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July 8, 2006 – Bus ride from Batang Ai back to Kuching
Today started with a bus ride back to Kuching. It was Marisa’s 30 th birthday and Thomas and Rivers gave her a beaded bracelet – so sweet.

Thomas and Rives stories about Ibans sex practices.

  • The health workers showed the people how to use a condom by putting it on a broomstick. Some folks took this demonstration literally and applied a condom to their broom handle before making love – not very effective in preventing pregnancy.
  • Sometimes it’s the men who take the birth control pills -- also not effective in preventing pregnancy.
  • One woman believed the tribal story that when a women becomes pregnant, she needs to make love at least 6 more times, – one to make the head, one to make the body, one to make an arm, one to make the other arm, one to make a leg, and one to make the other leg. Right after his new bride became pregnant, a husband had to leave home to work in the logging industry. He returned after his child was born. His wife was furious with him because she had to recruit all these other guys to finish off the baby. (Rivers swears it’s a true story).
  • Thomas said the women induce abortions by eating sour pineapple.
  • The tribe doesn’t look down as much on pre-martial sex as they do on being unable to conceive.
  • Both the men and women are very sexy people – not much in their history to suppress them. Because of the crowded longhouses, they sometimes sneak off to the jungle or go to an abandoned farmhouse to take care of business.
  • When the teens become interested in sex, the fathers try to limit access to the daughters’ rooms (sometimes by posting a barking dog within the quarters). Thomas said when he was growing up in the longhouse, he would always take a piece of smoked meat to give to the dog to shut him up so they would not be interrupted.

Lunch was good. Jimmie and Alex joined us at the table along with a couple of frisky cats. The spot was beautiful overlooking waterfall.

We stopped at a rubber plantation and saw latex dripping into the buckets attached to the trees. Thomas and Rives said the laborers who work at the rubber plantations earn very high wages – higher than tour guides.

Collecting Latex


We stopped at a Palm Oil groove. Palm Oil is a major crop in Malaysia. It’s used for cooking, lotions, lipsticks, and many other things. Thomas says that it’s been proven for its use in diesel fuel – now that’s big because Palm Oil is number one here. If we use oil from trees, instead black oil from the ground, Malaysia’s will be one powerful country.

Oil Palm Seed

Oil palms

Seeds on oil palm

Oil palm seeds

I brought along jumping beans that I purchased at K-mart to give to Malaysian kids. The plastic capsule with the metal ball free to roll around inside doesn’t behave as one expects. I liked sharing my magic and having a way of communicating and delighting strangers along the way.

I gave jumping beans to two little girls who were playing jacks with rocks. They didn’t know what to do with these strange gifts from this strange lady.

Girls playing jacks

What do I do with this jumping bean?

I then passed out more jumping beans out to some teenagers and older shop owners. They were quite fascinated.

Vendor at market

Kids at market

Our last stop of the day was at a pottery factory. We roamed around the factory in terrible heat, longing for the air-conditioning of the bus.

Pottery factory

Kiln at Pottery Factory

The resident potter showed us a few of his moves on the wheel and then Jack (our Jack, of Jack and LaVern from Oakland) tried his hand at throwing a pot. The pot wobbled off center, much to our delight.

Professional potter

Jack the potter

I didn’t really care for any of the pottery for sale at the gift shop. However, I did make some friends with a couple kids by passing out my jumping beans.

Terry admiring pots

Kids at pottery shop

We got back to Crowne Plaza in Kuching and were moved to the 12 th floor. We showered and hooked up with Terry and Jamie for a Tiger beer at our old stomping ground, James Brooke. After the beer, Terry and Jamie went back to get Bev and go to the Sunday Market (which actually starts on Saturday).

Bill and I went shopping for souvenirs at some shops in old town. I bought a couple of carved wooden geckos. The stores were fun and the vendors left you alone to roam freely. Aggressive shop people drive me to distraction – but the mellow Malaysians are cool.

We tried to find DeTavern and other local spots for a dinner recommended by our dated tour book, but gave up and headed to Top Spot, where we had eaten a couple days before. We ran into Judy and Rick just coming out of the hotel and enticed them to come along. We knew just what to do – find stall #25 and start picking out fish. We had a lovely evening (and Rick and Judy really enjoyed their king pawns).

We got back to the hotel room at 9 pm. I curled up and read my book – Stranger in the Forest – On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen. It’s the true story about the author’s trek in Borneo in 1983. Thomas, our guide, and his family are friends of Eric, the author. (I’m starting to really understand this place – as much as an aging white gal can.)

July 9, 2006 – Kuching to Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

After a big breakfast buffet at the hotel, we boarded the bus at 8:30 to go to the airport. Rives said "good-bye" to us on the bus. He laughed about needing a tissue to wipe his eyes, but said he’s getting used to these “good-byes.” I thought he was joking, but Judy (who sat at the front of the bus) said that he was really teary-eyed. What a sweet, sensitive guy. (Rives, thanks for your stories and sharing your country with us.)

I looked out the airplane window – good-bye Sarawak (the Malaysian state in northwestern Borneo) and hello to Sabah (the Malaysian state in northeastern Borneo). Sabah is referred to as “The Land Below the Wind” because hurricanes don’t make it down that far south. Trade ships always headed for Sabah when hurricanes were threatening. (In fact, even in the 1540’s, Magellan’s crew knew about this calm, windless country.)

Rick and Judy on the bus to the airport

Islands off Kota Kinabalu

Roselin, our new local guide met us at the Kota Kinabalu airport for yet another a city tour.

Kota Kinabalu (called KK by those in the know) is the capital of Sabah. The town of Jessleton, renamed Kota Kinabalu in 1963, had to be almost completely rebuilt after World War II. Roselin said KK was bombed by the Japanese in World War II, but my book reported it was razed by the British to keep the Japanese from building an air base here.

We saw a lot of construction – buildings, housing and highways. We also saw a lot of poverty and polluted floating cities.

Our morning tour was mostly seeing things from the bus window, and at times, making a quick stop for a photo.

We drove by the strange Yayasan Sabah (Sabah Foundation building), the official office of the Chief Minister of Sabah Kota Kinabalu. It’s a 30-story circular glass building supported by a single column structure (with high tensile steel rods throughout its structure). It’s an architectural and engineering marvel and there are only four such buildings in the world.

Sabah Foundation

Water village

We drove up a hill overlooking the city to the University of Malaysia Sabah campus. It was a beautiful, well-manicured campus and, to my amazement, was started in 1994 -- only a dozen years ago. They recently added a medical program and are recruiting professors, especially in the field of Biology. Dr. Terry, head of the Biology Department at San Diego State University, wasn’t interested – it’s much too hot here for him.

University of Malaysia Sabah

Temple at University

We stopped at the shiny new pink Mosque on campus. (The bus couldn’t make it through the entrance and had to back down.)

Our next stop was the beautiful Sabah State Mosque, was surrounded by a moat.

Sabah State Mosque

Sabah State Mosque

Next stop was the Phu Thou Se Chinese Temple. It had a huge Buddha towering over the parking lot. The temple was a brand new.

Chinese Temple

Chinese Temple
Buddha overlooking temple Fat and happy Buddha

Note: The graves nearby the temple were each designed in the shape of a chair where the dead could wait until they were lifted up to heaven. The graves on top of the hill cost the family $100,000 USD while the ones at the base of the hill are only $5,000 USD. Roselin is married to a Chinese woman so he knows about the temples and customs.

We stopped at Signal Hill for a phenomenal view of the city and surrounding islands.

We also got a view of the Atkinson Tower, built in 1905, one of only two structures in Kota Kinabalu that survived the World War II bombings. It was built in memory of the town's first district officer who died of 'Borneo Fever' at the age 28. It’s located in an area that was the first developed part of the city, then named Jesselton.

Kota Kinabalu from Signal Hill

Kota Kinabalu

View from Signal Hill

Atkinson Tower

Coming back from Signal Hill, Roselin pointed out all the luxurious houses for the “rich” and “retired politicians". It was Sunday afternoon and we drove by several parks where lively soccer matches were happening – even in this heat!

The bus let us off in the heart of town, by the Marlin statue. A yummy dim sum lunch was waiting for us at the nearby Hyatt Hotel.

Marlin Statue in KK

We had an hour to look around town before the bus to the airport for our flight to Sandakan. Bill and I went to Borneo Books to buy some posters of the animals, snakes and birds of Borneo (for my teaching program.) We found some nice ones. I wanted to buy some fake bugs at the bookstore for the kids as well. The shop girl said, “Don’t get them here. There’s a much better selection at another store. I’ll take you there.” When we got to the other store, she said, “This is the store to get those bugs. Now I have to get back to work. Good luck. Good bye.” We are flabbergasted by the helpfulness and lack of capitalistic spirit of the people. They only want you to be happy. We’re strangers in a strange, wonderful land.

At 3:30 pm, we caught the bus to the airport for a flight to Sandakan.

We checked into the 5-star Sabah Hotel in Sandakan. This is the life.

Sabah Hotel

Jaime and his Tiger

After we unpacked, we found Terry and Jaime drinking happy hour Tiger beer in a noisy bar with Kenny Rodgers projected up on a huge screen. Later, Rick, Judy, and Tobi joined us. It took us 50 minutes to get a pizza delivered to our table– but the beer (and Kenny) took the edge off the wait.


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