Monday, 20 July 2015

Blades of Societal Norms and Judgments

The people in Bario Asal accepted me for who I am. For example, as a vegetarian, I could watch and admire Tepuq Sina Rang's skills of cutting up wild boar and appreciate the effort Tama Wesley put in to have BBQ night under a sky full of stars without feeling compelled to consume meat.  And there were other situations which reassured me that my heart was safe from blades of societal norms and judgements.

So, I would like to share a piece (some parts have been edited) that I wrote half a year ago about a conversation which reshaped my view of conformity.
“Imagine a father stabbing his own child over and over again. And this happens daily.” 
My friend, Sean painted this scene with his words. The vividly grotesque image floated into my mind - tears flooding the naïve child’s pink cheeks as he screamed for the man to stop, and the cold look in the father’s eyes. This was completely unacceptable. 
It was at a wedding that I met Sean, a German exchange student who supported his arguments with heart-wrenching analogies. He continued his analogy, “Now, imagine the same dad doing the same act only once in a while.” He stressed on the last five words. “That’s better, right?” “No way!” The words escaped my mouth before he finished his question. Logical thinking dictated that this was violence no matter how often the stabbing was repeated. No sane person would agree with the notion that this was morally right. 
Our conversation started with both of us finding common ground. We discussed culture and history before finally settling on vegetables. Cabbage, carrot, broccoli, cucumber, spinach – we did not contemplate the natural beauty of the green leafy vegetables. Instead, we agreed on the uniqueness of their creation in this vast universe as a species that specializes in food production through photosynthesis. They’re created with a purpose to feed other species.
As the discussion went on to vegetarianism as an alternative to consuming meat and fast food which is detrimental to health, I proudly declared myself an ‘optional’ vegan, my reason being not wanting to burden anyone to prepare special food for me. When I came to think of it, there were times when I used this as an excuse to give in to my own temptation to eat meat as I reassured myself that the occasional meat eating was okay. This was when Sean, a pure vegan put forward his analogy to express that doing the same act less frequently doesn’t change the fact that I’m a hypocritical sinner.
This analogy made me rethink my belief systems. The child being stabbed by the "father" representing rigid social norms was my inner secret self - a small, fragile girl with low self-esteem who was always in a dilemma whether to follow the popular opinion or go with her guts. However, on the outside I tried to be an advocate for causes that felt close to my heart. For years, I found myself admiring the work of Emerson ― principles of Transcendentalism and Individualism. My two sides often conflicted; the war of cruelty between child and dad raged on inside. However, I often let the inner self's fear of being ostracized take over my decisions, sometimes resulting in negative outcomes for others as I unconsciously believed that "stabbing once in a while doesn’t hurt".   
Sean’s analogy sparked a decision to let the inner child to muster the courage to stand up against the cruelty; to learn from and consequently merge with my outer self to form a healthy whole. It will take time and patience to fight constantly with the demons in my head that I have grown accustomed to, but I think it is worth it, as standing up for a cause while feeling doubtful inside doesn’t make any difference in the world as it doesn’t convince others. 
I will try my best not to allow my heart to be stabbed again by the blades of societal norms and judgments. 

-Srinithya a.k.a. Uding Aran-

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A Short Getaway

We live in a time where technology plays a big role in our lives, and I am not afraid to admit I often find myself wasting my time, unconsciously peeking at other people’s life on social media instead of managing my own. Hands up if you agree social media is the number one reason you're procrastinating *raises my hand quietly*. I am guilty as charged!

Before we departed for Bario, we were told that we would have no access to the Internet. And just like that, we were completely cut off from the outside world for three weeks (we still got to call our family and friends, don't worry). My friend even joked that if Peninsular Malaysia disappeared overnight, we wouldn’t even know because there are no newspapers! Sure, three weeks without Internet connection was a pain when we needed to Google something. But come to think of it, we might have been too dependent on the Internet all this while, because we did survive using only our existing knowledge and teamwork to figure things out on. And for the first time in ages, I felt like I was actually living.

Tepuq Ulo's paddy field.
It felt like we had more time in Bario, because we woke up early and used our time wisely. With little distractions (from technology), we got to talk to and interact more with the people we built relationships with, take strolls and admire the beautiful scenery during our free time, breathe in the fresh Bario air, and take proper breaks when we were tired. I even learned how to fish! 

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to experience a farmer's life. Being city kids, most of us are not physically strong enough for hours of hard labour. But did we enjoy the process? Definitely!  

After working in the paddy field. Muddy but happy.
Working in the muddy paddy field was tough, but it made us stronger.  I enjoyed drying the paddy the most because, who doesn’t like chasing chickens away? But when the paddy was almost done drying (it usually takes four hours) and it started to rain, I could feel my heart breaking because Tepuq Ulo's hard work had gone down the drain. 

Drying the paddy. Photo taken shortly before it started raining. 
One time, K Rou and I followed our tepuqs to remove the weeds underneath the pastor’s house. We had to squat beneath the house and pull out the weeds, and we couldn’t stand as the space was too small. Seeing how tired out we were, our tepuqs made us weed in the open space. Tepuq Ulo and Tepuq Ribed would say: ‘Kasihan cucu-cucu kita, perlu ikut kita kerana kita kuat kerja.’ (Our poor grandchildren, pity them as they have to follow us to do our hard work.) We didn’t even do much compared to them!

Food doesn’t come around easy in Bario. There are grocery stores around, but they are not as well-stocked as the ones we have in the city. I remembered when Wai Leong and K Rou were looking for tomatoes and they had to search the village to find out who planted them. If we wanted vegetables we had to pick them from the jungle. When picking jungle vegetables with my tepuq, all sorts of insects managed to crawl inside my pants, from leeches to big red ants. I might have screamed a few times. But now the city kid can finally say that she has seen it all (not really)! Yes, I brought back legs full of insect-bite scars but EVERY BITE WAS WORTH IT.

K Rou (left) and I all dressed up by our tepuqs to pick jungle vegetables.
Take note ladies, it's the latest kampung fashion!
For participants, it’s not fun and games all the time. We came to Bario carrying responsibilities and a mission. There will definitely be challenges, but once you manage to overcome it, I assure that you will grow and come back with a completely different mindset. If you’re reading this, and thinking about joining Project WHEE!, I encourage you to take this big step. You won't regret it!

-Pei Chi-

The Story Behind Tapioca

Tapioca. You might have tasted it before, but have you seen a tapioca plant before? Do you know that tapioca doesn’t grow like most fruits or vegetables? Instead, it is grown from the roots of a tapioca plant.

I was so glad to have the opportunity to follow my assigned lady, Tepuq Bulan, to visit her tapioca farm. To be honest, I had never seen a tapioca plant before until I visited Tepuq Bulan's farm.

Tapioca farm
Tapioca is best harvested when the plant is about 9-12 months grown. Because of this, it is planted annually.


We can identify the maturity of a tapioca plant by looking at its branches. If there are fruits on the tapioca plant, it means the tapioca is ready to be harvested. 

Tepuq Bulan harvesting tapioca using a hoe
Harvesting tapioca is a backbreaking job, especially for a 6-foot-tall guy like me. I had to bend down, continuously digging until I caught a glimpse of the tapioca. It was very challenging as you can't dig too fast or exert too much strength when digging, as you might damage the tapioca. Tepuq must have been watching with cold sweat while I was harvesting the tapioca, as she was worried I might destroy her hard work. Luckily, there was only a small cut on one of the tapioca roots.

“Be gentle” ”Do it softly” These were the words of advice Tepuq gave me before she left to collect tapioca leaves. By the time she had finished collecting one bag of tapioca leaves, I was still struggling to pull out tapioca from the same spot.


After harvesting, the stem cutting method was applied to plant a new tapioca plant, where the end of a stem is sharpened before inserted into the soil with a depth not exceeding 6 cm. The stem was cut to about 15cm long for it to grow.

Fried tapioca cake
"It's just ordinary fried tapioca cake, there's nothing special about it" was my first impression of the dish pictured above. But after I experienced the process of harvesting and planting tapioca, I started to appreciate it as I realised so much blood, sweat and tears were involved in harvesting the tapioca that we take for granted. There are a lot of things that we do not understand until we have experienced them. During my time in primary school, my teachers always reminded us not to waste rice as every grain of rice came from the hard work of a farmer. Now, I clearly understand that we should feel grateful and appreciate everything that we have even if it's just a cup of water, because we are living lives far more fortunate than many others.  

Wai Leong

Authentic Hospitality

I was facing trouble narrowing down my university choices recently, and though I had already made my decision before going to Bario, my mind still wandered back to the time when someone asked me “What are you looking for in a university experience?”

My answer came without hesitationlike instinct. I felt more sure about it than any decisions I had made regarding university in the past couple of months. “A sense of community,” was my reply.

Now, I’m wishing for a university in Bario.

View of Bario from atop Arur Dalan's Prayer Mountain.
Panoramic view during our hot afternoon walk.
On the right is 'tortoise' Rui Ci walking towards us while we were waiting under trees with minimal shade.
Rainbow shot while walking between Arur Dalan and Bario Asal.
Turu comes into the long house once in a while to hunt for food.
I saw it eat a cotton bud once :O

Everyone in Bario felt like family. Everyone knew everyone and even if they didn’t know someone, they knew someone who knew that someone. In the long house and on the streets, people waved and smiled at each other. There was just no walking past anyone without some kind of acknowledgment from either party. In my three weeks in Bario, I found myself waving and smiling at people I didn’t know and feeling the warmth in their reciprocating smiles.

The sense of community in Bario is so strong. During my time there, I saw the ladies preparing for functions and receiving important guests. I saw how everyone would help in cooking and even share their eating utensils from home for the guests to use!

In countless moments in Bario, I felt the hospitality of the community and saw how generosity was so effortless and second nature to them.

One hot afternoon, my friends and I were roasting in the heat for some time before one of us (thank you Nithya!) was shameless enough to flag down a truck for a ride which they gladly gave.

There was also another time when my tepuq and I were walking from Bario Asal to Arur Dalan (kampung to kampung). A truck stopped next to us, and the driver greeted us before offering us a ride without us even asking.

I once walked from Arur Dalan to Bario Asal alone and was offered a ride on a motorcycle by a guy whom I had never met but had only waved to minutes before!

I know that what I’ve experienced and listed are limited to free rides, but their hospitality extends to so much more than that. Even Turo, Bario Asal’s resident hornbill is hospitable! It followed me and Nithya all the way from Bario Asal to Arur Dalan on the day before our flight! On many occasions we were offered drinks, fish, chicken, wild boar, BBQ etc... the list is unending!

I love the sincerity that comes with their generosity; they are under no obligation, and yet they expect nothing in return. In Bario, I felt accepted; I felt a sense of belonging.

It wasn’t until I got home that I TRULY appreciated how beautiful the people and the atmosphere was in Bario and what a stark contrast it is to the city environment. As I walked through KL Sentral, hauling my heavy bag that was exploding with the weight of Bario’s generosity, I caught myself smiling and waving to strangers who didn’t wave back.

Coming back from Bario after three weeks felt like returning to the cold, unsmiling reality from a fantasy world far, far away.

The locals there like to joke that Bario has its own air conditioning system without a switch, because it gets really chilly at night. But walking through KL Sentral, the air inside Malaysia’s concrete jungle felt colder than the air of warmth and hospitality surrounding Bario, which now feels like its own idyllic country, tucked away behind towering hills and the magnificent rain forests of Borneo.

Officially, my task in Bario was to teach the local Kelabit women English, but really, in my short three weeks there, I learnt so much more than any knowledge I could have imparted.

Lim Hooi Ju

How to be...Happy :)

Bario is my happy place. There were genuinely so many things to be glad about in Bario. It just made me think, who needs the latest iPhone model anyway? Here’s a list of things that made me (and maybe my friends too) happy.

Happy people :) No, they're not twins. 

1.       When there’s Vico/Milo to drink in the morning. (It’s a luxury)
2.       When my friend Nithya rolled down the small hill behind SMK (the secondary school). It was hilarious!

Nithya lying on the grass before rolling down the hill.
3.       When it’s a sunny day and all our laundry managed to dry!
4.       When we managed to hitchhike back to the Bario Asal longhouse. (Thanks Nithya!)
My batchmates getting a ride on the back of Tepuq Sinah Rang's 4WD.
5.       When Uncle Julian decided to give us a ride to and fro the hydro dam.
6.     When my tepuq boiled hot water for me to shower with. It was the only time I conditioned my hair in Bario.
7.       When we managed to pick a big bag of vegetables from the jungle.
8.       When we conquered Prayer Mountain!
On top of Prayer Mountain.
9.       When it was the weekend and we sat and did nothing for the whole day.
10.   When the SK (primary school) and SMK teaching sessions went well.
11.   When it didn’t rain while we were drying the paddy.
12.   When the tepuqs told us inappropriate jokes.
13.   When I managed to catch 20 fish for the first time, on my own (my tepuq had to leave me alone to do some chores).
14.   When I could finally differentiate between vegetable species after a while.
15.   When we danced in the middle of the road before going to the airport.
16.   When Wai Leong (Apoi) did the traditional Kelabit dance. He’s gifted!
Wai Leong (Apoi) rocking his Kelabit headgear. (Third from the left)
17.   When my friend Hooi Ju had a chance to go into the paddy field and got muddy for the first time. That smile on her face was so priceless, it made me really happy.  
Tepuq Ulo teaching Hooi Ju to fish after she went into the paddy field.
18.   Having fried chicken wings!
19.   When the marshmallows were roasted perfectly. And dipped in chocolate. Mmmm.
20.   When we surprised Nithya with a Bario birthday cake on her birthday!
Bario birthday cake.
21.   When our tepuqs learned a new word!
22.   When we were told that we have beautiful voices after singing in church.
23.   Coming up with dance steps to Jai-Ho with my batch mates!
24.   Seeing a rainbow <3
Rainbow! 


25.   PINEAPPLES.


Pineapple ceremony.
(From the left) Nithya, Tepuq Ulo, Tepuq Ribed, K Rou and me
The list goes on. In my opinion, the secret to happiness is to be appreciative and thankful of the little things.
That is the biggest lesson I brought back from Bario.

Love,
Pei Chi

Land of a Thousand Handshakes

One thing that never ceased to amaze me in Bario was the friendliness and kindness of the people. Even though I am an outsider, they greeted me with open arms. Welcome to Bario, a greeting that they addressed with sincerity.

Where are you from?
When did you arrive?
What are you doing here?

It was so warming to hear these three simple questions. 

On my first day in Bario, my batch came up with a “crazy” idea - a walk to the airport. As Pei Chi and Rui Ci were arriving one day later, our initial plan was to walk to the airport after our church session in the morning to pick them up and go back with Uncle Julian, our home-stay host’s son, in his car. This plan sounded very interesting and wonderful, but our “words spoke louder than actions”. 

At first, we did start walking after the church session. It was just a five-minute walk, then we ended up sitting on the back of a 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) as we were offered a free ride by a kind driver. 

Yeah! People in Bario are that friendly. 

It showed how kind and friendly the locals were as they will easily offer you a ride without much hesitation. If this took place in Kuala Lumpur (KL), we would need to think twice or even thrice about their offer as we wouldn't know if they had any malicious intents (KL is among the cities with high crime rates). Even sometimes when otheers are in need of help, maybe due to an accident, some of the urbanites practice an egocentric philosophy where they just think of themselves. They would use their smartphones to take pictures to share on social media, rather than lending a helping hand. This is a very serious problem in the community nowadays, especially in the city.      

As it was still early, the kind driver dropped us at Gatuman, the only place in Bario with WiFi (city kids cannot survive without it XD). That was the only day we got access to the internet throughout our stay in Bario. We spent some time there and had a great chat with Uncle Lian, the owner of Gatuman-b@rio. The way he shared his intriguing stories and enriching experiences was so humble although he was a professional petroleum engineer in SHELL.

Gatuman, also known as e-Bario
We thought of continuing our plan to walk to the airport as we were now nearer to it, but time didn’t allow us to do so (a very good pretext) as Pei Chi and Rui Ci had arrived at the airport. We were forced to rush to the airport in Uncle Julian’s 4WD to pick them up. At last, our “a walk to the airport” plan failed.

Rushing to the airport with windblown hair
If you are wondering about the truth of the friendly locals, pay a visit to Bario and you will be surprised. =)

Wai Leong

My Volunteering Journey

Me and my assigned lady - Tepuq Ribed

A lot of people threw me a question when I was back from Bario: “How does Project WHEE! work? I thought you guys were teaching English over there, but why does it seem like you are all working in the paddy field?”

I like the question. Before I decided to join Project WHEE!, I myself took some time to figure out how this program worked. The main objective of Project WHEE! is to empower Bario’s mountainous community to generate an income through eco-tourism. As such, we as participants are there to teach the women English, so that they are able to communicate with tourists more effectively as community guides or home-stay hosts in the future. Besides, we are there to facilitate the women's development of eco-tourism activities for the local community, guiding them to execute these activities and helping them in preparation of other sustainable projects.

Everything sounds cool. Still, we are there to teach the ladies English, so why do we work in the paddy field? 

The main reason is because Project WHEE! emphasises on teaching English by shadowing the women. These women are not ordinary primary or secondary schools’ students. They have their own schedule every day. It is hard for them to sit down for 6 – 7 hours in a classroom to learn English. For this reason, our classroom could be anywhere. In the morning, we would kick start our class in the lady’s house over coffee and cookies. After that, we would have our lesson knee-deep in mud, in the middle of the lady’s paddy field in the afternoon. It is quite exciting and exhilarating when you think about it―everywhere could be a live classroom for them.

I guess now most of you have a basic idea of how this program works and why most of us are helping the ladies in the paddy field or in the farm. The idea of teaching the women English by shadowing them sounds great. Nonetheless, everything has pros and cons. There is a grey area of this project. A lot of people who don’t have a basic idea of how this project works tend to be biased. They perceive us, the participants, as the budak bandar (city kids) who travel there solely to experience the lifestyle of the Kelabit’s people. I can't say they are wrong. We are there to teach the women English, but the truth is we are there to explore the way of life of the Kelabits too. This is when the participants play an important role. As participants, we have to prove to the locals that we are not only there to experience the lifestyle, but we are there to teach as well. Besides teaching English, we have to become the ambassadors of Project WHEE!, telling the local folks and the tourists why we are there.

Anyway, being a participant requires a lot of discipline and persistence, especially when we teach the women English by shadowing them. We have to keep reminding ourselves pf the reason we are there. I faced a lot of challenges when I was teaching English. The lady I was paired with is Tepuq Ribed. I was lucky, as both of us clicked instantly when we met. There weren’t a lot of awkward silences between us. She is very passionate in learning. However, as she is illiterate, it took time for me to build her confidence to open up and converse with others in English, especially with the foreigners.

Other than that, she often couldn’t remember the things that she had learnt. A lot of times when I asked her, “What is this, tepuq?”, she would tell me that she has forgotten the name of the item. I had to keep practising with her. It requires a lot of patience, and it was not as easy as I thought. There were plenty of times when I felt that my efforts put in seemed pointless. She just couldn’t get it.

Whenever I felt like giving up, I always reminded myself, do the best and God will do the rest. Rui Ci and Jed, our coordinators always reminded us not to demand the outcome and to not be discouraged if we are not able to see the outcome instantly. I fully agree with them in this case. Three weeks is just too short to get everything done. It requires long-term efforts from multiple parties to achieve the goal of the project. I am glad she could finally remember some simple words that I taught her when I gave her a call after returning from Bario. :D :D

It was an amazing 3 weeks journey in Bario, and the experiences I have undergone are among those I would treasure for the rest of my life.

I hope this post gives you a basic idea of Project WHEE! and perhaps inspire you as well. 

Cheers!

K Rou

Become a farmer? Yes? No?

What is your dream? What do you want to be when you grow up?

To become a doctor?
A lawyer?
A teacher?
An engineer?
… …

How about a farmer?
“Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable." - Wendell Berry.
The joy of a farmer - hard work paid off! :)
Tepuq Ribed with her harvested crops (tapioca)
Based on what Wendell Berry said, it might sound interesting to be a farmer. But the reality might disappoint you―farmers do a lot of physical labour every day.

In Bario, many of the farmers are elderly women. Throughout my three weeks' stay in Bario, I barely saw any youngsters helping these old ladies in the paddy field or in the farm.

I am from Generation-Y, and I understand why young people nowadays don’t like to work in the paddy field. It is neither an easy job nor an effortless money-making venture. It is tough, and it involves a lot of accountability. To be a farmer, you have to be exposed under the sun most of the time, you have to handle materials and tools that could easily get you dirty or injure your fingers, or you could get wounds in the blink of an eye.

It is not as interesting as it sounds. And it doesn’t sound 'cool' when you tell people you want to become a farmer when all your friends are very “ambitious”: they want to become doctors, astronauts or engineers. Can you imagine what would happen when none of the young generation wants to become farmers? What if the existing farmers – the old ladies - pass away in the future??

Who is going to take up the role/responsibility to grow paddy or be an ecotourism community guide, as we are now training them to be?

What will we do then, buy imported rice? Hire cheap foreign labour to solve the problem? Can these foreign workers fully replace the locals?

I guess all of us have an answer deep down in our hearts.

I realised that there’s something severely flawed in our society - in terms of ambitions and aspirations. Most of us are being told that we should become doctors, lawyers, and scientists instead of farmers or fishermen when we were kids. But...hey guys!! Each and every job is equal. All jobs deserve a decent pay and respect from people. There is no such thing that a job is more superior to another job. Do you think the world is complete if everyone wants to become engineers? Where should we get our food then

All of us are different. Diversity is what makes our world as interesting as it is today. How boring would life be if everyone has the same ambition? If you want to become a farmer, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Just aim to be the best farmer in the world!

Remember, nothing in this world is easy. Likewise, nothing is hard. As long as you have the passion, farming could be interesting even if most people think it is tough. Just keep the passion going ! \^o^/~

Tepuq Ribed (the happy farmer) and me. :D
K Rou

Inevitability of Farewell Redefined


I have always dreamt of building a world filled with people I have crossed paths with―people who impacted me so deeply that they left a crack in my heart that can never be filled by anyone else. However, goodbyes are inevitable in this world. Every time the moment comes to bid goodbye to a community, family or a group of friends that I grew close to, my heart bleeds.

“Don’t be so old school la. Now kan got technology. Got Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype etc. We can always keep in touch.” These are often the remarks I get when I try to tell others that things are never going to be the same once we are separated by distance. Don’t you agree with me that your priorities change and you ‘keep in touch’ by texting or calling but the emptiness is always felt?

So, what’s the point of making new connections in the first place if farewells are inevitable at one point or another in life? I was dwelling upon this thought when I first landed in Bario. I was ready to meet the community but not so ready to open myself up to anyone. As we (Project WHEE! participants) first arrived in the Bario Asal Longhouse, we were greeted by faces unknown to us with genuine smiles and handshakes. I felt welcomed, almost as though I was returning home after spending years away.
 
Excited faces after landing in Bario :)


        
On the back of 4WD on our way to Bario Asal Longhouse
  
My question about farewell was only answered during my second working day with Sina Mayda (the lady I was assigned to in Arur Dalan). We went to the paddy field earlier than usual to avoid working under the hot sun. The 15-minute walk to her paddy field felt short due to our singing and her explaining about the wide variety of flora along the way.

The way to Sina Mayda's paddy field
The view of the paddy field after harvesting season.

While we were collecting grass that had already been cut by a Penan worker in her paddy field, Sina (mother) asked, ‘Uding Aran (my Kelabit name, first part was given by Tepuq Sina Rang while the second part was by Sina Mayda), apa orang India buat masa orang meninggal dunia (what do Indians do when someone passes away)?’

She had been curious about our way of life since the first day I met her. This was one of the many questions she posed. As I explained about the Indian funeral rites, I also learnt about the Kelabits' methods of conducting funerals. She also related death to farewell which led me not to look at farewells the same way ever again.

Her way of reasoning (which was in Malay) is as follows:
‘Death is certain. We all know that, right? The same applies to farewells. I am aware that farewell is inevitable even in our relationship. So, if I cry when you leave, that doesn’t mean that I want you to stay with me forever. It is just a momentary sadness. I would still be happy because you’re leaving for good to continue your life in a direction that is just different than mine. That thought of separation from each other’s life is not going to stop me from embracing you and this relationship and be grateful that our paths crossed.’ 
Those words struck a chord in me. There she was, standing in a paddy field, her feet in mud, shedding light on another way to look at farewells; there I was, learning in the least expected place, that what matters the most is the moments spent and the presence which should be embraced.

After 22 days in Bario, when the day of farewell finally came, it was a different farewell from all the others I experienced. My heart didn’t bleed much; rather it swelled with gratitude for the memories created, lessons learnt and connections made in the Bario highlands.

“Farewell is said by the living, in life, every day. It is said with love and friendship, with the affirmation that the memories are lasting if the flesh is not.” – R.A Salvatore


-Srinithya a.k.a. Uding Aran-

Monday, 6 July 2015

When Silence Becomes A Language


This was inspired by the quietness of Bario where the whisper of the breeze and the clucks of chickens are more audible compared to the incessant beeping of phones and the chatter of humans. Also, I was really impressed by the work of the quiet but creative kids at the local primary and secondary school. They had a different way of learning and expressing their creativity. Their virtual worlds were filled with ideas about A.I. robots, mind-controlling gaming devices, living on a rainbow and many more mind blowing things. I would like to express my feelings of experiencing those quiet moments using the least words possible (after all it is about silence).


  When silence is no longer awkward,

  It becomes a moment to listen deeply to another person’s heartbeat,
  A device to look close into another soul’s perception,
  An instrument to harmonize with nature.

  When silence doesn’t drive you crazy anymore,

  It becomes a tool to delve into your imagination,
  A mirror to reflect your being,
  A way to reconsider the way you live.

 When silence becomes a language, that’s where the beauty of life unfolds.



On top of Prayer Mountain 
-Srinithya aka Uding Aran-

Tepuq Daging!

Week 2. It was a fine morning, and my assigned lady, Tepuq Ulo, was cooking wild boar in her kitchen. She lives right next door to our homestay, so I always went over and greeted her after waking up. I decided to try conversing to her in simple English that she was taught earlier.

Me: ‘Good Morning Tepuq! How are you?’
Tepuq Ulo: ‘Good.’
Me: ‘What is your name, Tepuq?’
Tepuq Ulo: ‘Daging (Meat).’

Both of us burst out laughing, although I silently worried if my efforts had gone to waste. It turned out she was just messing with me. Phew. The name Tepuq Daging stuck through out our stay though. 

I have to admit, the first week of working with Tepuq Ulo wasn’t easy. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an amazing lady! She just had a lot of difficulty remembering the words I taught her and every time I asked her a word in English I received a short ‘tidak tahu (don't know)’ as an answer. Although we were told by our coordinators to work according to our own tepuqs’ pace, I couldn’t help but feel the pressure when Tepuq Ulo wasn’t making much progress.  I constantly reminded myself to find the balance between building a relationship and reaching our goals.

But things took a turn on the seventh day. Tepuq Ulo finally asked me ‘How are you?’ when I said good morning. I FELT LIKE A PROUD MOM GRANDDAUGHTER. That simple greeting from Tepuq Ulo gave me a boost and reminded me of my purpose in Barioto teach her English so that she can work as a community guide.  

Tepuq Ulo is the coolest grandmother I could ever ask for! Tepuq Sinah Rang calls her ‘Tepuq Pelik’ because she can be so weird at times, in a good way of course. She’s the one who is always cracking inappropriate jokes and ends up laughing at herself. Oh man, that laugh is so contagious, we all end up laughing like madmen. Especially when she teams up with her friend, Tepuq Ribed, the jokes and teasing never end. That’s just one of the reasons why I absolutely adore her.  

After work. She's so adorableeeeeeee <3
Tepuq Ribed (left) can never stop laughing at Tepuq Ulo's jokes
Like all the Bario ladies, she’s very tough. Working next to her, I’m ashamed to say I feel like the older person of the duo. She could lift one bag of rice weighing 50kg all by herself! One time I saw a small snake and I was so fascinated I stood there staring at it. Tepuq Ulo immediately said ‘Bunuh dia (kill it)’ and chopped it into four pieces with a parang. I just stood there open mouthed and in awe while the pieces of the poor snake continued moving. 

Her diligence will never cease to amaze me. She built a fence from scratch to stop chickens from going into her garden. It was a lot of work! She’s also never lazy to take preventive measures. Once, when I went to her cornfield, she built a shade out of canvas cloth and wooden sticks before we started working. It wasn’t an easy job. To be honest, I thought it was pointless because there were plenty of trees to protect us from the hot sunlight! In the afternoon when it started raining, that was when I learnt how wrong I was. That extra time and effort she took to build the shade kept both of us warm and dry.

Tepuq Ulo feeding her hen and chicks.
Backbreaking paddy field work or weeding was always made less painful by Tepuq Ulo. She would tell me funny stories or we would laugh at each other for the stupid things we did while working. But it was very heart-warming when she made me a hot cup of Milo and boiled me hot water to shower after we had to run back from the paddy field in the rain, tied my shoelaces around my pants to prevent leeches from attacking my legs, and searched the whole homestay for something for me to eat before I departed to SK to teach. Even an act as simple as lending me her umbrella. She treated me like family.

Nearing the end of my stay, when she asked me what I would like to bring back to KL, I would always say I wished to pack her in my luggage bag and bring her back home. Missing you, Tepuq Daging!


'What makes you laugh?' 
'Tepuq Ulo.'
The card I drew for Tepuq Ulo featuring her paddy field.
Excuse my drawing skills, I only had Sharpies to work with :P
-Pei Chi-