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Tea Leaves

Contemporary life lessons from an ancient rainforest

Jungle odyssey in Malaysia highlights importance of ancestral wisdom

Batek guide Piyan, left, and the author wearing traditional orang asli face paint made of river mud. (Photo by Kit Yeng Chan)

Standing amid tropical vines and a cacophony of cicadas, I look Piyan in the eyes, hoping he is pulling my leg. But the young man is deadly serious: He claims he has just seen the golden back of what sounds like ngah in the unwritten language of the Batek people -- one of Peninsular Malaysia's 18 seminomadic orang asli (aboriginal) subgroups.

We are in Taman Negara, Peninsular Malaysia's largest park, which includes the ancestral lands of the Batek, and I cannot believe that I have just missed the Malayan tiger encounter I have dreamed of for 14 years because I lagged a couple of meters behind my unstoppable jungle guide

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