Tag: East Malaysia

No posts for a while – I’m on the road again

strange nose – sort of like the proboscis monkey

I know many bloggers and travel writers do blog while on the road – I rarely do! However, I will be posting a photo a day.

Why? Well, I’m always too busy ‘doing’ ‘observing’ ‘photographing’ – as well as eating and generally ‘experiencing’ rather than writing.

As some of you know I will be at music and cultural festivals, I’ll also be exploring and hiking in national parks, snorkeling in warm waters, and, and and – so lots to follow in my daily photos and then the future blogs on this site.

So, if you want to follow my travels in Malaysia, (Sabah, Sarawak Penang, & KL) and Mongolia) follow me on my Traveling Writer Facebook page, and/or my KiwiTravelWriter Instagram page as I plan on posting a photo a day during my adventures over the five weeks I’m on the road. (I’m leaving NZ 30th June and back on 7th August)

Then, if you want to read my blogs after I have digested all I saw and experienced on these travels (And get notified by email as they are published) make sure you sign up for this blog on the top right of this blog page.

Now I will zip up my bags and head off to  the airport – see you back here in August.

Of course you can read any of the some 1300 blogs I’ve written since 2008 – just use the search box by topic, country, year or word.

 

Kuching Wetlands National Park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.

It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping  offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove
getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)
Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)

To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans!  I hope one day people will see  one in the trees I've planted
Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans! I hope one day people will see one in the trees I’ve planted

Planting mangroves in Malaysian Borneo

we arrive at the park
we arrive at the park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort where I’m staying under the shadow of Mt.Santubong and beside the Sarawak Cultural Village ), is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) – the estuarine reaches of the two rivers.

It’s also where I will be planting mangrove trees next week as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts – this time with wonderful Rainforest World Music Festival. I did the same a year ago, helping to offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

hh sarawak IMG_2148
I plant mangroves in the Kuching Wetlands National Park in 2014

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shorebirds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork.

In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work at
We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work. Note: Mount Santubong is just visible behind the tents

 

Malaysia truly Asia: Sarawak ticks all the boxes

Malaysian Borneo – land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to travel brochures:  Sarawak could also be called the land of paradoxes and it ticks all the boxes.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and about 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous ethnic groups, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and beside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre about 70 people attend the twice daily feeding. Free to range in this 740 acre green belt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats many ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominate male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is being fed.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like adverts say ‘but wait there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. Travelling in July? The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival – set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and as you know, if you follow my blog, I soon returned to the land of head-hunters for more exploring!

Turtles Galore … my bucket-list item achieved in Sarawak, Malaysia!

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population. The park includes the coastline and sea around four islands in southwest Sarawak: this area has 95% of all turtle landings in Sarawak.  I’m thrilled to stay overnight on two of them. One turtle arrived on the first island, ten on this one,  Talang-Talang.

I arrive on Talang Talang - photo by Gustino
I arrive on Talang Talang – photo by Gustino Basuan Sarawak Tourism Board

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-lived creatures, but only about one in one thousand eggs grow to maturity about 30 to 50 years old!

Ten turtles arrive overnight and I watch as they laboriously dig the holes for the nest, lay about 80 eggs, cover them up and go back to sea. We then see the forestry staff carefully dig them up, record the details,  and rebury them safe from predators.

I hope some of the sixty hatched eggs (that had been buried safely about 45 days earlier)  that I was privilege to count into the release bucket, are among those very low odds and return to this island to complete the process.

My photos tell the story. (There are no overnight photos for 2 reasons – one, I wanted to just enjoy the experience and two, it’s hard to photograph at night with no flash allowed!)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A turtle may lay 10,000 eggs in her lifetime, but once they reach the sea, as few as 10 hatchlings will survive to reach maturity. Some don’t even get to the sea … ghost crabs and birds are always waiting for a meal to appear.

The Sarawak Forestry has conservation programmes at which volunteers can help (holidays with a purpose) : the eggs are either removed from nests and placed in guarded hatcheries, or left in place and guarded round the clock by Sarawak Forestry wardens. After 40 to 60 days incubation, young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

Please note: The Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is not suitable for everyone. Accommodation facilities are basic and everyone is expected to help with cooking and cleaning-up. Volunteers join a team of dedicated conservation experts whose mission is to monitor every turtle landing on the island and so help to preserve Sarawak’s natural heritage. Volunteers can expect a rewarding ‘Back to Nature’ experience but should bear in mind that the programme is not a beach holiday.

More Info http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-satang.html 

And here is a not very good video of ‘our turtle’ being released 

 

Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!
Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!

 

What is Jazz? .. the musicians answer me!

ParkCity Everly Hotel
ParkCity Everly Hotel

 

Before I attended the Borneo Jazz Festival  in Miri, Sarawak, (May 2014) I asked “What is Jazz?” and I came to no real answer so said I would ask the performers once I was able to talk to them at the  ParkCity Everly Hotel.

Worldwide, jazz festivals are really popular and the local organisers in Sarawak decided they could not afford to be the same as every other jazz festival so the people selected to come to Malaysian Borneo are all very different creating a small and perfectly formed music festival. This year, by chance, vocals and piano were big in this 2014 event. (Next year is the 10th annual Jazz festival so I expect there will be big celebrations for this milestone)

However, this, in part,  is what some of those performers said in reply to the query ‘what is jazz?’

The crowd-pleasing group was Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella group from Cuba . The band is 25 years old and the trip to Miri was part of the celebration. They said Cuba is a very rich musical environment in which both old and young like jazz … but no explanation why their music is jazz … it seems improvisation will be the common denominator answer!

Mario Canonge is a great musician and showman who plays creole jazz with West Indies rhythms. Originally from Martinique he now lives in France  and said”Jazz is just a word. When you improvise you are jazz’.

Anthony Strongpianist and singer, hailed as ‘England’s new jazz superstar’, sings mostly classical jazz and I missed his interview so a few days later, over breakfast at the Royal Mulu Resort I asked him the same ‘what is jazz’ question. He responded with “I’m sure if you Google it there will be heaps of people who have written many theses on the topic!” All true – he went on to say he thought not all jazz was improv; that the term is an umbrella for many forms of the music.  Just like ‘world music’ has no specific musical genre – that there must be 500 different forms of music that comes under the label – and jazz is the same.

YK Band from Indonesia featured jazz with a Borneo flavour and the locals particularly loved this group – who also couldn’t give a simple answer to my question.

Iriaoa Georgian ethno-jazz band said each area had its own ‘folk’ music and all were different … and although they didn’t give me a definition of jazz they said that Georgian music and jazz were sent to space as a part of  ’13 masterpieces.’

Both evenings of the festival concluded with a jam session all the musicians ( inside the hotel) which was certainly improv .. so maybe was ‘really jazz’, while in the Pavillion beside the ‘Stage by the Sea’  DJ Roundhead had a popular Club Set: crowned the ‘Malaysia DJ Champion’ three years in a row he has a 20 year history in the local music industry.

Junk o Func, (with 12 people) grabbed the stage and entertained us with punchy, gospel-influenced vocals and playful, interaction with each other and the audience – who loved them. (I predict they will return!)

So what is jazz .. to me it seems it’s jazz if you say its jazz! So make up your own mind or become one of the thesis-writing uni students and spend years studying the genre.

So, if you love jazz, if you love music, if you would love to laze around the pool (or beach) all day, eat and then experience great jazz at night, the Borneo  Jazz Festival is for you! (repeat daily!)

If it’s World music that you like, Sarawak also hosts a festival which is also by the beach! Rainforest Word Music Festival (#rwmf). I’ll I’ll be at in Kuching, Sarawak in a week for both the Rainforest the Borneo World Expo at the Hilton  – I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort for the RWMF and at the Hilton for the expo … see you there! 🙂

Andy Kho: official photographer
Andy Kho: official photographer at the Borneo Jazz Festival

What is jazz?

I was confused at my first jazz festival. I thought jazz was the music I listened to on the streets of New Orleans but not all the performers and their music were like that at the Christchurch Jazz Festival  (New Zealand). I loved the music but I wasn’t sure it was jazz!

I also heard music that was labelled jazz at WOMAD New Plymouth (NZ) – I thought it was big band or ska so knew I was missing something.

Now that I’m off the annual Borneo Jazz Festival (Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia) it’s time to do some research (via Google) but find even the people writing about it there have different opinions – but there are many similarities.

Part of the audience in 2013.
Part of the audience in 2013.

Wiki tells me: ‘Jazz is a type of African-American music that originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the Southern United States as a combination of European harmony and forms with African musical elements such as blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note.[1] Jazz has also incorporated elements of American popular music.[2]

It goes on  ‘As it spread around the world, jazz drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, giving rise to many distinctive styles’    and it was in this list I started to recognise styles I knew;  New Orleans jazz, big band swing,  1940s bebop, and  ska jazz.

Think the quote attributed to Louis Armstrong, sums it up for me!  He was one of the most famous musicians in jazz when he said to Bing Crosby on the latter’s radio show, “Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation, then they called it ragtime, then blues, then jazz. Now, it’s swing. White folks – yo’all sho is a mess!”[3][4]

So seems I was not alone in being confused, a ’mess’ I carried on reading then and thought a blog about ‘What is Jazz?’ seemed a way to clarify it for me and anyone else who is all a mess too.

Here are some bullet points about what I learnt: ( thanks to the people and pages quotes)

In a 1988 interview, trombonist J. J. Johnson said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will”.

In a CNN OPINION ( @CNNOpinion) piece  Jonathan Batiste (Stay Human Band and is the associate artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.(@jonbatiste)  said ‘This is an impossible question, and one with many answers.’

. . . contemporary jazz seems too circuitous for most listeners to enjoy casually. The challenge for the contemporary jazz musician, as I see it, is making this subtle and complex art palatable to the greater public. Jazz is complex.

. . . to play jazz is to contribute to world history. To be a part of this tradition means that you are challenged to transform other people with the sound of your instrument. You are challenged to swing. You are challenged to contribute to the body of work established by some of the greatest artistic minds of all time, work that includes these treasures:

• A performance of “Fine and Mellow” by Billie Holiday, Lester Young and others from a CBS television broadcast in New York on December 8, 1957.

• “It Don’t Mean A Thing” by Duke Ellington features catchy vocals, hard swing, jazz violin and awesome horn section parts that epitomize what the jazz tradition is all about.

• “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” from the album by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. It is a supreme example of the blues with utmost sophistication and feeling. The way Duke accompanies Satchmo is masterful, and the personality of the two of them signifies what jazz is all about.

 Jazz is an experience; it’s all about the moment –  it’s the language that we use to state our deepest, truest feelings; It is the American art form that is globally owned. (Jonathan Batiste).

In part All About Jazz tells me . . .

“The most pressing, in my opinion is “What Is Jazz?” Or, more to the point, “What Is Jazz Right At This Moment?” The old definitions, which themselves were inadequate and vague, composed of personal biases and half-truths, are now completely antiquated. Just think about the difference between what defined the simple telephone thirty years ago, compared to today’s reality of what a telephone is. And compare today’s smartphones to what a telephone was just five years ago. The more you think about it, the more you realize not only how far things have come, and how quickly they are changing, but how much your own initial definitions are rooted in long-held ideas that no longer apply. “

“While these definitions still apply to some of Our Music, it is no longer descriptive of the entire purview of Jazz. Electric and electronic instruments now share the stage with the classic horns, strings and keyboards that have been standard instrumentation almost since the very beginning. It is incorporating more world music from Middle Eastern to Asian.

None of that really answers the question of what Jazz is right now, possibly because that is virtually impossible to define. Jazz is a living thing, Jazz breathes, it grows, it changes, it adapts.

To summarise Jazz in America

  • It is partly planned and partly spontaneous;
  • “in the moment” this is called improvisation and is the defining /key element of jazz
  • There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble: individual freedom but with responsibility to the group. In other words, individual musicians have the freedom to express themselves on their instrument as long as they maintain their responsibility to the other musicians by adhering to the overall framework and structure of the tune
  • it’s kind of like musical conversation.
  • is like a language.
  • the spontaneity heard (or “felt”) in jazz requires the listener to be alert at all times to the ever-changing aspects of a given interpretation of a tune.
  • the same jazz tune (song) is never performed the same way twice; while it might start and end the same, the middle part is played differently every time.
  • In jazz, it’s more about the way a song is played, rather than what song is played.
  • In order to be able to hear the difference, you’ve got to listen a lot; the more you listen to a particular jazz musician, the more you’re able to recognize that player by his/her sound alone.
  • Jazz is hard to play but good players make it look easy.

I’ve decided I’m just going to listen and enjoy the international and local performers at the festival. See you there!

 

Free museums in Kuching, Sarawak – well worth visiting

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, maintains several museums – all free to visit.

The Sarawak Museum, the oldest of its kind in Borneo, exhibits collections on the natural history of Sarawak: the beautiful building was opened in 1891 by the White Rajah, Charles Brooke. (Note: A film is soon to be made of his life which I’m sure will be fascinating)

Four museums in this area
Four museums in this area

Over the road by an elegant footbridge is the Dewan Tun Abdul Razak otherwise known as ‘the new museum’ and it’s an exhibition venue and has the offices of the Sarawak Museum Department.

Located behind ‘new’ museum is the Sarawak Islamic Museum which I had found hard to find – but well worth going to a few days later.

Other museums in Kuching include the Chinese History Museum, on the waterfront, and which is well worth visiting, the Kuching Cat Museum,( see my blog about it)  and the Sarawak Textile Museum – opposite the Post Office and China Street. I found it a peaceful and informative place so well recommend it.

Chinese History Museum
Chinese History Museum

Another museum I just loved was the Art Gallery (beside the Sarawak Museum). Its beautifully and sympathetically restored – a great background to the local art work: I wish I had returned for a second visit.

See the Sarawak Tourism Board for more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Malaysians are foodies .. this time kek lapis.

More on the ‘all Malaysians are foodies’ theme.

It’s traditional in Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state, to serve Kek Lapis for religious or cultural celebrations such as Hari Raya, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and the harvest festival, Gawai Dayak, as well as for birthdays and weddings.

"too pretty to eat"
“too pretty to eat”

As eat my way through Borneo, one fabulous meal at a time, I’m introduced to Sarawak Kek Lapis. These layer cakes can have plain layers or be fancy with patterns, motifs, or shapes. All ‘must have at least two colours’ I’m told by the guide on the city tour when we visit one of Kuching’s many cake shops and sample some with names such as Blueberry Cheese, Swiss Roll, and the green and brown, Lapis Oreo.

These are no ordinary cakes, firm, moist, buttery, and not too sweet.

‘It’s hard to eat’ says an Italian writer as I photograph him, ‘they are so beautiful.

They are cooked layer by millimetre layer, with each layer in the oven for only five minutes before being taken out, spread with butter and the next layer is put on and back into the oven – and repeated up to twenty times.

High heat, high yolk, and high butter content means these cakes keep well too.  Considered a perfect gift by tourists from around Asia, cakes are also exported to Europe, North America, the Middle East and especially, Singapore.

Make sure you buy one, or some, from any of the sellers along the Kuching waterfront.

Numerous designs for sale in shops and stalls
Numerous designs for sale in shops and stalls