March 2014


It was during a speech by Idris Jala – former resident of Bario and rising star in the Malaysian government – that Taylor’s Education Group president and CEO Dato Loy Teik Ngan heard a call to help with the problems of education in remote villages. Although the government had built schools and hostels in the remote interior, many of these were now facing the end of their useful life. Dato Loy harnessed the considerable resources of his educational interests in Malaysia to raise the funds necessary for a new hostel in Bario that would allow the school to continue to serve the needs of the children in the remote villages in this part of the world. An architect was engaged, a project manager hired, a cost analysis conducted, and a fund-raising campaign was conducted – all pro bono – to meet the need for a new hostel.

DSCN5732By the time I stepped into the role as Project Coordinator for Bario much of this preparation was already either done or well underway. However, now recognizing that Bario was but one piece in a larger picture, I was taken on as coordinator for all community projects, numbering more than three dozen with more developing all the time. These added responsibilities for the larger picture of CSR are the reason why it was not until last week that I finally got to Bario myself, in the company of Evan Horsnell, the project manager for the build. Evan is an Aussie who came to Kuala Lumpur to help sort out a project, met a Malaysian who he married, and has now settled down in the country. He is your typical Aussie, friendly and garrulous with a distinctly colourful past, and we regaled each other for hours on things that we did in our youth that we probably should never have gotten away with.

In order to get to Bario you have to first fly to Miri, a town funded largely by the oil that is drilled off the Borneo coast in Malaysian waters, and then on Bario in a Canadian-made de Havilland Twin Otter over terrain that rose rapidly to 3200 feet over virgin forest that held few villages and fewer roads. The single dirt track that runs to Bario takes two days and 14 hours when it is dry, and is impassable when it rains. We were met at the airport by Dora Tigan, the headmistress of the primary school where the hostel is being built and John Tarawe, the local counselor most responsible for moving the project forward. With limited time for social niceties, we drove straight to the site of the hostel where Evan and Shep Bala the local contractor, walked over the build and made an assessment of its progress. Evan wasted no time in checking over the build with his experienced eye.

DSCN5737I spent my time collecting the stories of the participants in the project, chief among them Dora Tigan, a resident of Bario who like many others had to leave the village to get an education, but has then returned to contribute to the ongoing development of the village as a local cultural heritage center for the Kelabit people. There are two schools in the village: a primary school and a middle school, both of which have hostels to house the children from the surrounding villages. There is a medical clinic and a coming electrical project which will see the village get a solar array to reduce their dependency on expensive diesel fuel which has to be trucked in from Miri, and the small hydro-electric plant which is often hampered by insufficient rainfall.

Like most things in life, the hostel situation in Bario is hard to categorize in a single weblog post. It is easy to see how a larger and better equipped hostel would help the community to meet the educational needs of the surrounding villages. It is also easy to see how the project could get bogged down without regular technical oversight. I sympathize with my Aussie friend’s frustration at the rate of progress and difficulties with materials. I also recognize the desire of most in the village – many of whom are sincere and devout Christians – to use the vehicle of education to serve the needs of their community. It is that need that drives my own interest to see this project through to its conclusion.


Our grandchildren give us such great joy and we miss them incredibly. The only thing that makes our being so far from them manageable is the confidence that we have in their amazing parents. This week Greg, Liz and Russell formally announced that their little family will welcome a new member in early October. We are overjoyed.


In the meantime our other grandkids are growing up so nicely and we are delighted by the sweet, loving and creative young people they are becoming. Six years ago today we had the thrill of welcoming our first granddaughter and couldn’t even begin to imagine what joy she would bring into our family.

6th Birthday

Another amazing cake creation by Nicole:

Birthday cake


In 1928 Charles Hudson Southwell, a recent graduate of both the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Bible Institute, sailed north to establish the Borneo Evangelical Mission. Like his famous namesake, Hudson had intended to go to China, but was challenged at MBI to go to the remote jungle instead. Establishing a mission in the Limbang District of northern Sarawak, close to the border with Sabah, Hudson quickly learned both the Malay and Iban languages. Returning to Australia to marry his childhood sweetheart Winsome, the two returned to Sarawak and settled into a ministry among the Murut people, who were eager to know about ‘Tuhan Isa,’ (Lord Jesus) who is mentioned in a favourable light in the Qur’an. Unfortunately their success among the Murut attracted the attention of the British overlords of that territory who preferred to keep missionary activity to a minimum and on occasion banned them entirely as it interfered with British territorial ambitions in the region.

Taking a strategic furlough in Australia, the Southwells returned quietly to Borneo in 1936 to the Miri area and began working among the Iban with equal success. By then American missionary John Willfinger had rendered the New Testament in the Iban language (one of the many ways that Christian missionaries have strengthened and preserved indigenous people groups has been to commit their oral language to written form) and the Southwells found that Christ’s parables rendered in their own language spoke to the Iban in a powerful way. The war loosened British hold on the territory, and staying in Borneo during the conflict the Southwells were able to renew their work with the Murut who themselves became evangelists to their neighbours. Driven further inland by the Japanese who had now landed in Sabah to the north, Willfinger – a brilliant scholar and gifted linguist who was now working on the Murut New Testament – and the Southwells continued to evangelise indigenous tribes as they fled, among them the Kelabit people of the highlands near the border with what was then Dutch Indonesia.

The Japanese, like the British before them, understood the dangers posed by an educated and empowered tribal population and targeted both Willfinger and the Southwells for immediate arrest. When they surrendered – rather than further endanger the local tribes people – John Willfinger was summarily executed and the Southwells and fellow missionary Frank Davidson were incarcerated in an internment camp where Davidson died of disease. Hudson’s previous education as a chemist allowed him to identify and use local leaves and berries for both food and medicine, and he and Winsome survived. In March of 1945 American parachute troops, led by Major Tom Harrisson, landed in the Kelabit Highlands, and organizing and arming the Kelabit people led them in a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese that left no escape from advancing American and Australian troops now attacking the coastal regions.

Following the war, Harrisson returned to Bario and began working among the Kelabit people, to whom he felt he owed much of his wartime success. He was opposed to the evangelical efforts of the Southwells and sought to restrict their influence. But the Kelabit themselves were in awe of the changes they saw among the Murut and many Kelabit turned to Christ in the years after the war. In the early 60s Sabah and Sarawak joined the new Malaysian Federation, raising the ire of the Indonesians who considered the provinces part of their territory. The resulting ‘Confrontation’ with Indonesia caused many Kelabit from the surrounding villages to flee into Bario where there was a Malaysian army base. This increased Bario’s population and importance which after the conflict led to the construction of first a primary and later a middle school to serve the children of the area.

The Southwells continued to minister in the Highlands until the 1980s, working among the Kelabit, Kayan and Kenyah people. Hudson developed a Kayan-English dictionary to preserve this indigenous language and established a Community Development Project far up the Baram River at Long Lama that provided technical training to improve local living conditions. A ‘moving of the Holy Spirit’ in Bario in 1973 led to the Christian conversion of the entire village and the construction of a local church. An emphasis on Christian morality and an understanding of the importance of education has led to the Kelabit being among the most well-educated people groups in Malaysia. Former Malaysian Airlines executive director and current minister in Prime Minister Najib’s inner circle Dato Sri Idris Jala is Kelabit, as are a number of Malaysian CEOs and Christian evangelical leaders.

Some research material from: With Pythons & Head-Hunters in Borneo (2009) by Brian Row McNamee. Xlibris.

Pesawat MAS Dari Kuala Lumpur Ke Beijing Terputus Hubungan Dengan Menara Kawalan

Anwar Ibrahim was former Prime Minister Mohamed Mahathir’s Finance Minister and the man most widely credited with the Malaysian economic miracle that took this country to a solid Second World status, where it has unfortunately been stalled for the last dozen years. Once Time magazine’s Asian Man of the Year, Ibrahim is not only Malaysia’s most able economic and political force, he is the ruling Barisan Nasional party’s greatest threat. So potent do the ruling elite consider him, that they have found it necessary to pursue him through the courts for a dozen years, perverting the justice system of an entire nation to see him jailed for hysterically contrived offenses.

Offended by all this decidedly less than First World behaviour, the significant Chinese minority – amounting to some thirty percent of the population – have abandoned the BN in droves pushing them to the edge of the political wasteland in the last election. Only skillful gerrymandering of electoral districts saved them from certain defeat. Rather than be chastened by such wholesale rejection, the BN has retrenched and renewed their legal assault on Anwar, resulting an unprecedented appeal against the Supreme Court decision that exonerated him from the latest charade of charges. Significantly he was hauled off the jail – again! – one day before MAS flight MH370 went missing. The two, it seems, are not unrelated in the surreal world of Asian politics.

As offended as are the Chinese by the corruption and incompetence of the BN party, there is another group that are equally if not more offended: devout Muslims, who see the venality and blatant corruption of the current government – all neatly wrapped in a veneer of official Islamic prose – as a grave offense to the purity of their beliefs. Such a man was Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a pilot of impeccable credentials and considerable experience who is said to have attended the mosque five times a day for prayers. This is almost certainly Muslim hyperbole, but even taking that back a peg and allowing that the man prayed five times a day puts him among the devout elite in this still predominantly liberal Muslim country. And devout Muslims regard the ruling party in this country about as highly as devout Christians regarded that hypocritical scoundrel Ronald Reagan. But I digress.

Among Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s many interests – including his helpful videos on air conditioner repair and a state of the art flight simulator in his house where he plotted out his route that fateful night – was a deep interest in the plight of Malaysia’s embattled Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. He attended the trial throughout, which in itself is a political statement in a country that takes an interest in what its citizens are interested in. Surely Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah knew which way the political winds were blowing in this trial, which might have been a factor in formulating a plan. A by-election was on the horizon; one that the ruling BN could not afford to lose. Anwar was contesting the seat; BN’s defeat was inevitable. Anwar had to be removed from contention. Nothing as insignificant as a fair trial would stand in the way; the judge had already been bought. Five hours before he boarded flight MH370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah sat in a Malaysian courtroom and heard Anwar Ibrahim sentenced to a further five years on trumped up charges that no one in the country believes are true.

What will be the outcome of what is now being called a “pilot hijacking?” What was the purpose? The purpose is being played out each night on the television sets of this nation, as Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah knew it would. A whole succession of Malaysian bigwigs, including the prime minister himself, has been parading in front of the international media making absolute fools of themselves contradicting whatever the last guy said and falling all over themselves in their incompetence which has roused the just wrath of China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and everyone else who has had the misfortune to have to deal with them. The Malaysian military knew within minutes that the plane had changed course. Rather than admit this, the Malaysia government had surrounding nations spend millions looking for where the plane was not. The Malaysian police knew within hours that the pilot – who had moved his entire family out of his house the day before the flight to protect them from arrest and media scrutiny – was the one responsible, yet they waited a week for others to point out the obvious.

All of this and much, much more will be the outcome of this sorry affair. Nor will it be the last embarrassment this government faces. As long as there is trouble in Europe and a war in the Middle East, Malaysia will be spared the kind of scrutiny which it by nature abhors. But this is an enduring mystery, and the devout and canny Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah  has done more to highlight the shortcomings of this incompetent and corrupt government than a planeload of Anwar Ibrahims. Welcome to your nightmare, Barisan Nasional. The world is watching.

Ever since we lived in Bangladesh in ’86-87, we have loved the sights and sounds of the monsoon rains which create a virtual wall of water that marches across the landscape refreshing and cleaning the air. It is a sound that we will never forget. We were even looking forward to sharing that with Greg and Liz while they were here in January. Unfortunately, not only did it fail to rain the entire time they were here, but it has not really rained since then either and we are feeling the effects of it big time.

It has been incredibly hot, humid and still, making it oppresseive to even venture out. The government began rationing water in some parts of our province in early February and some areas have gone days at a time without water, playing havoc with small businesses like food stalls and laundries. This week we were warned that we our water rationing would begin, two days on and two days off so we have full containers all around the apartment. Although we have been careful with our water useage, we have actually not yet been cut off.

However, what has been far worse is the air quality. The Air Pollution Indexes have reached as high as 365 ppm is some surrounding areas when anthing above 100 is considered hazardous. This week the air is positively smokey and it burns your eyes and throat to be outside.  We even recieved an advisory notice from the Canadian High Commission here in KL; I guess that is how the Canadian government justifies withholding 25% of my meager pension at source, This morning we were delighted to wake up to sunshine and clear skies and treated ourselves to an hour or so at the pool. This evening we had the first taste of rain and now we sit enjoying some cool evening breezes once again.