Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Driving back home one evening, I heard a new song 'Satu Malaysia' aired on one FM channel. This is the only channel which we enjoy listening in the car. Other channels either air Chinese or Malay songs which I am afraid; I have not yet developed an ear for. The basic problem lies in that I do not understand these two languages. So I stick to my usual channel which airs English songs, English news.

Hence the other day, when I listened to the song 'Satu Malaysia', I tried changing the channel, but later realised that it's my usual channel broadcasting a Malay song. So I continued to drive listening to the song. The channel would air this song regularly in the days to follow. I found myself humming this song often. It has got a very catchy tune, though I did not understand the lyrics when I first heard it.

Grocery shopping for the past two years has helped me pick few Malay words, numbers being one of them. So I was aware that Satu means one. 'Satu Malaysia' campaign is a part of effort by the current Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato Seri Najib Tun Rajak to create a sense of belongingness among the country's multi-racial citizens.

The Malays, numerous ethnic tribes, the Chinese, the Indians all together have lived together for generations and Malaysian culture is a result of assimilation of various cultures. The Malays or the Bumi Putras comprise 50% of the total population, followed by 25% Chinese and 10% Indians approximately. The Chinese who initially came for trading hundreds of years ago settled down here and made Malaysia their home. The Indians were brought by Britishers to work in rubber plantations here many years ago. They later settled down here.

The various indigenous tribes in the region of Sarawak and Sabah make for the rest of the population. The Ibans, Bidayuhs etc form the major ethnic group in the state of Sarawak, while the state of Sabah consists of tribes such as the Kadazans, Muruts, Melanaus etc.
Here in lies the uniqueness of Malaysia which sets itself apart from many other countries. It is the spirit of harmonious co-existence of variety of cultures and races over generations. And the one common praiseworthy trait found in every Malaysian is the acceptance level to welcome every one into its fold. Hence the cuisine, the language, the dress all presents a fusion of all cultures.

This song was selected out of the 341 entries in a competition organised by the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry of Malaysia. This song was composed by group of international students of the Limkokwing Sound and Music Design Academy.

One of my Malaysian friends explained the meaning of the song. It broadly translates as follows. 'No matter what ever the challenge be, we will all face it together. Together we are strong, united we stand forever and that's the way it's going to be'. The song 'Satu Malaysia' expresses the spirit of every Malaysian. Malaysia is a melting pot of all cultures and hence the song 'Satu Malaysia' beautifully conveys this message.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Last week just flew by. I and two of my Indian friends had been very busy with preparations for the "Indian Chai morning". Living amidst expats, I had attended couple of coffee mornings, such as Omani coffee morning, Nigerian coffee morning etc. We get to taste the respective country's food and try wearing their national costume. Many of my expat friends wanted us to host an Indian coffee morning too. So three of us decided to organise one, but we changed the name to 'Indian Chai' as tea infused with spices is very famous in India.

When we were preparing the flyer, sending out mails, none of us had the slightest iota of the massive turn out in reality. Like other coffee mornings, we anticipated approximately twenty to thirty ladies. We were confident of handling that number since we were only three of us. All of us were bursting with ideas. Many brain storming sessions were held amidst us. We finalised an agenda for the day. Guests would be welcomed the traditional 'Indian way'. This would be followed by a talk about India. The itenary further had many exciting events such Bollywood dances, sampling the Indian cuisine etc to offer.

With only a week left, I realised that my inbox was getting crammed with responses. The number quickly touched fifty. We got a bit anxious. We were really unsure whether we three could manage cooking in such a large magnitude. Besides there were other aspects to be taken care of, such as organising, decorating, shopping, rehearsing for our song and dance etc. Song and dance rehearsals got intensified. During one of our meetings we increased the cooking quantities.

We had decided to share the cooking and prepare eleven items in total . The items we had zeroed in were, jaljeera nimbu pani (lime water served with dash of cumin), two starters, masala chai (spiced tea), dal( lentils), mixed vegetable, murg musulam (spicy chicken), pulao (saffron rice) and kesari (semolina sweet). We three had mixed feelings. Though excited with mails pouring in, the tension within was also increasing. Arrangements on such a large scale had never been attempted by any one of us.

The idea was to host at the same venue where other coffee mornings were held. But that particular venue could accommodate only fifty for safety purposes. We had touched the fifty mark. Increasing numbers concerned us. We wanted all invitees to come and have fun and did not want to disappoint any one. Luckily a good friend suggested another venue close by. So just couple of days before, we decided to change the venue. This demanded more paper work. New flyers had to be printed and pasted at prominent locations. The numbers swelled further. So we reworked again the cooking quantities.

Two days before, an Indian lady and an American friend volunteered to help us with decorations. Any sort of assistance was most welcome as we were short of helping hands. On the night before, we all gathered our Indian chunnis (drapes), some Indian hangings and decorated the venue. It was a big hall. My husband and daughter lend a helping hand . The other Indian lady also roped in her husband to assist in decorations.

That night neither of us slept properly. Tossing and turning, we passed the night. Waking up early, completing all the cooking, dressed in our traditional attire, sari we arrived at the venue an hour early. The food table with labels for each item had to be set. The sound system had to be rechecked, the flower decoration had to be done, the lamps had to be lit and we had to ensure everything was in order. We decided to set two food tables to avoid crowding.

The guests started walking in. We had set a register at the reception to know the exact numbers. Once the guests were seated, we started the programme singing an Indian prayer which was accompanied by lighting of the lamp. Three of us spoke in turns about Indian culture, music and dance and the cuisine. Next the guests were invited to savour Indian food and enjoy a bollywood dance. We later invited the guests to join the dance. Many came forward and enjoyed swaying to Bollywood music. The dance went on for quite some time. Later we encouraged the ladies to try draping the Indian sari. One lady volunteered and we demonstrated various ways of tying the sari.

The programme concluded with a group picture. Many were clicking pictures during the entire event. The event was a big success and the total turnout was seventy two. It was way beyond our expectations. All the sweat, the nervousness, the hard work paid off. Everything went perfectly. We had planned for a two hour programme and successfully completed in the stipulated time.

At the end of it, though completely exhausted, we were beaming. All three of us were profusely happy the way, the day unfolded and concluded. We had guests asking for another similar one morning to be conducted again.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Living the mad pace of life, meeting deadlines seems to be the norm of today's working class. Rushing between meetings, delegating tasks, answering mails etc consume the entire day. Can all this be true in case of a normal housewife. Seems true in my case, at least. The last two months seems to have just flown without my realisation. The coming days are also equally hectic.
I am joining the group of 'just two of us'. My eleven year old daughter is leaving for a residential boarding school from August. It is not an easy task leading life without children. Hence I decided to brace myself to face this new challenge in my life. I am clueless if I am going on the right track. The only option available in Miri is to keep myself occupied with all activities available for an expat. So I decided to take the plunge.
There are a wide range of activities to choose from for an expat's spouse in Miri. Hornbill club located in the Shell camp conducts various activities for expat spouses. A golf club equipped with a swimming pool is another venue for outdoor physical exercise. Luckily, my house lies close to both the clubs.
There are two parallel activities organised on many days of the week at both clubs. Mondays has cooking demos at Hornbill and aqua aerobics at the Golf club. The Book Club also meets on the first Monday of every month at Hornbill. Tuesdays is craft day at Hornbill. On Wednesdays, there is yoga class in the morning, followed by dance classes at Hornbill. Wednesday afternoons is Mahjong time at the Boatclub, which is another club situated nearby. Wednesdays is also a busy day for library members as library at the Hornbill opens on Wednesday evenings. There are Coffee mornings held once a month on a Thursday at Hornbill. Some expats do bowling on Thursdays. Friday is again time for aqua-aerobics.
In addition to all these, living in an expat community involves lots of hi's and bye's. So there are leaving pages to be filled up, farewell gifts and parties to be organised. When I first moved to Miri two years back, I was part of some activities only. Since I decided to keep myself busy, I got myself involved with every possible activity.
In addition to the list, a couple of months ago, I started doing my 5 km walk. I have been walking every single day of the week, excluding weekends. Since I was disciplined in my walking schedule, I added another activity to my routine, blogging. Early mornings seem to set my mood for writing. So I wake up early to write my thoughts. I have maintained a steady pace in my flow of writing till date since I started.
In addition to all these, I also have got involved in organising an Indian coffee morning next week. The invitees have crossed fifty already. Days and nights seem to have lost count for me. I am just rushing from one task to another.
Gearing myself to handle future emptiness, I resolved to keep myself engrossed with all available options. But of late, striking the right balance in life seems the most difficult thing for me. Since last week, I am finding it difficult to maintain the continuity in walking. I am trying to juggle for the ultimate goal to keep myself happy and drive away emptiness, but that now seems an euphoria. I feel exhausted at the end of it.
So what started as an option to fill my days seem to have sapped my energy. I had always thought that office -goers found it difficult to relax with theri hectic schedules. I never realised that even a house-wife needs to learn to slow down. I am still naive and need to learn to strike the perfect balance in my life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Every Miri-an's calendar is chock-a- block with numerous events to attend in the month on May every year. The month of May is special for every Miri citizen as Miri got elevated to the status of a city on 20th May, 2005. Hence every year 20th May is celebrated as the Miri City Day. Miri is the ninth city in Malaysia and second largest city in the state of Sarawak. The entire city holds a festive look.
This is my second year in Malaysia and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the festivities this May, when Miri celebrated its fifth anniversary. The celebration kicked off with a very noble campaign on 1st May- " Say no to Plastic bags everyday". It was initially launched on weekends but has now been extended to all days of the week effective, 1st of May. The same day was also declared as 'Tree Planting Day'. Blood donations were also carried out on that day at one of the shopping malls.

The following days had activities for every member of every Miri family. Kids participated in lovely colouring competitions and story telling competitions. The chess competitions, table-tennis tournaments, basketball tournaments and participating in the 'anniversary run' provided the perfect mental and physical stimulus for the teens and adults. The art lovers had the art exhibitions. The women were at their best demonstrating their skills participating in baking competition and international pot-luck recipe exchange program. Ever competition saw Miri-ans participating with full enthusiasm.

15th May saw different ethnic groups participating in Miri City Day Parade. Miri is a pot of melting cultures and this was truly on display with the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Ibans, Dayaks etc dressed in traditional costumes walking the parade. The downpour that day could not dampen the zeal of either the participants or the gazing onlookers who stood in the rain to cheer them.

The best festivities were still to follow. The grand final of Miss Tourism International , a beauty pageant was held in the Indoor Stadium here. Beautiful ladies from various countries across the globe participated and Miss Venezuela was crowned Miss Tourism International 2010. The entire stadium was full and indeed it was a pleasure to watch the event.

The entire month's celebration came to a close with the 'Satu Malaysia' mammoth dance and cultural performance' in the early hours at the Outdoor Stadium. It was a grand exhibit of colour and grandeur. School children dressed in their costumes, the Chinese drummers in colours of red and yellow along with each ethnic group dancing wearing their traditional dances provided a dazzling spectacle. The true spirit of 'Satu Malaysia' or 'One Malaysia' was clearly on display.

I as an expat derived great pleasure in being a part of some of the celebrations. It was a first time experience witnessing a city formation celebration and I am keenly looking forward for next May in Miri.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I am looking forward for Sunil's wedding in Kota Kinabalu in October. Sunil works in my husband's department and is a Malaysian Indian as his grandfather's roots trace back to India. His grandparents hail from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India and migrated many years ago. The people of the state speak Telugu, but Sunil's family speaks an entirely different Telugu now as it has influence of Tamil which is widely spoken by many Malaysian Indians here.

The interesting aspect is Sunil is getting married to a lovely lady who is half -Kadazan and half -Filipino in Sabah. The girl's parents also migrated years ago and settled in Malaysia. Sunil is one among the many Indians who is having a cross - country marriage. This is unimaginable even today in India.
India even today follows the custom of arranged marriages, where in elders of the family decide the groom and the girl. This is an accepted norm which has never been questioned till now. So a Punjabi marries a Punjabi, a Tamilian marries a Tamilian and so on. My initial reaction was that it could be one rare occurrence. I have rarely come across such a cross country married couple in India ever. So I was quite surprised when I first moved here.
But it is a very common trend here and I later met many such Indian couples. A Punjabi marrying a Chinese, a Tamilian marrying an Iban etc. Soon after, my horizon of understanding expanded further when I saw this trend commonly spread across expat communities. Now I have friends from various nationalities whose spouses belong to an entirely different country. An American married to an Iban, a Dutch married to a Chinese, a Britisher married to a Chinese, a German married to a Malay, a Nigerian married to a Chinese and so on. The list is endless.
I had read about cross cultural marriages only in history books in India. Emperor Akbar, a good Muslim ruler used this strategy to annex his kingdom without fighting with local kings. He married daughters of erstwhile Hindu kings and won over hearts of many Hindus. But this practice mysteriously disappeared after the Emperor's death. I felt overwhelmed to see this custom so prevalent here.
In an age where communal fighting is tearing nations apart, it is such a welcome relief to see individuals across nations coming closer and bonding in wedlock. Every other news channel and every other paper devotes so much space updating the world about communal bloodshed every day. Each day we are tragically reminded of colossal human losses inflicted by one community on the other, but not a single paper or channel broadcasts about the inter-cultural marriages uniting the human race.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


An expat travelling to different countries every few years has to build a new nest every time he visits a new country. It's a complete adjustment for the entire family. Though the nature of the work would be the same, every work place in each country is different from the other. The kids have to adjust to the new environs in their new school. The wife has to find out ways and means to keep her occupied, by making new friends in a new environment.

The first instinct is always to search for people from their home country, results of which might not always be positive. Because even though one might meet people from their home country, it often is the case that one cannot relate to them for various reasons. Either they have left the home country many years ago and hence identify themselves more as an expat or sometimes wavelengths do not match. Sometimes one even meets people who are so occupied in their own lives that they do not have the time or the energy to keep make new friendships.

It is the initial months in a new place that is the toughest to handle. As a new person, one is not aware of the things available in the market, how to figure out the routes to navigate in the area. Every road, every shop, every person seems unfamiliar. So one is always looking for one familiar or helping hand for comfort or assurance. The feeling of homesickness gets worsened when that assurance does not come from anyone. Telephoning back home seems to be the only happy time in the day. But that is a very short- term glory as, one has to find ways and means to learn to adjust in the new place.

Slowly one starts stepping out to find out avenues, activities available to keep the mind occupied. Basically it is an attempt to explore what suits the person best. All activities might not appeal or last long but one has to try it out for few months to see what suits best. One comes across new people every day from different countries. Talking and sharing gives the realisation that every other expat is sailing in the same boat. So it gives an assurance that there are many out there facing similar teething problems. Gradually pieces fall in place and one learns to accept this new way of life in the new country.

Over a period of time, relationships strengthen, bonds develop and it gives a nice feeling. Just then one comes to know that one of the expats getting transferred to another country and it's time to bid adieu to them. Filling up leaving pages, shopping for parting gifts, organising farewell lunches suddenly fill up daily itenary. But it is not an easy task to bid farewell to friends. If that expat become one of your good friends one really feels sad. It's more difficult phase for the leaving expat because they would have forged some life -long friendships. The kids cry on leaving their friends at school.

It's another new place, another new country and another new story again for that expat. Every expat is always building home away from home in various destinations and ends up leaving footprints in the hearts of many. However, it is beyond doubt that every expat expands his or her horizon as every posting teaches new lessons and develops some ever -lasting friendships in this journey of life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


During one of the dining table conversations at our house as to what are the most important things in life, my daughter one day answered 'Computer and Water'. Water as an answer was understood, but computer as the most important element of life was unexpected. Then me and my husband realised that it is generation gap. But it is not the same generation gap that we felt with our parents.

The present generation according to me is growing under tremendous pressure, which I never felt in my childhood. The last ten years have seen a boom in the digital revolution and the ones most affected are the kids born in this decade. The market is flooded everyday with the latest model of mobiles, laptops, palmtops and digital cameras.Today's kids are very smartly coping with the pressure of adapting to every gizmo that enters the market, be it the latest i-pod or the latest i-phone. My daughter is one among them and I empathise with today's kids.

Gone are those days, when summer holidays meant just visiting nearby relatives or staying at home relaxing. I do not remember having seen so many places as my eleven year old daughter has today. Today every school vacation of hers means a new travel destination for us. And every holiday means clicking loads of pictures with digital cameras and sharing with everyone on social sites. I do not recollect whether I clicked so many pictures in my lifetime.

I and my sister who is a year elder to me would look forward for our vacation to do other activities. We would be very happy to stay at home to read our Archie's, Tin tins, Enid Blytons or some comic. We would look forward to play scrabble, snakes and ladders, carrom in holidays . And we were never bored. Today kids play all their games only on the computer. They aren't keen to visit friends staying nearby, but want to be a part of many social network sites as face book, orkut, hi-fi etc. My daughter always mentions as to which friend of hers has more friends on face book and how she needs to keep up momentum with them. Hence one sees present day teens at airports, shopping malls in their own world with some gizmo plugged to their ears or eyes strained on the laptop screen. Once they step inside the house, the first thing they do is switch on the computer to play a computer game or to catch up with friends on some chatting site.

Similarly shopping, eating out in restaurants were not a weekly affair as is now. My parents bought new clothes only for birthdays or festivals. We would eat out once a month when I was young. But we would be look forward to eat out and treasure our new clothes. But for present day kids, Starbucks, Bistros, pizza huts are normal affair . Similarly shopping for clothes, shoes, accessories is not an exciting trip as kids are shopping every other day. To shop for birthday gifts is so much of a nuisance today as all kids have everything today. Hence they do not have a smile when they open their presents. Watching a movie in a theater was a special treat in my childhood. Today my daughter downloads or watches every new movie or song thanks to you tube and other free downloading sites etc.

I remember treasuring my song book since I had written lyrics of all my favourite songs. Plus getting lyrics was not easy task. Today my daughter coolly stores all her latest downloads in her pen drive with least effort. With vast strides in storage space, life has presented a new definition for them. The present generation need not be bothered about storing anything in physical folders or writing in notebooks etc. One click and all information for their school project is available. Similarly, they need not buy albums to store all pictures clicked or buy tonnes of DVDs to watch movies. Any data they need can be downloaded and stored in the computer.
I thank my stars for my daughter at least mentioned water as an essential thing in life along with computer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


My daughter, Deeksha had just turned eleven a month ago. This was January 2010. My parents had come on a visit to Miri. They were enjoying her company. She studies at the ‘Piasau School' in the Shell Camp. One day she came back excitedly handing out leaflets of boarding school. We as parents were surprised to see her bubbling with enthusiasm. But in the heart of hearts we did not then give a serious thought that day.

From then on every evening at home, the only topic she loved discussing was boarding schools. The kids in her class seem to be only conversing about roomies, independence etc. She was enjoying every bit of it and had decided about it.

One day at the school, the teachers had explained pros and cons of joining a boarding school to the class. All the kids including my daughter seem to have paid attention only to the pros. At the end of the session, kids were asked to inform verbally if they had decided about it. Deeksha confirmed to her teachers the same moment and told me that evening about it. We were speechless.

We as parents had not even taken a final decision on it. On enquiring she replied that she is the one who has to decide and not us. It is she who is joining a boarding school. I was aghast at her answers. I tried explaining, but all my efforts were futile. She was so determined about it. My parents also made an attempt to reason it out with her. But nothing worked. Her only reasoning was she wants to be independent, take her own decisions.

Seeing her so determined, my husband thought of giving her a try. We realized that our daughter was growing up. We started surfing for good international residential schools in India. We decided on India since we had our people back home. I already started having motherly pangs. I had left my parents house when I was twenty three years old to get married. My husband left for boarding when he was seventeen. She is just eleven. But her positive spirit ruled over us.

We visited India in April along with her and finally decided on a school of her choice. It’s the first week of June now and she is leaving us in August. Deeksha, influenced by the school and her classmates, has persuaded us to take the biggest decision of our lives.

She is the first child in our entire family to leave home at such a young age. When I moved to Miri two years ago, I had never even once imagined once that she would leave us so soon. Her peers and the school had such a lasting impact on her.


It's been approximately ten days since I am writing daily. Not many pages, though, but few lines everyday. A few months before, this was an unimaginable thought. I have always wondered how authors churn out novels, using such apt expressions and such nice language. I couldn't even put down a few words in a proper order. It seemed the most difficult thing under the sky.

I turned down every one's suggestions to write. Writing for me was a forbidden territory. I tried writing a couple of years before at the insistence of my friends, but it never sustained. Similar attempts later, never saw the light of the day.

So I stopped trying and thought of probing for more information on writing. Thanks to googles, bings and amazons, life has become much easier at least for idlers like me. My mind needed no functioning. A click and loads of information opened up on 'How to write", 'Where to sit and write', 'When to write', 'What to write' etc. I was overwhelmed on seeing all the information and started devouring it. I was unnecessarily worrying all these days.

These sites gave me a lot of boost initially. However I realised later that everyone was offering the same ideas. Either way, at the end all the euphoria, did not motivate me to write even a few lines. So I comforted myself that writing is not my cup of tea and carried on my life.

But I wasn't feeling fully happy either. It was bugging me that I could not write at all. I wasn't thinking of tasks as climbing Mount Everest or swimming the British channel. Just penning down a few thoughts is all I wanted to do.

I was blessed that I have been gifted with a good pair of hands, perfect vision and a mind that works sometimes at least. I have a computer at home and even otherwise could afford to buy paper and pen. As far as my knowledge goes, this is all one requires to write. But I wasn't able to write still. Frustration started creeping within me.

Then on one so those days when my brain thought it needed some exercise, a simple thought stuck me. I had not set my heart at it. That was the basic reason for all my previous failures. I was just trying to ape others, unnecessarily doing the wrong things.

So I decided no more self -promises, no more searching for information for ideas and no more hard feelings. I just started writing whatever came to my mind and saw that I could write a page. Filling up a page felt so easy. There has been no looking back since then.

I know its early to say so, but I am enjoying every bit of my time when I sit down to write. I started writing early in the mornings when everyone is sleeping. The silence around me makes it easier to scribble down. I did not make any deliberate effort this time for this endeavour.

But every morning when I get up, I look forward to write, sipping my cup of tea and nibbling my oat crackers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I came across the first familiar word in Malay, asram. It’s a Sanskrit word which means accommodation for visitors. While driving toward Petronas office, I saw a board mentioning it. It means the same in Malay too. Later on I came across many such words here which sounded familiar.

Curious to know, I surfed the net. There is evidence of Indian traders travelling to Malaysia before 15th century and settling down. Since Sanskrit was the spoken language in those days in India, it has its influence on the Malay language. In fact the old Malay cannot be understood now by many as it was richly laced with Sanskrit. Sanskrit is no more spoken in India now and it has been replaced by Hindi now. But it is considered one of the classical languages and root of many Indian languages.

It was after the 15th century that the first Muslim rulers came to Malaysia and major changes too place, with Arabic replacing Sanskrit. Hence Malay later own adopted many Arabic words. The British occupation of Malaysia in the nineteenth and twentieth century’s influenced the script. Malay language later added many English words to its fold.

But influence of Sanskrit did not wean away completely and even today there is evidence of some Sanskrit which is found in everyday usage. I am citing few such common words which have originated from Sanskrit I have come across.

Malay Sanskrit Meaning

Bahasa Bhasa Language

Bumi Bhumi Earth

Duka Dhukha Sadness

Guru Guru Teacher

Hina Heen Inferior

Kepal Kapal Head

Roti Rutti Bread

Singa Sing Lion

Topi Tuppi Hat

Warna Varna Colour

Manusia Manushya Human

Nama Naam Name

Neraka Naraka Hell

Pahala Phala Reward

Putera Putra Prince

Puraba Purva Past

Maha Maha Great

Raja Raja King

Sengsara Sansara Suffering

Sukha Suka Happiness

Suria Surya Sun

Tali Talli String

Utara Uttar North

Dobi Dhobi Laundry

Monday, June 7, 2010


One thousand people living in a small radius of few kilometers, close to the jungle, where whole community implements the principle of three ‘R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle) in their daily lives. Surprising, this is not a new policy that they are learning now like the city dwellers. It’s a way of life for them from ages.
This might seem a story of olden times, but it isn’t. This is what I saw on my recent trip to a real Bidayuh long house in Kuching. The Bidayuh are one of the indigenous tribes of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia and live in longhouses. I spent few hours there and was touched by their simplicity and their enormous respect for nature.
The entire longhouse is a series of houses attached to each other. These houses are built on raised bamboo poles to protect them against predators and from any natural calamities. Each house lies adjacent to the next house and consists of one big room. More than five –six members and is some cases ten members stay in one house. But they are not jostling for space and are all living in perfect harmony. Their houses are built of bamboo. Once the bamboo gets old it is not discarded by the people. It is used as a fuel for cooking.
Cooking is done outside in front of the house. The rice and meat are cooked in bamboo.I have clicked a picture of chicken and rice being cooked in bamboo. The other items are cooked in earthen pots. People here do not visit supermarkets to buy their groceries, but grow their rice, pepper, rubber and palm oil. They pluck fruits and vegetables from the jungle and cook. They make baskets of rattan grown in the jungles. These baskets are used for storage purposes and also to carry anything plucked from the jungles. So there are no plastic covers anywhere. Since the Bidayuh drink water from the flowing river, there are no plastic bottles anywhere. It was amazing for a city –dweller like me to see an entire community practicing these principles so easily.

Large dry leaves are tied and used as brooms to clean their houses. We saw women using large leaves to protect them against heat. They collected fish from the river and had their own chicken farms.

Electricity entered their lives only in early 2000. In the past when they had no power, they utilized the entire daylight to walk to the jungle, collect their daily food, fuel and keep themselves completely occupied. They would relax only after darkness set in. Even today many houses do not have a single fan. It was a hot and humid day when we had gone on our longhouse tour. But they were happily pounding rice, cooking in the hot sun or knitting baskets. They were too busy in their activities to be bothered about the heat.

It was then I realized how quickly we all have adapted to materialistic comforts in life but have forgotten to care for our own environment. Their simple lives taught me and my family the most important lesson of life, to respect our environment.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


My apartment in Miri faces the golf course with the sea at the backdrop. Opening the curtains of my balcony, I see a different sight each morning. The greenery of the golf track, the swaying trees gives me immense pleasure on some days. The sun taking its relaxed time to step out of the clouds reminds me of a child playing hide and seek. An odd sailing ship adds splendour to the vast sea. Watching a few yellow leaves slowly falling on the ground appear to me asking for permission to retire. All these fill me with an innate calmness. I just feel one with the tranquil, picturesque nature.
A river flows at the back of my house. Every day morning boats transport the offshore men to various offshore platforms and rigs. The offshore guys park their cars before the apartment each morning and sail by boat to the offshore, except on bad weather days. The offshore guys stepping out of the cars in colours of blue, yellow, red and grey enhance the existing colours of nature.
Admiring the birds leaving their nests in search of food, or the tiny tots leaving for school seem to set the perfect mood for a new day’s beginning. A few early golfers warming up infuse the perfect enthusiasm to start my daily routine. I get inside my house smiling and start my work.
However, on some other days the same landscape does not appeal to my senses at all. The seas, the golf track, the blazing sun, the row of cars, all appear monotonous. The kids going on bikes or the birds leaving their nests seem to remind of my mundane routine. I just draw the curtains and step inside.
I wonder at the contrasting feelings derived from the same view. Drawing or opening the curtains during different times on a single day sometimes evokes mixed reactions. Is it nature outside that is changing my mood every time or my moody nature which is responding differently each time? I still have yet to find an answer, who is more moody – my inner nature or the nature outside………

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I woke up disappointed when I saw rain outside early in the morning. We had planned a day trip to Niah Caves that day. Niah Caves, located in Sarawak State in Malaysia is one of the largest limestone caves in the world. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of man's existence in the cave dating as far back as 40,000 years ago. Still undeterred we packed all essential stuff and set out around half past eight. My daughter got up very excited, since three of her friends were coming along. We carried all essentials as torches, gloves water, mosquito repellant, caps, change of clothes, and food. Two more families joined us. One of our friends being very thoughtful had booked a chalet so that we could all unwind at the end of the day.

The sun shone brightly when we left our house cheering our spirits. We reached there around ten, dumped our bags, and began our trip around half past eleven. Our group consisted of six adults and five children. A boat carried us to the other side of the river from where we started our jungle trail.

There is a 3 km pathway to be covered through the jungle to reach the cave. The pathway is unique since the walk has to be done on a raised plank which covers the entire forest. We all found the walk very thrilling as the plank was not fenced on both sides. One could even find broken planks at some places and they were slippery due to recent rain. A little slip and one could fall into the thick foliage below, or into the flowing river. The weather was humid. But we were all in great adventurous mood to bother about anything else. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves walking amidst the lush dense rain forest. Our companions were beautiful yellow butterflies, chirping birds, two lazy turtles and a solitary black lizard. Kids in the meantime were having their share of fun walking. They were counting the empty water bottles thrown by earlier tourists on the way.

It took us more than an hour to reach the mouth of the cave called as ‘The Traders Cave’. There is even today evidence of some stalls used for trading many years ago. Entrance to the main cave is through the ‘Traders Cave’. Torches are available on rent at the reception as it is pitch dark inside the cave. We carried our torches along. But the cave exploration is not smooth as the entire path is made of wooden planks. One has to descend deep into the darkness to see the cave and again climb all the way up. The steps are steep, muddy and slippery. One of my friends slipped and fell twice inside the cave though she was wearing trainers. It is scary to walk alone inside the cave with the bats flying above. But the beauty and vast expanse of the cave is fascinating. The highlight is a particular spot inside, where beams of sunlight enter through a gaping hole on top and illuminate the bizarre rocks. It is an amazing sight worth capturing with the camera. Today the cave is home to bats and bird nests. One must wear gloves while walking inside the cave as the railings are full of bat droppings. Long bamboo poles are tied to climb bird nests. Bird nests soup is an expensive delicacy in this region.

After an hour’s tour of the main cave we climbed up to explore ‘The Painted Cave’. It is few metres away from ‘The Main Cave’. We walked through the forest and descended many steps to reach ‘The Painted Cave’. The paintings are no more visible, but it’s a tranquil place to relax after the long arduous walk. After resting for a while we walked back through the cave and the same jungle trail back to our hotel room. Each one of us was completely exhausted and hungry after the four and half hour long walk in the sticky weather. But no one complained as we all felt so rejuvenated at the end of it. We ate every morsel of food we packed. My daughter looks forward for another cave trip.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


One day my husband’s Malay colleague asked him his plans for Thaipussam. My husband was dumbstruck since he had never heard the term before. He did not want to appear ignorant. So he gave a grin and replied that he had not yet decided. We were just couple of months old to Malaysia then. He came back home and enquired if I knew anything about it. I casually answered back saying that it could be some local festival. He then suggested that we should learn more about local customs and festivals to avoid being caught unawares.

We decided to surf the net and literally fell out of our chairs when we discovered that it is an Indian festival. What stunned us more was when we found out that it is a south Indian festival. We belong to the southern part of India. Curious to know further, we digged for more information and were flabbergasted to discover that it is celebrated in Tamil Nadu our neighbouring state. We hail from the state of Andhra Pradesh, (AP) which shares its borders on one side with Tamil Nadu.
India is a vast country with 28 states and around 30 languages being spoken across the length and breadth of the country. It is a mammoth task to know local customs and traditions of each state, but not knowing about our neighbouring state left us disappointed. Only further reading satisfied our bruised egos. Thai Pussam is a local festival of Tamil Nadu and there is no public holiday given in India.

Further reading gave us lot of information on the festival. Thai Pussam is celebrated in several countries such as Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia. It is celebrated in all countries where Tamils migrated from India. It is observed as a public holiday in various states of Malaysia. It’s a Hindu festival held in honour of Lord Muruga. The maximum festivities are carried out in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur. Tamil speaking people participate in large numbers in a procession where the deity is carried out. Traffic is diverted and roads are closed in certain parts of Kuala Lumpur on that day. A chance visit to Kuala Lumpur in January and a trip to Batu Caves gave us a true insight of the mammoth celebrations held in Malaysia. This festival is celebrated usually in the month of January and February.

Thai Pussam is celebrated in countries where there is large presence of Tamil speaking people. Tamilians migrated in large numbers during the British rule in India to different countries. A large number of Tamilians were shipped by Britishers to Malaysia to work in the rubber plantations and they brought along with them the culture, traditions and festivals.
Indeed Thai Pussam for us was a true Malaysian discovery.


We excitedly packed our bags for our first family holiday to Kota Kinabalu (popularly known here as KK). KK is the capital of the state of Sabah and is named after the famous Mount Kinabalu. We left by the first morning flight from Miri which reached KK in 45 minutes. A visit to the Malaysian tourism office helped us in planning our itinerary.
On the first day we set out for the Monosopiad Cultural village which is 30 minutes drive from the city. We were greeted with a welcome drink at the cultural village. All tourists were then led to a beautiful hall where we sat on wooden benches to watch local cultural performances. Sabah is home to various indigenous tribes such as Kadazan, Murut etc. Dancers from various tribes performed beautifully wearing traditional costumes and colourful headgears. The headhunters dance was one of the best dances and it was performed by the Murut tribe. The show closed with the audience being invited to dance a few steps along with the dancers. I and my daughter tried doing the bamboo dance.
The original inhabitants of Sabah were the headhunters who basically belonged to the Murut tribe. The headhunters killed the enemy and displayed the heads in front of their house. The person who had the maximum number of displayed heads was considered the bravest warrior in the village and the bridegroom in demand. This tradition was abolished long ago. The headhunters later joined the mainstream. The tourists today get a taste of headhunter’s life during their visit to the cultural village.
A local guide joined us after the dance and took us around the cultural village. Our next halt was the “house of skulls”. Though there were no real skulls but it still wasn’t a pleasant sight. The guide later showed us the ancient tools used to de-husk rice, ancient tools of war and musical instruments played in olden days. We clicked lots of pictures and were enjoying ourselves completely. My daughter tried her hand at playing some musical instruments. The guide was very friendly and informative.

Our cultural tour ended with the most memorable experience I ever had. She took us to show how sago is produced. Sago is starch extracted from sago palm trees and is used to make the famous Malay sweet gula malaka or sago pudding. It is rich in protein and is available in various colours in all supermarkets. The trunk of the sago palm contains the sago worm.

The guide suddenly took hold of one live sago worm in her hand and explained to the tourists that it is eaten either raw or fried by locals. I have a fear for any creature which crawls or creeps, so seeing the worm in her hand I moved away from her. I had a very creepy feeling seeing her hold the wriggling creature. I was keen to wrap up the tour soon and get back to the hotel when she unexpectedly put the worm in her mouth and bit it. She later invited other tourists to try it. One tourist was very brave and even tried eating the worm. I was feeling eerie watching her eat and requested my husband and daughter to leave the place. But both of them were thoroughly enjoying themselves. My husband enthusiastically clicked many pictures of her.
The repulsive feeling lasted the whole day and it gives me goose pimples even now whenever I recollect the KK trip. This tour will remain etched in my memory forever for watching a live sago worm being eaten.