Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Reflections of 2009

1. Apparently the year 2009 began at about 2401 hr on the 1st January 2009 and it is going to end with some celebrations at Dataran Merdeka at about 2359 hr to-night on 31st December 2009. I hope the new year will come as planned!

2. The year 2009 is not that memorable at all to me as there are nothing much to savour and remember except:
a) I didn't enjoy teaching botany and biology very much. The undergraduates and postgraduates were not that ready intellectually to embark on their studies. They didn't read much and they were far from being critical with their science either. I feel the teaching of biology in pre-university curriculum is much to be desired and the teaching of biology in first degree curriculum is no better either.
b) I didn't enjoy supervising the students either. Many expected spoon-speedings and wanted to be told of every things they should do and shouldn't do. I have more difficulties supervising foreign students because of their poor English, poor biology and some of them are too lazy to work. Some of them are excellent though and a joy to have them around. However, in 2009 I have 8 PhD students and 14 MS students to supervise, in addition to three final year students.
c) I have no research grant. The ones I applied for failed to get support from those who evaluated my proposals. Hence I don't have funds to support my students. What a crazy world that a professor emeritus has no research grants!
d) I have not been productive academically. I produced only 3 papers in scientific journals and a dozen of papers in local and international proceedings. However, I helped to edit and write texts for 7 beautiful Coffee table books and edit 2 proceedings for Department of Forestry Peninsular Malaysia and other popular books and proceedings.
e) I did enjoy contributing to the society via WWF Malaysia as Chair, Pulau Banding Foundation as Chair, Orang Utan Island Foundation as a Trustee, Malaysian Timber Certification Council as a Trustee, Academy Science Malaysia as a Fellow etc,
f) I was invited as either a Keynote speaker or a Plenary speaker for 15 conferences, mostly national, some at university level and only one at International level. I enjoyed speaking to the young scientists.

3. Mypersonal health is like a yo-yo, sometimes I feel great and sometimes I feel quite bad and fatigue. My friends thought it was because of my age. I am still taking glucovance for my diabetes and zocol for my cholesterol, in addition to some vitamins and food supplements. I am beginning to sleep earlier than usual but in the day time I could work from 0800 hr to 1830 hr without any complaints. My routine breakfast is still a piece of toast, coffee and warm water, sometimes bananas; my lunch is mostly tosyei and my dinner is anything goes.

4. My children and grandchildren are doing just great. Abe has started teaching at UPM after his reading for his PhD at John Morse University at Liverpool; Awa is enjoying his works at Manchester; Lalan is exhausted drawing plans for others; Tina is progressing well with her PhD works, Hakim is yet to be called by MAS, Yasmin is in her final year at UiTM Melaka and Amir is going to Form 5. Next year i.e. 2010 Ilyas is attending year 1 at Sekolah Section 7 and Sarah is going to a local pre-school.

5. My two sisters Latifah and Safinah in Kelantan are getting healthier than last year and my only brother the Giant Yu is still traveling all over the world as a TV3 photographer. My in-laws, nephews, nieces and other waris are fine too. I hope they continue to be happier and healthier in 2010.

6. The number of cars in the house has increased by two; the petrol bills, water bills, electricity bills, telephone bills and other bills also increased. This is not sustainable and environmentally friendly. We should decrease our foot prints by at least 10%.

7. What are my New Year resolutions? None this year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Diversity in Banda Aceh

1. After five years I managed to visit Banda Aceh the city that was devastated by Tsunami on 26th December 2004. When I left on the Christmas day the people were preparing to commemorate the disaster by offering prayers and zikir. I also noticed many flags of all colours were erected as part of the commemoration.

2. My friends took me to almost all areas that were hit by the Tsunami and I could observe only the followings:
a) the many mosques that were spared by the big waves. Any damages were already repaired.
b) the many parks erected to educate and commemorate the event
c) the left-over mangroves, many regenerated saplings and only some remnants
d) new houses of various roof colours. Apparently one agency identified its contribution by the colour of the roof; blue roofs built by one agency, red, orange, green roofs were built by other international agencies. The one built by the Turkish Red Crescent bore the Turkish flags.
e) many new and elevated roads that left the houses below prone to floodings
f) two ships, one small and the other a tanker which were grounded kilometers from the sea.
g) Three mass graves

3. The peoples whom I spoke too more or less agreed that Tsunami had brought them new hopes for peace in Acheh Province. There is no more conflicts between the GAM and Indonesian armies that forced Banda Acheh to be under curfew after dusk in years before Tsunami struck.

4. Business florished, new hotels and supermarkets were built and at night there were some traffic jams; things not thought of 10 years ago. In the day times there were less traffics and hence no jams. The drivers loved to sound their horns but I observed no accidents . There were too many Toyotas though.

5. I enjoyed having mee Acheh (though a little hot), nasi goreng Acheh (not much rice but a lot of lauk), ayam tangkap (ayam kamupung fried with curry leaves and green chillies), ayam lepas, gado-gado Acheh, pengat pisang, tempeh garing (thinner than the normal ones), ubi stela (I was suprised they Acheh people used the Kelantanese name), bebek (itik), kopi solong at Ulee Kareeng (cannabis added) and so on

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Quranic Botanical Gardens

1. I've heard of Islamic Botanical Gardens or Islamic Gardens in some countries in the Middle East and Biblical Botanical Gardens or Biblical Gardens in the United States and some European countries. This week I was introduced to Quranic Botanical Gardens

2. On Saturday 19th I attended and presented a paper at the Post-Conference Forum on "The Quranic Botanical Gardens" at one of the hotels in Pulau Pinang. It was organised by Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) and the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS), Universiti Sains Malaysia.

3. The concept of Quranic Botanical Gardens has been endorsed by UNESCO in 2006 and the first garden is being planned in Doha since September 2008. The first International Forum on Quranic Botanical Gardens was held in Doha on 2nd March 2009.

4. The Gardens would feature the plant species that are quoted in the Quraan, Sunnah and Hadith, in particular the gardens of Paradise or "Jannat al-Firdaus". There are many verses in the Quraan that described the basic role of water and shade as well as plants, animals, walls, gates and pavillions. In endorsing the concept of Quranic Botanical Gardens, UNESCO stresses that such an effort could achieve important objectives in the environmentl conservation, scientific research. education and recreation.

5. Among the plant species quoted in the Quraan include, Allium cepa (onion), Allium sativum (garlic), Brassica nigra (mustard), Cucumis melo (musk melon), Dryobalanops aromatica (kapur), Lagenaria vulgaris (Bottle gourd), Ficus carica (fig - wat thin), Musa paradisiaca (banana), Ocimum basilicum (basil, selasih), Olea europaea (zaitun), Phoenix dactylifera (tamar), Punica granatum (delima), Salvadora persica )tooth brush tree), Vitis vinifera (anggur), Zingiber oficinale (ginger) and Zizyphus spina-christi (Christ's thorn).

6. What astonished and suprised me were the plants species from our part of the world that made into the Quraan such the banana, kapur, and ginger. My assumptions were that many other plants including the above were introduced by man from our part of the world before the days of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as the Quraan was revealed to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

7. Among the plant species quoted in the hadith were Acorus calamus (jerangau), Aloe barbadense (aloe), Aquilaria agallocha (karas), Citrullus vulgaris (water melon), Citrus medica (limau purut), Costus speciosus (setawar), Cucurbita pepo (labu), Cuminum cyminum (cumin), Lawsonia inermis (henna, inai), Oryza sativa (padi, beras), Sesamum indicum (gingelly, sesame), and Zingiber zerumbet (wild ginger).

8. Those plant species quoted in the hadith and sunnah did not suprise be as Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was a known trader in his time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Rafflesia and Rhizanthes

1. With the demise of Dr. Kamarudin Mat- Salleh in October 2009, the Malesian rafflesias expert, we see very little activities in Rafflesiaceae research except

2. Dr. Harry Wiriadinata of Bogor had sent me a manuscript on Rafflesia meijeri, an interesting new species from Sumatera. I've yet to respond to him though. I found this species intersting in having no processi similar to R. rochusenii of Jawa. At first I thought they are conspecific but on a further detailed investigation they differ in pattern of warts on the perigone lobes, filiform ramenta and small in size. This species is named after the late Dr. Willem Meijer, the world's authority on Rafflesia. Some times ago Dr. Jef Veldkamp of Leiden proposed if there is a new species discovered it would be great to name after Dr. Meijer. Now it is done. Congrats Dr. Harry

3. Recently, Shamsul Khamis of Institute of Bioscience, Universiti Putra Malaysia reported the observation of Rafflesia azlanii from the Lenggong area in Perak, a locality parallel in geographical location to Sg. Halong in Teneggor Forest Reserve where the species was first observed. According to Siti Munirah of FRIM and the late Dr. Kamarudin Mat Salleh, R. azlanii is known from Royal Belum State Park and Gerik area, amongst other localities. This new observation by Shamsul is interesting phytogeographically.

4. Ms Donna Jackson is about to write a description of Rhizanthes kamarudinii sp. nov. from Lanjak-Entimau, Sarawak. This species when discovered was thought to be R. lowii a species from Brunei and Sabah. But on detailed observation may prove to be a new species, initially Dr. Kamarudin wanted to call it R. jambulipa, a local name for its bud. However, I suggested to Ms. Donna to name in commemorating the man who had spend many years of his time studying the Rafflesiaceae in South-east Asia.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Diversity Within WWF1Malaysia

1. Last week I attended the WWF staffs retreat at Port Dickson where the staffs from Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak offices came together to discuss the WWF Strategic Plan, amongst other agenda. I met most staffs at the evening show cum dinner and also at the morning session chaired by Sudeep Mohandas.

2. I was personally excited at the way the staffs worked during the sessions and enjoyed themselves from evening to the early hours of the mornings. They worked hard and they thought hard and they expressed their concerns, wishes, anxieties etc by jotting them on big paper spread and pinned them on the wall. In a way they demonstrated their pleasures and displeasures well and democratically.

3. In the evening show I realised what a family WWF Malaysia is. We came from all states including Singapore and the Philippines and we belong to various ethnics. On one evening I was told all staffs came in their sarongs expressing their unity within WWF Malaysia and the next evening they came in their fancy dresses expressing their diversity. I couldn't help by noticing that the Indians came in baju Melayu, the Malays came in their baju Punjabi and Opera Chinese Opera dress, the Chinese came in baju Melayu and baju Bajau and Iban, and the various ethnics of Sarawak and Sabah came in very fantastic attire, glittering to their necks. I called this scene a WWF1Malaysia. And I expressed clearly how I wished our Prime Minister could be among the audience that evening and realised what 1Malaysia means and exudes.

4. As Chair I am terribly happy with the WWF Malaysia family and encouraged them to work harder, especially next year we are going to host the WWF International Conference at Kota Kinabalu. It is going to be a very memorable one as we are going to welcome the new WWF International President and WWF Council.

5. I am particularly impressed with the success stories and asked our CEO to show the tape to the next Board Meeting when we welcome two new trustees. The success stories were of turtles, tigers, forest, marine, governance, education, outreach, networking, public awareness, etc.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Phytogeography

1. This morning Datuk Seri C K Lim talked to me about his collection of Trichosanthes emarginata from Krau Wildlife Sanctuary. According to him that species was just described by Rugayah (BO) from Sumatera. This is a good example of floristic affinity between Sumatera and Peninsular Malaysia and I'm sure there are many examples like this.

2. A couple of years ago I described Cissus sumatrana from Gunung Leusser, Sumatera and two years ago Sani Miran collected a similar species from Bukit Labohan, Terengganu. I have wanted to believe that these two species are conspecific, but how could the montane species of Sumatera is distributed to a coastal low hill of Terengganu?

3. Other taxa showed north-south distribution and this is easily understood. Ampelopsis cantoniensis, an Asiatic species is found throughout Peninsular Malaysia; Parthenocissus semicordata, another Asiatic element has been found on Larut hills, Perak and Cissus aristolochiodes, yet another Asiatic species has been found in Kelantan and Terengganu.

4. Tenstroemia magnifica, a species of Borneo has been collected from Bangi forest; Cayratia pterita, a species known from Minadano has been located on Pulau Sipadan, Sabah; Kibatalia macrophylla, a species from Thailand was collected from Pulau Langkawi. There are many more examples of phytogeographic phenomenon to study and understand.

5. In my earlier post, I talked about zoogeography of Kelantanese. For human and other animals it is easier to understand their distribution and dispersal, but the immobile plants (except for their fruits and seeds) it is harder to explain. How could an African mangrove species, Annona glabra been found in Matang, Perak and Mersing, Johor?

6. This is a lesson in biogeography!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the diversity of Kelantanese

1. Lately there were Kelantanese bashings. Firstly, when the Kelantan fans were said to damage some chairs at the Bukit Jalil stadium; secondly when Kelantanese went home to celebrate the Hari Raya Haji and caused mad traffic jams; and thirdly there were people creating some political instability in the PAS government. I would like to share some thoughts about who the Kelantaese are and why their behaviour has been misunderstood.

2. These Kelantanese share many things in common among themselves. They speak a great dialect; they love sweet food; they are famous for their budu (fish sauce); they love songket and shadow play; they did many crazy things; they are said to be very religious; they love to fight; they work very hard to survive; they are very competitive; they dominate good schools and universities etc etc

3. There is the royal Kelantanese whose names begin with Tengku. They are the royal households who were said to migrate from Pattani, South Thailand some years ago. When the Tengku married the commoners, we have the Engku and the Tuan. The Raja are also said to be royal in origin but they were not the ruling elites.

3. The Syed who were thought to have brought Islam to Kelantanese via Pattani were reverred as royal too.

4. Then there are the Nik. There two kinds of Nik, the first were the Chinese origin who became the workers and slaves in the royal households then there were the Ni' who originated from Pagar Ruyong in Sumatera who also were the workers and slaves in the palace. Since then they had inter-married among their kinds and also with the commoners and they are very localised in their distribution.

5. There are the Wan whose origin is uncertain for there are Wan all over the country notably in Terengganu, Perak, Negeri Sembilan etc

6. Then there are the Che, whose origin is uncertain too.

7. Then there are the others without the title in front of their names. They are mostly from Pattani. The Javanese came to Kelantan to build the Kampung laut mosque and the Minangkabau came to open rice restaurants. There are Chinese too and many of them had assimilated in the villages. Of course there are also Chinese in towns. Then there are the Siamese especially in Tumpat, Bachok, Jeli, Pasir Mas and Tanah Merah districts. Kelantanese has very few Indians. The Orang Asli or Pangans are the Bateq and Temiars who are found in the districts of Kuala Kerai and Gua Musang. Then of course there are those from other states who made Kelantan their homes.

8. After all there is nothing special about us!