The air is heavy with humidity, but we are fortunate that the rainforest canopy shields us from the scorching rays of sunlight that beam down on this hot summer day. The trees surrounding us stretch towards the sky, as if reaching for the clouds they will never touch. Some part of me wants to halt my climb upward, absorb my surroundings, and take awe in the fact that I am hiking through some of the oldest rainforests in the world. But instead, I trudge forward, grabbing onto tree trunks centuries old and stepping carefully along the footpath that nature has made with its gnarled tree trunks. We climb forward like this, my father and I, until finally, legs sore and lungs tired, we reach the overlook that we have come so far to see.
Here, high above the city of Lumut, my father’s hometown, it is the silence I notice first. It is a ringing silence, void of the revving of motorcycles or shouts of vendors as they advertise their cheapest goods. It is a silence that tells me that beneath the hustle and bustle of the Malay towns below me, there is a softer side to this country, a side of breathtaking natural beauty that can truly be experienced here atop the mountain of Ungku Busu.
To many, including Malaysians themselves, Malaysia is a country that has long been marred by corruption and discrimination. Rigged elections and suspiciously disappearing funds that suddenly end up in the pockets of politicians are far from uncommon here. Yet, along with the usual protests against the government, the summer of my visit was plagued by not one, but two subsequent blows to public morale: the disappearance of flight MH370 and the downing of flight MH17. Though lightening might not strike the same place twice, that year misfortune clearly had, and to those with family and friends on the missing plane, it had struck hard. To many, this was a country that was broken.
To me, however, Malaysia is a country of breathtaking beauty. It is a place so magnificently foreign in everything from its street side food stands to its expansive rainforests to the one dollar bowls of freshly made noodles that can be found at almost any breakfast shop. It is a place that brings back childhood memories of uncles patting me on the head, cousins taking me out for a treat, and my grandmother smiling and watching us all, content to have her family around her. But most importantly, it is a place that reminds me of my culture. It reminds me that although I call the United States my home, although I live and breathe the American life, a part of me belongs here to the place that my father and grandparents call home.
My trip that summer of 2014 made me realize that Malaysia is a country of juxtapositions. There is pollution, yet beneath that there is nature that lies ancient and untouched. There is corruption, yet there is hope. It is my father’s homeland; it is my heritage, and, in the eyes of this beholder, it is beautiful.
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