Retreat to Higher Ground

Day 3, 500 words, 31 days.

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Today, my wife and I took a trip with two friends over to Cameron Highlands, a destination here in Malaysia known for numerous tea plantations and strawberry farms. It is an idyllic getaway from the relative busyness of Penang, but more than anything, it is a welcome respite from the baking heat that we get on the island. I welcome any excuse to layer up and dust off my sweaters from our cabinet, so this is retreat will be well-worth the 4 hour trip it took to get here.

Our journey took us through the town of Ipoh, which in these parts, is popular to visitors mostly for it’s “white chicken” dishes and famous white coffee.

Sure enough, the food did not disappoint. Which was extra satisfying, considering we almost got swindled by a “parking attendant” that refused to return the change we needed back. It’s a longer story, I won’t get into it. I just know the chicken and bean sprouts we had at Restoran Lou Wong was tender and terrific. I had an ice coffee to-go as well from the store across the street, and it wasn’t bad at all, maybe a bit milky for my liking but it displayed a strong, surprising kick at the end, comparable to a shot of Vietnamese coffee.

We also made a stop to see Gua Tempurung, the limestone caves in Perak. Despite how incredibly humid it was in the caves, the imposing rock formations were a fascinating enough distraction from the beads of sweat cresting upon my brow and collecting on my arms. We were gifted with the occasional breeze in some areas of the caves – and there’s probably some elaborate scientific explanation for that which I won’t get into either, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you.

There was a dark, vastness to the caves that made me feel small. We spoke in hushed tones, as if the pure, uninterrupted sound of our voices made everything sacred. The silence was beautiful down there – broken only by the short and steady breaths I took in between strides. Inevitably, places like this remind me of how we remain, so much, at nature’s mercy and we’re left but to stand in awe and marvel at what great and mighty things have already come before us.

After we worked our way out of the caves we briefly rested our weary legs and dried ourselves from being drenched in our own sweat. We ate some flaky Kaya Puffs we had bought from Ipoh to hold us over for our final leg of the trip toward Cameron Highlands.

The road we took up to Cameron Highlands was predictably winding, but as we had been told, it wasn’t nearly as narrow as the older way to get up there. We’ve been told enough stories by relatives about how dangerous the old road was and we were sure to steer clear of it. Yes, we still had our share of close calls driving, but otherwise, it was a pretty pleasant ride up.

What I found particularly notable was the amount of construction being done in the area. I hadn’t expected any part of these mountains to look so industrial, and yet, interspersed between fruit farms and tea plantations were large patches of dirt-brown earth and half-finished metallic structures erected to soon become what we imagine to be new hotel developments.

Needless to say, our view from the hotel room once we arrived is a tad obstructed. In the distance you can see the fog rolling over the hills and beautiful swaths of green countryside, but I have to fix my gaze far away to prevent my periphery from witnessing the construction projects below. Still, I’m grateful to be high up, which we hadn’t anticipated – we were upgraded to a deluxe room on the 12th floor. And apparently on this floor, we don’t need air conditioning. Still, the ceiling fan is spinning just in case. You can never be too cool – not in Malaysia.

Yes, we can’t escape everything. But we’ve escaped enough – the heat, the loony traffic, the constant noise – to name a few things. We’ve come far enough to forget, for a little while, how amazing it actually is to live in Penang and to just enjoy being elsewhere. Who cares what we might be missing?

Sometimes, retreating is just what the soul needs.

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