Day 1: Forest
26 December 2017


The Things You Lose (2nd Place)
Adriana Aida binti Che Ismail

There is a place, my father had said, where the cure to any illness could be found, if only you knew what you were looking for. There is a place that rivalled even the largest dispensaries, a place doctors could only begin to fathom. Sometimes he brought me here, to the place where the world was just beginning to wake from its slumber. Where the birds began to find their voices in the golden glimpses of the early morning sun. Abah and I explored in silence, stopping only to collect the plants he had pointed out. My old friends, pegaga, sirih and kadok. Rare finds like kulat sisir. Deeper and deeper we trudged, until the sunlight blazed down on our heads and the smothering heat became too sweltering to overcome. And so, baskets filled with herbs and plants, home we went to a mother waiting with her arms crossed.

Mak didn’t like the place where the branches from the canopy scraped against the blue of the sky. She and Abah would bicker about it every time we got home, saying it was dangerous for something as tender as a girl like me to become entangled in a wild place like that. After all, she argued, didn’t they say strange forces hid deep within forests? Didn’t the unknown lurk in the early hours of the day? Why didn’t he bring along my strong, older brother instead, she reasoned.

But Mak didn’t understand. Didn’t understand that Abah’s eyesight wasn’t what it once was, that there is a precision in a child’s eye and a fragility in their touch that cannot be replicated. Didn’t understand the inextinguishable light inside my heart that hungered learn the secrets of the forest. That beneath my father’s stern façade, beneath the silence that spanned so widely between us, was a tired, old man that loved his children in the only way he knew- by teaching them.

Abah could never explain this. Instead, he offered her a basket of our finds as a peace offering, which she accepted begrudgingly.

There is a place, I had told my friends, where you can run as wild as you please and the forest runs wild with you. A place where, for a brief moment, worldly matters melt away just to let you climb up the trees. Where poverty does not exist and crying is forbidden. There is a place where you can smile and laugh. When I returned, my mother’s face stern, cane in her scarred hand. But a few red welts were a small price to pay for a glimpse of freedom.

There was a place where foliage spanned as far as the eye could see. Overgrown. Untamed. But now, there is only a place where palms are arranged in lines, in queues. Like soldiers, like troopers, like criminals waiting to be executed. Now, there are only memories.

There is a place where you can speak to the earth and the earth speaks back.

But not anymore.

No, not anymore.


Wildlife's Enemy
Ling How Ken

Last weekend, Adam and I had the adventure of our lives. We had to complete a science project that involved gathering pictures of different types of plants in tropical rainforests. Adam suggested that we enter the forest by ourselves as he was quite familiar with the forest. We were following the regular trail when I spotted a ‘KEEP OUT’ sign among the trees. It was an abandoned trail. Being adventurous, I pointed it out to Adam.

“Adam, look. It’s a banned path. Would you dare to take this path into the forest?” I asked.

Adam was a headstrong person and could never back down on a request or a challenge. Although he had never taken this path, he nodded and we walked side by side into the trail. The deeper we went, the darker it became as the tall trees formed a canopy above us and blocked out the light. We kept going forward without realizing that the day was turning into night. It was eerie as we saw nocturnal animals coming out of their hiding to hunt for food but I knew it was too late to turn back now.

Suddenly, we heard footsteps coming our way and we hid quietly behind some trees. Two men were carrying snipers, shotguns and heavy-looking bags. They were talking about a site where there were many elephants’ tusks and other items. We could not hear them very clearly.

Adam whispered, “Do you think that they were illegally killing animals to sell to the illegal buyers?”

“If that is their motive, then we better call the forest rangers and tell them about this. “ I said.

Adam nodded and took out his phone. He talked to them while I watched out for the men. We then tailed the men and they led us to a wooden house with dim light. We hid ourselves nearby in case the men left the house. As I held up my hand to smack a mosquito, I felt something against my right foot. Adam picked it up. Through the dim light, we saw it was a bag similar to the men’s. We opened it and saw hundreds of tusks in it. We opened the other bags and saw rhinoceros’s horns, tiger’s skin and claw and snake’s skins. It was a horrible sight for us nature lovers.

Out of the blue, a hand touched my shoulder. A chill went down my spine. I almost screamed when another hand closed my mouth. Adam shared my fate too. He tried to fight it but it was in vain. We were both shocked and relieved when we saw the forest rangers. The men were being cuffed and arrested. A forest ranger thanked us for our effort and explained that those men had been illegally smuggling and selling animal products to the black market. We went to bed with contentment, knowing that we had done good deed to the nature as many of these harmed animals were endangered and must be protected.

Forest of Thoughts
Valerie Lee Sze Ying

I suppose that the forest of thoughts that lies within me doesn’t take too long to grow. All it needs is a little time, whether it be when lying awake at three in the morning, or zoning out in front of teachers in the middle of class. My mind demands to be alone.

Today, it’s taken the few moments I’ve been asked to accompany the young child in the VR room. She’s excited, as always. Not exactly surprising for a three-year-old to be left in awe every time a helmet’s placed over her head and the world around her dissolves into places she could never have been. Sometimes, I’ll admit that I get lost in my woods. I drift and wander, and wander and drift; like my daughter to the VR headset, who’s beckoned by the enchantment that it brings to her surroundings.

My forest has taken the liberty to lead me down a path where I start thinking about the forest itself, the nitty gritty details that make it up. A lot of times, it’s really just a vibrant metropolis –

loud and intruding, where I still lose myself in the view of skyscrapers that almost scrape the sky, but never do. But when the hustle and bustle finally disintegrates into the majesty that is the ecosystem behind the thriving city, I’m left in awe of the grandeur that my consciousness is capable of. Each individual word is packed into a tree, spiraling upwards towards a sky that I oftentimes mistake for being finite. Until I’m snapped out of it by a thought that pierces through, like an axe through the tree trunks of my all but tiny sanctuary. My dole-eyed daughter stares up at me. “Daddy, what’s a ‘forest’?”