Thursday, April 24, 2008

Singapore and Malaysia,then Goodbye to Asia

Whew! It's been yet another incredible visit, this time to Singapore, the city/island/country at the southern tip of Malaysia and only one degree above the equator, as it turns out. I flew in exhausted after fighting my way through the Tokyo metro to the aiport, then flying the 7 hours here. I didn't know quite what to expect. I mean, you see pictures of Japan all the time, and maybe some of Thailand, but how often do you see anything of Singapore? I didn't know if it was another poor, crowded city like Bangkok or super-teeming like Tokyo.
Well, it's neither. It's actually beautiful, clean, modern, uncrowded and amazingly diverse. The airport itself is a marvel of modern design, complete with clear, easy-to-read signs in English, and I got my first glimpse of the new Airbus 380 double-decker jumbo jet pictured here. For the first time I had not pre-booked a hotel, but they have a desk for that at the airport that does it for you. And they have a system of "shared-cabs" which is just that: you join other travelers into the city and share the expense-- which is nowhere near as steep as Japan was, by the way.
So I went right to sleep the first night, and the next morning, rested up, I walked around "Little India" which the hotel was in, and picked up a new power cord for my laptop which I had stupidly lost somewhere on the way from Tokyo. I got it at the "Sim-Lim" building, a 5-story shopping center with nothing but electronics stores. Amazing. Most of the pictures I took here were from the Little India sector, which is older than most of modern Singapore. The pics are not representative of the rest of the city.

Anyway, then I was met by Jackie & Jim Haas, who took me to some temples. (Jackie's brother Bill Boniface is married to my cousin Leslie in Seattle.) Even though they are only "relatives" in the most liberal sense, they took me in and hosted me like I was a long-lost brother. The temples were a Buddhist one and a Hindu, both in service, but very different from any western church: no formal masses are said, people just come & go and leave offerings and pray to whatever God they want, while tourists (like me) wander between them snapping photos! Quite an experience.
Then I went to the Haas's beautiful home in the suburbs and met their two terrific kids, Eli and Taylor. I don't think I've ever met two more polite, sweet children. Taylor's a gymnast and we all had a bounce on their trampoline. Then we went out to dinner on the riverfront and took a short cruise afterwards, seeing the historic old British buildings compete for attention with the giant Ferris Wheel that seems to be the new thing for cities these days. Then it was home for a wonderful sleep in their guest room, complete with its own bath.
The next day I was kindly shown how to use the bus & train system by Ema, their housekeeper and au pair extraordinaire, (as the Haas's were all at the American School where both parents teach), and I left the island and went across the channel into Johor, Malaysia. I had arranged to meet Raymond Wee, the founder of Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. Raymond is to Malaysia what Lek was to Thailand: a leading force for modern, humane solutions to their countries' animal problems. Raymond has taken on the huge task of changing the way the people (especially the government) deal with stray dogs, cats and other animals. The traditional method is periodic "culling" (a polite way of saying "killing"), with no thought to build shelters, educate people, or initiate any kind of spay/neuter program. Raymond aims to change all that, chiefly by leading by example. A self-taught veterinarian, he has single-handedly founded spay and neuter programs in several parts of the country and travels back and forth doing the procedures mostly by himself. The local vets, according to him, are mainly interested in making money, and rarely help in the mundane population control surgeries. One gives him discounts, and he can send the more complicated cases to some others, but he does a lot himself!
He first took me to his main Noah's Ark sanctuary, not far from Singapore, where he houses, along with some rescued horses, about 750 dogs and 500 cats. It sounds incredible that anyone could humanely accomplish this, but somehow Raymond does with the help of a staff of trained assistants who work tirelessly to clean the place and keep all the animals fed and cared for. He showed me isolation kennels for newcomers, a huge cat house (due to be moved & expanded soon), a clinic, stables, and a nice treehouse-like habitat where guests can stay along with him and a few of the luckier cats.
Most of the dogs are free to roam and socialize within the sanctuary... and they love it! The range of breeds was vast-- I think every breed of dog was represented, from plucky little dachshunds to big friendly Danes and a lazy old St. Bernard. But mostly they were just mutts, rescued from the brutality of street life. Many were missing limbs or showed other signs of abuse, but all seemed happy there. They even have a kind of moat they can wade in, and lots of them did, clearly enjoying it! And the way they followed Raymond around they clearly adored him.
I made a lot of new friends myself... a few special dogs in particular, including a three-legged mix who stayed by my side when the others of a particular "pack" held back as I moved between different group's territories. A behavioral scientist could write a Ph.D. on the way the packs interacted and defended certain areas and somehow all got along in spite of their great numbers. Raymond also rescues horses, most from the hard life of racing, which have been discarded when they become damaged from bad management practices. (The horses give all they have when racing, then when they develop tendonitis, laminitis or other ailments, the rich owners sell them for horsemeat. It's an ugly industry and I hope nobody reading this supports it or goes to horse races.)

Visiting the cat house was a treat... the cats also have plenty of room to lounge, socialize, and observe the dogs from a safe place. Notice the two dogs in the background scheming for ways to get in!
Later, wading through dozens of dogs to get to the shower took me quite a while, because they all vied for attention and I had to pet each one. My clean shorts I put on the next morning were dirty within minutes from all the eager paws on them!

Then Raymond took me deeper into Malaysia, where I could see how the oil palms were replacing the forests as a way for the country to produce energy. It was sad to see so many hills and fields no longer wild with native forest. But every country has to make sacrifices, I suppose. Anyway Raymond has another little clinic in the town of Muar, still in the large state of Johor but two hours north of Singapore. He has a network of volunteers who bring in stray cats from the streets for spaying and neutering. He even let me do a few of the neuters! I was pretty nervous, as I had never gotten a chance to do them back home, but he was a good teacher and before long I was doing them pretty well.

Raymond is an excellent veterinarian, even if he didn't go to school for it. I saw him diagnose several animals just by looking at them, knowing their history, and having a very good feel for veterinary medicine.
He's also an excellent host, and insisted on treating me to some really tasty Malaysian food. Knowing that I'm a vegetarian, he took me to places that served all kinds of seafood. He even took me to a local shopping mall when I mentioned I needed some new tennis shoes.

We also stopped by a road where dozens of macaques come out of the forest to beg for food from passing motorists, a lot of whom now stop and hand-feed them. I probably shouldn't have, but I just couldn't resist the novelty of it. Something like that would never be allowed in the States!

Well, I have to go catch my flight to Istanbul now, so I'll be out of touch for a while, but I hope I've given you something to read meanwhile. See ya in Turkey, then on to the rest of Europe!

1 comment:

MozzarElla said...

What a fantastic looking animal sanctuary. Ella would have a ball petting and talking with all of the dogs!
You're really making good contacts in the world of animal aid.
Bravo to you, David... or should we now call you after your surgeries... DR. Dave?!
P.S. Did you see in Little India that huge Indian dept. store, open 24 hours a day every day of the year: Mustafa?