Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Lazy Saturday at the Bentong Farm Sanctuary

I had been so preoccupied with my commitments at work and with SPCA Selangor, the Malaysian Nature Society, and PT Foundation that I have been quite remiss in my responsibilities to Bentong Farm Sanctuary since our last visit there on August 31.

I finally had the good sense to call Shahrul sometime in October to determine if they needed any help in engaging veterinary services. Shahrul informed me that thanks to the goodwill of Noah's Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary (NANAS), a team would be going to the Sanctuary on November 27 to carry out spaying and neutering of the cats and dogs at the Sanctuary. However, the Sanctuary was experiencing a shortage of cat and dog food. I apologised for not having visited in 2 months and informed her that I would be bringing friends and donations of pet food and supplies over to the Sanctuary on November 20.

And so on the morning of November 20, I gathered a troop of 7 friends (to be met later at the Sanctuary by a troop of another 7-8 friends) and we made our merry way to Bentong to spend time with Shahrul, Jorg and the animals.

It's good to be welcomed back to this quaint little town and the animal sanctuary that now has such an important place in my life.

We were escorted all the way in to the main building in Sanctuary by the dogs, who must have known that we were bringing them lots of food and goodies!

We unloaded hundreds of kilogrammes of pet food, human food (rice, canned food and other dry goods), pet supplies and veterinary supplements, much to Shahrul and Jorg's delight. The generosity of our friends knows no bounds.

At my prompting, Shahrul suggested going to a lesser-known ice cream parlour in town before the ice-cream gets sold out by noon, and so off we trooped in convoy after unloading the food and supplies and greeting the animals. We were so glad that Shahrul suggested this place, Kedai Ice Cream in Jalan Loke Yew, Bentong Town, because the ice cream, being partially hand-cranked, was delicious, and so very cheap! Even my blogging pal Keats and her fellow Sunshine Lady May, being good cooks and therefore connoisseurs of fine foods, agreed that the rich, dense, old-fashioned ice cream at this shop was lovely.

I was a picture of happiness when I received my scoops of grape, peanut and pandan flavoured ice cream!

Speech was unnecessary -- Leonard's facial expression said it all! "Hands off! This is my ice cream!"

The entire bill for the 9 of us humans and the 3 dogs waiting patiently in the cab of the pickup truck for their vanilla scoops came up to only RM31.00, which made us laugh with pleasure and surprise. Shahrul insisted on giving us a treat, despite our protests. The dogs, Dolly, Adik and Sri Devi, ate their ice cream during the ride back to the Sanctuary.

Back at the Sanctuary, two puppies who were quarantined in the kitchen yelped for attention. They seemed indignant at being locked in, while all the action was taking place in the living room and outdoors.

Outside the house, a placid billy goat made a meal of the water lettuce. The raised freshwater pond must have seemed like a buffet table to the goat.

Free-roaming roosters Captain Cook (left) and Handsome (right) are such confident and happy chickens that they didn't think twice about chasing or pecking us when we ventured too far into their territory.

Despite the afternoon heat, we all decided to walk to the stream after Nancy and her troops arrived. It was a long walk, but there is something special and memorable about walking with one's friends, surrounded by nature and accompanied by dogs.

The dogs and the cows meet in a friendly face-off! Who will give way, and who will prevail?

Young timber trees greet us like silent, sturdy green sentinels. The owners and trustees of the Farm Sanctuary had the foresight to plant fruiting trees and timber saplings to make the farm self-sufficient in the years to come.

We stop by the duck pond to feed the ducks and geese. All of them seem healthy and happy, but Jorg told us that a large owl, possibly a Malay Eagle Owl or a Buffy Fish Owl, has been killing and eating some of the ducks. However, due to the principles upon which the Farm Sanctuary was founded, nobody is allowed to trap, kill or chase away the owl. Ducks are part of a carnivorous bird's food chain, and all animals, predators and prey alike, have their place in the web of life.

We finally arrive at the stream! Shahrul gets in first and is joined by her beloved dogs.

Sasha and Meena are contented to just sit by the stream and watch the dogs play.

Hitam and Uncle Dog, who are the best of friends, are joined at their shady spot by Sri Devi.

We had a very late picnic lunch under the trees, due to the fact that we were full from all the ice cream and had spent a good many hours playing in the stream and with the animals. The farmhands cooked us a lovely meal of rice, raitha, dhall, eggs and vegetables, while Nancy and her family brought sandwiches, muffins and red bean dessert, and Keats brought belinjai crackers.

It's time to tidy up and bid our friends, two-legged and four-legged, goodbye! Until we meet again, dear residents of the Bentong Farm Sanctuary, we will be missing you and thinking of you often!

(All photo credits: Leonard and Yen)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Deepavali Mixture

If you have ever been to South India, or are of South Indian heritage, you would know that 'mixture' is a stand-alone word and does not refer to cough mixture or anything as unpalatable. 'Mixture' refers to a savoury snack comprising a mix of roasted peanuts, lentils, green peas, and crispies made of corn, rice or gram flour (which is also known as 'omapodi').

I see my recent Deepavali celebrations as being quite similar to 'mixture' in a lot of ways. It was tasty, it was nutty, it was a mix of all sorts of different 'bits', it had something for everyone, and it left me wanting more.


During a recent conversation with some friends from work, we decided it would be fun to go to the cinema to watch the latest Tamil offering, 'Enthiran', starring none other than the overrated Rajnikanth. Why overrated? Well, it's true. In India, working class moviegoers deify him to the extent that they carry out milk abhishekam (i.e. libation) on his posters and cut-outs. This, in a country filled with hungry children and stray animals. I am of the opinion that the milk could have gone to better use feeding the needy.

Still, Tamil movies are always good for a laugh, especially anything with Rajnikanth in it. Rajnikanth jumps on top of the pool table and twirls a pool cue! The pool cue whirls around the room, as if by remote control, and brains the baddies, one after another, while the baddies just stand there agape, waiting to be bashed up! Rajnikanth stops a raging bull from goring a damsel in a red saree by splashing blue paint over the hapless wench, thus confusing the bull (and ruining a perfectly good saree)! Rajnikanth singlehandedly bashes up 20 thugs after they rape a working class girl! (You know someone's been raped when you see... GASP.... Broken Bangles!)

Tamil movies aren't just about bloody fights and battles, however. There's also the police-and-baddie-find-out-they-are-brothers-separated-at-birth theme. And there's also romance, and a hang of a lot of travel destination promotions.

"I love you..." the hero would croon from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
"I love you..." the heroine would coyly reply from a log cabin somewhere in the Swiss Alps. Then the hero and heroine would appear together somewhere in the vicinity of the Pyramids of Giza, and sing and dance while accompanied by a posse of backup dancers all at least one shade darker in complexion than the hero and heroine.

It was with that in mind that we got around to booking tickets to "Enthiran", a week before Deepavali.


I have discovered that most women are a lot of work and a lot of trouble to go anywhere with. Trying to make arrangements to go anywhere with women is like trying to herd cats made of jello.

A simple question: "Shall we go for Enthiran tonight?" brought forth an amazing array of responses and excuses.

"Today I can but I have to cancel my rock-climbing session."
"Today I am not properly attired to go watch a movie" (Huh?!?!)
"What do you mean by not properly attired?"
"My blouse has too many creases in it."
"I don't see any creases."
"Who's going to look at the creases in your blouse in the dark? Other people are there to watch the movie".
"Yeah but I still have to walk up the stairs, right?"
"How about you? Is tonight okay with you?"
"I can't, it's too close to Deepavali"
"How about Tuesday?"
"I have Muay Thai on Tuesday."
"Why can't you postpone it?"
"If I postpone it, I have to pay a RM50.00 penalty"
"Tuesday I can, but Wednesday I can't".
"That means today you can?"
"No, today I can't"
"Why not?"
"Cos I go home early on Fridays".
"How about Tuesdays?"
"Tuesday also not sure yet."
"Tuesday is also too close to Deepavali, I can't."
"Monday I need to go to the hairdresser's"
"Why can't you go to the hairdresser's on Tues or Wed?"
"Because Tues or Wed is too close to Deepavali".

Aaaargh! Aaaargh! Aaargh! Rajnikanth, save me!

Organising a full battle dress military tattoo with an air force show would be less troublesome and would take less time.

Ask a man: "Wanna go for Enthiran?"
And he says: "Okay, let's go."



And so, as it turned out, only Mac, Anne and I ended up watching "Enthiran" that night. Anne and I thought that the most remarkable special effects lay in how the make-up artists managed to make Rajnikanth, who must be pushing 60 if he's a day, look so young. "It's rubber latex", we ruminate. "Or spray-on silicone". "Or just Photoshop".

It turned out to be the first Tamil movie I have ever watched which had full and complete English subtitles. Even the songs had subtitles. By now I wished they hadn't, because Anne and I developed asthma attacks from laughing too hard.

Usually, when I watch Tamil or Hindi movies, the songs would be pleasantly unintelligible to me. What I normally manage to catch, with my rudimentary command of Tamil, Hindi and Punjabi, is:
"something something heart something something love something something something crazy."

However, the subtitles for the songs in "Enthiran" made me cringe, laugh and slap my forehead in disbelief.

"You are the hot wasabi in my honey..."
(Ummm.... sure sounds yummy. Not.)

"Your lips are like a sleeping zebra..."
(I can imagine what a well-received pick-up line this would be!)

"Your hips are like a toddler's chair..."
(Never underestimate the importance of child-bearing hips to an Indian man!)

"If you are a meadow, is it wrong for the tiger to graze on you?"
(No it's not forbidden, it's just against biology and common sense.)

Anne's hypothesis is that all Tamil movie songs are metaphors for sex. When the hero and heroine appear magically (and randomly) at Macchu Picchu and start singing about zebra lips and unripe fruits, you know it's a sign that the hero and heroine are getting jiggy with it at the moment.

I don't disagree with Anne, I'd just like to expand on her theory. I think Tamil movie songs are a metaphor for sex, life, the battle between good and evil, and mixture.

A Masala Picture Mixture of my Deepavali week:

Dove-peacock hybrids at a kolam I spotted at the Tropicana City Mall!

It's time to play Deepavali Santa! Goodie bags filled with cookies, snack mixes, cordials, soda and fruits on their way to being delivered to our hardworking SPCA general workers. 4 other volunteers and I decided to anonymously make these goodie bags for the workers in recognition of their hard work, their love for the animals under their care and for the fact that they have gone beyond the call of duty time and time again to help animals in grave need.

Cheerful and courageous Bravo gets a bath on Deepavali morning, in line with tradition.

Estel comes back to me for boarding while her parents travel to Tampin for Deepavali. I gave her a bath on Deepavali morning and put her pretty new collar on her.

I had a scrumptious Deepavali lunch at fellow blogger Keats' house. Keats, Vicki and I pose with Keats' folksy-looking peacock kolam and villaku oil lamps for posterity.

Keats and Ravi's handsome lab, Robbie, didn't want to be left out of things!

I went to the SPCA after lunch, as I do every Deepavali, to help the staff finish their work earlier so they could go home in time to have tea with their families on this auspicious day. I managed to bathe and tickwash all the dogs in the kennels behind the office as the dogs are well-behaved and are used to me by now. I managed to finish cleaning and disinfecting the shelter by 1830 hrs.

Glyn is back in Malaysia, and so we decided to visit the Batu Caves temple on Deepavali night, ostensibly for a spot of night photography. Glyn brought me a camouflage bush hat from the UK. As can be seen from the photos, I didn't take the hat off all night.

I was invited to my buddy Rangamal's home and made myself so comfortable that I demolished 4 thosais (That Special Someone insists that the correct spelling is 'dosa') at one sitting.

Horsing around with Karthik, a.k.a. 8-year-old football Wikipedia. Who needs Soccernet when you have a friend like Karthik?

Books that I purchased for my friend Suzanne Samy's "A Book For Me, Please" project for needy children.

I hope that your Deepavali celebrations were as full of friendship, love, laughter, joy and mixture as mine was. And so I bid you adieu.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Letter to the Editor: Plastic Bag Reduction An Important Step In Managing Waste


The Penang State Government’s move to ban plastic bags is a commendable and courageous measure, especially in light of the fact that the plastics manufacturing industry can be an aggressive pressure group. The plastics industry tries to persuade the public that the clogging of landfills and waterways with plastic waste is a result of aberrant behaviour, namely, littering, rather than an indication that plastic products cause harm to the environment and wildlife. If such is the case, then the banning and restriction of sale and use of plastic bags, polystyrene packaging, and excessive packaging of any kind will greatly reduce the opportunity for such "aberrant behaviour" to happen in the first place.

The plastics industry also attempts to argue that such a ban would result in unemployment. It is, however, unforeseeable to us that any industry, much less the plastics industry, would be so lacking in resilience and resourcefulness that it could not adapt to changes in consumer patterns and legislation and could not come up with alternative or better products to meet market demands.

Further, the plastics industry feigns concern for the environment by arguing that the solution lies in instituting more measures to recycle plastic bags and polystyrene packaging. This is in defiance of science, economics and common sense, which demonstrate that it costs more to recycle a plastic bag than to manufacture one from raw materials, that even the recycling process generates waste and pollution and consumes fuel, water and energy, and that many types of plastic products cannot be safely or feasibly recycled.

Those who oppose a plastic bag ban often raise the argument that a ban would result in the rise of carbon dioxide emissions and the destruction of trees for paper bags and other biodegradable packaging. However, the Penang State Government’s continuous public education efforts are adequate to ensure that most consumers and homeowners appreciate the importance of bringing their own shopping bags, takeaway containers and other reusable packaging, rather than demand biodegradable packaging made from paper and agricultural by-products.

As for the complaint that homeowners ‘need’ plastic bags to put their household waste in, it is suggested that they use the plastic packaging that a large number of consumer goods, such as rice, bread, pet food and toilet paper are packaged in. Ultimately, the goal of each household should be to reduce their waste through reducing, reusing and recycling resources, which in turn will result in significant financial and fuel savings, as the service of waste collectors and sanitation services could be reduced in frequency.

The State can assist such efforts by setting up more recycling collection centres in public and residential areas and establish facilities for the recycling of electronic and scheduled wastes and for the collection of organic and food waste for composting. Measures can gradually be introduced to reduce excessive packaging by industries and retailers, for example, by eliminating styrofoam trays and clingfilm packaging for fruits and vegetables and replacing these with reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. Steps could also be taken to impose a tax or implement a refundable deposit system on items such as PET drinking water bottles and aluminium cans to encourage reusing and recycling and to deter littering.

As for the issue of losing voters over the banning of plastic bags, I believe that the Penang electorate is not ignorant of or indifferent to the issues of waste management,clogging of waterways and land scarcity. Safe waste disposal in compliance with higher environmental standards does not come cheap. Rather than constructing and operating new landfills and dredging and cleaning waterways, money could be put to better use to aid and assist the community. One of the ways to address waste management and landfill shortage challenges would be to ban or restrict the use and distribution of plastic bags and other excessive, harmful or wasteful packaging.

One of the problems with recycling and waste management efforts in Malaysia is that manufacturers are not made responsible for the lifetime custody of their products. If manufacturers were made to pay for the cradle-to-grave environmental cost of their products, then ease-of-recycling would become a design criterion, and there would be greater incentives to explore closed-loop production cycles and to create products with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Unless there is a solid and predictable market for recycled materials, private firms will not invest in the facilities to recycle, and market prices for recycled commodities will fluctuate wildly. Perhaps the Penang State Government could also take the lead in welcoming investors who adhere to specific environmental standards and producer take-back measures.

The Penang State Government has validated its commitment to the environment by effecting a ban on plastic bags. Although this move may be unpopular in the beginning, it would be only a matter of time before society understands its environmental and economic advantages. Society, in general, is often initially resistant to change, but if all legislators were wary of instituting bans on environmentally harmful products, CFCs and DDT would probably still be used with wild abandon today.


Saturday, 6 November 2010

High Altitude Adventures at the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge

I have developed a taste for heights in recent months. This is partly motivated by the fact that I have determined that my document drafting and reviewing duties as a Malaysian Nature Society volunteer could only be improved by direct contact with and personal experience in environmentally-sensitive sites in need of legislative protection.

Or it could also be that the ennui of urban life and a desk job (though I don't suppose that many others would classify suicidal asylum seekers, hostile applicants, and run-ins with law enforcement bodies as a source of ennui) is making me restless for different challenges and riskier adventures.

And so on Halloween morning, I joined the MNS Pathfinders on a sunrise hike up the eastern part of the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge.

The Klang Gates Quartz Ridge (KGQR) is the longest quartz ridge in the world, spanning 14 km and soaring to 380m at its highest point. Surveys indicate that at least 265 plant species thrive in this unique ecosystem, and that 5 of these are endemic to the Quartz Ridge and are found only in a particular 'island habitat'.

Isolated vegetation at the top of the ridge differs from those in the surrounding areas. The grass-like Eulaili milsumii is a rare plant that grows only on the ridge and nowhere else in the world. Other endemic plants are small woody shrubs known taxonomically as Aleisanthia rupestris, small trees classified as llex praetermissa, the wiry herb Borreria pilulifera, and the ground herb Henckelia primulina.

A National Parks and Wildlife Department survey carried out in 1985 found the tracks of 5 rare animals, the serow, but it's anyone's guess how many are still around today.

In 1958, a retaining wall was built at the natural gap along the ridge to form the KGQR dam to hold water whilst the whole ridge acts as the foundation. Will the proposed Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR) cutting through KGQR, Selangor State Park, the forest reserves of Hulu Gombak, Ampang and Hulu Langat or any alignments affect the fragile ecosystem?

Come on a virtual hike with us to find out!

We follow the pipelines past the village at the foot of the hill.

The gradient increases as we enter the forested area. Tree roots form natural steps in the terrain.

My buddy, Doc, ascends a steep slope with the help of a rope. Many of the ropes on the trail are not well-maintained. 4 deaths have been recorded in the western side of the Ridge in recent years.

"Is it time for breakfast yet? I have Oreos in my backpack!"

The natural beauty of the Quartz Ridge and its surrounding environment is a photographer's delight.

... During the tectonic folding millions of years ago, massive buckling and faulting in the Earth's crust thrust hydrothermal quartz upwards, where they then crystalised, forming a quartz ridge.

Consisting almost entirely of quartz crystals, the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge deserves the status of a World Heritage Site due to its size and the diversity and uniqueness of flora in its vicinity.

There are major quartz veins around KL and Seremban due to the Kuala Lumpur - Mersing Fault Zone, but none are equal to the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge in size.

Exposed quartz crystals in the granite. I mentioned to Doc that these must be the capillaries of the quartz vein!

Semi-opaque quartz crystals a.k.a. silicone dioxide abound on the surface of the Ridge.

Loose quartz crystals in the palm of my hand.
Sorry Jacob, I ruined your cycling gloves!

The din and pollution of the City seemed lightyears away...

Watershed areas are protected zones. But the area is now threatened by urban development. Our forests provide vital ecosystem services, including as water catchment zones. Please help us protect and conserve the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge!

More adventure beckons over yonder! We are off to do vertical climbing with no safety equipment. Hurrah! We love living on the edge!

Up we go again. One careless step and it's curtains for you, buddy.

Photographing the photographer. Our guide, Leo, is the Coordinator of the Pathfinders and a reliable friend and compatriot.

We completed our hike within 3.5 hours and adjourned to breakfast after that. I had to attend a MYCAT (Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers) Volunteer Appreciation Lunch at noon, and bade goodbye to my friends. There is still so much data collection and lobbying work to be done in relation to the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge, and so little time left to do it.

Please lend your voice to support conservation! Help us by signing the petition to protect the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge and Selangor State Park from the proposed Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR)! Thank you for your support!