Dave, the Greenforce Balak expedition leader, and his wife of six months, Lidwina, cordially invited us to their wedding party. Quite a few of us honkeys turned up to his new house in the mountains of Sabah. After proposing to Lidwina, Dave had been given permission by her father, the village boss, to build a house next to his, which he dutifully did. Nice place too. With this great addition to the community, and the prospect of a party, the villagers set about making rice wine. For several months.
Rice wine could be an answer on Roy Walker’s Catchphrase. “Say what you see”. Wine. Made from rice. And then sometimes distilled, though I can’t really recall the details. But there often seemed to be rice in it.
It’s drunk in a variety of ways. One way is to poke a long straw in an urn of the stuff (rice still in the liquid). A fork or piece of twig is submerged in the ricey goodness so that you can gauge the level in the otherwise murky urn. Each contestant/drinker then adds a glass of water (or rice wine if they’re feeling thirsty) to the urn, and then has to drink the mix down to allow the fork/twig to stand proud of the killer booze once more.
A second way of delivering this rice wine hooch to the masses is to tip the distilled liquid into a three foot piece of bamboo, and to dip four smaller pieces of bamboo into the tonic.Each laden bamboo cluster is then passed around a group of people as shots. Each little piece of bamboo delivers just enough wine to make you gag, but not to fully retch.
The party was last night. Well technically, that was day four of the party, but it was the big one for us. Joe and I arrived at about 2pm, and the drinking was in full effect. Beer arrived in our hands as soon as we got there, and a variety of drinking methods were employed to ply us with alcohol. Relentlessly. One grandma, whose eyes were more bloodshot than should be possible had obviously started long before we got there. She even had a blackeye – I’d put that down to drinking injuries, as it was quite fresh. She would come and dance with us, not that we were dancing, and be periodically reeled back in by one of her relatives, and confiscated so that we couldn’t play with her.
Everybody was drinking, except for the masses of children, who were quite happy trying to teach us how to count in Bahasa Malay. And attacking Carl with balloons, mud, and whatever else they could find. Joe produced a video camera and the little blighters went berserk, trying to get in the picture, climbing over anything and anyone who was between them and the camera. Rich, who had disappeared into some kind of rice wine hell, came back alive, and assumed the role of Pied Piper. He started a conga for the little tykes which lasted for hours, and sucked most of us in at some point.
Mori became our newest friend; it was his job to deliver wine in the bamboo shot ‘glasses’, which was fun enough in itself – he could never refuse a round, even when the ante was raised to 4 bamboos per round. This was only interrupted by the arrival of the Malaysian equivalent of Norman Lamont (when he was important), and with a little egging on, Mori was persuaded to force this dignitary to neck some bamboos of wine too.
Drums kept being banged, Lidwina had at least 5 dress changes that I could see through my red squinty eyes, and there was dancing. The traditional dancing seemed to involve arm flapping (imagine you are an eagle, fly, be free) , and standing on the balls of your feet and shuffling. Later on, when Rich, Laura, and Joe had passed out, quite literally from over-optimistic bamboo shooting, the cha-cha made its rounds. I thought my charming dance partner was called Cha Cha, which seemed a kind of funky name. But after observing her feet for some minutes, I noticed that there was a kind of rhythm thing going on. Fortunately I was saved by the slow dance. Why do I always seem to be with young girls at weddings when the slow dance kicks off? I dunno.
Everyone appeared to be someone’s cousin by this point, with my Bahasa Malay fallback words for “good”,”drink”,”good drink” being put into frequent practise, and the concept of “cousin” surfacing in English quite often. John arrived by taxi after the football (a 2 hour taxi ride – nice) and it was left to Carl, he and I to challenge all comers in the drinking challenges in the wee hours. We were getting quite cocky at this point, having been drunk for about 12 hours, and I was picking ants off the wall and eating them to show my impatience at the pace of some of the challengers’ supping. Most of the challengers appeared to be about 14 years old, and I twigged that the grown ups had gone to bed. Except for one guy who tried to give me a deer’s paw.
The inevitable cockerel woke us up at around 6:30, and I think we mostly struggled out of bed at around 9 or 10. By this point, the hardcore local party animals had become stoked and red eyed again. The 5th day was when the real drinking was begun, and this meant starting at 7am…..