Friday, 27 March 2015

LABUAN: The Nostalgic History

When I was a small boy, every end of the year, during the school holidays, I always visited my grandparents in Labuan. The most interesting story I heard was that huge amount of Ming vase which was discovered at Pulau Enoe, that used to be a small island (now part of the Labuan Island due to reclamation works). This shows that there were Chinese traders or probably settlers here in the 1500's. Besides the Chinese, the early people of Labuan might be Kadayan farmers and Bruneien fishermen.

On 18th December 1846, James Brooke signed a treaty with the Sultan of Brunei, Ali Omar Saifuddin, thus establishing British influence over Labuan. The British hoisted their flag on this island on 24th December 1846. The Sultan ceded Labuan to the British probably due to the menacing pirates, which he couldn't handle. To him, only the British could bring peace and stability to this region. This was also why the British had a keen interest in Labuan: they need a naval base to suppress piracy. Below is the famous iconic pictures of early Labuan, the signing of the treaty with Brunei and the raising of the Union Jack on that island.

In 1848, the island became a Crown Colony and in 1907, Labuan became a part of the Strait Settlement that include Singapore, Malacca and Penang. The British planned to make Labuan into a port rivaling Singapore but the location of the island was unsuitable and the plan was abandoned.

In 1941, the Japanese invaded Labuan and renamed her Maeda. My great-grandfather, Haji OKK Awang Besar used to tell me stories about the Japanese occupation. He witnessed the Japanese was harsh master but far less dedicated to terror compared to the German Nazi. They are cruel, rather than brutal. They bullied more than they murdered. He told me he once cycled into a restricted area, one late evening in 1944. Immediately he was shouted at by a young Japanese sentry. The soldier scolded and lectured him in broken Malay. He asked him turn back. He said, " I fear for your safety: from the Kempetai!" The Kempetai were Japanese military police who commit most of the cruelty that gave the Imperial Army a bad name. The Japanese surrendered Labuan to the Allies in June 1945. The British came back to rule Labuan.

In 1963, Labuan together with North Borneo and Sarawak was given independence by the British. Labuan became part of North Borneo (Sabah). In 1984, Labuan was given away by the Sabah State Government to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. So upset was the people of Sabah that they brought down the ruling Berjaya Government in 1985, who made this fateful decision.

The above picture is the view of Victoria (named after Queen Victoria), the old name of Labuan Town.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Menumbok: Gateway to Labuan

Menumbok is the sub-district of Kuala Penyu (literally mean the Bay of the Turtle), which is located in the southwest of North Borneo (Sabah). Most of the people here are farmers and fishermen, and many of them are also involved in the "water taxi" ferrying passengers using high speed boat from here to Labuan. Much of Menumbok is covered with coconut plantations, but it is giving way to the more productive palm oil. The activities of this small town are mostly geared to cater for the travelers going to and coming from Labuan and hence we see a lot of restaurants and "car motels". The motels are meant for housing the vehicles so the owners can travel to Labuan freely using speedboat. The motels charges 5 Ringgit per day for un-shade vehicles and 10 Ringgit for the shaded one.

The above picture shows one of the car motels. Actually, all these used to be residential houses, but the business of housing the cars are too lucrative to overlook. During the school holidays, these motels are totally packed with cars forcing the latecomers to turn back and give up travelling to Labuan.

The Menumbok town became active with visitors when the price of airplane shoot up in the mid 2000. Before this, it was extremely cheap to fly to Labuan from Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) and thus many feels traveling via Menumbok is a waste of time. However, when the plane ticket increased 300% and more, only then Menumbok became relevant. From Menumbok, there are two types of transportation to Labuan, by speedboat which cost 15 Ringgit per person, or using the Ro-Ro Ferry, which carries both people and vehicles. It is much slower, but travelers only need to pay 5 Ringgit. Vehicles are usually charge 50 Ringgit or more depending on the cargo we carry.

This is the Menumbok water village. Many of the people here operates the water taxi (speedboat) as their source of income. The water village is very common found all over Borneo. Most of the dwellers here are Brunei Malay Muslim. The water village created big problem for the Spanish when they invaded Brunei in the mid 1600.

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LABUAN: On my way through Binsulok

Labuan is a tiny island situated close to North Borneo (Sabah) and The Sultanate of Brunei. I will discuss about Labuan in my next post. There are three ways to reach Labuan from Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu). By air, sea and land. The fastest and easiest is by plane. The most uncomfortable is by sea. It takes 3 hours in a calm sea to reach Labuan. Riverboats are use to ferry the passengers using this route, and in an open sea, the trip is sickening.

To me, the best is by land. The gateway to Labuan is Menumbok, a small town very close to the island. With a normal average speed of 70 km per hour, plus all the traffic jam along the way, we can reach Menumbok within 2.5 hours time. Here, we could enjoy passing whatever left of the environmental beauties that one day might disappear due to unregulated development. Presently, we still can see the varieties of secondary jungle, such as the Red Palms and also the wild Rattan Vines.

The most relaxing journey is using the Membakut-Binsulok Highway. It is still an unknown route, and thus free from congestion. Most of the road runs parallel to the beautiful but dirty Kimanis Bay. But, still the beach is magnificent. Near the Binsulok village, lies a very appealing sight, the Binsulok River. Like most rivers in Borneo, it is covered with mangrove forest. Mangrove forest are usually home to the famous ONLY found in Borneo primate, the Proboscis Monkey.

Casuarina (tropical pine) trees and Pandanus (Screw Pine) dominated the flora of the Kimanis Bay. Sometime I wonder why would someone named it a Screw Pine! As I said before, the beach is white and fluffy but dirty because of men's littering.

The above picture is the lonely road of the Membakut-Binsulok Highway. I am tempted to lie on the road and estimate the arrival of the next vehicle! By looking at it, its so relaxing.

The picture above is the Binsulok River, while the bottom one is its mouth, exposing itself to the vastness of the South China Sea. The mysterious Pulau Tiga (Third Island) is not far away. Pulau Tiga became famous because of the documentary series, Survivor.

Below is one of the Water Melon Farm grown in between the secondary forest. Hopefully the authority will limit the agricultural development so that the natural habitat of Binsulok will not be lost forever.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Proboscis: The humble monkey

My father told me that once there was a British Officer during the 1920's who went out hunting. This Englishman had travel to all corners of the British Empire and he loves shooting animals. One day, he spotted a monkey, and carefully he aimed his gun at the primate. That monkey didn't run or acted aggressively. Instead, it just cover its eyes with its hand. The hunter almost squeezed the trigger, but slowly he dropped his gun and moved away. According to my father, that person had forbade himself to shoot another animal from that day onward. That was the Proboscis Monkey.

Sometime it is call the Long Nosed Monkey, because of its big nose. The Indonesian call them Monyet Belanda (Dutch Monkey) a remark they made to describe their Dutch Colonizers. Some scientists believed the big nose is for attracting females or for intimidating rival males. Their habitat is usually along the rivers and mangrove swarms and they can only be found in Borneo. Proboscis are considered endangered species and for decades the Sabah (North Borneo) Wildlife Department had made tremendous efforts to protect them. Among their methods is to introduce them to new habitats all over Sabah. Pulau Gaya (Tengku Abdul Rahman) National Park is fortunate to be one of them. Proboscis have webbed feet and hands and therefore a good swimmers, good enough for them to escape from predators like crocodiles.

Another touching story is about a Proboscis being attacked by a group of macaque monkeys in Pulau Gaya. Macaque is well known to be highly unpredictable and aggressive, even those that are kept as pets. Proboscis are so gentle preferring to mind their own business and staying out of trouble. The proboscis jump into the sea and try to seek refuge anywhere. She was fortunate to bump into Chris Lammert. Chris threw a rope towards her and immediately she knew she is going to be help. She accepted and Chris pulled her into the boat. She was shivering, and Chris wrapped her with a towel. All the way she accepted the gesture offered by Chris and just kept quiet. She knew someone kind is helping her. When the monkey dried up, Chris brought her back to the mangrove at the Park nearby. As Chris departed, the monkey stayed as if it understood and say thank you. Only when Chris is far away, the monkey disappeared into the forest.  

On the left picture, the monkey was just saved and still holding the rope. On the right, Chris tried to console her as she was still unsure but few minutes later she was very comfortable and relax. Pulau Gaya is a 20 minute boat ride away from Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu).

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