Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nature beckons ... Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve

We listened intently as Zul, our nature guide took us on a tour of the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur city. There were 3 of us - myself and 2 visitors from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Am I glad I opted for a guide instead of doing a wander myself. Truth be told, Zul, played his role well as a nature guide - giving his knowledge and passion for us to 'fire' some questions.

As soon as we stepped into the Reserve, we felt the city heat had 'parked' itself outside. Zul did not fail to bring it to our attention. The sudden coolness serves to bring home the message of climate change and how we should preserve Mother Nature or whatever remnants existing.

That's exactly what City Hall has done. Thankfully, this small hill, a crop of tropical rainforest was declared a Reserve since 1906. To this day, the Reserve, our ' forest in the city' is our heritage. Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve surrounds the Menara KL Tower (Kuala Lumpur Telecommunication Tower) and when it was being built, a 100 year old jelutong tree (dyera costulata) was preserved. At a cost of RM 430.000 , a retaining wall was constructed to preserve the jelutong tree - one of our treasured hardwood species. The tall buildings nearby may stand tall, so too the trees, if they are left alone - they are ever-reaching for the sky!

Zul highlighted the fascinating cicadas and other insects that live in the forest reserve. It was our luck to see first hand the cocoons left by the cicadas on the underside of a leaf to 'trick' the birds.' I enjoy this orchestra of the forest' , says Zul , referring to the singing of the male cicadas we heard in the background as we chatted.

We followed the Merbau and the Jelutong trails. They are easy to negotiate. Rising above our heads are the rainforest trees - their trunks thick and their well -defined, impressive buttresses never cease to bewilder trekkers.

Zul picked up the seed of the dipterocarpus ( 2 winged fruit) tree. Then, he let it go in the air - whee! - with its wings, the mini plant flew, helicopter -like to land on the moist earth again. With time, it will propagate as Mother Nature wills.

'How is it possible for huge trees to be standing on slopes whch seem too precarious?' asked our curious visitors. 'Coz Mother Nature has not been disturbed', was Zul's reply. Names of the plants just tripped off his tongue - merawan ( artocarpus scortechinii), pulai ( alstonia angustilobia)- as he pointed to the ferns, rare herbs, rattan, lianas and the different shaped leaves and highlighted their functions.

We heard the rustle of leaves and craned our necks upwards to look for the resident monkeys. Luck was in - we spotted 2 silvered lanquer monkeys high among the trees doing their 'crossings'. There's food to support them , the long tailed macaques and other animals in this natural habitat .

Zul seems fiercely protective of our natural heritage as we chatted under the shady trees. He shares his concerns about our diminishing rainforests and the harm we do that threaten to wipe them off forever. To me, he's an eco warrior not only in his own country but in Thailand too. I couldn't agree more with him that nothing can replace this green gem we have right in our midst. That we must protect our rich biodiversified forests and pockets of greenery from the onslaught of over - development.

As in the words of the poet, William Wordsworth, ' Nature never did betray the heart that loved her'. Let's preserve!

Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve
Jalan Puncak, Off P. Ramlee
50250 Kuala Lumpur
tel: + 6 03 2020 5448

Guided tours are daily, subject to weather conditions
-11.00 am, 12.30 pm, 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm
Free of charge.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I was at the SCHOOL of HARD KNOCKS !

Yoon Koon, founder of the Royal Selangor Pewter

1885 ... still growing strong

The late Sultan of Selangor, Almarhum Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah gave the company the royal charter - Royal Selangor Pewter in 1992.

School's in again! Only for 25 minutes but I left school happy as a lark!

Behind the glass doors of the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, in the School of Hard Knocks, I was really grateful to Mr KC who gave me his undivided attention to try my hand at a pewter smithing workshop. Normally, one has to book and a class has 5 students. I was the only one for that morning. Thanks, KC!

Here I was , hammer in hand, knocking hard ( my grip was so tight!)and then the arm began to ache !! The room filled with the noise of the pounding but it mattered not to KC. Unobtrusively he lent his comments like 'knock harder, keep turning , make it smooth, light taps.' Then I relaxed and patiently hammered away, turning the bowl sitting in the hole of the wooden block round and round to achieve the required shape.

Wouldn't Yoon Koon, the founder of the Royal Selangor Pewter, if he were alive today, impart his words of wisdom - about life and the hard knocks we have to face before we can taste sweet success !

Yoon Koon, a Hakka immigrant from Shantou, Guangdong, China, came to tin -rich land of then, Malaya, at the tender age of 15. He started a business with his pewter making skills and made prayer objects like - josstick holders etc. Soon this caught the attention of the British colonialists and more orders of other items like tankards and ashtrays were made.

The history of Royal Selangor Pewter comes alive daily as visitors stroll through the Visitor Centre, guided by by the inhouse guides. The Centre never sleeps as it is open 365/ 366 days of the year ! Such dedication to tell and show the story of the very humble beginnings of then Malaya Pewter, and how it has grown to be a world name. The 3rd and 4th generations of the this privately -owned business have made Malaysians proud with a truly MALAYSIAN brand.

A new flat disc of pewter - I liken it to a new life we all begin with :)

Letters of the alphabet A - Z to engrave our name - so we make our mark in life.

Spell it out - mine spells K E A T S

Use the basic tools to hammer and shape the pewter - the malleable pewter yields . Never give up even when you get 'knocked' about. Get your life into shape !

Wash with a mild detergent to get rid of grime and other stuff - get rid of negative , impure stuff out of your life - 'coz you're ready to take on the world!

Presto ! The pewter dish is ready - almost all the kinks and rough patches are smoothened by light tapping of the hammer - bright and shiny - you're ready to face the world with help from friends , here and there .

A reward for the hard work - recognition will come - just do!

Mr KC, my teacher for the morning, helped to take some pictures to record the stages of my work - thank you kind KC!

Pewter for everyone - Malaysia for the world to know!

The unmistakeable Selangor Pewter bag - my pewter dish is safe inside.

Photo credit : courtesy of Royal Selangor Pewter

I guess the honourable Yoon Koon will also say the same to ME!!

Royal Selangor Visitor Centre
4 Jalan Usahawan 6, Setapak jaya
53300 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: + 60 3 4145 6122

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Let's Play! - Jom Main !

Was it so long ago that I played five stones, skipping rope, hopscotch? Well, today, at the National Museum, Jalan Damansara , Kuala Lumpur, the good ol' days are back! I had a walk down memory lane as I couldn't resist joining some children and parents playing some traditional games.

Parents and children were happily playing games of yester years in this highly interactive exhibition , JOM MAIN!!' or 'Let's Play!' at the National Museum. The kids played with abandon from one game to another.

Traditional games are simple and easy to perform. Much fun is derived from the togetherness in playing. Also, they encourage teamwork, strategizing, thinking and developing individual skills.

One may ask.Can these games compete with the modern games all packaged with the wizardry of gadgets to astound us? Really, it's not about competition. Traditions always live if we continue them. Anyone can play these games that are handed down from generation to generation.

Dare I suggest, the next time, there's a teambuilding retreat, try as many of these games. They are pure sheer FUN , not mentioning the very minimal costs involved!

Call me a 'tomboy', if you want to! I played this game with gusto - with my legs in the air !! The feathers of the shuttle are attached to rubberised pieces at the base. Players stand in a circle. One player throws the shuttle in the air to the player opposite. The aim is to kick and keep the shuttle in the air with the feet as many times as possibe before the next player takes a turn.

One of the MVM ( Museum Volunteer Malaysia) volunteers couldn't believe my spinning top outlasted hers for a good minute! 'The best for the morning!', she exclaimed. The spinning top is a dried fruit of the berembang tree with a long bamboo spike driven through its core.

This is the 'whirring beetle' game. Use discarded soft bottle caps, beat them flat and bore 2 symmetrical holes in the middle. Pass a string through to tie up both ends. Player twirls string till tight with a series of tensions,then sets the cap in a spin . The aim is to cut the opponent's 'beetle'.

This game is a boy's favourite. These guli( stone marbles), made of limestone can still be found in shops. Be on the lookout for them. Play it on flat open ground. See how many flicks of the guli will propel one's guli to the opponent's side.

Yes, it's me having fun. The game is 'One Wheeler' ( Main gerek). Position the long pole over the shoulder and hold on to the short 'stabiliser rod. Then guide the little wheel round the the grid following the figure of 8. I had thrice the fun!!

Another group of MVM volunteers from Japan. The kids were engrossed in making origami,the art of paper folding. Some made horses, boat, star etc. I made a crane for good luck!

Congkak, a traditional Malay game - the winner is the person who gathers all the congkak seeds ( pebbles/tamarind seeds)on her side of the congkak board. It attracted all ages, including adults.

A MVM volunteer from KL showing how the puzzle works.

A game of draughts using bottle caps. Think! think and strategize!!

Lat,our nation's foremost cartoonist - kid having fun in One Wheeler( main gerek)

How the time flies when one is having fun! What a nostalgic visit!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hands that See and Feel...

Brickfields holds a special place in the hearts of the visually impaired. A huge community of the blind live and work there, having acquired skills as masseurs/ masseuses. Fortunately, the hanky panky tag of massage parlours is not associated with the blind though in the early days there was the initial misconception when blind massage centres first began.

The blind have definitely earned their respect from the public in the massage and reflexology services they provide. They are known for providing clean, honest services and ready to pamper us with their skills , so essential for an invigorating massage.

Along Jalan Thambipillay and Jalan Tun Sambanthan, you will see many blind massage centres . Brickfields has earned its name for these wonderful services by this special group of the community. Within walking distance of these centres, is the MAB (Malaysian Assoc for the Blind), the premier Association, since 1951, providing opportunities for the blind in the country - tertiary education, vocational training, work placements , Braille lab etc.

Just take a walk in Brickfields. You will definitely see tactile guiding blocks (embossed tiles) to guide the blind in the walking. These were laid by City Hall as early as year 2003. The tiles are at least 5 mm high and are made of concrete/ rubberised materials. Also, at the traffic lights, there's the sound indicators which alert the blind when to cross safely.

My visit to the Urut Tradisional PB opened my eyes to the skills of the blind masseuse,YL. This Centre is owned by another blind, Mr Lee Sheng Chow. He provides employment for 33 masseurs, male and female.

YL, the blind masseuse, a lovely,neat looking lady took charge of me in the calmest of manner.Not long into the massage, she asked if the pressure applied was alright. Just checking.I liked it nice and firm.

She massaged well with oil and with the successive strokes, I could feel it was already working on my meridian points. Only a skilled person knows how. The invigorating strokes soon relaxed me and I let the 'sifu' help make amends on my body! To finish off, YL massaged my forehead and then my head. What a lovely,light feeling sitting upright on the long sofa! I must admit, I even had a few cat winks, just like that, which isn't usual in the normal tedium of the day. Thanks, YL!

Would I have known I was being attended by a blind masseuse? Not at all! I've had full body massages done by sighted people - in Thailand, Bali and Kuala Lumpur. Knowing that she is blind, I can say that YL's hands CAN SEE and FEEL! YL has that superior sense of touch. She's just a wonderful masseuse in every sense of the word.

She didn't even have to ask me where my troubled spot was as she worked on the exact spot of the inner shoulders that felt crampy and knotty.

In our brief chat, I learned that YL has 10 years of experience as a masseuse. her husband like her,is blind and shares the same profession. They met at the Gurney Training Centre at MAB , Brickfields.

'For the blind, this job is important. We do our best to look after our rice bowl', she confided.This is a job she excels and it is her bread and butter. YL upgrades her skill by attending courses conducted by the blind masseurs from China and Japan.

Her sentiments are echoed by another masseuse I got to know, AL. Born in Jinjang, Kuala Lumpur, AL's partial to total blindness was a big blow. It hit her at age 12 when she was in school and soon she lost her friends. Due to her parents' ignorance of seeking prompt help, her condition deteriorated and it was only at age 23 that someone advised her to seek help at the MAB. Initially she started basketry work. Now she has found her niche and love for providing massages services.

'My clients are my contact with the world. I love exchanging information and I learn so much from them, 'she said. Well, I can't help thinking how blessed I am to have hands that see and fell to ease my tensions away !!

I briefly met the owner of Urut PB , Malaysia's first massage centre by the blind, Mr Lee Sheng Chow at talk. His is a truly inspiring story.Though blind at age 21, he went on to achieve much - for himself and the blind. His smiling disposition warms my heart as he shares Winston Churchill's words which have given him strength, ' Never, never, never, never, ever give up'. His finest hour was representing the nation at the Paralympic Games - Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000), placing fourth three times in the shot putt and fifth for the discus throw. To date, his national record of more than 12 m in the shot putt has been unbeaten since 1983. Talk to him, and you'll find he wears many other hats!!

His fellow blind family and friends can only be so proud of him . His staff too beam with pride as they talk about him as I enjoy the massages. Truly inspirational, all of them !

Massage by the Blind
Urut Tradisional PB
4A, Jalan Thambipillay
50490 Kuala Lumpur

MAB ( Malaysian Assoc for the Blind)
Kompleks MAB, Jalan Tebing, Off Jalan Sambanthan 4,
50470 Kuala Lumpur