2019 – Stay Strong and Have Faith

Wow, I did not realise my last post was in January. I have not written anything since. I have not been active in updating any updates or posts on social media as well. I actually find all of it daunting. With all the writing (for my PhD) and posting (for study- and work-related) on social media, I just do not feel like writing anything else that is not required. In fact, this year I read more books than the years before. What I miss about blogging is not so much about writing but more of reading back on places I have been, things I have done, people I have met. It brings back memories. As usual, before a new year begins, I reflect upon the current year before it ends and write a blog about it so that I could read back again in the future on the year of 2019.

India

I love to travel, to explore into the unknown. It feels exhilarating. However, this year I travelled abroad less. The only trip abroad that I planned was to India for Salima’s wedding. Thankfully she got married, otherwise India would still be on my bucket list of countries to visit. It was a hectic yet very meaningful trip. As usual I wish we had stayed longer. It was my first Indian Wedding in India and the preparation and packing were quite stressful. Of all my life, I had never put on a sari or any Indian attire. I am glad that a few Indian friends lent us their saris and lenghas. We managed to prepare a few different attires for different wedding events. Before the wedding, we spent a few days in Mumbai to explore the city. We even went shopping in Mumbai for accessories. Dad needed his too! Guys always had it easier, I think. Mumbai was much exciting and safer than I thought. People were polite and friendly too. Food tasted better than I thought although Dad was pretty much done with roti and Chicken Briyani by the end of our stay there. Thankfully, no food poisoning or diarrhea. The weather was hot during the day. I could not fathom the way they drive there. No rules applied and the honking was insane! We met so many scouts and guides there which made our daily schedule packed. If we had more days there, perhaps the meetups could be spread out so that our days were more relaxed. Not only were we attending different wedding events, in between we were scheduled to meet scouts and guides and attend different scout events. There were times where I just wanted to stay in and rest. Nonetheless, I really appreciate the warm hospitality. While I was walking on the streets in Mumbai, I realised how much I miss travelling. I remember telling myself “I wish I could do this every day”! It felt energising. The longer I am in my PhD journey, the more I feel tied up to it. This means if there is no solid reason for me to do something (non-related to my PhD), then my conscience reminds me constantly that I should be writing my thesis. This is one of the reasons I have not been able to plan another trip other than India. There was no reason to. In 2020, instead of letting my thesis tied me down, grounded at a place, I am going to make it a point to travel more. Life passes by each day and time flies. Just gotta go with the heart and do it.

YSEALI Boot Camp

YSEALI started in 2014. Back then I was interested to apply for the Professional Fellowship. Five weeks in the US sounds like once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, I was not eligible to apply and by the time I finish my PhD, I would be past the eligible age. I grabbed an opportunity (PhD) and missed the other opportunity (YSEALI), that’s life I suppose. When I saw the advert for YSEALI Boot Camp 2019, I was debating for a long time whether or not to apply. It was not just a 2-day boot camp, the winning teams would have to execute the solution they pitched. I did not think I have the time for another project. In the end, I applied after knowing Wid and Melisa were joining. Little did I expect that our pitch would be the winning pitch. I barely remember what I learned throughout the 2-day boot camp. At that time I was actually confused (big time) with what we were supposed to do. In such a confusion, I was surprised that we won. USD2,000 was not a lot but the project that we had to execute required a lot of commitment and time. It sounded simple, the planning looked straight forward but there were challenges and frustrations. But hell, we managed to co-organise the Run for River Terrapin with the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. During the grand finale, I felt relief that it was over. I still remember one of the slogan “Never Too Young to Lead”. It did not relate so much to me who was already 35 years old. “Never Too Old to Lead” would have been more appropriate. Their enthusiasm was really something! Although I could not apply for the Professional Fellowship, I am glad for the opportunity to join the YSEALI Boot Camp. It would be my first and last YSEALI programme because I am now past the eligible age of 18-35 years old.

(Virtual) Run for River Terrapin 2019

During the YSEALI Boot Camp, we were tasked to brainstorm a solution to a local problem faced by a local NGO. Our team, Hungry, pitched a solution for the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) to raise public awareness about the society and its work in conserving freshwater turtles as well as to raise funds for them to carry out conservation and research work. In a team of five people, we proposed to organise a physical run in conjunction with the TCS annual river terrapin release programme in October. However, we decided to organise a virtual run instead so that the project could be completed before the deadline at the end of September. Few of the main challenges included (1) coordinating among team members as everyone had their own schedule and other commitments, (2) promoting the run to get more people to register and (3) troubleshooting issues encountered by runners while tracking their run using the app. Nonetheless, we managed to pull it through with Daryl being the main force in making sure that tasks were completed. We had lots of support from TCS, BiiB+ (the online platform/app we used for this) and Me.reka. It was a great experience. This idea was pitched with the aim to make it an annual event. Lessons learned from the first time orginising this event could be used to anticipate and mitigate issues so that the upcoming events would run more smoothly, reach out to more people and raise more funds. Besides being in the organising team, I also participated in the run with my family and friends. I do not particularly enjoy running but in that month I walked/jogged between 5-15km every day. I did not know where I got the motivation from but seeing my parents walked every day pushed me to do the same. It was like a competition. I felt relieved when the run ended. I was more than ready to go back to swimming and Zumba.

Sea Turtle Photo-ID Project

I have a thing for photo-identifying sea turtles. I like looking at the scale patterns. Since the start of a photo-ID project in the Perhentians, more and more sea turtle projects are starting to identify individual sea turtles using this methods. All of us are a part of the Malaysian Sea Turtle Photo-ID Network. SEATRU is the last to join the network in 2019. Thanks to Lyvia and SEATRU for making this happen, from bunting design (check out the bunting here!), distributing buntings to receiving sighting photos from citizen scientists. Not many members of the public have submitted sighting photos but we hope to engage more people. Szabina also helped in collecting sighting photos on nesting beaches. Sea turtle conservation has begun at Redang since the 1980s but conservation efforts focus primarily on nesting beaches. Photo-ID is a cost-effective and less invasive way to identify sea turtles in the water but gets more time consuming as the database increases.

Minggu Penyelidikan dan Inovasi (MPI) 2019

Thanks for SEATRU’s involvement in taking part in this Research and Innovation Week, I had the opportunity to participate and be part of the team. Lyvia and I submitted an entry to present about the photo-ID project at Redang Island. However, the project at Redang Island had yet to begin so we used the outcome from the Perhentian Turtle Project to show how a citizen science sea turtle photo-ID project could raise the interest and engage the public in sea turtle conservation. At the same time, it helps us to better understand about the sea turtle populations, for example the number of individuals present in an area and the threats they face. I truly enjoy myself during MPI as there were a lot of other interesting research and innovation being presented, not only from higher education institutions but high school students! Very proud of SEATRU for winning the special prize for their Turtle Lab at Taaras Redang Resort. Besides, Lyvia and I also won a bronze medal for the photo-ID project. Overall, it was a great experience.

International Congress of Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2019

The ICCB is an international conference that brings people from a diverse fields of study in conservation together. Attending it in home country was an advantage for Malaysians as we could save up a lot more than attending one abroad. It was nice to catch up with friends and meeting people whom I only knew from social medias. There were so many concurrent sessions, making it hard to decide which to attend. The schedule was back-to-back from morning until night. Every day was well spent, listening to other people’s work, meeting new people, learning new knowledge, etc. It was a place to listen to conservation optimism stories and get inspiration from others. Definitely hope to attend it again in the future!

Fifi (My Cat) and My Aunt

My aunt and my cat left one after another within three days. It was the lowest point in my life this year. Not long after Fifi stopped eating on her own, my aunt was hospitalised after a stroke. We had hope that they would get better but they left in the end. It was already sad to grieve for my aunt. When Fifi left, I was devastated. The loss was unbearable, knowing that she won’t be around anymore in the house or rubbing herself against our feet. There was guilt, wondering if we could have done something earlier to save her. She was only with us for less than 3 years but she was already our family. She did not just come into our house but she entered our hearts and brought so much joy and companionship. I never knew it would hurt so much when a pet leaves. Pets are not just pets, they are indeed our family. The only comfort of their passing was to know that they were no longer in pain. As a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, I am hoping the next life would be a good one. I hope Fifi will have a healthy life.

Paper Publication

This deserves to be mentioned here as writing this paper took three years plus until it was accepted for publication. Allim and I started writing separately in mid 2016. It was not until November 2016 that Dr. Ja, our supervisor, began organising writing sessions to work on the paper together. We first submitted the draft to a journal in mid 2017. After not hearing back from them for half a year, my supervisor wrote in to inquire about the status. It turned out they had not sent it to the reviewers. Three months later in March 2018, we were informed that the paper was rejected. On the positive side, there were comments to improve the draft. At that time, we thought that paper could be split into two papers. My supervisor suggested to take out a part to make it into another paper. I did but just to find out from my supervisor later that the paper would not make sense without the part that was taken out. So we worked on the initial draft but improved it before sending it to another journal in November 2018. It was not until November 2019 that the paper was accepted. In between, there were lots of comments to address and corrections to do. It felt like the paper would never see the light of being published. I am glad that it is done as I have read the draft so many times that I could not work on it anymore.

Final Thoughts

These are a few of the more significant events that happened this year. Another important aspect of my life is finishing my thesis. Finally I am able to put my thoughts down in words and sent my supervisor a draft. As expected, I need to rewrite and restructure. To me writing a thesis is hard. I can’t wait to get it done and begin a new chapter in life! I look forward to 2020. When I was in primary school, our Prime Minister talked about Vision 2020. At that time, 2020 seemed like a far far distance away and I could barely imagine what I would be doing or where I would be in 2020. Time flies indeed. There is so much I want to do, I just have to get this done once and for all.

GE14: A historic day to remember in Malaysia

9 May, 2018, the day I voted for the third time in the Malaysian general election since I turned 21. Before I reached the age eligible for voting, I used to watch the TV with my parents for the announcement of the results. The results were almost always as expected. The previous ruling government, the National Front (Barisan Nasional, in short BN) always led by a huge number of votes and there was no doubt they would definitely continue to be the government for the next 5 years.

As much as I hope for a change of government in Malaysia, I was not too confident that the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan, in short PH), which is the other coalition party, could actually sway enough voters to win the majority seats contested. It has proven to be so in the past. For this reason, the 14th general election (GE14) is definitely a historic moment showing that nothing is impossible. It shows how strong the power of people is and Malaysians have made their voice loud and clear that they want a change in the government for a better future. I, like many others, had spent hours watching the changing numbers of seats won by various parties. At some point, it looked like a close tie between BN and PH. The anxiousness and excitement of not knowing who would eventually win the majority were similar to watching Dato’ Lee Chong Wei playing against Lin Dan in a badminton match.

I am not a big fan of politics. I always term politics as dirty, a game played by players who put their personal interest in front of the interest of the people and nation. Even for someone who does not keep abreast with the current news on politics and economics (pardon me for my lack of interest and knowledge across a diverse field), the news 1MDB scandal was so huge that I could not contain my curiousity on that matter but to read it up. Then I learned a new word – kleptocracy and when I checked its definition, OMG. I was wordless. From conversations I heard around me, names came up and issues came up. Although I couldn’t quite make sense of the stories, they all smelled fishy, leading to none other than corruption and misappropriation of citizen funds that do not benefit the citizens but we citizens will bear the debt from these scandals.

So since the GE14, on every social media that I frequently visit, I came across videos taken during the campaign period as well as articles from the past and videos of the debate between members of parliaments on many dubious development projects in Malaysia. Not only that, there are constant updates every day that capture my interest and makes it hard to not follow them. When will Tun M be sworn in as the Prime Minister? What happens to the hung assembly in Sabah and Perak? What, our previous Prime Minister and his wife are blacklisted and barred from leaving the country? Wow, we have a Council of Elders! Seriously, this is like watching a series of Malaysian politics in episodes, revealing the story plot bits by bits, except this is real, not fiction. One thing for sure is we have a government that shouts for transparency, accountability and corruption-free. We have done our part to make the impossible possible, it is now the people whom we have voted do their part to uphold their promises.

What puzzles me still is, how did the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) win the state of Terengganu and Kelantan? I was so confused. People said vote for the moon, to change for once. I thought ubah (or change) means vote for PH. Besides, PAS is not in the coalition party of PH, neither are they part of BN. I must have been living in a different planet to be missing the point here. All these years, BN and PAS have the strongest and longer presence in Terengganu. When people want to vote for the opposition, it has always been PAS, without fail. Rumours are many rules and regulations will come to place like shutting down of the cinema, etc. In my opinion, these are just speculations, which may or may not happen. What will happen is what we will find out along the way. They are the government the people chose so let’s give them one term to serve us, the people in Terengganu.

The right to vote has never felt so meaningful. The core of democracy – a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Looking forward to a better Malaysia.

Beware of Scammers: Anyone Can Be a Target

It is not unusual to hear scam stories happening to family members, relatives or friends. Almost everyone would know someone who had been scammed before. Some are lucky to realise it before it is too late. Every time we hear such stories, we often wonder how it had happen, and how did they not “see” through such blatant scams. Nonetheless, anyone can be a target if they are not aware, and if they don’t notice the warning signs.

I was almost scammed today but I was lucky enough to see the warning signs and cut off the conversation. To begin telling the story, I have to turn back time to the day it first started. A scammer began texting me on Instagram like 10 day ago. I was wrong to believe that there would not be messages from strangers after I uninstalled WeChat a few years ago. As long as we are on social media, we are vulnerable to scammers. Conversation was casual, mostly daily greetings and how were things at work. So nothing sexual or too personal, but perhaps if the conversation had gone towards that direction, I would have cut it off then. A few days ago, the scammer asked for my address to post a parcel as a surprise. I thought it was weird to post a parcel to someone we barely know, but nevertheless I gave my work address. Yesterday, the scammer warned me that due to some paperwork issues, I might need to pay for the overcharge of the postage. I thought well, let’s see how much that would cost. This morning, the scammer messaged that the courier company couldn’t reach me on my phone. I received a SMS requesting me to pay RM4,600 overweight charges. How ridiculous! So I told the scammer that I did not have the money, would not receive the parcel and that they could deliver the parcel back. It was really weird when the scammer kept saying don’t worry, it is okay, just pay the overcharge to accept the parcel. He started to ask for my bank details to bank in little money. I insisted no, and said that I would report to the police if they force me to receive the parcel. My last sentence was “Ok. That’s it. Everything sounds very fishy and like a scam. I am sorry but I will have to stop the conversation.”, and I blocked their numbers.

Long gone are the days where people/strangers get in touch with good intention. Not to say there is no goodness in humans, but to remind ourselves to be more careful when strangers approach virtually or face-to-face. I am sharing this with the hope to raise awareness. Cops also warn of the new parcel scam. Ironically, we read about the scams going on in the country, we somehow know about it from newspapers, media, internet, but there are still people who fall for it. Scammers continue to do what they do best every day, targeting anyone, or simply everyone. There is no free lunch in this world, and wealth doesn’t come overnight unless you win a lottery. So, if something is too good to be true, it is. We might continue to receive scam emails or text messages, but we need to be aware and more careful not to disclose anything personal and end up as a victim. I am glad I noticed it before it was too late.

Goodbye 2016!

2016 came before I was ready for it and it is ending before I am ready for 2017. A year seems long and there is so much one can do but I have not really felt like I have accomplished a lot. It is the year where my life changed from working to studying. If I am honest to myself, work has been more fulfilling than doing a PhD. Nonetheless, it has been a unique experience, and most of the time, a learning process.

First is attending conferences, which is something fun, especially meeting people. It’s a great way to get more exposure, learn about what other people do and gain new perspectives. It also provides a valid reason to travel!

Second is writing. It probably comes naturally to some but not so much for me. It requires intense thinking to do good writing. It takes me so long to figure out how to structure what I want to write so that the story flows. Sometimes I can’t find the right vocabulary and sometimes the grammar just doesn’t sound right. I find reading other people’s work particularly helpful, such as the way the authors present their arguments in a way that flows nicely.

Third is reading. I enjoy reading to know the content. Now, that’s not enough. I start to pay notice of how the authors write. The vocabularies they use and the way they phrase their sentences. I also start taking notes as I will never know if what I read could be useful when I write. I might need to cite their work, and if I don’t take note, I usually end up reading it again. Of course, nothing wrong with that but it just takes time to read and process.

Fourth is learning to be a social scientists. Many, including me, probably thought what’s so hard about interviewing people. In natural science research, designing the methods is important. And doing social science research is the same. How interviews are conducted requires careful design too! Plus interviewing people itself is a skill, especially for research. It is a lot about talking to people, just that non-research related talking can be random and full of crap.

Since I am living a postgraduate’s life, it is not surprising that my learning process revolves around the academic world. From times to times, I do other stuff, but not much. That is because every time I do stuff that is not related to my study, I feel guilty. Every time I think of the vacation I want to make, it remains a dream, and I tell myself, after I finish my study. PhD is really like a marathon. From where I am now, I can’t see the end. I just keep moving or stay put. I dare not do other stuff as I am afraid I will go off track, which may lead me further from the end destination. Therefore, my life in 2017 would most likely be similar to 2016, but let’s see as one never knows what lies ahead in life!

2015 – Annus Mirabilis

How fast time flies, a year has gone by just like that. It has been a wonderful year. I have accomplished a lot of what I had set out to do this year. Of course there is always more to achieve, goals set for another year.

In mind, I was planning to spend my time between my postgrad research and establishing a turtle project. In reality, I spent all my time and effort in setting up the project. Regrets? No. Even if I could turn back time, I would have done the same thing. Nothing beats living the dream. It has not been easy and there have always been challenges but everything has been worth the effort in the name of translating “science” to “conservation” on the ground.

In the midst of working hard, my experiences taught me a lot about life and people. One thing that I always have to remind myself is nobody is alike! Nobody works alike, nobody thinks alike, which makes individuals unique. It is not fair to put my expectation I have on myself onto others. To be honest, this is not imprint in my mind, at least not yet and I am still trying to get it so I am glad to be surrounded by people who try their very best to work with me.

I am grateful for everyone who came into my life and for everything that happened. It is for you all that it has been a miraculous year and to that, thank you! Bye bye 2015 and Happy New Year. Let 2016 be another great year!

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GE13 – is it democracy?

As far as I can remember, I have always stayed out of politics. I have never been interested in politics. For me, politics is dirty. Nobody in politics is not corrupted. All these years living in my home country, although feeling very unsatisfied for not having equal rights as a Malaysian, I gradually learned to accept it. Like many, I learned not to depend on the government, knowing that if I want something, I have to work for it.

When I was younger, living abroad opened up my mind. Nobody could understand how a democratic country like Malaysia doesn’t even have equal rights! I have foreigner friends who strongly commented that Malaysians should stand up for what we want. Peaceful demonstration is common abroad but in Malaysia, it isn’t so. Malaysians are not allowed to voice out what we think. Before the Internal Security Act was repealed, it allows for detention without trial or criminal charges under limited, legally defined circumstances. Due to this, I would never participate in any demonstrations. I even thought it is not effective and a waste of time. Although demonstrations can sometimes be a hindrance to the public, it is enough to just draw the citizens’ attention to it! Most news updates on TV, radio and newspapers have been edited as how the government wants people to perceive them. Through demonstration, it is another way to get a different message across to the public.

I always thought, one day, I will migrate. I realised many Malaysians choose to migrate too, if the opportunity arises. I have lived in Switzerland and everyone is proud to be a Swiss. I can understand that my ancestors originated in China but I was born in Malaysia. Legally, I am right down to the core a Malaysian! Why should we be divided by race? It is because of all the inequality in Malaysia that many don’t see ourselves as Malaysians but by races, eg. Malays, Chinese, Indians, etc. If everyone was equal and had the same right, would anyone complain that the government is only helping certain race? I love that Malaysia is indeed truly Asia as we live in a diverse country. Nobody should be outcast because of race. We are all Malaysians regardless of the origin of our ancestors.

Although corruption and bribery are nothing new in Malaysia, it has become worse. Malaysia Boleh (Malaysia Can) is supposed to be a motivating slogan. However, if it is interpreted differently, it can also mean anything is possible in Malaysia, especially with corruption and bribery. I can’t remember since when cash for votes became a norm. How much can a few hundreds Ringgit help us Malaysians in the long run? Is giving out money blindly the solution to curb poverty? This is what happen when the government started to ‘buy’ the citizens with money. Money should never be the motivation but once began, it could not stop. This billions of ringgit could have instead be used towards projects with long-term benefits to all Malaysians, such as implementing regular rubbish collection from islands to mainland.

Majority of us Malaysians want a change (UBAH) for a better future. Although most political parties are associated to a certain race or religion, we have to keep in mind that in the end, we are all Malaysians! No matter what race or religion we are, we all want the same thing. 55 years under the same government, Malaysia has developed in all aspects including corruption and bribery. Does it really matter that much where our ancestors came from? We were born and raised in Malaysia, doesn’t that count as much as being the citizens of Malaysia? If this is not our home, where else is? I realised how important a government is. They can either make or break the country! As a Malaysian, I just want to live in a fair and clean country in true harmony where I can call home!

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country. – Franklin D. Roosevelt – 

A new season

Does a new season means the end of winter that welcomes spring? For those who works on an island or who is involved in turtle work would have a fair idea what a season is. For me, although it is my second year at Ecoteer Perhentian Project, it is also the start of a new season, which should imply the end of the monsoon. However, it is not the case here, at least not now. It is still raining and the weather has remained the same for almost one week. It just feels refreshing…like a brand new start for 2013.

After leaving the island for about 3 months, it feels good to be back. Everything is like deja vu all over again, mostly in a good way but some problems still stay the same. For the past few days, while preparing for the start of the project, it reminds me of how much I had seen, experienced, learned and grown in one year. From an amateur who faced various obstacles to being good at work, not perfect but at least I did my best. More importantly, I have great friends who are not afraid to tell me my weaknesses and how to improve them. I gotta admit, it is way easier to be a follower but it is time to manage instead of doing everything like a kuli. Hopefully, with another great team, it will be a fantastic season!

A friend used to ask me to look at what I had achieved last year, instead of what I hadn’t. The positive feeling can be a motivation to do more and better. As I started to look back, I realised how much I had accomplished and how fortunate I was to have help from all the wonderful people. I sincerely hope that the new season will be GREAT!

Fated?

To experience another land through work and travel visa has been in my head for years. However, due to certain reasons, I never had the chance to apply for any. It still isn’t a plan to apply this year until 10 days ago when my friend mentioned about it over FB chat that another friend of ours thought of applying. Then I thought, this year might be my last year to apply (sucks to grow older), why not give it a shot? So I started to google about the application, even asked a few friends about it.

I actually wanted to travel and volunteer after the season ends this year in November, most probably around Asia or Central and South America. I know one day will come that I would feel the urge to visit New Zealand but just not yet. Still I had already decided to apply for the visa. After consulting a friend, I realised I have to renew my passport in order to do so. Luckily, I flew back to Malaysia 2 days before the application started so I actually had the time to renew my passport.

Unfortunately, sometimes things just don’t happen as planned. Thinking that I had everything ready, all I had to do is wake up at 5am on the day the application would be opened. I managed to fill in the online application but as I was about to click to pay, it said quote had been filled up! That was within 40 minutes! Hell!!! My close friend faced the same problem except that the payment page showed up after she refreshed a few times. I obviously did the same but without much luck!

I did feel frustrated but at the same time I felt kinda relief because it also means I could then travel elsewhere. More options available. Even so, I still wished my payment had gone through as my close friend is going and I so wanna travel with her! Thinking on the bright side, I believe everything happens for a reason and sometimes some things might be fated. Life is full of surprises and it unfolds itself, most of the time, unexpectedly AMAZING! One good news is I could still try next year or just visit New Zealand under a tourist visa! 🙂

The Best Buddha’s Quote!

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不悲过去,非贪未来,心系当下,由此安详 《釋迦牟尼》

This is the one philosophy that has always stick with me. Easy to understand but not necessarily easy to practise it! Instead of enjoying the moment, I probably have spent so much time looking back and thinking about the past, otherwise planning and feeling anxious about the future. If I keep planning ahead, I won’t be able to concentrate on the present moment which would later become a past that I will think back. Life is short, enjoy the present and live life to the fullest with no regrets!