This project aims to help women
with their English that will in turn sustain their income through eco-tourism.
It functions on the basis of
shadowing your assigned lady and teaching them English for 10 days.
I was blessed to be assigned to
Project WHEE!’s homestay host, Tepuq Sinah Rang Lemulun.

When I
first met Tepuq, she gave me the warmest hug a grandmother would give to any
grandchild who finally came home after years of not coming home… Yes, like a
prodigal son.
On that
night, I remember her saying to us “I love you all very much!”
amazes me to hear such words from a grandmother I never knew, but heard very
much about. After all, you seldom hear these words when you meet people for the
first time.
As I go
about with her through her daily activities, I took the opportunity one night
to sit with her and just gaze into the sky. I can testify that it is the most
therapeutic thing to do at the verandah of her homestay. Here, you will be so
captivated by the scenery and the stars that shine.
chatted for awhile and I decided to ask this longing question inside me.
kalau ada sesuatu yang Tepuq hendak ajar orang muda hari ini, apakah itu?”
if there’s something you have to teach the young people of today, what will
that be?
immediately answered “LOVE!”
didn’t surprise me because the more time I spent with her, the more I saw what
she was living out.
As she
went on, she shared that with love, everything is simply more amazing.
example, in Bario, people come in and out of the rumah kadang, also known as
the longhouse, bringing their fresh produce and selling them. On a particular
day, a fishmonger came with his catch for the day.
Being a
lady filled with so much love to those around her, she offered him a cup of
coffee and some snacks; after purchasing his entire catch.
It hit me, because living in the city, we always claim we do not have enough
time to spend for those around us, what more, reaching out to strangers or people we come
a cup of coffee would not be offered to those we do not know.
Tepuq, you do not need constant reminders that she loves you. Whatever she does
each day, is completely out of love.
taught me that everything we do must be out of love. From the first time we
met, till when we said our temporary goodbyes, she showed so much love towards me
and those around her.

Thank you, Tepuq, for teaching me that life is made sweeter with love.


When I first found out that I was
assigned to Tepuq Sinah Rang, I was intimidated by the fact that I had to work
around the homestay… Which means I will be in the kitchen at some point of

Why was I intimidated? It is because I was born with butter fingers and perhaps wobbly legs,
and there’s no hiding that I am a total klutz.
I almost fell into a small pit, and spilled some tea on Tepuq’s couch. All these took place in a day, in the presence of Tepuq. 
The word “accidentally”
is my best friend when it comes to incidents like these.
Initially, she never wanted me
anywhere near the stove, fearing that I may get injured. 
After a few days of working in the
kitchen with her, she decided to rearrange the stove area and made her stove safer for
me to use. 
I found that really touching,
because she put so much effort into reorganizing things just to ensure that it is safe for me to be in the kitchen. 
Normally, she would instruct me with what to do whenever we prepare meals together.
Many times, I will be stacking up
plates, bowls, and cutleries for mealtimes.
I had to be really cautious in
handling the really fancy bowls and plates but not-Kit-May-friendly-things.
(Thankfully I didn’t break any
throughout this project!!)
However, one evening, I
accidentally let go of a wooden chopping board and it fell onto the ground. Tepuq immediately came to have a look at my feet – to see if there are any
marks on my feet. I told her that the chopping board didn’t land on my feet.
She told me that all she wanted from me, was to be
She went back into the kitchen shortly after, and the next thing she heard was “Bam!”

I accidentally let go of a plastic tray and it
landed on the ground.
Tepuq is really cute. Her reaction
this time around was:

Thank you, Tepuq, for making sure I am always safe and for allowing me to make mistakes. 

Adventures with Sina Sarina

Adventures with Sina Sarina

Here is the star of my trip, the person my two weeks were centered around, Sina Sarina.

thing I really like about Sina is that she is always smiling. She
smiles when she’s talking to someone, when she’s shaking her head at my
plant-watering skills, when the sun is hot, when one of the school doors is locked, when we were both tearing up when saying goodbye. And
what a lovely smile it is, too.
Sina is a 37 year old woman
who works at SMK Bario as a janitor. This meant that my time spent with
her was divided between the school and anywhere else. A typical morning
for us meant sweeping, dusting, watering the plants (…which I am not
very good at – the watering cans are heavy, okay) and so on
before it’s time for a break, where Sina will then proceed to convince
me into drinking coffee, Milo, and/or eating an entire pack of biscuits.
She had long since stopped accepting the (true) fact that I’d had
breakfast at home, so I’d try to joke it off, saying I’ll get so fat the
plane cannot carry my weight. Her response: “Baguslah tu, muk tinggal di Bario saja!” 

Sina Sarina is an incredibly capable person.
One day when we were walking back to school, she suddenly moved to the
side and started pulling out plants and fruits that are everyday food. Midin! Rebung! Paku pakis!
She’d reach into the foliage and pull out a new plant for me, despite
the fact that I might have eaten it some time. In the school, she did
every task efficiently, from planting flowers to cleaning the school.
Despite that some of the work was actually quite tiring, she never
complained of any pain. The only time I ever heard about pain was when
we held a beauty session for the ladies, and I asked her if she had any
sore areas she wanted me to help massage, and she pointed out parts of
her legs and arms.

Sina also
has an great sense of humor. When it’s time for lunch, we’d go and pick
up Mujan from the kindergarten and slowly walk home. At some point,
Uncle or someone from Arur Dalan would stop by on their motorbike, and
we’d send Mujan off to home with them and continue our walk back home. (It soon transpired that she was hoping that our walks would make me hungry enough to eat loads.) Our conversation topics ranged from school gossip to the kids, or my
family and life in Selangor. One day, we stopped by the sawah and waved
frantically in attempt to catch my batchmates, Karthik and Tharunnia’s
attention. They did not notice us, and Sina said I should stop jumping
up and down, “nanti orang ingat Ru gila“. Another day, she heard that we’d been playing in the sawah, and the next day she greeted me with “semalam ada kerbau main di sawah!” – which, okay, is pretty funny and I’d use it as an excuse for whenever I messed something up, like “ya la saya ni kan kerbau, mana pandai buat kerja”.
Another time, Sina drove us from home to school on Uncle’s motorbike. If you
have been to Arur Dalan you will know that the road is bumpy at best
because of the rocks embedded into the road. This combined with the fact
that motorbikes were a fairly new experience for me meant that I was
quite terrified when I got on the bike behind Sina. I told her “tolong jalan slow sikit, saya takut lah Sina“, so naturally she accelerated the motorbike. I exaggerated a little. Sina did not accelerate,
but she did go very fast. I was practically hanging on for dear life,
and the fact that Sina kept turning around to make sure I was alright
didn’t exactly assure me of our safety. At one point Sina noticed that
I’d closed my eyes and said to me, “takut apa, ini adventure!
while laughing, presumably at the fact that I was genuinely scared. For the
rest of our ride, Sina continued to offer little gems like “kalau accident pun tak sakit, tak ada darah” and “klinik pun dekat saja“, and that’s the story of how I taught Sina the words ‘nightmare’ and ‘bad dream’.
the English side of things, Sina was quite proficient at holding a
conversation in English. My
favorite thing was when she would randomly use things we’ve discussed
beforehand, like “Hello, chicken!” after we talked about greetings.
jokes aside, I do miss her. I was so comfortable around her, and I hope
she was, too. She made me laugh plenty of times and I do hope I’ve made
her laugh, too. I miss Sina Sarina, who sent her daughter out in the
rain to pick me up, who one day silently tied a kabuk she bought for me around my neck,
who is lovely and funny and caring, who asked me to come stay with her
if I ever came back. I could go on and on about the things we’ve shared.
If I ever get a chance to go back to Bario, I know the first place I
will visit.

The Nature’s Watchful Eyes.

The Nature’s Watchful Eyes.

Land and nature, intertwined together to create a beautiful
and almost mystical place called Bario, where the nature always has a watchful
eyes over you wherever you may be in this land. The Kelabits who are locals of
this land named it Bario which gives the meaning ‘wind’. Geographically, Bario
is an elevated land is considered to be a highland with the altitude of 1000m
above sea level and it is located the east of Sarawak bordering Kalimantan.

Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter 
journey to Bario itself is an adventure, you’ll be flying on a Havilland Canada
DHC-6 Twin Otter plane into Bario from Miri. The twin turboprop engines
produces a district roar rotating the propeller to slice through the air and
move forward. The flight certainly won’t be smooth due to the light weight of
the plane, often shifting from small gusts of wind. The flight time is about 50
minutes. If you’re a first timer flying on this plane, you’ll have a sense of
relief when the aircraft makes the landing and the engine chokes as the pilot
cuts off the fuel.
Walk from airport

Bario is located in a coulee; the
horizons are covered with mountains and hills giving a surreal feeling when you
just gaze upon the view that nature showers you with. Trees on the mountains
and the long strands of grass on hills that dances to the rhythm of the wind is
just mesmerizing.  Untapped jungle grows
on those mountains and each tree, each animal, each insect, and each plant is
part of the nature and very minimal human activity disrupts the balance of the
nature. Isolation of this land from rest of the towns due to geographical
barriers plays a major role in preserving the environment. The roads leading to
Bario are not paved and mostly are logging roads, it takes about 12 hours of
driving with a pickup from Miri.
My Tepuq (Tepuq Ribet) in her paddy field.
misty morning, the sunny sky and the clear night is something that would go
unnoticed by the Kelabits or by people who live in Bario, but for someone who
comes over from the cities it’s completely a sight that you appreciate and
admire. Unpolluted fresh air in Bario makes all of it possible. Every morning
there will be cool breeze with mist gushing across your face as you walk, the
sun casts its rays of joy and warmth every afternoon and the night sky opens up
to deliver a spectacle show of stars planets, and moon.

As night falls, the stars start to
fill up the night sky canvas while the moon illuminates the streets. Some parts
in Bario gets limited amount of electricity because most of it is generated
using a diesel powered generator; 7pm-12 midnight is when we receive
electricity. It may seem like an inconvenience, but hey that’s when darkness
binds Bario completely and free from any light pollution. As a stargazer, it
was my paradise. All the stars are projected so brightly that you can easily
recognize constellations that are visible on earth’s equator. Every hour you
look upon the sky, a new presentation is put up due to the earth’s rotation,
the sky shifts 15 degrees every hour and new sets of stars join.

Hiking is a must do activity in
Bario, a twenty minutes’ walk from Bario Asal will lead you to Prayer Mountain.
Hiking up Prayer Mountain will get you a step closer to the nature as you move
through the jungle as the trees and plants line up on your path throughout the
journey up to the peak. The hike up has a moderate difficulty and the steepness
of the mountain could reach to 45 degrees as you move up closer to the
peak.  The hike is about 1 hour 15
minutes at a slow pace but the view you have from the peak is totally worth the
climb and all the exhaustion pays off.

Over the period of 10 days, my
definition of Bario has changed from just being wind to the ‘nature’ itself
because Bario has so much to offer but my time to receive was limited. I will
travel back to this paradise of nature to live it all again.

One afternoon at Joe’s!

One afternoon at Joe’s!

One stormy, wet evening marked the end of our experience at the paddy field with our tepuqs. Dearest Tepuq Ribet and Tepuq Uloh, both got drenched in that fun filled walk we did together running away from the storm. It was as if the rain was least of our concerns that evening, instead we just embraced that one last walk from the paddy to the long house sharing some delightful personal moments.
Walking back to the long house in the rain.
next day the sun came shiny and bright, casting its first rays of the day,
slicing through the morning mist while we walked to Tepuq Uloh’s paddy field.
There, we had a short conversation with her husband and her while they did a
little clearing up of the area. Once we confirmed our appointment, we continued our walk to Tepuq Ribet’s paddy field
which was a little further. At a distance, through the fields of green we saw a glimpse of Tepuq Ribet in her big brown hat. We expressed our urge to step
into the paddy but she insists we stay clean for the day. Here again, we had a
short conversation, and reminded her about our appointment
for later in the day.
Tepuq Uloh and her husband.
Tepuq Ribet
The clock striked 12PM and we were getting excited. We ran to Tepuq Uloh’s and saw that both she and her husband were all dressed and ready to go! It was so sweet to see Tepuq Uloh and her husband dressed extra nice for our appointment that afternoon. Our excitement was just building. We told them we will be right back. Both of us then proceeded to Tepuq Ribet’s to check on her, but to no avail. There were no signs of her at home and we did the fastest walk to her paddy to check if she was there. She was about to leave her paddy field when we reached, thus we did the walk together back to her house. Told her to take her time and here again came Tepuq dressed very sweetly for the day. She borrowed us her motorcycle for the appointment and off were to get back Tepuq Ulo and her husband. 

At 12.30PM,
two motorcycles, five people, dressed a little extra nice, all excited and
happy. Where do you think the appointment
brought us to?

A lunch treat! 😀
It was such a joyful ride to Joe’s that
afternoon, catching up with Tepuq Uloh’s motorcycle which was going faster
because it did not have two pillion riders like us! We arrived at Joe’s soon
after and we managed to get one last round table available on that filled lunch
hour. We made our orders and added three ABCs (Ais Batu Kacang) to the list as
it was such a hot day and also because Tepuq Ribet has not had it in a long

waiting for our meals, we all started recapping our whole journey together. It
only then dawned to us that this was a farewell. As they mention their interest
of coming over to the city to see us, both our Tepuqs facial expression had
gone a little emotional. Tepuq Uloh had later secretly took out two kabuqs (Kelabit
necklaces) under the table and told me (Ganit) to choose one. I hesitantly
chose one and she laughed! To refresh the whole mood, our ABCs arrived and we
shared some conversations about the old airport and a past plane crash incident
that took place some time back.

all our meals came, Tepuq Uloh’s husband recited prayers and we all held hands.
It was during this very moment, we felt truly like a family. What started of as
awkward and shy conversations 6-7 days back has now brought us to a family
reunion lunch. Tepuq Uloh had a bad cough and we reminded both our Tepuqs to
complete their prescription and head to the clinic for their appointments. In
return, we received endless heartfelt blessings and really just continued
having personal conversations even when we were done with our meal. Embracing
that few moments left together. Towards the end, it got a little heartbreakingly
sad; knowing once we lift ourselves from the seats, the journey has just come
to an end.
were about to get on our motorcycles, when I (Ganit) saw dearest and funniest
Tepuq Uloh to tears. Told her not to worry and I’ll see her at home in few
minutes! Started our journey back to the long house, running away from the dark
clouds carrying a heavy downpour. Strong gushes of wind almost blew our hats
away, when Tepuq Ribet suddenly gave us the tightest hug from behind while she
leaned emotionally saying, ‘Rindu kamu dua, jangan pergi. ‘(Miss you two, don’t
go). That was the moment that got us both. It was this moment that the storm
did not bring giggles, but it brought tears. It hit us close to our hearts, we
didn’t want to leave, and our time together was too short. We wished there were
more time to spend together.
Daring riding the bike,while Tepuq Ribet held on to her hat with the dark clouds approaching.
all the beautiful days that we were fed with home cooked food by the paddy
fields, we thought this was a really nice idea to bring them out for a treat.
Little did we know that we would be so emotionally impacted by a lunch date
which we now look back as a family reunion lunch. There was a piece of element
called comfort which is only able to be felt once two
hearts accept each other’s presents. They were so welcoming and attached to us
very quickly that it frightens us to know how sad they would have been once we
            ‘ Ganit dan Daring janji akan bawa Tepuk keluar makan bersama lagi! ‘
the lightning; Tharunnia,

the thunder; Karthik.

Meet The Family

Meet The Family

My favorite part of my days with Sina Sarina was going to her home
for lunch at 12 p.m. I liked it because that’s when the kids come back
from school, Sina’s husband comes back from work, and we’d all sit down
and talk and eat.
Sina and Uncle
Sina’s husband (whom I call Uncle)
and I got along very well. If there’s one thing Uncle liked to do, it
was making jokes. And as the new girl with little to no knowledge of the
in and outs of Bario, he liked joking around with me. For example, the
first day he told me their cat’s name was (something I don’t remember),
and I went on calling it that name, until one day Mujan looked at me in
confusion and was like, “kakak Ru, nama kucing tu Miao.” Apart
from that, Uncle also liked teaching me Kelabit words with the wrong
meanings. Soon I stopped taking his word for everything and would just
refer to Dayang, Sina’s eldest daughter for the truth. It was
funny, except sometimes when Uncle would introduce me to people as Shah
Rukh Khan’s cousin, because you know, Charu, Shah Rukh. Yep. All in good fun!
Anyway, speaking of Dayang:

Dayang, Supang, me and Mujan!
On the left is the bravest
13 year old girl I know, Dayang. Dayang will take out the motorbike to
come pick me up in the rain. She tried teaching me how to play the
guitar, not an easy feat. She has taught me so many Kelabit words. And the memory of
drinking sweet tea after lunch while Dayang plays and sings a Malay song
on the guitar will not leave me anytime soon. I’d like to think that
during our talks I’d imparted some wisdom on her, but to be honest, we
did more silly talk and giggling about boys than serious talk.
Next is Supang, who is 8 years old and incredibly feisty. Supang asks
a lot of questions, has big dreams of becoming a police detective, and
she likes playing in the mud and nuba laya (rice wrapped in big
leaves.) Supang didn’t warm up to me in the beginning. It took me quite
some time before she would talk to me, and once she did it was all
bubblegum blowing contests with her. One day,
after I said goodbye and started walking out, I heard someone yell
“Ru!”, I turned around, and there was Supang running to me for a goodbye
Lastly we have Mujan, who’s 3 going on 4 years
old this year. Mujan is cute and so adorable and she’s quite famous
among my other batchmates because of her immense cuteness. Mujan’s
incredibly shy and it takes quite some time before she will open up and
talk around you. The first day I spent with her she barely spoke to me, she was so shy. We communicated in shy smiles and mainly me, talking away at her hoping for a response. The second day I taught her the
word ‘star’, and from there we progressed.
I don’t have
a picture with Ee Ee, Sina’s oldest son. My relationship with Ee was
familiar in the sense that we did that bickering thing I always did with
my brother. Sometimes when he gave me rides on the motorbike back to the homestay, Ee liked to scare me by purposely trying to hit chickens or dogs, or bring the motorbike
dangerously close to the edge of the road. Anyway, he was playing with my phone one day and he took this selfie. In
case you ever read this, sorry not sorry Ee.
The Kelabit name that I was given from them is Lipang. And I say from them because my Kelabit name was kind of a family decision, after much discussion over tea one day. But what’s in a name? To my Sina, I am Ru or Lipang. To the kids, I am kakak or kakak Ru, and I suppose I will always be Shah Rukh Khan’s cousin, or muk (meaning girl) to Uncle. To that family, in the beginning I was ‘Ru dari project’, and then ‘anak angkat‘ (adopted daughter), and then a simple ‘anak‘ (daughter). This is the family
that took care of me for 10-ish days. Sometimes it got weird because I hear my
batchmates’ stories about their Tepuq’s old age and so on, but I got to
walk into a warm kitchen and a happy family, and watch Ee play cards, help Supang and Dayang do their homework at the table, and
watch Uncle and Sina pretend to cut a live chicken for Mujan’s amusement
(and my horror). I miss them very much. It is true that each of us have a different Project
WHEE! experience, and for mine I’m grateful.
To know that I am missed in one
corner of Bario is a privilege. To know that I can pick up my phone and
speak to these people all the way in Sarawak, is something
that I cherish. And I will never forget my time there.


‘Penanam padi’ translated to English is paddy planter. That
was who I was during most of my days in Bario, Sarawak.
Hard work describes the work best.
I would follow Tepuq Ribet to her ‘sawah’ to help her out
planting paddy. The morning starts with collecting shoots to be
transplanted into the field and gathering them by the side of the field. The
planning begins, I didn’t take much time to learn planting. I would insert the
root of a shoot into the soft muddy ground covered by half a feet of murky
water by pushing them in with my thumb and index finger about an inch into
ground. So much effort is taken just to plant one shoot. Shoot
by shoot is planted to fill up the paddy field. It was a very long process, my
mind would wander away often looking at the green shoots but sometimes dive
into deep thoughts of the preciousness of rice.
It was an experience that I would cherish especially for the
time I spent with my tepuq who took care of me as her own grandson and gave me a
traditional Kelabit name, Daring.

Daring the Thunder
Karthik Muniandy
Hope and approval.

Hope and approval.

It is
less likely for a regular person who lives in the city to wonder what it would
be like to live in a small town and live life on a day-to-day basis instead of
literally sketching out plans for the future.
I for once, did not. Adding
ignorance into the fact thinking that I anyway grew up in a small town. Bario was a pleasant surprise in so many aspects. But, if I had to choose one particular
aspect that always had my heart touched and my mind wondering; it would be the endless
blessings we received over our course of stay.
I remember that hot Saturday
afternoon when I walked into the long house being the new member that was
missing for the past 10 days. I questioned my acceptance into the residents of
this home, I was anxious if the first impression I bring would be counted, I
was engulfed in fear not knowing where I stand; not knowing if my presence was
accepted. I was first greeted by the homestay host’s daughter, Aunty Su who
very willingly gave me a warm hug even before knowing who I was. This hug made me feel a whole lot calmer. 
Aunty Su, the first person to welcome me into the long house.
However, the moment that really touched my inner self was when the homestay host, Tepuq Sinah Rang and all the
other Tepuqs came over to the kitchen to welcome my other team member and I.
Each and every one of them greeted me with so much warmth, hugs, wide smiles,
and excitements. Besides all of that positive vibe I received at my first introduction,
I was genuinely touched and moved at the fact how some of these
lovely Tepuqs said, ‘Semoga Tuhan memberkati kamu. (May God bless you)’ when they gave me a hug.  
I’m not sure what was it that got
me, but there was a sense of genuineness and acceptance that I honestly have
not felt anywhere else. At least not in the first hours of my presence in a new environment. This thought is often followed by the fact that I am
nobody to them, literally nobody. I have just met them minutes ago, and at the
next meal I am referred and accepted as someone’s grandchild.

I remember two days before flying home,  my team member and I who had both our Tepuqs ( Tepuq Uloh & Tepuq Ribet ) working together for that whole week decide to
take them out for a meal. As they were emotional at
the fact that the journey for all four of us together was coming to an end,
they never forgot to give their blessings to us. With tears in their eyes, we were
blessed with good health, to excel in our studies and to always remember that
being humble and having a good heart will give life the meaning we need and a
journey worth remembering.

There was a lot of hope and approval
in their blessings. I am not sure if anyone else would have felt the same, but
how often does one hug you and give you their blessings; so genuine and heartfelt? In a day and age where everyone seems to be a little self centered, voluntary well wishes like these should always be cherished and taken to heart.
Count your blessings. They don’t
come by as often. 


A group of youths on a two-week trip to a secluded place sounds
like something with high potential to backfire, or at the very least the
introductory line to a cautionary horror movie. I’m very happy to say
that things did not backfire. Well I mean, apart
from some casualties every now and then (swollen foot, stung by bees,
gastric pain,
the usual) but we had fun together. We had a lot of fun together.
Between the 11 of us we have an entire afternoon at the
Tom Harrison Memorial Hill, chilling out at the white verandah, beading, and
selfies, selfies, selfies. 

My experience in Bario could not have been as awesome as it was if any one in my team had been different. I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to meet and know such strong, intelligent people, and it’s nice to know that although the project has ended, we will always have Bario.

(I don’t actually have a story here, just wanted to show off the picture I took of the beads.)
Moving on to something a bit more serious, after coming back from Bario, when I came back and told people about my trip and life in Bario, I found that most of them reacted with stuff like “wow paddy planting! What a tiring life.” and similar things. Now, I will admit that when I first came to Bario, I compared life in Bario to city life quite often, but these days, I don’t know. I guess the words are said with good intentions but I find myself getting somewhat defensive because it just sounds patronizing. Sure, maybe some people are genuine and maybe I am reading too much into it. Or maybe I just know a lot of terrible people, I don’t know. But there is always this undercurrent of oh my god how could people live like that
in the words that I’ve come to expect when I tell people about my trip. Because I walk into Sina’s mother’s kebun
and she is perfectly contented tending to her fish pond. I watch my Sina
and her family effortlessly adapt to water rationing without a struggle.
And even if there was, it doesn’t make city life any better. 
I’m actually doing a terrible job explaining my thoughts, but luckily my fellow Project WHEE! participant Kan Wai Min similarly blogged about it in a way that is far more eloquent than anything I could say, in his post, Reassessing Happiness, Redefining Success.

Wai Min says: “It’s so fundamentally flawed to think that just because
someone doesn’t want, need or have the same things (tangible or intangible) that
you do, their sense of happiness is less
valid – because it is not.”

I probably sound like some spoiled person saying this but 2 weeks in Bario taught me that there is no rightful way to live. Just because someone spends their 9 – 5 planting paddy, it doesn’t mean that that value of life is any less compared to a 9 -5 in the office. Two weeks in Bario taught me to be open-minded when it came to new things. And not the kind of open-mindedness about accepting each other no matter our size or color (although that’s a very important things to be clear about so do keep your minds open!), but to really go in with a blank slate, watch and listen, learn and understand. 

To, Tepuk Uloh; Sincerely, Ganit.

To, Tepuk Uloh; Sincerely, Ganit.

Tepuq Uloh, my assigned lady; whom I fondly call Tepuq (Grandmother) now, is one of
the few ladies in Bario, Sarawak to still harvest paddy all on her own
physical self. No additional help nor machines. Little did I know, that this one aspect of my Tepuq led to so
many other interesting facts that would still stay in my mind as a reminder to
gratitude and moderation.
Due to my delayed arrival to Bario, my meet and greet session with my Tepuq was a 10 minute conversation over the dining table and that was it! A day before my work day, I
confirmed with my Tepuq what was I going to do the on my first work day. It came as a surprise when she told me to meet her at her paddy field the following morning. I must say of everything I expected, I did not expect us to head straight to the paddy field! I was a little disappointed that I could not stay
back at the home and simply get to know her further before getting into work,
but I had to also understand that taking away work time from her would have meant wasting great amount of hours on a bright day which permits completing or partially completing to plant paddy on one of her paddy fields.
A sleepless night filled with
anxiety and excitement all at once lea me to a little hut, close to a big plot
of muddy, empty land the following chilly morning. Closer to the mountains, so
beautiful and so serene. I could actually hear birds chirping and unknown
sounds from the surroundings. Extremely calming to the mind. Tepuq Uloh’s paddy field was there, empty. I was slowly getting excited to kick start the planting of paddy! 

that my clothes would get dirty in the mud, I was given a pair of trousers and
cardigan to protect me from the heat. I was moved at her level of concern when
I told her I was going to go in the paddy barefoot, and she had a good laugh
when I mentioned I was to go in barefoot because she was going in barefoot too.
All of these little moments, taking place after only about a 10-15 minutes of introduction
the day before.

Stepped my right foot into the paddy
with chills running down my spine. The feeling of a new adventure; so
refreshing, so delightful and so comforting in the hands of a caring Tepuq.
Whilst teaching her English words only related to the surroundings and the
planting season, I realized that she too, wanted to really just share some of her
stories and get to know me further. From there, I understood that she has
multiple paddy fields around the area and works all of it by herself. Almost half
a day into planting paddy, my heart just sank thinking how one individual, ONE
individual, does all of these immense physical work on her own self.
At this point, my back feels like
it’s breaking into two, my thigh muscles feels like its tearing and here is my
Tepuq next to me, who is 70+ years old bending her back to plant paddy, for
five days a week from dawn till dusk on
all her paddy fields while the season allows and above it all still able to crack really funny jokes. I wondered at their perseverance, hard work, and most of all, the ability to really just
smile and simply enjoy their day at work. I really admire how strong my Tepuq is!

was still my first day with her at the paddy field, and she kept asking my name
again and again in between casual conversations when later, she starts to call
me random names. It took me a while to notice that they were all Kelabit names.
 After a few names, she said, ‘Saya
panggil kamu Ganit!’ (‘I will call you Ganit!’) This moment still gets me every
time as I still remember how I was missing my father and when she said, ‘Ganit!
‘, I was thinking what a coincidence it is to have been given this name. To be
honest, I never thought I will leave Bario with a  Kelabit name, knowing how special it is to
receive one, thus; I felt very special to have received one so quickly and the
fact that she shared her grandchild’s name with me.
It was the days I spent at the paddy
field with my Tepuq that I learnt, one should not worry too much. If you enjoy your work; not as an obligatory job you must rigidly
fulfill every day, but really as an acceptance to what makes your heart feel
light, you can smile at the end of your day. The exhaustion just to plant one
box of paddy field taught me moderation. From the first day of paddy planting,
I made sure I am always moderate in the amount of rice I take on my plate as
wasting a grain feels like a fear. It is so sad to know how much we waste food
on an average not knowing how much it takes to produce a grain of rice, what
more a bag of rice.
For the entire life lesson series you
have directly and indirectly shared with me over my paddy planting hours; for
reminding me that having wealth in the form of dough does not mean the world,
for reminding me, that being grounded and humble will bring me a long way in
life and for celebrating life with a lot of simplicity.
Thank you for accepting me so quickly into your life and trusting me in sharing all your personal stories; Terima kasih, Tepuq  Uloh! 🙂