During the last week I undertook some more hikes around Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. Some trailheads were difficult to find. To get to the start of trail no.10 you actually have to walk through somebody’s garden. No. 2 starts just behind the Chinese Temple. A monk escorted me through the temple and trhough the kitchen to the back door, where he pointed at the stairs. ‘Up here’, he said. No. 7 starts at a tea plantation but the path and the sign are only visible after you stumble through a hedge…
In Malaysia there are three main ethnic groups: the Malay, the Chinese and the Indians. When I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant, Philip, a Christian of Indian descent, explained the cohabitation of the groups.
The Malays have the political power, he said. They government jobs, civil workers etcetera, they are all Malays. Malays are lazy, they don’t speak English very well and are corrupt.
Very useful assets in that kind of work, I said. Philip smiled.
The Chinese have 80% of the business. They are very clever, they have a lot of money and make good investments.
How about the Indians? I asked.
We work very hard…
Most Indians are Tamils from Southern India. They came here to work on the rubber plantations. These days there are also many Bangladeshis who mainly work in construction. There are several construction sites in Tanah Rata and they work from 7 in the morning to 10 in the evening. The workers actually seem to live in the building they are working at. Their laundry is hanging on makeshift clotheslines.
In the hostel I met an Eastern European entomologist who was collecting specimens for his university. He was specialised in tiny beetles that he shook out of the trees. I told him about the Indian collector that I had met before.
The Indian man. He runs up the mountain. Every morning. He sells butterflies to the souvenir shop. You know the big shop who sell the wood…. how you say in English?
The carvings? I said.
Yes, the wood carvings. This shop is from a Chinese man. This carvings. They are not Malaysian. Hah! They are African carvings. The carvings, the masks, hah, they come from Africa. And he sells them to the tourist. Ha ha. This Chinese man, he sends the insects to Africa and they send the carvings back.
And that is legal? I asked.
No, is not legal. Is illegal. He said.
On my way back from Brinchang, I have a look at the Indian Temple at the edge of the village. To the right of the entrance is a shrine dedicated to the Sun, the Moon, Venus and, interestingly, Mercurry. No doubt, some Indian designer was thinking lunch when working on this text…
In the courtyard of the temple I see a small pit with crashed coconuts, a traditional offering in South India. The architecture is very utilitarian and stands in stark contrast to the outlandish ornaments that adorn its façade.