Sunday, August 17, 2008

Birdhouse Site Options

Jordie was contemplating. He was in deep thought. ‘Should there be some typical or special sites?’ he bemused.

Jordie was debating in his mind where typically a birdhouse should be sited. Be it by the sea as perceived by some or near to some caves or in a rural environment or just in a converted shophouse in town. Which is it?

As it is now, this is not of contention insofar as production is concerned. Of the many birdhouses sited in shophouses production is encouraging. It is more of a noise pollution problem, ie complaints from neighbours, health concerns and enforcement actions (or lack of it) from local authorities. It never is an income or production issue. An owner of just two birdhouses can count on being called a millionaire in time (so it seemed)

So why should there be any bother where a birdhouse is sited. Is it necessary to think about it at all, in the first place. Should it be good to have a mix of birdhouse types?

The idea is actually to know what we get from the various mix of types. It is not to know what is best and what is not. We’ll just have to do it on a trial and error basis with the fervent hope that we can discover something typical.

Jordie is gathering as much information as necessary. It is a long and hectic learning curve. Empirical evidence is most ideal considering it being a long term project. In most joint venture agreements, it goes 30 years for the initial period and with further extensions after that. It may well involve the second generation in the family. It is worthwhile therefore to learn as much before one goes head-long into it. Bloggers currently contributing their findings and experiences in their blogs are added inspirations. It is a matter of surfing the internet.These are ‘discoveries’ that are useful to the ‘newbies’.

A birdhouse by the caves is one option. Bahar, a friend had suggested that we take a look at his two plots of land in Kuala Lipis which are near to caves. Our first attempt sometime in early July was aborted. We hope to go sometime later.

Jordie had already fixed the dates for the next two options in the meantime. One, is an abandoned shophouse which will be a converted birdhouse in a shophouse in no time. It will be on Aug 19th for a ‘birdhouse in a shophouse option’ A potential site has been identified in Rawang.

On Aug 21st we hope to go to Sungai Baru in Malacca, to check out a site by the sea, the next option. The land belongs to Min, an old friend of mine. Min had voiced an interest after hearing of the business picking up in the south.

A duress test will be done at the designated sites. It is not a conclusion we are hoping for but rather what information we can get. Jordie once remarked that a duress test he did in Sabak Bernam (somewhere by the sea) was the most unforgettable. Within seconds the air was teeming with the birds. “ I saw the most birds in that test compared to the others done before” he declared.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Felda LBJ

Image: President Lyndon B Johnson during
his visit to Felda Labu Jaya on Oct 30, 1966

Felda LBJ was previously known as Felda Labu Jaya. It was renamed Felda LBJ following a visit by the then US Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) to the scheme. ( I also understand there is a history to Felda New Zealand in Pahang being named so)

The postings rekindled some great memories of Felda LBJ to me. It was sometime back in 1967 when Syed Alwi the then Social Secretary of the Students Union Universiti Malaya organized a visit to Felda LBJ.

It was a community service by the students. It comprised a bus-load of students in the rickety Student Union bus winding its way south from Pantai Valley, K.L. to Felda LBJ.

This happened a long time ago. I can only recollect from memory not numbers or names (except for a handful) but of some activities of the few days we were there.

We joined the settlers in trimming some young rubber trees, the first morning. This, I remembered clearly. It was mainly because of a pretty lass astride the branches next to where I was perched. She was Ms Kee Phaik Cheen who later made good as a Wanita MCA leader in Penang.

We had to climb and had to settle on the branches and with a parang we had to hack off some small branches here and there. Ms Kee swung the parang so gingerly and in such a feminine way that there were only nicks in the wood. I don’t remember now just how many branches she managed to cut on her own. But there were a number of settlers assigned to help us, though. They were only too happy to help her.

We had to hack off the branch and then we had to saw off the jagged stump. We were told not to saw without cutting first as otherwise, the branch would split because of the weight. A split branch would be harmful to the tree. After cutting we could not leave the jagged stumps without sawing them off either as otherwise the stump would get rotten. A sawn stump could easily be painted over with a special black paint-like solution as a protection to prevent wood-rot.

Even so, it was all a new experience for most of us. However, we did not really do a good job of it as some of the settlers had to hurriedly do repair jobs the next day.

It was a lot of fun for a city boy like me. My experience of kampong life was only confined to a week or two of school holidays with my cousins in Kuala Pilah mostly. That was where I had my roots.

We also had to dig a long trench apparently to divert some water source .I remembered Alan an outlandish guy (who, a few years later during his Convocation wore a huge medallion as big as a beef burger which hung from his neck) He came that morning in very tight shorts which split (much to the amusement of everyone around) It happened when he heaved the cangkul (hoe) too heavily and came down too fast.

There was also John, an exchange student from London. While resting in between the diggings he was offered raw tapioca, to which he exclaimed, ‘this is not poison is it , ok to eat?’

During the last night, the settlers ‘threw a party’, a kenduri which we initially thought was specifically organised for us. Actually, we had the good fortune of being at the right place and at the right time. It was a farewell do for the Manager. Since we were there they had ‘cooked extra and included us in’. The Manager was going on transfer to Felda Kong Kong in Johore apparently.

A surprise was in store for Syed Alwi when we were about to board the bus home the next morning. Syed had made himself so loveable with his friendly and outgoing ways with the settlers that it did not go unnoticed by one of the young girls there. Being the group leader Syed was one of the last to board. A young girl (barely 15 years old) suddenly pushed her way among the adults who were shaking hands bidding us farewell. She got to the speechless Syed. She handed a nicely folded letter to him and there was a twinkle in her eyes when she did.

On the bus there were people who joked and asked Syed in jest ‘about the letter’. Syed just kept smiling. Syed was not telling. He talked about other things. Nothing came of it really because Syed did not get married to anybody from Felda. That I know for a fact.

And the young girl ? She probably would have been a feeble grandmother in her late fifties by now, and maybe, just maybe a millionaire in her own right.

LBJ settlers (the young girl’s parents amongst them I would think) became ‘the instant new rich’ when part of their lands were acquired or bought over by investors. They were the lucky lot because their deals were inked much earlier than others.

Unlike the settlers from other land schemes around LBJ (including Sendayan?) who were offered large sums for their land. It remained unpaid for many years when the investors reneged on the deals following the 1997 financial crisis.

There were talk of rescue packages outlined by the YB Menteri Besar, Mohamed Hassan sometime ago. It could have been resolved by now but they may not get as much as they had expected.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Close Encounters of the Feathery Kind

I don’t have a penchant for birds of any particular kind. I do not want to be sentimentally attached to a pet or to any living creature lest I cannot give full attention and care for it.

My uncle used to trap merboks, a kind of singing bird. He had that uncanny talent of spotting a bird landing area just by looking on the ground. He would walk around the wastelands. At certain strategic spots which to the untrained eye would appear ordinary he would stop. ‘There !’ he exclaimed pointing to the ground in front of us. Sure enough. The sand and grass appeared disturbed a bit. There were little marks and light scratchings around them.

He would then go about setting up his trap. It was the primitive type. It comprised one of the spokes of a golf umbrella with a string attached. At the end of the string was a loop laid out over a perch. A step on the perch would trigger off a backlash, and the trap is sprung and the loop would tighten around the bird’s leg. Very simple but very effective.

He would have to check it early the next morning lest poachers (man and animals alike) might not beat him to it. If that happened he would exclaim the same word everytime ‘bingkas’ (meaning ‘sprung’), even when we were 10 metres from reaching the ‘sprung trap’. He could ‘smell’ a spung trap from a distance in the dim light of dawn.

It took time to train the newly trapped merboks, though. The good ones apparently could engage in a melodious reaction just to a snap of the fingers from outside their cages After some time the good ones got sold. These were replaced by some newly trapped ones to be trained yet again. That was why he had many of them all in their cages hanging around his house all the time.

I told him I was fascinated with birds with bright colours but not his drab looking merboks (where incidentally a good one could fetch a tidy sum from the right people)

One day he brought home for me a ‘serindit’ akin to the parakeet (a long tailed smaller parrot-like bird, green in colour). It didn’t cost anywhere near to a merbok but it was just as adorable.

It came in a special horizontal egg-shaped cage with a bamboo shaft in the middle as its perch. When in the mood, it would jump down from its perch and walked and the cage would turn. The cage would twirl round and round when it went faster. It was fascinating to see how it seemed to be enjoying itself, running. It fed on rambutans, and occasionally bird seeds. Salt was an absolute no-no, it would be fatal, apparently.

I had a wonderful time seeing the cage twirl every now and then. However, after some time even at that tender age of 10 years I could feel the cruelty and guilt.The serindit was imprisoned through no fault of its own.

One fine morning, I had an inspiration. I told myself I would just let the serindit decide for itself. I would open the cage door and ‘see what gives’. It would have to make its own choice. I was sure it would, bird-brained or otherwise. Let us see. Would it or would it not. I would open the cage door and see what would happen.

That I did. I had it opened. It must have seen me doing it. It flapped its wings, still perched. No, it wouldn’t. Yes, it would. It walked a few steps to the left as if to decide, then back to the right. It flapped its wings again, the cage rocked. In that split second, in the confusion, it suddenly made it through the cage door!

Yes it did! Clever bird. It decided for itself. It flew out and settled at the edge of the roof. It looked down, surveying, seemingly debating what to do next. It took a few steps, stopped as if to say good-bye and flew away never to be seen again. It was victory for me, for having helped the bird to decide. How very satisfying. The bird was free to fly wherever it desired to go.

A few years later I sensed that strange sensation of victory when I passed by my old school, the Victoria Institution (V.I.) in Kuala Lumpur. Old Victorians would certainly recall the land behind the VIOBA building just outside the main gate. There were a number of pigeon houses. These were looked after by an Indian Muslim family. It was in the late fifties. (sometime in 1958/1959)

These birds would swamp out of their nests as a flock, flew out and disappeared behind the trees and appeared again to later land on the pigeon houses again. I had that same feeling when my serindit flew out and perched on the roof. It was free to decide to fly out or to land. I was glad that I had made the choice to release the serindit years ago.

When I got on the monorail recently, fast tracked to 2008, passing V.I. towards Berjaya Square I spied a modern mosque at the site but the pigeons were no more there. I wonder what happened to them and the family that looked after them.

The mosque is spotless white, a stark contrast to the drab and dirty Pudu Prison abandoned for some time now just barely 1 km down the road.

The Prison is such an eyesore. It is premium territory. Many parties had registered their interests as reported in the media not too long ago.It should be turned into something better, an ultra-modern commercial centre, office complex or park or anything at all, just so it is more kind to the eyes.

Hafi my elder son, when told of the birdhouse plans I was working on endorsed it readily but without the excitement yet. However, deep inside I believe he was happier knowing that there would be some impending economic activities on the vacant land.

Hafi was fascinated with birds. On one occasion he had nearly 15 of them on his head, his shoulders and arms at one time and he could still hold the tin of bird seeds in his hands. It was Trafalgar Square, London, in 1982. He was just 5 years old and he did not seem frightened. He was all excited gleefully facing the camera and at times, grimacing as the birds kept pecking all over. And I was busy snapping all the photos that I could to capture as much of the spectacle.

With the birdhouse, I suppose he’ll be directly involved in due course. This being a long term venture, and he being the elder boy. He would have to take upon the responsibility of managing it in time. Only one birdhouse now, maybe more later. Time will tell.