Saturday, October 7, 2017

Can't Belize it's the FinalEE

Get it? Get it? I cannot Belize (believe) it is the finalEE (portmanteau of "final" and "EE" to spell "finale"; "EE" is the acronym of Earth Expeditions). Okay, okay. I tried too hard.

You guys right now. Meme credit.
I really need to start blogging more consistently. I keep saying this. In fact, I mentioned it in my entry about my Baja Earth Expeditions almost a year ago. Heh.

This year has been weird and confusing. I left my awesome job in Langkawi and moved back to the Klang Valley to be closer to my girlfriend, family, and Tiny and started working for a place I thought would kick-start my career in Malaysia at after graduating and moving back to Malaysia about five years ago. The last couple of months in Langkawi drained my usual motivation and passion I have in life. I do not know why, maybe it is the packing, maybe it is the uncertainty feeling you get after making a major life decision... Whatever it is, I have become lazy and pessimistic. I was not even looking forward for my last ever EE in July. No more close-to-ideal job, no more clear roads (traffic in the Klang Valley is legendary), no more cheap booze, and how can Belize EE top last year's super amazing, mind-blowing Baja EE!

I shall dedicate some time in writing about my entire Belize journey in detail in the months to come but the conclusion is that my field trip to Belize was very uplifting, eventful, and memorable. All that negativity that defined me since the beginning of the year started to melt away at the "beginning" of the course when I met a couple of my classmates in Dallas Fort Worth airport  waiting for our flight to Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, Belize. I knew from then on that it was going to be a fulfilling time in Belize. And it actually turned out to be so!

There are plenty of things to write about my Belize EE; the wonderful classmates and field partners, the uniqueness of Belize Zoo, me being introduced to yet another natural habitat called the "tropical pine savanna", the diversity of peoples in Belize, the community-based initiative to conserve riparian forests and "baboons" and my foster family, the Mayan ruins and culture, Baird's tapir shit, Vermilion flycatcher and other beautiful birds and wildlife, amazing Belizean food, and the coconut-falling-but-it-missed incident. I am tearing up recapping the trip.

There are two significant and memorable incidences during this EE: looking at extensive seagrass meadows for the first time in my life and snorkelling outside of a massive barrier reef. These moments left me dumbfounded in awe.

I want to respectfully and responsibly lay on the seagrass and just enjoy the blueness of Earth.

In both situations I felt peace. I can truly admit that all the worries I had of uncertainties, sadness from the dying of an artist who is part of my biggest musical inspiration, tiredness, regretfulness, all disappeared during these incidents. The blades of seagrass stood still, sometimes waving to the gentle currents. I wow-ed countless of times underwater in the presence of the magnificent spur and groove formations of the largest barrier reef of the western hemisphere, formations shaped from the movement of water for thousands of years. It is akin to a patient artist sculpturing his/her very own Le Penseur. All I want to do is just float in the water, be still, and enjoy these natural phenomena.

Me trying to be part of something great.
Many of the past EE participants will mention that these field trips will help you discover yourself. I believe I have finally discovered myself or refueled the passion in me, experiences that are so relevant to me for this current period of my life. It is moments like being inches away from the blades of the seagrass and floating over a barrier reef that make me want to be a better environmental steward and inspire the people around me to care for the natural environment that also keeps us as a species alive! I am also reminded how important and valuable the people are in saving the things I love. They are after all part of the things I love.

The next few months after the publishing of this entry will resonate with what I have learned, felt, wanted during my final EE. I have revert to my former self of being afraid and excited at the same time, a feeling that I know has brought out the best of me in the past.

I am missing the cultural and natural heritage of Belize, Chester Bennington, and my classmates, instructors, and field partners.

Till we meet again, friends!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"K-Pop" Chicken

I remember Shakira telling me last year about a new eatery in Langkawi Parade - K Chicken. K Chicken, or referred to as K-Pop Chicken by Shakira, is a Korean fried chicken place serving a fried chicken "Korean" style with limited selection of Korean dishes like kimbap, jumeokbap (just the rice ball), and kimchi (of course). It took me five months before deciding to try this place out.

The outside of K Chicken - Sweet and Spicy Korean Chicken.
So one fine Monday afternoon (used to be my rest day), I walked up to the third floor of Langkawi Parade and ordered myself a plate of six pieces of "spicy" Korean friend chicken and a plate of kimbap. The kimbap tasted alright (like how all kimbaps taste).

The chicken, on the other hand, was surprisingly very tasty. I was not expecting crispiness from glazed fried chicken, but it was slightly crispy. The spicy glaze, which was applied very generously but the right amount, is like what their tagline says - sweet and spicy. What made the sauce taste special is the small bits of fried garlic sprinkled on the top of the chicken. Very nice touch, K Chicken. You know the chicken is deep fried to perfection when you bite into it and feel the juices envelope your tongue... Mmmm. That is what you get when you eat K Chicken's star dish!

A picture from my first visit.

A picture from my nth visit. Yes, I always order the same thing... Six pieces of spicy Korean fried chicken and kimbap.
Therefore, if you want a good meal in a clean place with A/C, you should definitely give K Chicken a try. (My usual order costs RM28; RM19 for the six pieces of chicken and RM9 for the kimbap. You can check out their menu on their Tripadvisor page, though their prices have changed. Six pieces of chicken is too much for one person, so maybe you should share it with someone else. I eat for two - first tummy and second tummy.)

While writing this entry, I realised that I never visited K Chicken with Shakira. Next time when you visit, Kira!

I do not know why the Korean fried chicken in Malaysia is glazed. I understand why Korean chicken made in Hawaii is called Korean chicken (it is because the fried chicken is dipped into "Korean sauce"), but I have eaten friend chicken in Seoul and they do not serve it in any sauce. It is just simple crispy and juicy chicken served with cold beer.

Although, I have come to a conclusion that I enjoy all preparations of fried chicken I have tried so far. As long as the chicken is fried properly, of course.

The fried chicken I had in Seoul, South Korea, July 2014. Forgot the name of place. The peppery seasoning enhances the taste.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Non-controversial" Recreational Places to Visit in Pulau Langkawi

About a week ago, there was a very bitter story circulating around local groups on Facebook about how my workplace stops “locals” from enjoying a beautiful and private swimming area from visiting this secluded creek, only allowing foreigners (the accuser specifically mentioned Caucasians, “mat salleh”). I shall refrain from commenting on this over-sensationalised issue because my opinion will upset both the accusers and the accused.

The supporters of this story also mentioned that there is now NO other pristine and private recreational spots for them to go to because all of them are being “owned” by big companies.
I DISAGREE very much. 

Here is my list of “non-controversial”, public accessible recreational places, that are similar in experience to the aforementioned "secret" creek, to visit in Pulau Langkawi (in no particular order or ranking):

Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells)

Drive to the end of the road, pass the turn into the Oriental Village and cable car place and you will find the entrance to the Seven Wells. Park your car, pay that parking ticket of RM2 for cars (RM1 for motorcycles), and start climbing up the stairs. Whoa! Climb UP stairs?! But Jon, I am on holiday, bro!

(I am not your bro, pal!) 

Trust me, it is worth it. You will come across a restroom halfway walking up the stairs. Turn left to check out one of the most epic-looking waterfall on the island. The first time I saw this from a cable car I thought it was man-made. It is water falling over a large sandstone face of about 30 to 40 metres high! This view is dramatic.

My baby girl by the large waterfall at the first stop last year in June.
Me dorking out with my girlfriend same time last year.
Me dorking out in October this year.

There are a couple of swimming pools as the water cascades down slowly and gradually. This place can be extremely busy because it is one of the major tourist attraction on the island. So, I suggest you walk back to the staircase (without drying yourself off), and continue to walk up that stairs. Jon, what is wrong with you?!

Some pools for swimming at the waterfall. This picture was taken last year in October when my bestie, Kenneth, came to visit.

Once you reach the top there are a few more “wells” to swim in, including a lookout spot for some beautiful pictures of the waterfall to be taken. It is at this area that you can learn the legends of the Seven Wells. This area too can be crowded. You can lose the crowd by walking towards the end of this area. You will come across a hiking trail on your left, and on your right, some peaceful pools of water.

So many choices in one place!

There are some complications though. The waterfall at the first spot does not always gush with water, common during the dry months. This past year, water flowed down (“trickled” when compared to the wet months) from early February to about early May. You can still swim, but manage your expectations during the dry months.

I have seen Great hornbills (Buceros bicornis) flying about at the waterfall. A delightful sight.

Suggested itinerary Enjoy the sights and experience of the SkyCab cable car and SkyBridge before heading to Telaga Tujuh. Or you can do the Matchinchang hiking trail (which I have yet to do) and then go swimming. Apparently, the trail open to the public is quite easy. Another option is going on a zipline adventure at Telaga Tujuh itself before swimming at the waterfall. This zipline adventure has a zipline ABOVE the waterfall you swim in after! You could have lunch at the Oriental Village (the general area where the SkyCab is located), or you could have lunch in one of the local shops at the base of Telaga Tujuh. (I never tried any of the eateries in these areas because I prefer to do everything, and drive to the Datai junction, “Simpang Datai” for some delicious homecooked Malay food.)

Be careful of Monkeys. The Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) are like how the baby boomers label millennials – entitled. They are so entitled that they will snatch your plastics bags or even rummage through your unattended bags. They do like to hangout along the stairs too, usually where the restrooms are situated in the halfway point of the staircase. So, take into account the safety of yourself and/or your group if you see a troop loitering on the staircase on your way up to the hiking trail. (Whose fault is this? Idiots that like feeding wildlife. I shall elaborate more on this irresponsible and uncivil act by humans in another entry.) The steps are quite steep, so prepare yourselves accordingly.

Temurun Waterfall

The entrance of this waterfall is along the Datai road (Jalan Teluk Datai). You cannot miss it. If you miss it, you will be punished by having to look at the waste-of-money man-made tunnel just after the waterfall. There is ample parking on the opposite of the waterfall entrance. It has been awhile since I have visited this waterfall, so I am not sure if people have started collecting money for parking. (They should, if it will ensure that all trash is picked up from the road and the parking lot.)

The entrance to the waterfall. Look at the mother macaque begging food from another visitor. This macaque's troop raided the lady's group's food at the waterfall about 30 minutes later, ruining the experience for me and other visitors. Irresponsible humans.

You will have to hike about 200 to 300 metres on concrete pathways with stairs to cross the bumpy terrain to the waterfall. Once you are there, you will see quite a large pool of water and a beautiful waterfall. The rock face is not as tall as Telaga Tujuh, but it has a more rugged texture. If you find this “main pool” to be too crowded, you could swim in the smaller pools you see on your way to the main pool.

The concrete stairs long the path.
Smaller pools along the pathway before reaching the waterfall. This picture was taken in June last year.

Like Telaga Tujuh, this waterfall can dry up during the dry months. The pools of water do become quite shallow but there are always some pools with water. I think you should definitely find a different spot to visit during the dry months. The experience during the wet months is magnificent over here.

The waterfall at Temurun. This photo is taken last year in June. This was just the beginning of the rainy season last year.
Shameless selfie underneath the waterfall last year in June.
Suggested itinerary Spend a good amount of time at Pasir Tengkorak (Skull sand) beach before cooling off at Temurun Waterfall. This beach is located on the right side of the road on your way up the Datai road. It is a very beautiful beach with ample parking space. I find swimming in this small bay to be safe. If you find this beach to be crowded, you can walk towards the right side of the bay, climb some rocks, and get on some concrete stairs/pathway to walk about 200 metres. At the end of this pathway is a very secluded cove and a nice beach. There could be some flotsam and jetsam on this beach but it is usually empty. This cove is best experienced when the tide is low. You may not have a beach to relax on during high tides.

Entrance to Pasir Tengkorak Beach from the mainroad.

Shameless selfie taken in June this year while swimming with my floating, waterproof Pelican case gotten for me by Kenneth. Thanks, bud.

Pasir Tengkorak beach.

Path to the secluded cove.

Mind your steps, please.

Voila! You have reached a secluded beach. Do not thrash it. Please clean up the beach. It is your civic duty!

Be careful of Monkeys, again. Monkeys will frigging stalk you from the entrance if you are carrying plastic bags of food. Also, the pathway to the secluded cove at Pasir Tengkorak beach can be dangerous as part of the pathway is without handrails.

Durian Perangin Waterfall

Compared to the other waterfalls on the island, I visit Durian Perangin the most. Plenty of parking spaces by the entrance with shade. Nobody collecting money for parking. (Again, I think they should if it helps with the cleanup of the parking area and road).

The parking lot. That is my apartment-mate and colleague, Desmond.

There are more man-made aesthetics compared to the other waterfalls, but they do blend in quite well. There are many pools of water to swim in along the concrete pathway. These pools are amazing for children. Continue walking up the stairs and you will find the first waterfall. There is no clear entry into this pool of water but just climb down slowly (about four metres down) and you will be treated with an amazing pool to cool off in. (You can sometimes see big groups of butterflies lapping on the sandy banks of this pool.)

Safe path to walk to different pools and waterfalls.
The first waterfall along the path. This photo was taken last year in June.

Many people are satisfied here because there are some picnic places for them to rest in and the concrete bridge across the pool allows for people to take some beautiful picture of the place. I like to continue walking up the stairs to the second waterfall. The pool here is not as deep as the first one, but there is usually less people swimming here. This is also where you can experience the waterfall, having water gush down instead of flowing down slowly like in the first waterfall.

Shameless selfie at the top waterfall. Also taken last year in June.

Water still flows during the dry season, albeit less intense than usual. The top pool can be shallower too, but still the most “reliable” waterfall to visit during the dry months.

Check out my Durian Perangin waterfall album.

I have seen Asian fairy-bluebirds (Irena puella) hanging out on electric wires above the bridges across the swimming areas. Very beautiful bird with a sweet call.

Suggested itinerary Visit this waterfall after a nice mangrove cruise at Kilim Geoforest Park or after some beach time by Tanjung Rhu Beach. You could drive to Tanjung Rhu jetty to get on a mangrove cruise and then hang out on the beach close to this jetty. Or you can go on a mangrove cruise from the Kilim jetty. I prefer the Tanjung Rhu area because I get to do the mangrove cruise and hang out on the beach right after without having to drive to get to the beach.

Shakira and Desmond swimming in the sea by Tanjung Rhu beach.
Tanjung Rhu beach.

Be careful of Steep staircase to the top waterfall.

Lubuk Semilang

This is not really a waterfall, but pools have been made for the river to cascade down slowly. This is another perfect spot for families to visit. There is ample parking space and the pathway to these pools are not too steep. There are shaded picnic areas for you to keep your things while you go for a nice dip into the cool waters of Mount Raya.

Water flowing slowly. Picture taken sometime in January this year.

I have never really seen a huge crowd here. Maybe because I only visited during the low tourism season. Heh. But really, I do not think there will be a huge crowd here.

This place is a good place to visit during the dry months because there will always be water flowing as the pools are made to slow the flow of the river.

I know, not a good photo of the swimming spot. But this photo was taken during the dry month of January earlier this year. I do not know why I did not take a photo of the pool we were swimming in. Fail.

Suggested itinerary Climb up the staircase to go up Mount Raya, before climbing down for a swim in Lubuk Semilang. This staircase is just next to the swimming area. What is wrong with you, Jon?! Why are you always climbing up staircases?! Trust me, it is worth the climb. You get to see many beautiful trees, many of them are primary trees that grow up to 40 metres high! I have seen cool animals along the staircase. Occasionally, you will not only hear the Great hornbills calling, but a couple of them may fly ABOVE you! (It will sound like helicopters flying above you.) Flying lizards are quite easy to spot along this hike. Once you reach the top parts of the staircase, you can even find some large butterflies that look like paper fluttering! (These butterflies are called the Tree nymph.) The lookout point up here is nice too. This hike will take you roughly three to four hours, both ways. Just make sure you have eaten prior to the hike and have extra water and snacks along with you.

Be careful of Monkeys by the swimming area, not on the staircase up Mount Raya.

My Rant
So you see, there are actually many places you can visit on Pulau Langkawi that are easily accessible by the public. And many of these places are free (or cost little if parking is collected) to visit! (If you do not go on a mangrove cruise and the zipline adventure at Telaga Tujuh.)

The locals who are upset that they cannot freely access the “secret” creek, are also upset that they cannot access this “clean” and “natural” place. 

The places I have listed in this entry are made unnatural and dirty because visitors, both locals and foreigners, have thrashed them! I have observed many visitors bringing in food to these places and littering everywhere. I have seen visitors feeding the monkeys, causing the distribution of rubbish deep into the jungle where no humans ever visit. 

I am not just talking about plastics, but even food items. It is not okay to leave your food waste on the barbecue pit or have your fruit peels thrown into the jungle or the water. Food scraps invite pests that can be health hazards to other humans! (And please do not throw flour at your friends in the water!) 

How about irresponsible smokers? Your cigarette buds are littered EVERYWHERE, even in that “secret” creek that you visit!

Where is the locals’ rant or uproar on the gradual destruction of their natural heritage done by not only the “outsiders”, but also by themselves?

Monkey Tips

Before I end this entry, if you are going to bring food along to these places, you MUST hide them in your backpack. It is unwise to carry them in plastic bags. The monkeys will grab any plastics because they have been “conditioned” to expect food from plastic bags over the years. 

Make sure you are not carrying anything in your hands and wear your backpack at all times. Invest in a waterproof bag so that you can place your bag close to you while you are in the water, not only to avoid monkeys rummaging your stuff, but also their cousins, the thieving humans. 

Remember, the monkeys will always be where they are because YOU are visiting their home. 

As humans, manage situations properly. Anything you do that can cause the monkeys to attack you will result in the entire troop of monkeys to be killed, even though you are the true instigator. (Another consequence of feeding wild monkeys.) So be mindful of your actions.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recycling in Langkawi

It has been a wonderful Fall semester for me with the Global Field Program. The two classes I had to take this Fall required me to connect with the local community. (I suppose one of the communities in Pulau Langkawi. I am still not sure what the "true" definition of "community" or "local community" is, thanks to a very interesting discussion at the Vermilion Sea Field Station during the summer field trip of the Program.)

Since the theme of my master plan revolves around living sustainably in a UNESCO Geopark, a designation and commitment (obligation to some) that extends to the entire Langkawi archipelago, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate how solid waste is managed on the most inhabited island of the archipelago, Pulau Langkawi.

Basically, everything goes into a landfill next to a non-functioning incinerator. (At the posting of this blog entry, the incinerator has yet to be in operation since the publication of this news article.) Sometime in August this year, some people were sharing videos of a famous tourist attraction, Sungai (means 'river' in Bahasa Malaysia) Kilim, flowing black. Not sure if this is conclusive or not, but authorities started checking out the good ol' landfill and determined, from rapid water quality testings and visual observations (of how mismanaged the landfill is), that the cause is from the direct pollution from the landfill, or specifically an illegal extension of the landfill onto the river banks. (It still boggles me how Langkawi's member of Parliament deducted with confidence that prolonged point-source pollution has no effect on the aquatic/marine life just after maybe a couple of weeks of investigation.)

This one incident sparked the exposé of how poor the management of solid wastes (news article is in Bahasa Malaysia, please use Google's translation service) is on the island that is marketed as "Naturally Langkawi". And whatever happening in Pulau Langkawi is a microcosm of how solid waste is treated in the country.

A shot featured on the exposé mentioned above of Pulau Langkawi's landfill. What is not shown here is the piling up of rubbish right NEXT to the incinerator that is not in operation, a visual metaphorical middle finger from the local government to tax-paying Malaysians all over the country (or maybe just the state of Kedah). The picture in this article is a mash between two photos. 
And do not forget about the litterbug habit of the majority of Malaysians and their fascination of dumping their rubbish UNDER "no dumping rubbish here" signboards throughout the country, creating many, many illegal mini "landfills". This picture, although without the "no dumping rubbish here" signboard, is a forest cleared along a main road on Pulau Langkawi for NO REASON and have been turned into an illegal landfill. Good job, Langkawi, good frigging job.
So how now brown cow? Reducing the amount of rubbish you generate is the best way to not contribute to the filling up of landfills. Another way is to redirect the rubbish we have created from being disposed into landfills by recycling. Unfortunately, Malaysia is very behind in the recycling game, only recently making separation of the solid waste we make at home (some of you may be thinking your fecal matter is solid waste, that is considered to be sewage-lah) MANDATORY. In response to this mandate, Pulau Langkawi has started kerbside recycling - basically having a separate pick up time for the recyclables collected in households from the usual rubbish kerbside collection.
Unfortunately, this kerbside collection of recyclables is only available to about 16.5% of the households in the Langkawi Archipelago (about 3,250 households in Kuah town of Pulau Langkawi).

The rest of the archipelago, if wanting to do our civic duty to not continue to ruin our natural surroundings, have to proactively separate our wastes at home, collect enough, and then send them to recycling facilities. But try googling your hearts out and you will never find good directions to or reliable information on the recycling facilities on Pulau Langkawi. Which is why I decided to focus my Inquiry Action Project (IAP) and Community Engagement Lab (CEL) on recycling in Langkawi.

For this to happen, I got in contact with E-Idaman, the company in charge of collecting the solid waste in the municipality of Pulau Langkawi. It was a very pleasant learning experience. For my IAP, I decided to investigate the response of the 16.5% that HAVE to carry out separation at source at home. For my CEL, since searching for recycling facilities on the island is very troublesome (no reliable results on search engines), I decided to identify the different recycling facilities present on the island and mapped their locations to create an online resource for the public to use. (This map is also one of the "action" components resulted from the findings of my IAP. You can find the map here. Click on the different pins to learn more about the different recycling facilities.)

To summarise: I found a significant reduction in the weight of recyclables collected from the kerbside collection five months after "mandatory" separation at source began; a really minute number of households actually practice separation at source and the weight of recyclables collected is (not statistically) insignificant to the weight of solid wastes produced on the island (~ 50 kg of recyclables a month compared to ~ 120,000 kg in a day); though a small number of residents were interviewed, a majority of them told me that we have to recycle for the good of the environment and the biggest demotivator to recycle is "not having any waste that can be recycled"; the recycling facilities on the island is very concentrated towards the southern part, most of them in Kuah town, while no recycling facilities (nor kerbside collection program) exist in other parts of the island. You can find full details of my inquiry from my final reports (IAP, CEL). (After submitting them, I feel that my reports were poorly written, like this entry. I am sorry.)

A screenshot of the map I created for my class, which I now use to find the closest recycling facility in my vicinity.
An E-Idaman representative and I suspect that the interviewees that said they are not recycling (practicing separation at source) because they do not generate solid waste that are recyclable may not actually know what are considered to be recyclables, or what are collected to be recycled on the island. So with the help of my bestie, I decided to come up with a localised infograph of the solid waste that are to be recycled. (Another reason to do this, which I did not share in my final reports, is that not all of the recyclables listed on the government's website to get Malaysians to separate their waste at source are collected to be recycled on the island.)

Langkawi only accepts paper, plastic, and metal. The rest are not accepted at all, what a shame. I am still very disappointed when I found out that glass is NOT accepted at any recycling facilities, nor the kerbside collection service. What a waste, since the island produces quite a lot of glass waste being a duty free island (cheap liquor).

Kenneth's super awesome creation to help residents of Langkawi sort their rubbish properly to be recycled!
It is a shame that the government is not enforcing this mandatory separation at source in its entirety, as there are no plans to do this in the other households/parts of Langkawi and not warning nor fining any offenders of this law. (Households can be warned three times before getting fined by the relevant authorities which can reach up to RM1,000.00 for repeated offenders!) I think the enforcement of this mandate is a failure from the start because everything seemed really rush and the announcement was not "grand". And I believe it did not reach many Malaysians. (Only one news article in late 2014, separation at source started out in September 2015 with many Malaysians still not knowing what to do because of the lack of awareness campaigns, and not having a proper framework to monitor this practice even after almost two years before "enforcement".)

The bad planning and the (federal, state, local, whatever) government's inability to execute this law properly, make me question how on earth are law enforcers going to know which household is practicing separation at source and which is not? What if a household only practices separation at source once a month (sounds efficient)? So many shortcomings of a wonderful law to help battle the use of landfills to safeguard out natural resources. (Unless these leaders of state decide to sell forest land to businesses. Ugh, greedy people.)

I know the findings of my inquiry and mapping exercise are quite demotivating, but I hope the infograph and the map created for my assignments will be useful to anybody interested in recycling on Pulau Langkawi. I truly believe that we can live sustainably on Pulau Langkawi, and it can be as simple as sending your plastic bottles to be recycled.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gorillaz Live at Glastonbury (HD) - Clint Eastwood (With Snoop Dogg)

I have been listening to a lot of Gorillaz lately. I never knew their live performances are like this. I also never knew that there are music groups called virtual bands 0.0

So Green.

I have been meaning to write an entry about my Earth Expeditions trip to Baja California, Mexico in July but have managed to procrastinate writing about one of my best life/travel experience for THREE MONTHS! I know, I be lazy. I also blame less than favourable internet connection speed and longevity and having to actually blog for work; basically typical master procrastinator excuses.

Earlier this year, I got accepted and enrolled myself into a Masters program with Miami University called the Global Field Program (GFP), a program very suitable (but not limited) for educators of all fields (schools, museums, zoos, aquaria, and etc.) interested in conservation and inquiry-based learning. The major attraction of the GFP is its summer Earth Expeditions (EE); a way to travel and earn credits for your graduate studies, for personal development for potential career advancement, or personal development for simply your own personal development.

Not wanting to commit fully to pursuing a Masters degree previously, I enrolled into the Australia EE in 2014 as a standalone class just for the seven graduate credits after reading about EE courses sent to the University of Hawaii at Hilo Marine Science Department's listserv (which I still check once in awhile for any career or graduate studies opportunities). Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and somewhat enjoyed the lessons then. (Evidence of me enjoying my Australia EE trip: 1, 2, and 3.)

I learned a lot from my experience on the Australia EE in 2014; from learning about Great Barrier Reef ecology to the clouded rainforest of Paluma Range National Park, and being exposed for the first time to community-based conservation and inquiry-based learning. I think my favourite part of the trip was learning about and from the Nywaigi people of Australia at Mungalla Station. This picture is of the wetland restoration project the Cassady family has done at Mungalla Station.
Since leaving my job at a milk packing facility in the end of 2014 and starting my amazing job in Pulau Langkawi, why not do graduate school while working? The GFP is very compatible to my current job in education and outreach and conservation science. So I gave it a go.

My first GFP class is a summer EE to Baja California. Initially, I was slightly disappointed in being placed into this EE. Because even though learning and experiencing the pelagic ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez would be amazing, I was not too keen to learn about the desert of Baja California. Why should I learn about the desert when I live and work in a tropical rainforest?! Even the text I had to read about the desert flora of Baja California is a boring and dry read. (Pun intended; I will show myself out.)

It was not until the long (but fun) drive (it turned out to be a roadtrip) into the desert on our way to Rancho San Gregorio did I realise how alive the desert of Baja California can be. I was seeing GREEN along Highway 1, a sight I would never have expected in a desert, even after reading about it.

I expected the desert to be more like this. Photo credit.
Instead, I got views of lushness like this. Photo taken close to Catavina Town.
And this. Just look at how green the valley is! There are even visible green patches on the hill. Shameless selfie taken on a hike to view Cochimi cave paintings.
I am also glad to have classmates who know a lot about desert flora, pointing out the different types of plants we come across. I especially enjoyed learning about the desert from Rafael Villavicencio, the "chief" of Rancho San Gregorio. (Rafael is a computer guy turned traditional healer. He reminds me very much of Dr. Ghani, medical doctor practicing traditional Malay medicine in Langkawi.) Life is tough in the desert of Baja California but it provides for the survival of many generations of people and animals. It provides enough.

Rafael conducting an ethnobotany walk for the class. In this picture, I think Rafael was explaining about the palo verde tree, which is a source of food for horses and branches can be used to make tea.
Rafael explaining how the Villavicencio family has farmed in the desert for a long time. Behind him is a grape vine he or one of his relatives planted. The family has also planted date palm trees!
Fruits of the nopal (Opuntia cactus), also known as the "prickly pear". This is just one of the few examples of the sustenance provided by the desert. This fruit is surprisingly juicy, an apt snack after a walk in a 48 degrees Celsius desert with little to no clouds. The other parts of the nopal can also be eaten. We had a nopal salad on a couple of meals. Guys, I ate CACTUS.
I am still in awe of how alive a desert can look.

Another surprisingly place to have green is on a mostly barren volcanic island about 800km away from Rancho San Gregorio in the Sea of Cortez. The class got to check out the cutest mangrove forest ever here. The craziest part of it all is that there is no freshwater visible on the island, with little rainfall too, and then BOOM! (insert "Surprise mutha..." Dexter meme) A thriving mangrove forest relying on saltwater.

See how cute these stunted mangroves look? It looks like a species of Rhizophora. I think the mangroves here are short because a lot of their energy are being used to desalinate the saltwater for freshwater for survival instead of growth in height. If this is true, what an amazing adaptability!
My Baja EE definitely reminded me that nature, or life, will find a way to survive and then thrive in the future. It is an inspiration to me as I continue being involved in conservation work in Malaysia.

This is just one of the few entries I am going to be writing about this EE. I am not sure when the next entry will be, but stay tuned? There are plenty yet to be shared. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Zwitterion Watermark.

On the photos I take on my camera, I usually have the JonChan watermark on them. I would like to think that my JonChan photos are some sort of "semi-pro" level.

For the "less-pro" or candid type of shots, I have created a watermark to go with the photos I choose to publish on this blog. Since the blog's name is Life is a Zwitterion, I thought of making a zwitterionic molecule as my watermark.
The 3-D model of aspartic acid, also known as aspartame, from Wikipedia. Credit link in body text. The white represents hydrogen, red oxygen, blue nitrogen, and black carbon. Around pH 2.8, the right side of the molecule is negatively charged while the nitrogen part of the molecule is positively charged.
I found a really nice 3-D model of aspartame on Wikipedia and used Inkscape (for the first time) to draw a 2-D of this zwitterionic molecule. Check out the most childish watermark you have ever seen in your life:
You will see the debut of this watermark on some of my photos I shared in my previous blog entry about Gunung Raya.
I did ask my super talented best bud, Kenneth, to help me with this. I bet it will be nicer and I may choose to use his instead of mine. Haha. (Check out what he helped me made for a project.)


Kenneth showed me his version of his 2-D rendering of the aspartic acid and wow, way more sleek than mine.

This guy got skills. Thanks, Kenneth!
I like so much that I think I will be using this watermark for my "candid" shots from my cellphone.

Kenneth's Life Is A Zwitterion watermark on a photo of a relatively small Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) chilling outside the boardroom at work. Ain't it a beautiful lizard? I wanted to place a coin or a pen for scale but I was afraid it will bite my finger. They have sharp teeth
If you think Kenneth should start a blog to show off his creative designs, leave positive comments in the comment section. Come on, Kenneth. Embrace your creative side!