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Archive for February, 2006

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year!

It’s hot (well, hotter) again in KL. I guess the rainy season is over and we’re back to a drier heat. Excellent pool weather, I say.

Another eventful holiday season for Kim and Alex. First, we had a relaxing three-week semester break hanging out in Malaysia (first in KL , then on Langkawi Island, Malaysia )with our wonderful friends from Munich, Sabine and Neil. Then, Alex’s monumental decision to become a teacher and the stress of registering for a master’s program well past the deadline, and finally an impromptu trip to Vientiane, Laos . Next we have a trip to Siem Reap (site of Angkor Wat), Cambodia in April and hopefully a few short jaunts around South East Asia on some of our long weekends in April and May. Now that we can finally leave Malaysia after officially declaring our residency, we are anxious to explore as much as we can, as fast as we can!

Well, it turns out three weeks is the perfect amount of time for a mid-year break. I’ve never felt so rested after a holiday before. I definitely could get used to this! Sadly our first week was more of a “sleeping off the stress of the semester” than a good travel opportunity, but it was a hard-earned and well-deserved rest. We were hoping to go to Kuching, Sarawak on Borneo in East Malaysia for a few days, but in the end we could barely make it out of the house. So, we spent the first week of our vacation relaxing and sleeping. Once we were able to stay awake for more than 4 hours at a time, we were fortunate to have another set of absolutely fantastic visitors. This time Sabine and Neil came to stay with us in KL for a week. Then we were off to the island of Langkawi for another week of fun in the sun.

Touring around KL with Sabine and Neil was great, especially since we somehow managed to discover more ways for me to spend my money (and therefore enrage Alex). Batiks, scarves, and of course DVDs were purchased in abundance. Although, despite all of my shopping, I don’t think I could ever compete with Sabine and Neil who managed to out-shop me every time (a first in my experience!). Once we had our fill of DVDs and malls, we headed out to the Batu Caves, one of the most popular sights in KL. Basically the Batu Caves were discovered accidentally in the 1800’s and have since been turned into a Hindu shrine. The caves are also the site of the Thaipussam festival held in February. During the festival, Hindus from around Malaysia (and possibly S.E. Asia) perform ritual piercings and make a pilgrimage from downtown KL out to the caves. We’ve heard it’s an amazing atmosphere and are planning to go sometime next weekend when the festival starts (I’ll make sure to take lot’s of pictures). The caves were interesting, but the abundance of leaping and snatching monkeys was a little stressful. The caves were so dark and the monkeys were so quick and mischievous. I think I even saw them throwing garbage at the tourists. We continue to grow warier and warier of these little sharp-toothed mammals.

After our travels around the city, we headed up to the lovely (and duty free!) island of Langkawi in the northern part of Malaysia, just on the border with Thailand. In fact, while we were there, we could see a Thai island from the top of the mountains. We spent 8 extremely relaxing days basking in the hot equatorial sun and I somehow managed to escape unscathed (i.e. no sunburn). Alex, however, is another story. First, I must note that Sabine and Neil were an excellent influence. Not only did they put on sunblock everyday before leaving the room, but they actually re-applied during the day! I think I have learned a lot from vacationing with them. However, as I noted before, Alex is another story. Since Alex refuses to allow anyone else to apply sunblock, he simply slaps his arm up as high as it can go on his back. As you can imagine, he doesn’t always reach every area. So, after just one long morning in the sun (our first morning, of course), Alex ends up with a very red stripe across his entire back. It was quite a showing, even for our especially stubborn Alex. We just called him “stripey” for the rest of the trip. But, just in case you’re wondering, he now allows me to apply sunblock in emergency situations. Come to think of it, maybe he learned something from the trip as well… Good old stripey.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but alcohol is (comparatively) very expensive here. Malaysia is a Muslim country, so any and all alcohol is taxed at a whopping 200%. Needless to say, we certainly haven’t been drinking as much as we did in Munich. But, not only did Sabine and Neil bring us (practically) a suitcase full of alcohol from Germany, but we discovered the beauty of duty free on Langkawi. Turns out, without taxes, alcohol is cheap in Malaysia. So, we stocked up. And by “stocked up” I mean: We bought so much hard liquor in the “duty free” mall on Langkawi that the owner of the shop had to check us out himself and locals were staring at us, their eyes saying: “You infidels!” And, of course, we each brought twice as much alcohol in the country than we were “allowed” — which I must honestly say, we did not realize until after the purchase of the alcohol. All in all, we consider it quite a productive trip and have made plans to explore more duty free areas in this wonderful country.

After a lovely, and most relaxing holiday, we headed back to school for a lengthly three weeks. Then, wonderful Chinese New Year. Another week off and our first opportunity to leave the country! At the very last minute we decided to go to Laos. What a great decision! Laos was amazing! But, before we got there, we had the wonderful experience of sleeping overnight in the unique Bangkok airport. By “unique” I mean: Whose idea was it to make this airport one long, yet somehow narrow, hallway that everyone must constantly walk up and down? If you are ever stuck in BKK for a night, let me know — we have the perfect spot to curl up and attempt to sleep through the constant announcements for flight delays, missing passengers, gate changes, etc. What a rewarding experience.

Anyway, back to Laos. All I can say is: we will definitely go back there. We only managed to stay in Vientiane (the capital) for our trip because the closest “interesting” village (Luong Prabong) was a 10 hour drive away, but we still loved it. In fact, it’s really a stretch to even call Vientiane a capital. Sure, it has a presidential palace and the most sacred temple in Laos, but it was really more like an oversized village. Few cars, dusty roads, no real entertainment options, but lots and lots of beautiful temples and the friendliest people we’ve ever met. We basically walked every inch of the “city” from temple to temple, stopping every now and again to enjoy the remnants of the French colonial influence (read: pastries). I would have to say it was the most relaxing vacation I have ever taken. By the time we got back it felt like we had been gone for a month. If you ever get the chance to go, take it. A sleepy backwater, some might say, but we loved it!

Well, that’s all the excitement for the last few months. What’s new with you? Have you bought your tickets to visit yet? Think of all the excitement awaiting you in this tropical paradise!

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