Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Up close with Bears

All 72 of us , eager to start our new adventures with the animals

Saturday morning saw me up bright and early waiting for my transport to Zoo Negara. I donned the tee shirt given. Soon we were all dressed in muted grey. Stickers with the words ' Zoo Negara Volunteer' were distributed to all the 72 volunteers. That was our 'passport'to carry out the assigned duties for the day at our zoo.

Texcycle had initiated a group volunteer community service among its staff. The boss, Mr Ho invited me as he thought I'd been keen to chip in as an outsider. I did.

After a brief introduction by the Zoo staff, we were split into groups of 10. It was bears for us. That got us excited and we quickened our steps following a member of the staff. Our first hint of animal presence as we walked up the path to their dens - poo! Inhaling those whiffs, I thought of all the organic manure I could lavish on my plants!

Quickly it was down to work. We took off our trainers, chose the right size rubber boots to wear. Next we picked the lidi brooms and rakes. Our supervisor had to lure the bear into the safe confines of his den for us to be out of harm's way. Then we followed his assistant to the public viewing enclosure. Ouch! I forgot to get low enough and hit my head, not once but twice against the low beam as I entered.

Looking for the right fit, then to work

Safe in the bear's den!

Bears need creative play too

Several hands made the work speedier and lighter. In the quiet of the morning, with no visitors yet in sight, we swished and swept the fallen leaves and odd lumps of poo that littered the public viewing enclosure. All done, we left the place and it was time to open the barricade and release the bears.

Fancy a lie-in?

The locks to barricade the bears before we stepped inside to clean their playground

Public viewing enclosure

Out for a morning stroll - the sun bear is the smallest of the world's eight bear species. Common nicknames are 'dogbear', 'honey bear', 'malay bear'. Habitat: dense tropical and subtropical forest

Volunteers tidying the 'divide' between bear and public (note the bear out of his den in the background)

Texcycle staff helping out

I half expected to hear the bears growl but they didnt. With the constant care of their keepers, they have got accustomed to their voices and human touch. The carekeepers called their names which have a very local flavour in a manja voice. We got to know Mango, Ramat, Ah Moy, Boy, Girl!! Luckily when I was born my parents had the good sense to give me a proper name!

Mango is my name! My other buddies are Ramat, Rupert, Ah Moy.

I came face to face with Mango behind the iron bars of her den. I called her name. She responded by clinging the door. No growls nor whimpering - just sussing and sniffing me out, the stranger for the day. Did she want to be my friend? As she stood on her hind legs close to the door, her sharp extended claws looked really dangerous. What's food for 150 kg bears like Ah Moy, the brown bear? She's 18 plus years old, a lumbering mammal . Some student volunteers came in a van and delivered their food - meaty soup with carrots and potatoes, coconuts, papayas and other fruits.

Brown bear, Ah Moy

Students arriving in a lorry delivering chow

Look! carrots, potatoes and meat - all in one big soupy delight. YUM!

The bears will prise the coconut and there's the juice to drink it all up when they get to it.

We had 2 breaks - coffee and lunch. Guess what, the nasi lemak bungkus made its appearance and that was hastily polished off by everyone! Come lunchtime, it was chicken merah, vegetable curry, cucumber and pineapple salad and papadum washed down with ice -cold rose syrup.

It was back to the roof tops of the enclosures to sweep heaps and heaps of fallen leaves. How the fallen leaves of a certain deciduous species have made a thick carpet on the roofs. I think I could have sunk my body in and be nicely cushioned! We swept like mad and bagged them. Luckily it was quite shady or else we would have been a few shades darker . I have to say in all honesty I have never swept and gathered this gigantic mountain of leaves in all my life.

So, no lazy Saturday after all. It was an insight of what the Friends of The Malaysian National Zoo ( FOMNZ) do. This volunteer body was founded towards the end of 1989 to bring together volunteers to help in the daily operations of the zoo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dangle the long bean

Come pluck me!

It's as if I had sprinkled some magic dust and uttered some right words, 'Grow! Grow! Grow!' The long beans are doing an amazing show - dangling free and showing off their long slender body. I 'm really happy 'coz a first attempt with the long bean has been giving me loads since 6 weeks ago. Previous planting with bitter gourd, brinjal and chillies have resulted in meagre harvest. The bitter gourd failed miserably. One by one, the sprouting young shapes inevitably turned yellow immaturely and on closer inspection , the black marks showed they were pricked by pesky insects. Now, it's sweet success - the long bean rulz!

Little 'twigs' emerge

Get hooked on me! Lengthening and growing in size too

Healthy looking long bean - no aphids want them. I wonder why as other plants are under attack.

Our harvest - part of a daily supply!

Some have been given away. Others have found their way into a variety of dishes. That's when the recipe books come out and the folks at home get to give their verdict on the new dishes. Thankfully, my live-in helper is just as enthusiastic as I am.

How many ways can the long bean be cooked? Indeed versatility is its name! Think of long bean in fried rice, dhall curries, egg dishes, stir fried with onions and chillies, in mixed vegetables, kerabu, gado-gado. Fresh from the pick, the young tender long bean ( test it -it snaps easily) can be eaten raw or blanched as ulam. Restauranteurs also favour using long bean alongside the brinjal and lady fingers in a certain assam fish curry. We tried a new recipe that calls for tempe besides prawn, vermicelli, taufu and sambal belachan cooked with long bean but it didn't get the nod as tempe ( fermented soya bean ) is somewhat an acquired taste.

The pods of this legume have dried naturally turning dark brown and the seeds inside harden. They await another round of planting. Long may the long bean flourish!

Ready for the second generation

My beanstalk twining and twining -no, I didn't buy the seeds from a man who was walking his cow to the market!! LOL

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A cool retreat

I heard the animals calling out from somewhere - deep inside. Where would Scotsman, Louis James Fraser be ? It's a pity for soon after he founded the liveable plateau, he disappeared without any trace.

I can't say it was frazzled nerves that took me to Fraser's Hill, at 1524m elevation for a retreat. It was just that the Raya hols coupled with a need to touch base with the children (and nephew) that I decided we should head for somewhere relatively near to KL. Besides, it's been aeons since Fraser's Hill has popped in our radar for a short sweet break:)

Iconic clock tower in the town centre. Reminds me of a town square of ye ol' days.

The town centre awakes to the bustle of visitors

We were in luck as the accommodation at High Pines, owned by the Russell family of BOH Sdn. Bhd was available to us. My son took to the wheels and he did well managing the many narrow bends up from GAP where the controlled 8 km one way traffic starts.

The tall pines from our bedroom.

Breathtaking view of the Main Range, backbone of the peninsula from the garden of High Pines Bungalow, one of the highest points on Fraser's Hill.

One misty, moisty morning... who goes yonder? High Pines with its distinguishable red window frames.

Cheers! The hills are alive and life is great! The best view at High Pines. Just sitting on the bench and watching clouds float by. I had to still myself to enjoy it at its best.

The table was always set for us to have our meals. Thanks, to caretakers, Mr & Mrs Tan ! We enjoyed the curry tiffin lunch the best. Of course, tea is always BOH. No apologies for that!!

Fraser's Hill has been tagged a sleepy hollow even to this day. Some come for a day trip and a cursory visit. You're right to think that no spanking malls or disco or nightlife entertainment is available. Indeed, Fraser's Hill offers nature at its best, still unspoilt. Yearly, birders wing in from near and far to participate in the much touted Bird Race. The race is not with the birds but among enthusiast birders to spot as many birds as possible and jot down their sightings . A haven for many migratory birds , Fraser's Hill is reputed to be home to as many as 250 varieties. In fact, if you slow down , you're bound to see birds that will awe you with their plummage. We saw some during our evening walks.

I love to see the bungalows perched at different elevations, each with names that hark back to colonial days - names like Scott, Wavertree, Cicely ( Kuantan), Wray ( Temerloh), Richmond, Kingswood etc. In the garden of each bungalow, lovely flowers which are unique to the hill resort brighten the surroundings and add such a lovely charm to the hill resort.

Why hurry down to the humidity below and be in air conditioned malls? Fill your lungs with the nice cool , fresh air. Maybe in the day time you should try the 8 nature trails available. I did 2 - the Hemmant which was an easy walk and a more challenging Bishop's trail. We coped well with the non -existent nightlife. Board games just got our heads together and with red wine to imbibe, we weren't complaining! Mind you, we had socks on as the evening wore on. Fraser's Hill, nicknamed 'Little England of Malaysia' lives up to its name in more ways than one.

No barrier too huge at Bishop's Trail. Guess what, leeches were there but none loved me!

Food for the pitcher plant. I was lucky to find some along Bishop's Trail.

I was rather curious about the lumpy terrain of some parts of the spacious garden at High Pines. 'Wild boars come,' was Mr Tan's answer. Lucky thing I didn't come face to face with one as a dash and sprint will not win the day!

For the price of RM 10.00, take aim - you get 8 tries. Kids got their thrill on horse rides at the Paddocks.

What a nice address - 1919 ! Bet no letters ever get lost.

We had desserts at Ye Olde Smokehouse. The right ambience to have you want to linger.

View of the town centre from Scott Bungalow where we had lunch.