Rajang Delta Fieldwork: Accommodation

The Pradam Express served as one of our captained vessels for field work in the Rajang Delta. These are river taxis that measure 2 m (6′) in width, 13 m (40′) in length, and have headroom sufficiently high to accommodate most Malays, but require those of a taller stature to bend while standing or sit in plastic seats along the benches designed to move people through the rivers of Borneo. The boat captain and a first mate, along with a cook and laundry attendant, were hired as our crew for the duration. Laundry was done every day, which required that field clothes be rotated daily, with washing done early in the morning to be hung out to dry by the afternoon. Floating river stores, with gas-powered generators to keep refrigerators and freezers (!) running, canned goods, and fresh fruits (pisang awak [a small, dwarf, delicate banana], pineapple, etc.) picked up from longhouses along the river, plied their wares every few days.

All daily 24/7 functions, except for most sampling, recovery, core preparation, and sample collection, were done in these open-and-enclosed spaces. Meals were prepared in an aft galley and served in the main cabin;  a gravity toilet was cordoned just in front of the galley, offering some privacy; privacy for bathing was accomplished with wrapping sarongs, which also were used for changing clothes; bathing was done on the rear or front deck, depending on whose turn it was, using a bucket of silt-and-fungal spore laden water taken from, where else, the end of the boat being used at the time.

All of the field equipment  including the Knaack construction equipment-and-banking box (holding thousands of Malaysian Ringgits in small bills), but excluding the 8-meter lengths of aluminum irrigation pipe used in vibracoring, was stored inside the “research vessel.”

After an evening meal just before sunset, field notes were updated, clothing repair was undertaken, and bedding (air mattresses and sleeping bags) was prepared. Bedding was placed in whichever geometric orientation best suited one’s height dimension, over plywood flooring to ensure a flat surface, and draped with mosquito nets affixed across the boat. When the sun set after 12 hours of daylight, interior lighting was limited to a single, 12 volt flashlight bulb in the cabin, and individual flashlights. After the first night, or two, the rats living in these boats had been disposed of and, usually, became breakfast protein for the crew the next morning.