My neck rash featured in the last post healed pretty fast without the assistance of any medicines or creams and now that I’m back in Penang I hope I’ll be able to avoid another close encounter with those insects. My primary strategy is to avoid opening the windows and doors at night while the lights are on and it seems to be working so far.
Durian season in Penang has just started and I had a really good one yesterday however it’s still weigh too expensive, around 35MYR, 280THB, or 8USD a kg which is quite expensive considering only around 20% of it is edible so I’ll be trying my best to abstain until the price drops at least another 10 Ringgit.
After two years of dodging it I have been infected making it the first time I’ve been sick in over 4 years. It all started last Thursday when I had a slightly sore throat which I thought was from all the talking I did on Wednesday. However on Friday I woke up feeling a bit off so I got a test and tested myself and sure enough two lines appeared. Out of all the self-tests I’ve taken and have given to kids it was the first time I saw two lines so I was a bit surprised and also kind of excited just to see two lines instead of one but I hope it’s the last time I see two lines.
After I saw that I was positive I began my quarantine. The first night was marked by a terrible headache which prevented me from sleeping much. The second night was marked by the chills and cold sweats which also prevented me from sleeping much and the third night was marked by mucous draining into my lungs which made it very uncomfortable to lay on my back and kept me up most of the night having to clear slimy translucent phlegm. After those three sleep deprived nights I started feeling much better and have since tested negative and completed my 7 day quarantine.
Depending on which calendar a society uses there are many different New Year’s and in some places more than one is celebrated. Calendars are generally one of three types: lunar, solar, or lunisolar. A lunar calendar is based on the revolution of the moon around the earth, a solar calendar is based on the revolution of the earth around the sun, and a lunisolar calendar is based on the moon’s revolution around the earth but includes a thirteenth month, aka leap month, every two or three years to keep it in sync with the earth’s revolution around the sun.
In lunisolar calendars like the Chinese calendar a leap month is periodically added so the months correspond with the seasons. It takes the moon around 29.5 days to revolve around the earth which means 12 lunar months is around 354 days and since it takes the earth around 365 days to revolve around the sun the months and seasons would drift apart around 11 days each year without this leap month. The New Year’s that takes place on January 1st is according to the Gregorian or Western calendar which is a solar calendar and the New Year’s that takes place today and every year on the new moon between late January and late February is according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
Happy New Year! 新年快樂！
Sheen = new 新 Nee-en = year 年 Kwai Luh = happy 快樂
Sheen Nee-en Kwai Luh! Try it if you encounter a Chinese speaking person this week because unlike the Western New Year Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival, is a multi-day mega holiday that doesn’t officially conclude until the 15th day which marks the first full moon of the new year and is celebrated as Lantern Festival.
A few days ago was the first time I’ve ever seen an iguana in the wild and what a handsome one. The strange thing is that it was in Thailand so I’m guessing it must have escaped from the nearby animal detention center aka zoo. It looked quite healthy but hopefully it won’t have a chance to breed as iguanas aren’t native to this part of the world and can cause problems for local species of plants and animals some of which, unlike iguanas, might not exist in other places. The picture below the iguana is a lizard native to this area, a banded bent-toed forest gecko, which I was able to photograph as it clung to my front door last month.
Although I finished my quarantine last month I’m still pretty much staying put at home and avoiding any trips to the town or city where most of the local covid cases have been recorded. As of today I’ve been out of Penang for 42 days after being there for around 420 days straight and this is about the longest I’ve been off of the island since 2017. Ever since I left the covid situation there has been getting worse and they are now in day 2 of a full lockdown which will last for at least 2 weeks.
On April 12th the Malaysian immigration department made a short notice announcement telling all of us who had been permitted to stay with expired social visit passes that we had to leave the country within 9 days. At the time I wasn’t too happy about it especially since it forced me to go on a plane for the first time in five and a half years since all the land borders were closed however their announcement and my subsequent departure coincided with a record breaking spike in cases so if they were going to kick me out on short notice it looks like they did so at a good time.
Things have been going well here around 400km north of Penang and now that I’m free to move about I’ve been going to the river every morning for my cold bath/rebirth and although it’s not yet fruit season here I’ve still been able to find good local fruits some of which you can see featured on my wildly popular YouTube channel: (EatPlantsMoveMore). In addition to the fruits I’ve also had a few snake sightings. I had to remove one from underneath my house last week and just yesterday another one lowered itself down from my roof right in front of me. Fortunately neither snake was poisonous. Yesterday’s snake was a Red-tailed Racer.
Here are a few other beautiful snakes that have also visited me at home. These three snakes were venomous but fortunately they are not very dangerous to humans because their venom is weak and they are all rear-fanged snakes which makes it much more difficult for them to inject their venom into large animals like humans even if you did get them angry enough to strike and close enough for them to actually bite you. Fortunately I haven’t seen any Monocled Cobras at my house but I have had three King Cobra sightings. Hopefully the Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, and Coral Snakes will stay away and only snakes that can’t kill you with one bite will visit my house.
Happy New Year! Here we are a full year into the 2020’s! This decade didn’t get off to the best start but with you-know-who on his way out and COVID-19 vaccines being distributed 2021 should shape up to be better than 2020 and lead us into an even better 2022. However this in large part depends on us. Will we be the best versions of ourselves and do what we can to make this year a good one and help set this decade, this century, and this millennium back on a course towards greatness? We can start by learning a few lessons from this past year and by not repeating the same mistakes.
For instance, I hope we have learned to not deny something is happening just because we don’t understand it or don’t want to have to deal with it, otherwise we could miss our chance to mitigate the damage and end up getting the worst of it. I doubt too many people are still calling COVID-19 a hoax after all this sickness and death however there are still a lot of people who feel that climate change is a hoax or is not nearly as serious or as urgent of an issue as it really is. COVID-19 should have been taken seriously from the start and ambitiously addressing climate change should be taken just as seriously.
Another important lesson, one that we should have learned during the first SARS outbreak or during one of the many other zoonotic disease outbreaks that occurred before and after it, is to not abuse domestic or wild animals because first it’s wrong and second the viruses they carry can jump into the human population, kill millions, sicken many more, and wreak havoc on life as we once knew it. Hopefully people that do eat animals will start being more choosy about how those animals are kept and killed and will not continue to support the cruel conditions in factory farms and in many wet markets.
The local government sent out a contractor and his crew to clear the 1.5 meter wide corridor of government controlled no-man’s-land that lies between the fence of the children’s home and the fence of an adjacent government owned house that until recently had been unoccupied. I thought they just wanted to clear some of the undergrowth and perhaps prune the trees however in no time their chainsaws ripped right through four small and two medium sized trees. After they had left I went over and surveyed the damage. I wasn’t happy about it but what could I have done if the local government sent this contractor and his chainsaw armed crew to clear land and cut down a few small to medium sized trees that were on government property.
However when they came back a few days later with a crane to cut down the two much larger trees that the smaller trees had been growing in between I initiated a charge to stop them. I refused to move a car that was blocking the crane’s access to the trees until the supervisor could call in the government official that gave him the contract to do the job. By time he arrived I had the support of two of the directors at the children’s home. It seems that the public servant that recently moved into that adjacent house complained about all the water monitors and other wildlife and wanted the land cleared. One of the contractor’s men also told me that the two big trees were rotting and hollow inside therefore needed to be cut down. I told him I wasn’t an expert but that the trees looked very healthy and should not be cut down unless someone comes over, someone that isn’t being paid to cut down the trees, and confirms the trees pose a danger.
After making our case the government official went to tell the new neighbor that they could not cut down the trees and were only going to cut down the branches hanging over their side. After they finished trimming and left they went down the street to a few of the other government owned houses in that neighborhood of government owned houses to trim some more trees. The next day I took a walk around the neighborhood to make sure they weren’t cutting down any more trees without good reason. I walked by a few trees that had been trimmed but I didn’t see any tree stumps. That was until I came to a patch of green space that runs along the back of three of the government houses and right up to the backyard of the children’s home. When I heard the chainsaws in the distance earlier that day I figured they were still trimming trees however when I walked around and over to the other end of the green space to see what they were doing they had already cleared nearly a third of it with the help of a backhoe.
I asked them what the plan was and the one guy who could speak English told me it was to clear the 185 meter long strip of land from that fence to our fence. When I asked why they told me that in the other government house next to the green space lived a police inspector who also didn’t like all the trees and animals behind his house. I was shocked that just because some public servants who were given free housing next to some green space didn’t enjoy the nature that they could order a chainsaw team to come by and cut it all down without any consideration of the environmental impact or views of some of the neighbors who did enjoy this green oasis. This space is one of the few remaining green spaces in the area and it provides food and shelter to a number of wildlife species which are increasingly hard to come by on this side of the island. I have seen a variety of beautiful birds like blue king fishers, golden orioles, and white-breasted waterhens along with spectacled langurs, civet cats, paradise tree snakes, and water monitors.
After some running around we were able to find the government department that was responsible for approving such a clearing and they said that they did not approve any trees to be cut down so a person from that department went and told the contractor to stop cutting down trees and they stopped leaving the two-thirds of green space closest to our fence intact. The manger here knows someone at one of the local newspapers and had them come out this morning, September 2nd, to hear the story and take some photos. They plan on publishing an article which I hope will help raise environmental awareness and get people to realize that they shouldn’t stay quiet when things like this happen. If I hadn’t said anything I’m sure nobody else would have either and the other two thirds of this green oasis would have been cleared and many of the animals that inhabited it would have died trying to seek new homes in a city with fewer and fewer places for them. I hope that the government officials responsible will be sternly reprimanded and that in the future proper protocol will be followed when determining which trees to cut down and what land to clear.
This year’s durian season in Penang is pretty much over and as of August 1st there isn’t much left and most of what remains isn’t very good. However this year’s season was a good one so despite wishing it could continue I am grateful that we were able to enjoy a solid 3 months of delicious and reasonably priced durian during the COVID induced movement control order or “MCO”. Since June 10th we have been in the recovery phase of the MCO and currently all businesses and schools are open however all must abide by a list of standard operating procedures designed to reduce viral transmission, moreover masks in public places are mandatory and violators can and have been fined.
With only around 125 deaths in a country of nearly 32 million people Malaysia like its neighbor to the north Thailand has fared extremely well during this pandemic thanks to decisive government action and people following the rules, wearing masks, and social distancing. I hope countries that are not faring so well will learn from the countries that are. I also hope that the citizens of these ill-faring countries, e.g., The U.S. and Brazil, will be sure to vote out the politicians, e.g., Trump and Bolsonaro, and political parties, e.g., The Republican Party, whose irrational skepticism and inaction has impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and has made the COVID crisis and the Climate crisis significantly worse.
The movement control order we’ve been living under here in Malaysia since mid-March will be significantly loosened starting tomorrow when most businesses will be allowed to reopen. The lockdown was originally set to continue until May 12th however because the economy has taken a massive hit and new cases are relatively low the government has decided that it’s worth the risk to reopen for business tomorrow May 4th but some states, including Penang, will wait until May 12th to reopen.
When the movement control order was implemented although I wasn’t at home at the edge of the jungle where I probably wouldn’t have even noticed anything was going on I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough space here at the children’s home to stay active. I feel bad for all the people who have been virtually stuck in their apartments for the past month and a half but It’s strict measures like these along with nearly everyone wearing face masks and social distancing that have thus far allowed Malaysia to avoid a public health disaster.
I just read an article about the mayor of Oklahoma City having to cancel the requirement that people entering businesses wear a face mask. Sounded like a good requirement to me, especially considering that so many carriers/spreaders of the virus are asymptomatic and can infect people simply by talking to them. Why would they cancel such a practical requirement during this difficult time? Because selfish and irrational people are flipping out about their freedom to be irresponsible and are actually threatening the poor people, e.g., grocery store workers, that are supposed to enforce the rule. Maybe if the president and vice president would lead by example and stop spewing nonsense their supporters would be a little more cooperative.
P.S. I came across a monocled cobra with a toad in it’s mouth a couple weeks ago. I can’t have such a dangerous snake lurking around here with all the kids but instead of killing it I tried to capture it. Unfortunately I didn’t have proper tools and tried catching it with a bucket and a broom stick. It quickly regurgitated the toad, postured up, spread its hood, and took a defensive position. It then slithered around my bucket and under the washing machine which allowed us to call the experienced and properly equipped fire department to come and remove it. It was a feisty one and almost bit the guy who caught it as he was holding it by the tail. A few days later I went to put on my shoe and couldn’t get my foot in. I checked inside and was happy to find a toad and not a cobra.
The movement control order here in Malaysia was recently extended for two weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was extended for another two weeks after that so I doubt I’ll be able to move around freely until May and I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to my home in Thailand. Anyway not much to say other than I hope things get better soon and that people learn a few things from this crisis like the fact that people can live and many can even work without having to travel so much and burn so much greenhouse gas emitting fuel. Since there isn’t much going on here other than trying to keep the all kids educated, entertained, and following a home schooling schedule I thought I’d tell a short story from a few months ago when I was in Thailand.
There is a general store near my house in rural Thailand and one day I saw a little girl pushing a cart with a bunch of garbage on it to a nearby bridge and dumping it off the side of the bridge. The next day I went to have a look and saw that there was a lot of garbage down there. All kinds of stuff like various plastics including motor oil containers. I don’t like people improperly disposing of garbage anywhere but especially in my village. I sent an email to the relevant government department and but never received a reply. I also told my landlord about it but they told me not to say anything to the shop owners but I said I had to and that I had even more of a responsibility to say something than they did because they are locals and a local dispute between locals could cause all them kinds of problems in the seemingly semi-lawless area we live in.
A few days later I just happened to go to that shop that I have only been to a couple of times over a few years and while I was there I politely told the shopkeepers that they shouldn’t take all their garbage and dump it off the side of the bridge. They said that the garbage truck didn’t always come on time and I said if it doesn’t come this week then you’ll have to wait for the next week and that it was sure to come and that other people weren’t throwing their garbage off the side of the bridge. Then both of them ignored me and you could tell they did not like me calling them out, one was a middle age women and the other might have been her son who was probably in his early twenties. There was also a customer there so I figured if my talk couldn’t influence them at least the customer could learn something.
I really didn’t say anything bad and I wasn’t rude. In fact my hardest hitting line was “I’m not even a local and I care for the environment here more than most of the people that live here.”. I left not thinking much about it and felt that I handled it well. However that evening one of their relatives called the daughter-in-law of my landlord and told her to warn me not to bring up this matter again or there would be trouble and that he was on the record giving me a warning. Later that night when they visited me at my house they told me about the phone call and their teenage daughter was particularly worried. I was like what are they the boss of the village and she was like it’s not funny they have a lot of money and they hire people to kill people. I was like well I don’t need anyone coming to get me at my house where I’m at the edge of the forest and over 100 meters from anyone that could potentially back me up.
However her mom told me not to worry just as long as I don’t go over there and say anything about it again. A few days after that my visa was going to expire so I had to go back to Malaysia to see the kids and extend my visa. After about a month and a half in Malaysia I returned and their daughter told me that while I was gone the man that I have never met or even seen before stopped by their house and spoke with her and her Mom. This wasn’t too strange because he lives only three doors down on the same side of the street. What was strange was that after over a month he felt the need to talk about me saying I was crazy and was a bad example for their daughter who I often play badminton with. Since this guy wants to make threats and talk trash I felt I should learn a bit about him. Now if all I learned was the guy was a loan shark that hires thugs to collect money and settle local disputes I wouldn’t have been surprised however there was more to this guy, he wasn’t your average loan shark thug boss.
In addition to being the local loan shark thug boss it seems he is also known in the area for being able to channel different gods through his body which he does in different ceremonies in which people come and pay him to conduct in his amulet and shrine filled house. If this wasn’t crazy enough I was told the loan shark thug boss god man is also a father to a young daughter. However when I asked where the mother of the daughter was during all this craziness I was told the daughter has no mother so I asked “How can the daughter have no mother?”. Then she told me that the loan shark thug boss god man’s own mother acts as the mother to his motherless daughter. So I asked “How can the kid not have a mother? Where did she come from?” and I was told that the loan shark thug boss god man was not allowed to touch women so he had to use his sperm to fertilize an egg that was then inserted into a surrogate mother who was paid to carry the baby and then go away after she gave birth. After hearing all this I could only think “So I’m the guy that’s crazy and is a bad example for young people?”.
Last week I took the train back to Penang to do some volunteering at the children’s home during the school holiday but before I left my mountainside home I saw some beautiful reptiles including a reticulated python which is the world’s longest species of snake. The green anaconda is the largest species of snake in terms of weight however reticulated pythons are the longest and can grow up to 10 meters long. It’s awesome to see some of the amazing reptiles I would see in pet shops as a kid in the U.S. just crawling and slithering around my house here in Southeast Asia.
The day before yesterday after another three week stay in Penang I once again returned to Thailand by boat. While waiting for a boat that was headed to Thailand I saw one of the biggest water monitors I have ever seen. I only got a glimpse before it ran underneath the wharf I was standing on so I could only photograph the footprints it left behind. However later when I was on the boat waiting them to finish loading it with goods I was able to get a photo of its head and neck. After over three hours of waiting the boat finally left, unfortunately it didn’t get very far before it was pulled over and boarded by Malaysian customs officers and told to return to port. There I had to wait nearly another hour while the boat captain explained why he didn’t have his papers in order and didn’t pay tax on his cargo. Once the issues were resolved we got back on the boat and I returned to Thailand to sleep in my bed for the first time in three weeks.
This past month there was some terrible smog blanketing much of Southeast Asia. Unfortunately it’s a seasonal problem that occurs during the Indonesian dry season which is around August and September. At this time irresponsible companies burn large swaths of pristine rainforest in order to clear land for palm oil plantations in addition to burning to clear unwanted vegetation in existing plantations. This year was particularly bad and as usual most of the hot spots were in Sumatra and Kalimantan Indonesia. The air started getting really bad the last few days I was in Penang but I was able to escape the smog once I returned to Thailand.
However after a couple weeks of being in the clear the winds shifted north and the smog made it to my house so I decided to go north by train to Chumphon which was just out of the smog’s reach. I stayed there for a few days on a nice quiet beach and waited for the fires to burn out or be put out and for the winds to shift directions so the air at my house could return to normal. As soon as the air became suitable for breathing again I returned home. Hopefully this year’s public outcry will cause the Indonesian government to take this problem more seriously. A few days ago I saw a bird and a spider that could represent the dangerous and pristine air.
The fruit season has peaked here in southern Thailand with high quantities and low prices for all of the seasonal favorites like durian, chempedak, mangosteen, and rambutan. There’s so much fruit it’s falling from the trees faster than it can be harvested. Although such tree ripened fruit is optimal for immediate consumption it can’t be shipped off to far away markets where it could fetch a higher price so locally the price for such premium tree ripened fruit has dropped quite a bit with a kg of ripe mangosteens going for only 10 baht or $0.32USD. Regular durian as opposed to named durian from grafted trees aka village durian or durian baan is going for only 20 baht or $0.64USD a kg. I remember when I could get such durian for half that but nowadays 20 baht a kg is a steal especially if it’s from a good tree with a high flesh to seed/shell ratio. Yesterday morning after feasting on rambutan in a rambutan tree, fortunately one without any red ants, I collected a bag of durians. I took a boat back from Malaysia last week where there was also a lot of fruit, just a lot more expensive, and it’s been a feast ever since.
I caught a big Tokay gecko yesterday. Unlike smaller house geckos which leave little droppings in exchange for the service of clearing any insects that make it into the house the much larger Tokay gecko takes big shits all over everything. Moreover at night they often make loud calls which can be very annoying if you’re nearby. Most people around here just kill them since it’s easier to kill than capture but I wouldn’t kill such a beautiful creature so I caught him without harming him and released him on the other side of a nearby river where there aren’t any houses for him to get into trouble at. I later celebrated the successful catch and release with some durian.
Last week a monocled cobra slithered into the boy’s bathroom here at the children’s shelter. Luckily some boys saw it slither in and didn’t accidentally get too close because monocled cobras have one of the fastest acting venoms of all venomous snakes and if bitten and envenomated you could die within an hour. I might stick around here until this 90 visa stamp runs out on May 1st and in the meantime I hope I don’t have any more close cobra encounters.
As I was searching for some fruit at the market I passed by these poor chickens. So sad. I took a photo because I thought I should document their suffering since such abuse is so common and supported by so many people who prefer to turn a blind eye to this suffering rather than go without meat, milk, or eggs. I hope photos like these will make people think twice before eating animals and if they do to at least make sure the animals they eat were treated properly before their meat, milk, or eggs were taken.
After many years of not bowling I started bowling once in a while with the kids however last time I went alone in the afternoon while they were at school so I could focus. I arrived at the bowling alley with the goal of bowling a 180 or above which is something I’ve only done two or three times in my life and not for the last two decades or so. After a few games I was able to throw a 183 with my right hand and a 150 with my left. Note: I used a 12 pound house ball and only threw straight balls, no hooks. I was so happy with those two last games that I didn’t want to start a new one even though I still had around 10 minutes on my one hour lane rental so instead of starting a new game I decided to try some experimental throws.
I was the only person bowling in the entire place and just as I was about to leave a group of people arrived and were gathering near my lane so for my final shot I positioned myself in front of the lane but I was facing towards the people and away from the pins. I then did a normal pendulum throw but instead of releasing the ball in the front of the swing I held on to it and released it in the back. After releasing the ball I struck a pose that might have been seen in some late 70’s disco and I held it legs split, one arm up, and bent over looking behind me with everything upside down until BOOM, strike! I then stood up and looked up at the group of people who were watching and they all immediately broke into a round of applause. It was hilarious.
I spent most of last month in Thailand and as usual it was lovely and delicious as seen in the photos below. On the way here from Malaysia I took a little cargo boat which was funny because I was the only passenger, there were no seats, and when the guy dropped me off in Thailand I was left to walk to immigration myself. When I got to the window I was the only person there and the immigration officer was like “How did you get here?”. I told him I took a little boat from Malaysia and he said I couldn’t do that because those boats weren’t permitted to carry passengers and they had none of the necessary documents for bringing people in and out of the country. I said Ok I’ll make sure I get the proper documents before boarding such a vessel in the future and after talking with one of his colleagues he stamped me in.
Now it’s November 1st and I’m in a minibus on my way back to Malaysia because I told the kids I’d be back for Diwali aka “Hindu festival of lights” which according to Wikipedia “symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance”. They’re going to have a party to celebrate and are preparing a dance for tomorrow. Then a few weeks after the Diwali holiday is their longest school holiday of the year which lasts from late November to January. I promised them I’d stick around until the end of December and take them out for some activities but after that I plan on returning to Thailand and I might head to China in the spring so it looks like any volunteering in 2019 will have to be done via the occasional video call which is what I’ve been doing the past few weeks.
August arrived so fast I almost forgot to post something. I volunteered full-time at a children’s shelter all throughout July with the exception of 5 days I spent in Thailand. I went back to get my skateboard, slackline, and some other things I wanted for my summer stay here in Penang. After looking at these photos I took while I was in Thailand you’ll see why I really don’t like leaving there to come here. The plan of coming back and only going in to volunteer for a couple hours a day completely failed however I feel that all the time spent volunteering last month was time well spent because the directors and I have been making a lot of improvements in the way the home is run and the way the kids are fed and raised. Moreover these improvements will go on to not only benefit these 30 or so kids but also any new ones that end up living and being cared for here.