Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh No Ma'am, You Can't Go There!

As I proceeded I was met by kids laughing and yelling the few English words they know, and posed for photos – soon I had a whole following, and adults along the way smiled and greeted me with big smiles and posed as well, so my trepidation slowly went away and I headed out towards the "houses" built on the stilts. I was definitely entering another world, but I was urged on by the friendliness I met, and I ventured on snapping photos of everything – the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful – it was all there! Grandmas with kids wanting me to take a picture, men, old and young, and all very friendly, wanting to know where I was from. California – United States – by San Francisco – was my answer if they kept asking and didn't really know California. One man did and he wanted to know the name of our president – Obama – he shook his head, no other one – I said our governor of California is Arnold Schwarzenegger, you know the Terminator – he and the other men around were ecstatic, yes Terminator and then they all made gestures and sounds like they were shooting machine guns – he kill the bad guys! The man said, yes I know, I once saw in a magazine! He was so proud of himself, it was delightful! It was connecting with someone across all barriers – and I am sure he grew in the eyes of his buddies! Another man came and pointed to a woman holding a beautiful baby girl, he wanted me to take a picture – I obliged, and then he introduced me to his wife, who was tending a little store with fabrics, and I took a photo and told him his wife was beautiful – he beamed at me! I was now by the mosque built on stilts as well, and I continued across a narrow "bridge" where the village continued. I walked a bit further, but then the walkway got a bit more precarious with planks missing here and there, so I thought it prudent to turn around and head back. I was met with smiles and waves as I went back, took some more photos, and the guys who had wanted me to take a photo of them, while one of them was holding a small bag with something white, waved again and held up a bag, as if they were asking if I wanted to buy! Heavens no, I shook my head, realizing that what I had thought at the time most likely was correct, even though I did find it peculiar that he wanted to be photographed with the stuff, whatever it was!!

This morning when I was picked up by the Humana truck we passed the settlement and I turned around to the teachers in the back and said, "I went there yesterday!" They were horrified and exclaimed: "Oh no ma'am, you cannot go there, it is the dark side, it's very dangerous, nobody goes there!" Well then, I guess sometimes it pays off to be ignorant, blond and blue-eyed believing in the good in people, so I have walked on the dark side and returned unharmed! God knows I looked like a tourist, and stuck out like a sore thumb, but maybe that was a saving grace, who knows!

The rest of the day I did totally harmless things such as writing my blog and painting with the materials that had been dropped off at my hotel while I was exploring, so I had a feel for what the paint, brushes and paper Marianne so kindly and generously had sponsored were like, so I could adapt my instruction accordingly.
I had dinner with Torben and Rosalyn and two of the boys at the hotel, and got the last of the information for the coming days from Torben before we said good night, and I headed up to finish packing and go to bed, as another early morning lay ahead of me!

Lahad Datu, Impressions and Reflections

Torben had drawn a rough map for me the night before, and after a good night's sleep I felt refreshed and looked forward to exploring Lahad Datu a bit on my own. It was hot and humid, of course, as I set out around 10 AM, but the town was already bustling, even though it was a Sunday. I walked down to the water's edge, the views were pretty, the trash lying everywhere an eyesore! Looking at the road with it's pretty landscaping in the middle, and the palm and shade trees planted along the road, as well as some big signs indicating "No Littering" was an odd juxtaposition to the reality of the garbage! I sure hope the beautifying of Lahad Datu will win over the old ways of just throwing things away and leave them wherever they may fall. It's just another reminder that our creating "new consumer markets" around the world have consequences - we wrap everything in indestructible packaging – and it doesn't go away!
I went through the open market, enjoying the colorful display of fruits, vegetables and herbs, umbrellas in all colors of the rainbow creating shade and the hustling and bustling of people. Everyone seemed really friendly and smiled at this odd creature with her sunhat, camera, backpack and binoculars walking by looking at everything and enjoying the lively scenery.
I continued out and reached the oceanfront and it seemed like I could see some dilapidated houses further along built on stilts over the water, so I headed that way, even though it did look a bit shady to say the least, but Torben had mentioned it, so I figured I got this far, I should at least check it out, and probably I would not have a chance later on – so I decided to go and explore.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Out and About in Sandakan

After the orangutan visit we went in to Sandakan - famous for the 2nd Wold War Death Marches where almost 2000 mainly Australians perished. Rosalyn wanted to do a bit of shopping while she had the chance - Sandakan is quite a bit bigger than Lahad Datu, and Torben offered to drive me and the boys around for a bit of sightseeing.

The highlight was the newly erected Chinese Buddhist Temple overlooking Sandakan and the delta - beautiful views! The temple was quite big and lavish, but you had to get used to the "swastika" looking signs - for a Dane (and many others) a grim reminder of the horrors of 2nd WW - however, they are an ancient Hindu and Buddhist sign, so there you have it - Buddhism has not gone fascist!

It was late when we finally headed back toward Lahad Datu, and bolts of lightening soon flashed across the sky, and about halfway the rain started pouring down in buckets - making driving really difficult and exhausting for poor Torben. However, he handled it in fine style and got us all home safe, but tired!

Crocodiles and Orangutans!

Just as I stepped outside the hotel Faisal pulls up in the Humana pickup, and a couple of other girls show up at the same time – turned out they were teachers going along to watch the kids – this was going to be the very first Human field trip – the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center had kindly waived the entrance fees for the kids, so everyone was very excited!
I was dropped off at Torben's house, as I was going to drive with him and Rosalyn with their 4 boys!
We led the caravan, 2 school buses were following, and I enjoyed the scenery, which was mainly palm oil plantations and Torben explained about the area, pointed out when we drove by plantations that were sponsoring schools, etc.
As we got close to Sandakan we turned off to go to a crocodile farm first, as feeding time for the orangutans wasn't until 3 PM, and the kids would no doubt get a huge kick out of seeing the crocodiles and the little show they put on there.
It was fun to see how excited and still very well behaved "our" kids were – they looked so bright and cheerful in their bright yellow Humana T-shirts! I had gotten one also that morning saying "Teacher" on the back, and I am looking forward to wearing it!
After the crocodile show we walked around a bit to see the exhibits – among others the crocodile who was caught in Lahad Datu after having devoured 4 villagers many years ago! He was a big, scary fellow!
Soon everyone was rounded up again, and it was time to get some lunch and go to the Orangutan Center.
We walked out the boardwalk a short distance to get to the viewing area from where you could see the platform where they feed the Orangutans, and there were already one adult female there, waiting, and I could faintly see another high up in a tree some distance away!
Soon several orangutans were swinging into sight and approched the platform as the 2 men with the food arrived. It was fantastic seeing the mom's with their babies holding on tightly as they swung along the ropes and branches.
The Macaques were trying to sneak in on the action, and as you can see from a couple of my photos this Orangutan Mom did not appreciate it! There were both pig-tailed Macaques and long-tailed Macaques, and one the way out a French guy had spotted 4 big black birds in a tree, Torben identified them - Black Hornbills!
What a great afternoon, and the day was not over yet!