Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.)


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Mangroves in Lankawi

The first time I paid attention to mangroves was after the 2004 tsunami, when it was reported that the clearing of mangroves into touristy beaches in Phuket and Krabi had resulted in the disaster being more catastrophic, because the mangroves could have prevented the tsunami from entering so far inland.

Since then, I have made it a point to go for mangrove tours, in Sabah as well as in Langkawi, among other places. The tours were rewarding and therapeutic, breezing in the wind in a small boat and meandering through rivers in search of wildlife.

I didn’t know there were mangroves in Singapore, since most of our swamps have been turned into industrial areas. As early as late 1960s(!), large mangrove areas in Ubin were cleared and turned into aqua-eco ponds for prawn farming. Such farming were not sustainable with the use of artificial feeds and antibotics, resulting in unhealthy water and thus poor yield. The areas were thus abandoned. A ground up initiative involving passionate volunteers, off-shore fish farm owners and the Geography department of NUS have come together to try to restore mangroves to these areas, so as to increase the biodiversity in these water, provide fishes with baby nursery, control erosion and store carbon.(Info courtesy of RUM).

I was fortunate to be invited to a private tour to learn what R.U.M does, and to learn about mangroves. There are more than two thousands species of mangroves, and a mixed community are usually found at different gradients along the banks. Mangroves are like humans, with the mother plant bearing offspring called propagules- baby plants, which drop off and grow immediately into a new plant, without the need for fruits or seeds.

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Thus, restoring mangroves does not involve any planting, but it does involve much initial preparation of the site by cleaning up (too much of coastal garbage), site survey to know how much tidal water mangroves like and the appropriate elevation. When site conditions are favourable, regeneration occurs naturally,

Working through bureaucratic Singapore is difficult as we are well aware. There is the NEA, SLA, AVA and Nparks to deal with, all of which have different ideas on what kind of Ubin they want. As we walked along the island through on-going construction last Sunday, I heard many grouses – on the use of gleaming stainless steel on staircase, an eye-sore indeed in a rustic environment; the differing agendas between government agencies; the needless effort to spruce Ubin into another touristy, artificial park. I feel both sympathy and admiration for the group’s passion and enthusiasm. We definitely need more such groups to take ownership of our country and they deserve our support.

If you are interested to learn more, volunteer or take part in their monthly walks, do visit:

http://rum-initiative.blogspot.sg/

or like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1532581690316706/

 

 

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Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan


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Meng, as he is affectionately called, is an ambassador for the VWO I work for and recently was in Singapore to give a talk on the same title, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend as I was outside working during the seminar. So the next best thing is to read the book.

I didn’t read his first book, Search Inside Yourself, written while he was working at Google. So I am new to his writing, which is witty and has many self-deprecating  jokes to balance out the many name-droppings in the book,  including Dalai Lama, which also in a way lend credibility to the book . I actually laughed out loud during a bus journey that the passenger in front turned around.

How to you get joy on demand? The only way is mind training through meditation. He lists the many benefits of mind training, and there are many – success, attractiveness, resilience just to name a few. And it’s easy to start, with just one breath. And with that, you slowly incline your mind towards joy.

Meditation aside, one must also develop compassion and loving kindness. For that brings joy. Just meditating about loving kindness towards another brings joy to oneself. He describes: loving kindness is the wish for self or others to be happy, and compassion is the wish for self or others to be free from suffering. 

The difference…a strong feeling of compassion will motivate you to do something. So having compassion and doing good bring joy too.

After convincing you that it’s easy to feel joy, even if fleeting, and showing you how, Meng goes on to describe how you can work with emotional pain. One statement which resonates with me because I have read basic psychology and know is that our brains have a strong negative bias (among many other biases). They perceive things that affect us negatively much more strongly than things that affect us positively. (So be aware and don’t fool yourself and make yourself feel worse than is actually.)

It’s like what Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk whose name has appeared a few times in the book had reiterated, don’t focus on the two bad bricks on a wall of perfect bricks. (Which incidentally is the title of a book – Two Bad Bricks by Ajahn Brahm.)

With every chapter in this book, there is a grey box to revise what Meng has taught, which allows you to put down the book and do the actual practice. The book is an easy read, filled with caricatures by fellow Singaporean Collin Goh. An easy read it may be, but practice may be hard.

As my sister, who is dealing with a difficult teenager, describes : I breathe and breathe until I am to the point of bursting. She has my sympathy and I hope she continues in her practice.

 

With Chade-Meng Tan at Joy On Demand Seminar

 

 

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Bittersweet – Japanese movie review 


This movie was shown as part of the Japanese Film Festival at the Singapore National Museum. 

It was laugh out loud  throughout with witty dialogues and a pair of very good looking leads. 

Mika works in advertising. She just broke up with her boyfriend,  her lease is up and dejected,  she gets drunk and is sent home by a very attractive Nagisa. He cooks her a delicious breakfast and she tries to seduce him,  only to discover that he is a vegetarian gay who lives in a shack. She blackmails him into letting her move in by threatening to expose him to the prestigious boys’ high school he works in. 

He cooks for her,  packs her bento lunch but she fails in making him fall for her. She learns of his deceased brother and he discovers that her father owns an organic vegetables farm whom he is fan of, but she still harbours anger towards her father and has refused to eat vegetables until Nagisa. 

There are some iconic lines. She gets a major project advertising for bittergourd and he makes her bittergourd pudding to show how she should “cooked in her bitterness and get nourished from it“. (Hence the title Bittersweet.) 

He persuades her to visit her parents just so he gets  to visit the farm.  Before he leaves,  her father pleads with him to marry Maki,  to which he replies with a straight face with a statement like, “I am into men,  and more into you than your daughter! ”

Throughout,  there are hints that maybe,  just maybe he will change his sexuality,  especially since his foster elder brother who had introduced him to men has decided to get married to a woman. At times,  you think perhaps he is falling for her too.  

But not a chance. 

I left the cinema,  wondering if this is the ending I had wanted. 

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Birding #2 @ Sungei Buloh


I have been to Sungei Buloh, a wetland reserve a few times but the experience is different going with a birding group. Upon entering the car park, we went in search for the owl who used to lived near the bird nest ferns on one giant rain tree. He was not at home.

As we entered the compound, we spotted a few giant lens directed onto a few trees on one end of the bridge. Nothing was happening there to my untrained eyes. Instead at the opposite side, two huge monitor lizards were swimming and busking on the floating platform, causing some loud excitement among PRC visitors. Monitor lizards actually swim free style, one arm lifting followed by the next. They are rather cute to watch.

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My birdie group told me the photographers with the giant lens were waiting to shoot crimson sunbirds, because the trees were flowering- small yellow green clusters – which sunbirds love.

We entered to the next bridge, spanning across a river mouth. Far ahead we saw a white stork perched still on the banks.  Across the other side, a water hen was busy foraging.

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We ventured into the park and was disappointed to find the wetland flooded. I was told this is to regulate the nutrients for the birds. Alternating the flooding in the various parts of the wetlands regulates food supply for migratory birds.

We walked in further. In the distant, thunder growled and the sky got darker. We were determined to see Hide 5, where it should be dry. It was but other than a few storks, there were no sight of other migratory birds.

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What we noticed, other than the absence of birds, were the absence of mosquitoes. “Perhaps they fogged the place because of Zika?”

“Impossible!”

We debated but it was true. No mosquitoes, no insects, thus no birds.

As the thunder rumbled on, we decided we should leave. As we approached the bridge again, I saw the storks circulating in the sky.

“Birds in flight!” I told the birders, feeling pleased with my new found birdie lingo.

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Then H with her hawk-eyes spotted a crocodile, still and camouflaged. It took me a long time to locate it while she patiently explained the location.

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What I couldn’t spot were the pair of hornbills despite their repeated attempts to point out the location. I make a poor birder.

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Luckily my husband with the camera was quick enough to capture the bird in flight.

With that, we quickly made our way towards the exit, not wanting to be caught up in the approaching storm, which never came.

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Birding #1@ Kranji Marshes


I am lucky to live in a suburb surrounded by lush vegetation and a nature park. I get all sorts of wild life visiting, including monkeys, snakes, and more recently – as I was told by my neighbour – mice, because they have cleared some forest.

Among the birds who had visited are a pair of yellow vented bulbuls who had raised a few offspring in my pot of Japanese bamboo (assuming they are the same pair), a pair of spotted pigeons who live atop of my garden spot light,  with some chattering sparrows for their neighbour in the eaves of my awning a few feet away.

It wasn’t until my hubby Mike upgraded his lens and showed me his shots of birds that got me interested in the birds in my neighbourhood, which I feel he should compile into a book – Birds of Burgundy Hills.

Having a birder as a neighbour has its plus and minus – D provides us with identity of the birds and books as reference; she also has her giant telescope trained at my bedroom window sometimes, which she tells me is actually aimed at the tree behind my house.

Yesterday she invited us to join her birding group to Kranji Marshes. Her birding friends,  H and J were her classmates from the a birding course ran by the Nature Society in 2004. (“There is a birding course?” )

I was very excited. The migratory birds should have landed by now but H warned, “we didn’t make any appointments with the birds, so not sure if they are there.”

The birders’ eyes were immediately hooked somewhere in the sky upon arrival. I was offered a bin (binoculars) but I declined. I spotted a woodpecker and was congratulated immediately by the rest.

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Subsequent finds were not so interesting. H was helpful – “That’s a mynah.” ‘That’s a crow.”

The birders had hawk eyes. “Two o’clock from the the xxx trees has a raptor.” It took me a few moments before I located the xxx tree, and the black dot that was perched on a branch. After that I accepted the bins.

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It was a gloomy day and that made birding hard, as most birds appeared black when viewed with naked eyes. It’s only through the bins that I could appreciate the stunning pink parakeets on the tree.

At the marshes, the interesting sights are the moorhens and the purple swarm hen. The moorhens were there but the purple swarm hen, a rare resident was missing. In its place instead was a water hen.

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Looking up all the time is tiring on the neck, so I was happy to spot ground level attractions.

We adjourned for lunch and decided we should visit Sungnei Buloh for more birds. Coming up next.

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Good Stripes – Movie Review


This movie was shown as part of the Japanese Film Festival.

It’s been a long time since I watch a Japanese movie, the last being Departures, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I have since turned to Korean and Thai movies – the romcom and feel good movies are in fact better than Hollywood in terms of script and comedy. So I thought I would give this Japanese romance movie a try as well.

It’s indeed a trying effort to sit through the two hour-show, filled mostly with awkward silence, nods and lack of chemistry between the leads. Perhaps I am too used to the bubbly female leads or the hunks who graced other romance comedies. Here, she is wooden and stiff, and he goofy but without the Huge Grant sort of charms. But I was willing to give Midori and Mao a chance. Sadly the spark between them just refused to even glow. There is no love talk, hugs or any show of affections between the two.

Midori and Mao break up as he leaves for a three-month work trip to India. In his absence, she discovers that she is pregnant and when they visit his divorced gynecologist mother upon his return, it’s too late for her to abort. They then decide to get married and she moves in with him. With the wedding looming, they try to reconnect with their family. She is not on good terms with hers, and his father left him when he was in seven grade. Through this union, they are reunited with their family as well.

It’s difficult to see how they are attracted to each other in the first place. Perhaps the sex that resulted in the pregnancy was animalistic, as was how he described the sex fling he had with a classmate which he explained when he failed to complete the act.(I was wondering why the tame movie was M18, and this sex scene probably explains why.)

There are long takes of silence in between conversations, and nodding heads speak of polite understanding, and I admire the restraint which goes to suppress the emotions involved, often unseen in Korean dramas. How culturally different the two societies are.

And that’s why I watch movies from different countries, for they show how similar, yet different we are, even when it comes to the common subject of love and romance.

 

 

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Oh How I miss


Oh How I miss

the carefree morning teas with you

gossips and complains and trivial shares;

the Tuesday yoga class with pals, sequencing each week

the mandala, the Yin, the warrior and the moon;

the neighbourly hi’s across garden wall,

watching laundry flaps against rising sun.

Oh How I miss

the lazy afternoons in front of the PC,

squeezing  the creative juice for another page

just so I could see my words in print;

the leisurely lunches I have with you,

of spinning salads, medium rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding;

the me time at the spa,

for the massages and facials that I sorely need;

the movie treats I share with Bee

the dramas and romances that no one wants to see;

Oh How I miss

the evening jogs along the waterway

exchanging greetings with familiar faces,

pausing at the 2.4km mark just so I could boast,

of my weekly distance ran, which never could match with yours,

before running back into the setting sun,

to watch for frolicking otters having their fun.

Oh How I miss

dinner with the little ones,

of conversation about papayas,

and how it left the farm in Malaysia,

and landed as a piece on your fork.

Oh How I miss

the days I don’t have to wait

20 minutes for bus 77,

to join the daily squeeze in the MRT

or do the mundane stuff that I do at work

even if I am told the work we do is very important.

Good old days, are you missing me too?

 

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