On an uniquely Malaysian day, a group of visitors to the Fraser's Hill station walked, read, thought, listened, and learned, and became more literate in many individual ways.
"You have to read Dickens’ Great Expectations at least once, then you can pass it on to your friends.”
“I don’t get much exposure for my writing, so it was great to receive the different views from the other participants in the writing workshop.”
“I like haunted houses. I don’t know why.”
I could only look at the young boy in awe as he told me of his fascination with haunted houses.
As a child in Fraser’s Hill, I used to run past the house on the hill to not attract any attention from beings not of this world.
Yet this boy could not help himself as he stopped to gaze up at the house, viewing it through thick vegetation framed by eucalyptus trees.
Such was the weekend of April 18 and 19 on Fraser’s Hill revealed mysteries and sprang surprises – its tranquil seven hills were abuzz with readers, writers, and storytellers.
A series of activities organised by corporate trainers Language Works to coincide with the opening of the Perpustakaan Komuniti Bukit Fraser, Hill Literacy was an initiative to encourage appreciation of creative approaches to reading, writing, storytelling, and sustainability amidst the natural setting of the hill station.
First up was the children’s eco-creativity workshop. Participants were students from two local schools, as well as a few young weekend visitors. The entrants eagerly sang their lyrics to popular tunes. One team used their own musical instruments made from recycled materials.
M. Luvendren, 10, emerged as the winner. After his beans in a plastic bottle shaker, Luvendren also took the storytelling prize with his marvellous rendition of the Puteri Gunung Ledang folktale, dressed resplendently in baju Melayu, songket, and songkok.
At the same time, one floor up, renowned creative writing coach, writer, and publisher Sharon Bakar was conducting a workshop, “Creating Character”. The six participants were invited to pick their “character” from a range of photographs. With Bakar’s skillful advice, the two-hour session saw a variety of stories emerging as participants let their pens and imagination take over.
Maisarah Hassan, 19, who has just completed her TESL (Test of English as a Second Language) foundation programme, felt very welcome at her first writing workshop. She appreciated the varied feedback she received for her work as it helped her to re-shape her own views of her writing.
Said the Alor Gajah, Malacca, UiTM student, “I think the Fraser’s Hill setting also helped because it was calm and peaceful and I felt very close to nature. That definitely enhanced my writing mood.”
The Readings At The Peak event that afternoon moved from a huge hall to a cosy corner of a nearby restaurant. Compelling poetry, short stories, and pieces of work-in-progress added to the lively conversation afterwards as participants discussed the necessary elements for producing good writing.
Meanwhile, the Book Bazaar was the key attraction. Priced at RM1 each – “seringgit sebuku” – the donated second-hand books flew off the display tables. From Shakespeare and Shelley to Mayle and Morrison, the diverse range was almost picked clean by ardent readers of all ages.
The proceeds of the sale and remaining books were donated to the new library. With books, computers, and audio-visual aids, the library – set up by residents of the hill station – aims to offer the small community a space to read, write, watch, and learn.
Nalini Letchumanon, who works for Tourism Pahang and is a committee member of the community library says: “The events were very good for our community, especially for our schoolchildren as they are not usually exposed to such events.”
Even the few tourists who spoke to her after the events were excited at the potential of Hill Literacy and the community library for visitors like them.
My nature stroll
The final Hill Literacy event was a nature stroll led by moi, who was born and raised in Fraser’s Hill. I took 10 strollers to three hidden spots where I used to escape to read.
The unbelievable thing about the spots, hidden from view and surrounded by tall trees, was that they looked exactly the same as when they offered me refuge decades ago.
As if every leaf, branch and patch of sky had not changed an iota.
I gave away a reading guide to the spaces I had chosen. I also told a few stories from the past: of the colonials who came to rest for the weekend and did not allow locals to speak in their presence; of my childhood spent working in a flower nursery and how it had shaped the person that I am now.
And the story of the abandoned, haunted house and how I still hurry past it.
One of those uniquely Malaysian days.
We walked, we read. We thought, we said. We listened, we learned. Becoming more literate in so many individual ways.