Saturday, 25 February 2012

Backyard Aquaponics - 24 Feb 2012

We were fascinated to see our friend, Augustine, operating an aquaponic system successfully right in his home garden. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (fish) and hydroponics (plants). We then googled to find out more about this new field. An eye-opener for us especially the children.

An organic partnership in aquaponics:-
  • the fish provides the waste nutrients to support plant growth and
  • the plant growth helps to maintain water quality and provides food for the fish

Augustine has both concrete tank as well as fibre glass tanks for his fish. He is not trained in this field, but he learned it all from the Internet.

He has more than 300 fish, both ornamental (eg koi) and edible types, such as tilapia, catfish, baung, kelah, soon hock and krai. Waste nutrients from the fish must be filtered out of the water. To reduce the toxicity of the water for the fish, the water will pass through grow beds, which are simple filtration systems consisting of gravel and worms.

A brilliant way to deal with solid build up in aquaponics is the use of worms, which turns the solid organic matter into a form that can be utilised by the plants.

An aquaponic system is like a mini eco-system. Without an effective means of maintaining water quality, nothing will work at all. It is very organic, there's no chemical input, no regular water volume changes, no complex mechanical filtration and water purification equipment. Everything required to maintain water quality has to be achieved within the system, not by technological equipment.

Natural fertilisers from the fish waste for plant growth.....
Plants are grown in grow beds (which are the filtration systems) and water is pumped from the fish tank into the grow beds, draining through the gravel, and back into the fish tank. The water can be reused and only need to be replaced when it is lost through evaporation.

Different types of plants growing in a symbiotic environment like lady's fingers, tomato, leafy vegetables, herbs, spring onion etc. The plants are also natural feed for the fish so there's no need to buy any chemical fish food.

The submerged roots of the plants provide food for the fish.... so no need to worry about feeding the fish when on holidays!

But more importantly, the roots provide a large surface area for the accumulation of bacteria. Bacteria is key in the conversion of ammonia from fish waste to nitrate, ie the nitrification process, in order to reduce toxicity in the water by allowing easier removal of nitrate through absorption by the plants.

Natural composting from kitchen waste.......

 Other healthy plants that benefit from the mini eco-system......

Producing food from the garden.......fresh steamed tilapia, and because these fish fed on organic plants, they're very tasty indeed. Food for thought - should we attempt to start this small scale aquaponics in our backyard!!!!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Brickfields' Soup Kitchen, KL - 18 Feb 2012

We had heard much about the street ministry or soup kitchen that we decided to experience it for ourselves, as well as to introduce such community service to our urban children. The children these days spend too much time in schools and tuition / enrichment centres, it is good to open their eyes to see some reality in the community they live in.  

We went to the Samaritan Ministries' Soup Kitchen in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, the place which is a potpourri of different walks of lives. For the last 3 and a half years, the Samaritan Ministries has faithfully reached out to the homeless, hungry and needy in Brickfields through various programmes such as free meals, medical clinic and a Drop-in Centre.

The Samaritan Ministries is a joint effort of YMCA Kuala Lumpur, the Kenosis Home and Trinity Methodist church, Petaling Jaya. YMCA provides financial support and the location. The Kenosis Home is a drug rehabilitation centre and their residents take care of the cooking and logistics, whereas Trinity church provides the financial and material support as well as recruits volunteers to carry out the work.

Pre-briefing for Volunteers
There were some students from a nearby college as well as individuals, both independent and those from the organisations that support this ministry. The number of volunteers may be different every week.

Our children took some time to warm up to the work, and absorb all the things they saw there.  

There is a core group of volunteers that organises the food distribution and on-site operations.

At 1.30pm, lunch is served, consisting of rice, vegetables, a portion of meat, banana and a glass of tea.

'Teh Tarik' session after lunch provides time for fellowship with one another.

An on-site clinic is available for those who need medical attention. A volunteer medical team will attend to those in need, and referrals are made to hospitals when there is a need.

More than 50 people were present for the lunch yesterday. Attendance may vary between 50 to 100 people for the Saturday session. Brickfields has a large blind community and they will be given the priority for the table seating.

The whole session was done by around 2.30pm. There is a Drop-in centre nearby so the needy can check in to take shower and rest for the day. It is a day centre and the needy will have to check out at the stipulated time in the evening.

When we were leaving, it started to rain and we saw that the organisers and volunteers drenched in sweat and rain. It was not a glamorous or easy work. It requires commitment, perseverance and lots of compassion. We plan to go back to the community work with our children again.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds

Reviewed by Xian Jin

The title of my book review is The Wright Brothers. There are 145 pages in this book. This book is about two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who love building things. Before the Wright brothers start building things, their mother teaches them about 'wind resistance'. Wind resistance is the force that pushes against an object while travelling. The Wright brothers build many things, such as the fastest sled in town, a printing press, a folding machine and many more. As they grow, they learn to fix bicycles. The Wright brothers do not buy new bicycles- they buy old parts of bicycles and fix together to make a bicycle.

However, both Willbur and Orville are sick when they are young. Wilbur suffers a facial injury while playing hockey, which prevents him from continuing his education. Orville has a disease that cannot be cured by the doctors at that time. Orville has to stay in bed for at least one year. For the next three years he continues his education informally through reading in his father's large library. Many people think that when the Wright brothers are sick, they cannot do anything but, this is the time where they gain knowledge to help them in their flying machine in the future.

Both of them have been through hard times....but that do not stop them from going closer to their dream. They try to make a flying machine during their spare time. Then, on December 17, 1903, Orville Wright took off the world's first flying machine! The Wright brother's airplane was one of the most amazing and life-changing inventions in American history.

After reading this story, I learned that I should not give up on things easily when something is wrong. I also learned that we should help and share things with one another, rather than just ignoring each other's ideas. I recommend this book to everyone that love to read.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A new chapter - 3 Feb 2012

Posting by Xian Jin:

Friday 3rd marked the end of a chapter of my life. I left my primary school to a learning centre with mixed feelings. School took up a big part of my life. I went to a primary school that had followed the local education syllabus. I've enjoyed every moment of my school life. There was minimal homework and I did not go to any tuition that repeat what was taught in school. I enjoyed the pains and joy of growing up together including sharing our ups and downs, discovering our hobbies and interests, playing sports, doing homework and assignment in groups and doing fun and crazy things. I think the most important thing is the relationships I made with teachers and friends.

Many students think that school is boring and stressful. They spend a lot of time doing homework, going to tuition and studying for exams. There's another unschooling group who does not follow any curriculum and learn at their own pace. They also pursue learning in an independent way through natural life experiences. One blog has a very meaningful saying, "At the heart of it, it is about learning- the diversity and complexity of learning - and not whether one is schooled or homeschooled."

Many asked me why I would choose to go "homeschooling"..... especially when I would be sitting for UPSR at the end of the year. My parents explained both options of schooling and "homeschooling" to me. There is no right or wrong answers .... I think. It is a decision I made with my parents. "Homeschooling" is a very general term. I am going to a learning centre to prepare me for the IGCSE O level programme.

I'm now looking forward to the beginning of another chapter of my life - the new friends that I will meet and the relationships that I will make. But I will not forget the friends in my primary school.

My standard 6 friends.....

Wishes from friends and teachers

I want to thank all my teachers and friends who have contributed in my learning all these years in school. My apologies to all if I have caused you unhappiness in any way.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Wet Caving Adventure - 25 Jan 2012

The wondrous cave in Malaysia - Gua Tempurung in Gopeng, Perak!!!!! What is unique about this cave is - it's a natural limestone with an underground river passing through it.

We experienced our first caving adventure as a family on the 3rd day of Chinese New Year. It was a busy time in Gua Tempurung due to the holiday season. There were 4 types of guided cave tours according to the level of difficulty. We chose Level 3 - ie the platform dry tour as well as the river adventure. It's a journey of about 2.4km from entrance to Golden Flowstone (Platform 3), Top of the World (Platform 5) and back through the underground river. Our cave ranger was Salleh, and he said it would take about 2 1/2 hours.

Located about 25km south of Ipoh, it is made up of 5 huge domes that resembled coconut shells, hence the name 'Tempurung' came about. Each dome has different formations of stalagmites and stalactites and is also different in temperature, water level, content of limestone and marble.

A walkway and platforms offer visitors' the convenience and safety.

The platform dry tour provide basic information of the cave.

We saw various stalagmite and stalactite formations, many of which are still growing! We also saw the remains of some tools from tin-mining activities in the cave few decades ago.

Some stalagmites and stalactites resemble certain figures and beings, depending on your imagination.....

The end of dry tour and the steep, almost vertical slope leading to the underground cavity frightened the living daylights out of us. It was pitch dark except for some head lights, and there was not even a rope to hold on to! My mom-in-law doing the last part of the slide down..... I was still at the top contemplating to turn back with my boys.

After the slope, we have to plunge into a hole, big enough for one person.... imagining what would be ahead of us after this.....

The beginning of another experience, the wet underground river caving adventure! It was pitch dark and we did not take any pictures of this challenging and strenuous tour, most important in my mind was to get out alive with my brave little boy tagging behind. Some parts were only less than 2 feets in height and we have to get down on all fours and crawl out! My older boys were enjoying every moment of it!! The adults have to be cautious not to hit their heads and backs on the stalactites. We were so thankful for the new friends in our group who were most helpful and encouraging us all the way.

Finally, we saw "light" at the end of tunnel.....

FUN for three generations.......

Soaking wet after the tour.... Our Level 3 group under the ranger Salleh comprised the youngest and oldest members - Ming, 6 years old and my mother-in-law, 71 years old.

Very good team-building activity together for family........ the boys want to do it again, and I'll be happy to wait for them at the stream at the end of the tunnel.

Chinese New Year - 22 Jan 2012

Tuan Nian is an important family tradition celebrated on the eve of the new lunar year. We joined the rest of the family members to make our way back to Ipoh for this Tuan Nian or reunion dinner. In many ways, the celebration has changed in modern times. Now most families opt to have their Tuan Nian in restaurants rather than 'home-cooked'. At dinner table, what used to be "we" now become everything "i"..... i-pads and i-phone and we even bring our friends to our Tuan Nian via facebooks and chats, taking picture and updating every detail. Technology has made an impact to our celebration, the way we eat together, the way we talk and listen to one another.

But.... not all things technology could replace.....

Fun things the boys did with their cousins......

Children were allowed to stay up late and enjoy the last hours of the old lunar year. The sky would be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers.

Sparklers are popular fireworks for children . Moving sparklers quickly can create attractive patterns.
Chess game with different generations....

There is this Cicada outside the house. You know, Cicada only could be found when the Chinese New Year is approaching........and Cicada is the loudest singing insect!

Helping out before reunion dinner......

The annual Hah's clan gathering.....

Chinese New Year is marked by visits to kins, relatives and friends......

Dragon dance is more popular than lion dance because this is the year of Dragon in the lunar calendar. The performers carried the image of the dragon on poles. The lead performer would lift, dip, thrust, sweep the head of the dragon and the rest of them would manipulate the body.

Some believe that these dances bring good luck...
"God Bless" instead of good luck.
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