|Laure, Karen, Peter, Phyllis, Robert. Alvin, Shan|
Monday morning while visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, I finally got to meet Peter John, Karen’s Iban husband, who arrived barefoot and dressed for the part of a traditional upriver Iban. My wife had Googled Peter the night before, so I saw a picture of him in London, and recognized his face, but not in those clothes…
We arrived in time for the 9:00 am feeding, but since orangutans don’t wear watches they don’t always come for their appointed times, especially during fruit season. Forty minutes had passed before they finally answered the call, a mother and an infant, not to the feeding area, but a clearing opposite of the entrance. Before we went to see them, and after the other tourists had left, Richard took some shots of me walking through jungle.
Later, at another section of Semenggoh they considered filming me for my interview in the jungle but the steady drone of traffic couldn’t be avoided, so Richard settled on taking additional shots of me making my way through various patches of jungle.
Laure and Richard became excited when Karen located wild pepper growing on a rather tall tree, perfect for their pepper story.
I had been looking forward to riding in a longboat on the upper Sarawak River, but once we reached Kampung Giam, we brought the rain with us and had to wait it out on the veranda at Homestay Kampung Giam, run by a friend of Peter’s. We drank tea, ate muffins and curry puffs, and took groups photos.
When the weather broke, Richard filmed Peter and a Bidayuh, the owner of a longboat they had hired, as they made a tricky ninety-degree turn from the tributary onto a faster paced upper Sarawak River bloated by the recent rain. He filmed them leaving, while Michel got a wider river view from his drone. For some reason, the drone dropped among the elephant grass on the far side of the river, so Peter had to retrieve it. They were just glad it didn’t land in the river.
Michel tested it, and it seemed okay, so they picked up on their filming where they had left off. Before they went upriver toward Kampung Git, Karen had lobbied on my behalf, but Laure had assured her that I would be sent for later, though logistically we weren’t sure how that could be arranged since we would be out of communication.
I shrugged off my disappointment, having resigned myself that there would be no longboat trip for me, and joined the others in the van….Along the way we stopped for lunch and Alvin regaled us with stories from his special forces days; he was quite entertaining and even told us how to make a traditional poison that wives often used to kill their husbands that could take up to three months; gradually the stomach would be coated and unable to absorb food and then all trace would be gone. It was quite ingenious, though I was glad my wife was not present.
At Kampong Git, I was chatting with Karen on the beach, while Michel took drone shots over the river, when a longboat approached. I recognized the Bidayuh and he said in his very limited English one word, “Drone,” so we called Michel and got him and his drone into the longboat. Then he said, “Two,” and Karen interpreted that to mean “two people”, that they were also sending for me to finish off the Maugham sequence as Laure had promised.
|Michel Viet and his drone|
There we were, the three of us going upriver….Twenty minutes later, we ran out of gas; luckily he had some spare in a container and we arrived ten minutes later on a beach—a pebbled spit of land at the edge of the river where Richard was filming Peter cooking fish and rice inside various bamboo.
Richard was not at all pleased because we failed to bring his tripod! The Bidayuh only said two words and neither of those words was “tripod”. I don’t know why no one thought to jot down a message to give us; besides we thought they had loaded the tripod for the first trip. Then I began to wonder, when he said “two” did he mean “two items: drone and tripod….Suddenly, I felt like a third wheel.
When the drizzling rain began to disrupt the filming, Laure remained unflappable as she waited it out with minimal fuss and no dramatics. She and Richard had been there before—grumbling never helps and patience with a positive attitude can go a long ways. Richard had addition concerns, his filming equipment, his spare lens and the other photographic gadgets that he needed to make sure they got the best shots under the worst lighting situations.
When the drizzle became a downpour, Richard covered his equipment with a heavy duty poncho, a tarp from the longboat, and my poncho as an extra layer of protection.
Borneo rivers have a nasty reputation of rising quickly; in no time, water had made inroads to where all the equipment had been placed. Noticing that his backpack was getting wet, Richard started grabbing stuff and we all pitched in to move everything as quickly as possible to higher ground, under the trees. Ourselves, included.
Once the rain stopped, the Bidayuh continued to fish using a weighed net casting it into the river, while Richard picked up where he had left off taking close ups of Peter cooking fish and lemang and potatoes and prawns with lemongrass in a large bamboo. It smelled and tasted delicious when it was served on large leaves plucked from the nearby jungle.
We also tried plump sago worms cooked in an open fire, which tasted fine, though I would’ve preferred marshmallows.
Looking at Peter in this setting you would never have imagined that he studied in the US and lived in London for a number of years and was a deejay in Singapore with a deep voice. But here, he could be an Iban from generations ago, with headhunting in his blood, living off the land.
Since he had no tripod, Richard had to use an overturned bucket for storing fish to sit on and did his best to keep the movie camera still while filming Peter at the helm of longboat as he talked about his life as an Iban living in Sarawak.
For me, just being there was a pleasure watching the French crew work. Having worked together for twelve years, Laure and Richard knew each other’s idiosyncrasies. They had developed a level of trust in each other. They were professionals—they both wanted a good product that they could be proud of. Basically they were a one woman, one man team, who got help along the way, like with Michel and his drone, whom they flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching for the rest of the Maugham shots, the pepper story and the Personal Invitation piece on Peter.
They also had KL based Shan, who liaises with film productions from oversea, offering them logistical assistance, Alvin their driver cum tour guide who assisted many different ways, including sourcing for jungle locations to film, and us, their filming subjects, quick to offer suggestions and tips and bring in others to assist like Karen whose proved invaluable for her production assistance into putting together the complicated pepper story through her myriad of connections.
Laure told me that Richard always wanted the better shot, not a merely good shot; at times, when weather and daylight were working against them, sometimes you just need to get any shot that you can under the circumstances, which was better than no shot! Still the compromised shots they did get were always better than what Laure was willing settle for….Richard had good instincts; he knew what he was doing, and Laure was only too happy to work with him.
Sometimes holding out for that last great shot would pay off as we soon discovered when they filmed my final Maugham segment in Part V.
Here's a link to the intro and excerpts, and to four reviews of Trois Autres Malaisie in eurasie.net, Malaisie.org, easyvoyage.com, and Petit Futé mag.
The ARTE TV report will be broadcasted on June 5th: http://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/071100-062-A/invitation-au-voyage. It will be available online until August 4th!