From Borneo and Around

This blog is all about Borneo (and sometimes elswere) as I experience it. It's about places, people, fauna, food ... and anything I find pleasantly worth sharing in words and pictures.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


When I was a wee girl growing up in France, I recall looking at monuments as sad and violent scenes of soldiers holding guns in one hand and their dying friend on the other arm. In front of the monument, there was always a very long list of those who had fallen during the first or second world war or during a specific battle. The names were too familiar; eerie feeling. Twice yearly or so, those carved scenes of patriotic sacrifice that existed in every city and every village were honored by the town council, the local politicians, welfare associations and of course war veterans. On Armistice day, led by a solemn bugler, they would lay large flower wreaths crossed with tricolored sashes in front of the statues. I always thought that if an instrument would be able to cry, the bugle would be the one.

As I grew up, I learned that monuments could be something other than “war monuments”; those had been given proper names and stood as double tributes, to God(s) (such as the Parthenon to goddess Athena, Notre Dame de Paris), to man’s glory (l’Arc de Triomphe) or his technology (the Eiffel Tower) yet always and forever to their architects and builders.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tugu Negara which is also known as the National Monument stands in memory of those who died to defend the country against the Japanese occupation and the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960); it depicts a group of soldiers holding the Malaysian flag, symbolizing leadership, unity, vigilance, strength, courage, sacrifice, suffering. It is a “war monument”. Most sightseeing itineraries of Kuala Lumpur stop at Tugu Negara, yet I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Petronas Towers are what every single tourist takes back home and not just in their digital memory card either!

Just across the sea, in Sarawak, old folks still bear the scars of violence (the Japanese occupation and the Confrontasi with neighboring Indonesia).                  I recently helped Helen’s grandma overcome her fear of thunder with hypnosis; she had been hiding from explosions since the Japanese! Yet, monuments in and around Kuching are not about suffering, in fact they are bound to surprise any visitor and certainly infuse a sense of balance and even grounding with an additional touch of humor.                                                                               

Recently I asked hubby if he was aware that monuments here were actually a celebration of something and very local too, which had nothing to do with war. Inevitably he mentioned the few cat monuments in Kuching (which means “cat” in Malay language). So I quizzed him if he had ever noticed the Sawi monument? Now, Sawi meaning Chinese cabbage, he took it that I was teasing him and he eyed me with one kind of look; still he agreed to keep the following Saturday morning for us to visit the Chinese cabbage in Tapah village, a few kilometers up the road from our home.

Chinese cabbage monument in Tapah

Then he believed, and when that happened, he became even more excited than I was in spending the rest of the day on a photo safari focused on what we now call the “green monuments”. After the Chinese cabbage, we were off to Serian. Hubby acknowledged that there was indeed a gigantic bunch of durians right in the center of the roundabout at the entrance of the town, yet he simply would not believe that there was one more durian monument, this one a single fruit, at the market place.

Durian monument in Serian

Once he had to admit I was right, he was gentleman enough to volunteer to drive back to Kota Padawan, ten miles from Kuching, to photograph two more memorials built in honor of carnivorous pitcher plants (also known as monkey cups and used by the Bidayuhs to serve rice).

The experience was a lot of fun, not just for us though, but I suspect for quite a number of road users whom, with the passing of time and routine commuting had probably become unaware of those amazing expressions of man’s gratefulness for what mother Earth gives; and perhaps thanks to a nutty European woman standing in the middle of the road, armed with a camera, they might, from now on, remember to look at the “green monuments” and even have a laugh at my expense!

Pitcher Plant monument in Kota Padawan

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