Tuesday, 31 July 2012
A Taste of Kenyan Safari

One of the highlights of my trip to Kenya was visiting Nairobi National Park. While it was just a few hours, I still managed to see some beautiful animals! Here are some of the highlights from that trip.

The king of the jungle!

Now, what African safari would be complete without the lion? While I didn't see all the Big Five, I did manage to see the lion in all its majesty... or should I say, laziness.

Lions are incredibly lazy. Apparently the lionesses does all the work, including hunting, and the lion will just step up and claim his share. That's just how it works, the lionesses don't fight for gender equality.

Now you see me, now you don't...

That, folks, is a lazy lion. We were probably about 50 meters away, maybe even less, but it didn't even bat its eyelids- it was completely uninterested in us. There was a lioness in front of him but she was crouching low.

Then here's this lion that chose the top of a mount to rest. He did tilt his head now and then to check his surroundings, but again, he was so lazy that the sight of 3 or 4 vans didn't bother him. But then again, he probably sees humans every day.

The giraffes

Giraffes are rather cute, don't you think?

The Kenyan dirt

Now I'm sure you would've deduced by now that Nairobi doesn't have the cleanest air in the world. Now imagine going into a dirt road. And sometimes driving past debris from the previous vehicle. By the time the safari ended (it was just about 3 hours) my black cardigan was so dusty I didn't wear it again until I could wash it, and my hair looked like it just went for a dye at the saloon- it was brown!

When I finally got to enjoy my shower, I was filthy and you can easily tell by the colour of the water.

The transportation

We were brought into the safari in traditional vans, the type that we have back home in Malaysia too. But not the family van, it's the cheaper type- the ones that companies would use to transport their stuff. I did have some doubts about whether it would be able to withstand the bumpy ride, but as it turns out, it was all right. Or maybe we just had a very skilful driver.

Now you might be wondering, did I sit inside the van all the time? Yes, kinda- you see, it had a extendable roof that would allow us to stand in the van but still be outside. Can't imagine? Here's how it looks like:

It's an 8-seater van, and it surprisingly fit all of us when we were standing, and comfortably, too!

Nairobi's poaching history

Many years back, ivory was heavily poached. Now, there are strict laws regulating this that are enforced, and there is also a monument in the Park where smuggled ivory was burnt, which signified the Kenyans' determination to keep their elephants and other wildlife safe, to signal that no amount of money is going to make them dabble in ivory poaching, or any other form of poaching.

Burnt ivory

I did also manage to see some deer and an ostrich. Yes, ostrich. There were a couple of rhinos but they were so far away that I couldn't see them (and I didn't bother standing up, as we were on our way back and I was exhausted).

There are several more photos but I'll just put them up in future posts.

I'm sure I would've enjoyed it more and  would see more animals had it been further away- Nairobi National Park is just about half an hour away from the city centre. Oh well, another reason to go back to Kenya, I guess?

That's all for now, have a great week ahead!
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Saturday, 28 July 2012
A Nomadic Life

During my 3-week stay away from home, where I had to stay in 4 different places, I started thinking a lot about travelling, and my dream of travelling long-term around the world.

If you have travelled recently, or if you have a very good memory, you would know that when you travel, there is a lot of adaptation involved- you would need to get used to a different bed, a different bathroom, a different... everything. How would you adjust to this?

Those of you who know me well, would know that I enjoy having routines and having set plans. I like familiarity, which sometimes makes it hard when I'm travelling because then familiarity gets thrown out the window. Sometimes it can be a little OCD-like, for example, I like having my winter jackets on the left side of my wardrobe, followed by my tops, then my jeans, then my formal wear to the right. My shoes need to be put in the right order in their compartments. I like eating at a certain hour. Showering at a certain time. You get the point- I can be very particular about some things (though when I get busy I sometimes don't follow these rules and just put things where I can). 

So while travelling, of course these would be different and I would have to establish a different set of routines. And because I keep changing accommodations my routines had to constantly change as well. Not that it was hard- I find that I am quite capable of adapting to change when I'm travelling. I also handle a lot more discomfort, and I'm sure a lot of you do this when you are on the road as well.

Of course, towards the end I longed to get home, to return to routines I'm used to, to my own bed and warm shower.

But then it occurred to me- what would happen if I were to do this long term? How long can I sustain this way of living? When I was away, I lived with some discomfort, such as sleeping in a cold environment in a sleeping bag, taking extremely short showers (or in the case of Kenya, sometimes no showers). If I were to travel for, say, six months, how would I live- would I return looking scrubby and dirty like this dude?

Okay I'm exaggerating a little, but I'm sure you've seen tons of tourists looking like that. It's something you can very easily do- when you don't have your usual routines, coupled with the travelling, it's very easy to forget the simple things like looking presentable. After all, who's going to recognise you?

And it dawned on me that maybe I'm not going to be suited to this kind of nomadic life. Maybe I'm better suited to travelling short-term. I mean, if three weeks exhausted me, what would six months (or longer) do?

But I would like to try it out, though. There's something quite attractive in living a nomadic life, in seeing new things everyday. And then I guess I'll finally be able to put to rest this question.
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Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Phones in Schools: Yes? No?

Do you realise that when you're in a bad mood, you tend to speak your mind a lot more without caring about what the consequences might be? Well, this could be one of those moments.

So recently, our Government announced that they are considering allowing students to bring mobile phones and other gadgets to school (I think it's now approved to begin next year). I remember way back when they did make this change, but it only lasted for a week or so.

And apparently, this time the reaction is quite negative, too. Personally, I'm for this move. I think it's time that we move with the times. After all, students spend half their day in school. The Malaysian education system is one that is grossly outdated. It's time we make some changes and hopefully bring up better graduates.

The Star had several reader comments:

A live Twitter discussion on the plan hosted by R.AGE, The Star's award-winning youth platform saw mostly negative responses from young people, who said it could lead to problems like peer pressure, bullying and lower attention spans.

One respondent, @tincancat, tweeted: “More scandalous high school videos? More drama? More cyberbullying? More anti-social behaviour?”

Another user, @ShinDGypsy, believed the move would just put pressure on kids who did not have the luxury of owning mobile devices. “I think the less privileged kids will start to feel the pressure to get one since all their friends own one, especially smartphones!” 

The bulk of the replies, however, focused on how allowing phones in school would affect concentration levels in class and even the students' communication skills. “Imagine a classroom or a whole school where everyone is holding a phone. It just seems lifeless to me. It could lead to other big problems like students being unable to focus, too lazy to study, ringtones becoming a distraction and ultimately their results will go downhill,” tweeted @JohnCLW. Form Three student @RachieWongie added: “This is a HORRIBLE idea. No one will pay attention in class, especially if there's free WiFi. We'll be on Twitter or Facebook!”

And here's what I think: 

1) Regarding cyberbullying: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there. Personally, I'd rather these videos show up just so we know what the students are up to these days. I mean, I'd take seeing a video of a kid being bullied and action being taken over the kid suffering in silence and finally committing suicide anyday. 

2) Regarding peer pressure: As if it doesn't exist already. It's not like teens don't hang out after classes, you know? 

3) Regarding concentration levels: Honestly, this is a good thing. This gives teachers more motivation to spice up their lessons to attract the attention of students. And, if done correctly (by both parents and teachers) teens can have really good phone manners, such as not using it while a class is underway. If students would rather pay attention to their teacher rather than text a friend, you know the teacher's good. It's a negative reinforcement for the teachers! I can definitely think of a few high school teachers who could've put more effort into making their classes interesting.

4) Regarding students being on Facebook / Twitter / anti social behaviour: Proper education of social manners and courtesy is needed. Starting with parents not being on the phone while having a meal with their child. 

I know, I know, there are also many arguments that I can pull up against the issue, such as more vicious online bullying as teens have more time to spend on Facebook spreading rumours, but mobile phones aren't going anywhere. One day every citizen would have one. Are we still going to limit our youths then? 

To say that just because the older generation didn't have that privilege isn't valid; it sounds like jealousy, even- my father didn't have the toys I had, too, does that mean he can take that away from me? No, because it's just a sign of changing times. 

Sometimes, a little reverse psychology works too. Sure, at the beginning students would not let their phones go, but give them some time and they would see having phones in school as something quite normal and would not care that much anymore. The more rules you set, the more you restrict them, the more they will rebel. That's why in the Netherlands youths are allowed to drink- they are taught from young that it's okay to drink responsibly. 

And phones aren't all that bad, either- smartphones could be a great educational resource; there must be tons of apps that helps organise days, remember assignments and exams, look up information (for when you're disagreeing with a teacher), etc. Students could actually harness this to better equip themselves. Of course, this sounds quite utopic, so I shall leave it at that- a possibility. 

Technology advances exponentially, and in my opinion I think it is definitely the right way to go. Yes, there are flaws in the move, but by not going ahead with this aren't we simply being envious that our kids get to enjoy the using of gadgets from a young age, that they are so fortunate; aren't we living in the past, refusing to move on? Aren't we simply being fearful of the unknown? Are we not preventing our country from developing with the rest of the world, to develop our youths so that they will one day take over the reins of managing our nation? 
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Saturday, 21 July 2012
Kenya: First Impressions

I wanted to blog yesterday but realised that I just wasn't feeling up to it- I am actually still recovering from the past 3 weeks. But anyway, my flight to Kenya took 18 to 19 hours in total, journeying from Melbourne to KL, then to Dubai, then Nairobi. Yes, I stopped at KL- just for an hour though. Just enough time to freshen up and to give a certain few people surprise phone calls.

Almost a day later, I landed in Nairobi! I was quite excited and a little anxious as this was the first time I was in a foreign country completely on my own with just a contact who I've never met before who was picking me up. And what's more, I was in Africa- my first time stepping foot on African soil. When I stepped out of the plane into the terminal, it hit me- I'm in Kenya, a developing country in Africa. While the airport wasn't very modern, it was quite okay. I cleared immigration, went to the baggage claim area, changed my money (1 USD is approximately 80 Kenyan Shillings), and then walked out to meet my hosts!

I spent the next 4 days or so understanding Kenya's culture, food and people. Don't take this as an accurate portrayal of the country since I was only there for 11 days, but I'll put my thoughts down anyway- maybe you'll find yourself reading this when you head there one day?

Driving past...

1) The people

Kenyans are really friendly. This I cannot stress enough. Yes, crime happens, sometimes on a larger scale than what we're normally accustomed to (2 bombings outside of Nairobi and a kidnapping in Dadaab, for example), but overall, everyone I've met were extremely friendly. The family who hosted me the first few days offered me food and accommodation, and treated me just like they would treat a relative- I was given free rein of the house, free to do anything I wanted.

Once a stranger even talked to me while I was waiting for a bus- though this could be attributed to me being a foreigner. We seem to have that everywhere, don't we? Locals just enjoy having foreigners and are generally friendlier to aliens than their own people.

2) The city

Like many other capital cities in developing countries, Nairobi struggles with traffic and pollution- the roads are always crowded and full of cars, the air dusty, and of course, the traffic jams are quite notorious. I would say that if you bring what we have in KL down a notch in terms of the pollution, and hike up the traffic up a few notches and the way the people drive (more on this later) then it is quite similar to Nairobi. You'll have to see it for yourself to understand it.

Despite tales of how scary being in Africa is, I find it quite exaggerated- I felt relatively safe, and could get a good night's sleep every day (minus the jet lag which reduced my sleeping hours).

3) The food

The food in Kenya can be put in categories just like in every other country- you have the street food that is either a trainwreck or the best in the world (I didn't take the leap of faith to try it out so I will never know), food that is served in decent but cheap restaurants which is probably not bad, food that is served in more expensive and exclusive restaurants (for the richer people), and food for expats. Throughout my time I've probably tried a mix of all but the street food- though I did get to try home-cooked food!

I think one of the biggest concerns people have is the cleanliness of food- just to put it out there, while I wasn't overly concerned about this I did avoid eating fresh food such as salads and fruit (the only time I had this was fresh tomatoes with bread) and dairy (though I did drink tea with milk).

Roadside pottery business


I guess before going to Kenya, and having never been to anywhere in Africa, I had this preconceived notion that it would be really underdeveloped, but I've found this to be quite inaccurate, at least in Nairobi, and I do mean Nairobi- I understand that in remote areas or even in places outside of the main cities it is less developed and the people are a lot poorer, but in Nairobi I've found this to be quite untrue. I definitely learned to not be too judgemental while I was there, and I think it is quite a valuable lesson. Yes, you have to exercise caution, but there is no need to be paranoid. You'll be fine!
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Sunday, 15 July 2012
I'm Back, I'm Back

It is quite amazing that I have been away for the past 3 weeks. Originally I did expect to have better access to the Internet while I was in Kenya, but in hindsight that thought does seem a little foolish.

So I've just wrapped up my 21-day journey spent in Kenya and Sydney, either travelling or attending conferences. In the last 2 days or so I did realise that although I have had a lot of fun, and do wish I can extend it, I am also exhausted. I've also fallen ill, which is not desirable since my classes begin tomorrow.

For a very quick summary of my holiday: I met some amazing people in Kenya, some very inspirational. I've travelled. I would go back to Kenya in a heartbeat.

Nairobi National Park

I would love to write about my experiences there but unfortunately this will have to wait, I've work to catch up on!

Till my next update, see ya!
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