Category Archives: Environment

Orang utans, palm oil and roadside breakfasts

Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia: 21.06.04

Sepolok Jungle Resort.

Orang Utans hate palm oil for a reason.

Today I saw the orang-utans at the Sepolok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Pretty amazing really – i think there was 18 or so, ranging from a mum and her tiny baby clinging tightly to her for dear life to older mature males and lots of younger or teenage animals. I also saw heaps of monkeys (not proboscis) and a snake. The snake was green and yellow and curled up in a tree. It’s amazing how things coloured so brightly can be so camouflaged. We also saw some lizards of varying sizes.

Antics for bananas

Watching the group of adorable apes get up to all types of mischief and playing around like kids (and their grumpy dads who just want to eat all the bananas) I learned and reflected on why these beautiful animals are at this centre and why they are so endangered.  It wasn’t hard to understand as the evidence had been making me angry for days. At first, I couldn’t believe it.

Driving along the country side was depressing and truly shocking!  Our bus ride from Mt Kinabalu to here was bereft of its vitality and beauty. The jungle which was so amazing and rich with mind boggling life has all been chopped down in favour of  squat, ugly palm  oil plantations. Palm oil nuts yield pretty high quantities of oil which is used in cooking and cosmetics. Apparently, Malaysia is the top producer of the stuff. All we could see was vast swathes of destruction and chopped rainforest swapped for rows of palms and wasted nuts for hours on both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see. The ugliness was interrupted every now and again only by sorry looking towns and forlorn banana trees.  

It was totally unbelievable! I can even imagine the environmental impact and how much wildlife and native villagers were displaced during the logging process – it must have been a LOT! Nothing else, no villages, no ecosystems, no wildlife can exist in such a monoculture and I am positive that the locals didn’t receive any benefits either.

Everywhere I travelled in Sabah (Sandakan and Sepolok are exceptions) this became a familiar sight with the villages in between the plantations looking pretty ramshackle,  filthy and depressing. Are they only for the workers? Is there no pride or community heart here?  Homes, shops and restaurants are swept only to the border of the premises and rubbish is left to lie there. The next day it happens again but and then the plastic and wind blown crap goes everywhere, pollutes the community and lines the sides of the roads.  More is added as the country side becomes the landfill.   I still, no matter how often I see the sight, am astounded that people don’t clean up after themselves.  We have know for centuries the importance of sanitation and the diseases carried by rats and rubbish.

No wonder the poor Orang-utans are so close to extinction! Avoid palm oil where you can.

This person has written a blog on their efforts to avoid it in the US

Roadside breakfasts

I’m sitting in the bus waiting for it to depart for Semporna, I’ve just inhaled my breakfast of soto ayam and kopi (6rm, NZ$2.50 for 2 breakfasts – cheap as chips!). The coffee here is strong, and today it came with sweetened condensed milk – too much for some but I liked it. Of course I needn’t have rushed as the bus clearly hasn’t departed on time.

Yesterday I breakfasted at a roadside restaurant before the bus and had an excellent mushroom omelette and the blackest coffee I have ever drunk. It looked really black, but didn’t taste bitter  to me.

The restaurants we ate in were clustered together in the middle of a square tarmac area they call the station. The stalls are tacked together against some sorry looking small trees and while they look pretty makeshift, I am sure they’ve been here for years. The plastic table cloths cover up uneven tables with mismatched planks and benches are shiny with many bums. You have to not think too much about where you are, instead concentrate on the hot steaming food, that’s being turned over fast with the bus passengers coming and going. There is of course, plastic rubbish strewn everywhere and if anything is wiped down, it’s only wiped as far as the ground.

This is where the slinking and ill treated dogs and cats come in – a sorry part of the urban ecosystem. Diseased and depressed, these feral animals are a sorry sight – I saw one dog at a rest stop with a huge bulbous growth under his chin – and all are mangy, undernourished and skittish.  But there are smiles here too. We sat breakfasting with the Tuang Ma express bus ticket boys who were a bit of a laugh.

They don’t see the things we do, there is nothing to contrast it to. This is normal.


Shocking thoughts and genocide

A monument to mass genocide

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: 11.04.00

Just came back from the killing fields. It’s a shocking story. It has happened within my lifetime. It will happen again. It is probably happening somewhere now. Why do we humans do these things to ourselves? Why do we create enemies with our fellow countrymen? Why do these atrocities continue to haunt the world? How can we prevent it from happening?

By moto taxi I travelled through Phnom Penh and was struck by the dichotomy of things here. Poor, and a little bit of rich. There’s some wealth, people with nice cars and cell phones, yet mainly the others are all squashed on to a moto gripping their kids or their precious cargo for dear life, while navigating a death trap. The main boulevards are lovely, wide and paved, lined with magnolias and other trees but every street leading off from it is muddy and dirty. The smell is terrible.

The people here seem to relate to each other with the easiness between strangers and the opposite sex which reminds me of Indonesia. There are smiles everywhere and bantering. The people seem happy enough. Which is weird considering their recent history.

From Phnom Penh we travelled down a pot holed road (what roads aren’t potholed here anyway?) to get to Chong Ek. This is the site of the mass genocide committed by Pol Pot and his clique of devils.

Cows were grazing in the killing fields adding a peace to the otherwise horror housed within. On entry there is a large pagoda containing skulls and bones and a few dusty clothes It was really tall– perhaps 8 or 9 levels high – skulls as far as you can see, shelves and shelves. The fields weren’t as expansive as I had imagined – fields being a euphemism for mass graves. The earth had sunk in, so the hollows and holes of the mass graves were all around. Some had pieces of cloth sticking out and I saw a few bones in one. I thought that the cows in there grazing was funny – but i guess they have to eat too. Are cows holy in Cambodia too? I didn’t think so.

Cows grazing in mass graves

One of the trees has a sign on it that said this tree was used to bash kids heads against to kill them. There were bones around it. Another tree had teeth around it. This gave me really strong images of someone’s head being bashed so hard that the teeth fell out. Shocking thoughts and mental images. As bad as the babies being thrown up and bayoneted from the S 21 museum. I have seen those pictures and I believe the stories to be true. I don’t think my imagination could be so gruesome.

These killing fields were only dug 20 years ago, and the whole thing happened 25 years ago. So recent. It’s hard to believe this happened in my lifetime. This country was stripped of its pride, and its educated people. Just like the heinous crimes of the cultural revolution – and about the same time too. I think i need to know more about what went on here. I’m really interested now I have seen it.

I’m also interested in Cambodia – I’m meeting people who have been all around to all these crazy places and I’m regretting my decision to skip through. I didn’t think there was so much to do – I was wrong. I guess I can come back. It sounds as if there is heaps of illegal logging of the jungle. The wildlife sounds great – no promises for the future with their homes disappearing. But I don’t have anyone yet who’s keen to go and I don’t think I would enjoy doing it by myself. Everything takes a large investment of time due to no public transport and the dangers of bandits.

Last week bandits boarded the boat that runs between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They boarded the boat which takes the tourists up and bound and gagged them, then put a paper bag over everyone’s heads while they robbed their backpacks. What a reminder to be safe. I’m going to take extra precaution on the mini bus tomorrow although I am sure I’ll be fine. I just met two kiwis from Christchurch – I’ll add them to the short list. They didn’t seem the type to be here – but I guess there really is no ‘type’ as such – it’s a personality thing.

Dear reader…

Why am I here? Why should you stay? Whoah! The path to consciousness is a big call.

You could be pointing in the right direction, yet still not know the way to go

I’ve been keen to write up, embellish and make stories from my remarkable travelling life. I thought I might use this to explain environmental issues and solutions, consider the impacts of our choices on people and how it all winds up in social justice. Self exploration and identity? Environmental and humanitarian consciousness? A decade long field trip? This will be a second, interesting and enlightening journey. I will be sharing my big thoughts about little things.

I’ve been travelling for a while and I hope I always will. I always get good feedback from my letters and emails to mates from all over the world. I know I am a good communicator so I thought I’d use this space to capture what I have done and what I have learned. Most of this comes from my journals written along the way, or perhaps random tangents and reflections written with the benefit of hindsight. It’s interesting as I read them to see how much environmental and social observation and description I note and ponder. I can see in hindsight how’s I’m influenced and why I am so suited to what I do (environmental policy and strategic planning).

My reason for doing this that it has been a major influence on me and I don’t want to lose my stories, my memories and my vividness. After pulling my diaries out of a box that had been in the basement for years I can see damage and harm so I thought I’d try to capture what I could while it was still relatively fresh in my mind.

I make no excuses for completeness or correctness – I am who I am, and I think what I think. I’ll just dip and dive into my journals and bounce around to reflection. I hope to also learn from you and see where it takes us. I hope I can make sense of it and I hope you get sense out of it.

I know that this sort of perspective is difficult to achieve if you haven’t done this sort of thing, so I encourage you to do it for yourself.  You don’t need any experience and you apply within yourself.