“You may pick your own strawberries,” deadpans the man with the bullhorn. We're let loose, allowed to run amok. A real strawberry field! The Beatles hadn't been lying after all.
Ravishing cherry tomatoes, pale Japanese cucumbers and jade-coloured capsicum, all grown on fresh mountain water and air, crowd thick and wild in adjoining pens. They taste preposterously wonderful. Half an hour later, we emerge covered in crushed strawberry, and beaming.
Ironically, Genting in Malaysia is largely famous for its glitz, its sheen, its razzle, its dazzle. It's a place in a cocktail dress and heels. It houses the only casino in Malaysia, thick with cigar smoke and garish lights, people tempting the Muse of Luck into the early hours of the morning. (Cleverly, the spas here open at 2 a.m. — after your millions have been made or lost, you may head there in celebration or consolation!) There are theme parks, rides criss-crossing overhead chaotically, in a warm whirr of golden lights, trinkets and toffees, punctuated by the occasional screams of people toppling head-first in a ride. The largest hotel in the world, the First World with 6,118 rooms, is also right here, at Resorts World. After a two-hour walk, we're convinced there are more elevators here than there are cows back home.
Unfortunately, we are otherwise preoccupied. Look, strawberry!
Perhaps that is what charms about Genting. It gives you the time and space to manoeuvre all of its opulence, or leave it all behind to take a walk above the clouds. Literally. More than 6,000 feet above sea level, you really do look down to see the clouds. We turn off the air-conditioning in our rooms at the Awana Golf and Country Resort, at night, to let in a little of the mist and moonlight that seeps into the 100 million-year-old rainforest here. More than 250 birds visit these jungles; so, our morning-walk is enormously rewarding, filled with startlingly-hued winged creatures. On our last day here, as we step out into the freezing midnight air, we're enveloped in soupy mist, thick enough to blunt an electric saw, leaving everything it touched freckled with water. We run laughing through it, teeth chattering; and then invoke every higher being that emerged from our collective imaginations as our bus winds down the cruelly curling roads, which we knew reached out over vertical cliffs.
To the capital
We laugh when we realise that the immaculate Kuala Lumpur, all steel and muted shine, a temple to machine and architecture, translates to ‘The Muddy City'. It harks back to the 19th Century, when Chinese Kapitan Yap Ah Loy transformed the unknown region into a mining town, reaching deep within the earth for tin. As we look into up at their war memorial, a monument to ‘Our Glorious Dead', an imposing stone sculpture of Malay soldiers, we turn to our guide mystified. “They look nothing like Malay men,” we say, pointing at the tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed clichés of soldiers, stating the obvious. Our guide sighs despondently. “It was made by American man. He never see Malay man. He assume they look like American.”
We're still smiling as we walk through the Butterfly Park, amongst waterfalls and flowers heavy with nectar, watching swatches of blues, greens, greys, pinks and blacks flutter in the air, falling like glitter, alighting gently on angry red flowers. Some, caught accidentally beneath a sprinkler, quiver wetly in a well-meaning tourist's hands, and some speckle our hair and clothes.
We've been invited to the Colours of Malaysia parade, their largest annual celebration, organised by their Tourism Ministry. More than 6,000 people dance their way through the streets, from different ethnic communities and geographic regions, in a three-hour whirlwind of batik, lace, gauze, glitter and feathered headdresses. I have not seen a people more naturally graceful — a simple step becomes a flourish, a panicked run radiates charm. Giant wayang kulits puppets throw their shadows on the walls, as aboriginal, Malay, Chinese and Indian dancers swoop by with whoops of joy. Once the last float has disappeared down the road, everyone is called into the streets to dance, led by none other than the Tourism Minister!
So, for an ecstatic hour, thousands of people throw their hands in the air, swirl, spin (and stumble) through almost all of Malaysia's folk and classical dances, mimicking her every move. A democracy of dance, accepting you as one of their own. “Everyone can do it!” the Minister proclaims, laughing. And, we did.