Saturday, December 30, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 26

The wind started picking up and the house started vibrating. Things can be heard getting smashed outside and the howls of the wind is starting to make Tupi very nervous. Then the lights went out and Justin went to the basement to start the generator.

"Hey, if everyone is scared. Lets go to the basement." Justin said. "It has TV, lights and food."

After the door was shut, the sounds from outside was greatly reduced. The walls were not vibrating and there was a scented candle and some biscuits out. Everyone one had some biscuits and milk before snuggling in their sleeping bags. Justin played some soft music and everyone took a short nap to wait out the hurricane.


A few hours later, the sounds of the wind has stopped. It was interesting to hear silence for once and the door to the basement was opened and Justin went upstairs. "Everything is ok..." Justin shouted and Tupi opened his eyes and got up the stairs. Everything was untouched. A few pictures on the walls were tilted, but otherwise nothing changed. With the generators off, the house was in darkness again, and Justin said, "Power is still out."


Tupi removed the shutters and he was shocked. There was a sailboat, on the flooded lawn outside -- in the beautiful morning sun. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 25

Tupi met up with some of his ex-colleagues and classmates at the airport for dinner.

"Did you hear about the hurricane that is coming?" Joe asked Tupi.

"Hurricane? Coming here?" Tupi asked.

"Yes, that is why all flights are cancelled tomorrow." Joe said. "Probably a Cat 3 as well."

"What's a Cat 3?" Tupi asked. "Is it dangerous?"

"It can be, " Joe said. "110 mph winds can do much destruction... Trees get uprooted, powers lines go down... It will come and go, but rain the whole day... Sometimes the strong winds will miss your area."

After dinner, Tupi and his friends went to a large Supermarket to buy groceries for the oncoming storm. The rain has already started and the parking lot was full. Tupi entered the large Walmart and was shocked at the selection of the products there.

"You can buy guns here?" Tupi asked.

"Sure, why not? This is Walmart!" Justin said.

As they walked around Walmart, Tupi saw a lot of people and the food shelves were empty. "How long were people expecting the shops to be closed?" Tupi asked.

"One day?" Justin said. "Usually, the day of the emergency, everything is closed, schools, banks and government services. But within hours, the strong winds and rain will go away."

"One day, and there is no more meat, vegetables or fruits?" Tupi asked. "I thought only Singaporeans have the scarcity mindset... Kiasu."

"Sadly, Americans are like that too." Justin said shaking his head. "Once the emergency is declared, people just come and empty out the stores, whether they need it or not."

"Good thing I already have some supplies in my luggage." Tupi said. "Just need to shop more for myself I guess." Tupi went and picked up some sad looking apples, and dented containers of fruit juice. "Wow, really nothing much left."

Tupi checked on his flight and it was cancelled. He decided to take up with offer from Justin to stay over at Justin's house until his next flight. Tupi bought a cart full of supplies even though the hurricane should be over in a day, because the Singapore training made him willing to be more prepared than sorry.

Justin lived in a big house with a 2 car garage. The windows were all shuttered and secured. There was also a generator in the garage and it seemed relatively sturdy, and the house also had a fully furnished basement just in case the wind was too strong. Tupi had never been in a hurricane, but the winds was picking up but he felt much secure in the house.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Are you doing good (for yourself)?

If you want to volunteer, and do good, you need to check out Barbie Savior, and make sure that you are doing it to improve the situation instead of doing it to look good.

Some people may ask, "What is the harm of just doing a selfie?"

The problem is that when we show people that we are helping in their most vulnerable, it reinforces the age old tale that these disadvantaged people have no ability to help themselves.

From my experience in visiting the disasters, the survivors and locals just need resources. There may be a lack of food, drinking water and shelter immediately after the earthquake, however, the survivors are not helpless people. There are also doctors, engineers, teachers among them who can rebuild, and care for themselves. Volunteers do not need to do everything for them, and what's worse, volunteer without any prior experience should not even think they can do a better job than the locals.

In places with widespread poverty, there are many people with aspirations and hope. They have ideas and dreams. Poor people are not helpless, they are not stupid. They lack resources. When you visit these areas, I feel strongly that you can listen, learn and respect. Just because you have brought food, does not mean they have to obey you or be grateful.

As same as before, my advice is what I learn from being in Relief 2.0 for years and working with Carlos - "Never Help! Engage, Enable, Empower and Connect"

Visiting the less fortunate allows you to engage and learn from them, experiences which you may have never had. There may be solutions you can work together to achieve.

Ask yourself a question: "What can you get from the situation?"

If you are interested to engage and learn from the experience, then you have something good to gain from it.

If you just want to travel and tell your friends where you have been and what you have done, and feel good about it, you may have a "White Savior Complex"

-- Robin Low

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 24

Alex has arranged Tupi to meet a few of his friends from America who are coming to visit Port-au-Prince, Tupi had a long flight, Singapore - London - Miami - Santo Domingo. This was the shortest flight which would exceed 36 hours in total. Then there was a 7 hour bus ride. This would probably be the longest trip in his life, but at least, he would meet the Americans in Miami before going to Santo Domingo.

Tupi informed his friends about his trip and he received plenty of phone calls and friends who wanted to meet up and pass him things to bring to Haiti. Some wanted to give Tupi canned food, others wanted to give some old clothes. Tupi was overwhelmed with meetings and as he collected more donations, he decided to meet them closer to his home as he would have to carry it home and pack. Tupi requested for stationary and did not realize that it could be so heavy until he started packing.

"Oh my, books can be so heavy." Tupi said as he weighed his luggage. Tupi had already a luggage full of solar lamps, water filters and other wilderness survival kits. "Oh well, lets see what I can bring."

The canned food was the first to be removed from the luggage. It was bulky and heavy. Next, bottled water was taken out. It took a long time to pack and Tupi got what he thinks he needed. Of course, when he finally arrived at the airport, his luggage was overweight and he had to pay excess luggage charges.

Then the long flight began. Tupi had a good idea of what he wanted to read, videos he wanted to watch, but once he got on the 6am plane, he fell asleep and did not want any meals. The long and horrible trip that sounded bad passed quickly and before he read anything, he was already in Florida.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What to put in an emergency kit.

Earthquake, Fire, Floods, Hurricane and Tsunami...

Disasters do happen, and most people do not think it will happen to them. However, it does happen, and many people are not prepared.
After being in a few major disaster, and learning from the most prepared people -- the Japanese, here are some things I would put in my own disaster kit.
1) Bottle of drinking water
2) Flashlight
3) Old pair of glasses (which is still usable)
4) Change of clothes
5) Power bank (to charge your phone) and cables
6) Spare set of keys
7) Stack of small change ($1 bills, and small denominations, possibly quarters)
8) Photocopy of your identity (driver's license, passport, etc)
9) Small Toolkit (with screwdrivers and pliers) or Swiss army knife
10) Medication
11) Respirator Mask
12) Some snacks with long shelf life (muesli bar, etc)
13) A first aid kit

For items 9 - 12, I usually do a check every year on the expiry dates. (For simplicity, do it on Jan 1 morning, so you don't forget)
For me, I will also get a separate portable solar panel to charge the power bank.
Please note that having a portable radio is also a good idea.

I'll pack everything in a separate laptop bag where I'll throw in my laptop and charger inside just before I leave the house.

-- Robin Low

Monday, December 4, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 23

"Maybe this is overdoing it, but I need to be safe than sorry." Tupi said and went to the doctor to get vaccines. Tupi went to his private doctor and informed his doctor about his trip.

"I'm going to Latin America, and I need all the injections." Tupi said.

"What do you mean all?" The doctor asked.

"You know, just in case I contract any disease and stuff." Tupi said.

"Which country are you visiting?" The doctor asked. "People don't really get vaccinations now except Yellow fever vaccine and meningococcal vaccine if you go for the Hajj"

"I don't know, I don't want to get sick, so I want all the vaccines." Tupi said.

"Hepatitis B; Japanese Encephalitis; Tetanus are the common ones." The doctor said. "But you know you may get sick after getting the injection right?"

"What? I thought vaccines are for you not to get sick." Tupi said.

"Vaccines are weak versions of the virus that cannot spread, but you may get sick even when it is weak." The doctor said.

"Pay money, get sick?" Tupi said. "Why would anyone do that?"

"So you don't get sick there." The doctor said. "You can find out how your body reacts to the virus here before going, and your body builds defense."

"Um... well, ok." Tupi said. "Besides getting physically hurt, financially hurt, now my ego hurt..."

"Besides the injections, I'll also provide malaria pills, and start taking before leaving Singapore." The doctor said.


Tupi was well prepared for the trip. He felt tired after the injections and just went home and rest. He checked on the emails and sent email to Alex and chatted with Alex on Skype for an hour and finally decided to visit Haiti.

"Never been there, don't know what to expect, but it seems I can learn a lot from the experience." Tupi said and started to research more on how to get there on a budget. "The options don't look too good as every flight is expensive. Flying to Santo Domingo and taking a 7 hour bus seems to be the cheapest option. Port-au-Prince is really expensive to fly to."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Exercise critical thinking while giving #GivingTuesday

When you do a social intervention, you sort of have a responsibility on what happens next, whether it is good or bad. For the most part, donations and volunteers will yield positive results for you, however, for the beneficiary, the impact is often not sustainable.

In Puerto Rico, people are still donating canned food and bottled water. All of which I've talked to various groups to discourage people from donation after a disaster.

When a hurricane takes out >70% of the powergrid, floods and destroys infrastructure, recycling is probably one of the lower priorities of the city, however, when a lot of food and water come in containers, there will be a point where there is no place to store the empty containers but, outside in the open. As trash piles up, these containers collect rain water and breed mosquitoes, bringing about a second disaster of diseases.

Donating bottled water cost easily 100 times more than just donating water filters. Every disaster area has water. they just need to filter out bacteria and impurities.

It is also possible to ship fresh vegetable and fruits, and with water filters, people can have clean water to drink and wash the vegetables. This will create much less waste and avoid unnecessary wastage and disease.

Please exercise thought when you donate. Your action does have an impact, and not caring what your donations do, or what happens after you donate is sometimes as bad as not donating.

If you want to pick up a Charity to support, perhaps you can support Relief 2.0.

We are working on a new ways to support Refugees (in Europe) and hope to spread our knowledge once we have more success.

-- Robin Low

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 22

Tupi, a capybara who had never done a day of camping in his life visited a camping store. "Well, if I were to visit a disaster area, maybe I need to be self sufficient." Tupi looked at various solar chargers and other wilderness equipment. "I need to try some of these..."

"What is a lifestraw?" Tupi muttered as he looked at the packaging. "What is MRE?" Tupi decided to buy them and try. He believes may need to use it in the field, so he should familiarize himself.

"N95 dust mask..." Tupi said. "I have some because of the haze... Maybe I should bring batteries, a tool kit, duct tape, first aid kit and a whistle." Tupi was a very good manager and being in Singapore for so many years allowed him to be "kiasu" -- "afraid to lose" and he likes to be prepared well.

Tupi went home to pack. Looking at the items he bought, he was proud of himself. "Hey, I created my own apocalypse kit!" Tupi packed his portable solar panel, powerbank, flashlight, lifestraw, MRE, N95 mask, Antibacterial, deodorizing nanotech socks and underwear. Then he placed his writing pad, duct tape, permanent marker, knife and toolkit in a small tool box. "To save space, I need to use more multi-tools..." Tupi muttered.

Tupi packed his emergency kit and took a pack of MRE and tried it for dinner. "This this is rather expensive." Tupi said as he opened his 12 pack of MRE which he bought for $100. Tupi poured some water and the rations heat up. "This is kinda neat..."

Tupi tested the life straw. He poured a cup of water and drank through the straw. "This sucks... " Tupi sucked and sucked but no water came out. "Why does this not work?" Tupi tested it with various cups and bowls, and nothing. Finally, he read the instructions and saw -- "Submerge before use". Tupi slapped his forehead and squeaked. "Should have read the instructions first!"

Tupi had a pack of MRE for dinner, it comes with a drink and dessert. "Does not taste half bad..." Tupi said. "But if I have access to hot water, a bowl of cup noodles would be easier and cheaper..."

Tupi took out his notebook and looked at the various recipe he recorded. "Well, I got to try cooking some of these too, and see if I can make my own ration for emergency use.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Going Cheap can Cost More

Owning a factory, gives me greater insights on materials, design and production. Buying something cheaper usually means a simpler design, less quality materials. Sometimes these trade offs are okay, but at some point, going "cheaper" may not pay off.

Buying the cheapest thing may not saw you money. There are always trade offs.


Today, many of the bigger supermarkets have pricing to show you the cost per weight amount. And in most cases, buying in bulk saves you money. So if you consume a lot, buying the smallest portion actually cost more, and buying the largest portion and wasting it (if perishable), also cost you.

Buying non-perishables from a big lot store which sells in bulk may be the lowest cost per unit option, but then, it also takes up space in your apartment.



No, socks are not just socks. A pair of Greenyarn Tyrrano Hiking Socks may cost about US$20, but by changing, washing and wearing them everyday (2 pairs), these socks can last more than 2 years.

I used to wear discounted 3 for $10 socks, and they become loose after 3 months, and you have to discard all of them within 6 months if you wear them and wash them daily. The result is about the same, but if you wear and wash them regularly, the cheap socks will cost more than US$40 in 2 years.

For many other items, cheaper generally means lower quality materials. And with the manufacturing done in China, factories in China have access to all sorts of materials and you can be shocked at how cheap a product can be.

I've bought a pair of $5 leather shoes in China. They work great, a little uncomfortable in the sole part, but works fine -- until it got wet. After the first rain, the sole fell off, and the leather warped.

Unknown brands that pop up in China does not care about quality assurance. In fact, many of them buy stock lots that failed quality assurance checks, A factory making for a major brand may have received a bad batch of low quality or flawed leather, unacceptable to the brand, and the factory just has to find cheaper ways to resell and still make some money.

Depending on which stage the production is cancelled, the product may be unfinished but sold to the public. You may think you get a discount on a 3 for $10 shirt, but often, these are unstretched fabric. And once washed, they may shrink, and the problem is not being just smaller, the shrinking may not be consistent sometimes.

Cheap printing is not breathable, and some peel off after 1 wash. There are also many toxic chemicals used in bright colored clothing, and there are processes to remove the chemicals or use less toxic chemicals, but in the focus on cost, the right thing is usually not done. Well, it is Asia, and many people are just out to make profits.

Sadly, many people go for "Fast Fashion" -- lower cost branded wear that is not durable. Many of our materialistic lifestyles in Asian countries promote the mentality of "lets go shopping" as a past time, and at lower cost, there is always something to buy.

What happens when Fashion becomes "Fast, disposable and cheap"? More style means more purchases. It may cost less, but you buy more.

"The rate of disposal is not keeping up with the availability of places to put everything that we're getting rid of and that's the problem." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.''

Discounted electronics:

Cheap fans, batteries and various other electronics do not last. I've broken 3 electric standing fans in a year, and after changing to a trusted brand like KDK, the KDK fan now last more than 3 years.

Cheap batteries generally have much lower capacity, and the other problem -- they leak. The leaking may cause other damage to your electronics.

The reason why cheap electronics can be cheap is because -- cheap low quality circuits + low quality control. For many products with lithium batteries, by just removing the batteries can reduce cost greatly.

Cheaper circuits and poor soldering can lead to a product breakdown fast. If you know electronics, checking it while it is still working may allow you to reinforce some soldering joints which can prevent fires.

Cheap lithium batteries do not have overcharging and heating sensors. So they may catch fire while charging or while in use.


Factory rejects / Factory outlets

I often buy shoes from the outlet store. According to some of my friends working in the big brands, it takes a shoe about 3 years from manufacturing to get to the outlet store. In the meantime, the shoe would be in warehouses for years.

Many big brands now use a more eco-friendly glue which binds the soles to the shoe. The glue would last easily 2 - 3 years, and beyond that, the bonds may start to weaken.

When a shoe is not worn, you will not see anything difference, but when you wear an old sports shoe you have not worn in years, chances are, the soles will give up and fall apart.

The environmental change can be an issue to the shoe. Most warehouses are low in humidity to prevent mold and other fungus, and when you introduce the shoe after years in such environment to a high humidity place like Singapore, besides the glue, the fabric, leather and other parts may warp.

There is usually no issues for me when I get a pair of discounted factory outlet shoe and just continue to wear them everyday until they wear out. It is the wearing them for a bit, storing them and wearing them again that kills them faster.


Food / Perishables

In many countries, you may have access to cheaper markets which sell produce which are "not so nice" Sometimes, it is just appearance, and it still taste the same, but other times, they are close to expiry dates, and you have to make sure that they are not inedible.

From time to time, I do go to Asian Supermarkets to get Mangoes (In the US which is very expensive) I usually pick the discounted ones which are overripe -- sweet and cheap, however, I need to eat them immediately. Sometimes I can't even keep them for more than 1 day in the refrigerator before they go bad.

It is ok if you buy and cook, some discounted vegetables and fruits may have slight damage, but removing the damaged parts makes it still edible.

Of course when you suddenly have an appointment and cannot cook, then chances are, the cheap vegetables you buy will go bad before you have a chance to consume it.



Going cheap sometimes does not save you money. You need to think and test the other options available as you may save money buying full price, and it really depends on your lifestyle.

If there are anything else you would like to add, feel free to contact me and let me know.

-- Robin Low

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 21

Picking where to volunteer and what to volunteer at is not an easy task. Many activities like cleaning the beach is tired and depressing, Tupi wanted to do more locally, but another part of him wanted to travel. "Maybe I should just go on a holiday." Tupi said and looked at various exotic locations, but the cost was relatively high. "Although I can afford it, I don't feel like paying $2,000 just for flights to Brazil. "

Tupi sent several messages to various friends in Kenya, Tanzania, Haiti and South Africa. He was interested in visiting and learning more about the culture and places and how he could be of use.

Tupi left a few comments on his friend Alex's page. Alex lives in Haiti and co-founded an NGO that started a children's academy which provides quality education for kids in a rural village. Alex was on Facebook sharing about the recent installation of a solar panel and LED lights at the school, and they were thinking about having a windmill to power the while village. "I'd like to learn more about renewable energy too." Tupi said.


Tupi made a few phone calls to friends in South East Asia who knew people living in villages. Tupi had a friend with a domestic worker from the Philippines and Tupi chatted with her for a while and talked about renewable energy.

"Your village still has no power?" Tupi asked.

"Yes, we still have no power." the lady said. "The next village down the road has a power line, and they just got power 3 years ago. We do not really need power though."

"What do you do at night?" Tupi asked. "Without light? What about refrigerator?"

"We don't need a refrigerator." The lady said. "Nothing needs to be refrigerated. We cook using charcoal and we have kerosene lamps."

"Do you use solar lamps?" Tupi asked. "How do you charge your phones?"

"Solar is too expensive." The lady said. "We go to the village center to into town to charge our phones."

"Technology is always getting cheaper." Tupi said. "How much is kerosene?"

"How much is solar light now?" The lady asked. "Kerosene costs about $20+ per liter, and we do use other kinds of cheaper oil for light"

"I don't know how much is solar light now, but I am trying to find out." Tupi said. "I guess it would definitely pay for itself in the long run."

Tupi could no imagine living in a place without power.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 20

Tupi bought lunch for an old man collecting cans and card boards. The old man rubbed Tupi's head and Tupi closed his eyes.

"How did this happen?" Tupi asked.

"I used to be in construction, I paint and do tiling for kitchen and bathrooms." The old man said.

"With so many new projects, don't you get more business?" Tupi asked.

"How to get Garmen contract? You know the HDB gates, all go to one company only, Garmen call for tender, all bluff one. They give to their own relatives and friends, high price low quality also get job. Sometimes, no experience also get job, then they find sub-con and squeeze us. Many people kenna burn, and sub-con take all the risk and go bust, main con need connection and make all the money." The old man complained. "Then you work for some of these people, they also squeeze your salary. $5,000 project, they pay you only $3,000 which just covers cost. Otherwise, they say hire bangla lor, 100 men job, they can bring in 500 men, then collect money from the snakehead for each person coming to Singapore. Just the kickback earn until siao already."

"Wow, I did not know that." Tupi said.

"Aiya, complain also no use, the garmen people and the main con so close, sometime minister also can own construction company and ownself do upgrade with ownself company." The old man said. "Politics smelly lah."

"What about doing skills training and get another job?" Tupi asked.

"You think free meh?" The old man said. "You pay and go useless course, then get cert that no one want. Where got job? The company that train you make money only lah."

Tupi was quite surprised on what he heard. "So, why are you collecting cardboard now?"

"You think money drop from sky. Everyday no need eat meh?" The old man said. "Collect can and cardboard at least no need beg, full cart sell already can eat at hawker center."

Tupi did not have much of a response. "Where do you live?"

"I have a 2 room flat in Yishun." The old man said. "Sold off my 4 room flat in Bukit Merah and used all savings to pay for my wife's medical bill. She died and still have to pay bill. After that, cannot afford flat in open market, stayed in relative place, different place every week, for few years, then finally get the new flat in Yishun. 70 years old liao still paying for flat every month."

It seemed like the old man had a lot of complains. He kept talking through lunch and Tupi gave him his ears and listened.

Tupi learned a lot today, and had a different perspective after talking to the old man. It was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 19

Tupi is back home and busy with bills and laundry. There was a stack of mail and other bills to sort out. After his laundry is in the washing machines and his mails are cleared, Tupi poured himself some whisky on rocks and sat back on his chair. "There is so much I don't know..." Tupi said and took out his phone and searched the Internet.

Tupi reached out to his camera and took out the finished roll of film. "Another roll of 36 to develop." Tupi said and sorted some of the tasks that needed to be done the next day.


Over the next few days, Tupi collected his severance pay check and deposited it in the bank. He paid all his bills and ran all his errands. Tupi started apply at suitable jobs and responding to many of his friends messages about his recent trips.

Tupi felt really good reading the positive responses to his trip and encouraged to do more.

"Hmm, Peace Boat?" Tupi muttered as he looked at some of his friend's profile. "Too expensive..."

"Africa? Hmmm..." Tupi looked through a few of his friend's profile about some of their projects, then checked on some news and related articles. "Too much conflicts."

"Latin America?" Tupi muttered. Various parts of Latin America looked very exciting. Tupi had never been so far before, and it did scare him a little but excites him as well. "Lets see who we can find."


Tupi messaged a few local groups in Singapore and checked out some of the local activities of supporting the homeless people or people living in poverty. There were surprisingly many groups on Facebook helping poor people in Singapore.

There was a group helping the senior cardboard collectors, giving them meals every day. "Wow, there are so many poor people and even homeless people in Singapore?" Tupi muttered. "What is the government going about this? Don't think they collect cardboard for exercise."

Tupi checked out the activities of the group and it seemed like just meeting the cardboard collectors and giving out food. "So many of them..." Tupi said as he saw many cardboard collectors. As he passed by Sungei Road, there was a old flea market that had been around for years. Tupi remembered coming here when he was young.

He looked at the people selling the items, many of them old and looked malnourished. Some have open wounds and does not seem to be treating the wounds. He did not make such observations before. "Are all of these people poor, and selling here because they cannot afford rent?" Tupi said and looked at some of the vintage items they were selling, most of the items were probably found in the trash and sold here so that the shop owners can have a next meal.

Tupi felt sad, poverty was also in his own country, but all he read about on the news is the millionaires and multi million dollar projects that the government want to build. Tupi walked around and saw all the tall buildings in the downtown area and a lot more construction going on. "Have all the people got left out in the name of progress?" Tupi muttered.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 18

Tupi traveled back to Colombo to meet some friends. The trip was very long and Tupi left early in the morning and stopped once for lunch mid point in the journey. Upon reaching Colombo, Tupi was stuck in a traffic jam.

"This is school traffic, all the students are out from school now." The driver said.

Tupi was tired and simply took a nap. Finally, Tupi arrived in Colombo and he met several friends for dinner at the Palmyrah Restaurant where Tupi had Jaffna Crab Curry and his favorite hopper dishes again.

"I was just in Jaffna... and did not know this was a thing..." Tupi said and they laughed. Tupi enjoyed Jaffna Crab Curry, but he enjoyed the hoppers more. It was indeed a great Sri Lankan experience. After dinner, they had some drinks near the beach and Tupi was rushed off to take the red eye plane back to Singapore.

It was a nice trip and Tupi learned a lot from this experience. There were many moral questions he had left unanswered, but he was very excited to see where his next journey would be.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 17

Tupi did not sleep well. Should he inform Jenny that some parents are exploiting the system? How would it affect the orphanage? How would it affect the kids? What if the foreign volunteers find out?

Tupi decided to take a break and informed Jenny that he would be traveling around Jaffna to visit the different sites. Tupi took a tuk tuk to the ferry to Delft Island -- land with wild horses. It was indeed an effort to get to Delft island -- Chartering a boat is not cheap and there were specific times to take the public ferry, all of which there were no proper signs and directions to follow. The boat ride took more than 1 hour and it was more bumpy than the roads to Jaffna.

Delft Island is a small coral island with a few interesting landmarks. Tupi arrived and a Tuk Tuk driver who could speak English quickly offered his service. It was about 2000 rupees for a 2 hour trip around delft and Tupi agreed on the offer.

Throughout the island, there were lots of very thin cows on the island. "Isn't this island a sanctuary for the horses? Why are there so many cows?" Tupi asked.

"The farmers brought the cows." the driver said.

Tupi looked around and all the grass looked overgrazed. There was just too many cows, and Tupi did not see any horses. "Isn't this a horse sanctuary?" Tupi asked. "Why are there so many cows?"

"The farmers brought the cows." the driver said.

Tupi was confused, it was clear that the cows were not supposed to be here were overgrazing the land.

Delft Island was unbelievably dry and hot. The landscape is rough and wide. The ground is covered in stones, dead corals and especially dead palm leaves. There were skinny cows everywhere, and the environment was dusty and hostile.

There were people living in Delft. The locals live in houses and they build fences with corals. The island gave a very rustic feel and everything feels a little unreal that people would live in such hostile environment.

Tupi visited the various touristy sites like the Baobab tree and fortress, and finally went out in the open to find the horses. The terrain was rocky and bare. There was little shelter and the sun was just intense. Tupi saw a lot of poo on the ground and finally spotted the horses as the tuk tuk moves towards them. The cows still outnumber the horses and they look thin and malnourished.

"Poor horses..." Tupi said and approached the horses and they moved away. The grass was very short and there were few watering holes.

"Many horses died last month... algae in their water." The driver said.

"They fixed it?" Tupi asked.

"Now people come and clean the water everyday." The driver said.

"Still looks like not enough food." Tupi said.

"Yes." The driver said as they stood there for a while staring at the horses before leaving.

Tupi was then sent back to the pier to catch his boat back to Jaffna.

Delft Island was nice but a little depressing. It was clearly a horse reservation over run with cows, and there is not enough food for the horses. The climate was harsh and there were too many cows. It looked like it was at the brink of an ecological disaster.

The day trip took the whole day as transportation to the pier and to the island took a long time. Tupi was still torn with his feelings. He returned to his room and packed up. His heart felt heavy. Jaffna was confusing. It was a nice place, Tupi wanted to love it, as it did feel raw and rustic, but it seemed not to be inviting to visitors.

Tupi had dinner and went to bed early. He had a long journey back to Colombo to meet some other friends before leaving Sri Lanka. At dinner, Tupi did not inform Jenny again. Perhaps it was for her own good, for the orphanage, and for the orphans. It was better this way for everyone.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 16

Tupi wanted to see more of Jaffna. There was the old Jaffna fort, some Kayts island, and other abandoned historical buildings. As Tupi was leaving in the evening, he saw Pooja and Pooja was going the same way and they left together. It was a nice walk by the coast as Pooja talked about how Jaffna was like during the war.

Pooja brought Tupi past the clock tower and Tupi saw the old library. "What an interesting building." Tupi said and Pooja stopped Tupi and pointed to a sign. [The Jaffna Library will be open for visitors from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m] "WHat the hell? 1 hour opening?" Tupi said and Pooja shrugged.

They continued down the road to the Jaffna Fort where Pooja met her sister. Her sister had 5 young kids and was waiting near the old fortress. "Wow. 5 kids? Were they all adopted?" Tupi joked and Pooja nodded her head. "Wait, what? She adopted all of them?"

"Yes, from same orphanage." Pooja said.

"Is she a volunteer too?" Tupi asked.

"No more, all her kids were out." Pooja said.

Tupi was confused. "So, she adopted all her kids? And she stopped volunteering?"

"Yes." Pooja said.

"All her kids?" Tupi asked as though Pooja did not understand him.

"Yes, those were her kids." Pooja said.

"I mean... did she give birth to them?" Tupi asked.

"Yes." Pooja said.

"And your kids?" Tupi asked.

"Yes." Pooja answered.

There was a long silence and Pooja and her sister walked away. Tupi was not sure what happened and was rather disturbed. Then he walked to the fortress. "Awww great." Tupi said as he looked at the sign and his watch. "Opening hours 8am - 6pm." And Tupi shook his head as his watch displayed 6:30pm. "Why is everything closed?" Tupi muttered and walked towards the long bridge and enjoyed the nice sunset.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 15

Tupi met up with the foreign volunteers. Many of them were students who were passionate about service learning. Tupi saw their interaction with the kids, the kids seemed to all want the attention of the volunteers a lot. Tupi felt that the engagement was quite strange but all the kids seemed to be on the best of their behaviors.

Tupi decided that he should do more, and as he saw some local volunteers come, he decided that he could at least buy lunch for everyone. Tupi ordered some pizza for everyone and the food arrived within 30 minutes. However, it did not turn out as planned. Most of the local volunteers were vegetarian and half his pizza had ham, some of the volunteers had already taken their meals before coming and there was also food prepared.

Tupi felt really stupid as his good intentions went to waste, but decided to get everyone, including Jenny, the foreign volunteers and the kids to help finish the pizza. Well, at least Tupi learned a good lesson today, always consult the people you want to give things to before you buy it.


Tupi spent some time with the local volunteers cleaning up the place and preparing for dinner. Tupi chatted with them and through his communications, he got to know the local volunteers better. Many of them have adopted from the orphanage and are planning to adopt more children.

"Do you know who are are going to adopt?" Tupi asked a lady and she pointed at one of the young girls at art class. "So everyone of you know who you want to bring home? Why are you still waiting?" Tupi asked.

Through the translation and various interpretation, the volunteers told Tupi that they were poor and the orphanage would provide free food so the kids can grow up healthy. They would adopt the kids when the kids turn 5 years old.

Tupi thought to himself, "Why would you adopt more kids if you were so poor." Tupi felt bad for thinking that and decided to keep quiet now.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 14

In the Orphanage, there were 2 kinds of volunteers, the foreigners who pay to stay and teach the kids, and the locals who come once in a while to support in some activities. Tupi decided to speak to the latter group as new visitors arrive and the children greeted them the same way as Tupi was greeted.

Tupi spoke to some of them through a translator who was also a volunteer. The local volunteers speak Tamil, unlike the other Sri Lankans who spoke Sinhalese. Tupi found out that all the local volunteers also have adopted some orphans before and he was really impressed with them and decided to try to know them better.

One of the ladies, Pooja, aged 26, had already adopted her first kid. She volunteers 3 times and week for a few hours each time. She adopted a 5 year old boy who is now 6 years old and when the boy is in school, she comes by to volunteer and take care of some of the orphans. At such a young age of 26, Pooja has already decided to adopt another girl this year, and another one the following year. 

"Wow, one each year. This is such a great thing that you are doing. What motivates you to do such a thing?" Tupi asked and Pooja shrugged. "Do are doing such a good thing..." Tupi said.

The translator shared with Tupi that many of the local volunteers were volunteering and all of them had plans to adopt. Some had adopted a few children already. Tupi was amazed to find such wonderful volunteers at the orphanage and wanted to learn more as Tupi did not even have the courage to adopt a pet from the local animal shelter.

That night, Tupi tried to sleep but stayed up all night thinking about the wonderful people he had met. Many of them were young like Pooja, but doing such great impact by volunteering and adopting  -- something he probably could not even think about doing as it was a great responsibilities. At times, Tupi felt like he had not accomplished anything, and the volunteers whom he just met had inspired him to do more. He found more motivation and drive and laying on his back, he looked out the window and the sky was turning blue. "Wow, time flies!"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 13

It was a long drive. The route took over 250km, and the Kandy-Jaffna Highway is a relatively boring road with heavy traffic at times. On the 4th hour of driving, Tupi had already taken a short nap, but was woken up by Jenny. "Bridge..." Jenny said and shook Tupi, and as Tupi opened his eyes, he saw the 300m long Sangupiddy bridge over a shallow Jaffna lagoon. The still water looked like a mirror reflecting into a perfectly blue cloudless sky. Looking at the water from the other side of the van, Tupi looked through the crystal clear water and see through to the shallow sandy lagoon. There was much sea weed and some small fishes. "Looks like a nice place to walk..." Tupi said, however the sun was too intense to invite such an idea.

Soon, there was moderate traffic again going into Jaffna, and they reached the orphanage. Getting out of the van, Tupi was greeted by 2 rows of children who smiled and waved at him as he walked by. Tupi felt rather uncomfortable as he was not really here to be part of the guest, but rather, he was here a Jenny's friend. A young girl grabbed Tupi's hand and said. "Welcome!" The feeling was rather intense. The kids stared into his eyes, expecting Tupi to do something and Tupi just avoided eye contact and continued walking.

Tupi was shown into his room and the kids outside watched him unpack and Tupi walked over and closed the doors on the kids as they continued to peep at him. Tupi quickly changed and unpacked, and met up with Jenny at the dining area where they had a late lunch with the kids watching.

"Don't they have classes?" Tupi asked.
"They are still waiting for the next group of volunteer who will be arriving later today." Jenny replied.
"So, their classes just stop when no volunteers are around?"
"This seldom happen as there are always overlaps in the volunteer's schedules."
"How long do the volunteers stay?"
"A week to a month..."
"So they change quite often?"

After lunch, Tupi went to meet the kids in the other room where they were having English classes. "Wow, they learn English? Can they read and write?" Tupi asked.
"Yes, quite well actually. We do have teachers that teach them English everyday." Jenny said.
"What do the volunteers so then?"
"The volunteers teach maths, science, and most other things that come to their mind. The English class is about an hour each day, and the other classes are conducted by the volunteers. We have some textbooks which have curriculum which the volunteers can pick topics from. Why don't you help out later and read a story to the 5 year olds."

Tupi looked through the library and picked "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. "umm... no..." Tupi said, placed the book back and shook his head, then picked up "Charlotte's Web" Then it was story time where Tupi sat and the kids surrounded him and he read the book to all of them. Tupi even made animal noises which the kids thoroughly enjoyed, and Tupi felt a deep connection with the kids as they began to sit closer to him as the chapter progresses.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Religion is often a good thing...

Religion is often a good thing. It promotes good values and played major roles in evolving society.

“Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of divine love and charity; Buddhism has shown him a noble way to be wiser, gentler, purer, Judaism and Islam how to be religiously faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities. “ 
– Sri Aurobindo (Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, p.211)

Religion has often been a vehicle for intolerance and fundamentalism; religion has been used as an excuse for persecution and war. Religions and traditions are also used as a way for some people to get rich. Even "selfless service" can be abused by some for their benefits.

In every religion, the religious people can be exploited. “Mercy release,” an ancient ritual in which Buddhists free captive animals to generate positive karma through an act of kindness, creates a demand for animals to be bought and released. When there is profits to be made, greed will drive people to so things. A tradition that once encouraged the spontaneous release of doomed animals has today become a commercial enterprise in which people buy animals specifically to release them. The process may injure—or even kill—them.

Hundreds of millions of animals are released each year in this practice. If you have sinned, you can release animals to "negate" the evil acts. “The bigger the crime, the bigger the need to release a more exotic animal to get more bonus points.”

Today, this practice is becoming a big problem. Animals are trapped, kept in appalling conditions, then released and often trapped again. Many animals die during the capture or transportation, and others die because they were released in unsuitable environment. Releasing a fresh water terrapin into the ocean will most definitely kill it.

By releasing alien species into the environment, people unwittingly can wreak havoc on ecosystems. Turtles, because of their longevity, are a favorite species to release, but many foreign species of turtles have major impact on local species.

In the aftermath of many disasters, I see religious groups donate canned food, clothes, blankets and bottled water. Sadly, most donated materials which are not sorted properly will cause everything to be wasted. Yet in the face of disaster, some of these so called religious people still donate soiled clothing and expired food. In the best case scenario, clean clothes, canned food and bottled water are sent. In the field, these items do get to the survivors, however, the NGOs that bring it there do not have time to sort through clothing and blankets.

Canned food and bottled water can easily create a second disaster -- waste management. Many disaster areas don't have the immediate ability to recycle and the discarded containers in the open will breed mosquitoes which may cause other health issues. I've seen canned food and bottled water pile up, easily 2 meters high, filling 6 soccer fields in a short period of a week for a population of 10,000 people.

Just like Facebook "likes", I've not seen "Prayers" that were sent having much of an impact to any survivors after a disaster. When there are profits to be made, man will find ways to "game the system" and profit from religious activities. And even "selfless giving" and become voluntourism.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

1) Practice critical thinking.

Having faith and obeying rules without questioning is always a bad thing. Don't be too literal on religious text. Many of it sounds vague and are up to interpretation. Over time, some of the practices may not be relevant anymore, and don't follow it because it is tradition, think about the impact and reason why people are doing it.

2) Be inclusive.

I do believe that most religions are inclusive, and open to all, regardless of gender, age or race. When you learn to discriminate against vulnerable or minority groups, then there may be something wrong with the interpretation of your religious leader. (Unless you worship Cthulhu, perfectly fine to discriminate against the lesser gods if you follow the elder ones)

3) Consider impact of your actions.

Think about the impact of your actions. Do not do things because you may consider it "duty" as a good person. Think about what impact does your action create. Donating to a cause may create a dependency on the support. There are more than one way of doing things which may yield the same result, however, some ways may actually cause harm in other things.

4) Use your creativity.

The context of many things may have changed. Some religions have lasted centuries, and context is different. Is there any reason to burn incense and joss paper? What impact will you create for mercy release?

There may be other ways which have more impact. Instead of releasing animals, supporting animal conservation and donating to and working with wildlife rehabilitators may be a better option. 

Remember, think before you act.

-- Robin Low

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 12

"Wow, where did the lake come from?" Tupi shouted as he looked out the window. The view was simply breadth taking. The tranquility of the lake and beauty of nature was all around the hotel. It was as though the hotel was carved into a rock and covered in greenery.

Tupi walk around and viewed the sunrise. He felt invigorated and went for breakfast where he met Jenny. "Its getting late, you need to hurry up with breakfast and we need to leave soon." Jenny said.

Tupi was shocked. Its barely 6:30am and it was late? Tupi hurried with his breakfast and was ready to check out at 7am. The drive out was beautiful. It was pitch black the night before and Tupi did not see anything at all.

The drive was very scenic and within 30 minutes the van arrived at the Dambulla Cave Temple. "Doing all the touristy bits and then a long ride towards Jaffna." Jenny said and Tupi hiked up towards the cave temples

Tupi saw some monkeys which followed him along the way and was bored as Tupi ignored them. It was quite a hike, and Tupi managed to reach the top.

The caves had many Buddha statues inside with the oldest ones more than 1,000 years old. There were 5 caves and the largest sleeping Buddha was 14m tall.

The view from the top of the hill was nice and Tupi was impressed he made it up so easily. He felt refreshed and after a drink of water, Tupi headed down and the journey continued.

It was late morning before Tupi visited Anuradhapura, Tupi had never been to an ancient ruin and this place simple blew his mind. It was quite vast and the van took Tupi slowly around to view the Stupa and the other ruin sites. It was a great archaeological find and Tupi took out his camera and captured some of the memorable sites.

The van then took everyone out of the ruins into the city around it where they had lunch and proceeded to Jaffna.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 11

The drive to Jaffna was surprisingly nice, besides some traffic getting out of Colombo, everything else was relatively smooth. "Wow, that was not so bad..." Tupi said as the driver drove into Kandy.

"Usually, this will take longer, the traffic was lighter today." The driver said and he pulled to the side of the road.

"That golden roof building is the temple of the Buddha's tooth relic." Jenny said. "Sri Dalada Maligawa."

"That is a big temple..." Tupi said as he stepped out of the van. "That lake is nice too..."

"We have a Buddha's tooth temple in Singapore as well." Tupi said. "Well, I guess Buddha has lots of teeth."

"You can't come to Sri Lanka without coming here." Jenny said. "This is Kandy, and this temple is kinda a touristy thing to visit. You have about 30 mins, then we need to go to the hotel and have dinner."


It was a rush to walk through the temple and museums nearby in 30 mins, but Tupi was not really interested in being a tourist, but would rather just take some photos to say he was here. Tupi took slightly longer than 30 mins and eventually returned to the van again.

"There is a lot to see, lots of worshipers in the way..." Tupi said as he returned to the van and the van drove off. On the route, Tupi felt really tired and took a short nap.


"We're here!" Jenny said and Tupi opened his eyes and it was another very nice hotel.

"Kandalama Lake Resort?" Tupi muttered and looked around. It was a very beautiful hotel and they checked into the nice luxurious rooms.

"You must be tired from all that travel." Jenny said. "Well, we are having dinner here, and you can rest for the night. We will leave early tomorrow for a stop at Dambulla before another long ride to the orphanage."

Tupi nodded and was still amazed at how nice this hotel was.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 10

"Wow, I am going to Colombo!" Tupi exclaimed quietly. "Hurrah!" The airport was a little chaotic. It was a small airport where the arrival and departure was on the same level. A van was waiting for him outside and there was another driver in the van and the quickly left the airport and went on the highway.

"This highway looks pretty nice and new." Tupi said.

"Yes, this is almost 4 years old now machan." The driver said proudly. "Makes traveling fast. 30 mins to Colombo."

"Colombo is a a city not hard to miss, once you hit traffic, you've arrived." The driver said as they approached the toll booth.

Minutes later, there was traffic ahead. "See machan? Colombo is ahead."


Soon Tupi arrived at the Galle Face hotel and Jenny was there to meet him. "Ayubowan!" Jenny greeted Tupi and they went into the hotel to have lunch. "This is a very nice hotel..." Tupi said. "Looks like an old colonial building that is well maintained."

"Lets try some Sri Lankan food." Jenny said. "This are egg hoppers"

Egg hoppers look like a "crepe like bowl" with a soft boiled egg inside. A pinch of salt and pepper to add flavor.

"How do you eat this?" Tupi asked and a few other curries and dahl were placed on the table.

"With your hands... put some pol sambol and dahl then smush it." Jenny said and demonstrated it.

"What's this?" Tupi pointed to a disc made of rice noodles.

"String hoppers." Jenny said.

"This is nothing like the other hoppers." Tupi said. "Its not cooked in the pan thing, nor is it crispy..."

Jenny shrugged and they continued to enjoy the good meal. There was some other curries and sauces that went with the hoppers and Tupi tried them all. "Sri Lankan food is quite spicy..." Tupi said. "and everything you put these curries and sambol on is called a hopper..."


After lunch, tea was served and the tea tasted amazing. "wow, this is one of the best tea I've tried..." Tupi said.

"This is Sri Lanka." Jenny said. "If there is one thing they can do well, its tea."

The view from the restaurant was spectacular. They moved from the restaurant to the seating outside to enjoy the view of the sea. The sound of the breaking waves and the light sea breeze while sitting in the shade was very enjoyable and relaxing. "This... this you don't get in Singapore." Tupi said as he sipped his tea. "I like Sri Lanka already."

It was a long lunch and after that, the group went into the van and they started driving out of Colombo before the traffic gets worse.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 9

Getting a free lift to the airport from a friend flying off on an earlier flight, Tupi arrived at the airport, about 3 hours before the flight but there was already a crowd at the ticketing counter. Strangely, there was only one flight out to Sri Lanka Airlines and everyone seemed to be early and eagerly waiting for the counter to open. Tupi decided to have breakfast and continue his research on places to visit.

An hour later, the line just opened and Tupi decided to sit nearby and chill. The line moved pretty fast and it seemed like everyone in like actually stood for more than 1 hour and waited for the line to open. After 30 mins when the crowd has cleared, Tupi brought his luggage and checked in.

"Window seats please." Tupi said and checking in his luggage was a breeze.

Tupi loved wandering around Changi Airport and checked out the little nooks and corners which always seemed to change every time he flies. Tupi walked passed his gate and saw the crowd waiting outside. "Wow, these people love to queue up more than Singaporeans..." Tupi chuckled.

Looking at the planes taking off and the browsing books in the bookstore, Tupi looked at his phone for the time and it was 50 minutes to his flight and Tupi proceeded to the gate and the gate has just opened and the crowd is slowly moving in. Tupi decided to use the restrooms as the crowd moves through the security gates.

Tupi returned and the line moved slowly. Tupi patiently moved through the line and now saw the crowd waiting at the entrance to the gates. "Wow, these people are impatient." Tupi thought to himself and saw the air hostess having a hard time getting the passengers to move aside and not crowd the boarding area.

As expected, things got worse. 30 minutes before departure, many passengers gathered and crowded near the entrance when the announcement was made that boarding was going to start. The air hostess tried to get the passengers to move aside to allow passengers from first and business class to enter, but the crowd seemed to ignore all instructions no matter what languages were spoken. No one seemed to even give way when a passenger on a wheelchair was allowed to board.

"Hey, move aside..." Tupi said and told some of the passengers near the boarding area to move but like the hostess, he was ignored. "This will not end well..." Tupi muttered as chaos continued. When first class and the passenger in the wheelchair boarded, the airlines requested the passengers sitting in the rear of the plane to board, however, the crowd seemed to charge through the boarding area like there was no tomorrow.

Tupi could not bother, he took out his phone and checked Facebook. "Hmmm. Should I check in at the airport?.. Take a selfie? Take a photo of the boarding pass?" Tupi muttered and instead he just checked the Facebook feeds. The chaos continued for the next 15 minutes before everyone boarded and Tupi strolled on the flight. "Ah, much better." Tupi said.

Sadly, Tupi found his seat taken and informed the passenger in his seat. "Hi, I think this is my seat." The man pointed at 2 seats behind, but the seat was also taken. "Look, I'm seating here, 11A" The man said. "I'm 13B, but my wife here..." Tupi looked at 13B and there was another passenger.

Tupi signaled the air hostess to come and she requested him to move and he seemed a little unhappy, but Tupi insisted as it was his first time going to Sri Lanka and he wanted to see it from the sky. The seat change started another nightmare as there was more than 10 passengers not seating in their seats.

After everyone has taken their seats, the plane started to moved, but as there was a slight delay, now the flight had a further delay as the runway was packed. "Oh great...." Tupi grumbled.


The plane finally took off. The flight was otherwise uneventful and Tupi decided to take a nap and not have any meals.

Tupi was woken up when the plane landed. "Damn it!" Tupi said as he looked out of the window to see Bandaranaike International Airport. Then the other passengers taking off their seatbelts and trying to get their bags while the plane was still moving. "Oh boy..." Tupi said and the air steward tried to get some of the passengers to sit down, but only some did. Then as the plane approached the terminal, it slowed down abruptly and a luggage fell on another passenger and the passengers started to quarrel.

The crowd started to move towards the front of the plane as the plane stopped and everyone crowded near the door and rushed out. The line stopped moving again and then became very slow. As Tupi exited the plane, he saw the passengers outside blocking the passage as they waited for their friends to come out. "Oh god... Why did you rush out to block at the exit?" Tupi asked a tall dark man and stared at him. The man ignored Tupi and Tupi quickly moved into the terminal.

"Oops, I think I did not take the immigration form... And wait... Do I need a visa?" Tupi said and quickly searched Google."Thank you Singtel for my international roaming plan to work... much better than the MRT.... Ok, no Visa needed, but I need to fill up an immigration form."

Tupi looked around. The airport was rather small and clean. "oh, over there.." Tupi said as he spotted some tables with some forms on top and took one and filled it up. Tupi then queued at the immigration area and went through without any problems. "Well, this was pretty good so far."

Tupi walked towards baggage claims and found his flight number and the belt. Tupi waited and decided to go to the restrooms again, and when he was back, he waited some more. "25 minutes, and nothing yet." Tupi said and saw the crowd moving in front of him to wait for their baggage. "Oh man, them again."

Tupi continued to wait. It was also starting to get hot and sweaty. Tupi walked around and there was nothing else to see. "Damn it..." Tupi grumbled and found a seat. Another 15 minutes went by and finally, the first luggage came out. It took another 15 minutes before Tupi's luggage came out and he grabbed it and exited the area. "This make me appreciate the Singapore airport so much."

Tupi texted Jenny and she has arranged for a driver to pick Tupi up. Tupi apologized that he was late due to the luggage, but Jenny informed him that it was expected and the driver was waiting. Tupi looked around and saw a short man with a sign that said "Tupi" on it and waved at him. Tupi thought he was easy to spot as he would be the only Capybara in the airport.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 8

It took some time for Tupi to pack and clean up the house just to leave again just as Tupi was getting used to his bed again. In the 2 days of preparation, Tupi share about his intention to travel again and many of his friends supported him and even donated some stationary and toys for him to bring to the orphanage. Then Tupi received a phone call from Ramasamy, an Indian friend who happened to be working in Sri Lanka.

"Hey, heard you are coming to Sri Lanka, lets catch up!" Ramasamy said on the phone. "I may be able to take some time off to join you as well."

"Wow, sounds great, how's it going?" Tupi asked. "It would be great to have you up there, I'm going to Jaffna..."

"I've not been to Jaffna, and I'm sure it will be great!" Ramasamy replied. "Let me know the dates and lets plan."

The conversation went on for a few more minutes and Tupi planned with Ramasamy on the dates to meet in Jaffna. Tupi then received several other phone calls from friends to catch up but he did not have much time to do so. After that Tupi was even more excited to go to Sri Lanka. He felt that he was on a mission with some donated gifts filling a whole luggage, Tupi took a cab to the airport. He even chatted with the Cab driver about his upcoming trip and his spirits was high.

Tupi continued to research Jaffna and other information on Sri Lanka. It was his first time there and he did not know what to expect.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 7

"Sri Lanka?" Tupi said on the phone as he called one of his classmates, Jenny. "Well, umm... Orphanage, sounds really exciting." Tupi got off the phone and spent the next few hours on Google, searching information on the war orphans in Jaffna. There seemed to be a big effort in supporting the war orphans and there are a lot of new Orphanages opening up.

"Seems like a big problem they are having there, perhaps I can be of help." Tupi said, and the more he read, the more he felt compelled to go and help. "Maybe I can volunteer and do more this time."

"Hi Jenny, Tupi here, I'd like to come help out at the Orphanage. I've not been to Sri Lanka before, don't really know what to expect, but I do have some time to come over and see how I can help out. I can come teach English, and read to the kids, kids love me."

Tupi chatted with Jenny for a while. Tupi did not want to overspend, but he could pay for lodgings at the orphanage, and apparently, they do have rooms for guests to stay. The orphanage seemed to located in a very accessible area in the city and transportation there, visiting other areas should not be a problem at all. Tupi looked on Google Maps on the location of all the orphanages around, and all of them seemed to be in the city and town area. He thought to himself, "Wow, real estate must be cheap there, seems like all the orphanages are in prime location."

Tupi spent the next few hours doing more research and he received an email on the best dates to visit the orphanage and he booked his tickets. Tupi smiled as this is another new adventure he is going to have, looking at his laundry which he just finished, he sighed. "Well, I don't think I have time to iron you before packing and going again." Tupi said, shaking his head and looking at his cactus plant, "Well, at least you can survive without me being around..."

Tupi looked at the clock and it was 3am in the morning. "Wow, time flies...." Tupi said and quickly turned off his computer and prepared for bed. The flight is in 2 days, and there was much to do in the meantime.

Think before you donate to disasters.

In the wake of floods, hurricanes and other recent disasters, many people with the best intentions will flood to donate to the survivors. Some will like posts on Facebook and share the news, others will donate blankets, clothes and other items. The government disaster response teams will provide food, shelter and clean water. There will also be other smaller groups that may be interested in going down to volunteer and bring aid to the survivors.

In reality, not all aid is equal. In some scenarios, the canned food and bottled water given to survivors create a second disaster of waste management. Even the biggest NGOs on the field are unable to distribute clothing, toys and blankets well, and once soiled, it may breed bacteria and cause health problems.

Following any disaster, waste management is a big issue. Although it is important to support the survivors, rushing to donate old clothes and other non-essential items may not be a good idea as most NGOs don’t have the capacity to manage these non-essential logistics. It will be left aside and get damage and in time, create more problems.

On the case of bottled water, this is the worst thing to send. It does not make sense at all, both financially and logistically. Sending 100,000 liters of water a day for 40,000 people can cost up to $300,000 and for large NGOs to purify the same amount of water, will cost $300 and there will be no plastic waste.

Donating to large international NGOs usually mean that a lot of foreign relief aid will be imported into the affected countries. Most disasters, even the large scale ones are rather isolated. Floods and earthquake areas rarely extend over 10km, and there will be local businesses which are open for business post disasters, but they will be excluded from relief by the international NGOs. The businesses in the foreign countries will be the ones who benefit from the disaster.

In the long run, these aids do affect the local economies adversely and your well intentioned donations will cause harm to the financial eco-system. What’s worse, some international organizations are managed off site in another country and bureaucracy may cause massive waste and inefficiencies.

So what can you do?
There are always many innovative locals with solutions on hand. During Hurricane Sandy, a group Occupy Relief Sandy hacked the Amazon Wedding Registry to create a disaster registry. People with needs can get the things they need, like diapers, milk formula, detergents and flashlights, and nothing goes to waste.  Local groups usually buy locally and donating to them will benefit the local eco-system.

Instead of donating immediately, you can hold back donations and think about visiting the disaster areas when things are more stabilized to spend tourism money which goes directly into the local eco-system. Buying local products from the affected area is one of the most important things to do to help recovery as the economic recovery is usually ignored by most organizations.

Contact friends / alumni / colleagues in the disaster areas. Their local knowledge and by the fact they are right there in the disaster area, will know which is the most effective way of supporting the survivors. Every disaster is different and getting ground knowledge on the ever changing disaster is the most effective way to provide the right kind of support needed.

The people in the disaster areas are not victims, and do not need your pity. They are survivors and despite the great disaster, they still prevail. They did not ask for your help and do not expect gratitude. A doctor is still a doctor, and disasters destroy infrastructure but local capacity remains. We need to engage survivors and support them in the recovery. Disasters create survivors and it is our collective responsibility that we do not create a system which turns them into refugees.

-- Robin Low

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Giving the next generation more options.

Programming far becoming an important skill to have. It gives options, options to use your creativity and innovation to solve problems. While more schools are focusing on basic programming training, what happens to the homeless children or refugee kids?

Relief 2.0 is testing a pilot now as we believe that with a low cost tablet -- Amazon Fire Tablet -- we can load the 16GB tablet that costs under US$60 with many free programs which can teach the simple concept of programming.

With several carefully curated programs, Relief 2.0 have started to allow the kids to learn coding, by coding their own games.

We learned a lot during the experience. Some kids are just to have fun with the tablet, while others are serious to learn to make their own game. As the training progressed, and when some kids have a partially working game, the others want to learn too.

The peer learning part is especially tricky. There is a strong bias towards doing it for the other kids as they do not know how to explain it properly, and the other kids may be asking too many probing questions, but when we watch and monitor the peer learning and make sure they do not do the code for the other kids, we start to see success.

There are some kids who are more advanced, and some less advanced, and getting the kids who know more to teach the other kids make them grasp the concepts better.

Within the next few days, the kids have created their own games and are starting to add features which they see in other games. There needs to be a good balance of learning and fun, where their short attention span can still focus on putting the features they want into their game.

Well, this is a test, and we do have already >10 tablets which we use for training adult refugees as well. Once we have this model formalized, we plan to scale up and get more kids involved in the program across Europe. Of course at that point, we will be planning to raise some funds on scaling up and partnering other organizations to cover some bits which they are not doing.

-- Robin Low

Monday, August 14, 2017

Swiss grass cutting tech

Have you ever wondered how the grass is cut nicely everywhere in Switzerland? And most of the time, on slopes and without lines like when you use a lawn mower?

The answer is: Vache Swiss (Cows)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Meeting Changemakers at the Klosters Forum

I'm in Klosters, Switzerland for the Klosters Forum. It is simply amazing to be here.

Being in a beautiful and peaceful place really does bring out your creativity and remove distractions. Its a great place to relax and focus on what is at hand.

There were so many interesting people. Amazing change makers in the room, all working on critical parts of the well being of Refugees. The stories that were shared were very moving and there were many insights which could be learned from people working in different regions.

There was also a talk on animal conservation, and it seems like the refugees, people living in poverty and other stakeholders should be included as there are a lot of difficulties faced which could be really solved through community engagement.

I've met many experts in the field and really humbled by their experiences and stories. I hope we can learn, collaborate and share with each other to do our work better.

Sadly, there are not much "free spaces" where groups can come and discuss without self censorships. And there some space for that to happen at this Forum. When it is critical, all options should be on the table regardless if it is politically right.

I presented the Relief 2.0 projects and our Civil Innovation Lab concept and was well received.

Many smaller groups are interested to work with us on our platform and hopefully we can work together to create value.

-- Robin Low

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 6

(Day 23)

The time Tupi spent in Bali is finally coming to an end. Tupi met many new friends and visited a lot of different areas in Bali. Christopher is one of his new friends. Christopher has been volunteering for many organizations, and most of them in constructing and building for marginalized communities.

"So Christopher, since you have been to so many trips before, is this trip considered normal?" Tupi asked.

"What do you mean?" Christopher asked.

"You know, this feels like a tour. We did not even do much in the village..." 

"Well, we paid for the filter, taught the kids English. Without us, they would not have clean water."

"Why were we here for 10 days when it took 2 days for the water tower to be built. Will it even last long?" 

"Well, we did pay for contractors to come prepare the location before we come, that is why things are much faster. Sometime we have to do most of the work. I think the water tower and filter looks good. Anyway, we are not the one using, so why bother?"

Tupi paused for a while and said "Why does it feel like a tour?"

"I don't think people who come want to suffer. It has to be enjoyable and since we are in the country, why not sight see and learn more about the community?"

Christopher was right. It was an enjoyable vacation, and certainly Tupi did not sign up to suffer. Everything was paid for, and although the bulk of the money went to visiting the various sites and possibly accommodations and meals, there would not be a water filter if it were not for the group.

"I think this is kind of fun." Tupi said. "I'd like to do more, and Christopher, if you have some that are more challenging, please call me, maybe I'd like to come along as well."

They arrived at the airport and it was a rather uneventful flight back. Tupi smiled, he has done something good and it felt good.