Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Things Bintulu # Fresh Fishes

Now back at Bintulu, my instincts tell me to rush for the fish market. Fresh fishes is synonymous with Bintulu among many others like natural gas, deep water port, timber country, oil palm country and hydro-power. It has a vast expanse of open sea that reaches the coasts of Cambodia and Vietnam to the north, Thailand to the west and Philippines to the east. But more importantly the local Melanaus who are natural fishermen and sailors were once known to send the last of the remaining pirates off the coast of Bintulu and never to return back. Today they go fishing farther offshore and their catches are sold at the popular fish markets in town. All sorts and sizes of deep sea fishes are obtainable at the fish market. Compare to what I get in Kuching, I'll put Bintulu fishes at the 5- star status while Kuching's on the scale of a 3 -star for freshness and varieties of fishes at the market's tables. The types of fishes easily available are pomfret, tuna, red snapper, sharks, sting rays, cuttlefish and prawns.
Fish being dried on the fish market jetty and plank walk.
Note the feather-leaved 'nipah' palms ( Nypa fruticans) that live submerged in water. The leaves are used as palm shingles ( 'atap') and sometimes as cigarette papers and fishing floats. Nypa palms also are useful plants to fight coastal erosion and tsunamis.

My favourite market is the one located at the edge of the village called Kampung Baru. The fish market is built next to the Sebiew River and close to the local fishermen houses.
The houses are very colourfully painted just like their boats due largely to the fact that in open seas, the strong colours of the boats could help indentify them from afar.
Today I decided to buy two young tuna fishes that would be smoked or grilled later at the farm.
Local fishermen's houses are exclusively of timber materials and the posts are practically of the hardest timber in Sarawak called the 'belian'. The belian wood will not rot in water and will last for a lifetime, and may be more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back to Bintulu

After a 10 hours journey through Sarawak's green countryside we arrived at 7.00 pm yesterday evening ( 27/4) in relative darkness at our farm in Bintulu. Throughout the whole journey the skies were cloudy and we encountered light showers briefly towards the middle part of the journey. Before leaving the house in Kuching I had a short morning workout in the garden. Planted plants where necessary and applied manure heavily to some of the beds. I was very happy to see the planting results to the front garden so far. Thus after I finished the early morning workout I took this close-up image of a pink canna ( inset) and the front garden too before departure. Canna blooms will last for about a week because other buds on the flowering stalk will open up in succession.
The front garden with orange flowers of the ixora coccinea at the foreground and two pink canna blooms in the middle background.

As usual our two cats Inul and Mama Daisy joined us to make this their 14th trip to Bintulu in their record breaking attempt for the most travelled cats in Sarawak. More stories of their adventure can be gleaned here.

On this trip we visited the town of Sarikei with about half of the journey covered. I insert below a picture of Sarikei 's express boat terminal. In the days of river transportation the terminal was very busy because it was the only means of travel to and out of the town. While today the mode of travelling by road is more popular it cannot yet replace the express boats for upriver or downriver destinations .
Boats at Sarikei Express Boat Terminal

A river scene at Selangau, the last leg of the journey.

Most longhouses or 'kampungs' in Sarawak are sited along major rivers to capitalise on its water resource for drinking, bathing, washing, cooking, etc,. and for means of transport.
The farm at 7.00 pm showing a new moon on the western sky.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

View of Kuching Waterfront

In my earlier posts about the sights and scenes around the Kuching waterfront, I have used still images. In this post I'm inserting a video clip that I hope will give a better story about this unique spot. The video story board starts with a long shot of the newly completed Sarawak State Legislative Assembly building which stood imposing and out of scale to the surrounding landscape. Then as I pan slowly to the left you can see the still waters of the Sarawak River and the wide pedestrian walk along the waterfront. Somewhere towards the middle of the video I tilted down the camera phone lens ( N93 i) to the mosaic pavement with Sarawak ethnic design motives. Finally I pan further left to show the view of the waterfront with tall hotels and suites as backdrop. Before the video ends, I froze the shot to a pontoon where two passengers alighted from the small ferry boat called ' tambang' in the local dialect. Have a nice day and an enjoyable weekend. ( Note: The next post will be published from Bintulu as we'll be taking the 10 hours journey by road to Bintulu early tomorrow morning.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Orchids at Satok Flower Market

On every Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning when the weather is fine it's pleasant to be at the Satok flower market. The flower market exists only during the weekend when the shopping crowd gathers for the best bargain on food and other domestic essentials that are the prime appeal to the shopping experience here. And the flower market is just another delightful add- on to the shopping fiesta which originally started on Sundays but over the years has moved slightly forward due to popular demand. At the flower market new plants varieties are regularly showcased by nursery owners around Kuching. Today I was extremely impressed by the rich and spectacular collection of orchids available for sale. You can have a good idea of the many varieties by clicking the video below.( Note: The quality of the video may not be excellent. Guess it must be my nervous hands and too eager feet. Anyway , hope you'll enjoy it :))

Close up of 'Normah Orchid' above was taken at the Padawan Wild Orchids and Pitcher Plants Centre sometime ago.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Testing, testing, testing....

I was borrowing books from the State Library this afternoon. The 'Pustaka Negeri Sarawak' as it is called is located at Petrajaya, the administrative hub of Sarawak. While the books collection here is still very far from ideal, the good little news is that most of the books on display are relatively new books. Being a member I'm entitled to borrow 6 books at a time and the holding period is 2 weeks. However you can renew the books by phone provided you do it at least a day before due date. I think this arrangement is marvellous considering the fact that the distance from my house to Petrajaya is about 30 minutes drive and probably an hour if caught in a traffic jam. The best part is that I too can make the renewal from Bintulu which is 600 km from Kuching. Either way the arrangement by phone is very practical and convenient. The Library's website is here.

Just outside the library a small crowd was enjoying aerobic dancing. Anyone is free to join. I was given to understand that on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week aerobic exercises are held here to encourage the Kuching public adopt a healthy life style. Aerobic sessions are held from 4.30 pm - 6.00 pm when the weather is slightly cooler. Well, this is my first attempt to add a video in my blog. Friends, if you can play it wonderful! If not do tell me. Hope you enjoy the video.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kuching Garden Progress

20 April'09
Our front garden in Kuching is now about 1 year 4 months old. The planting progress photographs are shown below. Up to this point my initial design concept is more or less achieved. Just this month I added one cordyline plant, variegated yellow in colour for that golden sparkle to the garden. Now every morning I'll take a brief excercise at the front porch and then go for a bicycle ride around the neighbourhood. It's good for the health.
20 April'09

4 Dec.'08

7 June'08

30 March'08

18 Dec.'07

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Malay Apple Tree

This is the Malay Apple tree ( Syzgium malaccense) in full bloom that I saw planted next to a Malay village house at Kampung Buntal, some 30 minutes drive from Kuching city. I have not seen one flowering for quite sometime now due to the fact that many of these trees have been cut down to make way for the construction of more houses in the villages. Thus the sight of this tree was a fast rewind to my childhood days when I used to hunt for birds frequenting them.
Malays like to plant them for their sweet edible fruits the size of apples. It would normally take about three months after flowering before the tree can bear fruits. They are medium sized trees ( 12-15 m) high and loves the full sun. The leaves are dark green and relatively broad. In many instances I prefer to eat the fruits semi-ripe as salad and can be dipped in soybean sauce ( ketchup) or shrimp paste (' belacan') for that extra 'umpphh'.
I always like to advocate that these trees be re-introduced into urban planting e.g. roadsides, parks and open spaces, school compounds etc because they are very attractive to birds and wildlife and have an attractive compact form. Propagation is easily done through seeds. The local name for the tree is 'Jambu Bol'.
The flowers are pink to light red and are attractive to wildlife especially starlings and wild doves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Waterfront Scenes

Today as I walked along the Kuching Waterfront area I noticed the new DUN building ( Dewan Undangan Rakyat) surroundings are slowly being tidied up and grassing works are underway to control erosion and beautify the river bank . I guess upon completion, this building will be another tourist attraction for Kuching city. The building will house the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly - a law making and local governance body that ensures that the practise of democracy is kept alive and functioning in Sarawak. However the area around the building seemed lacking in any tourism -related facilities and presently is best viewed from a distance.

The tourist buzz is much lacking these days. Is it due to the global slump? River boats are parked by the pontoons but there are very few tourists to join the boat ride. The scenes looked economically eerie for today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tissue Cake ( Roti Tisu)

It was a surprise of sorts when I dropped by a coffee shop cum restaurant at Mile 7, Kuching- Serian Road called the 'Bombay Masala'. I ventured to attempt a unique snack called the 'Roti Tisu' loosely translated to mean ' tissue cake'. Well it was thin like tissue paper but managed to fold itself like a pyramid. A sugarly red solution was sprayed lightly from the peak and you dip the thin pancake into curry. Tasted good. On the right is the local 'Teh Tarik' which is tea plus milk, a local favourite for drinking while eating 'Roti Canai'- another popular pancake consumed by all age profiles and creeds of Malaysia. What will they think next to retain customers?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Creative Students

While shopping for books at the Spring shopping complex I bumped into a group of students from Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology. The students were busy clicking cameras as part of their 'Model Search' project. Anyone willing to be photographed and be in the limelight was welcomed. The Limkokwing University of Creative Technology is a global university with campuses in Malaysia ( Sarawak,Borneo included) , UK, China,Cambodia,Botswana and Lesotho. What's interesting is that a student of Limkokwing Borneo has the opportunity to conduct part of his/her studies in any of its campuses worldwide. A point worth noting in times of globalisation and a much flatter world where human resources should be exposed to a world of diversities and cultural exchanges early in their career training. At another corner I saw one student adept at sketching doing portraits and caricatures of willing shoppers, albeit at a small price.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kuching Cannas

Kuching is a unique. For one it has two city authorities. The Kuching City North and Kuching City South both having one City Mayor each. Today I took a drive to the Kuching City South Building which is coloured blue as in the above picture. What delighted me was this wide row of cannas that is planted at the central road median leading to the building which is the headquarters of the Kuching City South administration. This is easily the longest stretch of cannas planting in Sarawak. It is about 200 m ( two hundred) in length. In my travels throughout Sarawak this planting plot is the longest I've seen for cannas so far. Three colourful varieties are planted here -Yellow, Orange and Red.
Cannas are native to tropical regions like Malaysia and South America. Cannas live exuberantly in the really hot sun and heavy rain partly due to its having soft and succulent stems requiring lots of water to keep the stems erect throughout the day. They are planted for their bright and large coloured petalled flowers that are a wonder if planted in big masses. However it is very important to remove spent flowers or stems as they might appear messy and not pleasing to the eyes. Being perennials they don't last too long probably 1-3 years with intensive care. Thus planting beds need to be refurbished with new manure and retilled to achieve best results.

The above shows two views of the central median with cannas as the center of attraction. Seen above are two other species that provide shirting to the canna beds. Firstly the golden leaves of the Golden Dewdrop ( Duranta repens) and the red coloured leaves of the Bloodleaf ( Iresine herbstii) both of which are low maintenance plants and suitable for open sunny locations and a survivor to heavy pruning.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A China Story

Entrance to the Carpenter Street with a unique 'Room on top of the Stairs'

We went around the 'China Town' area of Kuching yesterday to window shop for book shelves in particular the well known Carpenter Street - resident to the very early commercial carpenters of Kuching. Well, nearly the whole of downtown Kuching is a big 'China Town'. It was and is still now.

The Chinese has a strong grasp of all trades in the Malaysian economy ( 80%)and Sarawak is no exception. Thus 'China Town' enclaves are everywhere in Malaysia.
Traditionally when the Chinese set up shop in Sarawak, they lived, work and play within the close quarters of their shop. Walking around any China town one sees a microcosm of China - a nation of shopkeepers. Business is so intertwined in Chinese culture that this entrepreneurial spirit was what the British admired about them and the main reason why they imported them from as far away places like China to Sarawak in the nascent days of populating and developing the state. But that's all history. Now the Chinese form a distinct component in the racial makeup of Malaysia. There is however an interesting twist to this preoccupation with business. For many reasons the Chinese in Malaysia do not like to have big families and their reproductive ratio is low compared with other races. Thus we see in Malaysia the trend that by 2030 the population projection is 80% Malays( plus other native races) and 20% Chinese. On another level, I read often that due to the same low reproductive ratio, Singapore( having Chinese as the dominant ethnic group) soon will be having more foreigners than local staying within the tiny island state to the ratio of 1:2.

A colourful side lane to the Carpenter Street. Here old shop houses are increasingly modified to capture the growing tourism business. While furniture shop are still around newer business establishments include bed and breakfast lodgings or inns, handicraft or souvenir shops, travel agencies, gold and jewellery shops.

The old quarters of Carpenter Street. Narrow lane like above is typical of Carpenter Street and is reminiscent of the days of 3-in-1 concept of work, stay and play . This off shot lane is called 'Upper China Street'

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chewy Narcotic

A row of 'Pinang 'Trees ( Areca Catechu) with bunches of orange oval fruits.

In rural villages of Sarawak the sight of tall palms over topping the village landscape is a common if not typical scenery. Rural folks plant coconut and betel palms for their fruits. The betel nut palm is locally known as 'Pinang' and there is even a state in Malaysia that derived its name from the betel palm i.e. the island of Pulau Pinang ( 'Penang' in colloquial English), sometimes also known as 'The Pearl of the Orient' among tourism circles.

The betel palm ( Arecha catechu) is native to this part of the world including Indonesia. The palm is single-trunked and topped with a cluster of terminal fronds. Below the bases of the fronds are branches of the ripe fruits in colours of yellow, orange or red. To collect the fruits requires the skill of an experienced climber because the trees can reach a height of 12-20 meters high.
The fruits are sold ( see inset) as jungle produce items at many a local jungle produce markets throughout Sarawak. For landscaping purposes I feel that more betel nut palms should be grown in urban parks or open spaces in Sarawak. Presently they are being sidelined in favour of expensive imported palms, which I think is most unwise. Its narrow crown and slim trunk demand very little space and therefore suitable to be planted in small urban residential gardens. Furthermore its roots aren't too adventurous and yet withstand extreme wind velocities. I prefer to plant them in a small group of threes or fives forming a 'groove-like' composition.
CU of the betel fruit exposing the white-fleshed nut in the center, which is edible.

The Malays or native ladies of Sarawak ( my mother included) love to chew the nuts as a mild narcotic. The oval fruits is cut into half and the nut sliced thinly before it is chewed together with lime and betel pepper leaves ( Piper betel). There is a rich cultural tradition of consuming the betel nuts and betel leaves that survive to this day. The practise of consuming them is prevalent in marriage ceremonies, traditional healing rituals and many casual social gatherings.
From ripe seeds Pinang trees are easily propagated and the palms bear fruits throughout the year.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Selling Memories

A selection of old memories of Kuching from colonial buildings to personalities and places are sold here at Satok Sunday market.

If you go the the Satok Sunday market don't forget to drop by at a stall that sell memories. The stall owner sells old photographs of Kuching especially the romantic and adventurous early history of Kuching . The focus of the photographs are places in and around Kuching during the early days of Brooke rule, the Brooke's personalities or figures, events and historical buildings of the colonial period. Most of the photographs are laminated and a few are framed. Customers are local residents, visitors and tourists. I noticed his repertoire of photographs quite sizable . The first Rajah ( monarch) of Sarawak is James Brooke a British ex-soldier-cum-adventurer who was given the region around today's Kuching after he managed to quell a local rebellion there in 1841. Those were the romantic days. His picture is shown above at the bottom left row. There are accounts that because of this successful military adventure he was given the region around Kuching as reward. In the Malay language " Serah Kepada Awak" means "hand over to you", in short "Serawak" from which originated the state's present name "SARAWAK". That's history if you are willing to buy.

The above photograph shows the Ranee Margaret of Sarawak with aristocratic Malay ladies in Malay costume, circa early 20th century.
Charles Brooke was the nephew of the first Rajah who became the second Rajah of Sarawak after the death of Sir James Brooke. Charles Brooke married his 19 year old cousin Margaret de Windt hoping to have a heir to the Brooke monarchy. The Ranee Margaret became a popular and loved figure in Sarawak. She spent 17 years in Sarawak and gave birth to three sons. One of them , Vyner was to become the third Rajah of Sarawak in 1917, a week after the death of his father. The Brookes handed over Sarawak to the British crown ( colonial government) in 1946, a year after the Japanese were defeated from their short military occupation of Sarawak from 1941-1945. The colonial government ruled Sarawak from 1946-1963. In 1963 Sarawak, Sabah, Singapore and Malaya formed Malaysia and thereby achieved Independence from the British.

"Uptown Cat" Exhibition

The paintings displayed at the Lobby of the Kuching Cat Museum.

This afternoon I visited an exhibition of paintings by four Kuching artists on the subject of cats. The painting exhibition was held at the Kuching Cat Museum, located at the Kuching North City Building at Petrajaya. The word 'Kuching' in Malay means cat. Kuching is therefore very much a cat city. On display were various paintings executed in different media. It seems to me that this painting exhibition is the most contemporary on cats.

The above acrylic painting is done by Ramsay Ong on tree bark cloth of the 'Tekalong' tree or wild breadfruit tree. Tree barks are traditionally used as garments but here Ramsay uses it as a visual painting media rich in texture.

Stephanie Eng's work on acrylic depicting two cats.

Above, Narong Daun uses fabric dye on silk textile.

Michael Lim's batik rendition of the Malay civet cat.

April Shower

I just can't stop admiring the flamboyant April showers of Kuching.
The Golden Shower tree ( Cassia fistula) dripping in showers of gold and the Shower Orchid Vine ( Congea tomentosa) bursting its velvety sprays into the April air is indeed a pleasure to see. This is the kind of green investment that brings much reward as well as admiration of Kuching as a botanical or garden city. Well you can say that its ROI ( Return of Investment) is in the flow of tourists clicking their cameras and videos while touring its gardens, parks and other landscaped urban spaces.
The Golden Shower ( Cassia fistula) with drooping clusters of yellow flowers seen at a mini-park at Mile 7 town,Kuching,

While shopping at the Satok Sunday market this morning, I came across this large evergreen shrub often referred to as the Shower Orchid Vine ( Congea tomentosa) showing off its masses of lavender pink to mauve bracts from a residential house at the edge of the market. A closer look at the inflorescence's reveal sprays of small flowers in groups. Each group is made up of four velvety lavender pink bracts. The center flowers are tiny and insignificant. The Congea is a native to this part of the world i.e. Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. However this species has been grown in many parts of tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and happily naturalised there over time.
The Shower Orchid Vine ( Congea tomentosa) loves full sun and being a vigorous grower demands ample space.