Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Borneo wildlife

The nature in Borneo has not only been diverse, but also abundant. It's often cited that tropical rainforests, which are only located in south east Asia, the amazon and Central Africa, account for 6% of the total land mass (or 2% of the planet's surface) but sustain approximately 50% of the worlds plants and animals.
In addition to the beneficial carbon offsetting work they do of course.

In that regard I've been fortunate to see some amazing species. Especially when I caught the short flight to Mulu, the unesco world heritage sight.

Before I talk about Mulu, a quick word on orangutans. On our last day of the fujitsu tour we overnighted at the Shangri-la rasa ria which houses a sanctuary for orphaned orangutans. This is all part of a complex rehabilitation programme, after the rasa-ria they are moved to the east of Sabah where they are slowly weaned off their dependence on humans so they can then be released into the wild and hopefully continue to sustain the dwindling population.
Both the resort and seeing the orangutans was a great reward for us 60 volunteers!
I also saw this wide gaited geezer of a monitor lizard. He was strutting along without a care in the world.

And a cute snake outside my room (there were several members of staff keeping a safe distance)

Interestingly I also saw these amazing crab patterns on the beach, where they dig out sand from their burrows and deposit it in incredible patterns. It made me think of Alan Turings theory of morphogenesis. I'm no scientist but strictly this phenomenon probably doesn't sit under that theory as it's more to do with how animals adapt and evolve chemically, e.g. To get stripes or spots, but still, he did some fascinating work after the war before he cruelly died so young.

They are like little cities with carriageways and open spaces. Why does each crab choose a different design or approach?

As for Mulu, what an incredible place, a friend who had been there before told me to close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the jungle at night. However on the first night the restaurant just outside the national park's perimeter had karaoke on, so all I could hear was the horrible drunk wails of Homo Sapiens singing "I will always love you" - had to laugh!
Below -On the way to Mulu.

But when it only the jungle you could hear, there is an overwhelming variety of sounds. The yelps of geckos, cicadas chirruping, frogs, the weird leaf cricket who rubs its wings so it sounds like a six year old having their first violin lesson. And also disconcerting sounds I didn't get a chance to ask a guides advice on. An unearthly booming echoing call, like two huge pieces of bamboo being whacked together for instance.

I did a night walk,a canopy walk, and various cave walks. I asked our guide what the best way to get rid of leeches was. He said to use a credit card, I made a joke about leeches charging, but nobody laughed. Wasted wit :).
But...My best memory though has to be my last day.

I saw the famous bat exodus. It wasn't the millions promised but at dusk the caves belched big clouds and beautiful ribbons of bats into the fading light. Bat hawks circled and dived into the mass, snaring the tiny bats, truly a wonder. Here's a terrible photo of a "bat ribbon" - morphogenesis again? (Or not!)

Earlier in the day I went to racer cave, which isn't lit like the other tourist caves. So there's an eerie quality as you gingerly step through, shining your torch in the pitch black. The click click of swiftlets and the shrill calls of bats the first clue to the unique Eco system. We saw massive huntsman spiders which feed on bird eggs. Huge crickets with enormous antenna, compensating for their blindness and the racer snake, the alpha predator. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Planting trees, Borneo

The fujitsu tour itself involved a number of activities and team events. I was made a team leader of 8, and from that moment I was crushed under the expectant weight of responsibility.
Occasionally I would forget to count my team back onto the bus, but a good officer knows that if you invest responsibility in your soldiers, they will always be accountable. I guess it was their loyalty to me that always brought them home ;)

For each event there was also a different randomised group, which maximised our ability to meet new people. Everyone on the tour was great, they were a focused and decent bunch and it's wonderful to meet so many people from around the world.

The first two days were quite gentle, with a trek round Gaya Island, two river cruises, a line census of wildlife, visits to a sustainable palm oil plantation, some orientation and lectures as well as our first bit of hard work, girdling. Non rainforest trees are planted to protect and provide shelter for the rainforest saplings. When those saplings are strong enough to survive without those trees above them we perform girdling, that is to cut away a section of bark all the way around the bigger tree, such that it will die slowly (the flow of nutrients stops when this happens), this means further protection for the sapling, as the tree dies. Using a machete was fun, but I will be working on my upper body strength for next year!

Then on day three, Planting!

This was hard, after our demonstrations (which looked easy when delivered by professionals) we were put in our groups, given our long handled shovels, our saplings and set to work. When the notes accompanying the tour said the slopes would be steep, I didn't realise that meant almost 75 degree inclines at times! The guides cajoled and helped us, with our "soft keyboard hands". Working in that heat (around 36C) and humidity drenches you in sweat in seconds. We had two students from Sabah university in our group, they were amazing. As part of their civil engineering course they had this as as one of their environmental module activities and we had a real camaraderie amongst our Japanese/uk/Malaysian team. I ended up filthy, exhausted, but very happy. Between all the groups we planted 1400 trees out of our 1500 target.
You could argue (rightly) that the professionals could have done this in less than half the time, that we didn't need to fly half way round the globe to support the project. but this isn't the reason for Fujitsu's contribution, it is to build relationships, to show we care but also to take the message back to our own teams, colleagues, families and friends, to try to make a difference. The rainforest is a key eco system to reverse the threat of global warning. There's plenty all of us could do to make a difference.

Some general advice for those thinking of doing this next year - We were warned / advised
1) not to pee in the forest, as your private parts would become swollen
2) not to disrespect the forest as it can hear you and will curse you
3) not to take anything from the forest (curse. Again)
4) to give compliments to the forest

I though I was doing well, but I inadvertently succumbed to no 2). I flung my safety helmet away exclaiming I didn't need it, I was so hot, what could possibly happen? Well, within two minutes I walked into a heavy branch which clumped me just above the left eye. Let that be a warning to all of you!
Another Poem (sorry) (c) Mel melis November 2014

A rainforest in miniature,
babes in arms,
We carry them,
Down steep banks,
and through ravines,
Cross streams, 
And whilst we are scratched,
Mud splattered, 
We protect them,
The forest is watching,
Making sure our kindness,
Imbues their fortitude,

They are expectant, 
Arcing their flexible callow bodies,
So their leaves feel the sun,
Waiting for the chance for their roots,
To unfurl and feed,
We tuck them into their dug earth beds,
Then cover the bed with 
blankets of detritus and leaves,
The dead forest nurturing the newly born

With sweat pouring,
The jungle judges us,
on words and intention,
As if it so decided,
It could close in and kill us,
So, a kiss,
Good luck little sapling,
Grow straight, grow true,
Grow beautiful.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is a fascinating place, after a long journey and two flights I arrived, sleep deprived and bewildered at our fujitsu volunteer hotel. For those not in the know I will briefly summarise what I'm doing here -
Fujitsu sponsor and work closely with a local charity which regenerates the Borneo rainforest. 60 staff volunteers from around the world have self funded themselves to get here, representation of staff comes from Japan, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and from further afield the UK and Germany.
So on that basis and with an early start the next day, I took a stroll in the early evening to find something to eat and then, by a strange quirk of global coincidence meet an old friend Tom, who happened to be staying in the block next door to my hotel. He'd seen my update on Facebook and announced that he too was in KK, but just for one night.

I took a walk along the wooden boarded promenade to the night market.

The smell is the first thing that hits you, fish and meat juices drain into the walkways between the tightly packed stalls. The chatter of sales and bargaining is incessant. I was fortunate to have trainers on, some people walked in flip flops and the slap slap slap in the entrails and liquids was rather unpleasant and residue kicked up onto clothes and legs.
However, the fish looked fresh, clear eyed not cloudy and bright in appearance.

Alongside the meat and fish were the other foods, uniformly shaped spuds were stacked in rows, indeterminable exotic fruit and vegetables and various packed herbs and spices.

Beyond that again, the food hawkers, stall upon stall, frying, steaming, grilling. Smells and smoke heavy in the air, cooked fish and meat ready to plate up, as well as the raw options for those who insist on choosing their option cooked from fresh.
polite young kids milled around, asking what you would like to eat. Unlike some other places in south East Asia a smile and a "maybe later" is met with a "no problem" and they enquire as to whether the next person would like a meal.

And beyond that again, stalls of various bric and brac and souvenirs or more prosaic things like lighters. In the midst of the market was a mosque, the doors flung wide open to send a sea breeze through the building and give relief to the worshippers from the humidity and heat.
The imam sang his prayers to god beautifully, it could easily have been part of Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the lilts and key changes so similar. 
I then walked back through the market, back along the promenade looking out to the dark sea where not long previously I had witnessed a beautiful red sunset behind the islands in the bay. 

The promenade ended abruptly, at a bar. I was tired, not just from the flight but from the sensory overload of the market. I didn't want to eat so I ordered a narkileh and smoked awhile. The water cooled fruit tobacco smoke soothing rather than harsh, even for a non smoker like me.

I then started to think, to think clearly. I started to relax. It's been a long year, long hours, this was my first proper break from the office. I smiled.
I thought of Lawrence Durrell and his book about Cyprus "bitter lemons", I wouldn't say it was a great book, his brother was a better writer, but something struck me, a memory from the book was plucked from a cobwebbed corner of my mind.

It's certainly not an accurate memory, more a memory of a feeling the book left me with, but he said something along the lines of how he enjoyed the company of Greek Cypriots but also the Turkish ones.
He wrote about restless industrious Greeks and serene Turks looking to the horizon, to take in the world before it passed us by.
All year I've let the world pass me by, so I stopped and watched. And listened. It made me think of who I am, what I am.
And I wrote, and the words came.

Kota Kinabalu ( mel melis (c) November 2014)

There's peace in the noise,
The construction workers drilling,
The chatter of families on their promenade,
The tinny music from waterside bars,
and the waves gently lapping,
A hawker's agitated tapping,
Of fingers against his purse,
And beyond,
The ethereal songs, 
of the faithful,
From the market mosque,

I have the blood of Greeks, 
of Sparta, of Turks, 
of frightened concubines, from the far north,
Stolen and cruelly forced,
into the pasha's servitude, 

I am a Jew, 
a Phoenician trader,
From the Ptolemies of Egypt,
To an Arab raider,
Venetian, Lusignan and Frank,
And a crusader.

I watch the world, through apple scented smoke,
And I am at peace.