Category Archives: Sustainability


I blogged a short time ago about social shopping sites.

The latest one to join the crowd is a site with a difference: ethicalDeal seeks to offer deals from local, green companies—‘to make green mainstream’. Each deal also offers a short section on the featured company’s social and environmental commitments, giving buyers a chance to learn more about local companies’ ‘green’ mandates that they might not otherwise think to look for.

(On another note, I left a comment for DealRadar (a site that compiles the deals from all local social shopping sites taht they know of, and offers it in one scannable page) to add ethicalDeal to their list. I got an email thanking me for the tip and they did add it!

So I have changed the world in my own small way, har dee har har.)

Walking on grass

Growing up, walking on grass was just not something we did — there was so little of it, after all, in our sky-scraping city with its parks of concrete. Grass is something precious there; something to be looked at, but never walked upon. Coupled with our mothers’ fears of us picking up dirt and parasites (but mostly dirt), it doesn’t surprise me to reflect on how I have never really walked upon the earth until recently.

And yet it is one of the most basic acts we know in our bones. An act our ancestors did without a second thought, to walk on the ground that gives rise to each of us. We follow them in their footsteps with each pressing of a sole onto the soil, each lifting up and setting down again, our skin to the earth’s.

An act I have been relearning in this past summer, taught out of me by the misgivings of people who have been out of touch with the thing they speak of for so long, they come to fear it.

The dirt is really nothing, in itself.

A brushing of the foot before you slip it into your shoe, a cleaning or a washing away with clear running water when you get home — it is something, to have clear running water at our beck and call.

It doesn’t always match up to what I think it will be.

The closest I came to knowing grass as a child, was by reading of it, the same way most of my ‘knowledge’ is acquired. But none of it is true knowing, not when you’ve never really felt the supple, forgiving blades for what they are, not when you know the difference between sparse, thinly growing grass and thick lush patches — and I used to think that it would always be thick and lush. That it would be a soft, springy carpet that would feel divine to walk upon, because that’s how my childhood stories romanticized them. And once in a blue moon, if I am lucky (or if someone has watered their garden to no end), that’s what I get. More often than not, however, it is more like the grass I walked upon today: in some parts soft, in most parts tougher, with more individual strands you can feel, but which bend under your weight regardless.

It gives me a kind of peace to walk like this. To fill in some of the gaps of what I never knew, and will never know in the same way as one who grows up with the knowledge of the land as their birthright instinctively does.

And I will have to learn, all my life, what others take for granted, and will have to remember, with great effort, how to care for this place that we live on. This place, this earth, I did not even know how much I cared for until I came to see and touch and listen to with the senses of my own body, that had once known nothing more than what other humans had created out of stone and steel and concrete — amazing, wondrous things, but creations with no sense of context when seen away, apart from, the rest of the world that we live in.

Each time I reach out and touch the earth for myself, I forge another link in this new, and somehow ancient, relationship. I am (re)discovering the meaning of grass by learning of its being; this grass that is one of my namesakes in the language of my human heritage. These slender blades and open fields tell me something of who I am, and teach me something of what I always hoped to believe: that we belong here, here in this world. Not on Mars or on any other distant planet, awesome as it would be to reach those places. Here, on our own blue and green earth.

Sustainable Living?

We live in an age when awareness about our world increases every year and quizzes regarding our carbon footprints abound.

For example, I did one evaluation that told me that if everyone used up as many resources as I do, we’d need some four or five planets. Talk about a guilt trip.

So I began web-crawling for ways within my power to reduce my carbon footprint. Ways like changing my diet, my clothing, the things I buy and not ways like how to build my house. I have no money for that.

It started off really sensibly, I thought. I discovered alternative diets besides the already known ones of organic food, vegetarianism and veganism: local eating, slow food and raw food to name a few. I also discovered that it’s time-consuming, that some diets may have a few negative effects unless watched carefully, and that maybe local eating doesn’t consume less energy than food produced on the other side of the world. One example given is that meat produced in New Zealand and then transported to the UK is still more energy-efficient than meat produced in the UK, so local eating would have to be on the grounds of a healthier lifestyle, fresher food, or supporting the local community. Reasons like those. Continue reading

Stars and Sunshine!

After straining my little head (actually it’s out of proportion, I think, and I just can’t decide if it’s bigger or smaller than usual) for a week, I have managed to complete the major parts of my homework due in this week. I can breathe now! For a few hours, anyway.

And yes, I like stars and sunshine very much. I am madly happy whenever it’s sunny. One of my disappointments is that I don’t know how to recognise any constellations. There were never enough stars in HK — or more like the lights were always too bright to see many — for me to know them. I was more excited about the stars during the lunar eclipse than seeing a red moon, the skies were so clear. I don’t even know where the North Star is, which is (according to literature) The Star Everyone Should Know. I’m plotting to amend that some day.

Right now I am more taken up by food and gardening. I’ve been madly obsessed with the 100-Mile Diet ever since I heard the talk and went off on a research-binge for ways to live this, so now I have many more resources under my bookmarks page. On the gardening side, herbs are my new interest. I’m cautious about how successful I’ll be when I get around to planting them — speaking of which, must find somewhere to plant them, and also find the seeds or whatever to actually plant with — because I tend to forget to water my plants. My current pot plant, whose name is Celestia, was made up of bright orange blossoms, but she’s currently withering away. Maybe the ability to eat my plants will motivate me to water them… Or I could always leave them to the Vancouver rains.

I will have a chat with my mother about this. I’m going over to stay with my mother for the weekend, so this may be toodles. Of course, with the Great Internet being what it is, I might be online anyway, in which case —


The UBC Farm

Farming brings to mind the beginnings of human settlements. Ancient, in other words. “Common”. Waking up at 4 am. Hard work. Dirt. Lots of it.  And if, like me, you studied history at any point in your life, lots of half-starved, ignorant peasants.

In my mind, there were only two kinds of farms: the traditional, subsistence farms, and industrial ones.

One of the best things UBC has done for me is to have the UBC Farm. That was my first experience of learning outside the classroom, here. I went to visit it last August as part of my ASSIST (now Jump Start) orientation. For anyone who has ever thought like me, or who just wants a new experience, I really encourage you to go to the Farm.

It’s not in the least bit dirty or foul-smelling, two of my initial fears. The only animals there are chickens and they are very well-behaved. Legend has it that the manager of the farm knows all the chickens by their birthdates. The chickens are there to remove grubs; they’re an organic solution to pest problems. The entire Farm is organic and it’s wonderfully green in the summer.

There is also a Mayan garden, tragically called “Mayans in Exile”. It’s run by two Mayans who left their home. They talked to us about their history and their garden. It’s a grievous story, and you come to admire them so much.

We had different “stations” when we visited and had people talk not just about the Farm, but also of politics and the environment and all the wider issues. The manager, in particular, seems to be on top of everything. My complete ignorance on these topics made me realise how completely naive I was to think that farming isn’t as “intelligent” as other white-collar jobs. The only thing I was right about is that it takes a lot of hard work to be a good farmer — but so does everything. I learned more by going to the Farm than anything I’d learned in “class” at the orientation. Even now, none of my classes draw across so many disciplines to talk about real-world problems and possible solutions as the staff at the Farm did.

The UBC Farm is the only one of its kind in the city of Vancouver. In the summer, there are fresh-produce markets. There are volunteer programmes available, and educational classes for the young. Some courses at UBC are designed to include the hands-on experience and work that you can only get from going to a farm. It is very much a student-driven initiative to maintain the valuable experiences you get from going there, and it’s also a part of the community.

Were the UBC Farm to disappear, there will really be no other opportunity to create a new one again, yet that’s the very real possibility right now. Basically the university is considering to have housing built there. I don’t even know if it’s the university building housing there, or if they’re planning on selling it to a redevelopment company. Although I would like to have housing, I’m not willing to sacrifice the Farm for it.

Before you decide to go along with having housing built there, or even before you decide to side with me and keep the Farm, find out more about it yourself. Visit their website. Get in contact with Friends of the Farm. Most of all, go there in person. Go without expectations. It’s winter; I haven’t seen it and I daresay it’s not as green and lush as the height of summer. Don’t listen to my raving or you might be disappointed. I come from a very non-farming community and the only farms I’d been to before really were the subsistence onces I talk about with so much distaste. Go for a field trip. It’s definitely something different to do on a weekday.