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.