Tuesday With Tepuq

Tuesday With Tepuq

Nuba Laya [noo-ba la-ya]

Food. A main course made of rice wrapped in a leaf called Daun Isip (which is the malay word for leaf, I know.) and then steamed to look very much similar to the Chinese traditional rice dumpling; a staple during my lunches with Tepuq, and something I can never finish alone.

Makan. Habiskan.” (Eat it. Finish it.) Tepuq would always say to me in her sing-song voice. But Tepuq! I would always manja, I don’t eat a lot 🙁 I really don’t.

My favourite set of dishes: cherry tomatoes + catfish,
with my legs soaking in the paddy field.

Here’s a not-so secret: I’m always the last one to finish my food during lunch. Not only that, I also eat very slowly because I tend to get full easily – and Tepuq notices too! Eventually after many days of her observation (and me convincing that her food is really good! + it’s just me!), she came to accept that I’m a small eater and lets me give half of my nuba laya to Tok. Yay! I really appreciate little gestures like that, because God knows how seriously people in Bario take their food.

This happened on a slightly gloomy Tuesday with Tepuq.

I’m not sure why I was feeling both sad and stressed out that morning. Heck, finally being able to visit Tepuq’s sawah near Bario Asal for the first time was supposed to be an exciting adventure for me, but I couldn’t help it and secretly whined about the heat. I forgot to bring my gloves as well; another downer.

The beauty though.

Luckily for me, Tepuq was ever patient and loving. She wasn’t fazed by my slight moodiness, and served breakfast by the paddy field as usual. That day, she was more initiative in asking me questions, and practicing pronounciations with me. It always makes me super glad to see an eagerness in learning language – something that keeps me going.

What is XXX in English?” I especially love it when she asks me things in English itself!

 I taught her the word “picnic”.

My mood lightened up soon enough (before noon). Thank goodness.

We ended work later than usual that day as there was more to do, and I’d forgotten my phone so I couldn’t keep track of time anyway. Being so used to the fast-paced life here in the city, I relished in the luxury of a timeless atmosphere during my stay in Bario (after taking some time to get used to it); perhaps that is why I love the place so much.

I enjoy Tepuq and Tok’s company, the way they’d always bicker (lovingly) about paddy things and how Tok would just give me his best smile like he was amused by Tepuq’s words. Maybe he was, I’m not sure, I still don’t speak fluent Kelabit, haha.

A couple that took me as their own grandchild, they named me Cathrine – not exactly the most Kelabit name (in fact, it’s Christian) but I love it. They had given me their daughter’s name.

Interesting fact: Names for new family members are to be chosen from exisitng names in the family. I’m honoured to be part of this Kelabit culture. 🙂

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

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!

Start Blank, Then Stop, Look and Listen

Ever imagined stepping into a foreign environment and meeting new people? We have been there before, meeting great people and not-so-great people. Once in a while before experiencing another culture, we are briefed on that culture, its dos and don’ts. However, we get so immersed in the happenings and events that we forget about the rules and norms. Sometimes, our beliefs about something is inaccurate or worse, offensive towards others. Maybe it is time to just stop for a while……
Let’s start with the biggest group of outsiders in Bario at that time: us. Most of the team have been through ToT (Training of Trainers) workshops, learning about what we are going into, and knowing where is safe to tread around. Those countless hours of culture sensitivity and stuff were not all a waste, in fact it did prepare some to a certain extent. Nevertheless, there were always some incidents that occurred because people momentarily forgot about which buttons to not push, incidents that can be avoided if we just stop and look. I admit, all of us had some hard time trying to tread around the norms and common rules of others there. We are human, who commits mistakes, but don’t you think some common mistakes can be easily avoided? There were numerous cases where misunderstanding could be avoided if people took more time to understand the situation better.

Batch 3 Group Selfie (Credits to Alicia)
We had our misunderstandings within the team and as a team with others, sometimes due to miscommunication, others rash actions. In the end, we have this big argument and discord among others which takes days to be settled. In most cases, all the intentions were good, it just was conveyed in a not-so-perfect manner. My Aunty Tagung, the lady I was assigned to, told me once that she was uncomfortable with people because they just talk too much, and not giving her enough privacy at times. I assume that those people have good intentions and just wanted a friendly chat, but maybe there is a limit to everything. There were times where people did not understand the situation clearly and jump into rash conclusions, making the situation worse than ever. If only all of us did take our time and analyse it more, many incidents can be avoided.
During my time with Project WHEE! in Bario, we came across foreign tourists staying at the area. 
Most were actually very heart-warming people, people who wished you could have known them better. There were also people who already had their stereotyped mind-set on others, enforcing their own ideology to make conclusions of some things. When we step into a totally new environment, we have to enter it with a clean, blank mind, without any assumptions or preconceptions of the place. It makes a lot of difference not to assume things, and acting safe with others. The assumption of wrong ideas may cause some discomfort towards others, because the mind-set we have on them would subconsciously be translated into our actions, tone and words. We may not notice those changes, but many on the receiving end do detect them. Those heart-warming tourists were very courteous in nature and were very thoughtful in their actions and speech, I am glad to have met those rare sincere kindness of people. If only more people were like that, if only we could learn to be as such, the world would have been a much quiet, and kind place.

No doubt all of us will be experiencing a new culture or living in a new place soon, at the same time meeting new people too. Just bear in mind, before anything, if we just stop, look around and analyse the situation we are in, and listen to what the other person has to say before making any action, less conflicts will happen. Many misunderstandings can be easily avoided, if we all start on a blank page of mind, and just stop, look and listen.
Bario, you blew me away (no pun intended)

Bario, you blew me away (no pun intended)

“A place is only as
good as the people in it.” – Pittacus Lore
There is a great degree of truth in that quote – and
Bario is a prime example.
The warmth and hospitality of the wonderful Bario folk
intertwined with the breath-taking natural beauty of Bario, along with its
hilly landscape, misty mornings, and starry nights, is what makes Bario such a
special place.
Upon arrival, some of us were told that we had to walk from
the Bario airport to the Bario Asal longhouse. We gladly agreed to walk and as
we made our way to the longhouse, we immediately realised how visibly beautiful Bario was.
The clear blue sky, the view of hills and mountains (some fully visible, some
hidden behind puffy clouds), the many paddy fields, the clean and fresh air –
we were captivated.

Sadly, it started to rain and so, we had to be picked up, which
meant that we jumped onto the back of a truck headed towards the Bario Asal
longhouse. When we arrived at the longhouse, we were welcomed by Tepuq Sina
Rang who hugged us and called us her “susu’” (grandchildren in Kelabit). It was
my first hour in Bario, but I had a feeling that I was in a place “as good as the people in it”.

Fast forward to my second last day in Bario, when I was in
church, I realised something: I have never felt so much as being part of a
community – not in the way I did in Bario. I knew many of my neighbours and having
taught at the primary school and secondary school twice, I also knew many of
the younger people – and for the first time, I was on the receiving end of awkward
hello waves students give to “teachers”.
That realisation was setting in when the Pastor called all
of us, Project WHEE! participants to come on stage. I was not sure what it was
all about and not being a Christian myself, I could not have been more
clueless. As I stood in line with my friends on stage, I realised what was going on:
they were praying for us individually, one by one. I was so touched.
In retrospect, I think that perhaps, to some extent, I felt this sense of community more than ever
because I felt as if I have fulfilled some of my responsibilities as a fellow member of
the community. Adding a twist to Stephen Chbosky’s famous quote, I guess I can
say that perhaps, we accept the sense of community we think we deserve.

As I bade farewell, I said my goodbyes not to a place, but to people – and in the wise words of Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

So, thank you, Bario, for you have blown me away – and I will never be the same again.

Kan Wai Min aka Lian

PS: Bario in Kelabit means wind – I hope this explains the “no pun intended”.

Are you culturally (in)sensitive?

How would you feel if somebody stuck a camera in your face and took multiple photos of it without asking for your permission beforehand? Angry? Irritated? Is it a violation of your personal space?

Often times, many people -including me-, do certain things that might hurt somebody else’s feelings, and we are unaware of the consequences of our actions. And sometimes, we simply do not realize that those actions could possibly offend other people. Now, although Bario is located in the same country as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bharu and Kota Kinabalu, there are many distinct differences between them. The most obvious one being the environment, followed by food, and most importantly, culture. How does this relate to one another, you ask?

Some of the older generation of Kelabit women have tattoos on their bodies, and others have elongated earlobes, a tradition passed on from generation to generation. The tattoos symbolize strength, and this increases the ‘value’ of a woman when getting married, while women with long earlobes were perceived to be highly attractive.  I found this to be incredibly fascinating, and I wanted to know more. Today, many of the women have their earlobes surgically removed due to gawking and staring by other people who are not aware of this culture and tradition.

One incident that irritated me quite a bit was when a large group of tourists visited Bario. Two women with traditional tattoos and long earlobes were present at a welcoming ceremony for them. When they started shoving their multiple cameras and iPhones in their faces to capture an image of the infamous long earlobes, I was amazed at how insensitive these tourists were. These women were not zoo animals on display, and they were definitely not there for anybody’s amusement. We are talking about humans- women; women who are already self- conscious about their appearance, and treating them like a photo opportunity does not help the situation.

Living in Bario for 16 days, I have had my fair share of moments where I just did not know if what I was doing was considered culturally insensitive or not. Living beside Tepu’ Sinah Rang (our homestay host) is a woman with the said tattoos on her legs. While greeting her every morning, I have a debate with myself in my head: Should I ask her about her tattoos? What if she gets offended by the questions? Is there a taboo that prohibits others from asking about it?! And so, this internal debate went on for about 10 days… until one day curiosity took over and a few friends and I decided to ask our Bario Asal coordinator, Aunty Nicole about it.

Coming from a different cultural background, it is very easy to do or say something that might be considered disrespectful to another person who is of a different cultural upbringing. If there was one thing I learnt, it is that it is okay to make mistakes and to ask questions about something that you want to know more about. If we did not have the courage to ask the questions that were lingering in our minds, we would have never found out the meaning and symbolism behind the tradition of tattoos and long earlobes.

There is a lot more to the Kelabit culture than what I have mentioned above; tattoos and long earlobes are just the tip of the iceberg, really. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are unsure of what to do or say, don’t panic! Being in a place where the local culture is so foreign to you, these incidences are bound to happen, and that is okay.

A little cultural sensitivity goes a long way, and if you are not one to stick your camera in another person’s face without asking, you’ll probably do quite alright.

Rachel Khoo

A Dying Culture: A Dire Concern

A Dying Culture: A Dire Concern

As time goes by, things around us change; they evolve or disappear, and often times the process is so slow that these changes go unnoticed. This applies to many things in our daily lives- friendships, money, your mobile data limit (hah), culture.

Coming into Bario, we were told that the younger generation of Kelabits were leaving Bario in search for education in the city. Often times, they remain in the city, leaving their ‘kampungs’ behind in search for a job and financial stability. The reality of this never truly hit me until I saw it for myself. The huge age gap of the Kelabit population in Bario was shocking- on one end of the spectrum were people who qualified to be my grandparents, and on the other, children so young they could pass of as my own children. And these children will also most likely one day leave Bario in the name of education. Should this trend continue, Bario will one day be left with only the older generation, and their beautiful culture might die along with them.

During a welcoming ceremony for some media representatives from all over Malaysia, the gravity of the problem that the Kelabits are facing was never so apparent. Except for a few middle aged women, 90% of the people who participated in the traditional Kelabit ceremony were my “grandmothers”. I recall of this one woman who was the only living person who knew how to sing a very old song in ancient Kelabit language. This made me realise how things as small as a song play an important role in making up a culture, and how their absence affects a dying tradition.

Singing a traditional Kelabit song during the welcoming ceremony. 

Growing up, the lantern festival was a celebration that I looked forward to every year. Lighting lanterns and candles while savouring mooncakes was a family tradition, and that never failed to make my 8-year-old self happy. Chinese New Year was THE biggest event of the year, as my mother would ensure that my family got their brand new red clothes 5 months before the celebration. Over the past few years, the importance and value of the celebrations decreased. Today, I won’t even be able to tell you when the mooncake/lantern festival is and brand new red clothes are a thing of the past during Chinese New Year.

In many ways, observing how the Kelabit culture is slowly losing bits and pieces of itself  has made me realise how important preserving one’s culture is. Me not knowing how to use chopsticks the right way, I am very detached from my Chinese culture, and this is not something that I am proud of at all. I have never realised how important it is for us, Generation Y, to carry out our responsibility in ensuring that our cultures do not disappear over time, but now I do.

Your typical Tourism Malaysia poster

Malaysia prides itself in being a multiracial and multicultural country. Every Tourism Malaysia billboard you see has different people wearing their traditional outfits plastered all over them. Every culture is different and beautiful in its own way, and we should all play out part in ensuring that they don’t become a thing of the past.

And for me, I will start by learning how to use chopsticks- the right way.

Rachel Khoo

How Strong Is Your Cultural Identity?

How Strong Is Your Cultural Identity?

The Kelabits

The Kelabits are one of the tribes in Sarawak and many of them live near Bario Asal, Bario. They live near the Penans which is another tribe in Sarawak. There are only a few thousands of Kelabits left. Bario consists of mostly women because most men migrate to Miri and other places to work. Paddy plantation, craftworks and eco-tourism are among the common ways the Kelabits generate an income. They are also very hospitable people.

The Kelabit women in their traditional costume.

The longhouse is the traditional house of the Kelabits but there are not many longhouses seen in Bario nowadays. Each longhouse can accommodate about twenty-over families, depending on the length of the longhouse. I must say that each family in the longhouse is proud of their family members. For example, there are a lot of photos in the longhouse showing  their family members graduating, getting married, getting a good job and some of their great ancestors.
The inner view of a longhouse.
If there is something that Bario is famous for, it would be their Bario rice. This rice is planted and harvested using traditional methods, and that is why the taste of the rice is pure and organic. Among the many staple foods of the people in Bario are wild boar, jungle vegetables such as midin, paku-pakis and bamboo shoot, and not to mention their famous Bario rice. Other famous food in Bario are their pineapples, salt, chilli tumbuk and wood worms.
The famous Bario rice. Finer and tastier too compared to normal rice.


Some of the famous dances of the Kelabits are the hornbill dance and tarian pocok-pocok. Usually women who perform this dance will wear black cloth that are tight, decorated with a selendang made of beads and a beaded head gear. Sometimes synthetic hornbill feathers are used for their dance instead of the real one as there is only one hornbill remaining in Bario that goes by the name of Turu, which means ‘he who comes’.
A Kelabit woman gracefully demonstrating one of the Kelabit traditional dance.  
A photo of me feeding Turu, the only hornbill in Bario Asal.
The Kelabits are famous for their bead works and rattan sewing. Among the many things they can make out of beads are head gears, selendangs, necklaces and bracelets. The beads have a great variety of colours. For example there are more that five shades of red and I had a hard time differentiating those colours. If you are given a necklace, it represents that you are a part of their family. They also make wonderful crafts out of rattan such as rattan baskets, hats, bracelets and even rings.
My first necklace that was give to me by aunty Dayang. The huge red lump of ball in
  the middle of the necklace called ‘Kabuq’, symbolises that you are a part of their family.
Tattoos are used by the Kelabit women to show that they are eligible for marriage. Their tattoos are made up of soot obtained from the burning of kettles and sewn into the skin using big needles. The tattoos cover a big part of the women’s hands and legs. For religious reasons, this practice is not carried on in present day.
One of the few Kelabit women that still has tattoos around her hands and legs.
 Some thoughts
It is nice to see how the Kelabits have a strong cultural identity. I felt that I do not know how strong my cultural identity was until I saw their culture. I realised that each one of us actually have our own cultural identity but we are just not aware of it. I am really glad that I had a chance to experience their culture.
The Kelabits also place importance on their food. They have a wide variety of food during meals and they eat on time. They also eat as a family or group. Often in the city, I will not take my meals on time, have an unbalanced diet and will not eat together with my family members. They showed me some simple yet meaningful food ethics that I should practice in the city. I also learned not to waste food and I will eat every grain of rice because I saw how hard the people worked when they were planting and harvesting their paddy plant.
All this while I used to take handicrafts for granted until I saw how much effort the locals put to make those handicrafts. They were so patient and precise while weaving the beads. I found it difficult to separate the different shades of colours of the bead and yet these people are so good at it. After seeing the process of making handicrafts I began to respect and place a high value on handicrafts.


  Value. What do you value? What is of worth to you?

  Entering Bario, a place completely disparate from the world we are used to, I got a huge shock– the nice type of shock. While we who are more ‘civilized’ are in our own little bubble, busy chasing things of material and ephemeral value, Bario is slow-paced, with the people there placing importance on relationships and spending time together. The natural beauty and the warm hearts almost seem like a rebellion against the world that is advancing so much in technology and knowledge yet regressing in the aspects that make us human.

  Every day, as we walked around in Bario, I catched my breath over the panoramic view of mountains, blue skies and fields. However, the beauty that captured my heart was not merely the sights and wonders that awakened my sense. The real beauty lay in the hospitable arms, the warm embraces, the sincere smiles and the loving hearts.

 The people of Bario work hard, but they know how to enjoy life too. Our understanding of enjoying life would probably be having a bungalow overseas, owning a luxury car and earning big bucks with ease. They look at it from a whole different point of view. Enjoying life there is sitting in the kitchen with other people, sharing stories and laughing together. Worth in life is found in human relationships and the unadulterated beauty of nature.

  Coming back to KL, I was almost immediately sucked into the whirlpool of work, assignments and more work. For the next whole month, my friends and I worked feverishly to complete our assignments while pining for Bario and our families there. I had also come back at a time where my students were getting back their results from their mid-year examinations, hence records and reports had to be written. With other responsibilities weighing down on me, I barely pushed through. As I started to prioritize work and assignments over human relationships, I struggled with the notion of value. Over and over again, I would question myself, what is important? Why am I doing this? As our finals neared and my dislike for studying kicked in once again, those questions appeared more and more frequently.

  The real hit came when I received results for a subject that I had taken a little too lightly. To cut the long story short, my results weren’t satisfactory, and I was rather upset over it (understatement). While mulling around and sulking behind my laptop, I started reprimanding myself. In between telling myself that I shouldn’t be bothered by those results and realizing that I was very, very bothered, I was hit with the question: does this matter? How much does it matter? I then thought back to the days in Bario… Where the outside world seemed so far away and the hustle and bustle of everyday life was not a rat race but a lively dance.

  Despite the laughter and joy that seems to overflow there, there are still gaps. The longhouse, filled with photos, but void of those young people. The sad look in the tepuqs’ eyes when they talk about their children and grandchildren who barely come home. The villages that are now vacant due to the leaving of young people.

  These things that the people of Bario value might just disappear along with the outflow of people. As the children of Bario are taught that ‘civilization’ and ‘technological advancement’ and everything in the city is ‘better’, they start to value different things.

  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to value money or possessions. But at the end of the day, what really matters? Life is fleeting; it is but a flower, quick to bloom, quick to wilt. My generation has been said to be one that views old age as an unpleasant time in life, and a generation that avoids talking about death. I beg to differ. Death is around us, whether we know it or not. With the recent MH17 case, death has never been closer to our hearts. But how are we responding to this tragedy? Will it just pass, like many of the trends on the internet, without leaving the slightest dent in our hearts? How will this affect what we value?

  What do YOU value?

Written by
Gloria Dayang Ngu

The Days We Spent Walking

These days, I take a train to get anywhere. While watching KL rushing by from outside the window gives me this almost atavistic sense of belonging, there was a time in Bario when my feet could take me anywhere. All I had to do was grab a friend and walk down those familiar, creaky steps.
Photo: Stairs to work, Who's in Arur Dalan Team? :) #onlyinbario
On the first day itself, we had to walk from Bario airport to Bario Asal. Our little walking bus was pretty euphoric for people who had just gotten off a flying tin can of a plane. As we walked, we passed by sights that would eventually become more familiar to us than we expected. We walked and chatted with a noise that must have disturbed all the buffaloes we passed. Our tourist-ey “oohs” and “ahhhh”s would eventually die down in the following weeks but our awe and love for Bario only grew from there. I can assure you that my volume never died down. (I’ve been told you can hear my laughs from the other side of the longhouse, much to my dismay)
For a while, Tepu Uloh had gone off to Miri and I was left to float around with my friends and their ladies. After spending a day or two with some of the ladies in Bario Asal, I decided to join Jess with her lady for a bit.This lead me on my first walk to Arur Dalan. It’s a trail that I miss taking, though for the first day, I spent most of my time watching the muddy ground and keeping my balance. It’s a fifteen minute walk that immerses you in gorgeous scenery. We were chatting along when the Arur Dalan regulars suddenly told me to look up a hill.
“Look, Felice. That’s our friend!”
I couldn’t see anyone amongst that dense shrubbery. I was pretty perplexed.
“There!” They said. When I looked again, I realized they were pointing a tough, burly, grey buffalo.
Turns out, this buffalo would be there at the same spot, at the same time, every day.
“I’m gonna name him Bob!” I said.
“Why?” Dan had to ask.
“She names everything Bob.”  My classmates know me too well.
At the end of the day, Dan tells me that after talking to Aunty Dayang, he found out that the buffalo’s name really is Bob. Go figure!
Our weekly excursions to church are also pretty fun. It’s an early morning walk that leads you to a blue building with a cross on it. Mass is always upbeat and fun, with lots of singing. Once, we even got an awesome meal at the end.
With all the cheerfulness that you leave with, it’s not surprising to meet new people on the way back. On one of our trips, it started drizzling lightly. As Xara and I were sharing an umbrella on our way, we noticed this old lady in a beautiful Kelabit outfit walking in the drizzle. 
Knowing that we couldn’t let her walk in the drizzle like that, we offered to walk her home with her umbrella. She was extremely chatty and friendly, with a sweet, toothy smile. She asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Bario. She told us about her children in KL and how she also owns a pineapple farm. We chatted with her all the way back to her home.
It was really pleasant how we could just be walking and so easily meet new people on the way. A friendliness you wouldn’t find in KL!
That wasn’t the first time we had to walk in the rain though, and it certainly wasn’t our last. In fact, that was probably the only time I got to walk with an umbrella! 
Vio had the misfortune of always being caught in the rain after she washed her hair. This happened again when we were heading back home from Joe’s Cafe, our favourite (and only) spot to get ABC and noodles. Vio, being Vio, managed to convince us to pick up a piece of scrap metal to cover her with. It probably didn’t help that Dan accidentally stepped on the Daiso slippers everyone complimented her on and it definitely didn’t help that instead of rushing to help her, we all burst into laughter. 
That was probably one of the most entertaining sights to see….
….though, I have to say that Jon won most ridiculous alternative for an umbrella.

Of course, while all the walking is good and fun, it doesn’t stop us from cheating every once in a while! It seems that if you have a car in Bario, it has to be a four wheel drive with a convenient place to chuck all the hitch hikers you pick up. 
Like I said, the people of Bario are so welcoming, you can get a ride almost any time. At one point, while we were in the back of a truck, the guy who was sending us home shouted from his window in the driver seat “Are you people rushing back?”
Assuming that he had to pick up some stuff from somewhere else, we said no and that we wouldn’t mind following him. What he really ended up doing was taking us on the long way round where we got to see so much more than we would ever have seen otherwise. The view was so breathtaking, it made me really thankful that he did that for us because he really didn’t need to. It just shows the little bits of kindness the people of Bario are used to performing. 
Maybe it’s something in the air or the cheerfulness that spans throughout Bario, but I realize I was never tired from all that walking. If you set me on those familiar roads again, I think my feet could bring me anywhere.

What Advice I Can Give

I’ve never been a pessimistic person. Some might even go so far as to call me blindly optimistic. Maybe I’m a romantic but for all my cheery disposition, I won’t deny that I’ve had my doubts. Being the guinea pig batch, it was really make or break yet somehow, things went beyond any of our expectations or hopes. No matter what kind of problems we faced, things always turned out fine.
I don’t have much to offer and you’re probably tired of all my pretentious ramblings but I’ll try to keep this light and tell you the little bit that I’ve learnt.

you’d be surprised by how much funnier your lady is than you
1. You’re not working with robots
As cool as it would be to get to work with robots, you gotta remember that you’re not. Whether your teammates, the ladies you’re assigned to or even the regular townsfolk you meet on the way, you always have to be aware that these are all people. They’re people just like you, with their own aspirations, emotions and thoughts. They’re capable of light-heartedness and profound wisdom. I think it’s important to build your connections based on that fact and not to keep them at a distance where we treat each other as “us” and “them”. 
Down in the sawah

2. Don’t be afraid of a little dirt

Okay, maybe calling it “a little dirt” is an understatement. I think each of us had our fair share of mud, slop and dust. Sinking into the sawah was probably my dirtiest experience, with mud and water coming up to my waist. Even with that, I had an incredible time. Tepu Uloh made it such a good time for me, it hardly felt like work. Give me assignments or sawah work with Tepu Uloh and I’d take sawah work anytime! 

we can be pretty clueless learners at times
3. Remember what you’re there for
With all fun you’re having, it’s easy to forget your purpose. Sometimes, you’re so excited to learn words like “Petabi leketang” (good morning) and “mudan” (rain) that you don’t manage to teach as much as you learn. There should be a balance where both parties exchange what they know. More often than not, you have to remind yourself and your lady why you’re there. Otherwise, you might end up sweeping floors and learning Kelabit words without actually teaching at all!!

4. Trust each other
Photo: First group photo of Batch 1 Project WHEE! 2014 together with our Bario Asal coordinator, Sina Nicole Dayang. :D

Photographer: Jeremy Chin

Maybe it was a lot easier for my batch to go into this already being very close to each other but from this, I’ve learnt that people are inherently good. Don’t think that you have to do anything alone, whether it’s washing dishes or having emotional problems. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help. Be real with each other. There were plenty of times when I had really deep conversations that I just know I wouldn’t have had in any other circumstances. It wasn’t just a matter of inside jokes. These small acts of trust and care actually made our shared experiences all the richer. 

5. Come as you are
Bario doesn’t ask for much. All you really need to do is to come (clueless,naive but open-hearted) and let Bario sweep you off your feet.