Lifestyle Lifestyle en Crime does pay Lees, who has been living in Kuala Lumpur since 2007 with his wife and three children, was an investment banker in Hong Kong (where he grew up), before moving to Malaysia.

During an interview with theSun, Lees said that he started writing his first novel in 2002.
"When you start writing, you have to have confidence to find your own voice," said Lees. "For a while, you don't know where you are really going."

His first book, The Winter Beauty, published by Random House Germany, didn't take off in the way he expected. His writing style then was described as "flowery", which was something the German market liked.
"When I look back and read what I wrote, it seems like a different person wrote that book."

The Winter Beauty was based on his mother's family. His maternal great-grandfather was Eurasian, while his maternal great-grandmother was Russian. Lees said his maternal great-grandmother's family fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) and fled to Harbin and then moved to Shanghai. The story was essentially a romance amidst politics, family disapproval, and war.

Lees' mother and grandparents were forced to leave China after the Cultural Revolution, packing their valuables and moving to then-British colony Hong Kong. Lees' father (who passed away two years ago) fell in love with Lees' mother during an assignment in Hong Kong, married her, and never left.

Lees' other books are the historical novels The House of Trembling Leaves, set in old Malaya, and The Fan Tan Players, set in old Macao. "I always wanted to write crime," said Lees, but was told by his agent that it was a hard genre to get into, and that competition was great. So he was encouraged to write what he knew.

"Writing historical fiction is something I can do but it is very, very time consuming because of all the research.
"Also your style of writing is very different; it is more descriptive." Lees described himself as having a writing style more suited to crime novels.

Eventually, he was ready for his first crime novel, and the result was The Bone Ritual, published in 2016.
His agent took the book to publishing company Constable, and it made him a good offer.

"Sometimes, you know you have a story to tell, and with The Bone Ritual, I had a story to tell," Lees explained.
The Bone Ritual introduced us to Inspector Ruud Pujasumatra, a police officer in Jakarta investigating the murder of a middle-aged woman in the slums who is found tied to her bed, with her left hand amputated and a mahjong tile in her throat.
Ruud's personal life is a mess after his wife left him for another man.

One tiny ray of hope comes in the form of old friend Imke Sneijder from Amsterdam whom he hasn't seen in 15 years. Oddly enough, the case he is investigating is linked to the reason why Imke originally left Indonesia.

The follow-up to The Bone Ritual is The Burnings, where Ruud investigates the death of an Australian woman named Jill Parker, whose scorched remains were discovered in her car. What seems to be a routine homicide turns into something else, as more evidence and bodies show up pointing to the fact that the killer is targeting Christians. Ruud also has to endure political cover-ups in his quest to find the truth.

Asked why he chose Jakarta for his books, Lees said: "I find Jakarta an intriguing city partly because it is so large and so sprawling.
"I have been there so many times and I feel there is an underbelly that is not dark or evil. I find there is a vibe there that is conducive to [telling] a story. I feel that there are secrets within secrets."

Like Lees himself, protagonist Ruud is Eurasian. "I question myself and other authors who write about someone who may not come from the same ethnic background as them. If I made Ruud Indonesian through and through, people would say he does not know because he is not Indonesian. I wanted to give him some authenticity."

Ruud also faces a common problem experienced by policemen all over the world – political interference in high-profile cases.
Lees said that he knows many former policemen in Indonesia who helped provide him insights into what their world is like.
In fact, one of his characters in the books is based on a real person who is a fan of the hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

"In The Bone Ritual, Ruud comes across as a very nice man who is in a very tough job. Unfortunately, you see [that] in The Burnings, he is slowly turning darker," said Lees, who said Ruud's saga will be a trilogy.
Lees added that with every book he writes, he strives to do better than the last.

"The only thing I can tell potential writers is, don't be scared. Just get it on paper, write the first draft as quickly as you can, and then go back and jazz it up if you have to. "

Lees is currently recharging his batteries, and will write a follow-up to The Burnings when he is ready.]]>
Lifestyle Wed, 21 Mar 2018 02:31:40 +0000 S. Indra Sathiabalan 534301 at
A second chance
Ong, now 21, said: “I accidentally sprained my left ankle in school [when I fell] into a small drain.

“The pain was still there weeks later, and so my family started to seek treatment, hoping that [physicians] could help me.

“One day, we decided to go to a private physiotherapist. She recommended that I do some exercises to strengthen my legs.”

Despite having stated that she was too tired and already in pain, Ong said the physiotherapist “got carried away”, and pushed her beyond her limits.

After that, Ong had difficulty standing and walking. She sought help at a hospital, but it was too late.

While Ong had a prior history of walking difficulties, this was the first time that she completely lost her mobility.

“Sadly, after a lot of clinical tests, a [proper] diagnosis is still yet to be found, and my health got worse along the way.”

Ong was unable to sit for her SPM, and dropped out of secondary school.

She recalled: “To me it [was] like the world had ended. I was feeling so depressed that I cried almost every day.

“I thought it would be better to just end my life so that I wouldn’t trouble my parents. I started blaming myself, and then blaming the whole world.”

She eventually accepted her situation, and learned that life still goes on.

“Although it took me quite some time, I slowly learned to face my problems head-on, and accept myself for who I am. I chose to fight for myself, I chose to love myself.”

It was up to Ong make the most of her situation. “I do whatever exercises I can, based on my own capability [to] maintain or improve my health ... I believe in making a miracle happen by working diligently at it.”

The internet-savvy Ong also turned to Shopee in 2015, taking pre-orders and selling women’s apparel under the ID Little Flower Closet.

“Every day, I will check the inquiries from my customers, check the orders [for] the day, and then order [stock] from my suppliers.

“I will also do research on the latest women’s fashion trends if I have some free time.

“Later on, when the stocks arrive, my mother will be the one helping me to pack the orders, and go to the post office to send the parcels out.

“In other words, I do all the online stuff, while my mother does the offline stuff.

“At first, I just wanted to use Shopee as another platform [to] expand my online business.

“But eventually, I chose to stay with Shopee because it takes zero commissions, [provides] free shipping, and implements a Shopee Guarantee (releasing payment to the seller once the buyer confirms receiving the order), which helps make it a good environment for both sellers and buyers.”

Ong’s father – the family’s sole breadwinner – sadly passed away two years ago due to stomach cancer.

Ong said: “Thanks to the revenue [from] Shopee, it has definitely helped me to become more financially independent and secure, knowing that our family still has some income every month.

“My average revenue on a monthly basis is RM600 to RM800.”

Ong still faces physical challenges, as she sometimes experiences so much pain that she has to take time off the internet.

She said: “When I am feeling much more comfortable, only then can I be more productive in managing my shop.”

She gives almost all her money to her mother for household expenses, and keeps some as pocket money.

“I am always passionate about managing my online business, because that’s what I love to do,” she said.

“I will always strive to give my customers the best shopping experience that I can, and to ensure my customers are satisfied with my service.

“I always try my best to put in as much effort as I can to manage my shop … It takes time to see the results of your efforts.

“The importance of knowledge must not be neglected. I always take some time to learn new things from different fields, or new information [about] things that I already know.”]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 20 Mar 2018 03:20:09 +0000 S. Indra Sathiabalan 534030 at
Going more oishi!
It is also formulated with a well- balanced mix of essential nutrients that a growing child needs, and is suitable for children aged one to seven years old.

The goodness that can be found in Morinaga Chil-kid includes GOS (Galacto-oligosaccharides), which help to establish a Bifidobacterium-dominant flora and suppress the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine.

This means better stool frequency and the relieving of symptoms related to constipation.

Morinaga Chil-kid also has nucleotides which play an important role in strengthening the immune system of children, and also promoting healthy guts.

This growing-up milk also contains AA and DHA that enhance the development of the brain and central nervous system, as well as promote the development of visual and retina function.

Morinaga has also discovered a well-known probiotic – Bifidobacterium Longum BB536 – one of the most widely-recognised probiotics in the world.

The company also researched into the great benefits of Lactoferin, another important functional ingredient which is widely used in both children and adult formula to improve immunity.

Morinaga Chil-kid is halal-certified. It is produced and fully imported from a state-of-the-art plant in the Netherlands using modern Japanese technology and stringent double-safety standard.

Currently, there is a special promotion for Morinaga Chil-kid, where every purchase of the four-box Morinaga Chil-kid 700g comes with a free Luminarc premium glass container (below).

Luminarc is a pure glass French brand under Arc International, which has more than 180 years of history and enjoys a worldwide reputation.

Products under the Luminarc brand are made by fully-tempered glass, which is up to three times stronger than the average thickness of other products.

This Luminarc premium glass container, which comes with either a gold or pink lid, is 100% leak proof, microwave safe and extra resistant.

Both are available throughout Malaysia during the promotion period, which started this month, while stocks last.

For more, follow the Facebook page at MorinagaChilkidMalaysia / MorinagaMilkMalaysia, or visit the Morinaga Official Store at]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 20 Mar 2018 03:13:27 +0000 theSundaily 534028 at
Be dazzled by Universal Studios Singapore’s TrollsTopia
Everyone is invited to find his/her happy place at DreamWorks TrollsTopia – the first-ever experience of its kind based on the DreamWorks Trolls franchise to arrive at Universal Studios Singapore!

Be dazzled by two new DreamWorks TrollsTopia musical shows, dance to favourite tunes in a glitter-rific world, immerse in virtual reality games and more.

In the TrollsTopia live musical show, join the eternally-optimistic Princess Poppy and her fun-loving friends as they celebrate her coronation as the Queen of DreamWorks TrollsTopia!

Featuring hit songs from the Trolls soundtrack such as Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling, this celebration of music, happiness and love – all set against a shimmery rainbow-inspired Hollywood Lagoon stage – is set to put a smile on everyone’s face.

Guests can also look forward to meeting the adorable duo of Poppy and Branch after the show.

Music lovers can also join in with the dynamic Hug Time Trio in their brand-new live musical show as they belt out up-tempo songs from the Trolls animated film, as well as top 40 hits to get everyone grooving to the beats.

DreamWorks TrollsTopia is also taking entertainment to a whole new level with the introduction of two different multi-dimensional virtual reality (VR) experiences.

Guests can put on VR goggles and let their creativity and imagination spring forth as they create 3D virtual art with the Tilt Brush and symphony of colours from the world of DreamWorks Trolls.

Those seeking to raise their level of excitement can take part in a thrilling VR music video game and ‘bash the beats’ from the catchy soundtrack of Trolls.

Both add-on experiences are available at the Hollywood China Arcade which features old-school arcade machines, from racing games to classic claw crane machines.

Guests can also let their inner troll come to life at Trollify Yourself, with face painting, temporary tattoos, and the signature DreamWorks Troll wigs, for a picture with favourite DreamWorks Troll characters and larger-than-life flowers.

For some truly photogenic moments, guests can join Guy Diamond and bust out their best dance moves in the middle of a glittery confetti wonderland.

While dancing, they can even catch exciting prizes flying through the air.

The DreamWorks TrollsTopia is included with regular park admission, where guests can also continue to enjoy the adrenaline-filled rides and world-class attractions at the theme park.

Additional charges apply for the VR experiences and Trollify Yourself.

For more, visit]]>
Lifestyle Mon, 19 Mar 2018 02:41:50 +0000 theSundaily 533716 at
Roaring welcome for Sam & Elsa
The twin white tiger cubs are the first litter from proud parents Samson and Asha, the theme park's resident white tigers.

Born on Nov 13 last year, the two cubs weighed less than a kilogramme at birth. Now they weigh 12kg each.

"We feed them milk that is formulated for cats, and add additional nutrients that they need," says Azman Ghazali, the wildlife manager at Sunway Theme Parks.
"Now we have introduced them to solid foods (chicken), but they still take milk every day."

Azman explains that he has years of experience working with tigers at different wildlife parks all over the world, and likens raising these big cats to raising house cats.
"Like other siblings, the two cubs love to play fight. However, Sam is more gentle, and always lets Elsa have her way when they play. That is why you see bare patches on Sam's skin where the fur is missing. That is Elsa's doing."

He adds that the two cubs had to be handraised by the keepers.

Sunway Lagoon's wildlife veterinarian Dr Eve Foong Yee Wei explained that when Asha became pregnant, veterinary staff kept a close eye on the tigress, but once the cubs were born, their attention shifted to the cubs.

After a 24-hour observation, it became clear to the staff that Asha did not know how to care for her newborns. So the staff decided to intervene.

"They were still wet when we got them out of the enclosure," recalls Foong. "I stayed with the cubs day and night, feeding them every two to four hours for weeks."

Foong proudly shows us photos of the cubs back then, like a proud mother showing off her own children. "They grow up so fast," she adds.

Despite being twins, the cubs each have vastly different personalities.

"Sam is a mummy's boy," says Foong, adding that he is shy and needs time to warm up to people, but is very affectionate once he gets to know the person.

She describes Elsa as the curious one, sticking her nose into everything and diving head first into anything that strikes her fancy.

When asked if the cubs have ever played rough with their handlers, Foong shows off the scars on her arms.

"These are all from them. My legs are all scratched up too. Sam and Elsa can be very playful, and sometimes they do not know their strength. They are still wild animals at heart."
But she bemoans the time when she has to let them go.

"Depending on a few factors such as their personalities and development, we will not be able to handle them as we can now once they reach the age of six to seven months."

Foong says ideally, Sam and Elsa should find a home at Sunway Lagoon here in Bandar Sunway, or the Lost World of Tambun in Ipoh.

Because they are being raised in captivity, they cannot be returned to the wild.

Hopefully, they can help increase the awareness and understanding of white tigers, and the need for their conservation.

From tomorrow until March 25, these two white tiger cubs will be the stars of Sunway Lagoon's Walk & Hunt in the Wild campaign.

Guests will have the chance to meet Sam and Elsa at Tigerland throughout the campaign daily at 10.30am, 12.30pm and 4.30pm.

The campaign also features the Wildlife Theatre's wildlife multi-animal show and a scavenger hunt.

The hunt, which is made up of riddles and a photo hunt, will take guests through the Wildlife Park, which is home to over 150 species of animals.

Registration for the scavenger hunt opens at Tigerland at 1pm, and for the Wildlife Theatre at 3.30pm, on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Participants of the hunt will receive a scavenger hunt kit that includes an activity booklet, a postcard map, hand sanitiser, Cadbury 5 Star chocolate bars, and an exclusive Sunway Lagoon ticket redemption coupon.

For visitors looking for great online deals this school holiday, Sunway Lagoon is offering the FAMFun package at RM390 for two adults and two children, or the 4-to-Go package at RM456 for four adults.

Visitors can also visit Sunway Lagoon's booths (No.4114-4119 at Hall 4) at the Matta Fair in Kuala Lumpur, happening from today till Sunday, for great promotions.

They include Sunway Lagoon's Passport to Your Best Day Ever, which grants its holder unlimited entries to the theme park at the special price of RM150 for six months, or RM200 instead of RM450 for 12 months.

Existing Passport holders will also be able to renew their membership for a year at RM200.

Then there is the Ultimate Pass, where guests will get a year's worth of unlimited access to Sunway Lagoon and Lost World of Tambun, including a free month when they sign up at the booth.

Watch Sam and Elsa in action here:

For more, visit the Sunway Lagoon website.]]>
Lifestyle Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:01:21 +0000 Azizul Rahman Ismail 533119 at
Make Your Mark in Melbourne
In this year’s contest, participants are invited to submit their original artwork in digital format depicting any one or more of the following Melbourne related themes: food and drink; architecture; arts and culture; events and nature. Submissions should be sent in by Sunday, April 8 (5pm) via with a description of their artwork in no more than 50 words.

Ten shortlisted finalists will be invited to showcase their artistic talents live at the Publika Shopping Gallery. Along with a specially appointed panel of judges, the finalists’ works will also be open for public votes.

The winner will get a special cross-cultural creative exchange experience in Melbourne and RM48,000 cash. Winners will also receive the opportunity to showcase their works at UEM Sunrise developments in Melbourne.

Last year’s winner, Leonard Siaw (pix), is the first Malaysian street artist to make a mark in Melbourne at the Wall to Wall Festival Benalla, one of Victoria’s first regional street art festival. Siaw joined a host of local and internationally known names such as George Rose, Justine McAllister, Lolo Ys, Time Bowtell, as he painted a 1-storey building.]]>
Lifestyle Fri, 16 Mar 2018 03:52:23 +0000 theSundaily 533138 at
Holiday fun at Genting
The Jurassic Research Centre is among the recently-opened attractions, and the answer to everyone's childhood dreams of seeing massive figures of different species such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, or the Brachiosaurus.

The Back to Jurassic experience (right and below) can be found at Level 1 of Sky Atrium until April 1.

There are an animatronic dinosaur and huge dinosaur display, dino kiddie rides, and even a Human Raptor cosplay lined up specially for the March school holiday.

Children can also have a superb time colouring, with egg-painting activities and dinosaur shirt-colouring activities.

There are even more attractions at Level 4 of SkyAvenue, where a fun time awaits every girl and boy, young or old, at Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium, which holds a cabinet of curiosities with over 400 exhibits.

The Zombie Outbreak, on the other hand, is definitely not for the faint-hearted, where visitors can experience what it is like to be one of the last survivors of a nightmare Zombie Apocalypse.

At the Alive Museum, visitors will enter a world of fun and engaging 'trick arts', with specially commissioned artwork by artists from South Korea.

For some cool fun, Snow World promises an enchanting wintery wonderland, complete with toboggan slides, or fun snowball fights.

For a bit of competition, visitors can head to Genting Bowl, where the excitement begins after 6pm, when the neon bowling starts.

Meanwhile, be enthralled by state-of-the-art 3D holographic projections of stunning animations in the performance of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, which is being staged daily at the Genting International Showroom until March 25.

Visitors can now enjoy special packages for the attractions.

They can choose either the Combo 2 for any two attractions starting from RM60 for Genting Rewards member's child tickets, or the Combo 3 for any three attractions starting from RM72 for Genting Rewards member's child tickets.

Different rates apply for standard non-member tickets and adult rates.

For more, visit the Resorts World Genting website.]]>
Lifestyle Fri, 16 Mar 2018 01:52:08 +0000 theSundaily 533111 at
Beyond belief: From strict ultra-Orthodox roots to street artist
New York-based Erenthal, who left religious life behind, is attracting growing attention for her unusual murals and art that give a second life to abandoned objects she finds.

Artnet website in Dec listed her among 10 street artists to watch who are "taking the art form beyond Banksy", the famed British activist.

The 36-year-old's work has flourished in the streets of Brooklyn and at the New York borough's FiveMyles exhibition and performance space.

It has been an unlikely rise for someone from the closed world of the ultra-Orthodox, who follow a strict interpretation of Jewish law.

"I didn't have a happy childhood," Erenthal told AFP during a recent return to Israel for the first time in her professional life.

"I stopped believing in God when I was very young, but I never said it. There were also arguments with my family."

While back in Israel for several weeks, Erenthal worked in a studio and on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

'Subconscious self-portrait

Some of her work was exhibited at the Bait Haadom (Red House) gallery in the hip Shapira neighbourhood of southern Tel Aviv.

She painted her emblematic woman's face, with stylised black curves and red lips, on the Jerusalem streets of the ultra-Orthodox district of Geula near Mea Shearim, the strictly religious area where she was born.

That face and its different guises, almost expressionist in nature, has become her signature.

"It is a self-portrait. It represents me in all my variations and also all women and people," she said.

"It is a subconscious self-portrait."

The image at times takes the form of a young girl with braids, how she herself was as a girl.

'Time to leave'

Erenthal comes from a family that belonged to the Neturei Karta branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, known for its especially strict religious lifestyle and its opposition to Zionism.

For Neturei Karta members, the establishment of a Jewish state is prohibited before the coming of the Messiah, so they avoid dealings with the Israeli state.

When she was only a few years old, her parents left Jerusalem and moved to an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Brooklyn, where she spent most of her childhood.

"When I was 17 and a half, we moved back to Israel," Erenthal said.

"A few months later, my parents told me they had found someone for me (to marry) without really giving me a choice. I had a gut feeling that that was the time, that if I didn't leave right away I would never leave."

'A subtle message'

She ran away from her family and went to the army's recruitment office to carry out her military service, mandatory in Israel, though young ultra-Orthodox are often exempt.

She spent time in a kibbutz — the collective communities in Israel — and learned Hebrew there after having previously spoken Yiddish, the ancient language that some ultra-Orthodox in Israel still use.

Erenthal did nearly two years of military service, working in the administration of an infantry unit.

"My military service was my introduction to the secular world," she said.

She later returned to New York, surviving with the help of odd jobs and enduring a "feeling of emptiness".

Seeking to address that void, she spent nearly a year in India. Then in her 30s, she began to draw while there.

"In India, I started to develop as an artist. Until then, I never thought I could be an artist," she said.

"In my family, I was not exposed to contemporary art and to culture in general. We would never go to the museum."

Back in New York, she took her first steps in the art world, beginning by working in a studio. She quickly turned toward street art, using found objects such as mattresses, televisions and scrap wood in her work, then trying her hand at murals.

She gradually began to include messages in her paintings.

Many are spontaneous, inspired by her feelings in the moment or by the objects themselves. Some are more militant, although she says she is not trying to provoke.

While in Jerusalem, her graffiti on an abandoned window included the words "Open Your Eyes".

"These words are an invitation to stop for a moment and think," she said.

"It is a subtle message in case someone would need it. I am not trying to tell ultra-Orthodox Jews how they should live their lives. I am not trying to convince anyone.

"If someone should see this message, he will." — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Wed, 14 Mar 2018 03:23:23 +0000 theSundaily 532627 at
Fun at Sunway Pyramid’s Nickelodeon Playland
It's all happening from now till March 25 in conjunction with the upcoming school break this Saturday.

There is a wide variety of child-friendly activities and fun for the whole family. Children can also take part in interesting workshops held throughout the month.

Have a whale of a time with Pinkfong's Baby Shark as it will be there to entertain fans of all ages at the LG2 Orange Concourse from this Friday to March 19.

For the first time in Malaysia, fans can also meet the twin genies-in-training (above, far right) from Shimmer and Shine at the concourse, from this Friday to Sunday at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.

The young can also join the Paw Patrol in its mission to keep a lookout for trouble at the interactive Paw Tower (right). Simply climb up the steps to the lookout at the top, then take the slide down into a cushiony foam pit.

At the Kiddie Car Ride area (above), it's 'gimme, gimme, gimme some speed' with Blaze and the Monster Machines. Hop in, and ride like Blaze and his buddies around the race track.

The rides are open to children aged three to seven between 10am and 11.30am, noon and 1.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm, 4pm and 5.30pm, 6pm and 7.30pm, and from 8pm to 9.30pm.
For more, stay tuned to Sunway Pyramid's social media platforms, or visit its website.]]>
Lifestyle Wed, 14 Mar 2018 03:11:46 +0000 theSundaily 532617 at
In Colombia, birders find their version of Eden
It's a mighty goal: Colombia boasts the greatest number of bird types on the planet — 1,920, or 19% of those on the planet — a veritable paradise for birders.

"We leave very early with our cameras, binoculars and tripods and we watch the birds until around noon, in silence," says the young boy — continuing to scan the area to make sure he doesn't miss a rare specimen perched on a branch in the forests near Cali.

Since his father first took him birdwatching three years ago, his love of searching for feathered friends has come to rival even his passion for football, a favored pastime in Colombia.

Once a month he journeys through the tropical forests surrounding Cali, the country's third largest city with some 2.5 million residents.

Nestled in the heart of the southwest's massive green expanse, the Valle del Cauca, and the Andes Mountains, the area counts 562 species of birds, "much more than anywhere in Europe", according to expert Carlos Wagner.

War zones

Camacho has already seen 491, capturing 200 of them in photos, the boy told AFP.

In Feb he delivered a lecture — "Three years of passion for birds" — at the International Bird Festival, which brings some 15,000 people to Cali.

Too short to reach the lectern on the stage, he grabbed the microphone to discuss the expeditions he has made with his parents, a computer scientist and a lawyer.

Huge swaths of Colombia's territory remain to be explored: for decades they have been deemed too dangerous to travel because of the country's drawn-out armed conflict.

An ongoing peace process with former FARC guerillas has birders like Wagner hoping access will someday be improved.

The 40-year-old expert, who heads the bird festival in Cali, says the variety of ecosystems in the area — ranging from mountainous to tropical — allowed a great diversity of species to evolve.

Wagner grew up in the surrounding countryside near the San Antonio forest, site of the first large-scale ornithological expedition in the area, which New York's Natural History Museum carried out in 1910.

Bird tourism

Threatened by deforestation, this 900ha Eden was ranked as an "Area of Importance for Bird Conservation" in 2004 by BirdLife, a major British non-profit.

But because Colombia did not legally recognize the designation, there was no guarantee it would be respected, said Wagner.

Along with other birders and ecologists, he is working to sensitize residents in the area of the importance of preservation, no small feat.

"We are great romantics, but farmers have needs: they cut down trees to cultivate," he said.

And though Colombia is a bird kingdom, observation tourism is poorly developed.

The government, however, is growing aware of the potential source of income: in the future the tourism ministry projects nearly 15,000 observers might descend on the Latin American country per year to birdwatch, bringing in US$9 million, (RM35 million).

Most birders traveling to Colombia currently originate from the United States, Canada, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

In the San Antonio forest, a dozen places and guides already welcome observers, at a rate of 15,000 to 20,000 pesos per visit.

Olga Gomez, who raises rabbits, has transformed her small one-hectare farm into a bird paradise, complete with flowers to seduce winged visitors.

"We've seen up to 25 species, including 18 hummingbirds," said the 66-year-old woman with a smile. She says 1,000 visitors per year come to her La Conchita finca, or rural holiday estate.


Further up on the mountain, at the Alejandria finca, clouds of hummingbirds in a dizzying spectrum of colors flutter among red saucers of sweet water, while others feast on bananas placed strategically on bamboo platforms.

A French family from Amiens, north of Paris, marvels at the spectacle: "In our northern plains, trees have disappeared because of intensive farming," says Marc Bulcourt, 62, a retired nurse.

"We see fewer and fewer birds, but here it's magic!"

A multicolored tanager, one of Colombia's 79 native bird species, zips over.

"Any observer wants to see it at least once before dying!" says Wagner, pointing to the teensy turquoise, yellow and anise-colored bird.

Spotting a rare condor is young Camacho's current quest — the iconic bird of the Andes is dwindling in numbers, making it hard to sight.

Once he has traversed all of Colombia, the boy wants to expand his birding universe to other countries, he says — adding that he aspires, of course, one day to become an ornithologist. — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 13 Mar 2018 11:12:04 +0000 theSundaily 532441 at