Thursday, 24 September 2009

Aidilfitri break and other matters

Newsflash: Tabitha has been adopted as of Wednesday, 23rd Sept. This means that all 3 Whisketeers have successfully found new homes. Thank you, everyone, for your support! The Whisketeers send their love.

The previous workweek had been a hectic one, but one filled with enjoyable social commitments nevertheless.

As is becoming a tradition in the Unit that I work in, we had a gathering on Thursday night, 17th September 2009, as an early farewell party for one of our interns. We adjourned to La Bodega after dinner to play Taboo. It was a raucous, fast-paced game, and there were clearly several players who are better than the others. Towards the end, we were so psyched up that we were all practically shouting the questions and answers. Even other patrons stood around to watch and cheer us on whenever anyone got a correct answer.

We left the place after midnight, hoarse from all the shouting. My team won by a large margin. I didn't want the interns to have to take cabs home due to the midnight surcharge, so I drove them all back to their respective apartments. It was around 0130h when I finally reached the BOQ, and 0300h when I finally finished the housework. Red Bull will be getting a lot of business from me the following day.

Friday was considerably more relaxed. Vegan Eugene and I went out to dinner at a vegan restaurant (not far from the St. Ignatius Church) that he had just discovered. A meal at the shop cost only RM2.00, and I surmised that it was more of a community kitchen than a profit-making enterprise. I pointed out that the restaurant's name, "Fo Guang", means "The Light of Buddha" and that the restaurant was probably run by a Buddhist association. The clientele was comfortingly multi-faith and multi-ethnic.

Fireworks, contraband but still widely available, illuminated the night sky as the midnight hour arrived. There were still 24 hours to go until Aidilfitri, but our 4-day weekend has begun.

Saturday, 19th September 2009:

Months ago, I had offered to deliver a presentation on "Setting Green Living Priorities and Practicing the 3Rs" to the Sunshine Ladies, a group of dedicated volunteers who work with the differently-abled. I learned of this group through its founder, my blog buddy Keats, and was inspired and touched by the good work they do. As Keats had expressed interest in my 3R talk, we managed to fix a date and she did her best rallying her friends and other interested parties to attend the talk.

The talk took place at the beautiful and massive home of one of Keats' friends. It was a warm morning but the ersatz rainforest in our gracious hostess' home provided a screen for the heat. The water in the swimming pool looked cool and inviting, but we had to set up the LCD projector and test out the videos and slides before I may look around.

The guests started trickling in at 1000h, ruddy-cheeked and cheerful from their morning exercise routines. I was surprised at the size of the crowd, and slightly awed by the fact that all of them belong to the upper stratum of society. Would they be willing to listen to what I had to say about the environmental cost of big homes, air travel and shopping expeditions?

Fortunately, they were! They were the nicest, most engaging and most participatory audience I have ever had. They all had ideas to contribute and stories to share, and I was glad because it showed that they were not bored. We played the 3R Game, went through the slides and video presentations, and had interactive discussion sessions. Although my talk typically lasts 2 hours, it went on for another hour on Saturday because all the participants had something important to contribute to the discussion. Most of them are involved in community work and many have instituted environmentally-friendly practices at home such as chemical-free cleaning and composting.

At the end of the talk, many of the participants came forward to purchase the Green Living booklets and get my contact information. Some made cash contributions to Green Living, although I didn't request it. We had a lovely tea party after the talk and I sampled everything. I chatted with my kind hostess and played with her dogs before going home with the pumpkin cake and jellies that she had packed for me.

I am grateful that the talk was well-received, and pleased to have made the acquaintance of new friends. I trust I shall be able to participate in some of the Sunshine Ladies' activities in future. The world is a good place, full of good people, if only you know where to look.

Sunday, 20th September 2009:

I gave the Rowdies a bath on Sunday morning before going to Ampang for my blog buddy Pak Idrus’ Hari Raya Open House for lunch. It took me a while to locate his lovely home. His garden plants created a sylvan veil for his gate, but I thought I recognised the green classic Volvo parked outside. I then heard a friendly voice calling my name and went in to salam with Pak Idrus and his dear wife. His daughter Lin was there with family friends as well. We sat in his plant-filled and tastefully-decorated verandah, enjoying the scrumptious food and company. More guests arrived and joined in the conversation, and we chatted about everything from cats to politics to dentists. We had homemade apple and walnut pie, courtesy of Lin, for dessert.

Photos borrowed from Pak Idrus' blog without permission, so please visit him here if you like what you see.

I thanked my host and hostesses and bade everyone goodbye after lunch. Pak Idrus' house is only 2 minutes away from the SPCA. I changed into my SPCA workclothes and started cleaning the cat cages in the Front Reception/Admin area. Tabitha was still there and I promised to bring her home by Thursday if she were not adopted by then.

Rose and I had wanted to wash the dogs but the weather was drizzly and unpredictable, and Dr. Pushpa didn't think it was a good idea. She did, however, assure us that the staff would tickwash the dogs on weekdays when the weather was better.

I cleaned the Cattery instead, scrubbing and disinfecting each cat basket and litter tray. I swabbed and washed the shelves, cages and floor and made sure all the cats had fresh bedding, food and water. Next, I cleaned the Maternity Kennels and Hospital. I took away the old newspapers and miscellaneous junk left on top of the cages. I then cleaned the Puppy Area and Front Office/Reception/Admin area and took out the trash. The washroom was in quite a state, as usual, and so I had to clean and disinfect it before I could shower and change in it.

I went to the night market and organic produce shop to pick up some things for Covert Mum and Covert Dad before going back to the BOQ to tidy up and feed and clean up after the Rowdies. Otis is recovering really well and you couldn't even tell that there had been injury to his left eye before. He taught himself to use the litter tray from the day he arrived and has been a fluffy bundle of joy since.

Started the drive back to the parental home around 2130h. Arrived to find a nasty shock (the parents didn't want to tell me as they were afraid that I would drive like a maniac to get home faster) -- Chocky had hindquarter paralysis and couldn't walk. It had happened very suddenly sometime around dinnertime.

I massaged Chocky and applied pressure to his back and legs but he did not flinch or show any signs that he was in any pain. I have only ever seen such a wobbly gait in dogs suffering from hip dysplasia or distemper. But Chocky has been vaccinated, is a mixed breed, and is too young to be suffering from hip problems. What was going on?

We let Chocky rest while I comforted the parents and tried to call up all the vets I know to fix an appointment. Covert Twin arrived a little later, confused and upset that his dog wasn't walking. It was a long night for all of us, and I know I wasn't the only one who came out to take a peek at Chocky that night to make sure that he was still with us.

Monday, 21st September - Tuesday, 22nd September 2009:

We rushed Chocky to the Gasing Animal Hospital as soon as it was open on Monday morning. Thankfully, we had 2 days of public holidays and did not have to go on emergency leave. Chocky was still weak and unable to stand. The vet gave him a thorough checkup but was unable to determine what was wrong. Chocky was given an antibiotic injection in case his ailment was caused by bacteria or a virus, and a steroid injection to reduce any inflammation. A blood sample was taken for testing. We were instructed to bring Chocky home to rest and to fast him for 12 hours for the x-ray the following day.

Chocky’s condition started to improve after the steroid jab. I did housework to take my mind off my fears for poor Chocky. I cleaned the Venetian blinds, some of the kitchen cabinets and the living room. I scrubbed the garden fountain and some of the flower pots. I gave Amber a bath and prepared food for Amber and Chocky. By evening, Chocky was walking again. The vet called at night and informed us that the blood test results were back, but it showed that Chocky’s condition wasn’t caused by an allergy or ingestion of toxins. We weren’t taking any chances. We will still take him to the hospital again in the morning.

Tuesday morning saw a very hungry and despondent Chocky enter the car. Once at the hospital again, however, Chocky’s mood improved after he made a new friend, a Spitz-cross who took an immediate liking to Chocky. Soon it was Chocky’s turn to see the vet. The vet did another examination of Chocky and decided that an x-ray would be unnecessary as Chocky’s problem was probably neurological in origin and an x-ray would not be helpful. We were sent off with 3 different kinds of medication for Chocky, who was by now back to his usual gregarious self. Chocky went home to a hero’s welcome. We all hope that his condition will not recur. Just to be on the safe side, we will be putting him on neurobion supplements from now on.

I spent the rest of the day spring cleaning the master bedroom, doing the laundry and mopping the floor. It’s good to have our old Chocky back, and I hope it lasts. He gave us such a scare, even Amber was worried and was not her usual self at all. She refused to go for her walks and wanted to keep Chocky within sight all the time. Something told her that Chocky wasn’t well and she was sensitive to it. I love Amber all the more for her protectiveness, and Chocky all the more for his vulnerability.

Loving something as fragile and ephemeral as animals leaves me with an exquisite pain, and it really is the heart that feels the pain. But it also fills me with a fierce, protective love and courage and makes me want to be a better person that I may be worthy of their love. And when I look into the eyes of my canine and feline children, I know I am fortunate beyond measure to be able to love them, and to be able to receive their love. I would not trade that for the world.

~Whiskey-Echo-Lima, out.~

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay

Saturday. 12th September 2009: Connections

Went back to the parental home on Friday night and spent Saturday cleaning the parental home, spring cleaning the spare room, giving Amber a bath and washing Covert Mum and Covert Dad's cars.

This must be a rare week for reconnecting with old friends. When I was out taking Amber for a drive around the neighbourhood, I met my old school pal, Parames, who I haven't seen for years, and her baby boy, Manesh, on an evening stroll near her old home. I stopped the car and got out to greet and hug my old friend. Our brothers were best friends and had remained so, but due to the fact that Parames is younger than I am and had attended a different school, we drifted apart in our teenage years and only met up during the festive holidays. The last time I saw her was on Deepavali day in 1995. It was good to catch up again and exchange phone numbers and promises to add each other as friends on Facebook.

I felt so gratified that we had gotten back in touch. I really treasured her friendship and was sorry that we had been too busy to keep the friendship active and alive. My Saturday was much enriched for having made contact with yet another old friend.

Sunday, 13th September 2009: Meet Otis!

I had agreed to participate in the Kota Damansara Community Forest Lake Cleanup on Sunday morning, organised by the Eco Warriors Facebook group. However, Amber's skin sensitivities had flared up and she scratched herself almost to bits on Saturday night.
How could I go out cleaning lakes when Amber was in so much pain and discomfort? I took her to the vet whose services my parents rely on, Dr Peter, as soon as the clinic was open on Sunday morning. After the consultation, I took Amber back to the parental home so that I could administer medicine to her.

I left the parental home for the SPCA around noon, once I was confident that Amber is going to be okay. It was a busy day at the SPCA, and I was pleased to see a few animals adopted.

Tabitha was still there, and I was prepared to bring her home if she were not adopted by evening, but the vets informed me that they were fairly certain that she would be adopted soon, as she is a friendly and affectionate kitten and there has been many inquiries about her. It's just that many people didn't want to adopt before their festive vacation as they would then have to make boarding arrangements. It made practical and economic sense for them to adopt after the festive holidays, and the vets believe that Tabitha would be adopted by then. Tabitha is a well-adjusted and active kitten, and I trust she will find a good home soon.

There was another kitten at the SPCA, a grey quasi-Persian with unruly fluffy hair and a plaintive meow. He was a one-month-old stray that someone found wandering near the stalls, crying in pain. The tiny tomcat had wandered too close to a hot motorcycle exhaust pipe while in search of food and had burned his left eye. Not being aware of any alternatives, the passerby brought him to the SPCA.

I informed the vets that I could foster the kitten until he is strong and healthy enough to be rehomed. I know that Ilium Chloroint could be used safely on eye injuries as long as there is no ulceration (The steroid in Ilium products could delay the healing process in ulcers).

I prepared a carrier and informed the SPCA staff that I would be taking the kitten for a few weeks. I decided to name him "Otis", as in Otis Redding. (No prizes for guessing the inspiration for the title of this blogpost).

A gentle, reluctant drizzle fell the entire afternoon at the SPCA, and so Rose and I could not wash and groom the shelter dogs. I got to work cleaning the shelter instead. Reve assisted with the visitors and potential adopters, while I cleaned and disinfected the Cattery, Maternity Kennels, Puppy Kennels, Hospital and the Front Office/Admin/Reception area with biodegradable soap powder and Dettol.

Reve and I finished cleaning the shelter and led the dogs back into their enclosures at 1930h. I had a shower, put Otis in the cat carrier and drove him home to the BOQ.

(Update as at Monday, 14th September 2009: Otis' eye is healing nicely and he is the most delightful kitten ever. He never misses the litter tray, doesn't soil the pillowcase I've given him to sleep on, eats heartily, plays with the jingle ball and racing car I've given him and sleeps once he is full-bellied and tuckered out. I can't think of anyone not wanting to bring him home)

Stopped by the night market for fresh produce and food. Fed and cleaned up after the Rowdies, set up Otis' living quarters and cleaned up the BOQ.

I know Otis' path crossed with mine for a reason, and I won't let him down.

Otis meowing plaintively to be picked up and cuddled.

A close-up of Otis: You can see that the injury to his eye is healing nicely and his eyesight is intact.

Otis having a ball in the Battletank.

The vulnerable look is part of his appeal. Okay, I am a lousy photographer, so bite me!

Monday, 14th September 2009: The Battletank is back from her makeover!

Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful car in the world?
And if you did, she happens to be mine...

Tuesday, 15th September 2009: Blood Donation

As I was keeping on top of my work and did not have to rush my lunch hour on Tuesday, I decided to give blood at the National Blood Bank at noon. I had originally wanted to do it on Covert Dad's birthday (20th August), but as it was then not yet three months since my last donation, I was unable to donate. I decided to defer it to September, and recite my Theravada transference of merit puja for Covert Dad after the deed.

It went, as usual, without a hitch. The blood bank is only an 8-minute drive away from my office. My haemoglobin count was 14.1, and I managed to fill up a 350ml bag within 2.58 minutes, which still did not surpass my personal best of 2.54 minutes.

The nurses gave me sandwiches, coffee, biscuits (the cream-filled ones which ruin my teeth), iron and folic acid pills and a souvenir mug as a token of appreciation, as it was my 29th whole blood donation.

Once I was in the Battletank, I recited the transference of merit puja and informed Covert Dad of it. It seemed a bit odd as it has been almost a month since his birthday.

At the rate I am going, I am convinced that I will be reborn as a cockroach or a slug. It seems to me that each time I consciously do anything that is of use and of good to another (or others), I recite the transference of merit prayers in favour of someone else - The living: Covert Dad and Covert Mum, or the departed: Granddad, Murphy, Pepsi, Walden, Chip, Shasta, the orange cat at the SPCA and the dogs that perished on Pulau Ketam.

I think I have depleted my supply of good karma so much that I really shouldn't expect to be anything more than a small, cold-blooded invertebrate of some sort in my next life. Oh well. I just hope that I don't get reborn as an axolotl, because they give me the creeps.

~Charlie Mike, Commando!~

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Meme: Save Yvonne's Sight.

I've been tagged by Saya, and invited to tag myself by Ellen and Pat.

Yvonne's only 22, and losing her sight to neurofibromatosis, type II. It has also severely affected her hearing. I got to know Yvonne through a friend and banked in some money for her last surgery a few months ago (April? May? June? Sorry, I forgot!). I got to know later that despite her medical problems, big-hearted Yvonne and her mum have picked up and adopted a stray cats and dogs, mostly from the PJ Old Town area. Goes to show the kind of unselfish, kind, forward-looking person that she is.

I quote from Pat (and pretty much everyone else) here:

"She is scheduled for an operation between 1 and 4 December 2009. The cost of surgery is USD44,000 or RM54,770, and the cost of staying in hospital for two weeks is USD915 or RM3219.

She has raised about RM52,454.28 of this and is hoping to raise the rest by republishing her book I'm Not Sick; I'm Just a Bit Unwell in English and Chinese.'

You can read all about Yvonne and about how to get your hands on her book on her website (address provided below) - and also help her to make up the rest of the money she needs by donating to her fund.

You can help Yvonne by sending on this meme. If you do, simply follow these rules:

Create a blog entry titled “Meme: Save Yvonne’s Sight”
List three things you love to see. Add in the picture of Yvonne’s book cover.
The URL is End with the line, "Yvonne Foong is in danger of losing her eyesight thanks to neurofibromatosis (NF). Please find out how you can help her by visiting her blog at".

Tag 5 blog friends. Be sure to copy the rules, OK?

If you have a Facebook account, please check out Ellen’s new invention, a “feme” pronounced FEEM, a meme designed for Facebook here. And if you want to blog about NF, that would be great too!

Three things I'd love to see:

One: All shelter animals rehomed.

Two: Amber cured of demodex/skin sensitivities.

Three: Aurora Borealis

I've not tagged anyone, but please be 'tagged' and pass this on if you're here now ;)

Please help Yvonne by visiting her blog, and contributing if you can, or simply
passing on her message to others who may be able to help. Also, if you are organising any public event, say, a Family Day Carnival or a staff club fundraiser or a neighbourhood potluck party, do try to pass the hat around. Yvonne's friends can be contacted via her blog and they can help to set up a booth and put up merchandise for sale.

Thank you.

Friday, 11 September 2009


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” - Jack Kerouac

Friday, 4th September 2009: Climb Every Mountain

My buddy Mun Yee celebrated her 30th birthday on Thursday, and we made plans to meet up for dinner on Friday. It was to be my buddy's Saturn Return, and I wanted it to be special. Mun Yee was going to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest point in Southeast Asia, the following week. I think that is a most meaningful way of stepping into one's third decade, and I told her so. I prepared a survival kit as a birthday gift for her, consisting of a brew kit, safety blanket, emergency light and whistle, poncho, oral rehydration salts and a number of other things I felt were necessary to make her trip safer and more enjoyable.

As luck would have it, she called me on Friday evening to inform me that she wasn't able to make it to dinner as she still had too much work to do. (She is still at the understaffed firm that I quit in June, where everyone is overworked and treated poorly). I swung by the Gardens mall, picked up two individual cakes from Breadstory, glazed doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, and some drinks and munchies and drove on over to Mun Yee's office.

Mun Yee was glad to see me and relieved to see food. We ate the cakes and snacks and she checked out the presents. Then we sat down to resume work. I tried to help her locate the drafts and minutes of meetings that she required, while she worked on the correspondence and cause papers that she needed to draft. We were finally done by midnight. There was to be no sleep for Mun Yee tonight, as she had yet to pack for her trip and her cab would be arriving at 0300h. She was so tired and sleepy that she could hardly drive, so I suggested going to Old Town White Coffee across the street for coffee and grub. We chatted over coffee and a hot meal, and I wished her all the best on her mountain-climbing adventure.

As I drove home that night, I found myself wishing that a better job opportunity would come along for my friend -- a job where she could get at least 6 hours of sleep a night, where she wouldn't have to forfeit her annual leave and where she doesn't have to come in to work while on sick leave. I wish that she would find a job that she could look forward to in the mornings. But most of all, I wish that she would be always be happy, healthy and have wonderful adventures.

Mun Yee and I horsing around in Fort Canning, Singapore, in 2005

Saturday, 5th September 2009: Brainstorming Sessions, SPCA and another Soiree

Woke up unreasonably early for a Saturday morning to attend the Malaysian Nature Society Branch Strategy Workshop at the Rimba Ilmu Auditorium. I picked up refreshments on the way, and James C. picked me up from the station. It was a productive session, facilitated by Bushcraft Ashleigh, and its purpose was to determine the priorities of the Society and the direction we should take to remain relevant to our members and those outside the Society. I was surprised to see quite a good turnout of 'ordinary' members and new recruits. Things got pretty heated during the discussions as everyone seemed to have a different view of the measures the Society should take. It was officially over by 1300h. I got a ride back to the station from May.

I went to the SPCA after the Strategy Workshop. Dr. Pushpa had more good news for me. Rafferty had been adopted on Friday. Only Tabitha was left, but she looked robust and was in good spirits. She shared a large 3-tiered enclosure with 5 other cats and was busy climbing up and down the different tiers with her new friends. She allowed me to pick her up and hold her but did not show any signs of especial recognition, which is for the best. I kissed her and told her how much I loved her and promised to take her home if she were not adopted by the end of the month.

Rose and several college-age volunteers had been washing the dogs and I joined them at the kennels to give the dogs their baths and tickwashes. I cleaned ears and treated small wounds as well.

Rose and I discussed what could be done for Chanel, a little mongrel who became antisocial and despondent after her puppy died. Chanel was a young mother and had loved her only child, Coco, to distraction. Coco died of distemper before she was old enough to be vaccinated. Chanel’s personality changed after Coco’s death and she became withdrawn and mistrustful of humans. For some reason, she thought we had been the cause of her baby’s death. I wish a good volunteer could bring her home to rehabilitate her so she could be rehomed. I would foster her myself if not for all the cats I have, who would not take to the introduction of a sullen dog very well. Roli (previously referred to in my blog as The Kindest Man In The World) was around on Saturday. I should have thought of asking him if he could do something for Chanel. It breaks my heart to see her so hurt and unhappy.

Rose and the other volunteers left around 1630h, and we shut the gate after their departure. Sugen and I stayed behind to clean the shelter. I made a big bucket of soap and disinfectant and cleaned the Front Office/Admin/Reception area, Cattery, Maternity Kennels and Puppy Kennels. Sugen and Mazni cleaned the kennels and cattery at the back of the shelter. Some visitors dropped by with inquiries, and I managed to persuade them to bring their pets for neutering at our Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic instead of surrendering their pets to the shelter. I finished my share of the work, took out the trash, cleaned myself up and left the SPCA by 1930h.

Went back to the BOQ to feed the Rowdies, tidy up and get ready to go out to our friendly neighbourhood pub for Corinne's farewell party. Corinne was leaving to join her fiancĂ© in Melbourne, and close to 100 friends turned up for her farewell party. The pub was bursting at its seams. Jake, Jess and I were delighted to meet all our old friends again. Brian L, Mahes, Patrick and everyone else were similarly surprised to see me turn up like a bad penny. “Welcome home!” shouted the Balachandran brothers as they hugged me.

There were members of the legal fraternity at the soiree as well, much to my chagrin. The Bar Council office bearers actually came in office wear and one even had a surgical mask on. Hell, mate, if you’re that afraid of contracting Influenza A, you should have just stayed home! It served them right that nobody wanted to dance with them that night. Stupid lawyers!

Speaking of dancing, there was a man on the dance floor, who I am sure is a very nice man, who had dance moves that boggled the mind. “He dances like someone’s Dad,” I chuckled to Jess while we observed his hip-rolls and hand-rolls. When he got around to doing the Pulp Fiction, I almost died laughing. “Beyonce, Shakira, take notes!” I sputtered and wheezed, while the patrons around me giggled into their drinks. I wasn’t in the mood to be charitable with my comments that night, and it was a good thing that the King of Dance was out of earshot and the music was so loud.

Later in the evening, we viewed a little video tribute to Corinne, proposed toasts and wrote messages for her on cards taped to the wall. While we were happy for her leaving for greener pastures, we were also sorry to see her go. Now there'll be no one left at the pub to make us behave ourselves. I discovered later that Corinne had already paid for my vodka shots, and so I thanked her and informed her that I will spend the money I saved on drinks on groceries and provisions for Brian L's welfare homes instead. Corinne thought that it was a capital idea and a nice thing to do as a parting gift for her. (Note: As of Tuesday, I had delivered antiseptic solution and bath soap, as requested on the Homes’ lists, to Brian L.)

Jake, Jess and I went back to the BOQ, none-too-sober but in good cheer, around 0200h. It has been an exhausting Saturday but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Sunday, 6th September 2009: Driftwood

I spent Sunday back at the parental home, cleaning the house and tending to Amber and Chocky's needs.

RJ texted me on Sunday to see what I was doing. I knew he was still nursing a broken heart, and needed someone to talk to.

I informed RJ that there was a much-ignored mongrel at the SPCA that I had washed, groomed and tick-washed last Monday (31 Aug), and he was adopted on Saturday (5 Sept). Miracles do happen, I averred. We just have to create the right conditions.

"What I'm trying to say," I explained to RJ, "is that I am still praying that everything works out for the best for you, against all odds, and I'll be here whenever you need me, whenever you need anything done."

RJ told me that my blood is worth bottling. I am not sure what that means but I hope it is something good. It sounds rather kinky, in an Angelina Jolie - Billy Bob Thornton sort of way.

I was in the middle of cleaning the glass cabinets when I received a call from an unknown number. It was my best buddy in law school, Sumita, who decided to take a chance and call my 'old' number to see if it were the same. It is, of course. I was thrilled and touched to hear from her.

How had we managed to drift so far apart? We were thick as thieves in college, and always getting into all kinds of trouble together. We spent our weekends and festive breaks at each other's homes. When I took on summer jobs during the college holidays and she returned to her parental home in Ipoh, we would send each other letters in code (not everyone had internet access and e-mail accounts back then). We tormented our classmates and lecturers, cut classes together, copied each other's assignments (if we bothered to do them at all), and attended political rallies, art exhibitions and every event that came to town, as long as it meant not having to go for lectures. We spent all our money (I was receiving payment for the articles I wrote for the newspapers back then) on alcohol, tattoos and body piercings. We attended every party within a radius of 50 km.

In retrospect, perhaps it was just as well that we drifted apart in 2005. We were both too daring, too adventurous and too foolhardy. If we had remained partners-in-crime past graduation, neither of us would have survived past the age of 28. We were always getting into crazy scrapes together. Being together imbued us with a kind of insane courage and stubborn pride. We were like the Dukes of Hazzard.

The last time we spoke to each other was in 2005, when she had come to spend the week at the condominium I was renting then. She was doing her pupillage and had to attend the Ethics Course. I was already an advocate of the High Court of Malaya, and was encumbered with files, deadlines and unattainable billing and collection targets all the time.

Our different circumstances and responsibilities tore us apart. We lost contact soon after. She was called to the Bar in Ipoh and commenced legal practice with a firm that does mainly personal injury cases. I remained in the City and practiced with mostly banking and civil litigation firms. In the meantime, my responsibilities grew, and I became less reckless, less impetuous and less spontaneous in my adventures. I heard less and less from my dear friend, but did not treat our fading friendship with concern.

I am so glad that Sumita had taken the initiative to contact me after 4 long years, and I promised myself that I would never again let a good friendship die. It is true that we were both growing very different in personality, and that we occasionally had differences in values, but essentially, that is what a friendship is about: Friends give each other room and time to grow, and let each other make mistakes. And friends let friends be @$$holes.

Thank you for coming back into my life, Sumita, and I promise you, next month we will paint the town red, like we used to do!

"Home is where the heart is
But your heart had to roam
Drifting over bridges
Never to return
Watching bridges burn"

- Driftwood, by Travis

Saturday, 5 September 2009

National Day Weekend

Friday, 29th Aug 2009: Reflections on our 52nd Independence Day

My buddy Mahendran swung by my office of a Thursday evening when I was working late and we went out to dinner in Brickfields. Over the course of thosai and ginger tea, we discussed the countries we have visited and whether emigration was an option for either of us.

I told him unequivocally that I love Malaysia too much to even consider emigration. Mahendran felt the same way. The response to the question of why I love this country so much, however, was far from straightforward.

Why do I love my country? Because we have a better environmental record than China and a better human rights record than Myanmar? Because I am too afraid to leave my comfort zone? Because I have been conditioned to be complacent?

This brings me back to a conversation I had with Covert Mum, during which she asked if I were now an expert on the geography and political history of all countries, due to the nature of my work.

"No," I was quick to qualify. "I am only an expert in the most rundown, beat-up countries with the highest level of human rights violations. I can tell you everything about Somalia, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, and next to nothing about, say, Norway, Finland or Switzerland". Although my statement was intended jocosely, it did make me wonder if the reason for my patriotism and love of this country is due to the fact that I measure it against the lowest common denominators -- the least developed and least peaceful nations, with the greatest transgressions of civil liberties.

Talking it over with Mahendran helped me realise that this was not so. We know that our country and its people could not just be conveniently reduced to 3 major races and 'other minority races'. We know that we are so much more, and so much better, than the definitions and limitations that the politicians have encumbered us with. We won't play their game anymore, and we won't get fooled again.

What do I love about this country, apart from its natural history, its ancient rainforests, its climate, its abundance of resources and its flora and fauna both indigenous and introduced? What would impel me to put my neck on the line to protect and defend this country?

I love this country for the fact that for every village headman who thinks that it is a good idea to abandon stray dogs on uninhabited islands, there are thousands of Malaysians who would speak up and protest against such cruelty, engage the local council to develop better solutions, assist in or fund the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of the dogs (indeed, put themselves to inconvenience by offering to foster and feed the dogs in their homes until adopters could be found!) and assist in the Pulau Ketam spay and neuter project.

I love this country for the fact that for every bigoted Member of Parliament who proposes measures to subjugate women and restrict women's freedom and leadership, there are thousands of Malaysians who would protest, write letters to the Press, call up radio stations, take action to do the exact opposite of his recommendations and create opportunities for women leaders instead, and provide aid and assistance to women in need.

I love this country for the fact that for every timber company that decides to log an area and displace an indigenous community, there will be thousands of Malaysians who would lobby for environmental protection, protest against social injustice, provide physical and material assistance to the displaced peoples and carry out environmental surveys and data collection, even if amateur, of the area in question.

I love this country for the truck driver and other road users who stopped at a busy Shah Alam intersection, alighted from their cars and helped me in trying to extricate a stray kitten from under a car in 2007.

I love this country for the young people of different faiths and social backgrounds who volunteer with Food Not Bombs to serve vegetarian food to the less fortunate every week, come rain or shine.

I love this country for the Legal Aid volunteer lawyers who had inspired me to follow in their footsteps and had sacrificed so much of their time and resources to provide legal assistance to the most marginalised and disenfranchised groups in our society, despite the constant threat of arbitrary arrest by the police who work to protect the interests of the Federal Government.

I love this country for the people who adopt from shelters, clean up rivers and beaches, volunteer at welfare homes, speak up against injustice and soldier on to make this country the best that She could be.

For we are a young country, and many of our failings are signs of underdevelopment. But the fact that so many of us chose to stay put and strive to help the country overcome its shortcomings, protect its institutions of democracy and civil society and raise its environmental, animal welfare and human rights standards, among others, is what makes this country great.

I know my great-grandparents came to Malaysia from China a hundred years ago for a reason. They saw this country as a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard. They saw this country as a safe place to start a family and raise their young.

I share their vision and I will be part of the mechanism to make it come true. I know that my fellow Malaysians and I will work together to bring inclusiveness, progress, justice and economic, political and environmental stability to this country.

There is a line in our national anthem that goes: Tanah tumpahnya darahku. Loosely translated, it means "The land onto which my blood will spill". It may sound militant, but what it really means is that "this is the country where I will die".

Those words ring true for me. I know this is the country I wish to serve, and this is the country where I will draw my final breath.

Happy 52nd Birthday, Malaysia.

Monday, 31st August 2009: SPCA on Moody Monday

We had a long weekend this week, thanks to the National Day celebrations. I chilled out with my buddies on Friday evening before going back to the parental home the same night so I could wake up early on Saturday and take the Battletank to the workshop to have her resprayed and made buff.

Saturday and Sunday were spent at the parental home with Amber and Chocky. I spring-cleaned the kitchen cabinets, tidied the rest of the house, polished the furniture, gave Amber a bath, washed the cars, cleaned the fountain in the porch, washed the rugs and finally managed to fill in the remaining Scrabble tiles.

It was a productive two days but I was anxious and on the edge the whole time over whether the Whisketeers would get adopted and whether the Battletank would be fine. The workshop guy kept asking me how much gas I had left in the tank, and how far would it go on that much fuel. I had the niggling suspicion that he was going to take his family on a jaunt to Genting Casino before he decided to start work on my car.

I went to the SPCA after breakfast on Monday, driving Covert Mum's utterly femme, berry-coloured mini car. It couldn't possibly be any bigger than a Dodgem car. Being the big brute that I am, I hit my head against the door frame of her car while entering and exiting. Now I know what it feels like when cartoon characters brain themselves and have twittering birds and assorted stars and planets spin and hover above their noggins.

Imagine my relief and happiness when I arrived at the Front Area of the SPCA to find that Mitchell had already been adopted. However, Tabitha and Rafferty were still there, and both looked a bit lean. Dr. Pushpa explained that they had mild flu but were now recovering with medication. I was sad and worried and held my kittens for a while, praying that they would find new homes soon. If they are not adopted and not significantly better by next week, I will take them home and nurse them back to health and fitness. In the meantime, I will just have to put my faith in the SPCA and trust them to call me in the event the kittens are not recovering as they should.

I kissed the Whisketeers good luck and got to work washing the dogs in Kennels D, E, and F. I prepared a tub of Tacktik EC solution, grabbed the shampoo bottles, leashes, grooming scissors and flea comb, and started work on the six forgotten dogs in Kennel D.

I was in the middle of washing and grooming the dogs when I noticed a few visitors watching me. They stared, perhaps out of habit, but made no indication that they were remotely interested in what I was doing. There were no smiles and no greetings forthcoming.

There is nothing I hate more than when people stop to stare, as though I were a bad smell. The look on their faces says it all: "Thank God I don't have to do dirty work like the poor people here!" It makes me irritable and sarcastic.

"Hello," I called out to them, unnecessarily loud and unnecessarily brash, "Are you here for a visit or is there any resident dog or cat in particular that you would like to adopt?"

"Egads," their expressions seemed to say as they regarded me with surprise and suspicion, "It speaks English!"

"Just looking," they would then mumble, shifting uncomfortably.

"Well, if you're going to stand and stare, you might as well come in and lend me a hand", I press further.

The starers disperse to make themselves useless elsewhere. My strategy works every time. Nothing gets rid of people quicker than the idea of hard work. Sometimes, though, I am lucky enough to get visitors who actually chirp "Okay!" and dive right in. Such visitor-volunteers are overwhelmingly female, and overwhelmingly young. Still, it is a heartening trend that should be encouraged.

I finished washing and grooming about 15 dogs and wrote a note to let the vets know which dogs have been washed. The visitors and office staff have all left, and it was time to let the dogs out to play in the shelter compound. I put away my dog-washing kit and commenced cleaning the shelter. I put the donated newspapers away, cleaned out the litter trays and washed and disinfected the Front Office/Admin/Reception Area. Next, I soaped and disinfected the cages, kennels, Cattery, Maternity Kennels and washroom. Reve was still in Belgium and there were no other volunteers around, so it took me a fair bit of time to get everything shipshape and sanitised.

Hauled out the trash, had a shower in the shelter washroom, kissed Tabitha and Rafferty goodnight and left the SPCA premises around 1930h. Swung by the barbershop for a sensible haircut. Short-back-and-sides-and-trim-the-sideburns. This time, though, I made sure I didn't end up looking like a pudding basin on legs.

I was in the midst of feeding the Rowdies already when I received a text message from a good buddy, RJ, who was in need of some company. I drove over to RJ's house so he wouldn't have to nurse his broken heart alone. A heartache hurts as much at 50 as at 15. The only difference is that we learn to cope in different ways with the passage of time. We had a few beers and watched golf on the sports channel. I know RJ is trying very hard to be strong and to move on with life, and he is doing a good job so far, but perhaps we both need to get in touch with our emotions a smidgen more.

I am in the midst of compiling a CD of songs for my broken-hearted buddy. Although I know RJ's preferred genres are reggae and classic rock, music of the 60s and 70s should also speak to his soul as they do to mine. If you have any good songs to add to my list, please let me know!

My existing list:
1. Sharing the Night Together by Dr. Hook
2. Woman by John Lennon
3. I'd Really Like To See You Tonight by England Dan and John Ford Coley
4. Babe by Styx
5. Moment of Forgiveness by the Indigo Girls
6. Sometimes A Song by Dan Fogelberg
7. A Little Bit More by Dr. Hook
8. How Can I Tell Her About You by Lobo.
9. Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton
10. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
11. Against All Odds by Phil Collins
12. Look Away by Chicago