Notes from plane seats and the odd airport lounge

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Asia » Malaysia
March 15th 2014
Published: March 17th 2014
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The lead up to this holiday was reasonably smooth until the last two weeks. Work had been going well and our deadlines would have been achievable if the kelpie, the cat and I had cooperated. Jasper (the 7–year old kelpie) accidently split her toenail and had to have the entire nail removed. She had surgery 11 days before we left. Mia (the 1–year old cat) got into a major fight with a local cat and ended up with a badly infected shoulder. The vet put her on a fortnight of antibiotics, but we were leaving in 9 days. We lost another day when I needed an unexpected trip to the dentist with a sensitive tooth that I didn’t want to carry around Malaysia. Needless to say, we didn’t meet our deadlines. Oliver (the 2–year old kelpie) managed to stay accident free, which was a first for him.

We dropped them off at the boarding facilities on the day before we left. There are moments in your life when the demands of three pets can get a little overwhelming, but when the house falls silent, you miss them. We missed the madness of dinnertime; the negotiations of who sleeps where during the evening; the strategic negotiations of getting two kelpies outside at the end of the evening when the cat remains inside (sometimes on the bed). We missed Mia’s 5.45am wake up cacophony on the morning we left, which usually stretches to 6.15am if we ignore her and listen (or try to listen) to the 6am news. We missed the exuberant greeting of two mad kelpies when we walk outside for the first time – a greeting worthy of someone you haven’t seen for 20 years, but we get it every morning. We missed them, but we were heading to Malaysia for a month, so we were excited.

We shut down the house, packed up the car and left for the airport at 7.40am. We arrived, checked in, watched the movements of excited (and not so excited) travellers in the gate lounge for about 30 minutes and then boarded the short 1–hour flight to Melbourne. We arrived, grabbed our bags and made our way to the international check–in counters, where we met Ren’s parents, brother and nephew. We checked–in, grabbed a quick airport lunch, bid farewell and made our way through customs. This was shaping up to be a very stress–free start to our travels. Before we knew it we were on Malaysia Airlines Flight 148 to Malaysia.

We flew for hours over Australia’s endless red centre. The beer was great but the food was ordinary, which is fine, as expectations of air–food are rarely met. As the lights dimmed and people settled into movies, I opened my netbook and began typing. As I sat and gazed at the horizon, I couldn’t help but wonder if almost a week ago, someone on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to Beijing was sitting and typing their travel thoughts when suddenly (or possibly not so suddenly) something went horribly wrong. It’s hard to comprehend the experience they went through, and even harder to comprehend how a plane could just disappear without a trace. I wondered how the cabin crew on our flight must be feeling, having lost a number of their colleagues. I wondered how the families and friends of passengers were coping with the baffling tragedy. I could only imagine a feeling of suffocating emptiness.

As I typed, I periodically gazed out the window – the dark shadows of clouds drifting slowly across the expanse of red earth below were mesmerizing. I couldn’t get the in–flight travel info to display on my seat monitor, so I had no idea where we were, how high we were or how much longer we would be flying. But I didn’t mind. I love plane travel, and I especially love plane travel when we’re travelling together to a destination full of new and untried experiences.

We touched down at 11.30pm (8.30pm local time). We had been flying for 8 hours. It took around an hour to make our way through customs, pick up our packs and be finger–printed by Adhd, one of the grumpiest customs officers I’ve experienced. We were in Malaysia. 😊

The lead up to our trips is always hectic for us, and this trip was no different, but not due to work pressures this time. The week before we left we had two emergency trips to the Animal Hospital, first to get Jasper’s back foot bandaged up as she had ripped open one of her claws and had to get the entire claw removed; and two days later to get our cat Mia examined as we thought she had hurt her front paw, but it turned out that she had been in a cat fight and had an infected bite on her shoulder that needed a strong course of antibiotics. Oh the joy! More unplanned visits to the vet followed, getting bandages changed etc, and we were really starting to get anxious about getting everything done before we left.

And then there was the Malaysian Airlines plane disappearance exactly a week before we left. It didn’t help that we were also to be flying on the same model Boeing 777–200 aircraft. All in all, it was a most unexpected week. It was very fortunate that we had been extra organised and got most of our travel to–do list sorted well ahead. We even had time to catch up for a quick but very enjoyable breakfast with fellow bloggers MargAndRob who are touring Tasmania at the moment. We also managed to register for early voting in the State Election that is taking place in Tasmania today. We will have to look up the results when we land in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of you may not know Mia who I mentioned earlier. We adopted Mia four months ago from the Hobart Cat Centre. She is just over 1 year old and a total cutie who has really settled into life with us and our two kelpies Jasper and Oliver. This will be her first extended stay at the cattery, and we are a bit worried for her as she is such a social human–company loving cat. We’re hoping that special visits from Jasper and Oliver to her room will help her get through it.

The flight from Hobart to Melbourne was quick and painless. When we got to the international terminal at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport, we were greeted by the lovely smiling faces of mum, dad, my brother and our nephew. After a quick lunch at the Airport Bar and Lounge, we boarded our flight to Malaysia. The trip had been very efficient and enjoyable so far.

As you may already know if you read our last post, on this trip we’re off to Malaysia. As cliched as Malaysia’s ‘Truly Asia’ tourist campaign was, Malaysia is very diverse in ancient and modern ways. It’s a self– proclaimed melting pot with a mix of languages, customs, religions and foods. The population is made up of ethnic Malays, Chinese, Orang Asli (indigenous people), Indians and the mixed race combinations of some of those groups. The religions are Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism and Animism. So I suppose ‘diverse’ is a great word to describe Malaysia.

Despite past racial tensions, I have read that the Southeast Asian concept of ‘saving face’ leads most people to endeavour to live peacefully. They also talk about the old Malay customary tradition of adat, which places emphasis on shared responsibility and having a harmonious community. I’m not sure how true this is, but it’s pretty amazing that a country would equally celebrate all its different religious days with a public holiday. Even though Australia is technically a secular country, we celebrate the Christian holidays, but that courtesy doesn’t extend to our citizens of other religions.

The mixed race groups unique to Malaysia really fascinate me – the Chitty, Peranakan and Cristang. The oldest of these groups, the Chitty, descendants of local Malays and south Indian traders who are thought to have arrived in the 15th century. Even though they are Hindus, apparently the Chitty are seen as a separate group within Malaysia’s larger Indian community, as they don’t speak Tamil and their cuisine is heavily Malay–influenced. Those early Indian traders were mainly Hindu Tamils (generally vegetarians) from the south of India. However, the Indians who have arrived more recently have been Muslims from the northern parts of India with a meat–heavy diet. So things classified under the very general ‘Indian’ umbrella, actually encompasses a very wide range of Indian food and culture.

Peranakan culture (also called Straits Chinese) evolved from 16th century Hokkien Chinese traders marrying Malays. Nonya are the female descendants and Baba are the male descendants. We are familiar with the term Nonya in Australia but only in terms of food! It appears to be a true hybrid culture with a mix of traditions and language borrowed from both original Hokkien and Malay cultures. Apparently the Hainan and Guangdong Chinese traders who arrived in later centuries didn’t mix with the locals and kept their traditions, culture and food as Chinese as possible.

I had never heard the term Cristang before; it’s a mix of Portuguese and Malay only found in Melaka (a state south of Kuala Lumpur). It doesn’t seem to be as large or influential a group in terms of creating widely known hybrid food or culture, although they still speak this dialect of Portuguese in some parts of Melaka.

The racial and religious identity of Malaysia especially interests me because when we were in Kuala Lumpur in 2007, there were demonstrations by the minority groups who were seeking equal rights as the majority Malay population.

Another thing that really interests me is the Malaysian food – I’m looking forward to eating roti for breakfast, and then trying to fit as many new dishes into my day as possible. One dish I plan on eating my body weight in, is laksa. There appear to be different varieties of laksa around Malaysia – with choices of chicken, prawn, tofu or fish, and the types of noodles and other ingredients varying by region. I think it’s the perfect excuse for me to try laksa in every town we visit. From my reading so far, I can see that I’ve only had laksa lemak (using a coconut milk broth) in Australia, so I’m really looking forward to trying laksa asam and all the other very Malaysian dishes like nasi lemak and nasi kandar.

One more exciting thing about this trip is that it’s my first major outing with my new camera – the Sony Alpha Nex6. Please excuse me while I wax photo–philosophical for a reason for getting a new camera was purely convenience–driven as I was tired of lugging around my Canon DSLR. However, cameras have come such a long way that the processor in my much smaller new camera seems to be totally outperforming my old DSLR, especially in low light conditions. I researched most of the mirrorless cameras on the market and decided that the Sony Alpha Nex6 was the best option for me. My criteria was based on image quality, size and weight of camera, ease of use and the ability to add better lenses over time. So far my test photos have only involved landscapes around our home, our puppies and our kitty (who were getting VERY sick of the camera in their faces). So I’m really really excited to road test this little gem in a real life travel situation!

I just realised that I’ve written far more than I was going to. I’d say it’s a side effect of being totally relaxed, even though the food has been quite disgustingly bad (we spent a while trying to figure out if the vegetable in Andrew’s chicken lunch was carrot or sweet potato!). The only redeeming feature has been that drinks have been plentiful on this Malaysian Airlines flight, and we are very comfortably cocooned in our seats.

Well people, it’s been lovely writing to you, but I think I can squeeze in one more nap if I sign off now. See you in Kuala Lumpur (if this plane doesn’t suddenly fall out of the sky)! 😊

postscript: you probably had already picked up from Andrew’s blog that the plane didn’t fall out of the sky, and we landed safely in KL


17th March 2014

Nice intro
I am impressed you do so much background reading before embarking on a journey (and, by background, I mean historical and cultural rather than schedule planning - though I'm sure you've got that locked down too). Food is a great lens through which to see the culture in Malaysia. And speaking of which, I am excited to see you went for the Sony NEX6. Welcome to Mirrorless!
17th March 2014

Re: Nice intro
Thanks Jason. I love a bit of research, I really can't help myself. I'm enjoying my light weight mirrorless camera very much.
17th March 2014

Vicarious passenger
Oh how a love a trip...(that I'm not having). True. I really do. I enjoy finding a little email that has pinged into the inbox- a little treat from an exotic place - a little window into places unseen. So looking forward to the rich descriptions, split perspectives and samples from your new camera! You are superb travel bloggers! OOOhhh I'm excited already! Bring it on!
17th March 2014

Re: Vicarious passenger
Thanks Louise! So glad you are enjoying the blogs... hope we can do the exotic tastes, smells, sounds and colours of KL justice in the next blog :)
17th March 2014

not the best time to fly Malaysia Airlines...
But have a great holiday! Will you hit Perhentian? (I really think you should!)
17th March 2014

Re: not the best time to fly Malaysia Airlines...
Hi Jeremy, no it certainly wouldn't seem the best time to fly Malaysian Airlines! We are heading to the east coast in two weeks time and have a few days of relaxation booked in the Perhentians :)
17th March 2014

Happy Travels!
Glad you made it to KL safely and I really look forward to hearing about your Laksa experiences as I'm a huge fan too - So happy the blog is back! XXX
17th March 2014

Re: Happy Travels!
Thanks Cindy! I haven't had a laksa yet, but we are heading to Melaka tomorrow, so will definitely have one there :) xx
17th March 2014

Safe Travels
Glad you made it to Malaysia safely. That's more important than the mystry foods they serve! We are beside Lake Burbury and found 1 bar of internet. Rob
17th March 2014

Re: Safe Travels
Thanks Marg and Rob! We were happy to disembark the plane in KL in one piece... hope your Tassie tour is going well :)
17th March 2014

And it all begins
Great food, mystery food, good times, times that make you want to scream. They are all part of the package of travel. I am happy to be following along with you. It is nice to have your fun and unusual He said, She said writing back. I really enjoy reading the two perspectives. Enjoy and let the fun begin.
17th March 2014

Re: And it all begins
Happy to report that there haven't been anymore mystery foods since the plane! We are starting to settle into the trip; now if only our body clocks would make the three hour jump and not keep waking us up at 3am :)
17th March 2014

Laksa dreaming
I have a confession... I'm not a big blog reader, but I ran across your link on Facebook whilst tucked up in bed for an early night & you know something?... I can't wait for the next segment & will no doubt dream of laksa all night. Sweet dreams💤
17th March 2014

Re: Laksa dreaming
Ah Denise... Lovely to get your comment. We did a food walking tour yesterday and ate non-stop from 8am to 9pm. I think my tummy will need its own postcode at the end of this trip :)
17th March 2014

Best time to fly Malaysian Airlines
All world travelers hate to hear about missing planes or other mishaps but I've always believed the best time to fly is right after one of those events as they will be checking and double checking all the planes for issues. It is the world we live in. You've done your research and now is the time to check out reality and allow the information to be your guide. Looking forward to insightful post and fantastic photos with the new camera. We are still getting used to ours. Be safe. Have fun and let us know your perspective.
18th March 2014

Re: Best time to fly Malaysian Airlines
I agree Merry, I'm sure Malaysian Airlines really wouldn't want any more negative publicity at the moment. Even though the research helps us to prepare for the trip, once we are on the ground it's really more about going with the flow. We are quite behind on our writing - we haven' t begun the long bus trips yet :)
18th March 2014

Have fun!
We look forward to following your adventures in Malaysia! And congrats on the Hall of Fame nomination.
18th March 2014

Re: Have fun!
Thanks Matt and Roberta! We haven't been here long, but we are really enjoying the food and hospitality :)
18th March 2014

Oh to have an NEX
Another NEX user...Sony will be pleased! Hope the NEX 6 continues to thrill you. Did you end up getting the 18-200 lens or have you stuck with the 18-55? Enjoy your trip.
19th March 2014

Re: Oh to have an NEX
I love my camera David. I'm travelling with the 16-50 pancake lens which makes it a VERY small camera, and really easy to tuck away into any bag. I also got the 55-210, and an additional 50mm which is superb for fast captures of the kelpies :)
19th March 2014
mia and jasper

" shared responsibility and having a harmonious community"
Your quote about the diverse populations of Malaysia seems to apply to this photo--perhaps my fave in all the world-such sweetness and trust! Love all the very interesting information on cultures, history and food--proper preparation to deepen the meaning of your grand adventure and a great intro for others following your footsteps. Great blog!
19th March 2014
mia and jasper

Re: " shared responsibility and having a harmonious community"
Thanks a lot for that lovely comment Tara! I really really love that photo. Four months on and Jasper still watches Mia sleep, and Mia still really loves the attention :)
26th January 2019
mia and jasper

What a fantastic photo
We have one dog (poodle) and two cats, who are all very good friends, and sleep and charge around the house together. That photo of Jasper looking very concerned about Mia is priceless.
28th January 2019
mia and jasper

Re: What a fantastic photo
Thanks! It's one of my favourite photos of our furry ones. Isn't it lovely when they all get along? Our previous cat was a semi-feral (who came with the house)... so when little Mia arrived, the kelpies were very taken with the fact that they could get *so* close to her without getting a blood nose :D

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