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Sarawak is a mamoth State, as big as Malaya or West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia. Some people think it's also Taib MAHMUD's State! The second assumption is a problem now.
Borneo Island or Kalimantan Borneo is marked by a natural watershed of mountain ranges that neatly separate Malaysia and Indonesia. The watershed crisply distributes rainfall from across the massive South China Sea to Sarawak and Kalimantan Borneo. Abundant tropical rainfall cuts rivers and ox-bow lakes throughout the State. One
It's a mighty river, this Batang Ai, one of the several natural endowments of Sarawak. It feeds hydroeletric power to a region already stuffed with mineral oil and gas off the shores of Bintulu and Miri. On the Batang Ai lies a small town called Lubuk Antu or LA as they fondly refer to the place. It's this little town LA that I visited yesterday, March 19th, to get a view of what the uproar has been about the "Dua bukit, satu batang" or "One batang and two bukits". The national attention rivetting on the 3-Bye Elections of Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai is feed for wild unbriddled imaginations.
Lubuk Antu must be a frightening name to the innocent visitor. Lubuk in Malay means "depth" as in "Lubuk hati" meaning the heart's depth or generally The Deep. Ghost in Malay is "hantu" or "antu" in Iban. Looking for "The Deep"? Get lost in Lubuk Antu!
After some 100 mins of driving, I found the great Batang Ai, and by its banks stands "The Deep", Lubuk Antu. No ghost greeted me. It was just about noon. Perhaps it was too early for them to come out! The Ibans at Lubuk Antu have faces like you and with smiles, too. Despite the story one Iban man related to me, I think the place should be renamed as "Lubuk Hati".
Fleeting impressions I got from such a casual visit was disenchantment.
The Ibans could no longer do "cock fighting", part of old Iban recreations. They wouldn't give official permits - much like they wouldn't "open ceramah" permits. And that means illegality - all the "don'ts". Don't do this, don't do that! Across a tiny square, I met a bunch of Ibans, one of whom was beautifully tatooed. I had stopped to ask for direction while slurping on an ice-cream in the hot blistering noon. When asked how things were they were not about to chat with visitors on something perhaps deep in their hearts. They merely said, "Sitok endak! Sia endak!" (Neither here nor there!) It sounded like they were hung up to dry!
Before departing for Kuching at 2.00pm I dropped by a PR ceramah at a private premises in the kampung where Azmin Ali was speaking to some 70 PR members and before the announcement of the candidate for Batang Ai. Two long lost friends, from way back when, a researcher and a lawyer, now fully involved with PR dragged the conversations and till dusk before I left for home on the dark road to Kuching. What did we rap about? That's another story I have to piece out.
Meanwhile, deep in the heartland of Sarawak at Batang Ai, disenchantment is brewing.
Some pix of the short trip to Lubuk Antu