Friday, August 23, 2013

Stop Hunger Now....KL Style

No this isn't your normal KL foodie blog.....but it should be.

Last weekend I joined several hundred enthusiastic people in Bangsar Village I, and assisted in packaging Stop Hunger Now meals.  The event was sponsored/hosted by Rotary International Clubs in Georgetown, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.  At this site 88,000 meals were packaged during two volunteer shifts.  Rotary was the organizing group facilitating his event in conjunction with the Stop Hunger Now Malaysia international office.

Volunteers in Bangsar Village I Mall

88K meals sound like a lot, but two years ago Taylor University in Petaling Jaya organized 4000+ students who packaged over 1,000,000 meals.  That is a lot.

The logistics of the project is amazing.  The local organizing group follows a project management template established by Stop Hunger international NGO based in Raleigh, North Carolina...our former home.  Liz is aware of the group having taught at least one of their former staff members at North Carolina State University.

The KDU culinary students on the STOP HUNGER NOW assembly line.

So how did it work. Stop Hunger Now provides the rice, beans/lentils, vitamin packets, bags, and instructions.  Around a set of long tables 4 individuals put measured amounts of the dry ingredients in the bags.  Several more weight the contents and adjust the contents to a standard weight, two individuals heat seal the bags, and several more pack cardboard cartons with exactly 36 bags of food.  Each resealable bag contains food for 6 meals, and instructions (in English and in pictures) are printed on the bag.

Fill each space with two meal bags and you have a full box.

The math....each carton contains 216 servings.  And we packed 400 - 450 cartons.  The total is my approximation given the announcements accompanied by the striking of a large gong.  No jokes please about "the gong show".

Although I pre-registered for a time slot, I had to wait in line to join the assembly line.  A large enthusiastic group of culinary arts students at KDU (a local university/college) provided a base of manpower in the afternoon.  Without them, the job would not have been completed.

So if you hear of a local food packaging event associated with Stop Hunger Now.  Go join is a lot of fun...and it doesn't matter how old you are...from teen to 90+ you can do it.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Orang Utans and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (Kuching)

Aerial acrobatics - mother teaching offspring the ropes

On our recent trip to the US we learned that a friend has a goal of seeing orangs utans in their natural habitat. Since we want our friends to discover the many wonderful things in Malaysia we have kept our eye out for orang utan information. Probably the best source of information is at a Lonely Planet site where readers regularly share their experiences of visiting wildlife areas in Malaysia and Indonesia. What I learned from the site is that seeing orang utans involves trade offs. No one place is likely to satisfy everything a person wants.

Before we went, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre seemed a bit hokey - visitors show up either at 9 or 3 and watch orang utans come in from the jungle and get fed. From trip advisor reports posted a few days earlier we knew that we would see orangs, and we knew from the Lonely Planet site that our pictures would show more than an orange patch barely visible in the trees. (We shot a 2 minute video too large to post here. You can see it at While you are at youtube you may want to check out other videos, including OrangUtan and Flying Lemur).

The first arrival
At 9 (or 3) park rangers put food at the feeding stations, call for the orangs (think dinner bell), and see who swings in from the jungle. July is the dry season, and the orangs are more likely to take advantage of the centre's food, since less food is available in the jungle. When and if orangs show up depends on whether they are are hungry or not. Although visitors converge at a feeding site no one spot seems better than others for a good view or pictures.

Around 9:30 a juvenile orang came swinging through the trees, used the guide ropes and grabbed food. The SOP for eating seemed to be grab food, go up the ropes, gobble it up, and spew peels and uneaten bits downward.

Later a mother with a baby on her back arrived and went through a similar routine.

After the orangs had eaten, a line of squirrels made its way down the ropes - the centre should describe the activity as "orang utan and squirrel feeding." As we were leaving we went to another site and watched the mother instruct a juvenile in aerial acrobatics.
Prior being allowed into the feeding area a  ranger spoke - primarily on rules and warnings about an alpha male. While we waited his talk and opening access to the feeding area there wasn't much to do. The centre had a few cages with crocodiles - I have no idea why they were there. Our guide also pointed out pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that is common in Borneo.

Pitcher plant - plant produces its own fluid in which it drowns its prey the cap
keep the rain from diluting the fluid

Crocodile is feed once a week - an event we prefer to miss
Logistics: It is possible to get to Semenggoh by a public bus, which requires a 20 minute walk from the bus stop to the centre. The buses leave on a fixed schedule, with a long interval between trips; a bus rider may have to sacrifice orang watching to return to Kuching. (There is virtually nothing at Semenggoh to entertain the visitor between or after a feeding session.) Taxis are a possible alternative. We booked a tour; a guide picked us up at our hotel and told us a bit about the centre. A private tour may add little value beyond convenience. In the parking area we met Mawi, our guide from Bako; his stop at Semenggoh was part of a longer tour - an alternative a tourist might want to consider.

Based on our experiences, especially in India, we are learning more about viewing wildlife. In India the park officials remind visitors that the park is to protect the wildlife and visitors should consider themselves lucky if they see wildlife. That being said there are seasonal considerations that improve the probability of seeing wildlife - for elephants in India and the orangs utans in Sarawak dry season is better. During rainy season the animals have food and water close at hand. At the Danum Valley in Sabah fruit season was recommended because the resort was in a heavily fruited area where the wildlife came down to eat.

As we grow older we realize that being in close proximity to wild animals may be naive for anyone other than wildlife biologists. Many of the animals are shy and visitors are intrusive. While Semenggoh and similar places may seem little better than a zoo they allow visitors to get a close up view of orang utans in the wild and appreciate their strength and dexterity. (We had a similar experience in Lao at the Elephant Conservation Center, That is, we were in a sanctuary for limited number of elephants rather than elephants that happened to be roaming in the forest. Not chance of being nuzzled awake by an elephant.) Each centre provides a different experience which can add up to a complete picture.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A visit to Bako National Park

In late July 2013 we visited Kuching, Sawarak, Malaysia, on the north western tip of Borneo.  This is our 6th or 7th visit to Kuching.  This time we did something different, we took two guided trips to two nearby national parks: Bako National Park, and Semonggoh Wildlife Center.

On a bright Sunday morning (is there anything else in Malaysia) our guide picked up at our hotel to drive us to Bako National Park.  He insisted we look for sunblock and mosquito repellent (we had both back in KL but had forgotten to bring them, along with hats and binoculars), neither of which were available in the four 7-11 stores we visited.  Hotel sundry shops were closed (out of business), and pharmacies did not open until 10 am.  Off we went and hoped for the best.

Mawi, our guide

Bako National Park is located approximately 35 km from Kuching on a peninsula in the South China Sea.  After about an hour's drive we arrived at the entrance and ferry dock.  The vendor there sold all sorts of chips (crisps), ice creams, and drinks but no sunblock or mosquito repellent.  We signed in, waived all legal rights to sue anyone, and boarded our boat.
Cannot say we were not forewarned

 The small outboard powered skiff with canopies took us to the headquarters of the park (about 30 minutes away). It was low tide.  Instead of skirting the fishing net structures in the river, we sailed under them.  Our pilot was excellent, anticipating and avoiding back jarring waves caused by the wakes from other boats.  As we neared Bako National Park, we left the river and entered the South China Sea, with gentle waves.  We were advised to take off our shoes, socks, and roll up our pants legs, as we had a wet landing.  Low tide closes the jetty and we walked through the gentle surf onto the beach.  A hundred or so metres and we were ashore, washing our feet, and putting on our shoes while keeping a wary watch on the local monkey population.

We were greeted by a long-tailed macaque

We visited the museum, mostly photographs of the fauna, reptiles, mammals, and birds to be found in the park.  Here the most important mammal is the proboscis monkey, found only on Borneo.  Sometimes it is called the orang belanda ("Dutch Monkey"), due to the length of nose and size of the belly.  Our guide disabused us of this, saying the coat and hair coloring is similar to that of colonial Dutch soldiers.  Government posters showed vulnerable and threatened species within Malaysia.  The distinction is the amount of protection provided, and the penalties for violating the rules.

A regular green viper in a tree next to a park cabin

Off we went wandering through the beach scrub, staying clear of the trees (snakes).  Pythons and vipers are present.  We saw a regular green viper and kept our distance, but did not see a python.  As we walked on the boardwalk over the marshland walking towards Ulu Assam overlook.  Several hundred metres into the hike we came upon a troop of long tailed macaques.  The mother macaque nursing her child refused to give way, and the male macaques were in a protective mode.  We decided to retreat to the lodge to have lunch.

The alpha male of the troop who did not want to pose for the camera

After lunch ("one hour") we went back on the trail to Ula Assam.  The macaques were still around but did not block our progress.  We saw a hive (high on a cliff) of aggressive stinging bees. The guide commented his job was to stay between the guest and problems, but that did not apply to bees.  We walked and observed the fauna learning about: vines that can grab you (with their thorns) but provide protection from rouge animal; a wide variety of edible and inedible mushrooms, fruits, and construction materials (vines, leaves, and variety of timber).  Some timber is good for window and door frames, and others are great for joists.  After a while the trail petered out and we returned to the park HQ.  We then followed a trail back to staff quarters (badminton and soccer areas), water pumps, and a mobile phone tower.

And yes, we were actually there.

We emerged near the jetty (now usable because the tide was in).  We had a 30 minute wait for our boat to arrive but just in the nick of time, a Proboscis Monkey was spotted.  So with our guide we walked along a boardwalk and spent time viewing the juvenile monkey eating sprouts and leaves in the nearby trees.  Many other tourists without guide walked by without noticing one of the reasons they came to the park.

A proboscis monkey in a distant tree.

On our boat we visited some rock formations carved by the sea before returning to the town and our trip back to Kuching.  We will probably return to Bako National Park, but stay one or two nights so we can do some walking, birding, and wildlife viewing.  Besides, it would be a great place to sit on a balcony and read a book (or Kindle).  Even in retirement, one needs to get away for the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Rock formations etched by the waves

Some notes: We booked the tour through Ooo Haa Tours & Travel . Surprisingly the Sarawak Tourist Office (across the street from our hotel) is only open Mon-Fri from 9 - 5 or maybe 8 to 5. We were too surprised to pay close attention. While one can get to Bako without a guide we learned that the major advantages of hiring guides is that they know where the animals are, have a keen eye for spotting less visible species, and trade information with each other.