Friday, February 24, 2006

Damn Monkey Wrenchers

Monkey wrenchers be damn. I keep coming acoss one too many monkeywrenches today.

First I was at co-op when I came across the classic book the Monkey Wrench Gang. In fact, they are making it into a movie due to be out in 2007. That was when I first heard of the monkeywrench. I mean how could I not know what a monkey wrench is right? Could it ever be more relevant to me, the monkey?

Then a monkeywrench was thrown at me by yuene who not so discreetly winked at me when she used the term monkeywrench. Oh ha ha. 2 mentions in one day. Is that a sign?

XR who was with me and sharon today who puzzledly asked what monkeywrench is but I kept silent because I was then still struggling very hard to remember what it is! Embarrassing as that is, I had my memory refreshed by wikipedia.

For those uninitiated, the monkey wrench gang is the 70s equivalent of the ELF - Earth Liberation Front - a constant source of contention between me and W because there is no assuring him that I am no eco-terrorist.

The Monkey Wrench Gang was a novel by Edward Abbey about a group of people who goes and sabotage ecologically damaging development for the sake of the environment, otherwise known as eco-tage or eco-terrorism.

Now it's usually used to refer to actions that sabotages to the Establishment for nature or a good cause. Well yuene... I'm not very sure if unwed mother counts as being ecological but alright it is a good cause so we'll narrowly accept your answer. ding ding ding!

Honestly, I'm not a violent person. Call me chicken but having been stifled by the "peaceful" environment of Singapore, being involved in protests and marches scares me. My Thai teacher, an associate professor no less, very confidently told the whole class that she was actually going to fly back to Thailand to join in the protest against the prime minister a few weeks back but her mother stopped her. Gosh, I mean this is probably outrageous for Singapore standards. This is a woman probably in her 40s! Even Prof Savage, the upholder of all things proper and civilised, very gleefully tells us of their exploits in NUS in the 70s. God forbid if an NUS students be caught dead doing that these days. Wearing black in silent protest of the school fee hike is as daring as they come for our generation. Whatever of the young?

So, here I am, stifled, kia-si and the last thing somebody would describe as being extremist. But noooo, my future husband thinks I'm some environmental extremist who wants to join ELF just because I raved about supporting sustainable agriculture and hang out with the progressive types in Santa Barbara. Yeah, I won't tell your mama I'm a hippie... because I'm not!!!! Do I have to be a capitalist or a conformer of societally acceptable norms in order not to be a hippie? I am sorry but all it took to trigger the hippie association was the idea of communal kitchens. Because apparently that sounds too airy fairy to W and that means they are hippies disguised as egalitarian elites. bleh.

Whatever it is, I did concur with him but I definitely did not like being accused of being a hippie because I do aspire that lifestyle, TO SOME EXTENT. Everybody I was with was a supporter of that lifestyle but gosh, some drive, some even like speeding. So drum circles and swimming in lakes are hippie behavior. Does that mean I have to deprive myself of something I enjoy just not to be associated with hippies? And all this time, they're just afriad I'll end up smoking pot and leaving out of a trailer or on a 1000-yearsold redwood tree.

Why can't people have more faith in my kiasi-ness (read: cowardry). No amount of pretending to be a monkey would make me a monkey wrencher. I'm born chicken and will always be chicken!

Read full article here

Monkey Speak

Yesterday, a certain botak lao lang from KR surprised me with an unexpected msn message. The beast is now an entrepreneuring editor of uberture and asked if i wouldl like to write a column on environmental issues with peanuts for renumeration. Hesistant at first, the "captain planet" in me is now raring to go!

Came up with some ideas for articles on the way home today:

"Monkey Business"
About feeding monkeys in nature reserves, the idea of monkey reserves on an offshore island and other monkey business.

"Sex in the City"
About endangered animals, fragmentation of forest habitats, cities encroaching on forests, primary forests in singapore (botanic gardens, bt timah, dipterocaps in changi)

"Foreign Talents"
About releasing animals in the wild, and problem of invasive exotic species

"Pink Dolphins"
ACRES and sentosa pink dolphins, pink dolphins sighting off southern islands, marine life, reclamation, shipping line, removal of coral reefs, dugongs and other large marine mammals etc.

"A Straw Story"
The problems of straws, why do people insist on using straws, marine trash, use less plastics, etc.

"Swamp Thing"
role of mangroves, mandai, sungei buloh, places in singapore with swampy past, etc.

"Earth Day 2006"
April 22 earth day, origin, oil spills, celebrations worldwide and locally

"A little bird told me"
Tidbit stories about birds in singapore - koel/crow, kingfishers, mynas, strawheaded bulbul, jungle fowl, hornbill, plovers, heron, cattle egrets, barn owl, brahminy kite, himalayan griffon vulture

Wow that's enough for a whole year I think. lol. The ezine is fortnightly but mine may be a monthly column. Even still this is enough for about 4-5 months of fortnightly writings.

Read full article here

Thursday, February 09, 2006

St Andrew Kingfishers

Collared Kingfisher of St Andrews Cathedral

No, thats not the species. I'm talking about the pair of Kingfishers I spotted at St Andrew Cathedral. In fact, after observing them over 3 weeks, I can safely say that they have made that tree, and that particular perch, home.

They are always there, always in the same position, with one on a higher branch and one on a lower one.

Well of course occasionally they fly away to other trees when they spy an annoying monkey sneaking not so discreetly up at them with a metal box.

NB: This is not the favourite branch I talked about. They resettled elsewhere coz of stalking monkey and falling rain.

Read full article here

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Pai Ti Gong

Read: Worshipping the heavenly kingdom / emperor

On the 9th day of the Lunar New Year, it is the day to worship the heavenly kingdom and to pay tribute to the heavenly emperor. Preparations usually begins on the night of the 8th day for my family with loads of activity and furniture rearranging in the house. At 11pm on the 8th day, the tributes are set out on a table in front of the altar, facing the window (since the sky represents the heavens). The offerings of fruits and dried stuff usually has an intricate paper-cutting forming a word (I think it means longevity?) is placed on top of each and every offering. However, this year, due to death in the family, we did not place any paper-cuttings. *whisper: in fact we're not supposed to worship at all!*

At midnight, the first minutes of the 9th day, incense is offered and we troop off downstairs to burn the "paper money" and other gold and silver made from paper to the heavens.

tiangong 011

Usually there is also a pair of sugarcane that we tie to the window as pictured and as we go downstairs to burn the paper offerings, my dad will cut off the top end of the sugarcane and burn it as well.

This year, the sugarcane was black! My dad explained that this is the species that our hokkien ancestors originally grow in the fujian province.

While burning the sugarcane, I asked my mom the significance of offering the sugarcane. Previously I've only heard of banana leaf and trees being significant as they represent longeivity and eternal life as it's a plant that doesnt "die". My mom said she doesn't know. In fact, being teochew, she never heard of such practices before. My dad wasn't too sure why we do it but presumably only hokkiens do it and there are several speculations.

1) Our ancestors worked or owned sugar plantations and this is a tribute to their memory and our beginnings.

2) Since my dad only gave such a vague story about our ancestors, I decided to derive at my own speculation. When burning the sugarcane, large explosive pops were heard from the fire that sounds suspiciously like firecrackers! Turned out that sugarcane when burnt create sounds like the firecrackers and could be a reason for it being offered and burnt in worship. Loud noises are meant to scare the evil and bad away. It could also be a post-firecracker-banning practice in Singapore, to offer an alternative substitute to actual firecrackers.

tiangong 005 tiangong 008

Either way, it sounds reasonable to me. Does anybody have other possible stories about sugarcanes being offered to the Ti Gong? Then again, with traditional practices and rituals being lost in our modern society, I doubt anybody would know better than my parents cept for those who are their elders.

Just today in the news, it's been reported that less families now have altars in their family and temples are seeing a 2 or 3 times increase in the number of people going to temple to offer tributes and to worship the heavenly emperor on the 9th day of the lunar new year. Usually a ritual meant to be done from night to day, people are going as and when it suits their work schedule and when the temple is open for the public - which is usually the day time. They also don't have to spend hours busying in the kitchen and preparing items as it would be simplified and provided for in the temple. But, to me, that loses all the meaning and specialness of this day... or at least, the meaning this day holds for me anyway. It's always been a rare day of activity for my family, and a good reason to stay up late.

Update: Chinatownboy wrote about pai ti gong too!!!!!!! I was going to go look up his blog to share with him my story and i had a strong feeling he will write about this very important event. Afterall, I knew him through interest in chinese diaspora taoist practices in singapore. whee! (yes i have odd and diverse interests) Note to victor: if you are reading this, scroll down and see my "human day" (ren ri) post :D

According to Chinatownboy:

A pair of sugar canes was and is still a must. According to stories heard, it was said once the Hokkien were being attacked (not sure if they were the mongols or bandits) and they went to hide in the sugar cane field. The sugar cane saved their lived. And so, when they came out alive, in gratitude the prayed to Ti Kong with the sugar canes, probably reminding them of how their lives were saved.

Read full article here

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Happy Human Day

The 7th Day of the New Year on the lunar calendar is "Human Day" or ren ri.

I am vaguely remembering that it is the day humans are created or something because today is the birthday of humans (ren de sheng ri). Does anybody know any differently? Please correct me.

On this day, we have to eat a dish of 7 vegetables. Yes, that's 7 vegetables cooked as a mixed veggie dish.

What does that reveal about the asian society and culture?

1. Plant diversity is very high.
The diversity of vegetables and edible food plants must be so high that it was easily accessible to the peasants and commonfolks of China and possibly east and southeast asia.

2. Food diversity is very high.
Not only were the variety of vegetables in great diverse amounts, it also shows that they were consuming a great diversity of plants and domesticating, planting these food crops that we might not be consuming today. If you go to your kitchen right now and look in your refrigerator, how many different types of vegetables can you find? Or even anything green?! Green eggs not counted. Honestly, seven is a lot. But it must not even be a lot if it's supposed to be a comfortable number for them to handle back then. Perhaps there are vegetables that they were consuming then that we have now lost. In the village in Thailand, I observed so much more food diversity in terms of the type of plants they consume that I was amazed at where they even think of eating these things!

3. Cash crops are taking over the world.
If we city folks are thinking "wow 7 vegetables in one is a lot... who would have think of that", that's because the commercialized cash crops are taking over our world. It is wiping out food diversity and local knowledge, knowledge of our ancestors in terms of giving variety in our diet. Why is variety important? On an anthropocentric level, it provides diversity of nutrients for our body that a single diet of wheat will not. On an ecocentric level, having food diversity means that there needs to be crop diversity - no monoculture. Subsistence farmers plant perhaps 10 crops in the same area of land as compared to the 1 crop by a monoculturist. This ensures that the soil nutrient doesnt get depleted. Also, it ensures the survival and continued existence of 10 different species of plants as opposed to the 1 cash crop which most of the time, we CANNOT eat. Can you imagine eating oil palm?

Even then, what's up with brocolli?! Do you know about more than 5 of the vegetables we eat regularly and can easily find in our supermarket are all really just the yellow mustard plant that has been bred selectively to become different "vegetables" but they are all just the mustard plant, ONLY! If you think you are eating different types of vegetables when you eat brocolli, cabbage, etc... no really... it's just one plant. NO DIVERSITY!

4. Neo-colonialists are amongst us.
Who owns these monocultures? Big corporations.
Who wipe out the subsitence farmer and introduce the limited variety of vegetables and food in our markets? Big corporations.
Where are big corporations from? The west.
Ok this is a really simplified way of looking at this but if you think about it hard enough, the west are dominating our food supply even if the farmers are in the east or south. Globalization of food supply is wiping out local subsistency. We know Singapore cannot support our own food supply because we are small but what about big agricultural countries like Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. Why can't they support their own population's food demands despite being an agricultural country? Because they only grow cash crop that is being exported out of the country for foreign exchange. So people remain poor, hungry and forced to eat whatever the neo-colonialists dominate our market with. Why do you think US has a whole entire region called the "corn belt". Because whole entire states are just growing monocultures of corn and wheat and dumped on countries that do not otherwise subsist on those things. Where do u think your cornflakes come from?

5. Our ancestors have very bad taste in food.
Do you know how icky 7 vegetables mishmash together in one bowl taste like?! Pfft! They couldn't even have the decency to cook them seperately... or maybe it's just my dad. hehehe

Read full article here