71 Years – Indonesia Independence Day

Per August 17, 2016, Indonesia would have been a free country for 71 years. For a country that has been slaves to the Dutch colonialists for three and a half centuries, then slaves to the Japanese imperialists for three and a half years that was worse than the previous three and a half centuries, and then was about to be made slaves to the Allied Forces (yes, including USA) at the end of the second World War, 71 years of freedom may mean very little.

Still, 71 years of independence is a worthy triumph.

Though skyscrapers and financial stability (even when the whole world went to recession) are the face of this country; in the throat and the gut of the nation, many still live in the dark, many still sick, many can’t read.

Animals are at the bowel.

We have a long way to go. There are so very many issues that we need to address, and only one president.There are so very many things that are lacking, and yet there are only a few channel.

But the movement is there.

Throughout eight years of my service as animal rescue, I’ve seen a lot of people. Some tried little, some give a lot, some just keep their sympathy to themselves.

While there have been many years where people just don’t know what to do when the female stray they have been looking after just keep producing cats, more learn of alternatives.

More vets learn the importance of spay and neutering, more are willing to suggest spay and neutering, more are gaining courage to dissuade wannabe breeders, more understand the importance of good food.

More youngsters follow their passion, while we do have very many who rescue just for the trend, some silently working underground. Maybe they can only save one, maybe they can help with some more.

In my community, it started with Maeve. The common story of a street cat mother who lost all her children by the harsh force of nature. Every one knows that story, and very many experience it themselves, when a stray cat they look after keep breeding to the point of human exhaustion and the nature balance tipped over.

Yesterday, it moves one step forward with one of the community leaders, whose wife and children love cats. She told me about the demise of her blind cat, and how they struggle to keep the other alive since they are running our of place and resources to keep everyone alive.

I told them about TNR, and how I managed to keep over a hundred of street cats alive. I told them about how many children were kept entertained by well managed community cats and at the same time learn how to treat animals.

They ask me about the price, I told them I will help. I frankly told them that with our donation drive struggling, I probably won’t be able to help much this week, but I will figure it out.

Next week, all seven of the colony they have been taking care of will be fixed.

And then they won’t have to fight about which one to be thrown away to other places because they can’t afford anymore.

They promised to help me convince people within their authority to do the same.

I don’t know how to fund it yet; animals are at the bowel of the nation, but like the whole eight years that has passed, and many more that will come, we will figure it out.

For animals, 71 years of independence means very little.

Therefore, one step forward is a worthy triumph.

One day, every street cat can be like Pascal.

~ Josie

paypal.me/whiskerssyndicate

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Eid in Indonesia

If you are wondering what sort of mayhem Eid Holiday is that freaks me out for weeks, these pictures are taken during the same season in 2016 from various cities around the country.

Over 69 million people traveled out from towns and cities last year. Roughly equal to the entire country of Malaysia or the whole of London or half of New York hitting the street at the same time.

Bandung has two and a half million residents, 90% of them will go out of town during the holiday and the town will be half dead for at least two weeks.

I hope these pictures will bring your attention to the grave potential that animals can be hurt in the stampede. I hope these pictures will bring your concern to the high risk of death it posed because it is impossible to transport them to safety or treatment in a short time.

Aside from giving you the obvious idea that I need to buy two weeks worth of cat food in advance (while we already struggled to fund raise for one week) I also hope these pictures will highlight my concern for the homeless animals during the holiday. There will be no garbage to scavenge, there will be no by products thrown in the market, there will be no sprinkler to drink from.

Eventually I hope you will understand the drive of my frantic begging.

~ Josie

paypal.me/whiskerssyndicate

Winner Stands Alone

I have just finished helping the traveling vet fixing the last adult males of The Whiskers’ Syndicate, and tomorrow I will have the last two females. I will then have a few months, maybe two, or three, before the next batch of cats reach maturity and the cycle continues.

In part, I am grateful. Eventually, after trying and struggling and dragging myself and the finances to fix everyone at the sanctuary, the job is done, for now.

In other part, I know that I still have a long way to go. I still have four in the colony nearby, two standalone on nearby street, and another six, if not more, in other part of town.

It sounds like a good plan; once all of these colony cats were fixed, the time will come for me to come back and fix my own refuges: Donna and the babies, who will then reach maturity.

In between my preparation earlier that day a close friend popped up on Facebook Messenger with her usual bouncy merry happy attitude.

Hi! How are you doing today? I am with my dog doing this and that and whatever and it’s fun! I want to do this and that and whatever and you should do this and that and whatever and I am going to take a beat now hugs!

So, um, what happened to “How are you doing today?” I guess it’s a rhetorical question; but she done that to me all the time so I just shrug and move on with my own life. It doesn’t really matter how I am doing today as long as she has fun and I figured she just popped up to tell me that she had fun.

At around the same time I was trying to reach out to my other close friend who is getting ready for her big break and flew half way across USA to meet her family. She is a busy woman. She volunteers with various animal rescues and she still squeeze time to help The Whiskers’ Syndicate. This must be a very busy time for her so I thought I’d help her as a little token of gratitude so I nudge her through messenger and offer my help. I didn’t know, and she didn’t tell me that she has another event that she coordinated so she did not reply immediately and when she finally did, she replied to my questions with short, telegraphic message that immediately put me in my place: out of her way.

She has been that way even when I told her my plan of a fund raiser week. Every other rescues I know all over the world have events on line and off so I thought I’d join the them and have a little online event to fund raise and celebrate the new lease of lives for a dozen of baby cats that I recently pulled out of the brink of death. I thought it will be fun to share with everybody and I thought everybody would like to come over and be happy knowing that they have a great part in saving lives.

Usually she can catch the spirit, but with such short messages (funny thing is she always feel awkward if I am busy and give her a telegraphic conversation) I knew it there and then that she was too busy and she is not interested in my plan or at least not too much. She has the matching challenge with her and that’s all that matter; but to appreciate me she is willing to adopt some of my ideas and for that I am grateful. I re arrange my schedule so I can be more free to post during the week and work at the event so I don’t add to her burden but I am not sure if she even see that possibility and let me help; hence I gratefully step aside.

However, it seems like the world revolved without me. The event was a disaster. No one come; no one responded to the matching challenge, and it took a few days for a single quiz question to be answered by ten people (thank you Eve Corbett!).  My friend sweep the page back from my hand and deliver her own writing and people start to look. I realize it then that the event was a bad idea, and that public might have liked her posts more than mine (and therefore responded better to her articles) so I thought of cancelling the rest of the events and stick with her never failed matching challenge.

During the surgeries the vets and I conversed about how people asked vet about things and bring their pets to be examined, but out of the vet practice they look around Google and laymen’s forums to look for cheaper way to handle their animals. Many if not all then choose to treat the animals their own (cheaper) way and many if not all of those animals ended up dead or worse and owner pressurize the vet to fix whatever mistake had been done (they cover their own sin of course, by saying they don’t know what happened and the pet is just found that way) If the pet is (as expected) dead, they can blame it on the vet.

That’s Indonesian reality.

So what is the point of asking a vet’s opinion if you are not going to go through with it? Some don’t want to bring their pet to the vet or the vet to come to their place. They prefer to ask by text or whatsapp or Blackberry Messenger or you know what else because then they will have a professional opinion for free. They don’t care that vets usually just give general ideas because they cannot diagnose without physically examining the pet, but who cares; it’s just an animal and they can always put two and two together between the vet, forums, google translate and half ass logic.

We also talked about how expats, who comes from “first world countries” or “sovereign nation” treated other people from the second or third world and the rest like a piece of shit and that we all should be grateful that they are so generous to us because otherwise we are still slaves and even now some of us would rather be their slave because they pay with US Dollars instead of our worthless money.

It’s not that we are as good as them anyway. We know that we’re way behind the rest of the world, but it doesn’t make us less human than the others. Some of Indonesian youth do move on, get out of their cave (read: comfort zone) and try to build a better place that can be proudly called Indonesia, our homeland.

During the surgery Milk left her pack and sleep under my chair; occasionally peeking out to see if I am done and when she saw that I haven’t, went back to her curling spot and back to sleep. At times,  I will look straight back at her with my eyes speaking out loud

Thank you, I am sorry I haven’t done. I will go back to you so please hang in there.

She didn’t say anything but I know it in her eyes that she does understand before she walked back to the fluffy mat under my chair and back to sleep.

Verily, there are times when animals has higher understanding than human being and it humbles me more that it comes from a discarded, ill ridden baby cat.

When we’re done I asked the vet if she can give me a ride downhill so I can buy more sanitizer for equipment to be used for tomorrow and to get myself some lunch. I offered to buy her some but she said she got her lunch paid by the clinic.

She gave me a ride and when I am done, I walked home alone under Bandung’s scorching heat that reached 42C (107F) and complete dryness to bake you to crisp. Bandung usually moved from 17C to 29C (62F-84F) but now the temperature at the peak of the day can reach 42C(107F) to drop to 15C (59F) at night. The extreme rise and drop between day and night temperature is detrimental to animals, especially street animals that does not have a good immune to protect them. Many become sick and the antibiotic abuse (thanks to the smart ass forums all over the internet) make the bug resistant and expose animals to even greater risk.

Milk was the first to greet me as soon as I put the bottles down on the table. I picked her up and cradled her in my arm. She looked pale, but content. Her eyes have been telling me that she is not well. Two other kittens were pawing my legs and trying to climb my jeans. One has watery eyes so I pay attention for the possibility of Chlamydia, and the other one looked lethargic so I made mental note to give him extra B12.

At the back of the cattery Jack is still fighting distemper. Harley, Torbie and two others have just gone out of their own bout of URI. Bon Ami’s UTI is coming back so I will have to give him tomato juice again. One of the colony cat also has trouble with health lately.

Aside from all that I have to divide my attention to Lance’s mom who is dealing with her first case of distemper, and recently rescued a small kitten who has bad diarrhea. Gratefully she is careful and is consulting experts and vets instead of following some smart ass forum or Google who gives strong GUT antibiotics to treat URI. Oxymoron, I know, but that’s the reality here.

I have just Peta and Split Ear to calicivirus but I told no one about it because one of my two closest friends woofs around looking all happy and it seems likely that she is too busy to stop bouncing and listen to my answer to her “how are you doing”, the other one was too busy with other things and I need time and space to process the whole hell that broke lose on me.

I took Milk to my room and lay her down my own blanket which is also her favorite. She rolled over and hugged my fingers like milk bottle and start purring. Since she came from different litter she never really fit in with the others and follows me everywhere as her mom instead of Tabitha, and later Jane Marple, who stepped forward and become surrogate mothers for the babies, including her.

I saw her swollen eyes and the thick mucus that made her breathe through her mouth instead of nose. I put her in the nebulizer in the morning so I cannot give her another one until later at night.

I got a message from a Polish woman about a single survivor kitten at the edge of the forest near her boarding.

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I looked at Milk. She is struggling with her breath and she is still hugging my fingers. so instead of typing I dictate my phone to say the following:

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So that you understand what I mean: if “normal” Indonesian houses looks like yours, houses in Dago Pakar, that lady’s place, is Buckingham Palace or The White House. It’s no joke, though I hope it is.

This is Indonesian reality.

If possible, I don’t want to leave home. I have enough cats, I have sick ones, I have Milk, and I don’t have money, time, space and energy to care for another. If possible, I want to just turn the request away by the spell of “we cannot save them all”; if possible I want to stay with Milk because I had the feeling that if I left her now, I will never seen her again. Last time I have that feeling I denied it and I lost a cat who is half my brother and I don’t want to repeat the same sin even in another seven reincarnation.

But I remember Tortie, who lived the rest of her life in a forest park without tooth and was on her way to starvation had I didn’t meet her and I bet no one would want to pick the kitten up if I turn the request away.

This is Indonesian reality

I also remember three kittens that someone dumped in a box on a bus shelter that required me to run half an hour back from where I dropped off my boss’ car (I was on a job interview and he doesn’t like animals) and two of them were already flat on the street and the only survivor, who will be known as Monday, only lives for less than two months with us.

This is Indonesian reality

And talking about reality, when Monday’s story went viral by the courtesy of Harmony Fund, people wrote me these things:

This woman is a fake. I would have stopped the car right there and then and scoop them up.

In Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand traffic can be so horrible you can’t stop at all, still this can be avoided but unfortunately not enough was done.

I can’t believe this lady left the kittens for half an hour before she came back, I would have faked a broken car and saved the kittens.

I am not sure if the commentator knows about this but in Indonesia, if you broke your car in the middle of the road, people will blast their car horn at you for five minutes straight and swear at you when they manage to wiggle their way around the traffic and if you are lucky they will spat at you. If you are a woman, one or two men will swipe their hand past your butts. The road is packed.

This is Indonesian reality.

I called Lance’s mom if she would like to tag along. She has a penchant of rescue but she doesn’t have experience so I thought I’d show her a chip of my life.

I waited until Milk fall asleep and jumped right back out to the streets because that park is a popular tourist destination and there’s only one road to go to that place and that road will be exasperatingly condensed that it is impossible to pass within two hours unless I run. It was five pm Friday and I made an appointment at 6:30.

Before I went out I stroke her fur and whisper You are going to be all right. Hang in there. I will be right home.

I picked Lance’s mom up and on my way.

I have never met this lady and her husband and the signal there is not so good. It’s a forest and this is Indonesia. We do not have 4G LTE until last month and even 3.5G/HSDPA is troublesome. When I have clear view of the sky and the signal is back I tried to call her husband’s number she gave but no one pick up the phone. I keep trying for another one hour and by then the taxi meter quoted me two hundred thousand Rupiah.

When some man finally picked up the phone I told him who I am and he immediately blasted me for being late and that I don’t mean well and that I was lying when I told him I have been trying to call.

I was gobsmacked. I raised my voice to top his and told him I was just trying to help.

The phone was hung up and a few minutes later his wife, the Polish woman called and as soon as I picked up, she started on the same tirade.

I asked So what do you want now? You got me here just to swear at me or what?

Among another few:

All I want to do is help the cat. She is alone, and afraid, and skinny and sick.

You were late, we already go home.

I am pregnant, and I can’t be too cold, I don’t feel so good so we go home

I don’t have car, we only have motor (cycle)

My shots between her tirade:

I don’t have car either, and I don’t even have motor, I got here by taxi.

and that is because there’s no bus or other local transport past 5 pm.

Her answer:

Don’t scream at me, I don’t like people screaming at me (I did not. If I talk the usual volume she can’t hear me)

You have to respect people.

You have to respect people’s time

You have to respect people’s good will to rescue

You have to respect other woman

You have to respect people’s opinion

I respect all lives, so I respect animals. You are suppose to respect animals.

I am pregnant, I don’t have car, I only have motor. I don’t feel so good. My husband said I don’t feel so good (husband is local)

I will write bad reviews about you

I will tell everyone you are not a good person

I will report your organization and say bad about it

I will tell everyone and write everywhere that you do not respect other people.

I blasted at her just once HEY! and she was so shocked at the fierceness of my voice that she shut up.

[Name] if I don’t respect you, and if I don’t respect my own words, I won’t be here, and I won’t be talking to you nor listening to your tirade. I don’t have car either, I don’t even have motor, so I take taxi, and I won’t be paying two hundred thousand Rupiah for it if I don’t appreciate your willing to help.

If I don’t respect the life of this kitten you have been talking about, I won’t be here in the first place, responding to a complete stranger who would like to meet me in a forest.

Fine if you want to write all of those. This is not the first time someone stepped all over my head because they are expat and because I went to lower places to help animals. Just because you are expat doesn’t mean you are always right.

She gasped, then said I will be there in ten minutes just wait. And hung up.

And here I am, a single woman, with stranger taxi driver, by the forest, in the dark of the night.

I am so stupid.

When they showed up she continue to protest but I just shove her into the taxi, sit by the driver, and have her husband use the motorcycle to guide us through the forest to a dilapidated stall in the middle of nowhere where the kitten is because she can’t have it with her and meet me at the park’s gate to hand it over.

I didn’t say a word all the way there, but I noticed that Lance’s mom was trying to explain to her that I have sick cats, and things to take care of, that more than one person pulled a prank at me by sending SOS messages on behalf of some cat or kitten and have me go to weirdest places. The only thing I said:

I do not normally take in any animals because I am already overrun with them. I made an exception just for a single cat, because I think you are genuine and I go length for that.

So we got to the stall, she showed me where she left her Whiskas and step aside and watch.

I remembered my Australian mother told me that none of the westerners in the animal rescue whom she knows want to rescue the way I do, going into the sewer or climb the garbage truck. They all just call animal control, have someone else dirtied their hand on the work they could have done and then pick the animal or adopted them.

I heard her talking to Lance’s mom that she feed the cat in the morning but she doesn’t want to go there at night because it’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s dark and there’s a lot of wild animals there like bats and dogs and monkeys.

And she wants me to go there by myself to pick the kitten up?

I see nothing but pile of woods until Lance’s mom used her cell phone as a torch and I called out while peeking around. A white and tabby kitten squiggle his way and come straight into my arm.

The polish woman said Now I am happy.

Then she told me

You can list her for adoption.

I said: People don’t adopt around here. They buy purebred and breed themselves.

Yea… yea people like to buy Persian and breed them and sell the kittens. I just called your organization because I am very worried about this kitten

There is no organization. It’s just me.

(her eyes a little bit bigger but no comment yet) I don’t know how many you have now, but I am glad you take the kitten.

I have around 100.

Wow. And how many people are working for you?

None.

Oh…

You are alone? How do you manage all of things?

From morning to morning.

[silence]

She raised her hands Ah well, let’s forget what just happened, I am happy the kitten is saved, I don’t like this atmosphere.

My silent remark: Gee, with all those blabbery cussing and swearing and screaming you haven’t run out of atmosphere already?

I turned around and walk into the taxi, it doesn’t matter if she wants to follow or not.

As we drove her to her boarding she keeps commenting how silent is the cat and ask if it’s sleeping. I told her the cat is sniffing around but is comfortable.

I dropped off Lance’s mom to her own boarding and wade through the rest of the traffic jam back home and spend over three hundred thousand Rupiah for the taxi and some tip for the driver for being kind enough to wait there in the forest instead of just leaving me behind.

It was somewhere over nine pm. The cats haven’t got dinner, but the first thing I do is look at Milk.

She is still sleeping, I stroke her fur and whispered that I am home and I will feed the others now and afterwards tend to her.

Just as I closed the door Milk start screaming.

I rushed back in and watch her entered a seizure. She trashes around so much and she defecate and urinate all over my blanket.

All of a sudden, the demanding hordes of mobsters at the back and in the house fell silent. There was no sound around except for her scream and I have no doubt that I want to drop everything and be with her.

My cell phone was outside the room, so I reached out to the older one I kept as spare and sent two messages, one to my closest friend, the other to Lance’s mom.

Milk has epilepsy, pray for her.

She calmed down after an hour, so I wrapped her inside the blanket so she won’t fall if she started again, and go out and feed the others.

When I came back half an hour later I saw my friend responded and asked if I get access to medication.

It was broad daylight in Ohio but its the middle of the night in Bandung, but I am sure she didn’t think of it, from the way she asked.

I typed no.

She said, that’s suck.

I typed Haha, you have no idea what sucks means here.

It was the only moment I become myself the whole day.

She said she posted and ask if someone has ideas how to handle the situation.

By then I already went back out to give medicine et cetera and when I came back, I saw her posting Fanny’s picture instead of Milk’s and ask if anyone had a clue.

The comments under her post are all confident, sure, and along the “oh, that’s easy” tone: Phenobarbital.

It annoys me because I know it’s phenobarbital but I can’t blame them for answering that way because there was not enough information about what had happened to Milk before, that she is only three months old with the size of two, and that she is only two ounces and a half.

Still, I sincerely thank everyone because these people are the first positive reinforcement I ever had through out the week. I can’t but appreciate people speaking at length to me and provide me links and conversation instead of a bunch of telegraphic speech here and there.

Milk continue to have two more sessions throughout the night and I stay wide awake beside her at all time.

At 3 am today, she no longer has power to move. The seizures made her defecate and urinate all over my bed and throw herself from end to end.

She struggled to crawl closer. I hold her close and tell her she can go if she wants, and she went to join Berry.

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After Milk passed away, I sit alone in silence, watching her. She looked peaceful; accomplished.

In complete contradiction, I feel miserable, belittled, left out. From two of my closest friends to complete stranger, all of my memories jumbled together into a messy blunder and the first I pick out is anger.

The ten commandments of respect that were spat onto my face lingers, and the time I spend handling those spats cost me the time I could have spent with one of the kittens that God had entrusted me to care for and on her last day on earth. All she asked was my fingers to hug, all I give her is “hang in there” three times.

All Milk ask is a little time for just us, to say good bye, maybe; and I use that little time to wade through the traffic jam, got some Polish smear shit all over my face, and yet another cat to take care of, or just me getting busy with my cell phone and semi ignore her when she crawl closer and sit on my arm.

Holding her lifeless body in my arm, my tears had long run dry, and I didn’t know if my heart still have a shape, but it hurts to remember that I was not there for Milk long enough.

It hurts to be sub human for doing what I am doing

It hurts to be cursed for your compassion or other good deeds for that matter.

It hurts when I have to put my head under someone else feet just because I live in a common place called home and they live in a place called heaven.

It still hurts to be judged out loud by total stranger half the world away.

It hurts to have a “how are you doing” as a rhetorical question that never needs an answer.

It hurts to pop up to help and been telegraphically pushed aside.

It hurts to know that you are trying to help, but you don’t have half of what others have to save that life and when you have to give up anyway, people say that you could have done more.

It hurts to love and to lost and not even sure how to react to it or if what I am doing is right.

It hurt to always find out at the end of the day that I am alone. I have friends, they love me, the care about me, but at the end of the day, I am me, myself and me.

It hurts because I was somewhere else when Milk needed me the most.

But this is Indonesian reality

And even on her last moment on earth, Milk gave me understanding, patience, endurance, love and forgiveness.

I walked out of my room and take a look on the new cat. He was curling up on the same spot where Milk was earlier this morning. His face looks innocent, and peaceful, just like Milk.

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For the rest of my life, every time I look at him I will remember Milk and all the pain she has to go through that night and her magnificent patience with which she endures the pain until her very last breath.

But if I remember him that way, Milk’s patience would have been in vain. She had given her patience to give time for the new boy to come into our lives, so with that same patience I will take care of him and the other cats.

If I remember all the hurts, Milk’s love would have been in vain. She had ended her own life with that great love when she used her last strength to lay on my arm like a lover, so with that same love I will fill my life and share to others.

If I remember all the spatting and cussing, and all the losses I have just to retrieve that new boy, I would have wasted Milk’s forgiveness. She had showed me her big heart when she forgave me for doing something else and was somewhere else when she needs me the most, so with the same forgiveness I will absolve my own sin. I was trying to do something right, and I have been following my conscience and by doing so, safe one life.

If I remember the ego-centrism and blind accusations, I would have wasted Milk’s understanding. She knows I have a lot to do and a lot to take care of, so she step aside and let me finish what I started. With that same understanding I looked back through the day and see things in different light.

Instead of feeling left out I am even more grateful for my two friends. There are times when they made themselves more than available for me, so now it’s my turn to understand them and get out of their way. There are times when they went out of their way and help me instead of enjoying their own life; there are times when they work harder than I am and spend enormous resources out of pocket because they have faith that I will do the utmost good with their gifts. And there are times, if not always, that they cried with me and laugh with me and share so many stories so the least I can do is feeling happy and grateful for them and support them with whatever they are doing.

Instead of the anguish, I felt relief. Relief because I don’t let myself dwindle in all the negativity that surrounded me. Relief because instead of turning friends into enemies, I am given the chance to turn friends into sisters.

Instead of feeling belittled, I took Milk’s spirit with me and live by her code so that one day when we meet again, I won’t be a sub human, I will be proud to be her human.

That way Milk’s death won’t be in vain.

This is my Indonesian reality: understanding, patience, forgiveness.

And I don’t have to live in a sky high elite like Dago Pakar to bask in the gifts of life that Milk had bequeathed me.

~ Josie

paypal.me/whiskerssyndicate

Lion Dance Magic

 

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For Chinese in the world, January 23 is the most important Chinese holiday. It is the beginning of the new year of Water dragon.

 Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China , it is known as “Spring Festival,” the literal translation of the Chinese name, since the spring season in Chinese calendar starts with lichun, the first solar term in a Chinese calendar year. It marks the end of the winter season, analogous to the Western Carnival. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day. 

 Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Vietnam, Phillipines and also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors. In Indonesia, that fifteenth day or the Lantern Festival is call Cap Go Meh. Cap Go means 15, and Meh means ‘night’.

During the Chinese New Year, lion dancer troupes from the Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guild and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of “cai ching” (採青), literally means “plucking the greens”, a quest by the ‘lion’ to pluck the auspicious green normally ‘vegetables’ like lettuce which in Chinese called ‘cái'()that sound like ‘cái'()(fortune) and auspicious fruit like oranges tied to a red envelope containing money; either hang highly or just put on a table in front of the premises. The “lion” will dance and approach the “green” and “red evelope” like a curious cat, to “eat the green” and “spit” it out leave it in a nice arrangement, like an auspicious character but keep the “red envelope”. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business and the troupe is rewarded with the “red envelope”.

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In modern day, however, people who come to watch lion dance can wave the red envelope in the air, for which the lion will come and, after “eating” the envelope, will bow down in gratitude and the patron (who give the envelope) can touch the head of the lion. Giving red envelope (containing money) to the lion and touching the lion’s head is considered auspicious.

Now onto another story.

I once read an article by a Catholic Filipino lay missionary about “giving back to God” The impression that article left me is that if Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) said “pay yourself first” this Filipino evangelist say “pay God first” by giving a part of our income back to God through charity. He said in the article that most people think they are too poor for charity, especially those in debts, or with small wage who always worry about what to eat tomorrow. However, he believed (by citing some verse in the Bible) that giving back to the Lord is a great exercise to feel of “abundant” and that “God give enough” as well as training us to “cast our worry to God because He cares for us”, and that the more we give for charity, the more God will bless us abundantly. Long story short, I promised God that I will give part of my income – regardless of how small – to Him, regardless I never have enough for the whole month, and I always take a few percent of my salary since then, and anonymously put it in the charity box at the church.

Partly, I felt challenged by St. Francis of Assisi’s first student and follower: St. Bernard, a very rich nobleman who actually sold all his belonging, give it to the poor and live just by what people give him as he begs on the street with the poor. Stupid? surely, but I did it anyway.

Believe it or not, my luck changed since then. Before I set apart my salary, I have always run out of money, sometimes as early as the first week of the month, leaving me with meager to eat and none to spend for all other things; but after I start to set it apart, there’s always something coming: a small donation, a pet store allowing me to pay on credit, a lending from one of my brother, or an order from the Whiskers’ Syndicate’s on-line shop. I always have nothing left by the last day of the month, but whenever the last dime were spent, and I have no idea how we are going to eat the next day, there’s always something just enough to fill our stomach and therefore, to live another day.

Fast forward to now: Last week my half-dead rice cooker had finally gone over the rainbow bridge. I said it was half dead because it can still cook, though the rice it cooks is never well done (there are part of it that still half cooked). I have no money to buy a new one yet, and I promised one of my significant person that I would never survive on instant noodle and water again, so for several days I live with rice flour mixed with soy milk and made into a porridge. I got myself a severe diarrhea that way, so at the end I borrowed money and went buy one at the weekend.

I read it in a big advertisement on the streets that Bandung will celebrate Cap Go Meh 3 days in a row starting Friday (Feb 9) to Sunday (Feb 12) in an extravagant 70 lion dances, parade of the statues of Buddhist/Taoist/Confucianism Gods and venerated persons, as well as lantern festival from Temples/Groups/school across West Java. The parade will pass on every main street with major Chinese populations. That means detours, traffic jams, and waste of time. Worst part is, since my rent is in the city center, all main street around my area will be passed by the parade. So if I am to buy the rice cooker, I need to do it in utmost rush, or got caught in the crowd.

I was stuck in the crowd anyway, and ended up being pushed around to the front row of the sea of people that comes watching. Children were lifted up on their parent’s shoulder, and some of them is crazy enough to step on the head of people below them, including mine. Bandung people has no sense of respect, that is ultimate truth, so I can’t expect their children to be respectful to others.

At my side and front, Chinese with bundles of red envelope are waiting in excitement. It is auspicious to give an envelope to one lion, so I think it is naturally abundant to give them to all 70 lions. I sometimes give red envelope, when I have some change to spare, but that was long time ago.

Beyond my expectation, the lions, as well as the dances were skillfully beautiful, so as I watch the parade I keep groaning that I don’t have any money left except for two thousand Rupiah, that will be spent when I took a the bus home. At one point, however, my attention was drawn by an elderly lady beside me, who open her purse in secret (there got to be more than a dozen freelance pick pocket there, I suppose) and wave her hand timidly. So shy that some of the lions can’t see her waving and come pick her gift. She knew that I was watching her, so she told me, with a crimson cheek, that she didn’t have a red envelope, hence fold the money and have the lion eat it “raw”.

It was certainly laugh inducing, at least for Asians who are familiar with the tradition. However, I was touched by her sincerity, and simultaneously remembered that I have a small envelope I keep in my wallet. I always keep one or two ready in case I need to leave the Syndicate’s business card somewhere, or happen to pass an under-maintained church in need of charity.

It shocked me when I realize that there are 50 thousand Rupiah bill inside each envelope. I got 100 thousand when I thought I don’t have even a dime left! It’s a miracle!

Well, perhaps no, maybe it was just me, actually. I put that money there as the part of charity that I promised God, but I ended up giving my charity to a sick baby by a bank transfer last week, and I forgot that I put money in that envelope, but at that moment it does feel like a miracle for me: a good fortune fall straight from heaven as a reply from my endless groaning as each lion passed.

I was terribly thirsty for having to walk a long distant (the bus stopped halfway due to the crowd) So I slipped into the back, with much effort, and buy bottled water from a merchant with one of the 50 thousand, and the merchant gave me a lot of small change in return. He has a lot of bigger bills, and gawker merchant usually keep the small change for later transactions, but this one give me all his small change. A peculiar happening that I take as another divine sign.

I think you can guess where the change goes. To the lions. I don’t have envelope, so I gave it to the lion “raw”, just like the lady, who was encouraged to give more because she is not alone.

It is ridiculous, really, to give part of my money to someone else when even I don’t have left over, but lion dancers are all volunteers; they have never received payment, and all the money from the envelope goes to support the life of their group. I saw their eyes. Those dancers are tired, and hungry, and confused to be surrounded by such wild spectators (who most of them are not Chinese nor Buddhist but unknowing and often time disrespectful spectator of majority religion in this country), but they still move on. Throughout the dance they cannot drink or eat, and have to continue moving throughout the route: a long 10 kilometers (around 12 miles). A small change bill as a token of appreciation and respect is nothing compared to their dedication.

Besides, I felt that heaven is reminding me. Those dancers came from even the most remote area of West Java, some even comes from another island. Given the organizer pay their transport and accommodation, they still have a lot to pay from their own pocket, and they still perform their best do it in their faithfulness to their religion and belief. My tribulation is trivial in comparison.

I feel warm, actually, and less lonely. I don’t feel like I am the saddest person in the city: away from family, in an unsympathetic town, defending a deviant cause, of little means, and definitely cobbling down confidence. For that time being those dancers and I, albeit strangers, are in the same boat.

So, I am doing it for the syndicate. Every time I “fed” one lion, I prayed for one mobster that had left me to the other side. Not to Buddha, to my own Lord Jesus. The lion is just a symbol, part of the tradition. I whisper the name of all my sisters and brothers who are no longer with me: River Phoenix, Edward, Trea, Koge Pan, Tanenah, Eden, Picassa, Kaitou, Orange Pekoe, and many other, and asked that God took care of them wherever they now are.

Every time I wave my hand to give another I prayed that He’d bless my service toward Him saving animals. Because I heed His word that, to the extent that we did kindness to one of these brothers of Him, even the least of them, we did it to God.’ (Matthew 25:40). Aren’t animals considered the least of God’s creature? And so far I have found my greatest joy in working with them.

Every time I touched the head of a lion I wish the generic wish that other people do: that this year is prosperous, though I ask for prosperity because my rent will be over in June, and I have no money to pay the next term, much less buying a piece of permanent property that the Syndicate and I can stop moving around all over again (moving is stressful to cats) and stay in peace, away from evil neighbors or cruel majority, as we continue to save the lives of less fortunate kins.

Even as I left the parade I am still praying, in gratitude for the 100 thousand miracle, and wish that as much as I haven’t forget my promise to give part of my income back to God, God too will not forsake His promise, that whoever faithful to Him shall not perish, but live abundantly to the end of time. I will remember to cast all my anxiety on Him, because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

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The Streets Of My Homeland

“For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from dust, and all turn to dust again.” Ecclesiastes, 3:19-20.

During my days at hospital I heard from their radio station that the infamous Hollywood’s “Avatar” director has awarded our president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his ambition to plant 10,000 trees across the nation by 2010; a campaign he takes personally by planting trees wherever he goes, while continuously ask his citizen to follow his “one person – one tree” campaign.

James Cameron in his note following the award, applauded President Yudhoyono for trying to combat the rapidly declining rain forest, mostly due to opening of palm oil plantation and resort centers. The president, in return, asked that larger or richer countries do their parts in saving our “home tree” the only earth we have, to sustain every lifeforms that roam above it.

His speech, as quoted by the radio host, brings my mind flowing back to my childhood days, singing an old folk song praising the fertility of our land , the beauty of our beaches, the abundance of our oceans, and the lush of our forests.

Indonesia, once own 20% of rain forest in the world, now is the country with fastest rate of deforestation (4% per year). The day when we boasted ourselves as “the lungs of earth” has long a history; And along with the forest, goes the animals who we once boasted as “the richest in variety”

The oceans and beaches are in no better condition. The bombing of coral reefs during fishing, the many pirates that roam freely to take our abundant resources, and the poisoning of water for fast harvesting had rob us our title “paradise on earth”

While the slogan is still used occasionally in tourism pamphlets or fliers, there will be no paradise if you are actually lived every corner of the country.

From remote areas to biggest cities, animals are abused, exploited, exhausted to their last existence, treated as some “thing” instead of some”one”.

Though itself bound under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that stipulates that endangered species must not be traded, Indonesia doesn’t have animal welfare law to protect its animal diversity.

By law (it was made on 1815), only licensed wildlife hunters and traders are allowed to capture and trade animal parts in Indonesia. In its investigations, however, PETA found most hunters did not have permits.

The Directorate General of Nature Conservancy and Forest Protection (PHKA) oversees the licensing and quotas for wildlife trade in Indonesia. PHKA director general Darori said his office provided permits to groups of snake skin collectors.

However, sequentially he told that “The ones who trap the snakes and lizards are villagers. They sell the skins to licensed collectors. It’s not possible for every single villager to obtain a permit”

Every year, his office releases a quota for the wildlife trade, based on recommendations from the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI). “LIPI checks whether there is an abundant stock or not. We’re bound to an international convention as well,” Darori said.

According to the PHKA data, the total quota for 2010 is 430,280 snakes; 413,100 monitor lizards, and 29,500 crocodiles, but the kill number is much higher on the streets.

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A snake head is chopped off by a man in Tangerang, highlighting some of the gruesome killing occurring in five Indonesian cities. A National Geographic report states that Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s biggest exporter of wildlife, including live animals for pets and animal parts. Courtesy of PETA Asia Pacific

When confronted with such fact, again, Darori, the director of Indonesia’s natural conservatory said his office made sure animals were not tortured during the killings.

“So, when a snake’s head is cut off, it is not tortured,” he said. Laymen would torture snakes they encounter, out of fear, compared to professional hunters.

“Because the skin is what hunters are after, they do it swiftly so the skin is not damaged. Commoners would batter a snake with a stick if they found one,” he said.

In a more remote part of the country, a wealthy landlord in Medan can be seen bragging his crocodile farm, when piles of salt water or freshwater alligators been taken captive in filthy condition, piled up one on top of the other, stoically waiting to be slaughtered before their skin is exported to Hermes or other high brand fashion for bags, clothes, or shoes.

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worker picks up a salt water crocodile (crocodylus porosus) at a crocodile breeding facility in Jayapura, Papua, on Friday. The facility is breeding some 7,500 crocodiles for their valuable skins to make leather products for export to countries such as Singapore, Japan and Italy. (Antara/Oka Barta)

Ironically, while major environmentalists were busy fighting for animal welfare for Indonesia, however, Darori (yes, the director of Indonesia’s nature conservation) instead said that Indonesia’s local fashion industry should use animal parts and develop its own brands.

“We can make them as good as international brands. It’s just that our brands are not as big as international labels,” he said.

His statement sank in to me as the answer of why tiger skin, leopard’s fur, elephant’s ivory, and rhino’s tusk were freely traded while the owner animal hunted to extinction.

If wildlife suffers so much, what about domesticated animals?

The answer is: not better.

Just like how the crocodiles lives solely as financial means of their owners, cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, birds, reptiles, are exploited to their tiniest being for their mater’s maximum profit.

Here in Indonesia, it is the pet who feed the owner, not the other way around. The more exotic the breed, the more expensive, the higher the status of their owner and therefore, the more they can sell their pets.

What happened to the rest is a question of the strength of your gut. Cats are being crushed over, living goldfish thrown to the sewer, and because majority of Indonesian are Muslims who thinks dogs are unholy (haram) their fate is much worse.

Horses are often forced to carry harvests several times their own weight. The owner beating them to continue walking despite their foamy mouth, and when they are not strong enough to carry any more, mostly from malnutrition or sickness, they are sold to slaughter, or been butchered by the owner himself so they can catch another one.

Rabbits are breeding machines. The older ones were skinned for their fur, while their meat sold by the street as traditional barbecue.

So if anyone in ever said that one story of a murder of a dog ‘heartbreaking’, I have seen much worse in daily basis and most of the time, I can’t do much because of financial and space limitation.

After being diagnoses with swollen liver and severe typhoid that require me to stay in the hospital for the whole month, however, the pressure of financial and space limitation is heavier than ever, more so because Indonesia also happen to be a country without social security, so I have to pay everything by myself.

Then what is it left for me to live on?

After all this years, after fighting for the entire 20 years of my life and dedicated each of my blood and tears for the welfare of abused and neglected animals, I have that right. I have that right to call it off, and return to my father’s homeland: Japan. I have relatives who will take care of me, friends who eagerly await me, and I don’t have to worry about financial restraint or spinning my head to meet my refugees’ end.

But Japan has many underground animal advocates. My beloved whales had Pierce Brosnan and Paul Watson. Canada has Nigel Barker and Senator Mac Harb defending their seals, Australia, UK, even South Africa has their own fighters, but if I am to go, who will stand for Indonesia?

I dreamed of a small place, a tiny house for one or two person with a small garden where all the tired street cats or dog can just escape from their tiresome life for a while and rest while I took care of their wounds. I yearned of a tree where the birds doesn’t have to fear of hunter’s gun, I relentlessly prayed to give my whole service for those animals: conceived without sin (to human), but mortally paying with their life, dying on the streets of my homeland.

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish this race and complete this task my Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying the gospel of God’s grace – Acts 20:24

I do not know how I would live, with an empty wallet and zero saving account. I do not know how I would be able to continue feeding my refugees, or pay the vet bill.

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning – Psalm 130:6

but I asked anyway, and I know that I will be answered.

But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded – 2 Chronicles 15:7

This is what my purpose that driven my life, the reason I am here, and the one thing I believe in.

Thus here I am again on the look of a good hand that will help me rock the cradle, to help me pass my day. Here I am again, on the street, during my quest to Canaan: the promised land, and I am inviting every caring heart to join me on the pilgrim.

There’s this Chipin page, to which you can fill in as much as you like. There is no minimum amount so you don’t have to be shy. Besides, there’s the magic of currency differences that cause 1 US$ to worth 9,000.00 Indonesian rupiah. What about that? not everyday your single dime can turn into a mountainous of good karma, and huge help for a private refugee house.

Thank you very much well in advance, though, cause we couldn’t have made it without you.

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