Stay in Kapit and living life the Kapit way

Trip Start Jul 04, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Saturday, September 22, 2007


This entry is very very special as it marks my last weekend in Kuala Lumpur and therefore I guess probably my last entry into this chapter of my blog...
It was on the top of that a truly magical weekend thanks to my friend Augustina!
She made all my time in Malaysia extra special when she was next to me but knowing that this effect was going to be multiplied by 10 by going to her house and her family was not predicted!!!
She casually invited me and Henry to come to Kapit and we said yes but not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into!!

Kapit is an important river town in East Malaysia, in Sarawah more specifically. You cannot go there by any other means than boat... The industry around the town revolves around timber and coal which I guess explain the fact that you don't need anything else than boats!! There are roads around the town connecting the different villages but I would say that the radius is no more than 1hr drive around!!!
We first flew KL - Sibu which is around 3hrs and then took an "express" boat for another 2h30!!! The town where we arrived was busy around the market and the various little food stalls which gave a real life impression not like KL where people are just busy walking to or from somewhere not too bothered about the surroundings... The number of times we were stopped as we walked through by some relatives of August added to the reality that it was her town!!!

We arrived in the late afternoon and therefore went straight to her house where her parents welcomed us as if we were their own children. As August dad was an English teacher, everyone spoke good English and communication was easier than expected!!
The big difference between Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Malaysia is the population. In KL for example, most of the population is Malay and therefore muslim; in Kapit, the population is either Chinese or Iban (one of the local tribe) and the main religion is Christian... I believe this makes a big difference to the way people behave and it's true that for example alcohol is much cheaper in Kapit than in KL!!!
Throughout the weekend, all the family came to visit us. We had dinner together numerous times and in a way it reminded me of home and the big family gathering expect that here it's every week!!!
August mum and aunts spent hours cooking the best Iban dishes for all of us and the uncles were busy making us try the local liqueur called tuak or rice wine! You have to drink it in a shot no matter how big the glass is! By the end of the night, Henry was no longer tall but long, I was no longer Maud but Ip because Maud is too hard for them and that to them Eve sound like Ip... I'm sure that I must have said stupid things too!!
The next days we went on picnics on the river taking the car and then the boat. Special boats called long boats due to the fact that you only fit on person width wise. We had BBQ on the river banks, races in the river which was tea tarik (name of the local tea with milk and sugar) colour (I won but apparently that's only because Henry is a gentleman according to one of the uncles...). They caught some little fish and cooked them for me in some banana leaves (thanks Henry for not liking fish!!!). We drank beer, tuak and some other Chinese liqueur in the sun which could have been fatal but in the end was ok! (Thanks August for not drinking and looking after us i guess!!!). We played games in the river with whole family; the game by the way was far too hard: you take a stone, put a little mark on it, one team hides it in the river and the other one has to find it!!! That time the river was pretty clear but it didn't help too much, in the end it was the team that hide it that would not find it anymore!! But it was all good fun!!
Another highlight of the trip was going to see the traditional house. Borneo Malaysia is known to be still more traditional than Peninsular Malaysia due to the fact that I guess it is less developed. There are still people living from their own plantations, in traditional houses with nothing less linking them to the modern but the new road in front of their house and their little boats... Going to see such a house was an unforeseen gift as such houses are rapidly disappearing.
The houses are called "long houses" because the whole family lives there in different sections... It's a sort of terraced house section I guess built on sticks (so that the animals can't come inside thehouse) with about 15 or 20 blocs depending on the size of the family where the aunts, uncles, cousins, etc... all have a bloc but all the houses share a common walk way connecting everyone together.

August family has such a house but it's quite modern and her part of the family doesn't live there anymore. They still organised for us to go and visit a typical one, with people living there, with the 100 year old skulls of the enemy still there hanging... Living in such a house is really a choice of life style and it is full of rituals and traditions.

We were also invited to eat in August's long house for dinner on the Saturday night with the whole long house gathered and sooooo many different typical dishes. The fact that we could not communicate with everyone then was no issue and all emotions could be seen on the faces and gestures... it was just magic!!

I was also invited to try on the traditional costume which is very heavy I have to say!!! August cousin also decided to challenge me at tuak! Interesting!!! These moments will always stay with me! Along with the karaoke session on the Sunday after church which brought tears to my eyes...   I could never have hoped to be so welcomed into a house and a family like this. Thank you to all the people who played a part in this weekend.
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