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Published: September 22nd 2012
Now that we live in Thailand it is easy to explore the surrounding countries. We had good reasons to do so. First of all we were invited at the wedding of Karim and Juliana at Kuala Lumpur. At the same time we would meet Majorie and Robin, my daughter and son. Secondly we have to leave country every 3 months, now that we have a retirement visa for a year. And last we are just eager to discover this wonderfull Asiatic world. So why not to extend our visit a little and see the Malaysian part of Borneo? The trip to Kuala Lumpur
So we left our basecamp at Hua Hin and took the nighttrain to Butterworth, in the North of Malaysia. I did not have high expectations of this train, but it was fine. It is clean and there are nice beds, two above each other. Outside it is dark. Now and then we pass the lights of a little village. I am reading, but soon I fall asleep on the rithmic sound of the rails, now and then interrupted by the whistling of the locomotive. When we awake next morning we are still in
Thailand. We have breakfast with coffee, orangejuice, fried eggs and chips. The southern parts of Thailand seem to be dangerous, but not here at the westside of the country. Some hours later we pass the border with Malaysia. All passengers have to leave the train with their luggage and show their passports. The landscape is not quite interesting. I see lots of plantations, specially palms. At noon we arrive at the ugly station of Butterworth. No ATM's here. We have to go in town . The last part of our trip to Kuala Lumpur we do by bus. We pass Ipoh with its beautifull clifs. For the rest the landscape stays boring: plantations, plantations, plantations... At the end of the afternoon we arrive at our hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
No sooner we arrive at our hotel than the doors swing open and my daughter and son come out. They had just checked in. They are surrounded by their friends. We see Gail and Xukan and of course Karim and Juliana, the couple who is going to marry. I have not seen my daughter since 8 months or so. She came here from Dubai
where she lives. My son is just back from a trip in Borneo. It is about 4 months ago that I have seen him for the last time.
Next day we walk around in Kuala Lumpur. We see the famous Petronas towers, once the highest buildings in the world. We like modern architecture, but not here. I do not know why. It is too massive, too megalomane. We visit the Birds Garden, the world's biggest bird cage as they advertise it. No doubt it is big, but inside are only the most common birds, apart from some hornbills and parrots. Everywhere are pigeons, egrets, storks, myna's, birds you can see anywhere. As if they spread out a big net at random and every bird which was not quick enough to escape became part of the show. The wedding
At 7:30 pm we gather in the lobby of the hotel, a club of about 30 people, which is invited on behalf of the groom. Only a few come from Europe, the majority is Asiatic. Karim himself is from Maroc and he is going to marry a girl from Malaysia. When the doors of the elevator open
we see suddenly a completely different Karim. He is wearing a fez and a jellaba. Behind him are Xukan, my daughter and my son. Xukan is wearing a bowl with fruits, symbolizing fysical unity. My daughter is wearing the Quran, representing spiritual unity and my son is wearing the ring, which has to do with unity for the law. They just got instructions what to do, as they have no any idea about these traditions. Of course they were also told what not to do. One of these thing was absolutely not to let slip one of the items out of their hands, as it would be a bad sign for the future of the young couple. It would destroy our future, as Karim had said.
And there we go. First Karim. Then one meter behind him Xukan, my daughter and my son and then the rest of the club. Xukan, my daughter and my son are visibly sweating under their fysically but even more mentally burden. I wonder what they think about. I guess my son is thinking at the moment a big serving tray fell out of his hands in a Maroc restaurant, including all bowls with
food. Maybe my daugher is regretting she choosed to wear high heels and a narrow robe. While we are moving to our bus, she tries to maneuvre between the potholes in the pavement. It is about half an hour driving to the hall where the ceremony will take place.
When we arrive at the porch we arrange ourselves in the same order, first Karim, then Xukan, my daugher and son and then the rest of the company. Then we hear a gong. We see two golden umbrella's poking high above the wall. When we enter our little club is observed by 400 guests who are invited on behalve of the bride. Karim and Juliana settle down on a big sofa under a triumphal arch. On both sides someone is waving fresh air with a fan of feathers. It is as if we are part of an Arabic movie. Xukan and my daughter and son can finally end their task. Then it is time for the ritual congratulations. Ten couples from the side of the bride are called to come to the front and congratulate the couple. Then it is the turn to ten couples of the groom. 15 minutes
before no one knew of us exactly what to do. But we could see how the 'bridespeople' did it. I am the last one. I take some leaves out of a bowl and put it in the hands of the groom and then of the bride. Then I sprinkle some water over their hands and finally I shake their hands with both hands, meanwhile saying some nice words.
All of us are seated around round tables. Each has a wineglas with some red stuf, which looks like wine, but which is watermelon juice with rosewater. I look around while the Imam is saying a prayer. Most Malaysians have the palms of their hands turned upwards. Next to the Imam stands a contrabass and a guitar. No sooner has the Imam ended his prayer than the two musicians jump to their instruments and play 'Besame mucho'. Everyone starts to eat from the delicious Malaysian food in bowls in the middle of the table.
After dinner Karim and Juliana have changed clothes. Now they wear traditional Malaysian clothes. It is almost half past eleven when the two musicians play their last song. 'Baila!' they sing, but no one is dancing.
Apparently it is not a custom here. Kuching
Next day Linda and I fly to Kuching at Borneo. It is a far bigger city then we expected. We sleep at the Singgahshano lodge. It reminds us of the many guesthouses we have seen during our worldtrip. Kuching is beautifull located at the Sarawakriver. Unfortanely some big hotels like Hilton and Pullman touch the banks of the river. It can be worse even. At the other side of the river towers a megalomane building above the canopy of trees which looks as if aliens just have landed. There are big windows, but it is not possible to look inside. We can see you, but you cannot see us. It is the State Assembly Building.
Sarawak is the place where Alfred Russel Wallace used to live and work for a long time and since Wallace is one of my hero's we try to find some traces of him (like we did when we followed him over the Amazon River last year). We start at the reception of our guesthouse.
'Wallace?' The eyes turn a bit inwards. 'You can better ask it at the travelagency downstairs. They
know a lot.'
'Wallace?', asks the man at the travelagency. He is thinking. Then his eyes begin to shine. 'Yes, I know. That is that man who discovered the flying frog, is not it?' Indeed there is a flying frog here, called Wallace's flying frog. Alfred Wallace was the one who discovered it. 'No says the man, there is nothing here about Wallace. Maybe you can try it at the National Parks and Wildlife Office. They know these things better.'
While we walk to the Wildlife Office we see everywhere the name James Brooke, but no any sign of Wallace. We see statues of him and even our favourite restaurant along the Sarawak river is called Brooke's Bar and Bistro. It was the first white rajah of Sarawak, we read somewhere at the billboards. Wallace stayed for along time in his house. If it was not because of Wallace, I would never have heard of him before.
'Wallace?', says the man at the Wildlife Office, 'Yes I think I have heard of him, but you can better ask at the Sarawak Museum. They know everything.' The Sarawak museum is founded, because Wallace stimulated Brooke to do so.
It is told that they display specimens Wallace once collected. I hardly can believe it. Wallace used to send his specimens to the Natural History Museum in London. The beautiful Victorian building promisses a great display, but once we are inside we only see a poor collection, hardly lit. Granite is called a metamorphous stone and a conus is called a kauri. And from Wallace no sign. The second stock is better. We read about the famous 'Deep Skull Tom Harrison found in 1954 in the Niah Cave. It was 40,000 years old, the oldest human skull in South East Asia. And there is Wallace indeed. According to the text it was Wallace who first drew attention to the Niah Cave for its archaeological potention. Hopefully we plough across the potteries, arrows and other artefacts found in the Niah Cave. But no Wallace. We ask it at the reception if someone knows where we can find information about Wallace. 'You can better ask it at the Natural History Museum', someone says, 'they are specialised in these things'.
'Wallace?', says the woman at the Natural History Museum. 'Yes he lived a long time in the cottage of James Brooke', I
say to help a little. 'That must have been far before my time', she says giggling, ' and those things I never can remember.' She calls a man and asks him if he knows something about a man called Wallet or so. The man shakes his head. 'And he rubbed shoulders with James Brooke? That was before my grandfather lived. He was taxidermist here at the museum. I do not know anything beyond that time.' He calls another man. 'Never heard of Willis', he says. 'But the best thing you can do is to ask it at the library. Are you sure you do not want to visit our museum? We have nice fossils from Sarawak.'
'Is here a library?', we ask at the guard of The Sarawak Foundation Building. The guard looks at the billboard behind him. 'Yes it is on the third stock.' When we are on the third stock we meet two giggling ladies, but no library. 'The library is on the 8th stock', they say still giggling. Once on the 8th stock we do find a library. It is only as big as an apartment. There is a table where some people are working. Two
people come in with sticks of 3 meter long. They maneuvre across the bookcases and disappear via a door at the other side. We see a lot of books about nature. Then we meet someone who is in charge. 'Can we find books here about Alfred Wallace?, I ask. The man does not give any reaction. 'He lived here in the 19th century. He was the founder of the evolutiontheory by natural selection, together with Charles Darwin', I say. Still no reaction. 'He is the father of biogreography.' Silence. 'He found the famous Wallaceline, the line between Borneo and Bali at one side and Sulawesi and Lombok at the other side, to indicate the difference between the Asiatic and Australian fauna.' I see empty eyes. 'He found the Sarawakrule. He was a friend of William Brooke. He discovered the flying frog.' Nothing. I am about to leave, when the man asks: 'Do you have a permit?' 'A permit?' 'Yes, you need a permit from the State Secretary to do research here.' He shows me a form. 'And where can I get that permit?' He walks to the window and opens a curtain. He points to the "I-can-see-you-you-cannot-see-me" building at the
other side of the river. 'And how long it will take to get that permit?' 'A week!' Then he walks to the other side of the room and stands near a bookcase. 'You have 15 minutes', he says, 'then we will close.' When I come nearer, I see all books of Wallace: "Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection", "Natural Selection and Tropical Nature", "Geographical Distribution of Animals", 'The World of Life", "Palmtrees of the Amazon", "Travels on the Amazon and the Rio Negro". I open the last one. My jaw drops. It is the original one of 1853. 'We are going to close now', says the man. Orang-Utans
When we stand in front of the Semenggoh Orang-Utan Sanctuary we hear that is closed and that it will be open 3 hours later. There is no bus back and we are in the middle of nowhere, together with a man from India and a woman from Russia, who have to face the same misfortune. There is nothing, no food, no water, even no shadow. 'You really cannot let us in?' 'No, it is absolutely forbidden.' 'There are some gardens, ferngardens, orchidgardens, dipterocarpusgardens. We cannot visit them?'
'No Sir. Some months ago, I let some tourists in. And you know what happened?' He shows me his right hand. Two fingers are missing. 'The orang-utans are everywhere', he says with a morose glance. So here we sit in the hot sun, waiting and waiting. At 1:45 pm we may enter. At 2pm we arrive at the feedingpace. At 2:45 the rangers begin to lay down food on the platforms. At 3 pm we see the first orang utans. Some rangers are using catapults to get them out of the trees. At 3:15 we left. The Kubah National Park
Next day we make a hike of 5 km across the primary rainforest of the Kubah National Park. We walk across a dense jungle with high trees like the Durian. If it is really the wild durian we do not know. There are some durianlike trees, but when you open the fruits nothing comes out but some hairs. The locals call it the ha-ha-durian. Still we think we see the real wild durian, because they smell the same as the durians on the market. Another remarkable tree we see is the Bintangortree. It is supposed to
inhibit HIV. Some high trees have big buttresses. On the trunk of one of these trees we see the nests of stingeless bees. We hear strange sounds. One bird sounds as if someone is pumping the tyres of his bike. Well, we think at least it is a bird. The sound of the cicads is deafening. As if 100 teakettles are singing at the same time. We see red weaverants busy to make a nest of some big leaves. Together they stand at the rim of the leave, bend it and hold it, while others knit the two rims together. When we returned after two hours the whole leave was knitted together. Inside they will collect fungi. It is a kind of agriculture. Bako National Park
The first thing we see when we arrive at Bako village is a big crocodile of 2 meter. It is tied with its tail at the railing along the river. 'They will bring it back to the park', tells the skipper of our little boat which will bring us to Bako National Park. 'Last year a kid of 6 year was killed by a crocodile', he tells. They can get
6 up to 8 meters long. So this is a small one.' At the entrance of the jetty we see warnings for crocodile attacks. There are some gruesome pictures showing a woman attacked by a crocodile. Her arm is between the fangs of the monster. She did not survive. Another picture shows the crocodile after it was killed and opened. Two human legs come out of the intestines.
The boattrip takes 40 minutes along a coast with orange coloured sandstone rocks, grown by a green jungle. Now and then a little beach opens up. The park is located on a peninsula, protruding in the South China Sea. At the other side of the Buntal Bay we see Santubang, where Wallace once lived for some months. When we arrive at the park we are welcomed by high palms and some naughty longtail macaques. One of them manages it to steal our repellant out of our rucksack. What she is going to do with it I do not know. Maybe she is free from mosquito's now for the rest of her life. Maybe she will use it as a perfume. It reminds me of the Japanese macaques who wash their potatoes
in the sea before consuming them. One female started this behavior and all colony followed. Finally the colony only wanted salt potatoes. Maybe all female macaques colony of Bako will use once antirepellant as a perfume to attract the males. There are billboards, which warn for stonefishes, stingerays and jellyfishes. In the mud in between the mangroves we see several species of mudskippers. They are fishes, but they prefer to live on land. Only when we come nearer they flee away and dip into the water. We see lots of fiddlercrabs. The males have one big claw by which they attract the females. The bigger the claw the more succes. A problem is that they can only wave with this claw to the females; they cannot eat with it. Females have two small claws. They can eat twice as much as the males.
We will stay two nights at the park. We have a simple room. There is a restaurant with delicous buffets and even beer. Around we see bearded boars. In a tree next to our room hangs a green pitviper and in another tree we see a flying lemur. We made several trips during our stay. The
first day we walk the Tanjung Sapi trail. It is steep uphill. We see the amazing proboscis monkeys. They are rare. They only live at some spots in Borneo. It is difficult to make a picture of them with our simple camera as they sit high in the trees between the leaves. With our binoculars we see the big nose of a male. That nose makes this monkey so famous. The locals used to call them 'orang belanda', Dutchmen, because the Dutch also had big noses. We see how the nose is hindering the male while he tries to eat the leaves of the tree. So, what for do these males have such a big noses? It is like with the fiddlercrabs. The bigger the nose, the more succes with the females. Now we also can see the genitalia. They are only small compared with the nose. So why would a big nose (or a big claw with the male fiddlercrabs) be so attractive for a female? In both instances it hinders the male to eat. The Israelian biologist Amotz Zahavi calls it the handicapprinciple. According to him are animals which can afford themselves to have such handicaps, better equipped
to survive and therefore more attractive to females. When we look again through our binoculars we see a prominent belly. Proboscis monkeys have enormous bellies, because they have big stomachs. Like a cow they need extended stomachs to digest their food. Unlike most monkeys they eat leaves and seeds instead of sweet fruits. And these leaves and seeds have weaponed themselves against to be eaten with chemicals like tannin. Specially the trees here which grow upon a poor soil, have lots of chemicals. It is like the acacia's which grow in Southern Africa.
At night we make a guided walk across the jungle. We do not see so much, only some fluorescent mushrooms, a tarantula, some sleeping swifts, several poisonous centipeds, a poisonous treefrog and a catfish. It seems we have also seen a civetcat and a mousedeer.
Next day Linda and I follow the Lintangtrail. It is a hike of 6 kilometer, in the beginning steep uphill, then over an open plain and in the end a steep descent. We have enough water with us, food, repellant, first aid kit, caps and sunprotection. Before we leave we tell the reception what our plans are. Once we have
left the beachvegetation and mangroveforest behind us, we pass some swamps and climb the steep cliffs along the coast. We walk under the impressive dipterocarpustrees with their big buttresses. Specially in Borneo they live. The higher we come the lower the trees. We are walking over a tapestry of roots. Once on the plateau nature changes at once. We have arrived in the kerangas, the open shrubland. The soil consists of white sand, which means there are hardly any nutrients in the soil. We expect to find pitcherplants. And indeed after a while we see pitcherplants everywhere: the flaskshaped pitcherplant, the slender pitcherplant and the big Raffles' pitcherplant. We see how some insects enter the cups, lured by their smell. Linda with her sharp eyes also discovers sundews. They are so tiny, that I hardly see them. Even more intriguing are the antplants. The base of their stem are swollen and home to ants. The ants make tunnels inside. The advance for the plant is that it picks up the rests of the food of the ants. It is a kind of mutualism. The most bizar plants we see are special ferns which are home to ants. We see orchids,
clubmosses, conifers, lillies and casuaristrees. When we go down again we see the gigantic leaves of the Pandanus and the even bigger leaves of the rare stemless crocodiletail palm. Back in the mangroveforest we try to find the horseshoe crab, but we do not succeed. Along the beach we see a silvered leaf monkey. He is completely alone and it looks like he is not aware of us. We arrive back at our basecamp after 6 hours walking. Gunung gading National Park
The last day in Sarawak we used to visit this park. It is one of the few spots where you can see the Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world. The first day we arrived in Kuching we asked if they were flowering, as they only flower once in 9 months. They gave us litlle chance it would flower during our stay here. But then we see a little note at the wall of the guesthouse that they are flowering. And they only flower 6 -7 days. We take a taxi to the park and ask the driver to wait. At the entrance we take a guide. Edmond is his name. The plants stand only 15
minutes walking from the entrance. It is the Rafflesia tuan-mudae
, which can get as big as 1 meter. The first one is still in the button, the second one is allready gone. The third one is ok, but only 24 cm wide. But the last one is phantastic. Its diameter is 68 cm and it stands right in some sunrays. Actually the flower is ugly, like an old second hand bag, left behind by someone. I expect them to smell terribly. I even heard that people fainted because of the stench. But I do not smell anything. Still there are a lot of flies in and around the flower, shiny carrionflies which you normally find on rotting meat or dung. So I poke my nose as far as possible in the flower. Actually my face is surrounded by the flower and I hear the flies around my head. Indeed I smell something. 'Only male flowers stink', says Edmond. 'This is a female flower. You can feel it, when you go with your fingers around the inner plate.' I try to feel it, but I do not know what I am supposed to feel. 'It is smooth, so it is a
female', says Edmond. 'Actually it is a parasite. Here is the host. It is a vine, called Terastigma.' 'Why they are so rare?', asks Linda. 'It is because male and females stand far apart in the jungle. That makes pollination difficult.' Back Home
Next day we leave Kuching. Via Kuala Lumpur we fly to Bangkok, where we stay in the Ramputtri Village Inn, our familiar address in Bangkok. The day after we took the train to Hua Hin, our home.
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