The Quake

I have never been emotionally involved in a tragedy ever before – more than I was when the earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck a big part of Sabah – which I thought was not serious at first – until the news of casualties at Mount Kinabalu reached me. The final number of those killed – 18 – came to me as a shock; in fact, it devastated me more than I had thought it would.

Mount Kinabalu is not just another mountain. It is a mountain that means so much to the people of Sabah. I remember how I’d climb up to the rooftop of my family’s house in Keningau just to take a glimpse of the mountain almost every morning. It had to be morning, because it’d usually be obliterated by clouds when the sun rose further away from the horizon.



I first climbed Mount Kinabalu when I was 14 years old, together with my group of schoolmates and teachers from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Keningau. I almost didn’t make it to the peak because I was down with sickness on the night before the summit attack – which I learned much later in life was a form of altitude sickness. I remember how I didn’t even take any photo up at the peak because I was the last one to arrive and everybody else was starting to go down so nobody had the time to take even a single photo of me. Uhuks!

Then I climbed again with a group of friends when I was studying at the University of Malaya. That was one of my best climbs because I really enjoyed it very much. I remember how we brought a guitar with us so we’d stop every now and then to sing in front of other climbers. Some of them would even sing along. I remember how a group of excited tourists from Korea danced Sumazau with us when we sang a local Dusun song.

Then my next climb happened when I was working in Sandakan. I went with a group of my ex-colleagues so it was more like a re-union for us. I remember how I was struggling so much that I almost didn’t make it to the peak. It was very cold – probably sub-zero – because I remember having ice beads on my cap. I couldn’t even talk because my mouth was so numb and my saliva was freezing and my noise just wouldn’t come out. I did make it in the end but I’d remember the struggle for a very long time.


During my very first hello to Mt. Kinabalu, long long time ago.

Then my last climb happened about 2 years ago. This time, I was quite confident that I had the stamina to do a one-day climb. In order to be allowed to continue to the peak, I needed to reach Laban Rata before 11 am, or 11.30am at the latest. We started off quite late because we didn’t book one day in advance as we were supposed to, so they had to find a mountain guide who was willing to be taken in at the very last minute.

By then, I had already become somebody who could always call himself a marathoner (ehem!) so I was quite in my tip-top condition. I ran my way up – literally – so I did make it to Laban Rata at about 11am. Too bad, my climbing buddy was not quite up to it and she only managed to arrive Laban Rata more than an hour later. Needless to say, the mountain guide wouldn’t allow us to continue so we returned to the base of the mountain with a little bit of disappointment. I vowed to return again sooner than later.

But that ‘again’ would seem to have to wait a little while longer. The earth-quake struck right underneath the mountain, damaging most of the trails and changed the landscapes of the mountain forever. Perhaps, the most outstanding one is the chipping off of the Donkey Ear. The quake sent rocks and boulders galloping down the mountain, obstructing parts of the trails. Many parts of the trails were damaged by landslides which were later worsened by fleeting rain and a series of aftershocks.


Perhaps, the most tragic part of the whole tragedy was the loss of lives of more than a dozen climbers and four mountain guides. It really was devastating. I got emo every time I read about how the families and most people of Sabah (and beyond) reacted to the tragedy. In a way, it was devastating, but in another, it brought the people of Sabah closer together. We never experienced anything like it before. Perhaps, the closest to something like it was the intrusion by a group of militants from the Southern Philippines but that was a different story altogether.

There are still aftershocks happening every now and then and it’s been almost a month now. The worse might be over but the sorrow is still very much felt. Things are recovering and I heard the trails are being rebuilt and expected to be re-opened in September although I have a little bit of doubt on that. Some of the routes would have to be altered which is actually quite exciting because it will give climbers the opportunity to see the mountain from new different spots.


Mount Kinabalu might be full of scars all over its body now (mostly due to landslides) but I believe it will recover – even faster than most of us think. Many people believe that Mount Kinabalu is not only sacred but it also has a soul and that soul is in pain now because of the scars. I mean, something like that. I am not really worried or saddened by the changes of looks in Mount Kinabalu unlike some other people because for me it was nature who did it and whatever is done by nature is part of a natural process. I believe Mount Kinabalu had been changing from time to time right from the beginning of its existence.

I mean, we’ll just have to trust nature. She knows what to do and believe me, it wouldn’t be long before all the scars are covered by layers of moss and plants and everything that you wouldn’t even notice that they were once there.

Mount Kinabalu has lost its ‘halo’ ? You gotta be kidding me. It just went through a little bit of transformation as part of a natural process so no, it has not lost the slightest bit of its halo or glory or whatever you like to call it. Majestic, breath-taking beautiful and mysterious – Mount Kinabalu will always be there to capture our hearts and imaginations. In fact, I can’t even wait for my very next climb to this beautiful mountain – whenever that may be.

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My Mom’s Birthday

One of the best things that I did when I went back to my home town for the recent Harvest Festival holiday was celebrating my mom’s birthday. Instead of taking her to some fancy restaurant to probably have some fancy spread of food, I took her to a little hike across the village – the village that bears so much memory and significance to my life. It was there that I spent much of my childhood and it was there that my mom taught me so much about life way before I knew how to learn on my own.

I mean, whatever I did and went thru there played a big part in shaping me into the man that I had then become. Being in a struggling farming family, it was there that I learned about the hardship of life. But I would not exaggerate. The thing is, when you are a kid and you know nothing about whatever the world could offer to you out there, you really don’t really look at whatever you are going through as hardship. When I think of it now, I was actually happy with all that I had and all that my family had at that time.


AND believe me, they were true when they said – when you are content with all the things that you’ve got, happiness will be yours. When you make yourself aware of things that you don’t have in life, then that’s when you are beginning to have all kinds of regrets, discontent, dissatisfaction and eventually unhappiness. I really believe that now because that’s exactly what I went through as a kid. I didn’t have to think far ahead but instead I put my focus wholly on the current, on-going moments – something that I’ve been trying to do as a grown-up but always to no avail. Uhuks.

So, back to that little hike with my mom, we were actually both excited. My mom had not been to that part of the village for quite a long time, probably even longer than me. Of course, she was still aware of things, especially those that held so much memory to her. Every now and then she’s stop to take a look at a plant or a tree or simply a piece of the landscape and she’d tell stories out of each of them, mostly on how they are related to her personal experiences in the past.


I never get tired of listening to her stories especially when she was still a kid. Both of her parents passed away – first her father and then her mother 1 month later -when she was merely 5 years old so you know how hard it was for her move on from there, being parentless and passed from one family to another. I’ve read and heard a lot of real-life stories but the stories that my mom told me about her personal experiences in the past never failed to give me a goose-bump.  And they still do.

The farming areas of the village have changed a lot from the last time I went there – which was long long time ago. They are totally different from how I had expected they would (still) be. I remember how the whole stretch of the land used to be occupied by expansive paddy fields for as far as my eyes could see and the beauty of the scenery when the paddy fields turned into an array of gold stayed in me up until now. The turning of the paddy into gold would also mark the beginning of harvesting season which was very much anticipated because it wouldn’t be long before the festive season of Harvest Festival begins.

Blowing1Looking at those largely abandoned pieces of land which are now covered by thick and overgrown grass, I couldn’t help but choking with a lil bit of emotion. I mean, most villagers especially the young generations would no longer want to do the heavy labor of farming under the scorching sun. They prefer to work somewhere else, mostly in the township areas where they can earn more money to meet the demands of the modern life. I wouldn’t blame them though.

I mean, one of the things that motivated me into striving hard while pursuing for betterment in life (aisheh. LOL) back then was that – I didn’t want to go back to the farm and do all the hard labor and literally burn myself in the process. I decided to leave it there in the past although there are times when I really miss farming. I guess it’s the memories that I had carried with me from all the times that I spent farming with my family. Those memories that I could never experience ever again. Uhuks.

The irrigation was still there. I remember the excitement that ensued when it was first built. We’d go there right from school and spend hours playing submerging and catching fish which was quite aplenty at that time. That very irrigation holds so much memory to me that I could probably build a monument right across it. Mom5

The routes had profoundly altered and we had to ask people for directions. There were times when the trail that we were walking on suddenly led us to a dead end and we had to march on through the bushes knowing that it was still leading to where we wanted to go next.

Pegalan River was the name and I remember how beautiful it was back then. The river had shifted from time to time, leaving behind it a trace of beautiful grassland with clusters of bamboo scattered here and there. There were birds – those that dig their way deep into the soil and build their nest in there to avoid predators. I remember how the entire youth community of the village would march down to the river to do a weekly picnic every Sunday afternoon. It was during one of these picnics that I learned to swim, but not before I got (almost) drown and was actually floating upside down within a circle before somebody pulled me up by the hair and brought me back to the shore. My life could have been cut short right there – at the tender age of 5. Phew.


The whole landscape has now changed. The grassland has now been turned into a wide spread of farm, with foreigners from neighboring countries seem to live comfortably and away from the radar of the authorities. The beauty of the place that I had been carrying around with me all this while had to be crushed to pieces that day. It would never be the same again.

So, yeah, despite all the disappointment that I had to swallow knowing that those places that held so much of my childhood memory no longer look the way they used to, I still had fun with my mom. Lots of fun actually. We had a very simple lunch under the tin roof of the wooden hut that my late uncle had built to store the paddy crop in. Even the hut seems to have been left abandoned for so long, probably since he passed many years ago.

So, that was how I celebrated my mom’s birthday this year – by taking her to a little hike across the village, because in the end the time that we spend together is the best gift that I could ever give to her.

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