"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open." ~ Jawaharal Nehru

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The unplanned hiatus...

Boy oh boy... Time really flies. I just realised it's been more than half a year since I last blogged. Time to blow off that dust layer and shake off the cobwebs and get this blog site active again.

Ok. Where should I start? Still have so much fodder from my time in Sarawak. Oh, you didn't know? Finally got the transfer to come back to the Peninsula. Anyway, maybe a general update of what's been keeping me busy these few months should get the ball rolling.

1. Transfer back to West Malaysia.

As most of you know, the stint to East Malaysia was meant to be for 6 months. 6 months, get gazetted then leave. Most of my fellow FMS's leave their family back at home, go to either Sabah or Sarawak as part of the "Saya yang mengikut perintah" pledge we all made and come home after 6 months. In fact, during my stint in Song, I have worked with 3 different FMS's in Kapit! (Tells you how long I've been there!) However, things were not that simple for me. Yes, I did send in my transfer letter after 3 months but somehow my plans to come back always fell thru ie. not being offered the place of my choice or have that coveted place just slip from my tightly fisted grasp due to factors beyond my control. So 6 months became 1 year, and 1 year got extended till the beginning of 2014. In retrospect, 6 months was way too short for anything to get done. Just as you get a hang of things, it's time for you to go home. The extended period in the 'wilderness' not only allowed me to get a grasp of rural medicine but also gave me a profound respect for healthcare staff working under such circumstances. Furthermore, with the extended duration I was able to see my projects to completion and push for better services, infrastructure and equipment in KK Song. You know, that smug look after accomplishing something significant... that must have been plastered on my face after finally getting the portable ventilator for on-water transfers. Getting it involved a season of letter writing, personal appeals and repeated phone calls but finally there is fruit from all that labour! Even managed to put it to action twice before I left!

Training in progress

I was eager to leave Song but when the time finally arrived, I left with a heavy heart. A heavy heart cause I was leaving family. Saying goodbye's isn't easy, what more if you're bidding adieu to loved ones. The clinic staff, especially the older ladies openly embraced me as their daughter (from another mother). Knowing I wasn't a fantastic cook, I would be invited over to their homes on weekends for dinner. I was buddies with the younger nurses, MA, pharmacy aides & physiotherapist. I also had an extended family in the form of my brothers & sisters in church. Who would have imagined fireworks (no, not that puny stick variety but a whole 1x1 foot box of China-made pyrotechnic awesomeness!) to light up my farewell party. Couldn't help but have mixed tears of joy and happiness well up!

2. I climbed Mt Kinabalu... again!

Climbing Mt Kinabalu for a 2nd time was one of my to do's in my 40-bucket list. So when MMA-SCHOMOS organised a charity climb, I jumped at the chance. A prerequisite for the climb was a donation collection and thank you everyone who contributed to my MMA-SCHOMOS Climbathon - Snapshots of Sarawak campaign. Your generosity even saw me win a prize as 1 of the top 3 collectors.

Back to the climb. I knew it wouldn't be that easy this time - factor in age and my lack of training. I climbed Mt K 7 years ago with  Pita. We took the Mesilau trail which was longer but more gradual. This time however, we were ascending and descending via Timpohon. This is 1 huge badass collection of steps! The last time, Pita and I climbed Gunung Angsi & Bukit Gasing as part of training. I would also do stairs - 11 flights of them at a local apartment complex. Training wise, I was reduced to climbing KK Song's 4-storey apartment complex, walking the hilly roads to Sg Nyimoh and weekend trips to Sibu to join a friend at Bukit Aup, a recreational park with a couple of hills connected by steps. Anyway, I still made it to the summit! With some help from my porter and also some IM Volataren (Malaysia's highest IM shot, perhaps?). I will dedicate a blog post specifically for the climb later.

When climbing mountains, I believe determination & will power is equally as important as physical strength. As they say - YOU DON"T CONQUER A MOUNTAIN, YOU CONQUER YOURSELF!

3. Presenting at WONCA

Had the honor of presenting at WONCA 2014 in Kuching. WONCA stands for World Organization of Family Doctors and this year Kuching had the privilege of hosting the Asia Pacific conference in the surprisingly well-appropriated Borneo Convention Centre.

I was part of the Rural Health symposium and spoke about reproductive health issues among indigenous women in Sarawak.

In case you're wondering, Indu is the Iban word for female. 

Joining me in this symposium were my fellow FMS colleagues from Sarawak. Dr Zul the state director started with an overview of healthcare in Sarawak, Dr Maurice gave an insight on the inspiring leprosy outreach work among the Penans whereas Dr Kong talked about overcoming challenges among Sarawak's 'Islands'. I wore beads presented to me by the 'indu' of Song as a tribute to them during my session.

It was also a time of fellowship as I caught up with ex-colleagues in Sarawak (I was already posted back to Peninsula then) and those who I've not seen in ages from other parts of Malaysia. Also managed to traipse along some familiar food trails in Kuching looking for my favourite kolok mee, chicken rice, Dayak food and also coffee! Who says East Malaysia doesn't have good food!

4. Busy writing

If you're busy writing, why isn't the blog updated?

Unfortunately for you (and fortunately for me!), the sort of writing I'm doing is academic writing. Something about seeing my name in print gives me a buzz. However, academic writing takes lotsa time and effort. First is cracking my brains for a topic or study. Then comes the hours of literature review - finding full text articles online, sieving through the relevant one before actually reading the 4-9 page article. Once the study is planned and carried out, then there's data cleaning, manipulation and making sense of all the results. Finally the writing portion. Every submission you make requires a specific writing format. If you are lucky and the manuscript gets accepted, then there's revisions to do. If not, back to the drawing board.

I have been working on 3 different manuscripts. Thank God the first one has already been published. The other 2 should be out in the later half of the year.

5. Travel

All work and no play makes me a very dull girl.

Pits and I have this sort of thingy where we try to blow out birthday candles in different parts of the world and in the craziest places. I once blew out candles in a restaurant where I had to get across a crocodile pit to get to the toilet. Not for the drunk or faint hearted!

This year we went to West Sumatera.

Sayu mata memandang

Most people head to Padang and Bukit Tinggi for the shopping but Pits and I headed instead to Harau for the amazing valley of waterfalls and Maninjau for the liquid crystal swimming lake! Also went off to a lone coconut island for some diving!

My very own island for 3 whole days

Who could ever imagine a place so spectacular just a 45 mins plane ride away?

What can I say - Travel... a consolation for turning a year older! Hahaha!

6. The next BIG thing

This last thing has been keeping me busy since I came back. There's still things to chase and stuff for me to do. What was once a lofty, whimsical dream of mine is slowly taking a physical and attainable form. Some of you are already privy to this information and I would be grateful if you kept it to yourself ie. confidential. All will be revealed in due time once things are officially confirmed. In the mean time, watch this space!

Monday, December 23, 2013

No way out!

If I'm not mistaken, the title was actually a 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman and Sean Young.
Basically, this entry will conclude my Lusong Laku chronicles.

Went in for the 2nd time to Lusong Laku. This time to run a health camp as part of the I-WANT SIHAT campaign. Joining us this trip was the dental team. Initially was told the trip was cancelled because a segment of the road had collapsed but hours later received another phone call informing me that the trip was on again as the logging camp authorities had fixed the road. For them, everyday without road access meant another day at loss as there was no other way to bring the timber out!

This time journeyed into Lusong from Belaga as the group consisted of staff from Song, Kapit and also Sungai Asap. A brief stop at the famous 'kampua' noodle shop in Belaga. They have this red sauce which is totally yummers! Was told the colour was from the red yeast they use. Even Nicol David has paid a visit here as evident by the photos proudly displayed by the proprietress on the walls!

One of the best 'kampua's in Sarawak
Believe it or not... in Belaga!

Then off to get some gas for the 4WD.

Petrol row

Doing it the old school way!

Off we went! Had to regroup at the Murum junction as we were awaiting 2 other vehicles that were joining us from Sungai Asap. Right at the junction is the Sam Ling Camp. They have a little bazaar there with China ladies selling all sorts of stuff from vegetable seeds, DVDs, electrical items, clothes, inflatable furniture and even sex toys and Chinese viagra. This was done openly. Everything was on display, nothing hidden beneath or behind the counters. There were silicon boobies, plastic vaginas, penis pumps, dildos and boxes of "Super Long Man" medication. All these for the men who would be spending months away from their women in the logging camps or dam building site! Must say the bazaar is pretty strategically located. At the last outpost of humanity! Tried taking a pic of all the sex toys but the China lady glared at me and waved her hand furiously before I could press the shutter! 

Murum shopping central!

Gadget galore

The journey in was probably a foretaste of what was to come. It was rather hazardous as it rained intermittently throughout the 5 hour journey and the vehicle would slip and slide along the slopes. After 3 hours or so, we finally arrived at the segment which had earlier collapsed. A makeshift bridge had been hastily put together to allow vehicles to pass through. Even then, we got out of the vehicle first and crossed it on foot. Didn't know how much weight the bridge could take!

Slowly does it

Living on the edge

Finally arrived after nightfall. Rested and prepared dinner for the team.

The next day, we had our big event. The programme consisted of morning aerobics, health screening, talks, cooking demo, colouring contest and dental services. Also provided lunch. To the Penans, food is a big, big incentive!

Such a cutie pie!


Cooking demo

Health talks

Colouring away!

Dental services
The next day, we planned a sukaneka but unfortunately it rained the whole morning so that plan had to be shelved. The rain stopped around 11am so we decided to make our way back out. Unbeknownst to us 2 1/2 hours into the journey, this was in our way...
A major landslide
Was also told by the logging camp people who were stuck with us that there was another landslide in front as well plus a collapsed bridge. Fortunately at this point of the road, there was Maxis reception as it was not too far away from a logging camp. Managed to call the big bosses in Kuching to see if we could get air lifted out as was told the loggers would take 3 days to get the road up and running. Faced a a sticky situation here as we couldn't leave the area 'coz there was no phone reception in Lusong Laku, but the longer we waited, the darker it would get with further chance of downpours. I know, it looks sunny in the pic but 2 hours later it was raining again. After waiting almost 2 hours at this spot, decided to turn back to Lusong Laku. At least we had a roof over our heads and some ration to feed the team back at the clinic.

Getting creative with carrots and chilli based dishes

More carrots!

Stock check: We had 2 chickens, 20 carrots and 2 bags of dried chilli. So the menu consisted of carrot based dishes - carrot fried rice, maggie fried with carrots, orange chicken with carrots (ran out of black sauce so used Sunquick instead!), cucur carrot, stir fry carrots, etc...

Didn't know how long we would be stranded there so had to ration out the food to last as long as possible. Thank goodness they managed to get some fish from the locals. Also felt guilty we were eating the Lusong staff's food as they did not have much in stock either.

The next day, the FDS team managed to come to our rescue in the evening. The weather was still very uncertain. Bouts of rain throughout the day with low cloud cover so we were lucky they even managed to fly in from Kapit. Together with the dental officer and 2 other staff, managed to be extracted to Kapit. However, we had to leave behind 6 of the team in Lusong. Really felt bad...

Send in the calvary!

Another day went by and the team was still stuck. Roads were still down. The choppers could not fly in either, due to bad weather. Waited antsy-ly (don't even think this is a word) in Kapit for news from the team. Late in the evening, finally heard that the team ventured out in their 4WDs and finally reached Bintulu. They even brought out a patient with suspected meliodosis for admission to Bintulu Hospital. They unanimously decided they could no longer wait as other segments of the road were in danger of collapsing as well with the continous rain so they decided to chance it. That meant crossing a rudimentary wooden bridge that replaced the one that was washed away. In the end, everyone arrived safely at their destination.

I thank God that despite the dangerous road conditions, there were no untoward accidents. Everyone had such a positive attitude despite the uncertainties. A big thank you to the capable drivers who brought out the team as well as the various individuals including our DHO for arranging our rescue.

This is truly one of the highlights of my stint here in Sarawak!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A joyous Christmas & a blessed New Year

Christmas cheer at the clinic

This is my second Christmas in Sarawak. Be spending it with my staff's family in their longhouse. Can't wait! Going to paint my toes red! (Hey, it rhymes!)

Have a great Christmas, enjoy responsibly and stay safe. 
May the favour of the Lord be with you throughout the coming year!

Lotsa love,
Doktor Desa 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Our silent heroes of Lusong Laku

Here's a continuation of the post I was writing about Lusong Laku.

Ya... this is the place I got trapped in not too long ago when the roads gave way and a bridge got swept away by the torrential rain but that will be fodder for my later post.

Back to this place. Lusong Laku is basically a Penan resettlement area. There are a few scattered villages in the area but the biggest has to be Uma Penan or Penan House which is just a stone's throw away from the clinic. In fact, there is a rickety boardwalk connecting it to the clinic.

Uma Penan Lusong Laku

This is what they call home!

Yes, even the Penans have moved on with the times.
They wear Western style clothing, no longer 'cawats'!

Aside from the clinic and school, there is nothing else! There is a 'canteen' or what we West Malaysians know as a kedai runcit but the last time I was there, the only thing on the shelves were cheap beers - think Tsingtao, Zorok or Orangeboom (brands I have never heard of before coming to Sarawak!), ciggies, lighters, hair pomade and 3 miserable cans of sardines and corn beef! There isn't even a 'tamu' or local market here. From what I heard, the Penans survive on foraging and a RM100 government subsidy. They don't even bother planting vegetables here even though the land is so fertile. They are just so laid back. Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be! They live from hand to mouth literally! If they get a wild boar, everyone celebrates and feasts on it that very day. No, no one ever thinks of preserving it into 'pekasam babi' so they can have some source of protein for the rest of the week. That would be sacrilegious! Way too much effort! The Agriculture Office once started a vegetable growing project with them but after the veggies were harvested, no one bothered to replant them so the veggie plots went to ruins in the end! I guess its just in their nature or their hunter-gatherer genes never evolved over time....

Watching the world go by...

The staff of the clinic are not even locals 'cept for our PRA or general worker. Although all of them are Sarawakian, none of them have ever worked in a place so rural. From what I heard, the primary school nearby has 6 West Malaysian teachers who are here for their very first posting after their training. Imagine what a culture shock this would be! City slickers in the heart of Borneo! Everything requires effort here. There isn't even postal services to the area so there is no way for your internet purchases to arrive (found this to be the best way to get the things I want to Song, although it will take some time to reach). Even the clinic's consumables are brought in by chopper during the monthly cargo run. To get fresh food for your meals, you either have to plant your own veggies, rear your own chickens or go fish! Even if you have truckloads of $$$, there aren't avenues to spend it in Lusong! I feel the RM1500 they get as hardship allowance is pittance as renting a 4WD to get out to the nearest town - Bintulu, costs RM700 each way. Each time they travel the logging tracks out, they also put their lives at risk. I doubt any sane individual would want to volunteer to serve in this place.

Let me give you a tour of our clinic in Lusong Laku. Let me warn you first... it's a very basic clinic. No continuous electricity as we depend on a generator. Hence, vaccines need to be kept in a fridge run by cooking gas! When the diesel runs out or comes late, the staff have no choice but to bring out the candles and torch lights. Suction has to be done manually. The water is dependent on rain collection so don't be surprised if the taps go dry halfway during your bath!

The last time I saw benches like this was in my
primary school canteen!

Very, very basic Observation Ward!

No doubt many Penan babies have been delivered here!

Everything needed for a delivery

However, don't let the looks of this simple clinic deceive you. This is a fully functioning clinic. Breech deliveries have been safely conducted here. Children get their immunisation so they don't succumb to common childhood illnesses. Upper gastrointestinal bleeds have been kept alive overnight as they await medevac the next day. Folks with hypertension and diabetes get their meds to keep their disease under control. All this thanks to our silent heroes - the staff of Lusong Laku who persevere on despite the isolation, basic living conditions, hardship and challenges faced everyday. Not everyone can do this or persevere this long. Folks might not recognise the sacrifices you have made. You might not even get considered for the APC (Anugerah Perkhidmatan Cemerlang). But to me... you are all HEROES so KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! 

A salute to all our silent heroes of Lusong Laku!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snapshots of Sarawak for MMA SCHOMOS CLIMBATHON 2014

I am currently raising funds for the SCHOMOS CLIMBATHON 2014. This is a charity climb up Mount Kinabalu to project the message that Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) cares for the poor & underprivileged besides being a reminder to doctors to stay fit & not neglect their own health admist the rush of trying to save others. All collected funds will be channeled to charities in the respective states of the fundraiser. Ya, so mine will go to Sarawak. Therefore, I have decided to use FB and social networking as a platform to fundraise.

For a minimum donation of RM20.00, I will send you a 4R print of any snapshot of your choice in this album. All the pictures were personally taken during my journey in and around Song, Kapit and Belaga.
Donations of RM100.00 and above will not only get a 4R print but also a Sarawakian souvenir.

If you are interested to contribute towards this worthy cause, please drop me a line via FB or at jeanmd@gmail.com with your name, address, contact, amount you would like to donate and also the photo you would like to receive. I will then provide you with details to transfer or bank in the money. Once you have done so, would appreciate if you could message me.

This fundraiser will continue till 25th December 2013 (Yay Christmas!). On 1st January 2014, I will officially announce the total sum collected from this project. You should receive your very own Snapshot of Sarawak by the end of the month!

Pic A: Morning rush hour in Song

Pic B: Man & 'manuk' - Iban for chicken

Pic C: Not forgotten...

Pic D: Love through the ages

Pic E: Like a boss!

Pic F: Play with me, please?

Since this is the Christmas season, a time for giving, caring and sharing, do think about contributing towards this worthy cause!

Friday, November 8, 2013

A view unlike any other...

I'm sure most of you would have seen this as my cover picture on FB. A spectacular waterfall that cuts right across a river. However, few will actually know that this place exist in our own backyard. Rather, my backyard!

This natural wonder actually exist in a place known as LUSONG LAKU (LL). Where in the world is that? I tried googling to get a map but even that does not exist. LL is part of the Belaga district of the Kapit division. However, to get there one needs to travel via Bintulu. I do not think logging roads or paths connect this isolated place to Kapit, which is the administrative center of theis division. 

I made the journey there because a health clinic exist there. I believe LL is probably the Health Ministry's most rural/ isolated clinic. If you don't believe it, look at the map I found from our divisional office.

Once a KD, it's now a KK (Klinik Kesihatan)

Basically, LL is located right in the heart of Kapit division. Deep in the center of the Borneo rainforest. Although I think its is possible to get there by river from Belaga, I don't think it is a journey I would want to make. Furthermore, parts of the river has already been impounded for the Murum Dam.

It was possible to fly in via heli through Bintulu or Kapit but it would cost a bomb and would be weather dependent.  So the next best option would be to go by road and boy... what a journey it was!

First, I had to make my way from Bintulu to Sungai Asap. Thank God the clinic driver came to pick me up from the airport. The 3 to 3 1/2 hour journey is a bone-jarring ride. Although there are sealed roads all the way, the roads are now pockmarked by large craters no thanks to the heavy vehicles that ply it daily. Got to Sungai Asap safely, then spent a night with the clinic staff there.

Next morning, we loaded up our stuff in a 4x4 rented by the department.

We even had to carry our own fuel
Beneath the tarpaulin is our luggaged... all secured!

And fueled up on some carbs before making the journey. Nothing to heavy as  I heard the ride was vomit inducing!

Fueling up

Off we went! The road to LL took us through the Murum Dam construction site. There were tons of heavy vehicles along the way. The truck designs were unlike those I've ever seen. No recognizable brands such as TATA or HINO. Was told that the construction companies design and modify their own trucks to withstand the tough conditions they have to go through. Trust me, roads don't even exist in some places!

All lined up

However, was pleasantly surprised to find short stretches of highway-worthy roads.

Reminds me of the PLUS highway near Damansara

Was told that in the future, roads like this will lead all the way to the Dam. Alas, these stretches of proper roads were only present for maybe 5% of the journey. With the heavy vehicles plying this stretch, do not think these roads will hold up for long.

The journey brought us along mountain ridges and down into dense jungle filled valleys.

Sun in my eyes along one of the ridges

It was beautiful, cause there was mist or maybe clouds in the treelines (couldn't differentiate) as the treelines were at the same level of the roads.


Although the view of the virgin rainforest was hypnotizing, I couldn't help but pray as we went along. One minor lapse of judgement by our driver, we would have plunged into the green chasm! I shudder to think what would happen as mounting a search and rescue in such difficult terrain would be more than challenging. The forest is so dense here I doubt that any wreckage would be visible from the air.

At the fork which was to take us to LL, managed to see the inflow of Murum Dam.

These would be a Class 5 or the much debated Class 6
in rafting jargon

Because it had been raining, the water was the colour of 'teh tarik' from your friendly Mamak stall.

A few hours later, the dense jungle gave way to lalang. We then knew we were near...

Behind the lalang is the settlement of Lusong Laku. Settlement cause the only thing it contains is a school, clinic and church. No shops, no markets, not even a community hall or balai raya. Basically, the building with the red roof in the main pic is the school and the blue one is the clinic. Around it are either classrooms or staff quarters. This is one place where concrete buildings do not exist... come to think of it, I did see one or 2 - The OUTHOUSE or JAMBAN!

Wooden open walled church

But what's most spectacular is the LL falls or cascade. During my 2 days there, took evening walks after my clinics to photograph this spectacular wonder.

Amazing right? Never could believe there is a mini Niagara Falls here in Malaysia.

Stay tuned to my next post as it will feature true heroes of this isolated little settlement!