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 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 5:12 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Ladies and gentlemenschs,

Twoton Productions proudly presents the inaugural issue of what will hopefully be a long string of regular missives from our new home in Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia, Borneo Island.

Before we get to the interesting part, let me torture you with a bit of touristy information:

Kuching, the largest town in Borneo (not really a difficult feat, that) and the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, is located 30 miles from the coast, where there are fine beaches, swaying palms, and the odd sea turtle sanctuary. Playing along with Western prejudice, the natives are indeed laid back, albeit usually clad in John Deere T-shirts rather than sarongs. Kuching consists of a quaint and very pretty old town around which you can walk in 30 minutes, but the other 95% of the city are modeled after American suburbs - miles and miles of bungalows and free-standing single- and double-story houses with gardens and three-car garages, and clean, wide streets profusely lined with tropical landscaping. They also have huge malls and shopping centers air-conditioned to Arctic temps, and thank the Man Above for that. The only problem is that everywhere's too far to walk, there are no buses to speak of, and taxis are expensive. Hopefully we'll receive our car on Tuesday - without wheels you're utterly screwed here.

Taxi across the Sarawak River. Sorry, no bridge.
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Twoton Productions, World Headquarters
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But of course, Sarawak is not about cities, it's all about the forest - at least until around 2022, by which time the last of the primary tree stands should have been cut down, if deforestation continues at the current rate. Here are some impressions from a few woodlands we've visited so far. [DISCLAIMER: As we're still in full-out tourist/new settler mode, I've been too lazy to schlep my Pentax rig around. Hence, all the photos in this post were taken either with my niece's idiot box or my son's semi-idiot box (Panasonic Lumix). Hence, I'm pleading for forgiveness regarding the shitty pix]

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Bats in forest rain shelter
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Apterygodon vittatus
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Termite nest. There were three different species, each with a totally different architecture.
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Leaf Snail
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One of the perks of the house we live in now is its proximity to a nice jungle park, the Sama Jaya Forest Park, where I plan to spend many of my mornings after dropping my son off at school. Apart from Long-tailed Macaques, there's also a bunch of interesting birds and lizards, and joggers have assured me that one's very likely to run into Spitting Cobras (Naja sumatrana), Short (Blood) Pythons (Python curtus), and a bevy of ratsnakes, pitvipers and arboreal snakes if one spends enough time there. Now I only have to talk the park manager into giving me a key so I can night-herp there as well...

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Lots of playful primates here:
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NoID skink
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NoID tree skink
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Crab spider
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Xylocopa latipes, Giant Carpenter Bee. Almost as big as a small stag beetle, but with a much nastier sting, as I had the mixed pleasure of finding out.
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Shrooms
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Right next to our crib is also a tiny park, or shall we rather say "a soggy and uneven lawn surrounded by ten trees and criss-crossed with ditches" (these being an ubiquitous feature in this rainy land - YESSSSS!!!). But even in this rather sad-looking piece of cityscaping, I was able to find on my first nightwalk two species of snakes (one DOR, one skedaddled), five kinds of frogs and toads, a nicely-sized softshell turtle (also skedaddled - I really have to lose weight to cope with the jungle creatures here!), and a large owl that a bunch of local hoodlums hanging out in the park on their two-stroke bikes pointed out to me. (They were also not shy to add that they catch these owls in cages and eat them.)

Asian Painted Frog, Kaloula pulchra
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Hylarana erythraea
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Dendrelaphis pictus, dead & dried
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NoID toad
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Crocodiles abound, too. If you're too lazy to travel to the hinterland where they terrorize the natives, a visit to Malaysia's largest croc farm will let you get close to Borneo's salties the easy way. There they're kept in natural-looking surroundings and are fed twice a day with (dead) chickens hanging from wires to make them work for their food by jumping out of the water and snapping at them. Speaking of snapping - the sound of the jaws of a three-meter Crocodylus porosus snapping close on a failed snatch is one of the eeriest sounds I've ever heard. Imagine two large, hollow wooden boards being smacked together...and imagine your arm between them :-)
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Another highlight among Borneo's weird & wonderful creatures are the carnivorous tropical pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes. I used to cultivate them in a greenhouse in Taiwan, and a conference on Nepenthes in 2007 was the reason I visited Kuching for the first time and ultimately triggered my decision to move here. While highland nepenthes are generally more spectacular than those here in the lowlands, a well-grown patch of N. ampullaria or a fist-sized, two-fanged (yes, that's right) N. bicalcarata pitcher is always a sight for sore eyes. After visiting a few nepenthes growers here and seeing them in all their glory in the wild again, I instantly and happily broke my solemn pledge never to grow them again (I thought that wouldn't be necessary, seeing as I can just visit them in the wild now). But the harsh reality is that the climate is so perfect for them, and my garden here too accommodating that it would be a crime not to have a pot (or sixty) sitting in a corner somewhere :-)

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They also eat them here...filled with minced meat, rice, and peanuts, then steamed, they make a great snack for the road, for hikes, or just for that little bout of appetite between meals...
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Bonus bromeliad
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In short, Sarawak is just the place to live, and I plan on doing just that for a long time. The only drawback I've encountered so far are the curries, which are not spicy enough; indeed, a far cry from the mind-blowingly hot fare in West Malaysia. I'm still looking for a proper Indian eatery to satisfy my twisted tastes...in the meantime, I always carry a baggie with those tiny evil Thai chilis to make my restaurant meals bearable. But other things make up for the lack of health food: an immense variety of dates (fruit, not girls), super-sweet dragon fruit, an estimated 250 varieties of durian, dirt-cheap and world-class Sumatran coffee, and a smile on everyone's face.

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Roti Chanai. You haven't lived if you haven't tried this.
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"War Club" bananas, one of over 20 varieties
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By the way, the above-mentioned smile sometimes disintegrates into shock when I speak Chinese, one of the major languages here. For further explanation, here's a piece I found on cracked.com the other day:

In California in particular, there are pretty big swaths of Chinese-dom where a Chinese person can spend their entire life without having contact with any of the lesser races. There are Chinese strip malls anchored by Chinese supermarkets, with Chinese restaurants, delis, bookstores, insurance companies, banks and after-school tutoring programs (because seven hours is for lazy Americans).

That's quite an exact description of South Kuching, too. I haven't spoken more than fifty words of English since I've arrived, but learned a thousand new (and totally weird) expressions from Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien and Hainanese....

Until next time, salamat tingal, and I hope I'll be back with some better photos soon.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 5:50 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:23 am
Posts: 2133
Location: Unicoi, TN
Excellent “Inaugural Issue” and best of luck to you and your family in your new home, Hans.

The diversity of pics of the “area” lays a nice foundation of a mental image for us, on which, we can base your future posts.

I’ll be looking forward to subsequent “volumes and issues”.


EDIT -
Sorry, I forgot to ask...
Will you be able to easily go to the Indonesian side in the future?


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 6:02 am 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
Posts: 466
Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
I'm glad to hear that you have arrived at your new destination intact and in high spirits. I cannot believe that they are making American suburbs there.. E^&J^*&%?TLTLTH/.!!!! Anyways, I'm sure that you will leave the city for the hinterlands as soon as you get a car. Those pitcher plants are amazing. I wonder if they grow here too. I can't believe that there are so many together and that they use them as food pouches. Asian food is amazing, as long as it's not wild animals. Very interesting that Chinese is so proliferous there. I was just in California several months ago and can attest to what your quote says. The only problem is that a third of the people I met could not speak Mandarin. What dialect do they speak there? Anyways, great first post. Mine will have to wait, but I am very picky and it must be epic before I post it. I will be expecting more from you, sir. Enjoy!

P.S. I love the comfort rooms sign. I have seen many people in China do that. Do they spit and snort over there too? I have heard that Malaysia can be very unhygenic as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 7:03 am 
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Wonderful post, Hans! Enjoy your new home! I recall asking you about a year ago when you had mentioned you were going to relocate to Borneo whether you were going to see "Men Of the Forest" and you mentioned you probably wouldn't have time. I'm glad you found the time to see them with your family. Those Nepenthes are awesome! Collectors here in the States really cherish them and they can be quite costly. The nepenthe snack resembles the Borneo version of Hawaii's Lau-Lau (same type of ingredients). Your new town sounds like the Borneo version of suburban Los Angeles (bungalow homes and you need a car). Give it another decade and there will soon be condos and two story town homes.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 7:11 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 3:39 pm
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Location: Concord TWP, Ohio
Hans, great first Borneo post...I will really look forward to future additions! When can all us FHFers come visit?! ;)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 8:36 am 
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 10:19 am
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Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
Nice to see you've settled, Hans. Looking forward to the posts to come.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 9:40 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:07 pm
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Location: Hillsdale County, Michigan
Great first Borneo post. I've been looking forward to this since I met you. Enjoy everything that is yet to come!



Curtis


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 11:24 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:32 am
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MaartenSFS wrote:
P.S. I love the comfort rooms sign. I have seen many people in China do that. Do they spit and snort over there too? I have heard that Malaysia can be very unhygenic as well.


Haven't been there for many years, but back in the late 80s/early 90s, public buses and other places featured numerous signs saying "Please do not spit" in 4 languages (English, Malay - "Dilarang Meludah" -, Chinese and Tamil). I always meant to steal one of those and put it in my car...

Overall, though, I always found Malaysia a relatively salubrious place to visit (by tropical standards), and don't recall ever picking up any gut issues there.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 11:44 am 
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Joined: June 29th, 2010, 5:50 am
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Location: northern Westchester co., NY
ugh...250 varieties of shitfruit. Gross.

Deforestation aside, everything looks awesome. Borneo is high on my must see list, so I'm pretty jealous!
If it's any consolation, I avoid any products with palm oil as much as possible. maybe that'll eke you out a little more herping time come 2022.
Best of luck!
Cheers,
Alex


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 2:42 pm 

Joined: August 28th, 2010, 2:15 pm
Posts: 52
Congratulations on the move. It looks like a wonderful area and I am sure you are going to enjoy it. Keep us posted on your finds!

cheers

EW


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 4:53 pm 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:52 pm
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Location: Amarillo, Texas
Quote:
P.S. I love the comfort rooms sign. I have seen many people in China do that. Do they spit and snort over there too? I have heard that Malaysia can be very unhygenic as well.


LOL try the American south. We can be sort of gross :oops: Get me on the middle of a long hike and yeah...


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 6:34 pm 
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Location: Clifton, Arizona
Looks like a beautiful city too!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 7:10 pm 
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Good to see you have finally returned to the 'City of the Cat'. I'm sure you and your family have some great times to come. - Bako, Miri, Mulu, Santubong....lucky sod.

On the hygiene question I would say Malaysia is pretty much on a par with other S.E.Asian countries. The drains smell and some of the toilets are a bit dodgy but its generally pretty good.

How on earth did you manage to trap that huge firefly under the Sama Jaya sign?

Jumpa Lagi, Rags.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 30th, 2011, 8:07 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks for the nice comments and the well-wishing, all y'all!

Quote:
Will you be able to easily go to the Indonesian side in the future?

Yes. It's only a bone-jarring seven-hour drive through the jungle, or 30 minutes by plane. But at the moment, I have no plans to go there, though. Sarawak is much more developed than the truly third-world Kalimantan (Indonesia's part of Borneo), and I'd like to ease into life on the island first before I explore the rougher parts.

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Very interesting that Chinese is so proliferous there

After Malay, Chinese is the second-biggest language in Malaysia. Ever since the rubber and tin boom in the 19th century, Malaya (as it was called then) has been a major immigration target for Southern Chinese disgruntled with their emperor. The business-minded Chinese were complete aliens in their new homeland, where the indigenous people - the Malays - lived in a totally rural society. Their customs were communal, based on helping each other with agrarian chores and sharing the results, and the Malays were quickly relegated to the bottom of the food chain by the immigrants who imported capitalist fvalues and practices and were hellbent on making it big. After WWII, over 50% of Malaya's population consisted of immigrants (including ca. 15% Indians which the Brits had brought over to work as civil administrators and rubber plantation coolies.). Unlike in the US, where different immigrant tribes eventually mingled and synthesized into a more or less homogenous culture, the Chinese and Indians were clannish, stuck doggedly to their own customs, and sought little social contact with the indigenous folk. To protect the Malays from going under, Malaysia drew up quota laws ("Bumiputra laws") when it gained independence, to make sure the Malays, by now almost strangers in their own land, would get a share of the economy. This, of course, has led to nepotism, law abuse, more racism, and general unhappiness, and the lack of press freedom here is an indirect result - having endured a string of nasty race riots in the 50s and 60s, the government goes out of its way to keep people from airing their racial griefs, lest the country goes up in flames yet again.

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What dialect do they speak there?

Mostly Fujian and Hakka (in West Malaysia it's mostly Cantonese ). But Mandarin is the "official Chinese" they speak in schools and on TV. They use simplified characters which I now have to relearn, after hating them for more than two decades as a symbol of the Big Oppressor and for their sheer ugliness (no, Maarten, I won't change my mind on this :-))

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I recall asking you about a year ago when you had mentioned you were going to relocate to Borneo whether you were going to see "Men Of the Forest" and you mentioned you probably wouldn't have time.

Did I? I think I didn't like the idea of visiting the touristy Semenggoh Orang Sanctuary. Well, we did anyway (the kids clamored for it), and I'm glad we did, because that's where we did the guided jungle walk, which we all found much more interesting than the orangs being hand-fed their breakfast. The apes are not wild, but are repossessed pets which are taught to live in the jungle by the sanctuary staff. Some of them don't even know how to climb a tree when they arrive.....(the orangs, not the staff)

Quote:
Give it another decade and there will soon be condos and two story town homes.

Town homes are already here, but there will be no condos. The place is so big and underpopulated that almost nobody lives in apartments. The realty market reflects this: For someone used to prices in Taiwan (a small, overpopulated place) houses are ridiculously cheap here, and my wife - as wives are wont to - has already started to look around for property :-)

Quote:
When can all us FHFers come visit?

Anytime after Chinese New Year 2012. We have not one, but two guestrooms (single and double bed). Bring a friend :-)

Quote:
I avoid any products with palm oil as much as possible

I wish I could do that. But it's the only affordable cooking oil here. It's also supremely suited for deep-frying stuff, as it has a much higher flashpoint than most other oils....which explains the Sarawakian's love for fritters of all kinds.

Quote:
How on earth did you manage to trap that huge firefly under the Sama Jaya sign?

My wife scared it into hiding in there :-)

Quote:
Overall, though, I always found Malaysia a relatively salubrious place to visit (by tropical standards), and don't recall ever picking up any gut issues there.

I would be surprised if you had. It's one of the cleanest countries in South-East Asia. My doctor in Taiwan gave me that look he usually reserves for children slow on the uptake when I asked him for prophylactic shots ("Sarawak? That's in Malaysia! You only need shots if you want to visit the Indonesian side!")

On the issue of Malaysia vs. Sarawak: Most people are not aware that while Sarawak is a Malaysian state, politically and demographically it's a totally different beast from the Malaysian peninsula. Here, Christians (Chinese and aborigines) are the majority, Muslim Malays the minority. As opposed to the Islamic peninsula, there is no official state religion, and pork products and bikinis are freely available (although in press photos and TV footage the still mosaic pornographic things like Lady Gaga's cleavage). The state enjoys a high level of autonomy - one of the many conditions of joining Malaysia in 1963 - including power over immigration, which means that visiting West Malaysians have to show their passports. While West Malaysians like to crack jokes about folks in Sarawak (and Sabah) living in trees and feeding on grubs, with its rich resources (gas, oil, timber, tin, gold) the state is actually the richest in the entire Malaysian Federation. This fact is, in spite of widespread government corruption, represented in Sarawak's serviceable infrastructure and the relative prosperity of its urban inhabitants (the "ulu", the hinterland, is a whole 'nother story, of course). Almost every town-dweller has a car, which explains the virtually non-existing bus network.

For a rip-roaring adventure yarn, I recommend reading up on the Brooke Dynasty, the legendary "White Rajahs of Sarawak". There's a basket full of human skulls from that time still on display today, hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms of Fort Margherita, directly opposite from the Kuching Hilton....


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 31st, 2011, 12:40 am 
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Joined: June 16th, 2010, 12:26 pm
Posts: 561
Hello Hans,

I've been waiting for reports from your new home. Looks like a great place. I look forward to all of your exciting finds.

My trip to Maliau Basin was fun but unfortunately quite poor for reptiles. I saw a few lizards but not a single snake. Butterflies were good. I was with a survey team and we found about 140 species of butterflies in a week. Hornbills were abundant there and I saw these daily as they flew by the accommodation area to a giant fruiting fig. Mammals were excellent, too, with 4 species of civets including a Binturong.

Regards,
David


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 31st, 2011, 1:24 am 
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Location: Austin, TX
Loved your post, Hans - you've become one of my favorite authors!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 31st, 2011, 1:28 am 
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What more can I say? :thumb: :thumb: :thumb:


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 31st, 2011, 5:16 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:32 am
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I had overlooked your mention of the Roti Canai, which brought memories flooding back and sent the taste buds into a frenzy - roti canai dan kopi susu - the world's finest breakfast!!! :thumb:


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: July 31st, 2011, 8:19 am 
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Holy cow Hans! This is very exciting. Can't wait for all the upcoming dispatches. Please be sure to include more about all the different bananas ...flavors, textures etc. Those red ones in one of the first pics look especially appealing.

Brad


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 1st, 2011, 7:20 am 

Joined: November 4th, 2010, 2:43 pm
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I recently read Borneo Log: The Struggle for Sarawak's Forests by Bevis... recommended book on the region and the logging industry, and the people that live in the forests being cut (and have little to no legal rights to their lands)...

All for plywood to make concrete molds.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 1st, 2011, 7:33 am 
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Impressive Nepenthes. Had no idea they were eaten. I knew Pinguicula are used to curdle milk, but this is new to me! :thumb:

I've always been fond of Neps, and still have two of my favs- hamata and pilosa


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 1st, 2011, 5:09 pm 
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Awesome news - I hope the transition is going well for you and your family. I'm looking forward to your dispatches from this new place!

You opened with Kaloula and Hylarana erythraea -two species I worked with back in the early 90s and have fond memories of. Good to see them again.

I should mention, those Nepenthes are really cool!
-Mike


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 1st, 2011, 6:10 pm 
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Hans, it's always a treat to see one of your posts. PLEASE keep it up!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 1st, 2011, 7:12 pm 
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I'm always interested in the different foods we see here on the board. I'm also interested in it all, the food, the cool plants, the herps the history. So please don't hold back, sounds like you're onto another big adventure. I'm not sure if I'd like the Durian, can't find something like that here in the Corn Desert of Illinois.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 2nd, 2011, 8:53 am 
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Wow, great spot I love Kuching. I had some of my best ever herping in Kubah national park, the diversity of frogs was amazing even clocked up a few snake species. Looking forward to see what you manage to find when you visit. I think the toad you saw was D. melanostictus.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 2nd, 2011, 8:42 pm 
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Great first post from your new base Hans. You must be very excited about being based in Bornean Malaysia now. I am looking forward to seeing many more posts and looking forward to inviting myself over for a visit some day!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches - The Inaugural Issue
PostPosted: August 10th, 2011, 4:21 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks again for the nice comments!

Quote:
I think the toad you saw was D. melanostictus.

Hmmm....the ones I know from Taiwan are MUCH bigger and fatter, and the ones I've seen here are all slender, if not to say skinny. What could explain that?

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looking forward to inviting myself over for a visit some day!

Be my guest :-)


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