Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's festive season in Sarawak & Sabah

Every year in Sarawak and Sabah, the native ethnic groups customarily celebrate the paddy harvesting season in a big way. In Sarawak, the festive season is called " Gawai Dayak" and its celebration is heralded by two days of public holiday ( 1st - 2nd June). In Sabah, a northerly sister state bordering Sarawak, the festivity is called " Pesta Kaamatan". Both festivals augur days of merry making held in their traditional longhouses far from cities to which they annually return to join in the festivities drinking rice wine, dancing the 'ngajat' or singing traditional songs.

I take this opportunity to wish those celebrating the above festivals a Happy Gawai Dayak and Pesta Kaamatan.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nature Heals

View of Side Garden, looking south as seen today.

While doing a bit of gardening work this morning I was pleasantly surprised to discover a a robin's nest with two tiny chicks in it. This gave me so much pleasure, satisfaction and happiness. It has been about three years now since I started to create a garden around our home here in Kuching. When we first moved in here there was not a single plant growing except for wild grasses and weeds that grew naturally on infertile barren ground that was provided by the housing developer. There grew an opportunity to bring nature back close to our house and I set my mind to gradually make the garden as a labour of love. One of my criterias for a successful Malaysian garden is that it should be able to procreate wildlife and nothing proves it better than to see the birds coming around the garden to build their nests. It showed that nature is slowly healing itself and that I should do more to encourage its diversity. Thus from now on I'll try to plant more fruit trees besides flowering shrubs to attract other birds species to call our garden home. It has been my belief that gardening is a workout for the soul. Moments spent in the garden have much positive therapeutic influence on one's moods , emotions and pysche. When I see nature heals with a little help of my hand I feel I have not wasted my time gardening even on a tiny garden plot in Kuching.
The side garden is on the left and on the right is the island planting next to the car porch. View from South, looking west.
Close up of border planting along the south fence.

Daily pick of flowers - the scented fragipani or Plumeria rubra of pink fower variety.

Island planting next to car porch, view from car porch.

A poem I wrote years back about a bird and a garden:

Windswept Lawn
Like a bird one day
I was out in the open air
been there by an old casuarina tree
at times to watch and sing
at the garden steps
a fountain spray
and rattan chair below

It was a tiny lawn
recently mowed
the cuttings were dry
shrivelled and brown

The patio was quiet
a cool breeze blew
moved the scattered leaves
the silent chimes too

The mood was welcoming
this warm return hollow
where I while away
quick moments in happy time
then hop into the wind
when the hour is done

Said I,
Here's indeed a place to rest
and seek a peaceful mind
a mind that recalls
the windswept lawn
the patio and trees
I wish to be my own.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Images of Kuching Today

Entrance to Indian Mosque -built in 1834

Modified cars show

Modified scooters show

The Astana - residence of Sarawak's Governor

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Images of Kuching Today

Old-school barber service

Cordyline terminalis

Golden shower

' Bungor' tree flowering at Kuching Waterfront

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Simply Organic and Fresh Meat

Seen at the Satok Sunday Market are these coconut shoots - a kilo costs Ringgit Malaysia (RM) 4.00

At the Satok Sunday market I bumped into two food items- coconut shoots and freshwater clams. Can these two be married? A little imagination would help. Today I'd very much like to try something organic plus fresh meat. Coconuts shoots like the ones above are easily available at Satok. These are freshly cut shoots from tall coconut trees that are plenty around Kuching especially the rural surroundings where they are grown commercially in plantations. Locally these shoots are termed "Umbut".

When old trees are cut, the farmers collect the shoots and bring them to market. In their spare time they may gather clams from mangrove swamps closeby. These big size clams ( Polymesoda erosa) are referred to as " Lokan" in Malay, and are available anytime of the year and sold cheaply at the Sunday market (see inset).
Here's how I would attempt to be imaginative.
Firstly, boil the cut pieces of coconut shoots with other herbs like lemon grass, garlic and chillies for about 10 minutes. Add a half-teaspoonful of salt. In the meantime, get ready the live clams because they come in next. There's a tiny problem. The clams are very difficult to open. Here's a cute trick. Boil them to induce the shells to open up and this process takes less than a minute. How come cooking is so easy?

In boiling water the clam's shell open up effortlessly. Next separate the clam's flesh from the shell with the help of pincers. Put them aside for the next big show in town.

Drop in the clam's flesh into the boiled coconut shoots and continue boiling for another five minutes and no more to avoid the flesh becoming hard and the shoots too soft.
" Waduh !" ( local exclamation similar to Hola ! OMG!) When served hot, the aroma of the herbs combined with the sweet tasting coconut shoots and oyster-like freshwater clams make the formula truly organic and fresh. I love sipping the soup and Oh! so delicious.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sarawak's Colonial Legacy

My office in 1978-1979 (Picuture taken yesterday, 10 May, 2010). Previously called " The Pavillion" by the British. Today this building is converted into the 'Sarawak Textile Museum'.
A visit to Kuching City, especially within one kilometer radius of the centrally located Kuching Waterfront will instantly bring back memories of Sarawak's colonial building legacy. I was fortunate to have worked in one of them in 1978-1979 ( picture above) when I was entrusted to be in-charge of the educational radio broadcasting section of the Sarawak Education Department's arm of Educational Mass Media Services. The building where I worked for two years was previously called the "Pavillion". In 1909, the British made the Pavillion as a Medical Headquarters and was converted to the State Education Headquarters in the 1970's. When the Education Headquarters moved into a new and bigger building, it was made to house only the Educational Mass Media section personnels. There I was enjoying a room the size of 20'x 20'. It was luxury to have worked in such a big office and the job was magnificient to me because it enabled me to travel to all the four corners of Sarawak to see and conduct training to teachers on the use of radio lessons which was broadcasted via the airwaves from Kuching to all the nooks and corners of Sarawak's jungles, coasts and deep interiors.
The Round Tower ( A.D. 1886)- functioned as town dispensary when first occupied and in the 1980's it housed a section of the Judicial Department. This building is nearby my EMS office where I used to work.

There is so much of history in Kuching that I've no reservations in declaring that it as one of the most historical cities in Malaysia ( top 5) besides Pulau Pinang ( or "Penang") where the British admiral Francis Light first set up a British settlement in 1786. As for Sarawak its British legacy started with the ex- British India soldier who turned adventurer by the name of James Brooke. In 1839, James Broke arrived in Kuching from Singapore and since then proceeded to establish the Brooke Dynasty ( lasting for about 100 years) before they passed it on to the British Crown colony in 1946, after the Japanese left from having occupied Sarawak for about five years (1941-1946). Of course, as history has it Sarawak together with Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia ( previously British Malaya) formed a new sovereign nation in 1963 called Malaysia and with that achieved independence from the British colonial regime. By all accounts Malaysia's independence was greatly engineered by the British and only half of the struggle is local.

As part of the Brookes and later British colonial legacy, I am amazed to see the permanency of these architectural marvels bearing in mind that at those days buildings were essentially constructed out of bricks alone. Reinforced bars for columns or floors were unheard of then. It is for this reason that these buildings' columns do look massive or bulky. Lately I decided to take and compile pictures of these colonial buildings and they can be seen by clicking the pop-up "pages" below this blog header above, under the page name " Colonial Kuching". Have a browse and enjoy colonial Kuching awhile. I mean you don't have to travel to Kuching to see them yet. Treat these photos as appetisers. Bye for now.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flamingoes flight to Borneo

Greater Flamingoes ( Phoenicophocus ruber)

Have you ever imagined a flock of flamingoes from Tanzania landing on a remote wildlife park in Borneo? It was one of the happiest moments in my life when I saw them droppin' by next to my office at the Bintulu wildlife park in 1991. ( Inset: Me and Flamingo having a moment of play). After months of careful planning and preparations and with the experienced services of an importer/exporter of wildlife from Kuala Lumpur, we were able to complete one very satisfying challenge of a life time - to introduce the first ever flock of Greater Flamingoes ( Phoenicophocus ruber) to Bintulu. To my knowledge no other persons or parks on this huge island of Borneo ever kept such birds before. As part of my very diversified list of duties while working with the Bintulu Deveopment Authority (BDA) in the 1980's - 1990's, Iwas made in charge of the setting up of a wildlife park for the growing township of Bintulu.
Above: George and my wife with the flamingoes at the background in Singapore Zoological Garden.
The idea of bringing flamingoes to Bintulu grew out of a visit to the Singapore Zoological Gardens with Arthur George Alphonso, where I saw these big, elegant and sturdy birds in captive care there. Thirteen pairs of the birds landed in Bintulu on 9th July, 1991, from which only 23 birds were accepted as in fine condition for payment purposes. Each pair cost RM 5,500 back then. Trust me, to fly these birds from Tanzania in Africa many pit stops were made. The formula one route taken were Tanzania - Dubai - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Bintulu. Remember that they fly with proper"passports" in the form of health certificates, certificates of origin, export/import permits and permits from the veterinary department and the national parks and wildlife departments. It was a taxing excercise but much worth the effort.

A moat and viewing platform to watch the flamingoes at Bintulu Wildlife Park.

Looking back, I say bringing in the flamingoes from Tanzania to Bintulu has been one very memorable chapter etched in my life of adventures.