Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Hammock Camping Weekend

Tues, 23 March 2010: Blood Donation Synchronicity

My haemoglobin count on my 30th whole blood donation is 13.9. Chalk one up for vegetarians!

It was time to give thanks to the Universe again last Tuesday, so I dutifully went to the National Blood Bank during my lunch hour to give blood.

By some strange coincidence, when I left That Special Someone a message informing him that I was on my way to donate blood, he informed me that he was donating blood on the same day as well, and that he donates blood every 3 months just like I do. He had organised a blood donation campaign as a CSR project and would be the first blood donor of the day.

Such synchronicity! What are the odds of us both being blood donors and both scheduled to donate blood on the same day, barring our time difference of 2.5 hours?

It made me happy to know that despite the distance that separates us, we have started doing things together. Long-distance relationships are never easy, and I am prepared for the challenges that we are due to face. Happy flukes like this make the pain of being apart easier to endure.

This one goes out to My Special Someone. May we continue to derive much joy from sharing and giving, and may we always have the opportunity to do it together.

Saturday, 27 March 2010: Hammock Camping Workshop

Those of you who have been reading me long enough would remember that Bushcraft 2007 nearly ended in tragedy for me when I developed hypothermia in the lowland rainforest. Oh, the ignominy! Due to the fact that I was incapacitated for several hours, I never did have the opportunity to practice shelter-building and camp-setting techniques.

To compensate for the learning opportunity I lost, I signed up for the MNS Nature Guide's Hammock Camping Workshop, to be conducted by a Committee Member, Keong, on 27th March at the Kota Damansara Community Forest.

Hammock camping is increasing in popularity as a low-impact camping technique with certain advantages over conventional tents on the ground.

A properly set up hammock campsite does not damage growing plants and is more comfortable for the camper in that fewer and lighter equipment are required, one can keep out biting insects and rainwater and one does not bring dirt into the sleeping quarters. It is also ideal when you need to camp on rocky, muddy or lumpy ground. As such, it is essential that would-be hammock campers are trained in the correct skills and techniques to enable them to have a successful, safe and enjoyable camping experience.

Keong showed us how to make bamboo stakes to put our hiking boots on to keep snakes and vermin out of our footwear. He is an effective and knowledgeable instructor.

Pasu doing the Round Turn and Two Half Hitches to secure our hammock to our selected Macaranga tree.

My army-type standard issue green nylon hammock, khaki mosquito net and I blended in well with our surroundings.

It's time to test out our hammock! Our weight had, unfortunately, put sufficient pressure on the webbing to deaden the Constrictor Knot I used to secure the ends of the hammock. I will never be able to remove those knots unless I cut through the webbing.

This is a video of me demonstrating the One-Handed Falconer's Knot.

(Note: There is no right way or wrong way of doing a Falconer's Knot as long as the end result is the same.

I find the Falconer's Knot to be practical and useful especially in securing flysheets and tarps.

I developed my own way of doing a one-handed Falconer's after Bushcraft 2007. Often in survival/wilderness situations, we may not have the luxury of having both hands free for tying knots.

I am using the green webbing from my hammock in this vid as cordage, for visibility. The chin-up bar over my bedroom door simulates tree branches slightly out of my reach.)

Saturday, 27th March 2010: So much for Earth Hour!

Went back to the parental home on Saturday evening to look after the house and Amber, and to do some housekeeping and cleaning. There will be no Earth Hour street party this year, unlike last year, simply due to a lack of time and resources.

I am also of the opinion that personal action can never be a good substitute for political will, although it is important for us to live according to our environmental values. The key to energy and fuel efficiency lies more in good governance than in getting homeowners to turn out their lights for an hour.

As long as the national power supplier continues to pay independent power producers for the power generated rather than power consumed by users, as long as power theft and non-revenue loss remain rampant, as long as governments and the private sector lack commitment in developing sustainable and renewable energy sources -- carbon emissions and fuel and energy use will always remain high.

I managed to turn out the living room lights for Earth Hour but was otherwise preoccupied in the kitchen cleaning up after Covert Twin and his girlfriend cooked dinner. All they had prepared was 2 -3 dishes but it looked as though a bomb blew up in the kitchen and threw dirty plates, grease and sauces everywhere. I don't even know why I cleaned up after them at all, considering that I have already spent hours cleaning the rest of the house, washing the rugs, bathing the dogs and sorting out the recyclables.

I was done cleaning the parental home by 0130 hrs (yes, the following morning) and spent the next 2 hours doing business law assignments for my cousin, Boy Scout, who is steadily on his way to flunking all his papers due to absenteeism and lack of academic aptitude. The assignments were easy ones, which I could do while surfing the Net and eating peanuts and raisins. Completed the assignments and e-mailed them to Boy Scout and was out like a light.

So much for Earth Hour.

Sunday, 28 March 2010: SPCA and other Sunday distractions

I arrived at the SPCA on Sunday afternoon after the monthly Jumble Sale was over and the unsold items put away. I don't find it necessary to attend the Mini Jumbles anymore because Chelvy has managed to source a constant supply of college-age volunteers who could help with the organising, sales and tidying up. I believe my time and energy are better directed towards animal care work, shelter/kennel work and policy & advocacy work.

Me cuddling up to Pipoco at the SPCA Bungalow

There was to be no bathing and tickwashing of dogs in the afternoon due to poor weather, so Reve and I did some basic animal care work, inspected the dogs and cats for eye and ear infections and injuries and cleaned the kennels.

I cleaned the Front Office / Reception area, Cattery, cages, Puppy Kennels, Maternity Kennels and Hospital area, scrubbing the floor with scouring powder and soap using a hard-bristled broom.

"Look, Reve," I grinned, indicating the now bright-again tiles. "New tiles!"
"Wunderbar! Like new!" Reve said approvingly. "No need to renovate the SPCA".

I finished cleaning the shelter, showered and left the SPCA for the Blog4FT prizegiving ceremony. I didn't bring a guest with me because I knew I wasn't going to get anything other than my prizes for the third month.

By the end of the second month of the contest, I had already lost faith in the contest, because as with everything that comes from the Federal Government, I knew I could not count on it to be based on merit. Like everything else from the Federal Government, it sounded good on paper. They wanted our ideas, feedback and opinion. In reality, however, they weren't interested in balance, insight or ideas. All they wanted were fawning compliments telling them how awesome they were and how perfect everything is in the Federal Territories of Malaysia.

I should have listened to Jake and my other friends and understood at the outset that the Federal Government could not be trusted to do anything that is in the best interests of the citizens. Anyway, the contest was so good at rewarding mediocrity that nobody ever has to feel inadequate about being bad at what they do ever again.

The prizes were something else. The prizes became such a liability and so riddled with restrictive terms and conditions that I ended up spending more money to enable the release of the prizes to me than if I had never won a thing at all. The only prize I could use immediately with no strings attached was the Borders Bookstore voucher. Everything else was just a huge ploy by government cronies to fool us into parting with our money. So the two units of Blackberry Curve 8250 that I 'won' really turned out to be prizes that weren't. I might end up having to forfeit the other unit but at the rate this is going, I don't even care anymore. I just want to collect the damned book vouchers and bugger off.

The ceremony was full of public relations BS and the only two things I appreciated about it were that I got to meet a new friend, Mum-In-Malaysia who I met through the contest, and that the organisers took the trouble to make sure I was served with vegetarian food although I had notified them of my dietary requirements only an hour before the dinner. For that, and for the presence and support of my good friend Keats and her family, I am grateful.

After the dinner and ceremony were over, I changed back into my football jersey and barrelled over to the neighbourhood coffeeshop to watch the match between Liverpool and Sunderland. I was pleased that all I missed was the first 20 minutes of the match, and Liverpool was leading. The match ended with a score of 3 - 0 and I raised my fists jubilantly into the night sky. I must have looked rather incongrous as a lone female wearing a Celtic jersey on the day Liverpool was playing, but what did I care, my team won and I was as victorious as they were.

So the evening ended really well after all. I had a productive and enjoyable day at the SPCA, never mind the fact that I had pain in my chest and shoulders from having overexerted myself. I had collected the book voucher that I wanted. I had finally met an online friend in real life. Liverpool had won a match, and won it with style. And in spite of the contest with prizes-that-weren't, I know my worth as a writer and blogger, and that doesn't change. I know the real prize that I have earned is the friendship and love that I have found in That Special Someone. I am in love and I feel young and alive as I have never been. Life is good.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Jellybeans in the Sky!

The euphoria of Raptor Watch Weekend is gradually wearing off, and we now have the MNS Selangor Branch Open Day on June 5 to work towards. Only volunteers can so cheerfully work like Spartan soldiers in pursuit of nothing more than smiles and warm thank-yous.

The Monday after Raptor Watch, I brought Gypsy home from the SPCA, where I had boarded him with Kak Mazni. Gypsy has not been adopted yet but there is good news. My buddies VJ and Sara fell in love with Gypsy after I posted photos of him on Facebook, and will be adopting him next week. We will get him vaccinated and formalise the arrangement by paying the adoption fee and signing the papers. I am really thrilled and grateful that Gypsy will be going to such a good home, and I will still get to board him for my friends from time-to-time.

Gypsy cuddling up to me at the SPCA office. Self-portrait taken with my 'Berry.

It has been another regular weekend for me. I had gone to the SPCA on Saturday and had cleaned the parental home, bathed Amber and spring-cleaned the parents' fridge on Sunday.

A pleasant surprise awaited me on Saturday when I arrived at the SPCA. I had rendered a very minor favour for a fellow blogger, Emily, and had forgotten all about it. Obviously she didn't, because she had dropped by at the SPCA the week before when I was in Tanjung Tuan for Raptor Watch and had made some contributions to the shelter and left an angpow for me. It came as a surprise, and of course I was very grateful and a tad embarrassed because I had done hardly anything to deserve it. I decided to put some of the money to good use purchasing treats for the shelter animals that I bathe or administer medical treatment to, to make the task easier for me and more pleasant for the animals. This way, Emily's good deed gets paid forward.

There was a new volunteer at the SPCA by the name of Bella and she immediately offered to bathe the dogs with me when she saw me preparing the gloves, leashes, shampoo and Tacktik EC. We worked companionably together, bathing and tickwashing all the dogs in Kennels G and H and the Central Area. Some of the dogs had wounds and rashes, no doubt aggravated by the ridiculous heat and humidity that we've been enduring the past few weeks, and I used the medication in my Animal First Aid Kit to render treatment.

We were done by 1500h and I cleaned and disinfected the Cattery before I got ready to leave the SPCA early to take Nicole and the interns to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Putrajaya.

I showered at the SPCA Bungalow and chatted with Shahrul and Jacinta about our next projects and campaigns before going down to the stalls for a quick meal with Nicole, Cunera and Shahrul.

For the record, I know that hot air balloons are a highly fuel-intensive mode of transportation and not energy efficient at all, but I figured that they weren't going to be a regular mode of transportation for anyone, and besides, the Hot Air Balloon Festival was going to be there at Putrajaya once a year whether we choose to support it or not. Carpooling in my compressed natural gas-powered Battletank to the venue made economic and environmental sense, and so off we went to gape at balloons like any youngster would.

We drove off in the Battletank in the maddening afternoon heat in the general direction of the Federal Territory of Putrajaya, as I was unsure of the way and relied on Nic to navigate. We knew we were in the right place when we faced a traffic jam so massive we thought a parking lot had materialised in the middle of a 4-lane highway. We parked along the side of the Putrajaya Bridge, as did many other drivers, and ran shouting and pointing at the hot air balloons that drifted lazily in the sun-scorched sky.

"They look like jellybeans in the sky!" exclaimed Nicole, and I liked her metaphor so much that I decided to use it for the rest of the day.

Jellybeans in the sky! Photos taken using my 'Berry.

A clockwork orange? No, this one is powered by hot air! Seems appropriate then that the balloon festival is held in Putrajaya -- there's no shortage of hot air from our legislators there! Photo taken using my 'Berry.

"Come with me to the Dark Side!", this Darth Vader balloon seemed to say, as it rose up from the ground as if by magic. Photo taken using my 'Berry.

Hey, the hot air balloon isn’t an enclosed structure! The hot air escapes from the top! How does the balloon fill up and lift off, then? My guess is that it takes a continuous stream of fuel to keep a balloon aloft! Photo taken using my 'Berry.

A pair of jeans, a bunch of balloons and the Darth Vader. This combination seems to have been issued by a Random Balloon Generator! Photo taken using my 'Berry.

Nic and I managed to meet up with our friends, Catarina (our SPCA intern from Portugal) and Rajib (a MAKNA intern from Bangladesh) and proceeded to run up the ramp to the Millennium Tower for better photo opportunities.

Water Zorbs and other carnival-style attractions at the event grounds in Precint 2, Putrajaya. Photo courtesy of M. Rajibul Hasan.

The Lion Soars Tonight! Photo courtesy of M. Rajibul Hasan.

Our talented young photographer, Rajib!

Catarina, Nicole and I waiting at the Millenium Tower for the Night Glow to begin. Photo courtesy of M. Rajibul Hasan.

Night Glow -- Can you think of a more enchanting sight? Photo courtesy of M. Rajibul Hasan.

Dandelions in the sky -- Let the pyrotechnics begin! Photo courtesy of M. Rajibul Hasan.

A group shot for posterity -- Rajib, me, Nicole and Catarina on the Putrajaya Bridge.

We went back to Ampang Jaya to have dinner at the stalls. Rajib and I saw Catarina and Nicole off at the SPCA Bungalow. I dropped Rajib off at his apartment after declining supper at Gandhi's on grounds of being too full but assured him that we would meet up sometime for good Indian food.

So ends another charmed weekend of volunteering and spending time with friends, made all the more magical by jellybeans in the sky.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The RAP-tors Are Back: RWW 2010

13th & 14th March 2010 marked the 11th Raptor Watch Weekend organised and conducted by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), and the 10th Raptor Watch of which I am a participant.

Raptor Watch is now one of the biggest ecotourism events in the country, and the key to its success is a well-designed combination of entertainment, public education and conservation initiatives.

How do we reconcile putting more cars on the road to meet a conservation goal? Can there ever be sufficient justification for fossil fuel-based travel? My take on this is YES.

In the end, people can only feel protective over what they are acquainted with and what they love. If it were not for the effort of MNS volunteers and activists 10 - 11 years ago in getting the general Malaysian population passionate about the issue of bird migration, important bird areas and wildlife habitats, the Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve would have been bulldozed in the 1990s to make way for wilderness-style resorts and chalets.

A natural-history approach to travel helps generate publicity for worthy causes, income for local communities and support for conservation initiatives. If it weren't for the number of people who have been awed, humbled and moved by the phenomena of raptor migration, the birds of prey would have lost a critical resting place in their perilous journey back to their nesting grounds.

For the past 3 years, I have been volunteering for Raptor Watch mostly as the Coordinator of the Green Living booth. This year, as Lillian is away on maternity leave and Cindy has been appointed the Coordinator of the Green Living SIG, I am free to do what I love best -- public speaking. I had offered to be on the Raptor Watch committee and had cheerfully assumed 3 roles this year, namely:

1. As the emcee;
2. To set up, manage and guide new volunteers to operate the Green Living booth;
3. To organise, conduct and train volunteers to assist in the Raptor Watch Fun Challenge, a treasure-hunt-cum-Eco-IQ-test that I designed to replace the Lighthouse Run.

The photos below attest to the wonderful weekend we had as Raptor Watch volunteers. Although the turnout this year was not as good as last year's, we saw some improvements made this year, which included the setting up of a water refilling station (to eliminate the need for disposable drinking water bottles), the availability of vegetarian food and a marked reduction in waste generated as a whole. I will be there at the Event Post Mortem to provide feedback on what had gone right with the event, and what areas need improvement. And I trust my comments, as always, will be viewed as being fair, objective and constructive.

My buddies John S., Pikwun and Carol attending to the Bird Stencilling activity at the MNS Bird Group’s activity booth. The Bird Group managed to recruit many new participants for the MY Garden Birdwatch Project that weekend.

The excitement at the event grounds was palpable when the raptors started coming in on thermals over Ilham Resort on Saturday morning.

Here I am announcing the arrival of the raptors and giving basic pointers on how to identify birds.

Oriental Honey Buzzards soaring in on thermals. Photo courtesy of Kim Seng.

When your binoculars aren’t powerful enough to spot distant birds, it’s time to gravitate towards the digiscopes at the Nikon booth.

Do-It-Yourself simple bird crafts at the booth of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.

Squeee! Adorable stickers featuring Philippine birds, both common and endemic, at the booth of the Wild Bird Club.

A photographic display on the common birds of Malaysian parks and gardens. How many have you spotted in their natural environment?

A young family tries its hand at the Raptor Migration Board Game.

Stri-i-i-i-ke! Keeping it real at coconut bowling!

Limbo rockers galore! How lo-o-o-ow can you go?

Veshalini and Tushalini play the Water Conservation Board Game at our Green Living activity booth.

My buddy Ilyas on nature guiding duty.

My buddy Cindy leads her participants on a Seashore Walk.

My buddy Captain Azmi and me. He does look fearsome with his painted face, doesn’t he?

Rhizophora in the coastal mangrove forest. See how their stilt roots allow the trees to respire even in high tide.

My buddy Hurnain conducting the Marine/Mangrove Walk.

My buddies Mary Therese and Vegan Eugene came in second in the Raptor Watch Fun Challenge. I had prepared 10 rhyming riddles on items from nature that could be found in Tanjung Tuan. Participants had to solve the riddles, take photographs of the items they believe are alluded to in the riddles and complete 3 eco-challenges.

Meranti Tembaga (Shorea leprosula) trees in the Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve.
The Shorea leprosula is a valuable rainforest hardwood in the Dipterocarpaeceae family. The resin from the Shorea is also used in the making of incense, essential oils and ointment for the treatment of skin conditions.

Pasupathy conducts the final Forest Walk of the day for the benefit of volunteers who were too busy over the weekend and did not have the opportunity to go on the walks. Here we are looking at the various stages of decomposition in a rotten log.

An unusual sight -- 3 trees appear to be intertwined at the top. What has happened here is that a parasitic ficus plant has sent out its roots from the top of the host tree and has overtaken the host tree in size and height. The dying host tree is the one on the left.

Although ficus plants have chlorophyll and make their own food, they are considered parasites because they compete with host trees for sunlight and nutrients.

The Cape Rachado Lighthouse is the country's oldest lighthouse, with a history allegedly dating back to the 16th century during the Portuguese rule. The current structure was constructed in 1863, during Melaka's status as a British-ruled Straits Settlement. As the lighthouse is enclosed within a protected forest reserve, it has become an ideal location for birdwatching.

Cape Rachado Lighthouse in the fading daylight.

The dimming evening light seen through the leaves of the Macaranga plant at the Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve.

The Macaranga gigantea (Local name: Mahang Telinga Gajah) is a recoloniser that grows in secondary growths and cleared land. All Macaranga plants are hosts to ant colonies. The ants and the plants have a symbiotic relationship in that the Macaranga provides the ants with nutrients and nesting space, while the ants clip away at creepers, climbers and other invasive plant species that may threaten the Macaranga's survival. If ants and plants can get along, why can't we?

Group photo of the volunteers on Sunday evening.

Goodbye and see you at Raptor Watch 2011!