Saturday, January 29, 2011

Images of Kuching Today

Tall palms are iconic of Kuching's exotic look.
Kuching's tropical sun and humid climate makes it an ideal setting for a tropical garden city. It is gaining reputation as a popular tourist escapade and gateway for jungle adventure into
Sarawak's deep rainforests. Exotic palms, landscape gardens and road beautification around the city help create a pleasant city environment.
Click here to see more images of the city's greenery.
Sarawak's very own Elvis
On Saturday last, four impersonators of Elvis rocked the stage at the Sapphire Lounge, Ban Hock Road. Kuching's loyal Elvis fans were entertained to Elvis evergreens of the 60's and 70's.
Click here for more stories and images of the night.

Nepenthes bicalcarata ( Tropical pitcher plant)
In Sarawak's peat swamp forests and heath forests ( locally known as 'Kerangas' forests) are found many varieties of the pitcher plant. This red coloured pitcher plant bears two fangs which protrude beneath the lid. Its leaves can grow to about one meter long and the pitcher can extend 25 cm high.
For more images of the pitcher plants click here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No fruit but got flag

A 'politicised' durian tree seen along the Pan-Borneo Highway after Betong.
The yearly presence of seasonal fruits has been missed by a large portion of the general public in Sarawak this year. The wait which started end of November continued to January and there no appreciable signs yet of any rambutans or durians in Sarawak towns. Many seasoned planters have attributed this sad phenomena to the adverse weather or climatic changes ( viz prolonged monsoon rains, global warming) and the destruction of more tropical rain forests throughout Sarawak. The lack of forest wild fruits have forced squirrels and other wildlife to scavenge durian or oil palm trees for ripe as well as unripe fruits to sustain themselves.
On this trip back Kuching, I noticed one longhouse and one durian tree displaying the opposition party flags way ahead of the ruling party. This is a sure sign that the opposition party is serious about Sarawak's coming general elections which technically should be held before July this year.

One recurring and distressing issue among the rural populace is the loss of their customary lands and 'temuda' lands ( viz state lands purportedly under illegal occupation according to Sarawak land code) due to alienation by the government of the day to big plantation companies and private individuals. The total land acreage alienated so far is in the tune of a million acres. This vast land bank dedicated to monoculture of oil palm cultivation have consequently displaced thousands of native rural families and their traditional means of livelihood. It is expected that the existing ruling party will lose some constituencies due to this hot issue. There are many court cases still pending in courts taken up against the government by the locals on unfair acquisition practices with a few winning their cases. The land issue is a ticking bomb and the opposition parties are there to exploit it.

However, Looking at the durian tree it appears that the opposition party is one head above, psychologically speaking, of the ruling party.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Images of Kuching Today

'Made in China' decorative items for the Chinese New Year flood the five-foot way at Mile 7 ( Kota Sentosa)
On the first day of the First Moon of the Chinese Lunar Calender, the ethnic Chinese in
Sarawak celebrate their Spring festival or what is generally known as the Chinese New Year. This year the new year falls on the 3rd of February and is a public holiday. The festival is celebrated for about two weeks with family reunion dinners and visits to relatives and friends houses. In Sarawak however the Chinese nowadays hold open houses for friends of other races to visit their homes in quest of national unity. Currently decorative items are mostly imported cheaply from China.
This extremely attractive yellow hibiscus hybrid I saw today is in the Sarawak Museum garden's grounds. The Museum's garden has a good collection of hibiscus for everyone to see because it is an open public park. The hibiscus rosa-sinensis which is red in colour is the national flower of Malaysia and named "Bunga Raya" in Malay. More hibiscus pictures can be browsed here .

The Kuching Waterfront is an oasis amidst the city's concrete jungle. It is a heavily landscaped tourist belt area within the Kuching city center. A visit to the area is a must if you are in Kuching. On the opposite bank of the waterfront you can see sleepy Malay villages against the thriving shopping district of the waterfront showcasing Sarawak's handicrafts, foods, traditional trades and other modern conveniences like international class hotels, shopping complexes, banks and multi-storey car parks. For more images of the Kuching waterfront click here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An evening of Elvis evergreens

Sarawak's very own Elvis.

I'm back in Kuching and my first night out was greatly nostalgic. At the Sapphire music lounge on Friday night, four Elvis impersonators came to stage and lived up to the expectations of Kuching's loyal Elvis fans. The place rocked with a smooth sequence of perfect showmanship and vibes as the impersonators took turns to entertain the fully-packed lounge with a wide range of Elvis unforgettable hits.

Three of them were from Sarawak and one came all the way from Kuala Lumpur ( Malaysia's capital city) to deliver his performance.

More of Elvis from Sarawak ~
Sonny from Kuala Lumpur entertained the audience with his pleasant rendition of Elvis slow numbers.

Performing the style of Elvis comes natural. The impersonation was perfectly executed in costume, dance moves and voice - bringing the legendary Elvis alive to Kuching.

There is no pretense in Dawi's performance as he belt out his numbers. He rendered his songs with ease and honesty thereby appearing more like a true artiste than an impersonator.

Feeling good with extra soul into the song.
As I mixed around the electrified audience I was caught in the nostalgic years of the 60's and 70's . I too shared the fun of singing the songs, music and dance moves of Sarawak's very own Elvis- live at Sapphire. For a flat entrance fee of RM 30/pax plus one free drink, the evening was entertainment par excellence.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January flowering trees of Bintulu (Part 3) - Kedah Gardenia

A mature Kedah Gardenia tree at Medan Jaya shopping area, alongside the car parking lots.

In the ' Medan Jaya' shopping area today, I was glad to come across a long row of flowering tree-gardenia species known locally as the 'Kedah Gardenia'. Its botanical name is Gardenia carinata and hails from the Coffee family ( Rubiaceae). It is a medium tree and can reach a height of 15 meters. Young trees flower at about four years old. It is rather slow in growth and thus is suitable for the house garden. In addition, it has an upright growing habit with an oval crown thus making the garden less shady but more showy due to its large bright yellow flowers ( see inset). This plant is a relative import to the Bintulu landscaping industry and most probably was introduced to the Bintulu garden scene less than 10 years ago. It is no stranger to Malaysia from which it originates. Kedah is one of the states on the Peninsular Malaysia where the plant finds home and get its vernacular name - Kedah Gardenia. However, because of the ease of propagation through seeds many nursery owners in Sarawak are able to raise them and keep large stock available for purchase.

The flowers start to bloom in pale cream and gradually takes on a bright orange-yellow colour. These large showy flowers are borne in the leaf axils viz the terminal end of the twigs. Fruits are oval and they appear green at first and matures to yellow colour. The tree is easily propagated through seeds. Location : Medan Jaya , Bintulu.
If Bintulu town residents want a different and slightly better quality of urban life, planting more of the fragrant Kedah Gardenia would be an excellent idea for home gardens, neighbourhood parks, car parking lots, public parks and small to medium-sized town roads. More fragrant spots in the town will surely make the town people happier with the town's green lungs.

For more pictures of Kedah Gardenia flowers please click here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The rustic "Ru" trees

Being the tallest trees at the Tanjung Batu Beach area, the Casuarina trees look majestic, strong and rustic.

I have always admire the Casuarina trees ( Casuarina equisetifolia ) that line the beaches of Bintulu. They grow wild and fast. Having a long life span, they prefer the full sun and well-drained sandy soil especially along Bintulu's coasts. In the picture at left ( inset) the casuarina trees were not planted. They just grew naturally through the dispersal of seeds on a tiny space of the seawall. The casuarina trees are known here as 'Ru" and are said to originate from Southeast Asia through the Pacific Islands. They tolerate high winds and therefore are natural windbreaks. In landscaping they are also used as screen, background and hedge planting ( if pruned). Its timber is good for firewood.
Sometime in 1990, I went to the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia campus at Serdang. There I saw a row of shady ru trees due to heavy pruning ( see colour photo above). In many public gardens or parks in Sarawak the ru trees are sometimes shaped into square-like boxes or conical shapes. They are thus rendered into artificial ornamental forms all in the name of topiary.

A winding footpath with informal planting of ru trees on both sides at Pantai Temasya, Bintulu today.

Left alone the ru trees can reach a height of about 40 meters. On a recent visit to Pantai Temasya or Temasya Beach near Tanjung Batu , I was impressed by the tall presence of the ru trees along the newly expanded footpath. They cast a little shade and looking above I could see many birds chirping away. In Bintulu it is common knowledge that these ru trees are natural habitat for the cicadas.

My fascination of the ru trees was caught in a watercolour painting I did in the 1970's. The painting above showed natural grouping of ru trees at the present Pantai Temasya beach area. Bintulu beaches are beautiful for its ru trees and are in harmony with the sandy coastline and strong winds. It is for this reason that in Bintulu the casuarina tree is called in Malay 'Ru Laut' ( English = Sea ru) to differentiate it from another species viz Casuarina sumatrana which is locally called 'Ru Bukit' (English = Hill ru) . I wrote about a bird and a casuarina tree in a poem entitled 'Windswept lawn' where I imagined myself a bird looking down from an old casuarina tree. The poem reads :
Like a bird one day
I was out in the open air
been there by the casuarina branch
that I perched to watch and sing
at the garden steps below
It was a tiny lawn
recently mowed
the cuttings were dry
shrivelled and brown
The patio was quiet
a little breeze blew
moved the scattered leaves
the silent chimes too

The mood was rustic
this warm return hollow
where I while away
my moment in time
and take flight when the day is done
Said I :
Here's indeed a place to rest
to seek a peaceful mind
that will remember and recall
this windswept lawn
the patio and the trees
I wished to be my own
MOOD, 29 June'08.

Friday, January 7, 2011

January flowering trees of Bintulu ( Part 2) - Yellow Flame

Close-up of the inflorescences showing crinkled petals.

A short row of flowering Yellow Flame trees along Tun Ahmad Zaidi Road near Kampung Assyakirrin, Bintulu.

Driving leisurely along the Tun Ahmad Zaidi Road today, my gaze was directed to a short row of flowering trees near the Kampung Assyakirrin area. The Yellow Flame flowers were all over the rounded canopy and appeared to crown the tree with its golden glory. Such is the beauty of the Yellow Flame ( Peltophorum pterocarpum) and this flowering season can last for a few weeks. The Yellow Flame is a local tree by which I mean its origins can be found in Malaysia and nearby South East Asian countries. Sarawak is too rich in hard tropical timber that even though the trunk of the tree can be used as planks, it is seldom harvested for its timber. In Indonesia especially on the island of Java the batik makers there used the bark of the tree as dye in colouring their batik pieces. The Yellow Flame belongs to the Leguminosae family ( Bean family) and in Sarawak the Yellow Flame is planted more for its ornamental value. It is planted in Bintulu as medium sized tree for medium-sized town roads. It can however grow to a height of 18 meters when matured. The flowers are golden yellow in hue ( see top picture) and are borne on erect terminal pyramid-like panicles. After a heavy flowering season the tree will produce pods that are flat and purplish brown in colour. Most nursery owners propagate them by way of seeds and it is generally known that germination takes about two or more months. However many nursery owners soak the seeds in hot water for about two (2) minutes to speed up the germination process. Another interesting habit of the Yellow Flame is the leaf exchange process that it undergoes after each flowering season. Immediately after leaf shedding , new leaf production will follow and the cycle later complete itself with the next flowering magic.

Even though Bintulu had planted the Yellow Flame as popular roadside trees beginning the mid 1980's starting at Nyabau Road ( short cut to Bintulu Port from Bintulu- Miri Highway at Mile 5 Traffic Junction) and the Dewan Suarah internal roads, not all of them flower in concert this January. Probably this is one characteristic typical of the Yellow Flame. They don't burst in golden flowers simultaneously all over the town roads. Despite this weakness they are still my favourite due to its bright yellow colour, moderate size and robust stature once they are heavily pruned. The last point reminds me of one specific "Grand Old Yellow Flame tree of Bintulu " that is still standing proudly at the center of Bintulu town if one cares to notice. The Yellow Flame thus speaks volume of Bintulu town landscaping attempts since the 1950's.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January flowering trees of Bintulu ( Part 1) - Golden Penda

Flowering Golden Penda trees along a small road near Kampung Assyakirrin, Bintulu. The bright pinkish red flowers next to it are the flowers of the Crepe flower ( Lagerstroemia indica)

This year the month of December has been memorable in that my occasional visits to the 'Tamu' or jungle produce market and night markets in Bintulu are not met with the rich display of seasonal fruits. No, sadly enough there aren't any smell of the ever popular durians, langsat, rambutans, dabai, cempedak or ong lumok and many other local end of year fruits. As is normal the fruit season will continue till January or even February. But will there be any fruit stalls selling seasonal fruits in the night markets this month is a big guessing and waiting game for many lovers of local fruits throughout Sarawak. If it did not happen in December, will January bring in the cheers? The very wet weather it is thought by many experienced farmers to have caused poor flowering which resulted in extremely poor harvest of local durians and other seasonal fruits. Be as it may, I feel delighted today as I drive along many small roads here to see the exuberant golden flowers of the Golden Penda trees ( Xanthostemon chrysantus). At the inset is a close-up of the flowers. The long stamens appear like fireworks in the night sky. The Golden Penda comes from the Family - Myrtaceae or the Myrtle family of which the common edible ones are the guava ( Psidium guajava) and the Malay apple ( Syzygium malaccense) . While the guava and the Malay apple originates from Malaysia and Indonesia, the Golden Penda's origins are said to be from Australia. Golden Pendas are grown in Bintulu mainly for its ornamental value being a small compact tree with abundant masses of golden yellow flowers.
Ten years ago the Golden Penda was never seen in Bintulu. Thus it must have been introduced to Bintulu between 5-6 years ago. But whatever its origin and its late popularity, the Golden Penda has begun to show its true colours this January.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Images of Bintulu Today

At Zone E of the Kambatik Botanic garden I found this spectacular blackish white-rimmed fungus thriving on a rotten tree stump.

In close-up, the long protruding stamens of the Golden Penda ( Xanthosemon chrysanthus) resembles fireworks in the night sky. The Golden Penda belongs to the genus Eugenia and they have the characteristic powder puff-like flowers. The "Jambu" ( Eugenia jambos) and Eugenia oleina flowers also have similar masses of flowers. The picture was taken along a side road at Kampung Assyakirrin. More such trees should be grown in Bintulu. The genus Eugenia belongs to the family Myrtaceae (Myrtle family).

A common resident at my eco-farm is the Bulbul bird. It loves to eat the ripe juicy red seeds of the 'Simpoh Air' ( Dillenia suffructicosa) that are found growing along the stream at the farm and often builds nest at the Eugenia oleina trees that are grown as roadside trees here. I have seen them eating the berries of the Eugenia oleina trees and this fact makes me feel that planting the Eugenia trees have brought in much needed wildlife.