CHRISTINE Rohani Longuet is a 70-year-old French boat-builder, author, homestay operator, ethnobotanist and Ph.D student who has been living in Pulau Duyung for the past 40 years. True story.
It was almost surreal meeting Longuet in her traditional Malay home, built from cengal wood and beautifully appointed with old wooden furniture. She’d speak to her homestay guests with a mix of English and fluent Malay, though all her greetings and salutations remained French.
Even the cat lazing in her living room was interesting. A cat from the royal family, she said, which explains its name, Istana.
Longuet’s stories became harder to believe at every turn. First she was showing us detailed sketches of the local flora, telling us how she was an ethnobotanist working on her PhD.
Next thing you know, she’s telling us how she’s a boat-maker, who had left her hometown of Paris to learn how to build her own boat from the master craftsmen in Pulau Duyung so she could sail around the world.
“I didn’t want those expensive European boats, I wanted a high quality, solid boat, big enough to carry my four children with me, on adventures to new countries,” she said.
But then she fell in love with the island – and one of its boat makers – and so decided to stay put.
Now she runs a homestay business in addition to her many interests, a rustic chalet on stilts over-hanging a river. It’s called Awi’s Yellow House, and for around RM20 a night, it promises guests a true Pulau Duyung experience.
On top of that, Longuet said she is also an architecture enthusiast, and something of an expert in poems about Pulau Duyung.
It all sounded too fantastical to be true, until she showed us some of the books she had authored, bearing her name and biography.
The books included Puisi Duyung Pulau Rakyat, a collection of local poems, and Amanah: An Architect’s Journey, which chronicles the work of local architect Nik Mohamed Mahmood.
The BRATs 2013 young journalist programme is organised by R.AGE and supported by ExxonMobil. For more info, log on to facebook.com/starbrats.