Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ten Treasures

Life is sprinkled with very few grand epiphany moments. In fact, we are lucky to have even one grand epiphany in our lifetimes. Even the moments during which the timing is just right, the setting idyllic, and the mind in an Archimedes-like state, rarely bring with them an epiphany on the grand side of the scale.

Standing beneath the gaze of the ancient Forbidden City, one’s heart still harbors the same fears. Climbing through the brave walls of the architectural wonder that is the Byon at Angkor Thom, one’s value set remains relatively untouched. Watching Bali’s rice patties cry in the rain, one’s every day problems are not washed away. Listening to the sea kiss the rocky shore from a rainforest tree house, one still witnesses the same nightmares and dreams the same dreams.

My months spent in Asia, working, traveling, discovering, wandering, exploring, have not been impactful in the way a grand epiphany is. I have learned. I have grown. I have changed in some very fundamental ways. Yet I am still essentially the same person I always have been. No orangutan encounter, journey to the Petronas Towers, or breathtakingly beautiful paradise sunrise can strip away those essential beliefs, values, dreams, fears, passions that make me who I am. Rather than being a chain of one magnitude 8.7 epiphany after another, my experience has been a sort of string of beads knotted together by tiny treasured moments.

How symbolic then, that on a first night in Kuching, Borneo, finding shelter from the rain under the tin roof of a Chinese tea house, Stephanie and I would share a steaming pot of Ten Treasures Chinese soup. Many Asian soups are firmly grounded in traditional Chinese medicinal beliefs, and Ten Treasures is no exception. It is made from a traditional chicken soup broth and dark-meat chicken combined with eight traditional Chinese herbs including Douzou dates, Donquai (a famous blood tonic), Huang Chi (which looks a bit like a tongue depressor straight out of a Western doctor’s office), and ginseng among others. Yet, it is more than simply cinnamon-infused chicken soup. It tastes like a warm hug from mom on a winter’s evening, like a visit from old friends on Christmas Eve, and like a picnic under the backyard willow tree on a Sunday afternoon. Ten Treasures or Shiquan Tang literally translates to mean “wholesome/complete great restorative soup.”

How fitting that on this restorative holiday in Kuching, I should begin my journey with a bowl of treasures. So, in keeping with the theme, for the remainder of this blog entry I will share with you ten treasured moments from my holiday in Kuching, or Borneo’s “Cat City,” beginning with of course,

1.) eating Ten Treasures soup and sipping tea while the hours passed and the rain blurred the time and the world outside into streaks of neon green, purple, blue, and red.

2.) Standing so close to an orangutan that I was able to see the way her face creased just above her mouth when she forced her upper lip into a sort of thoughtful half-sneer. The most surreal moment in Semenggoh Nature Reserve was the sudden realization that the dominant female’s baby wrapped his hand around his mother’s thumb in an almost mirror image of the way in which a human child would grab his own mother’s finger.

3.) Catching a ride back to town from the wildlife reserve and to the weekend market with local family who, “thought we looked like we needed a ride, and were going that way anyway.” Sometimes the simplest gestures can be the most treasured moments.

4.) Sharing an early breakfast of crepe-like pancakes, smothered in peanut butter and jam and made by our very own hostel-owning, tattoo-sporting, guitar-playing chefs, with three friends from Singapore who we literally “bumped into” in Kuching at the same hostel.

5.) Pushing my body through river beds and peat bogs, scaling entanglements of tree-roots dotted with pitcher plants (see picture of trail below), hopping rock-dotted creeks, sliding down wooden ladders attached to limestone cliff faces, sweating, dripping wet in the tropical rain as my muscles pulsed under my tingling skin, all the while feeling continuously more alive and more aware on one of the most grueling hikes I have ever completed in my life…and still feeling it three days later.

6.) Arriving 20 minutes late to a deserted tropical beach in Bako National Park after that particularly difficult trek and the relief that comes from the familiar sound of a motor growing louder in the crashing waves as your boat man makes his way to the sandy shore.

7.) Spotting the rare proboscis monkey, found only in Borneo, moving gracefully through Bako’s secluded mangrove forest.

8.) Collapsing, drearily, dreamlike, into bed to wake up with the sun and remember that you are sleeping in a tree house in primary rainforest with only the sound of ocean waves and hooting monkeys within range.

9.) Visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village for a traditional dance show, a peek into the long houses of Borneo’s native tribal people, and exposure to the crafts, foods, music, and lifestyles of these people. Particularly memorable in this Disneyland-like version of traditional Borneo, were joining the dance troupe on stage for a traditional Malay dance finale, watching the mist roll over, around, and through Borneo’s distant mountains while enjoying a snack of rose cookies (much like the Norwegian rosettes my grandmother makes every Christmas), and watching a beautifully worn Malay woman play a traditional drum-like instrument while singing along in the Malay Town House exhibit.

10.) Saying our final farewell to Kuching in the real "Rainforest Café" overlooking the swirling azures, royals, periwinkles, electrics, Prussians, Tiffany's, and ultramarines that faded from sea to sky and back again.

So, there you have it; my trip to Borneo in tens. Ten experiences, ten feelings, ten moments, ten treasures.
And more than ten pictures...

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