Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Festival of Lights

tonight was the annual autumn full moon festival, a big event for the chinese community in Kuching, and I think all over the world. So basically, everyone brings lanterns of different designs, along with goodies, to this special garden, called Taman Sahabat (or the 'Chinese-Malay garden'). Groups of people find a tree, and begin hanging the lanterns (which have lit candles inside) on the tree branches (I half expected a Chinese man, dressed as Santa, to be giving out mooncakes). People also walk around this garden holding lanterns in hand, while others light these massive lanterns with flames that propel the lantern into the atmosphere, like a hot air balloon. I got pretty lucky and noticed one in perfect alignment with the moon. And lucky for me I brought the tripod, since I got a group photo with me in it, along with some other long exposure shots.

Everyday, I'm just being thrown into so many new, exciting, thought provoking or just plain fun,experiences. I feel myself growing to love photography, in large part due to all these great photo opportunities I am becoming more aware of, and also since my practice is beginning to reap rewards. So it goes...

Woah....just WOAH!

Ok, so this is gonna be a very incomplete post, but I'll come back to it later. Why so incomplete, you ask? for one, a lot has been on my mind the past few days, I feel like a cumulonimbus cloud about to release all that stored up moisture...excuse the potentially sexual reference, but I've been reading Cloudspotter's Guide, which constantly makes sexual allusions while characterizing different cloud types. And, well, blogging is difficult from home, since my internet is just pure crap currently. But here at work, where i am now, supervisors always pass by, and I'm sure glance at my screen. So whatever I do that is not work, I try to do it very sneakily and quick. But alas, I'm wasting precious time.

Last night, there were some epic photo opps in and near my house. First, I was drinking tea while enjoying some espresso-chestnut mooncake (words can't even describe what nibbling on this did for my brain's pleasure centers, though the pics I posted with this posted might do justice). Well, Gilbert noticed how the lamp hanging on the ceiling was reflecting off the top of the tea we were drinking with mooncake, so he wanted to take some photos. But because of how we needed all things (tea, cup, table, and reflection of lamp) in the depth of field to be focused (small aperture needed, and therefore slow shutter speed), I took out my tripod, and snapped away, producing some interesting images. Then, one of Gilbert's friends called him and just told him to get outside to look at the full moon. We both jolted out and stared for some minutes, in silence. Usually a thick coat of clouds just covers the entire sky here (which is why I haven't been able to see any stars), but for some reason (maybe related to the full moon and us being at/near the equator) the clouds tonight clear around the moon to form a perfect circle. It looked like the negative of a picture of the eye, with the moon being the pupil. And it was a majestic sight. So, set up the tripod and took some super long exposures (like 30 sec) to produce a few good shots.

After this, I spent like 2 hours walking along the road in the dark, stopping for long periods to take in this beautiful night with each of my senses. I am Really feeling myself relaxing, and connecting to this strange and unfamiliar place. Totally ready for what's to come.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crikey! (Too Soon?)

So yesterday, a bunch of us SBC'ers (SBC= Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, just fyi) went to the local crocodile farm, which is sort of misleading, considering all the other animals they had there as well. But before the farm, I was at a coworkers' house and noticed a scale. So I wanted to assess the damage I've done in the past few weeks of nonstop eating. But to my surprise I actually found I had lost 15 Lbs!! My excitement was quickly shut down by Gilbert, my housemate, who noted that fat is far lighter than muscle. That is, I've really cut down my protein intake and, well, you get the point. So I'm on a search for more protein all the time now, and maybe can get back into exercise. I wondered if the croc farm could help with that.

Well, the crocodile farm was quite swamp like- muddy, wet, and hot. The mosquitos were out for midday feeding and my blood was apparently being served a la carte. When I first came to an area with crocodiles, they seemed quite fake- they were all just motionless, mouths gaping open, which is how they cool down. But the key was checking their eye lids, which did move once in a while. Then we came to this huge swamp area, where the feeding would take place. This consisted of defeathered chickens being hung from a clothesline above the water, and then the crocs would jump up to make the catch. Basically made for tons of great photo opps.

Other than the crocs, there were many other animals as was something of a mini-zoo, and, seeing animals caged up makes me quite depressed. The chickens and other poultry were allowed to roam...see, the crocs' life isn't so bad here, I mean they get fed free range chicken, I'm sure they really appreciate that. By the end, when I had also learned about how crocodiles are on the fringe of being endangered, I decided I would avoid crocodile curry soup served at the canteen. I think I better not pick any fights with crocodiles, or else when I'm up in the highland swamps in a few weeks, they might just settle the know, take some body part like they did Chubbs' hand in Happy Gilmore (it actually was an alligator). One last note on the farm- there was this one crocodile with a genetic defect that gave it two snouts, crossed through each other (crossnouted?)...seemed healthy though.

Post croc farm, Gilbert and I went over to the Orangutan Rehabilitation center near SBC. Finally got some cool photos with my telephoto lens, but unfortunately Ritchie, the mean and moody alpha male, didn't show.

Good day overall, though I really just wanna see some animals purely in the wild. Except for the numerous snakes here; I would rather completely avoid them. The Reticulated Python is known to grow up to lengths of 20-25ft long, and could swallow you whole...well it might have to take me in several courses since I'm big boned. But I have been told that i would make for some epic medium cooked steaks. Still, good thing Bornean cannibals are a thing of the past...that's at least what they tell us foreigners.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Life Cafe and Mooncakes galore

Last night was the beginning of Kuching's annual Mooncake Festival, which is a festival celebrating the beginning of autumn (even though the climate doesn't change one bit) with tons of food, mooncakes (just little round cakes filled with various goodies, from papaya and cream to egg yolk with black lotus paste), dance, music, costumes, singing, and a highly contested lantern competition, a lanternathon one might say. My housemate and I went to this festival, but first he brought me over to The Life Cafe, where I had Life's specialty spicy noodles. Not only was this the spiciest food I have ever eaten (when i went to sleep, my lips were still tingling), but these were the most delicious noodles I've ever had. All this was washed down with some great passion fruit tea. The ambiance of this place was just so very comfortable and soothing. I could come back here.

Afterwards, we walked around and took in the sights...from the Iban dressed in their authentic wear, playing their guitar-like instruments (Now made in an electric version), to the dozens of stands trying to attract the many tourists with offerings of tasty cakes, sausages, soups, and really good mops? Overall, love this place so far.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reserved Seating at Movie Theaters and a Haunted Chalet

Yesterday, I went on a short hike into the rainforest, near our labs. The other researchers wanted to show me just how they collect plant samples, so we would all be on the same page on the expedition. The picture of me in this post is just along a trail near the lab, cutting a small stem sample to analyze in the lab. So maybe this wasn't enough adventure for me, since on our way back I decided to start jumping down the little depressions in the ground. On the second jump i landed with my foot tilted to wrong way, and well, hurt my ankle. Limping around for the day, I was so pissed at myself for being so reckless. Good thing today it feels much much better and I'm not limping any more. I think i'm making a full recovery quickly. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, since I really learned what NOT to do on my expedition.

Also, last night, a group of us went to see Resident Evil. The movie isn't really worth commenting on, but the seating system here is. When you buy a ticket for the movie, seating is assigned right away, and there is no way to change it. Also, seats come in pairs, so you get to feel all the motions and vibrations the person next to you is making.

Speaking of zombies, I just found out that the research center has a spooky little secret. Several of the researchers, who have stayed at the lab at night, reported hearing kids giggling and other strange human sounds that should not be heard here. That's because there is no way there are any kids near the lab...this center is quite isolated and surrounded by rainforest. The researchers have said they've seen other lab employees, when those employees were most definitely not at the centre. Lights have been known to flicker in eerie and inexplicable ways. Lastly, there used to be this hostel for guests, but years ago, someone seems to have gone mad and committed suicide in the hostel. Jeez, I get the creeps just thinking about it. Let's just say I'm going to stick to standard hours of operation.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bloodsuckers and Waterfalls

Since yesterday we ate our hearts out, today we decided to hike off those 10 meals at a nearby national park called Gunung Gading. Nothing crazy happened. We hiked up the trail for about 2 hours, until we reached this awesome waterfall. I had my housemate do a mini-photoshoot of me since I do not get so many chances to have good pictures taken of me. Also, the rumored bloodsucking leeches did not really show in the numbers I had been told they would. Just one leeped onto my friend's ankle, and we decided to spray it with this plant essential oil thought to repel it. And it did. Lastly, yesterday's curry-palooza came back with a vengeance near the waterfall; I was told that as long as I asked the forest for permission to do my thing, I would not be haunted by jungle spirits and all would be well. So continues my authentic rainforest experience.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Selamat Hari Raya

Selamat Hari Raya! That is the phrase we greeted everyone with, as we entered their homes to devour their delicious and beautifully laid out food. Today was Hari Raya, a huge celebration to mark the end of Ramadhan. Muslims essentially make a ton of dishes, both savory and sweet, and invite people, regardless of religion, to enjoy said food. Colleagues from work invited everyone at work over, and so we ended up visiting 10 homes by the end of the day- literally eating nonstop from 11am to was WILD. Everyone was just so very hospitable, refilling drinks, opening up jars of their many different snack foods to try, etc. Southern hospitality is nothing compared to that of people here. When you enter someone's home, you take off your shoes, you put out your hand. People of the house sandwich your hand with both of theirs, and then you both bring your hand to the left side of your chest- a sign that you greet each other from the me this is the warmest and most genuine of ways to greet another person.

Everything I experienced that day made me feel even worse when, in one of the homes, people were watching news of the whole Qur'an burning situation and intense Muslim hate in the US. I felt really ashamed to be associated with America at that moment. What a sad thing, the insidious pair of ignorance and hatred, which afflict so many Americans today. I just hoped to do my best to not offend any of my colleagues' sensitivities, to show that I do respect and care about their customs and beliefs.

Is it any wonder that my last post, and this one are about food? I think not. In fact this is a testament to how much people here think about and eat food. A typical greeting, after all, is "Have you eaten?"I was happy that I got to see a range of different households, and in the end, felt like curry sauce would be flowing out of my ears.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Meal I've been Waiting, Wishing, Hoping for my whole life

I woke up today, and really paid for the gluttony of last night.
Yesterday, like every other weekday, I woke up 6am, professor kind of pressured me to have some flat noodles which ended being just phenomenal.I knew I was going to this Buffet that night; I was told the buffet was a Rammadan buffet to celebrate the break-fast. Anyways, I wasted some time for like 5 hours, then worked on some boring fungal stuff for like 6 hours, before it was time to FEAST. I was going with the grad student I work with, and her friends in the fermentation research group at Swinburne Univ. of Tech,an international university in Kuching. The girl driving had all these funny furry stuffed pets; there's even fur on the doors of the car. This was quite possibly the most Asian-looking car ever seen, and it was pretty endearing. this girl was racing through the streets scaring the shit out of us, but whatever. Let's get to the meal. I had not eaten lunch and really felt the hunger crippling me right now. So this meal was nuts...everything good from the East and stuff I had never heard of but loved: a WHOLE LAMB roasted with great spices...cumin, coriander...and was that motor oil I detected; a gyro STATION, so they made you a gyro sandwich with the sauces and all; malay-style ceviche; lamb biryani, extra spicy, extra tasty; a station that made ice kacang (pronounced ka-chang, basically a snow cone with various syrups; many meats prepared in strange ways, like this chicken meat that was pounded down and flattened by a person dancing on it; pickled mango, not so good; bamboo shootclams, basically these cylindrical shells about 6 inches long, and inside there are fantastic clams; eggplant with ginger and a special sauce they call sambal; curried durian, bad smell, good taste which i surprises you because you think it'll taste horrendous based on smell; fresh dragonfruit; freshly made tapioca pudding (yes they grow tapioca nearby); papaya that was coated in sour and salty powder (dislike), but this is eaten to make you more hungry apparently.There was much much more than what I'm mentioning, but I couldn't remember it all. I felt like I Dined in Heaven last night. I had a sort of overdose of new, delicious, strange flavors...I'll just say I went into 'Flavor-Shock' and leave it at that (pictures on the way soon, I stupidly forgot the camera and a friend took all the photos. Afterwards, I was rolled back to the car and dropped off at home, a delusionally overfed blob of humanity left to an undisturbed slumber.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gross National Happiness and Plants that Eat Meat?

Did you know that in Bhutan, the main indicator of quality of life and overall success of the country is not Gross Domestic Product (like in all other nations), but Gross National Happiness? That's what my professor-mentor-boss told me as we were kayaking down some rapids in the rainforest the other day. We had such a great day (last saturday), going along the rapids, knocking into rocks, exploring a small village and it's many medicinal plants. oh and earlier that day, we got to see a bunch of the carnivorous (they eat anything from flies to small mice) pitcher plants, and an orangutan showing off his graceful cirque du soleil-esque movements along the trees at the orangutan rehabilitation center here.

This week was one of some serious adjustments, especially having to wake up 6am daily. Spent time figuring out what it is i will be doing in the lab, and starting to plan experiments with the grad student i'm working with. AMCAS application finally was processed, and I got a few secondaries done (for those nyc schools i'm most interested in). That process has def been a source of some anxiety, much more than snakes or leeches i might encounter in the rainforest.

People at SBC (research station) are def making the adjustment easier, exhibiting genuine niceness and interest that I rarely encounter in the city, to be quite frank. The only thing is I feel like they are too nice sometimes. They keep treating me to meals, and one guy was going to offer me a room in his house for free. I'm happy I got him to agree to letting me pay rent, just cause it would be terribly unfair otherwise.

Today, I signed this research agreement with the State Secretary of Sarawak, which was a pretty important moment and symbolized the real beginning of my research experience here. And I move into my home here on Sunday.

New Foods that I have tried so far:
Laksa, Midin, Mee Hoon, Nasi Lemak, dragonfruit, starfruit, mangosteen, rambutan, lady fingers, sweet and sour fried fish, roti canai, Char kway teow, claypot chicken rice, sambal and so many more. mmmmmmm

note: picture of kuching laksa at top is one i got from another dude's blog ( was in too much of a trance upon trying this to even take a snapshot of it.