Monday, June 28, 2010

Ba'kelalan – The Land Where Rainbows End

Images by: Seth Peli of Seth Photography
Fahmi Aziz

The 45-minutes flight on MasWings twin otter plane from Miri provided a mesmerizing view of the long stretch of green terrain below with miles of lush tropical rainforest painting the landscape of Miri. Deeply lost in my own thoughts as I sat there gazing at the scenery below, I knew we were nearing our destination as the plane started to descend and stretches of paddy fields can be seen dotting the village of Ba’kelalan.

Coined as the Heart of the Borneo escapade, Ba’kelalan is situated about 3000 feet above sea level, and 4km from Kalimantan, Indonesia. The charming and rustic rural village of Ba’kelalan comprises of 9 other small villages and is home to about 1500 Lun Bawang people.

Three beautiful Lun Bawang girls, heads adorned with yellow strings of beads and dressed in their traditional black costume which set a startling contrast against the azure blue sky of Ba’kelalan greeted me as I stepped down from the small aircraft
The welcoming ceremony did not stop there. As I headed towards the Apple Lodge, which will be home for the next four days and also literally situated right next to the airport, I was greeted by the melodious voices of the people of Ba’kelalan, young and old, singing the tunes of “Ba’kelalan My Home Sweet Home”, a reflection of the harmonious culture in Ba’kelalan. Tapping my feet to the uplifting beat of the song, I felt myself feeling at home amidst the the sun shiny warmth of Ba’kelalan.

Only in Ba’kelalan

Ba’kelalan is well known because of its apples. Yes, only in Ba’kelalan are you able to find locally grown apples. The cool and refreshing highland air makes Ba’kelalan the ideal, and in fact, the only place where apples are cultivated in Malaysia. The Ba’kelalan apple story began some time back in the 1960’s, when Andrew Balang Paran brought back 50 apple seedlings from Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was only 5 years ago back in 2007 when Pak Tagal and his family decided that it was high time Ba’kelalan has its own Apple Fiesta. Held yearly from 6-8 May, the Ba’kelalan Apple Fiesta brings about a festive air throughout the normally quiet and peaceful village. It is during this 3 day fiesta that the villagers will get a chance to showcase their talents at singing, dancing and even demonstrating on how to make apple pie from scratch. This is also an opportunity to visit the apple orchard and be fascinated at the apples wonderful colors of green and red. Consisting of four varieties with names such as Rome Beauty, Manalagi, Ba’kelalan and Cherry, bite into any of these apples and you will find yourself wanting more of the juicy sweetness and soft crunch of Ba’kelalan apples.

Apples and a bit of adventure

But apples aren’t the only main attractions in Ba’kelalan. To me, what defines Ba’kelalan is the endless warmth and genuine smiles of the people. Wherever you go, either taking a leisurely stroll along the paddy fields in the warmth of the evening sun, or sweating it out and hiking to Bukit Sarui to take in the wonderful sights of Ba’kelalan, you will always be greeted with a toothy smile and sometimes toothless grins (depending on the age) of the villagers, and if you’re lucky enough, after a few curious glances and smiles, you will have your own personal entourage of kids from various ages, showing you the sights and sounds of the village.

Breathing in the fresh air and watching the kids playfully chase each other around the paddy field; there is an element of serenity surrounding the village. However, don’t be fooled by the quiet tranquillity of Ba’kelalan. Adventurers in search of the beaten track can expect for the challenging terrain here to live up to its expectations especially during tropical rainy season. The Borneo Jungle Safari (BJS) offers an adventure trail package which promises to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. This would be a good opportunity for you to test your off-road driving skills. If you are up for a roller-coaster ride in a 4WD, you can enter Ba’kelalan from Lawas, where the off road journey would take a good 5-6 hours, depending on the road conditions. Be prepared to camp out if the roads get treacherous especially during those heavy rainy seasons. If you’re an avid tracker, a five hour trekking expedition through the jungles of Borneo will lead you to the border of Malaysia-Kalimantan.


While the images of mud tracks and rivers are appealing, I very much preferred a less strenuous activity. Spending a whole day visiting 3 villages around Ba’kelalan, I took the opportunity to learn more about the people of Ba’kelalan and immerse myself in the Ba’kelalan culture and lifestyle. I was even lucky enough to witness a Lun Bawang marriage ceremony. There was relentless teasing from the crowds as the mock bride and grooms shyly took their designated place as husband and place at the front of the room. What is a wedding celebration without a traditional dance routine? All the guests and myself included was then dragged to dance along to one of their traditional dances done at every wedding ceremony. I could see from the smiling faces on everyone present that they were having fun and a little bit drowsy perhaps from the endless cups of rice coffee served to us at every village, but that’s Lun Bawang hospitality for you. Serving the guests the best of what they have to offer.


The thing that I love most about Ba’kelalan is the passion of its people. The passion that they have for the land they call home. I could hear it in their voice, see it in their expression what Ba’kelalan means to them. Over a steaming cup of tea on my last night in Ba’kelalan, Mutang and his band of brothers circled me and began narrating stories of Ba’kelalan from years gone passed down from generation to generation. It was a story of their people; their tribe. They began their story saying that hundreds of years ago, many tribes in Sarawak were head hunters. Tribal fights occurred because of revenge and the power over territory. When a warrior is victorious, a ritual dance would take place around the perimeter of a crocodile or “Buaya Ulong” erected from earth. The warriors would then be chanting incantations relaying the story of the fights and how they were victorious. It gave me the goose bumps, listening to his story while in my mind I was imagining a warrior, looking down at me from a hill, challenging me. I was shaken from my reverie when told that there are still a few sites of these Buaya Ulong intact around the village. I didn’t need to twist anyone’s arm when I asked to be taken to one of these sites the next morning. Mutang was very much eager to show me around, proud and very passionate of sharing the story of his people.

Rural golfing anyone?

My late night conversation with Mutang also led me to the discovery of a 9-hole natural golf course right there in rural Ba’kelalan. I challenge those golf enthusiasts to have a go at Ba’kelalan’s Highland golf course as it is made even more challenging with natural hazards such as rivers, paddy fields and jungles. Don’t expect a club house or buggies to be made available here, but you will find yourself loyal spectators in the form of buffaloes. Yes, buffaloes but fret not, these buffaloes will be herded away from the course if there are any players on the green. Granted, buffalo dungs will be scattered here and there and if your ball goes into the dung, the good thing is that you get to take a free lift! A plus point of playing on this natural gold course is that you will be able to take in the beautiful scenery of Ba’kelalan as you play. If you are interested and up for the challenge, a two weeks notice is needed by BJS in order for them to prepare the green and fairway.

Where rainbows end

No one is a stranger here in Ba’kelalan. I was constantly greeted and smiled at and not forgetting the centre of constant friendly bantering and teasing from Kading and Lisa, two locals who made sure that I had a comfortable stay there at the Apple Lodge. Ba’kelalan may not be able to offer a luxurious five star retreat, but what it does offer is a simple lodging with basic amenities.

I have always wondered where rainbows end, what amazing things can be found at the end of such beauty. As I was flying out of Ba’kelalan towards Miri, gazing out the window, looking at the twin peaks of Mulu and wondering when will I ever come back to the warmth of Ba’kelalan, I saw a beautiful rainbow across the blue sky, I did not scramble to take out my trusted camera as I just wanted to take in all the beauty of Ba’kelalan one more time before I go home. As cliché as it may sound, I left my heart back in Ba’kelalan, bits and pieces of it with Mutang, Bulan, Kenny, Edwin, Sultan, Freddie and all the wonderful people.

A few days after, back in busy Kuala Lumpur, I thought of Ba’kelalan. I sent a text message to Freddie back in the village, telling him how much I miss the people that have now become my friends and family. His simple reply made me ache more to go back. He simply said “come home”. I found where my rainbow ends, and it’s in the land of warmth and sunshine – the land of Ba’kelalan.


Maswings flies to Ba’kelalan four (4) times a week.
Monday – Lawas
Wednesday – Miri
Thursday – Lawas
Saturday – Lawas

In support of the Apple Fiesta, MASwings increased their direct flights from Miri from once a week every Wednesday to three times a day, four days a week.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Reason, a Season & a Lifetime

I’m due to fly to Medan again tomorrow. Luckily it’s only an hour’s flight away. I don’t think I am able to stomach anymore airline food. I’ve filled up my quota of intakes on airline food this month.

A dear friend jumped like she was on fire when I told her I was leaving tomorrow. She must’ve jumped to the conclusion that I was running away of a broken heart judging from her rapid-fire series of outburst as to why I shouldn’t run away, and how that time will heal all pain and the default statement designed for heartbreaks that I will eventually meet someone new. I found that amusing and endearing at the same time. That she could care that much. But no, I am not running away of a heartbreak or heartache, least of all to Medan. If I were to run away, it would be to some exotic destination, say maybe somewhere like Mauritius or Mabul Island, where my fruit punch will come in glasses with miniature umbrellas on them.

This is my closure, I’m penning down the final words of this chapter in my book of life. Then I’m putting away this chapter under the bed for it to gather dust for hundreds of years to come until some archaeologist will dig up the site and find the book containing this chapter. They can then study what people from hundreds of years ago did when dealing with a broke heart ;)

The Syed;

What he did was wrong; the dishonesty on his part, but I have always believed that everyone has a reason for doing what they did. Whatever his reason is, I don’t want to know though. I however, do believe that he was there for a reason.

I’m actually happy that the Syed was a part of my life. He was there to listen when I needed him to. He was the one I turned to, the one I shared many laughs with and of course bitter arguments. He made the days a little bit interesting, a little bit fun.  For all that, I was always and forever be grateful to him.

So here’s to you The Syed. I believe you came into my life for a reason and only for a season. Whatever the reason may be, I thank you. I’m not that sad anymore.
A Reason, A Season and A Lifetime

People always come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or inwardly.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty,
or to provide you with guidance and support,
to aid you physically, emotionally, or even spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend to you, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrong doing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they just walk away.
Sometimes they act up or out and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and it is now time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON,
it is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They may bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.
And like Spring turns to Summer and Summer to Fall,
the season eventually ends.


LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
those things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person/people (anyway);
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas in your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
Thank you for being part of my life.
Now, I need to pack. Will be experimenting with my DSLR the next four days and take some shots with nice bokeh. Off to Medan.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Turn around

Now that the crying and feeling sorry for myself part is over and done with, I am now angry and I want to kick The Syed for doing this to me. Angry. Extremely angry.

Turn around

Now that the crying and feeling sorry for myself part is over and done with, I am now angry and I want to kick The Syed for doing this to me. Angry. Extremely angry.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I cried.

I still remember.

6 years ago, you left a note on the windshield of my car.

“Sometimes, the best things in life cannot be seen or heard but are felt in the heart” 

You signed it with your name, The Syed, and a number for me to call you back. The rest they say is history.

This morning, however, I cried.

I cried.

I cried not because I found your wedding invitation addressed to me in my mailbox the morning after your wedding, and I had no idea that you even had a fiancée, or that you were getting married.

I cried not because when you called to say you were supposedly touring Europe, you were in fact busy getting married.

I cried not because you are now someone else’s, and you will never be mine. I let go of that dream and hope a very long time ago. During one rainy afternoon when I asked where are we headed and you truthfully said that we are not meant to be. I accepted that. We became friends.

I cried not because during those last movie dates together and I mentioned who would I be watching movies with if you decide to get married in the near future, you didn’t say anything, and I thought I’d still have you for a few more moons.

I cried not because of the countless of weekends spent together, countless late night conversations, countless dinners after work, countless supper and countless journeys together discovering new places to eat, and I wouldn’t be able to do that with you anymore.

I cried not because while you were supposedly touring Europe, I was patiently waiting for you to come back. I was missing you.

I cried.

I cried because when I texted a congratulatory message to you, and my hands were shaking and the tears threatened to fall,   you said we can still go out for movies together. That’s not me. I wouldn’t do that.

I cried because though you had a moment to spare to come over to my house to drop the card in my mailbox, you couldn’t spare a moment to call or see me and tell me that you are getting married.

I cried because after 6 years of friendship, I was still not a friend to you. A friend would know when a friend is getting married.

But  mostly,

I cried because you didn’t give me a chance to say goodbye to you. To us. To our twisted friendship together. I cried because I just lost my best friend.

Only to realize that I wasn’t yours.

I’d better be getting home now. I’ve been here all day. Thinking, then crying. 

The barista here in Coffee Bean Mont Kiara is going to  start thinking that I’m homeless.  The shredded wedding card is still on the table.

Friday, June 18, 2010

For a Moment

I get to spend this weekend at home, the first in a long time. I have books that I bought at Chowrasta Market in Penang that I haven’t had the chance to read, a few DVD’s that I’ve bought and stored somewhere, hoping that I might find the time to watch them while snuggled under the duvet with the lights dimmed low.

I haven’t walked around Lake Gardens or Kiara Park in the evenings in ages. Maybe I would drop by the Kuala Lumpur library tomorrow, to sit and write at my favourite spot overlooking Dataran Merdeka where the flags will gently sway against the breeze. I haven't cooked in a very long time. I think I might have forgotten how to. I've been missing my gamelan classes as well cause it's on a Sunday and I haven't been spending a lot of Sundays in KL the past few weeks.
I’m looking forward to the weekend.

So I’m hoping that where ever you may be, you will enjoy your weekend as much as I will be enjoying mine.

Lots of love,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

As I See It

Voila! I unveil to you

It's actually still a work in progress as I try to balance my chaotic and disorganized life. An extension of what and who I am here, I needed a different space to record the places I see and people I've met , from my perspective, my words and through my lenses.

The first few entries are a mess, truth be told but I just needed to get a few posted up to get things going, or it will never go anywhere :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The-Mad Hatter Cinta

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

The Cheshire cat, Alice in Wonderland.

I’ve caught myself being judgmental over another person one too many times. A simple glance, an odd phrase, an out of place character, an odd-sounding sneeze and Mr. Hyde will take form and start to preside over my thoughts. Dark, smoky and venomous thoughts cloud around my judgment.

However, the Mr. Hyde side of me has been undergoing intensive therapy for the past two years. Countless hours have been invested, trying to eliminate Mr. Hyde, training to think positive thoughts. Bucketful of negative vibes have also been hurled out the window, sending it fluttering away against the wind to a land far far away undiscoverable by humans, unknown and unheard of.

A conversation with a friend however had me pausing and reflecting in the midst of busy mid-week rush hour traffic. I distinctly remember arguing and trying to weasel my way out of another attempt at matchmaking. Only this time, no aunts or makciks are involved. Only a few friends, who will be getting a cut of commission from the dowry money if things decide to work out well and on that note, I need an escape plan if things do work out unexpectedly well. I made that offer a very long time ago, when I was much younger, none the wiser and most probably high on the sugar rush from unlimited amounts of ice lemon tea on a night out with the ladies and marriage was a coveted fairytales-do-come true occasion amongst us singles. Well now that I’m way PAST that phase...

So as I sat there, listening to why I should do it and laying down pathetic reasons why I should not, among them being; what if he likes to eat fried chicken legs with mayonnaise? Or he likes to wear selipar jepun on a weekend to The Curve? He listens to Backstreet Boys and memorizes every one of their songs or maybe he has manicured and pedicured nails, and prefers to eat his barbecued chicken wings with a fork and knife instead of doing the manly thing and use his fingers? Maybe he likes to name drop and brags about the time he played golf with some royalty or maybe just maybe, he likes to read Ahadiat Akashah and Judith McNaught romance novels?

I stopped mid way when it suddenly dawned on me, there I was, being judgmental when I have yet to even lock eyes with the person, when it actual truth, I am the one with the weird quirks and idiosyncrasies.
I have a record of scaring away dates with preaches on the sanctity of marriage and how utterly important it was for a spouse to be loyal, on a FIRST date. For crying out loud, who does that on a first date?!!

I have also had the gut-foolish (I just invented that word) to give out fashion and hair advice which I am positively certain it came out sounding rather condescending, which wasn’t my intention in the first place. I am rude as I pick up calls in the middle of dinner, I like to play with my straw, and I sometimes forget my manners when I place my elbows on the table. I am foolish enough to do that on dates.Any takers? To compensate for my lack of social grace, I believe I cook a mean asam pedas. Nobody will ever be hungry when I’m around. My friends can vouch for that.

The thing is this, it got me thinking, I’m not even sure if I got my point across; I cannot judge a person to a set of beliefs or try to conform them to a mould which I believe is politically or socially correct or incorrect, whichever way it is. Sometimes, I don’t even know right from wrong, what is accepted and what is not. Most of the times, I’m just being myself. I listen to Craig David and I think he’s hot, I love watching sappy romantic movies and even have The Holiday stored in my iPod, some people can’t handle that. Too much romance they say.  I like to bite my lips and stare off into space when I’m thinking, and I can’t get my act together-don’t know what to order in posh restaurants. Apart from that, I love my pink selipar jepun and I think they’re funky and I like flopping them around One Utama and The Curve every weekend. Oh, watch out for my hand gestures when I talk, cause I do a lot of that as well, to the point of overdoing it. Hope my friends aren’t embarrassed by that, as I have been prone to hit a few innocent passersby with those extreme acts of self expression.

So, I was thinking, if I promise to accept you as you are, will you accept me as I am, weird and clueless at times? Life would be dull without us filling it with odd and uncanny quirks and idiosyncrasies. I say, bring on the friend chicken legs and the Backstreet singing boys and the well manicured nails,  we're all mad here. ;-) So says the grinning cat.