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My "Working" Holiday Here are some of the amazing things that I have done during my time Down Under. Share in my experience by reading my articles or viewing my photo galleries.


MALAYSIA | Tuesday, 6 March 2007 | Views [1994]

My next stop in Southeast Asia was a short trip to the Malaysian state of Sabah. Malaysia is actually a federation of thirteen states in two separate geographical locations, Peninsular Malaysia and the Malaysia part of the island Borneo, separated by the South China Sea. Like Singapore, Sabah was under British influence until the Japanese occupation during World War 2. The wars bombings resulted in devastation and destruction of many of the North Borneo cities including the capital city Sandakan. After Japan lost the war, Sabah again became a British Crown colony with Jesselton, now Kota Kinabalu, becoming the new capital. In 1963, Sabah gained its independence from Britain and joined the Malaysian federation.

Due to its location just south of the typhoon belt, Sabah is affectionately known as “negeri di bawah bayu” or land below the wind. The geography of Sabah is quite diverse from its western mountains to its eastern jungle rainforests to its islands and coral reefs offering a variety of activities from climbing, to nature walks, to snorkeling and scuba diving. At 4,095 meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu’s Low’s Peak is the highest in Malaysia and the third highest in all of Southeast Asia. “Cina Balu” literally translated means “Chinese widow”. The local legend tells the tale of a Chinese prince rescued by the natives after his ship sunk in the South China Sea. Eventually accepted by the villagers, he fell in love with and married a local girl. After starting a family, he grew more homesick. He set sail back to China to see his parents, promising to return and bring his family back to China. To his hearts dismay, when he returned to China he learned he was already betrothed to a princess from a neighboring kingdom. Not wanting to disappoint his parents, he conceded. His lovesick wife climbed the mountain every sunrise watching for his ship to return. After many years, her ritual took its toll. She fell ill and died atop the cold mountain. Touched by her dedication, the spirit of the mountain turned her into stone facing the sea, now known as St. John’s peak, so she could forever wait her husband’s return. The villagers named the mountain Kinabalu in her honor. To this day the mountain represents a symbol of everlasting love and loyalty.

The climb to the top starts at the Timpohon gate situated at 1800 vertical meters (5900 feet). From there it is a steady 8.7 kilometer (5.5 mile) climb up. On your way up to the granite peaks, you pass through four very different zones of vegetation, which are mainly influenced by altitude and the underlying rock. At the base of the mountain and extending to over 35% of Mount Kinabalu National Park is the lowland dipterocarp forest. The canopy reaches 50 meters (160 feet) making it a dark, dim and moist section, supporting most of the mountain’s animal life (birds, monkeys, and civets). Above 1,200 meters (4,00 feet), the lowland trees give way to conifers and oaks. The canopy here is significantly lower at 25-30 meters (80-100 feet) allowing more light to reach forest floor accounting for thicker ground cover and growth of epiphytes, especially orchids. With the higher altitude and the cooler air, peat begins to develop and mosses are common. Squirrels and wild pigs survive on the oak and chestnut trees kernels. The upper montane or cloud forest appears above 2,200 meters (7,200 feet). Swirling mists blanket the forest whose trees are thickly cloaked in mosses and liveworts. Orchids are abundant and it is here that you will find the famous pitcher plants (Nephentes). Because the soil is low in phosphates and high in irons, silicas, and metals that are poisonous, these plants have evolved into carnivorous plants. The pitfall trap, a deep cavity filled with liquid, traps unsuspecting insects whom after drowning, their bodies are dissolved releasing nutrients for the plants survival. Finally, by about 3,300 meters (11,000 feet) a sub-alpine meadow zone has developed. Trees are gnarled and stunted forming a shrub community of conifers and rhododendrons. The tree line is determined more by soil than altitude. Fierce winds and torrential rains make it impossible for plants to survive above 3,700 meters (12,000 feet). Twisted, dwarf bonsai like shrubs struggle for life if they are lucky enough to be sheltered by a rock crevice.

As I went up and up and up for what seemed like forever, I did appreciate the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I was joined by a couple from Holland, Eric and Manon, and guided by a local named Rony. I had yet another "Lost" experience with the swirling mists. Looked around for Echo and Locke but they were nowhere to be found. I guess I didn't freak since the mist was white, not black. Coming down was definitely worse than going up. And I was crippled for about three days after the climb, which made getting around Cambodia a little difficult, but the view was definitely worth it.

For a completely different experience, I flew to the eastern Malaysian state of Sandakan to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. With the growing logging industry in Borneo, much of the jungle rainforest, home to these incredible creatures, is slowly being destroyed. Combined with illegal hunting for keeping orangutans as pets, the number of orphaned orangutans began to rise. The sanctuary was started in 1964 to return orphaned apes back to the wild. Today it covers 43 square kilometers, much of which is virgin jungle. Literally translated, Orangutan means "Man of the Forest". They are highly intelligent animals and are believed to have the ability to both reason and think. Sharing around 97% of human DNA, they are our closest relative. Feet like hands, flexible hips, and long limbs allow a life in the forest treetops. In the wild, orangutans have the longest known childhood dependence on their mother. Males staying through 8-10 years and females well into their teens. It is during these years that they learn the skills needed to survive in the jungle, making the work of the Rehabilitation Centre critical to survival of the species.

After a thorough medical check-up and a 3-6 month quarantine to ensure health (ie. no TB or malaria), the animals, aged 1-3 years old, are transferred to the Nursery. In Preschool rangers teach the youngsters the essentials of jungle life including how to climb trees and use their limbs. From here, the orangutans graduate to the Outward Bound School. Here there natural forest diet is supplemented with milk, vitamins & minerals, and fruits twice a day. Dependence on food and emotional support from the staff is gradually reduced. Finally, once an orangutan has totally adjusted itself in the forest and shows independence, the ape is moved to its last phase of rehabilitation called Survival Training. Here, even less food is offered and eventually many of the animals become integrated into Sepilok’s wild orangutan population. Not every orphan graduates, many will stay in the Outward Bound School for the rest of their life, but to date over 100 orangutans have been successfully released.

Kota Kinabalu, formerly known as Jesselton, and simply called KK by the locals, it is the present day capital city of Sabah. It is located on the north-western coast of the island of Borneo offering magnificent sunsets over the South China Sea. The city serves as a gateway to the tourism industry of Sabah. First started as a fishing village, it eventually became a major trading post for rubber, rattan, honey, and wax. It's people are a mix of Chinese, Kadazans, Bajaus, Malays, and refugee Filipinos. The Sunday Gaya Street Market features a gathering of local hawkers selling a wide range of items from traditional ethnic handicrafts and souvenirs, local produce, and the day's catch. Rumor is that Captain Jack Sparrow and his mates pose a problem as modern day pirates are in practice in the seas off the coast.

Come reach new heights with me in Room with a View, oogle our closest relative in Every Which Way But Loose, an ode to Clyde, and appreciate the capital city in KK.

Tags: Adventures

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