(not so) angry birds

I’ve been house-sitting a lovely place for a good friend since late last year. After two and a half years living in an apartment, the transition brought many terrestrial adjustments. We have cats crossing from the front to back all the time, frogs, caterpillars appearing on the bench and the star of this blog post, birds nesting in the garden!

My “deprived childhood” growing up with a concrete garden (cemented floor!) became evident when I mistook the nest for a frog sitting on one of the hanging pots of fern, jumping out each time we water it at night. It turned out to be a Yellow-vented Bulbul’s nest, as identified by Colin Nicholas aka CNpedia.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

“Ek ek ek ek”

It made a lot of ruckus all day long as the chicks explored their vocal range, calling for more food. I made myself (un)comfortable by the window whenever I had some time, trying to get some shots of my feathered housemates.

Both parents tirelessly spend the entire day feeding their little chicks. Here are some of their delectable meals, beak-picked by mommy and daddy.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

Le Worm

 (PUAH SZE NING)

Uuu… grasshopper.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

A fuzzy caterpillar.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

Open wide!

 (PUAH SZE NING)

 (PUAH SZE NING)

And down it goes.

This photos reminds me a little of a family horror story we like to share. My grandfather used to chew peanuts, spit it out and feed it to my brother when he was a baby. He probably invented peanut butter. Oh yeah, pretty gross indeed.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

And off it goes again to look for more food.

Spending many sweaty sessions peaking out the window through my zoom lens brought me back to my childhood days when evenings were reserved for play time on the street, spending hours terrorizing stray animals and observing those that are hard to reach; like turtles in a pond in someone’s house. Watching these Yellow-vented Bulbuls made me appreciate the animal kingdom beyond the restaurant menu, a feeling I’ve become more and more distant from, from daily desensitization in my little urban/ city/ internet bubble.

I can also see why so many cartoons and games are inspired from these little creatures. Just looking at this fat chick makes me want to laugh (also because it makes me feel like I should slingshoot it into a group of pigs).

 (PUAH SZE NING)

Oh they grow up so fast… (sob)

My feathered family have already left the nest. While I now have peace and quiet all day without crying chicks right at my doorstep, every time I hear birds singing I look out hoping they would once again share my home with me if even just for a little while.

 (PUAH SZE NING)

More on the Yellow-vented Bulbuls here (“it is said that it is almost impossible NOT to see Yellow-Vented Bulbuls” in this region).

And check out more photos of my feathered friends here.

Workers in oil palm estates

In 2007, I was a research assistant at Wild Asia and one of my first few field trips with a DSLR camera was to oil palm estates where I assisted in social surveys.

The conversion of land into oil palm estates is rampant, badly affecting many indigneous communities who have lost much of their traditional land (and thus their livelihood) to large corporations.

Seen as a crop that will bring economic development to rural areas by the government – the expansion of oil palm plantations does not seem to be halting anytime soon despite protests from grassroot organizations and environmentalists.

With much of the workforce coming from neighboring countries, the well-being of these workers widely differ from estate to estate. In the worst cases, the conditions can be akin to modern slavery.

Below are some photos of the workers in the estate, all taken in 2007.

Workers at the oil palm estate get onto trucks early in the morning to be transported to their area of duty in the estate. (Puah Sze Ning)

Workers at the oil palm estate get onto trucks early in the morning to be transported to their area of duty in the estate.

Workers at the oil palm estate get onto trucks early in the morning to be transported to their area of duty in the estate. (Puah Sze Ning)

They bring along sickles that are used to harvest the fruits.

A worker sweeps up loose fruits which fall from the bunches when it is harvested. (Puah Sze Ning)

While the young ones can carry the heavy fruit bunches, the older men and women collect the loose fruits on the ground.

An oil palm harvester marking the amount he harvested today. He is paid by piece rate. (Puah Sze Ning)

An oil palm harvester marking the amount he harvested today. He is paid by piece rate.

 (Puah Sze Ning)

These markers are left by the fruits.

 (Puah Sze Ning)

Fruit bunches are left by the road, awaiting collection.

An oil palm estate worker washing up. (http://szening.com)

A worker washing up.

 (Puah Sze Ning)

(left) In estates where the workers are well taken care of, workers such as this sweet old lady have made it very much their home, so much so that the linesite (workers’ quarters) looks and feels like a kampung (village); proudly maintained and adorned with flowering plants (to compete in the annual Most Beautiful Linesite contest). Unlike in Peninsular Malaysia, migrant estate workers in Sabah have their familes with them. This lady, originally from the Philippines, has lived here for a long time but no longer works in the estate fields. Instead, her sons work for the estate, so they’ve been able to continue living here. She can’t imagine being anywhere else; as she says, “this is my home”.

 

River play

Children bathing in the river while the intestine of a cow, sacrificed for a feast that evening, is being washed downstream next to them. (Puah Sze Ning)

I daresay I’ve probably missed a number of opportune moments to take river shots. We go to the river to bathe in the evenings and I normally leave my camera behind out of sheer exhaustion from travelling, fear that I might slip and dunk my camera into the water and other thoughts such as making sure my sarong does not come loose and float away (we bathe in the open with a sarong wrapped tightly around).

Here are some photos from times when I brought my camera with me.

The top photo was taken during our filming of Drowned Forest and Damned Lives, a campaign documentary against the construction of the Kelau dam which would relocate two Orang Asli (indigenous minorities) communities without their free prior and informed consent. We took a bath in the Kelau river and just as we were done, some Felda settlers came fresh from slaughtering a cow and were washing parts of the cow (like the intestine in the man’s hands) in the river.

Below are some photos from Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.

Chewong child jumping into Sg Rengit for a swim | 2007 (Puah Sze Ning/Puah Sze Ning | szening.com..)

Chewong girl from Kuala Gandah leaping into the river. (http://szening.com)

Chewong child jumping into Sg Rengit for a swim | 2007 (Puah Sze Ning/Puah Sze Ning | szening.com..)

Chewong kids from Kuala Gandah having run in the river. (http://szening.com)

These shots of the river are from Kg Mengkawago. It’s a rural village where the villagers are dependent on the rain and river for water. Unfortunately illegal logging upstream has polluted their river, jeopardizing their water source, worst felt during the drought.

The women here in Kg Mengkawago depend on the river to bath, wash their clothes as well as their cooking wares. (http://szening.com)

Children in Kg Mengkawago bathing in the murky river, polluted by illegal logging upstream. As a result, many of them suffer from skin ailments. (http://szening.com)