Saturday 27 December 2014

Love is a funny thing

One of the things from Bario that I wish I could store in a glass jar to bring home would be the memories I had with Sinah Sarina (meaning Mother Sarina) and her family. The lessons I learnt from being with her are things that I would like to one day look back at in the future.

Firstly, allow me to introduce my assigned lady, Sinah Sarina. She works at SMK Bario as a janitor and I would normally spend the first half of the day cleaning and sweeping the school compound, then in the afternoon we would return to her house where she would prepare lunch and we would have it together with her family. It was through the time I spent at her house I got to meet four of her lovely children.

They never stopped blessing me with food and gifts that they could afford. During my stay in Bario, I was blessed with endless local Kelabit delicacies. Every time I went over to their house, Sinah Sarina or her mother would welcome me to dine with them at any time of the day. While I was approaching my last few days in Bario, Sinah Sarina and her mother gave me a few Kelabit necklaces that they put together themselves. A few months after I returned to Miri, she had a bag of Bario pineapples and nuba' laya' (cooked Bario rice wrapped in a leaf) delivered to Miri for me. I came to understand the spirit of giving comes very naturally to them. They never want anything in return but for us to accept their gifts.

I do not have to be an accountant to know that they are tirelessly trying to make ends meet. They are merely making enough money and planting enough Bario rice to feed their own family. So, when they pay for your meals, share their lunch, or do simple acts like giving you a bag of their best harvested rice; you should know that they are giving you a token of their appreciation for the little that we have done for them.

Wendell Berry says, I believe that the world was created and approved by love, which it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love.

To come to experience unconditional love from people that you have only come to know in two weeks is something you get once in a while. I certainly did not feel that I deserved all that was given to me, I have always thought being independent and to go get what you want is most important, but for them, it is about service for others.

In love, there is no give and take. To love you know only to give unconditionally.

Monday 3 November 2014

To Anywhere-land

Being with Tepuq Sinah Rang is quite an adventure. She's always spontaneous about what we will do for the day. There are no fixed plans, but just on-the-spot decisions about where to go and what to do.

Whenever I ask her what we were going to do for the day, she will answer "Like yesterday, you will cucuk manik, bead." So we beaded and this was our routine for about a week.

However, one morning, when asked what we will be doing, she said we were going out. When asked where, she answered "Anywhere!"
Few minutes later, she came in a set of changed clothes and she asked me to change.
I couldn't have guessed any better, but put on my arm gloves since she was in long sleeves. 

I came back upstairs and she looked at me and asked "Yesus?" (Yesus means Jesus in Malay)
I was completely stunned and I just stood in front of her looking lost for a couple of seconds, thinking if I should be saying a prayer in Malay since she mentioned the word Jesus.
And not knowing what she meant, I answered "Downstairs."

Thankfully, she was walking down with me and she put on her boots. Immediately I knew she meant "Your shoes." So I went and got my pair of trusty Kampung Adidas (rubber shoes).

I came out, and the next thing she said to me "Go upstairs to the manik room and take the hat."
Since she said we were going "Anywhere", I thought to myself, maybe she was going to show another Tepuq or a friend, her progress on the making of the traditional Kelabit hat, pata.

So, being the complete blur case, I took the pata that she was still working on, and stood outside waiting for her to take me to "Anywhere."
She must have gotten the shock of her life because when she saw me, she immediately said "Eh, nooo! Take this hat. (While pointing to the hat she was wearing)"

I quickly ran back up to place the pata back to where it initially was and then ran downstairs to the girls' dorm to retrieve my cap from my suitcase, because all the hats in the room were too fancy for a klutz to put on.

We got on her motorbike and we headed to a jungle nearby. She taught me to pluck tengahyan, a jungle vegetable which is really delicious. 

Also, she got bamboo shoots for our lunch and dinner.
She demonstrated her strength in using a parang to cut the outer layers of the bamboo and only take what is edible for us. No doubt, she's really stronger than most of us. 

Tepuq, I am truly sorry for giving you a complete blank face many times. 
Thank you for showing me the other part of the world, a jungle farm. Life is truly interesting with you and I enjoyed my trip to anywhere-land with you. If there was a place as such in the city where I reside in, I would absolutely love to take you there and find green treasures that would be our meal together.  

Beading Bonding Sessions

In Tepuq Sinah Rang's homestay, there's a handicraft shop located on the first floor. Tepuq beads, and sells her wonderfully handmade products all in the confines of a small room. 

When I was asked to "cucuk manik", bead, I told myself that it's gonna be easy, just be patient and learn. (This was because it was my first time making something for sale, and it has to be nice or decently acceptable, at least in my standards.)

I spent the first week with her sitting down to bead. 

Most of the time, we would bead at her verandah. The view is simply breathtaking. 

It was interesting to see how she works on the traditional Kelabit cap, pata, and patiently align every bead together according to colors and sizes.

It was also fascintating to witness what small colorful beads can turn into, with the skills of the talented Tepuq.

Rhon, one of our project coordinators, named these sessions "Beading Bonding Sessions" because essentially, you bond with the person you bead with. Besides, it is the most therapeutic thing to do. 
Yes, I bonded with Tepuq as she sat next to me while we beaded. Her presence, her skills, her coffee breaks in between, helps me know a little more about her. Also, when my other teammates were free, they joined in to bead with us.

As a generous host, Tepuq gives every guest a "kaboq". 

Kabuk is a traditional Kelabit necklace which comes in different sizes and colors. The buah rantai (middle part of the necklace), varies too. 

The traditional one is in red or yellow, however, our batch received a mix-colored buah rantai. It has a special meaning to it.
She spent few nights, barely getting enough rest, to make them for the 13 of us in Batch 3 of this project. 

There were a couple of times where Tepuq took small chat breaks in between and shared her interesting life story to me, while sipping her favorite beverage, 3-in-1 coffee. I was truly privileged to be her listener and at all times we were both teary-eyed.
She shared with me that since she was born, her life wasn't a bed of roses. She never knew who her father was, how he looked like; through it all, she realized how her life was made meaningful through hardships she faced, and how she's really grateful for many things.

Tepuq, thank you for teaching me to be grateful, to just be contented; to not complain with what I have. You were always thankful for everything that has been given unto you. I've never heard you complain about anything at any point of time. Yes, I am still learning to just be like you in this area of contentment. 

Fun fact: If you're ever wondering whether I was a total klutz in our beading sessions, yes I was. I accidentally spilled a whole container of beads onto the ground. Thankfully, Tepuq wasn't there or I wouldn't have known what her reaction could've been! Phew!

Sunday 2 November 2014


This project aims to help women with their English that will in turn sustain their income through eco-tourism.
It functions on the basis of shadowing your assigned lady and teaching them English for 10 days.

I was blessed to be assigned to Project WHEE!'s homestay host, Tepuq Sinah Rang Lemulun.

When I first met Tepuq, she gave me the warmest hug a grandmother would give to any grandchild who finally came home after years of not coming home... Yes, like a prodigal son.

On that night, I remember her saying to us "I love you all very much!"

It amazes me to hear such words from a grandmother I never knew, but heard very much about. After all, you seldom hear these words when you meet people for the first time.

As I go about with her through her daily activities, I took the opportunity one night to sit with her and just gaze into the sky. I can testify that it is the most therapeutic thing to do at the verandah of her homestay. Here, you will be so captivated by the scenery and the stars that shine.
We chatted for awhile and I decided to ask this longing question inside me.

"Tepuq, kalau ada sesuatu yang Tepuq hendak ajar orang muda hari ini, apakah itu?"
Tepuq, if there's something you have to teach the young people of today, what will that be?

She immediately answered "LOVE!"

It didn't surprise me because the more time I spent with her, the more I saw what she was living out.

As she went on, she shared that with love, everything is simply more amazing.

For example, in Bario, people come in and out of the rumah kadang, also known as the longhouse, bringing their fresh produce and selling them. On a particular day, a fishmonger came with his catch for the day.
Being a lady filled with so much love to those around her, she offered him a cup of coffee and some snacks; after purchasing his entire catch.

It hit me, because living in the city, we always claim we do not have enough time to spend for those around us, what more, reaching out to strangers or people we come across.
Besides, a cup of coffee would not be offered to those we do not know.

With Tepuq, you do not need constant reminders that she loves you. Whatever she does each day, is completely out of love.
She taught me that everything we do must be out of love. From the first time we met, till when we said our temporary goodbyes, she showed so much love towards me and those around her.

Thank you, Tepuq, for teaching me that life is made sweeter with love.


When I first found out that I was assigned to Tepuq Sinah Rang, I was intimidated by the fact that I had to work around the homestay... Which means I will be in the kitchen at some point of time.

Why was I intimidated? It is because I was born with butter fingers and perhaps wobbly legs, and there's no hiding that I am a total klutz.
I almost fell into a small pit, and spilled some tea on Tepuq's couch. All these took place in a day, in the presence of Tepuq. 
The word "accidentally" is my best friend when it comes to incidents like these.

Initially, she never wanted me anywhere near the stove, fearing that I may get injured. 
After a few days of working in the kitchen with her, she decided to rearrange the stove area and made her stove safer for me to use. 
I found that really touching, because she put so much effort into reorganizing things just to ensure that it is safe for me to be in the kitchen. 

Normally, she would instruct me with what to do whenever we prepare meals together.
Many times, I will be stacking up plates, bowls, and cutleries for mealtimes.
I had to be really cautious in handling the really fancy bowls and plates but not-Kit-May-friendly-things.
(Thankfully I didn't break any throughout this project!!)

However, one evening, I accidentally let go of a wooden chopping board and it fell onto the ground. Tepuq immediately came to have a look at my feet - to see if there are any marks on my feet. I told her that the chopping board didn't land on my feet.

She told me that all she wanted from me, was to be safe.

She went back into the kitchen shortly after, and the next thing she heard was "Bam!"

I accidentally let go of a plastic tray and it landed on the ground.

Tepuq is really cute. Her reaction this time around was:


Thank you, Tepuq, for making sure I am always safe and for allowing me to make mistakes. 

Thursday 30 October 2014

Community Lifestyle

In Bario, I've come to realized that everything is different. A huge part of this observed difference was their lifestyle.
People in Bario mostly live in a longhouse together, only separated by walls that divide their rooms from one family to another.

Common Hall of the Longhouse

Many people in the longhouse are related to each other, by way of marriage or by birth. That would mean that your neighbor is also your cousin, or your long-distance related uncle, or simply put, a relative.

Thus, I often find ladies or Tepuqs (grandmothers in Kelabit) who would swing by the dining area to have a little chat or to just share some food with one another. Something you can barely find these days; neighbors sharing a simple meal or a laugh together.
It’s just a lovely sight to behold - being with loved ones around you. Their presence is more than words can describe.

To be honest, this community lifestyle is something I can only dream of while living the city life with all my extended family members scattered in different parts of this bustling town. We only meet during family events (and that’s less than the fingers we have).

Moreover, most residents in Bario are Christians. That speaks of the church bell that will be rung every morning at 5.15am.
From all the Tepuqs, I have noticed that every detail of their lives was pretty much known to one another.
For example, in Batch 3, one of our batch-mates had a swollen foot due to an infection he caught in Tioman Island. In no less than a day, many in the longhouse were informed about his condition. One night, the ladies came over after their prayer meeting in church, to pray for our friend.
I found that very touching, although I was not the one that they prayed for. This is because their lifestyle is such that they care for people around them, and because of their religious beliefs, they prayed for every matter they come to know of.  
Sometimes, I have to admit that when I tell my friends who need prayers that I would pray for them, memory will fail me and I will forget about praying for them. This incident reminded me of how I should be living out my prayer life.

That apart, churching in Bario is quite different too. One of the Sundays when we were in church, they called out different groups of people, for instance, fathers, mothers, young adults and youths. Each group had to go up to the stage and sing a song.
Then, the rest of the congregation would stretch out their hands to pray for those on stage.
What a pleasure to have people in church always praying for you! 

Through it all, a community lifestyle in Bario provides a strong spiritual base for its members to live their days in full meaning with worshiping God and sharing life with each other.

Truly, what a way to live! 

Thursday 2 October 2014

Heartwarming (the 'step' my foot took)

My journey to and in Bario didn’t went as planned nor as expected. It was completely different, well at least at for a certain period of time of the project.

31st July 2014

Taking off on a turbo propeller plane to Bario from Miri International Airport on a clear Thursday morning, my mind was filled with excitement and joy. I could hear my heart pounding on my chest from the anticipation of what lies ahead of me as the plane took from the tarmac and glided through the fresh uncontaminated Sarawak air.

The propeller plane made a rather smooth landing when given the size of the aircraft is relatively small thanks to both the pilots who were piloting our journey. Of course, being the gen-Y kids we had to pull out our cameras for quick shots upon arrival in Bario Airport. Walking through the airport arrival gate, we were greeted by a number of locals who were very friendly and even more welcoming to us. Rest of the day had been delightful with meeting people and chatting with them. It was also the day that I had one of the longest naps, could have been hours but I’m not sure.

1st August 2014

Woken up by the cold breeze of Bario air around 5.30am, I scuffled my blanket and wrapped my whole body into it creating a barrier from the cold to contain my body heat. I was never a fan of cold places but I thought, “This is not bad, I’ve gone through temperatures 18 degrees below freezing”. Barely an hour went past I could hear the footsteps of people walking around the house. The wooden frame and floors creeks and echoes the sound of steps whenever someone walks. The longhouse is waking up, I decided I should join them and get cleaned. I made the biggest mistake of my life, I took a handful of water running from the tap and splashed it on my face. Oh boy, let me tell you how shocked I was when the ice cold water hit my face, I was so shocked that I literally jumped a step back and shrieked.

All of Batch 3 prepared to go for a hike up Prayer Mountain located about 20 minutes brisk walk from Bario Asal. The climb up was amazing, especially when done with such a euphoric team where someone always cracks up jokes and everyone just laughs.

Oh, I forgot to mention one very important note; in fact it is the reason for this post. My right foot. A small bite I obtained from a diving trip in Tioman island had developed into a wound and got infected somewhere in the journey from Tioman to Bario, I’ve had slight pain ever since getting into Miri but I did not let that halt my excitement. Unfortunately, it kept getting severe and started to swell.

So, the journey back to the footsteps of Prayer Mountain was a bit painful and my feet was aching every step I took. I didn’t want to worry anyone, but the whole batch showed so much concern towards me. I told myself, “Pain is the weakness leaving the body” and kept continuing the journey.

Fate was not on my side that day, as soon as I reached the foot of the mountain, my right foot was swollen. A visit to the local clinic soon after that and I was attended by a friendly doctor who chatted throughout the diagnosis. I was advised to rest and take antibiotics for next 3 days and see the progress.

2nd August 2014

I had gone to bed all covered up with blanket and I woke up with the blanket lying effortlessly still on my body. Grabbed the tip of my blanket and moved it sideways to examine the condition of my foot and to my horror, my foot swell a lot bigger. The first steps I took on that morning became a daunting task as the pain was terrible in comparison to the days before. My day was never the same, I was forced to limit my movement and my activities. Although I was feeling disappointed with myself for not being a productive member, everyone of batch 3 showed so much compassion and gave endless care just to make me feel better. I was given priority to take the shower early, to have best seat and even to be the first person to take the food.

3rd August 2014

Waking up and examining my foot again to find no improvement, it was still as swollen as the day before. Same excruciating pain and limitation to my activities for the day.

Tepuq Sinah Rang who was our homestay host has been keeping a close eye on my condition and has been very worried. She said prayers before we had our dinner and included me in the prayer to have my foot recovered as soon as possible and so did everyone. I was already moved by the time and effort that everyone spared to have me recovered and feel healthy again.

What happened that night, really moved my heart. Tepuq Sinah Rang had few other tepuqs called in after dinner to have prayer just for me. “That is very thoughtful of everyone. Why would anyone spend their weekend night for someone who they only knew for 2 days?” But these people did, all the tepuqs came to have a get well soon prayer for me together with my beloved batch 3 mates. It was such a heartwarming moment for me, I nearly teared.



Adventures with Sina Sarina

Here is the star of my trip, the person my two weeks were centered around, Sina Sarina.

One thing I really like about Sina is that she is always smiling. She smiles when she's talking to someone, when she's shaking her head at my plant-watering skills, when the sun is hot, when one of the school doors is locked, when we were both tearing up when saying goodbye. And what a lovely smile it is, too.

Sina is a 37 year old woman who works at SMK Bario as a janitor. This meant that my time spent with her was divided between the school and anywhere else. A typical morning for us meant sweeping, dusting, watering the plants (...which I am not very good at - the watering cans are heavy, okay) and so on before it's time for a break, where Sina will then proceed to convince me into drinking coffee, Milo, and/or eating an entire pack of biscuits. She had long since stopped accepting the (true) fact that I'd had breakfast at home, so I'd try to joke it off, saying I'll get so fat the plane cannot carry my weight. Her response: "Baguslah tu, muk tinggal di Bario saja!

Sina Sarina is an incredibly capable person. One day when we were walking back to school, she suddenly moved to the side and started pulling out plants and fruits that are everyday food. Midin! Rebung! Paku pakis! She'd reach into the foliage and pull out a new plant for me, despite the fact that I might have eaten it some time. In the school, she did every task efficiently, from planting flowers to cleaning the school. Despite that some of the work was actually quite tiring, she never complained of any pain. The only time I ever heard about pain was when we held a beauty session for the ladies, and I asked her if she had any sore areas she wanted me to help massage, and she pointed out parts of her legs and arms.

Sina also has an great sense of humor. When it's time for lunch, we'd go and pick up Mujan from the kindergarten and slowly walk home. At some point, Uncle or someone from Arur Dalan would stop by on their motorbike, and we'd send Mujan off to home with them and continue our walk back home. (It soon transpired that she was hoping that our walks would make me hungry enough to eat loads.) Our conversation topics ranged from school gossip to the kids, or my family and life in Selangor. One day, we stopped by the sawah and waved frantically in attempt to catch my batchmates, Karthik and Tharunnia's attention. They did not notice us, and Sina said I should stop jumping up and down, "nanti orang ingat Ru gila". Another day, she heard that we'd been playing in the sawah, and the next day she greeted me with "semalam ada kerbau main di sawah!" - which, okay, is pretty funny and I'd use it as an excuse for whenever I messed something up, like "ya la saya ni kan kerbau, mana pandai buat kerja".

Another time, Sina drove us from home to school on Uncle's motorbike. If you have been to Arur Dalan you will know that the road is bumpy at best because of the rocks embedded into the road. This combined with the fact that motorbikes were a fairly new experience for me meant that I was quite terrified when I got on the bike behind Sina. I told her "tolong jalan slow sikit, saya takut lah Sina", so naturally she accelerated the motorbike. I exaggerated a little. Sina did not accelerate, but she did go very fast. I was practically hanging on for dear life, and the fact that Sina kept turning around to make sure I was alright didn't exactly assure me of our safety. At one point Sina noticed that I'd closed my eyes and said to me, "takut apa, ini adventure!" while laughing, presumably at the fact that I was genuinely scared. For the rest of our ride, Sina continued to offer little gems like "kalau accident pun tak sakit, tak ada darah" and "klinik pun dekat saja", and that's the story of how I taught Sina the words 'nightmare' and 'bad dream'.

On the English side of things, Sina was quite proficient at holding a conversation in English. My favorite thing was when she would randomly use things we've discussed beforehand, like "Hello, chicken!" after we talked about greetings.

All jokes aside, I do miss her. I was so comfortable around her, and I hope she was, too. She made me laugh plenty of times and I do hope I've made her laugh, too. I miss Sina Sarina, who sent her daughter out in the rain to pick me up, who one day silently tied a kabuk she bought for me around my neck, who is lovely and funny and caring, who asked me to come stay with her if I ever came back. I could go on and on about the things we've shared. If I ever get a chance to go back to Bario, I know the first place I will visit.

Saying Goodbye

First I want to talk about the night before our last day in Bario, because this is something that means a lot to me. Sina Sarina, the woman I was assigned to for the duration of Project WHEE!, asked me to come over for a farewell dinner of sorts. Sina went to the trouble of cooking food with a little extra spice, which is something because chillies are not easy to come by, and made midin again for me. 

Sina's mother, joined us that night and we had dinner while watching a sappy Malay drama on the TV. Afterwards, Tepuq made me hot coffee while the girls, Supang and Mujan, painted my nails with glow in the dark pink polish that I haven't had the heart to remove yet. 

My days with Sina Sarina were spent mainly in the school where she worked. Each morning I would slowly make my way to the local high school, slowly because there was just so much of beauty to take in. My last day in Bario started off with another one of my precious walks, with the huge sawah on either sides of me, still waters reflecting the morning sky, and the mountains covered in mists and the air so fresh and cool. (I'm just going to squeeze in every picture of the sky I took okay)

At SMK Bario, I took some time to say goodbye to the people I've met there. As a university student on a temporary trip, I had no expectations of being treated in any special way. But the folk in SMK Bario did me good. The teachers, who took the time to talk to me and even invite me to their Hari Raya jamuan, and the school workers, who were always good to me and even included me in on their weekly meetings, where they graciously spoke in Bahasa Melayu instead of Kelabit for my benefit. I respect and appreciate those gestures a lot. So I said goodbye... and then joined my Sina and another teacher for tea and delicacies. (I told you guys, I get fed a lot.) 

Hilltop at SMK Bario
At 12 it was back to Sina's home for lunch, where she refused my offers of help and set about making lunch, so I decided to go hang out with Mujan. Mujan got a ton of homework that day, so we colored while waiting. 

Me      : Mujan, ada ke elephant warna orange?
Mujan : Elephant Mujan ada!

When it was time for me to go back, the kids and Sina walked me home. We stopped by Sina's sawah so I could say goodbye to Sina's father, which was also where Sina got four pineapples for me. While walking out of Arur Dalan, holding hands and talking, I took the opportunity to tease Dayang and Supang about their crushes, and then sagely offered some kakak wisdom about focusing on their education. At the longhouse, tears were shed and promises were made, lots of hugs happened. But it's not so bad. 

It's been one week since we came back from Bario. These days I get calls from Ee, Sina's older son and Supang will grab the phone to tell me she misses me. Ee never opens with 'hello', he starts off with 'buat apa kamu?' and Mujan laughs more than she talks on the phone, and Sina will text me 'good morning Lipang' - which is the Kelabit name she gave me.   

I've learned and been granted so much and truly, it has been a privilege, and thank you so much to the gracious people of Bario. From Tepuq Sinah Rang, who hosted us and took such good care of us, to our Bario Asal project coordinator, Aunty Nicole, to everyone who came to send us off at the airport. It's been a great 2 weeks. 

The Nature’s Watchful Eyes.

Land and nature, intertwined together to create a beautiful and almost mystical place called Bario, where the nature always has watchful eyes over you wherever you may be in this land. The Kelabits who are locals of this land named it Bario which gives the meaning ‘wind’. Geographically, Bario is an elevated land is considered to be a highland with the altitude of 1000m above sea level and it is located the east of Sarawak bordering Kalimantan.

Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter 
The journey to Bario itself is an adventure, you’ll be flying on a Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter plane into Bario from Miri. The twin turboprop engines produces a district roar rotating the propeller to slice through the air and move forward. The flight certainly won’t be smooth due to the light weight of the plane, often shifting from small gusts of wind. The flight time is about 50 minutes. If you’re a first timer flying on this plane, you’ll have a sense of relief when the aircraft makes the landing and the engine chokes as the pilot cuts off the fuel.

Walk from airport

Bario is located in a coulee; the horizons are covered with mountains and hills giving a surreal feeling when you just gaze upon the view that nature showers you with. Trees on the mountains and the long strands of grass on hills that dances to the rhythm of the wind is just mesmerizing.  Untapped jungle grows on those mountains and each tree, each animal, each insect, and each plant is part of the nature and very minimal human activity disrupts the balance of the nature. Isolation of this land from rest of the towns due to geographical barriers plays a major role in preserving the environment. The roads leading to Bario are not paved and mostly are logging roads, it takes about 12 hours of driving with a pickup from Miri.

My Tepuq (Tepuq Ribet) in her paddy field.
The misty morning, the sunny sky and the clear night is something that would go unnoticed by the Kelabits or by people who live in Bario, but for someone who comes over from the cities it’s completely a sight that you appreciate and admire. Unpolluted fresh air in Bario makes all of it possible. Every morning there will be cool breeze with mist gushing across your face as you walk, the sun casts its rays of joy and warmth every afternoon and the night sky opens up to deliver a spectacle show of stars planets, and moon.

As night falls, the stars start to fill up the night sky canvas while the moon illuminates the streets. Some parts in Bario gets limited amount of electricity because most of it is generated using a diesel powered generator; 7pm-12 midnight is when we receive electricity. It may seem like an inconvenience, but hey that’s when darkness binds Bario completely and free from any light pollution. As a stargazer, it was my paradise. All the stars are projected so brightly that you can easily recognize constellations that are visible on earth’s equator. Every hour you look upon the sky, a new presentation is put up due to the earth’s rotation, the sky shifts 15 degrees every hour and new sets of stars join.

Hiking is a must do activity in Bario, a twenty minutes’ walk from Bario Asal will lead you to Prayer Mountain. Hiking up Prayer Mountain will get you a step closer to the nature as you move through the jungle as the trees and plants line up on your path throughout the journey up to the peak. The hike up has a moderate difficulty and the steepness of the mountain could reach to 45 degrees as you move up closer to the peak.  The hike is about 1 hour 15 minutes at a slow pace but the view you have from the peak is totally worth the climb and all the exhaustion pays off.

Over the period of 10 days, my definition of Bario has changed from just being wind to the ‘nature’ itself because Bario has so much to offer but my time to receive was limited. I will travel back to this paradise of nature to live it all again.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

One afternoon at Joe's!

One stormy, wet evening marked the end of our experience at the paddy field with our tepuqs. Dearest Tepuq Ribet and Tepuq Uloh, both got drenched in that fun filled walk we did together running away from the storm. It was as if the rain was least of our concerns that evening, instead we just embraced that one last walk from the paddy to the long house sharing some delightful personal moments.

Walking back to the long house in the rain.

The next day the sun came shiny and bright, casting its first rays of the day, slicing through the morning mist while we walked to Tepuq Uloh’s paddy field. There, we had a short conversation with her husband and her while they did a little clearing up of the area. Once we confirmed our appointment, we continued our walk to Tepuq Ribet’s paddy field which was a little further. At a distance, through the fields of green we saw a glimpse of Tepuq Ribet in her big brown hat. We expressed our urge to step into the paddy but she insists we stay clean for the day. Here again, we had a short conversation, and reminded her about our appointment for later in the day.

Tepuq Uloh and her husband.

Tepuq Ribet
The clock striked 12PM and we were getting excited. We ran to Tepuq Uloh’s and saw that both she and her husband were all dressed and ready to go! It was so sweet to see Tepuq Uloh and her husband dressed extra nice for our appointment that afternoon. Our excitement was just building. We told them we will be right back. Both of us then proceeded to Tepuq Ribet’s to check on her, but to no avail. There were no signs of her at home and we did the fastest walk to her paddy to check if she was there. She was about to leave her paddy field when we reached, thus we did the walk together back to her house. Told her to take her time and here again came Tepuq dressed very sweetly for the day. She borrowed us her motorcycle for the appointment and off were to get back Tepuq Ulo and her husband. 

At 12.30PM, two motorcycles, five people, dressed a little extra nice, all excited and happy. Where do you think the appointment brought us to?

A lunch treat! :D

It was such a joyful ride to Joe’s that afternoon, catching up with Tepuq Uloh’s motorcycle which was going faster because it did not have two pillion riders like us! We arrived at Joe’s soon after and we managed to get one last round table available on that filled lunch hour. We made our orders and added three ABCs (Ais Batu Kacang) to the list as it was such a hot day and also because Tepuq Ribet has not had it in a long time.

While waiting for our meals, we all started recapping our whole journey together. It only then dawned to us that this was a farewell. As they mention their interest of coming over to the city to see us, both our Tepuqs facial expression had gone a little emotional. Tepuq Uloh had later secretly took out two kabuqs (Kelabit necklaces) under the table and told me (Ganit) to choose one. I hesitantly chose one and she laughed! To refresh the whole mood, our ABCs arrived and we shared some conversations about the old airport and a past plane crash incident that took place some time back.

When all our meals came, Tepuq Uloh’s husband recited prayers and we all held hands. It was during this very moment, we felt truly like a family. What started of as awkward and shy conversations 6-7 days back has now brought us to a family reunion lunch. Tepuq Uloh had a bad cough and we reminded both our Tepuqs to complete their prescription and head to the clinic for their appointments. In return, we received endless heartfelt blessings and really just continued having personal conversations even when we were done with our meal. Embracing that few moments left together. Towards the end, it got a little heartbreakingly sad; knowing once we lift ourselves from the seats, the journey has just come to an end.

We were about to get on our motorcycles, when I (Ganit) saw dearest and funniest Tepuq Uloh to tears. Told her not to worry and I’ll see her at home in few minutes! Started our journey back to the long house, running away from the dark clouds carrying a heavy downpour. Strong gushes of wind almost blew our hats away, when Tepuq Ribet suddenly gave us the tightest hug from behind while she leaned emotionally saying, ‘Rindu kamu dua, jangan pergi. ‘(Miss you two, don’t go). That was the moment that got us both. It was this moment that the storm did not bring giggles, but it brought tears. It hit us close to our hearts, we didn’t want to leave, and our time together was too short. We wished there were more time to spend together.

Daring riding the bike,while Tepuq Ribet held on to her hat with the dark clouds approaching.

For all the beautiful days that we were fed with home cooked food by the paddy fields, we thought this was a really nice idea to bring them out for a treat. Little did we know that we would be so emotionally impacted by a lunch date which we now look back as a family reunion lunch. There was a piece of element called comfort which is only able to be felt once two hearts accept each other’s presents. They were so welcoming and attached to us very quickly that it frightens us to know how sad they would have been once we left.

            ‘ Ganit dan Daring janji akan bawa Tepuk keluar makan bersama lagi! ‘

Ganit the lightning; Tharunnia,
Daring the thunder; Karthik.

Cultural Night

The evening of 14th August 2014 was a much anticipated day for both the volunteers and the tepuqs. It was the night specially allocated for our cultural night.

Preparations leading to the cultural night started days earlier, all of us were thinking of what to present to our tepuqs, we wanted something fun and exciting. Upon agreeing on a very interesting song which actually started as a joke. The song was ‘Why This Kolaveri?’ by Aniruth. We began our dance practice, and surprisingly I was told to lead together with Tharunnia, for someone who doesn’t know a thing about dance, like me, I knew mayhem was about to happen.

All of us prepared to get dressed up and some of us brought traditional cloths to wear for the night. I brought a long red jippa (Indian male clothing). Everyone looked extra good that night. We had our dinner earlier and there were little bit more variety of food because it was a special night.

After dinner, everyone gathered at the long house. To my surprise all the tepuqs were dressed in beautiful traditional kelabit attires. We took our seats and the ceremony started with a speech delivered by Rhonwyn, our cordinator followed by the presentation of kabuks (Kelabit necklace) to the volunteers of Project WHEE!. Kabuks are special necklaces, they are treated with honour and giving them as presents to us means lot. Tepuq Ribet has a special kabuk just for me and I received it proudly and was very thankful to her.

My team mates; Ai Jin and Yan Chuan.
When it was time for our dance performance, we walked into the side alley of the long house waiting to make a surprising entrance onto the stage. The song started with a slow tune that was our sign to move in gracefully with the beat. Only few seconds past, the song picked up its pace and we all started rocking in our traditional costumes. Everyone there seemed to enjoy it lot and were cheering for us too.

After our exciting performance, came the performance from the tepuqs. They started with an elegant hornbill dance performance by the women of the long house and followed by strong warrior dance performance by the men. Both the dances were unique and hold their cultural elements in them. All of us were given a change to try out the Kelabit traditional dance, for some it turned out well but for some it was an awkward moment.

Our bonding with our Tepuqs became stronger as we laughed and mingled. Unfortunately for us it was our last night together as one big family in the long house.

My tepuq (Tepuq Ribet) & I in our traditional outfits 

Because This is What Memories Are Made Of.

Missing Rhon! 
Hi everyone! This is a picture of Batch 3 of Project WHEE!.

Well, most of us met each other for the first time, only having seen pictures of each other through Facebook. But, throughout the whole 16 days, we became a family. Bario was a wonderful experience, and the best part of it overall was not only the Bario community but the family of 16 days that I came with.

The chance to meet others who have the same passion and interests to contribute back to society.

Bario has showed me that I have more to be grateful for than I could ever imagine.
Bario showed me that really sometimes, it's the simple things that can bring joy.
Whether it was to share fruits together
Or having a game of ball in the paddy field.
All these made me happy.

After dinner together - gether !

Sang songs at the common area where we hangout.

After our mudfight!
We're stuck with each other. WHEE FAMILY!
When it was time for us to part back to KL, it was really as if we were only there yesterday. I woke up in the morning, looking at every place, really taking it in that I'm actually leaving now. I know each of us will always remember the memories that we have built throughout our time in Bario.
Life is indeed so beautiful. There is so much to be excited about in life. There is so much to see and do.

Life is blissful.
As I'm writing this down, memories come flooding back.
Nenek Ros and me singing our favourite songs.
The cutie pies and lovely students in SK (primary) and SMK (secondary).
The time we have on weekends carrying out our community projects.
Moments when we went to the hydro dam for a shower when there was water rationing.
Having team talks and reflection in the dark with torchlights as electricity was out already for the day.

This experience has shown me what truly amazing people I have the chance to come across
 and I'm thankful for every single one of them.

I will be back. 

Signing off,