The Cameron Highlands are the largest tea-growing region in Malaysia. Tea trees can grow to 16 meters in height but are regularly pruned so that the leaves are easy to harvest. After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world, more widely drunk than coffee or beer.
Malaysia – Been There

Picking tea for the woman of his dreams

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Malaysia – Been There Picking tea for the woman of his dreams

After the sticky heat of Kuala Lumpur, I shiver by the fireside in the Cameron Highlands. Named after the surveyor who stumbled on the area in 1855, in the early 20th century it became a cool highland retreat for British colonial administrators.

Daphne Huineman
Daphne Huineman Travel Writer

About 85km north of KL, the Highlands sit at more than 1,200 meters and offer a cool break from the heat lower down. During the British administration, it was developed as a haven for those homesick for the green hills of England. The area still has a typical English atmosphere with its lovely views, golf courses, cottages and inns with names such as Ye Ole Smokehouse. Orchids and carnivorous plants flower in a butterfly garden, while tea plantation tours and the delicious food seem little changed from the 1920s.

I get up early to pick tea. Well, nobody wants to pay for hand-picked tea, so it is actually cut by a sort of garden shears. Even that method is reserved for steeper slopes, with a machine operated by a two-man team doing the cutting elsewhere. The mist-covered rolling hills of Sungai Palas Tea Estate are a beautiful setting for what turns out to be hard work.

Ahmed from Bangladesh does not have time to take in the breathtaking scenery, as he is paid per basket. Most of the estate workers in the Cameron Highlands come from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal, a cheaper source than local people for the labor-intensive work. But the jobs of such “guest workers” have been under threat since the world economic recession started, as Malaysians increasingly want “their” jobs back.

“When they send me home,” Ahmad says, “I want to have enough money to marry the woman of my dreams.” She is in Bangladesh waiting for him. He laughs. His fate is literally in his hands, in the tea leaves he picks in a blur of action.

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Early morning sunrise over a Cameron Highlands tea plantation in Malaysia. About 85km north of Kuala Lumpur, the Highlands sit at more than 1,200m and offer a cool break from the heat lower down. During the British administration, it was developed as a haven for those homesick for the green hills of England. Photo by David Bowman / Alamy

David Bowman

David Bowman

Agency
Alamy

Early morning sunrise over a Cameron Highlands tea plantation in Malaysia. About 85km north of Kuala Lumpur, the Highlands sit at more than 1,200m and offer a cool break from the heat lower down. During the British administration, it was developed as a haven for those homesick for the green hills of England.

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