Monday, July 13, 2009

Uniquely Sarawak

The following is a very Sarawakian advertisement. I found it at a eatery in Kuching and it has the major languages and dialects used in Sarawak. It is not everyday you would come across such type of advertisement.

The Many Hues of Melastoma

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Somah - Ploiarium alternifolium

Somah or Plaoiarium alternifolium (family Bonnetiaceae)is a species of the swamp though it can also grow on drier land. Due to its ability to grow on swampyland, it has stilt roots. Its natural distribution includes Indo-China, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra and Borneo.

Flower and flower buds of somah

Fruits of somah

Somah are used as sticks or poles e.g. for drying clothes. I have seen someone selling somah sticks on bicycle years ago in Kuching. You can find somah growing in Kuching and Sri Aman Divisions, especially on slope along the Kuching Sibu Road. They are plentiful in places where you can find it. Somah is seldom cultivated but the following photos are cultivated somah along Kuching-Bau Road.

I have seen creative use of somah for interior decoration at Oregano Restaurant in Kuching. The restaurant uses somah sticks as decking laid between joists and the light that passes through the numerous gaps between the sticks create a unique and special ambience for the diners.

Source: My Privilege Book
: Photo taken from the exterior of the restaurant. Note the decking (somah sticks) inside the restaurant.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mahogany – the useful ornamental and timber tree

Apart from the monopodial growth as exhibited in the pagoda-shaped trees such as kapok, pelai and ketapang trees, you also have trees whose growth are sympodial. Trees with sympodial growth can be identified with the main tree trunk and branches fork into two as they grow.

Getting to know tree architecture can sometimes be useful if you want to grow a mixture of different trees together (as in plantation) or to grow them together in your garden. But you also have trees with one kind of growth in the juvenile stage and another kind in the mature phase.

One of the sympodial tree planted along the shoulder of roads in Kuching is the mahagony –Swietenia macrophylla.

There are rows of gracious mahagony lining both sides of the road along Jalan Keretapi. The mahagony seems to be growing very well which I understand was planted in the 1980’s. Perhaps mahagony is suitable to be chosen as a plantation tree for timber production.

Mahagony is a native of South America and is much sought after for its timber. The wood has a attractive reddish brown colour. It has been listed as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites Appendix II). Mahogany is the national tree of Dominican Republic and Belize.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kapok – the pagoda-shaped tree

One good way to identify a tree sometimes is to observe the tree architecture. There are a number of trees with pagoda-like architecture (meaning the branches arranged in layers like the different storeys of the pagoda which taper towards the top). Examples of such trees are ketapang tree (Terminalia catappa), Pelai (Alstonia scholaris) and kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra).

Kapok tree or Ceiba pentandra (Bombacaceae) at the Padang Merdeka in Kuching

Kapok tree or Ceiba pentandra belongs to the Bombacaceae family and is native to Africa as well as Central and South America but different varieties exist on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Ceiba pentandra is the national tree of Guetamala.

Kapok fibre is obtained from the fruits or seed pods which contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy and yellowish fibre. Kapok fibre has a significantly homogeneous hollow tube shape and is composed of cellulose (35% dry fiber), xylan (22%), and lignin (21.5%). Kapok fibre is significantly hydrophobic (meaning it does not absorb or get wet with water) and is suitable as fiberfill in pillows, quilts, and some soft toys. Cushions for outdoor use such as on yatch and garden set are still sometimes stuffed with kapok fibre.

Plastic bagful of kapok for sale at Sirikin, the border town with West Kalimantan.

During my childhood, my pillows were stuffed with kapok fibre unlike pillows of today. That was before the advent of synthetic material. My mother would from time to time took out pillow covers to wash and then left the pillows in the hot sun. After which he would beat the pillow with a rattan beater to remove and dust particles. Maybe that’s the way to sterilize the pillow.

Kapok fibre and seeds underneath a kapok tree.

Fortunately, in recent years, kapok fibre has found new uses. Among them are as oil absorbent and in industrial applications. As the fibre is hydrophobic and at the same time selectively absorbed significant amounts of oil (40g/g of fibre) from an oil suspension in water, kapok fibre has been used to recover oil spills in seawater and freshwater and for removing entrained oil from waste water.

Even though kapok fibre is able to be applied in various industrial usages, it has a serious disadvantage which is the extreme sensitivity to spark or flame due to its hydrophobic nature. However, kapok fibre can be converted into a flame-resistant fibre by gamma ray treatment which removes the hydrophobic compounds and cleavage of methoxyl group from lignin polymer.

Now, isn't that wonderful?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Little Grain of Rice

When I was younger, my mother often told me to finish all the rice on the plate and not be wasteful. She told me to imagine that if everyone in the world were to waste one single grain of rice each meal, then billions of grains will be wasted every day. And that is enough to feed quite a sizeable hungry population of the world!!! So waste not.

You might also have been very familiar with or learnt the following poem or nursery rhyme in kindergarten or primary school.

Little Things.

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

“Sedikit-sedikit, lama-lama jadi bukit” is the Bahasa Malaysia version expressed in a proverb.

I am pretty sure there are poems or proverbs in the other languages which carries the same meaning.