Stop #1: Kuching, Malaysia

Yesterday I arrived in Kuching, Malaysia for about a day and a half stay before flying to Vietnam tomorrow. Although it’s only a 30-minute flight from Pontianak (Capital of West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo), the Malaysian side of Borneo is very different from Indonesia. The biggest difference is probably in transportation, in Indonesia nearly everyone drives a motorbike and I’d say only about 25% of the vehicles on the road are cars. Here it’s totally flipped and there are way more cars than bikes, probably because the roads are nicer and the infrastructure is actually set up for cars. Anyway, Kuching is a very multicultural city with a huge Chinese influence and relatively strong tourism. I think I’ve heard more people speaking Chinese than Malay since I’ve been here, and nearly everyone speaks English. There are lots of Westerners roaming the streets and that’s hard to get used to, it’s been a while since I’ve seen so many bule (Indonesian word for foreigners)! There are also tons of souvenir shops hawking “Borneo” gifts, some of the stuff is nice and they do have some authentic Dayak craft shops, but most of it is just the same stuff you can buy anywhere else. It’s a far cry from Ketapang, I’ll tell you that!

Sarawak River and the waterfront in Kuching

Sarawak River and the waterfront in Kuching. The river is a focal point of the city, and “Old Kuching” lines the south side.

Yesterday and today I’ve really just been exploring around my guest house (Wo Jia Lodge), which is right on the waterfront and only about 40 Malay Ringets, or $12, per night. This past week I’ve been extremely busy with staff meetings and finishing up a grant application, so I’m taking a bit of time off today to relax. This morning I went out around 9 am and wandered around looking for some coffee- I finally ended up in China town where I sat in a VERY busy noodle shop and had pork noodles and a cup of coffee for breakfast! It was a little family owned shop with mostly Chinese patrons, and the employees were constantly yelling orders and running around. The noodles were really good, the pork was a nice change of pace (because Indonesia is predominantly Muslim it’s difficult to find pork at restaurants), and my food + coffee + a bottle of water only cost MYR 6.80, or about $2. Score! Then I walked around the waterfront, went to several Chinese temples, and found the Kuching city mosque.

Chinese temple in Kuching, just a few minutes from the Waterfront

Chinese temple in Kuching, just a few minutes from the Waterfront. This is one of three temples I found today all within about a 10-minute walk from each other.

On my way back I decided to walk away from the waterfront area and accidentally stumbled upon the Sarawak Museum. That was awesome because I wanted to go there but was too cheap to pay a taxi- although it was at the very edge of what I would consider walking distance, I’m glad I went. The Sarawak Museum is actually a collection of various museums with artifacts from Malaysian Borneo’s history and culture. I went to the Natural History section (very small), the Ethnology section (all about Sarawak’s Dayak people, including a model longhouse… I have a lot of Dayak friends in Kalimantan so this was especially interesting to me) and the Textile museum. Admission to everything was free, and although the exhibits weren’t huge they were for the most part really nicely put together. Finally after a quick lunch of pineapple friend rice and fresh apple juice, I ended up coming back here to my room around 1:00. Now I’m just going to relax, repack my stuff, and get ready to head to Vietnam tomorrow for a week of primates. My plane is at 5:30 in the morning so it’s going to be a very early start, but I’m looking forward to seeing Cheryl and her family, the OuTrop crew, and potentially some Columbia friends. I’ll post again from Vietnam sometime later this week!

Dayak woodwork crafts for sale in a souvenir shop in Kuching, if I had space in my bag this time I would probably buy some!

Dayak woodwork crafts for sale in a souvenir shop in Kuching, if I had space in my bag this time I would probably buy some!

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Idul Fitri Break

It is officially Idul Fitri break (Eid Mubarak!) and I’m thankful for that. I spent a good but exhausting day traveling around to some of the staff’s homes yesterday, unfortunately and although I really wanted to I didn’t make it to all of them. By the end I was stuffed full of ketupat (a kind of sticky rice), rendang (beef curry, for lack of a better way to describe it), and assorted little cookies and snacks. We even got a take-home bag of cookies and chocolates from the last home we visited. I’m pretty sure they will all be gone by the end of the week!

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Idul Fitri treats and hanging out with new friends (future English teachers!) in Ketapang

As usual, the week before the holiday was a busy one at work. We unveiled the brand new website for the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project, which is the umbrella organization for both the conservation and research programs. I’ve been working on this since the beginning of June so it was awesome to finally be able to publicize it! Now I’m using the days “off” this week (I’m not off but all of the Indonesian staff are) to catch up on grants and plan for August because I will be in Hanoi, Vietnam for the International Primatological Society’s Congress for a good chunk of the month. I’m excited to see old friends from OuTrop and Columbia, hang out with the GPOCP staff outside of Ketapang, and meet new contacts. Plus, Cheryl will be there with her family and this is probably the last time I will see them this year, so I’ll be busy going over stuff with her as well! I’ve never been to Vietnam and I don’t know if I would go if this conference weren’t happening, so it will be a good opportunity to explore a new country. I’m sure August will fly by! After IPS I’m hoping to have a chance to get out into the community more and spend some time up near Gunung Palung because I’ve been in Ketapang for far too long and it would be nice to see some forest.

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Meet Codet, one of the flanged male orangutans who lives in Gunung Palung National Park and the new face of the GPOP website. Photo by Tim Laman (www.timlaman.com)

Oh yeah, and if you haven’t already seen it, I’m officially Wake Forest famous! I did a little interview for the WFU Magazine’s website and it just came out the other day: Saving the Orangutans. If anyone hopped over to this blog from that page, thanks so much for reading, and feel free to leave me a comment on here. I’d love to hear from you… WAAAKE! FOREST! WAAAKE! FOREST!

 

 

 

Ramadhan and More

Getting ready to break the fast after a community meeting

Getting ready to break the fast after a community meeting (not a great picture, I only had my phone with me!)

I wasn’t quite sure what to write about today, but as I opened my computer to check my blog the sounds of the mosque started and so that’s my inspiration for today. Ramadhan, the Muslim holy month, is about halfway over. In America and other non-Muslim countries, we often hear about Ramadhan, but do you really know what it is? The main focus of Ramadhan is fasting. Muslims who choose to fast cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. They wake up at about 3:30 in the morning to eat (called sahur), then around 5:30 or 6:00 when the sun sets they can eat again (iftar). Indonesian Muslims vary in how diligently they follow the rules of Ramadhan (much like Christians during Lent), but generally they aim to fast every day for a month. Many restaurants are closed during the day and those of us that don’t fast try to be careful about eating in public- or for me, in the office!- although as Ramadhan stretches on these rules get more and more relaxed and some people stop fasting. Our conservation program activities have to change a bit as well, instead of having meetings during the day we do most of our community activities in the evening so that after we’re done we can break the fast together with the attendees. Breaking the fast is usually done with little cakes, fried snacks and fruity drinks, then after that everyone does their evening prayer before they have the full dinner meal. The fasting month lasts until July 28th, and then there’s a huge holiday called Idul Fitri where all you do is go from house to house and eat. I’ve already been invited to a couple of homes so that should be fun, and I’m sure I’ll get invited to more as the day approaches!

In other news, our project’s truck is pretty much done for so now I am actively searching for some funding to replace it. I’m not really sure where to come up with $25-30K but we need the truck for our activities so it’s going to happen somehow! If anyone out there who happens to be reading this has some extra money laying around and wants a truck named after them (seriously, I will paint your name on the sides of it) then you know who to give it to 😛 Cheryl and her family are coming back into town this weekend, then after that I’m going to hit the road and head back up toward Gunung Palung for some community activities, so things will be busy as usual around here for the next several days. I’m leaving for IPS in Vietnam on August 8th and won’t be back for ~10 days and I’m trying to get all kinds of things in order before then. The GPOCP staff all have at least a week holiday to celebrate Ramadhan, and my goal is to take advantage of the quiet time to finish some grant applications, make plans for my time away, and check out the beach around here at least once. Big plans, as always!

Gunung Palung sits behind rice fields in Sedahan village- when city life in Ketapang gets boring, I can always come here!

Gunung Palung sits behind rice fields in Sedahan village- when city life in Ketapang gets boring, I can always come here!

Indonesian Weddings

Procrastination time! I have a report to write that I don’t really want to start on yet, so instead I figured I would write about Indonesian weddings.  We attended one with the volunteers last week, and they are setting up for another wedding on our street today, so I figure this is a timely post.  The house down the street is especially interesting because they have set up some elaborate decorations made of young coconut leaves, which is a Javanese tradition signalling that a wedding will soon occur.  In fact, in some parts of Indonesia unmarried women are commonly asked, “Kapan janur kuningnya?” which literally translated means “When will you raise yellow coconut leaves?” (aka, when are you getting married).  Most Indonesians get married quite young, so from what I can gather anyone over the age of about 22 that is belum menikah (not married yet!) gets asked something along these lines fairly often.

I’ve been to 3 weddings here now, and I think they’re really fun. As Westerners we often get invited to weddings for people that we barely- or just flat out don’t- know; the last wedding I went to was for the niece of one of our local staff members.  None of us had ever met her, but we were invited with open arms.  The more people you have at your wedding the better, and it was important that we attended to show our support for our field assistant’s family.  It was also an interesting cultural experience for the volunteers, because Indonesian weddings, regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian events, are quite different from our Western weddings.  Case in point: this particular wedding started at 8 am, and we were invited to the reception from 9 am-noon.  Now when I say weddings are really fun, I mean they’re fun for everyone except the bride and groom.  Their main responsibility for the day is to stand in one room, which has been elaborately decorated for the event, while all of the wedding guests file in to say congratulations and have their picture taken with the couple.  They literally do this all day, while a) standing stiffly next to each other without much touching or smiling, because expressing affection in public is against the conservative Indonesian cultural norms, and b) wearing stifling hot clothes in the Indonesian heat.  Women wear modest, sleeved wedding dresses, and if they are Muslim wear their hair entirely covered, and the men wear long dark suits.

Bride and groom with volunteer Bronwyn and OuTrop staff Thea (photo: Morena Varga)

While the bride and groom pose for pictures, the rest of the guests are invited to help themselves to food and drinks (water or juice only, of course).  Guests can come and go as they please, there are no sit down meals or endless speeches to listen to, although there are usually a singer and keyboard player to entertain the crowd.  They are also not expected to give big gifts; a simple envelope with a bit of money is the norm.  As the only bule (white people) faces in the crowd we are also usually obliged to pose for what seem like endless photos, the majority of which are taken on people’s mobile phones instead of a proper camera.  I always wonder what people do with these photos… I think they probably show them to their friends to prove that they have, indeed, seen white people!  It’s fun for the first 60 photos and then the “celebrity” treatment gets a little old, but it’s also nice because people always come up and talk with us about where we’re from (Amerika? OBAMA!!! is the typical reaction I get), and our time in Indonesia.  Everyone is extraordinarily well-meaning and polite, even when they are trying to coax us up on stage to sign or dance with the band.  And, of course, the kids are really cute and giggly about talking with white people.

All in all, Indonesian weddings get two thumbs up.  In fact, I’m thinking about walking down the street around lunchtime today to see if I can go to another one!

Hanna and everyone! (all photo credits on this post to Morena Varga)

Nick and Pendy at the wedding

Supian and I goofing off (also, everyone at that wedding was SO SWEATY)

Me and the girls

Nick and the boys