Wednesday, 30 July 2014

You Know You're A Longtime Activist When...

You know you fall into the category of a 'longtime activist' when: 

2. Half of the t-shirts in your collection exist to champion a cause. 

4. You go to the beach ostensibly on holiday and still end up doing beach cleanups, marine animal rescues, data collection and advocacy and awareness programmes. 

5. You read something in the papers that infuriates you and immediately start drafting a Letter to the Editor in your head. 

6. Half the books in your bookcase have the words "...Ethics of...", "Rethinking", "Conscious", "Concerned" or "Smart Consumer" somewhere in the title. When you were under 20 years old, you had the entire collection of Earthworks books listing 50 / 100 / 101 easy ways to save the Planet. 

7. Your weekends and holidays are entirely made up of volunteer events and charitable causes. 

8. You know how to organise a fundraiser, destroy a wire snare and give a talk to a roomful of university students but not how to change channels on your parents' cable TV. 

9. Over half the friends on your Facebook list are people you met through volunteering and campaigning. 

10. From the time you learned to read, you've been looking out for Mobius loops, Leaping Bunnies, USDA Organic logos and Fair Trade logos on the labels of every product you pick up. 

11. You remember Julia Butterfly Hill's tree-sit as clearly as though it were yesterday. 

12. Acronyms such as GMO, CSPO, 3Rs, TNR, CITES, RAMSAR, DANIDA and CO2 PPM somehow always make their way into your daily conversations. 

13. Your idea of Chick-Lit is Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", Jane Goodall's "In the Shadow of Man", Marilyn French's "The War Against Women" and Karen Dawn's "Thanking The Monkey". 

14. You feel you are entitled to have a say on draft Bills before they get tabled in Parliament. 

15. You've ever planted a tree for someone on his/her birthday. 

16. You'd attend a lot more campaigns, conferences and volunteer events if it weren't for the carbon guilt. 

17. You remember all your rescued animals' vaccination appointments but not your significant other's birthday. 

18. Most of the local animal shelters, environmental organisations and community action groups have your number on speed dial. 

19. You've ever wanted to just "quit all this shit" and live off the grid in a solar-powered, self-sufficient house in the countryside and grow vegetables. 

20. You know the only reason you've lasted this long is because you stay away from all the politics and drama.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Letter to the Editor: Focus on the behaviour, not the gender

The Sessions Court of Kuantan delivered its sentence on the road rage case involving Siti Fairrah Ashykin 'Kiki' Kamaruddin with admirable swiftness, earning praise from Malaysians and netizens (The Star, 22 July / Malay Mail, July 23). While I believe I am not alone in applauding Sessions Judge Zainal Abidin Kamarudin for imposing a high fine and community service order, I am dismayed by his choice of words when he reminded the accused to "behave like a lady".

This request, although well-intentioned, hints of subtle misogyny and gender policing. As a judge, His Honour should be aware that his words carry a lot of weight. The implication here is that it is acceptable for a man to lose his temper and react in an aggressive manner. The notion that women are inherently gentle, submissive and peace-loving and that aggression is a masculine trait is an affront to the dignity and intelligence of both men and women. Asking an accused in court to behave in a 'ladylike' manner is patronising, especially considering that it is highly doubted whether the court would ask a male accused to behave 'like a gentleman'. In a situation involving a male accused, the court would predictably instruct him to manage his anger, make better choices, or refrain from particular behaviours. The focus would be on the accused's behaviour and not his gender.

The language used by those in a position of power and influence must demonstrate the values of equality, fairness and integrity. An act that is wrong for a woman must necessarily be wrong for a man. The words used must focus on the individual's actions and choices, not gender, ethnicity or other irrelevant criteria. The judge in this case could have advised the accused to be "a responsible motorist" or "a good citizen" instead of "a lady". Kiki Kamaruddin's actions were wrong because criminal intimidation and property damage are criminal offences, not because it is "unseemly" or "unladylike". Her actions should draw the ire of Netizens because of her inordinate anger and aggression and lack of consideration and concern for other road-users, not because she is a woman, is a Malay-Muslim or because she wears a headscarf.

All of us, regardless of gender, ethnicity, faith and persuasion, need to learn to manage our emotions, resolve conflicts peacefully and live as mindful and responsible members of society. People should be courteous, helpful and rational not because it is appropriate for someone of his or her particular gender or ethnicity, but because society would not be able to function if everyone succumbed to their anger, emotions and impulses all the time. Men should not be held to a lower standard of courtesy and decency than women. Women must be acknowledged to be fully capable of anger but also fully capable of restraint and decorum. Language matters, because it is the way we explain the world to ourselves and others around us.


Annual General Meeting amid the greenery

The Selangor Branch of the Malaysian Nature Society held its Annual General Meeting at the Rimba Ilmu Auditorium of Universiti Malaya on 12th July 2014. Meetings are usually dreary affairs, but the Malaysian Nature Society has a history of holding its AGMs at/in/near places of scientific or conservation interest so members can go on guided nature walks before or after the meeting. As part of the Branch committee, I am involved in organising and preparing for meetings. This year's AGM was preceded by a vegan lunch and a guided tour of the Rimba Ilmu tropical botanical garden and rare plants conservatory.

Committee members and volunteers registering members as they arrive.
(Photo credits: George Ng)

The AGM was preceded by a vegan lunch in the outdoor area. I was in charge of getting lunch and we opted for a simple lunch of vegan nasi lemak, vadai and fruit juice. Aravind and Mark helped me set the table for lunch.
(Photo credits: George Ng)

Dr. Yong (gee, the PhD holders just keep getting younger and younger!) led us on a guided tour of the botanical gardens.

A fruiting nutmeg tree.

Cycads -- which I find fascinating.

Look at the patterns on the trunk of the cycad!

Dr. Yong showed us the woolly rhizomes of the Golden Chicken Fern (Cibotium barometz).
This plant is under threat due to the fact that it is unsustainably harvested by the locals for the rhizomes, which is believed to have blood-clotting and wound-healing properties.

Phyleria capitata.
An attractive shrub with sweet-scented flowers. Bark harvested for fibre. Sweet fruits edible. Cotyledons poisonous.

The grape-like fruits of the Hanguana malayana.

Tiny, colourful inflorescence of the Chekor Manis (Sauropus androgynus)

Peacock Fern / Paku Merak
(Selaginella plana)
Indigenous to the Malay Peninsula. Used for treating stomach aches, rheumatism, coughs and asthma and as a postnatal tonic.

Memecylon caeruleum
Family: Melastomataceae

We were fascinated by the fruit-laden mangosteen tree.

The mangosteen tree was laden with unripe fruits. Apparently the macaques raid this tree in the evenings.

These are not kiwi fruits but a non-edible member of the persimmon family (Diospyros argentea).

Daun Payung
(Johannesteijsmannia lanceolata)
Endemic to Peninsular Malaysia. The rarest of all the species of 'umbrella palms'.

We also had the privilege of visiting the Rare Plants Conservatory.

The Black Bat Flower
(Tacca chantrieri)
Saw 3 of these in the wild when I climbed Mount Ophir in 2010.

One of the many types of wild orchids in the Rare Plants Conservatory.

A cucurma plant in bloom.

A single orchid plant, or many separate organisms growing in a row?

Water droplets caught in a spider's web.

An exquisite rare orchid with a fan-shaped bloom.

Begonias from the rainforest.

Time to return to the auditorium for the AGM.

Water lilies in the man-made pond.

Our Head of Conservation, Balu Perumal, delivered a presentation on conservation projects and ongoing campaigns in Selangor.

Our chairman, Henry, presented a token of appreciation to Balu.
(Photo credits: George Ng)

Group shot of the committee members for the administrative year of 2014-2015.
(Photo credits: George Ng)

For more information on the Rimba Ilmu Botanical Gardens, please contact:

The Coordinator,
Rimba Ilmu,
Institute of Biological Sciences,
University of Malaya,
50603 Kuala Lumpur.

Telephone No: 03 7967 4685 / 03 7967 4686 / 03 7967 4687 / 03 7967 4665

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Monthly Bucket List June 2014

Monthly Bucket List June 2014:

1. Make a new friend.

My solo trip to Bali created many opportunities for me to make new friends. 2 of them -- Andini, a volunteer with BAWA, and Made Mudita, the affable cabbie who drove me to the airport -- ended up becoming my friends on Facebook and we now communicate with each other on a regular basis.

My Letter to the Editor on homelessness also brought me 2 new friends, fellow activists Rayna and Petra, who work with non-governmental organisations to assist and advocate for the homeless, the poor and the marginalised.

2. Help a stranger.

During my stay in Bali, I made cash donations to two organisations -- BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) and Bali Animal Rescue Centre (BARC)-- to help them with their animal rescue and rehabilitation projects. 

I also purchased four books for the Books for Bali Project to stock up rural school libraries in Bali.

I learned about Suspended Meals Malaysia, a new community initiative to help provide food for the needy, on Facebook and when I visited this Indian restaurant with Aravind and our friend Devan in late June, and so I contributed to their cause. I will be following their activities on Facebook to see if it is something I should be a regular contributor to.

June 2014 also saw Aravind and I rescuing 2 more stray cats for medical treatment, neutering and release/rehoming, namely Ginger Boy and Katniss. We believe they may be siblings as they look very alike and were picked up from the same area. 

Ginger Boy


Ginger Boy has since been released to the area where he was found and Aravind continues to feed him and check on him daily. We are still hoping that we would be able to find him a good home. Katniss is recovering from a very bad case of cat flu and I am fostering her in my bachelor pad until she is spayed and rehomed.

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.

While in Ubud, Bali, I ate at several restaurants I have never visited before, including Down To EarthVeggie Table and Lotus Lane.

I had raw vegan brownie and ice cream for the first time at Down To Earth and loved it.

Back home in Kuala Lumpur, thanks to this great initiative by my friend Andy to promote vegetarian dining called, I was introduced to a new-to-me restaurant in Bangsar, Ganga Cafe. The food is reasonably-priced, wholesome and delicious. 

On my second visit to Ganga Cafe, I sampled Vada Pav, which I have never previously tried.

4. Go someplace I've never been.

Although my trip to Bali in June was my 3rd visit to the island, I stayed in Ubud and visited places I have never been, including Green School, Canggu Beach, the Pondok Pekak Library and Learning Centre, the BARC’s Good Karma Animal Rehabilitation Centre and two of the BAWA shops/offices.

(Image credits:

Back home in the city, I finally went to the Bukit Kiara Skate Park for one-on-one skate lessons to improve my skateboarding technique and to learn new tricks.

5. Learn something new.

1. Surfing in open sea: I had surfed in a cove in Cherating back in 2006 - 2008, but as I was self-taught, my technique was incorrect and I was not able to remain standing on the board for long. On my last trip to Bali, however, I engaged the services of a surf guide for a day to help me correct my technique. It made a world of difference. It was exhausting to surf in open sea because I spent a lot of time paddling against the waves. At times, I felt almost nauseated from the constant rise and fall of waves. But the effort was worth it, because surfing in open sea gave me bigger waves to ride on, and I could remain standing on the surfboard much longer. I also managed to overcome my (mild) fear of wiping out in deep and unfamiliar waters. I wiped out many times, including on top of coral reefs, and cut my feet on jagged rocks and corals, but I survived, and lost my fear after the first fall.

2. Solo travelling: I have previously flown solo to various destinations to meet up with friends there, or travelled with others and then split up and gone separate ways from them upon arriving at my destination. This Bali trip was different in that it was fully solo. It taught me various lessons in letting my intuition and instincts rule, and not putting too much pressure on myself to squeeze in too many activities in too little time. I daresay it was the most relaxing holiday I have ever been on. I was not beholden to the needs and desires of any travelling companions, so I spent a lot of time sleeping in, eating only when I wanted to, skipping all the tourist traps, visiting libraries, bookstores and animal charities and just reading books on my patio.

3. Muay Baran: We learned some basic Muay Baran moves and instructions (in Thai) during kickboxing in June, including how to sidestep and counterattack.

4. Skateboarding: With the help of my skate coach Johary, I learned to improve my skating technique and practice useful new manoeuveres, including the front kickturn, which I have never learned previously. I'm pretty proficient at it now.

6. Declutter and cull 100 items.

Cleaned out all the files and folders and removed old receipts, invoices, appliance warranties, manuals and correspondence for recycling.

Also paid a visit to the BYOB Green Concepts outlet in Ampang Jaya to purchase detergent and soap refills, and gave them a bagful of empty bottles that other customers can make use of.

The bachelor pad is looking much neater and more streamlined already following 3 months of culling over 100 items a month.

7. Give up something for a month.

I made a conscious decision to give up all Made In China products for a month to see how much we depend on China's cheap labour, poor work conditions and lack of environmental safeguards for our inexpensive consumer goods. Boycotting China-made products is my way of silently rejecting China's status as an economic superpower and of protesting their destruction of the environment and transgressions of workers' rights in the name of profit. I agree that it makes a lot more sense to voice out against China than to silently boycott their products. I do sign petitions, lobby governments and inform others of my stand when asked why I do not purchase or use particular products. However, I feel that political action must be followed up with personal direct action. It would be hypocritical to call for investigations into Chinese cellular phone companies and yet at the same time continue to buy Made In China products.

So for the whole month of June, I checked where each product was made. Cell phone chargers, wristwatch straps, detergent bottles, contact lenses, t-shirts, sneakers, socks, pet toys, food containers -- nothing escaped my scrutiny. It was a good exercise in being a more mindful consumer and I will continue to be vigilant about buying and using only products that do not entail the exploitation of people and the destruction of the environment.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Visit-and-Volunteer Session at the 'Eats, Shoots and Roots' Edible Garden

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul."

Our physical health is interconnected with that of our environment and immediate community. This explains, in part, the rising popularity of edible gardens and community gardens. Gardening benefits our physical and mental health; growing our own food even more so. Edible gardening teaches us self-sufficiency, brings us satisfaction, helps us reconnect with the Earth, and puts food on the table that isn't laden with chemicals, heavily packaged, transported across miles or produced by agricultural giants and biotech companies. Community gardening enables us to learn from one another and affords us the companionship of like-minded persons.

I've been planning to visit and volunteer at some of our local edible and community gardens for a few months now, and I finally organised a visit to the 'Eats, Shoots and Roots' ('ESR') Edible Garden in Petaling Jaya last Sunday. Approximately 12 MNS Green Living members and supporters attended the Visit-and-Volunteer session to learn more about edible gardening for urban households and to contribute our time and energy as volunteer gardeners on Sunday, 6th July 2014. ESR is a social enterprise based in Petaling Jaya with the objective of empowering urban communities and individuals with the skills and tools to grow their own food, and to develop a sense of resilience in the city. It was one of the 6 recipients of the Arthur Guinness Fund and British Council Social Enterprise 'Entrepreneurs for Good' Award in 2013.

In the course of our 2.5-hour session at the ESR garden in a residential home in Petaling Jaya, we learned about different types of garden beds, gardening methods, the uses of many beneficial edible plants and the ideal growing conditions for various types of plants. MNS members Pasupathy and Sally even brought plants to share and swap with the group. There was much laughter and camaraderie and the session was concluded with a small tea party during which plants were exchanged and vegetable seeds were given out to the thrilled participants.

Photos of the Visit-and-Volunteer Session:

Almost all the furniture, garden structures and signs at Eats, Shoots & Roots are made from reclaimed and repurposed materials.

Tour of the front garden, led by Shao-Lyn (in blue denim). 

Ulam Raja (Cosmos caudatus)

Indian eggplant.

Brazilian Spinach.

Old glass bottles are repurposed as garden borders.

Shao-Lyn explained how a Hugel Bed works. A Hugel Bed is basically a raised garden bed, with logs buried underneath, to grow a garden without irrigation or fertilization.

Herb Spirals are space-saving and water-saving as they are constructed vertically. Plants that need the least water, e.g. rosemary, are planted at the top, with the plants that need the most water, e.g. aloe vera, planted at the bottom, so that the water trickles down from the plants on top to the ones at the bottom.

A little garden pond with kangkung (water convolvulus) and water lettuce.

A greywater harvesting and reusing system.

Container gardens for edible gardening are perfect if you live in a small rented space or in an apartment. Save your carrot tops and plant them in pots like ESR has done, and you will soon be able to harvest your very own crop of carrots.

Small, hard guavas.

The back garden with its trellises of Malabar spinach and Terung Pipit (Solanum tarvum) plants.

Malabar Spinach.

Kailan ready for harvesting.

The vermicompost bin is constructed out of salvaged wood and a bathtub that one of the ESR members found by the roadside. The Red Wrigglers in the bin have turned kitchen and garden waste into rich, fertile mulch.

ESR's volunteer Beatrice demonstrates potting and replanting techniques.

The rest of the volunteers help with the planting and repotting.

Nicole clearing up the rubbish left next to the old compost bin so that more plants can be planted next to it.

Joanne weeds the Hugel Bed.

Beng Beng clears dead creepers from the fence.

Reiko with the young papaya plants for transplanting.

I am a crazy weeding machine! 700 weeds and still counting, yo!

A break for tea! Beatrice and Shao-Lyn made tea out of Indian borage, lemongrass and other garden herbs!

Poh Lin ladles out Indian Borage and Lemongrass Tea for the others, while my best friend Nicole poses to her right.

The very stinky and sweaty Green Living coordinator presents a token of appreciation to Shao-Lyn!

A group photo of the participants for posterity.

Seed starter kits containing non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds for sale and distribution. How adorable (and practical) are these? I would like one of each!

On behalf of the participants, I like to express our heartfelt appreciation to Shao-Lyn and Beatrice of ESR for their time, patience, guidance and companionship.

To learn more about 'Eats, Shoots and Roots', please visit their official website at and 'Like' them on Facebook at