Tuesday 24 March 2015

A State of Grace

One of the things I adored about the Kelabit community is their strong faith towards Christianity. On my first day in Bario, I was taken aback when we all held hands to pray before eating lunch. Over time, I got used to praying before eating and praying before entering the paddy field to harvest that I found myself looking forward to it everyday.

In Bario, nobody works on a Sunday. Instead, Sunday mornings are spent in the church for service where everyone is dressed to the nines. It was such a pretty sight to see all our tepuqs dolled up because we were too used seeing them in their 'sawah' clothes.

During my stay in Bario,
I attended the service thrice at Bario's main church and each time, I left feeling the warmth of the Bario community. It started off with announcements regarding the Bario community. After reading of some Bible verses by the priest, followed by prayers, came my favourite part, SINGING! One of my favourite songs has to be 'Segala Puji Syukur'. When that song was played, everyone present in the church went around and greeted each other. It's beautiful to see the people of Bario joining hands to worship God. It proves that religion does bring people together.

Us singing 'Amazing Grace'
Photo credits : Uncle Julian
We sang 'Amazing Grace' in the church on our second week in Bario. I was very excited plus nervous to sing for the first time in front of a crowd, let alone in a church! But all went well, I personally think we did an amazing job. I couldn't help but to feel proud of myself and my WHEE family when Sinah Lawa came up to me and said we sang really well. Yaay to us!  

Confessions of a Pillion Rider

I have only ridden on motorcycles driven by two people in my life - my father and Sina Mayda.

I remember seeing the Styrofoam insides of my father's helmet as I put it on when I was younger, and how the black fabric fastener always stained my chin black. I remember holding onto his waist while he fetched me to the kindergarten. I remember how tightly I clung onto him when we reached the kindergarten and me yelling through my sobs 'I DON'T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOOOOOL!' while my teachers had to pull me away from him.

My father sold his motorcycle when I was 12, because he often met in minor motorcycle accidents, and my parents agreed that his safety is more important compared to saving fuel money. I never got the chance to ride on motorcycles since then.

One day in Bario, my sina decided to bring me to Pa Umor, her hometown on her motorcycle. After so many years of not riding on motorcycles, I was happy I got the chance to be a pillion rider again. This ride however, was not how I imagined it to be. Having watched so many Korean dramas, I always fantasized and thought that my next bike ride will be super cool, like speeding on the highway with a hot dude or a kick-ass biker chick into the night.

Moon Chae-Won from Nice Guy.
So. Much. Badassery.
Of course, in reality, things are much less cooler. I went up the bike and held onto the plastic frame of the motorcycle at the back, because I felt awkward holding onto her, but she kept telling me, "Duduk dekat saya lagi, letak tangan di sini (gesturing at her waist). Jangan ambil belakang motor, nanti jatuh! (Sit closer to me, hold onto my waist. Don't hold onto the bike, otherwise you will fall!)". I held her waist gingerly and off we went on the bumpy, rocky Arur Dalan road. She went at around 30 km/h (actually I don't know what was the actual speed, because the needle of the speedometer always pointed at 0 regardless of how fast she drove). I didn't wear a helmet because helmets are too mainstream.  Instead, the wind rushed through my hair as I enjoyed the view of the wide paddy fields with white storks flying over them and farmers harvesting.

Bad ass level: you be the judge.
A little introduction to Pa Umor: It is another village away from Central Bario, and Arur Dalan is located in Central Bario.

A cemented road in Bario.
After around 20 minutes of riding on bumpy rock roads, smooth cemented roads, tricky mud roads, a bridge over a river, we reached Pa Umor. It was very windy that day and the scenery was so pretty, Bario blew the cap off my head (both figuratively and literally; Bario means 'wind' in Kelabit). I panicked and didn't know what to do, because I didn't want to say something that sounded so foolish to her but at the same time, I was worried that a buffalo might chew my cap away. After much contemplation and when we were quite far from the spot where my cap was blown off me, only then I told sina what happened. As expected, she exclaimed, "Kenapa tadi tak cakap dengan sina? (Why didn't you tell me earlier?)" and turned the bike around for me to retrieve my cap. So much for not wanting to sound foolish, huh. Well done, Rui Ci.

I met her family in Pa Umor and the house that she and her husband is currently in the process of building. They are planing to turn it into a homestay once construction is complete. Next to the unfinished house is a plot of land where she plants pineapples and tapioca. We had lunch in Pa Umor before heading back to Arur Dalan.


The unfinished homestay.
The Pa Umor church
On our way back, I finally saw them. I saw how the mountains enveloped the houses, plantations, and paddy fields. I saw why people who visit Bario are charmed. I saw what I will forever remember oh-so-fondly about Bario. I leaned forward to sina and told her, "Bario is beautiful."

A pocket-dial from Sinah Sarina

       About 2 months after my trip back from Bario, Sinah Sarina called me on my cell phone. I figured it dialled in her pocket because I could hear her voice but she wasn't talking to me. As soon as I figured she dialled me on her phone accidentally I thought about ending the call, but I did not.

I held on the call for at least a minute. To be honest, after just 2 months away I was starting to miss that place. I could hear the wind blowing through the microphone and the snippets of Sinah Sarina’s laughter and her speaking in Kelabit with someone. She was probably having a conversation with her friends. 

It sure felt nice to even hear a quick snippet of her voice and know that she is doing well over in Bario.

I really hope my chance of returning to Bario again could come sooner.

This clip is dedicated to those who miss the Bario breeze.

Drowning in Love (and mud!) - Part 2 of 2

Candid picture of Tepuq Pun Ulo & Kee Kiat
A typical day in Bario included getting down and dirty in the paddy field. And since it was the harvesting season, our Bario Asal tepuqs decided to work together, meaning we got to work in a group! That was so fetch! (get the Mean Girls reference?)

Tepuq Pun Ulo was the lady I got assigned to in my second week at Bario. Tepuq Pun Ulo is a very shy
lady at first, but once she gets comfortable around you, you'll be hearing all sorts of funny stories. Tepuq Pun Ulo always kepteps our best interests in her heart. At times when I forgot to bring my hat or gloves, tepuq would take hers off right away and forced me to wear it.

Tepuq partnered with Tepuq Ribed, Tepuq Bulan and Aunty Jenette during the harvesting season.

Working in the paddy field was never short of fun! When we didn't have tepuqs cracking jokes, or randomly bursting into a song, we pulled each other out of the thick mud, which was pure entertainment! Also, batchmate Kee Kiat taught our tepuqs a song called 'Dua Harimau',
It goes like this :
“Dua harimau, dua harimau,
Lari pantas, lari pantas,
Satu tiada mata, Satu tiada ekor,
Banyak pelik, Banyak pelik”

...and then we continued with some other made up songs which made zero sense?!

Random facts about the tepuqs :

Tepuq Ribed : A petitie lady with a very contagious smile.

Tepuq Bulan : She LOVES singing. And sweets, particularly NIPS. ;P

Aunty Jenette. : She makes really good food! I could almost taste the chicken curry she made as
I'm writing this. Also, she makes really tasty cakes & bread.

With love,

Thriya Sria Maria

Drowning in Love (and mud!) - Part 1 of 2

I was one of the few lucky participants who got to work with several ladies during my 21-day stay in Bario. One of my assigned ladies was Aunty Mariam, who happened to be new to the project so my self-imposed pressure to make a good first impression was pretty high. Although I was reassured again and again by project coordinators, Rhon & Daniel that Aunty Mariam is a very nice lady, it didn't stop me from being really nervous about meeting her.

When I was first 'presented' to Aunty Mariam, she came up to me and gave me a bear hug. Immediately I knew I was gonna like Aunty Mariam. After Rhon & Daniel left, I followed Aunty Mariam and Dayang (Aunty's neighbour) to collect some 'daun isip' with her. 'Daun isip' is a type of leaf used to wrap 'nuba laya' (wrapped rice). After following aunty around, picking up the cut leaves, she finally trusted me to use the 'parang' to cut some 'daun'. ACHIEVEMENT.UNLOCKED.

Note to self (and future Project WHEE! participants): Cover yourself fully whenever you leave the longhouse. My trip to collect 'daun' was cut short since Aunty Mariam got worried as I kept getting insect bites and was scratched myself till I bled. After collecting 'daun', we had lunch. One of the dishes was snails. Yes, I'm not kidding. Snails. It was delicious by the way. Tama (Aunty Mariam's husband) said eating snails is like practicing French kissing ahaha ;P I must have looked ridiculous because everyone was laughing at me struggling to suck the snail out from the shell.

From right : Aunty Mariam, me and Aunty Mariam's sister :)
My second (and final) day with Aunty Mariam was pretty chill. Aunty, her sister and I sat by the 'tetel' (fireplace), sipped on some hot coffee, and exchanged stories. I found out Aunty Mariam is a cancer survivor (much amaze!), therefore she was hosting a dinner/going away party that night before flying to Miri for a follow up medical check up. She would only return to Bario after I leave. With a heavy heart, I bade farewell to Aunty Mariam at the end of the day and promised her I will come visit her again.

In a twist of fate, Aunty Mariam's flight landed when we were in the departure hall, preparing to leave. It felt like a Bollywood movie scene, as I rushed across the airport, searched for Aunty Mariam in the crowds and fell into her tight embrace (ok fine, I exaggerated). It was a huge relief meeting Aunty Mariam before I left, knowing she is healthy and well after her treatment.

Aunty Mariam's father & I 
To be continued.....

With love,
Thriya Sria Maria

TTFN; Ta-Ta For Now

Dev and I were leaving a day later than everyone else. The reality of leaving hadn’t hit me when we were sending everyone else off, the day before Dev and I left. While the tepuqs were saying their farewells to the others, the both of us kept telling them “Oh, we are only leaving tomorrow. Don’t worry, we aren't gone yet.”

Having that one extra day was great in the sense that we could soak up as much of Bario as we could; we went for Tamu (the weekend market) and lunched at Joe’s Cafe. But the longhouse had never felt quieter. If it hadn’t hit me earlier that day that we were leaving, it definitely did that night by the fire. I stayed up as long as I could, taking turns with Sean and Dev to keep the fire burning. Man, do I miss that fireplace.
Phone cameras do not do the fire justice.

Then the morning came and the weather was beautiful. After chilling by the balcony for a short bit, Dev and I took our last walk around Bario.
The view of the paddy field was good even after we harvested the scenery.

We made it back in time to have breakfast. My wonderful Sina Supang paid me a surprise visit to gift me another 2 pineapples. I was both happy and panicked because: Hello, Pineapples! I feel the love! :D but also: Oh no! I gotta rearrange my luggage! :O Fortunately, I managed to fit everything into my bags.

When it was time to leave, most of everyone else had already gone to church. We didn’t have a big farewell like the day before, but we did get to say good bye to Tepuq Sinah Rang :)
Uncle Julian fetched us to the airport; my last time standing on the back of the 4WD. It was so bittersweet, getting the final view of Bario.

How would I describe the flight back to KL? It was a sad transition from Bario feels back to KL city life. The plane made a stop at Marudi Airport, which was similar to Bario’s, except outside the airport there were more roads and modern-looking longhouses. Then at Miri my heart was so conflicted because our smartphones were finally smart again (internet connection) but the fake, cold, air-conditioned air was nowhere close to the cool crisp air back in Bario. I bitterly connected my phone and caught up with e-mails and messages while waiting for the flight back to KL.

In a way it was good being back home though. Recounting my 3 weeks in Bario with my family and friends, I appreciated my time with Project WHEE!

A Day of Firsts

Dev and I had different flights in and out of Bario from the rest of the group, so we arrived a day late and had to leave a day later as well. Here’s how the first day went :

Skipping the parts about the flight from KLIA2 to Miri. It was pretty standard (McD breakfast, long walk to the boarding gate, quiet flight).

The flight from Miri to Bario was…an interesting First. We flew on the MASwings Twin Otter aircraft, which was a tiny double-propeller plane. Taking off was terrifying for me because we could feel every little jerk of the plane as it was ascending. But once we got to higher altitudes, the plane steadied and I sat back to enjoy the view. Being on a smaller aircraft, it just felt so intimate with the clouds *warm feeling in my heart. My eyes were kept on the view throughout the flight, despite being incredibly sleepy.

As Rhon put it: Compulsory Propeller Picture

Touchdown in Bario!

After a bit more than an hour, we finally arrived at the Bario airport. The airport basically comprised of one landing strip and one single-storey building. Stepping off the plane, we saw our Batch 5 family, waiting at the arrival gate :) and with that, we loaded our baggage onto Uncle Julian’s 4WD and headed to Tepuq Sinah Rang’s home stay in Bario Asal. You could really appreciate the fresh air and the scenic view from standing at the back of the 4WD (also a First for me). The bumpiness of the road only added to the excitement :D

There wasn't much time to settle down when we arrived home (home stay). Dev and I just brought our bags to our rooms and we were off to see Arur Dalan, which is a neighbouring village about 10 minute’s walk away.

Scenic walk from Bario Asal to Arur Dalan

We decided to visit Aunty Dayang as it was beginning to rain. That was my first hand experience with Bario’s well known hospitality. Aunty Dayang was so welcoming and friendly; she offered us canned drinks and sliced up a pineapple for us. Another First: tasting Bario pineapple. We were all instantly hooked. I had never tasted such a delicious pineapple, I’m not even exaggerating. And then we found out it wasn’t even Pineapple Season yet (that’s in May). Imagine the pineapples when they ARE in season! *droooooollllll 

As the rain let up, we walked home in time for dinner. I’m sure many of the previous blog posts have mentioned before how good the food is in Bario.

After showering, I witnessed my First Prayer Meeting which gave me more of an insight of the culture there. From the first day I could tell how closely knit the community was, which was so nice to see and actually be a part of, in comparison to the city where most of us don’t even know our neighbours.

It was a good first day.

Happy Hour: After Hours

When people ask me "What was your favourite experience on Project WHEE!"?
I have no doubts in my mind. It was the relationships formed between our Batch 5 members :) In fact, we got so close I find it weird referring to them as batch-mates now.
Family Portrait

After working during the day, I always looked forward to our bonding sessions at night and it was the simplest things that brought us together.

As long as we weren’t dog-tired, we would sit together and play games.

Our favourite game was definitely Time’s Up, something Dev introduced to us. I would say it is a mix of Taboo and charades. Each of us had to write down on pieces of paper: a song, movie, fictional character and prominent figure. It was always interesting and entertaining (not to mention hilarious) watching each other try to describe or act out their card.
Can you tell this is supposed to say Sirius Black? Acting this out was a challenge. Because everyone was thinking: Who/What is Sinus Blade???

On one night, what started off as Uno! became Uno! Bet (eg. Loser would have to hold the mic when we sang in church). I’m telling you, there has never been a more intense game of Uno! Hearts racing and suspense building with every last card’s Uno! announced. After that night, Monopoly Deal replaced Uno! and it was agreed that there would be no bets; our hearts could not take any more stress.

Needless to say, it was difficult keeping our noise levels down.

For the days where we just didn’t want to move, we would just sit together talking.

Also, aloe vera!
Whether or not we were sunburned, the tub of aloe vera would be passed around to everyone. Applying it became like a past time for us. We would just be chilling together and if our eyes happened to glance over that green tub, *bing* it’s Aloe Time! *open tub, scoop up some of that gooey goodness, slather onto skin, feel the instant soothing relief*
A chill game of Uno! *and spot the green tub of aloe :)

Massaging each other also became a normal activity for us, due to our work harvesting in the paddy field. It wasn’t rare to see someone sprawled on the floor with another person stepping on their backs. We were also fortunate enough to have a pro in Ayurvedic massages *ahem ahem Parthiban*, so he provided some comfort from aching muscles too. 
Parthiban giving Daniel (hidden from view) a back massage.

I would say that each of us in Batch 5 were different (in terms of personalities, interests, upbringing). Of course, we were city kids so our differences weren't extreme, but all of us coming together through Project WHEE! was definitely a unique and fun learning experience. I honestly can’t express how glad I am that all of us decided to sign up for it.

Tepuq Sina Rang is a Person of Great Humour

Very often I find her to be too cute for a lady of her age.

When she laughs, her laughter lights up the entire section of the long house and anyone can easily recognise that's her. Even when she is having tea with her circle of friends and relatives, you would find that she is the most humorous one amongst them.

That is what I admire about her. 

You see, we often think humour is a sign of weakness. To put this into perspective, say a leader was to deliver his orders to his subordinates and chose to not reveal his sense of humour as it would be perceived that he isn't firm about his orders. We should not restrict ourselves from humour to avoid being perceived as a person who takes things easy.  

Tepuq Sina Rang’s humorous personality taught me that a person’s humour does not get dry over age, but ego tends to get the best of older people.

Everyone should have a sense of humour and not take things too seriously. Laughter is an international language. It is infectious. Laughter is the best medicine. Yes, it is true! Experiments and observations have found that to be legitimate.

Do yourself a favour, have fun and be happy :)

A Hard Day’s Night

I will admit that working in the paddy field is hard work. The repetitive movements just from harvesting paddy is enough to give you a backache. Having to move knee deep in mud doesn’t make anything easier. This doesn’t even include the strength and energy needed to carry the buckets/sacks of paddy grain to be dried and milled. Being born and raised in the city, I am proud to say all of us did pretty well (and my highest praise goes out to all the tepuqs who have been doing this for decades). 

With all this hard work, you would think that we ended the day feeling miserable and missing home. On the contrary, the aching muscles made me appreciate everything in Bario so much more.

Doing physical labour, you could actually feel what you accomplished throughout the day, which was strangely satisfying. And getting a peaceful, restful sleep was guaranteed every night. I guess this is what people who go to the gym feel like after working out (I’ll never know).

Also, I didn’t feel guilty for eating seconds (sometimes thirds) during lunch or dinner. I enjoyed my first meal in Bario so much that I was worried about gaining weight by the end of the project. By the next day, which was also the first working day, I told myself the weight gained would be worth it; it all tasted too good (and I needed the energy). I really cannot emphasise how much I enjoyed eating there and I think the others would agree. I don’t know if it was how good the food tasted or my appetite from being constantly physical or a combination of both. All I know is that I ate more than I thought I could.

Of course, being in Bario meant being away from SOME luxuries…
1. the Internet *cue the horrified gasps of city kids*
It did take some getting used to. Any time we had a question no one knew the answer to, we couldn’t turn to Google for help. I cannot count the number of times someone brought up something interesting and all of us reached for our phones to search it up online to verify it, only to remember that our smartphones weren’t smart in Bario.
To be honest it was refreshing. It felt like a vacation from our lives back in the city; no ‘gotta meet Someone at Some Time’ or ‘due date for Something’ at the back of our minds. You know all those motivational talks telling you to stop with your gadgets and start experiencing life? That is exactly what we did. Instead of having half our attention on our phones, we learned to appreciate our surroundings and were fully present in the moment. *applause*
In saying that, I will acknowledge that the internet is a necessity to be productive in daily life (now that it’s Post-Project WHEE!) but it’s good to remember to turn away from our screens and take a look around (more than) once in a while :)

2. Laundry - this one isn’t as bad as it makes out to be
Hand washing your Sawah Clothes weren’t exactly troublesome. It was the rain. And the knowledge that they will be muddy again the very next day. Enough said.
calm before the storm (featuring Xueh Wei)
The rain always had 'good' timing. It would come after we were done working for the day but it never had the patience to wait until we (Rui Ci, Xueh Wei and I; The Arur Dalan Trio) arrived home.

3. Hot Showers - You'll learn to love cold showers (or at least learn to live with it).

Okay this is a short list. I guess Batch 5 were tremendously lucky that there was no water rationing and there was electricity 24/7. On top of that, we were very well taken care of by everyone there.

Coming home from Bario, the after effects of 3 weeks working in the paddy field was plain to see. It wasn’t just the ridiculous-looking tan lines. I had bug bites, and scratches all over my legs (I didn’t wear shorts for the following 2 weeks). There was dirt in my toe nails that despite my own efforts, were impossible to clean (a problem I am sure everyone else went through).
I apologise for this unappealing picture.

But despite all of that, I would do it all over again. Absolutely no regrets :)

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Kebun and Sawah

Being a participant of Project WHEE!, you are expected to be a slave, well, not for 12 years... but just for 3 weeks.

Okay, I am kidding, it is not that bad. You are not a slave. You are a valuable assistant to the tepuqs and they love you!

The first week there, it was harvesting paddy, 'ketam'-ing paddy all day everyday.
When you harvest for the first time, it will definitely be an amazing experience to properly use a sabit (sickle) to chop off paddy. But after few days of harvesting, you would find that harvesting is a very mundane and tiring job, and you would definitely get back-ache.

The passionate me holding a strand of paddy.

Yes, getting back-ache from chopping paddy.

My second and third week, I followed Tepuq Lemupok a.k.a Aunty Tagung, and I did a lot of gardening. Also another back-aching job, because you have to bend down to dig the mud, bend down for weeding and more weeding, and never ending weeding, because the weeds grow every two weeks. The route to her garden is like Narnia, you would open a door and another door to enter a magical world of greens.

First door (spot the white light at the centre)

Second door (spot the shining entrance on the left side)

Taaa-daaaaa her magical world of greens

Grown up french beans

This basically sums up my daily activities throughout the three weeks experience, harvesting and gardening. It is definitely worth the time and effort to experience what the tepuq's go through every single day. Their hardwork in producing the famous local Bario rice should never be taken for granted.

Oh, some tips on what to bring:

1. Long football socks (to protect your leg in the mud)
2. Long trousers / pants (to protect your leg in the mud too)
3. Hat (to prevent sun burn on your head)
4. Long sleeves (to cover your hand and prevent sun burn)
5. Sun screen

Good luck!

Tap... Tap... the Tapioca

One fine morning, I walked over to Tepuq Bulan's residence at 8am. It was the earliest morning I ever started working with tepuq and she greeted me with a cheerful ''Good morning!''. I gave a great smile and wished her ''Good Morning'' too. I had promised to visit her garden, and hence, our journey began.

We walked for only a few hundred meters when I asked, 'ehhh tepuq... are we there yet?'
and Tepuq Bulan replied with a smile, 'ehhh,,, jauh lagi, still very far... I like the morning walk.'

It was a misty and chilly morning, definitely a good for a morning walk with an abundance of fresh air.

The entrance to her garden was located beside the Project Ceria building.

Entrance to her garden

A beautiful walk into her garden
She planted a lot of tapioca in her garden, and hence, today we were going to harvest and collect some tapioca. I recorded a video of how she harvested the tapioca. For my convenience, I uploaded pictures with description, step by step.

Step 1: Chop chop chop the tapioca tree!

Cut the tapioca tree a quarter length from the root.

Step 2: Throw the chopped part aside and dig the ground, until you see some tapioca skin.

Dig softly and carefully to avoid damaging the tapioca.
The dark brown and black-ish spot above the 'sabit' is the tapioca.

Step 3: Use a 'parang' (machete) to chop the tapioca from its root and fork it out from the ground.

Tapioca chopped off from its root.

Step 4: VOILAAA tapioca!

Time to make some tapioca chips!

After collecting a few more tapiocas, we headed to Joe's cafe for a drink, and that was the end of my morning walk with Tepuq Bulan. It was a great morning indeed! :)

Monday 9 March 2015

Tepuq-tepuq sekalian

One of the main objectives of Project WHEE! is to assist the tepuqs in ther daily activities such as farming and harvesting, while teaching them basic English through casual conversations. With that, I have acquainted a couple of tepuqs, they are Tepuq Ribed, Tepuq Bulan, Tepuq Janet, Tepuq Lemupok (Aunty Tagung) and Tepuq Sinah Rang.

I will briefly describe the character of each tepuq that I have observed throughout my three weeks in Bario. These are merely just my observation and opinions, so if you were a past participant, and don't agree with my words, I apologise in advance.

So here it goes, I will begin with Tepuq Ribed!

Tepuq Ribed is a very cute lady. Even though she does not speak fluent English, she is keen to learn. She would sometimes strike a random conversation with you, and you will be surprised with her sense of humour at times. Then both of you will just end up laughing out loud.

From left: Tepuq Ribet, Myself and Tepuq Bulan. We were winnowing.

Tepuq Bulan. When I first met her, she spoke decent English to me. I was surprised. I mean I was there to teach English, and this lady can hold a proper English conversation with me. She loves to sing. First, you need to understand that the work we did was very mundane, and the only entertainment we can get is someone singing. She could sing a couple of songs in English, taught by previous participants, more songs in BM and dozens in Kelabit. She likes taking selfies and take photos with the scenery. Once, she asked me to sing a song for them, and I came up with ‘Dua Harimau’, a Chinese nursery rhyme translated into BM. And she found it surprisingly fun to sing, I sincerely hope she still remembers me and the song.
Me and Tepuq Bulan with sunglasses

Tepuq Janet is one of the ladies who speaks the best English in the community. She represented the Bario community to present their Bario rice in one of the Italy's organic food festival/competition (I can’t remember the title clearly). She brought tourists around for the longhouse and paddy field trails, explaining to them about the history of longhouse and the paddy field seasons throughout the year. You can talk about anything with her in English. One random fact is that she is married to one of the coolest guys in the Bario community. You must remember to shake hand with her husband, Uncle Gerawat. You will feel honoured to be able to shake his hand.

Me and Tepuq Janet

As for my assigned lady, Tepuq Lemupok/Aunty Tagung, first things first: never call her Tepuq. She dislikes it a lot and she wants to be referred to as Aunty. When I first met her, she gave me an impression as a not-so-friendly and strict lady. She was different compared to other lady in the community. But after working with her for a while, I realise she can speak basic English and is just the same as the other ladies, just that she is more reserved and does not show much of herself. She does not express her love like the other ladies, and does it in a way that you will not see it but can feel her love towards you, deep inside. She cares for you and surprises you with little little things. Once during lunch, she gave me a salmon fillet. She did not know that it was a salmon but thought it was sardine. She would always ask me what I would like to eat, then she would cook according to my preference. She likes to speak too, so you have to be a good and patient listener while talking to her. At the end of the trip, she gave me so many presents that I regretted not giving her enough. Yes, she still surprises me.

Me and my pretty Aunty Tagung

Last but not least, our homestay host Tepuq Sinah Rang is a very friendly and sporting lady. She takes care of our minum-minum and makan-makan throughout the programme. Breakfasts were usually pisang goreng, tapioca goreng, tapioca pizza and MI SEDAP! She is very sporting in the sense that she will wear sunglasses indoor (at night), pick up the guitar and sing a song.

Me and Tepuq Sinah Rang
Overall, tepuq-tepuq sekalian took very good care of us. They always asked us to rest and drink water. They made sure we had more than enough food to eat. They are a very welcoming, caring and friendly community.


It was a usual morning. I woke up at about 7:45 am. Then, I walked to the toilet, to find out, as usual, that somebody else was using it. So I skipped brushing teeth and went for the breakfast instead, as usual. Breakfast provided by Sinah Rang (homestay host) was never disappointing; I always looked forward to breakfast, because I got good food and was able to spend quality time with your batch mates, savouring breakfast together and grumbling about the long day ahead.

After breakfast, YES, I am a clean and hygienic guy, I never never forgot to brush my teeth. Thank you.

So after preparing myself for the day, getting changed and ready, I walked over to Aunty Tagung's place. And, I did not see her around. As usual, I acted like an inspector, I had to peek through the kitchen to catch a glimpse of her living room to see if she was there. The next step was to walk down the longhouse and checked if her bicycle was there. Then, I walked through the door to the garden, to check if her garden boots were there. Somehow, the both of us (Aunty Tagung and I) agreed to play 'hide and seek' mutually in our mind. A lot of times, I had to play the role of an inspector to look for her. It was not a bad thing, just funny that this was how we communicated almost every morning.

Me (the inspector) and Aunty Tagung (the missing suspect).

Today, yes she was missing. Her bicycle was not there. I had no idea where she was, and I waited for... for... for... 1 hour 30 minutes. And I gave up, I called Daniel, the coordinator, and asked for his permission to help other tepuqs. 

Then, I bumped into Uncle Julian and asked if he needed any help. He agreed to bring me to his tower. So he took his cool motorcycle and rode me there. Being a KL boy, never in my life had I ridden a motorcycle before, I asked Uncle Julian if I could learn to ride the motorcycle. Uncle Julian was like, 'huuuhhhhh, you KL people never ridden a motorcycle before?... Can can can...'

And straight away, he stopped at the paddy field near his tower and asked me to try.

His instruction was, first, step hardly on the clutch to start the engine, and throttle a little to keep the engine revved up. I did exactly what he said, well, except stepping hard on the clutch. I stepped the clutch three times and I still could not get the engine started.
Uncle Julian was like, 'Why you step like a girl? Step harder!' and burst into laughter.
So the second time, I stepped on the clutch really HARD. Yes, finally the engine started, but I forgot to rev it, the engine died again. Lesson learnt. I got the engine started and revved up.

So much effort to get the engine started, yet I had not moved a single inch from where I started. Next, his instruction was to change to gear 1 and throttle bit-by-bit. I shifted to gear 1 and yes FINALLY I MOVED. But, I was jerking a lot, due to my unstable and improper throttling skills.
Imagine this square bracket [] as the motorcycle, the three dots as my throttling power (...), An illustration of my first riding experience would be:

[] ... ... [] [] ... ... ... ... [] ... ... [] ... [] ... ... ... ... ... ... [] ... [] ... ... [] ... ... ... ... ...[]

As you can see, my distance with time was not consistent. Sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow.

A happy boy riding motorcycle for the first time.
After playing with the motorcycle for about half an hour, I helped Uncle Julian to carry bamboos up to his tower. Simple job, but tiring, because bamboos are no-joke heavy, and I was carrying the bamboo up the hill.

Just before lunch, Uncle Julian asked me to go to the nearest village, Pa Ramapuh alone on the motorcycle. I hesitated for a while, then I agreed to it later.

The road in Bario is very muddy. The road to Pa Ramapuh, for me was like Frodo going to Mordor, being very careful of every single step I take, as there were many puddles of water PLUS muddy road.

The first pool of muddy water, there were previous motorcycle trails. Very carefully and slowly, I rode through the first pool... successfully. Then I came across the second pool, the exact same thing happened, and when I thought I was about to reach the village safely already, JUST RIGHT before the village, there came the Boss, third pool of muddy water with NO PREVIOUS TRAILS.

So before I decided to cross the third pool of muddy water, before crossing, I was already thinking. Having GRADUATED with a degree in mechanical engineering, I analysed the matter... the worst that could happen was just falling into the pool muddy water. Come to think of it, it was not deadly. So yes, now I gathered my courage and strength to cross that third pool of muddy water. 

Praying hard to cross that third pool of muddy water, once I entered the third pool of water...

The right side of the motorcycle including the exterior, handle, part of the clutch and tyres completely sank into the mud. The handle of the motorcycle was covered with mud and became too slippery to hold.

First things first, I was not worried about the motorcycle. I was worried that there were people who witnessed such a disaster. I looked around the longhouse, luckily, no one was around. With much effort, I pushed the motorcycle out of the mud and rode back to Uncle Julian. Once again, he burst into laughter when I told him about it.

A very funny and memorable first time experience riding the motorcycle.

Riding motorcycle is now off my bucket list.

If you wish to ride motorcycle for free, without having to pay RM 1000 for licenses and bribery, well, Bario is the way to go. Meet Uncle Julian too, if you are lucky enough. 

Uncle Julian's jump shot at his tower.

BARIO, a hidden gem in Sarawak

Before I applied for Project WHEE!, I had no idea where in the world is Bario located, and how does Bario look like.

After I got accepted for Batch 5 of Project WHEE!, I STILL had no idea where Bario is. But now that I have a purpose, I started to Google Bario. Well, as usual, you get Wikipedia to help you understand where and what Bario is, with very basic information.

Just few days before departing to Bario, I had training with my batch mates. From there, I talked to the coordinators and asked how Bario was like. I cannot remember how they described it word-by-word. Basically, just picture yourself in a place with paddy fields, mountains, blue skies, clear cloud, a lot of greens, longhouses and more greens. Now that I had a 'clearer' picture of Bario, I was really excited to experience and be at the place.
To flyyyyy to Bario, unfortunately, there is no direct flight. Usually, the cheapest way to get there would be KL-Miri by AirAsia (yes, everyone can fly). Then take MASwings for Miri-Bario. This was my first time ever hearing of MASwings. The amazing part about MASwings is that, you get a really close view of what the pilots are doing, especially when departing and landing.

The cute and mini plane that you take to Bario. MASwings.
Close up view of PILOTs in action.

When I finally landed in Bario, I was surprised by the size of the airport. The airport serves its purpose very well in a limited space.

Then, the moment I came out from the plane, the amount of AIR that you first inhale, you would feel like you are 18 years old once again. The air is so fresh that it makes you feel younger and more energetic. And earlier on, as described by the coordinators, the paddy fields, mountains, blue skies, clear clouds, a lot of greens, longhouses and more greens, now I really do have a CLEAR picture of Bario. I won't be posting too many pictures, you are supposed to go there and experience it all.

Paddy field.

Mountain and greens.


Computer desktop wallpaper.

After spending three weeks here for Project WHEE!, I tell myself this is the place that I will always come back, for the community and for the environment. It is one of the perfect getaways from the busy KL lifestyle and all the problems you have from home. Because, the only way people can contact you, is only through Celcom. And other telecom providers do not work here.

So if I were to describe Bario, I would say lots of green - fresh air - quiet - rehab - longhouse - blue sky - clear clouds - chilly - Kelabit - BM - basic English - friendly community - more greens - nature.

Now, do you have a 'clear' picture of Bario?