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Are you a Seducer or a Conqueror?

(C) Talking Aloud

......ask yourself how much of a “seducer” or “conqueror” are you?....

All present stared in disbelief as the speaker informed that he was 72 years old. With hardly a wrinkle on his face, we had guessed that he was at most in his mid-50’s. How amazing! Well, this was an amazing place. We were at Peace Village, about an hour from Betong in Thailand. Peace Village was a formed when the 10th Regiment of the Communist Party of Malaya signed a peace agreement with both the Thai and Malaysian governments and settled down on land provided by the Thais.

Having lived in the jungle for a long period of time, the villagers were full of stories of jungle life, elephant hunting, World War II, medicinal plants, etc. On the first night which was spent in the village, we were given an extremely insightful tour of the exhibition hall which displayed the things used by these resourceful people in the jungle. We were surprised to find musical instruments, printing machines, surgical equipment and a library of books among the expected guns, grenades, mines, etc. After the tour, we were shown an interesting video depicting the history of the communist struggle and snippets of life in the jungle. We were struck by the level of organization of the troops who performed surgery, staged dances and held sports competitions, all in hiding in the jungle.

The following day, we all hiked into the jungle to camp. The villagers were very knowledgeable of the jungle and pointed out different useful plants and an arena where pheasants stage the mating dance. We passed by the 10th Regiment’s old base camp situated on a slope and was given a comprehensive tour of the trenches, bomb craters, gun positions, kitchen, stage area, etc. A few lucky ones among us spotted a pair of gibbons in the trees near the camp.

We reached our camp site in the late afternoon. We were amazed at the way the villagers made effective use of the materials found in the jungle to create benches, a sleeping platform, eating utensils, a stove, etc. Famished after the long hike, we wolfed down the dinner prepared by the villagers. The night saw more story-telling and some of us went for a short night hike to admire the luminescent moss and bugs.

The hike back the following day was via a much easier route and on the way, we passed by a really huge tree that required dozens of men to encircle its trunk. We soon reached the village and our hearts started feeling heavy as we realise that the trip was coming to an end. The villagers have been very hospitable and have even invited us into their homes, making us feel like part of the family. When it came time to leave, it felt like parting with beloved uncles, aunts and grandparents...

The experience at Peace Village made me ruminate on the “seducing” and “conquering” approaches towards the environment. “Seducers” are those who adapt and make the most out of the environment. They strive to be apart of and accepted by the environment. “Conquerors” on the other hand attempt to conquer, tame, change and even enslave the environment to suite them. The environment is viewed as an adversary to be confronted and beaten. Often bandied out examples of “seducers” are rock climbers who climb with their bare hands with a minimum of assistance save their personal skill, courage and determination. “Conquerors” on the other hand are those pursuing “expedition-style” conquests of mountains with a plethora of supplies, gadgets, equipment and support personnel. Closer to home, the difference is evident when we urbanites go into the jungle all geared-up with hiking boots, leech socks, changes of clothing, backpacks, tents, sleeping mats, mosquito repellent, first aid kit, medicines, food, water, etc. In contrast, the orang asli often travel light, barefoot and with a minimum of supplies – “seducers” par excellence!

Upon deeper reflection, all of us are actually both in varying degrees. However well-equipped, “expedition-style” mountaineers still have to interact and adapt to the environment in varying degrees. Rock-climbers still have to use some basic tools like climbing shoes and climbing chalk. Even the orang asli are “conquerors” when they use a parang to clear a path or use a lighter to start a fire. Here in Peace Village, both approaches were used to live, survive and fight in the jungle. So… the next time you go into the jungle, ask yourself how much of a “seducer” or “conqueror” are you?

Thinking Aloud
17/4/2007

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