JAMES Bond was at one time the icon of Fraser’s Hill. He epitomised its laidback, carefree days when Malaysia met little England, with a roguish Asian twist.
Bond, as he called himself, was a rakish Chinese driver who steered the local bus to the hill station twice a day. He navigated the bends using only one hand on the steering wheel, one foot dangling out of the window and a lit cigarette loosely perched on his lips.
The bus was usually filled with the Hill’s natives, hitchhikers, live chickens, fresh vegetables, daily newspapers and curries in tiffin carriers.
Bond – we never knew his real name – also kept up a lively conversation with passengers throughout the hour-long ride, often not paying attention to the road in front but instead winking cheekily at the pretty young women on board.
“When the children heard about James Bond, they got really excited,” said Nik Jassmin Hew, 40, one of the organisers of the recently concluded Community Mapping Project, Jom Jejak Sejarah Bukit Kita.
One child even exclaimed, “Kenapa saya tak lahir waktu dulu?’ (Why wasn’t I born back then?).
Added project partner and co-founder of FH Events, Sean Yap: “We started this company and project for us to find a way back to where Fraser’s Hill once was. How we could make the hills come alive again.”
Nik Jassmin and Yap – Fraser’s Hill-born and Chinese primary school classmates – decided, after six years of talking about what they could do, to finally focus on first integrating the community’s children.
“Something is missing.” declared Nik Jassmin, now a frequent Hill visitor. “When we were growing up, Fraser’s Hill was a very different place.”
Then everyone knew each other. Now, she observed, not only do the residents not know the stories of the sites in Fraser’s Hill, but whenever she shows visitors her hill station, it’s not as satisfying as before. “It has lost its charm.”
During the six-day event that began on Dec 10, on average 20 students participated in each daily session. The organisers and volunteers led the children on walks to rediscover and share the history of several areas that included the town centre, the Selangor side (the Hill straddles the Pahang-Selangor border) and Allan’s Water (a small lake).
As with other community mapping projects, data was also collected and the students took field notes for their closing ceremony presentations.
Current and previous residents also came together to share their experiences, including Singaporean Alyce Ang, 55, who has been returning to the lush highland hideaway for the last 25 years.
She spends most of her visits walking and birdwatching, enjoying the fresh, unpolluted air and catching up with friends she’s made over the years.
“I’m glad that nothing much has really changed,” she enthused, referring to the landscape.
On the day that I was there, I accompanied the group on their walkabout.
First stop, after lunch, was Affendy Yusof’s t-shirt printing workshop.
The 43-year-old talked about his work, his life in the hills he loves, “The memories are here, always in us.”
His parents owned the first souvenir shop in Fraser’s Hill where he now creates his rock-themed t-shirts.
The project, Affendy explained, is a good start for locals to begin to appreciate Fraser’s Hill, and hopefully inspire the younger generation to contribute more to where they live.
Then we moved on to Allan’s Water, where Segaran Krishnan, 38, works. The lake was formerly a reservoir and now hosts a space for boat rides and abundant fish.
He’s lived all his life in his hometown, “And I will until I die.”
His idea of happiness is when visitors from all over the world arrive and leave happy, “It is the best place in the world.”
The response to the community mapping project has been gratifying. Support was received in the form of cash contributions, discounts on scones and sponsored meals. Tourism Pahang also contributed.
Most satisfying was the interest garnered among locals. The students’ parents are eager to support further projects and the children outdid themselves during their presentations that won them cash prizes.
Added Nik Jassmin, “A project like this is for the community. We need to get to know the local people first before starting anything here.”
Yap added that his father, 77-year-old Yap Toon Seng, who runs Hill View Restaurant, was greatly excited and kept handing him documents and materials he’s collected over the years. “Even greeting cards from Briton Mrs Bewicks, who I think might be in her 90s and was once the general manager’s wife.”
The younger Yap moved back to Fraser’s Hill in 2016. It’s been six months since he opened his glasshouse, showcasing succulents. On weekends, the cafe is open.
While it was a tough decision to make monetarily, and his wife still lives in Kuala Lumpur, he opted for a better quality of life. “I was brought up here and it’s a great place to be.”
Nik Jassmin had such an unforgettable childhood that, while she was in Britain in 2009 she created a closed Facebook group, ‘We’re special! We grew up in Fraser’s Hill’, that has to date 331 members. “Our hearts are here and I keep coming back, sometimes for no reason.”
For Yap, a community thrives in spaces where people gather. “I remember enjoying being in the town area in the mornings, bustling with people shopping, catching up and updating each other.”
Then it would be on to dissecting the news over coffee and talking politics, he revealed, once the anticipated supplies arrived with a character unlike any other – Bond.
Revitalising Fraser’s Hill
Nik Jassmin Hew and Sean Yap set up FH Events as part of their commitment to give back to the place where they grew up. Eventually they would like to establish a museum, open art and flora-and-fauna centres and publish a special recipe book to tell the stories behind the bungalows and also to document local tales.
After this community mapping project, they will continue working with the community on a variety of different projects.
As a result of their first project, they hope to attract enough corporate funding to produce:
1. A fold-out souvenir map as a guide to visitors, with information on the Hill’s history
2. A map book with historical facts on Fraser’s Hill
3. A map app that ties in with the guide and book.
If you’d like more details or support their initiative, go to instagram.com/f.h_events/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org