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Shaun and Trina are Sweating

Join us as we eat curry, go on adventures and fight the evil travellers' diarrhea.

Just one more…

Sorry for procrastinating on the blog. Semi-retirement has been busy.

I actually haven’t wrote since summer. And this just in — seven weeks of summer holidays is a long time! Some might even argue that I’ve been on vacation for over 2 years now. And if you ask some of my former colleagues, they might even wonder aloud if I’ve ever really worked at all.

The perks of living my life based on an international teacher’s schedule are many. The constant travel, endless summer and reasonable cost of living are a few of the big ones. But, by far the greatest advantage, is the chance to spend 4 weeks as a tourist in your hometown.

On its surface, Regina can be a hard place to appreciate. But, when a place is filled with so many people that you grew up with and laughed with and lived with, it magically transforms itself into a place that is always hard to leave.

As the flight back to KL gets closer every July, it’s all about squeezing in one more of everything. One more hug. One more beer. One more laugh. One more run. One more Par 3. One more meal. One more coffee. Just one more. One more connection. One more chance to belong. One more chance to feel at home. Nobody and no moment is taken for granted.

Now that we’ve been back in KL for over three months, the memories of all those one mores are keeping me going. And also make me think about the things I enjoy about living here.

Coaching cross country

My third year coaching the high school cross country team was my favourite one yet. We had a great group of kids that were committed and fun, and we didn’t even get last! In fact the girls won silver – the best cross country finish ever at ISKL. So, my gig is likely safe for another year.

Diving and beaching

We recently had a five-day escape to Lombok, Indonesia to dive, beach and drink cheaper beer. With dozens of world class beaches within a 2-hour, $100 flight away, this is a perk that’s tough to beat – especially when it’s -20 C right now in Regina.

Hiking in Nepal

A final perk was chaperoning a Grade 10 hiking and community service trip to Chisapani, Nepal at the end of October. This area was devastated by the earthquake from a couple years ago, but the people are as resilient (and happy) as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

The kids were great too – many of whom were fascinated with my high school stories from the 90s – Discman’s, Nirvana, O.J. Simpson, Tupac and Bill Clinton – no topics were left uncovered. I felt like an ancient historian from a time before smartphones and wifi, (but after call waiting).

In between Tales from the Old Guy, we also helped with the construction of a brand new community centre, which should open sometime next year. It was a great way to spend a week.

So, here’s to many mores of everything. And if you only have time for just one more, remember to enjoy every minute.

Shaun

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What’s so funny?

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The host of the comedy night did a great job of getting the audience involved. Thankfully, we weren’t sitting in the front row so we didn’t get picked on. Photo credits: Prakash Daniel Photography taken from https://www.crackhousecomedy.asia/

Humour is very specific in different cultures. What one group finds funny could fall flat in another, or be down right insulting. Take for instance my family tradition of puns. This British dry wit is taken to a whole other level at family gatherings in which informal pun showdowns take place among the Cobbledick brothers. They try to one up each other with made up play on words, and the result is, well, cringe worthy.

I also listened recently to an episode of This American Life about Gad Elmaleh, a star comedian in France, trying to make it in America. It turns out French comedy is much more theatric and jokes don’t always translate well.

So when the opportunity came to check out the “Malaysian King of Comedy” among others at the Crackhouse Comedy Club, we jumped at the chance. One way or another, this was going to be funny (and blog worthy)!

Laughs were plentiful that evening. The humour was clever and witty.

There were jokes about being on the set of a Malay movie (set in Switzerland, but filmed in Chiang Mai – same, same), what the last supper would have been like if Jesus were Indian  (a fantastic banana leaf feast) and even a musical tribute to Justin Trudeau (described as riding a moose and followed by a flock of Canadian geese) sung to the tune of The Little Mermaid’s  “Part of Your World.”  A wild haired Bahasa act also had the audience roaring with laughter and made me wish I could speak the language.

At the end of the evening, it did take a more serious tone. Malaysian humour is largely based on racial stereotypes. The three main ethnic groups here, the Malays, Indian Malaysians and Chinese Malaysians, all poke fun at one another.

In an environment like the comedy club, it is friendly enough, but in everyday life racism in Malaysia is felt at a much higher level. As a foreigner (at least one who is a brand of white), it’s easy to be oblivious to the racism that exists. But locals often comment about it, and many feel the problem isn’t getting any better.

On the long weekend meant to celebrate Malaysia’s independence, emotions were running high. The headliner, Douglas Lim, had recently returned from sold out shows in Melbourne and he was impressed with the harmony amongst people of all races in the city.

He ended his act comparing the current state of Malaysia to a dead bird on the road – “unnecessary.” Lim’s point was that while birds should never be spending their time on the ground (but rather flying safely in the air), so too should Malaysia be prospering  – with its abundance of natural resources, an educated population and beautiful landscapes. But instead, it remains grounded and spinning its tires stuck in the mud that is racism, greed and corruption.

Maybe comedy isn’t just about getting a laugh. Maybe it’s a powerful way to push people’s thinking – worldwide. Either way, it’s a great way to spend an evening.

Trina

Malaysia Truly Asia

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The SEA (South East Asia Games) took Kuala Lumpur by storm these past few weeks. Displays such as this with a copious amount of tiger mascots were everywhere in the city.

Kuala Lumpur is an easy place to live. It’s got all the modern day conveniences. So much so that you can easily find yourself forgetting that you live in a foreign country. But there are times when the differences of this place are impossible to ignore. Times such as these:

  • The prime minister announced yesterday that he was adding a public holiday onto an already 4-day long weekend. “There are too many public holidays in Malaysia. But… due to the overwhelming support and the tremendous performances by our athletes, therefore, the Government would like to announce Sept 4 as a public holiday,” said Najib to roars and applause from the excited crowd. (Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/08/31/sept-4-public-holiday/#uX3dSWTgOoZRGxcF.99) Maybe Trudeau should consider this if Canada performs well in the Winter Olympics.
  • The number of speed bumps on my 10-minute drive to work has increased from 40 to 50 since my absence over the summer holidays.
  • In the women’s sepak takraw event, they didn’t bother playing the bronze medal match. Instead, they decided to let Malaysia and Myanmar share the 3rd place spot on the podium (and gave them all stuffed tigers, of course).
  • When purchasing tickets for that sepak takraw, online sales gave the option of 9 am or 4 pm tickets. No online schedule was posted. We bought tickets for 4 pm. The last match of the day occurred at 3 pm. At least we got to see the prize giving!
  • At a local Merdeka (Independence Day) 4km run that Shaun took the ISKL cross country team to, officials told the runners to SLOW DOWN as they approached the finish line. It seems getting the perfect finishers’ photo was much more important than anyone’s time.
  • Most times I go into a public toilet, I find the entire stall has been hosed down and is still dripping wet with water to clean it.
  • And who doesn’t love a couple of good Asian signs!

Idiosyncracies and all, it’s good to be back in our second “home”.

Trina

Tales from Saskatchewan suburbs

Of course no visit home is complete without attending a Rider game. This year was the inaugural season of the new Mosaic stadium.

Going home to Saskatchewan has always been a welcome part of our summer. It’s a chance to reconnect with friends and family, eat copious amounts of food and recharge over a few good books. Since our parents (and sisters) literally live blocks away from one another, we were also reliving our school days walking or biking around the neighbourhood and calling on friends. Sometimes the bike trips now involve stopping at a local pub to pick up a growler or two, but they are more or less the same.

Noted on these daily neighbourhood adventures are the habits of the average Saskatchewan suburbanite – especially that of the retired male specimen in the summer months.

The following are a list of ways these fascinating fellows may spend their time.

  • Washing rocks (witnessed at least 3 times)
  • Metal recycling
  • Digging out and raising window wells
  • Sharpening table saws
  • Developing contraptions to protect the floor of their garage
  • Hoisting metal truck racks into their garage ceiling
  • Moving piles of dirt, rocks and or cedar chips into different locations in the yard and back again
  • Washing their truck, RV and SUV followed by washing their driveway
  • Sitting and judging out their front window
  • Documenting the times and dates the city employees mow the park lawns
  • Saving baby rabbits

…and those things were mostly just what our dads did.

Now as I sit in my apartment overlooking the KL skyline, I haven’t seen a single person wash rocks today. But I have seen people burning random things, park on the sidewalk and fog for mosquitoes.

However, I am sitting and judging from my window, so I guess I’ve still got a bit of surburbanite left in me.

Trina

Dancing through fire: A Catalonian summer festival

In all of our travels, the best trips have always been alongside local friends. Secret spots, the best food and deep conversations are all perks of visiting a country with someone on the inside.

It’s become so valuable to us that we find it hard to travel anywhere now and not know someone there – luckily we know a lot of people around the world (and we’re not afraid to freeload).


Our recent trip to Catalonia was no different with our friend Ramon and his girlfriend Marta at our side.

We actually met Ramon during our trip to Myanmar a year and a half ago. As we rode bikes through the countryside, he innocently offered us a place to stay if we ever visited Barcelona. Little did he know how long our memories could be. 

After a quick email exchange in May, we were booked into Ramon’s spare bedroom and he was planning a special program for our visit.

Opening up his home (and booking off 4 days from work), Ramon took us on a hike and a run with his running group, a secret tour through Barcelona and his town of St. Boi, and made sure we ate all the best foods from the area. Oh yeah, there were also dancing eggs.


The highlight of our ‘special program’ was a traditional Catalonian festival called Patum. Celebrating the changing of seasons and honouring ancient Catalonian customs, the party is hard to explain.

Basically it’s this…

  • Put 2,000 people in a small town square.
  • Bring in 20,000 or so firecrackers.
  • Attach some of those firecrackers (lit) to giant puppets, and have them dance around the crowd to music played by a live band.
  • Make sure to have a puppet that’s supposed to be an eagle, but looks like a chicken walk into the silent crowd and awkwardly bow and jump slowly bringing everyone into a frenzy.
  • Finish it off by attaching even more firecrackers to over 100 tree puppets and have them explode at the same time as the crowd dances around and tries not to catch on fire. (Sadly, my sweater didn’t evade the plant people’s flame).

Crazy fun. 

Sweaty, exhausted and a little singed, we survived our first Patum. While it’s tough to explain, I do get why it’s gone on for generations and why the Catalonians love this unique celebration so much.

Now to introduce this back in Saskatchewan…should be fun.

Shaun


A substitute life

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Here are the kids I chaperoned during Malaysia Week – a 5-day middle school endurance challenge that included camping, hiking, biking, rafting and pooping in the jungle. I’m proud to report that no one died or even got bit by a snake. Some of these kids were carrying packs that weighed more than them and didn’t complain once – impressive 12-year-olds.
In a previous life, before journalism school and PR and travelling and my salt and pepper temples, I thought about becoming a teacher. Not really a serious thought, just an idea of what I might be able to do if nothing else panned out.

But once I got accepted into j-school in 1999, the teaching idea vanished and I never really thought about it again – until I moved to Malaysia and nothing was panning out on the job front.

And so I thought, hey, how about that teaching thing? Trina makes it look easy and I could use 4 months off a year. It also helps that teaching at an international school is much easier than a public school in Canada. Generally speaking, the families are solid, the kids are motivated (and don’t threaten to stab you) and the school actually has resources like paper and pencils (and doesn’t threaten to cut your salary whenever the government runs low on funds).

Even knowing all that, I started out slow last year by only coaching a few teams and leaving the teaching to the professionals. When this school year rolled around and I still didn’t have a permanent gig, boredom and loneliness were taking over my mind, so I decided to throw myself into all things school.

This year I’ve been a coach, an advisor, a team leader, a supervisor, a contract writer, a consultant and most recently a substitute teacher. That was the biggest leap for me. It’s one thing to yell at a kid to run faster, it’s much different to teach them about quadratic equations, or even better, how to speak Spanish, when the only phrase you know is “cerveza, por favor.”

Thankfully, I’ve come to realize the bar is set very low when it comes to subs. So if I manage to stay awake and simply follow the teacher’s plan, I get labelled as a star sub and can get classes everyday. A great racket except they pay me in gas money and $3 lunches. Ah well, can’t have it all.

My line that works the best with the kids – “Guys, the teacher left us this work to do. If you don’t get it done, I’ll get fired and sent back to Canada.” Works every time.

And the experience is greatly adding to my resume. I think they call it flexible and adaptable in the HR world.

Am I considering a complete career change? Not yet.

While I enjoy being around the kids, I’m under no allusion that I’m operating in a normal school setting. This is a bubble-wrapped environment that’s perfect for a raw rookie and might just ruin me for teaching anywhere else.

For now, I’m enjoying the change to my substitute life.

See you in detention (they call it Study Hall at ISKL).

Shaun

 

 

 

 

 

Keep your eyes on the Thais!

Seven(s) highlights from a rugby rookie

7. Traveling with friends from New Zealand, Australia, America, and Canada meant there was always a team to cheer for.

6. Sharing accommodations with this same group of 9 friends made a two night stay in Singapore affordable and entertaining.

5. Seven-minute halves meant that even I could pay attention for the entire game.

4. Random costumes made for entertaining people watching (in between games of course). We were dressed as Muay Thai fighters but probably the best costume was a group of South African fans dressed as the “Mexican Wall”.

3. On day two, I had an excuse to wear my Rider shirt (the Canadian Football League and the 7s Rugby is pretty much the same thing right?).

2. After 10 hours of consecutive rugby watching, I finally quit cheering for “touchdowns” and “field goals”.

1. Canada beating the US 26-19 in the final moments was almost as exciting as the 2010 Olympic Hockey final! It was their first international win, a huge upset and I think this is a sign of things to come.

Trina

PSAs that will change your life

 

“Take at least 4 vacations per month for a happy life.” That’s my PSA to the world.

Back in the 2000s, I used to write public service announcements (PSAs) for money. Encouraging people to drive safely, buckle their seatbelts and learn how to zipper merge were all part of my job. A fairly rewarding endeavour that made me feel good and also had me listening intently to local radio stations to hear the fruits of my labour.

Even though my PSA creation days are over, I still enjoy listening to what people need to be reminded about over the airwaves.

In Malaysia, they love their PSAs. In fact, there are more PSAs than paid commercials on the radio. And while a few of the announcements are about driving, most are about other, more random, aspects of life.

Here are a few that have caught my ear and how they translate to a Westerner.

  1. Staying positive on social media will make your life awesome. (Translation: Don’t criticize the government on Facebook or else!)
  2. Remove the location from your photos before you post them online. (Translation: There are a lot of creeps out there. Be careful.)
  3. Manage your time wisely and don’t procastinate. (Translation: Malaysians are never on time, but they want to be…someday)
  4. Be careful on escalators. They can be dangerous. (Translation: There are more malls than people in Malaysia. That means lots of escalators and lots of injuries.)
  5. RSVP to parties and make sure to attend. (Translation: Lots of parties and not enough time. See: Time management PSA.)
  6. Practice common courtesy (Translation: Malaysians think they are rude. But in reality, they haven’t been to Taylor Field after a Rider loss on a hot Saturday night – which makes them all look like Mary Poppins.)
  7. Be less annoying and more people will like you. (Translation: Don’t be a prick. Wise words for us all to live by.)

There are hundreds more, but those are seven of my favourites. While none of them tackle the actual problems in Malaysia (taking down every tree in sight, corruption at the highest levels, a growing religious fundamentalist movement), they do all push people towards a higher purpose – which I respect greatly.

And who really listens to practical PSAs anyway? We don’t want to change our bad ways. We just want to think about being a better person and then move on to the next party or escalator.

Shaun

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