It’s hard to believe that an entire school year has gone by. Have we really been living in Malaysia for just under a year already? How does this happen? I’m sure the only-one-season factor does have something to do with it, though. At any rate, we’ve had an absolutely fantastic year, no complaints. We’ve even adjusted to our local muezzin’s lovely “singing” voice (by closing all the windows and using the air conditioning at night, which is surprisingly less expensive than leaving them all open and using a fan…).
Life is still rolling along in KL. In the past few months we had more lovely guests here in KL, are in the process of becoming “aunties and uncles” to our 3 closest friends here who are all pregnant at the same time, went to an awesome Persian carpet auction (let’s just say the credit card bill was not pretty) and attended a genuine Seder dinner (which, ironically, took place during the Muslim call to prayer). Photos of everything are posted on our website.
Things are going well at school too. We recently got some great news that some friends of mine have accepted a job at our school for next year. Which, of course, prompted me to accept the responsibility of running the new teacher orientation program here at school. Alex has coordinated some sort of “official” position for next year which will allow him to earn his ESL teaching license by the end of the school year, which will hopefully lead to a full-time position here the following year. And things are even progressing along in the IT department. It looks like our laptop/IT integration program will go ahead for next year — and just in time for the new MacBooks! My middle school website is finally up and running after months of haggling with our IT services guys (the first e-mail request I sent was on 22 August!). If you’re interested in taking a look at what my kids are doing (and I’m sure you’re jumping out of your seat with excitement about this) let me know and I’ll e-mail you the password. Please remember that while you may be in a developed country with that wonderful DSL I remember so well from Germany, we are here in Malaysia where broadband = “speeds up to 512k”, so the site will be slow no matter how fast your connection is. Try not to stream too much video at once or the IT services guys will have a heart attack. And, of course, the site is password protected for the students safety, so please be responsible with that information.
Over the last few months, we’ve done our best to travel at every opportunity. We made it to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia ; Tioman Island , Malaysia; and Kuching , Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Every time we go on a trip we think “this is the best trip we’ve ever been on!” And then we go on the next one. It’s hard to believe that all of these places exist within a 2 hour fight-time radius of our home!
Cambodia was absolutely amazing. The temples of Angkor Wat were exactly like I imagined, but even better in person (of course). Even though there were tons of tourists, there were many different temples to go to, so we still had that Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider feeling. We really were in awe of the amazing carvings and the way the temples are being overrun by the jungle. But it was hot. And, not just KL hot, Cambodia hot. Somehow we managed to go during the absolute hottest month (April, for those of you that are planning travel around the area). We were up before dawn, at the temples for sunrise (not as great as everyone says, but at least it was cool), back in the hotel from 11 – 3, and out again for sunset (much better than sunrise in my opinion). Basically, we were instantly covered in sweat the second we stepped out of the hotel. Which, according to Alex, is what he experiences every day here in KL, but was a complete shocker to me. I was tempted to actually throw away my clothes at the end of the day, it was so gross. Despite the heat, we climbed all the temples we could. We had a 3 day temple pass, but felt like we could have taken a week and still not seen them all.
Angkor Wat was amazing for the temples, but equally interesting was the fact that there are tons of little villages with schools and markets all within the temple park grounds. The people that live there are supposed to be the closest descendants to the original Angkors. Of course along with the villages, temples and schools, come the children. Lots and lots of children selling handmade crafts or begging for money. “Hey lady, you buy cold drink? I remember you! You remember me? I wear gray shirt. You wear pink shirt. You buy from me?” Even though it was so sad to see them begging, I have to say, the kids were so cute. Once we got them off the sales pitch they were so funny. They had all sorts of little jokes and questions that they all knew (and when I say “all,” I mean we went to temples that were 4 hours from each other and the kids at both temples told the same jokes and questions). One of the favorites was: “Where you from? If I can tell you the capital, you buy from me?” They all knew Washington, DC, but we managed to stump them when we said we live in Malaysia. I’m guessing word will eventually get around in a year or two and they’ll all know the capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur.
One of the best parts of our trip is that we ended up hiring a car and driver so we could easily get around to all of the temples. Since some of them are quite far away (1 or 2 hours by car) we had plenty of time to drive around in the countryside. On one of our trips, we even got to visit our driver’s childhood home and meet his mom. It was so great to see some of the “real” Cambodia: children playing in the dirt roads, extended families lounging in the shade, rice farmers, meandering cows, even some turkeys (which our driver was seeing for the first time ever!). I can’t say much for Siem Reap town, except that it’s obvious that the Khmer Rouge destroyed everything and that the country is still recovering. It was not as pleasant as Laos and the people were definitely not quite as open and friendly (rightfully so, I suppose, given their recent history).
A few weeks ago we spent a long weekend at another one of the many islands of Malaysia: Tioman . As part of our hotel/flight package our travel agent arranged a “free” snorkeling trip for us (despite the fact that we had not asked for said trip, and it was not actually free… surprise, surprise). Since we’d never been snorkeling before, we were not quite prepared for our the trip. Despite Alex’s protests however, I managed to convince him to buy our own equipment before the trip (who wants to rent a used snorkel. Ew). As I explained to Alex in the dive shop: “we don’t do a lot of sports, but I think we can handle floating motionless in tropical water for a few hours.” And, we did. Well, I did. Alex seemed to have water in his mask every time I looked over at him. He spent the majority of the time coming up for air and emptying water from his mask. He claims it was his mustache leaking in water from the bottom. However, this may have been to his advantage in the end, because I was the only one who ended up with a completely sunburned backside. That’s a fun time, let me tell you. Despite my inability to sit down for a week, we have vowed to go snorkeling again soon. Next time I’ll wear shorts.
Last weekend I took my (one) personal day and we traveled to Borneo in East Malaysia. Malaysia has 2 states (Sarawak and Sabah) on the island of Borneo (shared with Brunei and Indonesia). We went to Sarawak, the larger of the two states. We stayed in the capitol city, Kuching (and I use the term “city” loosely since it was basically 5 streets and 2 hotels) and traveled all around the area. FIrst, we went to the cultural village (Alex’s choice) to see all the different tribes of Borneo. It was a little contrived, but we really learned a lot about the different cultures of Malaysia. Everywhere we went for the rest of the weekend, we could spot the different types of dwellings and recognize the different tribal influences on Sarawak.
The next day we visited the Orang Utan sanctuary . We were in a small park (with about 20 other people) while the orang utans were being fed. No fences, just us and them. They were close enough to touch. The sign outside said “do not touch the orang utans,” which usually isn’t enough of a warning for me. However, since it also said: “male orang utans are at least 6 times stronger than the average male and can become aggressive when provoked,” even I figured it was better to stay a “safe” distance. Since the park was so small, this “safe” distance was 2 or 3 feet. But the orang utans didn’t seem to mind. They have 2 feeding times a day, and visitors are allowed at those times only. The smaller orang utans (especially mothers with babies) just kind of appear out of the jungle, grab some food, hang out for a while and leave. Even with the threat of the so-called “aggressive” males (still tempted to pet the orang utans), it was truly an amazing experience. The orang utans were so cute — the babies especially. I have vowed to find one of those rehabilitation centers that allows people to care for baby orang utans that have lost their mothers. (I once saw a show about these places with Julia Roberts. Let’s just say I was inspired). Anyway, after the informal feeding in the park, we got to go to the feeding platform in the jungle and see the big (and I mean, BIG) orang utans. When they swing in, trees break under their weight. We stayed by the viewing platform.
Our last adventure in Sarawak was to visit the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia. It’s really big and gives of a terrible odor to attract flies. It has no stem or leaves and buds directly onto a vine on the ground. And we traveled about 2 hours by car, and then a 40 minute hike, across a “stream” (more like a river, if you ask me) to see one. It was big, we didn’t notice any smell (thank goodness), and we had a 1 hour trek back to look at 3 more buds. It was a loooong afternoon. But we liked it. We also got to see some giant termite mounds and some seriously frightening crawling bugs. It was truly a rainforest adventure.
And now, only 2 more weeks of school until we’re off for the “summer!” You really need to come and visit: snorkeling, orang utans, gigantic flowers, pristine beaches! It’s all here in Malaysia!
Oh, and just in case you’re interested…
I also found some old pictures from Helsinki, Finland , Tallinn, Estonia , and the Italian & French Riviera , that I had forgotten to post ages ago. Yes, we do miss Europe… Maybe someday we’ll get to enjoy living there again!