"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

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!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Good reads

Can't believe its only 2 months before 2013 comes to a close. My... how time flies! And what's worst is sometimes you hardly realize the tick-tocking of the clock. Especially if you're busy having fun or occupied at work or with life! Or like me - having fun at work and in all that I do! Hahaha!

Anyway, remember earlier in the year I blogged about my target to read 50 books before the year end? If not, here's a link:
to refresh that cobweb-ed memory!

Sad to say, I don't think I will be able to achieve it. It probably was an overestimated, unachievable target to begin with, but in reality I seriously underestimated the amount of work/ projects/ travelling I would be doing in Song and Sarawak over the past months. That will come in another blog post...I promise. So I decided to cut that total down by half to 25. Reading material that excludes my catch-up issues of Asian Geographic and various academic reading. Will give myself a pat on the back if I achieve the target, if not I guess I will just have to carry it forward to 2014. At the moment, that means another 3 or so books in the next 2 months. Me thinks its manageable!

So here's a low down of the books I read so far and reviews of some I particularly enjoyed. 

1. Think Big - Ben Carson 
2. Water for elephants - Sarah Gruen
3. The monk who sold his Ferrari - Robin Sharma
4. The night circus - Erin Morgenstern

This was an e-book I downloaded into my Ipad. Pretty good as a debut for Morgenstern. Basically a fantasy duel against 2 magicians who are employed in a mysterious circus which only opens its gates at night. Unbeknownst to each other, the magical duel is fought with each magician trying to out-do the other with conjurings such as an origami menagerie, a floating house of cards and a winter wonderland! Somewhere down the line, they fall in love but the duel to the death has to go on. I would love for this book to be translated into big screen. 
(Just googled it and found out my wishes might just come true in 2014, so am waiting with bated breath for its release) 

5. Who moved my cheese? - Spencer Johnson
6. What the dog saw - Malcolm Gladwell
7. Micro - Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

Must declare I have always been a fan of  Michael Crichton and this might have biased my review about the book. When I discovered Crichton passed away, I was devastated at the lost of a great author. I have enjoyed every single book he wrote, except for Pirate Latitudes and must say Micro did not disappoint either. Basically a ramped up, more suspenseful version of "Honey, I shrunk the kids" with some industrial espionage thrown in. Loved the detailed but not overwhelming physiological and anatomical description of the 'Mega' bugs, since the humans have been shrunk to micro level. This was definitely a page turner and forsee that it will eventually land up on the big screen too.

8. Multiplying light & truth - Stan Rowland
9. The hippie guide to climbing the corporate ladder & other mountains - Skip Yowell

What attracted me to the book was its cover and catchy title. Plus the fact it was only at a fraction of its price at the Popular sale. Clearly not your usual management guru style book but an interesting combination of Skip's go-getter if not hippie experience to bring JanSport where it is today. I like that he has very people-oriented company principles. The main 4 are:

  • We'll succeed because we will work the hardest
  • We value and appreciate each person
  • We believe there's more to life than a day's work
  • We'll make fun a part of everything we do

How I wish I had an employer like him! This book also details how he made a radical idea a reality and literally how to conquer mountains - both physical and figuratively. The pretty interesting pictures were another plus point!

10. Salmon fishing in the Yemen - Paul Torday 
11. Beatrice & Virgil - Yann Martell (thought this book was just plain weird)
12. Empress Orchid - Anchee Min
13. Across many mountains - Yangzom Brauen

Another stunning read that features mountains - this time in Tibet. It chronicles 3 generations of Tibetian women who face various challenges of their time. But in adversity there are opportunities. Also provides an introduction to the various oh-so-mystical Tibetian cultures and life in some of the most challenging and remote areas on this planet.

14. The world of Suzie Wong - Richard Mason

This book is a must-read classic. 'Nuff said.

15. The perfect match - Kevin Leman
16. Like a flowing river - Paulo Coelho
17. The witch of Portabello - Paulo Coelho
18. Brida - Paulo Coelho (these last 2 by PC are not one of my favourites works by the author - abit too new-agey for my liking)
19. Catching the sun - Tony Parson
20. When I was a kid 1- Boey 
21. When I was a kid 2 - Boey

Yup, that's me with Boey, the Sharpie maverick!

Shiowch gifted me his first book as a birthday pressie and I so happened to be in Kinokuniya during the launch of his second. Because he's of the same generation, could relate to many of his stories, especially the one about going blind if you accidentally rub the powder off a moth's wing into your eye! Incidentally, the parents thought this book was funny 'cept mum who thought the second had to much #@&*^%!

22. Vanishing acts - Jodi Piccolt

Also read through various issues and segments of the Lonely Planet to do pre-trip planning but this does not count towards my book list. In fact got featured in The Star in a spread about the Lonely Planet.

As close as I'll ever be to becoming a
front page model!

As you can see, I tend to max out my book and magazine tax rebates every year (Thank God for those rebates!). At the moment, these are the books that are by my bedstand. Ya, I tend to read a couple of books at a time as to not get bored with the plot of the story. Sometimes you just want a change.

So, whats on your reading list this year?