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The people of Cameron Highlands will be happy if the authorities can resolve issues of the expensive parking, traffic congestion and high quit rent. NSTP/MUHAIZAN YAHYA

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: IF there is anyone who can be the unofficial “mayor of Cameron Highlands”, it has to be S. Ratnasingam.

People in Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang will be waving at the 60-year-old retired Public Works Department (PWD) officer, whether he is walking down the street or driving around one of the oldest tourist spots in the country.

The friendly gestures do not only come from members of the Indian community, but also from the Chinese, Malays and Orang Asli, as well as tourists visiting this hill station.

He attributes the “Wave and Hi” greetings to the small town atmosphere.

It may also be due to the rapport he built during his stint as a district councillor and MIC division chief, which saw him serving the people for years.

S. Ratnasingam at the government quarters in Tanah Rata where he grew up. It was also the place where his siblings were born.

“I enjoy helping people. Everyone knows everybody here. Everyone knows what is taking place and what is happening. This makes it easy to help each other in every way.”

Ratnasingam says as the towns and settlements here are small, their community is close-knit.

“Nothing escapes the locals and since everyone more or less knows each other, it is better to be on good behaviour, or news of your shenanigans will spread like wildfire,” said the dapper-looking sexagenarian.

He says it is easy to differentiate between a local and a tourist.

“Tourists will be all swaddled up due to the cold. Locals will dress normally, even at night, because they are used to the weather,” he said with a smile.

Cameron Highlands, located on the northwestern tip of Pahang, comprises nine settlements, namely Ringlet, Tanah Rata, Brinchang, Bertam Valley, Kea Farm, Tringkap, Kuala Terla, Kampung Raja and Blue Valley.

All are nestled between 800m and 1,603m above sea level.

Ratnasingam says Cameron Highlands is deeply embedded in his soul, having grown up in the mountain resort like generations of his family before him.

“My grandfather was a dentist in Ringlet in 1920, and father worked as a senior health inspector in Ringlet and Tanah Rata until 1976.

“I am a fourth-generation Cameron Highlander. I have studied here and worked in the local PWD office until my retirement last year,” said the father of two.

Orang Asli children playing near their village in Sungai Tiang. The towns and settlements in Cameron Highlands are small and the community is close-knit. NSTP/ABDULLAH YUSOF

He adds that during his years in the hill station, he has seen development and progress come at a rapid pace.

Some of them are good, while others need intervention from the authorities.

“I have seen how Cameron Highlands developed since the 1980s. The roads and infrastructure have improved vastly.”

He agrees that the temperature at the hill station is not as cold as it was in the past.

“In the past, you can’t even bathe in the cold water (mandi air sejuk), but now you can.

“And you don’t even see the sun until noon as it would be covered by clouds and fog. Now, you can see it rise early in the morning every day.”

Despite all the positive developments that Cameron Highlands has enjoyed, the locals, Ratnasingam says, want the authorities to resolve various issues they are facing.

They include the high parking charges imposed by the local authorities seven days a week; reviewing the quit rent in the district, which is said to be exorbitant compared with Kuala Lumpur and Penang (for example, a double-storey homeowner here is charged RM800 annually); improving road conditions; and, replacing several bridges that have seen better days.

They also want a solution to the traffic congestion caused by the roadside stalls in Brinchang.

Ratnasingam says the resolution of these issues will make many people in his community happy, as well as tourists who come for a memorable holiday.

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