Sunday, 7 June 2015
It was supposed to be a quiet dawn climb.
Leaving at 2:30am for the top of Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu, Borneo's tallest mountain, a group of 137 climbers — including two Australians — reached the peak's granite plateau at dawn, and had expected to be back at Laban Rata for breakfast.
But at 7:30am, that plan abruptly changed.
"We had just completed the ascent to the peak, and [we were] making our descent, taking some photos when we heard a loud crash, and felt the ground shaking," Vee Jin Dumlao, a clinical psychologist from Sydney, told the ABC.
Though Ms Dumlao felt calm at first, panic set in when the group was told that the magnitude-6.0 earthquake that rocked the mountain had destroyed their route back.
"When our guide took our empty water bottles to be refilled, at perhaps 1:00pm ... they came back with news of massive landslides and the route having been decimated and no certainty of rescue," Ms Dumlao said.
"Fog was quoted as the reason for not rescuing the climbers, that was certainly true earlier in day," Ms Dumlao said.
"However, around about 3:30pm the sky actually cleared right up, from ground level up to the mountains and that's when we thought there's nothing stopping them now from coming to get us.
"When the clouds lifted all the guides got a phone call from ground level to say 'alright the helicopters are coming'. We prepared ourselves, we organised ourselves into groups but nothing happened."
Despite the clearer weather, the climbers and their guides were told by officials that they would not be evacuated until the next morning.
"We were not equipped for an overnight stay, it was an open place, we couldn't huddle along any walls, because that's where the risk of landslide was worst," Ms Dumlao said.
"Many in the group were already getting hypothermia, it was very cold up in the mountains, it was starting to rain at some point, some of the climbers were already getting wet and we hadn't eaten since 1:00am that morning.
"And that's when the guides said 'they're not coming, we'd better make our way down the mountain ourselves'."
After being told, nine hours after the quake hit, that no help would be coming until the next morning, the freezing, hungry climbers were forced to make the perilous journey down the mountain.
"When we saw that all the conditions were right for the rescue and yet they had made the position that they were not coming, I was both angry but also determined to make it down on our own," Ms Dumlao said.
Ms Dumlao and her travelling partner made the perilous trek, followed by the other climbers, down to Laban Rata, a small village rest stop halfway up Mount Kinabalu.
"There were continuing tremors, continuing rustling of trees and continuing landslides that we could hear in the distance and it was quite fretful really, the potential of being caught in a landslide," she said.
The Malaysian government reported 13 people were killed in the disaster, and for Ms Dumlao the sight of death all around was confronting.
"When I saw the corpses, lying uncollected in the rock fall, that was probably the point when I realised that things were actually very, very bad, and fear set in," she said.
Arriving at Laban Rata, Ms Dumlao saw uniformed rescuers milling around the "chaotic scene".
"They were looking rather lost really, and it was the mountain guides who did most of the work attending to the injured, strapping people into stretchers, getting ready to take them down the mountain," she said.
"The whole government emergency response was a farce."
She said the effort appeared disorganised, and without helicopters, the rescue officers were of little help, stuck on foot and five hours away from the mountain's peak.
"They congregated in groups occupying resting spaces, sharing smokes and food that were meant for survivors," she said.
"A convenient helipad remain unused when they could have transported rescuers to the foot of the peaks. Instead "rescuers" arrived at 4:00pm, nine hours after the earthquake struck, on foot, much too tired to be of help."
Ms Dumlao said many more people could have been helped, and deaths may have been prevented, had helicopters landed in Laban Rata.
"If the helicopters had delivered some help earlier and landed in the helipad at Laban Rata, they may certainly have been able to attend to any injured people quite sooner," she said.
After seven hours trekking in the freezing dark, through treacherous rain and mountain-rattling tremors, the climbers reached the trek's starting point Timpohon. Upon their arrival at 12.30am, the site was strewn with medics, military and media.
All members of Ms Dumlao's group made it to the mountain's base safely. But she says emergency services let her, and many Malaysians down.
"I cannot find evidence for me to respect the government who have all the conspicuous demonstration of responsibility but none of the true act of it," she said.
"It was quite appalling when the rescue services got credit for something they did not do at all."
Ms Dumlao said she was "so grateful" to mountain guide Jomius, who helped the trekkers to safety.
"The journey we took required the engineering of the guides who made abseiling equipment from the bare resources at hand," she said.
"The mountain guides were the heroes. They risked life and limb and made some difficult decisions that ultimately saved our lives, and had neither help nor recognition from the authorities.
"Many had homes affected in the quake. They lost friends and family yesterday. Yet they remained with us guiding us to safety till the very end."
She said she appreciated that the guides could have saved themselves much faster without the slow-moving climbers.
"Yet they stayed and did what they could to meet our needs," she said.
"I have great regard for the people around Mount Kinabalu who are defined by their culture spirituality and most of all their care for people."
"I hope the boys have a good recovery,” said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, after the two boys arrived back in Singapore on air ambulances on Sunday.
SINGAPORE: Two male students from Tanjong Katong Primary School arrived back in Singapore on Sunday morning (Jun 7), following a strong earthquake in Sabah on Friday, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Facebook.
"Early this morning, we managed to evacuate two boys and bring them back home on air ambulances. They got into hospital around 4.30am. Their parents flew back too and we are in touch with them to give them our every assistance," wrote Mr Heng.
“The boys have seen a lot and will need all our support. The parents said that their boys told them their teachers shielded them from boulders. I am so moved by their strength and selflessness. I hope the boys have a good recovery,” he added.
My fellow travellers, despite that my mind wants to say a lot, I shall do my best to share with you the shortest version of this message. I am sure you enjoy going to places and countries. You may have your bucket list checked as done. And if in your bucket list, you have something like "Do photo shoots at <insert the place> naked", I do hope you pray for your children and family you love dearly for the rest of your waking moment. Fortunately for some of you, you did a great service to my people and killing innocent souls with your behaviour. We do have beliefs, you know. We are very proud of our Mountain, the highest in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu.
But you may care less about all these despite the fact that it IS our Sacred soil. Haven't you ever heard of that? I mean Sacred as in you have to be respectful, you know. As a traveller, I would think you would have all these in mind: to respect the place, its country, its people, its culture and background, and so on... unless if you had no sense at all and are totally retarded. Yes, you have done it! You have climbed up the summit of our beautiful Mountain and as a plus, you also have made NAKED photos of you. Congratulations!
You DID it!!!
And then you left our soil after your proof and shared the world of your awesomeness. Know this, you did what you needed to do and purposely tainted our soil with your tiny dingy and your huge ego. It IS our Sacred Mountain, okay? Your ego and that little dingy wingy of yours have woken up our Big Guy. He is so upset today and did you know what happened to the cabins up there such as the Laban Rata? I am sure you have left your marks there too. It is a nice place to stay the evening/night while waiting till 2.30am because you have to reach the summit early to witness the beauty of God's creation. When the sun rises, it does amaze the climbers. I do hope you enjoyed the view too. So... a hut is gone.
Many climbers are still stranded up there, some hurt and did I hear that there were people who didn't make it to celebrate their next birthdays?!! Well! My fellow travellers... Please do congratulate yourself for being naive and disrespectful to our dear Sacred AkiNabalu. May you rest with a peaceful mind while having your beer and a good laugh at your checked item in your bucket list. (Edited the incorrect words - I don't want to be disrespectful to your parents.) For your info, I am a native Borneon and we speak Akinabalu language.
Please next time, when you go to a foreign land, do respect their customs, culture, etc. I do have another one request though, please add one more item in your bucket list: "Give and pay 'sogit' to Aki Nabalu". Sogit means a blessed offering. Or else.... well! Let's just pray...
I know that to many Westerners, to those who claim to live in much civilised societies, and to those who staunchly vouch for a modern and 'progressive' mode of thought and action, ancestral beliefs and practices are shunned, dismissed, and laughed off as a marker of backwardness as well as ridiculous superstitions that should not have place in our modern world.
In certain instances, this is true. But in this particular instance, I beg to differ.
Undoubtedly, others have considered the cause of tremors that shook our beloved Sabah from three primary angles - cultural and spiritual; scientific and logical; and religious.
I could - though with much less articulation - convey my thoughts on the last two angles. But, here, I'd like to appeal to the angle that touches the hearts of all Sabahans no matter their creed and colour - the sacredness of Mount Kinabalu.
I am Dusun, though I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as an 'Orchard' (the English equivalent that does not capture the essence of who we are as peoples), because I am among those who do not speak the native tongue.
Yet still, though I lack the oral knowledge, my elders made sure that the youngsters in our family would still be connected to our roots, and they do this via storytelling the various myths and legends that surround our mountain.
To us - and Sabahans in general - the mountain is not simply a peak to be conquered.
She is 'Aki Nabalu', which means "the revered place of the dead". But I prefer the description my grandma - a mother widowed at a young age - told a young me as she looked longingly towards the mountain,
"The place where your grandpa has his holidays as he looks down over us to see if we're okay."
And this isn't something we, as a cultural group, and collectively as the peoples of Sabah, consider as merely folktale.
The Dusuns are the ancestral guardians of the mountain, and part of how we still uphold that role, even in times of modernity, is to observe the practices that our ancestors have put in place in order to safeguard Aki's sanctity.
So, we allow you in. We allow you to scale towards the top of the mountain.
But in return, we too, ask you to respect her.
Respect her for what she represents, and what she means to those whose lives, histories, and identities are so closely bound to hers.
When you - and I point to the group of ignorant tourists in this photo, and to those in the future who harbour perverse thoughts of 'raping' Aki's dignity - I am going to tell you, that when you chose to perform such a degrading and uncivilised act, you smeared mud and dirt over the faces of not only the Dusuns, but the millions of Sabahans who love Aki as much as her guardians do.
You did not merely offend, but you spat, and you stomped on our faces.
But most insultingly, you mocked our heritage.
You defiled Aki so proudly.
And now, as of today, she is forever deformed.
Though Aki is 'broken', and we are saddened, angry, and frustrated, but we are not broken in spirit.
We won't give you that satisfaction.
PS: I have always put off climbing the mountain with the excuse that she's never going anywhere. Even the fact that my father and mother, who've climbed the mountain approximately 7 and 5 times respectively, was not enough to spur me on. Now, Aki is still standing, but the fact that her physicality has been altered, I feel that when I do climb her in the future, she won't be exactly the same. *cries*
PPS: If there are those who think that I am essentially saying the cause of the tremor is caused only by the indecent act, then I have to clarify that that was not my intention. As I mentioned earlier, there are three angles - culture, science, and religion - that people posit to give reason to the tremors. And these three angles can be complementary, they can be exclusive of one another, or they can be in contradiction with one another - depending on the individual. For instance, I relate to all three angles and do not find them in conflict as they appeal to myself:
Culturally: Because I am Dusun and Sabahan.
Scientifically: Because I also follow objective reasoning and logic.
Religious: Because I am Muslim.
But, like I also stated in the post, I chose to appeal to the cultural angle more because that angle I feel is the anchor and tie that bonds Sabahans best in this matter. This is because the scientific does not appeal to our emotional subjectivities that result from our culture, and the religious could exclude those who (do not) believe in certain faiths.
I hope this clears things up.