Why I Deferred My Semester To Embark On An Expedition

If someone told me that I’d be deferring a semester of university and will be going off on an adventure of a lifetime, I’d probably laugh at their face and brush it off. I mean, who would want to pause their studies just to leave it hanging when I could just be on my way off to graduation and to work?  But as much as how my life could have turned out that way, luckily, it didn’t.

Towards the end of my first year of degree, I made a choice where my parents, lecturers and friends all bombarded me with one very simple question, “Why?” and the answer was pretty much candid. It’s because I wanted to experience. I wanted to breakout of what seems to be a very dull and mundane life, therefore, I decided to put my university on hold, full-heartedly explained to my parents why I needed (which they still can't understand till this day) this and then immediately booked my tickets to the Land below the Wind.

Reaching Sabah on the first few days was pretty memorable as we had to be immediately evacuated as our base camp was flooded. (Our base camp was situated so close to Kiulu River, you could actually see the water flooding the grounds and not to mention, it was the monsoon season.) But after a few days, the roaring weather has settled temporarily, and we (all the excited volunteers) got allocated into our projects and the expedition resumed normally! 

For my community project, my group and I got deployed to a beautiful, remote village called Kampung Abingkoi to conduct a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Programme where we installed a gravity-fed water system and constructed a sanitation unit (two toilets and a shower) as the community faced issues with acquiring water as their only source of clean drinking water was a small river that’s been used for various purposes such as cooking, showering and all sorts. I even had to pass motion in a 4-foot hole with no water to wipe and wash my hands or the fact that my drinking water was the colour of a teh-o-ais! Talk about walking in someone else's shoe and total shame on me for complaining about the water shortages in Selangor because there were old women from different villages that'll travel for more than 8km to collect water from this small river, and here I was, in the midst of a shattered mind while learning and finally understanding what privileges were.

The village lights up at night and I can't begin to fathom how beautiful and quiet everything was.

As my perspectives began to widen, I continued to work on the project with a complete different drive in hopes we'd be able to get clean water - a right that every Malaysian (and every other human being) should not worry about. Without wasting any time, my group and I started with the water dam first and carried bags (and bags) of cement, sand, rocks, tools and pipes all the way uphill to the water source and worked all day long. It was definitely physically, mentally and emotionally challenging for all of us but I (and the group) made it through and I’ve never felt so accomplished in my life before. I owe my sanity to the children in Abingkoi -- who would always invite me to chase the exceptionally pudgy pigs that wander around the village and contradictingly, losing my sanity when I got stung by an enormous centipede, wasps, and almost burning down an area full of bushes/trees because I left the burning rubishes unattended (for which I started a fire using a flint + tampon!) Anyways, getting back to topic, after laying down the pipes and getting the dam done, the team and I then constructed the foundations for the sanitation unit down at the village and the completion of the project was already on its way!


Connecting the pipes from the dam all the way down to the village.


Constructing the dam to collect the water source.

 Alpha 1 with smiles after completing the sanitation unit.

Moving on, for my environmental project, I was allocated to Imbak Canyon, one of the last untouched and relatively unexplored primary virgin rainforests in Sabah and if not, the whole of Malaysia. You probably might (or not) have heard of Imbak Canyon, and this is definitely due to the wide-spread news about Disney's The Jungle Book where its visual effects were based from the sketches of Imbak Canyon by a visual artist whom have embarked on her Raleigh expedition last 2006. Pretty cool, eh?

Feeling immensely grateful, the group and I worked on constructing two rest-huts and a toilet along the route while building new trails. By building new trails, this will indefinitely aid in increasing accessibility for scientists and conservationists to carry out their research in hopes to further explore and discover new species of wildlife, plants (especially medicinal herbs) and to continue on conserving this beautiful biodiversity. If there's one thing I will not forget about Imbak, it'll definitely be the morning calls made by Gibbons and the time when I had to cross a swollen river that reached up to my neck as it was a literal adrenaline rush moment because I've got swept and smashed into a huge boulder. I had a really provacotive-looking-shaped bruise on my leg the next day, just to casually add that in.

In the midst of digging a 4-foot hole for the toilet’s septic tank.

Working on building new trails


The view of the sunrise in one of the research camps in Imbak Canyon! (Those bed of clouds are pretty amazing, huh?) 

Last but not least, I ended my expedition with adventure phase where 14 of us trekked through the jungles of Long Pasia, near the border of Kalimantan and Sarawak. It was definitely a challenge trekking through the jungle for 12 days for an average of 4-6 hours per day all while carrying the essentials with you and literally surviving off of them. But despite all the drama, the challenges, and the pesky leeches, I’ve learnt so much about myself -- knowing that patience and positivity is not as easy as it seems when having to deal with conflicts with your inner self and the people surrounding you. However, the best part of all this was, I got the amazing opportunity to immerse myself and learn many new things about the Lundayeh culture of Long Pasia and not to mention, the countless times I've gotten leeches in many undisclosed body parts and making great friends out of each other's miseries from these leeches. After accomplishing trek feeling all mighty and high, we headed off to Mamutik Island to acquire our diving license to participate in marine conservation work such as coral-planting and ocean clean-up.


Trekking and Coral-planting

Lo and behold, I’m glad I made that leap of faith. I’m glad that I managed to foster up every ounce of courage I had within myself to go against my parents’ will and to defer a semester to go on for this. I have learnt so much I never thought I could learn, especially from the Murut tribe in Abingkoi, where they taught me that simplicity is the key to happiness, or how spending time in Imbak Canyon has taught me to appreciate the beauty of nature and learning the importance of community and togetherness from the Lundayeh tribe in Long Pasia. Not only that, expedition has inevidently shaped me to be the person who I am today, and in fact this has affected my lifestyle, my perspectives, and my future endevours in career and ambition. 

So to ask the question once more -- Why did I defer my semester just to embark on this expedition? It was to experience and experience I did.

As cliché as it sounds, embarking on this expedition has changed my whole outlook on life and it has made me realize of the many potentials I have and how much of a change one individual can bring about. But above all, expedition has taught me one valuable thing that I'd never trade off for anything in this world: I learnt how to live.