Two ponds from my childhood

I often feel a tinge of sadness when I pass by the Kelana Jaya lakes today. My experiences growing up with fishing and fish-rearing are inevitably tied to that intimate cluster of ex-mining ponds beside the Damansara Puchong Highway. Today, indiscriminate overfishing and worse, lousy waste planning, have turned the once clear, thriving waters into foul, algae-thickened wastewater pools.

Looking back, there was no better, more conveniently located, place for my father to teach his sons the ropes of fishing basics than the clean, gravel-bottomed lakes that were a short 10 minute drive from our house in Taman Megah. There were so many different fish species and so many different locations in the various ponds that the possibilities of techniques and places to try them were endless.

The earliest memories I recall are those of two ponds amongst the 6 or 7 in that area; the first is the brown-stained pond next to the Kelana Jaya swimming complex and the next is where today’s Kelana Esplanade is (which back then was the backdrop for the now-defunct Kelana Seafood Restaurant). At the former, we often caught small Ikan Hantu (the highly prized Soon Hock or Marble Goby) and I had fun ‘worm-fishing’ for the smaller sand-gobies that would chase down a worm in packs in the shallows. These sand-gobies were no bigger than the worm itself and once the greediest of the lot had stuffed his mouth with the worm’s wriggling tail, I would lift him clean out of the water; his face too full and greedy to let go of the juicy morsel.

Or course, the most interesting catch was the golf club we hauled up out of the water once. Besides the swimming complex, the pond was also adjacent to the driving range, and I figure someone must have had a very bad day indeed.

The Kelana Seafood pond was the place of mythical lore for us. My father fed us the story (which he himself heard from someone else…so the story goes) that years before, the pond had been the site of a growing number of wind-surfing enthusiasts. These were mostly expats who found that the large lake size and windy conditions were perfect for indulging their hobby in Malaysia. Apparently the Toman in the lake didn’t think too much of sharing the lake with them and gave one of them a toothy tattoo on the ankle. That spelt the end of the windsurfing activities. Of course, we were always on the lookout for the distant middle-of-the-pond roll of a mat salleh-chewing Toman whenever we fished there.

It was here too that we were able to see the effect introduced species could have on aquatic populations. Besides the ubiquitous Tilapia and featherbacks, there was a sizable population of what we called Apollo Perch; discus-looking cichlids that came in both black and orange varieties. These were pretty aquarium fish with their banded bodies and scribble-patterned faces and so we had quite a few swimming in our aquarium at any one time.

Along the way, a leaner, more ferocious cichlid which we called Kerapu (for its striking body pattens that somewhat resemble the seawater grouper) was introduced and slowly but surely we saw less and less of the Apollos until one day we stopped catching them altogether. I saw this same pattern many years later in the Subang lake systems when the Peacock Bass was introduced there, but this time it was the Kerapu that were edged out.

My father recycled the top and bottom styrofoam packaging of our new household refrigerator (or some other kitchen appliance) into squarish aquariums, one each for my brother and I. I was proud that mine had a good mix of Apollos, guppies, gobies, fake fighting fish, barbs and even a slimy albino catfish which was bought from the roadside stall in SS2’s night market. I made sure there was a good supply of tufted water weeds and constructed a small cave out of rocks from which the catfish would swirl in and out.

Besides the actual experience of fishing the ponds themselves, I guess the chance of having constructed at that young age a microcosm of their rich aquatic diversity, is what makes me thankful that I was there when Kelana Jaya’s lakes were as they once were.

My global event

Lausanne 2010 in Cape Town, which kicked off yesterday night, is my global event for the year. In the midst of a year defined more or less by the bounded locality of events revolving in and around the decision to get started on my PhD in UM, this one overseas event is one that I’ve been waiting for.

Ever since reading about the first Lausanne which happened in the 70’s, I’ve been struck by the quality of the effort that Christians in that initial congress put into defining the relationship between evangelism and social work. Exiting FES with the Social Work Exposure and Equipping Program (SWEEP) also left me with some firsthand experience of social concern and a whole host of social worker’s thoughts on what works or doesn’t, what the Bible has to say about the value of choice and dignity and other stuff revolving around the underprivileged amongst us. (Peter Young…that tall, shuffling, old man with his coarse, raspy, meandering voice and his stinging indictment on materialism in the church at the expense of so many!)

I read that the 2nd Lausanne in Manila was somewhat tepid and not much came out of it, but I’m hoping that this 3rd one in Africa with a truly global planning board will shed some biblical light on the latest issues arising in the context of world evangelisation.

The board of course is completely different from the original committee (well…Billy Graham and John Stott are still alive…but give ’em a break guys!) but Lindsay Brown, the former IFES general secretary is heading it and he’s got years of experience in reading the signs of the times as student ministry is always a pretty forward-looking enterprise (looking at what is and trusting God to shape students for what is ahead).

Being the first Lausanne in the e-era, there are the prerequisite homepage and blogsite along with papers on various conversation topics, prayer lists and a list of “global partner” sites where local venues host activities. Malaysia’s partner is listed but no activities are mentioned (cheh).

Hopefully I can put in a few minutes everyday for prayer and reading.


the grey layered sky
gradated upwards like
an infinite, ever-rising
block of shale

glimpses of dawn:
the struts and beams
on which angry rainclouds
hang and crawl into space

amidst the sullenness
i see two dancing
inches of black
tossed by the wind

erratic and random
but for entangled flightpaths
tracing one another
chopping at wingtips

perspective pins
everything flat
the illusion of only two axes
in the grey morning sky

real estate

My grandmother’s house was recently sold
For less than a hundred grand I was told
Ipoh’s the kind of place
That says right to my face
Memories aren’t worth their weight in gold.

As I was passing

I saw something a while ago. There were two foreign workers assigned to trim the bushes that line the road leading up to MidValley from the Federal Highway. One of them was trying hard to brush some kind of something off the collar of the other one, who was also frantically brushing his hair. Must have been bees or kerengga.

It was just a short moment before my car whizzed past. Any earlier and they would have been two foreign workers trimming trees, but at that point they were two kids who had mischievously thrown a rock at a nest of bees or red ants and learnt the hard way that the tiniest creatures pack the worst bites. Brothers in swarms.

DAY 1 Home is where the road is

I had thrown the packet of Heong Peah into the top of my rucksack rather absentmindedly: more as a way of getting rid of the ever-growing food store accumulating at home than as emergency rations. Now as the four of us threw down our bags from tired frustration at being lost in the jungle, the sweet crunchy pastry was what we chewed on hungrily before we backtracked on our quest to locate the waterfall and campsite known as Lubuk Kawah.

WA’s GPS, a whole lot of topographical guesswork, plus a stubbornness to tramp somewhat aimlessly on abandoned logging tracks was why the GPS screen in front of us had two points, one marked “Lubuk Kawah” and another that informed us very,very precisely how wrong we were currently positioned in distance and elevation. Don’t you love technology telling you not just that you’re wrong but exactly how wrong. Our wayward journey was thankfully halted when we came to the site of a massive landslide that covered the path like a giant foot on an ant trail.

Making a heong peah-fueled U-turn, we located the spot where we were supposed to have crossed the river. The rain however had swollen the river heavily and we decided to pitch our tents instead of risking a crossing in the fading light. We hacked our camp grounds out of the grass and shrub on the crest of a hill and in the middle of the logging track. The ground was rocky and tent pegs had to be weighted down with rocks as there was no way to drive them into the shallow soil. Yet, it was better than the muddy ground nearer to the river.

Our dinner menu read barbeque and the mutton and potatoes were soon roasting over a wood fire which my brother and sister fanned. It brought to mind our first camping trip with WA years ago and how we had reduced our lovingly marinated barbeque chicken to crunchy black wafers with the mistaken belief that anything foil-wrapped cannot get burnt.

The mutton was much better fare this time round, and we washed it all down with 2 parts milo and one part coffee, sipped out of rectangular, soot-blackened mess tins. There was a mild lingering lamb aftertaste in the milo as lamb-plate mess tin transformed instantly into milo-cup mess tin. Ah, the magic of camping.

Thereafter, a short trek to the river with the dishes in one hand, our toiletries in the other and our torchlights between our teeth. Rivers and camping are always governed by two rules: First, if upstream, be considerate of the poor fella brushing his teeth downstream. Do to others what you want them to do to you. Or in this case, don’t do. Secondly, do everything in proper sequence. And it’s not only sequential; it has to be logical. For us this meant the dishes first, followed by a short body dip and scrub, toothbrushing and finally collecting water to boil for drinking.

Now, for the logic part. Logically the water is cleanest when we first come to the river; before anyone has stirred the water. But then the pot hasn’t been washed yet, so it can’t be used to store water without the dishes being done. At which point, the pot comes in handy as a hold-all for the just-washed utensils. You can’t put them on the dirty floor. Then, of course since you’re already scrubbing and washing, why not yourself. A brief “I aaamm CONAN/ this is SPaARrRTA/ AAARRGGGhhh!!” (basically, anything to pump you up for the freezing water) and you plunge in, then scrub feverishly with soap and shampoo. After which, you brush your teeth as you won’t want to make another trip to the river in the dark to do so. Before heading up, you remember you need water for boiling so you transfer most of the utensils into the smaller mess tins/ hands and fill the pot up from where the water flows fastest (to reduce chances of soap and toothpaste contamination).With everything in hand, so its time to head back up to camp. Logic.

We noticed the water was receding and we were quite hopeful for the next day’s crossing. Lubuk Kawah was near, we could feel it!

Home visit

The first shelf you made stands alone,
A quiet reminder of the hammering
You gave to wood as a woodworker once-
A still life of your normal world in
Which you were just a man, no more.
Outside the woodshed, I pause at the door,
Catch the sunlight’s shadow on the crooked
Signboard which was your very first project.
It seems so old now, and your gouged letters
Are dust-caked, but overall still intact.
You spelt your father’s name with a wrong stroke.
The place where he cut the correction took
Some steady maneuvering of an almost-permanent
Spelling error. But no matter,
No stranger walking by now knows that you
Were once a worker and not receiver
Of cutting edge, of pounding hammer.
Or that a father’s name wrongly-written
Was corrected by a Father’s commitment
That the lesson be that a man’s faults
Can be redeemed at a cost.
Indeed, I am not lost.