Monday, June 30, 2008

Babies & engagements (no, not MINE!)

I still one of the surest ways to make me feel old is watching a kid grow up almost right before my eyes. My niece, Elizabeth is now one year and 4 months old, and when I look at her now, I can't help but wonder how come these things grow up so dang fast. It's like just yesterday she was this helpless little tiny thing (she was born slightly premature, so she was a bit underweight). But soon after that, her inate cheekiness started coming out, and I dare say that my niece could contend with Jim Carrey for the having a rubbery face, what with all the funny expressions she loves to make. Case in point...

I have a feeling she's going to be a bit of a handful for my bro and his wife... she's starting to be naughty enough to give them a bit of a headache, though thankfully not enough to drive them mad. One of the best things now though, is that even though she only sees me about one every couple of weeks or more, Ellie can already recognize me. And though she can't quite talk yet, aside from the usual nonsensical baby babble, she can indicate she wants me to carry her by lifting up her arms to me, which is fantastic considering most kids usually only want their parents to carry them. I'm starting to have cheeky plans of becoming the fun aunt that takes Ellie out for fun trips and buying her ice cream every time. And I would take her to the zoo and tell her that she is free to try and touch a tapir's butt if it's close enough to the enclosure wall, but make sure she must wash her hands well after that. And I might get her a mini guitar to play with... though she seems to like banging chopsticks on the table, so I think she's more cut out to becoming a drummer. She also seems to enjoy dancing to music, so I could try to train her in the fine art of playing DDR. Heheheee... She's just the cutest kid on the planet right now. Until when I might have my own kids, then of course, they will be the cutest kids on the planet.

In other family news, my other brother in the US just recently got engaged to this Korean chick whom I haven't met face to face since they're halfway around the world, and she has a name I still have trouble spelling, but apparently she's the best thing since sliced bread... to my brother, that is. It seems he popped the question while they were on top of a bunch of big rocks, and he got on his knee and the whole shebang. Gah! My brother's a romantic!!! I learn something new every day... :P You can read the whole story at my bro's blog. So anyway, he was like "Will you marry me, Kyeonghi? (I *think* that's how it's spelled)" and she was like "Yes!" and so now I'm like "Yay! Congratulations, Bernard!". Now I have a good excuse to go the US for a holiday. :D. Though I need to start saving money for the plane ticket... :S. Ah well, God will provide. I'm quite sure when my bro has kids, he'll definitely get them to learn guitar... so I just need to be in charge of taking them on zoo trips and teaching them how to touch the animals without getting bitten. Heheheee.... I'm KIDDING, of course.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The celery slider

My cell group was designated to do a presentation in church yesterday for Father's Day. Somebody severely lacking in foresight decided to tell us about it ONE week earlier, and since my whole cell was kind of busy working throughout the week, we only got to meet up for our one and only practice on Saturday. Night. At 9pm. Ok, so a bunch of us met at McD's for dinner at 7.30pm and chit-chatted for longer than we should've... bygones.

Somehow or another we ended up deciding to perform Eric Clapton's "My Father's Eyes". I was on acoustic guitar, Gavin played the guitar solos, Theng Terk was lead singer and everyone else just had to sing "Look into my father's eyes" twice during the chorus. And Gav didn't have a proper slider to do his guitar solos with, so he decided to improvise!

Ah yes, the amazing things you can do with stuff lying around your kitchen. He didn't actually use the 'celery slider' during the real performance, of course, though I think it would have made our performance a bit more entertaining. After looking through the lyrics of song, I realized that it's actually very meaningful... but I fear the meaning was totally lost on our mostly Chinese-educated church parents. Plus, none of our fathers in our cell group actually come to our church... so our performance was only for other people's fathers.... -_-' Oh, the irony. Oh well, at least we still managed to pull off a decent rendition of a classic song after only 3 hours of practice. At least, I hope it was decent, as opposed to horribly mutilated.

I'm assuming no one reading my blog is a dad, so hope all your dads had a good Father's Day yesterday. :)

Freeze for World Environment Day

On Friday, in conjunction with World Environment Day, one of my colleagues had a fun idea of getting our officemates to 'freeze' for 4 minutes while holding an item to represent some sort of environmental issue. The purpose was to create awareness that we need to help protect the environment... and also made for an interesting video. Just ignore the girl walking around taking photos coz' that would me. :P

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Karaoke, invertebrates and other ramblings on Sandakan Bay

I've been at my office for a grand total of 8 working days in a row... which is the longest stretch I've been in office so far. And every day I have to fight the incredible insane traffic jam to get to that office. If I leave the house at 7.30am, I reach office only at 9.00am (and works start at 8.30am). So now I have to drag myself out of bed much earlier than I would like to, so I can get out of the house by 7.00am, and cut my traveling time by half. At least when I'm outstation and I have to be ready to go by 7.00am, I usually get to enjoy a good view of nature first thing in the morning... which is, of course, MUCH better than the prospect of joining the rush of mad KL drivers. But then, being outstation means I have to miss out on stuff at home or hanging out with friends, and I have to get people to replace me when I'm supposed to be doing something at church. Which is annoying. It seems I'm at risk of being 'relieved' of certain duties due to my reduced availability. :'( *sob!* *sob!* *whimper like puppy!*.... Oh well, I can't get everything I want, and there are other areas to serve at church.

Anyway, my last outstation trip, which was to Sandakan Bay, was a pretty fun trip... it almost felt like a holiday more than a working trip. And we were there while an actual audit was being conducted on some of our estates and mill... so I think I supposed to be quite stressed out trying to ensure they passed the audit, but it was quite smooth sailing. I'd been for another audit before, which was conducted by SIRIM at Tawau... that was a bit stressful coz' those auditors would nitpick on the smallest details that no one in their right mind would notice as an issue. This time at Sandakan Bay though, the audit was conducted by another certification body called BSI, and the auditors were an Australian married couple named Charlie and Robyn Ross and an Indonesian named Iman, and though their audit was also quite thorough, they were not as stringent on checking details as the SIRIM auditors were. And they were also very nice people to talk to, so it was actually quite an enjoyable audit process.

They also brought along two interpreters from Lahad Datu, James and Noryati, who were pretty much just along for the ride coz' they only had 'work' when the auditors talked to the workers or villagers. The rest of the time when they are in an office and the Aussie couple are looking through documentation, these two sit around and do nothing... so I got to chat with them quite a bit and in no time, we were all pretty buddy buddy. The 3 of us would be the crazy ones to want to stand at the back of the pickup truck whenever we had to go somewhere... just so we can enjoy the wind and the thrill of hanging onto the truck for dear life on the bumpy estate roads. Seriously, after a couple of extremely bumpy estate rides, I think the Motion Master at Genting Highlands would just put me to sleep.

On the last day of the audit, the auditors gave the good news that the estates passed the audit, so the estate managers had a celebration at one of the clubhouses that night... complete with good food, a pool table, and a karaoke session! Of course, I couldn't resist a go at the karaoke, and after a while everyone else just sat back and let me, James, Noryati and one of the managers do all the karaoke-ing... apparently we were quite entertaining. :P Here's the evidence of me and the two interpreters hogging the karaoke machine...

And this is a pic of the Aussie couple, Charlie and Robyn Ross, on the boat as we headed back from the estate the next day.

I find it quite fascinating that they can be married and still work together so well. Would be pretty cool if I could meet a guy who I can work with on the job... then I won't have to deal with being away from him so much when I outstation. And I'd have someone to watch my back when I'm doing nutty stuff like chasing down monitor lizards for a good photo. Or I would be taking photos of him chasing down monitor lizards. Though on the other hand, if I'm around him TOO much and we get into disagreements, I can't avoid him if I'm working with him, so I may end up starting to have murderous intentions. Plus he would have to be a Christian. Plus he would have to fulfill all my other less important but still significant criteria. Plus he'd have to like me too, and I'd also have to meet whatever ridiculous criteria he has for a girl. Hmm... I'd probably have better luck finding kangaroos living in a mangrove swamp in Antarctica.

Right, enough fantasizing about non-existent species then. Of course, as on all my trips, I was quite camera-happy in Sandakan Bay, and in addition to indulging in my usual flower fetish, I also took quite a few pics of some rather interesting bugs. And to make this boring post a bit more interesting, I'm going to play a fun game called.... (insert corny game show host voice here) "GUESS THE INVERTEBRATE!!!"

Today on "Guess the Invertebrate", we'll start off easy with this little fella, here, who's fallen and can't get up.
This invertebrate is glossy black in colour, is about 15 mm in length and is a member of the order Coleptera. Can YOU guess the invertebrate?

If you guessed it's a BEETLE, you would be just about as smart as anyone else coz' any doofus could guess that it's a beetle. Also, beetles make up 40% of the animal kingdom, so you would have a 2 out of 5 chance of being correct. The more accurate answer would be that this is a Black Beetle, or more scientifically known as Heteronychus arator.

It looked a bit more happy after I flipped it over.... Now... (still maintaining corny game show host voice) our second invertebrate of the day is a tad bit more difficult to guess.

This cute little larvae lives in a self-made casing made out of gravel, sand, twigs and whatever other junk they can find. Usually aquatic, it is rather unusual to see these creatures crawling around on a machine at a palm oil mill.... but nevertheless it does happen, as I can personally attest to. Can YOU.... guess... the... invertebrate???

If you have completely no idea, I can't blame you coz' I wouldn't have known either if not for the fact that I used to do research work in entomology. So I can make a pretty safe guess that this is a member of the order Trichoptera... otherwise known in layman's terms as Caddisflies. Simply put, when this little bugger grows up, it'll look something like a moth. And NOWS... you knows!

Finally (STILL maintaining corny game show host voice), for our last invertebrate for today, we have this fascinating looking little creature to boggle your brains!

This funny looking thing is only about 1.5cm in length, has a shell like a snail and can be found crawling around on bathroom floors... occasionally also in toilet bowls. Very unfortunate for them when I have to flush. It also appears to have eyes on protrusions on it's head.

So, can YOU... guess... the... invertebrate??? If you can... please tell me the answer coz' I have NO friggin' idea what it is either. :P

And that's all for today's episode of "Guess the Invertebrate!", so I'm dropping the corny game show host voice now... Of course, there was is no lack of other fascinating invertebrates I caught on camera, such as the following dragonflies.

Fortunately my uni friend, Yong, is able to identify dragonflies, so he was able to tell me that these three are Lathrecista asiatica, Neurothemis terminata and third one is *likely* to be Onychothemis coccinea or a female of some species. Yes, I won't remember the names either. No need to hurt your brains. Just look at the pictures and go "Oooohh... preeeetty..."

I also got acquainted with the neighbourhood millipedes...

Isn't that just the cutest little bugger face you've ever seen? :) And look, they know the phone number you need to call in case of emergencies!

And then there are the cute looking snails...

And spiders...

And kids...

Oh yeah, they're not invertebrates... but they can still BUG the heck out of you (insert lame joke laughter here). These are a couple of kids who lives one of the kampung areas near the estate. They were just too cute to resist taking a couple of pics. :)

Well, my long stint at office ends tomorrow as I head out for another trip to Malacca and Negeri Sembilan. Need to whip those estates into shape in time for another audit... by SIRIM unfortunately, not BSI. Ugh.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Camera Face-off

I had a little camera face-off with one of my older colleagues today. He's in charge of purchasing new cameras for company use, and I told him I'd done quite a bit of research on cameras so I could help him decide what brand to buy. Then I told him the specs of my Ricoh, and pointed out that the macro capabilities are really good. He has a Panasonic Lumix, which is a new model with 10x optical zoom (beats my cam which only has 7x zoom), but I told him flat out that when it comes to macro shots, my camera beats Lumix anytime. I know coz' I tested a Lumix before I bought my Ricoh.

Buuut my colleague didn't believe my somewhat pompous claim, and challenged my camera to a macro shot face-off! So we both whipped out our cameras, and took the closest macro shot we could of some writing on a newspaper. And of course, after comparing the results, my Ricoh (naturally!) won the face-off, and after my opponent sauntered off back to his cubicle, I proceeded to do the Chicken Little celebration dance at mine. Hehehe. Dun play play!

In other news that most people wouldn't give a hoot about, I've finally gotten round to installing a photo stitching program and stitching up all my photos I had taken over the past few years to make panoramas. A number of them were taken while I was in Australia in 2004... so it's taken me 4 years to get round to doing this. Now that's what I call procrastination. Anyway, I uploaded the finished panoramas here for all yer viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fulfilling a dream in 5 simple words

When I was in college, and wondering what to do with myself once I completed my pre-U course, I told my parents that I wanted to do Zoology. Anything to do with Biology was interesting to me, but none was more fascinating than learning about animals and their various adaptations to living in the wild. And I found it quite sad that a lot of fascinating creatures are endangered and going extinct for various reasons... but mainly due to the activities of a certain species called homo sapiens. So conservation was something I really wanted to go into.

Being typical Chinese folks though, my folks shot down my dream by telling me zoologists don't make money in Malaysia, there's no demand for this kind of work, working with animals is extremely dangerous, I should get a more 'respectable' job, naggedy naggedy nag nag. So I kind of figured that I ought to just give up on the crazy notion of working with wildlife. I was still very interested in anything Biology, and then found out that Monash offers a course in Biotechnology. At the time, there was all this hype about Biotech being the next big thing after IT... so I put the course down as my course of interest while I was still in college. Monash also offered Environmental Management, which naturally sounded more interesting to me, but was also something my folks deemed an area with 'no future', therefore no big bucks (my folks come from poor families, so I can't really blame them for being so money-minded all the time... but it does get rather annoying at times)... so I fell back to Biotech. Later on, I was fortunate enough to be offered a full scholarship from Monash, which meant I could actually afford take a second degree. Thus I ended up doing a double degree in both Biotech and Env. Mgt.

After completing my degrees, I was interested to get a job in Singapore, and *still* hadn't quite given up my hopes to work with wildlife. Singapore is more developed and environmentally aware, so I was thinking they would pay more than if I did the same job here... so my folks can't complain. Thus I applied to work at a marine institute in Singapore. Didn't get the job. I also applied for a research position at Singapore Zoo. Heck, I even took the time to arrange a meeting with the person in charge of the research centre when I visited Singapore. She was kind enough to meet me... but I still didn't get the job. Eventually I gave up *again* on trying to do get into wildlife related work, applied to other places, and after a while landed myself in Mad Science. Working with kids is probably the next best thing to wildlife. You never know what to expect with those little people. Hyuk hyuk.

Now fast forwarding to the present, and I've found myself in a job where I can 'sort of' do what I wanted to do. I get to be outdoors, and I get to be involved in a few conservation projects, the main ones being the conservation of habitats for orangutans and hornbill, and also coral reef conservation. But of course, my main work involves the ensuring Sime Darby's plantations achieve certification for sustainability... which in a nutshell means making sure our company does not over-proliferate or over-pollute our natural resources for profit at the expense of future generations. The certification we are trying to get will meet with international standards, known as the RSPO Principles & Criteria. If we don't achieve sustainability, other more advanced countries will refuse to buy our palm oil products... which is of course, not good for business. So my work mainly involves going to our estates and palm oil mills and making sure they comply with the standards before auditors come to check if the area is ready to be certified. Naturally, I see more oil palm trees than animals... the work is interesting. But still not exactly what I've always wanted to do.

On Thursday in office, after a long month of going outstation nonstop, my team did practically little else but have meetings... three meetings in total, to be precise. One meeting was to discuss the status of an audit conducted at one of our plantations. The other was a general one to discuss admin details and general duties of everyone. My team consists of 7 other people, and our team head informed all of us that we assigned to specific projects for the unit. I was assigned to take on an Environmental and Social Project. The environmental part would be to monitor all usage of resources at all our estates and oil palm mills, while the social aspect would be about ensuring the needs of estate workers are met, that they aren't treated unfairly, that there is no discrimination, and so on. Of course, seeing how I have an Environmental Management background, it does make sense that I would be asked to handle this project... though the social aspect kind of threw me a bit as I'm not very interested in dealing with social issues. Somehow, dealing with the plight of people doesn't interest me half as much dealing with the plight of animals.

The third meeting was an unexpected meeting, but was the most interesting one of all. Our unit head (who is a bigger boss than my team head) called all of us into his room for a long-winded pep talk. I think we spent a good 2 and a half hour listening to him go on about making sure each one of us know what projects are going on and that each of us understands our role.

At one point, he started talking about how he wants each one of us to become specialists in a certain field, so that whenever anyone needed to ask anything about that area, they could look to that ONE person. Some areas that he wanted us to specialize in were trees (*yawn*), social issues (*double yawn*) and large mammals such as elephants, rhinos, deer, and so on. As you might expect, that last one certainly got me sitting up. The big boss went on to say that he preferred a male to take on this role and it would be quite rough and tough, but he didn't designate anyone at that point.

Then the big boss asked my whole team of 7 people, one by one, what kind of project they had been assigned to, and from there, he decided what kind of specialist he wants them to become. The first girl was in charge of the Hornbill project, so he designated her the Bird Specialist. The second girl, who has a Biodiversity degree, was to be the Biodiversity Specialist. Another girl (most of my team are young ladies such as myself... some even younger :)) who has scuba diving experience, became the Reef Specialist. And it went like that with everyone else... but no one argued with the big boss's decisions or made any comment that they would prefer to specialize in something else.

I was the last person in the line, so I had plenty of time to think about what to say when he asked me what project I'm in.... I knew that being assigned to the Environmental and Social Project means that he would tell me to become the specialist in one or the other.... but both are not the areas I'm really all that interested in. So when it came to my turn, he asked me what project I'm in, I told him, and his next line was "I want you to ignore the Environmental part and concentrate on the Social aspect..."

But before he could get to tell me that I was now the Social Issues Specialist, I interjected and said flat out, "BUT I'm interested in animals."

The big boss looked at me for a while, before asking "Are you really interested in animals?". I nodded. "It's a very tough area to be in, you know". And then he went on to explain that if I wanted to study animals, I would have to go into the jungle a lot and learn basic jungle survival skills. And he gave me a little 'pop quiz', asking me if I knew what is the most important thing I need to bring into the jungle to survive. I answered water... but turns out the most important thing is a good knife coz' it can be used to hunt, get water and do lots of other things. Water supply was the 2nd most important thing... so mine wasn't that bad a guess. :P He also said stuff like I can't wear fragrances in the jungle coz' it would attract all sorts of killer bugs. Hmm... not a problem for me, coz' I can't be bothered with perfume anyway. I think he has some preconception that because I dress well in office, I'm too 'ladylike' to be able to handle life out in the jungle. He even asked me if I've ever BEEN to the jungle before. Only like over a dozen times. Though, to be honest, most of the time it was only to go trekking, on a nicely made out path. On whether I've had to hack my way through a jungle, I'll have to admit that would be a no... but seeing how I'm crazy enough to swim after sharks while snorkelling and go into a forest by myself, I'm up for the challenge.

Eventually the big boss said ok, he won't be gender-biased and he doesn't mind letting me have a shot in this field... but he wants to test me by sending me out into the field, as in go into the jungle or working in an orangutan sanctuary for a while. He also mentioned that orangutans are not to be messed with, as they are strong enough to rip apart coconuts, and they could rip off a person's arm if they wanted to. Can't argue with that... I've seen orangutans rip apart coconuts quite easily. Wouldn't want to see them rip off someone's arm... especially not my own. But still I'm so TOTALLY up for going to work in an orangutan sanctuary! That would be SO awesome!! In fact, the only major thing I was worried about is how on earth will I tell my mum about it. I've already heard her worry about whether I'll fall down a cliff, get bitten by snakes or eaten by a tiger every time I go trekking, or into the estates. And the first thing she says each time I come back from a trip in the past month is that I've gotten darker, from being out in the sun. I can't imagine she'll be too happy knowing that I'm going to be the up-and-coming Wildlife Specialist on my team.... Oooh, that title just gives me the willies! ^_^

But this is what I've always wanted to go into and I'm pretty psyched that I get a chance to specialize in this area... of course I know my primary role is still working to achieve certification for the estates, and most of my work will be focused on that. But being able to do this as a secondary part of my work is... well... much better than what I expected going into this job. And to think, if I had just sat there quietly in the meeting like everyone else and didn't voice out my interest in wildlife, I would've been slapped with some boring specialization in Social Issues. Bleh. I'm so glad I had the guts to speak up and tell the big boss exactly what I wanted to do. And I'm glad he's a cool enough boss that he would give me this chance, even though I'm a girl. Though we still need a Social Specialist... and fortunately Swee Yin (the girl who introduced me to the job) said she's more interested in doing that than being the Reef Specialist. And she'd probably do a much better job in that role than me coz' she's much more caring about people issues than I am. I'd be more than happy to take on the role of Reef Specialist too... except that I can't scuba dive and I probably shouldn't take on too many things at once. Much as I would like to be an expert on all living creatures (land animals, marine animals, birds, insects, oh the list goes on and on!), I think land animals is enough to keep me busy for... a long time.

Hmm... I have a feeling I'm going to get a lot of funny nicknames now, but I'm just starting out now, so please, no calling me the Terri Irwin of Malaysia just yet. Maybe in a few years when I've learned a bit more about jungle survival and dealing with snake bites and avoiding rampaging elephants and stuff like that. :P Weeee!!!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Rushing for fuel

I've usually try to make it a point to avoid getting political on my blog, as there are enough blogs out there doing that. However, certain circumstances call for a break in my resolve. Like tonight.

If it isn't bad enough that the government insists a petrol price hike is necessary to 'supposedly' divert subsidies into more important areas that will help the poor (somehow I have a feeling that isn't going to happen, but only time will tell), some monkeys decided it would be a fun idea to announce a price hike of petrol from RM1.92 to RM2.70....starting from midnight tonight. And it seems the announcement was only made during the evening news, as I received a barrage of sms-es telling me to go fuel up tonight only after 8pm. I was with a friend at the time, watching a movie at One Utama, and both of us thought it was just a rumour at first coz' we didn't think the government would be so dumb as to make such a sudden announcement on the petrol price hike.

Sad to say, apparently the government is that dumb. On the way home after the movie, I got stuck in a massive jam along the LDP, and found that EVERY single petrol station I passed by was jammed packed with cars, rushing to buy petrol before the price went up. And I was extremely sleepy too, so much that by the time I finally hit Subang, I could barely keep my eyes open while driving and I was quite worried that I would fall asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, I made it home in one piece.

So naturally, the thing I'm wondering now is who came up with the ingenious idea of announcing a petrol price hike a mere 4 hours before the increase takes effect? Couldn't they at least announce it a few days beforehand to give people time to prepare? Did they not predict a huge rush of people scurrying like mad chickens to buy petrol? Or did they purposely announce it so last minute to prevent everyone from rushing to buy cheaper petrol and severely depleting the supply? Whatever it is, it was an extreme inconvenience for a lot of people... and I'm sure there were a lot of poor souls out there who were desperately low on petrol and couldn't fill up on time coz' of this mad rush. I wonder where the Opposition leaders were when this was announced. The people voted them in hoping for life to become better, and instead it seems as though they're just as bad as the devils before them. *Sigh* Migrating to another country sounds even more appealing than usual right now...