KL, I love you but you’re bringing me down

Malaysia is disappointing. It’s a good kid that’s fallen in with a bad crowd. Full disclosure: I love Malaysia. The food is sensational (mee goreng, need I say more?), the people are friendly, the language is fun to (butcher) try and speak, and the jungles defy logic. That’s what makes the palm oil situation even harder to stomach.

I was first well and truly confronted by palm oil earlier this year in Malaysian Borneo. We spent six hours on a bus through Sabah and all we saw, as far as the eye could see, were oil palms. For six hours. We were on our way to the Kinabatangan River where a sliver of national park offered some of the best chances at spotting really wild wildlife. It was spectacular: cruising the river at duck and dawn we saw hornbills, monitor lizards, a wild orang-utan building a nest, and even, on a muddy, leech-riddled walk, Pygmy elephant dung. The experience though was marred by the reason we were having such great luck seeing things. The reason was that instead of having hectares of virgin jungle to live in, everything had been forced into a strip of national park along the river. Just one kilometre at its widest. At times, you can glimpse the ubiquitous oil palms group the jungle.

As is the nature of our media-saturated society, we quickly become desensitised to pictures of decimated rainforest and orphaned orang-utans. It hit home on yet another bus trip, this time from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. As soon as the bus crossed the causeway, it was four hours of oil palm plantations. Then again this morning, flying out of  KL  for Colombo. Flush against the airport fence were oil palms, and then they could be seen blanketing the countryside as we rose into the air.

It honestly makes me really, very sad, because something has to give. And it’s not going to be the endless quest for the almighty dollar. It’s going to be the Oriental hornbills, the Pygmy elephants, the silver leaf monkeys and, of course, the orang-utans.

* I promise the next post will be something fun about Sri Lanka but for now: vote with your wallet! Say no to palm oil.

Talking points

My head is deeply buried in thesis sand today and it got me thinking. Much of my initial discussion is about conversation. Greek political nerd (because I am NOT using the word ‘rhetorician’ again in my life) Cicero reckons that conversation is the soul of democracy. This, to me, is probably a bit vague. I really fail to see how my Mum and I talking about what to do with my mail advances democracy in anyway. Others, myself included, argue that there needs to be a bit more structure around conversation for it to have any worth in a democratic context. America academic Michael Schudson shared this view. One of his arguments is the reason I’m writing this. He believes, and this is heavily paraphrased, that in order for political conversation to be meaningful, it needs to be uncomfortable, civil and participants need to be able to change their mind.

Not a lot of conversations are like this.

Uncomfortable conversations. The reason why they say you should never discuss religion, politics or sex at the dinner table. It’s uncomfortable. You don’t go to a dinner party, hand over the bottle of wine you politely brought along and open with “Abortion reform in New South Wales? Come on, guys! Pros and cons! Or euthanasia? Anyone?” This is a pretty good way not to get invited back to another dinner party. Really though, it should be at the heart of political discussion. Political issues and conversations should be uncomfortable. First of all, not everyone is going to agree on every single thing, it’s about consensus. This means discussing your viewpoint with someone who holds an opposing one. Socially, we tend to mix with people who share our values so getting out of the comfort zone to speak to someone who fundamentally disagrees with you is not necessarily fun. But necessary all the same. An example I can think of is the Murray-Darling water management. As an ex-Brisbane girl, this was never an issue I hugely engaged with, more of a vague “save the river for the fish and like, the environment, man” kind of sentiment. I’m sure though, that if I had a discussion with a  farmer in south-west Queensland or rural New South Wales or Victoria, I could very easily be swayed. It would be uncomfortable because really, what right does a city girl have to voice an opinion on water management in the country? The answer: every right, but with that comes a responsibility to be informed..

Civility often goes out the window when there are differing views. I have escalated many a political argument with my partner by telling him that he sucks, or that his opinion is invalid because he has food on his face. Neither of those are true: he doesn’t suck and one should be entitled to an opinion even if one’s face is encrusted in food. The point here is that meaningful debate is difficult. It’s hard to dispute logic, it’s far simpler to disregard civility and attack the person not the argument. Ad hominem attacks are something we see all too frequently in everyday politics, mud-slinging and smear campaigns also have the added advantage of selling more newspapers than policy debate. So meaningful conversation requires an environment where civility is assured. So not at Parliament House and probably not my house either…

Finally, changing your mind. Political choices are often not so much of a choice. You vote based on who your parents vote for, or where you live, or based on how much money you earn. It is as much, if not more, of an emotional decision as a logical one. That’s what makes it especially hard to change your stance on an issue or to persuade other people. My partner and I have been together for five years and, while I think I’ve managed to sway him on maybe two talking points, he remains *shudder* a conservative voter.

It can be hard to change your mind, pollies cop a lot of flak when they do. Back flipping. But if those back flips are the result of reasonable, meaningful debate, they should probably be encouraged. The example I think of the medicinal marijuana argument. There was a story on Hack a few months back about a young man with terminal bowel cancer, marijuana was the only thing that helped him. Dan’s story prompted MP Kevin Anderson and former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer to change their stance. That’s not back flipping, that’s changing your mind based on new information and experiences. It’s being informed and compassionate, two things all politicians should be encouraged to do, even if it means deviating from party lines and, heaven forbid, ‘back flipping’. 

I suppose the point of this is to point out a few things to remember when thinking, or talking, about politics. Get uncomfortable – put yourself in someone else’s shoes, keep it civil and don’t be afraid to change your mind. 

Now, to somehow put this in academic-speak and multiply the word count by ten…


Whinge alert:

I’m going to whinge about something here, I apologise in advance. In my defence, my whinging is in the defence of chickens.

I’m getting there; so the last few days have been consumed with house hunting, still, and figuring out the day-to-day business of day-to-day life in Singapore. A high point was locating a grocery store and buying groceries. It really is the little things.

Normally, I love grocery shopping in another country. It’s so exciting! So many weird, unfamiliar products, crazy store layout and using money here is still a process (sorry, everyone in line behind me!). An unexpected challenge was eggs. Not in the way that some shops but them in the fruit and veg section, and others in the bread aisle.  Actually purchasing free-range eggs. Something that I used to just take for granted in Australia, but free-range eggs just aren’t sold in shops here.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the greatest animal advocate on the planet, probably not even in this building. I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism but meat is just too damn tasty, dairy is the best thing ever and I think horses are scary. Buying free-range eggs though is just something that is important to me. I don’t need to rant about the horrendous conditions those poor cage chooks are kept in, that’s something we all know. Apparently not in Singapore though, a bit of googling informed me that the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) here bans chickens wandering around outside.

I mean, I kind of get it – bird flu, Asia, densely-populated city, but still? No free-range eggs? I have to go to a fancy-pants store to get it. Apparently they are also significantly more expensive because they’re imported. I have to go to a different store to get my fancy eggs. This is how it begins. The descent into madness and organic, local, paleo, grain-free, decaf, devil worship. Oh well, don’t worry chookies, I’ve got your back.