Wednesday, 29 July 2009

In Memoriam and other news

Tuesday, 21 July 2009: Remembering Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt: 19th August 1930 - 19th July 2009

Frank McCourt lost his battle to meningitis on 19th July. For those of us who grew to love McCourt through his most well-known works, Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, we mourn his passing as we would that of a dear friend. Never has a childhood remarkable only for its squalor, poverty and deprivation been narrated in such an endearing manner, devoid of self-pity. Such was the beauty of Angela's Ashes. We shared McCourt's sorrow over the death of his young siblings, and in the next instant laughed along with his gentle criticism of Irish-Catholic society. McCourt survived a miserable childhood to become a beloved teacher, a scintillating storyteller and a bestselling author.

McCourt's demise is a big loss to the literary community. Frank McCourt, you will forever be in our thoughts and hearts.

Saturday, 25 July 2009: SPCA Saturday, Malaysian Nature Society Branch Annual General Meeting and other odds and sods

I had met up with blog buddy Jeffrey Matisa on Monday for dinner, over which we had a lengthy but light-hearted conversation. Jeffrey had handed me copies of The Fight Club to be delivered to another blog buddy, Saya a.k.a. Tashkent Blues. So it was arranged that I would meet up with Saya and her young daughters for breakfast at the warong across the street from the SPCA on Saturday morning.

Saya arrived with her lovely young'uns and we had a very chatty and leisurely breakfast. I would like to see them again, perhaps during the school holidays, so I could get all of them involved in my environmental activities.

I went in to the SPCA animal shelter after breakfast and got my things ready for washing the dogs with. Around 30 student volunteers from the Cempaka International School dropped by to assist with sorting and preparing the goods for the Jumble Sale on Sunday.

I prepared a batch of Tactik EC tickwash, grabbed the leashes and shampoo and proceeded to the Sick Bay to wash the bigger dogs. I see some improvements in the management and operation of the shelter in that there is now a requirement that the staff have to tick-wash the dogs at least once every 2-3 weeks, so there were fewer cases of tick infestation, and injuries and illnesses could be brought to the attention of the vets before the problem escalates.

It's hard to hold the staff and vets culpable for negligence, because I understand that the SPCA shelter is operating well beyond capacity and is understaffed, but I believe they are entirely responsible for the fact that they do not make the best use of time, resources and manpower. I am all out of fight where the SPCA is concerned by now, and refuse to get involved in anything that doesn't benefit the animals directly.

I had just finished washing my 6th dog, Bruno, when Thean came in with 2 young'uns who claimed that they would like to help out. The girl was about 18 or 19, and informed me that she wants to volunteer because she would like to be a vet someday. The boy was about 20 and I didn't hear him speak. I let the young'uns wash one of the more docile dogs. They were completely clueless and did not even know how to tie a leash to the fence. I didn't want to supervise them too much because I believe excessive supervision is the primary reason why we have a largely useless and ineffectual younger generation. So the two clueless young'uns struggled with washing the dog, wasting prodigious amounts of water and shampoo in the process.

I could have washed an elephant in the time it took them to wash a dog. It was the first time I have ever seen anyone rinse a dog from the bottom up. It doesn't take anything more than common sense to figure out that if you were to wash an item bottom up, the soapy water from the top would get all over the bottom again. I asked them if they had dogs at home. They did. I asked them who washed the dogs, and they responded that their maids usually did it. That explained a lot. I had to exercise self-restraint not to ask them if their maids washed them too. They were so completely incompetent that it was excruciating to watch them spill water and shampoo all over the place and work in slow-motion.

It took us 2.5 hours to finish washing all 18 dogs. I washed 16, and the young'uns washed 2 between them. I asked them if they would like to help me put the things away and clean out the Cattery. The girl simpered and told me that she "only likes dogs". I tried not to let my impatience show, and I asked her how she planned to be a vet if she liked only one type of animal. I explained that all shelter animals need help, and all deserve to live in a clean and healthy environment.

I don't think we'll be seeing much of those young'uns anymore. I don't think they really dislike cats. They were probably just too afraid of cleaning up after animals, and of hard work in general. Well, I won't miss them, that's for sure.

I commenced cleaning the cat baskets and litter trays in the Cattery and soaping and disinfecting the shelves, cages and floor. I was done by 1400h.

I put away the cleaning equipment, showered and got ready for the Malaysian Nature Society Branch Annual General Meeting. I brought my own food containers to the food stall, purchased refreshments for the Meeting, and barrelled all the way to Universiti Malaya, cursing at the fact that I was running late due to the fact that the lady at the food stall had overcharged me and it had to be rectified, and the Battletank's access to the road had been blocked by some inconsiderate good-for-nothing so-and-so who had parked behind the Battletank.

I was just in time to deliver the annual report for the Green Living special interest group, and to announce that I would be stepping down as Coordinator in the interests of democracy and renewal, but would be offering myself for election in the Branch committee.

Soon it was time to elect our Committee members for the next administrative year and we were all voted or co-opted in without being challenged at all. The Meeting was declared adjourned around 1700h and we repaired outside for refreshments.

Went back to the BOQ after the Meeting, cleaned up after the Rowdies and the 3 Whisketeers, cleaned the house and helped Jake move the fridge so we could clean behind it. It was when I was moving the fridge that I felt dampness between my nose and upper lip and touched it to find that that I was having a nosebleed. Oh joy. Trust me to have a nosebleed an hour before I was to attend one of my new colleague's housewarming party.

I finished cleaning the house the best I could and went to lie down for half an hour with a cold pack on my forehead. The Rowdies kept meowing in my ear, patting my eyes or forehead with their paws and climbing all over me like I was an obstacle course built especially for them, so I didn't feel very rested at all.

At 2100h, I decided to go to the party, nosebleed or not. I tossed a carton of beer into the Battletank and drove to Sri Hartamas in search of my friend's condominium unit. The party was already in full swing when I arrived, and a glass of soothingly cold and mildly alcoholic something-or-the-other was pushed into my hand, which I didn't decline despite having a minor brainworm.

It was a cosy apartment in an upmarket housing area, and the company was great. There was a fair bit of dancing going on but some of us were more interested in playing drinking games. I was a bit worried that the neighbours might send the security guards over to send us away, judging by the amount of noise we were making. I had to go back to the parental home the same night, so I thanked my hostess, bade goodbye to my friends and left Sri Hartamas around 0100h.

Reached the parental home in one piece, tiptoed into my den and was out like a light within minutes. Spent Sunday cleaning the parental home, giving Amber her bath, spring cleaning the parents' guest room and doing some gardening.

It's been another packed and fulfilling weekend, but it's awesome to be able to look forward to the workweek and to see my colleagues' friendly faces on Monday. Life is just about perfect.

Covert Twin and Amber

Sunday, 26 July 2009: Remembering Yasmin Ahmad

Yasmin Ahmad: 1st July 1958 - 25th July 2008

For those of you not familiar with Malaysia and the precarious thread by which our purported 'racial harmony' hangs, Yasmin Ahmad's critically acclaimed films and highly anticipated and deeply loved commercials would offer a good introduction. Yasmin Ahmad was a copywriter and filmmaker who produced poignant pieces that were not afraid to broach into issues such as positive discrimination, racism, religious tension and human sexuality, yet her works were filled not with bitterness or self-righteous anger, but with love and understanding and gratitude for all the little things we take for granted.

Yasmin Ahmad was above colour, creed, clan and social or economic divisions. The only way we can continue her legacy is by being accepting, considerate, fair and compassionate ourselves. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family. Rest In Peace, Yasmin.

Tuesday, 28th July 2009: Whisketeer Update

One of the kittens had diarrhoea in the night. Intuition and observation told me it was Rafferty. But since all the kittens were together, any treatment rendered would have to be for all 3. I gave them activated charcoal but when morning came, there was only minimal improvement. I left the office by 1615h (my official work hours are 0800h - 1600h) to bring the whisketeers to the vet, Dr. Steven Yoon of Healing Pets, Damansara Jaya. (A bit of promotion here: I've relied on the services of many vets before but none are as good as this outfit. Healing Pets is professional, competent and most of all, compassionate. Dr. Steven's other clients and I are by now convinced that he can work miracles). Dr. Steven was kind and supportive, as usual. He reassured me that the kittens would survive and gave them jabs to clear up the diarrhoea. Guess how much the bill came up to for treating all 3 kittens? RM30.00! (i.e. USD$8.49. Normal rates would be RM30-40 per cat, at the very least). He said that I was entitled to a special rate for being an animal rescuer. (Note: Healing Pets does its own stray rescues and rehoming too. I cannot think of any other private veterinary practice that does that). I was very touched and grateful, and I felt a little overcome when I put the pet carrier in the Battletank. What can you say or do to thank a vet who makes saving lives his priority? If you have any suggestions, please let me know. His clinic is full of cutesy handmade thank-you cards from his other patients already. I am considering setting up a Facebook tribute/fan page where satisfied clients could post their stories of Dr. Steven's professionalism and kindness, and prospective clients could visit and read our posts.

(Update as at Wednesday evening: The Whisketeers are doing okay so far, fingers crossed. Eating heartily and playing with each other and their toys all day long. Who would have imagined that ping-pong football could get so boisterous?)

~ CO78, Over. ~

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Roger, Wilco!

“Virtues are acquired through endeavour, which rests wholly upon yourself. So, to praise others for their virtues, can but encourage one’s own efforts” -- Thomas Paine

I cannot conceal my pride and pleasure in reporting that I have started my new job, and that I love it very much. I cannot disclose very much about my job in my blog, both for reasons of security and confidentiality and because there is always a risk that certain classes of people may capitalise on the information for reasons of self-interest. I will, however, reveal that I am honoured to be part of a very dynamic team of people who are committed to helping some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the country. I shall strive to be worthy of the position I hold, to serve selflessly, to be loyal to the Organisation as long as I am part of it, and to seek to improve myself and the quality of my work always. I have set forth my goals as of today as follows:
i. To be diligent in my research work, to keep abreast of all news of political nature, to be current in my knowledge of international affairs and relations and to read all academic journals, that I may better understand my work and its requirements.
ii. To understand my Unit’s targets and to strive to surpass them.
iii. To assist my colleagues and all interns/volunteers whenever the need arises, that I may contribute to a positive and harmonious work environment, and at the same time to avoid office politics and unfair alliances.
iv. To regard each person who comes before me with respect, dignity and compassion.
v. To create a personal Key Performance Index and try to meet all targets within a year.
vi. To observe the Code of Conduct always and to adhere to the highest standards of conduct and personal integrity.
vii. To never forget my commitment to serve, assist and protect what can be classified as among the most vulnerable people in the world.

Saturday, 18th July 2009: Green Living talk at the Aloka Foundation

I have always believed faith groups to be one of the most powerful agents of awareness and change when it comes to environmental stewardship. It is for this reason that I have been very steadfast about my principle that Green Living will try its best not to turn down any requests made by faith groups, community groups and fellow NGOs, and that we will not charge them anything to conduct activities or events. Green Living had fulfilled its commitment to SFX Church at their Family Day Carnival on 12th July, and on 18th July, I conducted a talk on setting environmental priorities and practicing the 3Rs at the Aloka Foundation, a Buddhist foundation, upon invitation by one of the committee members.

Hands-On Participation: Playing the 3R Game

Discussing what constitutes priority

As usual, the talk started with a discussion on waste management issues and infrastructure, followed by a screening of “The Story of Stuff”, and then a discussion on the 3Rs. To facilitate their understanding of the difference between the 3 categories of waste reduction and management, I had the participants play the 3R Game. We moved on to a discussion on environmental priorities and 3R practices, followed up with slideshows and factsheets on PET bottles and plastic bags, and a checklist on waste reduction and management.

It was a lively and interactive session and I believe the participants enjoyed my presentation as much as I enjoyed rendering it, as they contributed their views and ideas. I learned as much from them as they did from me. We had vegan refreshments after the talk and exchanged contact information before departing. There are requests for me (by others in the Green Living Committee) to create Powerpoint presentations and video slideshows relying on the Standard Operating Procedure I had produced for two of the most frequently requested topics of Green Living, and I shall try to deliver the same before the end of my tenure as Coordinator.

Sunday, 19th July 2009: Mammoth Concerns

When Pat asked me if I thought it would be a good idea for us to visit the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, I had answered in the affirmative, as I had quite enjoyed my previous visits there. I guess I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the meteoric increase in tourist arrivals would affect the way they ran things there. I was disappointed, saddened and angered by some of the things I saw on Sunday, 19th July.

Pat’s blog entry does more justice to our outing than any of my narrations could:
Our Elephant Sanctuary In Kuala Gandah

I have since drafted a letter to the Press, to be signed by us as a group. I hope the powers that be will conduct a proper assessment and monitoring of the Sanctuary, instead of merely issuing an ingratiating and meaningless official response.


On Sunday, 19th July, a group of us visited the National Elephant Conservation Centre managed and operated by Perhilitan (Dept of National Parks and Wildlife) at Kuala Gandah. While we enjoyed having contact with the elephants and would like to commend the Centre for limiting the number of visitors who are allowed to ride on and bathe with the elephants to reduce the stress that the elephants may experience, many other things left us saddened and angered.

Bullhooks were used extensively by the staff to threaten and prod the elephants, even when they were complying with the mahouts' instructions. One of the members of our group approached the staff and asked him to stop using the bullhook on the elephant. For a while, the staff used the blunt handle of the bullhook to prod the elephant instead. As soon as the said staff was obscured from view, he used the hook on an elephant again, and sneered at us when we cautioned him not to do so.

Even the blunt handles of the bullhooks were used to strike elephants. One of the elephants we were riding, Abot, had an untreated wound on his head which appears to have been inflicted by the bullhook, as the mahouts kept tapping the elephants on the head with the heel of the bullhooks. Another baby elephant, Siput, who was merely having her meal, flinched when a staff member showed her his fist, an indication, perhaps, that fists have been used to cause pain before.

Although the Centre may argue in its defence that the implements used are necessary for the protection of the staff and to exercise a measure of control over the elephants, we are of the opinion that if visitors to the Centre were made aware of the fact that physical harm is used in the training and control of the elephants to make them amenable to human contact, many would in fact choose to limit their contact with the elephants to avoid stressing them out and creating a reason to punish them for recalcitrant behaviour.

As an agency that calls itself a wildlife conservation centre, the Centre must eliminate cruel practices such as the use of bullhooks, sharp and dangerous implements and chains which are too short and which cause injury.

We therefore urge the management of Perhilitan and the Pahang Tourism Board to look into the matter and treat it with the importance that it deserves. We would not hesitate to advise our friends against visiting the Centre in future if no action is taken to train the staff to handle the elephants with respect and compassion.

This letter carries 8 signatures.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

On the Road Again

An update: I heard ‘Millicent’ sneezing today and decided not to take any chances. I took all 3 kittens to the vet for a check-up today and Dr. Steven confirmed that they have cat flu, which could be deadly to unvaccinated kittens such as my three. Fortunately, I had brought them in on time, and at this stage, their flu is entirely treatable. I also learned during the course of the consultation that ‘Millicent’ is actually a male kitten (How could I, an experienced volunteer/rescuer/pet parent, have made such a mortifying blunder?) and I have since renamed him ‘Mitchell’. The kittens are now on clindamycin hydrochloride solution and should be on the road to recovery soon. A combination of medical treatment, wholesome meals enriched with vitamins and supplements, and warm and clean lodgings couldn’t go wrong.

Tuesday, 7th July – Wednesday, 8th July 2009: On the road again...

Since I had a week of debauchery (which doesn’t seem to involve anything wilder than polishing off Vegan Eugene’s supply of crème de menthe and raspberry vodka these days) left before I start my new job, I decided to join a friend on a short trip to Lumut. I decided that it would be good to take a break from editing and from my frenzied spring cleaning sessions, and so I waved all the kitties goodbye for the day. Our first stop was Raymond’s workshop so we could top up the Battletank's air-conditioning refrigerant. Raymond now has a contract to service and repair military vehicles and has army Land Rover Defenders and fire engines parked outside his workshop. I had a great time climbing all over the military vehicles and got myself gloriously greasy and dusty in no time at all. Soon, we were on our merry way to Lumut, where the clement and cool sea breeze would offer us some respite from urban smog.

An ocean creature-themed snorkelling and dive centre near Lumut Beach.

Boats moored to the rocks right outside the entrance to the Outward Bound School.

Years ago, I had won some money in a competition and asked my parents if I may enrol in the Outward Bound School. “Oh no!” The parents were unanimous in their disapproval. “You’re outward-bound enough as you are! What you need is to go to an Inward Bound School!” Perhaps it was better that I did not enter the OBS premises to see the opportunities I had missed.

The Lumut Promenade was neat and orderly, but the absence of tourists and customers was conspicuous.

Lumut Beach at sunset.

On the way back from Lumut the following day, I decided to drop by Bukit Melawati and the Kuala Selangor Nature Park to see if the injured Silver-Leaf Monkey I had treated in November 2008 did survive his injury. I concurred. I didn’t spot the same monkey but made inquiries with the park attendants and petty traders in the area, and was informed that the monkey had survived and lives somewhere near the side entrance of the Nature Park. He was quite an old monkey, I was told, and although the damage to his skull was permanent, his skin had grown back and downy hair grew on the scar tissue. I didn’t care if his recovery was due to my intervention, I am just grateful to know that he is alive and well.

This is a clear case of “Do as I say, don’t do as I do”. You should NOT feed wild monkeys because it causes them to lose their fear of humans, become aggressive and learn to depend on humans for food. However, the monkeys in this area could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as being wild.

Reached home late in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day doing housework and feeding and cleaning up after the kitties. It was good to get out of the city limits for a bit, breathe the crisp sea air and get grubby with my monkey pals.

Thursday, 9th July – Friday, 10th July 2009: Focus on Seahorses and Seaside Communities

Serina made one of her rare appearances in the city to render a talk on her UNDP project, “Empowering Coastal Communities For Marine Biodiversity Management”, at Aquaria KLCC on Thursday evening. I had doubts about the venue, because according to (rather reliable) hearsay, the survival rate of the animal exhibits is pretty low and there are concerns that they may be sourcing their displays from illegal wildlife traders. The talk took place in the conference room, so I was spared the sight of suffering piranhas and miserable nurse sharks in crowded aquariums. It was wonderful to have Serina back again, if only for a few days. She had a talk to render, her project supervisor to meet up with, a school competition to judge and a host of other personal matters to attend to.

Serina had invited Cindy and I to be her assistant judges for a project on seahorses at a primary school, SK Bukit Damansara . The school chooses an endangered animal as its focus animal each year, and pupils from Year 1 to 5 produce artwork, factsheets and skits on the focus animal. Funds would be raised from donations and the sale of handmade craft items for a chosen environmental charity, and this year the funds would go to Save Our Seahorses .

Serina picked me up from the Bangsar LRT station at 0800h and we arrived at the school to meet Cindy at the gates. We went into the hall to look at the children’s artwork and projects and grade the ones for Year 4 and 5 (Projects for years 1-3 remain non-competitive). The Year 5 and 4 children then came in to the hall in groups of 3 to deliver their skits and presentations on topics such as “Seahorse Distribution in Malaysia”, “Seahorse A-Z”, “Seahorse Myths and Legends” and “Seahorse Exploitation and Trade”. Some of the presentations were highly impressive. One little girl had memorised all the Latin names of the seahorses and delivered her speech with such aplomb and genuine passion that we simply had to make a special mention of her. (Her team won first place, by the way). We graded all the teams and decided on the best teams and best presenters. Serina announced the winners and the Head gave out the prizes. Cindy and I both spoke on Green Living and the importance of not purchasing new materials to create artwork with. We explained the correlation between consumption/consumer habits and the destruction of wildlife habitats such as seagrass beds for the seahorses. The three of us received a t-shirt, a bound logbook and a seahorse keychain each as tokens of appreciation for being volunteer judges. I surreptitiously gave mine to Serina in the car, to re-use as prizes for the rural schoolchildren of Kg. Tekek when Serina organises competitions and projects for them.

Now that I am stepping down as Green Living coordinator in order to stand for election in the MNS Branch Committee so I may devote more time to advocacy, public policy, media relations and corporate liaison work, perhaps this could be one of the last occasions for which I am invited to be a guest judge or speaker. I shall enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, 11th July – Sunday, 12th July 2009: SFX Family Day and SPCA Weekend

I went back to the parental home on Friday night, and spent Saturday attending to Amber and Chocky and the housework. I cleaned the living and dining rooms, hand-washed the rugs and doormats, cleaned the Venetian blinds and helped Covert Dad type out and email a letter to the editor (yes, it runs in the family).

Lillian had requested my assistance in setting up a Green Living booth at her church for their Family Day carnival on Sunday, and I agreed. I left the parental home early on Sunday morning and drove to Lillian’s church, which had organised a very ‘green’ family day carnival. The church members mostly brought their own shopping bags and food containers, and pooled together reusable plastic and paper bags for those who didn’t bring a bag. The Green Living booth was not far from the stage, and as the youngsters made Michael Jackson song requests all morning, I was all Michael-Jacksoned out by noon. It was also the first time I’ve seen anyone do the cha-cha to Bad or ballroom dance to Heal the World. Those church members sure are good sports!

Many families dropped by our booth to play the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) Game and Water Conservation Board Game, or just to discuss general issues such as whether rubber bands could be melted down and recycled (I don’t know why I would be counted on as an authority on that!). We gave out Green Living booklets to those who completed the games (Winning isn’t a priority). Lillian, Jack and I took turns to visit the other stalls and booths and purchase food, or in my case, play with Father Simon’s aged German Shepherd, Rover.

Father Simon having a go at dunking one of the altar boys.

A candid shot of me absorbed in a copy of Batman Year Two which I purchased from one of the Jumble Sale stalls.

The Family Day carnival was officially over at 1400h, and Lillian and Jack helped me pack up and transport everything to the Battletank. I thanked them for letting me have the opportunity to help out and for a really enjoyable morning. I drove over to the SPCA for a few hours of helping out at the shelter.

Rose, Roli and I bathed dogs, cleaned infected eyes and ears and clipped overgrown claws. I attended to some of the visitors and advised them on spaying and neutering their pets as an alternative to surrendering them.

When the office staff, vets and visitors had all left by 1630h, I got to work cleaning the shelter. I spring cleaned the Cattery, removing each basket and litter tray for scrubbing and disinfection. Some of the baskets haven’t been cleaned or moved in a week or two. When I removed one of the baskets, a small shower of tiny centipedes and roaches fell on the floor and scuttled all over my crocs. I didn’t like having to kill them, but I had to place the interest of the cats over that of the disease-bearing roaches and poisonous arthropods.

It took me an hour to finish cleaning the Cattery. I disposed of the rotten planks and soiled newspapers which had made the Cattery so damp and unhealthy. Reve cleaned the Maternity Kennels while I cleaned the dog cages. As the dogs were still at play in the shelter compound, I commenced cleaning the Front Reception/Admin/Office area. Reve, Jane and I finished cleaning the shelter and returning the dogs to their enclosures by 1915h.

I went up to the Bungalow to shower, change and meet Nicole. Nic is back from visiting Glyn in England and she brought me a souvenir teatowel and – total coolness – Astronaut Food!

Astronaut Food: Freeze Dried Strawberries!

Dinner at Studio 5 was my treat. Barrelled the Battletank back to the BOQ after dinner, tidied the house, cleaned up after the kitties, did the laundry, and read my handbook on refugee status determination to prepare for my entry into the UNHCR on Thursday. It’s been a highly eventful week, even by my standards.

Bravo Zulu, Commando!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Solar Flares, Second Chances and other matters arising

Saturday, 4th July 2009 – Sunday, 5th July 2009: Solar Flares, Second Chances and other matters arising

I spent Saturday back at the parental home giving Amber and Chocky their weekly baths, cleaning the parental home, spring cleaning the master bedroom and the pantry and doing some gardening. Covert Twin had Nicholas Cage’s latest movie, Knowing, stored in his pendrive, so we watched it after dinner. It was a highly disturbing movie made worse by the absence of a happy ending. It was like Nostradamus-meets-Kafka-meets-Sartre-meets-the-X-Files-meets-L. Ron Hubbard.

Covert Mum revealed that she had difficulty sleeping after the movie because it was so depressing. I cheered her up by telling her things I learned out of popular science books such as Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, such as that:
(i) Those little science lab models of the solar system aren’t really scale models. The Earth isn’t as close to the Sun as we think it is. If the Earth were reduced to the size of a peppercorn, the Sun would be 26 yards away, not centimetres away as it would appear in our textbooks.
(ii) Solar flares can’t hurt you unless you are a spaceship or an astronaut doing interplanetary travel. The Earth is pretty well-protected against solar radiation.
(iii) When X-ray solar flares hit our atmosphere, they are absorbed by the ionosphere. The effect on the human population? There might be interference to radio signals and satellite activity. Power grids might get overloaded. But the Earth is not going to ‘lose’ its atmosphere so easily.
(iv) Our sun is quite unlikely to produce a massive solar flare in the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a few billion years, at the end of its lifespan, the sun might become a red giant and generate enough radiation to fry Planet Earth, but humans won’t be around anymore to witness it by then. Our sun is actually a very stable star, compared to red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri.
(v) Doomsday predictions are a dime a dozen, and because they are so frightening and compelling, movie directors and screenwriters have a field day with them. Besides, there was way too much pseudo-religious symbolism in the movie to make it anywhere near original.

I think it’s disgraceful that a movie could be allowed to leave us feeling so uneasy. It wasn’t even thought-provoking. It just left me feeling cheated. “WTF?!?!” I almost shouted into the TV screen. “You made me sit through 2 hours of disasters (or the special effects thereof) to tell me that all of it was pointless in the end, that nobody survives, and all of this doesn’t have a purpose? Merde!” No wonder I hardly watch television once the football season is over.

Went to the SPCA after breakfast on Sunday. Dr P told me that the staff had already tick-washed all the dogs during the week, so we didn’t have to wash dogs this week. Rose was attending to the visitors at the back kennels, while Reve and Marianne helped out in front. The front area of the shelter was full of cats and kittens that had been surrendered and picked up off the streets. I noticed a scrawny kitten with a bad eye infection which left his eyes almost sealed shut. I knew I could treat the eye infection successfully, as I had done for Felicity last year.

Dr P. asked me ‘not to bother’ providing treatment for the kitten because they ‘would have to clear the cages’ on Monday anyway, which is an almost euphemistic way of saying that they would be killing all the cats and kittens before even giving them a chance of getting adopted. I was dumbstruck by her callousness, even though it wasn’t the first time that I was privy to the indifference of the SPCA vets and staff. Marianne, who never felt the need to ask permission, asked me if I would like to go to the surgery and have her get the medicines to clean up the poor kitten’s eyes with. I assented, and off we went to raid the surgery for sterile solution and Ilium Chloroint for the poor kitten. Marianne quite efficiently cleaned the kitten’s ears, gave him a quarter of a deworming tablet and sprayed his tiny body with Frontline while we were in the surgery.

I was determined that the kitten be given a chance to be vaccinated, adopted and neutered, and so I informed the vets that I would be bringing him home. After all, it was for kittens like this one that I started Project Second Chance last year. Rose came to the front of the shelter for a bit of a powwow and saw the kitten I had picked out. She exclaimed that it was one of a litter that she had rescued from a supermarket dumpster the day before, but was unable to keep due to threats by her neighbours over the number of animals she was keeping in her apartment. Left with no other choice, Rose brought them in to the shelter in the hope that the 4 kittens and their mother would be adopted. One of the kittens had been adopted the same morning.

We immediately got to work making arrangements for me to bring home all 3 remaining kittens, who were all about a month old, and for Rose to have the mother cat vaccinated, spayed, collared and released within the next 2 weeks. This was the best chance we would have of saving the lives of the entire cat family.

Once the kittens were comfortably housed in a cage with food, water and clean bedding, I got to work cleaning all the cat cages and litter trays. I soaped and disinfected the Cattery and all the cat baskets and litter trays. I made sure the cats had clean bedding and fresh food and water. When I first started volunteering at the shelter, I wished with all my heart that I could bring every single unwanted animal home, that I may care for them and see to their needs. That hasn’t changed. Although I have been volunteering for over a decade and have grown used to the realities of running an overcrowded and underfunded animal shelter, I have never stopped wishing that I have the means of bringing all the animals home and providing them with a higher quality of life.

Reve and Sugen fed the dogs at 1645h while I cleaned the Front Reception/Admin & Office area. My new kittens, Rafferty (the male one with the gummy eyes), Millicent (the second biggest one) and Tabitha (the biggest and bossiest kitten) slumbered peacefully in their cage under a desk in the office.

Next, I swabbed and cleaned the Hospital, Maternity Kennels and kennels behind the office with soap and disinfectant. The dogs had been let out to play in the shelter compound after the visitors had left, so I collected all the food bowls, handed them to Sugen for washing, and cleaned out all the cages.

We finished cleaning the shelter by 1900h. Marianne wanted to go up to the Bungalow to feed the Pulau Ketam dogs with Sugen. I showered and changed while waiting for her to finish her work and then I loaded the kittens into the Battletank. I gave Marianne a ride home so she would not have to call for a cab. All through the journey, Tabitha kept escaping from the cage and climbing all over the inside of the car. It was a very frustrating drive, especially when she decided to soil the front passenger rubber mat, and when she went under my clutch pedal. I gritted my teeth and focused on my driving and managed to get myself and the kittens home unscathed.

Once home, I got a large cage ready and transferred the kittens into it. I checked the smaller cage borrowed from the SPCA to see how Tabitha managed to escape, and found the cage bars broken in 2 places. I repaired the cage, cleaned the car mat, cleaned up after the Rowdies (my senior cats) and tidied the BOQ. The Rowdies were very displeased with the surprising arrival of the kittens, and showed their disapproval at every opportunity. One of them (I think it was Shadow) even resorted to using the faecal defence system. I spent all night washing and disinfecting bedsheets, the beanbag chair and doormats and cleaning the house until morning. I must say I have never been gladder about not having a fulltime job to wake up to on Monday morning. It’s going to be a loooong week, for sure.

From left – right: Rafferty, Tabitha and Millicent

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Letter to the Editor


Animal welfare groups and volunteer vets in Selangor achieved a victory of sorts when they teamed up to carry out a mass neutering campaign on 27th June 2009 at Pulau Ketam, where 23 dogs (pets and strays) and 7 pet cats were successfully neutered. As more and more Malaysians demonstrate greater concern for animal welfare, there is a vital need to ensure that stray cats and dogs and free-roaming pets that have been neutered be identified as such.

At the moment, there is no requirement that spayed and neutered pets and strays must carry any sort of marking to identify them as neutered animals. As such, there is a risk that precious resources may be wasted recapturing and conducting exploratory surgery on neutered animals just to find out their reproductive history. Of course, putting an animal under anaesthesia to conduct an unnecessary surgery is also highly traumatic and stressful for the animal concerned, as well as a waste of time and manpower.

Several independent animal groups which conduct trap-neuter-and-release programmes use ear-tipping to identify neutered cats. However, ear tipping does not work as well for dogs, as not all dogs have pointed ears. In addition, some pet owners object to ear-tipping their pets when adopting from shelters, pounds and rescue groups, and an unobtrusive tattoo near the site of the spay/neuter incision would offer a more aesthetically acceptable solution.

If executed by a qualified vet, tattooing performed under anaesthesia at the same time as a major surgery (i.e neutering/spaying) is an inexpensive, safe, painless and stress-free procedure. It is also a permanent way of marking an animal, compared to merely using special collars, ID tags and ear tags. In some developed nations and in many states in the USA, the law forbids the use of tattooed animals in laboratory experiments, or the euthanasia of tattooed animals by animal control units. The only drawback of tattooing is that equipment should be autoclaved between each animal to prevent infections and blood transmitted diseases, but that should be done of all surgery equipment as a matter of course by any competent vet anyway.

Perhaps the Department of Veterinary Services, animal welfare groups and local councils can explore the possibility of coming up with a universally accepted and recognisable way of identifying neutered and released strays and free-roaming pets. If a system could be set up to use tattooing as a means of identifying pets and of tracing the pets back to their owners, the local councils could also consider creating a system whereby tattooed pets may not be impounded, or if impounded, may not be euthanized until all efforts to trace the owners have been made. This move may go a long way towards streamlining efforts to carry out mass neutering campaigns and trap-neuter-and-release strategies, and at the same time, create recognition for the fact that neutering pets and strays benefits animal health and human society.


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Swing Of Things

The past week had been a good one for me where work is concerned. Work has finally started to flow in, rather than merely trickle in. I had just settled into an easy routine which allows me to perform at optimum levels. The fact that I am able to generate the same income as I used to receive by working a mere 4-6 hours a day now makes me realise how underpaid all of us poor sods were, working 12-14 hours a day in stressful conditions for a salary that no longer seems all that lucrative to me. Just when I had gotten into the swing of freelancing, I received a call from the UNHCR today (July 1), offering me the position I had thought I was no longer entitled to, because it has been a month since my last interview with them.

I am gratified, humbled and ecstatic to be offered the position of Protection Assistant, i.e. Officer for Refugee Status Determination. Of course I accepted the offer graciously, and informed them that I would be pleased to start work this month. The written test and series of interviews I had to undergo upon being shortlisted by the United Nations were the most challenging and gruelling tests I have ever had to complete, and I wasn’t certain at all that I would be selected, since I am one of the few candidates without a Masters degree in Human Rights Law or International Relations. However, I had the impression that my interviewers were quite pleased with a paper that I had produced for the Bar Council upon the request of the Legal Aid Centre in my first year of legal practice, especially when they found out that it was the result of over 6 months of outreach work in the streets and working directly with the marginalised communities.

Why, then, I was asked, did I make the choice of working with the UNHCR, when it would appear to most of my associates that I have far more experience in work related to environmental conservation and animal rights and welfare? Not many know of my involvement in legal aid work, and how passionate I am about working with disadvantaged communities. In my opinion, working with marginalised communities is not a mark of idealism, but of pragmatism. I have always believed inclusiveness to be a vital component of the development goals of any country. When we fail to protect any group or individual, what we are essentially doing is prevent them from becoming productive and involved citizens. The disenfranchised cannot contribute positively to the economic and political stability of their host or home country. When we offer protection and an opportunity to lead productive lives to the marginalised and disadvantaged, we are taking steps towards making our country stronger.

And since the UNHCR is the only intergovernmental agency with sufficient financial leverage and political mandate to make a difference in the lives of these very vulnerable people, and to assist in the repatriation and resettlement of legitimate asylum seekers, I will be proud to be working for them.

This here soldier will be reporting for duty on July 16.

Thursday, 25th June 2009: Paya Indah Impromptu Day Trip

Since my schedule is at the moment flexible enough to accommodate a day trip, I joined some of my 4x4 buddies on one of their little offroading jaunts on Thursday morning. We drove along Jalan Kebun to see the ponds where he had spotted Black-Capped Night Herons and Little Grebes. We did see some grebes, but they were too far away to be photographed, and too spooked by our presence to come any closer.

An Acacia Mangium tree full of Baya Weaver nests. They were probably all constructed by the same bird.

We made an impromptu stopover at the Paya Indah Wetlands, which used to be privately run, but is now managed by Perhilitan (Dept of Wildlife and National Parks) and is open to the public, free of charge. Looking at the magnificent and elaborate buildings and chalets for rent within the resort premises, it is not difficult to conjecture that the previous management body went into financial difficulties because they could not recover their initial capital expenditure for the mega-project. My opinion is that they should have started small, set aside their plans for the grand-looking buildings, focused on attracting day-trippers and local visitors, provided only basic and inexpensive accommodation, and only go on an expansion exercise after they have recorded returns on their initial capital outlay. But of course, no one had the good sense of engaging me as their consultant.

A free-roaming Green Peafowl strutting around the Park.

An Indian (Blue) Peafowl making his way up the Auditorium steps. I waited for him to take the mike and make his speech, but he didn’t. I was truly disappointed.

A Javan Mousedeer (Tragulus javanicus) enjoying her meal, not realising that she was being observed.

Three hippos watching me warily from the lake, just waiting for me to come closer so they could take a big bite out of me.

We also spotted a Slow Loris and countless other birds that we didn’t get to photograph. I took a walk around the park before departing for home, satisfied with all the animal sightings I made throughout the day.

Friday, 26th June 2009: Requiescat In Pace, Michael Jackson

It was on Friday morning that Jake impassively informed me of Michael Jackson’s sudden death. I was initially sceptical, as hoaxes about the deaths of celebrities are not uncommon. It took some verification and corroboration from various news channels before I was convinced that MJ was no more. My heart went out to this incredibly talented yet grossly misunderstood man whose major crime was that of being ambiguous. He was neither white nor black, neither male nor female, neither child nor man, neither straight nor gay. So we condemned him for being inscrutable.

It took a little while for the memories to come flooding back. I was born in the ‘70s, and grew up watching “America’s Top 40”. We would make our own ‘mix tapes’ by recording billboard hits from Radio 4, with one finger on the pause button. And when we ran out of blank cassettes, we would simply stick cellophane tape over the ‘boxes’ in existing audiocassettes and record fresh songs over the previous ones. We recorded everything from “Billie Jean” to “The Way You Make Me Feel”. Everybody did the “Thriller” zombie dance in kindergarten. I sang “Beat It” in front of my class at age 6. (On a more dangerous note, most of us children did the fight scene from ‘Beat It’ with bread knives and broom handles. Miraculously, nobody lost an eye). We practiced moonwalking on the living room rug. When “We Are The World” was released in 1985 and broadcast on Malaysia’s latest TV station then, TV3, I would keep my eyes peeled for The Gloved One (and I must confess, Bruce Springsteen). I would cut out pictures of Michael Jackson (and yes, the A-Team) from the Sunday entertainment pullout that we used to get back then, The Viewer (they’ve discontinued it since), and paste the pictures in my scrapbooks.

As I grew older, I discovered other music groups and genres and MJ was left in the dust. At the grand old age of 15, I actually found his music contrived and too ‘commercial’ for my growingly esoteric tastes. Contrived! I guess I haven’t discovered how good The Jackson 5 was back then. My teenage years were filled with The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.

By the time MJ came to perform in Malaysia in October 1996, only a handful of my A-Levels classmates bothered to purchase his concert tickets. It was the year of the British (Re-)Invasion. The Beatles had released an anthology, and Brit-Indie labels like Blur, Pulp and Oasis were topping the charts. College sophomores chased down underpriced Ecstasy pills with hooch and moshed to Supergrass, Space, Underworld and The Prodigy. At raucous house parties, we drank Night Train or Red-Bull-&-Gin out of mismatched coffee mugs while headbanging (and doing less innocent things) to Chumbawamba, Ash and Edwyn Collins. The Michael Jackson concert, to us, was one very much for youngsters.

It wasn’t until 2-3 years ago when I started building up my 70’s disco and motown collection that I came across The Jackson 5 and learned to love Michael Jackson all over again. I was in awe of how pitch-perfect MJ was as a young boy, and I began to appreciate all the musical genres and musically gifted individuals that I had turned my back on for a decade.

Gone at 50. So this is the child singer we had loved, and the man we had persecuted for being different, for not wanting to grow up and for preferring the company of children. As Marc Anthony says at Caesar’s funeral, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr’d with their bones.” Perhaps it is time we cast our prejudices and bitterness aside and remember the good about others, for a change.

Requiescat in Pace, King of Pop.

Saturday, 27th June 2009: SPCA Saturday

Another ordinary Saturday at the SPCA animal shelter. Rose, Wonder Boy (whose real name is Brandon) and a new female volunteer were there clipping the hair of and removing ticks from two dogs when I arrived. I pulled on my gloves, mixed a fresh batch of Tactik EC solution and joined them behind the shelter office. We groomed, shampooed and tickwashed the dogs that had just arrived. We checked with Dr Pushpa and found that the dogs in Kennels E and F had not been tickwashed, and so we adjourned to the back of the shelter to wash the dogs. The girl volunteer was in jeans and sneakers and was getting herself dreadfully drenched. Well, we all learn through experience. The first time I came to volunteer at the SPCA 13 years ago, I was in jeans and sneakers too, and squelched out soapy water all the way home.

The sky was growing progressively darker as we washed the hitherto neglected dogs from the back kennels. 3 teenage girls of Korean ethnicity who had been watching us as they played with the puppies came forward, and in halting English, offered their help. I let them wash the more docile dogs and showed them how to apply the tickwash without getting any in the dogs’ eyes, nose and mouth. It had started drizzling by the time we were washing the last of the dogs. We finished washing 32 dogs that day, and we were happy in the knowledge that the dogs would sleep better that night now that they were no longer pestered by parasites. Brandon and I brought in the dogs that were at play in the Dogs’ Playground and shut them in their kennels for the night.

The younger volunteers left the shelter and soon there was only me, Thean and Sugendran left to clean the shelter. I swept and mopped the office while Thean and Sugen gave the animals their supper. I soaped, scrubbed and disinfected the Front Office/Reception/Admin area, the Cattery, the kennels behind the office and the Maternity Kennels. We finished cleaning the entire shelter and took out the trash by 1920 hrs. I went up to the Bungalow to shower and change, and drove back to the parental home later that evening. I spent the rest of the weekend cleaning the parental home, washing their cars, minding Amber and Chocky and doing yard work. It has been another productive and fulfilling weekend.

~ CO78, Over.~