Sarawak. The land of the hornbills. To be honest Mel never saw one while he was there. This story is about his little adventure set by his employer way back in 1998. Yeah, that’s a time when he was barely a few years graduated, quite fresh faced and full of energy (not that it has waned). The adventure started with a flight from Singapore to the capital of Sarawak – Kuching.
But first a little history.
This large (124,000km²) but sparsely populated state is part of the Federation of Malaysia. The state joined this union in 1963 along with Singapore and Sabah, and has remained ever since. Now this state was not always linked with peninsula Malaysia for it is located on Borneo, quite some distance both in history and also culture from the rest of the country that is on the Asia continent. Until the late 1800s it was part of the Sultanate of Brunei, but it then passed into British control when the last of the white ‘Rajas” surrendered it because they were unable to continue ruling the state. That, in itself is a long story…
Again – so what was Mel doing in this land of the hornbills?
Well, it was his first year working for a company which will eventually send him around the world. And the entire office of the small fledging regional office was gathering for a team building. This motley crew consisted of folks hailing from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Holland, Spain and Finland. Almost a mini United Nations short of representation from North America… Ok perhaps a rest of the world federation since the US seems to chart its own course anyway.
The team building was intense, in the sense that a lot of time was spent in the outdoors. More so than the classroom – armchair kind of building comradery. You see, the idea was that when folks do things together, they get to know each others’ way of working and habits. And one can adjust and work as one team to achieve the “missions” set out as challenges.
So, it would not be surprising to see that Mel and his colleagues formed water polo teams to face off each other. Not only did you have to float in the water, you had to swim and get the ball too. And maneuver your way to score, or perhaps to pass it onto your team members in a coordinated strategy of diversion… In fact this activity was so popular that it was played out three times over the course of the near week they were there.
But that was not all. For there was also the “usual” exercises where one would place confidence in others and fall backwards into the arms of a team. That was especially challenging if you have a 100+ kilogram heavy Finn that towers over at 6’4″… better work those muscles to pick up the weight of a falling Finn or he’s finished! LOL.
The best to come and most challenging of all was to get everyone over a series of obstacles. As you might observe, some of the participants were a little on the heavier side. So, huffing and puffing to help push one’s colleague over a wall can be quite an effort! And when it was completed, everyone would heave a sigh of relief. Finally the team building thing was over and it there was some to relax.
Floating in the river
But not everything was about making the team work. There was some real fun too! They were in a resort that used to be in the hills. Then the Batang Ai dam was built and an entire area was flooded, turning the hilltop resort into a lakeside one!
What were once hill tops then became little islands or waterfront in this new man-made lake.
They were going on an adventure to cruise in the rapids of the riverlets that feed this lake. Can’t recall which one. At first the rapids were shallow and fast. Having strapped on life vests the participants felt confident and swam head first down the rapids, sometimes with hilarious results. However, the rapids began to slow and the riverlet widened. So much that the boatmen realize that these bunch were now swimming in the open waters of the lake. Time to get back in the boat the excursion leader called. And insistently he had Mel and his colleagues hauled out of the water by the boatmen…
Perhaps something was lurking in the water. Can you guess what can that be?
Anyway, once out of the snapping jaws of whatever that lives in the water, it was time to head to the tribal homes of the indigenous people. The Ibans continue to live in their long houses, though modern amenities had crept into their lives. Being invited into their home was a privilege in those days, as Mel and his colleagues got intrigued with how these folks still lived their traditional lives. Back then that is. Today it can be imagined that this would have all changed, as rapid commercialization has led to developments across the state and perhaps changed their lives forever.
One interesting thing that Mel and his colleagues did was to take a hike in the forests, which led to the border with Kalimantan – otherwise known as the Indonesian side of Borneo. There, Mel witnessed the ugly effects of illegal logging, as entire hillsides are stripped clear of trees leaving behind a muddy bog. So sticky it was that many a shoe were left behind by this party of hikers…
Unfortunately, all these forests face threats. Not from alien invaders nor natural disasters. But from human activity. The irresponsible extraction of such natural resources without at least a plan to replant has devastated such large tracts of once pristine nature. If only time can be wound back and a different route taken to do this sustainably.
Sarawak is off the beaten track in quite many ways. Not exactly easily accessible, it had not been part of the early industrialization that swept the peninsula. But we sense things have changed. And with that what Mel saw is probably no more, at least not the same. Time to think about getting there before it all truly changes.
This journey was made waaay back in February 1998