Posts filed under Personal

Slipping, but not drowning

Filed in Personal

Aiks … I only posted one blog post this month! Okay, including this one – two.

And I only went for my morning walk three times all month? (I’m supposed to walk three times a week … )

*hangs head in shame*

*lifts head in determination*

No worries – I’m going to do better next month!

1st Anniversary of China Earthquake

Filed in Personal, Stress Busters

This is one anniversary that does not have the word “happy” in front of it.

It’s a year since an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude devastated the Sichuan province of China, including the Wolong Panda Base. A year on, I am here in Bifengxia Panda Base where many of the Wolong pandas were moved to in the weeks and months after the earthquake. The last batch to arrive – last month – comprised the panda cubs who’d remained behind, with their keepers, to provide hope and cheer to the place.

Wolong Panda Base is now completely empty of pandas and their keepers. The newly arrived cubs will be a year old in another two to three months’ time.

Today, the media in China and around the world will focus on the earthquake, particularly on the reconstruction. Here at Bifengxia Panda Base, there will not be any special events to mark the one-year anniversary. One of the senior vets told me this is not something they want to remember in any way.

But in a way, the earthquake is being remembered here on the Base, and in a positive way. Instead of standing around and lamenting the loss of Wolong Panda Base, a symbol of giant panda conservation work, the senior staff and the keepers have carried on with the work, with much progress made in the one year since the earthquake. Bifengxia Panda Base stands as a fine example of this progress.

Prior to the earthquake, Bifengxia had been home to the elderly members of Wolong’s black and white population as well as the younger members not participating in the breeding programme of any year. After the earthquake, more than 50 giant pandas were moved to Bifengxia. The Base soon found itself short of housing for its new residents.

Work quickly started on temporary housing – a series of wooden houses, distinctly green, each house comprising two rooms and each room with its own outdoor yard. By the time of my first visit in August 2008, there were green houses on the grounds of the Research Centre and further up the road behind the Centre.

Meanwhile, work commenced on the permanent brick houses. During the same visit, I saw the beginnings of two areas that would house these permanent houses – one was located halfway up Leopard Mountain, and the other next to a green house on a hill at the Research Centre.

Nine months since my first visit, I am back in Bifengxia, and those two areas are complete.

The one halfway up Leopard Mountain – named New Leopard Mountain to distinguish it from the older Leopard Mountain further up the hill – features large glass displays that allow visitors to look into the outdoor enclosures.

The one near the Research Centre is the new breeding centre, an impressive structure comprising 13 indoor enclosures and a roof area with walkways for keepers to keep an eye the breeding going on in the enclosures below. The walkways have rails, which is much safer than the breeding centre at Wolong Panda Base which had none.

Right now is the breeding season, the busiest time of the year in giant panda conservation work. Female giant pandas only come into estrus for a very short period every year. As the vets keep track of who is ready, the keepers stand by to help move the black and white residents into the new breeding centre to mate and then move them out to make room for the others coming into estrus.

The breeding season is not off-limits but open to participants of the volunteer programme. If you visit Bifengxia as a volunteer to the breeding season, you might be assigned to work wiith a keeper at the new breeding centre. Coming to volunteer here is an experience of a lifetime; to get to work at the new breeding centre is the ultimate experience. But that’s just my opinion.

There has been talk about the reconstruction of Wolong Panda Base. The one extensively damaged by the earthquake will not be rebuilt. Instead, there will be a new Wolong which will be located at Genda Town, which is one town before Wolong. It offers the same climatic conditions as Wolong – very close to a giant panda’s natural habitat – but is safer at the same time. The hospital will be built in Dujiangyuan, a large city with easy access to other medical facilities and support.

I plan to be there when new Wolong is rebuilt and reopened. That is, if they will let me.

The price I pay

Filed in Personal, Writing

But it was worth it.

The last two days, I attended a “City Stories” workshop organised as part of the “City of Stories” series by The British Council. Idiot that I am, I did not read the workshop description too carefully but submitted an application. I was one of the fortunate ones to get a place in the workshop. Fortunate because the workshop – in fact, all the workshops in the series – was over-subscribed. So, yes, I was one of the fortunate ones, not just to get a place in the workshop, but it was my first choice of workshop.

When I told a writing friend I got a place, she said something along the lines of “how exciting, especially the walking tour.”

Walking tour?

A couple of other friends, including one who also got a place in the workshop, confirmed the walking tour.

Walking tour?

I went back to read the workshop description. (Yes, this is a little like getting a new gadget and trying to get it to work before finally taking out the user’s manual to read it. But I digress … )

Yes, there was a walking tour in the workshop, but it would be on the second day, not first.

The first day was spent in the cool confines of the British Council examination room. The 12 of us – 13, including the workshop leader; 14, including the course facilitator who sometimes sat in – took up a section of the huge room, and all day, other people would walk in to go into one of the other rooms connected to this huge room.

The first day, we wrote a lot, and we read some – not just read, but would take turns to read aloud, passages from selected extracts about cities, and writings about cities, for discussion.

There was some talk about the the walking tour the next day, particularly if we were all going out in a group, in pairs, or alone.

Came the second day, and I was pretty nervous. Maybe I should beg to be exempted from it. I have a valid health reason.

The first writing exercise was just to loosen us up, with various questions that included “What can I see in front of me?”, “What can I hear?”, “What can I taste?”, “What can I feel?”

This is what I wrote for the last question …

“I can feel anticipation – of the walk ahead … anxiety – where will I be sent, and can I handle it, will I do a good job of the walk?”

As it turned out, we were given various guidelines for the walk, and a map of KL, but they were just guidelines. We didn’t have to follow the guidelines. Something went off inside me when I heard of the places we could visit for the walk.


Something awoke in me. Something I’d not remembered for more than 30 years. Something I plan to be writing about from now on, writing much more about. Perhaps to make up for the 30 over years of neglect.

My anxiety was unfounded. I enjoyed the walk. Although the morning had been very hot, by the time of the walk, it was cooler, or maybe it felt that way because I was enjoying myself so much. But I did look up at the sky and thinking it wasn’t blazing searing hot.

By the end of the day, I had to rush off to meet my cousin in Petaling Jaya. I could feel the beginning of what I’d been worrying about. I offered up a prayer that I would not feel sick during the train ride, which was a possibility as I would be in a small space with other, possibly sweaty, bodies. But I arrived at the destination station without wanting to throw up, offered up a word of thanks as soon as I stepped out of the train, and picked up my car to go and meet my cousin.

He’d brought his mother to visit my mother. It was a lovely visit, two old friends touching hands, and my aunt, who has sight problems, commenting “she doesn’t feel thin.”

I was feeling well enough to go on to the next part of my evening’s plans – dinner at 1 Utama. I ate at Old Asia, and had the Vietnamese (something) shoulder of lamb. I told myself to enjoy it (which I did), even though I might throw it up later.

Later, at home, the thing of the back of my head was pushing itself forward. But I was home, a safe place to feel ill in.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke and got up for a little while, and knew I had to take a couple of Ponstans and take a cold pack back to bed with me.

This morning, I didn’t feel too good, but I was at home, and decided to take it easy for the day. It’s one of the many perks of working from home, not having to go into an office, and being able to re-arrange my schedule to accommodate my body.

I was out in the sun yesterday, it was part of a workshop. I’m not supposed to be out in the sun, especially not towards the middle of the day with the sun at its damnest hottest. I was laid low the day after (today), but it was worth it. I’m glad I didn’t beg to be exempted from the walking tour; otherwise, I would not have been reminded of a very important part of my childhood that I somehow have put aside and never tapped into for my writing.

I am not supposed to be out in the sun because of migraine tendencies and also because of my lupus. Today was the price paid for yesterday’s walking tour, but heck, it was worth it!

My Favourite Things

Filed in Family, Personal

Both my parents had a hand in making sure that my siblings and I did not forget our Chinese roots. Schooling wise, my sister was 100% educated in Chinese, while my brother and I, although we were 100% educated in English, were sent for Chinese classes five days a week. These were not the POL (pupil’s other language) classes taught in school, but regular classes held in a building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. But this post is not about those Chinese classes (I’ve written about them here), but about another love my mother instilled in me as a kid.

My mother had introduced me to the beauty of china porcelain many years ago. Her favourite, which she passed on to me, is the translucent rice grain against a white background design. She told me that one way to determine if the porcelain was genuine was the light shining through the rice grains when looked at up close. Another way to determine the porcelain’s authenticity was that it should remain cool to the touch even when there’s hot liquid inside.

We had a set of genuine china bowls featuring the translucent rice grain design – our version of “good china” – that mother would use only when she made bird’s nest soup for us. I think the bowls are now with my sister.

Years ago, I came across a teapot in this design and bought one for my own collection. Unfortunately, it was not the real thing as I found out after brewing some tea in it and finding the pot hot in my hands. Still, I was happy to own something that reminded me of mother. Recently, I completed the set when I bought two tea cups in the same design, but again, not the real thing. And unlike mother, who brought out the real thing to use only for special occasions, I use mine whenever I brew some Chinese tea. They are two of my favourite things in the world.

teapot and cup

A prosperity lunch in memory of a young friend

Filed in Personal

At this time of year, McDonald’s Malaysia offers a special item with a name that would appeal to the Chinese community – Prosperity Burger. I didn’t realise how long this item has been around until I saw the TV commercial the other evening.

The TVC opens to show a young boy enjoying a Prosperity Burger, and goes on to show him all grown up but still enjoying a Prosperity Burger. Everything about the boy and his surroundings in the first shot suggests a bygone era that caused me to ask “has it been around that long?” And with a shock, I realised it has. The Prosperity Burger was a favourite with Christian, my friend Debra’s son, who left us in 1997. So yes, this particular McD item has been around for more than 10 years, long enough for a young boy to have grown into a young man.

This afternoon, while thinking about lunch, I decided to have a prosperity lunch in memory of this young friend of mine.