Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lao Zi 老子 - Founder of Taoism


Lao Zi had been revered as a deity in Taoist Temples as 太上老君 Heavenly Old Grand Master
Ancient paintings of Lao Zi leaving for Western Gate at the border, riding on water buffalo back

Lao Zi, 老子 (Year of birth est. 604BC during Zhou Dynasty周朝) had the given family name as Li Er , was the lesser known mystic philosopher and astrologer of ancient China as compared to Confucius. All the same, Lao Zi was one of the most distinguished and revered scholar and philosopher of great wisdom during those ancient years. It was widely recorded down the literary history of ancient China that contemporary Confucius constantly approached Lao Zi for consultation on matters regarding ceremonial rites. Lao Zi had been depicted in drawings and paintings as a balding old man with long flowing white beard riding on ox or water buffalo back as he moved about. Legendary variant versions of Lao Zi’s life told different tales of his age, ranging from 160 years to 990 years.

                                             An ancient painting of Lao Zi 
                        
Stone carved sculpture of Lao Zi at QuanZhou, with the backdrop of QingYuan Mountain clearly seen at the rear. It is still in very good condition sitting there after close to a thousand year.

Lao Zi was well-known as the founder of Taoism, a practice of human rituals on culture (like birth, death and marriage), filial piety and day to day way of life to generations of Chinese people since two millenniums ago. He was revered to the status of a deity as 太上老君 (loosely translated as The Heavenly Grand Old Master of Wisdom) with Taoist temples built all over Asia where Chinese influence was strong and deeply rooted. Many Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese practice Taoism to this day. It seems that Taoism is a way of traditional life rather than being practiced as a religion as compared to Buddhism.  Just like monks of SongShan’s嵩山Shaolin Buddhist Monastery少林寺in Henan Province河南省 who founded the pugilistic Shaolin Quan, 少林 and Kung fu功夫, the Taoist priests of ancient China were exponents of Tai Chi Quan太極拳at China’s picturesque Wudan Shan 武当山where it was first originated.

The Symbol of TaiChi太極. It emphasizes the natural force of Ying and Yang陰& which form the principle of Dao
Zhang SanFeng 张三丰, (Est 1279-1386) a Taoist priest during Song Dynasty was known to be the originator of TaiChi.
Millions of Chinese practise TaiChi everyday for good health; the gentle movements release tension and reduce depression, with tranquility known as Qi entering and exiting the bodies.
                        Westerners are enthusiastic to practise TaiChi too

Don't get yourself mixed up with Yoga excercise and Tai Chi practice
To many Chinese youngsters, the ability to master Sholin Kungfu at Sholin Si 少林寺, SongShan is the pinnacle of their life.

Lao Zi was the Zhou court’s Imperial Keeper for the archives 守藏室之史.
It was documented that he became weary with the moral decay of the then society and also noted the decline of the kingdom he served, that he decided to leave for a hermit’s life via the western gate at the border. Riding high on an ox’s back, he stumbled upon a border guard named Yin Xi who recognized him. The later convinced Lao Zi to leave his legacy of wisdom before he left town. Eventually he did by writing a 5,000 worded Dao De Jing 道德經which became a holy book to his followers and disciples. They adhered to the teachings fervently till this day. Border guard Yin Xi was known to have become Lao Zi’s disciple and left with the venerable Old Master. Taoist followers believed generally that Lao Zi did not disappeared after penning Dao De Jing but rather had traveled extensively to spread the meaning of Dao (Tao).


The Holy Bibble of Taoism, The Dao De Jin or Tao Te Ching had been the legacy of Lao Zi's wisdom

Here are some short abridged lines of Dao De Jing that are thought provoking and worthy of our mental absorption and practices. Please read on:

Give a man a fish and you
feed him for a day. Teach
him how to fish and you
feed him for a lifetime.

To realize that you do not understand is a virtue;
Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.

The key to growth is the
introduction of higher
dimensions of consciousness
into our awareness.

Man's enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty

He who knows others is wise.
He who knows himself is enlightened.

He who knows that enough is
enough will always have enough.

He who obtains has little.
He who scatters has much.
The key to growth is the
introduction of higher
dimensions of consciousness
into our awareness.
Great acts are made up of
small deeds.

Treat those who are good
with goodness, and also
treat those who are not
good with goodness. Thus
goodness is attained. Be
honest to those who are
honest, and be also honest
to those who are not
honest. Thus honesty is
attained

If you do not change
direction, you may end up
where you are heading.

The words of truth are always paradoxical.




Alan CY Kok

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The years I spent at St. Andrew's Secondary School, Muar, Johore.

 
View of  St. Andrew's Secondary School when one enters the compound of the school
SAS boasts in its possession with profound pride for owning a long and wide, near perfect sports field. The School has been known as one that churns out distingusihed sports men in the athletics.

I had close encounters with a few Irishmen during my six years of secondary education in the 60s; they were all Christian brothers of the Roman Catholic faith, sent to run as principals and teachers of a missionary school in Muar, Johore, namely The St. Andrew’s Secondary School (SAS). It remains strictly a boy’s school till this day.

The familiar long corridor where boys lined up before entering the class rooms, upon hearing the school bell rang.

One day in December 2001 I was shocked to read a report in The Star news print that Rev Brother Robert O’Sullivan had passed away in Malacca at the ripe age of 80. Immediately I called my buddy SP Chong who was residing in Malacca after his retirement on the phone, urging him to pay respect to the wake of the well-known educationist whose body laid in the 162 year old St. Francis Church. (Built in 1849)

SAS had been affiliated to St. Andrew's Church about one and a half kilometer away as it was founded by the Catholic diocese of Malacca-Johore in the '30s.

Rev Brother Robert was a strict disciplinarian who ran the school in military style. Not really popular among the teenage boys but greatly respected and feared; one could remember him clutching a thick cane under his armpit, going from one class to another in his white grown. He was our form master as well as English teacher for my last year with the school. Brother Robert made great effort in grooming us to speak and write proper English and was very particular with grammars. I felt that he had misgiving with us the boys who had gone through remove class as most of us had poor command of the English language and were foul mouthed. Therefore we were often targeted during his English lessons. I remembered vividly that I was asked to make a sentence with the word ‘optional’. I answered with a loud voice: “Sex education is optional in Malaysian secondary schools.” The class broke into an uncontrollable laughter and the principal was not pleased. Eventually I replaced the words ‘sex education’ with ‘co-education’ to avoid being caned. On issue of mixed marriage, Bro Robert stood to be against; he advised during one Moral Teaching period: Marry someone your kind, creed, and race.   Do not attract unnecessary glances. On taking away  human lives: During war times, yes.

The late Rev Brother O'Sullivan who ran SAS as the principal from 1954 to 1980, with his British aristocratic, military style.
His old faithful-The Mini Minor. It was the same model Mr Bean used.

I was rather angry with Brother Robert during most of my tenure at St. Andrew’s over some incidents. One day the bicycle I borrowed from my father was detained by the school together with others as it was declared unsafe with a faulty ringing chime. Later I realized that there was a safety campaign carried out in the school with regards to bicycles which were the commonest mode of transport during the 60s. This caused a hardship to my father as he needed to use it for work 4 miles away from our house. The straight faced principal was adamant about his way of rules; the bicycle was only released to me after being made good. Once I waited for two hours outside his office to see him, just to submit a medical chit as I was down with fever and was absent for two days. The school administrative clerk by the name of Peter Ng, a fatso, refused to accept my MC and told me to wait. On a few occasions when I dined out with some old boys, I made it clear if I were to meet Bro Robert face to face, I would lambaste him with scathing words, in few languages I know. I would make sure he would get an earful from me. Unfortunately I never had a chance to meet him since I left SAS.

                                   
SAS was famous for its scout acitivities. Many students of SAS achieved the Kings' Scout (Agong Scout) status by the time they left school.  This was their activities cum storage room for their paraphernalia.  The site together with the old canteen had been replaced by a striking new building. See the following picture:
This part of SAS (left side) used to be the site of the  the old canteen, Teachers' room, and Scout activity room, and a basketball court. Most Andrean Old Boys had contributed to the building fund follwing vigorous fund raising campaign initited by OBA of Andreans.

I would not had forgiven Bro Robert for his iron fisted administration during those years until Alex Eapen, a fellow old boy enlightened me. During an old boys’ meet, Alex told us that we had to understand the fact that the old patriarch was from a different era and background, whatever he did was for our own good anyway, albeit he had his own unique way of running the school that was hard to fathom and accept.

   The SAS Primary stands across the field opposite the SAS Secondary.


Another situation that irked me was that the head master of the St Andrew’s Primary School Benedict Tan was always present when the students were sent to Bro Robert’s office for questioning and punishment for minor misbehavior. The primary and the secondary schools shared the same sports field and each occupied one side of the large green field. This head master Tan sometimes took over as the ‘executioner’ to mete out the caning of the naughty students. In current time if he were to re-enact this, the parents would swear that he would lose his pension. Just like Bro Robert, this HM Tan of the primary school knew well all the boys who crossed over to the secondary when they finished their stint at the primary. It seemed that the two principals had an axe to grind with the boys who enrolled after their primary education from Chinese schools. The “remove” classes boys were always being marked and victimized for speaking profanity and possessed terrible standard of English language. Eventually, by the time we made it to ‘O’ level at Form 5, the boys from earlier “Remove” classes out shone those non-Mandarin speaking boys.

                           
These two senior gentlemen were going after each other's throat when they were young. From left: Alan Koo SK (Barber) and  Dr KS Gan. Pic taken somewhere in NYC in 2008. Both of them are comfortably settled in the US.

There were real bawdy, mischievous ‘gangster’ boys then. There were many groupings, I would say. Some sporting Elvis hair-do and were only interested in pop songs, some were into football, basketball games and hockey. Other sub-groups were the Christian church goings chaps and the real studious type, as well as the gang-fighting ‘triad’ boys. There were also activities of scouts movement and woodworks session after classes. The Chinese-Mandarin speaking boys of course tried to keep to themselves in the beginning until after Form 3, 4 and 5. During one gathering of old Andreans’ meet couple of years back, two senior gentlemen were talking about how one of them hid behind a pillar to ambush another with bamboo stick during the old days. Funny though both had found they way to the US; one is a very successful dentist in Denver, Colorado, and the one is a property tycoon based in Philadelphia, near NYC.


Rev Brother Cronan was seated in the middle of this picture as the acting principal.
William Gomez the science wonder teacher seen here among some of the science class students.

A much younger Rev Brother Peter arrived for a short stint as our English teacher during my early secondary days. Just like Brother Robert, Brother Peter was also an ex-serviceman who fought during the World War Two. Being mischievous in character and eloquent in speech, we were often mesmerized by his story telling. In his unmistakable British’s cockney accent, he told us one day during the war he was holed up in a trench, waiting to launch an offensive. While hurling a grenade to the direction of the enemy, a shot from a sniper pierced though the cold air; the bullet drilled a hole in the middle of his right palm at that instance. He was discharged from the army shortly as he was injured. Thank his lucky star he eventually regained the use of his right hand. To prove what he said was true Brother Peter showed us his right palm. We were aghast to see a twenty cent coin sized scar in the middle of it. He was rather proud about that.

Group picture of SAS OBA PJ/KL Chapter 2009-2011. The President of the Muar Andreans Association is Edmund Ng See Kam, the Secretary  is Lau Se Hian.

Rev Brother Cronan replaced Brother Robert for a year as principal when the later left for Ireland for his spiritual sabbatical when I was in Form 4. He was transferred from La Salle school from Petaling Jaya. Poised as a strong contrast to Bro Robert, Bro Cronan was a smiling, jovial and friendly person with a  pleasant disposition to mingle among students. I remember seeing him once being caught in a torrential downpour while out cycling. Knowing that we took delight in his embarrassment he pointed to the sky and shouted: 'Hujan mari' and swiftly disappeared into the school compound. Bro Cronan was also very insistent in ensuring proficiency in the English language among us. He too, carried a cane but rarely used it.

The charismatic former teacher of SAS Jesse van den Driesen gave a speech down memory lane during the 2003 SAS Class of '67 Old Boys Meet at Hilton PJ.

There were some forgettable teachers who spent their time in the school like the present day civil servants. Cikgu Rahmat and Cikgu Salleh were two of them. So was one Pereira who taught Health science and History (Thought these two subjects were far apart?) by reading from his notes. There was nothing on the blackboard and no further illustration from him. For two years, we meekly listened to his voice and he did not care whether we were paying attention or passing subjects he taught. For English literature we had Ng Thiam Lim to read us from the text of William Shakespeare. He might pause to explain a bit but was annoyed when we could not understand the 16th - 17th Century Bard’s writings. He kept telling us to ‘paraphrase, paraphrase’ the difficult lines which were Greek to us. Ng TL was also the school woodworks instructor. One afternoon the boys were distracted and rushed out to see some planes flew by with loud nosies. Ng was furious and ordered the woodworks session boys to line up. One by one he slapped them across their young cheeks with great force, with his bare hand. That would have rendered them with temporary deafness. I witnessed this incident from a short distance as I was nearby for some sports acitivities.

                              
           The SAS school emblems all these year since inception

For favorite teachers we had Jesse van den Driesen & Seah Kwang How to whom we still kept constant contact and we met during old boys’ gatherings. The late Maria Thong was one lady teacher most boys would not forget; Some of them were fascinated by her body movement. We chuckled and laughed when some old boys mentioned her body shape as she used to sit close to Bro Robert during school functions. The one unforgettable teacher was the late William Gomez; he was Frankenstein and Einstein being put into one. A very brilliant, diligent and capable scholar from India but found himself landed in Malaysia as a teacher. Gomez was responsible to teach Mathematics, additional Mathematics, and the pure science subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, all under his charge for the senior secondary classes. He was a bit queer and was one who talked loudly; Gomez always lashed out his annoyance to boys who performed badly at term examinations, other than that he was generally friendly. With his teaching some of my classmates were groomed to become professors to NUS of Singapore in later life. We had doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers amongst us. The late Yeo Teck Moh was the Scout Master and our geography teacher. I quite liked his teaching but I discovered that some old Andrean boys harboured animosity against him.

Former teacher of SAS Helen Tan was invited to join us for the re-union during the SAS Class of '67 Old Boys'Meet in 2008; on her left was teacher Seah Kwang How.


Twenty year old (or younger) Helen Tan emerged gracefully into a world full of inquisitive and curious boys at St Andrew’s Secondary. She was teaching us English and geography as a temporary teacher whilst she awaited news of her enrolment with a teachers’ training college. The chubby lady was an instant hit with the boys as she was young and friendly. She probably was as curious towards us boys as we were curious about her. Her father was the headmaster of a primary school along Jalan Ismail, Muar; and her uncle, her father’s brother was none other that the scare-crow skinny Benedict Tan of SAS Primary. One day, Helen was teaching us English with her girly high pitched voice that some boys gathered courage to ask her if she could sing us a song. After some hesitation she obliged and rendered Lily Sharp’s “I will follow him” to a class of silent, listening boys. When she finished we broke into loud cheers of applause but were promptly stunned to see Bro Robert passing by with his white gown like a floating daylight ghost, (We could never see his shoes) with his ubiquitous cane tugged under his armpit. The principal must had hidden few steps away from the classroom when he heard the song sung. With a vigilante sense of alertness and with pairs of sharp eyes and ears of an owl, he must had witnessed what had transpired. Teacher Helen was quite scared and worried; fortunately the head of the school did not barge in. We were glad to meet Mdm Helen during one recent Old Boys' meet; she had then retired and was widowed few years back. Another goody staff of SAS was the ever smiling office assistant cum lab assistant Tang Zui Tong who had since retired. He remained our link we had in Muar to update us what was going on around the school and whatever happened to so and so etc.  
  
                                                    
                The more recent pictures are obtained from  
                       Andreanfellowships.blogspot.com
                   with great appreciation from the writer


Those years I spent at St. Andrew’s School was unforgettable with bitter, sweet and sour memories; after all it remained my alma mater. Once a while I do reminisce and recollect some interesting anecdotes happened 40 over years ago, like my interaction with those devoted Christian Brothers. Their unyielding zest in enlightening us, particularly in the filed of learning the English language, is something I always cherish and appreciate. Robert Graves, the British poet said in his book Goodbye To All That: “If I were to relive those lost years, I should probably behave again in very much the same way.” I would say that statement befitted me well.


Alan CY Kok           

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Death of Zhang Fei 张飞


                  In this portrait image, Zhang Fei poses an intimidating poise
                    Zhang Fei in action - he cried out in his uncontrollable fury

During the warring years of The Three Kingdoms Era 220 – 280 AD in Ancient China, Liu Bei刘备of Shu Guo 蜀國 was trying very hard in his quest to defeat Cao Cao 曹操of Wei Guo魏國 and Sun Quan 孙权 of Wu Guo 吴国so that he could become the next emperor of China. Liu Bei was fortunate to have Guan Yu 关羽 (After his death he was revered as Guan Gong till this day as a man of integrity and loyalty values) and Zhang Fei as his two loyal stalwarts to be his military generals. Though reticent in his nature and soft in his outlook and approach, Liu was a conniving man with insidious deep thought (However history portrayed Liu Bei as a virtuous and kind hearted leader in his kingdom). In order to consolidate his bond with his two trusted left and right hand men, Liu Bei enticed them to be sworn as brothers together with him over a serious ceremony. Eventually Liu successfully enlisted the rare service of highly scholarly strategist ZhuGe Liang 諸葛亮 as his top think tank cum prime minister in their many military maneuvers. Together they fought many wars and skirmishes, winning many, and gained much anticipated territories and supports from the militia and general masses. Their epoch making conquest was documented in The Battle of Red Cliff 赤壁之战which was made into a movie in recent years.

A very fierce looking Zhang Fei in this hand drawn portrait
Guan Yu and his trade mark weapon The Green Dragon Guan Dao, 青龙 while riding astride his battle horse. He was more popular and generally loved by the Chinese people than Zhang Fei.


However during one of his treacherous mission at the frontline, Guan Yu was betrayed and eventually trapped and captured alive by the troops of Wu Guo’s Sun Qian. He refused to surrender to Sun Qian’s camp, and was subsequently beheaded together with his son. When Guan Yu’s head was brought to Liu Bei’s presence, they were all emotionally shattered with anger, sadness and agony. Hot tempered and highly charged with vengeance and vindication in his mind Zhang Fei vowed to rampage through and burn the whole region of Wu Kuo into ashes if they could gain ground there to avenge the death of their most distinguished general.

 The face of an actor who played the part of Zhang Fei in a recent movie
                                A cartoon drawn image of Zhang Fei

Zhang Fei (168AD – 221AD) was known as a bearded, broad faced, dark skinned fearsome warrior with protruding eye-balls when agitated with fury. It was his blunt and brute force that his enemies feared most as he was almost invincible during hand to hand combat. Zhang was a good, straight person, who valued comradeship and absolute loyalty in his ethics but was too fiery and quick tempered; he always flew into uncontrollable rage over minor incidents. In such cases he would become unreasonable and disgusting that nobody liked him. He had few confidants in his camp apart from Liu Bei and Guan Yu. With the untimely death of Guan Yu, Zhang Fei was down with indignation and frustration; he could only seek solace in his nightly booze of rice wine.

A memorial temple of Zhang Fei built in Zhongqing becomes a tourism hotspot
The majestic Guan Ti Memorial Temple of Guan Yu a.k.a. Guan Gong in Taishan, Shandong.
Many memorial temples of Guan Gong was built all over China, and other parts of Asia, including those erected in The Philippines and Japan, Malaysia too. Emperors of the following dynasties used Guan Gong's merits as a symbol of force, and undying loyalty to instil such values to their populace so as to stengthen their grip of their throne. There was more than that in the eyes of the Chinese people as they revered Guan Yu as a hero for the cause of justice, integrity and a man of irrevocable principle. 

Zhang Fei ordered a month long of mourning in his camp to mark the demise of Guan Yu. He summoned his two subordinate military captains Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat to oversee the sewing and making of white-colored mourning dresses and amours for thousands of soldiers, within three days. It was a tall order and was impossible to meet the targeted dateline, the two captains deduced. Eventually they gathered enough courage to tell Zhang Fei their predicament; they asked for an extended dateline. Zhang was irked and riled; and in his utmost anger he ordered the two captains to be tied around the trunks of trees, to be whipped 50 times each.  At the end of their punishment and ordeal, the two poor soldiers were seen crawling on the floor with their bodies strewn with bloody stripes, begging for mercy. Zhang Fei showed his relentless character, threatened them with his menacing finger pointing at their noses: Get it done or else you’re dead men!

At nightfall, at their barracks Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat decided that in no way they could live to have the tall order realized. Coupled with vengeance and animosity towards their commanding general, they had enough of the brutality they suffered immensely from their superior, they decided to do the drastic defiance. They wanted to turn the table round to change their own fate.

                             A caricature image of Zhang Fei

In the dearth of the night at the wee hours of the day, Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat dragged their pain stricken feet and bodies to the tent of Zhang Fei where he laid sleeping like a log, totally drunk in an unconscious stupor. The duo got an easy time to enter the tent where Zhan Fei slept with his eyes wide-opened. They had a great shock of their life; both fell onto the earthen floor, thinking that the sleeping Zhang was staring at them, almost awaking the guards. With some remaining guts they gained their composure, got up and stole quick glances at Zhang Fei’s face. After they were sure the former was soundly asleep, Fan Jiang plunged a sharp-edged dagger into the chest of Zhang Fei. From his dying bed, Zhang cried out loudly with an agonizing, hopeless wail that would have awaken everyone. The assailants fled on time and their survival in their later life was not known.

A Chinese drawing depicting the two assasins leaving the scene after murdering zhang Fei

Zhang Fei died at age 55; it was a pitiful death as he was at his prime fighting a war that history would have recorded his glorified bravery. Unfortunately due to his irascible temperament, devoid the skill for articulate handling of critical situation, his unforgiving nature and blind conceited ego, he died an awful death. Zhang Fei’s demise preached an indelible moral, telling people should not be antagonistic and unforgiving. One should always be benevolent to respect other’s quest and doubts, and accommodating even as a commanding boss. As every body was concerned with their image and pride, no one should openly delude another’s reputation or faith. A kind deed of forgivingness goes a long way and paves a future road of peace in the event of a surfacing rivalry for both parties. Zhang Fei’s death clearly showed that there was no need to subdue or annihilate any one who might not agree with him or defying his order. The assassination of Zhang Fei sounded a warning to all tyrants and blunt despots not to go overboard doing nasty things though it was futile to give tit for tat. Somehow abject minor individuals lurking in the dark are hard to detect and avoid; there are always back stabbers and rumor mongers around to disturb the peace to spread non-existing scandals in modern times. One still needs to stay vigilant as always.


Alan CY Kok

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wangari Maathai and her tree planting movement


Wangari Maathai gesturing whilst giving a speech shortly after receiving her Nobel Prize in 2004.
Receiving the precious Nobel Prize indicated the recognition of her contribution to mankind and the Mother Earth.

Wangari Maathai (Wangari Muta Mary Jo Maathai – April 1 1940-Sept. 25th 2011) died at age 71 of ovarian cancer, and Kenya of East Africa continent lost its only lady Nobel Prize Laureate. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman PhD. holder when she completed her research in veterinary anatomy at University of Nairobi, Kenya in 1971. She had studied at University of Pittsburg, USA for her first degree. In 2004 she was bestowed the coveted Nobel Prize for her life time contribution for sustainable development, democracy and peace.

President Barrack Obama of USA was overwhelmed with exaltation to meet Wangari Maathai of Kenya as he had some Kenyan root. (His father was Kenyan.)
The movement incalcated meaningful purpose and fun in tree planting among school children.

In 1977 Wangari Maathai spearheaded a movement she formed, aptly known as The Green Belt Movement in which she appealed to the Kenya women folks to plant seedlings throughout the country. They searched the nearby forest for seeds to grow trees native to the area. By the time she passed away at 71, her unyielding effort had seen results of more than 40 million trees planted with her calling, both in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

A lone tree standing amongst shrubs and bushes in the wide grassland cast a forlorn sight; where were the tall trees under which the Lion King and its consorts would be perching, while waiting for preys?

Wangari Maathai was a lady who wore many hats; she was a mother and wife, a biologist, environmentalist, a veterinary anatomy professor, and a  human rights and pro-democracy advocate.

A small effort is also accounted for; this was an excercise of tree planting in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The event was sponsored by Ford International Inc. The long-haired girl Winnie Kanhary forwarded this pic to me to report their endeavour for a healthy and green environment.

Her political life was not very successful as she faced lots of obstacles as the male dominance in her nation’s political scene was too deep-rooted and prejudiced against women. In 1982 she was not allowed to contest for a parliament seat when she began to campaign. She was told to resign her post as a professor at her university and for that she did, but the court still barred her from contesting, citing a technicality. When she asked for her post at the university to be restored, she was turned down bluntly. She believed that the president at that time Daniel Arap Moi was behind the plot to deny her a chance at the parliamentary election. In 1979 her husband Mwangi Mathai filed for divorce, claiming that Wangari had become too strong a woman, and that he was unable to control her. The divorce was granted. She was asked to drop her husband's family name “Mathai”, instead she added another “a” into it. Eventually she faced financial hardship in her life as her meagre income at the university was not sufficient for her bringing up the children. Fortunately The African Economic Commission and The United Nations Development Program appreciated her distinguished caliber and offered her a job that required her to travel widely in African Continent. She accepted the post gladly, but she had to be based at Lusaka, Zambia. Her children were sent to her lecturer former husband though she visited them frequently.

Farmer Su, an ethnic Manchurian stood on his roof which was engulfed with one foot thick of sand, feeling helpless. His ancestral home and his village of  Langtougou, Hebei was fighting a losing battle against desertification for many years.
Look at the barren ground where it used to be a farmland in Hebei. This little student girl found it hard to cycle home riding on uneven dirt ground.

The Green Belt Movement has stirred and inspired many countries to follow suit. More and more worldwide corporations are sponsoring poorer nations to cover the earth with more trees. China, Thailand and Cambodia are the few nations that have responded to do their part. Malaysia too does its part, particularly at the coastal areas where mangrove tree seedlings planting has been an ongoing project. For China, it is urgent as the nation is working very hard to avoid their northern territories covered with the encroachment of desert sand by means of sandstorms, particularly in the province of Hebei, bordering Inner Mongolia. For the Chinese authority, the threat of desertification is more crucial, critical and pressing. There are some notable improvement after massive tree planting in China; it clearly shows the roots of the trees are able to consolidate the hold of the subsoil, thus preventing the rampage of the sandstorm. Still, for a few times in a year, northern cities of Beijing and its neighbours suffer in their visibility as tens of ton of sand landed onto them.

 


 
For her achievement in campaigning for tree planting through her Green Belt Movement Wangari Maathai had got this to say, in her unpretentious simplicity and convincing words:

I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me. All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet. It must be the voice that is telling me to do something, and I am sure it’s the same voice that is speaking to every body on this planet – at least everybody who seems to be concerned about the fate of the world, the fate of this planet.

I kept stumbling and falling and stumbling and falling as I searched for the good. “Why?” I asked myself. Now I believe that I was on the right path all along, particularly with the Green Belt Movement. But then others told me I shouldn’t have a career, that I shouldn’t raise my voice, that women are supposed to have a master, that I needed to be someone else. Finally I was able to see that if I had a contribution I wanted to make, I must do it, despite what others said. That I was okay the way I was. That it was all right to be strong.


Alan CY Kok