Monday, 29 August 2011

As Beautiful as the Limestone Hills

IPOH signage @ Limestone hill
'Ipoh' as seen from the highway ( Photo by A Syaharaddin K.)

I first read about Pong in the newspaper in the year 2000. The Yayasan Sultan Idris Shah built a trolley for her so that she could move around after the amputation which forced her to lay belly-down.

"What a life...on a trolley....and living in a squalid place...!"  She is from Ipoh- my hometown!

"I got to do something for her", I said to myself.

Pong cleaning vegetables for cooking
Pong's nephew helping her to the bed

Several years later, when the ecobasket project was initiated in Ipoh, we tried to involve Pong. It was very difficult for her to learn to weave due to her position on the trolley.  Even though she could weave some rolls, it was hard for her to bend the rolls into the desired basket shapes.  We had to abandon the idea of involving her in the project.
Then we found her a donated computer and some cash for someone to train her to do basic computer keyboarding so that she could reach out to disabled activists like Anthony Thinasayan who is also the founder of Pet Positive.  A donor gave cash to connect Pong's house with the internet. Unfortunately,
the internet access was so bad near the limestone area that we gave up on the idea of Pong reaching out to the world through cyberspace. Other donors came along and gave her family furniture and small things like handphones so that they are not alone amongst the limestones hills and that they can get help any time they need.

                                         Pong took this video with one hand on the camcorder
                                          and one hand rolling her trolley on the cement floor.
                                         This takes a lot of physical energy and skills because
                                         her house is crowded with things.
                                         Only a very strong woman is able to do somethng like this!

I will never forget the comment from one of the Datuks who was active in the Yayasan, "Ms Pong is a very strong woman. Other people in similar situation would be so depressed that they would have committed suicide or become sick so that they can give up."
Throughout the last eight years, I have seen her growing to be more and more confident in public speaking. The way she learns English by listening to others is amazing. I know of graduates who have been given so much assistance to learn spoken English, yet they can't utter words fluently like her.

Whenever I meet with Pong, watching her smiling, with her arms perched on the trolley or on a bed in the hospital, I think of the song ""Xiao Chen Gu Zi - The Story of the Small Town". This song serenades fascinating people in quaint towns such as Ipoh ( Although Ipoh is the third largest city in Malaysia, I still see it as a 'town' because of the omnipresent limestone hills.) They are the ones that make these places unforgettable because of their resilience even though they have few resources and are often neglected by the authorities who are supposed to render help to them.  

Ipoh is also my hometown -- a beautiful place surrounded by limestone hills, hidden tunnels and caves. The older residents of Ipoh are known to hold high dignity and determination, unfazed by greed, corruption and injustice.  Ipoh has been voting for the opposition party for over 50 years.

                     It has so much mystery amongst the natural beauty, and so many stories untold.

Lang Mountains

It is said that there are several hundred people like Pong's families living near the limestone hills 'illegally'. They were born and bred there, yet, for decades, the families haven't received land titles no matter how hard they try. Their lives swing like the yo-yo, up and down. Promises of land ownership can mean a young son or a daughter not having to go to KL or as far as Singapore to earn a living as low wage laborer, or a restaurant helper.  Or a daughter not losing her 'flower' (virginity) or force to marry a loan shark and become a lowly mistress, as part of the payment for gambling or debts to purchase fertilizers.

Never ending miseries.

Limestone hills near Pong's farm
This is especially true for the farming families who toil for decades at the foot of the limestone hills, producing low-cost vegetables and fruits to Ipoh. Over the last twenty years, some of the prime farm land, especially those where the pomelo farmers were, had been taken away from them to build factories. Some of these expensive structures have been abondoned becasue the people who were given everything did not have any determination to carry out what they were given. The sites are like those seen in ghost towns.

Some big corporations also obtained the land to build houses and other commerical sites. The farmers who originally lived there are now living in small rented houses, still, in some surrounding villages. More sad stories abound if anyone care to listen. The farmers don't dare to speak as they have lived under fear for decades. There are many more stories that still can't be told, written or filmed in a documentary.

Perhaps one day, when New Wind sweeps this part of the world.

But before the New Wind arrives, people like Pong must live and tell their stories no matter how tough their lives are.




  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. My siblings are rock climbers. In fact, they often visit Settle in North Yorkshire. There, you'll see Castleberg Crag or Rock, a much-loved backdrop to the town centre which has been out of bounds due to falling rocks, is to be made safe and turned into a Limestone climbing attraction. Pretty cool place to be.