I’m writing this having just packed my suitcase in preparation for leaving Kuala Lumpur. There are two bags on the floor of the hotel; one is my case, and the other is a bag of things to leave behind. Having a mere 100 litres and approximately 20 kilogrammes to fit your entire life into, plus any additional life you pick up along the way, is great for encouraging minimalist behaviour. If an item of clothing or a pair of shoes are not pulling their weight, they get left behind, and most of the things in my luggage I could bare to loose. If I buy, say, a new sweatshirt (that is completely beautiful and that cannot be bought in the UK yet) then something else has to be jettisoned to make room.
All this streamlining has got me thinking about my wardrobe back home. A bulging, awkward behemoth that always needs clearing out and that seems to contain a lot of sentimental pieces that I just don’t wear anymore. This is not helped by my sewing habits, as when I’m in the mood to create I can be quite prolific and generate new garments faster than I can clear out old ones. But the benefit of having some geographic space between me and most of my stuff is the chance for some dispassionate thinking, and at the moment I am planning to have a complete clean sweep. I need to apply the suitcase principles to my closet. Once that is done, I can start on the infinitely more fun process of planning what garments, both bought and handmade, will be worthy to fill the space.
In 2014 focussed a lot of my time on a small handful of patterns, which were fantastic for developing and practising my skills, but not so great for creating a diverse and interesting closet. So for 2015 I want to shake up my list. My new rule is that I cannot return to a tried a tested pattern until I have sewn something different. It doesn’t have to be more challenging necessarily, just different. I’ve been eyeing up a few easy t-shirt patterns, and so far the Grainline Scout has caught my eye. Given how much I love my t-shirts, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to search for a pattern I wanted to try! Stepping the difficulty up a notch, I want to tackle the Archer shirt, also from Grainline. I love my shirts long, oversized and loose, and I reckon Archer in a light white cotton could definitely be my baby.
Merchant and Mills have also caught my eye with their modern, minimalist style (and their selection of fabrics is totally swoonworthy). Their 101 Trousers need to be in my closet, and look like a fun weekend project to shake things up, as does the Trapeze dress.
But tackling some more challenging projects was top of my list of plans for the new year. I want to make a coat. And because I don’t like to do anything the easy way, three different patterns have all captured my heart simultaneously. First up, the Mai Zip jacket from Named Patterns. I love the contrast sleeve suggestion, and the zips. I’d quite like to make the jacket all in one colour, but use different textured fabrics for the body and sleeves. I’ve also fallen in a big way for the Havala parker coat, also Named, which features a pretty natty drawstring waist detail. Both of these patterns appeal to the sporty, relaxed side of my style that pairs skate shoes with tailoring and only owns one pair of heels.
All of this deep thinking, which mostly happened during an attack of jet lag last night, was prompted by the publication of Grainline’s new pattern, the Cascade duffel coat. One look at this pattern and visions of it made up in navy or grey (hey, it’s me, and these are my jams) danced through my head. After this I started jotting down all the patterns that I want to try, and from there to having serious de-cluttering fantasies.
At the moment I limited to dreaming and scribbling in my note book, and although we still have two and a half months on the road a part of me is pretty excited about making a start when I get home!
Have you ever made any of these patterns? Let me know how you got on and whether you have any tips and tricks!
Chris and I bid a fond, slightly sad, farewell to Sabah yesterday and the Sandakan jungle, and six hours and one bumpy three hour flight later we touched down in sultry Kuala Lumpur amidst a spectacular downpour. By the time we arrived at our hotel we just had energy to drag ourselves to Jalan Alor, the epicentre of delicious food in central KL, for satay skewers, tiger beer and a local delicacy called Marmite chicken; delicious crispy deep fried chicken pieces in a sticky Marmite sauce. Chris hates Marmite, and he ate most of it.
While I may have swapped junglescapes for cityscapes, Kuala Lumpur is a city I know very well and am extremely fond of. Today was spent revisiting some of my favourite spots, spotting familiar faces in my favourite city bookshop, and enjoying the first decent wifi we’ve had for about a week. Which has allowed me to finally upload my latest video!
I found a four storey fabric shop opposite my hotel in Kota Kinabalu, and came away with several metres of printed silks. Seeing as we’re going to be on the road for three months, which will include visiting such places as Tessuti in Melbourne and the Garment District in New York, I am having to pace myself with the old fabric shopping (my bag can only take so much!). Anyway, I decided to deploy two metres of beautiful blue/pink/purple digital print silk (a steal at £6) as a Malaysian style sarong. Sarongs out here are different to the beach coverups we’re used to in Europe, as they are a tube of fabric rather than a sheet, and they are worn more or less all over South East Asia. There are infinite ways to knot one, and they can be worn for all occasions from the casual to the ceremonial. One of our jungle lodges even supplied them as mandatory evening wear!
I think you’ll agree that this colour scheme is a significant departure from my usual uniform of grey, navy and cream. What can I say, I’m in island mode. Before long I’ll be inserting humorous gifs into my posts, and then all hope will be lost.
Does anyone ever stop to consider where the bugs come from in Indiana Jones movies? I mean the ones that tend to hang out in secret passages in improbable numbers, crawling up trouser legs and dropping down necks. Every adventure film ever made generally has a sequence like this, but they never explain why any insect would choose to hang out in a secret passage rather than a jungle, or just a more insect friendly habitat. And why in such large numbers? What are they eating? Not that I would like to accuse Indiana Jones of being biologically inaccurate, but there are some significant unanswered questions here.
If you want to entice a large number of cockroaches to your concealed passageway or ancient temple I suggest bat guano. Hey, if it works for Gomantong cave, it will work for George Lucas. The 30 million horseshoe bats that live in Borneo’s infamous grotto have produced a sizable mound of poop that, as well as filling the cave with the heady stink of ammonia, is a home for the world’s largest population of cockroaches (also scorpions and some terrifying centipedes). They scuttle across the walkways, adding a crunchy note to each squelchy step, and cover the handrails in huge numbers. If you can suspend your disgust for five seconds, they are also rather beautiful; a rich caramel brown colour with golden splashes.
Gomantong, aside from having a world famous poo pile, is renowned as the source of birds’ nest soup. Because the cave is also home to the swiftlets that make the nests. Using a mixture of leaves and their own spit. Yum! Who on earth saw that and thought soup? Pound for pound swiftlet nests are worth far more than gold, as crazy people clamour to eat the weird gelatinous soup that they produce for the princely sum of RM70 (£14) a bowl in the hope that it will boost collagen production in the skin. Or something equally unlikely. Historically the value of the nests lead to the swiftlets being driven to the brink of extinction in the caves, so now the Sabah government strictly regulates all nest collection in three seasons per year.
Rosli, who continued to act as our guide for this stinky sojourn and thoughtfully provided face masks, enjoyed pointing out the more dense pockets of insects to us. He and I further bonded over a shared passion for David Attenborough, who has filmed in the caves a number of times. On one occasion he famously ascended the mountain of guano, and choked over his words to camera because the smell of ammonia was so strong.
So in short everything about Gomantong is disgusting. And amazing. And like nowhere I have ever been in my entire life.
The Kinabatangan River is a wide brown expanse of water snaking some 560km into the heart of Borneo. Where it meanders towards the coast it is fringed on one side by the ever encroaching palm oil plantations, which stretch as far as the eye can see over the hills around Sandakan, and on the other side by dense secondary forest dominated by mangroves and fruit trees. These forests are home to a huge diversity of wildlife including hornbills, huge monitor lizards, monkeys, orangutans and even elephants, while the river itself is heavily infested with crocodiles.
Chris and I arrived in this amazing place after a two hour journey from Sandakan and a short river crossing. Our base for the next few days was the Borneo Nature Lodge, a cluster of around fifteen cabins including sleeping quarters, a kitchen, dining area and bird watching tower built in a clearing on the river bank. Due to issues getting a reliable supply of mains electricity during construction, the lodge is entirely powered by two generators, one diesel and one solar. Rainwater, of which there is plenty, is harvested for showers and toilets, and guests are encouraged to run their air conditioning units as this is the only source of hot water. Our cabin was set back from the others against the forest edge and decorated in a very traditional style with polished wood floors and colourful wall hangings. Everything was very clean and, considering that keeping anything dry in the jungle for more than five minutes is a miracle, very fresh. It was simple, and perfect.
We spent most of our time on a boat with our guide, a local man named Rosli, who had a demon eye for spotting monkeys in the dense forest, and a passion for birds. His excitement at spotting rhinocerous hornbills, an infrequent visitor to the Kinabatangan, was completely infectious. He registered complete disbelief when we told him that long-tailed parakeets, another excitingly rare visitor to the river, were extremely common in our corner of south London. I was fascinated to learn about the cultural differences between Sabah and Peninular Malaysia from him, and he in turn learned what ‘ear muffs’ were from us.
Kinabatangan’s most famous inhabitant is the proboscis monkey, which are found nowhere else in the world except in the coastal and river swamps of Borneo. During the early morning and evening they can be seen in their favourite mangrove trees in large groups; usually around five to ten females with young, and a single dominant male whose enormous pendulous nose has given its name to the entire species. The monkeys favour the mangrove trees because, according to Rosli, the leaves help to ease the monkey’s semi-chronic indigestion caused by their leaf-based diet. Watching these corpulent, bulbous characters wedged into a cleft branch slowly munching, you’d swear that you’d seen something similar in a pub back home.
For much of our visit our outings along the river were impeded by constant rain. Under the onslaught of weather most of the wildlife chose to shelter out of site, leaving us sitting in our dripping vessel hoping for even just the tiniest glimpse of a rustling tree branch. However, on our last evening the clouds parted, and as if to make up for lost time the creatures of the Kinabatangan treated us to a spectacular display. As well as the ubiquitous proboscis monkeys, hornbills flocked through the sky, huge water monitor lizards draped themselves across the tree branches, an iridescent kingfisher flashed across the water’s surface and some beautiful silver leaf monkeys came out to play. Our eagle-eyed boat captain even spotted a juvenile mangrove snake curled up under the large leave of a tree.
While we were making our way back to the lodge, deliriously happy and flushed with success, a chorus of loud screeches overhead heralded the approach of a troupe of long-tailed macaques. About 15ft above our heads, two males were having a vicious argument, which culminated in one of them taking a daredevil leap from the tree down towards the boat. From that height there was a significant risk of injury, and we swung the craft to the side as quickly as possible. The monkey missed us by inches and hit the water with a huge muddy splash. As he vanished beneath the surface, I panicked trying to remember whether these monkeys could swim, and Rosli shouted to our captain to kill the engine in case he might get caught in our propeller.
Thankfully a moment later a little brown head bobbed above the surface of the river. Long-tailed macaques are in fact adept swimmers, and despite looking a little dazed he gamely paddled over the opposite bank and climbed out, looking bedraggled but no worse for wear.
When the time came to leave the lodge we felt more than a little downcast. I had got used to waking up in the night to the sound of chirruping geckos, and monkeys running across the roof. But Rosli had one more adventure planned for us, which I will share with you in another post. Suffice to say it involved 30 million bats (and their poo) and the largest population of cockroaches in the world.
Hello! Chris and I are back from the Kinabatangan river jungle for one night only, madly catching up with all the internet stuff that we missed while we were communing with proboscis monkeys (more on that story later). We’re off on another jungle adventure tomorrow, before returning to civilisation in Kuala Lumpur some time next week. So I just have time to coerce this ropey internet connection into uploading some photographs.
Our adventure along the Kinabatagan river began with a trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. When we began planning our trip I was in two minds about whether to visit or not. I knew I wanted to see orangutans, but that we didn’t have enough time to commit to the kind of trekking needed to ensure seeing them in the wild. A rehabilitation project, where semi-wild animals are released from the centre but allowed to return for daily feedings if they want, seemed like a good second option. While I respect the work that organisations like Sepilok do in rescuing orphaned orangutans, often from the pet trade, and preparing them for life in the wild, I was deeply worried that the experience of tourists would be placed above the welfare of the animals.
Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case. The orangutans were left to come or go as they pleased, without being encouraged or manipulated into coming close to visitors unless they were really curious or wanted to steal something (which does happen). The centre does not guarantee that any orangutans will appear at the daily feedings; indeed when they don’t show up this is a good thing, as it shows that the rehabilitation is working. We saw four young animals during our visit, and it was quite wonderful to watch them swinging their way in from the misty forest. The feeding platform was quite a long way back from the tourist walkway, so the animals weren’t too overlocked, and there were several members of staff on hand to make sure that visitors didn’t get too close to any animals that climbed up to get a better look at them.
I imagine that the number of visitors gets a bit manic during the height of the tourist season – it was lovely a quiet for us thanks to the rain – and there will always be unthinking idiots who mistake wild animals for teddy bears and who can’t show excitement without screaming. But the entire vibe of the park was that visitors are guests in the orangutans’ home, and are expected to behave with respect.
If you want to see some truly jaw-droppingly good photographs from our trip, check out Chris’s tumblr post here. He was wielding the uber long lens that day!