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