May 29, 2013

Tragedy in the Rajang before Gawai 2013

The Rajang is a huge Mother River, running 366 miles from its source to the delta at the South China Sea. It is a river that passes many ethnic groups along the way. So in a way, so many different peoples drink from the same source.

The Rajang is also famous for first its long boats which carried warriors who hunted for heads and then made peace in the 1880's, wooden motor launches built by the Chinese 1900's and then the special bullet lik express boats which are sealed up except for the two front doors and one back door where the power engines roar with life.

Sibu is the foremost ship building hub of Sarawak. It builds boats for the locals as well as for the foreigners who place orders which take one or two years to full fill because of the long queue. Sibu express boats are found in Sumatra to name one foregin country. Sibu built expresses ply along most of the Sarawak and Sabah rivers.
Photo: TRAGEDY before Gawai! Belaga-Kapit express boat sank with 14 missing & 170 saved! The boat's capacity was 74 pax.There's only 1 boat from Bakun-Belaga-Pelagus Rapids-Kapit-Sibu per day. There's a pot holed road from Bakun-Bintulu but that's a long ride. There's NO road from Kapit to any other towns.

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Composte photo from Sarikeians. Thanks.

But how many accidents have really been seriously recorded by the Sarawak River Board and the Sabah River Board? What stringent rules have been maintained?

The Bakun/Belaga/Kapit express plies only once a day. This boat reaches Belaga with already a full load of workers who are working in the Bakun. The passengers thus were mainly Ibans and Orang Ulus.

It is so ironical that the express is called KAWAN MAS. Golden Friend. Did any one check its RIVER worthiness before the fatal trip? Its engine was reported failure one hour after Belaga. Was there any Government officer or Police Officer on patrol in Belaga? The Express company would have earned three times more on this trip having so many illegal passengers. Is the extra earning all worth it? (Photo : Borneo Post)

May 28th was a dark day in Belaga. An express boat carrying 3 times its capacity first had engine failure and then hit a rock near  Buyong Tebok area. It capsized. Turned turtle. 170 people survived. 14 missing. It has capacity for 74 passengers only.

Gawai is a thanksgiving cum harvest festival. It is a time when the Ibans in particular would rush home with goodies, and cash for their reunion in the longhouses. Young bujangs (bachelors) of the Iban ethnic groups, amongst others like Kayan, Penan and others are often the sole breadwinner or cash cows of the family, bringing home cash,more often than not, for three generations. Those members of the family who stay home are involved with padi and oil palm planting, fishing and vegetable gathering.

Bottoms up. (Borneo Post Photo)

Photo: Update 10:00pm: A fateful Tuesday unlike any day. That capsizal hit hard this land. Waves strongly felt in Sarawak and beyond. And grief broke loose. Despair was fast at hand. The 170 survivors had drawn some cheers, but 14 missing drew warm tears. Calamity of scale unseen before. Homecoming joy for festive celebrations robbed. May God of comfort be with the families and rescue team who vowed to search till miracle does break.
 This photo reminds me of a lost toy floating in a river far away from the child because it is too dangerous to pick it up. The bottom of the express boat Kawan Mas when it turned turtle.(Pix courtesy of Culture and Heritage Assistant Minister Liwan Lagang. NST)
Borneo Post Photo)

Some of the survivors, a bag is noted.(Borneo Post photo)

When a member of a family passes away, the mourning ADAT(way of life) of the Ibans prescribes the switching of radio, talking in soft tones, no merrymaking,no outside visitors. All their women will take out their black sarong to wear, and they wear no makeup, some do not bathe for a few days. These mourning and grieving rites will be observed until the NGETAS ULIT (FORMAL CLOSING OF THE MOURNING PERIOD)  mark the end of the sorrowful period.( Gregory N. Mawar)

Why can't the Timber Companies charter boats for their workers as part of their Social Concern or Corporate Commitment to Society once a year, at least for Gawai? Why can't the River Board get their men to control the crowds? Did the Police turn a blind eye?

Don't blame the rock that sank the express boat.

May 23, 2013

The Holy Basil or Tulsi

A  friend  recommended Tulsi  or the Indian Basil to cure my cough and fever. I am trying it out now.

Tulsi is grown in Miri and other parts of Sarawak by the Sikhs and other Indians.

First of all, the 'tulsi' plant or Indian basil is an important symbol in the Hindu religious tradition. The name 'tulsi' connotes "the incomparable one". Tulsi is a venerated plant and Hindus worship it in the morning and evening. Tulsi grows wild in the tropics and warm regions.
A Hindu household is considered incomplete if it doesn't have a tulsi plant in the courtyard. 
Secondly, not many Asians and others know that it  is a prime herb in Ayurvedic treatment. Marked by its strong aroma and a stringent taste, tusli is a kind of "the elixir of life" as it promotes longevity. The plant's extracts can be used to prevent and cure many illnesses and common ailments like common cold, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, various forms of poisoning and malaria. Essential oil extracted from karpoora tulsi is mostly used for medicinal purposes though of late it is used in the manufacture of herbal toiletry.

Thirdly, it is believed that having tulsi plants at home will dispel negative forces and prevent them from entering our homes and our minds.

Fourthly it is even known to purify or de-pollute the atmosphere and also works as a repellent to mosquitoes, flies and other harmful insects. Tulsi used to be a universal remedy in cases of malarial fever.

Prof Shrinivas Tilak,( Concordia University, Montreal) cited a letter written to 'The Times,' London, dated May 2, 1903 Dr George Birdwood, Professor of Anatomy, Grant Medical College, Mumbai said, "When the Victoria Gardens were established in Bombay, the men employed on those works were pestered by mosquitoes. At the recommendation of the Hindu managers, the whole boundary of the gardens was planted with holy basil, on which the plague of mosquitoes was at once abated, and fever altogether disappeared from among the resident gardeners."

According to one legend, Tulsi was the incarnation of a princess who fell in love with Lord Krishna, and so had a curse laid on her by his consort Radha. Tulsi is also mentioned in the stories of Meera and of Radha immortalised in Jayadev's Gita Govinda. The story of Lord Krishna has it that when Krishna was weighed in gold, not even all the ornaments of Satyabhama could outweigh him. But a single tulsi leaf placed by Rukmani on the pan tilted the scale.

We must really plant a lot of tulsi around our homes in Miri to repel mosquitors. That is a paramount task for us.

May 19, 2013

Fruit for the birds @ Piasau Camp, Miri

The Piasau Peninsular is a very interesting sand spit which became a housing estate in the 1950's. A concessionary land, it was given over to the Shell Company for the construction of tropical , one storyed colonial style bungalows suitable for expatriate employees of Shell Co.

House No.100 is the designated Managing Director's Quarters since the beginning.


The housing estate became known to locals as Piasau Camp from the beginning. It is neither a military camp, nor a fenced, barb wired camp. It is an open concept with no fences and small lanes criss cross the estate. Children play together in the well kept compounds, birds fly easily from tree to tree. A few monkeys have been known to play havoc in the gardens.

But nothing beats the presence of the Oriental Piped Hornbills and a few other beautiful birds. This is idyllic to everyone who has lived here. It is always sad for many of the "Piasau Campers" to leave when their contacts are completed.

If I were a bird, these beautiful red fruits, which could be a kind of oriental wild passion fruits

would be really good supper. Birds love to eat fruits and God has created special colourful fruits and seeds for them.


According to a cleaner in the Piasau camp, this fruit is also very edible by humans. A little bitter it can even be a good herbal cure for stomach ache.

She continued to say that it is a very good thirst quencher. When she has sore throat, she will take a few of these fruits, and suck the white little pips." Better than taking Panadol, which costs money." I like that.

We need to do more research into this claim. And why not? And this is not just one of the wild fruits available in this place. There are hundreds of fruits which have been attracting birds to this area. Ancient Chinese medicine men had followed birds to see what they ate. And they found cures ...that's history for you to know.

All the more important to conserve Piasau Camp as a Bird Park.....

May 15, 2013

Rain Water Collection in Sarawak

Foochows have been collecting rain water for all purposes since 1903 in Sarawak. It is free and it is a good thing to do.

Photo: GOOD MORNING FROM SARAWAK....When in the rural area, rain like this is a Gift from God. It felt so good to see this rain because it meant that I did not have to bathe in the teh-C coloured river,wearing a sarong, my friends and I could cook with clean water, and the children who came to learn some English would be bathed and fresh smelling with soap, their clothes would be washed. Cutting their hair would be pure joy,etc,etc. Most important of all, we could boil rain water to make drinks, and we could save on our bottled drinks for another day.  Rain also means God is cleaning up the earth and giving food to the vegetation.

People should continue to collect rain water.

The photo shows the Penans in Ulu Belaga where they are forced to collect rain water because it is the only source of clean water. The river water from the Malim is too polluted now for drinking and cooking. Even for washing of clothes the people have to think twice. Only during certaintimes of the year will the river water be clean for a while.

Pesticides, erosion, etc pollute the river water.

We thank God He sends rain.

May 7, 2013

Mum's Laundry

mum was always very hardworking when we lived in Sibu.

Laundry was first done by our neighbour Kak who came to help her. But later, when my dad passed away we could not have a helper. So she did all the house work herself by hand. There was no washing machine in those days.

To save money, and to make sure that we were on a very tight budget, we saved rain water in a cement well or tank. When rain came we would jump for joy. And when grandma came, instead of boiling water for her bath, mum would put a huge aluminium basin in the yard to heat up the water in the morning sun. By ll the water would be warm and grandma would have her bath. I love the grandma smell. Being in born in China, she had a special fragrance on her skin after she took her bath. It was not the Baby Johnson Powder. Grandma was a very very fair woman.

But what I remember most was the way mum dried our clothes in the sun.

We would help her with the clothes. My sister would pick up the clothes for her so that she did not have to bend down. and when all the clothes were up, I would happily place the pole to hold the clothes line up.

It was a real joy to listen to the clothes flapping in the wind. It was my responsibility to make sure that the clothe lines are up. When the pole came down clothes would be dirtied and it would mean that mum had to wash again. It would give her a lot of pain. So we have all to be very watchful and attentive.

Keeping an eye on the laundry in the morning was an important task. Mum would always remind us how important it was to be watchful and mindful of our daily work.

Every now and then, we had to watch out for the rain, or the gathering clouds, we had to see if neighbours' dogs had come into the backyard, we had to watch out for the wind which might blow the clothes away. And the happiest time was when mum said it was time for her to turn the clothes over so that they would dry faster and we would help her with the clothes pegs. She would go out with her big Iban hat and a towel over she shoulders.

I remember the grounds in our backyard which were never dry. We had wooden planks below the laundry lines for her step on.

Growing up, a soggy backyard was part of our life because that was the way it was in Sibu. No one then ever thought of buying a load of yellow soil to raise the land level. Our backyard was just inches above the flood level. We often watched the flood level rising in the stream and got prepared for the big flood. In my childhood, the big flood came into our kitchen only once. God was merciful indeed.

In this way, we grew up learning about being mindful at all times so that we do not have to do things twice.

Be always mindful, watchful,and observant.

Sibu Tales : Cake Making and WI

The Women's Institute was recruiting members and our neighbours Kak and her sister joined. They persuaded my mum to join but she was ada...