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.
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.
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.