Monday, October 29, 2012

many uses of sago (BT 2008)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Everything you meant to ask about sago

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Whether used for making foodstuff, ustensils, textiles or roofing, sago certainly lives up to its nickname of the ‘tree of a thousand uses’, writes LIZ PRICE out of Kuala Lumpur

WHEN I was a child, a typical dessert dish in an English household was sago pudding. It was simply sago cooked with milk and sugar, and eaten with a dollop of jam on top. I used to nickname it frogspawn due to its texture. It resembled tapioca pudding which had a smoother texture, but is from cassava. In Malaysia sago dishes are commonly eaten with gula melaka. However, other societies use sago as a staple food item instead of rice or potato.

Sago forms a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and Maluku (The Moluccas). The sago plant has dozens of uses, so when I was in Maluku I was able to see this for myself.

The islands of Maluku in Indonesia were originally known at The Spice Islands and even today many spices are still grown. Although not a spice, sago is an important commodity in Maluku.

Sago is a powdery starch made from the processed pith found inside the trunks of the sago palms . These palms grow alongside rivers and in freshwater swamps. The sago palms grow all over Southeast Asia, and are used as staple foods in places where there is insufficient rain to grow wet rice.

During my stay on Seram island, I was able to see the process of sago preparation right on the riverbanks. The tall palm trees grow at a rate of up to 1.5m of vertical stem growth per year. The palm builds up a store of starch during its life of about 15 years and attains the maximum amount of starch just before the inflorescence opens. Then the tree will die after flowering.

When the palm is judged to be mature, men will cut it down and divide the stem into several lengths. Each piece is split in half lengthways, and used as a container into which the pith containing the dry starch is put. Buckets of water are hoisted from the river and added to the pith, then the mixture is pounded and washed in order to free the flour from the fibres. Pieces of sago bark are used as a filter although nowadays they also use manmade materials.

When the slurry is ready, it is allowed to flow down a sloping ramp into a goti or container made from another length of the palm trunk. This wet sediment will form the sago flour. Round shaped baskets are made from sago leaves, held together by string made from sago fibres. The wet sago is put into these baskets and transported from the river. The purified starch is then dried and preserved as flour.

Just two men work on one palm tree, one pounds and one washes. It takes about seven days to extract the flour from one palm. One tree can produce 400-600kg of wet sago flour, which is is 80 per cent starch, 16 per cent water and four per cent nitrogen.

The waste fibres left over from the washing process were dumped on the ground forming a soggy carpet which squelched between my toes. However, these fibres are still rich in protein and can be fed to pigs and chickens, and can also be used to make string.

The prepared sago flour can be preserved in the form of baked biscuits. During my stay in Maluku, I saw various different types of biscuit. Some tasted OK whereas others resembled chewing a small wad of compacted sawdust! The "toasted bricks" in the market caught my eye but I never tried them. They looked like hollow, extremely thick slices of bread. No doubt they are meant to be eaten with a sauce. The slices of toast made from sago were just about edible on their own. Sago flour is nearly pure carbohydrate and has very little protein, vitamins, or minerals.

Papeda is the sago pudding which totally resembles thick glue and is eaten with fish sauce. It reminded me of glue we used to make as children for sticking papers in scrapbooks! Sago starch is used in making bread and noodles. Pearl sago is the same starch mixed again into a paste and sieved through mesh of various sizes. The finished sago pearls have a long shelf life.

Sago is also used in the textile and pharmaceutical industries, especially as a thickener. For textiles it is used to treat fibres to make them easier to machine.

The sago palm is like the coconut palm, where nothing is wasted. Traditional Maluku houses are 90 per cent made from sago palms. The roof is made from the leaves which resemble attap, but is more durable than nipa commonly used in Malaysia. The walls are made from the fronds.

The palm parts can even be useful inside the house, as the midribs are used for making brooms and baskets. The barks of the petiole are stripped and woven into mats.

So sago certainly lives up to its nickname of the "the tree of a thousand uses".

The Brunei Times


Source URL:

Bogor Botanic Garden (BT 2007)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

German inspiration in the City of Rain

Liz Price

Saturday, March 10, 2007

MANY people will probably have heard of the world-famous Bogor Botanic Garden in Java, Indonesia.

This is Indonesia's first and foremost botanic garden and ranks among some of the most well known gardens in the world.

The 87 hectares of beautifully kept trees, plants, flowers, lawns and ponds lie smack in the centre of Bogor, an expanding city of 300,000 people. The gardens border the Presidential summer palace.

Bogor is about 60km south of Jakarta, midway between the mountains and the heat-ridden plains.

It was an important hill station during Dutch times, from the 17th century. Today Bogor has almost become a suburb of Jakarta, but is a good base for nearby mountain walks.

Its altitude is only 290m, but it is appreciably cooler than Jakarta. Bogor has a nickname, "City of Rain", and probably has the highest annual rainfall in Java.

The city lived up to its name the day I arrived, as it deluged, but I was lucky as there was no more rain during my visit.

The Kebun Raya (Great Garden) was officially opened in 1817 during Dutch rule, having been the inspiration of Sir Stamford Raffles, who was governor of Java from 1811-1816.

The gardens were originally laid out by a German professor, with assistants from the Kew Gardens in London. The main interest at that time were plants used by the Javanese for domestic and medicinal purposes.

They collected plants and seeds from other Indonesian islands creating the Botanic Gardens. It was from these gardens that various colonial cash crops such as tea, cassava, tobacco, and cinchona were developed by early Dutch researchers during the 19th century.

The first catalogue of plants in the Garden was published in 1823 and listed 914 species.

Over the years the garden was developed, and today there are more than 15,000 species of trees and plants. Can you imagine there are more than 400 types of palms?

The garden also boasts the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia.

This plant was known to the aborigines and used in local medicine well before the 19th century when it was introduced to European scientists in 1818 by Stamford Raffles.

He had seen it in Sumatra. It's hard to believe that the largest Rafflesia flower can weigh seven kilos.

The gardens contain streams and lotus ponds, and straddle the Ciliwung River. There are large lawns, avenues and a tea house.

An avenue of plants in the colour of the Belgian flag was planted in memory of a visit by Princess Astrid of Belgium in 1928.

During the Japanese invasion in 1942, two Japanese took over the directorship of the Garden and the Herbarium, and the place was saved. During the Second World War the garden was neglected and sadly the giant Rafflesia died.

The Dutch resumed management until Independence. In the following years, research was prevalent.

There are huge forest trees, mahogany, teaks and 56 species of Dipterocarpaceae, and notably a 125-year-old Meranti.

Other areas are devoted to fruit trees, there are also bamboos, as well as gingers and other herbs and spices used medicinally. The newly renovated orchid houses have a fine collection of original and cloned species. There is a small monument in memory of Olivia Raffles who died in 1814 and was buried in Batavia (a 17th century Dutch town, now part of Jakarta).

The gardens have played a historical role over the years. A Dutch gardener who became curator of the gardens, discovered the importance of cassava (ubi kayu) as an important food source. It was originally found in Batam off Sumatra, growing as a hedge. The root tuber is a highly versatile food source all over Asia.

Between 1852 and 1854 the Garden played an important role in the introduction of quinine to Java, an extract used for treating malaria. Quinine is produced from the bark of the Cinchona tree, originally from Peru. As I travelled around West Java, I saw small forests of Cinchona trees.

Other useful plants were grown for stock and cuttings were distributed all over Indonesia, especially of tobacco, Australian Eucalyptus species, maize and Liberian coffee.

Research was undertaken on plant parasites and diseases affecting crops such as sugarcane. The laboratory attracted an increasing number of scientists.

There are four main walks within the Garden, as well as drivable roads. Most specimens are labelled.

The main gates have statues of the Hindu god Ganesh set in the pillars. The entrance leads to the Canarium Avenue, named after the Javanese almond tree. This produces edible nuts, the outside husks of which are made into key ring fobs and sold outside.

The garden houses probably Indonesia's only specimen of Ficus albipila, a huge strangling fig.

The King tree, Koompassia excelsa, has spectacular buttress roots. Nearby is a group of statues and inscriptions, believed to be of Hindu origin. They are probably 600 years old. There is a statue of Shiva and the bull Nandi. The striking red flame tree, Delonix regia, is now found all over Indonesia but was introduced from Singapore in 1848.

The garden is an important refuge for birds, more than 50 species have been recorded. Flying foxes are abundant in one or two areas, roosting high in the tree canopies.

Apart from the many tropical plant species, it has become a well-known institution for research and conservation.

The Garden is an important part of Bogor city, providing employment and a place of recreation. It is open every day, and is well worth a visit.

The Brunei Times


Source URL:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mae Hong Son misty beauty (BT 2008)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Misty beauty of Mae Hong Sun

City of Three Mists: Mae Hong Sun, Thailand's northern border city hidden between towering mountains, is known for its charm of scenery and culture. Above and top are some of the beautifully designed buildings in the city. Pictures: Liz Price
Liz Price

Sunday, March 9, 2008

THE mountain road was full of twists and turns, and it was pouring with rain, the mist obscuring the view. I'd been hoping to get some good photos but the weather was preventing this and the constant turning of the car meant I could never keep the camera steady enough to get a decent shot. We were on the road from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand. It is a winding mountain road the whole way.

Mae Hong Son is Thailand's northern border city, hidden between towering mountains with densely forested slopes. Just 30 years ago this province was little known to the tourist world. It was home to nomadic hill tribesmen, opium armies, Burmese border patrols and the Thai military, who were involved in year round fights with the drug barons who ran opium plantations and heroin factories. Impenetrable jungle covered the misty mountains and only the tribesmen and drug caravans knew the way through.

But that has all changed and today Mae Hong Son is a peaceful tourist centre, known for its charm of scenery and culture. The drug lords moved across the border to Myanmar, and much of the province's income is derived from supplying them with rice and consumer goods.

The people of Mae Hong Son consist of the Shans who live in the city and the hill tribe people who live in remote mountain villages where their lifestyle has changed little in hundreds of years.

The Shan originated from Burma. The hill tribe people consist of Karen, Lisu, Mhong, Lahu, and Lua. Both groups have their own distinctive cultures. They have their own lilting dialect, their own architectural lifestyles, their own customs and traditions and their own delicious cuisine. Throughout the year, Mae Hong Son holds many festivals and events. There are different dances, rituals, and ceremonies, and even different foods.

The city is covered with mist all year long, and is nicknamed "the City of Three Mists". This is derived from the fact that it has dewy mist in the winter, forest fire mist in the summer and rainy mist in the rainy season. The best time to visit is between November and March as it's relatively dry then.

On our first morning we drove up the hill Doi Kong Mu to see the temple and look at the view. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (also known as Wat Phai Doi) is a Shan built temple sitting atop the 1,500m hill. It has two stupas dating back to 1860 and 1874.

The view from the wat is stunning. There was a sea of mist which had collected in the valley, but as the sun made an attempt to come out the fog lifted revealing a view of the town. The airport runway was devoid of life, but there are at least four flights a day to Chiang Mai.

In the southern part of town are two wats situated by a large pond. Wat Jong Kham was built almost 200 years ago by the Shan. Wat Jong Klang has some century old paintings. But in some of the areas in this wat, women are forbidden to enter, which is not unusual for Shan temples.

Mae Hong Son isn't known for its gastronomic delights, but there are many places to eat. There is also an increasing number of bakeries and other places catering for farang (westerners') food. Many farang come to this area for trekking and so there are more and more guesthouses, restaurants and tour operators opening up to serve them.

We stayed in Rooks Resort at the south end of town, and according to the guidebook it "represents the top end in town". Several European holidaymakers were enjoying the swimming pool but for me it was too cold to take a dip.

The town is mostly used as a base for activities such as trekking and rafting. The nearby Mae Hong Son River is used for rafting and boating tours. You can go for an elephant ride or for the more active, trekking is very popular. There are several guesthouses and tour agents in town which arrange treks. Typical rates for treks are 400 to 500 baht a day, with three to five days the normal duration. You sleep and eat in the hill tribe villages. The villages of the Padaung Karen with the so-called giraffe necked women are specially popular. Alternatively you can visit Karen villages without a guide by walking two hours out of town. Guesthouses will supply a map, and the roads seem to be well signposted.

Further from town are hot springs and Tham Plaa National Park with the famous Fish Cave. Some of the most beautiful scenery is along the road to Pai. You can stay in traditional Shan villages and trek through forests along mountain paths, and see clear mountain streams and stunning limestone caves. So even though the town of Mae Hong Son isn't packed with tourist attractions, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy within the vicinity of town. The Brunei Times


Source URL:

Songkhla, Thailand (BT 2008)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
Songkhla, Thai seat of old Malay Kingdom

Local legend: Top, bronze statues representing Ko Nu and Ko Maew, the "Mouse and Cat Islands" off the southern Thai fishing town of Songkhla (Middle), whose prestigious Malay past is enshrined in its museum (Bottom). Pictures: Liz Price

Liz Price

Sunday, June 1, 2008

IT WAS a tough decision each night. Should I have a local delicacy, such as a plate of fresh spicy noodles with seafood, or should I buy lots of snack items and make a picnic out of it? The food on display at the market stalls was enough to tempt the most discerning of gourmets.

I was with a friend in Songkhla in southern Thailand, and the trip was starting to turn into an eating binge. As we were on holiday we decided to indulge in our passion for food and eat our way around the town.

We had started in the bigger town of Hat Yai, where we immediately headed for one of my favourite eating-places, a small shop selling authentic Thai food, not often patronised by foreigners. A plateful of delicious spicy food costs less than RM3 ($1.26). Most Malaysians when visiting Hat Yai tend to go to expensive seafood restaurants catering for tourists, or to one of the many halal shops in the city centre. The food in these places is generally expensive and toned down for the Malaysian palate, so you don't get the kick of authentic Thai cooking.

The following day we made a day trip to Songkhla. This seaside town is the capital of Songkhla Province, not Hat Yai as many people think. We took a bus — big buses and minivans frequently ply this route. We spent the day wandering, sitting and looking. The town has a pleasant feel as it is quieter and less busy than Hat Yai, and has retained its charm with old buildings and temples.

Songkhla has an old history. The name may derive from a corruption of Singgora, which like Singapore, means "lion city". Here it refers to a lion-shaped mountain near the city of Songkhla.

Songkhla was the seat of an old Malay Kingdom with heavy Srivijayan influence until about 1400 CE, when it then became part of Nakhon Si Thammarat. From the 18th century many Chinese immigrants arrived to seek their fortune, and settled in the area. One family, the Na Songkhla became very wealthy and influential, and their residence is now used as the Songkhla National Museum.

The National Museum has to be one of the most attractive museum buildings in Thailand. It is housed in a 100-year-old building of southern Sino-Portuguese architecture, painted red and white with a curved roofline. The museum contains exhibits from all national art style periods as well as Thai and Chinese ceramics and furniture. Outside the museum is a stretch of the old city wall dating from the 17th century.

The inhabitants of Songkhla are a colourful mix of Thais, Chinese and Malays, and this is reflected in the architecture in the old part of town.

Wat Klang, also known as Wat Matchimawat, is a 17th century Sino-Thai temple and is the most important Buddhist temple in the province.

Songkhla is also southern Thailand's education centre, and this is seen in the number of universities and colleges.

Songkhla lies on a peninsula between the Gulf of Thailand and a large inland sea. This inland sea, Thaleh Sap, is a huge brackish lake stretching up to Phattalung about 90km away, where it merges with the Thaleh Noi (Little Sea). There are two wildlife sanctuaries on this inland sea, and these are important wetland areas and a haven for waterbirds.

The Tinsulanond Bridge crosses the Songkhla lake to connect the narrow land east of the lake with the main southern part of the province. At 2.6km long, it is the longest concrete bridge in Thailand.

Another attraction of Songkhla is the seafood, particularly along Hat Samila, a white stretch of beach lined with casuarina trees. At one end of the beach at the Samila cape is a bronze statue of a mermaid, similar to that found in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Near this beach are two famous islands, Ko Nu and Ko Maew (Mouse and Cat Islands). According to local legend, a cat, mouse and dog were travelling on a Chinese ship, and they tried to steal a crystal from a merchant. Swimming ashore with the crystal, the cat and the mouse both drowned and were turned into the islands, whilst the dog made it to the beach where he died and became the hill Khao Tang Kuan. The crystal turned into the white sandy beach.

When we had had enough of sitting looking at the sea, we headed into town to find a comfy cafe for a cool drink. The buildings definitely have a Chinese feel about them and it's nice just to wander the streets, absorbing the atmosphere. Then it was time to return to Hat Yai and worry about what to have for dinner.

The Brunei Times


Source URL:

Rajasthan camel safari (BT 2008)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
Sailing the ships of the desert

Made for the elements: Camels on the crest of a dune in Rajasthan with a sunset backdrop. Taking a camel safari is a wonderful way to visit the nooks and crannies of India's Rajasthan, the writer says, while the starry night skies will give you pause.

Liz Price

Sunday, February 24, 2008

CAMELS seem to have particularly disagreeable temperaments and show their displeasure by frequent hissing and spitting. Their breath is definitely not sweet and they burp a lot.

This is what I found out on the first day of a four-day camel trek in the desert in India. I had the option of anything from a one to 10-day trek, so decided on four days, although I did wonder if my backside and legs would survive straddled atop one of these large beasts.

I was in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. This small town has been described as one of India's most exotic and unusual towns, likened to something out of the Arabian Nights. It lies on the edge of the Thar Desert in the west of Rajasthan near the Pakistan border.

Rajasthan, or "Land of the Kings" is a colourful place, and home to the Rajputs, a group of warrior clans. Splendid forts dominate almost all the towns, and the people provide a brilliant splash of colour. The men wear huge pastel coloured turbans and many sport fierce moustaches. The women wear long skirts with small mirrors sewn in, and compliment this with chunky jewellery.

The barren areas of the Thar Desert extend into Pakistan. Jaisalmer is a mediaeval looking town, a desert outpost, which was once an important trading post on the camel train routes between India and central Asia.

The wealthy merchants built great houses and mansions, all exquisitely carved from yellow sandstone. Old walls surround the city and from the desert the city seems to glow in a golden colour. One of the best views of the city is from the desert, and viewing this scene sitting on a camel is enchanting.

A camel safari is a great way to explore the desert and small villages in Rajasthan. The camels looked aloof as we approached, as if in disdain at this new group of tourists. We were each allocated one camel and one camel driver. The camels were made to sit so we could mount them, and I tried to get comfortable on the assortment of blankets and sacks that served as a saddle. My camel man was a youngish boy and he sat immediately behind me.

Having ridden camels in Egypt, I knew that when the camel gets up, it is always a heart stopping moment, as the camel lurches forwards and then backwards to stand on its feet.

As we headed for the desert dunes I soon got used to the slight rocking movement of the camel. The pace was slow and we could look around.

We rode for an hour and then stopped for a rest. I was surprised that when I got off the camel my legs were already stiff, my backside was numb, and it felt strange being on terra firma. The camels were happy to have a break and started grazing on nearby bushes. Known as "ships of the desert", camels provide a lifeline for the desert people as a major mode of transportation.

Camels have an amazing ability to withstand long periods without water. They are also well known for their humps. However, they do not store water in them as is commonly believed; their humps are actually a reservoir of fatty tissue. Our camels had very small humps so presumably they had little food reserves. They have tough feet so that they can endure the scorching desert sands, and their thick coat reflects sunlight.

Our next stop was lunch. As we rested under the shade of a convenient tree, the men prepared the food. We had potato curry, rice, chapatti and dhal, and it tasted good in the unpolluted desert air. Sweet chai accompanied the meal.

During the afternoon ride, we stopped at a village. Smiling children came out to welcome us. The colourful clothing of the women and their jewellery is a fantastic complement to the tall, brightly turbaned men.

Further on we stopped at a water tank where birds, camels and cows were quenching their thirst. Elsewhere we saw a few villagers wandering the desert in search of food and water for their livestock. It's a harsh existence, but almost everyone we saw gave us a friendly smile and wave.

As the sun was setting we stopped for the night. Setting up camp was a simple process, we just laid out our sleeping bags on the sand. We then sat on the sand dunes to watch the sunset.

The camels meanwhile had been hobbled and were searching for their own supper. I was amazed to see them grazing on prickly bushes, but their mouths are very tough and they are able to chew thorny desert plants. Later they were each given a sack of dried grass to feed on.

The night sky was amazing. I saw more stars than I've ever seen anywhere else. We started counting shooting stars and making a wish when we saw one. It made us realise how much light pollution there is in towns and cities where it is very difficult to see the night sky.

It also turned very chilly as the evening progressed and we huddled closer to the camp fire. One of the camel drivers started to sing, and the simple melody of the folk tune sounded so good under the starry night sky. We were soon each lost in our own thoughts, absorbing the peace of this unique place.

When it got colder we got into our sleeping bags and prepared to sleep. We were all thankful of the fire and moved closer to it, as despite our warm bags, the temperature of the night air really dropped.

The next morning the sun rising over the sand dunes awoke us and we welcomed the new day. After a leisurely breakfast the camels were prepared for the day's ride. In their typical grumpy way, they hissed and spat, but as they continued to do this throughout the day, I realised it is just part of their character.

Despite their bad temperament, camels have a certain charm. I loved their long eyelashes and huge brown eyes. The lashes along with ear hairs and sealable nostrils form an effective barrier against sand.

During the day we stopped at more villages, and visited a small temple dedicated to a Hindu goddess. At one village the locals offered us a cup of tea, which was very welcome. Each day was a repeat of the previous one, but at no time did I get bored, as there was always something to look at, and I was content absorbing the charm of the desert.

The camel safari in the Thar Desert is one which I won't forget. The harshness of the sandy desert was relieved by shrubs and bushes, and some amazing sand dunes. I found it fascinating looking at the ripples sculptured by the wind in the sand.

The friendliness of the villagers made us feel welcome, and camping under a blanket of stars was particularly magical.

The Brunei Times


Source URL:


See photos on the camel safari.

Ambon's spice islands (BT 2008)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

A sweet whiff of Ambon's spice islands
Liz Price


Sunday, May 11, 2008

I LOVED the smells wafting out of the markets in Ambon. The most pungent was clove, but other spices were subtly making their presence known. I liked to put my hands in the sacks and let the various spices trickle through my fingers as the sweet scents pervaded the air.

Ambon is the capital of Maluku province. Together with the separate North Maluku province, they form Maluku, which straddles the equator, lying between Sulawesi and New Guinea in Indonesia. Once known to Europeans as The Moluccas, they are also called the Spice Islands.

Since the first Gregorian century or possibly earlier, these Indonesian islands were known to spice traders from India, Arabia and China, and around the 16th century became known as The Spice Islands, due to the cloves, nutmeg and mace which grow here. It was these East Indies that Columbus was looking for when he accidentally found America in 1492.

The original settlers are thought to be Melanesians, and later Arab and Chinese traders, as well as Malays. The local Bandanese controlled the spice trade. By the 16th century the spices were worth their weight in gold, and grew nowhere else. It was literally money growing on trees.

Spices were necessary to preserve foods before the days of ice and refrigerators.

The spices reached Europe via a tortuous caravan route through India and the Persian Gulf. Then the Europeans started their colonising trips and to look for their own source of spices. The Portuguese arrived in Maluku in the 16th century following their conquest of Malacca in 1511. They firstly settled in Ternate, then spread to Ambon, Seram and Banda, but were never able to control the local spice trade.

Ambon is not a main producer; some of the other islands such as Banda and Saparua grow more of these spices. The Bandanese controlled the trade with the Portuguese, and when the Dutch arrived in 1599 they found discontent with the natives against the Portuguese who were trying to dominate the spice trade.

Ambon sided with the Dutch and installed a Dutch governor, so the Portuguese left to set up a new trading station at Macassar in Sulawesi.

The Dutch were able to create a stranglehold over the spice trade creating many uprisings between the European countries. The English arrived and were soon involved in conflicts with the Dutch to try and gain a monopoly over the region. However the Dutch saw them off and soon had control over the Banda archipelago. This resulted in a massacre when the Dutch brutally killed uncooperative islanders. Possibly over 6,000 were killed during the Spice Wars and the workers were replaced by Dutch-owned slaves.

The spice monopoly made a fortune for Holland until it collapsed in the late 1700s.

This was a disaster for the Moluccas spice trade as the British took spice tree seedlings and planted them in their colonies in Malay and Ceylon. Maluku lost its important trade as the spices were being produced cheaper elsewhere. Zanzibar (Tanzania) is now the world's chief producer of cloves.

Today the Spice Islands are peaceful and cloves and nutmeg are still grown. The word spice means a dried seed, fruit, root, or bark. Spices are used in cooking, in medicines, cosmetics and perfumes, and also for religious rituals.

I was particularly keen to see the spices growing naturally, as in Malaysia I've only seen them in botanical gardens. On Pulau Seram I saw groves of nutmeg trees, but none were fruiting. It was only on Pulau Saparua that I got to see the fruit which hang singly from the trees and resemble apricots. Nutmegs (Myristica sp) are evergreen trees and are important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree whilst mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering of the seed. I remember from childhood days, grating nutmeg over rice pudding to give it that extra tang.

Nutmeg (pala) is grown in many places and is so important to Grenada that it features on the national flag. It is used as a flavouring for foods, especially in cakes, sauces and some liqueurs.

Mention cloves to me and I think of the dentist and apples. Clove oil is an old-fashioned remedy for toothache and was commonly used for dental emergencies. The reason I think of applies is because my mother used cloves when preparing dishes containing apples.

Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are native to Indonesia, but are now grown in Tanzania and Madagascar, as well as Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. The name derives from French clou, a nail, as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape.

The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height of 10-20m, and has large oval leaves and crimson flowers. The flower buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Unfortunately none of the trees were flowering during my visit.

Cloves (cengkeh) are used as pickling spices as well as flavourings, in foods, vermouths and tobacco in kretek cigarettes. In Maluku cloves are made into attractive souvenirs. The first time I saw such an item was in the Ambon museum. It was a sailing ship made out of cloves and when I first glanced at it, I thought it was wood, until I was told to look closely. Now many shops sell many items made using cloves, and I am the owner of one — a long-stemmed rose made entirely of cloves. It is a fitting reminder of my trip to the Spice Islands.

The Brunei Times


Source URL:

All Souls Day, Cheng Beng - BT 2008

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Chinese remember their ancestors on All Souls Day

Liz Price

Friday, April 4, 2008

FOR 10 days either side of today, Chinese visit the graves of their family and ancestors. Over this two-week period cemeteries are busy as people go to clean up the grave sites and prepare for the festival, which is named Cheng Beng or Qing Ming, commonly known as All Souls Day.

The festival was originally held as a celebration of the mid spring equinox, on the 104th day after the winter solstice, or the 15th day from the spring equinox. If it is a leap year, as is the case this year, Qing Ming is on April 4, today. Quite often on this day the sky is cloudless, hence the name Qing Ming or the Hokkien variation of Cheng Beng, which translates as "clear and bright".

In ancient times, the Chinese would take advantage of this nice day and spend the time outdoors enjoying the fine weather. Over the years, they started to clear the graves of their ancestors and pay homage to them.

The festival has a variety of names. These include Clear Brightness Festival, Festival for Tending Graves, Grave Sweeping Day, Chinese Memorial Day, Tomb Sweeping Day, Spring Remembrance and All Souls Day.

In Malaysia Cheng Beng is known as All Souls Day and is the time to pay homage to the dearly departed ancestors. Families also hope to instill a sense of filial piety amongst the younger generation. Whole families will visit the grave, retaining the family bond. Weekends are particularly busy when people clean up the grave, spruce up the surroundings and maybe repaint the lettering on the tombstone.

Nowadays the festival has become more commercial. In the past, only joss sticks and "hell money" were burnt as offerings. Today this has changed, and families buy perfect paper replicas of essential modern items to offer the dead. These include electronic items such as mobile phones, televisions, karaoke sets, refrigerators and computers. Apart from the electronic items you can buy shoes, designer clothes and handbags. For the ladies there are boxes of jewellery items, and for the men shaving kits. For sustenance there are packs of cigarettes, cans of beer and liquor. Gift hampers containing herbs and food supplements are available. One can still buy the traditional "hell money", but nowadays a selection of credit cards is also available. The "hell money" notes are huge, and the ones I saw represented one billion units, but I don't know which currency the ancestors use.

Traditional entertainment is available in the form of mahjong sets and playing cards.

The luxury cars caught my eye. The most elaborate of all has to be the paper house. Not only a house, but a nice garden and pond, two luxury cars in the porch, and even a maid, guard and dog kennel.

These paper items will be placed in a paper chest which is sealed, and the deceased's name and date of death will be written on a piece of yellow paper glued on the chest in the shape of a cross. This has a similar purpose to an address on a parcel.

Apart from offering the paper items to be burnt, the families will give food, tea, and wine and maybe cigarettes to the ancestors. In China, people carry willow branches with them as they believe these will ward off the evil ghosts that wander on Qing Ming.

It is not just the cemeteries that are busy. People also go to the columbaria to remember their ancestors. A columbarium is a room or building with niches where funeral urns are stored. The word actually originates from an 18th century Latin word for pigeon house, derived from columba meaning dove.

Some of the Buddhist temples have a columbarium, especially the cave temples around Ipoh in Perak, Malaysia. These are a hive of activity as people burn their paper offerings in the massive fires. These fires are in specially built brick lined kilns. Food and flowers are put out for the ancestors.

Some temples ban meat — only vegetarian food is allowed to be taken in.

The temples are full of smoke from the incense sticks and the burning offerings. They are also a blaze of colour from vases of flowers. Counters lined with food look like a buffet in an outdoor restaurant, there are whole meals laid out, and snacks such as fried chicken. At the altars are the pink coloured buns, as well as apples, oranges and other fruit. Sparrows and other small birds dart in and out taking advantage of this free feast.

Chinese temples throughout the country will be busy as people go to give prayers and remember their ancestors. Many temples don't have places for burning, so the people just make offerings of fruit, flowers, incense etc.

In the olden days, people celebrated the Qing Ming Festival with various performances such as dancing and singing. Over the years, the celebration aspect has been toned down and has become more of a time to remember the departed relatives.

Although the Qing Ming festival originated in China, it is still widely followed in Malaysia as Chinese families remember their traditions and honour their ancestors.

The Brunei Times

Source URL:

Laos frog dance (Star 2008)

Getting God’s attention

Lifestyle & Travel Adventure

Saturday May 24, 2008

[It was also published on CloveTwo]

The traditional frog dance of Laos is performed when times are bad and appeals have to be made directly to heaven.


The frog dance is performed in Laos to attract the attention of the Thaen God. The Lao believe that they originally came from the World of the Sky (or the kingdom of Thaen) and were sent to earth by the Lord Thaen.

To worship Thaen, they carved stones depicting a big solar star surrounded by smaller stars. This symbol of the solar star is fitting, as the word lao means “star” and has become the name of the people of the land.

Vientiane Museum.

The Lao believe when they pass away they will return to the kingdom of Thaen. When very young people get seriously ill, the parents would organise a lamsongphifar to ask the God of Thaen to prolong their life. A lamsongphifar is a ceremony during which folksongs are sung. It is also used to ask for rain.

The legend of Thaen, which shows Hindu influences, is said to have existed for more than 4,000 years. In the beginning, Thaen sent his people to populate the empty Earth. They had to change their god bodies into the human form, with four minerals, five senses, and six touches (ears, eyes, nose, tongue, body and heart).

These humans followed the laws of nature in that they experienced birth, aging, sickness and death. After death, those who had done good deeds would go to heaven. But those who had done no good or had led bad lives would be reincarnated in the human world for as many cycles as it took them to do enough good deeds to enter heaven.

There used to be communication between Thaen and humans. When the king first sent his people to Earth, there were Kheua Kaukad wire trees linking the human world to the heavens.

When people faced troubles, such as floods, natural disasters, or shortage of food, they sent two persons to climb up to the sky to ask for their god’s help. They would ask him to chase away the badness or to send rain and an abundance of rice and fish.

In this way, the god of Thaen enabled the people to have enough rice to last till the new rice season.

The god was a sympathetic one. However, he later saw that some people were lazy and did not want to work. Instead, they grew accustomed to complaining to him that they had no rice and requesting rice from him. This made the god angry, and he sent them away.

In order to ban them from Thaen, he cut down the Kheua Kaukad trees.

Example of the Kong Bang drum.

Since then, there has been no direct communication between humans and Thaen. All that remains is indirect worshipping called Thaen worship. People perform this to ask for protection from bad things and natural disasters.

To do this, people perform the frog dance ceremony to make the god of Thaen look down and see who the good people are. This ceremonial rite is performed once a year, usually at the end of the dry season, although it can be performed at any time, especially if there is no rain.

If the crops are suffering from drought, people say this is because the god of Thaen is punishing the bad people. During the ceremony, the people must pray and offer food and drink to Thaen.

To pray means to dance. People paint their faces to look like frogs, and perform the frog dance and bang the Kong Bang frog drums to make a noise like frogs singing. The bronze drums are decorated with carvings of frogs.

Some of these drums can be seen in the National Museum in Vientiane. There are also rock paintings of the frog dance. One example can be seen on a rock in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos. It is estimated to be 3,000-4,000 years old.

There are also frog dance paintings on rock cliffs and cave walls in central Thailand and in China as well. Some of the paintings depict the frog dance without the Kong Bang drums, whereas others show the drums.

It is suggested that the dance without the drum is older, maybe 5,000-6,000 years ago, before the Iron Age.

Will the young still remember these traditions?

The existence of these drums and rock paintings is proof of the legend that has been passed down through the generations. Archaeologists have found many examples of this.

In Luang Prabang province, they have found stones sculptured with stars and a possible sun. One bronze drum from Thailand has been dated at 5,600 years old. The bronze frog drums are decorated with four carved frogs seated at four angles. Some have a single frog; others feature two or three frogs at each of the four angles of the drum. They are all designed to ask for rain from Thaen.

The old people still believe that all frogs are sacred animals. When the frogs are singing, the noise would reach Thaen and the god would send rain to the world. If the god did not send rain, then the frog king would fly to the sky to ask for rain.

The Kong Bang drums are not only for rain ceremonies, but can also be used by a chief for escorting leaders, or during traditional rites or funeral ceremonies. The frog dance ceremony has survived for thousands of years and, although fewer and fewer people believe in it anymore, it is still remembered.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Langkawi wildlife park - Star 2007

Fanciful flights

Saturday November 17, 2007
THE STAR Lifestyle

It doesn’t matter if you are not a fan of birds because once you step into the Langkawi Wildlife Park, you are in bird paradise.


I’ve never really been a fan of zoos and wildlife parks in Asia, as often the animals are kept in less than ideal conditions. So when a visiting friend wanted to go to the Langkawi Wildlife Park, I was a bit reluctant.

However as we had little else to do that afternoon I agreed, and we hailed a passing taxi. When we arrived at the park, the taxi driver said he would wait for us. Seems this is normal for cabbies here, so we said OK, especially since I didn’t expect to stay long.

Perched high: There are different kinds of hornbills at the Park.

I was wrong. The animal park actually exceeded my expectations and we were inside until almost closing. Our poor taxi driver was left wondering what had happened to us. I had been expecting to see just birds, but the park is much more, housing a variety of small mammals and reptiles as well.

And the animals looked quite well cared for, in adequately–sized cages, and with fresh food and water. The place used to be called the Langkawi Bird Park but is now known as the Langkawi Wildlife Park.

We entered the macaw’s courtyard, and these birds were stunning with their multi–coloured plumage. Some of the birds even seemed to pose for photos. I was interested to see that several of the birds were perched in pairs, so I assume these were couples who had paired for life, which was nice to see.

There were macaws, parrots and cockatoos from South–East Asia, as well as from Africa.

I am not a great bird lover, as my Malaysian birding friends know, but I did spend quite some time admiring these birds. Nevertheless as soon as I saw the first mammals, I hurried over.

The small-clawed otters were sleek and shiny, though I was amused to see they were snacking on dog biscuits. Next was a large pen containing mouse-deer. These tiny deer feature prominently in Malay folklore. The Greater Mouse-deer is only about 30cm high, whilst the Lesser species is much shorter. I’ve seen these little creatures at night in the wild in Taman Negara, but it was good to see them at close quarters and in daylight.

The next section contained a variety of birds and mammals in separate cages.

A binturong was sitting on a tree trunk in full sunlight as if sunbathing. I thought he must be hot with his thick, shaggy dark fur, but he seemed content, even though they are normally nocturnal creatures. Binturongs are also known as bear-cats and are actually large civets.

Sink or swim: The otters were snacking on dog biscuits.

A giant squirrel resided in the opposite cage. Further on were more mouse-deer – one cute little guy came right up to the wire mesh to see if I had any fruit for him. There were common macaque monkeys, as well as some beruks, which are the pig-tailed macaques used in the kampung to collect coconuts.

Even the birds held my attention again, especially a pair of Buffy fish owls.

My friend thought they were stuffed as they didn’t move, but I noticed the eyes moving on one of them as it watched me zoom my camera. It was holding a half–eaten fish in its talons.

The Electus parrots always fascinate me as the male is predominately green whilst the female is red. I’d recently seen these in the wild in the Moluccas, which is where they hail from. One grey Palm Cockatoo was breaking up some small black stones with his beak, and I was surprised he didn’t chip his beak. This was the only animal I saw acting strangely, I’m not sure if he was stressed or if he was looking for minerals in the stones.

We went through a walk through aviary, and the brightly coloured budgerigars zipped around like streaks of coloured lightning. As we walked to the exit some budgies followed us, and I thought they wanted to escape, but instead they had spotted some grain left in a pile near the door.

From there we entered the pond area, and saw a solitary crocodile. There were many types of birds in the pool, such as flamingo, crowned cranes, pink–backed pelicans, various ducks, and some black swan from Australia. Fish were swimming in the same pond and didn’t seem concerned about the birds.

Langkawi is famous for its geology, and has recently been gazetted as a Geopark. Many of the rocks are limestone, so there are many caves, and in recent years there have been several marble industries on the islands.

Crystals feature prominently, in the Wildlife Park. There was a display on crystals, mainly from Brazil and China. We saw the world’s largest crystal ball, weighing a whopping 668kg. The path inevitably led us through the crystal shop, but as we had no interest in making a purchase we hurried through, eager to see more animals.

We were rewarded with different types of hornbills, as well as some eagles, which are the symbol of Langkawi. One White Bellied Sea Eagle was kept on a perch and would sit on a visitor’s arm to pose for photos.

Outside was a solitary cassowary from Australia. These birds are fascinatingly ugly, with their horn-like casques and a neck covered in keratinous skin. The three-toed feet almost look too big for the body. The middle claw is used as a dagger.

Cassowaries are related to emus and ostriches. I find emus very cute with their big eyes, large flat beaks and fluffy heads. The largest of these birds are the ostriches, and one made a determined grab at my camera as I tried to take close-ups of its head.

The park claims to have over 3,000 birds of some 150 different species from a round the globe. As we left, a peacock began displaying to a peahen, but she looked less than interested. I was surprised to find that we were virtually the last remaining visitors, and our driver had already been in to check that we were still there.

Despite my initial reservations, I actually enjoyed my visit.

Langkawi Wildlife Park
Lot 1485
Jln Ayer Hangat
Kampung Belanga Pecah
07000 Langkawi

Opening hours : Daily, 9am to 6pm

Bamboo train, Battambang, Cambodia - 2005

The bamboo choo-choo

Story & pictures by LIZ PRICE

Travel & Adventure
Saturday July 23, 2005

When asked if I wanted to ride on the bamboo train, I had no idea what was in store. The picture that came to mind was of a cute toy train with bamboo carriages.

I was in Battambang province in northwest Cambodia and had spent the day visiting the killing fields of the Pol Pot regime, as well as temples, a rice processing factory and various other attractions.

It costs just RM1 to get from one station to another on the bamboo train of Battambang

From my hotel in Battambang, I hired a motorbike and driver for a mere RM23, for a seven-hour trip.

We crossed a river using a narrow suspension bridge. This was upstream of the Stung Sangker, or Sangker River, which flows through the centre of Battambang. Despite being Cambodia’s second largest city, Battambang has a laid-back atmosphere. It is an elegant riverside town with French period architecture.

We were heading west, out of town, in the direction of the Thai border. We stopped at a wat to look at the fruit bats in the trees. The bats living here are protected by the monks. Without this protection, they would be hunted and eaten. From the wat, it was quite a muddy ride through small villages and along the river. I thought we were going back to the hotel and was surprised when we came to a railway line.

I was told this was the bamboo railway but could see no sign of a train, and there were definitely no cute bamboo carriages. I got off the bike and walked in the drizzle to the station. There were quite a few people bustling around and lots of goods waiting to be transported. I wondered how long we would have to wait for the train to arrive. I knew that the train service in Cambodia was fairly primitive and incredibly slow.

Train travel is cheap, but patience is required. The trains travel at an average speed of 20kph and unscheduled stops because of mechanical problems are not uncommon. We were on the main railway line from Phnom Penh to Poipet, the border town. The French built this single-track, metre-gauge line in the 1920s. They used it to carry coffee and bananas to the city.

The first tiny steam engines were replaced later by more powerful steam locomotives. But during the Khmer Rouge regime, the trains were destroyed. The tracks were spared but became overgrown with jungle. After the civil war, the locals cleared the rails and the line was back in operation again.

It is made up of a metal frame with bamboo slats, two axles with wheels and a motorcycle or tractor engine.

The 274km journey from Battambang to Phnom Penh takes around 15 hours. The train runs up one day and down the next day. Whilst I was contemplating the speed of the train, the penny suddenly dropped. I realised that I had been looking at the bamboo train without recognising it.

The Battambang bamboo train (or norry in Cambodian) is, in fact, a metal frame with bamboo slats that sit on two axles with wheels. It is used to transport people and goods up and down the railway.

After the days of the Khmer Rouge, the land mines were cleared from the tracks, and the local residents built dozens of these miniature trains. It was interesting to watch the contraption, 3ft (1m) x 8ft (2.4m), being assembled. Two young men appeared, carrying two steel axles with cast-iron wheels at both ends. These were placed on the track – a perfect fit.

Next, a metal frame with the bamboo slats was positioned atop the axles. The engine sits on top, linked to the wheels by a rubber drive wheel. To brake, the driver turns the engine off and coasts to a stop.

The older trains don’t have a metal frame. There is instead a long bamboo mat. The axles fit into two steel forks on the underside of the mat. The mat sits atop the wheels. The train is driven by a motorcycle or tractor engine. Gasoline is available at village crossings, sold in glass whiskey bottles. In the past, men used poles to push the train along.

It runs about 10km up and down the line, and costs 1,000riel (RM 1) between stations. As the regular train only goes up one day and down the next, there is no danger of collision.

An old French station.

However, if two trains do meet, the lighter one is simply taken off the rails to allow the other to pass.

I was lucky as one train was being loaded when we arrived. Before I really grasped what was happening, people jumped aboard and a few men started pushing it whilst running along behind. And off went the bamboo train.

The old French station would have been elegant in its day. Today, it is used as a store for the train parts. The rain continued, and somehow both my shorts and T-shirt had got plastered in mud underneath my poncho. But it was worth it as I had seen the Battambang bamboo train.

Laos ball throwing, Hmong game of love

The Hmong game of love

By Liz Price

Saturday May 19, 2007

Throw the ball and catch a husband. If you see a boy you like, toss the ball to him and hope he returns it. But if you don’t like your prospective partner, then drop the ball he throws you.

Novel, isn’t it?

This is pov pob, the ball-tossing game of the Hmong, a minority ethnic group in Laos. The ball-tossing game is a common activity for adolescents. Boys and girls form two separate lines in pairs that are directly facing one another. The players throw a soft black ball back and forth to each other.

Catching the ball gives him hope. Dropping it could mean she’s got her sights on someone else. — LIZ PRICE

The ball is thrown so that the other player can catch it with one hand. If the throw is good and the other player drops or misses the ball, an ornament or a piece of silver or a belt from his or her costume is given to the opposite player in the pair. Ornaments are recovered by singing traditional courting songs to the opposite player.

Girls can toss the ball with other girls or boys, but boys cannot toss the ball with boys. It is also taboo to toss the ball to someone of the same clan, as Hmongs may not marry within the same clan group. Through playing this game, the youngsters get to know each other, forming relationships that may eventually lead to marriage.

If the boy throws the ball and the girl makes no attempt to catch it, then he has been rejected. Traditionally the ball was made of cotton, but today the couples use tennis balls.

Every unmarried girl tries to make a new dress especially for the ball game. During their spare moments from working at home or in the fields, the girls embroider special designs on their costumes. The boys, too, wear their best new clothes.

Each player wears at least one silver collar. However, today, many have compromised on the dress code and wear unbecoming trainers or clumpy modern platform shoes. Some of the boys don’t even bother to dress up. It seems such a pity that the girls make a big effort to dress up for the occasion whereas a few of the boys come in their everyday clothes.

I had to laugh at the number of handphones I saw. Many of the boys and girls were catching the ball with one hand, while the other one clutched a handphone. In years to come they will probably give up throwing the ball and just send text messages instead!

Traditional Hmong society is very ordered and a marriage partner must be found from another clan. The ball throwing game takes place during the Hmong New Year celebration, because they usually work all year round and have no time for courtship. All the Hmong communities in the country celebrate the New Year.

It is held at the end of the 12th lunar calendar month and the beginning of the first lunar calendar month, which is the time of the full moon in November (of the Laotian calendar). This is at the end of the rice harvest, and the festival lasts anything from three to 45 days.

However, not all communities celebrate the New Year at the same time since it may not coincide with the end of the rice harvest for them. It is preferable that the New Year celebration coincides with those in other nearby villages so that the unmarried men can meet prospective wives in other communities as well.

Young people usually get married after the New Year, between the first and the 15th of the month. They believe that it’s a good time for marriage, because everything starts as new, especially with a new moon – something the Hmongs live their lives by.

There is an interesting story of the origin of this ball-throwing game.

A long time ago, before the Hmong migrated to Laos, they lived in China. There were specific times set aside for courting. It was the man’s duty to court a girl and the actual activity of pov pob occurred when some love-stricken fellow devised a plan in which he would be able to send symbols of love to his girlfriend.

He would hide some charm or personal item wrapped up in a bun and throw it to his chosen girl. Then she proceeded to do the same. Back and forth they threw these items. If they were separated by a high wall, he would sing to indicate he was there and she would have to answer with similar lyrics.

Over the years, the buns turned into balls made from strips of fabric and were tossed at New Year to show affection or interest. The beautiful lyrics continue to be a feature in this courting game.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Toxic beauty lurks in Tasik Biru, Bau

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
Toxic beauty lurks in Tasik Biru

The blue lake: Tasik Biru has long been a prime attraction of this small town, as it lies just 1 km from Bau centre. Picture: Liz Price

© Liz Price

Sunday, June 29, 2008

MENTION Bau in Sarawak and gold springs to mind. Bau is a small town about 35km southwest of Kuching and was once very active with gold mining. The mining started in the early 19th century, during the days of Rajah Brooke's rule, when Chinese settlers began searching for alluvial gold.

Today however Bau is probably better known for its caves. But even more famous than the caves is its Blue Lake, Tasik Biru. At first glance it looks like just any other lake, but when you walk over to one side the blue colour is really noticeable and contrasts sharply against the green foliage. Tasik Biru has long been a prime attraction of this small town, as it lies just one kilometre from Bau centre. The lake is not natural, it was formed as a result of open cast mining. The gold mine, known as Tai Parit mine, was operated by the Borneo Company from 1898 until it was flooded in 1921. The newly formed lake was then known as Tai Parit Lake, and later became a popular place for picnics. Its name was only changed to Tasik Biru in the 1970s. A bridge was built across a narrow part of the lake to enable visitors to reach the other side. People would swim and go fishing in the lake, and sail model boats. Paddle boats were also a popular activity but this was stopped after a bus tragedy in 1979. A bus carrying students and teachers plunged into the lake killing 28 students and a trainee teacher. The lake was actually drained in 1990 when a mining company wanted to extract the gold ore from the sides and bottom of the lake. The lake is about 300 feet deep. The lake and surroundings covered about 15 acres but this area was increased when the site was restored in 2000.

It was thought that the water appeared greenish bluish due to reflection of the green vegetation and the blue sky. However it was then found that the lake contains high levels of arsenic, which is a poisonous element. Signboards were put up at the lake side to warn people against swimming, fishing, and drinking the water. It's ironic that such a delightful blue colour is actually formed by a toxic substance.

When tested it was found that the arsenic level in the water is 40 times higher than the permissible level allowed by the World health Organisation (WHO) and yet the residents of a nearby kampung had been using the water since 1997, when their own water supply was cut off. The lake is constantly fed by a small stream which has even higher levels of arsenic. It's like beauty and the beast, a beautiful colour coming from a toxic source! There are a lot of legends relating to Tasik Biru. One concerns the creation of the lake. According to local tales, it is said that a group of miners saw a golden tortoise at the bottom of the mine. They tried to catch the tortoise but it buried itself in the earth. As the miners tried harder to dig it out, the tortoise bored deeper into the ground in its attempt to escape. Suddenly, a jet of water appeared and the mine started to flood. The frightened miners tried to scramble to higher ground but the water kept rising. Just when it looked as if the mining settlement would be wiped out, an old man, said to be a bomoh, appeared on the scene. He pushed a white man into the rising water, and strangely, the water stopped rising. The lake even has its own Loch Ness monster story. In 1988, three monsters appeared in Tasik Biru. Crowds gathered to watch these strange large figures about three metres long swimming below the water surface. The medium from the nearby Bong Low Sian Tze temple said they were evil beings. His helpers burnt some talismans around the four corners of the lake, and a day later, the strange figures disappeared. No such creatures were seen when the lake was drained in 1990! I had a good look but couldn't see any monsters disturbing the surface of the water.

There is a walkway leading down to a pontoon and it's nice to sit here and catch the breeze and watch the ripples moving across the water. The colours change slightly, depending on the angle you look. It's definitely a peaceful place despite the hidden dangers lurking in the water.

The writer is a native of England, now living in Malaysia and specialising in cave and karst research

The Brunei Times


Source URL:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gemencheh memorial update - Star 2008

The Star Lifestyle

Saturday August 9, 2008
Looking spiffy now

Engineers from the 14 Troop of Australia’s Second Combat Engineer Regiment recently helped to spruce up the Gemencheh War Memorial in Negri Sembilan.

In May, I visited the war memorial in Gemencheh, Negri Sembilan, and wrote about it. The article was read by a military officer on rotation at the Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB), and it just so happened that his troops would be refurbishing the memorial site in July.

So he invited me to go and see the work.

As I drove there along the Tampin to Gemas road, I saw dozens of stalls selling durian. It was obviously the height of the season, and they were being sold very cheaply compared to Kuala Lumpur prices, at a mere RM1 a kilogramme.

When I reached the memorial site, Major Matt Prior, the officer commanding RCB, was there to meet me. The place was a hive of activity, with men in camouflage uniforms hard at work on the grounds surrounding the memorial.

(Above & below): The Australian soldiers put in a lot of effort to spruce up the war memorial in honour of the Australian battalion who fought the Japanese in Gemencheh in 1942.

I was surprised at the size of the camp, which was located on the strip of land between the trunk road and the old disused road.

Major Prior welcomed me with a cold drink and gave me an introduction to the work they were doing. There was one main memorial — a large marble structure erected by the 2/30 Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces. This was in memory of the men from the battalion and other supporting units who fought the Japanese here during World War II on Jan 14 and Jan 15, 1942.

The 27th Brigade from Australia was assigned to defend the area around Gemas that January, and the 2/30 Infantry Battalion from the brigade was placed at the Gemencheh River to ambush the advancing Japanese. The Australian troops blew up the wooden bridge as the Japanese were crossing.

Many Japanese were killed and their advance down the country was delayed.

Having been briefed on the background of the battle, I was introduced to Lt Michael Donker, 22, who was in charge of the operations. He said there were 28 guys working there over a six-day period. They were army engineers from the Second Combat Engineer Regiment, mostly from Brisbane.

This regiment is subdivided into the 7th Combat Engineer Squad, and then into the 14 Troop.

Lt Donker said the men were happy to be working here as they were doing jobs they were trained for. Prior to this assignment, some had been working on the Hellfire Pass in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, of the infamous Death Railway fame.

I spoke to Sapper Jeremy Long from Newcastle in New South Wales. He had only been in the army about 14 months and was quite happy about his overseas posting to Malaysia.

“I find it interesting to do the work, as it’s something I’m trained for rather than just a routine exercise,” said Long, who was rendering the walls of the new flower beds.

The troop had cleared the scrub land surrounding the memorial site. They laid down gravel on the entire site and bordered the two long sides with flower beds. All the materials had been bought locally.

The men also constructed a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk leading to the memorial. They were then still putting preservative on the planks, so I had to be careful not to step on them. At the marble memorial, they made four boxes in each corner. These would be used as sentry boxes whenever they held services here.

There was also a flag pole behind the memorial. There was to be no permanent flag, but one would be raised during services such as on Anzac Day, and when the 2/30 remember the anniversary of the battle in January.

Sapper Ben Cooke, 23, a plumber back home, said, “I am glad to be here. I can feel the war. By doing this work, one is able to put something back.”

The men were allowed to rest when the heat of the day got too much. To compensate for this, they had work until around 1am. The only drawback to this nocturnal arrangement was that lots of bees were attracted to the lights.

However, the men were well looked after, for the camp cook supplied them with tea and muffins at midnight. I wasn’t able to meet the female cook as she was away buying provisions, but all the guys sung praises of her and said she deserved a medal for looking after them.

The kitchen was large and looked well-equipped. The sleeping area consisted of camp beds in an open tent. There were toilets at the back, and at the other end of camp they even had showers. So it was all quite luxurious and the guys didn’t have to bathe in the river!

Sgt Ben Stevens, the troop sergeant and technical advisor, told me they had the plans for their assignment drawn up before they came to the site, and that work was progressing well and was on track.

All the guys commented on the friendliness of the locals. Many had come to visit them and some had brought sacks of durian. Unfortunately none of the guys I spoke to liked the king of fruits.

Lots of drivers hooted their horns and waved as they drove past. Various officials from Gemas and Negri Sembilan also visited them.

When the work was completed, the troop held a simple service before packing up and heading back to Butterworth and then on to Brisbane. The 14 Troop did a good job here. Hopefully people will respect the site and there will be no new cases of graffiti or damage.

The refurbishment of the site means it will need little maintenance, and will probably be visited by further rotations of troops.

Scenic Cherating - BT 2008

Scenic Cherating awaits with sandy white coastline
© Liz Price

The Brunei Times
Sunday, August 17, 2008

CHERATING is a small seaside kampung (village) on the east coast of Malaysia. In the 20 years I have known it, it has changed a lot, but compared to most tourist areas it has hardly changed at all. The village has retained its serene atmosphere with wooden chalets and bungalows situated amid swaying palm trees, a few restaurants and small shops to serve people, and there are still no high rise buildings in the village.

Cherating is the ideal place for R & R, with the 3S's thrown in — sun, sand and sea. A peaceful location just right to relax and to escape and unwind from the bustle of city life. It's the perfect getaway, being one of the nicest of the east coast beaches and yet one of the closest to Kuala Lumpur, but also easily accessible from other cities, by air and road.

It is situated in Pahang, 46km north of Kuantan. Kampung Cherating and Pantai Cherating are actually some 4km apart, but it is to the latter that the majority of visitors go. Although the main east coast trunk road passes by Cherating, the kampung itself is still relatively traffic free and the beach is just a five-minute walk from the main road.

Accommodation varies from basic A-frame huts with just a bed, mosquito net and shared bathroom through to fan or A/C chalets with attached bathrooms, and right up to luxury resorts which are north and south of the village. You can choose your sleeping accomodation according to your budget. Cherating started off as a backpackers' village, where foreign travellers on a tight budget could find a cheap, value for money room. But since those days Cherating has expanded and now caters for a much wider market, both locals and foreigners. During public holidays and long weekends, Cherating becomes crowded with Singaporeans and KL'ites.

Cherating is an ideal place in which to do nothing. The huge bay is lined by a sandy beach and although the sea goes out a long way during low tide, various sandbanks are revealed and are a favourite spot for sunbathers. If you don't like the sun you can sit in the shade of the casuarinas, then take a dip in the sea to cool off. Watch the sea eagles soaring high overhead almost as if they were there to do flight displays for the visitors. Maybe walk along the kilometres of golden sand, or explore the secluded cove to the north. Climb up the hill on the headland and look down on everybody. Then relax at one of the beach bars and warungs (food stall) and enjoy a cool drink, watching the world go by.

Other beach activities include windsurfing, boat trips to Pulau Ular (Snake Island), and in the evening when it is slightly cooler, the locals challenge the visitors to a game of volleyball. But beware, the locals are good.

The beach is not the only option. There are batik shops where for a very reasonable price you can learn the art of batik and make your own painting, or design a T-shirt or sarong. Many a happy hour can be spent in designing your own masterpiece.

Scattered along the road are a few souvenir shops and small minimarts. There is even a book shop where you can rent, exchange or buy books, and which is attached to an internet place.

You can take a river trips up the Sungai Cherating. These are best done early morning or in the evening, and if you are lucky you can see monkeys, birds, monitor lizards, small mammals and maybe even snakes.

Even at night the peaceful atmosphere is maintained. Unlike other seaside resorts Cherating doesn't turn into a noisy strip with neon lights and crowds.

There are a few places to eat, from food stall offering local dishes, to restaurants which serve seafood, Western and Thai cuisine. A couple of bars cater for the drinkers and those wanting music.

Cherating is one of the few places that hasn't yet been over developed or spoilt. Although the number of chalets has increased over the years, the overall atmosphere is still very laid back, that of a sleepy and peaceful kampung, with no pressures, traffic or noise pollution: just the sound of the sea breeze blowing through the coconut palms.

Cherating is definitely a place I'd recommend — go and see for yourself.

The Brunei Times

Source URL:

Autobacs rally 2004 Thailand Laos

Saturday October 23, 2004
Mother of a rally

[also stolen and published on World News]


FORTY-FOUR cars started the 9th Autobacs Asia Cross Country Rally in August from Bangkok to Laos and back, but the numbers dwindled and only 35 managed to cross the finishing line seven days later.

Inevitably, some succumbed to the rigours of the rough terrain. Several cars rolled; others got firmly stuck in mud whilst some had mechanical problems. The route had been designed to pit man and machine against the environment, and this it succeeded in doing.

It was a struggle against rocks, mud, rivers and jungle.

The event took place from August 7 to 13, a seven-day drive that included nine off-road special sections (SS) designed to test the drivers.

The 44 teams came from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. In addition, there were the support cars, service crews, marshals and media.

Altogether there were more than 100 cars carrying some 220 personnel.

Kicking up the dust at the 9th Autobacs Asia Cross Country Rally.

The route covered a demanding 2,700km, 900km of which was on nine SS’s. These negotiated mountains, rivers, agricultural land, and rough tracks with steep inclines and rocky descents. The conditions ranged from plenty of mud to dry and dusty, but all demanded technical driving. The weather before and during the rally was rather wet and, on one occasion, rising water meant the route had to be altered. Other SS’s had to be cut short due to adverse conditions. The 2004 rally was a tough one all right.

The cars all came under the T2 class, which meant they conformed to the standard set by the Federation Internationale de Automobile (FIA). Car manufacturers included Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Nissan and Suzuki. Some looked like regular cars you see on the street, others were obviously customised. All were fitted with anti-roll bars and other requisite safety features.

Looking inside the cars, I was surprised by the sparseness – all unnecessary features and luxury items had been removed. Drivers and co-drivers had to wear helmets. Team Malaysia consisted of six cars, although one was a joint Singapore-Malaysian car.

The Ho brothers from Kuala Lumpur were no strangers to the Autobacs rally. In 2002 they placed second in the T2 class. Last year they came in 19th overall, but this year they were unable to finish in their Toyota Hilux Tiger. The other five Malaysian teams were making their first appearance in the rally.

Day One saw the entire convoy assemble outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Luckily the city’s notorious traffic jams were not a problem that day. At 7pm, after a short ceremony, the first car stood on the podium and was flagged off amidst much fanfare.

The other cars followed and thus began the 480km drive to Phetchabun in North-east Thailand. It was a straightforward drive, mostly along highways, and the first cars reached the Kosit Hill Hotel around 11.30pm.

Day Two dawned very early. I didn’t realise rally drivers had such early starts. We were up most mornings before 6am, sometimes even before 5am.

It was quite an effort to force down a large breakfast at such unearthly hours. But I knew I had to fill up my stomach or risk going hungry later. I was in a media car and we spent our days dashing round trying to find strategic places on the SS’s to get good photo opportunities. This meant a lot of off-road driving. It was a good thing we were being driven around.

Our driver was Suthipan, a rally co-driver himself. He had no qualms about tackling really rough terrains. In fact, he seemed to revel in the particularly muddy sections.

The first SS of this year’s rally covered mountainous terrain on narrow jungle tracks.

It was certainly the most difficult for the support and media cars to access as the route involved a very muddy section and some very rough tracks. SS2 in the afternoon was a faster route through agricultural land, as well as sections up and down mountainous areas with many creeks.

On Day Three we left Phetchabun and headed for Nong Khai on the Mekong River. The morning’s SS3 was a combination of mountain, river and muddy terrain. SS4 was set in the Switzerland of North-eastern Thailand, a scenic area with mountains in Loei province.

This was the day when the combination of mud and other obstacles proved too much for the rally cars, resulting in both SS’s of the day being cancelled. Many cars got stuck in the mud, a traffic jam right here in the backwaters!

Meanwhile the press people congregated in a small hamlet, along with the villagers, waiting in vain by a brown river. When a small herd of cows crossed the river, we all took photos to relieve the boredom.

Finally, after a long while, we heard the distinctive roar of a rally car approaching, and everyone ran to obtain a good viewpoint.

The villagers cheered as the car appeared and splashed through the river. Only a few cars appeared, and it was at least half an hour before the next batch arrived. Then it seemed that all the remaining cars appeared together, lined up in single file down to the water’s edge. The villagers were certainly enthusiastic in their cheering as they urged the cars through the water.

Day Four saw the entire convoy cross the border into Laos via the Friendship Bridge near Vientiane. Whilst waiting for all the cars to enter, we went crazy taking photos of everything. There was a group of Laotian police, and they were willing though bemused to have their photos taken with us. They were game to let me straddle a police motorbike and take photos.

We then drove through Vientiane the capital and along a rough track following the mighty Mekong River westwards. Some of the drivers kept forgetting they had to drive on the right in Laos.

The SS proved a bit problematic as the car that checked the route couldn’t cross a swollen river. So plans had to be changed. This meant a long delay. And the resulting SS took place mostly on dusty, dirt tracks. But the villagers were enthusiastic and we had an enormous crowd watching.

Day Five saw the convoy returning to Thailand for the longest SS, which covered 188km through two provinces, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen. A lot of the route was on village tracks and through agricultural land, with some fast sections.

This meant we had the earliest finish of any rally day, and reached the Sofitel Hotel in Khon Kaen by afternoon. Most of the rally cars went to the car wash for a well-deserved clean-up – although I couldn’t really see the point as they would soon get plastered in mud and dust the next day.

Meanwhile many of the personnel took advantage of the nearby shopping centre, Internet cafes, bars, etc. It was our only chance during the rally for such luxuries.

Day Six took the competitors through Chaiyaphum province and Nakon Ratchasima province. That night we stayed on the edge of Khao Noi National Park, Thailand’s oldest.

On Day Seven, the last day, we drove from the hotel through the National Park towards Chacheong, with our only spectators at that early hour being a few monkeys on the roadside. After the SS everyone headed for Bangkok and the podium finish in the National Stadium.

The results

First, second and third placings were won by teams from Thailand, with a Japanese car coming fourth. Positions five to 10 were also swept by the Thai teams.

The Ho brothers did not finish. The other Malaysian cars fared better, finishing 26th, 27th and 31st, while the Singapore-Malaysia car took 33rd spot. One other car did not finish, having not started the fifth day.

This year there was an all-ladies team again, a Mitsubishi Strada driven by Ray Itoh of Japan with co-driver Jia-Yeng Sheng from Taiwan. They started the rally in 12th place and finished 17th. Malaysia had one husband-and-wife team, Teh Chin Seen and Siew Sook Mei, and they did well in their Isuzu Trooper.

Autobacs rally 2005 Thailand - Star

Saturday October 1, 2005

Stirring up some excitement

Story & Pictures by Liz Price

There is something thrilling about waiting for a rally car to pass. Your ears strain to catch the distinctive throaty roar. Sometimes you make a mistake and are disappointed when a motorbike swings into view. Other times you see the rally car coming before you hear it – or rather you see an approaching swirl of dust, inside of which is a car.

This year’s Autobacs Asia Cross Country Rally, the 10th of the Asia XC series, took place in Thailand Aug 6-12.

Sanctioned by the FIA (Federation Internationale de Automobile) for the first time, the seven-day event, organised by Ortev of Japan, covered some 3,400km, 1,000km of which took place on 10 SS (selective section) where the cars were subjected to the rigours of the terrain.

A fleet of 44 cars representing Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Taiwan left the starting line in Bangkok. Including vehicles for the media, service crew, sweepers and officials, the entire contingent numbered more than 100 cars.

Each morning we got up at 5am, ate a large breakfast because we knew we wouldn’t have time for lunch, and hit the road an hour later. Our first destination was the historic city of Ayutthaya, then Mae Sot on the Myanmar border, climbing mountains and braving the rain. After Mae Sot, we drove past the largest refugee camp in Thailand.

The Malaysian and Korean teams.

At Mae Sariang, we took photos of a temple with Shan-styled chedis. The area here is populated by hill tribes, and we saw many of them in their bright clothes as we drove by at high speed. We were always in a hurry, trying to keep ahead of the rally cars.

Mae Hong Son is a touristy place with lots of farang (foreigners). Here everyone was allowed an hour’s worth of sightseeing; and we all went to see a “long-necked village” outside Mae Hon Song. The women were quite obliging and had their photos taken beside the colourful cars.

From Pai, we drove five hours to Chiang Rai. As usual, we only arrived at the hotel late in the evening. Our next stop was Sukhothai, another historic city, and again, I was only able to catch a glimpse of a couple of chedis as we drove out at six am the following morning.

Going for a ‘swim’.

We had left the mountains behind by now and were entering farmlands. We drove through large plantations, where tapioca and pineapples were grown, and saw large farms where cows were reared. The last day took us through Thailand’s oldest National Park, Khao Yai. The main road ran through the park, and all vehicles had to observe the speed limit. The rally ended in the coastal city of Pattaya.

The 10 selective sections covered different types of terrain, and the weather played a role in how tough these turned out to be. In each SS, the driver had to concentrate for hours, guiding his car over the rough and tricky areas, with the co-driver navigating.

Japan had 13 cars in the race. One was driven by Ukyo Katayama, an ex F1 driver, who managed to finish 8th. There was just one ladies team, driven by Ray Itoh from Japan and a Taiwanese co-driver.

Representing Malaysia for the 5th year were the Ho brothers, with Francis as driver and Jacky as co-driver. This year they competed in a Land Rover Discovery and made sure and steady progress. Unfortunately they ended up wasting valuable time winching out other cars which got stuck in the mud.

The worst of the SS was when the cars had to negotiate a very slippery and hilly 90km. We waited for them to finish at a village, and it was a long wait. When we finally heard a rally car in the distance, we ran back to snap photos.

It was 35 minutes later before the next car arrived. An hour later, a third car approached, and then no more. The remaining cars had got stuck in mud at Km66. Once they were all extricated they turned back to the starting point, and the afternoon SS had to be postponed.

Another exciting SS involved a river crossing. The first few cars got through without any problems. However, they dug out the soft riverbed and made the water deeper for the next cars. Soon the first car got stuck and the co-driver had to climb out to look for a tree to attach the winch.

Alas, there were no trees, and they had to wait for someone who was willing to stop and help. Soon another car got stuck, then another. At one point there were three cars stuck at once. All had to be winched, with one getting a push from the locals.

Another SS was delayed when the cars encountered logging trucks on the track and there was no room to overtake. One SS required the drivers to negotiate padi fields, twisting and turning along the narrow raised tracks. We stood in tapioca fields, amongst pineapples and tall corn, watching. In many places, the friendly locals gave us corncobs to chew on whilst we waited.

Young spectators.

The rally ended in Pattaya. The overall winners were from Korea, who drove a Ssanyong Musso. Second and third placing went to Thai teams, who drove a Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max respectively. The winning team received 120,000 Baht (RM12,000) in prize money. Only 32 out of the initial 44 cars finished the rally. The two cars from Taiwan had their service crew run out on them on Day 3.

All in all, though, things ran smoothly, and there were no major accidents or injuries. W