It was my first time flying to Sarawak and then to transit to Bario in the Kelabit Highlands .I had logged in on the Internet to read up about Bario but really, you can’t know a place by reading about it. I was excited and looking forward to the trip.
What I know from reading, is the friendly people who mainly comprised of the Kelabits and Penans, fresh mountain air, scenic surroundings with picturesque padi fields.
One of the things I like to do is to taste food. Ching Ching ( my boss ) told me not to expect food that we normally eat but ferns and edible plants pluck from the backyard of homes, squirmy worms, insects and whatever unfortunate animal from the jungle to land in the pot. The only thing normal would be the famous Bario rice which is grown locally.
I was also told that I should pack whatever necessities needed as everything have to be air-flown. Normal things like eggs and Maggie mee would double the price in Bario. On top of that, I packed coffee, Chinese sausages, Chinese BBQ meat , Chinese mooncakes, sweets and some biscuits and paper bags. The intention was to create gift bags to be given to the host of the places I was going to visit.
Touchdown IN MIRI 13th September 2011
Ching Ching and I landed in Miri 7.30pm, collected our luggage, got into a taxi and checking in to Mega Hotel. It was close to 9.00pm. Since we had not taken our dinner and were really hungry, we went to a nearby restaurant and we ordered bamboo clams, jungle vegetable called medin, “kau kay” vegetable, marmite pork ribs and a small portion of braised duck. The vegetables were so good we had another helping. At the end of the meal I was stuffed.
There was no chance of touring Miri as we were tired and had to fly off to Bario the next morning. We went back to our rooms and retired for the night.
14th September 2011
Miri Airport 7.00am – 10.30am
We had an early breakfast at the hotel and check out of the hotel. We took a taxi to the air-port and check into the airport. Our flight was scheduled to fly at 8.15am but there was a delay as it seemed that visibility was poor due to the clouds on the mountains. They had to wait for the clouds to clear. What a wonderful thing. If it were in KLIA or LCCT , poor visibility would be due to the haze caused by the open burning of vegetation in a neighbouring country.
It did not matter , as I had a wonderful time chatting with a Kelabit woman named Sinar Bulan Lukooi, literally translated as Moonbeam Lukooi. We ask if we could pay her to cook dinner for us on the condition it must be local food and nothing imported from Miri. She cheerily agreed.
Soon we boarded a mid size propeller aeroplane which have a capacity of 19 passengers. There is no pretty stewardess to serve you coffee or tea. Just board it like a bus and get off when it lands. It takes about 50 mins to reach Bario.
Tarawe Lodge 11.30am – 1.00pm
Tarawe Lodge have a wonderful view of the Padi field that is tended by Sinar Terawe, the mother of John Tarawe, the owner of Tarawe Lodge. My jaw swept the floor when I found out that she is more than 80 years old and is still planting Bario padi. It seems that the younger Kelabits are no longer interested in planting padi.
Once we were settled at the Lodge, we walk a short distance and had lunch at the shops near the telecentre. After lunch we were introduced to Millie the manager of the Telecentre. We had already inform the trainees to be at the Telecentre by 2.00pm. However only four showed up.
However with a Customer Relationship Management ( CRM ) Software, they are able to keep track of their customers. However most of them do not have the time to key in the information into the software and they were willing to hire help to key in the name cards for them.
Due to the design of the name cards, we spent some time in recognising what relevant information needed to be keyed into the CRM software. I also touched on the need of typing quickly and accurately and gave them some lessons on the correct way of typing.
After about half an hour after I started the session, another 2 trainees walk in and 10 minutes another 2 dropped by making a total of 8 women.
Upon enquiring why the trainees were late, I learn that some of them stay in long houses far from Bario Center. Most of them walk, taking them about half to an hour of walking. Two of the women even brought their young children to the centre. Coming from the city of Kuala Lumpur where things are taken for granted like easy availability of transport, malls, electricity 24/7, are hard to come by for the people of Kelabit Highlands. Electricity are from diesel generators and are usually turned off by 10.00 pm.
Picking Mushrooms 4.00 pm – 6.00pm
After the training session I was introduced to Pn. Dara Tigah, the headmistress of the only primary school in Bario. She invited Ching Ching and I to pick mushrooms as it was in season on a hill about 2 kilometre from Bario Centre. We jumped at the chance as it was the first time we had pick edible mushrooms from the wild.
Along the way Pn. Dara pointed out different edible plants such as medin, cat whiskers and other plants. We could not tell the difference between medin and weeds growing by the side of the road.
At the foot of the hill, we met a family who had just found some pineapples growing in the wild and they kindly gave us a slice. I had tasted Sarawak Pineapples and Crystal Pineapple which are sweet and juicy but it could not compare to that Bario Pineapple. It was juicy and very sweet.
We then went up the hill to collect mushrooms. The mushroom is orange in colour it looks like a upsidedown flower on a stalk. We collected enough to fill a midsize paper bag. As we were walking down the hill, Ching Ching said that she wanted to pay a visit to De Plateau Home stay which was operated by Millie’s Husband , Dounglas, about 1 kilometre up the road. She wanted to assess the place for future stay planned for ehome’s staff. Halfway there, we got a lift from Douglas coming from town on a 4 wheel .
De Plateau Homestay. 6.00pm – 8.00pm
I noticed that in Bario, it gets dark as early as 6.30pm. By 7.30 pm it was already pitch dark outside and there were no street lights. As it was late, Douglas offered to drive us back to town. Since we had already made dinner arrangements with Sinar Bulan, we went directly to her place.
Dinner at Sinar Bulan Lukooi – 8.00pm – 9.30pm
Sinar Bulan owns a small general store. She had just returned from the jungle near her home gathering medin, tapioca leaves and mushrooms. However there were no meat. It did not matter as we were hungry. She offered us Chinese tea. We chatted with her as she cooked the vegetables for us. It was a simple meal with Bario rice but everything tasted good.
After dinner we walk back to Tarawe Lodge less than 100meters away, it began to rain heavily as we were walking back. It was rainy season in Bario and the nights were a bit chilly. Luckily I had brought a torchlight otherwise we may blundered into the muddy padi fields.
Tarawe Lights Out – 9.30pm – 11.30pm
James who is the brother of John , informed us that lights out will be at 10.00pm. However the lodge have solar powered battery that will last until it is flat. Thank goodness for that as the light in my room is powered by solar battery. Anyway It was a long day, I decided to sleep early as we had to go the Primary School on the invitation of Pn. Dara to give a demonstration of the DWMA program.
15th September 2011
1st morning 6.30am – 9.00am
I was woken up by the feathered Bario alarm clock at 4.00am and with snooze control every fifteen minutes. Rearing chickens in Bario was only introduced recently. Since I could not go back to sleep, I lazed around until 6.30am when sunlight streamed into my room.
By 7.30am I was ready dressed up and I met a Chinese contractor who was overseeing the building of the Clinic in Bario. He told us that the construction of the Clinic was slow due to unavailable resources to complete the clinic. He normally stays at the Lodge and goes back to Miri on the weekend.
Annie works as a Housekeeper for Tarawe Lodge to support her family. I ask if I could pay her for doing my laundry muddied from last night rain but she was reluctant to charge for it. Instead I offered to give her the foodstuff to trade for it. I filled a paper bag with BBQ meat, 2 types of of lup cheong, a packet of 40 sachets Nestle 3 in 1 coffee and a packet of biscuits and gave it to her. She protested that it was too much but I told her it was also for her family. After breakfast, James took us by 4 wheel Drive to the primary school.
Bario Primary School 9.00am – 1.30pm
Pn. Dara Tigah welcomed us to the school. As it was UPSR week, most of the teachers were in the staff room. They quickly set the LCD projector and the notebook for me to demonstrate the DWMA program. A computer to handphone application for them to use in their community projects.
What I observe that the school internet connection was rather slow. I had to wait for a few moments before the website could be loaded. Anyway the demonstration took longer than anticipated but it was completed without any hitch. We were then invited to stay for lunch which the teachers cooked themselves.
During lunch I had a pleasant surprise when I mentioned that before I got married, my wife Sharon, was teaching in Betong Sarawak and her headmistress at that time was Mary Ranggau. Pn Dara said that Mary Ranggau was her classmate in Form 6. I ask if she could get her contact number if she happened to see her again. What a small world.
Telecentre 2.00pm – 5.00pm
The 2nd session of the CRM began but only 5 turned up. One of the trainees Nicole ( she is a single mother with 3 kids, walks 3km from her home) told me that 1 of the trainees will not be joining us as she has to back to her home. To reach her home she has to ride in the truck for several hours and it would be difficult for her to get back for training. For the other two trainees they had decided to go back to school and could not participate in the CRM program.
I started the trainees with typing exercises. I had brought a typing exercise program which I loaded it into their computers. After that I introduced the CRM program to them, giving them the individual password to key in the name cards.
However the internet connection was very slow. We had to wait a long time before the page could be refreshed. Even Ching Ching was complaining that she could not excess her email. We both noticed that there were kids with notebooks given by the government 1Malaysia notebook scheme, were into facebook, downloading games, songs and movies. The telecentre Internet bandwidth could not cope with so many computers accessing the internet at the same time. Even though the training was slow I manage to get the trainees to practice keying the name cards which I saved in my thumbdrive.
At the end of the training session, Nicole invited us to her home for dinner.
Bario Asal Longhouse 5.00pm – 6.30pm
While I was doing my training, Ching Ching got to know Connie, a retired school teacher who kindly offered to drive us to her home which was about half way to Nicole’s home. After parking her car, she offered to walk with us to guide us to the Permancha’s House on the way to Nicole’s place.
After the Permancha’s house we went to the Bario Asal Longhouse. One of the resident offered to guide us into the long house. We chatted with an old Kelabit couple with tattoos on their hands and legs. They had long earlobes. He also took us to the Longhouse community hall.
We found out that our guide was a former territorial army scout. Even though he is more than 70 years old, he was carrying a big load of firewood on his shoulder from the forest nearby to the longhouse.
Gerawat Nulun’s Home 6.30pm -8.30 pm
When we arrived at Nicole’s house, her mother, Janet and father, Gerawat came to welcome us into their house. While Ching Ching sat and chatted with the ladies, I had a fascinating conversation with Gerawat. I found out that he was formerly working in Shell with Datuk Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister Department. We exchange information about our heritage, Chinese with Kelabit. For example how Kelabit people change their names when the 1st child and 1st grandchild are born. Also because the total population are small in numbers, about 6,000, most Kelabit people are related to each other.
Later Gerawat entertain us by playing a traditional musical instrument called Sapi. It is similar to a three string lute. Janet is a native dancer showcasing her talents on Malaysia cultural dances locally and overseas. However it was late and she did not have time to put on her costume. Maybe the next time we meet , I may have the chance to see her dance.
All too soon, we had to called James to send us back, Gerawat said that he will be at the market on Saturday. He ask us to be there as most of the villagers will be bringing their goods to sell there.
Tarawe Lodge 9.00pm – 10.30pm
After I had showered, I had found some old Reader Digests, to relax by doing some light reading. After reading a few pages, the Generator shut down. No problem , I still had solar powered lights, 15 minutes later it too went off as the battery went flat. I was forced to retire early. I haven’t slept so early in more than 20 years.
16th September 2011
2nd morning 6.30am – 9.00am
This time the Bario alarm clock sounded at 3.45am. However after a while I drifted off to sleep and work up at 6.30 am. After I dressed up I had fried Bario rice cooked by Annie the housekeeper. I notice that there were lupcheong that were given by me, in the rice. It however was delicious. After discussing with Ching Ching what are the things to be done for the day, we walk to the Telecentre.
Telecenter Problem encountered 9.00am – 12.30pm
For typing exercise I ask the trainees to go into the website http://topsy.org/keyboarding.html
to practice their typing skills. I informed the trainees that after practicing typing, they can sit for the typing test and get a typing certificate and get a digital certificate to show the level of competency which they can also used they when they are looking for clerical work.
Also there are not enough working computers with 17” screen monitors. Most of the desktop computers have the mouse taken by previous users. Those mouse have to be replaced. Some of trainees used eBook computers with small screen which is not suitable for name card entries.
Name card data entry should be done on a minimum size screen of 17” or more as we need to open three windows; Window 1 – CRM program. Window 2 -front portion of the card. Window 3 – back portion of the card. Even with the above problems encountered, the trainees used the computers available to practice keying in the name cards.
Lunch at the food shop 12.30pm – 2.00pm
I invited all the trainees to have lunch on me but 2 of them needed to go back. Two of the single mothers with 5 children took up my offer. I told them to order lunch for their children and not to worry about paying for it.
I ask them about what they did in order to support their family. Nicole is kindergarten teacher and have to support 7 members in her family. Mina works in a home stay to support her family. To supplement their food they usually grow or gather produce from the jungle to sell or to consume themselves.
Telecentre 2.00pm – 6.30pm
While the trainees continue to practice, Ching Ching and I discuss various solutions to the problems encountered.
At 5.00pm I dismiss the trainees but they inform that there is seminar for all the ladies at the church the next day which they wanted to attend. I had no choice but to postpone the lessons till 7.00pm the next day.
We had to make arrangements to open the Telecentre with Millie in order to have the training at 7.00pm the next day. Meantime Ching Ching and I continued with our discussion until we went back to our lodge for dinner.
Tarawe Lodge – Dinner 7.00pm – 10.00pm
I called Annie on my hand phone about dinner as prearrangement have been made. She had cook dinner at her home and she brought it over together with her husband Martin.
We had Kampong Chicken Curry, Mushrooms and other vegetables with Bario rice. After dinner we sat around having a pleasant conversation with Annie and Martin. Later Grandmother Sinar Tarawe and an Aunt of John Tarawe joined us.
As we were talking, Aunt Sinar ( a common name among the Kelabit ) said that her torchlight was getting dim and needs to have the battery replaced. I told her that we now used Led torchlight which uses less power but brighter than conventional torchlight. I showed her mine and she offered to buy it from me.
She was so happy when I said that I will gift it to her when I leave Bario as I still need it when there is a blackout at 10.00pm.
17th September 2011 – Saturday Morning Market 7.00am – 10.30am
This morning I had a free day and I was told that there is a morning market where people were selling all kinds goods. I was looking forward to it and I went out early. However there was hardly any activity and the shops were still closed. It seems that because there was a seminar that day, the majority of the Kelabit community attended the seminar.
I ordered breakfast at the shop runned by a couple. I had noodles with wild boar meat for my breakfast. While I was finishing my breakfast, Ching Ching walked over with a cup of coffee from the lodge. While we discussing what needed to be done that day, We saw Gerawat walking towards the market, Ching Ching went to greet him and walk towards the telecentre saying she will joined us later.
I quickly finished my coffee and joined Gerawat. He took me to another shop and introduced me to everyone in that shop. It seems that all of them were related. Later Douglas came over and joined us. It also turns out that he is related to Gerawat.
They ask me if I would have breakfast with them. As I had my breakfast I declined. However they all ordered Sarawak Laksa, I could not resist as I wanted to taste it. A bit later I ordered a bowl. I correctly identified that there were dried shrimps in the curry broth.
The owner’s daughter noticing me tasting the broth, said that she served the original Sarawak Laksa but she substituted the fresh prawns with dried shrimps. As we chatted, I found out that she came back to help her mother to run the store for this week and she was going back to work in Miri.
After breakfast Gerewat ask if I was interested to go harvesting pineapples with him. Of course I jumped at the chance as it was the first time I have come close to a pineapple plant.
Harvesting Pineapples 10.30am – 12.00pm
I asked Ching Ching whether she was interested to harvest some pineapples. She too jumped at the chance. The pineapple orchard was just behind the Telecentre. But we have to climb up a slope where the pineapple bushes were planted. The pineapple fruits are a small but very sweet.
Some of the pineapples were eaten by the rats. There was a hole the size of tennis ball and the inside were empty just like the pineapple flesh have been scooped out. Anyway Gerawat managed to cut the pineapple from the stem with a machete and filled a basket strapped to his back.
After that Ching Ching decided to return to the telecentre and finished the report she was working on. I decided to follow Gerawat to his home . He called his grandson to carry his knapsack while he carried the basket of pine apples.
A bicycle ride – 12.00pm – 4.30pm
We went to Sinar Bulan shop and I wanted to rent a bicycle to follow Gerawat and cycle back. Sinar Bulan wasn’t around and the only one available was a ramshackle bicycle with a flat front tyre. I pumped the tyres full of air and we then proceeded to walk Gerawat house. Meanwhile his grandson walk on ahead and stopped at a eating shop.
We walk to the shop and Gerawat’s cousin David was there. It was also a coincidence that Connie was also there with her sister and brother. They ask us to join them for lunch and since Gerawat sat down, I follow suite.
I could not help noticing that they were all using chopsticks in a Kelabit eating shop. David told me that previously, the Kelabit use a thong implement to eat but they have adapted to using chopsticks instead. I had noodles for lunch. It is similar to Chinese Yingyong gravy over mee with a chicken frank. After I had lunch I cycle back to Telecentre to see if Ching Ching had anything to discuss but I could not find her.
I took a leisurely ride back to look for Gerawat who was already walking home. Once I caught up with him, I got down from the bike and walk with him. Along the way we talked about the Golden Apple snails which had infested the padi fields. The snails eat the young padi stalk thus destroying the plant.
We also talk about how the government is trying to mechanise the ploughing of the field to elevate the shortage of labour because not many of the young Kelabit wants to take up padi farming.
Once we reached his house, he invited me into his house and we continue to talk about his the problems facing padi planting. It just so happened he had the famous barrio salt which is rich in minerals, with him. The salt is obtained by boiling salty water from underground spring. I bought some.
At about 4.00pm I thank him for hosting me and I cycle back to Sinar Bulan’s Shop. The bicycle front tyre had a puncture and wad losing air fast. Once I reached Sinar’s place, I was charged Rm15 for renting the bicycle for a whole day. I gave her Rm30 to rent it for another day as I wanted to go Gerawat’s home the next day. I wanted to give some of the foodstuff I had with me to his family in appreciation of him spending time with me.
I was so tired from the ride home, I could not keep my eyes opened after reaching the lodge. After I took a shower, I fell asleep on the couch.
Night training at the Telecentre 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Since Ching Ching and I were in planning the future plans for the Bario project, we decided to go for dinner before the training started. However It was a Saturday night and there were no food available.
We had to go from shop to shop to see if they had dinner available. We finally found it at one of the Homestay and they had leftover meat which I not identify . I guess it could be squirrel as the bones were quite tiny. They fried some eggs and vegetables and we quickly ate our dinner with rice.
It was the closing of the training. Although there were a lot of teething problems with the internet previously, I manage to get some things done. I also left instructions to continue to the practice and we would be sending more name cards for them to practice in the email.
After 9.00pm I close the Telecentre and I walk back to the lodge. As I reach the gate, I could not see the steps in the dark and I tripped on the steps. Luckily I only have a scrapped elbow and a banged knee but it was painful climbing the stairs to my room. Serves me right for being so clumsy.
18th September 2011
Ching Ching Flying off – 7.00am – 10.00am
Annie had brought some cinnamon sticks at our request. She sold us a 3 foot stick at Rm 5 each. We both bought some and Annie cut it in half so that we could packed it in our luggage.
Before Ching Ching left for the airport, Grandmother Tarawe came and gave her a 2 kilo bag of Bario rice her. In return, I gave Grandmother Tarawe some BBQ meat and Lup cheong. Later James send Ching Ching to the airport. As for me, my flight was the next day as there were no available seat on that flight.
Chatting with Grandmother Tarawe 10.00am – 12.0pm
I went to my room and packed all the things I wanted to Gerawat and family. Nicole had invited me for her children’s birthday at 4.00pm. She had actually bought two birthday cakes from Miri for her two children’s birthday and had came back on the same flight with us to Bario.
Annie had already prepared fried rice which I had for breakfast and lunch. I could not go out because it was raining that morning. I just sat at the bench facing the padi fields with the rain gently falling. It was so peaceful and serene that I just sat there quietly with no worries and nobody in the lodge .
Later I heard somebody washing clothes. I got and went to see who it was. It was Grandmother Tarawe washing her own clothes. It just amazes me that an 80 something lady could be so healthy and fit. After she finished washing, she came by and sat with me while waiting for rain to stop so that she could dry her clothes. She chatted about things in general. What my purpose in coming to Bario.etc. When the rain stopped, she excuse herself and went out to dry the clothes.
A tour of the Padi Field 12.30pm – 3.30pm
I went to Sinar Bulan shop to get the bicycle and took a slow ride to Gerawat’s House. I always enjoy my conversations with Gerawat. He is the first Kelabit to graduate with a University degree. The Kelabits Diaspora are the most educated among the native groups of Sarawak. So I was actually looking forward to spending time with Gerawat.
I was met at the door by Janet. I took out the paper bag of things I packed for them. I had actually taken all the complementary items from the hotel in Miri; toilet paper, box of tissues, soap and shampoo etc and gave it to them.
After a while, he asked if I was interested to go for a walk. He took me to around his padi field and pointed out the snails in the padi field which had already infested his fields. The only way to get rid of the snails was to catch them and crushed them underfoot.
He pointed out various plants and then took me to see his cinnamon trees. However it was still not matured and the bark did not give off the smell of cinnamon. He also showed me a vanilla tree growing nearby. It had began to drizzle rain which he calls it the mosquitoes’ pee. As the rain became heavier , we walk back to his house.
Children’s Birthday Party 3.30pm -5.30pm
Nicole and Janet had already pack the party door gifts for children and they had finished setting the table for the birthday party. As they were Christians, Gerawat ask David to say grace to start off the birthday party. The majority of the Kelabits are Christians. David told me that sometime in 1940s all the Kelabits converted to Christianity and thus their old religion have become extinct. As I brought my camera, I began to snap pictures of the party. Later I shall email it to Nicole.
A Chinese couple by the surname of Yang was also invited to attend the party. He brought his wife and baby son along. Mr. Yang was in Bario to show the Kelabits on how to use machines to cultivate padi. If the Kelabits adopt the use of machines to plant padi, his company will rent the machines and he will maintain the machines.
At 5.30pm I said my goodbyes to the family and hoped to see them again. I cycle back to Sinar Bulan and inquired if she had any more medin for sale. I wanted to pack some to bring home. Ching Ching had already bought everything the previous evening. Her advice to me was to buy the goods available immediately otherwise there won’t be anymore the next time around. Too bad I did not heed her advice.
Somebody’s else dinner 6.00pm – 8.00pm
I went back and took a shower and pack all my things as I had to be at the airport by 7.30am the next day. I took a leisurely walk around the shops. However most of the shops were closed as it was a Sunday evening. I approached the shop where I had my breakfast the previous day and ask if they are open for dinner.
They said no but if I return at 7.00pm, they would have some dinner available. I agreed. The family that own the shop stay in a small room upstairs. The husband and wife began cooking their dinner and apportion some for my dinner.
I had smoked wild boar meat ,wild boar soup , stir fried tapioca leaves paste and mushrooms with rice. All in all my bill came to Rm9 which I thought to be very reasonable. I took a stroll back to the lodge and did some light reading until all the lights went off.
19th September 2011
Fulfilling a promise 6.30am – 7.30am
As usual, I was awaken by the Bario Alarm clock. They are more vocal than usual which may be due to me eating a curried relation of theirs the other night. Anyway I was up earlier than usual. I brought my suitcase downstairs and made sure I did not leave anything behind. I went over to next door to hand over the torchlight to Aunt Tarawe as a parting gift to her. She then invited me to have a cup of coffee with her.
We talk about things in general. She also told me about planting padi using modern methods to improve the yield. How her mother and her will always think of ways to improve rather than sticking to the traditional way of doing things. As it was time for me to leave, I bade her goodbye and hope to see her again.
Goodbye Bario 7.30am -8.45am
I said my goodbye to Annie But I did not see Grandmother Tarawe so I left with James to the airport. At the airport I said my goodbye to James. I check in at the airport. The most important thing when we checked into the airport, they will weigh you together with your luggage to ensure that the aeroplane won’t be too heavy to take off.
While waiting for the plane, James came back with a bag of Bario rice given by Grandmother Tarawe. Although It was a small bag of rice, it is precious to me as the rice was planted by her. As the plane arrived on time, I climb aboard and said my goodbye to Bario.
Blogged by Thomas Low