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Shaun and Trina are Sweating

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

Celebrating driving away evil with coconuts, spears and body piercing

Ever feel like smashing a coconut midweek? How about walking for 6 hours in a trance with hooks in your back pulling a silver chariot? Me neither. But for many Hindu devotees, this spiritual undertaking is an integral part of Thaipusam festivities.

The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon of the Tamil month of “Thai” (January/February) which happened to be Wednesday. According to Wikipedia, the festival celebrates the goddess Parvati giving her son Murugan a spear to get rid of an evil demon. And Batu Caves just outside KL happens to have the world’s largest statue of Murugan with his spear in hand. What better place to celebrate the vanquishing of evil?

Since I had the day off work, I figured I would squeeze into public transit and check it out first hand. The experience was one for all the senses.

“Whether insensible, outmoded, stimulating or amusing, Thaipusam is that festival that doesn’t care what you think about it. It will dance to no end and have you watch” (Ragavan).

And watch in awe is exactly what I did. Engulfed in a sea of people dressed in vibrant colours, I made my way to the limestone caves. Bollywood tunes blared through scratchy loudspeakers, drumming troops joined into the cacophony, and entranced followers moved to a mysterious beat.

I did see a few coconuts thrown to the ground but later learned coconut crushing numbers were down as authorities had urged people not to get overzealous and competitive losing the true meaning of the ritual (Nambiar).

“The breaking of the coconut is a symbolic act. The shell of the coconut represents the ego and the white within represents the pure nature of the divine within every human. Breaking the coconut represents the breaking of one’s ego and the attempt to attain purity, or the divine, in life” (Nambiar).

But the day did not disappoint. Thousands of people were there. Some had made a 6-hour pilgrimage and were finishing the final 272 steps into the cave temple. Many were carrying 30kg kavadis (giant shrines) and pierced their skin with hooks or spears to show devotion. To the devotee this act is not painful, rather it is joyous. Spiritual preparations for the day have begun 48 days prior. All things that an outside observer cannot fathom (Ragavan).

Others were there to send off a few prayers, eat some Punjabi sweets and ride the impromptu Ferris wheel. Regardless, bringing people together in celebration in the fight against evil can’t be a bad thing.

One of the things I love about Malaysia (besides all the holidays) is the blending of cultures. At Batu Caves, you could see people of all races and ethnicities intrigued by the celebration. After all, the selfie knows no racial or religious boundaries!

Trina

Works Cited

Nambiar, Predeep. “Thaipusam: Don’t Turn Coconut-Breaking into Contest, Says CAP.” Free Malaysia Today, 26 Jan. 2018, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/01/26/thaipusam-dont-turn-coconut-breaking-into-contest-says-cap/.

Ragavan, Surekha. “The Real Thaipusam.” Time Out Kuala Lumpur, 24 Jan. 2018, http://www.timeout.com/kuala-lumpur/things-to-do/the-real-thaipusam.

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“Winter” in Malaysia

The beginning of 2018 has brought colder weather than most Malaysians have experienced. And it’s the talk of the town. People were bundling up as temperatures in Kuala Lumpur plummeted to a chilly 21 degrees this past Thursday (yes, that figure is positive and it is in Celsius). The unusual room temperature weather has been met by mixed reviews from Malaysians.

According to The Star Online, many people took to Twitter to voice their pleasure at the cooler temperatures and getting to wear sweaters.

@UzairJasmin posted: “Dear Malaysia. I love this kind of temperature and weather. Can every day be like this?”

Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak weighed in upon his arrival home from Saudi Arabia, tweeting on Friday morning: “Wah it’s really cold in Malaysia today, like Jeddah! Alhamdulillah back home safe.” Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/01/12/metmalaysia-no-winter-is-not-coming/#6usUWpqCCQkfgqdo.99

Others in a Straights Times article voiced their concerns.

Fitness enthusiast Mohd Razif Abdul Karim, 29, said with the cold and rainy weather, it was harder for him to go jogging. “Usually, I can jog in the park after work but now, it is slightly more troublesome,” said the Petaling Jaya resident.

Housewife Siti Zaleha Abdullah, 53, from Taman Tun Dr Ismail, said the damp was making it harder for her to dry clothes outside. . . C.K. Wong said he spent RM4.50 (S$1.50) to dry his clothes for 23 minutes in the machine. “Otherwise, there is a musty smell on my clothes in this type of weather,” he said. Read more at https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/winter-in-genting-highlands-when-europe-comes-to-malaysia.

The cooler temperatures have been brought as a result of the rain and cloud from the northeastern monsoon, and just to be clear, the daily highs have still been near 30 degrees. Shaun and I are embracing the cooler weather. We are sleeping with a comforter on and no A/C, and we’ve been out running midday. This certainly is a far cry from a Saskatchewan winter.

Keep warm everyone!

Trina

A Humpdick Holiday Production

Well it’s officially 2018 here in Vietnam. We managed to stay up until midnight and were joined by my parents in the celebrations which consisted of going out for a nice meal and watching the countdown on television broadcast from Ho Chi Minh City. The headliner was apl.de.ap from The Black Eyed Peas. So as we were ensured “tonight’s going to be a good night”, we raised our glasses and toasted 2018.

Since we still believe resolutions are for chumps, you’ll have to settle for this random video we created instead.

Christmas on the Mekong

Wishing all our friends and family around the world a fabulous 2018!

Trina and Shaun

On a slow boat

All school year I’ve longed for a free day in which I could just curl up with a good book. Or in the case of sweaty Malaysia, sprawl out under a fan. Now here I am for 14 hours on a slow boat in Laos where the wind is surprisingly cold (I’m wearing my toque) and I’m restless. I’ve read two books, watched 4 episodes of The Crown and now I’m playing a strange game of eye spy in my head. I remember when I was a kid and the 4 hour drive to Carrot River to visit my grandparents seemed like an endless journey. There were no iPads so my sister and I were armed with a game of travel bingo in which you marked off all the things you saw on the journey – things such as grain elevators, cows, wheat, and other exciting prairie sights. So get your bingo cards ready . . .

On this slow boat ride down the Mekong I’ve seen:

  • Water buffalo bathing
  • Untouched jungle
  • Villages
  • Temples
  • Waving kids
  • An elephant working
  • Many colourful long boats
  • Tourists with plastic bags on their feet and Kleenex tucked in their sunglasses
  • Live chickens in luggage
  • An entire garbage bag of sausage as luggage
  • The world’s longest mole hair

Anyone else have a blackout yet?

Trina

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

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


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