Big place, Australia

Him Indoors and I had not been there before, so we took advantage of being only 5 hours from Perth to pop over and have a look. If five hours is popping – well, compared to a lifetime from the UK it is.

From Perth, we took the train to Fremantle which was warm and low rise and pleasant. Nice food, and a comfortable hotel although we hadn’t realised that the bathrooms were down the corridor so there was much padding down in dressing gowns at dead of night – we have reached that certain age…

We took a ferry to Rottnest Island, a delight. A hot clear sunny day is still a novelty for a Brit, and from our pushbikes we enjoyed views of small coves, the turquoise ocean, old buildings from the time when it was a prison and when it harvested salt. Under a bit of undergrowth we spotted a quokka, one of those round fluffy animals which don’t do muc, very slowly. A while ago unpleasant types used them for a barbaric pastime they called quokka soccer – yes, they kicked them about and tried to score goals. I cannot see the pleasure in tha (and I doubt the quokkas were thrilled either), but it was apparently popular for a while.

There were holiday houses and apartments of varying degrees of comfort, a campsite, shops and restaurants. It felt small, and it wouldn’t have been difficult to get all the way round, but we took our time and pottered back to catch the 2.30 ferry.

Fremantle is rather cool. It has old (19th century) buildings and market selling crafty things like clothes and candles and pottery. Perth was different. Tall buildings and nothing that particularly made us want to stay there any length of time, but I expect there’s something interesting about it –guidance welcome.

We flew on to Adelaide to stay with a friend. I liked the city – it was sedate with pretty buildings, parkland and good restaurants (you will spot a recurring theme in this article) and I enjoyed the State Museum with the biggest collection of Aborigine artefacts in the country, the art gallery and the library. We spent a day at a country festival (more food, got it?: olive oil, bread, cheese, cold meat, wine – all scrumptious) in the hills outside, and another day at the beach (with a picnic – of course) watching birds and people rootling for shellfish and a couple of seals lying on their backs and letting the water swish them about.

Then Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at a B&B in pretty leafy Mossman Gorge. A Kookaburra sat on the balcony railing while we had breakfast, and burst into loud throaty cackles before it flew away. At a small private zoo, I cuddled a koala (briefly – they can only work for 30 minutes a day, and I was one of many. A cliché I know but I have wanted to do this since I was about five). I avoided a baby crocodile and a python, but made friends with Max the red tailed cockatoo who loves human company. We became very close. He snuggled under my chin and made friendly little squawking sounds, and I stroked his feathers. It was hard to leave and I like to think he missed me when I went!

The Reef was an hour and 40 minutes away on a fairly big boat. We snorkelled three times and were interested by the pretty fish and the large coral outcrops, although, of course, people said it had been much MUCH better the last time they had come. It is impressive, but I am happy with Sabah’s underwater offerings. And the journey back was horrible – the wind changed and the waves swelled and we roared back through them at the rate of 20 knots and I was not happy at all – but proudly not sick either.

Sydney was our next stop. I am not sure what I was expecting. The views of the harbour and the Opera House are lovely, and of course oddly familiar. The ferry ride out to Manly was interesting and made us realise how much water there is in Sydneysiders’ lives. The restaurants in The Rocks, where we were, were very expensive, but pretty good. And my biggest thrill was reading Cap’n Bligh’s logbook from the Bounty, presumably before the crew mutinied. We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (tick) and the Library (tick) and the Museum of Art (tick – I have decided I like nineteenth century Aussie paintings and note the number of female names) and we walked through the Botanic Garden and Hyde Park, both of which were fresh and airy and full of hearty runners. I would have liked to go to Kings Cross and Paddington etc but there was no time. Another day, and then probably another sense of Sydney.

We had two weeks and we got about a bit, but I couldn’t claim to have more than a superficial sense of the continent. I expected Australia to be more American in flavour, and it wasn’t. It is big, it feels big, and the land at this season is pale beige, dry and crispy dusty. The aboriginal artefacts tell many tales, none of which we knew. We stopped by the side of the road to see the Canoe Tree; a good few years ago, bark was taken off to make a canoe, leaving a tree that had seen better days, with an oval scoop out of the trunk. No sign, no information though – we were lucky our host knew about it.

Kookaburras chortled, kangaroos bounded about as we drove along. There was no doubt where we were, and I hope we have the chance to go again.

 

Apologies for all the photos of me, but I wanted to show relative sizes of animals etc.  The picnic on the beach is just a jolly photo.

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A brand new bird for Borneo

Here’s a bit of natural history news for you.

In the lush, lowland rainforests of Borneo lives the Cream-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus simplex, a drab brown bird. It is found from southern Thailand to Sumatra, Java, and in Sabah and Sarawak.

In most places it occurs, it has white eyes, but on Borneo, they are mostly red.

This eye colour is the crux of the matter.

It is the only thing that is different between the appearance of these birds and for 100 years, naturalists thought it didn’t mean very much. Advances in genetic sequencing technology at Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, and their researchers’ persistent detective work has led to the discovery that the white-eyed individuals of Borneo in fact represent a completely new species.

“One of the reasons we knew we had a new species was because the red-eyed and white-eyed populations occur together on Borneo. You can go to a site and see both these birds. If two birds occur in the same area, and they are not interbreeding, then that’s thought to be a definitive sign that they are different species,” said Subir Shakya, lead author and LSU Department of Biological Sciences Ph.D. student.

Shakya compared several bulbuls from Borneo and the surrounding region and discovered that the white-eyed Cream-vented Bulbuls from Borneo appeared genetically distinct from all the other white-eyed and red-eyed Cream-vented Bulbuls he examined. “We found white-eyed bulbuls in old-growth hill forest in Sabah’s Crocker Range National Park in 2008 and in the Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak in 2013; and a group from the Smithsonian foun them in Sarawak’s Batang Ai National Park in 2018.

LSU Museum of Natural Science Curator of Genetic Resources Fred Sheldon, Shakya’s PhD advisor, praises his “dogged detective work, and a little serendipity.”

Sabah needs a performing space

I learnt something very important about Kota Kinabalu last weekend.

Sabahans love theatre – and they don’t get enough of it.

Let’s face it, we aren’t spoilt for choice in KK for interesting and jolly evening or afternoon outings. After a trip to the shops, food somewhere, perhaps a cinema jolly and a drink looking at the sunset, there isn’t much. Or if there is, I don’t know about it.

On Saturday night, with hundreds of other people, I went to one of two sold out performances of Euphrasia the Musical at the JKKN auditorium. It was a musical about a nun who set up the Good Shepherd order, and who helped women mostly who had been trafficked. This order is still going strong and is really worth supporting, by the way. Volunteers welcome.

I didn’t expect a lot. I have had little experience of going to the theatre in KK, and none at all of going to a musical here. Musicals are very much a different kettle of fish to plays – they need an orchestra, dancing and choreography, good voices, good songs as well as all the usual stuff like actors and sets and such.

I settled into my seat and assumed a tolerant expression. It didn’t take long before I sat up, delighted. The staging was uncomplicated and effective, lighting terrific, orchestra ditto. Singers were very good, although their mikes were set a little loud, and the cating was generally spot on. But it was the dancing and the energy and the sheer delight of performance that got me – everybody loved it and nobody put a foot wrong. They moved in unison, and made the music come alive.

I found some of the songs a bit samey, and wished that the tempo had varied a bit more, but on the whole the performance was a stonker. And later I learnt that many of the main movers and shakers on and off the stage were Sabahans.

Sabah is oozing with creative talent, and it is so sad is that there is nowhere for people to use it, so they leave.

The Black Box was set up as somewhere for drama to happen. It worked for a while but it is in abeyance at the moment, which is a pity. I don’t know the ins and outs, so I can’t comment further, except to say how useful it would be to have it working.

Isn’t there anywhere in KK where plays, events and musicals of this quality can be performed? Where locals and visitors can set up and produce uplifting, skillful theatre – and watch it too? Is there someone somewhere who could support the development of a place that is not too small, not too big, with space for equipment, performers and an audience?

If what I saw on Saturday was anything to go by, people here would be thrilled, and would spend good money to keep such things going.

Sabah needs this sort of thing – the energy before, during and after was crackling and I was so happy to be part of it, even if it was from a comfortable seat in the stalls. More please!!

 

 

Visitors’ guide to KK – according to me!

There are an awful lot of unexpected treats in Sabah that are not necessarily immediately obvious. I have been investigating. Every time I think I would like something, I look for it, and more often than not I track it down! The following list is very much from the outside looking in…

I wanted somewhere to spend a quiet weekend by the sea. Kudat has a few lovely houses for rent – look on Air bnb – and there are other places such as Bunga Raya in the afternoon, when most of the tourists have gone.

I love breakfast – full English. Toast, bacon, eggs, sausages. I do not need halal, and indeed am not a fan of beef bacon. I would prefer not to have any. I have tracked down deeeelishus sourdough bread at City Veggie, and also at the Hyatt. They do all sorts of flavours, with additions of walnuts or cranberries and so on. I think Omma’s Oven also make it. Bacon and sausages are available from supermarkets, and Dorine Goh makes a mean streaky (014 3555 274).

Fabric – I go to Jakel, in Alamesra near 1 Borneo. Not exactly on the beaten track, but well worth it. They sell linen, and cotton for shirts and dresses – some very pretty patterns, and also some plain. It is usually tucked away behind the silks and polyesters, so keep looking. Not expensive and usually quite wide. Then you have to find a tailor. Everyone has one – there is some in Wisma Merdeka, and otherwise I suggest you do your own research. We all have our idiosyncracies so keep looking until you find someone who suits you. I have the excellent Mr Tan, who cuts and finishes and produces wearable clothes – most of the time – for very reasonable prices. We have had some delights and some horrors that I have had to give away!

Uniqlo in Suria Sabah is the perfect place for well designed, well cut, affordable casual clothes, often in natural fabric. I have recently acquired two pairs of jersey trousers, some linen and some really light and easy to wear tops. For men and women, of all sizes – remember, we orang putehs need the Large and Extra Large.

DVDs are always available of some of the most recent films – not all, but a good number. Some are bad copies, some fine – there is a shop in City Mall, and several in Karamunsing. Be sure to check the quality – look at it before you buy if you need to.

I am a fan of the wireless speakers that are all over Karamunsing and Wisma Merdeka and Centrepoint –so useful and so inexpensive that if they stop working they are replaceable without breaking the bank. Also wireless earphones, and wired ones as well, and the phone and iPad covers are good too. I have lost count of the chargers I have bought when I have lost or shredded mine – both car and house.

Souvenirs – well these are everywhere of course, some from the Philippines, some form Indonesia, some from here. I recommend Kedaiku, near the Meridien Hotel which has some excellent and authentic handicrafts at reasonable prices which make good gifts – for yourself and for others! I have bought several baskets which I use every day. If you are travelling up country, look out for the stalls on the side of the road which sell basket and weaving too. And last year there was an excellent fair in the middle of KK which sold some very beautiful stuff. Last week I wrote about the Handicraft Centre in Keningau which is a must stop if you are passing that way.

Gaya Street Market on a Sunday morning is always worth a visit sells useful and attractive viscose clothes which are light, and whisk in and out of the washing machine, drying in a flash and needing very little ironing. Lots of shapes and colours – they are for the tourist market as well, so sizes are large and small.

And finally, for now, there is a very useful art shop in Karamunsing which sells a lot of good equipment. The only things missing, for me, are water mixable oils, but perhaps that will come. AA Stationery also sell canvases and painting boards – I go to the one in Damai, but there is a big one in Penampang with a wider choice. They sell Lamy fountain pens too, which I love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping it clean

SO – can we talk about hygiene and health and the environment here in Sabah?  Borneo is beautiful. No question. I live here, I like it, but I am sad about some of the less fragrant aspects. Whoever said something like ‘you can tell the state of someone’s kitchen by the state of their lavatory’ had a strong point.

Public lavatories must be very difficult to keep clean, but other countries manage, rather well. Other cities too – KL, for one, and Singapore of course. In KK, I have come across some sparkling ones, but they are in the minority. For starters, people need to decide whether they want to use paper or water, and either way, keep their choice private. It’s horrid (and unhygienic) putting used paper in an open bin, but it would be great if it was available. Amusingly – I went to a loo the other day to be met with signs that it was for ‘urination’ only! And of course there was no paper…

If there is only water available, all well and good (the showery hose thing is brilliant, if you angle it right, but you have to jump about a bit to dry off), but there is no need to spray the floor and the walls as well as the place in question, surely? I have lost count of loos where I have not been able to emerge without my skirt or trouser bottoms soaking, and where I have been unable to put my bag down. Many don’t have hooks on the back of the doors either, so the choices are limited. And some say you can’t put it on the water tank either.

My next gripe is about plastic, particularly single use plastic, which adds to the general rubbish that is everywhere. Not original, I grant you, but it remains a really serious problem. The shoals of plastic rubbish that wash up on the shore are frightening, and the junk on what should be clean white sand for everyone to use is no better. Some places clear it every morning, and there are people who collect it from the water too. Thank goodness.

It’s not confined to the sea. Walk down the street and there is all sorts on the pavement, in the gutters, in the grass. One of the reasons I can see is that there are not enough bins and not enough encouragement to use them. Perhaps more can be installed, with bright signage saying what they are and why it is a good idea to use them. I can’t see a downside to this… Could people be encouraged to carry drinking water in stronger plastic bottles that can last? There are plenty available. Another thought is that in some countries there is a refund for the return of used glass bottles. Could this be implemented here? Companies would save on containers and people would make a tiny bit of money.

Next – plastic bags. Things are getting better, but there is a way to go. When I arrived here, and refused a bag, taking out my own to use instead, the assistants were amazed, and giggled a lot. Now I am still offered a bag automatically, but when I refuse it, I am not thought to be as peculiar as before. But I am still offered a bag – is there a chance that shop assistants could wait to see if people have brought their own, or offer shoppers one that will last more than one use?  One ray of light – at the Sun Bears Sanctuary in Sepilok I got a brown paper bag for my purchase! Hooray!

Lastly – there is a beautiful stretch of sand at Tanjung Aru which at present is visited by 20 or so buses of Chinese tourists each evening to see the sunset.  It is one of the world’s most wonderful places to do this – the islands in the bay are silhouettes against skies  streaked with purple and gold and turquoise and blue and it really takes your breath away. For once a cliche with no replacement. But it would be so good if it could be used for more than standing on to gawp at the sunset. I am a prize gawper, and I do it every Friday from the charmingly old fashioned Kinabalu Yacht Club, but it would be fantastic if we could swim in the balmy water without fear of e coli and attendant horrors. At the moment there are jelly fish – can’t do much about them. They have just as much right to be in the water as I have, but there’s lots of unpleasantness that gets pumped into it without being treated, I believe. I haven’t braved it yet, but I plan to, and to keep my mouth firmly shut.  We go out into the bay in a boat every so often, and that is  really delightful. The water is clean and clear, and there is good snorkelling in places too.

This place certainly WAS Paradise 50 years ago. It can be again, but, although things are improving, there is a way to go.

 

Island school

About a week ago I visited the school on Pulau Gaya – an island just off KK. For no particular reason. Just curiosity, and to see if I can be useful in any way in the future.

I met one of the teachers over coffee and she invited me; I was very happy to accept.

On the day, I met her at 6.30 am under the arch at Jesselton Point and we walked together to the school bus (boat). Other teachers were already there, and we all put on life jackets as we set off. IMG_0263The fifteen minute journey was pretty calm (thank goodness) and gave a very good view of a misty purple Kinabalu mountain as I looked back towards KK.

It’s not a small school. We drew near the stretched cluster of buildings with pink roves, and walked carefully up the steps from the boat towards the staff room and a large assembly hall, with open sides.

‘I hope you don’t mind talking to the students there,’ my hostess asked me.

‘How many?’

‘Oh about 100, 200.’

‘Oh.”

I met the principal in her cool office, and presented her with a paltry collection of exercise books and crayons which she accepted very graciously. It seemed to me the least I could do.

The teachers work hard there – they have their work cut out. There are 800 students, mostly Bajau, and all Muslim. Some speak English well, many don’t. Some come not knowing how to read or write.

IMG_0278There was a sprinkling of the usual laddishness, of perky interaction from some of the boys, but most were in tidy uniform, greeting us politely as we passed, in English. Classrooms were built off a boardwalk, and there was always the sound and sense of water beneath us. The wooden floors are spotlessly clean. The sports ground is built on reclaimed land. There is a café, and there are examples of the students’ work hung up on the walls. A cooled library needs more books.

The school is government funded and does well with what it has and is given, although I expect there is a bit of belt tightening. The students are encouraged to learn, and many try to do so. Some, of course, have family issues which mean that there are issues with non-attendance, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes teachers go to the students’ homes to investigate, sensitively, and the results are not always positive. Although some old pupils have done very well, and are happy to come and talk at the school.

Talking of which, I soon found myself standing with a microphone in front of what must have been somewhere near 200 boys and girls. I chatted to them, trying to make myself comprehensible, about myself. They listened politely, although it was clear some of them didn’t understand me. I asked for questions. ‘How old are you?’ was the first. I told him, knowing that it must seem as if I am tottering towards the grave. We chatted a bit, and then I told them that we were going to sing a round; I explained what was involved, and everyone gave ‘Row row row your boat’ a go. It wasn’t a huge success but nobody minded.

‘Right,’ I told them. ‘I have sung to you, we have sung together, now is there anyone who will sing to me?’

The usual embarrassed sliding away of eyes, the looking down, the whispering behind hands, and then an arm went up. I beckoned the owner, a tall and handsome young man, to the front, and soon he was singing a popular song (which of course I didn’t recognise) beautifully, with gusto, and some of the listeners joined in. Next came another boy, who announced he would be doing beatbox. He took the microphone out of my hand and the noise he made was terrific. Everyone was very impressed and we all cheered them both. It was very interesting that once they were in front of their peers they were not shy, but enjoyed sharing and entertaining. One of the teachers told me it is because they have music all around them. Good on them, say I.

Next came a group of girls who showed what they could do with choral speaking. It took a while to get organised but what they produced was charming and clear. Again, an example of confidence and the results of encouragement.IMG_0297

I am sure it is not easy to teach at Pulau Gaya – some challenges are large – but there is a warm and positive atmosphere there, and my hostess told me that, despite the difficulties, she gets a great deal from the students.

I hope there will be something I can contribute at some point, but quite frankly, they are all doing pretty well without me.

 

Podcast resumed

By kind and flattering request, from various friends who say they have liked my blog – I am resuming it. It paused for several months because I have a regular column in the Borneo Daily Express, called From the Outside Looking In.  It is largely along the same lines as this blog, but for local readers.  I have decided for now to add some of the columns to this, and would welcome comments and feedback.

Nostalgia aint wot it used to be

There is a house on Jalan Tuaran

They call the Rising Sun…

No there isn’t. And they don’t. They call it “what house? Oh that one!” And it is not easy to find out who owns it. It sits in front of a tree-covered hillside, an anachronistic edifice, comfortable in its leafy surroundings, holding its memories close. Its walls are wooden, its rusty corrugated iron roof has different points, designed I am told to make the most of any air. Cross ventilation from windows that face each other helps too. It comes from a time without air con, and if it was anything like my childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, electricity wobbled and water dried up. Ours was made bright red by rust deposits, which is another story – everyone who came to visit thought they were bleeding to death…

This house is nameless, and seems to be one of the last remaining pre-war buildings in KK and I can see it from my balcony. I yearn to be able to 1) have a look around and 2)have a go at restoring it. Both unlikely, I know – it’s on very very expensive land and will alas be demolished and some dull modern block built in its place. Boo hoo. The outline of its long overgrown garden is visible, and it is set back from the road so noise is minimised. With a bit of TLC, wouldn’t it would be perfect as a home again or even an arts centre with a gallery and a restaurant and performance space?

History delights. Visitors to KK are charmed by the old photographs of how it used to be, and by the Post Office/Sabah Tourism building. Books have been produced: sketches of the old houses and shop lots, postcards and those with photographs and drawings of the architectural details of what remains. These too are not so easy to come by, except at the Art Gallery and sometimes at Borneo Books in Wisma Merdeka. Datuk Chan has just published Ross Ibbotson’s meticulously researched The building of the North Borneo Railway and the founding of Jesselton and that, for a price, is also available at Borneo Books.

The Agnes Keith House and the English Tea Rooms in Sandakan don’t have as many visitors as Sepilok, say, but when I have visited, I have rarely been alone.

Enjoying these buildings is not a celebration of colonial rule. It allows one to think about the past, and how things once were on an island the world had not discovered. In the same way, I am excited by Kadazan monoliths, Sarawak carvings, old kampong baskets, hats with tribal motifs…

I believe there is a market for the past (even though many say that nostalgia aint what it used to be – sorry). And that people looking for homes may be less keen on the condominiums of many floors that cover the ground that perhaps once had forest or a settlement. Who knows? I am by no means an authority, but I seek out examples of the buildings people used to live in, and wish that I could copy them today. They are more human, more individual, even though built to a largely similar plan. They have gardens, and verandahs and are lower, and thus nearer the earth, and nature. Adding air con and an efficient electricity system and hot water would of course be good – any fool can be uncomfortable.

 

 

A visit to Singapore

I went to Singapore this week for a few days. Asia’s economic miracle. IMG_2568We stayed at the Tanglin Club which is ancient (1845 – imagine!) and is very comfortable, with rather good food and terrifying carpets.  I had a couple of days to myself and pottered merrily about, using Grab, and going to China Town and Little India and Marks and Spencer oh joy!  My knickers are replenished.  In Chinatown I found a craft shop and stocked up on wool to feed my new addiction, crochet. I also discovered a class there, and joined a cheery group of ladies who were working on pieces which were far more complicated that the one I was trying but it was fun. IMG_2553 2They were welcoming, nattered away in Chinese, and then spoke to me in perfect English. Once again, I am ashamed of my limited expertise in foreign languages, but I comfort myself with the reminder that I am trying to learn Bahasa Malay. So much so that the lady in the parking booth shook my hand and beamed – and then of course threw a long and incomprehensible speech at me. But at least she thought I might be able to understand her.

We ate well – at a Greek restaurant and in the Club, and took our eye off the ball to go to what was obviously a tourist trap. Silly of us. We also went to Gardens by the Bay. Enormous. Full of greenery, and appreciative multitudes, but am I mean spirited to say that I was undercharmed?  IMG_2582You can’t grumble at an orchid, or cut up rough about a silvery fan of a palm, but does it all have to be amidst Hobbity carvings of dragons and such like?  I know China has its own dragons, far removed from Smaug, but this place had loads of teethbaring woodwork uncurling from behind bushes.  It was too clean, too tidy, too neatly edged and it just didn’t do it for me.  Rather like the whole place.  The gift shop was large and full  and there was not one single thing I wanted to buy – very rare for me.

Everyone we met was delightfully helpful and chatty. Taxi drivers went out of their way, quite literally, to tell us the best place to do this and that. But there are ugly skyscrapers and shops and more shops and more shopping malls and it was a mass of consumerism and could have been anywhere – if it hadn’t been so clean and tidy etc etc. And humourless. I tried to be jovial with the lady who made wonderful breakfast omelettes but she wasn’t having any. Gentlemen of all ages and states of fitness ploughed up and down the Tanglin pool in frisky little budgie smugglers – without cracking a smile. It was very serious stuff. Ladies too, but they weren’t all wearing the same thing.

Some of the lower older buildings could have been attractive, but they were dwarfed by glass and concrete. Raffles alas is closed for renovation. I think I will wait till it comes back to life, and see if a Singapore Sling cheers me up.

 

I sense a sea change

I have realised that what makes me uncomfortable is knowing that, however many things I do every day, it is essentially just filling my time. I have been learning a lot but not feeling that I am creating, or contributing anything to anything…

And if one person says again that settling in takes time, I will bite them on the nose and stay there.

But I sense a change.  Apart from knowing my way around -“ooh, how do you know that?” – and actually making pottery bowls and jugs that can be used, and doing my Pilates and yoga (all very good for me I know, but still…) I am beginning to plan and set up and DO.

First. The Performing Arts Society is an NGO, and we need one to be able to fundraise for WordPower Sabah. Susan and I had a meeting with the President, who thinks it a great idea and is more than happy to be our official supporter.  Yippee!  The first concrete yes!  And I am sending our revamped proposal out to people with SPArKS very clearly on the front page, and hope it will make a difference.

Second. I was asked a while ago to do a session at a  workshop for drama teachers by an energetic woman called Audrey. I offered speaking poetry and they seemed v pleased, so I prepared it and forgot about it.  Yesterday I delivered it, to a group of enthusiastic, intelligent and open women (the only man on the list was, apparently, ‘on his way’) from all over Sabah.  If only all groups were as fun and receptive as this one. They read verses from Jabberwocky, and strode about saying the Chorus’ lines from Henry V, and they are all teaching The Charge of the Light Brigade, so we did that too.  It was fun for me and it looked fun for them.  Hooray!

Third. I have started running a course for another NGO here in Sabah, on clean, clear and effective writing. We had our first session, and again it was a pleasure to work with keen and open people, not afraid to ask questions and take both negative and positive comments. lots more to come (people and sessions).

And fourth. The air con men are coming this morning around 9.30 to fix the kit in our bedroom. This may be the greatest achievement of all, as it is one of Malaysia’s many holidays next week. To make the most of the three days after the weekend, we are going to Singapore.

A(nother) sunny morning in August

It’s been wet.  And dry. And hot. Then very hot. But there still isn’t much weather to speak of.  The sun is out most days for a bit, the air is warm, clothes dry and flowers on the balcony need watering. But one thing that is different is that I am learning to be still, for a little while at least.

I haven’t changed my character completely. I still miss going out to the theatre, the cinema, to dinner – but if I don’t I am minding less and less. I can sit and read, I can sit and paint. I can just sit – but that’s the hardest, and I won’t be doing much of that. I am learning though, and it feels rather good when I manage it.

On the doing front, however, I continue to fill my days. Before 6.30 pm or so, when the sunset streaks the sky with purple and gold again (we’ve had quite a cloudy time of it for the last month or so), I do Pilates, I do pottery (bliss), I try to improve my Bahasa Malay (slow and steady, slow and steady), and I have found an art school where I take myself and my paints, puff up three steep flights of stairs and try to do something with a blank canvas.

I have coffee and lunch with new friends (they’re all new except for visitors from the UK, of which there are going to be many, hooray), and do the shopping which involves markets and several shops in several different places.

Today, I had my weekly Malay class, which reminds me how little I really know, and I am about to make caponata for supper, with local vegetables and various adapted ingredients.

I have done a bit of of my novel, which is growing steadily. I haven’t reread anything as my first aim is to get most of it out of my head and on to the computer. Then starts the real draft, in every sense.

My friend Susan and I have had an idea, which we call #WordPower Sabah, about every possible way of using English to communicate, and we want to show that all disciplines can learn from each other, and learn how to use the language well. Not just a book festival, more a way of life…

We have drawn up a proposal and are flogging the idea to anyone who will listen and who might give us some money. Nothing concrete, but it’s early days: we need to be affiliated with an NGO in order to collect funds and we are edging nearer to this.Response, apart from actually cash to date, has been pleasingly positive, so we are working away on all fronts. I am giving a workshop at a SPARKS event next week (Society for the Performing Arts) which I hope will contribute to a bit of WPS profile raising.

Now I’m off to the hairdresser which is always fun. This country has more public holidays that any other I have ever heard of, so a girl has to look her best to do nothing much, non?