Sunday, February 18, 2018

Poem: My Little Candle

My Little Candle

my little candle
does shed
a little circle of light
which guides
my way in life
on a migratory flight

the warmth I feel
within my heart
it stay
and in the setting suns
on my horizon
does my spirit play

rejoice thus I
within its glow
a flicker on my cheeks does show
to smile with nature’s creations
whose names
I need not know

so might I remain
forever true and free
from snaring Dead Knowledge
to hold fast my candle vigil
over the lightness
of my passage

whence with age my eyes doth fail
I hope the sparkle within
to keep
and follow my heart
into the wonders
of a star-spangled sleep 

- Joseph Lai

Poem: Heartstrings of my Island

Heartstrings of My Island

are there
heartstrings taut
and a’pulling
barred
so strong
and tender once
my ancestral home
to me
where nay never
shall I leave
here my motherland
liberated
and return
again and again
to you impatiently
even
in my sleep
that old familiar
bumboat
droning low
in the sound of my youth?
here I am
coming home
even in my sea-dreams!

- Joseph Lai

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Celebrating Singapore Shores 2018: Seas the Day



Let me begin with my mom. She grew up tough in exceptional circumstances of being orphaned at a very young age during World War II. The only schooling she had is the University of Life.

I believe she must have cried a thousand million times being thrown into the streets literally. However, one thing for sure, she never gave in to despair nor let hardship hardened her. Life did not succeed in robbing her heart of gold.

Equally true to form, she often speak with the clarity of wisdom borne from the austerity of her life experiences. One constant refrain that still rings in my mind is her admonishment in Cantonese - 'ng ho tok seh shih'. Literally translated, it means 'study not dead books'.

In short, THINK. Free yourself. FEEL. Have a mind and heart. All knowledge and schooling you will ever have is dead so long as you do not think and expand. Unfettered yourself. Imagine. There is more in you that your life is worthy of you. Do not be confined. Step forward.

It is the spirited life she is asking us to live by. My mom never taught me ABC but all I need to know she did. This I truly believe.

I am writing this piece to celebrate Singapore Shores with my good friend Ria Tan on the occasion of the International Year of the Reef 2018. But why do I begin with the story of my mom and her admonishment?

I think there is a precious message that friends, especially in nature community, need to hear and understand.

You know, I was at a lonely beach by the ocean not long ago and wrote a poem - my first in Chinese. I felt the joy of a pebble rushing with the surge of raw intensity amidst the thunderous claps of her waves and I felt small yet eternally alive and large in the spirit of that timeless space called LIFE.

I take this occasion to muse again with a question - How does one or anyone truly celebrate Singapore Shores or the reefs or the sea for that matter? Would you have accumulated all known knowledge and have at the tip of your tongue names of all creatures of the seas, and quantify your schooling with every PhD you can ever lay hands on... would you have celebrated in truth if you cannot sit by her ocean waves and simply love her?

If you do profess any advocacy, start from within. Take that precious heart and mind out from within and work magic with the knowledge that only you alone can uniquely give to the world. You have in you the strength and integrity of the individual to impact the world. Don't cap it; draw from it. Nurture it with the purity and sincerity of purpose to which you feel called to.

I am no marine biologist and no PhD to my name although no one doubt my passion for plants as an out-and-out field botanist, but this does not stop me from stepping out and make an impact for the seas. I reproduce a letter I wrote in 2009 as an encouragement to all who wants to advocate and truly celebrate the seas. Seas the Day!

...Yes, my mother would have approved. 'Ng ho tok seh shih'.


** An Appeal Please Stop the Sales of Moray Eels at Sheng Shiong **

Dear Sir,

my name is Joseph Lai (49), a botanist and an active advocate for nature conservation in Singapore. Please accept my warmest greetings to you, Sir.

I am writing in my personal capacity to seek most humbly your kind understanding in stopping all future sales of moray eels at Sheng Shiong.

It has recently come to the attention of the nature community in Singapore that live moray eels are being sold as food at Sheng Shiong. I have verified it to be true at your Bedok branch. See webpage http://lazy-lizard-tales.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-slaughter-and-eat-thesebeautiful.html?showComment=1237436340000#c9103354966332138971

My concerns are: 1) Are these caught directly from the wild? Or are they farmed animals? Unless the source of the supply can be validated as farmed and bred in captivity, we are inclined to believe that wholesale (and market-scale) stocks are being caught directly from the wild. This would not only cause an uncontrolled decimation of the species through unsustainable wild harvesting but it would also irreversibly tip the fine ecological balance of coral reefs whenever top-predators like the moray eels are being removed from their local habitats. Inasmuch, the uniqueness of their natural history and their special niche within the ecosystem cannot be overstated enough here. One must understand that these highly-predacious and nocturnal eels are non-gregarious by nature and are territorial in habit. Eels keep each other naturally at ‘arm-length’ in a thinly-spread out community. Population density is therefore invariably low over any given unit area of any locality within its range. As a result of which, this low small number contributes in a big uncompromising way to species rarity. 

2) Secondly, why start and encourage a demand of an exotic food where in Singapore none of it existed at all before? I have not, in all my years growing up and working in Singapore encountered moray eels being sold in the market or served as delicacies in the restaurant. It is my hope that the interest in eating moray eels will never take root here in Singapore. I believe Sheng Shiong can help by stopping immediately all future sales of these moray eels. The fact of the matter is this: an exotic animal which is rare at the same time should never be eaten.

3) Lastly, high level of Ciguatoxin has been found in many species of moray eels. This type of toxicity is heatresistant and therefore cannot be neutralized by conventional cooking. The risk of poisoning is ever-present as many of the moray eels around the world are truly understudied. Moray eels are also known to inflict severe bites with their razor-sharp teeth and bacteria-laden mouth. I am really keen to know how rigorous your moray import has been subjected to by AVA in this respect.

The informed public like myself have in modern times taken on a greater personal responsibility towards effecting a safer environment and a sustainable future so dependent on the wise use of our natural resources. I hope, through this humble request, I have cause to celebrate with Sheng Shiong a corporate responsibility that can manifest itself as a universal friend in nature conservation – educating the greater public (your satisfied customers islandwide) with informed retailing and with a restraint that is beyond profit. I believe Sheng Shiong can be such a corporation.

 Your esteemed reply is most appreciated. Thank you.

Yours truly,


Joseph Lai Botanist

Important Footnote:
I do not know what impact the appeal letter may have on Sheng Shiong management. I did not receive any reply. However, I noted that shortly after, the sales of moray eels seemed to have terminated. No more live moray eels on display. In any case, all I needed to know is that I did my imperfect best. I have every wish in my heart that Sheng Shiong does what is right by themselves and take credit for it. That is why I kept the appeal away from public scrutiny. No one, not even my close friends knew about it; all except Nature Society and ACRES whom I informed in the hope that they also act for the moray eels.