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August 04, 2004

Certificate of survival

Hi everyone, I'm now back in KL, feeling terribly sad and alone. It has been a wonderful time staying with Cayce. We have become very close friends, we've talked about so many things, it felt so miserable sitting in the airport departure hall after our goodbyes.

She has been a lovely person to get to know. Cayce wears her heart on her sleeve, she is unfailingly infectious when happy, always transparent when upset. When excited, she tends to ramble with an increasingly large smile, getting vaguer and more disjointed until she can't speak anymore and just sits with a beaming face and wobbling hands. Everyone around her can't help grinning happily by this stage. And she is as enthusiastic whether it is good news concerning her friends' lives or her own.
Cayce's blog is a really fun read - she says a lot of extremely nice things about me on it; so, to give a full picture I feel I must point out, that, amongst other less printable things, I am a chronically untidy person, at times impressively insensitive, and since this travelling lifestyle began, sometimes more than a little smelly.

Cayce's friends have also been lovely towards me, I miss them all. It could have been really awkward being introduced to ten girls, all familiar with each other - it wasn't. We've had fun houseparties and trips to the cinema, I've really loved being part of a circle of friends for the last four weeks. On my last night in Sarawak, the gang gathered in Marita's house, sitting outside in the warm air, talking, drinking some wine. Marita suddenly stopped proceedings, and produced a wrapped gift from all the girls to me. They had designed a "Certificate of Survival" for me - not, obviously, referring to my nine days in Batang Ai's rainforest, but my far more challenging four days with them during the music festival. It was a wonderful present - I felt surrounded by people I valued very much. It referred to the ten "meek and gentle ladies of Sarawak" - a joke that grew out of my explaining that in West Malaysia I had been told the women of Borneo were meek and gentle. They all found this hilarious.
It was sad to lose them: Marita, so welcoming, someone who made me feel I had known her for years (and I am particularly grateful to her for holding Raquel down during the night of tequila and gin); quiet Sativa, who writes like she's on fire, and talks like she's frozen; the multi talented "Project Girl" Tarlia, who designed my Certificate; Bertha, who reminised with me about England; Bee, who I didn't talk to much, but was always friendly and looked very stylish; the mother troubled Dee, who gave me lots of advice about dating a Chinese girl and her parents (it is apparently a package); Bristol Cities, the group's food expert, who knew lots about her own country while asking lots of questions about mine; and the loveably loud Raquel - we bonded through that night of her drunkenly screaming at me. The tenth member of the meek and gentle group, Veronica, I never spoke to, but, if you're reading this, thanks for signing the card!
What made that night even more significant was the strange and immediate "chemistry" between myself and the very beautiful Sheeba. Sheeba is a rather enormous and apparently invariably ferocious to strangers Rottweiller, but when she came over to me we just immediately took a liking to each other. She sat by my chair as I stroked her neck - the others looked a little stunned and tried to convince me what an unheard of event this was.

I lived in Cayce's house for almost all my time in Sarawak. Although I have no idea what her parents made of me at first, they immediately adopted the standard Malaysian policy of force feeding the house guest continuously. Their kitchen seemed to have something cooking throughout the day; this sounds wistful unless one takes into account it required me to eat nonstop. Her father, though certainly a practiced speaker in his public life, during his time with his family talks in a loud, thickly accented mutter. Cayce's mother's voice is very clear, but she is it seems slightly deaf now, so, all in, her parents and I had a tendency to smile uncomprehendingly while the other was speaking. A moment of utter relief for everybody came when it emerged Cayce's dad and my dad are both keen golfers - this was an area with simple answers and distinct topics, and so over one dinner her father rambled to my eagerly glazed eyes about the different golf courses of West Malaysia.
I went on a cycling trip through a beautiful part of Sarawak with Cayce's sister's bike group, saw King Arthur in the cinema with most of the M&G group (Cayce confided, "I like the Woads (Celts), they're like the Ibans"; everytime the Saxons came on, Raquel would shout, "BLOODY FRENCH"!), and cooked a Thai curry for a bring-your-own-dish party we all had in Cayce's house. I went with Cayce and her mother shopping for the impossible to find Thai ingredients - her mother unashamedly skeptical as I tried to explain what my A Lot Of Thai cookbook required. But, despite substituting some random Indian curry powder for green curry paste, using lemon tree leaves from the garden rather than keffir lime leaves, and dropping various other ingredients, everyone at the party was very complimentary.


Even more incredible, the end result was actually green - the chopped up aubergines triumphed over the orange Indian powder. When Cayce's mother lifted the lid on the bubbling green wok, her slack jawed astonishment tasted even better than the meal itself.

A highlight of Kuching, for anyone visiting: Cayce brought me to the Kuching Cat Museum. It's hard to describe the bizarreness of this place, but just, if you're in Kuching, go. It seemed the work of either a simpleton, a lunatic, or else a bureaucratic committee that had lost all touch with the real world. Everything cat related had been dumped in, without explanation or thematic connection: stuffed cats, animals that looked a bit like cats but weren't (sivets), animals with "cat" in their name (catfish), films with "cat" in the title (such as "Cat Ballou" - Cat short for Catherine, so... nothing to do with cats), mannequins standings on a "cat walk", an entire glass case of miscelleanous cat themed key chains. It felt very much like walking inside the brain of a madman. Sarawakian readers should also reflect they are paying to maintain this free museum with their taxes.

Cayce and I talked a lot during our trip to Batang Ai about her plans for the future. She wrote more eloquently than I can on her thoughts and doubts here, but I could see how tough working "in the field" must be. Neither living in the city or the forest, she would spend two weeks in Kuching, with little to do in the office, then the next two in Batang Ai with her team of Ibans. She felt it hard to get very close to them - being both the woman boss and a friend was just a step too far. It is a job she feels very strongly about, but equally, I could she was feeling worn down after three and a half years. I'm not sure what she will decide to do, but am certain good things will come along for her. It felt a real privilege to be around someone who was considering her life afresh and coming up with so many possibilities.

Daniel, 4 August 2004, KL

PS Hey girls, I just realised! I must have misheard my friend back in Port Dickson, on the whole meek and gentle line - I guess what he must have really said was "geek and mental"...


PPS Here is a photo of Stimpy, a loveable if extremely mentally challenged dog of June's. Stimpy and I grew very fond of each other, which is more than can be said of some of the other three dogs in the house.

Posted by Daniel on August 4, 2004 05:51 PM
Category: Malaysia

Geek and mental. Love it!

Posted by: Gette on August 4, 2004 06:43 PM

I like geek and mental too. I miss all of you too here in London! And well, you won't really lose us - we are all just an email away. Besides, you're stuck with us being the token male of the group now. :)

I just realised I never gave you the url for my blog, so here it is:

Posted by: Bertha on August 4, 2004 08:37 PM

This is from all of us:

First and foremost, a big HUG from all of us. We are all in Marita's house. Sheeba was looking eagerly out for you.

Those were really apt descriptions of everyone. Sativa is still frozen by your comments. Tarlia is brewing projects as we write. And Cayce's hands are as wobbly as ever.

Oh, Cayce said you spelt civet wrong.

We all miss you.

Lots of love and kisses from us, and drool from Sheeba,

The Geek and Mental Girls of the Fair Land of Sarawak.

Posted by: the Geek & Mental Girls on August 4, 2004 08:50 PM

I feel geek and mental! I'll try to remind myself that only 2 weeks ago I was stylish. :D

Posted by: Bea on August 4, 2004 10:51 PM

I think we all love being the geek and mental. That probably describes us best.

Beats the meek and gentle any day. ;)

Posted by: sativa on August 5, 2004 12:50 AM

By the way, I have a digital version of that cert if you want a copy.

Posted by: Gette on August 5, 2004 01:46 AM

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for commenting on my blog! I hope we get to meet up in SE asia too.

Posted by: Richard on August 5, 2004 07:11 AM

I keep coming back to read your desciptions of everyone. I can't believe how spot on you are.

Sheeba's still pouting a little, believe it or not. I think she's cross with me for letting you go.

Posted by: the Geek & Mental Girls on August 7, 2004 03:00 PM

I can't believe how much Sheeba loved you! I am still amazed, but I think she is a forever changed person! Geek and Mental I like that..... Well I guess we now have a reputation to uphold!

Posted by: 'The Dee' on August 8, 2004 11:48 PM

I admit I'm mental. So who's the geek? ;)

Posted by: Raquel on August 10, 2004 08:36 PM
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