Thesis Writing Progress – Sea Turtle Egg Sale

Recently I realised that if I force myself to write, eventually there will be something on the draft. Sometimes I could not figure out what to write or how to go about it and it is easier to take a break and not think about it. However, if I keep thinking about it, I will eventually figure it out.

Yesterday, I started the section titled “Sea Turtle Egg Collectors, Sellers and Middlemen”. Then I got stuck. Surprisingly, I managed to put words down eventually and rearrange the structure. I had breaks in between to visit Fifi’s grave and go for Zumba. Usually I like to wind down the day with something more relaxing and does not require any critical thinking – watching movies or reading a book. But yesterday I decided to continue writing until I feel tired. At one point, my brain felt saturated so I stopped. I tried to sleep but it was past 4am and I was still awake. I thought I would start the next day late but Farah called and that woke me up. Today I continued writing on the section I had started yesterday. Ta da, it was done by 3.40pm. This means I had finished writing one of the interactions titled “Sea Turtle Eggs as a Traded Commodity”.

The next interaction listed on my draft is “Sea Turtles in Conservation”. As usual, I already feel that it is daunting as I don’t know where to begin. Writing is hard because I am sure this will not be the final version. There will be more corrections, rewriting and restructuring. I wish I know of a better way to write faster. My aim is to finish the results chapter before Chinese New Year.

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.


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.

New resolution in life

PhD is my Disneyland. It is a goal to finish it, but yes, how much longer? Am I there yet?

Along the journey, I discover that I am a novice in social science research, who often feel that I lack the skills and experience to do interview-based research. As I transcribe the interviews, I can see what went wrong with the way I phrase my questions as well as when I asked the questions. It bothers me because then I think, shit, will I be able to eventually get it right and gather the information I need?

After watching this video, I realised that I feel like that because I focus so much on the goal that I missed out on the values I gain throughout the journey. What went wrong in the initial data collection provides an opportunity to learn and improve. The more interviews I did, the more I get to practise and improve. I learn not to interrupt or ‘fill in the blanks’ to their answers. I learn to phrase open-ended questions to understand the meaning of their words. I learn to keep my conservation views to myself and not to have any preconceptions about their conservation perspectives. It did not occur to me how much I have learned from just doing the research as I am too occupied worrying when I will complete the study.

I am the kind of person who needs a fixed structure, following guidelines of how to do (which is why I like reading step-by-step instructions). But then there is no direct step-by-step guideline in conducting in-dept interviews. It is not like using a washing machine; first, I press the on/off button, then I choose the programme (speedy, water level, etc), pour in washing powder/liquid and click start. Voila, it starts washing my clothes. All I do the next time is repeat the same steps.

However, qualitative research using interviews is not like running a washing machine or any other machines. When the machine does not work, then something is wrong, and there will be no data. When that happens, I need to set it right, e.g. setting the parameters to ensure that the machine runs accordingly. Well, it is just not like that in research involving humans where nothing is really under control.

Since I am not doing questionnaire surveys, my questions are not fixed, meaning my questions are rephrased when I interview different people. It is something I learn, not just to listen, but to know how to ask the right questions while still being sensitive to their and my body language. There are no step-by-step guidelines to that. A lot of times I think, damn, it is easier studying animals. I trap squirrel A and I collect biometric data. Then I trap squirrel B and do that same. Different squirrels may respond differently to physical capture but what I do is repetitive.

Hence, I do not find social science research particularly simple or straight forward. Well, studying humans or anything human-related is neither simple nor straight forward since humans are complex and complicated, filled with emotions and whatsoever. Nonetheless, it has been an enlightening path and the values I get would probably help in one way or another to deal or work with different people in conservation.

Well, I am not trying to set new year resolutions merely because a new year has just begun. It is just something that struck me while I watched this video about goal-focused life and value-focused life. So I’d say have goals in life and also value the process of achieving the goals. I guess that is what mindfulness is, or in other words, live in the moment!