Monday, June 24, 2013

The snow peaked mountains is something uncommon for someone who lives in a tropical country.
I lost count on how many mountain peaks there were at the French Rhone Alps, one thing for sure, this small city was surrounded by them.
It is the beginning of winter in December when I arrived a week before Christmas, and the change in temperature is surely a wonderful thing for someone who lives in the hot and wet country.
Fumbling with layers of clothes is somewhat new to me and the French chilly weather was both interesting and annoying at the same time.

 The Perret Tower or La Tour Perret erected for the 1925 International Exhibition of Hydropower and Tourism in Grenoble, which ran for five months during that time to dedicate Grenoble as the capital of white coal, where ice from the mountains ran the rivers that generates power for the city.

Upon arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, I really wanted to move and get going, see and experience this new place where I only read and watched in movies.
Besides, being cramped in the aircraft seat for 13 hours is not the best experience at all, because I am not a person who would sit around for hours.
Yes, I did walk up and down the aisle, but after awhile, it gets bored.
Grenoble is my destination, a French city 600km South East of Paris, a city famous for its ski resorts, a mixed of French/Italian cultures and history.
It is also one of the oldest French city which was first mentioned in 43 BC, but then it was called Cularo, one of the important Roman city.

The Parliament House of Dauphine

A small portion of the old Roman wall is still there today, though it is not like the coliseum, but the small arched wall protected by modern gates, still stands today in this new millennia.
Aside from that old Roman wall, the old buildings build from the time of the feudal lords can be seen today like the Bastille, which was used nearly throughout each French historical moment from the time of Italian/French war, Napoleon era and the Second World War.
On top of all that, this small city also played host for the 1968 winter Olympics.
To me, history is the essence our current being, an identity that tells us, who we were, and how we strive till where we are today, and because of that, I am heading there.
I took an hour and a half train ride to Lyon then another one hour train ride Grenoble.
The weather, cold and chilly, unlike back home, but there was no snow in sight throughout those two train rides, where all I could see are miles of French farms and small French districts that seemed to welcomes my arrival.
It was dark when I arrived, despite the time showing only 6.30pm, but it sure looked like 9pm back home and no mountains can be seen at that time, only little lights that spread far all over town that looked like stars at night.
Though every now and then the star like light would be moving upwards or downwards, that clearly tells me that those lights are not stars at all.
Despite the temperature dropping to nearly -2 degrees Celsius, it did not stop me from exploring the city at night, because Christmas is near, there were Christmas Markets almost everywhere at the town square and the garden, in this case it was at the town centre called Victor Hugo.
The Christmas Market or Marche’ Noel as they say in French is similar to our Bazaar Ramadan or Chinese New Year bazaar in Kuching, minus the heat and humidity of course.
At the market, everyone who spoke other than French is there, as winter is the time for holiday makers go up the French Alps for the ski resorts and Grenoble is also a student city as it is also known for its universities and research labs.

Grenoble is famous for its ski resorts and here skiiers are getting their ski passes at Les Sept Laux.

The city dies down fast here, as by 9pm, the city centre seems deserted as everyone heads home, only a few would hang around till late but I can say only less than a handful would do that in this city of 500,000 population.
“During the winter holidays, everyone would go to the ski resorts or go back to their hometown,” said 28 year old Frederic Aman.
Frederic is one of the Post Graduate student at Grenoble University, and he too would go back to his hometown in Briancon, not far from Grenoble, like any typical Frenchman, Frederic struggles with his English and took his time during our conversation.
That went on well for me, whose French is limited to basic greetings and the most common, Merci’ or thank you.
The mornings in Grenoble is rather late, as the sunlight can only be seen at noon, if you are lucky or very late in the afternoon, so life during the day is rather late here, but regardless of that, I really wanted to see the mountains which looked like a scene from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.
And I finally did, Grenoble is surrounded by mountain tops, some with snow, some looked like the Grand Canyon with little houses spreads around it, sharing the border with Italy and Switzerland it is nothing like the tropical mountain range in Borneo.

Since I am already at the French Rhone Alps, I took the trip up the mountains to experience the ski resorts, but the lack of skiing knowledge led me to go trekking on the icy mountains at Les Sept Laux. 

Being a normal hiker, the mountain trail is not much a challenge and the mountain chill is a good reason for anyone to keep on moving faster to keep the body warm.
I spent nearly the whole day at the ski resort, and I too felt quite disappointed for not being able to ski or to snowboard like one of those 2 year olds crisscrossing calmly down the icy slopes in their cool skiing gears like professionals.
Yes, I am envious of them, but till my next trip, I shall return.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

WOMEN: Porters of Padawan Highlands

WOMEN: Porters of Padawan Highlands
By Dennis Wong

DORIS Ringo, 34, is petite, hardly 152cm tall. But with one swift move, she hoists a wooden backpack heavier than a flight passenger’s luggage allowance and walks with an agility that can shame many able-bodied men. She is one of the porters of Padawan Highlands, some 40km southwest from Kuching. Her route is a 12km trek of muddy mountainous terrain, with bamboo crossings over 15 rivers and streams to Kampung Semban, Rejoi, Taba Sait and Bojong from the Bengoh Dam entrance. The Padawan Highlands is the heartland of the Bidayuh people. They were called the Land Dayaks during the Brooke administration mainly because they reside in these highlands; an unforgiving mountainous terrain, with hill slopes, valleys and bamboo crossings across several rivers.


When I first saw her, sitting demurely on a wooden bench at a tuck shop at Bengoh Dam, it did not occur to me that she would carry a load weighing nearly 30kg on a tambok, a wooden structure with a compartment at its base. I have heard stories from those who have visited this region, but I have never witnessed such strength and agility, especially of women porters like Doris. The porters carry items ranging from construction materials like cement and metal sheets, to consumer items like gas cylinders and livestock. Some porters can carry up to 50kg on their backs.


The trail to the village seems to be designed for the porters. Short bamboo planks terraced the steps, wide enough to allow half of a foot to step on it and barely half the height of a normal stair. A porter will use less energy climbing the terrace and hiking the trail in smaller steps. Climbing hills and tottering up slopes, however, are nothing compared to mimicking a tightrope artiste on handmade suspended bamboo bridges across Padawan River. The bridges are about 10m high and 15m long. Being half-Iban and growing up in a long house, I am rather skilled at walking on wobbly structures but crossing the river on swaying bamboo bridges in Padawan Highlands requires an entirely different set of balancing act. There is no traction on my trans alpine-designed boots on the smooth bamboo stem. I nearly fell into Padawan River just after making a few steps on the bamboo bridge. My ego is kept in check. As we struggle on the trail, Doris catches up, overtakes this urban Iban with ease and soon disappears around a bend.


The trail to Kampung Semban is a combination of secondary forest and plantations, rubber, padi huma and tropical fruit. Not far after we pass the rubber plantation, we are greeted by the pungent smell of durian mixed with crisp mountain air, a pleasant reminder of walking in my grandparents’ orchard during my childhood days. As we slow to a halt, I hear people chatting in Bidayuh, and there’s Doris with other porters and some villagers taking a breather at a makeshift bamboo bench which doubles as a rest area. The tambok is off her back and she is taking out her lunch pack from the base compartment. Doris’s tambok, withered with hard use, is loaded with groceries that she bought earlier at Batu Sepuluh market, the nearest town about 15km away from Bengoh Dam. “I have just returned from the bazaar to get my kitchen necessities. I do this (being a porter) at least twice a week and whenever there is a need, I will offer my services to villagers,” says the 34-year-old pepper farmer. “When any of us go to the bazaar, we get requests from the villagers, so we help them with their groceries too,” explains Doris while savouring her tiffin of rice and meat.


On other days, she works on a patch of land growing pepper and helping her neighbours with their crops. The villagers work together, taking turns on each other’s land. “It is a tough life on this highlands. But living in the village, I can work on my land and not starve. As long as you are willing to work, you’re alright.” There are several “stops” along the way, usually located after the longest hike along the trek. Somehow, they are strategically built at locations with strong mobile telephone signals and become a meeting point where porters and villagers read text messages, return telephone calls and even exchange reviews on football matches. You can tell who the ardent fans are. Some porters proudly wear their club jerseys; Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal are the apparent favourites. Here parents tend to their young; babies get nappy change and toddlers pace the ground. Yes, even new mothers and their babies have trekked the same route, while VIPs come hither air-flown. Perhaps this explains the endurance of the people here, they ply the route from a very young age.

Another porter, Lenard Lingi, 37, clad in Arsenal’s striker Theo Walcott’s No. 14, eloquently relates a recent match to his peers. His tambuk is strapped with a gas cylinder, among other things. “I don’t really know how much this weighs, but I think it is some 50kg on my back. I had to get a replacement from the bazaar. We ran out of gas,” he explains. Carrying these weights on mountainous terrain is not exactly like lifting weights at the gym. I have done weight training, torturous routines prescribed by my trainer of 10 repetitions in four sets with one-minute rest time to build athletic strength and endurance. But these porters do not have the luxury of gym training; their purpose is only to carry the load on their back home safely. We can always debate about bringing development and modernity into the community, but after taking that 12km stretch and returning like other porters and villagers, I gain a new perspective. Modernity can only take you so far; it provides you comfort and makes labour intensive task easier, but humanity, kindness and sincerity take you further in life. And in Padawan Highlands, it could even mean survival.

Firm support The porters here used a tambok on their backs to carry heavy loads up to the villages on the Padawan Highlands. The tambok is a wooden structure with a compartment at its base for storing tiffin. The load is secured by raffia strings to the wooden backing of the tambok and a wide strap made of a tree bark, worn on the forehead, helps distribute the load weight.

Read more: WOMEN: Porters of Padawan Highlands - Health - New Straits Times

Saturday, March 3, 2012

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” ~ Chief Tecumseh (Poem from Act of Valor the Movie)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are You Not Sad Looking at Yourself

Are you not sad looking at yourself?
Plague with hunger, in a white man's land,
Frail and weak,
Waiting for alms.

Drown in the vivid sea,
Full of lies and deceit
Feeling on top of the world
But you will never succeed

For you can do wonders, far beyond compare
Only when you're awake
But sadly you chose to slumber,
Drowning and waiting for alms
Are you not sad looking at yourself?

I Came And I Saw

I came and I saw
People of the land
Working, toiling,
Not knowing the devil - watching from a far

I came and I saw
People of honour
Pride, respect
Taken away by devils in disguise

I came and I saw
People of kindness
Warm, humility
Raped by the devils who once walk among them

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Which One Should It Be

Your smile, your laughter throws me into ecstacy,
my heart runs faster everytime i see you,
intoxicated with your pressence,
i can still work my charms;

but when will i see you friend?
the feast was majestic, but i was only a moment too soon.
there are many more unaswered questions.
but i guess that would have to wait.

the feast was fine and promising, you gave me a window as you told me about your loneliness-
but my heart dropped, the moment you said someone will day;
someone who has been with you so long;
and someone whom you may be with day.

i took my heart, back in place,
and wondered how lucky this person having such a wonderful creature as you?
an angel wating with open arms for your return.
if that is your destiny my friend?...i bid you all the best.

but then my friend -
for all the things you have shown me in the past -
may not mean a thing, or maybe it does;
but which one is it?... I must find out and I can see you again?

but when would that be?
will I have that pleasure into your pressence?
as that is likened to will be winning a game of chance.
but that seems very, very vague - then I asked myself...should I keep on going?

being in ecstacy with you, my friend, is like gold to me.
and now I am hoping, praying and trying to reach that feeling again.
but is that all I should do?
or should i just reach for that gold? - so which one would it be?

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Night Falls, The Wait Begins...

the night falls,
the wait begins,
the clock ticks,
the anticipation follows.

there is that chilly feeling on a sunny day
and i asked, "have the sun lost it's heat?
or the wind blowing cold wind?
so which one is it?" i do not know.

the chill sets in the bone,
then suddenly the dove flew in.
with an olive branch on her beak;
she offered solace and hope-

but that hope is not clear
but without it everything will perish
so what does this all means?
i'm sorry, i do not know.

the night falls,
the wait begins,
the clock ticks,
the anticipation follows.