Cameron Highlands

Food poisoning last week drained me of all my energy. I lost 9 pounds in the process and wore a path in the hardwood floor between my bed and the bathroom. No fun!!!! I needed a break. I needed some time to re-coup and just relax. So Friday I drove the three hours up to the Cameron Highlands.

The Cameron Highlands were “discovered” in 1885 by William Cameron, a British colonial government surveyor. He and his crew were mapping the Titiwangsa Range, using elephants for transport. Upon reaching the top one of the taller peaks, he spied a large plateau area. Later this plateau was named in his honor. Around 1925 the plateau was developed as a “hill resort” and soon became a popular holiday location for the British who tired of the heat and humidity in Kuala Lumpur.

Today it is one of the main growing regions in Malaysia. The cooler temperatures (41 to 75 degrees) plus the year-round tropical sunlight is perfect for growing vegetables, strawberries, and legumes, supplying much of Malaysia and Singapore with fresh produce. It is also home to large tea plantations, BOH the most famous. But mainly it is a major tourist and vacation destination drawing thousands of visitors on any given weekend.

Getting there was a challenge. The first 200 kilometers were on the big, modern North-South Expressway, but when I reached Tapah, I turned off onto the “old road” up to the Highlands and the town of Tanah Rata. The old road is about 60 kilometers long but it takes over an hour and a half to navigate. If you have ever driven the Road to Hana on the island of Maui you can begin to picture the road to the Highlands. In the 83 kilometers to Hana, you have to navigate 620 curves…that’s an average of 7.46 curves per kilometer. The 60 kilometers to the Highlands present the driver with 519 curves, an average of 8.65 curves per kilometer. (I’m not telling how I know the number of curves) Besides the curves it’s all uphill and there are NO turnouts, NO passing zones and very few guardrails. If you get behind one of the tour buses or large lorries, you are stuck. You have to be prepared for falling debris and minor landslides and washouts, and stray dogs. I’m just thankful I drove during daylight hours…this would be a nightmare in the dark.

I stayed at the Cameron Highlands Resort, a YTL resort. You can be assured that I was totally pampered and cared for. I indulged in a three hour spa village “treatment” including a soaking in a hot tub of tea and mint, a body scrub and a most luxurious massage.(about $90.00 USD for the three hour treatment) I qualified for the “resident package” so food was included…breakfast, lunch, dinner and high tea. I gained back all the weight I lost…and then some!!!! Amazing hotel.

Saturday morning I drove further north through the town of Brinchang. Brinchang is like a poor-man’s Leavenworth. Instead of Bavaria, the theme is Old English, but not everyone has signed on and those that have slap a little gingerbread here and there and call it quits. Pretty funny.

BOH Tea Plantation is a must-visit place when you are in Cameron Highlands. The BOH Tea Plantation has a total of 8000 acres planted with tea making it the largest tea plantation in Southeast Asia. The road is narrow and winding with many a sharp curve where you need to give a honk or two when negotiating the corners to let oncoming traffic know there is a car coming. The road is wide enough for cars to pass only if one pulls off to the side. Put narrow road aside,the view of green rolling hills, with the neat regular rows of tea plants, is truly breathtaking and refreshing! Every hue of green is captured on the hills. Truly beautiful!!!

The Highlands is also known for STRAWBERRIES…all grown in green houses, carefully maintained, watered and fertilized. Everywhere you see strawberry stands, strawberry pillows, strawberry balloons, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam and of course, fresh strawberries.

I returned to KL rested, a few pounds heavier, and ready for the week ahead.

Odds and Ends

So, heading up the escalator on my way to the health club, I spy a strange looking food stand. Hanging above the stand were all these curly-cue pipe-like objects and on the floor a rather obscene, phallic looking decoration. And surprisingly enough, a long line of people queued up to make a purchase. I vowed to investigate after my workout.

An hour and a half later, I make my way back down to find it is a Korean Ice Cream stand…Jipangi. Instead of a conical cone like I’m used to, Jipangi uses a hollow, j-shaped “pipe-cone” made out of corn. The ice cream is then pumped all the way through the cone and a small rosette is left at each end. You select between vanilla or chocolate, combo of the two, or the “flavor of the week”. (today it was strawberry but they had run out)

I selected a “junior” size vanilla. A little hesitant at first, I cautiously licked the ice cream….smooth, rich and delicious!!!! The “cone” tastes a lot like Captain Crunch cereal. Because the cone is hollow and the ice cream is pumped all the way through, you never run out of the ice cream…it is there for every bite. So imagine ice cream with Captain Crunch…GENIUS !!!!

I am addicted. As long as I work out really hard, sweat a lot, and “think” I lost 5 pounds or more, I don’t feel guilty splurging now and then.

I am so lucky to be at a well resourced school. In our planning for our new school we are experimenting with different types of flexible furniture…try them out to see what works, what doesn’t, what impact does it have on instruction. We have standing desks, sit-on-the-floor desks, desks with white board surfaces, etc., etc. Most of the furniture is so moveable you can transform the room in a quick minute from tables groups of four to a large square or circle for discussion, push them to the wall to open up the room to allow movement…furniture is light and moveable, easy to control the educational setting. Take a look at some of this…kids LOVE it!!!

As this is my last year here in Malaysia, I thought I would add a section at the end of each post….WHAT I WILL MISS

For my first WHAT I WILL MISS….Driving. If you read our earlier posts you will probably remember how timid I was at first to get behind the wheel. Quite honestly, how frightened I was. And nothing made sense…the signs, the exits, the stop lights…nothing was the way it was “suppose” to be. But that ended long ago….I absolutely love driving on these crazy roads with all these crazy drivers doing crazy things. Have you ever been at a red light and no one is coming and you wait, because it is a red light? You are law abiding and responsible. Not here…you get to go. I’m sure it is against the law but if you don’t go, everyone will go around you. I feel like such a rebel !!!!

Merging is an art form. I use to wait patiently to merge into a lane and it would take me forever waiting for an opening. And when I would see one, the space would immediately evaporate as the car behind sensed I wanted in. Well the trick is to just stick the nose of your car into the crease between two bumpers. Presto…your aggression is rewarded and you are afforded a spot in the lane. There doesn’t seem to be a bit of road rage in this country.

If the three lane highway is chock a block full, no problem, you start a fourth lane on the shoulder. One way streets are usually one way, unless of course you need to go the other way to get to your destination. If holiday food stands pop up along the highway, don’t exit, just stop in the left hand lane, purchase your food, chat for a bit…the other cars will adjust and go around. No hard feelings for they might want to do the same thing down the road at their favorite stand.

I laugh and laugh when I drive here. There is always something funny that happens. Unfortunately, there are a lot of accidents in this country and one of the highest percentages of motorcycle deaths. So I will remain cautious, occasionally run a red light, and live the rebel life for a few more months!!!

Year Three….On My Own

This is my third and final year in Malaysia. Heidi has returned home to be closer to family and is now the Elementary Principal in Chelan, Washington. We are calling her Principal Busk, 2.0…a new and improved model over Principal Busk, 1.0 (me).

For both of us, this will be a most trying year. We are not used to being apart and it has proven to be a lot harder than we thought (at least harder than I thought…Heidi knew all along) We have Facetime and SKYPE, messaging and e-mail. I have an International Calling Plan so I can call home without the horrific charges. We have Magic Jack where we can call for free. I will be coming home in October and December and Heidi is set to come here in April…but some long stretches in between. But when we start feeling sorry for ourselves, we think of all the service men and women who are away for much longer stretches and often placed in harms way. In comparison, our separation is a walk in the park.

I debated long and hard whether or not to continue the blog, but have decided to continue on. I love documenting our (my) time here and it is just fun to write….. So….here goes.

The first visitor in year three was Kelly Kurz. Kelly was backpacking through SE Asia before heading home to the USA and then back to Africa. As usual, it was fun to show someone around, but Kelly was pretty independent and a seasoned traveler and didn’t need much guidance. The Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix was in town…cars racing through the streets of Kuala Lumpur..Ear plug noisy they careened through the streets at break-neck speeds with stick-like-glue cornering…amazing driving!!! Fun to watch!!!

Went to eat breakfast at a local Dim Sum spot. Dim Sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine prepared as small bite-sized portions of food. A bunch of us from school went to this out of the way spot….wall to wall with local Chinese Malays all hungering for the famous Dim Sum. The servers come to your table with these huge platters of food…each platter different from the one before. You take your chopsticks and grab what you want. I didn’t know what I was ordering..that was part of the fun. I had some pork, some octopus, some vegetable, and the rest I just ate blind. Some delicious, some hard to swallow. It was an experience!!!

I had a three day weekend so I zipped up to Vietnam and the historic town of Hoi An. This is by far my favorite city and Vietnam is my favorite country. Had to pick up some more lanterns and a few odds and ends. Mainly went to just veg on the beach, a chance to get away from Kuala Lumpur. Road a bike out to An Bang Beach…almost empty. The water crystal clear and warm, the sand soft. An Bang is at the southern end of what was known as China Beach during the war. You could close your eyes and picture the beach swarming with GIs relaxing during a short R&R, a chance to escape from the horrors of war.
Got to watch two fishermen. They used this funny little round coracle to let out about a quarter mile of net. The coracle looks like a ball cut in half. The fisherman used only one oar and feathered it one way or the other to move the coracle through the water. The other fisherman stood on shore with the other end of the net. When all the net was let out, the coracle came to shore a little ways up the beach making a huge arch. Then both fishermen started pulling in the net, making the arch smaller and smaller. Once most of the net was pulled in, both fishermen walked in the area where the fish were trapped and caught the fish by hand. The strangest thing. I thought they would have just pulled the net up on shore and then harvested the fish, but no, they caught them by hand. The whole process took about an hour and a half and they pulled out about 40 fish. They told me their family will have fresh fish for awhile.

Assorted pictures of Hoi An

In a couple of weeks I’m heading up to Cameron Highlands…about a four hour drive and home to large tea plantations and strawberry farms. In October I’ll be going “Down Under” to Melbourne, Australia and December I’m heading to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not quite the same without Heidi, but someone has to do it!!!