Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 20 2010

The mountains

February 16, 2010

Everyone drives in Malaysia, it seems. Kuala Lumpur’s metro seems a half-hearted effort at best, with small two-car trains and insufficient lines. Buses are scarce, and only a few small motorcycles can be seen whipping around in traffic. Mostly it’s cars. The cities are laid out accordingly as well, necessitating long drives into town amid gridlocked traffic situations for shopping, eating, etc. The license plates are white letters that look like fridge magnets stuck on glossy black plastic cut to the shape of whatever model’s license-plate space is.

Chenbl was feeling ill, so we were off to a late start this morning; Ah-lin drove us to a breakfast place, where we picked up some crunchy shrimp strips, changfen and egg tarts to take with us to the rendezvous point with the others. We then piled into Gimzui’s Nissan, which smells exactly like all other Nissans in the world, and headed north on the highway. Small motorcycles zipped alongside, probably going as fast as they could. One fellow rode mere inches behind a bus, drafting it for mileage. Amazingly stupid, that.

The highway wound around hills and forests of banana trees, teak trees and other crops. Some pieces of land had been cleared. When we reached a rest stop, I was able to establish that, while Malaysian Dunkin Donuts rank above those in Taiwan, they’re not as good as the US version. I also found that KFCs here sell tiny chicken burgers, like sliders, and delicious cream-cheese potato slices.

We got off the highway and traveled a winding road up into the mountains, occasionally passing people sitting in primitive huts on the side of the road. The air eventually got fresher and cooler, until we could turn off the a/c and open the windows. Miles later we entered the small town of Ringlet, where we found a sort of cheap service apartment and then had lunch at a KFC knockoff that had free wifi and swinging seats out front.

Our original plan was to drive out to the Blue Valley to see the tea plantations, but the road was chockablock with cars, so instead we took a side road out to a mountainside village. After parking in the square, we climbed up to the top among the scattered wooden huts, most on stilts, only to be told that we couldn’t take pictures, first because there was a dog somewhere, and then because someone had been caught taking pictures of villagers taking baths; that individual had also been severely beaten, we were told. Chenbl bought sweets for the village kids to get in their good graces and let us take some pictures of them jumping around in the square. The sky was a brilliant blue, the shadows of occasional clouds wafting over the green hills.

The others wanted to go back to the hotel to rest at this point, but Gimzui, Chenbl and I decided to make the most of the late-afternoon light. We drove back along the road a ways to some teahouses overlooking some fields and took more pictures. Walking by myself along the mountain road in the fresh air and crisp light, taking pictures of trees and the mountainside and my own shadow on the highway, I felt as happy as I have yet on this trip.

Dinner was arranged at an old hotel built in the Tudor-style in 1937 called The Smokehouse. Apparently it was originally a haven for lonely, homesick Englishmen who were posted to the area and couldn’t return to their homelands for at least eight years. A rambling two-story wooden structure, it featured creaky floorboards and a very homey feel, including a huge fireplace with a real fire, something I haven’t seen in ages. The food itself was nothing to write home about, but I wouldn’t mind staying in one of the six rooms if they weren’t so expensive.

After dinner we walked through the local night market, which was pretty much like any other night market. I’m continually surprised at how receptive people here are to being photographed for the most part, paranoid hillside villagers excepted. I keep expecting people to shy away as they do in Taipei, but most people, especially Indians and Malays, don’t seem to mind at all. It’s refreshing, and there are many interesting things to photograph here. Chenbl has gotten some amazing shots so far.

After the night market, we retired to a fruit tea shop to review the days’ events. Tomorrow we’re going somewhere else; we’ll see what that’s like tomorrow. I have yet to find a place where my Thinkpad can access wifi, so I’m just writing these in Word for now and will publish them when I can.

posted by Poagao at 8:28 am  

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