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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A tribute to Reynolds Gregory

A couple of years ago Ian and I received an invitation to our friend Jennifer Lau’s daughter’s wedding. We were really thrilled, first because Jennifer and Daf, the Irish love of her life, are dear friends of ours, and also because we had enjoyed the kampong engagement party so much. As the date drew closer, Jennifer, who is a professional radio announcer and DJ briefed me on the latest news: “The Elvises have offered to perform for us; they are such good old friends of mine!”
I have to confess that the news concerned me a little. I am one of those who simply dread impersonators of famous stars, to the exception that is, of a few comedians. By the time we reached the city hotel where the dinner was to take place, I had “psyched” myself to bare the program with stoicism. Thankfully I became quickly distracted as soon as we met with a number of long lost acquaintances and dear friends. It was one of those multi-racial occasions Malaysians love, Chinese on the bride’s side and Bidayuh on the grooms side. We happened to be on the bride’s side, like Dutchman Jacob with Mina, his better half from the Kelabit highlands and Colin who wore full Campbell tartan to tango his darling shanghainese wife. It is amazing how the human ear can analyse and identify elements of conversation coming in with a whole range of accentuated English like Chinglish, Deutchglish, Dayakglish, Irish, Scottish and Franglish. Then, came the Elvises.

They each looked a million dollars in their made in Memphis Tennessee stage costumes; they also sang like legitimate kings. Those two kings of the night were Reynolds Gregory and Wilfred Vincent Ragam, they were cool, and they were professional. As much as I had dreaded the show, I ended up loving every minute of it and promising myself and Ian to save every ringgit to be able to have them perform during my brother’s next visit.

Sadly I found out in this Monday’s news paper that Reynolds had collapsed on stage during a Saturday night performance in front of 300 dinners and fans. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was his last tribute to the King of Rock and Roll, he died with a melody on his lips. May all the King’s men go on with the show.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Christmas day in Kuching is always an extremely busy, exciting and yes, exhausting time (yet so much fun!). Years ago, I gave up practicing French style isolation for Noël. As much as I believed that I was doing the right thing by spending this holly day focusing entirely on our two young sons, it took me no more than a couple of seasons into double motherhood to realise that our children simply loved the fuss caused by un-invited guests who would turn up at our home (surprise!), to convey their best wishes, clearly expecting our full festive hospitality. The Malaysian tradition which, by the way, applies for all major festivals, be it Xmas, Chinese New Year or Hari Raya (end of Ramadan), is to “open house”. On our third family Xmas in Kuching, we too opened our house and with the exception of a pre-millennium holiday spent in France and a couple of escapades over-seas, we have never missed a rendezvous; that was until the 25th of December 2009 when my faithful Super Judy married her eldest daughter.

Judy AK Linda has been helping me keep up with the challenges of living at Ko Ko Wangi since day one, almost eight years ago. I would not dream of organising such a crowded event as our “open-house” has become, without her help. The obvious thing for us to do this season was to shift our focus to the wedding event.

Cecilia and Basco

Cecilia and Basco’s wedding invitation was for the 26th of December at Kampung Annah Rais, in Bidayuh Padawan, just over an hour’s drive from Kuching, a little bit shorter from Ko Ko Wangi.
The Bidayuhs, also known as Land Dayaks, are somehow a complicated people and particularly smart too; think about it, here is one single ethnic group, whose homeland is contained solely within the First Division of Sarawak, and yet has managed to develop no less than four dialects. You got to be smart to do that!

Judy comes from Kampung Temong Mura on the banks of the Sadong River; her folks speak bukar Sadong; when she married Wilson from Anah Rais she had to master biatah. Although Wilson can, more or less, make out what people from Bau say when they speak bau djagoi, it is another matter with Judy’s dialect and since his knowledge of the national language is rather poor, he finds it quite a challenge to communicate with his in-laws. Thankfully, the younger generation of Bidayuhs learns Bahasa Malaysia at school, making communication and intermarriages between them a much easier affair.

Preparations for Cecilia’s big day had started months earlier. There had been many meetings at Anah Rais longhouse; the first was to agree on the date of the event (not to clash with someone else’s) while subsequent ones were to discuss the number of guests and their overnight accommodation, the set-up, the banquet, well all the incumbent details. In order not to offend anyone, relatives and friends, and more or less the whole population of three villages (the groom’s, Judy’s and of course Anah Rais) had been handed printed invitations. Total number of guests expected: one thousand.

The main concern was to be able to serve food to everyone. A few hundred melamine plates were bought, a cousin who had recently hosted her daughter’s wedding contributed with 500 more and a considerable number were donated by a few of my close friends who happen to love Judy. A limited number of forks and spoon were to be set aside for “special” guests like ourselves and our friends Helen and Lau while all the other guests would happily be eating with their hands, as they so often do anyway. Quite an impressive assortment of plastic and paper cups had also been collected way early; the last things to complete the kitchen equipment were my biggest cooking pots and super-sized enamel trays from China, large serving plates, my liquidizer too and a few other items which right now, skip my mind.

All in all, our contribution to this wedding was far less dramatic that one we had made almost unknowingly a few year back, to Norayati, our Malay nanny who had helped herself with most of our kitchen equipment, our dining chairs, the living room carpet, my French make up and eaux de toilette (to display on the newly acquired dressing table in the newly wed’s bedroom for guests to see) and even the ashtray from Moustier in Provence! We spent almost one week in an emptied house and although the refrigerator had been left behind, we had to resort to going out every night for dinner for lack of most things in our kitchen. Don’t get me wrong though, it was good fun and such a joy to make Nor happy on her big day.

At kampong level, meetings to remind folks of what had been decided during previous meetings finally led to gotong royongs (community work, strictly a men’s thing) to reinforce the bamboo tanjung (outside terrace), build a full stage, and finally cook. In the final hours, the women had been fully involved in the catering team, to cut the vegetables. The men’s duties were the ones requiring more muscle work, like cutting hefty pieces of meat, stirring large quantities of stew simmering in huge kualis (woks) placed atop of wood fires, then transferring the ready food into western-type cooking pots to be used to serve. On the night of the feast, 12 men had posted themselves in a single line behind a makeshift buffet table, each standing, positioned behind a large pot and armed with a ladle to serve the never ending queue of hungry guests in their individual melamine plate with steamed rice, bamboo rice, nasi bunkus ( rice cooked wrapped up in leaves), meehoon goreng (fried rice noodles), pork stewed in soya sauce and pork ribs cooked with salted vegetables, ayam curry (chicken curry), ayam masak merah (chicken cooked in tomato sauce), hard-boiled eggs in tomato sauce, salted fish with chili sauce, mixed vegetables without carrots because someone had forgotten all about those carrots; salad à la mode, made with pieces of pineapple, turnip, the re-discovered carrots, large onions, cucumber and big chili. Judy told me that the dressing was a concoction of salt, sugar and white vinegar. Right at the end of the long table, honey dew melon was the fruit of choice.
The buffet

As God would have it, it rained heavily, on and off. Where I come from, rain on a wedding day is omen for a prosperous union; I assume this prosperity would come in the form of money currency rather than of a football team of children. I intend to keep the reader posted in Cecilia’s and Basco’s case. However, never for one minute, did the rain dampen the merriment. Cecilia, her long black hair fashioned elegantly by a Siburan hair stylist, wore a long, innocent tender pink satin dress, with just the right amount of blink to dazzle, leaving the observer guessing whether she was a demure or ravishing new bride as she opened the ball on the only part of the dance floor that happened to be sheltered by a roof.

The first part of the celebration had been the traditional union in marriage as practiced by the Bidayuh people. It was not a religious blessing per se; the ceremony performed by the heads of each of the three villages lasted over one hour during which the couple listened to wise recommendations simultaneously blasted through a multitude of loudspeakers. The long list of good advice was to help them succeed in their union; they not only had to listen, they had to literally swallow them one by one together with a mouthful of rice. What a splendid way to absorb wedding vows!

Once the blessing over, guests took their turn to congratulate the newlyweds and take pictures with them, more often than not around the three-leveled cake decorated in azure-blue and pink with yellow marzipan hearts.
Ian and I joined the long line of well-wishers then followed the tantalizing aroma that came from the buffet table. I chose bamboo rice and was served with the two types of chicken and a ladleful of stewed pork. When I hesitated in front of the ribs, the man in charge of it got rather upset: “It’s not the same” he assured me. Since crossing someone was the last thing on my mind, I let him top up my alreadyfull plate, which was a good     Nasi is Rice                                              thing, as everything turned out to taste    

As the dish-washing team got busier with the growing pile of emptied plates, the crowd started dancing. It had stopped raining and I joined Helen on the bamboo floor which was now flooded with colorful laser lights diffused through artificial smoke.

When the band was not playing, a D.J who spoke in bahasa Malasia kept everyone happy with a mix of Malaysian hits, Taylor Swift and of
course Michael Jackson, yet making sure that Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” would be the intermittent hit of the night, this to the joy and merriment of the youngsters in Jeans and the elderly ladies in Baju Kebaya (long sleeved blouse worn over a long sarong).
Queuing up to the buffet
By the time the rain returned with a vengeance, the crowd was beyond caring. We left just before midnight but I heard that the party lasted until seven in the morning, probably when the last one standing finally hit the nearest mat.

Cecilia and Basco, my best wishes and next year we will start celebrating your first anniversary on Xmas day, at our open house.

The following prayer by Cecilia and Basco’s was printed on the invitation card:

“Ya Tuhanku, Seandainya Telah

Kau Catatkan Dia Milikku,

Terciptabuatku, Dekatkanlah Dia

Padaku, Satukan

Hatinya Dengan Hatiku,

Titipkanlah Kemesraan Di Antara

Kami Agar Kebahagiaan

Itu Abadi. Dan Tuhanku yan

Maha Pengasih,

Seiringkanlah Kami Dalam

Melayari Ketepian Yang

Sejahtera, Sepertimana Yang Kau




Dear God,

Be it your will that he (she) is mine,

Created for me,

Bring him (her) closer to me,

Unite his half with mine,

Strengthen the joy between us

So that our happiness is genuine

And Lord, almighty and loving

Join us in peace,

As you wish