SUN­DAY VIBES

New Straits Times - - SUNDAY VIBES -

THE blaz­ing mid-morn­ing heat in the heart of Petaling Street does noth­ing to dim the riot of colours inthis­partofthecity. Chi­na­town, they said. We’ll meet at Chi­na­town. Nar­rowly dodg­ing a ch­est­nut seller, I’ve been cir­cling the area twice al­ready. “Flow­ers miss?” “Hand­bags... branded... mu­rah!” Calls ring out. The roads are fill­ing with peo­ple. Shop­pers, tourists, fam­i­lies, youths walk leisurely around the area. It’s a work day, but there’s no sense of ur­gency in the air. It’s busi­ness as usual on a sunny Mon­day morn­ing.

Jalan Sul­tan is at the heart of KL’s bustling Chi­na­town, just at the bot­tom of the chaotic Petaling street mar­ket. This is street food par­adise with both pave­ments packed with hawk­ers cook­ing over blaz­ing woks, caul­drons bub­bling away, and hun­gry din­ers sit­ting on metal stools or­der­ing dif­fer­ent dishes from each stall.

But food is fur­thest from my mind at the mo­ment. It’s al­ready 11.30am — al­most time for the lunch crowd to start throng­ing the busy street. And I’m still lost. Chi­na­town is slowly tak­ing on a form of a strange trea­sure quest and I’m here in search of an artist, an ac­tivist and a mu­ral that prom­ises to take my breath away.

There’s some­thing brew­ing at this side of the town, and it has noth­ing to do with food. Green­peace Malaysia, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with award-win­ning artist Lee Hui Ling, has come up with a daz­zling new mu­ral at KL’s his­toric Chi­na­town dis­trict. The mu­ral is part of a global art in­ter­ven­tion en­ti­tled “Wings of Par­adise” which marks the start of Green­peace’s world­wide cam­paign to stop the de­struc­tion of In­done­sia’s rain­for­est for palm oil.

“We’re across the road, ac­tu­ally,” says Heng Kiah Chun, pub­lic en­gage­ment cam­paigner for Green­peace Malaysia. He’s stand­ing there just across the road wav­ing at me, with mo­bile in hand. Quest com­pleted. Ac­tivist found, artist wait­ing in­side and mu­ral is about to be dis­cov­ered. “It’s not far from here,” re­as­sures Heng. It’s lit­tle won­der I couldn’t find the place. The cafe is a lit­tle non­de­script nook tucked away in a pre-war build­ing sans sign­board. “Thank you for com­ing,” says Heng solemnly and we walk in to greet the smil­ing Lee, seated at the far end of the cafe.

Green­peace and art? I ask wryly. Heng merely smiles. He gets what I’m talk­ing about. Green­peace gets a lot of flak for its ag­gres­sive, em­bar­rass­ing cam­paigns against cor­po­ra­tions, but the sim­ple truth is that they of­ten work. But this is what Green­peace is all about — talk­ing the talk

and walk­ing the walk.

It all started when a group of Amer­i­can and Cana­dian jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists, in­spired by the Quaker ide­ol­ogy of bear­ing wit­ness to so­cial prob­lems, banded to­gether and sailed a small ves­sel to protest the US govern­ment’s test­ing of nu­clear weapons beneath the is­land of Am­chitka off the coast of Alaska in 1971. Their coali­tion — then called the Don’t Make a Wave Com­mit­tee — sparked the be­gin­nings of Green­peace, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that years later has 40 of­fices in­ter­na­tion­ally and takes on some of the world’s most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal and cor­po­rate en­ti­ties in the name of pro­tect­ing the planet.

Protest­ing ev­ery­thing from nu­clear test­ing to ocean dump­ing of toxic and ra­dioac­tive waste, to whal­ing, and the de­struc­tion of an­cient forests has brought the or­gan­i­sa­tion up against gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions world­wide — one rea­son why Green­peace doesn’t so­licit cor­po­rate or po­lit­i­cal fund­ing. “You don’t ac­cept do­na­tions from cor­po­ra­tions?” I ask again, aghast.

“No we don’t. We get our fund­ing through pub­lic do­na­tions. Fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence is core to our work and one of our great­est strengths. It gives us the free­dom to take on en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion wher­ever and when­ever it oc­curs without con­flict of in­ter­est,” says Heng.

For this global art in­ter­ven­tion ti­tled “Wings of Par­adise”, Green­peace has launched a world­wide cam­paign to stop the de­struc­tion of In­done­sia’s rain­for­est for palm oil. Ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by Green­peace, the palm oil in­dus­try has al­ready de­stroyed large ar­eas of rain­forests in In­done­sia and is now en­croach­ing into the pris­tine trop­i­cal rain­for­est land­scapes of Pa­pua to ex­pand its op­er­a­tions. If not stopped, this can lead to one of our planet’s most pre­cious ecosys­tems be­ing wiped out.

“The fact re­mains that en­vi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion has got ev­ery­thing to do with us, al­though the fo­cus of the cam­paign is on In­done­sia,” says Heng. We’re all af­fected, he points out, re­fer­ring to the peren­nial haze is­sue that be­sets sur­round­ing coun­tries in­clud­ing Malaysia. Burn­ing forests and land in In­done­sia has be­come an an­nual phe­nom­e­non but the fires have cre­ated a dan­ger­ous haze over Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. Satel­lite im­ageries show that sig­nif­i­cant parts of the fires lie within palm

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