The Panaga Monkey Saga Continues.

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've just sat through one of the more difficult consultations here.
It involved a young lad with a similar name to a certain brit singer who likes to rock DJs and the one and only Miffy.
The email Rumor mill has been working overtime with the return of Miffy to Panaga. The young lad we saw today had been at the bar at the Panaga club and decided to show off to his mates and pat the monkey. It seems that Miffy is one of your new-age feminist monkies, and doesn't like being touched. So she went angel loving boy, and savaged him like the british paparatzi do to his namesake.
So here we were this morning, trying to explain to his concerned mother that whilst there having been no reported cases of rabies in Brunei itself, there are numerous reports of it in Sarawak. Which is literally on the other side of the river. So yes, the rabies shots he is taking are probably in his best interests. She went on to complain about how nothing has been done about Miffy.
Topher explained that they have caught Miffy, had people set her free, and even reloacted her back to the jungle. I say Miffy is one bright monkey to find her way back. Topher then went on to expalin that it is illegal to posses fire-arm in this country (possessing of arms - That's a hangin'). Thaat rule harks back to the 60s, when Brunei was considering becoming part of the Malaysian federation, and Sukarno, the Indonesian leader at the time, was unimpressed by this. He considered the Malaysian federation to be a brittish imperialist lapdog, and was actively hostile towards the idea. So much so that he started the small scale millitary campain of confrontation, and incited a small rebellion in Seria and Kuala Belait, supplyingback up troops to the disident locals. Of course as we know through history, the Ghurkas were called in from Singapore, crushed the rebellion, and followed the indonesian paratroopers into the jungle. Only the Ghurkas returned. Without prisoners. Anyway, as a result of the rebelion, Brunei has been under martial law, and thus the ban on arms. I say arms because it's even illegal to import swords.
So the only people in the country to posses firearms are the Ghurkas and Brittish officers. Topher explaind that had Miffy been a Che Gorrila (Communist Guerrila), the Ghurkas would shoot her on sight. But alas, she is not, and in Topher's own words, "The Struggle Continues"
After they had left, Topher showed me some of the emails he has been inudated with as the acting CMO of the health services, including one imploring him for guidence and direction on what to do about the situation. Of course i was most unhelpful and suggested an anonymous email should be sent stating that Miffy should be punished and someone should spank the monkey. Topher got that I was taking the piss, but some people are taking the Panaga Monkey Saga a littel to seriously.
Topher then told me a story about how a similar thing happend at a resort near Victoria falls in Africa, but this time it was baboons, rather than monkies attacking people, stealing food and even bikinis apparetly. Thing desintergrated to the point where the hotel had to employ regular baboon patrols, shooting them on site.
So that said and done, Some of us here have taken it upon ourselves to go on monkey partol on Thursday. I promise to 'shoot' Miffy on sight, and if you're lucky, I'll have a picture of another lucky monkey to display.


Mt Kinabalu

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mt Kinabalu
Originally uploaded by graum.
One word: Do it!

Danny's the man

Danny's the man
Originally uploaded by graum.
Trust me, this is the best book ever!

2046 = 708, Minus Zang Ziyi and Maggie

Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005

Yeah, I love picking titles for these things. Another oblique reference that very, very few people will get.
This weekend, I finally made the break out to Kota Kinabalu (KK). Something I have been meaning to do from the day I found out I was going to Brunei. I found out last Wednesday that Laura had other plans for the weekend, which was fine by me, as it meant I could take my time and do the KK trip over 4 days instead of 2.
Friday was another fun trip early in the mooring with the clinical waste to RIPAS hospital in Bandar. I caught up with Tim, the Kiwi student, and Gemma. Gemma and Zoey had just returned from their trip to KK the previous night, and the boys were still there. I was a bit jealous actually, listening to Gemma talk about their trip to Sandakan and Mount Kinabalu. They had taken a week off, and first thing they did in KK was book a trip to climb Mt Kinabalu. The earliest they could do it was in 5 days time, so they went to do a jungle camp out at Sandakan. The bit about the tarantula the size of a dinner plate was particularly sobering.
Gemma also made the Mt Kinabalu climb sound very cool, in a depriving sort of way. 2day, freezing cold, un-heated huts with facilities so grotty only one of the group was willing to risk them, with a dash of altitude sickness. As you could imagine, I was pumped.
Unfortunately, I had not booked ahead, and only had the weekend, so I missed out on the climb itself. If i were to go back and do things differently, it would definitely be to book ahead, right at the start of the rotation, and to have packed some warm clothes.
I said my farewells to Gemma, and Tim and I caught a water taxi into greater Bandar. After more of the usual tourist stuff with Tim, like taking photos of him in front of the mosque, we went our separate ways; him to the royal regalia museum, and me to the bus station.
While waiting for the bus, I had a brush with Brunei celebrity. In all the current Lonely planets with a chapter on Brunei, a mention is made of a friendly, bald, smiling local who goes by the name of Danny, who hangs around the bus station handing out free tourist advice. In all my previous trips to the bus station I had seen no sign of him, and was beginning to wonder if he existed at all.
That Friday morning however, a bald, smiling, friendly local in one of the loudest Hawaiian shirts on creation, came up to me and asked me if I had a lonely planet.
"You must be Danny" was my reply.
Yes, he was, and to emphasize that, he started pulling out endless magazines and travel guides from his bag, with articles about him. Unfortunately for Danny, things weren't going to his internal script as I had been in Brunei for 6 weeks by that point. I had already seen almost all the local tourist attractions; I knew where I was going and how to go about it. After he chased after a group of German backpacker girls who didn't read lonely planet and had never heard of him, we got to chatting about life in Brunei, his girlfriend in Japan and tourists.
Danny really loves his country, and is quite realistic about it. He enjoys meeting people and showing off the few things Brunei has to offer. He was telling me about how he found it a bit upsetting that a particular American writer had hammered BSB for it's pollution. In all fairness, yes, there is a lot of rubbish in the water here. But in Brunei's defense, compared to neighboring Malaysia, it is a hermetically sealed very sterile thing. Now that my views on Malaysia and pollution are public, I'll also say how grateful I am not to have been to Indonesia. The rubbish in Sabah really got to me for some reason.
The 'express' bus (buses and vehicles with trays are limited to 50kmh) was like most other bus trips here; A test of one's nerves and self control, in not going up to the driver and giving him a thwack around the back of the head for ignoring the incessant beeping of the speed warning device. In the driver's defense though, it seems like the beeps kick in at just over walking pace.
I am really starting to hate immigration checks by this point. What could be a relatively innocuous little boat trip, turns into a hour long stand in the sun fest waiting to have your passport indifferently 'chopped'.
On the ferry, I was a bad boy, and inadvertently snuck into first class on my quest for a spare seat. The division of classes on the ferries though, must be based on how much you like swaying (more) and how loud you want you Eminem played (much more).
Thank god for ear plugs. If there is one bit of advice that I feel compelled to extol when it comes to using public transport in Borneo, it is take ear plugs. The boats/buses/planes are loud, the people on them are loud, and the *cough* music is very loud.
Lubuan Island, the intermediate destination from Brunei to Sabah via ferry, was immigration all over again.
I hate border checks.
I hate them,
I hate them,
I hate them!
Another hour of immigration, five minute dash to buy a ticket for the next ferry to KK due to leave in - five minutes.
It's so hard to not develop an us and them mentality at times.
We do things very differently to them. We are richer than them. They know that. They want our money. They're touting us, not to help but to rip us off. etc etc etc.
Add to that, Being a tall, noticeable white guy, I get preferential treatment. Whether they're aware that they are doing so, like waving me through before them, and maybe this adds to tensions. I don't know. Maybe I am being too hypersensitive. I'll get back to this though.
The ferry trip into KK from Labuan was fun. 3 hours watching dodgy VCDs, Kung Fu Marghong, and some German dubbed to English speed racer 2 type movie. Kung fu Marghong was actually quite enjoyable, if somewhat split personality in nature. The first half was very slap stick, the middle quite somber, and the crescendo a mixture of the two. The best scene was the rip off of Kill Bill, from the fight scene in the restaurant with a cross dresser as the school girl with the mace. Very funny.
Danny had warned me about not eating any oily food before taking the KK ferry, and in all fairness it was a bit lumpy.
I arrived just after 6pm as it was starting to get dark. Coming into KK from the water, it looks like my kind of city, with hills in the background and buildings hanging off them. I was thinking, 'yeah, this is pretty cool, I could live in a town like this'.
Until I stepped off the boat and the smell hit me. I have been thinking about this a lot, what with the book I am reading at the moment, The Singapore Story by Lee Kwan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore. The Singapore he describes from the 50s and 60s, sounds a lot like the larger cities of Sabah and Sarawak.
Smell is a very strong emotional drive, and I can unequivocally say that my experience is that the smell of SE Asia is raw sewerage. From Singapore to Kinabalu National Park, you're never more than a faint whiff away from the sweet smell of sullage. The wharf area of KK has to be the strongest yet that I've come across. This is probably due to all the paths being placed directly over the drains into the ocean, and at low tide they back up a bit.
Away from the wharves, things change a bit, and you're in a town composed of mostly old buildings that have seen their best days long past, with new buildings reminiscent of the HDB flats of Singapore shooting up.
The lonely planet advises against walking along the water front areas at night alone. I of course am stupid, and don't think about these things until they area bit pressing. I think however, the writers of Lonely Planet take on a default nanny setting when advising people of their actions. The waterfront of KK is no worse than any other town with too many teenagers with too much time on their hands. I was in no real danger, and any discomfort I felt was due more to obviously being the first white guy silly enough to go down there in 6 years. Punk kids are punk kids the world over.
after walking around looking for a good place to eat some local food, I chickened out, and went to Shananigians instead. Shananigans is an Irish pub attached to the KK Hyatt. I ordered the Chicken cannelloni, and at 18RM, it was undoubtedly both the finest and cheapest cannelloni I have ever tasted. I also had my first Carlsberg ever, and had a rosy glow when I left an hour later. I had previously been warned off going to Shananigans in Miri by one of the Australian patients (The only Aussie I've seen here, and a dead ringer for Crocodile Dundee) because of the Lady boys. It was too early in the night for me to see if the warning extended to KK though, as the only other people there were a group of English tourists.
I went to bed early that night, having decided to get up early to go to Mt Kinabalu on the first bus and ring Jasmine to wish her happy birthday.
The buses to anywhere outside KK all leave from the same 500m long strip, and seemingly at the same time. Walking down early in the morning, I was still a black from the station before the first tout latched onto me and pleasantly enough directed me to the bus that I wanted, arranged the ticket that I wanted (eventually, there was a mix up as the whether I wanted the morning or afternoon bus, they caught on when I got on the bus and waited for it to leave), with the company that I had been advised by Danny were the best. Seeing as I was early though, I got to witness the joy that is the street theatre of the KK long distance bus station. it was barely 7am and the place was already a seething mixture of people. One thing that stood out to me between Miri and KK is that there was a much larger degree of tribal variation in the people. That and the people seemed a hell of a lot poorer in KK. Kiri is an oil town first, then a trade and tourist town. KK has traditionally been an administration town, and only recently a tourism town. That day there were bugger all tourists. Just me, a weird looking skinny white guy in a narcissus T-shirt and his unimpressed Japanese girlfriend. The touts took them to a different bus, and I beat them up the mountain by an hour :D
The hawkers were like flies, humming around the people, setting on a target, then humming off when brushed off, hovering then settling on a new target. Usually me because I was overtly watching them. One skinny girl, who by my estimates would barely be 12, but could be 5 years either way as I am very crap at guessing peoples ages here, saw me watching her trying to sell fruit and came up onto the bus and tried to get me to buy some right up until the driver started the bus and the ticket guy chased her off.
My favorite bit was when a screeching, middle aged, chunky Chinese woman got on the bus and started whining about having to sit next to a 'boulay' (I don't know how to spell it, go with the phonetics), got off the bus and refused to get back on. I sneered at her as we pulled away as I know what boulay means, and I was the only one of them on the bus. Anna was good at teaching me the derogatory and complementary words in bahasa and mandarin.
The bus trip to Kinabalu national park was another exercise in white knuckle fear. I fear I may be getting soft in my older age. But then, I don't exactly want to die or be maimed either. i don't recommend the bus trip to the weak of heart. The diver took the 'ekpress' label on the bus to heart, and tried ever so diligently not to lose any corner speed, and accelerated at every opportunity. The road however, is very twisty, very slippery, and has many edges that drop off, seemingly for ever. The one time where someone almost did doe however, was surprisingly not the bus driver's fault, but the idiot that pulled out to overtake on a blind corner, to find us oncoming. To my utter astonishment, the bus driver sacrificed out momentum and braked hard, only scraping the oncoming car as it veered out of our way. Only after finishing their overtaking maneuver however.
Mt Kinabalu is stunning. Having never left Australia, the tallest mountain I had seen previously is barely half it's height, and quite flat. Mt Kinabalu seems to rise out of nothing, beyond the clouds, which seem to stick to the peak and smear across it as they pass. If you manage to tear your eyes from the mountain, you are rewarded with stunning views that I never expected to see in SE Asia, and in my mind belonged more in Nepal or Switzerland. Tiny villages far below, and roads snaking around the ridges, taking 20km to travel 5 in a straight line. Truly stunning, it made me glad that this was what I had decided to do on a whim. Seeing the orangutans would have been my first choice in coming to Borneo, but having gone to Mt Kinabalu instead, I feel in no way cheated.
The trip took only 2 hours instead of the predicted 3 in the good old Lonely Planet, and the air was quite crisp. Just walking up the hill to the entrance gate I found myself getting out of breath, and the headquarters are only at 1600m. I had intended to buy a phone card and ring Jasmine once I got to the park, and I walked about for an hour before I found the gift shop, where they had no phone cards, so I bought her a birthday present instead and kept walking. An hour later, it sort of twigged on me it had been a while since I had seen any guesthouses so I turned around. When I got back to entrance and looked at the map, I realized I had made it half way to the first base camp. That was naughty because you're supposed to buy a climbing permit (100RM) and hire a guide before starting the climb. Oops.
Once I was completely buggered from walking around in the thin air, I ducked across the road from the park to the restaurant come convenience store which was advertising phone cards. I bought a large bottle of water and when asked about the phone cards found out the phone was broken. Then the bus back to KK pulled up outside so I ran out yelling thanks in Malay over my shoulder, and up the road, banging on the bus as it pulled off. Thankfully they stopped, and I was treated to King Kong on the TV, and a quick 1 1/2 hour trip back to KK.
On the trip back it started to dawn on me how little work I have done this rotation (none) and how much I had to do (all of it) in the next 2 weeks, so I decided to head back to Labuan that day. The weather conspired against me though, and halfway down the mountain I saw the storm clouds. My stomach sank, and all I could think was "Oh shit..."
Amazingly we made it off the mountain via the road instead off sliding off, but I wasn't as happy at the ticket office for the ferry.
"I want a ticket for the next ferry to Labaun please"
"It's cancelled lah"
"Cancelled? when's the next one?"
"There is no next one, come back tomorrow"
"8am lah"
I found a hotel room for half what I had paid the previous night, and as I watched the light display of the storm as it spread across KK from the 7th floor, I realized it was a good thing.
That afternoon I spent a frustrating hour repeatedly dialing my parents to get Jasmine's number as I had forgot my phone (It's been turned off for 7 weeks now...). Another hour later I finally got through to her. Admittedly, Dad had given me the wrong number, and her mobile was turned off in the afternoon, but half of the hassle was still with the phone. Malaysia telecom is plainly just crap. if it's not the company, then certainly it is their public phones at the Milimewah shopping center in downtown KK. I finally got through to Jasmine after her movie had finished and turned her phone back on, and we chatted until the card ran out. You better like you present Jasmine :P
Next day I was up bright and early, as the perfume of KK was getting to me, and I wanted out. From there it was a leisurely 8 1/2 hours, involving 2 ferries, and two buses to get home. Same movies and bad music on both ferries too.
Praise be to ear plugs.

Marriane and the jungle

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005

Marriane and the jungle
Originally uploaded by graum.
Tree houses, plank walks and sedge covered lakes.

Bridge to Labi

Bridge to Labi
Originally uploaded by graum.
An upper tributary of the Sungai Belait

Kids of Kampong Ayer

Kids of Kampong Ayer
Originally uploaded by graum.
These two greeted Laura and I with the friendliest happy hellos ever.

Then Along Comes Marriane

Selamat pagi/petang/malam depending on the time of day as you read this (consecutively, morning, afternoon and evening).
Well it’s been another Bruneian weekend, as the passport hasn’t returned from the Vietnam embassy yet. No dive stories from the oil platforms either, as the club were doing dives at the shoals.
I was contemplating what to do when introduced to the English med student who’s based at the MRS (No idea what that stands for, but it’s the medic centre for the Ghurkha troops stationed out here to guard the oil for the sultan.).
Laura suggested going to Bangkok for the weekend, which I am totally keen for, except for the funds issue, the having to take two separate flights from Miri and the relative expense due to the short notice.
I was starting to get a bit depressed at the idea of another stationary weekend in the Belait region, when I remembered that the pharmacist at Panaga has a car hire business on the side, and offers special rates to the hospital staff.
So it was decided that Laura and I would hire a car from Azmi.
When collecting the keys from Azmi, the first thing he said to me is:
“Do you remember my name?”
Someone has a sense of humour obviously. It turns out it was because he had some inside knowledge and was told I asked around about him, and what his name was numerous times until I had the brain storm to write it down.
Friday afternoon, Azmi handed me the keys to his new pride and joy, Marriane the gun barrel silver Mazda 3. Such a nice car, I really didn’t want to give it back.
There’s a new safety consultant at BSP headquarters, and he’s running a mock emergency response this coming Wednesday. None of the doctors at Panaga really want to go, as they have clinics, and well basically they’re over it, so I am being promoted to doctor on call for the exercise. To prepare me so I don’t look like a complete pillock the doctor that liaises with UQ (Who’s just returned from his two month around the world holiday this week) offered to lend me his BMJ emergency response manual. He kept forgetting to bring it to the clinic though, so I had to drop off at his place on Friday afternoon on my way dropping Laura off at the British officers mess. Fast forward to sitting around on the back veranda in wicker chairs, drinking tea and sipping Tiger beer, surrounded by a family of blindingly blonde, arianesque Rhodesians. I say Rhodesians because Topher is from Rhodesia, the place that became Zimbabwe, before it became Zimbabwe. He’s a top notch laugh actually, as he’s one of those doctors who are old enough and comfortable enough to be able to not really give a crap about how good a job anyone thinks he’s doing. Not that I would ever argue with his opinion, as he is a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It’s such a laugh in our afternoon chats, him giving me crap for being a “Pinko, leftisit, greenie”, and extolling the virtues of unbridled capitalism. I laugh, cause although he’s being tongue in cheek, there’s a rather substantial element of seriousness in what he’s saying. I remember reading in a Sean Condon book, that when a girl meets a man she likes, she wants to marry him, but when a man meets a man he likes, he wants to be him. Give me another 25ish years and I hope I am as justifiably comfortable in my abilities as Topher.
So as you can imagine, the afternoon, looking into the jungle for monkeys as the kids played cricket in the back yard, smacked just slightly of colonialism. It was still pretty cool though.
Saturday morning I woke early, as Laura and I had decided the night before to drive to Bandar and do the water village hour long boat tour thing, then off to the Empire. Before I picked up Laura however, I was determined to take Marriane for a drive inland as far as I could, to a Longhouse community called Labi. It was one of the most fantastic drives I have ever done in my life. It was a poetic mix of fear for your life driving from the other people on the road, going local way too easily, driving far too dangerously, and jungle roads, which whilst sealed, were still in extensively varying states of disrepair.
I made it within 9 kilometres of Labi before I had to turn around to make it back in time to pick up Laura. I was quite annoyed by that, and if I ever return to Brunei, I might just return to finish that drive. On the way back I did stop at Luaguan Lalak forestry Recreation Park. The park is a beautiful sedge filled valley with tree houses and plank walks around the sedges. The shot with Marriane in the foreground was taken at Luaguan Lalak. The photo of the wooden bridge was taken a further 5 kms down the road.
Driving back the Kuala Belait I realised I was running late, and did the stupid, dangerous thing, that I will never do again and cannot condone. I did the entire trip back at 160kmh. Thank god for sparsely populated countries with dual carriageways. No one pays any attention to the speed limits here, so it is far too easy to fall into the same trap. Now that I’ve done it, and pushed my luck way too far by surviving unscathed, I shan’t be attempting to drive at 160kmh+ again. It truly is white knuckle stuff trying to maintain the level of focus required, for any length of time.
I was more than happy to let Laura drive at this point, especially seeing as she had the dubious privilege of having lost all the points she can for speeding back in the UK. 160kmh in Brunei was nothing for her.
The trip to BSB from Seria/KB usually takes 1 ½ - 2 hours. With Laura driving, we were there in 45 min… White knuckle indeed!
Doing the proper full length boat trip, including looking for Proboscis Monkeys is by far better than just a cursory trip like the one I had done a fortnight previously. Kampong Ayer is still a shanty town on stilts, but going to some of the more outlying areas, it becomes evident that new houses do exist. Our driver dropped us off and waited for us to visit one of the floating mosques. On the walk back a couple of small kids came running out of their home to practice their English. I’ve dubbed them Enrique and Eliza, and they were such cute kids, that I had to take their picture. It is so amazing how friendly the people here are, and if our boat guy wasn’t waiting for us, Enrique and Eliza’s family would have probably adopted us by now.
After not being able to find any monkeys, I introduced Laura to the fantastic would of SE Asian hawkers stalls, where lunch for the both of us cost less than $7 including drinks. Laura was particularly smitten with her can of Kickapoo Joy Drink. I was a wimp and stuck with the Milo, pronounced ‘Mee-Loh’.
After the dizzying hustle bustle of BSB, we decided that it was time for High Tea at The Empire. I’ve written of The Empire before I know, but it really is an excessive place. Tea was fantastic, although I am going to be a bit pompous here, and say that my scones are better.
That night we had a dinner party at the house of the radiographer from Panaga, and his wife, who is a Major at the MRS. Both lovely people, and the medicos were fascinating to talk to.
Sunday was a brilliant day, with a trip up the Sulai Belait to Kuala Balai on ‘The Narcs’, the garrison’s dive boat.
It wasn’t the best of beginnings when the starboard engine wouldn’t lower into the water however, and as a consequence of Brit bloody mindedness, we made the trip on one engine in just under 2 hours.
It was well worth the wait however, as the first thing that greets you in the village of Kuala Balai when entering via water, is a cage full of human skulls. A left over of a less publicised aspect of WWII in the region. The Iban people were banned from their head hunting practices by the British administrators prior to the war. Once war broke out however, they were given free reign to get as many Japanese heads as possible. When peace was declared, no one told the Iban who quite efficiently wiped out all the un-accounted for Japanese troops within the jungle. The only sore note from all this from my perspective, was that I forgot my bloody camera. This is where I have to tip my hat to the Scottish Major, who took heaps of photos for me with the intention of emailing them to me.
We moored off at the village longhouse, which was unfortunately deserted, but we had a good explore of the village and long house communal areas. One of the procurements officers had put on a fantastic spread for our picnic lunch, and for the second day straight I was stuffed with so much food I could barely even waddle afterwards. After 6 weeks of SE Asian food, I was unprepared for a good old fashioned English picnic. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve had such rich food.
The trip back was a bit faster thankfully, due to travelling with the current. As we were pushing off from our mooring at Kuala Balai, I spotted a rather massive ten metre ‘Log-a-dile’, which was a sobering reminder to keep a look out for semi-submerged logs which could put a hole right through the Narcs’ hull. Poetically, within sight of the Kuala Belait mosque, we ran out of fuel. We had filled up both tanks with enough fuel to travel almost 40 knots. Those figures of course are based on both engines running. As we had not even been able to get onto the plane, and the engines having separate tanks, we were caught out. It was almost funny bouncing uncontrolled into the palms growing out of the jungle on the bank. If the guy in charge of the trip had not of had the forethought to get a spare 30L drum of fuel before we even knew the other motor was out however, it would have been a different story.
The broken engine did get the last laugh however, as we were docking at the boat club, we rear ended the Panaga dive club’s boat at a fair clip, as our captain was unable to keep the boat straight with only one engine. It amused the people on the deck at the boat club restaurant at least.
Afterward I made a quick dash home, stopping off to buy some heavy groceries while I still had the luxury of Marriane, and the key was handed back at 5pm. I almost cried as I gave Azmi the key back. Though our time together was short, Marriane and I bonded, sharing many wonderful jungle experiences, and shall not be easily forgotten.
This weekend I am heading for Kota Kinabalu finally, with Laura in tow I think. Not really how I wanted to do it, as she has a final drinks night at the mess on Friday, and I wanted to be in KK that night. So it’ll be a much quicker trip, but that’s alright, as I still have one more weekend after that left in my trip, so I can always go back and do it properly then. Hard to believe it’s almost over.
I really am starting to look forward to getting home and seeing you all. Which reminds me, I really should get starting on working out my gift list huh?
So who has been naughty, and who has been nice?

Brunei round-a-bout

Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Brunei round-a-bout
Originally uploaded by graum.
I can't even make stuff like this up. - So much material there for the taking in Brunei.

Panaga dive freaks

Panaga dive freaks
Originally uploaded by graum.
One way or another, I was going to make it to one of the offshore platforms. (Chains around ankles out of shot)

Pringles connoisseur

This week’s instalment is a relatively short one, thank god I hear a lot of you gasp in my imagination. It’s been a very low key weekend, which kinda frustrates me a bit, as I am getting quite bored hanging around in Brunei on the weekend. I should be off seeing the sights of Borneo and blah blah. Next weekend will probably be more of the same as I am sending off my passport for my Vietnam visa, and even though I’ve been told it should only take a week, I am not holding my breath.
As I mentioned in the past week, I was hoping to go diving off one of the offshore oil platforms this weekend. Unfortunately my cards haven’t arrived yet, but I am expecting them any time this week. Things seem to take about ten days to get here by post, and it’s only been eight so far.
I did manage to get into pretty regular contact with the Panaga dive club however, and as hoped they were fine with me going out with them to the platforms on Sunday. Of course I didn’t find this out until 4:30pm on the Friday. In other places that would not have been much of an issue, but everyone in Shell has shoofled off by 4pm, so I had no way of getting back to them to confirm. Again, if I had access to car this would not have been an issue, but seeing as the dive boat leaves at 7:15am, and I am staying a good 14kms from the boat club, fun ensues.
Saturday morning saw me riding a push bike to the boat club in order to work out how long it would take the next morning. The first half hour of the trip seemed pleasant enough, being mostly jungle suburbia. Another one of those interesting Brunei Shell peculiarities, the company housing is set between the sea and the main road between Seria and Kuala Belait. Each house has it’s own little pocket of cleared space within the jungle, connected by small roads that runs almost the whole distance to KB. The lack of cars competing with you for road space, and the occasional monkey jumping across the path make it a pleasant bike ride in the late afternoon. I would not recommend doing it in the middle of the day however, as the backs of my hands are still sporting rather embarrassing fluorescent red sunburn patches. I can not stress enough how gallons of sun screen and gloves are important when spending any time on a bike in the daylight.
Riding through KB is another scary lesson in it’s own. Where else in the world do you develop the personal mantra,
“Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me!”
whilst being passed by car loads of teenage Muslims doing 130kmh+, listening to the mid-day prayer blasting out the radio? It truly is a moment of my life that shall live forever. Mostly at 3am in the morning when I wake up in a cold sweat.
By the time I got to the boat club the dive crew weren’t due to arrive back for another two hours, so the decision was made to tough it out at the boat club restraunt, overlooking the Belait river and impenetrable jungle on the opposite shore 300m away.
Part of my little personal quest I have allocated myself whilst here, is to find the ultimate rendang curry. Those of the Rocky crew who are part of the old cooking circle will have a bit of an idea what rendang tastes like, as I have cooked it for them on a couple of occasions. I must hang my head at this point and say, sorry guys, I was close but I still haven’t gotten it quite right yet. Those of you who are feeling brave however, will be pleased to know I have sourced a recipe of how to make it from scratch. Fun for your taste buds lay ahead. I just have to work out what veggies will go well with it as a side, because the authentic thing is quite thin on the greens.
The rendang at the boat club was OK, but more of your western stew with a rendangy twist to it. It needed a bit more coconut and time to reduce. I enjoyed it for what it was, but at $6.50 it was getting to the upmarket side of the scale. Seriously, I love how cheap food here is. If there was a hawkers market within easy access from my apartment, I would have already put on 20 kilos and still be saving money.
As I was enjoying my post prandial glow, reading a copy of the ‘Borneo Bulletin’, the prestigious local newspaper which has had such fantastic headlining stories such as “More second wives to avoid un-wed virgins” and “Toilet cleaner college for Singapore”, the dive boat pulled up early.
I had a nice chat with the team who had just finished a set of training dives, and gratefully arranged a lift to the boat club the next morning.
Cue a early Sunday morning boat ride to a distant oil platform, 35 nautical miles offshore. I went for an enjoyable little snorkel around the platform, and tried not to think about what the indistinguishable large shapes twenty meters below me were. Being short sighted, good diving visibility is wasted on me these days. Oh how I long for the days of my youth, before I needed glasses to see anything in detail beyond arms length. *sniff*
I hope you all enjoy the pictures this week, which include one of the random roundabout monuments. The teapot is a gift from Brunei Shell Petroleum to the Sultan of Brunei and his peoples. It’s supposed to represent the boundless wealth of Brunei pouring into the teacup. At night it even lights up and you can see the oil pouring from the pot – Except these days the electronics mechanism in charge of the neon light representing the stream of wealth is broken. I don’t know if that too is meant to be a metaphor for something, but combined with Singapore’s fountain of wealth, that is all dried up except for special occasions, this is not boding well for the region.
On a side note, I have just been watching the Motorcycle Diaries again. Bless legal piracy btw. I first saw this movie the day of my last performance with The Lanterns. I had a whole speech prepared in my head that night about how I saw this movie, about a young man, who at that point in his life was not so dissimilar from myself. We are both medical students, of a similar age, embarking on great journeys that were destined to change themselves forever. I don’t pretend to actually consider myself in the same league as Ernesto Guevara, but it is humbling to think that a great man who achieved great things could have evolved from a man very little different from myself, or any one of my colleagues. It gives pause for thought about what he may have achieved had he not been killed.
But instead I just said thank you to those who turned up, and said the rest with the help of the band.
OK, frivolous side thought moment.
I have discovered in myself, amongst other things, a sadomasochistic streak in me that revels in experimenting in junk food in all it’s various forms here in SE Asia. Part of my journey of gastronomic discovery, is that not all Pringles are created equally. In Singapore, I tried tomato salsa Pringles, manufactured in Indonesia. They were alright, in a 4 out of 10 kind of way.
In Sarawak, the day before going to Niah Caves I bought a tin of sour cream and chives Pringles in a Miri supermarket. Malaysian supermarkets are bizarre by the way, totally unlike any supermarket I have experienced back home, but I have let myself get side tracked enough already in this piece. These Pringles were also manufactured in Indonesia, but I figured I would be leaving too early to buy breakfast in the morning and a snack on the bus would not be such a bad idea. I should have known better by this point, but I persevered. On the plus side, after about five chips, I was done for Pringles for life it seemed. Under normal circumstances I would be ashamed of the actions that followed, but then, those people who have tried Indonesian Pringles would understand. I threw those little bowel clenchers out with over three quarters of the can left. Some things man was not meant to dabble in.
Recently however, I was awed to see American Pringles on sale at the Super Save for less than two Brunei dollars. For the sake of research I was willing to jump back into the fray and dabble in Pringles as originally intended. They were everything their Indonesian counterparts were not: Flavoursome in a not entirely toxic manner, with a flakiness that dissolved in your mouth on contact.
I’m still giving the gong however to the good ol’ home grown Aussie Pringle counterpart, which possesses just the right blend of flavour and crunch for my unrefined palate. We export them to the Middle East, so they can’t be all that bad.
Alright, that is it for now.
Until the next adventure, take care ;P
Grim-e-o out.