Reaching out, touching lives

Just last weekend, we spend a day among the Temuan tribe in the rain forest of Pahang with the CSR team from Sanofi-Aventis. The day started with our quick drive up the Karak highway to a little sleepy village called Sang Lee. The primary economy of this little village is heavily centered on its durian orchards. It does boast a charming little watering hole by the interesting name of Kedai Runchit dan Sayor Choy Hing (review here) that specializes in old town goodness coffee and curry wild boar noodles. As the crowd is much larger than what they were used to, the Sanofi staff had to improvise and started to help out, dishing out noodles, putting condiments and little saucers of chilies — and it looks like many of them are capable of running a noodle stall too!

With our fill, it’s no surprise that we don’t tell our passengers how rough the journey can be. I know many KL-lites complain about our pot-holed city roads but those are silky smooth compared to where we’re going! And the main rule when going off-road? Tread lightly. In all circumstances, respect the terrain and respect the ground you’re going on. Trying to bull your way anywhere gets you into trouble… or your vehicle with problems. We also never travel alone which means that the buddy system helps to get you out of trouble too! Then again, I serve a miracle-producing God and the same God that can part the red sea, can easily dry up a 4×4 trail. On Friday evening, a text message came mentioning torrential downpour and an impassable road. Well, we still go in faith. The news wasn’t so good the next morning while we’re having our wild boar breakfast but still we went. Have faith!

Well, watdidya know? The trail was bone-dry!!

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The trail never really proved challenging although the steep gradient (think 20 degrees) raised engine temperatures somewhat, it was no challenge. Only one 180 degree switchback proved to be an obstacle as you had a cliff wall on one side and a ravine on the other. Definitely not for the faint of heart! On this type of difficult rated trail, vehicle damage is expected. We had one vehicle with heavily banged up side-steps. Those factory installed ones don’t last beyond 1Utama or Pavilion mall 🙂 My truck came through mostly unscathed, minus the scratches and dirt. I had my Ranchos set to 8 for the front and rear considering I had about 200kgs loaded out back.

Again, if you’re going to have some off-road fun and damage your vehicle in the process, might as well do it for a good cause.

On arrival, we managed to unload the supplies and equipment at the village and one vehicle promptly got stuck. The cause is still under investigation although we suspect it was an overheated transfer box. Channeling 350 newton-meters of torque through the transfer box can heat up the oil and usually the mechanism disengages when the heat levels get too hot. That’s one reason why you shouldn’t be powering your way through even though you’ve got a tricked out 4×4. Respect the ground you tread on. The result however is a two-wheel drive vehicle which means traction-less! Over heated brakes also lose their bite so we had a little fender-bender in the jungle when the stuck truck got temporarily unstuck, lost traction and then slid backwards several meters due to insufficient braking force. There’s a reason for 1st gear and low-ratio 4×4 mode. You can walk the car down the slope in gear and not even touch your brakes! Anyways, after some man-power and towing, the excitement was over and it was time to get to work.

The dutiful Sanofi staff then went off to start their respective activities which were the cooking, clinic and hair salon! The clinic was held in Bapa Aming’s long house and it started with a registration, weigh station and then the villagers were sent to the physician and pharmacist for checkup and dispensation respectively. We also managed to register a 10-day old baby boy. The mother just happily delivered while collecting firewood in the jungle. Self-delivery. Can imagine all our city mothers cringing at delivering in the middle of the rain forest by yourself! That said, it also explains their 50% infant mortality rate. Our next trip will have to bring some vaccines for the new baby!

The hair salon was held in their “wash hut” which had constant running water from a dammed mountain spring. A lot of people we’ve brought into these villages cringe at drink the water but will happily empty a bottle of Evian. Hey, it tastes the same! I must say that the salon produced professional results and the villagers started to look quite good after having their locks trimmed!

Finally, we had lunch being served. Unfortunately, after covering both the salon and the clinic meant that I missed out on the cooking operation! At least I managed to get the happy villagers enjoying a nice meal after all that!

Of course, at the end of the expedition, there was the usual durians. There were a few elderly ladies at the coffee-shop gossiping away over a cup of chinese tea and they were really amused by the city folks ooh-ing and aah-ing over each durian, especially the more local variants such as the Musang King and more. Probably we were the highlight and entertainment of the day for them. They were saying things like “These people are so funny” or “My goodness, these KL-folks are so cute!” Absolutely hilarious to hear them!

For the photographers: Most of the shots were taken with a 5D Mark II with 24-105mm lens. With the immense contrast, I used a single 580EX II to provide fill. However, the interiors are really dark, like 1/30 at f/4.0 on ISO 2500 so I fell back to just ISO 800, f/4.5 and 1/100 but two 580EX flash units instead. In many shots, the second 580EX was inside a Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe controlled by a RadioPopper (see how here). The primary challenge was how to manage a EzyBox on a monopod and shoot at the same time! I need an assistant!

1 Comment

  1. DP | @ekhoophotography December 4, 2010 at 9:19 am

    With a recent office relocation came the need to search for good, quick and nearby food. One thing about Kay-El is that you normally don’t find good bread. We did go to LeVain Boulangerie Patisserie a while back and the only problem with LeVain was distan