Reassessing Happiness, Redefining Success

Reassessing Happiness, Redefining Success

To be completely honest, I felt to some extent, a
considerable amount of shame for feeling so foreign in a local Malaysian setting.
This made me realise the true degree of diversity that exists in Malaysia and
how much of it yet to be discovered.
For those who don’t know, the people in Bario are mostly Kelabit
but there are also a number of Penan people living there. Life in Bario was
fairly different for me – and it was a change that I thoroughly enjoyed and now,
miss. However, I have come to understand that this change is not always viewed
Sometimes, some people come into Bario and quickly assume
that the people there live difficult and unhappy lives. Difficult life might be
true to some extent, probably because the work in Bario is mostly laborious. Unhappy? This I will have to disagree.
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.
Bario reminded me that different people can live life
differently – and that is okay. It
really is.

Another realisation I acquired in Bario was through my
teaching experience at SMK Bario. I went to SMK Bario twice to teach English
(teach = playing English games) to Form 1 and 2 students. I started by asking
the students what they wanted to become in the future.  Teacher and doctor were
frequent answers. But of course, there were some others such as astronaut,
policeman, fireman, and fisherman.
It is through this that I realised that there’s something
severely flawed with the way we (not everyone, but a lot of people) think of ambitions and aspirations. We often
encourage students to become doctors, engineers, scientists, among others – and
tell them that they are “on the right track”. We discourage those who want to
become policemen, farmers, fishermen, among others – and tell them to dream
higher to achieve “more”.
This needs to change. We need to encourage students to be successful
in whatever they want to become and whatever profession they choose to work. The
idea of being successful too, needs to be changed. Being successful should not
be about being able to make a lot of money – but being good at what you do, and
enjoying what you do.
Anyway, I don’t think the world
can survive if we all decided to become doctors, right?

Kan Wai Min

Nicole’s Secret Garden

That morning, we were divided into 2 groups, to either clean up the longhouse common area (Sekan, Aping, Kijan, Sigang, Mujan, Mariam, Ganet) or set off to Aunty Nicole’s house to clean up her garden (Agan, Rina, Dayang, Supang Kecil, Lian, and myself). My team and I were all so excited about having to start off work, that we’ve even equipped ourselves with hats, bottles of water (full), sunblock, mosquito repellent, hand-gloves. All the necessary measure for avoiding being bitten by unknown insects that we don’t see in cities or in our normal Year 4 science textbooks. Oh boy, I must say I was quite amazed at the extent of the preparations by my friends were on that day. Though I normally see my mom and dad just placing a bottle of water right beside them and gardening tools in their hands when they do gardening.
When we got there, what we saw was a small wooden house with a large front yard. It was almost the same image I had while reading childhood fairy tales, where pictures show a wooden house with front yard and not fenced.
Ah, nature, how nice would it be if I could live in places like this where there is no need to worry about dangers and safety.
After we were briefed by Agan (Project Coordinator), we started off by weeding the front yard, all of us were so energetic that after seconds, we had gardening tools on our hands slaughtering weeds away from the rooted ground.
Me grabbing a chunk of weeds off the ground. (Not prepared as Sekan took this picture)
During the whole venture, all of us started off by squatting down to do work, but after a while, we finally gave in and sat down wherever we were while weeding the front yard of the house. As we took 5 minutes of break here and there after 15 minutes of weeding, Supang Kecil and I were impressed at Lian’s skill in handling a parang, weeding off grass so easily. Obviously, we envied the Budak Seremban and said nothing but stared at each other, sighing.
Lian with his pro weed-slaughter skills.


We weeded with all our efforts, and then finally realized that 2 hours passed. It was hot, real hot that afternoon, where we could feel the burning heat sizzling on our sweaty hands directly.
After lunch, Agan decided that we should start our “Clean Drain” operation, so we continued weeding along the sideways of the drain. It was a hilarious sight when I saw chickens running around the drain which was covered by long and thick weed to hunt for their food. Then, Aping and Singgang came by and joined us with cleaning the drain. Aping saw some familiar plants and told us that those were yam, we were surprised. So we got Aunty Nicole to clarify the plant and we were asked to save those wild yams for Tepuq Sina Rang’s pigs.
Aping cleaning up drain.


It was a challenging task, having to weed and preserve those wild yams at the same time. As the work got more and more intense, we even came up with a joke:
“It’s Yam-Cha, not Yum-Cha”
*Yum-Cha means getting a drink
Rinai taking a breather, Agan and Supang Kecil weeding.


Finally, all of us agreed to be not bothered about the yams but to continue our work with weeding. So we chopped off every plants that are in the drain and even dugged chunks of weeds that were blocking the flow of the water. While doing the heavy physical work, I began admiring those who do these kind of work for their living; handling heavy tools and mustering their strength to clean up the mess in drains, public toilets, public places. Around 5.30 pm, we finally finished cleaning, so we headed back to the Homestay to wash up.
Although it was exhausting, I find it very healthy and productive because I got to build some muscles and also managed to clean up in the drain. After experiencing what those who do such work for a living, I was inspired to preserve and be conscious of what I do that will affect the environment. Thinking of the burden that we have made, creating pollution everywhere is easy, but when we get ourselves to clean up the mess, it becomes a challenge because it takes a lot of initiative and courage to do so.
Let’s preserve and maintain cleanliness in our environment, even if it is little, it makes a difference.
Ji Bee
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.
How someone affected me in Bario

How someone affected me in Bario

our life, we can admire a lot of people. But, how other people
impact our lives is more important. He/ She could affect us either positively or

Dayang is the lady who I admire the most when I was in Bario. She is an
independent woman as she can do a lot of things on her own. She knows how to
sew, plant paddy and pineapples, and she knows how to dance the Kelabit
traditional dances. Compared to her, I know nothing. But I have learned a lot
from her.
Her will to sacrifice her own time to do anything
that can protect or promote her own place – Bario affected me a lot.
are a few reasons for me to say so:
  • Aunty Dayang is a volunteer at the Bario Airport. The payment that she receives is not very high, but she
    is still willing to work. This shows that she genuinely loves her home.
  • She is also the tour guide who
    will bring tourists to the Prayer Mountain which is very far away from her
    house. She is very proud of her home and is confident to
    promote to others.
  • She sews other children’s torn
    shirts for free, as she knows that others also live difficult lives. So,
    she will never or rarely accepts money from them.
  • She still wants to stay at
    Bario although she lives alone while her children and husband are studying and working in a city. She says that she likes the Bario life and will
    do something for Bario. How about you? How often do you go back to your
    hometown in a month?
is how Aunty Dayang affected me.
I came back from Bario, I have decided to organise a motivational camp for my juniors in my previous primary school. This is because it is the
only activity that I can think of to contribute to my hometown – Pedas, Negeri
Sembilan. There is so much work to do, so much responsible to take on and also the lack of
financial support. But, I don’t mind! I will find ways to solve it, and have
the camp anyway.
If my juniors appreciate the camp I organise, I will be very happy
and accomplish it. It will also be considered as a gift for me.