February 10th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Lihan’s office

In the morning, while Lihan was at school, we went over with Telun + a friend of hers to the longhouse, to say goodbye.  Not that there were many people to say goodbye to, but that’s not the point.  Lihan had told us he was taking us back to Marudi – other people were too busy with the harvest to contemplate a long trip, + a walk to Long Lama would be pretty difficult in these conditions.  He gave us some vague story about having to go anyway, but I suspect it was just to make us feel better.  He felt responsible for us, I think. 

When he had finished the morning school, there was a pleasant surprise for us, when first Lihan gave us an attractive farewell card with a couple of photos, + then, out of the kitchen came a while succession of dishes – obviously we were to be the guests of honour at a farewell banquet.  Nearly all of the teachers came too, + there being so many people we all sat in a ring on the floor with the food in the centre.  Lihan apologised, needlessly, for the quality of the fare.  We had come at a time when very few vegetables are in season, so, this not being England when virtually everything can be bought at any time, they were severely restricted, + had had to make do largely with tinned food.  They had done so imaginatively, however, + there were cans of Coke (warm, alas) to wash it all down, so, fizz addict that I am, I was perfectly happy.

The farewell party

Afterwards, farewells were said, + we splashed out to the boat – the water had gone down far enough so that it couldn’t be brought right to the bottom of the steps any more.  The only people Lihan had been able to find to help him with taking turns at steering were 2 boys, but obviously he didn’t have complete faith in them, for he took the tiller (or more importantly, the outboard control) for the first section, during which we would have to negotiate the blocked passages.  These had now increased, with the fall of another tree, to 3, + one of them was now much worse.  It was completely blocked, so far as I could see, + I had grave doubts about our being able to get thro’ at all, but the 2 boys climbed out, + then me, + then Val, + between us, with Lihan revving up the motor to a roaring whine, we were able to manhandle it over, + thro’.  We stopped once again to stretch our legs at the village with the shops, + from then on Lihan was able to relax + hand the steering over to one of the boys… who was very competent, I thought.

Inside the longhouse

The rest of the journey just flew by.  I buried myself in a copy of Newsweek that Lihan had brought along for me – I get a lot of reading value out of the things, reading them – almost – from cover to cover.  That took me most of the journey, + then I started on a Reader’s Digest – relatively bland, but interesting enough.  RD is OK as the potatoes of one’s reading digestion, I suppose, so long as it doesn’t become the meat as well.  On reflection, potatoes is wrong – chicken broth is closer, when one can’t stomach anything stronger.  Val + Lihan spent their time playing Mastermind, for the most part – I’m pleased Lihan has taken to the game.

We arrived at Marudi (again) by about 6, having made good time.  Val + I went off to register at the hotel, but Lihan announced they were all going to sleep on the boat.  As I had suspected, there didn’t seem to be any pressing business for him to attend to, so I suspect this was simply to save money.  Once booked in – they only had a single room for us this time, but it was $1 cheaper – we rushed out again to buy Lihan a final present to say thank you.  He had a Walkman-type tape player, but the headphones were in pretty poor condition, having no foam ear-pads + some sort of faulty connection, so we decided to buy him a replacement set.  The only ones we could find were a little expensive, at M$28, but we splashed out in any case.  Val also indulged herself, buying a Punan black + white basket.  We would have been able to buy one a bit cheaper in Long Bedian, but she had been hoping to buy one direct from the Punan people we had visited.  But they hadn’t had one, + she still wanted to get one, so we forked out now.  It was, there was no doubt, a nice thing to have.

Lihan was being a bit elusive – he is a very independent person, + was not wanting to hang around us, I think, for fear of appearing clinging, but in the evening we ran into him, as we had expected, Marudi not being a very large place.  He had already eaten, he told us, + could not be enticed away for a coffee – he was, in any case, sitting + chatting with a friend.  He said he would be at the wharf in the morning to say goodbye, but just in case, I gave him his present straight away.  He didn’t open it there + then, but maybe he was pleased with it.  We were certainly pleased to give it to him. 

Another guy came to join us as we were sitting there by the roadside, + began chatting.  He invited us to join him for a drink, – as this was exactly what we had been about to do, we could hardly refuse, but I wasn’t exactly overjoyed with the prospect of having to make the effort to begin a new relationship.  He turned out to be alright however.  His name was Matthew, + he worked as a radio technician for Shell in Brunei.  On learning that, I was quite happy for him to pay for us – we only had coffee + a meat dumpling, in any case, still being full from our noon-time feast.  He was a Sarawakian, in fact, but was returning to Brunei tomorrow, so we arranged to meet him here at the café.  He said he would be able to get us some Brunei currency at a good rate, which would be useful.  I can’t say I was all that keen on him however – a little too full of himself, especially in comparison with Lihan’s quiet reserve. 

Something I had forgotten about today was that at 11.30 this morning, Lihan had suddenly appeared bearing a blank cassette tape, to hold us to a promise we had made to record some English songs for use at school.  It was desperately short notice, + we hadn’t even thought about it, but managed something like 15 mins of recorded music (if music is the right word) in the hur we had.  There were some nursery rhymes, a couple of World War 1 songs, “There’s a hole in my bucket”, + precised versions of Parsley Sage + When I’m 64 – a right Irish stew.

And so our secind adventure in Sarawak came to an end. Lihan had been a wonderful host, and my only real regret is that our stay had ended on a downbeat note. All the same, it had been a real highlight to see the life in rural Sarawak at close hand; I suspect it will not be the same there now. Val received from Tuhan a beautiful beaded necklace; she also taught Val how to make the headbands, and so Val was already working (and continuing to work, for some time to come, on a band of her own design. You can see the result, for it adorns the top of our web home page.


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