August 2007… I am preparing myself to go to Way Canguk for September’s annual tree measurement and it just struck me that this will be the tenth year of Way Canguk research station. Ten years ago…. Tim O’Brien and Margaret Kinnaird have chosen this site as a field research station for WCS in Indonesia. Ten years ago… porters carried wood to build the new ‘college of fieldwork’, students came, and the quest began….
I came here the first time to help the first tree measurement in September during the 1997 forest fire struck part of the new study area. I was stunned by the camp. I felt like visiting a different world as the big Terminalia tree entangled with lianas which looks like a gate to wilderness, a gate to my new life. I’ve been here back and forth since then….
Located in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Way Canguk is probably the most active field research station in Indonesia. I am about helping the 10th annual tree measurement and there were never one-single-week of no research work in this camp from watching the tree grows, flowering and fruiting through phenology, following the siamang groups, radio-tracking the Argus pheasant, watching the active hornbill’s nest or even a simple birdwalk in the morning. Chattering of people start very early in the morning, having freshly-made Indonesian breakfast and get ready to go the field with their rubber boots. Then some boot tracks were found toward I-600 and the others might go to W-2200 to do their chores. Then the camp became as quiet as the forest during the day.
So, what has happened in ten years? Students come and go with all their different characters. Canguk becomes more than a student dormitory, more than just a research station. To us, the students, the staff, this is the place where we begin to squeeze our brain, our creativity beyond research. Some of us gave English course to our technicians during the night, bought all those high school text books for Pedet to complete his school, drag one or two technicians to join the scrabble game. Others would do some food refinement by having Canguk style home-made pizza or other camp cuisine. In other time, some would search the forest, scrutinize all the bat caves and wait for the bat hawk during the dusk, or finding a path to the beach.
Since the setting up of this station in 1997, Way Canguk has experienced 3 managers. All of them have to deal with the old ZENITH huge laptop that still works up till now. Of course, as time goes by, Canguk has couple of second hand Pentium 100 laptops. And still, reaching the ten years of age from Narto, Iqbal to Opo, were always glad to have second hand laptops even if it is finally a Panasonic Toughbook. Tough job! But with these old computers, all the managers were able to enter the data or even train their staff to use them. It seemed simple, but to think that most of Way Canguk field technicians never finished middle school? Nowadays we can see these technicians, Rahman that goes the to field with a bird book in his tattooed-hand, Jayus who can identified most of Dipterocarp trees through the dried-fallen leaves, or Pedet who just finished his undergraduate school and still eagerly seeks more and more.
Canguk is where we have laugh and all those deep discussions. The three tables in the café represent the three languages present in the camp. Those who speak or dare to speak English will likely to sit in the English-speaking table which has the best view. And then, there are always the Indonesian-speaking table, and the Javanese-speaking tables (dominated by the field technicians who are Javanese). But the bond between us has gone further than the three tables that we’ll never found in formal office. The discussion rose from natural history, research questions, to discussing Harry Potter, Umar Kayam, or Jostein Gaarder.
It has been ten years with all of those floods during the December-January rainy season, with all those creeping leeches. The 1997 drought has brought fire to Canguk. One little rain and all the scorpions came out from their hiding, the big black ones and mothers carrying the small ones. And everything seemed to vanish the next day leaving the carapace on the dry leaves. Life goes on… There were those years when the elephants seemed to follow the post-fire studies, leaving all the marks on the bark of the trees, stepping on those tagged seedlings and saplings, and crushing the camera trap. Years when we ran from elephants but can also safely watched them feeding on the grassland across. But then there were also years when sound of the chainsaw echoed far away through the forest, sound the gunshots and then elephant skulls and bones were found scattered in the study area. And life still goes on. The siamangs are still leaping from trees to trees, the male Argus pheasants are still clearing the dancing ground on the forest floor but do we really know what really goes on? It has been ten years and sadly part of the study area has been opened for the demand of road.
I’ve search in Google and found 1,180 entries on Way Canguk. Most of them as pdf files of published papers. I also found two popular articles from visits to Canguk, such as http://www.princeton.edu/~compub/pwb//97/1020/1020-suma.html and http://www.gulfshorelife.com/Articles/Gulfshore-Life/2005/03/An-Expedition-Journal.asp. I believe every resident in Canguk have their own memories. One intern student has expressed that living in Canguk is worth more than dating… hmmmmm… Others feel that going back to Canguk is walking back home.
August 2007…… I am preparing myself to go back to Canguk. I have been here as a student and a staff. I have been raised and trained here and I am always proud of it. Happy birthday Canguk! I hope that you would continue to bring good things to people……