I have less than a year until I reach the big FOUR-ZERO. Although many say that forty is the new thirty – after all, we are on a whole getting more health-conscious, spending countless hours at the gym getting toned and fit – the upcoming birthday is still a time for reflection. I watched a post on YouTube not so long ago about age and one’s career. According to the man being interviewed – a man born into a poor family in China whose net worth, at the age of 50, is into the billions (of US dollars) – one’s career should be set in stone and on a spiral upward by the time the age of forty comes along.
If I follow this rule, and with five months to go to my fortieth birthday, I think I may be in trouble where my career is concerned. But as I look back on my life, I realise I have many life experiences to be proud of. A unique one, particularly as a Sabahan, was the four years I spent roughing it in the African bush. Contrary to the notion many held that I was miles away from home playing with wild animals (this idea might have been encouraged by some of the photos I sent back of interesting animal encounters), I was putting my skills to use, co-managing safari camps in the largest National Park in Kenya.
Even earlier in my childhood, a fond memory I have is climbing Mount Kinabalu. I took on the challenge as a teenager twice, joining church and school youth groups to conquer what was then noted as the 4,101 meter tall mountain. The fun was in gathering together during our pre-climb exercise sessions. The joy was the comraderie with close friends. The aches and pains did not even come into question.
As a young adult, I climbed Mount Kinabalu twice more, this time paying more attention to the journey itself. This is a mountain that has attracted people from all over the world. While many retain the same attitude I had before – the sole goal is to reach the peak by sunrise, it is encouraging to note that interest in the surrounding flora and fauna is on the rise. The mountain that is embodied in many logos and letterheads, for tourism companies and otherwise, is a proud feature for us in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo. Yet, more than 10 years after my last climb, I realise that my appreciation of this mountain has grown even more. A component I had not considered during my climbs is the cultural value of the mountain. I am grateful to have developed a deep understanding of this through my work with the Global Diversity Foundation, an NGO dedicated to promoting biocultural diversity. Mount Kinabalu is a sacred site for the indigenous Dusuns living in the area. Their deceased loved ones are buried facing the mountain so that their spirits can see the mountain as they begin their journey to the afterlife.