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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Thursday, 10 December 2015 13:35

The Cranky Fisherman Who Collects Rubbish in the Sea

Written by  Low Hai Loon, Klang / Translated by Chong Pei Fen

From blood donation, barefoot marathon, photo shooting in the sea, enrolment into philosophy and life education courses to scooping rubbish up from the sea, Chua Hock Boon is never restrained by his Form 2 academic qualification. [Photograph by Lai Kin Hoong]

From donating blood, running a marathon on barefoot, navigating a boat for photo shooting in the sea, enrolling into philosophy and life education courses to scooping rubbish up from the sea, Chua Hock Boon has opened a door to an enriching life, unrestrained by his level of formal education, which stopped at Form 2.


 
Before the modern disposal service was brought to Pulau Ketam, the sea was the vast disposal site, not only for daily waste, but also electrical appliances, mattresses, and so on. Although the island saw some improvements in the situation thereafter, the islanders were used to their deeply ingrained habits.
 
True to say, the residents on Pulau Ketam are “residing by the waters” and “living by the sea”. Generations after generations, they make a living out of the fishing industry, and even the rise of homestay business in recent years also rests on the island’s natural resources.
 
“In the past, I would jump into the sea and swim on a whim because back then, the water was clean and clear.” Reminiscing the fond memories of his younger years, 41-year-old Chua Hock Boon, who has a dark complexion, could not contain his smile. Nonetheless, he has also seen the unpleasantness in his 20 over years of engagement in the fishing industry.
 
Undoubtedly, the passage of time has brought a blessed life of abundance, but it has also allowed bad habits to form gradually and become a way of life. For example, the islanders were used to littering everywhere.
 
The once cerulean waters no longer emit a hue of blue. The floating rubbish had become an eyesore, permeating the air with a foul smell. “Imagine cloudy waters with floating debris at high tides, do you think I could still enjoy swimming in the sea?”
 
The sight of a polluted sea on Hock Boon’s frequent fishing trips made him ponder, “Is this how we, human beings, should repay the grace of the ocean, which breeds lives and supplies us with nutrients? It is very disrespectful of us to throw rubbish in the sea.”
 
Hence, he began to scoop up rubbish from the sea while fishing. Although that made him a laughing stock to his family and peers, he did not back out. Within two years, the amount of rubbish he could scoop up from the sea had reduced greatly, from at least ten bags to less than one bag each trip. Such heartening results had motivated and convinced him that being a resident of Pulau Ketam, it is also his duty to preserve the island with concrete actions.
 
Hock Boon attributed his pure personality to the influence of his grandmother, who migrated from China. Her selfless care and love for her three adopted children has fortified the family, to readily help one another and live in harmony. And now, Hock Boon is extending a loving heart nurtured by his grandmother to embrace the land and sea of his island home.
 
A firm and determined direction
 
“Are you mad?”
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” 
 
Those were some remarks thrown at Hock Boon in response to his attempt to clear the sea of rubbish. But that did not deter him. He said single-mindedly, “I always think that if it is the right thing to do, we should just go forward (with it).”
 
His altruistic nature also made him a regular blood donor. Whenever he learnt about a blood donation drive, he would make an effort to donate regardless of distance and how busy he was. On one occasion, he even spent RM60 on transport fares just to make it to a blood donation drive. Up till now, he has contributed 46 bags to the blood banks.
 
One thing that has never changed despite Hock Boon’s penchant for new things is his love for Pulau Ketam, his island home. He was concerned about the islanders’ habit to discard rubbish everywhere, yet he knew that it could hardly be redressed, especially with only one person’s initiative.
 
At the same time, he responded to volunteer Sow Lang’s call to adopt a vegetarian meal a day; and from there, he learnt about the concepts of environmental advocacy in communities. Realizing that it was the answer he was looking for, he aspired to join the volunteers to set up a recycling centre on the island.
 
Turn knowledge into wisdom
 
In the initial stage when the recycling centre was first established, Hock Boon and fellow volunteers divided the wooden cabin into several zones for different categories of recyclables. During the daytime, there was always a pungent smell from the small glass fibre manufacturing factory behind the centre.
 
To encourage the islanders to recycle, Hock Boon and volunteers placed large baskets at two conspicuous spots on the island, so that they could discard any recyclables conveniently. Once the baskets were full, he would send them to the recycling centre for further handling.
 
Hock Boon shared, “The beginning was the toughest. There were very few volunteers. On my off days, I would do recycling after having my meals. It was very common that I stayed and worked passed one o’clock in the morning.”
 
Thanks to the volunteers’ dedication, the recycling centre has transformed a great deal in the past four years. It was renovated and extended after the factory relocated. Recently, the roof at the front of the centre was extended to provide shades for sorting work. Apart from facilities, volunteers also share about environmental protection with those who visit the recycling centre, and encourage them to make recycling an integral part of life.
 
In addition, they also came up with various creative ideas for recycling. For example, the use of labelled wire mesh cages as recyclable collection bins. The idea originated from the experience of Hock Boon’s friend, who visited a school in Thailand and found that the students converted fishing cages into recycling bins by adding planks to the structures.
 
Hock Boon then asked his friend to produce similar recycling bins with only the fishing cages so that they can be easily transported. The end product, which weighs 5 kg each, allows the islanders the convenience to drop off recyclables. Due to the positive response, the number of wire mesh cages placed around the island has increased from the initial 2 to 14 today.
 
Although volunteers could now transport a full-load of resources to the recycling centre using only a trolley, Hock Boon revealed that it requires some experience and skills to handle the task. On rainy days, the soaked recyclables, such as clothing and books, would weigh more and a cage could go above 20 kg.
 
After collecting and sorting out the recyclables, volunteers would need to ferry them to Port Klang. At one juncture, Hock Boon was much bothered by the transportation issues and did not know how he should pack the recyclables. The normal plastics bags are prone to fall apart after being exposed to weather, thus would add burden to volunteers. The plastic bags provided by volunteers from Klang, on the other hand, were not transparent and that made it difficult for volunteers to identify the contents.
 
Then, some used fishing nets among the recyclables caught his eyes, and the idea to convert them into bulk bags came to mind. In addition to solving the problem, the fishing nets with good airing also prevent the recyclables from emitting a smelly odour. His creativity has indeed made the recycling operations easier to handle.
 
Over the past four years, Hock Boon has taken environmental advocacy as his mission, in the hope of bringing some positive changes to his island home. He would still feel the stress sometimes, but whenever physical and mental exhaustions kicked in, he would reflect on his initial aspiration and spur himself on.
 
This year, Hock Boon, who has a daughter, quit his fishing career completely. Instead, he supports his family with what used to be his side-income job, by providing services in electrical, plumbing and air-conditioner repairs. In his free time, he would go to the recycling centre to manage the resources. He said firmly that what is more important hereafter is to inculcate environmental education to the islanders, and drive them on to join the volunteers in environmental advocacy besides doing recycling themselves, so that eventually, the awareness can spread to the nearby fishing village.
 
 
Pushing his bicycle towards the pier, Hock Boon noticed a used cup on the handrail. He picked it up and dropped it into the bicycle basket. “If I don’t pick it up, it will soon fall into the sea,” he said. That small gesture showed how much he loves and treasures the island and the Earth.
 
 

 
Transporting wire mesh cages back to the recycling centre is one of the duties of Chua Hock Boon. Though not easy, he has done it joyfully. [Photograph by Lai Kin Hoong]   Although not highly educated, Chua Hock Boon’s sharing has always been able to touch the hearts of the audience. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]

Transporting wire mesh cages back to the recycling centre is one of the duties of Chua Hock Boon. Though not easy, he has done it joyfully. [Photograph by Lai Kin Hoong]
 
Although not highly educated, Chua Hock Boon’s sharing has always been able to touch the hearts of the audience. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
It has been four years since the set-up of the island recycling centre, and Chua Hock Boon’s passion for recycling and love for the island has remained unchanged. [Photograph by Ng Su Lim]    

It has been four years since the set-up of the island recycling centre, and Chua Hock Boon’s passion for recycling and love for the island has remained unchanged. [Photograph by Ng Su Lim]