ISSUE #1: Closed, closed, closed.
Many of the attractions in Taman Negara were closed when we were there, including:
- Canopy walkway – only half of it was open. We managed to walk the first half, but had to go out through the first exit as the second half of the walkway was closed for maintenance.
- Trek up to Bukit Terasek was closed – and strangely, even the guides themselves didn’t know this. The closure for the canopy walkway’s second phase was quite clearly displayed at the entrance of the canopy walkway; but for the Bukit Terasek trail, there was no notice until the intersection of the hiking treks. Our guide had brought us all the way until we suddenly came to an intersection where all the turn-offs were roped off; we had to go back down the way we came.
- Ear Caves had been closed since July 2010, according to a sign we saw. This is due to some compromise in its safety structure.
ISSUE #2: Orang Asli up for the gawking.
It made me sad, really. As part of the tourist attaction, we had the opportunity to visit one of the many Orang Asli settlements along the big river. The village we visited had about 8-9 families. While we were there, the strongman of the village demonstrated how he generated fire from scratch, and how he created darts to be used in the blowpipes.
That’s all fine and well, but what I didn’t like was how the families and their houses were “put up for display” like animals in a zoo. Our guide happily told us that the people in this village did not know how to read and write, and will not learn how to. It is obvious that the Orang Asli and their culture were being preserved, but at the same time, they were not given access to education and modern conveniences.
And as part of the “tourist attraction”, we were told that we can take photographs… and I wondered how these people could put up with strangers coming to their village on a daily basis, randomly taking photographs of them and their homes? At least my friend asked politely before she took their photos, but some of the university students who were in our group merely barged into some of the homes and started snapping without so much as a how-do-you-do.
The Orang Asli were obviously well taken care of in exchange for this intrusion into their lives – many of them wore donated clothes, and I saw many food packets that ha been purchased from supermarkets, still in their plastic packaging.
Seeing the Orang Asli did make me ponder though… many of them will not know of or have the opportunity to experience electronic gadgets like our smartphones, GPS and laptop computers, or even of conveniences like modern plumbing, fast food delivery and electricity, but does that mean they are necessarily worse off than us? After al, that probably means they will never need to suffer from work stress, mortgages, financial crises, and modern life-induced diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, and diabeters. I’m not saying they won’t ever suffer from diseases, but the major contributing factor for a lot of the diseases we suffer from nowadays is due to our modern lifestyle, and since they don’t live a modern lifestyle, their chances of contracting these diseases are significantly less. The other diseases they could contract from their living arrangements – now that’s a different matter altogether.
What I mean is that sometimes we may think that denying them the chance to live in our modern world would be a bad thing – but is it, necessarily? After all, now they don’t have to worry about putting food on the table, or medical bills, or … well, money. Perhaps they’re really better off than us.
That’s still not a lifestyle I’d choose though. I’d miss playing Plants vs Zombies on my iPhone.
Next up: The Ugly!