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Rainbow of Hope in Cameron Highlands?

“You wouldn’t recognize it, Melody. It’s all gone now.”

“What? What happened to it? Tell me.”

“You have to come back and see for yourself.”

And I did. After being away from home for a year pursuing my final year law degree in the UK, finally, I had come home.

On first glance, it seemed that nothing had changed since the past year. Locals rushed about town going through the motions of their daily lives, tourists jam up the streets as usual during the weekends, students still hang out in the only place they could – Starbucks – all in all life goes on.

Not knowing anything to be amiss, I continued the whole charade of meeting up with family and friends whom I have not seen since a year ago and it was on one of these meet ups in which I realized that the Cameron Highlands I left a year ago has changed. And not for the better either.

My friends and I decided to make a day trip to the Sungai Palas BOH Tea Plantation and it was with much chatter and laughter as we made the trip into the tea plantation and I remember marveling at my friend’s driving skill as she maneuvered the car smoothly on the extremely winding road despite having a faulty horn.

On the way, I looked out of the windows admiring the outside scenery flashing past when I suddenly exclaimed loudly:” What happened to the valley???” For it was barely a year ago when across from the (originally Equatorial) hotel), a valley sloped steeply downwards into tropical rainforest and I remember distinctly a particular tree in which a resident eagle used to roost there every day.

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Now, the valley has been completely filled up and I could see heavy machinery and workmen going about flattening the land for presumably building purposes. The tree still stands, a lonely outpost amidst barren land. I do not see the eagle.

A monstrous complex now stands smack in the middle of agricultural farmland. I avert my gaze and look straight ahead as my friend drives steadily towards our destination.

A few days later, I decided to take a stroll around town. It had been raining continuously for several days, the rain sheeting down relentlessly, only giving an hour or two’s respite in a day. I couldn’t take the bleakness of the gloomy weather anymore; it reminded me too much of dull grey depressing days in the UK; and immediately strode out for a walk when I saw the bright gleam of sunlight through the window.

As I strolled about aimlessly, I finally realized that my feet were taking me to, of all places, the public library, and I wondered if I could get Jodi Picoult’s Vanishing Acts there. I walked up to the main entrance and was surprised to see the door tightly shut. I checked my watch. It showed 5.15pm and I smiled apologetically to myself, making a mental promise to return someday during working hours, I turned around to leave and lo and behold, a beautiful 7 color arch stopped me in my steps.

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I stood gawking at the beautiful rainbow for a few seconds before realizing that I was standing in the middle of the road and a man had just walked past me giving me a baleful glare. I smiled at him, but he turned away and continued walking up the slope into the woods which were nearby and I just can’t help thinking about the millions of people everyday who are so wrapped up in their own self-pity, anger, hate, and troubles that they forget to enjoy the simple things in life: stepping into a wet soccer field after the rain and smelling the grass and rain, waking up early in the morning to catch a glimpse of the sunrise before going to work or class, strolling along the beach admiring the sunset, walking into a small nature clearing and just stand there and breathe for a few moments, walking out into the garden at night after the heat of the sun is long gone to admire the moonlight, exclaiming in breathless wonder at the sight of a beautiful rainbow in the sky.

I stepped back and laughed at myself for having these thoughts, began to walk contentedly back home, my footsteps lighter than it had been on the journey here. I decided to take a shortcut back instead of using the main street so I cut through the back of the food court in the centre of Tanah Rata town and stopped dead in my tracks again.IMAG0431

It wasn’t a pretty sight: behind the sheets of aluminum blocking the view of pedestrians and motorists, the banks of the river were gouged as if by giant bird talons, the soil running into the river, which was a sick muddy yellow; a blemish on the otherwise innocently picturesque looking town centre which can be seen above the aluminum sheets.

Silently, I walked home. Cameron Highlands has indeed changed. More land is being cleared by the day, to make way for more agricultural and tourism purposes. Many of the natural sites and trails are ill maintained, overlooked by greedy eyes which sought for riches to be gained elsewhere.

The Cameron Highlands of my childhood has long since disappeared, but at the very least, I have hope. I hope that this is the lowest point that Cameron will ever hit and now gradually we will slowly yet steadily start climbing up again. I hope that the children of Cameron Highlands will one day have the childhood memories I had: of running through fields barefooted, catching beetles of all sizes, shapes and colors, of splashing in the icy crystal clear pools in the nature reserve, of wrapping up warm watching TV indoors while it is cold, misty and raining outside.

After the rain, there will be sun, and maybe even a rainbow.

By Melody Woon

3/3/14 -Land of Opportunity

3rd March 2014-When one comes from a country raked in poverty and famine, with a population density of more than 1000/km2 and everywhere you look is a sea of humanity, the will to survive is strong. So strong in fact that you are willing to fork out a huge amount of money to people smugglers to take you to this  land of opportunity .You are willing to brave treacherous  journeys across war torn countries , spent months in the malaria infested jungles, drenched in rain, half starved for you have heard that great riches await those who reached the shores of  this beautiful country called Malaysia . You have heard that in many areas in Malaysia, food is plentiful and laws are lax.

One such area is Cameron Highlands. Words have come that in a neighboring village a man called Jasir Miah could  buy padi fields, a rice factory, a  big house  and have 4 wives after spending only 8 years in Cameron Highlands.  “Where  is this place called Cameron Highlands?” you ask yourself, “ I have to reach it. There are tons of money to be made there.”

So our town which is surrounded by greens and drenched in corruption becomes a magnet to foreign workers , legal and illegal. Currently there are more than 10,000 legal foreign workers  here . They are mainly from our neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh. Myammar, Indonesia , Nepal , Cambodia and Vietnam with Bangladeshis forming the majority.

Most of them work in the agricultural sector . The rest are in the service sector ( including in the hotel industry  and as domestic maids) and in construction. They are usually industrious, do not mind working in tough conditions and for extended hours.  Many have an entrepreneurial  spirit. Their desire to earn money to help their families back home is very strong. So bending rules to achieve their aims becomes  common

While  we  welcome legal foreign workers as they are needed in our farms and other sectors of the economy if they come here illegally , become involved in businesses and deprive our  locals of their sources of income, spread  diseases and create a demand for illegally cleared land, we see red. . (Foreign workers “businesses” in Cameron Highands now include food and souvenirs stalls, hotels, grocery shops, taxis and transport lorries.)

Yes,  workers ,legal and illegal, are now the biggest culprits clearing land illegally in Cameron Highlands.

Typically when a foreign worker first arrives here, he will be legally employed ,usually as a farm hand. Once he is more settled he will look for a piece of forest to clear illegally. This will usually be deeper into the forest and the way it is cleared is also fairly typical. It will usually be done by hand and then burnt with the surrounding trees intact  to make  it less obvious  (eg in Gunung Siku, Kuala Terla forest reserves  and forests deep into Tringkap.) Some are down right obvious such as those by the roadside in K.Terla . If the locals pay X amount to corrupt officers to look the other way, the foreign worker pays double or much more.

For water, it is sourced from the ever dwindling streams. For fertilizers and pesticides  it is ‘sourced’ from their employers unknowingly or purchased from suppliers from Thailand including banned pesticides. This banned pesticides are preferred because the vegetables grow faster, look ‘prettier’ cost is lower and these pesticides laden vegetables are now finding their way to our local wet markets.

To work these  illegal farms, the legal foreign worker will use his network of friends to hire workers from his own country who have arrived illegal usually through Myammar, Thailand and then to Butterworth.

By having illegal farms , the foreign worker can earn between RM 10,000 to RM 50,000 a month depending on how large the farms are.

The illegal farm workers that were hired will eventually run off and open their  own farms when they see how easy and lucrative it is. And another tract of virgin forest will go.  So the cycle goes on and the environment suffers as a result of corruption and greed.

Forests are also cleared in hectares by local contractors with “connections” and these are sliced off to be sold to Bangladeshis. When the illegal clearing in Kg Jarik was exposed by the media 1 year ago, after the hue and cry had died down the Bangladeshis returned in the middle of the night to work their ‘purchased’ land.

The recent nationwide crackdown on illegal foreign workers is very timely indeed  and we hope the operations will continue. The immigration officers were professional   and quite a number of illegal foreign workers were apprehended early this year. In a village up North , illegal foreign workers remain  in the jungle  in clusters of 50 to 100  coming out only when the coast is clear, still working in the farms, chasing a dream at our envrionments’ expense.

As for our town , if we don’t get our act together and reduce corruption , we remain at the mercy of opportunists, local and foreign.

 

Ramakrishnan Ramasamy

 

20/2/2014 – Lorries can’t ‘log’ out of Camerons

BY ISABELLE LAI

PETALING JAYA: Three fully-loaded heavy-duty timber lorries are now stuck in Cameron Highlands after the authorities were informed about their presence there by Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach).

According to a Cameron Highlands District Council 1995 by-law, timber lorries are banned from using local roads from KM64.96 in Tapah to KM86.31 at the Blue Valley border.

Council secretary Mazlan Mohamed Isa said his officers had gone over to the site in Carnation Park housing area, Tanah Rata, on Tuesday evening and forbade the lorry drivers from leaving the area.

He said the owner of the lorries had been informed of the law and was told to find an different type of vehicle to transport the logs out. Read more from the star.com.my

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Note from REACH:

Another case of NO ACTION TALK ONLY from a gov. official.  The lorries moved out without any agency stopping them. REACH can only highlight, we are a community group. It’s the government agencies who are empowered with the ACT’s and the laws at hand. And they choose to ignore it because the “powers that be” condone this blatant disregard of rules in Corruption Highlands.

 

Mockery – Lorry Balak on CH Roads

by REACH President

1800360_10152333928255769_434327833_nWhat a mockery to enforcement in CH. Lorries being loaded with timber in CH. The sign board clearly states that timber lorries are not allowed to use the roads in CH. Ou complain to the MDCH and Forestry fell on deaf ears.

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Where Clouds Hug the Mountains

by Dr. Cheam May Choo

“Papa!” The kids squealed in delight. “We are driving into the clouds.” And they proceeded to wind down the car windows to ‘touch’ the clouds, willing the clouds to come closer. The clouds obliged and wafted gently into the car enveloping us in a fine mist. It was so cool and refreshing.(Fortunately the mist was not too thick that we could not see the road.) It was one of those special moments  that one won’t forget in a hurry.

Read more.

 

The Flying TOLs of Cameron Highlands

2nd February 2014- The signboard at the entrance to the District Land office, stands forlorn, totally ignored by all around it. It has been standing there since 2008 proudly proclaiming the following:

Please be informed that all land applications for Grant titled land and Temporary Occupation Licenses have been frozen for the District of Cameron Highlands as per the decision made at the Exco Meeting Bil No 25/2008 on the 30th July 2008 for Temporary Occupation Licenses and Bil No 31/2008 on the 24th September 2008 for Grant titled land.”

TOL di bekukan

Anyone applying for new TOL’s will be politely  reminded of  this  “decree”. Even Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob will use this to defend the state government whenever called upon by the media to explain illegal land clearing.” We have not issued any new TOLs since 2008.”