Love at first sight was how he described it upon stumbling on everything and anything that he found amusing and interesting in the Land Below the Wind 20 years ago.
For Herman Scholz, 48, a German who became no more a stranger to anyone who crossed “his path”, especially the Kadazandusun living in Penampang and other places in Sabah, his love developed over time.
Since then, Sabah had become his “home”.
Having arrived in Sabah in the mid-1990s, Herman had no intention of settling down, not until he saw one Sabah’s priceless treasure – the jungle.
“Tourism brought me here. If it wasn’t for the tour, I would never discover the beauty in this land, especially the jungle. You Sabahans are very lucky to have this one of the best gems in the world,” he said.
“I took great interest to want to know about your history and culture. It enticed my entire life having to know the beauty of your land, I believe it is one of the most beautiful jungles you have in the whole wide world,” he added.
During the course of his prolonged stay, Herman picked up Kazadazan and Dusun and now is fluent in both dialects. He also took the trouble to learn about the history and culture of the people in Sabah – which many in today’s generation knew less about.
Some call him “Barait” and others “Ginggat” because he brings along a handmade bag (Barait) everywhere.
Ginggat because of his acquired habit of chewing beattlenut and peppery leave (‘daun sirih’) after meals.
“I do that most of the time and I have ‘nabu’ (tobacco) too,” he laughs, saying even though he “mongginggat” he does not smoke.
A freelance translator, he is also a tour facilitator and says he has everything he ever needs in this life at his home in Kg Tinuman, Sugud, Penampang.
“It’s heaven on earth. I have everything I want here. I do not have television or radio in my house, but I have everything I want.
“I live a simple life, but I am contented with it, I am loving every minute of it. I pluck my own grown herbs whenever I need it.”
An avid reader, Herman could spend the whole day burying his head between pages when not busy with his daily activities.
“I read anything from cultures, food, people, politics, anything in the books are interesting to me.”
He would usually receive calls from the tourism industry for assistance in translating work for German, Swiss or French tourists and that would be his official work.
Other activities would be his hobby and interest.
“I always have plenty of ‘work’ to do. I make ‘lihing’ (rice wine), I bake bread, I write, I read, and lots of reading to do.
“I find it strange and sad that the majority of Sabahans do not read books. You should! It is a waste of time not to read. It is knowledge, power and everything you want to know and want to be,” he says.
He used to work as a reporter for a local newspaper company for two years and had the opportunity to know many things about cultures and heritage of Sabah during his tenure in the journalism line.
“That was one of the best times when I did my reporting duty, I absorbed a lot of great information about Sabah and its culture. It is such an amazing experience altogether having visited those places of interest and crossing paths with many people from all walks of life. Life is indeed beautiful here.”
His humble dwelling place is slightly on a slope, and the first impression is that it is somewhat rundown.
There are no walls in some parts of the house, an unusual sight in an area like Penampang.
Dogs and cats join him in welcoming the visitor of the day, and his dogs did not even bark.
“My dogs bark at strangers, especially first-timers. But this morning they were unusually tame and quiet, not sure why,” he laughs, referring to the visit of the writer in Kg Tinuman, Sugud.
His four dogs go by the names of Gitom, Dude, Mila and Stockie. He also has three cats named Mini, Kici and Manja. Like the dogs, they were also “trained” to behave when visitors come calling.
Upon entering his house, one’s perception changes in seconds upon realising it is more than just a house as there are a lot of cultures and motifs hung around the house and they look organised and clean.
Herman emphasised that cleanliness is the top priority when carrying out any activity especially at home where he spends most of his time when there are no calls for jobs.
“I make ‘lihing’ because I love drinking it. Beer is too expensive, I cannot afford it sometimes.
But when I make my ‘lihing’, I make sure everything is clean and perfectly organised.
I do not want to consume contaminated drink,” he said.
He said since ‘lihing’ is made from rice and yeast, the bacteria that comes from it is good and benefits the body.
He provided an insight into his life. Coming from a family of hoteliers, Herman grew up in two countries; Luzern in Switzerland and Hannover in Germany.
His mother, Ruth Scholz, 70, owned a boutique hotel in Switzerland had been a hotelier all her life, while his father was an engineer and became a hotelier after he retired. The name of their hotel was Schaeferhuesli hotel in Switzerland.
“I still have grandmother and her name is Cyrilla Lahmar and she is now 97.
She visited me in Sabah many years ago. Just like me, she loves to see the outside world,” he quipped.
His father, Herman (Senior) Scholz, upon retirement became a barman in their boutique hotel.
“However, he needed to go back to school to learn about barman’s job and to get a proper licence.
It is very strict in Switzerland. Everyone must obtain licence either to operate, to own or to work,” he said.
He said he is the fifth generation using the name “Herman” in the family.
“My great-great-grand dad had the name ‘Herman’. I am the fifth generation using the same name, it’s nothing weird in Germany,” he jests.
Over the years he gained working experience in many countries such as South Africa. Herman used to be a hotel manager, chef and some other important designations in the hotels he had been associated with.
“It broadened my knowledge and gave me somewhat power to excel when I was very much involved in the hotel industry in different sectors.
“I was a chef once and I have apt experience about any western food. But since I am in Sabah, I learn to cook different kinds of cooking. I am so overwhelmed having all this priceless knowledge in terms of cooking,” he added. Apart from the culture, Herman confided that it was the jungle that made him want to stay on.
“I saw some beauty when I entered the jungles, forest and fauna. They are priceless indeed.
I think your state is rare as it is one of the places where you still can find rainforest around.
Treasure them, don’t ‘hurt’ them,” he said, referring to the jungles around here, most of which had been visited by Herman.
He said during his childhood, he lived in a similar situation (in Switzerland and Germany) where trees were in abundance, rivers with a lot of fish, farming of vegetables and so on.
“So, there is nothing new about starting my life as a villager again in this ‘kampung’.
I was a ‘kampung’ boy back home before. I was brought up seeing all these beauty found only in the village,” he explained as he proudly showed the writer his self-built “kitchen”.
“This is my ‘dopuan’ (lopuan) and I use ‘suduvon’ (firewood) for cooking. It saves me from buying gasoline,” he quips, adding that he only used gasoline when processing his ‘lihing’.
Asked on his method of making ‘lihing’, he said: “First, I cook the rice (using gasoline). I leave it overnight (inside the pot) without disturbing it.
Let it cool till the next morning.
“Then at 5am the next day, I take it out and spread it on a clean mat and do my ‘manasad’ (sprinkling yeast) onto the cooled rice. Then I put it in a ‘baldi’ (pail) for fermentation.
“For better taste, I usually leave it for six weeks to mature. Some of the locals normally consume it once reaching four to five weeks,” he shared.