Friday, 1 June 2018

TENOM: The Coffee Capital of Borneo

Coffee products for sale

WILLIAM STEWART CAME FROM a small town called Tenom, a remote place in Malaysian Borneo. His father, David Stewart, was a successful real estate broker. William’s grandfather was an American planter from California. THE EURASIANS Chapter 9, Page 39

I imagined Fort Birch is like a besieged pioneer settlement surrounded by hostile tribes and animals. But that is just what we saw in the movies about the American Wild West!  This fort however was actually once a remote outpost deep in the heart of Borneo during the 1800s. When the British arrived at Fort Birch, they immediately saw this place having potential to be an agricultural center; not only to feed the North Borneo population, but also introducing cash crops for export. That was why they built the railroad from Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu) connecting to this place in the late 1890s. They brought in Chinese laborers including new recruits from China to help opened up this wild frontier. The reason why the British saw Fort Birch as a potential agricultural center was because it had access to ample supply of fresh water from the mighty Padas River and the soil is good. The Chinese laborers later on became farmers who owned their own plots of land and planted fruits and vegetables. The British introduced rubber, tobacco as well as coffee. Today Fort Birch is called Tenom; an important food basket for North Borneo (Sabah) and most importantly it is now known as the Coffee Capital of Borneo.

The showroom interior
Most people drink coffee for its taste and its caffeine jolt, but hey! The aroma of coffee is believed to be brain stirrer which eventually improves its genes and proteins. As a result the brain will received 18 benefits! These are claims being made by coffee lovers. I myself rarely drink coffee so sadly I will not be able to experience what they claimed. Among the benefits of coffee aromas are reductions in stress, improving sharpness and also lower the risk of diabetes. 

People nowadays are more interested to know where does coffee come from and how is it made. Well! Coffee was first noticed by the Arabs in the 15th century probably when their traders were doing business in Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia). Thus the origin of coffee can be traced back to the sub-Saharan Africa including the Tenom Coffee. The Tenom Coffee is the Robusta Coffee (coffea canephora). It is a sturdy species with low acidity and high bitterness. It is less susceptible to disease and has high contents of antioxidants. There are so many methods and techniques how a coffee is made. Each country had its own ways of roasting this bean. 

The exterior of the showroom
Why the Tenom Coffee is so special? I was informed that the coffee powder manufacturers in Tenom still use firewood and drum rotation methods in preparing their coffee; a tradition that had been followed from the early days of coffee production. The Tenom Coffee doesn’t have artificial coloring or preservation. That’s what makes it so special. Their technique of preparing coffee is a deeply guarded secret; because they won’t allow anybody just to walk into their backyard and see how they manufactured their coffee! But I had to admit that as I search for the coffee showrooms in Tenom, all I found all over the Tenom Town was coffee aromas. It was indeed so pleasant and intoxicating which made us forgets our immediate problems or annoyance. 

After searching frantically, at last we found one. This one is the Yit Foh Tenom Coffee established in 1960. The showrooms were so presentable and inviting and many are captivated by their adverts. They even give out small cups so you could have a sip of their sample coffee. I am not a coffee drinker; but the taste is fantastic! The aroma; even more extraordinary! I would encourage visitors to try out visiting these showrooms. Even a non-coffee lover like me could appreciate such magnificent products!  

The first English romance-thriller from Borneo. 
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Monday, 21 May 2018

TENOM: The Sabah Agriculture Park

The Cannon Ball Fruit tree

WILLIAM STEWART CAME FROM a small town called Tenom, a remote place in Malaysian Borneo. His father, David Stewart, was a successful real estate broker. William’s grandfather was an American planter from California. 
THE EURASIANS Chapter 9, Page 39

North Borneo (Sabah) offers many interesting places to see. And yet many of us; both local and foreigners are not aware of it or simply not bothered. There are the famous spots like Mount Kinabalu, which is among the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and also the wonderful islands of Gaya and Mantanani which have crystal clear seawater displaying diverse underwater creatures. There are also the lesser known ones, such as the Kokol Hill and the Salt Trail in Tambunan. I consider the Sabah Agricultural Park (Taman Pertanian Sabah) also to be one of the less known places.

The Sabah Agricultural Park is located at a 400 acres site at Lagud Seberang; just a 15 minutes casual drive from Tenom Town (Pekan Tenom). Tenom Town itself is 176 kilometers from Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), the capital of North Borneo. Traveling from Jesselton to Tenom Town takes about 3 hours drive. We can also reach Tenom by train. According to the Sabah Railway Department schedule available on its website, the train leaves Jesselton at 7.45am and reaches Tenom at 10.30am daily. The train will leave Tenom at 4pm to go back to Jesselton. The site is maintained and developed by the Sabah Agriculture Department. The park indeed offers useful recreational and educational activities.

The Giant Water Lily

The most interesting thing to watch at this park is the Cannon Ball Fruit Tree. Fascinated at watching the fruit my friend who also visited here told me that the Cannon Ball Fruit looks like “Kiwi Fruit on steroid!” Many visitors marveled at the sight of these fruits and its trees and it would be a waste if nobody comes here to take pictures of it. I was informed by one of the officer that the name of this unusual fruit is Courouptia Guianensis and it originated from South America. Believe me; taking portrait with these trees is indeed awesome. Another species that is unique and interesting is the Giant Water Lily. Victoria Amazonica is so big that a baby could easily sit on one of its leave! It also originated from South America and many people come here to see this plant. Unfortunately, this plant is slowly disappearing from this park. I had visited this park three times and every time I came here, I see less of this plant. Probably with my next visit, the plant will no longer exist.

Honolulu creepers meant to attract bees

If you visit this park with your family, your kids will definitely enjoy this place. The park itself is very big. So in order to get around, the Department used this circus train to bring the visitors around! I am very sure children will be very excited to get a chance to ride this train. Even adults! The train moves on schedule every half an hour. The train will bring you to the Cannon Ball Fruit trees and the Giant Water Lily. It also stops at the Orchid Garden. This garden display about 400 species of orchids and among them is the rare Elephant Ear Orchids. The train also stops at the Ornamental Garden and Model Garden.

Riding the circus train around the park

Since my family is also involved in landscaping and gardening, I am impressed by the way the agriculture department planted the ornamental plants along the train route. In some areas they mixed these flowers with wild native vegetation; and indeed it looks awesome! What I love the most is the abundance of Honolulu Creepers. The department deliberately planted a lot of this creeper because the flowers attract bees. So if you are walking around this huge garden, you will also notice that there are many species of bees flying around. If you have the time, you could also visit the bee farms. If you are afraid of being sting, then go to the stingless bee hives; definitely you will not be sting! Then you have this huge open space where your kids could run freely. Nearby you have the lake which is so pleasing.

The wide open space inside the park

To my readers, I implore upon you to visit this park. If you are locals, please set one of your weekends to visit this place. For foreign tourists, please make the visit to this park as one of your itinerary. The agriculture department officers and their workers had done a good job to beautify this park. Remember; parks provide intrinsic, environmental, aesthetic and recreational benefits for visitors. It will definitely help to reduce your stress and who knows; lower your blood pressure.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

TENOM: In the heart of Borneo

Tenom Town: view from nearby hill

WILLIAM STEWART CAME FROM a small town called Tenom, a remote place in Malaysian Borneo. His father, David Stewart, was a successful real estate broker. William’s grandfather was an American planter from California.                       
                                                                           THE EURASIANS Chapter 9, Page 39

It is interesting to note that in future, there is a plan to connect the North Borneo (Sabah) State Railway line that begins in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) right up to Kudat, at the tip of Borneo. Then there is also a plan to start a ferry service between Kudat (Malaysia) connecting with Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Philippines. At this moment, there is already and existing rail connection between Jesselton and Tenom, the heart of the Murut-Lundayeh country in the heart of Borneo. Just imagine, if these plans materialized, the tourists visiting the Palawan Island could venture into Borneo using the ferry to reach Kudat. Then from here, they could take the train and travel to Jesselton and end their trip in Tenom. 

Tenom is the capital of Tenom District; one of the many districts of North Borneo. It is 176 kilometers from Jesselton, the capital of North Borneo, and 128 kilometers from Long Pasia. Long Pasia is a very interesting and famous place. It had some sort of a temperate and pleasant climate because of its high altitude. It is also the home to a beautiful tribe called the Lundayeh. Long Pasia is the border town of North Borneo (Malaysia) where on the other side is Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). 

Tenom is a bit unusual because it is the only town in North Borneo where the main highway pass and cut through the center of the town; just like some Mid-Western towns in the United States! Tenom used to be called Fort Birch by the British colonial government. In those days, Tenom was a hostile environment; deep jungle infested with wild animals. Insects were not only annoying but dangerous; especially mosquitoes which carry the dreaded parasites called Malaria. So why did the British took the trouble to open up Tenom? After all it was because of Tenom, they built the railway line connecting Jesselton to this remote place.

The highway cutting right in the middle of the town

The answer is; Tenom is a fertile plain very close to the mighty Padas River. With good soil and ample water supply, the British started rubber plantation here bringing in a lot of Chinese laborers. Soon the Chinese started to plant fruits and vegetables and until today, Tenom is famous for its agricultural products. The most famous is the Tenom Coffee. A retired United States naval officer told me he loves Tenom Coffee more than the Colombian Arabica! For me, I love the Lok Chai, the juicy sweet pomelo (Citrus Maxima) sometime called the Tenom Pomelo. Pomelo is one hell of a big orange! Sometimes I wonder; why do people need to import oranges when we have such a huge one in our backyard in Tenom! It is cheap, taste good, full of vitamins and big!

The sculpture of a coffee plant on the roundabout

There are several reasons why you should visit Tenom. Firstly, Tenom has this fabulous 400 acres Sabah Agricultural Park at Lagud Seberang. It is just 15 minutes casual drive from Tenom Town. Then you have the Tenom Coffee showrooms all over this small town. Passing these showrooms is awesome as we can freely sniff the wonderful Robusta aroma. You could also experience the train ride from Jesselton to Tenom. Along the way you could see the Padas River flowing and the last remaining forest dotting the landscape. Then you have the Murut Cultural Center, which is a small museum displaying the history and culture of this famous tribe. 

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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

JESSELTON: The gateway to Borneo

Fountain at Gaya Street at the heart of Jesselton

It seems it is a normal occurrence for fishermen to butcher giant stingrays and sharks in front of horrified tourists in the east coast of North Borneo. These news often goes viral and finally caught the attention of the state authority. They became upset and issued a directive; IN FUTURE NO TOURISTS ARE ALLOWED TO GET CLOSE TO FISHERMEN SITES! Huh???
So? What about those stingrays and sharks? Anyway... no more sad stories for a time being.

Jesselton's Lok Kawi Zoo

JESSELTON, THE CAPITAL of North Borneo, had a population of approximately five hundred thousand people. It had some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and islands. The most famous were Pulau Gaya and Pulau Tiga. Both of these islands were national park. Within two hours after enjoying the sunny beaches there, visitors could reach the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu. They could spend the night there and enjoy the temperate coolness.                                                                   THE EURASIANS Chapter 19, Page 74

Kota Kinabalu and Sabah used to have beautiful name. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying the names we have now are not good. It’s just that the older names are more nostalgic and historical; more appealing to promote overseas. Nowadays many tour companies here used the old names to sound more enchanting; Jesselton Waterfront, North Borneo Express and so on. Kota Kinabalu used to be called Jesselton; in honor of Charles Jessel, the Vice Chairman of British North Borneo Company which administered Sabah. Sabah was the new name for North Borneo, when this state got its independence from Great Britain in 1963. North Borneo, together with Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya went on to form Malaysia that same year, where Malaya took over the trusteeship from Great Britain. So Jesselton is the capital of North Borneo.

Simpang Mengayau at the tip of Borneo, Kudat

If I could have my ways, I would definitely convince the people of this state to revert back Kota Kinabalu and Sabah to Jesselton and North Borneo respectively. In reality, due to politics, it is difficult. But for me, I will always continue to use these beautiful names; Jesselton and North Borneo in my blog.

Jesselton is indeed the gateway to Borneo. First of all, it has an international airport; the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA). Conveniently, it is accessible for direct international flights from cities in China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. It takes less than two hours to reach Jesselton by plane from Manila, Philippines and slightly more than two hours from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From Bandar Seri Bagawan in Brunei, it takes only 30 minutes. The Kingdom of Brunei is a fellow independent Borneo state.

From Jesselton we could take domestic flights to Miri and Kuching in Sarawak and also to the Pearl of Borneo; the island of Labuan. From Jesselton too, we could fly to Kudat, the tip of Borneo, to Sandakan, sanctuary for orangutans at Sepilok and also to Tawau, which is another gateway to Indonesian Borneo. From Tawau too, we could go to the marine paradise of Sipadan Island.
As I mentioned before, North Borneo is indeed Borneo within Borneo. Almost all the floras and faunas found in other parts of Borneo are also found here in this state. In fact we have something the other Borneo states don’t have. We have one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia; Mount Kinabalu. We have a long line of sandy beaches that stretches from Kudat right down to Karambunai. And we have many beautiful islands that are considered a diving paradise; example Matanani, Labuan, Gaya and of course Sipadan.

Atkinson Clock Tower built in 1905, Jesselton

But North Borneo is also covered with exotic small hills and jungle treks which are good for hiking adventures. Watch out for leeches lurking on the trees as they could sense human or animal heats. But this is nothing compared to the joy of discovering waterfalls, wild orchids, rafflesias and monkey cups. BORNEO IS INDEED MYSTIFYING, AS WELL AS ENCHANTING!