Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thank You Gateway Computer

"[For salarymen] being exhausted 
is considered a virtue."
Masao Miyamoto
Psychiatrist



As cliche as it sounds, time flies. It has been one year since I turned into a new chapter of my life in Japan; from a S to another S. That is, from a student to a salaryman. And today, it will mark my second year at Gateway Computer. Throughout this short period, I have gone through and seen a lot. I would say stepping into the real world is something different that what you get at school. 

You learn how to respect people, how to deal with stress and pressure, organizing yourself, time management, etc. And also, how excited it feels on Friday evening, and how blue you turn when the clock is ticking down on Sunday night haha! I am not gonna elaborate every one of them in detail here though. Those who have been working for some time should get one I mean.

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Taken with CEO Hayashi Shuichi, exactly one year ago, on our first day at company.

There are two good news and a bad news in this short update. I'll start with the good ones. First, I was selected to be the "Best Employee of the Month" for February. This monthly award allows anyone to nominate anyone else in the company, whom they think has done a good job for the month. And the great thing is, self-nomination is possible as well haha! 

Normally, there are several people picked to get this award.  In January, there were zero nomination, but in February, there were as many of 14 of us haha! So, yeah, as you can see from the newsletter, I appear as one of the award recipient. I was selected for my involvement in a PC-deployment project for Novartis for about five months last year. And the award entitles us to 10,000 yen worth of coupon.

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My aunt reaction when she saw that picture, "Can't see anything except seeing you running. For that, you got selected as best employee??" lol!

Just like my aunt commented, "Anda sangat cemerlang, gemilang and terbilang" haha!

The second good news is that all of us in our department got an unexpected fallen durian (durian runtuh) this month. Apparently, the company made quite some profit over the year and as an appreciation of our hard work, we were awarded with a special bonus this month. Getting two good news in one week is just great, isn't it?

However, as I had mention, there is a bad news. I am thinking should I mention it here or not. But I guess sooner or later, it well become public anyway. So here I am, making an announcement. For several private reasons, I have decided to hand up my resignation and return to Malaysia for good. I have not make this official to the top management people in my company, but I will get everything done by mid-April and you shall see me back to Malaysia by the end of this month.

I shall explain my decision when the right time comes, but yes, this is indeed a sudden decision and my six-year-plus journey in Japan has finally, come to its end. It has been a memorable journey. Thanks you and arigatou!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Yozakura Of Nakameguro


"My sleepy mind
Counting cherry blossoms
A rainy night"

Issa Kobayashi
Haiku master


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Spring in Japan is often associated with sakura. In a metropolitan like Tokyo, often described as fascinating, fast, overwhelming, etc., terms like "beautiful" or "pretty" normally remain elusive. However, like all big cities around the world, Tokyo also has its gorgeous spots. Places like Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen Park are commonly known as the popular spots for sakura sight-seeing. However, I recently visited a new spot to enjoy the beautiful sakura blooms. The neighbourhood of Nakameguro during the sakura season is one of the best ones I have seen in the capital of Japan.

When I arrived there on a weekday evening, the station was a seething mass. I mean, literally a seething mass. Of bodies. Nakameguro is famous for its cherry trees that line the river. The problem is, everyone else knows it too =.=||

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The view is spectacular beyond words, and this is something you have to see at least once in your lifetime.

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Japanese people believe the Japanese cherry blossom captures and defines all that is vulnerable about being human.

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The sakura season gives us a timely reminder, once a year, that life is fleeting and time is precious.

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This is a time to take stock and evaluate what you have achieved, and what you are going to do next, on your own life path.

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In essence, the cherry blossom cycle is seen as a metaphor for life.

Nakame, as Tokyo people call it, is a quite residential neighbourhood that has become one of the trendiest places in the city to go for hanami, especially people in their 20s and 30s. What makes this spot so special is the presence of Meguro River along the main street. The riverbed is confined into a narrow canal with high concrete walls on either side. These are topped by a mettalic handrail where the creepers descends to touch the river.

There are about 800 of robust cherry trees on both sides of the canal, leaning towards Meguro River for several hundred meters, creating an amazing sight when the flowers come to full bloom. The branches from the trees on both shores cross in the air forming a natural tunnel under which the river flows. When the sakura arrives the naked branches suddenly explode with life and the cherry trees seem to bend under the weight of thousand of petals. 

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 In Japanese, cherry blossom festival translates as hanami (花見) festival.

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Just as hanabi means "flowers of fire", hanami means "flower viewing".

The air fills with petals of sakura when the wind blows and all around is white as if you were under a Siberian snowfall. This usually brings smiles and even screams of joy from the Japanese girls - "sugooooiiii!!"

The narrow pedestrian street is full of all sort of restaurants, from small izakayas (Japanese style taverns to Italian and French places. In some of them there are tables with river views. The restaurants set food stalls and tables in the street helping to create a lively atmosphere. When the sun has set and the lanterns are lit late in the evening, it is the most romantic moment of the day.

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Its moment of glory occurs during the final part of the sakura - called chirisakura - when the petals of the flowers start to fall. There is an unforgettable moment when you discover that the water of the Meguro has almost disappeared and all you can see is a carpet of white and pale pink petals that flows peacefully stream down.

The sakura season came much earlier this year than predicted. By the time I am writing this, the sakura in Nakamegura has already begun to fall. However, if you are planning for a visit there, Nakameguro offers you a second chance: following the river a few hundred meters down the street there is an area with the so-called yae-zakura, dark pink cherry blossoms that bloom a couple of weeks later than the traditional sakuras.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Early Spring Blooms Of Kawazuzakura


"In the cherry blossom's shade
there's no such thing as a stranger."

Kobayashi Issa

Kawazuzakura (カワヅザクラ) is known as one of the earliest variety of more than 200 varieties of cherry blossoms to start to bloom in spring. Kawazuzakura was first spotted in a little town called Kawadu in Shizuoka prefecture in 1955, and that is how the flower got its name. 

It usually come to full bloom between late January to February, but just like any other varieties of cherry blossoms, the peak period depends very much to the weather and temperature. The flowers of Kawazuzakura are pinkish and much darker than the more popular Somei Yoshino, but the flowering season is one month longer than the latter. 

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Keikyu Miurakaigan station. It takes about an hour from my place in Kamata.

I made a random trip to Miurakaigan in Kanagawa prefecture over the weekend, as it was reported that a sakura festival is being held there. I didn't put much hope to see the sakura in full bloom to be honest, because I just got the feeling that the peak had passed several days earlier. But the urge to see the first blooms of sakura somehow made me making a one-hour trip there.

The train was quite packed the whole journey and I assumed most of them were heading to the same destination. When the train stopped at Miurakaigan station, my guess was right; most of them got down there.

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A signboard to welcome visitors to the sakura festivals.

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Not exactly the main thing we wanna see, but these stalls sell fresh vegetables at dirt cheap price!

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The first glimpse of Kawaduzakura at the station.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 Kawazuzakura cherry blossoms trees along the railway line from Miurakaigan station all the way to Komatsugaike Park (小松ヶ池公園), a stretch that is about one kilometer long. Besides enjoying the early cherry blooms of this type of sakura here, there are also tents sent up in front of the train station. Here, the locals offer vegetables and local products, which are freshly delivered from the nearby farm.

However, the rain in January and coldness in February had relatively influenced the flowering season, which delayed their blooming season by a couple of weeks.

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The rows of Kawazuzakura along the railway line, on the way to Komatsuike Park.

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There are also bright yellow Broccolini (菜の花) planted below the cherry blossom tree, which makes a wonderful combination with the pink Kawazuzakura.

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A close-up shot of Kawazuzakura.

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A second close-up shot of Kawazuzakura.

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Hanami among the golden generations lol!

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And lastly, a shot from the pond in the park.

That's all for a short update on my first sakura outing this year. You can be assured to see more of them coming up very soon. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next update!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Visiting Taiping's Maxwell Hill

"Most of the time we have been here,
it's been like English April weather, 
without the harsh winds"
Imperial Belvederes, 
S.Robert Aiken

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One of the many species of pine trees found in Maxwell Hill.

I remember Maxwell Hill well – a holiday and adventure of a place, where greenery prevails, fauna and flora flourish, where streams flow, waterfalls cascading upon the slopes, where the twists and turns in the ascent or descent, whether you are trekking or in a jeep, never fail to delight and  surprise you with sights of wonder, beauty and absolute serenity. Talk of an eco-destination, this natural hill resort provides the best there is right at the door step of Taiping. If you are thinking of a quiet honeymoon, a quick getaway, an affordable weekend romantic retreat, a simple rest and recreation, or even a day trip to get away from the heat and humility of the tropical lowlands, Maxwell Hill is your answer.

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Maxwell Hill is located in Taiping, known as the wettest part of the country, as the hill station receives the highest rainfall in the country.

Maxwell Hill, or Bukit Larut is one of the hidden and unknown gems to travelers who are looking for a retreat at a hill resort. Located just approximately 9 kilometers from Taiping Town in the northern state of Perak, no other towns or cities in Malaysia can boast of a hill resort in such close proximity and accessibility as Maxwell Hill. Although Maxwell Hill may be relatively unknown compared to other more popular places like Cameron Highlands, Frazer Hills, Genting Highlands and Penang Hill, it is Malaysia's oldest and smallest high resort, founded in 1884.

Maxwell Hill was named after Sir William George Maxwell, who was appointed the Assistant Resident of Perak in 1875, not long after British Resident J. W. W. Birch's murder. At that time, the British were sourcing for rehabilitation and relax resort away from the tropical heat for its senior officers and also the wives of the officials and other high-placed gentlemen. There had been several hill stations proposed, but none of them served the purpose adequately and they were abandoned soon after. Among the unsuccessful ones include Gunung Angsi in Negeri Sembilan, Bukit Kutu in Selangor and Gunung Kledang in Perak.

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The ticket counter at the foothill of Maxwell Hill.

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The return-ticket to go up to Maxwell Hill by the 4WD.

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Mom and sisters, waiting for the jeep as they were all were ready and raring to climb more than a thousand meters above sea level to the top of the hill.

Maxwell finally discovered that there is a hill right on his doorstep. Taiping was a beautiful basin, surrounded by lush tropical jungle and lofty hills. In the early mornings and after a heavy downpour, a white, cushy blanket of heavy mist hung over the canopy. This cool, jungle air brought in by the morning breeze must have prompted Maxwell to pick this hill as his choice, just like Simla in India.The journey from the foothill to the peak is approximately 13 kilometers, making it a suitable for the purpose intended. Steps were immediately taken to develop Maxwell Hill as a hill station. By the 1880's, adventurers and famous writers like Isabella Bird and Ambrose Rathborne had the pleasure of visiting the hill. In those days however, the road to the peak was more rough than how it is today. Visitors had a choice of walking, taking a pony, or being carried on a "mountain chair".

It wasn't until the mid-1940's that the road was finally widened and made suitable for vehicles to cart up and down. That was during World War II, when Taiping was declared the administrative centre for Perak and Indonesia by the occupying Japanese forces. The Japanese official made Maxwell Hill his residency and forced the war prisoners to build the road up the hill. The road was finally opened in 1948, three years after the Japanese surrender, much of it through the sweat, blood and lives of ragged war prisoners.

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These three fella were trying hard to show as decent face as possible as they were fighting against the gravity and G-force from the roller coaster ride haha!

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I wasn't that lucky, as I almost fell onto the floor a few times lol!

Maxwell Hill stands 1,035 meters above the sea level and it is only accessible by two methods – by the government-owned four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles or by foot. Private vehicles without permit are prohibited from going up the hill; one of the reason is because of its dangerous cliff for inexperienced drivers. The journey, 13 kilometers from the foothill to the top of Maxwell hill using the 4WD takes around 30 minutes. However, people are free to walk or hike through the many hiking trails up the hill, which can take up to three to five hours, depending on your stamina and ability.

A return journey up Maxwell Hill costs an economical RM6 for adults and RM3 for children. Only tickets on the same day are sold and pre-reservation is not available. The ticket goes on sale at the ticket counter located at the foothill at 8 a.m. However, it is advisable that you go about thirty minutes before it's opened because the tickets get snapped up really fast, and even more so during the school holiday season. The 4WD operates daily and leaves every hour, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, the operation schedule may change according to the weather condition and safety considerations.

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Maxwell Hills is also known among the locals as "Kopi Sua" or "Coffee Hill", although you could hardly see any coffee-related plantation here.

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The Bukit Larut station, where you get down from the jeep upon reaching the top.

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A little hut which operates as the information counter (left) and cafe on the right.

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At 1,036 meters from sea level!

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With such high altitude, Maxwell Hill is the habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

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At the top, you will be rewarded with fresh and cool hill-top air.

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The lush greeneries and breathtaking views.

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Formerly known as Watson's Rest House, Beringin is located at 1036 m above sea level and is one of the better maintained bungalows on Maxwell Hill.  It consists of a living room, dining area, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

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Bright red dahlias.

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A species of flower which looks like tulips. The bud can be used for cooking.

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Forgot its name already. Anyone knows it?

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Enjoying the fresh air, the beautiful scenery and photo-taking sessions!

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A few steps down the slopes will bring you here - a small playground.

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This is a hanging bridge, which will lead to the watch tower behind.

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From here, you will get a clear panoramic view of Taiping town.

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A map-like view of Taiping town.

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Ain't this place too good not to have some camwhore sessions?

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And the girls as well, with their rainbow umbrella.

The road up twists and turns through lush green tropical virgin jungle and lofty hills, with a total of 72 steep hairpin bends that adds to the thrill. Along the way, you should see clusters of hikers conquering Maxwell Hill. I had my fair share of trekking up the hill many years ago, taking short cuts upon steep slopes in a more direct ascent. However, to anyone who plans to hike up the hill, it is advisable that you exercise a lot of caution for often you literally have to cling onto only tree roots for support. This is indeed a great example of real jungle trekking.

There are many natural jungle trails which provide the opportunity to discover Maxwell Hill’s untouched natural beauty and a close observation of the hill's various species of flora and fauna. One of the popular one is the Gunung Hijau trail, which leads you to the peak of Gunung Hijau at 1,449 above sea level. Here, you will find the best panoramic view of Taiping Town. Bird watching is also popular along this trail which circles Gunung Hijau leading towards the summit. On a clear day, it is possible to see an enchanting view of the West Coast of the peninsular stretching from Penang to Pangkor Island at the summit of the hill.

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As there are hardly any restaurants or cafe at the top, we brought our own food and have a picnic session under one of the huts near the playground.

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I guess with this amount of food, we can operate a grocery shop there lol!

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And we had Grandma to be the boss hahaha!

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Eating nasi lemak on the top of Maxwell Hill. Cool, right?

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Can you spot something weird in this photo? Hint: my leg.

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Exactly. I got stung by an unwanted visitor which I caught it red-handed!

The journey up the hill will go pass three huts, popularly used by the trekkers as a resting spot before they continue their hike. As the jeep takes you up the lengthy and headache-inducing hill road, the air gradually becomes cooler and you will hear the chirping sound of birds, squirrel and monkeys. You get to see different things as the jeep climbs higher, and one will certainly be impressed with the huge trees growing perpendicularly up from the ground and a few cascading waterfalls. Besides the captivating scenery, there was also the smell of fresh greenery all along the way.

If there is one thing that one will never forget on a visit to Maxwell Hill, it would be the world's longest roller-coaster ride on the 4WD. Honestly speaking, it was a H.O.R.R.I.F.I.C. journey. Yes, as you can see, I type each letter in caps lol! It is pretty extreme to some, but a great and joyful experience to the others. I guess I'm not exaggerating by advising you to prepare a paper bag at your disposal should you fell like throwing out from the ride up the hairpin bends.

Sitting on the 4WF, you will feel that the driver is attempting to do a Tokyo Drift on the narrow road with the maximum speed up the hill. We were literally thrown all around the jeep! If we hadn't kept the tightest grip on the steel handles, I guess we would have gotten thrown into the cliff hahaha! However, the drivers are experienced and confident, they know every nooks and corners of the steep and windy road. It was indeed a scary but exciting thirty-minute ride, which caught us to scream and laugh at the same time as our buttock were slipping off the seats lol!

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After our light meal, we hiked up another couple hundred of meters up the hill.

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A fern unrolling a young frond.

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A young, newly formed fern frond.

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In the process of forming into fern leaf.

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An UGO - unidentified growing object haha!

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Some giant ferns growing on top of the tree.

Midway to the top is the Tea Garden Guest House that was once part of the tea-estate. The Tea Garden was developed in 1887 and Assam Tea, the earlier tea from Ceylon was planted here before being shifted to Cameron Highlands where the Boh plantation is now because the tea plants did not grow very well. The Tea Garden Guest House, which lies two-third from the top, was initially built for the use of Perak Government officers. However that was some 100 years ago and since then, the jungle has pretty much covered the tracts of any human activities except for the guest house. It was once furnished with chairs, fans, conference room, toilets and plush chairs, unfortunately, it is now an abandoned building left to rot.

As the jeep whizzed up to the top, we continued to enjoy the cool, jungle air brought in by the morning breeze through the lush shady forest. Our amazing roller-coaster ride was a well-worthy ride as we were welcomed by the fresh and cool weather at the peak. Well, if you have read up to this part, you might start to wonder what is up there besides the flowers and lizards? Well, absolutely nothing.

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One of the bungalows - Cendana. Formerly known as "The Hut", it is located at 1128 m above sea level.

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It was build it 1889 at a cost of RM2000.

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It is the only bungalow with a cafeteria - the only operational cafeteria on Maxwell Hill as of 2013.

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Tables and chairs at the balcony, for visitors who patron the cafe.

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Maxwell Hill retains a colonial atmosphere with its quaint bungalows and posh English style gardens.

Actually, I was just kidding *hehe*

Maxwell Hill features groves of evergreen and a wide canvas of vibrantly coloured flora and fauna. Roses, dahlias, daisies, pansies, petunias, lupins, and marigolds abound in profusion here. The cool climate also favours the rare mountain giant fishtail palm, many species of bracken-like ferns, and also the golden sunflowers which is reputedly the largest variety in the country. Tulips, imported from Holland were planted here for several years on experimental basis but unfortunately, the project was stopped in 2009 because they do not cultivate well here.

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A private bungalow at Maxwell Hill.

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Maxwell Hill Meteorology Station, which measures the rainfall at the hill.

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Mom busy touching up her make-up at Maxwell hill haha!

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The reason was maybe because she knew we gonna take photos together lol!

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Grandma then gave us a biology class, explaining to us how the fern grows.

Maxwell Hill is indeed an ideal destination for those wanting to escape from the heat and humidity of Malaysia's lowlands. Although it is the smallest hill compared to other hill resorts in the country, it still retains much more of the atmosphere of its colonial origins and offers a natural peaceful and quiet sanctuary for weary souls. There are no swanky or five-star hotels available; accommodation is modest but nonetheless comfortable and cozy with a number of welcoming bungalows and rest houses, some of which were built almost a century ago.

Apart from the Telecommunication Tower located at the peak of Gunung Hijau where the Cottage stands, there hasn't been much development on Maxwell Hill and it has remained pretty much the same as years ago. This makes Maxwell Hill the most well-preserved hill resort in Malaysia, compared to its highly commercialised counterparts such as Genting Highlands. This is the place where profit-making businessman in the name of capitalism failed to show it prowess. One advice guys, do visit Maxwell hill before it turns into another Genting!

There are several centuries-old cottages at the top of Maxwell Hill and in the old days, they had their individual personalities and names to suit them. Today, most of these names have been localized and renamed, among them – The Hut (Cendana), The Cottage, Treacher (Tempinis), Watson's Rest House (Beringin), The Federal Bungalows (Sri Angkasa), Speedy's Chalet (Rumah Rehat Gunung Hijau), The Nest and The Box. All of them are still standing although few have been renovated to suit the current visitors. The others unfortunately, are in various stages of deterioration like the Tea Garden Guest House, a real shame from their former glory. Those bangalows which are still operating are available for rent and the rental ranges from RM120 to RM300 per night.

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Cindy better thank me for taking her such a nice shot lol!
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A heavenly view in the background with Mom and sisters.

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A bird's eye-view of the entire Taiping town and the Lake Gardens, the green suburbs of Aulong and Simpang, and the 19-kilometer ruler-straight road  from Taiping to Kuala Sepetang (Port Weld) road and the first railway line in Malaysia linking Taiping with port Weld, which is no longer operational.

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Remember Banjaran Titiwangsa that you learned in Geography? That's the one, at the background.

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Another view of Taiping town from Maxwell Hill, among the fern trees.

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The stone-marker says another ten miles to go until we reach the foothill.

First British Resident, J.W.W. Birch's bungalow known as The Cottage is located at 1,376 meters above sea level. This bungalow was built in 1884 and not opened to public because the location was too close to the telecommunication station. Besides that, another interesting spot is the Birch Hill, located about 2.5 kilometers from the top of Maxwell hill station. With its peak of approximately 1,320 meters from sea level, probably not many would believe that this spot was twice visited differently by two very well-known men, a British and almost a century later by a Perak royalty. This is one of Taiping's and even Malaysia's forgotten historical site and landmark, where two memorial stone was mounted to record to important visits done by the two individuals.

The first one was a memorial stone that commemorates the visit of the first Englishman to this hill. The writing on the stone is "THE FIRST ENGLISHMAN TO CLIMB THIS HILL WAS MR T.W.W. BIRCH. FIRST BRITISH RESIDENT OF PERAK IN 1875" It is believed that it was an error and it either refers to J.W.W Birch, or his son, Ernest Wheeler Woodford Birch (E.W.W Birch).

 The second signboard depicts another visit done two years short of a century after the memorial stone date. The writing on the signboard is: "LAWATAN PERTAMA KALI D.Y.T.M. RAJA MUDA PERAK KA-KAKI BUKIT INI PADA 23.7.73 JAM 8.02 PAGI". It refers to the visit of the then Raja Muda of Perak, D.Y.T.M. Raja Musa ibni al-Marhum Sultan Abdul Aziz to Birch Hill (source).

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I sat inside this on the way down! No-lar, just kidding *hehe*

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ABX 7980. Anyone wanna buy Toto with this number?

If you are looking for a quiet and serene place to relax and meditate, to be close to nature or just a getaway from the city, look no more elsewhere because this is the perfect spot for you. This hill resort is a refreshing change from the rest. Maxwell Hill is situated approximately 290 km from the city of Kuala Lumpur. After exiting the Changkat Jering or Taiping Utara toll on the North-South Highway, head towards Taiping town. Follow the road signs that directs you to Taiping Lake Garden and follow the turning to Jalan Air Terjun towards the foot of the hill. From the foot of the hill, the journey up to the summit in just half-an-hour is by the 4WD which operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

So, that sums up my loooooong entry on Maxwell Hill. Thanks a lot for reading!

Information: Kindly refer to this link for more details regarding the accommodation and transportation to Maxwell Hill.