Neil arrived in Melaka on 17th October 2006, the same day that I went home to the UK for 2 weeks holiday. Well, it turned out that Neil could have come home after all and joined me in England, as he did 4 days work (out of a possible 11) until I arrived on the 2nd November. This was due in part to the Hari Raya celebrations after Ramadan for the Muslims, as well as Deepavali celebrations for the Hindus.
I arrived on Thursday afternoon, and after being met by Neil, and the taxi driver we made our way down the Expressway E2 towards Melaka. It took 2 hours to drive there, and we were met by lots of localized flooding and heavy rain downpours along the way.
Actually since being in Malaysia, it seems that it rains most days, usually in the late afternoon. The visibility is also variable, sometimes you can see the sea (from the hotel window) and other times a smog/haze is present so you cant even see the sea (a mere 1km from the hotel). This is in part due to factories and forest fires over the water in Sumatra, Indonesia, blowing out their smoke and soot which gets carried across the Straits of Melaka. In fact you usually cant see Sumatra (which is only 50 miles away).
Neil had, in the time off from work, managed to sort out an apartment for us very quickly. However the thing that takes time is for FW to sort out the contracts and arranged to have a cheque raised as deposit money to the landlord.
I viewed the apartment a few days after arriving and was pleased with it. Although still in the process of being renovated completely (the apartment is only 2 years old!), the fixtures and fittings looked great. We will have a sea view and also an inland view, with 2 small balconies to sit out on (or dry washing from!). The apartment is Japanese style, i.e. it has low fixed Japanese style beds and some bamboo features in the lounge. There are 3 bedrooms, one ensuite, another bathroom and an open plan kitchen/dining room/lounge. It is on the 19th floor of a 23 storey apartment block called Klebang 8 (Klebang is the district in Melaka, up the coast from the town, halfway towards the refinery where Neil is working). The apartment block has security, a nice pool, badminton courts, gym and ping-pong room ! Hopefully the moving in date will be 15th November.
In fact, the apartment building is quickly attracting the new name of Foster Wheeler Ghetto, as at least 5 FW men/couples will be staying there ! The remaining 6 others just a few minutes drive away up the coast in two other apartment buildings. There is definitely a lack of suitable accommodation for expats here in Melaka, and although some properties are nice, they are run down and landlords are unwilling to renovate or decorate. We were very lucky that Neil found the apartment and said well have it, before someone else did !
Melaka is an interesting town and we will write more as we explore and discover it. Meanwhile we have found one of the big shopping malls, called Mahkota Parade (Mahkota means Crown in Malay). This has everything you need, a department store, Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Watsons chemists, lots of clothes shops, beauty salons, bookstores, a supermarket and food outlets (for those of you who came to Pattaya - it is much bigger than Royal Garden Plaza!).
The town of Melaka itself is very old and although a bit tired (some of the buildings could do with a lick of paint), it has immense character. Lots of little Chinese shophouses and narrow streets, with real life going on all around you. Trishaw drivers (bicycles with a carriage for 1-2 people, brightly coloured with lights and flowers), are still present as an old form of transport for the tourists and there are lovely old Dutch, Portuguese and British buildings from the past five hundred years of colonistaion.
The Malaysians fall into different ethnic groups, the Malays (Muslim), the Chinese Malays (Confucianism/Buddhism etc) and the Indian Malays (Hindus mostly), of course there are Christians too and lots of churches, so it is a very multi-cultural mix of people. The Malaysians call the foreigners (i.e. the British and Europeans), Matsalay, which translates as white-skinned people.
English is widely spoken and makes a huge difference after living in Seoul for a year where it is difficult to be understood or speak Korean ! You do hear people talking in both Malay and English within the same sentence !
Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city is 170km away. Neil and I made our first trip there from Melaka in a taxi, which cost 20 pounds one way, and took in fact 1.5 hours as there were no traffic jams on the road. For the return trip we decided to try the express buses, so caught one from the Bus Station in KL for a mere 1 pound 20p each one way !! The journey this time took 2.5 hours door-to-door. The city is therefore accessible, and I think I will be venturing up there at least once a week to seek out the British Ladies (called ABWM) and other activities. There are no such expat clubs in Melaka, although Im sure the FW ladies will get-together for coffee mornings once a week, once we are all settled into our apartments in the coming weeks. In fact there are very few expats in Melaka, expect at the weekends when people travel from Singapore or KL for day-trips or weekends as tourists.
I could not write about Malaysia without of course mentioning food ! As Neil started his Gourmet Guide to Melaka in my absence, I have been catching up with the tasty food (inlcuding Chinese, Malay and Indian), which is also very cheap. A typical meal for the two of us will cost 4 pounds at most, including drinks ! I`ll let Neil write that Chapter !
Malacca or Melaka is spelt in two ways and both are correct. One is the British spelling and one the Malay spelling. Both it seems are acceptable, and are equally seen around town. So its up to you what you decide to use when you mail out all those Christmas presents for us ! Only joking !
I have been wandering around the town centre of Melaka for the past few days, each day trying different streets and seeing what I find. It is very interesting and although many places are not suitable for pedestrians, it is the ONLY way to see the city...pass-by, stop and see something you wouldve missed by car in the narrow lanes.
Melaka is a congested town in terms of traffic and the little narrow streets werent built to accommodate cars, let alone huge coaches. But as it is an historical city, it attracts tourists from all over the world. Today I tagged along on a British tour (middle aged couples and single women on one of those Saga, see-Malaysia-in-two-weeks-holidays), at the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple. I arrived just as an almighty rainstorm came overhead so had nothing better to do than to follow their guided tour and blend into the background. Lucky for me, I kept out of the rain and had a free tour. So ask me now anything on Taoism, Confucianism or Buddhism and I can answer!
Today, I was also on a mission........to find a hotel in town which I had picked up a leaflet for, containing a lovely looking spa .The Puri Spa.
The Hotel Puri, was an old Pranakan house (Pranakans were wealthy Chinese merchants), and not immediate to see, but inside was like stepping back in time. It was lovely. If we werent staying in the Renaissance Hotel and wanted something of a more historic setting, this is definitely the place to stay.
Anyway, I had a tour of the spa, lovely treatment rooms, with blue-tiled baths in each, for aroma-floral baths, and everything very new-looking as it had only been open 8 months. They didnt seem busy, so of course I had to ask for the treatment menu to see what was on offer ! I opted for the special foot massage and scrub involving a mango scrub, a coffee bean foot mask and then an oil massage .I was really drifting off to sleep as Judy the therapist went to work on my plates of meat.
I took note of the prices and menu and will tell the rest of the ladies all about it. I can see me going in there quite often for some pampering and also if anyone comes to visit us, I will of course take you there.
Being on my own, wandering about, I stop and talk to anyone, and the real advantage that Malaysia has over Thailand and Korea is that everyone speaks English. Also the Malaysians seem very friendly and genuine, rather than the Thais who just want your dollar.
As I mentioned there are lots of Western tourists in town, but trying to catch their eye and strike up a conversation is hard, even if they are on there own, in couples (both mostly 20-30 something backpackers) or in tour groups (the Saga holidays, like I encountered at the temple).
Most funny are the couples, who dont talk to each other, especially today at lunchtime I observed two English women backpackers (my age) sat over lunch at the table next to me and read their books silently, only whispering conservation, so I couldnt hear (not that Im nosey!). We were the only 3 in the café, I gave up after trying to look their way ! I just like to talk to people and also find out why they are in town ! Also I talk to the same people here everyday, the few FW wives, so want a change !
We moved into our apartment on Sunday 12th November. The apartment is lovely, very modern and clean. We met the landlord, Richard Tan, his wife and 4 little girls when we moved in to go through the inventory and make sure we knew how the operate all the remote controls !
Richard is a very nice man, and only 37 years old. He has bought the apartment as an investment and had it refitted by a designer who has made good use of the space, lots of cupboards (you need a step ladder for a lot of them!) and drawers and nice finishing touches. The floor space is bigger than our house in Reading and much bigger than our Somerset Palace apartment.
We have the biggest TV ever, a LG 42 TV with huge speakers and amplifier system. Now Neil can play his Rage Against the Machine at full volume !
We did our first shop immediately after moving in, courtesy of Keith and Susan who have a car, and we didnt. So we drove to Tescos, and all I can say is we wont be going there again on a Sunday. Busy isnt the word ! Think of Tescos in the UK on a Saturday or Sunday and make it 10 times busier !! Anyway, it is only a 20 min drive away and seems to have the basics including HP sauce. I will be venturing up to KL for more exotic items !
We have had the delivery of our shipment, the sea freight we sent from Korea, just two days after we moved in ! So the 28 boxes of stuff from Korea are finding a home in our new place, but all those thermals and jumpers we certainly wont be needing in Malaysia! It has been keeping me busy sorting everything out and with the landlord popping round to do things, like get our telephone installed.
The apartment has good views being on the 19th floor. The swimming pool is 25m length and has a kiddy pool too. I have been in the pool doing my swimming again, after a year of having no access to a pool in Korea.
Most of you will know that when we lived in Thailand and Korea we always make our visitors bring us food parcels from home. Things we miss like HP sauce, marmite, Branston pickle, Weetabix, Maltesers and S&V Pringles etc. Well those days are over, as Malaysia has all these goods ! Not to say the shelves of Tesco and Jusco in Melaka are the same as at home, they certainly are not. But we are very pleased to be able to get these goodies locally! KL has a bigger range of produce on the shelves of the supermarkets you can even get some Waitrose goods !
We are mobile now ..we have a car, a Kia Spectra, so Neil is taking it in turns with Keith to drive to work, so that Susan (Keith`s wife) and I are mobile each day if we need to be.
Neil has been working in a portacabin since he arrived until Wed this week. Now the team have moved into the new offices that have been built for them which are super-air conditioned i.e. you need your winter woolies on to work in there !
We had our first visitor to dinner this week. Neils FW work colleague Ravi, a very nice Indian Malay chap who lives in KL with his wife and 9 month old son, but commutes weekly to Melaka staying in a local condo building. When you are living away from home like that, it is nice to have things to do outside work hours, so we invited him over. He is a vegetarian for religious reasons two days a week, Thursday and Saturday, and although I didnt get to the bottom of why those days were special, we thought if we invited on a Thursday then I could cook a veggie meal with no worries. So I cooked a nice chilli, with tortilla wraps, guacamole, and all the trimmings. Yum !
Ravi is such as easy going chap and very easy to talk to. He went to University in Australia and has traveled a little with FW, even spending 2 days in Pattaya ! It is good to get to know the Malaysian people, to try and understand their cultures, and have someone you can ask questions to about their country !
Seeing as the dinner went well, we are going to invite a FW couple for dinner next week, Graham and Lek, who are still staying in the hotel (and will be until Dec 15th) as their apartment here in Klebang is not ready to move into. They are bored stiff in the hotel. I cant believe we are already doing all this entertaining already, as all the time we were in Korea we never had anyone to dinner except Denis !
I have also been out socialising with the British Ladies in KL. They had a lunch this week, which was arranged at a Lebanese restaurant in the centre of KL. About 22 ladies turned up and I recognised some of them from the coffee morning I had been to two weeks ago, so I made a bee-line for them ! We sat on 3 tables and I was chatting to the ladies on mine, when I realised the lady sitting across the table was a FW lady, whose husband is working in KL on another project (there are also very few FW wives in KL). What a coincidence ! The organiser of the lunch, a Scottish lady named Morag, was gob-smacked that I had traveled all the way from Melaka for the day to come to the lunch (she said she was going to include that story in her write-up of the event in the next magazine issue !).
Susan and I spend most of our days together, along with her little boy Thomas, deciding what to do, or just popping round for a brew between apartments.
Most of the day we think about how we can entertain young Thomas ! Neil and I have known Thomas since we were in Seoul, so just over a year. He is going to be 3 in February and for a "medium-sized-boy" as he calls himself, he has lots of energy and likes songs (so if he`s playing-up, I sing to him and he laughs........funny that !).
He is a chatterbox and you can hold a full conversation with him, but he`ll also repeat what you say, like a parrot. So my nick-name for him is Parrot ! As you can see from the photos we go to play areas, parks, swimming pools, shopping centres, museums and in between all that of course, we have to eat lunch !
I am trying to teach him to speak Northern, such phrases as "have yer come t`make brew?" and the famous Vic Reeves line "you can`t give a baby booze!". He repeats them endlessly and when I call round, he now asks me if I want a brew !
Thomas has started the pre-school Montessori playgroup near our apartment today for a half day and loved it. Upon being asked "do you want to go back tomorrow ?" the answer was "YES!".
Radio 2`s Steve Wright in the Afternoon being played over the sound-system in a home décor shop in Melaka, is not something you expect to hear, as you are shopping in Malaysia! Neil and I both did a double-take as we couldnt believe our ears !
The owner of the shop, an English lady called Liz from Manchester is married to a local chap called Bernard. She has been living in Melaka for 3.5 years and from our first chat and introductions, will be a mine of information. She was very friendly and knows the ins and outs of life in small town Malaysia !
My first mince pies and mulled wine of the year (oh no I forgot I had a mince pie at Hoppo`s house in October!) were consumed at the British Ladies coffee morning this week in KL. Gabriela (Gaby), another FW wife who is living in the next condo block up the coast from us and her 10 month old baby girl Daniela, came along too. Gaby is from Venezuela and speaks fluent English, although I was worried the coffee morning might not be her cup-of-tea, she enjoyed it, had her first ever mince pie (and made a wish) and even met a British lady from Farnborough, who had grown up in Venezuela and spoke fluent Spanish with her small world !
The British Ladies are gearing up for their Christmas Lunch next week at the Prego restaurant in the Westin Hotel in KL, to which I am attending. Apparently it is scheduled from 11am 2.30pm, but rarely finishes before evening time ! I will have Jeffrey the taxi, to bring me home, so not to worry about a few too many !
We discovered that IKEA exists in KL ! So another fun-filled day out for Susan and I, has been to book Jeffrey the taxi driver (yet again!) to take us to IKEA (as it is a difficult place to get to drive in KL, with lots of highways to negotiate). Thomas was entertained in the soft play area whilst we were entertained and felt home-from-home in the marketplace, stocking up on all those items you dont really need, but are a real bargain !
Neil and I are going to a Xmas party on Saturday night, with the St Patricks Society in KL (aka the Irish!), which we are going to join and become members of, for the craic ! One of the ladies on the St. Pats committee, whom I have already met, said the St, Pats Society are funny about their members having Irish connections.......I said come on ....our surname is O`Connor !! Do you want to see the family tree ?! Dad, please fax it over !
It is hard being an expat wife.......all the socialising that has to be done and this event was no exception. I ventured up to KL on my own this week for the British Womens Christmas lunch, held in the Westin Hotel, in their Italian restaurant Prego.
The hotel was fab, and looked modern and very tasteful and yet stylishly Christmassy. I found my way to the gathering of British women, looking all lost and lonesome and stumbled upon two nice ladies, Carol and Rhoda, who said come in with us ! Sod the table plan, sit with us - so I did !
Now, 160 ladies for lunch is a big affair, I can tell you - we had the whole restaurant. I thought I would find some of the faces I had met at the coffee mornings, but not at first anyway. There were lots of new faces (well I was also a new face), but one lady came up to me to say "Hello" that I knew from Seoul. Tracey had moved from Seoul to KL in August this year. It was funny seeing a familiar face in a big crowd.
The food kept on coming round to the tables, tasters to try from the kitchens, but it was also buffet style and BBQ outside and the champagne kept flowing and flowing !
There were silly games, lots of karaoke attempts on the microphone at Christmas songs, especially "The 12 days of Christmas " - to which everyone forgot the words - what is number 9 ?! Santa came round with a sackful of gifts for everyone (apparently he is an expat house-husband!) and got lots of kisses for his trouble !
Luckily for me, as arranged, Jeffrey the taxi was waiting outside at 3pm, so I could crawl into the cab and be driven home. As I said before, it`s a hard life !
Melaka by night takes on a whole new look, with different lights, sounds, smells and people that venture out in the cool, cool, cool of the evening.
Well it was still pretty muggy when Neil and myself, along with Neil`s work colleagues Tom and Keith, along with Keith`s wife Susan ventured into the heart of the old town of Melaka this weekend. The heart of the town is the Chinatown district, where every friday and saturday night traffic is banned, and the streets are pedestrianised. This brings out the market stalls selling a variety of toys, souvenirs and food......basically everything you need.....and the buzz on the street is amazing. Local families, day trippers, tourists.........everyone is there soaking up the atmosphere and pushing through the crowds.
We also met up with another of Neil`s colleagues for a drink, Kenny (a Chinese Malay) and his wife Catherine in the Geographer Cafe. Kenny is another one of the FW team, who commutes weekly to Melaka from KL, but had stayed down this weekend where his wife and family had joined him.
We passed Chinese (very public) karaoke halls, blasting out incomprehensible pop songs with onlookers wondering if they can sing. Well who cares ! Shops that are never open in the daytime (and for that matter look boarded up and closed), come alive at night, with lots of bars, offering live music (a guy singing to a backing track!) and food.
We wandered the streets, finding a variety of street snacks to try (dim sum, Indian corn fritters, pancakes, fruit dipped in chocolate! etc ), and when we left the street at 11.30pm the town was still buzzing and it was all still going on !
Melaka really is a different place at night and definately one of the best times to see the town. We`ll be going back to try some more food and to try some more bars !
As an environmental scientist, I feel that I should write something about the weather here in Malaysia as it determines our activities here most days, and like most British people we are obsessed with it!
The weather in Malaysia is characterised by two monsoon regimes, namely, the Southwest Monsoon from late May to September, and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March (we are in the in the middle of this now). The Northeast Monsoon brings heavy rainfall, particularly to the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia (we live on the west coast thankfully) and western Sarawak, whereas the Southwest Monsoon normally signifies relatively drier weather. The transition period in between the monsoons is known as the intermonsoon period. Roughly for you non-scientists this translates as two seasons : Very wet and wet !!
What is a Monsoon ?
The word "monsoon" is derived from the Arabic word "mausim" which means season. Ancient traders plying in the Indian Ocean and adjoining Arabian Sea used it to describe a system of alternating winds which blow persistently from the northeast during the northern winter and from the opposite direction, the southwest, during the northern summer.
The Malaysian Met Office provide a up to date weather forecasts for the entire country, but focusing on where we live in Melaka, the following is a summary for this time of year i.e. The Northeast Monsoon period :
Malacca rainfall forecast
150-250mm/month November : Thunderstorms occuring in the late afternoon
110-180mm/month December : Thunderstorms occuring in the late afternoon
<150mm/month January : Generally drier weather conditions
Just for comparison, the south-east of England (Oxford) gets an average of 53.5mm of rain per month and Manchester (one of the wettest places in the north-west) gets an average of 67.2mm rain per month. Even in Ireland, (which we all know is a wet place), Cork has a monthly average of 87.4mm per month, with a peak of 122mm in December !
There was an earthquake recorded near to us yesterday, on 18th December at 5.04am in Sumatra, Indonesia, which is only across the Straits of Malacca.
The epicentre was 1177km (420miles) from Melaka and registered 5.5 on the Richter Scale. I would not have thought anything more of it (it hardly featured on the news), but that day at work Neils colleague Peter, who is also our next door neighbour was sitting on his toilet at approximately 5.30am when he felt the building shake (no it wasn`t the curry from the night before!).
Even later on that day, he had not heard the news about the Sumatran earthquake, but asked Neil if we had experienced the same thing ? Well we were fast asleep at 5.30am and didn`t feel the earth move!
Mum arrived here in Malaysia on 21st December, after a very enjoyable and comfortable flight from London. By the time we got home from the airport about 10pm (it takes 2 hours to drive there door-to-door), we were all ready for bed, which was actually good for Mum as it turned out by going to bed then, she didnt get any jet-lag !
Mum has only 10 days holiday with us here, due to the restrictions of school holidays, but we were determined to make the most of it and show her about life in Malaysia, as much as possible whilst also chilling and relaxing too.
Melaka is full of things to do and see, at last count I think there were at least 15 museums to visit. You cant do them all so we decided to pick a few to get the potted highlights of Malaysias history and culture.
Mum was surprised at the size of Melaka, she originally thought that it would be quite a small place, but after we had shown her the huge modern shopping malls, Tescos etc, as well as the quaint little streets in town, she realised we have most facilities we need here.
We took her to some of our favorite eateries, mostly the very reasonably priced Indian and other local restaurants, where a meal for 3 is usually less than 3 pounds including drinks !
Christmas was certainly a laid back affair. Christmas Eve, Mum and I were in town, where we treated her to the Puri Spa, Mums Christmas present - the full works - that is facial, foot scrub and massage, full body exfoliation and massage it was wonderful ! Neil met us for lunch and we also wandered around Chinatown, having a look around the Chinese Temple and the little shops.
Christmas Day, we spent in the apartment, with breakfast on the balcony followed by the opening of presents. We called into Susan and Keiths apartment for a glass of wine and to give Thomas his presents. He had so many toys he didnt know where to begin ! We cooked simply, something that we eat regularly a butternut squash risotto, but had Christmas pudding and sponge and custard for desert. It was no hassle but very nice ! So we vegged out watching some of the DVDs we`d been given for Christmas and packed our bags ready for our trip to Singapore on Boxing Day.
On Boxing Day, we had arranged to take Mum to Singapore for a few days, so I had booked a long-distance taxi driver to drive us there ! It takes 4 hours door-to-door and cost only 55 pounds each way, from our place to the centre of town in Singapore, Orchard Road (imagine Oxford Street in London). So on another of the wettest days of the year, with more flooding still occurring locally we set off. It was still raining all the way down the highway and into Singapore and didnt stop until the following morning.
Our hotel, The Phoenix, Neil and I had stayed in 3 years ago, when we were on holiday there, was still as good, and its great location, next to the subway and on Orchard Road is perfect for traveling about. We decided to take Mum around the shops on Orchard Road, and I mean huge shopping malls, with everything in, which are especially good if it`s raining outside. I must say that the rain didnt dampen our spirits, as it was still a warm 28 degrees !
We wandered around Chinatown the following day, and went for Chinese tea and dim sum (Neils favorite) in a local teahouse. After walking up towards the river at Boat Quay, we got on a Bumboat the old cargo boats, that now take tourists up and down the river for an hour cruise. It is the best way of seeing a City, get on the river and see it from a distance. An unusual thing occurred whilst we were on the boat a man was spotted bobbing in the river, and our boat came to the rescue. Our captain, helped rescue the old man, who was fully clothed with his bag, appeared to have tripped and fallen into the river from the bank.
After reaching dry land, we headed onwards towards Raffles Hotel, and the Tiffin Room for Tea and Tiffin ! Tiffin starts at 3.30pm every day and we had timed it just right, as after ambling along the Raffles complex, taking photos and mooching in the shops, we arrived just in time for Tiffin ! Tiffin is like taking Tea at the Ritz in London. You are charged a fixed price (15 pounds), and can had tea, coffee, drinks, and endless food nibbles, like cakes, fruit, sandwiches, and other finger foods. We werent too hungry, but managed a small amount from what was on offer, but most people were really filling their boots !
After soaking up the ambiance and enjoying Tiffin, we headed out to the Long Bar for a look around. The Long Bar is famous in Raffles as having created the Singapore Sling. Mum and I duly had a Sling (at the cost of 6 pounds a go!), Neil opted for a Guinness, and we munched our way through the monkey nuts on the table, discarding our shells on the floor, like everyone else was doing! You really get the British colonial feel in Raffles and what life used to be like in those days.
We went out that evening, to a row of little bars, housed in old Chinese shop houses, only a stones throw from our hotel, but off the beaten track. Very beautiful old buildings, where Im sure the wealthy folk live, as it is a conservation area, but great trendy little bars with good music and nibbles.
We did some more shopping and even bought Neil a replacement wedding ring ! He had lost his ring two weeks ago, playing rugby in a very muddy field in Melaka. We were both very upset at the time and were disappointed with the choice in Malaysia, everything was far too blingy. But in Singapore we found a nice local shop with a cheerful assistant and good choice of bands.
Mum certainly did get a taste of Singapore and the difference in lifestyle with Malaysia, especially where we live in Melaka. We headed back to Melaka on Thursday, after our taxi driver collected us from the hotel. Thankfully it wasnt too wet on the way home, some of the flooding in Malaysia seemed to have subsided and we got home in just under 4 hours.
The Petronas Towers located in the centre of KL are a dominant landmark in the city centre. They were built by Petronas, Malaysia`s national oil and gas company and were once the tallest building in Asia (in structural height), although have now been dwarfed by Taipei 101, located in Taiwan. The Petronas Towers still have the worlds deepest foundations at some 120m though! The twin towers are still huge and very impressive as you approach the city from the expressway. They can be seen for miles around.
One of the largest shopping malls in Malaysia is located at the foot of the Petronas Towers, and is called Suria KLCC. It is great, with 6 floors of shops (at least 300 shops), including M&S, a department store, home decor shops, a supermarket and lots of restaurants. I have already mentioned that IKEA is located in KL, but there are so many other big shopping malls, scattered throughout the city and suburbs that you could never be bored visiting them!
Malaysia has a population of 25.3 million, with 1.4 million located in Kuala Lumpur. As capitals go, it is pretty small and compared with Seoul, where the city population is approx. 12 million it is minute (for your information London has a population of 7.5 million). KL is still a busy city, with lots of highways and traffic jams, but the city centre is easy to navigate on foot or on the monorail and LRT.
Malaysias Industry comprises rubber and oil palm processing and manufacturing, light manufacturing industry, logging, petroleum production and refining. Agriculture is in crops, rubber, palm oil, cacao and rice.
All the way along the highway from Melaka to KL, you pass endless palm tree plantations, from where the palm oil comes from. Palm oil is found in the fruit that grows on the tree. In fact, Malaysia is the worlds largest producer and exporter of palm oil, producing about 47 % of the worlds supply. Palm oil is used for cooking and to manufacture margarines. In addition, it can also be used as a biodiesel.
To give me a job and keep me busy, I have volunteered to be the Editor of the newsletter for the St Patricks Society in KL. The current editor has been in the role for 2 years and wants to do something different, so they were looking for a new Editor and they found me !
The St Pats Society is 82 years old this year, even so it is one of the younger expat clubs in KL. These clubs (like the St. Georges, St. Andrews and St. Davids Societies) have been going for ages, from the time when Malaya was a British colony and even now, there seems to be a lot of British people living in KL longer term than other countries weve been. Quite a few British women Ive met have married local Malays, that is certainly different from our other postings. This means that theyve lived here 10-30 years +, so as a newcomer it is daunting.
Anyway I take over as Editor (its a one man job, so I might have to rope Neil is as proof reader) in February/March. The magazine is printed by a company in KL and posted out, but is also on the web too. So when my first one is on there Ill let you know ! The website for the Society is http://www.stpatsoc.org/ if you want to have a look before then.
The Society have their fund-raising ball on Saturday 17th March (St Patricks day of course), at the Hilton in KL and this event will bulk out most of my first newsletter with photos and write-up, so that will be exciting. They NEVER have to advertise the ball, it is sold on reputation. They always get a full house of about 750-800 people and there is always a waiting list! Neil and I will be going of course and as it is so popular, I have already booked a table (of 10) in the hope we can get some of the Melaka crowd to go up to KL for it. Our next door neighbour Peter and his wife are confirmed, so just need to find another 6 more. I`m hoping the FW crowd will want a change in social scene outside of Melaka and will be up for it. It is such good value at only 35 pounds a ticket for all drink, food and entertainment from 7pm 4am !
The word for food in Malay is makan and Malaysians know how delicious their food is and that is why they cannot stop talking about it ! The cuisines within Malaysia are representative of the multi-ethnic population, namely Malay, Chinese and Indian. Then there are inter-marriages of cuisines, like the cultures of Chinese and Malay resulting in Baba Nyonya food (or also referred to as Peranakan) and Portuguese influenced food (the only evidence Ive found of this are the Portuguese egg custard tarts delicious!)
Rice (nasi) is served with every meal and in abundance. The Malaysians eat typically double the sized portion of rice that, for example, the Thais would and certainly too much for me (not Neil !). Nasi Goreng (fried rice) is something found on the menu, but we certainly dont eat anything like as much of it as the Thai version when we lived in Thailand (its not as good!).
Neil regularly eats out near the refinery at lunchtime with a group of work colleagues and they visit a different restaurant each day of the week. Neils favourite meals/restaurants are (in no particular order); the Malaysian fish head curry restaurant (wonder what their specialty is?!), Malaysian Laksa (a coconut soup with noodles and seafood), in the Chinese restaurant Kung-po chicken, Japanese Tofu, Sweet and sour fish washed down with Chinese tea (Tie Kuan Yin). There is plenty of choice in Shahidas Indian (muslim) restaurant with a variety of dishes including one of my favourites, Rojak (this means mixture, in Malay, and sometimes called mamak rojak or Indian rojak) comprising tofu puffs in a thick spicy chilli peanut sauce.
Malaysia is famous for its satay and as a roadside snack it is everywhere, being grilled over a charcoal BBQ. The chicken or beef satay is served with peanut sauce for dipping. Another roadside snack that Neil grazes on, is deep fried plantains (bananas).
I am quite fortunate that most Indian restaurants sell veggie curries, in fact some are wholly vegetarian. The restaurants do not make there curries to order, rather you help yourself or are served, from chaffing dishes on a counter. Often the Indian restaurants serve the curries on a banana leaf, which is the plate, locals eat with their hands (right hand only), but thankfully most have forks and spoons for those who dont want to get dirty!
If there is once thing we were surprised at in Malaysia, regarding food, it is the milk. The Malaysians like their tea and coffee made with condensed or evaporated milk and sugar (apparently there is a high rate of diabetes in Malaysia). The shops do stock what they call low-fat milk, but this tastes exactly the same as the full-fat milk, which tastes of melted vanilla ice-cream ! (By the way we have found that we can buy UHT skimmed milk imported from New Zealand!) The Malaysians also serve, in abundance, iced lemon tea, which is lovely, quite sweet, but deliciously refreshing.
I have never before seen such a good range of tofu in the shops. Asians use tofu a lot in general and in Korea I was used to seeing the silken tofu (which falls apart easily) or that in a tube which is runny (and terrible to cook with!). But here in Malaysia you seem to get the entire range of tofu, flat sheets, fresh blocks, tofu puffs, etc. suitable for all the different cooking methods. I have never been so excited about tofu !
Tofu as you may or may not know, is made from grinding soya beans. Unfortunately here they also eat fish balls (that is, a ball shaped from fishy paste, mixed with tofu and lots of MSG) ! Anyway, the two sometimes look alike and I have come unstuck once (and never again!) by buying the wrong stuff in the supermarket.
The Muslims of course (the majority of the population) do not eat pork. But you can buy pork in the supermarkets in the non-halal section, where sausages, ham, bacon etc are sold and paid for separately. Muslims will not go to a Chinese restaurant as they always serve pork on the menu.
We are still investigating and exploring the different foods here in Malaysia and will keep reporting on what we find !
Terri is a very good friend of mine whom I first met in my first 2 weeks in Seoul. She was new too at the time and we became friends. Neil and I also got to know her husband Keith, and spent many a karaoke and other nights on the town out with them both !
They moved to Singapore in September last year from Seoul and likewise we followed not to soon after, to Malaysia. Keith was away in Oz on business this week, so Terri took an opportunity to come and visit us. On Sunday, she caught the bus from Singapore to Melaka bus station. It takes 4.5 hours on the bus and for only 2 pounds 50p it is good value for money !
We showed Terri the highlights of the town in the 2 days she was here. Took her some of our favourite places to eat; Restaurant Veni for the banana leaf curry, Berts seafood restaurant, The Heeren House café (newly opened by Liz and Bernard) and also the Monday Night Market near our apartment, where we purchased lots of street food to take home and enjoy.
I took a full tour round town on Monday; Terri, Susan, and Susans parents Eric and Marion. Terri enjoyed seeing Melaka and loved the food, and although her visit was short, shell be back (with Keith next time), as there is plenty more to see.
By the way, the tour guide services of Amy are available to anyone who wants to visit us any small donation welcome !!
Neil and I ventured up to KL on a school night a round trip of 4 hours for dinner with the Irish Ambassador and his wife at their residence. I collected Neil from work, outside the refinery gates just after 5pm in the taxi and we headed up the highway to KL, to the district of town where most of the Embassies and Residences reside. The Ambassador has a fine house with small swimming pool at the side, and Eugene and Adele as they are more commonly known, were very friendly and welcoming, whilst their lovely cat Roxy, vied for attention and a cuddle, round our legs.
In all there were about 30 people over for dinner. The St Patricks Society committee and their spouses were invited, the group of which I now form a part, as newsletter editor. I knew a few people there by sight, but everyone was very sociable and friendly to Neil and I.
The staff served drinks and canapés in the large entrance hall come reception room. Three tables of 10 were laid out in one corner and we helped ourselves to the hot buffet of salmon fillets, ratatouille, red cabbage, a lovely ricotta and spinach veggie lasagne, salad, dauphinoise potatoes, accompanied by some nice soda bread. The staff kept pouring wine and then dessert followed, (which I struggled to find room for after the main event), of apple strudel, fresh strawberries and blueberries, a meringue roulade, and a mouse cake. Neil and I having finished our dinner, couldnt wait for tea and coffee to be served as we knew we had a 2 hour journey home ahead of us, so we made a sneaky exit at 10.30pm, after thanking Adele for her hospitality.
I dont know what Ive let myself in for, working with this committee, but one of my first jobs next week is to attend the tasting of the St. Patricks Ball menu at the Hilton. It cant be hard, can it ?
For the past week, the wind has been very strong here in Meleka. It blows all day and night, and after the early morning clouds have disappeared, the sun comes out. There is not a hint of rain, but the wind keeps us cool by rattling the doors and windows, and whistling through the apartment, and we certainly an advantage living on the 19th floor, as we dont have to use any air conditioning at the moment. Funnily enough, the wind does not blow off the sea, but off the land, in a southerly direction.
I have been participating in a course, run by the British Women and am halfway through it now. Hello KL is meant as an introduction to KL; an historical, cultural and shopping adventure. Run over a four week period, once a week we get together to learn more about the city. The course has been running every couple of months for the past 2 years and is very popular. We are learning about the different cultures and have already been in one of the oldest mosques in KL, Masjid Jamek, which is located at the confluence of two rivers and is where KL originated from. The name Kuala Lumpur translates as muddy confluence and the mosque is built at this point, the origin of the city.
This week was the Thaipusam festival, one of the most spectacular Hindu festivals, where millions of devotees make their way barefoot from KL chinatown to the Batu caves, some 7-8miles. The devotees then make thier way up 272 steps to a shrine in the caves, often carrying milk pots and kavadis with them. Some people prepare themselves a month beforehand, fasting and meditating. On the day of the festival they fulfill their devotion by getting into a trance and pierce themselves with hooks and spikes and carry offerings on hooks up to the shrine. The trance-like state stops them feeling pain (much like walking over hot coals).
As 1.5 million people were expected at Thaipusam, I didn`t fancy getting caught in the crush, but our friend Tom went and took some of the photos you see here. I would love to go next year if we are here to witness it firsthand.
Thomas was 3 on 5th February, and Susan, her parents Eric and Marion and myself went along to his pre-school mid morning, carrying a large Winnie the Pooh cake for the children.
That day there were 14 girls and just 5 boys in the small school, with a maximum of 22 children at any one time in the whole school. Now Thomas is 3 he will be able to get a school uniform like the rest of the children. The age range in the school is 2-6 and the children were very well behaved and quiet. They all washed their hands first, before sitting down and were told to put their hands on their laps.
On cue the children sang Happy Birthday to Thomas, firstly in English, then Malay and finally in Mandarin, one after the other ! I was impressed ! Then when allowed to do so, they were allowed to eat their cake.
This week, I also ventured up to KL for two days, an overnighter was in order as I had my first St Patricks Committee meeting. After the formalities with the meeting were over, there was a tasting for everyone (14 of us) to sample the 5 course St Patricks Ball menu ! Well who would refuse ? We also had to try the 3 red and 3 white wines and make comments on the food and give marks for presentation and taste.
Well we all had our critical hats on, and the only course we all liked and gave 5/5 for was the desert ! It was superb - I can`t remember all the ingredients, but there was a small green chocolate shamrock on the side and there was lots of dark chocolate, ice cream and Jameson involved!
Anyway, the outcome was not very good for the French Chef at the Hilton, who basically was trying overall to be too fancy, when all we wanted was something simpler, and as for the vegetarian option - it was embarrassing ! So, the chef has to redo most of the courses and then we all have to come back and sample them all again in 2 weeks time ! It`s a difficult job but someone`s got to do it !
We were honored to have been invited to a Malay (Muslim) Wedding this weekend, and we were keen to find out what goes on, and the customs and traditions which they observe here. Neil and Tom were invited, as it was one of the guys who they play rugby with was the Groom, Chua.
Chua, as he is known to Neil, is a Chinese Malay who has converted to Islam (presumably in order to marry). This I think must be quite unusual, and as a consequence he has now adopted a new Islamic name, Aliff. His bride to be, Aida, is Malay and works as a nurse in Abu Dhabi, so their relationship has been quite long distance. Their family homes however are very closeby in a small kampung (village) south of Melaka, near the coast in a quiet, rural setting.
We three were the only foreigners there, and wedding invitations go out to just everyone they know, the entire village had turned out to help and were involved in the preparations. We arrived just after 12.30pm, after waiting for 1 hour at a roadside café for the rugby guys to arrive, so we could go in convoy to the wedding. So Neil, Tom and I sat and drunk iced lemon teas and waited. Eventually the guys drifted in, and were in no hurry to get going, but we soon on our way in the convoy, down the road. We would never have found the venue on our own, the smallest tarmacced road, barely a cars` width through a collection of little houses.
The wedding party was in full swing outside i.e. loud DJ music (Barbie Girl and other Euro trash was being playing .can you believe it ?!) the food was being served by middle aged ladies, and their were long tables under a tent canopy erected to sit and eat at, out of the sun.
We were given a welcome gift of a silk flower with a boiled egg attached (still dont know the significance of that, but its traditional!). We ate with a spoon and fork, but were the odd ones out as everyone else was eating with their fingers. Luckily the serving ladies knew wed want spoons and found some cutlery, as eating curry and rice with your fingers is a very messy business (and they know foreigners cant do it)! We ate biriyani rice and curries, followed by desert of rice wrapped in a leaf and "preserved" in rice wine (and we thought they didn`t have alcohol!).
We met the Groom after eating, and then walked with him along the road to the Brides family home, just a few hundred metres. There we all waited for about 30 mins, trying to stay out of the sun, until a troop of young boys came along with their drums. Then the procession started to the bang of the drums, on foot back along the road, with the Best Man, Groom and his guests, back towards the Grooms house, outside of which we had just eaten.
The bride was waiting on the road as we returned, with her maid of honour holding a sunshade. As we approached we realised that the maid was actually a transvestite ! (Now in Thailand I wouldnt have looked twice as it was very common, but in Malaysia I thought it very strange. A Malay who we were speaking to, called him a She-Man, and said it was quite rare in Malaysia).
The couple then were joined by hands and led into a room at the front of the house, to receive guests on a throne-like setting. The best man and maid of honour accompanied the couple, and guests gave their blessings by sprinkling rice over the couples hands. Throughout this time, the boys were banging their drums loudly outside, playing different beats.
Then the second wedding feast began for the couple, at which point we decided wed had too much heat, sun and enough food and festivities for one afternoon and so we departed (others were doing the same, popping in and out all day). But what an experience !
Our friend Shelagh has been visiting us for the past 2 days. Shelagh is a friend I made at the International Ladies Club in Thailand and then through playing mahjong together. She and her husband Les (a Civil Engineer) lived in the condo next door to our house in Jomtien and we have kept in touch since leaving Thailand in October 2004. Shelagh had been to Melaka for one day, 15 years ago, so had very vague memories of what it was like but I was sure it has changed significantly since then.
Neil and I collected Shelagh from KL, Sunday late morning and brought her down to our home. She loves to swim, and like me she swims her lengths every day. So we did our swimming on Sunday afternoon while Neil snoozed and afterwards saw Susan and Thomas at the pool for play and a chat. That evening, we ventured over to Berts restaurant for dinner and watched the sun come down, across the sea from the beach a bit further up the coast.
I managed a non-stop one day tour of Melaka on Monday, taking in some of the historic buildings, the new shopping malls, Chinatown and the shop houses and even Tescos on the way home ! We had lots of pit stops for drinks and snacks especially to keep out of the sun. It has been very hot and dry these past couple of weeks, and is set to be so until April apparently.
Shelagh was delighted with her trip to Melaka and was sad to have to leave and return to KL. She had a restful time here and loved the sea view, the town and laid back atmosphere of life down here in this out-station!
Gung si faa chai (I`ve written it phonetically) is a common greeting at this time of year and translates as "Congratulations and be Prosperous" in Mandarin.
Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the lunar month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest (when the Lantern festival begins). This year, Chinese New Year (4705) starts tomorrow on 18th Feb 2007, when the Year of the Dog will be replaced by the Year of the Pig.
At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.
Those born in Pig years (like our very own Neil OConnor and also not forgetting my Mother!) tend to have excellent manners, make and keep friends, work very hard, and appreciate luxury. They are very loving and make loyal partners. They are highly regarded for chivalry and pureness of heart, and often make friends for life. Do you think that this is a realistic personality synopsis of Neil and Mum, well of course it is ! For Pigs in 2007, any recent setbacks or obstacles can be overcome and can look forward to a year in which to really shine, either personally or professionally.
More interestingly Chinese fortune-tellers have designated this New Year as that of the Golden Pig which only comes around every 600 years. Most significantly this could result in a significant crowding of maternity hospitals (the birth rate is predicted to rise by as much as 10%) because it is deemed a great year to have a baby, who should be blessed with good luck.
Famous people born in the Year of the Pig include Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Chinese New Year festivities in Melaka, have included adorning the streets with red lanterns and the giving of mandarin oranges everywhere (which are imported from China). There are lion and dragon dances around town and we went and watched one today in the Makota shopping centre.
There are two public holidays on Monday and Tuesday next week, but Neil only gets one day, the Monday. So we have a long weekend to look forward to !
We had the pleasure for a couple of days of entertaining Mr Shin and his friend Alisha this week. Mr Shin, or Hang Tae to use his first names (but Neil always called him Mr Shin), worked at Samsung and was seconded to Foster Wheeler for the duration of the project in Korea.
Mr Shin and Alisha had already planned a holiday in Singapore and after we moved to Malaysia, decided to come up to Melaka and visit us as well as Keith, Susan and Thomas. Mr Shin bought us gifts from Seoul, some Kimchi (just what we were missing, NOT!), some Kimchi chocolate and some seaweed. For those of you who dont know about Kimchi, it is Korean cold preserved vegetables; pickled cabbage, radish and the like. It is eaten with EVERY Korean meal and is said (by the Koreans) to have lots of health benefits. It is made with lots of garlic and sometimes chillis and you can smell Koreans a long way off, as they always smell of garlic, through eating Kimchi.
Shin and Alisha booked seats on the bus from Singapore and arrived in Melaka bus station on Sunday night, where we collected them. We spent the day together on Monday, along with Susan, Keith and Thomas and Keiths parents Alan and Jane. Another whistle-stop tour of Melaka, with lots of pits stops for drinks and snacks. I am getting good at this tour guide job ! They didnt like the heat and humidity of Singapore, but enjoyed Melakas slightly cooler breezes. Coming from Seoul, where it is currently 0 degrees, I can imagine it was a shock.
They had a nice break in Melaka and loved the sea and countryside views from our apartment. Mr Shin in particular took lots of photos and was very happy wathching the Chinese New Year fireworks from our balcony, whilst contemplating life over a few beers and wine. He asked Neil if there was a position in Foster Wheeler at the site here as he didnt want to leave !
Well see Mr Shin in June when we visit Seoul and he has promised to take us out to one of our favourite restaurants in Insadong, Ahndamiro ! Lovely !
Putrajaya City covers 4932 hectares of a former rubber and palm oil plantation and began life in 1993 as a new city to house the Malaysian Governments administrative buildings and ministries. It is an impressive city and is still under construction, but what has been achieved since 1993 is amazing. The entire development of Putrajaya is expected to be fully completed by the year 2012. Most of the construction has been financed by Petronas.
Neil and I decided to explore the city on Sunday, to see the impressive architecture of the new buildings there. It is 1.5 hour drive to Putrajaya from Melaka towards KL.
The buildings are all in different styles, and there is an impressive red-domed mosque (Masjid Putra) based on the Sheikh Omar Mosque in Baghdad with a distinctive Persian dome and a 116m minaret, which allows for 15,000 worshippers at one time !
The city is based around a 400 hectare man-made lake from which you get some of the best views, you can stand back and see the buildings from a distance.
Neil and I took the 50 minute boat cruise around the lake and took in the sights. The city was pretty deserted as most of the people working there, do not live there yet. We couldn`t even find where the shops and resturants were ! Only 50,000 people live there, but it is planned that 320,000 plus will eventually live in the city.
It is certainly worth visiting and if you are interested in architectural styles of buildings and bridges and a very pleasant way to spend a sunday afternoon !
Set like a glittering jewel amidst the South China Sea, Tioman Island, the largest of a group of 64 volcanic islands, beckons the visitor with its white beaches and crystal clear azure seas. That is one of the reports I could find about Tioman and of course Neil and I had to check it out and see if it was true !
Once, considered one of the world`s ten most beautiful islands, Tioman is a volcanic island which has steep slopes of lush green vegetation. Stunning waterfalls cascade down and make their way down through secluded sandy beaches to the clear blue waters and its coral reefs. Measuring 22km long by 11km wide, it is approximately half the size of Singapore.
There are no roads on the island, so journeys are made between villages and resorts by water taxi, or little speedboats. The guidebooks say that Tioman is overrun with tourists and has been ruined, but it being one of our closest beach resorts (somewhere we can drive to), we wanted to give it a chance.
Neil and I set off on Friday morning for a tropical paradise, a weekend away at the mythical Bali Hai. Tioman Island is portrayed as the setting for the paradise island of "Bali Hai" in the film South Pacific, although it wasnt actually filmed there. But the granite peaks sticking out of a low flying cloud are there and it does resemble the movie footage (minus the soft focus and colour filters !).
We arrived at Mersing port after a 3.5 hr drive from Melaka (264 km door to door). The port town is small and this is the most common route for getting to the islands offshore, including Tioman (the furthest away). We found the booking office for the resort we were headed for and Sue, the office manager told us the ferry would leave at 1.30pm and so we headed off to get a bit of nosebag. After eating some lovely noodles, we met Tony, the owner of Minang Cove, who was also traveling to the island on the same ferry. He was British, originally from Walton-on-Thames, with family still in Leatherhead and Claygate (sound familiar ?!). Hed lived in Malaysia for 15 years and married a local woman from Mersing. They moved to Johor Baru (JB), so their children could go to a good school.
We missed the ferry at 1.30pm, due to Tony very much in the Malaysian unhurried frame of mind. He said dont worry, theres a speedboat at 3pm. So we all waited together and chatted about life. Well, the speedboat finally berthed in Mersing at 3.10pm and we climbed aboard. A journey of 1 hr 40 mins of the most bumpy, uncomfortable ride across the South China Sea (a distance of 36 nautical miles). With the monsoons only recently over, the sea was still choppy and we were going against the waves.
We docked at the jetty at Minang Cove Resort located in the southern end of the island and what a lovely surprise awaited. The little beach surround by lush green palm trees and little wooden huts. It was good to be back on dry land and we were treated to lemon iced teas and doughnuts to refresh !
A sense of mystery pervades the island and picturesque beauty of this tropical paradise. The granite peaks behind the resort reach 958m high and in fact, are referred to as Chuala Naga or Dragons Horns, of the mighty dragon Sri Gumom. Our villa was on the hilside, with a view of the sea and the dragon behind.
Neil and I went on a 2.5 hour jungle trek on Saturday. We ventured onto a path through the jungle from the resort, following the coast to the nearest kampong (village) called Kampung Mukut and then onwards to Tiomans largest waterfall. The path was not well worn and a machete would have come in handy to hack down the undergrowth ! Crossing fallen down wooden bridges and coming across little secluded coves and beaches, no one had stepped foot on, we felt like Robinson Crusoe on our own island !
The villagers in Mukut live an unhurried lifestyle, fishermen mending their nets, people sitting outside their little wooden houses and children riding their bikes. Tioman Island really has a way of making your troubles seem like a thousand miles away. Upon arrival at the waterfall another hour outside the village, I couldnt wait to jump in the pool and rinse off the sweat and grime and get refreshed ! It was worth the walk !
Snorkeling just off the beach at Minang Cove, under the jetty struts, we saw schools of juvenile fish : barracudas, batfish, as well as sergeant fish, parrotfish, lots of other little fish swimming around the hard corals. Every evening the vegetable kitchen scraps get thrown off the end of the jetty and the fish go mad, this in turn attracted reef sharks and it was quite a feeding frenzy ! There are lots of dive sites but I was quite content with snorkeling and not putting too much effort in !
We also saw lots of wildlife during the weekend : Monkeys, squirrels (including the black giant squirrel - the largest species in the world) and other birds, butterflies and bugs !
Any visitor coming to Melaka, would be very welcome to visit this paradise and we would be happy to show you around !
" Here am I your special island, come to me, come to me ! "
Today Neil and I drove up the coast, towards Port Dickson, some 1.5 hours from our apartment. It was a special weekend for birding, organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), one of the biggest spectacles on the local birding calendar.
"Raptor Watch" is a weekend for nature and bird lovers to try and help spot the migratory raptors (birds of prey) on their journey back from SE Asia to their breeding grounds in Siberia, China and Korea, northwards. The birds, including the Crested Honey Buzzards and White Bellied Sea Eagle were seen circling in the sky above on the thermals, as they cross the landmass of Indonesia and into Malaysia at this narrow strait.
Tanjung Tuan, where we were located for the day, is a headland, which also happens to be the closest landmass to the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. Raptors have been using this promontory for thousands of years to cross over the Straits of Malacca.
It is an important consevation area as well. Tanjung Tuan is the only remaining patch of coastal forest on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and its waters are rich with corals and other marine life and sea grass, which attract a myriad of fish and turtles. We had a tour of the mangrove areas around the edge of the beach and the guide explained the importance of them and the various species and how they grow. I was very surprised to learn that there were coral reefs off the coast here, and they are protected from fishing, although visability is only 1m (so it is not a good dive!).
Neil and I, with our very small and inferior binoculars, did have some trouble identifying the birds as they circled above, but it was also a hazy/cloudy day which helped. We must invest in some bigger apparatus !
We joined the MNS and hopefully will be able to attend more of their social and nature weekends and trips.
Imagine playing rugby, or doing any kind of sports in 33-37 degree heat ?! Sound like madness, well I was thinking that on Sunday afternoon, when Neil was due to play in a rugby match.
Neil has been playing rugby since we arrived in Melaka and found out about a team, through trial and error, by emailing the various clubs. The Melaka High School Old Boys (MHSOB) replied and twice a week, Neil trains with them at Bukit Serendit Stadium (a sports area on the other side of town). The MHSOB are a bunch of 25-40 year old Malaysians, who kindly have let Neil and also Tom (his colleague), join their game.
On Sunday afternoon, they had a match against a local college and things looked daunting when the opposition started limbering up very professionally. Our team (MHSOB), were still on the sidelines, smoking and generally having a rest !
Neil was picked to play flanker (Shirt no 7), and form part of the scrum. It was hot out there, but cooled to a mild 31 degrees by the end of the game ! The MHSOB finally won 26-0. Although the manager, Chua wasn`t happy with their performance, Neil was happy that he made it through without too many bruises - one chap broke his collarbone in the match !
Whilst the rugger was going on, I also watched a large group (100 or more) or orange shirt-clad aerobics fans, going through their paces, to loud music in the arena next to the ground. Apparently they do this every evening and it was amusing to watch.
Neil and I travelled up to KL on Saturday with friends from Melaka, Kent and Loni (Gloria, Peter and Tom from Melaka came along too) to celebrate St Paddy`s day in style.......at the St Patrick`s Society Ball. We checked into the Hilton in the afternoon and were very pleased with our room (especially as we weren`t paying!). Neil had a snooze and I had a nice bubble bath, before we got ready for the big night.
The preparations and hard work that went into the planning of this years ball, really paid off when the ballroom, adorned with shields from all the Irish counties, flags and sparkly lights, started to fill with the beautiful people of KL. Having the event fall on St Patricks Day itself was special and although the rugby six nations was scheduled for the same day, some 700 people attended to what would be our first Society ball in Malaysia.
The Committee arrived looking very glitzy and it was a job to recognise some from their everyday wear ! We tasted our first sip of champagne in the VIP room at 6pm (of course we fit into that category!) and toasted to a successful evening, whilst outside our young Irish dancers, 4 little girls aged 7-10, presented the arriving guests with a shamrock for the lapel. The Sultan of Selangor was there as a VVIP (very very!) and had his entourage with him. He was presented with a lovely Waterford Crystal bowl, all the way from Waterford (I`m sure it will collect dust in his house!).
The 7 of us from Melaka sat at a table, along with an Indian lady called Lynette who was very nice and two chaps from Expatriate Lifestyle magazine. One of the chaps, Matt I had been emailing only the previous week, so it was good to meet him. He reminded me very much of my friend Matt Pannett in London ! Lynette did manage to accidentally tip red wine all over Matt`s shirt, but he was very nice about it !
There were eight young Celtic dancers who provided us with great Irish "Riverdance-style" dancing and a 12 year old expat girl called Claudillea, accompanied by The Folksmen - our Irish band flown in from Dublin, moved everyone in the ballroom, with her angelic voice. She performed a few Irish songs like a professional and everyone in the room was close to tears.
Peter Jackson`s (from the committee) big build up to the band La Viva, was all that it was craiced-up to be, and the band hit us with salsa and pop hits, and the dance floor was filled all evening. We certainly got our moneys worth from The Folksmen, as they played throughout the evening until 5.45am, when breakfast was calling. The Irish sing-along which took part into the wee hours, was attended by those who just didnt want to go to sleep. The Shebeen (bar) finally closed about 4.30am.
Neil and I crashed out at 3.30am after a lovely evening. We have some official hard copy photos which are great - I`ll try and scan them in.
On Thursday I took a trip with the British Women (ABWM) to the Genting Highlands, to visit a herb and salad farm and also a mushroom farm. I was picked up by taxi at 5.45am from our apartment as the rush hour traffic in KL starts to build up from 7am and you can get really stuck.
I reached the rendevouz point at Bangsar, at 7.40am, all in good time for the coach departure at 8am. 22 ladies had signed up for the trip and so we climbed aboard the coach and spread out.
The Genting Highlands are the closest Hill Station to KL city, just 50km north-east at a height of 1700m above sea level. We all anticipated cooler weather up there, and it was fresh and mild about 22-24 degrees.
The journey took 1 hr 20 mins to reach our destination and as the bus chugged up the winding roads, the landscape was changing with many large beautiful tree ferns (I hadn`t seen since we were in New Zealand) wild orchids and hibiscus (Malaysia`s national flower) growing.
Our first stop was a former University research station, now run by an English chap called Julian, who produces salads and herbs under the name Genting Garden. The site is not normally open to the public, but we had arranged a private tour.
Julian, a Horticulturist, set up the company 13 years ago and now has 70 staff living and working on the farm. The salad leaves and herbs he was growing hydroponically, looked lovely and there were many things that you can`t get in the shops (he grows for hotel chefs), and all the ladies were keen to buy samples and pot herbs from him ! He was a little overwelmed by the response, but we asked him to open a "farm shop" on his premises once a month and he`d have lots of visitors !
After the outside tour of the greenhouses and terraces, we had tea, coffee and biscuits, then he showed us inside the factory buildings, where the lettuce leaves are mixed, washed 2-3 times, bagged and labelled for those destined for supermarkets or hotel chefs.
After the 3.5 hours on the farm, we climbed back into the bus to go for lunch. A Chinese restaurant, where the food was very tasty, all washed down with Chinese tea. After lunch the coach set off, higher up the hill, to the very top, passing through what can only be described as Blackpool of Malaysia !
The Genting Highlands are famous as being a holiday destination for Malaysians; the advertising slogan is Genting: City of Entertainment and it is thought of as the Las Vegas of Malaysia, as there are theme parks and the country`s only casino (Muslims cannot gamble, so it is for everyone else!).
There are lots of hotels and resorts, but one of the worst is a fairly new one, the "First World" hotel, which is painted multi-coloured on the outside. It is also allegedly the worlds largest hotel, having 6118 rooms and is in the Guiness Book of Records. (The previous title holder was MGM Grand Hotel & Casino at Las Vegas with a record of 5,005 rooms). Anyway it is an eyesore !!
We were taken to a mushroom farm just at the foot of this large hotel, and was run by Malaysians but was very shabby and not very interesting. The clouds and mist started to roll in over the hill and we decided it was time to head back to KL. We got back on board the coach just as the rain started to fall.
Sharon and Tim, friends of ours from Reading, arrived last Sunday for a two week holiday, their first in Asia. I met Sharon commuting on the bus up to London and since then, with so many of my friends called Sharon, she was renamed affectionately as Bus Sharon!
On Wednesday last week, I took them on a magical mystery tour of Asia ! They didnt know where they were going, just that they needed their passports and money. One of Jeffreys taxis took us down to Singapore, and we arrived at lunchtime on Wednesday, and checked into the Hotel Phoenix (our regular haunt there).
A stroll along Orchard Road to find some lunch, took us to another favourite, the Food Court in the Wisma Atria shopping mall, and we feasted on Indian food. In fact since they arrived in Malaysia, Sharon and Tim havent stopped eating and love the curries and all the food on offer. They thought their would be nothing exciting to eat, but they were wrong !
I took them to Raffles, where Tim got thrown out of the lobby for having shorts on, but he was allowed in the Long Bar. They enjoyed the bum boat tour along the Singapore River and the amazing contrast in architecture between old and new, wacky and traditional. We sheltered from the rain in a Wellness Spa and had reflexology and a shoulder/back massage.
We met up with our friends Terri and Keith, at their riverside apartment in Robertson Quay and had dinner with them there. It was good to see them again and catch up with news and stories.
On Friday, I didnt tell Sharon and Tim where we were going, until we pitched up at Seletar airport, and old military airport in the north of the city. They were pleasantly surprised when I said we were going to fly to a tropical island !
The flight from Singapore to Tioman Island took 35 minutes. We were supposed to be meeting Neil at the Island, but the airline had cancelled his booking from KL and so he had to return home, very mad and frustrated. After I had calmed down about the mess-up, we arrived at Minang Cove resort again our trusted favourite for some sea-side relaxation and activities.
I did two dives with Simon, the Austrian-Welsh Instructor (I have never heard someone who didnt live in Wales EVER, speak with a Welsh accent!), not having been diving since Thailand in Sept 2004 ! But its like riding a bike, you dont forget (although my computer was saying low battery, so I hoped it would keep working and it did). There were lots of soft and hard corals, my favourite clownfish nemo and millions of other fishes.
We went fishing one evening, to catch some fish for the BBQ, and I caught 4 fish, Sharon 3, the Malay boatman 2 and Tim 0 (and he`s the fisherman)! The first line I threw in with two baits on, caught two fish ! Although I dont eat them, it was good to know that they were being cooked up that evening for everyone to enjoy.
I also had a Thai-style massage at the nearby Japamala Resort. All in the name of research, my friend from Melaka, Loni was thinking of going there, so I wanted to investigate and be nosey ! When Sean at Minang Cove, booked my appointment for me, they said to him, I wasn`t allowed to take photos of their resort ! As if !
Sharon and Tim took the kayaks out for a cruise around the coastline and went on the jungle walk to the waterfall, Neil and I had done on our last visit. It was a lovely chilled out weekend, even though it was sad that Neil wasnt there to enjoy it with us. Our flight home was delayed by 3 hours and we sat at the tiny airport, with nothing to do. But I was so pleased to finally get home on Sunday evening and see Neil again. He had been lonesome all weekend without us !
The four of us, Neil and I, along with Sharon and Tim spent the weekend in KL to see some sights and to feel some of the Grand Prix fever.
We checked into the Traders Hotel at KLCC on Friday lunchtime (our favourite home-from-home hotel which we always stay at). The hotel was full (as were most in KL this weekend) and had put their prices up for the GP weekend, with tourists, local and from overseas visiting KL. We had got tickets for the 3 days of the GP racing, including the qualifying sessions etc. but we all decided wed go sightseeing in KL and spend just Sunday, the day of the main race at the Sepang Circuit (Sepang is located between Melaka and KL, close to the KLIA airport).
On Friday afternoon, Neil and I had a nice rest in the hotel, went over to the Suria KLCC shopping centre, whilst Sharon and Tim got a taxi over to the Batu Caves, some 16km north-east of the town to climb the 272 steps up to the Hindu shrine. They saw the monkeys that live there and climbed up the steps in the heat, and then came back for a refreshing dip in the hotel pool !
That evening, we met for drinks in the Sky Bar in the hotel and watched the Petronas Towers light up across the park. We got a taxi over to a Lebanese restaurant I had been to before, called Al Bait for some nice dinner and a spot of entertainment in the form of belly dancing !
On Saturday, I had a walking tour planned out for us all to show Sharon and Tim the highlights of the different districts of KL. We walked through Merdaka Square (the old British colonial district), Chinatown, Little India and onto the big modern shopping mall of Times Square. Finally we went up the KL Tower, a telecommunications tower, 4th highest in the world (the Seoul Tower is much smaller!), for a real birds eye view of the city. We met up with Loni and Kent back at the hotel that evening for dinner at Bombay Palace, not far from the hotel, where the six of us enjoyed a lovely Indian meal.
We awoke on Sunday to another scorching hot day (April is the hottest month in Malaysia), and did a few jobs after breakfast, including Sharon and Tim taking a look at the Petronas Towers, across the park from the hotel. We left the hotel at 10.30am, to head back down the highway to the Sepang Circuit. It took 1.5 hours from the hotel until we parked in our designated car park, just behind our stand, the K1 Platinum Grandstand. There were drinks and snacks available behind the stand for sale at inflated prices which you had to buy, as they wouldnt let you bring in your own!
We found our seats, and were all very pleased with the location, directly in line with the main straight, at the end of the pit straight, at first bend in the track. There was some great musical entertainment whilst waiting from a chap on an accordian, playing Fleetwood Mac`s "The Chain" or better known as the GP music, as well as Captain Pugwash dittys to get everyone in the mood ! I was texting Dad back and forth, to tell him about our seat locations and the run up to the excitement, as he was watching the GP live on TV back in Ireland.
We watched the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia take place first and heard the 911s roar around the track. The race was won by a British chap after the 10 laps. Then came the F1 drivers parade in vintage cars, and finally the F1 cars came out for the race. What a noise the cars made ! We didnt need the ear plugs we`d brought along though as it was short-lived noise. We all felt for the drivers sitting out there on the circuit in the 34-37 degree heat of the day.
The view from our seats was fab and we saw the action of the race, the cars in the pit lane through our binoculars, and, after 56 laps were very pleased to see the McLaren team take 1st and 2nd place, with British rookie, 22 year old Lewis Hamilton taking 2nd place.
We were all hot and sticky by the end of the race at 4.30pm, and managed to get back to our car and out of the car park at the end of the race with little trouble. It took 2.5 hours to get home from the circuit and we were all shattered after a day at our first Malaysian GP !
Sharon and Tim have really enjoyed their holiday here in Malaysia and have managed to do so many things here; seeing contrasts in the cities, beaches and countryside. They leave Melaka early tomorrow morning and I think they will have a culture shock going back to England !
Just thought Id add this extra bit in, about the diving I did in Tioman Island recently. As I mentioned before, Simon was my Austrian-Welsh dive buddy, and he is the dive instructor at the Minang Cove Resort. He reminds me very much of my cousin Billy Hasirci in both looks and manners. If know you Billy, take a look at the photo of Simon and youll see what I mean!
I hadnt been diving since we lived in Thailand, in fact it was in Koh Samui over 2.5 years ago! But its like riding a bike, and although I have my equipment here in Malaysia, I hired all the equipment from the dive school, except my mask and trusty dive computer.
There are lots of dive sites in Tioman, both reef and wreck diving and there is diving directly off the jetty/beach at Minang Cove, so you dont even have to get on a boat.
Located off the resort there is a Thai wooden fishing boat which was wrecked some eight years ago in the monsoons. The reef dive sites are centred around lots of soft and hard corals clinging on huge basalt boulders. There is a lot of staghorn coral and dead pieces of this coral make up a lot of the low tidal zone of the beach.
The reefs around Tioman are being devastated by the Crown of Thorns Starfish (a critter I have come across before in the Red Sea). Although I didnt see any on the diving I did recently, 60% of the local reefs have been eaten and destroyed by the starfish. Our friend Tom, recently qualified as a diver, has been over to Tioman on conservation dives to try and collect the Starfishes and destroy them. The Starfish has lost its natural predator, the Giant Clam it being fished and eaten/taken by local fishermen.
I saw at least three different species of clownfish (anemonefish or Nemos!), including the Tomato anemonefish a lovely deep dark red colour and the Pink anemonefish. My favourite diving is watching these fish swim in and out of their anenomes, and try and scare you away by swimming up to you. There were many different types of Parrotfish, Nudibranchs (sea slugs), damselfish as well as soldierfish and Blue-spotted rays. I saw two of the biggest Pufferfish I have ever seen whilst diving, the Star Pufferfish, which can grow up to 1.2m!
I managed to clock up to dive number 98 by the time I left I Tioman, but that is not as big number as it sounds, as I have been diving for 10 years! So only 10 dives a year on average! But as Tioman Island has our closest dive sites, I think Ill be back to do some more diving soon.
Just in wind-down mode and preparing for our holiday back home to the UK tomorrow. The suitcases are almost packed (with all the winter woolies we had in Seoul, but don`t need here!) and weighed and the ipod has been updated for the long journey ahead.
This will be Neil`s first trip home since we left the UK in August 2005 (20 months ago), some of you may have forgotton what he looks like ! It will be good to catch up with friends new babies, Neil`s cousin Pippa (who we have never met) and family, including Dad who is flying over from Ireland (and hasn`t seen Neil since July 2005!).
Look forward to seeing as many people as possible when we are home, albeit a fleeting visit. If we don`t see everyone this time, we`ll catch up in July when we are home for Anna and Tony`s wedding at the end of that month.
See you all soon !
We are having a lovely time in the UK ! Spring has sprung, the gardens are full of bloom, the birds are chirping and the weather is sunny and very pleasant. It is great sitting in the gardens of England, drinking lots of tea and catching up with the latest news at home.
We celebrated my Mum`s 60th birthday on St.George`s Day, 23rd April, with a huge chocolate cheesecake and she had a grand day out in London with Jenny and Nancy. Meanwhile Neil and I headed up north to start the grand tour of the country, starting with Chester and the O`Connor and Jones` families.
We have caught up with many friends already and met some new babies/toddlers, including little Pippa, Neil`s cousin who is very sweet and talks her own gibberish language. We`re off to Blackpool to visit Neil`s Nan and Grandad today and to get some sea air as well as fish `n` chips ! We are really enjoying being home and nipping around in our hired red sports car, an Alpha Romeo Brera, with it`s 3.2 litre engine shifts very well!
Martin and Kate`s wedding was an intimate affair at the Forbury Hotel in Reading on 28th April. Some of Neil`s old Foster Wheeler friends, whom he hadn`t seen since our wedding were there, including his Best Man, Neville. So there was great opportunity for catching-up on news.
The wedding ceremony was short and sweet, as are most civil services, in a beautiful room within the hotel. We then retired for champagne and canapes, and the drinks just kept on flowing. Photographs were taken on the steps of the hotel and then we sat down for a 3 course meal, with more wine and lots of lovely company. The bride looked radiant, and at 5 and a half months pregnant, was blooming and beautiful. Martin looked lovely too, in his rented suit, colour-coordinated with his Best Man, Alistair and his father.
Alistair had also flown over from Malaysia for the wedding. He is working on another Foster Wheeler project in KL, and in fact we were on the same flight home with him on Monday! So we plan to keep in touch with him and meet up over here. We drank too much champers and beer, but thoroughly enjoyed sharing Martin and Kate`s big day, having a good boogie and a good old chat with everyone.
We caught up with many friends back home, including three friends each with a new baby - all boys; Joshua, Oliver and Conor, who were all very sweet and were all pleased to see us and gave us cuddles! We travelled the length of the country - well almost - we did 800 miles in our hire car (not to mention the journey from Chester to Blackpool in our old Audi!).
We saw most of Neil`s family including his Nan and Grandad in Blackpool, who are so funny. At 81 and 86 respectively they still do very well at looking after themselves, but of course are very set in their ways! We saw Uncle Tony, and also Uncle Nev and Sue with the 3 boys and their little sister Pippa who is lovely. It was really good to see everyone, and as Neil hadn`t been home in nearly 2 years, it was like he`d never been away.
Dad came over from Ireland for a few days and we saw him a few times, including at a lovely dinner at Jenny and Rob`s house. He looked very well and also did alot of catching up with friends in Reading.
We are already looking forward to coming back in July and if we didn`t see you this time, we`ll see you when we`re back for Anna and Tony`s wedding!
Neil and I had no jet lag either side of our trip back home, and we are into the swing of things as if we`d never been away. It has been easy to get back into the routine of coffee mornings and socialising with the ladies, Neil is back playing rugby, and I`m in the swimming pool doing my lengths!
The visability of the sky here has been amazingly clear. There has been rainstorms during the night on most nights this week, but the cloud formations and clarity of the air during the day is fantastic. We can see the mountains, trees, and skyline much sharper than we have ever been able to see them before. The sunsets have been great too.
Things we noticed about being back in the UK, that are different to living in Melaka:
1. Water comes out of the tap cold
2. Things in the fridge are really cold
3. The temperature drops at night
4. The price of everything e.g. a full tank of petrol was 50 pounds, as opposed to 10 pounds here.
5. "Chavs" everywhere and many more really obese people
6. Few motorbikes, trying to weave in and out
7. No "Call to prayer", and the quiet and peacefulness at home (even in the middle of Reading!)
Neil and I have been talking for ages now about investing in a Digital SLR camera. There are fantastic opportunites for great photography out here and our trusty reliable Nikon Coolpix obviously sensed it was going be superseded, as the day we bought an SLR, it decided not to work - after 6.5 years of not failing us!
We had shopped around for SLR cameras; looked at the UK prices, internet, duty free and here in Malaysia and we finally made the desicion and bought the one with all the great reviews, the Canon EOS 400D. The nice man in the shop in KL gave us a free tripod, camera bag, a 512MB memory card and lots of other little things - now we`ve just got to learn how to use it !
Anyway, getting a new camera is just practice, trial and error, using different settings. I had the first opportunity this week to try out night or low light photography (something that has always frustrated me in the past), at a Foster Wheeler unofficial BBQ.
Tom, Ann and Paul from Foster Wheeler invited everyone to the poolside at their apartment building, Ocean Palms, just up the road for a mid-week BBQ. We all brought a dish and with nearly 70 people turned up, we had plenty of food all night !
I took some photos during the evening and just have to practice holding the camera still, or using the tripod to prevent camera shake and stop the subjects moving around! The high resolution of the images is lost on this blog, so you don`t see the high definition, but trust us the images are better quality!
Anyway see attached the first few pictures taken with our new camera. Hopefully our technique will improve over time, and also when we`ve finished reading the manual !
The sunrises and sunsets here have been magnificant over the past few weeks. It must be a good time of year and the weather conditions just right to produce the array of cloud formations mixed with the orangey colours. The sunrise and sunset times do not vary much throughout the year, sunrise is just after 7am and sunset about 7.15pm. We have approximately 12 hours of daylight - being so close to the equator.
Our resident neighbours here are a few Brahminy Kites - these birds of prey live next door to our apartment building in a patch of jungle/overgrown plot, that we look down on from our bedroom balcony. They soar past our windows, but by the time you get the camera, it`s usually too late to snap them, and I think we`d need a good telephoto lens to get anything close up. But the birds are great to watch and we can see them roosting in the trees and perching on the tops.
We are in countdown mode now for our trip to Seoul this week. Neil has been very busy at work recently and it will be a nice long weekend to get away from it all. Can`t wait to catch up with our friends there and have a good old boogie again to The Lightyears band (who were at our wedding)!
Neil and I have just returned from our long weekend to Seoul. What a great time we had, seeing old friends, shopping and enjoying the Queen`s Birthday Ball (QBB).
Now if you dont know Seoul is not round the corner from Malaysia, it is a 6.5 hour flight, for which a long weekend may not normally be considered! However, we were keen to visit Seoul and some of our friends still living there and witness The Lightyears playing once again at the QBB.
We took the night flight on Thursday morning (1 am), with Joyce and Mikes driver Mr Kang collecting us at Incheon Airport. We were staying with our friends Joyce and Mike at their apartment in Hannam-Dong, who had very kindly agreed to put us up and put up with us for the duration of our holiday.
We felt right at home back in Seoul.....everything was familiar and nothing seem to have changed. The weather was glorious with the temperature ranging between 23 and 29 degrees....so we had plenty of sunshine and thankfully no rain. What a weekend !
We met at "The Bungalow" in Itaewon on Thursday night for dinner and drinks with the BASS Committee and the boys from the band. It was great to see them again, they too feeling right at home in Seoul. We caught up with Tony and discussed the plans for his forthcoming wedding with Anna.
We caught up with Mr Shin (Neil`s ex-work colleague) on Friday lunchtime at Neil`s favourite restaurant near to his old work - Mini il Mare. It was great to see him, he was very pleased to see us. Mr Shin had had his eyes lasered since we saw him at our home in Melaka in February and looked totally different without his glasses (he thinks it will help his chances with the girls!).
We saw our friends Jan and Alan for dinner on Friday night for a curry, who are soon to be moving onto Saudi Arabia (scary!) for their next assignment. So we were lucky to see them before they leave at the end of the month. They had arranged our table at the QBB, so we were fortunate to be sitting with our friends!
Strolling around Insadong, we popped into Somerset Palace (our old home) and the staff did a double-take as we walked into reception! Didn`t you leave?! ..... It was good to see Eddie and the staff.
The Ball on Saturday night was a huge success. We couldnt have imagined how wonderful the ballroom would look and how many people we caught up with. The theme of the evening was "Harry Potter" and the ballroom was adorned with candelabras, banners of the Houses, a Quidditch pitch with real grass and flying Hedwigs!
The food was fantastic and the wine kept on flowing. The highlight was a sorbet presented in individual ice sculpted dragons and a dessert called Quidditch Temptation, with an assortment of wicked deserts!
The Lightyears put on a great show and we boogied the night away, until 3.30am. Neil was even videod on Tony`s phone doing a rendition of Take Thats "Could It Be Magic". Now this was really a sight to behold. The entertainment on this particular occasion was sponsored/fuelled by a large number of G&T`s. I`m worried that this little video clip will end-up on U-Tube or the new You`ve Been Framed series. Tony - how much money do you want for the only copy?? We awoke with not too many sore heads at lunchtime on Sunday and went for a walk into Itaewon to met Tony for lunch at one of our favourite Thai restaurants "Buddha`s Belly".
Our hosts for the weekend (Mike & Joyce) did a wonderful job of making us feel at home and let us have the run of their house, coming and going as we pleased. Joyce, as President of BASS, was a little stressed in preparation for the QBB and rehearsing her speech for the big night. But the evening was such a success that Joyce had everything to be proud of on the night, as BASS raised over 100,000 pounds for charity.
We were so lucky to have caught up with so many people over the 4 days, especially as many friends like Jonathon & Nicola (and baby Sophie who we met for the first time!), Rob & Cheryl and Jan & Alan are moving on to new assignments in the next few weeks, Seoul wouldn`t have been the same without seeing them. Good luck and keep in touch!
Pauline and Arthur (Neil`s mum and dad) arrived here on Sunday afternoon and we were there to meet them at the airport. They had a good flight, and a reasonable amount of sleep and we weren`t going to let them get jet lag! So they had to stay awake for the rest of the aftenoon until normal bedtime (then a few whiskeys helped of course!).
In 2 days they have already seen alot and are getting the vibe of Malaysia and what this country is all about. I have done my mini-highlight tour of Melaka - I`m good at that now and yesterday a mini full day tour of KL !
We took them to our local night market for food on Monday night. Straight into the deep end of Malaysian food and where you can buy an array of street food. Pauline and Arthur did very well and tried everything we bought chicken, murtabak, noodles, popiah, corn on the cob, satay, fish paste, corn fritters amongst other things.
Yesterday I drove them up to KL. We parked at the Suria KLCC mall, then got in line for tickets for the Petronas Towers skybridge visit. There are only 1400 free tickets given out daily for the guided tour, so it is first come, first served ! We got the next available tour at 4pm. So we headed off to see some more sights and would come back to the Twin Towers later for our tour.
We got on the LRT (subway) and over to Chinatown. Down Petaling Street - the heart of the district and it`s market stalls and a few Chinese temples along the way. We stopped at Peter Hoe`s lovely shop that is known to the `ladies-wot-lunch`, (hidden away in an office building), for a brew and some cake and chilled out in the lovely atmosphere of his beautiful interiors shop.
We walked onwards to Central Market - built in its 1930`s Art Deco style, there has been a wet market on the spot since 1888. Now filled with one-stop souvenir shopping you can get everything from tourist tat to nice souvenirs and gifts. We had lunch in the lovely Ginger, Thai restaurant inside which was heaving with suits and locals.
We walked alongside the river bank to Masjid Jamek - the heart of KL, where the two rivers meet and form Kuala Lumpur (muddy confluence). There had been flooding in KL at the weekend and the river was high and much run-off and pumped water was flowing into it. Around the corner at Merdeka Square - the Colonial District - there was more flooding on the road and pumps going. Pauline and Arthur were really impressed with the beauty of the old buildings, built in Arabic style.
We got back on the LRT to KLCC and headed for our tour of the skybridge on the Petronas Towers. It isn`t the best view of the city (the KL Tower is higher), but to say that you`ve been in the Petronas Towers is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Pauline and Arthur really enjoyed their day out in KL, and the contrast of old and new - they ain`t seen nothing yet - we`re taking them to Singapore at the weekend (surprise trip!).
We`ve just returned from a nice weekend in Singapore. We collected Neil from work at 2pm on Friday afternoon and set off down the highway, the first time we have driven ourselves in our own car into Singapore. Pauline and Arthur didn`t know what to expect of the weekend, but we had it all planned out !
It took 4 hours door-to-door to get from the refinery to the Phoenix Hotel off Orchard Road (our usual haunt). So we were there in time to unpack in our rooms, which they freely upgraded to suites (but don`t get excited, it was just a bit more room, nothing fancy), and take a stroll down Orchard Road, with all its shops and busy pavement filled with people.
We took P&A to the Food Republic Food Court in the Wisma Atria for dinner - what a choice, but we opted for Indian. Lovely ! Followed by drinks in the cool trendy bars in the old Chinese shophouses on Emerald Hill, a world away from the main road.
Saturday was again, one of our trusted reliable mini-tours! We set off for Chinatown first on the MRT. Strolling down Pagoda Street, via the Chinatown Heritage Museum was great, no sign of rain just yet (every time I go to Singapore it rains!), but we had our brollys with us in case.
We wandered the streets and found the newly opened Buddhist temple, with a lovely roof garden (shame there were no views, the walls were too high). There were lots of different orchids planted and with the morning dew on them, the looked wonderful.
I had booked all 4 of us for a massage at another favourite, Kenko Spa in Chinatown. I opted for the foot reflexology - I love foot massge, and booked the others for a 30 minute shoulder massage - on those chairs (you don`t undress). Neil particularly wanted to unknot that tension from work and along with Pauline and Arthus came away a little bruised and battered after a good pounding from the therapists hands ! They don`t know their own strength !
We walked towards the river, stopping for a bit to eat in a little Italian, and as we reached the river, the heavens opened. Time to get undercover! So Neil and I bustled Pauline and Arthur onto a bumboat tour on the river and we headed for a coffee shop.
After 40 mins they returned, a little wet - having to have put up the umbrella inside the boat! We had to venture out in thee rain once again though and walked up to Raffles City mall and then onto the famous Hotel itself. We looked around the complex and into the lobby and decided to forgo Tiffin (it was time for Tiffin), but have a drink in the Long Bar instead.
Saturday evening was spent with our friends Terri and Keith. We made it over to their apartment in Robertson Quay for a drink, then walked out along the river - it had stopped raining for something to eat. Then all of a sudden....we bumped into Neil`s friend and work colleague from Melaka, Tom ! What a coinicidence!
We ran-the-gauntlet of Boat Quay - where the hawkers at the quayside resturants hound you to come into their establishments, with the offer of free drinks, discounts etc. The only place not hounding customers was the Italian, where we were heading for. Not quite safe from the rain though, we sat alongside the river, under cover, but then the rain came down and almightly clap of thunder ! The roller shutters came down and we were stranded!
The next day, P&A found the nearest Church, an old Catholic Cathedral built in 1846 and afterwards we headed off to Little India, the electronics mall - Sim Lim Square and then Bugis Street market. It was all hustle bustle and another side to Singapore. Arthur loved the electronics and bought a new digital camera in the mall.
We decided to leave Singapore mid afternoon to head off home. We were all tired after the sightseeing and shopping frenzy. The journey was very good and took only 3.5 hours. Pauline and Arthur really enjoyed Singapore but it was nice to come back and wind down in Melaka !
I took Pauline and Arthur on a nice 3 day trip back to our favourite resort on Tioman Island, Minang Cove. My new friend Liz (from England), who has been in Melaka just 2 months (her hubby is working at the refinery), came along with us.
We had a pleasant journey to Mersing town on the east coast - the first time I have driven that route alone, it was 270km door to door and took 3 3/4 hours. The ferry was about on time (Malaysian time!) and we set off just before 12pm to paradise !
Liz, Pauline and Arthur were absolutely amazed when we reached Tioman, how idyllic the island was and how blue the the water was. The resort nestled at the edge of the jungle was a welcoming sight, and as usual Alex the resort manager met us off the boat and offered us a welcome drink.
We all easily got into the swing of relaxation. I went diving, Liz, Pauline and Arthur sat on the beach and snorkelled. The diving was good - lots of fishes and lovely hard and soft corals and even a bit of drift diving, so even less effort! Simon, the divemaster was there as usual and also had a British trainee dive master, Steph with him. There were a range of divers; an Austrian girl, a Malay family and a Norweigen family - all were very friendly. That`s what I like about Minang Cove, the guests are generally sociable and friendly and you get couples and families either expats or from Europe mostly.
We chilled out for 3 days. Pauline and Arthur went out to cook in the sun and Liz tried to paint with her watercolours, but couldn`t resist the lure of the sea for snorkelling. In the afternoon we had afternoon tea and cakes. We sat in the bar at night, sipping cocktails and chatting, until it was time for bed.
The pace of life is so slow at Minang Cove, you are never rushed and even getting up for a dive in the morning, just walk a few metres from your chalet and you`re there at the jetty, with all your kit on board !
This was my third trip to the island and I`m sure it won`t be the last. I should be on commission the amount of people I`ve bought or recommended the resort to - Alex agreed this time!
Yesterday saw the return of Jackson, the shoe man from KL to our apartment. Two weeks ago he had been booked to come down for a Shoe Party - like a Tupperware party but with shoes ! When I phoned him 2 months previously, he was doubtful about coming all the way down to Melaka (it is at the other side of the Universe to people living in KL!).
Anyway, I told him how many ladies were interested in buying shoes and about 18 ladies had promised to show up, including Pauline - my mother-in-law, whom I had fixed the date of the Shoe Party around her being here.
Well two weeks ago, Jackson took 36 orders for shoes from 15 ladies and went away very happy indeed. He even said he would return to Melaka to bring the finished shoes back. At a cost of 110 RM (16 pounds) per pair, he had certainly made quite a bit of money from us. The ladies chose styles of shoes from photos and samples he had and then he measured feet and then came the problem of choosing the colour/s. There were so many swatches of leather, fabric, suede etc. that it was difficult to make a final desicion.
Yesterday the ladies returned to collect their shoes and were thrilled by the results. Some nervously had only bought one pair, but some like me, had bought 5 pairs - as I can never get shoes to fit me in the UK, let alone Malaysia - where the Asians all have diddy feet.
I have put in one photo of just 3 of the ladies shoe purchases, mine, Pauline`s and friend Hope`s. But the shoes are good quality and now we have shoes for all occasions !
This weekend we had a trip away to explore another part of Malaysia. For the first time, we flew from KL to Borneo Malaysia, a flight of 1 hr 40 mins. Borneo Malaysia is divided into two states, Sarawak and Sabah and it was the capital of Sarawak, Kuching, which is where we were headed.
We had booked the last flight of the evening, after work on Friday, so Jeffrey the taxi and I collected Neil from the refinery and we headed up to the Low Cost Centre Terminal or LCCT as it is known. LCCT is located approximately 20km from the main KL airport, next to the cargo terminal. It was designed to handle Air Asia flights only, Malaysias only low-cost airline (equivalent to Easy Jet or Ryan Air).
Check in was painless and quick and we didnt have long to wait before they were calling Neil and I personally to board the plane! We had booked priority express check in, which for 7 pounds (40RM) extra per person, means that you can get first choice on the plane where you want to sit, before the masses arrive. So the flight attendant escorted us alone (no one else on that flight had booked this service) to the plane, and 5-10 minutes later, everyone else arrived ! I`d book that again.
After an easy flight, we arrived at Kuching airport, very small but modern and a taxi drive of 20 minutes bought us into the city centre and our hotel The Crowne Plaza.
We found upon arrival at the hotel we had been upgraded from the standard room we had booked, to a corner suite on the Club Floor, with great views across the Sarawak River. We felt like VIPs and the next day the hotel staff couldnt do enough for us to make us feel welcome and make sure we were happy.
Kuching translates as Cat City in Malay and this relaxed, laid back town was definitely a refreshing contrast to Melaka (let alone KL!). The people were as friendly as anywhere weve visited, but the drivers on the roads were more courteous and less speed hungry.
We explored the town on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Kuching has a lovely waterfront, along the Sarawak River, with the main part of the city on the southern bank. Across the river there are some beautiful old colonial buildings, Fort Margherita peeping out of the jungle and the Istana (Royal Palace), along with a new construction site, which is destined to be new government offices. Sampans ferry passengers to and fro across the river all day, part motorized and part steered by huge oars. The waterfront has nice gardens, and eateries making it a pleasant stroll between the eastern and western parts of the town. The city centre is compact and easy to walk and navigate and it is very green and leafy.
There are numerous colonial buildings around the city, including the Courthouse, the Post Office and the Sarawak Museum. Lots of Chinese shophouses selling Borneo souvenirs, lots of places to eat of course and markets.
The history of Kuching is very interesting, so here is a condensed version. Sir James Brooke, invalided from the British East India Company, set off on a voyage of discovery, aided by a sizable inheritance and a well-armed ship. He arrived in 1839 and found the perfect opportunity to get in with the ruling class, by suppressing a local rebellion and thus the local Sultan helped to install him as raja of Sarawak in 1842.
His nephew Charles Brooke succeeded him and renamed the city, Kuching as it was formerly known as Sarawak until 1872. Following his death in 1917, his second son another Charles Brooke took over as the third and last white raja, whose rule was interrupted by the arrival of the Japanese in WWII. In 1946, Sarawak became a British Crown Colony and remained so until Malaya was granted its independence in 1957, (along with Sabah formerly known as North Borneo and Brunei).
The rainforests in the state of Sarawak are estimated at being more than 100 million years old, as they were largely unaffected by the last Ice Age. There are many opportunities to visit the remaining rainforests, which have been made in National Parks, in which all commercial activities are banned.
We didnt get time to visit the National Parks on this occasion, but hope to return soon, to do some trekking in the jungle and wildlife spotting. There are 18 National Parks in Sarawak, 4 Wildlife sanctuaries and 5 Nature reserves, so there is plenty of choice. We did however visit Semonggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which is located some 30-40 minutes drive outside Kuching city centre.
The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre was established in 1975 to care for wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned, or were previously kept as illegal pets. It is the Orang Utan rehabilitation programme that has made the Centre famous.
The Orang Utan is one of the worlds largest primates, and is almost completely arboreal (tree living). The word orang is Malay for person whilst utan is derived from hutan meaning forest. Thus, orang utan literally translates as person of the forest.
The Orang Utan are semi-wild in the reserve (having been rehabilitated), but twice daily fruit is place on a feeding platform in the forest for them to visit, if they wish. During natural fruiting times in the forest (November to February), when there is plenty of food available you are less likely to see the Orang Utans feeding at the centre.
On Saturday afternoon, after waiting in the rain, under the canopy of the rainforest for a glimpse of these great animals, we had all but given up hope of seeing one. They arent stupid would you venture out in the rain ?! We had turned back along the track to leave and had reached the car park, when a whisper came out hes there the alpha male, Richie had arrived !
So we scampered back along the track just in time to see him swinging through the trees and onto the platform, where he happily sat and munched all of the bananas and water melon which had been left. His facial expressions were so human like and by golly was he big. Adult males can reach a height of 150 cm (5 ft), weigh up to 100 kg (220lbs) and have an arm span of 240 cm (8 ft). Richie had no contenders for the fruit that afternoon, and wild orang utan are generally solitary, especially males.
Orang utan are primarily fruit eaters and spend most of the day roaming the forest foraging for food. They are particularly fond of wild figs and the pungent smelling durian. Although fruit is their most important source of food, they also feed on young leaves, insects, bark, flowers, eggs and small lizards.
The orang utan is an endangered species and is totally protected by law in Malaysia, Indonesia and internationally. Today, there are an estimated 20-27,000 orang utan left in the wild (perhaps 20,000 or so in Borneo and the rest in Sumatra). Deforestation, human encroachment on their habitat, indiscriminate hunting and the live animal trade: all are factors that have contributed to a decline in their numbers. To gain a better understanding of the orang utan and re-introduce rescued animals into the wild, both the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have set up rehabilitation programmes. Sarawaks centre at Semenggoh is open to the public so visitors can find out more about these highly intelligent creatures of the rainforest.
We would definitely return to Kuching and to the rainforests to learn more about the wildlife and explore more of this region.
This week I partcipated in an ABWM event, afternoon tea at Carcosa Seri Negara, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. It has a fascinating history and felt like stepping back in time.
Carcosa started construction in 1896, it was built by Sir Frank Swettenham for himself, the first Resident General of British Malaya. Carcosa is thought to be a derivation of the Italian Cara cosa or "Dear Place".
He moved into the house in 1904. Set amid 16 hectares of lush landscaping, the house, along with a second property named King`s House, now called Seri Negara (located 500m away) which was built for the Governer of the Straits Settlements and as a guest wing, feel very British Colonial.
After Malaysian Indepedence in August 1957, when the last British Governer boarded the plane for London, the estate remained in British hands - being used as the British High Commissioners residence for some time until being handed to the Malaysian Government. Subsequently the two houses were left in some disrepair and only in 1987 were transformed into a boutique hotel.
The Queen and Prince Philip have stayed at the house twice, and Prince Andrew, Duke Of York is due to stay there next month, when the Merdeka (Independence) celebrations are being held. This is a special year for Malaysia, as it celebrates 50 years of Independence from Britain.
The hotel has 13 Victorian-style suites and we were lucky to get get a tour of the properties by the Hotel Manager. She showed us three suites, large, medium and the Queen Suite - which is where the Royal Family have stayed. All the rooms felt very homely, like being in a house rather than in an hotel. It isn`t cheap to stay there of course, prices for rooms are the most expensive in KL and start at 130 pounds a night.
Gloria and myself, along with Gloria`s sister-in-law Margaret visiting from Belfast, came up from Melaka, but there were thirty-six ladies in all who participated in the event. After the tour of the properties, we sat down for Afternoon Tea. Sitting on the terrace, in huge wicker chairs, we really did feel that we were back in the British Colonial days.
We were served English tea, all done properly in a tea cup and saucer and it kept on flowing ! Then came the cakes and sandwiches : smoked salmon, cucumber, and egg sandwiches, fruit cake, lemon curd tarts, chocolate brownies and mini apple crumbles.
Second course was scones with clotted cream and strawberry or crab apple jam. Followed by strawberries and cream and home made biscuits ! We had not had lunch that day and afternoon tea didn`t start until 3pm, so we kept convincing ourselves that it was okay to have all these cakes, as it was lunch and dinner rolled into one !
What a memorable day out and a great experience!
On arrival at KLIA on Saturday morning we discovered the flight to London was expected to depart at 5.45pm, instead of 12pm ! Oh dear ! What could we do? First things first, we checked our suitcases in, and then thought if we could only get rid of the large hand luggage too, we could go off into KL ! The airline gave us food vouchers for the inconvenience of the delay and so we had some brekkie first and then wondered about our hand luggage.
Luckily there were storage lockers in the terminal, so we left our big bags for a few Ringget and caught the KLIA Express train into the city. For a return of 10 pounds each, pretty expensive in Malaysian terms, but it is a great non-stop service, with a one way journey of just 28 mins into Sentral Station.
We headed onto the LRT from Sentral around to KLCC shopping mall for some retail therapy. I bought the new Harry Potter book, on the day of it`s release and was very keen to start reading.
After a brouse around the mall and a snack, we headed back to the airport and through passport control. Now a massage got rid of a bit more time killing, and then I settled down on the new book. We boarded finally at 6pm and had a pleasant journey. Arriving in the middle of the night into a quiet Heathrow, we picked up the hire car and headed down a deserted M4 to Reading. No sign of the terrible rain yet, that has plagued the UK all summer long.
Waking on Sunday morning, just a few hours after we went to bed, the sky was blue and it was so peaceful and quiet, just like a Sunday morning should be !
Well since we have arrived in the UK, we have been anticipating rain, floods and havoc. In fact being in Reading we have been very lucky, and only experienced some rain, the threat of the Thames bursting it`s banks hasn`t happened and there has been no resulting chaos. Phew !
Other counties and areas have of course, not been so lucky, especially Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire which have been very badly hit.
We visited our house on Kings Road in Caversham this week, as we found out that our tenants had just given notice to leave. They have been living there for 2 years now and they decided it was time for them to decide to move on. We called in at the house, for a glimpse, having not set foot inside for these past 2 years. the place was fine, needed a bit of cleaning, but the tenants, in anticipation of flooding occuring had moved all their belongings upstairs into the bedrooms. Everyone in fact in Kings Road, had bought sand bags to barricade the front gate and door, should the River Thames rise.
Neil and I enjoyed being back in Caversham though, seeing the old places and village centre, spotting new shops and familiar faces. We saw our friend Babs catching the bus to work, and tried to catch up with her, but we were too late!
Neil`s parents, Pauline and Arthur came down to visit us in Reading for 2 days. We went for a pleasant walk in the sunshine round the east side of Reading (Mum and Nancy`s area of town), then shopping in town and had lots of cups of tea at Mum`s house. They were pleased to see us again and all the goodies we had brought back from Malaysia for them. Luckily the weather has not stopped us doing anything we had planned so far and the sun has come out quite often - it`s still pretty chilly though, only 15-20 degrees !
We have been enjoying the food back home, as a complete contrast to our usual fare in Malaysia, and have embarked on a gourmet tour of the UK !
Let me start with The Hind`s Head - owned by Heston Blumental (he of the Fat Duck and bacon and egg ice cream fame). This was a lovely meal out with Nancy and Gus, in Bray in advance of Gus`s 50th Birthday in August. We had great grub and the highlight for me was the pudding, Chocolate Wine !
Also on this holiday we have experienced our biggest thrill, that is visiting Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall`s River Cottage HQ at Park Farm located on the Dorset/Devon Border. This was our 3 day trip away with Mum, which we had bought her for her 60th birthday present in April. Hugh`s farm is organic and he has 65 acres of land for animal raising, cottage gardening, orchards and poly tunnels. They only opened last November and so everything is still being developed and crops are being grown (despite the English weather!).
We were greeted with English Sparkling wine and canapes, then we had a full tour and talk about the farm, lasting 3 hours, followed by a lovely 4 course feast. The place was fantastic, least the staff`s enthusiasm for locally produced, organic food and few air miles. It was a lovely experience and if we weren`t heading back to Malaysia, we`d be going back again!
On the seafront at Lyme Regis, Neil got his "fix" of chips, eating out of a paper cone, as we sat on the beach wall. It has to be done at the seaside !
Another gourmet experience, was visiting Borough Market in Southwark, London. We popped up to London with Dad on the train, to see what it was all about, having heard about it for ages. It was a foodie paradise, at Friday lunchtime all the office workers standing eating at stalls selling falafels, sausages and home produced foods. The smells were inviting and the fresh produce amazing. Lots of cafes, retaurants and food everywhere ! We found a restaurant to eat at selling good British Food. Wonderful!
Well the sun finally shone on Saturday 28th July for the happy couple after a long time of unsettled weather over the British summertime.
We arrived at Reading Town Hall at 3pm, in good time to meet with other family and friends before the wedding ceremony at 4pm. Of course we found them in the 3B`s bar as well as the Groom, Tony who was steadying his nerves before the big occasion. The rest of the Lightyears boys were there too and they too had a bog role to play in the days event.
The bride looked radiant as she was led down the aisle by Mike, her dad, to the sounds of Chris and George playing gentle background music. Tony and Anna couldn`t keep their hands off each other and looked very happy.
We set off after the ceremony to The Bell at Waltham St. Lawrence for the reception. A coach had been hired for the guests, and we climbed aboad for the 30 minute journey out of town into the countryside.
We arrived in the pretty village, to it`s heart, the village pub. The Bell is a 14th century building, and very typical of a medieval inn. It was the garden of the pub we were headed for, and the marquee which had been erected. The sun was shining as we sipped champagne and I caught up with old school friends of Anna`s (who were in the year below me). Mum, Dad, Jenny, Rob, Nancy and Gussy of course were invited to the wedding, as we have known Anna and the Capers family since moving to Woodley in 1981. It was a great opportunity for everyone to be in one place and catch up.
We waited for the dinner to arrive (the curry house were a little late bringing the food in)and finally we sat down in the marquee for a slap-up veggie curry feast ! Starting with poppadums and dips, then currys with rice and nan bread, it was Anna and Tony`s love of India and The Garden of Gulab curry house, which had put the idea in place, to have curry for the wedding breakfast! Absolutely great! (but mind you didn`t dribble it!).
Tony had 2 best men for the occasion. He couldn`t decide between them so asked them both! Anna had 2 bridesmaids, Hilary her sister and University friend Sam, who looked lovely in their blue dresses. Hilary, at the first opportunity kicked off her high-heels and put her flip flops on!
The Lightyears band of course provided the entertainment. There were guest musicians and drummers, but of course Tony had to play a few songs with the band. They had a great time and the dancefloor was packed until the call came that time was up.
What a wonderful day for two good friends - we were so glad the sun shone on them!
We have had a great time over the past 2 weeks, catching up with friends and family and new additions. It was lovely to see people we didn`t get to see in April when we were home. The past week has been non-stop eating lunches, cakes and 3 course meals! I`ve come back to Malaysia to loose weight!
We got to meet new baby Siena Nicole Wilcox, the thrid addition to Darren and Helen`s family and a very small baby, just 3 weeks old! Darren and Helen were well and their 2 boys, slowing getting used to the idea of having a baby sister.
I also caught up with other ex-work friends (for some gossip!), including Matt Pannett and Emma Arnold. I spent the day in sunny Kew at Matt and Anna`s home and we soaked up the sun (and biscuits) in their garden. I helped Jessica celebrate her 3rd birthday with my Emma (her mother), in Bekonscot model village in Beaconsfield. The weather was not so kind to us that day, with a steady drizzle all afternoon, but Jessica was not fazed by the rain and had fun splashing about in the puddles!
Baby Emily Mortimer is growing up fast. Already 10 months old with 2 bunny teeth through, it was good to see her again. Her mum and dad, Katherine and Paul were very well and looking forward to the change in life in September, when Paul returns to full time education and Katherine returns to work after maternity leave!
Another little girl I caught up with, just 10 months old, sporting her 2 new bunny teeth was, my friend Nicola`s little girl, Sophie. I caught up with Nicola and my friend Joyce who I had been friends with in Seoul, back in London. It was strange seeing them out of context, as we last met up in Seoul in June. But Nicola is back living in the UK and Joyce was just home for the summer.
Mum and I had a couple of cheeky swims in the pool managed by Bus Sharon! Sharon is chairperson of a local open air pool swimming association and as the weather was glorious in the second week of the holiday, we dived in! It was lovely swimming outside and it reminded me of being in Melaka (except there were other people in the pool in my space!).
My friend Clare came down on the train to visit last week. She and I spent the day chatting and the time just flew by. We pottered about Reading shops and visited the new Brasserie in the newly refurbished Great Western House. The building was constructed in 1844 as the Great Western Hotel, serving the railway opposite. It was great to see Clare and I was so pleased that she came all the way from Stockport to visit me for the day.
I also caught up with my friend Barbara. Babs and I lived together in Reading in the mid 1990`s when I moved out of home, after University. I didn`t get to catch up with Barbara`s daughter Niamh, as she was on holiday with her dad, but we have a good catch up on life and old times down The Griffin in Caversham.
My friend Nicola and her baby Oliver saw Neil and I a couple of times over the holiday. Little Oliver is 5 months old and he is definately Neil`s favourite baby! I think Neil likes his cheeky monkey grin and the way he smiles at him! Nicola is looking forward to being an Auntie at Christmas and Oliver will have a playmate.
My friend Vicki and I went out for dinner to catch up on the news and gossip since we last got together. There is never enough time though! Thank goodness for email and electronic photos so we can all keep in touch.
Thank you all for being my friends!
This week, just two days after returning from the UK, we had visitors to stay in Melaka! My friend Terri had booked in weeks ago to stay over with us, as her son was visiting from the US and she wanted to show him around Malaysia. She had planned to come up on the bus from Singapore with her son, Stuart and his partner Clint and I was to meet them at the bus station in Melaka at midday.
Whilst I was looking around the meeting point at the bus station that we had decided upon, I spotted my friend Melissa, also formerly from Seoul, and wondered what she was doing in Melaka! Then as I approached I noticed that she was with the other three and that she had come up to surprise me! It was a lovely surprise! I knew Melissa had only recently moved from Seoul to Singapore, but it didn`t occur to me that she may be visiting so soon.
After the shock had worn off, we set off for an afternoon`s sightseeing in Melaka. I think that they enjoyed learning about Melaka, although Terri had already done the mini-tour with me before! We ate at Restaurant Veni - the banana leaf curry for lunch and walked around town all afternoon absorbing the local culture.
The next day I did a one day tour of KL, which I am getting good at (if I say so myself). Now a day trip sightseeing in KL is tiring and hot, so you have to have lots of pit-stops along the way to refresh (and know where the good toilets are!). So every hour I would insist on a nice place to have a drink and rest. We ended the day at the Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel (where Neil and I stay when we go up to KL), with the best view of the Petronas Towers.
It was great to see Terri and Melissa, but still surreal, as we all knew each other in Seoul. Like last month, when I met up with Joyce and Nicola, from Seoul, in London, it all seems out of context. But the world is a smaller place, and I am so glad to have friends around the world (it is also good for holiday destinations!).
This year Malaysia celebrates 50 years of Independence from Britain. Independence or in Malay, Merdeka, falls on 31st August. It was this date when the Union Jack was lowered in the Padang (parade ground, now called Merdeka Square) in KL and the Malaysian flag, the Jalur Gemilang raised. The Malaysian flag is found flying everywhere this past month, on cars, from shops, on bridges, buildings and there has been a great push in the media towards making everyone feel proud to be Malaysian.
Merdeka Day is celebrated every 31st August, but this year is very special as it is 50 years. There are lots of celebrations going on; parades, fireworks, displays of old photos of the last 50 years in malls and hotels. I have done my own research and investigation. Our old neighbour Richard Buxton in Thailand was working in Singapore and then Malaya during the 1940`s, 50`s and 60`s and I asked him, as well as some older members of the KL St Patrick`s Soicety what life was like here 50 years ago.
But first some simplified background history......! Melaka was Malaya`s greatest empire, founded by a renegade Hindu Prince, called Parameswara in 1400. It was an ideally situated trading port between China and India (anyone who has been to Melaka to visit us or will visit, will know about all the museums in town with all this history in!).
Colonialism in Malaya started back in 1511 with the arrival of the Portuguese at Melaka who remained there for 130 years. Since then Malaya was colonised by the Dutch (1641-1786, who didn`t realise the full potential of Melaka) and British (from 1786), so it had been under some 446 years of a ruling colonial power. (Kuala Lumpur didn`t exist in those early days, it only came into being since 1857 when the tin mining boom started).
Following Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore in WWII, the Malayan Union was established by the British in 1946 and it was at this time that the Communist Party launched guerilla operations to try and force the British out.
Sir Gerald Templar, the British High Commissioner in power was charged with trying to free Malaya from Communist insurgency. At the height of the emergency he controlled the situation, by forcing the Communists to retreat into the jungle, with no access to food, support and information. New villages were established in these sensitive areas to keep the communists out. This emergency lasted from 1948 until after Merdeka in 1960.
In 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahmen, the first Prime Minister of Malaya, returned from a trip to London to announce in Melaka that Independence had been agreed and was coming. As Melaka was where the colonialism started, (it had been the most important port and strategic town in SE Asia), symbolically it was where colonialism was to end too. The proclamation of Independence however occurred on 31st August in KL at Stadium Merdeka, built for the occasion.
There was no animosity towards the British 50 years ago and life carried on as normal, but there was a gradual shift in Malays taking positions in government offices. It is been very interesting to learn about Malaysia`s history, as Britain was a big part of it (from 1796 - 1957), and so it is our history too.
This long weekend, for Malaysian Independance Day, was a weekend to take advantage of. An opportunity for Neil and I to return to Tioman Island, (which Neil hasn`t been to since March and this would be my fourth time this year!).
We knew the Malays would be celebrating Merdeka by holding parades and of course everyone had the day off work, so we set off early on Friday morning at 6.30am, towards Mersing to avoid the congestion and traffic. The roads were surprisingly clear and we arrived at the port town, just as their own Merdeka parade was finishing at 10am (good idea to get it over with early before it gets too hot!).
We eventually parked on the playing field, where the parade had just finished and met up with fellow travellers to Minang Cove in the resort office. I was to be the tour guide, as Sue, the office manager, knew I was familiar with the proceedures of getting to the island. So Neil and I, an American couple and a French family of 4, boarded the old wooden ferry for Tioman. Until five mins beforehand, we thought we would be on the normal ferry, but it was not the regular ferry - that was already full, so we took the second best (and only) option and also the slowest.
The journey over took 3 hours ! It normally takes 1.5 hours ! But we chatted along the way with the Americans and Neil relaxed away from work. We were fortunate on the boat having a seat as it was really a dive boat (pretending to be a ferry!), and had few seating areas and chugged across the South China Sea at a snails pace.
Arrival at Minang Cove was like coming home. It has been a great place to stay this year and bring visitors too and the staff are friendly. We had the beach front chalet again and it took no time to start unwinding from the journey.
I dived again, although the sea wsa quite wavy on the surface under the water it was clear and there was 10-15m visability (there was "snow" particles in the water). Saw my old clownfish friends "Nemo", the Pufferfish which lives on the wreck and a moray eel amongst others!
At Saturday lunchtime, Alex the resort manager told us about a situation with the ferries for our return journey. Apparently the ferry company had taken too many bookings for Sundays return journeys and every ferry was full. Our little resort was being pushed aside for the big resorts with the tour parties! We had tickets, but that didn`t mean anything as they can do what ever they like.
So with options being given by Alex, to us and the two other couples who were affected, Neil and I decided to leave Tioman on Saturday afternoon whilst we had a chance of getting off the island! We were to catch the last ferry back at 3.30pm. This time it was the normal ferry, but like all journeys to or fro, they never come on time. This one arrived at 4.20pm! We were happy to be on our way, and although had only been at Tioman Island for 24 hours we felt refreshed.
The journey at first appeared to going smoothly. But on the approach to Mersing, the tide was low/going out and the ferry came to a halt on a sandbank in the "channel" just offshore ! The captains announcement was to get as many passengers as possible to the bow of the boat (pointy end!) so that the back end would lift up!
Neil sat tight, but I went out on deck to get a view of where we were (and to see if it was possible to swim ashore!). You couldn`t have got more people into the tiny area, but no one was alarmed by the grounding of the boat. We slowly inched off the sand bank and crawled into the port.
Every trip to Tioman is an adventure and usually something interesting happens along the way, but this is Malaysia!
Last night was my first experience of an earthquake and it was very strange indeed. I was cooking dinner and waiting for Neil to arrive home from work at approximately 7.15pm, when I felt very giddy and unbalanced - and no I hadn`t been drinking !
I sat down and that didn`t help at all and then I heard creaking sounds, it was the doors on their hinges swaying and then I noticed the light fittings and curtains swaying and then I was aware of the whole building swaying !
It must have lasted 1-2 minutes and was still happening as I called my friend Susan in the same building, who was so busy rushing around, she didn`t notice anything. I checked the internet and had previously found a good link to the Malaysian Meterological Department who record recently felt earthquakes - and the tremor was already recorded on the net ! It was quite a large earthquake, measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake was centred off Sumatra, Indonesia - (just across the water from our home), some 900km south-west of Melaka.
This morning at 8.10am another earthquake was felt in the building. This time I was down in the swimming pool doing my lengths and my friend Lek, was desperately phoning me as she was scared about the earthquake happening and didn`t know what was going on. I didn`t feel anything in the pool, but Lek later described to me the same experience I had the night before. I checked the internet and found that the earthquake measured 4.9 on the Richter Scale (smaller than last night), although the epicentre was closer to us this time, only 527km southwest of Melaka !!
Them website http://www.met.gov.my/english/service/seismology/seismoevent.html records recently felt earhquakes and the website below maps them to show you where the epicentre is http://www.kjc.gov.my/people/seismo/map.jpg . For all you geologists and environmental consultants it is very interesting !
This weekend we had a new set of visitors to stay with us. Someone I had never met and Neil hadn`t seen since 1991! It was Neil`s uncle Martin, his Dad`s brother who was visiting Malaysia with his partner Su Ying from Adelaide, Australia.
Martin and Su Ying (who originates from Petaling Jaya, just outside KL), were on holiday to attend a wedding. Su Ying`s nieces daughter was getting married which entailed the full Chinese ceremony, followed by the full Christian church service.
I met them off the long distance bus from KL in Melaka on Thursday, and it was easy to spot Martin as he stepped off the bus.......he was the image of Neil`s Dad Arthur and Neil`s Grandad! Not just looks though, he reminded me so much of Arthur immediatly, in mannerisms, singing non-stop, voice etc.
Martin is 2 years younger to the day, than Arthur, and emigrated to Australia on a 10 pound ticket (passage by ship) 33 years ago. He hasn`t picked up any Australian accent and speaks excatly like Arthur. A horticulturist by recent trade, he now installs and maintains childrens playgrounds and park furniture in 88 locations around Adelaide city.
Su Ying also emigrated from her Malaysian home and now calls Australia home. Her English is perfect and she has very little accent. She was a lovely friendly warm lady and together the two of them were a nice couple. I found I was explaining Malaysian history and culture to her, that she didn`t know or had forgotton from being so long away from the country.
They loved Melaka and the easy going nature and pace of life here. They had had a hectic schedule in KL, with the 12 hour wedding and had also travelled north of KL to Ipoh for a visit with Su Ying`s relations. They were pleasantly surprised with Melaka and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the town, shopping, culture and history of the place.
They even were there when Neil went into hospital to have his chest x-rayed, following his rugby injury last weekend. It turned out that Neil has a fractured rib, so that is why he is in pain!
We showed them around town, to see where Neil works at the refinery and into town on a Friday night to catch the ambiance of Jonker Street. Martin, like Arthur, loves music and plays guitar fantastically. He had a go on Neil`s underused acoustic guitar and sang along at home, and we joined in! He marvelled at Ringo - the owner and guitar player in Ringo`s bar in town, who played the songs he liked; Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin etc.
It was a shame Martin and Su Ying couldn`t stay longer and they were disappointed that their visit was short. They wished it had been longer, as they were enjoying themselves, but before we`d met I`m sure they were as apprehensive as we were about meeting up.
I`m sure we`ll be visiting them in Adelaide before we leave SE Asia.
The wait was finally over for Susan on Monday. Being one week from her due date, she was starting to get big and uncomfortable, but was still doing everything in her weekly routine, like playing badminton, shopping and looking after Thomas, her 3.5 year old. Monday afternoon and like usual she popped up to my apartment for a coffee. It was after drinking the coffee that she felt pains and cramps and after a few hours, thought that this could be the start of labour !
Later that evening, she decided to go to the hospital and had to have her waters broken as labour was confirmed as being underway. Just after midnight, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, little Matthew Jack Godfrey arrived, weighing 3.95kg (8lbs 7oz). He had the cord around his neck and was a little blue coloured, but was fine. She listened to her ipod whilst in labour and I`ve never known someone so calm and laid back about childbirth !
The day of the birth Susan felt fine and up to having visitors, aside from Keith and Thomas. So friends had been during the morning to say hello to the new baby and I went along in the afternoon. The hospital ward had private rooms (they call them VIP rooms), much like the hospital in Thailand did. The nurses were friendly and chatty and the cleaner popped in and out cleaning and mopping the floor (you don`t get that in UK hospitals!).
Susan came out of hospital the following day (Wednesday) and brought baby Matthew home. Now the fun beigns !
This week the ladies of Melaka were treated to a special tour and lunch at the very recently opened Holiday Inn in town. Our neighbours, Jill and Damian were responsible for this lovely day, as Damian is the General Manager and Jill is a good friend. They are from Australia, but in fact Jill was born in Yorkshire and lived in the UK until she was 19, then decided to emigrate to Oz alone ! She has no hint of a Yorkshire accent, but sounds pure Oz !
The 40 ladies (the majority of our ladies group here) met in the lobby on Wednesday morning for a tour of the function rooms, bedrooms, restuarants, executive lounge, spa and pool. We were treated to a 10 minute foot reflexology session in the spa and then a four course lunch with wine.....at no cost ! The lunch was great....salad to start, then pumpkin soup, followed by salmon fillet and then panna cotta. We rolled out of the restaurant !
It is so refreshing to have a new hotel in town, and the choice of some new western restaurants to eat in as we have so few and sometimes you need to have the option ! They have 2 restaurants and a deli counter for buying bread, cakes and quiche - yum !
Damian is so proud of the hotel, which officially opened on Monday to a crowd of 500 dignataries and ministers, he wanted to do the tour himself. Susan`s Mum and Dad, Eric and Marion are staying at the Holiday Inn for 5 weeks for their holiday here in Melaka (Susan`s apartment is quite small and with a new baby Matthew they wanted to give the family some space). They were upgraded to a suite at the hotel by Jill and Damian on arrival last week and were the first guests to stay at the hotel !
I have already booked for a massage in the spa, and when non-residents are booked into the spa, you can use the gym and pool too. Sounds like a good idea !
The Buffy Fish Owl, also known as the Malaysian Fish Owl, has a buffy appearance on its undersides, with fine brown streaks; its upper parts are covered with dark bars. Look a Buffy in the eye and you`ll see a whitish spot where its eyebrows meeta very distinctive feature. The Buffy Fish-Owl is also distinguished by its brilliant yellowish eyes and prominent ear-tufts, usually tilted at 45 degrees.
Buffy Fish Owls love to eat frogs, mice, reptiles and rats and sometimes carrion. Often found near streams, woods, coastal areas and paddy fields, Neil and I spotted a juvenile Buffy Fish Owl next to a water filled ditch on Palau Gadong road, not ½ mile from our apartment, sitting on a tree stump. He was there for some time, and didnt move from his perch for at least an hour (time for us to go shopping go home and get the camera!). Neil and I usually spot birds along this road, where there is water and paddy fields, but mostly Kingfishers, which are beautiful, so we were very surprised to see an owl.
When we pulled alongside him in the car, he stared at us and we stared back. Then after a minute or two, his parents (well two adult birds) came swooping down from the trees not far away and one sat behind him and stared at us too. Probably trying and warn us off !
Buffy Fish Owls are not threatened globally but their status is not known in some areas. We told the Malaysian Nature Society of our finding, in case they want to record the sighting !
Malaysia, although a very multi cultural country is of course predominantly Muslim. For the past four weeks we have been immersed in Ramadan. This is where it is compulsory for Muslims (Bumiputra Malays) to participate in month-long fasting during daylight hours. During the day not even a drop of water should pass their lips. They rise at 4am and start to prepare and eat a feast before the sun comes up around 7am. Then in the evening at approximately 7.15pm, they break the fast with lots of food and eat all evening. The times vary each day for morning and evening, because the sunrise and sunset changes, so these times are published each day in the newspapers. It was funny to see the Malays buying their food at the markets and street stalls before the sun went down, and sitting down ready to......ready...... steady........eat.........as soon as the sunset time was announced !
The sighting of the new crescent moon signifies the end of Ramadan. Here it occurred on Friday 12th October, when Malaysia was able to see the new moon. The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a festival called Eid ul-Fitr, but in Malaysia it is called Hari Raya Aidifitri or just Raya. This translates from Malay as Happy Eid.
Like Christmas, Hari Raya is a time for visiting family, going home to your home town or village and overeating ! Cakes, sweets, biscuits and other food is prepared and like Christmas in the UK, the festival has been a little commercialised in the shops, with tacky songs, big promotions, and Malay activity at work slows down the week before, when people look forward to going home.
Locally the people were getting ready for the Hari Raya weekend, along the coastal road near our apartment, there were temporary stalls selling raw sides of beef, with which the housewives make Beef Rendang, which is a traditional Hari Raya food.
Neil and I decided to get away for the Hari Raya weekend (as everybody gets the Monday off work as a public holiday) and visit friends Cheryl and Rob Shuttle, and their two boys Will (16 years old) and Ben (14 years old) in Singapore. We met Cheryl and Rob in Seoul where they lived for 2 years, prior to which they lived for 3 years in Jeju Island off the southern coast of South Korea. The family moved some two months ago whilst Rob finished off work in Korea. Rob builds golf courses for a living and his latest project is due to start in Singapore fairly soon, and this weekend marked the start of his permanency in the country.
We anticipated chaos on the roads, as like Christmas, everyone is visiting family, but we had a pleasant drive down to Singapore. Although on both journeys to and from Singapore we noticed lots of accidents on the hard shoulder, Hari Raya is a notorious time for bad driving (never drunk driving – remember they are Muslims!), but they cannot drive well all the same.
Neil and I arrived in Singapore, just as the rain started to fall - It always rains in Singapore ! Cheryl, Rob and family are living temporarily in a small serviced apartment, whilst they look for somewhere to live. Their apartment is located in Robertson Quay, next door to our friends Terri and Keith`s apartment building ! Robertson Quay is very handy for the riverside bars and restaurants - of which we did try a few ! The one I had wanted to try for a while was The Clinic - located in Clarke Quay, which has hospital beds and wheelchairs as seats and you get your drink served in a drip !! However, when we enquired as to the price of the drip it was S$50 for a single shot cocktail - i.e. 17 pounds !! What a rip off ! So we paid 4 pounds for a G&T in a glass and thought about names for good "medical name" cocktails, like Brain Hemorrhage !
We went out shopping over the weekend and got everything we`d wanted to buy - well it was mostly me who wanted to buy things ! We went out for some lovely meals with the Shuttle family and on Sunday night we had booked to go to the Shangri La Hotel for a buffet dinner in The Line Restaurant. My friend in KL, Bridget had recommended it and so I suggested we go. It was fab ! Lots of different food stations and a great pudding counter complete with chocolate fountain !
It is nice to have Singapore down the road to visit, but if you lived there it would cost you a fortune in eating and shopping - so I`m glad we don`t have that tempation. Just every now and then..........!
Last Sunday, Neil and I were invited to a Hindu Wedding.....we knew that an invite was on its way, as the bride, Mary is a friend of mine from the St Patricks Society Committee and had been talking about the wedding all year.
Mary came to Malaysia as a single girl, working with a travel agency specialising in luxurious honeymoons and eco tours in Malaysia. She met her fiance Nanda Kumar (who is an engineer in the oil industry) whilst on a diving holiday and settled for the full Hindu wedding rather than travel back to Portlaoise in Ireland, her home town, for the full Irish !
The wedding ceremony was to be held at Sri Sundararaja Perumal Temple in Port Klang on Sunday morning 28th October, at 10.30am. Having spoken to Nanda a few days before, we set off early from Melaka at 7.30am towards Port Klang (east of KL, still a 2 hour drive), and to Nanda`s parents house.
We arranged to be at The Kumars house at 9.30am, before the temple ceremony was to start so that one of Nanda`s aunties could help me get dressed in my sari ! I had bought a lovely red and burgundy sari in Melaka last week, had henna painted on my hands (by a local Indian lady) and got some jangly Indian bracelets too!
The Kumar`s lived at No 2........! just around the corner, a mere 100 yards from the temple. The place was alive with ladies ready in their lovely coloured sari`s and the men in their Punjabi suits. The groom very calm and collected, and as soon as we arrived I was whisked into the back room for an auntie to help me dress. It was done quickly and I was pinned in......the lady said I had a nice flat stomach !! Ha Ha ! No-one has ever said that about my belly before !
I rejoined the group outside and we waited for the signal (Mary was on her way to the temple), to start the musicians off - the Indian tabla (drum) and nathaswaram (oboe). On the call of the music the Grooms family and friends assembled in procession, and we walked behind the Groom and best man, Mary`s brother Liam, down the road to the temple.
There was only a few Irish over for the ceremony, Mary`s immediate family - her Mum, Dad, brother and 2 sisters, so the white faces were still in the minority and with only myself and one other Irish woman in a sari, the Indian ladies thought we were great to have made such an effort !
The ceremony begun with the groom first, and lucky for us, they had produced a leaflet to explain what was going on at each stage of the ceremony. Firstly Nanda did his part, then left the room and then Mary entered, with Nanda`s sister Mimi as her bridesmaid, and did her part. They both left the room seperately and came back in, in Wedding clothes, another nice outfit each, and with the ceremonial fire burning in the centre of the stage, they were pronounced husband and wife by the priest. During the ceremony, the musicians played loudly, so none of the priests` words could be heard (or the chatter of the congregation!).
After the ceremony was over - approximately 1.5 hours, we stepped outside to a covered awning attached to the temple for an Indian vegetarian feast ! There must have been 200 people at the temple and all were keen on lunch afterwards !
Neil and I had such a wonderful experience, the people were so friendly and welcoming and the ceremony interesting and colourful. We left the temple after lunch and headed off to recoup in our hotel, before the evening reception at the top of the KL Tower (communications tower) in the centre of KL.
The rest of the St Patrick`s Committee arrived in the evening, having been unable to make the morning ceremony, we felt certain they missed the best part ! Anyhow more curry was to be served, this time with Guinness and wine, and whilst the lightning and rain came down outside the party was in full swing in the tower. Nanda loves cheesy 80`s music, so Neil and I were happy, but Sunday night partying isn`t the best day of the week, as we had to be ready to leave at 6am the next morning for Neil to get to work. As Neil and I left the building, some Bollywood dancing was taking place on the dancefloor......this was the cue to go !
Mary and Nanda were off to Sipadan this week, one of the world class dive sites in Borneo Malaysia for their diving honeymoon.
This Sunday was the pinnacle that I have been working towards for the past six months.... The British Ladies in KL (Association of British Women in Malaysia) held their Christmas Charity Bazaar and I have been very involved with the preparations but was in charge of fundraising and sponsorship this year. We had a brilliant team : Christina, was chairwoman, Lisa, in charge of decorations, Lorraine, the President and my sponsorship team (calling companies and business` for money, goods and vouchers) comprised Loni, Judith, Bridget and Heather who were very diligent and great fun.
Neil and I drove up to KL on Saturday to stay over in The Nikko Hotel in KL, where the Bazaar was being held. We collected some cakes along the way, donated from hotels and The British High Commissioners house, for the cake stall. There wasn`t much else we could do the day before as there was a function being held in the Grand Ballroom, so when that finished at midnight, the hotel staff went in to start clearing away and setting up for us, ready for us to come in at 6am Sunday morning !
Neil and I had a nice relaxing Saturday evening, before the hectic schedule of Sunday`s Bazaar started......we started in the club floor of the Nikko Hotel for free wine and snacks as our friends Loni and Cassandra were staying up there and invited us up! Then we caught a taxi into town for a wander down Changkat Bukit Bintang - where there are lots of bars and restaurants, and bumped into our friends Kathy and Francis having a drink at The Fish and Chip Pub. So we stayed there and had lovely chips and curry sauce........... has thou` owt moist !?
I awoke at 5am on Sunday, and was the only person at breakfast at 5.50am, until Christina and her husband John joined me at 6am. Just after 6am the stallholders began to arrive in the Ballroom and set up, my job was to direct them, direct moving tables. getting power points fitted and iron out other problems arising.
The British High Commissioner arrived after 10am to officially walk around the Ballroom, now set up, and open the Bazaar. It was the first time I had seen him, and he appeared quite miserable and not very chatty at all - not like our favourite British Ambassador Warwick Morris in Seoul !
The Bazaar was open from 11am to 3pm, the crowds of people came in to shop and take their children to Santaland - where Santa was and lots of games and activities for the kids. Lots of our friends and FW families came up from Melaka and were surprised at how big an event it was..........so this is why Amy has been busy for months !
We had 12 charity stallholders, in the foyer selling goods that they make and inside the ballroom over 70 stallholders selling everything from chocolates, jewellery, home decor items, framed art, handicrafts, cards, clothes and nik naks. Also the ABWM ladies were selling crafts, second hand books, cakes and white elephant. So a good mix of things to buy.
It was a grand day and the ABWM Bazaar team wound down after 3pm with a few glasses of wine to celebrate a job well done. We are just awaiting the total from the Treasurer, to see how much we raised and hope was it better than last year ! Will keep you posted !
This week I was very fortunate to undertake two cookery classes (over 2 days), which my friends Terri and Melissa in Singapore had bought me for my birthday.
I didn`t know where I was headed to, as I followed the directions to KL and past IKEA (a landmark I know very well!), but beyond that I was driving and navigating ! Just 5 mins from IKEA I came off the highway and down to a small kampung (village) nestled at the foot of the lush and green hills.
There were no signposts in the village and only single track roads, it reminded me of Ireland.....! But the directions were good and soon I found Rohani`s house. Her house sitting in an acre of land, was surrounded by rambutan and banana trees. In the front garden was a pond filled with fish and chickens clucking around.
I was welcomed by Rohani (the cookery teacher) with a brew and banana cupcakes, and she explained her background and the fact that I was the only one on both courses........so I`d have her all to myself !
The first day was called Great Tarts - and we made 3 types of pastry; wholemeal, shortcrust and sweet pastry and with these filled them with vegetable quiche, apples to make apple tarts, and creme patisserie/fruit to make fruit tartlets respectively.
Rohani was very knowledgeable about cookery (having trained at London Cordon Bleu) and explained the differences between cooking pastry in the UK and Malaysia, with the different ambiant temperature. She herself a Chinese Malay, explained that she was adopted by a British couple living in Malaysia some 50 years ago and although she grew up in Malaysia, her father has returned to his home of Guernsey, Channel Islands where she visits every year. So she could also explain about the differences in ingredients compared to what I`m familiar with in the UK, as she had first hand knowledge.
All the preparation was done for me, everything weighed out and measured into little containers by Rohani`s house maid Sitti, who also bought us home-made freshly squeezed lemonade whilst we were cooking ! We finished the day eating a slice of the quiche with a salad and I took all the goodies away that I had made.
I returned the following day for the second class, Breads and Spreads, which involved making multigrain bread, foccacia and herb bread, along with cream cheese and herb spread and eggplant dip.
Another tranquil day, having a cuppa tea to start and fruit cake, chatting about the recipes and taking in the scenery. I spotted a kingfisher in the garden, eyeing up the fish in the pond and tried very hard (as requested by Clare!) to get his photo.......trouble is with Kingfishers they are camera shy and I don`t have a big enough zoom lens !
The bread making went very well and the results were fantastic. We sat down to lunch afterwards with a selection of the breads, accompanied by a fennel and asparagus soup that Rohani had made.
I have been telling my friends in Melaka this week about the classes and the ladies are interested to take a class as a group next year. Rohani can accomadate 10 in the kitchen, all working in pairs at individual workstations. I would love to go back and learn some more cookery skills !
Take a look at Rohani`s website www.rohanijelani.com
We arrived in Perth on Thursday afternoon, after a relaxing 5 hour flight from Singapore...watching lots of movies. On the plane we recalled the Alexei Sayle joke as we filled in our immigration forms for Australia......do you have a criminal conviction?.........answer.........I didn`t know you still needed one !!!
Just one hour ahead of time in Singapore/Malaysia, we landed in an arid, flat, colourless landscape, so very different to SE Asia and all the lush palm trees we are used to. A taxi from the airport bought us to our B&B, The Pension of Perth in the quiet neighbourhood of Northbridge, opposite a park, Hyde Park, with lakes covered in ducks, coots, moorhens and other water birds and beautiful trees, especially the Jacaranda trees in bloom with their purple flowers.
After settling in, we walked into the district centre of Northbridge, down Lake Street to suss out our surroundings. Northbridge is known as the entertainment centre of Perth, lots of pubs, bars and restaurants....and a disproportionate amount of adult/sex shops (much more even than the Oxford Road in Reading)!!
On Friday we walked into Perth town centre. Perth has free buses which loop the city in three directions called the CAT, and we soon learnt which way they were going to say our legs !
Perth has some old buildings, from the 1800`s, being founded in 1829...and you guessed it....built with convict labour. There is a central business district with modern offices, but not really any good for shopping. The population of the city is 1.4 million, about the same as KL, but it feels smaller. The highlight of the city, is the waterfront....Perth straddles the Swan River which is enormous and along it`s banks within the city is King`s Park...which is where Neil and I were heading Friday night for a concert.
I had booked us tickets to see Bjorn Again (the ABBA tribute band), some months ago and we arrived just as a spring shower was coming down. Kings Park is elevated above the city on a limestone outcrop and getting into the park was eventful, climbing up steps on a vertical cliff face, whilst joggers and runners passed us on the steps up and down ! We reached the botanical gardens at the top and the spectacular view of the city and river. Following the other people who looked like they might be going to an ABBA concert, we found the way in and a picnic spot on the grass on the slope in front of the stage.
We got there in good time, as pretty soon everyone was descending with their picnics after work, and trying to find a good spot to sit. We chilled out with a couple of bottles of Aussie wine and some cheese and crackers in the late afternoon/early evening sun.
Bjron Again were preceeded by another TB (tribute band!), Bee Gees band.....who were pretty good and got the audience in 70`s/80`s mode! The audience were relaxed, families, friends and couples all having a chilled out time......Neil recalled that Donnington Monsters of Rock Concert was never this friendly !!
We sang our hearts out to all the classic Bee Gee and ABBA hits and then with our picnic devoured, we walked home...(we had hoped to find a taxi/bus, but none were around!)...so it was a good 2 mile walk home...but the "wine jacket" kept the wind out as we walked back through the town centre and home!
We`ll add our photos when we can download them...watch this space !
In order to explore outside the city of Perth, we had pre-booked a hire car for the week. We collected the car on Saturday morning from the town centre and headed out to Freemantle (or Freo as the locals call it). Freo is Perth`s port city, located at the mouth of the Swan River on the coast, it has a population of some 26,000 and feels more hippy and laid back than Perth.
We found a car park and headed for the "cappucino strip", the South Terrace Road with lots of cafes for a nice coffee and cake to start off the day ! We walked through Fremantle Markets, lots of fresh fruit and veg - looking very tasty and then through to the nik naks, hippy clothes and food to go. We walked on through the streets, lots of trendy and retro clothes shops, record shops and deli`s....with a cool ambiance.
Freemantle was sunny yet windy, and a strong sea breeze was blowing when we approached the esplanade, and Arthur`s Head where we visited the Round House, a former convict prison, built in 1831, it is the oldest public building in Western Australia! We walked down to the Fishing Boat Harbour for some fish `n` chips at the famous Cicerello`s, who have been serving since 1903. It was blooming chilly sitting out on the deck, with the wind blowing, but we sat there anyway in our cagouls trying to act as windbreaks!
A few more coffee shops later, we had seen most of Freemantle and our shins and feet were aching after all the walking over the past few days, so headed home for a jacuzzi bath in our B&B.
Today we took a trip out to the Swan Valley....one of the oldest colonial areas in the region, being settled in 1829 in the historic city of Guildford, some 16km upriver from Perth. Our first stop though was Caversham Wildlfie Centre, sitting in the middle of Whiteman Park a 26 sq km reserve. We had to visit somewhere called Caversham !! It was great.....with aviaries and enclosures, you could feed the kangaroos and get up close to the koalas !
After our wildlife encounters we headed up the road, with our road map of the entire Swan Valley wine region.....lots of wineries, restaurants, cafes, galleries and art shops and a combination of the above ! We settled on the Edgecombe Brothers Winery for lunch and some wine tasting...sitting outside on the terrace in the shade we chose the taster plate to share for lunch.......home grown olives, cheese, cacciatore, salad, bread and oil for dipping, smoked salmon, cheese and pumpkin tart, home grown aspargus and beetroot salad - YUM ! Also we did a white wine tasting...the samples of the three white wines we tried enough to keep us going for lunch time....and all free of course ! The Edgecombe Brothers winery is one of the oldest in the area, dating from 1925 and has a long necked turtle as it`s symbol.......they live in the lake on site.....very cute.
After a few more pit stops in the afternoon and a trip into Guildford - certainly not like the one in Surrey.....quaint and old colonial and the entrire town listed by the Australian National Trust, but not good for shopping!....were in need of another rest !
The weather has been warm in Oz, about 22-25 degrees (but cold for us!) and a nice spring breeze, but at night gets a bit chilly to about 12-14 degrees. The sun is strong though and we have been aware of needing the factor 50 and hats and keeping out of the sun if possible.
Photos will be added when we can download them !
We had a nice leisurely drive out of Perth, southwards towards Margaret River......en route we decided to stop at Rockingham to visit Penguin Island, home of course to penguins... of the Little Blue variety.
The sun was out and the sky blue, as we drove through Rockingham (an uninteresting town with an industrial coastline to the north), towards the little ferry terminal at Mersey Point. So we were just in time to catch the ferry (just a 10 minute crossing) to Penguin Island, a protected nature reserve home to the little blue`s, lots of roosting Pelicans and hundreds of seagulls and terns.
The shallow waters were clear blue as we walked across the boadwalks and on the beaches taking in the scenery. We got up close to the Penguins at feeding time, where some of the abandoned ones are looked after by conservation staff. The Pelicans on their rocky headland looked magnificant and huge as they took off into the air in search of food.
After taking the ferry back to the mainland we continued on southwards towards Bunbury for another pit stop. Bunbury, also a coastal town was a nice little place to stop and had some quirky and interesting shops... we refuelled and then continued on towards Margaret River.
Margaret River is the centre of the wine production for Western Australia, and although not a very old region of winemaking, only some 40 years, it produces world class wines........accounting for almost 25% of Australia`s wine export.
Our accomadation was located right in the heart of the town, and the owner of the studio apartment, Mark met us and gave us the key to the place, where we would have our own space for the next 4 nights. The studio, called Studio 9, was lovely, modern and funky...with one bedroom, 2 bathrooms, kitchenette and huge lounge/dining room...2 TV`s, and the most snuggly carpets.....something we are not used to !
more to follow....!
We had pre-arranged a full day tour with "Margaret River Tours" to get us better aquainted with the over 100 wineries which are located in the area. Margaret River is the name of the town at the heart of this region, the name of the river and also to wine drinkers....... the name of a good bottle !
We were collected just before 10am from the vistors centre car park in town - a mere one minute walk from our apartment, - by Kim, our guide for the day. We were joined by Roger and Hilary from Halifax and Matt and Anna from Melbourne - who were on their honeymoon!
We started on our mini bus tour entitled "The Wine and Gourmet Tour"....... first stop Xanadu winery, just 10 minutes drive out of town. Many of the wineries in Margaret River are world famous and some are family run boutique ones (i.e. smaller), most have cellar doors open from 10-5pm daily for the public to drop in and taste anything up to 11 wines from their vineyard! Many of the cellar doors have gift shops and some have full restaurants for gourmet dining.....which we were also going to experience on this fun day out.
Xanadu is one of the oldest wineries in the Margaret River area, being established in 1977 by an Irishman, Dr Lagan. After trying some five white wines and five red wines at the cellar door, (including wines that can only be bought at the cellar door i.e. are not for sale anywhere else....) and some purchases later, we all hopped back into the minibus to the next stop.....Redgate Wines.
Next stop after Regate was Voyager Estate, a beautiful property with Dutch inspired architecture surrounded by manicured lawns, rose gardens and the vines of course. This was our third tasting of the day and the place for lunch. By this time, we were all getting to know each other and the wine was flowing............each tasting glass is poured to approximately 20ml, and remember you get about 8-11 wines to try at each winery and were would be visiting 6 in this day tour....and getting a large glass of wine with our lunch.....you do the sums !
Lunch was lovely, in the Voyager restaurant the six of us had bread to start with locally produced olive oil for dipping. Main course was salmon fillet for Neil and I had the veggie option.........local asparagus, sliced roasted sweet pototoes served with a poached egg and shaved parmasan cheese - yum!
After lunch I was so full and really struggled to carry on for a while with the wine tasting at the next winery.....Watershed Winery........more beautiful buildings (like barn conversions) with huge windows and a view of the lake and vines. Neil solidered on with the tasting although the wines were all beginning to taste the same !
Next stop Vasse Felix winery, another established wine grower and in fact the first commerical grower in the region. A cellar door with a big gift shop, restaurant, gallery and a stream running through the grounds surrounded by a sculpture park. All of the wineries have to compete to get visitors in and this is one of the bigger ones, so had lots of attractions.
The last stop for the day was Moss Brothers, a boutique winery where the owner himself, one of the Mr Moss` did the tasting with us and explained about his wines. It was a refreshing change to talk with the owner of the winery rather than staff employed to do the tasting.
One final stop of the day before heading back to town, was The Margaret River Chocolate Company.....for some free samples and a chance to buy some goodies ! They were going to close at 5pm and we got there with 15 minutes to spare......enough time for a few handfuls of white, milk and plain chocolate chips !
The Margaret River region is famous not only for its wines but also the lovely countryside, surf beaches and of course bing a gourmet paradise!
Neil and I decided to investigate the area by driving down to the little town of Augusta, and 5km beyond.......the most south-westerly tip of Australia known as Cape Leeuwin.
Cape Leeuwin, as with many other place names in Australia, got it`s name from the explorers who discovered it, the Dutch ship which passed this area in 1622 was called The Leeuwin. Cape Leeuwin is where the Indian Ocean (on the west coast of Australia) meets the Southern Ocean (which flows...you guessed it along the south). It was a blustery spring day when Neil and I got out of the car.......not too cold......but windy and showery. The wind speed had been 20-27 knots and was gusting up to 40 knots!
We were given a one-to-one tour of the Lighthouse by our guide, a 6-month-pregnant lady, who managed with ease the 170 steps to the top (30 metres tall). Our guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the lighthouse and told us how it was shipped in pieces from Birmingham, UK in 1896 and what life was like at the Cape. We were fortunate to be able to go outside onto the platform at the top of the Lighthouse, as the gusting wind dropped for a few minutes and it was safe to do so.
We finished the trip to Cape Leeuwin with homemade soup and crusty bread in the cafe and a pot of tea......lovely on a blustery day!
The tourist road from Augusta northwards is called Caves Road, and with good reason. The area is limestone and riddled with caves, some of which are open to the public (like the Very Dark Caves, Father Ted; Very Interesting Caves, Vietnam or Caves of Drach, Majorca!). We decided to have a look, although we have seen a cave or two.......and opted for the Mammoth Cave, not because it had mammoths in, but because it was self guided, with a headset, and we didn`t have to take a tour!
The Mammoth Cave was pretty interesting, the usual stalactites, stalagmites and a very interesting commentary, which we could do at own pace. We had been watching Time Team on TV the night before where they had been excavating in a cave....spooky!
The drive northwards along Caves Road also has some lovely white sand surf beaches, such as Hamelin Beach and Yallingup Beach. We spotted little green Rock Parrots rummaging in the shrub on the edge of the beaches and Short-Billed Black Cockatoos in the bushes.
We stopped at The Eagles Heritage Wildlife Centre, for a display from some wild Black Kites which had been rehabilitated as well as a Whilstling Kite, which kept coming back to them from the wild! Neil had a go at holding one of the Black Kites, whilst the guide told us all about raptors in Australia. They had other birds of prey in aviaries and we walked on the bush walk, in silence just hearing the caged and wild birds chattering.
The Northern tip of the region finishes in Cape Naturaliste and the bay it overlooks called Geographe Bay, again both named after ships. Cape to Cape is approximately 120km (we did 1000km in a week in our hire car!).
Cape Naturaliste also has a lighthouse, built in 1903, this one is shorter and rounder than the one at Cape Leeuwin as the headland is higher in elevation. We again did a guided tour of the Lighthouse and were fourtunate to see some whales in the Bay.
Whale-watching for Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales occurs between June to September in Cape Leeuwin and from September to December as far up as Cape Naturaliste when they migrate up from Antartica. The last few remaining whales on their migration back to Antartica were visible from the platform of the Lighthouse where the tour group helped each other spot the fins and tails!
Bunker Bay was a lovely beach we stopped at in Geographe Bay, again with blue waters and white sand where we found a great cafe, Bunkers Beach cafe for another pit stop. We were lucky to see all of the area out of season. Just 10 days later the schools would break up for summer holidays and the whole of Western Australia would be packed with holiday-makers and the atmosphere would have been very different!
Most people have heard of Langkawi - one of Malaysia`s premier holiday destinations and a favourite with Europeans looking for winter sun. Neil and I surprised his Mum and Dad when they arrived to visit us last week, with a 4 day trip to Langkawi for their Christmas present. Let`s just say they were over the moon !
We departed from KL on Saturday, on the 50 minute flight to Langkawi, which lies at the Malaysia-Thailand border, on the west coast of Pennisula Malaysia i.e the same side of the country as Melaka, just further up!
Langkawi means strong eagle in Malay and is legendary in Malay literature. The hotel we stayed at had been recommended to me by my friend Christina, a regular visitor to Langkawi. Casa del Mar - our very own home by the sea, a boutique hotel, only has 29 rooms, but was very friendly and cosy, with lovely personal touches. Just 10 minutes from the airport located on Cenang Beach, it was a perfect spot for our holiday.
Neil and I not being sun worshippers, but intent on relaxation, set about finding out about the island. Pauline and Arthur we knew, would be content to be on the sun loungers on the beach listening to their ipods. We decided to hire a car for a day (very cheap) and drove over to the north west part of the island, to visit Telaga Tajuh (7 wells waterfall) up loads of steps in the rainforest, past the monkeys frolicking on the path, to the top...and a view of the ocean and forest.
We popped into The Datai, the most famous 5 star hotel in Langkawi to be nosy and stayed for lunch. There was certainly some people watching to be done, but it was too pretentious and cold for our liking, although had very beautiful hotel buildings. If you wanted to be seen in designer sunglasses and bikini - that`s your place !
Neil and I took a one-day trip into the mangroves. Since the tsunami, Langkawi has been designated as a Geopark and there are three sections of the island which have been classified as National Parks. The north-eastern tip of the island, has lots of mangroves and their importance in slowing down the tsunami impact was realised, and thus they are now protected.
We took a boat trip with Dev, a middle aged Singaporean chap, who has devoted the past 20 years to the mangroves and petitioning to get the National Park status realised. His knowledge was incredible and enthusism for educating us. He has cataloged bird and plant species in the mangroves and was thrilled to learn that I was an ex-environmental consultant! "Come and work with me on conservation projects!" he said - it was tempting and he really meant it, but it would be too far to commute!
Dev runs the company and does the tours himself every day of the week and rarely has a day off. An amazing guy. In the inshore mangroves we spotted lots of birds with his help - different species of brightly coloured kingfishers, Red-Wattled Lapwings, Little Herons, and Plovers. We saw vipers in the branches of the trees, monkeys playing, a large monitor lizard off for a swim amongst others. We saw a small school of asia-pacific dolphins breaking the surface near the coastal mangroves, and White-bellied Sea Eagles and Brahminy Kites (from whom the island took it`s name) swooping down for fish in the water.
Neil and I enjoyed a spa massage too whilst in the hotel, to recover from all the strenous activities and later in the holiday I tried an Ayurvedic massage at another place across the road from the hotel. 4.5 litres of oil (specific to my body type) was poured continously onto my forehead (third eye), a treatment called Shirodhara by an 18 year old Malay guy, after a consultation with the Indian Ayurvedic master. Then he gave me a shoulder and back massage, which was quite firm. After the treatment he helped me get the oil out of everywhere by scrubbing my back and washing my hair for me ...! I was left to finish off the job...thankfully !
Pauline and Arthur loved the beach location of the hotel and the opportunity to sunbathe. We sampled a few of the restaurants including the hotel during our stay.....and were pretty impressed with the food everywhere. We would definately return to Langkawi - a short flight to a beautiful island to get away from it all and relax.
This year was the first year for Neil and I spent Christmas Day alone together. In the UK we`d be with family and when we`ve been overseas on assignment we`ve usually had visitors for Christmas, so this year was a little strange!
Many of the Foster Wheeler families in Melaka were not going home for Christmas and wanted something to do on Christmas Day........none of us have decent sized ovens and well equipped kitchens for cooking the full roast with all the trimmings........so we were looking to Melaka town for somewhere to go for Christmas Lunch (now if you know Melaka you`ll know that this was going to be a challenge!).
The Holiday Inn, run by our neighbour Damian, came up with a Christmas menu, after many drafts, that would inlcude Turkey and all the trimmings (as much as they can do in Malaysia!). So about 40 adults and 6 children signed up for the 4 course meal on Tuesday lunchtime organised by Susan and the Godfrey family.
We took over the whole of the Sirrocco Restaurant in the hotel and even managed to persude the staff to put on Sarah`s Christmas CD`s that she had in the car......the Best Christmas Album in the World...Ever! so we could eat along with Slade, Wham!, Mud and all those Christmas classics !
The menu which included a generous glass of wine each, tea or coffee and mince pies cost just 25 pounds per head and was pretty well organised. They provided a seperate table for the kids and two waitresses to play with and amuse them, so the mums and dads could relax (even Thomas managed to sit still for the whole of lunch!).
After a few glasses of wine and all that food, we drove home through the streets of Melaka.....and saw the families crowding to get into the shopping malls - that is what Malaysian`s do on public holidays........go shopping !
Last week, it was Maddison`s (our neighbours Jill and Damian`s little girl) 5th birthday party. When your Daddy is General Manager of the Holiday Inn, the venue is sorted of course, but I had never seen such a lavish occasion for a 5 year olds birthday (not that I have been to many!).
About 25 children, some Mum`s and a few hangers on like me arrived at one of the smaller of the ballrooms in the Holiday Inn for Maddy`s party. The theme was a pirate party..... all the rage since Johnny Depp made them popular, but Johnny`s image was not decorating the walls, instead three huge projecters screened pirate cartoons. What a shame! The room was dark and adorned with skulls and piratey images and the kids had been dressed up by their mums as pirates or (another option for the girls) fairies ! What a combination !
What did surprise me was the age range of the children at the party, the youngest being a 3 month old (obviously not an active particpant!), but generally from 2.5 - 11 years old, they played the games together (there was definately a winning advantage of being the 11 year old!).
Let me tell you about the food. The buffet was huge......comprising pizzas, fish and chips in paper cones, chips in cones, meatballs and spaghetti, chicken nuggets, help yourself ice-cream freezer with cornets, jellys, muffins, a chocolate fountain! There was free flow served by the staff, of soft drinks for the kids and wine for the adults, tea and coffee too !
The kids were entertained by three staff from the Holiday Inn dressed up as pirates and organised the games like musical chairs etc. As well as the pirate MC`s, there was a clown doing balloon sculptures and a magician all the way from KL.
It was fun and of course all free for us.......but the word on the street was that it cost an estimated 1000 pounds (and that`s without any food costs!). Do you think that she is a lucky little girl ? I do !
You might have seen on this blog a year ago, that a friend of ours Tom, went to the Thaipusam festival in KL and brought back lots of photos of the Hindu devotees spiked with hooks ? Well this year after much deliberation, my friend Loni and I decided we would go and see this annual event, witness everything for ourselves and brave the millions in the crowd who come to participate and watch every year.
We stayed over night in KL last week at the Hilton and arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 5.30am and wait for us for the duration of our visit to the Batu Caves (a towering limestone outcrop which is where the festival takes place, some 13km north of KL city centre). It was my first time into the Batu Caves (our friends Sharon and Tim went there last year, when we took them to KL, but we left them to it!), although I have driven past the entrance before.
The festival of Thaipusam was brought to Malaysia in the 1800s, when Indian immigrants started to work on the Malaysian rubber estates and the government offices.
It was first celebrated at the Batu Caves in 1888, after they were discovered some 120 years ago, by an American naturalist. Since then it`s become an important expression of cultural and religious identity to Malaysians of Tamil Indian origin, and it`s now the largest and most significant Hindu public display in the country. It involves pilgrims worshipping and paying respects to Lord Subramaniam and is about faith, endurance and penance.
We arrived in darkness to the Caves (at 6am), as close as the taxi could bring us, which meant we didn’t have to walk very far to the entrance. There were groups of Hindu musicians and drummers present adding to the carnival feel, (even at such an early hour of the morning), sparkly lights, food stalls and lots of Indian people around, we were certainly the only white faces in the area! We walked through the entrance, past the outdoor barber shop, where devotees were getting their heads shaved and then covering their heads in a yellow powder. We slowly started the climb the 272 steps to the top of the cavern, past the huge gold statue of Lord Subramaniam (or Lord Murugan as he is also known) guarding the gateway to the steps and cave entrance.
We witnessed that most of the devotees (women, men and children) carried paal kudam (pots filled with milk) on their heads, which they empty as offerings at the top in the cave. Everyone wore Jasmine flowers round their necks and all devotees wore yellow and orange coloured outfits, the colours of Lord Murugan. The most spectacular to be seen (and rather gruesome) were the devotees who carry the Kavadis, which are essentially a portable altar up to two metres tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through piercings into the skin on the chest and back [The purpose of this offering is to avert a calamity].
Other types of kavadis involve hooks stuck into the back and then pulled by another walking behind, with ropes, much like pulling an animal on a leash. The devotees we witnessed doing this were foaming at the mouth, tounges out (painted red), with a wild and crazed look in their eyes. They prepare for a month beforehand, with strict diets and abstain from everyting in the run up to the festival. It is claimed that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind.
We waited for the sun to come up, about 7.20am, in order to get an opportunity to take some decent photos in natural light as we slowly descended the steps back to ground level, taking in all the sights on the way. After the sun came up, the place slowly got busier and by the time we left at 8.30am, there were bus loads of tourists coming in, riot police on standby and lots of western faces.
We were astonished by the insensitivity that some of the Western/Chinese tourists/journalists gave the devotees.......plunging long camera lenses into their faces when they were climbing up the steps, struggling to carry their loads and performing their religious pilgrimage. Loni and I stood at a distance, observing and witnessing what was taking place, and taking photos when the opportunity arose (without flash etc), so as not to offend anyone.
The sights, smells and sounds at the festival were something to be seen to be believed. It was an experience, but now I`ve been there and bought the t-shirt (metaphoically speaking!), there would be no need to see it again!
Today is the day when we all said goodbye to the Godfrey family. They left Melaka this afternoon, to go and stay overnight tonight at the airport hotel, and fly back to Heathrow tomorrow morning.
We have known Susan, Keith and Thomas, and more recently baby Matthew, since August 2005 (and Neil worked with Keith in Reading before that) when we met in Seoul on the FW project. Now saying goodbye to someone is always sad, but it is difficult to understand, if you haven`t been an expat, how your friends become your family when you are overseas. Neil and I lived in the same apartment block in Seoul and the same one for the past 15 months in Melaka, as the Godfreys.
I`m sure that Susan will find it a culture shock to return to Reading (as she hasn`t lived there for very long and doesn`t know anyone), where in England you rarely see your neighbours. The close-knit family-orientated community here in Melaka with so many friendly mums and other ladies (both expats and locals) is unique.........I think in Melaka we are very lucky (it wouldn`t be like that in a big city like KL). Everyone lives so close to each other and are always offering to share lifts to town/shops, pick each others kids up from school, and always getting together for impromptu lunches and parties.
I will certainly miss Susan, but as they only live south of Reading in Bramley I`m sure we`ll be visiting them when we go home for a visit and if we ever move back !
Our friends Andy and Tim are leaving Melaka in two weeks time as well. Tim, works in the same team at FW as Keith, so they are going back to Reading too. Andy and Tim are coming on a diving holiday with us in 2 weeks time, so we can goodbye to them in style!
Today I hosted the farewell coffee morning for Susan, and most of the ladies came to say goodbye. We had a group photo taken of us all........so now you can see what these coffee mornings we have twice a month look like! Look at the photo......we have ladies in our group from Malaysia (Malays, Chinese and Indian), Hungary, Turkmenistan, Belarus, England, Scotland, Wales, USA, Venezuala, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Singapore, India...........! We are creating good international relations over coffee!
Chinese New Year starts today on 7th February 2008, and is a public holiday all over Malaysia for two days and most of the schools are off all week. The greeting in Mandarin Chinese is pronounced “Gung Si Faa Chai” and translates as "Congratulations and be Prosperous". We have been given lots of mandarin oranges wrapped in red plastic in shops and public places. The mandarin oranges are given out as a gift, as the Chinese word for mandarin orange sounds like the Chinese word for gold ! Of course the red colour of the lanterns and banners also represents a lucky colour.
The New Year brings in a new animal from the Chinese Zodiac and this year it is the year of the Earth Rat.
The Rat was welcomed in ancient times as a protector and bringer of material prosperity. It is an animal associated with aggression, wealth, charm and order, yet also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence and atrocities.
It is forecast to an unbalanced year according to Feng Shui practitioners as the elements of Metal and Fire are lacking. Overall, the missing ‘Fire’ and ‘Metal’ means the lack of creativity, intelligence and power.
But it is a year blessed with victory and luck (there is money to be made this year), and the key to getting the most out of the year is simply to get the timing right. It is a year to think big and when being big-hearted reaps dividends.
The last time the Earth Rat was seen as the ruling influence was during February 10, 1948 - January 28, 1949. Those who were born under this sign will be celebrating their 60th birthday (i.e. Neil’s dad Arthur, who will turn 60 on the 28th February!) and these baby-boomers will according to the Chinese Astrologers look back on many years of good fortune and will be looking ahead to many more! That is good news!
Neil and I decided to venture out into Melaka last night to see what festivities were happening in Chinatown for the New Year. Most families travel home and spend Chinese New Year’s eve having a reunion dinner with the entire family, then after dinner they go out to pray at the temples for good year.
A few of us.....Neil and I, Loni and Kent, Andy and Tim, Liz and John, arranged to go into town together and have some food and a few drinks at The Geographer cafe. We bumped into many other FW people passing by whilst sitting on the pavement outside the bar too!
The streets in Chinatown : Jonker Street and all the roads off it, had been adorned with red lanterns and red uplighters on the buildings to show off the old Chinese shophouses during the evening.
The streets were quiet at first when we arrived at 7.30pm, whilst people were still inside having their dinner but pretty soon, the market traders set up there stalls, the karaoke stage came alive, the temples were heaving and everyone was out having fun........the atmosphere was great and being able to glimpse from the street into the old shophouses, where people live and work was even more special at this time of year.
Kapalai is really not an island…….but the location of where the island used to be. It is located between Sipadan island and Mabul island in the Celebes Sea off the north-east coast of Sabah, Borneo Malaysia. These islands lie within Tun Sakaran Marine Park, which was given its status in 2004 and covers 325 sq km of tropical waters, which include dive sites recognised to be within the Top 10 in the world !
As I mentioned, Kapalai doesn’t exist as an island, it’s a mile-long sand bar, which has been slowly eroded away over time, and is now only partly visible at low tide.
Eight of us set off for a long weekend trip of diving and snorkeling at Kapalai on an early flight on Thursday morning from KL. Loni, Kent, Carol, Dennis, Andy, Tim, Neil and I…..a group of divers and non-divers, who had taken Andy and Tim’s recommendation about this destination they had visited before.
We flew into Tawau, a run down port town, near the Indonesian-Malaysian border, where the eight of us were met by a mini-bus and were driven an hour and a half to the port town of Semporna. Semporna was even more run down than Tawau, but soon we were boarding the resort speedboat and speeding our way to the Kapalai Island Resort. It took 30 mins by speedboat, and upon arrival we all noticed we really were out in the middle of the ocean! The resort had some 40 chalets directly over the water, linked by wooden walkways, a dive centre and a restaurant completed the main areas and were surrounded by chairs, loungers and planters filled with bourganvilias.
We were greeted by Cyril, one of the Dive Masters (and Nemo the resident sausage-dog whose belly nearly touched the floor!) who ran us through the rules of the resort and the dive centre, then the buffet lunch was being brought out – what good timing! After lunch we found our chalets, large spacious wooden huts with an en-suite and a large private deck….out of every louvered window you just looked down to see the fish swimming about in the shallow blue waters! Just from peering over from the surface we could see lots of Knobbly Seastars on the sandy bottom, Parrotfish, Blue Spotted rays, Batfish, White Spotted pufferfish, Clown and Titan Triggerfish, and lots of strange looking (that I had never seen before) Crocodile Needlefish.
That afternoon we dived the house reef, just off the jetty from the resort as an orientation dive. Cyril lead us five divers (Me, Kent, Dennis, Andy and Tim) around the wooden purpose-built structures underwater, along with lots of other divers in separate groups. It was like Piccadilly Circus! I was feeling okay until near the end of the dive Cyril and the others started approaching a huge ray sitting on the sandy bottom…..it looked to me like a Stingray, with some 2-3m span with a 2m tail, and I started to panic! Not so much that I did anything silly, but I would not go close to it. I just kept thinking of poor Steve Irwin (of Australia Zoo fame) who was killed by a Stingray not so long ago. I signaled to Andy and Tim that I was not happy and they accompanied me in the ascent. I found out that it was in fact an Eagle Ray after the dive, but that still didn’t reassure me much. I was glad to get out of there!
The visibility wasn’t great underwater and the surface had been choppy since we arrived. That evening Neil and I both dreamt of the chalet being submerged into the ocean, as we heard the waves and winds whistling around us!
As a dive resort, Kapalai Island Resort arrange packages for you as either a diver or a non-diver. There actually isn’t much of a price difference as you are mostly paying for the full board accommodation. We were allowed three boat dives per day each, and then dives on the house reef at sunset and night if you wanted. I wasn’t impressed with the house reef and so I stuck to the boat diving. The dive centre was very organised and split the whole resort’s divers into different boats with two allocated Divemasters and our snokellers (Loni, Carol and Neil) were welcome. All you had to do was to keep your name on the wipeboard and they allocated you a slot.
The divers could choose an early start at 5.30am departure, for a sunrise dive, or a normal start of 8.30/9.00am. Dive Number 1 would be completed around Sipadan island then a tea and biscuit break (surface interval) on the island itself of some 40 mins, followed by Dive Number 2 at another location around Sipadan. You would return to the resort for lunch and then undertake Dive Number 3 in the afternoon at 3pm around Mabul island.
We requested on one day that the in-house underwater videographer came on our dive trip to film us ! This was something the resort produced ....... a DVD of your group diving, to enable you to buy a souvenir of your trip. We all bought it, although the day we were filmed the weather was raining quite heavy (we`ll show you the DVD when you all visit!)
In 2000 and 2001, Islamic Militant Guerillas based in the Philippines kidnapped tourists from the dive resorts near Sipadan. This has now meant that the Malaysian navy and police presence has been increased. In fact, we saw them constantly during our stay and the navy had a base and lookout point at our resort. Sipadan island was a 30 minute speedboat ride from our resort.
In 2004, the Malaysian government ordered all on-site dive and resort operators of Sipadan to move their structures off the island by the end of 2004. This move was mainly to conserve a balanced eco-system for Sipadan and its surroundings and restrict the numbers of divers, and not due to the threat from extremists.
You can land on Sipadan island for a brew on the beach between dives, but the former resorts there on the beach have been turned into a naval/police lookout. Each diver wanting to dive in the marine park must obtain a permit to dive from them.
In May 2006 a barge carrying thousands of tonnes of building material intended for a government-funded tourist facility, beached on Sipadan island, destroying a significant portion of coral reef said to be about 372sq metres. The Malaysian government denied all knowledge! I did notice that there was some evidence of coral reef damage in some parts whilst I was diving.
The coral reefs were pretty in the marine park but not as stunning as I had imagined (I have been spoilt by the beautifully coloured soft corals in the Red Sea!). The drop offs and coral reef plateaus teemed with fish life...some species of which I had never seen before, but one of the most important species that divers visit Sipadan for are the pelagic (large) and the macro (small) marine life. There are lovely hawksbill turtles, white tip reef sharks as well as hammerheads, eagle and manta rays, leopard sharks and grey reef sharks (to name a few which were seen whilst we were there – not all by me!). The turtles were very nice and hopefully I will get some of my friends underwater photos of them to add to this blog. In addition small marine life, like nudibranchs, seahorses and ghostpipefish thrilled the underwater photographers.
Neil and I had a very relaxing and interesting long weekend diving and snorkelling with our friends......and maybe Neil has finally taken up the interest to want to learn to dive...he was showing lots of enthusiasm !
We were sad to have to say goodbye to Tim and Andy who were continuing their travels for another 6 weeks before returning to Reading. We hope to see them again someday!
This week I had arranged for six of us Melaka ladies to undertake a cookery class at Rohani`s house, where I had been for two classes last year. Myself, Loni, Hope, Gaby, Liz and Julia ventured up to KL, to the quiet kampung where Rohani lives, for a Pizza Party lesson!
Rohani demonstrated the art of making pizza dough; plain ones and using starters of rye, semolina and flaxseeds. The ladies loved the therapeutic action of kneading the dough and it was a good sociable class for a group of friends to particpate in. We were shown how to make both a tomato and an onion spread (very sweet and tasty!), and then different toppings. We loved the pumpkin, chick pea and feta cheese......and the smoked salmon, rocket and sour cream.........and the courgette, thyme and feta cheese to name a few !
We each made four pizzas with the dough we had made individually, and topped them how we liked. They cooked for 5-7 mins in the ovens and as soon as they were done, we cut some of them up to try ! We didn`t have much room for sitting down to lunch afterwards, for all the nibbling we`d done during the cooking !
We all managed to take some of the pizzas home for our hubby`s to sample and Neil couldn`t believe how tasty the pizza was.....he has put in a request for me to make some more ! All the ladies were over the moon with their enjoyment of the day out and I am also under instruciton to arrange another class and a different theme ! I could easily be persuaded !
This week Neil’s mum and dad returned from their three month holiday in Australia and New Zealand. Pauline and Arthur were looking tanned and well-fed from visiting the various O’Connor families in Adelaide and the Jones’ family in Whakatane, New Zealand.
As Arthur had just turned 60 last week, and as their visit this time was short, we decided to treat them to a night away in KL. We tried a hotel we hadn’t been to before…The Impiana, and booked dinner and a concert to make a memorable evening. Not many international stars visit KL, and if they do (Cliff Richard, Peter Noone, Engelbert Humperdinck to name a few!), the venue used is in the Genting Highlands to the north of KL and is not easily accessible for us.
When I heard that International Jazz Musician Harry Connick Jnr was to play not one but three nights in KL city centre, within the Malaysia Philharmonic Concert Hall located inside with the Petronas Twin Towers, the week that Pauline and Arthur were visiting us…. I jumped at this great opportunity ! My thoughts were that Harry is a great performer and the concert hall (purpose-built with great acoustics) is located within one of the most famous buildings in the world.
Harry Connick Jnr, might not be known to everyone, but he is to me ! Exactly 17 years ago, Mum took us to see him play at the Royal Albert Hall in London and after the show we waited outside the Stage Door for a photo opportunity. I took such a great photo of him, that I had it blown up to A1 and had Harry as a pin-up on my bedroom and later University room wall !
I took Pauline and Arthur up to KL that morning to do some shopping in an area they hadn`t been to before. Neil got off work a earlier than usual and with Jeffrey the taxi driver bringing him up to KL he joined us in the hotel, where the two rooms we had booked had been upgraded to suites ! We had a lovely buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant and then walked just five minutes around the corner to the famous Petronas Twin Towers.
We all really enjoyed the concert and the venue was superb. It was quite an intimate concert hall with great views from all seats. The Asia tour that Harry Connick Jnr kicked off in KL was a tribute to his home town of New Orleans and he is such a great showman and a genuinely nice bloke. He played many old favourites that we knew and the 90 minute show went too fast. After the show he signed CDs and we waited (but not in the queue) to catch a glimpse of him again. He is now 40 years old and still looks as great as he did 17 years ago ! Very tasty !
Dad arrived here in Malaysia last Monday evening and since he arrived, I have had a schedule lined up which I`d hoped didn`t tire him out too much and yet grasped the opportunity for him to see the most out of SE Asia.
We started on Tuesday with a mini tour of Melaka and for him to get bearings of where we live in relation to our surroundings. We managed to take in two of the 15+ musuems in Melaka and Dad started to understand and appreciate the importance of Melaka in terms of Malaysian and British history (and how they are intertwined).
On Wednesday, Dad and I packed our weekend bags for a two night trip down to Singapore. Unfortunately Neil being the breadwinner was very busy at work, so couldn`t join us, but he`s been down there many times before. I drove the 230km down to Singapore and guess what....? the rainclouds started to descend !
We reached our hotel, one I hadn`t tried before, called the Royal Plaza on Scotts, checked in swiftly and then headed out for some lunch at the Food Republic food court just down Orchard Road (one of Neil and my favourites). Dad was amazed at the amount of shopping malls on Orchard Road (like London`s Oxford Street, but much leafier) and I showed him some of our favourite stores and haunts. After purchasing a Time Out magazine we noticed that Jools Holland was playing that evening (for one night only) in the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay......so we headed down there and got tickets at the box office just 15 minutes before the show! Jools and his Rhythm and Blues Band were their usual feet tapping performers and we both enjoyed the show.
The temperature in Singapore was very pleasant and although we had a second day of rain, I could not believe how cool it was.....at night it dropped to 22 degrees (which is practically frosty in Singapore!). We were very impressed with the hotel and I would definately stay there again.
We did "Amy`s Full Tour" on the second day, taking in the Chinatown area, the Bum Boat river trip, Raffles Hotel and although we couldn`t get into The Tiffin Room or The Long Bar (due to lots of SAGA package holidays!) we found tea and scones in the Ah Teng Bakery in Raffles for a pit stop.
Dad and I had read in the press that The Singapore Flyer was open from the 1st March. The Flyer is a newly constructed Giant Observation Wheel, similar to the London Eye and for the moment is the tallest observation wheel in the world at 165m tall (until the one in Beijing is built later this year). So we caught a taxi down to the marina again, to see if we could get on it. Each pod (28 in total) holds 28 people and we had read that the Flyer was booked up for 3 months in advance ! But NO ! There was loads of tickets and we got on straight away for the 30 minute ride. The view took in the whole of Marina Bay, the CBD and river and the construction of the new Grand Prix circuit - for the first one of it`s kind, a night race this September in Singapore. We saw the pits being built, the grandstand and some of the track (although it is a road race, some are still some new roads to construct). Dad was very impressed and made mental notes so when he watches the Grand Prix at home he will know the area !
We met up with our friends Terri and Keith on Thursday evening at their apartment in Robertson Quay, for a drink and then dinner and a local Italian restaurant. Later we walked around the Clarke Quay area and Dad was amazed at the amount of bars and restaurants. Our friend Keith says that if you lived in Singapore for 3 years and went out every night of the week, you still wouldn`t stratch the surface of the restaurants !
We arrived back home in Melaka on Friday afternoon, on Dad`s birthday, after some more shopping and local sightseeing on Emerald Hill. There was a brief rest period of tea and feet up, before we headed out to Bert`s restaurant to meet Neil after work for some dinner and a beer. Stage 1 of the itinery complete and Dad not too exhausted !
This weekend was the highlight of the year for the St Patrick`s Society Committee and the other 700 guests who attended the Ball on Saturday night, to celebrate St Patrick`s Day. The three of us, me, Neil and Dad drove up to KL on Saturday and after collecting a rental tuxedo for Dad in Bangsar we checked into the Hilton Hotel......the venue once again for the Ball.
As I do the newsletter for the Society, this year as last, there was not much else I had to do for the Ball preparations (except taste the menu!), but my fellow colleagues worked very hard in the run up to the ball and on that Saturday with last minute tweeks.
I had bought a new dress from Coast a few weeks ago, had a pair of silver shoes made by the Shoe Man and so I was ready to meet the committee at 6pm that evening for champagne and photos. Dad and Neil came down dressed at 6.30pm to sneak into the VIP room with me and have some Moet too ! Our guests from Melaka made it just in time; Paul and Anne were just arriving into the Hotel when we went down at 7pm to meet the VIP`s and John and Julia were held up for 3 hours in Toni & Guy! Gloria and Peter were already checked in, and were one of the first to come down for drinks at 6.30pm!
The Ball was great. Lots of good food and drink, the two bands which entertained........a local band from KL and the Irish Band who we had last year from Dublin called The Folksmen DC. We called it a night at 1.30am, when we had partied and danced all night.
The following day we made it for breakfast at 10am, to meet some of our fellow partygoers and friends (Gloria and Peter, Olwyn and Bob, Mary and Nanda) down there too. Some had slept in and didn`t make it for breakfast, but we caught up with more friends hanging around reception later! We took Dad`s hire suit back to the shop and then headed north on the highway towards the Cameron Highlands. I did the driving as Neil was a little fragile !
Neil had booked two days off work (Monday and Tuesday) so that we could have a full relaxing weekend after the Ball. The drive to the Cameron Highlands from Melaka one way is 400km (250 miles), but as it lies north of KL, travelling from the city centre would be a shorter journey for us. So we`d decided it was a good opportunity to visit that area, as we`d never been there before.
The journey from KL was fine, taking the E1 North-South Highway, northbound until we reached our turnoff some 2 hours later. The road then took a scenic turn up the sides of mountains, hairpin bends, mostly winding, past Orang Asli (aborigine) villages until some nearly 2 hours later we arrived at our hotel......The Cameron Highlands Resort.
We were keeping an eye on the car`s temperature gauge the whole way up the mountain, as we knew there were cooler temperatures to be found in the Highlands. We started at 33-34 degrees in the lowlands and ended up at 22 degrees !
The hotel was lovely; on a plateau at 1500m (5000ft) opposite the only golf course, with spacious rooms, a spa on site and cosy reception areas with open log fires (Yes, log fires in Malaysia.....but it does drop in temperature in the evenings to 15 degrees!). We checked in and immediately went for Afternoon Tea in the Jim Thompson Tea Room, as we hadn`t had any lunch and it was past lunchtime ! Dad and I made an appointment that afternoon with the Spa Village on site - where we spent 1.5 hours getting pampered and massaged whilst Neil had a good snooze !
The Cameron Highlands were mapped and discovered by William Cameron in 1885, a Scotsman, but only in the late 1920`s was the area developed by the British as a hill station to escape the heat of the lowlands. The British built mock-tudor residences, a golf course, cultivated and planted fruit and tea plantations and then served afternoon tea with strawberry jam grown locally in the cooler temperatures! The altitude of the Highlands are 1300m to 2031m (much higher than Ben Nevis). The Cameron Highlands is also famous for the dissapearance of American Jim Thompson.
Jim Thompson, is credited with reviving the Thai silk industry after WWII, and lived in Bangkok (where we have been to his house there). He used to travel to the Cameron Highlands for walking holidays. One Easter Sunday in 1967 he went out for a stroll in the forest and never was seen again. Was he kidnapped, killed by a tiger ? No-one knows and no body was ever found!
We booked to go on a jungle trail, called by the hotel "The Jim Thompson Mystery Trail" on Monday. Our guide, a Chinese man called Yip was a Naturalist and had an excellent knowledge of the virgin rainforests fauna and flora. The 1km trail started just round the corner from the cottage where Jim Thompson stayed in the jungle and the walk took 3 hours, with many pauses for explanation of forest biodiversity and species identification.
We really enjoyed the cooler Highland temperatures and partook of many cups of tea and scones ! On Tuesday we checked out of the hotel and drove up the winding single-track road to the BOH tea plantations visitors centre at Sungei Palas. BOH tea was started in the 1930`s when a British chap thought that the slopes in the Highlands suited its cultivation. The tea slopes are really magnificent and it is difficult to imagine how the tea pickers harvest the tea on such steep inclines. We got some good hilltop views of the tea plantations, as we ascended towards (but didn`t quite get as far as), Gunang Brinchang, the highest mountain at 2031m.
Sungei Palas has a tea centre where you can see inside the factory where tea is still being made in the same way as since the 1930`s, there is information and video on tea-making and of course a cafe ! After suitable refuelling we started to descend from the Highlands on the 400km journey home to Melaka.......which took us 5.5 hours to reach. A very interesting trip which showed us a cooler side to Malaysia !
This past weekend was Easter, but as Neil doesn`t get Good Friday or Easter Monday as public holidays, it was just a normal weekend for us. However, the hotels in KL put their prices up, in anticipation of not more holidaymakers having time off for Easter, but for influx of visitors for the Malaysian Grand Prix !
Dad and I checked into the Westin Hotel very early on Friday morning, after driving up from Melaka. I had booked us into the Club Floor, which to those of you not familiar with this feature, it is exclusive floor(s) with a Club Lounge where you get breakfast, soft drinks all day, and then from 5.30pm free flow of all drinks and nibbles. as well as internet access etc. After getting settled in, and having our first free coffee and biscuits, we jumped in a taxi and headed over to Chinatown.
I made sure the taxi driver didn`t charge us tourist rates, but letting him know that I was a local and I know how much fares cost ! and then he promptly drove us to Central Market. Central Market in Chinatown is a former wet market (selling fruit and veg, meat and fish) built in the 1930`s in Art Deco style. There has been a market on the site since 1885. It now houses a one-stop shop for tourists, souvenirs and handicrafts at reasonable rates with a good selection. We looked around and did some shopping and then as it was lunchtime I took Dad to one of my favourite eating places in Chinatown, Peter Hoes.
Peter Hoes is an oasis of calm in the centre of bustling Chinatown. It belongs to Peter Hoe himself, a very camp Chinese chap, who is often found mincing about the shop! From the outside you wouldn`t know it existed...it is on the 2nd floor of an office building....but when you get into the shop/cafe it is heaven. We were substantially refuelled on homemade quiche and salad and carried on our tour of Petaling Street, the main throughfare in Chinatown.
Then "Amy`s Grand Tour" took in Masjid Jamek, the old mosque at the confluence of the two rivers where Kuala Lumpur started from, and round the corner to the colonial district and Merdeka square. We were quite hot from walking along the polluted city roads, and took some shelter from the sun and humidity in St Mary`s Cathedral, a very British little white-washed cathedral dating from 1894.
We decided to have a last bit of sightseeing for the day, by walking through the market area of Little India, just as the first few drops of rain started to fall. We hailed a taxi and again, making sure the KL taxi driver didn`t rip us off, headed back to the hotel for some R&R and a swim in the hotel pool.
At 5.30pm Dad and I were ready for the Club Lounge evening cocktails, so we headed up to the 33rd floor, for some nibbles and wine. Neil was on his way up to KL in a taxi from work, and arrived before 7pm (the taxi driver was a bit speedy!), to join us for a beer in the after-work wind down. The storm outside by this time was starting to pick up and the rain had started to belt down.
After suitable refreshment, we headed out to Starhill Gallery, next door to the hotel and part of the Marriott Hotel complex. The Starhill Gallery Feast floor in the basement is fantastic. There are lots of decent restaurants to choose from : Korean, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, International etc. and the decor and ambaince is great. We opted for the Middle eastern, some hommous, baba gnanosh, falafels, kebabs and lebanese bread ! Yum !
Saturday, Neil and I took Dad on a tour of some of the cavenous shopping malls in KL. We walked over to the KLCC mall and a glimpse of the Petronas Towers from the best vantage point, the Sky Bar on the 33rd of Traders Hotel. We then walked back towards The Pavillion mall and lunch back at our hotel in the Prego Italian restaurant. A very nice restaurant I had been to before, but it was Neil`s first time.
We had decided not to go to the Sepang Cicuit for the Formula 1 qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, and luckily Dad found it being shown in the bar of the hotel on the big screen. Neil and I returned to our shopping in The Pavillion mall !
We met up with Dad (who had intended to go for a swim, but a huge storm had started, so he found the sauna in the hotel), back in the Club Lounge at 5.30pm to repeat the eating session. That evening we tried the Thai restaurant in Starhill Gallery, as we couldn`t venture far in the rain, even with our huge golfing umbrellas.
The day of the Grand Prix was Sunday. We headed out of the hotel at 9.30am to get to the Sepang Circuit, less than a hours drive away. We got there in good time and made our way to the grandstand, the same one Neil and I had been to with our friends Sharon and Tim last year. We took in the merchandise stands, caught a glimpse of two of the F1 drivers signing autographs and awaited the pre-races and then the start at 3pm.
The Grand Prix was a sell-out with over 150,000 tickets sold and by the time 3pm came there was no room to move in the 36 degree heat, in our little plastic chairs on the grandstand. We had all put our sunscreen on, hats and covered up pretty well, but I managed to catch the sun on my front (from the glare of the track) and had nice pink lines where my t-shirt had been. Dad and Neil both had a rosy glow on their faces !
The Grand Prix was exciting for Dad to witness, especially the noise of the cars, but nothing eventfull happened. There was no rain to cause any skidding and no spin-offs ! It didn`t take too long to get out of the car park and back onto the highway home, but we were all exhausted from a full day out at the track !
This entry is just to prove to my lovely sisters that Dad did do some relaxing whilst on his holiday here and I didn`t tire him out! We took in the local sights of Melaka, wandering amongst the Chinatown streets, eating, drinking coffee and absorbing the culture.
Dad also enjoyed the pool at our apartment, as well as the spa in the Holiday Inn in town. We had a few walks out along our local beach (what is left of it) to spot wading birds and criticise the careless land reclamation taking place outside our apartment.
So it wasn`t all action.......there was plenty of opportunities for taking things easy!
Since Mum arrived in Melaka for her second visit we have been chillin` and swimmin` and taking it easy. I eventually told her the grand plan that I had for her, and where I would be taking her. Our first destination this week was Kuching in Borneo Malaysia.
Kuching, located in the state of Sarawak was somewhere that Neil and I enjoyed visiting last year and has a really easy-going feel about it. Mum and I caught the Air Asia flight on Sunday and arrived in the Hilton Hotel by 4pm, ready for afternoon tea and scones. Afterwards we stepped out to explore the town, it is a great city as everywhere is compact and within walking distance.
The attraction of Sarawak is not only the town, which as I have mentioned in an earlier blog as it has an interesting British colonial history (and much remains of the British buildings) but also the rainforests and tribal people. The people living in Kuching are even more diverse than Penninsula Malaysia, as the tribal people, Orang Asli (original man i.e. aboriginies) still live in the area.
We took a trip over to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see if we were lucky to spot any Orang Utans (man of the forest). It was hot and sticky in the rainforest and at first there was no sign of any movement in the trees. Then a ranger spotted Delima, a female orangutan and her 4 year old baby Selina, back in the car park area where we`d just walked from ! So we headed back and there they were, hanging around eating some melon.
The Orangutans are not captive, but are recused and rehabilitated into a ranforest reserve where they live freely. So seeing them is just pot luck, as fruit is put out on the feeding platform, and they come if they want to. That day, none of them came to the platform, but Delima and Selina were around the tree canopy along the pathway for a long time, for us to observe them. Baby orangutans stay with their mothers for 6-7 years before they become independant. Selina was breaking branches off and swinging around like a miscievous child !
Mum and I learnt alot in the few days in Kuching about the influence of the British in the region, (and the postive impact it seems to have left), the Chinese people and their history in the area and the tribal people, especially the Orang Biduraya (one of the tribal groups). Mum was surprised by the various people that we met, be it the curator of a museum, a waitress, or a gallery shop assistants` willingness to talk about their life and the culture and changing politics and influences in the country and the genuine friendliness of everyone and their cheerful smiling faces. It left a great impression of Sarawak and Borneo Malaysia.
For the second half of Mum`s holiday in Malaysia, the three of us headed for Langkawi this last weekend for some beach time. Neil is always in need of de-stressing and getting a break from work, so Jeffrey our taxi, took us to the airport straight after collecting Neil from work on Friday.......we were set for a nice long weekend.
We had booked into the Casa Del Mar hotel, where we took Neil`s parents in December, as we had had such a nice holiday and it is a cosy boutique hotel. We knew our way around this time (althought you can`t get lost it is only a small place), and we spent time lounging on the beach, dipping in and out of the sea and checking out the hotel spa on more than one occasion !
We got friendly with the two resident cats at the hotel who loved to sleep on our patio chairs or on the patio, and one morning I was talking to Domino and giving him so much attention that he followed me into our room, so I told him to jump on Neil and wake him up!
We booked the mangrove boat day trip for the three of us, after persuading Mum it wouldn`t be a rickety old boat and was a worthwhile trip to go on. Well she really enjoyed it......seeing the bat cave, the kingfishers and other mangrove birds, as well as the birds of prey up close. The guide we had on Dev`s Adventure tour this time, was not Dev himself but a local Malay chap with again great enthusiasm and interest for the mangroves and their wildlife. He was superb at mimicking the bird calls and told us what birds we were hearing, even though we couldn`t always see them !
We all relaxed and chilled out on the beach and it was nice to be back at Casa Del Mar......the cocktail menu had changed since we were last there, so we had to try a few on the list......including the ones that were more like puddings !
This week six of us friends (Loni, Gaby, Liz, Christine, Hope and myself) returned to Rohani`s house and cookery school in the jungle just on the edge of KL, for another yummy class!
We decided that we wanted the "Breads of Distinction" class that taught us how to make cinnamon rolls, donughts and pita bread.
We arrived at her house on Tuesday morning, to find a few cheeky macaque monkeys sitting on the roof top, leaning over the gutter and trying to see what was going on. They were not frightened by the presence of us and were watching us, as we watched them.
We sat down in the lounge adjoining the kitchen and had a cup of tea and a piece of homemade lemon and poppyseed cake that Rohani has made. Meanwhile the cheeky monkey`s were getting into the open kitchen and eating the raw eggs on the worksurface! We spotted a monkey climbing out of the kitchen window and went to investigate. There was egg shell and egg everywhere, all over the floor, surface and a trail going out the window. On the roof sat a monkey casually eating an egg ! Rohani was amazed as she said they have never done that before.......but I`m sure they will again !
Once Rohani`s house maid had cleaned up the mess, we could get to work, making the dough for the pita bread and the dough for the dounughts/cinnamon rolls. The morning started out quite cool, but once we started putting the ovens on and the hot oil to deep dry the donughts it got quite hot in the kitchen.
Gaby is 8 weeks away from her baby`s due date and Hope is just 3 weeks away ! But they managed to carry on with the baking and the rewards when the goodies were ready was fantastic. We sat down to eat some of the pita bread for lunch, filled with chopped salad and chicken with a lovely harissa mayonnaise (I had an egg option!). We made it all.
The harissa spice mix was whizzed up in the blender and then some of it mixed with mayonnaise to make a dressing/dip. It was gorgeous and we all agreed we`d be making it at home. The chicken was marinated with spices and garlic and my piece I bought home for Neil for his dinner ! He really liked it.
Again we had a fun day out at Rohani`s and some of the other newer ladies in Melaka are interested in doing cookery classes, so we`ll have to arrange another class !
Jenny and Rob were excited and looking forward to spending three weeks in Malaysia and having a well deserved rest from work. They had been counting down the days and finally on Saturday evening they arrived !
This week we have been acclimatising them to the heat and introducing them to Malaysian culture, as well as the ladies-that-lunch expat culture !
A trip around Melaka first, into our favourite café Limau Limau for a fruit juice and shake and then around the streets of Chinatown and up St Paul’s Hill. On the other side of the hill we spotted some trishaw drivers with their bikes, being choreographed into a dance sequence by an Aussie girl (maybe for a TV show?!). It was hilarious to watch and the guys couldn’t get it quite right. In the heat of the sun, it was going to be a long day.
Food has definitely been important and Jen and Rob have come to realise that the Malaysians love their food. We took them to the night market (Pasar Malam) and bought a feast of street food which we bought home to eat. One of the interesting dessert items that Jenny wanted to try was sticky rice flavoured with coconut and coloured with a blue dye. The blue colour comes from the Blue Pea Flower (Bunga Telang), and it is a common ingredient in Nonya dishes (Baba-Nonya or Peranakan is specific to the former Straits settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and is the fusion of Malay and Chinese culture). Anyway whatever we ate that night, and we are blaming the blue dye, as we all had nightmares !
They have already experienced our favourite Indian restaurant, Veni and last night for our 3rd wedding anniversary we had a takeaway feast cooked by my friend Ray. She spent all day cooking a 3-course meal for us which we collected at 5pm and bought home to eat! It saved all the hassle of cooking and it was delicious. We had roasted pumpkin soup for starters, with homemade bread, croutons and a pumpkin seed pesto. Main course was rack of lamb with herb crust and a mushroom and walnut filo parcel for the veggies, accompanied by potoato dauphinoise and steamed vegetables. Even a meat gravy and tomato sauce were provided. The pudding was a rich chocolate mousse....we were full at the end!
More food experiences to come !
Jenny and Rob have been very easy going and have let us guide them on their holiday.....us making plans for them in advance and then telling them as we go along!
We recovered from the great weekend trip to Singapore getting back to Melaka on Sunday tea-time and then getting washed and repacked for the flight to Kuching in Sarawak (Borneo Malaysia) on Monday lunchtime! We arrived in Kuching to find Neil not able to proceed through immigration...we had not brought his passport but his Malaysian Expat identity card (on purpose) as we were doing an internal flight. But as Sarawak has seperate immigration to rest of the other states of Malaysia they didn`t recognise his ID ! So after waiting for the immigration officer to return and getting Neil some paperwork, we were allowed to enter the state! Just as we got into the taxi at Kuching airport the rain started to descend........we all felt like a beer !
Kuching recovered from the rainstorm later that evening and the following day Jen and Rob could see where we had landed. We arranged a trip to the Semonggoh Wildlife centre to see the orangutans. We were lucky to see two females, a mother Sedoku, and her baby Saddam. Jen and Rob really loved to see them and the orangutans were seen swinging in the trees above our heads and came close to get fruit from the rangers. The orangutans at Semenggoh have either been rehabilitated or have been born in the reserve.
We also saw the historical sights of Kuching and ate our way around the city, trying the lovely buffet at the Hilton where we were staying and a restaurant called Magenta were the food highlights (Jen and I did a few laps of the pool, and Neil and Rob worked out in the gym afterwards!).
We hired a car to take us to the Santubong pennisula, on the coast of Sarawak, 33km north of Kuching city. Mount Santubong dominates the skyline at 810m (just smaller than Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England at 978m), where the surrounding areas are largely flat. Our next stop was a B&B, known as a homestay in Malaysia, where we`d booked for three nights for some nature and jungle experiences in the rainforested slopes of the mountain in an area called Damai.
The owner of the B&B was largely absent during the time of our visit, the place was being run by two young housemaids. On the last day of our stay, he even announced that he was going on holiday and we were the only guests, so we`d have the place to ourselves! I thought that very strange indeed. The two pet Borneo hunting dogs, Oscar and Betty, kept us company at the B&B, as we swam in the pool, rested and planned our activities.
We went for a 2km jungle walk, not far from the B&B, up the bottom slopes of Mount Santubong, which took us over streams, fallen trees, rocks and bridges for 2 hours. The experience was nearly cut short, when we could hear wild dogs barking and then approached the river bed cautiously to find them trying to attack a wild boar ! They didn`t see us and thankfully chased it off through the jungle, in the opposite direction to which we were going.
We came across huge ants, and multitudes of them. Other butterflies and insects were abundant, but no monkeys or other large animals. We were all very hot and sweaty when we finally emerged onto the road and had to go home to shower and change!
We booked a dusk wildlife cruise in the Kuching Wetlands National Park, starting at 4.30pm and returning after dark at 8pm. We set off into the esturaries of the Sibu Laut and Salak rivers in a speed boat. The wetlands were gazetted in 2002 and were identified as a RAMSAR (internationally important) wetlands site in 2005. Our eagle-eyed guides showed us Irrawaddy Dolphins in the estuary, Proboscis monkeys and Silver-leaf monkeys in the tops of the mangrove trees, and after dark (which was pretty eerie) fire-flies and large estuarine crocodiles (their red eyes shining in the light!).
We explored the coastline along the Santubong pennisula on our own, taking in some of the Damai hotel beaches which were nicely kept and orderly. We also found a large beach adjoining a traditional Malay village (Santubong village), where hermit crabs were very common on the sand, in beautiful shells and the sand was more like mud-flats. Lots of coconut palms fringed the beach and it was really pretty and totally natural and unspoilt.
We experienced Sarawak culture, by visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village. This lving museum, recreates the different tribal longhouses and traditions of the major ethnic groups in Sarawak, and was very interesting and hands on. We learnt how to fire a blow-pipe arrow from a man wearing not much more that a loin cloth ! Jen and Rob could really appreciate the culture of Borneo Malaysia and how entwined the people are with nature and their surroundings. After all the wildlife encounters and sea air we had, it will be a trip they won`t forget !
This week I took Jen and Rob up to Kuala Lumpur for some more sightseeing and retail therapy. I had been up once before with them and visited Bangsar (where I had some errands to run) and then onto Chinatown to walk the streets and visit the best shop in that part of town, Peter Hoe`s.
This week we booked an overnight stay at Traders Hotel next to KLCC park and near the Petronas Towers. I wanted to get the maximum opportunity for sightseeing, so we headed for our first stop of the day to the Pavillion shopping mall on Bukit Bintang. We were going to try out the new spa sensation sweeping KL for the last few months, have your hard skin on your feet eaten away by Dr Fish !
The treatment originated in Turkey and the species of carp, Garra Rufa are known to eat away dead skin! So after rinsing your feet and legs you immerse your legs into the giant aquarium and let the fish get to work. It was hilarious. We were the first customers of the day, but soon some Aussie tourists had joined us and we were all screaming and howling as the fish tickled, nibbled and massaged our feet.
The 30 minutes or so experience in the aquarium was enough and afterwards we felt a little smoother, but it would probably take many sessions to get rid of all the dead skin on our worn feet!
We headed over to the hotel to check in early afternoon, and after showing Jen and Rob around the facilites - they thought the hotel was very "Gucci" and loved it, we headed out into the KLCC park and the Petronas Towers for some photo opportunites.
I had mentioned to Rob and Jen that if they wanted to go up the twin towers, we`d have to get up early the next morning to get in line and queue for tickets. But just to show them where we`d be going, we headed to the skybridge visitors centre and I was surprised to find that there were still some tickets available for that same day. Usually the tickets, which are free are given out and are all gone by 9am. So we got our tickets for the 5.45pm visit and headed back out for some more sightseeing.
We got on the LRT (subway line) and headed over to Masjid Jamek, the mosque which stands at the confluence of the two rivers, which gives KL it`s name (muddy confluence). We walked around the colonial district and through the area known as Little India, stopping for a refreshment in my favourite old place to hang out, where time has stood still since the 1930`s......The Colesium Cafe and Hotel.
They didn`t know where I was taking them from the outside of the hotel, but inside was a time warp and a little like a Malaysian version of "Cheers". Regular guys st at the bar drinking beer mid afternoon and locals and visitors popping in and lots of banter going on. It was a world away from the rest of KL and modern life and they loved it.
We headed back to the Petronas towers for the skybridge visit (the only access for the public at Level 41 and our hotel`s top floor, the Sky Bar is at Level 33, so it isn`t much higher). I explained to Jen and Rob that both Mum and Dad did not get to go up the towers, due to the availability of tickets/queue, and they agreed that the best view is from Traders Sky Bar looking across to the towers.
We swam in the pool and used the gym at Traders and early evening, went up to the Sky Bar for the best view of the towers (and a drink!), when they are lit at night and the sky gets darker, they shimmer like diamonds.
After a small thunderstorm earlier that day, the evening was cool and we walked back over to Bukti Bintang and to Starhill Gallery for some dinner in the Feast level of that shopping centre. We chose Vansh Indian restaurant - one I hadn`t been to before and Jen and Rob marvelled at the lights and the decor in this fancy food court.
We had a fun trip to KL and saw everything we wanted to. Jen and Rob`s highlight though was definately meeting Dr Fish. I wonder if it will catch on in Reading?!
On Sunday Neil and I joined our friends Gloria and Peter, to attend a wedding celebration of one of the local Foster Wheeler employees, an admin girl called Lynn (her real name is Fuzrahazlin!) to her betrothed, Fandhi. One of the main reasons that people attend a wedding in Malaysia is to eat lunch, quickly pay your respects to the happy couple and leave...you shouldn`t stay too long, that is considered rude!
The wedding ceremony had taken place at the brides parent`s house the day before. The couple are both Malay (Muslin) but I`ve no idea if the ceremony was religious or not. The couple had the wedding celebration the following day again at the bride`s parent house (or realistically on the road outside in the middle of the village), and invited everyone (and I mean everyone) and as I said the first priority is to feed them all!
We arrived at 1pm (the invite said 11am to 4pm) and we were ushered quickly past the trestle tables where everyone was eating with their hands, to a smaller tent with 6 round tables each seating six people, with blue and white coloured linen and cutlery and VIP signs on top! Along with Graham, our friend and work colleague, the five of us sat down to eat the already laid out buffet within the lazy susan on the table (beef curry, chicken curry, squid in sambal sauce, curried vegetables, rojak, mock-veggie-chicken, fermented rice and sambal beans). More food was brought out to us to make sure we didn`t go hungry; biriyani rice, goat curry, followed by cendol and a fruit platter for dessert.
We all fancied a beer or G&T, but being a Muslim wedding we could only get water or sweet sickly cordial ! It was hot under the tent, but as soon as we`d eaten we were up and wandering around, waiting for the bride and groom to appear (they were already over 1 hour late.........but this is Malaysia!).
The bride appeared from her family home, looking pretty but with alot of make up on, accompanied by a matron of honour and a "lady" holding a parasol. The "lady" was another she-man (as they say in Malaysia) and I was surprised that we had also seen one over a year ago at the other Malay wedding we attended, but you NEVER see these "ladies" around (not like you do in Thailand).
After seeing banners around the street sporting the couple`s photograph we noticed the groom had a uniform on and looked like an officer, but couldn`t identify it. We found out that he is a police inspector and some of his colleagues were in attendance with their swords to make an arch for the couple to walk under.
The groom then appeared to "Scotland the Brave" coming out of the loudspeaker! The bagpipes ringing out made Gloria and Peter feel right at home (they are from west of Glasgow), and we all felt like doing the Highland Fling! We couldn`t for a moment guess why they were playing this very Scottish anthem, unless the police force had some association with Scotland when it was established or just used the song as a military march ? Who knows ?! But all the time during our lunch they had been playing very Malay songs, so it was a complete contrast.
We paid our respects to the bride and groom (us white people were ushered in first of course, after the parents), who were then seated on thrones in the tent by placing flower petals on their hands, and in return receieving a decorative hard boiled egg on a stick (a traditional Malay custom, to thank each guest for coming...you are supposed to eat it when you get home too!).
Each Malay wedding is largely the same, short and sweet. After we left the rest of the attendees to pay their respects, the happy couple would then eat their wedding lunch, in an already laid out little side tent with their families, but the food they would be eating, was already laid out on the tables when we arrived, getting hotter.......and the wedding cake melting...... What happens in 32 degree heat, leaving chicken and vegetables out on a table for over 3 hours.....does the chilli and spices stop the food from spoiling ?! I wouldn`t like to take that risk !
Neil and I have been enjoying going to yoga for some six months now, since a new yoga studio opened in town…one that wasn’t taught in Chinese, and one that didn’t involve a harsh drill routine, like most Malaysian (Chinese) yoga classes !
Our favourite teacher at the studio is Deepak, an Indian chap (not Malaysian Indian but from India), who came to the studio as a new teacher a few months ago.
His classes are fun and the most important thing is that you relax, have fun and smile ! He tells us that if we have strain on our faces, we’ll get wrinkles so we should smile and say “cheese” in the postures. He believes that yoga is important for healthy living and a way to respect your body and mind.
Deepak had worked with Zee TV Channel in Mumbai as well as with other film and stage productions as an actor, model, dancer and choreographer. In the past few months, we have discovered his love for dancing….. When Jenny and Rob were visiting us last month, we spotted Deepak one Saturday night dancing solo at the Geographer café to the wonderful Mr Burns on keyboards ! He was having a whale of a time.
Then one evening, when Neil and I were waiting for the class to start, he arrived and told us we would do some Bollywood dancing as a warm-up routine. So we just followed him and were laughing all the time ! This was the start of things to come……..
He recently started a Yoga Dance class at the studio and I have been attending for lessons in Bollywood dancing. Now as you may or may not know, each Bollywood film is a musical with catchy song and dance routines which tell a story. They are often melodramatic routines, usually involving a man and woman explaining their love, or one chasing the other !
During the Yoga Dance, (which I must add is a complete aerobic workout, remember we are doing these classes in no air-conditioning in 32 degree heat !), we are learning the basics of Bollywood dancing. The music and lyrics tell the story and it is not just the dance routine, but the facial expressions which are all part of it ! Deepak explains to us what the lyrics of the music is saying (it’s all in Hindi and usually about love) - what the girl is saying to the boy – that she doesn’t fancy him, and he saying to her that he loves her !
Bollywood dancing is a mix of different Indian classical dance styles. One of the famous ones is Bhangra, a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region of India. Bhangra began as a folk dance conducted by farmers for expression of celebration. Bhangra commemorated the coming of the Spring and marked the birth of the new harvest, Today, Bhangra has been hailed by many as the world’s fastest growing dance and musical form.
The dancing is very expressionist and as I am usually the only white person (matsalay) in the class, surrounded by Chinese women, but we all have such a laugh and are in hysterics when Deepak demonstrates the moves and acts out the drama of the song with his moves and expressions ! It is great fun and a good workout too !
Today we had the first farewell event of the summer, the Melaka Ladies coffee morning, to say goodbye to Jill, Barbara, Gary and Vartika. Each of them has been active in the expat group here through participation in the sports, mahjong and events etc. and in the next few weeks they are all leaving for pastures new.
I will really miss Jill, who is our neighbour, along with husband Damian and daughter Maddison, the corridor already seems quiet without them (they have moved out to the Holiday Inn already after their shipment was packed up last week). They are starting a new posting in Delhi, India in two weeks time and are all very excited about the move. They spent a week there in May, sussing out schools, houses, and everything in between. I quite fancy a trip to Delhi....when you`ve got a guide to show you around !
Gary, our very own house husband (although he and Katy, his Foster Wheeler girlfriend are not yet married), is returning to the delights of Basingstoke. Katy wants to return to FW Shinfield but Gary, after being a house husband for 6 months is not so keen, and loves the leisurely expat life. A former prison teacher, he is not looking forward to having to get a job back home, and is already planning a diving holiday to the Carribbean for this winter, to escape the blues!
Barbara is another friend who I shall miss around the place. Although our paths cross occasionally and unplanned mostly (in the market, in the condo car park, and at coffee mornings), she is a lovely lady. Orignally from Switzerland, she and her husband and three lovely daughters now call San Diego in the USA home. So it is there she will return to this summer, so that her girls can continue their education in decent schools (the ones here in Melaka leave alot to be desired!). San Diego is a fantastic town by all accounts, so hopefully one day we`ll get there and say hello !
Lastly is Vartika, an Indian lady, whose husband has been working for the client on Neil`s project all the time we have been here, but Neil worked with her husband Shyam at Foster Wheeler 10 years ago in Reading! They are moving on to a new posting in Paris, so are trying to brush up on the ole Francais!
It is sad to say goodbye to friends, and it one of the hardest things about expat life.....the leaving part. But it is always is handy to have new places to visit on holiday when you know people scattered around the world !
Neil and I left Malaysia last weekend, to return to Thailand for a fix of everything Thai – mostly the food of course ! We had never visited Chiang Mai, in the far north of the country when we lived in Thailand, but had heard of it being a favourite backpacker destination.
We had a nice 4 day weekend planned in Chiang Mai – which means new walled city – and only a 2 hour 20 minute flight from KL bought us straight into the mountainous north. We had expected, as told by many, that it would be cooler in the region than the 31-33 degrees we are used to everyday in Melaka. So we packed a few cardigans and long trousers, even if only for the night times, but were surprised how hot it was, and exactly the same temperate as Melaka with no difference in the evening.
We arrived by taxi to our hotel, Rimping Village, a new boutique (i.e. small!) hotel, of which there are many in the city. Our hotel was located near the Ping River, on the opposite bank to the old walled city and famous night bazaar. The staff were wonderful and helpful, although I was surprised at the number of European families staying at the hotel…the kids dive bombing into the small pool…..why weren’t they are school?!
We decided to explore the town on foot first and get our bearings. After purchasing the Nancy Chandler map of the city (we used to use her Bangkok map), which is good for the tourist and expat alike, we headed towards to old city.
The old part of Chiang Mai is a neat square bounded by moats and what is left of the defensive brick walls. The city started construction in 1296 and was formerly part of the kingdom called Lan Na Thai (million Thai rice fields), after 200 years of Burmese rule in 1775 the city was recaptured. Chiang Mai joined Siam only in 1933.
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples or Wats as they are known in Thailand. When we lived in Thailand, Neil used to get ‘templed out’ from seeing so many Buddha’s and Wats everywhere we went. But you can’t come to an ancient city and not see a few Wats?! So we tried our best to get to the recommended ones and a few more along the way, but it was difficult remembering the names of them and whereabouts in the city they were located. The map was invaluable.
We then explored the city by bike. The hotel lent them out free of charge and after some seat height adjustment from the trusty handyman with a spanner, we were off. We could cover much more ground than on foot, and the little streets were perfect for riding around. We could stop for refreshments anywhere and lock our bikes up outside, it was just perfect! There are lots of motorbikes in Chiang Mai (as in the rest of Thailand), and lots of Baht buses which you hail and ride (like we were used to living in Pattaya). But in addition, a very common form of transport in the city is the tuk-tuk. For just 80p you can ride for a few miles and go anywhere in the city. We always think of Gus when we see tuk-tuks, as when he visited us in Thailand, he wanted to ship one home!
After all the biking around town, we managed to squeeze into the sightseeing a 3 hour spa treatment, in the RarinJunda wellness spa resort, located only a few minutes bike ride from our hotel. We were buffed and scrubbed first, after a shower, then a full facial and full body massage. Afterwards we were led to a lovely lounge where there was free tea and coffee, cakes, fruit, mango and sticky rice…….yum! We left the spa feeling refreshed and ready for more experiences.
Doi Suthep or Suthep mountain overlooks the city at an elevation of 1676m (5500ft i.e much higher than Ben Nevis). We arranged for a taxi to take us up the mountain to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top and then onto Bhubing Palace – the winter residence of the Thai royal family.
The first stop at the Wat, involved a climb of 306 steps from the road to the temple, a route lined with Naga (serpent-snake beings). This Wat is one of the north`s most sacred temples and was first built in 1383. At the top, weather permitting, you have a fine view of the city below. We were lucky to have a clear view and no rain and it was lovely and cool (probably about 21-23 degrees).
Onto Bhubing Palace, and it is only the gardens which are open to the public. You can’t even really get a good view of the palace itself (it is relatively new), only a partial rear view, amongst the rose gardens (of which there are many). We wandered around the gardens accompanied by hidden speakers in the shrubbery, which were playing tranquil relaxing music.
The restaurants around town as we discovered, were great. The local specialty is Khao Soy, a wheat noodle soup with chicken, shallots and cabbage. There are lots of Veggie Thai restaurants in the city, and they are also versatile in that they serve meat as well, so we were both happy.
We were delighted with the street markets. Every evening there is a market, selling mostly touristy t-shirts, clothes and gifts along the road and in covered markets known as the Night Bazaar. In addition on a Satuturday night there is another, less touristed market and on Sunday the famous Walking Street market. This market puts our Jonker Street market in Melaka to shame ! From 4.30pm on Sunday they close the street off to traffic and the stallholders set up. Everything from home made gifts, food stalls, clothes, lamps... anything ! It is such a calm and relaxed atmosphere along a 1km stretch of road with most side streets particpating too. We managed to find a few things to buy and spoke to some nice stallholders along the way. Everybody stood still and silent in the street at 6pm, when the national anthem was played over the loudspeakers in the street. We know how patriotic the Thai people are, and remember the anthem from the radio and cinema, when it is played everyday at 8am and 6pm and before a film is shown (everyone stands up). Can you imagine that happening in the UK now ?
We didn`t have time to see more of the city surrounds......elephants, trekking, hill tribe villages to name some of the other interesting sights. We would be tempted to return to Chiang Mai, and given not just the number of western backpapers, but couples of all ages and families, it is a great holiday destination with a wide appeal (and not too many sexpats!).
This month on July 8th, after years of application and former rejection, the city of Melaka has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO status aims to protect natrual and cultural heritage and promote conservation (maybe now the old shophouses in Melaka will get a coat of paint!).
UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scienfic and Cultural Organisation) meet in Paris to decide whether global sites of interest should be protected. The idea was developed after WWI, but it wasn`t until 1959, when the Aswan Dam project threatened the Abu Simbel temple, that the organisation was formed officially.
Also on this new UNESCO listing is Georgetown in Penang, another one of the Straits Settlements, with whom there has been rivalry. The following is the extract from the UNESCO description of the two places as they share similar histories...
“Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca (Malaysia) have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia. “
You can view the global list of UNESCO sites, of which there are loads in the UK at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list
This weekend Neil, Mum and I jetted off on the 1 hour 20 min flight to Krabi, Thailand. It was arranged to coincide with my birthday on Monday, but also Mum had booked to come out and see us, so we thought let`s book a weekend away!
Krabi is a coastal province in southern Thailand famous for it`s karst topography. There are more than 200 islands off the coast, lots of beaches and sheer limestone cliffs (good for rock climbing). The area is famous as being a film set for the films "The Beach" with Leo DeCaprio and "The Man with the Golden Gun"....Bond.......James Bond.
We had booked the Amari Vogue resort, a new 6-month old resort in the quiet area of Tubkeak Beach, a really unspoilt area with little development. The nearest village of Ao Nang, a famous touristed area, was a 25 minute taxi ride away.
We arrived lunchtime on Friday and first thing was of course to eat! We checked out the resort facilities. The rooms were spacious with big bathrooms and balconies and absolutely huge beds - the largest we`d ever seen - you couldn`t find each other in the bed at all!
Later on that day, we bumped into Neil`s work colleague Tony Jones and his wife Nancy, also on holiday for the weekend from Melaka! What a coincidence....you can`t escape anywhere these days! Tony and Neil work together and he and his wife are very sociable chatty couple from the West Midlands (Brummy-land!).
That afternoon, the sea was calling for a dip, but as Mum and I tried to go in for a swim we realised how rough the waves were and how shallow the water was. No matter how much we waded out, we were only up to our knees! It was exhausting getting battered by the waves. The next few days though, the waves calmed to a mill pond and the sea was inviting and great for swimming (though it was a sandy bottom with no coral reefs nearby for snorkelling).
I phoned one of the dive operators in the area, Kontiki Divers, and spoke to a lovely Danish girl who said their next dive trip was going out to Koh Phi Phi. So Neil and I booked ourselves onto the trip, with Neil going as a snorkeller.
We were picked up at 7am the next day.....the weather was thunder and lightning along with heavy rain as we departed for the little port some 40 mins drive away. As we got aboad the long tail boat to get out to the dive boat moored offshore, the weather cleared and the sun started to shine. We then had a 2 hour boat ride to the Phi Phi islands.
Phi Phi comprises two islands, Phi Phi Leh and Phi Phi Don, the former is an uninhabited island with sheer limestone cliffs and the latter is a larger island with resorts popular with tourists (devastated in the tsunami but largely rebuilt).
We were diving around Phi Phi Leh and I had two nice dives, diving with a British girl Emily and a German chap called Marcus (we were the experienced divers of the group!). We saw lots of fishes.......two turtles, clownfish, lionfish, barracudas, triggerfish etc. Neil was feeling a little green and was pretty sick on the boat journey out, so didn`t snorkel until the afternoon. A few of the divers were sea-sick and for the first time, after the second dive, I too sucumbed to the sickness !
It was a well organised dive trip though and the staff (all Scandinavian or British, with a Thai boat crew) really looked after us all day. It turned out to be a long day out and we finally got home at 6.30pm that evening, to return to Mum at the resort.
Krabi is really a relaxing beach destination, with lots of watery activities, like scuba diving, kayaking, boat trips around the islands etc. We visited Ao Nang village for some alternative scenery, and it was a quiet tourist resort, with mostly mid-range and backpacker hotels, but a nice beach and lots of restaurants.
The Amari resort, where we stayed also had a spa on site, so we just had to check it out! Neil and I opted for a body scrub and massage and Mum had a facial. The trouble was that I picked to have the chocolate body scrub.......so when the therapist was applying the scrub.....I was getting really hungry as it smelt delicious !
We left the hotel Monday morning for the flight back to KL. After returning home late that afternoon, I could finally open my cards and presents waiting for me....thanks to all my friends and family for all the emails and nice birthday surprises!
Yesterday Mum and I went over to my friend Ray`s house on Tiara Golf Club for a cookery lesson. A couple of weeks ago Loni and I had discussed with Ray about hosting a class, as she is such a good cook and used to run her own restaurant in KL for many years. Being an Indian Malaysian, we asked Ray if she could do us an Indian cookery class, and she agreed readily!
So the group of ladies assembled; Myself, Mum, Loni, Liz, Christine, Janelle, Gloria, Sandie and her friend, a new Korean lady Rhea, and we were all allocated different dishes to take care of. The preparation and chopping of vegetables we each did individually and then Ray called us together to show us all how to cook each dish. The menu comprised Chicken tikka masala, Dhall curry, pakoras, dhall cakes, raita, lassi,cucumber salad, mint chutney, mango chutney and lemon basmati rice......what a feast !
During the morning Ray also devised a quiz for us all, based on Indian cookery questions....ingredients, origins of dishes etc. most of which was guess work but fun. Liz was the winner and Ray gave her an Indian spice box for all the herbs and spices, as a prize.
We were getting hungrier as the morning went on, and although Ray provided tea, coffee and some pastries we couldn`t wait to tuck into the lunch we`d made. Finally after helping lay the table and making the last minute lassi drink at 1.45pm we could sit down to eat!
We even went home with a doggy bag of food (for Neil`s dinner) and some little gifts from Ray of spices, incense and a home made Indian body scrub powder made by herself. A very enjoyable and sociable morning, and Mum thoroughly enjoyed it !
This weekend Malaysia celebrated Indepedence (Merdeka) Day with parades and festivities. By coincidence, immediately following the celebrations on 31st August, the holy month of Ramadan started on 1st September. The two public holdidays on Monday (for Merdeka) and Tuesday (for Ramadan) allow the locals to visit their families and for the Malays, prepare themselves for the month ahead of fasting.
Usually everyone heads for Melaka on a public holiday weekend, so we decided to escape! KL is usually quiet as everyone has left, so it is a good time to avoid the usual weekend crowds. Neil and I decided to head up to KL to see some other parts (by which I mean restaurants!) which we hadn`t seen before.......and as time is short with our looming departure from Malaysia we want to get in as much as possible !
We arrived in Bangsar first for some errands, then off to our favourite Italian restaurant, Opus for lunch. I had wanted to try a newish hotel in the KLCC area, called the Hotel Maya, and billing itself as a boutique urban retreat, I was intrigued. We checked in on Saturday afternoon and were impressed with the nice decor and clean lines, but it was somewhat lacking on staff enthusiam and the atmosphere was missing. Anyway, it was not expensive and had all the facilites we needed, so we checked in and then headed out into town for some shopping.
New restaurants are always popping up in KL, and so we walked over to Changkat Bukit Bingtang - a street lined with good restaurants, where the expats hang out. We opted for Flam`s for dinner - an Alsace/Mediterranean restaurant run by a French chap. The food was lovely and we managed three courses and wine!
On Sunday after leaving the hotel, we drove to the nearby KL Bird Park. The park located in the Lake Gardens area of KL, just out of the city centre, was opened in 1991. It covers 21 acres of valley and is supposed to be the world`s largest free-flight walk-in aviary. Basically there is a big canopy net which stops the birds escpaing, and it`s like you are just walking though a park.
There are different zones within the park containing water birds, parrots, birds of prey etc. Peacocks and cattle egrets walk around everywhere. My favourite birdies were the parrots, love birds, lorikeets etc as they are so vocal and colourful. You really don`t realise the city is only 10 mins away when you are in the Lake Gardens, it is so peaceful and lush.
Of course we had to have lunch somewhere before heading back, so stopped in at Ginger Retaurant in Central Market, to prepare us for the journey down the highway. After all that food, we were both really snoozy on the way home!
This week Liz, Loni and myself jetted off for a weekend of sun, sea and cocktails! We had all wanted to visit the Perhentian Islands off the East coast of Malaysia for ages and when someone suggested a girl`s trip......we said why not?!
Pulau Perhentian (Pulau is island in Malay), lies off the coast of Terangganu state and is located within a designated national marine park. A 55 minute flight from KL to the state capital of Kelantan, is Kota Bharu, which is actually closer to the port than the airport located at Kuala Terangganu (the state capital of Terangganu). These states are rich in Malay custom and are the most conservative Muslim states in Malaysia, away from the beach resorts of course.
We were collected at the airport by the resort mini-bus and drove over an hour south to the small port town of Kuala Besut. There we met Jimmy the resorts sales manager (and brother to the owner) and had a few minutes to relax before boarding the "Tuna Express" to our resort "Tuna Bay" located on Perhentian Besar (big island).
The Perhentian Islands, lie some 45 mins (20km) off-shore and comprise two islands seperated by a narrow strait; big and small island.
Tuna Bay resort had been recommended to me by various friends in KL, who had been there many times for holidays. We duly arrived, checked in and found our chalet, just a few seconds walk from the powdery white sand beach and crystal clear blue water.
Our objective of the holiday.....as I mentioned were lots of snorkelling, diving (for me) and testing the cocktails in the bar. Our resort had the only bar serving cocktails on the islands! The resort was fully booked, and most of the guests were European couples in their 30`s and a few families with small children.
On the beach outside the resort, boat taxi`s were always available to take you to a deserted beach and pick you up a few hours later, at your convenience. So we decided the first thing to do was try one of the beaches, after a recommendation from a boat taxi to try Turtle Beach, we set off !
Turtle Beach, as the name suggests has nesting turtles at certain times, so is sometimes off limits. We arrived after a 10 minute boat ride, to find we had the tropical beach to ourselves. Seeking some shade for our towels and stuff, we quickly got in the water and set off snorkelling around the reefs. A can say that the reefs were some of the prettiest and unspoilt I have seen so close to shore. Lots of fishes : schools of fusiliers, clownfish, triggerfish, boxfish, damselfish and sergeant fish..... Two large humphead wrasse feeding around the coral were amazing. Loni and I took lots of underwater photos with her camera, so I will add some of those when I get them from her.
The next day I dived with Universal Divers, operated by Turkish, Danish and Malaysian divemasters, who were very friendly. The dive did not have great visibilty, there was lots of "snow" in the water, so I decided to stick with the snorkelling from then on with Loni and Liz. We went to many snorkelling locations around the islands, avoiding jellyfish, being amazed at large green turtles feeding on the sandy bottom, clownfish, cuttlefish, spotted stingrays, butterflyfish, pufferfish to name a few!
The resort delivered in respect of the cocktails. We ordered margaritas at the bar which were the best we`d had in Malaysia! The barman knew our order each evening, so just said "another 3 margaritas?!". What more do you need ?
Watch this space for more photos to be added from Loni and Liz`s cameras.
On Saturday, we celebrated the birthday of Brendan who turned 50, and Peter who turned 60. Two Scotsmen from Glasgow ; one Celtic and one Rangers supporter who are both working with Neil on the refinery project.
The venue was Cliff`s bar and restaurant - Sunset Retreat, which is a regular hang-out of the Foster Wheeler chaps after work and funnily enough 10 years ago was Brendan`s house, when he was working in Melaka on a previous FW job!
The party started with a free bar and then the band. A five piece local band of Malaysians aged in their 50`s and 60`s, who belted out a variety of hits old and new. The food was buffet style and in between dancing and chatting we had a lovely evening with our friends. We`ll miss them all when we have to leave in 6 weeks time !
This weekend, I took Neil to the same beach haven where I had visited only two weeks ago, with my girlfriends..... Tuna Bay Resort in the Perhentian Islands. It was such a lovely quiet, relaxed place, that I was sure that Neil would enjoy it. He needed to wind down from work and do nothing, so that is what we did!
We lazed around the beach, went snorkelling over the coral reefs and got followed round by all the sergeant fish who thought we`d come to feed them bread. The furthest we ventured from our chalet was to the cocktail bar and restaurant, only a few steps away!
The chap in charge of the bar, as I discovered last time, made really good cocktails, so I just had to introduce them to Neil. We sipped our Mai Tai`s, Margartia`s, Blue Opal`s and my favourite new discovery Caprinia........whilst the sun set over the water. Heaven !
This weekend we planned our last trip down to Singapore before we leave Malaysia. It is inconceivable that we will never return to Singapore as it is an amazing city-state. Exactly five years ago this month, Neil and I visited Singapore for the first time, on holiday from Thailand. We had a great holiday, but didn`t feel like Singapore was truly Asia. Over the past two years we have grown to appreciate it fully and realise that it is a meeting point of Eastern and Western cultures and unique in the world.
We tried another hotel for this weekend, The Intercontinental, one we hadn`t stayed at before (it was lovely). Our plan for the weekend was to see new things we hadn`t seen in Singapore before, and say goodbye to our friends Terri and Keith.
We met up with Terri and Keith for the champagne Sunday brunch at The Hyatt hotel`s Mezza 9 Restaurant. A 3.5 hour sitting where you can eat as much as you can from 9 different "food stations" and the waiters top you up constantly with free-flow Mumm Champagne ! It was a difficult job but someone had to do it !
Terri and Keith will also be leaving Asia in December. They arrived in Singapore from Seoul, just before we arrived in Malaysia from Seoul. Now they are leaving just after us to return back to their "home-town" of Seattle, USA (they are both originally from Crawley, East Sussex !). We do hope to see them in Seattle one day and see a new part of the world.
Neil and I visited some sights over the weekend we hadn`t done before. We drove to the western part of the state, to Changi prison (still in use as a prison), to visit the Changi Chapel museum. The museum documents the Allied POW`s suffering during the the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WWII. A moving account and reminder of the times.
We also visited East Coast Park, an amazing 10km boulevard of shady paths where you can skate, bike, walk and eat. If you don`t have any of the equipment, you can hire bikes, tandems, rollerblades etc. When you look out to sea across the Straits of Singapore, you can see Indonesia and the huge number of ships waiting to be bought and sold, in a huge ship car park !
Our final destination was Jurong Bird Park, to get a glimpse of nature in Singapore, done the Singaporean way i.e. well ! The weather wasn`t that great, and although we started out dry, the rain began and we had to run for cover. The birds didn`t seem to mind the rain.......well it always rains in Singapore, but at least it is warm rain !
Neil and I have been saying goodbye to our friends we have made during the past 2 years here in Malaysia and trying to see everyone we can, before we leave for good on Friday evening.
It all started a few weeks ago, with a joint farewell party in KL for us and Mary & Conor (long term Committee members, who have moved to Dubai), from the St Patrick`s Society. Max and Betty hosted the party at their house and we had a good Irish sing-song into the wee hours with Ron on guitar. The Society gave us some lovely gifts to remember Malaysia.
I hosted a "pot luck lunch" at our apartment last Wednesday. The Melaka Ladies came over to say goodbye and gave me a parting gift of a lovely Chinese tea set. I also got a surprise delivery of two flower displays from the ladies too - it was all quite emotional !
Next was the ABWM (British Ladies) in KL on Friday. I had to make one final trip up there to handover all my files and knowledge for the Christmas Bazaar, which I have been organising, and leave just one week before it will take place ! The ladies took me out to lunch at Opus in Bangsar which was, as usual, lovely.
Neil thought it appropriate to share a farewell drink with any Foster Wheeler employee who happened to be at Cliff`s bar on Friday evening.....! The usual crowd were there, and the ringing of the ships bell at the bar, indicates a round for everyone there......so he rang away!
Next came our farewell party last Saturday night. We had asked our friend Ray to do the catering for the event, and she delivered her lovely food as we had anticipated. The assembled gathering of thirty-five of our closest friends, was a little squishy in our apartment, but everyone enjoyed themselves........and the food ! Ray cooked home-made pates and dips which we served on small french bread slices as canapes. Then the curries, rice, veggies, poppadums and mango chutney.........all home made. The desserts were made by myself, Loni and Christine, and they were swarmed on by our hungry guests not quite full !
Gloria and Peter, two of our best friends here, were away in the Cameron Highlands for the week with visitors, so couldn`t make the party. They instead offered to take us out to dinner last week at the Holiday Inn. Julia came along too, as she was leaving for work in Thailand and would be away past our leaving date. Gloria & Peter gave us some farewell Scottish gifts to remember them by, which was very sweet. I`m sure we`ll see them one day in Scotland.
Loni and Kent took us out last night to our favourite Thai restaurant, The Purple Elephant. Loni gave us a framed cross-stitch baby Orang-Utan she had made herself, which was a lovely reminder of Malaysia. The owner of the restaurant Jenny, was also sad to see us go, and gave us a farewell gift too! She gave us some purple wicker baskets for food storage.
Michelle came round at the weekend with a gift of a painting on canvas of the Malaysian national flower, the Hibiscus, which I got framed this week. She is very talented and I`ll have to find a good place to hang it (when we get a nice big house!).
We have made some great friends here, no doubt we`ll be seeing some of them again as we travel the world, and will keep in touch with the closest ones.
So there is not much more to be done. I have seen my nail lady Raquel for one final manicure and pedicure and hope to see Jeffrey our taxi man at the end of the week. One final trip to Selvam`s Indian restaurant on Friday with the girls, for the veggie special lunch and it will be complete.
The closing of one chapter and start of the next and a whole new adventure..............!
We arrived after 24 hours of travelling (plus a 9 hour time difference) in the district known as Kagurazaka in Tokyo. We exited the subway and knew the apartment was closeby…….eventually we worked out it was only a few metres along the little road where we stood called Kagurazaka–dori (dori means street).
We noticed that the apartment building was very new, and once we found out how to get into the building, we located our "compact" apartment on the ground floor. We showered, unpacked and then went back out into the street to find something for dinner...jet lag makes you hungry ! We found some small supermarkets and lots of little restaurants and cafes lining the street but opted for a family restaurant directly opposite our building.
Today, after a good lie-in, on our way out to explore the area, we were greeted by the apartment Building Manager, a young girl who wanted to make sure we were okay and settled in. The building common areas are small but we observed the scrupulously clean garbage disposal area in the building, where you place all your sorted and segregated waste (resources, combustible, in-combustible, and all recycling in neat bundles). The Japanese really know what they are doing with rubbish !
This morning the first goal was to find the walking route for Neil to the Karate Dojo and explore some of the area. Armed with the street map we found our own little district on our doorstep really cute, full of interesting nooks, shops and restaurants and even nicer in the sunshine. Eventually after walking the long-way-round, we found the Dojo and went for a tour of the building. The staff were happy to let us nosey around and afterwards we found a more direct route from the Dojo on the way home, which was about 15-20 minute walk.
Just settling into the apartment now and trying to work out all the remote controls and what they do ! More to explore in the area tomorrow........and Neil will try his first lesson of karate !
Neil set off full of excitement this morning, in anticpiation of his first Karate training and came out beaming when I met him afterwards, as we set off exploring the area beyond the Karate Dojo.
Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens is a special historic and scenic park in the heart of Tokyo, just a few minutes walk from the Karate Dojo. The gardens were constructed during the Ming Dynasty, by the ruler Mitsukuni. The name Korkuen was derived from Chinese, and means “the garden for enjoying power later on” (what on earth does that mean?!) We visited the gardens today, and discovered the Japanese maple trees still have their leaves in autumn colours, it was lovely to see the trees and the birds chirping in the middle of the city. The ducks were dabbling on the lake and local people were enjoying the scenery and a stroll in the park.
Tokyo Dome adjoins the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, and is home to the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. The stadium was built in 1988 and has a capacity of between 55,000 and 63,000. It is often used as a venue for concerts, and in fact Sheryl Crow is playing in one of the halls there this week !
Tokyo Dome City is an amusement complex surrounding the stadium, and comprises a theme park (a very high and steep rollercoaster which rises above all the buildings, log flume, the worlds first spokeless Ferris wheel), cinemas, bowling alley etc. as well as shops and restaurants. We visited the Moomin bakery & café, a theme café of the Finnish Moomintroll cartoons which used to be on TV when we were younger. The coffee was pretty pricey, and I noticed that Neil was the only man in the café……it was full of young mums with toddlers and women !
More exploring to follow........!
The weather has been balmy these past two days with daytime temperatures between 16 and 18 degrees ! Today we met up with our friend Julia (of Jon and Julia our English friends from Melaka), who was in Tokyo with her hubby Jon who happened to have a business trip with Foster Wheeler.
We have been exploring the subways and getting across town and decided to introduce Julia to the delights of rail travel. We bought a Passmo card, which is like an Oyster card for travel, you top it up and ride the subways, buses and buy things with it (like drinks from vending machines).
We ventured over to Hiro-o, an area we had been to a few years ago on holiday to visit the National Azabu supermarket for those exciting had-to-find imported foods like HP sauce and Weetabix. When we lived in Korea we thought this supermarket was the bees-knees, and well stocked, but now coming from Malaysia/UK, we found it poorly stocked…..it is just what you get used to. We were really lucky in Malaysia being able to buy foreign goods in most supermarkets (not the full range of course, but the basics like Marmite and Weetabix!).
The price of goods is obviously at an all time high in Japan at the moment with our exchange rate being poor, so when a box of 12 Weetabix costs 3 pounds, you think twice about buying it ! I did manage to convince Neil we did need cheddar cheese, nothing fancy, just the normal stuff which for a normal-sized block was 6.50 pounds!
So the upshot was that we really thought about what we needed to buy, and decided against the Weetabix. The area of Hiro-o is quite upmarket and we had frequented one of the coffee shops previously on our holiday. This time walking past the very same coffee shop, we saw a woman holding a pet rabbit in a blanket on her chest, whilst sitting having a coffee. The bunny looked quite content, but it was funny !
Using the subway we got off one station down at Roppongi, to have a little look around. Roppongi (for those of you who know Seoul, is the Itaewon of Tokyo). It is strip clubs, nightlife and restaurants, but not “real” Tokyo, it’s where the foreigners have traditionally lived. Roppongi Hills, just down the street from the “action” however, is a five year old, upmarket complex of Conran serviced apartments, shops, restaurants and art museum.
With Julia in tow, we headed off for Odaiba. This area is in the middle of Tokyo Bay, built on reclaimed land and when you arrive on the driverless monorail, the area feels a little strange, spacious – like it doesn’t fit in (it has too much space!). We found ourselves at the Fuji TV headquarters which is a huge building dominating the area, topped with a 1200 tonne sphere, which serves as an observation deck. We took the lift to the 25th floor and got an impressive view of the Tokyo skyline, but Mount Fuji was unfortunately obscured by clouds and smog.
Julia tried her hand at newscasting, but with the autocue in Japanese, her ad-libbing on sports went askew, and she fell into fits of laughter!
We got into the Christmas spirit at Shiodome area (which is very modern and contemporary) where there were lots of sparkly lights on Christmas displays ....and after a sneaky peak in the Conrad hotel (we couldn`t afford the coffee in there!)....we went our seperate ways on the subway home for a rest and feet-up!
My first day began with a visit to the Japan Karate Association (JKA) HQ Dojo, albeit still a bit jet lagged and grossly unshaven. It wasn’t the easiest place to find, as the aim is to grab every last square metre of real estate to shoe-horn the buildings in. The JKA HQ was sandwiched between two other non-descript buildings. It wasn’t until I noticed the JKA banner poking its head through the lamp-posts and electric cables that I knew I’d made it there.
Upon entry, we were greeted by a friendly “receptionist”, who quickly answered my basic questions…………..can I start training, when are the classes and how much are the fees? Little did I know that the “receptionist” would later turn out to be one of the karate instructors!
First class, Tuesday morning. Being ever eager to impress, I arrived half an hour early for the class, to be met by………….no-one. There is punctual and eager-beaver punctual, however this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Suited and belted, I arrived at the top floor dojo which is the largest in the building. I was not alone. There was another gentleman there, who was Japanese and sporting a white belt (not all Japanese people have black belts in karate), so I was not going to be bottom of the class.
The actual class was a very low key affair, in so much as there were only 5 other students in the class, plus one instructor. Almost personal tuition at the heart of JKA karate……..it doesn’t get much better than this. We were taken through the basics, consisting of punches, kicks, blocks etc. The instructor made a number of comments on our techniques, and he demonstrated to the class (albeit exaggerated) what we were doing wrong. All of this was obviously in Japanese, but the JKA instructors have a knack of explaining what you’re doing wrong by using exaggerated movements. The standard of tuition is excellent, as the instructors break the movements down into simple steps and with the aid of mime, manage to explain the principles of feet, hip and upper body positioning. Sounds simple really, but this is what sets these guys apart from the rest.
At the end of the first lesson, we all knelt down (seiza) to bow to the instructor and to the spirit of Gichin Funakoshi (founder of modern day Shotokan Karate). Now this next part took me by surprise. All karate students, irrespective of style or association, should know the dojo kun. The basic dojo kun is a set of 5 precepts, which underlie the teachings of karate, and aim to foster a spirit of humility and perfection of character. The most senior student started by saying these out loud in turn, quickly followed by the other students…………….except me. Mental note to self..... learn the 5 dojo kun, in Japanese (easier said than done!).
Once this formality was completed, we all bowed to the instructor, who then got up and left whilst we were still in seiza. As soon as the instructor left the dojo, we all got up and proceeded to clean the dojo on our hands and feet with small beer mat sized towels. Imagine being ready to do a squat thrush, then pushing off with your feet and allowing your hands to glide along the floor. This was done up and down the dojo once. Again, this is a refreshing change from the UK, when a cursory sweep of the hall is carried out before training begins.
My second day of karate consisted of two separate classes. I thought it wise to start going twice a day, to get my face known so that they knew I was serious about karate. There were a few familiar faces from Tuesday and also a few other not so familiar. Anyway, a different instructor took each of the classes and focused on separate aspects of basics each time.
Despite there being a strict syllabus for the JKA grading examinations, each instructor takes a slightly different aspect of a technique and focuses on that during a particular class. This approach allows the student to explore the technicalities of each technique to better understand the principles involved.
JKA karate is a very technical karate, where focus on near perfect execution is the order of the day. In the evening class, we were put through some kumite (fighting/sparring) drills. These were firstly carried out individually, then with partners. Two lines were formed to allow partnering, and the techniques were then put into practice. I sparred, in turn, with each and every attendee at the class. This is good training, as everyone is built differently. Height, reach, speed, strength etc. This was clearly evident when I came to spar with a younger brown belt. He was a bit shorter and lighter than me, but the presence of a peer group gaijin (foreigner) in his home country dojo, was enough for him to “try me out”. Five step sparing started and he was certainly no slouch. Without being cocky, I’m pretty quick myself and managed to react in time to block his first lightning quick jodan oi-zuki (head punch). Bang………..punch two caught me right under the eye, which flicked a switch somewhere inside me. Can’t let that happen again can I ?...and I didn’t. At the end of the fifth technique, I countered and put a reverse punch right into his mid-section. When it was my turn to attack, I decided that I needed to return the compliment from earlier, so I turned up the heat and varied my timing. He sensed that I was going to come at him strong, so I made some feints, which completely threw him off his rhythm. I didn’t manage to catch him, but by the expression on his face he certainly knew I was in the zone. With the other students in the class, there was no such animosity, only helpful pointers on execution of technique.
To round the evening off, after performing all of the basic kata (pre arranged set of moves against imaginary opponents), we were treated to a few old favourite exercises. Bunny hops, star jumps, burpees (star-jump and squat-thrust combined), all of which had to be done across the dojo……..twice ! My muscles are certainly getting a good workout and I am loving every minute of it !
On Saturday we spent the whole day out with Jon and Julia. We had agreed to a sightseeing plan that started very early in the morning at Tsukiji fish market at 7am (business starts before 5am and the market closes by midday)... and we had to get across town first on the subway !
Both couples agreed to meet at the subway station next to the market and having set the alarms, we all made it in time. Tsukiji wholesale fish market operates 6 days a week from the wee hours, and is noisy, vast and chaotic!
There`s been a fish market on this spot since 1935 (but one in Tokyo since 1590), and it supports the restaurants and shops of Tokyo. Just getting into the market is difficult, through the outer loading areas, avoiding the men driving electric wagons at break-neck speed in all directions. They must hate tourists getting in the way, but there are plenty of people visiting, and doing their family fish shopping too.
We dodged the workers (some 50,000 work here) and wagons to have a look at the fish and seafood on offer. The public can buy from the fish stalls, but not from the tuna auction. We saw all kinds of fish, including the huge yellow-fin tuna. We tried to avoid the wet fishy water in puddles all around and the aprons of the fishmongers who passed to and fro in the alley-ways beside us! It was an amazing sight.
We had decided to have a sushi breakfast at one of the restaurants on the outside of the market......you can`t get much fresher fish than those coming straight in via the market. Jon hates fish and seaweed, so he just had a beer (at 8.30am!). Julia and Neil were in heaven and couldn`t decide what to choose from the menu....and I knew I could get a couple of veggie sushi options (cucumber rolls and egg omelette sushi). We sat down at the counter of the kitchen and watched as the skilled sushi chefs made our breakfast right before our eyes. It was all very tasty (with a nice kick of wasabi) and washed down with lots of green tea.
Our next part of the trip, was to show Jon and Julia our neighbourhood of Kagurazaka. So we got back on the subway and showed them around. They loved the district and we even managed to have a rest and feet-up in our apartment. Pretty soon it ws time for lunch and we found a cosy curry house for lunch just down our road.
Next stop after lunch was Harajuku. This is a district which Neil and I loved visiting on our holiday 3 years ago, and has little backstreets reminiscent of the lanes in Brighton. The other attraction is the Meiji shrine, which was bombed during WWII, but rebuilt in 1958, and is typical of Shinto architecture. It is situated in a lovely park and is a popular place for couples to get married. In fact whilst we were there, we saw about four Shinto weddings!
At the end of the day we said our farewells to Jon and Julia on the subway.....don`t know when we`ll be seeing them again.......but we`ll keep in touch!
This week our sightseeing has taken us on a vast array of excursions to different locations around Tokyo.
We visited Ikebukuro, a district which has a large train station, plenty of shops and entertainment (but nothing really special), expect a curiosity which caught our eye in the Lonely Planet guidebook……a place called Nekobukuro.
Nekobukuro is a petting house for cats located within Tokyu Hands lifestyle store (Neko is the word for Cat in Japanese). On the top floor of the store there is a pet department, and within that a fee-paying area which is called “Cat’s House”. Inside about 20 moggies are looked after by the employees, and the public can go in and play with them for a while. It is supposedly been created for those Tokyo-ites who don’t have room for a pet in their small apartments, so can come and have fun with the cats, without owning one !
The puddy cats didn’t seem to be too bothered with the people in their "home", but some preferred to be out of stroking distance by sitting on the top of the climbing platforms. Some cats followed the employees around, who carried little kitty snacks for them.
We ventured out into the suburbs of Setagaya via subways and little 2-carriage electric train, to visit a market (called Boro-ichi), which only takes place on Dec 15th and 16th and Jan 15th and 16th……historically the time when people needed goods for the new year.
Boro were used rags, which were sold originally in the market (which has been going for 430 years!), as well as Waraji which were Japanese straw sandals made by the local farmers during their off-season to bring in more income. The market also sold farming tools and daily goods, but nowadays it is antiques, kimonos, accessories, food and plants etc.
For a mid-week market we were surprised to see the large number of people there (they expect crowds of 200,000 – 300,000 per day). As we hopped off the electric train at the local station of Setagaya, we literally followed the crowds to the market. It was interesting to feel the buzz of the maket, with the stalls were selling all kinds of stuff, from antique kimonos to toys.
The market area covered a number of streets and approximately 700 stalls were there……many food ones….where we found a stall selling chocolate dipped bananas….what a good idea and very tasty!
Tokyo Metropolitan Government building is located in the Shinjuku area and you can walk right on in as you please (not sure the British Government would let you do the same!). It comprises a large complex of buildings, completed in 1991 which stand at 243m tall. There are two observatories (one in each tower) on the 45th floors, so from a height of 202m you can look down on the Shinjuku area, which gives you a birds eye view of the city.
Tokyo Mode Gakuen or “Cocoon Tower” was immediately visible as a landmark. The building which was only completed in October 2008, houses three universities, and has 4 underground floors and 50 above ground floors. The shape is distinctive, and while it is supposed to look like a cocoon, people have compared it as well to an ear of corn or a sleek speaker.
The Tokyo stock exchange (TSE) in Nihombashi district, is located an unremarkable building constructed in the 1980`s, but it houses one of the world`s three largest stock markets and is at the heart of the Japanese Economy. Neil and I set off to see if we could get the Pound to climb against the Yen, so we can get more for our money out here !
They let visitors in, after a cursory security check, and you can see the trading going on live before your eyes (whilst the rest of the world sleeps).....by computer! The TSE abolished it`s trading floor in 1999, so it is run entirely by sophisticated computers....which didn`t seem to be doing much for our exchange rate!
Neil and I decided to take a trip out of town for Christmas. An opportunity to ride the bullet train (Shinkansen) and take in some countryside scenery on the way. Our destination was Kyoto, Japan`s capital city for 1000 years (until 1868 when the Meiji Restoration took the Imperial Family to the new capital, Tokyo).
We arrived at Tokyo station, the first departing station for the train. As the train pulled in, an army of cleaning ladies descended to turn the seats around to all face forwards, replace the headrests, clean and polish. It was efficiency Japanese style and amazing to watch. A few minutes later we were allowed to board and got settled with our packed lunch and snacks ! The journey was just under 3 hours, and was smooth and fast. Once in Kyoto we found our Japanese B&B, called a Ryokan, just a 10 minutes walk from Kyoto station. Matsubaya Inn, had served over 100 years as an ryokan, but had recently undergone rennovation to bring it up to date.
The ryokan was owned by a family, who were very friendly and helpful to the tourists (mostly westerners) staying in their 14-roomed inn. We were shown to our room and given an explanation of how to make the bed (futons) every night and put the living area (table and cushions away). An infinate supply of green tea was left in the room with a kettle so we could make a brew ! Neil tried the Japanese breakfast next morning, although I stuck with scrambled egg on toast (much safer for veggies!). Neil gave everything on the tray a go; rice, miso soup, pork dumplings, nori (seaweed), pickled vegetables and other things we couldn`t identify !
As soon as we dumped the bags, we set off exploring Kyoto and the many temples and shrines in the city. There are 17 UNESCO world heritage sites in the city and over 2000 shrines and temples, so we had to choose a few of the most famous and sample some of the most historic districts.
Kinkaku-ji shrine, is noted for it`s Golden Pavillion which stands on the edge of a small lake. We arrived late afternoon, just before closing, which is a great time to appreciate the stillness and peace of the grounds. Getting to the temple took us for the first time on Kyoto`s excellent bus system, a flat fare of 1.60 pounds would get you from one end of town to the other. It was a 40 minute ride on the bus from our Ryokan to the temple, so we took in the town view on the way.
I had booked a tour guide, called Ted (very Japanese name!), to show us around some other sites. Ted owns a tour guide company and employs 15 guides, but he decided to take us on our tour, as the sites were located on his manor (home turf!). Nijo-jo castle was built in 1603 and was home to the first Tokugawa Shogun (General of the armies). This was the start to our Christmas Day, and it was a bit drizzly when we arrived at the castle, then we moved onto Nijo-Jinya (an merchants house, which served as an Inn for visiting Feudal Lords, dating from the mid-1600`s, and is nicknamed the Ninja house). Walking around the old un-heated house in sock-feet was freeezing, but it was an interesting building with lots of secret panels, staircases and doors for bodyguards to protect the Feudal Lords. Ceilings were low, so that you couldn`t swing a Japanese sword (let alone a cat!).
Also on Christmas Day we visited a great market, located around Kitano-Tenman-Gu shrine, the market is held on the 25th of every month and the December one is supposed to be one of the best of the year. It sells antiques, food, clothes, crafts, and the sun had come out by the time we got there ! We grazed the food stalls, buying roasted chesnuts, savoury pancakes, octopus balls, yakatori (skewered BBQ meat), to name a few!
We didn`t know where to go for something to eat for Christmas dinner in the evening, so we wandered the streets downtown and finally opted for a Spanish tapas restaurant. There was no English menu, just photos, so we had to guess what the dishes were ! The food was great though and all washed down with beer and wine.
On Boxing Day we had a full 12-hour day out walking through the Gion district of Kyoto. Gion is an old part of town and is famous for being the Geisha district (or Geiko as they are known in Kyoto). We left the ryokan with the snow falling, the wind was biting but the sun was out and the sky was clear ! We got to the first shrine of the day, Kiyomizu-dera at the top of a hill, and noticed the snow dusting the tree tops and temple roofs.
The old wooden houses and the old cobbled streets gave a great feeling of a history, with shrines and pagoda`s appearing around every corner. Later that day, we had arranged an early evening tour of the Geisha district, by another guide from Ted`s company, Mie. We spotted Geiko and Maiko (apprentices) going out to their appointments at the private and exclusive tea houses. They appeared and disappeared so quickly and were amazing to watch. They sing, dance and entertain guests in a secretive world for a big price, but Mie explained to us out that they have never been prostitutes. Mie was full of very interesting information about Geiko and Kyoto`s history and pointed out features of the buildings that we wouldn`t notice or be able to explain without a local.
Another sunny cold day followed, and we visited Nanzen temple, another UNESCO site, with a good view of Kyoto from the top of the gatehouse. We took a walk along a canal called the Philosophers Walk, for some more fresh cool air. Kyoto was much colder than the weather we`d been having in Tokyo, but the experience of the city in the winter, with the snow on the mountains and on the temples was lovely.
Over the New Year we have been taking some trips outside of Tokyo, once again to explore outside the urban metropolis.
Kamakura, lies on the coast of Sagami Bay, just over an hour from Tokyo by train and this large town (with a small town feel) was actually the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333. Kamakura is sometimes referred to as mini-Kyoto as it has a lot of ancient temples and shrines, and we certainly enjoyed the ones we visited.
The second largest bronze Buddha statue (Daibutsu) in Japan (built in 1252) sits very serenly in Kotoku-in temple. Another Buddhist temple, Hase-dera, had lovely sea-views, pretty landscaped grounds and black kites (birds of prey) circling low above our heads.
We spotted many surfers in the sea as we made our way around the bay, and I mean hundreds. There wasn’t a wave in sight, so maybe they were just out for a day at the seaside and fancied a chance to surf on the public holiday.
Neil had wanted to visit a particular temple in Kamakura (for your information, a temple is usually Buddhist and a shrine is Shinto – the Japanese ancient religion), which was called Engku-ji. This is one of the most important Zen Buddhist temples in the country and is where the founder of Shotokan Karate has a memorial. Many karate-ka (those who practice karate) in Japan go there to pay homage once a year, so we thought we might as well find the spot ourselves if we were in the neighbourhood !
We took another trip (also in a south-westerly direction from Tokyo, but a further distance) to try and take in some good views of Mount Fuji. This dormant volcano (it last erupted in 1707 and there have been no rumblings since then), is only 100km (60 miles from Tokyo) and apparently if you are in the correct part of the city, on a clear day (with a ladder and some glasses!) you can see it. Of course there are a few buildings in the way in Tokyo. So we hopped on the train to the Hakone area to get a better look.
The Hakone area is served by a "freepass", where you buy a ticket and can ride boats, funicular railway, cable cars, narrow-gauge train as many times as you like, and have your return fare, all in one ticket price.
Mount Fuji stands at 3776m (almost exactly the same size as Mount Cook in New Zealand). You can only climb it during the climbing season which is 1st July to 31st August, at other times it really discouraged. Neil and I had no intention of climbing it, rather we wanted to get a good photo and winter is supposed to be one of the best times to view the volcano, with clear blue skies, snow-capped top and good visibility.
It is an impressive sight. When you can see the snow-capped peak just sneaking out from behind another mountain, you know it’s there and round the corner it finally comes into view. You can’t take your eyes off it, it is beautiful (and as Neil remarked, like a cake with icing on top!).
There are lots of volcanic activities going on just below the surface. If you have been to New Zealand, you will have experienced the sulphurous smells of Rotorua. Owakudani, is a similar area, halfway up the cable car ride, where you can see the vapours coming out of the ground, bubbling mud, and yellow sulphur on the ground and those horrible smells. It is an explosion crater formed 3000 years ago by a large scale phreatic eruption. The warning signs say “don’t linger for too long, sulphurous acid gas and hydrogen sulphide gas can be fatal” ! Don`t worry we won`t be staying here long - it stinks! At the top of the public-accessible area (they have had lots of landslides so much is off limits), they boil eggs in the sulphur-laden water, and they turn black ! They sell them to the passing punters, who readily chomp away – and no we did not want to try them.
We took a boat trip across Lake Ashi, on what resembled a pirate ship (just for the tourist trade of course), but great fun and good views of the mountains and Fuji-san. We managed to beat most of the holiday crowds, as we did a circuit of the area it appeared, in the opposite direction to most others !
We did have a spooky experience at the Owakudani area, where an American lady (with a Japanese hubby and mother-in-law in tow) came over and offered to take our photo, if we agreed to take theirs. We duly obliged and a bit of chatter later, found out that they had previously lived in Caversham !! What are the chances of that !?
Saturday night, Neil and I ventured into the burbs again. Well, the urban area does not actually change at all in appearance as you ride on the subway from our apartment due west out of town, and we were still in Tokyo city. It`s like going out to Richmond I suppose from central London. It was our first evening out since we`ve been in Tokyo!
Our destination was Kichijōji, an area which public-opinion surveys consistently designate as one of Tokyo`s most desirable residential neighborhoods.
Inokashira Park, the source of the Kanda River, is located south of Kichijōji Station and is a lovely place to observe water birds; ducks, geese, herons etc. and pedalo boats are available for hire to take you around the lake (maybe a bit chilly in winter though!). There are vintage clothing shops, hippy/ethnic clothes shops and quirky little cafes to browse around in the area. My sisters will be aware of Studio Ghibli animation house, who produce well-loved famous Japanese films. The Studio Ghibli Museum is also located on the edge of the park.
We had booked tickets at the Star Pine`s Cafe, located just on the north side of the railway tracks for a gig. Glenn Tilbrook, front man from the 1970s/80s band Squeeze, was playing 3 nights in the intimate venue, so we had to see him. Neil and I had previously seen Glenn at 41 South Street, Reading, when he played there some 8.5 years ago, one of our first dates, and Neil had seen Squeeze play in Manchester many years ago.
The tickets said the venue opened at 5pm and the gig started at 6pm. Very early we thought, but lets get there just after 5pm to have a drink (by the way, the current rate for two drinks in Tokyo (wine, beer, spirits or coke) is 10 pounds.......so sup it slowly!).
When we arrived at 5.15pm, the place was nearly full, eveyone had taken their seats in the little auditorium. Luckily in the balcony (which was B1 level and the stage was at B2 level), there were some seats with a table in front of the bar. In fact it was an excellent place to sit, as we could get to the bar, stand up and dance around and get to the loos without disturbing anyone. As you can see from the photos we had a great view of the stage!
Glenn came on promptly at 6pm and played two sets, of each about 50 mins. He has a tremendous voice, is great on acoustic guitar and all his songs, whether he plays the old Squeeze numbers or new songs, are all great to listen to. He played many of the old Squeeze tracks; "Labelled with Love", "Pulling mussels from a shell", "Tempted", "Coffee in Bed", "Slap and Tickle", "Goodbye Girl", "Annie get your Gun", "Hourglass", "Up the Junction", which Neil and I all love.
After the gig, people queued up just next to where we were sitting, to meet the man himself. Glenn duly signed CDs, tickets........after being told how to spell each Japanese name!
Neil and I approached Glenn, who is now 51 and on the first night of his Japanese tour (6 nights), near the very end of the queue. He was surprised to hear that we were on a 3-month holiday and obliged a photo. This was his sixth time to Japan, but he couldn`t even say Good Evening or Thank You in Japanese - we were not impressed with that!
As the gig was all over by 8pm, we ventured out back to the south-side of the tracks to find a cute little Thai restaurant called Peppermint cafe. The food we ordered took us straight back to Thailand - the best we`ve had in years, and prepared by a Thai chef. The decor was cosy and hippy with cute rubber geckos stuck on the walls for the authenic Thai restaurant feel ! A brilliant evening out in Kichijōji, we`ll be taking our forthcoming visitors there to catch the vibe too.
We have noticed since our arrival in Tokyo that the Japanese love cute, miniature-breed dogs. Being paraded around town by a young girl or a middle aged man, these little dogs are extremely popular.
If you are out walking in any park or street, and you pass a buggy or pram you’d expect to see a baby or toddler inside. Not so in Japan, here the little pooches are being wheeled about like royalty!
Not only are these dogs cute, they are often wearing outfits which befit the season. As we are now in winter, the doggies are wearing knitted jumpers, hoodies, puffer jackets, and scarves. We’ve even seen them in matching trouser and jumpers (see photo of Italian greyhound). There are also many dog hotels, shops selling dogs clothing and accessories, as well as beauty salons to cater to these pampered pets.
Here is a selection of our favourite photos of some of the dogs we`ve seen being walked and wheeled around the streets…….we have identified them as best we can (Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu dogs look very similar…hopefully we’ve identified them correctly!).
We have been exploring more of Tokyo over the past week and have headed out with our flask of tea in our backpack for a stroll through some of the city`s parks.
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden was completed in 1906 as an imperial garden. Throughout the seasons it is a haven of tranquility in the western part of the city (Shinjuku). In winter, I suspect there are fewer visitors to the garden (and even fewer picnicing except us), but we enjoyed observing the landscape and even saw parakeets flying through the trees ! The lack of other visitors worked to our advantage, as the photos are more dramatic.
Ueno Park lies in the old district of Ueno in the eastern part of the city. It was laid out in 1924 and comprises less greenery than the Shinjuku Garden, but plenty of cherry trees (not yet the season for the blossoms though). We were surprised by the large lakes in the park, one of which was completely covered with the winter leftovers of lotus flowers (which will come alive in spring). Even so, such a large wild area in the middle of the city, populated with lots of wild ducks, geese and herons was an amazing sight.
For a change of scenery, we decided that a visit to Kappabashi-dori, in the older part of Tokyo (the eastern side), would be an interesting place to discover. Lined on both sides of the road (1km in length) with shops selling catering supplies, plastic food for restaurant displays, and anything else you could ever need if opening a restaurant.......except real food that is. We started at one end of the street and slowly took everything in. The range and quantity of items being sold was breathtaking. You could purchase anything from a simple pieice of plastic sushi, kitchen knives, an industrial sized food processor, to a personalised neon sign for your establishment. You name it, you can buy it. Although we are obviously not in the market to furnish a new restaurant, the shopkeepers were more than happy to sell us imitation plastic sushi !!
An opportunity not to be missed if you are visting Tokyo during January, May or September is the Grand Sumo Tournaments held at the Ryogoku Kokigikan (Sumo Tournament Stadium).
Luckily for us, the 15 day event has fallen right in the middle of our holiday, so we arranged tickets for the 13th day, when the atmosphere would be hotting-up as the approach to the finals drew closer.
The Ryogoku Kokigikan is located on the eastern bank of the Sumida River (in the eastern part of Tokyo), just 20 minutes subway ride from our apartment. The stadium is a 1980`s purpose-built concrete building adorned with murals on the outside walls, inside it is well designed and holds 13,000 people. On the ground floor the seats are in "boxes". I say seats but they are cushions on the floor. Neil and I preferred comfort for the duration of the tournament, so we opted for the 2nd floor proper seats.
We watched at least 30 sumo matches on Friday. You can arrive at the stadium anytime during the days events from 9.00am, to start watching the junior ranks (amateur) wrestlers perform. During the day the matches reach the higher ranks ending with the Grand Champions at the end of the day (about 6pm). We arrived at about 1.30pm to start soaking up the atmosphere.
The stadium was filled with all age groups of spectators; old couples, single women, buisness men, young girls, school boys. You can bring anything you like into the stadium; food, drink, ice cream, beer, packed lunches ! Everyone is munching away, and everyone cleans up after themselves and not a single piece of litter was left at the end. If you sit in the boxes on the ground floor, you get given goodie-bags with food, beers, souvenirs etc.
The sumo wrestlers are placed in ranks (banzuke). Some are amateurs and some are professional paid sumo wrestlers. Each sumo is called a Rikishi (literally strong man), and the banzuke upper ranks are the Makuuchi division which at the top contain the Grand Champions (Yokozuna), followed by the Juryo division.
Each of the Makuuchi and Juryo rikishi have ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi) which are recieved from sponsors and fans. These are worn during the ceremonial ring entrance before the commencement of bouts in each division. The aprons are hand made (often with precious stones laid in) and cost at least 2 million yen (15,000 pounds in todays exchange rate)!
Matches usually last about 15 - 30 seconds, but the build-up of each bout gears the sumo wrestlers up for the fight. The process of facing your opponent, staring them out, then deciding you`re not quite ready and getting up, throwing salt into the ring and performing some streches........this goes on for up to 4 minutes!
The referees of the tournament are called Gyoji. They are ranked too in status with the higher ranking refs for the more important matches. Their outfits, resemble those of samurai from 800 years ago, and their rank is identifiable by the colour of the fan they hold and the colour of their tassels ! It was interesting just watching a different referee for each bout step into the dohyo to see what lovely coloured robes they were wearing.
The salt is thrown to purify the ring as a sacred place. The wrestlers stamp in the ring to squash bad spirits and sip water to purify their bodies. These actions originate from Sumo being a religious (Shinto) ritual dedicated to the gods (for a bountiful harvest), and later it becoming the sport favoured by Emperors.
We had great seats on the central southern side of the ring, near the front of the balcony (like sitting on the halfway line at a footy match). The spectators wandered in during the afternoon, and the noise level increased with the anticipation of the arrival of the two Yokozuna who were competing (Hakuho and Asashoryu).
Yokozuna have to win 2 consecutive Grand Tournaments to be promoted to the title (and be of good character too). In the history of sumo (1500 years) the Yokozuna rank has only existed for the last 300 years. During this time, there has only been 69 rikishi reaching that level. The only Yokozuna currently in the world are Asashoryu, a 28 year old, Mongolian and Hakuho a 24 year old, Mongolian, who we both saw fight yesterday. There can of course be periods of time when there are no Yokozuna in the ranks. Both the Yokuzuna won their fights when we were watching, causing riotous applauds from the crowds.
We thoroughly enjoyed the day watching the wrestling live and are looking forward to watching the final on Sunday afternoon on the TV with Nancy and Gus !
Here is a snapshot of Nancy and Gus`s fun and frolics since they arrived here in Tokyo last Sunday. We have been sightseeing with them to some areas and they have gone off exploring too, with some good local advice of course !
They have been in museums, parks, exploring old districts in Tokyo and Kamakura and Gus has been trying every kind of food he can get his hands on !
The sights and sounds of Tokyo are a sensory overload for Nancy and Gus, who are amazed at the cultural differences they are experiencing here in Japan, and how kind and helpful the Japanese people are.
There is more excitement to come including karaoke in the very same room featured in the film "Lost in Translation" where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson sing. So we are starting to practice the songs !
Yesterday evening we took Nancy and Gus to a karaoke room. Neil and I are of course karaoke veterans, but we thought we should experience karaoke in the birthplace of this crazy past time. We weren’t going to take Nancy and Gus to any old karaoke lounge…. I had done some research on the internet about which karaoke room was featured in the 2003 film “Lost in Translation” and found out where it was located !
This film is one of our favourites and if you have been living in a box, it features Bill Murray (as Bob Harris) and Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte) as two individuals whose paths cross in Tokyo and who experience jet-lag and culture shock together. In the film, their night out with Japanese friends takes them to a karaoke room. This room had a view of neon lights and had a curved window. I found out that the chain of karaoke rooms called Karaoke-Kan in Shibuya (one of many in the district) was the film’s location and the room used in filming was number 601, on the 6th floor.
We booked the room and found it just as we’d expected, with a view over the neon-lit streets. Nancy pre-purchased a pink bob wig, so that we could recreate the movie, when Charlotte sings “Brass in pocket”. Bob sings “More than This” by Bryan Ferry, but unfortunately neither of these songs were in the song book. We did however find lots of other songs to sing, and got so carried away with the time, before we knew it the 2 hrs time slot was up !
Here are some of the numbers we did........... Copacabana (Manilow), Barbie Girl (Aqua), Don`t stop me now (Queen), Hit me baby one more time, I`m not in Love (10cc), House of the rising sun (Animals), Country Roads (John Denver), I don`t want to be a hero (Johnny Hates Jazz), I write the songs (Manilow), One way ticket (Neil Sedaka), Georgia on my Mind, Cabaret, Now is the hour (Bing Crosby), Sesame St theme song, Two tribes (Frankie goes to Hollywood), Fame (Irene Cara), Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), No Limits (2-Unlimited), All that she wants (Ace of Base), Don`t speak (No doubt), Fly me to the Moon, Careless Whisper (George Michael), The Boxer (S&G), Blowing in the wind (Dylan) and Play that funky Music (Wild Cherry)......as you can see it is mostly 70`s and 80`s cheese !!
See the clips from the karaoke scene in the film Lost in Translation to compare the scenery : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmXAQXTpLjI&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZA5aRDjwmM
Nancy and Gus have enjoyed trying new dishes in Japan, especially Gus who is willing to try anything! We had mentioned to them before their arrival, that Gordon Ramsey had a restaurant in Tokyo, a fact that Gus already knew. He had always dreamt of visiting Tokyo on holiday for many years and since the restaurant opened in 2005, dreamt of eating at Ramsey`s. So we fixed it for him, and the four of us went along for lunch !
The set lunch was a choice of either 3, 5 or 7 courses and you could pick each course from the a la carte menu. We all decided on a 5-course lunch, which included an amuse bouche, two starters, main course and dessert. There were enough veggie options on the menu to cover mine and Nancy`s choices satisfactorily !
We shared a nice bottle of New Zealand Marlborough Savingnon Blanc, which always goes down well (and was in fact one of the cheaper bottles on the wine list at only £57!). Yes we supped it very slowly and carefully.
The food came at a nice relaxed pace. The amuse bouche was white bean soup with a truffle foam - delicious. We followed with our remaining choices and coffee to finish. Each course was delicately presented to perfection and although the quantities weren`t large, you could taste the individual ingredients. We came out completely satisfied and having the 5 courses was ideal.
Located on the 28th floor of the Conrad Hotel (you are looking at a mimimum of £400 per room per night B&B!), the restaurant has commanding views over the Shiodome area. Although the restaurant wasn`t very busy, we lapped up every moment of eating there and the whole experience. The Ramsey restaurant was recently awarded one Michelin Star in November 2008 (to add to the 8 already owned by Ramsey restaurants worldwide). I don`t think we`ve eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant before !
We had a lovely afternoon stroll through the Hama-Rikyu gardens after lunch next to the Conrad Hotel. In fact, we are always in the habit of making sure we either work up an appetite with a walk in a park before lunch or have one afterwards - see photos of our recent park visits including the hilarious Yoyogi Park dog-spotting.
Although at the opposite end of the scale in dining, we thoroughly enjoyed eating on two occasions at the Mingalaba restaurant in Takadonababa, just 10 minutes on the subway from our apartment. We sought out this restaurant with Nancy and Gus, as Neil and I had noticed alot of Burmese restaurants in the area of Takadonababa on a previous visit.
When we told Gus that there were Burmese restaurants in Tokyo, he jumped at the chance to eat food from his homeland and sample dishes that he remembered as a wee boy in Burma. None of us could recall ever seeing a Burmese restaurant in the UK, or in fact anywhere we had been in the world, so it was all very exciting.
We found the restaurant and Gus went straight for "Mok Hin Gar" on the menu......a curry noodle soup with catfish. He was in Gussy heaven, and the memories came flooding back. We all enjoyed the friendly service and the local atmosphere, and so returned to have a final meal last night to say goodbye to Nancy and Gus. We tried lots of dishes from the menu and Gus again wanted "Mok Hin Gar" all washed down with Myanmar beer and coconut ice cream to finish off. Yum !
It is quiet now that Nancy and Gus have gone home now, but not for long as Mum arrives here in less than a week and we`ll have to start the eating-out process all over again !
Mum arrived here in Tokyo last Saturday (a day when we had a freak heatwave of 23 degrees!), and since then we have been showing her the sights of Tokyo by subway and by foot. She is happy for us to take her around the city to see the best highlights with our local knowledge. Actually by now, after more than two months here, we do understand much more of the city and the right exits to follow at different subway stations!
We have already visited many parks and gardens; from the formal Japanese garden of Koishikawa Korakuen which is closeby to our apartment, to the family (and doggy) friendly Inakoshira Park in Kichijoji and Yoyogi Park.
The blossoms on the trees are starting to come out (probably following the heatwave on Saturday!). The Japanese love the blossoms in spring. There is a word called Hanami - which means enjoying the beauty of flowers (referring to cherry blossoms). First come the plum and apricot blossoms in February, then the cherry blossoms in March. The parks are starting to swarm with long-lensed cameras, picnic-tables ready to accomodate the hoards of cherry-blossom parties, which take place below the canopies of the trees. The shops sell anything with sakura (cherry blossoms) on, from postcards, cakes to coasters and slippers. Everything is pink and flower-shaped !
The subway system in Tokyo is fantastic, efficent and cheap. Gus warned Mum before she came, that there were alot of subway steps to climb, and we have been tiring her out most days climbing in and out of stations! We have been listening to the tunes played on some of the subway lines; each station on the JR Line plays a different tune when the train is ready to depart, and one station plays the theme tune from "The Third Man" (1949 film with Orson Welles). I think it is surreal and fantastic!
We have been to Asakusa district (in the older eastern part of the city) to visit the Asakusa Kannon temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and to the west end of the city to the largest Shinto shrine, the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. Mum has already tried some different Japanese foods; freshly made rice crackers, warm sweet sake, veggie sushi, vegetable tempura, and fried sweet pumpkin and sesame buns (but not all at once and sometimes with the difficulty of chopsticks). Yum !
The seaside town of Kamakura is a lovely day out from Tokyo, when you`ve got a sunny day, picnic and flask of tea in tow ! Mum and I enjoyed watching the surfers for ages, sitting on the beach, catching the pretty big waves. Mum really enjoyed seeing the Great Buddha in Kamakura. He really is located in a serene tranquil setting and is huge in size. We kept an eye on the black kites circling overhead as we ate our picnic at Hase Kannon temple, they look as if they would swoop down and grab a bite of anything !
Since that very first lesson at the Japan Karate Association HQ, I have now attended almost 80 lessons (over 8 weeks), including the annual Cold Weather Training. This is equivalent to about 8 months worth of training in the UK.
Six days a week, twice a day I made the trek to the dojo to put in some quality training, in the hope of being able to take the coveted black belt grading on February 22nd. This date came around very quickly indeed, but when it did, I was both mentally and physically prepared. It was only on the Wednesday before the grading, that I actually received permission from the England National Instructor to take the grading in Japan.
This late news was playing on my nerves a little. The two days prior to the grading, I attended all 4 classes at the dojo, in the hope of picking up some final tips for the grading. I even managed to receive about 20 minutes personal tuition from one of the top 3 instructors (Sensei Osaka, 8th Dan). This last minute opportunity was one not to be missed, so that I could ensure that I was ready for Sunday’s grading.
[Mum and I weren`t going along with Neil to the dojo, so we wished him "good luck" with some obligatory Bruce Lee quotes when he left the apartment at 8.45am. He didn`t return until 1.30pm, during which time we were worried about how it was all going!]
The grading day came around and I arrived early at the dojo to ensure that I was fully warmed-up before “stepping on to the mat”. The grading (conducted in Japanese) consisted of three parts; kihon - basic techniques of blocks, punches and kicks: kata – set moves in a predetermined sequence: kumite – freestyle fighting against another grading examinee. I was the only Westerner grading that day. The guy that I had to fight looked like a right bruiser, much heavier than me and with a shaved head. Oh dear! However, once the fight started, I realised that I was much quicker and managed to land a few moves on him, and he couldn`t touch me!
Earlier in the grading, I recalled making a few minor mistakes during my kata, so as I left the floor from the kumite, I couldn’t help but keep worrying about them. Would those earlier minor mistakes be spotted or taken into account?
The results of the grading were to be announced after the higher grading black belts took their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Dan gradings. This lasted about another 45 minutes, but felt like much longer. All the black belt hopefuls assembled downstairs in the lounge to await the results. Two instructors came into the room clutching a pile of karate licences. “Neil-San” came the call (San is like saying Mr in Japanese). I went up to the front and saw that both instructors were smiling. “Pass” one of them said with a cheeky smile. Whoah! I was now a black belt. I couldn’t believe it. I had to check the licence for myself to see that this wasn’t a mistake. Nope, I’d passed, this was really happening!
I made my way home with a purposeful spring in my step, ready to share the great news with Amy and the mother-in-law (Sue). As soon as I opened the door, I shouted that I passed. The following day, we went out to order a black belt from a renowned karate equipment supplier, with my name embroidered in Japanese characters. What a fantastic reminder of the months of training here in Tokyo.
We arrived back from Tokyo on Friday last week and have been trying to settle into life back in sunny Reading. We have a roof over our head at Mum`s house, which is very handy for Neil to get to work on the bus, as we don`t have a car. After completing some essential tasks around town, and re-checking on our house in Caversham (it will be let this coming Friday to new tenants), we have been eagerly awaiting Neil`s return to work so that our short-term fate can be gleened from the powers that be!
Neil started back at work yesterday at FW in the Shinfield office and found out that he is wokring on a new project, which only has a handfull of people working on it at the moment, based in India.
This doesn`t mean we are jetting off to India just yet. The project will be engineered from Reading, so that means we should be back in Reading for 12 -18 months. Enough time to settle back into a normal routine - well not my normal coffee mornings and lunches! - but after that time who knows.
So in the meantime, we are searching for a house. A new house for us to live in, leaving the Caversham one to continue to be rented out. I am busy making viewing appointments and getting excited about the prospect of all our belongings coming together from around the world in one place. It will be amazing to see what we actually own !
Look forward to seeing you all soon - I`m free most mornings, so let`s do coffee !