In The Distance

In the distance, the sun sets in for the night to come.  It was about 6.30pm in the early September, 2013 and I had just had my dinner – the not so comfortable dinner I had.  The boat rocked side to side, and I was trying my best to keep my balance.  It was not a luxurious boat; it had neither air-conditioner, nor comfortable separate beds to sleep.  Just a simple wooden fisherman boat, with a small kitchen/dining room, an engine room, captain’s deck, and sharing the captain’s deck was a wooden bed, which is just above the engine.

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The bed could fit about six or seven people and it was also a place where we put our bags.  Because it was just above the engine, imagine the heat, the smell, and the noise.  Afternoon time was best to be spent outside.  I was told that the toilet was functional; not really.  Literally, it was just a very small room with a toilet bowl in it and that was it.  I couldn’t flush it, no pipe water (well, obviously, because we were in the boat), and there was this rusty sliding door.  It was hard to close, and it was almost impossible to slide it open.  I had been avoiding toilet as much as I could.

The first time I needed to use the toilet was sometimes in the afternoon on the first day in the sea.  Despite some difficulties, I actually closed the door, living a small opening to allow my hand to push it open later (or so I thought).  And in that eerie, dark toilet, I eased myself with my arms spread wide apart on the wall to keep my balance because there was no handle bar or anything to hang on to.

Once done, I pushed the door open, but the door would not budge.  I lifted, I pushed, and pulled, nothing worked.  I think I was a little panicky that time.  ‘This is not happening…oh God…this is not happening.’ I said to myself, almost praying.  I could ask for help, but I was too embarrassed to do it, because… it was embarrassing.  I could be a joke.

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Few minutes without success, and nobody seemed to notice…I finally let it out.  ‘Uh…hello…Could…you…help to open…this door?’ Slowly I allowed embarrassment to sink in.  I could feel the laughter, though none of them laughed at me.  It was in my head.  One of the guys helped to open the door.  He pushed, could not open it, second push, not a budge.  “Hey, help out here…she can’t get out.”  The guy yelled out.

Clothes and clothes pegs would be a better ‘door’ than a rusty wooden door.  I thought.  Being the only woman with the other seven men was intimidating.  Not that those men were bad, I just did not have the advantage to do some of the things they could do.  Example – shower.  The guys shower in the open, changed new clothes the next day.  I did not shower and I wore the same clothes for three days.

On the bright side, I got to know life in the boat, to be in the middle of nowhere.  At night, when the darkness overcame the surrounding, all you hear was the ocean.  It was weird though, how I got here in the first place.  Why I let it happened?  Why did I leave the comfort of my home to the sea and fish with a bunch of men?  Adventure – yeah, I wanted the experience, and it was one of the best experiences I had, although I did not expect anything such as, a stuck door.

Since that incident, I drank less water to avoid toilet, at the same time, making sure that I would not get dehydration.  I was amazed too that I did not have any bowel movement for three days.  It was both a good thing and not a good thing.  Seasick started to kick in as soon as the boat made its first stop for the guys to fish.  The seasick pill I took 30 minutes before I left for sea, well…I guess the effect wore off.  Hold it…hold it…no…not now…not happening….  Then I rushed to the side of the boat, and everything I ate that morning went to the open sea.

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“There…there…that’s good…you’ll feel better.”  Peter said to me.  Peter was the one who invited me for an adventure.  He called me up a few days earlier and talked to me about the plan, convinced me about the excitement and the adventure that I was going to expect.  I went with him, after getting consent from my parents.

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Peter’s words were very comforting, in a way.  Somehow, I felt very well taken care of.  Before the trip, he told me that would take care of me throughout the trip, and he did, in fact, he was like a father, so I was pretty grateful.  Though seasick was common, Peter told me he never had experienced seasick before.

Seasick wasn’t that bad after all; it gone few minutes later and Peter taught me how to fish.  I’ve never thought deep sea fishing could be this fun.  They were heavy, and hard work.  With my small body, I needed more than might upper body strength.  I used all the strength I had in my body to pull them up.  Once in a while, I needed to catch my breath, and despite with sore arms, it was fun.

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One of the things I’ve always look forward at the sea was the sunset.  I was expecting something like orange and red colour ball in the distance.  Due to bad weather, the sun was behind the cloud all the time.  But, it was still beautiful nevertheless.  The red sky reflecting on the open sea…it was worth the trip.  A lost bird kept returning to the boat.  Tired, lonely, and desperate to go home – the crew told me that the bird would die anyway.  I felt so sorry for the bird because there was nothing I could do to help it.  I picked it up, I’ve never picked up a bird before, but I picked it up with great confidence and I patted it, I stroked it.  And that was all I could do.  It could survive, but it got off track from its flock.  Now, the bird is nowhere to be found by its friends.

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When I told my dad about going out to the sea, he rejected the idea, but lucky for me, mom was on my side.  ‘If she wants to go…let her go’ she told dad.  ‘It would be a great experience for her, let her see the world.’  Dad realised it was my own freewill and choice, and that was how I got his blessing.  He was worried about my safety, especially, when it was during rainy season.  Rainy season means rough sea – I was aware of the danger, but the adventure was too good to let it go.  I’ve never been to the sea in my life.  I needed that experience.

It was an experience I would not forget.  I went to the sea with only my camera bags and a backpack.  I came home bringing an ice-box full of fresh fish.  The fish I helped to catch.  I’ve never like fishing before, but deep sea fishing was fun, and been on the sea for three days was a great experience too.

We were blessed with calm sea despite the rain.  I was thankful for that.  I didn’t shower for three days, lucky for me, I didn’t sweat a lot for three days either and, not to forget, I got stuck in the toilet.

I felt so stupid inside that toilet.  One of the crews actually kicked the door open when all methods failed.  It worked, and I finally came out to the fresh air.  I would never want to be stuck in the toilet in the future, but I think I would need the sea again.

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Trading Skyscrapers For Big Trees

Imagine you received a letter asking you to play an important part in the conservation effort.  You were required to trade the life in the city for the life in the wild.  A place you never even heard before.  What would be your reaction?  Would you reject the offer immediately or would you take it?

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City girl Lily Sir had a second thought, but she accepted it.  She was a University fresh graduate after finishing her practical at Sarawak Forestry Corporation.  She was only 24 then.  Just like any other city folks out there, her real fear was to have to start her life at a completely different environment.  She was appointed to Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS) – the last frontier for the conservation of the threatened primate in Borneo.  LEWS is a place totally cut off from the outside world, for it was meant to stay exactly the same today and years to come.  The only thing that connected them to the happening around the world was the radio.  In LEWS, instead of the sound of the busting traffic and buzzing sound of people, the only sound she would ever hear was the sound of the nature in the stillness of the thick jungle.  LEWS is about 10 hours upriver boat ride from Sibu town.  The roughness of the river was not something she anticipated all along.

“I did not expect nor was I ready for that rough ride to LEWS.  There was a fear of crocodile, and the fear that the boat would capsize.  I remember I kept asking the man maneuvering the boat whether or not we had reached our destination.”

All that Lily ever thought of was conservation.  When she got that offer letter, she became one of the team members.  Despite the determination, it didn’t get easier accepting the new environment during the first few weeks.  She missed the 7Eleven, the shopping malls, the cinemas, the cars, the entertainment, the televisions and so many things she sacrificed and left behind at her home in the city to get to LEWS.

“However, as time goes by, I got used to the new environment, and I feel that life becomes easier and everything seems to become normal to us.”

As the only communication system of LEWS is the river, today, Lily and her colleagues would have to travel for hours to Song (a very, very small town) twice a month to get groceries.

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Because LEWS is too far upstream, the groceries boat would not able to reach the place.  Lily is the conservative executive, apart from her job scope, she also deals with wildlife and conduct conservation awareness programme at the longhouses and schools, she also involved in research and surveys.

“I think the reason why we are able to let go whatever we had in the city is because we are really into our jobs and conservation, we like our job and that is why we are still here.  The most rewarding thing about this job is that I am able to be with the nature, to be with the local and to be part of the conservation team and watch all these beautiful creatures everyday.”

LEWS was gazetted in 1983.  The thick undisturbed jungle is a home to large presence of orang utans and hornbills and other animals that almost come into extinction.  With 193,039 hectares, it is the largest Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia.  LEWS is in itself and by description is not open to tourism and is the largest totally protected area in Sarawak.  The biodiversity of LEWS is in the top 12 in the world.  There is a mega diversity both flora and fauna and there has been many discoveries of species which are endemic and endangered.  These biodiversity is what never bores Lily in her daily life in LEWS.  Since moving to LEWS, she was given a rare opportunity to see all the wonderful things such as orang utans, monkeys, and hornbills feeding on the local olives just a few meter away.

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One of her colleagues is Laing Lesley and he is a ranger.  His job includes patrolling and boundaries maintenance, making sure that no one enters the sanctuary.

“We are focusing on the critical areas such as logging areas and plantation areas.”

Another amazing thing about these young  people was they left their families behind.  It could probably the biggest sacrifice they ever make in their lives.  Although it might be temporary, Lily and her colleagues did not know how long would they be there.  It could be another 10 years, or maybe 20 years, or maybe until their retirement.  There are others been there for more than 10 years and amazingly no complaints.  One thing for sure, they could always apply for a transfer, but apparently, it never crossed their mind to do that.   Lily still goes back to city in Kuching once a month to catch up with her family and to buy the necessities that Song did not have.  She’s turning 29 this year and still could not get enough of the beauty of LEWS.  Watching the wildlife isn’t part of her job anymore, it had become her hobby.  Others go back maybe a few times in a year, or maybe once a year.

The heart of the beauty of LEWS is beyond watching everything passing by; the crystal clear river, hornbills flying overhead, every bird calling, and the gushing of river, but the experience of just being there.  It is something that the word ‘breathtaking’ seems too small a word for the hidden wonders it provide.  Because of that and also considering that this virgin forest is the last frontier for conservation in Borneo, this place is so precious in the eyes of conservation project.  That is why, the conservation team never tired of educating the people, and doing research in protecting LEWS.

If conservation was not done today, apart from the beautiful wildlife and aquatic creatures, its natural beauty would be gone forever.  When it is almost wiped out, even costly conservative activities could not restore the beauty that the nature provides to this earth.  That is why these conservation team such as Lily, Laing, their team members, and the locals living nearby, whose life dependent much on the produce from the jungle are so passionate about keeping the forest as safe as possible.  And so…I SALUTE THEM!!

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Skies in June

Month of June has been very special.  First, it was my birthday month, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!! My sister bought me a pair of glasses.  It was cool, I needed a new glasses so badly.  I didn’t get to celebrate with my family though, because dad was away..working.  Totally understandable.  It was cool for me anyways.  One of my colleagues surprised me with a birthday cake at the office.  One of them also brought me to one of the finest restaurants for celebration. YEAH!! Didn’t expect that.

Then, there was Fathers’ Day.  Unfortunately, dad had an outstation assignment on Fathers’ Day.  Click Dear Father to view my first poem to Dad.  Then there was a trip back to nature, what a great trip, took some great pictures.  Click here to see the post.

There was the 4th National Early Childhood Intervention Conference (NECIC).  I got to meet people with inspiring stories, wrote news and articles about children with special needs for the whole conference week.  Shed some tears to see their bravery and determination.  Learning about life through them.

This month of June, I particularly looked at the sky.  Why? I don’t know.  I just did.  I realized that the skies really are beautiful.  I took all these pictures using my phone.  So please excuse me for the bad quality photos.

Took this on June 8 at about 6.30pm.  I was heading for a forum and was stuck in traffic.  Just when I was about to lose my patience, I saw this rainbow.

This picture was taken on June 12 at about 10am.  I was in my friend’s car when I saw this.  The sky doesn’t look like this, so don’t be fooled by it.  Haha…This is the effect from the tinted windshield.

Took this on June 14, at 10.30am.  This is the reason why I love watching the clouds when I was kid.

This was taken on June 15 at 6.53am.  The sun was shining through my bedroom window.  I looked outside and it was so beautiful.  I had to take some photos of it.  My favourite so far, but unfortunately, my camera phone could not capture that beauty and no matter how I edit it, I still couldn’t do it. However, it does look nice in my phone.

June 19, 6.23pm.  On my way home from work.

June 21, 4.30pm.  Arrived at the office parking space when I saw this.

There you have it.  My last post for June.  I think it’s a good way to close the month.  It was a great month.  Looking forward to July.  I’m sure lots of things coming up in July.  Stay tuned for more post next week.

So, since June is my birthday month. Happy birthday to me!

Going to City, Back to Nature Trip

I got up from my seat as the bus made a stop at a town about 1am on June 1, 2012  (friday).  Most of them got up and rushed outside the warm dark surrounding.  I was glad it made a stop, I needed to get out from the bus really bad.  It was so cold inside the bus.

I was with other 33 members of the Institute of Rejang Journalists (IRJ) for three days two nights trip to Kuching that day.  Our transportation was on 12 midnight on June 1.  The bus had just made its first pee stop in Jakar Town after an hour travel from Sibu.

Although it has been only an hour traveling, already my body felt so tired and a little lightheaded as I walked outside.  Of course I would.  It was 1am, way past my sleeping time, plus Thursday was a very busy day for me.  My eyes were closing by 9pm and brushing my teeth became a chore.

I woke up early for work that Thursday morning and had not been resting all day.  Went to gym as usual around 6pm that because thinking I might not be able to go to gym for the next few days made me so uneasy.

I love traveling, be it air, road or water, I love them all.  But midnight road trip is my least favourite time to travel.  Because I could not sleep well in the bus.  I did go to bed around 10pm on Thursday night.  I wanted to get some rest, at least for an hour, but it didn’t help much though.

Oh yes, I was glad the bus made a stop.  I needed to stretch my legs a little while and get out from the cold bus.  I got off the bus and looked around.  No toilet available that night.  Everywhere I look, all doors were closed shut.  It was very quiet and somewhat depressing  “Oh man…I cannot believe this.”   I thought, well, it works for guys but not for the ladies.

The guys had gone to the bush to do their stuff, while ladies were still scattered everywhere, thinking, looking around, trying to find a perfect spot.  There was about six hours left to reach our destination and we did not know how long to our next pee stop.  It was either now or hold it for another hour or two.  Most of us chose to do it right away.

I think most of us just wanted to be able to get as comfortable as possible until the next stop.  “Just don’t look..,” a member called out.  Everyone seemed to find their spot and agreed not to look.  Yes, I found mine too.  It was at the small drain just behind the counters of a shop – good enough to block the view.

A group of ladies from the Human Resource Department seemed to find the whole thing quite amusing.  They were laughing and talking and deciding how to do it.  I think they were the loudest that night.  “You go first, I’ll block the view with my jacket.” I heard one of them said.

At that moment, it got me thinking.  Why is it so easy for men, but so difficult for ladies, though we are of course the same sex?  Question mark. I have no answer for that.  About 10 minutes later, everyone was back inside the freezing bus to continue our journey.

The lady sitting beside me was my roommate for the whole trip.  I was just happy that I could push back my seat to 45 degree.  It was not too bad a ride after all.  My roommate kept moving throughout the night.  She lifted up both her legs to her seat and disturbed me.  She took a little bit of my space though and I do not know whether she knew it or not.  I wanted to tell her that, but I wasn’t sure whether I should tell her to move a little.  So I just let it be.

We arrived Kuching about 7am and before started our first programme, we had our breakfast somewhere in Mile 7, Kuching I believe (I’m not familiar with the city).  Perhaps finding something to eat was the second thing most of us had in mind.  Most of the shops were still close at that time.  Everybody was looking for the bathroom.

We had approximately about 45 minutes to start our first programme.  There was a long queue at the nearest bathroom.  We were only given 45 minutes.  Time was so precious that day that I decided to look around for another bathroom.  I went quite far to find vacant bathroom that morning.  At least I did not have to wait.

The most exciting thing about this whole trip was to be able to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Apart from the zoo, I’ve never seen real wildlife in the wild before.  I got to see Orang Utan.  I’ve never seen Orang Utan before and that was my first.  I was as excited as a little girl.  We were in fact on time for the feeding time.  It was amazing to see Orang Utan swinging from tree to tree during feeding time.

I believe the best picture i took throughout the trip.

The place was called Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (SWC).  I do not know how many orang utans were there, but we saw seven of them during feeding hours.  Such lovely creatures.

SWC is not a zoo by the way.  The animals are not kept in cages but are free to roam about the thick, green forest canopy.  When we arrived, two orang utans (a mother and her young) were already in the middle of the excited crowd.  I guess they decided to give the visitors the warmest ‘welcome’ to us outside the entrance.  Opportunity like this does not come very often.

It did seem that they really like the attention.  The crowd was taking pictures of them at every corner possible.  All of us were waiting for the entrance to the feeding point to open while we were watching them.  For the next 20 minutes,  the young entertained the crowd with…well, just being playful.

The young wanted to play with the mother, the mother..well..just let the young did his stuff.   The young got up, and fell down purposely on his back, got up and fell down again and keep repeating.  That little orang utan really put a smile on everyone’s face.

The two orang utans that attracted so many people

In every programme, there is always one which is the main event.  For this year’s IRJ’s trip, it was a trip to Bako National Park on the second day.  Gazetted in 1957, Bako is Sarawak’s oldest national park.  Covering an area of 2,727 hectares, it is one of the smallest national parks in Sarawak, yet one of the most interesting one.

With its rainforest, abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, bizzare rock formations, extensive network of trekking trails, there were so many activities to do there.  Spending about three and a half hours at this amazing place…it WASN’T enough.  We were left with our own activities over there.  The tour leader reminded us to gather at the hall for lunch before heading town again.  There, I got to see the famous sea stack in Bako.  It formed like a mighty serpent head.

sea stack that looks like a serpent head

Cruising through the sea with a small boat was extremely fun.  Yeah…the waves were a little bit scary at times, but still, it was an amazing experience.  However, here is the most pathetic part.  I love jungle trekking, but because the time was so limited, I was only able to trek about 45 minutes (trekking 400m to the jungle then back again).  Yes, pathetic.  Because of that, I missed a lot of things.  I didn’t see the wildlife, because I didn’t go deep enough, except wild boar and a few grey monkeys.  I didn’t see the waterfall and they said the waterfall was beautiful.

the grey monkey

Nevertheless, it was a great trip.  A very great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of town.  I even got to know some tourists from Belgium and Canada.  THUMBS UP!!

Sarawak is rich in culture, thus, as part of the programme, we visited one of the very few surviving Bidayuh longhouses in Sarawak – Kampung Benuk Bidayuh Longhouse.  The trip was in conjunction with the first day of Gawai Dayak Celebration (harvesting season).

Bidayuh Longhouse

Back in the city – what else could we do there except shopping.  I didn’t buy anything though.  My roommate on the other hand was quite a shopper.  I believe she spent between RM200 and RM300 on clothes only.  That was in one day.  Can’t complain much because there were sales everywhere.  I mean like 70 per cent discount, 50 per cent discount in most of the shops.  Her lucky day I guess.

We had seafood for the final night together.  I’m not really a fan of seafood, but as part of the programme, I needed to show some support to the one organising it.

Final programme before heading back to Sibu, we went to the museum..well outside … because it was not open when we arrived.  Then, watched another wildlife at Jong’s Crocodile Farm.  Again, we were lucky enough to arrive there during feeding time.  Other animals there…there were peacocks, monkeys, parrots, lizard, bear, and so forth.

a crocodile feeding on meat

Seven hours midnight bus trip is the least favourite time to travel.  But to be able to have fun and get in touch with nature again, it was definitely worth a trip.  I just wished it could be a longer trip.

group photo at Bidayuh longhouse