Malaysia, Mosquitos and Markets

March 2016

I was delighted to attend a week-long innovation workshop in Malaysia entitled ‘Building resilience to climate change in Malaysia through innovative and sustainable agricultural technologies’.  Nope, my focus isn’t agriculture nor climate change, Malaysia or even technology but it is innovation and chancing my luck I thought that design could make a valuable contribution to the conversation. Luckily so did the selection committee and I was offered a place to attend.

Funded by The Newton Fund and run in collaboration with The University of Reading’s Walker Institute, UK, and Crops For the Future (CFF), Malaysia, the workshop brought together early career researchers from across the UK and Malaysia to work on developing innovative measures that to help build capacity to support climate change resilience initiatives in Malaysia. The workshop aimed to provide the opportunity for interdisciplinary and multi‐cultural working, improving understanding of how researchers and organisations work and developing the skills required to form effective partnerships.

The five-day programme began with an introduction to the Malaysian context, with presentations across conservation agriculture, climate change, agribusiness and rural wellbeing followed by poster presentations by the thirty-two attending participants. The group was particularly strong across the science disciplines, with twenty-six natural scientists, five social scientists and then me. One wee design researcher from the Highlands of Scotland. I was certainly the wildcard and design was certainly regarded as the ‘unknown quantity’ but it did create a starting point for some very interesting conversations.

For the rest of the week we worked in cross-disciplinary teams to develop a research proposal, supported by further presentations on writing research proposals; securing funding; tools for applied research and more specific workshops including GIS software for research planning. A definite highlight was the many field trips. While perhaps a common occurence in physical science research, these are a novelty in design research! We had an opportunity to really experience the local area, from being taken on a site tour of Kuala Selangor, trekking through waist-high water in the peat swamp forest, visiting a local homestay, meeting local crafts people and a tour of a rice plantation. We also took a riverboat night tour to see the beautiful fireflies within Kampung Huantan Firefly Park. One of the few remaining natural sites of fireflies, there was something surreal about paddling out in a small wooden boat, in the dark, to see the fireflies line the shore.

We were housed at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysian Campus, not dissimilar to any campus in the UK aside from being completely dry (alcohol free). The tiny single bed initiated flashbacks to my days of student halls although I’m glad the midges of Aberdeen weren’t as feared as the Malaysian Denge Fever mosquitos, I near suffocated each morning as I attempted to spray every inch of skin with insect repellent. From the outside I imagine myself doing the kind of graceful swish of a body spray advert. Realistically it was probably more some akin to an interpretive dance performed with bare feet on hot coals as I shut my eyes, held my breath and sprayed! Seriously, if the Denge didn’t get me then surely the after effect of inhalation would, that spray is horrible. And the flipping beasties still managed to find any skin I’d failed to cover before ran out of air. Thankfully I’m alive to tell the tale, the Denge didn’t get me.

The weather was hot, amazingly hot but of course humid. I’d forgotten just what humid heat is like and was grateful for CFF’s unique headquarters. Designed to be cool without the need for air conditioning, the dome like structures are beautiful.  At the end of the workshop I had some time to explore Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area. The LRT and Monotral are easy to use and the city is very accessible. I did the usual sights: Petronas Towers; Merdeka Square; Jamek Mosque; Thean Hou Temple; Sri Mahamariamman Temple and then took the train out to the Batu Caves. I’m not sure I had the spiritual experience I was expecting, actually I’m not sure what I was expecting.   The statue ofMurugan, a Hindi deity, is huge (at 140ft, it’s the world’s tallest), the steps are many (272 to be exact), the wild monkeys cute but vicious (similar to those at the top of the rock in Gibraltar) and the caves are, well caves. But I’m glad I went. The rest of the time I spent rummaging through KL’s fantastic markets and eating fantastic, authentic and cheap street food.

Top tip, you must visit Jalan Alor for some amazing culinary delights!

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