Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Don't look at me like that!

No, the looks won't kill you. But it can make your life a living hell.

One of the perks of this job is that I get roped in to many activities or initiatives and one of them is to tackle the problem of sexual harassment. Am I relevant to this initiative? Of course I am. I am a father (of 3 teenagers). I am a husband. And most of all, I am a person in authority (I have power, you see?). I have staff who work under me. And hundreds (even thousands) of students (girls and boys) who's future depend on the grades I give them.

Yes, it happens on campus . And yes, it also happens to our staff (and students, I presume) when they are outside the campus attending some function, even at classy hotels. You just don't get to read a lot about it in the papers. The reasons are many. Some heads of department don't want to deal with it and choose the well-trodden path - Denial. Ignore it and it will go away. Often the victims (some prefer to call them "survivors") themselves don't want the publicity that comes with pursuing the aggressor. You will be surprised at the reasons. Some fear that their husbands will be angry (at their wives, not the perpetrator). But I have come across a case in which the victim was actually more concerned that the perpetrator will not lose his job if she pursued the matter. Compassionate and incredible! And do you know that the Code of Practice against sexual harassement in the government service actually has a "opt out" clause, obstensibly to respect the right of the victim not to pursue the matter, i.e. not to press charges?

So, who are the perpetrators? Professors, security guards, senior colleagues and even students (reported to have harassed the staff). Most people seem to think that only the young and pretty ones are targetted but that is a myth. Sexy dressing invites unwanted attention. Not true. Even decently dressed ladies are not spared. And yes, men are not immune to sexual harassment too. OK, if any of you macho guys out there are thinking "which men doesn't want to be sexually harassed?" you really need to realign your perspective of life.

So, what's sexual harassment? Basically, any unwanted attention from either of the sexes. (Read the Code of Practice for the complete list but I hate it because it is full of legal prose). If it makes you uncomfortable, then tell the guy or gal to "STOP". You gotta to learn to say "NO". My personal experience is that the victim (especially young innocent students who are not streetwise) may not even recognise the "signs" that they are being harassed. I know, most are afraid to say no for fear of victimisation but that is what aggressors thrives on. He or she knows he/she can get away with it. So, we have stop them in their tracks.

Yah, I know. People are saying, "All these rules and code, everything also cannot do. Where got fun anymore?". So, don't stop having fun. Tease, flirt, be romantic. But if the other party tells you to "stop" then "stop". If it is true love, it's gotta be 2-way.

So, what are we doing about it? The Task Force for sexual harassment is hard at work, spearheaded by KANITA. If you have ideas, contact them directly.

At Kampus Sejahtera, we are also bouncing some ideas of how to make it safe especially for students who are well-known for their nocturnal habits. I remember when I was a student and we had to work late into the night at the HBP Studio. Hey, with my small size and skinny built I could still perform secret service duties, escorting the ladies back to the hostel past midnight. We look out for each other. Use your primitive instinct - the herd mentality. Don't walk alone late at night. Organise yourselves. I have conscripted our lady administrator at the Corporate Office here to initiate some action, so please come forward to help. Put safety at the top of your priorities. Avoid dark lonely shortcuts. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason to go see your lecturer in the wee hours of the morning or late night - no matter what excuse he or she gives. If you have to, bring a FEW friends.

Where should you go to report? We are hoping to identify a central body or location to make it easy for victims to seek help but in the meantime, you can come to us at Kampus Sejahtera. If you would rather talk to a lady, we will help you with that. I am told that the Women Centre for Change is doing excellent work - you can contact them too. USM also has a legal unit with friendly staff who could help. Talk to a friend.

How big is the problem, you say? I don't really care. We aim for zero tolerance.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Please! Walk on the Grass

Most gardens or parks you go to, especially in Asia, will probably have a sign which says "Keep off the Grass". In the case of GuangZhou they actually put up a "No Trespassing" sign, with a barricade for good measure. So it was a pleasant surprise when I visited the Toronto Island Park (in Toronto, Canada of course) and I encountered this sign which pleads with you to walk on the grass.

Which brings me to the USM Main Campus in Penang. We have a lovely avenue-like road from the Bukit Gambir gate near the sports stadium leading to the centre of the campus lined with huge mature Christmas trees on both sides. The problem is that when the "planners" decided to plant those trees more than 10 years ago they did plan for it to grow. So now the trees are blocking the pedestrian walkway running along the side of the road. Now that's poor planning or design on 2 counts. The first of course is not planning for the increase in size of the trees. The other poor design is constructing the pedestrian walkways right next to the road. OK, I know, that's what we do throughout the whole country but pedestrian safety considerations would dictate that there should be a buffer between the vehicular traffic and the walkers. So you see the picture (on the left) with the poor lady walking on the road pavement itself. This has led to complaints, especially from student bodies, concerned for the safety of the pedestrians. Some have lobbied for the trees to be removed while others want them to be retained because it has taken so long for us to nurture them to such beautiful trees.

My preference is to remove the pedestrian walkways running along the side of the road and direct the people traffic to the inside where its really quite lovely with lots of shade and green green grass to calm you down (see picture below). I know the maintenance people will have nightmares and when it rains it will probably get mashy. And I hope that they don't built a paved walkway here. Let's try something a little more eco-friendly.

Meanwhile, please enjoy walking on the grass. Its good for your soul. Really.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

I Never said 'I Love You', too!

We Asians are all alike. I read a couple of days ago about the MCA President (Ong Ka Ting) going on-air in a radio talk show talking and singing to her mother. He said that he had a very close relationship with her mother who died recently at the age of 87 but he never got to say 'I love you' to her. But he said he had no problems saying 'I Love You' to his wife on radio.

Then this morning I read about our home-grown lady adventurer (Sharifah) who has made it to both the North and South Pole, solo. She also had a very close relationship with her mother who died recently of breast cancer at 68. She regretted not having said 'I love you' to her mother too.

I have never said 'I love you' to my mom either. I think when my kids were very very small, we used to say 'I love you' to each other (am I right, kids?). But as they grew up, we don't say it anymore. It must the Asian culture. But I know that they love me (and their mommy) and they must know that we love them (don't they?). When they were younger, they would give me cute little handmade cards like the one you see here (which I have kept in my wallet for, mmh, probably close to 10 years).

Asians express love in different ways. Perhaps the concept of love as defined by the West has little relevance in our ancestral roots. The ordinary people were more concerned with bread and butter issues. Getting food on the table is the priority. Remember match-making? Marriage wasn't about a love-match - you had little say in it. It was about tradition and posterity and keeping the family name alive. Amongst Chinese, at least, our Confucian values places 'respect, honour and authority' especially of our elders higher than 'love'. But what do I know, I can't even read Chinese. Anyone out there can help?

Ah, but what about saying 'I love you' to your wife or husband. Like MCA President, I am not shy to say 'I Luv U' to my wife - via SMS, email, over the phone or in person . And she likewise. Hmm, I am sure our behaviour is very much influenced by all the well-meaning advice we get in the newspapers and books on how to keep our marriage exciting in this modern and challenging world.

On this day May 13, 2007 I also revisited the website I created in 2000 ( which is now offline). This is an extract of what I wrote about my 'Mother and son' relationship.

The Mother and Her Son (written in 2000)

By the time I could drive (17 years old), my sister had bought a Mini Minor so I often became my mom's chauffeur; to the market, to the temple, to relatives and of course to grandma's house. On one occasion (not long after I got my license) I misjudged the narrow dirt road at grandma's place and ended up in a flooded ditch and had to summon help to get the car out. When I reached home I got a scolding from my sister because her precious car's carpet was all soaked. Of course, sometimes I felt like I was being used and often grumbled when my mom asked me to chauffeur her here and there. If I could turn back the clock I would happily take her wherever she wanted to go. But it is too late now.

I never really had a "talking" relationship with my mom in the sense of long conversations. Usually I was rebellious and brusque and often impatient with her. I know she was always fond of me and even though I behaved rather "badly" she ignored my improper attitude. But she was also difficult to live with under the same roof (as my siblings will attest to) and I was "fortunate" because I live several hundred kilometres away and during the short visits back in Muar any nagging from mom was still tolerable. Usually, whenever she wanted something, she always wanted it done quickly. So, say she wants us to chauffeur her to a relative or the market the next morning. Being lazy, sometimes I (and even my brother) would sleep late so she would start nagging us about it. Of course, she would nag us about taking baths, having our dinner, going to sleep early, everything. Actually, these are things which I nag my kids about today.

I remember when she came to visit me in Air Tawar about 2 years before she died. I had added salt to the soup and was astonished at how salty it was. I was absolutely upset with her and told her so when I discovered that she had added salt earlier without telling me. Later I felt so ashamed about my behaviour.

And as I write this, I remind myself how I should treat my kids and my parents-in-law and of course my beloved wife. Mom molded me into what I am today. She taught me independence by making me do chores in the house, including taking turns to iron the clothes for the family. She was also there when I needed money for my university education. I had in my earlier version wrote that she "nagged" by siblings to contribute towards my studies. My sister Gek Yong protested that it implied that my siblings gave grudgingly. In fact, all my siblings willingly contributed but mom was the one who sometimes did the asking especially when I had fees to pay.

When my wife gave birth to our kids, mom made special visits to Penang to assist. When I was in school, she would boil ginseng and other energy-giving tonic when I sat for important exams. But most of all, she made sure that there was always food on the table, breakfast, lunch and dinner. She made delicious kaya and forced us to take turns stirring the pot which we hated because it was boring and hot. When we were sick she would constantly consult the deities to make sure that we were safe from evil spirits as well as take us to the General Hospital and waited with us for hours to see the doctor and obtain the medicine. Chinese New Year were always special with new clothes and delicious treats. Every New Year's Day she would get up early to cook us our family's "traditional" breakfast of plain porridge, mixed vegetables with vermicelli (Tang Hoon) and pickles. Today, we all still look forward to this breakfast even when she is no more with us. New Year Eve's dinner were another big event with the all-time favourite of five-spices duck. She taught me how to make bak chang (bamboo-wrapped glutinous rice), yam cake and as I watched her cooked and ate her meals, I am cooking those for my kids. She did all those for us for 60 years as our mom. She devoted her whole life for the family but we often took her for granted. She was our supermom.

Teo Eng Ngor died at the ripe old age of 81 in 1997. (Read PJ's reaction in Fish Bones)

Happy Mummies' Day to all the mothers in the World.

postscript (14 May)
Our three offsprings were secretly planning a surprise for their mom (even I was completely in the dark). During dinner last night, their mom got a framed pencil-drawn potrait of herself. Picture drawn by Jillian (the youngest), lettering done by Brian and frame bought by Vivian (the eldest). So, that's how Asian kids tell their parents they love them!

Aha, now I know what I will be getting for father's day. Oh, "can I have it in oil colours", I said (picture me with a big grin here).

Nice surprise, 'kids'.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Conversations - over dim sum, on the train, & and everywhere

This conversation was started at the Donlord Hotel
in GuangZhou at 7.15 am 6 May 2007, Sunday.

p.s. the room is really very nice. Pity we get to enjoy it only for a few hours.
Ah but the view looking out of my window on the 8th floor is a monstrous cooling tower.

You don't like talking to 'strangers'? Then conferences are probably not for you. What do people talk about at conferences? You see them milling around at coffee breaks. During lunch. At the loo. Is it all academic? Or just useless small talk to make themselves seemed friendly, interested - perhaps even feel important? Emmh, probably a little of everything. But there's a lot of serious conversations going on as well. To rephrase Wes Janz, who was quoting Nihal, "some of the best times are spent wasting time talking over coffee", or tea, or whatever you have in your hand.

(This conversation will be continued, probably in Hong Kong tonight.
Got to go join the entourage for breakfast and then a full-day of learning in the field. 7.41 am)

The conversations continue, back at the HKBU Hotel as I wait to go to the Hong Kong station with Pradono at 9.00 am to check-in for the flight back (2.55 pm) ... it's now 7.34 am 7 May 2007.

Grand Old Lady of Guangzhou. The problem with professors going out on an excursion is that its actually work, a fieldtrip-cum-sightseeing. We toured the city by coach, analysed and observed, appreciated ancient buildings and walked the streets and narrow alleys, smelling the aroma of freshly cooked food, got in the way of tricycles loaded with goods, pointed our cameras at unsuspecting models and engaged with locals with our (my) limited Cantonese and Mandarin. Cities in China are congested with people but there are still spaces which are almost untouchable for development. Places where young parents bring their precious offspring for social support and old men and old ladies play cards or just sit and enjoy the sights and sounds and the (quite) fresh air and sunshine. This grand old lady said she is 90 years old. She lives with her son who operates a business nearby. She walks by herself to the little urban park everyday from her house but the amazing thing is that she has bound feet (she confirmed that), which is no longer bound now. Madhu remarked that she must have been from a well-to-do family because the peasants would not be able to work in the fields with bound feet.

Students. What is a conference without students, whether they are helping in putting the papers into proceeding, clicking the powerpoints, showing us the way or presenting papers. Or just sitting down and telling us about their lives. Tammy is a passionate social activist, very concerned about the welfare of the disadvantaged and underprivileged. Kim Cheng is the same. They are not satisfied with just going out to work in the business world, discarding their hard-earned knowledge in geography. And they taught me about critical geography. Never heard of it? It's a branch of geography very much concerned with social justice. Using geography to study inequality and to advance their social agenda. These students also make the rounds of academic conferences, both university-funded as well as paying their own way, preferring the more serious ones to those which are merely excuses for professors to meet old friends.

(stopped at 9 am this morning. continuing at HK Airport via free WireFi at 1.30 pm) Wonder why these youngsters are passionate about social justice? Some of them have personal stories to tell. One student for instance has a Malaysian mother who's father was detained during the communist insurgency in Malaysia (but he was not harshly treated). On the paternal side, his other grandfather (who was a scholar) was a victim of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Know how much a fresh graduate working in the business world makes in Hong Kong? About 10,000 HKD. Looks like a lot but everything in Hong Kong is more expensive. And many young people choose a 'lavious' lifestyle, going to fancy coffeeshops and discos. With that kind of salary they will still not be able to afford an apartment, unless they find a partner to share. I think it was another student, Puyin, who told me that Hong Kong people would like to own cars and to drive, if they can afford it. Perhaps there is a lesson for transport planners too - make it too expensive to drive. Most Hong Kong students would be focussed on getting a degree and then find a job - but of course there are the exceptions like Tammy, Kim Cheng, Puyin and others.

(about to board CX for Penang; 2.27 pm 7 may. to be continued).

(Now I back in my office in USM. The time is 11.48 am, 8 May 2007. The plants in my office survived one week without attention, except for one but it will be nurtured back to health. Another has attracted an ant colony.)

Rufina is a Hong Kong Chinese who emigrated to Vancouver with her parents when she was in grade 2. Now a masters student at Waterloo with time spent in Beijing as an exchange student doing research on underground housing for which she presented a paper at this conference. Chatting with her over dim sum I was able to get a cross-cultural perspective of students in Hong Kong, Canada and China. Students in Hong Kong are highly stressed out and there is little room for creativity. In fact, on the plane from Penang to Hong Kong, I read an editorial in a Hong Kong newspaper lamenting that students had to rely on model answers given by their tutors to write essays for their English paper on the subject of lemon tea (hmmm, I seem to have heard something similar from somewhere else. Oh, yes, back in Malaysia too!). When Rufina brought back her report card from her elementary school in Vancouver, her parents were incredulous because the teachers had only good things to say without any criticism or negative comments ("are you sure they are teaching your anything?"). Back in Hong Kong the teachers will have a whole lot of things to say about how to improve or what the student's weaknesses are. In China, students will be totally focussed on passing their exams so that they can join the job market and earn a living. They aren't so much interested in the pursuit of knowledge. But of course, we also saw exceptions during this conference.

Her slides were really good. I love the sparseness and minimalist approach. Her stitching of photos with photoshop told stories in a refreshing way. She said that each time she look at those montage, she would see different and new things. And she's still working on her Masters thesis! Yes, as Tammy pointed out to me, they don't just want to submit any ordinary thesis. They want to take the time to reflect and make an impact.

Rufina also gave an interesting label to describe the relationship between students and professors in Canada, referring to it as "horizontal". I looked puzzled so she explained that the students and professors are on the same level with free flow of views and they call each other by firstnames. In China however, every is referred as "lau she" (or teacher), including the janitors and cleaners. Ah, I say, she's talking about hierarchies. Yes, they are also talking about a horizontal structure to replace the traditional hierarchical structure of the organisation chart. I can't even get the young administrative officer at my office to call me by my name (she insists on Dr. Lee). Even lecturers, especially the new young ones, are not comfortable addressing me without my academic title.

The Professors. Ah, you have to love the professors, young and not so young - they are the livewire of conferences. Everyone agreed this was a different kind of conference. We were friendly. Sometimes we may have got a little irritated and agitated or even a little aggressive interogating and challenging our colleagues. We tried to defend our opinions and views and positions. We did very well as rational scientists using our investigative skills acquired through years spent doing our Masters and PhDs to shake our colleagues so that they can stand firmer and stronger under critical peer review.

But for many, we also tried very hard to be connected learners, appreciating and appreciative of the multiplicity and divergence in discourse. We listened politely. We tried to discover a relevance to our own little corner of academia. Sometimes we hit the jackpot when strangers come up to you and say "I have read your paper and I love it. I am also trying out some of the stuff you have been doing". Wes and Poonam gave me a booster the day before my presentation, so I felt better knowing that there will be friendly fire in the room. As it turned out, I enjoyed my 45 minutes of fame. When we parted on the train at past mid-night on the way back from Shenzhen, Wes came over to say goodbye, saying that we will probably not meet again or it will be a long time before our paths cross. We agreed that we have unresolved issues we had to work on (he was probably referring to our animated exchange over breakfast) and I resolved to work on simplifying my complex concept maps (I think Wes teased me at least 4 times about it!!).

I must end this conversation. And I end this with a little self-validation (wanna see my coffeetable book?). As everyone who has ever crossed my path knows, the digital camera is like an appendage of my body. I am trigger happy at conferences. In our trip to Guangzhou, we were joined by Steve who is a professional architect and elected city councillor in Hong Kong and he was a shutter-bug too. A few of his masterpieces have even appeared in the Times magazine (or was it Newsweek?). Sometime in the afternoon I offered to put him on the other side of his Canon 400D. I took one shot. He looked at it and went "Wow" and asked me to take some more. He liked the angle and composition. Hhm, he said he might even use it in one of his compaign posters (city councillor working the streets to help the disadvantaged. Cool.). So, watch out, you might yet see my masterpiece in the Times, ... perhaps National Geographic?

Finally, thank you to each and everyone who was part of the conference and this conversation. I had some great conversations with many of you though I have only written on a few. One day, those conversations might make it into my updated version of the constructivist book. (1.26 pm 8 May 2007)

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Hong Kong is made for walking

Hong Kong city lights from the ferry on slow shutter

This is my third time in Hong Kong. Had not expected to come to Hong Kong again, so soon. Its early in the morning (about 6 am) and I am on the 10th Floor of the NTT International House of the Hong Kong Baptist University at my window table looking out at a gloomy wet sky (with the aircon off and the windows open) with free Internet access via cable. The HKBU is situated in the Kowloon Tong area. Below me on the left is the Military Barracks of the Chinese Army - the soldiers are not allowed to come out and not allowed to mix with the "locals" (aren't they all Chinese too?). One China, Two Systems. In front of me are tall buildings and the hills (obscured by the mist; but now at 8 am clearing up).

And the reason I am here? Conference, of course. As I said, I had not expected to be here. But Nihal Perera, a Sri Lankan now at Ball State U in Muncie, USA came to visit Penang in March as part of his Fullbright Fellowship which he is spending at the HKBU. I became his personal chauffeur and tourist guide so he must have felt obliged to repay me for my kindness. No, seriously, we talked about planning, we pounded the streets of George Town, we talked politics, we discussed international collaborative learning, we challenged our students and we found out that we actually do have a lot in common (after pounding the streets of Hanoi in 2003 in the middle of the night and Mexico City in 2006).

So he invited (pestered) me to come deliver a paper at his conference, with promise of funding. So here I am, courtesy of HKBU (my heartfelt appreciation to the sponsors, especially Tang Wing Shing, co-organiser) talking about Constructivism for planning education. Delivered my presentation yesterday afternoon and managed to keep everybody awake. Got some very positive feedback and a scattering of sceptical looks. Old friendships have been rekindled and new ones struck. There are people who question why we spend so much time (and money) going to conferences. Yes, there are many who just go deliver their paper and disappear for the rest of the conference. For the rest of us, networking and social interaction is a very important reason for being here. We build relationships and bridges to develop our passion and we broaden our perspectives and insights too. There is a lot of social learning, if you choose to be part of it.

Noodles!! It's what makes the world go round. I have hunted for noodles on the streets of Hanoi, in Toronto, Nagoya and PJ even made me Muar noodles for breakfast at Warwick. Everytime I come to Hong Kong, my good friend Chin Hock would be my host. He is a graduate of HBP from my class. He came to Hong Kong a long time ago to study architecture, married a local and is now a successful developer here. One of the things we do is to hunt down local cuisine. And noodles of course is my favourite. The place, somewhere in Kowloon, was packed with young people. It was absolutely delicious. It cost 25 Hong Kong dollars a bowl. One thing about HK - all the food seems to be about 20 - 25 HKD whether is is chicken or duck rice or noodles. And the portions are very generous. Because the popular places are always packed, you have to share table most of the time. See empty chairs? Just sit down - the customers already there will not mind.

People. Oh, Hong Kong people are very nice - and I am not saying this because of the free lunch. They are extremely polite. This is something which Chin Hock has told me several times and in the process gets very irritated about rude Singaporeans (and people in KL). And I totally agree with him - about how polite people are here in HK. We were at a rice/noodle shop in the central city area on the first night. When the shopowner got paid he said "thank you" to the person paying. And then he turned to all of us sitting down and said thank you again. As we were walking out, he bowed slightly and said thank you for the third time as we walked passed him. Isolated case? No. You will see this behaviour even in the nice coffee shops. "thank you", " excuse me", "sorry for bothering you/intruding" - you will hear it all the time (of course you will need to understand a little bit of Cantonese). I first noticed their politeness on a previous trip when we visited one of the bazaar-type tourist areas. Even if you bargain with them and still decide not to buy, they will still say thank you to you. Try that in Singapore (yes, Singapore), Penang, KL or Beijing (and many other places) and they will be cursing you openly in their native tongue as you walk away - or at the very least give you a dirty look. Chin Hock says it's the result of the recession in the late 1990s - it made Hong Kong people more appreciative of what they have.

Traffic. Hong Kong has 7 million people and they are all packed into a very small area in highrise buildings. You would expect the traffic to be crazy. Well you would be wrong. Traffic is very calm and light and generally very well behaved. Sitting in Chin Hock's car - it feels very relaxing. No mad honking or weaving in and out. One reason for the comparatively light traffic on the roads (except for certain streets at certain times) is that owning a car is a very expensive habit. The car itself is not so expensive. The cost of parking is the killer. Standard rates anywhere is 20HKD an hour. A parking bay at your apartment building would cost about 2,000 - 3,000 per month. A full tank of gas costs 600 HKD (Honda Accord) and lasts about 10 days - thats 1,800 HKD a month. So what do they do? They walk! Everybody walks. They love walking (a lady said to me) and the streets are well designed with traffic islands and refuge in the middle of the road (traffic don't stop for you, you wait for the cars to pass then you cross, that's the "rule"). And of course, Hong Kong is famous for an efficient public transport system. I see a lot of the HKBU students carpooling in taxis. Buses are clean, regular and don't give you change - but that's OK because the locals use Octopus, an electronic wallet which comes in the form of the traditional cards and even on the watch. I took the bus from the airport to the University and it cost only 18 HKD while a taxi ride would cost about 270 HKD. But I got lost because I asked a man in front of my seat whether I should get off at the next bus stop and he looked at the map I showed and said no. He told me to get down a couple of bus stops later and pointed me in the direction of where he thought the building should be. As it turns out, his map-reading skills was not so good. So using my spare Cantonese, I got redirected back. A lady guard suggested I took the bus back but I said "no thank you", I trust my feet more. So I walked all the way back - that took me an extra half an hour to get to my destination.

Below is a picture taken at the elevated walkway (escalated-enabled) in the old city area which has generated a whole new layer of business and offices on the upper storeys of an otherwise dying business area.

(postscript : After reading this post, Chin Hock wanted to 'clarify' that he had two rude encounters with traders at the Sim Lim plaza famous for its computer and electronics products. He even complained to the Singapore Tourism Board, but did not get a satisfactory response).

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

May Day! May Day! They are endangered

It is Labour Day today in Malaysia. And also Wesak Day.

As we rest today to honour all the workers of the world I salute a special, and perhaps dying breed, of dedicated workers who keep our garden clean. The tools of their trade are all traditional and absolutely environmentally-friendly. They sweep with brooms made from the stiff spine of coconut leaves with a wooden handle, their rakes are made of strips of bamboo bent at the tip and spread out like a fan and their baskets are handwoven with strips of bamboo.

They need no electricity to operate nor any fossil fuel.

They are very quiet and bothers no one, especially classes in session.

How long will they be still around on campus? The noisy motorised grass-cutters are now everywhere, even on campus. It used to be the grass-cutters swung sickles attached to long handles in graceful circular motions - over their heads and then down to the ground in swift strokes to effortlessly slice the grass. Already the noisy motorised leave-blower have made it to Malaysia. You can't enjoy your doughnut in peace at the Sg Buloh rest area when one of these is around. It may not be long before these monsters make it into campus too if we don't reward (pay enough) these workers who are probably one of the lowest paid in the hierarchy.

To who ever is keeping this sustainable practice alive on campus, I take off my hat to you. Now let's figure out together what to do with the leaves and yardwaste which these gentlemen in grey gather.

And to the rest of us on campus - have a heart. Pick up your thrash (plastic bags, paper, styrofoam containers). I see them all mixed with the leaves. Throw the thrash where it belong - in the garbage bins (but why generating rubbish as you walk; or drive?). Otherwise your thrash will end up in the yardwaste. That's going to make it a little more difficult when we think about composting and mulching the leaves. Yes, that's what we hope to do in the near future.