Contemplating the Orang Pendek

5 February, 2012

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 11:59 am

Over the past weeks, Paul and I have been having a most interesting discussion on the Orang Pendek. Paul Sochaczewski is an old friend of mine, and over the years, we’ve talked about much, planned to do about as much, and have managed to meet each other not very much. But we are muchly happy. One of our pet shared interests is Alfred Russel Wallace, which is what led to these discussions. You can check Paul out at

Orang Pendek? In the Malay language, this means short man, like the Orang Utan means forest man. Who is this short man then? Over the past hundred years, an unknown “short man” has been reported from the deep jungles of Sumatra and Borneo. Until now, no concrete evidence has been found to validate its existence. Those who have seen it obviously swear to its existence. Those who haven’t are understandably skeptical. Several scientists of repute (and some of doubtful repute too) have gone in search of the Orang pendek. They have used DNA testing, they have examined footprints, poked around piles of dung and set up cameras all over the place. Still, no Orang Pendek has ever been captured or found, dead or alive. No photographs exist.

The question I would like to explore here is this: Could such a creature exist today, and if so, what would they be like?

What do we know so far? The Orang Pendek is described as a small hairy man, standing about 1m tall. It walks on two legs and is covered with short long reddish or greyish hair. It is very shy, and runs away really fast when encountered. It has the face of a human.

It is seen in deep jungle as well as the forest edge, near shifting cultivation in the hills. All records of Orang Pendek come from Sumatra andBorneo. On Sumatra, most records come from the high mountain range that forms the spine of Sumatra, the Bukit Barisan range, while most records from Borneo come from the mountainous Ulu Temburong of Brunei and the Kayan Mentarang mountains of eastern Kalimantan.

It walks on two legs: This is the most important clue as to what the Orang Pendek is. Firstly, if it is bi-pedal, then it cannot arboreal, meaning it doesn’t live up in the trees like gibbons and Orang Utans. This makes it more suited to open environments, which is why it would develop bi-pedalism! It doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t climb trees.

If this theory was correct, then it would mean that Orang Pendek tend to live in the higher mountains, where the forests are more open and not the dense impenetrable forests of the lowlands. Anyone of you who has walked the montane forests will know the environment here is easy to travel through, without tangled undergrowth and creepers.

Finding food: The Orang Pendek is most likely a hominid, which is a bipedal animal more closely related to humans than apes. This would mean it is omnivorous. It also mean it would possess a highly developed sense of where and when food resources are found, and have the ability to capitalise on seasonal availability of, for example, their favourite fruits. It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that the Orang Pendek move over large areas to find food.

It is unlikely that Orang Pendek would be carnivorous. Walking, and running, on two legs in the forest is a very in-efficient way of catching prey. Go ahead and try catching a deer or a pig in the forest, and I suspect you would be persuaded to agree with me. If they were predators, then they would most likely live in packs, like wolves.

Social structure: A ground-dwelling hominid smaller than an Orang Utan, but bigger than any other primate, means that it falls within the prey-size for Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards. It would then have a social structure that provides adequate protection against predation. If they sleep in the open, like gorillas do, then their group size would be reasonably large, and for the tropics, I would guess at 20-30 individuals. It could comprise a single family group, or a permanent association of several smaller family units. If their group sizes were any smaller, it would not allow them to secure themselves against predation in the open.

If Orang Pendek lived in caves, then their group sizes would definitely be smaller, say 3-7 animals. This would allow effective use of natural features for shelter… any larger and this becomes impossible. It is highly unlikely that the Orang Pendek is a solitary creature.

Living in Kerinci Seblat: The vast majority of records of Orang Pendek come from Kerinci Seblat National Park in Sumatra. At almost 14,000 sq. km., (for comparison, Taman Negara in Malaysia is 4,000 sq. km.) this is one of the largest national parks in Asia. It’s volcanic mountainous terrain makes the abundance of natural shelters (e.g. caves) a real possibility. This would be consistent with the other area where they are frequently reported, Ulu Temburong in Brunei, which is also very steep terrain. My guess would be Orang Pendek live in the higher altitudes of Kerinci Seblat where the rough, open shrublands may provide shelter for small family groups. Their food source is primarily elsewhere, lower down into the taller, more species-rich forests.

How large a population would there be? Using Kerinci Seblat, I would assume a home range of 20-30 sq. km per family group of five (the mean). Their home ranges will most likely overlap, say 3-5 groups overlapping. Let’s says that only 30% of the park is suitable habitat for Orang Pendek, which would be 4,500 sq. km. Divide that by 30 sq. km. per “range” and that’s 150 blocks. With each block able to support four overlapping family groups, it would give us a total population of 600.

This is merely an exercise, but regardless, it would be safe to assume that if Orang Pendek did exist in Kerinci Seblat, it would be a very small population spread over a wide area.

The Sumatra-Borneo Link: the fact that all records thus far have come from only Sumatra andBorneo is consistent with another ape, the Orang Utan, which also only occurs on these two large islands. We know that Sumatra and Borneo were connected before the last time sea levels rose and divided the great landmass that is Sundaland into the island archipelago that is today Malaysia and Indonesia. We also know that Sumatra and Borneo remained connected the longest. Long after the Malay Peninsula and Java were separated from Borneo, a land-bridge persisted where the Bangka straits is now. The islands of Belitung and Bangka are the last remaining stepping stones of this connection between Sumatra and Borneo. This is why Borneo and Sumatra share so many of its animals and plants. Now it appears it also shares the Orang Pendek!

Persistence of Hominids on Sundaland: the recent discovery, in 2003, of early hominids on Flores, called Flores man or hobbits, tells us that until just 12,000 years ago, there were hominids still living amongst modern-day humans. One of the oldest ancestors of modern humans was found on Java. Guess what we called him? Yes, Java man. It is clear that our little part of the world was just full of different types of man… different hominids possibly co-existing. Would it then be so surprising if there was one still living amongst us? Is this what Orang Pendek is? I have to admit, we cannot discount this possibility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey of exploration with me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, as has Paul. Whether the Orang Pendek exists is not as important as is our curiosity about nature. Paul says ‘I want them to exist. I would be delighted if they exist, but I think they are in the same category as Santa Claus”. Tony says “I have to be skeptical, because when I stop asking questions, the world becomes a boring place. I don’t do boring!”


Losing your head in Sarawak

5 January, 2012

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:07 pm

In December 2011, this clouded leopard lost its head. Keeping one’s head in Borneo is not as easy as one would imagine. And I mean this figuratively as well as actually! You could lose your head whilst simply going about your everyday business of strolling to the rainforest you call your home, or sitting quietly in a tree waiting for some prey to pass by. Whichever, losing one’s head is permanent.

As a Sarawakian who deeply loves and treasures the wonderful wildlife my State possesses, it is increasingly easy to lose one’s head too. When this picture arrived in my inbox, sent by an anonymous friend from kapit, I lost my head. I felt a deep welling of anger rise within my body, from the depths of my stomach rising to my throat, and upwards to my head. It made my head swell, and tears came.

Decapitated Head of a Clouded Leopard

Yes, I cried. But interestingly, I found myself crying not for the unfortunate leopard that met its fate in this gruesome manner. No, my tears were for myself, for my fellow Sarawakians, for my state I love so much. I was crying for the loss. The un-necessary loss we all suffer. The leopard has passed on. Its flesh was eaten, and provided (hopefully) a nice meal for someone. It time had come, and it has passed like so many others before it, and so many others yet to die in our forests.

Hunting is the bane of Sarawak. It is a curse we have upon ourselves. It is our shame. I know each and everyone of you reading this right now knows of someone who hunts. This person thinks himself some kind of hero, some kind of brave macho type who can take a gun, go into the forest (or wherever) and shoot a wild animal. Its cool….

Well, my friends, it is not. Human beings have progressed. Today’s big-game hunters are those who bring those inspiringly vivid jaw-dropping images we watch with awe on television. These days, we can watch them in high definition. Wild animals in all their glory, titans of the oceans brought right in front of our eyes like never before. These hunters use cameras of every form, harnessing every bit of technology and skill to stalk these wild animals, and capture them for us to see. These are the hunters we respect. They do not kill.

Body of a Bornean Clouded Leopard

Let us explore some of the myths about hunting in Sarawak.

Hunting is in our culture. It is our way, our Sarawakian way. – Rubbish! For 10,000 years, the natives of Sarawak lived in the rainforest. They were adept hunters, able to live off the forest. They had skills that allowed them to do this, and this is their tradition. This is their pride and glory. They hunted to live. And they had rules. They had adat. There was always, always, this underlying rule of law between the forest and the people. Hunting today respects none of these adat. Hunting today is solely for sport and profit. It is no longer cultural by any definition.

There are plenty of animals in our forests, hunting a few has little effect. Wrong! Our forests are shrinking faster than you can read this. And the wildlife that used to be there has all but gone. All our big game have been hunted out. Yes, we used to have rhinoceros and wild cattle… used to… even our hornbills have lived out their long years and are dying out, and no young hornbills are being added. We are indeed the former land of the hornbill. The Rusa (or Payau) is the largest mammal still living inSarawak. Ask any tour operator, and they will tell you: “If you want to see wildlife, go toSabah.Sarawak’s forests are empty”.

Our National Parks are protecting our wildlife, so we are okay. Wrong again! Today, if you are a hunter of any repute, you will be hunting inside Sarawak’s national parks. Why? Because there is nothing to shoot outside these last refuges. Sneaking in is simple, because boundaries are vast, and patrols are non-existent. If you’re not aware, Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary west of Sematan, was set up to protect wildlife strictly. No tourism, no visitors of any sort. Only for wildlife… today, illegal loggers have had their way throughout the sanctuary, logging every single part of it. Hunters have free range within the sanctuary, shooting bears, leopards and proboscis monkeys to extinction. And that is a wildlife sanctuary in Sarawak.

Indigenous people depend on wildlife for food. Depends. You first need to define where an indigenous person lives, and what he does for a living.Sarawak’s indigenous peoples are mostly part of the economy these days. Only a small minority depend on the forests for their protein. These people rightly co-exist with the forests, and hunt for a living. However, how many of the hunters inSarawak fit this bill?

Eating wildlife is something special, it is good for us. Rubbish again! Contrary to the boastful claims of those who regularly consume wild animals, wild meat does not taste as good as the beef, chicken, duck or lamb we buy from the markets. Neither does wild meat have any special medicinal properties. It is all in the mind. People like to eat something special, something different. In the past, when we had a special guest, we would go out and hunt some animal to honour our guest. The honour was in the effort to serve him meat, not in the providing wild meat.

Restaurants serving wild meat – if I don’t eat it, someone else will. How about this: if we all don’t eat it, they will stop serving it. Once they stop serving it, they will stop buying it. Once restaurants stop buying wild meat, hunters will stop hunting far more than they need to eat themselves. And, once they stop hunting for commercial gains, our wildlife will begin to recover. Once our forests are full of wild animals, people will stop going toSabah.

Lastly, this animal that lost its head in Kapit is a Bornean Clouded Leopard. It is found only on Borneo, and is the largest cat inSarawak. It is a very rare animal, and in great danger of being hunted out. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of the world’s large cats, and lives most of its life up in the trees.

If this article makes just one of us Sarawakians decide that you will stop eating wild meat, this leopard would not have lost its head in vain.


Asian AQUARIA… Who’s doing what, where and how well…

27 November, 2010

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:27 pm

I love aquaria and I hate zoos. Zoos take animals out of their natural environment and place them in cages. Aquaria, while in some ways represent a somewhat similar concept, creates a miniature environment for each animal they display. Fail to achieve that habitat, and your prize animal dies …it is as simple as that. Zoos can (and regularly do) fail to do this, and the animal doesn’t die… it just exists in utter misery.

Expensive to create and maintain, but mesmerisingly worth it!

I visit aquaria whenever I find one, and I have visited many. I put together an evaluation sheet years ago, and have assessed seven aquaria in Asia here. Each aquarium is ranked against each other between one and seven; seven being the highest score, according to six categories. The scores are summarized in the table below.








Layout and design








Appropriateness of displays to species 5 7 1 6




Variety of exhibits 4 7 3 6




Special exhibits / themes 4 7 3 5




Interpretation 5 7 2 6




Merchandising 7 6 2 4




29 41 13 33




BKK= Bangkok, PHU=Phuket, JKT=Jakarta, KUL=Kuala Lumpur, BEI=Beijing, HKG=Hong Kong, SHG=Shanghai

Siam Oceanworld in Bangkok wins hands down, with Shanghai’s Ocean Aquarium coming in 2nd.  Hongkong’s Ocean Park comes in 3rd, despite scoring comparatively low according to its real worth, only because it is not only a stand-alone aquarium, but is an integrated theme park. One key aquarium remains to be assessed… Singapore’s Sentosa island Aquarium, self-claimed to be the best round these parts. I shall visit one day…

Layout and design of the Aquarium

(Size of the facility, design of the facility, visitor movement, tank sizes and variety)

Wow factor, combined with visitor comfort

The design of the building is an important part of creating a visual journey through all the exhibits. Some aquaria, like the Beijing Aquarium, are large stand-alone buildings, while others are smaller facilities attached to a marine research facility such as the Phuket aquarium, yet others are within shopping malls like the Bangkok aquarium located within Siam Paragon mall, or Kuala Lumpur aquarium in the basement under the Twin Towers.

The location of tanks, and how visitors are moved through the facility, is assessed according to connectivity of exhibits and ease of passage.

The Bangkok aquarium stands above the rest in terms of design of the facility, despite several others being much larger buildings. Hong Kong aquarium comes second, with its most creative movement of visitors, including its 3-storied spirally-descending walkway around the main large circular display tank.

The Beijing aquarium has categorized their exhibits, marine, corals, mammals etc etc, because they have the luxury of a huge area. Unfortunately did not maximize this with the variety of exhibits they could’ve had.

Appropriateness of display tanks to species

(number of animals within a tank, relative to space and size of animal)

Overstocking in Shanghai aquarium

While entertainment and education may be the prime objective of aquaria, animal health and welfare is equally important. Over-crowding in tanks, or animals confined to too small displays is not good, and sends the wrong message to visitors. Matching the viewability of animals and their health is a key challenge in modern aquaria. The Dugong in Jakarta was a fantastic exhibit, but it is within a tank far too small for an animal that size. Several aquaria have small-clawed otters, but none had enclosures that catered for the active and social nature of these mammals.

Bangkok aquarium again tops the list, with its relatively well-matched spaces to the species on display. Hong Kong comes in 2nd. Shanghai aquarium loses out, with massively over-stocked tanks… there were 9 green turtles in one tank, and at least 50 sea bass in the main tank…

Variety of exhibits

(number of species, number of exhibits, diversity of displays, number of individuals on display, static exhibitions, exchange programmes)

glass-bottomed boats take the visitor over the main tank

What species are on display at an aquarium makes for a better experience. How they are presented also brings home to the visitor the different aquatic habitats and environments that result in the world’s amazingly rich biological diversity. Freshwater and saltwater environments are contrastingly different, and present different challenges to aquaria to maintain. Phuket aquarium, despite its poor state of repair, has something other aquaria do not show… you can go around the back of the building to see how aquaria tank environments are controlled.. filtration systems, etc… well worth the walk around back to visit the other parts of the Marine Research Centre, including a visit to a marine research vessel at the end of the jetty… if its docked that day of course! Shanghai Aquarium also has a wide range of displays and exhibitions. Hong Kong ocean park has brilliant displays, including the sea lions, but has little variety, and therefore scores low.

Bangkok aquarium wins hands down for its variety of exhibits, and sheer diversity of species on display. Check out the giant atlantic crabs, penguins, otters… all with the best interpretation I’ve seen at any aquarium in Asia. Disappointingly, Beijing aquarium has little diversity in its displays.

Fossils in Shanghai

a Coelacanth in Jakarta

Special exhibits

(themes, special/flagship exhibits)

Every aquarium needs a feature exhibit, rare or endangered species

We cannot deny the attractiveness of a key exhibit or species – every aquarium needs a star attraction, its highlight for visitors. There are no clear winners here, although I am inclined to give the award to Beijing for having two star attractions – the huge Chinese Sturgeon display, and the pair of Beluga whales. Hongkong comes second, with probably the best presentation of jellyfish in the world, a truly enchanting experience complete with Bang-Olafsen delivered music. Jakarta has a dugong, its only attraction, while Bangkok has one of the best collections of sea horses in Asia, and a giant shark tank with nurse sharks and leopard sharks.


(in-tank interpretation, posters, information on species, interactivity with audience, targeted interpretation to age-groups, feeding times, video presentations, touch-screens, guided touching pools)

Simple, succinct, informative, interesting

Spending a few hours at an aquarium is made meaningful if you leave having learnt something about what you’ve seen, and are taking home some knowledge you didn’t have before you entered that aquarium. Interpretation makes aquaria educational and entertaining places to visit. Remove interpretation and you lose the very objective of running aquaria! Language is your means of transferring information, and correct language is very important. As an English speaker (and reader), obviously those aquaria with English interpretation had the most impact upon me… Beijing aquarium left me clueless as to what I was looking at most of the time, though it probably focussed on a 90% local audience. Bangkok and Hong Kong aquaria are the best, with Bangkok winning with its creative interpretation.


(availability of outlets, variety of merchadising, conservation messages, branding-related, pricing, target-audiences)

We all like to take something home as a memento of the places we’ve visited, and all aquaria cater to this seemingly irresistible desire. The shopping area is always at the end of your visit, all visitors are cleverly shepherded through the shops as you exit the aquarium… except for Beijing aquarium, which is so large that merchandising and restaurants are all over the building. Hong Kong aquaria had the best merchandising. Kuala Lumpur has a Bodyshop outlet within the aquarium, but it doesn’t sell any related merchandise.


Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

Nestled at the foot of Shanghai’s majestic Pearl Tower, this is a modern facility and very well designed. It has surprisingly large floor space dedicated to still exhibitions on aquatic animals, fossils and conservation projects and issues in China. The large exhibition on shark-finning is laudable, and much needed in the world’s largest consuming market for shark fins. This is one of the better designed layouts I’ve seen, and the building is spanking new and shining! Audio guides in English are available.

HIGHS: Fossil displays are fantastic, and the conservation messages are well presented throughout the facility. Good interpretation and reasonable diversity of species exhibited. The static exhibition on China’s efforts to save the baiji or Yangtze white river dolphin) is good. Don’t’ forget to check out the giant salamanders!

LOWS: in typical over-achieving Chinese style, many of the tanks are seriously overstocked with fish. In the main tank, I counted 9 green turtles, and so many rays the essence of recreating a coral reef was lost.

Phuket Aquarium

Part of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), Thailand’s premier marine research and conservation facility. The focus of PMBC on marine research is reflected in the quality of its aquarium. The visitor feels this is very much a display of species, rather than creating a visually exciting experience that many other aquaria achieve. This is a great facility for students and interested persons to learn about what PMBC is doing in Thailand, and the elements of research.

HIGHS: the PMBC facility is much more attractive than the aquarium itself, taking the visitor on a tour along its 8ha beachfront property. A visit to the moored research vessel is very good. I liked the models and simulations of the tsunami.

LOWS: there is a distinct lack of staff presence, and the visitor is on his own, especially around the back, where interpretation and contact with researchers would greatly improve the visitor experience and learning. The exhibits inside the aquarium are sparsely stocked, dimly lit and nothing really exciting greets visitors.

Aquaria KLCC Kuala Lumpur

Integrated into the iconic Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, this aquarium is ideally situated within a busy shopping area, thus maximizing visitorship. This is a small facility constructed in the basement, compared to the vast space available amidst the KLCC compound. Sadly, this aquarium doesn’t meet its full potential, given its resources and its fantastic location. Its exhibition on Endau Rompin, a forest ecosystem under peril, is good, but misplaced here. Aquaria should focus on being aquariums first!

HIGHS: touching-tanks are very good, and a real hit with all visitors.

LOWS: the space is cramped, with too many small exhibits too close together, thus diminishing the visitor experience. Many of the exhibits are not aquatic animals, such as spiders, tarantulas, lizards and snakes… keep focus!

Seaworld Indonesia, Jakarta

Located along the waterfront of old Jakarta, one travels through old Batavia to get here. The aquarium is situated within a larger theme park, and is not a very large facility, and a bit worse for wear. The exhibits are old and weary, and diminishes the visitor experience.

HIGHS: a single dugong has to be its claim to fame. There is a preserved Coelacanth, which is worth viewing.

LOWS: The dugong display is far too small for the poor animal. Interpretation is extremely poor.

Siam Oceanworld, Bangkok

Taking two basement floors within one of Bangkok’s prime shopping malls (the Siam Paragon), this is perhaps Asia’s top aquarium. It has a huge diversity of species exhibited, freshwater and marine, including polar exhibits. Its design is very good, guiding the visitor through very viewable displays. Its main claim to fame has to be the creativity in interpretation. No aquarium came close to the depth and quality of its interpretation, and its wonderful ability to keep the audience constantly captiviated.

HIGHS: leopard sharks are a must see, and it has glass-bottomed boats that take you into the huge main tank. Check out the sea horses – most exquisite, and the giant crabs were amazing. There are several tongue-in-cheek displays sponsored by companies… a car aquarium, and microwave exhibit…

There is a section just before the exit displays preserved specimens of new species to science, and some yet-to-be-identified aquatic animals. Don’t miss the giant blue-fin tuna kept in a block of ice.

LOWS: the only criticism I would state would be the matching of viewing space to the exhibits. Some exhibits need space to truly appreciate the splendour of the creatures in their natural habitat, and this is obviously a premium within a shopping mall. More seating areas are needed for those tired legs, especially when people like me spend 4hrs there… and I’ve been there 3 times!

Ocean Park, Hong Kong

This aquarium is not a single building, but spread out across a massive theme park on a promontory. This is a full day experience for families, with roller-coasters, panda bears and almost everything that would make your heart stop. Expect to walk huge distances, though the escalators make the steep climbs a breeze.The aquatic exhibits are placed far apart, with the sealions at the very peak of the promontory. The Chinese sturgeon exhibit was closed when I visited… the one exhibit I really wanted to see! Sigh… anyways, I got to see them in all their prehistoric splendour in Shanghai.

HIGHS: The jellyfish exhibit has to be one of the best in the world, complete with Bang Olafsen driven music – a must see! The dolphin shows are spectacular, but shows are fixed-timed… I hear there are killer whales too.

LOWS: Surprisingly for intellectual Hong Kong, interpretation was good, but not what it could have been. And distances between exhibits are tiresome, so don’t come here just to visit an aquarium… go drop yourself 100m from the sky!

Beijing Aquarium
Located within the Beijing Zoo, this is reputedly the world’s largest inland aquarium. Big it is, and big empty spaces are also a feature. For aquaria, big is not always better, especially when your roof stretches 4-stories high and you don’t use the space.This is the only aquarium I’ve visited where merchandising is everywhere, and restaurants and kiosks are spread around… of course it is, there’s all this space to fill up. It’s a real carnival atmosphere inside.

HIGHS: Two Beluga whales take the cake, I loved it. But the aquarium’s highlight is the giant Chinese Sturgeon display, with 3m specimens. Almost extinct in the wild, it is indeed an honour to witness these ancient creatures swimming..

LOWS: poor species variety, with many of the large display tanks without anything in them. Interpretation in any language was virtually absent.

Suffolk House, welcome back to Malaysia!

2 October, 2010

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 11:47 am

In 1985, whilst a student in Penang, I visited this derelict colonial mansion within the grounds of the Methodist Boy’s school. I wandered the building and its surroundings, watching birds and treeshrews frolic the twisted fig roots and lianas, reminiscent of Angkorian temples.

In Sept 2010, I paid a small fee to Melanie Anthony, and she took me on a tour of Suffolk house. A walk backwards into time it was, both into the times of Francis Light, and myself as a student… and a heart-warming experience it was.

This was where the founding of Singapore was plotted by Stamford Raffles, and where I saw a Blue-winged Pitta for the first time in my life. Today, Suffolk house as it stands is a testimony to the deep appreciation of our history that still prevails amongst some Malaysians today. It is growing, as it should, but it stands above as the true Malaysian spirit of preservation and restoration, as opposed to replacement.. We lose a bit more of our rich history every minute somewhere in the country.

As a member of Badan Warisan, I applaud those who lead this journey of restoration, and share the joy they undoubtedly experienced through the difficult and often hair-tearing task of bringing Suffolk house back.

have tea and scones, and walk back in time

If you are reading this, go visit the next time you’re in Penang. Have a cuppa on the terrace, and contemplate what our country would be like if we aspired to restore, and not destroy… Give Melanie a call (+6017-4921119; email: and she’ll take you down a delightful story of this magnificent edifice and its journey back into 2010. In the mean time, I now head, not without a tremour, into my archives to retrieve those images I captured 25years ago…


1 December, 2009

Filed under: Everything else — admin @ 2:10 am

A big village and a small city, wrapped into a delicious package of history and natural beauty, with an appealingly un-hurried disposition… not surprising Tony & Rebecca have chosen to call this quaint backwater home for the past 13 years.


A stroll through the historic old town along the riverbank will take you back 200 years when this was a small trading post.


With 286 days of rain each year, Kuching is one of Malaysia’s wettest places. Seen here is a typical afternoon thunderstorm approaching the town centre.


In this old cemetary rest some important people from the past…

One day, undoubtedly, Kuching will wake up to the 21st century, and reach out to take its place among the big boys, but by that time, Tony & Rebecca would have snuck out the back door in search of another quaint, quiet enclave to call home…

Whale Watching

Filed under: Everything else — Tags: — admin @ 2:01 am

Have you ever been close to a whale?

A whale is a very large animal, and lives in a very big ocean. there are only two ways we can get close to a sea-creature such as a whale: take a boat out into the sea and find one, OR, be in a place where whales come close to the shore… to you!

whale watching - peninsula valdes

Well organized boats take tourists out into the bay to get close to the whales, and there are plenty of whales out there. The lectures are good, the practices are proper and the whales are happy. We had a bonus with a albino calf and its mother allowing us to approach them, but we left in a hurry when the calf decided it wanted to watch us!

There are few places in the world where whales are found with regularity, and in numbers. One of them is the town of Hermanus, in South Africa, and the other the Peninsula Valdés, an odd-shaped peninsula in northern Patagonia, Argentina. Every year, some 2,000 Southern Right Whales Eubalaena australis congregate in Peninsula Valdés to breed and nurture their calves.

southern right whale - Puerto madryn

The pier at Puerto Madryn serves both as a landing point for the cruise ships, the cargo ships and the whale watchers. It’s a long pier, and in winter, it’s a cold pier. But the whales warm your heart and soul, if not your hands and nose. You can also see the occasional sea lion, a wandering penguin and those giant brown gliders that swoop past you – the Southern Giant Petrel. The aluminum smelter right next door has its own pier now.

Playa Doradillo

Just a short drive north of Puerto Madryn, this tranquil bay is a hotspot for tourists, and one cannot complain… really! Despite the steady stream of tourist vehicles, it is still most worth visiting, especially at sunset, when the crowds tend to disperse slightly. The whales come so close to the shore you find yourself standing there with the gentle surf wetting your jaw.

One of the three right whales in the genus Eubalaena, it gets its name from the olden days of whale-hunting, being the “right” whale to kill. Adult females grow to 18.5m, weighing 130 tons. In the town of Puerto Madryn, the whales come so close to the shore that you can watch them over breakfast from your hotel’s restaurant. Heading out to the pier brings you right up-close to these behemots, but taking a drive north to a secluded bay called Playa Doradillo is a truly special experience. Here you can stand on the pebble beach and have whales right in the surf next to you. You will never see a whale in the same light again, and will forever have been touched by a close encounter with the largest animal on our planet.

Whales may be the star attraction, but any ecologist in Patagonia will be overwhelmed by the history of this part of the world, where dinosaurs once roamed in numbers and diversity. The steppes come right down to the coast, and although it is all privately owned now, the regulatory practices within the park give hope to the still abundant wildlife here.

Whales may be the star attraction, but any ecologist in Patagonia will be overwhelmed by the history of this part of the world, where dinosaurs once roamed in numbers and diversity. The steppes come right down to the coast, and although it is all privately owned now, the regulatory practices within the park give hope to the still abundant wildlife here.

If you spent all your money flying first class to get here, and have none left, then stay in one of the beach-front hotels – you can still see the whales while tucking into the cheapest breakfast. Its worth a walk too… its free!

If you spent all your money flying first class to get here, and have none left, then stay in one of the beach-front hotels – you can still see the whales while tucking into the cheapest breakfast. Its worth a walk too… its free!

The Ramsar Hotel – where it all began

Filed under: Everything else — Tags: — admin @ 1:46 am

The town of Ramsar (called Sakhtsar in ancient times) sits at the western end of Iran’s Mazandaran province, along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. In this town, in 1971, a meeting was held. Several important minds toiled for some time, and what emerged was the Ramsar Convention, a multi-lateral global environmental treaty on wetlands and their wise use. All may still not be well with the world’s wetlands, but that is not my story. This story is about the hotel where they met in 1971, the Ramsar Hotel.

old tree-lined avenue from hotel to caspian



12 November, 2009

Filed under: Everything else — Tags: — admin @ 8:06 pm



A world-wide organization dedicated to self-development in the areas of leadership and communication skills. The environmental cause is served best through good communication skills, and this link is recognized by aonyx Consultancy. Both Rebecca & Anthony are toastmasters.

Check out their club at

A Family Treasure Returned

Filed under: Everything else — Tags: , — admin @ 8:05 pm


In 1967, Mr. Jacob Sebastian bought the last Volkswagen imported into British Borneo from Germany. In 2007, this 40-yr old Beetle returned to Sarawak’s roads a changed beast. (more…)

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