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April was a really busy month with lots of traveling and we are currently enjoying a few weeks at home in the regular routine of life.
Easter in Malaysia
Easter in Malaysia really does not exist. It was the last day of my parent’s visit and they couldn’t believe there was no evidence or acknowledgement of Easter. Ella’s school did draw Easter eggs and bunnies, but there was no Easter paraphernalia in the stores – no chocolate eggs, easter baskets, stuffed bunnies, turkeys or hams. The stores were open and it was just another regular Sunday, which makes sense given the tiny Christian population in Malaysia. Luckily my parents had come prepared with too many packets of candy, chocolate and eggs. We were able to have a short little Easter egg hunt through the house, paint easter eggs, make an easter bunny cake and Paul managed to order a ham for a nice dinner. The next day we sadly bid my parents goodbye as they flew to Thailand for a few days before going on to Canada. Although we will see my Mom again in August when she comes back to help with the baby, we won’t see my Dad until our Christmas visit to Canada and it is tough to say goodbye. The kids were spoiled with tons of attention during their visit and already they miss them a lot.
Long Weekend in Langkawi
Paul has been very busy at work and we didn’t realize that a long weekend was approaching (May 2 – Labour Day). But of course we couldn’t miss a long weekend and even though we really just wanted to stay home and rest, we decided to spend the long weekend on the island of Langkawi. We tossed around a few ideas, but given that Paul has sent his passport away to get a new one, leaving the country was out of the questions. Langkawi is an island near the Thai border – a 3 hour drive from here and then a 1.5 hour ferry. We had booked a beach resort with our British friends (Ella’s school friend Tasha’s family) and after picking the girls up from school we headed for Langkawi. The guys would leave work early and meet us there. Unfortunately work has been really busy for Paul lately and they didn’t manage to leave as early as they planned. Which was a problem because the last ferry was at 7 pm, and they were just leaving at 4:30. It was looking like we might be spending a night in our lovely resort room sans Paul, eerily familiar to the Bali fiasco two weeks before. During their drive, there was lots of texts flying back and forth with updates about the GPS’s estimated arrival time. I’ll let Paul elaborate….
Colin my coworker drove, which was probably a good thing as he was driving a little Mercedes. We had planned to leave at 3pm, but we ran out of the office at 4:35. The GPS said we would arrive at 7:14, which was not good news. I will sidetrack here to fill you in on how Malaysia highways work. There is a broad spread of cars in Malaysia with most being small underpowered Protons (Malaysian brand), so you will often have cars traveling on the highways with 100km/hr speed differences. So we were the ones speeding down the fast lane at 170 flashing our lights at the slow cars in front of us. Not our finest moment as I typically yell in road rage at the guys that scream up behind me when I’m driving on the highway. But in our defense, I didn’t want to miss the boat. An hour and a half into the trip we’d made up time and the GPS now said 7pm. That’s when we hit traffic and lost lots of time cruising at 30 on the highway. Arrgh. We got to the ferry terminal at 7:10, Colin dropped me off on the side of the road and I grabbed our two bags and ran for the jetty, while Colin tried to park. Running through the jetty I could see the boat pulling away from the dock. I yelled and waved my arms at the captain. Some guys on the dock told me I was too late, but I saw another guy on the dock that looked somewhat official, so I told him I had tickets (Colin’s wife had prebought our tickets, but the counter was now closed). He managed to signal the captain to pull back up to the dock at which point Colin was running down the dock. The boat pulled it’s bow up to the dock and we jumped on. We gave the lead hand RM50 ($17) and went below deck, where 170 Malaysians just stared at two sweaty white guys (in matching work uniforms) walk to the back of the boat and sit on the only two remaining seats; a metal step beside the mens room. But we made it!
Dawn again. I had pretty much given up on them making the ferry, but was pretty ecstatic to hear they made it onto the ferry. We were staying at a large resort that caters to mostly Europeans on beach holidays. It was nice, but after just being in Bali and comparing to Thailand, I couldn’t really figure out why someone would choose Langkawi. In general I have found that Malaysia does not excel at tourism as well as some of its neighbors. Malaysia is not a service oriented country (like Thailand) and value wise, costs are higher. You pay more than you would in Thailand or Bali, but you get lower levels of service and facilities. I realize I sound like a negative Nellie. It is a great place for us to come for a long weekend, but if I was coming all the way from Europe, I would choose somewhere else. The island is a duty free area with the benefit of having really inexpensive alcohol compared to the mainland. In Ipoh the cheapest 24 you can get is $45 US because of the high taxes placed on alcohol. On Langkawi Paul enjoyed paying 0.60US/beer. We had a hard time dragging the kids away from the large swimming pool complete with water slide. Ella loved practicing her newfound swimming ability and Gavin wearing his new floating vest learned to swim by himself. We did get a chance to check out the impressive Aquarium on the island, sampled some local restaurants, and took the cable car 708 m up Mt Machinchang for some great views of the coast. Unfortunately as we were boarding the cable car the clouds rolled in and by the time we reached the top all you could see was fluffy white clouds. It was nice to finally have some relaxed family time.
Random Happenings/Thoughts from the Week:
- We bought a car!!! After renting for 2.5 months we really wanted to buy a car and be done with it. The process of buying a car isn’t something I would enjoy normally, but it was even more stressful doing it in a different country with totally different customs and procedures. There is no car proof to tell you if the car has been in an accident, no way to know if it has been chopped and pieced together or anything. You are totally dependent on the car dealer’s honesty. We are now the proud owners of a 2007 Naza Ria mini van. Maybe proud is not the right word because the car is completely unsexy. But it is practical and comes with a 2.5 L engine, which by Malaysian standards is quite powerful. As I was driving it off the car lot, the salesman said “remember it is an MPV (multi-passenger vehicle), not a sports car.” Yes, we have made the rite of passage into buying our first minivan.
- Be careful what you buy! In Canada I often put little thought into purchases knowing that I can always return them. When you’re shopping with little kids you have very little time to properly analyze a purchase and I take the ability to return luxury for granted. So imagine my surprise when buying things in Malaysia to find they are non-refundable AND non-exchangable. Even at the largest department stores and shops! I had to buy Paul a wrench at a hardware store this week and I get home and look at my receipt “No refunds or exchanges”…hope I got the right one!
- Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms! I hosted the Mom’s group get together this week and one of the great perks of living abroad is connecting with other women from around the world. It is amazing to see and hear about all the different ways we do things, and yet we are all Moms that want the best for our kids. I love the diversity of the group; the following nationalities were represented this week: Canada (me), UK, Sweden, Finland, Japan, Yemen, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Senegal, Singapore, and Poland.
- Birthdays! Ella attended her first birthday party in Malaysia. An Irish girl in her class was turning 4 and Ella was very excited for the party. Earlier in the week she came home from school with a cold McDonald’s happy meal squished in her backpack. Apparently it was someone in her class’ birthday and they bought the whole class happy meals. We are excited to celebrate Paul’s birthday tomorrow.