Tuesday, 22 December 2015

37th Solar Return

I celebrated my 37th Solar Return two weeks ago by taking the day off work. For around a month, I had been carrying out a private little project I call Project 370, to give away RM370 in cash to various beneficiaries (which does not include my usual causes and projects). Among those I gave to were two animal rescuers, a single mother who sells tapioca and plantain chips outside the neighbourhood Maybank, the elderly differently-abled man who sells vadai and idiyappam outside the SPCA gates and to the workmen repairing the rubbish disposal area at my apartment. RM370 is not much, but then again, I am no Zuckerberg. I have parents to support, bills to pay and vet fees to settle. I will continue to give as often as I can, to as many beneficiaries as I can, but for now, I can mostly afford to only volunteer my time and energy.

My friends from the Yellow House KL Volunteer Hostel joined me in Ikea for a game of hide-and-seek that I had been planning for weeks. The rules are that participants are not allowed to hide inside furniture, damage or deface any property, scare other customers or do anything to alert non-participants to the fact that there is a hide-and-seek game going on. It turned out fantastic. I elected myself Seeker and went in search of the 5 Hiders. Babaq and Gibran were the first to be found, but Gibran ran away and continued to hide. Babaq assisted me in seeking the others out. We found Shyam and Gibran next, hidden behind a barricade of sofa cushions. Migle was found behind a curtain in a bedroom. Suntheran was the last to be found, since he shifted positions each time I passed by an area. It was a great game. I had circled Ikea at least 4 times by then and knew practically all the names, prices and specifications of everything by the end of 2 hours.

We had a late tea at the Ikea Cafe. It was raining heavily outside by then and we warmed ourselves out with vegan 'meatballs', cake and coffee. I thanked my friends for being such good sports and making my day for coming out to play with me.

It was soon evening. I picked up several cartons of juice and 24 doughnuts and headed over to the sports centre in University Malaya where I volunteer every Wednesday night with Care2Mentor. It didn't seem like anybody knew it was my birthday, and that was just fine with me. I didn't explain what occasion the doughnuts and juice was for.

We ran relay races around the track and I am glad I have not lost my ability to sprint 400 metres. Our games master Rudhra, an exceptional volunteer, came up with challenges in which our mentees had to relay tongue-twisters to the subsequent runners and the last runner has to deliver the message to the group, as in a game of Chinese Whispers / Broken Telephone.

After the final lap, all of us mentors and mentees formed a circle for the final message. I was the last in the circle, and imagine my surprise when the message turned out to be "It is Ee Lynn's birthday today. Sing her the birthday song." They did, and our group leader / founder Prem Kumar ran up to the middle of the circle with a homemade birthday cake for me. This means a lot to me as I think the world of this group of mentors. It felt really wonderful. We ended the session with a supper of cake, doughnuts, juice and bananas and I drove my teenage charges home.

I had another little celebration with my family on the weekend, and my team at work bought me a cake as well, so it has been quite a special week.

Come to think of it, every week is special, with its own projects and causes and special things to look forward to. Life is good. It really is.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Monthly Bucket List, November 2015

I won an iPhone 6S in the Kindmeal.my contest, which means that I am now posting from my new phone, but it also means that I now have difficulty retrieving and posting the photos from my old phone, so for now, this post will have to be sans photos.
1. Make a new friend

(i) Although I commenced volunteering with Care2Run / Care2Mentor in October, I only got to know the other volunteers -- chiefly, Mee Leng, Angela, Rudra and Hari -- better in November.

(ii) In November, while planning and preparing for the Year-End Party at Beacon of Hope, I got to know Amelia (the one helping me hold the pinata pole steady in the picture), one of the contributors for the Beacon Year End Party, who also attended the party.
2. Help a stranger.

(i) Through my friend Lynette, I got to know of Andrea Reger, an animal rescuer in Penang, and contributed towards the vet bills of two of her rescued little ones, a puppy and a cat with a recurring prolapse. I am sending good vibes to the universe for the furry ones' recovery and adoption.

(ii) I took in another foster cat in November. My friends Seng and Carol asked if I could take in a young female stray living outside their home and I agreed to do it if they would pay for her vaccination and ELISA snap test. It is a reasonable request and they did it promptly, after which I took in Zeya. She looks to be part Burmese, so I named her "Zeya", which is Burmese/Bamar for "victory" or "success". Within the first 2 days of Zeya moving in, I realised that she is in heat. Oh boy. Good times -- not. Thankfully, it cleared up in less than a week and I managed to get Zeya spayed last week. She is a lovely and sweet kitty, although very timid, and I will take my time in getting her socialised and ready for rehoming.
3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.
(Photo credits: www.hungryangmo.com)
(i) My friend Lai Wah treated me to lunch at Laksmi Villas vegetarian restaurant in Lebuh Ampang when I went to meet up with her to pick up a backpack and school supplies she had pledged for one of my students in Beacon. The food is good and not as pricy as Sangeetha's, which I also enjoy.

(Photo credits: my.openrice.com)
(ii) My Big Bro and Sis-In-Law came over for our niece Hailey's full moon celebration, and Covert Twin took us to Sofie Seafood and Grill, One City Mall, which does have several vegetarian options, only everything is so pricy.

(Photo credits: driftlessorganics.com)
(iii) I finally tried parsnip for the first time and wonder what took me so long to discover it. It tastes rather like a jicama, which surprised me. I had expected it to taste more like radish or turnip.

(Photo credits: Pinterest)
(iv) I have always had kedondong (Ambarella) juice in Malay food stalls but hadn't realised I could eat the fruit raw. Sometimes I marvel at how long it took me to come to realisations like this one. I finally bought some to add to my bento lunch. The fruits are tart and crisp and quite refreshing although not sweet.

4. Go someplace I've never been.

(Photo credits: www.theantdaily.com)
(i) Thanks to CovertTwin and Hailey, I've been seeing more of that part of town, and in November I visited One City Mall and Subang Skypark.

(ii) Finally went for a pre-LASIK assessment in ISEC. This is probably going to burn a hole in my savings account but on the plus side I may finally be rid of my glasses for good.

5. Learn something new.

Thanks to the fact that there is now a baby in the house, CovertTwin and I were compelled to learn how to use a Nosefrida one rainy week when Hailey suffered from nasal congestion and rhinitis. It worked like magic, and our relief was palpable.
6. Give up something for a month.

Upon learning that almost all chewing gum is now synthetic and therefore, plastic and non-biodegradable, I decided to give it up for good. I had previously chewed 1-2 pellets of sugarfree gum a day, especially while driving.

7. Letter to the Editor.

I submitted a letter to the editor on the need for stronger laws and enforcement on turtle egg consumption on 12th November and it was published in various news sites and newspapers that week.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Monthly Bucket List, October 2015.

This post is long overdue. With so many things going on each week, there was just not enough time to post all the photos and write out my blogposts. Also, I became an aunt when CovertTwin's wife gave birth to a little girl, so I have been carving out as much time as possible to visit my little niece. To heck with home remodelling, drafting articles and blogging, I have a niece!

Just look at her, have you ever seen a cheekier face? I think she is going to be a right proper monkey, like me!

1. Make a new friend

I dropped by Corezone to pick up the prizes for the winners of our Earth Day Cleanup Contest and met Sharon, one of the business partners who ran the place. Nice lady, very smart and outdoorsy, makes me feel like a lazy lumpy couch potato, but that's my fault, not hers.

Our Malaysian Nature Society annual Festival of Wings took place in early October and I recruited Karen and her childhood friend Suan Lynn as volunteers for our Green Living / Firefly Conservation and Awareness booth since I was severely shorthanded.

A visiting friend-of-a-friend from New Zealand, David Titheridge, expressed his desire to volunteer with Beacon of Hope while he is in Malaysia, and so for 3 weeks I had excellent company to and from the tuition centre. His friendliness, humility and courtesy made him an ideal volunteer. I hope he comes back to visit us again soon. The children like him already.

Amit Kumar is one of Prem's friends who I met when I happened to swing by the Malaysian Nature Society HQ one Saturday afternoon. We found out that we have a lot in common so we will probably end up in random volunteering jaunts together.

2. Help a stranger.

One of the other volunteer teachers at Beacon, Zubaidah (far right, standing, in black headscarf and top), has a 16-year-old daughter has sickle cell anaemia and cerebral palsy, and I assisted with cash contributions and diapers and baby products.

I found out that Judy, a kitchen helper at the vegan stall in the food court I frequent, needed help getting her rescued stray cats neutered and spayed, so I took the cats to the SPCA for spaying and took care of them until they could be safely returned to her and released in her porch.

October meant time for another blood donation since my haemoglobin count was low in Sept.

I have also started volunteering for a new cause, Care2Run, as a mentor to get underprivileged children and teens involved in sports and outdoor activities. We buddy up with the youngsters twice a week, get them to do proper warm-up and stretching exercises, run for approximately an hour, and enrol them in charity runs and road races. It has been exhausting but exhilarating.

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me.

Lots of new-to-me eats in October:

(i) Kelantan food stall at Jalan Bellamy with Serina and the gang.

(ii) Colourful Thai dodol from Serina's latest work trip to Thailand.

(iii) Lunch at Organic Express in SS2 with Dee Lu and Sharon.

(iv) Friday lunch at Oriental Garden Vegetarian Restaurant at Kelana Mall.

(v) Checked out O Bean, a new veg restaurant in Damansara Jaya, with Arnie and Karen.

(vi) The new Ikea vegan meatballs rocked my world. Absolute crack.

4. Go someplace I've never been.

(i) Westin Hotel in Bukit Bintang with Aravind for a work event.

(ii) CoreZone, a outdoor equipment store in SS2.

(iii) Organic Express vegetarian restaurant in SS2.

(iv) Oriental Garden vegetarian restaurant in Kelana Mall.

(v) O Bean vegetarian restaurant in Damansara Jaya, which I went to with Karen and Arnie.

(vi) Visiting my new baby niece Hailey (!!!) in a part of Subang Jaya I have never been to before.

5. Learn something new.

So in October I became an aunt, and I learned how to hold a one-week-old baby. I'm pretty fearless at it now :) I love Hailey, she brought a ray of sunshine into our lives. I am going to be the best aunt possible.

6. Declutter and cull 100 items.

In October, I spring-cleaned parts of the parental home and removed lots of old magazines for recycling, rotten stuffed animals for disposal (hardest thing I ever had to do. I thought my heart was going to stop beating while doing it. My brain kept telling me they are just toys, but my heart wept goodbye to my old friends. It felt awful) The stuffed animals that are still in good condition will be given to children in indigenous communities who don't have many toys. My toys will get dirty, but at least they will get played with and be loved.

8. Give up something for a month.

Buy Nothing New -- tried it, loved it, nailed it, will continue doing it. I made my own Halloween decorations, costume and favours without buying anything new.

9. Letter to the Editor.

I submitted a letter to the press on shark fishing in Malaysia on 7 Oct 2015. It was published in several news sites on 9 Oct 2015.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Illusion Visiting Mini Exhibition at the Petrosains Discovery Centre

Petrosains: The Discovery Centre, is one of the national petroleum industry's most effective greenwashing and marketing tools. That's right, people, get the kiddies while they're still little and impressionable, and let them know how amazing and indispensable fossil fuels are!
While I am not a fan of the oil and gas industry, I do think that Petrosains has certain entertainment value and educational merits, one of them being that it hosts travelling science exhibitions, such as Illusion, a science and art exhibition from Dublin.
I was in that part of town on a particular Saturday morning and so I persuaded Aravind to attend the exhibition with me. I paid for the admission tickets to the mini exhibition (priced at RM15.90) and we made our way to the annexe without mowing down any of the preschoolers who seem to visit Petrosains by the busloads on a daily basis.
The most frustrating thing about this exhibition is that only the signs that are in Bahasa are in plain sight. The English-language signs are visible only under UV light, and tiny UV flashlights were suspended on equally tiny cords next to the signboards. We didn't understand the rationale behind this. Yes, it's supposed to be a little like a game of hide-and-seek, but the remarkable thing is that half the UV flashlights were not functioning or out of batteries.
Oh joy.
Aravind and I can read Bahasa just fine, but woe betide the hapless non-local, non-national-school-educated visitor who wants to find out more about the exhibits and installations.
Why must people make things so unnecessarily complicated for themselves and others? What next? Are they going to make us crawl through tunnels upside down with high-pressure jets of water aimed at us to get to the English language signs?

There were however, quite a number of intriguing installations which we rather enjoyed.
Bottle Magic, Jeff Scanlan, USA (2000) -- the bottles were not cut or altered in any way, and no, the bottles were not blown/constructed around their contents.
"All the Universe is Full of the Lives of the Perfect Creatures"
Karolina Sobecka (2012)
This is an interactive mirror that tracks your head and face movements and replaces the reflection of your face with the holographic image of an animal. Aravind's reflection is that of a German Shepherd dog or wolf. I got an ungulate of some sort -- a deer or ibex or something.

"Delicate Boundaries"
Chris Sugrue, USA.
Not for the mysophobic or entomophobic.
Motion aftereffect illusion. This is actually a mural on a completely flat wall.

"The Point of Perception", by Maddie Boyd, UK.
Now this I did like. It created a sense that I was looking out a window into a dark mess of wilderness behind Petrosains. Quite nightmarish, but in a pleasant way, like when you know you can wake up anytime you want.

Lots of exhibits involving mirrors and projected images suggesting things that aren't there or are something else.
"You. Here. Now."
Ian Wilcock, UK.
A brilliant portrait system that creates a pixelated portrait of the person standing in front of it using a mosaic of images harvested from the Internet. It's easier to stand in front of a mirror or camera, but not half as fascinating.

A virtual barbershop that uses the stereo effect to create the illusion of sounds coming from different parts of the room. Ingenious and witty.
A proper old-timey zoetrope! With a surreal animation of a corpse or something snaking up and down the wall. Uncanny.

They weren't kidding when they called it a 'mini exhibition'. We were done looking at all the exhibits in an hour. For the price of a cinema ticket, I'd expect something that would keep me occupied for at least 2 hours.

Still, it could be that we are adults, and the interactive science and optical illusion workshops (which would make our visit worth the ticket price) are targeted at schoolchildren.

Would I recommend visiting this exhibition? Yes, if you have RM15 burning a hole in your pocket, are able to read Bahasa (since the UV flashlights that would enable you to read the English signs often do not work) and have children young enough to benefit from the interactive workshops.

It was all reasonably entertaining for adults like us, but most of the exhibits are static ones of images such as the Penrose triangle and vanishing black dot, and of the 'which of the dots is bigger than the other' variety that you find in the 1970s edition of the Children's Britannica.

Still miles better than visiting our National Art Gallery or National Science Centre with its outdated exhibits, but also rather like picking up the shiny expensive cracker next to your plate at Christmas and pulling it to find only a tissue paper crown, a riddle and a cheapie plastic ornament in it.