Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Grass that Cries Pearls, Wearing Ferns, Rhinos, and Eating Ears!

With Research Officer Mr. Alex Lee at
Sarawak Biodiversity Centre
Community Plant Collections 
Before we head off to the rainforest stations at Imbak Canyon & Danum Valley, let's take time to explore some wild adventure at Sarawak Biodiversity Centre! There is always something interesting and unexpected that pops up there --- no doubt drawn to the beautiful surroundings and the boundless energies & good vibes of everyone at the centre.

Later in May SBC will host an "Open House" and invite the general public to come and see the facilities and get a sense of just how important and useful native plants and animals really are. The centre sets up displays & activities and gears the event toward participation and skill demonstration - when people see the actual process (as opposed to just seeing an object) of  something being made, or do something themselves, they will enjoy and remember it more.  One activity scheduled is making jewelry.  This skill uses a needle & thread, a pretty ribbon and seeds of a certain grass (Coix lacryma-jobi) -- also called Job's Tears. This grass has a teardrop-shaped pearly grain  and has been used as an ornament ( & an ingredient in making beer!) for quite some time. It is an ancient cultivar, from India & Myamar brought over to native peoples of Malaysia around 1000 BC.  

Angelina Nguan, one of the talented expert staff at SBC, is handling the task of piercing the grains and festooning the ribbon with pearly tears. In an earlier blog, you have seen her work -- an example of  her woven stitchery on an herbarium specimen.

"You have to be very vicious."

Job's Tears Jewelry

Lygodium sp.

Another demonstration will be weaving jewelry out of native ferns! The fern in this case is a species of Lygodium, a long trailing fern that climbs trees whenever it gets the chance.

Perparing the fern is an involved process: the long stipes (leaf stalks) must be skinned & soaked  to make them flexible, then cut to the right size. The weaving itself interlaces the stips around a piece of twine. It is not easy (especially for those of us with 10 thumbs) but Angelina makes it look efffortless and creates a subtle and elegant band of braided fern.

The finished product!

Mischievious Asha Kaushal 
photobombs a ticklish moment 
at a rhinoceros beetle meet-and-greet

One afternoon, at a delicious post-program outdoors reception tiffin, Asha Kaushal & Margarita Naming, (whom you have seen earlier in this blog), called out "Rhino!"  My eyes were directed to a shiny, jet black shape on the sidewalk.  It was a titanic Rhinoceros Beetle, making his way down the ramp.  Asha picked him up and presented him to me -- and Margarita documented this event for the blog!  Neither of these ladies was even a bit squeamish about admiring this horned wonder, unlike a certain other brilliant but bug- shy scholar, who will remain anonymous, but who ran away and hid until the insect meet-and- greet was over!  

One big beautiful Beetle! 

The beetle, as you can see, was a  remarkable and beautiful creature (especially when compared to the person holding it!), a bit slow but proud, and with a lot of personality! What's not to love?


I never ever thought of myself as a picky eater.  But that is a notion that has dissolved during this visit!  Malaysian food is really good and tasty -- because people are so diverse, the food Is so varied and includes so many different things that you can eat. Not only delicious curries, noodles,  fruits, bakery goods that make you drool, fritters that you can't stop eating, traditional sweets that are too beautiful to eat ( but you are so happy when you DO eat them), tempeh,  delicious vegetables like ferns -- I could go on and on --but it also has food items which I regretfully have been conditioned not to eat. 

I was invited to go out to lunch with 4 brilliant and charming women on the day before we left for the rainforest.  In the van, talk turned to food. Everyone, except taste-conservative yours truly,  was well versed in eating interesting bits -- I saw just how picky I was! For instance, it is difficult for me to eat heads and eyes.  Chicken heads, or duck heads ( with crunchy bills), fish eyes and mammal head parts -- well, I must say, my palate is pretty bland and probably, truth be told, wasteful. (We usually are pretty much vegetarian at home, out of taste preference, though I must admit to an occasional hotdog at Sonic or even (about once a year) a pork chop if we go to Biscuitville. 

I'm sure I've eaten ears before, 
but in a different form...

That day, I was told that pig ear was good.  My hosts ordered the ears for themselves in a kind of brothy stew, with other vegetables and a pur√©e of hot chilis. Asha handed me an ear from her bowl, in a pair of chopsticks, to document this (once-in-lifetime perhaps)  event. It wasn't too big-- kind of tasted a bit like a liquified porkchop. If you've eaten a hotdog at the ballpark, you have probably eaten everything but the oink anyway, so I got off lucky with the pig ear! I'd have to say, I'm not much of an omnivore!

  We just got back from Sabah and are rainforest visits to the research stations at Imbak Canyon & Danum Valley. These are 2 of the largest protected areas of primary, untouched rainforest left in Malaysia. I'll let you know when it is posted!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dixie! I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog! Your Malaysian adventures sound so exciting. I've really enjoyed reading about them and seeing the lovely pictures!

    You might be interested to know that since graduating I have moved to St. Louis and taken a job in the horticulture division of the Missouri Botanical Garden! I work with the living collection records and it is wonderful work! So I especially liked reading about your trips to the botanical gardens in Malaysia and about the amazing plants you've seen there. Those pitcher plants, and the bamboo - wow!

    Best wishes for the rest of your time traveling - I will continue to read your blog posts!
    -Alanna Slack