Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Who Wants to be a Riggitaire?

Ever since the kids' introduction to pop radio music on the Lord of the Flies-esque bus ride to camp a few summers back, Violet and Tyler scan the dial for the local z104 equivalent wherever we travel. Only a few minutes after getting in our car in Malaysia, we were jamming to Taylor Swift ("I'm feeling twenty twooo-oo-oo"). I'm basically in love of the pop radio station here in KL. Why, you ask? No, it's not because of Bruno Mars' latest hit or that annoyingly catchy Paramore "Still Into You" (that song actually makes me change stations). I heart listening to FLY 95.8 just to catch the public service announcements.

I have no idea why FLY FM does the PSAs. Is it required by the government? Are they just good citizens? With an awesome wit, the public service announcements convey messages with phenomenal humor and lots of local color. I tried really, really hard to find them online. But, alas, not much luck. So I've tried to recreate a few favorites here.

* Wash Your Hair: 
Man and women talking.
Man: "Ewww, your hair looks greasy, lah. When did you last wash it?"
Woman: "Four days ago."
Man: "Uck. Don't you know that hair carries germs and grease. Plus it starts to smell if you don't wash it. Years of research shows you should wash hair at least every two days."
Woman: "Ahh. But why were they studying hair grease for years, anyway?"
Announcer: "This is FLY FM reminding you to keep clean and wash your hair."
Man: "You gotta wash-your-hairrr, everyday, lah."

* Speak Clearly the First Time:
Two men talking over the phone.
Man 1 (whispering): "No, he's not available. He's doing bussssi-ness."
Man 2: "What did you say? I can't understand you."
Man 1 (whispering): "He can't come to the phone, he's in de toilet doing his bussssi-ness."
Man 2: "I can't hear you - speak up."
Man 1 (yelling): "He on the toilet making a poop!"
Announcer: "The is FLY FM reminding you to speak clearly the first time."

* Rumor Mill:
Multiple phone calls.
Person 1: "Did you hear? She's going to a resort with a friend."
Person 2: "I just heard that her friend bought a resort and she's going to visit."
Person 3: "Guess what? She's going to her 'friend's' resort to stay with monkeys."
Person 4: "I heard that she's dating a monkey that plays golf at a resort."
Announcer: "The is FLY FM reminding you that gossip travels fast. Do not believe all that you hear."

Drum roll...My #1 favorite: 

* Safety with ATM PINs
With heavy Malay accent to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song (I KID YOU NOT!).
This is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down, so let me take a minute - just sit right there, I'll tell you how I lost all my money at the ATM, lah.
...Okay, I don't remember all the lines to this one. Probably because everytime I hear it I convulse with laughter by the end of the first line. The message was to not make your ATM PIN the same as your account number, or something like that!! 

This is one I did find on line (FOR YOU AUNT PEARL!):

And just to give a shout out: 89.9 BFM is the overall best quality radio station in KL. It's billed as the business station with a bit of NPR-like talk paired with great music. Plus, they are always joking about what "BFM" stands for. Among my favorites have been "Bureaucracy Failing Malaysia", "Bloody Fantastic Music", "Bodek free Minutes" (which I had to look up, Malay-English slang for sucking up/kissing a**) and "Bride-Free Malaysia".

Speaking of bribe-free Malaysia, Robin and I got pulled over last week by a traffic cop fleecing for cash. The traffic cops are different from the regular police. We know it happens here--actually all the expats who drive have a story or two about this. The guy stopped right at a complicated, yet quiet intersection. What irritated me the most was the traffic cop was not even reserved about it. He said "You drive dangerous. You pay me now and no ticket." Robin handed 20 ringgit -- and he said, "Give me 10 more?" She said no, and he let us go. I just checked online to find how to handle this next time. "Haram" means illegal in Malay, as in "Bribery is haram. Much worse than changing into the wrong lane at this intersection." Also, reported by the friends Robin and I have since talked with, if you don't mind waiting, just ask for a ticket and 99.9 percent of time they will let you go. Grrrrrrr...

On Thursday, Brian and I attended Garden International School's Year 3 performance. Violet's class and two other Year 3 classes produced a witty Who Wants to Be a Millionaire spoof, "Who Wants to Be a Ringgitaire?" The Ringgit is Malaysia's currency. Violet had a lead roll as Chris Terrent -- the British-equivalent to Regis from the original US show. Violet had never seen the show (either US or British), so we had a blast "researching" (i.e., watching clips on YouTube).

Parents brought in breakfast for before the show. I love when I hear that it's potluck breakfast at Garden School. The parents are wonderfully generous at showcasing their home country's dishes. Pair that with Malaysian food being generally so amazing that I walk out of events with a satisfied belly. Yes, you are seeing sushi, spring rolls, curry puffs, and Korean noodles, along with the finger sandwiches.

After entering the hall jamming to Jai Ho (that Slumdog Millionaire song/dance), the show began by Chris Terrent (a part shared by Vi and two other boys) explaining the rules to "Who Wants to Be a Ringgitaire?" from a center platform and then asking the contestant questions from class materials. The contestant would "day dream" back to a class lesson. The show then cuts to the stage where the kids act out a skit reminding the contestant of the answer. The classes even produced commercials played during the show -- all related to environmental awareness and clean water! In the end, based on a cleverly worded misunderstanding by a "phone a friend" to the P.E. teacher, the contestant misses the final question and does not get the million ringgit. But he's okay because he's realized he has many gifts in life: health, clean water, a safe home, a loving family, a great school, and friends that make him smile. The kids capped off the show singing "It's Not About the Money." The whole show was so well done. Great script, great performances that showcased how much the classes have learned already this year. Fantastic work GIS, Ms. Nicky, and the Year 3 students. (Unfortunately, my pics of Violet during the show didn't come out well due to the lighting, but here are a few from after the show.)

A friend gave Violet a junior cooking set for her b-day. She--along with A and Tyler--have enjoyed trying the recipes. Of course Violet's only interested in the sweets! 

In other Violet news, the school selected Vi to participate in a local biathlon competition with other international schools. After Brian went on a rant about how Violet was too young to shoot a rifle and there was no snow in Malaysia, we realized that it was a 200m run and a 25m swim relay.  Pretty cool since Violet just learned to swim freestyle three months ago! For this relay race, the coaches grouped the participants into teams of four for a run, followed quickly by the swim relay. Violet was on the school's C team -- excellent as the teams in her division were both Year 3 (like Violet) and also Year 4 kids. Violet's team came in first among the C team heat! Overall out of the 26 teams, Vi's team was THIRD in the run and 11th in the swim giving them a 7th place finish overall. Way to go, Violet!

Have a very wonderful Thanksgiving and a very happy Hanukkah! We very much miss you all. I'll report in our next blog post about our celebrations here.

Year 1s are learning about the  5 senses. Tyler and Ivan worked together to illustrate "sight". Check out the snowflakes in the upper left hand corner.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sweet Times

Happy Birthday, Violet! We had sweet times celebrating Violet turning 8 last week. Our little get together on her birthday eve was complete with friends, pizza, and a very large chocolate cake. Yes, yes. Violet did accompany me to the bakery and selected that huge chocolate cake! For Violet's in class celebration, we made the messiest, fudge filled brownies with butter cream swirls. Again, yes, designed totally by my sugar-craving little lady, Vi.

On Friday, we whisked the kids into the car after school and headed up to Penang, an island off Malaysia's northwest coast. After about a 3 1/2 hour drive up Malaysia's North-South Highway (white knuckle at times with the unfortunate combination of mountain roads and monsoons), we crossed from mainland Malaysia to Penang via the Penang Bridge, an 8 mile long suspension bridge. I only mention the bridge because that was the entire impetus for the trip. Brian's been planning since February to run in the Penang Bridge Marathon. Coming off his Charleston Marathon high in January, he set out to log another 26.2 this year. I, however, was not looking forward to the inevitable hours of training. Upon arriving in KL, it became clear that training here would be difficult (we live on a steep hill, unsafe sidewalks, mad traffic, it's really hot, Brian's work hours are long), so Brian gracefully downgraded expectations and signed up for the 1/2 marathon instead (Brian here - what Mary may not realize is that I signed up too late and the marathon was already booked. But I'm glad my laziness gets me points for being conscientious!)

Because it's so darn hot in Malaysia, long running races are held either late at night or early in the morning. So we arrived in Penang on Friday night with Brian's race start time not until 3:30 am on Sunday.

So in asking people around KL, "What do you do in FILL IN THE BLANK WITH ANY MALAYSIAN CITY OR TOWN NAME" -- the response is always the same, "Eat!" Then he or she will tell you all the regional favorite dishes and the best hawker stall area to check out. So we drove directly into Penang and straight to the Gurney Street hawker stalls. Char (meaning fried) Kway Teow, a stir-fried noodle dish, was the first dish I ate in Malaysia. And I now rate all hawker stall areas by the Kway Teow. Pegang's Kway Teow was excellent. Different from the dish down south in KL, but excellent. We sampled a bunch of other things, too. But honestly the food in Malaysia is so, so good everywhere, that it's becoming difficult to appreciate traveling 3 1/2 hours for good food alone. So for the Penang trip I charged Brian with finding things to do there -- in addition to eating.

Violet getting over car sickness with a little Kick-a-poo Joy Juice.
Based on Brian's research (thank you Trip Advisor!), we bypassed the typical Penang beach visit and, instead, headed to Escape, an "adventure park" up in the jungle. Awesome! The park is basically a huge high ropes course. We climbed trees, rode on tubes, zip-lined, platform jumped, and just had an incredible time! Violet monkeyed her way across the high ropes course in lightning speed (Brian honestly could not keep up). And Tyler, too short to go on the big ropes course, conquered the kid-sized obstacles and zip lines. Then ran the circuit about 20 more times. I'm pretty sure this place could not exist in the U.S. - we didn't even sign a waiver.

Yes, it's snow tubing without snow. And you go OMG fast!

Panning for "gold"

Tyler went off the platform jump with Brian. Later, I went back with him and Vi. Tyler suited up first and he started heading up the stairs to the platform. I said, "Ty, you want to wait for me?" Tyler replied, "No Mom. I got this. See you up top." I was pretty darn proud of him

Grandma freak-out picture of the week! (Don't worry - it's only about 20 feet off the ground...)

Once again in Penang we had great success in finding accommodations through the short term rental website ibilik. Georgetown, the major city in Penang, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with an amazing blend of British, Indian, and Chinese architecture. For this visit, we went historic and rented out a renovated flat in the heart of Chinatown. The folks that did the renovation attempted to retain or re-purpose almost everything in the place - including the wooden door latches. The outdoor kitchen and bath were a nice touch, as well. Funky and fun.

After a long day at the Adventure Park, one of Brian's students, Soon, picked us up for dinner. Soon is from Penang and travels back many weekends to spend time with his delightful girlfriend. We've heard a lot about Steamboat, but had yet to try it, so we were very glad when Soon suggested this dinner spot. At Steamboat, the server brings out a pot with broth, heated by a fire underneath. A smokestack runs through the pot. Then they bring out all this stuff to cook like raw fish, seafood, veggies, fishballs, tofu, and chicken. You plop it in the pot and let it cook up. The broth starts as pretty bland, but after an hour long dinner it is delightfully rich and tasty. And, yes, it was one of those dinner experiences that I was very glad to do with someone who knew what to order and how to cook the food.

After dinner, and after Soon's excellent driving tour of Georgetown, we tucked in Brian at 8:30 so he could get a few hours of sleep. He was up at 1:30 am and out the door by 2:00 am to catch the bus to the race. Brian learned a few things about running races in Malaysia. #1: Everyone wears the race t-shirt to the race. We've always felt that wearing the race tee to the race was like going to a concert and wearing the band's t-shirt. You just don't do it. Here, you do it. This worked in Brian's favor as he had to walk about a mile to the nearest bus-stop to grab a shuttle to the race. Most of you probably know that Brian does not have a good sense of direction. Luckily he saw a middle-aged man in a yellow shirt wearing compression stockings and a fanny pack and Brian figured it best to follow him. Best case he would lead Brian to the marathon; worst case he would probably be going somewhere interesting dressed like that at 2 am. #2: Despite Brian's goal to see the sun rise over the bridge, if you start at 3:30 and run a 1/2 marathon in under 2 hours, it is still dark when you finish (Violet was kind enough to point that out after the race...). #3: The solar powered shower at the funky eco-reno might be scalding hot after a long, hot day; but it's just a cold shower in the wee morning hours, like after the race. 

Brian ran the race in 1:55:24 (a little off his marathon pace - he blames it on the humidity and lack of sleep), made it back to the flat before the rest of us were awake, took that cold shower, and then we headed to breakfast. When in Chinatown, you must do as the Chinese Malaysians do... Eat dim sum for breakfast. (The table next to us were all in their marathon shirts.) We then spent our morning exploring the streets of Georgetown. Many of the coolest sites in Georgetown are the Chinese "Secret Society" buildings. Back in the day when Chinese immigrants arrived in Malaysia as laborers, they brought along cultural fraternities from their home countries. These collectives supported new arrivals and provided protection and political strength to liaison with the colonial rulers. They also built temples. And by trying to one-up the society next door, they expanded these temples into lavish, elaborate showpieces. The kids broke down after not too long on the foot tour, so there was still much to see that we didn't see. We're going to need to return to Penang to spend more time wandering the streets.

Tyler: Dad, I'm tired. Carry me.
Brian: You know I just ran 13.1 miles?
Tyler: Yeah. You're okay. But I'm really tired.

Kids found the tri-wizard cup at the Penang museum.
Last stop before the drive back to KL: Penang's version of sno balls. Yum - and cooling!

On the way home we stopped in Ipoh. Our original plan was to go back to 1919, the awesome Vietnamese place we went to our last night in Ipoh but instead we took Tyler out for pancakes in a mall.

Last view for today's post: It's Christmas time at Ikea in Kuala Lumpur. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You're getting up at what time?

This is the first week in a long time where Mary has no photos or stories that she wants to share for the blog. She has been super busy at work and asked me to take a stab at a post. It's been a while so bear with me...

Things in general have been going well. After a full week off the kids are back at school and seem to be getting back into the groove. Tyler is excited because his class is going on a trip to Kidzania tomorrow. Violet is super jealous but has decided to have her birthday party there in a few weeks so I suspect she will get over it shortly. Her class is planning a trip to a Chinese dumpling factory (?) - I'm guessing it's a restaurant. Mary probably knows and will correct this later :) (Mary: Yes, it's a restaurant.) As Mary always says to the kids when they complain about things the other one gets, "Things are not always equal but they are fair!" Although in this particular case, I think that Tyler is getting the better of the deal. I love dumplings, but Kidzania is pretty cool.

Friday night Mary and I shared a moment that sums up our hope for the kids' experience here in Malaysia. We went out for Korean bbq with some other folks from PUGSOM. In the middle of dinner, Violet leaned over to Ying Wei (a Hopkins vascular surgeon from Malaysia and an all-around excellent guy) and said something to him in Mandarin! He was pretty surprised but said back in English, "You're right Violet - a frog does jump." Violet speaking Mandarin to a Chinese-Malaysian in a Korean BBQ joint in Kuala Lumpur - that right there is worth the price of admission. Mary and I high-fived a few times over that one!!!

This past weekend was really interesting. On Saturday morning, the first-year PUGSOM students decided to hike Broga Hill to celebrate the end of their first cell physiology exam. Broga hill is a privately owned estate about 40km east of KL, across the street from a palm plantation and a rabbit farm (?). It is known to the locals as an excellent place to watch the sunrise. It also offers some pretty amazing views of KL after first light. The only problem is you have to get there around 4:30 in the morning to make it to the second peak in time for the sunrise. Since we live pretty far north I had to leave the house around 3:15 am to get there. Violet got wind of my plans when she saw my packing a flashlight and some other hiking supplies. I decided to invite her along and she enthusiastically accepted - until I woke her up at 3 am to throw her lifeless body in the back of the car!

True to form, I got completely lost trying to meet the students. Mary is the most patient and wonderful person on the planet. I woke her up at 4 am, gave her some landmarks on the side of the road and she directed me to the University of Nottingham where I was able to track down a carload of students who were kind enough to pull over and wait for me. We got to the hill and were ready to start the hike.

Violet was amazing. She hoofed it to the top of the first peak (which was fairly steep and a little difficult to navigate with just a headlamp) and even passed one 20-something guy who had to pull off to puke in the bushes. Only trouble is that shortly after passing the puking guy, Violet herself walked off into the bushes to yak a little bit. I'm still not sure what was wrong with her but I think the shock of being awake at 3 am coupled with the extreme exertion of the hike on top of seeing a guy puking got to her a little bit. She curled up on a rock at the top of the peak and took a short nap while we waited for the rest of the group. I had to carry her most of the way to peak 2.

The sunrise was pretty cool. The views of the sunrise itself were not spectacular because there was a fair amount of cloud cover; but, as daylight broke, it was an incredible sight. Violet woke up to take some of it in, and then booted and rallied and followed me up to the 3rd and final peak. She is a truly remarkable little girl.

Broga Hill was cool, but Sunday was perhaps even cooler. There was a 10k trail run on the PUGSOM campus sponsored by Salomon. Our new pathologist Sri knows about every race in KL - including the best goody bags, shirts, water bottle giveaways, etc. I signed up for the race as a warmup for the Penang Bridge Half Marathon next weekend and Sri joined me. It was super fun. They didn't have a timing chip so you had to keep your own time. I thought I rocked it - my best 5K time ever was 22:35 and I ran the 10K in 39:20. But I suspect that it wasn't truly 10km. I had my GPS watch set to miles and I've been too lazy to do the math to confirm. For a short while I actually thought I might have finished pretty close to the top of the men's group but they just posted the times tonite. The top male finisher was 28:46! Oh least I'm getting better at badminton. By far the best part of the race was introducing Sri to the American tradition of drinking at least 1 (maybe 2-3) beers after a race.

After the race, I rushed home and the family went to (you guessed it) a mall to see the new Thor movie. I wish I still had my brother's Thor halloween costume, but I was wearing it in spirit! SPOILER ALERT -  Tyler and Violet's theory is that Odin went to the bathroom during the last scene which is how Loki was able to impersonate him. I have to hand it to them - that's a pretty reasonable idea. Sometimes their dad disappears for a while...

Well - you've now seen why I don't get asked to write more posts.

I will leave you with the Grandma freak-out picture of the week...

Random Malaysian guy picking up Violet on a narrow portion of the steep trail to get a pic!  It would have been more dangerous to try to stop him, I swear...
Wishing you all the best!