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 😛
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!
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 #

The Random Work Post

The Random Work Post

A typical work day in Bario for me was something like this: waking up at 6.45 AM and getting ready, helping tepuq a little bit in the kitchen, having breakfast, and walking to Arur Dalan with Xueh Wei and Shu Anne. The three of us were assigned to ladies who lived in a different village from where we stayed (Bario Asal), unlike the other volunteers. One thing worth mentioning about our walk to Arur Dalan is everytime, without fail, a flock of white chickens trailed behind us! At first, it scared us because we thought we were about to be attacked by the chickens. After three weeks of the same thing happening, we got used to it.
The walk took around 15 minutes and the scenery we took in was absolutely gorgeous.

The lady I was assigned to was Sina Mayda Pitan. She is the youngest Bario woman to participate in Project WHEE!. An advantage of being paired with her is that she is very considerate and accommodating towards her assigned volunteers. She does not overwork them and makes sure that they are very well fed. However,  this advantage  worked against me. Many times, I felt that she thought I was a city kid incapable of helping her. I spent quite some time convincing her that I am in fact able to work in the paddy field, get dirty and muddy, and sweat it out. Sometimes, it is really funny how things work.
January is harvesting season in Bario. Hence, aside from brushing up sina’s English, most of the work I did was drying (midang) and harvesting (ranih) paddy.
The field sina works in in Arur Dalan is very, very beautiful. The walk to the field was somewhat an adventure for me. First, we entered a house, walked through the backyard of the house, and ended up at a river. Next, we crossed the river using a bamboo bridge, passed by somebody else’s paddy field. After that, we walked through a narrow trail with bushy ferns on both sides. Oh, and did I mention, we went up and down a hill before finally reaching her field? The entire journey took about 10 minutes.

Crossing the first paddy field

The narrow trail with bushy ferns on both sides
Reaching the destination after walking over a hill
For a few times, I tried role playing with Sina Mayda. I played the tourist, while she played the guide. I made her guide me to the paddy field, name the different kinds of jungle vegetables we saw on the way and explain their uses, and point out Prayer Mountain from where we were. I also taught her simple sentences to caution tourists, such as “Be careful, the road is very muddy and slippery”. However, the challenge I faced was she kept speaking to me in Malay instead of English. This is because I can speak Malay moderately well (I hope I didn’t disappoint all of you too much, my BM teachers!) and language wasn’t really a barrier for us. Therefore she always slipped back to speaking in Malay. Actually, she understands English quite well, but lacks the confidence to converse in it.

In Bario, for every paddy field, there is a hut. This hut functions as a storage space to keep harvested paddy, tools, sawah clothes… As for sina’s hut, it is mainly used as a place to chill out and have lunch after working. There is also a fireplace for cooking. 
Inside the hut
The story behind this chair: On my first day at the sawah (paddy field), Tama Ricky, sina’s husband, decided to build a chair from scratch out of the blue. He sawed the wood, assembled them, and nailed them together. It was a really random little DIY project. 
A blowpipe (sumpit)
The one on the right is padi adan, the famous Bario rice whereas the one on the left is padi hitam.
Winnowing paddy
Removing the stalks from the paddy 
Spreading out the paddy with a rake for optimum drying
Harvesting paddy together
There is one thing I really appreciate about sina: she took the initiative to work close by me in the paddy field, so that I was able to chat with her and work on improving her English. It was the little things like these that she did that touched me a lot.


Some Instagram-worthy shots:

Sunglasses embedded in the ground.

Normally, if we went to the field on day one, sina preferred to stay at home on day two. When we stayed at home, the things we did were drying paddy and cleaning the house. I always looked forward to days when we would go to the field, because I got to be more physical.
The official time for the volunteers to end work is 4 PM. Around this time, I walked back to Bario Asal together with Shu Anne and Xueh Wei. 
Shu Anne walking back to Arur Dalan from the field. On the left is the solar farm that supplies electricity to Arur Dalan.
Xueh Wei washing her socks after work
Werk it, gurl.

Wise Wishes.

takes me two trains and one bus to transport me to university, every day. On
some days, I find myself being very reluctant to drag myself out of bed two
hours earlier only to reach my class on time. On some other days, I reach home
with just adequate energy to walk myself to shower and crawl myself into bed.
While I was in Bario, Sarawak, I
count myself fortunate to have witnessed not only the lives of the elderly
folks, but also the lives of the school going children. Over the couple of days
I have experienced at the schools, I have all my admiration towards how
respectful they have been. To us, complete strangers at first and friends, at
the end of the trip; I hope.
There was an interesting mix of
enthusiasm and a care free nature I saw in these children that had me thinking
of how much I spent most of my schooling years feeling rather pressured to
perform academically better and only that. I remember not liking to stay back
extra hours in the afternoon at school for classes and here I was, teaching
English to a class of Form 1 students during after school hours, with an
initial assumption that they were probably going to be napping in class and
completely ignore my existence.
However, to my pleasant surprise, I
had a great two hours teaching this bunch of excited and enthusiastic kids! I
felt like I was doing something right when the students were so appreciative
when I corrected their mistakes on their written essays. Getting them to
interact in the beginning was a tad bit difficult, but the class got so much
pleasurable when the awkwardness broke. Class ended abruptly one day, when the
teacher made an announcement requesting all students to make their way to the
hydro dam to have their bath as there was water rationing around Bario Asal.
Yet again I was amazed at how these
kids did not rant a single bit or heaved a sigh at the thought of hiking up to
the dam after a long day at school. They quickly got their towels and soaps,
grouped up and headed to the dam while some boys sang songs and some girls had
giggly chatters. At that moment in time, watching that sight; I had a hit of
realization towards an aspect of myself. I came to terms that I should really
reduce on focusing about my end of day exhaustion and simply try to look beyond
and continue the walk.
Sometimes, I give in too much,
simply too much towards my tiredness that the rest of my day goes to waste.
These children too, have reminded me to be a little carefree. To always add the
element of fun whenever possible. When I think about it, a little ease to the
mind doesn’t really kill anyway. I have learnt to look beyond the situation
and twist it into a little fun adventure. I would like to believe that these
children had great fun bathing at the dam, might I also add how fast these
children are at hiking!
More often than not, we all wanted
to be adults as soon as possible while we were still in school. Through these
children, I saw what schooling years and being young meant through a different
lens. Carefree, enthusiastic, they have fun and they are focused whenever

days into coming back home and returning back to my everyday routine, I have
these children at the back of my mind as a reminder that giving up really isn’t
an option. Sometimes, all I really need is to embrace the journey and celebrate
whatever it is the day presents to you; whether it is welcoming a complete
stranger to teach you an academic lesson or taking a hike to have a bath after
a long day at school.

Either way, life gives you a million
parachutes, board it or end up watching it go by.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find
the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!

 Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sugar

That Fire

remember my time at school, we had our fair share of boring classes, pointless
meetings and assemblies and unhelpful teachers. Sometimes, we did have some
lecturers and classes that we enjoy and cherish even after our time there; but
honestly, who really enjoys waking up early and staying back late for classes?
Nobody enjoys their last day of holiday knowing that they have to get up early
for school tomorrow. Well, that was West Malaysia for me, classes are not our
No. 1 interest, and the teachers’ No. 1 fans are definitely not all of their
was the first time I ever jumped into an East Malaysia classroom. I have some
experience in teaching for private tuitions, but that was with at most two students. Knowing that I would have to teach a class of more than 5 students
did scare me. We always have those trouble makers sitting at the back of the
class in the West, making lots of noise, not paying attention to the speaker,
even disrupting or skipping classes. I was unsure of how I could handle these
people, considering that it has been less than 2 years since I graduated from
high school. Putting aside my inexperience and young age compared to my elder
teammates, I stepped in my first class with YC and Kit May, my two teammates. The
class we had: Standard 5 of SK Bario.
class of 5 boys and 3 girls was surprisingly receptive to us, even though we
had some difficulties teaching Science in Bahasa Malaysia. They ran into their
class and sat in front, anticipating us big brothers and sisters to teach them
something. The students may be older than the others in the other classes, but
they are very polite, which surprised us a lot. If we entered a West Malaysia
class, there are high chances for half the class to be missing, either skipping or genuinely
having some more important commitments than us. The polite and relaxing class
atmosphere in Bario is a rare sight in West Malaysia; I have never seen so much respect
to any new outsider before. Although we struggled to translate the words we
knew into Bahasa Malaysia to the class, they were very patient towards us. They
even did the class activities and exercises with enthusiasm.
next assignment was Form 2B in SMK Bario, which was a much bigger class. The
sight of 25 students was intimidating to me and Ai Jin. However, just like the SK
students, they were receptive even when I struggled to teach them about air pressure in
Bahasa Malaysia. They were also smart and grasped concepts easily. However, we
discovered an ugly truth of what our education system has done. The English
standard in the schools are poor; poorer than our already deteriorating
standard of English in West Malaysia. They struggled to even construct simple
sentences in Form 2, and heavily relied on the Bahasa Malaysia-English

Then, Ai Jin realised the standard of the class after she saw their
recent examination results at the back of the classroom. The passing rate in the
class was very low. Maybe, the students there have the enthusiasm to study, but do not have the adequate resources to strive forward. The situation in the West is
absolutely opposite; many do not have the enthusiasm to study, but are flooded
with private tuitions, extra classes and workbooks. I am really worried about the
English standard there. Over here at where I live, I struggled to get into an international school and
getting a decent score in IELTS because of my lack of proficiency in English.
However, these children in Bario cannot even score high in our low English
standard examinations, what more competing with the world.

for the last time to the Standard 5 class, we taught them to aim higher and
strive for the best. I cannot hope for any different for them, they have the
enthusiasm to strive and succeed. To the urbanites, I can only advise you to
appreciate what you have; respect your lecturers, appreciate what your parents
sacrifice for your education, and attend those classes. You have no idea how lucky and
fortunate you are. To the students I taught in Bario as well as those of you in similar situations, well done in your enthusiasm, never die down,
in fact strive for more and more. Never stop improving, push away those that undermine you, ignore the criticisms and follow your dreams. Sooner or later,
you will all become great people, and it all starts with that enthusiasm to
learn, that fire in you. 
Going To Teach, But Returning With Being Taught

Going To Teach, But Returning With Being Taught

For many years now, I have had the pleasure and
responsibility of teaching many individuals in terms of language, school syllabus
and even church related activities. However, this was my first time teaching an
adult. At initial glance, teaching is teaching, so I figured it would be much
like the many time that I taught chatty little kids. Boy was I wrong!
There were many foreign elements at play when I taught
Sinah Supang. First, the age gap; second, the teaching environment; third, difference
in culture and conduct.As a result of these foreign elements at play, I had to apply
many new techniques to my teaching with her. Each day I had with her was a
completely different and new experience. One day, our classroom would be her
section in the beautiful Arur Dalan longhouse. The next, we’d be having our
lesson knee deep in mud, in the middle of the paddy field. It was quite exhilarating
when you come to think of it. Each day was a whole new adventure for the two of
us, complete with its own set of challenges.
Sinah always made working in the paddy field look like a walk in the park
I distinctly remember trying to figure out how to get
my teaching across to her. The age difference was somehow a considerable
challenge for me. You could say that many a times I was intimidated by this. So
in the early stages of my time in Bario, teaching an older person didn’t appear
to be conventional. In all honesty, it had to be the hardest of all my teaching
experiences. I was most often lost for words when it came to my lessons with my
Sinah. In those moments, applying my past teaching experiences seemed rather
As my confidence began to build, I started to realize
that my teaching methods didn’t have to be constricted to just the classroom
way. Either way, she learnt without any straightforward methods being
implemented. One way was through her keen observation. I remember one of my
final days with her when Daniel tagged along with us to do some work in the
paddy field. Every now and then, when I striked up a conversation with him
in English, I would catch my Sinah just observing the two of us. Later on that
week, she brought up my conversations with Daniel. That’s when I  realized that she was observing how we spoke
to each other and that in turn improved her confidence toward the language.
We bonded the most during our break times, over some delicious Kelabit food
In many ways, my Sinah and I, even though we come from
two totally different cultures, are alike. We’re headstrong and always crave
for a sense of independence. That is why our relationship with each other was a
rather unique one. With the realization that we were quite closely linked, I
began to find it easier to get through to her. I would teach her the way, I foresee
myself being taught- subtly, without being forced. We would both share with
each other stories (my favorite past time of course, and hers too) and that is
when I would slip in conversations in English. That subtle approach began to
bear fruit, when out of nowhere Sinah Supang would start to repeat phrases in
English aloud. Moments like that, I would internally and sometime outwardly,
do a happy dance.
Me casually standing over my Sinah during the Arur Dalan beauty session
The many challenges I faced while trying to teach
Sinah Supang served as a great lesson to me. I learnt from the tough times that
we had together. Those moments that I felt that I couldn’t quite get through to
her or that my efforts seemed useless, served as a lesson for me to never give
up and think of a more creative approach. That in turn bore fruit. Besides
that, Sinah Supang taught me the importance of being
hardworking. This was exemplified by her commitment to her work in the paddy
field.  She implored me to procrastinate
less and be more determined toward my goals during the project as well as the
life goals that I have set out for myself.
Sinah Supang, the very lady who taught me lesson after lesson, just over a few days
 How ironic
really. I went to Bario to teach but return with being taught many lessons.
Cultural night with my Sinah
Jedida Ravi 
Anak Saya, Anna

Anak Saya, Anna

When I was first
introduced to Tepuq Sina Doh Ayu, the woman I was assigned to, I was nervous. To
be honest, nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling but somehow,
over the course of two weeks, she became my family. To this day, I still
wouldn’t know how to describe our funny little bond that formed through Lendra,
her grandaughter. Tepuq was a little shy at first but Lendra certainly wasn’t. By
the end of the first day, Lendra and I had became fast friends, chasing and
poking fun at each other while Tepuq watched us from her favourite spot by the
window, occasionally smiling to herself at our antics. After a while, she would
join in our conversations and slowly but surely, we grew comfortable in each
other’s presence.
Lendra and I outside the longhouse
Eventually, Tepuq and I fell into a rhythm where I would
teach her some English in the mornings over coffee and biscuits.  Later, we’d go out to her little fish pond or
pineapple farm to work. She was reluctant at first to let me into her fish pond.
I was, after all, a ‘budak bandar’ (city kid) and not used to dirt and mud. But
after some convincing, she told me that I could catch the fish and put them into
the bucket placed between the two of us. Just like that, no instructions or
tutorials, she gave me the freedom of figuring out how I would catch the fish. After
what felt like 20 or so failed attempts, I caught my first fish, named him
Fishy, and walked (waddled) over to her through the mud to show her my first
catch. My excitement must have amused her because she stopped working for a
few seconds to laugh at me. That day was one of many milestones in Bario when
for the first time since I met her, she said her first English sentence to me
with a shy smile : “Tomorrow catch again”
Catching fish with
Tepuq and her family
At about 11
am, we would stop what we were doing, clean ourselves up and start the walk
towards SK Bario to pick Lendra up from school. The walk to and from school was
something I looked forward to because Tepuq would teach us both simple Christian
songs that she had learnt over time. One of my favourites was ‘Jalan Dalam
Terang Tuhan’ which she sang almost every day. Along the way, I would point out
a few objects and teach her their English names and in exchange, she would teach
me their Kelabit names.
Walking home from school
However, there was nothing I could teach her that could even
come close to what she taught me. Tepuq showed me what selflessness truly meant
by the way she lived her life. From the way she walked to school each day for
her granddaughter despite her aching knees to the way she offered me her hat when
the sun shone down on us while we worked.  “ Ini anak saya, Anna”, she would say to her
friends when they asked her who I was. Thank you, Tepuq for making me feel so
loved.  Uih lian ngen iko.( I love you)


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