Tuesday, January 22, 2013


It all started for me last Thursday, when I went to Little India, to have a Salwaar kameez made (a South Asian dress and pants ensemble).  After delivering the fabric to a seamstress at Tekka Market, I wandered over to Campbell Lane to find a Ganesh for a friend.  While I was in a shop there, the cows arrived, in a large, open farm truck - very large cows, at least one bull, actually.  They had arrived to celebrate Pongal, The Tamil Thanksgiving of good harvests.  Pongal originated in South India, but today expands to several countries where Tamils have migrated.  In Singapore, for example, it is one of the largest Hindu festivals celebrated considering the large population of Tamils.  It officially lasts four days,  beginning on the 10th Tamil month, known as Thai, which falls in mid-January every year. Today was the third day, Mattu Pongal, when homage is paid to cattle for ploughing the fields and providing milk.  Wherever Pongal is celebrated, this is the day when the cows are bathed and pampered and decorated, all in the spirit of showing reverence.  Campbell Lane, a Little India focal point for shopping had been transformed into a pedestrian-only street and lined with stands selling fruit, vegetables, flower garlands, cooking pots and stalks of bamboo.  A small outdoor auditorium was set up, next to the livestock pens, where dances and skits were performed.  We happened to be there when several school groups were enjoying the spectacle.  It started to rain.  Then it poured.  It didn't matter.

Mystery Squash

I first saw one of these in Sri Lanka, I think I had seen them in Singapore before, and then picked one up at Tekka Market. It's shaped like a large pear with a bumpy rind, kind of has the taste and texture of a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini.  Soaks up flavors around it like a sponge.  Just stir-fried it with garlic, chile padi and oyster sauce, and leeks and shiitake and a green veggie also unnamed, but I don't care. The guy at Tekka only knew the Chinese name for it, the chef in Sri Lanka called it a gourd squash, and then I googled it and came up with chayote, which supposedly originated in Central America. I'm stumped, but it tasted great!

The Doctor and Camp Leakey

Chris and the Dr. Birute
The day we visited Camp Leakey in the Tanjung Puting National Park will be one that will stay with me forever.  The camp was named after Louis Leakey, paleoanthropologist and mentor to Dr. Birute Galdikas,  the scientist who established the camp decades ago and who has dedicated her life to studying and protecting orangutans and their habitat.  Now in her mid-sixties, she divides her time between her work here, teaching in Jakarta and in Canada, running her foundation in Los Angeles and negotiating with the Indonesian government and industry for the conservation of wild Kalimantan.  Having learned about the Doctor just before our trip, I had come to admire her greatly, this remarkable woman who arrived in Borneo in 1971, pretty much on her own steam.  I was glad that I'd seen a recent photograph of her on the Internet, as I immediately recognized her when she and her son stepped onto our plane from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun.

A gibbon at feeding time
So, back to Camp Leakey.  We walked through the camp to a feeding station where we were to observe the orangutans feasting on fruit and vegetables provided by the park. When we got to the station, there was already a small contingent of tourists waiting for the ranger to come with the food.  We waited, and waited, probably an hour - watched a wild boar get into position under the feeding platform - interesting-looking fellow with a beard and a long snout capped by a pink....nose?  Then suddenly, a professional camera crew showed up, followed by a large group of Indonesians.  I thought, holy cow, there goes our intimate experience with the orangutans.....  and then the Doctor appeared.  Our great luck was that she was leading a delegation that day of palm oil executives to see the camp and the orangutans, all part of the negotiation process.    It was an awesome experience to see her at work, and observe so many orangutans in close proximity - as soon as she showed up, they appeared out of nowhere.  It was a thrill to observe the great apes as she expounded on their habits, their behavior, their taste in food.  I was enchanted.

Due to our good fortune, we were really late motoring back to Rimba Camp, where we were staying.  As night descended on the canopy, we stood on the bow, looked backwards and watched a lightening show on the horizon.  A great day.
Our home in the jungle

Siswe taking a shine to Chris