Hello from Tanjung Tokong
Jan 24, 2004
|Subject: Hello from Tanjung Tokong
Well as many of you know we spent the last 5 weeks in Sydney and we really
loved the location. It was difficult leaving a place that suited us so well.
However everything in life moves on one way or another.
The waiting for and the actual flight to Kuala Lumpur (capital city of
Malaysia) was long but relatively uneventful. We arrived at midnight our
time and were too tired to deal with hawksters trying to get us take their taxi
or to their hotel. By Malaysian standards we got ripped off but by Canadian
standards we still had a good deal so we were not too disappointed.
The first lesson I learned was to ensure that people understand me
completely. The taxi driver took us to the wrong hotel in the wrong part of
town. Though he was not mad it was clear that he wished this did not
happen. Oh well.
We stayed at a very nice (ie. expensive) hotel for two nights just to get
acclimatized to everything. We really did not do any tourist things at all.
Kuala Lumpur (KL to all malaysians) has a lot of potential for activity but
Simon did not deal with the time change very well and we had to be going the
next day so we did little here (well we did little by our current standards, we
still went to a museum, walks, swimming and spent an afternoon in an
We have a connection to people living in Malaysia via friends of friends
(Thanks to the Grant family) We were given the opportunity to stay in their
home for free, but we had to get there while they were gone. We made the
best booking for travel that we could on short notice, from a different country
during their super-peak season (Chinese new years) Needless to say we made
the worst travel arrangements possible. 10 1/2 hour train ride to cover 350 km
in the night time. Slept horribly (upright in chairs, all lights all, freezing
aircon) and got to see nothing due to darkness. Plus, there were no
announcements as to what station the train pulled into. This added to the
anxiety. So...between the plane ride, Simon's inability to shift schedules and
the horrible train ride Lydia and I were not in the best of spirits. Tired and
frustrated we took the first guy to offer us a cab ride...NEVER A GOOD
IDEA HERE!!! The guy saw walking money bags the m oment we stepped
off the train. Luckily the Malaysian economy is so bad even being totally
ripped off buy this guy we still paid less that we would have in Canada for the
The good news is that we like the apartment we are staying in and will in fact
we will rent our own place here for a month when our host return.
The village is called Tanjung Tokong. The village is on the outskirts of
Georgetown on the island of Penang. Half of the village is tiny tin roof
homes...imagine the poor areas on a National Geographic special, tiny, one
room, stacked against the next, broken things all around and people sitting
outside watching things (like six foot tall white guys). The other half of the
homes are about the same size of the tiny tin roof shacks but with a bit of yard
and they are clearly much better cared for and seem to always have a nice new
car parked in them. There is also the occasional monstrous mansion. Of
course there are very nice places to stay and we are in one of them. We are on
the 10th floor of a nice building called "Leisure Kondominimums" There are
two swimming pools connected by a waterslide. There is also a gymnasium,
squash court, playground (for 2-3 year olds) and an outdoor billiard table.
The term village may be a bit deceving, this is a village but it is 100 urban.
Yes, there are the tin roof shacks and chickens everyware (alive and dead) but
there is also a Starbucks.
The food is very interesting. It meets all of my best hopes. Very tasty, clearly
for locals and basically free. There are a few "normal" restaurants (ie. inside
with tables, chairs, menus etc...) However the more interesting are the food
courts, the Hawker stands and the cafe's. Most of the eating we have done is
outside sitting on inexpensive lawn furniture. The food is easy to chose from
even without english signs for most stalls only have 2-3 items: fried rice,
fried rice with chicken, or fried rice with chicken special (ie with an egg on
it) Simon loves the food, he really really does.
Asia is different as I am sure you can all well imagine. The fact that we know
nothing and every simple event involves learning something new is beginning
to get to us a bit. The heat does not help. Fun as much of this is we do long
for the simplicity of home. However, most of the moments are fan. This
morning for breakfast we tried to order tea. We spoke english and Malay but
neither worked. A woman sitting had watched us from the moment we came
in, she actually had to wait to stop laughing before she translated for us. The
sad thing is that tea is called taa here. If we can not get that across to some
one what hope do we have for anything important?
As for the kids, it is facinating to us as to what they notice as different and
what is no big deal. Of course all the signage is no change as they can not
read anyway, but they have trouble recognising when someone is speaking a
different language. They do not question the tiny dirty homes (no offence to
those living in them). They do not question the chickens either on the street or
black and hanging upside down being cut for our breakfast. However, they
both really noticed the cloths hanging out to dry. They both have noticed the
oders but we have worked hard on them not to comment about that. Benjamin
really notices and questions the general lack of common safety features
(grates over holes, driving in an orderly fashion, rarity of sidewalks etc...)
Benjamin had been lammenting at the beach in Sydney that he had forgotten
how to swim, but it only took a day at the pool to regain everything he learnt
in Hawaii. He now has no fear about swimming or jumping into deep water.
He swims under the water, and bursts to the surface for air before diving back
under. Simon will only scoot about swimming in the shallow pool. He is a
head-first crashing down the waterslide kind of guy. There have been many
different children to play with at the pool - all either Chinese or East Indian.
Only a few speak English. Some are very friendly, others not as much. Most
just trying to have a good time too.
We bought supper at stalls at an outdoor market last night. Point and pick. I
was a bit worried about being over charged, because few listed prices. No
need to worry. Food even cheaper than at the hawker stands, and more
variety. Lydia likes the assortment of Malay baking of sweets - such lovely
surprises to try - just what does a bright green mini-cake ring taste like?
Simon picks out fried chicken (again) and Ben noodles and bright colored
drink with things floating in it. Bob's pick turned out to be fried liver with
spicy sauce and deep fried sausage balls that tasted like fish (?). We'll
probably do that again, seeing as there was something for everyone.
Anyway, keep watching the news for those SARS and Avian Flu stories and
wish us luck!
Subject: hello - long second update from Malaysia
We are now very settled in. The regular day-to-day things have become easy.
Or maybe I should say easier. Or maybe I should say we have just adjusted
our standards as to what to expect.
We finally braved taking the local buses. No timetable to check. No map of
route either. The most common bus we take is like a large school bus. With
the doors permanently left open. Unlike in Sydney, they let as many people
cram on as possible. That is, when they bother to stop to let you on (but we
don't blame an almost full bus not stopping for four white folk). And once he
refused to let us off until we where several stops past where we started ringing
the bell. And sometimes they stop in the middle of the intersection to pick up
and let off. You just never know. And sometimes the driver has a friend
along for the ride who calls out to waiting people to see if he can get them to
We also finally made it to the beach here, but it doesn't appear to be used.
There were only a few other people there to swim. There were lots of locals
hanging out on the benches, but they didn't appear to be doing anything -
except fo r the ones trying to sell horse rides, or water rides, or massages. The
guys did go in the water, but it was very murky. So we'll save the beach for
We also tried taking a small side trip. Six hour bus ride to interior mountain
region on Cameron Highlands. Very nice to have cooler temperatures. Not
really much to see other than the tea plantation, which were impressive and
interesting. Other wise the usual sort of butterfly garden and honey farm and
temples. We also tried a couple of "jungle hikes" but it didn't really feel very
exotic as far as plant life goes. Probably because the exotic jungle plants are
all the same as what we keep as "house plants" only all a lot healthier and
bigger. In fact, I'm fairly sure they have poinsettias here that are bushes taller
than me. We did manage to spot snakes, lizards, beetles, mantises, and
butterflies as we walked. There seems to be very few birds. I would guess
they have lost too much of their natural environment. While at CH the boys
did have a great time at the local playground every day. It had about eight
different playing areas, an d there we almost always other people there using
the park. Several times local girls asked to take their picture with the boys. In
particular Simon gets many comments of "so cute" and "so handsome" and
finally "so pretty like a girl". Simon continues to be good at drawing the other
parents into conversation. Ben has been feeling shy again lately.
We went to a local butterfly farm that was very excellent. We had hurried to
get there so as not to miss the demonstration, and it was well worth it. We got
to hold a huge moth, and walking sticks & leafs, and a scorpion. Simon petted
the scorpion but Benjamin would not. We learnt lots of interesting things
about each of them, including that the walking leafs are kept as pets. Also of
interest to us was that other tourists would just glance in at the demonstration
and then leave. I hope I'm never so grown-up as to by-pass the chance to hold
Both the Muslims and the Hindus had major holidays last week. The Muslim
holiday was to celebrate the occasion of Abraham not having to sacrifice his
son, as requested by God. To mark the occasion they sacrifice animals. So
we went over the local mosque and watched them kill several cows. They
then butcher them and distribute the meat to the poor. All the locals were
dressed up in the best clothes. The men in pants and long tunics of pure solid
colors - many bright blues, greens and pinks. The women wore very similar,
but longer tunics with flowing skirts. The children were dressed like
miniature adults. Only about half the women wore head scarves, and no
extreme over the face. The Hindu celebration was Thaipaisms???? which is
outlawed in some countries. The men pierce their skin with hooks and then
attach heavy things to them to pull through the streets on a long walk. The
streets were lined with stalls selling things from drinks for the devotees to cell
phone covers and balloons for the kids. There was also stalled sponsored by
business which would hold an alter and would offer refreshments free to the
devotees. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu come from other countries to
celebrate here because this is one of the few countries that allows them to hold
We are close enough to two mosques to hear their daily calls to prayer. We
both like the haunting sound of it. The fact they we are hearing from two
places at once is, however, a bit distracting and spoils it a bit. When we were
in Cameron Highlands, it was over a Saturday and the call to prayer at 6:00
a.m. lasted for just over half an hour. Many of the women wear head scarves,
but we have not seen many full face covers in this part of Malaysia. It does
seem a bit of a double standard to see a women walking along covered from
head to toe, while the man beside her wears shorts and a loose shirt. I know I
find it lots hotter to wear even long pants compared to shorts, and my long
pants are very light weight. We had wondered if the women go swimming
ever (most not) but finally did see one at our pool. She wore spandex full leg
sweat pants, mid arm length tee shirt, a one piece swim suit over top, and a
swimming cap. So now I know it's possible. ;
The Chinese celebrated (and celebrated, and celebrated, etc.) Chinese New
Year when we first arrived here. We don't know most of what they did to
celebrate, but there were fireworks every evening from about 9:00 until 1:00
over the course of two weeks. These were bought and set off just by
individuals, but we could see an amazing amount from our windows, and hear
even more while in bed. Too bad it was not organized, because if these
people got together, they could have had an hour show every night, rather than
the random displayed. All the more amazing considering that setting off
fireworks has been made illegal here.
Benjamin had an eye infection. We first thought that it was just some sort of
irritation causing general inflammation but then one morning we noticed that
the white of his eye had enlarged overtop of his pupil. Not a good sign so
nervously we set off to find a doctor. The doctor was exactly the way we had
hoped, modern, professional and very inexpensive.... and effective.
Now the note about the doctor might make you wonder what we were
expecting. Well we have had some other experiences that made us wonder
what would happen. For example, trying to book a simple bus trip to
acommon destination. I went to a recommended company. This company did
go to the area but claimed not to have even heard of the town I wanted to go
to. I pulled out a map and still there was no recognition of that town or any of
the towns on the map though they insisted they went to the area. When I
asked them what town they went to I was told that they did not know????
Remember here that Malaysia is essentially an english speaking country. So,
frustrated I walked around. When I found another company that went where I
wanted to go I was happy. However, when I tried to book a ticket the woman
got on the phone, waited for a while and then hung up. She told me that she
was an agent for yet another company which she directed me to. Gue ss
which one...the first one who did not recognize the name of the town.
Eventually all got straightened out.
Booking a flight out of here was another ordeal. I want to a nice reputable
travel agent...nice uniforms...recognizable travel posters clean, all the things
that make us white people comfortable. I asked for information about busses.
I was told they do not book busses (later I saw pamphlets for busses on a
desk?) I asked about a cruise. I was told they do not book cruses (Their
business card mentions cruises, they had two Princess Cruse line posters) I
said ok, lets book a flight. It took 4 people including the obvious manager to
book it for me. This was just a local flight on their national carrier. I left with
two things, the plane tickets and a question as to what the company really sold
for clearly travel was only a front.
I could go on and on with these stories but you would get the wrong
impression. It may be frustrating at the time but quite funny at the end. I
guess this is one thing I (bob) like about this trip, it is filled with emotional
ups and downs. Some work days in the past I am sure I went the entire day
without an emotion...just routine autopilot stuff. This trip is a good shake up
Having the boys along of course does change what we do as mentioned in
previous e-mails. Allown we would do a lot more traveling of the country,
seeing more sites etc... However, as the kids just get anxious and bored
during long trips and sometimes sick we are sticking around a few places
(more than one public vomiting has occurred after a taxi or bus ride) You
know all this so now for the good part. If we did travel as adults would we
would miss a lot. I will use bus 93 of the Hue Hin Bus Company to
illustrate. If we stayed here a few days we would have ridden the bus once or
twice however after 5 weeks you begin to notice a few things. (As an aside I
will mention that bus 93 is the only bus route run by this company and each
bus following this route has hand written signs indicating the stops and none
are the same in spite of taking the same route)
There is one bus driver (not bus, but driver) who blocks the pay box
pretending it is broken and takes the money directly.
The same bus does not take the same route every time.
The bus does not always pick up or deliver people to the same spot for the
same stop (Lydia mentioned this earlier)
Once, another bus company drove around picking up passengers from routs
followed by other companies (as an added story here, the driver pulled into a
deserted side street (deserted in Asia is odd) and ran out of the bus for 10
minutes, then returned to drive us back to the original pick up place to yell and
laugh at other drivers for 15 minutes before continuing on winding about
snagging other passengers)
Another thing, of more significance, to be learned by staying longer than a
month at a place is that first impressions are not always accurate. After a few
weeks, the small dirty things seem larger and cleaner. The large mansions
seem more average. The insanity of crossing the road does have a pattern,
chaotic as it is.
However, I do not know how long we would have to stay here before our first
impressions of the public toilets will change. We (adults) never minded the
squat toilets or using a sprayer hose rather than toilet paper but the mess...the
absolute mess is something we are having trouble getting used to. The mens
rooms seem to be worst. I guess what drives Bob mad is that there are people
whom you pay to enter the toilet who earn thier living to clean and yet...lets
just say that all three boys are tired of standing in other mans urine.
Not wanting to end on a negative or discusting note I will restate that all is
well. We swim every day and have new faster, runner and more dangerous
ways to use the waterslide. We have met some very nice people. The
playgrounds are very nice and well used by children. Time is flying which is
a good sign.
BitofCanadianahere. I notice a sigh in the Baskin-Robbins that there
products have been certified Halal as inspected in Onterio (city name
forgotten) I asked the staff about this and sure enough all of the ice cream,
cones etc comes form Canada and is shipped here. The staff could not explain
why the ice cream could not be made closer...even Australia is a lot closer.
This information was surprising but it did explain why 4 single scoops cost 26
RM. For your referance a typical breakfast costs the family 16RM, Supper is
35-40 RM. This outragious cost is not just an american chain thing. A full
meal with drinks at the KFC for the four of us costs 28 RM.
One last thing. The Ozone Hole.
We all know about it, I teach about it repeatedly however I did not fully
understand its affects untill now. Look at a map people, we are on the
equator. It is sunny and 30+ every day and we are often out at noon time and
still he feel no more need for suntan lotion than in Fort Me. However, in New
Zealand, which is under the hole (that may surprize some of you) we got
burned even on slightly overcast days with suntan lotion on. Obviously it is
much hotter here in Malaysia but the effect of the sun on us was MUCH
WORST in New Zealand South island.
Anyway, this is long because the kids are playing computer games but I will
end it now.