Return to Sarawak


“A terribly jungly place.”
Maugham
“They don’t call it a rainforest for nuthin.”
Johnson

I am back in Borneo. I first visited Sarawak in my childhood imagination. It was giant lillypad floating on the map of Oceania with a reputation earned from Victorian tales of headhunters, missionaries, orangutans, tic-toc crocs and cuddly pythons. When I saw Sarawak for myself, in the 1980s, it lived up to my dreams. Sure, penis piercing and the flattening of women’s heads in vices (a beauty treatment) were history as were the headhunters (even though ceremonial skulls still hung from the rafters), but the jungles still steamed, the macaques still screeched, the hornbills still displayed their magnificent schnozzolas, and Sarawak still had a faint aura of danger. Going there gave one bragging rights as an adventurer. So what if you stayed at the Holiday Inn, chicken feet were on the menu.

Today, Sarawak is still “terribly jungly” and exotic and inscrutable enough to evoke Walter Mittyish dreams of being one of the Rajahs who one ruled the place. There is a big difference, however.

More

Fowl Play in the Jungle: Nepal’s Royal Chitwan Park

Nepalis call it the “brain fever” bird. It starts with a middle-C whoop and, like a diva gone mad, sails up the scale in a frenetic arpeggio. This morning, jungle sounds are tame. No wall of cicada or cricket racket and except for an occasional monkey screech or “brain fever “aria, nothing stands in the way of subtle sounds: the rumble of an elephant purr, the rustle of brush. A tiger, perhaps? Or a rhino? Or maybe it is the elusive jungle fowl, a wildly colorful bird that is said to be the ancestor of the modern-day domestic chicken.

More

Fragrant Harbor: Hong Kong Translated: Audio

Photo: Hong Kong Limos Russell Johnson

I first caught a glimpse of it in the lower left quadrant of my eye. Way below me, in the canyon, I saw a faint, blue flutter. I focused on it, not quite making it out until it got caught in an updraft and soared.like an angel.hundreds of feet above me before gently drifting back down to eye level. I followed it for about 10 minutes, sailing across my field of vision with flimsy fairy
wings. repeatedly drifting downward leveling off, then rocketing back into the heavens.

Where did it come from?


More

Tigers & Twitchers: India’s Corbett Tiger Reserve

 Conservation International documents a tiger kill near India’s Corbett National Park Photo: Russell Johnson

“What’s is it?” I asked Mandip, pointing into the jungle brush. “No big deal, just an LBJ,” he replied.

“LBJ?”

“Little Brown Job, a bird of no significance to a twitcher.”

I would make a dreadful birdwatcher. I am not by nature a twitcher, someone who compiles lists of bird sightings like John Wayne carved notches on the handle of his Winchester. I organize my life with Post-Its, which blow around my office like autumn leaves. Also, most birds are small and fast, too quick for this lumbering mammal. But India’s Corbett Tiger Reserve is a prime place for birders with some 580 brands including Himalayan Kingfishers, Great Hornbills, and Blue-bearded Bee-eaters. So the birders head off in one jeep, in search of the Hair-crested Drongo while the rest of us Jim Corbett wannabees mount an elephant and a Landrover to search for fresh scat and pawprints, signs of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

More

Arthur C. Clarke’s Sri Lanka

“It is India without the hassle.”
Arthur C. Clarke

I could see what he meant about his adopted country. The people are fine featured, well educated, and it doesn’t take five of them to complete a simple task. You see poverty but it doesn’t grate at your conscience in scenes of maimed beggars. And once out of the capital city of Colombo, the world dissolves into a lush green dream. Banana and pineapple, teak forests, queues of brightly colored umbrellas bobbing through rice fields. Elephants blocking traffic.

Sri Lanka has some of the best protected wildlife preserves in the world. The first recorded one dates back to the 3rd Century B.C.

More

FEATURED VIDEOS & PHOTOS