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.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


                                                             KO KO WANGI

I can’t remember not loving animals, especially dogs. I sobbed watching Lassy and was outraged with what happened to King Kong (still am, and will someone, please, change the ending of the next remake?). As a matter of fact, I never missed Daktari and had seriously planned to spend my future life as a veterinarian somewhere in wild Africa (plan B was to move to Florida with Flipper’s family). Needless to say that I hated the evil poacher who murdered Mighty Joe Young’s mum and pursued him all the way to the USA.

I never made it to Africa, let alone to the wild part, not even on a tour; and I have yet to visit Florida. Instead I ended in Borneo, where I never planned to go (life is like that!) with my dog Picsous, a mean cross dachshund I had adopted from SPA, the animal welfare society in Marseille. Picsous had to spend six months in quarantine for rabies prevention; I must say that while there, he received a five star treatment. One day though we learned that Picsous had fathered puppies (Tony the warden was also a match-maker) and that one of them, a female was left unwanted: the articulations on her right hind leg were reversed. We took her home and named her Lady. I improvised some sort of physiotherapy and a couple months later she had become one fast three legged dog! Quite a number of people offered to pay me top ringgit to have Lady, a dog with a “tabalek” (reversed) leg is supposed to bring good luck. I made it clear that Lady was mine to stay.

I had always dreamed of owning a house in the countryside and possibly by a river. Hubby caught the bug too. Whenever we would find a picture of a mill house, we would both fall in a dream state. We would often drive to the hills in Matang and follow the river, playing John Denver’s Greatest Hits cassette over and over again. Once back home we would seriously discuss the house we would build there, some day. In retrospect, isn’t it what The Secret and the law of attraction are about? Indeed a few years later, we attracted a farmer who wanted to sell his land which happened to be crossed by a stream, and at the right price too! The deal was done and the hard work started: pulling out at least a hundred of cocoa trees, dumping soil to landscape, planting fruit trees, building the house and even a bridge over the sungai (stream). At last we had our country home and we named our very own Eden Ko Ko Wangi.

The Sungai at Ko Ko Wangi

A couple of nights only after we moved in, Hubby and the kids had to go to town; I was left alone to enjoy our over-sized terrace. There are no silent nights in the jungle; for a while I could hear an owl call, until it drowned in a cacophony of sounds; every living creature it seemed was caught at once in conversation! While days are much quieter in comparison to the nights, especially when the moon is full, I can say that, over the years, Ko Ko Wangi has attracted a substantial number of now permanent residents of the animal kind. Obviously, some are domesticated, with a job to do, while other are kept for breeding purposes (supposedly anyway). The present leader of our guard dogs is Sherlock, a black Belgium Malinois. He clearly believes he’s on a life mission to control all traffic on the path that follows our front fence. Big Athos (of unspecified breed) is more detached from his duties; I suspect he knows by now that everyone is scared of him despite his bright blue eyes. As for the breeding dogs, they are of course obvious company to me and certainly good entertainment. First there is Caramel the toy poodle; he can climb any fence of any height and yet he is not as gifted to become a circus dog as Kenzo the Maltese who can learn any trick within minutes; Kenzo is not only attention seeker, he is also a drama queen. Last but not least, Kenzo’s wife to be, Ines who deserves to carry the name of a former French top model for her beauty and pose, is really a female wrestler.




As for the insane cats that keep coming to the house behind the dogs' back, I am not sure if they can be classified as wild? Why not? After all they are left to breed in the nearby jungle and our family is the closest they ever come to approaching a human being. Those are Felix Sarawak, typically with a crooked knotted tail yet and despite their uniqueness, I can’t say that they fascinate me, unlike my other yet wilder companions do.

The acrobatic squirrels for instance; they can run along a cable and keep their balance by swinging their tail from right to left like some pendulum gone crazy. I love to watch when one that has just climbed down a tree, cautiously looks right, then left and finally behind before running for dear life across the lawn to the next trunk and repeats the action from tree to tree. The scene never fails to remind me of the star squirrel in Ice Age.

Some birds are regular visitors while others have built their nest somewhere on the land. There is “Big Bird” the egret that sometimes comes with a partner or two. Big Bird works very hard, the whole day long until the sun has already set, tirelessly patrolling the mini dam on the sungai to catch some jumping fishes, then moving on to check out the breeding pond where it often has to compete with a few monitor lizards, then back to the dam…

The blue heron likes to keep its distance from Big Bird, it seldom strays from the sungai, while the flashy blue and orange kingfisher enjoys perching on the pontoon over the pond and cross the width of the land like a low flying bomber, which never fails to create total mayhem at ground level among the water hens, the noisy magpies and other small birds that have established their home in our trees or in the high grass of the marshland. The only ones not impressed are the eagles that patrol above our heads; I can often hear them clearly calling for the hunt of our closest neighbor’s chickens.


Snakes are not uncommon, after all we’re in Borneo! They often cross the narrow country road that leads to our house; and yes they are usually dangerous. Once in a while, one will make it to the terrace and sometimes even closer to us like the brown cobra Athos recently spotted under our living room sofa! Before the bird flu scare, when we still kept chickens, greedy pythons used to get caught on their way out of the poultry yard, stuck in the wire-meshing fence, thanks to the bulge of the chicken in the process of being digested. A couple of years ago, python meat was selling for 5 Ringgit a kilo at Serian market. Wilson our gardener was always only too happy to take his pricey catch to his best friend’s kitchen (secret recipe!); it certainly made him feel like a rich man!

The sungai is a world of its own in Ko Ko Wangi; a world I can’t tire of exploring as far upstream from our boundary as I can possibly push, either on foot or swimming, until some trunk and entangled branches from a tree fallen victim of a fast flood won’t allow me to proceed any further. As I brake the flow, I disturb the peace of all kinds and sizes of frogs, of small colorful water snakes and of course of the monitor lizards.

Yet nothing had prepared me for the most exciting encounter I have ever made to date. It happened a few months back. Helen and I had decided to live the dream (we just love to do that) and bring a bottle of chilled white wine with two glasses to the sungai. We were happily seated, Helen on a half sunken trunk and I in the flow, on the river’s bed, both holding our glass and for once, quiet, when I sensed a black animal had just come to my side and dived in the water next to me. Helen had seen it too, then it emerged right in front of us, a large black shiny mammal with a long tail. It was off again in a flash and up on the dam when it turned around and briefly looked at the both of us. By then our jaws had literally dropped (but we were still holding our glass!) as we were staring at a magnificent otter that left us in a state of shock when it finally dived again and disappeared behind the dam.

I like to think of all my pets and all the free flying, climbing, swimming, crawling or lurking creatures that live and thrive on our property as my companions, the companions of Ko Ko Wangi. They certainly keep me under a charm and with them around loneliness simply cannot exist; and when the evening comes as Big Bird joins the hundreds of egrets that fly back in arrow formations to only they know where for the night, I know without the shadow of a doubt that tonight will be very noisy and tomorrow will be business as usual for the permanent residents, patrolling and barking, climbing up and down fruit trees, building nests or fishing, as I’ll be keeping an eye on them while doing my own things.


he never let any snake out-smart him.

Just over 7 years ago, I adopted (from SSPCA) a large absolutely pitiful dog that could hardly manage to carry the skin that hanged on his bones. He also had a “funny” right eye, sunken into its orbit really. Later, when he allowed me to caress him, I found the shape of the tip of a shoe in his skull. When I brought him home, I realised that he did not know how to run; we all laughed, not to cry. He had never seen a cookie and didn’t know what to do with it; his nails were totally hollow for lack of calcium. He must have been one year old when he joined our family. It must have taken about half an hour for him and I to bond, then he took my hand in his mouth to walk with me the length of the terrace. As we stopped half way where we met Hubby, I suddenly felt a strange heat down my right leg! Our new dog had marked me and adopted me (thank God it happened only once!). Because I wanted him to be strong, because he was so good to me and because his coat was the color of a sponge cake topped with whipped cream, the pitiful dog became Cassius Bonus du Baba au Rhum. He also transformed into the alpha dog and ruled as the unchallenged king over our other dogs and all the dogs in the neighborhood really. Cassius left us last November after a long fight until his kidneys stopped functioning. We always knew he could not live a very long life like dear Carmen who died at 14, yet we are so happy that Cassius was able to spend all his 7 years with us feeling safe and happy protecting me always and giving me so much love.

Cassius Bonus du Baba au Rhum 2001?/2009

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