Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Bornean Thick-Billed Spiderhunter bird at Sepilok Nature Resort

I traveled to the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo mainly to see orangutans in the wild and to learn about the endangered Sun Bears. An unexpected bonus was the astonishing birdlife. I spotted Rhinoceros hornbills, with their weird red and gold banana-shaped headdresses, as well as black and white Oriental Pied Hornbills. Unfortunately, my telephoto lens was not good enough to capture decent photos of either species, as they were sitting in high treetops, surrounded by dense foliage. However my luck took a turn for the better one day while Read More

At high noon, I stood on the viewing platform at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Borneo. In the intense humidity, rivers of sweat streamed down my face and neck. Within minutes, my T-shirt was soaking wet. I peered down into the enclosures below expecting these smallest of all the bear species to be sleeping or at best lethargic, but to my surprise they were active. Borneo is in the tropics, where it is always steamy. These bears are not bothered by the heat and humidity. I envied them.

Sun Bears use their long claws to tear apart logs, looking for a meal of termites, ants, grubs, and a multitude of other creepy crawlies

Sun Bears use their long claws to tear apart logs, looking for a meal of termites, ants, grubs, and a multitude of other creepy crawlies

Behind me, a man I assumed to be a tour guide was providing information about the Sun Bears. He looked strangely familiar. Suddenly, I realized his photo was splashed across a sign at the entrance to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. He was the Honorable Dr. Wong Siew Te, CEO and Founder of the facility. I waited until the crowd had dispersed to wrangle him for an interview. The more we talked, the more I had a sense of having spoken to him previously. “I think I saw a documentary about your work,” I said. He smiled. “I was chosen as a CNN Hero in 2017,” he replied, “so maybe that’s how you know me.” Read More

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center provides a safe and secure home for the endangered Sun Bears of Borneo, the smallest bear in the world.

Orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre exhibit best buddy behavior

Humans have long been fascinated by all members of the ape family. Orangutans, second largest of the apes after gorillas, rank extremely high on our fascination meter. There’s no mystery about this. We look at orangutans and see ourselves. I felt the same way when I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and watched the human like behavior of orangutans. This pair may have been mother and child, but to me their behavior screamed “best buddies.” Having successfully fended off the macaque monkeys on feeding platform, they turned their attention to Read More

“Say hello to the orange ones,” my friend said when he dropped me at the airport. He was referring to orangutans, known for their distinctive orange color and endangered status. For years I had dreamed of seeing them in their natural habitat and now, with a little luck, my dream would finally come true. I boarded the plane to Sabah, a Malaysian State on the island of Borneo, arguably the best place in the world to see orangutans in the wild.

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

People have been fascinated for centuries by orangutans because of their humanistic traits. They are the second largest ape, after gorillas. Close cousins to Homo sapiens, they share 96.4% of their DNA with humans. Even their name speaks to our closeness; the word orangutan translates to “man of the forest.” Yet this fascination has not assured their continued existence. According to “The Last Stand of the Orangutan, State of Emergency: Illegal Logging,  Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks,” a report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), palm oil plantations are currently the leading cause of rain forest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. The report estimates that 98% of the rain forest may be destroyed by 2022, with lowland forest succumbing much sooner. Read More

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, in the town of Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo, is one of the best places to see orangutans in the wild.

I first met David Hogan, Jr., the publisher of the award winning Malaysia Asia Travel Blog, during a visit to Malaysia’s Penang Island. On that occasion, he took me to one of the island’s most popular “hawker centers,” where we ate our way through outdoor food stalls that stretched for blocks. Some years later David and I reconnected in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur (KL). This time he treated me to a delicious lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant located in the city’s Little India neighborhood.

Me and David Hogan, Jr. at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Me and David Hogan, Jr. at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I recently returned to KL for a longer visit and, of course, I had to meet up with my Malaysian buddy again. This time he had a special surprise in store or for me. Just 15-minutes outside the city center we wound our way up a hill to Thean Hou Temple of Selangor Keng Chew Association, the most popular Chinese Buddhist temple in the city. This is where Chinese residents come to ask for marriage blessings. Thean Hou Temple is a one-stop shop for weddings. Couples pray to the goddess Kwan Yin, the deity believed to ensure happy and prosperous marriages. Once they have the blessing of Kwan Yin, couples can get a marriage certificate, get married, and even have their wedding reception in a huge banquet hall on the ground floor of the temple. Read More

Thean Hou Temple is the favorite temple for Chinese Buddhist residents of Kuala Lumpur to pray for a happy and prosperous marriage.

The historic Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

I rounded a corner and stopped in my tracks. The old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station stretched before me in all her glory. Her lacy white skirts were tatted with horseshoe, ogee, and keyhole arches, while her chhatri-topped towers were held aloft like frilly parasols, providing protection from the brutal Malaysian sun. This spectacular example of British Raj style and opulence is undoubtedly the grand dame of Malaysia’s capital city.

During the early years of British rule, Kuala Lumpur (KL) had been served by two smaller rail stations, but as the city grew, it needed a better transport hub. Finally, in late 1906 it was decided to build a new station. Charles Edwin Spooner, General Manager of the Federated Malayan States (FMS) Railways, oversaw the process. At the time when the world was swooning over all things oriental, the British had developed the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, which combined stylistic elements from Islamic and Indian architecture with the Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles. Spooner, who had worked in Ceylon prior to arriving in KL and was a fan of this architectural style, chose it for the new railway station and tasked British architect Arthur Benison Hubback with producing the final design. Read More