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Published: April 28th 2009
Giant Blog: Catching up on Many Adventures
Well it finally happened, after moving to Asia some 18 months ago, finally this January, we had our first guests!!! First, our good friend Samoa, with whom we taught in Tianjin, stopped over on her way to Bangkok for the big teacher recruitment fair. The visit wasn’t long, but it was so great to catch up. We had dinner, and toured around Sunway Pyramid, our local West Edmonton Mall, watching little kids practice figure skating, and enjoying the fanfare of the lead-up to Chinese New Year. She left early Saturday morning, to find herself a new position in Korea, who will be so lucky to have her.
Then a week later, my brother Bruce, conducting research in Cambodia, flew down for a weekend of Malaysian adventures. We tried our best to show him the range of what is Malaysia, including Craig performing at the open jam night downtown, eating chicken fish at street stalls, to the Sky Bar, the swankest club in town with the best view of the Twin Towers. At this point, Craig having always been allergic to my family, fell into his usual Christie
flu, but we dragged him to Malacca nonetheless, though he was left for the most part in the hotel room to sleep off a terrible fever, that didn’t break until late Sunday night. It was a great time to visit Malacca, in the lead-up to Chinese New Year, we enjoyed Lion Dances, a great night market and lots of live performances. The next day we found our way to a local beach, not quite the nice ones you’ll see from the islands we have visited, and managed to all get burnt somewhere, which I doubt did much for Craig’s fever. Bruce left sometime during the day on Monday, back to Cambodia for just a short time, and from there back to Bristol. Strangely, this means that all three of us, Bruce, David and myself have been in Malaysia, on the other side of the world, a strange coincidence that I doubt my parents would ever have foreseen when we were younger.
A long weekend in February suddenly arrived and rather than feeling up for adventure, we felt still exhausted from Vietnam travels and lots of guests. Instead of scampering off for the full weekend, we
decided on a single night trip to Kuala Selangor which isn’t far from KL. To get there was an adventure on public bussing, a cheap adventure, but one where the driver suddenly shouted we were to get off the bus at a random gas station on the side of the road and we could only hope we were in the right place. In the heat of midday, we walked along the highway, packs loaded for overnight, hoping our hotel wasn’t far. Signs were posted along the way giving us hope we weren’t far from our destination, but in fact, it would take close to an hour to arrive at the hotel. Here we had rented a cabin for the night, and suffering a little from sunstroke we had an afternoon nap and then hit the pool. At the pool, we were harassed by large, fang barring monkeys, which kind of freaked me out as they went for our snacks. I snapped my towel to ward them off, but then a giant monkey hissed at me, and I swear its fangs were three inches long! Craig came running, and it ran away. I then went and disposed of our empty snack
bags in the rubbish bin only to watch the cheeky monkey lumber over, deftly open the lid and extract the same items I had tried to keep him from having minutes earlier. I am starting to dislike monkeys.
Why Kuala Selangor for a night away? Well it is famous for its fireflies. So after dinner, we boarded a van to the river, where we joined a long queue to get in a 4 person row boat. We were rowed up the river, at first wondering what the “big deal” was, because Malaysian fireflies are not as fat or bright as Canadian fireflies. But then, Canadian fireflies fly around slowly, with a slow blink, and there are only a few at a time (to my experience). However in Malaysia, the experience was entirely different. As we moved away from the lights of the dock, he steered us in towards the shore when suddenly we realized the bushes were filled with thousands of tiny fireflies blinking in synchrony. Though not as bright, and generally fixed to a leaf or twig, the overall effect reminded me of white Christmas lights, and the sheer number of little lights flashing is one of the
most beautiful and awe inspriring sights of my life.
The next morning we hiked back into town, and found our way to the local provincial park which protects a mangrove forest and wetland. This park was a fantastic adventure. We saw monitor lizards, mud skippers (I think, though I prefer mud flippers) which are the oddest looking creatures, like the first life to waddle out of the oceans, uncountable species of birds, macaque and silver leaf monkeys, turquoise crabs and so much more. Finally, out of water and getting worried about how one catches a bus back to KL that just dropped you off on the side of the highway, we decided to get moving, the short story being we found ourselves on a chicken bus home, and enjoyed it very much.
Chinese New Year in Langkawi
Langkawi is beach island paradise. We rented a basic room in a beach bungalow, and chilled on the beach for a few days with several other members of staff. One day we ventured out for some actual activity, taking the world’s steepest cable car to the top of the mountain, but that was enough adventure, and the fact
was we just wanted to relax on the beach, eat great food and take long afternoon naps.
We had heard a lot of rave reviews of Genting Highlands. This resort town on the top of a mountain accessible by cable car can be seen glowing at night from the roof of our own building. So on a random Saturday morning we hopped on a bus with our friend Sandra, were dropped off at a cable car and finally found ourselves in a large mall on a mountain, surrounded by lush rainforest which we could not access. Trapped for hours in this neon nightmare we played some slots (I came out 20 ringgit the richer), sang some Kareoke and watched it pour rain. When the time for our departure arrived, only 5 hours later, but seemingly days, we cable carred it back down the mountain and bussed it to Chinatown for dinner. Check Genting off the todo list, with a big mental note to never return.
On a long weekend in early March for of us set off for the island of Penang. The colonial town of Georgetown is absolutely
gorgeous, and really fun to just wander about. The food is famous throughout Malaysia . One day we headed out to explore the butterfly park, which is the best I have ever seen, and a little fishing village. Then we made our way to the beach. We entered the Holiday Inn, used their washroom to change and made use of the beach. We also took the funicular lift up Old Penang Hill. At the top of the hill, which provided an awesome view of the island, we saw the biggest spiders we’ve seen here yet and the biggest centipede I’ve ever seen. We hiked halfway backdown the mountain until the path suddenly ended at the tracks for the funicular lift, and were surprised when the driver actually stopped the lift for us to board for the rest of the descent. It was pretty cool actually.
Months ago we agreed to take a group of six students to a Global Issues Network conference in Bangkok for the 2nd half of March Break. So then, what to do with our first four days? Monsoon season apparently over, we hopped on a flight to Kota Bharu, from there
a taxi to Kuala Besut and from there onto a jet boat to the Perhentian Islands. The islands are quite a way out, and the sky was quite nice as we left on a speedboat. About halfway there, we noticed the colour of the water ahead of us was quite different and that the sky had turned quite gray and then it started to rain. We pounded along, our backs now facing forward, so that the stinging rain didn’t hit our faces. I tied my bandana (long since blown off of my head) around my neck which was suffering road rash of sorts from the rain slashing at my neck. Meanwhile the boat driver had taken off his shirt, was balancing a cigarette on his lips and full of mirth at us wimpy foreigners who couldn’t take the ride.
What had we envisioned of these precious four days of vacation? A basic cabin, no need for anything fancy, we would be lazing on the beach or snorkeling. Maybe read a good book or two, play some cards. So we picked the most basic accommodations, which fortunately did include stilts for our cabin. Why were stilts important you ask? Because
it was a late monsoon. No television, no Internet, and very soon no more books (we read them all), we were stuck in our very basic cabin for 3 days straight. We would occasionally wade through the foot deep lake surrounding the cabins over to the restaurant, which had no walls, and would attempt to eat our fried noodles before they were washed off the plate by the carwash like effect of the monsoon. We played numerous games of travel scrabble and Canasta. At any break in the storm we would wander out to the beach, and pick up the broken glass and plastic that had washed ashore. On our third morning, when it was clear it was another unsuitable day for snorkeling, we made arrangements for an early departure, booked ourselves in the Renaissance Hotel in Kota Bharu and escaped our damp surroundings. The boat ride back being not much more pleasant, we were a sorry sight for our taxi driver, and for the reception at the nicest hotel in town.
We entered our hotel room, and as I unrolled my pant cuffs, sand and ocean detritus emptied onto the floor and so I apologize to housekeeping. I
hopped in for a hot bath, and had a wonderful sleep on a proper mattress and watched lots of television.
The next day we had some time to explore KB a truly Malay town. The local market was quite fantastic, and we caught a show of local crafts and traditions so Craig tried his hand at spinning tops. That evening we hopped a plane back to KL and the very next morning headed into our school to meet our eager students. For one student it was her first time out of the country, and for this teacher her first out of the country field trip.
My six students did very well at the Global Issues Network conference in Bangkok. I had attended last year in Beijing with students from Teda International School, and so part of the thrill of returning was the chance to see my former colleague Ramona Boyle, the two of us having been perfectly suited as teaching partners, and my former students. In fact, one of them, Amy, became quite attached to my new students, so it was quite seamless.
My students presented a 45 minute workshop on water deficits to
rave reviews. The rest of the time they were either in other student workshops or keynote sessions. The one that struck me the most was by the Elephant Nature Foundation, and I need to go back to my last Bangkok blog and make some comments. I had not realized the torture involved in subdueing elephants for elephant trekking and other elephant tourist activities, and the video shown made me feel absolutely ill, knowing I had supported the industry. And so my recommendation to fellow travelers, stick to the sanctuaries, like Kuala Gandah in Malaysia, don’t support this industry.
The other important part of this trip was going to the Mercy Centre in the largest slum in Bangkok. This facility offers pre-school, an AIDS hospice and other community services. My students had fundraised enough to support a child for a year, and dropped off the funds. The centre was quite moving, and my first experience in an AIDS hospice. They are always looking for volunteers, so perhaps some year, when we can afford a true leave of absence, we can put in some time here.
Well, we were only home two days in KL and back off again to another
conference, this time a teacher conference, in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. It is probably the best professional development I have ever had. It was quite strange though, as almost the entire staff of Teda International School were present, and one evening, sitting at a table surrounded by our previous colleagues, I felt as though I had woken up and my year in Malaysia had just been a dream. But where they had to go back to China, where it had snowed the week previous, our flight was much shorter, and it was still gloriously warm and tropical at home in KL. I should mention we took an afternoon to go snorkeling off an island which was used for the very first season of Survivor, and when you realize how close they were to Kota Kinabalu, the whole thing seems a lot less “survival” oriented, I mean, they must have seen tourists snorkeling, and parasail adventurers every day. The water is so salty I bet they could have swam/floated back to Kota Kinabalu.
Well, to wrap up this blog, we just finished our first ever time hosting student teachers. It was a big help
for me, as my students ran their world issues conference on Saturday, April 11th, a big deal this time as we partnered with UNICEF for the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We had 200 participants, and 7 participating NGOs to compliment the student run workshops my own students had prepared. An extra person to run troubleshooting was a great asset, and for once Craig was able to relax a little and enjoy the event, rather than being my second in command. Anyway, their last day was just this past Friday, and my students, being the lovely and crazy bunch that they are, decided to throw a party for all 4 student teachers in my room after school, there was a cake to be cut, a dance party, guitars and singing. It was quite the event.
Finally Caught up on My Blogs
Well, I think we are finally caught up on the blogs! Sorry to have gotten so far behind, it has been a crazy spring. We are travelling at every opportunity, not much time left here after all. We have begun the process of repatriation, which is a little ornery,
but we’ll get through it. It turns out we misunderstood a tax rule in regards to our trip to Bangkok, as a result our return to Canada has been delayed until the very end of July. I am starting to wonder if Malaysia will ever let us go.
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