On our first morning in Kuching (first morning in Borneo, in fact) we saw the headlines of a local newspaper saying that a fire during the night had destroyed 7 shops. A couple of hours later, we followed the smoke column to a row of shops on the river, just beyond the area we'd walked the night before. A fire truck blocked most of the road, but that didn't stop onlookers from standing close, checking out the action. Already 10 hours since it began, the firemen were still hosing down the smouldering remains, dodging the onlookers (or shopkeepers?) who were picking through the rubble.
I was checking out a Blue-ray movie (Ice Age 3 if you must know) in a shopping centre in Miri when I felt something on the back of my knee. I haven't dwelled on it much yet, but I'm getting eaten by insects here. I have welts all over and nothing I do stops them itching and nothing I do deters the blighters. So I assumed this thing on the back of my knee was another insect and bent down to brush it off. Instead, I saw a tiny hand. It was attached to the body of a little local boy staring up at me with a pleading expression. It wasn't one of pleading for money or food, though. This boy looked too well cared for to be wanting either. Wondering if he just wanted to see the film, I stepped aside - not so far that I still couldn't try to find the model of player, but far enough not to block the screen. With a shy smile, the boy went and sat next to his father on a bench facing the store and resumed staring at the screen. I wondered if this was a regular holiday or weekend activity for the two.
We've seen a few markets in the cities we've visited in Sarawak. They carry the usual stock of fruit, vegies, fish and live chickens. One stall that stood out to me had a pile of roosters wrapped in tubes of paper with their crests all neatly aligned at one end. An occasional twitching claw was the only sign of discomfort, though I'm sure the roosters didn't appreciate being captive so close to their competition. Back in our hotel room that evening, the sound of crowing came from the next room. My mother says that they can't crow without the room to puff up their chest and tip back their head, so it was unlikely that a paper-wrapped rooster lay on the table in there, but that image remains in my head.
I sat in a park for an hour today. It was the first large public park I'd seen in Borneo, but it was hardly used. Admittedly it was a weekday, but I thought more mums with kids would be about. And it wasn't as if they'd done a poor job on it. There was a huge amphitheatre for events and a few pagodas to rest under as well as a number of shady trees and stone bridges. I saw one young couple in the shade at the end of a bridge and a few idle people walking through, but no one really using the park. Strangely, there were 3 security guards lounging in the shade, one with a German Shepherd. What kind of security problems were they expecting, I wonder? Outside the park itself, but cutting into a corner, was a large swimming pool complex with high dive boards, but again there were very few people using it - all kids. I might have stayed longer, waiting for more people to come along or for those there to do something interesting, but ants were biting me where I sat under a tree and the pagodas only provide a concrete floor to sprawl on. The security guards had brought their own plastic chairs.
I'm falling into the habit of writing a diary instead of cultural anecdotes again. I may have to come back and do some editing. In the meantime, I'll try to get it right starting here. I've found that the Malaysians have a large tolerance for temperatures. When I'm sweating buckets in the outdoor heat, or walking through markets, the locals are calmly wandering around in long sleeves and trousers. Yet they'll put the air conditioning up whenever they get the chance. The air conditioners in our hotel rooms turn our abodes into freezers instantly. When we took a ferry from Kuching to Sibu, the indoor area was air conditioned. Luckily we were warned and had our long pants and fleece jackets. On the deck a warm breeze created an ideal setting when it wasn't raining. We've come all the way up to Miri today and thankfully the bus had reasonable settings. In fact, it was luxury with more leg room than I've ever had on a bus. Brady gave the trip 6.5 out of 10, but I'd give it 5 points just for the leg room, which puts it up near 9 out of 10. We're splitting up from here. Mum and Brady will have New Year in a long house while I'll head into Brunei. With all the money they have available, I am a little scared that the whole country will be air conditioned.
We missed the afternoon ferry to Sibu yesterday because it doesn't run any more. Serves us right for relying on a guidebook - especially one other than the LP. That gave us the afternoon free to wander the riverside and get more involved in daily life. I spent a couple of hours talking to a local man by the river, mostly talking about Australia, but getting a bit of an insight into his life in Kuching. I'll try to get it down as a character profile in a later entry. We were heading to a food market on roof-top carpark for dinner, but were distracted by a big tent on the other side of the river. With no bridge, the only way across was to take a gondola-style river boat. The operator stood at the front with two paddles crossed in front of him and leaned on them to propel us forward. He also used a rope to switch a motor (in the rear) on and off. Even without the motor, it only took about 2 minutes to paddle the boat weighed down with 10 passengers across the 40m wide river. We shared the boat with a group from the Indonesian part of Borneo, most of whom were working at a small national park that only saw 100 tourists each year. They were on a research trip to see how the Malaysian parks attracted so many people. The tent we'd seen turned out to be an eatery, as we'd hoped, and we sat with the head of the group to have dinner. He pulled out his laptop and showed us pictures of his beautiful park with orangutans, proboscis monkeys crocodiles and other animals that tourists
You can only get to the Bako National Park by boat and it was a rough ride. The rain and sea spray got under my gortex to mingle with the sweat from the warm breeze. Even with my sunglasses on, the rain stung my eyes so much I could barely see. I missed all the shanties on stilts across from the boat ramp despite the garish colours. Once in the park, the rain came down harder and permeated everything so that the sheets on our beds were damp before we even lay on them. But before we thought of doing that, we took a wet walk through the jungle, up over a nearby hill to a local beach. Its colour wasn't enticing enough for a swim, though whether it was the sand churned up by the rough seas or the tannin in the river water spilling out is uncertain. The next day, forecast to rain all day, actually remained sunny long enough for us to walk to a further beach, take a tepid swim in the less murky waters and to get burnt on the way home. Each step was on well marked but sodden trails and I'm amazed that I didn't see a single leech. Back home, I would have had 40 in that same distance and weather conditions. Animal-wise, it was almost as disappointing as the orangutans. We saw long-tailed monkeys and silver-leaf monkeys, but the proboscus monkeys seemed determined to stay out of camera range. Ours, at least. Others had up to 20 monkeys playing around them within minutes of us returning to our cabin. The locals were friendly, but generally kept to themselves. I spoke to one of the workers who
We're staying on the top story of a 'long house style' (not yet sure what this means) hostel. Last night we listened to the pattering of rain on the roof all night, punctuated by long loud rumbles of thunder. Apparently it's the beginning of the rainy season in Borneo. Strange, since the rainy season is June in Japan and August in India, slowly moving north. Would I still have come to Borneo now if I knew it was the rainy season? ... Probably. We landed in Kuching early yesterday afternoon, checked into the hostel and went out immediately for a stroll along the river under the heat of the clear sky. The people have already made up for the lack of friendliness and generosity I experienced in Morocco. A girl selling fresh fruit by the river took the time to help me refresh my Bahasa and people have pulled up next to us just to make sure we weren't lost. Today we took a bus to the local Orangutan rehabilitation park and a boy in a van stopped beside at some lights offered us some of the rambutan he was carrying, still on the branch. The orangutans didn't show for feeding time because it's fruiting season, but that's a good sign as it means that the rehabilitation program is working and the apes are finding their own food. If we thought it was hot and humid in town, we were in for a shock in the jungle. In the half hour we were standing at the feeding platform, we became drenched in sweat that hasn't dissipated with the return to town. Tomorrow we head to Bako National Park and it might be a tough contest
I arrived in KL last night with my mother. We'll meet up with my brother this morning and head off to Kuching today. Stupidly, I forgot my camera after buying a spare memory card and battery, but I'll borrow the others' and hope to get some good shots of Christmas and New Year Borneo Style to share.
Kuala Lumpur seems to me one of the more run down Japanese cities, Saga perhaps. On the one hand, there are buildings like the twin towers that look 20 years ahead of their time and, at over 500m tall, high enough to cause altitude sickness from taking the lift. On the other, the streets are dirty, the roads lumpy and the buildings look like bits have been shot off. Seeing the streets around Sentral Station at dawn gave the impression of a scene from I Am Legend, but that was to be expected so early on New Years Day. A local girl I spoke to on the train suggested that I head to China Town and India Town to people watch, but there were very few people around. Still, it was only about twenty minutes before I found myself being followed by a young man telling me he liked me. He even keyed the message into his mobile and showed me to make sure I got it. Message read, but not understood. I didn't hang around to find out if he just wanted to practise his English or was some gay gigolo. The city slowly filled up during the day as the sun came out and my energy waned. I even made to avoid the heat by standing in line to see a film (I Am Legend in fact) but in the end decided that I'd never forgive myself if I missed the park on my one day in KL. As it was, the park was further than I thought, much of it was under construction, and there were few people to watch. I should have gone earlier to see them doing morning exercises as