The “Sibu Six” Take their First Trip to Kapit

Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 9:00am
On the Boat back to Sibu
The Sibu Six, minus Sarah and plus Kamila, on the boat back to Sibu, Malaysia. Photo by Hudson Berkhouse.

By Hudson Berkhouse, MSc-GH candidate, Duke Kunshan University

The Sibu Six are a group of graduate and undergraduate student researchers from Duke University and Duke Kunshan University. They’re conducting several One Health research studies in Sibu and other areas in Malaysia this summer. 

Last Thursday morning at 5:45, our little group gathered at the Sibu ferry. Five of the Sibu Six and two of our Malaysian colleagues had met together that morning to travel to Kapit, a little town about three hours from Sibu City by boat. 

Our mission was two-fold. First, we wanted to meet Dr. Hii and the medical officers working under her guidance at Kapit Hospital and train them on how to enroll patients and collect samples for the pneumonia-based portion of our study. Secondly, we wanted to visit the local wet-market to see what kinds of meat are sold there and begin drafting plans for how to collect samples during future trips.

To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that the boat to Kapit was comfortable and fast. In fact, the air conditioner in our cabin area was so powerful that it created artic-like conditions, which forced the team to don jackets and long sleeves ... in 100% humidity! It seems we hardly noticed, as we were all soon fast asleep, and shortly thereafter had safely arrived at the wharf in Kapit.


The Boat from Sibu to Kapit. Photo by Hudson Berkhouse.

After disembarking, Mr. Chong, one of our Malaysian colleagues from the Sibu divisional health office, quickly guided us to a small café for our choice of iced tea or coffee with condensed milk and batter-fried plantains. As we enjoyed our breakfast we looked around and familiarized ourselves with Kapit. This was made easier by the fact that Kapit constitutes one main road leading to the town-square and wet-market, intersected by only a few smaller streets. 

Across from our café we could see our hotel. Ironically named Greenland Inn, the hotel we stayed at sits squarely atop Sugar Bun, one of only two fast-food restaurants in town. I can personally confirm that their fried chicken is “finger-lickin’ good,” but cannot as of yet attest to the local quality of their internationally famous competitors just down the road. I can only say that it was a little surreal to see The Colonial grinning down at me with the Sarawak jungle as a backdrop.


The Sugar Bun below our hotel. Photo by Hudson Berkhouse.

After the initial presentations, the pneumonia group stayed behind to go through an enrollment with the medical officers, while the bio-aerosol group went with Mr. Chong to see the local-wet market. One medical officer took the lead during the enrollment process and demonstrated for her co-workers how to take a nasal swab. The only difficulty we encountered was that the formal-style Malay language used in our enrollment forms is not widely used in Kapit. However, the medical officers again showed their professionalism by adapting our questions into the locally spoken language.


Antoinette, a lab technicians at Kapit hospital, working with us
to process a blood sample. Photo by Hudson Berkhouse.

That afternoon, we explored Kapit with our other Malaysian colleague, Kamila, from Sibu Hospital. She introduced us to some local snacks, including ABC, a smoothie-like drink, and half-moon cake, a thick, fluffy pastry with peanut butter in the middle. Exhausted from an early morning and full of local snacks, we returned to the hotel for some well-needed rest. 

In Kapit, almost everything closes when the sun sets around 5:00 or 6:00pm. However, just across from town square, there is an elevated alley of sorts, on which are two rows of food vendors with tables and chairs arranged under tarps. The sunset is just the start of the relaxed night-life in this area. To us, it seemed like the entire town closed shop and walked to this area to enjoy a leisurely dinner with their families and friends. There, we were able to sample food from different vendors. We chatted there for quite a while, between bites of roti-chani and sips of milk tea.

The next morning was rushed, as half of us went back to the market while the other half returned to Kapit Hospital to work with the lab technicians to process a blood sample collected in the early hours. We met back for an early lunch with Dr. Cheesan Lee, who had just arrived from Sibu with two of his colleagues. He treated us to a delicious meal of wild boar and local-style noodles before we had to leave for the ferry.


Lunch with Dr. Lee, middle right. Photo by waitress.

On the boat ride home we all remarked how much we enjoyed the relaxed pace of live in Kapit. Our experience there was wonderful, and we all very much look forward to the next time our schedules give us occasion to return. 

To all our new friends there, we look forward to seeing y’all again soon.

This post was originally published on the research team’s blog and was republished with permission.