Everything Else Can Wait

Everything Else Can Wait

When we are not working in the paddy field or farms, Tepuq Doh Ayu and I would usually chill at home. I love how life in Bario is rather slow-paced and laid-back. There is no need to be guilty for not being ‘productive’ enough if you decide to spend your day sitting by the fireplace and chill together. There is so much that we could do together in Bario.
Fireplace is like the backbone of a longhouse where most of the family activities take place here. The warmth radiated from the burning firewood is the best companion amidst the chilly weather in Bario. We would eat, drink, relax and talk around the fireplace.

It is no surprise that a friendly and warm lady like my Tepu, her fireplace has became a popular hangout spot among the neighbours and relatives. 
We would sit down and have some nice conversation over cups of tea and bites of biscuits. The ambience is very lovely and relaxing. They often include me in their conversations and make me feel accepted as a part of the family. The conversation topics usually range from family, weather to work. Sometimes, I would ask Tepuq Doh Ayu about her Kelabit culture and lifestyles. She would then happily take up the role of a teacher and show me the traditional Kelabit beads and musical instrument.

Traditional Kelabit musical instrument is a tube zither made entirely of a poring bamboo. Tepu Doh Ayu slides her fingers across the bamboo strings gracefully and a beautiful melody is heard across the longhouse. She does it so effortlessly and elegantly which in fact I spend so much time attempting to master it 😛
Tepu Doh Ayu demonstrating Kelabit beads work.

Despite the fact that I couldn’t get a grasp of their Kelabit conversation fully, I enjoy observing how the whole conversation takes place so naturally. They would pay full attention to the others when they are talking and would in turn to take on the responsibility of keeping the conversation rolling. Even when there’s silent moment when the conversations pause occasionally, it is perfectly comfortable and pleasant as the they would retrieve the momentum of resuming the conversation very quickly.

That puts me on a deep reflection of our long lost culture, connecting with people wholeheartedly on a personal level. I remember in the older days when we were still young and smart phones did not exist, people would meet each other in the eyes, throw a smile in their direction when they bump into each other on street; or they would spend some quality time talking and enjoying each other’s company when friends and family gather.

Now the next best thing you’ll bump into on the street is either a wall or lamp post because you’re too busy looking down at your phone. 
In London, bumpers have been places around light posts to prevent pedestrians from slamming into them 😛
It is sad to notice that the crowded lively restaurant atmosphere which was once brimmed with laughter, has now been replaced by the tapping and clicking sound of smart gadgets.

There’s an interesting article about a research done in the U.S. to study the dramatic increase in the amount of time it takes to be served in restaurants nowadays. The main reasons are that nowadays customers are too preoccupied with taking photos upon entering, telling the waiters they are having problems connecting to the WiFi, taking photos of their food once it’s delivered to them and bumping into other customers and waiters as they enter and exit the restaurant as a result of texting while walking. ( read more here )
This change in the trend of communication occurs subtly throughout our daily lives and without much attention, you and I are prone to being carried away by phone screen and paying less attention to the real world out there. Having spent some quality time bonding with Tepu Doh Ayu and her family on a face-to-face level has offered me the room to ponder over our diminishing attention span for the people in front of us.

In this rat race and paper chase world, time has becoming a rare and priceless commodity where we have became more and more careful or even stingy with the use of it. When is the last time you have a long nice chat with someone? Can you still recall when is the last time you spend time with your family, doing nothing but merely enjoying each other’s presence and feeling the exchange of breath in the same room?
We often think that we live a separate live from others, having so caught up in our own schedule leaves us very little time to interact with others. However, people in Bario have shown me otherwise, they would unselfishly allocate time for friends and family, give undivided attention to each other when they speak and gladly spend their time away watching rainfall from the window or sipping tea together by the fireplace.

Bario has taught me that the best and universal gift one could offer is time

I’ve learnt to pay full attention to my surroundings because every moment counts and what has been missed cannot be recovered.

Everything else can wait, including the notification buttons on your phone or some unimportant newsfeed on your social media. At the end of the day what matters most is the people around us. 
As each of us get a fixed and limited time in this world, giving your precious time away to someone just show how important they are and how much you do care for them.
NYC aka Ubung Ahchuan
p.s. The writer would like to express her utmost gratitude for your precious time spent reading this blog 🙂
We’re On Each Other’s Team

We’re On Each Other’s Team

13 people.
13 different personalities. 13 sets of weird habits and quirks.
Living in the same space. For 16 days. In
unfamiliar conditions. Under occasionally extremely physical, emotional and
mentally stressful situations.
Sounds like
a recipe for disaster, no?
Well, no.
It actually wasn’t.
Living in the same space for 16 days…and there wasn’t always a lot of it.
Photo credit: The Project WHEE! team
somehow, the team was flawless. You couldn’t name a single positive attribute or
virtue that someone on the team didn’t have. And any of our not-so-nice traits
were balanced out, and more than made up for by the others. While I hate to
sound disgustingly cheesy: while alone, we were flawed, but all together we were pretty much the perfect team. We were a lean, mean, fighting teaching, community-serving
Thanks to
the Training of Trainers sessions prior to leaving, we had all sort of met each
other and gotten to know each other a little. We all found some common ground, acknowledged
a shared goal, formed the start of beautiful friendships and, with that, our
teamwork’s foundation started out strong.
And while
everyone was friendly and great and all, the cynic in me could not help but
imagine in vivid detail the many possible scenarios friction could occur… Like
when a bunch of physically tired teenagers having to wake up early in the morning
à la bears coming out from hibernation. When everyone is sweaty and
smelly and feeling gross and wants to shower first. When everyone’s fighting
over the last cookie from the last pack of Chipsmore in the entire longhouse. Somehow it just
didn’t seem possible that we would come out without strife. But that is exactly
what we did. Sure, not everything flowed the way we wanted it to all the time,
but we faced everything together and in true Bario style, we winged
#batch3isthebest #wheearefamily 
With all
that in mind, I’d like to explain – and thank each of my team mates for- what I
feel each person lent to the group as a whole…
Karthik, our
Gandalf (coined due to the “staff” he used when his foot was hurting), lent the
group a calm and quiet feeling of implicit safety. And when Tharu came along 10
days later, she filled in the spots we didn’t even know were missing in the
team effortlessly.
There is no
way there would have been as much laughter if Jinny hadn’t joined the team at
the last minute; she brought her blur-ness and her amazing ability to be
completely inappropriate in a somewhat appropriate way. YC was our Little Miss
Sunshine, even when the sun wasn’t shining. She was the extremely eager and eternal
optimist that always kept us looking on the bright side which contrasted yet
complimented Charu’s ever present wit and snark kept us all both on our toes
and doubled over in laughter and her mantra of “Today was a very good day…”
fast became a group chant during debriefs.
In a way, Kit
became our second mummy, as she looked after our needs and even learnt to
cook for us. The utter sincerity that she radiated was always appreciated, a
trait she shared with Jayne, who probably had the most good-natured and harmonious
personality of us all. The awkward confidence that Luki exudes is both charming
and amusing all at once. Deadpan, determined and an all round lovable dork, it
was both easy and hard to believe that he was the baby of the group.
resident diplomat and master of banter, Dom, kept the group’s communication
wide, (occasionally inappropriate) and open, helping everyone see each other’s
point of view. Yee Wan’s ability to instantly form connections with people was
invaluable both within the team, and when meeting new people in Bario.
spearheading the team were Rhon and Dan, for without whom we would have been
irrecoverably lost. Our Mama managed to strike the perfect balance between fun
and productivity, humour and staying on task. All while getting some serious
respect and loyalty for the amount of heart and care she carries around in working
towards the betterment of everyone involved. Daddy Dan the amazingly sporting,
Bollywood-dancing Rhon’s Rhock could be extraordinarily perceptive and
intuitive when needed and an all out retard when things needed to
lighten up.
For this
team I am infinitely grateful, for they helped make Project WHEE! one of the
best experiences of my life. There are  no words.
With much, much, much love,

To Anywhere-land

To Anywhere-land

Being with Tepuq Sinah
Rang is quite an adventure. She’s always spontaneous about what we will do for
the day. There are no fixed plans, but just on-the-spot decisions about where
to go and what to do.
Whenever I ask her what
we were going to do for the day, she will answer “Like yesterday, you will
cucuk manik, bead.” So we beaded and this was our routine for about a
However, one morning,
when asked what we will be doing, she said we were going out. When asked where,
she answered “Anywhere!”
Few minutes later, she
came in a set of changed clothes and she asked me to change.
I couldn’t have guessed
any better, but put on my arm gloves since she was in long sleeves. 
I came back upstairs and
she looked at me and asked “Yesus?” (Yesus means Jesus in Malay)
I was completely stunned
and I just stood in front of her looking lost for a couple of seconds, thinking
if I should be saying a prayer in Malay since she mentioned the word Jesus.
And not knowing what she
meant, I answered “Downstairs.”
Thankfully, she was
walking down with me and she put on her boots. Immediately I knew she meant
“Your shoes.” So I went and got my pair of trusty Kampung Adidas (rubber shoes).
I came out, and the next
thing she said to me “Go upstairs to the manik room and take the
Since she said we were
going “Anywhere”, I thought to myself, maybe she was going to show another
Tepuq or a friend, her progress on the making of the traditional Kelabit hat, pata.

So, being the complete
blur case, I took the pata that she was still working on, and stood
outside waiting for her to take me to “Anywhere.”
She must have gotten the
shock of her life because when she saw me, she immediately said “Eh, nooo! Take this
hat. (While pointing to the hat she was wearing)”
I quickly ran back up to place the
pata back to where it initially was and then ran downstairs to the girls’
dorm to retrieve my cap from my suitcase, because all the hats in the room were
too fancy for a klutz to put on.
We got on her motorbike and we
headed to a jungle nearby. She taught me to pluck tengahyan, a jungle vegetable
which is really delicious. 
Also, she got bamboo shoots for our lunch and
She demonstrated her strength in
using a parang to cut the outer layers of the bamboo and only take what is
edible for us. No doubt, she’s really stronger than most of us. 

Tepuq, I am truly sorry for giving you a complete blank face many times. 
Thank you
for showing me the other part of the world, a jungle farm. Life is truly
interesting with you and I enjoyed my trip to anywhere-land with you. If there was a place as such in the city where I reside in, I would absolutely love to take you there and find green treasures that would be our meal together.  

Beading Bonding Sessions

Beading Bonding Sessions

In Tepuq Sinah Rang’s homestay,
there’s a handicraft shop located on the first floor. Tepuq beads, and sells her
wonderfully handmade products all in the confines of a small room. 
When I was asked to “cucuk
manik”, bead, I told myself that it’s gonna be easy, just be patient and
learn. (This was because it was my first time making something for sale, and it
has to be nice or decently acceptable, at least in my standards.)
I spent the first week with her
sitting down to bead. 
Most of the time, we would bead at her verandah. The view is simply breathtaking. 
It was interesting to see how she works on the
traditional Kelabit cap, pata, and patiently align every bead together
according to colors and sizes.

It was also fascintating to
witness what small colorful beads can turn into, with the skills of the
talented Tepuq.
Rhon, one of our project
coordinators, named these sessions “Beading Bonding Sessions” because essentially, you bond with the person you bead with. Besides, it is the most therapeutic
thing to do. 
Yes, I bonded with Tepuq as she sat next to me while we beaded. Her
presence, her skills, her coffee breaks in between, helps me know a little more
about her. Also, when my other teammates were free, they joined in to bead with
As a generous host, Tepuq gives
every guest a “kaboq”. 

Kabuk is a traditional Kelabit necklace which comes
in different sizes and colors. The buah rantai (middle part of the necklace), varies

The traditional one is in red or yellow, however, our batch received a
mix-colored buah rantai. It has a special meaning to it.

She spent few nights, barely
getting enough rest, to make them for the 13 of us in Batch 3 of this project. 
There were a couple of times where
Tepuq took small chat breaks in between and shared her interesting life story to
me, while sipping her favorite beverage, 3-in-1 coffee. I was truly privileged to be
her listener and at all times we were both teary-eyed.
She shared with me that since she was
born, her life wasn’t a bed of roses. She never knew who her father was, how he
looked like; through it all, she realized how her life was made meaningful through hardships
she faced, and how she’s really grateful for many things.
Tepuq, thank you for teaching me to
be grateful, to just be contented; to not complain with what I have. You were
always thankful for everything that has been given unto you. I’ve never heard
you complain about anything at any point of time. Yes, I am still learning to just be like you in this area of contentment. 
Fun fact: If you’re ever wondering
whether I was a total klutz in our beading sessions, yes I was. I accidentally
spilled a whole container of beads onto the ground. Thankfully, Tepuq wasn’t
there or I wouldn’t have known what her reaction could’ve been! Phew!


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. 

Community Lifestyle

Community Lifestyle

Bario, I’ve come to realized that everything is different. A huge part of this
observed difference was their lifestyle.
in Bario mostly live in a longhouse together, only separated by walls that
divide their rooms from one family to another.
Common Hall of the Longhouse
people in the longhouse are related to each other, by way of marriage or by
birth. That would mean that your neighbor is also your cousin, or your long-distance related uncle, or simply put, a relative.
I often find ladies or Tepuqs (grandmothers in Kelabit) who would swing by the dining
area to have a little chat or to just share some food with one another. Something
you can barely find these days; neighbors sharing a simple meal or a laugh
just a lovely sight to behold – being with loved ones around you. Their presence
is more than words can describe.
be honest, this community lifestyle is something I can only dream of while
living the city life with all my extended family members scattered in different
parts of this bustling town. We only meet during family events (and that’s less
than the fingers we have).
most residents in Bario are Christians. That speaks of the church bell that
will be rung every morning at 5.15am.
all the Tepuqs, I have noticed that every detail of their lives was pretty much
known to one another.
example, in Batch 3, one of our batch-mates had a swollen foot due to an
infection he caught in Tioman Island. In no less than a day, many in the
longhouse were informed about his condition. One night, the ladies came over
after their prayer meeting in church, to pray for our friend.
found that very touching, although I was not the one that they prayed for. This
is because their lifestyle is such that they care for people around them, and
because of their religious beliefs, they prayed for every matter they come to know
I have to admit that when I tell my friends who need prayers that I would pray
for them, memory will fail me and I will forget about praying for them. This
incident reminded me of how I should be living out my prayer life.

apart, churching in Bario is quite different too. One of the Sundays when we were in
church, they called out different groups of people, for instance, fathers,
mothers, young adults and youths. Each group had to go up to the stage and sing
a song.
the rest of the congregation would stretch out their hands to pray for those on
What a pleasure to have people in
church always praying for you! 
it all, a community lifestyle in Bario provides a strong spiritual base for its
members to live their days in full meaning with worshiping God and sharing
life with each other.

what a way to live! 
Heartwarming (the ‘step’ my foot took)

Heartwarming (the ‘step’ my foot took)

My journey to and in Bario didn’t went as planned nor as
expected. It was completely different, well at least at for a certain period
of time of the project.

31st July 2014
Taking off on a turbo propeller plane to Bario from Miri
International Airport on a clear Thursday morning, my mind was filled with
excitement and joy. I could hear my heart pounding on my chest from the
anticipation of what lies ahead of me as the plane took from the tarmac and
glided through the fresh uncontaminated Sarawak air.
The propeller plane made a rather smooth landing when given
the size of the aircraft is relatively small thanks to both the pilots who were
piloting our journey. Of course, being the gen-Y kids we had to pull out our
cameras for quick shots upon arrival in Bario Airport. Walking through the
airport arrival gate, we were greeted by a number of locals who were very
friendly and even more welcoming to us. Rest of the day had been delightful
with meeting people and chatting with them. It was also the day that I had one
of the longest naps, could have been hours but I’m not sure.
1st August 2014
Woken up by the cold breeze of Bario air around 5.30am, I
scuffled my blanket and wrapped my whole body into it creating a barrier from
the cold to contain my body heat. I was never a fan of cold places but I
thought, “This is not bad, I’ve gone through temperatures 18 degrees below
freezing”. Barely an hour went past I could hear the footsteps of people
walking around the house. The wooden frame and floors creeks and echoes the
sound of steps whenever someone walks. The longhouse is waking up, I decided
I should join them and get cleaned. I made the biggest mistake of my life, I
took a handful of water running from the tap and splashed it on my face. Oh
boy, let me tell you how shocked I was when the ice cold water hit my face, I
was so shocked that I literally jumped a step back and shrieked.

All of Batch 3 prepared to go for a hike up Prayer Mountain
located about 20 minutes brisk walk from Bario Asal. The climb up was amazing,
especially when done with such a euphoric team where someone always cracks up
jokes and everyone just laughs.

Oh, I forgot to mention one very important note; in fact it
is the reason for this post. My right foot. A small bite I obtained from a
diving trip in Tioman island had developed into a wound and got infected
somewhere in the journey from Tioman to Bario, I’ve had slight pain ever since
getting into Miri but I did not let that halt my excitement. Unfortunately, it
kept getting severe and started to swell.
So, the journey back to the footsteps of Prayer Mountain was
a bit painful and my feet was aching every step I took. I didn’t want to worry
anyone, but the whole batch showed so much concern towards me. I told myself,
“Pain is the weakness leaving the body” and kept continuing the journey.
Fate was not on my side that day, as soon as I reached the
foot of the mountain, my right foot was swollen. A visit to the local clinic
soon after that and I was attended by a friendly doctor who chatted throughout
the diagnosis. I was advised to rest and take antibiotics for next 3 days and
see the progress.
2nd August 2014
I had gone to bed all covered up with blanket and I woke up
with the blanket lying effortlessly still on my body. Grabbed the tip of my
blanket and moved it sideways to examine the condition of my foot and to my
horror, my foot swell a lot bigger. The first steps I took on that morning
became a daunting task as the pain was terrible in comparison to the days
before. My day was never the same, I was forced to limit my movement and my
activities. Although I was feeling disappointed with myself for not being a
productive member, everyone of batch 3 showed so much compassion and gave
endless care just to make me feel better. I was given priority to take the
shower early, to have best seat and even to be the first person to take the

3rd August 2014
Waking up and examining my foot again to find no
improvement, it was still as swollen as the day before. Same excruciating pain
and limitation to my activities for the day.

Tepuq Sinah Rang who was our homestay host has been keeping a
close eye on my condition and has been very worried. She said prayers before
we had our dinner and included me in the prayer to have my foot recovered as
soon as possible and so did everyone. I was already moved by the time and
effort that everyone spared to have me recovered and feel healthy again.

What happened that night, really moved my heart. Tepuq Sinah
Rang had few other tepuqs called in after dinner to have prayer just for me.
“That is very thoughtful of everyone. Why would anyone spend their weekend
night for someone who they only knew for 2 days?” But these people did, all the
tepuqs came to have a get well soon prayer for me together with my beloved batch
3 mates. It was such a heartwarming moment for me, I nearly teared.


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.

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

First I want to talk about the night before our last day in Bario, because this is something that means a lot to me. Sina Sarina, the woman I was assigned to for the duration of Project WHEE!, asked me to come over for a farewell dinner of sorts. Sina went to the trouble of cooking food with a little extra spice, which is something because chillies are not easy to come by, and made midin again for me. 
Sina’s mother, joined us that night and we had dinner while watching a sappy Malay drama on the TV. Afterwards, Tepuq made me hot coffee while the girls, Supang and Mujan, painted my nails with glow in the dark pink polish that I haven’t had the heart to remove yet. 
My days with Sina Sarina were spent mainly in the school where she worked. Each morning I would slowly make my way to the local high school, slowly because there was just so much of beauty to take in. My last day in Bario started off with another one of my precious walks, with the huge sawah on either sides of me, still waters reflecting the morning sky, and the mountains covered in mists and the air so fresh and cool. (I’m just going to squeeze in every picture of the sky I took okay)
At SMK Bario, I took some time to say goodbye to the people I’ve met there. As a university student on a temporary trip, I had no expectations of being treated in any special way. But the folk in SMK Bario did me good. The teachers, who took the time to talk to me and even invite me to their Hari Raya jamuan, and the school workers, who were always good to me and even included me in on their weekly meetings, where they graciously spoke in Bahasa Melayu instead of Kelabit for my benefit. I respect and appreciate those gestures a lot. So I said goodbye… and then joined my Sina and another teacher for tea and delicacies. (I told you guys, I get fed a lot.) 
Hilltop at SMK Bario
At 12 it was back to Sina’s home for lunch, where she refused my offers of help and set about making lunch, so I decided to go hang out with Mujan. Mujan got a ton of homework that day, so we colored while waiting. 
Me      : Mujan, ada ke elephant warna orange?
Mujan : Elephant Mujan ada!
When it was time for me to go back, the kids and Sina walked me home. We stopped by Sina’s sawah so I could say goodbye to Sina’s father, which was also where Sina got four pineapples for me. While walking out of Arur Dalan, holding hands and talking, I took the opportunity to tease Dayang and Supang about their crushes, and then sagely offered some kakak wisdom about focusing on their education. At the longhouse, tears were shed and promises were made, lots of hugs happened. But it’s not so bad. 

It’s been one week since we came back from Bario. These days I get calls from Ee, Sina’s older son and Supang will grab the phone to tell me she misses me. Ee never opens with ‘hello’, he starts off with ‘buat apa kamu?’ and Mujan laughs more than she talks on the phone, and Sina will text me ‘good morning Lipang’ – which is the Kelabit name she gave me.   

I’ve learned and been granted so much and truly, it has been a privilege, and thank you so much to the gracious people of Bario. From Tepuq Sinah Rang, who hosted us and took such good care of us, to our Bario Asal project coordinator, Aunty Nicole, to everyone who came to send us off at the airport. It’s been a great 2 weeks.