Tuesday, October 21, 2008

‘The Lull before the Storm..’ (Segmen A2)

It was mid-morning, Tuesday Oct 07, 2008. We were on our way to Rawang to see on the renovation works. While in the car, Jordie narrated to me of events of the last few days.

He confirmed his workers came back after the festive holidays and were now on site, They had gone earlier in the morning. There were altogether 3 able-bodied, muscular hunks ever ready to start.

Upon arrival in Rawang we found that the water and electricity connection were unfortunately not done just yet .This meant that Siva, the electrical contractor could not start on the wiring works that morning. However, he had enquired from the owner of the next but one lot who was kind enough to allow us to tap the connection from his mains for a few days. Power was restored and works could therefore continue with the temporary connection.

We were again in Rawang on Tuesday Oct 14, 2008. We had stopped over to view the progress while on our way to Proton City, Behrang, just north of Tanjong Malim.

Work had progressed from the last time. All the debris had been cleared. The workers were painting away a new coat of paint on the walls. It was a drab black colour, very unattractive by human standards but ideal for the birds apparently. Jordie had the wisdom of choosing an odourless Nippon paint which had cost more but plainly necessary in order not to distract the birds.

After giving a once-over of all the 3 floors we had then proceeded to Behrang in the late afternoon. We had the intention of conducting a duress test at Encik Shah’s land. However it was just our luck that it rained cats and dogs when we reached Behrang. A test could not be conducted in rainy conditions. However rain stopped later but it was already nearing dark.We proceeded to the land anyway just to view the location with the intention of coming back on another day.

Jordie and I had reasoned that we view sites as and when available. These lands were either made known to us through offers by landowners that Jordie knew or through my friends who had lands that are undeveloped and were willing to participate.

‘There should be no let up in our preparing for future expansion’ Jordie used to say. Despite the impending recession looming our way, the birdhouse industry beckons!

‘We’ll look at any potential site. We’ll build up our arsenal so that we can pick and choose when the time comes. We anticipate reduced economic activities in other sectors as a consequence of the recession. A birdhouse can be an attraction to those looking for an alternative.

We have to be happy with a some level of preparedness’ Jordie said. We had since gone around a 200km distance to the north and south of K.L doing just that ie conducting duress tests.

With a free fall in commodity prices (where CPO is now RM 1700 per ton from a high of RM4400 and crude oil at USD70 per barrel from USD145 all barely 3 months ago), bailouts galore around the globe, volatile stock markets, toxic assets to account for, who is not worried?

While economic activities will be severely curtailed and markets severely restricted, none would remain unscathed. It was predicted to be worst than the 1930’s Depression years, none that we had experienced in our lifetime. It is frightening!.

The recession is coming, slowly but surely. It is expected to reach our shores by the second (Q2) or third quarter (Q3) of 2009. It comes roughly once every decade as shown in 1974, 1985, 1997 and now ‘the mother of all recessions’ in 2009. The pundits had predicted it to be at its worst in 2010. Are we not worried? Not many seemed to care. On the ground life goes on as usual because it has not impacted on them yet. They pride themselves in complaining about the rise in the price of goods and some other mundane things but forgetting bigger things.

As mentioned in an earlier posting, Jordie had targeted for 3 birdhouses by June 2009(the end of Q2). As the birdhouse business is reputedly recession-proof we are lining up for a few more for which we are criss-crossing Perak, Negri Sembilan and Malacca in recent months. (territories within easy one day driving)

‘The lull before the storm’ Yes, we have to set the pace. ‘We have to double our efforts to do the ground work now before it all happens.’ so says Jordie.

It has been termed a financial tsunami. It is very likely to be so, given the current scenario leading to it. The economic meltdown thumbed the big and developed economies. Its ripples would find its way to our shores in no time.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Ball Gets Rolling…….

Jordie had his construction paraphernalia carried over to Rawang from Datuk’s house. This was the last week of September, 2008. He was happy. He managed to complete the renovation works of the house in Kelana Jaya. He met his deadline and Datuk could move back in time for Hari Raya.

His workers too have all gone for the Hari Raya break. Some even back to Medan apparently. However, Jordie is confident they should be back in one week as they normally do. A number of the workers have been with him for a few years now. He had good chemistry and good rapport with them. That is not a problem for him.

The same cannot be said for the construction industry though. It had gone through harrowing times these recent years. With a slew of events and occasions spanning the past decade it had been trying times. The 1997 financial crisis triggered off the rot. What with the price of cement, steel and other materials all on the upswing. And if that’s not all, the oil price broke the psychological barrier of US$100 a barrel just months ago.(culminating in US$145, the highest on July 02, 2008) It led to higher costs all round.

And President Bush had summoned both the contending parties, Obama and McCain just days ago pondering over the impending financial crisis looming over the horizon. The incoming President, whoever he is, runs smack into it come January 2009 when he takes office.

With the sub-prime hiccup on the starting blocks, it led to the demise of Bear Sterns, Freddy Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, Merril Lynch, and AIG for starters. Dubbed the ‘mother of all bailouts’ Congress had to agree to a US$700 bil (RM2.38 trillion) payout and it is still ticking. It is leading to the likes of the 1930’s Depression years of bank failures, fall in property prices, widespread foreclosures and unemployment. The difference this time around is slated to engulf not just the Americans but the whole world.

And to think the IMF (read the US) had refused ‘bailout’ for the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis as a way out for Asian countries. They are now taking a ‘leaf from the book’ of what Dr Mahathir did in averting us from the brink of disaster. The other asian economies were then left in the lurch when they sought IMF help. Some help it was!

There would be a fire-sale for the picking they must have thought gleefully. And it sure did! Asian corporations and companies fell by the wayside like ten-pins and the Americans had a heyday grabbing the juicy ones for themselves.

A global crisis… where will all these lead to. The ripples from the West may take a little time but it will eventually reach us. The recession is coming definitely. Hollering hoarse against the fuel/oil price rise is a lot of hot air. (though sweetened with 2 price cuts lately)

“This is a good time for us” Jordie said without batting an eyelid. The world will be in crisis, yes. It will take valiant efforts on their part.The ripples had already reached British shores, the 4th largest economy, and ultimately the whole of Europe. There’s nothing we can do about it!

“Wrong!” Jordie countered triumphantly. “We can.. The bird house industry can” he said. The birdhouse business is reputed to be recession proof. This was one of the arguments put forth for the business. Now is the opportunity to really put this to test - whether it is recession proof. Is it just sheer bunkum or will it prove otherwise? We will not have to think about it. We will not have to debate on it. We will not have to wait for it.

We will just follow our own time-line diligently knowing fully well there is an impending glitch in the financial markets and its resulting recession. We cannot influence it nor go against it. The big economies can work it out for themselves.

The birdhouse business will remain unscathed. So it seemed. Demand will remain as our market is mainly China and Hong Kong.The Chinese economy-plus (with Hong Kong,Taiwan and the overseas Chinatowns ) is supported by a 2 billion population and is sheer magic. It will have a life of its own and can sustain itself come what may in other parts of the world. So it is believed. The tainted milk scare/scandal is just a temporary setback which will be quickly forgotten.

The Rawang job should take about 4 weeks going into the whole of October. A spillover to November may occur but it will not matter.

After Rawang, we have assigned a reasonable lead time of 6 months for the next 2 jobs, one in Sabak Bernam and the other, my land in Kuala Pilah. Unlike Rawang which is a renovation of sorts both will take longer as we are starting from scratch.

By end of June 2009, we should have 3 birdhouses duly completed each of a different kind ie a converted shoplot (Rawang), by the sea (Sabak Bernam) and in an inland /rural setting (Kuala Pilah)
It would be interesting to discover if the 3 different settings could translate to different amounts in production ie whether ‘by the sea’ as often believed will be more productive than the other two? It can certainly be a guide in future network expansion.

Jordie has interests in all the 3 while I have only 1 with him. At this stage it is somewhat premature to strategise on a network build-up but it is in the offing. We’ll cross the bridge when it comes.

In the meantime, Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and may the ensuing year be blessed with good productivity and prosperity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Converted Shophouse Option – (Segment A1)

We were in Rawang on the morning of 9th September, 2008 . We came to view the shophouse meant for conversion to a birdhouse. Jordie had been here sometime in late August just to give it a once-over from the outside.

He didn’t try to hide his excitement when we arrived. He was thrilled in fact. It was mainly because he managed to fulfil the first part of his dream of having a direct interest in a birdhouse.

Jordie’s involvement are on two counts. One, it is on a JV basis so that he has a share in its running and the returns accruing while the other is in the conversion job (being a contractor that he is). Jordie has to turn a bare and neglected three storey shoplot into a functioning and money-making structure.

When we went in it was not as bad as we had expected. Apparently the previous owner or tenant was a contractor of some sort as the remnants of rubbish comprised PVC materials, pipes and knick-knacks normally associated with plumbing works.

He (or his workers) did Jordie a favour by stripping off all of the wirings (copper wires fetch good money) and left the rubber strips strewn all over. It is good for Jordie as his workers need not do the stripping. He is also assured the wiring forthwith for the building would be all new and according to his fancy.

The location is perfect. It is one of a row of about 50 empty shoplots facing 4 big fish ponds and ex-mining land down below across the road. The row of shoplots is on higher ground so that one sees all the four ponds from the road (in the water then was a flock of what looked like migratory birds frolicking in the sun.)

An external water source is an added bonus (good for a birdhouse) and the higher ground makes for good feng shui, that’s what I gather later.

Cleaning work gets going by the end of the week. The water and electricity connection will follow and the converted shoplot option is off the ground!

Jordie had decidedly made certain observations and weighed his options. There is the small 2’x 4’ window-like opening at the wall at the top of the landing. In practically all houses it would remain closed as it is too high up to bother (even for would-be burglars) We had the initial tendency to make minimal changes to whatever is already there. We thought this opening could be the dog-house entrance for the birds. Jordie decided against this. The choice has to be based on some idiosyncracies favouring the swiftlets and not just convenience to the investors.

The direction of the dog-house entrance merits careful thought. This consideration is fundamental and may even be fatal if wrongly decided.

It has to do with the way the birds fly in. It can either be clockwise or anti-clockwise. For those flying clockwise the entrance should face 3 o’clock and it should face 9 o’clock for the reverse. If it is wrongly placed the birds might have to swoop in but make a U-turn to enter. This is the opinion of those long in the business which should not be taken lightly.

From their observations once the birds fly clockwise they would continue to do so in that manner. It is also true of the opposite. It can be in the same area and of a similar kind of specie and they will maintain their flying direction once established. It is therefore of utmost importance to determine the flying pattern during the initial Duress Test (From our experience on the road it is not easy to make a U-turn what more when in full flight)

In Jordie’s case it may even be a double whammy. There are already two or maybe three other birdhouses on the same row. The inconvenience of entering may prompt these birds to the other birdhouses. Jordie decided the dog-house should be an external one on the roof top and the entrance direction strategically placed.

There is ample water source provided by the fish ponds across the road. Jordie thought he may have to reconsider an earlier decision concerning water in the roving area at the top floor.

Some birdhouses have them externally in the open on the roof top while some others don’t have one at all.

A water feature is considered necessary. It may be of any dimension, say, 20’x30’ on the roof top and much smaller in the roving area. It provides a cooling-effect area and a playing area. The birds would fly low, for the quickie ‘cool dip and a sip’ and playfully fly around before proceeding into the nesting area in the lower floors below.

Jordie expects no change for the location of his water feature. Being placed inside the roving area is a better option as once inside and ‘loving it’ the birds will stay inside.The next best thing to do after that is not to fly out but to go down to the nesting area. They would then happily do what they are meant to do, to nest and to make nests and make more nests.

For my easier reference I have tagged subsequent postings according to segments under different categories. They go in series (of 1,2,3…) to easily compartmentalize and chart the progress.
1.Converted Shophouse – Segment A
2.By the Sea – Segment B
3.Rural Setting/Inland Areas – Segment C
4.Vicinity of Caves – Segment D

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Booming Industry but Lacks Enforcement

The government is aware that a birdhouse is a ‘new booming industry’. However, it is not adequately regulated. This was the answer given by the Minister (of Housing and Local Government) through Question Time in Paliament on July 10 , 2008.

“ The swiftlet farming industry in Malaysia was duly recognized as a valid contributor of important foreign exchange currency for the country by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 2004 with the gazetting of the "Guidelines on Swiftlet Farming" for all local, district, municipal and city councils throughout the country.

The Guidelines require that only premises within commercially zoned areas as well as being registered as commercial premises with the relevant council, which have not been designated as a Class 1 Heritage Building can be converted into a swiftlet farm.

The Guidelines also require that certain standards and levels of premises upkeep must be adhered to in areas of noise, health, pollution, scope of renovation works, building fa├žade, rendition and lighting be adhered to before swiftlet farming licences can be issued.”

The guidelines governing the running of birdhouses are already in place. It was specified that though birdhouses are forbidden in housing estates, they are allowed in the shophouses within.

The Housing and Local Government Minister had answered in Paliament that he would request the local authorities to ‘tighten enforcements of the guidelines’.

The guidelines are more of rules and regulations and may not be perceived as having the strength of a piece of legislation. As such there is a lot of leeway and common sense governing the handling of such birdhouses until now.

On July 13, 2008, a concerned reader ‘ML’ mailed to the Star with a heading ‘Keep swiftlet farms out of Geoge Town’ where he said,

“ …Ask anyone who has the misfortune of staying near one of these farms and you would hear complaints ranging from the incessant bird noise from speakers used to attract the swiftlets, unpleasant chemical smells from bird attractants, increased mosquitos from the stagnant water pools in the farms, bird droppings and…….

Many complaints have been made to the city council but so far their enforcement has been inconsistent..”

Again, enforcement is mentioned and the lack of it seems to be the reason for a lot of complaints and disapprovals of folks in the vicinity of these converted shophouses.

Interestingly, inconsistency in enforcement may be the result of
a)this being a relatively new industry here
b)those who convert the shophouses are not that responsible and considerate enough (though they risk running foul of the authorities and their investments may be in jeopardy)
c)those responsible for enforcement may not be aware of the norms of the business.

By implication therefore a birdhouse in an outlying area or a rural setting away from urban centres would be ideal. Our projected birdhouse in rural Kuala Pilah would likely be able to meet many of the provisions of the guidelines. It is a stand-alone birdhouse structure far away from others to be a nuisance to anybody.

Mr T, our consultant had earlier advised that we would have to determine and be aware of all the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the industry.It would help us and it would also get us on the good side of the authorities.

He said we should attend the designated seminars endorsed by them. Information not readily available elsewhere can be obtained at these seminars. A certificate is issued which is currently accepted as a “licence to operate the business’. Short of anything else, the authorities had to fall back on whatever that can make it convenient for all concerned.

For this, birdhouse owners ought to be thankful and reciprocate likewise to make it easier for the authorities and also for themselves.

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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Birdhouse Site

The road to Kuala Pilah is currently being upgraded. The Bukit Putus stretch (just after Seremban towards Kuala Pilah) has been a bane to regular users. It is a winding and twisting road with sharp and blind corners.

During my younger days when we went back for the school holidays from Kuala Lumpur we took the ‘Union’ bus (which has now become the ‘United’ bus) The bus would creak and groan when negotiating the sharp corners.This was much to the delight of the youngsters in the bus.On one occasion two of them got out of their seats and stood in the middle of the bus.They followed the swing of the bus cornering at each bend with much laughter, much to the consternation of the older folks. The only consolation were the ravines below which were not as steep or as deep as that of the old Karak -Temerloh road at the Genting Highlands stretch.

The Karak Highway is heaven-sent. Its construction followed along the valley.The Thai-Italian consortium that did the task had a brilliant way of doing it. They did away from cutting along the higher and winding hill slopes but rather utilizing the flat valley surface.

I used to ply from Bandar Pusat Jengka in Pahang, where I was stationed in the mid-seventies to Kuala Lumpur on most week-ends. I literarily saw the progress of the highway from day one. It was confusing initially because the old road ran along both the higher hill areas and the lower ground areas. While under construction the highway appeared below us and at other stretches there were bridges above us and we were then wondering where it would all lead to.

The ride at the Karak Highway is now smooth and pleasant That’s what is envisaged for this stretch of the Kuala Pilah highway, I would think. It would start about 10 km after Paroi utilizing the valley concept away from the old winding road and ends just before the Ulu Bendul Recreation Area. From a visual assessment the current status I would imagine is 80% complete.

Upon reaching Kuala Pilah one has to turn left towards Bahau and enters into Pelangai about 6 km away. The birdhouse will be at Juasseh Tengah, just a stone’s throw after the PLKN (National Service) complex along the Pelangai -Pasir Ambor road.

There is a Juasseh Ulu which is further up along the road, and there is the town of Juasseh which is just before Bahau. There is Juasseh Hilir, a bit off the town of Juasseh in the interior (which can be accessed along a side road from Kuala Pilah through Dioh) There is also Juasseh Kapitan towards the south which is accessed through a network of sideroads adjacent to the Bahau road. Juasseh Tengah (tengah means centre) as the name suggests is in the centre of all the confusion.

From the roadside, one could follow an access road to the land for a distance of about 200 metres, ascending slightly until the highest point is reached.It has been levelled where it was envisaged once, a bungalow was to be built as a week-end retreat. The surrounding land area was planned for a durian and petai plantation which is on hold but may yet be a reality after the birdhouse.

Our birdhouse consultant, Mr Tee had advised after seeing the land that we should exploit the high ground as it makes it easier for the birds. “The birdhouse should be at the highest point”, he repeatedly reminded Jordie, my partner.

The birds should be able to fly in and fly out without much difficulty or obstacles or big trees in the way.“You must give priority to the business” he said. The birdhouse at the hill top takes priority now. Silently and surely the message is clear - there goes the ‘dream bungalow amidst the greenery’ for the time being!

The site is fairly secluded which physically is expected of a birdhouse. It should be away from neighbours.We have to be fair as at certain times of the day there will be the duress calls of cracklings and shreikings natural to the birds but bothersome to humans.

I just often wonder how much neighbours have to put up with in cases where a birdhouse occupies one lot out of a row of shophouses. It seemed the local authorities in some of the towns are in the process of formulating some regulations over this.

We do not anticipate any problems over this as the nearest house is about 300 metres away. So it is ok, I gather.

We have to think of a another site for the ‘dream bungalow amidst the greenery’ though but it is not pressing, not at the moment!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Duress Test

Jordie was beaming from ear to ear. It was not difficult to see why. He didn’t have any worry to show, not since we left Kuala Pilah. It was just before 8.00 pm.on June 17, 2008. We were on our way back to Kuala Lumpur.We had stopped at the Seremban Highway Rest Area for a ‘cuppa’. Hanafi who had just then done his Maghrib prayers joined us and ordered refreshments.

“We’re all set,” Jordie said. Both Hanafi and I nodded in unison. “now we have to decide on a schedule to progress further.” We again nodded.

We had left Kuala Lumpur earlier in the day, sometime around 4.00 pm “We should reach Kuala Pilah by 5.30 pm or thereabouts.” Jordie said.”. That should be ideal..Rightly so because from readings on the internet, the birds would apparently come to roost back to their nests at around that time. “there’s no need to speed, as we are way ahead of the evening rush hour”, Jordie reminded Hanafi who was driving.

Only 2 days before, Jordie had acquired the CD. He said he had not heard it before and he would like to test it on site. That was the sole purpose of our journey south to Kuala Pilah, to test the CD and to see how effective it would be.

We arrived on the dot. We parked by the roadside. Jordie assured us that we need not go into the land area which was a further 200 metres inside.Hanafi went about setting up the

contraption. It comprised speakers to be plugged into the cigarette lighter of the car thus doing away with any need for batteries. It was actually a recording of swiftlets’ young under duress.

When we played the CD the sudden cracklings and shriekings were a bit of a bother. It was the sound of panic. Similar sounds would invoke a response from adult birds in the sky to naturally answer the distress call to protect their young.

Hanafi placed the item on the car roof, pointed the speakers skywards, plugged it in and ‘hey presto’. The cracklings and shriekings filled the air. It barely took 5 seconds before the sky above was swarming with birds. Initially they were gliding around on a higher level until a few began to swoop in and got closer to us apparently to check around. After a frenzy of flying, gliding and diving for about 10 minutes the birds got back to the higher level and eventually flew off after realising they had been fooled.

Only then we realised and became aware again of the bothersome cracklings and shriekings. Barely a few minutes before it was plainly music to the ear when the birds were hovering above us.

We stayed on for a while to savour the satisfaction of the success of our test and the peace and tranquillity of the countryside at dusk. Jordie smiled, smacked his lips and declared triumphantly that “your land is ideal for a birdhouse!”

We proceeded back to Kuala Lumpur.It was a leisurely drive knowing fully well that there’s a lot to be done and this was only the beginning!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What’s in a Name?

Allahyarham Sudirman and Kay on their Wedding Day

“A rose by any other name smells just as sweet,” so a sage quipped a long time ago. So what’s in a name?

But Hank is ok, I thought. Isn’t it ok? Friends back at my College (at the RMC) called me Hank, they still do even today, after so many years! “What’s wrong with Hank?” I asked my wife, Shadah more of trying to reassure myself rather than expecting an answer.

It’s fashionable to have a special name in blogosphere my wife reasoned. It should be an acceptable nickname she cautioned.

“Shore!”, I retorted sounding very American. “Well, there’s Hank Williams, there’s Hank Marvin I said, bringing back memories of rock & roll greats of yesteryears. What’s wrong with Hank?”

“Nothing , but can’t you be more original?”

“ ‘k”, I said, barely audible, agreeing with her. (my youngest son Azhar will text me ‘k’ to signify ok when he agrees. That’s the language of young people these days, somewhat shortened and may even be confusing at times)

Yes, that’s it! It struck me suddenly, Kay, why not? That’s a nice sounding name,.. Kay….

“…but Kay is feminine, remember late Sudirman’s ex-wife?”... my wife reminded me.

“Yes, I know that… so also Kay Kendall, the ex-wife of the late Rex Harrison” ( both Hollywood screenstars of old ) I unwittingly added.

“That’s not what prompted me”, I confessed (…I felt cornered).

“So what prompted you?”, she asked.

“I was thinking of ‘kay’ in ‘kaya’ meaning ‘rich’ that’s what all birdhouse owners aspire to be”, I replied sheepishly.

“Ok, fair enough, fair enough and I will willingly and certainly pray for your success. I will certainly ‘doa’ for you to be rich”. she said. She agrees and I felt relieved.

“But a nickname must be unique”, my wife quickly added again…

“I will add ‘kuala’ to it, that’s where I was born, Kuala Pilah, that should make it unique”, I said.

“I was born in Titi Gajah” she countered in an instance. Yes, Titi Gajah!

It left me wondering her motive for saying so. There was a sudden silence..... each waiting for the other for the next move.

I remember very distinctly earlier on in our marriage of being constantly reminded of Titi Gajah. The marriage was blissful, loving and supportive and still is, for which I am ever so grateful to Allah, God the Almighty, and to my loving wife most definitely. Ever so sweetly…honey!.

But I was constantly reminded of her pride in sharing her birth place, Titi Gajah in Kedah, with someone well known - Tun Dr Mahathir. Before she could remind me again, I said,

“…but Che Det chose the nom de plume of his Singapore student days for his blog…”. there’s no ‘Titi’ or anything like that in his name. I know he was born there. I should think he is proud of Titi Gajah, also” I was trying hard to appease her wounded pride, for not adopting Titi or Gajah as part of my nickname.

She somewhat remained silent. Phew! It was close. She didn’t flog the issue, I was relieved again.
I could have ended with ‘kaygajah’ as a nickname (or even 'kaytiti' which somewhat sounds odd) She didn’t insist, not this time.'Kaygajah' sounds monstrous and unwieldy. Maybe that’s why.

The nickname ‘kaykuala’ on the other hand sounds forgiving, free flowing (kuala means estuary of a river) elegant and with a mysterious serenity around it. So I think!

Yes, kaykuala it is… feminine? Well, ok, afterall feminity sells as we often see in advertisements. It bodes well for the business.

In this instance, it depicts the constant flow of an estuary, it has also part of ‘kaya’ (I just can’t help but repeat it) richness and riches as a consequence which is good and finally it has my roots in it, 'kuala' all bonded into one…yes, yes.., a Tiger Woods punch in the air…., yes , kaykuala it is!

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Dream Takes Root

Jordie called about a month ago. That’s when it all started. He was all excited. He couldn’t contain himself. What’s up? I enquired. I’ll tell you in an hour. Meet me at the KFC, One Utama, he said. We are Petaling Jaya residents so it is convenient to meet there.

We used to meet at a number of odd places to discuss our project which is as yet to get off the ground. It’s a mixed development housing project and Jordie is my partner. Conversion of the land and other related matters with the authorities were taking time.

This time Jordie was all excited and all excitement. I could see it must be something big, current, something challenging and something that brings the big bucks fast, naturally.

I have an idea, he said. We need not even have to seek prior approval from the authorities. We can start straight away. It is all up to us.

Whoa, hold your horses! Tell me first what is it, what’s bugging you, I countered, trying to bring some semblance of reality.

A birdhouse, yes a birdhouse he said, repeating it just so I got it. You mean……I interjected. Yes, he said not giving me even a chance to finish my sentence.

I have heard of these birdhouses. I thought the enterprising guys just converted not just any old and abandoned buildings but these must be somewhere along the Perak coasts or something.

No, it need not be by the sea nor near some caves, no nothing like that, Jordie said. It is now even in the centre of towns. It can be in the city or it can be outside the city he emphasized. So your 15 acres of land is just ideal, he said. Most of them have just one or two shoplots converted and they have neighbours who occupy the adjoining lots.

My, I was thinking to myself. What with my 15 acres? Quite a few dozens of birdhouses can spring up from there, may be, I wonder how many?

We’ll just build one birdhouse Jordie said, as though he could read my mind. He could somehow guess and answered my quizzical look at the same time!

It is already a month since and we have done our homework. I scoured the internet for information and Jordie scoured the country side for the physicals.

Tomorrow is the day of reckoning. Yes, we are driving south. We are going to test whether the land in Kuala Pilah is suitable for a birdhouse.