M’sian City Life #21: Why I Painstakingly Transformed A Smelly Dumpsite Into A Garden

"If we can keep our garbage bin clean at home, why not at a common area?"

Cover image via Geo Chong

When we talk about dumpsites, the first thing that comes to mind is the foul smell and the sight of rotting garbage.

You wouldn’t imagine a pretty herb garden, like this one at Latan Biru Apartment in Kota Damansara, Selangor.

Image via Geo Chong
Image via Geo Chong

How this garden came about is rather interesting. It is through the hard labour of one resourceful and selfless resident who championed this initiative to turn a rubbish disposal spot into a space where fruits and herbs can flourish.

The mastermind behind the 'Garden of Life', George Chong, has been putting his heart and soul into this project to beautify the garbage disposal room at his apartment complex

Image via Geo Chong

The inspiration for this beautiful project came about three years ago when Chong envisioned living in a community with a beautiful environment.

He knew he had to start somewhere, and with that in mind, he sought the permission of the building management and volunteered to begin the transformation efforts himself.

Chong diligently cleaned, planted and even did the landscaping works himself.

Image via Geo Chong

"I make it a continuous effort to upgrade the space from time to time," Chong said.

"When I first started the project all by myself (and is still doing that solo), one of the management committee members asked me why I was hanging the pictures and making the garbage room beautiful. My answer was this: Why can't a garbage room be clean and beautiful? If we can keep our garbage bin clean at home, why not at a common area?"

Despite his noble intentions for the community, there are a number of people who are not too happy with Chong's work. Some have even maliciously vandalised the garden.

A full bloomed bunga kantan, commonly used in cooking Malaysian dishes, was spotted at Chong's garden.

Image via Geo Chong

The Garden of Life used to be an open garden where everyone was welcomed to harvest the produce. However, some people have taken advantage of the garden for their own personal interest.

Fruits went missing after some greedy people stole all the crops for themselves, while some even went as far as to vandalise the garden by dumping rubbish or pulling the shoots of the plants.

A bunch of unripened bananas at the 'Garden of Life'.

Image via Geo Chong

To put an end to this, Chong held a discussion with the management office on setting up fences around the garden to protect it, late last August.

Since then, Chong would harvest the crops himself and gives them to his neighbours personally.

Although unpleasant incidents have occurred in the past, they have not dampened Chong's enthusiasm in gardening, an interest which was cultivated from his younger days

The Chenderoh water dam.

Image via Lets Go Holiday Lenggong Blog

Chong was brought up in a small settlement in Perak called Chenderoh, and he considered it as one of the cleanest and beautifully landscaped place in Malaysia then.

"Since Chenderoh was a beautiful settlement, it was no surprise that many of the residents themselves grew ornamental and fruit plants around their houses. We did not buy plants from nurseries those days. We exchanged plants with our neighbours. I remembered this very well," said the 53-year-old.

Image via Bernama

"My friends, especially my gardening friends always called me a kind person for creating and maintaining the community gardens at my apartment," Chong said.

"The truth is that it wasn't just the 'kindness' that led me to grow and take care of the plants for so many years, despite not being paid for it. But I am very thankful and appreciative of the recognition and kind words."

"What really stemmed my interest was my childhood. I actually I grew up in an environment that was close to nature with clean, beautiful landscape, and I wish that I could continue to live in an environment similar to a place I called a paradise," he explained.

Chong has been devoting himself to gardening for as long as he can remember, despite being diagnosed with cervical stenosis, three years ago.

It is a condition that involves the pinching of the spinal cord in the neck and the elderly man is currently being treated for it.

Image via Geo Chong

He stopped working about 3.5 years ago because of his health condition. He's now taking the time to rest as much as possible and regularly goes to the hospital for follow-up sessions. In the midst of all these, he still managed to dedicate his time to building this community garden.

"Not many people know of this 'Garden of Life'. It is my secret garden. Most people do not bother to look at what is at the back of garbage room," Chong said.

He concurred that it's our common perception that the garbage room is always a dirty place, but it is his desire to see this perception change.

Image via Geo Chong

"If each of us can contribute a bit of effort to maintain the cleanliness and make it as routine, then why not? We do not have to be so materialistic and selfish," Chong said frankly.

"We are the ones who dirty up our environment and so it is our responsibility to clean up the place. If we do not want to do the dirty job, then be disciplined. Do not litter and make sure that all garbage goes to the right place."

Image via Geo Chong

Living in the city ain’t a piece of cake but it could also be exciting and adventurous. How are you coping? How are you making the best out of things? Do you have a story or experience to share?

SUBMIT YOUR STORY NOW, or work on it and send it soon. Share a personal experience, your story as an urban city-dweller in Malaysia, whether it’s yours or from someone you know, email [email protected] or FB message us.

We’ll get in touch with you for your story to be featured on SAYS!

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Previously on Malaysian City Life #20, Mia Sabrina Mahadir shared about her struggles as a part-time actress in Malaysia:

More stories to read: