After one night in Singapore where we had a merely fleeting acquaintance with both Kiwi Dan and also this time his other half, Susie, we had time to squeeze in a traditional dim sum brunch at Singapore’s expansive China Town area before rearranging our bags in readiness for the weight restricted flight to Kuching in Malaysian Borneo.
As we descended into Kuching International Airport, I could see the massed scars of deforestation below us which reminded me somewhat of a cross-section of brain with its irregularly curved contours and areas of dark and light matter. It is sad that such a wilderness is being destroyed in the name of progress, but we in the West have been guilty of nature’s rape and pillage for some centuries so we can’t really moan when someone else gets in on the act within their own backyard.
Kuching is known as “The city of cats” and its love of anything feline is quite apparent from the numerous public sculptures that grace nearly every major junction in the centre of the city.
On collection from the airport we were advised that if we ever got lost, just ask for “the big white cat” and any local would be able to point us in the direction of Beds Guesthouse which was just a well aimed oriental spit away from said figurine. Somehow when we arrived I’d failed to spot the 5-metre feline guarding the entrance to the Jalan (street) that we were to stay on for the next few days.
Upon arrival, Kuching had a further surprise in store for me as true to its moniker, the guesthouse also had a resident pet cat. Not an issue for most people, a bit of a bummer though when like myself, you have an allergy to cat hair.
My cat allergy, like many other peoples, isn’t at all predictable. Some cats (well their hairs) irritate me incredibly, whilst
others can prowl around me all day and not give me any bother whatsoever. Days 1&2 passed sans problem aside from the odd bout of sneezing as we explored the tree lined riverwalks of the City and took a day trip to
the Sarawak Cultural Village where for the equivalent of 20p, I discovered I was a deadly shot with a blowpipe.
I suffered none of the telltale itchy eyes that indicate an allergic reaction during this time, then on the morning of our third day at Beds, I wake up with the mother of all swelling under my left eye and my right eye equally looking as though I’ve just gone 10 rounds with Tyson.
This is just plain unfair. Now not only does my body look pox ridden, but also my face looks bloated too.
To make matter worse, today marks “The Boy’s” first birthday, a milestone to be celebrated and remembered forever in picture and video.
We have an early breakfast rendezvous with rescued orang-utans who roam freely in the forest at Semmenggoh rehabilitation centre.
My first sight of one of these remarkable and solitary primates comes from a loud rustling in a tree to my right as we descend from the car park along the forested pathway. The long trunk of a tree starts to sway and then all of a sudden a flash of brown and orange reveals itself clinging to a bough some distance above our heads.
We spend over an hour observing the three orang-utans who have made their presence known as they breakfast upon fruit provided by the park rangers, before heading off towards the mountainous border with Indonesian Borneo, where David, our “Tour Dude” (he’s not a Tour Guide, he drills home his lack of qualification at any opportunity to avoid any misinterpretation by his guests or more importantly, legal challenges by the authorities, one assumes…) has arranged a visit to his mothers ancestral Bidayuh village.
The village lays some 40 minutes beyond the more tourist-frequented village of Anna Rais, upon the foothills of the borderland peaks from where you can see smoke from forest clearance operations rising all around. The road is uncovered, exceptionally steep in places, and is accessible only by 4-wheel drive or foot.
David informs us that it is a tradition of the Bidayuh that adult males are chosen at random to guard the trophy heads of decapitated enemy that are kept within the “head house”. It turns out it is one hell of a shift for the chosen ones as they must live and sleep within the head house for a period of ten years. No overtime pay, no holiday accruement bonus, no shift rota even. Just the privilege of being chosen to guard some poor chap’s violently hacked off skull.
The Bidayuh come across as friendly folk, head-hunting incidents excepted, who still live a very traditional lifestyle with much emphasis upon craftsmanship.
From our welcome, it was clear that David’s money-back promise of a non-touristy destination is bang on the mark. The Boy was allowed to interact with the community, even befriending a young Bidayuh pal before taking the opportunity to vomit over their beautifully woven wicker floor mats as a gesture of international friendship.
Well,it was his birthday, and like they say, you can take the boy out of Swansea, but you can’t take Swansea out of The Boy.