June 13, 2007

Touched by Tea
Tanah Rata, Malaysia

I was gasping in awe every time I rounded a bend on the road, with each new vista surpassing the previous. My field of vision was absolutely saturated with green—filled with sloping hills of manicured tea bushes. It was a sight I'd never seen before, and was visually overwhelmed.

My head was swimming; my senses, tingling. I was wet from drizzle, and didn't care. The air was cool, and the clouds that were lightly raining down on me played with the hills, like misty white fingers gently running through a head of combed green hair.

I was feeling an enthralling connection with my environment that I rarely experience. This place, in the middle of the Cameron Highlands, far removed from any beach or metropolis, was certainly well outside my norm, and was making quite an impact on me.

I took joys in noticing the little details that others (who bused or motored along the road I was walking) couldn't see from a passing vehicle. I genuinely couldn't remember the last time I took a picture of a flower.

I passed a small encampment of basic (tea-picker) homes as I descended into a small valley. The road terminated not far afterward, at the base of a hill that the Boh Tea processing plant was perched atop. A small visitor center was attached, of which the protruding café terrace (that floated over a hilly sea of tea) was easily the highlight.

It wasn't long after I arrived that the sky flashed and rumbled, and let loose a sustained torrent of rain that I was actually quite happy not to get caught up in. I took a moment to peek inside the factory, where I witnessed how cultivated tea is turned into the product we consume.

It was still pouring outside, and I decided to make the best of the situation by sitting on the (roofed, wall-less) café terrace and ordering a mug of the tea being grown all around me.

The breeze was pushing cool, mountain air (and the occasional drop of rain) over my still-damp skin as I sat, cupping the warm drink with both hands, near my lips. There were over a dozen other people on the patio with me, but I was deep in thought, and scarcely noticed them. The sounds of men and women faded into an inaudible blur as I closed my eyes, replaced with the sound of raindrops hitting tea leaves.

I was emotionally supercharged; the beauty of the moment too big for me to process… And as my heart swelled, my eyes started to water.

I sat there for almost an hour, slowly opening my eyes on occasion, releasing the blur of pensive thought I was caught up in, only to find a Caucasian or Asian tourist pointing a camcorder or digital camera at me. Two separate camcorder instances, and one camera, to be specific. Who knows how many I didn't see.

Folks taking photos of me isn't anything new, but it's typically done by smiling local teenagers, not tourists, and I wondered what they were seeing on their end of the camera.

My belly was warm from two mugs of tea, and the rain had let up enough for me to start the walk back. As I began to ascend the hilly road a few hundred meters from the factory, a plump Indian man with a thick moustache pulled along side me offered a lift on his motorbike, taking me the several kilometers back to the main road.

I accepted, thanked him, and silently smiled as I watched the luscious fields of green leaves swiftly blur out of sight. This place is easily one of my favorites in SE Asia.

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