Joanna Funk

music, gardening and my dog

Sabah 2022: Woodwork, calligraphy and the moon

I’m spoiled from the moment I land in Sabah. Relatives greet me at the airport — poor things! The flight from Kuala Lumpur arrives at such a dreadful time, it gets into Kota Kinabalu at 12.40am and I actually walked out about 1.00am. I am so cared for ☺️. After a few days, it’s time to contact friends!

Today Yap and Allen took me out for breakfast. Yap is my go-to friend the moment I’m in Sabah, he’s in all my blogs a lot! I first met Allen at the Hakka Association in Kota Kinabalu. They brought me to Mee Sup Pipin 1 in Penampang to have — what else but mee soup! Apparently this place was started about 50 years ago, and the founder was Hakka Chinese, adopted and raised by a Kadazandusun couple.

Allen (L) and Yap (R) at Mee Sup Pipin 1 in Penampang

After mee soup we went to their hangout — a workshop where they do woodwork and some nerdy electrical things. This is Yap at his nerdiest, making a sound system with glass tubes, heated filaments and wooden clothes pegs. He said it’s called a Vacuum Tube Amplifier, and that was how amplifiers worked in the sixties (maybe not with the clothes pegs). Here’s a short video.

Maybe just one more clip, hey?

Jobim’s “Wave” on Yap’s vacuum tube amplifier

Then we were off to KK Chung Hwa primary school, where a Chinese calligraphy competition was taking place. This is a regularly-held event, but when covid hit, it became a home event, with participants having to submit videos of themselves doing the work. Today, candidates were in the school hall. Yap said these days there are more and more students of non-Chinese ethnicity like Dusun and Malay doing Chinese calligraphy, which is awesome!

After several speeches, a person at the podium opens an envelope and reveals the subject matter to be written about. Since the date is Sept 10 2022 and it’s Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, that was the subject.

Yap explained that this is a festival about reunion and thanksgiving. After the harvests has been reaped and people have been paid their wages, they can return home to their families.

He said Sabah’s calligraphy studies began about thirty years ago, and he said they are really quite in their infancy, and thought that today’s participants were for some reason not concentrating that well! 🤣 He’s mates with many of them. Well it all looks beautiful to me!

Apparently there are so many different forms, this girl is doing a “flattened” form of writing. Maybe it’s a bit like block print?

, Sabah 2022: Woodwork, calligraphy and the moon

He talked about folding the rice paper (the paper here was soft, but not rice paper) into squares, if you are a novice. This way you can judge how many characters you can fit on the page. A bit like having lined paper, I suppose, but for Chinese characters! As you become more experienced you don’t need to do this.

Then there are many styles, sometimes the size of the characters vary, which shapes the phrase and emphasis of the characters. Sometimes the paintbrush doesn’t leave the paper for an entire character, so it’s written in one continuous stroke. Then I saw Yap writing something very quickly and lightly, like he was outlining some characters.

Yap, what are you doing?

“Okay, come on. You’re having your first calligraphy lesson.”


Yap told me which way to do the strokes, press, flick etc. What I have written is about how we can look at the moon, while our loved ones look at the same moon, a thousand miles away, and to wish that we live long lives so that we can be together again. Yap wrote out the full version for me to hang up in my music room. He said his style is not that smooth and a pro would raise an eyebrow. But for me, it’s written by a friend and right in front of my eyes, and that makes it as precious as it gets. And I think it looks fab!

Lyrics of the Water Song, for my music room

The long version is about a man long ago, who is in high office, drinking by himself late at night and now quite drunk. He looks at the moon, thinking of his younger brother, and wondering if life as a high ranking official is actually a good thing to pursue. It ends with the same wish as in my simplified version, that while they look at the moon, a thousand miles apart, the hope is to live a long time and meet again. He and his brother were apart for seven years, and they met again one year after this poem was written.

Here is a Western guy reciting the poem, and there’s a translation. Yap says he reads it “perfectly” 😊.

My day ended with a family gathering for Moon Festival, with lots of cousins and all their children! So that was very apt for me.

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About Joanna

Joanna is British Australian. She worked mainly in financial news in London. In her forties she moved to her parents’ birthplace, Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, where she became a pianist in a hotel and wrote a blog about musicians. The blog became a book before Joanna came to Australia in 2012. In this blog she writes mostly about music, gardening, and trips to Sabah. Oh, and Wookie the Havanese.

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