Cemerong waterfall – a miraculous journey

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Cemerong Waterfall.

These two words appeared innocuous when I first came across the name of the waterfall in a local hiking group website in 2014. I have never been to this waterfall, and I got more than I bargained for after I signed up for the hiking trip in Terengganu, Peninsular Malaysia.

IMG_9999 waterfall from afar

This is how the waterfall looks like from afar – a thin vertical line dissecting the mountainside. Our hiking guide said that during rainy seasons, the line would be more prominent, as the volume of water thundering down the slope would be much greater.

It turned out to be an intense hiking experience as we trekked through the treacherous rainforest and river crossings to the Cemerong waterfall and back to the base camp. The hike up towards the summit through the jungle started well at first, though we soon found it tiring and tricky to navigate the steeper slopes along the narrow trails that were criss-crossed with tree roots.

Upon finally reaching near the summit around early afternoon, we stopped to rest and eat lunch and watch with admiration at close quarters how the waterfall flows from the top down the mountainside. Just as we started to pack up and head back, it began to rain torrentially, and the already slippery moss-covered or algae-covered ground became even more challenging.

We were glad to have brought along gloves and raincoats or ponchos, which were perfect for such wet weather conditions. Our progress slowed to a crawl on many parts of the track as we had to gingerly take one step at a time, so as not to trip over the protruding tree roots and lose our balance, especially when we were climbing up or down steep slopes. It was also a wonder how we made it across a fast-moving river (with the help of ropes) back to the other side, as the river had become swollen from the rain and the water level came up to around knee level at some points during our crossing.

Before long, it became dark in the dense forest as night fell, and we were still some unknown distance from the base camp. The trails were not always obvious or well-marked, and we decided to put our whistles, torch lights and headlamps to good use.

At some points, some of us were lagging behind, and if not for the whistles, we probably would have lost contact with one another in the shroud of darkness in the forest. Strange sounds from nocturnal creatures in the rainforest began to ring out in the silent air from time to time, adding to the whole surrealistic atmosphere.

We summoned every last reserve of our energy to persevere throughout the journey and kept going forward. It was only when we finally reached the stony main path that leads to the base camp that we breathed a collective sigh of relief.


Identity and consciousness

I am, and I am not.

If I declare “I am”, then I am also declaring “I am not” at the same time.

If I say that I am something, then I am also saying that I am not something else. This is duality as I understand it. But there is also non-duality. I would like to propose that there is a tension and balance between duality and non-duality.

For example, from a dualistic perspective, I can choose to say that I am a Chinese by race, which is one of the artificial social constructs we often use in a societal system to label ourselves and others. So, if I say I am a Chinese, that means I am also saying that I am not a non-Chinese; that is, I am not Malay, Indian, and so on. Similarly, from the same perspective, if I say that I am a male, by virtue of the fact that I am born with masculine characteristics, I am also saying that I am not a female, or androgynous for that matter, if I were to subscribe to cis-genderism. For some reasons, I was born in this human body that is considered “male” and recognised by the society as “Chinese”, which I have no control over. Whether this social identity is considered “privileged” depends on whether I was born into a society that is patriarchal, or a society that is dominated by a certain majority race, and so on.

At the same time, from a non-dualistic perspective, I can say that I am neither this nor that. That is to say, I am – in essence – neither Chinese nor non-Chinese, and I am neither male nor female. This is because before I came into existence as a human being on planet earth in this time and space, I am that which is raceless, genderless, timeless and formless, who came from an unknown, mysterious realm.

I suppose the challenge for me is: how do I balance between the two “polarities” as I try to make sense of my existence on this earthly realm? How do I consciously use my multifaceted identities to effect change and make the world a better, more humane and more equitable place?

Immigration and border imperialism

I came across this video on Facebook, and decided to comment as follows:

Isn’t it true that the Europeans were responsible for migrating to America and colonising it at the expense of indigenous American Indians resulting in their genocide and at the expense of the black community who bore the ignominy of slavery? How convenient and supremacist of the European descendants to claim ownership of the land and deny other immigrants the chance to migrate to America using their own discriminatory laws as a pretext to protect their privilege. What makes these white Americans think they are superior or have more rights than others?

Someone responded:

#1. Indigenous means that something occurs in a place originally. That it did not migrate or emigrate from somewhere else. Ex. Corn and potatoes are indigenous to the Americas; rice is not because it originated in Asia.

#2. The term Native American is a misnomer. The peoples known today as Native American came here from Northeast Asia over a land bridge that was where the Bering Straight is today. The land bridge became submerged some 12,000 years ago. The genetic link between ancient Asians and ancient people in America has been proven through the DNA testing of the Clovis baby and the oldest human Asian remains.

#3. The Native Americans of the 1400s and 1500s had no knowledge of the existence of counties or the concept of landownership and borders

There were no states or countries in the Americas at that time. There were cities in Central and South America but not in what became the USA and Canada. Hence, there were no immigration laws. In effect, America belonged to nobody. People inhabited the land but did not own it until Europeans brought that concept with them. In effect, the land was up for grabs.

Until their hunting grounds and way of life was threatened, the Indians felt there was plenty of land for everyone. The Europeans got greedy with their need to own and control everything around them. That’s when the trouble started. The United States did not have immigration laws as we know them until the 19th century.

As our population grew, the US citizens saw the need to regulate the new immigrants. We decided to be like all other countries so adopted immigration laws to control who could come in and for how long. We didn’t want criminals or immoral people. Nor did we want the ill, infirm or indigent. Most countries in the world have changed hands over and over throughout history. Many countries have disputed borders to this day. Still they have immigration laws that are respected by other countries. Why should America not expect the same respect for our immigration laws?

It seems to be a reasonable comment with a sincere question at the end, so I decided to respond in kind, after doing a bit of research and support my opinions with facts.

All immigration laws need to be reformed, if not abolished altogether. Border imperialism only serves to perpetuate greed and tribalism, and cause displacement and oppression for those subject to imperialism. Humanity is ever evolving, and it is time we evolve past tribalism and imaginary borders.

If we were to apply the same standards of immigration laws in America today in the days of Christopher Columbus, he would be the first criminal and “illegal immigrant” to be deported back to Europe, instead of being celebrated as America’s “founder”.

“Columbus’ acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary – even in his own day – that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.”

There were no immigration laws before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon America because the native Americans were so kind as to share land and resources with fellow human beings. In fact, Columbus “noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. “They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no,” he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kindhearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.”

The native American Indians were far more evolved than most other peoples, in their very humanity. We would do well to emulate them and learn to share land and resources with one another and treat one another as brothers and sisters, regardless of differences in artificial group identities such as race, nationality and so on.

Another person responded:

Good grief Jimmy Tan- you are talking ancient history. Step into the current crap that’s happening…far worse than ever before. If you don’t like it here or if we are being so unfair to you, you have the option to go to your favorite country! Isn’t that amazing!

To this comment, I replied:

Oh yes, it’s amazing how violence and oppression are increasing due to border imperialism. Privilege blinds us to the pain and sufferings that the displaced and discriminated, predominantly made up of brown and black people, are dealing with. Watch the video above and learn how 492 Tamil refugees, including young children, landed on the shores of Canada in 2010 and were incarcerated for the “crime” of migrating to seek a better life and were labelled as “terrorists”. It is ironic how white privileged people tell others to not come to America “illegally” while they have no qualms invading other nations in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and steal their land and resources and subjugate the indigenous people.

My answers to a survey on Singapore’s foreign workforce

Q: What are your opinions on issues related to the foreign workforce?

I support having more foreign workforce to contribute to the economy and build infrastructure. It gives them opportunities to visit and stay in Singapore for a longer term if they want to. I hope working conditions and basic human rights will be further improved for the foreign workforce because they deserve fair treatment as much as anyone else, regardless of social status, income level or nationality. Meritocracy and capitalism cannot be used as justification for perpetuating inequality and discrimination. We must never lose our humanity because we ourselves were once immigrants based on our ancestral history.

Q: What is your opinion on local-foreigner relations?

Locals must learn to co-exist in harmony with foreigners and accept and embrace differences in cultures, mindsets, appearances and so on. Racism must be discussed openly, as uncomfortable as it may be. Contrary to unfounded fears, having open conversations won’t lead to greater divisions because it is through such conversations that we increase awareness of how we may have inherited racial prejudices and negative stereotypes from the media, peers and so on, and how we can be more mindful of our attitudes towards them, such as not using racial slurs or making racist jokes. We need to learn to cultivate self-respect in order to respect others who are different from us.

Q: What should policymakers consider for foreign workforce policies?

Continue to encourage foreign workers to come and work in Singapore. Increase the quota of foreign workers in companies and businesses. Make sure they are treated fairly and equally by their employers, regardless of which countries they come from. They are our valued guests Treat them as you would like to be treated when you are a guest working and living in a host country.

Q: What do you think of the policies on the foreign workforce?

Allow flat owners to sublet their rooms for a minimum period of 1 month instead of 6 months to ease the problem or difficulty of foreign workers finding suitable accommodations. To ease traffic congestion, make existing infrastructure safer and more conducive for walking and cycling. Set aside dedicated cycling lanes on roads wherever possible to encourage more locals and foreign workers alike to cycle. Cycling helps ease cost of transportation for the commuters, and is environmentally friendly too.

My answers to a survey on Singapore’s fertility issues

Q: What are your opinions on fertility issues?

The issues are personal but have local and global impacts. By that, I mean ultimately a couple’s choice of whether to have children needs to be respected and can neither be coerced nor manipulated, although education can serve to help them make an informed decision.

Conscious parenting and living is the way to go. Our focus should be on making every life counts and imparts life values of compassion and empathy to each child rather than wanting to have more children solely for taking care of the ageing population and for being indoctrinated to serve the wage slavery and consumerist system that perpetuates inequality, environmental degradation and unsustainable development.

A paradigm shift is needed, and the destructive and oppressive monetary and capitalistic system and mindset need to be dismantled and replaced or reformed.

Q: What should policymakers consider for fertility policies?

Respect people’s personal decisions and accept marriage equality and diversity. Do not allow religious fundamentalism and dogmatism to impose on others when making and implementing fertility policies.

Cost of living is still too high for lower and middle income groups of people to ever consider having children or more children. Housing prices need further reduction, and bonuses can be given to married couples every year to celebrate their wedding anniversary.