Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dogs have feelings too

I have a special affinity for dogs. Even though I had been bitten by dogs twice in my life, my love for them has never changed. I see sweetness in every dog's face, even more so if they are strays in dire need of help.

If you understand dogs, you will not fear them. If you are gentle and kind towards them, there is no reason for them to atttack you. They do so only when they feel threatened and believe me, the strays have every reason to be defensive because people do not treat them kindly.

When I first met Bodhi, he was just a pup. Can you imagine how adorable he looked as a black and white pup? He must have been bullied because he was so afraid. He hid in the undergrowth all day and ventured out only when the coast was clear. He would never allow anyone to go near him let alone cuddle him.

He had every reason to fear because even though he never caused any trouble, the AVA sent four big men with steel wires and lasso to capture him one day. His life was spared when my parents adopted him.

As you can imagine, getting him to my parents' home was a mammoth task that required many days of strategising. We finally got him settled into his new home. It took months to earn his trust again.

It helped that we had Harry, our other adopted dog, to keep him company. Even though Harry bossed him around and gave him a hard time in the beginning, it was heartwarming to see Bodhi trotting behind little Harry like a gentle giant.

In three years, he grew so close to Harry that whenever Harry went to the vet, he would run around the yard looking for his little friend. He was always overjoyed at Harry's homecoming, showering him with affectionate licks and nudges.

Harry's sudden demise has been hard on Bodhi who at this point is not aware his best friend had gone to doggie heaven. Seeing him looking desperately for his bestie breaks my heart. He came towards me looking for answers. I tried to comfort him only to hear him whimper. Then he ran towards the garden again, searching and whimpering softly hoping that Harry could hear him.

Monday, 9 December 2013

R.I.P Harry

Mom called today and told me to brace myself for what I was about to hear. "Harry is dead", she said.

I could hardly believe my ears. When I saw him barely two days ago, he was as normal as could be. By that, I mean he was bossy (over Bodhi mostly), lively, playful, affectionate, attention-seeking, adorable and as healthy as can be.

Sure, he had skin problems from time to time but nothing that the vet couldn't fix. Just this morning, he was still barking and running after visitors at the farm. Half an hour later, they found him lying motionless at the garage. He was already dead. Maybe he had a heart attack.

If you had seen Harry, you wouldn't have guessed he was a Japanese Spitz. When he first came to stay, he had a beautiful coat of white fur. Over time, we discovered he had a severe skin condition that required regular treatment. We figured that could be the reason why he was abandoned near our farm.

From time to time, his fur fell off in patches, revealing wet weeping wounds beneath. He would return from the vet shorn and looking quite naked. It was quite a comical sight.

To manage his skin condition, I bought a pair of electric clippers so we could groom him ourselves. Because I had zero talent in styling, poor Harry had to put up with the bad workmanship. Of course that didn't stop him from behaving like the leader of the pack.

While he was bossy with the other dogs, his perfect manners quickly stole our hearts. He was affectionate and such a joy to be around with, we think he was my father's favourite dog of all time. My father must have been heart broken to find his loyal companion gone this morning.

We will miss you dearly too. R.I.P Harry.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Up close and personal with Cambodian kids

I remember quite clearly how, as a teenager, I would roll my eyes whenever mom talked about the hardship she went through as a child. Life was particularly tough after World War II but the hardship did not dampen their spirits and their big family lived harmoniously under one roof.

Obviously she never failed to remind us how lucky we were which only made us scowl even more.
I've learned that it is pointless saying all these things to teenagers unless they experience it for themselves. Naturally we can't travel back in time but a trip to Siem Reap might be able to change that.

Going to Siem Reap is like going back to Singapore in the 1950s. The city, centered around the Sivutha Street and Old Market area, has colonial and Chinese-style architecture. Only the main streets are paved while the village dirt roads are filled with potholes.

You really need to go beyond the bustling city to see what life is like for the common folk in the villages.

What my mom said about going hungry and working in the farm as a young child is still happening here. The young kids walk for miles under the blazing sun (with no shoes on) to the village school and return home during sunset to continue working in the padi fields.

When I first visited Siem Reap, I was surprised to see how tiny the kids are for their age. Despite their poverty, they are bright-eyed and full of life which makes them even more endearing. I had the opportunity to be up close and personal with the Cambodian kids at the orphanage.

When you have 51 children of different ages living in a small orphanage, there is no room for favourtism or sibling rivalry. They quickly learn to share and care for each other. The older kids keep a lookout for the younger ones.

They're brought up in a loving environment with heaps of help from volunteers from all over the world, so the kids are well adjusted and taught to be respectful of others.

As they rely on the kindness of sponsors, they do not take what they have for granted. When we arrived with new beds, they all came running out to carry stuff. Almost immediately, they've got everything organised like clockwork. The floor was swept, bunkbeds were assembled and the new sleeping quarters was ready in double-quick time, thanks to teamwork.
When it was time for lunch, the kids washed their hands and lined up outside the dining room in an orderly manner.
 Then they took their place and waited for the cue before tucking into a simple meal of fish, rice and vegetable curry. I did not see any shoving, snatching or squirming.


It's close to a miracle to see kids of varying ages co-exist in such a peaceful environment. In Singapore, it's hard to see kids play together without getting too rowdy. It's the way they have been brought up. I hate to admit but we've spoilt our kids.

Of course there are always exceptions. It was amazing to see two Aussie teenagers volunteering their time during their school break. Alex (on the right) spent 6 months helping out at the orphanage. She has the biggest heart and what she has done puts most of us to shame. You can read about her journey here.