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Kinabalu lesson: Live, love, and pass it on

Posted on: June 8, 2015

I was saddened to read about the lives lost at Mt Kinabalu due to the earthquake in Sabah. That children were among those affected and killed made it worse.

I visited Sabah 21 years ago (June 1994) to climb Mt Kinabalu, relax in a hot spring, and snorkel in a marine park.

Photo taken in June 1994 at Low’s Peak, Mt Kinabalu. I am second from left.

I recall the tourist office calling Kinabalu the easiest and safest mountain to climb. It might be the easiest since you do not need special climbing skills or equipment. But I wonder if the safe moniker is valid.

I looked tragedy in the face when I was there. On my way down the mountain, a British tourist and I performed CPR on a woman who had collapsed.

It was one of the few occasions I had to put my first aid training into action. Fortunately, it kicked in like muscle memory.

I will never forget a few things that happened over the next few hours.

I felt the anguish of the woman’s husband and son as they stood helplessly by. She was dead but we kept up the CPR until guides brought a canvas stretcher to us.

There was no way to airlift her by helicopter as the vegetation prevented a safe evacuation. I felt anger that the guides and porters did not know what to do*. They dumped the stretcher on the ground and I had to figure out what to do.

*I do not mean to speak ill of these folk. They might not have known what to do back then, but they were among the most humble, patient, and resilient people I have ever met. From accounts of the recent tragedy, they were also critical in leading and carrying climbers to safety [news article] and better prepared now [news article].

Photo of a photo from my album. No consumer digital cameras back then I think.

I felt outrage when others stood around to gawk instead of finding some way to help, e.g., direct human traffic or form a human shield. If this happened today, I have no doubt that photos and videos would have appeared in social media well before the body reached base camp.

I felt a strange kinship with my CPR partner. He was on his way up while I was making my descent. We shook hands as we parted. I wonder if he looks back on the event.

I can still see the woman’s light blue eyes staring lifelessly into the sky because I was mostly responsible for delivering the “kiss of life”. I could not bring her back to her family.

I felt a deep sadness when I collected my certificate for successfully climbing Kinabalu. As I filled in the paperwork, a guide recognized me and brought me over to the woman’s husband and son.

The man expressed a sad “Thank you” while his teenaged son sobbed in a corner. I numbly shook his hand before walking away. I would eventually return to my family after my trip; the man and his son could not.

I recall the beauty of the things I saw in Sabah. But I also experienced a profound sadness as a young adult then.

Photo of the beach at Pulau Manukan (June 1994).

My sadness then and now is nothing compared to the anguish of the families who have lost loved ones due to last week’s tragedy. Mine is a distant but vivid memory; their pain is deep and happening now.

I vowed then to live life to the fullest and to be appreciative of family. Other than your word and your time, that is all you can give to yourself and others.

Live, love, and pass it on.

Addendum: Two more thoughts thanks to #edsg chat last night.

3 Responses to "Kinabalu lesson: Live, love, and pass it on"

SzeYee: RT @ashley: What I learnt about life & death from #mtkinabalu 21 years ago #edsg via


Benedict CHIA: RT @ashley: What I learnt about life & death from #mtkinabalu 21 years ago #edsg via


aprilsnow10: @ashley You were 12 then? That’s the difference. Has to do with taking responsibility. Not about blaming. It’s to do with stupid principals via


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