By Mariam Mokhtar
There have been several stories about Ipoh being a boring place with nothing to do during the day. Outsiders claim that Ipoh is worse at night because there is nowhere worth going to for entertainment.
Those who are used to the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore will have plenty to moan about. But when, one weekend, I was tasked with looking after nine children, with ages ranging from eight to eighteen, who came from Japan, England, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I had no hesitation in taking them on a trip to Kampung Dew, near Taiping.
It was one of the best evenings the children had, visiting the charcoal factory, the little village straddling Sungai Sepetang and also observing fireflies along the banks of the river.
Matang Boardwalk Closed
It was fortunate that we telephoned the Matang Forest Reserve office because we had wanted to go for a walk along the boardwalk to observe the mangrove swamp at close quarters and also because two children in the group were keen birdwatchers.
That was when we discovered that the boardwalk had been closed for the past couple of months and would be out of bounds to the public until the end of the year.
We were not given this information about repairs to the boardwalk, when enquiries were made at the Perak Tourist Information Centre in Ipoh, the pre-vious week.
Perhaps, the relay of information between tourist sites and the main Tourist Information Cen-tres in Perak could be better coordinated.
Private Tour of Kampung Dew
We made our own arrangements for the Kampung Dew tour, with the guide En. Khairul Salleh Ahmad, who told us what to wear and what was available on this particular tour.
Our initial trip planned for earlier in the month, had to be postponed because it was around the time of the full moon so the impact of the fireflies would not have been as great.
When we arrived, Khairul was waiting with banana chips for the hungry children and an activity pack bursting with information (in Malay only) about the mangrove swamp.
After introducing himself and giving each of us a name tag, Khairul conducted his tour in English, for the benefit of our international group. The children were taken in by his friendliness and he answered all the tricky questions which they asked him.
One wonders what children are taught these days for they knew very little about charcoal and its origins. Some thought charcoal was mined. They had clearly mistaken charcoal for coal.
The charcoal kilns were interesting and we were taken through the various stages of making charcoal.
Perhaps, Khairul could make arrangements with the kiln operators or the villagers, to have a room where pictures of the charcoal making pro-cesses could be displayed, and bits of charcoal could be shown with its various uses: For drawing, for getting rid of smells, for filtering, for use in shisha burners, for making into medicinal tablets to absorb toxins.
A photo of the tree used for making charcoal would have been informative with a brief explanation why that particular species is good for making charcoal, how much charcoal is exported, its contribution to the economy and if the industry is labour intensive.
Later, in the adjacent village, the children went on a mock ‘fishing’ expedition, using chicken fat as bait, to feed eels and giant catfish, which were swimming in a tank.
We were shown udang galah (giant freshwater prawn) pots and would have purchased the udang galah but for the pollution that occurred the previous month. An oil-palm refinery had discharged its toxic effluents into the river and poisoned all the fish and freshwater lobster.
The children then took turns weaving attap roofing, which is used in the rooftops of traditional kampong houses. It was also the type of roofing material used by the charcoal factory. The girls in the group had a race with the boys, to see who could complete the most shingles. No prizes for guessing which group came up with the most and the better looking attap. The boys cheated because the girls in the village helped them.
Late Start for Fireflies
Dusk came, and because of low tide, we could only start our firefly tour at 9.00 p.m.
Using his laptop, Khairul gave us a short briefing on the fireflies and what we could expect that night. He showed photos of monitor lizards, snakes, exotic birds and also dolphins, which we were told could be found near the estuary but only during the day. These captivated the children thus adding to the excitement.
We said our farewells to Khairul, whom the children adored, and the friendly village people who must have been perplexed by the city-slickers, who thought charcoal was mined and who mistook monitor lizards for crocodiles.
In the west, pet-shops sell gnarled pieces of mangrove root at GBP20/ USD31 each, and we were disappointed that the boardwalk tour was off because we wanted to see mangrove growing in the swamp.
If there was any other criticism, it was that there was no one selling cold drinks to quench our thirst. I am surprised that no one has tapped into this need.
The firefly tour will be in the next instalment of “At a loose end in Ipoh”.