island in search of the elusive octopus that Serina had spotted the week before. I didn't get to see the octopus this time, but I did get to get up close and personal with some of the commoner marine fauna. We returned to the Research Centre around noon so Serina could sort and tag her seaweed samples.

I was initially concerned for Serina that she would be living on her own in the village, but once I was there, we realised that she is in good company. I am happy that Serina will be surrounded by friendly flora and fauna and will get to witness sunsets of indescribable beauty each day. I am relieved that she will be surrounded by kind kampung folk who will treat her as a member of their extended family, and who send children over with food in the evenings just in case she hasn't eaten.

Oscar Wilde was right in saying that "Anybody can be good in the country", but that is not for want of temptation. I prefer to think that our chakras are more balanced out in the country, close to the Earth. Being in the City for too long leaves me in throes of existential angst, forever searching and waiting for something that does not materialise, constantly pitting myself against others in a contest I didn't know I am a participant of.

I am not going to pretend that Serina will have an easy life out on her own as an environmental activist and educator, but I want her to know that I will always be ready to drive down to Johor at a moment's notice if ever she needs me to.

So here's to you, Serina Rahman. I am a better person for having known you. Don't forget that I am just a phone call away, and no distance will keep us apart. Godspeed and don't forget to look us up when you make your monthly sojourns back to the City.