“Hopefully you all are fit because this hike is extremely difficult and one false move could leave you plummeting to your death on rocks sharp as knives.”
These were the opening words of our guide Jasper as he began the orientation to our 3 day, 2 night Pinnacles hike.
Fortunately, we were prepared for the melodrama because the day before our caving guide Donny prefaced the tour by graphically describing how a man on his tour once floated down the river smashing into a rock to have his entire shin split open gushing blood everywhere. Donny followed this story by telling us not to think about that as we embarked on our adventure.
It seems Malaysians everywhere either think we want to feel as though we are cheating death to get our monies worth or they are very worried about being sued so they disclose any potential risk. Either way it makes for entertaining briefings.
In the case of our hike, it was gruelling but not quite death defying. Besides the hordes of weird bees who don’t sting but are attracted to sweaty clothes, the summit of 2.4 kms literally straight up (Malaysians don’t like to waste their time meandering on terrain with a less direct route) was an enjoyable challenge.
October break has begun so Shaun and I are off exploring more of Malaysia. We’ve started in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state on the island of Borneo. Imagine our surprise when we learned the city has the world’s first cat museum (yes, there are others).
The museum itself was located up a hill in their modern city hall building. We were perplexed until we learned the story behind the city’s name. Years ago when James Brooke, the first English sultan, arrived here from India, he attempted to name this the port city “Kuchin.” Unfortunately the locals thought he was saying cat city “Kuching”and it made sense because there were a lot of cats by the river. So the name stuck.
“The appreciate of cats is engraved deep in the human soul, and is of ancient origin.” – entrance to the Kuching Cat Museum.
Once inside we weaved our way through hordes of school children to view the ceramic cats, cat movie posters, bios of famous people with cats, stuffed cats (by what appeared to be student taxidermists), photos of cats dressed up and playing in a rock band, and of course, a giant display of Whiskas.
We learned superstitions such as:
“Cats must be prevented from rubbing its body against a corpse lest the evil influence
present in the cat’s body enter into the corpse.”
And “One of the most effective methods for rain making is to soak a cat in a pan of water until it is half drowned and this will surely produce an abundance of rain.”
Both of these old wives tales are accompanied with photographic reenactments. No cats (that we know of) were harmed in the making of these photos but the verdict is still out on the corpse.
Now we’re off to Mulu National Park and we don’t know what “Mulu” means . . .
When you live as an expat (or privileged immigrant), you meet people from all over the world. One of the best parts of living and working overseas is learning from others you meet. You learn different perspectives, different customs and since I’m terrible at learning different languages, I at least learn the different slang expressions. The following are just a few of my favourites.
Lah (Malaysia) – This Malaysian word is difficult to translate into a literal meaning. It is as difficult to explain and as culturally significant as “eh” is to Canada. It’s use transcends boundaries and meaning and logic becoming an integral part of the spoken language. The following are some examples of how it may be used.
According to Urban dictionary: ” [Lah is] a slang used mainly by people of South-East Asia (Malaysia and Singapore mainly) to complement almost any sentence available in a social conversation. Examples include:
A: Hey, can you lend me five ringgit?
B: Sorry lah, I need money to pay for my cab and lunch-lah.
Can (Malaysia) – Rather than answering yes to request, Malaysians simple respond with “can”. It’s quick, efficient and to the point.
A: Can you help me for a minute?
What to do? (Sri Lanka) – When a situation is beyond your control or you simply don’t feel like creating extra work for yourself, the phrase “Karana mokada?” which translates as “What to do?” is your stand by. This is a great phrase when used properly, but can be extremely frustrating when someone uses it in a situation when there is a clear action to be taken.
Level best (Sri Lanka) – This is better than your best. It’s almost like giving 110% – impossible!
Proper (England) – Only the English can get away with asking for a proper tea or going for proper exercise. The rest of us just settle.
Chilly Bin (New Zealand) – a container in which you can keep drinks and food cool. In Canada, we would refer to this as a cooler. Example: “Shaun and Hannah took the chilly bin of beers to continue the party from one house to the other.”
Aiyo! (all nations) – a universal term of calamity both large and small.
KUALA LUMPUR 19 AUGUST 2016. Orang ramai memberikan sokongan ketika menyaksikan beregu lelaki negara, Goh V Shem dan Tan Wee Kiong menentang Fu Haifeng dan Zhang Nan dari China pada perlawanan akhir badminton Sukan Olimpik Rio 2016 yang disiarkan secara langsung di Sekitar Kuala Lumpur. NSTP/ ZULFADHLI ZULKIFLI.
It blows my mind that on a Saturday night I can be at a mamak stall watching Malaysia in the Olympic Men’s Badminton Final and the following Sunday morning I’m in a room of Canadians eating pancakes and maple syrup, drinking Crown Royal and live streaming The Tragically Hip concert.
For all you nonMalaysian readers, a mamak stall is a essentially an outdoor restaurant that serves the traditional food of Malaysians of Tamil Muslim descent. So we ate delicious garlic naan, tandoori chicken and dal curry as we hoped national favourite Lee Chong Wei would bring home the gold (and maybe a Monday stat holiday). Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards. We sipped our teh ais (local iced milk tea) and watched seemingly impossible digs on the edge of our red plastic chairs. Despite his grit and determination, Lee was beaten by China’s Chen Long in two close sets.
For our nonCanadian readers, The Hip are basically the iconic Canadian band of the past 30 years. You’ve never heard of them because they didn’t make it big south of the border. Artistry was always more important than huge commercial success. When they played Saturday Night Live in 1995, they didn’t even play their top charting songs. Instead they sang about a shipwreck (Nautical Disaster). The songs of the Tragically Hip basically were the soundtrack to my high school and university days. Recently their lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and so they went on a cross Canada tour ending last night in their hometown of Kingston, ON.
Their significance is hard to explain to anyone under the age of 30 or not a Canadian. I tried to explain it to my cab driver on the way to meet up with fellow Canucks. I tried to explain to a well-meaning Kiwi friend who good-naturedly wore a Rider shirt to the occasion. But try as they might, they just couldn’t get why we are all crazy for the music of this guy in a Jaws t-shirt, sparkly pants and a top hat.
The lyrics often don’t really make sense at a logical level. You just feel them and they define you. And you go into a big ugly cry when Gord Downie sings . . .
“Okay, you made me scared, you did what you set out to do
I’m not prepared, you really had me going there for a minute or two
He said, you made me scared too, I wasn’t sure I was getting through
I got to go, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you”
. . . as he waves goodbye.
I really wish Malaysia had won that Olympic Gold. I could use tomorrow off to emotionally recover.
What does home mean to you? Is it a physical place where you have a bed and cups and a plant? Is it a figurative place where your family and friends are all together in the same place? Is it your country, your province, your city? Or is it a combination of everything and everywhere you’ve been (c’mon, you need a good bed)?
Home to me has come to mean different things over the last few years – mostly because I’ve spent so much time away from mine. And the longer I’m away, the stronger the connection I have to it. Because like all the paradoxical aspects of being human, absence from something (and somebodies) truly does make you love it (them) more. Absence make memories of the Prairie winter seem bearable, and the reunited conversations more deep with laughs that seem to last longer.
While I know it’s all a bit of a mirage, my favourite vacations have been to Regina, Saskatchewan. My home. And this summer was no different.
The familiar smells, sounds, sights and faces put me at ease, while every breakfast, brunch, lunch and supper was filled with old friends (and new a nephew), new stories and a familiarity that can’t be faked.
And while it’s always so tough to leave, I always feel fortunate to have those roots to miss and come back to. Living abroad you meet a lot of people who don’t have that sense of home, that sense of belonging, and they seem lost and searching.
Living in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, I’ve no doubt built connections to those places, but I’ll always be a foreigner – not just in the eyes of Sri Lankans or Malaysians, but in my own soul. And that’s okay because I really love being a visitor, I really do hate winter (I remember that now) and I really love being a tourist in my home.
Until the next time, my friends. Thanks for the visit and in the words of my niece Annabelle – “See you soon.”
It’s Canada Day. It’s (almost) the end of Ramadan. And it’s time to celebrate (and eat during daylight hours)! So like everyone in Malaysia right now, we’re returning to our village (balik kampung) – Regina, Saskatchewan for a visit.
After a short 26-hour flight, we’ll be laughing and eating with our family and friends. It’s an exciting time for us. We haven’t been home in over 11 months, the Riders just started their season (with a loss) and we’ve got a new nephew to meet.
Surprisingly, some Malaysians will take just as long driving to their small towns on the jam-packed highways this weekend, but not surprisingly, they’ll be just as excited to hang out with their peeps. They even have a song for their annual pilgrimage home and we think it sums visits home up nicely.
As a wise man named Randall once said, “People…are people.”
There was a short time during my university days that I thought about getting into teaching. However, as soon as I got accepted into journalism school, that idea disappeared and I turned my attention to writing headlines and not missing deadlines.
Fast forward almost 20 years and I’ve suddenly found myself in a classroom teaching middle school kids English. Like my blossoming coaching career, my teaching gig came out of desperation as my slightly-employed status isn’t exactly paying for our flights home this July.
But, thanks to teaching 8 kids English for 3 hours a day over 15 days in June, I’m making enough cash to get back to Regina and will have a bit left over to pay for my Par 3 punch pass once I arrive.
Never having taught before, my first day was scary. But, with Trina teaching in the room beside me (and planning my entire first week of lessons), I really couldn’t go wrong. And the kids are pretty cool too – they always listen to me when I talk about hockey or winter.
Here are a few thoughts from my first two weeks:
Having a Yoshi and a Toshi in your class can get confusing.
Word games like Pictionary and Catch Phrase are gold.
Sarcasm and irony are lost on English learners – and I use those techniques a lot.
Kids will do anything for a Tic Tac or Menthos.
None of the kids knew what a tuque was or had heard of Gordie Howe.
They all knew Muhammad Ali.
Grade 6 boys love feats of strength – one of the boys could pick me up slightly off the ground gaining the class’s instant respect.
All in all it’s been a fun experience, but I’m now certain that I didn’t miss my calling all those years ago. I also have even more respect for what teachers do. I can’t imagine having a class of 30+, or having to deal with deadbeat parents or simply entertaining kids for 5 hours everyday. It’s an exhausting, noble profession that I’ll be glad to retire from after the end of this week.
Actually, school has been out for over a week now. We’ve been sticking around Malaysia, teaching fun activities at summer school during the mornings, and then getting into shenanigans in the afternoons. The following are a few anecdotes to give you a glimpse into our lives as of late.
The trip to the car wash
We pulled the Swif into a local car wash. Ten men immediately started hosing it down in water and soap. It only took 15 minutes and the equivalent of $3CAD for a thorough inside / outside wash. A few minutes in though, one of the workers asked Shaun to come over. It seems another costumer had left them the keys to move his car. The car was a standard and no one there knew how to drive it so they called Shaun over to help out. Unfortunately, Shaun didn’t take me up on the chance to learn to drive stick in my 1984 Hyundai Pony all those years ago. So he told the men this and surrendered the keys to me. They all watched in amazement and laughter as I moved the car for them. When I gave them the keys, the worker responded with “Thank you, sir!”.
Game of Thrones Night -Ramadan Style
For the entirety of Season 6, we’ve been getting together with a few friends for potluck and watching all the newest episode of Game of Thrones every Monday night. Never mind the fact that I haven’t watched a single episode of the previous 5 seasons, I enjoy the company and the good food. This past week, we decided to check out the Ramadan food stalls. Hundreds of stalls have sprung up in the streets for just the occasion and families stop by all day to pick up food for their evening meals.
Ramadan is the fasting month in the Islamic calendar which marks the conclusion of the Islamic year and the ends with Hari Raya, a celebration at the end of the year. During daylight hours, Muslims refrain from taking in food or drink. When the sun sets (around 7:30pm here), it’s time for iftar, the breaking of the fast which coincides with the call to evening prayer. Every night is truly a celebration with family and friends as they break the fast together.
We were intrigued to see the full event in action and to sample lots of Malaysian Ramadan Food (click on the link for lots of examples of this delicious food). However, we were disappointed to find that by the time we sauntered down at 8pm all the stalls of the bazaar were packing up. It seems we underestimated just how important adhering to the timeline was when you’re fasting. Luckily, there are still 3 weeks in which to partake.
Watching a Malaysian Movie
Set in 1980, Ola Bola is about the struggle of the Malaysian national soccer team to qualify for the Olympics. This movie has all the Hollywood style sport’s movie clichés including the obligatory training montage. However, you can look deeper in this film to see much more about Malaysian culture. The film includes four different languages, and subtly addresses issues of race within the nation as it looks into the grit, determination and teamwork that it took for a team made up of all three Malaysian ethnic groups (Chinese, Indian and Malay) to become victorious.
Receiving training tips from a local
When hiking in Fraser’s hill area, we were accompanied by a friend of a friend who not only helped us to find a trail that was off the beaten path but also gave us many tips along the way.
When you stop hiking, change your shirt and hang the sweaty one in the bush. The sweaty shirt attracts bees.
The best drink you can have for muscle recovery is Essence of Chicken which is as far as I can determine is like chicken broth. People here swear by it. It was even given to the players in the movie Ola Bola and Shaun’s co-coach for cross-country and track Coach Nada gives it to his athletes.
The best way to carb load the day before hiking is to drink 7 or 8 beer. During the hike, you might want to have one beer or a shot of whiskey for pain relief. Finally, a good pint or two after the hike will help you to hydrate and recover. Who knew the magic of beer?
Looking forward to more shenanigans in the coming weeks of summer.
You wouldn’t think the Bangladesh embassy would represent big business for cabbies. But with 600,000 Bangladeshis already living in Malaysia and an estimated 1.5 million on the way in the next few years, there are a lot of people who need a visa. And the taxi drivers are cashing in – lining up from dawn until dusk and whisking hopeful folks to get their next bureaucratic stamp or letter.
Up until a few months ago, I didn’t even know we lived across the street from this embassy. Visitors used to enter from the street at the back. In fact, I rarely saw a cab on our street at all.
But, as more and more Bangladeshis move to the country and Malaysia attempts to crackdown on anyone living here illegally, the numbers have swelled to the point where they needed a larger staging area and a wider sidewalk for the cabbies to park on.
Now, every afternoon, I have wonderful theatre to entertain me. Here are my favourite scenes:
Cabbies jumping the queue – This is not cool, but still is attempted at least a few times per day. The result is shouting. Lots of shouting. And maybe a slam on the offender’s hood. The line jumpers don’t put up much of a fight though. They often just slyly park down the block and try to entice fares with some high-pitched whistles and taxi cab telepathy.
Milling about – Taxi drivers and Bangladeshis apparently love to mill about. Even after they stand in line for who knows how long getting their documents in order, people come outside the gate and just stand around some more. Even the cabbies seem enamored with waiting . I’ve seen 20 cabs lined up and even more are waiting to get on the sidewalk. I love a good mill.
Celebratory hooting – The occasional hooting and cheering comes from inside the embassy. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it sounds like someone just scored a golden goal. I really have no idea what they’re happy about, but I imagine it to be celebrating someone actually getting a stamp in their visa – or maybe they have a side cock fight going on to keep people entertained. Either way, I always join in on the cheer too.
Food vendors – Entrepreneurs abound in KL. So, the moment the taxi line forms, there is a little guy (or guys) on a food bike ringing a bell and selling snacks and drinks. Great business. I should probably apply.
Only men – Women are obviously too smart to take part in this gong show.
The boss man – I’ve identified a few taxi line supervisors, however my favourite guy sports a mullet and tight jeans. He struts around the sidewalk barking out orders, trying to entice people into cabs and shouting at anyone daring to jump the line. He reminds me of a Malaysian Bruce Willis, if Bruce Willis had a mullet or any hair at all.
Now tell me. If you had this excitement to watch every day, would you really want to get a job?