Dublin, It’s a Jungle


Dublin is a jungle, or it is something akin in its animalism. A hive. No not a hive, that implies benevolence towards fellow citizenry, and cooperation, and selflessness, order, prosperity, among other things. No, I think I was right, this city is certainly some class of a food chain populated by a variety of wild, flesh devouring species. The only thing is if you put a deer or lion on College Green at about 8.25 on a Tuesday morning, a WTF face would be produced and the poor misfortunate beast would probably lie down and curl up in a fit of uncontrollable tears. But you’ll allow me in this instance to describe lovely Dublin’s streets as a jungle, despite the whole cliché thing.

Now the buildings are all lovely, and with the exception of the LUAS works decorating the odd street, the roads are quite civilised looking also. They have black shiny tar-macadam which remains in place after the rain, and lines to distinguish the limits of the side of the road one must be traveling on. There are fancy traffic lights too, which for the most part are in working order.

The whole food chain thing comes from the traffic. If you look at it we have the big herbivores which traipse around minding their own business doing their best to finish the day so that they can go home and have their tea. They don’t usually pick a fight or cause much bother except when someone decides to do so with them, and I suppose with their size they are always going to be an easy target, but they can hold their own. No one enjoys really being too close to them but much like any ecosystem if you didn’t have them we’d be plagued with hitch hikers. I mean other vermin.

Buses are what I’m talking about, of course, and they lie somewhere important in the food chain of the commute. Like elephants, but without the grace and wonder of the mighty tusked beasts native to Africa and India, buses lurch around corners and busy themselves through traffic without too many concerns in the world it would seem. They harbour parasites, namely pedestrians, a necessary evil but one we are familiar with. Begrudge the bus for such ignominy if you wish, but it’s not as if the pedestrians really want to be there. Everyone knows that there is no such thing as a happy face on a bus. Except for weirdos, and stoners – the UCD routes are a good spot for these.

Next you have cars. This can be divided into three types, the out of towner, the regularly in towner, and taxis. Taxi’s are the Allosaurus of the Dublin urban scene. A large and formidable predator capable of taking on most competitors as prey. It’s no T Rex but you’d think twice about messing with him.

The regular in towner type are in many respects a nicer version of the Allosaurus. Imagine an Allosaurus that doesn’t need to fend for itself in the wild, one who has a salary, supplies its sustenance from the local Tesco, takes the weekend off, and in the evening instead of hunting for weaklings to prey upon it sits in and watches detective drama reruns on Alibi. Well able to scrap if it wants to, but all in all a nice enough top-tier predator.

The out of towner is still an Allosaurus but this kind of Allosaurus is a bit like that deer or lion which we met on College Green earlier. A fearsome beast in its own environment of narrow Kilkenny by-roads, but betwixt the labyrinthine one way conundrum of Dublin’s south inner city this Allosaurus has had his private parts removed and a large memory reducing sedative placed in its morning cupán tae. As such, to everybody else in this little jungle of ours, there are few more annoying alpha predators.

There are probably other beasts which flurry about from time to time. There is the rare articulated lorry which is like a bus but more aggressive and stubborn but is chained by shackles of regulation and distaste and distrust by the constabulary. Or indeed the mighty serpentine LUAS, cut in half by some class of an urban planner much reduced in the gift or foresight. At allt times these beastly automobiles are restrained by the barriers and regulations of the tar-macadam and the watchful eye of the ever hovering birds of prey, the Garda Síochana.

What I want to talk about next is a unique case relevant to our days, and one which has seen a surge in recent years, be it because of nicer weather, or tax breaks, or because Irish people are just cheap and don’t want to pay for the bus or their car. This particular beast of the street is one which proudly rises above other patrons of the jungle’s streets. Not only is this particular species one which holds the esteem of a low-carbon footprint, it is also frustratingly one which allows its facilitator to boast that they are indeed exercising whilst in their commute. Regardless of the weather, this hi-vis attired biped will forever stand aloof of its fellow city bound workers as one which has not spent at least half of the journey time stopped in neutral, or worse so have had to sit (or stand) in the shared vitriolic breath of one hundred others whilst carefully massaging in mesmerism the homely glow of their smartphone’s screen. Such a species sees no rules such as those encumbered on those other registered wheels of the city, and no need for safety, as all will stop before them as they change lanes and whisp between gridlocked bumpers. Not only this, but all who do not share their unique outlook on commuting should kneel before such nimble gazelles of the city.

This brings me finally to the bottom feeders. The scrubbers. The forgotten. The grubs which populate the undergrowth and for which the remainder of the city is left for them to scurry through in the hope a more elite beast will not swallow them up. Yes, I’m talking about the noble pedestrian. He or she who is eternally caught in the rain. Yes, it’s true we have all done it, but let’s be honest; no pedestrian ever wished for this. Are we not all just walking because our employer will not pay for us to park, and are we not walking because there are already too many more fortunate than us who have decided to say ‘enough is enough, I can take no more of the shared breath of the bus, I shall sit in the warmth of my own car and listen to music I like out loud and fart as loud if not more in comforting privacy’. But the pedestrians are the rebels, as it is they who say no to the conformity of yellow lines and red lights, pay no heed to one way signs and raise two fingers to the frustrating grimace of an Allosaurus who they have walked out in front of in a panic to buy coffee and walk the remaining ten minutes to the office in an attempt to pretend to cyclists that they also choose to exercise, and that indeed footing it is a lifestyle choice.

Yes, this is the city we dwell within. We lunch on each others throats each morning and evening in a fury of competition. We nibble on the scraps of gaps in the traffic and hope that the light won’t change to quickly or that the person in the car will realise that you should have your car in gear when you see the lights change so that you are ready to move when the car in front has and you’re not delaying the person in a frenzied rush directly behind you, not the contrary as is the case more often than not. Yes, I’m talking about you.

This jungle will spit you out one of these days. It won’t even chew you, the taste will be so bad. But don’t worry the jungle won’t miss you, there’ll be another bottom feeder ready to jump in and take your place, salivating at the opportunity of a glorious October morning along the quays…

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10 Things About Korea…


So I won’t be along here much longer, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

There’s plenty about Korea that I’m going to miss, without a doubt, and then there’s a fair amount of things I won’t miss about Korea. It would be fair to say the same about anywhere, of course.

So here goes nothing…

10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea (in no particular order of importance)

  1. The ajjumma-ajjeoshi cult – forget about how you spell the bloody word auf English, the reverence paid to these two pillars of society is beyond impressive. I often long to be one myself, just so I can get stuff done. I have looked for a  temple to worship but have only found people pushing me out of the way because a worshipped one is oncoming. I challenge my readers to find a more ubiquitous beacon in honour of how to get shit done than the lowly, and not so lowly Uncle and Auntie.
  2. Food – Yum. Season care me not, belly always happy. Tasty with or without MSG, the local tucker satisfies beyond compare, and at a price to match my much unencumbered wallet (in that it’s empty of cash). I still amaze my Irish brethren with the fact that four strapping lads could fill themselves with deadened meat and a decent skinful of schoops (an Irish dialect for pints) for about 20 blips, or there abouts. That is merely the tip of the iceberg.
  3. The weather – I’m going to Ireland, a country not renowned for it’s tropical beaches and balmy breezes, and after an afternoon where I strolled into work in short sleeves, spent an hour under a tree reading in the shade, and then dozzily cantered home in anticipation of me din-dins all in glorious sunshine, it will be hard to compare. In fairness, you would do well to better yon land of the morning calm for it’s months of May and June, and September through to even November. Regardless of when you go to Ireland, the advice at the best of time is ‘bring a good jacket’.
  4. Deliveries – You could spend your whole life in your home and never, ever, ever have to leave. I mean it. Think of the luxury of, in theory, only having to put clothes on when the delivery guy turns up, and even then it wouldn’t be much more than a bed sprawl thrown over your shoulders to cover your jiggly bits! Can you do that with as much a degree of comfort elsewhere as you can with as much success as in Korea? I sincerely doubt it – although fixing an income would be a a challenge if you were a carpenter or marine biologist… And half the time, if not all of the time, delivery is everyone’s favourite price, free! Did I mention stuff arrives the next day?
  5. Communications – Roads, telephones, internet, taxis, buses, trains, and of course subways, exist in abundance (they’d want to considering how many people live here) and they are all efficient, effective, and extraordinarily everything the public transport or whatever system in your country is not. Don’t try and argue, you’re wrong. Not without it’s faults, of course, but man I couldn’t believe it when I was in London a few years back and I heard that they were excited that they were testing getting mobile signals into the underground. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, in Seoul it was unheard of that your phone wouldn’t have a 3G signal underground, let alone just a regular bar or two on your phone.
  6. English – Ok, so not everyone is fluent and as an English language teaching professional it’s my wont to complain about the inadequacy of the English language ability of such a massive proportion of the population given the time spent on language teaching and yeah so fucking what? Not only has the country provided me with a lifestyle others would aspire too, as well as a family, friends, and many wonderful memories, it’s also the reason that made living here initially so easy, and today it’s not much different. I could go on but I won’t. English in Korea, who’d have thought it was so great?
  7. Health and Safety – Up until about two months ago this wasn’t such a big issue, and in the respect that I am now going to mention, I still thinks it’s alright. There’s not really a penchant for preparing everyone for the inevitable. You’d wonder some times who is more adult about the way that people should be constantly protecting others. Remember, we’re adults, so you know, look where you’re walking down the street and don’t expect everything to be so perfect for you. It’s a welcome thing that the love of suing the shite of some poor misfortunate for not being impeccable has not landed with the same rigour as it has in the Republic of Errors…I mean Ireland.
  8. Silence – One of the great things about being in Korea and not being completely fluent in the language or the whimsicalness of everything about you is that so much moaning and nonsense which your life is better off not knowing about floats gently and tenderly over your head and evaporates into the clouds above. And even if you do understand it, it’s a lot easier to tune out when it’s in a foreign language than when it’s in your native brogue. This lack of generally ignorable bullshittery is a fantastic advantage to being a resident in the land of such placidity in the AM, in my own most humble opinion.
  9. Suwon – It has been my home for over four and a half years, and the place where we live now has been our home for three and a half of those. I haven’t lived anywhere longer but for my folk’s place back in Ireland. I love the view from above everything. I like that suddenly we have a subway station right next to us. I love Hwaseong Fortress and the Jin Mi Tong Dalk  nearby. I like that I can walk to work in twenty minutes, and even more importantly I can walk home and not get stuck in traffic. Did I mention we recently found a butcher who sells decent steaks nearby?
  10. My job – This factor would have sounded offensive to the same me some years back. The idea that me, of all people, would actually like my job is in many respects absolute madness. But aside from the five months holidays a year, and the less than 15 hours teaching I have to do as part of my contract, it’s quite an enjoyable situation. I’ve not only had some fantastic students over the years (really, some real class acts, I’m not lying) but I’ve actually learned from my experience, not just about how I can teach better, but how to deal with people more effectively and also, how to be a better writer. I’m genuinely sad to be leaving this job.

10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea (in no particular order of importance)

  1. The ajjumma-ajjeoshi cult – Isn’t it nuts? Really! I can’t get over it that someone saggy and poorly dressed can hold a higher position in society solely based on the fact that they’ve had more time in it. It genuinely drives me mad that I play second fiddle to someone who has no genuine advantage to me, in terms of the two of us standing side by side, other than they are a middle aged and Korean. Sure some deserve it, but why can’t I be given the same level of amazeballs for just standing on the corner and being a thirty year old?
  2. Food – Man I long for some variety, and I’m not talking about variety in Korean food, because you can’t beat the variety of Korean food in Korea I’ll tell you that for nothing. I’m talking about the variety of any food that isn’t Korean. I’ve seen enough Pizza and Pasta places to last me a lifetime. And as for Japanese noodles spots, which aren’t bad at all, I can’t handle it, I really can’t. And while I’m at it, I just long for some bread without sweet cream cheese and/or hotdogs (note: I love these things…but sometimes I care not for them). In fact, I wish it was mandatory for every person who opened a foreignesque restaurant to visit the country where it comes from so they can taste the food they’re attempting to replicate and then they will realise that other countries in fact do like to use an ingredient known as salt, and not sugar, to bolster the deliciousness out of the food.
  3. The Weather – Winter and summer can suck my balls frankly. Last winter I went to Thailand because, lets be honest, I like going outside. And to be honest, I don’t like taking the nine showers a day required of summer in Korea. Did I mention yellow dust and or course micro dust? Yeah, not weather, I know, but come on let’s be honest….
  4. Deliveries – If I don’t get killed by one of those lunatics in their vans or on their bikes, I’m going to kill them for me almost killing them as the somersault through another red light. I could say more but after my food rant I’m going to control myself. Deep breaths. Think of happy places. Mmmm, no delivery lunatic bikes in Ireland…that’s nice….
  5. Communications – I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that fast internet speeds and high rates of connectivity aren’t the be all and end all. This is especially the case when the price is censorship and ActiveX/mass rates of identity theft with little to no repercussions for those responsible for protecting said identities. And while I’m here, driving will grow you a thicker layer of skin than is really necessary. You might think it’s alright, that is until you encounter Sunday drivers, a phenomenon quite the opposite from its western counterpart.
  6. English– It irks me that so much of Korea is so English friendly. I’m on the other side of the planet but life here is so cushy that it’s just wrong, to me at least. This is a moral thing, personally speaking. In Ireland we speak English purely because English was the way to communicate and get jobs, essentially if you emigrated, and I personally don’t see why Korea should be so obsessed with this language which has such a foreign baring on everyone’s lives. You may disagree with me, and I’m sure many do, but this is how I feel. I think Korea should be less concerned about having the entire country fluent, and more concerned about giving an even spread to it’s education. Or something to that effect.
  7. Health & Safety – Ok, fuck this, I’ve had enough. Firstly let’s stop by cutting steel on the fucking street, and when you’re down there do me a favour and share the fucking footpath with the people who are using it i.e. those walking from A to B. See those fancy changing coloured lights up in the sky? There’s a reason for them and it’s not because they go well with all the neon. Yes, I am childish in that I need to be protected from your inanity, but please I do in fairness have a right not to take my life in my hand as I walk down the street to buy a carton of poxy milk.
  8. Silence – ‘I heard them say ‘waygook’ …then did they say ‘Conor’…they’re talking about. What? Come here and say that to my face! Arrrrrrrgh!’ and other stories.
  9. Suwon – There is an expression in Korean that basically says you shouldn’t spit into the wind. And in this case I shall not spit into the wind. What I will say is that Suwon, while not without it’s charms it does lack a certain amount of finesse, says the fella who wants to walk around his apartment naked until his dying days.
  10. My job – My job is no better or worse as it is, but I’m in my early 30s and I’ve a family to look after. In ten years, I could be in the same state, and this is not something I am willing to accept. There are ways which I could change this, but to be honest the right move is to stick to myself and Herself’s long term plan and get moving. I hold no regrets and would recommend it to anyone, but for me right now I have reached the point where I new stage must be entered upon.

So that’s it.

Anything you’d miss and wouldn’t miss about Korea?

 

Yeongtong Just Got Better!


Believe it or not, Yeongtong-dong in Suwon has just increased its position on some quality of life scale somewhere in the world. Previously I was frustrated over the never ending subway works right outside my apartment, but the good news is that they have finally been completed! Celebrations are in process.

A somewhat irresponsible photograph of the lay of the land outside the brand-spanking new Cheongmyeong Station!

A somewhat irresponsible photograph of the lay of the land outside the brand-spanking new Cheongmyeong Station!

You can read and see how it used to be here!

here is a view from the opposite direction of how the street looked!

here is a view from the opposite direction of how the street looked!

This wonderful surprise was waiting when myself, Herself, and +1 returned home for the first time the other day. It will be exciting as we may actually take a joyous adventure on the subway. Exciting, right?

Of immediate importance however is that the long metal planks which covered the station works, and for the past two years seemingly amplified with an echo the rumble and whirr of cars passing over them, have been removed. A bright black layer of tarmacadam has been put down, and to add to the convenience there are shiny white road markings so that cars can avoid veering in front of your whilst passing through the intersection at high speed. What’s more, it’s now quiet. I don’t mean Mastermind concentration levels of silence, but definitely quiet enough to leave the windows open on hot days and not be too bothered by the traffic. Of course I’ll know better in the summer.

Still, the rest of the above ground subway works further down the line still leave much to the imagination – across from the Homeplus it’s absolute chaos and every time I pass through is a lucky dip with predicting how the lanes will be arranged. The same can be said for other stops. But that doesn’t bother me so much as outside my home is finally SILENT…er…ish.

So, if you’ve nothing better to be doing with your free time why not hop on the old Yellow line and take the new extension all the way down to Cheongmyeong Station. It’ll change your life…er…ish.

Driving, it’s a Lifestyle Choice


Life, regardless of where you live, is a bit like driving: it doesn’t matter how careless and scary the fella in front of you is, you still have deal with whatever situation is put before you otherwise there’s a good chance you could end up in hospital (and let’s face it, even if the insurance does pay, you could be proper fucked).

A car. You can drive this.

It all boils down to this – so what if someone is doing something you disagree with as you pass them on the street or wherever, it’s likely that there is very little that you can do about them other than get annoyed and go on about your day, red in the face from whatever it is that this person did. You could possibly do something about it, like stand over and explain to them the error of their ways, however it’s likely you won’t (and I know I don’t – I’m not up on a high horse here), and I imagine most people sit around chewing wasps or whatever until they find something else that bothers them.  What does this do? Nothing. I say, shut up, deal with it, then get back on with your own life because there’s more important things to be doing that bitching about some useless strangers inability to function inside a prescribed (ha) social structure.

Cross at your peril (I mean it)!

I do my best to keep this in mind whenever I step outside the front door, because getting angry and trying to explain why a person or something happens doesn’t make it any better. Dealing with the situation where I come out on the best possible footing (unscarred) is always my first priority, and keeping my blood pressure as low as possible in the process is my second. Still, I’m no angel. Driving doesn’t help.

Gangnam traffic (fortunately I resisted the urge to caption it Gangnam s**** traffic)

There’s a lot of complaint out there in the Korea waeg universe. People complaining about racism, job insecurity and dodgy bosses, the weather, the food, the wrong sized shoes…well all I can say to most people is, hell at least you don’t drive here.

And yes, all these things are probably worse than driving but they’re avoidable (ignore racism and get on with your day, quit your shit job an get a better one, get an air conditioner/heater/raincoat, eat food you like, buy shoes from wherever they do fit, or just learn to flow), just as much as driving is avoidable, but it’s a lifestyle choice. I choose to drive because it makes my life here easier, and believe me, all the other complaints I listed above, I learned to deal with them also.

Another fuckin’ hero without a helmet on his scooter in Gangnam.

As soon as you get into a car here, or anywhere in fact, the social contract changes and all of a sudden your usual eye-contact polite smile and nod method of getting on with life is obscured by the windscreen so that means the rules go out the window…or something to that effect…and even if you’re a nice guy you still have to be a dick otherwise people are going to be stepping all over you for the rest of your life, y’here?

 

Driving Through the Cameron Highlands


The road was dusty and the road was hot. Inside the air-conditioned car much of this didn’t matter as much. From Ipoh, the highway curved steadily between limestone bastions that seemed to have risen from the earth like mushrooms. Eventually the road climbed and these individual giant outcrops melded into larger formations, and before long we were winding through these formations that were now the beginning of a larger mountain range.

The more the road climbed, the further it went from what would commonly be referred to as civilisation. With that, the jungle seemed to take over as the trees rose higher and the variety, from what I could see from the back seat, seemed to be changing every time we went another hundred metres above sea-level.

The road was typically mountainous but well paved, fortunately, so this allowed for plenty of progress as the engine constantly gunned up and around another inclined bend. For several hours the road continued like this, rising and rising, and then it seemed to drop downwards again following the contour of the valley. This rise and fall and rise again pattern carrried on kilometre after kilometre. Always the road was ascending until it led to the crest of the hill with oversized white capital letters that proclaimed we had finally arrived in what are known as the Cameron Highlands.

The highlands, as far as living memory and the memories of those who lived before are concerned, have always been there. The area was discovered, in the colonial sense, when a surveyor by the name of William Cameron returned from an expedition there and reported on the contents. Prospectors initially carved a roadway through the jungle hoping to develop the region as one both for health reasons, but also as an agricultural area. Then nothing happened for another thirty or so years.

The plateau itself is around 700 square kilometres in size and on arrival there, two things are automatically quite noticable; the cooler and less humid climate, and the intense levels of market gardening.

As I mentioned, as you enter the Cameron Highlands from the Ipoh direction you are welcomed by huge white capitalised lettering informing you that you have entered the Cameron Highlands. Almost instantly pick-your-own-strawberries farms pop up on either side of the highway. We pulled in, opened the doors and stepped out, stretched, and breathed in the balmy summer mountain air which felt more look it belonged in the best Irish summer, rather than the tropical rainforest we had just finished driving through.

We took a short rest, while making it our priority to stock up on strawberries. As we wandered around we made our way to where the strawberries were kept, reaching through the fence every so often to pick a few slyly when the workers’ backs were turned. We weren’t sure if they cared or not, as most of them looked like Malays or Indian, while the business itself appeared to be run by Chinese Malays, although I might have been wrong. But, at the same time we didn’t want to find out the hard way.

Back on the road again, the highway seemed to narrow and slope downward as it crossed a few shallower and less steep valleys that dissected the plateau. On either side of us, four wheeled drives plastered with red mud lined the sides of the road around the entrances to the many farms which seemed to be increasing in density. These farms where mostly made up of greenhouses that provided vegetables, fruit, and herbs which didn’t naturally grow in Malaysia. I imagined that most of this produce got sold on to the big hotels and supermarkets in Kuala Lumpur, but it was also quite likely that there was a high demand from Singapore, and even Bangkok and tourist hotspots in Thailand to a lesser extent.

The road got busier and soon it looked like we were passing through an area that was a few steps short of being industrial. The road was filthy with mud, and the streets were as packed with traffic as any Asian street I’ve ever travelled on. This was the town of Kampung Raja. Behind the various restaurants and hardware supplies businesses that lined the muddy streets, tall apartments that lost their decadent appearance the closer we got to them rose, and around them low lying wooden huts appeared to stacked on top of each other. In the middle of all this was a new building still under construction belonging to the Malaysian immigration authorities.

Malaysia would be one of the wealthier countries in South East Asia, and even in Asia I suppose, and the fact that migrant workers are employed in agriculture should be of no surprise. Of course sometimes we are slow to catch on to these things. When we visit places as tourists we only see things at face value. We see a person who looks similar to other people and the language that is spoken is, to the unpractised ear, indistinguishable from another similar sounding tongue.

When I visited Thailand in February, there was a large amount of Cambodian workers employed in many of the resorts, and when I was in Ko Pha Ngan a few years before I recall there being a fair amount of Burmese people there to. Seeing the work that these people have to do and comparing it with my own life and work here in Korea, it’s hard for me to ever make any comparison between me and them. I doubt that they see any fair comparison between us either.

It didn’t take long for us to pass through this town and we were soon back winding away through touristy tea shops and strawberry fields. I had dozed off after the long journey, but I suddenly felt the car stop, reverse, and then pull back onto the road in the direction we had come. I tried to open my eyes to make sense of it, and when I had eventually cleared myself of sleep I could see that we had pulled down a narrow, twisty road which was surrounded by trees and bushes on both sides. Closing my eyes again, I was woken briskly by the exclamations of my fellow travellers: stretched out to our right, sloping down, and up the sides of a small valley and marking the rise and fall of the land in between like the rings on mountain map, was a tea plantation.

I had always wondered how a tea plantation would look. As I am Irish I’m an avid tea drinker, and as I’d grown up seeing where things came from – usually fields for cattle and potatoes – it was something I had not considered I would see unless I went to India. I had an impression of how it might look, but any ideas were clearly influenced by pictures and television.

But here I was in Malaysia, around 1,500 metres above sea level, driving slowly through acres of tea. At irregular intervals there were workers busy in the warm midday heat tending to the almost uniformly level tea plants which literally did stretch as far as I could see.

We drove further into the plantation, past some old British Tudor homes, past more tea and more workers, and finally through a small village of wood huts, that included a mosque, a hindu and a Taoist temple, a government school, and plenty of recreation facilities. There was obviously still a large manual requirement for maintaining the plantation, which I suppose is the case for most agricultural products which we consume, and especially those which come from less developed parts of the world. The huts looked quite basic, but the area was clean and definitely not cramped, and at face value the conditions looked much better than they were in Kampung Raja.

When we stepped out the car we walked up the tea shop which was a far cry from the rustic wooden huts below. This modern facility was an impressive sight. A long platform projected out from the crop of a small hill, with windows opening a view along each side. At the end of this there was a covered balcony. The tea shop was busy and lively, mostly with visitors who came to enjoy the view and to try some of the tea which was growing around them. After we had done this, we had a look around and then went back to the car.

This tea plantation was actually the first in the Cameron highlands and the very reason that the area was developed in the 1920s as a hill station by the British colonial government. Hill stations were popular phenomena for the British who undoubtedly struggled under the constant suffocating heat of a tropical country. I’d read about them a fair bit in novels which touched on the British colonial experience, but my knowledge of them was, and still is, very limited.

There was more of this hill station to see along the road. As we drove around the Cameron Highlands we made a number of stops, but most notable was a spot called The Smokehouse, which had been a former club house for the colonial elites. I was told that this spot now is a good spot to get some beef Wellington, a dish I don’t think I have ever eaten. The house itself though was beautiful, and the gardens were manicured to the highest standard. It was essentially a British Tudor style house surrounded by tall pine trees that didn’t fit into the environment at all, standing out as a sanctuary for homely comforts.

It was a bit surreal to be honest, standing there looking up at this house and feeling more comfortable within the surroundings than I had with my own surroundings that I had had for the past few years. It wasn’t just because the house was nice, it was because it reminded me of something which was distantly connected to my own culture, even though I’m not British. I suppose I could compare this kind of building and environment with places like Itaewon where people have tried to open their own bars which cater for people looking for a particular atmosphere reminiscent of that which they had left in the their own home.

This feeling didn’t last long however, and a quick marvel at the exterior was enough for me. We jumped back in the car and continued our journey.

After passing through the busy town of Brinchang, which had a lively bustle as the evening was coming, we drove directly to Tanah Rata where we stopped to eat. As we didn’t stop in Brinchang, a comparison is difficult but it was clearly more of a tourist orientated town with restaurants, a starbucks coffee, tacky tourist everything-under-one-roof supermarkets, and all in all, not a lot of evidence that a lot of people lived around the place, unlike Brinchang and Kampung Raja with their apartments and locals going about their daily business. In Tanah Rata there were some more old British colonial buildings, including a church. We looked around briefly, ate, and then hopped back in the car for the long winding road back to the main E1 expressway which would take us back to Ipoh where we were staying.

We left Tanah Rata and returned to the main highway which again hugged the side of the hills as it descended in looping twists and turns. At first there wasn’t much to see as we were quite high up, with the exception of some magnificent fern trees. We have ferns in Ireland, and in Korea they cultivate them as they are used as a key component in the popular dish, bibimbap. However, these trees were enormous. Many were several metres high, and many looked like they were from the Cretaceous or Jurassic periods, or at least that is what I thought based on the illustrations from dinosaur books when I was younger.

The road descended further and soon it crossed a small bridge and we passed another tudor outpost in the growing jungle. This one was called The Lakehouse. We didn’t have time to stop as it would be getting dark soon, but as the car drove by I took a look at the lake, just for posterity’s sake, and it must be said that I don’t think I’ve seen a muddier lake in my life.

Driving onward, the jungle started to grow up as the road began to snake down through more bendy roads and switchbacks passing along the curving mountainside which the road was built on. The further we moved through the jungle, the greater it became. There was hardly any sunlight shining on the road as it was completely obscured by the foliage. I looked into it as we passed and it seemed completely impassable. To imagine what it lay inside that natural maze would only sell the diversity of its contents short.

Since I have returned from Malaysia I have scanned over this area a few times with Google Earth and I all that I can see here is dark, unpenetrable green forest. There are no patches of brown or light green caused by farming or forestry, just apparent preservation of this amazing ecosystem.

This is probably one of the reasons I will return to Malaysia. It’s has been classified as a megadiverse country, along with places like Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar, making it one the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It is home to the oldest rainforest in the world, and many endangered species. The Cameron Highlands was only one small example of this. But there are still concerns serious concerns.

The mountains in areas such as the Cameron Highlands protect the jungle from deforestation and agricultural development. On lower and flater ground, palm oil plantations are the new tea and they do not require high altitudes to grow, and slowly these crops are taking over many parts of country, which was clear to see when we drove from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur the next day.

I wish that I could say more on this, but I just don’t know enough, but I think that if we make ourselves aware of these things when we travel we can become better travellers, and more aware of the world we consume when we go to the supermarket.

The drive through the Cameron Highlands was a day trip. We saw some truly breathtaking scenery on our drive, and I got an impression of how and where a place like Malaysia now fits within the world. Although a small country, it has much to offer and by one drive over six or seven hours I could feel that I had seen not only scenery, but also history, both human and of course natural history. This history had given the experience and knowledge to new generations to utilise for their own good. While the word has negative connotations, exploitation is not always a negative thing.

Mistakes will always be made, especially when humans are involved, but I hope that we are gradually realising these mistakes and taking steps to make a change to the way we interact with the rest of the planet.