Water, Such A Treasure

Most of the traditional longhouses in Sarawak were built by the bank of a navigable river.  Water was their source of life; their culture, their identity.  The river is their way of life; the most precious thing they treasured, along with other natural jungle produces.  However, in this 21st century, it was all about to change.

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Decades ago, the people of Sg Naman and Ulu Naman, Sibu bathed in the river, decades later, they are still bathing at the same river.  The different between the then and now is the condition of the river they bathed.  Vast and rapid development had taken place and the expansion of oil palm plantation had all brought impact to the river.  It is now shallow; the water is no longer clean and free from pollution.

They are in fact, drying up.

I met some locals who were willing to share some of their stories – struggles and ways to live in the desperate situation.  How they went about their everyday living could impress you.  Almost everyone was talking about the same thing.  All survived despite not having piped water for decades.  Of course, everyone had to admit that it was much easier before.  But when time changes, and as the surrounding changes, they didn’t change.  And that brought problem, because their life wasn’t parallel with that changes.  Everyone was suffering from the same hardships.  Everyone desperately needed some change, some help that never seem to come.

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“Grasses are growing.  They are covering up the drains, which are already drying up.  Sometimes, there are people spraying weed killer.  We shouldn’t bath there, but what choice do we have?”

The disgusting sight with its brownish colour and the smell, it was quite unbelievable that they could actually go through life like this.  The locals built a small shade at the riverbank and that was their ‘bathroom’.  It was simply a place to sit and bath and for washing.  Nobody dives in the river or pond now as they used to do, and fun wasn’t there anymore.  Unhygienic it could be; but as the locals put it, what choice do they have?  It was the only way.  It was the only water source for bathing and washing.  The only place they could clean themselves…or was it?

I dropped by a school and met three very friendly women – Alice Rantai, Janoi Luat, and Jessi Tanjong.  One of them clad only with sarong, but showed no sign of uneasiness towards my present.  They were very open in their stories and very welcoming to the camera I was holding.  Their house was in the school compound, and just outside their house was a man-made pond.  They were bathing and washing their clothes there.

The little girl who was sitting with her mother was not very happy with my present of course.  I asked the mother whether she was going to bathe her daughter, surprisingly, she literally did so.  “Mandi…mandi” (bathing…bathing).  The little girl was taken by surprise that she cried and that was my call to stop taking pictures of her.  According to Janoi, everybody had problem of itchiness on their body.  She showed me her leg and there were red spots on her leg.  Apparently, the water was so unhygienic that it created some skin problems among the locals.

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Rainwater was still needed for washing and cooking, even in school.  Each school that was affected by the lack of clean water supply has a tube and treated water and the water is safe for consumption – a supply provided by the government.  “We still need to ration the water to ensure that it is enough for everybody.  We would try out best to avoid the tank from going dry.”  A principal who requested anonymity told me this.

However, in the event if the tank did run dry, welfare department could be called.  Fortunately, the department would respond to the call.  In an effort to ease the people at the school, especially the children, a councilor built a tank to store rainwater somewhere in the school for cleaning purposes.  Even that, it didn’t help much.

Lemba Kom, 65 said she had to pay RM2.50 for others to get five gallons of clean water supply, about 30 minutes from her home almost everyday.  The water itself was free, the money was a transportation fee – 50 cent per bottle (one gallon).  It didn’t mean that whoever helped her to get water supply was trying to get opportunity to earn more money, it was just a fair deal (gas and time).

Ironically, just a kilometer away was longhouses from another district, the folks there enjoyed clean water supply, though sometimes, they also experienced no water at all.  The month of June and July are nightmare periods for the folks of Ulu Naman and Sg Namans as it was drought period.  Even when there was pouring rain after long drought, the rain wasn’t safe for cooking as it smells of smoke.

To conclude all this, as I visit the folks (with a help of a guide), listening to their stories and standing under the scorching sun, I realised one thing; no one appreciates clean water supply as these folks do.  I’m not speaking in a global context, but at a smaller scale among the community of Sibu.

There are many places in Sarawak that experienced the same thing; some voices went unheard.  As I talked to them and looking at some sights that I didn’t expect, instead of feeling sorry for them, the first thing I felt was gratitude.  I could do without electricity, I could do with the heat, but without clean water, I’d go crazy.  Seeing their hardship, how they treasured clean water, I must always remind myself that there was absolutely nothing to complain.

However, I do hope that these folks could finally enjoy clean water supply soon.

The Blackout

What would a simple thing such as blackout do when it occurred at a time you didn’t expect – when everything came to a sudden halt?  I meant the whole city, not just your home.  Chaos I suppose.  It happened recently at my place.  It wasn’t just the town of Sibu, but the entire state of Sarawak was in darkness and it stretched to four to six hours.  We are talking about an entire evening without electricity.

At home; heat, mosquitoes…boringness (I believe it is a word).  My dog who used to run around in the house disturbing everybody stayed very quiet that night and rather to be left alone.  He would not budge even we tried to get him up.  Dad kept his eyes on both his legs for any mosquitoes.  The entire night was the sound of him slapping his legs.  Mom, well, typical…complaining and asking when will the power be back.

We fanned ourselves because of the heat.  Outside was much cooler and the breeze was just soothing, but plenty of hungry mosquitoes.  Dad wanted to leave the front door open so that the heat wasn’t that intense.  Thankfully, our house is a wooden house, so that helped a lot.  Dad kept reminding not to open the refrigerator and I needed to charge my phone so bad.

As for me, I tried not complain.  Us wasn’t the worst one.  We didn’t know how serious it could get.  I’ll give you some example.  A friend of mine was driving when it happened, but luckily, it wasn’t dark at that time, but the sun almost set.  This is what she told me.

“I was driving through the traffic light when suddenly the traffic light malfunctioned.  I thought it was only one traffic light, I didn’t know that the power went out throughout the state.  I was in the middle of yellow box, and all cars were coming from all directions.  I couldn’t go to my right or left, I couldn’t go forward, and couldn’t reverse either.  The next thing you heard were honking and shouting.”

I heard the town was really in chaos, there was no order, the police was patrolling around the town while they supposed to control the traffic.

Imagine another scene at the office.  You were probably working late at your working place that night and then suddenly the room went dark.  Kinda creepy though, but you have a bigger problem – you hadn’t save your work.

Think of the shop owners, those in the convenience store – they were closing their doors.  Precaution purposes.  You never know who might go inside the store, grab some stuff, and ran out.  Without CCTV, anything could happen.  I wonder what actually happened to those in the cinema or theatre.  Couples who went on their dates and families who had dinner reservations – wouldn’t it just ruin their night?.

Think of those in the hospital as well. (I’m sure they have back up power or maybe generator).  What would they do without the power.  I’m sure the hospital director could ensure everything under control.  I was told that candles at a supermarket were sold out that night.  People rushed to the supermarket to get candles.  My colleague did that.  I mean her husband did.

So…you see, apart from the fact that I needed to charge my phone, I had no good reason to complain.  I do however, missed using handphone instead of smartphone.  At least I didn’t have to worry about flat battery.  On positive notes, guess what I saw; two fireflies.  The first time in many years.  The last time I saw fireflies was…I don’t know…back in school days?  Kinda weird though to see lights flying around the trees, but it was the most beautiful thing I saw that day.  People used to collect them and put them in a bottle.  They then place the bottle in a dark room and it was just beautiful.  How awesome is God’s creation.

Then, my thinking went all the way back to the olden days.  What would the people in the olden days do without electricity?  An hour without TV and internet, I was already bored in the dark quiet room.  Tried to read, but it was too dark.  We had candlelight dinner that night.  It was quiet and… fast.  We washed the dishes in the dark.  We had candles, but still it was very dark for me.  I guess I hadn’t get use to it.  Then, I had a question.  How much energy we actually saved that night.  We always talk about Earth Hour.  Yeah, the town is responding to the world’s need to save energy.  We participated in the Earth Hour every year.  Imagine, six hours without power,  wasn’t it a good thing?

What A Crazy World

I want to talk about a very interesting issue here, or news.  It is so hot and so bizarre that it rocks the small town of Sibu.  It is also so interesting that it actually makes the towns people asking.  Almost everybody scratches their head ‘what the heck happened?’ then followed by all kinds of theories.  For your information, it is a murder case.  I’ve covered some homicide cases and murder cases before, but none like this one.  This one…is very bizarre and I’ll explain it to you.

Last year on Jan 3, four members in a family were brutally murdered about seven in the morning at their house.  It was a 36-year-old businessman Ling, his 76-year-old mother, and his two children aged 10, and 7.  His wife escaped unhurt and his eight year old son survived the attack.  The suspect was a 17-year-old boy, surnamed Song.

I had been following the case since it happened.  I was there when he was brought to the court to be remanded, then to be charged.  He faced four charges of murder and an attempted murder charge.  The murder charge carries death penalty, while the attempted murder charge carries a maximum 20 years’ jail term.  I was there throughout the hearing of the case at the High Court.

On Thursday, July 4, the court ruled that prima facie case had been established against Song and he chose to remain silent in his defence.  The judgment would be on Aug 19.  Ling’s sister was there to listen to court’s decision.  Now this is an interesting part or should I say, shocking part.  The day after the ruling, Ling’s sister and her two children aged 14 and 2 were murdered by her husband.  It was fortunate that their 17-year-old son managed to escape, although he would have to carry that terrifying moment in his mind forever.

According to the reports, the husband killed them by gassing them in their sleep.  The murder appeared to be premeditated as the husband had taken his family out for a hearty dinner before bringing them home and forcing them to swallow sleeping pills.

The eldest son did not take the pill and was alert enough to smell the gas.  The police are investigating the case and it had been speculated that it could be due to family problems.  I don’t know about you, but it was so bizarre to me that it reads like a fiction story.  The only missing was the ‘Why’ and ‘How’.  I had been a reporter for about four years, and most of the homicide cases, or attempted murder cases, or murder cases I covered were due to conflicts.  Two boys fighting over a girl or guys fighting over money, or maybe some other misunderstanding issues.  This case is none of the above.

Seventeen-year-old Song randomly entered a neighbour’s house and killed the family.  There was no motive, nothing.  And he left no trace.  Well…sort of.  The only strong evidence to enable him to be charged was a hammer (a killing tool) found at his house, and his own confession.  The police found the hammer because the accused told them where he kept it.  The police found the Song because a guy, who was the original suspect for the case, told the police about this weird kid (Song) living next door.  So, the police gave a shot and they hit the bullseye.  If the guy did not tell the police about this weird kid next door, there is a possibility that the police would not find Song, and the case would probably come to a dead end.

Seriously, apart from the victim’s DNA, the accused DNA wasn’t found in any of the exhibits.  Although the accused had given his own DNA sample for profiling and comparison, the results had come out negative.

And now, by a bizarre coincidence, after the ruling, the deceased Ling’s sister and her two children were murdered by his own husband.  Motive? No one knows.  I’m not sure what kind of cases in the past, but this is certainly the most interesting case I’ve ever handle so far.  And I could not help but to feel sorry for the family.  What happened was very said, and I’m sure everyone wants to have a home in which they could feel safe.  Apparently it didn’t happen to this family.

What a crazy world we lived in!