Friday, October 16, 2009

Of Bee Larvae

If I was not before, I now am a firm believer in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

For the past 20-odd years, I have been nagged with episodes of heat rash after short spells in the sun. Any parts of my body exposed to the sun would inevitably reddened, turned coarse with goosebump-like patches and my, do they itch! Sun block helps but does not work if I’m out and about in the sun for extended periods. So you would find me all covered in long pants, long-sleeved shirts, hat and armoured (with sun block!) in the heat of the tropics or during a sunny summer’s day. “Weirdo”, some people would probably think. But do I care about what others think? No way. Because I’m obsessed with preventing heat rash attacks, for hell hath no fury like a heat rash attack – once the unwelcomed guest finds footing on me as the reluctant host, it would stay for at least a week, sometimes up to 10 days.

Western medicine doctors have prescribed calamine lotion, anti-histamine and anti-itch medication. All merely reduces the symptoms and even then, only for a couple of hours at most.

One of the stops of my tour in Beijing in May this year, was a Traditional Tibetan Medicine establishment, housed in the Olympic Games Village. After a short foot massage, a TCM practitioner asked if I wished to have him diagnose any health problems that I may have. I obliged without any hesitation. After feeling my pulse for about 3 seconds, he said, through a translator, that my hormones are imbalanced which resulted in skin problems. He prescribed bee larvae (of course at that time I had no clue that it was bee larvae), which I should take 2 capsules twice a day for 3 months.

It cost me a bomb – RMB3600 or roughly RM1800. When I got back to the bus, Papa was shocked that I had purchased the medicine and told me in no uncertain terms that I should have disappeared right after the foot massage. I said “Never mind, if it cures me from the heat rash attacks then it is worth paying for”. Despite my nonchalance, I never believed for a second, that a 3-month prescription after a 3-second diagnosis would cure me of a 20-year ailment!

When I returned home, I put away the bottles as (a) I could not be sure if the capsules really contained bee larvae; (b) I have failed to get any conclusive information on the net about the Traditional Tibetan Medicine establishment; and (c) upon Mama’s encouragement that it is only bee larvae and that the doctor would surely not wish to harm me. So in July, I started taking the bee larvae as a “stock clearance” exercise.

The effect of the bee larvae was apparent 3 months later. On 4th Oct 2009, after a one and a half hour trek downhill from Kampung Terian to Kampung Timpangoh in the late morning (but very hot) sunshine, I discovered a red band on the back of my neck – the only area exposed to direct sunlight. But lo and behold! No itch!!! I couldn't believe it!!! But very pleased nonetheless.

So all non-believers of TCM, this is your proof that TCM does work. And it worked where Western medicine had (and still has) no answer. This episode gave me a first-hand experience of what others has been saying all along – that TCM goes to the root of the problem, in my case, hormonal imbalance, while Western medicine merely treats the symptoms.

[1] An-hour long boat-ride to a longhouse during a trip to Sarawak in Dec 2001, resulted in a particularly bad spell of heat rash. A TCM practitioner at Tung Shin Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, prescribed 3 doses of herbs and dried insects (which looked like bumble bees without the stripes). I boiled the herbs/insects for over 3 hours, reducing 3 bowls of water into 1 bowl, drank it and the rashes subsided within an hour from the time I drank the first dose.

At Kampung Terian

My first glimpse of human activity after 45 minutes of dirt road (or maybe more aptly called “mud trail”) and the forest tamed by the dirt road that cut across it, was padi fields. With the rain drizzling down and a sun that is trying very hard but managed only to peek through the clouds, I saw that the young padi shoots have just been re-planted – you can see them all meticulously arranged, row after row. A few yards further down the mud trail, the village school stood majestically, its Malaysian and Sabah flags drenched and hung forlornly, amidst a cluster of houses.

All was still and not a soul was in sight. As we hung around, unsure of where to go next, Joachim suddenly appeared from behind the school, waving madly welcoming us to Kampung Terian! It was as if it was his village! He revealed later that he didn’t think we’d make it to the village, not with the rain that poured down so ferociously all afternoon. We were all ushered to the village rest area where a long table and a few benches stood. Thankfully, I off-loaded my rucksack and the bag containing my sleeping bag and knick-knacks. I, desperately but without much success, tried to shake off the mud which clung stubbornly to my shoes.

I was wrong if I thought our fight against the mud is over. The trek to the village chapel was even more treacherous! Steep slopes and soggy earth resulted in a slippery walk. At the chapel, we were treated to rice and free range chicken and sweet potatoes cooked in soya sauce, stir fried forest yam (which tasted like mushrooms) and stir fried long beans. The bananas were very good – you can tell that they had been left to ripen naturally on the banana plant. Search, if you may, but I bet you’d never find such sweet and perfectly ripen pisang mas in Kuala Lumpur!

We had got to the village too late for us to visit the micro hydro pool but I was actually quite glad since it meant I had avoided the inevitable leeches and I didn’t even have to bluff my way out of it!!! So it was only the power generator room that we had time for before night fell. Adrian’s
[1] brief on how the generator works was an eye opener for me – a lever to optimise the water intake, a ballast to get rid of excess power, a piece of equipment which for the life of me I cannot recall its name, to regulate the power generated prior to distribution and a miller, which uses the mechanical power of the generator!

By the time the university students have asked of Adrian all the questions to their hearts’ content, we had only the moonlight to guide us back to the chapel. None of us had remembered to bring along our torchlight! We were lucky that it was the Autumn Festival that night, the moon was as round as can be and beaming its silvery light on us. I made it back to the chapel in one piece, but not before a fall on the slushy slopes.

At the chapel I found that the other mentors (who, like me, had been assigned to spend the the night in the chapel) have had their bath in the river. It was then too dark for me to make a trip to the river. I started to dread that I may have to put off having a shower until I get back to Borneo Paradise
[2] the next day! Now that was not a pleasant thought! Then, Eliza[3] informed me that there are shower cubicles behind the chapel. With no time wasted, armed with my Philips torchlight, off I went to take a much-longed for shower. The water was, oh, so refreshing.

When I returned to the chapel, all clean, I saw that some of the children had gathered in the chapel. Boys sat together while the girls were in another group. I gave the boys Twisties crisps and the girls a bag of hi-fibre snacks. As they chomped away happily, I asked one of the boys why he does not mix with the girls, he promptly answered “It is better this way as girls like to talk of everything and nothing!”.

Once everyone has made their way to the chapel, we were treated to a video presentation on the building of the micro-hydro dam. Then the children performed the Sumazau dance, while the adults played the accompaniment on the traditional gongs. The children were great dancers! The children then invited us to dance with them and we obliged though ours was a muddled kind of Sumazau dancing!

The night was over much too soon. The villagers and their guests slowly made their way back to their homes. A group of university students who missed out on the trip to the micro-hydro dam stayed back at the chapel and bombarded Adrian with questions. I fell asleep as the conversation droned on in the background. I was that tired!

Suddenly I was wide awake! A droplet of water dripped onto my face! I shifted position. After awhile, opps! Another droplet of water! I shifted position again. Let that be the last drop of water, I prayed, because if I were to shift position again I would either be squeezed onto the wall or onto Elaine
[4]! My prayers worked. It was not until the time to wake up when another droplet dripped on my arm! When the morning got brighter I looked up and saw that it was not rainwater that had dripped on me but water from condensation on the zinc roof! No wonder the droplets kept changing position!

We freshened up, had breakfast which the host had graciously prepared, gathered our still-wet-yesterday’s-clothes, said our goodbyes and off we went. On the way out we were introduced to the one betel nut tree from which there is DiGi (SMS only) service, if one climbed up the tree!

All in all I had a good time the experience will stay fresh in my memory for a long time to come. But I wonder if I would have survived it had the village no electricity and no running water and if I would have enjoyed it as much had we not have to hike to and from the village.

[1] Adrian Lasimbang of PACOS Trust. PACOS Trust is a community based voluntary organisation to raise the overall quality of life of indigenous communities. For more information, see
[2] Borneo Paradise Beach Hotel, was our base for the Challenge for Change Boot Camp, 1st to 4th October 2009
[3] Eliza Abdul Rahman, of Warisan Global, the event organizer for the Boot Camp.
[4] Elaine Lau, a writer for The Edge Malaysia.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Of Earthquakes and Conservation

Our local news never fails to amuse me. I must clarify – Statements, by those who govern our home called Malaysia, never fail to amuse me. It is like a daily dose of humour.

On 5 Oct 2009, BERNAMA reported that our Deputy Prime Minister advised Malaysians to conserve the environment. After advocating the importance of conserving and preserving the biodiversity of our flora and fauna, the DPM went on to say, I quote, “…the recent earthquake in Padang, Indonesia is also a reminder of how important it is to preserve and conserve the environment…”

I am intrigued that the DPM should put preserving and conserving the environment BEFORE earthquakes. Have I missed something? Have seismologists made some important discovery that our pilferage and rape of Mother Earth could somehow trigger earthquakes? How will preserving and conserving our biodiversity prevent earthquakes from occurring?[1] To prove my point, I searched the net for “earthquakes and conservation of the environment”. It yielded articles which put rehabilitation of the environment AFTER earthquakes. The DPM would be better off quoting the Ketsana wreaking havoc in the Philippines and Vietnam as a reminder of how our disregard of the environment has led to storms and drought that are getting ever more severe.

The DPM also said that “…people nowadays are less (emphasis is mine) concerned about preserving the environment, not only in Malaysia but throughout the world.” I would have thought that generally people nowadays are more concerned and more aware about preserving the environment – you just have to look at activities carried out by Greenpeace, PETA, Earth Hour, No Plastic Bags Mondays, to get an idea. It is just that the businesses and activities that profit from pilfering the environment is also on the increase and there is a lack of political will to address this issue.


[1] But note that there is induced seismicity, explained in as “In seismology, induced seismicity refers to typically minor earthquakes and tremors that are caused by human activity that alters the stresses and strains on the Earth's crust. Most induced seismicity is of an extremely low magnitude, and in many cases, human activity is merely the trigger for an earthquake that would have occurred naturally in any case.

The full report is reproduced herein :

05/10/2009: PUTRAJAYA: Environmental conservation and preservation must be given priority not only in terms of policy and programmes but also in the efforts implemented, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said today. The deputy prime minister said although Malaysia had an action plan for this, the levelling of hills and mountains and pollution of rivers and lakes still occurred because of the irresponsible attitude of some parties.
"Malaysia is said to be one of the 10 top nations rich in biodiversity, with such high value, and special attention should be given to ensure that the environment is constantly protected and preserved," he said at the monthly gathering of the Prime Minister's Department (JPM) here.

He said the JPM was the most important department involved directly and indirectly in ensuring that conservation and preservation of this biodiversity was carried out and in raising the awareness of the society and those responsible of the importance of protecting the country's treasure.

Putrajaya, he said, could serve as a model after attracting tourists by the droves with its beauty not only in terms of its infrastructure but also its environment, especially the clean and unpolluted lakes.

Muhyiddin said not only must beauty and environment be maintained, it must be upgraded, especially parking facilities, which cause traffic jams that should not occur in Putrajaya.
"Environment is a serious issue and world leaders are expected to discuss serious issues like climate change because people nowadays are less concerned about preserving the environment, not only in Malaysia but throughout the world," he said.

He added the civil servants can set an example by becoming role models for the future generation through the preservation of Fiona and flora.

"We must safeguard the serenity and cleanliness of the environment, reduce green house gas, reduce pollution, conserve energy, especially in government buildings, and that can help reduce the expenditure of the government," he said.

The issue of collection and disposal of rubbish and solid waste effectively has yet to be resolved and many are still not aware of the importance and value of keeping their places clean.
Muhyiddin said the recent earthquake in Padang, Indonesia is also a reminder of how important it is to preserve and conserve the environment and how fortunate Malaysians are for not living in fear of earthquakes because Malaysia is not situated in the 'Ring of Fire' (the Pacific Islands arcs where most of the world's volcanic action is involved). - BERNAMA

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Journey to Kampung Terian

On the itinerary, the visit to Kampung Terian looked like an open and shut case – hop onto a van, switch to a 4-wheel drive (4WD), overnight at Kampung Terian, hop onto a 4WD, switch to a van and Bingo! Back in Borneo Paradise[1]. However, Murphy[2] had other plans for us and was in his element on the weekend of the 3rd/4th of October 2009.

Right on the dot of half past seven everyone on Trip 1 is gathered and ready to go when Adrian, of PACOS Trust
[3], discovered that his stubborn 4WD refused to wake from its slumber. With a huff and a puff from the Challenge for Change (C4C) challengees (ie the university students), the 4WD groaned to life and off they went. However, a 30-minute drive turned out to be an hour’s drive as the vans do not take easily to the gravel road. And so the starting times for Trips 2 and 3 were each delayed by 30 minutes.

Dark clouds loomed as the last batch left Borneo Paradise but the rain held up. When we got to Kampung Timpangoh, the end of the road for the vans, we discovered that those on Trip 2 were still waiting for the 4WDs to make their way down from Kampung Terian. “Goodness, goodness me”, I thought to myself, “it would be dark before Trip 3 gets to go up!” You wouldn’t believe it but Adrian managed to get all 40-odd of us into 5 4WDs! I felt the first droplets of the rain As we started out from Kampung Timpangoh. Ten minutes into the journey, the skies opened and turned the dirt road into a sea of mud. Combine that with a zig-zagging route, sections of it with 45 degrees climb, potholes aplenty, fast gushing streams with no bridges, you have an out of this world roller coaster ride, without having to go to a theme park!! We were thrown left, right, centre, up and down. All 2 hours of it!!

My heart was in my mouth as the vehicle in front drifted to the left and to the right, flew over humps, with Emily and 3 C4C challengees hanging on to dear life on the back of the truck with rain pouring down on them. I was lucky as I had a passenger seat. Then all of a sudden all vehicles came to a stop. We got down and a few yards in front, we could see that disaster had struck – Adrian’s 4WD hung precariously over the ledge, its fourth wheel a useless piece of rubber! A huff and a puff did not work this time around. A tug of war against a sitting duck 4WD turned out to be a losing battle. So what do we do? No vehicles behind Adrian’s could not go forward as that section of the road allowed only one vehicle to pass at a time. So it is either to turn back or to somehow get Adrian’s 4WD off the ledge!

Suddenly Adrian spied a fallen tree branch but it was too short to be used as a lever. Before you know it, Adrian had found a parang, cut down a young tree, halved it and produced two levers! All city slickers were commanded to pull the vehicle from the front while the drivers jacked up the vehicle from behind. That was I got a mud treatment for my feet! As my feet sunk into the mud I yelped out, but quickly got over my squeamishness. “It is only mud, girl, for goodness sake! We’ve got a car to move!” But I digress. The two levers did wonders. With the vehicle being jacked up from behind and a great heave-ho from the city slickers up front, Adrian’s 4WD was back onto terra firma in no time. A cheer rung out and all of us breathed a great sigh of relief!

We drove on relentlessly through the sea of mud and gushing streams. After awhile, again the vehicles came to a standstill. The vehicles would go no further. We will have to hike to the village. I thought to myself, “At last! I got my wish – to hike to the village!” I secretly smiled! As we gathered our rucksacks, and plastic bags containing our knic-knacs, Adrian busied himself by cutting branches of young trees into sticks to help us traverse the slippery slopes. Armed with a stick each, off we went. The hike was wet, slippery and steep but it was fun! It ended all too soon – 45 minutes into the hike, I spotted padi fields and then a moment later houses! We have reached the village
[4], all in one piece, but what an experience it had been!

The Itinerary (3rd and 4th October 2009)

Getting to Kampung Terian
1. Borneo Paradise to Kampung Timpangoh – by van – 30 minutes
2. Kampung Timpangoh to Kampung Terian – 4 wheel drive – 1 hour
Repeat steps 1-2 three times to get all 64 participants to Kampung Terian

At Kampung Terian
1. Visit the micro hydro dam and power generation room
2. A dip in the river
3. Settle in with the villagers
4. Dinner
5. A short education on the building and maintenance of the micro hydro dam, power generation and distribution set
6. Performance of the Sumazau dance by the children
7. Bedtime
8. Breakfast

Getting back to Borneo Paradise Beach Resort
1. Kampung Terian to Kampung Timpangoh – 4 wheel drive – 1 hour
2. Kampung Timpangoh to Borneo Paradise – by van – 30 minutes
Repeat steps 1-2 three times to get all 64 participants back to Borneo Paradise

[1] Borneo Paradise Beach Hotel, was our base for the Challenge for Change Boot Camp, 1st to 4th October 2009.
[2] Murphy, of Murphy’s Law which states that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.
[3] PACOS Trust is a community based voluntary organisation to raise the overall quality of life of indigenous communities.
[4] It took us nearly 5 hours to reach Kampung Terian. As the crow flies, Kampung Terian is only 25km from Kota Kinabalu.