Friday, 24 September 2010

Mud Baths and Macarangas at the Raja Musa Peatland Forest

One of the Facebook groups that I belong to, Eco Warriors, has been working together with the Global Environment Centre (GEC) for over a year to rehabilitate the Raja Musa Forest Reserve, an illegally-cleared peatland forest further depleted by slash-and-burn farming and oil palm cultivation. I had wanted to participate in one of their monthly tree-planting programmes for a long time, but could not find the time to do so, due to all my other commitments with the SPCA and MNS.

A little determination and a great deal of time management made my wish of planting trees alongside other volunteers come true last Saturday, 18th September 2010. With three friends – Mohala, Marvin and Amirah Nadia – in tow, I guided the Battletank along country roads in Kuala Selangor and Batang Berjuntai to the tree-planting site.

Our journey was by no means a direct one. My dubious navigation skills took us almost to Dengkil. My ever-patient buddies did not complain, however, and kept up a lively conversation in the car.

“Wow, there aren’t any trees at all, and I can’t see a single fruit tree”, exclaimed Nadia, as we drove past the Selangor Fruits Valley. A more barren piece of land has never been seen. The hills were denuded and it would take someone with a vivid imagination to believe that the said valley had anything to do with fruits.

“The fruits can only be seen by the intelligent and the wise”, Marvin averred, affecting a wise and stentorian tone. “Over there, there are Watermelons of Wisdom. Can you see them? And here we have Intellectual Coconuts, and Oranges of Intelligence.”

“I see them! I see them!” the rest of us squealed, playing along. I am glad that the sanity of my friends is as questionable as mine.

Several hundred wrong turns later (which made me question my decision to sign up for the next season of Amazing Race Asia), we finally arrived at the road leading to the Raja Musa Forest Reserve. We exited from the Battletank with relief, thankful that our gratuitous vehicular emission of CO2 has finally come to an end, only to be struck by how dreadfully hot and dusty it was outside. The sun rained mercilessly on our heads and backs as we trekked the 1km route to the planting site.

Mohala, who has attended a tree-planting session before, informed me that most of the trees planted would be macarangas supplied by the forestry department. “I came all the way here to plant recolonisers like macarangas?” I asked, indignant. “Pshaw, you can have macarangas aplenty at the Kota Damansara Community Forest! What’s the point of planting macarangas? They are short-lived and have no economic value!”

“Well, that means we won’t have to worry about illegal tree-felling and tree theft,” Mo replied. “Besides, the soil is so waterlogged and depleted that not much else can grow there”.

“If I had my way, I would grow tualang, meranti, kapur and jati. Big-ass majestic trees!” I enthused.
“Yes! Definitely tualang, we’ll attract bees galore! And cengal and meranti tembaga that will remain standing for generations!” affirmed Mo.
Our hunger and thirst got the better of us, and the conversation took a different turn.
“I’d grow mangosteen, mangoes and ciku”, I said.
“I’ll grow rambutans and duku -- real duku, with hard skin, not the strange stuff trucked over here from Thailand” Mo said.
Our thirst and hunger raged unabated.

It was a hot and dusty walk to the tree-planting site, and I sang to lift the morale of my weary troops: “It’s a long way, to Raja Musa! It’s a long way, to Macaranga!

Wild fennel grew along the dirt track to the tree-planting site. Mo spotted a snake in the cool grass under the fennel stalks. It was a beautiful but coy reptile, with iridescent keels that shone and sparkled in the sunlight like polished jewels. “A Paradise Tree Snake”, I whispered reverently. “I’ve always wanted to see one in the wild”. Mountain Man Marvin noted that he has seen quite a number of paradise tree snakes in the jungles and on the farm where he grew up. Mo and I envied his good fortune. City Girl Nadia lagged far behind, nervous at the idea of meeting a snake which isn’t in an enclosure.

We finally arrived at the tent where we could refill our water bottles and leave our things for safekeeping. Now it would only be a 50-metre walk to the site.

But first, we had to cross a dodgy-looking coconut trunk bridge over a stream that oozed, rather than trickled, with black gunk. This looked suspiciously like one of the challenges in Takeshi’s Castle. Marvin fairly strolled across, but Nadia’s nervous hops and leaps almost tipped her headlong into the opaque and almost certainly toxic oil palm plantation runoffs.

Hello there, Petri! We were full of admiration for my friend Petri’s WWII army hat. It doesn’t look as though the hat could do a good job of keeping him cool, but it sure made him stand out in the crowd!

Over 90 volunteers, included a busload of Girl Guides and Interact Club members from SMK Assunta, planted a total of 2,000 trees that morning. We had to unload the saplings from the truck, rip the plastic bags open, dig holes in rows in the peat swamp and plant the saplings.

My friends and I each planted 15 – 25 trees. Since we arrived late, we soon ran out of cleared land and organised plots to plant our saplings in. I began pulling out weeds furiously to clear new spaces for my friends to plant our saplings in. The weeds came out easily as the soil was boggy and soft. Our shovels went into the fudge-like peat with satisfying ease, and we scooped the rich peat out and put our spindly saplings into the ground. The peat soil smelt earthy and damp. It was good to work together with friends, despite the heat and the relentless biting and stinging of unidentified insects.

We didn’t quite leave the Raja Musa Peat Swamp Forest unscathed. I had been foolish enough to wear shorts and my legs were full of cuts and grazes. Marvin let me wear his cowboy hat to prevent heat exhaustion. Nadia fell, or rather, slid, into the mud and had to scrabble around in the mud for her missing shoe. Here she is, with the recovered shoe. Mo is the only one who didn’t look as though she had been at the frontline of a battle. Marvin found a pigeon feather and stuck it in his hat but refused to let us take a photo of him. “Wonderful, Marv,” I praised. “Now you will be imbued with the grace, tenacity and pooping power of the Common Rock Pigeon!”

We were among the last to leave and I dragged along a biodegradable bin bag full of litter that we had picked up along the way. We made a few new friends among the other volunteers, including several from the local Sathya Sai Baba Centre, and waved our new friends goodbye. We were positively dirty, muddy and foul-smelling by the time we arrived at the Battletank.

I drove us to a fuel station where we could clean up, and then we stopped by a roadside restaurant at Mo’s recommendation and had a hearty brunch of Indian food and iced lemon tea. I decided that we still needed proper showers and drove us all to the PLUS Highway Rest Area where we showered, changed our clothes and had A&W root beer floats and felt much better after that.

I dropped my exhausted and drowsy friends off at the LRT station after they declined my invitation for a cendol under the trees and headed home.

It has been another brilliant weekend, and we look forward to assisting the GEC in their future projects. Among GEC’s objectives are the rehabilitation and sustainable use of peatland forests, the promotion of integrated management of biodiversity and water resources, focusing on community involvement and biodiversity conservation, and bringing local communities, corporations, governmental agencies and environmental organisations together to collaborate in environmental projects.

My friends and I feel privileged to be afforded the opportunity to further such worthy causes, never mind my initial apprehension about planting macarangas. For more information about the GEC, please contact/visit:
Global Environment Centre
Global Environment Centre
2nd Floor, Wisma Hing
78, Jalan SS2/72
47300 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor Darul Ehsan


Friday, 17 September 2010

A Pictorial Narrative of Recent Festivities

The past two weeks have been filled with festive revelry, community events, volunteer work in the company of good friends old and new and a spot of crazy weather.

I had given the Maternity Kennel dogs baths and tick treatment on 5th Sept 2010, and the dogs saw it fit to thank me with licks and wet nose nudges.

New volunteer Leonard proved to be of valuable assistance and excellent company. See how loving he is to the Mama Dog here!

Mother Nature unleashed her fury upon our low-lying office on 8th September 2010. This is partly due to the fact that the ongoing renovations had affected drainage and flow in the rain gutters and drain system, and the water level rose rapidly after two hours of continuous rain.

I went out for a Subway lunch with my buddies, Harvinder, Nazim and Marvin, as our office canteen operators were still on festive vacation.

I spent the first day of Raya in the warm and hospitable company of Pak Idrus' family members. Here I am having an animated conversation with Pak Idrus' daughter, Lin. Thank you, Pak Idrus, Makcik and Lin, for actually preparing vegetarian dishes! I had four cupcakes but fortunately burned most of the carbohydrates off cleaning the SPCA animal shelter in the evening.

I spent the morning of the 2nd day of Raya bathing and tickwashing dogs at the SPCA. Terrific Tweens Emma (age 12 - 13) and Euan (age around 10-11) were simply amazing and worked 3 - 4 hours by my side without stopping. Here they are, shampooing one of the dogs. We had bathed and administered tick treatment to 28 dogs from the Pounds and Kennels E & F by noon. I think the youngsters deserve medals!

How good to see you again, my friend! A dear friend, Roli, makes an unexpected visit to the shelter, which sent the dogs into frenzies of delight. Roli is a big-hearted volunteer who is excellent at socialising and training dogs, especially nervous animals and new arrivals.

A shower and a change of clothes later, I turn up, like a bad penny, for a Raya lunch at the home of a friend and colleague, Amalina. Here we are after a lovely meal, demanding the sacrifice of one of the cakes we brought.

11th Sept was also Vinayagar Chaturthi. I went back to the parental home to take the parents to the Sri Veerakathy Vinayagar Temple in town to pay homage to Lord Ganesha and seek blessings. However, it was a very noisy occasion marred by the setting off of fireworks. To me, Vinayagar Chaturthi should be a day of prayer and meditation, not for ostentation and glitz.

Malaysia Day was finally declared a public holiday this year. On Sept 16, we commemorate the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Civic-minded individuals and groups got together to organise a Malaysia Day Street Party at Bangkung Row, Bangsar. The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor were invited to set up booths, and I turned up both as a volunteer and a celebrant.

Talented youngsters from Rumah Nur Salam took the stage during the Malaysia Day celebrations and performed a rousing street dance number.

Lanterns forming a stylised version of the words "MALAYSIAKU" (i.e. "My Malaysia") illuminate the street at Bangkung Row. May the celebrations light the way to greater social, environmental and economic justice for all. Happy Malaysia Day, my friends!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

My "No Impact Week" Experiment (Part 2)

(Continued from previous post)

Day 5: Energy
(Thursday, 2nd September 2010)

Energy Efficiency: For a cleaner, safer future!

I participated in CETDEM's Home Energy Audit project years ago, and continue to carry with me many of the lessons I learned during the project duration, and have since conducted energy audit for various other organisations.

Our energy use at the bachelor pad is slightly below average at RM50.00 - 60.00 a month (less than 400 KWH) for the 3 of us. The housemates watch about 1 -2 hours of television or use their computer for about 1-2 hours a day (not that it is something within my control), while I don't watch TV and use my HP Mini for about 1-2 hours a day if there is any non-profit volunteer work (drafting/reviewing/correspondence) or paid freelance work (editing/drafting/translating) to be done. The housemates and I practice using a common area (the dining/study area) for watching vids, using the computer, reading, socialising and napping, so only one light and one fan needs to be switched on at any given time. Also, we purchase only reputable brands of electrical appliances with energy star ratings, do not buy unnecessary electrical appliances and gadgets, maintain appliances in good working order (especially important for fans and refrigerators) and switch off appliances after use. Therefore, the most energy-consuming appliance in the house right now is our refrigerator.

The pre-Falklands War refrigerator unit we used to have at our bachelor pad had a rubber seal so leaky that we probably ended up refrigerating the whole street. When we finally replaced it, our electricity bill went down by a whopping 30-40%!

Now we keep the current appropriately-sized, energy-saving one running smoothly by:
1. Not refrigerating hot foods or exposed liquids (both of which will make the condenser work harder);
2. Keeping the cooling coils clean and dust-free;
3. Positioning the refrigerator away from heat sources and direct sunlight;
4. Keeping the freezer stocked with bottles of water (which can be used as ice packs and impromptu air-conditioners -- stand two bottles up and let a table fan blow air in between the cold bottles.) Filling the freezer helps maintain the temperature as there will be less empty space and circulating air to be chilled;
5. Removing frost from the freezer manually, as the auto-defrost function consumes a lot of energy;
6. Keeping the fridge clean and not overstocked to the point that the door seal cannot close tightly;
7. Opening the fridge door with care (i.e. one hand on the door handle and the other hand on the fridge unit itself) to reduce wear-and-tear on the rubber seal, which was what did the old fridge in.

Upon evaluation, my highest energy use appears to be at the office, not at home. Therefore, in order to reduce the amount of time I spend on the computer at work and hence reduce energy consumption and carbon emission, I made a resolution a month ago to increase productivity at work so that I can leave earlier. Here are the steps I took to reduce computer and energy use at work:
1. Reset the monitor to go into sleep mode after 3 minutes of inactivity.
2. Shut down entirely if leaving my desk for over 1 hour.
3. Refrain from internet use during work hours.
4. Limit myself to only 2 hours of absolutely necessary internet use (for research) at work.
5. Stay focused and complete my daily work on time.

I have so far managed to reduce the number of hours I spend at work from 12 hours a day to 10 hours a day. My future goal would be to clear my backlog so I can further reduce my work hours to 8 hours a day.

I do my personal work on my HP Mini Netbook instead, as it is far more energy efficient than a desktop unit.
(Average watts per hour: Off - 0.57. Sleep - 0.69. Idle - 6.93. Load - 13.57. Raw kWh, 24.72.)

My future plans to further reduce home energy use would be to install solar outdoor lights so we won't have to leave the porch light on after dark.

Day 6: Water
(Friday, 3rd September 2010)

My housemates and I haven't had to pay anything for our home water use since the March 2008 General Elections, since we use less than 20 cubic metres (2,000 litres) of water a month and are therefore subsidised by the Selangor State Government.

For someone who is as fastidious about cleanliness as I am, how did I keep our water use so low? Here is an overview of my water footprint:

1. Each shower on average uses only 2.5 litres of water! I found out by standing in a pail and collecting the water used during a 5-minute shower. 3 showers a day x 2.5 litres = Only 7.5 litres a day, which is less than what an average bathroom cistern would use in a single flush.

2. I filled empty glass coffee jars (we don't have many plastic bottles lying around the house) with pebbles and water and used them as bathroom cistern water displacement devices, so that each flush uses 600-700g less water than it would have.

3. "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" is just too disgusting for words. Instead, I collect the soapy water from cleaning the house, washing sneakers/rugs/whatever and showering and use it for flushing the toilet with. No odours, no unsightly stains in the toilet, and no compromise on toilet hygiene.

4. The aforementioned soapy water collected from previous uses is also used for cleaning cat litter trays, the driveway and the drains. Clean water is only used for rinsing if necessary. Using clean water to flush toilets and drains seems such a waste, especially since so many countries are experiencing freshwater shortage.

5. Rainwater is collected and reused for outdoor cleaning, watering the plants and washing the Battletank.

6. I use only biodegradable and phosphate-free soap and cleaning agents. This means less water is needed for rinsing, as there is less toxic residue.

7. I have to do my laundry only once in 8-10 days, as I opt for clothes made of lighter materials. In addition, I use only biodegradable and phosphate & branched alkyl-benzene sulphanate-free laundry detergent, and further reduce the amount of detergent needed by using a laundry eco-ball, so less harm is caused to our waterways and groundwater supply. I make my own laundry spray using colourless eco-friendly dishwashing liquid and a few drops of tea tree oil. The eco-ball also eliminates the need for fabric softener, thus reducing consumption, packaging and waste.

8. When cleaning the house, I sweep up and dump the sweepings in the compost heap before mopping the floor or cleaning the driveway. This reduces the amount of water and cleaning solution needed in the cleaning process. It might be a little cumbersome, but one gets used to it quickly, and it's good cardio exercise.

9. Outside of the home, when I am bathing the dogs at the SPCA, I turn the water on only for rinsing; use a sponge, spray bottle or a dipping pail when applying tickwash (to prevent toxic runoffs); and sweep up and dispose of waste before cleaning the kennels. I advise all the other volunteers never to use a stream of running water from the hose to 'sweep' the floor -- always use a broom and dustpan instead, then swab all areas using a mop and pail of soap and disinfectant, and use a plastic broom to sweep away the water when rinsing/hosing down to speed up the process and avoid water wastage.

My home water conservation plans for the future would be to install a proper rainwater harvesting system and to replace the old washing machine with an energy-efficient, water-saving model.

Day 7: Giving Back
(Saturday, 4th September 2010)

The "No Impact Week" participants' manual urges us to assess where we are on this ladder, the highest rung of which has the highest impact on society and the environment, in descending order:

Where are you on this pyramid?

Career: Work for a non-profit.

Leader: Run an ongoing project.

Weekly: Donate time to more than one project.

Monthly: Volunteer.

Annually: Write a cheque.

I am on rungs 1, 2 and 3.

Career: I left a career in legal practice to work full-time for a humanitarian organisation and have never been happier.

Leader: I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor Branch and Senior Volunteer/Volunteer Coordinator of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor. I also continue to coordinate most of the activities for Green Living and Eco Kids, including environmental outreach programmes for underprivileged children. Also, I set up and run Project Second Chance, a personal initiative to rescue, rehabilitate, vaccinate, neuter and rehome stray and vulnerable animals.

Weekly: I volunteer with the SPCA animal shelter for a minimum of 4 hours almost every weekend and assist in supervising and training new volunteers. I also volunteer with the Malaysian Nature Society on an as-needed basis, usually 2-3 times a month. I assist other organisations such as CETDEM, Waterfall Survivors and Bentong Farm Sanctuary on an as-needed basis and am also looking into volunteering with the Global Environment Centre and a community recycling programme on a monthly basis.

Day 8: Eco-Sabbath
(Sunday, 5th September 2010)

For the No Impact Week Experiment, we are encouraged to plan our day of rest in such a way that we don't use any of our appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money. This is a rather difficult challenge for me as my weekend routine is that I go back to the parental home every Saturday night and spend Sunday cleaning my parents' house, doing yard work and bathing our dogs, Amber and Chocky.

I am not sure if my efforts to cook simple, healthy meals at home instead of taking my parents out to eat will be appreciated as I am vegetarian and they are not, therefore I will just endeavour to use as little electricity as possible and avoid driving on Sundays.

While personal action may not always equal political change, it does have value. Personal action completes and complements political and public action. When there are enough people taking personal action, it sends out a clear message against exploitative and destructive systems, and lets lawmakers, businesses and service providers know what we want. Also, the idea behind a low-carbon, low-impact lifestyle is not that the world is better off without us, or that living an environmentally responsible lifestyle would necessarily entail many sacrifices, but that our act of choosing a lower-impact lifestyle and products is also a form of voting -- with our money, our time and our resources.

"No Impact Week" is not about giving participants a false sense of moral superiority. It's not about doing 'too little, too late' when the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It is about exploring and experiencing choices and possible solutions. It is about reclaiming our quality of life and mitigating our sense of helplessness in the face of environmental problems. It is about integrity. It is about making sure one's actions and decisions reflect one's environmental values. It's about doing what you know to be the right thing, whether or not someone else is watching or keeping count, whether or not the other 99.99% of the population is following suit.

We may be calling it "No Impact Week", but it is a week with great impact indeed.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My "No Impact Week" Experiment (Part 1)

Although “No Impact Week” officially started on Sunday, 29th August, I commenced my week-long experiment in taking personal environmental action a day early to make a concession for Tuesday, on which I had to drive to the Bentong Farm Sanctuary.

Day 1: Consumption
(Saturday, 28th August 2010)

I am a reasonably mindful consumer and I usually only ever shop for essentials and groceries. Others might practice the 30-Day Rule or an annual Buy Nothing Day; I practice the 364-Day Rule and a bi-weekly Buy Nothing Day. I reduce and reuse to the point that I rarely ever contribute to the recycling bags in my bachelor pad anymore. Most of the items on my grocery list are locally grown or produced, and have minimal packaging. I do most of my shopping at the neighbourhood organic shop or the weekend night market after volunteering at the SPCA, as the night market traders are more amenable to my using my own shopping bags and food containers, and fresh produce at the night markets are not packed in plastic bags or foam trays.

I’ve done my shopping for the week and have enough fresh produce to last me a week.

I buy my bread from the organic grain shop within walking distance of my bachelor pad. The low GI organic multi-seed loaf I purchased was produced in Puchong.

My purchases for the week. Of course, the agar-agar mooncakes on the far left were completely unnecessary purchases, but I figured life’s not worth living if you’re not allowed the occasional dessert.

As per the instructions on the “No Impact Week” participants’ manual , I had collected all my trash from Day 1, which naturally leads us to Trash, the topic for Day 2.

Day 2: Trash
(Sunday, 29th August 2010)

The instructions I received were to collect all my trash from Day 1 and separate them into 2 piles: stuff that I used for more than ten minutes, and stuff you used for less than ten minutes, but none of my trash could fit into the 2 categories. I had nothing to recycle either as I did not accept, use or dispose of any packaging at all on Saturday.

We take our trash out only once a week nowadays, and over 80% of it consists of used kitty litter, as we have 6 cats at home. It would go against good taste to post a photo of what I had to throw away, so I’ll post a photo of a bag of shredded paper instead.

I use shredded paper for kitty litter for the following reasons:
(i) Alam Flora no longer collects the shredded paper from my office due to its low scrap value and lack of long fibres needed in recycled paper, so the shredded paper would have ended up in the trash if I didn’t take it.
(ii) Shredded paper is non-toxic, biodegradable, does not come in packaging, does not have to be transported to the stores using any vehicles running on fossil fuel and is lighter and therefore costs less to transport and dispose of.
(iii) Paper isn’t as good as covering smells as clay litter, so to eliminate the smell, I clean the litter trays twice a day and wash the trays with soapy water left over from washing my shoes/rugs/other items. I also sprinkle Arm & Hammer baking soda on the litter to eliminate odours.

My future plans are to acquire and install a Green Cone composting system, which, unfortunately, is not yet available in Malaysia, but if it were, it would help reduce my garbage by over 80% as the device retains sufficient solar heat to kill the bacteria in pet waste, thus making it a safe way of disposing of pet waste.

The rest of my rubbish for Saturday consisted mostly of fruit and vegetable peel...

... which goes directly into my compost heap.

The only non-compostable waste I generated consisted of 2 nougat wrappers, a sweet wrapper and the paper wrapping and bamboo ice lolly stick from an "ice cream potong" (i.e. Asian ice lolly). I suppose I could compost the bamboo stick, although it would probably take years to disintegrate.

The alternatives to dealing with 3 miserable sweet wrappers would be to:
(i) Give up confectionery altogether: But where's the joy in living without the occasional sweet?
(ii) Make my own packaging-free sweets: After which I would be too huge to fit in the door, and would have to break down a wall so I could enter my own home.
I believe in having all things in moderation, and sweets are no exception, although it would be good for me to:
(i) Reduce consumption of sweets and non-essential food items;
(ii) Choose sweets that come in minimal or biodegradable packaging (e.g. Mentos or Polos instead of individually-wrapped sweets); and
(iii) Lobby manufacturers to reduce packaging or switch to biodegradable packaging.

Day 3: Transportation
(Monday, 30th August 2010)

My Battletank has been retrofitted to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for greater savings and fuel economy, and because CNG vehicles, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have the following advantages over petrol ones:
* they reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 90-97%;
* they reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%;
* they reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 35-60%;
* they potentially reduce non-methane hydrocarbon emissions by 50-75%
* they emit fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants;
* they emit little or no particulate matter; and
* they eliminate evaporative emissions.

Although there are arguments that choosing one fossil fuel over another is only delaying the solution (of finding cleaner, renewable, alternative fuels), alternatives are practically non-existent. Hydrogen fuel cell and compressed air vehicles are not yet on the market and public transport is largely unavailable at my workplace. No colleagues live close by enough to make carpooling and ride sharing a practical option.

On average, I drive a total of 274 km each week.
(To the office: 16km each way x 5 days a week = 160 km;
To the SPCA: 22 km each way x once a week = 44km; and
To the parental home: 35 km each way x once a week = 70 km)
All my shopping and other errands are carried out within the same route as the aforementioned 3 destinations, so the fuel miles I travel rarely exceed the calculation above.

Just for No Impact Week, I made an attempt to take public transport to work for 3 days, at great risk of life and limb. I had to cross one busy highway and several busy intersections to get to my office from the nearest monorail station. I was late to work and so covered with perspiration, grime and exhaust soot when I arrived that I must have looked like the Tar Baby in the Brer Rabbit story. There were no pedestrian crossings. The road shoulders and pavements were so narrow that I practically had to grip the edge of the curb with my toes -- arms flailing and windmilling wildly while each passing vehicle shaved a millimetre of skin off my stomach.

My office does provide a shuttle van service to the KL Sentral Transport Terminal for interns and interpreters every evening at 1700 hrs, but not in the mornings. If enough of us in the Staff Council are willing to lobby for a pick-up service in the morning (the van would, after all, have to make only one more trip each day), I would be motivated to manage my schedule in such a way that I am able to take public transport to work 3 times a week for environmental reasons, although it is much cheaper for me to drive on CNG fuel.

However, I believe the way to a cleaner, greener future isn't in compelling people to opt for public transport that is often unavailable or unreliable. It isn't in making cyclists and pedestrians out of all of us, not when it can often be unsafe or impractical to do so. Not everyone has a job that allows for working from home or telecommuting. It is not always convenient or practical to opt for non-motorised travel or public transport, and most people opt for private vehicle ownership because it affords them safety, flexibility and freedom. Green transport options should not cost the people their safety, flexibility and freedom. I believe that all the recommended actions can only complement the biggest challenge faced by our generation -- that of finding sustainable and renewable alternative fuels, and of making it available to all consumers through retrofitting and through laws, subsidies and tax relief. Governments should invest more in alternative fuel research than in constructing more highways. We need more efficient catalytic converters that won't end up belching laughing gas into the atmosphere. We need the legislation and technology to enable car owners to retrofit their vehicles with hybrid electric power, without having to go out and buy a Prius. We need non-fossil fuels that are more than just greenwash to shore up the price of failing agricultural commodities. The issue of green travel must be addressed with wisdom and consideration for the safety, needs and occupational requirements of all strata of society.

Day 4: Food
(Wednesday, 1st September 2010)

I compiled a food list of the food I ate the last 4 days in order to calculate my carbon "foodprint". Most of the grains and fresh produce I consume are locally grown (in Kajang, Semenyih, Sg. Buloh, Banting and Cameron Highlands) within 250 miles of where I live.

I bring my food to work in reusable lunch boxes, thus eliminating the need for packaging. Being vegetarian, I have also made the choice to consume fruit and vegetables in their least processed form, thus reducing fuel and energy use. I have also managed to replace imported fruits such as apples and pears with local seasonal fruits such as guava, papaya, bananas and dragonfruit, and purchase organic produce whenever possible.

I have mostly eliminated some of my favourite processed foods, including high-sodium and heavily packaged instant meals such as Aloo Gobi, curried spinach and curried chickpeas. Nowadays, I dine in at vegetarian Indian restaurants, and reserve instant meals for when I am travelling to places where vegetarian food is likely to be unavailable.

Following "No Impact Week", I have resolved to reduce/eliminate these 5 items from my food list:
(i) Red Bull, because I am just paying for fuel cost, packaging and artificial flavours and additives. (ii) Nachos and potato chips, because of the fuel miles they have to travel and they are packaged in non-recyclable plastic packets.
(iii) French fries, because potatoes are not locally grown and it's another one of those highly processed junk foods that I should be eating less of anyway.
(iv) Cheese - this is something I need to reduce as cheese production is incredibly energy intensive compared to just drinking powdered or fresh milk.
(v) Sweets: Refer to sub-post on Trash above.

(...To be continued in Part 2)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Take me home, Country Road

"I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright."
~Henry David Thoreau

My friends and I celebrated Malaysia's 53rd National Day by spending the day at the Bentong Farm Sanctuary. I had given Shahrul and Jorg the assurance that I would be sending some pet supplies and animal food over, and had invited some friends along to help with bathing and tick-washing the dogs.

Marvin, Priya and Yen hopped into the Battletank with glee, Sasha agreed to help transport the goodies, while Teckwyn, Cindy and Cerys came in their own little car.

"Hello, here we are! Can you let us in, please?"

The farm dogs were thrilled to have the company of so many people, and could smell the treats we brought!

It's good to bathe the dogs while the sun is out. I apply tick shampoo while Sasha helps to rinse Dear Doggie off.

Shahrul sponges down Choclit with Tactick EC solution.

Sri Devi, the sociable yellow dog, waits patiently while Marvin and Priya hose her down.

Yen bathes Karuppi, a former SPCA dog who was going to be euthanised because she is black and unlikely to find a new home.

We're off to see the goats and make them an offering of sweet juicy carrots!

A veritable tongue-twister! This adorable cow loves rambutans and would eat them, hairy peel and all!

A carrot emerges from between the bars of the pen, and Mama Goat nibbles daintily on the unexpected treat. Baby Goat seems to prefer locally grown, seasonal greens.

"Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are.

It's time to feed the chickens. The chickens seem to love pecking on the carrots, too.

How many friends can you fit into the back of a pickup truck? Not as many as your heart could hold!

The dogs ran after the truck, tongues lolling, tails wagging, and though we feared for their safety, they seemed all the happier for the exercise.

It started to rain while we were feeding the ducks and geese.

Brownie the former stray dog seemed to think it was a pity that we were fattening up ducks that would never be eaten, and decided to help himself to one. We managed to stop him from catching any ducks, though.

Rain worshippers in their element!

No weather is so extreme that you can't enjoy a soak in an icy-cold stream.

Time for a feast of durians and rambutans after we come in from the rain!

The sun came back out and warmed up the earth by late afternoon. The chickens were happy to scratch for worms in the sodden ground.

We found Cerys enjoying the company of Adik in Jorg's pickup after the rain. It was probably warmer and cosier inside the truck cab than outside.

After a shower and a change of clothes, the friendly and hospitable farm hands treated us to a feast of Indian vegetarian food and brewed black coffee, which warmed us thoroughly.

... And off to the tortoise pond we go.

The tortoises paddled towards us in their happy placid way to accept the food we brought them.

Shahrul and Jorg's cat shelter had different levels to allow the cats to climb, hide and play.

These puppies were rescued from the DBKL (City Hall) pounds. 3 out of 5 had died of distemper, and so the remaining 2 had to be put in quarantine. I wish people would stop "rescuing" animals and sending them to shelters without vaccinating, deworming, deticking and neutering them, as this puts other animals at risk.

Nobody felt like going back to the city and returning to work after the enchanting day we had at the farm.

Shahrul declared that it was the best Merdeka she has ever had and asked us to come back soon. We all agreed that it was the best National Day celebrations we have ever experienced, far from the madding crowd of the city.

For what is independence and liberty, if not the freedom of assembly and association; the opportunity to make new friends and the privilege of having companion animals without the interference of the State? What is the essence of nationhood and good citizenship, if not the right to a clean and unpolluted natural environment, the pleasure of working in harmony with the Planet, the simple joy of connecting and communicating with animals and nature, and the pride of doing and accomplishing something good with one's friends, regardless of faith and ethnicity? And so on behalf of all the animals, people and plants at, and the friends of, Bentong Farm Sancutary, we wish you a Happy National Day and a pleasant week ahead.

(All photo credits: Marvin and Yen)