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We have been in Malaysia for 5 weeks now and with each week we feel more settled. However, I struggle with how to approach our overseas time. We weren’t able to bring many personal effects; in fact I filled our small shipping space with mostly toys. We had to leave behind all our kitchen essentials, picture frames (a few made it in the suitcases!), books…and even most of our toys. As I meet other expats who have been here longer, I envy the homey-ness of their houses. Our house here still feels fairly sterile because we don’t have that much stuff here. I suppose this is a good thing to not be lost in a house full of clutter. But I feel torn between “this is only a 2 year experience – make do with the basics” and “you are here for 2 years and you should make it your home” mentalities. Do I buy that hand mixer and nice serving dish….or do I make do without? Do we buy the $350 BBQ? Do we buy a toaster or just use the oven? It seems silly to buy all these things when we have them all in Canada and won’t be able to bring them back. But yet 2 years is a long time to do without a hand mixer when you like to bake! So I am slowly learning to compromise between these two mentalities and meet somewhere in between.
In the last week I have received a lot of inquires about how Ella is doing and a lot of people expressed sadness at her transition to school and missing Canada. The good news is things have been a lot better the past week and she has gone off to school without tears. I think she even likes a lot of aspects of school. In fact, she was watching the TV show, SpongeBob Sqaure Pants and it was in Bahasa. She told me it was ok, because she knows Bahasa from school:) I have started car pooling with the lady down the street to school, so I spend less time driving now.
I continue to find new and great things with each trip to the grocery store. Finding Kraft Dinner or Pampers diapers or Goldfish crackers or frozen garlic bread is sometimes the highlight of my day. I have even got a bank account now! I’ve done a couple of trips to the markets too, where the produce is extremely fresh. You just have to make sure you wear close-toed shoes because the meat/fish area is quite messy.
You try really hard when you are living overseas to not be ethnocentric when considering the differences between Western culture and Asian culture. However, I find courtesy severely lacking here and it is hard not to begrudge that. There is no sense of a queue. No one will let you merge into a lane while driving….the Malaysian way is to just drift over until the other person has no choice but to let you in. I find the “every man for himself” mentality trying.
Paul’s work is going well and he is quite busy now. His site was recently featured in the NY Times and he is getting into the grove of how things work at the site. I think this is the only time in his career where he will be addressed as “Mr. Paul”.
Weekend 1 – Penang
Penang is an island about 2 hours from Ipoh and is known as the “Pearl of the Orient”. We visited Penang our our SE Asia trip 5 years ago and took in some of the cultural sites. But this weekend we were merely interested in spending time at the beach, Batu Ferringhi and hitting up the Toys R Us. We stayed at a beach hotel that would have been way out of our backpacking budget 5 years ago. We had fun swimming with the kids and relaxing, until Paul came down with a stomach bug. The hotel we stayed at is popular with Middle Eastern young couples and there were a lot of women fully covered in black burqas with just their eyes visible. I have to admit that I found it a little unsettling watching them at breakfast push food under their veil to eat and to watch them try to supervise their children swimming in the pools while in full garb. We headed back to Ipoh early on account of Paul’s tummy, but it was still a nice getaway.
Weekend 2 – Cameron Highlands
If you come for a visit, this will definitely be one of the places we take you. The Cameron Highlands are about 2 hours inland from Ipoh and have been on the tourist path for many years. The big draw here is the cooler weather on account of being in the hills, and the fabulous agriculture, including tea, strawberries, and many vegetables. On our trip 5 years ago we did some trekking, although this time we were after more leisurely, kid-friendly activities. You can read the our blog from our 2006 trip here.
The car ride up wound through the hills and made even myself car sick. After lunch at an Indian restaurant, where our kids ate only white rice (this is often the only thing they will eat!), we visited a Butterfly Farm and indulged in some strawberry sundaes. Ice cream seems to help kids travel better and so we use this strategy often! They have a great night market on weekends and we sampled some yummy food (sweet potato timbits as Paul called them, corn on the cob, tempura vegetables and of course strawberries. Steamboat dinners (Chinese fondue) where you cook the food in a metal pot of stock in the middle of the table is popular here. We vaguely remembered trying it 5 years ago and it not being up our ally. But we figured we had better give it another go…well once again it was not up our ally. Too many weird gelatinous balls that you can’t figure out what they are…is it chicken…is it cheese…what is it? And is it hygienic to cook raw meat and seafood with your vegetables? Back to the hotel for a much needed rest. We have developed a good system for sleeping in a small hotel room with 2 adults and 2 children. Gavin sleeps in a cot or playpen, usually in the bathroom and Ella sleeps in a cot in the main room with us. Works really well until someone has to go to the washroom in the middle of the night.
The next day we visited a tea plantation. The tea plants create this beautiful symmetrical pattern along the hills, which is quite beautiful to look at. Next up was pick your own strawberries where interestingly they grow the strawberries off the ground here and you have to use scissors to pick/cut them. We picked up some great fresh veggies from the market, ate lunch and headed back to Ipoh. Anyway who has traveled in Asia with small children can attest to the fascination that Asians seem to have with white children. Our kids are constantly getting their cheeks rubbed, headed patted and their pictures taken. They like to pose with the kids for a picture and if that won’t work, a picture of just the kids will suffice. It doesn’t really bother us, but we do find it hilarious. On the weekend this lady kept trying to get Ella to do the peace sign for the picture…we’re working on that now with her!
We’re going to be sticking around Ipoh for the next 2 weeks, so it will be nice to relax and spend some time seeing more Ipoh sites.