Tuesday 30 September 2014

Through My Lens

Me and Bobby. I look like one of those girls who uses
DSLRs only for selfies. I can assure you I'm
not like that. 
In early 2010, I made the big decision to pull out some of my hard earned money to buy a DSLR. I was Form 4 back then, and I had a growing passion for photography. After much debate, I settled on a Nikon D5000. (One of the key features I loved about this camera was you could flip the screen down and hold your camera high for a picture, which is quite useful for vertically challenged people like me.)

For the next two years of high school I cherished my camera with all my heart, and I nicknamed him Bobby. As I was a school photographer I brought my camera to school almost every day. Through my lens I snapped school events, countless portraits for the teachers, prefectorial board and librarian board committee members… I was constantly on my feet. Although it was enjoyable for me, it was ‘work’. In 2011 I graduated Form 5, and naturally, Bobby graduated with me too.

Sad to say that once I started my internship, I was busy working and there was no time to take photos anymore. I left my camera alone at home in his bag, and there he stayed for a good two years, only coming out once in a while for special events.

Then came Project WHEE!. Sure I'm the project boss, but I also held the position of official photographer. 

After I took this picture, Tepuq Sina Rang was telling me
how happy she was to have Kit May with her. You
can see it clearly in Tepuq's eyes. 
I would get calls from WHEEans during the day that they and their Tepuq were doing something out of their normal schedule and “oh Rhon can you please come take a photo of my Tepuq and I??” Getting calls was exciting, because I got to share some special moments with some people in Project WHEE!, just by being there to snap a photo. 

My camera is no longer pretty like he once was. He is full of battle scars from climbing Prayer Mountain, being in the middle of the sawah trying to get the perfect angle of someone planting, being poorly covered in a t shirt in the rain while running back home, having damp hands hold him to get a picture of everyone’s team spirit in the hydrodam, and the list goes on. Every picture that you see in the Project WHEE! Facebook page, Bobby took them.

And when we return from our trips, Bobby sits next to me thankful for a rest; while I browse through what was captured through my lens, and it never ceases to amaze me.

Indian breakout during cultural night.
I sure had lots of laughs that night! 
Through my lens I caught photographs of laughter. Laughters of Tepuqs watching WHEEans try their best at performing tasks like planting paddy that are so normal to them, but seem like a challenge to these kids.

Through my lens I caught photographs of excitement. Bright faces of WHEEans during their first few days in Bario.  They had curiosity written all over their faces, eager to learn more about this wonderful new place.

Through my lens I captured photographs of joy. The joy on everyone’s faces during cultural night; dancing, singing and having the time of our lives. The joy of the Tepuqs faces when we learn how to say something in Kelabit.

I chose this photo because I've been told
capturing a photo of a crying Wai Min
is a rare opportunity.  
Through my lens I captured photographs of fun. WHEEans running around in the paddy field throwing and painting each other’s faces with mud, and then jumping into the freezing waters of the hydrodam.

Through my lens I captured photographs of tiredness. Sleepy WHEEans who put their all out for a task, and crash on their beds for well deserved sleep.

Through my lens I captured photographs of sadness. Tepuqs and WHEEans embracing tearfully, uncertain of when will be the next time they meet again.

Through my lens, not only did I capture photographs, but those moments captured my heart, and I will cherish them for a lifetime.

And through my lens, there will be more memoWHEEs to capture in batches to come.   


Tough Love: Something Different

Debriefing session, after a few days, everyone knows that the entertainment for tonight’s briefing was coming up. Whether it was the usual weeding, the disappearing acts or the mad chasing on the bicycle, it never cease to make them laugh. Most of the time, it may be due to the initial perceived perception of her and her love towards Project WHEE! participants under her care that triggers the laughter. Well, one thing is for sure, not many would understand what we built for 2 weeks. She is Aunty Tagung, and this is our story.

On our first night in Bario, I was assigned to a certain Aunty Tagung by the coordinators. Their description of her given by them was cool actually, her boldness and directness intrigued me. I was pretty excited with the challenge of having someone different compared to other Tepuqs, but at the same time I was scared and unsure of my approach towards her. 

The first night meeting our Tepuqs was an amusing incident. There was a lady sitting alone while the other Tepuqs have their to-be-susuk (cucu, grand kids) for company. I ran into the adjacent boys’ room and asked Daniel and Rhon about the lady.

Me: “Dude, who is that lady there?”
Daniel: “Oh that is Aunty Tagung.”
Me: “Aunty Tagung, the same Aunty Tagung for my next 2 weeks?”
Rhon: “Yeah, why? Scared ah?”
Me: “Kind of, how do I say her name?”
Daniel & Rhon: “Aunty Tagung, but you could try Tepuq and see what happens……”

That was somewhat the conversation we had before I left and introduced myself to her. After sheepishly introducing myself, her stance and first sentence made me realise that these two weeks will be something interesting.

“What do you want to know about me?”

After that, she literally gave me the whole story of her family and her life; her two children, a lawyer and a doctor. She even talked about her siblings and how everyone in the longhouse is somewhat related. The story caught me off-guard as she rambled on and on, while I awkwardly sat there, bewildered by the information overload. Some first impression indeed.

An interesting fact was she has a nice garden to grow her own vegetables. Most of the time I spent with her was in her garden weeding.

My usual schedule with her:

Wake up                                  7am
Breakfast, meeting her in her garden
Weeding                                   8.30am - 10am
Tea break                                10am - 11am
Weeding                                   11am - 1pm
Lunch and break                      1pm – 3pm
Weeding                                   3pm - 4pm
Day Done! It was typical, a rigid schedule for her. 

Initially, we did not talk much, most of the time we have our peaceful moments instead of talking all the time. Sometimes, I felt that we do not communicate enough, but at the same time it was nice to have some quiet time. Nobody wants a chatterbox with them all the time. I felt that maybe we may not be close together, because we rarely talk, that got me down a bit, after hearing my other friends’ joyful experiences with their Tepuqs during debriefings.

Then, she started paying more attention to me, remembering my name finally (she thought my name was Luki at first, which was my nickname since then). She fed me so much that once I guessed that I was her livestock to be fattened for meat. She would take a container of rice, scoop her small share, then dump everything on my plate without question, same goes with the other food. It was just too much food, but since it was on my plate, I felt obligated to sit there for an hour slowly cleaning my plate. Once during our weeding session, I was squatting while pulling the weeds, and she gave me her stool to sit on, saying that my flowery pants cannot be dirtied unlike her layered pants. I guess that maybe respecting her private space and having some quiet time did bring some understanding between us, which brought us closer.

Aunty Tagung dancing like a pro; and me, well dancing ain't my strength...
Credits to Alicia

She does not shower attention towards me unlike others with their cheery attitude and constant cracking of jokes, but I know that she does care about me. I did not realise how much she cared until she gave me my Kelabit name. I was one of the last to get it, so I was anxious for it. She named me Tidan after her late husband, because it was how much she really loved me. She also gave me a Kaboq with unique beads that even Rhon was jealous! I was so touched by her gesture, never realising that I meant so much to her in 2 weeks, that we actually built a bond that close.

With a heavy heart, we parted ways at Bario Airport. I wished that I could have done more for her after all that she gave to me. Her kindness, her love, her generosity, I will never be able to repay her. Aunty Tagung, thank you for taking care of Tidan, Luke. I am grateful for everything, hope to see you soon! Bario and you will be part of my cherished memories. Your tough love is something different indeed!

Monday 29 September 2014

Modes of Transportation in Bario

The view of the cockpit from my seat.
The fastest and cheapest way to Bario is by flying with MASWings- a regional airline operating the Rural Air Services(RAS) in East Malaysia and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines.

The Twin Otter airplane that flew Batch 3 to Bario.

We had the entire plane to ourselves!

The plane flies low, so expect to be treated with amazing views.
The flight was approximately 50 minutes in which I spent the entire ride gazing out the window to sights of cotton candy clouds and mountain forests. 

There is the option of getting there by foot or boat but that would take weeks. For the adventurous, a 4WD ride of 12 hours through rough terrains will bring you to Bario from Miri, but remember to pack a paper bag in case you throw up.

Daniel got to drive Aunty Dayang's 4WD
The lady whom I have been assigned to, Aunty Dayang Nalin owns a Toyota Hilux and my favourite part of the car is the cargo compartment at the back. When she drives to town or the airport, I would hop on at the back to enjoy the breeze and view, not caring that I look like a complete budak bandar (city kid).

Happy me is happy.


Bario "school bus".
Driving a big 4WD on the narrow roads can be a bit of a hassle though, so in comes the motorbike! Batch 3 participants suffered the most "casualties" thus trips to the clinic were made often and Tepuq Sina Rang's motorbike came in very handy for these trips.

Dom and YeeWan at the clinic.
Have wheels, will travel.

Luke and I ran errands with the bicycles provided by eHomemakers. The weather in Bario is perfect for riding a bicycle as it doesn't get humid and temperatures never go above 26 degree Celsius.

If all else fails, your two feet are your greatest bet to go around Bario!

The 5km walk from the airport to Bario Asal.

7a.m. walk to Tamu in the freezing morning mist.
I will find my way back to Bario whatever the transportation may be. But for now, goodbye Bario!

Ai Jin 

Wise Wishes.

It takes me two trains and one bus to transport me to university, every day. On some days, I find myself being very reluctant to drag myself out of bed two hours earlier only to reach my class on time. On some other days, I reach home with just adequate energy to walk myself to shower and crawl myself into bed.

While I was in Bario, Sarawak, I count myself fortunate to have witnessed not only the lives of the elderly folks, but also the lives of the school going children. Over the couple of days I have experienced at the schools, I have all my admiration towards how respectful they have been. To us, complete strangers at first and friends, at the end of the trip; I hope.

There was an interesting mix of enthusiasm and a care free nature I saw in these children that had me thinking of how much I spent most of my schooling years feeling rather pressured to perform academically better and only that. I remember not liking to stay back extra hours in the afternoon at school for classes and here I was, teaching English to a class of Form 1 students during after school hours, with an initial assumption that they were probably going to be napping in class and completely ignore my existence.

However, to my pleasant surprise, I had a great two hours teaching this bunch of excited and enthusiastic kids! I felt like I was doing something right when the students were so appreciative when I corrected their mistakes on their written essays. Getting them to interact in the beginning was a tad bit difficult, but the class got so much pleasurable when the awkwardness broke. Class ended abruptly one day, when the teacher made an announcement requesting all students to make their way to the hydro dam to have their bath as there was water rationing around Bario Asal.

Yet again I was amazed at how these kids did not rant a single bit or heaved a sigh at the thought of hiking up to the dam after a long day at school. They quickly got their towels and soaps, grouped up and headed to the dam while some boys sang songs and some girls had giggly chatters. At that moment in time, watching that sight; I had a hit of realization towards an aspect of myself. I came to terms that I should really reduce on focusing about my end of day exhaustion and simply try to look beyond and continue the walk.

Sometimes, I give in too much, simply too much towards my tiredness that the rest of my day goes to waste. These children too, have reminded me to be a little carefree. To always add the element of fun whenever possible. When I think about it, a little ease to the mind doesn’t really kill anyway. I have learnt to look beyond the situation and twist it into a little fun adventure. I would like to believe that these children had great fun bathing at the dam, might I also add how fast these children are at hiking!

More often than not, we all wanted to be adults as soon as possible while we were still in school. Through these children, I saw what schooling years and being young meant through a different lens. Carefree, enthusiastic, they have fun and they are focused whenever necessary.

Five days into coming back home and returning back to my everyday routine, I have these children at the back of my mind as a reminder that giving up really isn’t an option. Sometimes, all I really need is to embrace the journey and celebrate whatever it is the day presents to you; whether it is welcoming a complete stranger to teach you an academic lesson or taking a hike to have a bath after a long day at school.

Either way, life gives you a million parachutes, board it or end up watching it go by.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and - SNAP - the job's a game!

 Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sugar

Thursday 25 September 2014

From KL to Cardiff to Bario

For 17 years, I have lived under the luxury care of my parents. Being the only child, I literally had all the attention from them, both wanted and unwanted attention. On one hand, I was under the waterfall of love, drenched with love from my parents; on the other hand, I was scrutinised from top to bottom, inside and outside, almost every secret I had they somehow knew it (who can really escape parents?). That was a double-edged sword for me, I love them, but I never felt that I ever had any privacy alone, nor any secrets that I am proud to keep to myself. I always wondered what it was like to live away from them, so when the scholarship offer to go to a college in Cardiff, Wales, UK arise, I took it, and what I always wondered became a reality.
Bario Airstrip

That tiny plane to Bario!
Living alone for a year was one of my highlights, proved that I can operate without parents constantly looking over my shoulder 24/7/365, however there was a drawback I never expected. After classes and dinner at 8pm, I entered my room and was greeted by my dead silent white-walled cubicle (I live alone). The small room, however comfortable, could never warm my heart. Ever since then, no matter how cheerful and happy I look with my friends in UK, deep inside I was lonely, being greeted by the same atmosphere in my room every day somehow got more and more depressing.
Miri Shoreline
Living alone for a while, Aunty Tagung’s reputation for having her own style of “motherly” was well-known by the time Batch 3 reached Bario. I was excited by the challenge, but was clueless as to how to build a relationship with her. On our first day, she literally gave me a full summary of her family and her life, while I sat there almost bewildered by the information overload. Ever since then, we usually talked about our family and ourselves. Other than that, we do not talk much, and we have those silent moments.

At times, I wondered what it was like to have a more affectionate lady, more talking, more jokes, and smiley faces all the time. This was different for Aunty, we talk, but at the same time, we have our peaceful moment focusing either on the job or the food, which honestly I enjoy, considering that I am an introvert. I guess we somehow mutually agreed as to when to talk and when to shut up, and we clicked well since then. She cared about me in many ways that maybe only a few people will understand, and I could not have asked any better than that. I may have only taught her only a few English words, but what she constantly reminded me subconsciously embed itself into my mind: no matter what success or failure, or how far you are, there is always home. Listening to her talking about her children becoming doctors and lawyers made me realise how much a mother care so much about her children, even after not seeing them for some time. With all the hardship she has went through, she still has her kids constantly in her mind, with her wall filled with their pictures. It made me regret when I don’t make the effort to contact my parents while studying abroad, now that I have the full picture of a mother missing her children.
Will cherish these guys! Batch 3 (Credits to YC)
Leaving Bario and Aunty was not easy at all, so many memories, so many relationship built with all the Tepuqs, Sinas and of course, my teammates there, it all started in those 2 weeks there. However, one thing taught by her would be always with me: how far we go, or how high we climb, we have to look back, and remember the people who took care of us when we were growing. It may be the most fundamental thing, but also the most ignored fact. I will be taking another 13 hours flight, travelling some 12,000km to Cardiff again soon for my second college year, but what she taught me will follow to Cardiff and beyond; I never knew before Project WHEE! that I would bring something from Bario to Cardiff.

Start Blank, Then Stop, Look and Listen

Ever imagined stepping into a foreign environment and meeting new people? We have been there before, meeting great people and not-so-great people. Once in a while before experiencing another culture, we are briefed on that culture, its dos and don’ts. However, we get so immersed in the happenings and events that we forget about the rules and norms. Sometimes, our beliefs about something is inaccurate or worse, offensive towards others. Maybe it is time to just stop for a while……

Let’s start with the biggest group of outsiders in Bario at that time: us. Most of the team have been through ToT (Training of Trainers) workshops, learning about what we are going into, and knowing where is safe to tread around. Those countless hours of culture sensitivity and stuff were not all a waste, in fact it did prepare some to a certain extent. Nevertheless, there were always some incidents that occurred because people momentarily forgot about which buttons to not push, incidents that can be avoided if we just stop and look. I admit, all of us had some hard time trying to tread around the norms and common rules of others there. We are human, who commits mistakes, but don't you think some common mistakes can be easily avoided? There were numerous cases where misunderstanding could be avoided if people took more time to understand the situation better.
Batch 3 Group Selfie (Credits to Alicia)
We had our misunderstandings within the team and as a team with others, sometimes due to miscommunication, others rash actions. In the end, we have this big argument and discord among others which takes days to be settled. In most cases, all the intentions were good, it just was conveyed in a not-so-perfect manner. My Aunty Tagung, the lady I was assigned to, told me once that she was uncomfortable with people because they just talk too much, and not giving her enough privacy at times. I assume that those people have good intentions and just wanted a friendly chat, but maybe there is a limit to everything. There were times where people did not understand the situation clearly and jump into rash conclusions, making the situation worse than ever. If only all of us did take our time and analyse it more, many incidents can be avoided.

During my time with Project WHEE! in Bario, we came across foreign tourists staying at the area. 
Most were actually very heart-warming people, people who wished you could have known them better. There were also people who already had their stereotyped mind-set on others, enforcing their own ideology to make conclusions of some things. When we step into a totally new environment, we have to enter it with a clean, blank mind, without any assumptions or preconceptions of the place. It makes a lot of difference not to assume things, and acting safe with others. The assumption of wrong ideas may cause some discomfort towards others, because the mind-set we have on them would subconsciously be translated into our actions, tone and words. We may not notice those changes, but many on the receiving end do detect them. Those heart-warming tourists were very courteous in nature and were very thoughtful in their actions and speech, I am glad to have met those rare sincere kindness of people. If only more people were like that, if only we could learn to be as such, the world would have been a much quiet, and kind place.

No doubt all of us will be experiencing a new culture or living in a new place soon, at the same time meeting new people too. Just bear in mind, before anything, if we just stop, look around and analyse the situation we are in, and listen to what the other person has to say before making any action, less conflicts will happen. Many misunderstandings can be easily avoided, if we all start on a blank page of mind, and just stop, look and listen.

Precious Moments While Beading

One of the things that I loved doing in Bario is stringing beads. At such moments, it was a time of bonding with others who were also stringing beads. We were able to talk about anything under sun ranging from our lives back in K.L. to sharing with each other of our experiences thus far in Bario. These were times of good fellowship. 

On the first day we began our work with the respective ladies we were assigned to, I was not able to join Aunty Jenette as she was out of town. Instead, I tagged team with Kit May who was assigned to Tepuq Sinah Rang. The first task given to us was stringing beads. While we stringed beads, we talked with Tepuq while listening to the Bario radio station and enjoying the beautiful sight before us.

View from Tepuq's veranda.
We beaded and beaded, discussing ways we could use to speed up the stringing the tray of beads of Tepuq added throughout the day. It got a little tiring after hours of doing it but we were happy with the amount we managed to finish at the end of the day.

End product of the day.
Stringing beads at Aunty Jenette's house, however, was a different experience. It was also a time of just being to myself, thinking through and reflecting on the happenings of the day, how the past few days went and ways to do things better.

Being quiet without having any disturbance has been a privilege to have in Bario where I do not to have to entertain any form of notifications on my mobile phone because I did not purchase a Celcom number. It was such a rare opportunity because back in the city such silence is difficult to come by. Being here, I just needed to focus on the task at hand, think and enjoy the moment. 

Occasionally, Aunty Jenette would come join me and explain the types of beads such as beads once made of clay are now made of glass. Or at times, Aunty Nicole (daughter of Aunty Jenette) would be working on some accessories that Aunty Jenette needed help with while I would be engrossed getting as many beads into the string.

Beading in Aunty Jenette's House.
Beading - such a simple thing, but yet something that I have enjoyed the most.

Lesson Learnt

Aunty Jenette and I 
Throughout my time in Bario, I was assigned to Aunty Jenette. She is the mother to Aunty Nicole, the Bario Asal coordinator. I first met Aunty Jenette on the day we landed in Bario as we were journeying to Tepuq Sinah Rang's homestay.

Aunty Jenette has numerous jobs. From owning a bead shop, planting paddy in the fields and to running a homestay, I was immediately impressed because doing these three different things require many different skills and also hard work. 

When we first spoke, I noticed that Aunty Jenette speaks very fluent English. During the meet and greet session with all the other Tepuq, I remember talking to Aunty Jenette and getting to know her. From the start, she was very lively and open to talk though she barely knew me. She shared with me the jobs that she does, about her family especially her children and even explained to me The Bario Revival in 1973 when I asked of the significance of the cross on Prayer Mountain. She spoke most of the time while I listened. 

I was really glad that I got paired with Aunty Jenette. Throughout the next two weeks, I also realised that Aunty Jenette is also a very good cook and without a doubt she is a very knowledgeable woman who knows Bario like the back of her hand. Whenever I asked her about bits and pieces of this place she grew up in, she happily tells me its history such as the various places in Bario that were once an airstrip and how the longhouses in Bario got their names. 

Through her telling me these stories, I realised that I myself do not quite know the history of the city that I live in. If someone were to ask me about it, I would most likely stammer and be tongue-tied while struggling to recall some details of it. To be frank, I have been ignorant about it and did not think it is important because I thought that no one would ask me of it so there is no need to know such information. Now, as I think about it, I realise that it is not about just knowing such information but it is about appreciating how the place where I lived came about and the challenges overcame to become what it is today. 

This, is one of the lessons learnt while spending time with Aunty Jenette.

Hospitality At Its Best

Upon arriving Bario till the day we left, there were many things that impressed me. From the clear blue skies that we got to witness every day without fail to the delicious food prepared by our respective Tepuqs and Sinahs, one thing that continually amazes me till now is the hospitality shown by the community to those around them. Be it strangers, friends or family members, the community is always so hospitable through the little things they do.

There were two scenarios on one particular event that left me amazed by their kindness and thoughtfulness. It happened on our second community service when we went to Arur Dalan in the morning to clean the local church. After borrowing some equipments needed to clean the church, all of us got to the task at hand. We went about cleaning the church, sweeping, wiping windows, destroying cobwebs and mopping together with some children in the village who happily came to join us. We were not even halfway done with the cleaning when Sinah Sarina, one of the Sinah who lives in Arur Dalan, came into the church carrying a kettle of tea, a bowl of biscuits and some fruits, asking us to take a break from what we were doing.

After that short break, we continued with cleaning the church and that was when Rhon and Dan told us that an uncle who lives in Arur Dalan invited all of us to have lunch in his house. So instead of having lunch at Tepuq Sinah Rang's homestay on weekends, we had lunch at the uncle's house when the cleaning was completed in which his wife, Sinah Maren, prepared a scrumptious meal despite the water rationing issue Arur Dalan was facing.

These two simple acts of kindness really warms my heart till this day because we were just a group of young people whom they barely knew personally but they cared for us anyway. They went all out with their actions to tell us that they are thankful for us being there to help them. Everything was done out of sincerity and love. Even the water rationing issue did not hinder them from preparing and cooking the food.

Living in a society where people only do good to another selectively, this experience in Bario as a whole is so precious. Through this, it reminded me to do everything genuinely and without asking anything back in return. It has also made me realise that we do not need to hold back acts of kindness just because we do not know someone well enough or because we think that person does not deserve it. Sometimes, the little things that we do with sincere hearts will make a difference in someone's life because what I have experienced in Bario certainly made a difference in mine.

To all the people in Bario who cared for all of us unconditionally: Thank you so much! Your love shown to us will always be rememebered.

We're Finally Here!

31st July was the day Batch 3 arrived Bario. The long anticipation months before was finally put to an end. The Twin Otter plane landed and we all got down, overwhelmed with excitement for the journey ahead of us.

Yes it was the first time most of us sat in such a tiny plane.
So, a selfie wouldn't hurt, right?
After some 15 minutes spent taking pictures at the place we landed, we were finally ready to retrieve our luggages that were already brought into the airport. We loaded them into a 4 wheel drive that would take the bags to Tepuq Sinah Rang's homestay - the place where we were going to stay, then headed to the shop in the airport for a short break and  started our walk to the homestay. 

The walk took us almost an hour partly because we were a little slow but also because we were too mesmerised by what we saw. Bario is such a beautiful place and I can now understand why the previous batches spoke so highly of its beauty. It is surrounded by never ending mountains, the skies were cloudy on that day and most importantly, the air was so fresh that I could take really deep breaths without being worried of inhaling haze that so often haunts the air in Peninsular! It was also breezy which made the walk so much more enjoyable. Last but not least, it was my first time seeing paddy fields up close. 

The journey to Bario Asal with the threatening skies.

Oh look! Paddy fields!
We arrived just in time for lunch and met Tepuq Sinah Rang who warmly welcomed us and made us feel at home. I remember all of us took turns shaking her hand and hugging her while she introduced herself to each of us. It was evident that she has been looking forward to meeting us and I felt really honoured to have met such a lovely lady. 

The rest of the day was spent resting, walking around Bario Asal, familiarising ourselves with the place, meeting some of the people and bonding together as a group. It was a good first day in such a beautiful place.

The Story of Us.

Do you believe in fate? How amazing it is for you to meet someone for the first time and yet feel a sense of familiarity with the individual? There is just a comfortable feeling, the feeling as if you have met the person before but you just do not know where.

Well, that was how I felt the first time I met Nenek Ros. When we were first introduced to our ladies which we were going to be partnering with for the next 16 days, Nenek and me just started talking and it was nice because Nenek reminded me of my own grandmother. Nenek calls me Kijan, after her daughter.

The path leading up to Nenek Ros' sweet home.

This is where Nenek Ros lives. Every morning I will head over to her house, which is 10 minutes from the longhouse I lived in to teach and learn with Nenek.

"Nenek, oh Nek, Kijan datang!" 
"Oh ya, nak" 

Nenek will then come to the window and smile gently, watching me walking up the stairs to the house. Nenek and me do household chores together, and while we do it, we will be singing too. Nenek has a very sweet voice, and we will sing the songs that we learnt in church. I have to admit, the only time I sing is in the showers, but I was singing my lungs out with Nenek. It was like our very own private karaoke session.

Nenek and my favourite song from church.
Nenek and I learn to exchange greetings in English and Bahasa Kelabit. Nenek would laugh shyly as we repeat terms like "Good Morning" and "Good Afternoon" after each other.

"Good morning Nenek!!"
"Good morning, Kijan!"

I had trouble saying and remembering "Betapi Leketang" (Good Morning) but Nenek would teach me patiently and she would say,

"Asalkan Kijan cuba, sudah baik"

Sometimes, we would both burst into laughter without any reason. But I just find it so cute and when Nenek smiles, it just makes me smile too.

After doing housework, Nenek and me would both have tea. We would sit down and stare out quietly, just enjoying the company of each other.

Nenek would tell me the stories of her youth, while I share with her about the stories of my childhood.

I am very blessed to have bonding moments like this with Nenek. I have learnt so much from Nenek, and there is still much more for me to learn each day from my dear Nenek.

"You can't be the best at everything. You might not even be the best at anything. But, one can always be your best self. And that is enough."

This is one of the most important things that I have learnt from Nenek Ros.
 Terima Kasih Nenek. 

Signing off, 


Hey you there. 

How long do you think it takes for someone to change his/her life? Some may say just days, months or even the years that one has to go through 'sekolah menengah years' to find the change? 

Well, for me. I feel that it's actually the moments, the seconds that counts. 

The moment when I first met my Nenek Ros (the woman I was paired with) and the first time we hugged.

The moment when I had walks to the kedai-kedai with Nenek Ros, enjoying our kolo mee and enjoying each other's company while teaching English and Bahasa Kelabit to each other.
The moment when Nenek Ros and me cooked fish and sayur together, improving my skills to be the perfect wife material in the future (Haha!) 

The moment when us WHEE-IANS painted Tepu Sina Rang's (our homestay host) house and ended up having a paintwar with all of us looking as if we just came out from a warzone. 

And of course, the moment when I signed up for Project WHEE!. Project WHEE! gave me a chance to experience learning from a different culture and for me to have the opportunity to share what I have learnt with the lovely Bario ladies. 

In the next few posts, I would be sharing more about the moments. 

The wonderful moments throughout the last 14 days in Bario, Sarawak. 

Andddd...just scroll a little down, for pictures. 

Feeling surreal, this is actually happening! On my way to Bario!

This is where it will all start, a beautiful hand drawn map I found. 

The scenery we pass walking down from the airport to the long house. 

And last but not least, my NENEK ROS. <3 <3 <3 
I think with every second, one's life can change. With every 60 seconds, there will be a new minute. You really do not need to wait for New Year's Eve to start making resolutions for change. 

As a wise teacher has told me before, "The time is now"

So, do it today. For whatever you would want to strive for, leave behind, or create. 
Today can be the day of change. 

Signing off, 


8 Memories from Bario

1. Aunty Lucy & Aunty Bulan

From the left: my Sina, Aunty Lucy, Aunty Bulan
Aunty Lucy, Aunty Bulan, and my Sina combined are an incredible force of nature. Together, the three of them are capable of making me eat and drink around 3 times, all before 12 p.m. Jokes aside, these women are strong and so hardworking, and they made life at 7 a.m. infinitely easier for me. I remember how Aunty Lucy took my hand in hers when we were walking, and I remember how Aunty Bulan bought a little sausage bread thing that they call 'Doraemon', tore off a small piece and gave the rest to me. And I remember paying for our last meal together at the shop, and Aunty Bulan saying "semoga Tuhan berkati kamu, Ru." 

2. Church

Church was a special experience for me. When I was in high school I used to go hang out at the Christian Fellowship meetings (because, well, they used to serve good food) while waiting for my ride home, so I kind of knew what to expect from the church in Bario. But the intensity and love with which they carried the service out really surprised me and warmed my heart. Seeing the entire community come together to pray and sing songs was something we don't see often. And the songs - the songs, sung by the adults with such vigor and sincerity while girls danced gracefully in their white costumes. We also got the opportunity to sing two songs at our last Sunday in Bario, all in our Project WHEE! t-shirts standing in two rows at the front, and it is a memory I cherish.

3. Popcorn/night huddle

This memory is not so much the popcorn, but of my batchmates. Okay, no, actually I just wanted to share this picture I took of the popcorn.

Popcorn featuring Alicia and Karthik in the background
In all seriousness, memory number three belongs to the nights we went out and stargazed together. Our project coordinator Daniel said that it was like a special thing that we don't need photos of (but I'm writing from memory so he might not have said those things at all) and I agree now. The stars in Bario are so lovely and bright, and it was a special moment with my batchmates, huddling together for warmth and just.. being there.

4. The time the girls gave me a ride back home

This is us with Sina's eldest daughter, Dayang, after she gave me a ride back to the homestay. Little Mujan is right behind her. I really like this picture because Dayang looks like the complete badass she actually is.  

5. Planting Flowers - All Time Low

I planted some flowers with Sina at the school one day. While we dug small holes and pushed the stalks in, Sina told me extremely touching things like "after you're gone, I can only talk to the flowers you planted", so I immediately started worrying and praying that the flowers wouldn't die. And they didn't. 

After (thank God)

Me : What will you say to the flowers?
Sina: You are beautiful! You are so pretty!

6. Prayer Mountain

Oh, Prayer Mountain. Listen, for the not-so-active and not-so-fit such as me, Prayer Mountain was a challenge. At first it was like, yeah! Prayer Mountain! Let's do this! And then some time into the hike it was like you know, do I really need to climb this mountain? It's probably worth it and all but do I? Does anyone??

Ha. Joke. But seriously, it was a struggle. But my batchmates were so understanding and good to me about it. They kept giving me pep talks and assuring me that we were almost at the top. And once we reached the top, it did feel like it was worth it.

7. Periuk kera

The first day I spent with Sina Sarina, we finished our work early. So Sina and I took a walk around school, getting to know each other and the works. She showed me the orchids and then the periuk kera - or, pitcher plant. It's like in the Peninsular, the plants are so special and protected, and then you come to Bario and they're just growing in a high school.

The high school of Bario is a prominent place in my memories because I spent so much time there with its people. This has probably been mentioned to death but the people of Bario are a truly hospitable, friendly folk. From meeting two babies to going uphill for fresh jackfruit, I have many good memories of SMK Bario.

8. Hydrodam

Or, the time we went to bathe at the hydrodam because of water rationing. It is about a 20 minute walk to the dam itself, and the water is freezing cold. There is a huge difference between standing underneath a cold shower, and walking into cold water, and I now know the difference very well. Aunty Nicole's kids Victor, Sigang, and Dom followed us to go bathe every time we went, and it was quite humbling to be shivering neck-deep in the dam while Victor casually takes off his shirt and cannonballs into the water.

Of course, these are only a fraction of the many memories Bario has given me. I will not forget how beautiful the skies in Bario are, I will not forget the many good people I've met and I won't forget the laughs we had and the things we've learned, too.