Monday, December 31, 2007

why read?

I'm been doing some thinking recently all the while reflecting on the different crisis happening around the world as well as in my own country, Malaysia.

Coming from a small town, life goes on quite slowly around here and naturally, we don't really feel the impact of the different events going on around the country. This can be both a good thing and/or a bad thing. The good thing is, people are not easily affected by the recent events around the country and have their thoughts swayed to any extreme ends of things. However, the unfortunate thing about this is that people can also be incredibly ignorant about how things are going on around the country.

It's amazing how people would argue with each other over some issue written in the local newspaper for argument's sake without knowing the truth behind things in the first place. There is an old saying in Chinese that reminds people to 'think with their brains before they speak'. So, how are you going to think about what you're going to say if you are ignorant about the true facts behind the different issues on hand? The obvious answer would be to get oneself enlightened about the truths behind these issues but WHERE can one find the answers?

The answer, my friend, is in reading. As what Uncle Kok Hwee has said recently, "Reading can open up a person's mind" and I agree with him 100% beyond reasonable doubt. Personally, I would suggest reading anything that you can get your hands on, barring love novels because those things drive me crazy. From independent news website to that huge old encyclopedia sitting at the bottom of the bookshelf. Just grab something and read.

I'm now on a 6 month break and very soon I'll be getting my hands on a couple of books from Uncle Kok Hwee to read during the break because frankly, I don't know everything and I hope I can increase not only my knowledge but also open up my mind to understand different ideas.

Hmm... this will be interesting.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

infiltration of the goths

I was at Kluang Parade today with my brother and guess what I saw? For the first time in my life, I saw a Chinese dude dressed like a goth. Not just the emo hairstyle and/or glasses but complete with the black fingernails and everything. I would think that this guy a) Surfs MySpace way too much or b) Came from the planet Mars.

I don't know how common it is for guys to wear nail-polish considering I haven't been out for quite a while, but to see one in real life like that is kinda appalling. I mean, who am I to criticize what others are wearing, right? Still, you don't quite see things like that everyday. However, seeing how things are in Kluang, I bet that in a couple of months time, every 1 out of 5 'punk rockers' in Kluang would have black nail-polish.

Not a flattering thing to say but hey, it'll be something to talk about.

Oh dear, this is a terrible blog post. I should stop writing. Bleurrghh.

Friday, December 28, 2007

what am I to do?

So, what am I to do?
Lie low and get myself kicked in the nuts and take it like a man?
Not sure if you know, but I missed you just as much.
If only you knew what to look out for.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kuching Trip

Hello everyone! Well, I came back from Kuching on the 14th but I have been so busy preparing the magic show for the CBC Christmas Celebration at the Public Library on the 16th. So, now that it's finally over, I can sit down and blog about pretty Kuching!

To be honest, I really didn't want to go for this trip because none of my friends are going and I was so close to rejecting the trip. Now that I'm back from it, I'm glad that I went because I learned so many things that I didn't know about Sarawak, especially about all the different ethnic groups in Sarawak.

Although the food and the accommodation was bad throughout the trip but all the places that we went to were awesome and very informative. At least I'm no longer as ignorant as I used to be about Sarawak! And now, unto the pics!

This is one of the many cat statues in Kuching. Interestingly, this statue, which is situated at the southern part of Kuching, called Kuching Selatan, have it's left paw risen rather than the right. Apparently, it's because there are many Chinese in the southern part of Kuching and Chinese businessmen who come into Kuching Selatan will be pleased to see this statue because to them, it's a symbol of wealth and signifies 'more money coming in'. I wish I can figure out the Mandarin han yu pin yin but my brains aren't really working now.

Here, you can see the administration building for Kuching Selatan. Yes, Kuching is divided into the northern and southern region because it's actually quite big. As I said earlier, Kuching Selatan is pretty much dominated by the Chinese and therefore, many structures around Kuching Selatan have lots of Chinese-influence.

Here you can see the old courtroom facing the 'waterfront' along Sarawak River. After it has been decommissioned, the state government decided to use it as a tourist information centre of some sort. I know, it's not even a week since I came back from Sarawak but hey, my brains haven't been working very well anyway. Rumour says that the place is haunted.

This is the Square Tower directly opposite the old courtroom building right by the Sarawak River. It used to be the holding place for criminals who did not commit serious offence. You know, cat-burglars, thieves, etc... Hardcore criminals such as rapists, murderes are sent to Fort Margarita instead, to be hanged. It's a pity that we didn't get to visit Fort Margarita due to the current construction of the new State Assembly building. According to Maggie, who is our AWESOME tour guide and 'mother', Fort Margarita is haunted and there are many ghost sightings and chilling experiences. Considering it's not only the holding place but also where the criminals are executed, I'm not surprised that it's haunted!

Interestingly, the British people used to hold dances at the top of Square Tower. I thought that was rather weird!

What you see here is probably Sarawak's most expensive wedding present. One of the White Rajah(Charles Brooke, I think) decided to build this building called the Astana for his wife as a wedding gift. What an awesome husband, eh, ladies?

Interestingly, eventhough it is now the official residence of the Governor, Rulers who visit the city would rather stay at the Merdeka Palace, which is a 5-star hotel, situated opposite Merdeka Park @ Central Park because of spelling of Astana is 'A' rather than 'Istana' because Rulers must stay in palaces.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Maggie. Our awesome tour guide throughout the trip. I tried my best to help her because she reminds me a lot of my mom and how can I see my mom working harder than me by carrying all those heavy vases that my teachers bought(oohhh... I'll get to that later!).

We also went to a particular fantastic museum. However, we're not allowed to take any pictures inside. So, I'll just show you this picture of a cannon if front of the museum.

This place is a memorial park for the fallen warriors of Sarawak, who fought for independence against the British. We didn't get to spend much time there though.

Call me cheeky all you want but I thought a 'lactating' statue was rather funny.

Next, we head to the Cat Museum, which is situated in Kuching Utara. Here you can see the administration building for Kuching Utara and the Cat Museum is situated right in this building as well.

Interestingly, this building have lots of Malay/Islamic art influences because most of the people in Kuching Utara are Malays.

You don't really need a sign here to know that this is the entrance to the Cat Museum.

Bunch of crystal cats.

And also a bunch of cat eyes. Of course, there are many pictures of cats such as these...

Here you can see all the 'money calling' cats that the Chinese so adores. With all the luck in the world, what can possibly go wrong? There are also many pictures like these...

I see lots of souvenirs and T-shirts printed with pictures of these 2 lovey-dovey cats.

Cat statues.

Here, we can see the beautiful Mount Santubong. If you look closely, you can see the resemblance of a lady's face. Even if you can't, it's still a beautiful mountain!

Legend has it that one has to descend from Mount Santubong before six or before the sun goes down. Apparently, when the sun goes down, a rainbow will be formed joining heaven and earth together and Lady Santubong will come down to bath. Don't ask me why she doesn't have a bathroom in heaven but anyway, that's besides the point. So, being a lady, she hates to have people to peep at her when she bathes. If you're still up in the mountain by the time the sun goes down, the Lady will trap you in the darkness till the next day before you're "allowed to leave". That was before the invention of flashlight and batteries, I suppose.

Interestingly, you have to report yourself to the police station before climbing the mountain so that in case you're not down by nightfall, a search and rescue team will come and look for you.

For lunch, we went to this 'authentic' Malay wooden house to have 'authentic' Malay food. we had to eat with our friends and that was pretty much the first time I had belacan with ulam and boy, it was good! I think that was the best meal I had throughout the whole trip.

Next, we went to the Cultural Village, which is DEFINITELY a tourist hotspot.

Here's why: The entrance fee for a single adult is RM60 and for a child is RM30. I know it's ridiculously priced but trust me, the trip is WORTH it, if you have good guides such as Maggie and Kak Lin.

Interestingly, the whole idea for Cultural Village came about when the government thought it would be a good idea to have all the different ethnic groups live together in a 'village' with all their authentic long houses and huts so that tourists didn't have to spend 4-5 hours trekking through the jungles and rain forests of Sarawak just to get to one long house.

Some say it may not be authentic because the villagers are paid to stay there but having a chance to visit the headhunters without having the top of your head chopped off is rather nice and it won't take 4-5 hours just to visit one ethnic group. Rather, in the time span of 4-5 hours, we managed to visit more than 6 different houses and groups!

We had our first taste by having to cross this Jambatan Buluh or Bamboo Bridge. It wasn't very high off the ground but actually, the ethnic groups build these bamboo bridges 40-50 feet up in the air to join 2 peaks together across a valley. It's amazing how these people thought of such things.

I would suppose living in the jungle all your life would thought you that.

The first house that we visit is Rumah Bidayuh, or the Bidayuh house. This particular structure that you see us entering is actually called a Barok(sp?), that functions as a watchtower or fort to protect it's houses from enemy attack. That's why it has small windows or openings around the tower so that it can see the enemy from all the different direction.

Interestingly, women are not allowed into the Barok except to bring food in or to relay an important message. That means, the men are the COOK during certain festivals in the Barok. Even more interestingly...

It is also where they hang the heads of their fallen enemies. According to Kak Lin, the more heads of you have, the braver you are and the less likely you're going to have your house attacked by the enemies. I like to think that those skulls are real but I'm not sure if they are and no, I refuse to touch them to see if they are real.

At the bottom of the skulls, you can see this fire pit. The fire is there not only to keep the warriors warm but also to smoke the skulls. The masks that you see around the pit are so-called 'guardians' who give them 'semangat' before they go out to battle. The warriors would touch them before leaving to have 'luck' and also to bless them in the battle.

This interesting apparatus that you see Kak Lin use here is actually a sugar cane juicer. Apparently, these people LOVE their sugar cane juice and they would use this to juice the canes.

A Bidayuh lady showing us how she sifted through the paddy and the cylindrical thing beside her is a grinder of some sort that requires 4 people to operate.

According to Kak Lin, you need 4 things before you can get married: 1. heads or skulls of fallen enemies 2. gong 3. China pots/vase 4. I really can't remember.

Next up, the famous Iban longhouse!

I was standing in the middle of the long house and here, you can see an idea of how long the long house is. There is a home-stay programme that you can apply for to stay for a night with the Iban people.

Here we are, at the Penan Hut. Penan people are nomads and they don't have a fixed place of residence. So, each family will travel on their own and build their own huts. Here, you can see the large apparatus that they use to make 'sumpit' or blowpipes. Each one takes roughly six months to make the Penan people pride themselves in the making of these beautiful sumpit.

Here's a picture of the hut with Kak Lin explaining to us about the making of these blowpipes. Here you can see a smarmy Penan dude chilling in his 'pants'.

Look at that smarmy face!

Further up, we came to the Ulu Longhouse. The Ulu people is actually a bunch of different smaller ethnic groups, who decided to consolidate and move up the mountains. Behind this awesome Ulu dude playing a Sapit, which is a beautiful instrument, is a huge painting of the longhouse's Tree of Life.

Interestingly, each longhouse have its own Tree of Life and each one may have a different drawing of motifs. Each Tree of Life depicts life at all the different longhouses and each one will give interesting information about the residents of that particular longhouse. For eg, how many warriors, women, children, lazy people, free loaders, etc..

Even more interestingly is actually the Sapit. Legend has it that a particular warrior's wife fell sick and nothing could cure her. The warrior was begging to his guardians for a cure and the guardian gave him a vision to carve an instrument out of wood and the Sapit was born. Apparently, after playing the instrument to his wife, his wife got well and it was the love and care that the warrior put into playing the instrument that cured her. Interesting love story and the music that one can make is so beautiful! I wish I can find a CD or recording of the instrument.

The same Ulu dude carving something out of wood.

The Ulu people are head hunters too.

This is a picture of an Ulu longhouse, if I'm not mistaken. I really can't remember which because I carelessly forgot to take a picture of the signboard.

Here, I'm posing with an Ulu blacksmith. Apparently, the Ulu people were among the first ethnic groups who discovered metal and harnessed it to make things. And that makes them some of the most skilled blacksmiths around and this man here make beautiful swords.

Rumah Melanau.

Rumah Melayu.

After all the tours around the different longhouses and huts, we were treated to a fantastic cultural performance at the end of the day. I used to think traditional ethnic dances were boring but it's actually really good!

After the visit to the Cultural Village, we went to visit a very famous layer cake factory. The layer cakes or 'Kek Lapis' produced here are well-known around Kuching because of it's many variety of flavours and everything in this place are produced by hand and not factory made. It's also reasonably priced too. Some of the interesting flavours are chocolate-cheese, blueberry, blueberry mint, cheese, masam-manis, etc...

If you're reading this, Maggie, I want to say THANKS again. You know exactly what I mean ;)

Girl making Kek Lapis layer by layer. Each layer takes about 3 mins to 'bake' in the oven(green thing behind) before the next layer can be applied.

One really interesting thing about this place is that we can try all the Kek Lapis that we want before buying. That's how confident they are in their own product. It was really really good and being one who loves Kek Lapis, I ABSOLUTELY enjoyed all the different flavours.

Unfortunately, wherever there is free food given, the ugly side of human nature would come out inevitably. I have never seen any group of people so 'desperate' in wanting to eat and these selfish people would shove their way through without a care in the world, caring only their stomach. And if they find any flavours that they like, they would take the WHOLE LOT OF IT and eat it among themselves leaving none to be had by others. I elbowed one guy in the guts because he was trying to shove himself past a FILLED corridor.

Scouts, teachers, everyone are just as bad. It was ugly. Once everything was cleaned out, some of us had to go to the back where the kitchen is to have a chance to taste some of the better flavours and the moment these hungry muffins knew about the existence of this Kek Lapis haven, they would 'zerg rush' the kitchen and swipe all the cake. The ladies in the kitchen took out so many of cake to be cut.

Thankfully after a while, these hungry muffins had their fill and would slowly thin away to rest their stomach at the living room(it was a very home-y place). Good riddance.

Here, you can see a kick-ass middle-aged lady making Kek Lapis. If you look closely into the oven behind her, you can see the little blue dots in the oven are actually fire! She would gingerly stick her hand in and out of it skillfully to bake the cake.

That was pretty much the last place we go to before going back to the hotel.

The next morning, we went to Semenggoh to visit orang utans! It was actually a botanical garden cum orang utan rehab centre.

Rumours say that the orang utans here are caught from the jungle, blah blah blah but that's actually a load of fart, according to the owner of the place. Truth is, the orang utans here are actually those that are smuggled in or 'rescued' from pet owners who own them illegally. They are sent here for rehab before being released into the wild. Unfortunately, chances of them leaving the rehab centre is pretty small.

Here is yours faithfully in front of one of the orang utan feeding area as proof that I didn't rip these pictures from other people :S

Orang utans are lovely animals. They are smart, naughty and boy, do they love to pose when they feel like it! However, they are also shy animals. If they don't feel like posing or do anything, they will just point their butt at you and you won't be able to take a single picture.

Here is an example of an orang utan's nest. It's made of branches and leaves. The orang utans would build themselves a different nest everyday and each one of these nests can probably support a human being on it. The logic behind it is that most of the orang utans weigh as heavy as humans, if not more.

Here's a picture of a female orang utan eating with its young. I think her name's Analissa.

I don't know what's the name of this one but it sure is hairy. (Understatement of the year)

Besides the orang utans, the rehab centre also features many different kinds of wild animals such as crocodiles(oh, Sarawak is filled with them), porcupines, snakes, etc... The owner of the place told us that there are many crocodiles within the park and they are moving about freely minding their own business as long as we don't try to swim in the rivers in the park.

Interestingly, while I was there, I saw someone probably as smart as a bag of rocks sticking his hand and camera into the hole in the door to take a picture of the CROCODILE up close. I saw that he was trying to stuff is hand in and somehow I managed to stopped him in time. He didn't seem to understand Malay so in the end I took the picture for him. If it was one of the STK students, I'm pretty sure he would've been grilled to the bones for that.

And the moment finally came for the big guy to come out and eat. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ritchie! He's the leader of the group and when the man eats, no other orang utan dare to approach this vicinity. According to the ranger/owner, he has 7 times the strength of a human being and for that reason alone, none of the rangers dare to hold him down to take an accurate measurement of his weight. They say it's roughly 100kg.

To give you an idea about how strong this orang utan is, it took Ritchie only ONE hit against the tree to break it whereas it took the others a couple of hits to get it open. He's badass.

An interesting thing to note is that the bigger the cheek is, it means the better of a leader he is and the stronger he is. That pretty much makes him the alpha male of the rehab centre. Also, he has many partners and lots of 'grandchildren'.

Note that in this list of orang utans in the rehab centre, you can only see the name of the mother because there is no way of determining the father of the child because male orang utans don't practice monogamy and they don't really bother who is their child. Except the female orang utans because they are extremely protective of their child.

Next, we went to a vase factory. (By now, you can probably notice that my comments are getting lesser and lesser because I've been typing for more than 2 HOURS!)

Here is a man 'sculpting' a vase out of clay and he made it look so easy! We got to try but yours sincerely chickened out because he only brought a pair of pants to Sarawak(don't ask) and he didn't want to get it dirty.

Here, we can see a lady carving the different motives on the vase. It was truly a work of art. To me, I'm starting to learn how to appreciate these things by looking at every stroke of the knife and the different pictures that they carve on the clay.

Same lady carving the same vase. She said that it takes her roughly 5-6 hours to finish carving a single vase. Fuh.

I asked her what to do if you some how carved wrongly. She laughed and told me that these clay gets harder as it gets drier. So, to fix an error, she would just put a bit of water to press the clay down flat and then carve again but according to her, chances of making an error is very small. *monocle pops off*

The carved vases would be sent here to dry before painting over the beautiful pictures with paint.

After painting, it would then be baked in these ovens.

Knowing that many of their customers are tourists, they actually have their own packing centre where the vase would be packed into cardboard box filled with newspapers to be checked in to the airplane. They work at an incredible place.

I can't believe my eyes when I saw the amount of vase that my teachers bought! :o Below are the finished products!

After an interesting morning at the rehab centre and vase factory, we went to the wet market to buy the infamous 'ikan terubuk masin'. Apparently, this kind of salted fish can only be found in Sarawak and I had the opportunity to have some with belacan. They taste fantastic!

Interestingly, in the same wet market, there are roughly 10 stalls selling the exact same kind of fish. It was kinda funny for me because the guys with stalls outside would be telling me not to go in because everyone else is selling the same thing and the guys with stalls inside would be inviting me to go deeper into the market because theirs is cheaper, better, bigger, fresher, etc...

I had a fishmonger offering me 3 of those fish for RM10. When I looked at the board it says RM10 for 1. The kind of discount that they give are really awesome and it's a win-win situation for the customers as well considering they get to buy good fish for less money and they would offer to pack them in air tight packages to be brought onto the plane because the fishmongers know that most of the people there are tourists.

Let's talk a bit about the place where I stayed in. It's Hotel Telang Usan, which is supposed to have a 3-star rating but it has the dirtiest bed I've ever sleep in. Just to give you an idea of how dirty and dusty my bed is, I can see holes in the blankets that I use due to being eaten by cockroaches. In rooms that are infested by cockroaches, you can see the curtains have many holes in them, also evidence that it's been eaten by cockroaches.

I know the school/government paid for everything in my trip so, I can't really complain much.

The owner of the hotel is actually an Ulu man, who married a French wife. He brought many of the artifacts from his own place to be placed in the hotel and displayed. Here you can see the hilt of a sword and it's actually carved from IVORY. It's probably illegal to buy something like that now.

Our day ended pretty much like that. Unto the last day! (finally)

Maggie, if you're reading this, please don't cobble me because I genuinely forgot the name of this rice again! According to Maggie, this meal is seasonal because it's actually cooked with a kind of fruit that can only be gotten from November to December. The rice taste a lot like our glutinous rice, actually and smells incredible. Good for me because everyone else in my table didn't like the taste but I love it! :)

After the early lunch, we went to this bird nest centre, where they will clean all the different bird nest by hand by plucking out all the feathers from it.

Sorry for the bad pictures but that's pretty much the 'assembly line' at the centre and everything is plucked and processed there. Including packaging, I believe.

Interestingly, according to Maggie, the different colours of the birds nest means it originated from different birds and locations. For example, if it's yellowish, it means that the bird was fed on fruits and if it's red, then it's due to some sort of rock, where they built their nests.

Here, we have Kak Lin in the centre, flanked by yours sincerely and Maggie. Check out Kak Lin's funky earrings.

Okay, I'll admit it now: I was very tired when I sorted through the pictures. So, naturally, some will looked like this. Just tilt your head a little, will ya? :v

Here, we have our awesome bus driver. He wears a ROLEX!

According to Azhar @ 'Abang Tabung Haji', this is the most hilarious thing he has ever seen in his life. For the first time in his life, he saw a package 'checked in' to the plane with a negative weight. The item that I checked in was a blowpipe that I bought for my uncle. Hehehe...

Well, that's all from me, I guess and I'll say it right here right now that Sarawak is a beautiful place with an identity of its own. Everyone should go there at least once in their life and if you and your family decides to have a trip to Sarawak, let me know! So that I can contact Maggie to have her plan an awesome tour around Kuching. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I know I probably sound like a broken advertisement for Sarawak or Kuching but it really is wonderful! For the boys, some of the girls there are very pretty!

Good bye, Kuching! And the end of this trip also pretty much means that's the last time I'm going to be considered as an STK student(I got cheated out of a deal at the end of form 5). I will miss STK because of all the great memories I had and all the lessons I learned.