Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Cool One ( Kalanchoe pinnata)

I love two things in the picture. In the background is my one year old cat named Inul. She's now very much in her teens. Inspite of the rainy days when the grounds are usually wet she would dash in and out of the house at her own free will . Being the 'queen of the house' I have to wipe her feet when wet or dirty and feed her when she yells at me. No, scream would be a better word. She catches small birds, butterflies, geckos and lizards and proudly display her bounty on the rattan mat for her fospa ( foster father - a new cat terminology?) to see. That's me.

In the foreground is a flowering 'Setawar' or Air Plant ( Kalanchoe pinnata). I have taken the liberty to place a banana leaf as a backdrop to help highlight its colours. I love its clusters of tubular bell-shaped flowers hanging downwards. Another Malay synonymn for it is ' Sedingin ' which loosely translated means the 'cool one'. Apparently the saw- edged leaves after being pounded into a paste can be applied directly to the chest or forehead to lessen bodily heat or fever or as antidote for insect bites, boils and burns. Sometimes lotion from the leaves are used for a variety of sicknesses like arthritis.

Aside from its herbal medicinal use, it is symbolically used in rituals. Its leaves are swayed by ritualists to welcome spirits. When planted around paddy fields they are believed to bring in a good harvest.

Here's a close up of the inflorescence. The flowers with reddish violet colours are about 3-4 cm long. Nowadays I understand that the Dutch have successfuly made hybrids of them producing yellow, orange, pink and purple flowers. The flowers are long lasting ( 2-3 weeks). The Setawar is originated from the equatorial island of Madagascar but now is widely found throughout the tropics. This succulent plant thrives on well-drained soil and prefers a semi-shade location. I prefer to plant them en masse or in groups though it is possible to grow them singularly in pots or containers.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand

While reading Alan Greenspan's book, ' The Age of Turbulence' I am pleasantly surprised by his earnest tribute to the philosophy of Ayn Rand which had impacted heavily on his ideas of free-market capitalism. Upon knowing the influence Ayn Rand had on him I straight away searched books that I had by Ayn Rand in my library. I found two as shown above. These books were bought in 1974 when I was a university student in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I read them consummately at that moment of my life I like to categorise as ' The Young Man as Artist' period. Ayn Rand's philosophy emphasised reason, individualism and enlightened self-interest . She was an emigre to the US from Russia.

Alan Greenspan had been appointed by President Ronald Reagan as Chairman of The US Federal Reserve Board in 1987 and finally retired in 2006 during Bush's tenure. Alan Greenspan wrote glowingly about Ayn Rand in his book and shared some key ideas about the importance of mathematics and intellectual vigour, laissez-faire capitalism, the innate nobility individuals have and their highest duty to flourish them into full potential. Only after discovering Ayn Rand did Alan Greenspan realised that ' all my work has been numbers-based, never values- based' ( pg.52). Ayn Rand persuaded him to look at human beings, their values, how they work, what they do and why they do it, and how they think and why they think. These broadened his horizons far beyond the models of economics he learnt. In his words Alan Greenspan wrote, " I began to study how societies form and how cultures behave, and to realize that economics and forecasting depend on such knowledge - different cultures grow and create material wealth in profoundly different ways. All this started for me with Ayn Rand. She introduced me to a vast realm from which I'd shut myself off".( pg.53)

Reference: Greenspan, Alan ( 2008) The Age of Turbulence, Penguin Group (USA), New York.

A Rattan Story

I was in good mood today especially after walking through the jungle behind my chalet where I singled out the rattan palms ( Calamus ornatus) for my photo adventure. Back from the half hour escapade I assembled an assortment of rattan products that I have around the house. The above items are almost exclusively made of rattan. On the chair is a bundle of rattan as they are normally taken out of the jungle. On top of it is a multi-purpose rattan basket. The chair is wholly made of rattan and painted black. On the right is a small rattan floor mat and for sure rattan mats can be made to whatever sizes you want. On top of the mat is a 'gendang' or a Melanau drum where the goatskin is stretched using rattan strings. On top of the drum is a 'parang' or machete where rattan is used as stringers to hold the machete cover. Finally towards the left is a rattan magazine rack and a rattan wastepaper basket.

Close Up of the 'Gendang' ( drum) where rattan is used to stretch the goatskin.

Rattans come in various sizes depending on the species. The above rattan stem is about 1 cm in diameter and can grow up to 10- 20 m long. The high demand for good species of rattan has induced further exploitation and intrusion into primary forests here which resulted in their deterioration and/or gradual disappearance.
Now to mitigate such calamity there are rattan plantations around Bintulu. The continual supply of rattan is therefore one component of the Malaysian economy one should not dismiss as the concern of botanists alone.

In the above species the thorns are about 4-6 cm long and are very sharp.
It is not difficult to guess that the word rattan is derived from the Malay word' rotan'. Minus the thorns, rattan canes are normally used to frighten naughty kids or in some instances as a device to cane them with.

Notice how the rattan stem have a long flagellum ( climbing whip) at its end to enable it to stick itself to jungle lianas or branches on their way up the tall jungle trees.

Another species of the rattan that is still at its young stage of growth. It is the tropical rainforests with its excellent shade, tall trees, humidity and moisture and profileration of dead leaves on the jungle floor, humus, ants, etc that provide the ideal environment for rattans to thrive.

Finally from yesterday's posting I have here a picture of the rattan fruits that are edible and can be eaten raw but having a very sour to bitter taste. It is worthwhile to note that seeds of the rattan may take 1-6 months to germinate.
I have so far preserved two vegetation islands behind my chalet where the original jungle environment has been undisturbed for posterity. These two islands cover and area of about an acre , which I feel suffucient to showcase the rich biodiversity of our tropical forest right behind my chalet. There are about 370 genus of the rattan making it the largest genus of the palm family. Here at my eco-farm I have planted oil palm trees surrounding the two vegetation islands. Thus when I am bored to see the oil palm trees I would walk through the jungle to discover more of its botanical wealth, rattans included.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inside the Lion's Mouth

Guess what, It's me, inside the lion's mouth.
Today I am in Miri to visit my sister in-law who celebrates the Chinese New Year. At one of the neighbourhood's house was a lion dance troupe doing their rounds, a familiar sight during the Chinese New Year celebration which means another two days of public holidays for us here.

Part of the lion dance troupe members who gave me the opportunity to enter the lion's head.
Peace Brother!

Young girls play the cymbals while boys hit the drums as part of the musical percussions used for the lion dance. I was pleasantly surprised to see this troupe of young boys and girls performing the lion dance as part of their respective society's annual fund raising activity.

The lion moves to the accompaniment of the sounds of drum and clash of cymbals and dances gracefully into the house where it is presented with a red packet called' Ang Pow ' as part of the house owner's contribution to the specific cultural or clan societies the lion dance troupe represents.
The lion dance is usually performed for about 15-30 minutes and in one day the neighourhood may receive between five to ten of such troupes.
Happy New Year of the Ox to All my Chinese Friends in Sarawak, Borneo.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wild Fruits Anyone?

Just the other day while at the Bintulu tamu ( jungle produce market) I stumbled upon a variety of wild fruits on sale. In Sarawak there are not less than 75 species of wild fruits. These fruits can either be seasonal or non -seasonal. Below are a few examples.
The fruit of the well known 'rotan' ( Calamus ornatus), non-seasonal.
The rotan fruits have scales on the outside and the pulp have an extremely sour to bitter taste.
The rotan or rattan is a very versatile product of the rainforest jungle creating a huge rattan furniture export industry for Malaysia.

The seasonal Ong Balem
'Ong Balem' meaning the Balem Fruit ( Mangifera pajang) in Melanau is available mainly in
December every year. They taste generally sweet when ripe. Young balem fruits are eaten too
as salad in which case it is usually eaten with the well known shrimp paste called 'Belacan'.

The seasonal 'Engkala ' fruit which is an all-time favourite of mine.
The 'Engkala' fruit have a soft pulp and is eaten raw together with its soft pink skin, after being
dipped in warm water for a brief five minutes. I however prefer to eat it with a pinch of salt for that additional ' Umph'.
The sourish ' Asam Paya' (Eleodoxa conferta)
The asam paya fruits are eaten raw and have a strong sour to bitter taste. Sometimes they are made into pickles and sold by many street fruit vendors in town.

Tampoi ( Braccaurea bracteata)
The 'tampoi' fruit has a white sweet pulp and is mainly eaten fresh. A local wine is also prepared from this fruit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spiny Licuala Palm ( Licuala spinosa )

Taking advantage of a fine spell from the rainy season of January, I quickly put on my long trousers, long sleeve shirt and jungle boots to have a fast walk behind my chalet at my eco-farm here in Bintulu. Growing below the vegetation island no.2 forest canopy, a five minutes walk from the chalet I noticed a solitary individual specimen of the spiny licuala palm (Licuala spinosa) was bearing flowers and in one branch have developed into seeds.

The stems of the licuala spinosa are short and cannot be seen clearly because it is hidden by the jungle dead leaves, fallen twigs or in the above picture a fallen tree trunk. The licuala spinosa is native to Borneo and also to other parts of South East Asia, India and China. The leaves are wedge-shaped, about 1-1.5 meters long and was about a meter higher from where I stood. In Bintulu, the Melanaus use them for thatching and in the making of the traditional hat called 'terendak'.

A CU view of the inflorescence showing flowers that are crowded and borne on a long branch.
Apparently it is not easy to come across a flowering licuala and therefore I consider myself lucky to have spotted one today complete with seeds though unripe.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Decorative Hornbill Head

Carved from a light hardwood species of the jelutong tree ( Dyera costulata) this decorative hornbill head is used to decorate village arches, long boats or  used in many ritual ceremonies here.  This particular craftwork is created by many ethnic groups of Sarawak and therefore can come out in many designs, patterns and colours according to the various artistic traditions of the groups concerned. The hornbill is the biggest bird found on Borneo island.  Today I saw the above hornbill head displayed outside a government office in Bintulu.  An interesting display, I thought.

Bintulu's Port

Driving up north about 25 km away from Bintulu town center, I reached the farthest 'developed' end of Bintulu. Here in an area of about 5000 acres are situated the heavy and medium industries of Bintulu. One particular entity that is crucial to the develpment and sustainability of this industrial zone is the Bintulu Port. The Bintulu Port is now the biggest and richest port on Borneo Island. It's regional network constituted the nearby major islands of Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore besides its northern destinations like China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

The Bintulu Port Headquarters Building ( above)

The above is typical of the modern architectural design of the buildings erected at Bintulu Port where the prevalent motifs are related to its activities like water ( e.g. shape and curves of roofs), marine architecture ( e.g. hull, decks, bridge, etc.)
Having a profitable port operations for the last decade, the Port has been able to add latest infrastructural facilities and heavy equipments as well as new and unique buildings to dot the Bintulu industrial skyline.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Exhibition Book

This is the book cover that I designed and authored to accompany my 1 st Solo Art and Poetry Exhibition in 1981 . A copy of the book is kept at the Library of Congress and can be searched by browsing the Library of Congress Online Catalogue, and then typing "Pameran Lukisan dan Puisi Mood" under basic search. This book contains a collection of my poems in English and Bahasa Malaysia which I wrote from 1967 - 1980 and sketch drawings of the paintings on show. It contains 53 pages. The book size is 21 cm x 12.5 cm. Why sketch drawings? I couldn't afford to publish it in colour or have the paintings photographed! Therefore the catalogue of paintings were sketched.

Well, the coming 2nd Solo Exhibition will be a lot more different. Colour images will be there. Better printing and professional touches to all design and copy writing. The book will be bigger and thicker to cover all the newer interests and hobbies I picked along the last 28 years. Chiefly among them are : landscaping, eco-farming, tropical cut flowers, writing, photography and cats.

'Little Clouds' fruit

I have peeled half of the soft leathery skin of the fruit to show its succulent fleshy pulp. In scientific literature the pulpy covering of the seed is called aril. Here the aril resembles remotely
'little clouds' which in Greek is 'nephelium', hence the fruit is called Naphelium lappaceum.
I harvest these from one of the tallest nephelium trees at my farm today. But the tree I selected is unique because it is of the wild species type.
How do you eat the fruit? First remove the skin by twisting with boths hands. Then pop the fleshy white pulp in your mouth. Enjoy. Finally eject the seed.

The tall tree on the right is the fruiting nephelium. Standing at 25 m it must have been there before I was born, probably about 60 years ago.

Nowadays nephelium trees are much shorter through scientific intervention. Locally nephelium fruits are called 'rambutan' of which the root word 'rambut' in Malay means hairs, referring to the hair-like appearance of the fruit's skin covering which I think is a more apt desription of the fruit. The wild species has an acid sweet taste while its more modern cousins are very much sweeter and of thicker pulp.

Borneo and Indonseia is the original home of the rambutan tree. Our climate here with a rainfall of 3000 mm per year is just perfect. Typical of rainforest trees its leaves have a 'drip tip' structure like its long and elongated tips to enable it to quickly shed water from our torrential downpour. As an added interest, Malaysia exports rambutans to India where they are considered priced wedding gifts. Well I guess it's like the role of grapes and apples in Malaysia as well which are also preferred fruits for wedding gifts.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tattooed Penan Lady Doing Beadswork

Take a boat ride upriver Bintulu and drop by at a Penan longhouse. In their spare time, elderly Penan ladies , adept in doing beadswork keep this traditional craft alive. Nowadays beads are imported from China and could be either of glass or ceramic. Note the tattooed feet and hands of the Penan woman. This tattoo culture is disappearing among the younger generation of Penans due to modern educational influences and a more urban lifestyle.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spoonful of Love

Last weekend ( 27/12/08) I attended a Bintulu Malay wedding ceremony. One of the highlights of the wedding is the customary 'makan nasi temuan' where the wedding couple competed to feed one another. A total of three attempts are permitted. Upon the lifting of the food cover, each person will rush to scoop the yellow rice and attempt to quickly spoonfeed the other. It is better if on all attempts the bridegroom gets all the chances. Alternatively, if the bride scores on all counts, it is believed that the young bridegroom will be 'queen control' later, or so it is believed. The custom did make the ceremony fun for the invited guests and indeed memorable for the wedding couple.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tropical Cut Flowers

  • As part of my 2nd solo exhibition (scheduled October 2009) one category of artworks that would be displayed will be tropical cut flowers. To have a glimpse of them please click to daily cut flowers at the left side bar.
  • I am thinking of reproducing them and newer ones which will be done throughout this year in a book to be launched during the exhibition. My love affair with cut tropical cut flowers can be explained briefly below:
  • It's rich, vibrant and need I say 'hot' colours - e.g. red ginger,varieties of hibiscus, heliconias etc make our immediate surroundings alive
  • They cost little as those plants are a step out of the garden
  • The arrangements make great conversational pieces especially when presented in modern or international idioms e.g. tropical ikebana, minimalism , etc
  • A way to promote 'Laman Kambatik' ( Malaysian Garden) concept of nativity, accidental beauty ( as in batik inspirations) experimentalism e.g. its artistry and diversity - colourful foliage,seeds and bracts.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Dreamer

I need to dream big this year. For one thing, I have put myself on a big mission. Come October this year I will hold my second solo art exhibition in Kuching. And every day since months ago, I have been dreaming big things for the exhibition. To keep my life focussed on it I have re-touched an old poem I drafted in 1984 but which I have never published elsewhere. Today I decide to publish it in this blog. This is the wonder of the internet and google's blogger. I need not go to any printer, like I used to do a long, long time ago.

The Dreamer

In the stillness of night
stirring my mind remote sleep
the drum roll of mysterious thoughts
have risen
from the endless reservoir
of the ocean deep

The night floods have crept
the valley floors and crevices
have filled my wandering trails
every secret corners and hidings
that my consciousness has awaited
in loving ambush.

Wake now to the flood's tidings
for it shall leave with the strike of day
fortify your thoughts and let none astray
direct and channel her captive spirit
and let it enter your receptive vision
to breathe her living spirit
for tomorrow your heart will rejoice
her fertile influence
by the light of day.

1 January,2009.