Eric Thoo


on 5 Jun, 22:33

Fate of Pulau Jerejak lies in Penangites’ hands

Fate of Pulau Jerejak lies in Penangites’ hands

The Public Forum – Pulau Jerejak

Year: 2018

“Father told me that he would visit me once a week.”

Lim Boon Nya was only 7 when she was diagnosed for leprosy. A contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes and nerves, leprosy rampaged Malaya in the early 20th century.

Back in the old days in Penang, leprosy patients were often segregated in quarantine camps on Pulau Jerejak.

Lim was one of them.

“When I saw a boat pass by (Jerejak Island), I ran to the beach. I could see my father left in that boat and he didn’t bring me along to go home… Every day I cried“

Also sharing the same fate with Lim was Goh Sooi Seong. Unlike Lim, however, Goh was a teenager when she was forced to leave the only life she knew behind.

At the age of 17 when life was full of infinite possibilities to others, Goh was left with no option but sent away to Jerejak Island.

The Jerejak journey told by Lim and Goh resembles similar pattern: the initial grievances or confusion over the loss of their previous life, followed by rejection of life on Pulau Jerejak, to eventual acceptance of their new reality. They even managed to have good time on the island, from community activities such as movie screening and festival celebration, to simple chore such as raising chicken and growing vegetables for money.

In the public forum hosted by Penang’s Think City, it felt as though Lim and Goh were there themselves in UAB Building, Level 1 to share their life account on Pulau Jerejak. In reality, however, it was a presentation by Mike Gibby.

And the historian has the ability to transform his audiences backward in time.

The Forgotten Prime of Jerejak Island

Year: 1969

Mike introduced us to Camp A on Pulau Jerejak in year 1969. With faculties such as the main leprosy camp, leprosy hospital and Catholic Church, the southeast part of the island was easily the busiest part of the island.

Further south from the camp, we saw two young men in khaki uniform on watch duty. Recalling earlier presentation by environmentalist and co-founder of Penang Hills Watch (PHW), Rexy Prakash, we concluded they were prison guards for a maximum security prison nearby that detained inmates from the Riot 1969.

It was then Mike directed our attention to a Chinese tombstone sitting quietly near to them.

It was – and is – the tradition for the Chinese to practise the order of “Man on the Left, Woman on the Right”. Upon close inspection, sure enough the left ‘hill’ of the stone read “Mr. Lee You Fu” and on the right was “Madam Chen Jin”.

A mysterious Chinese tombstone that, according to its vague carvings, belonged to a couple from the Fujian Province of China.

Although this type of Chinese tombstone was not an uncommon sight – it is still widely available in Malaysian Chinese cemetery today – there was something odd about this particular tombstone.

“The date of death is missing”, remarked Mike, as if reading our minds.

He was right.

“So what happened here?” Mike led on, “Who were they? Did they die without proper burial? Or did they flee from an unknown danger on the island?”

The fact that none of us has the answer just added another layer of veil to the mystery of this forgotten island.

We were still pondering the question when the Secretary of the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), Ben Wismen, took the stage and brought us fast forward into the future.

The Future We Chose To Be In

Year: 2030

Our sensory receptors were instantly sent overdrive.

The lush greenery with sunlight filtering through the tree canopy was replaced by bright neon lights with sharp colours. The music of birds chirping and wind gusting through the branches of trees were replaced by noise of agitated car honks and excited chattering crowd of people. Worst of all, the fragrance of a combination of fruits and flowers was replaced by thick exhaust fume deprived of oxygen.

Blocks upon blocks of buildings lined up the streets where the main leprosy camp used to be. Modern restaurants, souvenir shops, and shopping outlets. All of them packed with people. Perhaps the most puzzling part was the endless stream of traffics on the small island, leading to what looked like a commercial theme park ahead.

We were drenched in sweat under the unfiltered sunlight as we paced aimlessly on the melting tar road. It was then Ben revealed that back in 2007 the State Assembly approved Pulau Jerejak to be permanent forest reserve. However, that plan was overturned and massive development on the island was suddenly announced in 2016.

“The development includes a theme park, hotels, 1,200 residential units, and a mega bridge that would connect Pulau Jerejak with Penang Island.

In this future that we were in, the bridge construction had successfully wiped out the rich marine lives and replaced them with lifeless concretes. That explained the high influx of traffic we witnessed earlier. Once an essential green lung of Penang that absorbs carbon dioxide, we have managed to turn Pulau Jerejak into one of the sites that emits heat-trapping pollutants into the air. On the ground, over 130 species of plants and 24 species of land animals were also under threat to be endangered and extinction.

The historical site of leprosy hospitals, maximum security prisons, and many more will not be spared from the urbanization either. “This is because,” Ben explained, “Although the development only involves 15% of the island, that little land was exactly where the historically significant sites are located.”

The Crossroad Where Past, Present and Future Meets

Year: 2018

We were back to the public forum, at the time when our action (and inaction) will decide the future of Penang.

The public forum was part of the project helmed by Rexy Prakash. The aim was simple (but not easy) – to raise awareness about Penangites’ forgotten history of Pulau jerejak.

The crucial part, however, is what followed next.

What is our collective decision on what to do with Pulau Jerejak?

Do we watch by idly and let the future of our state decided by a selective ‘elite’ few? Or do we take active role in holding our government accountable to ensure we are developing towards a sustainable state?

Our decision is immensely important, not just for Pulau Jerejak, but because whatever it is, it speaks greatly of who we Penangites are.

Since You’re here…

In the public talk, Ben Wismen has outlined the action plans to preserve Jerejak Island.

Immediate action:

  • Preservation of present heritage assets (i.e. church building, graves, barracks).
  • Commission a master plan of development of Pulau Jerejak, placing special emphasis on its historical, social, cultural and environmental significance.
  • Restore access for public into Pulau Jerejak, and the hiking trails on the island.
  • Gazette the Pulau Jerejak Forest Reserve.
  • The State Government to engage the developer/investor, in collaboration with stakeholders and civil society, to design a development plan that is holistic and respects the significance of the island.

Mid-term action:

  • Review the proposed development plans, and ensure that it adheres to the master plan and respects the significance of the island.
  • Designate Pulau Jerejak as a Penang State Park, as proposed in the Penang Structure Plan (Item DS 55 L 6).
  • Commission a full biodiversity survey of Pulau Jerejak.

Long Term Action:

  • Declare Pulau Jerejak as a State Heritage Site, under the Penang State Heritage Enactment.
  • Propose for Pulau Jerejak as National Heritage Site, under the National Heritage Act.
  • Work towards joint inscription of Pulau Jerejak and Sungai Buloh as World Heritage Sites (in recognition of the function of these sites as leper colonies for Malaysia)
  • Sustained engagement between developers, other stakeholders and civil society to best develop Pulau Jerejak based on the accepted master plan.

If you are a Penangites, your stand will determine the direction Jerejak is steering to. So make sure your voice is heard. To know how, or for other enquiries, contact Rexy via

This article would not be possible without input from Rexy Prakash. I would like to offer my most sincere gratitude to Rexy and his team for their effort to make Penang, and Malaysia, a better place for all of us.

This article was first published on and Aliran.

on 14 May, 21:17

Climate Change: Penang Out of Time

Climate Change: Penang Out of Time


Symposium On Sustainable Penang. Malaysia. 16 January 2018.


“In time, Malaysians will catch up!”

One of the young panels announced confidently.

Promising ideas were offered by young panels in a symposium held in Komtar Tower, Auditorium A in Penang state of Malaysia. The topic was “Can Penang be made sustainable by 2030?”

One of them highlighted the importance of public transport in reducing or even eliminating the need for private cars. Another pointed at our public education system by urging for mandatory and extensive topic on climate change in school’s syllabus. Strong words such as “love for our nature” were even used to stress how fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship with nature was the key solution.

The discussion climbed to climax when moderator Dr. Lee Lik Meng, who is also a former professor from University Science Malaysia, challenged the youths on how to make the solutions possible by 2030. As one of the panels began answering, a particular phrase caught my attention. My internal alarm went off. And before I could ponder further, the phrase came again. And again. When it rang in my ears for the fourth time, I knew there was no mistake. Something was wrong.


The 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC. Paris. 12 December 2015.

In this historic moment, 195 nations stood together and signed an agreement that could potentially change the course of our history. It would later known as the Paris Agreement. World leaders vowed to keep temperature in year 2050 from increased more than 2 degrees Celsius above where they were before we started powering our economy with coal.

The target ‘two degree Celsius’ was chosen for a very specific reason. Breach the 2 degrees Celsius target, and we break our Earth’s capability to recover. That means the damage we inflicted on our planet will be irreversible and any chance of survival will be out of the window. So far, the temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius and we have already experienced some of the worse natural disasters ever. Allowing the temperature to warm more than twice that amount will unquestionably have perilous consequences.

In fact, renowned journalist Naomi Klein pointed out that a report published by the World Bank warned that “we’re on track for a 4 degrees Celsius warmer world [by century’s end] marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” And the report cautioned that, “There is also no certainty that (human) adaptation to a 4 degrees Celsius world is possible.”

Indeed, we have to act, and we have to act now. With only less than 3 decades away from exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius mark, time is the last thing we can afford to waste.


In auditorium A, the particular phrase rang again in my ears.

“In time, the syllabus in our public education will improve!”

My internal alarm went off again. It was like siren wailed in my ears.

“In time, the city design in Penang will be ideal for the use of public transport!”

Siren thundering in my ears.

“In time, our nation’s legislation will improve and meet the actual needs of the world!”

Someone was having a drum concert on my eardrum.

“In time, Malaysians will catch up!”

One of the young panels announced confidently.

I swear I was almost deaf.


Penang, Malaysia. 4 November 2017.

Penang was making headlines in mainstream media after nearly 2 years the Paris Agreement was signed. The state was experiencing the worst flood to date that displaced around 2,000 victims. That was, however, only the beginning of much worse to come.

Four degrees of warming will also raise global sea levels by 1 or possibly even 2 meters. Island will be drown and coastal areas will be inundated. Penang island will be no exemption.

And let’s not forget about the brutal heat waves that can kill tens of thousands of people. Coupled it with the dramatic yield losses of crops it brings, in a time when demand surges due to population growth, the consequence will be dire. If our ancestors came to Malaya as war or economic refugees, our children will be fleeing Malaysia as climate refugees. Assuming if they survived the raging wildfires, fisheries collapses, widespread disruptions to water suppliers, and globetrotting diseases in the future.

To drive home the point that we are simply running out of time, plenty of mainstream analysts now confirmed that based on our current emissions trajectory, we are headed for even more than 4 degrees of warming. International Energy Agency (IEA) put that number at 6 degrees Celsius.

Fooling ourselves into thinking we can do things slowly, and the change can be gradual and unpainful, is the first thing we should stop doing.


Back in the symposium, it dawned on me that our nation still has much work to be done. After all, the baseless optimistic from one of the young panels that everything will be magically solved in the future sounded suspiciously like we are, yet again, postponing the problem for the next generation to solve – Something we know to do only too well.

As the discussion on stage drawing to an end, I collected my belongings and was ready to leave in a not-so-bright mood.

That was when another panel countered, “No, the future is now! We have to start making difference! Start from today!”

I can’t stop the big smile on my face. Perhaps there is still hope for us after all.

And of course the panel who made the bold remark was a woman.


This article was first published on Aliran, later shared by Penang Green Council on Facebook.

on 2 Apr, 22:12

Our Malaysia: Public Transport and Millennials

Our Malaysia: Public Transport and Millennials

Fatima’s Honda Ex5 buzzed into the busy street of Puchong in Malaysia. She departed from her home with a foreign sense of anxiety. This was her first day taking motorcycle to Sunway City, where she worked as a salesperson. Sunway BRT had been her main mean of transport for the past few months. However, the RM18 expense for a return trip every day soon proved to be a heavy financial burden.

At the tender age of 22, Fatima was new to the workforce and she earned only slightly above the minimum wage of RM 1,000 per month. She was hoping to save more money by not taking the public transport – The irony is not lost on her. Fending away the sense of helplessness sinking in, Fatima redirected her focus on the road.

She was praying under her breath for a safe traveling ahead when – “HONK!” The sudden outburst of car horn from behind caught her by surprise.

Picking the Colour to Paint Malaysia

The 14th general election of Malaysia is just around the corner. More Millennials than ever are participating in this vote for their nation’s future. Perhaps it is finally time for our new bloods to inject fresh ideology into our current political stream, paving the road for meaningful changes.

However, In order to achieve that, it will means our new generation has to be first free from the same false political outlook that haunts our nation for decades.

Stand for Nothing, Fall for Everything

Some of us often oversimplify the political climate in Malaysia. It doesn’t (really) matter if it’s the allegedly private channelling of RM 2.67 billion into a private account; it also doesn’t matter if it’s the unsustainable development that led to devastating loss when extreme weather slapped us in the face.

The question is, and has always been, which political party is responsible for the crisis.

It’s always easy to portray one party as the ‘villain’, and by definition the opposing party should be the ‘hero’. In fact, Some of us wish it was true so much that, at varying degree, we started to believe it.

This monochromatic political outlook forfeits the needs for any meaningful check-and-balance. Since our chosen leaders are the heroes – and heroes are supposed to be flawless – we do not hold them accountable to the high standard they should represent.

Our political leaders are naturally not blind to this unrealistic sentiment some of the Rakyat has. And they play their cards right into it.

This is when the game gets really dangerous.

The Hero We Wanted, But Not We Needed

One of the highlight in the manifesto proposed by the main opposition party in Malaysia, Pakatan Harapan, is the abolishment of toll. This will undoubtedly wins the hearts of many road users who are already suffocating financially.

This kind of announcement is exactly what most of the Rakyat want to hear.

But is this really what we need to hear?

In fact, this narrowed focus on private vehicles will undoubtedly encourages more traffic on the road. It is telling the Rakyat to pump more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere (completely ignoring the deadly threat poses by climate change) while aggravating the traffic congestion condition in our nation. The escalated tension between drivers that ensued will surely lead to more road rage cases and fatal traffic accidents in increasing severity.

As highlighted by environmental journalist Naomi Klein in her book ‘This Changes Everything’, what we really need is massive investment in “affordable public transit and clean light rail accessible to all. And urban design that clusters essential services like schools and health care along the transit routes and in pedestrian-friendly areas.”

Doing the right thing will inevitably means taking the giant oil companies and automotive companies by the horns. But it is something that must be done in Malaysia. Not only for the welfare of the Rakyat but also a S.O.S attempt to save ourselves from burning down our home.

Public transportation ranked next to last among Malaysians’ priority, according to survey conducted by IPSOS.

You can bet your money on our political leaders being fully aware of this fact. But they also know they will be making a lot of enemies along the line but not earning many votes as they should. In their eyes, this is essentially a high-risk, low-return investment. At least that is what the statistic says – The Rakyat is simply not demanding it.

So why aren’t we?

Answering the Battle Call

To her terror, Fatima found herself within an inch of getting hit by a speeding car. It was driving dangerously close to her while flashing headlights – forcing her to make way. The stress was almost overwhelming.  Fatima slowly steered to the side and willed herself to stay calm. She was still choked by the same heavily polluted air that was irritating her eyes.

Bathed in sweat under the unforgiving sun, Fatima felt dreadful looking at the seemingly endless line of traffic that stretched into the horizon. Drawing a long breath, she reminded herself to never give in. She simply refused to live the rest of her life in this dire state.

Change will comes, Fatima believed, and when Malaysia calls, she will be first of many who answer.

on 19 Mar, 18:18

How Environmentalism Will Take Us Home

How Environmentalism Will Take Us Home

Environmentalism may be depicted in mainstream media primarily as a battle for the Earth and to save ourselves from extinction. But that’s less than half of the story. Environmentalism, in effect, transverses beyond the physical plane. Environmentalism is a way of Life. One that questions and redefines where we stand in this world, and what is our relationship with the rest of God’s creations.

How To Save A Life

Despite what we love to think, we often neglect to truly understand a person. To know a person takes way too much time and actually require real effort. The solution to achieve maximum productivity within short period of time? Labeling people into specific groups. Ideally on the first 8-minutes after the first hi. New colleague Adam is either an optimist or a pessimist; That neighbour’s kid is either an introvert or an extrovert; Suzy don’t click with me, she’s just not my type; Now that’s much easier.  We act as though something as complex and unique as human psyche can be reduced into rows and columns in an excel sheet. If you think we treat our human counterparts as though they are commodities, like how markets categorize goods into different departments, you are likely right on the spot.

When The Moral Line Blurs

Year 2001. An usual humid and windless day in Penang. In a typical Standard 4 (4th Grade) Science Class.

As with the syllabus at the time, we were introduced to the relationship between living things in an ecosystem. Our teacher gave us some examples of “害虫” (/hàichóng/ ; Pests in Chinese) and “益虫” (/yìchóng/ ; Beneficial insects in Chinese). Teaching in primary school was pretty straightforward back then. We were simply told to appreciate the beneficial insects and exterminate the pests on sight. Now that part was lost on me. How do you decide which is which?

“Teacher Liu, why are rats pests?”

“Because they eat our crops.”

“Why are owls beneficial insects?”

“Because they eat rats.” Teacher Liu replied matter-of-factly.

Liu’s reply was essentially no different than saying the sky is blue. Obviously, I wasn’t getting something that is, well, obvious. I was left to decipher what those answers meant. Until the revelation hit me like a truck. Animals that are bad – for humans – are revolting pests! Animals that are good – for humans – are precious beneficial animals!

The casual arrogance behind the reasoning is discomforting, to say the least, for the 10-years-old me.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Or so they say.

In definition, Human-Wildlife Conflict refers to the tension that ensues following an event when wildlife ‘broke into’ human territory. Violence often erupts like what we have seen in the award-winning photograph taken by Biplab Hazra. Elephants were thrown burning tar balls and burnt by mods in India. The notion that nobody likes their home invaded by anything is comprehensible. Especially when the invading group being unpredictable wildlife, no less.

Except they didn’t.

Never mind it is precisely our deforestation activity that drove them out of their home. Also ignore the fact that it is our extreme polluting behaviour that deprive them of precious food. When our debts come knocking on the front door, we shoved them off – with deadly force. You would think we will take responsibility for our actions, like how we taught our kids. The Human-Wildlife Conflict was never a fair scientific term. At least not for one of the two parties involved.

Environmentalism – The Best Hack To Re-Calibrate Our Moral Compass

The approaching 2050 doomsday is certainly unsettling. All of us are, essentially, future climate refugees. And our current trajectory towards temperature much higher than 2⁰C by that fateful year offers little comfort. But all hope is not lost.

Whether it’s aggressive wildlife conversation in Penang by the Langur Project Penang (LPP), or the young hikers who decided to protect the breathtaking view they enjoy in their routine, the new bloods in environmentalism are working hard to seize the opportunity presented in this troubled time. After all, what better reason to finally prioritize sustainable development when the very planet our lives depend on is at stake? We have arrived in a crossroad when environmentalism is finally not something decision-makers can sweep under the carpet for another better time. In the face of our inevitable species extinction, perhaps the most pressing question we should ponder on is – Who are the real 害虫 (/hàichóng/) on Earth, exactly?

This Article was first published on Aliran.

on 23 Jan, 21:54

Divestment Movement: Cutting Ties with the Devils

Divestment Movement: Cutting Ties with the Devils

It’s only the first month of 2018 and we have amazing news for our Earth! New York City has recently sue the Oil Giants – ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips on the premise none other than destroying Earth itself. They don’t stop there. The city will also “divest the city’s $189 billion pension fund of an estimated $5 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.” This is seen as a direct answer call to the ongoing global Divestment Movement.

Divest What Now?

“Divestment Movement is the call for public interest institutions to sell whatever financial holdings they have in fossil companies.”, as explained explicitly by environmental writer Naomi Klein. The institutions include colleges, faith organizations, and municipal governments.

The rationale behind this movement is simple. The fossil fuel companies have every intention of pushing the planet beyond its boiling point. Read about how dangerous that is in article Paris Agreement. The profit earned does not serve the community but only to fatten its stockholders’ bank account to obesity. Hence, it makes perfect sense any responsible institutions should stop funding them. The money should reinvest in the renewable energy sector instead.

The movement has gained much traction since its official launch in November 2012. It has since spread from the United States to Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and Britain. Over 100 cities, states, and religious institutions have answered to the call. NYC is only the latest addition to the party.

With so many victories the movement is winning now, it has no short of critics at its initial stage. The movement itself was argued to be incapable to bankrupt the oil giants. But that was missing the whole point.

Environment and Economy are husband and wife

As Sara Blazevic, a divestment organizer at Swarthmore College, puts it, the movement is “taking away the hold that the fossil fuel industry has over our political system by making it socially unacceptable and morally unacceptable to be financing fossil fuel extraction.”

And Cameron Fenton, one of the leaders of the divestment push in Canada, adds, “No one is thinking we’re going to bankrupt fossil fuel companies. But what we can do is bankrupt their reputations and take away their political power.” (Quoted directly from “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein)

More crucially, it puts the topic on the table for discussion. People are encouraged to give attention and take their stance on the matter – a situation Malaysia desperately needs. The movement will pave the way for making important legislation. One example is ban on political donations from fossil fuel companies. Or even better – outlaw fossil fuel advertising on mainstream media, much like how Malaysia legally prohibits tobacco advertisement. (What other legislation Malaysia is proud of and ahead of the world? Let me know below!)

The super rich illusion

The divestment movement draw strength from the people, not the super rich. Bill Gates may have expressed concern about climate change. His 1.2 billion USD investment in oil giants BP and ExxonMobil definitely says otherwise (as of December 2013). Gates also repeatedly denounced the reliability and efficiency of current renewable technology. The irony is that same technology he referred to has succeeded in providing 25% percent of Germany’s electricity today. Frankfurt and Munich are even on their way to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and 2025 respectively. Instead, Gates insists on inventing new ‘technology miracles’.

He proposed nuclear reactors in which, coincidentally, he is the major investor and chairman of the nuclear start-up TerraPower; Gates also pushed for machines that suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Again, as if by personal and exclusive blessing from the Lady Luck herself, he happens to be the primary investor in at least one such prototype; How about the direct climate manipulation also championed by him? You guessed it. Gates funded the research to block the sun and patented several hurricane-suppression technologies.

At this point, the super rich looks suspiciously more interested in making money out of global disasters than preventing them. In fact, a lot of people think it that way. After all, it is this realization that gave birth to the Divestment Movement.

What do you think about the divestment movement? Let me know in comment below!

on 6 Jan, 21:40

Langur Project Penang: Our Dirty Hands

Langur Project Penang: Our Dirty Hands



Oh, right. (Clear throat) Ahem..


Our Dirty Hands

Now, if I were to ask you to picture a group of Millennials, and describe it to me, you would probably say you see a group of tech-savvy young adults in Gap and Nike. Their eyes fixated on their latest iPhones, and they were probably discussing about the new ‘cool’ cafe to hang out. Indeed, when it comes to defining the generation born between the early 1980s and 1990s, that image seems to be the norm.

“Young people who are unwilling to get their hands dirty”, one of the participants announced. It was August 2017, in a forum and book launch “Penang At The Climate Crossroads” hosted by Penang Institute. Naturally, I was fortunate enough to be in it. This posed an awkward situation for me as I fall exactly in THAT category. Looking at my copper-toned hands, I thought they looked wonderful. And they do have had their fair share of dealing with dirt and sand. I’m just not so sure if they are qualified to be adequately dirty (read worthy) for that participant.

The forum ended with a rather less-than-enthusiastic note. Moderator Evelyn Teh fittingly pointed out that the forum participants were majority elders. It was a telling sign that environmentalism is ‘not a thing’ among the new generation. Being a Millennial herself, she hoped one day “new young champions could step up and take the torch from them”. She was referring to the veteran environmentalists in Malaysia (big respect to them). That hit the spot for me. I was there as perhaps the sole participant from my generation. The underlying implication that we have little to no interest in our environmental well-being is certainly troubling, to say the least.

Pocahontas in Action (I Always Imagine They Are)

Unbeknownst to all of us, however, a noteworthy action is taking place just 15 kilometers from Penang Institute at the time. Armed with scorching hot passion and strong arms and strong legs, a group of young adults were navigating fearlessly through the uncharted jungle routes in Teluk Bahang. They slid down steep soils with mortal hands brushing away any obstacles on the path; They climbed sloppy hills on all fours by holding onto any plants within reach; Most importantly, their eyes never leave a very particular species of primate right above them.

Langur Project Penang

I present you (some) members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP)! Left to right: Hong Jing (from Nature Classroom), Min Yu, Joleen Yap (LPP founder), me, Wen

Members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP) love to describe themselves as “Human primates with binoculars as eyes, ‘parang’ (machete in local Malay language) and notebooks as hands, GPS as legs and a heart of passion”. The organization counts locals and expats among her rank with young adults making up most of her number.

(I always imagine how the participant would moved to tears when he sees their oh-so-dirty hands.)

Into The Wild!

Langur Project Penang is primarily a research project to study the ecology and behaviour of Dusky Leaf Monkeys / Langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus). It was initially proposed to be conducted in a single sampling location, Teluk Bahang. University of Science, Malaysia (USM) student Joleen Yap decided the scale of the project was too small for any meaningful data implication. Under the umbrella of the university and as an outreach project of the Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS), Langur Project Penang would eventually branch out to various data sampling sites such as Teluk Bahang, Cherok Tokun, Penang Botanical Garden and Penang Hill.

“Adventure found me” – Data collection at sampling site

In a time when the public may conceives environmental and wildlife conservation as something only scientists do in a distant for-authorized-personnel-only laboratory behind fenced compound of some mega institute (Ya I ran out of air reading this too), Langur Project Penang prided herself as a grassroots organization whose strength lays exactly within the relationship she built with the people.

Outreaching to The Public (Did I Mention I Was Afraid of Kids?)

In collaboration with the Nature Classroom and local childcare center, Langur Project Penang’s Langur Rainforest Educational Programme embraces children from various ages in her nature tour. Through sharing and interaction with trained nature guard, our little future leaders are introduced to the nature in Penang Hill, Taman Rimba Teluk Bahang and Penang Botanical Garden.

Admittedly, I have had my doubts before volunteering for the programme in December 2017. We are talking about a generation who has easy access to matured digital technology from an age younger than never before here. Surely learning the names of flora and fauna would pale in comparison to the ‘bigger’ and ‘brighter’ scenes they are accustomed to? It turns out, like the participant from the forum, I am equally guilty in projecting baseless stereotype on these kids.

Langur Project Penang

“I talk, you listen; I stand there. you sit there” education method can only gets you so far. We believe in learning and growing together by conversation from both sides. Ask us questions! We love it! Who knows, we might learn a thing or two from you too! – Langur Rainforest Educational Programme

Planting The Seeds of Hope

Perhaps it was something about the way they casted their attentive look toward our nature guide. Or maybe it’s the fact that they were actively interacting with her that stirred a warm feeling in my heart. To my pleasant surprise, they did enjoy outdoor activities. That’s the first stereotype shattered right there. The activities in the programme include letting these kids to experience working as a ‘biologist’ of the day. They picked up leaves or fruits, pasted them on a piece of paper, and described their name and characteristic. They actually did a fantastic job about it! Second stereotype vanished into thin air.

Langur Project Penang

Look at their proud work! – In Collaboration with Nature Classroom and Tadika Seri Comel, Nibong Tebal

We also delivered a short ‘theater’ performance to illustrate the relationship between living things in a jungle (I played a tree, don’t judge!), and the cruelty of Langur poaching. Once again, these little geniuses amazed me with their existing knowledge on the topics. That’s Third. It was then I realized we adults have much to learn from our younger ones!

Embracing The Bottom-Up Approach

Like many Malaysians, we envision a better country where people live with compassion and respect to each other and Nature. It dawned to me that these kids may one day shoulder this responsibility. They will play a big part of a movement that will topple neoliberalism and shape a world unimaginable to people before them. Between helping them to carry heavy things (food) and eyes-staring standoff with a crab-eating macaque, I found myself appreciating the wonderful sight before me.

I earnestly eager to see the seeds we planted in these young ones finally germinate. They will grow into mighty trees that will lead the way to true prosperity and protect those after them.

Yes, you heard me right. I had an eyes-staring standoff with a macaque. It’s a long story.

(Langur Project Penang is also open to invitation for educational talk. For more details, or if you are interested to be part of our team by volunteering or interning, contact us! We could always use a hand!)

(All photo credits go to Langur Project Penang)

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Connecting the green dots is a crowd-sourced platform and a living database for environmental movements in Malaysia. There are many good actions being done out there. Our goal is to bring them together. We connect the green dots.