FEATURE: The Tugu way to doing good

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - The park has its own hidden history. This was where British colonial officers were housed and traces of the long abandoned bungalows can be seen in the foundations, cement pillars and even an overgrown staircase.

I just had one of my best Sundays in a long time. This was my revisit to the Taman Tugu Forest Park in Kuala Lumpur.

When I wrote about my first walk there in my Sept 11 column, I extended an invitation to readers to join me on a second visit and several responded.

I also got responses from Khazanah and Taman Tugu Project people. Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan, managing director of Khazanah and staff of Khazanah’s CRS arm which is in charge of Taman Tugu – executive director Calvin Jacob and head of branding and communications Tracey Surin – wrote to thank me for my column and made an irresistible offer of a guided tour on my next visit.

My readers and I connected with Calvin over email. We initially planned to have the walk in September but had to push it later because of the haze and a marathon which closed many roads into the city.October 6 was our chosen date and we woke up to a haze-free Sunday morning with nicely cloudy skies.

We ran into a minor hiccup of road closures because there was yet another run in the area and much to my relief, everyone in the group managed to find nearby parking and walk to the meeting point.

Waiting to greet us were Calvin, Tracey and Khazanah assistant vice president Imran Md Nor.

Before we began our walk, Calvin gave us a quick briefing on the background of the project. I was fairly familiar with the story as I had researched it for my Sept 11 column.

But hearing Calvin tell it with such enthusiasm, even though it must be for the umpteen time, made it so much more compelling. Part of the amazing story was how they had to clear the site of garbage first. For years, this secondary forest had been the convenient dumping ground for construction debris and dangerous waste like used needles which filled 120 trucks.

Yet, some of it turned out to be useful. Old masonry, stones and timber were repurposed to build the 3-kilometre forest trail which I had noticed on my first visit.

As our group walked, guided by Imran and Tracey, I was really happy to see how multiracial we were. Readers Khoon Ling, Foo Teng and Shashin had signed up for the walk. Then Khoon Ling added her friend Vasantha while Shashin added his partner Kristin and acquaintance Seri Ratna, who brought her husband Hussainel and their son Aiman. I brought my son, his girlfriend Crystal and best mate Mikhail. That made a good mix of young and old as well.

It took us about an hour and a half to complete the trail which, as we learned from Calvin, actually involves descending and climbing what is equivalent to 12 stories as the park is actually located in a bowl shape terrain.

Imran pointed out interesting features: a little stream has become so clean, it now has guppies swimming in it and awesome indigenous tree species like the Pulai, Tualang and Tembusu.

On my first walk, I couldn’t find the Merbau tree, the latest national symbol, but this time Tracey pointed out a couple of slender saplings to us.

The park has its own hidden history. This was where British colonial officers were housed and traces of the long abandoned bungalows can be seen in the foundations, cement pillars and even an overgrown staircase.

Other walkers were friendly and happy to exchange greetings. Perhaps being close to nature brings out the best in people.

And that is what Calvin is most proud of since the park’s opening just over a year ago. There has been no littering nor theft of canned drinks or money from the donation box located at Forest House, a covered open area with picnic tables and benches where people can sit and chill.

He explained there are no bins on the trail because the monkeys would raid them but the park is amazingly litter-free. As for the canned drinks, they are sold based on trust. Whoever takes a can from the refrigerator is expected to drop RM3 into a donation box and they do!

I think people will do the right thing when they are in an environment that they can see deserves to be treasured, protected and kept it pristine.

And that is what Taman Tugu is about. As I wrote previously, this 66-acre of super-prime forest land in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is protected for perpetuity under the Amanah Warisan Negara (Awan) or the National Heritage Trust, set up in July 2018 under the Trustees Incorporation Act (1952).

No developer or politician can get their greedy hands on it. Later, over nasi lemak and Milo, Calvin told us that after the necessary due diligence, the process has started to transfer the land to Awan.

Taman Tugu is the first asset under Awan. According to Calvin, other assets could be historical properties like the Sultan Abdul Samad building or a family heirloom with a distinguished provenance or even P. Ramlee songs.

Awan is inspired by the UK National Trust which is an independent, self-sustaining model for environmental and heritage conservation.

A self-sustaining model means the trust needs to create income-generators like rentable spaces. Forest House is already popular for events like corporate dinners and weddings.

People and companies can also adopt trees, benches, even the swings in the park at RM10,000 a pop. Of course, donations and endowments are also welcome.

My group came, saw, walked and came away with a sense of wonder and joy that we have something like Taman Tugu in the city. We asked how we could support it and were told we could be park volunteers.

We were also delighted to hear that work is underway to add another 3km to the trail and at least 1km will cater to a more diverse community, meaning it would be wheelchair and pram accessible.

The park is very lively on the weekends with activities and events. That’s when volunteers are needed.

It was great fun walking in a group full of interesting people. For example, Seri Ratna and Shashin are among the few Malaysians selected as Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games volunteers, Hussainel has climbed Mount Kinabalu 10 times and Khoon Ling and Vasantha are ex-United Nations staff.

We only had time to listen to Shashin’s amazing experiences like how he survived the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but I am sure the others have wonderful stories to share too and I hope we will meet again.

Taman Tugu brought us together. It is a piece of tanah air that is held in trust for the people and I for one want to protect and share it. It’s a different kind of shared prosperity but just as valuable, don’t you think?

There will be a Taman Tugu Eco Day on Oct 19 with lots of activities and performances. For more information on the park, October events and how to sign up as a volunteer, visit http://tamantuguproject.com.my


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