Inevitability of Farewell Redefined

Inevitability of Farewell Redefined

I always dreamt of building a
world filled with people I crossed paths with. People who impacted me so deeply
that they would leave a crack in my heart that can never be filled by anyone
else. However, goodbyes are inevitable in this world. Every time the moment comes
to bid goodbye to a community, family or a group of friends that I grew close
to, my heart bleeds.

“Don’t be so old school
la. Now kan got technology. Got Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype etc etc. We can
always keep in touch.” These are often the remarks I get when I try to tell
others that things are never going to be the same once we are separated by
distance. Don’t you agree with me that your priorities change and you ‘keep in
touch’ by texting or calling but the emptiness is always felt?
what’s the point of making new connections in the first place, if farewells are
inevitable at one point or another in life? I was dwelling upon this thought
when I first landed in Bario. I was ready to meet the community but not so
ready to open myself up to anyone. As we (Project WHEE! participants) first
arrived in the Bario Asal Longhouse, we were greeted by faces unknown to us
with genuine smiles and handshakes. I felt welcomed as if I was returning home after spending years away.

Excited faces after landing in Bario 🙂
On the back of 4WD on our way to Bario Asal Longhouse


question about the farewell was only answered during my second working day with
Sina Mayda (the lady I was assigned to in Arur Dalan). We went to the paddy
field earlier than usual to avoid working under the hot sun. The 15-minute walk
to her paddy field felt short due to our singing and her explaining about the
wide range of flora along the way.
The way to Sina Mayda’s paddy field
The view of the paddy field after harvesting season.

While we were collecting grass that had already been cut by a Penan
worker in her paddy field,

‘Uding Aran (my Kelabit name, first part was given by Tepuq Sina Rang
while the second part was by Sina Mayda), apa orang India buat masa orang
meninggal dunia (what do Indians do when someone passes away)?’,

Sina (mother in Kelabit) asked. She had been curious about our way of
life since the first day I met her. This was one of the many questions she
posed. As I explained about the Indian funeral rites, I also learnt about the
Kelabits’ methods of conducting funerals. She also related death to farewell
which led me not to look at farewells the same way ever again.

Her way of reasoning (which was in Malay) is as

‘Death is certain. We all know that, right? The same applies to
farewells. I am aware that farewell is inevitable even in our
relationship. So, if I cry when you leave, that doesn’t mean that I want you to
stay with me forever. It is just a momentary sadness. I would still be happy
because you’re leaving for good to continue your life in a direction that is
just different than mine. That thought of separation from each other’s life is
not going to stop me from embracing you and this relationship and be grateful
that our paths crossed.’ 

Those words struck a chord in me. So, there she was, standing in a paddy
field, her feet in mud, shedding light on another way to look at
farewells; and there I was, learning in the least expected place, that what
matters the most is the moments spent and the presence which should be

After 22 days in
Bario, when the day of farewell finally came, it was a different farewell from
all the others I experienced. My heart didn’t bleed much; rather it
swelled with gratitude for the memories created, lessons learnt and connections
made in the Bario highlands.

“Farewell is said by the living, in life, every day. It is said with
love and friendship, with the affirmation that the memories are lasting if the
flesh is not.” – R.A Salvatore

-Srinithya aka Uding Aran-
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 😛


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!
Musings on the penultimate night

Musings on the penultimate night

Even after a year, I still vividly remember my fond time spent in Bario under Batch 2 of Project WHEE!. Life in the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur certainly makes me wish for a more serene environment sometimes. In addition to that, the oppressive heat of the inter-monsoon season causes me to long for a return to the cool breeze of Bario.

To give those who are interested to join a glimpse of what Project WHEE! can be like, I would like to share an entry on the journal which I kept while I was in Batch 2. 

4th July, 2014

It is hard to believe that this is the penultimate night of my stay in Bario; time has passed so quickly despite my best attempts to savour every day, akin to how one can never hold water in her hands no matter how hard she tries, as the water will simply flow through the crevices between her fingers.

The last day of working at the sawah (Malay for paddy field) was a joy. I feel a sense of freedom when I am able to go into the knee deep mud without being worried about getting dirty. As Tepuq Bulan and I had almost finished clearing the remains of the old harvest the day before, it was finally time to spread the seedlings to grow. After we had finished our work, Tepuq Bulan surprised me by bringing out a Tupperware containing a whole cut pineapple. I was delighted of course, as Bario pineapples are perhaps the best in the region, but at the same time I was terrified of disappointing her if I did not finish it as it would be unwise to refuse or fail to finish pineapples when offered in Bario. If it wasn’t for Rhonwyn who was there at the nick of time and helped me with it, I would have ended up in a pineapple-induced coma. 

Today was also the last day that I taught at the local school – SMK Bario. Staying true to my “no play play” policy, I gave my class a quiz on the chapters in Form 2 science that I had been tutoring them to master, chapters that they were going to be tested on next week. Although I was far from a competent teacher, I was determined not to let their allocated time with me be in vain. To my pleasant surprise, they were very diligent in doing the test. However, my heart nearly skipped a beat after I had ccalculated the results, for the exception of a few kids, nobody scored more than half marks on what was supposed to be a very easy quiz. I certainly hoped that I did not show this, and I once again got my chalk to review some important concepts that will help them in their exam. I figured most of them didn’t bother studying for the quiz, but I hope that their attitudes towards the real exam will be different. 

After dinner at 9 pm, Sathesh, Thiiban and I went to Tepuq Bulan’s house to learn more Kelabit. As we had made arrangements for Tepuq Ribed to be there as well, it was quite a party with the two ladies laughing uncontrollably about many things in Kelabit, especially about the word ngawah (Kelabit for marry), with which Thiiban made many sentences with it to his expense.

My last day at the sawah with Tepuq Bulan. Bario Asal is visible in the background on the left. Picture by Rhonwyn.
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.
My Favourite Simplicity

My Favourite Simplicity

Tepu’ [te-puk]

 Family. A greeting commonly used for the elders; someone who loved me very much and only wanted the best for me; someone who fed me endless Nuba Layas. My first and favourite Kelabit word.

Before anything, let me first introduce the lady I was assigned to for 3 weeks – the very grandmother-ly Tepuq Do Ayu! 

When I first knew my pairing, I was told that she’s a very shy and reserved person. Perhaps we were paired because I’m generally good with silences and minimal interactions. However, she surprised me with little things like simple conversations with her foreign neighbours – yeah there’s this English + Portuguese couple living in Bario yo – and also attempting English during meal times. 🙂

As I recall my first (Mon)day of following Tepuq to the paddy field, I’m visited by memories of how dead tired I felt from harvesting and how annoyed I was at myself for being so physically unfit. I’m not one to give up or show my weaknesses easily though, so I ‘gungho-ed’ my way through the day; while wanting to cry a little. I realised how comfortable life at home was.

(No worries, I was good by the next day. Just a slight work culture shock was all.)

On the left is our first ever picture together, taken during one of our breaks.

Tepuq tau tak ambil gambar sendiri tu apa?”  
“Tak tau.”  
“Kita panggil ni Selfie! Haha.” 

“Tepuq, do you know what they call it when you take pictures of yourself?
“I don’t know.” 
“We call it a selfie! Haha.”

Yes, I taught her what a selfie was. (Hey, it was Oxford’s Word of the Year 2013, okay.) She probably doesn’t remember this word anymore, but it was funny trying to get her to pronounce it!

I also have fond memories of my last Monday with Tepuq. 
That morning, I walked the usual rocky yet muddy path to Tepuq’s house in the Arur Dalan village. 
What made me really happy was when I entered Tepuq’s longhouse, I was greeted by everyone in the family, including Tepuq’s grandsons who seemed to always disappear whenever I’m around haha. I usually hung out with members of the family separately, individually, so this was a very delightful change.

I truly enjoyed breakfast with everyone!

I still remember what was served that day, because I remember eating very happily.

We had fish, rice cooked in fish stomach, midin (fern) and wild boar, with padi hitam (black paddy) nuba laya.

As always I would reassure Tepuq in between spoonfuls, “sangat sedap!” (very yummy!) because I eat really slow, heh. More on that in the next post.

After breakfast, Tepuq disappeared into her room and came out with my kaboq, which is a pretty huge deal! I was really surprised by her present, and I also felt extremely blessed because she told me she’d decorated the beads herself.

Taken during my backyard adventure:
Kaboq is a traditional Kelabit necklace. 

This picture doesn’t do the details on this Kaboq justice. Up close, you can see the little painted-on patterns of the beads.

I love this necklace very much- it fits me because it’s very attention-seeking. :p

Later we (meaning me, Tepuq, and her husband whom I call Tok) went to the paddy field to harvest as usual, but that day they’d let me take my break earlier since we had a beauty session – a special initiative by Project WHEE! – for Arur Dalan in the evening. I doodled while they finished up some work amongst the goldens; I even got to explore their backyard for the first time, alone! 

Xueh Wei Cathrine – your local leaf doodler!

Me painting Sina Supang’s nails. (Does anyone notice the pen in my hair?)
After Beauty Session: I love the Arur Dalan people. <3 

Well it sounds like I just described a pretty mundane day, and I guess it is if I’m going to compare it to my life back here in the city, but it was actually a pretty extraordinary day in Bario by comparison. My point is, although nothing totally out of this world happened, it was still a very nice day of good vibin’ around. It was in Bario where I learnt, like a parent teaching their infant new words, how to really appreciate the little things again.

I miss my favourite simplicity, yes I do.

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

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 #

Last Thursday

Last Thursday

Mudan [moo-dan 

Something to (secretly, guilt-riddenly) look forward to when working in the field; when water droplets fall from the sky. It means “rain” in Kelabit; Tok likes to say nangeh (“cry” in Kelabit) alternatively cause he’s a hippie old man.

It was my third and last Thursday with the folks of Bario.

I decided to walk alone earlier (usually I walked with my Arur Dalan homies, Shu Anne Liging & Rui Ci Ganit) to Tepuq’s house that morning to make up for leaving work earlier the day before. I’m really glad I did, because I got to enjoy a nice breakfast with their daughter-in-law and her baby girl, Nora!

 Here’s a picture of Parthiban with little Nora! 
She’s really cute when she isn’t crying the roof off and making me look bad.

We dried paddy for the day, which wasn’t much of a job for me since Tepuq did most of the work – technical skills I couldn’t pick up instantaneously. Thus, she gave me the most important job in the world- “Kejarkan ayam” (chase the chickens away) she said, as she handed me a stick. This is so the chickens won’t eat the paddy laid out for drying!

Let’s be real, I was using the long stick as a microphone to sing We Are The Champions + as a light saber/any other weapon + messing with the cobwebs under the longhouse (until I see a spider and get scared), 80% of the time, heh. I hope Tepuq was amused!?

While singing, one must not forget our purpose in Bario! I tried English teaching with a song by teaching her how to sing the Barney I Love You song (I love youuuu, you love meeee, we are happy familyyyy) and you know what? It was pretty okay. She knows “I love you” and “family”! 😀

Suddenly, as we were jamming our hearts out, a wild (and colour coordinated) Tok appeared.

“Tok! Nak ambil gambar Tok boleh?” He nods. He poses. #OOTD?

I could see how my Tepuq and Tok match each other – with Tepuq’s love for singing and Tok with dancing, it’s no wonder!

Later on it rained slightly, and after three weeks of doing this, I took the liberty of warning: “Mudan, Tepuq!” before Tok started his usual nangeh chant haha. I really didn’t like moving the tikars (mats) in and out due to the fluctuating weather, but at least I got to take a short nap – a rarity and luxury during harvesting season! – at one point with Tepuq. Though my slumber was cut short when Rui Ci dropped by to invite us for tea over at Sina Mayda’s place.

It was a very chill day; the only weekday that I didn’t spend in a paddy field; a different kind of nice.

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

I Heart Tepuq!

I Heart Tepuq!

Tepuq Sinah Rang & I 
The first lady I was
assigned to was Tepuq Sinah Rang, our home-stay host. I considered myself
lucky to work with Tepuq Sinah Rang because she is one of the most
genuine person I met in Bario. She has a BIG heart and she
looked after us like her own ‘cucu’ (grandchildren). Tepuq and I
clicked almost instantly and because I was spending a lot of time
with her, I developed a special bond with Tepuq Sinah Rang. <3 On
days I was not sent to ‘sawah’ (paddy field), Tepuq and I would stay indoors and bead. At the end of our trip, Tepuq presented each of us a ‘kaboq’
that she made herself.
The ‘kaboq’ each one of us in Batch 5 received
Before leaving to
Bario, Rhon and Daniel were speaking of the long term effects we
would have on our tepuqs. They were telling us to not be discouraged
when we do not see the fruits of our labour when we teach our tepuqs
English. I did not fully understand this until Renai (Kim from Batch
1) called Tepuq Sina Rang one day. I listened to tepuq speaking
almost fluent English and it got me thinking how far tepuq must have
come from where she started. At that moment I realised we do leave a
mark in our tepuqs’ lives although we may not be able to see it.
not good at goodbyes, and saying goodbye to Tepuq Sina Rang was
really difficult. I got very attached to her. I remember tepuq
received a new smartphone as a gift and she used the sound recorder to
record our conversations. She would play it again and again and laugh out loud (literally). I loved it whenever she called us
‘puq ayam’ (my darling) and I loved how she whispered ‘I love you’ into my ear
every time I gave her a hug and I loved how her hugs felt like coming
home. I loved how she insisted I sit and rest instead of following her
everywhere. I loved listening to her stories during breakfast and
dinner. I loved how we danced together during our banana leaf night
and again on cultural night. I loved every moment spent with Tepuq
Sinah Rang.
we meet again Tepuq. Uih buloh iko <3
Thriya Sria Maria