Monday, March 30, 2009

Seeing the light beyond Earth Hour

SO, did you switch off the lights in your house during Earth Hour on Saturday? Mine was off since that morning and was not switched on again until 9.15pm when I got home.

It was a spectacular sight not seeing the lights on major landmarks. At 8.30pm, the KL Tower's lights went off, leaving only a ring of yellow on the circumference of the dome, which made it look like a flying saucer against the night sky. Then, the Petronas Twin Towers went dark from ground up, leaving only the red blinking navigational markers. Other buildings in the area were already not visible, save for their silhouettes.

Some drivers at Lake Titiwangsa stopped their cars along the roads and looked in the direction of the city, trying to identify the buildings from their silhouettes.

Restaurants and stalls also joined in the global effort to cool down Mother Earth.

However, some bikers and motorists switched off their vehicle lights while they were on the road. One chap got flagged down by a policeman for his misplaced enthusiasm.

When I reached home, I was pleasantly surprised that the management of my condominium had already switched off the lights in the common areas. There were no complaints from residents as corridors were plunged into darkness, except for the emergency lights and the lifts.

Usually power shortages would be greeted by collective sighs of exasperation. However, on Saturday night, there were no voices condemning the management committee or Tenaga Nasional. Some families even stayed home that Saturday evening, ate in, and dutifully switched off their lights at the prescribed time.

Curious whether other condominium dwellers were as enthusiastic about Earth Hour, I ran up to the upper floors and looked around. Sparsely-lit houses and condominiums in the vicinity made my heart swell with pride.

It was amazing to see just how many people had switched off their lights. Deep down, I hoped it was not one of those fashionable things people do because others are doing it. I prayed that people who undertook this noble observation would take it beyond the 60 minutes.

Of course, it is not practical to switch off city lights nightly and this would go against the almost-forgotten tagline of Kuala Lumpur as the Garden City of Lights. But think about what it can do for our environment, even for an hour.

Hopefully, in the 60-minute lights-out global effort, we have seen the light and realise the importance of conserving energy use. Maybe it will inspire us to seek other ways to take our conservation efforts beyond the Earth Hour initiative.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Can't tell a duku from dokong? Head to the arboretum

DID you know that durian flowers are edible? Stir-fried with sambal belacan and chillies, they make a good side dish. I didn't know about it until my colleague Lydia told me recently. Apparently it is commonly found in Sarawak, even today.

I am more familiar with pegaga (penny wort), ulam raja (wild cosmos), and pucuk paku (fern shoots) -- the common ulam-ulaman (herbal salads) that used to be part of my family's meal.

Some, we grew ourselves, others could be found at the fringe of the forest. Some plants have medicinal value while others were seasonal indicators -- you know it's a hot season when the lalang flowers, durian and watermelons make an appearance.

If you did not grow up in a village, chances are you would have been deprived of being acquainted with our indigenous flora.

I don't blame the city-born who cannot differentiate between rambai and langsat or duku from dokong.

Some may not even know that the cashew nut is actually a seed and that it grows outside the fruit.

How many of you have seen a buah sentul?

It's about the size of a clenched fist, has thick leathery skin and flesh similar to duku's but is usually sour and fibrous.

You may know where Sentul is but don't even bother looking for the buah within the city limits today.

In fact, even the Gombak durian, especially those for which Simpang Tiga (or Simpang Tigo in Minangkabau) was famous for, have not been spotted for some time now.

Older city durian lovers would remember the days when Gombak durians were in high demand -- long before the idea for the Penang Ang Heh (Hokkien for red shrimp variety) and D24 were even conceived.

The foothills of Mimaland would be packed with durian stalls as city folk converged for the roadside durian feast twice a year.

I wish we could plant more local fruit trees or herbs in the city -- if not on the road sides then at parks.

Hardy trees like rambai, mangosteens or even mangoes can be considered for parks. Fragrant herbs like serai (lemongrass), lengkuas (galangal) or kunyit (turmeric) make lovely bushes on road shoulders or dividers.

Of course, it would be foolhardy to grow a durian tree anywhere near civilisation because of the unpredictability of falling fruits.

But mangosteens, buah sentul or even cashew trees would do little harm and are better than yellow flames or the brittle angsana.

Today, if you want to look for a particular fruit, you would have to wait for it to be in season to find it at the hawker stalls, and some are not even homegrown.

Otherwise, you may have to visit the arboretum at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia.

And if you can't find them there, like the rarer buah keranji (velvet tamarind) or buah belinjau (gnetum gnemon), you may have to drive to the less developed parts of the country.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The good, the bad and the ugly of motorbike riding in city

BACK in the 1970s, having a motorcycle licence was every boy's dream before leaving secondary school. An "L" was enough to earn the envy of your peers but a full licence would impress your older friends even more.

Licence ownership put you among those who had "arrived" -- although where you were going then depended heavily on your dad's permission, especially where taking off on his Honda Cub C50 was concerned.

If you had a valid motorcycle licence, you could work as a peon or a delivery boy while waiting for your Lower Certificate of Education or Malaysian Certificate of Education results.

You could then gain some financial freedom and inch nearer to the greater dreams in your life, like buying your own motorcycle, for instance.

It is not hard to understand why motorcycles are popular even today, especially among the lower income group. It is cheaper to own than a car, cost much less to run, easy to park and can get you through the thickest of traffic jams. These two wheelers are definitely built for a concrete jungle like Kuala Lumpur.

Lately, the city's womenfolk have also found it very practical to ride motorcycles. In fact, they have turned riding into poetry in motion as they zip full-throttle through jams in flowing blouses and high heels -- of course, with their make-up well protected by their full-face helmets.

Some of these female bikers beat the best men on the road. They don't seem to care for their safety nor pay heed to the traffic cameras.

Swerve into their paths and be prepared to be on the receiving end of a very nasty sign language.

God help you if you get involved in an accident with a motorcyclist, be it man or woman.

Rest assured you will be quickly acquainted with their brotherhood, especially the helmet-wielding hoods, who are ready to make mince meat out of you.

There is a solidarity that exists between bikers. If one is involved in an accident, others will be all too willing to help, unlike car drivers, who, in events of similar nature, would only be interested in your car registration plate number, especially if anyone died.

Survivors of close encounters with biking mobs have advised self-restraint and economy of words -- don't argue with them unless you have a death wish.

In its ugliest form, errant bikers take the shape of the Mat Rempit, the mini version of the Western hell biker.

What these Malaysian bikers lack in size in machines, they make up with noise and numbers. You spot them from a mile away, a noisy convoy bent on making fools of themselves and terrorising others.

And some even take hooliganism to a whole new level by "graduating" into snatch thieves. Having not had much success in dealing with the menace, city authorities are now mulling the possibility of prohibiting motorcycles from certain streets.

Victims of biker rage will welcome this proposal by the police.

Car drivers, too, will heave a sigh of relief with one less potential roadkill to avoid.

Should it be implemented by City Hall, pedestrians would also be able to enjoy a walk in the city's streets without having to hold on tight to their belongings each time a motorcycle approaches.

As for me, I am just keeping my fingers crossed that the snatch thieves will not go on foot and that city roads are wide enough for more cars should bikers now find more reason to switch their mode of transport.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A little wiser after lessons learnt from the floods last week

WERE you caught in the great floods of March 3? Consider yourself lucky if you were not among the thousands stranded in the city that evening. Consider yourself even luckier if you were not in the floodwaters in Jalan Ipoh, sitting on your car roof waiting to be rescued.

But if you had been stuck in the jam later that night like I was, you are now likely to be a little wiser in hindsight and realise that in each adversity, there are lessons to be learnt.

For me, I have learnt not to leave the office immediately after a downpour and never, ever, park my car in any basement car park within smelling distance of the Klang and Gombak rivers.

I have also learnt that it is pointless to try to outsmart those stuck in jams by seeking out lanes of moving traffic. Underestimate their collective intelligence and you will end up -- like I did -- circumnavigating the city looking for a shortcut from Bangsar to Gombak only to return to the starting point two hours later and half a tank of petrol short.

Instead, you should quietly join the queue like everyone else and do not get angry or frustrated by the actions of the smarter few who used pavements and bus lanes to forge ahead.

I will also not rely on electronic signboards, especially those with ambiguous messages like "Trafik Perlahan di Lebuhraya Mahameru-Tun Razak. Kelewatan Di Jangka" (Slow traffic at Mahameru-Tun Razak expressway, delay expected), especially when traffic in most parts of the city was already at a standstill.

There is also a lesson in humility to be learnt when stuck in flood-induced jams. It doesn't matter two hoots whether you drive a RM250,000 speedster or a RM2,500 boneshaker for which you could claim twice its worth in rebates soon. Behind the wheel in knee-deep floodwater, all men (and women) are treated equal.

I will, from now, be more forgiving towards those who promised to alleviate flash floods in the capital city because although the promises sound good, very little could be done in reality -- be it cleaning the drains, building retention ponds or deepening the rivers.

The same issues will probably be raised again during the floods next March and when the time comes, we can conveniently look skywards and once again call it an act of God.

Monday, March 2, 2009

You can track crime hotspots online, too

IT’S great to know that crime hotspots in Petaling Jaya will be tracked using a software the Petaling Jaya city council has presented to the police last week.

What the system does, if I understand it correctly, is to compile the crime records in the area and mark them on a map. From here, the frequency, type of crime and other details will help the crime busters do an even better job.

Hopefully, the news would inspire other local councils in the Klang Valley such as Ampang Jaya, Subang Jaya and Kuala Lumpur to do the same and make not only their areas safe but the entire Klang Valley as well.

While it may not be possible to buy a similarly sophisticated system, other councils which hope to do the same need not despair. They can turn to the Internet and come up with similarly useful crime watch tools, too.

I am talking about Google Maps and Google Earth — two mapping applications that have been around for some time. They have been used by Internet users to mark anything from their own addresses to places of interest in the neighbourhood.

The good thing about these applications is that they are free, easy to use and allows collaboration — more than one person can contribute to the project, in this case, the neighbourhood crime watch, which can be a collective effort by both the police force and the public living in the area.
Crime spots can be marked on the virtual maps by just about anyone who has a Google account.

Short notes and photographs of the crime prone areas can be posted and updated, too.

Even videos can be embedded if so wished although I am not sure if “live” video streaming is possible to take feeds from CCTVs.

Setting it up is as easy as registering for an account and learning how to use the Internet-based application is as simple as checking out the frequently asked questions on site.

Of course, these free applications cannot offer the bells and whistles of a commercially-produced software, like drawing up past crime records for a specific area, or zooming down to ground zero where crime has taken place.

But as neighbourhood crime watch tools, they will serve their primary purpose of alerting both the public and the authorities to crime prone areas.