Happy new year, everybody. And welcome to 2016. What happened to 2015? One second I was a fully employed, shivering and middling-aged member of Canadian society, and the next, I’m a casually employed, sweating Malaysian restaurant reviewer with a sugar momma. Life is weird, but fun.
We’ve been traveling a bunch over the last few weeks alongside our first long-stay visitors to Malaysia – Trina’s parents. So far, so good – no hospital visits, plenty of sun and a healthy dose of terrible puns from Sir Randall.
Oh, and we climbed Mt. Kinabalu and managed to keep all of our clothes on. Thanks to us, Canadians are now welcome back on the mountain. You’re welcome.
Here are a few pics from our travels…
We started our Christmas in Langkawi – a duty-free island just a 1-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Nice beaches and hiking.
We opted for a budget guesthouse, which prided itself on the services it didn’t provide – such as clean towels, sheets and toilet paper. The air was free though. Not bad.
Langkawi has some great, big beaches.
All the Malaysians flock to the beach at sunset. They are very sun safe and often wear all of their clothes in the drink.
We also did some hiking on Langkawi. Tough climbs and lots of swearing – but no other tourists in sight.
The hiking was worth it though getting this view.
This was at the top of a 4,200-step hike.
Here’s a look at Langkawi as we flew away.
After getting back from Langkawi, Randy and Bev joined us in KL and we quickly took a flight to the rain forests of Borneo.
Putting Trina’s parents up at a fancy beach hotel, we headed to Mt. Kinabalu for a hike to the top and a visit to the famous Jungle Jack. Jack’s hostel (and home) are a series of spruced up shipping containers. He prides himself on offering the cheapest hiking packages at Mt. Kinabalu. Highly recommended!
Here’s our container. We had the Mountain View Suite.
These ‘no nude’ signs were up all over the mountain thanks to the group of young folks who got arrested in June for posting nude photos at the top. Not cool. Especially since an earthquake followed a couple days later. This might be the only place where Canadians are treated with a bit of caution these days.
Here’s Trina on day 1 looking fresh and spry.
Here’s our guide Aslan. Cool dude. He’s hiked the mountain everyday for 35 days and he smokes a pack a day.
Here’s where we slept after day 1. A very nice place with a view of the summit. It looks so close.
Getting above the clouds is fantastic.
Amazing views on the way to the top.
After starting our Day 2 climb at 3 a.m. we reached the 4,029 metre summit at about 5:30 a.m. First time we needed coats, toques and mitts in Malaysia. It felt good. (No idea why you’d want to get naked up here? It was right around 0.)
Not much vegetation above the tree line.
It was pretty steep going down. Some spots looked like they just dropped into oblivion.
You don’t want to slip here.
Great views with the some coming up.
Only opening to the public again on December 1, you could still see many signs of the earthquake. That big white patch used to be thousands of pounds of rock.
One step and you’re walking on the cloud bed.
After getting down the hill safely, we took a flight across Borneo to check out the orangutan sanctuary in Sepilok. I definitely saw the resemblance.
These two teenagers loved to wrastle each other.
This guy was quick to grab his favourite bananas.
There was also a sun bear sanctuary right across the street from the orangutans. Here’s Mary the sun bear enjoying some corn.
Borneo sun bears are the smallest bear in the world. Still wouldn’t mess with Mary though.
We also took a riverboat cruise where we saw all sorts of monkeys and birds – and we almost saw a crocodile.
These silver leaf monkeys are settling in for the night.
This crocodile wasn’t in the wild – it was at our hotel.
I think this baby monkey just bust its neck.
These monkeys love beans.
This great horned-bill was checking out the monkey action.
The proboscis monkey is definitely the weirdest of all monkeys. Great schnoz.
Here’s the gang having some eats.
Here’s the big guy on campus. Biggest nose, belly and a constant erection.
Kicking ass and spotting monkeys.
Can you spot the primate?
Having a chat over a drink and a bean.
After our animal watching, we spent a day on Mandakan Beach near Kota Kinabalu. Feels just like a warm bath.
Even wonder what happened to the stars of the early 90s? Well it seems once their North American fame has long past, they hit up Asia. They can tour for 20 plus years past their fame here, and Asians love them! This might explain the frequent air time artists like KC and JoJo, Rick Astley, Billy Ocean and others get.
Now imagine our excitement when we found out MC Hammer was coming to RetroFest Asia. And then imagine our disappointment when we found out days before he cancelled. Supposedly, he wanted more money for more dancers. So Shaun took to social media to protest. He did get the promoter to change their poster, but he didn’t get a refund and he couldn’t return his Hammer pants.
We decided to make the best of it. One hit wonders – All 4 One (“I Swear”), Diana King (“Shy Guy”) and Tommy Page (no idea who he is but apparently he did a cameo on Full House as DJ’s crush) were still taking the stage.
So a group of us braved the rain and made the drive to the Sunway Mall / Theme Park (the same place Shaun plays hockey) for the concert. The venue was the Sunway Lagoon. Picture it. Sand surrounds an extensive pool which has been drained just for the concert. A canopy walk overhead is deemed in flashing lights “ASIA’S BIGGEST ATTRACTION”. Families ride a holiday train round and round the venue. Yep- definitely the place for a concert!
The artists played and I have to say it was very entertaining for many reasons. They sounded pretty much the same, their dance moves were well choreographed and they looked – well . . . older. Moments of nostalgia took me back to high school dances and driving in my 1984 Hyundai Pony with friends. That in itself was worth the price of admission!
Today is the Sultan of Selangor’s birthday. Today I had the day off work. Thank you Sultan!
Naturally, we celebrated by sashaying around Chinatown trying to find a Christmas tree. Nearly running out of gas in a traffic jam, some drama over a holiday table runner and a claypot curry lunch only added to the Christmas magic. We ended up with a nice little tree, and some very colourful (possibly seizure inducing lights).
All and all, I’d call the day a success.
There was no shortage of Christmas bling along side ceramic cats, stuffed Minion toys and dried squid jerky.
The tree is up but looking pretty barren at the moment. One more venture out for decorations should do the trick.
We enter the Sinhalese Bar in Ipoh through sliding saloon style doors. Is this the Wild West? What’s with those doors?
The doors are not the only decor faux pas. The insulation pink walls and mint green tiles immediately have our senses on high alert. But there are an aunty and uncle serving beers, a group of men gathered in the corner playing a lively game of cards, and friendly smiles from a diverse Malaysian group reading poetry that greet us. “There is only one rule.” We are told. “Everyone must read a poem.” I contemplate turning right back out the door. However, something seems inviting in the paradox of Indian, Chinese and Malay Malaysians all gathered in a beer station for The Other Festival.
What that meant – we had no idea. It turns out that The Other Festival is a mix of food, art, poetry and music in the Old Town of Ipoh (about a two-hour drive north of KL).
So being good sports, we read poems aloud to the crowd. Then, we stayed for a performance done to live music by a local poet. The words were in Bahasa Malay, so I have no idea what she said. But she held the audience captive. Even the men in the corner, who had become increasingly loud as they drank their Tiger beers, stopped for a moment to listen.
The next weekend, the same friend and I attended a Latin Ball for charity. We got dressed up, had our photos taken with a parrot and salsa danced the night away.
A few days earlier, Shaun and I met a local man and his wife who followed their dreams to set up their own coffee shop. He spent 5 years making a transparent espresso machine and quit his job in IT to follow his passion. He’s only been open a few months, but dreamSS cafe (the extra “s” is for extra luck) is roasting their own coffee beans and baking their home cooked meals with love.
Then just today, I received a message from a friend that Sierra Leone is officially ebola free.
“Peace be with you Trina! Good to informed you that the Ebola virus is over. We reached 42 days last Saturday without a case. So we are free from pains and stress. We are hoping to see a good 2016.”
George is a Sierra Leonean teacher who attended the peace curriculum course I was involved with in Freetown in 2010. In spite of all the obstacles that his country has been faced with, he has made it his personal mandate to teach a message of peace and love to the next generation.
It’s moments like these that have me believing in humanity. Some are simple and others more profound. It’s moments like this that I desperately cling to when I hear of another terrorist attack and the subsequent ignorant comments directed at refugees. We are all flawed, but we all also have the capacity to spread a message of peace and love in the everyday things we do.
Cecilia bravely reads a poem first. Notice the bar doors and the men in the corner.
This was one of the murals in Ipoh’s Old Town. I like the idea of flying away in a paper airplane.
This is a picture of George and I in 2010 at his program completion ceremony. Notice he’s wearing a Canada shirt and I’m wearing an African dress.
Nothing beats a latte brewed with love.
We’re all dolled up for the Latin ball so why not get your picture with a parrot before getting our groove on?.(a python was also available)
The Latin culture is definitely one of rhythm. I danced to the many live performances until my feet were sore and when I left at 1am the party showed no sign of slowing down!
I’m a crappy coach. Whether it’s been in sports, work or just life, I’m not good at translating how to do something to another person. I’ve known this for awhile, but it’s really come to the forefront since it’s become my part-time job in Malaysia. And now that my cross country coaching season is over, I’ve been tapped in to coach the junior girls basketball team. Uh oh, God help me.
(Truth be told the last time I coached anything was 17 years ago when I helped coach the Riffel basketball team immediately after I graduated. And all I really did then was hang out with my friends who were still on the team and run in the drills with them. No real coaching took place.)
The problem with me and coaching isn’t that I don’t like kids or don’t like sports or even that I don’t know about sports. The problem really is that I dislike, and am a bit afraid of, telling people what to do.
I mean, what makes me the expert to boss someone around about how to run a motion offense or use BEEF when their shooting or run 50 suicides? I certainly haven’t put in my 10,000 hours at coaching yet (see Malcolm Gladwell for that reference), and my mind simply works best in slow motion, which doesn’t lend itself to implementing a press break on the fly. And lastly, how/why do I care about any of it?
Just because I’m greying at the temples and played high school sports in the 90s, does that really make me qualified to coach anything?
Well, apparently in Malaysia it does, and I really have no choice but to go along with it because it’s one of my only paying gigs at the moment.
And to tell you the truth, while I’m no good at it, I do kind of enjoy the challenge and the weirdness of it.
I mean four months ago I was sitting in an office all day writing about Canadian farm financing and now I’m yelling at teenage girls to get back on defense. (God, I hate it when we get beat down the court!)
Maybe I will get used to telling people what to do after all. I’ll let you know how it goes. Now, where’s my f’n whistle?
In the last few months, we’ve been lucky enough to travel to a few different destinations in SouthEast Asia. With my daily youtube yoga routine (ok maybe not quite daily), I’ve also been privy to random ads from each country. This had me wondering, do commercials reflect a culture? If so, we might be in trouble. Here are a few samples to see what I mean.
Indonesia (skin whitening deodorant)
I’ve seen skin whitening products in many Asian countries. The obsession with becoming whiter seems strange to us, but is it any different than tanning beds and bronzing cream in Canada? Look out, skin bronzing deodorant might be the next craze!
Myanmar (mobile phones – I think)
Aw, it seems that the Myanmarese are quite sentimental. Can you imagine if you were being proposed to and both partner’s parents showed up? I don’t think we’d have the same reaction.
Malaysia (KFC for celebrating Malay New Year)
In a nutshell, this commercial has you thinking that all Malaysia’s love fried chicken (this might be true) and that they wear toupees (yet to be determined).
This ad leaves me absolutely speechless. This isn’t quite the same experience I had when living on a Thai rice farm!
When you move to a foreign country (especially without a job), you have to be open to try new things. I mean, why else, would you move? Most times that just means eating crazy food, learning some phrases in a different language or getting lost on strange streets.
My latest adventure in Malaysia is writing for a popular food and lifestyle blog (it has 6 million page views – about 6 million more views than this blog) run by a teacher at Trina’s school. Getting paid in free food and booze, it really is a sweet gig for me. While I’m certainly no foodie (I’ve been known to eat melted cheese sandwiches for weeks at a time), I think I’m up for the creative challenge.
Using words like scrumptious, palette, moist and delectable, have always been on my bucket list. And now I have the perfect reason – free potato wedges and Coke floats!
Stepping off the plane in Yangon, I realized I was some place very different than KL. First, there was no haze blanketing the city (a huge bonus), and second, the airport is the size of a high school gym, yet it still feels bigger than it needs to be.
Taking the 30 minute cab ride to the hotel, I felt as though I was in many different places all at once. I saw India in the random and beautiful chaos, traffic and grime. I saw Sri Lanka in the lush greenery lining the streets and the dozens of Buddhist temples that seem to appear on every block. I saw Thailand in the friendly faces always willing to help, yet not interested in taking your money (not much of it, anyway).
And taken all together I got my first glimpse of Myanmar. A gorgeous and vast country with extremely hardworking, sweet people that are peering over a cliff of exponential development and change – which brings with it both great hope and great fear.
My initial thoughts didn’t change much after spending a week walking, flying, running, boating and biking around. It was an outstanding place to visit at an exciting time in its history. Oh yeah, and the beer’s cheap too. Here’s what our week looked like…
Shaun (and a bit of Trina)
The chaotic streets of Yangon are covered in the most red betel juice spit per capita.
It’s only $1.20 CAD for a big bottle of local beer (3 glasses), which is cleverly named I might add.
Reconnecting with friends from our VSO days in Sri Lanka was a definite highlight. They were all great guides making sure we were properly watered and fed at all times.
Food cooked in a banana leaf is somehow more delicious.
This is what 100,000 Myanmar kyats looks like. Unfortunately, it’s only worth about 80 bucks, so you need to have big pockets.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the largest and most famous in the country. It’s also a place filled with good luck charms and rituals.
Shaun’s longyi in the picture cost $5 and makes him look extremely fashionable and manly.
Pouring water 36 times (1 more than my age) on a shrine to honour the day I was born (Monday) might bring good luck but it also brings a sore arm.
Banging this bell three times also brings good luck. Good luck for all.
After spending a couple days in Yangon, we took off for Inle Lake in the eastern part of the country. Our first order of business was an all-day boat ride visiting local villages and attractions.
We arrived to Inle Lake just as a large Buddha festival was beginning. This man is preparing for the party with a pre-smoke.
Delicious food is everywhere.
Stupas and temples are also everywhere.
The vegetation is so lush that it will grow anywhere – even right out of the top of stupa..
The anticipation builds as the procession approaches on the river. Think Santa’s Day Parade, but on the water and in +30 temps and with people wearing brightly coloured towels on their heads instead of toques.
The boats or floats arrive one by one with some great chanting and singing. Notice how the guys paddle with their legs.
We’re getting to the most important floats now!
There it is! Buddha’s boat! And the crowd goes wild.
During the boat ride we visited local shops including this cheroot rolling business. We sampled a couple of the local flavours.
On the lake they also have floating gardens – mostly tomatoes. The bamboo poles hold the earth in place and can be pulled up when it’s time to move the garden to another location. Very cool..
Here’s a fisherman showing off. We had to pay him $1 for this shot. Still very impressive balance.
The hills around Inle Lake are very green and while it is cooler than Yangon, the sun still gets hot.
We also found a winery in the area. It felt and looked a lot like the Okanagon Valley in B.C.
Trina enjoys a glass of the white, which is recommended. Take a pass on the red.
These little kids are happily taking a break from school to show off for the tourists.
These young monks are hard at work. One of our guides told us that there are over 1 million monks in Myanmar.
Enjoying a cheroot with our hiking guide CoCo.
Here’s the boys laughing at me when I was about to light the wrong end of my cheroot. Dicks. haha.
A very happy group of kids.
A look at Inle Lake from above as we head back to Yangon for one more night of fun with our buds.
One last hurrah with Paul and Katherine, which we started at the Bob Marley bar. Of course.