Category Archives: Malaysia

Being a Watchman


Things are bad in my country these days.  When I remember the country from the time of my youth and consider it now, the thought that comes to mind is “how far we have fallen”.  Corruption, racial disharmony, falling education standards, injustice and religious intolerance all seem to be on the march. Sure the country could be worse but it was certainly once a lot better.

For a number of years now, Christian leaders have been urging Christians to come together and pray and to take part in a 40 day fast for the nation; to cry out for God’s mercy and transformative power to restore the country.  In the past, my involvement in this had been rather patchy but this year, I am committed to take this seriously, to be a watchman for the nation as described in the bible (Ezekiel 3).  A watchman keeps watch and warns of danger.

Now, I am a novice at fasting.  Before this, I have only fasted a couple of times.  So, trying to fast for 40 days is a big deal.  I mention this not because I am seeking praise or recognition but to encourage all Christians to take on the role of watchmen and to pray for their countries with serious commitment.

How does one fast? Some I know refrain from eating for 24-48 hours at a time while others understand fasting as giving up something for that period like meat or chocolates or these days, even internet.  There is nothing magical about the act itself or the form that it takes.  My understanding of fasting is to refrain from eating and to give that time over to seek God, to wait on Him, to read His word, to pray and to listen.  The key is time in prayer with God.

For me, I try to give up one meal or sometimes two meals a day and spend 1-2 hours in prayer.  Currently, I have fasted 6 days out of the first 8 days.  Last Sunday, I attended a wedding and dinner and did not fast ……….and last Friday, I gave in to the weakness of my flesh.  Ahem.

But what I really want to share with you here is that despite the hunger pangs, it has been a wonderful experience.  Whenever we set apart time to be with God, He meets us and even as we pray for transformation and restoration for the country, He transforms and restores us.

So, I urge all Malaysian Christians to make the commitment to join the 40 day prayer and fast; it is our responsibility but it will also be our joy.  Most of us find it easy to criticise and to snipe at our leaders and to complain about conditions in our country and yet treat it like it is someone else’s problem and we don’t need to lift a finger.  That is wrong.  The country’s problems are our problems.  We are the country.  So instead of criticism and sniping, let us pray for our leaders and our country, for wisdom, integrity, grace and justice for all.  (click here to get the NECF booklet that guides our fasting, prayer and reflections for the 40 days)

2017ePDF-PrayerBooklet-Eng-Adul

For readers from other corners of the world, pray too for your own countries and light up the darkness.

For other adventures of a fasting squirrel (some voluntary and some forced), read “Adventures in the Fast Lane“.

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Bear Necessities -Revisited (Unburied Nuts)


Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun.  But this time, it is EXTRA SPECIAL.  The following post was about a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation centre and when I posted it back in January 2011, it was a very new work and the assistant keeper that I mentioned was still a graduate student.  Well, he is now Dr. Wong Siew Te and this month he was named as a CNN Hero.  Congratulations!

BEAR NECESSITIES (January 2011)

Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island.  However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world.  adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres.  Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.

I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild.  Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in.   Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.

The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly.  Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting.  I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male.   There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of  personalities.  There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers).  Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way.  On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.

Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage.  These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple.  There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid.  Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure.  The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest.  Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage.  Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat.  When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate.  Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again.  Interesting, no?

This work is in its infancy.  Hopefully the work will succeed though.  This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.

Bear Climbing – See the Characteristic White Marking and Those Long Claws
The Teenage Girls
Snooze Time

Civil Disobedience


I am sure that most of you have by now heard of the song Despacito by Luis Fonsi and featuring Justin Beiber.  This month it became the world’s most streamed song of all time with over 4.6 billion streams.  In fact, you have probably seen the video and heard the song so many times that you are beginning to lose your grip on sanity.  Everywhere you turn, the song or the video is playing for the umpteenth time.

Well, not in Malaysia.  If you need relief, come to Malaysia.  It is a Despacito free zone; at least you will not hear it on any government run radio station or see it on any government run or government related TV channels.  The Malaysian government, at the behest of self appointed religious police, has declared the song lyrics obscene and banned the song.

These are the same people who recently tried to ban the use of names like hot dogs, pretzel dogs, Coney dogs etc because it was offensive to those who considered dogs to be unclean.

Anyway, being a passive aggressive squirrel, I have decided to do an act of civil disobedience by posting this cover version of the song that is being played using the traditional Malay “gamelan” instruments – although it is by a group from  our neighbor, Indonesia.

………..because you just can’t stop the squirrel!  Hope you like it.

Cat Catcher


Two posts in a row on cats! What is wrong with the Lone Grey Squirrel? Has his little squirrely brain gone nuts …….more than usual?  Is it a case of cat scratch fever?

Editor’s Note:- Cat scratch fever is a real thing!  And just another reason to get rid of your cats and adopt squirrels instead. Just another public service announcement.

The cat that I refer to in this post is the palm civet cat.  It is also known as the toddy cat and in Malaysia as the “musang”.  It’s scientific name is Paradoxurus hermaphroditus.  However, just to confuse things, it is neither a true cat nor a hermaphrodite.  Confused yet ?

But all this is unimportant to the telling of this true story.

What you need to know is that the musang is about 40 in or 100 cm from nose to tail and that it can sometimes be seen in urban areas.  Being a nocturnal creature, it comes out under the cover of darkness and run across the roof of houses causing such a racket with their clawed feet that house owners are often awakened from slumber, thinking that a cat burglar is trying to gain entry.

malay-civet
Palm civet a.k.a. Musang

I was once called to attend to a case involving the civet cat.  The cat had fallen down an airwell into a house and had found its way into the master bedroom.  Now trapped and panicky, it was running around scared, ripping the bedsheets with its claws and peeing and pooping all over the place.

The home owners knew me personally and knew that I was working as a science officer  at a nature conservation organisation and called me to come help them out.  It was meant to be a capture, relocate and release operation.

Now, we did have colleagues that were trained field biologists with practical experience in handling wild animals.  Unfortunately, they were all out at that time doing their thing in the jungle.  There was just Andy and me.  Andy was our PR guy and I was actually trained in microbiology which meant that the only thing I knew how to catch was the flu!

The house owners were placing their hopes and expectations on us.  Little did they know we both felt as scared and as panicky as the civet.  We had zero field experience and zero equipment with us other than a large burlap bag in which we hoped to capture the animal.  So there we were entering a room with an angry, scared and cornered wild animal and we all know a cornered animal is a dangerous one.  I was thinking, if it bites me, I will have to get painful rabies shots. Yikes.

What followed was like something out of Keystone Cops.  First we tried to get it to run towards us and the bag but when it started to run towards us, we dropped the bag and fled in fear.  Then we tried to jump on it with the bag but it flashed past us leaving us in a heap.  We tried chasing it but it ran way faster than us.  We tried driving it into a corner but it got so angry that our courage failed.

Eventually it ran under the bed and stayed there.  When we peered under the bed, we could make out its beady eyes in the darkness.  And we stared at each other for a very long time; both civet and humans glad to have a pause in the frantic running around.

Andy and I did not really want another round of chase the cat.  So we discussed what we would do instead and all the while the civet stayed put in the gloom under the bed.

That was when we had an eureka moment.  The civet cat felt safe under the bed not just because the bed was a physical barrier but because being a nocturnal animal, it would always prefer to seek the safety of darkness.

We went out and brought back a long cardboard box, a broom and a couple of strong torchlights.   We placed the box down with one end open.  We then took positions on either side of the bed and then at the count of three we both switched on our torchlights.  The civet had lost its dark hiding place and with the further inducement of a prodding broomstick, streaked out of there.  But where would it now go?  It ran straight into the safety of the dark interior of the box.

We quickly closed the box.  Ta-da.  Mission accomplished and I may add, the civet seemed to calm down quite a bit in its new dark sanctuary.  After that, we were able to transfer the animal to a forest reserve and release it without further drama.

We were both proud of our newly learned civet catching skill but strangely enough we were never ever called to use that skill again.

Oh, did I mention that though we escaped physical injury, we both stank to high heaven from being around the civet’s secretions.  There was a definite dip in social life for the near future. Yeah……on second thought, I am glad I never had to do it again.

B.B.C. – Cool Cat


I guess it goes without saying that squirrels and cats have a bit of a strained relationship; like Tom and Jerry, or Frodo and goblins, or Harry and “He who must not be named”. So when you say  “rare cat”, I would usually say “not rare enough!”.

But being a liberal minded squirrel, I have to say in all fairness that some…..just a few….cats may not be all bad.  Putting away my own horrific experiences with the cat version of Cujo;  I have to grudgingly admit that the Bornean Bay Cat or B.B.C. is kinda cool looking.

borneanbaycat
The B.B.C. captured by camera trap (BBC Wildlife Magazine)

Little is known about this shy elusive creature except that it is only found on the island of Borneo (part Malaysian and part Indonesian with a tiny little bit of it belonging to Brunei) and that it is very rare and rarely seen.  In fact, it was only rediscovered by science in 1992 and the first photo of a live specimen taken in 1998 (photo above).  It is about the size of a large domestic cat (head and body about 53 cm long and the tail about 39 cm long).

The reason I am posting about this rare kitty, apart that it is found in my neck of the woods, is that the very first video footage of it was captured just last year and here it is…….the B.B.C. – cool cat.  So whaddya think?

 

Yellow and Red and Black and ….


Below is an excerpt from the highly esteemed BBC talking-type wireless show (or so they claimed for themselves), The Goon Show.  Written by the rascally Spike Milligan, the episode entitled “The Affair of the Lone Banana” has our intrepid but dumb hero, Seagoon, going to South America in search of a missing British citizen.  But when he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of much social unrest…………

Seagoon:  Now, now what’s all this about?
Moriarty:  It is the revolution señor – everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty:  Right in it – you see, you see señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty:  There are no sides – we are all in this together.

I used to think this was so funny even though I knew that sometimes reality actually sails very close to this.  Unfortunately, it has now even come closer to home, to Malaysia.

On the 19th of November, thousands of Malaysians put on yellow shirts and attended the Bersih 5 rally on the streets of the capitol, Kuala Lumpur.

Aerial view of just one of the rally locations:- How many yellow shirts? (some say 50,000; police say 15,000; one establishment newspaper claimed about 5,000)

But they were not alone.  Just like the Affair of the Lone Banana, there were other parties present too and they were all in it.  I hope to try to give some clarity to the situation.

Yellow Shirts – these are the peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-transparency, pro-electoral reform, anti-corruption, pro-justice, pro-change, anti- current Prime Minister Najib, supported by past Prime Minister Mahathir, non-sectarian, civil society groups and opposition parties.

Red Shirts- these are the thuggish, bullying, sectarian, anti-yellow shirts, anti-free press, pro-government, pro-status quo, pro-establishment, pro-Malay, pro-Prime Minister Najib, ruling party.

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One of several sad incidents involving red shirts attacking a yellow shirt some days before the rally

Black Shirts – anti-rallies, anti yellow shirts, defenders of the law against protests, newly set up party with ties to establishment.

MJMM president Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah (centre) posing for photographs outside the Dang Wangi police headquarters. — Picture by Melissa Chi
Black Shirts posing outside police station

Orange Shirts – anti-yellow shirts, pro-Prime Minister Najib, pro-Indian, pro-government party launched by the Prime Minister.

Purple Shirts – pro-yellow shirts, pro-protection of yellow shirts from red shirts.

In the end, the yellow shirts far outnumbered the rest.  There were probably more than  50,000 yellow shirts and about 2,500 red shirts.  The red shirts dispersed before long.

The police arrested many yellow shirt leaders and a few red shirt leaders briefly.  However, Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections was jailed and placed in solitary confinement under an Act designed for action against terrorists.  Malaysians of all kinds of color shirts held nightly vigils for her release and she was finally freed after 10 days although the police say they are continuing their investigation of her.

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The nightly vigil for Maria’s release from solitary confinement.

If all this was rather confusing, let me just a summarise it for you.  In a nutshell, we are in a lot of trouble in Malaysia and no matter what color shirt, we are all in it.  If we are not careful, we will all sink in it.  What is needed is for us to drape ourselves in the multi colors of our national flag, put down our own selfish interests and fight for a country with justice, equality and opportunity for all Malaysians.

Chew


His name is Chew Keng Lin.   When I think of Chew, I think of a man of simple tastes and a happy disposition; more contented and at ease in the depths of the rainforest than enjoying creature comforts of city dwelling.  He loved nature and being out in nature. In fact, he made protecting nature his life’s work.

chew

I first got to know him at this place – Endau Rompin.

endau rompin

We were on the same team; I was team leader.  Together we contributed to the building of a field centre for scientific research and nature education in a relative pristine forest are. Today, it is part of the National Parks of Johor or “Taman Negara Johor”.

Chew continued on and became a senior officer in the Parks Corporation.

Tomorrow is Chew’s funeral.  He was only in his forty’s.  I don’t know much but was told he had some kidney problem; sudden and unexpected.

Although I have not met up with him for some years, I feel a bond to everyone who worked together on that team.  We accomplished something important and we all did a lot of growing up together.  That means something.

I am sad that he is no longer with us. I am sad that he passed on so young. I am sad that I will not be able to be there at his funeral to honor and remember him.  I pray that he is in a better place.