With so many earth-shattering and momentous events, we in Malaysia and people elsewhere around the globe will remember 2008 for a long time to come. We have never seen more destructive hurricanes, earth-quakes, floods, landslides in one calendar year. I believe that these are sure signs of climate change due in large part to our disregards for environment in our relentless pursuit for a more consumptive and wasteful life styles. Our global community is battered by escalating fuel and food crisis, followed by a melt down in the global financial systems. It is the greed in our hearts that is the root of these problems.
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay, Myanmar – world’s Longest Teak Wood Bridge, 2 km long
Amid the gloom and doom, there were glimmers of hope yet for our earth and humanity. I like the James Lovelock Gaia Theory that the earth will correct itself and not self-destruct. Humanity can correct itself too. Take for example the results of the general election in Malaysia and the election of Obama as the President of USA. Excesses will bring forth correction. Mistakes will bring forth realization. Realization will bring forth change. Once we feel the need for change, no army in the world will stop that inevitable change.
The 2008 food crisis especially shortages in rice, presents an opportunity for a rice agronomist like me to use my expertise. Escalating prices of rice worldwide whips up intense interest by investors to look for opportunity to produce this commodity in some countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar where there are natural endowment for rice production. In July, a few retired rice experts and I were invited by my employer to Cambodia to check out the possibility. In December, I took a group of 13 Malaysian Nature Society members to Myanmar not primarily to check out rice growing but back-packing to see this ancient Buddhist country. I find that both countries have vast potential to increase their rice output, if the present governing regimes can open up their countries and let market forces work its magic to increase productivity.
The same group of retired rice technocrats and experts here in the rice bowl of Malaysia (if I may qualify myself as one of them) is contemplating of forming an informal group over the internet to foster rice production through discussion and exchange of ideas. We have no lofty or altruistic ideals other than trying to keep ourselves professionally active. Alas, none of us have enough computing expertise to start this initiative. However, we have been invited to give our view in increasing rice productivity in a national seminar on Food security organized by CropLife and Public Health Malaysia in December.
My involvement in the rice seed industry continues. It is note worthy that the Malaysian rice seed industry has entered the commercial phase and it will continue to play a role in spreading the high yielding varieties to the farmers while helping the mills to improve milling recovery through better and purer harvest. At the 5th National Seed Symposium held earlier in the e year, I presented a paper on the commercialization of the rice seed industry in Malaysia and subsequently elected to sit in the committee of the newly formed National Seed Association of Malaysia.
My interest in nature conservation continues via the Malaysian Nature Society Kedah branch. The last tract of forests in Ulu Muda Kedah (about 170,000 hectares, twice the size of Perlis state) in the eastern slopes of the main mountain range which serve as the water catchment areas for the 3 dams to irrigate the Muda scheme and provide water for domestic and industrial uses, are being threatened to be logged again by the newly elected but cash-strapped Kedah State Government. MNS Kedah is fighting to preserve this pristine forest by joining forces with a coalition of about 20 NGOs. A public forum was organized and we got help from a state assemblyman. It will a dream come true if this piece of natural “paradise” is turned into a National Park to preserve its rich biodiversity while maintaining the water harvesting function.
My daughter, Sue Ling, just finished her 4th year of Medical school and I really look forward to the day in early 2010 when she passes the final exam. It would be a relief financially for me then as it costs more than an arm and a leg to finance medical studies in a private institution. As she turned 24, I asked if she has found a candidate for her life partner. Her terse reply was “I have yet to find someone worthy of marriage!” So here is a potential candidate for the presidency of the Old Mates Association of Alor Star!
Talking of life partner, I’ve been a widower for 4 years now. Every now and then, friends (even my Mother-in-law!) out of concerns, will ask if I have found someone to take care of me, presumably when I am old, feeble, and invalid! Reality is sweet young things will fall for rich old man, not bald and poor old geezers like me! That’s that. Instead of finding a life partner, I got a Labrador Retriever puppy (Fluffy) and within 6 month he has grown to a big, sweet-natured and friendly big dog. Along with my old dog Jackie, Fluffy gives me and Sue Ling companionship. See photo of Fluffy below.
Fluffy, my Labrador
The annual year end back-pack trip to Myanmar is an eye opener. It opens my eyes that a closed and isolated economy will not progress, that soldiers should stick to their job of protecting instead of ruling a country. In a globalised world, inflow of technology, capital, and free trade will prosper a nation. My hearts and those members in my group went out to the Burmese people who have to live a hard life under such repressive and corrupted misrule. However, we did enjoyed the walk up to the Golden Rock Temple in Kyaitiyo where men only are allowed to paste gold paper on that precariously perched rock and make a wish. We thoroughly enjoyed the views and sunset of the thousands of stupas and temples scattered in the wide plain of Bagan on horse cart and bicycles. The cruise on a long boat enjoying the cool air and clear water of the Inle Lake too was another high point of the trip.
In short, I have had a great year against the run of events. Hope you have a great one too. 2009 will be a difficult year as recession is predicted to hit us hard. Let’s be audacious to hope and dream. We can all make it through unscathed alright.
Lastly, here’s my parting words to you, my friend whoever you are and wherever you may be:
“May you have enough happiness to make you sweet,
Photo taken at Bagan, Myanmar. December 15, 2008
The leg-rowing Inle Lake fisherman
enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow
to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy”
F. K Phang,