Monday, July 11, 2011

Jumpa Lagi Kuching

Ok so I know I'd fail miserably if I tried blogging professionally. Maybe my calling is in something else entirely. I feel like I spend more time promising blog posts than actually blogging about my experience here. It's alright, i have plenty of journal entries and notes in my private stores, and they just need a little retouching so that I can make them more blog-compatible.

But I wanted to give everyone a short update on what's been going on in my life in the last months of my stint on the island of Borneo.

I'm in Life Cafe now, by the way. It may or may not be my thirty-somethingth time at this place. It is my first time coming here just for a drink though. Iced Passion fruit slushie-smoothie kind of deal. It's also my last full day in Kuching. I'm getting some souvenirs (I'm terrible at souvenir shopping by the way, it is always just too overwhelming for me to be in these shops), but I feel like if I don't get just a few things to remember this place by, I might regret it later on. The photos I'm coming home with are the real gold though (not that I think they are particularly impressive, but many of them do evoke memories of really special moments and experiences from this year on this dreamy island).

Earlier this morning, I got a head shave, but only with an electric razor. Few here would dare to give one a good clean shave with a razorblade. It's a combination of liability issues and superstition, the latter being an issue with the Chinese populations here, and the former with pretty much everyone. Back in the U.S. I'd shave with my own headblade (think racecar with the front wheels replaced by a razor blade), but something about being here has made my scalp much thicker, and my hair follicles way more resistant to the blade (even when I used a fresh blade). It's seriously bizarre.

After getting my shave near the open air market near the Electra House, I walked around India street for a while. I couldn't help but marvel at the contrast between the Malay textile and food shops and the music playing on their radios. Something about the juxtaposed culture of sexually conserved Malay life and the lascivious Rihanna tunes made me giggle a bit. This is the world I've lived in this year. And many ways it's more representative of the rest of the world than the one I've lived in most of my life. I mean in that the contradictions and ironies of life seem more accessible, more obvious (even though there are certainly many in every part of the world, but in many places, they are more covered up). Life here has felt very spontaneous because of this. Although things are somewhat more conservative on the social front here, the humanity of this place is quite easy to see and feel (which adds excitement and spice to life), whereas back in a big city, I often felt myself lost in the mechanical cog of the daily grind. More time is devoted to living and getting by here, to enjoying life, and the eccentricities it may bring. Let me give you some concrete examples from my experience here:

Sarawak RV- on my expedition in October, some people were too tired to walk down from the camp. So the porters hooked up a wooden shack (built on log sleds) to a tractor and pulled it down with all the luggage and a few very brave souls (I wasn't too lazy to go down, this concept just rocked my world at the time so I joined in on this insane idea)

You see all sorts of creativity on motorbikes here- I've seen a woman sitting behind her husband, the driver, breastfeeding their baby while the bike was speeding along at 50+ km per hour. Along the same vein on these motorbikes, I've seen space management skills that would stun even the most experienced backpackers. 6 People, one bike, two kids sandwiched in the middle, one in back, and one in front.

Plenty of spontaneous yummy concoctions thought up on the spot, and there is ALWAYS time for a meal. Somehow on this island, Time doesn't equal money; Time equals Food.

...more to be filled in once I've looked back at my notes.

Ok update time. here's the quick list.

July 7-10, 2011. Some of the other Malaysian fulbrighters and friends come to Kuching, we join a friend for some camping and drinking games at her village, then we head to Sarawak Cultural Village for the three day long Rainforest World Music Festival. This whole event was bomb. For me, this was an unprecedented diversity off musical talents. Every group came out there to blow our minds, to inspire and stir something in the deepest recesses of our souls. I'm not gonna name all the bands, but I'll name a few that really rocked my foundations- Kamerunga (Australian folk music at it's best), Kamafei (Italian Reggae), Pacific Curls (New Zealand/Polynesian meets Celtic styles with jazzy flavors mixed in), and then there was Kissmet (Bhangra Rock exploring new dimensions of the musical universe). Kissmet was the last band to play, and they brought the whole crowd to their feet. I rocked out shirtless at the was glorious!

June 27-July 3rd- travel to Sabah, met fellow fulbrighter Elena, dealt with visa issues, trekked for three days in Maliau Basin, fought off 200+ leeches, fainted for the second time in my life (second time this year too), border hopping in Brunei (for 2 hours) to fix my visa issues.

June 25th- farewell bbq at Gilbert's house, organized by my colleagues from SBC (Gilbert mostly). They got me a surprise Durian-durian cake from Secret Recipe. This something like a sponge cake with layers of durian puree. My style of dessert. Everyone also put their heads together to make me a photo album compiling photos from my different adventures here. It's exactly what I wanted to make for myself but probably would never have otherwise. I almost broke down while leafing through this album. Everyone really worked hard to make my goodbye a beautiful, nostalgic, one.

June 24th- last day at SBC: compiling all my research data for SBC, photos with my colleagues in the labs, with the gardeners, and others in the admin building. Final goodbyes. Then Karaoke with a few of my closest friends, including some colleagues. And wrapping up my night at King's Arms (local bar-lounge with good live music) and a late night kolo mee session at Homecooked. This is where I learned that contrary to popular belief, some Malaysians do drink till they drop.

June 23rd- visited Rajah Brooke Memorial Hospital, right nearby SBC on Jalan Borneo Heights. Dr. Yeo, my research supervisor at SBC, insisted that I visit this place, because it was once also a Leper colony and still has a few patients living there. I did visit this hospital and got the full tour. There's a lot to be said about this place, since much of it's original layout is still preserved. It's a sort of museum in a way. There are still cemeteries there intended for the patients, whether they were Malay, Chinese, or Dayak- Catholic/Christian. Learned a bit about the rejection many of the Lepers used to face, prior to the advent of treatment options.

June 8-14- first visit to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Took an open water Scuba Diving course to get PADI certified. Almost lost my camera to some overly excited Monitor lizards on Sapi Island.

May 24-27th
Visit to Cameron Highlands in Peninsular Malaysia. Think Colonial style meets mossy cloud forest. Scones, fresh cream, strawberry jam, English Breakfast, tea plantations, bee gardens, and refreshing, cool air. I remembered my dreams here very vividly, unlike what my experience has been in kuching the last few months.

some visits to KL to hang out with Fulbright Malaysia friends. New Girlfriend Ashley (gotta go local, I say), going out on the town way more these days.
Work is picking up a lot, good results on the GC-MS. These microbes are making some wicked funky gases.

More on these many things later.

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