11 November 2013

Dry air

In the Cameron Highlands in the midst of the tea plantations, the air is dry and cool. When we pulled into Tanah Rata, at a small park to let the kids get some air, I felt embodied memory. In my preteens, my family lived in El Paso, Texas, in the desert, but only a few hours from the mountains, the Rockies trailing off into Mexico. The same thing would happen: our blue diesel Chevy Suburban would pull into Cloudcroft, and the doors would open to pine trees and crisp air. We picked cherries one year, I remember, climbing ladders in the trees and filling huge buckets. In Malaysia, we paid RM25 to a Nepalese man to pick about 50 strawberries. We were supposed to pay more, I think, but I feigned ignorance, and bobbled my head. Country? America. Oh, America.

The air leads you to linger outside, something that Malaysia doesn't in general allow for. Here, as a fat white person, I rush from building to building. Hurrying and sweating and cursing the heat. The endless tunnel of summer. In the mountains, stuck in traffic with the windows down and the children sleeping in the back, the sun felt warm and welcoming — not hot, not to be avoided. And then another rush of memories, of riding my bike through the rice fields in Shibata City, Japan, up into the mountains. I rode 80km one Saturday, pushing higher and higher.

The mountains are full of the things the kids love: insects and plants and fish. We stopped at the side of the road, at a strawberry farm, where there were goats tied up. The girls fed the goats stems of plants and they licked us, and we sat in the sun, taking in the clear air.

"Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)
When we descended back into the heat, and opened the doors of the car outside of Tapah, the mist and rain from 15 minutes before were gone and the heat rushed back. Everything heavy and angry again. We drove through KL, back home to the Happy Happy Cafe where the kids had noodles and Chinese tea on ice, another memory tucked away somewhere to be remembered in 10 or 15 years.