Thursday, January 29, 2009

Borneo Posters - Sarawak

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cave Begonia as Indoor Plant

Limestone hills at Bau near to Kuching, Sarawak

Limestone hills offer many microhabitats and niches such as open rocky surfaces, drip lines, cave interior, etc. As such, many different kind of plants have evolved and adapt to the different niches. As a result, many limestone plant species are endemic – meaning restricted in distribution to a particular area and no where else in the world.

In Sarawak, limestone hills are mostly found in Kuching and Miri region. Limestone plants are difficult and problematic to establish and grow because they require basic (high pH) substrate or soil, are slow growing and seeds are difficult to germinate because they might require unique and specific mycorrhizae fungi.

I have the opportunity to collect and grow Begonia from Bau limestone cave as indoor plant. Cave plants make ideal and good indoor plants because they need low light intensity.

Here I will share how I establish the limestone cave begonia which I have grown for three years now.

First of all, choose limestone rock of a suitable size.

Next, collect begonia from limestone caves. Try to collect the plants together with the natural substrate or soil in the vicinity of the plants.

Then place the begonia together with the substrate on the limestone rock.

Place the limestone rocks in a container filled with water. The capillary action will pull the water up the limestone rocks. This will help to establish a limestone cave-like habitat as the cave is always everwet with water dripping.

Such method of establishing limestone plants can be used for artificial limestone landscape in your garden or on walls. A mist fan or mist-forming nozzle can be added to create the cave ambience.

King George VI Memorial Ground

The Sarawak Stadium in Kuching built in time for World Junior Soccer cup and saw Brazil team in action.

Modern Indoor Stadium (Stadium Perpaduan) at Petra Jaya, Kuching with the old and new Sarawak Stadia in the background.

Older generation of Sibuites might remember the King George VI Memorial Ground or affectionately known simply as Padang or Sports Padang to Sibu folks. The sports ground exists no longer but in its place is the present Sibu Town Square.

Who is King George VI?

King George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the British dominions from 11 December 1936 until his death in 1955. He is the father of the present Queen Elizabeth.

There are a number of geographical features, roads, and institutions named after George VI in London and around the world. These include King George Hospital in London; King George VI Highway and King George Station in Surrey, British Columbia; George VI Sound in Antartica; and the King George VI Chase, horse race in the United Kingdom.

In 1955, several years after his death, a statue of the king in his Garter robes was erected just off the Mall and Carlton Gardens. It was announced in 2005 that a statue of his consort Queen Elizabeth would join his at that location towards the end of 2008. Another statue of the King can be found in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

Old timers would remember the place as a venue for many sports meets such as the Annual Inter-House, Inter-School and even Inter-Divisional Sports Meet. Many races were held and many sports records were also broken here.

It was even the venue for remote controlled plane and kite flying sessions as well as bicycle races. There was a case whereby a cyclist (a secondary student) died after substaining head injury following a bicycle race accident. The padang was even used by some as a venue for dating.

The Ground was later rechristened Padang Sukan Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Bujang following Independence. Today it has made way for development of Sibu Town Square and is replaced by Stadium Tun Ahmad Zaidi at Bukit Lima Road.

I have a very old photo of the padang area before it was built which shows belian plank walk leading to the Malay Kampungs. I will try to scan and post it here later.

The Sibu Town Square with Wisma Sanyan in the background (site of the former King George VI Memorial Ground)

Rambutan and how Sibu got its name

I always like to compare having a rambutan tree in our Sarawakians’ house compound to that of an apple tree in an English backyard garden. Most owners of landed property in Sarawak would most likely choose a rambutan tree in very much the same way as the English would choose an apple tree for his garden when they intend to grow a fruit tree.

Just like the apple tree, the rambutan tree is such a sight to behold when it is laden with ripen fruits.

The domesticated rambutan is scientifically known as Nephelium lappaceum and belongs to the family Sapindaceae (to which lychee and longan also belong). There are many wild relatives of rambutan in Sarawak and Borneo.

Sibu is named after the wild rambutan called Sibau (Iban) which is scientifically known as Nephelium reticulatum. The Malays refer to it as Sibo. Very old colonial map has Sibu spelt as "Siboe". How it later appeared as Sibu on the map is anybody's guess but it could be a mispronounciation or more likely Sibu is the English spelling which is meant to be pronounced as 'Sibo'. (Many words in Iban that end with "au" end with an "o" in Sarawak Malay dialect eg bakau is bako, pulau is pulo and so forth). It is interesting to note that older generation of Hokkiens and Malays still refer to Sibu as Sibo while those eldery ibans still refers to Sibu as "Sibau".

It is possible that Sibau was once abundant in and around Sibu town, particularly on the often inundated bank of the Rejang River and the peat swamp areas.

Sarawak is not alone in having a town name after the wild rambutan. There is also a place in West Kalimantan, Indonesia called Putus Sibau

Rambutan or "the hairy fruit"

Ever wonder why the fleshy part of the rambutan fruit is difficult to detached from the seed unlike longan even though both belong to the same family? The reason is because the fleshy part of rambutan is developed from or is part of the seed coat (testa) unlike the fleshy part of longan which is not part of the seed coat. So, the fleshy part of rambutan is also known as “sarcotesta”. Even in the best rambutan variety whereby the flesh detached off from the fruit much more easily, the seed coat is still attached to the fleshy part.

The seeds of rambutan is said to be rich in solid fat which can be used to make soap and candle but is not popular as it is not commercially viable. Rambutan can also be made into jam but has not been popular.

It is interesting to note that Obama missed rambutan and will try it with fried rice when he intends to visit Indonesia where he spent part of his childhood.

Another lesser known wild rambutan species which is more spiky than hairy but is gaining popularity is the Pulasan or Nephelium rambutan-ake.

pulasan or Nephelium rambutan-ake

There is another species of rambutan which is hardly hairy at all: Nephelium maingayi. Its Iban name is mujau and the melanau called it serait.

Chopsticks, Chinese Characters and Civilizations

There are many great ancient civilizations centred in Asia and the two notable ones are the Chinese and Indian civilisations.

It is interesting to note that these two civilizations have a great influence on their neighbours' culture. For instance, Chinese characters are or were used by the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese while Sanskrit scripts were adopted by countries neighbouring India such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Chopsticks were first used in China but have spreaded to countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and even Tibet.

Thailand is unique in that it adopted the Indian Sanskrit scripts but uses the Chinese chopsticks - a crossroad of two cultures.

I am going to touch on the Chinese characters and chopsticks below:

Chinese characters:

Chinese characters, also known as a Han character (simplified Chinese: 汉字; traditional Chinese: 漢字; pinyin: Hànzì), is a ideogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi), Japanese (kanji), less frequently Korean (hanja), and formerly Vietnamese (hán tự).

The number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035, although a large number of these are rarely used variants accumulated throughout history. Studies carried out in China have shown that full literacy in the Chinese language requires a knowledge of only between three and four thousand characters.

Chinese characters are also considered to be the world's longest continuously used writing system.The Chinese script spread to Korea together with Buddhism from the 7th century (Hanja). The Japanese Kanji were adopted for recording the Japanese language from the 8st century AD. Adaptation for Vietnamese (Chữ Nôm) emerged in the 13th century. It is usually said that about 3,000 characters are needed for basic literacy in Chinese (for example, to read a Chinese newspaper), and a well-educated person will know well in excess of 4,000 to 5,000 characters.

Just as Roman letters have a characteristic shape (lower-case letters occupying a roundish area, with ascenders or descenders on some letters), Chinese characters occupy a more or less square area. Characters made up of multiple parts squash these parts together in order to maintain a uniform size and shape—this is the case especially with characters written in the Songti style. Because of this, beginners often practise on squared graph paper, and the Chinese sometimes use the term "Square-Block Characters" (simplified Chinese: 方块字; traditional Chinese: 方塊字; pinyin: fāngkuàizì).

The actual shape of many Chinese characters varies in different cultures. Mainland China adopted simplified characters in 1956, but Traditional Chinese Characters are still used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Singapore has also adopted simplified Chinese characters. Postwar Japan has used its own less drastically simplfied characters since 1946, while South Korea has limited its use of Chinese characters, and Vietnam and North Korea have completely abolished their use in favour of romanizes Vietnamese and hangul, respectively.

In Japanese there are 1,945 Joyo kanji (常用漢字 lit. "frequently used kanji") designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education; these are taught during primary and secondary school. The list is a recommendation, not a restriction, and many characters missing from it are still in common use.
The one area where character usage is officially restricted is in names, which may contain only government-approved characters. Since the Jōyō kanji list excludes many characters which have been used in personal and place names for generations, an additional list, referred to as the Jinmeiyo kanji (人名用漢字 lit. "kanji for use in personal names"), is published. It currently contains 983 characters, bringing the total number of government-endorsed characters to 2928. (See also the Names section of the kanji article.)
Today, a well-educated Japanese person may know upwards of 3,500 kanji. The kanji kentei (日本漢字能力検定試験 Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Shiken or Test of Japanese Kanji Aptitude) tests a speaker's ability to read and write kanji. The highest level of the kanji kentei tests on 6,000 kanji, though in practice few people attain (or need to attain) this level.
Written Japanese also includes a pair of syllabic scripts known as kana, which are used in combination with kanji. Not all words in modern Japanese can be expressed with kanji alone, requiring the use of kana in written communication.


In times past, until the 15th century, in Korea, Literary Chinese was the only form of written communication, prior to the creation of hangul, the Korean alphabet. Much of the vocabulary, especially in the realms of science and sociology, comes directly from Chinese. However, due the lack of tones in Korean, as the words were imported from Chinese, many dissimilar characters took on identical sounds, and subsequently identical spelling in hangul. Chinese characters are sometimes used to this day for either clarification in a practical manner, or to give a distinguished appearance, as knowledge of Chinese characters is considered a high class attribute and an indispensable part of a classical education.

In Korea, 한자 hanja have become a politically contentious issue, with some Koreans urging a "purification" of the national language and culture by totally abandoning their use. These individuals encourage the exclusive use of the native hangul alphabet throughout Korean society and the end to character education in public schools.
In South Korea, educational policy on characters has swung back and forth, often swayed by education ministers' personal opinions. At times, middle and high school students have been formally exposed to 1,800 to 2,000 basic characters, albeit with the principal focus on recognition, with the aim of achieving newspaper-literacy. Since there is little need to use hanja in everyday life, young adult Koreans are often unable to read more than a few hundred characters.


Although now nearly extinct in Vietnam, varying scripts of Chinese characters (han tu) were once in widespread use to write the language, although hán tự became limited to ceremonial uses beginning in the 19th century. Similarly to Japan and Korea, Chinese (especially Literary Chinese) was used by the ruling classes, and the characters were eventually adopted to write Vietnamese. To express native Vietnamese words which had different pronunciations from the Chinese, Vietnamese developed the Chu Nom script which used various methods to distinguish native Vietnamese words from Chinese. Vietnamese is currently exclusively written in the Vietnamese alphabet, a derivative of the Latin alphabet.

When western missionaries starting arriving in Vietnam during the 17th century, they developed a new script for Vietnamese based on the Latin alphabet - Quốc Ngữ (national language), which they used to write prayer books and other religious material in Vietnamese. Though Quốc Ngữ was developed by a number of different missionaries and by Vietnamese scholars, the person usually credited with its invention is Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit missionary.

In the mid 18th century, some schools in Vietnam began to teach Quốc Ngữ, but it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the use of Quoc Ngữ became widespread. Today Quốc Ngữ is the only script used for writing Vietnamese and Chữ-nôm is known only to a handful of scholars.


The Chinese were the first to use the chopsticks but today chopsticks are used by the Japanese, Koreans, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Thai and so forth. because of their use of chopsticks, such countries are sometimes called "the chopstick civilisation".

There are also a variety of chopsticks ranging from those made of stainless steel to ivory chopsticks used by the Emperor of China to the disposable bamboo chopsticks used throughout Asia Pacific nowadays.

The Japanese have even modified the chopsticks they adopted from the Chinese with a tapering end. The Minister Mentor of Singapore once remarked in Japan that Japanese are so good in copying and modifying other cultures as exemplified by the chopsticks.

The following are the universal etiquette on using chopsticks taken from wikipedia:

Chopsticks are not used to make noise, to draw attention, or to gesticulate. Playing with chopsticks is considered bad mannered and vulgar (just as playing with cutlery in a Western environment would be deemed crass).
Chopsticks are not used to move bowls or plates.
Chopsticks are not used to toy with one's food or with dishes in common.
Chopsticks are not used to pierce food, save in rare instances. Exceptions include tearing larger items apart such as vegetables and kimchi. In informal use, small, difficult-to-pick-up items such as cherry tomatoes or fishballs may be stabbed, but this use is frowned upon by traditionalists.
Chopsticks should not be left standing vertically in a bowl of rice or other food. Any stick-like object pointed upward resembles the incense sticks that some Asians use as offerings to deceased family members; certain funerary rites designate offerings of food to the dead using standing chopsticks.

Chinese etiquette
In Chinese culture, it is normal to hold the rice bowl up to one's mouth and use chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth. If rice is served on a plate, as is more common in the West, it is acceptable and more practical to eat it with a spoon or fork.
It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts.
It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick and/or play with the chopsticks.
It is rude to use the chopstick to dig for food in the common dish.
Chopsticks should not be left sticking on the rice because it symbolizes "feeding" the dead and death in general.

Japanese etiquette

Food should not be transferred from one's own chopsticks to someone else's chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a person's plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly is how bones are passed as part of japanese funeral rites.
The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used.
Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, although it is not considered to be proper manners Rather, the group should ask for extra chopsticks to transfer food from a communal plate.
Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table or vertically stuck in the rice, as this symbolizes death.
It is rude to rub wooden chopsticks together after breaking them apart, as this communicates to the host that the user thinks the chopsticks are cheap.

Korean etiquette

Koreans consider it rude to pick up the rice bowl from the table to eat from it.
Unlike other chopstick cultures, Koreans use a spoon for their rice and soup, and chopsticks for most other things at the table. (Traditionally, Korean spoons have a relatively flat, circular head with a straight handle, unlike Chinese or Japanese soup spoons.)
Unlike the rice eaten in many parts of China, cooked Korean rice can be easily picked up with chopsticks, although eating rice with a spoon is more acceptable.
When laying chopsticks down on the table next to a spoon, one must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left for deceased family members.
The blunt handle ends of chopsticks are not used to transfer food from common dishes.
When no communal chopsticks are available, it is perfectly acceptable to pick up banchan and eat it without putting it down on one's bowl first.
Also, there is an old saying suggesting that the closer one's hand is to the tips of the chopsticks, the longer they stay unmarried.

Vietnamese etiquette

As with Chinese etiquette, the rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is pushed into the mouth using the chopsticks.
Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also practical to use chopsticks to pick up rice in plates, such as fried rice, because Vietnamese rice is typically sticky.
It is proper to always use two chopsticks at once, even when using them for stirring.
One should not pick up food from the table and place it directly in the mouth. Food must be placed in your own bowl first.
Chopsticks should not be placed in the mouth while choosing food.
Chopsticks should never be placed in a "V" shape when done eating; it is interpreted as a bad omen.

The Old and the New

Kuching is a city of contrast. Not many cities in Borneo have as interesting a history as Kuching. old colonial buildings dating back to the Rajah Brooke reign stand juxtaposed next to new ones.

Icon from the past

We have just celebrated our National Day. I have chanced upon the above coin and it reminds everyone of us, Sarawakians, about our unique historical past. Let's continue to wish Sarawak a smooth journey forward!!

Sarawak's Coconut Candy

A few days ago I saw for the first time the coconut candy which I enjoyed eating when I was a young boy. I have not come across anyone selling it until then though I have heard that it can still be found. I quickly bought a packet which costed RM1.30. A smaller packet would costed us 10 sen back then. It is made of coconut slices and dried in the sun with dyeing optional (usually red). Then they are sprinkled with castor sugar.
Well, I continue to enjoy such childhood delight after so many decades, the truly Dulce de coco ala Sarawak.

Philosopher’s stone and its legend amongst the Ibans

Talking about philosopher’s stone one is reminded about Harry Potter.

In many cultures around the world, it is interesting to note that “philosopher’s stone” or “elixir of life” exists in legends or stories.

The philosopher's stone, in Latin lapis philosophorum, is a mythical substance that supposedly could turn inexpensive metals into gold and/or create an elixir that would make humans younger i.e. perpetual youth. It was a longtime "holy grail" of Western alchemy.

The word ‘elixir’ and ‘alchemy’ is Arabic in origin. The elixir (Arabic name for miracle substances, "al iksir) of life is sometimes equated with the philosopher’s stone is a legendary potion or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it.

In ancient China, various emperors sought for the fabled elixir with various results. The search for the elixir has given rise to Taoism whose teaching focuses on the idea of elixir. In the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang sent Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 boys and 500 girls to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but he never came back (legend has it that he found Japan instead). The ancient Chinese believed that ingesting long-lasting precious substances such as jade, cinnabar or hematite would confer some of that longevity on the person who consumed them.
Many of these substances, far from contributing to longevity, were actively toxic. Jiajing emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed "Elixir of Life" conjured by alchemists. British historian Joseph Needham compiled a list of Chinese emperors whose death was likely due to elixir poisoning. Chinese interest in alchemy and the elixir of life declined in proportion to the rise of Buddhism, which claimed to have alternate routes to immortality.

In Borneo and Sarawak, amongst the Ibans, there is a legend that the philosopher’s stone can be found inside a ‘melaban’ tree. Scientifically, ‘melaban’ belongs to the genus Tristaniopsis in the Myrtaceae or jambu family and there are quite a number of species of Tristaniopsis in Borneo. Most members of such family are characterized by smooth, peely bark and these peely bark is most beautiful in the ‘melaban’. It is the peely bark that gave rise to the name ‘melaban’ which means ‘to fight’ in Iban and the legend associated with 'batu melaban'. As soon as the new bark emerges, the older bark will fall off. According to the legend, a stone called 'batu melaban' or philosopher's stone is found inside the tree and could bestow perpetual youth to the fortunate person who discovered it.

The family Mrytaceae is an element of the southern hemisphere in our tropical rain forests. Most members of the family are absent north of the equator but are abundant in South America, South Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Note: Photos of melaban (Iban name) or selunsur (Malay name) can be found at

There are numerous melaban trees at Lambir Hills National Park in Miri, near the waterfall.

China-born Catholic priests

The Catholic Church in Sarawak (or East Malaysia) was started by the Mill Hill Missionary based in London during the reign of the Second Rajah. Unlike the Catholic priests in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore who are mostly French missionaries, most of them in Sarawak were or are Europeans from Austria and the Netherlands.

However, before the ordination of local Chinese as Catholic priest, most of the Chinese Catholic priest were China-born. I remember a few of them serving in Sibu such as the late Father Joachim Pang and Father Anthony Lam as well as Father Thomas Taam. There was also a Father Kee who after staying for some time in Sarawak could not adapt to the local climate (his nose bled frequently) and decided to move to South Korea.

They arrived in Sarawak in the 1950's through Hong Kong at a time when China was undergoing a turbulent period. They were mostly in their 20's at that time and many died here and never returned to their homeland.

One of the China-born priests I remember well was Father Joachim Pang. Father Pang has a keen interest in Chinese education and helped developed Sacred Heart Chinese Primary School in Sibu and St Paul's Primary School in Kuching.

Born on June 16, 1921, in Changchou, Province of Jilin, northeast China, he was the only son in a family of four siblings, including three younger sisters. He attended the seminary of Jilin but after the war in 1945, the seminary was closed down due to lack of funds. So, he took up a teaching post in a mission school in the same province for two years. Despite the turbulent times in China, Pang managed to complete his priestly studies and on July 6, 1952, was ordained in Hong Kong. At that time, the Vicar Apostolic of Kuching, Bishop John Vos, requested the rector of Huanan Major Seminary to send some Chinese priests to Sarawak. Father Pang chose Sarawak as the place to start his ministry. On July 17, 1952, he arrived at St Joseph’s Church in Kuching.

Tales from the rain forests

Why the termite will not attack a geronggang tree (Cratoxylon sp.)

Once upon a time, there was a great flood. All the animals in the rain forests were affected and each tried to seek refuge in whatever ways they could. The termites were no exception and tried to seek protection from different trees but to no avail. Finally, the geronggang tree agreed to give protection to the termites and thus saved the termites from the flood. After the great flood, the termites were ever grateful to the geronggang tree. That is the reason why termites will never attack the geronggang tree to this day. The moral of the story is: one good turn deserves another.

How the Cobra obtained its venom

Once upon a time, there was a tyrant ruler in northern Sarawak. One day his subjects decided to present something offensive to the ruler to teach him a lesson. They decided to present him a pig's head. When the ruler saw the offensive gift, he immediately cursed and sweared the gift bearer into a snake. However, with the help of the ipoh tree (Antiaris toxicaria) by biting on its bark, the snake was able to kill the ruler using the newly acquired venom to the delight of the oppressed people. To this day, the cobra still has its venom.

Notes on Ipoh tree from wikipedia:

Antiaris toxicaria (Upas or Ipoh) is an evergreen tree in the family Moraceae, native to southeastern Asia, from India and Sri Lanka east to southern China, the Philippines and Fiji; closely related species also occur in eastern Africa. It produces a highly poisonous latex.

It is a large tree, growing to 25-40 m tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter, often buttressed at the base, with whitish bark. The leaves are elliptic to obovate, 7-19 cm long and 3-6 cm broad. The fruit is a red or purple drupe 2 cm in diameter. The latex, present in the bark and foliage, contains a cardiac glycoside named antiarin, which is used as an arrow poison in blowpipes among the tribes of Borneo.

How the python lost its venom

Once there was a headman whose daughter was getting married. He decided to throw a lavish feast for the occasion and invited all the animals in the land for the feast (Gawai). After the great feast, all the animals left the party one by one except the python. The python decided to stay on for some drinking and merry-making session. After all the tuak drinking session, the python was intoxicated. The python started to vomit and its venom disappeared. Today, python is the only snake without any venom in the rain forests.

Notes on Borneo python from wikipedia:

The Borneo Python

There are two species of pythons on Borneo, the more well known of which is the bigger, in fact arguably the biggest and definitely the longest snake in the whole world, Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus). The other species is Python breitensteini the endemic Borneo Python, a.k.a. Borneo Short-tailed or Borneo Blood Python. It was until quite recently regarded as a sub-species ot the Sumatran Short-tailed Python and carried the name Python curtus breitensteini.

The Borneo Python is a short and stout snake seldom exceeding 1.5 metre (5 feet) in length. It is non-venomous but can give a nasty bite and some individuals are more agressive than others! Some will tolerate handling without trying to bite while some, even baby ones, will strike readily! They are just as common as reticulated pythons, and unfortunately, as they move more slowly they are more often caught (for the pot!) and more are seen as roadkills!

Growing temperate crops in the tropics

As a child, I was always fascinated by temperate crops. I always wish that they could be grown in Sarawak. Below is the infomation on growing grapes in the tropics. I do hope someone out there will provide additional infomation.


For a long time it has been known that the 'wound effect' can replace the cold requirement in grapes. This means that the plant is pruned very severely every year. In the tropics more than 90% of the previous season's growth is removed by pruning. This severe cutting back helps the plant to break the rest period. When the fruit is harvested the plant is pruned. In three or four weeks, new growth appears and in three or four months new fruits ripen. The grapes in the tropics give two regular crops each year. Once this principle was realized, grape-growing spread throughout India, Thailand and other tropical countries.

Grape vine management in the tropics is a problem: vines tend to be short-lived, produce small crops, and require special care. Grapes like a period with temperatures below 0鳦. Attempts in the tropics have not been very successful; plants continuously grow, produce clusters, rebud, remain evergreen, and eventually burn out. However, there are tricks that have been developed for use under dry tropical conditions to simulate a dormancy period. If the vine is forced into two growth cycles, one in the wet season and the other in the dry season, it will produce. By pruning at the beginning of the wet season, a growth cycle is initiated in which a small crop may result. Following this, the vine is pruned again to induce another cycle of growth. It is during the dry season that the main crop results in quality grapes. Irrigation is used in conjunction with pruning to assist the plant during this cycle. (It is a very common practice to leave too much wood on the plants when pruning and this causes poor quality and premature burn-out of plants). In the dry warm climates of Peru, India and places in Brazil, [the dry season has] simulated a dormancy period.

Muscadine grapes are native to Florida and do not require much cold. They grow as single berries rather than in bunches, and they are very resistant to pests and diseases. Most muscadines are eaten fresh.

Food for thought - Foochow bagels

Kompia, to me, is Sibu's answer to the bagel.

Kompia is unique to the Foochows, particularly those in Sibu. The early migrant Foochows brought with them the pastry to Sibu from Southern China and there is a legend attached to it.

Some called it Foochow burger but I prefer to called it Foochow bagel.

(From the above two tmages, can anyone distinguish which is kompia and bagel)
Both are oven baked and have sprinkling of sesame seeds on top of it (and with hole in the middle too).

Nowadays, you can find kompia with meat slices or minced meat stuffed in it. But I wonder why nobody upgraded it just like bagel in the United States - filling with a choice of cheese, tuna, salmon, and so forth. Even garlic kompia would be good as garlic can help to reduce cholesterol. I guess it is time for enterprising businessmen to learn from the bagel shop in North America.

Reminiscence of bygone days - The Sarawak House

When I was a young boy, the tallest building in Sarawak was the Sarawak House.

It was an outstanding landmark - a complex that consists of a hotel, a shopping arcade, a multistorey car park, a cinema and a restaurant, all in one. As a young child, I was, of course, impressed.

The hotel was called Premier Hotel and the restaurant, the Blue Splendour. I liked the names given to buildings in Sibu in those days (eg there used to be a discotheque was called "Confetti" and a restaurant called "Villa by the Grand" at the Grand Merdin Building - these are by-the-way thinggy, anyway).

I recall in the 1970s and early 1980s, "Blue Splendour" restaurant (together with other similar restaurants) was the place where wedding banquets were held, replacing old time favourite restaurants like Hock Chiu Lau. I thought it was a posh restaurant then.

Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981) , the once powerful British Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia based in Singapore during the days of British Empire, stayed at the Premier Hotel when he came back to visit his good friend, the late Tun Jugah, in the 1970s. Malcolm's father was a former Prime Minister of United Kingdom. Malcolm MacDonald played a central role in the decolonization of the British Empire and wrote a beautiful book, "Borneo People"- a book that I like very much. He was instrumental in shaping the destinies of former British colonies at that time: Burma, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong at the tail end of the British Empire. Someone mentioned that he listened too much to Tun Jugah which was the reason Sarawak ended up being part of Malaysia as Malcolm has the ear of the colonial office in London. But that story is for another posting on another day!

As a young boy, we would climbed up to the upper floor of the multi-storey car park and have a vantage view of Sibu town (rivalled only by the Bukit Aup watch point) or loitered in the hotel lobby for the air-conditioned, a luxury at that time.

I remember the escalator very well. It was the first escalator in Sibu and also Sarawak (I was told). The escalator was just one way: going up from the ground floor to first floor. As a child, my brothers and I would used the escalator to go up and then walked down using the stair nearby and then up again and again.... until the supervisor, an elderly man, reprimanded us. The supervisor had a key and whenever someone accidentally pressed on the emergency button, he would used the key to restart the escalator. The escalator only operated at night and was initially like a "tourist attraction".

There was a popular night hangout called "the Bamboo House" at the ground floor of the Premier Hotel and one could hear Taiwanese singers crooning out their numbers (they were replaced by Filipino singers in the 1980s). In those days when Taiwan was still a poor developing country, Taiwanese were all over Southeast Asia, especially in Sarawak to earn a living, very much like the mainland Chinese today.

I also remember the cinema very well. It was aptly called, the King's Theatre. It was the place where my father took me to watch the movie "The Sound of Music" and other popular movies of the times. Later when I was in school, I continued to watch many movies there including those by Jackie Chan.

One morning, years later, on my way to school, I heard that the cinema was on fire. Later in school, students and teachers would peeped out of the windows to have a look at Sarawak House as my school was nearby and within eyeshot.

The cinema was, however, restored but fire broke out again at least twice a few years later. Legend has it that a lady commited suicide and her ghost continued to haunt the cinema. I have even heard of story that there is a seat in the cinema reserved for the ghost in order to appease her!

The building continued to be the tallest in this land of the hornbill until the 24-storey Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Kuching took over. Today, the Sarawak House still stands majestically in the heart of Sibu even though it is no longer the tallest in either Sibu or Sarawak. That honour has since been taken over by Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Kuching and now Wisma Sanyan, Sibu.

A Tale of Two Cities

Kuching and Kota Kinabalu are two Bornean cities and both are the state capitals of the two Borneo states of Malaysia - Sabah (formerly North Borneo) and Sarawak.

Both Sabah and Sarawak have separate histories before the formation of the Federation of Malaysia and therefore their capitals are also uniquely different.

I stayed in Kuching and have been to Kota Kinabalu countless times.

It is always nice to make comparison between the two cities as both are state capitals and are more or less the same size in terms of population. It is natural that both cities have these one uppance attitude.

Below are some differences between the two cities:

* Kota Kinabalu is a coastal city while Kuching is very much an inland city but trying to bring the city closer to the sea (by moving development towards the sea).

* Kota Kinabalu has excellent mountains and islands nearby while mountains and islands in Kuching play a second fiddle to other attractions.

* Kuching has old colonial buildings but such buildings are rare in Kota Kinabalu(as it was boomed flat at the end of the Second World War).

* Kota Kinabalu has better air connection to the Far East (Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan ) while Kuching lags behind.

* Kota Kinabalu has One Borneo Shopping Mall which Kuching has The Spring (not to be outdone)

*Kota Kinabalu has the Oceanarium and Discovery Centre (yet to be completed) while Kuching has only the freshwater aquarium (annex to the Sarawak Museum)

*Kuching has the famed Sarawak Museum while Kota Kinabalu has the Sabah Museum.

* Kuching has the Satok Market while Kota Kinabalu has the Filipino Market.

* Kota Kinabalu has railway link but Kuching has only Jalan Keretapi (a reminder of the remnants of old railway).

A Museum for Sibu

Miri from the air

The Nut of Dabai

Dabai or botanically known as Canarium odontophyllum is an endemic (restricted in distribution) species of Canarium of the family Buseraceae found only in Borneo. It is known as black olive by the Sarawakian Chinese. It is a nutritious fruit and tastes something like avocado. The skin and flesh are edible after soaking in warm water. The fruit contains protein, fat and carbohydrate, thereby making it an ideal food.

There is also a species of Canarium grown in China for its flesh like dabai which is known as Chinese Olive.

In Sarawak, dabai comes from the Rejang and fruits twice per year.

The seeds were sometimes used for playing games in Sarawak in the past. When I was young, I always like to crack the hard kernel to obtain the nut inside to eat. It looks like almond but tastes like a cross between pistachio and macadamia nuts.

Besides dabai, other species of Canarium also produce edible nuts, known variously as Canarium nut, pili nut, kenari nut, Java almond or Galip and are traded commercially. Plantations of Canarium indicum exist and are among the most important nut-bearing trees in eastern Indonesia (Celebes, Irian Jaya, Moluccas) and Papua New Guinea as well as the SW Pacific while Canarium ovatum is cultivated for its nuts in the Philippines respectively. The nuts are sold either blanced or unblanchded.

Perhaps someone should come up with a truly unique Sarawakian desert: gelato with embawang flavour (Borneo mango -Mangifera panjang) garnished with dabai nuts. Also, the dabai nuts can be coated with caramelised sugar or honey and sold as exotic tidbits from the Rejang or Borneo.

Multilingual Roadsigns

Sarawak is a land blessed with abundance and diversity. Ours is a land rich in natural resources. Whilst the diversity of flora and fauna is among the highest in the world and a treasure trove, the diversity of her peoples is equally unrivalled and also amongst its greatest wealth.

Caption: Jalan College or College Road. Jalan is a Malay work for Road. College is an English word and it is the name for the road leading to the Batu Lintang Teachers' College, a premier institution from the British colonial days.

From the multi-ethnic diversity, we have richness in cultures and languages. perhaps the richest of them all is tolerance amongst its many races.

Caption: Lorong Foochow 1N or Foochow Lane 1N. Foochow is a South Chinese dialect group which migrated to Sarawak at the turn of last century under a scheme proposed by Rajah Charles Brooke, the Second Rajah. The lane is nicely labelled in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese.

The beauty of Sarawak is often reflected and exemplified by the road signs in multi-languages in all the major towns. Such beauty is unsurpassed elsewhere in Malaysia or Southeast Asia and should be zealously guarded by all Sarawakians.

Sarawakians need to treasure such thing around us and not take it for granted.

Kuching Cityscape