Sunday, March 29, 2009

Palms Up!

Traveller's Palm ( Ravenala Madagascariensis )

This is my first Sunday since been back from Kuching. I thought how nice it would be if I walked through the farm in the early morning light and hear the birds sing. Next on my agenda was to check on the status of my oil palm trees . But along the way there were other palms that attracted my attention. More of that soon. Finally being a Sunday I'll venture out to town and later to the beach. What's up Bintulu?
I've planted many Traveller's Palm at my farm. They provide character and a welcoming gesture. No wonder they call it the Traveller's Palm. The broad leaves are like the palms of our hands waving as if calling the traveller to drop by at our tavern, hut or house. Strictly speaking it is not a palm but a member of the banana family. However, it is palm-like in habit i.e. having a single trunk and a crown of leaves that is one-sided and looking like a fan. So far none of them have produced any flowers here. I was told it would be a rare occurrence. Well, this travellin' man can wait.
Next I stumbled upon the slender looking Golden Cane Palm ( Chrysalidocarpus lutescens). At the far left of the picture in brilliant scarlet colour is the Sealing Wax Palm ( Cyrtostachys renda). Both are my favourite ornamental palms and I consider them excellent for house gardens.

This month the Ubah Laut ( Eugenia polyantha) trees are flowering through out Bintulu. At my farm there are hundreds of them planted along the farm roads. When I first planted the oil palm trees ( Elaeis guineensis) in the ground about two and a half years ago, the Ubah Laut trees were also planted at the same time to add diversity to the landscape. The picture on the right shows how beautiful the eugenia trees are when they flower. The whole crown is enveloped with creamy white and puffy flowers as if its snowing. Well, to share the limelight is the handsome oil palm tree. Now even though I say handsome don't attempt to plant it in your house garden because it can grow to a large tree. Best to plant them in big open spaces or parks or farm if you like farming.
The oil palm trees are planted all over my farm. That's where my pension is. The trees have an economic life span of about 25 years.

What's interesting about the oil palm tree is that the male and female inflorescence's are borne on the same tree. The picture inset on the right shows the female flowers. The female flowers grow on a branch around a single stalk. After pollination, the fruits grow into a compact bunch.

The finger-like male inflorescence's with pollen are frequented by weevils as pollinating agents.
The male flowers form a cluster of furry single spikes resembling a hand with out-stretched fingers. Pollen appear as powdery stuff on the spikes.

Red is the colour of money . These ripe fruits can be harvested. Fresh fruit bunches are showing up at every nook and corner over at the farm here. I guess by this time next year all the trees will be producing average size fruits. A mature oil palm will produce 8-12 bunches at any time though some trees here have been able to produce 15 bunches. ( Secret: Depending on your clone). In a month you can harvest a tree at every two weeks interval and there again from one tree you are likely to pluck only 3 bunches. Each bunch can weigh 10 - 30 kg over their economic life and peak periods. Bad news: In today's economic recessionary periods the price of FFB ( Fresh Fruit Bunches ) are just below RM 400 a ton for Grade A fruits i.e. those weighing 25 kg per bunch and smaller bunches will fetch lower prices. Say for the lowest Grade C at the point of writing is about RM 250 /ton which is just break even point. While about a year ago when the prices were good, the average FFB prices were RM 800 per ton. Such is the vast difference and brings home the point how risky is the oil palm farming business. * Sigh*.

Well, forget about bad times. Think of good times at the beach. The coconut palms are so typical of tropical paradise and romantic holidays. At the Tanjung Batu beach I saw children and families, friends and colleagues, strangers and visitors having good time picnicking, jogging, swimming, playing beach football, kite flying, grilling fish and chicken wings at the BBQ sets (provided by the park authority). And not to miss the fun I wound up the day sipping coconut water direct from the coconut fruit and yes at the beach. Had a nice weekend.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eugenia polyantha trees

Roadside planting having eugenia trees on road shoulders. The central median is planted with royal palms.
Location: Tanjung Batu Coastal Road, Bintulu.
Bintulu roads that are planted with the Eugenia polyantha trees are looking beautiful today. The flowering season is back after a lapse of about 6-7 months. The locals know these trees as 'Ubah Laut'. In Sarawak the Ubah Laut trees are naturally found in peat-swamp forests. However over the last ten years they have been propagated by the thousands through seeds that are in abundance after every flowering season. It's only recently that these trees are frequently seen on urban roads, residential houses and parks throughout Sarawak.

Along this stretch of the Tanjung Batu Coastal Road, eugenia trees are also planted at the central median, where they are heavily pruned and trained as topiary plants. The Eugenia polyantha plant can be 'boxed' or 'bonsaied' because they are essentially a small tree having a slow growing habit. I was impressed by its enveloping creamy white flowers that seem to overwhelm its small compact crown. From its relatively unglamourous swampy origins, the tree is now enjoying a very versatile living in town and in private residences.

The inflorescences appear at the tip of the branches. The creamy white puffy flowers will last for about one to two weeks. The inflorescences do not have petals but instead a concentration of stamens that appear like feathery white balls. The tree will gradually be enveloped in white when it is at the peak of the flowering season. Leaves appear orangish red when young.

At my eco-farm, I have planted them along the farm roads. The main reason I chose them as roadside trees is that the tree is very attractive to birds due to its black berry-like fruits. Furthermore, its dense coverprovides fantastic nesting places for small birds.

This row of eugenia trees have been planted for more than 5 years now and this year's flowering season have produced hundreds of flowering trees at my farm.
Today I am inspired to develop ideas about the eugenia inflorescences. Below are sketches that might help illlustrate some ideas that came across my mind this morning.

I find that the tiny round buds can be graphically rendered in a stylised form. The graphic images can be used for eco-design patterns or ethnic art images that convey arboriginal, native or folklore connotations.

Graffiti, Graffiti on the Wall

This is the first ever proper graffiti I've seen on Bintulu streets for many years now. This graffiti is done at the back wall of a public toilet ( 'Tandas Awam' in Malay) located at BDA-Shahida commercial shopping centre. Funny I was not perturbed by its presence. Instead I was thinking: What is the creative opportunity here?
Graffiti art is a controversial art category. Some prefer to call it urban vandalism and the person who freely ( 'illegally') spray paints on the city's or in this instance Bintulu town's street walls as guerrilla artists. Graffiti art display strong messages and slogans. Now I'm thinking that since Bintulu's public toilets are without any identity why not the local authority here adopt graffiti art as iconic of Bintulu's public toilets? Surely this would be expressive of the local authority's attempt of painting the town beautiful. If properly done Bintulu's graffiti art could be a tourism product. Well, I'm looking at all the positive angles of this playful, provocative art form though for many quarters it uncomfortably borders on mischievousness and punishable by fine, jail term or canning. Positively, what I'm suggesting here is to adopt graffiti-like art as iconic of Bintulu's public toilets. Graffiti, Graffiti on the Wall, Which is the most creative of them all?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grilled Fish

After having a full day's rest at the farm yesterday, my heart itched to see what's going on in Bintulu town. Therefore immediately after sunrise, I drove to town looking for that special thing I miss about Bintulu. I ventured to the fish market at Pasar Utama and bought the first batches of fresh fishes that were laid on the tables. Bintulu is for fresh fishes. I can't find fresh fishes that many and varied in types and sizes in Kuching. Bintulu is for fish lovers like me. I realise now that I can't live without eating fresh fishes. The fishes in Bintulu are so very fresh that we have here want you call 'umai' not unlike the Japanese 'sushi' - a dish of freshly cut fish ( mainly pomfret species) that is mixed with lime or vinegar, slices of onions, chillies and salted vegetables and taken raw after the ingredients are throughly mixed.

Today's menu was something I like to do after having missed it at Kuching. Kuching is a city and I don't have the luxury like in Bintulu where I can collect tons of firewood from the jungle closeby. Today I get to smell grilled fish cooked using jungle wood. Don't need charcoal or microwave. Grilled fresh fishes make my day today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sri Aman Stopover

Typical skies during the journey- cloudy and sunny.

This afternoon I'm blogging from Bintulu. We arrived here last night after a 10 hours drive from Kuching. The weather throughout the journey was fine, cloudy and encountered only one short burst of afternoon rain after we left Sri Aman. Inul and Daisy were behaving extremely well this trip and took time to sleep for the most part of the journey. The air-conditioning in the car helped much to calm their nerves and kept them comfortable.
Inul by the front seat

We took a lunch break at Sri Aman. There we saw a couple of traders hawking fresh vegetables and fruits under shade of large angsana trees.

One of my favourites fruit vegetables is this local cucumber variety grown mainly by the Ibans. A small basket like the one on the left cost RM 2. I prefer most to cut them into small pieces and mix them with small slices of chicken meat and cook them as soup.
Other things we bought here were freshly harvested grains of black rice which is best prepared as porridge.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Complex Story

Public space around Court House cum Administrative complex, 1948

Old Court House Complex and surrounds, March 2009.

The time lapse between the two pictures above is about 60 years. It surprises me today how intact the buildings, monuments and spaces at the complex area are after such a long long time. My interest in this complex story started in Bintulu a few weeks ago when I was flipping through some old photo albums kept by my father. He was a young man in Kuching around 1948 when the above picture was taken.
The Court House Complex has a very long, colourful and significant story since it was developed starting in 1868 and over the years till 1924, many new additional buildings were added. During the Brooke's and then the British colonial rule, many functions of the government of the day were held here. It was the seat of government, native court, judicial court, Council Negeri meetings ( i.e. local government meetings) , public clinic and even functioned as a hospital. When Sarawak achieved independence, the complex was home to the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly meetings starting in 1963 right on till 1973.
The Clock Tower was added in 1883 to the porch at the entrance of the complex. The complex buildings are very colonial in style with massive round columns, wide verandas and balconies, brick walls and pitched roofs using 'belian' shingles. In front of the Court House Complex is a Memorial dedicated to Charles Brooke, the second white Rajah of Sarawak. The memorial was unveiled in 1924. It has a marble relief of Charles Brooke's head and above it the old crest and coat of arms of Sarawak.
Today the Old Court House Complex is being re-used as the State Tourism Complex. Tourists can easily obtain brochures,maps and many Sarawak tourism related literature here for free. Besides that it does have exhibition hall, an eating outlet and souvenir shop.
Above is a view of the Kuching waterfront area from the Complex, showing the new Sarawak State Legislative Assembly building ( with gold coloured roof) in the far background nearing completion.

Part of a building block within the complex in the background is converted into an eating outlet called 'The Little Lebanon'.

There is another interesting connection with this complex story to Bintulu. It was on the 8th of September 1867 that the first ever Council Negeri meeting ( i.e. local government meeting) was held in Bintulu and presided by Charles Brooke. Thus making Bintulu the birthplace of 'modern' democratic practice in Sarawak.
Thanks to the British, democratic principles and practises were introduced early to the peoples of Sarawak.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Call Thee - the Rajah Brooke

Sunday is a good day to visit the Sarawak Museum. Tourists and local visitors flocked to the Sarawak Museum everyday, including Sunday. A must place to check out if you are in Kuching. What caught my attention today was this over-sized replica of the Rajah Brooke Birdwing Butterfly ( Ornithoptera brookeana) on the front wall of the National History Museum building here. This gorgeous, chastely beautiful of all butterflies has deep velvety black wings that are marked by a band of spots in brilliant metallic green colour. For those familiar with the theory of 'natural selection' and 'the origin of species' might like to note that Darwin had incubated his theory for many years but did not attempt to publish it until his contemporary Alfred Wallace hatched upon the same idea. Alfred Wallace travelled to the Far East especially the Malay archipelago and Indonesian Islands area including Sarawak ( Borneo) to collect samples. It was during his travel here that he named the birdwing butterfly as Rajah Brooke, after the first white Rajah of Sarawak -Sir James Brooke.

The Natural History Museum at the Sarawak Museum garden area.

The Rajah Brooke in flight sucking honey from the Pagoda flowers.
Location: Kambatik eco-farm, Bintulu.

It is not easy to come across the birdwing butterflies. However at my eco-farm in Bintulu, they are everywhere. From my experience birdwing butterflies like upstream waters, marginal forest areas where there are plenty of food sources and bright sunlight. In Bintulu I see them frequently visiting the Pagoda Flower ( Clerondendrum japonicum/paniculatum) blooms, Hibiscus flowers and the Bleeding Heart flowers ,too.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Afternoon at the Beach

The Damai Beach at Santubong

This afternoon was spent walking the beaches of Santubong, a 40 minutes drive from Kuching city. The beach is set against the Santubong mountain backdrop. While Sarawak has a very long coastline, only a very few isolated spots are developed into recreational or tourism attractions. Santubong is one location that has been intensively developed by the Sarawak State Development agency to the detriment of other potential spots throughout Sarawak. Obviously this has got to do with the fact that Santubong is closest to the capital city and the State government has far too long downplayed the role of tourism as a foreign exchange earner.

Today's hot and sunny tropical weather was ideal for swimming and sun-tanning.

I like most the view towards the hill where modern hotel apartments are given a touch of Malay high pitched traditional roof design. The greenery is everywhere and the wilderness around it makes the place authentically tropical and peaceful. Today was a fun afternoon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How's the Sky?

At around 6.30 this morning the sky glowed shortly after the sun began to rise behind the mountains at the back of our house. It indicated to me that today the weather would be very hot and sunny. I guess today would be a good time to take pictures of the sky.

At the Kuching waterfront I was delighted to see two structures against the clear blue sky. In the foreground the two white roofing structures of the godown amphitheatre framed up the golden pinnacle of the newly constructed Sarawak State Legislative building in the far background. A simple picture composition using straight lines and curves.

Before I left the Kuching waterfront area, I decided to stop by at the junction of Main Bazaar and Temple Street. Here I took a picture of the Chinese Temple which was built in 1876 according to some accounts. The Chinese worship deities. One prominent god is called the 'Tua Pek Kong' among the many pantheon of Chinese gods. The above temple houses the 'Tua Pek Kong', a genial figure normally carved with red cheeks, flowing white beard and white eyebrows and looking paternalistic on his followers. The temple is a popular tourist attraction these days since it is situated within the tourist belt and within walking distance from the major hotels. Against the blue sky a new hotel nears completion at the far background.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fabulous Fibre

Tall coconut palms bending against the sunset on a remote tropical beach makes a truly tropical vacation. Coconut juices sipped from half -opened young fruits are part of the romantic scenery of a tropical resort . Here you can stretch your legs and be one with nature. Then there was this coconut head carved out of an old ripe coconut fruit I saw the other day. It was a funny looking head of a monkey. A fine example where the coconut skin and fibre right to its hard shell are fully utilised to create a unique craft work. The cupped ears are also made from the coconut shell .

Remove the hard shell and cut the thick skin and fibre into vertical strips (as shown above) and you'll get the best hanging container for pitcher plants.

Strip off the fibres from the skin cover and thick shell. Soon you'll have yards of loose coconut fibres that are ideal for mulching .
In my gardening work I always prefer to use coconut fibres as mulch because they are locally available, retain moisture well and decompose into organic matter and in the process help break up the soil and condition it as well. In certain cases the fibres are meshed and formed into a mat and pegged to steep slopes as growing medium for grass seeds or cover plants to prevent soil erosion. In other instances, the fibres can be used as infill material for thin cushion or sleeping mats in place of cotton. I guess the only limit to its use is our imagination.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What a Toad!

Last week while at my Bintulu eco-farm, I was dumbfounded to see this strange creature. I was not sure whether it was a frog or a toad. Now in Kuching I checked many of the books at the libraries here to find a similar picture. None looked similar. When I checked on Google images no similar image appeared. OK, this could be my special find.
On that day( 5th March) I was having my normal morning walk when my eyes were caught by a tiny movement on the earth road. I knelt to see this tiny toad and ran to my chalet to get my camera h/p N93i. Luckily it was still there when I returned. For one thing this stubby bodied creature could only make a distance of about 10 cm per jump probably due to its short hind legs. I read that toads have poisonous glands behind their eyes. Could it be that nature has 'created' the two big eyes on its back to scare potential predators? Throwing signals like ' See, I'm a bigger toad with loads more poison on my back. Be warned!'. Notice too how well camouflaged is the overall colour and design of its back to the colour and tiny pebbles on the dirt road. Nature truly amazes me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vintage Vespa

While doing weekend shopping at Satok Sunday market, I met this vintage Vespa sprint scooter parked on the five-foot way . Judging from the registration plate number, this vehicle must have been on the road for about 50 years and still looking good. Today it became a travelling 'shop' catering for pickled fruits, packet drinks, sweets and sachets of coffee and tea. Shoppers passing by seemed very delighted to see the scooter and many stopped to vent their curiosity. I could very well remember in 1975 when a teaching colleague of mine bought one that was coloured red. He was the man around town. The Vespa pushed his status to that of a film star and one of the most eligible bachelor in town.
The proud owner of the Vespa is the gentleman wearing the orange cap. He told me that he is a member of the Vespa Club here who gets invited at times to ride around the city in convoys participating in public festivals or some official or semi-official functions.
He has conveniently placed a small board covered with a piece of decorative cloth on top of the scooter's seat to display his wares. The overall design of the scooter is an epitome of Italian design. It has a frame that encloses the engine and other mechanical parts. The pass-through leg area makes it easy to be used by girls or women. And yes, it has the handlebar gear change. Furthermore it has a front shield and a flat floorboard that protects the rider from mud splashes or flying objects underneath. What amazes me today was the presence of a spare tyre that fitted snugly behind the front shield. You can't carry spare tyres on other motorcycles like you do on the scooter.
Two thumbs up for today's lovely Vespa!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Golden Thoughts

Thinking about the economic collapse of nations today can be very distressing. But is there a way to look at the brighter side of things? To keep me think positive and speculative about the future, I have two golden blooms to colour my thinking. First is the Kedah Gardenia ( Gardenia carinata), a rather small tree that has its origins in West Malaysia. Just before I left Bintulu for Kuching last week, I took this picture ( right inset) at the open space in front of Medan Jaya shopping area. March seems to be the flowering season of Golden Gardenia trees in Bintulu.What I find so special about this tree are the fragrant flowers it produced. The flowers are singular and the petals thick. The flowers will remain on the tree for weeks and when they fall the ground below are littered with beautiful yellow petals

CU of the fragrant Golden Gardenia Tree flowers.
Yellow blooms are symbolic of sunshine, brightness and optimism. It helps me visualise opportunity. Yellow hat thinking is opportunity seeking. When one wears a yellow hat, one tends to draw best scenarios. There is so much optimism in the air and I like the smell of opportunities. To be open requires me to think positively .

In Kuching, I came across this flowering Golden Shower tree ( Cassia fistula) located at the Main Central Padang area. Being semi-deciduous, the tree seemed to be enveloped by yellow flowers that hang in long pendulous racemes. At the same time it produced fruits that are long (30-60 cm) looking like drumsticks. When all the flowers fall the tree will be covered by these long pods which contain the seeds for propagation purposes. The golden shower tree, sometimes referred to as the Indian laburnum, is considered a medium -sized tree ( 10 -20 m high) and is suitable to be planted on small roads, gardens and open spaces.

Having its inflorescence's appearing in long golden bunches makes me think of gold dropping on my lap. It begs me answer the most important question economist ask - what's in it for me? For when one has explored positively and evaluated risks, they must arise some opportunities. There's no middle ground. Make sure that you are on the correct side of the fence when things get worse with the existing economic collapse ( slump - recession - depression). Save yourself first, before you save civilisation!
The Golden Shower Tree ( Cassia fistula)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mellow Out

Today I unpacked a box I brought from Bintulu. It contained an old but functioning phonograph and about 50 record albums. I couldn't yet play the records because there's no replacement for the old broken needle. But in today's world of the Internet, that's no real problem really because you can just type any title song in the album on You Tube and then listen to Olivia's renditions over many live performances throughout the years. To see her singing live was beyond my wildest dreams back in 1975. Now with You tube I'm catching up with her( after so many years!)
As a young man back then, I found much solace in the vocals of Olivia Newton-John, the British- born Australian singer, especially her hit song 'Have You Never Been Mellow'. I must have played the song a hundred times over from 1975 to 1976. I was a highly spirited teacher back then busy preparing lesson plans till the wee hours and working hard the following day for the routine classroom teaching, afternoon extra-curricular activities and weekend social gatherings. At times when I returned from work, I would throw up my shoes and lay back to listen her voice on the vinyl record. Her high-pitched voice seemed soulful and distant. It carried a message that bespoke of my youth. We'll face the times in our lives when in our hurried steps to achieve, we forget to turn to the person closest or next to us in terms of 'letting them be strong'. For all you know, they may be a guide or mentor 'to take your hand' so to speak.
I'll always treasure the album as a testimony to my youthful days, and the song 'Have You Never Been Mellow' as the song that has given me much happiness and comfort deep inside over the years.

Inside cover of Olivia's iconic album 'Grease' with John Travolta, written and produced by Barry Gibb in 1978.