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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
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Year-End Message 2010

© by F. K Phang
......“It never rains but it pours”......

“It never rains but it pours” It seems strange to begin a year end message with this quote. I have my reasons. This maxim pretty much describes the luck I had last year. It also aptly describes the three days of horrendous rains in early November up north here that caused a major flood in Alor Star town where I live, and many areas North from here in Kedah and Perlis, extending to South Thailand. The placid life of the all the residents of Alor Star, yours truly included, was turned topsy-turvy as water supply to the city was abruptly cut, caused by the flooding of the water treatment plant. Some houses in the flood zone had no electricity supply too. Those marooned in their watery homes for a few days without these two essential public utilities will remember the suffering for a long time. This flood is harder to accept since the last big flood was barely 5 years ago in 2005. Whatever happened to the 20 year cycle of big flood?

Since I started off the year end message in a dour note, I might as well continue to count my misfortunes. I was bitten by dogs twice. Once in February just before I left for a trip to Thalenoi Bird sanctuary in South Thailand. That was a small bite by a small dog on my leg. Then in November just before I left for the trip to Hanoi and Guilin, my right arms was bitten by a ferocious boxer-like big dog who attacked my dog Fluffy. I was trying to save Fluffy and this big canine turned on me. Fluffy suffered a broken bone in the right paw. He was hopping around on three legs for a month. But this injury was nothing compared to the first incidence when he was bitten by a pit bull in July. As both dogs rolled and fell into a dirty drain, the wound got infected and became an abscess. The cut and drain left a 6 inch wound, requiring 27 stitches. To further aggravate his injury, the stitches broke because Fluffy scratched. The open wound required daily cleansing. I had to stay back to nurse him and missed the planned trip to Philippines to see the famous Benaue rice terraces. The owner of the boxer paid for the medical bills. But the pit-bull owner did not. When I went to see him, he came out of the house shirtless, showing a fiery tattoo on his chest! You can’t mess with people like that can you? But I did gave him a piece of my mind about the responsibilities of keeping pit bulls in a residential area.

“What good does it do to a man, if on gaining the world, he loses his own soul?”- Author unknown
My run of bad luck continued. The business venture planned by an old friend ran into unexpected obstacles but we persevered. In our naïveté and lack of experience, we were out maneuvered by a business partner who renegade on promises and played us out. I believe that we cannot compromise principles in life can we? We shall, nonetheless, march on, for this will probably be last shot at making some money to do things I have not been able to due to financial constraint. No, I am not obsessed with making money in life because money almost always enslaves rather than liberates. I need better luck next year to succeed.

My long involvement in the Malaysian Nature Society Kedah branch came to an abrupt end this year when the whole committee was ousted by a new team who brought supporters to the AGM. This sort of tactic to win election is unheard off in MNS. But this will certainly not diminish my passion in nature conservation and therefore will continue to enjoy nature related activities.

“Don’t drive tiredly” “Don’t walk the unmanned street at night”
These are the two gems of public advisory I saw in China while on a trip to Guilin in November. The first one was seen on a large billboard on the highway after crossing the Vietnam-Chinese border to Nanning. What it really meant is, “Don’t drive if you are tired.” The second one was seen in one of the electronic billboard in Yangshou, the other tourist city of Yangshou. Both are, aside form the funny English, great advice.

“Once a year, visit at least one place you have not been to”- Dalai Lama
I have been following Dalai Lama’s dictum since 2004.

In September this year I visited the legendary Gunong Ledang (Mt Ophir) in Johore after attending the National AGM of the Malaysian Nature Society.

A group of us went to Thalenoi Bird Sanctuary in Pathalung Province in South Thailand in February. It is so nice that I went again in June. This huge fresh water lake supports many species of water birds and even has a separate sanctuary for water buffaloes. Besides being a bird watchers’ paradise, the real beauty of this place is in the millions of pink water lilies blossoms on the shallower parts of the lake. I have made a mental to return with my birding friends to do some serious bird watching. (See 2 photos of Thalenoi below)


Waterlilies at Thalenoi


Sunset at Thalenoi

The year-end trip in November was a re-visit to Hanoi, staying at the same guest house in the old quarters, seeing the water puppet show again, and sampling the fabulous street foods there. We went to Sapa highland again by train and this time the weather was clear and we saw the mountains, the rice terraces, plus a whole lot of development around Sapa town since my last visit five years ago. In Hanoi, I visited the Temple of Literature to get a glimpse of the Vietnamese culture heavily influenced by Confucian teaching. We went to Hua Le the old capital and took a boat ride along Cam Duc river at Nin Binh.

From Hanoi we took a bus to Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Province to see the world famous Sansui (mountain and water) scenery of Guilin, lured in part by the famous Chinese saying: “Guilin’s sansui is best under heaven”. No exaggeration here. I agree whole-heartedly with that statement after taking a bamboo raft ride down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshou. There are thousands of limestone hills on both sides of the river, several layers thick, that come in different shapes and sizes due to weathering. The mountains are accentuated by the clear water of the river. See the photo below taken from a hill in Xinping town with Dahebei village at the centre.


Xinping town with Dahebei village at the centre

We took the advice of the guide book and experienced the gentle drift down the Yulong river near Yangshou. It was two passengers to a bamboo raft, poled along by a local villager, taking a very leisurely pace to see the mountians. The weather was misty and cold. We like Yangshou but the stay at a very small hotel on a village called Dahebei on the opposite bank of Xinping town, midway between Guilin and Yangshou is more interesting for we walked to the farms and talked to villagers. We took a ride on an artificial bamboo raft (made of large PVC tubings) up the Li River till Yangde and enjoyed the best of the sansui scenery, including the spot where it was featured in the Chinese 20 yuan currency.

The other scenic spot in Guilin area is the Dragon’s back rice terraces of the Yao and Zhuang ethnic minority groups in Longshen. We took a small bus to Longshen town and then an even smaller one to Dazai village. This beautiful and peaceful village is nestled in a valley surrounded by terraced hills and with a small creek bisecting the small settlement. We fell in love instantly with the place.

Dazai has all the rustic charms of a hide-away little Shangri-La. There are no cars, no shops, and no restaurants. The village life played out right in front of us: dogs barking, chicken everywhere, a big fat pig tethered (poor animal was slaughtered the next day), children playing, men working, women tending their vegetable gardens, old people strolling. The rice crop on the hill terraces have been harvested but the view was still beautiful. The five hour walk from Dazai to Pingan village along village path traversing the terraced hill slopes, occasionally passing through wooden houses, villagers and laden ponies, in mild weather and crisp mountain air was simply the best hike I had.


Dazai Village and the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces in Longshen, Guangxi, China.

“Life is like a water wheel. It turns. The trick is to hold your nose when you're under and not get dizzy when you're up.”- James Baldwin

My daughter Sue Ling has graduated in May and is now serving at the Sultanah Bahiyah General Hospital in Alor Star as a houseman doctor. That means that I have finally relived of the financial commitment. So I promptly junked the old TV set for a flat screen LCD TV. I bought new dining table, changed the refrigerator, and am now planning to trade in my pick up truck for a 4 WD!

Sue Ling is fortunate to be posted back to serve in Alor Star. She will therefore stay home with her old man for at least 2 years, long enough I hope to strengthen the father-daughter bond, considering that she was away in medical school for 5 long years. In addition, I was a weekend father during her growing up years. But it also means that I have to constantly tidying up the house to accommodate her demand to make my humble abode “livable”. Good heavens, was I living in a “pigsty” all along and not realizing it? Ah….there goes my freedom of living as a “bachelor”!

So most days now I cooked dinner and after dinner we let our 2 dogs in. Funny the dogs do not do much but are such good company. But Sue Ling is always busy, going to hospital very early (do the round before the medical officers and specialists arrive) and returning home late, everyday of the week! I doubt if an over-worked and constantly harried houseman doctor can learn and make the best diagnosis/judgement for the patients. Medical tradition dictates that this almost slave-like training for new doctor to earn their strips must be continued.

Well, the last 12 months have really been eventful for the Phangs. Despite the setbacks and misfortunes, knee joints pains and arthritis fingers and all, I still think I did ok, all things considered. Luck will change and I am optimistic that the second decade of the second millennium will bring a second wind for yours truly who will be approaching the watershed age of 60 in 2011.

Remember what Regina Brette, aged 90 of Cleveland Ohio, USA advised, “Life isn’t fair but it’s still good.”

With Much Friendship and Love
Yours truly,
Phang Fatt Khow
31 December, 2010
Alor Star, Kedah Malaysia

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

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