Friday, January 13

I received these products courtesy of Pure Leaf & Influenster for sampling purposes. Thanks Influenster and PureLeaf teas!

Thursday, November 3

hello mint pure spray

Hello mint pure breath spray, received for promotional purposes. Perfect for just before a meeting!


Sunday, January 29

The Last Lions

Often when I gush about Beverly and Dereck Joubert, lots of people ask...who are they? What are they famous for? What is The Last Lions about? Well ladies and gents, I finally saw the film, and I am a fan, for life. My two cents on the film....

Think about the phrase when describing someone who has "the heart of a lion". In The Last Lions, Beverly and Dereck Joubert aim to demonstrate this phrase, in the form of a quasi-documentary film.

The film is not quite objective in flavor as a real documentary, but is still filled with facts and observations from the eyes of the Jouberts. The very scientific types (as well as those who believe animals are beneath humans) may completely dismiss the film due to its anthropomorphic nature, but I believe this one should not be completely dismissed. You may ask, why not? The film is filled with details and observations that are telling; the award-winning duo, the Jouberts, have dedicated their entire lives to the study and preservation of cats. They have braved the volatile weather and forgone daily comforts to catch even a glimpse into the lives of these creatures. Their observations are detailed here, and narrated by Jeremy Irons using deeply sonorous tones evocative of the warm, rich colors of the film.

You are thrust head first into an intimate acquaintance with Ma Di Tau, the main lioness. A little background information- Lions have a unique social structure- they group in prides, and are comprised of a single male and several females. The females hunt, and the males have to secure their lands, often against other male lions. When a male challenges another, the male either stands down (and is driven off), or fights. If the other male wins, it is in their instinct to kill any cubs from the previous male. Another option is for the female to take her cubs and run, hopefully joining another pride. This social structure places the female lions of prides with unstable factors (weak males, encroaching humans, etc) in particularly difficult situations. The instinct to survive, or to protect cubs, is a familiar scenario in nature, man included. Though this is not necessarily what the film is about, you will come to sympathize with Ma Di Tau, you will cry when she does, and you will roar when she does. The point of the film is that you will ultimately come to an understanding of Ma Di Tau, and come to celebrate what it means to have "a heart of a lion", or in this film, "the heart of a lioness."

The only part with numerical facts come spliced in the ending credits, reminiscent of the Jouberts' TedTalk, in which there are details about the dwindling creatures and mere minute shots on what the Jouberts went through in order to capture the footage found in the film. The fact that there wasn't even a human featured in the film should be telling enough of the subtle ways humans affects can wildlife, and the Jouberts have an intimate understanding of this. This film is their own message, their own cries, in hopes of an eventual triumph.

Friday, November 11

Of Rhinos and UpROARs

Apologies from the previous post being completely off topic, I didn't know where else to put it. But in short, Lirael meant a lot to me and I was able to win a bell charm ( for reviewing from one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix.

Anyway, back to animals (in that not all news concerning rhinos are terrible):

And my favorite darlings, Beverly and Dereck Joubert at 0:21 seconds in:

You can find out more about the UpROAR project here.

Good news, The Last Lions will be airing on National Geographic this Sunday, at 8pm Eastern time!!!!

Friday, October 14

Book Review for Garth Nix's Lirael

I have often been asked, “What is your favorite novel?”, as I was the top reader from elementary to high school. I struggled for an appropriate answer for many, many years, but now as a twenty-something, I can confidently supply an answer, with the story behind it. When I was twelve, I visited the annual book fair at my middle school with unprecedented glee, spending what little I saved on this one special occasion.

There were only half the usual number of shelves this time, and many targeted a much, much younger audience. A rather disappointing selection. I picked up Taggerung by Brian Jacques, and as I made my way to hand my bag filled with an assortment of coins and small bills, I paused. There it was, a most unusual, enchanting cover that separated itself from its peers with a thickness that looked to be a tale told more in words than pictures. Lirael, the cover read.

The little excerpt in the back sounded completely enticing, and in a manner completely unlike me, I impulsively bought the book. I spent all my savings on these two books, and I hoped that it was truly worth my year’s savings.

I devoured it. I did not let Lirael drop from my hands until I finished it, and hence comes my initial hesitation to discuss this book, and its siblings. I went home and asked to buy Sabriel immediately, knowing full well we did not have the financial resources to spend at leisure on fictional books (Abhorsen would not be out for another few years). I was denied, so I borrowed a copy from the local library and photocopied the entire novel (I still possess this copy, shown below, and eventually bought the entire series for my 18th birthday).

Now, how does a reader write on a novel that has changed her life? How can she describe, in coherent words, the complete refreshment of the fantasy genre? Lirael distanced herself from her peers by introducing a character who has very human, very real doubts; is she Clayr, with her strange physique and inability to utilize the Sight? Instead, she focuses on what she loves the most- her love of books and her position as a librarian. More triumphantly, when Lirael discovers a hidden, dangerous room full of secrets she accidentally unleashes the Stilken, a frightful creature. Rather than hiding and letting time runs its discourse with the Stilken’s gradual descent to power, Lirael takes the responsibility fully upon herself. Her path to the dangerous summoning of the Disreputable Dog and the eventual demise of the Stilken’s shook me to the core; in order to fix her err, she put herself in grave danger not because of some hero complex or deep need to please, but with the understanding that she had the power to undo the great mistake. This builds furthermore as her trials as an Abhorsen-in-Waiting grows, from facing Dead Hands to Chlorr of the Mask.

The triumph in this is that Lirael comes to terms with her lack of Sight, lack of blending in Clayr, culminated in full character growth when she understands and remembers her past. In retrospection, I find this theme especially appropriate for the targeted audience for its illumination of differences and eventual coming of terms that comes with individual growth.

At the Abhorsen’s house, Lirael accepts the position as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, knowing full well the horrors and trials she will face once she leaves its safety. Much of this is analogous to the trials teens have to face as adults, and it is understandable that many times choices are not offered or are difficult in path to choose. Braving and shutting her fears, Lirael blossomed into an admirable individual at the end of the book who never looked back at the insecurities accompanied by her former ostracized position at Clayr.

Lirael unraveled me completely, and shocks me with how deeply, and how quickly her fears echoed mine. The missing sense of belonging, the eventual acceptance of one’s self, and the difficult battles and pressures associated with a position of enormous responsibility and power. These were my battles too, and Lirael’s magic lay not only in its prose, but its messages along dark themes to not be afraid, to seize the day, and ultimately, that my future is my own and that I will succeed if I have the will and the preserverance. Despite Lirael’s insecurity she triumphed against all odds and utilizes every resource cleverly from beginning to the end in the conclusion of Abhorsen.

The answer I always give to the eternal question of a favorite novel is Lirael. I may have progressed to more advanced texts and analysis of such texts, but the book closest to me has remained the same through these years, shaking me to the core for many years to follow. Lirael is a timeless piece, poignant and haunting in themes and written in carefully-chosen prose, detailing the growth on one woman and her quest to find herself amidst strife and disaster.

Monday, August 1

Picking Fights

AK-47. Long range hunting rifles. Grenades and night vision goggles. Khaki uniforms and covert missions. You think of the army, right?

We've all heard of blue and white collar crimes, but how many have heard about "khaki collar" crime?

If I showed you this, would it make more sense?

Four years ago, 33 rhinos were poached in South Africa in an entire year. Fast forward three years later, 333 rhinos were poached in 2010 alone.

One of the biggest problems is that animal parts, in particular those of rare or endangered animals, fetch for extremely high prices on the black market, especially Asian ones. Over the course of many centuries, the Chinese have long cultivated the practice of traditional medicine, a broad range of practices that include 4 disciplines for one end goal, healing: herbs, massage, acupuncture, and diet. These practices spread to neighboring countries, and now much of the trade for animal parts go towards Asia, in particular China.

I personally don't understand why anyone would believe crushed rhino horn tea or tiger penis soup would have any healing effects when it is now widely disproven, but coming from a traditional Chinese background and having lived there for several years, I can see how it is still in practice in China- for other Asian countries, I don't claim knowledge. But when I grew up in Chengdu about 15 years ago, hospitals were dirty, crowded places with doctors that were harangued with an endless number of patients by day and by night, hounded by others with pity stories in hopes of getting an appointment for their loved ones earlier than the usual time of three months or more.

The country was poor. The people were desperate. And so they turned to the power of the lore that graced the scrolls of ancient kingdoms, the legends that coursed through streams of powerful rivers, and the beliefs, like their culture, that ran through their blood.

I remember a friend of a relative that was dying of cancer; the doctors didn't want anything to do with her. But on her bedside was a gorgeously lacquered box. As a child, I curiously unlatched the tortoiseshell cover and examined the contents. Greeted by a strange and strong smell, I remember my grandmother explaining to me the bevy of items in each compartment- one had delicate, almost hollowed out dried worms, purportedly able to soothe the nerves. Another compartment held a few very thinly shaved circles. I was told that those belonged to the antlers of a deer that came from a mountain where Buddha had graced its ground, long ago. Right beside it were large-capped dried mushrooms, unlike anything I had ever seen. Those were to extend life. After we left, my grandmother explained that those healed differently. When I asked how so, she merely replied with one word. Hope.

Later that year, I was able to accompany my grandparents to the traditional medicine store- there were all sorts of items, but what really caught my attention was the wall with items placed on red silk, in glass casing. Many of the items were rare; various grades of legendary ginseng, tree barks, and fungi were on one side, but on the other side were hairs, furs, horns, teeth, and dried bits with price tags that would double or triple the annual salary of the average factory worker. Attached were instructions on how to use and what their miracle-healing properties were. I think a bit of my faith in man died a little bit that day; this store was about half the size of a warehouse and the animal parts ran from one end to the other. Some tables had dried heads and claws; some of the faces were contorted or open.

Since then, China had gone through an amazing bit of westernization. Ivory became illegal to export out of the country, as were some ingredients of traditional medicine. This kind of store doesn't exist anymore; at least, not of that size. Last time I went there in 2006, the store had been reduced to half its size. Many of the items became illegal to sell.

This isn't the store I was talking about, but the looks are very similar.

It's nice to know that China now has some regulation and takes it very seriously (many times though, money and corruption takes precedence). The healthcare system hasn't changed a bit, though the doctors are now harassed by pharmaceutical companies to use their products for monetary profit, while the legends of traditional medicine are still echoed by an older generation, and bought by those who can afford it.

The means to obtaining them is through the black market these days, and the suppliers that drive these markets are often poachers who report directly from African or Southeast Asian countries. These poachers don't joke; they don't hesitate to shoot anyone that gets in their way. The sad, vicious cycle is that many of them are from villages desperate to feed itself. Using the natural resources around them, they can comfortably feed their village for an entire year and in turn, provide a better future for their children. In some African communities, it has become such a way of life that neighboring villages emulate their practices- the money is incredibly easy- a kilo of rhino horn usually fetches the same price as its weight in gold. However, the news that the South Africans are using a new initiative- that of deploying its army to control poachers- is worrying me. It has the potential of guerrilla warfare, and it practically is at this point. In South Africa alone, some 15 individuals have been outright killed so far this year and 64 wounded, with even more arrested. It proves to be a danger to both poachers, their families, and soldiers- each side have not hesitated in firing at the other.

The government has no choice- the rhino has always been endangered, and the fastest way of solving the problem is to aggressively fight back. Some of the villages have sole revenues from poaching, and have become nearly dependent on these practices, thereby fiercely protecting their practices.

The sustainable alternative is to educate these villages to become part of a workforce, and to understand that by killing these natives of the land, they are also killing a part of themselves- their pride and their land. They must understand that when no rhinoceros stand on their land, what will they have to turn to? The lions, the wildebeests? All of the Big Five? If they are gone too, what else would they have?

I can't say this is the best solution, but for now, it has been effective in controlling poaching. The best sustainable practices should be implementing long-term education and training of the adults and children, providing government subsidies, stationing biologist and/or conservationist representatives in each village to monitor the progress and oversee the education of each village. Perhaps even reward for turning in those who were poaching.

The practice of poaching is so cruel and unnecessary- it brings out the worst in man. It turns offspring into orphans. I think it kills the land and something of the people, too, to be able to shoot a magnificent creature that graces the land and legends of the people.

This is an orphaned rhino that was taken in by a village after another had killed its mother.

I think that perhaps, the symbol of hope shouldn't rest on eating or drinking crushed horns or body parts. Hope should be placed in these they are perhaps the individuals that need it the most, as they fight for their own survival from man, encroached territory, dwindling numbers, predators, and environmental conditions. It is a battle they must fight, but it is not a battle they should have to fight alone.