I suffer, but why?


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January 21st 2013
Published: January 21st 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Riverfront, view of Astana fort
As I lay sweating on a matrass, with unseen bugs dropping on me or crawling over me, and confused roosters crowing loudly at random hours of the night, while less confused dogs kept howling and barking at intruders only they could see, I asked myself why I had thought it was a good idea to pay top dollar for this particular experience? Here I was in a semi-traditional longhouse, on a river close to Batang Ai National Park; with me were two Australians who were clearly just as delusional as me, since they too would, by the end of it, be paying a lot of money for what can only be described as self-inflicted torture. I had met Sarah and Tom in Kuching, where we had hatched this strange plan which involved, what we all silently knew would mean several bad nights of sleep and discomfort, and for this we were willing to part with a substantial amount of our funds.

And so, on this sleepless night, I reflected on this strange phenomenon where tourists pay for various forms of discomfort, pain and who knows what else. Why? How come it seems like a good idea to us to climb
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Square Tower and Sarawak State Assembly Building
up a dangerous mountain, or dangle on a rock face, or jump out of a plane or into a canyon with only rubber band between us and certain death? Who said it was fun to hike through hot and humid jungles full of leeches, malaria mosquitos, hornets, poisonous snakes and spiders and all kind of other dangerous animals and plants? And why go to a 'traditional' tribal hut in the middle of nowhere, to spend the night with them in their house with its possibly leaky roof, open windows and doors, so whatever barn animals can wander around and all blood loving insects can have a taste of your blood, and with not even a fan to cool you off at night? And pay for this experience? The locals must think us mad! If they had the money we had, they would upgrade their hut in no time, and certainly not spend it on sleeping on a mat in a barn!

And yet, we seem to like this, or we make believe that we like it. Sometimes we say it is for the adrenaline rush, or it makes you feel alive, or maybe it is for the fresh air,
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Brooke Memorial
or for our health, to see something new perhaps, to experience a way of life we lost somewhere along the way. So many reasons, and all of them excuses. What is so cool about harking back to a time when we walked around in a loin cloth and froze to death in some mud hut? Why am I paying to go relive the discomforts of the past? For sure, it is in a new setting, in the tropics instead of at home in the moderate climes of Europe, but it is still a rather silly thing to spend my money on, when I think about it.

But look at me, I am in a longhouse in the jungle, with my legs sun-burnt from a boat ride that same afternoon, listening to a cacophony of noise coming from those damned roosters and dogs who don't care whether it is three in the morning, and I am trying to convince myself that this is the life! That it is just so fantastic to have this experience. Yes, so much better than a nice room with mosquito nets, a nice toilet and shower, for a quarter of the price. I look at
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Entrance to Chinatown
Tom, he cut open his foot this afternoon on some sharp rocks in a jungle river we swam in, and at dinner a very satisfied and fat leech, he didn't even know was there, dropped off his thighs. I glance at Sarah, who was just stung by a hornet that happened to be snoozing on her matrass, as she coughs loudly trying to dislodge the fish bone which got stuck in her throat this afternoon, when we had the traditional barbeque. Indeed, what a fun we are all having.

The truth is, and I don't know why, even as I write up this blog and look back at it all, I would not change a thing. Even if I knew all that would occur, I would still do it. I really did enjoy it all, the discomfort, the heat, the bugs, even those rotten roosters and dogs that kept me awake. And I know that I will do it again, and again, and again. And to make matters even more difficult to understand, the top five experiences so far in Sarawak, were actually the ones I paid the least for. So it wasn't actually this particular longhouse in the
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Kuching means cat in Malay, hence there are many cat monuments
jungle, fun though it was to lay in my own pool of perspiration.

No, probably at the top of the list was our unexpected invitation to a modern longhouse on our way to this one. A concrete monstrosity, which we were brought to by a friendly local as we were waiting for a van at a junction towards Lubok Antu, which would be our starting off point to the traditional longhouses further up the river. We were the first tourists that had ever visited their longhouse and before we knew it we were eating, drinking and dancing with the chief and his minions. An invitation which could have cost us nothing if we had been so inclined, but we weren't and we gave our host some money before we left.

And then there was the Chinese festival in Kuching which I ran into. With chariots, and dragon dances and men with skewers through their cheeks. Or the proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park. All of these experiences were either free of very cheap. The only other one on this list, which I did pay for, was the boat ride into Batang Ai National Park, as well as the
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Totem pole outside Sarawak Museum
short hike through it, and the barbeque along the jungle river at the end of it, prepared by our boatmen. I didn't see any wildlife, except for leeches, but I got the feeling that very few people made it out to this park, in comparison to the other better known ones. It really seemed untouched, and at that moment in time, I was sure we were the only tourists in the park. The freshly caught fish, which our boatman cooked in bamboo and grilled over a little fire beside a crystal clear stream, was the perfect way to end the hike.

So, I paid a lot for something which I don't even consider to among the better experiences, and still, despite all that, I don't feel it was a waste of money. I wanted to see a longhouse in the jungle, and I got to see it, and I wanted it to be as traditional as possible and it was. And I wanted to spend the night there, and I did. If it had been comfortable and easy, it would not have been 'authentic' enough, obviously.

Which brings me back to my question, I suffer but why? Because
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Frontage of the Sarawak Museum
suffering is 'authentic'!


Additional photos below
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Kuching

Along the river
Towards Bako National ParkTowards Bako National Park
Towards Bako National Park

Views on the way to the National Park
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Proboscis monkey
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Litang trail
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Pitcher plant
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Green viper, at night
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Huge stick insect
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Interesting bird
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Jungle stream
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

Freshwater turtle
Bako National ParkBako National Park
Bako National Park

And another beautiful bird


21st January 2013

Beautiful!
Wow Ralf, what a lovely photos once again. The park looks fantastic and the colours of the animals are so vivid!! Love, Linn
22nd January 2013

Thanks Linn!
But to be honest, the vibrant colours are all Picasa's doing ;)
21st January 2013

An authentic Westerner!
At first I thought this was going to play out like a scene from 'Can Fat Teens Hunt', but when you started questioning your own motivations it brought to mind a quote from Anthropologist, Roger Sandall. "Westerners are bored, westerners are idle, westerners have too much money, and they look around the world and think, 'will I try base jumping, will I try going up a rocky canyon in a high speed boat? what will I do next? Oh, well you know, Monty said we should go and look at natives in Papua New Guinea, lets try that! And we might even be shot at!" ;-)
22nd January 2013

Glad to hear I am at the very least an authentic Westerner ;)
And being shot at by natives in Papua, sounds like my kind of place. As long as I get to pay a lot of money for this experience!
21st January 2013

Classic song
Ah, you suffer but why. A classic song from Napalm Death. Listen to the lyrics, and you will get the answer to your question.
22nd January 2013

I did listen to it...
But, their answer was rather unsatisfying :)
21st January 2013

Authentic doesn't have to mean suffering...
Buddha found that all mankind suffers due to unsatisfied desire. So if everything is suffering, but not everything is authentic, then logically they do not equate. Anyway, do you think that this has anything to do with being in the inner core of the backpacker life? Does being a backpacker mean that you choose to suffer because you think that is authentic...staying at the cheapest rooms, traveling on the cheapest transportation, etc. even though spending a couple dollars more will provide that fan and a decent toilet or get you from point A to B in two hours (think Air Asia) instead of twenty four hours of scams. I'm reminded of the musings of AspiringNomad who transitioned from that inner core to being a family man...and your own musings on your own transitions. As for me, I enjoy comfortable authenticity!
22nd January 2013

Or maybe everything is authentic... Who knows?
Buddha never really spoke much about authenticity, so we don't know what he thought about it. As for your question, do I choose to suffer because I am a backpacker. Probably not, because as I have grown older I find myself wanting more comfort, however, sometimes there just isn't any, like in the longhouse we stayed in. I don't always have the choice, also considering my budget requirements, and I don't always consider staying in the cheapest place a chore. Of course I could choose not to go to the jungle or a traditional longhouse at all, but I doubt that I would forgo that experience just because it would be uncomfortable. No suffer I must ;)
21st January 2013

I think we have all had moments where we are laying there thinking, I must be delusional!' Great blog!
22nd January 2013

Yes, I suspect we do.
And I'll be thinking it again in less then a week from now, I am pretty sure of that!
22nd January 2013

Why suffer?
Your intentions seem noble, astute, well intentioned, adventurous, even inspired...and the bottom line...someone has to do it!
22nd January 2013

Right you are ;)
I am taking one for the team...

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