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home : education : schools May 23, 2016

6/3/2014 1:06:00 PM
Local resident explores in Asia
Leanne Smith atop the Great Wall of China. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Leanne Smith atop the Great Wall of China. photo provided

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

Leanne Smith, board member for Friends of the Sisters Library, has kept in touch with her brother David Waldo and his wife, Jenny, since they moved over 8,000 miles away to Singapore, the most densely populated independent country in the world.

Keeping in touch by email for three years, Waldo had invited his sister to visit Singapore often. Smith never expected that one day she would spend an entire month with her brother and his wife touring the islands of Southeast Asia, cruising down the crocodile-infested Kinabatangan River, watching wild orangutans build their nests or catching a glimpse of endangered sea-turtle hatchings on Selingan Turtle Island.

"I finally took David up on his offer to stay with him and his wife in Singapore. I went by myself and planned the trip close to a year in advance," recalled Smith. "The first couple of days I got adjusted to the time difference and stayed with David and Jenny where they live in Singapore."

The name "Singapore" is derived from Sanskrit and means Lion City. Malay legend has it that a Sumatran prince saw a lion when visiting the island where Singapore now stands. He took this as a good omen and decided to build a city.

"Singapore was incredible, an island city that became its own state. You could almost eat off the sidewalks; it's that clean. Singapore is one of the safest and healthiest cities in the world," said Smith.

"On (my) third day David, Jenny, and I flew over to the Island of Borneo, a trip that we had planned in advance because we wanted to experience the jungle in a very naturally beautiful setting to where we could gain knowledge to all of nature, " Smith recalled.

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world; it is one of the last of the world's wild places, with its dense rainforests and mysterious jungle valleys.

"Our guide, Michael, toured us for six days around the island of Borneo; it's too dangerous to go alone. Our first place of destination on the island was the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary," said Smith.

The sanctuary was the first official orangutan rehabilitation project for rescued orphaned baby orangutans.

"The rangers who worked there are passionate about the baby orangutans; they're really cute," Smith said. "The heart-rendering story that we got from our guide is that the mother orangutans are killed because hunters want the babies to keep or sell as pets. The orphans are brought in, nurtured, and taught how to take care of themselves in their natural habitat. A success is when a young orangutan grows into a well-adjusted and independent animal and is released back into the wild."

The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, Borneo - 560 km down to its mangrove swamp. According to World Wildlife Fund, the Kinabatangan River is one of the only two known places on earth where 10 primate species can be found.

"Cruising the Kinabatangan River was one of the highlights of visiting Borneo, a rewarding experience even with nine-foot crocodiles swimming nearby. Just the orchestra of birds was amazing to hear and see, so many hornbills," said Smith. "We went on the river for two-and-a-half days. As you slowly go through the jungle you could watch the orangutans build their nests, the whole tree quivers, it's very dramatic. There were "pygmy" elephants feeding on the edge of the river. It's amazing how close you could get to the wildlife."

"Our next adventure was to head over to Beijing. David and Jenny's son Sam has lived there for three years and speaks Mandarin, which made things easier for the trip. Before landing in the city we could already see the heavy haze hanging over the entire city of Beijing," recalled Smith. "We were on our way to the Great Wall of China."

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood and other materials, built along an east-to-west line across the northern borders of China, in part to protect the Chinese Empire against intrusions by warlike peoples.

"The first glimpse of the Great Wall of China as you near it from the highway is breathtaking," said Smith. "The part of the wall that we were on is called the Badaling Section, and is about the same elevation as Sisters. As I walked across the wall I felt a real sense of reverence for how many lives were lost in building this barricade."

As it is for many travelers, part of the joy is the return.

"After having an incredible time for nearly a month, I was ready to return home to Sisters and my husband, Doug," Smith said.

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