Friday, 28 November 2014

Going Bananas over The Watcher

It's no secret that I am an ardent admirer of Dr. Jane Goodall

I love her courage, compassion, intelligence, strength, gentleness and humility. I love how she can inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. I love how she did what was unheard of for young women of her time. I love how she revolutionised how we approach the study of natural history and what we know about chimpanzees. 

When I purchased this book, "The Watcher", on Jane Goodall's early life, it was for the purpose of reading it to the young beneficiaries of The Revolving Library's volunteer reading programme. I wanted Dr. Jane's curiosity, courage and compassion for animals and nature to inspire them, as the same qualities had inspired me. It was just as important that I read this book to boys as to girls. Most of the boys we read to come from environments where women are either victims of abuse or domestic violence, or alternatively, in the role of homemakers, caregivers, cooks and nurturers. There is nothing wrong with them identifying women as caregivers and homemakers, but children also need to know that there are women scientists, doctors, inventors, pilots, soldiers, presidents and athletes out there. Boys need to have strong female role models who break gender stereotypes, too! Besides, a story about Dr. Jane's adventures in Africa would capture any child's imagination, especially children who have never had the opportunity to travel. 

So on 26th April 2014, Aravind and I turned up at the gates of Anbu Illam Home for Boys together with the regular Revolvers (i.e. Revolving Library volunteers), Joslyn, John, Claire and Susan for the boys' weekly reading session. It's not enough to merely supply children's shelters and homes with books, without helping the children develop literacy and a love of reading. So we read, as often and as much as we can, to them. 

I introduced the boys (ages 4-12), to Dr. Jane Goodall

The boys were initially shy, but they moved closer as the story progressed. We built our vocabulary and learned new words. The boys learned and acted out words like "huddle" and "swagger". We pretended we were chimpanzees who didn't hide from the rain, but took shelter under leaves. We learned how to do a "pant-hoot call" (the boys were very enthusiastic and no longer shy by then). 

Kishen loved the book and read it all over again after I was done reading it to them. 

He told Aravind that he would like to be a scientist, too. I think the boys enjoy having adult male mentors to talk to. Kishen was initially a little skeptical and believed Dr. Jane to be a fictional character. I wish I had thought of bringing my netbook and showing them a video of Dr. Jane releasing Wounda back into the wild to convince him that Dr. Jane is very much alive and real. 

We had a one-on-one reading session with the boys after I finished reading "The Watcher" to them. We had to read quietly for around half an hour while waiting for the older boys to finish their weekly Maths tuition class in the living room. 

... And now Kishen has decided that he would much rather listen to Pravin read! 

Once the teens were done with their Maths session, it was time for the boys to play an active game! I had pasted True/False questions on 20 paper bananas to hide around the Home, and the boys had to form 2 teams of chimpanzees to hunt down the bananas and answer the questions. The questions were related to Jane Goodall, chimpanzees and conservation. The team with the highest number of correct answers wins the challenge. I did this to test their comprehension and recollection of the story I read to them. 

The little library turned into a veritable jungle with 20 wild boys going crazy looking for clues. 
(We tidied up together after the game)

When I called for time, they gathered on the reading rug to read out their questions and answer them. The boys spontaneously clapped like chimps and did the pant-hoot call each time someone got a correct answer. It was a lively and hilarious session. I was delighted that they got all the answers correct! Yes, chimpanzees have little or no facial hair! Yes, Jane Goodall grew up in England, not Australia! Yes, you protect chimpanzees by protecting their habitats and making it illegal to trap and sell them or use them in circuses or laboratories! Good job, guys! 

The boys didn't think they have had enough of the chimpanzee-related questions and swapped and read each other's questions. It filled my heart with happiness. They were doing it because they thought it was fun. They didn't care if there was a reward or prize for reading or playing the game. It turned out that I did prepare prizes, though. The winning team received Chimp Food (i.e. banana chips, coconut cream coated crunchy peanuts, and dried apricots). The runners-up received the same prize, only in smaller portions. The boys shared all the food equally, including with the older boys who weren't included in the game or reading session, and that filled my heart with love for them, all over again. 

We had another one-on-one reading session while the boys munched on their chimp food.  

Pravin would strike a pose each time anyone whipped a camera out. He is a smart young man with a positive and enthusiastic attitude. 

Avinash struggled a little with his speech and reading so we went over the book at his pace and I explained the meaning of English words to him. 

John and Susan read a book about eyesight and spectacles together with the boys. We had afternoon tea together with the boys around 5.30 p.m. and then it was time for them to have a thevaram (devotional chanting) class and a round of football before dinner. The boys saw us off with... what else but pant-hoot calls! Oh man, I love those boys! 

It was a most satisfying and enjoyable afternoon and I am just sorry I don't do this more often. May the boys always carry with them the knowledge and memory of Dr. Jane's dedication to protecting the chimpanzees and forests, gentleness and humility when dealing with people and gratitude for the beautiful world we live in. 


I had a case to attend in the Industrial Court this week. I miss the time when this building served as our KL Court Complex. It was old and the stairs were a killer if you had to lug heavy files around, but the building had charm and character. The current KL court complex is an ugly huge energy vampire, all facade and air-conditioned empty spaces and very little else. 

Nature will find a way. (Taken outside my office) 

Goodies that we bought for the YMCA Christmas Party for underprivileged children. 

Our latest rescued kitten, Lennon, being dried off after his first bath. 

Travel-themed vintage airline ad postcards that I sent out for Postcrossing this month. 


Bathing and tickwashing the SPCA shelter dogs on a warm Sunday afternoon. 

There's no such thing as being too late in the day for banana leaf rice. 
(Yes, I regularly eat mountains of rice, and yes, my weight remains the same) 

All lovely and Christmassy even though it's not even December yet!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Letter to the Editor: Assumptions about Migrant Workers Inaccurate and Unhelpful


Hassan Talib's claims on the reasons why migrant workers come to Malaysia and the Malaysian authorities' treatment of undocumented migrants ('Time To Flush Out Illegals', The Star, Nov 19) are rooted in neither facts nor reality.

His comment that undocumented migrants are attracted to Malaysia because of the "good and humane treatment" extended to undocumented migrants is way off the mark. Malaysia's disproportionately harsh treatment of undocumented migrants, which includes flogging and detention without trial under the Immigration Act 1959/1963, as well as poor detention conditions which leave detainees susceptible to communicable diseases, sexual and gender-based violence and other forms of harm, is a matter of grave concern and has been documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Suhakam, among others.

If the writer had ever set foot in an immigration detention camp, he would realise that the 'warm clothing' and 'proper documentation' he had waxed lyrical about do not exist, and any food given is inadequate and would not pass basic hygiene standards. SUARAM reported in 2008 that detainees are only given one cup or half a bottle of water a day. Instances of ill-treatment of detainees, deaths in detention and human trafficking by immigration officials are reported by both domestic and international media.

The UNHCR and other intergovernmental agencies have never "acknowledged Malaysia to be one of the few developing countries that honours and practices the UN Charter in taking care of illegal immigrants". Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, or the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Malaysia does not distinguish between refugees and undocumented migrants, and routinely subject all undocumented migrants, including refugees, to arbitrary arrest, detention and physical punishment. Many undocumented migrants and refugees report of extortion, beatings and other harm in the hands of the Malaysian security forces, paramilitary volunteer corps and employers.

Far from being a "haven for illegal immigrants", Malaysia is actually ranked one of the worst places for migrant workers to work in by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) due to the lack of rights and protection for migrant workers, whether legal or undocumented. The recent deaths of 3 Bangladeshi workers in the MRT construction accident highlight the dangers that migrant workers face in their daily work due to the lack of legal protection and occupational health and safety measures.

The reasons why migrant workers continue to flock to Malaysia in search of jobs are grinding poverty, lack of economic opportunities, civil or political strife, and persecution in their home countries, as well as the untruthful promise of lucrative jobs by agents and employers who go to rural villages to lure young men to work abroad. Governmental corruption and lax border security make it easy for undocumented migrants to enter and remain in Malaysia, despite the threats to their lives, safety and freedom.

No rational person would actually believe that undocumented migrant workers in the agriculture sector are the cause of the illegal land clearing activities in Cameron Highlands. Farm owners prefer to hire migrant workers because they are willing to work long hours for pittance, without benefits and often without protective gear. It is ridiculous to think that the undocumented migrant farm workers are the ones with the prerogative and leverage to order the illegal clearing of land. Migrant farm workers merely follow the instructions of their employers, yet are made scapegoats in latest spate of landslides because Malaysians find it uncomfortable to think of their own countrymen as the culprits.

The environmental crisis in Cameron Highlands is nothing new, nor did it only begin with the arrival of undocumented migrant workers. Every few years, there will be reports of water pollution, use of banned pesticides and herbicides and rampant land clearing in Cameron Highlands, all stemming from the lack of monitoring and enforcement. The problems of landslides, pollution, lower agricultural yield and higher temperatures in Cameron Highlands are not going to go away with the arrest of migrant workers.

As long as the authorities are unwilling to monitor and enforce laws against the farms, as long as consumers are willing to settle for cheaper produce with a high pesticide residue load, as long as farm owners are not made responsible for the environmental health and safety of their farms, farm products and areas surrounding their farms, there can be no resolution to the problems plaguing Cameron Highlands.

As conscientious citizens, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, acknowledge our roles in the damage we've caused to the environment and the human rights abuses we've inflicted on migrant workers, assume responsibility and make reparations to finally put things right.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bento Photodump

Friends often ask me how long I spend preparing each bento lunch. I spend, on average, about 15 - 30 minutes on one, depending on complexity, and usually only on Sunday nights. My bento on most days consists of cut fruits and vegetables, and sandwiches/tortillas/brown rice without the decorations and fancy shapes. It is not a lot more effort than packing a regular lunch. It's not as though I spend hours carving fruits into castles and broccoli into topiary animals. Slicing vegetables with a wavy / ridged cutter or a cookie cutter doesn't take any longer than cutting them with a regular kitchen knife. I don't watch TV, play computer/video games or go shopping except for necessities, so it is easy to find a little time each day to pack a lunch that is healthy and pleasing both to the eyes and to the tastebuds. At my new workplace, there are no cafeterias or vegan/vegetarian eateries within walking distance, so packing a lunch is a necessity, and something I do each day before I go to bed.

2 Sept:
An next-to-zero-effort Mid-Autumn bento.
Fresh figs and oranges from my bestie Nic.

17 Sept:
A bento to commemorate the Scottish referendum.
Dinnae be feart, Scotland, independence no' a bad thing. Ye ken it's time tae rise!

22 Sept:
Sept 21 was the International Day of Peace, which is sorely lacking in this troubled world of ours. It's a day where we get to listen to so-called world leaders and religious leaders pay lip service to the ideals of peace and justice that they have no intention of upholding.

3 Oct:
A parade of rice animals in honour of World Animal Day.

14 Oct:
An Oktoberfest bento, with a fruity German flag and a bottle of my favourite beer! Prost!

20 Oct:
Halloween bento.
With a pair of creepy eyes to look at one's insides with.

3 Nov:
A Korea-themed bento, with kimchi salad and lots of Korean snacks that my parents brought back from their trip.

10 Nov:
I moustache you a question.... are you doing anything for Movember?

17 Nov:
Dinovember bento for November. Also to celebrate the dino fossil finds in Peninsular Malaysia. Dinosaurs rule!

This Fortnight's Photodump:

31 Oct:
Reverse trick-or-treating on the streets of KL with the Friday Reach Out team on Halloween night. Many thanks to our good friend Lawrence Balachandran for sponsoring 45 hot meal packs. Our 2-legged and 4-legged friends will not have to go to bed hungry.

2 Nov:
Aravind managed to catch another stray cat for spaying. Her name is Tara and she is very trusting and affectionate.

2 Nov:
Zoey, our 3-legged SPCA Education Officer, posing with a big clump of hair that I Furminated off her. Maybe I could knit it into a tiny Zoey for her to play with.

3 Nov:
So, on the one day I decide it's probably okay not to wear knee pads, this happened.

6 Nov:
Hello, world. How is everyone doing today? It is quiet and lonely here and there are no Office Cats:(
(Note: I am learning a lot at my new job and improving every day, though.)

8 Nov:
Go, go, SPCA! We're seeing a significant increase in neutering requests and a decrease in surrender and abandonment cases!

8 Nov:
My friend Pyo and her Puppy Posse!

8 Nov:
Truffle, a black velvet Bombay cat with a gentle and calm personality, was unfortunately dumped outside the Malaysian Nature Society office in Jalan Kelantan together with her son, Tinker. We have gotten the both of them neutered and now need to find them a good home, especially since there is a risk that they will not get fed at night or on weekends when there is no-one at the MNS office.

10 Nov:
So the man's pretty good with a gun. (Look closely at the black zone on the target practice sheet and you can see that he hit the bull's eye a few times). So now we know that just in case the lawyer thing doesn't work out, he'd have a good alternative career option as a thug.

11 Nov:
Instapuppy for a dull Tuesday afternoon.

12 Nov:
The days are long but the months are short. Our wee bitty Miranda has grown into a beautiful young cat. She was spayed today and was still a little groggy and disoriented when this photo was taken.

14 Nov:
All grown up, vaccinated, spayed and ready for adoption, although it will break this mama's heart to say goodbye.
(Update: Miranda will go to her new mama (and my good friend!) Lin Idrus this coming weekend once the spay site has healed completely. I could not be happier. I am not losing Baby Miranda; she has merely gained another mama to love her. :'))

14 Nov:
The Christmas tree in the YMCA lobby with all the children's Christmas wishes. Many requests are for heartbreakingly simple things like new t-shirts, clothes and book vouchers. Aravind and I will be sponsoring 5 wishes between the two of us.

15 Nov:
Cuddling with Stephy, the grumpy mama cat, at the SPCA. She likes the fact that I clean their litter trays but not the fact that I Frontline them.

16 Nov: 
Our street friends queuing up for clothes during Reach Out on Saturday night. Although the clothes were pre-loved, most were in excellent condition. That's how donation and service works, folks. Give unto all the best you have, not the worst.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Monthly Bucket List, October 2014

Monthly Bucket List, Oct 2014: 

If October was a month of tying up loose ends and bidding farewell, November is looking a lot like a month of displacement and new beginnings. It's hard to uproot yourself from something you are familiar and comfortable with. Change is always hard. But harder still is failing to change and grow, and having to live with the regret of knowing that you failed to change and grow.

1. Make a new friend.

Of the new people I met in October, one of them, Navindran, became more than merely an acquaintance or associate, thanks to our shared interests in community service and providing food for the hungry and vulnerable. I got to know him when I ordered Deepavali cookies and murukku from him, the proceeds of which were for the benefit of Rumah Jaireh, a home for women and children living with HIV/AIDS. 

Aravind and I found out later that Navindran has several friends in common with us and that he is a ReachOut Malaysia volunteer as well, although he usually goes for the food distribution run on a different night than we do. We also learned that Navindran and his friends packed and distributed Deepavali cookies and goodies for our homeless friends. Big guy, big heart.

2. Help a stranger.

My friend Sazlinur Manja Bidin ('Man') is by no means a stranger to me, but this cause involving him is a new cause to me. The organisation he works with, MYCAT, set up a crowdfunding initiative to help fund the cost for him to attend a conservation leadership course in Cambridge. I cannot think of anyone more deserving that Man, so I gave as much as I could spare. A few weeks ago, it didn't look like he could raise the entire funds before the deadline, and I was worried and had wondered how to help him out further. But we received the announcement from MYCAT that the target collection amount was achieved a few days ago, and Man would be going for the Cambridge course after all. Three cheers for Man! I know he will do us proud.

I've been a volunteer for the Malaysian Nature Society for over 13 years but I've never raised funds for them by running a marathon for them before, so my participation in the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon in October and the RM652 I raised for them is a first for me.

... And of course the cookies and murukku I purchased from Navindran helped to raise funds for Rumah Jaireh, and the goodies were then given to various individuals as part of my Random Acts of Deepavali Kindness. A jar of cookies went to Aravind's apartment security guards, another jar to my former colleagues when I dropped by to say hello, another jar went to the council road sweepers in my neighbourhood, and the remaining jars went to the SPCA staff.

On the occasion of Aravind and Serina's birthdays I made donations to two social enterprises with very worthy objectives -- The Lucky Iron Fish Project, which works to combat iron deficiency in impoverished Cambodia...

... and, a microfinance scheme that helps provide microcredit loans for socially and environmentally responsible causes and small businesses in the developing world. Under Kiva's gift section, I could make a gift of a donation and the birthday gift recipient (not the beneficiary, mind) will be notified of it by email and would get to choose the cause or beneficiary closest to their hearts to direct the donations to.

Both noble causes for two awesome persons.

When my friend Sara Sukor informed her friends on Facebook of Pak Arom, an indigenous community leader in need of funds for medical treatment, I helped to chip in a little as well. It's always good to know that you can depend on the kindness of strangers. I always have. And I'd like to pay it forward by trying to be that kind stranger to others whenever I am able to. We all do what we can, within our means.

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.

October was, for some yummy reason, a good month for trying new foods and eating at new places.

I sampled physalis fruit (colloquially known as 'lantern fruit'), which I had previously thought was purely ornamental (hee hee! What a funny assumption for a natural history afficionado to make!). It tasted like a cross between a mango plum (kundang), a cherry and a cherry tomato...

... And vegan Coconut Ice candy that was pricey but absolutely delicious, with a fruity hint and a slight tart taste that sets it apart from the cloyingly sweet Indian coconut squares...

... And a Lemon Slice at Artisan Coffee, a cafe new to me, when I met up with my friend MamaTomAJ to deliver the cookies that she had ordered from Navindran through me...

... I also had a rich and luscious baked pumpkin penne pasta and iced lychee mint frosty at the aptly-named Delicious Restaurant in Bangsar Village...

... And when I met up with two of my best friends at work, Shamini and Karen, after leaving my former workplace, we had dinner at The Daily Grind and shared a tempeh and chickpea burger, roasted pumpkin salad and a slice of hummingbird cake, all 3 of which I have never tried before.

(Note: Despite all the good food, I still lost weight from the stress of the career change.)

4. Go someplace I've never been.

Inn October, I went to two places that I've never been, both destinations together with Aravind and my dear friends Serina and Shalan.

In the first week of October, we went paddleboarding at Tasik Biru Kundang...

... And in the final week of October, we checked out Jumpstreet, the indoor trampoline park, and gave our legs (and bladder muscles!) a workout by bouncing and jumping our way into utter exhaustion.

5. Learn something new.

In October, I finally learned how to paddleboard, which I have wanted to do for months...

... And in preparation for my new job, I read up on an industry I have no previous knowledge of. It's good to challenge ourselves intellectually, even if it means having to learn about things you don't find interesting or fun.

6. Declutter and cull 100 items.

One would have thought that after over 5 months of decluttering and culling 100 items a month, my Bachelor Pad would be bare by now, but nooooo.... thanks to my packrat roommates, there was always something else that needed cleaning and decluttering. I mostly work on a different cabinet, box or area each week.

Over the course of the last month, I cleaned out various baskets, boxes and cabinets in the house including the Tupperware cabinet, and removed over 100 items for recycling and donation.

All those toys, writing supplies, novelty erasers and child-friendly swag from events such as stress balls and notepads that I have accumulated over the years -- I put them into a bag for my friend Reita to bring to the children of the indigenous communities that she works with...

... Which resulted in these happy little faces. Makes my heart so glad. Not proud of the fact that I am giving out plastic toys and tchotchke, though. My next goal would be to collect pre-loved books and school supplies for them. Perhaps I can collect all the surplus t-shirts from events and marathons from the organisers of events in future, and have them distributed to the homeless and poor.

In late October, a youth environmental outreach initiative, MESYM, organised a recycling drive to collect items such as beverage cartons (for repurposing into lightweight roofing and construction materials), electronic waste such as old cellular phones and chargers (for materials recovery, recycling and safe disposal) and expired or unused medication (for safe disposal), so I managed to unearth a small bagful of unused and expired medication and a dozen old cell phones and chargers for recycling.

This is a good awareness-raising initiative, and I will try to organise one next year at a Malaysian Nature Society event, for example, during our annual Open Day.

7. Give up something for a month.

I think I gave up all semblance of work-life balance in October. :( Work-wise, it has been a very demanding month.

I unfortunately had to take a break from kickboxing and skateboarding for a month, which really, is not something I am pleased to report in my Monthly Bucket List at all. I hope to resume both in November.

8. Letter to the Editor

I am adding a new, optional category in my Monthly Bucket List. I am going to make a conscious effort to speak up more regularly on environmental, animal rights and social justice issues, and will try to submit a Letter to the Editor each month on a current issue I feel strongly about, especially an issue not previously addressed by other parties.

Writing calms me, and helps me organise my thoughts and express them in a lucid and balanced way. Just as sketching, drawing, painting and creating bento lunches feed my soul, writing helps me feel whole and alive.

Upon reading the lifestyle pages on 14 Oct, I was not pleased with the way a leading English daily misrepresented the sale of sharks (for consumption) as part of an ecotourism initiative, and wrote in to the paper. My letter was duly published, albeit heavily edited, on 20 Oct 2014.

Still, I'll take what I can get. Hopefully it has opened up the eyes of at least a few readers on the consumption of and trade in wildlife and wildlife parts.

The days go by so fast.

"We think about tomorrow then it slips away/
We talk about forever but we've only got today/"