Monday, September 23, 2013

Home Cooking

One fantastic part of Brian's job is getting to know the numerous visiting faculty coming to teach sessions at PUGSOM. Last week, I met David and Karen, in from Sydney. (Prior to Sydney, David and Karen lived in Baltimore and their three sons went to Park! This, of course, gave me license to drag Karen around a giant mall looking at inexpensive articles of clothing and paint to make a cheetah costume for Violet's school project...) This was David and Karen's second tour of duty at PUGSOM and Karen was keen to visit a few of her favorite places, including LaZat, Malaysian Home Cooking Classes. Karen organized a Roti Cani and Dhal class at LaZat. Finding out about the class the day before, I gladly joined in the fun. I can't speak highly enough of the class. If you are planning a visit to us, be ready, I'm taking you to a class at LaZat. 

We started out the day by meeting Sue at the TTDI Wet Market. Wet markets sell meat such as fish and chicken, whereas dry markets sell mostly fruits, veggies and some household goods. TTDI is a neighborhood not far from us. Sue took us on a guided shopping tour of the market, highlighting the stands from which she purchased the food for class. We saw the grinding of coconuts for fresh coconut milk ("you live in Malaysia, you must use fresh coconut milk. Never, ever from a can!"). We also met Rosie, the paste lady. Tell Rosie your plan for dinner and she scoops out pastes of various spices and seasonings, also with garlic, onion, ginger, etc. She throws in the fresh curry leaves and coconut milk. You have all you need to add to some meat and dinner is ready to cook. Sue's fantastic and enthusiastic tour led us up and down the aisles where she explained the use of Malaysian fruits and vegetables foreign to us (in the picture she's holding a banana blossom. I finally found out how to buy and eat these giant beans I've seen at every market. We also saw, but did not smell fermented durian). She also instructed us on how to order chicken and helped me pick out some red snapper for dinner (I also had Rosie make up a delightful paste for the fish!).

The fresh coconut guy.
Rosie - the paste lady dishing up pastes for our dinner.

My fish, before the fishmonger cleaned it.
The fishmonger doing his thing. I had a lot of trouble explaining that I didn't want a fish head.
In the end I took it...
After the market, we took a short ride over to LaZat's new location in a beautiful, traditional Malaysian house. It was a great ride. Once we were off the main road the drive felt rural, complete with slowing down to give way to goats. Then slowing down to give way to chickens. The cooking space at this location is set in lush greenery, all open air cooking. As it was just me and Karen in the class, Saadahsa took over as our instructor and ran a wonderfully informal and hands on class. We started by making a dough for the roti cani. Then we worked on the dhal and a banana coconut dessert. Going back to the roti cani was the most fun. Saadahsa skillfully demonstrated tossing the roti, then she gave us a plastic plate to try out the technique. We graduated from the plate to a dish towel and finally to the dough. Super fun. And when all was cooked, it was so tasty.

In other schooling this week, I've added a couple pictures from Tyler's class. He did a family painting, complete with belly buttons. He also made his name in play dough. We've received preliminary feedback that his math skills are excellent and they are working to develop challenging math assignments for him. His reading is 'emerging' - and that will be an area the teachers work with him on. He received his first reader and the readers switch out every Monday and Thursday. He's adjusting very, very well.

Violet is having a slower adjustment. While her reading is excellent, she feels behind on her writing and spelling. Her teacher and I have assured her that children are on all different levels in many skills and the goal is to advance her in all areas - not to compete with the other students. She's starting to understand that, but it's difficult. We're doing extra work with spelling at home. (Ha, ha, ha - yes - I, the worst speller alive - am working on spelling with her!!) Socially, it's been a challenge as well. Of the twelve girls in Violet's class, two groups of three girls each share a common home language and they and their families' are quite good friends. They seem like really nice kids, but that's a social circle that will be difficult for Violet to break into. She's also the only new girl in her class. Her teacher assures me that Violet's been doing great in school and she never would have guessed that Violet feels herself as struggling. But it's very hard to see Violet, who is usually so happy and confident, having breakdown moments at home. That said, Friday was better than Thursday. And today was better than Friday. Give it a month and I'm confident she'll be settled in. Plus, she's got a big cross country race on October 6th to think about. On Saturday, Brian took Violet on her first training run. They ran almost a mile at a nice and easy pace. At the end, Violet asked if she could run a little faster. Brian said sure and he tried to keep up and couldn't. Probably too much roti the night before.

Fortunately, I've met a few nice families and we're starting to schedule some playtime outside school. One family we've become friends with is from the Netherlands, but most recently arriving from Paris. You would never believe that their children just learned English a year and a half ago! We had them over for a delightful playdate on Friday. Tyler and J are in the same class and Violet and A are in the same year, but different classes.

Below are a few more pictures from the week. Enjoy!

Moon cake festival in our apartment building, complete with a lantern walk.
Violet on the lantern walk with kids from our building.
Violet and I joined Isabel and Nico and the visiting faculty at the Art Expo Malaysia 2013.
Violet's favorite art piece? Bob Marley out of magazine cut outs (titled "One Love").
She asked that I post a picture of this.

Tyler on a playdate with a child from the next building over.
"Superhero pose" (while mum snaps a picture) transcends all cultural barriers.
On Sunday, Brian went to see the Killers in KL. They were awesome. Brian did feel a little old when they did a cover of "I Think We're Alone Now", originally by Tommy James and the Shondells, but made immortal in the 1980s by Tiffany. When Brandon Flowers held the mic towards the crowd to sing the chorus, Nicole and Brian were the only ones belting out the words!  Seriously, the only ones...

Brian and Nicole
And Grandpa Bulldog, this one's for you. I snapped a pic of this sign in downtown KL. Can you believe Tokyo Disney is 30 years old? It opened April 15th, 1983. When did we go? 1984?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Indonesia's Belitung Island

For Malaysia Day this past weekend, we went to Belitung Island in Indonesia. Belitung is off the coast of Sumatra in the Java Sea. To get there, we took a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta (two hours). We spent the night in Jakarta and then took a one hour domestic flight to Belitung in the morning. Belitung's major industry is tin mining. The mines are inland. But then there is the beach. Wow! I can honestly say that this could be the most beautiful place on Earth.

Belitung has not yet hit the international tourist scene - not even the backpackers have arrived here (it's not yet in Lonely Planet). We were definitely an oddity on the island and we were asked many times if people could take a picture with us. Coordinating the trip from KL was tricky, so we ended up contacting This was a fantastic, fantastic decision. This small tour outfit organized the whole weekend, including booking a lovely hotel, providing a car and driver/tour guide (named Ipung) for the whole weekend, arranging all the meals (we sat down and food arrived at the table hot and fresh), and hiring a boat and captain for island hopping. Plus the car was always stocked with snacks and water. After our arrival, Ipung took us to the Billiton Hotel in the town. Then we went to Tanjung Tinggi. Here we had our first view of the impressive granite boulders that line the beaches and islands. Again, wow!  There were locals hanging on the beach sipping coconuts, plus a few Indonesian tourists. The kids dug in the sand with an Indonesian boy who reported that he speaks excellent English because he "watches lots of TV everyday." While the kids enjoyed the soft white sand, Brian and I sat on the beach and sipped our own coconuts.

Who needs a plastic bucket when you have a coconut!?!

Lunch beach side. We were big fans of gangan, a local soup dish with fresh fish and pineapple.
Violet loved the grilled fish!
We did have to have a bit of a detour during the day. I'd been fighting an infection in my toe for a week. In Jakarta, it looked bad. And we (translation: Brian) forgot to pack any antibiotics from the large collection in our cupboard in KL. And while the airport "pharmacy" carries 14 types of anti-diarrhea drugs, they do not carry antibiotics. Fortunately, in Belitung we purchased some amoxicillin for 4500 Indonesian Rupiah (40 cents) - no prescription needed - and Brian drained the toe (finally proving that he's not "just a lung doctor").

Now let me go back to holiday photos from beautiful beaches...

We spent the afternoon on a private beach where our tour company is building a hotel. The water here was not as clear, but this whole area was deserted, so it made for great shell collecting! Then we headed back to the hotel to swim in the pool, rest, and change for dinner. Dinner: The food was great (note I took a picture of our crab for all the Marylanders out there), but it was the weirdest ambiance. The restaurant, Dynasty, was hosting a huge party in the main dining area, so they stuck us in the banquet hall - complete with folding red chairs and a stage set up for weddings. Odd.

USB to Malaysian, Malaysian to US, US to European - and we had power.
Our launch beach for Island hopping.
I was most excited about Sunday's itinerary - Island hopping day. We arrived in Tanjung Kelayang and were met by an Indonesian man who captains a traditional fishing boat. The captain's son also joined us. We boated around some islands and the captain's son dove down in the crystal clear waters to find us a chocolate chip starfish! We'd seen these a few weeks ago at the KLCC aquarium. Then we headed to a snorkeling spot near Pulau Lengkuas. Gorgeous coral formations comprise the reef and it was teaming with sea life. (Laney - if you are reading this, Violet found several sea urchins and thought of your research project in K2.) Unfortunately, cloud cover came soon after we got in the water; and, in the dim light, we lost much of the reef's vibrancy. It was also disappointing to see several snorkel boots pull up and drop anchor on the reef. I worry about a growing tourism industry without regard to reef protection. After snorkeling, we headed onto the island to climb the lighthouse built in 1885. After climbing on the boulders around the island, we settled in for a picnic lunch. A terrible storm came rolling across the water. Ipung moved us to a covered spot in the lighthouse complex. It was a pretty cool place to weather the storm; but, we didn't get to climb the lighthouse. The giant metal lighthouse/lighting rod closes to visitors during stormy weather. While this beach was beautiful, this is a popular picnic spot.and it was also disappointing to see a fair amount of litter around the beach.
Chocolate Chip Starfish!!!

After the storm, we hopped into the boat and went to a spectacular little island called Pig Island. We spent the afternoon here climbing the boulders, swimming, and fishing with our boat captain and his son. The weather rained off and on, but it was still a great time. When the sun came out, the area was simply spectacular. By the late afternoon we were tired, wet, and a bit cold. So we headed back to Belitung and to the hotel to dry up and relax before having another delicious dinner.

Violet watching the Captain's son line and hook fish from the rocks.
We got to try our hand at fishing, too. Mary caught one! The Captain's son caught a squid and the kids
got to hold it. Tyler said it was the softest thing he's ever felt.

In researching Beltitung online, I had learned about the Belitung Shipwreck. An Arab trading vessel from around 830 (yes, that's the year 830, I didn't miss a "1") sank off the cost of Belitung. The boat and its contents fell to the sea floor. A coral reef grew up around the wreck. In 1998, sea cucumber divers found some pottery in shallow waters off the coast. This wreck was an archaeologist gold mine containing the biggest single collection of Tang Dynasty pottery ever discovered. Plus, the ship itself was very much intact (how crazy is that??) leading to a new understanding of ninth century ship building techniques. Our hotel suite had a wonderful book on the Belitung wreck. Brian and I read many of the essays and we enjoyed sharing the story of the wreck with the children.

On our final day in Belitung, we stopped into the Belitung museum. The museum houses a small collection of artifacts, including weapons from the Dutch colonial period and also weapons that a Dutch colonialist had collected from around the region. But the star collection in my mind were the two cases with items from the Belitung wreck, including some artifacts which continue to have the coral growth around the pottery. See the pictures - awesome! Out the backdoor of the museum there was an odd park/zoo that our guide said is a social hub in the evening. The park had sad animal cages interspersed with sculptures and bordering-on-dangerous play equipment. Finally we checked out a house built in the traditional island style. Tyler feel in love with playing the gong, while Violet tried on traditional head-carried woven baskets and hats. Then we headed out for an uneventful trip back to KL.

Well, we are now back in KL finishing up the second week of school. This weekend we are staying home. And we are all looking forward to that. Till the next report -- Love, Mary, Brian, Violet, and Tyler

Our visas cost us this much.
It's actually just around $100, but with all those zeros, it  just seems like so much more...