Friday, April 27, 2007

Hornbills in Royal Belum - ten out of ten!

Have we got a record here? More of the hornbills in a moment....

I have embarked on the fieldwork for the project I am working on.
Yep, visiting six National Parks or State Conservation areas is work, you know...

We started off with Royal Belum in northern Perak, bordering the Perak border. And of course, got Noramlyed* again. What did you expect? [*disastrous events occurring whenever the Noramly family travel]

We were supposed to start off from Banding Island in Temengor Lake ( a man-made lake) at eight oclock in the morning - but didn't get started until 12.30, because the police didn't sign our permits the day before to enter a restricted area as expected (the OCPD was busy), and then the Parks department gave him the wrong forms anyway...and as a result we spent a morning twiddling our thumbs at the jetty.

Ah, but what happened next was pure magic. Apart from the fact that Royal Belum is stunning - a lake cradled by rainforest-clad hills, fringed with flowering bongor trees, scattered with islands, and veining rivers outwards into valley after valley - in the next 24 hours we saw nine species of hornbill. That's right: nine.

And the next day, as we travelled out - with ten minutes to go, and two hundred meters to travel, the boatman pointed - and lo, species number ten flew into a nearby tree. The perfect moment.

Malaysia has ten species of hornbill, and we had seen them all in just over a day. Can there be a single other place in the world that can offer something as magical as that?

Oh, and did I mention that we also saw nine species of raptor? The last was a migrating Osprey overflying just as we crossed over the Park border on our way out...

I have the best job in the world.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Are male readers prejudiced against woman writers?

Over on Bibliobibuli, Sharon remarks that female readers will read books by both males and females, but that men have a preference for books written by other men. Or, to word it another way, they tend to dodge books written by women authors.

True or not?
What do you think?

I'd hate to think that a significant number of men were so prejudiced they censored their reading in this fashion! I can understand not wanting to read a genre - romance, or chck lit, for example - but to turn down a book simply because of the author's gender?

So, what do you think - are we still living in the nineteenth century or not? (I'd particularly love to hear from a man who has such a tendency...if he is brave enough to admit to it!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What's that smell...??

The other night I returned late - almost midnight - to my house in the Klang Valley. (Yeah, I'm back in Peninsular Malaysia for the time being. ) As I approached the house, my headlights lit up a civet crossing the road, rather like a large long low cat with a tail three times the size of a normal domestic cat.

Then this morning, when I woke, it was to a pungent smell of civet pee - both at my front door and in the ceiling. Now, as I type this, I can hear the guys rolling around under the roof, right over my head. One of these days I am going to have to get rid of them. Someone suggested putting a ghetto blaster up there, playing hard rock at full volume. Cheaper and kinder than calling in pest control?

I have spent the weekend at a workshop on monitoring important bird areas. And in between whiles, I am working on the proofs of Song of the Shiver Barrens. I am off on a month long tour of national parks and similar places - hey this is WORK, you know! - so don't expect much in the line of daily blogs. I will put up something every time I manage to find an internet connection.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Computer addict

Back on line - bought myself another computer, in fact. So I now have two... never want to be without a second again; it was awful. Ok, so I am addicted.

And to think when I started writing seriously, I used a manual typewriter and an eraser. That's right. An eraser. They used to sell special typewriter erasers.

(There you are, now you know - I am so ancient, they didn't even have correction fluid back when I was young...)

I am now so broke, that I think I can lose weight. No money for food, you see. So If you see a new svelte me, blame my addiction to computers.

Seriously, I think having a computer and all those wonderful opportunities to revise, revise, revise, without retyping the whole thing, has made me (and probably everyone else too) a better writer. I would never want to go back to the good old days if I had to surrender my laptop...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Den of iniquity - or an internet cafe...?

My computer - and I have only one at the moment - is in hospital. Being nursed back to health I hope. It had multiple organ failure, but happily its innards were still under warranty, so it shouldn't cost me too much. I hope.

Maybe the final touches to The Song of the Shiver Barrens was just too much for its cognitive health...

So here I am having my first taste of a Malaysian Internet cafe.

There have been numerous comments by bigwigs in Malaysia lately about what liars bloggers are, or illiterate self-indulgent nonentities etc etc... This week I attended a meeting in which government servants seemed to think that anyone who says that internet publications have validity needed their heads read. Which was a bit tough on us when we were trying to point out that if you want to impress a certain segment of the population, you are in trouble if you ignore the internet, especially when the publications out there in this particular field were the most up-to-date, accurate info we could find.
Sigh.

Those who can afford to look at their porn in the privacy of their own houses, are - naturally - convinced that internet cafes are the seat of all evil among Malaysian youth.

As I sit here in the pitch dark trying to see the keyboard, I am wondering if they are right. What's with this lack of lighting? Do all Malaysian internet cafes operate in lighting more suited to drug dens trying to escape the notice of law enforcement? Should I peek into some of the other cubicles and see what is going on...?

I am at least three times older than anyone else here. What fun...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Journeys in another world

Sometimes I am the alien. The creature that doesn't belong.
These photos were taken on the way back from Imbak...
The first three were taken at our first stop back in, um, civilization, in a village of a few houses along the road at a bridge.
The first photo is a restaurant alongside the road. It was also a home, and a shop.
Note the woman doing the family washing, and the clothes drying under the roof.
On the back left is their sundry shop, where we buy some drinks. On the back centre right is the doorway to the bedrooms, with a cloth door hitched up to let in the breeze.


Here are the members of our party drinking cold cans of coke and seven-up on the other side of the same open room - the "restaurant".
This was the view from where we were sitting. Note the boatman in the river.
This is a photo taken at one of the many gates we had to pass on our way to Imbak Valley. Gate keepers live in huts beside the road, maintaining the check point - I assume to make sure that the timber trucks passing by are legal.
I found this one interesting because it was a juxstapositioning of worlds ...the hut to the right, the chicken coops there in the middle and on the left (after all, leave your chickens out at night and they could be eaten by anything from a clouded leopard to a python), a couple of what must surely be fighting cocks with their legs tied by string to a couple of posts (cock fighting is illegal...of course - yet another example of a Malaysian law that is rarely observed), and the washing on the line.

Which included a beach towel, with Spiderman on it. Hollywood in central Borneo.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Some more photos from Imbak Valley

Remember - we wanted to find the Bornean Peacock-Pheasant.

Seems we went to the wrong place. The area where the last one anyone has ever seen in North Borneo was shot in 1996 (by the Sabah Museum) has the same name as the area around Imbak.

But there is another area with that name - seems we went to the wrong one. Next time.













At Imbak, though, we did hear a report about lots of Black Partridges, another very rarely seen rare bird... hmmm













Anyway, here are some more pix from Imbak:
Dennis and I birding in the mist early morning.
The last pix is me writing in camp at night.
The river views are behind where I was writing (remember, these buildings have no walls, which is fantastic. You feel you are living in the middle of the rainforest.)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I could have been dressmaker to the Stars...?

When I was little, my mother had a Singer sewing machine - a treadle one, worked by the feet, and it was on a treadle machine that I learned to sew. At highschool, we were taught sewing and had to make a dress one year, including making the pattern for it. Only the girls, of course - the boys did what I considered interesting stuff like woodwork and metalwork. I envied them because I hated sewing and never thought I was any good at it.

Unfortunately, as a teenager and young adult, if I wanted to have nice clothes I had to make them. There was no money for anything else. I even made my wedding dress and veil.

When the children were young, I was still making clothes, theirs and mine, but I still hated sewing. It was with infinite relief that I noticed the world was beginning to change, and it was cheaper to buy ready-made things. I don't own a sewing machine any more, and I am delighted.

Anyway, I was somewhat bemused when I discovered that my younger daughter coveted my 70s clothing, especially the ones made of ethnic materials - hand-woven Thai silks, Kelantanese embroidery, hand-painted batiks and so on.

And much more than a little bemused when she wore one to a pre-Oscar party in L.A. not so long ago and had people wanting to know where she had obtained that wonderful dress of handwoven silk...

Being my daughter, she took much pleasure in looking Hollywood's golden girls straight in the eye as she told them, "This? Oh, my mother made it back in the seventies..."

I missed my vocation. Thank goodness.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Saving heritage or getting rid of the colonial past?


When I lived in Tunisia and I dug in the garden (which had the most magnificent roses I've ever seen), I was likely to turn up broken Roman tiles and marble pieces. There was even a carved capital of a Corinthian column on the steps to the front door.














In that house, I could look up from my computer and stare out of my study window to see the ruins of Carthage in the distance. I was writing the Heart of the Mirage at the time, which is set in a Roman-type ancient world, so the vibes were good...!














I love wandering around ruins and imagining what was once there. And yet I know that if I had lived in times long ago, and there had been such ruins in my neighbourhood, I would have been the first person out there pillaging for building blocks and carvings for my own house. After all, if one can build with Roman marble, why not?







Ialso have a certain ambivalence about spending money preserving the past, when we don't spend enough preserving our natural environment. Sorry, the rainforest will always come before an old house as far as I am concerned. I think we should remember our history as much as possible, yes - but our environment is our future, our health, our legacy to our children. It is all important. More so than an old house.

So it is with considerable surprise that I find that I have played a part in doing just that - saving a beautiful old house from pillage and rot and the ravages of the tropical climate.

When we journeyed to Sebatik Island, south-east Sabah, I was intrigued by the fact that we stayed in Kampung Wallace Bay. I wondered if it was named after Alfred Wallace, the explorer and naturalist who came to the same conclusions about evolution as Charles Darwin. After all, the Wallace Line - which divides the natural world of the Greater Sundas and South-east Asia from the Australasian flora and fauna - travels down the Bornean coast just a mile or two away from Sebatik.

But a chat with a local convinced me that Wallace was the name of the guy from the North Borneo Timber Company in charge there at one time. The same local man who took my sister and me to see the so-called "Wallace House" at Wallace Bay.

And what a beautiful house it is: built of the best of tropical wood from top to bottom, even ceilings, with a view over the bay - visible from its verandahs and french doors in three directions - all of which had me gibbering with envy.

It was also being slowly plundered of its wood, and being attacked by termites. Apparently though, we were so enthusiastic in our praise that others took up the torch of conservation...and it looks like this glorious building, symbol of a colonial past and colonial rapine, will be preserved.

Which brings me to another point. When the lovely Bok House in Kuala Lumpur was being pulled down very recently, one of the KL bigwigs remarked something along the lines of - why should we bother to preserve something that has no significance in our history. It was just a rich man's house, all part of the colonial past (although the owner/builder was not a colonial).

But the colonial past is our history, whether we like it or not. We shouldn't forget it. Ever. It makes us value our freedom all the more. And perhaps we should hang on to its symbols, as reminders.

When I first came to Malaysia, aeons ago, there was a monument in Malacca town, a war memorial in fact, to the brave gurkhas who had died defending the Brits from the wicked rebels in the aftermath of the murder of James Birch, the British Resident in Perak in 1875... I think that was the essence of it, if my memory serves me rightly (it doesn't always!). I thought it was wonderful that this monument to British chutzpah had survived independence and Malaysian pride.

Can anyone tell me if that memorial is still there somewhere? It was in the lovely little park - long since irresponsibly vandalized by development - near the Stadthuys.

Photos show the Sebatik Wallace House from the back - couldn't get one of the front because the slope down to the sea was so overgrown. The sunset is the evening view from the direction of the house.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On bribery and blackmail and being two...


My grandson is two plus, that age when a mother starts to think of potty training.

Like all good mothers, my daughter thought of bribery. She told her son that when he obliged, she would take him to the toystore, and he could have whatever toy he wanted.

Like all grandmothers with a good memory, I started to laugh.

The day arrived, grandson obliged, and off they went to buy a toy. He selected a train, but then wandered off before the purchase was made to have a look around.

And went into the costume section. And, of course, having impeccable taste, he selected the most beautiful thing he could see - and changed his mind about the train.

After all, what more lovely creation can you imagine than a puff-sleeved dress fit for a princess, covered in glitter, net, and ruffles?

"I want that," says he.

Now his mother is very careful about gender typing. But, well...maybe there is a limit.

She showed him the batman and the superman and the monster costumes.

"I want that," says he, pointing at the dress.

She reminded him about the train.

"I want that," says he, pointing at the dress.

They circled the store, looking for something else to catch his eye.

He went back to the dress.

So she caved in. A promise is a promise. So my grandson is now the proud possessor of a pale blue princess dress. Which he wanted to wear there and then.

"No," she says hastily. "When we get home."

At home, the dress went on immediately, over jeans and t-shirt, and stayed that way the rest of the day. Even though he did wonder why his mother wouldn't let him play outside until it was dark that evening.

Father, when he gets the news that his son has cross-dressing tendencies, wails, "Couldn't you have shown him Spiderman?"

Grandmother - me - is now hoarding these photos and planning for the day when grandson is a linebacker for the university football team and dating the college sweetheart. How much do you think he will pay?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

More from Imbak Valley, Sabah




Some more pix from the Imbak.

These show us trekking to the waterfall on the Imbak river, and the small gorge on the way. Note the rather precarious path down the cliff face overlooking the gorge...

And all the while we were birding.
We added over 60 species to the Imbak list, and ended up with a list of our own of 140 lowland species. We will be publishing it soon...


I didn't want to come home.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why you shouldn't be a second wife,,,

There have been some comments in the newspapers here about the problem of social imbalance in Malaysian society - women are now dominating university entrance to a ratio of 60:40, and on graduation, find that men are reluctant to marry women who are better educated than they are, and who are earning more money. [Idiots - don't they realise it is ALWAYS better to marry someone who is earning more money than you are??]

Unhappily, some Muslim women, desperate to marry, then fall to predatory men wanting a second wife. I personally find it puzzling why an intelligent, well-educated, prosperous, independent woman would think marriage necessarily an improvement on her situation, let alone a marriage where she was wife number two and wife number one was still in the picture...that is so insane, my jaw drops.

Anyway, because I know someone who is in this situation and contemplating such a marriage, here are some reasons why you shouldn't be a second wife.

1. You will hurt someone. Terribly. No matter that wife number one has to give her permission for such a marrriage, she often feels she has no choice. Believe me, she will be hurt. Devastated, and so too her children. No matter how lovely a woman she is, she will hate you, and so will her children. Believe me, I've talked to enough number one wives to know this.

2. A man who will marry number two, will later want to marry number three. That's the kind of man he is. Is that what you want?

3. You will never be happy. In fact, unless you are a very odd person indeed, your discontent is guaranteed. You will be sharing your man. When you want him around, he'll be elsewhere. You are sick in the middle of the night? Too bad, he's with wife number one. You will be thrown into a continual state of competition with another woman. Marriage is a partnership; you will have a threesome. He's not a partner. He's invited somewhere; he takes wife number one. If he does take you, you will be shunned by many (I've seen it happen). In fact, you will automatically be despised by a great many women the moment you take this step. Is that what you want?

4. A successful marriage is a constant state of negotiation. So many things can go wrong. You are adding to the number of potential flashpoints tenfold when you have a third person, and her family, to consider. You certainly won't have a partnership. You may have a marriage, but a successful one? I doubt it. You will be married to a strutting peacock, proud of his harem - not the kind of man who negotiates his way through troublespots. Why should he? He can dump you and marry another. That's the kind of man he is. Worse still, he can dump you and not bother with a divorce - and still marry another.

5. You are labouring under a misconception, right from the beginning. A woman does not need to be married to be fulfilled. If you are contemplating such a marriage, then you are marrying for ALL the wrong reasons, none of which should be yours.

You are buying into societal pressure that tries to kid you that you are somehow incomplete/ faulty/ strange/ incompetent, simply because you aren't tied up to a man. Society tries to tell you there is something inherently wrong with going your own way without a man in your life.

That is totally absurd. Rejoice in your liberty - there are a stack of married Muslim women out there who will look at you with envious eyes. Sure, marriage has certain advantages, but so does not being married. I personally know many wonderful Malaysian Muslim women who have remained single, reached the top in their professions, been respected, travelled widely, been assets to the community; who have surrounded themselves with nieces and nephews to fulfil any maternal instincts, and who have ended up the much-love auntie who never lacks for company... There is a wonderful world out there, just waiting for you.

6. If you are a romantic, then consider this - Mr Right is still out there. He's a gorgeous hunk who won't care how much you earn or how many degrees you have. When you walk into the room, his eyes will light up. The idea of sharing his life with another woman won't cross his mind. And he is not already married to someone else. You don't want to be married to someone else when you meet him.

And if he doesn't come along, well, by that time you will be having such a wonderful life, you won't care.

You are a woman. You can do anything.

More about Imbak Valley tomorrow...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

How not to get to Imbak Gorge...

... or I’ve been Noramlyed* again.

There’s a place in central Sabah called Imbak, a long valley of virgin forest hemmed in by high ridges on either side.

Dennis Yong, birder par excellence, flew in from Peninsular Malaysia to join me, my husband his student assistant, and some researchers from Sabah Parks. We set off in a hired 4WD. We stopped in Ranau to buy food for our stay.

And saw these women selling vegetables by the roadside. And what looked like a small bag of fried chicken. A closer look told us that what we were looking at was wild monkey meat. In particular, we discovered by questioning the sellers, Pig-tailed Macaque.

We took the photos, after which they said that if we were going to put the photos in a magazine, then could we sent them a copy? It evidently did not occur to them that there might have been something not quite, um, proper about about killing monkeys and selling the meat.

{Sidebar: On the way back, outside of Telupid, we stopped at a restaurant that said they had sop tulang (soup made with bones), but one of our party could read the Chinese on the menu. You could choose the kind of bones - crocodile, terrapin, frog ... or monkey. And the restaurant advertised itself as being halal. Needless to say, my understanding is that neither monkey nor frogs can be halal and I doubt that crocodile - as a predator - can be either. We ate at the next restaurant along.}

Then on to the town of Telupid, where we were to meet our guides from the Tampoi Camp, Imbak Conservation Area, which is run by the Sabah Foundation (Yayasan Sabah).

Now Telupid is not exactly a major tourist attraction, although it did have a travelling fun fair visiting (the Eye of Telupid, anyone?). It was closed during the day. Doubtless the night life was, well, fun – but then we had no intention of staying to find out. We were meeting our guides at lunchtime.

Their 4WD never arrived. Note the reason why in Photo 2 – no front wheel…

We had to go in search of them, and pick up one of the guides from alongside the road while the others were left to deal with tow trucks and repair shops. As a consequence, instead of heading off after an early lunch, we finally left Telupid at dusk. A whole afternoon whiled away in what had to be one of the dullest towns in Borneo, travelling funfair not withstanding.

The first part of the journey was down road through oil palm plantation, past that and into production forest. [The photos here were taken on the way back.] The drive during the night was a nightmare. The dust was horrible and coming the opposite way was one logging truck after another, noisy behemoths with blinding lights glaring at the front and drooping tails at the back where the giant logs sag over the end of the truckbed.

In the dust, it was hard to see the road…and such was the first couple of hours of the journey. Then we came to much more lonely roads – where it had been raining. So we went from dust to mud. And there was a river crossing and a river that was suspiciously higher than usual - and with a stronger current thatn in this photo. In the dark, remember.

In the end, out luck ran out and we ended up irretrievably bogged (next photo). We ended up not only hungry and tired, but very, very muddy too. My husband and I went on to our destination, arriving at 11pm to get help…the camp rangers went to rescue the stranded car, and our car and bags finally rolled into camp at 12.30 midnight. Once I had my bags, I could at last have a dipper bath (cold water piped in from a stream), eat dinner and tumble into bed under the mozzie net - in a room without outside walls at 2 a.m.

We had left home at 6 a.m. the previous day!!
And this was what we woke up to in the morning… The sound of Bornean Gibbons and the White-crowned Shama and Whiskered Tree-swifts, the sight of trees with their lofty crowns in the mist. We are in paradise.

*The kind of thing that inevitably happens to any member of the Noramly family when they travel