Sarawak Elective

*SUPER LONG POST AHEAD*

This is a long overdue post about my elective posting in Sarawak. Have decided to put this up on the blog so that in the distant future I’ll get to reminisce the amazing 6 weeks I’ve had in Sarawak.

So I’ve been getting questions from my non-medic friends about what an “elective posting” is all about. Well, it is actually a given period by medical schools for students to learn in other hospitals other than their own. We’ve been given the freedom to choose just about any hospital in any country in the world, so it is up to what one really wants out of their elective in choosing a place for their posting.

Those with enough funds may opt to do it overseas and experience what it’s like to practice medicine in other countries. For instance, my boys Heng and Joshua did theirs in Kenya and had many hands-on experience that one could not possibly get in local teaching hospitals (both performed their first Caesarean sections there. JEALOUS!). A few of us went to European countries like the UK to feast their eyes on angmohs *ehem*. Many opted to go back to their hometown hospitals for an additional 6-week holidays. And  some people just wanted to go off for a 6-week vacation!

Like me. Heh heh heh.

I chose Sarawak mainly because I’ve never been to either Borneo states before. Sabah hospitals placement have all been swapped up by my other classmates, so Sarawak was the only option left. Did plan on going overseas, but my application for Melbourne was rejected and I was already out of funds by the end of the semester. So Kuching it is!

On day one itself, our elective supervisor-cum-medical registrar-cum-tour guide Dr. Wong Jin Shyan has reminded us that a successful elective posting comprises of 1/3 medicine, 1/3 cultural experience, and 1/3 gastronomic experience. We took to his wise words and made sure that we lived the Sarawak life to its fullest.

We were attached to medical, surgical and emergency department of Sarawak General Hospital (SGH). To be frank, we just went to the hospital for the sake of filling up our attendances! Hehehe. But worry not, the kiasu bit in me made sure that we at least attended ward rounds, specialist clinics and OTs. We got to discuss a lot of interesting cases too, thanks to the ever helpful medical officers, specialists and consultants of SGH. 🙂

swakculturalvillage

Sarawak Cultural Village was among the first tourist attraction we visited in Sarawak. It introduced us to Sarawak’s astounding variety of tribes as there were replicas of longhouses for every major ethnic group in Sarawak; namely Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Penan, Malay and Chinese. I used to have trouble differentiating between Sarawak and Sabah tribes, but I am now well-educated on that subject. I can also proudly say that by the end of 6 weeks, I could pretty much understand the Sarawakian Malay accent! Mauk kamek klaka Sawak kah? Sik hal.. (which means, do you want me to speak in Sarawakian accent? No problem..) 😛

Few entries ago I did mention about Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, which is a temporary home for various endangered wildlife of Sarawak, especially orang utans that were rescued from captivity. We arrived in Semenggoh during their feeding time, and were lucky enough to see 6 orang utans coming out to eat a delicious spread of bananas, coconuts, watermelon, and papayas that were provided by the centre’s staffs. Nora and her adorable son, Baka attracted the most attention as they swung by the many trees looking as if they were performing stunts on ropes. These primates left us enthralled for quite a while, before we eventually lost sight of them as they get into the deep forest where they actually belong.

It would have been a shame to visit Sarawak if one does not go about exploring its magnificent tropical forest, thus we jumped on the opportunity to visit a few national parks that were situated near Kuching. We were in luck when the Sarawak Forestry Department informed us that Rafflesias were blooming in Gunung Gading National Park! So off we go to the quiet Lundu town where the national park is situated and hiked up the mountain to see the world’s biggest flower.

rafflesia

Now Rafflesias are exceedingly rare and special, as the flower buds take 8-9 months to mature and once they bloom they can only last for 3-4 days before starting to wither. We consider ourselves very lucky as there were only 2 flowers blooming during our stay in Sarawak. The Rafflesia we saw was disappointingly small though, measuring just 50cm in size. Bummer.

We then continued to climb up Gunung Gading for another hour and settled ourselves at the clean Waterfall Number 7. Later on, we took some time off at the unbelievably cheap Union Retreat Resort at Siar Beach just 10 minutes away from Gunung Gading before heading back to Kuching on the next day. Siar Beach was just so-so (Sarawak beaches in general are nothing to shout about, really) but we had the whole resort to ourselves so twas fun.

Bako National Park was on our itinerary for the third weekend. We boarded a speedboat from Bako terminal and passed through Kampung Bako, a fishing village along the riverbanks of Sungai Bako. Prior to our journey, we saw a signboard warning us to be careful of crocodiles and to our surprise; we did see a wild crocodile basking under the sun on a rubber tube! We screamed our lungs out as our boatman tried to corner the crocodile but it quickly glided back into the river.

croc

After the encounter with the wild crocodile, we reached the national park and headed straight to the park headquarters to check in. Bako had various types of vegetation perfect for wildlife spotting. We’ve seen just about everything from silver-leaf monkeys, long-tailed macaque, bearded pigs and hermit crabs to Proboscis monkeys and even fireflies at night. Proboscis monkeys are probably one of the main reasons that make Bako National Park a worthy visit, as these long-nosed monkeys are now heading towards extinction.

The national park also boasts a picturesque coastline with exquisite multi-shaped rock formations. We rented a boat just to get near the famous sea stack, which is the icon of Bako National Park as commonly seen on Cuti-Cuti Malaysia advertisements. Other than that, we also went on a few trekking trails and saw spectacular views of various plants and trees along our way. We may came back from Bako with our skin a shade darker, but the scorching sun was damn well worth it. Highly-recommended to everyone!

Bako National Park

Bako National Park

All was not just fun and games though. We found out about an NGO doing a trip to an interior part of Sarawak, so we decided to follow them to offer our services. The place was Kampung Bawi, an Iban village in Engkilili (near Sri Aman, Lubok Antu constituency if I’m not mistaken). It took us about 7 friggin hours to reach Kampung Bawi from Kuching on a 4×4 after going through endless clay soil trails and steep hills, as the village is located literally in the mountains.

The trip was definitely an eye-opening experience, seeing how the villagers had to walk for 2 hours just to get to the nearest health facility. The kids also have to walk for 2 hours before hitch-hiking on a timber lorry just to get to school everyday. And here I am, bitching about traffic jams and public transports when all they have is their own 2-feet to take them places. 😦

Kids of Kampung Bawi

The NGO have actually started to upgrade the living conditions in Kampung Bawi since 2 years ago. They’ve rebuilt the longhouses and install proper toilets for the villagers. They also recruited a few doctors to come and perform health check-ups and advise for referral to general hospitals if the need arises. Medications are also provided, FOC! Now that’s what I call a great humanitarian effort. Thanks to these people, the villagers of Kampung Bawi can now afford to lead a more comfortable life and hopefully this ray of hope will lead to better things in the future for them. Insya-Allah.

So as mere medical students, we did what we could to help the villagers. Four of us ran a free clinic, where we get to sharpen our history-taking and physical examination skills. We listened to their health complains and gave out advices as well as medications for the villagers. We also took the opportunity to teach the women on how to perform breast self-examination (BSE) and taught the kids on how to wash their hands properly to avoid infections.

Free Clinic at Kampung Bawi

The trip really puts life into perspective and I now realize how FORTUNATE I am.  For that, the people of Kampung Bawi will forever be in my thoughts.

Gawai or Harvest Festival is celebrated by the Dayaks in Sarawak on June 1st every year, and luck was on our side as it coincides with our elective period in Sarawak. We had a long weekend off, so KT and I decided to head over to Mongkos Village Homestay in Serian for our first ever Gawai celebration with a Bidayuh family.

Soon after we’ve arrived at the village, our host brought us around the village and showed us how traditional dishes are made. Among the dishes are “Bangkang” (similar to lemang in West Malaysia, minus banana leaves) and “Ayam Pansuh” (chicken cooked in a bamboo). We even helped our host to prepare our own “Ayam Pansuh” and it turned out delicious! *salivates*

After dinner, we headed to the longhouse for another round of dinner and cultural dances performed by the youngsters of Mongkos Village, clad in their traditional costumes. It was a joyous affair as tourists were invited to dance together with the villagers. Gawai is also all about free-flowing Tuak (rice wine) and surely, a lot of people were drunk that night!

Men drinking Tuak

The night didn’t stop there. After traditional dances and the officiation of Gawai at midnight, they turned the longhouse into a dangdut club and raved till the sun comes up. Sheesh, these people really know how to party!

We also had the chance to follow the Ngilumboi procession, in which the ladies of the village would head over to different corners of the village to call out lost paddy spirits. Music was played with gongs and they marched around the village whilst clinking seashells and chanting prayers to call home the paddy spirits. It was a unique event and we felt very privileged to have experienced it in Mongkos.

Gawai

Where gastronomic experience is concerned, we spent most of our time outside the hospital trying out Sarawakian delicacies such as Mee Kolok and Laksa Sarawak. One particular drink called Teh C Peng Special striked the hairs of our taste buds as we consumed it on almost a daily basis!

We got a taste of home every weekend as we frequently went to Farah’s house in Petra Jaya for some good ole home-cooked meal. We even managed to try out some traditional Melanau meals prepared by Farah’s  granny such as Linut and Umai. Yummsss. Farah’s granny rocks! Hehee. Other than that, we also killed our time around Kuching’s many tourist attractions such as the Waterfront Bazaar and Cat Museum.  Kuching is just like any other major cities in Malaysia as traffic jam is still rampant albeit not as worse as KL!

6 weeks have passed and we feel truly blessed to have safely traveled to the aforementioned places. It was an experience like no other, and we have immensely enjoyed ourselves in Sarawak. I’m seriously considering to come back and work in Sarawak one day, y’know?

Academically-speaking, the elective posting had given me some time to reflect and analyze that there are still so many things that I need to learn next year. I now know that I gotta equip myself with more knowledge in order to become a competent and safe doctor come graduation in 2010. Insya-Allah. Bring it on baby!

P/s : Phew, that was long. More pics can be viewed on my Facebook page. Going off to watch Transformers now. Laters!

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15 Comments »

  1. suyanto said

    hiya,

    iam medical student at warwick uni UK (from indonesia originally). I am currently seeking for a borneo hospital to do my elective with 3 of my mates (preferablly somewhere rural – what we actually want is jungle medicine type of experience). Can u kindly help me out?

    I really appreciate your help. Thanks

    • ayumin said

      Hi Suyanto

      I did my elective in Sarawak General Hospital, which is located right smack in the center of Kuching city (Sarawak’s capital). So it isn’t exactly rural if that’s what you’re looking for. That being said though, SGH is a referral center for cases from all over Sarawak, so there is a wide spectrum of interesting cases that you can see there.

      As I mentioned in the entry, I did follow an NGO to a medical camp in an interior part of Sarawak for a weekend. But if you really want to spend the whole of your elective period somewhere rural, I suggest that you go to Kapit (6 hours by boat I think) or Lubuk Antu clinic. I know a doctor in SGH who handles elective students and he can make such arrangements possible. Do email me at ayumin23@gmail.com for his contact details.

  2. Yolanda said

    Hey, how’d you apply? You just send in a letter to the hospital?

    • ayumin said

      We applied to Sarawak’s State Health Department, if I’m not mistaken.

      • wong jin shyan said

        for non-malaysians,
        you would need to send the following items to get a placement
        1. photocopy of passport
        2. 3 photos
        3. letter fromn medical school
        4. CV
        5. lampiran B
        6. immigration visit pass

        email me for the forms at wongjs@srwk.moh.go.my

        wong jin-shyan

  3. herjit sidhu said

    Hi I tried emailing you at wongjs@srwk.moh.go.my but the email wont send. do you have another address? I want to apply for an elective in sarawak.

    please can you email me on herjipie@hotmail.com

  4. ayumin said

    I think it’s wongjs@srwk.moh.gov.my , he left out the V.
    Try his alternative email, gangrenes@yahoo.com

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  8. shuzseow said

    Hey, m currently in Kuching. Gonna be doing a 4 weeks electives in SGH. Read your entry and found it fascinating. Would like to know however, how did u manage to get attached to d NGO to help out in rural clinical stuffs? =)

  9. Anonymous said

    how do you apply for the elective posting ? to whom should i email ? pls contact me at leiyanah@hotmail.com . really hope you can help me 🙂
    thank you

  10. Wong Jin Shyan said

    Dr Wong Jin Shyan’s email is now changed to gangrenes@yahoo.com

    The Moh.gov.my account for email is closed

  11. sarah said

    HI all , any help on who so email for elective at Sarawak and Kapit hospital. Id also like to do some jungle/flying medince anyone got any contacts ?

    • Laura Kyle said

      Hello, is Dr Wong’s email address still gangrenes@yahoo.com? I am very keen to organize an elective in Sarawak 🙂

      L

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