Tepuq Daging!

Tepuq Daging!

Week 2. It was a
fine morning, and my assigned lady – Tepuq Ulo was cooking wild boar in her
kitchen. She lives right next door to our homestay, so I always went over and greeted her after waking up. I decided to try conversing to her in simple English that
she was taught earlier.
Me: ‘Good
Morning Tepuq! How are you?’
Tepuq Ulo:
Me: ‘What
is your name, Tepuq?’
Tepuq Ulo: ‘Daging (Meat).’
Both of us
burst out laughing although I silently worried if my efforts had gone to
waste. It turned out she was just messing with me. Phew. The
name Tepuq Daging stuck through our stay though. 
I have to
admit the first week of working with Tepuq Ulo wasn’t easy. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an amazing lady! She just had a lot of difficulty remembering the words I
taught her and every time I asked her a word in English I received a
short ‘tidak tahu (don’t know)’ as an answer. Although
we were told by our coordinators to work according to our own tepuqs’ pace, I couldn’t help but feel the
pressure when Tepuq Ulo wasn’t making much progress.  I constantly reminded myself to find the balance
between building a relationship and reaching our goals.
But things
took a turn on the seventh day. Tepuq Ulo finally asked me ‘How are you?’ when
I said good morning. I FELT LIKE A PROUD MOM GRANDDAUGHTER. That simple greeting from Tepuq
Ulo gave me a boost and reminded me of my purpose in Bario – to teach her English so that she can work as a community guide.  
Tepuq Ulo
is the coolest grandmother I could ever ask for! Tepuq
Sinah Rang calls her ‘Tepuq Pelik’ because she can be so weird at times, in a
good way of course. She’s always the one that’s cracking inappropriate jokes
and ends up laughing at herself. Oh man, that laugh is so contagious we all end
up laughing like madmen. Especially when she teams up with her friend, Tepuq Ribed,
the jokes and teases never end. That’s just one of the reasons I
absolutely adore her.  
After work. She’s so adorableeeeeeee <3
Tepuq Ribed (left) can never stop laughing at Tepuq Ulo’s jokes
Like all
the Bario ladies, she’s very tough. Working next to her, I’m ashamed to say I
feel like the older person of the duo. She could lift one bag of rice weighing
50kg all by herself! One time I saw a small snake and I was so fascinated I stood there staring at it. Tepuq Ulo immediately said ‘Bunuh dia (kill it)’ and chopped
it into four pieces with a parang. I just stood there open mouthed and in awe
while the pieces of the poor snake continued moving. 
diligence will never cease to amaze me. She built a fence from scratch
to stop chickens from going into her garden. It was a lot of work! She’s also never lazy to take preventive measures. Once, when I went to her cornfield,
and she built a shade out of canvas cloth and wooden sticks before
we started working. And again, it wasn’t an easy job. To be honest, I thought it
was pointless because there were plenty of trees to protect us from the hot
sunlight! In the afternoon when it started raining, that was when I learnt how
wrong I was. That extra time and effort she took to build the shade kept both
of us warm and dry.

Tepuq Ulo feeding her hen and chicks.
paddy field work or weeding was always made less painful by Tepuq Ulo. She would tell me funny stories or we would laugh at each other for the stupid things we did while
working. But it was very heart-warming when she made me a hot cup of Milo and boiled
me hot water to shower after we had to run back from the paddy field in the
rain, tie my shoelaces around my pants to prevent leeches
from attacking my legs, search the whole homestay for something for me to eat before I departed to SK to teach, and even an act as
simple as lending me her umbrella because it was raining mades me feel warm. She
treated me like family.
Nearing the
end of my stay, when she asked me what I would like to bring back to KL, I
would always say I wished to pack her in my luggage bag and bring her back home. Missing
you, Tepuq Daging!
-Pei Chi-
‘What makes you laugh?’ 
‘Tepuq Ulo.’
The card I drew for Tepuq Ulo featuring her paddy field.
Excuse my drawing skills, I only had Sharpies to work with 😛
Bario through My Eyes

Bario through My Eyes

“Photos, the sights you see, souvenirs, everything fades in comparison
to the experience that changes you from your core. The change is always for the
better, and it is always a cherished memory for people in the end. Don’t let
fear hold you back – go out there and meet people of the world, it would be
fun, I promise” – unknown
Before I went to Bario, I did zero research about Bario on purpose. I wished to explore Bario by immersing myself into their
community and I am very happy with my decision because I got surprised every day.
Most of you might have a question in your mind: “Where is
Bario, the home of the Kelabits and Penans, is
located at the northeast of Sarawak, Malaysia. It is very close to Kalimantan,
Indonesia. Although Bario is part of Malaysia, not many Malaysians know about
it. To get to
Bario, you have to either take 50 minute flight or a 12
hour car journey from Miri. Throughout my three-week stay in Bario, I always
thought that I was somewhere overseas
. Why? Simple because…
The food is different.
The culture is different.
The weather is different
The language is different.
Everything seems so different.

Imagine eating wild boar for almost every meal… it doesn’t sound Malaysian, right? Besides, in Bario, you will have
pineapple everyday.
They don’t only eat pineapple as a fruit, they eat pineapple as a dish pineapple curry!! What’s more, you eat jungle vegetables (midin, dure,
paku, tengayan…) on daily basis. You hardly find nasi lemak, chicken rice,
laksa, and mee mamak – the typical Malaysian food in Bario. It is definitely
unusual for a typical Peninsular Malaysian. Wouldn’t you think that you have traveled to some other part of the
world eating these exotic food each day?

The super warm Bario people! 😀 😀

Apart from the food, the villagers of Bario are a bunch of
warm and friendly people. In Bario, you can easily hitch a ride if you wish to.
People would love to give you a hand if they are able to do so. The longer you stay in Bario, the more you will love them. You will realise that people there do not take things for granted. They appreciate everything they have. They pray to express their gratitude to God even for a cup of water or a can of Coke. Do we do that? Frankly, I do not. Some say New
Zealand is most probably the last paradise on earth. I think Bario should
be one too.

Other than that, you tend to become more grateful when you are in Bario. Hot shower becomes a luxury. It is impossible to make a
phone call if you don’t have a Celcom number. For your information, Celcom has
the steadiest phone signal in Bario whereas Digi or Maxis signal is
very, very weak. It is possible to get Internet connection at Bario but it is
either very slow or not working at all. Many things that we can easily
get back home become a luxury here.

Located in the highlands, Bario has a much cooling weather. Hence,
the villagers start fire to keep them warm at night. Yes, starting a fire to keep
warm in Malaysia! Cool, isn’t it? 😉

In Bario, people mostly communicate with each other in Kelabit.

In Bario, there is no petrol station.
In Bario…

There are a lot more to share about Bario but it is
hard for me to fit everything in a post. For me, Bario is a hidden gem that
waiting to be uncovered. 

Bario, you
will always have a special place in my heart. I deeply appreciate you for all the profound lessons that I learnt from the amazing people, lush paddy fields, and big blue skies. I will be back one day, I promise! ^o^/

I will be back for the amazing view and the lovely people 🙂


The first lady that I was assigned to was Tepuq Supang. Tepuq Supang stays in Arur Dalan, a village near Prayer Mountain. Every morning, I had to wake up earlier than my batch mates to have breakfast before leaving to Arur Dalan.
It was a 15 minutes walk from our homestay, Sinah Rang Lemulun Homestay in Bario Asal. The panorama along the way to and from Arur Dalan was breathtaking and of course, a lot of pictures were taken. 

Muddy and rocky path towards Arur Dalan village
First view of the Arur Dalan village
Since my first day with Tepuq Supang, I realized how tough and strong she is. It was a very adventurous first day with Tepuq as we went into the jungle to collect ubud (pineapple shoot), midin (fern) and planted some durian trees and maize plants. We cleared the way into the jungle which was really cool. Tepuq cleared the shrubs the whole time while I just followed her. It was my first time holding a parang I nearly slashed my feet. Thank God. I didn’t. Tepuq always enters the jungle alone. Imagine how brave she is. 
Tepuq collecting midin to cook for lunch
An exchange between me and tepuq when we were picking midin:

Tepuq: Neh…this midin…why you didn’t see the midin
Me: Erm……..
Tepuq: There are a lot here…..neh…neh…neh…all midin….
Me: ……@#$@…….(confused)

What I saw was a whole lot of green; everything looked the same to me. To pick midin among the whole stretch of greenery was like fishing for a needle from the sea. 
Tepuq also has an Olympic-size paddy field which she manages. To get to her paddy field, it takes a 10 minutes walk from the Arur Dalan longhouse. As a budak bandar, my first time working in the paddy field created a lot of laughter. 

“No, not cut like this…”
“Wrong wrong…”

Tepuq kept laughing while she corrected the way I cut the paddy stalks and advised me to be careful. For me, working in the paddy field under the hot sun was super tiring and exhausting but for Tepuq, she never complained about her tiredness but kept asking me, “Tired kah? Go to rest.” 
Tepuq cutting the paddy full with style

I still remember my last day with Tepuq, I made a promise with her that if we didn’t finish clearing the remaining of the paddy field, we wouldn’t go for lunch as Tepuq said no one will be helping her in the field anymore. On that day, we worked from 9am until 3pm finished to clear the rest of the paddy field. 6 hours of work is extremely grueling. We cleaned ourselves a bit before dragging our feet back to the longhouse. Although I could feel that Tepuq was super exhausted, but she still cooked a scrumptious lunch for me.  
Last lunch with Tepuq
Uncle Stanley (Tepuq’s husband) and Tepuq Supang, thank you for taking good care of Massey (my Kelabit name)!
Jungle Expedition

Jungle Expedition

One of the ladies I was assigned to for the second half of my time in Bario was Tepuq Sina Do Ayu, a caring lady who made sure I was always full and fed me relentlessly. Most of my days were spent weeding her garden and pineapple farm or helping her with cooking and beading. Other than that, I relaxed and chatted with her family quite a bit.
Tepuq’s daughter, Sina Katherine was back from Miri and on her last day in Bario, she wanted to pick jungle vegetables.
That was the beginning of one of my most memorable moments in Bario.
The four of us (Tepuq Sina Do Ayu, Tepuq Do Ayo (her husband), Sina Katherine and myself) left for Arur Laab jungle before 10am. Everyone was in long pants and long sleeves. My tepuq had graciously borrowed me boots while everyone else was in shoes or slippers.
View along the way to the Arur Laab jungle.
And so we began our little expedition towards the jungle walking up and down hill, crossing Tepuq Supang’s paddy fields and finally reaching a hut where water from the dam passed through. After that, it was the overgrown rain forests of Sarawak.
The paths were narrow and we bent and climbed over tree barks. At one point, the road gave way to only tree roots where we stepped and walked on with nothing but a steep slope beneath us if we were to fall. We saw porcupine quills along the route and since it had only rained the day before, there were plenty of leeches! It wasn’t my first time seeing a leech (it was my second!) but it was my first time seeing live leeches unattached to a body.
Wriggling little creatures of hell.
Leech chilling on a leaf, waiting for the next unsuspecting victim.
By that time, some leeches had already clung onto my tepuq but she just pulled them off and chopped them up with her parang (machete) like it was nothing. I had leeches clinging on to my pants and boots but none on my skin. My tepuq even had one on her neck! I just stood there wide eyed while she nonchalantly chopped up the leech and smiled at me.
Yes, it is as badass as it sounds.
After that, I got a little paranoid and began to pat on my neck and shoulders periodically.
On our way through the forests, we had to walk across a small waterfall. It was not a problem for me as I had the boots on and could walk across with my pants still dry. However, both my tepuqs and sina insisted I step carefully on the rocks to keep even my boots dry while they treaded the water, holding my hand and got their pants wet up to their shins.
I was really moved that they cared so much for me and truly felt like I was a part of the family; like I was their precious cucu (grandchild).

Our hike into the forest continued where we kept our eyes open for dure, a type of jungle vegetable.
Dure looks like a green leaf.

That was an unhelpful but very accurate description. I was given my own little plastic bag where I could fill it with any kind of leaf that I THOUGHT was a jungle vegetable. I knew my leaves were going to be evaluated later lest I picked some poisonous or inedible leaf. :X

Our hike continued into a field of renuyun where most of the contents of my little bag came from.
A field of renuyun. The only place I could confidently pick jungle veggies!
My tepuq holding up renuyun leaves.
While plucking the leaves, I kept asking Tepuq Sina Do Ayu where were we and what we were doing in English. I was drilling the phrases “We are in the jungle” and “We are picking jungle vegetables” over and over again. She couldn’t answer me when I asked her the same questions 5 minutes later so she got Sina Katherine to help her answer instead.

After filling one basket (we had two) with renuyun and dure, we continued uphill where we saw the dam that was the source of water for Arur Dalan village.

We later went on a route that led to something like a banana garden in the middle of the jungle where the two tepuqs quickly got to work. They collected the banana flowers and the “ubud” which are smooth white piths located deep in the middle of the bark of the banana trees.

There was a Pineapple Ceremony at 2pm later that afternoon in the Bario Asal longhouse and so the older people of the group (Tepuq Sina Do Ayu and Tepuq Do Ayo, the pros) began chopping up the banana trees like crazy while the younger ones (Sina Katherine and myself, the inexperienced kids) stood watching by the side without parangs (they didn’t trust me with a knife! >=[).

They worked fast and hard so Tepuq Sina Do Ayu and I could make it back in time for the Pineapple Ceremony. Watching them work struck me again how impressive these tepuqs are. Age is not a factor. You can decide whether or not to be physically fit into your sixties or seventies. Age is just a number.
Badass tepuqs “skinning” the banana barks.
After filling our second basket, we rushed home to attend the ceremony. Unfortunately, my tepuq and I still ended up late for the Pineapple Ceremony.
Nevertheless, it was a great day. It was my first time going so deep into the jungle and also my first time picking jungle veggies! What an adventure! Throughout the escapade, I was really moved by how everyone constantly worried and reminded me to be careful. They were very patient with me taking small steps along the steep parts as I am clumsy on my feet. The tepuqs also insisted on carrying the heavy baskets all the way back home but I carried one of them anyway. 🙂
All in all, it was a wonderful day. I probably say this since I was the only one with boots (THANK YOU SO MUCH TEPUQ!) and also the only one who walked out of the jungle without any leech bites!
(From left: Sina Katherine, Tepuq Do Ayo, Tepuq Sina Do Ayu)
Tepuq and family! Peace out!
Elusive Affection

Elusive Affection

The first lady I was assigned to was Aunty Tagung, someone who cared deeply but didn’t always show it. My first week with her was mostly doing housework like laundry, mopping, sweeping, clearing cobwebs etc. in preparation to receive guests in her homestay.

the pillows and blankets and making sure no birds come and poop on them

likes to say the spiders here work as hard as the women.
clean, tomorrow come back.”

Clearing cobwebs in Bario is futile…

She even went the extra mile to prepare liquid soap for the guests even though I told her that a bar of soap would suffice. Through how hard she prepared and how overboard she went for the arrival of the guests, I could tell that the Bario hospitality was strong in her. When the guests arrived, she would smile her most genuine smile, the kind of smile I wondered why I never managed to pull out of her.
For a while I had thought maybe she just didn’t really like me. Many times she sent me off to do other work while she did hers. She even criticized my mopping. (I blame the children for running all over my work! >=[ ) 
After the busy first week, Aunty Tagung was no longer expecting guests in her homestay and we were back to doing what she does normally: gardening.
view from her garden.

view; weeding the pineapple aisle in her garden.

She only trusted me with weeding and even that she criticized! I really began to believe that maybe she just really doesn’t like me but at the end of the day before I went back, she said “Thank you, darling.”
It was a moment that threw me off and caught me completely off guard. I had previously thought she didn’t like me. After that, I started to think about moments of kindness from her that I had failed to pick up on; like how she lent me boots into her garden full of sharp zinc plates and how she constantly told me to be careful lest I got cut and how she would always ask about what I like to eat and avoid cooking food that I don’t like. I would have picked up on these little cues earlier had I been more attentive.
I realized that she was just a caring person who didn’t know how to properly express herself so I started paying attention.
On our last day together, she had opened up so much. We ended up chatting and laughing a lot. She even prepared salmon for lunch! I almost never have salmon at home let alone in Bario!
My kampung
adidas wound 1-2 weeks into healing.

Remember to wear socks with your kampung adidas

Later that evening she had asked who my next tepuq will be for the next week and a half after her. I told her that it was Tepuq Sina Do Ayu in Arur Dalan. She then asked me if I had her phone number. I told her no and asked why. She told me that she wanted to call my new tepuq and tell her not to bring me to the paddy fields as I had a wound on my foot. I was really moved.
I didn’t see her for a week and a half after that while I shadowed Tepuq Sina Do Ayu. It wasn’t until our last night in Bario (Cultural Night) and on the day of our flight back to Miri that I finally saw her again and the genuine smiles she finally gave me.
On the day of my flight, Aunty Tagung had even cycled all the way to the airport to bid me farewell. When I asked permission to ride her bike for a few moments before I flew off, she was apprehensive and worried I would fall down!
My time with Aunty Tagung taught me that even though someone doesn’t outright say they love you or show you affection, you got to be attentive enough to pick up on the hints and subtleties. Only then you will see the affection and care people weave into their words and actions.