When you can’t be home for the holidays to celebrate with your own family, the next best thing is to be adopted by someone else’s – thanks to our friend Hannah’s mom and dad for hosting us (and three other strangers to them) for an entire week.
By staying with these lovely Kiwis, we got to know a whole lot more about New Zealand culture, hospitality, and even started to better understand their language 😉.
Spending the holidays here we even picked up a few new traditions.
Christmas breakfast with champagne (we had no trouble embracing this one) and then continuing to eat and drink our way into a Christmas lunch with all the trimmings was simply fantastic.
And, we were in for a feast beyond your wildest imagination – just look at the menu!
There was also a White Elephant gift exchange in which I acquired a regulation sized American football and Shaun got a handy sleeve for keeping a bottle of wine cool. Not to mention we were all gifted with chocolate-coated pineapple gummy candies, which are apparently a New Zealand specialty.
But of course, the best thing about the holidays isn’t about the things you acquire. It’s about the special moments with people. Moments like being gifted a kiwi bird Christmas ornament from one of Hannah’s aunts, hearing her uncle’s old stories about his days as a high school sprinter and talking cattle shows with her grandpa, all make you realize just how universal family is.
Then, when you return home from vacation to discover your mailbox full of Christmas letters and cards, respond to Happy Holiday texts and throw in a couple special Skype calls, you know you’re never very far from your own family.
A huge thanks to our Thai friends – Luck, Tong, Ja, Dang and Bum (I love their nicknames) – for showing us another great time this past weekend. It was only 4 days, but we saw more than we would have over 3 weeks if we would have been by ourselves.
Thais are beautiful and generous people that love having fun more than any other people I’ve met. They also love pork, 7-Eleven and taking pictures in front of everything they see.
I can’t say a roadtrip through Thailand is relaxing, but it sure is filling.
We’ll be back soon – once my gout subsides. Up next, a Christmas in New Zealand.
It started in May with a small pool of water on the kitchen counter. Our coffee pot had a small crack that had been slowly growing over many weeks and the dam had finally burst. Damn.
Normally, I’d toss out the whole machine and start over. But, this was no ordinary machine. This was a designer Kenwood coffee maker that cost us over 100 bucks just a few short months before.
So, I found the local service centre email address and sent off a request for a replacement pot. A few days later I received the very helpful and cryptic response – ‘yes.’
Okay….”May I order one please”?
A few days later – “Yes. It will take 32 months to arrive.”
Me, immediately – “That’s almost 3 years? Where is it coming from, Mars?”
A few days later – “I mean 2 months. It costs 100 ringgit.”
Me, immediately – “Oh, that’s better. Please order me one and let me know when it arrives.”
A few days later – “Yes.”
And with that, I let the universe decide if we’d ever drink coffee at home again. Amazingly, exactly 2 months later, I had the shiny new coffee pot in my hands. And then two days after that, I had an even bigger pool of water on the counter. Wtf?
The new pot was fine, but the coffee maker itself was leaking like a sieve from the bottom. This was not right, so I fished out the receipt and the warranty and realized it was still covered for another few weeks. There was still hope!
The next day I drove the 36 minutes across the city to the service centre and proudly presented my warranty, bill and leaky machine. They gladly accepted and were in awe of my warranty luck.
A week after that visit, I made the journey back to pickup my newly repaired machine, and then sadly, a week after that, I found myself making the journey back again with another leak.
It was during this 3rd or 4th visit that I realized the staff knew by my name.
“Hi, Mr. Shaun. Back again? Aiyo…this machine is cursed.”
I felt like I should have been bringing in coffees for Mimi, Fairuz and the rest of the gang. But, I really couldn’t do that because, well, you know…(At this point, do I have to remind everyone that I’m unemployed?)
After the second leak dropoff, it was two months (just a few days ago) before I heard back that it was fixed and ready to pickup. By now, our French press was in full effect at home and I had almost completely forgotten that we ever had a coffee maker in the first place. I think it was a coping mechanism from the PTSD.
I reluctantly went to pick it up and at least say hi to my buds. Amazingly, the leak was fixed. Airtight. But, sadly, there was no heat. Not good for making coffee.
I admit I was ready to wave the white flag and throw everything off our 13th floor balcony. I was broken, belittled and befuddled. But, after some soul searching and swearing, I decided to give it one last push. I could taste the freshly brewed coffee beans.
Taking pity on me, the service centre staff set up a special, personal appointment with just me and the technician. They could tell I was getting desperate and I needed some extra attention – and possibly a therapist.
Sporting some sweet gold chains and a slightly popped collar, I immediately knew the technician was my ticket out of this coffee maker hell. I don’t know why because normally I hate dudes that look like him, but this guy was different. Yes, he was a shit hot, but he also oozed confidence in all things caffeine related. It seemed like he could roast a coffee bean in his armpit. He was my saviour.
In just 10 short minutes huddled in his little workshop at the back of the service centre, I watched him masterfully change a small fuse inside the machine and fire up my leakproof, Kenwood coffee maker for the first time in almost 6 months. It was glorious.
I’m happy to report that the machine is still humming along nicely a couple days later. I have no doubt that in a few months time something else will go wrong, and with the warranty now expired, it will end up in the trash.
But that’s okay. It was all worth it for the friends I made at the Kenwood service centre on the 3rd floor of Citta Mall on the west side of Kuala Lumpur. You may all be slightly incompetent at your jobs, but you brightened my day on every one of the 8 trips I made out to see you (and sigh at you). God bless.
It’s been awhile. In the months since I last wrote, a lot has happened. I mean a member of the WWF Hall of Fame is now the President of the United States (not to mention a racist, misogynist, narcissist and generally revolting human being). But hey, Hillary had a private email server set up in her house, so the election result makes complete sense.
Once that wall goes up, and all the Mexicans and Muslims are kicked out, and the KKK opens up an office in the White House and protecting the environment becomes a distant memory, we’ll all be able to rest easier. USA! USA!
Fear and ignorance still carry the day in 2016. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Here in Malaysia, most locals just shrug at Trump. They’re used to being governed by dictators and crooks and overall boobs. All they want to talk about is the ‘hot’ Canadian prime minister with the nice hair who can dance the bhangra. That, and the Just for Laughs Gags TV show, which runs on local stations here and is a big hit. Malaysians love pranks. Makes sense. We all have our priorities.
Anyway, I guess when I say ‘a lot’ has happened, it’s relative. In my life, not a lot has actually happened.
I’m still underemployed (I actually got turned down for two jobs in one day – beat that fellow losers!)
I’m still playing hockey (we beat the Malaysian national team a couple weeks back and I scored the winning goal. Likely the biggest moment of my illustrious hockey career next to playing in the Junior C All Star Game in 1998). I should really retire now.
I’m still coaching at the school and the cross country team actually finished in second last place in the final race. Goal achieved – and I’m now coaching the junior boys basketball team and the middle school track team. Maybe one day I’ll get paid for something I’m actually qualified to do?
The highest point (and really my saving grace) is all the travelling we’re still doing – Borneo, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan in the last couple months with Thailand (again), New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan and Hawaii coming up over the next couple months. No time for a real job.
On my way through the Taipei airport, I came across this real-life escape chute.
I can’t help but think we could all use one of these from time to time – especially with the Million Dollar Man now in charge of the free world. Take care, peeps.
You’ve been a relatively easy place to live and I appreciate all your modern conveniences. I love the amazing selection of food you offer and although your weather can be sweltering hot at times, I’ll take that over -50 any day.
Therefore, when I find myself getting annoyed by petty matters , I have to remind myself that no one is perfect and relationships are all about compromise. So I’m not about to break up with you. I just need to get a few things off my chest so we can move on to a greater understanding of each other.
Sometimes your idiosyncrasies make me laugh like your need to post signs to tell me all the things I cannot do. Don’t fish in the local park lake (even though there is a monthly fishing derby). Don’t stand on a toilet seat. Don’t pass gas in a cab (see above picture).
Your radio public service announcements can be confusing. For example, I now know I have to sort my trash into 11 different categories or I could be fined, but I have no idea what the categories are or where I can take them to be recycled. And why go from no recycling program at all to 11 categories? I’m also not entirely convinced that escalators are as dangerous as you claim they are. But I’m glad to learn the solution for all your problems is to “stay positive”. If only it were that easy.
These are all little annoyances I can overlook. But what I really NEED to know is why is it ok to clean a bathroom by just splashing water all over the place and leave everything wet? How can so many of your citizens not signal and when they do, they signal one direction but go the other? Why do certain individuals think it’s ok to drop garbage from their balconies? How can you be upset with Indonesia about causing haze conditions one minute and the next have residents burning tires in their back yard?
That is all.
Thanks for listening. I’ll work on not projecting my entitled views as a guest in your country if from time to time you could just dry off the toilet seat for me.
“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.