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Final field trip

My PhD research is a year behind schedule.  The process of getting my research permit and subsequent visa was supposed to take 4-6 months.  It eventually took 14 months and left me with a very short period to complete my field data collection.

I have now finished two data collection trips to Malaysia and am now back in Kyoto processing the data and getting ready to analyze, write, and publish.

Over the course of the two trips I conducted 59 interviews, interviewed 75 respondents, taking 34 hours and 14 minutes.  Interviews were conducted in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Kota Kinabalu, Kudat and Semporna.  I interviewed government officers, consultants, NGO representatives, and fishermen.  During the second trip, I had the help of a great research assistant, Lau Chai Ming, who assisted with translations and scheduling of appointments.

Chai Ming - My research assistant for the second trip.  Was really lucky to find such a great assistant.

Chai Ming – My research assistant for the second trip. Was really lucky to find such a great assistant.

We hung out around fishing jetties in Kudat and Semporna and met with fish traders and fishing boat owners. Trawlers are common in Kudat.  They drag a net behind them along the bottom of the sea and scoop up anything that is living along the bottom.  Its a pretty destructive form of fishing.

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We also got to visit Pulau Banggi and see the great work of the Banggi Youth Club.  The Youth Club conducts awareness activities with local communities and works closely with WWF.

Some members of Banggi Youth Club.

Some members of Banggi Youth Club.


In Semporna we observed the Mabul tuna landing.  Fishermen use small boats to spend 2 to 3 days at sea and pull up tuna with just a line and a hook. Without any other equipment they can land tunas that weigh up to 70 kg.  The ones we watched them land were in the 20 to 30 kg size.

We were even lucky enough to get invited onto a purse seine boat during a trip out in Semporna.  Unfortunately, there was a full moon the week we were in Semporna so the purse seiners were not able to fish very much.  They spent most of the week at the jetty doing repairs and mending nets.  On our last night we got invited out.  Here’s a short video of one of the exciting parts – little fish jumping in green light.


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Getting around KL without a car

Kuala Lumpur is a gem among rocks.  Southeast Asia’s major cities are notoriously huge, polluted, and clogged with traffic.  Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok have massive traffic jams and millions of people.  Their public transportation systems are insufficient, inefficient and relatively old (with the exception of Bangkok, which by all accounts has made huge improvements over the past 10 years).  In December 2013, I had the pleasure of taking one of Manila’s three metro trains in the morning rush.  It was jam packed with bad air-conditioning and a bumpy ride.  Horrible.

Pollution over Manila

KL is different.  While many KL-ites think that they are the worst drivers on the planet and the jams are the end of the world (and they can be bad), they aren’t on the scale of the other Southeast Asian megacities.  KL’s air is rarely as smoggy as Jakarta or Manila on a daily basis.  There are fewer trucks and buses spewing clouds of black exhaust into the air.

When I was living in Kota Kinabalu, I made frequent visits to KL and got to know the public transport system and taxi system pretty well.  Kuala Lumpur has 4 rail lines, a couple of bus companies, and taxis.  Together they form a good network for getting around the city without owning a car.  But still, cars are the dominant transport mode in KL.  That is likely because the dense network of rail and busses lack a certain something – comfort, convenience, integration, and frequency.

Lets start with the trains.  KL has 2 existing light rail lines (LRT), a main train line (KTM) and a monorail line.  The KTM is part of the train network that runs the length of the Peninsula.  When I stayed at the Cititel in Midvalley Megamall, I would occasionally use the KTM to travel the 1 stop to KL Sentral to transfer to an LRT.  Unfortunately, that 1 stop on the KTM would often take 30 – 40 minutes because the trains are infrequent and often stop along the tracks.

The monorail is very modern and runs right through the heart of KL.  But it was built completely separate from the other lines and the cars are very small and have a terrible design that minimizes the number of people who can board.  Outside of rush hour, it’s an okay option.  At rush hour – forget it.  However, they are working on integrating the monorail with the LRT lines. Kudos.

Until recently, there was no connectivity between the two light rail train lines.  In 2008, I used the Kelana Jaya line to commute for 6 months.  I was lucky to be reverse-commuting, but it was still usually a pretty awful experience.  The trains usually had only two cars and came approximately every 6 minutes.  Compared with metro trains in Singapore and Hong Kong where the trains have more than 10 cars and come every 2 – 3 minutes.  The result was overcrowded trains and a system that would totally collapse when a train had a problem.  I am happy to see that, in 2013, the trains have become longer and more frequent.  The few times I have used them in rush hour they have been bearable.  And, they are building new lines and extending existing lines. Kudos.

KL Rail Map

That leaves taxis.  Taxis in KL have a terrible reputation CLICK HERE.  They are known to fleece passengers, not take people to certain destinations, not use their meters, and in the worst cases – to attack lone women passengers.  I have experienced much of their horribleness and had a few run ins with them.  When you approach a taxi stand and see a group of drivers lounging around together, you know that they are going to try to fleece you – give you an inflated price without using the meter.  When you challenge them on it, they can get aggressive.  This happens in particular places – notably all over Bukit Bintang, 1 Utama  New Wing, Kelana Jaya LRT station are a few I know.

But, I have had many more pleasant experiences with taxi drivers.  Without any empirical evidence, I contend that 75% of KL’s taxi drivers are honest and most are pretty nice.  And they are dismayed at the behavior of their crooked colleagues.  And things could be changing for the better – the smartphone app MyTeksi helps passengers find a cab without having to approach the guys huddling together at the taxi stand.  And the authorities are talking about doing more.  Lets see if they actually do anything.

Zoe the Cutest Llasa Apso

I want to have pets.  Maybe a couple of dogs and a couple of cats.  Having animals around makes life better.  But, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to have a pet since my last Beta fish in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1996.  Work and travel made it hard to keep my fern alive (that fern lasted 8 years with me before I had to give it a better home when I moved) much less something that needed food and water.

Smile Zoe!  At her cutest.  :-P

Smile Zoe! At her cutest. 😛

My mother has had two very sweet little dogs over the past 15 years.  Rusty was a little red poodle.  He was shy and skittish but he was all heart and sweetness.  I got to meet Zoe, the Lhasa Apso a few times.  She was perhaps shyer than Rusty but she was a tough girl and very loving to my mom.

Zoe - trying to sneak past without being noticed by me.  But the tongue was a giveaway!

Zoe – trying to sneak past without being noticed by me. But the tongue was a giveaway!

I can’t wait to meet the next member of the family and hope that Zoe and Rusty have a good time playing together in the big dog park in the sky!  If anyone is in the Murrells Inlet area and is looking for a new pet, this may be the place to go, All 4 Paws.


My first tropical disease! Dengue 1.0.

After more than a decade of tromping around the tropics, I finally caught a disease!  More than anything, I’m surprised that this didn’t happen earlier.  I have had my share of intestinal bugs, but that was about it.  This was a good one though.

On Thursday, 29 August 2013, I had just arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and had some meetings at the WWF office in Centre Point.  The night before, I met up with Richie Lee and had a few beers but not a heavy night.  This was supposed to be a whirlwind trip to meet the WWF team and take care of some paperwork for my research visa.

On Thursday afternoon, I met with Dr Norasma and Dr Connie on the sideline of their SSME subcommittee meeting.  At one point, they mentioned the bags under my eyes and I admitted to a terrible headache.  Sheepishly, I admitted to having some beers the night before and must be suffering a hangover – although it wasn’t that many beers.  Had I become such a lightweight?

Thankfully, I had Angela’s Pajero and could run around to get the papers I needed.  But there seemed to be something wrong with the Pajero’s aircon.  On the way to “Putrajaya,” I was sweating buckets and the headache was becoming worse and worse.  I felt hungry and nauseous at the same time.  It crossed my mind that I might be having a heart attack.

Luckily, I got the papers at Immigration Department easily and headed back to get the signed and then off to the Income Tax Department for some duty stamps.  But after seeing Dr Norasma again, I couldn’t stand the headache anymore and went back to the Borneo Beachouse to lie down.  Richie Lee was at reception and said hi but I mumbled that I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to rest.  I had a dinner appointment that evening with Leo and Allison and didn’t want to miss it.

I managed to get up and felt okay, so went to meet Allison and Leo.  We had a GREAT dinner of bbq ribs at a new place in Penampang.  I mentioned to them that I nearly didn’t come for dinner because I wasn’t feeling well.  Directly after dinner, I headed back to the Beachouse and was asleep by 10pm.  At 4am, the pain in my legs and head was so bad.  I had been sweating and shivering all night.  At 6am it was so bad, I asked Leo and Allison to get me to a doctor.  Leo was on his way to a fishing trip, so Allison came and got me at 7:30 and took me to see Dr Raj in Lintas.

The doctor checked my temperature and did a few diagnostics.  He took some blood and had it rushed to test for several infections and sent me back to bed with panadol – Panadol only!!! By then, the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced.  I went back to my bed at the Beachouse and suffered.  Allison brought me some drinks and some food later in the day and I managed to hobble down to the beach for some food.  But I couldn’t eat the swill they served at SugarBun (only toast and it was awful – never again), so I went back and just slept.

On Saturday morning (Selamat Hari Merdeka, Malaysia), Richie’s driver took me back to the doctor and the doctor confirmed the blood tests showed dengue fever.  Sometime around 5am, the fever had broken and the pain had started to subside.  As explained by the doctor, this was now the dangerous phase when my platelets would start to leak out of the blood vessels.  So it was back to the Beachouse and pack a bag and head to Sabah Medical Centre.  In came the insurance company.  I’ll save the insurance company for some future rant.

Sabah Medical Centre staff were great.  They walked me through the admission process, took my blood, and got me a bed in a shared room.  The room was comfortable but the man on the other side of the curtains made some horrible noises trying to breathe.  I have no idea what was wrong with the poor guy but he sounded terrible.  And the room was freezing.

That was when my great friends really helped out.  Richie and Jessie brought me a big bag of clothes, slippers, movies, coffee and tea, and some…. never mind.  And Allison came by with the Monsters who looked miserable but were sweet to come visit.  Shortly after those visits, the hospital staff offered me a warmer room – Yes, please!!!!

The new room was heavenly.  It was designed to be a private room, but they had put in a curtain to divide it.  When I arrived it was nice and warm – and empty!  I had peace and privacy.  How long could it last?  Not long.  I got a roommate about 4 hours later.  Richie and Jessie had brought me a very nice dinner of lamb chops and rice and salad, along with box drinks, apples, and other goodies.

My new roommate was fairly quiet, but after a while his family arrived and to visit him they had to cross my bed area.  So I got to enjoy a 2-hour parade of family members going back and forth and chattering non-stop.  It wasn’t until the next visit that I found the guts to ask them to please be quiet.  Actually, the headache was still pretty bad.

I cannot recall when they came with the IV drip.  It wasn’t so bad to have the drip except that I had to ask for help every time I wanted to go to the toilet.  The nurses were always very gracious to disconnect me and reconnect me.  They came a few times a day to check my temperature and blood pressure.  In the mornings, I got a visit from the phlebotomist and later in the day a doctor came in to tell me that my platlets were dropping – 150, to 140, to 130.

And then on Tuesday evening, the doctor came and told me that I was free to go. He expected my platelets to continue to drop and I should get tested from time to time but there wasn’t much that they were doing at the hospital.  So, I scurried out of there as fast my slow insurance company would let me!   The next morning, I ran to get my paperwork arranged and booked a flight to visit my father who was waiting for me in Singapore.  I visited a clinic in Singapore where they took some blood and by then my platelets were back to normal.


Appalachian bald

Appalachian bald

This is my first post on this blog.  I was up here in June 2013 with my brother, Ed Brunson.  The air was so clean, crisp and cool and it felt so good to be up there.  Didn’t ever want to leave.