Tuesday, May 27, 2008

GEMAS railway station

After visiting the gold mine and the Sg Gemencheh war memorial, Jan and I went onto Gemas to visit the old railway station.

Gemas is the junction of the east and west railway lines. The station was built in 1922 and is a stopover for trains from the north (Butterworth), east coast (Tumpat and Gua Musang) and the south (Singapore). Other than passenger trains, the station also accommodates cargo trains carrying major commodities such as cement, petrol, rubber and logs.
 interesting boulders on platform

The original station building is still standing. For railway enthusiasts there is a 1946 model North British Locomotive Company steam engine called Temerloh. Of course we couldn’t resist posing on this old loco for photos.

 Associated Locomotive Equipment from London

 North British Loco Co, Glasgow

I was hoping that a train would come in as there were several people wating on the platform but we were out of luck, and I coudn't see a timetable anywhere.

So we had a cold drink in the old station cafe before heading back to KL.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Sunday, May 25, 2008

CAMBODIA'S Tuol Sleng Musuem

This article was first published in the Brunei Times   © Liz Price No reproduction without permission

Taking in Cambodia's 'Killing Fields' museum

Dark remnant: In this former high school converted into a concentration camp and now a museum, Cambodians were systematically tortured, sometimes on metal beds, after which they were executed at the notorious 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, May 25, 2008

THE Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh was one of the most moving places I visited in Cambodia. The museum used to be a high school but was converted into a concentration camp by the Khmer Rouge regime during their reign from 1975 to 1979. It became the country's largest torture and detention centre.

Walking around the museum I noticed that all visitors were quiet, lost in their emotions as they took in the atrocities that took place here.

Prior to 1975 Tuol Sleng was a peaceful school, consisting of five buildings. When the Khmer Rouge came to power under Pol Pot, the Chao Ponhea Yat High School was converted into the S-21 Security Prison and interrogation facility. People were systematically tortured, sometimes over a period of months, to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the "killing fields" of Choeung Ek.

S-21 processed over 17,000 people, seven of whom survived. Detainees who died whilst being tortured were buried in mass graves with the prison grounds. Each detainee was meticulously photographed and the photos cover the museum walls from floor to ceiling. A wall map of Cambodia made up of skulls was once on display, but has since been removed.

The Khmer Rouge regime was a time of terror for Cambodia, when an estimated 1.5-2 million people perished. The museum is a reminder of that dark period, and Cambodia is still recovering from it.

Civilians were dragged from their homes all over the country to S-21. Many were former Khmer Rouge members and soldiers, accused of betraying the party or revolution. Intellectuals were particularly targeted, and anyone wearing a pair of glasses was deemed one.

The buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes. The buildings now serve as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge. Much has been left in the state of when the Khmer Rouge abandoned it in January 1979.

I paid the US$2 ($2.70) entry fee and walked to the first building. The ground floor was divided into bare cells. Some were used as torture rooms. The only item on display was a rusting single iron bed frame. Prisoners were shackled to these beds. When the prison was abandoned by Pol Pot, prisoners were left chained to the beds and their mutilated remains were later found.

Some of the torture equipment is on display; these include feet shackles, wooden spears, knotted ropes, pipes, iron squeezers, a cobra box, a scorpion box, drills used to pierce the prisoner's heads, and the gallows.

It was horrifying walking past these rooms imagining the torture the prisoners went through. The cell blocks were no better. The former classrooms were converted into tiny prison cells, some made of wood, others of brick. Each cubicle, measuring about 1m by 1.5m was built for one prisoner. A hole in the floor served as a toilet. Some cells had buckets for the waste matter, but the prisoners had to ask permission to use them.

The women's building was covered in barbed wire to prevent the inmates from throwing themselves off the top floors and killing themselves. Because there was so much raping, the women would prefer to jump from the three storey building.

Captors did their best to make life hell for the prisoners. Finger nails were pulled out and salt rubbed into wounds. Even to change position when trying to sleep, the prisoners had first to ask permission. If they did everything accordingly, they were still tortured three times a day just to show that it was useless to defy the Khmer Rouge.

A list of rules was pasted on the walls, reminding the inmates they had to obey orders, answer questions promptly etc. If they failed, they would get lashes with electric wire or be electrocuted, and they were not allowed to cry out during these punishments.

The prison kept extensive records, leaving thousands of photos of their victims, many of which are on display. There are thousands of haunting, black and white photographs of men, women and children who came to a grim end here. You could see the look of despair and sadness in their eyes. It was very moving looking at these photos, as some were truly awful.

There are also gruesome photos of dead and dying prisoners, most with eyes and mouths wide open. Paintings of torture at the prison by Vaan Nath, a survivor of Tuol Sleng, are also on display.

The captors killed babies like insects, and always in view of the parents, impaling them or braining them against a tree trunk.

The walls almost still echo the screams of pain and torture. It was a depressing experience walking around the museum, especially knowing the atrocities took places comparatively recently and that many Cambodian families are still badly affected by it all.The Brunei Times

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Danum Valley, Sabah

This was originally published in the Brunei Times, http://www.bt.com.bn/en/travel/2008/05/04/sabahs_lush_danum_valley_boasts_unique_flora_fauna
See also my Danum Album

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Sabah's lush Danum Valley boasts unique flora, fauna

Virgin land: Above, a suspension bridge in Danum Valley in Sabah, an area of lush tropical lowland forest which has been set aside as a conservation area. It includes 43,800 hectares of virgin forest with huge trees and 275 bird species on record. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, May 4, 2008

ONE regular visitor to Danum Valley resort is Janggut the bearded pig. He has learnt that if he hangs around the kitchens and dining area he will get free food. And of course the tourists love him. Being used to humans he is not afraid of cameras and it was as much as I could do to stop him from sticking his nose on my lens which he hoped was food.

Danum Valley is about 70km west of Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia. It is an area of lush tropical lowland forest which has been set aside as a conservation area and includes 43,800 hectares of virgin forest and houses some unique flora and fauna. The area has been recognised as one of the world's most complex ecosystems.

The name Danum Valley comes from the highest point, Gunung Danum, 1,093m high. The area is generally hilly but not mountainous, and lies within the upper reaches of Sabah's second largest river, the Segama and its tributaries.

Danum Valley has primary rainforest and is renowned for its rich variety of both plants and wildlife, Because it is far from human habitation, it houses many of Borneo's mammals including the rare and endangered Sumatran rhino, as well as elephant, clouded leopard, Bornean gibbon, and leaf monkey. The orang utan and proboscis monkey are both found only in Borneo.

Despite the tourist area around the Borneo Rainforest Lodge receiving a lot of human visitors, it is still possible to see wildlife. The lodge is very popular for bird watchers. Over 275 bird species having been recorded, giving Danum Valley a reputation for being one of the best places for viewing Borneo's avian inhabitants. Just by sitting on my balcony I could see several of Danum's feathered residents strutting and flying by. The lodge is built alongside the river so this attracts water birds. White egrets are common visitors.

By doing short walks around the area you stand a good chance of seeing mammals. The best time to spot animals is at night, and the lodge arranges night walks with a guide.

Deer are quite frequent visitors, and I saw sambar deer, barking deer and even the little mouse deer. These tiny deer feature prominently in Malay folklore. On the second night we spotted one rusa deer with her baby. That was when I envied the tourists who had expensive cameras and could take good night photos.

Walking along the trails at night we saw several lizards, some frogs and bush crickets. The frogs were easy to spot by the pond, as some were conveniently sitting on leaves. And for the first time ever I saw a sleeping bird, standing on the branch of a tree, sheltering under a leaf. Probably the guide knew it was there as he found it quite easily.

On my second night, I joined one of the night drives. Expert guides using a good spotlight scan the bushes and trees to see what is there. We were in luck as we saw two marbled cats. Even though the guide was spotlighting them, it was difficult at first to see them high in the branches of their trees. They resemble a small version of the clouded leopard, and are mainly arboreal and nocturnal.

Other animals regularly seen are the civets and squirrels. The best place to see the Malay civets is on the drive in to the lodge. From the main road, it's 77km along a rough road to reach the lodge.

Other activities include trekking to the "coffin caves" up on the hill behind the lodge. These are Kadazan-Dusun burial sites. In the early morning the jungle is still covered in mist.

For a less steep walk, choose some of the jungle trails and over the suspension bridges. It was on one of these trails that I saw some elephants' footprints. The Borneo Elephant or Borneo Pygmy Elephant were recently found to be a subspecies of the Asian Elephant.

We were having breakfast one morning when one of the photographers came in to say there was an adult male orang utan not far away. So we hurriedly set off and were in luck as the orang utan was in a tree right by the track. It was having its own breakfast, eating the bark off the young tree. After a while it nonchantly descended the tree and glanced at us and then moved onto another tree hidden in the shrub. I was really excited to see this creature as it was the first time I've seen a truly wild orang utan. I've seen them in various sanctuaries and rehabilitation places in Malaysia and Indonesia, but this one was totally wild.

The canopy walkway is worth doing as it provides a bird's eye view of the tree tops, suspended 27m from the ground. The walkway is 107m long. You can go tubing on the river, or relax in a natural jacuzzi pool in the river. This is a great way to soak away the sweat from trekking and to ease any aches and pains.

The Brunei Times