Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thailand Trip

This picture wasn't actually taken in Thailand... it's a flowering bush outside the train station across the street from our house. We just think the flowers are cool, so we had to put the picture somewhere. As usual, most of our pictures in Thailand are of John, so we are sorry to those of you who actually wanted to see pictures of the country but you'll just have to visit yourselves if you want a better glimpse. And we highly recommend it, too. Thailand is by far our favorite thing we've seen since we've been here. Both of us remarked, on our first day there, that for the first time in a while we actually felt like we were in ASIA. Somehow things feel different in Malaysia... maybe just because we're growing accustomed to the surroundings here, but really it felt like more than that. The people, the architecture, even the temperature was more of what I'd expected when we first moved here. Especially the people-- I can't remember the last time we were surrounded by so many warm, accepting, friendly people. Of course, it's a tourist town (Phuket) so they usually wanted to sell us something, but you could see it in their eyes and in their smiles that they were so open and wanting to help.
On our drive in from the airport, our taxi driver wasn't exactly sure where our hotel was located, so he apologized profusely and asked if he could stop and get directions from his friend, who was a travel agent. She came out and chatted with us, suggesting things we might like to do when traveling with an infant, and when our driver came back he was still apologetic (even though he spoke almost NO English) and brought us a bag of goodies to make up for the wait. They were a warm pancake-like treat, some with a sort of custard-ish filling, some with a combination of custard and sweet corn. (Sweet corn is a very popular treat over here... they have stalls selling things like coffee, donuts, and sweet corn-- just serve it up hot in a cup!) We though they were delicious and happily munched on them for the duration of the drive.
In Phuket, we stayed near Patong Beach, which is the largest and most popular spot, but thankfully we visited right at the end of the off-season, so there really weren't a ton of people there. Our hotel definitely wasn't busy, and we thought it was sort of a little tropical paradise.

The hotel staff certainly seemed to enjoy our visit and we couldn't get past the lobby without one of them reaching out to grab John and show him off to everyone else. It was fun to watch him with them, although admittedly mom got a little annoyed at mealtimes when we were trying to get him to eat he had 4 or 5 hovering waitresses as an audience. It was only frustrating because John got a cold the last 2 days there and we couldn't get him to eat anything. He just wanted to share his bread (or whatever he was holding) with the entourage standing around, and they were more than happy to take it from him, laughing at the cute American boy. sigh. We really did like our place, though, and would recommend it to anyone. Here is the website-- it was called Hyton Leelavadee.

Admittedly, we understood why it was still considered the low-season for tourists when we how bad the rain was. The pool pictures were taken one afternoon when I was sitting in a beach chair, relaxing under an umbrella, reading The Bourne Identity, while John & Michael splashed around the pool. Without warning, someone began pouring giant buckets of water over my umbrella... at least that's what I thought until I realized that it had started raining. Big, fat, warm drops drenched everything in sight. Thankfully the umbrella was large enough to keep most of me dry while I took pictures of John & Michael, playing in the pool, in the rain. John just thought it was cool, pointing at where the drops were landing in the water and saying "bubbles!" The locals there seemed used to it. We learned you just had to watch the shop keepers-- they could tell when it was going to rain and started pulling in their merchandise, or covering it with plastic. That wasn't nearly as educational, however, as DRIVING with the taxi or tuk-tuk drivers in the rain. (A tuk-tuk is sort of a flat-bed truck with the back covered by a roof and plastic down the sides where people can sit. You negotiate with the drivers how much you'll pay for a ride and hop right in the back. John thought they were pretty cool, and by the end could recognize them, even learning to enunciate "tuk-tuk" really well.) But apparently they are used to driving in the rain because they would TEAR along roads at break-neck speeds with a torrential downpour virtually covering their windshield. It about gave me a heart-attack, but I guess that's what seat belts were invented for, right?
OK, we'll close with a list of our favorite things about Phuket, although the list really could be a lot longer. These were just the things of note that will stand out on our trip.
  • fresh pineapple is heavenly... and fresh pineapple JUICE is nectar of the gods
  • the 2 things john liked most about our hotel: the resident cat and the hotel safe in the room. we didn't even need to bring toys.
  • michael & i learned that john talks in his sleep. i've never heard anything more cute in my life.
  • there are TONS of european tourists in phuket. tons. they catered to them in many ways, including crepe stands, reminiscent of several western european countries. they offered the traditional fare (nutella, banana, lemon & sugar... mmmm... remember paris, jared?) but also threw in some local variations, including pineapple & coconut, which i tried. the guy just hacked open a fresh pineapple and sliced it right off. can you just imagine?
  • the beach is always more fun when you have a bucket and NO shovel to make sandcastles because your hands get much dirtier. this was john's first time at the beach EVER and he had a blast!
OK, the picture link below shows the rest of our trip, mostly spent at the beach. Seriously, plan a trip right now. Go to Thailand. You will NOT regret it.
Thailand Trip


The month of November is upon us, which is why we will be slightly dormant for the next 30 days... it's NANOWRIMO! That stands for National Novel Writing Month, although it really has grown all over the world, so it should be INTER-National... but basically the point is to write 50,000 words (signifying the length of a novel) in 30 days, from 1-30 November. If any of you ever had the urge to pen the great American novel in 30 days, here's your chance to get started! Their site is HERE and that is where I'll be for the majority of the next month. Most of the things I write are gobbeldy-gook, but it's a good chance to put yourself under pressure and maintain a schedule for writing scenes, characters, settings, dialogue, etc. My cousin Heather is trying this year, so come join the fun!
(Oh, we'll also be posting pics & info. soon of our recent trip to Phuket, Thailand so definitely stay tuned for those. I think Thailand is a place that EVERYONE should visit at least once in their lifetime... we hope that for us it's more than just once! We really want to plan at least one return trip before our time in Malaysia is over. If anyone is looking for a vacation spot, we highly recommend it!!!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Things of note... of late

So we just finished the whirlwind weekend of "Hari Raya Aidilfitri" (commonly referred to here as just "Hari Raya") which basically means "Fasting Day of Celebration"-- it is a 3-day celebration that marks the end of the Ramadan month and the end of the daily fasting. (For more cool Hari Raya pics, click here).From what I can gather, it seems to be a time to celebrate the past month which has been a time of forgiveness, penitance, self-control, renewing friendships, and other forms of practiced piety. This holiday is HUGE here, a thing we were reminded when we went on a date Saturday night and it took us an HOUR to find a taxi. Either everyone was out, using the taxi services, or else all the taxi drivers had taken the night off. Thankfully we found a Hindu taxi driver who was not celebrating, although he took advantage of the situation and charged us about $10 for a ride that should have cost $4 or $5. That's OK, we got to spend a night out on the town and it was great. It actually wasn't as busy as we had expected, probably because most people were home feasting with their families. We had our first Malaysian movie theater experience watching "Bourne Ultimatum" (it was excellent) and noticed a few things about our time there.

First: no one has taught the theater owners about the ability to exploit your patrons by serving buckets of ridiculously salty foods so they are forced to buy gallon-sized drinks. Instead, we ordered popcorn and were suprised to find that not only was the largest size about a pint & a half, but they also didn't serve buttered popcorn--only caramel. It wasn't the annoying, hard-as-a-rock, can't-unglue-your-teeth kind so we actually enjoyed it.

Second: we understand that movies are extremely popular here, but shows sell out so quickly because the size of the theaters are about 2/3 the size of a regular theater in the States. It was a nice, cozy atmosphere, and what made it more so was the fact that the seats didn't go all the way to the front of the theater... the rows started a respectable 7-8 meters or so away from the base of the screen. Imagine that.

Third: you can tell what kind of crowd the theaters cater to based on the subtitles for the movies. Obviously it's an American movie, so it was in English, but then there were 2 sets of subtitles: Bahasa & Chinese (not sure if they were Mandarin or Cantonese). When the actors were speaking Russian or something, and it was translated to English, you sort of had to hunt through the THREE sets of subtitles to find your language. It was pretty amusing, actually.

So after our taxi mis-adventures of the other evening, we will probably opt to stay in for a while. Although we got season tickets for the Symphony, held at the Petronas Towers, and the first show is this Saturday, so we are excited about getting some culture. Of course, we're going with friends from church and THEY have a car, so we won't have the same transport issues... which makes the night out all the more appealing.

Before signing off, I had to write about 3 cool things from today that REALLY made us wish we'd had our camera on us.
1- While at the grocery store, we saw a sign directly above the butcher shop that said they had camel meat available. I know I learned at some point that camel's hump was a delicacy, but I'm not sure I care to find out for sure.
2- Also at the market today, I noticed that the local McDonald's vendor that is just a little booth selling only their ice cream (cones, sundaes, etc.) was advertising a new feature: they were proud to announce the "Green Bean flavored McFlurry or Sundae"... seriously. Green bean. Michael though it was a mis-translation but I don't think so. The ice cream in the picture was green with large cut-up-bean-looking chunks dotting the top. Apparently that's a delicacy, too. We did find out it's a special "limited edition" flavor, just for the celebration of Hari Raya.
(managed to find a picture online at

3- so you don't think we're suffering food-wise... we are often trying new fruits here because they're so fun-looking and exotic-sounding. This week we had starfruit and it was actually really cool. It's sort of bitter, sort of sweet, really juicy... Michael said it tastes like Pixie Stix. Sure, why not. I should have taken a picture of it, but we already ate it, so here is one I found on the net. It's even more fun because when you slice it up, the slices are in star shapes!

(one final note: one thing michael & i will be MOST thankful for in a few days is the end of the most noticeable form of celebration for hari raya: the lighting of fireworks. lots of them. ALL the time. apparently they've been banned, but people smuggle them in on the black market and don't make a pretense of hiding them because they've been going off non-stop for almost 2 weeks... sometimes during the day! we about had it last week when, at the beginning of hari raya we were awoken by 3 large rapid-fire fireworks bursts right outside our window at 4:30AM!!! apparently people REALLY love this holiday. i can handle a day or 2, maybe even a whole weekend, of fireworks, but when they come randomly and intermittently over the course of 2 weeks, and are expected to last another week at LEAST, i am ready to strangle the next kid i see with a lighter!)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Happy Fall, everyone! It's 88º today!

I still can't get over the fact that it's actually autumn. Is it really possible there is snow in other places? Hard to imagine when it is perpetually around 90 degrees + the added bonus of humidity. Thank goodness our apartment has a swimming pool-- we usually head down there a couple times a week. One mention of "swimming" or "pool" and john is off like a shot, yanking on the front door handle, shouting "poo! poo!" at the top of his lungs. (He hasn't quite figured out the "l" sound on that word.) Everything feels great here until about 11:30am or so, when simply stepping outside can equal dripping in a pool of your own sweat. Nice.
Thankfully, the taxis & trains are pretty well air-conditioned... most of the time. Every once in a while we'll get in a taxi that is clearly not driven by a well-groomed driver, nor is he concerned about the condition of his vehicle. On the way to church one Sunday, I stuck my hand on a large, conspicuous wet spot on the right side of the back seat (thankfully I didn't sit right on it) and thus spent the rest of the ride jammed right next to Michael & John on the left side so I could avoid the affected area. These types of taxis also usually smell faintly like a foul mixture of cigarette smoke & urine. Yech. But those instances are the rarity and we are grateful to usually travel in relative comfort.
Mostly John

Honestly, when it is this hot, I don't know how all of these women wear the veils they do. A lot of them are silky scarf-like material that seems thin enough that it wouldn't be terribly oppressive in the heat... but some of them are dark, coarse, linen material, and with it wrapped around their head & neck like that with really no airways for it to breathe makes me start to sweat just looking at them. And that's just women wearing the veils... don't even get me started on the burqa. A full-bodied covering? That's just cruel. I guess you get used to it when you live in this type of climate... and though the dominant religion on this country is Islam, there are scores of Chinese and other foreigners who are Christian, Buddhist, etc. This week I noticed that at one point, standing in a train car, there were about 13 women (actually, mostly young girls) wearing veils & 5 (including me) without. Later that same day I only saw 4 girls with veils in the train and about 9 without. Kuala Lumpur seems to be quite a nicely diverse place-- although I'm sure it changes dramatically when you go out into other, more remote parts of the country. I know at our own church, since we arrived about 2 1/2months ago, there has been a baptism every week, except the last one, so the missionaries are definitely staying busy here. Yay missionaries!!! :)
OK, I know I said that I was mostly just finding things that I'm grateful for since we've lived here, but having said that I must make one comment: I've definitely found the down-side to air-drying your laundry as opposed to using an electric dryer. When there are clothes on it, our drying rack sits in the living room, right outside of the kitchen... where I make food... after washing all our bathroom towels the other day, we now have wonderfully clean, white towels... that smell like hamburger. Nice. Unfortunately, in a small apartment, there aren't a lot of other places to put the drying clothes where they won't be saturated with the smells of our dinner.
Finally, I had to include our harrowing adventure from this morning. All of the individual rooms in the apartment have locks on them (the bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.) and I have keys on my keyring that open half of them doors, and Michael has keys that open the other half. Well, somehow Michael's door to his study had the lock-button pushed down and John ran in there when he got up (he was trying to evade his father who was attempting to change his diaper) and he shut the door behind him, locking himself in the room in the process. The funny part is that Michael keeps his keys in his study, and those were the ones that opened that particular door. So there we were, crouched around the door, trying to get John to turn the knob (he hasn't figured out how to do that just yet-- he can only jiggle it back & forth) while he's stuck in there with the keys. We finally said a little prayer, asking that John stay safe in there, since we couldn't get to him, and to help us figure out how to get him out. Thankfully, we have a very smart little boy who is also a very good little helper and likes to follow instructions. While Michael was trying to jimmy the lock, I crouched down and gave John directions while watching his reflection on the wood floor, so I could sort of see what he was doing. It went something like this: "John, where's daddy's keys? do you see daddy's keys? they're on the desk. can you bring momma the keys? where are they? do you see them? on the desk, yeah. can you climb on daddy's chair? climb on daddy's chair, john... no not that chair, daddy's chair. go climb on daddy's chair. good boy. do you see the keys? where's daddy's keys? can you get the keys?" (i hear jingling of keys - yay!) "good job pumpkin! you got the keys! now can you bring them to momma? bring momma the keys. yes, climb down from daddy's chair and bring momma the keys." (pitter-patter of feet and jingling of keys toward the door - we're almost there!) "ok, no give the keys to momma" (i try pushing my fingers under the door but the gap is too small... instead i hear knock-knock from the other side, which is what john does when he wants his dad to open his study door) "no, pumpkin put the keys under the door" (have i even taught him that preposition? under? i don't think so. michael goes to get a piece of paper to slide under the door) "john, do you see the paper?" (he tries to grab it) "no, john put the keys on the paper. see the paper? put the keys on the paper. no, don't throw the keys on the floor, put them on the paper..." phew! finally he got them on the paper, we slide the paper out with the keys on them-- victory!

what an interesting way to spend the first 25 minutes of your day. so, for those of you without kids, that is the way you spend talking ALL day to a 19 month old baby. no wonder i am in heaven when we can get out and do things with ADULT friends. :)
Central Market

Well, since this has turned into a ridiculously long entry, I'll close now and you can click on the picture links to hear more about the actual goings-on around KL, as opposed to just the things going on in our house. there are some cool pics and explanations of the Central Market, which is my new favorite place to buy local goods and we will definitely be going back there, so stay tuned for more pictures!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Just doing our small part...

In support of international bloggers everywhere trying to increase awareness about the political plight of residents in Myanmar, today we're just posting the banner. It's not much, but it's a small thing we can do for someone else struggling against oppression. Unfortunately, this is only one case among thousands in the world where people are denied freedoms by those with greater power. Maybe today is a day to be thankful for what we've been given... and to try giving a little back!