It took Shawn Liam, 27, a stint overseas to fully realise the beauty of his own country. His method of reaching that beauty – rock climbing.
In 2008, Liam was a freshman in Queensland, Australia, looking for an outdoor job. One stood out in particular – rock climbing – so he joined QUT Cliffhangers, Queensland’s largest rock climbing club.
Three years later, he was promoted to president of the club, often travelling a fair bit to find good climbs.
Liam, who works as a web designer, climbs twice a week these days in his own – figurative, not literal – backyard, travelling across Malaysia to scale its most scenic spots. Most of the locations are so remote, there is hardly anyone else around.
“I think it’s the idea that you get to be somewhere that not many, or even nobody, has been before,” Liam said. “And you’re just there sitting on the side of a cliff, staring into a valley, having lunch.”
There were times when Liam didn’t think he would make it out alive. Like the harrowing time he and his climbing partner realised they were lost. This realisation, coupled with a swiftly setting sun, forced the two to scale a cliff they otherwise would not have in the dimming light.
“My partner and I were at the bottom of a valley,” he said. “And we needed to climb it so we could get out and see where we were.
“So we looked for the closest thing that looked climb-able and got started, but the rock surface was dangerously shaky. Stuff was loose; there were wet bits everywhere, water trailing from the rock.”
In the end they managed to reach the top with just enough light to spare, and eventually stumbled back onto the route they had wandered away from.
But this doesn’t happen a lot, Liam pointed out. For both him and his partner to get lost at the same time is rare, and more often than not, their climbs consist of groups larger than two.
“The climbing community is a pretty small group in Malaysia,” he said. “So you see familiar faces all the time. When someone new comes in, everybody knows it.”
It is also split into indoor and outdoor communities, with some people spilling over into the other.
According to Liam, the indoor community is slightly larger because of Malaysia’s climate. Most climbers prefer not to go out into the sun.
The government hosts most of the climbing competitions, which are held and organised by Persatuan Mendaki Malaysia (PMM).
Most of their competitions take place indoors where conditions can be controlled, and with categories like speed and endurance.
Those interested in rock climbing can join the PMM Facebook page at facebook.com/persekutuanmendaki.malaysia and participate in their public climbs and competitions.