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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
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Year-End Message 2009

© by F. K Phang
......the Chinese adage: “Time flies like an arrow!”......

Time whizzes by ever so swiftly in 2009. Before we know it, it’s is gone! I now appreciate the Chinese adage: “Time flies like an arrow!” We all remember how time seems to drag on when we were kids. Perhaps we were over anxious to be grow-ups so that we can do all the fun things adults do. How irony now that we have reached the age when we can have the time and money to do the things we longed for so long to do and time has to flash by so quickly.


The Khon Phapheng Falls at Si Phan Don, Laos

While the world recovers and emerges slowly from the financial quagmire created by the greedy, insatiable, and self-serving wizards trained by the ivy leagues and institutions we revered, our Planet continues to be hammered by year long natural calamities. Whatever causes this mess but we can say with certainty that this is caused in no small measure by our collective actions to pursue material gains and creature comforts. The world still can’t agree to take concrete steps and collective actions to halt the climate change in Copenhagen.

I lost a few good friends here in 2009. The untimely demise of my former colleague Dato’ S. Jegatheesan, and old friends in the hashing fraternity KC Wong, and Ooi Kok Hoe. May they rest in peace. I lost my varsity classmate AK Wong too when he was just about to enjoy his retirement years.

I continue to do in 2009 what I did in the previous years. I am employed by a major rice seed company here in Alor Star, Kedah as adviser and this rice seed company has expanded its business and overtaken the rivals. Much of the success is due to the fore-sight and the long-term planning of the owner and his LSE trained son, besides of course the sound business acumen he possesses. I hope his success is also due partly to my counsel too. Rice agronomists, as with most other professionals in the agricultural sector, are fading into the sunset with no successors in sight. Thus services of retired agriculturists will continue to be sought after although this state of affairs does not auger well for our country that still depends on agriculture i.e. palm oils, to survive and self sufficiency in food remains a dream. Shameful actually considering that Malaysia is blessed with natural endowments for agriculture. This is one area the country needs to rectify, starting from the revival of the teaching of basic agriculture in the universities and other institutes of higher learning.


Fluffy, my Labrador

On a personal front, I must confess that living alone with 2 dogs can be described as fun but canine companionship can’t fill all the void within. Remember what I quoted in 2007 about the Buddha’s saying of how a man can be truly happy with 3 things:- Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for? Hope springs eternal from this optimist’s heat. No problem there. Yeah, my dogs especially the lovable and slightly zany big dog - Fluffy (See photo of Fluffy messing up the garden) can be a good companion and taking care of them give me something to do, but finding love isn’t a piece of cake especially when you are not actively pursuing it. My daughter Sue Ling will be graduating from Medical school early next year and I hope that she will not change her mind of doing her in-turn ship in the General Hospital here. Free board and lodging in exchange for companionship isn’t too bad a deal, right? But she may have other ambitions which I do not know of. Hopefully Alor Star is a big enough pond for a small fish like her unless she has grandiose plan for her career! Yes I realize my “little girl” is a young lady with dreams and schemes of life of her own. Anyway, youngsters today asks only for blessings and not permission. Yeah Sue, you sure have my blessings in whatever you choose.

I started a year-end backpack travel to neighbouring countries with friends and members of the Malaysian Nature Society when I lost my beloved wife in 2004. This year-end journey has become something I, and I’m sure the others in the group too, look forwards to. We all returned refreshed, refilled with ideas, energy, and inspirations. Besides, the camaraderie and fellowship make every trip so enjoyable. Now that almost all the members of this group have retired and their children have grown up, we may travel more and not just in December. Travel may be the best cure for the empty-nest syndrome yet!


Sunrise over Kinabatangan River

In October, I went to Sabah with a few MNS friends to attend the Borneo Bird fest in Sandakan. The East coast of Sabah is still full of nature, adventure, and unspoilt scenic spots. We went to Kinabantangan River to see the proboscis monkeys, a sure thing to see. But we did not get to see Orangutan here but we saw them at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre. We missed the pygmy elephants too. But we were aptly compensated by seeing the Oriental Darter and a most dreamy sunrise over the Kinabatangan River. (See Photo above).

We visited Lahat Datu and Somporna both towns with interesting fish markets. Of course we hopped over to stay over at Mabul Island to do snorkeling. I must recommend the islands off the East coast of Sabah to all who has yet to see the colourful fishes and corals under the sea. In Tawau Hill Park, we saw the tallest tropical tree, Shorea faguetiana, in the world. No matter how much we craned our necks, we could not see the canopy at the top, some 88.32 meter above the ground. Thank you Jenny and Pauline for organizing this trip.

Our group’s year-end tour always follow the route of the road less travelled. Our original plan to do Sumatra was cancelled due to the unexpected earthquake in Padang. I suggested Southern Laos. But Gila came up with the brilliant idea to visit Dalat highland in South Vietnam and do the overland route up Mekong river to Laos, Thailand and back by train along the isthmus of Kra from Bangkok to Alor Star. The group of 12 did exactly that. We flew to Saigon and rented a van to Dalat. The vast central highland is where the famous Vietnamese coffee beans are produced. Every household is drying their beans in their front yard. Judging by the nice stone houses, the coffee farmers are doing pretty well. This made the agriculturists in the group (Tan Dek, Gila, and me) exceptionally happy.

Dalat is described as kitsch by the guide book but we find this town delightfully European in design. Built around a man made lake right in the centre of town, Dalat definitely has a Western feel. Vietnamese cuisine is insipid and we can only sing praise for the rich coffee and delicious French loaf. Oh yes, the soybean curd (taufufa) here reputed to be sold by pretty ladies (not true) is good. The connoisseurs of taufufa in our group namely, Loong Wah and Shahrul, stuffed themselves silly with this delicacy every night at the “pasar malam” in Dalat. Eating a bowl of hot and sweet bean curd laced with ginger in the cold night of Dalat is something to savour of course.

From Dalat we stopped over at Mui Ne, the quintessential fishing town with an unbelievable huge sand dunes that give visitor a feel of being in a desert. The fishermen in Mui Ne use a round ratten basket as sampan to get to their fishing boats from the shore. One has to marvel at their ingenuity in using local materials like bamboo to make a contraption like that for their needs.


Rattan basket boat

Now from Saigon, we booked a boat tour to the Mekong Delta where it is both the rice bowl and rich fishing grounds of the country. We saw fish cultures under their floating houses, and what an experience to see whole communities built their homes and livelihood around the network of rivers in this delta. Tour guides told us that millions of Vietnamese live and work in the delta. From Chao Doc town in the Mekong Delta, we took a slow boat upstream to Pnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. The journey took almost an entire day. The monotony of the long journey was only bearable for those who played cards and those who are keen to observe life along the Mekong river.

Pnom Penh is chaotic and while the group went to see the Killing Field Museum and the Tuol Sleng School where the Khmer Rouge used for torturing. I went to buy the bus tickets to southern Laos to our next destination of Siphan Don (4,000 islands).

The 4,000 islands of the landlocked Laos is something to behold. We reached the island of Dondet in the dark after crossing the makeshift border check at Voen Kham after sunset. We paid 1USD at both Immigrations for the entry chops. At Ban Nakhasang, we crossed over the river in the dark to the island of Dondet. The beauty of these ripearian islets was only revealed the next morning while I went for a early morning walk. Here there is no car, no souvenir shops, and only the intrepid backpackers and the villagers. We saw the magnificent Khon Phapheng falls and went to take a glimpse of the fresh water dolphin at the Mekong between Cambodia and Laos border. We could have stayed longer but we bid farewell to Si Phan Don and stopped over at Wat Phu at Champasak, the only Angkor ruins in Laos.

Crossing over to Thailand at Chongmek from Pakse, Laos got us impressed at the efficient Thai immigration housed in a brand new modern building. We spent a night at Ubon Rachathani and had a real meal at the hotel. We were again impressed by the clean and efficient bus station at Ubon and smooth bus ride to Bangkok. The free highway and the efficient way Thais organize their society including the clean toilet at petrol stations only convinced us that our next door neighbour has overtaken us in almost every fields while we stagnant and rests on past achievements. That’s one of the main reasons why we all should travel to open our eyes lest we remain as the proverbial frog under the coconut shell!

There is blue moon (the second full moon in the month of December, a rare event and hence the saying, once in a blue month) tonight on the last day of 2009. This year-end message is like a blue moon to some who only receive this from me once a year. Never mind it is better than no news. I only hope all my friends can reciprocate and update me. After all, that what keeping in touch is all about.

Good Luck, God Bless and May you have a wonderful new year for the new decade.

Phang Fatt Khow,
Alor Star, Kedah, Malaysia
December, 31, 2009.

Link to Year-End Messages by same author | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 |

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