Time for Tea

Day 4, 500 words, 31 days

It’s early in the project, but I’m beginning to feel the burden already of having to churn something out every day. I realize there isn’t any pressure to have to publish whatever I write, but for me, I could use the accountability.

Briefly reading some of the other entries people have been putting up for this project tells me two things: 1) People are writing about absolutely whatever they want. 2) People who actually have projects to pursue are putting those aside, just so as to keep writing everyday, even when they are experiencing writer’s block.

As for me, my objective is really simple – just as advertised, at least 500 words, for a month. When I would otherwise be a stickler for my own rules, in this case, what I believe(d) my blog to be about, I’m ok with writing about anything, so long as I’m writing.

The randomness of my subjects is freeing, and for now, it’s what I need to keep going.

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Today, it was my turn to get behind the wheel and explore Cameron Highlands a little more with our friends.

Our first stop was the Big Red Strawberry Farm in the town of Brinchang. It was a bit unnerving driving up a steep, gravel road to reach the summit of the farm, but our little car made it just fine. There were hardly any strawberries to pick so we settled for some strawberry souvenirs from the gift shop.

This entire area is covered by strawberry farms. There are all sorts of strawberry-related trinkets in the markets lining up along the road – keychains, t-shirts, mugs, and even doormats designed with some sort of strawberry image printed on it. Clearly everyone is cashing in. We left with two jars of jam and our friends, some strawberry-infused tea. At least ours are edible.

From there we proceeded over to the Cameron Valley tea plantation, which produces what our relatives have said is some of the best “strawberry tea” these grounds has to offer. Yes, we felt compelled to leave with a box of tea, but to me, it was the view that was the gift.

The tea plantation spanned several lush, verdant hills – the field before us was a vibrant green and from a distance, it was beautifully dotted by the bright hijabs Muslim visitors were wearing on their heads. It looked to me like a canvas painted green, speckled by small spots of red, pink, blue, and yellow. And with the sky a pure blue and only a few white, cumulus clouds hanging above us, it couldn’t have been more picturesque.

I don’t often recall moments that really do take my breath away, but for some reason, this was one of them. Perhaps it, again, had to do with feeling so small amidst natural vastness. Something about that feeling, of being at the mercy of what is before me, gives me a clarity I can’t find in many other places I visit.

Soon after we headed out for a late lunch and decided to pull over at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant along the road. We weren’t sure what to expect from a place that didn’t even offer a menu, but we took comfort knowing that at least some families eating there had food on the table. Most of the folks inside this ‘kopi tiam’ were old Chinese men all bent over newspapers and puffing away on their cigarettes. Maybe they didn’t care much for us, but I felt their stares anyway, as if we had barged in on an exclusive club that required all their patrons to be male and over 50.

The food at Tepi Sungai Chong Kee was surprisingly good – standard fare sort of stuff, fried rice, a tangy chicken dish, some greens we didn’t know what to call and soothing, jasmine tea. But the uncles’ cigarette smoke was just too much to bear and we were compelled to head over to our final destination.

The Boh tea plantation is somewhat of an institution in Cameron Highlands and so, it felt like an obligation to at least pass by and see the hype for ourselves. What we found was yet another stunning sight of this region, tucked away into a valley deep into the mountains. In order to even get there, I had to drive down a winding, one-way path that required all drivers to honk their horns before turning corners, so as to signal to other cars that we were coming through. This was mildly stressful, but once we arrived, the view was enough to justify the means to get there.

I won’t give a Boh history lesson – this plantations legacy and contributions to this region are well-documented. In fact, we didn’t need to drive all the way out there to buy their tea – Boh is widely distributed all over Malaysia and can easily be found at local supermarkets.

What we came for was to take in the view, drink local tea, have some pastries, and let our afternoon wane slowly. We stayed until closing, when the Boh workers started sweeping up the floors of this beautiful cafe Boh erected upon the edge of a hill.

It was exactly the experience I had hoped for. I’m no tea connoisseur, nor do I desire to be. I’ll readily admit that I’m a black coffee sort of guy, but, I wouldn’t let my caffeine preferences prevent me from experiencing the finest Cameron Highlands has to offer.

For my relatively low standards, we’re living this weekend like kings and queens. High above on mountaintops draped by the clouds and kissed by the sun, here we are sipping on tea and basking in this momentary blessing – the blessing of being in the midst of so much beauty, and so far away.

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