No lycra please

Can’t hike because most of the trails are part of kampung communities who’ve taken pandemic pre-emptive measures by banning outsiders from entering. National parks are open, but a lot of rstrictions. Gyms are still closed where I am. Only thing left is working out from home or running.

Truth is, I hate running. But I’m slowly enjoying cycling. It’s a little chilling to do it by the highways and feel cars speeding past. Being able to cover a much further area and feel the wind in my face, while also getting in some consistent cardio? I’m so in.

A dog got hit by a 4WD somewhere in front of me, along a tight incline. The bloody driver went too fast, skidded slightly, and continued on their bloody merry way. Poor doggo 😢

I did the furthest trek yesterday, about 25 kilometers. Up and down windy hills next to roads with no shoulders. I pushed the bike uphill more than I rode it. The bike is an old, regular one. It’s still working well, a little creak here and there. I even bought rechargeable lights for the front and back. Next item on the list would a proper helmet. I’m pretty sure I won’t start wearing lycra though. I’m not that obsessed. The plan is to build up and cover longer distances. The solitude of being able to set out on my own really appeals. The older I get, increasingly distancing myself from being beholden to other people. Life is complicated enough, I just want some freedom. Am I running away? Maybe.

Which also brings into question how much gear I’m willing to collect… I already have a ton of outdoor trekking stuff for hikes and camping, and with the lockdown some basic workout shit like bands. I really enjoy an essentialist lifestyle, besides being cheaper it usually means less cleaning and finding places to store stuff. I guess if it sparks joy, it’s alright?

Shit I see on my evening walks

There’s a Malaysian joke going around.

2020: I’m going to Paris when this is over.

2021: I’m definitely going to KL and chill.

Now: I just want to go to Lundu.

That’s how absurd this entire pandemic management has been in Malaysia. For better or worse, Sarawak has entered “Phase 2”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They PR team probably ran out of letters from the alphabet.

I try to do some outside activity daily, to get my mind off things. It doesn’t help much, but what else is there? I suppose I can go down the drink and smoke rabbithole again.

From the planet Earth, my world is now reduced to this microcosm of neighborhoods in the suburbs. Although when I say suburb, in Sarawak it usually means some form of wild, unkempt frontier-like land bordering uniform homes regurgitated by bored architects. There is a sense of purpose, some days, that spark of newness rekindled for a few minutes as I walk, or jog, or cycle someplace new. It doesn’t fill me with joy precisely, but the background noise becomes diminished just a little.

I hate how the conversation now revolves on being thankful for what you have, versus so many out there that have lost jobs and struggle to eke a living. I’m human, and for many of us, while we can still put food on the table, doesn’t make what’s happening easier, emotionally and mentally. So don’t, don’t pull the Thanksgiving card on me. I can sympathize with those worse off than I am, while also wallowing in my own sense of despair and fatigue. The foreboding uncertainty that plagues me from the moment I wake, to the automated responses I perform just to act in a play of comical normalcy.

There is no point, when the goal post shifts 10 paces every time you take one.

Well, this escalated quickly. Enjoy some of the nice pictures!

By the river of Sarawak *sing it*
This gives me Kimi no Na wa vibes
Not saying I completely believe in this shit but wouldn’t an Annabelle thing follow me just cos I picked up some damn fruit.
Wonder what’s it like up there

City Cycle Tour with Anthropocene Homestay

A friend operates a low profile, hole-in-the-wall dig somewhere in Jalan Ang Cheng Ho, Kuching. While there hasn’t been any travelers since the pandemic, it was ramping up since the opening. As perks of friendship, the owner an avid urban cyclist himself, took the time out of his busy schedule to test a city cycle tour with me, and I’m hardly a fan of cycling by the roads if you’ve seen how the lack of cycling lanes are a problem.

Tun Salahuddin Bridge

Honestly, the most I’ve cycled are within suburban residential housings where traffic is less. So it was a new experience for me. This is a look at the inner city of Kuching, from the old to the new to the poorly planned.

One of the many riverine Malay kampungs

We started at Anthropocene Homestay and made our way via Blacksmith Lane, following the Sarawak river towards Pending and crossing the Tun Salahuddin Bridge. From there, we veered left and made our way via the riverine Malay kampungs all the way to the Darul Hana bridge just in time to catch the sunset. Also pitstops at the incompleted Kuching Botanical Gardens. The area around the DUN, or State Legislative Assembly is still under construction to beautify the space with a park and recreational area. The loop was completed by cycling slightly after dark along the Padungan and Kuching Municipal Council Flats to wind up back at the homestay.

Wisma Bapa Malaysia

I’m more of a walking person. Everywhere I travel, I walk. Kilometers were never a problem. Looking at Kuching from the vantage of a bicycle ride was fairly interesting if a bit nerve wracking (from the lack of bicycle lanes). I particularly enjoyed the ride through the riverine Malay kampungs from Bintawa up to Boyan. The tights lanes and alleys, homes crowded together with people walking on shoulders, the smell and sights reminded me so much of Indonesia. Sad is the day when all these kampungs would be relocated to the Darul Hana Resettlement Scheme as part of a major push by state authorities to gentrify the Sarawak riverbank into yet another stale Kuching Waterfront extension.

State Legislative Assembly

Would I do it again? Perhaps, once my thighs and butt heal. Do I prefer cycling versus walking? Never.

View from the Darul Hana Bridge

In conclusion, if he ever opens up this tour completely to the public in a post pandemic future, I’d say take it. Seeing the inner city with the eyes of a local is probably so much more rewarding.

Kuching, a city at a crossroads

What is Gawai?

It’s that time of the year when the Dayak Harvest Festival rolls around. Celebrated officially by government mandate on June 1st and 2nd every year since the 60s, it used to be celebrated after specific communities/villages complete their harvesting cycle, on different dates. Now Gawai has become a modern festival that celebrates culture, bonds of community, indigenous identity and of course, food and alcohol.

This time we’re celebrating Gawai in an almost Total Lockdown(MCO/PKP). No ngabang (visiting), socialising with family and friends over tuak and barbecue pork, no cultural parades and overly filled bellies. It’s a quieter affair, a #GawaiAtHome if you will, simple dinners, talks over social media and the internet. Everyone agrees it’s a strange feeling. I don’t miss the drinking too much, considering I drink even without Gawai as an excuse.

But I was thinking (time is all we have now, stuck at home). What is Gawai?

Gawai used to be celebrated as a form of thanksgiving to the spirits, for a bountiful harvest. It also marks the end of another agricultural cycle keyed heavily towards rice. With the growth of foreign religions introduced via colonizers, like Christianity and Islam, the old practices have fallen by the wayside except in small pockets of Sarawak and Sabah. Only in Kalimantan, Indonesia, is animism still regularly observed. Less agricultural activities is also tied to the (perceived) growing irrelevance of Gawai adat.

I’m not trying to romanticize the past, Pulanggana knows the restrictions of old faiths were a burden at times. Gawai a century ago would have been so different. To illustrate, a modern Gawai is usually opened by a Gawai Eve dinner with family, Ngintu Ari Gawai. Food is cooked, drinks are shared, everyone catches up. On Gawai Day proper, open houses abundant, we visit friends and they visit us. Many get drunk throughout the next few days, enjoying food and company. Events like the Pekit Kumang and Keling (beauty pageants), cultural parades in villages, dinners and village level celebrations go on at the same time, gongs sounding, karaoke machine blaring.

Take away all that with the restrictions in place this year. Only dinner with close family on the eve, and then back to normal the next day. I think as we move further and further away from the inherent spirituality of Gawai, we’re still finding something to hold on to. To some, the spiritual aspect of Gawai goes against their religion. For others, overreliance on alcohol to imbibe, because they think that’s what Gawai should feel like, a constant hangover.

During modern Gawai, it’s not uncommon to see the majority (young and old) glued to their smartphones, updating their celebrations on social media, swept by the romance of it all. So many people can afford things like alcohol and meat these days, having them on Gawai doesn’t seem exciting anymore. As we lose touch with that spirituality and connection to the land (which is how indigenous communities create their narrative and place their identity within the historical landscape), Gawai loses its significance as nothing more than a shallow celebration of material culture, like Christmas. So many of the younger generation, while they love the idea of Gawai as a marker of identity, no longer know the significance of their own culture, their relationship to the land or the context of why they are, who they are. Yes, it is re-negotiating cultural identity in a new millennium, marrying a secular, scientific and often capitalistic worldview with the more communal, rigid social structure of collective responsibility.

But I fear unless we can find a balance, soon Gawai will be nothing more than a word, an indulgence, the thanksgiving gone like the padi dust in the wind.

Telok Pandan, Bako NP and the importance of choosing partners

I think Bako deserved being the most visited national park in Sarawak pre-COVID. It’s a beautifully diverse coastal landscape that, unlike much of Sarawak, is more rocky, with sheared rock faces, pockets and bays, wildlife that stops to chill in front of you and seawater that’s a no-go zone (saltwater crocs, oh Sarawak).

So, so blue Princess Santubong

I took a solo hike to Telok Pandan, having previously done the Tanjung Rhu and Tajor trails a while back. With new SOPs, only 2 trails were open, Pandan and Paku. However, upon enquiry, the rangers said that overnighters have a bit more leeway compared to daytrippers. It had been a rainy month, so we were lucky to arrive in Bako with cloudless, blue skies. The trek to Telok Pandan Besar and Telok Pandan Kecil was nice, although starting out at late noon left me sunburnt. The humidity of trekking at about 100 meters above sea level along Kerangas Forest, or “land that cannot grow paddy” from the acidic sandy soil, can make Bako treks difficult for those unused to the heat. I find humid air thicker to breathe.

Telok Pandan Besar

The view was beautiful along both Pandans, with an obvious favourite for Pandan Kecil and the cliffside view. I was too lazy to trek down to the beach, so I took a break on the rocky cliff, enjoying the salt air and warm wind blowing inland.

Channeling my inner Lawrence of Arabia at Telok Pandan Kecil

The first time I came to Bako was during kindergarten, I think. I vaguely remember the bearded pigs and sneaky monkeys. This time it was still no different. We took one of the older lodges right behind the HQ, with a revolving group of bearded pigs keeping our front lawn company. Saw the proboscis monkeys tearing away at the trees near the HQ too in the late noon.

On the way back the next day (which must be done via boat to the mainland side HQ), we paid the boatman to take us up and around Pulau Lakei. Lakei was still closed due to a landslide. The waters there are safe to swim, the tiny island being slightly off the Bako headland, with simple park accommodations. Seeing Santubong in the distance, sprouting from the sea in her signature sleeping pose.

Batu Patung, or Idol Rock at Pulau Lakei

It was a very short 1 night trip. I wished I had longer to unwind there. Places like these are best enjoyed in 2 nights or more. It would be interesting, to one day trek the Telok Limau-Kruin-Po section which has been closed for a very long time. But to do more arduous endeavors require a different set of people that also seek the same.

The Seastack that graces most promotional material for Bako NP

That’s the thing about travel and adventure, isn’t it? A travel partner or hiking buddy can make or break your trip. I’ve been going on most travels solo for a while now, preferring to make convenient relationships on the road where its more likely you’ll meet like minded fellows. Granted, it won’t be perfect every time. I remember a Sumatran trip I took years ago, with a partner that was less than ideal. Spontaneous side trips were no longer possible (invited by a local to go back to his village), plus the constant complaining while we were roughing it out on a budget. I have regrets from that experience, but maybe I’ll do it again someday. Same is said for outdoor trips with certain group members that have a different direction than you; it can make for a very uncomfortable trip. I’d like to think I’m more discerning and wiser today than I was 10 years ago. Because in the end, like sex, my satisfaction matters too.

Trying my hand at night mobile photography

The -Thing

I was asked, for the 15,000th time whether I’m “still doing the tuak-thing”.

Usually it doesn’t get to me. It’s part of the package running a small business full time, and a good opportunity to network or connect with potential new clients. Yet somehow, yesterday, it triggered a form of fatigue.

I’m sure when people ask whether I’m still running a niche business full time isn’t always purposefully malicious, but there’s an underlying assumption at play. They already know that’s what I’m doing, yet for many it still seems something quite incredulous to almost be unworkable or possible. Yes, it’s a business that fill the demands that hasn’t previously been adequately fulfilled, while also transforming the model to be more inventive, innovative and relevant. It sits in limbo sometimes. The cherry on the proverbial cake is I’m making things up as I go along. If there’s a rule book somewhere, well, I haven’t seen one yet.

This “tuak-thing” has consistently paid my bills the past 2.5 years. I have a car and a house. I do acknowledge the privilege that allowed me to grow, and the intellectual capacity to see beyond.

I’m not Elon going to the moon, or khairulaming and his sambal empire. I’ll probably never be super rich, and I’m fine with that. Because the money I earn from doing this, buys me time. Time to do the things I love and explore the places I have always wanted to go, the idea of

So the next time you talk to a small business owner or entrepreneur, don’t say the “cake-thing”, or “cooking-thing”. It might seem like a small word, but the suffix “thing” is almost callous and/or condescending in its implication. Which drives the parts of us to prove ourselves even more singular.

I didn’t get to where I am now by taking offense from other people all the time. But I am human, with mortal flaws. Even if we seem like Diogenes most of the time.

Thanks for coming to my TedTalk. Now go out there and have fun.

A Singai River Trek

Row, row, row your feet,

Gently up the stream,

Steadily, steadily, steadily, steadily,

Time is but a dream.

Adis River is probably not widely known, even within the nearest urban city of Kuching. People do know Adis Buan or Pinggir Siak, now placenames among the middle class urbanites as jungle staycations in the Singai region, about 30 minutes away.

Thing is, the river that connects these 2 places, along with other “eco-tourism” recreational areas (here I use the world very loosely) like Adis Tiporang, are all located along the same river, with the first name Adis to signify the river, and a suffix which is the local land name adjoining the river at that specific point. Having been to some of these places separately, I became intrigued with the idea of doing a long trek following the river, and seeing this part of Singai from the waterway’s point of view.

We started at Adis Opai, one of the latest downstream sections of the land to be opened with a bailey bridge and red earth roads navigable by 4×4. Right next to the main road, we began to make our way upstream. I had the privilege of being joined by a local friend to provide some insight into locations and changes through the decades, and he was eager to join not having traversed the length of Adis river in one ago before.

The Adis river itself is usually quite shallow and clear, with trees fringing the banks on both sides where agriculture hasn’t really made a footprint there yet. Gaint boulders and smooth, rounded sandstone pebbles covered the river’s bottom, occasionally mounded along the sides to create a karangan, or “rocky river islands”. The banks itself are usually blanketed in soft, off-white sand. Along the way, some spots are pretty deep, marked by a distinct and uneasy blackness called ribu.

We crossed passed a high, sheer face cliff with trees and roots dangling down before arriving in Adis Serian. Hot from the trek, we threw down our waterproof bags and soaked for a bit. Then we continued our journey to Adis Tiporang, 3 kilometers from Adis Opai. From the river, we could hear the clanging of hammer on metal and wood, work being done to refurbish the Adis Tiporang Resort.

Along the way, we bumped into clods of river snails, fishes and water spiders. The day grew hotter and clusters of locals cooling themselves or fishing in different parts became more frequent. We reached probably the most expansive ribu right before Adis Suan, marked by an angular left turn, and the beginning of the section where human activity is minimal. After reaching Adis Siak, the home of Pinggir Siak, the stretch there up to Adis Sori is so quiet the most you could hear are birds and insects. Even the familiar thrumming of cars and motorbikes disappeared totally. We avoided the ribu’s by veering onto the banks and making our way by land until we could see the water has shallowed out more.

Waterways are fascinating things. It’s like a window in time, especially places where the modern mode of transport is now by land: roads and cars. Kampung Segong, where the primary section of this trek happened, is spread very wide, with settlements within spread throughout all corners, and orchards and farms in places there aren’t always road access yet. The Bidayuh were always known as walkers rather than river riders. But they did utilize waterways when available. Walking along the length of a river, it provides context and understanding to the lay of the land. While it probably matters more for those coming from the place, for outsiders like myself, I’d like to think of it as a learning experience. That alternative narratives always exist.

Finally, after almost 9 kilometers and 5 hours, we arrived at Adis Buan, our last stop for this trek. We were a bit itchy, and tired, but all worth it. Obviously the water continues upstream beyond Adis Buan and downstream beyond Adis Opai, but that’s an adventure for another day.

City-seeking in Kuching

If you read this blog long enough, you’d know my forte is the outdoors, specifically hiking. Walking moderately. In consistent steps. For hours. It’s a wonderful feeling, even if I bitch during the trek about getting myself in a strenuous spot, looking up sheer faces with foreboding eyes.

Jogging is… well, another beast entirely. I’ve run a few marathons a decade or so ago, but never got completely into it. It’s repetitive and bore the shit out of me. But, I do see the benefits, especially how it translates to better mobility and endurance during long treks. So I have started doing the walk-jog-walk thing a little more regularly now.

The telecom tower on Bukit Hantu that used to be very visible at night

Joining a friend living in downtown Kuching, between weatherworn commercial lots, far from the glitzy Kuching Waterfront, he took me on a run, reasoning (aptly) that the reason I hate jogging is the absence of change. So we did a 6km loop around the older parts of the city.

It was my first time on foot along Bukit Hantu, for as long as I could remember always passing by in a car. That’s where I began notice small details about the area, which, in a moving vehicle moving at 60km/h you’d probably miss. And I consider myself quite observant.

This brings living with observant intention, as I’d like to say, to the fore of our existence in places we consider home. For so many, they just want to get from Point A to Point B. Where before people cycled or walked, the automotive industry has made more people single-minded on their journeys to everywhere. So focused on getting to their destination, the same route they’ve been taking a million times might yield something new if they actually walked along it.

The rugby field near Song Kheng Hai as we rounded the end of our run along the old KMC flats.

It translates to other facets of the modern urban life, like travel in foreign countries. Where landmarks are checked off a prepared list, not giving space for much discoveries along the way. The thing is, sometimes more beautiful things are the mundane, like the way the sun hits behind the crack in the wall of a concrete facade, or the way locals interact along a 60s era wired balcony during an evening after work. Sad to say, with smartphones today, the majority of urban dwellers are slowly losing touch with their environments.

So get out there, take a walk in your neighborhoods, and pretend for a few minutes to hold a childlike zeal, with fresh eyes and open minds. I’m confident you’ll see something you never noticed was there.

Slacking in Pinggir Siak

Summit chaser is gaining notoriety nowadays, not a coincidence it sounds similar to clout chaser. In the end both means the same thing in its own way, I guess?

I remember in 2019 I was a bit of that. More than half the weekends of that year it was constant climbs and treks. By the end, happy as I was, a creeping sense of fatigue was settling on the bones. Then COVID-19 happened, putting the brakes so suddenly it did feel like I was in car whose brakes were pushed to the floor in a split second.

2021 is less about chasing anything. More like finding meaningful experiences, with family, new friends or old ones. Pinggir Siak in Singai was just that. A rustic cabin built by the banks of Adis River, it’s well known for weekend staycationers looking for some jungle time with a group of friends. From the parking area (a relative of the owner), it’s a 20 minute trek on mostly level terrain and orchards. When arriving, you’ll be greeted by the permanent residents, two very chonky cats!

Most recognize this specific portion of the river by the swing hung from a tree right above the river where many a social media photos have been taken. The water is cool and clear, not very deep. I explored the upper and lower reaches of this section with some interesting sights. Thank the gods I brought my aqua shoes. One special feature I find about Adis is that the river is covered in rounded rocks and pebbles, with sandy banks and interlocking tree roots. That makes the entire river clear, compared to many in the area that is earth based.

7 of us, and half took the dinner menu prepared by the accommodation and the other half brought Sarawak’s favourite pastime, BBQ. A kitchen and fireplace is provided, and of course, we drank the night away while the jungle slowly woke up as the sky grew dark.

I woke up early to rain, watching the mist descend on the hills around us. Cold as it was, I joined a friend and jumped straight into the river. Sure enough, the cold water washed all the alcohol from the night before.

Let’s all have waterfronts

Kampung Telaga Air on a weekend is… overwhelming. An idyllic kampung sitting along the banks of Sungai Sibu, this fishing village via government development has grown into something of a tourism spot for locals from the surrounding districts.

The name itself comes from a so-called lopak or spring that never dried located within the kampung. Before venturing out into the peat mangroves of the area, locals would wash their hands and face with water from the spring. It’s said it protects them from unnatural inhabitants of the region. The lopak became a well (Telaga Air), thus the name was taken for the kampung.

Today, visitors can enjoy fishing trips, boat rides along the river and seafood. Which is what I did, but only the seafood part because I don’t like fishing. A central jetty is built as the landmark, fringed by a beautiful park. While balmy, a fresh, salty breeze occasionally cools the place down. A waterfront runs a short length before ending in a achorage for fishing boats, tied behind some restaurants, rickety plankwalks cut into the art deco-ish metal barriers.

I did notice something, which has become somewhat emblematic of these so-called government attention on small communities specifically, and all spaces at large. The infrastructure was decaying. Paints peeling, amenities broken, rusted, disused piles of metal poles lay forgotten in various intervals like some sort of abstract art piece (gasp! maybe it is). Like so much of our society today, we aren’t able to function without intervention from those who administrate (or rather, rule) us. Gone are our agency to change the world around us. If anything, we’ve fallen deeper into this patron-client relationship, feudalism in all but name.

You see this more and more as you explore smaller towns and bazaars. A decaying infrastructure hidden by slick drone shots. The locals/grassroots don’t have a stake in these facilities. With the land, yes, but the government mandated programs? Not so much. Thus, they place the burden of maintenance on the authorities. Soon, this bleeds into other facets of their life as they become totally subsumed into their submissive role. Almost every other month, another new waterfront is proudly announced for yet another town in Sarawak, the virtues of it for the community expounded like the word of God. Even the the road leading to Kampung Telaga Air is the Matang FAC Highway, a massive, well-paved dual-lane highway to NOWHERE which is now a trunk road to some of the outlying coastal regions when so much of our main highways are still not yet done. Sigh

Unfortunately I have to contrast this with our closest neighbor, Kalimantan. They’re definitely far behind us, so far away from the radar of their respective governments as to almost not exist. Precisely for this reason, they roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and make things work the best they could. In many instances, they actually thrive. In Sarawak my dear homeland, the long tentacles of “bare-minimum effort” by those who want nothing more than to win the next election has reached all the way to the remotest communities and even they have slowly lost their independence and agency. Anang ngelaban perintah, that should be our motto.

Sad, from an actually proud people, to being made to believe they have any actual pride left.

Anyway, rant done. We did visit Pantai Trombol and Muara Sungai Sibu after this but that’s a story for a different day.

Look at that Santubong view