Sunday, May 27, 2007

Research Full Swing

At the Sandakan Airport

IJMP's Quality, Training & Research Centre at Sijas. Sijas is one of IJM's three oil palm plantations in Sandakan.
I hopped into Sandakan last week to meet up with more stakeholders for my research. This time was to meet up with a planter. IJM Plantations Berhad (IJMP) with the leadership of Joseph Tek, an ex-Cambridge graduate, gave me the best Sandakan hospitability (ever) throughout my 3-day stay there. IJMP is known as the "boutique" planter in Malaysia with a total area of 30,000 hectares in oil palm. The bigger boys would have 100,000 to 300,000 hectares. So, 30,000 is just a fraction of that. However, IJMP is regarded as the epitome to sustainable palm oil. Many planters of that size would have dropped the idea of sustainable practices due to the puny scale of economies.

The gravel road leading to Sijas

River crossing at the off-roads

One of the staff residence in Sijas. I stayed in one of the units. It's quite a good life there and how can I agree with some NGOs claiming that the workers in the oil palm estates are living in bad conditions. They even have satellite tv!

I was put up a night in this bungalow at the Desa Talisai plantation. This house is smacked in the middle of the plantation. It belongs to the MD of IJMP.

The sports complex developed for the workers in Desa Talisai. I was really impressed with the way IJMP invested in its staff welfare and well being. There is employment, social cohesion and interaction. I read this as social sustainability??

The trip was packed back-to-back. I didn't even get to see the town even though it was located about 6km from IJMP's HQ. I was taken to the plantation as soon as I arrived into Sandakan. Anyone who have read about Sandakan would know that Sandakan is THE place to eat fresh seafood at a fraction of the price in West Malaysia. However, I didn't even get to enjoy this. But it's okay; it just gives me a reason to come back next time!

And by the way, Sandakan is located in Sabah, Malaysia, about 2300km away from Kuala Lumpur; that's a good 2hrs 45mins flight from home!

Rainforest and oil palm co-existing with each other. NGOs have always attributed rainforest destruction to oil palm cultivation or land expansion for oil palm, but getting to the ground to see the real thing was an eye-opening experience. I am just surprised by how some of these claims were twisted to misinform the public and solicit support from them to fight their cause! Besides, such practice is not uniquely attributable to IJMP only but industry wide.

Let's talk about biodiversity then...and what about that again??

Effluent discharge or use of fertilisers causes pollution to tributary and rivers? Is it true that you guys dump poisons into the river?? Marine biodiversity badly affected? You can never be sure unless you get your hands dirty to find out. Since I didn't bring the necessary equipment to test for BOD, COD, acidity etc, so I tested a holding pond and tried fishing. Adrian (background) and I caught 12 fishes within an hour!
Drip irrigation for seedlings as compared to the older sprinkler system to minimise water loss .

Transportation of fresh fruit bunches to the production mill.

The finished product; cooking oil or biodiesel??? Competition between food and fuel, the sustainability question that I'd be looking at...

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Whenever I am not paragliding over the French Alps, I'd dive down the cliffs of Angel Falls in Venezuela. Just joking...
An unexpected shot of me plunging into the KL Swimming Pool by Raymond.

I feel it's quite effective to unwind the way I used to after a hard day at work. Whenever I am occupied with work, stress and all, I do my runs and jump into the pool to get new inspirations. It is liberating and refreshing too.

I am still working on my research and have yet to write anything for my dissertation. I needed inspiration. So I stepped out of character as a "researcher" and worked out the way I used to on the roads, treadmill and swimming pool.

1500m swim

I realised my swimming time has deteriorated badly due to the lack of training. None since going to Cambridge and that's taken a toll on me. I went back to the pools recently and found my shoulder and right arm all stiff and unable to push any faster, as if being chased in a dream and not able to run any faster.

I don't know if I could still take the triathlons with stride but even if not, it is still a good way to unwind and get new inspirations, which are essential to finishing the things I am supposed to finish in Malaysia.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back in Malaysia

I am back in Malaysia for a month to do my research on the sustainability of palm oil biodiesel. Would be flying back to the UK on 31 May. I will not be writing anything about my research here. First of all, I do not want to make premature claims on biofuels even though I could safely tell that the production of our palm oil is one the most sustainable in the world. And secondly, I already have a 15,000-word report to write just on that and I'd like to talk about other things in this blog.

Baby Brendan!!

I'm happy to be home. The first thing I asked for when I touched down was to carry my nephew, Brendan. Brendan was so cute and I nearly chewed him up when I saw his cute little chubby cheek.

Above: Penang Prawn Mee

Above: Enjoying Lok-lok, food on a stick skewer.

Above: Typical Malaysian hawker food stalls

Above: Fish head vermicelli and CheeCheongFun.

Coming back was also about eating and running. Initially sleeping was in the equation but that was until I overcame the severe jet-lag. It took 3 days to recover. I am having an overdose of Japanese buffet. I already had 2 big ones within this week. It started with my family for a tri-celebration; mother's day and birthday and aunt's farewell. The other was a social gathering.

The tri-celebration...

And another round of Japanese buffet at the Jogoya Japanese Restaurant. The social gathering..
Many things happened when I was around, mostly unexpected. Within a week, I have visited the hospital twice; one to visit my ex-colleague who was admitted due to irregular heartbeat and another to deliver her baby.

Kamil, at the Intensive Care Unit for irregular heartbeat. We have worked together since I joined my ex-company 6 years ago

Meeting with friends; Raymond and Irene. Raymond is next year's Malaysian Ironman hopeful

I have also been visiting relatives, friends and ex-colleagues. Most of the visits took place in between meeting people for my research and in the evenings. So, I am really putting time management skills to use, even in Malaysia! I spend the rest of the free time catching up with my running and swimming! No cycling, too bad!

Permaisuri Lake; the area of my running group. Permaisuri Lake is located 6km from the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Talking about sports, the weather had been erratic. It gets really hot in the day and sometimes pour like cats and dogs in the evenings. The reason I am blogging now is because it's pouring like mad out there. Then again, the tropical weather is just great for running. Before my friends in Malaysia stone me for saying that, I just wish to clarify that running in a hotter climate has its benefits too. Let me explain: First of all, I do not need too much effort to sweat like I just came out from a sauna. It takes 12km in Cambridge to sweat like that but only 1km for the same to happen here. Secondly, I do not need to wear too many layers to run; no gloves, no sweater, no track bottom. So much lighter! But I hate it whenever I sweat as soon as I step out of the shower.

I have started running and yesterday did the short distance World Asthma Day run. I would be doing a 15km competitive run next week. Raymond has been enticing me for the Kenyir Triathlon on 27 May but I know I am not ready just yet for a triathlon. Marathon, yes; but not a triathlon, because of the swimming event. I haven't been swimming since arriving into Cambridge. Ironically, I am not worried about cycling and I have Cambridge to thank! Most students in Cambridge have to cycle! I went for a 1500m swim the other day and did terribly bad. I clocked 32 minutes on a lap pool, and it does not augur well for the Kenyir triathlon at all! I used to do 27minutes! If I really want to do Kenyir, I have to start swimming again. How am I to juggle it with my research?? Ultimately, I have to know what my priorities are and the reason I am back!

Malaysian Pasar Malam (night market). "Lin Chee Kang" to cool down the body.

I have also been doing other typical Malaysian stuff like going to a pasar malam (night market) and mamak stalls (a surrogate to the bar culture in England, minus the alcohol) and hanging out in a shopping complex (not particularly for window shopping but to stay away from the hotter outdoors). If there's something I could bring back from Cambridge, it'd be the nice weather at this time of the year!