Sunday, August 14, 2011

Timberland Earthkeepers: I try to discover...

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I'm currently writing this from an Internet cafe somewhere in the town of Ganqika, Inner Mongolia. Yes, I survived the long, grueling journey, and though I am a long, long way from home, and feeling quite crippled without my laptop and free Wi-Fi (the infamous Great Firewall of China isn't helping matters either), I am certainly very excited to see what's in store for this year's Timberland Earthkeepers trip to fight desertification in Horqin.

There are eight of us making up the Singapore group; besides me, there are the hardcore photographers Jervis and Chee Fan, whom I already mentioned in an earlier post. Sheryl, Sharon, and David are writers from the local print media, with Sheryl and Sharon doing articles for two of Singapore's largest broadsheets, and David writing for Singapore's most popular men's lifestyle magazine. We are all being taken care of by Cheryl and Gillian from Timberland Singapore. Cheryl, who is Marketing Manager for Southeast Asia, has been making the trip annually since 2008, and she had lots to share about how their reforestation efforts are paying off; you can read her thoughts from the 2008 trip in these three posts on The Bootmakers Blog: Horqin Chronicles, Introducing Green Net, and Transforming the Land.

Our journey began late last night, checking in before midnight, and with a 1.10am Singapore Airlines flight to Beijing. The 6 hour flight was no joke, although at least I managed to catch Rio and Thor on the in-flight entertainment system.

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At Beijing Capital International Airport, we saw what I believe is a replica of a famous Song Dynasty painting, entitled Along the River During the Qingming Festival. I remembered it so distinctly because this very same painting had been featured as part of an exhibit in the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, which I had just visited on Friday afternoon.

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Shenyang Airport

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After landing in Beijing, it was a 10.30am domestic flight with China Southern Airlines to Shenyang, the capital city of Liaoning Province. We arrived shortly before 12 noon, had lunch at a nice little restaurant that served generous portions of noodles, but more importantly, had power sockets for us to charge our gadgets. At around 2pm or so, we met up with the groups arriving from elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, and we all endured a bus ride that took us from Shenyang to Ganqika. It was a road trip which lasted more than three hours, which we were already expecting, but we were caught in a horrendous jam for a really long time, due to roadworks on a bridge causing only one lane to be open to traffic traveling in both directions. By the time we arrived at Bowang Hotel, it was already 7pm.

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The weather here is very different from that of Singapore; so far, it's been quite cold and very windy. I'm still alright with walking around in just a t-shirt and bermuda shorts, maybe because I'm used to such temperatures thanks to my weekend escapades in Fraser's Hill a few weekends ago.

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The exterior of the Bowang Hotel at night.

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The walls above the hotel lobby are decorated with images of some favorite Mongolian pastimes.

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For every one of us, there was a pleasant surprise when we entered our rooms. Besides the jacket and boots, I receive more gear to be used in the field, courtesy of Timberland.

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There's a backpack...

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A cap...

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A water bottle...

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...And three T-shirts.

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Not to mention a voucher for a foot massage, to be redeemed at the massage parlor just across the street from the hotel. I suppose it comes in handy after a long day on your feet, hiking around in the desert.

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And look, I have a small cricket hiding in my bathroom.

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After spending some time unpacking and washing up, we gathered at a function room for the official welcome dinner for the entire Timberland Earthkeepers 2011 contingent. There are approximately seventy of us in total, comprising Timberland employees from its Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China offices, members from Japanese NGO Green Network, assorted journalists and writers for the media, as well as winners of the Timberland Earthkeepers photography contest held in the various countries. I have a feeling that I'm the only one who's here based on the quality of a blog entry, rather than a photograph.

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To encourage us to mingle, each of us was assigned a seat at a random table. Each table was named after a particular plant found growing in the Horqin area. For instance, Sharon, Chee Fan and I were sitting at the Poplar table, along with counterparts from Hong Kong and mainland China. Some of those from Hong Kong, who thought they had it bad when they had to wake up at 5 in the morning to catch the flight to Beijing, were aghast when they found out that we had checked in after 11pm yesterday night, and had taken an overnight flight!

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Random, but this is some awesome beer.

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Before and during the dinner, there were presentations by various individuals, such as managing director of Green Network Yoshio Kitaura, who shared about some background information about the Horqin area, the reasons behind desertification in this part of China, and what Green Network and Timberland have been doing for the last ten years. We also heard from Robert Igabille, who is the Regional Retail Operation & Training Manager at Timberland Asia-Pacific, about Timberland's very special Global Stewards programme. Indeed, I have not heard of many companies so committed to corporate social responsibility as Timberland.

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I'm excited about what's going to happen for the rest of this trip. For instance, we're heading out tomorrow to prune poplars, as well as exploring the Wafang area, and weaving straw nets that reinforce the soil and reduce erosion. For now, it's time to grab some rest, and perhaps get a bit of a crash course on the native birds of Inner Mongolia.

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