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The 60s meets the future, BOH tea plantations, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

November 18, 2012

Firstly I’d just like to apologise for the break in this series, a combination of getting back to school in Lop Buri, not having internet in my new flat and an impromptu visa-run to Laos which ended up taking 8 days has meant that I’ve been a little off the radar!Whilst it’s impossible to know exactly which tea plantation it is in these pictures, it is unquestionably in the Cameron Highlands. I visited the BOH plantation which it theoretically could be since BOH is one of the largest and was one of the biggest selling tea brands at the time that my father and grandparents lived on the Malaysian peninsula. The most surprising thing for me about the tea plantations is how excessively green they are. Tea leaves seem to be almost unnaturally green.

Currently the Cameron Highlands are facing a crisis, Malaysia is now the biggest Asian producer of strawberries and the sole supplier to China, Korea, Japan and ASEAN nations. The strawberry plantations are now beginning to outnumber the tea plantations and 2-3 acres of wild Malaysian jungle are being levelled on a daily basis by largely Singaporean businesses to make way for yet more strawberry farms. One of the greatest costs to the relentless culling, besides the damage to the natural habitat and wildlife, is the displacement of the indigenous tribes-people who live in the jungle. Having very few skills which translate into earning potential most of these displaced people now live and work on, you guessed it, the plantations that replaced their homes in the first place. Most farms, including BOH, have small villages onsite consisting of identical square box houses that have come to replace the tree houses and bamboo huts which made their traditional homes.

At the current rate in 10 to 20 years Malaysia will have almost no jungle left resulting in the loss of a vast range of species of flora and fauna unique to the region including the world’s largest flower, Rafflesia, which can grow up to as much as 1 metre in diameter. No one knows exactly how the Rafflesia reproduces and any attempt to cultivate the flower, which takes 18 months to grow from pod to flower and blooms for only one week, has failed which means that when the jungle goes so will the flower. I trekked through the jungle to find this one.When my father visited the tea plantations in the early 60s all of the tea was picked and processed by hand, whereas nowadays machinery is used to harvest it faster and more efficiently before being deposited at the onsite factory. On the steepest and most difficult terrain tea is still picked by hand in the traditional manner though.

Tea grows best at high altitude and I found myself feeling cold which was a strange and oddly pleasant sensation after months of baking heat. For the first time in seven months I wore shoes (which resulted in some epic blisters) and a jumper. I also picked up a cold which took the best part of a month to shift.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2012 11:17 pm

    That is really tragic; environmentally as well as socially. I don’t know if you can remember it, but Gan & Grumps used to have a striking red, yellow and orange modern oil painting of a long house (which is now in our dining room). That was bought in memory of the long houses that they had seen in Malaysia. I have seen documentaries of the culture that lies behind life in those magnificent structures. The thought of them just being wiped off the face of the planet is too horrible to think about.

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