Monday, 28 April 2014

Oh What A Night ~ "Jersey Boys" at Istana Budaya

I have been a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons fan for years, so it was only natural that I ended up a Jersey Boys fan. For years, I have been watching the YouTube videos of the London and Broadway cast, trying to make up my mind as to who my favourite Frankie is, singing along to the songs, wondering if I will ever have the opportunity to watch the Jersey Boys live on stage.

That opportunity came on April 18 when Aravind bought us tickets to watch the South African production of Jersey Boys live at Istana Budaya. We took the day off on Friday, as we had tickets both for Jersey Boys and Aquaria KLCC. I have many misgivings about visiting zoos and aquariums but decided to go anyway because I could then conduct a basic 'zoo check' to see the living conditions of the animals for myself. Although I do not like to see animals in captivity, I know that for many urban dwellers, especially urban children, zoos and aquariums offer the only opportunity to view wildlife close up, and may pave the way to forming genuine interest in animal welfare and conservation issues.

Red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri)

Sea stars, sea cucumbers, bamboo sharks and horseshoe crabs in the Rocky Shore Touch Pool.

Gently touching the bamboo sharks and horseshoe crabs in the touch pool. I didn't grab or stop them from swimming away. The staff at the Touch Pool were knowledgeable and you could tell they genuinely cared for the safety and welfare of the animals.

Watching the Asian small-clawed otter at play in a very non-intrusive observation bubble. I look thrilled here because two otters had played on the dome without noticing me underneath, and I could see their bellies and tiny feet.

Malaysian Red Mahseer (Tor Tambroides) in the Flooded Forest section. I felt sorry for them that they would have to swim in a churning column of water with so little space for the rest of their lives.

Spotted Garfish (Lepisosteus oculatus)

Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Honeycomb Moray Eel (Gymnothorax favagineus) on the left and Remora Fish (Remora remora) in the centre. The poor Remora fish looks as though there is a shoe print on his head. I learned that it is a suckerfish and the shoeprint-like dorsal fins on the top of its head enable it to attach itself to host fish.

Aravind enjoying the sights in the Oceanarium. The walkalator was rather cool.

Manta rays and other fish in the spacious Oceanarium. We quite like this exhibit because it is large and naturalistic.

We left Aquaria KLCC and made our way to Istana Budaya in good time for the performance. The excitement was palpable, especially for a Four Seasons fan like me.

The performance was mesmerising and surpassed my expectations. The actor who plays Frankie was excellent and could hit all the high notes as well as Frankie Valli can. He had just the right mix of street kid innocence and world-weary superstar to be a convincing Frankie.

I loved how all the cast managed to get their Jersey accents and different personalities and attitudes just right. It was the Four Seasons to the life! When the stage Frankie found out about the death of his daughter Francine, a hush fell upon the whole theatre, never mind the fact that it's not the real Frankie up on that stage, or that Francine had died decades ago, long before the play was written.

When they performed "Who Loves You", the audience was on its feet, dancing and singing along. It didn't matter to us that it wasn't the real Frankie or the original Four Seasons out there on the stage, they captured the spirit of the music scene in 50s and 60s, working-class New Jersey and glitzy Vegas so well that we felt we were transported through time and space. Such is the magic of live theatre.

 After the performance, I didn't want to leave immediately in case we got to meet any of the cast. 

Well, the main cast was nowhere to be seen, and I don't blame them because they must have been exhausted after performing pretty much non-stop for almost 3 hours, but I did get to meet Charles Bouguenon who plays Gyp de Carlo and Jaco van Rensburg, the Frankie understudy, and get them to autograph my programme. 

Just too good to be true. Almost. 

All through the drive home we were high on the music, thrilled with the performance, just happy and grateful to have been there and to have lived the experience. For one night we were transported away from the skyscrapers and traffic jams of present-day Kuala Lumpur to the bowling alleys and smoky nightclubs of 1950s New Jersey. Oh what a night, indeed.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Teachers' Workshop at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park painful, continual and difficult work to be done in kindness, by watching, by warning,... by praise, but above all -- by example.
~ John Ruskin

Environmental education has always been one of the main pillars and objectives of the Malaysian Nature Society. For decades, we have conducted and facilitated environmental stewardship programmes and coordinated Nature Clubs for schools, usually on a shoestring budget, usually almost entirely run by our ragtag team of highly dedicated volunteers.

The Kelab Pencinta Alam (KPA) Teachers' Workshop is usually an annual affair (although we were not able to organise one last year) held at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park for 30 - 40 teachers from national schools and facilitated entirely by MNS Selangor volunteers. The Kuala Selangor Nature Park is managed by the Malaysian Nature Society, so it is the most cost-effective place for us to conduct activities. Having it in a nature park instead of a school/urban setting is more conducive to conducting activities such as water pollution monitoring, birdwatching, setting up camp and basic nature guiding. Interest group coordinators and committee members are given one to two-hour slots each to conduct workshops on particular issues and topics to guide schoolteachers in organising nature and environment-related activities for school Nature Clubs and in incorporating environmental issues and lessons into the standard curriculum. For years, I have been facilitating the Green Living workshop and conducting the ice-breaking activities for the annual Teachers' Workshop.

This year, the workshop was held on the weekend of 12 - 13 April 2014. I got my slides and preparations ready and made an offer on Facebook for any of my friends to join me on a daytrip to the nature park and its surrounding natural attractions. My friends Nicole and Delphine jumped at the opportunity with glee. And so we trundled along to the Nature Park bright and early on Saturday morning with a bag full of snacks,  sunblock, mosquito repellent and drinking water.

Teachers' Workshop @ the Kuala Selangor Nature Park: Photodump

The fragrant flower clusters of the Cassia fistula.

Getting Nic and Del to pose under the Lagerstroemia blooms.

I love the Bukit Melawati tram ride! Sure, it's not the greenest of vehicles, but what the heck, it's just a 15-minute ride.

My bestie Nic and me, riding the tram.

Guardian of the Bukit Melawati cannons. ;)

Just chillin' on Monkey Street.

Just chillin' up in the trees and foraging for food... best life possible for a monkey.

Tween silver leaf monkey and his mama.

Del: "Stop poking around in my bag, we have no food in there"

Gentle sweet Mama Silver Leaf Monkey and her gorgeous baby.

Me: "So, you come around here often?"

Nic: "Just chillin' with our monkey friends. "

Monkeys roaming happy and free.

Meanwhile, back at the Nature Park conference room:
Here are our volunteers/facilitators Pasu and Steven mucking around with the snake tongs and hook. Steven, who is our Herpetofauna coordinator, will demonstrate how to use the snake tongs and hook. However, I suspect that for most of the teachers attending his workshop, their first response when they see a snake is to scream and run, not to reach for the tongs even if they did have a pair handy.

"Let me in! I am late for the workshop!"

Conducting my workshop on Green Living programmes, competitions and activities for schools, followed by a brainstorming session. The teachers came up with some really creative ideas. I want schools to conduct environmental education programmes that encourage students to be proactive and be problem-solvers. I want to see schools move away from the tried-and-tested formula of poster and colouring contests that are a test of artistic ability, and essay and oratory competitions that reward the most verbose and articulate students. To solve environmental problems, we need original, innovative ideas. We need to reward and reinforce problem-solving skills. We need to let students lead with as little intervention and instruction as possible. We need genuine passion for the environment. And I believe these values need to be inculcated in the younger generation at home and in school, as early as possible. 

Our Nature Guides coordinator / volunteer Pasu providing the safety briefing prior to the Nature Walk.

Ketapang (Sea Almond) trees.

A termite mound taller than I am.

A root doughnut from Mother Nature!

Pasu demonstrating how to get a decent lather out of the green Acacia seed pods.

I am the Nature Walk sweeper, in more ways than one!

What a picturesque nature trail! Just so grateful and happy to be here again, surrounded by the trees and wildlife that I love, and volunteers and friends who share my passion and values.

Teachers watching birds at the lakeside bird hide.

Our extraordinary volunteer, Valle, who also happens to be a schoolteacher, watching the birds watching her.

Nic and Del's mangrove boardwalk poses.

The cheerful sweeper with her increasingly heavy bag of rubbish. ;)

Eat your heart out, Ukraine Tunnel of Love and Japanese Bamboo Forest! We have our own picturesque, Buzzfeed-worthy forest pics, too!

Spot the Giant Mudskipper!

The fruit of the Nipah / Attap palm (Nypa fruticans). Yummers. I tried to harvest this but couldn't, because I didn't have my knife with me (shock, horror! CO78 without a knife! What is the world coming to?)

A grey heron (Ardea cinera) surveying his kingdom.

Nicole ordered this yummy mango ice dessert at the Ice Station Café across the street from the nature park. The girl who took our orders was so efficient and obliging that I gave her an RM5 tip for her troubles. I highly recommend this dessert bar -- the food isn't exceptional but the service is. I come here every year!


The Kuala Selangor Nature Park has been under the management of the Malaysian Nature Society since 1987. For more information, please contact:
Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP)
Tel : (603) 3289 2294
Fax : (603) 3289 4311

Monday, 14 April 2014

Monthly Bucket List: March 2014

Sometime in early March, I decided to come up with a Monthly Bucket List on top of my Mighty Life List. Let's face it -- I am not going to be able to cross "Christmas in Provence" or "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" off my main list anytime soon. And yet there are so many things I can do on a monthly basis to break my life out of a rut, welcome new experiences and improve my life incrementally. 

So this is what my monthly bucket list will entail. 

Monthly Bucket List
1. Make a new friend. 
2. Help a stranger. 
3. Eat something/at someplace new to me. 
4. Go someplace I've never been. 
5. Learn something new. 
6. Declutter and cull 100 items. 
7. Give up something for a month. 

1. Make a new friend. 

This does not include people I meet in passing at parties or volunteer events, or other Postcrossers that I send postcards to as Postcrossing members, or friends-of-friends who try to add me on Facebook. The friendship has to be meaningful and sustainable, and both parties must show some degree of effort in maintaining the friendship. 

I made at least 2 such new friends in March, the first of whom is Mandy, the friend of my friend Pelf of the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. Mandy had just started to help a new animal shelter in Melaka, and decided to raise funds and awareness by designing and selling a series of t-shirts with adoption messages. Pelf promoted the t-shirts, I ordered a couple, I met up with Mandy to collect the shirts, and found that we both have a lot in common apart from a desire to help shelter and stray animals, and the rest is history. 

(The t-shirts designed by Mandy)

The second such friend is Nicholas, Amanda's visually-impaired friend who used to be the librarian at the Malaysian Association for the Blind. Amanda needed someone to help Nicholas out with audiobook downloads and other online errands before she left the country, and so I stepped in and offered to help. Nicholas is intelligent, well-read, courteous and friendly, and would rather not inconvenience anyone with anything he could do himself. 

We started communicating regularly so he could inform me if he needed help with anything, and I started dropping by to help him with downloading books. He celebrated his birthday on March 31 and I dropped by with a box of cupcakes from Bisou and we had a cupcake supper together with 2 other visually-impaired friends, Mokhtar and Linda. This friendship is off to a good start. 

2. Help a stranger

"Helping a stranger" includes helping organisations as well as people that I have not previously assisted. It does not include one-off minor acts of kindness such as giving directions to lost drivers, giving a harried waitress a large tip or carrying out the same responsibilities that I have always had for the same organisations that I have always volunteered with, but must consist of acts of service and assistance that are significant, sustainable and have a lasting positive impact. 

I would count my weekly sessions with Nicholas as an act of "helping a (former) stranger". The audiobook library he builds up will benefit others in the visually-impaired community. Also, it is good that he will have a sighted friend he can call upon for help in the event of an emergency. 

I now also offer weekly rides home to my kickboxing classmate Hiro after class, to save him the trouble and expense of getting a cab at 10.30 p.m. 

(Photo reproduced from Project 'Light A Home's Facebook Timeline)

When my friend NJ's mother passed away in March, I sponsored 3 solar light bulbs for an impoverished rural family via Project 'Light A Home' in her memory, in order that her light may shine on thousands of miles away. 

(Dakota undergoing treatment at the vet's. I miss her so much. I loved her the moment I met her.)

I also set up the Dakota Fund in March following the demise of Dakota, a badly-injured FIV-positive cat that Aravind and I rescued last September. When she succumbed to her FIV infection and injuries, we still had money left over that friends had donated towards her vet bills. All the donors unanimously decided that the money should be used to help other needy animals, and so I set up the Dakota Fund. 

(I bought treats for the PAWS shelter dogs and cats)

On the day after her death, I went to the PAWS animal shelter with treats for the cats and dogs in Dakota's memory. I will commence volunteering with PAWS once the water rationing ends and the weather is less unpredictable. 

(The rottweiler-cross with mange. She is now recovering well under Shyam's care)

The first beneficiary of the Dakota Fund is a rottweiler-mix rescued by my friend Shyam hours before euthanasia. The money went towards the dog's vet bills, as she has mange and a host of other medical issues. The next cause to benefit from the Dakota Fund are 13 dogs saved from the municipal pound by my friends Eugene and Mary

(One of the stray kitties post-bath, pre-neutering)

The rest of the money would be used to neuter and spay the stray cats we pick up on our rounds as ReachOut Malaysia volunteers. 

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me. 

As a vegetarian gravitating towards becoming fully vegan, I tend to stick to a handful of tried-and-tested restaurants and foods, but now I feel I have much to gain from stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new foods at places where the restaurant staff will not know my name or usual order. 

The first "new-to-me" restaurant I ate at was Gandhi's in Brickfields, which surprised me with its offering of Chinese-style vegetarian hawker fare. 

The second "new-to-me" restaurant is Yarl Restaurant, which serves Sri Lankan Tamil food, and which I had previously not patronised because Amanda lived upstairs and had complained of the dirt and noise :P 

As for a "new-to-me" food, I had always wanted to try kale but could not find it easily in local shops. I finally managed to buy some and it is fast becoming my favourite vegetable. It is great in salads, sandwiches and in wraps with grilled tempeh

4. Go someplace I've never been. 

This doesn't have to be a trip abroad or a pricey, elaborate vacation at all. Anyplace new is an adventure in itself. Exploration is essential to keeping one's mind curious and creative. 

In March 2014, I went to two places that are new to me -- The Awana Genting Longhouse, where we had our Malaysian Nature Society Volunteer Appreciation Weekend,

... and Sekeping Retreat Serendah, where we had our little gathering before Amanda's departure to Cambodia. 

5. Learn something new. 

This doesn't have to be an entire course, diploma or degree either, but should ideally be a life skill and not merely a fun fact or vocabulary word. 

So in March 2014, I learned to download audiobooks, thanks to the fact that I had signed up to help Nicholas do the same. 

I also learned to grapple, do the Thai clinch and knee someone in the solar plexus during kickboxing class. 

6. Declutter and cull 100 items. 

I decluttered and removed between 5 to 10 items from our Bachelor Pad each day, mostly consisting of junk mail, packaging and tchotchke that my roommates never throw out. Achieved 100 items after clearing out the storeroom, closet, mail tray and sideboard box. Most of the stuff went into the recycling bins, while some reusable ones were donated to matching causes and charities. 

7. Give up something for a month

Giving up a bad habit for a month could be the first step towards breaking out of a bad habit or addiction for good. Mentally, we are telling ourselves, "It's not so bad, it's only going to be for a month," but it could lead to lasting change when we see how much we have gained from giving up a bad habit. 

So for a whole month I will give up something I previously did, ate or enjoyed, and at the end of the month, I will evaluate if it is something I want to leave out of my life for good. 

In March 2014, I quit two things: Eating fries, and sitting at my workstation for long periods of time. 

I tend to work really late and when I leave the office, it's usually only the 24-hour fast food places that are open. I usually swing by for a cup of coffee and a large portion of fries, not a healthy combination for a late-night snack at all, I admit. In order to quit fries for a month, I had to make sure I have enough healthy snacks in my bento box and desk drawer. I steered clear of routes with drive-thrus. It was tough but worth it. Although I didn't give fries up long enough to record any significant reduction in my weight, I felt more energetic and less guilty and sluggish when I went to to bed. I have since reintroduced fries into my diet but am restricting it to daytime on weekends when I am less likely to be sedentary, and no more than once a week. 

After reading about the health risks of sitting for long periods of time, I decided to convert my office desk into a standing desk, but without the additional cost. This was done using sturdy printer cartridge boxes, which in addition to providing height to my computer monitor, keyboard and mousepad, has created extra storage space for my files. I have detected an increase in my productivity and energy levels since I made the switch, but will need to improve my posture so as not to suffer from back and shoulder pain after standing at my desk for long periods of time. 

My Monthly Bucket List is just something I want to do for myself, and it doesn't matter if there is nothing very earth-shattering or newsworthy about the things accomplished. It is all part of my personal journey to live more mindfully, consciously and joyfully.