The impromptu Kuching trip

So, I’m now in Kuching with Nanny Wen, having been invited quite last minute to accompany her on this 2D1N trip.

I hardly had time to prepare for it, so all I did was throw together a few things and then I was out the door.

Going to Kuching

We had to buy air tickets at the airport at 8 am. Wen was supposed to buy them the night before, but she showed up only after the sales counter had closed.

We took AirAsia because it has the only flight to Kuching today. As budget airlines go, I prefer JetStar. It seems to be cheaper and it’s more comfortable.

For hotel, Nanny Wen booked Tune Hotel. Its a no-frills budget hotel where you pay for only what you use. We had to bring our own towels and soap.

Tune Hotel

Even the aircon is chargeable.

The bill comes to RM106.95 after service and taxes. Pretty decent for a double bed, I suppose.

Nanny Wen plonked herself on the bed the moment we arrived, to get her Blackberry connected.

Tune Hotel

That was when we realised that the RM12 we paid for wireless access only allowed one machine to access. We had to pay another RM12 for the other person.

Anyway, it’s fine. We’re both now happily stuck to our respective laptops after a tiring day of shopping.

Our shopping

We didn’t think we’d actually end up buying stuff.

We took a cab to The Spring, currently Kuching’s biggest shopping mall, because we’ve been to Kuching before and have already seen all the touristy stuff.

I guess I tend to buy more stuff when I’m overseas because I feel more relaxed and in the mood.

Shopping in Kuching

In Singapore, I’m always plagued by the feeling that I should be going home to work and I don’t have time to shop.

Before The Spring, we went to this tiny mall called Tun Jugah because it’s a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. But the mall is CMI. It has three floors and like 6-8 stores on each floor.

The only store of interest was FILA because I needed a pair of black sneakers. I saw three things I liked but they didn’t have my size boohoo.

But Nanny Wen bought something and she kept blaming me for dragging her into the store.

Nanny Wen buying shoes

Lunch was Sarawak Laksa and Kuching Kolo Mee. We just walked into a coffee shop randomly and it was nice!

Kuching Kolo Mee

Dinner was silly. We decided to eat in our room so we ordered takeaway from nearby hawker stalls.

Nanny Wen and her dinner

Sheylara and her dinner

I have this funny smile cos I have food in my mouth.

Feeling nice and cosy now. We went for a massage after shopping, before coming back with our dinner.

I think we were quite brave. There was a dodgy-looking building behind our hotel which has only one shop open at the time we went (around 6 pm).

Massage parlour

It was a massage parlour called Eroma. I forgot to take a photo at the shopfront but it’s all curtained up so you can’t see the inside of it. But Nanny Wen was dying for a massage so we went in.

We had spent most our money on shopping so we only had enough left for a 30-minute massage each. It was pretty awesome, actually.

My masseur’s phone rang halfway through the session and she actually picked it up and started talking. Then she kiap-ed her phone to her shoulder and continued to massage me while she talked, wtf.

She was speaking in Malay so I didn’t know what she said. Luckily the phone call only lasted a minute or so.

But her massaging skills are great so I forgive her.

It’s now two hours after the massage and I am beginning to feel the aches kicking in again after hunching over my laptop for the last two hours. Doh.

Sheylara on laptop

So, I’m going to stop here and probably go take a shower and then go to bed. I’m so sleepy. Only slept three hours last night!

And Wen is forcing me to upload my blog now so she can read it. She’s such a tyrant.

If there are any typos in this post, it’s her fault!

Sheylara and Nanny Wen

Bite-size Sheylara – Messy

Messy

Messy

My mind feels messy. It’s like, I have so many things to do every day. So many thoughts to think. It paralyses me because I don’t know how to prioritise. Everything seems equally important.

Sometimes I end up not doing anything of worth because doing one thing makes me feel guilty for not doing the other thing.

I end up playing a game to relieve stress.

I feel better after a while. And then I feel even more horrible because the “important” things remain undone.

Sometimes it’s because while I’m doing one thing, another urgent thing comes in so I work on it, then I forget the first thing.

Sometimes yet another urgent thing comes in while I’m doing the second thing, so I attend to it and then forget the first and second things.

It’s all very messed up.

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Fizzle

New computer

Bought a new super computer on Saturday with Windows 7.

It worked fine for two days, then I installed Mozilla Firefox and it started getting laggy. Firefox hung twice.

One brand new 500GB harddisk was diagnosed faulty.

The next day, the computer refused to start up. It said no OS detected after two hours.

I won’t be able to send it to the PC clinic until Saturday.

Using Fluffy in the meantime, which makes me uncomfortable. I love Fluffy but I can’t do serious work on her.

It feels very claustrophobic.

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Change

Gamer Girl Friday

I’ve thought about this for several months. I finally decided it’s time to make some changes for Gamer Girl Friday.

A long weekly column doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m still going to keep the GGF tag because people have grown familiar with it, but I will now write gaming posts as and when, instead of just once a week.

So you’ll get many small posts over the week instead of one long post once a week.

Regular non-gaming posts will still operate as usual.

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Flying

Breakfast in Kuching

I’m flying to Kuching tomorrow morning.

It’s an impromptu trip!

I was talking to Nanny Wen on MSN about work and she went, “By the way, you wanna go Kuching tomorrow?”

I was, like, “YOU DON’T INVITE PEOPLE OVERSEAS IN A BY-THE-WAY MSN ESPECIALLY WHEN THE FLIGHT IS LESS THAN 24 HOURS AWAY LOR.”

Actually, I didn’t say all that. I just think I should’ve.

I said, “Okay!”

Because I love spontaneity.

We’re going to attend Kenny Sia’s new gym opening ceremony.

Provided we can get air tickets. AirAsia refuses to let us book online for flights less than 24 hours away. And JetStar doesn’t have a Thursday flight. Damn them.

Nanny Wen will have to go personally to the AirAsia office after work tonight to check.

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Awesome

Princess Academy

Princess Academy is an awesome book. I realised after reading it that it had won tons of prizes and awards.

It’s been a long time since an author has impressed me so much that I felt compelled to Google her because I want to read all her other books.

Princess Academy tells of a group of mountain girls recruited into the princess academy to learn how to become princesses. The palace priests had divined that the prince must marry someone from that mountain.

The girls get to prepare themselves for a year to impress the prince when he comes to choose.

Although the book is kind of written for teens and young adults, I think it can be enjoyed by all ages. The prose is beautifully written (it made me cry several times) and the plot twists are inventive and delightful.

I wish life could tie up as neatly as they do in books.

But I guess that’s why we’re addicted to books and movies. Cos that’s the only way we can experience beautiful neat lives.

Survivors Part 4: I thought I was gonna die

[This is a multi-part series describing in gory detail my 10km race through the treacherous mountains of Padawan, Sarawak.]

BHR Nature Challenge 2009

See previous chapters:
Part 1: Crossing the chasm of death
Part 2: We were stung by bees
Part 3: A leech on my bum

==================================================
PARENTAL ADVISORY
Disturbing content
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Death Mountain

I wish I could have taken a photo but I didn’t have my camera with me.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a monster of an obstacle presented itself to us.

It was a cliff face which we had to Spiderman across to get to the top because that was the only way to go.

Death Mountain

My illustration isn’t totally accurate because it’s really hard to draw terrain, but the general idea is there.

We could see some faint outlines of footholds in the path we were supposed to take, but they had been ground almost flat by rain and by other trekkers before us. There was also a scarcity of anchored objects which we could use to haul ourselves across.

Worst of all, though, was the nothingness beneath the trail. We were about 3,000 metres above sea level.

There was a jungle below. We could see thorny plants and trees and shrubs. But the jungle was on another slope and it didn’t look like an ideal place to fall into if one wasn’t ready to be jungle fertiliser.

Jungle fertiliser

Taking a deep breath, Nanny Wen led the way. She encountered some minor incidents (root giving way and stuff) but on the whole did pretty good progress. I followed her shortly after.

When she was three-quarters of the way through and I was only about a quarter way, I got stuck.

“Arrgh,” I yelled, “I’m stuck! I can’t find anything else to grab!”

“Wait, I’m reaching,” Nanny Wen yelled back. “I’ll help you to see once I get up there.”

Everywhere around me was mud and leaves and fungi and unidentified icky things. Maybe worms.

I tried not to see worms. I had trained my mind to think: “That’s just a branch!” whenever I saw a worm.

You are a branch

As my eyes searched desperately for my next anchor, I started feeling my feet losing purchase on the two slippery footholds I had chosen.

I had to move on, quickly.

Setting my sights on a faraway branch sticking out the cliff face, I strained a hand towards it. But before I could reach it, the hold under my feet totally gave way at the same time the piece of root one hand was holding on to started loosening.

I found myself sliding down.

Deus Ex Machina

Crying out in shock, I tried to grab stuff around me, anything, hoping to find something anchored strongly into the cliff face.

I think I must have worried Nanny Wen a lot because she stopped in her tracks and went, “OH NO!”

I slid down a few metres. It felt like a year.

And then, miraculously, I stopped sliding.

I can’t remember now how it happened. Maybe I managed to grab hold of something. Maybe my feet found better footholds.

Deus ex machina

I just remember my mind blanking out in one horrifying moment when all I could think about was the nothingness below me. Next thing I knew, I had stopped sliding.

I hung there for several seconds, reluctant to move. Nanny Wen started to clamber downwards to help me, but I told her to stop.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I got it. Go ahead.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

After pulling herself up the last few steps, she began to direct my pathing.

My arms were beginning to feel like they were coming out their sockets because I was using mostly my arms to suspend myself, unwillingly to trust the slippery footholds.

Fortunately, with Nanny Wen’s help, I managed to haul myself up with the dying strength of my arms. I finally docked at safe harbour.

We had a few seconds of reprieve as we trudged shakily forward, and then the next obstacle loomed, although now I know that the worst had already past with that crazy Spiderman stunt we pulled.

No Quitting

Borneo Highlands Resort

Thinking back now, I can’t believe we managed to complete the race. There were moments I wished we could give up because the trail was insane.

I began to suspect that maybe Sarawakians are all superheroes in disguise because they just bowled through the obstacles as if gravity didn’t exist for them.

At the 5km checkpoint, there was a real chance for us to give up. The jungle trail led out to a spot of civilisation where tourists come up on buggies to admire the scenery. We could have copped out and followed the next tour group down in a buggy.

I contemplated it seriously. The obstacles had been really frightening, to say the least. I couldn’t believe the race organisers would put any normal human beings through what we had been through.

I asked Nanny Wen, “Do you want to quit?”

She said, “Yes.”

Relieved and happy to have reached the checkpoint, we ran up a grassy hill to the water station and downed a can of 100 Plus each.

100 Plus

Our media host was there. We told him about our bee stings and leech attack. By the time we finished our drink, Nanny Wen said, “Let’s not give up.”

As much as I valued my life, I didn’t like giving up, either. I’m a stickler for achievements. I told myself, “If we can make 5km, we can make another 5km.”

We had taken two hours to finish our first 5km. I was hungry but I decided I could hold out for another two hours.

So we forged on ahead, leaving our last chance for refuge behind.

Nobody told us that the next half of the trail was going to be the more dangerous half. (The suicidal obstacle I had described above belonged to the second half.)

I constantly questioned my own sanity.

What the hell was I thinking?

To make myself feel better, I would imagine real people being trapped in jungles, lost, wandering around for days looking for an exit, tired, hungry, forced to eat bugs and mossy plants.

Hungry

It could have been a lot worse, right? At least I had red paint to guide my way and I didn’t have to eat bugs. I just had to endure the ordeal for a few hours and there would be a finishing line.

Breaking Down

By the time we were just 2km away from the finishing point, we were both so bone weary it felt like we would dissolve if you so much as poked a finger at us.

Reaching the 2km checkpoint was a bit demoralising because we really believed we were closer, like 1km, instead.

We were just putting one foot in front of another mechanically. If a tiger had come out of nowhere and pounced at us, I doubt we’d have had the strength to run.

My body was shooting signals of pain all over, especially on my back and knees. My feet and shins were cramping from the effort of balancing myself on precarious footholds for hours.

I had gastric pains in my tummy and bee stings on my ankles. My arms were sore from overuse. My feet were literally heavy with mud because there were a couple of swampy patches we couldn’t avoid.

Dirty shoes

The last 2km was madness. I was so weary I would have screamed in frustration at the neverending obstacles if I had the strength to.

Nanny Wen suspected that the trail was more than 10km. The map did say that 10km was only an approximation. Also, the 10km probably didn’t take into account vertical distance, of which there was an abundance.

Finishing Alive

When we finally broke out of jungle and hit civillisation (paved roads) at about 500m from the finishing line, we yelled out in happiness. We couldn’t do a victory dance, though. We were too exhausted.

There were some construction workers by the side of the road. They waved at us and gave us the thumbs up sign. We waved back.

Bones about to fall apart, we trudged up the road hill and into the welcoming arms of the finishing line.

Uphill

We finished the race in 4.5 hours. We found out later that the champion had finished in something like 80 minutes.

How he did that is something I will never understand till the day I die. Nanny Wen and I never stopped to rest except at water stations for hydrating. We had kept going as fast as we could without compromising our safety.

I can understand three hours. Maybe even two hours. If we had worn the right shoes, we might have finished faster. Our running shoes didn’t have the right traction for the muddy slopes.

Still, 80 minutes is just freaking unbelievable.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we completed the race, even if it was a little embarrassing reaching the finishing line hours after everyone else. By the time we arrived, all the other participants were lounging about in the grass, clean and relaxed, the race all but forgotten.

Borneo Highlands Resort

But we did receive encouraging words and applause from some people who were impressed by us being the only Singaporean participants. The race referee had made a big deal at the start about us being media from Singapore who have never seen jungles.

Well, at least we didn’t come in last.

And I was so glad to be alive.

After the race

Finding insect shit on my bed

I have to be honest. I’m a pampered city girl and I love my modern city creature comforts.

But I was excited about staying in a jungle longhouse, which is the dwelling type for the indigenious people of Borneo, called Dayaks.

I mean, I don’t know, funny little things in life excite me, even if they fill me with dread or distaste on another level. (Like, I was really excited about being admitted to the hospital for a major operation ages ago.)

So, similarly, I was really excited when I saw the room that I was going to be sharing with Nanny Wen.

Longhouse room

It was something different, so it was like an adventure. I was surprised to see beds and a fan. I had expected to sleep on thin mats on the floor or something like that.

The fan is actually more for discouraging mosquitoes than for providing coolness. Sarawak at night is cold and dry, almost like being in an air-conditioned room.

Unfortunately, our room only had one electrical outlet, so we had to decide between using the fan for mosquitoes or charging our laptops and phones at night.

Both our phones were flat by the end of the day because we had used it to Plurk and Tweet all day.

Nanny Wen asked me, “Would you rather sacrifice your phone or sacrifice yourself to mosquitoes?”

I thought for two seconds and said, “Sacrifice myself.”

Sheylara at the longhouse

She laughed. But I think she had the same sentiments.

Besides, I had brought three kinds of insect repellent with me, and Nanny Wen had Tiger Balm and lavender essence.

I am terribly spoilt.

Our longhouse:

Longhouse

We were hosted by Mathew Ngau, an acclaimed sape (traditional lute) master who owns a village and built this longhouse by himself. He also makes his own musical instruments and handicraft items.

Mathew Ngau

Sorry, bad photo.

Longhouses are usually built on stilts and feature steep, narrow logs for steps.

Longhouse steps

It’s quite scary when you try them for the first time, especially the descending part.

Longhouse steps

This leads to the bathroom area. We were told that Mathew had specially built tile walls for the bathrooms just for us. Before this, the walls were made of bamboo leaves or something like that.

Longhouse bathroom

There’s no hot water!!! I nearly died trying to shower at midnight when the air was really cold.

Sheylara in the bathroom

Cute doggy standing guard outside the bathroom!

Cute doggy

The front of the longhouse might be pretty and green like a well-kept garden, but the back is a jungle.

Jungle

This is where Mathew grows food for the village.

They have their own supply of rice, vegetables, fruits and fish. Once in a while, they will trade for other meats at the market.

Durian tree!

Durian tree

This tree had begun to fruit, but the durians won’t be ready for consumption till August. Sad. =(

Durian tree

Crossing a little log bridge to another segment of the jungle:

Jungle hut

Jungle hut

We came to a tilapia pond, where Mathew allowed me to feed the fish off a little wooden bowl.

Tilapia pond

Tilapia pond

Nanny Wen and I were thrilled about pretending to be farm girls.

Tilapia pond

Tilapia pond

Back at the longhouse, we were greeted by cute doggies!

Doggies

The dog on the left has a crippled leg. It was run over by a vehicle. I felt so sad for it seeing it hop around on three legs. =(

There’s also a very attention-seeking cat the longhouse. Friendliest cat I ever saw. She would go up to strangers and wait to be petted and fussed over.

Friendly cat

After our jungle tour, we had two hours to rest before dinner, so I took a shower and got down to work. I had to write my Star Blog entry for Monday’s update.

Sheylara working

It started raining right after I finished my shower, so it was really comfortable and cool lounging in our shabby room. Nanny Wen slept while I worked. O_o

Because of the rain, our van got stuck as we were driving out to dinner, so the men had to get down to push.

Nanny Wen and I got down to take photos. Haha!

Pushing the van

We were on our way to attend the Gawai closing ceremony. Gawai is a Dayak festival to give thanks for a good harvest and to ask for blessings for another good year of harvest.

We would be fed two dinners that night. Once at 6:30 pm and once at 8:30 pm.

Goodness!

Thinking back, now, I realise that for the three nights we were in Kuching, Nanny Wen and I had two dinners every single night! OMG.

Dinner in Kuching

But Kuching is a really great place for food. Everything is good and cheap (especially the hawker fare and Dayak cooking) and I have developed serious cravings for many dishes that can only be found there. Can’t wait to go back again!

Oh, yes, I have yet to recount my experience of sleeping in the longhouse.

Um… two words: INSECT CITY!!

At night, all the insects come out to play. I decided not to spray insect repellent on myself cos I can’t stand the smell, but I had brought repellent sachets which can be placed beside your bed.

I guess it worked because I didn’t get bitten. But I could still see all kinds of strange insects flying around the room all night.

Strange insect

After washing up and staying up a bit to chat with the guys and drink a bit of tuak (native rice wine), I went to bed at 2:30 am.

The communal area just outside our rooms where we hung out:

Longhouse

I set my alarm for 4:30 am because we had to leave at 6 am to drive to our mountain race.

I got woken up several times by varieties of insects noises during my first hour, but I did manage to get some sleep.

But at 3:50 am, I woke up for the final time and couldn’t go back to sleep. There was this stupid fly that wouldn’t quit buzzing around my ears, even after I put the repellent sachet right next to my ear.

I lay in bed, trying to get back to sleep, but sleep eluded me. After half an hour, I gave up. At 4.20 am, I got out of bed to wash up and get ready for the day. (Anyway, we only had one bathroom, two toilet cubicles and one wash basin to share among six people, so someone had to start early.)

With only about an hour’s sleep, I looked forward to doing my 10km mountain trek. Awesome.

Longhouse

But it was good. I mean, I wasn’t traumatised or anything by the humble accommodation and insects.

I did feel a little grossed out at finding insect shit on my bed. There was this small lump of wet, black shit which smelled disgusting, which my index finger accidentally discovered, to its dismay. There were also several lizard droppings scattered around.

The scary thing was that they weren’t there in the day when we checked in. I only found them at night after we got back to the longhouse, so I was kinda worried all night about lizards shitting on my face while I slept.

But it was interesting and cosy. I’m sure if we’d had the chance to stay there for a few more days, I would have gotten used to the insects.

And, maybe, next time, I will sacrifice my phone for the fan.

Princesses in the jungle

When Kenny Sia met up with Nanny Wen and me after our 10km jungle/mountain race, which was advertised as a “Nature Challenge”, but should have been named “Suicide Mission” instead, he couldn’t stop laughing his ass off.

Thanks to her jungle tweets.

Nanny Wen's tweet

Nanny Wen's tweet

Nanny Wen's tweet

He laughed till he was red in the face. He was incredulous. “Didn’t you girls know what you had signed up for?”

No. The answer is no. I had asked and asked and researched. But no one could tell me and there was nothing on the Internet which told us what was in the trail and what to prepare for.

I mean, I had a more realistic expectation of the challenge than Nanny Wen did, but the actual experience far exceeded my wildest imaginations.

Kenny was dying of amusement.

Kenny Sia, Sheylara and Nanny Wen

But he was also very proud of us because he said our trail is more raw and challenging than Mount Kinabalu, which he had climbed.

He called us princesses in the jungle because he had an image of us as city princesses with nice clothes and makeup, so it really amused him to imagine us roughing it out in a perilous jungle.

Anyway, I can’t blog about my jungle experience yet because I’m waiting for photos. I didn’t bring my camera for the race and I’m glad I didn’t, even though I wish I had.

So, today, I’ll talk about some random stuff that we did in Kuching.

First photo taken upon landing:

Sheylara and Nanny Wen

We were hosted at Four Points Hotel by Sheraton, which is only minutes away from the airport.

That was our first and last taste of city princess treatment. We shared a nice big room with a nice big bathroom that featured a rainforest shower (which didn’t work or I am too retarded to make it work).

Four Points Hotel

Nice, funky stuff in the room.

Four Points Hotel

Dinner was the hotel’s continental buffet. It was truly welcome because I was starving!

Sheylara and Nanny Wen

I only managed to take two photos of the food before I was stopped by a waitress.

Food

The restaurant has a no-photo policy. Which was just as well, since that meant I could get on with the food.

After a filling dinner, Kenny took us out to dinner.

That wasn’t a typo. We had two dinners that night.

But first, we made a brief stop at The Spring, which is Kuching’s biggest mall. (Kuching only has two malls, according to our tour guide.)

The Spring, Kuching

It was raining and I took this photo from inside Kenny’s car.

We spent about 15 minutes in there, enough time for Nanny Wen to buy a cheap towel and for us to give the mall a once-over, and then we headed off to a hawker centre.

This was our after-dinner dinner:

After-dinner dinner

For three people.

Kenny Sia, Sheylara and Nanny Wen

Everything was so good!

I feel bad that Kenny always pays for our meals when we visit Kuching, but he refuses to let us pay, claiming that he is always pampered and not allowed to pay when he comes to Singapore, so fair’s fair.

The yellow drink is freaking awesome. It’s like a mango milk concoction with lychee. I need someone to make me that in Singapore!!

Nanny Wen does really sillly things. She bought a cheap towel at The Spring to use during the trip, right? We were going to stay in a longhouse on our second night and we assumed towels wouldn’t be provided. (We were wrong, but we still used our own towels.)

On our last day in Kuching, I spotted something on her towel which I hadn’t seen earlier.

Nanny Wen's towel

Haha…

It’s the freaking price tag. She used the towel for three days with the price tag still attached.

Nanny Wen's towel

I wonder if she even realised it was there.

Our pilgrimage to the famous kucing in Kuching:

Kuching, Cat City

On our last day, Kenny took us out for breakfast. We had Sarawak laksa and soft-boiled eggs and kaya toast.

Sheylara and Nanny Wen at breakfast

The eggs were so huge!!! And the toast was so nice!!! It’s a little different from the kaya toast in Singapore. It’s a lot more, I dunno, organic and authentic than the commercial Ya Kun variety. I mean, Ya Kun is nice and all, but eating the ones in Kuching fills me with nice, happy feelings.

Kenny Sia's thumb, with eggs

I ate a LOT of toast. I had Kenny order a second set after I finished the first set and my laksa.

Sarawak laksa

I’m gonna miss the food again!

By the way, I skipped two days of events because they’re kinda long so I’ll blog about them another day.

Yay! Kenny just commented on an earlier post!


Kenny Sia's comment

See, I wasn’t lying. He can’t stop laughing!!! He’s still laughing two days later!

Okay, look forward to my mountain race post! Nanny Wen just told me that her colleagues asked her how come when she told them the story it doesn’t sound treacherous at all.

Hopefully, I’ll get some photos that can give you an idea.

If not, I’ll go back there again one day and take photos.

Haha.

Plurk