Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Sugar High and Street Art Weekend

My new job has been keeping me incredibly busy, fulfilling though it may be. Volunteer commitments continue to keep me occupied on weekends. Saturday afternoons at the SPCA generally look a little like this...
... only with a lot more washing, dog-bathing, ear-cleaning, flea-spraying, tidying and scrubbing.
I am also currently assisting the SPCA in updating and streamlining their volunteer induction programme, and have offered to conduct writing and advocacy workshops for both the SPCA and the Care2Run mentors and junior mentees.

I still make it a point to schedule regular 'dates' with my good friends that do not involve volunteering or community service, and we try to do more than just go to our usual hangouts to have dinner, watch a movie (usually the latest superhero offering or action flick) and down a few beers. One on such break from routine two weeks ago, I invited Nic to go on a desserts-for-dinner 'date' with me at The Glass House in Seputeh.

It was the right choice of a venue for our besties' night out. The building with its transparent walls and tree-lined courtyard looked positively magical at night. Designed to let in natural lighting in the daytime and be gently illuminated at night, the structure is a veritable conservatory. It helps that it is located in a less-dense part of the city. There was a Bollywood wedding going on downstairs when we arrived, so we went straight up to the café on the 3rd floor.

It seemed pretty quiet for a Saturday night. From the quality of the food and the rave reviews we read online, we had expected that we would have to jostle with other customers for a table. Still, it is quite likely that more customers had stopped by for tea. 9 p.m. wasn't exactly the most conventional hour to have cakes and pies.
The café, Delectable By Su, is welcoming and delightful. Nic and I spent some time gushing over the cakes and cookies before we sat down to order from the menu.
Gorgeous scrumptious cakes in glass domes.
Edible terrariums -- have you ever seen anything more positively darling?
Pleased to have cake after an entire week of clean eating and working diligently. We received complimentary hot buttered caramel popcorn as well.
The menu is kept limited, which, in my opinion, is a good idea. Stick to what you do best, and you will always have satisfied customers. Besides, having a limited menu reduces wastage.
Nic ordered the chicken pie and I ordered the all-day breakfast, and we both ordered a slice of cake each and some ginger citrus tea.
Lemon meringue pie and a slice of hummingbird cake. The portions are substantial and the cakes absolutely delicious. We fell in love at first bite. Both cakes are moist and full of flavour. They weren't just cloyingly sweet. The lemon meringue pie is firm, yet melts in the mouth, and has just the right amount of tartness. The hummingbird cake has hints of spices and fruits and everything nice.
We had an enchanting evening catching up with each other's lives and loves, and indulging in good food. This is definitely a place I would be proud to bring guests to.

Sunday morning was spent cleaning up the forest reserve, and then stopping by SS2 PJ to run some errands.
I was accosted by an elderly beggar lady who was panhandling outside one of the cafés, and since I prefer not to give cash to panhandlers (in case they belong to begging syndicates), I offered to buy her lunch at Hailam Kopitiam instead. She accepted my offer gratefully and I got us a nice table in a corner where she could rest and refuel. She gummed and chewed at her food with excruciating slowness, casting self-conscious glances at me every so often. Not wanting to make her feel as though she were an imposition on my time, I encouraged her gently to take her time with her food, while I walked around the side alleys, taking photos of the street art that were commissioned by the PJ City Council and Damansara Utama state assemblywoman to add character to the streets.

Public art, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, has a certain charm of its own, not least because it is very often ephemeral. You never know how long a mural will last, and so you appreciate each one even more when you see them. They also add an element of surprise and incongruity to otherwise drab and utilitarian walls and alleys. I have always loved street art, and you have to admit these are pretty exceptional, even if not subversive.

I had a brilliant time admiring and photographing these murals before settling the bill for lunch and seeing the little old beggar lady on her way.
Pockets of joy in a purpose-driven weekend. I could not ask for more.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Earth Day Forest Cleanup, Tree-Planting Session and Colour Fight

I'm making Green Living's Earth Day cleanups an annual affair. Not only will we choose a different forest reserve to clean up each year, I am trying to think up activities to bring volunteers closer together so they don't just leave after the trees have been planted and rubbish has been removed. Last Earth Day, we had a photo contest for the cleanup participants. For our cleanup and tree-planting session on New Year's Day, I threw in refreshments and a Raffle Draw.
For this Earth Day, we organised a forest cleanup and tree-planting session, followed by a potluck party, raffle draw and Holi-inspired colour fight at the Kota Damansara Community Forest. Shamila, Liza and I made the coloured powder for the colour fight using cornstarch and food dye, and approximately 26 volunteers turned up to help out, and around 20 stayed back for the colour fight.

A group photo for posterity with the MBPJ local councillor. We had 22 Merbau saplings to be planted in the forest reserve.
An Asian Forest Scorpion (Heterometrus longimanus) decided to attend our safety and protocol briefing as well. I pointed him out to our volunteers and everyone whipped out their phone cameras. Coolest bunch of volunteers ever. I didn't think I would ever have to say repeatedly to children: "No, you can't pick him/her up. No, you can't hold him/her. No, you can't bring him/her home, he/she lives here."
Liza and Sally hard at work cleaning up the area beside the lake and head of the trail. We started by raking up the leaf litter into piles (to make the trail less slippery and safer for hikers and cyclists) and then removed and bagged up plastics and all manmade litter.

Basic safety and protocol briefing, and job division briefing.
(Photo credits: Shannon Ng).
All hands on board: Volunteers of all ages working together to dig up and remove manmade litter from the trails.
Jeyanth went out on the boat with the Orang Asli guides to clean litter off the surface of the lake. Pretty glad I sponsored the lifejackets. Hope to get more, either new or preloved, for future lake cleanup sessions.

Cleaning up the lakeside area together with Maya, Jack and Zhang En.
(Photo credits: Shamila)
Post-cleanup group photo, with only some of the group members as the others had gone off on a hike or wanted to continue picking up litter, before the local council arrived to haul all the rubbish away. I think we did pretty well for a group of 26 volunteers, considering that the litter consisted mostly of tiny, tiny scraps such as cigarette butts and sweet wrappers.
Potluck breakfast and Raffle Draw time!
Liza wins one of the Survival Whistles.
Potluck breakfast and Raffle Draw time!
Hari wins stationery and a pocket magnifying glass.
Potluck breakfast and Raffle Draw time!
Shamila wins an Eco Kids book and stickers for her little ones!
Sharing food and making new friends over breakfast.
The coloured flour made by Liza, Shamila and me for the Holi-inspired colour right. Next time, I will:
1. Put the mixture under the sun to dry immediately.
2. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to the mixture to prevent mould and bacteria from settling. I had to throw out my first tray :(

Holi-inspired colour fight to end the Earth Day weekend with a bang!

Many thanks to all the volunteers who made this event a success!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

All the Fun of the Fair

I had to house-sit for my parents one particular weekend in April, so I decided to invite some of my best friends over to chill with me, small town-style.

I made dinner reservations at Hometown Steamboat and Nicole, Angela, Rudhra and I sweated it out over a pot of boiling food, and pretty much depleted the restaurant's supply of ground green chili paste.

We ate so much we could hardly move, yet the logical thing to do seemed to be to order dessert. Nobody said no to chocolate fondue.

I knew there was a small, old-fashioned travelling funfair in town, and invited my friends to join me for a spot of fun after dinner, since I had coins burning holes in my pocket at the moment. Nic declined as she had a Latin dance event to attend in the morning, and she was often sick on rides anyway. Rudhra and Angela were game for anything and so we puttered over to check the funfair out.

It was the kind of funfair you would have to be 7 years old or very, very drunk to appreciate. We were neither. However, we had recently watched Ola Bola and had a sense of misplaced nostalgia for things from the '70s and '80s, including the funfair which was a sort of visual leitmotif in the film. Also, we were and are easily entertained, and knew better than to expect Disneyland or Six Flags when we walked in. It was the kind of funfair that attracted mostly rural folk and migrant workers, and it probably met no safety standards whatsoever.

I purchased some tokens and dragged my friends off to the tackiest Ghost Train in the world. The track must have been no more than 150 metres long, if at all. The painted clapboard and plywood Haunted Mansion was a garish specimen of outsider art.

Let's play silly buggers and pretend to be terrified!
And look, wooden floorboards! I die! We were laughing so hard at the wooden floorboards and smelly diesel tractor train that we hardly noticed when a desultory-looking ghost (a skinny teenager wrapped in white muslin) shuffled out at us. For RM3, the train made 4 wobbly circuits.
We stayed to watch a family, all still in their post-wedding dinner finery, get on the ghost train after us.

There was '90s techno-dance remix blaring out of this deadly-looking spinning ride. I had forgotten that Ace of Base ever existed until we got to this funfair.
We wanted to try the games next, although none of the prizes looked as though they were worth winning. We just wanted to try our hand at games of skill and luck.

Rudhra did the Ring-A-Bottle game and won nothing.
And tried to shoot some targets that were obviously designed in such a way that you could never hit it.

But we rolled some ping-pong balls and won small prizes. A pocket flashlight for me...

... A lizard-in-a-box gag gift for Rudhra...
... And a pocket battery-operated fan for Angela that I sadly forgot to take a photo of.

We threw darts at balloons as well just for the satisfaction of popping the balloons although we didn't win anything.
I was dying to have a go on the Dodgem cars, although I have never seen more grimy and banged-up looking dodgem cars. Rudhra and I got in and delighted in crashing into one another every few seconds.
Hah, I had the right of way! Take that, you miscreant!
 I suggested taking the dodgy-looking Ferris Wheel so we could take some aerial shots.
And take some aerial shots, we did.

A desolate-looking Merry-Go-Round. It was by then midnight and most of the families with young children had already left.

For our final hurrah, Rudhra suggested going on the Flying Chairs. I declined at first, since I have heard of people getting flung off the ride and dashed to their deaths (yes, I am very dramatic. It is a gift, thank you). Rudhra went alone and survived it, and insisted that I go next.
I agreed to go on it only if he did, and so Rudhra went a second time and took this bad-ass shot of me.
Two rounds on the Flying Chairs made him feel rather sick, however, and so we decided it was time to go home. We went back to my parents' house, where I served them coconut-and-gula-melaka konnyaku jelly shots, since I obviously thought we haven't had enough unhealthy food yet.

Another weekend of spontaneous fun. We're doing adulthood right.