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January 13, 2005

Sabah Trip: Day #4

A distant beeping roused me from my nightmare (don’t ask me what it was about). My phone alarm just went off. I switched it off, and that’s when the Nokia 6610 got cranky. The screen stalled. Hanged. Like what good old Windows 9X would do so ever frequently. I was befuddled. Later Adwan related that his headlight and camera were malfunctioning also. I suddenly stoked up a conspiracy theory: Mt. Kinabalu could probably be the base camp of a secret government agency tracking alien life forms and the authorities had installed a series of electromagnetic energy disruptor to make any electronic device useless within 1 mile radius! Adwan simply laughed it off, saying it’s probably due to high humidity content of the atmosphere. Embarrassed, I switched off my phone permanently, resolving not to switch it back on until the entire climb was finished.

It was much colder than the night before. I had trouble keeping my fingers warm as I brought only a pair of white gloves, the one I normally used for marching. Constantly rubbing my hands together, I set off on the last 2km stretch at 2am with other diehard challengers. It was pitch black on the way to the top, occasionally brightened by incandescent of stars littering generously in the dark sky. We had to use powerful torchlight to guide us along ladder steps and over raised boulders. And at this crucial time yours truly actually broke his torchlight. Sigh… St. Peter, light thee path once more! Thank you.

So Peter and I made a duo pact member trekking up the mountain. After about 800m of climbing wooden stairs and stones, chunks of huge grey granites loomed in front of us. Thus the trail had ended and the climb had started. There were long white ropes along the way to the top. A guide told us, “Follow the white ropes or else you will get lost!” We clung on the ropes dearly during the whole process of ascending the mountain.

As we got higher, the air became thinner. I felt as if my lungs were stretched to their limits trying to capture every single oxygen molecule to feed my muscles. Hyperventilation set in when I could not stand the restricted breathing anymore. I had to rest. I sat near an old lady who looked like she’s in her centennial age. She was also recuperating, but not for long. Once her breathing had returned to normal, she wasted no time and continued the climb. Her tenacity and spiritual strength had kept her going. Instantly I was motivated to continue.

Finally at 6am, we reached Low’s Peak. Joy. Unspeakable joy and exuberance burgeoned from every single cell of my body when I landed my feet on the highest rock on top of the peak. The first thing Peter and I did was taking pictures of ourselves behind the board that said ‘Low’s Peak: 4095.2m’. Then I anticipated sunrise coming soon from the horizon. The sky turned pale pink initially and gradually morphed into hues of orange as golden streaks of light cast its majestic halos upon the earth below. The light grew stronger as time passed on, but surprisingly it left no warmth on my exposed face. Instead it was colder than ever. I swore I couldn’t feel my hands at all. I guessed that’s the irony of standing on the ‘frozen throne’.

Peter and I took tons and tons of photos and made a short video each. I screamed at the top of my lungs while Peter, ehm, confessed his feelings for ** ***. Ah, all the crazy things teenagers do nowadays. I ticked off my mental checklist of to-dos and found that I had one last thing to accomplish before making my way down. Leaving my SAT I score report safely under a pile of rocks, I bade goodbye to Low’s Peak. Till the next time we meet again, take care!

The descending part was easier than I thought, plus with a good view of Ranau below, Peter and I took the leisure to admire the wonders of nature. It was really beautiful and the weather was perfect. Although we were in no hurry, it took us only 2 hours to reach Laban Rata, almost half of the time needed for the climb. We had a quick breakfast. At the breakfast table Peter complained of a slight fever and headache, symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). After consuming panadol, Peter and I got ready to make our way down. A tough Cikgu Hassan who had reached the peak the earliest at 4.45am joined us. We decided to time ourselves.

A quick run actually made Peter felt better. However, our descend was interrupted by his green backpack; it tore apart at the bottom. Solution: he transferred some stuffs to my bag and I sewed his bag. In the meantime Cikgu Hassan had sped off in the shadows. We never expected to see him again but we did. Apparently he twisted his ankle near the 2nd station. As Peter and I were still on race, we went on in haste but with extra caution. 3 hours later, we reached Timpohon Gate.

We were so busted that we slept on the bus all the way to our accomodation near Kota Kianbalu.

Posted by peixin at 06:39 PM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2005

Sabah Trip: Day #3

This time I had a hot bath. Before saying the last goodbye to Mr. Karim and his family, Patrick and I accepted another favour from our foster father: driving us to the National Park where Mt. Kinabalu rests. We were supposed to assemble in the school and take buses to the entrance of the park. Imagine the faces of other participants when we turned up at rendezvous point, teeming with machismo in a land rover haha… =P (Actually we didn’t get to see that coz we arrived early and waited in a restaurant…)

I ordered a glass of camomile tea out of curiosity. It’s damn expensive! RM 3.50 per glass. Later I learnt that a pot of tea cost the same. Caution #1: bring your own food and drinks to avoid price lashing, or bring a person who can belanja you =P Back to the tea: Camomile was really refreshing. It tasted like Chinese tea added with ginger, and I heard it has some healing properties also. Healthy stuff.

At 10.30am,we took a bus ride to Timpohon Gate, the entrance to the Summit Trail, which would lead us to, well, the summit. (duh!) While waiting for climbing passes to be issued, I walked to a raised platform just above the gate. There was a superb view waiting in front of me; mountains rose like huge monoliths clambering the azure blue sky. Crevasses slumped like endless abyss into the darkness beyond. It was green everywhere. It was beautiful.

Back at the gate, there was a wooden map showing details of the Summit Trail: 8km altogether, with Laban Rata, our resting point, at the 6thkm. Along the trail were 7 rest stations situated at interval points. Beneath the map wrote Caution #2: Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

We started our journey at 11am. Accompanying us along the way were guides and porters who worked for the park. Most of them had to travel to and fro at least 3 times per week, guiding hikers out of dangerous paths and carrying backpacks for them respectively. I reckoned these native people were trained since young, and my guess was attested when a young boy came running downhill along behind his mother. He was unmistakably carrying a huge rattan container full of miscellaneous items. I was sure by the time he reached my age, he would have remembered the trail like the back of his hand, and undoubtedly possessed the fitness unrivalled even by an Olympic sprinter.

The porters and guides were so adept in climbing that they, not unlike Shepards of the Himalayas, wore simple sole shoes to thread the muddy and stony path towards the summit. Some even donned slippers. With a swift movement of his hand, one porter even plucked and ate wild berries growing by the side of the trail, claiming that the berries could cure fatigue. I’m sure city dwellers would have the tendency to trust nothing but cultivated plants. This idea contrasted greatly with the natives’ in which they believe plants are already ‘cultivated’ in the wild.

At the 4th station, I caught up with Rashdan who apparently had some trouble with his shoes. The soles had peeled off. He found ropes and rubber bands to hold the soles temporarily together, but it was painfully uncomfortable. So Caution #3: Check the condition of your shoes before climbing.

At first there were a lot of weird fungi along the initial part of the trail. There was a waterfall to by the name of Carson’s Fall. As we climbed higher, floras morphed into beautiful bonsai plants while the mud trail changed into stony pathway. All along, the peak inched nearer and nearer, and the mist shrouding it turned thinner and thinner. At the same time, the path became steeper and steeper; at a point it was almost precariously vertical that we had to hold on to the metal bars fixed to the ground to assist the climb.

At last, after much huffing and puffing, I finally reached Laban Rata at 5.15pm, trekking 6km in 6 hours. Not bad for a novice, but considering Italian Bruno Brunod managed the whole journey to Low’s Peak in 2hrs 40mins 4secs, I was a snail. The peak was so near and yet so far. I knew that the last 2km stretch won’t be easy, but heck, here was I above a sea of clouds admiring the beauty of nature. I was sure the scenery at the peak would worth a last climb tomorrow.

As the sun set, I took a walk to the students’ hostel, Gunting Lagadan and rested a while before treading back to the only restaurant at Laban Rata for dinner. The sky turned dark at a terrible speed; by the time I was satisfied with a hearty meal, the trail back to the hostel was already pitch black. And yours truly forgot to bring his torchlight, real smart (sarcasm intended). Caution #4: always have a torchlight in your pocket at Laban Rata. Luckily Peter and Rashdan brought theirs. Walking between both of them, I safely reached Gunting Lagadan under the star-lit sky.

It was 12 degree Celsius. A gale was blowing strong outside while I sat in the common room writing journal and drinking scalding instant coffee to keep myself warm. Despite the frigid weather, I finally drifted into an uneasy sleep at 12am.

Posted by peixin at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Sabah Trip: Day #2

I woke up at 4am today out of sheer cold but laid in bed until 6am out of sheer lazy bone =P Patrick took another cold bath; no-no for me after the chilling experience the day before. At the breakfast table Mr. Karim told me Mt. Kinabalu is just visible at the backyard of his house. Unfortunately it was misty then I couldn’t catch a glimpse of her. But I think it is really cool to have Mt. Kinabalu as a backyard vista. I don’t mind having one =) Driving his 4WD Rover, Mr. Karim sent Patrick and me to SMK Kundasang for the first activity with the school children.

It was 7.30am when the mist dissipated. A peek of Mt. Kinabalu was more than enough to feel her beauty and majesty; she is coated with emerald green vegetation, stretching thousands and thousands of miles across the greenery right in front of my eyes. The peaks are made out of sparkling granites which shone under sunray. Early birds like me took this chance to capture Mt. Kinabalu into everlasting photographs.

Aerobics started at around 8am. Headed by Abang Nazri, a boisterous PJK student, the session saw students and lecturers alike stretching themselves in sync to the beat of disco music. Abang Nazri was such a hit with everyone that he was greeted with his own aerobic commands afterwards. The students of SMK Kundasang had the time of their lives too; I bet from their gay looks it was their first time doing aerobics.

Later we went back to the school hall for seminar preparation. Music appreciation by the Faculty of Music(duh!), Sports & Health by… (fill in on your own), Law, TESL, arts and INTEC. 6 seminars in total. INTEC’s was scheduled at 2pm. As we were not required to attend all of them, Peter and I decided to go for a stroll around the school. It is quite a modern façade despite being in a rural area. As we reached a small platform near the school’s Koperasi, we chanced upon an arts workshop. Seeing school children expressing their creativity ignited Peter’s old flame. Unable to suppress the urge of picking up a painting brush once again, Peter drew a scenery of Mt. Kinabalu in a nifty. I was very impressed. Instantly I learnt how to make mist effect using a white colour tube.

After lunch (crunchy veggie, really fresh), the time had come for my motivational talk. I wished I could swap the butterflies fluttering about in my stomach. This was my first experience of giving a talk to students about the same age as mine. I made a strong start, praising the audience for carrying notebooks wherever they were. (as I learnt from Pn. Hapsah, positive comments can be a strong driving force to make people listen to you more attentively) Then I went on with a sermon on the importance of self-directed learning. (Actually I just regurgitated what AJ had so intensively drilled into my neuron cavity for six months last year =P) I faltered 2 times. The other speakers were better though. Yani talked about DUIT (acronym for Daya, Usaha, Iman dan Tawakal) while Rashdan used a more personal approach by relating his experience of studying in Sabah back in Form 2 and 3.

The seminars ended at 5pm. Initially Mr. Karim planned to take Patrick and I to Poring Hot Spring but it was 1-hour’s drive away and his land rover was low on diesel, a fuel which was hard to get by in a small town like Kundasang. Despite that, we had a chance to play with Mr. Karim’s youngest daughter. Barely 2 years old, she has a white complexion and a handful of adorable antics. I even learnt her secret handshake! =) very cute girl she is…

The COP closing ceremony was held later at 7.30pm with the grace of Minister of Youth & Sports Sabah himself. We were again entertained by various performances staged by faculties and local performers. Some of the most memorable ones were: Mr Phang (a music lecturer) and his own rendition of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, a violin performance, a bunch of school children performing Sumazau dance and playing bamboo game as well as Dusun bands and singers belting out melodious music using sompotons, bamboo guitars and bamboo drums. Hain Jasli, a popular Dusun singer was even invited to give a smashing performance. Although I don’t understand a single word they were singing, I was enchanted by such a beautiful and cultural-rich performance.

I headed back to Mr. Karim’s house around 11.30pm and was amiably invited to supper. We exchanged gifts and contact details. Mr. Karim gave me a T-shirt depicting Mt Kinabalu as an encouragement to brave the challenge tomorrow. My present paled in comparison with his gift, and I felt regretful for not choosing a better one. He and his wife seemed unperturbed; instead they related their experiences in climbing Mt Kinabalu and gave us some valuable tips.

Posted by peixin at 12:45 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2005

Sabah Trip: Day #1

I was filled with immense anticipation to such extent never felt before. This is my first trip to Sabah, ‘the land below wind’. It was surreal. The opportunity to participate in the ‘Mt. Kinabalu Challenge’ jointly organised by INTEC Faculty of Education, UiTM main campus, Ministry of Youth & Sports (Sabah) and Puteri Umno (Sabah) came as a stroke of luck; apparently Pn Suzana still remembered my essay on sports climbing and recommended my name to the organiser. Lol… must remember to get her some souvenirs later on…

We departed from Cemara Hall to KLIA as early as 7am to catch the 9am flight. At around 7.45am the sun began to cast its soft and soothing light upon KLIA vicinity, as though symbolising a wonderful start of our journey. I pondered how sunrise would be at the top of highest peak in South East Asia, and the prospect of witnessing it in the next two days is invigorating.

The long walk to Gate 9 was deluged with Peter’s story of how he had to rush all the way to catch his flight due to a misdemeanour with an oversized luggage and a distasteful sense of time. The MAS airplane taxied to runway on time, and along the way the cabin was whimsically filled with classical music (Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake I think, quite classy but it’s a feeble attempt to curb passengers’ airsickness, especially mine).

Being only the 3rd time travelling on plane and being the furthest journey by far, I couldn’t help but avoid sitting by the window. So I sat between a lady teacher and a friend from Ausmat program. The teacher was funny; she told me her endeavour to get in shape for the climb. Jogging, exercising, skipping ropes, the list went on. However, instead of losing weight, she gained 3kgs lol… the reason? She ate more after exercising… x_x”

After lunch (nasi dagang + banana yoghurt + orange juice + chocolate), I was reading newspaper while spelling ‘omelette’ and ‘patient’ for the teacher documenting her journey when nature beckoned. Being a ‘sua ku’ (hokkien dialect for people with obsolete minds), I took this chance to venture into the unknown – the relief cubicle of Boeing-737. It was… small (not surprisingly) but clean and complete. However, it took me some time to figure out how to drain water off the sink. Where’s the darn instruction when I needed it?

When I finally finished admiring the gadgets, there was an uprising commotion back in the cabin. Apparently Shazreen (my mountain-climbing comrade, from Faculty of Music) had an asthma attack and had to be given a respirator. As soon as we touched down at Labuan (luckily it was a transit flight), she was sent to the nearest clinic. Wah, the incident happened in such an intense atmosphere I felt like watching ER with live telecast. Stepping on Labuan earth gazing at Labuan sky for the first time, I went around snapping photos together with other INTEC reps (too bad we could only stay at the airport). 40 minutes later sitting snugly back into my seat, I caught a glimpse of Shazreen; she looked enervated and lifeless. Scary… I guess it was a wasted trip for her…

At 12pm we arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA). Filling forms was a hassle, but Peter managed to cross the barrier with just his identity as a Sarawakian. (for the uninitiated, Sarawakians can travel to anywhere in Malaysia without the need of paperwork… talk about privilege, huh?) After lunch, we took a 3-hour journey to Kundasang, Ranau for a 2-day Community Outreach Program (COP). It rained all the way. Peter and I each bought a sompoton and toyed with it to kill time. (we managed to blow the first verse of ‘Auld Lang Sine’, not bad for a musically-impaired person like me hehe…)

The rain stopped when we reached Kundasang. It is a small town with scenery that looked just like Cameron Highland; borderless vegetable farms, solitary houses by foothills, mountainous backdrop, fresh air, misty sky, and cool weather. Our stop was SMK Kundasang, where I was stunned by the warm welcome given by the students; rows of them sandwiching the entrance road, clapping and smiling while we walked past them. I was entertained by the traditional Bajau dance at the entrance, reminiscing the unique dance movement that resembled Bollywood dances when we were ushered into the great hall for the opening ceremony for COP.

After that we were distributed among 50 foster families from 10 villages for the home-stay project. Together with Patrick (a Sarawakian from TESL Program), I got one really friendly Mr. Aslie Karim (ash-LEE car-RIM) living a stone’s throw away from the school. Tired and dirty, I bathed with frigid mountain water. It was literally a spine-chilling experience; I think H2O from Kundasang somehow has a specific heat capacity so low that it’s colder than the chilly weather itself. And to think I stubbornly refused to add hot water prepared by Mr. Karim. I even assured him that I wanted to live the way villagers in Kundasang live. Tsk, tsk, tsk… bad choice, and I paid the full price having flu after that. =P

Before wandering off to slumberland, Patrick and I had a chat with Mr. Karim over an abundant supply of kuihs, coffee and beer. Yes, beer. Strictly speaking, Muslims are obliged to abstain from alcoholic drinks, but for Mr. Karim and the other Islamic villagers’ case, drinking beer is a necessity rather than pure enjoyment; they need to keep warm. I usually don’t drink beer, but I felt warmer after sipping some, and ended up with 2 empty cans when we went to sleep. =P

Mr. Karim talked a lot about life in Kundasang, but I was most interested in his history. He led a harsh childhood, losing his father when he was only 11 years old. His mother had to support his many siblings, and being second in the family, he almost had to forgo the opportunity to study. In school, he had no money to pay fees and buy food, hence he was forced to borrow money and share food from friends. With sheer determination, he is now an accomplished vegetable dealer who owns 5 vegetable farms and has business as far as Kuching, Miri and Sibu. And he lives happily now with his wife and 7 children.

Posted by peixin at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)