Many of us here in Sarawak may have read about the huge amount of debris that is threatening the Three Gorges Dam in China.  And we have been appalled by the photos showing a huge swathe of the waters by the dam crammed full of debris, with cranes brought in to fish out a tangled mess, including shoes, bottles, branches and Styrofoam. It appears to be “a disaster in the making.”  But because the Three Gorges Dam is so far way in China, we shrug it off and feel consoled by the “safety” that our distance from China offers.

Rubbish at The Three Gorges Dam

Rubbish at Three Gorges Dam

Our complacence has now been rudely shaken by the recent Rejang River logjam which stretched for 50 kilometers. I shudder to think what might have been the consequences had a logjam of this magnitude occur upstream after the impoundment of the Bakun Dam.  Are the authorities ready to cope with such a calamity?

The Rajang River ( aka Rejang River)  or known as Sungai Rajang in Malay is located in northwest of Borneo island and it originates in the Iran Mountains. The river flows approximately 563 km to the South China Sea, making it the longest river in Malaysia. It is within the territories of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia by land mass.

On 6 October 2010, heavy rain in Putai and Nungun in upper Baleh is said to have caused a massive landslides that brought logs and debris down into the Baleh river, tributaries above Kapit, and then into the Rajang river.

The high water level and swift current in Baleh River and its tributaries also washed the logs and debris along their banks.

It was estimated that the volume of the logs and debris had exceeded 300, 000 cubic metres. This logjam had also affected the Igan river. The log debris, stretching 50 km long, reached Sibu on 8 October. It caused transportation difficulties for the people living along side the river as well as major ecological damage. Lots of dead fish were seen floating in the river.

Rejang River logjam - what a disaster!

The massive logjam in Kapit, Sarawak, rendering the river impassable to boats

An express boat caught in the logjam

What was the cause of the logjam? Was it an act of God? Or an act of nature? I would think human greed plays a big role. It doesn’t require a genius to figure out the cause of this disaster: indiscriminate land clearing and logging. These blatant activities have exposed our soil to erosion and left behind massive timber debris. I believe that heavy rain hitting the Balleh and Balui river basins caused massive flooding, erosion of river banks and landslides, flushing out the massive amount of timber debris into the Rejang River.

The map explains the events leading up to the logjam.

Events leading to the disaster

Sarawak’s Land Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing blamed unscrupulous timber companies for the disaster.

“There is still a lot of debris, making travel unsafe. There are also dead fish in the river. It’s an ecological disaster.”

Datuk Seri Dr James Masing, Sarawak's Minister for Land Development

Masing also disclosed that tons of fish had surfaced along the long stretch from Balleh to Sibu, which riverine folks scooped out easily.

He said that this was the third time in three years – the first was in 2008 at Sungai Gat and the second in Sungai Tunoh last year – that such an incident had happened and he feared that it would have far-reaching implications on the state, particularly on the timber industry.

He said the state government had laid down rules for logging but what was happening clearly showed that the rules were not being followed.

“I have gone around the world telling people that we are doing logging correctly. Now this happens. What will people think of us? We must take action against these unscrupulous timber companies.”

He said the authorities concerned must take their job more seriously and enforce the laws stringently.

It was a sad day indeed for Sarawak to catch worldwide attention for all the wrong reasons.  The disaster showcased the blatant disregard for the ecosystem of Sarawak. There will be a lot of finger-pointing but we Sarawakians all know who the real culprits are.  Hopefully our government can learn a lesson from this disaster before it is too late.

The China Three Gorges Corporation spends about 10 million yuan (about RM5 million) each year to clear the floating waste. And the cost for disposing the waste is expected to hit 3 million yuan this year. Nearly 3,000 tons of garbage are collected daily. In the Chongqing section of the Three Gorges, about a dozen mechanized boats are hauling the waste.

Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) chief Francis Paul Siah said that the state government must not adopt the ostrich approach (observer only) by burying its head in the sand. According to him, the plunder and rape of Sarawak’s forests have gone on for far too long.

The ostrich approach

What plans does our government have in place to cope with the debris at Bakun Dam once it is fully operational?  Or are we just waiting for a major disaster to happen before we get off our butts?

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Malaysians celebrate Malaysia Day or Hari Malaysia today. On this day in 1963, the formation of Malaysia which consisted of the Federation of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore was formally promulgated.

Malaysian flag...Jalur Gemilang (Malay for "Stripes of Glory")

47 years after its formation, Malaysia is officially celebrating its creation for the first time by declaring the day a public holiday. What took the government so long to recognise the country’s very formation? It was on October 19, 2009 that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak officially declared that September 16 would be a public holiday commencing from 2010.

Malaysia Day would be celebrated with events that would foster closer unity, understanding between the different races and community success and achievement through sports, social culture and arts, to spur the 1Malaysia spirit.

This is the real “birthday” of Malaysia, but  it has been a long time coming.

To all my fellow Malaysians, Happy Malaysia Day!

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Today is Hari Kebangsaan or Hari Merdeka (Independence Day). It is the national day of Malaysia commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule. In a wider context, it is to celebrate the formation of Malaysia.

Hari Merdekaan 2010

The effort for independence was spearheaded by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, who led a delegation of ministers and political leaders of Malaya in negotiations with the British in London for Merdeka, or independence along with the first president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) Tun Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock and fifth President of Malaysian Indian Congress Tun V.T. Sambanthan. Once it became increasingly clear that the Communist threat posed during the Malayan Emergency was petering out, agreement was reached on February 8, 1956, for Malaya to gain independence from the British Empire. However, for a number of logistical and administrative reasons, it was decided that the official proclamation of independence would only be made the next year, on August 31, 1957, at Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), in Kuala Lumpur.

This YouTube video is the proclamation of independence by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first prime minister of Malaysia.

The Federation of Malaysia, comprising the States of Malaya, North Borneo (later renamed Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore was to be officially declared on the date August 31, 1963, on the 6th anniversary of Malayan independence. However, it was postponed to September 16, 1963, mainly due to Indonesian and the Philippines’ opposition to the formation of Malaysia. Nevertheless, North Borneo and Singapore declared sovereignty on August 31, 1963. Indonesian opposition later escalated to a military conflict. Indonesia considered Malaysia as a new form of colonization on the provinces of Sarawak and Sabah in the island of Borneo (bordering Kalimantan, Indonesia), which they laid claim on. To assure Indonesia that Malaysia was not a form of neo-colonialism, a referendum, organized by the United Nations, and the Cobbold Commission, led by Lord Cobbold, were formed to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak wished to join Malaysia. Their eventual findings which indicated substantial support for Malaysia among the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, cleared the way for the final proclamation of Malaysia.

The formation of the Federation of Malaysia was then announced on September 16, 1963 as Malaysia Day. The nationwide Independence Day celebration is still held on August 31, the original independence date of Malaya, while Malaysia Day is a public holiday only in East Malaysia. However, this has caused some minor discontent among East Malaysians in particular since it has been argued that celebrating the national day on August 31 is too Malaya-centric. It is decided that starting this year, Malaysia Day will be a nationwide public holiday in addition to Hari Merdeka on August 31.

The above is from Wikipedia.

To all Malaysians, I wish you a very happy Hari Kebangsaan. May  Malaysia be blessed with peace, racial harmony, religious tolerance, prosperity and unity! God bless Malaysia!

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The 2010 Borneo International Yachting Challenge (BIYC) began in Miri, Sarawak on the 24th of this month with 51 yachts  from 14 countries taking part. There are 20 entries from Australia, 6 from UK, 5 from Malaysia, 5 from New Zealand, 4 from USA, 2 from Germany, 2 from France and 1 each from Singapore, Grenadines, Vanuatu, British Virgin Island, Netherlands, Canada and Sweden.

BIYC 2010 Logo

This annual event, now in its 7th year, takes a fleet of international yachts from Miri to Labuan – a distance of 105 miles, and then from Labuan to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) which is another 65 miles. The regatta finishes in Kota Kinabalu with two races around the Tunku Abdul Rahman national Marine Park on Friday the 30th July, followed by a lavish prize giving dinner at Sutera Harbour Marina Club hosted by Sabah Tourism.

The regatta is a joint effort between the Ministry Of Tourism And Heritage Sarawak, Labuan Corporation, and the Sabah Tourism Board. Other sponsors include Sutera Harbour Resort, Samling Global, Pelita and Park City Everly Hotel in Miri.

Sarawak’s Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan flagged off the contestants at Marina Bay in Miri. Sarawk’s Assistant Minister of Social Development & Urbanisation Datuk Lee Kin Shin, BYIC Miri Working Committee chairman Troy Yaw and Miri mayor Lawrence Lai were also present at the flag-off.

Marina Bay Miri

This year’s fleet has set a new record for the event. It will also make the regatta one of the largest of its kind in South East Asia. One of the reasons for this dramatic increase in numbers is due to collaboration between the BIYC and the Sail Malaysia Rally – Passage to the East.

BIYC committee member Simon Farmer, who was instrumental in forging this partnership with the organizers of Sail Malaysia, said that given the current state of the global economy and the ever shrinking sponsorship dollar it made sense to combine the two events. He said the number of entries this year proved that this had been a popular strategy.

The Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board and co-chairman of the regatta, Dato Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin expressed his delight with the number of yachts taking part this year and said that Sabah is on target to achieving its goal in becoming the Caribbean of the East.

He said that ‘events such as this are putting Borneo and Kota Kinabalu on the map, and are the perfect vehicle for showcasing the state and its bio-diversity’.

Adlin commented further that over the past 12 months Sutera Harbour Marina and Kota Kinabalu had hosted at least 10 mega yachts of over thirty meters with a combined value of over US$350 million dollars. Among these visitors was the world’s largest privately owned sailing yacht, the 92 meter ‘Eos’ valued in excess of US$150 million.

Sutera Harbour Marina in Kota Kinabalu

“The fact that more and more of these types of yachts are visiting our shores means that the message is getting through to yacht owners and captains that Sabah and Borneo have as much to offer, if not more than the other major destinations around the world. These types of visitors provide a tremendous boost to the local economy and to the global perception of Sabah”, remarked Adlin

Tengku Adlin will take part in the regatta once again this year sailing aboard Farmers yacht in the final two races off Kota Kinabalu. This will be a little different from last year when he crewed on the 120’ luxury sailing yacht ‘Naos’ and was treated to a gourmet lunch. Farmer warned Adlin not to expect the same this year as the boat he is sailing on is a stripped out racing yacht with only the bare essentials. Adlin replied that he was ready for the challenge.

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Tomorrow is Gawai Dayak. This is a harvest festival celebrated by Sarawak’s largest ethnic group, the Dayaks, and the Bidayuhs. It is a time for family reunion, renewal of friendship and paying respects to the elders and the departed. The festival is rhapsody of non-stop dancing and merry-making as well as lavish offerings of traditional delicacies and tuak, a wine made from fermented rice, yeast and sugar.

This is how you make tuak. Glutinous rice is cooked and left to cool in a ‘tapan’ or any flat utensils. For every five kilograms of glutinous rice you will need five kilograms of round ‘ragi’ (yeast) and five pieces of thin slice ragi (round ragi for bitterness, slice ragi for sweetness). The yeast are pounded into powder and mixed with the rice after it has cooled. This mixture is then left to ferment in any clean container (jar) for a week or so. Cool, boiled water plus sugar is added to this mixture (10 kg sugar for 20 liters of water) . Depending on your taste, your tuak is now ready but the longer you keep it, the more potent it will be. Gawai Dayak would be less meaningful without the tuak. The tuak is a must, just like turkey is a must for Christmas. Bottoms up!

On Gawai Dayak, it is a ritual to give offerings to the dead through the miring ceremony, an elaborate and often colourful and noisy ceremony performed to appease the gods and the spirits and to ask for prosperity, good health and other blessings from them. The ceremony is performed by passing a live chicken above the food and drink, or other offerings, in a circular motion several times.

Gawai Dayak, particularly at the longhouses, is an unparalleled example of unity and harmony in the country. The longhouse folks welcome with open arms all guests irrespective of race, gender or religion. A visit to a Dayak longhouse during Gawai Dayak is a real eye-opener. The longhouse folks bring out their gongs and drums. Many of them wear hand-woven costumes lavishly decorated with antique beads and silver. Ladies and men in traditional costume perform ngajat which is a simple, rhythmic, strutting shuffle danced in rhythm to the beats of the gongs and drums. Visitors to the longhouses are often invited to join in.

A Dayak girl dancing

An Iban man performing the ngajat

A longhouse usually has dozens of families living in it so you will be invited to visit all the families. Be warned….if you cannot handle too much alcohol, you may end up very drunk as you will be served tuak by every family that you visit.

To all my Dayak friends, I wish you all Selamat Gawai Dayak……Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai!

Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai

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Myriam Janeth Abreu Medfina, representing Venezuela, was crowned Miss Tourism Intercontinental 2010 last night by Sarawak’s Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan at the Miri Indoor Stadium.

Miss Venezuela Wins The Title of Miss Tourism Intercontinental 2010

Miss Venezuela Wins

First runner-up was Miss Australia, Kelly Louise Maguire. Miss America, Amy Diaz, was the second runner-up. Congratulations to the winners!

Winners of the Miss Tourism Intercontinental 2010

Miss Malaysia, Darcia Marselynna, won the subsidiary title of “Miss Congeniality”. The “Best Talent” title went to Miss Germany, Klaudia Domagalska. Miss Netherlands, Djamila Celina Mercherts, won the “Best National Costume” title.  Miss Mexico, Leslie Ines Quezada Bueno, took home the “Best Evening Gown” title.

Below are photos of 30 of the contestants taken during their stint at Grand Palace Hotel a few days ago. All the photos in this blog post are by the courtesy of Chris Gan of Grand Palace Hotel Miri. Thanks, Chris!

Miss Australia

Miss Azerbaijan

Miss Belarus

Miss Brazil

Miss China

Miss Estonia

Miss Ethiopia

Miss Germany

Miss Hong Kong

Miss India

Miss Japan

Miss Kyrghyzstan

Miss Latvia

Miss Lebanon

Miss Macau

Miss Malaysia

Miss Mexico

Miss Netherlands

Miss New Zealand

Miss Pakistan

Miss Russia

Miss Singapore

Miss South Africa

Miss South Korea

Miss Taiwan

Miss Thailand

Miss Tunisia

Miss Ukraine

Miss USA

Miss Venezuela...she really exudes confidence!

Chris Gan With Some of the Contestants

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A few days ago I saw an exotic local fruit at a hawker in front of  the Magnum 4D outlet in Boulvard Commercial Center. The fruit is known as keranji (dialium indum) locally.

The fruits come from a tall, tropical tree which has become a threathened tree species due to its valued hard and compact wood. The fruits are grape-size with thin black brittle inedible shells. Each fruit typically has a hard brown seed but some fruits have two seeds. The fruit tastes like tamarind as it is a type of velvet tamarind.

I remember eating this fruit when I was a small kid so I could not resist buying some. Cracking open the shell and eating the flesh covering the seed sure brought back memories of my childhood in Bintangor, Sarawak.  As kids, we used to eat this fruit and sometimes played a game with the fruits. Two person competed with each other with each holding a fruit between the thumb and the forefinger and pressing the fruit against the other person’s fruit.The person whose fruit’s shell broke had to surrender his or her fruit to the other person. The games kids played, haha!

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Miri is aiming at becoming the first green city in Malaysia with May 20 as the deadline. On May 20 this year, Miri will be celebrating its 5th anniversary as a city.

Bird's Eye View of Miri City

Bird's Eye View of Miri City

Since taking office, Mayor Lawrence Lai has impressed Mirians with his leadership and initiative to transform Miri into a better municipality.  He has been busy visiting many parts of the municipality to listen to complaints from the people and trying to carry out improvements where necessary.

Mayor Lawrence Lai

Mayor Lawrence Lai

One of the first step undertaken by the Mayor towards making Miri a green city is appealing to Mirians to lend their wholehearted support to make Miri the first city to say no to plastic bags everyday.

The city council’s “Say No To Plastic” campaign launched on August 30 last year has garnered the support of local hypermarkets and supermarkets that give no free plastic bags on Sunday. With effect from this month, the no-plastic days were increased to 3 days every week from Friday to Sunday.

Say No To Plastic Bag

Say No To Plastic Bag

The city council has always been active in planting trees and plants in the city and the mayor has pledged to plant a minimum of 1000 trees per year. I can see nice landscaping in many areas of the city which makes the city look much more beautiful….kudos to the city council!

The city council is planning to hold landscaping competitions among schools to inculcate the “go green” culture among students. It is also encouraging all government departments and agencies to carry out landscaping too.

A major green project that the city council will implement is the bicycle track from Taman Selera to Lutong in two phases. Under the first phase, the bicycle track will link Taman Selera to Miri City Fan while the second phase will link Miri City Fan to Lutong. The aim of the project is to encourage more people to use bicycles thereby reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road.

Beach at Taman Selera

Beach at Taman Selera

A View of Miri City Fan

A View of Miri City Fan

The city council is studying the feasibility of installing solar or LED lightings for the whole city. With about 17,000 street lights in the city, the council is paying over RM7 million in electricity bills annually. It is estimated that the council can save between 60 to 70 percent in the electrical bills. And Miri will also become the first city in Malaysia to have such lightings if the project is implemented.

I wasn’t born in Miri but I have lived in Miri for almost 30 years and have come to love the city dearly. It is in my opinion the best place to live in Sarawak.

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Yesterday afternoon my wife and I watched the movie “Avatar” at Star Cineplex at Bintang Megamall. I have only one word to describe the movie: WOW!

Avatar Poster

Avatar Poster

The sci-fi movie is an incredible animation masterpiece. You find yourself transported to Pandora, a fictional Earth-like moon in a distant planetary system. The beauty of Pandora is breathtaking and will have you in awe!

Pandoran Scenery

Pandoran Scenery

The movie is set in the year 2154 on Pandora where humans are engaged in mining the Pandora’s reserves of a precious metal while the Na’vi – the race of sapient humanoids indigenous to Pandora – resist the the expansion of the human as it was threatening the continued existence of the Na’vi and the Pandoran ecosystem.

Jake and Neytiri, the hero and heroine

Jake and Neytiri, the hero and heroine

This immediately brings to my mind the plight of the Penans of Sarawak and their resistance against timber companies encroaching on their customary land and their nomadic way of life. Remember Bruno Manser?

The Penans of Sarawak

The Penans of Sarawak

Bruno Manser

Bruno Manser

As the movie progresses, you can’t help rooting for the Na’vi. And you may even clench your fists during those scenes depicting the atrocities of humans committed against the Na’vi and the Pandoran ecosystem.

The movie is truly a visual feast. It is a movie that you will really enjoy. Just go and watch it!

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On this day fifty two years ago,  a baby boy was born in a tiny town called Binatang in the state of Sarawak.  Binatang is a Malay word meaning animal. Whoever named that town must have been a animal lover. The town was later renamed Bintangor as the name Binatang has a negative connotation.

Ya, that baby boy is me lah!  I’m really getting old.

I wish to say thanks to my wife and my sons Clarence and Leslie as well as Amanda for their birthday cards and wishes.

Birthday card from my wife

Birthday card from my wife

Birthday card from my son Clarence and Amanda

Birthday card from my son Clarence and Amanda

Birthday card from my son Leslie

Birthday card from my son Leslie

This morning my wife and I dropped by Jenny Hiu’s house in Taman Tunku to pick up a kilo of “limpeh bahkua” (barbecue dried pork) made in Singapore. Jenny is an ex-colleague of mine in Teck Guan Group in Brunei. She left for greener pasture in Singapore a few years ago and is now attached to an American oil & gas company there. I had asked her to help me buy a kilo of the famous Singapore bahkua (Lim Chee Guan bahkua) a few days before she came back to Miri on Christmas Day for her holidays. Jenny not only bought a kilo of the bahkua that I wanted but she also bought another packet of the “three-storey meat bahkua” ( something like bacon bahkua) for me. And she refused to accept my payment…..okay, Jenny, I owe you a favour.  By the way, your house in Taman Tunku fits the “title” that I have bestowed on you since our days in Teck Guan….I’m sure you know what I mean, hahaha!

Limpeh bahkua from Singapore

Limpeh bahkua from Singapore

Simply delicious...

Simply delicious...

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