Saturday, 14 September 2019

Grease: Daniel Levins, the green shirt dancer


I whipped out this copy of the Grease soundtrack a few days ago to give the evergreen tunes another listen. (More about this long-playing record later in this story.) It was a bit nostalgic filling my ears with the music again and memories brought me back to 1979 when I watched the film on the big screen. True, the film was released in 1978 but it only arrived in Malaysia in 1979, such was the distribution in the distant past. Unlike now, we didn't get to see new releases until weeks or even months later. We were hardly up-to-date in those days.

I can't remember how many times I've watched this show in the past. Maybe five or six, maybe more. But no matter how many times I've watched Grease, I've never failed to be mesmerised by the dance hall and carnival scenes in the show. Certainly felt like a free-for-all where the principal and back-up actors were allowed free reign to fool around.

In my opinion, the carnival scene stood out mainly because of one particular back-up dancer: Daniel Levans, known as the guy in the green shirt. He was amazing and extremely talented, which must have come from his training as a classical ballet dancer. His dance movements in the film conveyed a lot of energy and I agree with some observations that he could have even outshone all of the main cast. Anyone watching Grease again should look out for Levans in this carnival sequence.

As the back-up dancer, he was also the scene-stealer in the dance hall sequence. Who could not have noticed him strutting boldly in front of the camera during the dance contest? There were so many instances of Levans popping up in the background, as if the producer had purposely positioned him there.

By the way, Daniel Levins was his real name; and Levans was what he was known as professionally in Grease and his other films in the 1970s - The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl and Godspell - but they were all minor roles.

Levins was the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater in the 1970s. As an actor, he never made it big on the silver screen and was mostly teaching in ballet and dance academies in the United States. He died on 14 Sep 2015, four years ago today, aged 62.


Side One: Grease (Frankie Valli), Summer nights (John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Cast), Hopelessly devoted to you (Olivia Newton-John), You're the one that I want (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John), Sandy (John Travolta)
Side Two: Beauty school drop-out (Frankie Avalon), Look at me I'm Sandra Dee (Stockard Channing), Greased lightnin' (John Travolta and Jeff Conaway), It's raining on Prom Night (Cindy Bullens), Alone at a drive-in movie (Instrumental), Blue moon (Sha Na Na)
Side Three: Rock n' roll is here to stay (Sha Na Na), Those magic changes (Sha Na Na), Hound dog (Sha Na Na), Born to hand-jive (Sha Na Na), Tears on my pillow (Sha Na Na), Mooning (Louis St Louis and Cindy Bullens)
Side Four: Freddy my love (Cindy Bullens), Rock n' roll party queen (Louis St Louis), There are worse things I could do (Stockard Channing), Look at me I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise) (Olivia Newton-John), We go together (John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Cast), Love is a many splendoured thing (Instrumental), Grease (Reprise) (Frankie Valli)







Friday, 13 September 2019

Mid-autumn mooncake / lantern festival


According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, today is the 15th day of the eight lunar month, meaning that today we are celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival with mooncakes. Traditionally, mooncakes were either sweet with fillings of lotus paste or red bean paste with an enclosed salted duck egg yolk, or savoury with nutty fillings mixed with pieces of Chinese ham. But for quite a long time already, we've seen mooncakes with every inconceivable flavours as fillings. I quite welcomed them then but now, I don't quite like them.

Culturally, we Chinese have been praying to the Moon Goddess during this Mid-autumn Festival since time immemorial. When I was small and still living in Seang Tek Road, this was an occasion to look forward to every year. Come about nine o'clock at night, we would await my grand-aunt and her family. They would drive down from Ayer Itam to visit their elder sister - my grandmother - and we would then all troop upstairs to the open-air balcony at the back of the house.

I would follow them upstairs with my dragon paper lantern. My lantern was usually the grandest among my neighbours. I can say this about my parents. They always gave me the best lanterns every year and it was invariably designed as a dragon. Possibly it was the same paper lantern, kept and stored away till the following year, but I was too young to notice the difference or to care. If it was not displaying the lantern upstairs on the balcony, it would be out on the streets at night during the festival evening when the other kids in the neighbourhood would come out with their lanterns too. But as I mentioned, mine was always the dragon, and always the biggest and the grandest.

My grandmother would have already laid out a table there and placed the joss stick urn and candle holders on it. At 10 o'clock or so, she would lay out the mooncakes and mooncake biscuits and we would then spend the next hour or so worshipping the Moon Goddess. It being the night of the 15th day of the lunar month, the moon would be a round, bright disc in the dark sky. But occasionally, there would be thick cloud cover too and the moon couldn't be seen during that hour of worship.

But these prayers, if I remember correctly, tapered off soon after 1969. Maybe not immediately but it took a few more years before we stopped completely. By then, I had moved temporarily to Kuala Lumpur for my studies and lost touch with this moon worship. When I came back to Penang about four years later, my family were on the verge of moving to Ayer Itam because the Seang Tek Road house was about to be taken back by new landlords. Yes, we were being evicted on their pretext of redevelopment of the land on which their four houses, including our rented home, were standing. We moved to Ayer Itam and never prayed to the Moon Goddess during the Mid-autumn Festival ever again. (Note: The properties were never redeveloped. Until today, the four houses are still standing in Seang Tek Road.)

Even though as a family, we do not observe the worship anymore, this is a culture that is still widely popular among the Chinese community, particularly by the Chinese guilds. Only this morning, I was at the Swee Cheok Tong, the Quah Kongsi, to pay my respects to our resident deities and the ancestral tablets on the occasion of the Mid-autumn Festival. Apart from the usual array of fruits, roast meat and roast chicken, we offered boxes of mooncakes at the various altars. Unfortunately, missing this year were the mooncake biscuits; missing not by design but simply because the Treasurer forgot all about them! 😛

Anyway, tonight is the Mid-autumn Festival night. Would we be able to see the full moon tonight? I would say not likely. It will be more than clouds that will cover the sky. It will be the dreaded haze that had enveloped much of the country for at least a week now. No thanks to the irresponsible people of Indonesia who had been doing open burning on their plantations, the country is now more or less totally shrouded with a thick haze around the clock. Even rain cannot eliminate the haze. Only a change in wind direction can do it and none is expected till one or two weeks from now.

As long as the haze persists, there is little chance of seeing the moon tonight. And this is a great pity because tonight, at 8.21pm, the International Space Station is scheduled to streak right across the face of the moon. It will be very fleeting: the transit across the moon's face is expected to last a mere 1.26 seconds. Over in the blink of an eye. And will be missed by most Malaysians because of the inconsiderate Indonesians. Ah, well....



Sunday, 8 September 2019

Baroque revelations


Several weeks ago, I was alerted to an announcement that the Wicked Music People ensemble would make a return visit to Penang for another performance. Last December, they had played a concert of baroque music here on Christmas Eve and I had thoroughly enjoyed the programme. Thus, I was looking forward to the ensemble playing here again. It was time truly well-spent yesterday afternoon at the Macallum Connoisseurs listening to these folks on their baroque instruments.

The added interest this time was their newly acquired "Assembled-in-Malaysia" harpsichord. According to U-En Ng, it took him and his friends some three or four months to assemble the harpsichord from a knock-down kit imported from France, patiently putting together all the parts. Without taking into account the man-hours they spent on this task, the cost of the harpsichord parts was about RM60,000, inclusive of transportation and Customs duty. Importing a completely built-up harpsichord, Ng guessed, could have set them back RM100,000 instead.

Ng mentioned that the number of harpsichords in the country could probably be counted on one hand. There is one at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in Kuala Lumpur but it's used exclusively at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall at the KLCC. There are some which are privately owned but the owners wouldn't lend them out either. Therefore, Ng and his friends decided to build their own instrument instead. Now, having pieced everything together, they have been taking the harpsichord on the road to their various engagements. Malaysia's first publicly accessible harpsichord, he was very proud to proclaim.

The afternoon set featured Henry Purcell's Chaconne from The Fairy Queen Z.629, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer's Ciaccona in A major, Diego Ortiz's Recercadas, Carlos Martinez Gil's Aromas from Suite Estiu, Andrea Falconieri's Ciaccona, Jean-Marie Leclair's Trio Sonata II Opus 13 and Georg Friedrich Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon HWV67. Somewhere in between Ibrahim Aziz threw in a solo performance.

The Wicked Music People ensemble consisted of U-En Ng and Ibrahim Aziz on the viola da gamba, Lee Hai Lin and Kenneth Lim on the baroque violin, Tina Vinson on the harpsichord and Adrian Jones on the double bass.





Wednesday, 4 September 2019

The case of Fang Yuxiang


There are valid reasons why the World Chess Federation wants smartphones and other electronic devices banned from chess tournaments. By nature of them being smartphones, they are mini-computers in their own right and users are able to instal whatever application, or app, they want into them. And the more powerful the processors become, well, the more powerful are the chess apps too.

Naturally, this leads to widespread cheating in the game. We have players referring to their chess apps to analyse crucial positions during games. Mind you, several cheaters have already been caught using their smartphones in toilets and lavatories. Just a month or two ago, a chess grandmaster was photographed looking at his mobile in the toilet, with his pants up, whilst his game was going on. He was outed and Fide, the World Chess Federation, is poised to slap a suspension on him. Igors Rausis has since said he is contemplating retiring from playing competitively altogether.

Malaysian chess players aren't that innocent either. There was a report in May this year of a Malaysian chess player being booted out of a tournament in Dublin, Ireland, the month before when he was caught cheating with a smartphone. I had heard that there is also cheating going on in local chess tournaments despite precautions taken by the organisers, for example, in this year's Selangor open tournament where a participant was caught with his mobile showing the position on the board, presumably while the game was still going on.

For that reason, in long time-control events, players are asked to surrender their mobiles to the organisers in the tournament hall before the start of every round. No use just asking them to switch off the mobiles. If players want to cheat, they would just turn them on again in the toilets. Also no use asking them to pass their mobiles to their friends or relatives for safe-keeping outside the tournament hall. What's to prevent a cheater from collecting his mobile from his friend or relative while on his way to the toilet and returning it before re-entering the playing hall? Thus there is now this added responsibility of chess organisers to keep the players' mobiles each round. But it still doesn't solve the problem of friends and relatives waiting outside the hall to pass their own chess app-laden mobiles to the intending cheater.

At the recently concluded Malaysia Chess Festival, in particular, during those few days when the Open, Seniors Open and Challengers tournaments were played, the players' toilet movements were scrutinised closely by the organisers. They monitored how long a chess player had gone to the toilets and even the frequency. And red flagged any player who went many times during a round.

By the third day of the event, a mobile app had been implemented to scan the QR codes of the players pass tags. No player could leave the playing hall without his tag scanned and it was rescanned when the player returned to the hall. This way, the organisers could check how long or often a player would be away from his table, if required.

At this point, I'd like to acknowledge here the work done by Andrew Ooi, long known to the local chess community as Gilachess. He devised the toilet QR code app for the Malaysia Chess Festival. In his facebook entry, he said that it was the most challenging thing he did during the festival. "That's because even though programming is my profession, I have never written any program that could run on the phone," he wrote, and adding, "The scanning process was from the phone, data on players going in and out is saved on the web. Thanks to Google, Github, Stack Overflow and lots of cutting and pasting, it was done within 24 hours. Also thanks to GACC team for massive job of printing 300 players' tag that had the QR code embedded which was done in a day and a half."

Thus, these were the preventive measures - and more - taken at the chess festival to minimise cheating: the surrender of mobiles and all types of watches to the organisers, the scanning of the QR codes on the players' tags, the occasional metal scanning of players moving through the doors, plus the eagle-eyed observations of the arbiters and tournament helpers.

It so happened during the first day that the QR code scanning was implemented, a sharp-eyed arbiter spotted FangYuxiang, a grandmaster from China, emerging from the toilet with a mobile in his hand. He backed off when confronted and presumably began deleting the chess apps from his mobile. In the meantime, the Chief Arbiter was summoned.

From what I'm told, in front of witnesses, the Chief Arbiter asked the chess player to empty his pockets but he refused. Not once, but two or three times he refused. Then a metal detector revealed an object in his pocket. When the Chief Arbiter removed a mobile from the pocket and asked the player what it was, he had the temerity to answer, "I don't know." Naturally, the mobile was confiscated and it was found that the Stockfish app had been deleted. Fortunately, the traces of the app remained in the mobile and the timestamp of its last use was revealed as 2.59pm. This, however, was just before the round started.

If the timestamp was after 3pm, there would be grounds for cheating while a chess game was in progress. But since the timestamp was before 3pm, there was a doubt whether cheating had actually occurred. Nevertheless, the player was disqualified and ejected from the tournament not due to the suspicion but because he had broken the very first rule to surrender his phone to the organisers in the playing hall. There was no one else to blame but himself.

Somehow, this matter had reached the ears of the Chinese Chess Association even before the tournament ended. How the Chinese authorities are going to handle this problem of their player will be up to them but I'm sure the World Chess Federation will have their own procedures to follow too. I would expect a period of suspension will be imposed on Fang Yuxiang before too long.

-----------------------------

Note: In 2014, the World Chess Federation had approved the following proposal from the Anti-Cheating Commission:





Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The proverbial head in the sand


About two months ago, my neighbour on the left alerted me to the presence of a monitor lizard roaming freely about in the drains. "It's about four feet long," she gasped excitedly as she hurriedly closed the gate behind her. Whether or not that was an exaggeration of the lizard's length, having one running around can be pretty alarming.

Then there was the time, also within the two-month time frame, that my wife saw a monitor lizard - could it be the same one? - sliding through a horizontal gap in the gate of my neighbour on the right into their compound. This neighbour wasn't it but thankfully enough, their front door was closed.

Thankfully, my gate bears a different design from both my neighbours. It still has gaps but they are narrow and quite impossible for a monitor lizard of that size to crawl through, not with its splayed-out legs. Nevertheless, we weren't taking any chances at all and we ensured that as long as nobody is in the house, our front metal grille door will always be shut. For good measure, whenever we are out of the house, the wooden front door will be closed too.

A week ago, my neighbour told me excitedly that the monitor lizard had returned. It wasn't crawling about the drain but had climbed some two or three feet out of the drain and was trying to hide itself beneath a rock. She pointed to a rock some 10 feet away and there, I saw the hind legs and the long tail of the animal. It's front legs and head were hidden beneath the rock. It's belly looked extended. Could it be looking for a safe place to lay its eggs? Or momentarily just trying to hide itself away from danger?

Quite a comical situation, I was also thinking to myself. If the creature was trying to hide, this was akin to the proverbial ostrich hiding its head in the sand and thinking that if it couldn't see danger, then there was no danger around at all. Same with this monitor lizard. It must have felt that by hiding its head and fore limbs beneath the rock, it was safe from danger not knowing that its body, back limbs and tail were all exposed for predators to attack. But if it was pregnant, then it was a different matter....

I was also wondering whether or not this could be the same monitor lizard that I had noticed scrambling along drains in other parts of the neighbourhood. Or could there possibly be many of these creatures lurking everywhere? Usually, they are quite shy of humans and would run away rather than confront us. They are quite fast runners. The one that I saw simply dashed away in the drain in double quick time when it saw me approaching.

But I also remember the occasion when I was last in Langkawi in the mid-2000s. Walking out of the hotel and turning out to the main road, I was confronted by the sight of a huge monitor lizard, this one estimated at maybe five or six feet, sitting calming on the grass verge. Not more than 10 feet from me. I stopped in my track. I looked at it. It looked at me with its forked tongue. Thoughts raced through my mind. Should I go straight and walk pass it? Would it attack me if I tried? Um, on second thoughts, no. I backed off down the road, crossed over to the other side and continued on my way. Better not take any chance on it. Thinking back, it was a good and prudent decision.


Sunday, 1 September 2019

A tale of two sourdough bakeries in Penang


I first tried sourdough bread several years ago. I think it was overseas, perhaps in Perth. Then for a long while, I went off sourdough bread because I couldn't find it easily in Penang. Didn't try hard enough to find its source, actually.

Then about three months ago at the Penang Adventist Hospital, I happened to see the bakery there selling sourdough bread by the loaves. Freshly baked, smelled heavenly and very soft. So I bought a loaf. Went home with it to proudly show it to my wife, and we had a nice sourdough bread dinner that night. Just bread with butter and a shared cup of kopi-o. Boy, did we enjoy ourselves.

Joies Café & Sourdough
A few weeks ago, a friend told me that there was a sourdough bread café in George Town. Where, I asked him. In Pulau Tikus, he said, close to the market there. Moulmein Road, to be exact. And he gave me directions. I was excited. Soon, I told myself, soon my wife and I will go there for a meal. And by a coincidence too, I also came across a second sourdough café while driving around the heritage area. This one was in Claimant Place, practically next to the Campbell Street market.

In the middle of last month, my wife and I dropped into Joies Café & Sourdough, the outlet in Pulau Tikus. Wide variety of food in their menu. Not only did the café sell sourdough bread but also pasta. But since our intention was to have sourdough bread, we chose one of their bread items from the menu. We felt heartened when the dish came out. Four pieces of toasted bread - sourdough bread - with two eggs sunny side up and generous portions of creamy egg mayo, sauteed mushroom, vegetarian ragu melt and onion jam. Enough to make us happy.

Yin's Sourdough Bakery & Café
But our joie immediately turned to disappointment with one bite into their bread, The crust was way too tough. If this sourdough bread was their specialty, then I wouldn't want to order any more bread dishes from them. Greatly disappointed with this particular experience.

Yesterday, we decided to drop into the second sourdough bread cafe, the one in Claimant Place, called Yin's Sourdough Bakery & Café. But before we went in, we told ourselves to be mentally prepared if their sourdough bread did not meet with our standards.

So did our order meet with our expectations? I've got to admit here that, yes, their bread did. A very simple dish but we found their version of toasted sourdough bread so much softer and definitely good enough to be eaten, not once but many times. I'm satisfied, very satisfied, that I've found this sourdough bakery.

VCR Bangsar
There is an interesting sourdough postscript to this story. You see, between our visits to these two sourdough cafés in Penang, I happened to be in Kuala Lumpur for a chess activity.

Professing hunger, my daughter brought me to the VCR Restaurant in Bangsar for an early lunch. I felt a bit surprised to see sourdough bread featured in their menu.

Before I knew it, I had already ordered one of their heaviest sourdough meals. Or course, it took me a while to get through this huge plate by myself but yah, it was enjoyable while it lasted. And the sourdough bread, lightly toasted, was soft and delicious. Likewise, my daughter's sourdough bread with egg and an avocado spread was equally good.


Saturday, 31 August 2019

Ola Bola the musical


Spent a wonderful afternoon at the old Majestic cinema in Jalan Khoo Sian Ewe to watch Ola Bola the Musical.

Based on the locally-produced football-themed film, Ola Bola, which thrilled the nation three years ago, the musical version brought a feel good feeling to everyone on this Merdeka Day.

What could be more spine-tingling than to sing Negaraku in the cinema hall at the start of the show? All around me - in front, at the back and on both sides - people were singing the national anthem with so much gusto and pride. Today was well and truly a day for all Malaysians.

I was told about this musical last week by my daughter. She had seen the musical not once but twice when it made its first run in Kuala Lumpur last year, and then when she learnt that it would be staged in Penang this weekend, she insisted that I should go and watch it.

It was a lucky thing that I happened to be on the island on the 28th because I collected the tickets then. Today as my wife and I joined the queue to get into the Majestic, many people without tickets were turned away because the hall was full. Full House not only for the two o'clock show but also the five o'clock and eight o'clock ones, the only three shows that Enfiniti Productions would have in Penang. And it was a rich mix of Malaysians of all races watching the performance. All brothers and sisters cheering on the stage performers through their highs and their lows.












Monday, 26 August 2019

5th PFS student leadership workshop


I posted this picture (below) on facebook last night just to tell the Old Frees community that we have concluded the latest student leadership workshop at Penang Free School.

This was the fifth workshop in three years -- my friends and I have been conducting them since 2017 -- and it was aimed mainly at the Sixth Formers in the school. Holding the workshop for students of that level can be pretty exhilarating as it also exposes us, the coaches, to the thought processes of the future leaders of this country. Of course, nobody was perfect and amidst the imperfections, there was the opportunity for us to help mould their thinking and channel their energies into the right direction. Hopefully, we have succeeded to an extent because the hard work for them has just begun, and they have to do it by themselves. As coaches, we can only remain on the sidelines and cheer them on.

Soon after I had posted the picture, someone -- obviously an armchair critic -- commented, "Leadership from PFS, what a joke is not the sixties or seventies!" which prompted me to reply: "Today is not like the 60s or 70s, and the 60s and 70s are not like the 30s. Each generation is different. We all know what's happening to education in this country. The bigger concern is what are you personally going to do about it? Are you prepared to do your small part to help the present Frees, whatever way you can?"

One cannot make comparisons. One's own generation was always the "best", the "best" in everything, including education. Later generations are always treated as sub-standard, to be shown disdain. But is it the fault of the present Frees? My friends and I believe that the best solution is to help them in whatever way we can. We devised this student leadership workshop which was conducted over two full weekends, four days in total, from 8.30 in the morning till 6.30 in the evening.

Over five workshops, we have had about 100 students that participated: a hundred students who were handpicked by the teachers and then interviewed or vetted by us before they were accepted into the programme. For almost all of them, the workshops were their first exposures to learning outside the classroom. If anyone were shy initially, they came away totally changed after four days.

We believe that if we manage to touch the life of even one present-day Free School student, it would be ample enough reward for us. More Old Frees should step forward to do their little bit. Together, we can help our alma mater move forward.


Tuesday, 20 August 2019

On a bicycle built for two



And so ends another edition of the Malaysia Chess Festival; the first one without Dato Tan Chin Nam who passed away on 21 October 2018. He left behind a huge void in Malaysian chess and this year's chess festival was aptly described as A Tribute to Dato Tan Chin Nam.

Last Sunday was the closing ceremony of the 10-day festival. One week ago, Hamid Majid had asked me whether I wanted to say something in public. I hesitated at first, but then decided that there was at least one more story I could tell. One that I consciously couldn't put on paper previously or in the future.

In the past week since agreeing to speak, I have been in agony because my speaking voice is not the best in the world, let alone my singing voice. Would I be struggling on stage? You bet! But having gotten myself cornered because of my own foolhardiness, I had to proceed as planned. Thus, I found myself seated at dinner and being called by Hamid to the stage. It's now or never, so here goes my three minutes of fame....
Datin and the family of Dato Tan, good evening.
In this world there are many stories, and there are stories about Dato Tan as you have heard. (As a note in passing, Hamid and Ignatius Leong spoke before me. After me were Chew Soon Keong and Hilton Bennett.) Some can be put on paper, written about him - and I think I've done my fair share of that - but there are also some stories about him which cannot be put down on paper; not because of some controversy or anything, but the thing is, putting them down on paper wouldn't do justice to Dato Tan. 
So I'm here to say something, to verbalise a story, about Dato Tan. Please indulge me if I were to say something wrong. 
Everybody, I think, in this room has some favourite tunes or songs you would like to hear, and I would like to believe too that Dato Tan may have had his fair share of favourite tunes. I did have the opportunity of hearing him sing once and I would just like to keep his memory alive by singing a short chorus from this song. Some of you will recognise the tune. Excuse me.
Daisy, Daisy give me your heart to do
I'm half crazy, hopeful in love with you
It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford the carriage
But you look sweet upon the street
On a bicycle built for two
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I think was his favourite song. And I hope in future years when we have this event, perhaps the organisers can organise a group of people to sing the song in Dato Tan's memory. Thank you.
I was quite oblivious to the applause from the audience but I was very relieved that my personal ordeal was over.

Coming down from the stage, I had to pass by the table occupied traditionally by the family of Dato Tan. His daughter, Lei Cheng, was the first to speak to me. "Thank you," she said. "Was that his favourite tune?" I had to ask her, just to be sure of it. "Yes," she replied. I couldn't remember the rest of our brief conversation.

I also had to walk by Datin Choy. She grabbed my hand firmly and smiled. Without saying much, I think I understood how much the song meant to her.


Final words on Mulu



When we arrived at the Mulu airport, we were picked up by a lady who drove us to the national park headquarters where we checked in into their very comfortable Rainforest Lodge. Other than the national park accommodation, there's also the Marriott Mulu Resort if visitors want even more comfort, but in my opinion, the national park lodges and hostels are good enough. Clean and comfortable. At first it did not strike me how she managed to get her 4WD vehicle to Mulu or even how she got the petrol for her car. But later, I realised that it was a 4WD after all and it could have made the overland journey from wherever in Sarawak. And the petrol was brought in by boat from Marudi.

Another thing to mention is that there is no electrical supply from the national grid. Because Mulu is so cut off, all electrical power comes from generator sets. Twice a day when the park headquarters switch generators, there'll be a few seconds of blackouts. But you can hardly tell because otherwise, the electricity is supplied round-the-clock. As for the water supply, it comes from the river or collected rainwater but is filtered by the time it comes out from the taps. The water is very slightly yellow if one looks closely enough but should be safe for consumption if boiled, which we did.

As I related previously, Mulu is practically cut off from the rest of the world by design. Only the Melinau River and the four daily flights physically link Mulu to the rest of the world. Communication with the outside world is thus a problem. Not a big problem but still a problem. At the national park headquarters, visitors can still stay connected by WiFi, but the range is limited to the area around the headquarters building, which includes the cafe. Naturally, the Wifi signal drops off as you wander away from the building but I managed to find a very weak one-bar signal from the Lodge I was in. A one-bar signal that still allowed me to use Whatsapp but not for anything else. Oh yes, I had to buy usage from the headquarters office. A RM5 usage for 24 hours, after which you have to buy another coupon.

National park headquarters

All visitors have to register themselves when they set foot into the Mulu national park. Everyone will have to wear a plastic wristband. The counter staff are all very helpful. Inside the headquarters building, there is also the Mulu Discovery Centre which is very informative and educational. Everything you need to know about the caves in Mulu is covered.











Around the national park headquarters

Even if a visitor is not on one of the guided or self-guided tours in the national park, there are always places to wander around within the vicinity of the park headquarters. A keen eye can uncover those small fauna that tend to hide themselves so well during the day or night, but there's nothing like the experience of a guide who can point out things that would otherwise be missed.

During both nights at the national park, we could hear the place come alive with loud sounds all around us. Basically, the croaking of frogs, and they do make a lot of noise! Of course, to walk around at night would require torches as the boardwalks were very poorly lit. There's also a Night Walk guided tour which we did not sign up for, and thus we missed it. Now regretting it, of course!

















Rainforest lodge

We stayed at one of the two buildings that made up the Rainforest Lodge within the national park headquarters. Very nice and private accommodation, but the most expensive at the national park. We were booked into the Lodge by the tour agency that we had used to arrange this trip. There are other cheaper lodgings but perhaps with less privacy, such as the two Longhouses and also the hostel.








Food

Food is no problem. There's a cafe there. Don't expect anything top-end and you will be fine. Just order from the menu at the counter, get your number and the food will be delivered to you when ready. Choice of sitting at the tables or at the riverside bar which looks over the Melinau River. Recommended is the bar. We saw the hustle and bustle of daily life along the river when partaking our breakfast. The cafe is open till about nine o'clock at night. I must also mention that there is the obligatory souvenir shop attached to the cafe.












Outside the national park

Is there life outside the Mulu national park? Definitely. There's a straight road that leads directly to the national park and on both sides, there are hostels for people who do not wish to stay at the park headquarters or the Marriott Mulu Resort. In addition, there are also cafes that offer alternatives equivalent to the food in the Mulu Cafe. These hostels and cafes line the road till the park's drop-off/pick-up point is reached. By the way, to get into the park, it would be necessary to cross the bridge that straddles the Melinau River. That in itself is already quite an experience.