"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it."
On the 5th of April, a Saturday of no particular note, I decided to check out a mountain near Kuching on the recommendation of one of my patients who once tried to commit suicide by swallowing a lot of over-the-counter flu meds. She's a Christian and she regularly makes pilgrimages to a church there. The mountain, called Singai, is located in the neighbouring town of Bau and on a clear day, it is visible from my apartment (and from the hospital I work in). If you are looking for it, it's that little flat-topped peak to the west standing beside the sprawling and towering mountain range that houses Mount Serapi and the Kubah National Park.
|Shot from the 9th floor of the main block of the Sarawak General in the same day after I got down from it.|
Mount Singai is that volcano-shaped protuberance to the left of the large mountain range on the right.
I cannot find any official figures on Singai's height but the number that comes up most frequently is 562 metres - and it is also the number that makes most sense when we compare it visually to the 911 metres Serapi standing right beside it. To get to it, I had to drive about 30 clicks from Kuching and I deliberately chose a Saturday to make my ascent to avoid the Sunday throng of worshippers.
The climb up to the church (known as CMPC or the Catholic Memorial Pilgrimage Centre) is a short 30 minutes to 1 hour stroll through a long series of boardwalks and wooden stairs that was punctuated at regular intervals by more than a dozen crucifix-shaped shrines in which bronze plaques with bas-reliefs depicting the Passion of Jesus were embedded. They covered the moment of Jesus's condemnation to his death on the cross and finally his interment, but (for some reason) no further. I approved of it.
|The way up to CMPC.|
|Glimpses of neighbouring mountains on the way up.|
The CMPC is nestled on a plateau midway up the mountain and consists of a series of wooden structures including the baruk-style Church of Christ the King (which is in actuality a glorified gazebo), the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a retreat house, a 10-door longhouse, a chalet, a mess hall, a hostel, the caretaker's abode and even an "mini-amphitheatre" (which structurally speaking, is really just a regular theatre). I am not a churchgoer but I must admit that the CMPC has a sort of rustic charm to it. However, I must question the wisdom of building a church that requires an hour of mountain-climbing to get to when Catholic church attendance is at an all time low.
A sign by the Gazebo of Christ the King had the following message embossed on it in all-caps:
This Catholic Memorial & Pilgrimage Centre Mt Singai, Bau was officially declared open jointly by Most Rev. Datuk Peter Chung, DD, DCL, PNBS and Y.B. Peter Mansian, ADUN Tasik Biru, Bau. Blessed and dedicated to Christ the King and as a centre for pilgrimages during the Jubilee Year 2000 by Most Rev. Datuk Peter Chung DD, DCL, PNBS on 21-11-1999 (Feast of Christ the King). May all who come to this centre know the presence of Christ, experience the joy of his friendship and grow in his love.
CMPC was also built through the voluntary efforts of its congregation in carrying lumber, sand, bricks, cement and other construction materials up the mountain every time they make a pilgrimage. Faith may not actually move mountains (Matthew 17:20) but it sure can get you loads of free labour. On my way down later, I actually encountered a pair of youths lugging a length of two-by-four on their shoulders uphill. I think it is meant to be a metaphorical act simulating Christ's Procession to Calvary in which he had to carry his own gruesome torture-slash-execution device.
|Gazebo of Christ the King.|
|Grotto of Their Lady of Lourdes.|
|The theatre that calls itself a mini amphitheatre.|
You'd notice that the middle seats of theatre had been refashioned using new wood because in September last year, an Act of God™ have toppled a mango tree right onto it.
Anyway, the CMPC was not the destination I had in mind so after pottering about for a few minutes, I continued my trek up to the summit of Mount Singai. Finding the trail posed a bit of a challenge but I finally located it by the "retreat house" marked by a faded yellow signboard. From here onwards, there were no more boardwalks and stairs - just stones, moss, roots, leaf litters and earth.
If you are interested in that sort of thing, Singai is an excellent repository of bugs and I was fortunate enough to come cross a fair share on my way up.
|A very tiny, highly-caffeinated harvestman I spotted right the start of the summit trail.|
|An unidentified spider (probably Nephila sp.) taking refuge under a leaf when I disturbed its web.|
|Termites from either the genus Hospitalitermes or Lacessititermes.|
|A Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica agleoides) suspended upside down, drinking from a single drop of dew.|
|A large black round-bodied millipede with bright pink and yellow legs.|
|A savage looking millipede from the order Polydesmida.|
|A Common Imperial (Cheritra freja) near the summit of Mount Singai that I managed to get very close to.|
|An brightly-yellow freaky-looking orb-weaving spider from the genus Gasteracantha. It looks like Gasteracantha hasselti (Hasselt's spiny spider) but its lateral-most spines seem to preceded by a knob. Maybe it is a Bornean subspecies.|
|Another specimen of the same Gasteracantha spider. I accidentally knocked this one down to the forest floor.|
|Interestingly, it seemed to retract its limbs like a tortoise when I prod it a few times. Note the spinneret at the end of the abdomen.|
Aside from arthropods, I also came across many different species of mushrooms, none of which I am capable of identifying, exposing yet another gaping hole in my own knowledge to me.
|Some unhealthy looking red bolete mushrooms.|
|A solitary white mushroom.|
|A cluster of grey-blue caps.|
|A group of flesh-coloured mushrooms.|
The trail itself was broadly divided into two phases. The first part was a gentle 10 to 20° uphill climb with abandoned makeshift structures made out of bamboo littered the wayside (I figured they might have been erected by scout troops). There were some false trails I accidentally took twice (going up and coming down) which forced me to backtrack so if you are attempting a hike up to the summit of Singai without a guide, pay attention to which paths you take. On the way back to the CMPC, all you need to do is follow the sound of unanswered prayers, and you'll find your way just fine.
The second half of the climb is a 30 to 45° slope that is far more challenging but helpful ropes were provided to aid you through the hardest spans (so bring gloves if you value the skin covering the palms of your hands). I am not losing a lot of weight since I started hiking in late January this year, but I have made noticeable inroads into improving my stamina and even managed to overtake some of the other hikers I ran into on my way up to Singai's top.
|A huge split rock you'll encounter on the second (steeper) part of the climb up.|
|A massive boulder you'll encounter very, very near the summit.|
Near the very top of the climb, you'll come across a large two-storey tall boulder that will loom right over your trail. There are even crude seats build on top of it but don't be fooled into thinking that this is the summit (thought it is a great shady spot to rest). At this point, you should take the path to the left of the rock and continue till you reach an unshaded spot which offers you an unobstructed view of the plains below. I mention this because I took the path to the right of it and wandered some distance along the ridge of the mountaintop before that trail sort of faded.
I had to retrace my step back to the huge stone to take the correct path to the summit proper.
|The real summit of Mount Singai.|
|A panoramic photograph taken of the view from Singai's summit. Do click to embiggen.|
I looked at the clock on my phone and calculated that I took about two hours to reach the summit from the church grounds, which wasn't too bad considering that I spent quite some time on wild goose chases down ghost paths. It was pleasantly overcast at the time so I need not suffer the midday heat either - which was good because I only brought a 500ml bottle of water with me and there was only about a mouthful left in it.
After taking in my fill of the scenery, I decided to go rest on top of the gigantic boulder I passed earlier and eat some of the chocolates I brought with me on the hike, but it was already occupied by the two hikers I overtook earlier.
And you wouldn't believe it - one of them was smoking a cigarette. No wonder I overtook him so easily.
|Just look at how retarded his face is.|
Just this year, I climbed Santubong, Serapi and Pha Ngeun in Laos, and at the top of all those peaks, I had to suffer the noxious presence of smokers poisoning and polluting the fresh mountain air. I seriously don't think these people deserve to live. If I see one of them dying of a heart attack or something when I'm on a hike, I'll just move him or her off the trail into the undergrowth and cover them with dead leaves before going on my merry way just to ensure that one else can come along and rescue them.
So instead of relaxing after my climb, I was forced to make my descent thanks to that cigarette-chomping son-of-a-bitch because I sure as heck don't want to breath in any more of his fumes than I already did.
The journey down was quite a task and I had to rely on the ropes for most of the way giving my hands a bit of a rope burn in the process because I left my gloves in my car. In about one hour, I found myself in CMPC again and there seemed to be a crowd of people there already. Some churchy stuff was about to begin but I wasn't at all inclined to stick around and find out what.
|A boy leaping from bench to bench in front of the Grotto of Their Lady of Lourdes.|
Some drinks were laid out in the mess hall and failing to find anyone to ask, I helped myself to one of their water dispensers and filled my bottle before descending the rest of the way down to the bottom of the mountain where vendors hawk soft drinks and coconuts. Have you ever had an ice-cold can of 100PLUS after an entire morning's worth of exertion? Now that's a religious experience right there. Gatorade just can't compare, if you ask me.
Anyway, this piece represented just half the story of my climb up Mount Singai. There was so much commentary I would like to make about the racism and hypocrisy I encountered along the way that I think I need to write another article just to address that.
RELATED POST: Racism and Hypocrisy at Mount Singai
Trespassed into a kingdom of God,
k0k s3n w4i