Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mulu: Cave Exploration in Borneo

My fascination with caves dates back to childhood, but it was rekindled when I lived in Japan and went on a weekend trip to Yamaguchi. That’s where I realized that caves are my living fantasy, the place where dreams and reality intersect. On my trip through SE Asia I explored great caves in several countries, but the limestone caves of Mulu National Park are the most amazing. Mulu is truly a paradise for the spelunker. 

Mulu is a located in Sarawak, on the Malaysia side of the island of Borneo, and boasts the largest limestone cave in the world (The Clearwater Cave). I booked a three-day two-night package and stayed at the luxurious Marriott Resort. During the day I went on guided tours of the caves, and at night, I watched the bats feast on bugs outside my window, and slept to the sounds of the jungle.

Mulu caves also housed an impressive number of bats - my favorite animal! Though their poo was everywhere, I loved watching them fly out of the caves at dusk. The Mulu bats fly out in swarms, much like flocks of birds, and they create unique patterns in the sky that resemble dragons.
One tourists joked that the bats would spell "Mulu" in the sky.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Light and Air: Thoughts from Borneo

Caves are the closest we can get to fantasy on earth.
It sounds crazy but I feel like caves take on the shape of my thoughts.
If my thoughts had a physical form, they would look like stalactites and stalagmites and bubbly cavernous walls. They have deep impressions and jagged edges.
There are tight spaces and wide open spaces. Light and air. Total darkness and silence. They are frightening. They are beautiful. So when I am inside a cave, I feel like I’ve gone inside my mind. Like I am seeing a physical manifestation of whatever I am thinking.

Coming to Borneo was just what I needed to recharge my batteries. In the caves there is a constant sound of dripping water. In the jungle, a high pitched cry from bull frogs interrupts the sad melody of the leaf insects which floats to the ear as the sound of a horn carried by wind does. There are no cars here, no smog, no noisy engines. Only burly grey skies and rain. The rain clouds are so black here that look like billows of tar smoke. The climate is mild. The rain is light. The jungle is immense Flying over Borneo it was all we could see. Endless wilderness. 

- Sunday, October 12, 2014,  Mariott Resort, Mulu 8:32 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

MAS Wings: Flying Over Borneo

Flying over Borneo’s dense jungle was pretty spectacular. Miles and miles of trees and rivers, with not one visible road or building. We flew the tiny propeller plane MAS Wings from Miri, a-mid sized oil town in the province of Sarawak on Malaysian Borneo, to Mulu, the largest national park in Malaysia.  Mulu Airport has only one runway surrounded by jungle to all sides. Coming from a smoggy city like Kuala Lumpur, descending into Borneo’s fog felt like an alien adventure.

view from the plane

the runway

When entering Sarawak from peninsular Malaysia, you must have your passport stamped by Sarawak immigration. This is unique since you don’t need to do so for any other province of Malaysia.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Page from Jakarta’s Horrifying News

If you thought the news in your country was bad, have a look at the Jakarta Post. 
I spotted this paper laying open at one of the coffee shops in Ubud. 

Just a single page contains all these horrifying stories.

“Few clues to identify badly mutilated bodies”
“Husband and wife nabbed for drug distribution.”
“Another TNI soldier killed by armed group.”
“Starving monkey’s raid homes in Banyumas”

Friday, February 20, 2015

National Library of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

The National Library of Malaysia isn’t exactly a tourist destination, but I have an interest in libraries so I made sure to visit this one in my (thankfully) brief time to Kuala Lumpur.  

First of all, I should mention that this was my second and last library visit in SE Asia. I hoped to visit a library in each country, but alas, not every country has interesting and accessible libraries, which really made me appreciate my privilege in being from the United States, where one can find decent libraries in even the tiniest of towns.

When I did an internet search on the National Library of Malaysia, I couldn’t find many photos of the interior, but the interesting roof – apparently inspired by traditional Malay headgear and pattern – piqued my interest enough to warrant a short stop.

I’ll admit that the exterior of the building is vastly more impressive than the interior, which is basic and obviously dated. However, I was particularly amused by the subtle patters on the elevator, bookshelves,  and chairs. It had a Nordic look to me.

At the time I visited, there was an exhibition on traditional Malay navigation texts and maps. I had a quick walk through the giant ship gallery and stared at the illegible texts for a few minutes. The library is full of many unintentional humors. For example, the mannequins in the Malay text exhibit were all wearing outrageous wigs. There was a short video playing from a flat screen, which showed some of the library’s achievements over the past few years, but it was set to heavy metal music. There was also a brand new digital library, which boasted dozens of touch screen computers, but no one was there.

Lastly, I will note that no photography is allowed inside the library, which may explain why there are so few pictures of the interior online. However, I am a renegade and habitual law-breaker, so I bring you all the photos of the library!

Exterior of the library

The famous roof and the flag of Malaysia

Staircases inside

A view of the top floor

Interesting geometric patterns can be found everywhere

The elevator pattern

Bookshelf patterns

Chair fabric patterns

The ship exhibition of Malay texts

Some books on display

Propaganda poster

Food Cart Days

Casual day grabbing lunch at the food carts with my family. I dressed up a very casual summer outfit with my white Mansur Gavriel bucket bag...