Thursday, December 29, 2016

Eco Kids Column: Microadventures for Eco Kids

By Wong Ee Lynn
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The school holidays may be over, but this doesn't mean that your outdoor time has to come to an end. Experts agree that children need at least one hour of outdoor time a day to improve their muscle tone, physical coordination, sense of balance and general health and fitness levels. Outdoor time helps children unwind and relax. Unfortunately, for many children living in urban and residential areas, 'outdoor time' consists of structured physical activity such as taekwondo, swimming or tennis lessons. While all sports and physical activities are good for you, unstructured free play outdoors helps to develop your creativity, self-confidence and problem-solving skills. Many children look forward to road trips, camping excursions and visits to national parks and places of natural interest during the school holidays. This does not have to come to an end when the new school semester begins. 'Microadventures' are short adventures in the great outdoors, as opposed to 3-day camping trips in Taman Negara or Tasik Chini. They are usually day trips or may be only hours long. Sometimes they are overnight weekend camping trips that involve camping out on Friday or Saturday nights. What makes a microadventure a microadventure is that they have to be generally unstructured. A sunrise hike up Broga Hill is a microadventure. A birdwatching workshop is less so, because it is structured and involves other people advising you on what to see and do. A football training session is an outdoor physical training session without being a microadventure at all. 

To prepare for a microadventure, you need:
1. To go in a group for safety if the trip involves some degree of risk, or to ensure whoever remains at home (or perhaps relatives, neighbours or close friends) know where you are going and what time you expect to be back;
2. To have fully charged phones or walkie-talkies or some other means of communicating with others in the event of an emergency;
3. A basic First Aid Kit and first aid skills;
4. Sufficient drinking water, and a light snack or two, 
5. Lightweight outdoor emergency equipment, such as a knife for cutting through thorny bushes, fishing lines or bird mist nets with, 
6. A whistle for each member of the group to blow in case you are lost or in case of an emergency,
7. Rubbish bags or a dry sack to carry rubbish out in,
8. A change of clothes in case of bad weather or if you are sleeping out.

Field guides, binoculars, log books, compasses, torchlights and other such items are optional.  

If going on microadventures is new to your family, here are ways you can start small:
1. Set a goal of going on one microadventure each month, if doing it every weekend seems too challenging. 
2. Ensure everyone -- adults and children alike -- get one hour of Outdoor Time each day. Tick it off on a chart, calendar or whiteboard to ensure this is done daily. This can be a nightly walk around the neighbourhood after dinner instead of sitting down in front of the computer, tablet or TV. 
3. If your daily outdoor activity consists of going to the neighbourhood playground, playing in the garden or swimming in the apartment pool, set a goal of going to a different playground or park in a different neighbourhood once or twice a week. Explore different parks and playground equipment. One family wrote a blogpost on how they spent the entire summer exploring and testing out all the slides in all the playgrounds in their district. 
4. Set a Family Goal for the month or quarter (i.e. every 3 months), for example: (i) One place with water; (ii) One place we have never been to before; (iii) One overnight weekend stay; (iv) One item on the MNS Newsletter activities announcement page; and (v) One new way of travelling. 

To make it more meaningful for the family or as a group activity, you can add a volunteering component to your microadventures. For example, you can volunteer for worthy conservation causes, such as the Malaysian Nature Society Urban Community Forest (UCF) plant nursery for the first two hours and then spend the third hour exploring the trails. You can volunteer with the Eats, Roots and Shoots Edible Garden in Petaling Jaya and then spend the next hour hiking the Bukit Gasing Trail. You can help to clean up parks and nature trails.

Here are suggestions on microadventures you can try out in KL and Selangor:1. Explore the KL Forest Eco Park (also known as the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve) and try to locate the suspension bridge that takes you to the hidden playground. 
2. Explore the trails and streams of Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Lembah Kiara Park in TTDI, Bukit Gasing Forest Park, Ketumbar Hill, Broga Hill or Templer's Park. 
3. Go on a long bike ride and picnic at Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam (commonly known as Bukit Cherakah).
4. Take the bus or LRT to a different part of town and walk home without the use of Waze, Google Maps or any other mobile apps. 
5. Go rafting, kayaking or paddleboarding.
6. Explore the playgrounds at Desa Park City, Bukit Jalil Recreation Park, KL Lake Gardens, National Science Centre and Perdana Botanical Gardens.
7. Fly a kite at the Kepong Metropolitan Park or Morib Beach.
8. Bring a brew kit on your next hike and practice starting a fire and boiling some water for tea when you stop to rest. Learn to cook yourself a simple meal outdoors, e.g. instant noodles or toasted sandwiches, once you have mastered the art of starting a fire and keeping a fire going. Remember to put out your fire completely and bring your litter out with you when you are done.
9. Bring a container of plain flour with you. Work in teams of 2-3. The leading team leaves a pattern of flour on rocks and the trail as a trail marker and the 'hunting' team starts off 5-10 minutes later and tries to catch up with the leading team by following the markers. Please do not use bits of paper, crayons, marker pens or non-biodegradable materials as trail markers. 
10. Explore the Kuala Selangor Nature Park and go to Kg. Kuantan after nightfall to see the fireflies along the Selangor River.
11. Go birding, caving or herping (i.e. looking for and spotting reptiles and amphibians) with the Malaysian Nature Society Special Interest Groups. 
12. Go on night hikes and night walks to build up your self-confidence and sense of balance and spatial awareness in the dark. 
13. Have a scavenger hunt on your next hike or park outing. Participants can use their phone cameras to capture photos of things on the list, for example: 'something with wings', 'something with a shell', 'something with more than 6 legs', 'something man-made', 'something that looks like a human face', 'something red' and 'something not native to the area'.
14. If your microadventure consists of going to a playground, urban park or a place to volunteer (e.g. an animal shelter, a community garden, a plant nursery or a homeless assistance centre), add the element of adventure and novelty to it by going there using a different mode of travel (e.g. LRT, bus, on foot, by bike, or on a scooter or skates) or using a different route, and then finish off with an outdoor picnic meal, or a meal at a restaurant you have never been to, particularly if it serves cuisine of a different culture. 
15. Check out the city and community pages of the newspaper or events near you on social media to find out about local events with a community service or environmental objective. For example, environmental documentary screenings, organic markets, art fairs, school fundraisers, treasure hunts, recycling campaigns and community cleanups. Participate in the activities to learn more about these causes and your local community. Make new friends, try new foods and learn new skills and games. 
16. If it is raining but there is no lightning, put on a raincoat and go out in the rain. Watch where the water flows. Are there any birds or animals that go out in the rain?
17. If you live in an urban area, take the LRT, monorail or some other form of public transport to visit a place of historical interest, for example, the old part of Kuala Lumpur, around Masjid Jamek and Central Market. Make notes and sketches about things you observe and how they make you feel. Ride the LRT all the way to the end of the line and back. 
18. Sleep out in your garden, and once you have done this, try out other friends' gardens, the local playground and the school compound, a little further away from your home each time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Green Living Column Dec 2016: A Basic Guide To Experience Gifts

By Wong Ee Lynn
‘Experience gifts’ are non-physical, non-material gifts that can include a charitable contribution (e.g. wildlife ‘adoption’ programme through a donation to a registered organisation), a form of service (e.g. an offer to do dreaded chores), a special trip or outing, registration for courses and workshops, tickets to performances  and special meals and parties, among others.
Research by the Olin Business School, Washington University, revealed something interesting: People continue buying and giving material gifts because they believe that opening and keeping a gift will make their friends and family happier, although material gifts consistently lose out to experiences as sources of positive feelings. Remembering the details of a trip, surprise birthday party or concert brings recipients more pleasure over the years than the memory of unwrapping an electronic gadget or trinket.
Advantages of giving experience gifts:
1.      You help to create wonderful memories for the recipient.
2.      Executing the experience gift with the recipient (e.g. taking your father out to watch his favourite sports team play in a match) often means quality time.
3.      Experience gifts will not end up in the back of a closet or charity pile.
4.      Experiences give you more social and emotional connection with others.
5.      Fewer physical gifts means less clutter, less waste, less extraction of natural resources and less packaging. Hence experience gifts are usually better for the environment (except for those that involve long distance travel and the burning of fossil fuels).
1.      Experience gifts can often be very costly.
2.      It takes time to execute an experience gift. (E.g. meeting up with the recipient to take them out for a museum outing and then taking them home)
(A picnic party in the Lake Gardens)
Below are some basic tried-and-tested guidelines to affordable and environmentally-responsible experience gift-giving.
Experience gifts Dos and Don’ts:
1.      Avoid passive-aggressive gift-giving. Is the gift more important to you than to the recipient? Who will appreciate it more – you or the recipient? For example, offers to clean house for someone, do gardening and yard work, babysit or petsit will only be appreciated by someone who has expressed willingness to accept help in those areas. It could otherwise be seen as a criticism of their housekeeping or parenting skills. Someone who is less bothered by the untidiness of their house or garden than you are will not appreciate it as much as you will. Giving gifts of gym memberships or health food store vouchers may also be seen as passive-aggressive criticisms of someone’s weight and is best to be avoided unless specifically requested. Also, someone might be very particular about the way they clean house or care for their children and pets and may not appreciate strangers doing it.
2.      Don’t make the gift about you, for example, tickets to watch you perform, unless the recipient has specifically asked you for it. Also, the intended recipient might not really care about learning to cook or to play the piano as much as you do, so before giving the gift, think carefully about whether it is you or the intended recipient that the gift is really for.
3.      Avoid gifts that will still end up becoming ‘clutter gifts’, for example, studio portrait sessions where the recipient receives framed professionally-taken photographs of himself/herself, pottery / painting classes where recipient returns with half-used tubes of paint and semi-dry half-used tubs of clay (unless you know they will continue using the art materials for future projects), and magazine and club subscriptions where they end up with more clutter even if educational and well-intentioned.
4.      Understand your intended recipient’s financial situation and plans before giving a gift for which they will have to pay for extras, e.g. sports equipment and sportswear in order to attend sports coaching workshops or musical instruments in order to attend music lessons. Give these gifts (i.e. where they will have to invest in tools, uniforms or equipment) only if they have expressed an intention to take up the said sport or hobby. For example, one set of grandparents paid for their grandchildren’s guitar and hip hop dance lessons for the rest of the year. The grandchildren were already taking those classes and were interested in continuing with advanced classes. The grandparents’ gift was thus deeply appreciated and lifted a financial burden from the parents.
5.      Know and understand your recipient. Pay attention to what they like and what their interests are. Ask their family members and closest friends if you are unsure. Ensure that you are aware of their food allergies, phobias, idiosyncrasies and financial means before you choose an experience gift for them. Someone with a fear of heights will be unlikely to jump with joy at the idea of a helicopter ride or bungee jumping outing.
6.      Do not fall into the consumerist crafter’s habit of making elaborate cards, boxes and gift card holders in order to present the experience gift. The point of the experience gift is that there should be nothing physical that the recipient would have to find space and storage for. In our age of camera phones and social media, the recipient will not need to keep your ticket/card holders, boxes and packaging in order to remember your gifts -- They would have had enough memories and taken enough photos to last a lifetime.
7.      Handmade gifts may have more ‘character’ than experience gifts, but be forewarned that handmade gifts do not fall into the category of clutter-free or experience gifts. A lovely painting may not fit into the recipient’s décor scheme, and crochet doilies may be hard to wash and keep clean and a quilted tea cosy might not be practical for our tropical weather.
Ideas for Inexpensive Experience Gifts:
1.      For the overwhelmed family member or friend, parents of young children, someone who has been unwell or injured, elderly parents and grandparents: Housecleaning services, gardening services,  babysitting services and pet-sitting services. You can perform these services yourself or together with other family members or friends, or hire professionals to carry them out.
2.      For the animal lover: Visit an animal shelter with treats and homemade toys for the shelter animals. The recipient gets to present the toys and treats to the shelter. Volunteer together for a few hours. If you can find a wildlife sanctuary with a good reputation, visit it together and make a donation for its upkeep. Examples: SPCA and PAWS animal shelters, Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Langkawi LASSIE, KL Pooch Rescue shelter and boarding centre, or the Cherating and Pantai Padang Kemunting Turtle Sanctuaries.   
3.      For the nature lover: A hiking / trekking / birdwatching outing. Bring rubbish bags, gardening gloves and rubbish claws for cleaning up the trails with. Pack a picnic in your rucksack consisting of juice, water, fruit, firm buns and food items that won’t get squashed or crushed easily. Take lots of photos. If you can afford it: Go camping, kayaking, rock climbing, caving or paddleboarding. Examples: Bukit Gasing, Bukit Nanas KL Forest Eco Park, Kota Damansara Community Forest, paddleboarding at Kundang Lake, kayaking down the Perak River, doing the Dark Caves Adventure Tour in Batu Caves and exploring Gua Tempurung.

(A paddleboarding outing for a friend’s birthday.)
4.      For the college student / struggling family member or friend: Grocery store / supermarket vouchers, restaurant vouchers, gift baskets of good quality groceries and movie tickets.
5.      For the Instagram / selfie addict: Street art in interesting locations, followed up with coffee and desserts in a trendy café or dessert bar. Examples: Street art walkabout in Section 52 PJ, Laman Seni Shah Alam, SS2 PJ, Ipoh or George Town.

(Go street art hunting in SS2, Petaling Jaya)

6.      For the young and young-at-heart: Visit to an old-fashioned fun fair or a games arcade (for instance, those often situated in shopping malls near the cinemas and that open late) and a pocketful of tokens for games.
7.       For the art enthusiast: Visit an art gallery, art museum or open-air art installation that he/she has not been to before. Follow up with coffee and cake in trendy café. Examples: Shalini Ganendra Fine Art Gallery, Galeri Petronas, Art Square in Bangsar, the ASEAN Sculpture Garden at the Lake Gardens, Galeri Taksu and Galeri Chandan.
8.      A workshop or class. Examples: Bushcraft and outdoor survival camps, vehicle maintenance workshops at The School @ Jaya One, and watercolour painting or calligraphy classes at Stickeriffic.
9.      For the gardening enthusiast / urban farmer: Visit and volunteer at a community garden or farm. Bring plants to share, buy seeds as a gift for the recipient and help to plant trees and do garden maintenance. Examples: MNS Urban Community Forest, Eats Shoots and Roots edible garden in PJ, Free Tree Society of Kuala Lumpur and the TTDI Edible Garden Project.
10.  Throw a treasure hunt to make even the most inexpensive gift feel special: E.g. a scavenger hunt in an art gallery (E.g. “Find artwork by Bayu Utomo Radjikin.” “Find a pre-Merdeka work of art produced by a female artist”) or in a forest reserve (E.g. “Find an introduced species”, “Find all the letters that make up your name spelled out in objects found in nature, e.g. “Y” in the fork of a branch.) It is good to have some hunt sheets ready if you are taking a child or young person on an excursion and you fear he/she might grow bored halfway. If you have a gift prepared, e.g. a card stating that you will be going to his/her favourite restaurant for dinner, hide it somewhere and have the recipient look for clues leading him / her to the gift.
11.  Special outings, for example, to the theatre, orchestra, museum, science centre, urban forest, or sports stadium.
12.  Go on a scavenger hunt, for example, to visit and photograph 20 major landmarks in the city, taking only public transport. This will be especially fun for someone who is not a local.
13.  For the sports enthusiast: Try a new sport: Bowling, archery, ice skating, roller blading, trampoline park or going to an indoor extreme sport park or water park. Examples: Tandem cycling around Titiwangsa lake at night on bikes lit up with LED lights, going indoor rock-climbing at Camp 5 One Utama, having a day out at the District 21 indoor adventure park or at the Jumpstreet trampoline park.
14.  For the foodie: Cooking and baking workshops. Check out major bakeries and ‘like’ their FB pages for access to class schedules. If you are a skilled cook or baker, you can offer to teach. Supply the ingredients and let them bring their edible creations home.
15.  For the athlete: Participate in a road race / marathon / fun run together. Bonus points if it is to raise funds and awareness for a charitable cause. For beginners, you might want to sign up for novelty runs, for example, Colour Run, Bubble Dash, Music Run, Night Run, Glow Run or some other themed run.
16.  For the life of the party: Organise a karaoke party or picnic in the park with other friends. Parks you can utilise include Central Park Bandar Utama, Desa Parkcity, Lake Gardens, and KLCC Park. Make it a potluck to share the costs and keep things interesting.
17.  Look up online magazines e.g. Time Out KL and to find out the best and latest attractions in your city. Inexpensive local experience gifts can include visits to theme parks, 3D movies, laser tag, escape room, board games cafes, stand-up comedy shows, live performances, Dining In The Dark, visiting new concept restaurants and cafes, staycations in interesting and quaint chalets and boutique hotels and local historical walks and factory tours.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Green Living Advocacy: Trade Ban On Pangolins Only As Effective As Its Enforcement



The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)’s recent worldwide ban on all 8 species of pangolins has brought cheer to the conservation community.

Pangolins face grave threats to their survival not only from the illegal wildlife trade, but also from habitat loss and a low reproductive rate. Female pangolins produce only one offspring a year. Pangolins play an important role in the ecosystem, as their diet consists of ants and termites, and they thus provide biological pest control. It is estimated that a single pangolin consumes over 70 million ants and termites a year, and from this fact, one can imagine the role of pangolins as nature’s pest controllers and soil caretakers.

Pangolins, including the Sunda / Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica) are considered the world’s most trafficked mammal and are at risk of extinction due to relentless hunting and poaching, especially for the China and Vietnam markets, where pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and a status symbol.

Pangolin foetus soup ostensibly improves male virility, while pangolin scales are ground into powder and used to treat rheumatism and skin disease, although like rhino horns, the scales are made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and fingernails, and there is no scientific or medical evidence to support the claim that it has any healing or beneficial properties.

It is hoped that the CITES trade ban will not only eradicate legal trade in pangolins but also reduce illegal trade by influencing consumer behaviour.

However, a trade ban is only as effective as its enforcement. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), numbers of wild Sunda pangolins have decreased by half in the last 15 years.

Studies by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, reveal that as pangolin populations are depleted in Indochina, wildlife dealers currently source pangolins from Malaysia and Indonesia. Its studies also found that the pangolin trade has spread to Sabah and Sarawak due to the decline in the pangolin population in Peninsular Malaysia.

According to the report by TRAFFIC, interviews with pangolin hunters in Sabah reveal that the hunters are aware of the illegality of hunting pangolins, and the critically endangered status of pangolins. However, the hunters admitted that the lucrative price made it difficult for them to stop hunting pangolins.

In order for the pangolin trade ban to be effective, enforcement agencies must treat wildlife trade as a serious international crime that threatens not only wildlife populations and the natural environment, but also ultimately human survival. Wildlife law enforcement agencies and prosecution bodies must cooperate with environmental organisations and monitoring bodies to eradicate corruption, stop wildlife trade, incapacitate wildlife trafficking syndicates and mete out the most severe punishments possible for wildlife offenders.

There are reports that live pangolins confiscated by enforcement agencies are frequently released in their weakened state without planning or monitoring, and this jeopardises their chances of survival. Thus efforts to ensure the survival of pangolins should also encompass the rehabilitation, management and subsequent release of confiscated pangolins.   

The international trade ban and enforcement of anti-wildlife trafficking laws must necessarily be complemented by public education and awareness efforts in order to succeed. This is where members of the public come in.

We can all play a role in phasing out and ending wildlife trade and preventing the extinction of pangolins. As conscientious and informed members of society, we must speak out and use our persuasive powers to influence others to reduce the consumer demand for pangolins and other wildlife. Even those of us who are not educators or volunteers can speak to others, including the younger generation, rural and indigenous communities and senior citizens who believe in the curative powers of wildlife-based traditional medicine, and educate them not only of the role of pangolins in the ecosystem, but also of the fact that the entire wildlife-based traditional medicine industry is a sham designed to enrich a few profiteers and impoverish the gullible. This is why measures such as captive breeding and farming wildlife and creating biotech substitutes for wildlife products such as rhino horns and bear bile are ineffective in ending wildlife crime – because they continue to reinforce the belief that there are curative properties to pangolin scales, rhino horn, bear bile and other wildlife products. To end the exploitation of and illegal trade in wildlife, we must be unequivocal in educating wildlife consumers that there are no benefits to consuming wildlife parts, and there is no such thing as legal or sustainable trade in wildlife.   

Given the popularity of travel to other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, travellers can do their part not only by not consuming or purchasing pangolin wine, meat, scales or other wildlife products, but actively speaking up and informing tour operators and fellow travellers that they refuse to enter any establishment that offers pangolin products, bushmeat, exotic pets or other wildlife products. Travellers must vote with their money and their voice by writing in to tour agencies, national wildlife enforcement agencies, wildlife monitoring bodies and animal welfare and conservation NGOs operating in the relevant countries to complain about and report wildlife crimes. It is helpful to take photos as evidence and compile as much useful information as possible, including locations, dates and other information that will aid in tracking down and identifying wildlife offenders.

Crimes, including suspected crimes (e.g. a restaurant offering ‘special meat’ and ‘special dishes’) against pangolins and other wildlife in Malaysia can be reported to the 24-hour MYCAT Wildlife Crime Hotline at 019 356 4194 or

Everyone should participate in efforts and organisations that create, fund and support initiatives to not merely educate, but also empower and provide alternative and sustainable livelihoods for rural and indigenous communities to reduce and eventually eliminate their need for poaching and hunting. The fact remains that in many parts of the world, indigenous communities are forced off their ancestral lands and denied the opportunity for meaningful participation in the natural resource economy, thus driving them to hunt and poach wildlife for their economic survival. We cannot effectively protect wildlife and habitats without considering the human factor. This is where the rest of us come in as consumers, travellers, donors, sponsors, volunteers, advocates, social media users and supporters.

Protecting endangered species is not the role of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) or conservation NGOs and experts alone, and the environmental responsibility of ordinary citizens and consumers goes beyond merely recycling our bottles and having shorter showers. Species conservation is our shared duty and responsibility, and pangolins and other wildlife need us as their defenders and protectors now more than ever.



 (Photo credits: Wikipedia)