Thursday, 14 June 2018

A Letter to Mak & Abah: From Bario with Love

This is an imaginary letter to my parents about Bario. They have never been to interior Sarawak before including the highlands, and hopefully through this imaginary letter, I can dream that they will be interested to visit Bario someday!

Dear Mak & Abah,
Hope both of you are doing great! I’m perfectly fine and enjoying the remaining days here in Bario.
I have lot to share with the two of you, and while I’m free now, I’d better write to you before I
forget the things that I want to say.
If Mak & Abah are wondering how big the Bario airport is, it isn’t. It is cute, and it is just perfect
for Bario. And the plane? Just as cute as the airport. It is called Twin Otter, and only 18 people can
fit into it at one time. Oh, and don’t be surprised that almost all the people in the airport know
each other. If they feel like chatting, there are two caf├ęs running in the airport where they can sit
down, have a drink, and catch up. One is in the airport itself, and the other is situated in front of
the airport, and both served yummy Maggi Mee curry. Yes, you read it right.
The owner of the homestay picked up us at the airport, or else we would have had to walk.
However, walking is a pretty normal mode of ‘transportation’ here in Bario unless you want to
save time and have the means to.

As we were on our way, we saw a stretch of paddy fields. This is one of my favorite views in Bario.
Somehow, when I saw the paddy, it felt ‘down-to-earth’ and heartwarming. It reminded me of your
memories that you have told me about, Mak, when you were young and you went into the paddy
fields back in the time when paddy fields still existed in kampung. I’m here to experience what you
have experienced, and it was an unforgettable moment!
I mentioned just now that the paddy fields were one of my favorite views in Bario. Another one is
the Tama Abu Range that serves as the backdrop of Bario. It is huge and looks majestic. However,
trust me when I say that it is going to take more than 10 hours to reach the top although locals
would suggest it will take around few hours. But let just stick to 10 hours, and I can already
imagine how exhausting it can be. I think I need to hit the gym first to get myself prepared before
reaching that level of hiking.
The Bario Asal Longhouse is the place at which we stayed. It is long indeed, hence the name!
Along the longhouse, you can see hearths or ‘tetel’, and each of them represents one family.

Hearth or ‘tetel’.

Our homestay is inside the longhouse, and it is called Sinah Rang Lemulun’s homestay. They
provide all three meals, and the chicken wings are the best! I wish Mak and Abah can taste it right
The other side of the Bario Asal Longhouse, also known as the Tawa’.

This is the other side of the longhouse. It consists of no tetel, but on the wall, you can see pictures
of each family and their relatives. How awesome is that? I think it is a good way to remind them
about their kinship. They not only know their own nuclear family but also their extended family!
This is also an area where they hold special occasions or Irau they call it.
In Bario, there are a few ‘special’ products that many of those who visited would buy and bring
home, namely Adan rice (more commonly known as Bario rice), pineapples and its jam, and
natural salt. With Adan rice, we can cook it and eat it as usual, but here in Bario, they often make it
into Nuba Laya or mashed rice. The rice is cooked with plenty of water, almost as if we were
cooking porridge, but it’s not quite like porridge.
The sweetness of pineapples here can’t be compared to the pineapples that we usually buy in a
supermarket. They also make the pineapples into jam which was frequently served to us during
breakfast. This jam can be homemade or processed in the small factory that the kampung owns.
Salt in Bario is acquired naturally through spring water that is harvested through a well. It takes
hours to boil the salt water until the water evaporates, and the salt crystalizes and hardens. They
will package it into bamboo stems and allow it to sit by the fire until the water completely dried
out and the salt takes the form of the bamboo stem. Then, they remove it from the bamboo, wrap
it with leaves, and it is ready to be sold! It sounds easy peasy, but it requires a lot of time, and the
process of heating has to be repeated many times. However, that is what makes the salt in Bario
so special: the cost of time and the labor that is involved. Bario salt also has a higher iodine
content than regular sea salt!
Don’t worry, I will buy a bit of everything so that you can taste it all!
I wish I could tell you every single detail of the experience that I am having here in Bario and
about Bario itself, but let me save it for when I’m back at home! A little mystery and surprise never

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The Good Times

When I bought my flight ticket to Bario, I was both scared and excited. I was about to go to this
beautiful place, but I was also about to spend ten days with hardly any internet and live in a
completely different environment that I’ve never been exposed to (city boy represent).
I was freaking out a bit on the inside, but I somehow knew that this adventure was a work of faith
(also because I’m four years late).

We landed in Bario, and the first thing we did was to hop on the back of Uncle Julian’s Hilux.
On 3% phone battery, I recorded a short clip of us welcoming the Bario air and scent, which I love and
have come to miss so much since.


Bario, from the moment I landed, felt calm, clean, and homely. Whether I was on the back of
Uncle’s four-wheel drive (or a kind stranger’s one) going everywhere, or walking to and from the
internet centre back to our fantastic homestay, it felt so good to be surrounded by tall hills, paddy
fields, and fresh clear air. This place, right off the bat, is magical in its own unique way with all that
it has.

What I truly love about Bario and all the Kelabits I’ve come to know, through actual conversations and
even through passing-by, was that each one of them was the nicest people I’ve ever known. Several
tepuqs (elders in Kelabit) would wave to me on my way to the paddy fields (where I was assigned to
work with the sweetest human ever, Tepuq Ribed), and everywhere I went, everyone I saw, had a
smile on their face, and I dare say everyone whom I met shook my hand. I loved everything about this
experience, and I am grateful to have been assigned to my Tepuq who, thankfully, was patient in
teaching me how to harvest and dry paddy. I won’t forget our tea break talks where I’ve come to
conclude that my Tepuq loves fizzy orange drinks.  

Gloria took this great candid shot of Tepuq Ribed and I at her paddy hut.

Going into this, I have to admit I was nervous of how I would work and live with the other WHEE
participants. We’re all so different, but truly, it was those differences that made us connect and
resonate with each other. I will forever remember our hikes(all three of them) and how we’d sink in
mud literally all the time, and our deep talks that were both inside and outside, during the afternoons
and night. I will remember us gathering for every meal, food piled up on Alex’s plate and the time I
cried leaving this place, in the tiny plane, looking out at the open space.  

Poor Rhon, legit sinking in mud. 

I would do this adventure all over again, because god knows how thankful I am of this experience.

I'm smiling on the outside but dying on the inside after our morning hike. 

Bario was filled with good times and I hope it isn’t long before I go back there and revisit them. It was
truly unforgettable and the best start to my year that I’ve ever had growing up.  

Friday, 6 April 2018

On The Horizon

Bursts of light at the end of the horizon surrounded by lush paddy fields on my last day in Bario.

It was our first day in Bario and I was already blown away by the beauty of the Kelabit highlands.
All around me was lush green paddy fields, mountains, and optimum temperatures of perhaps 20+ degrees.
I loved the moment I spent alone, looking at the view that was absolutely breathtaking, just staring into the
horizon and sky – it gave me so much peace and helped me think through life from a very different perspective
and penned out my thoughts. I savoured the wonderful feeling of waking up every morning to such beautiful
sights, especially on my walks through the villages of Arur Dalan and Arun Layun. There was something so
mysterious about this land when mist shrouded the mountains with birds chirping and “bangau” (stork) flying
over the paddy fields. Not forgetting the hike up to Bukit Korea, Prayer Mountain and even wading through the
mud at Pa Umor, those sceneries reminded me why I fell in love at first sight with this place seven years ago
by just looking at a photo of the highlands that I didn't even know then.

By: Mei Yin Aw

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Obviously I did fall a couple times. 
I recently started to really enjoy being out in nature. When I was studying in Adelaide and Tasmania, I had a lot of opportunities to hike and see a lot of nature and wildlife around the area, so Bario sounded really appealing to me.

Except ... I grew up a city kid and don't really get along with bugs, cold showers and mud too well.

Before going to Bario, I knew that I hyperventilate REALLY BADLY when I get into freezing water. Try jumping from the jetty or having an early morning shower at a camp site, both during winter.

I think a lot of people can also relate to not being able to go to bed until you've made sure that the cockroach you saw between your cupboards is either out of your room or no longer moving.
I don’t actually have it as bad as some people do, I think, but I still had to mentally prepare myself for it all.
I remember listening to Rhon talking about eating kelatang (a worm delicacy in Bario), and I thought to myself
if I had the chance, I would like to push myself to do it, which kind of set the tone for the rest of my trip.
The cold showers slowly chipped away at me; some days it was really cold! I was breathing really heavily and
loud, and there’s even a video to prove it!
Slippin' and uh' slidin' with everyone. 
Everything else that I thought I would struggle with, I actually enjoyed a fair bit. I think the novelty of it all
and expecting it did make a big difference in terms of just preparing myself mentally to try and enjoy
whatever it might be, since it would all be a first for me.
I remember laughing at myself constantly when I was slipping and sliding in the mud during hikes.
The constant feeling of falling but not actually falling combined with my newfound “dance moves” was a
funny thought to me. I remember thinking to myself that it was cool to actually see what the bloodsuckers
in Bario looked like! I was pretty curious when we were told about them and actually seeing them did feed
my curiosity and made the bites more bearable.
A bloodsucker. Also, the WHEE founder isn't 
just punny but she also has a strong 
photobomb game.

Part of a well-balanced diet.

I also stomached a juicy sago worm (ulat sago) during our hike.
Creepy crawlies really aren’t my thing, so I surprised myself that I ate it. Thanks Rhon.

There were also little/big things I didn’t think I’d come across.
The little hike through the forest on the way to work, walking over some of the streams with make-shift
bridges out of tree trunks, playing sape, and playing bass for one of the church services were just some
the little things of the trip that I hadn’t really expected or thought of, but I had heaps of fun doing them.
You also do get pretty good at setting aside your own ideas and views after some time and just sink your
teeth into it (also quite literally).
Trying monkey meat was a little confronting at first, but I thought I would set aside my own ideas about it
and gave it a go. Sometimes, eating by the paddy fields meant cleaning the dishes with stored rainwater,
and inevitably, there would be bits of leaves, mud, and bugs in your drink or food. You just pick out what
you can, set aside what you think you shouldn’t consume, and have your meal with your Sinah.

I do have a picture of the monkey jaw,
but I don't think that sort of thing is for
everyone, so here's a goofy picture of
us at the airport instead!
I think taking it all in is an experience and not framing it as bad or good really made it that much more enjoyable and easier to just smile and laugh about it. After all, it was a first and definitely worth a try. 
Towards the end, I realized the hot water in one of the bathrooms was
working again, so I wouldn't sound like I was having a fit in the shower.
I still had a last cold shower on the day I left Bario though.
My blogpots are really just scraping the surface of it all, and I wish I
could capture it all in the form of words and pictures, but I don't think
I could.

I think it is normal to think to yourself, 'Why am I paying all this money
to volunteer? I'm already putting in the effort and time'. (besides the
tight budgets that some social enterprises/NGOs are running on which
makes it difficult to afford a lot of these things for volunteers, but I
disgress), and it did cross my mind. Then I realised I get so much more
out of it for myself, and it isn't so much as me giving my effort and time
to collect research data as it is an exchange for anyone who comes
along with WHEE to learn a little more about Bario themselves.

I really want to thank Jenny, Ben, Cindy, and Jay for supporting me with the FUN-raising and busking around
Adelaide to cover some costs during the project! I’d like them to know that whatever we raised went to
Tepuq Sina Rang’s homestay and other members of the community through WHEE (ie transportation, food,
classes/talks, and guides). I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did and that some of the information that
the WHEE batch collected would prove useful in the long run. (This also means a mandatory trip to Bario if
you guys ever come down from Oz.)
Busking in Adelaide. 
Thanks for the support guys! 
By: Alex Leong 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Describe Wind: Ngarang Everywhere 4.0

Sitting on the porch one lazy afternoon, waiting for my turn to shower, I begged Rhon to teach me how to play the sape. So she showed me the correct way to hold it, where to place your fingers, and broke it down into three parts. After letting me struggle along a little, Rhon decided to show me how it was played. It was at that moment that movement caught the corner of my eye. Tepuq had walked in quietly and started moving her hands in the wavelike patterns oh so common to the ngarang. As it played out, I couldn't decide which one I admired more -- the sound of the sape, the spontaneity of the whole situation, or how graceful Tepuq looked as she danced in time to the plucking of the sape.