christmas in cameron highlands

i am sitting in a wood-panelled room done up to look like an old english reading room that would not look out of place in a dickens story. the shelves are lined with leather bound books and there is a real fireplace with actual burning logs crackling away merrily. if you sidle up to it, the warmth soaks you in a toasty, homey feel. christmas stockings adorn the wooden mantle piece above it. the smell of cigar smoke creeps into everything and takes root. the carolers were here a minute ago and had just trooped out to spread more christmas cheer to some other party. a thinner than usual and suspiciously oriental santa claus makes his rounds with a bell and ho-ho-ho’s

all this in cameron highlands, malaysia. it about makes the gruelling 5 hour drive up here worthwhile. the morning started off with trying to organize everyone and everything into the family car. as usual tempers were riled but were just as quickly tamed. nothing like a holiday to soothe the beast. the drive was interrupted by a road accident and we waited in the jam for about 45 minutes. everyone was on edge but the mood lightened considerably when the bottleneck was overcome. the traffic was at standstill a number of times on the way up as a result of out-of-towners parking their vehicles on both shoulders of the narrow winding road and thronging the many retail shops littered along the way. the folks were disillusioned by how commercialized the whole place is compared to 10 years ago.

arrived at the hotel and was pleasantly surprised that our rooms have been upgraded due to some difficulty i had earlier making reservations prior to the trip. apparently the room we got is the most expensive room that they have. ho hum. after some overpriced afternoon tea and snacks in the hotel we decided to take in the sights. the temperature was a pleasant 20 degrees celcius and we drove around the area. traffic was quite chaotic at times. this town is just not ready for big crowds but then which town is?

one thing that crops up again and again are strawberries. farm after farm dot the landscape and the locals do brisk business selling them to the tourists. there is something about the redness of strawberries that defines freshness and rejuvenation. they are always bright and cheery especially the ripe ones. there is also something inherently foreign and hence appealing about it.

coming back to the hotel we tried to make dinner arrangements and was informed that the christmas eve dinner set was a whooping RM 250 ++ per person. with the 5 of us the bill would have eaten into a significant portion of my salary. even if we had wanted to, the place was fully booked. ever mindful of the traffic congestion outside, we opted for the in house japanese restaurant instead and the total bill came up to only a fraction of what we would have spent for the crazy christmas dinner.

and the reason why i am sitting in the mock reading room all alone? free wifi of course. a dash of modernity that seems to throw all attempts at authenticity out the window. dickens would have never imagined groups of people sitting with their laptops in a victorian-era smoking parlor bathed in the unearthly glow of their screens. well dickens never imagined how wildly popular his books would be as well.

went back to the room and found brightly packaged presents sitting on the coffee table and on the beds courtesy of the hotel. nothing expensive (well one can dream) and mainly christmas candies, cakes and fruits. what a nice touch! kudos to the hotel staff. ‘the attack of the clones’ was playing on tv and we all marveled at the wooden acting and stilted dialog. half way through the movie, the clock struck 12 and we all went to bed amidst the sound of revelers from the streets below.

the next day we woke up real early and went in search of food before the crowds started to stir. nothing to start off christmas morning like a breakfast of ‘roti canai‘ (a leavened indian bread) served with chicken curry. hot and spicy food tastes extra special when the temperature outside is a chilly 14 degress celcius. made our way back to the hotel and packed. checked out and took the long and winding road back down to sea level. it was distressing to see the temperature indicator on the dashboard rising from 14 to 31 in the short span of 2 hours. arrived home and immediately went to sleep dreaming of snow-capped mountains.

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