Thursday, 28 April 2016

Haikus for a Wednesday Night

Latin swing music.
Patchouli on your washed skin.
Books falling off the bed.

Staccato raindrops.
The cold outline of your crucifix
Pressed against my back.

Your fingers trace my scars.
Just two habitual drifters
In an indifferent night.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Letter to the Editor: Stop Degazetting Forest Reserves for Highway Projects

The Selangor State Government’s tenacity in degazetting and destroying forest reserves for tolled highway projects is an outrage to the principles of integrity, transparency and environmental responsibility it had promised it would uphold during the last General Elections.
The East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) would brutalise the Ulu Gombak and Ampang forests, fragmenting wildlife habitats and destroying vital watershed areas as it does so. Now the proposed Sungai Besi – Ulu Klang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) would bisect and destroy more green lungs, including Bukit Saga, a nature spot beloved by hikers and campers, while the proposed Damansara-Shah Alam Highway (DASH) would cut through the Bukit Cherakah and Sungai Buloh forest reserves.
The plans for these highway projects are seen to have been pushed through with alarming haste, without giving citizen action groups and residents sufficient notice or opportunity to provide their feedback on the same. It has been reported that the SUKE and DASH highway projects were not even formally listed in the local planning documents as required by the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, and as such, the said plans should have been rejected from the start.
The destruction of these vital forest reserves in an already overdeveloped state will result in more dry spells and poorer water and air quality for Selangor residents. Constructing roads through previously forested areas would increase wildlife mortality, provide access to loggers, poachers and hunters, and increase soil, water, air, noise and light pollution in ecologically-sensitive areas. Residents in areas near highways would not only suffer adverse health effects, but would also be deprived of recreational areas and the opportunity to connect with nature.
As the rest of the world is making its best efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the proponents of these highway projects appear to be quite happy to increase carbon emissions and damage to natural areas while paying lip service to the ideas of environmental protection and community engagement. No amount of tree-planting and environmental awareness campaigns can compensate for the loss of vital forest reserves, some of which are centuries old.
There is insufficient evidence that highway construction can divert traffic away from congested areas and improve traffic flow. Any road user in Malaysia can attest to the fact that traffic congestion can occur on highways as well as trunk roads and residential areas. If anything, highway projects encourage greater private vehicle ownership and put more vehicles on our roads. Traffic volume will simply rise along with the number of roads if there are no feasible alternatives to driving.
The solution to traffic problems is not to increase the number of highways, but to create solid, functional alternatives to driving and private vehicle ownership. A reliable and extensive public transport system (especially a bus service using existing road systems) and increased road safety will benefit human populations and reduce harm to the environment, cost less and take less time to implement than the construction of more highways.
Governments need to be responsive to the changing transportation needs of its citizens. Higher urban costs of living mean that fewer people will be able to afford private vehicles. A younger and more educated urban population will also mean greater concern for the environment and greater interest in cycling, telecommuting, ride-sharing, working from home and flexible work hours.
Malaysia has the infrastructure and resources to create an efficient and practical public transport system, but we need to improve our service and maintenance culture. We need leaders with the political will to reduce environmental damage and stop wasting public funds on unnecessary highway projects. If these highway projects are allowed to proceed despite the strong objections of citizens, we, the citizens, will have to bear the economic and environmental cost of the state government’s profligacy and lack of foresight.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Spring Equinox Weekend

So I hear it is spring in many parts of the world right now. Nope, no change here in my neck of the woods. Hot, humid and hazy as usual. With intermittent rain that leaves dusty streaks all over one's car.
The Spring Equinox / Easter weekend had been a rather busy one, even by my standards.
'Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice' opened in cinemas that week, and I caught the midnight screening on the 23rd and agreed to go again with Angela and Rudhra on the 25th.

I am clearly taking sides and making no apology about it.

While waiting to enter the cinema, we wandered around the shopping mall late at night after all the shops have closed. Rudhra and I decided to play on the Spun chairs until the kindly security guard came to ask us to leave politely.
I watched 'Dawn of Justice' twice only because of Jeremy Irons and Gal Gadot.

Jeremy Irons, oh my.

Cavill is rather attractive and Affleck is charmingly broody, but I would rather have Mr. Classical Actor with the Crisp Manly Voice anytime.

Funnel ferry bubble bath, funnel ferry bubble bath.

If I am ever in a relationship again, I want my partner to whisper that to me. The dialogue was otherwise cringeworthy and the plot illogical and full of gaps. I love Batman but he delivered some of the worst lines to ever come out on the big screen. "That is the smell of fear. You are not brave. Men are brave". What in damnation? Did they get someone's 9-year-old nephew drunk  on Mountain Dew and set him out to write the script with a crayon? Batman, you're just being an asshole. Superman wasn't being a coward, he was dying. Suffocating is not the same thing as chickening out.

Still, watching Gal Gadot make her dramatic entrance made it worth the ticket price. Of both tickets.

Saturday was spent at the SPCA animal shelter, bathing and tickwashing dogs and Frontlining cats as usual. Here are two of the puppies we had at the shelter that particular weekend, Porsche and Mercedes, both female. They have since been adopted together by a loving and deserving family.
After tidying up at the shelter and showering, I barrelled over to KLCC to meet up with Angela and Rudhra for dinner. 

I have always loved KLCC Park especially at sundown, when the lights are switched on but the sky is not completely dark yet. The musical rainbow fountains may be kitschy but I still find them rather captivating.
The actual reason we went to KLCC that night was to check out the giant indoor slide for adults at Avenue K, because I had read about it on TimeOutKL and wanted to have a go on it before it was dismantled. Angela declined to have a go, but Rudhra and I went to town on it.

Of course I had to do a 'Superman' on it like the big nerd that I am.
I should not have stayed out so late on Saturday night knowing that I had a race to participate in on Sunday morning. I had registered for a charity challenge run to benefit the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. The event could have been better managed. There was insufficient information on the run. I didn't even know the distance, the 'challenges' involved, whether it was a proper competition or whether there would be race kits and finisher's medals until I was at the starting line. I did it to support and advance the cause of the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia, of which I am a life member and volunteer, and that was all that was important to me.
I signed up alone but made friends with the other participants standing to my left and right during the warm-up session. The organisers had run out of race shirts by then but I didn't mind as I didn't really need another shirt. I have given all my race shirts to the homeless through Kedai Jalanan, our pop-up street store, anyway.
Well, the participants were split into two groups due to the narrowness of the starting point, so there was no way of getting a fair or accurate assessment of the runners' speed. Good thing the organisers didn't plan on giving out prizes to participants who crossed the finish line first, or they would have started a riot. The event also entailed running up and down the steep speedbumps and hillocks on the mountain bike trail, through a web of old rubber tyres and through a pond made by filling up the bowl at the skate park with water.
I crossed the finish line with my 'turtle egg' intact and claimed both my finisher's medal and 'mystery prize' (a keychain) and went to the Turtle Conservation Society booth to chat with my friend, the co-founder, Pelf, and her amiable and supportive mother, who seems to be the most regular volunteer for her daughter's cause.

With Pelf and her Mum at the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia booth. And yes, I ran in jeans and the previous night's clothes because that's how I roll. Of course the cuffs of my Bermuda jeans got wet while I was wading through the skate-bowl-pond, but it wasn't dirty or uncomfortable to sit in or anything.
Went home to do an Easter Egg Hunt for the Rowdies since it was Easter Sunday after all, and my niece is still too little to hunt for eggs.
I managed to get flat-bottomed plastic eggs from 7-Eleven to make it easier for the eggs to stand on one end. Then I filled each egg with Greenies and other cat treats and put the lids on loosely so that my cats could still smell the treats within. I shook the treat-filled eggs to get their attention and then hid the eggs all over the house.

It was a great success. Classic animal enrichment activity. The Rowdies loved hunting down and opening up their Easter eggs.

These two. Up to no good as usual.

What a pawsome Easter for my pawsome little family.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Game On At The Wee Green Flat

The Backstory: ICL Surgery:
Getting Lasik surgery done has always been an item on my Mighty Life List. I have been wearing glasses from the age of nine and lenses from the age of 18, and I wish to experience travelling, camping and outdoor activities without the hassle of lugging contact lens cases and cleaning solutions with me everywhere. Also, my eyes have also become more sensitive over time and are prone to allergies.

Following the recommendation of several physicians, I underwent an assessment for Lasik at ISEC in January, but was informed that my corneas are too thin. The alternative would be Implantable Contact Lenses (ICL), which has significant advantages over Lasik and other forms of treatment, but would be considerably more expensive. I decided to go for it and underwent the surgery on 25th February.

It went well and I was discharged within a few hours, and my best friend Nicole came to pick me up, take me out to dinner, drive me home and clean the cat litter trays after the surgery. She even brought me blueberries to speed up the healing process. Thank providence for best friends!
The healing process went as well as I had dared to hope for. It was like getting a brand new pair of eyes. I have never seen so clearly in my life. I seem to have been living in a fudgy foggy world all this while until I had the surgery done. I felt some initial guilt for undergoing an expensive and unnecessary 'luxury' surgery when there are so many people and animals in grave need of medical attention out there unable to pay their bills. However, my friends reminded me that it is no crime to take care of ourselves, and having healthy, strong eyes that are not allergy-prone would probably help me be a better volunteer. I will be able to work for hours without having itching rheumy eyes now. I might probably even see in the dark! Maybe my eyes will even shoot laser beams! Or perhaps I will develop x-ray vision that will help me locate missing animals and hidden wildlife snares!
I have awesome friends, I know.
As part of post-surgery care, I was advised not to swim, play high-impact sports or expose my eyes to dust, dander or other possible allergens for at least a week. So for the first time in decades, I was not able to volunteer for a single cause all weekend (except draft letters to the editor, newsletter articles and committee reports for the Malaysian Nature Society, review a Press Release for MYCAT and update on some event preparations for Raptor Watch).
The Game Plan:
My friends Rudhra and Angela then made plans to keep me company on Saturday night by bringing the gang over for Game Night at my Wee Green Flat, something we had previously indicated interest in doing but never got around to. I have BioViva, Jenga, congkak, card games and rattan puzzles. Our friends Hari and YJ have a greater variety of board games and agreed to bring them over so we would have more to choose from.
With great anticipation I cleaned up the flat and got ready for my friends' arrival. Hari, YJ, Ming, Rudhra and Angela were ushered in with much enthusiasm.

A pizza dinner was the first order of the day.

I mixed whiskey-and-ginger-ale and Malibu-pineapple to loosen everyone up a little. The pizzas were duly devoured. Bowls of fruits and snacks went around the coffee table as we discussed the rules and instructions of games.

We settled on Seven Wonders because it sounded sufficiently complex and interesting.
I did poorly in the first round because I was still figuring out what I could and could not do. But Angela and I beat all the guys in the second round to emerge champion and runner-up respectively! You're going down, Halicarnassus! You're routed, Zeus at Olympia! Ephesos B shall prevail and emerge victorious!

So engrossed were we in the game that we played for hours and didn't have the opportunity to play other games. This can only mean one thing: We need to schedule regular Game Nights! I would be happy to host them anytime.

So many games, so little time! We have to do this again soon! Thank you so much for coming over, guys!
Until then, Ephesos B, out!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Zen Pencils In Malaysia

One of my favourite cartoonists, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils' fame, visited Malaysia for the first time on Feb 11 and had two book signing and meet-the-fans sessions at Kinokuniya KLCC and Borders Bookstore, The Curve.
Zen Pencils has been featured in various publications and was named one of the best 100 websites of 2013 by PC Mag. Both his hardcopy comic books are on the New York Times bestseller list.
I love his imaginative and artistic interpretations of famous quotes and speeches, and I use his comics to inspire and encourage the youngsters I mentor. There's just something really sincere, engaging, uplifting and heartwarming about each comic strip. Reading each comic strip is like a spa for the soul.
You can imagine my excitement when I was informed that he would be in Malaysia for a book tour. I managed to take the afternoon off work to meet him and get my copy of his book signed. I arrived early and fidgeted for 40 minutes until he arrived.

So the man sweeps in and immediately applogises for being 15 minutes late because the book signing queue at KLCC was much longer than either bookstore had anticipated. What a nice guy. It's not your fault the traffic and fans were what they were, Gavin. It wasn't within your control.
He talked about how he got into cartooning and what the cartooning process is like, and took questions from fans. It was thrilling to be able to go inside his brilliant mind a little.

He was requested to sketch some of his comic strip characters for us. My request was for Boy Inventor and Gavin obliged. Boy Inventor appeared in only two comic strips but is well-loved and widely recognised.

The talk and sketching session was followed by a Meet The Fans and autograph session. There was a queue of approximately 60-80 fans at this session.


I was one of the first to arrive at the event but somehow ended up at the back of the autograph queue. Finally, it was my turn to meet him. I told him about how I use Zen Pencils to introduce famous personalities and inspiring quotes to the children I mentor. I use the free posters to encourage reluctant readers to read and find out more about everyone from Gandhi to Goodall. I let him know he is making a bigger difference than he realises. I think he really appreciated hearing that. Any artist would.

And then I took the opportunity to show him some of my cartoons. I brought Boll Weevil Knievel and Mousey Dong with me. 

Boll Weevil Knievel

Mousey Dong

I informed him that I had stopped cartooning for decades, but decided to resume it as a hobby after seeing his comic strip interpreting "Is That Not Worth Exploring" (by James Rhodes). I informed him that upon reading that particular comic strip, I realised that I didn't have to excel in cartooning or make a living out of it, I just had to continue doing it and making time for it if it brings me joy. 

And so I did, on the backs of notebooks and meeting books and office diaries. I sketched my silly cartoons for myself, not to impress others with, and sometimes I posted them on Facebook to get a laugh out of my friends. It was thanks to Zen Pencils that I decided to resume doing something I had loved so much.

He didn't seem tired of hearing that from fans at all. He seemed sincerely delighted and said he thinks my cartoons are funny, and Mousey Dong is "really good" and encouraged me to keep on cartooning.

So we posed with his book and poster, and he decided to take my cartoons out of their folder and pose with them. So awesome. What a great guy! And THAT is how you create lifelong fans!

"Thank you for your kind words and keep on cartooning".
Yes, I will, and thank you for being as wonderful in real life as we had imagined you to be, Gavin!


Friday, 8 April 2016

A Tangkak Microadventure

Q: What do C2R and GEAR volunteers do upon the completion of a successful season?
A: Why, they get themselves all beat up on a 6-hour hike through the wilderness of Gunung Ledang National Park, of course!
This was a purportedly relaxing Volunteer Appreciation Hike organised by Prem Kumar for the Care2Run and GEAR volunteers, to thank us for our time and efforts. Yep, relaxing and easy for Prem and a battalion of Spartan soldiers, maybe.
Still, the great company and breathtaking scenery made up for the physical exertion and wrong turns.
I last visited Gunung Ledang 6 years ago during our climb to the summit following the Malaysian Nature Society AGM. I had mentioned even then that the National Park may soon be closed to hikers and the public. This proved to be true, and now the public no longer has access to it. Perhaps it is for the best, so that the local ecosystem may be better protected. 
The plan was to hike using the Tangkak trail up to Kolam Gajah instead. We came prepared with a picnic in our backpacks.

Hamming it up in the parking lot.


Smaller waterfalls at the lower levels.


We don't want to be assholes like the Hash House Harriers who leave bits of paper all over the trail. We marked our trail using only flour. We also picked up litter all the way down from the trail.


A well-camouflaged walking stick insect.


Orange bracket fungus.


Stopping by a rainbow-filled waterfall to stock up on rainbows. Cheesy photos seemed to be the order of the day here.


We arrived at Kolam Gajah, a spawning ground for Ikan Tengas (Copper Mahseer) and Ikan Kelah (Mahseer), after a 2-hour hike.


We prepared lunch for the hungry hordes at the picnic area. I helped to slice beans and other vegetables. So happy to have the two dudes cooking for us. 

Prem cooked a huge saucepan of vegan aglia olio with four-angled beans just for me! It was delish. Look how stoked I am. Everyone asked to have a taste of my pasta. I ended up with less than half a plate but it was still a sizeable portion, and very satisfying. Very grateful and touched. I haven't had a man cook for me in months.

Happy Campers!


Time for some post-lunch shenanigans. Some of the others swam or splashed each other with the icy cold water from the waterfall. I decided to play with the fish spawn. It was fantastic. I stood there and waved my arms and said: "Come to me, my loyal subjects!" and the fish totally swam to me and watched me, as if in a trance. I have no idea why they would bother listening to me at all but it was very funny. Could they sense that I wouldn't hurt them? Or maybe they were curious and have no fear of humans in the first place. They couldn't very well be expecting food since not many people come here.


Time to hike back down.


I somehow got a long bamboo splinter in the ball of my left thumb and tried to remove it by making a incision in my flesh. Prem came to the rescue and got it out for me. Thanks, buddy!

We got back to the foot of the hill within 6 hours of when we first started climbing (this includes the 1.5-2 hour lunch and picnic break), unloaded all our filled rubbish bags at the rubbish disposal area, showered in the horrible rundown public restrooms, played a round of coconut football at the car park and had dinner in Tangkak Town before heading back to the city.
It was a perfectly enjoyable day trip and microadventure, and I hope we get to go on many more microadventures together!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Impromptu Night Frogging

Life in the Wee Green Flat has been good to the cats and me so far, despite our recent bereavement of Shadow, Chloe and Mini-Me due to terminal illness. I would like to think that the three of them enjoyed their life in their new home as well, despite the fact that their time here was so short. We are surrounded by nature and flora and fauna galore. The forest reserve surrounding the apartments keeps our home cool even in the hottest weather. A little stream runs through the apartment complex, and often I sit by the stream to read a book, look at the starlit night sky or just watch the fishes and tadpoles in the stream and pond.


A well-maintained little gym provides me with the opportunity to work out on rainy nights without added cost, but nothing beats swimming in the apartment pool, especially at night when all is quiet and peaceful.
These are the simple things I am grateful for. I had spent so many years in a rundown rented house with messy, irresponsible housemates that to be able to go for a walk, sit by a stream or swim in a pool for an hour after work is a tremendous luxury to me. Previously I had spent hours on housework each night. Nowadays, I clean a couple of times a week and everything stays clean and tidy. I can invite people over anytime I choose and the Wee Green Flat is always visitor-ready.
I have been running regularly with my tribe on Tuesday nights at Gasing Hill for several months now. It was during one of these running sessions in January that I saw a young man with a powerful torchlight searching for something in the ditches outside the forest reserve. From his torchlight, large DSLR camera and backpack, I guessed that he wasn't from around these parts, and that he is probably a natural historian (professional or amateur) looking for specimens of insects or small animals to photograph.
Gasing Hill isn't the safest of places at night, and property crimes and robberies are frequently reported in that area, so I quickly approached him to see if I could be of assistance to him.
He had a small toad in his hands, and I spoke softly to the young man, introducing myself and identifying the toad as a Duttaphrynus melanostictus. The young man responded with a smile, and asked if I like herping too. I do, and I said so. He informed me that he is a biologist from Taiwan and is in Malaysia for a few days prior to spending a few months in Australia. We chatted about nature and I asked him how he knew about Gasing Hill and how he planned to get back to his hotel. Prem and several other friends joined us after their run and we talked about the flora and fauna we have spotted in Gasing Hill in the past.
I offered to take the young man, Li, frogging at Lembah Kiara Park the following night after work, and he agreed to wait for me at the LRT station.
I asked several of my other friends from the Malaysian Nature Society Herpetofauna Group if they would like to join us for a few hours of frogging the following night. Most already had other plans, but Vince said he might come after work. The following night was a very warm and dry one, and the gates to the Lembah Kiara Park were already locked by the time we arrived. We walked up the jogging trail at Bukit Kiara instead, encountering some of my running buddies as we walked up and looked amongst the leaf litter for geckos and frogs.
There were not many to be found, and the ditches were too dry to sustain anything more than milipedes and roaches. I asked Li if he would like to check out the stream behind my apartment complex instead. He was intrigued and said yes. I texted Vince our location and asked him to come to my apartment complex instead.

The water level in the stream has gone down due to the heatwave, but there were still lots of frogs, tadpoles and fishes to be seen. Vince arrived almost as soon as we did, and we clambered down into the stream with our flashlights and specimen nets.

What my apartment stream lacked in biodiversity, it made up for in numbers. We spotted, caught, photographed and released lots of Common Paddy Frogs (Hylarana erythraea) and Four-Lined Tree Frogs (Polypedatus leucomysytax).

Common Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea)

Four-Lined Tree Frog (Polypedatus leucomysytax)

I dropped Li off at his hotel in downtown KL afterwards, since I needed to go downtown anyway, to deliver ivermectin tablets to Mohala for a stray dog she is helping.
It was a really enjoyable night of frogging, and I am reminded yet again of what a beautiful world we live in, and that strangers are simply friends waiting to happen.