Monday, July 29, 2013

Cowabunga Kidzania!

Sunday we had a family lesson from Charlie and Anne in badminton, Malaysia's national sport. (I don't know if it's actually the national sport, but it's wildly popular here.) Malaysia and China played for the men's singles gold medal in the most recent Olympic games. Played indoors, it's surprisingly aerobic and incredibly fun. Our apartment building has courts. We're planning to buy rackets this week and start booking weekly time to play as a family. (Shout out to Alycia S. - who lettered in high school varsity badminton back in Santa Cruz, CA. She's in labor with baby #2 right now; she just FaceTimed us from GBMC - We're thinking of you!)

Another great development from Sunday, we were eating lunch and heard a little knock on the apartment door. Two girls who live in our apartment complex came by to see if Violet wanted to go on a treasure hunt with them! Yeah! After the treasure hunt, the three girls went for a swim. June, on the left, is Malay - ethnic Chinese and Shailia, on the right, is from Iran.

Sunday evening (after a total bust trying to shop for masks, fins, and snorkels for the kids - really, we're on a peninsula... shouldn't every store sell this kind of thing?), we went to the Bangsar night market. Each Sunday, stalls line a street in Bangsar, a neighborhood ~15 minutes from us, with fruits, veggies, fish, meat, and juices. Add that it's Ramadan, the market also hosted a large number of delicious prepared food stalls.
Violet digging into fresh roasted corn.
Cutting a jackfruit. A giant fruit that tastes like
a cross banana, mellon, and pineapple, with huge
pits in the center of each bite.
A and J drinking pure sugarcane juice. Look
behind them to see the man feeding sticks of
sugarcane into a grinder.
Post market, and after a brief pre-party (note Kris is ready to open the wine, but still drinking his fresh "sour fruit" from Bangsar), we stopped in for drinks and snacks at the Brussel's Beer cafe. Real beer!! Yum!!

Today, Brian headed to work, so Camp WienerPohl took off to Kidzania at a mall called "The Curve." Have I mentioned the malls in KL? Everywhere, everywhere there are malls. Huge, huge, huge malls. I've spent more time in malls over the last 2 weeks in KL than I'd spent in malls in 10 years in Baltimore. Seriously, I was researching online for where to buy a mask, fins, and snorkel for the kids and I found a mall dedicated entirely to sporting goods. The directions to the sporting goods mall are "Between Sogo shopping mall and Maju Junction shopping mall along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman you have a special mall which focuses on sports..." Anyway, Kidzania is really remarkable ( It's an indoor kid-sized town with little areas dedicated to various grown-up, real world experiences. In small groups (4 to 8 kids, depending on the activity), staff lead the children in interactive, hands-on learning/play. The kids did a mock trial, starred on stage in a ninja turtles show, went to a magic lesson, built a Dell laptop, performed an endoscopy (the surgery suite had a long line), made Vitaman drink, flew a plane, solved a crime as CSI, and designed cars. Next time we visit (you can't do it all in one visit), they want to go to the ED, ride in the firetruck, wash windows, drive the mini cars, work for the telecom company, produce a TV show - to name a few... Super cool. Each activity is timed (15 to 30 minutes), so Robin and I enjoyed cappuccinos in the lounge and spent some quality time in the massage chairs.

Keep the emails and posts coming. Lots of love!!

Blindfolding Tyler to prove that just because food doesn't look good,
doesn't mean it doesn't taste good.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Batu Caves

First it's not a Buddha. I got that as soon as we pulled into the Batu Caves parking lot...

So we successfully drove (thank you, Brian) and navigated (thank you, Google Maps) our way about 15 km north of KL to the Batu Caves. A side note on driving. After several days on the roads here as a passenger with Robin, I was pretty convinced that I did NOT want a car. Cars are fairly expensive, the roads are confusing, and the motor scooters whiz in and out of lanes. And it's 'other' side of the road driving. When Brian convinced me to get a car, he asked what kind of car a wanted and I answered 'narrow'. I've yet to take the wheel, but I will tomorrow. Back to the Batu Caves...

So the Batu Caves are actually a Hindu shire dedicated to Murugan, the Hindu god of victory and war. It's Murugan's giant golden statue that stands at the entrance to the caves and that we can see from our balcony in Mont Kiara. There are several shire areas at the foot of the mountains and then many more shrine areas up about 270 very steep steps.

Branching off the stairs about 3/4 the way up to the top shrine, visitors may tour the Dark Cave. This is a one hour guided tour. Our excellent guide, Jonathan, provided an entertaining and enlightening tour, complete with stops to view formations and see several insects that only live in caves. The cave guides are conservationists and stressed the importance of protecting these delicate ecosystems. The kids have watched the BBC Planet Earth caves episode at least 50 times, so this was thrilling for them. Violet and Tyler both report that their favorite part of the tour was 'total darkness' when all the guests turned off our lights and we experienced a few light-less minutes. Pretty cool. There's a 3 hour 'adventure' tour, sounds exciting, right? Well... guests spend part of the tour crawling through several feet of bat guano. No thanks.
Violet stilling clinging to Brian after tossing her sandwich.

After the Dark Cave tour, we continued up to the main shrine area. Tourists know the shrine for the monkeys. Violet made a mistake of trying to eat a peanut butter sandwich within view of the monkeys. They descended and started to climb her to get their hands on the food. She ended up jumping on Brian who ran away -- a money chase ensued and the moneys were going to win -- so she stuffed half the sandwich in her mouth and threw the other half as far as she could. New rule: bring no food into the Batu Caves.

Safely back down the stairs, we received blessings for health and safe travels complete with red smears of kumkum on the forehead from a priest before dining on amazing tasting Jain food at the base of the temple. Brian got a fresh coconut. Call it a coincidence, but the diarrhea started for me about a hour after we got home. (The first any of us have had in Malaysia.) New rule amended: no eating at all at the Batu Caves.

(A quick follow up before posting. We had dinner at Safiz, a local tandoori place - best tandoori chicken EVER. This will be a regular place for us to eat dinner. And my belly is back to normal, so maybe I blamed the Batu Cave food too quickly.)

Guy using a machete to cut open coconuts.

Violet checking out a monkey.

The moneys ignore you if you have no food.
Almost to the top of the 270 stairs! Kids climbed the whole way
on their own with no whining.

The monkeys will even nab your 7-Up
Huge cavern near the end of the Dark Cave tour.

Oh, The Haze

So over the last few days, KL's been blanketed in a thick haze. When we first arrived, we could see the golden Buddha at the Batu Caves (~15 km away) from our apartment balcony (very big Buddha, very clear air). Yesterday, we couldn't see across our neighborhood. KL is experiencing some of the worst haze in decades due to raging forest fires in Indonesia. Sadly, these fires were set intentionally as slash and burn clearing efforts. The haze is so bad that yesterday organizers delayed the KL Marathon, scheduled for this weekend. The KL port is closed to ships without special navigational equipment. (Does this mean further delay of our household goods? Speaking of household goods, Monica B requested a blog tour of our apartment. I've been holding out until we have our household goods and I've decorated it a bit. Stay tuned!)

The kids and I have had a couple of quiet days. On Thursday after lounging and reading, we spent time with Robin and the kids at the pool. Then we checked out Mont Kiara's Thursday weekly night market. It's a small market mostly with food stands and some fruits and veggies. I had Korean. This will be on our weekly agenda. Yesterday, we installed Google Hangout and had a fun call with Mom, Dad, Mike, and Jane. Love the conference call style communication. It was great to "get together" to catch up and laugh. Miss you guys. Mom and Dad reminisced about when they moved to Japan in the late 1970s, calls home were over $12 a minute. They only talked with their parents once or twice a year. Times have changed.

Yesterday was also Brian’s first full day of rounds at Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL). For those who you who were wondering if Brian actually has a job in Malaysia, here is a picture of Brian, the PUGSOM medicine clerks, Toby (medicine clerkship director) and Kris (visiting JHH resident) in front of Ward 26 at HKL. HKL is the biggest hospital in Southeast Asia - 2,200 beds, 10,000 staff, 30,000 baby deliveries each year. To put that in perspective, Hopkins has 1,060 beds and only 2,000 deliveries per year. PUGSOM is incredibly fortunate to be able to start our first clerkships at the flagship hospital in Malaysia. 

Ward 26 is awesome (for those of you not excited by dengue fever, you should skip to the end of this paragraph)! It is an all-male open ward with 30 beds. The beds are divided into pods of 6 beds, with the middle pod devoted to more critically ill patients (sort of like the MPCU or a step-down unit at other hospitals), and the first pod devoted to dengue fever patients. On morning rounds alone we saw 4 patients with dengue fever (4 more than Brian ever saw in Baltimore), a patient with heart failure and Cheyne Stokes respirations, an empyema, possible vancomycin resistant staph aureus pneumonia, cellulitis, sinusitis, newly diagnosed lung cancer and a schizophrenic diabetic with a tooth abscess. Other than the dengue fever which is endemic in Southeast Asia, it was like being back on Nelson 4 in the old hospital building in Baltimore. Dr. Z, the specialist in charge of the ward, has been incredibly welcoming of us. She is a good bedside clinician and has a unique combination of sternness and humor which will be great for the students.

To make us feel even more at home, as we left the ward, a patient walked up to Toby and said, “Dr. Toby – Money for nothing and your chicks for free!!!...Do you think I have schizophrenia?” (I think he was trying to quote the Dire Straits but didn’t get it quite right). He then opened his mouth, pointed to his teeth and said the chip that controls his mind was hidden in his molars. Toby politely told him that he was not a psychiatrist as he backed away towards the elevators. It is incredible how similar urban hospitals can be halfway across the world!
Look - no heater!!

The car returned safely to our parking garage. 
Clearly, Brian was happier than a pig in you know what, nerding it up in the hospital. After taking a 90 minute taxi ride home from the hospital (yes – it is only 6km), we had an exciting and quite timely development on the homefront. Mr. Derrick delivered a Toyota Vios to our apartment complex, handed Brian the keys, and politely explained that the windshield wipers and turn signals were on opposite sides compared to the U.S. We then went on our first drive in Malaysia to meet some PUGSOM faculty for coffee in Bangsar (at another mall). Luckily for Brian it was raining so he could almost hide the fact that every time he tried to make a turn the windshield wipers would mysteriously go on. We made it in one piece without clipping any mirrors so all-in-all it was a pretty good excursion. Thanks to Patrick for navigating and to Tyler for not singing “Sexy and I Know It” so his dad could concentrate on staying on the left side of the road. In Bangsar, we also found a Garibaldi restaurant with a Garibar! We'll have to try it out sometime.

We are excited to have the car since we have a few weekend excursions planned. This weekend we are going to Batu caves and in 2 weeks we are driving to the rainforest for a 4 day adventure. (Booking the rainforest trip has been painful. It's very remote and it's nearly impossible to get in touch with any of the accommodations via phone or email. Pair that with not knowing how to dial and an "in country, out of state, mobile to land line" call...)

Last night was Patrick's going away party. Brian is taking over Patrick's role at PUGSOM as Patrick returns to Baltimore. We are going to miss him very much. (And the kids are forlorn as a beach vacation will not be the same without climbing on Patrick's shoulders and having him launch them in the air -- over and over.) Patrick needed to use up some gin before he departs, so we obliged by picking up limes and drinking gin and tonics. The limes here are tiny and delicious! After shutting down the cafe in our building, we had our first little get-together in our place. Yes, the cupboards are still a bit empty.

Going down to our apartment's parking garage. Now which one is our car????

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Going Asian

Just some odds and ends:

* We've gone Asian: yesterday we bought a shoe rack and put it outside the apartment.

* I have successfully converted my family to "shelf" milk. At a 1/4 the cost of fresh milk (imported from Australia), this had to happen. And they were on sale at Tesco!

* "Good Maid" seems to be a pretty good brand of soap.

* As a former British colony, BIG grocery (aka - Whole Foods style, Whole Foods prices) was baking Royal cupcakes last night.

* In the stall is listed the "Toilet Rules & Regulations"... My personal favorite is on the bottom left.

Milo is Not Really Chocolate Milk

Robin, the kids, and I headed to Merdeka Square yesterday. This square is lined by a British club (founded 1884) and the green serves as a cricket field. Here Malaysia raised their flag for the first time signaling independence in 1957.

Walking through the barzaar
Of course we missed a turn 500 meters from the Square - sending us several kilometers in the wrong direction. Trying to circle around, we inadvertently drove through "The Bazaar" - Mom, Dad, and Mike - think of our Trevi Fountain drive-by in Rome. Yikes. Well, anyway, we found a parking lot and decided it was better to strike out to Merdeka Square on foot.

We circled back and appropriately WALKED the bazaar. We all enjoyed seeing the many stalls of traditional Malaysian dress and promised all the kids we'd head back there sometime soon when they may each select an outfit.

We did find Merdeka Square which is framed by a number of colonial buildings and the gorgeous Sultan Abdul Samad building. On one side of the square there is a gallery which houses a huge 3-D map of KL. It was pretty amazing. The gallery also houses a woodcutting shop where the children stood fascinated for 20 minutes watching the artist making intricate carvings. The guys carving wood actually stopped and took pictures of our kids watching them! I bought earrings. A fun fact: Merdeka Sqaure area is the only place in central KL that still has natural (not planted by humans) coconut trees.

Tyler pouting in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad building

3-D Map of KL
Kids in Medeka Square
The last of the coconut trees

My new earrings, carved by ARCH at the gallery