Year end stock taking

So I find myself back in the Chapel of the Resurrection today on Christmas despite a long hiatus and much deliberations about finding another church to worship yet. Yes, I am all about letting go and the power of change for better but I guess at the end of the day, I am still a creature of habit when it comes to faith and COR is dear being the place of worship since my SAJC days.

I took the Holy Communion partaking of the bread and wine for the first time today, it being an invitation the pastor extended to all since it is Christmas after all. As the sermon about judgement was preached, it served as a reminder to me too that just as I detest being judged, I should not be quick to judge others too.

A service like today’s also makes one take stock of the year that is coming to pass. A year typified by monthly Maad sessions with dear Ly whose presence has truly been a blessing in my life, alongside Therapy Dogs Singapore home visitations with dear Danea; getting to know and trying to bond a form class I could never really love as much as the one that graduated the year before; getting more actively involved in Sharksavers Singapore and getting to know the amazing volunteers in there while getting my ex students involved as youth Sharksavers as well; attending networking sessions to build capacity and reach for my The Dorsal Effect venture and of course, no least of all, getting to know the dear boy who has lit up my life while teaching me the lessons of love as well, painful as the lessons may sometimes be. Definitely a year where I have reaped in much and hopefully sown much as well.

Change is good but I need to remember to always be in gratitude of people and opportunities presented as well. There will be challenges ahead and I know I would feel miserable at points but  I should start the coming year focusing on letting go of uptightness and learning to get into the zone, as I work on my pursuits relentless and true to my convictions in spite of the odds.

2013 will be filled with promise and hope and I would like to think opportunities, blessings and bliss too, as I take on Kenya, take off The Dorsal Effect and take the relationship with the boy to greater heights with new and exciting adventures and experiences, hopefully!

Gili Trawangan dive day

Day 3 in Lombok saw me the eager beaver, excited to go diving off the famed Gili islands (Gili Air, Gili Menos and Gili Trawangan) West of Lombok off Senggigi.

It was a 2 hour drive from Kuta to Senggigi which probably gave Wei Yuet ample time to decide if he would be (and he was!) up for trying an introductory dive despite not having a certification. I am glad he said yes as he was (as I guessed it) calm and like a fish in water after all.

The first dive off Deep Turbo dive site was rewarding with us sighting a black tip shark resting on the sandy bottom the moment we submerged beneath the surface at 30 metres. I was thrilled the moment my dive master made the hand sign for shark and eyes went wide scouring the vicinity in no time at all, and definitely beaming at having seen a live shark after seeing so many dead ones at Tanjung Luar just the day before.

We had surface interval time for lunch at Gili Trawangan which was teeming with tourists, dive centres and accommodation sites. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the floating rubbish of empty snack packets, drink packets, cigarette boxes etc amidst the clear blue close to the shores of the island either. Sekotong where Kern and I went diving back in September in Southwest Lombok was definitely more picturesque and untouched comparatively.

Second dive off Bounty Wreck turned out to be a drift dive where I started to feel unwell and was unable to control my buoyancy for most parts of the dives and almost threw up into my regulator at the end of the dive. Nice reef fishes, crabs and micro marine life we got to see, nonetheless.

It was a fruitful dive day for me, save for the vomiting and fever I ran up later in the day which we figured must have been a result of the lunch at Gili Trawangan island. Good things Gili Ecotrust are doing there too with getting the coral reefs restored and preventing the fishermen from dynamite fishing in the area but it was such a pity to behold polluted shores around the island indeed.

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Return to Tanjung Luar

So I went back to Tanjung Luar today and thought about the reasons why people eventually get off eating shark fin soup, hoping, more than ever, that the demand would come to an end as it seems more consequential now. These fishermen, butchers and traders in the shark finning industry in Lombok have never even tasted shark fin soup before…

Reasons why people get off shark fin soup:

1)      It is cruel to forcefully take the fin off sharks while they are still alive and throw the rest of the shark back in the ocean to drown to death, in some countries.

2)      If you love your seafood, you want the apex predators of the sharks to maintain the marine ecosystems so your favourite seafood won’t get wiped out.

3)      You want your future generations to still be able to see sharks alive in the oceans.

4)      You have seen the beauty of sharks before while diving already and know that you want sharks alive than dead.

5)      It is not sustainable as the demand for shark fin soup goes up and overfishing results in depletion of several species of sharks especially since sharks take a long time to reach sexual maturity and birth few pups each time.

6)      There is no taste to shark fin, all the taste comes from the broth it is cooked in.

7)      The high level of mercury in the sharks as a result of being so high up the food chain means you are slowly poisoning yourself when you choose to eat shark fin soup

Being back at Tanjung Luar after 3 months, I see the same traders and fishermen faces, the same butchers that cut up the precious marine life brought in to the market, without regard for sustainability. Nothing much has changed yet so much had changed. This time, I saw heaps more baby sharks, thresher sharks and hammerhead shark. As the first hammerhead shark with guts spilling out, was racked in from the boat into the all too familiar enclosed space for the trader to measure the fins and decide on the price, I was overwhelmed with emotions. My reaction I thought, was uncalled for since it wasn’t my first time here yet the shock effect kicked in all at once. Maybe I never really ever want to be desensitized to seeing this happening over and over gain.

I think we saw a total of 3 ray sharks, 4 hammerhead sharks, 4 thresher sharks and 15 other reef sharks alongside 5 manta rays, with maggots and guts spilling out. None of the species I have ever seen alive before. It was heart-wrenching and sickening to say the least. Then it dawned upon me, the daunting nature of what I had ahead of me. Can I really change things around here? What if the shark traders come after my life? I also realized there and then that in spite of the sights and sounds I can capture here, there is one thing I cannot ever capture, the smells here…the stinking smell of death that lingers and reeks on our clothes even after we left.

Wages for traders per kilogram of shark fin – USD600-1000;

wages of fishermen and boat crew for catching sharks that bring in 1 kilogram of fins – USD60;

wages for butchers who help cut up the fins, shark meat and get the guts for free bonus (to be made into satay and crackers) – USD6

Really, how does that equate to fair division? The “think about the poor fishermen’s livelihood” argument doesn’t really hold anymore then as, clearly, there is exploitation in the shark finning and fishing industry (at least here in Lombok it is evident) and the middlemen gains the most. What are you really feeding when you choose to say yes to shark fin soup?

Perhaps before embarking on The Dorsal Effect ecotours, Wei Yuet and I hazarded the thought, tongue-in-cheek, that we should bring brides to be, to Tanjung Luar, shock them to tears with how the fins for their soup are obtained so they would think twice about serving it at their wedding dinner before starting the ecotourism packages.

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Day one first trip back to Lombok

It was great to catch Agus again at the Lombok Mataram airport waving a sign “Welcome back…Kathy!!” wildly as we ran out of customs clearance. That wave of familiarity and comfort of being back. Lombok immediately felt like a home away from home. As soon as that thought conceived itself as the car rolled into Yuli’s Homestay, Agus chirped “welcome back to your second home!”

Dinner at Warung Java after dropping off our bags, was an intimate affair, with Agus sharing in proficient Japanese about the poor quality of the cloth the children were trying to peddle to us at the dinner table. Who can forget the all too familiar coaxing and smooth talking of the children as Wei Yuet went “I don’t need this” and the instant reply came like a well rehearsed flirt “you don’t need but you want it. Buy for your sister.” Save for the scratch I sustained getting embroiled in a cat fight that ensued beneath our table, dinner was a nice ease back into Lombok I left behind from September.

Agus brought us to meet Papa Ilung who used to be a fisherman and is currently working in the fishing industry department of the government, after that and it was an insightful sharing for the next hour or so.

A friend of Papa Ilung joined in our conversations as well and he shared about his time back in the 1990s when he was involved in the shipping of shark fin in Sulawesi to Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. Back then, the dried processed fins fetched 200,000rp (approx USD200) per kilo but today they rack up to 1,000,000rp (approx USD1000) per kilo given the increased number of buyers and depleted sharks in the oceans. Thankfully, the hamerhead sharks south of Lombok off Belongas Bay remain mostly untouched as the fishermen venture to Irian and the Sumbawa Island to fish sharks. Apparently the shores off Lombok have a 12 mile territorial limitation the fishermen cannot fish within but as they venture further out at sea to the Zonal Economic Exclusives (ZEE) area, sometimes they encroach into Australian territorial limitations and end up being caught, jailed and their boats being confiscated for good. A very common bait used for the long lines being tuna, Papa Ilung showed us the hook lines he used to attach to long lines for baiting big fishes back in the day.

It was a fruitful night and the possibility of meeting the government authorities within the next few days, with a proposal for change after checking out the situation in Tanjung Luar again in the next few days, was an illuminating start to the return trip.

Ruby Sparks and the Pygmalion Effect

So I accidentally caught Johnathon Dayton’s Ruby Sparks for love of Little Miss Sunshine, perhaps yet again falsely projecting my expectations of awe from a prior work unto this little piece.

Yes, perhaps I was expecting more from this movie but then again, quirky stars and co-stars of the movies Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano stole the show with their glowing on screen presence lending a somewhat magical air to the movie. Love is after all a magical thing, lest I forget (and am thankful of being reminded again recently, what with the boy lighting up my life so unexpectedly).

Getting to be quite the muse in my life with his geeky and intellectual demeanour that paves the way for engaging discourse and banter on everything and anything at all almost all the time, the boy also pointed out the faint drawings on the Pygmalion Effect the movie had, save for the fact that Calvin (Paul Dano) had a greater control than a self-fulfilling prophecy, he could actually “write” Ruby exactly the way he wanted her, the romantic notion of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.

You know the movie reeks “indie” when it is produced by Fox Searchlights, features unconventional love and pays tribute to the father of zombie movies, George Romero, in the sweetest of ways, a drive-through zombie movie festival. Love.

Now if I could only remember the Catcher In the Rye quote Calvin makes reference to at the end of the movie at his book launch…

Can we ever write the perfect ideal romance into our lives? I truly hope not, for the that would be the demise of romance itself. For wasn’t life supposed to be lived forwards, savouring whatever comes, be it pain for joy, to the fullest and ultimately capitalizing on the now? Cheers to life and love after all.


Lombok recce – shark fishing and trading

My first trip to Lombok to check up on the shark fishing / finning there proved eventful indeed.

We woke up bright and early for 2 out of the 4 days I had in Lombok, to have Agus take us down to the fish market at Tanjung Luar where a couple of environmental groups had already visited with regards to the growing catches of endangered marine life including thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks and manta rays. On our first visit, we saw 3 juvenile sized sharks being brought in, a young hammerhead and thresher among them. Heart wrenching as it was to see them dead even before I could get to dive with any of them, I knew I was here on a mission to find out more and I definitely had to keep my emotions at bay and in check as we asked questions with the help of Agus. We saw a rich looking Indonesian eyeing the shark carcasses as he measured the length of their fins with his fingertips, walking circles around them and it wasn’t long before another one came with a huge knife to hack off the fins from the sharks. Gathered, they came up to about a kilogram in weight and costed USD600. Compared to the shark meat which only cost USD1.50 per kilo, the fin was heavily prized. About an hour later, another boat came in and we saw 6 more reef sharks brought in, each about 2meters in length. As they were lugged into the market area, we met a student from the Mataram University who had been researching on sharks caught at Tanjung Luar for the past 6 months already, he had all the data on the average numbers, (43! our first day there was a lull as a result of the Ramadan) the species and lengths of the catch brought in every other day. It was surreal to see the fin traders borrow the student’s tape measure when they saw he had one, to measure out the length of the fins and determine their worth. We did not stay to watch the actual removal of fins for the second batch but it was sobering enough a first visit, especially since there was a sign by the fish market that said thresher sharks and dolphins were not allowed to be caught, which was all but half ripped.

On our second visit, I was rather thankful to not see any sharks being brought in but one fisherman actually had a basin of 4 baby sharks which were quickly snapped up before we could see it happen. We managed to interview a fishermen who shared about his experiences baiting sharks and the kind of life he led. It was a tough one and they had to be out at sea for up to 17 days without any guarantee of good catch. It was harsh and dangerous with no promise of  a stable income and sadly, his wife had left him after he had been out at sea too much. He was kind enough to bring us to his village just by the fish market so we could get a glimpse of their lives. With information that dolphins could be spotted in December, at least that glimmer for me that we could offer up dolphin watching as alternative tourism livelihood to keep the fishermen from the sharks.

Here is more information with jarring images about what used to be dolphin killing (but the shark killing is still ongoing) at Lombok, by Paul Hilton:

Riding on Gossamer wings

A hiatus from gigs left a vacuum that allowed a rush of blood and adrenaline to the body when airlifted back to gig habitat again at Passionpit last night.

Can we ever get enough of Michael Angelako’s flailing dance arms or Shuttle’s amazing drum beats? fraid not.

An hour and a half’s worth of amazing, grooving to I’ll be Alright, Take a Walk, Carried Away, Mirrored Sea, Cry Like a Ghost and the all too familiar favourites of Sleepyhead with a Little Secrets encore finale.

Satiated? Definitely am convinced I just cannot do without my occasional high from a good live gig, oh adrenaline.

Everyone has a story

One of the many joys of being in this profession usually come in unexpected moments. As an oral examiner for the national exams, I get to hear the most interesting sharings from the students sometimes. The wonders of youth that never fails to amaze me, and hence the love for the job. :)

Gotta love the spark in the boy’s eyes when I asked if he did parkour as he tried to explain about it, that look typified to that of finding a soul mate, as he waxed lyrical about the thrills, spills and perils of the sport he so adored.

What about the girl’s heartening and encouraging stories bagged from living in a children’s home yet how she brims with positivism towards life?

Or the girl who romanticizes on the possibilities that abound from strangers being trapped together in awkward situation when taking shelter from the rain at an already crowded bus stop, forced to make good their circumstances by making new connections with the next shoulder buddy, for the picture description?

I love hearing them stories, especially those which spring forth from life experiences.

Everyone has a story, what’s yours? ?

Nice knowing you

All she had was oatmeal and one David Bowie record to last her all summer.

Wilco and Leonard Cohen vinyls to be rescued; quirky odd coupling of Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley? Never settle for anything less than amazing. I’m sold and so Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. ?


Love and loving Singapore

So it’s the time of the year again, for me at least, to reflect on what being a Singaporean entails. The time when I actually do want to watch the National Day parade on TV; the yearning that comes with years of age. When I would stand at attention before the TV screen despite the creature comforts of the sofa at home, as the national anthem and pledge is played at the parade. A time when I tear up during march past and as the F16s tear across the sky.

As I mused to a dear friend who is still in her twenties, about what I hold dear as a Singaporean and truly love about the country, I feel a tinge of sadness, perhaps a precursor to what the elderly feel when sharing their sentiments on life and such, with nonchalant or indifferent me, when she honestly shares that she does not feel that sense of love or belonging to Singapore. Part of me is enraged and jump to the conclusion that it must be the complacency that shrouds the younger generation who never had to fight for what we enjoy now and merely grow up in laps of luxury, whining and complaining for more. Yet I know deep down inside, a lot of what makes Singapore culturally unique to me has also been taken away over the years so who could blame the indifference and angst and lack of loyalty to Singapore, really? I miss my Kallang Wave at the National Stadium for the Lions at the Malaysia Cup. I miss screaming my lungs out alongside fellow Singaporeans of difference races, religions and creed, on the concrete and wood steps of the stadium. I miss loving Fandi Ahmad, Nazri Nasser, Abbas Saad and David Lim as they fought with pride for Singapore against the other Malaysian states. Has the years really gone by like that robbing us of our history, our childhood, our cultural strings to the nation? What about our sand filled playgrounds, grimy hawker centres with glorious local fare, iconically Singapore landmarks of Kallang Stadium and Collyer Quay to name a few?

I truly believe Singlish embodies a culture of ours even though I shy away from the people who I overhear speaking it while travelling abroad. As long as my students are able to code switch from proper English to Singlish, I really have no qualms about it being a symbol of national pride.

Of late, I have growing dissatisfaction with the foreigners in Singapore who obtain PR all too easily as well, and how they love Singapore in a skewed way, for how it is quickly transforming into a little Europe while they wish the end of hawker centres and coffeeshops as I lament their probable demise. How they pride Singapore for being progressive in tearing and building so quickly over the years, as I grief over the loss of childhood buildings that held memories for me. It’s not just the same race of people from a far larger country whose growing demographic numbers in Singapore I frown upon anymore. Even the ang moh expats are starting to get my gripe as well sometimes, much as I still do very much appreciate their thoughts and bouncing off of ideas with me, don’t get me wrong.

It is the Olympics right now as well, and Jeremy Au Yong sure has a point saying that Malaysia’s star shuttler Lim Chong Wei has united a politically fragmented Malaysia with his Silver Medal while in the same breath, “Singapore’s” Feng Tianwei has divided the nation’s opinion on what a true Singaporean-blooded athlete representing the nation really is. I do agree too that perhaps it is about time the government [polldaddy poll=6457292]hand in sports retracted and that they pump merely money into sports associations than have such a big clout over athletes to the point of being their spokepersons at the Games and apologizing on the behalf of our athletes, who have nonetheless done us proud after all.

I guess I love Singapore and believe that has nothing to do with politics or governing party. I am glad for grassroots and bottom up movements in the realms of environment and ecology over the years and do wish that like Malaysia, more local merchants would step up and offer their earnest, hearty and patriotic support from within them to Olympic winners the way Baskin Robbins in Malaysia offered free ice cream to the Malaysians to celebrate Lim Chong Wei’s stunning performance and medal win. A joy and reward that involved the society at large of the country as well.

Rather than raise up a nation of whiners and complainers who expect the government to solve every darn problem to the T, I think it is time the citizens truly stand up for what they believe in, to start ground up movements and take ownership while growing national pride, passion, resilience and opinions of their own that comes from the heart like asking for more elder care support rather than complain about a possible rise in old folks dying in the neighbourhood when rejecting government initiatives to build more elder care facilities in the void decks. I believe in the power of hope and it is my hope that Singaporeans will learn to feel more deeply and took action for the causes they champion, as a community and eventually a nation. Happy national day, Singapore.