Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Volunteering with ReachOut Malaysia

Two weeks ago, I posted this status update on my Facebook account in response to the growing number of laws against vagrancy and volunteers providing food and other assistance to the homeless:
"Instead of waging war against the homeless, laws and society should wage war against poverty. You can't make it illegal for people to be homeless unless there are systems in place to make it virtually impossible to be homeless. Homelessness isn't a choice. No child dreams of becoming the man sleeping on the park bench or the bag lady when they grow up. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong. Our job is to find out what went wrong and find solutions. We cannot punish people just for their poverty and suffering. We have to help, not hinder."

A friend then asked me in a rather condescending manner what "solutions" I would propose. I knew she was implying that the problem of homelessness is one without solutions, that "helping" the homeless would result in more homelessness and dependency.

I responded with the following proposed solutions:
"#1 ERADICATE CORRUPTION. Implement a realistic livable minimum wage. Protect workers' rights. Amend and repeal bankruptcy and foreclosure laws. Allocate a percentage of land and housing for the poor and disadvantaged, and ENSURE that they are reserved for low-income citizens! (Right now most are purchased by rich Datuks and rented out by their agents to tenants) Provide state-funded high quality education and skills training. Mental health treatment and assistance to the mentally ill and substance addicted. Hostels and job training for ex-convicts and former drug users. Legal assistance and safe houses for women who are victims of trafficking and entrapment into the sex trade, or who are victims of domestic violence. Investigations into cases of land confiscation, water pollution and other forms of destruction of rural areas which lead to rural communities not being able to survive or be self-sufficient anymore, causing them to move to cities and end up as squatter citizens."

Most Malaysians, including my friend above, buy into the myths that the homeless "choose" to be homeless, that they are lazy and unwilling to work, and that most of them are criminals, alcoholics or drug users. Most Malaysians who have never done street outreach and have never talked to homeless persons are not aware that many of the homeless in Malaysia are working at low-paying jobs. Some have mental illness or are of subaverage intelligence and therefore unemployable. Some lost their jobs due to the deteriorating economy, personal problems, mental illness or other medical issues. Some are victims of crime, sexual abuse or domestic violence, but many are just ordinary folk trying to survive in this big, harsh world.

It was in August this year that Aravind and I started volunteering with Reach Out Malaysia, a volunteer-run community action group with the mission of implementing programmes to deliver relief from hunger, pain, or abuse; of feeding, sheltering and rehabilitating the homeless and urban/rural poor; of raising awareness on the causes of such and in the long term, to reduce the flow of poverty by providing a place of training and assistance and source employment opportunities to help make the poor employable and for them to re-enter society.

As stated in their Mission Statement, Reach Out is strictly non-religious and apolitical and does not discriminate in terms of race, gender, religion or culture. Its volunteers consist of dedicated people of all faiths, races and professional/academic backgrounds. ReachOut offers food, drinks, used clothing, and basic medical first aid to those in need in Kuala Lumpur and other cities and towns.

On our Food Runs with them, we help to purchase, prepare, pack, transport or deliver food and basic necessities. We meet our Run Leaders at designated meeting points and move in groups to locations where our homeless friends await our arrival around midnight (many have day jobs and others come out only at night to avoid encounters with the police and authorities). We try to meet our street clients' request for food, First Aid treatment, job referrals, clothes and other assistance. Many have cats and dogs as companions so we bring them pet food and make arrangements for neutering. Our Run Leaders are committed and caring individuals who still have their sense of humour intact despite the exasperation, sorrow and frustration they often experience. Aravind and I have utmost respect for them and just try to do the best we can to help, as often as we can.

My cell phone camera photos from some of the ReachOut Malaysia volunteer sessions and food runs that Aravind and I had participated in:

11 Aug 2013: Packing Aidilfitri cookies, fruits and treats for our food run with our friends Leena, June and Looi Fang.

11 Aug 2013: Looi Fang and Leena, who initiated the idea of packing festive goodies for our street clients so they would get to celebrate Aidilfitri too.

11 Aug 2013: Each street client would receive a little box of assorted cookies...

... placed in a bag together with an apple, an orange, Kit Kat bars, snack cakes, a carton of Milo and a packet of crackers.

Aravind taking his duty of packing cookies very seriously!

11 Aug 2013: Getting ready to load the goodies into the car.

Meeting point for the volunteers in front of the Masjid Jamek LRT station at 11.30pm. Run Leader Suresh briefed us on our objectives and code of conduct.

Simon and other ReachOut volunteers rendering First Aid treatment for one of our street clients. I'm going to start carrying an Animal First Aid Kit on our street rounds soon for our feline and canine street clients.

31 Aug 2013: Buying toothbrushes, cat food and mosquito coils for our street clients on a rainy National Day.

31 Aug 2013: Unloading the food and doing a headcount outside Lost City.

31 Aug 2013: One of our street clients fell and split his chin on a rainy night, so our volunteers Melvin and Simon helped to disinfect and stitch up his wounds.

One of the cats we encountered during the Food Run. Kitty got some kibbles, too.

15 Sept 2013: ReachOut Malaysia food run as usual tonight, in good weather or bad.  Here are some of our street clients outside the Puduraya bus terminal.

15 Sept 2013: Our street clients on the Bangkok Bank sidewalk enjoying a hot meal, which includes yummy marble cake contributed by Leena's friend.

Volunteers keeping track of the number of bags of food we have and getting ready to distribute the food at the sidewalk outside Bangkok Bank.




Food and volunteers all ready for the Deepavali night ReachOut Malaysia food run. Missing our senior volunteers / Run leaders Suresh, Jennifer and Simon tonight. But grateful for Pete's leadership as usual.

2 Nov 2013: The ReachOut van is here! Time to load all 200 hot meal packs and get moving before the rain gets any heavier. Our street friends await!

Want to learn more? Then please click on the links below:

ReachOut Malaysia Facebook Page:
HopeBox Malaysia Facebook Page:!/hopeboxmalaysia?fref=ts

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Letter to the Editor: Car Safety, Performance and Environmental Ratings Depend On More Factors Than Just Age


In coming to a decision on whether to impose a mandatory 12-year cap on the lifespan of private vehicles, the Ministry of Transport should consider the feedback of citizens, organisations and professional bodies. (The Star, 20 Nov 2013). The safety, performance and environmental ratings of vehicles depend on more factors than just their age.

The automotive industry, understandably, sees increased sales as a much-needed shot in the arm for the industry and the nation's economy. However, from an environmental point of view, purchasing used goods, including automobiles, is a wise decision as it reduces the need to extract and transport raw materials. Buying a car the second time around also means we avoid consuming all the energy used in producing and transporting a new vehicle, and hence significantly reducing the generation of waste matter and carbon emissions.

The environmental cost of a new car is high. Researchers at the Heidelberg Environment and Forecasting Institute who computed the financial, environmental and health impacts of a medium-sized car found evidence to confirm that long before the car has reached the showroom, it has produced significant amounts of damage to air, water and land ecosystems through the extraction of raw materials alone. A 2004 analysis by Toyota found that as much as 28 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated during the lifecycle of a typical petroleum-powered car can occur during its manufacture and its transportation to the dealer; the remaining emissions occur during driving once its new owner takes possession. Even new hybrid vehicles, despite lower emissions and better mileage, actually have a much larger environmental impact in their manufacture, compared to non-hybrids. The batteries that store energy for the drivetrain and having two engines under one hood all increase manufacturing emissions. Thus, the environmental impact of manufacturing a car extends way beyond the car's useful life.

According to Andrew Davis, director of the UK Environmental Transport Association, "Of all the main environmental variables involved with buying a car - size, pollutants, age, speed, etc – whether to buy new or used is the least important. It is the length of time a car is kept that is crucial. The average car is kept for four years. Buying a new car and keeping it for its entire life is more environmentally friendly than buying a one-year-old car every year".

The Transport Minister’s argument that a 12-year cap on the lifespan of cars is “in the public interest” and that it “would not create an unnecessary financial burden” on citizens is not supported by evidence. There are currently insufficient realistic alternatives to private vehicle ownership in Malaysia. The public transport system is often unreliable and unavailable to those living outside the city centre. High crime rates have made walking, cycling and waiting for public transport unsafe and unattractive options for many. Most employers are still unable or unwilling to offer employees the option of telecommuting or working from home to reduce the need for driving and commuting. A 12-year cap on private vehicle lifespan would almost certainly place an additional economic burden on citizens forced to take up loans for new vehicles.

From a vehicle safety and performance perspective, it is foreseeable that many lower-income individuals forced to give up sturdier older vehicles would be able to afford nothing more than the cheapest cars which have low safety ratings and negligible safety features. Thus, forcing vehicle owners to replace their old cars would not only increase household debt, but also have an adverse impact on road safety and traffic accident survival rates.

Claiming that older cars are unsafe and not roadworthy is overly simplistic, while setting a lifespan cap of 12 years is arbitrary. The article citing the statements of the Director-General of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS) does not provide traffic accident statistics or indicate the percentage of vehicles involved in accidents that are above 12 years old.

The performance of cars depends on many factors, including the frequency and quality of service and maintenance, and whether repairs and modifications are made to improve efficiency. Vehicle and road safety almost always depends on factors such as the vehicle condition (steering, brakes and tyres), the driver’s mental and physical condition, and road and traffic conditions (lighting, weather conditions, visibility). Whether someone is likely to survive a major road accident depends on other safety factors such as the weight, height and length of the vehicle, vehicle construction (e.g. pickup trucks and SUVs may have bettter reinforcement and safety cage designs), seatbelt use, airbags and head restraints (i.e. headrests to prevent whiplash injury). None of these are dependent on the age of a car. Many safety features could be easily retrofitted into older cars, while newer cars that are cheaply built, poorly maintained or have an existing crash history would not fare better than older vehicles in an accident.

The idea that we should replace our cars merely because they are 'old' has no economic or environmental legitimacy. Ultimately, how and when we choose to drive, and how we maintain our vehicles, are more important than whether we buy used or new cars when considering the question of how safe, efficient or environmentally sound a vehicle is.


Friday, 8 November 2013

My Mighty Life List 2013

(Inspired by blogger Maggie "Mighty Girl" Mason)

(Image courtesy of Cool People Care. Reproduced without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use.)


1. Anfield and Liverpool pilgrimage.
2. Walk on the Abbey Road pedestrian crossing.
3. Save someone's life.
4. Adopt a child in need.
5. Own my own home (house/apartment/mobile home) and retrofit it into an energy and water efficient facility and grow my own organic/compost-grown fruits and vegetables. (Moved into my own place in June 2015, but keeping it green and making it greener is an ongoing project.)
6. Donate whole blood at least 50 times in my lifetime.
7. Visit and/or volunteer at an animal shelter/nature sanctuary/welfare organisation/community project of every country I visit.
8. New Zealand Kea Camper holiday.
9. Experience a white Christmas.
10. Visit my ancestral village in Toisan.
11. Visit Edgar's Mission Farm Sanctuary in Australia.
12. Volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
13. See the Northern Lights.
14. Be an early riser.
15. Earn my diving licence and do a coral reef dive cleanup.
16. Attend Burning Man.
17. Drive a real military tank.
18. Drive a backhoe / excavator.
19. Be punctual, always.
20. Be a better and kinder listener.
21. Take up kickboxing. (Commenced in Dec 2013)
22. Volunteer for the Hornbill Volunteer Programme.
23. Do the Sg. Lembing Rainbow Falls hike.
24. Visit Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand.
25. Songkran in Bangkok or Chiengmai.
26. Sponsor a child's wish for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
27. Christmas in Provence, because of this book I read in my childhood, The Twelfth Night Santons.
28. Host a couchsurfer in my home.
29. Sample a real truffle.
30. Have a treehouse vacation.
31. Summit Mount Kinabalu.
32. Have a piece of travel writing published.
33. Holi Colour Fight. (Completed in March 2015. Plan to make this an annual affair.)
34. Learn international sign language.
35. Finish reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare. (Completed in Dec 2016)
36. Create a medical trust fund for animal rescue groups in Malaysia that can be sustained even after my death.
37. Be debt-free.
38. Perform RAOKs on my birthday - one act for each year of my life. (Completed in Dec 2013)
39. Surf in open sea (Completed in June 2014).
40. Lead MNS Green Living as Coordinator for 10 years. (Completed in March 2016)
41. Attend Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School in New Jersey.
42. Coordinate/organise 10 annual Turtle Volunteer Programmes. (5th year and counting as at August 2016)
43. Do the Turtle Discovery Trip.
44. Hot air balloon over Cappadocia. (Completed in May 2014)
45. Dig up a real fossil.
46. Dining In The Dark KL. (Completed on 8 Dec 2013)
47. Watch Jersey Boys on stage. (Completed on 18 April 2014)
48. Plant ten indigenous trees in parks and forest reserves (Completed in Jan 2016 and planted far more than 10)
49. Hillslope Zorbing
50. Organise a reverse trick-or-treating session (for the needy / homeless / a non-profit organisation) on Halloween.
51. Drive the SPCA Inspectorate Van and be an SPCA Inspector for a day.
52. Make vegan sushi.
53. Dark Caves adventure tour.
54. Author a book.
55. Stay at BonTon Resort, Langkawi, and volunteer at Langkawi LASSie. (Completed in Feb 2014)
56. Skytrex Extreme.
57. Glock shooting lessons.
58. Volunteer for World Tapir Day and meet the resident tapir in Taman Negara.
59. Witness a lunar eclipse.
60. Meet Dr. Jane Goodall (Completed on 15 June 2014).
 61. Write down the names of 5 people in my life who I hate, and forgive them completely.
62. Solve all 5 of my "kercang" (indigenous IQ puzzles).
63. Volunteer with my friend Abodh's organisation, Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), in Mumbai.
 64. Accomplish at least 5 items on my Mighty Life List each year.
65. Volunteer with Epic Army to build a home for the Orang Asal.
66. Perform one RAOK a day for every day of my life.
67. Attend a FIFA World Cup match.
68. Execute a downrock/six-step without stepping on my own fingers.
69. LASIK surgery. (Completed in Feb 2016, only it had to be switched to ICL instead of LASIK)
70. Meet the Indigo Girls.
71. Fast for a cause similar to the 30-Hour Famine but without a religious/racial/political agenda.
72. Read one chapter every night until I finish reading all the books in my collection.
73. Bike to work.
74. Send gratitude postcards to thank at least 10 people each year.
75. Keep my weight under 48 kg.
76. Ride the Eastern and Oriental Express luxury train.
77. Learn to tie a saree.
78. Master firecraft using a bowdrill.
79. Own a pickup truck.
80. Camp out on the truck bed of said pickup truck.
81. Do a manual (i.e. wheelie) on my Ripstik.
82. Do a one-handed push-up.
83. Do a one-handed chin-up.
84. Set foot on 5 continents.
85. Visit Venice before it sinks.
86. Kayak in open sea.
87. Visit one of the various mystery hills/gravity hills around the world and watch objects appear to roll uphill.
88. Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
89. Do the Zombie Run.
90. Build a cajón from reclaimed wood and learn to play the cajón. (Completed in August 2015)
91. Help someone out with a Kiva loan. (Completed in October 2014)
92. Visit a different country every other year.
93. Obtain a motorbike licence. (I can ride. I just don't have a licence)
94. Visit the Galapagos Islands.
95. Blow smoke bubbles. (Completed in June 2014)
96. Give RM100 to a really deserving street artist/musician.
97. Sample 200 vegetables from around the world.
98. Be a speaker at the Asia for Animals Conference.
99. Throw a vegan barbecue party. (Completed in March 2014)
100. Try something new and different every month.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Halloween Shenanigans 2013

"Hey! Ho! for Hallowe'en
An' all the witches tae be seen
Some in black an' some in green
Hey! Ho! for Hallowe'en."

Halloween is my favourite holiday, never mind the fact that it has only started being observed in Asian cities in the last 5 years or so, mostly among the expatriate community and young professionals and in international schools. I love how Halloween celebrates creativity. I look forward to seeing everyone's homemade costumes and decorations each year.

I made these glass jar luminaries last Halloween.

But the luminaries were unfortunately stolen this year, from my Battletank on Halloween Day itself. I had left the Battletank parked and locked for 15 minutes while I went into the supermarket to buy supplies for the two Halloween parties I was attending, and when I came out, the lock was broken and my backpack and box of Halloween decorations and party stuff were gone.

It was a long night of lodging police reports, getting the locks and housekeys changed and getting important things replaced or reported missing. I don't know what the thieves wanted my Halloween luminaries for but I am really disappointed they were stolen.

Anyway, I decided not to let it ruin my mood and we proceeded with the Halloween parties on Friday (Nov 1). I'm not going to let a lowlife burglar undermine my happiness or how I feel about Halloween. He will never be anything but a common criminal living in constant fear of being caught. Things can be replaced and I will be more careful about where I park and what I leave in the car in future.

My friends requested my fiesta taco salad as usual so I made this vegetarian version using taco beans, avocado, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum, olives, sour cream and salsa and topped up with a 'dirt' surface of crushed nacho chips. I added Halloween cupcake picks and zombie finger puppets because I didn't have the time to cut out and bake tortilla tombstones this round. The whole tub was polished clean within minutes.

Office Halloween party in the office with my workmates.

A colleague brought these too-cute-to-be-creepy cupcakes.

Another colleague baked these realistic severed fingers, which incidentally made great coffee stirrers.

Made my way to the SPCA office after work for a party with the SPCA gang. You know you're in for a great time when you attend a party where the guests are vets, animal rescuers, SPCA inspectors and animal welfare officers. Everyone needs to kick back and let their hair down regularly. We work hard and play hard.

Umm, it's not the keyhole spaying procedure the vet and vet-to-be are performing there. They are carving capsicum luminaries because you can't make them ahead of time. They rot and fall apart too quickly in this weather. The capsicums, I mean. Not the vets. Vets are tough as nails and never fall apart.

Puking Pumpkin says: "I don't feel so good." Huuurrrrl. (Spiced guacamole was yum, though. Great with chips and assorted crackers.)

Naughty, naughty sweets. No tricks, just treats.

Two of my best friends -- Nicole and Amanda -- came dressed as cats.

Aravind as the protagonist of "V for Vendetta" and me as a cowboy.

Spooked to meet you!

Pyo as Wednesday Addams and Nathan as a mime (he had taken off his mask and hat by the time the photo was taken).

Two random scary dudes in flip-flops and bearing dangerous weapons. This is who takes your calls at the SPCA, people!

Kelvin set up the LCD projector and we watched "Insidious" in the darkened SPCA conference room after dinner. "The Conjuring" would have been scarier but I didn't bring a change of pants. ;)

The party came to an end sometime around midnight. Funny how our Christian and Jewish friends in the West have so many hangups about Halloween, but we Asians aren't in the least bothered about the theological and moral arguments against observing Halloween. Any excuse for a party with friends and heaps of food is a good one. And this is why we will always continue to anticipate Halloween with excitement and joy -- because it will always be a celebration of creativity, friendship, feasting, sharing and fun.