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News about Sarawak Paradise

Updated on September 26, 2008

the Experience shared.

Dutch visitor finds his ‘Neverland'

By Peter Boon ( / journalist)

DRIVEN by a strong desire to fulfill his childhood dream, Dutchman Eric Kahle spent a great deal of his time trying to look for his "Peter Pan Neverland" or perhaps a close replica.

After years of fruitless search - plus soaring travelling expenses - he was at his wits' end. To continue chasing his dream could cost a lot. He could, of course, just walk away and start focusing on his career. But Kahle wasn't about to give up. Not just yet. Undaunted, he decided to give it a one last try, knowing that failure would mean shelving his dream and getting back on with his life.

But Lady Luck was smiling on him in his latest quest. A local travel agent in Sibu learned about his plight and soon, he was on the first available flight out of the Netherlands to his dreamland.

For the 45-year-old consultant from GravenHage (pronounced as the Hague), Netherlands, the search has come full circle. And at long last, the man from the Land Of Windmills has found his "paradise" in the Land Of The Hornbills.

"This is perhaps one of the very last places on Earth where the rainforests and their inhabitants remain largely undisturbed by human activities.

"I understand there are over 18 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries throughout the state. Perhaps, this explains why Sarawak is popularly described as Asia's best kept secret," enthused Kahle, who came to Sarawak recently with his family - wife, Suzanne, 44 and two daughters, Annabel, 9 and Rozemarijn 7 - for a two-week holiday. Although he had made several trips to West Malaysia, this was his very first to Sarawak.

Kahle, a facility management specialist, said a sad environmental scenario was taking place in his part of the world.

"In my hometown and Western Europe, a great part of the forests have been affected human activities. I feel very bad about this. I hope there won't come a time when the future generations need to look up in an encyclopedia just to get an idea of what a waterfall looks like."

Kahle, who runs a consultancy firm - Cura Vesta - and has done works for both local and multi-national corporations over the past 12 years, knows only too well that tourists visit a particular destination because of its natural beauty and diversity.

"Anything else is secondary to Nature. Sarawak, blessed with its natural beauty and diversity, is truly a precious diamond and should be kept that way.

"These are features tourists look for. Preserve this treasure trove and there will be a steady influx of tourists to the state," Kahle said.

Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia which boosts a rich cultural heritage and the preservation of traditional lifestyles. It is known for its natural wonders such as national parks, ancient rainforests, wildlife, intriguing fauna and flora as well as pristine coral reefs.

Of all the places he has visited, Kahle regards Sarawak as his prospective "retirement" home.

"I'm particularly impressed with the rich cultural heritage of the various ethnic groups and their traditional lifestyles. I enjoy the relaxed pace of life here - it's a very safe place to visit or stay," he stressed, adding that his children loved the place so much they pestered him to extend their stay.

Kahle who loves both traditional cultures and experiencing local life, said he truly cherished his homestay with an Iban family at a longhouse in Kuching recently.

He was impressed with their way of life and would never forget the warmth and hospitality extended to him.

"I can still remember the time when I was sitting in the veranda and being offered a glass of tuak (rice wine) by one of the residents although we were total strangers. I am was truly touched by their hospitality and kindness - the kind of communal spirit we from the west should emulate.

"Moreover, the atmosphere in the longhouse was very lively. And I could see children running around and playing happily. The entire place just came alive with joy and laughter. "I just love the traditional home atmosphere. Everything is so authentic," he said, flashing a smile that has earned him the nickname Smiley among his fellow consultants back home.

"This is the way of life and the kind of atmosphere that tourists love to experience. And the best part is they go home with a new knowledge that has lasting value."

In Kuching, Kahle also visited the Orang Ulu community and was bowled over by their exquisite musical instruments.

He described the unique cultures of the various ethnic groups as simply "dazzling," and also applauded the racial harmony and bonding among the various races in Malaysia.

Seeing a real longhouse for the very first time had Kahle spellbound. "For me, it's hard to describe the experience in words."

He revealed a tour guide had told him of another traditional longhouse in Ulu Sarikei built some 50 years ago. He has earmarked Rumah Nyuka in the area as a must-visit place of interest when he returns for another visit.

Kahle, also an interim manager, had been to Bako National Park and was fascinated by the proboscis (or long-nosed) monkeys.

"I enjoy watching them feed and my children just love them. My daughters were so thrilled about the whole thing that they started mimicking the movements of the monkeys. It is kind of like an educational trip for them, I suppose,"

Kahle confessed that after travelling to different countries and visiting many places of interest, Sarawak (to him) is one place that fits perfectly into his fantasy - the "Neverland" he has dreamt about since he was a kid.

"I fell in love with this place the moment I set foot on it."

As the discussion turned to Sibu where he stayed for three days, Kahle said the town was indeed the gateway to the central region. While there, he stumbled upon another priceless treasure - the colonial buildings.

Despite being given a contemporary and trendy facelift, parts of the stretch of the old buildings near the seven-storey Kuan Yin Pagoda to the central market still offer glimpses of the by-gone days.

A strong advocate of preserving old buildings, Kahle suggested they be properly maintained for their historical values.

"I just enjoy looking at the old structures and the architecture is simply amazing. They reveal the historical side of a place.

"In Singapore, colonial buildings are very well maintained and form one of the key tourist attractions. In some places I had been to, such historical buildings had made way for taller buildings or been converted into commercial complexes," he noted, adding that old buildings should be preserved where possible because they are a link to the past.

His passion for old buildings brought him deeper into the central region ... to a small Melanau village in Sungai Kut near Dalat, some 190 km from Sibu.

The three-hour bumpy boat ride was well worth it when he saw a wooden house preserved in its traditional form at the village. While there, he also came across a row of wooden shops. His candid observation: "I am lost for words. The structure is just amazing . It also very well maintained.

"Over the years, in many places of the world, traditional buildings have made way for modern structures such as shopping malls. And with that, a priceless artefact is lost forever. It is a great pity. I must say."

On Sibu, he said life in the timber-rich town was more friendship-oriented.

"Everything seems so casual and there is this homely atmosphere I find very difficult to describe. Everything happens in the street ... from business to children playing their favourite game of hide-and-seek," he smiled.

"Perhaps, the locals may not be aware of the significance of such activities but for us tourists, the activities have an important bearing.

"They are actually a window to help us to grasp a better understanding of the locals. In Holland, everything operates behind closed doors and this shuts out the warmth and friendliness you have here. Everything becomes so serious and the environment appears tense rather than fun and lively."

Asked to compare the seven-storey Kuan Yin Pagoda with those in places like Burma and Thailand, he replied: "There is definitely a notable difference in terms of design but every place has its own surprises."

During the interview, he also asked whether Umai was still available since it was already quite late. He loves the delicacy after visiting Mukah some days ago. He also shared his experience at the Sibu night market, saying he loved "Apam Bali."

On the trip as a while, he acknowledged it was very fruitful as he was able to tell his children about the rainforests, wildlife and local cultures.

"This is also an educational visit for my family. I'm particularly happy because it provides most of the answers to their questions about Sarawak. This is knowledge that will benefit them."

He said he hoped to stay longer in Sibu the next time. At the same time, he is thinking of visiting the Niah National Park and Niah Caves he heard so much about.

His message: "Sarawak is a precious little diamond. It is a haven for wildlife. Take good care of its beauty and diversity. While tourism is an important sector of a country's economy, we must ensure these national treasures are passed down to the future generations."

the Wonder of Nature for the Bidayuh Ethnic in Sarawak

A journey with meaning

By Mary Margaret ( journalist)

Mountains and forests are forever linked in the minds of many people to the mysteries and wonders of nature; but we sometimes forget that we too are part of this mystery.

Mount Singai, the traditional home of the Singai Bidayuh, still calls and binds its people to it.

The mountain is one of those visible from the road leading from Kuching to Bau and the Singai Bidayuh return because of Mount Singai's cultural, historical, economical and ecological significance.

Before we began our journey of discovery recently, Dr Georges Schneider spoke about the sacredness of the forest.

We cannot say that we appreciate nature without also valuing the hands and cultures which shaped it. Nature and the lives of man cannot be divorced.

Those of us who live in cities forget, perhaps, and become divorced from nature - its sacredness and power - as we artificially create the ‘perfect' environment.

On Sunday, Aug 3, a group of Malaysian Nature Society members made a journey of re-discovery and reflection with Datuk John Tenewi Nuek.

John showed us the way up as he explained how his roots, despite his journeys far from it, are entwined with those of Mount Singai.

The forest covering the slopes on the surface appears to be completely natural, but appearances can deceive.

It has been directed by the Bidayuh of Singai, who have lived there for generations.

Fruit trees - durian (Durio sp), rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum), mangosteen (Garcinia sp), and mango (Mangifera sp) for example - are common, especially so at abandoned longhouse sites.

Sago palm (Eugeissonia utilis), which has a starchy pith that provides food, and bamboo that is planted for construction and production of household articles such as mats and containers, as well as some extraordinarily large tapang (Koompassia excelsa) - towering above their neighbours - overshadow the trail.

Our first stop was a small house being built with traditional materials - bamboo. Before being used for construction purposes, bamboo - the tallest grass in the world - is soaked in water and then dried. Its woody stem is then varnished to preserve it.

John explained that the site we were on was once that of a traditional Bidayuh house.

The gravel trail leading to the house was shaded with sago palm and other trees, and skirted the edges of a rice field. Forest birds were heard, but proved elusive.

As we walked along the shaded trail, we saws and felt our dependence on the natural world as we learned more of how the Singai Bidayuh lived in harmony with it.

According to traditional belief systems, plants, animals and even the land itself have spirits. Podi or padi (rice) also has a spirit.

When we grow, cook and eat this nourishing grain, the spirit must be respected.

And that is why many believe that if we waste rice, we will go hungry as we have angered the rice spirit.

We then stopped at a small clearing and resting place, pungudung, where offerings to the rice spirit are made before planting begins in the fields.

The water from Ribuan Nais (a waterfall) was used in ceremonies to worship the rice spirit.

Late at night before planting, the people of the area would come to collect the spirit of the rice in the water. This spirit is then whisked to the paddy fields via the water.

We also passed other spiritually important sources of water - Oyak Potap, a bamboo-piped gravity-fed pool that was used for bathing on the way to the longhouses. The cool waters are believed to have a positive effect on one's health.

As mentioned the forest of Singai was nurtured in many ways by the Singai Bidayuh.

As we approached forts or old longhouse sites, the abundance of fruit trees became apparent. These trees grow well in the jungle and the site appears like a natural forest.

However, John pointed out the sites of forts and longhouses that were abandoned when residents moved down the mountain.

The trees remind people of the past, which is interwoven with them.

So far we have talked about the trees that were planted, however, the naturally occurring ones, for example the towering tapangs which emerge above the canopy, are very important too.

These are also believed to be the residences of spirits.

Honey bees also build their nests in the upper reaches of the trees.

The Singai Bidayuh are connected to the natural world and I feel that we too need to be reconnected.

For more information on the Bidayuh of Singai look for ‘Dayak Bidayuh Community Rituals, Ceremonies, & Festivals' by Patrick Regep Nuek.


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