Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Vietnamese Round Boat

The Vietnamese round boat has always intrigued me. Although simple, but what excites me is how to row and manoeuvre a round boat . You need some special skills otherwise it just goes round and round. These round boats which are also called basket boats are native to central Vietnam. The first time I saw them was in a coastal fishing village at Quinhon, about an hour's flight to the north east of Ho Chi Minh City. Almost every family who owns a fishing boat also owns one or two of these round boats. These light weight boats are easily carried and useful in shallow water. On board of a fishing boat there is always one round boat which will be used to bring the catches ashore especially when the fishing boat is not able to come near to the shore during low tide. The round boats have neither speed nor stability, so they are only pratical in short distant usage.On average, a round boat can accommodate 2-3 small sized adults. In the United Kingdom, similar round boats are called coracles.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Terindak- The Melanau Hats

The beautiful and colourful hand-made hats of Sarawak's natives are not only for decoration purposes, but they are also used for protection against the sun and rain. Most natives live close to the forests where they have easy access to plentiful resources such as rattan, bamboo and palm leaves for making various kinds of hats , bags and mats. The conical Melanau sun hat called the Terindak is one of the most distinctive hats among the natives.

The Terindak is made with nipah leaves stitched together and strengthened with colourful bamboo strips on the outside, radiating from the centre point. The design of the Terindak has been successfully incorporated into the architectural designs of Sarawak as it is very much evident in many modern buildings especially in several regions of central Sarawak.
In Mukah Division where the Melanau population is concentrated, the Terindak design is applied on the buildings of the market and the divisional administrative complex as well as several other commercial buildings. And in Sibu, it is applied on the 27-storey Wisma Sanyan which is the tallest building in Borneo and also on a glass structure at the Sibu Gateway.

The Golden Fish

The most expensive fish in Sarawak must be the "Empurau" (Tor Tambroides). A kilogram in the market is now selling at RM320 (about USD92). With the Chinese new year around the corner, the price is likely to increase to RM400. "Empurau" is native to Sarawak. It only survives in the fast flowing clean rivers of interior Sarawak, particularly in the upper Rajang, Baram and Ulu Ai. Due to pollution of these rivers mainly by deforestation activities, the fish is becoming quite rare now. However an important breakthrough was achieved in 2004 with the successful artificial breeding of the fish for the first time in Sarawak. "Empurau" fish is very tender and "sweet" and it is normally only steamed although occassionally its head is also cooked with curry. A dish of "Empurau" curry fish head of one kilogram is served at RM700 in a Sibu restaurant.In recent years "Empurau" fish has become a hot and popular gift item with many businessmen buying and stocking it to be given away as gift or present to their important clients, suppliers or politicians at the appropriate time or occassion. The "Empurau" fish in the above picture weighs 25 kilograms, that is a hefty RM8,000 or more.

Sleeping Friends

It is always good to carry a camera with you whenever you go. I use to do that since I am a keen photographer and I don't want to miss shooting any interesting or important things or events which I might come across. Sling bags and waist bags are very handy and also fashionable nowadays. I have several of them which are solely used to keep my cameras. The first photo above shows a coffee shop owner caught sleeping comfortably with his legs up on a chair and his head leaning againt the fridge. He sleeps like this almost every afternoon when there are less customers. " I got used to it already" the friendly boss said, adding that he has to wake up early in the morning to start the business at about 5 am. So by afternoon, he gets tired and sleepy and a short nap is always necessary to recharge him so that he can continue working until about 8 o'clock in the evening.

Two years ago I took another photograph of an old man resting on two tables in a market. I befriend this old man by inviting him for a drink. He was very friendly open-minded and outspoken, and at 86 years old, he was also very healthy and strong. Unfortunately less than a year later several tradegies struck the old man .He was first robbed of his gold necklace and his rolex watch, then not long after that he was hospitalized for a week for having taken too many viagra pills at one time. Upon his discharge he was still boastful about his sexual powerness. The third and final tradegy struck him while he was having a meal at home. According to his relative, the old man just died while having lunch on the dinning table. What an easy way to die, so fast and so peacefully.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Vietnamese Tree Bark Collectors

Collecting wastes for a living is a universal job for the hardcore poor, especially in the third world countries in Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America.You don't need capital or you only need a very minimal of it as you don't have to pay for most of the things you collect.You just have to work very hard and to always be ahead of competitors. Common in our country are people collecting all kinds of metal scrap, aluminium cans, glass bottles, plastic, old newspaper etc. But in Vietnam I came upon groups of women from the coastal villages of Mythoi , Long Xin and Quinhon collecting tree barks for a living. These coastal villages are located near to the main timber discharging ports in Vietnam. In recent years much of the timber imported to Vietnam for its furniture and construction industries is from its ASEAN neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia. Logs are normally shipped to Vietnam by open top barges instead of the traditional log carriers because of the mobilbility of the barges.
When a barge laden with logs arrives at one of these villages, it is like a gold mine for the villagers. But there are also rules to follow. Firstly the tree bark collectors have to follow the working hours of the port as no body is allowed to board the barge during non working hours. Secondly the tree bark collectors are not allowed on board when discharging of the log is in the process as it is very dangerous. The only time these tree bark collectors are allowed to board the barge is when the port workers are having their morning and afternoon breaks and when they are not working due to raining. Although these breaks are short, the tree bark collectors work feverishly fast to collect as much as they can before security guards warn them off.
Women, young and old form the majority of the tree bark collectors. Usually there are also a few young children among them. It is quite an easy job provided you have the correct tool.... a long and strong iron chiesel is perfect. But it is a dangerous job because you have to work very fast on top of the logs which are slippery when they are wet. Very often you also have to move underneath the piles of logs to collect the barks, just imagine the serious consequence when one of the logs slip and hit you directly.

Normally the villagers are very cooperative and they collect the tree barks base on first come first serve basis.The collected tree barks are sort out, bundled and transported home by bicycles or motorcycles. At home they are laid out to dry under the sun until they are ready for sale to bakery shops. Bread baked by tree barks are said to be of extra tasty and crunchy. So the next time you eat a loaf of bread in Vietnam, think about these tree bark collectors who risk their lives under the piles of logs to give you a good meal.

The Elegant Orang Ulu Lady

The colourful and very artistic traditional costumes of the Orang Ulu (Highlanders) lady of Sarawak certainly also make them the most outstanding and elegant costumes among all the natives.Traditionally these costumes are only worn during important ritual ceremonies and during the welcoming of VIPs. A complete set of this costume may cost up to several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the quality of the materials used. In fact many families consider their traditional costumes as priceless heirloom if they are being passed down from their ancestors.The whole set includes, from head to toes, a beaded head-dress with tassels of white goat hair, a bead necklace, a colourful short sleeves shirt and a sarong skirt decorated with ethnic designs and bright colours of yellow, green and red and a belt of several strings of antique beads. In the olden days heavy brass ear rings were worn in elongated earlobes which gave the Orang Ulu ladies a very unique appearance. The earlobes may extend 8-10 inches long and it was their belief that the longer the earlobes, the prettier the ladies. Both the lower arms, fingers and legs of some of the Orang Ulu ladies are also heavily tattooed in black which symbolize their social status in society.

The Miring Ceremony

Remove Formatting from selection Pigs and roosters are perhaps the most common and also the most important animals to the Iban community in Borneo.Besides providing them as food, they are also essentials in any family or community ritual and ceremony. Among these ceremonies, the Miring is most frequently performed. A Miring is an elaborated and very often colourful and noisy ceremony performed to applease the gods and the spirits and to receive blessings from them. Depending on the significance of the ceremony, a Miring could be attended by just a few people of a family and his close relatives to several thousand people involving several communities. Grand Miring ceremonies are performed during the Gawai Dayak (Iban Harvest Festival), Gawai Antu ( festival to remember the dead) and in modern times,the welcoming of important guests such as a government minister or dignitary.
During the Miring ceremony, a pig must be killed to sacrifice to the gods and the spirits. Usually the pig is tied on all legs to an wooden pole or placed inside a gunny sack or poly bag as shown in the top picture. The traditional way to kill the pig is using a spear or a warrior sword to cut off its throat. Instead of using the whole pig as offering, only a small amount of the pig's blood is placed in a plate together with other offerings such as rice and egg. The plate is then placed on top of a temporary altar usually made from bamboo.The whole body of the pig is then cleaned and cooked or bbq for the ensuing big feast and merry making that sometimes last for days.
The rooster plays a more different role and is always more lucky as its life will sometimes be spared in the ceremony. After two or more village elders or the guests of honor have chanted poems of good omen while waving the rooster in front of the gathered crowd, the cockscomb is cut slightly to obtain its blood as offering to the gods and spirits. The rooster may be killed for the cooking pot or will be freed.

The above pictures were taken during a Miring ceremony to commemorate the launching of a housing project involving Iban's native customary rights land .


Another armed robbery on the streets of Malaysia? No no, but this picture really is alarming if I were not to tell you that the "robbers" in the picture are members of the same family about to board their car after a morning of shopping. Two guys, one at the back and the little boy at the right are carrying toy guns. All doors of the parked car are opened up...making it like the "robbers" are forcing the people inside the car to get out. But infact the doors are deliberately opened to allow hot air to escape before the family moves in. I am very disturbed and saddened by the news of the tragic and senseless death of Datuk Albert Ma, the former Chief Police Officer of Penang. At age 82, he died three days after sustaining serious head and body injuries while trying to fight single-handedly five armed robbers who broke into his house on February 9 in Petaling Jaya. The escalating serious crime wave in the country is indeed very alarming and disturbing to all peace loving citizens. Looks like no one is safe and no place is safe in our country. I hope with the death of a former top crime-buster as the latest victim of serious crime, our present police will go out in full force to combat crime in the country. According to newspaper report, the late Datuk Albert Ma was the boss and mentor of our present Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Musa Hassan.

Miss J

Nature creates wonders. I affectionately name this millipede "Miss J" and I certainly will get approval from most of you that it is an appropriate name befitting the little creature which is putting up her brilliant performance!

I came across her while on an adventure photography session with a few buddies.Strange enough when I stopped to photograph her, she put up some arobatic displays in letters I, J,O,S, 6 and 9 and having successfully performed these acts she climbed down from the tree trunk and disappeared into the bushes.

Was it just a coincidence or was it really a crazy creature who wanted publicity?

Rural vs urban

Sarawak is a state of rivers and along the banks of these rivers there are several thousand longhouses where the indigenous people dwell. All together there are some 30 different races of people. Because of its remote and hilly nature, very often the only means of transport is by river. Long boats or dug-out canoes are just like the cars on the road. They are used to transport people and goods. On a recent trip to visit an old Iban friend who is a retired army officer, I took the above picture of parents transporting their young children to attend school. Indeed if we are to compare our children with these rural children, our children are the fortunate lot...having everything prepared for them by parents or the maids, yet they would complain about so many things. Many rural children are boarders, and very often after the boat trip they have to walk a few kilometers to reach their schools.Perhaps a major compensation for these rural children is they don't have to experience the hassle of a bad traffic jam travelling by the family boat.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

New Life

A picture tells a thousand words. This picture which I took while jungle trekking has given me a lot of inspiration and encouragement. To me the young leaf represents a new life, it is full of energy and it has strong determination to survive and to succeed. When I am down and out, many of my pictures cheer me up......just like someone whispering in my ears asking me to be strong and get on with life

Rubber seeds

I am very certain that not many of you have seen rubber seeds in your entire life, even for those of you living in Malaysia which is one of the top producers of natural rubber in the world. The other day I picked up a handful of rubber seeds while walking on a small road leading to a rural farm. While stopping to collect these seeds, I became very sentimental....these tiny rubber seeds immediately brought me back to my childhood days. I spent my entire childhood years with my parents and we lived near to rubber estates . In those days toys were either very rare or too luxurious to afford for the rural kids. We had to be contended with whatever natural resources could offer us....rubber seeds were not only our toys, but also our companions, our best friends.There were so many games we could play with rubber seeds. We used to compete with brothers and sisters and also with neighbours...whoever win would get all the rubber seeds as his trophy.I still remember on several occasions Ah Mun, the girl living next door to us cried so loud when she lost all her rubber seeds to me. Rubber seeds were also used as fish baits after their hard shells were removed.We put the seeds inside the fish trap called "Bubu" and when fish were attracted by the aromatic smell of the seeds, they swam into the trap and could not escape. Eels especially loved to eat rubber seeds. At one time, one of our big "bubu" caught 72 eels!