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.
For the last two weeks I’ve been volunteering at a children’s shelter full-time and between that and some unexpected but welcomed work I haven’t had much if any time to think about what to post so pardon me as I try to put something together at the last minute. A couple months back I promised some kids that I’d come back to visit them during their school holiday in June. I told them I would only be staying here in Malaysia for one week however when I tried to leave last week I was unable to deny the earnest pleas of a few little girls who really wanted me to stay. Some of them even went as far as vowing to eat only vegetables and to never eat candy if I stayed, haha. I told them such vows were unnecessary and that regardless of whether or not I stayed they should try their best to eat more vegetables and less candy.
There was a tokay gecko at the restaurant near my home and the owners wanted it gone because it was defecating all over their kitchen. A couple of weeks ago I saw it on the wall so I grabbed a kitchen towel to protect myself from it’s blood-drawing bite and captured it. I then proudly showed the owners the big gecko and one of them asked if he could kill it which is what they probably do to any tokay geckos that try taking up residence at their restaurant.
I was like why would you want to kill such a beautiful specimen when you could just walk across the street, a little ways into the forest, and release it into the wild. I told them that’s where I was headed and that I first just wanted to show them the fellow that’s been shitting all over their kitchen. The point of this introduction is to tell you that I had no reason to venture out onto the road and into the forest that night and only did so so I could release this tokay gecko.
A man that lived down the street from me died a few days ago. He was conversing with a neighbor near a coconut tree and…, no a coconut didn’t fall on is head, it was even worse, a coconut fell from the tree, bounced off of a rock, and then hit him in the head. He was taken to the hospital where he spent 3 nights before being discharged and returning home for a family wedding being held at his house and right after the wedding he died. There was a gathering all week at that house, first for the wedding and then for the funeral. I thought I’d share this sad story with you and remind you to be grateful you haven’t died in any freak accidents because any of us could at any time. Hopefully we won’t but the low probability of such an event shouldn’t leave you thinking you’ll always have another day to get something done or to mend a relationship with someone.
Enjoy the full moon tonight and this frog photo I took last month.
Today as I was cleaning around my porch I lifted up a plastic crate and gently tossed it over to the side. Unfortunately there was a gecko stuck to the bottom of it which was nearly decapitated when the crate landed. No surgery I could’ve performed could’ve repaired the severed spinal cord of this poor house gecko. I’ve seen paralyzed dogs using dog wheelchairs however for a gecko that makes a living running up walls this was not an option. So I did the humane thing and smashed its head in with one swift swing of a wooden juggling club. I then grabbed it by its still twitching tail and tossed it into the creek next to my house because I knew it would be immediately eaten by one of the snakeheads that live under the rocks and wait for lizards, frogs, and any other edible items to fall into the water.
I’ve performed a couple other mercy killings over the years but the one that came to mind today was one that took place a couple of months ago at a children’s shelter. There was a sick and/or injured pigeon flopping around in front of the building and although I didn’t know what was wrong with it I could tell by its limp neck and the way it was moving that it was going to die within a day or maybe within hour. I already knew my answer but I asked the kids that were with me at the time if we should let it lay in the sun and let the ants go to work on it until it eventually dies or should we put it out of its misery. We went inside to get out of the sun to discuss the matter. At first a couple of the kids were shocked that I, the person that doesn’t even eat animals, would propose killing one however as we laid out the bird’s only options they started agreeing with me.
As we discussed the matter I saw another kid though the window, a 5 year old boy who was about half the age of the kids I was discussing the matter with, approaching the sick and/or injured bird with a badminton racket and before I could say anything to him he smashed it over the head. We all ran outside to find a dead bird and a little kid still holding the murder weapon with a “How am I going to get out of this one.” expression. It was ironic because we had pretty much come to the consensus that the best thing to do was to kill the bird however the problem was the kid that performed the execution knew nothing of our deliberations and just wanted to smash a bird over the head with a badminton racket. I brought him inside and explained to him in simple English that it was wrong to hit animals and that they should be treated kindly but I also told him that he was lucky that that particular animal was very sick and was already going to die.
Happy Lunar New Year! Lantern Festival is tomorrow which marks the final day of the New Year’s celebrations which means I now only have one more New Year’s celebration to put up with, Songkran. As planned I returned to Malaysia in early February to visit the kids at the children’s shelter. A week and a half ago I came across a box of nectarines that were a bit over-ripe but I could tell they were still good so I bought a few of them. When I got home and ate them I was surprised by just how good they were, so good. So I said I gotta go back to that supermarket in the morning as soon as they open to get the rest of those nectarines!
The next morning I showed up just as they were opening and headed straight for the nectarines. I got there just in time because the guy working in the fruit area said he was about to throw them all in the garbage. Instead of throwing them out he gave them all to me, like 30 small ones for only $1.25! After bringing them all home I threw two or three bad ones into the compost bag and ate over 20 of them for breakfast which amounted to a total of 2.2kg of glorious nectarine pulp. Hoooooo!!! Also If you were in Penang last week and lost 14 Malaysian Ringgit (3.50USD) I picked it up on the side of the street and rather than pocketing it and profiting from your loss I used it to buy more bananas for the kids so now you don’t need to feel bad about losing it. Have a nice March, I’ll post again on April 1st.