I found myself in Cameron Highlands, when the travel ban was lifted. I’ve been going up to the mountains annually since 2013. But, I had a feeling this time I’ll discover the ancient land differently.
So when my friends planned a trip to hike, I was excited to be able to do research for Prince Clause art grant – together with my fellow creative professionals, artist & designer Jun Hun.
At the same time, it was a chance to for me to properly ground my feet on earth.
Nature's Creative Home: Energy Exchange
I was observing the vast mountains. Overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all. Here's a thought to spur creative thinking: Would you believe me if I told you they were once our sea bed?
I often feel like I don’t have enough to give in return, for the beautiful earthy goodness I receive from nature.
This time, I surrendered. My existence here is enough, I told myself. My consciousness, to be aware that this land has gone through magnificent transformation; earth quakes, trembles, platonic shifts - experiences that my mind can’t comprehend. Not with a thousand research books. Not in a million years.
I learnt that our Malaysian rainforest is twice older than the Amazonian jungle, during my first hike in the Kuching Rainforest, in 2013.
Our Nusantara land however, she is humble.
130 million years old. And yet, she doesn’t demand to be acknowledged that way. She doesn’t read time; not the way we do.
And if she has spent that many years above sea-level, how much more information does she really hold deep inside of her soil – when she was beneath the sea?
Nature's Creative Arts in its Glory: Tree Ferns
I have always loved ferns when I was growing up. My mother had them all over the house. So when I noticed these hill tree ferns growing abundantly in Cameron Highlands, I couldn’t help but be captivated by them.
Someday, I watched a random documentary about the history of earth’s formation. When I connected the pattern of the first ever microorganism that developed in earth’s core, these tree ferns looked exactly like the modern versions of them!
In my conversations with Rama, I later find out that these tree ferns are pre-dinosaur era. Every time I see them now, I feel an appreciation over the magic of evolution, no matter how little I understand about the process.
My tiny brain could only connect those little dots – enough, to allow me to digest that my human desire to want to know about everything there is to learn, is probably something that will not be fulfilled. Not this lifetime, not in the next one either.
Creative Deconstruction: There’s an Innate Human Desire to Conquer
The mind has a devil chatter. It wants to bond itself to unattainable desires. When you don’t rightfully negotiate with yourself, it gets into excess – wanting more, and more – when is it ever enough?
This 130 million-years-old forest was destroyed in mere days by highland farmers. It has taken the REACH’s volunteers over 20 years to achieve this reforestation.
How am I not to get pissed when you ask me what else is there to do in Camerons Highlands?
Your ignorant question, and need for material distraction, leaves a filthy after-taste in my mouth when I attempt to answer you. But who am I to blame? Capitalism, lack of education in schools, parenting? Perhaps, even the digital economy I'm relying on and preaching about?
Took me several years, going across the world to the opposite ends – all the way, to the land that holds Amazon, to be able to come back, and figure out the magic I’ve been searching all this while, has been right here, in the backyard of my own home.
Economy Crash 2020 is Nature's Much Needed Recovery?
Rama isn’t optimistic about the younger generation. My generation. I want to convince him, that there are some good ones, the ones that care, and will do the work to save our land. But I can’t really even convince myself.
REACH often receives requests from foreigners and local Cameron Highlanders to become volunteers – what are the rest of us Malaysians doing? So busy chasing scrolling pixels on our devices?
If there’s any good from this MCO lockdown, the Bio-D research center is seeing a growth in wilderness coming alive – mountain goats, black eagles, even a big cat’s paw that was sighted recently on the highlands.
Would the land forgive and forget what our race has done to it?
If we collectively combined our common sense, and intuition – we would stop visiting those awful touristic farms that damage, and pollute our lands further.
A Space for Creative Lab: Be the Mountain King
Rama says he’s just a volunteer. Living alone for the past year, in those wilderness is not for the faint of hearts. He has spent years researching his facts, gaining authority in his voice, finding wisdom in the legal issues to protect, and serve his land. With honour.
I loved observing the twinkle in his eyes, when he was speaking about the reforestation work that’s being done. He nonchalantly speaks about the scars on his legs, pricked by the poisonous ferns he had to cut down, while tending to his not-very-little garden. He laughs to say he is too old for it now. He gets a gardener to help him.
He waves his hand around, telling us more about his experience. I notice that his ring finger is chopped off. I don’t ask. Whatever the reason is, the stars evident in his eyes, must have made up for his experience.
Instead I asked Rama, what would be a single thing – someone like me, could do - to help his cause?
Plant a tree, he says.
Looks like I have to go back there sooner than later, to honour the mountain king’s request.