Heart and Soul: Reliving our memories of Maxwell Hill

The siblings on their journey up Maxwell Hill. Photos: Jamie Solomon

My younger bother, Joel, came back for a short visit from Germany in June this year. After not seeing each other since 2019, his visit was one that the entire family was anticipating.

It turned out to be an idyllic two weeks for the whole clan. Everything was perfect, everyone was happy.

With only two weeks to spare and with so much to see and do and catch up on, we settled on a simple itinerary that gave us lots of family time together.

One of the places that we visited was our all-important hometown, Taiping. It is always a delight to go home, to familiarise myself with the familiar all over again.

And for Joel, the absence of three years made it even more remarkable for him.

Maxwell Hill is a nostalgic place for the writer and her family. Maxwell Hill is a nostalgic place for the writer and her family.

One of the things that we planned to do was to hike up Maxwell Hill. It was something that I had wanted to do for the longest time.

But each time I returned home, it just never happened, though not for the lack of intention.

Probably from a lack of resolve.

“The time isn’t right”, “The kids are too young”, “I’m on a holiday!” These were all valid excuses when they were uttered.

Maxwell Hill holds a dear, dear place in our hearts. It has graced our past with memories of family outings and youth camps.

I hiked up this hill 30 years ago with the young people in our youth fellowship. And it took me 30 years to decide that “Today is the day!”

On July 7, I hiked up this notable hill with Joel, just the two of us. He provided the impetus and the urgency. And to him, I shall ever be indebted.

I penned this poem to describe our journey up and down the hill. It is called “I did it!” I think it does a better job than prose. So, here you go. I hope you enjoy the hike with us.

I turned in only at 12am

And woke at 5, before dawn

I slept fitfully through the night

Why? Because today, the challenge is on.

I reluctantly pull myself out of bed

And prepare myself the best I can

With toilet out of the way

I sit down thinking of my game plan.

A big chicken pau sits under my belly

An adequate store of water in our bags

We set out for Maxwell Hill at 6:30am

No turning back, my mind incessantly nags.

The moment has come, will I succeed?

I never questioned Joel, I always knew he could

But what about me? I can always turn back

I console myself, if things don’t turn out good.

We walk past the gate, it’s quiet

A handful of souls brave the morning with us

The morning light begins to filter its way down

Through forest canopy, illumining the way for us.

It starts out easy,

With gradual slopes and meandering bends

With mixed feelings of excitement and unease

I knew just too well that this was all coming to an end.

The hairpin bends soon appear

The gradual slopes turn tormentingly steep

Our breaths become labored

Long inhales alternating with slow exhales, in pattern we keep.

Our strides lengthen

They mimic our deliberate breathing pace

Beads of sweat start to form

They fall heavily off the sides of our face.

Faster and faster they come

Soon my dri-fit is all drenched

We stop for a water break

Our mighty thirst to quench.

We labour and lumber on

After the 3km mark we notice a visible change

The slopes become more gradual

We don’t sweat as much; isn’t that strange?

Is it getting easier or have our bodies adapted?

Whatever the reason, I celebrate

I stride with revitalised confidence

With a palpable spring in my gait.

Equipped with our smart watches

We calculate our speed

We’re covering a kilometre in 15 minutes

That’s simply fantastic indeed.

We should be down by noon

This knowledge bolsters my vivacity

What I assumed was going to take eight long hours

Has been reduced to something within my capacity.

We soon arrive at Tea Gardens

The map tells us that we are more than halfway up

What an assuring piece of information

Most definitely a pick-me-up.

We snap more than a few pictures

And continue on with a certain lightness of heart

Where did the time go? Because we have come

To the end of our journey, without falling apart!

I look up and ahead, against the blue sky

Standing erect is the wooden lookout tower

Dilapidated and broken, with unuse and neglect

It carries our past, that is it’s power.

Many years back we were here

My parents and the kids

Armed with their natural curiosity

Three little kids climbed the tower, we did not forbid.

We walk on, familiar sights

Flank our right and our left

The playground to my right abandoned

And the chalets to my left now bereft.

We stop for a rest, we find a bench

Under an old and rusty shade

Hidden by the beauty of a bountiful bougainvillea

We power up, our snacks we raid.

Powering up with some 'tau sar pneah' before their descent. Powering up with some 'tau sar pneah' before their descent.

We sit, mesmerised by the sights and sounds

The fresh morning breath awakens every tree

The crisp morning air rouses every leaf

The hill is alive! Most certainly the flowers, the birds and the bees.

We set out for our downward descent

It’s so easy that the mind starts complaining

About how boring the downward journey is

When will we reach? Our energy seems to be waning.

We keep checking our watches

Doing something like a countdown

We doggedly head to the finishing line

We are in a hurry, our stomachs need to get to town.

Finally we reach the foot

We take a moment to glory in our success

More pictures to make the moment last

We did it! I did it! A triumphant relief, I must confess.

Joel, thank you for the comradeship, the companionship and the memories. You made my dream come true.

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