The Ghost Army that saved Maxwell Hill!

January 14, 2022

Taiping is steeped in history. And like all old towns, it comes with it’s own unique blend of peculiarities. One of the most interesting rituals that unfolds with astounding regularity every couple of years is the State government of Perak will announce commercializing that one and only sublime eco jewel in the Crown of Taiping… Maxwell Hill. Usually these developments envisage all sorts of outlandish plans ranging from forest scarring cable cars to obscenely megasized jungle destroying Las Vegas style hotels complete with kitsch fibre glass waterfalls with even life sized plaster of Paris Jurassic dinosaurs…and. Every time the state government expresses an intention to develop Maxwell Hill. Those who are most passionate about preserving the ecological virginity of Maxwell Hill will resist these plans tooth and nail. Often insisting that such developments would most certainly destroy the irreplaceable flora and fauna of Maxwell Hill….and. Every time to discourage the commercial aspirations of these fat cat real estate developers. The indispensable services of Moses Pavadei will be engaged like a hired gun by NGO’s and all those who are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve the sanctity of Maxwell Hill…and. Every time. Shortly after Moses has been engaged. These grandiose property development plans are mysteriously shelved. Usually these property developers pack up and disappear so fast like some travelling circus never to be seen again….. leaving one to wonder what’s really behind Moses Pavadeih’s powers of persuasion. There are of course plenty of rumors and gossip in the Taiping grapevine. Everything ranging from mass hypnosis to even allegations of Moses resorting to blackmail and gangsterism to get his way and on every occasion when he’s asked by interested parties as to how he goes about reasoning with such unreasonable folk…all that the curious can ever hope to get out from Moses is an enigmatic smile.

It seems, Moses is so incomparably good at shooing away malevolent and greedy and ill intentioned and wayward folk that his services is regularly sought after by even Planters…and surely that must speak volumes about his impeccable credentials as Planters are perhaps the most pragmatic minded and tight fisted businessmen in the world! In fact when one of my colleagues experienced a spot of trouble concerning thieves stealing his oil palm crop in the dead of night. Within one week of engaging Moses, not only did he put an end to all the thievery that had once plagued my friend’s estate, but he was even able to get the plantation clerk to confess on his own volition that he was working hand in glove with the thieves! On another occasion, when a real estate agent expressed his displeasure at how the seller of a plot of land in Manjung kept changing his mind about selling his land at the last moment. After handing it to Moses, not only did the seller agree to sell his land, but he had even lowered his selling price by a staggering 10%. Such were the persuasive powers of Moses that he would be the man of the hour who all the eco warriors along with the entire hiking and hashing community in Taiping sought when they read in the Star newsprint……CABLE CAR TO BE BUILT IN TAIPING, yet another resort operator it seems was proposing to build yet another monstrous carbuncle on Maxwell Hill. Only on this occasion. This resort developer seemed more headstrong than the others. A team of surveyors had even been despatched and were currently camping on top of Maxwell Hill. And judging by their growing numbers day by day, things had started to move in earnest.

One morning. I received a call from Moses. He wanted to see me urgently at my Jawi estate. At three in the afternnoon. He was shown into my office. I could tell from his edgy demeanor he looked terribly worried. I asked what’s the problem Moses. A strained pause ensued as if his mind was elsewhere. Then it gushed out – George I don’t think. I will be able to shoo off these people who want to build a cable car and hotel on the hill!….not this time George’, a pause followed again. Then as if mustering a morsel of strenght deep within. Moses came to my side and asked in a pleading voice – George can I trust you? I said – most definitely Moses. Then he went on. Do you really want to know how I go about persuading unreasonable people to give up their unreasonable designs. He paused momentarily as if still weighing whether he should keep his trade secret intact. Then as if relenting to some over bearing burden, he let it all out, ‘Its quite simple George. I get a bunch of down and out’s to dress up as WW2 Japanese soldiers and what they do is dust themselves liberally with talcum powder and march up and down in the dead of night jangling chains and making racket. Moses looked at me as if surprised by his own revelation. Then he continued. The following day anyone who hasn’t died of a heart attack after witnessing this is thoroughly convinced they must seen a Japanese ghost army and there and then, they just take right off! It works every single time like a magic charm George. I was dumb struck by what Moses’s just shared with me. It sounded so child like it could all have easily stepped right out from the pages of a Beano comic strip. Yet I marvelled at its effectiveness. Above all. I was impressed by the sheer genius of its simplicity and how it was able to turn one’s mind into the nemesis with the power of superstition. Moses went on. George I don’t think. I can pull it off this time. As the folk who I used to impersonate these ghost troops have been upping their price and if I don’t pay them the sum they’re demanding. They have threatened to expose me. I can’t seem to get anyone I can trust to work with me on this and the last thing I want to do is let down all those nature lovers and hikers and hashers who have placed their hope on me to save their one and only love Maxwell Hill. George, you have alot of plantation workers here. Could you please help me?

I said yes. Not reluctantly, but with the conviction that what I and Moses had to embark on was perhaps the right and only thing to do under the circumstances. We had to move fast. As Moses had got wind. The resort operator had made plans to move heavy machinery to the top of the hill by next week and there were already so many workers camped on the hill. There was even talk of buying over some of the dilapidated rest houses to be converted into dormitories. That same week. Twenty men in my Nibong Tebal had been selected. Drilled in marches. Moses had even got them khaki shirts, baseball caps and other odds and ends from some Japanese factory in Perai that looked close enough to resemble WW2 army uniforms. The plan was to stage it this very coming Saturday itself in the early hours at the top of Maxwell Hill where many of the surveyors had set up camp. I left the execution to Moses.

Early that Sunday morning. I was so eager to know the outcome of Moses’s ruse. I tried to call him. But there was always no line. So I called a friend who was a regular Maxwell Hill weekend hiker. She recounted in an elated tone, it’s very unlikely the developer would proceed with plans to build anything now. As there was a scene of complete pandemonium at the foot of the hill. I feigned ignorance and asked her why. She mentioned. It seems many of surveyors hired by the resort operator who had been camping on the hill had been rudely awoken by the jarring sound of marching soldiers last night at round 2.00 am. When they peeked out their tents. They saw the eiree and supernatural sight of a Japanese ghost army. Many are convinced the hill is haunted and they are so petrified that most refuse to either work or stay there again. By late morning news had even begun to filter out from Taiping that everyone who resisted the development of Maxwell Hill were overjoyed and celebrating.

By late afternoon. I finally managed to get thru to Moses. He sounded tired and frustrated. As he recounted in a disappointed tone – the ruse to march in Maxwell Hill would most probably have to postponed to next Saturday. As bus which supposed to ferry them to the base of Maxwell Hill last night had suddenly and unexpectedly broken down on the highway between Bukit Merah and Taiping.

(Maxwell Hill or Bukit Larut is known as the most haunted hill resort in Malaysia. During WW2 many British and Commonwealth POW perished building the serpentine road that leads all the way to the summit of the hill resort)

The Straits Plantation Tales Series 2021 – Story Telling Season IV – George Chong 2021 / EP 99019984001938AE 2021 (This is a free 1st draft editorial copy for limited circulation to EPAY sites only – kindly check with your site administrator in your respective read club to access EP site) Oct 2021.

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