Ode to a River
by Arlene Rees

What Pain is mine that runs so deep
yet barely seems to touch the rocky course of life.
For surely those in troubled depths
face far a greater challenge of the heart.

Along the running flow of time
did I pour languid pools of peace.
Or did I choose an altered course
to dry in stagnant ponds of doubt.

And did the whisperings of my soul
nourish hearts that sought to drink.
Or did the tricklings of my fears
erode banks of strength that led me on.

The river does not seem to seek
or even care to know its source.
It chooses only to embrace
in churning arms, to grow as one.

Should I then care to stem the tide
or cease the running flow of truth.
And judge the essence of my soul
compared to breath not drawn of me.

If you in time should round a curve
to find me building dams of doubt
Investing power borne of me
upon hearts whose souls are merely lost.

Fear not that I have lost my way,
been forced to veer on altered course
Or silenced by the sun parched lips
of hungry souls' unopened mouths

Just listen in the noiseless depths
and quietude of pools
To know the gentle silence there
preserves for all my hidden source.

THE ORANG ASLI say we cannot destroy them without ourselves being destroyed. To illustrate this, they recount a hoary legend that warns of divine retribution against those who would drive them from their birthplace, their beloved pusat negeri - for they were indeed born in the navel of the nation, in the verdant foothills of Gunung Raja - only a few miles, as the eagle flies, from the site of the proposed Selangor Dam.

And how would "divine retribution" destroy those who seek to displace them from their rightful home? Invariably, the totem naga is invoked. The dragon, guardian of the rivers, would roar in primordial rage and return to the ocean depths, its thrashing tail wreaking havoc all the way. The very earth will quake and fill with swirling floodwaters, tall buildings will shake and crumble into the mud. A deliciously apocalyptic vision, no doubt, but can it be translated into scientific terms?

Quite easily in fact. If you allow that the dragon is how "primitive" folk describe electromagnetic phenomena generated by disturbances in the earth's magnetic field, then the Orang Asli doomsday scenario translates as RIS. That's technical jargon for Reservoir Induced Seismicity - where the sheer weight of a large body of water exerts enough pressure on the tectonic shield or plate boundaries to trigger earth tremors where none have been known to occur.

Not very much is known about these quirky quakes, except that only too often they have been completely ignored or overlooked by overconfident builders of large dams. (Any structure over 15 metres is considered "large" which qualifies the proposed Selangor Dam as "titanic" at 115 metres.)

And, of course, water is a persistent and persuasive agent that works its way over, under, around and through "solid" bedrock in utterly mysterious ways. The notion of solidity or stability, we now know, is purely that - no more than a notion. If a 250-year-old bank can  spontaneously collapse as a result of an earthquake 11,000 miles away, what more a  500-million-year-old embankment? Especially when you have irate dragons on the loose...

Okay, I'll grant that a part of me is perversely fascinated by catastrophe and disaster. How often have I amused myself with archival footage of cities, islands, continents that have caved in spectacularly upon themselves in a matter of hours, minutes, even seconds. If half of Kuala Lumpur went the way of Kobe as a result of human greed, ambition and stupidity, I'd consider it poetic justice. But, oh no! I have so many dear friends who live there, including my daughter and my... WAIT! WAIT! CANCEL THE CURSE!

I don't want to see anything like that ever happen. That's why I'm determined that such a colossal calamity will not come to pass. Better a wicked and devious administration crumble and disappear from view - than an entire indigenous tribe, or a sweet little town called Kuala Kubu Baru ("Baru" because it had to be rebuilt from the ground up after a dam burst in 1883) - or, heaven forbid, a whole section of the Federal capital.

Obviously, the Orang Asli believe they're God's chosen people. Same as the Jews. Or the Japanese. Or the Eskimos. Or the Chinese. Or the Malays. Or the Kurds. Or the Turks. Or the Serbs. Or the Croats. But, personally, if I had to repopulate a planet, I might decide to overlook the Serbs or the... whoops, let's not get racist now! Anyhow, I'd definitely include the Orang Asli as they are truly lovable beings - no matter how exasperating they can be at times. Much better a world full of half-naked, laughing, nature-loving animists than a battlefield full of deadly God-fearing killer-androids programmed by a subsidiary of Microsoft.

Oh well, I shall have to issue a statement on this controversial issue. Actually, there isn't that much controversy. We're confronted with a business-minded political establishment that's gotten so comfortable with dirty deals it no longer knows when or how to come clean. Where all arguments fail, FEAR will succeed. So why can't I inject a small dose of good old-fashioned fear into the campaign to save the last bit of natural beauty in Selangor from the Beast of Bolehland? I'd much rather see LOVE of beauty and truth overcoming the fear of bloody taps in KL and PJ running dry.

Look, all you folks in Bangsar and Damansara Heights, you can afford to fix your roof gutters and store rainwater for washing your three or four cars, watering your two hundred pot plants, and as for your swimming pools... er, why not convert them into home gyms where you can work out and swim in pools of your own hard-earned sweat?

As for all you factory owners who have been siphoning off water from the mains for years... I'm afraid you'll have to collect and store rainwater in giant tanks from now on... or it's the rubber hose treatment for you! Enema of the people!

And let's not shy away from naming names, folks. Everybody knows the biggest culprit is Lee Kee Kok alias Paip Bocor. Thirty-five years old and the bugger's still passing water in public, about 10 million gallons a day (hey, this is just a ballpark figure, don't hold me to it, okay?)

Right, are you ready for the serious bit? Here we go...


I issue this statement on my own behalf, and not as a representative of any group or organization. I am resolutely against any attempt to solve our serious environmental problems - of which recurring smog and water shortages (despite worsening floods) are merely symptoms - through heavy-handed bureaucratic schemes and club-footed technological ploys.

Never mind the goddam EIA. These multi-million-ringgit "professional" reports are a wordscreen for a lot of nasty unspeakable projects that I prophesy will soon be totally banned from this precious planet, as more and more of us awaken to the terrible truth.

What an EIA does is to soften the crushing impact of reckless "development" projects. The EIA is very much like an inventory of potential damage caused by warfare: you might lose a few toes, half your brain, most of your vision, your hearing, your sanity, etc - BUT if you follow certain SAFETY PRECAUTIONS, you might escape with only half the above injuries!

The point is: WE DON'T WANT TO GO TO WAR AT ALL! What industrialization has done to the environment is essentially a declaration of war against natural beauty and simple, honest values. That way lies a dead-end future of merciless grey grimness unfit for organic lifeforms, only state-owned androids.

Building yet another colossal dam to feed our insatiable appetite for "growth" is definitely a sign of derangement. We have been forcefed - and a few have greedily swallowed - Mahathir's "vision" of unfettered industrial development and economic expansion. But how many have dared to publicly question the sanity or wisdom of this management policy? And when a few voices in the wilderness cried out in warning, were they heeded or even heard amidst the clamour of the stock exchange and the growing traffic jams?

When water catchment areas have been rudely denuded and despoiled, and hills carved up for high-rise housing, do we expect to live happily after on this earth? Surely Mother Earth will seek ways in which she can rid herself of this terrible infestation called humanity, surely she will find ways to alert us to the grave errors of our perception, so that we can return to a loving, cherishing relationship with her (instead of exploiting her and robbing her of resources meant for all living things, and seeing her beauty as no more than booty for our taking).

My friends, the inclement weather changes - wet months getting wetter and hot months getting hotter and cold countries getting colder - are part of the phenomenon called Global Warming. It is largely caused by human insensitivity to the miraculous spectrum of life that constitutes our biosphere. "Modern Man" suffers from acute anthropocentrism - a viewpoint focused exclusively on human need and greed - and acute anthropocentrism will eventually destroy the whole earth. Our needs are amply provided for by Mother Nature, as the wise ones say, but not our greed.

So our recent plague of environmental problems is basically an indicator of our excesses. To further abuse and exploit the environment certainly will not help - no matter how clever or inventive or EXPENSIVE the technology may be.

What will help is to reassess our management policies and national aspirations with complete truthfulness. We would immediately recognize that we have reached the point where national ego pride could ruin us and genuine humility just might save us.

Humility means acknowledging how little we know about the universe; and humility comes from realising that nature's beauty and mystery are worth infinitely more than our perverse obsession with illusory fame and fortune.

Being able to breathe clean, fresh air and admire the distant hills every day may not get us into the Guinness Book of World Records or the Who's Who of the Banana Republics - but it will certainly get us closer to regaining heaven on earth.

So stop midway through this frantic and futile feast of fools and look up at the ethereal clouds in the sky, and remember why we chose to be born on this exquisite and unique gem of a planet. Was it to puff ourselves up with toadish pompousness and amass a hoard of dragon's gold we could never bequeath to our grandchildren? Because our grandchildren would be too busy turning into cockroaches, rats, and other lifeforms that can survive or even thrive in ugly and polluted environments.

Or did we come here to experience the separation of matter from spirit, and to learn how they can be harmoniously fused again? For this lesson would teach us that the outer reflects the inner. Where there is drought in the external reality, it means our souls are parched of feelings, love has dried up. Where there are landslides and flash floods, it means our integrity is decaying and our emotions are murky and raging out of control, bursting the banks of tranquillity. And where the air is thick with greasy crud and black with factory soot, it means our thoughts are indecent (i.e., mechanical, pornographic) and our spirit is exhausted.

These are not - as an official propagandist might have you believe - the essential hallmarks of progress, the few broken eggs of omelette-making. Material comfort and spiritual distress are not the sine qua non of success. If truth be told, these are the unmistakable symptoms of acute mismanagement pulling the wool over the eyes of - or, rather, shearing the wool off - a woefully disinformed and misguided citizenry.

Don't be fooled or bullied by businessmen and politicians into believing that ideals and principles are for lily-livered dreamers and bleeding-hearts. Ideals and principles are our navigational beacons through the foggy night of never-knowing-for-sure. Businessmen and politicians prefer to bandy about FACTS and FIGURES. They call it being REALISTIC, being PRACTICAL, being LOGICAL, being RATIONAL.  "Hey, don't be so emotional," they're fond of admonishing individuals like me.

Well, my friends, if you think the world is run by businessmen and politicians and there isn't much you and I can do to change the situation - you're dead wrong! In the first place, they are not running the world - they're RUINING it! And in the second place, every bit of POWER they appear to wield they STOLE from YOU.


We no longer desire to be permanent debt-slaves of an inaccessible power elite ("Boss ada meeting!"). We shall no longer pick up the bill for your deadly sins. We are prepared to give you ONE LAST CHANCE to admit your mistakes (go on, say "Sorry lah!" just once with feeling) and then call for suggestions from the public as to what needs to be done about everything: our air, our water, our legal system, our police force, our news media, our housing policy, our hideous track record of moral duplicity, and our utter contempt for truth, never mind the environment!

I'm absolutely sure the very first suggestion will be: DO AWAY WITH OBSOLETE LAWS FROM THE DARK AGES LIKE THE ISA AND THE OSA. Then we can feel free at last to discuss decent, intelligent, eco-friendly and non-destructive ways to resolve our problems without being harassed by zomboid goons.

In fact, you may find we actually have very few problems in this country. I'd venture that they can all fit into a single courtroom and be tried for conspiracy to befuddle and bamboozle the public! And the most fitting "punishment" would be for the entire cabinet to live for two whole years in an Orang Asli village on RM500 a month. They will each be issued a 20-year-old 80 c.c. motorbike - and no petrol allowance.

The Orang Asli, of course, will be paid ministers' salaries during the exchange period to make up for the inconvenience of having to teach a bunch of back-biting batik-shirted baboons the basics of honest living.

     Ceremonial Guardian

       Mayan Year 9 Ik, 8 Eb
         (6 March 1999)