I was paying a flying visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and, finding myself with a 90 minute lunch break, was delighted to cross the road from the Bursa Malaysia Building to a small eco-rainforest experience with a canopy tree walk. Given I was in business attire it was likely going to be a mistake given the temperature was hitting 43C in the humidex. This proved true as after my visit I had to change shirts and sit in an icy blasting air conditioned room for 30 minutes.
Before all that, I ease my way up four steps and past the welcoming purr of these two kittens. Inside the dark hues of polished wood walls and pillars housed artistic-style exhibits and educational posters. Outside the space climbed into a 10 hectare example of lowland dipterocarp forest. It IS unique – being the last standing tropical rain forest area in the whole of Kuala Lumpur city.
Here’s the history bit:
The Forestry Dept was established in 1901 after a period where the British Governors had appointed a chap named Cantley to research how best to manage the forests of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore. The result was the appointment of A.M.Murdoch in to be the first Chief of Forestry. Currently there are 11 State Forestry Departments and 33 District Forestry Offices in the Malaysian peninsular. Over the past 200 years their aims have expanded to manage the resources sustainability, increase the supply of forest goods and services, develop environmentally sound technologies, conserve & protect the biological diversity, waters, and soils, and improve public awareness of forestry conservation.
The tree species here are alien to me. I’ve not come across such in the cool oak, ash, and beech dominated forest-scapes of England. Here were merawan jangkang, kapur, chengal, and bamboos. Chengal (also known as Malaysian Teak) is called the ‘Jewel of the Forest’, being the most precious wood in the peninsular, famous for its strength and durable timber quality. Being a monotypic genus – meaning there is only one species in the genus Neobalanocarpus – has meant that chengal is highly sought after, and, indeed, is now disappeared from Singapore after heavy logging.
I stroll out into the blistering midday Malay sun, seeking the sun-dappled glades as I start to melt like a deliquesced Dr Kerans in the furnace of a J G Ballard sun. Onward I stride, dark suited, dripping with every manful step up the acclivity. Ahead is a canopy walk. It is a brand new construct, steel trees mingled with their kapur brethren. Each has a twisting staircase, a reverse helterskelter that draws me ever closer to the green blanket that is the boundary between tree and sky. Between each firm tree spans a modern rope bridge that looks solid but sways like a drunken sailor under the vertiginous, faltering footsteps of a gulping travelswithadiplomat.
Beneath me smirks a herbal garden, a broken mosaic of grey slabs with white pebbles pressed into the scorched earth. I imagine they are the hardened droplets of sweat of those who have paused here before me. I cannot return from whence I came so I fix my camera ahead of me and don’t look down till I reach my next artificial tree.
Eventually, I stumble to the end of the path with a pounding heart and a sense of sweating relief. I have videoed my walk but that’s for another blog. I am acutely aware my suit is sodden, that I must return to a cold room, find a towel. I plunge once more into the wooden cabins of the ‘museum’, past agape American backpackers; I mutter some convivial banality about heat and air conditioning; but the truth is I am glad to escape into the coolness where the local Malay grin and shift to let me stand in front of an air fan.
As I rotate slowly, a drying pirouette dancing to the fluttering ribbons caught on the fan’s mesh, I spy these last words on this rain forest. The poem is recent, the translation faithfully reproduced in all its syntactical erroneous glory. It is the message of each line that captures the majestic beauty of this tiny nugget of rain-forest in Kuala Lumpur and, as I rotate, arms outstretched like a white windmill, I let the poet’s words fill me as they would wish…
Running on a hill’s slope,
Chasing butterflies with great passion
Spirited heart, energetic, healthy,
Fowl suddenly crossed over our heads,
We know it purposely did that;
to send us a secret message,
This is the motherland beloved by most.
The trees are splendor, fresh and gallant,
The natural treasures keep every ups and
downs of the nation,
And running between the lines of trees
It seems the most magical this forest is,
Our motherland that is we most loved.
This is the forest of Bukit Nanas;
the cordial one,
No matter how hard the responsibility is,
we will uphold it.
View, savor the fertile tree,
Listen, contemplate this imperial garden
This is the song of the plenteous earth,
We who inherit it are lucky,
Within this grass the grasshopper dance
On the boughs the fowl sings
Every bit of nature is a gift,
Gracious us be to the Almighty.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?