Saturday, June 28, 2008

Greetings from Cameron Highlands

2 weeks into my research in Cameron Highlands on food production amidst rising fuel prices and concern about food shortage. This is really a very critical time when fertilizer cost are rising and food production costs are rising. At the same time, there are also lots of reports in the Malaysian media about illegal clearing of forests for farms and landslides resulting from leaking pipes that farmers use to source for water from the forests to their farms, kilometers away. The leaking pipes led to the weakening of slopes, resulting in landslides and the further polluting of drinking water sources for whole towns.

Meanwhile, I'm learning more than ever in the field on how our food is produced, farmers' concerns and the reality of our consumption. But how real is consumer sovereignty and how do we see our ecological footprint in actual spaces? Why is there such a dearth of information on the consumer side of the equation? I continue my search for answers here for the next 32 days.

Read full article here

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Errata in Straits Times, 21 Jun 08

On 18 June 2008, I published on this blog the email interview I had with a reporter from Straits Times who wanted to feature some "green champions". Today, the article appeared and I am sad to say that there are some serious errata in the small section about me. The writer actually emailed me the draft on Thursday night but I was on my way at 2am to Kuala Lumpur to do vegetable delivery with a farmer. Thus, I did not see the draft nor had the opportunity to send in corrections until it was already published in today's newspaper.

Here's what was published on 21 June 2008 in Life!

Ms November Tan, 26, winner of the Bayer Young Environmentalist Award and HSBC National Youth Achievement Award

Ms November Tan began her love affair with nature when she was a child. She went for hikes with her parents and learnt about the environment she lives in.

Now 26, she is a nature guide on Pulau Ubin, taking groups around the island and teaching them about environmental conservation. She also trains new guides, and authors a blog about the island and its history.

The environmental warrior in her also initiated Toddycats Engage, a group of over 100 volunteers from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, which provides feedback to various government agencies and organisations on environmental issues.

'Every time I hear somebody come up to me saying that they felt inspired to do something for the environment, even if it's as simple as to stop using straws, I feel a sense of fulfilment.'


First of all, Toddycats Engage only has about 10-20 members and was defunct after 4 meetings. Yes, Toddycats had over 100 volunteersToddycats has only 35 volunteers and 20 alumni today. Toddycats Engage was just a small project within the entire volunteer group! Apologies to all Toddycats for this. I am deeply embarrassed by this.

If you read my original interview, I by no means implied this at all! I do not know where he got his information from. Furthermore, Toddycats Engage was a project from 2005 - 3 years ago! There is no mention of anything I do after 2005 which is even more disappointing! Thus, I also have to apologize to the Naked Hermit Crabs for this.

Finally, the Bayer award was called "Bayer Young Environmental Envoy" and not "Bayer Young Environmentalist". Again, sorry to the BYEE Alumni as well. Furthermore it's the HSBC / NYAA Youth Environment (Merit) Award.

I seem to have done no right to any of my groups. I'm sorry. :( Sorry for the melodrama. I was rather upset when I wrote this. Thanks for all the comments!

See my original email interview responses.

Read full article here

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Interview with Straits Times

Few days ago, an email came by the mountain express to the monkey in the highlands. A reporter from straits times wanted to do a feature on "Green Champions" to appear possibly this Saturday.

Here is our email interview after the break. Warning: Pardon my long windedness at times!

(1) What do you to to conserve the environment?

I started volunteering actively for the NUS Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research volunteers (Toddycats!). Then I started as a Pedal Ubin ( guide and because of that I got in touch with my personal family heritage and history on Pulau Ubin and started a blog Pulau Ubin Stories ( that documents that stories and history of the island. I also was the project manager for the Hopea Sangal Education Program ( I was awarded the Bayer Youth Environmental Envoy 2004 for these works. Then in 2005 I got selected to represent Singapore in the Bayer Eco-Minds Awards. I am also a member of the NEA Young Environmental Envoy and I started working on exhibitions and public outreach with Toddycats. I started an initiative called Toddycats Engage which tried to generate constructive feedback and comments to various agencies and organizations about various environmental issues. In 2006 I was doing my thesis on Chek Jawa and I got to know many of the other key members of the conservation community and started working very closely with them. I volunteered as a Ubin Npark volunteer and joined the Naked Hermit Crabs in 2007. I became a shore guide on top of an Ubin guide. In 2008 I started The Leafmonkey Workshop ( to conduct training sessions for nature guides as well as to introduce various technology for more effective environmental awareness. I am also an active blogger and try to do environmental outreach through my blog and was highlighted by as being a Blog of Note last year. ( You can read more about this on my blog.

I focus mainly on outreach and awareness projects as well as "capacity building". I also give talks to share my personal experience in volunteering and greening personal lifestyles. I work very closely with most of the environmental groups in Singapore. I also work with the student environmental groups in NUS as well as the campus sustainability committee. I believe in networking resources for more effective conservation efforts.

(2) Why are you doing this (motivation)?

"A passion for the environment". When I was in my first year of university, I saw a poster that asked "Do you have a passion for the environment?" and I thought, yeah I did! And that's how I ended up joining the Toddycats.

(3) When did you start doing this, and how did it all start?

Prior to the Toddycats, I already started being very interested in JC (1998-1999) during a talk by the vice president of Nature Society (Singapore), Shawn Lum. Back then I was inspired to try to initiate mangrove restoration projects and I also joined NSS as a volunteer but nothing really took root until 2003 when I entered NUS. How? When I saw the poster.

But the love for nature began as a child as my parents brought us for hikes in the forest and romp at botanic gardens on weekends. My love for plants and animals had long manifested since I was young.

(4) How long have you been doing this, and have you won any awards thus far?

I would say that I have been doing this since December 2003 and never stopped. awards mentioned above.

After the Bayer Eco Mind, I got the HSBC NYAA Award and several NUS Student Achivement Awards

(5) What would you say are your key achievements in this area of environmental work (anything you're particularly proud of)?

it's a work in progress. I'm a perfectionist, I constantly feel that I haven't done enough. But key achievements are generally highlighted above. I do a lot of miscellaneous stuff that I haven't mentioned. I am quite proud of the fact I got highlighted by as a sort of pseudo international recognition. It helped spread the word more and that made me very encouraged to continue my work.

(6) Do you find this cause fulfilling? Why?

Absolutely. Every time I hear somebody come up to me saying that they felt inspired to do something for the environment, even if it's as simple as to stop using straws, I feel a sense of fulfillment.

(7) Are there any difficulties which you've faced along the road (eg sacrifices, juggling pursuit of work/education and env cause, ridicule from others)?

(8) How did you surmount these difficulties?
Not giving up. Talking to others, exchanging notes, encouraging each other, knowing that we made a different, hearing little encouragements from people we guide or people who felt inspired by us always always helps gives me enough burst of energy to last quite a while. Discouraging comments dampens the spirit but small lil encouragements go a long long way. This is why we try to advocate giving constructive feedback and positive comments whenever possible. Too little good news out there that people forget that there are actually a lot of positive things out there. And people doing good work need a lil pat on the back to affirm their work and to give them motivations to continue on with their work. A deserving compliment goes a long way. People tend to only complain about negative things and forget to give praise to the things they like about the things around them. Only when it's gone then they complain. To preempt that, we need to remind people of the positive things there to show that they are very much appreciated.

(9) Is there any person/people who has/have been a constant source of support, or perhaps someone who has inspired you?

Ria Tan.

N. Sivasothi

They are my mentor and friend. Definitely inspired me countless time. I work closely with both of them.

(10) Do you have any message you'd like to send to readers/the general public?

Everyone makes a difference. Every little action counts. Each thing you do goes a long way. Remember to appreciate the good thing around you. Explore - get to know your backyard, get to know Singapore and all the wildplaces you never thought exist in Singapore. Express - be a voice for nature, share with others what you saw. Act - volunteer, go one step further and put words to action.

Read full article here

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Volunteer Opportunities

Monkey says: "Dear Readers, This is a call for volunteers for my ongoing Masters research project. Cheers, November"

Volunteers are needed to help out in an ongoing academic research project on the impact of Singapore’s food consumption on the environment in Malaysia. This is done through understanding why and how farmers decide whether or not to adopt sustainable agricultural practices – whether through government legislation, consumer demand or other environmental factors.

There are two different components of the research that requires volunteers:

1) Consumer Survey in Singapore
Update @ 8 May: Still urgently in need of volunteers!
A maximum of 50 volunteers are needed to conduct surveys with consumers in Singapore at supermarkets and wet markets. Each volunteer needs to survey a minimum of 20 respondents at their own time and schedule. The survey can be conducted anytime between May to October 2008. Briefing and training will be conducted for all volunteers. Volunteers are most welcomed in assisting with the compiling of these data. Please indicate when signing up!

2) Field assistants in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
No more vacancies. Thank you for all your interests.
Farm observations and interviews with farmers in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia will be conducted from June to August 2008. Volunteers get the opportunity to be involved with a university-level research project and get first hand experience doing fieldwork as well as getting to know more about how farms operate. Get to know where your food comes from. Volunteers are required to conduct farm observations and conduct rapid environmental assessment of the farms. Training will be provided. Volunteers do not have to stay for the full duration of the fieldwork. Preferably, you are able to stay for a minimum of 1 to 2 weeks at any time. Schedules are negotiable. Accommodation will be provided.

If you are interested or would like more details, please feel free to email

Read full article here