Thursday, 23 February 2017

Rice: A Whole New Meaning

Today, I heard on the radio, “If you would like to travel in Malaysia, there are only two major questions that you need to ask: Where to go? What to eat?” This shows how important food is to us as Malaysians, because to us, FOOD IS LOVE. FOOD IS LIFE. FOOD IS ALL YOU NEED.  

Going to Bario under Project WHEE and as a General Electric (GE) volunteer was an eye opening experience. To begin with, there was a unique taste to Bario food. As a student who used to study in a boarding school, Kari Nanas (pineapple curry) was a dish that I used to enjoy and ate all the time in KL. To many of us, rice is just rice, no matter where we go, no matter how we cook it. It is still rice. Now that I am back from Bario, I am here to say that it is not the same.

General Electric, my sponsor for the trip, without whom all these would not be possible
Every meal that we had in Bario, we were intrigued and amazed by the different tastes of food. Food in Bario has this unique taste to it, it is truly something that I can never find in KL. Each meal came as a surprise, and each meal was tasty in its own way. The cooking style there is very different, where they use local flavoring and local produce. Besides, they produce and consume a lot of pineapples here. Back home, I usually do not eat pineapples due to certain past unpleasant experiences. However, as the local pineapples were served, I took a bite, and I fell in love. Every subsequent meal after that could not and would not be complete without pineapple. Pineapple in any form, be it sliced, made into jam, or even curry. Besides, the pineapple curry here was way sweeter and nicer than the one I used to have in KL. 

My first meal in the field: Nuba Tu'ah, Chicken curry, Crushed Daun Keladi and Buah Kabar

Our first meal in Tepuq Sina Rang's homestay: nuba' laya', wild boar, imported chicken, buah kabar and midin!

Food is amazing, but have you ever wondered how much goes into the process of getting food on our table? Along with the thrust of our batch that is “Growing food, sustaining culture” we managed to explore what really happens in the background, and why we should treasure food even more.

Throughout the project, I was paired with Tepuq Supang, who stayed in Arur Dalan village. She is very friendly and was very nice to me. She guided me through the process of harvesting rice, and allowed me to join her in doing it. The best part of my experience, is that she allowed me to try the full process of harvesting, from cutting the paddy with the Eyo (sickle), to threshing, winnowing, drying, as well as carrying the grains from the paddy field to her house. The experience was tiring, but totally worth it.

Throughout the day while we were in the farm, she would work quietly, without complaint and without much rest. She was really caring too, as she always asked if I had enough water out in the field, or if I was tired, knowing that we “city kids” do not usually do such intense work. Similar to the experience of Kylie with Tepuq Supang in the previous batch, I think I told her once about how much I liked the pineapples from her farm, and the pineapples kept coming in. While resting, she would quietly walk over to her pineapple farm behind the shack, and come back with pineapples for me to eat.

Me and Tepuq Supang, a true Survivor (pun intended!)

Truth be told, farming is not simple, and it is something that really requires passion, long hours under the sun, real perseverance, and it is really tiring. Tepuq has a huge farm, and she used to work on it on her own, just like a true survivor. 

As we worked on the farm and while I collected data for our research on traditional vs mechanised farming, she would tell me stories of her passion for farming, and the activities her family used to do in the paddy field. Thankfully, her son, Bobby and his wife Celia also joined in on harvesting, and they have also inherited the passion for farming.  
Me and Bobby working in the field
So now one may ask... what has this experience taught you? 

This is what the experience taught me: when your mama tells you to finish your rice so that your future girlfriend does not have pimples, it is not really about that. It is because some Tepuq (or farmer) out there has spent hours in the paddy fields to ensure that we get to enjoy rice. Every grain of it. 

The sweat, pain, and passion put into producing food is something that I never realized until now, I will cherish and enjoy my rice, knowing how much has been put into that small plate of rice. Through this project, I found the new meaning to rice, and why achieving the UN Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG) of food security is so important.

Will I go back to plant or harvest paddy? Sure. Why wouldn't I?

Friday, 10 February 2017

The People, Always.

My Happy Tepuq Club; the people I worked with on the farm. 

What makes Bario so special, for me, would always be the people.

The Kelabits have a unique tradition of changing their names when they have their first child and first grand child. For me, the changing of names represents how one's life is transformed just by having another person in his/her life. The tepuqs i worked with gave me a Kelabit name just after a couple of days in Bario, and I believe that this is symbolic of how through this one encounter with the people of Bario, my life has changed.

I came to Bario expecting to grow - but i never imagined being able to build such strong relationships with the people around me, and I never expected that I'd end up being so attached to the tepuqs. On our first night in Bario, we had a meet and greet session which consisted of a series of ice breaking games that allowed for all the participants and tepuqs to introduce themselves. When it was Tepuq Sinah Rang's turn, she gave a mini-speech and said something along the lines of how she was immensely grateful for us, and how we were sent from up above to help them out. During her speech, I remember feeling a tad bit touched, but mostly,I felt surprised at how warm and loving she was - when she barely even knew us.

The people and community of Bario have this special way of emanating warmth. There was never a single second during my stay in Bario where I felt like an outsider, and for someone who has lived her whole life in the city, this was new, and strange, and lovely. Everywhere I went, people would wave or say hi, or smile at me, but it wasn't the kind of acknowledgment and attention that made you feel like you were a famous superstar. It was the kind of welcome that made you feel like you were coming home.

Aside from that, the people of Bario were extremely genuine in everything that they did. My mom has always taught me that things are never free in life, and that if people were to gift you gifts outside of special occasions, that one should always return the favour. However, in Bario, the tepuqs never had any ulterior motives and never wanted anything from me. They legitimately just wanted to give me things or help out, and this baffled me for a bit. But the people in Bario have the culture of sharing, and its something that's hard to come across in the city. I mean, it isn't even easy for me to give a nugget away despite having 20 pieces of nuggets, and these tepuqs are just giving their rice and pineapples away, left, right, and centre.

The people of Bario have left an impact on me, and I'll always hold in my heart the little things that I love so much about the people there. I'll always miss the way Tepuq Ulo whistles while we work in the field to call for the wind, the way Tepuq Sinah Ribed has the cutest way of saying "takpe lah" whenever something happens, and how Tepuq Maga came to the airport to see us before we flew, and so much more.

The contrast between how I felt when Tepuq Sinah Rang gave a speech on our first night versus how I felt when Tepuq Maga gave a speech during breakfast on our final day in Bario was immense, and if it weren't for the sudden attack of sneezes on my part, I probably would've bawled my eyes out.

I believe that its the people who make the place, and for me, the people of Bario have definitely made it one of the loveliest places to be.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Not about the money

RM 3500. 585 GBP. 1167 SGD. That’s a lot of money! When I first read through the requirements asked of a Project WHEE! participant, I was genuinely taken aback by the amount of fundraising one had to do. One can do a lot with RM3500, even after the drastic depreciation of the ringgit. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. So I set off on my fundraising journey with a chest full of optimism and faith, whilst being grounded by practical fundraising ideas.

One of my first fundraising efforts began in the UK after exam season. Given the strength of the sterling and my presumably generous friends, I hosted a small dinner party. Lucky enough to have help from a few flat-mates, I decided to cater for 30 friends. It was my first attempt at feeding such a big group (without the help of my mother of course) and as nervous as I was, the night went smoothly. Cooking garlic chicken pesto pasta in masses was tiring but nonetheless fun, as I managed to raise around £120 in profits that night.

A decent attempt for someone who never takes flat lay photos.

However, the bulk of my fundraising took place at home, in Kuching after I returned for my summer holidays. I knew that I couldn’t just flatly ask for sponsorship from family and friends so I decided to utilize my house helpers’ baking skills to the fullest. With a menu of prune cake, banana muffins, apple pie, chilled cheesecake and most importantly, pineapple tarts (ong lai ko in Hokkien), my house turned into a bakery overnight. For a month, I had the luxury of waking up to the scent of freshly baked pastries and cakes every morning. With the help of social media, publicizing and promoting my bake sale was a piece of cake (lame pun intended). It was not difficult to get the ball rolling as my mother is popular amongst her friends and mine for her cakes and pastries, but as the orders started flowing in, we were constantly in need of more baking ingredients and containers! It is true that the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach (granted that he/she is a true Malaysian) as I had aunties ordering RM400 worth of pineapple tarts (ong lai ko) for their extended family members as well!

Mum's blueberry cheesecake is still my personal favourite.

Some may argue that fundraising is extremely challenging, and that the idea of raising RM3500 is daunting. However, speaking from experience, it is absolutely achievable. One of my batch-mates raised funds by performing in wedding gigs as a drummer; another took up odd jobs in Kuala Lumpur alongside her part-time waitressing job. Sikit-sikit, lama-lama menjadi bukit. Personally, I would advise anyone to raise funds through doing what he or she loves, be it drumming, or baking, or even fitness. Heck, you could even do a RM2 per push-up facebook challenge! That way, your Bario journey is kick started joyfully and meaningfully. Being blessed with supportive parents and talented house helpers, all I had to do was constantly restock the baking materials, manage orders and deliver them. Lucky me, I know.

Flor, Mum and Rainmoi who were the true MVPs behind my entire fundraising bonanza!

My Bario trip was truly eye-opening and unique, and I would not have traded it for anything in the world. For all those reading this that are doubting their fundraising capabilities, remember that living a life of ‘oh well’s is better than one full of ‘what if’s. And trust me, you would not want to run through the next batch’s photos wondering how it would’ve been like if you had managed to get on board. So, put your best foot forward and as Nike always says, just do it.

Shannon. Batch 7

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Tepuq Supang and I

How was Bario? How was Bario?

Even now that the project has ended I still find it difficult to gather my thoughts and express them in words because the only way to accurately convey my experience to others is for them to eat chunks of my brain which contain memories of Bario, like R did in Warm Bodies, and experience Bario themselves via my cells.

I’m kidding.

Bario was amazing (this is an understatement. No adjective can represent the WOOHOO-KABOOM-PLACK-WOOISH-WHEEEEEEAOOOIIIWW-ness of my experience thus far. But for the sake of convenience, amazing it is). Bario was, to me, an unexploited masterpiece. I love Bario for its serenity. I love Bario for its people, their warmth and friendliness towards everyone. Ultimately, I love Bario for teaching me what it’s like to love and be loved in a whole new place.

To be honest, I was slightly apprehensive with the idea of forging new relationships, especially with Tepuq Supang, because of the preconceived notion that I had about her before reaching Bario. Tepuq Supang was the lady I was assigned to, and I was informed that she had a shy demeanour and was not very talkative. On the other hand I can be extremely chatty and I was worried it might put her off.

Tepuq Supang taking a break from paddy work
However, when I met her in the cozy Arur Dalan longhouse for the first time, I knew everything would turn out fine. The first thing I noticed about Tepuq Supang was her face. Her face exuded warmth, and it eased my unnecessary worries immediately. Knowing that she was shy, I did not bombard her with questions, but rather I turned myself into an open book in an attempt to gain her trust. I shared my life stories with her, and I was glad she found them intriguing. At times she would even chuckle at my shenanigans. Eventually, she opened up and we got along very well for the whole duration of the project.

Tepuq Supang and I
I would say my relationship with Tepuq Supang was an unconventional one. We displayed our affection in subtle ways. For instance, she would ask if I wanted to leave the paddy field early if I seemed burned out, or she would feed me with lots of fried ubi (tapioca) because I once told her I absolutely loved it, or even ask me if I was doing well in school, whether I had friends who came to Bario with me. She wasn’t touchy-feely, and neither was I on most occasions. But I realized that if I took the first step she wouldn’t hesitate to follow suit. If I initiate a high-five, she would return the high-five. If I gave her a hug, she would hug me back, no doubt. Same goes with learning English and developing the highlights of her trail. All I had to do was get the ball rolling by asking her what an object was in English and if she knew, she’d answer immediately and in return she’d ask me what something else was. Otherwise, she’d tell me in earnest that she didn’t know the answer and I would teach her from there. My point is; Tepuq Supang was affectionate in her own ways and was always willing to learn, an attribute that I look up to.

Tepuq Supang, Shannon (my paddy buddy) and I
Writing all this down brings me back to one of the Training of Trainers sessions (pre-Bario). We were asked if we were more task-oriented or relationship-oriented. I said I was in the middle. In hindsight, I learned that I am more inclined towards maintaining and building a relationship rather than focusing solely on the task of teaching English and developing Tepuq’s trail. Personally, it was easy for me to say that I prioritize the task. But at that moment, when I stood in front of Tepuq Supang, a living breathing human with stories to share and whom I would get to form a bond with for the next three weeks, I realized that I do value the relationship as much as the task, and that I couldn’t wait to embark on the WHEE journey with her and my batch mates.

“So, how was Bario?”


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Don't you worry child, see heavens got a plan for you

Have you ever stopped to wonder why everyone has a girlfriend/boyfriend and you don’t? Do you ever feel anxious about what career/lifestyle path you will stumble upon? Or wonder what is the purpose of your life?

Well, I have!

In my humble opinion, I think it is normal to think about these legitimate questions because that is part of the journey to figure what God has in store for us. 

Being in Bario has allowed me a chance to step back from life in the fast lane where we continuously chase deadlines after deadlines. It is crucial to slow down and assess what it is that we are trying so hard to chase towards.

If God is the beginning and the end (Alpha and Omega), then He must have already thought about each one of us when He made the earth. 

Certainly, not everyone is called to a life of marriage. And certainly not everyone is meant to be a doctor/lawyer (as one of my batch mates, Kan Wai Min, wrote in one of his WHEE! posts). Neither am I fit to explain what is the purpose of life.

But what I do know is, we might have a plan for ourselves, but very often we lose out on the most important things in life, such as love and happiness (I should only highlight these two values now because they are what I wish to deliver). To understand these two simple-yet-complicated values, the presence of God needs to fit in the equation.