Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We Don't Have a Menu

Camp WienerPohl, complete with both dads and Aunt Nicole (party of 9), headed to Ipoh this past weekend. Ipoh, about a two hour drive from KL, is known for its limestone cliffs and food. Ipoh grew in the late 1800s from a booming tin mining business. The tin mines drew a large immigrant Chinese population and the city today is ~70 percent ethnically Chinese. The resulting food is a delightful mix of Malay and Chinese, heavy on the Chinese. In researching accommodations for this trip, I stumbled upon a website similar to VRBO in which home owners may post short term rentals. As it was challenging to find hotel accommodations for 9, this site seemed great. (One catch is that a few accommodations were listed as "Malay Only", that's basically like saying "Whites Only" in the States. Yikes! In further reading, I think the postings really mean the house has a Halal kitchen - so basically equivalent to saying "Kosher kitchen" - but it was striking to see this.)

The lovely home we did end up renting for the weekend was located in a neighborhood built around the limestone cliffs. The owners were incredibly nice and said we were their first expat guests - which is kinda cool.

As the Miller Wieners hit some traffic coming up from KL, the Pohl Garibaldi's and Nicole set out into Ipoh to find the famous chicken and bean sprouts dish called 'Tauge Ayam' (roughly translated to 'chicken and bean sprouts'). We'd been directed to a corner in which a Pat's and Geno's (Philly cheesesteak) competition was going on between the two classic Tauge Ayam places. Both restaurants were packed. We ate at Lou Wong's. Oh, don't bother asking for a menu. The server said "How many?" "Rice or noodles?" - that's it. We were all getting chicken and bean sprouts as that is the only dish they make. Also no orange juice and no beer. Check out the picture of the vat of bean sprouts. When you serve one item, you need a lot of it. The food was tasty. We hit the neighboring night market and picked up an Iron Man mask (for Ty) and a watch (for Violet). By then the Miller Wieners had arrived and sat down at Lou Wong's. A quick text from us saying 'No Tiger' initiated a move across the street to Ong Kee where Tiger is promoted on their sign. Also no menu here. "How many?" "Rice or noodles?" I was excited, because it was now a Tauge Ayam taste off. Results: They both tasted like chicken and bean sprouts. (And Happy Anniversary to Ethan and Robin! - they both remembered it was anniversary half way through the meal...)


The Iron Man mask glows.
After dropping the kids and the guys off at the house (Brian and Ethan put the kids to bed. They insisted on sleeping together. So cute!), the ladies found a Thai Reflexology place opened until midnight. OMG - what an experience. Robin, Nicole and I all opted for the Thai oil massage. After having my feet scrubbed, my therapist led me to a room and said to undress. I was surprised to turn my naked self around to find Nicole entering the room, then Robin. Let's just say we're all a lot closer after the experience. The massage was great, complete with a Thai lady crawling all over me, twisting my joints, putting my head in her lap, and giving me a full chest rub down. Robin, so glad we got a couples' massage for your anniversary (By the way, the 60 minute massage cost 50RM, or at today's exchange rate, $17 US dollars - I heart Ipoh).

Saturday started with caving. The gorgeous cliffs around Ipoh have a number of caves, including Gua Tempurung, which provides tours to the public. There are four levels of cave visit. Levels 1 and 2 are dry walks along platforms in the lighted caves. Level 3 takes the group in an underground river. Level 4 goes deeper into the caves and includes swimming across a deep and large section of river. We opted for Level 3. The guide started out "do you have a torch (flashlight)? You should have one for about every two people or so." Yep, would not happen in the US. Also no helmets, no signed waiver. He advised us to leave all keys, phones, etc. in the lockers since we were all going to get wet. Once we got off the walkways, this tour became so, so much fun. We had to slide down a big rock. Then drop down a hole into a river. Then crawl/wiggle on our stomachs on the sandy river floor while avoiding hitting overhead stalactites. The cave was beautiful, the kids were totally into it, and the group (~10 Malaysia teenage boys) we were with was so nice. We spent about an hour in this part of the cave before emerging back in the lit area near the cave entrance. Here the river has carved out the limestone leaving a large area with smoothed white marble. The tour guide said stay as long as you want. Follow the river out. See you. Again, we're not in the States. I don't have pictures - my phone was in the locker. Nicole took some with her new Tough camera. I'll try to post these later.

From here we went to find the temples built into the caves. Sam Poh Tong, Malaysia's largest cave temple, is famous for it's beautiful gardens and turtles. The temple really is amazing - my pictures don't do it justice. Walking into the temple, we bought bags of cherry tomatoes and kangkong, a leafy green, for turtle food. The turtles symbolize something, but I'm not sure what. There were so many of them, some HUGE, in grimy green water. It was totally fun to throw food over the fence and watch the turtles race for the tomatoes. We later fed the fish around the gardens.

We headed back into town to find that Ipoh's Old Town is spread out and not a great site seeing adventure. We did find a large paint ball tournament, which Brian, J, and Tyler had to be dragged away from. Enough touring, let's eat. We found a great bar, the server was so sweet and brought the kids FOUR rounds of dessert. Violet got the band to play some Bon Jovi. Then we headed out to a couple other markets to find some dinner, stopping by a playground on the way.

The ladies again went back to the Thai massage place for the evening. I did a foot massage. Very relaxing, but I like ladies crawling on my back better.

Sunday breakfast was dim sum. I'm a novice, but I didn't realize dim sum is brunch food. We arrived at 8:30 am to the biggest restaurant I've seen in Malaysia. Huge - from across the street, I couldn't even get it all in one picture! And it was already packed. I was grateful to have Nicole, or I'd have been paralyzed in the chaos and would not have been able to order. There were stacks and stacks of steamer baskets, a ton of rice dishes, and all you can drink hot tea. My kind of breakfast.

To cap off the trip, we headed to the Lost World of Tambun Theme Park, a water park/amusement park/historic discovery park/hot springs/petting zoo. All the areas, except the petting zoo, were small scale. Still very fun, but not wild and crazy. What makes this place awesome is that it's built into the limestone cliffs. Amazing and spectacular. With no lines, we - of course - had a blast riding everything over and over again. We saw a tiger feeding (can we request less corny jokes and more educational information about tigers?) and then I reluctantly agreed to go to the petting zoo. I'm so glad the kids dragged me there. It was the highlight of the day. This area of the park was beautifully set into the cliff's various crevices. We petted a raccoon, Burmese python, rabbits, a leopard cat, and a bunch of birds. I held a peacock - they are heavy! We fed deer and saw giant Malaysian porcupines. There was an area where the kids could catch fish with nets. So, so cool. As this is connected to the water park area, it was funny that many people didn't have on shoes. There was a foot sanitation area on the way out! Again, we don't have pictures as our camera was away. After a great dinner in Ipoh, we headed back to KL!

Sending lots of love out to all our family and friends. I'll sign off with a picture of Violet and Buddha resting in the garden.

- Mary, Brian, Violet, and Tyler

It Has Arrived

I posted on Facebook, but this news is worthy of a quick post. Our household goods have arrived to our apartment in KL! After living for a month with a handful of borrowed items (thank you Charlie, Anne, Nicole, and Robin), my first reaction to the arrival of our goods was "wow - shipping this amount of stuff was overkill." Now that I've organized (almost) everything and hung (almost) all the pictures, I'm really glad to have everything here; our apartment feels more cozy.

Since we are trying to make our blog (slightly) informative, let me provide the top items we packed in our suitcases. Both were late additions to our packing, but now I won't leave home without these:

2. Tervis Tumblers - The Cross Recreational Development Annual Fireworks Tervis Tumblers found a spot in our suitcases. Used for hot or cold beverages - and with tops they are also 'to go' glasses - we were grateful to have these. (Thank you, Mom, Dad, and Laura!)

1. Swiss Army Knife - Brian and I traveled to Zurich a few years back. We thought it fitting to buy a Swiss Army Knife. This was a last minute toss into the suitcase on the way to KL. To all the MacGyvers out there: This thing can really do everything. To name a few... repaired our towel rack, adjusted the cabinet doors, opened cans, cut food - including several watermelons, opened multiple beer bottles, removed a splinter (Brian considers that preforming minor surgery), and opened countless boxes and bags.

After opening boxes, it's time for a trip to the pool.
(Playing Sleeping Queens before swimming, but missing
our friends at the Mt. Washington pool.)
And I leave you with this... I've seen these signs on several cars and I finally got a good shot of it. I think I'm going to get a larger version of #4 from the left.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Base Jumping from Menara KL, Anyone?

To start out the weekend, we headed to the Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park, a delightful area within the Lake Gardens in which ~5,000 butterflies flutter among tropical plants and ferns. Some of the butterflies are huge, others fly really fast. This all made me wish I'd paid more attention when the kids learned about butterflies at Park (but we were humming "fuzzy fuzzy caterpillar; crawling, crawling by...")

Violet carried around a flower and actually enticed a butterfly to eat out of her hand - check out the picture! Super cool. My favorite area of the park was on the walk out where there were (in the air conditioning) pretty amazing displays of insects (alive and dead), moths (dead), and butterflies (dead). We were able to identify a number of the giant critters we saw during our trip to Taman Negara.

The butterfly eating from Violet's flower!
Love this beetle's description....
On Saturday night Brian, Nicole, Isabel, and Nico attended the Good Vibes festival to see Modest Mouse and Smashing Pumpkins. The place was not packed and they were able to get up nice and close to the stage to re-live 1998 (albeit, this time with earplugs and legal access to beer - oh, no crowd surfing either).

On Sunday, we wanted to do a beach day. KL lies near the Melaka Straights, one of the world's most important shipping lanes connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. There is little beach right here. Port Dickson, about an hour drive from us is a locals' beach town. Most of the beaches are drive-up and by many accounts are not particularly nice. One beach area, however, got good reviews on line, so we decided to check it out. To get there we had to park at the bottom of a hill and walk the 1 kilometer road to the Cape Rachado lighthouse, built in the late 1800s. From there, we found a path that took us down a set of long, steep steps to several small beautiful deserted beaches. While the water is not super clear (it's no Palau Radang...), the sand was soft and there were shells, coral, and cool rock formations. We stayed for hours - until the rising tide nearly covered the beach. The coolest part - we saw no one else that day. On the way back to KL, we stopped off and had dinner with Charlie, Anne, and Nicole at the Fierce Curry House. So good!

Pause for some Malay words: To pluralize a word in Malay, you repeat the word. Kanak is child. Kanak-kanak is children. And you say the consecutive words pretty fast. Fakta is "fact" in English. Fakta-faka are "facts". And check out the "Bas Sekolah".

Okay - so Camp Wiener/Pohl was back in session on Tuesday. We went to Menara KL (KL Tower), the world's 5th largest telecommunications tower. We can see it from our apartment balcony. I'm glad we did this after we'd explored KL because it was fun to look for places we'd visited from way high up. Menara KL also has a cultural village that showcases traditional regional building styles around Malaysia. It was okay. The entrance fee for Menara KL is pretty high - this is the first place that refused us the resident's price. Not sure if we'll do this one again.

US sports teams salute the Malaysia flag.
(Yes - the Malaysian flag is very similar to the US flag!)
No thank you. Joe Deal?

Pusat Sains Negara (The National Science Center), however, is worthy of repeat. Mostly because the price is right (one adult, three kids = RM7, ~$2.33), it's super close to the house (just one exit on the Sprint Highway, no tolls), there are some interesting indoor areas (think A/C), and we had yet to explore the lovely outdoor grounds. I took Violet, Tyler, and A - J was not feeling well - for the morning. The kids enjoyed the exhibits and even watched a science show in Malay (which was cool until they realized they were not getting any of the jokes -- nor the science explanations -- nor really anything at all). At the show, again, in all Malay, the staff member kept having this huge Malaysia school group yell (in English) "I love science". The Pusat Sains Negara has a great splash pool outdoor water area. Unfortunately, the sun was blisteringly hot and I neglected to pack sunscreen. I let the kids get their clothes nice and wet, but they couldn't really play. Bummer. Next time, kids.

We're planning a trip to Ipoh this weekend. So until then, I leave you with this public service announcement from our local gas station... Don't talk or text while you pump gas! No means no.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Finding a New Normal

So a week has gone by. It strikes me that it's kind of been a normal week, or at least what I think is becoming a new normal. Or at least our new normal until school starts. We've had a great deal of fun, but also we were not on the go as much.

So let's see... With our household goods in port in Colombo and heading to Port Suez (yes - your recollection of 7th grade geography class is correct, that is away from Malaysia), I broke down and bought a bunch of art supplies for the kids. We ended up finding a great 100 yen store -- a Japanese dollar store equivalent -- in our local shopping center. I pretty much love every Japanese store I walk into. I get a kick out of all the little gadgets and hyper organizational boxes, bins, etc. Stocked with new art supplies, the kids have worked on art creations everyday this week. Yes, even Tyler. He did some great drawings and crafted little figures out of modeling clay. Unfortunately since it's so hot here, the clay was simply a nasty glob of shapeless goo. So Tyler decided he must store his artwork in the freezer. Now our freezer has three things in it: (1) Tesco brand chicken nuggets, (2) 4 frosty pint glasses, and (3) Tyler's clay art creations. The funny part is, he goes over and opens the freezer every couple of hours to "check on my art."

In addition to art and a good deal of reading (Violet just tore through a book called "Floors" - thank you, J, for loaning it to us), the kids and I played badminton and swam. The kids also had their first swim lessons with HapiiSwim's Michelle. So back on like our second day in KL I was determined to find the kids swim lessons. There were some folks giving lessons by the pool -- I went down and got their card, but man, it was like crazy swim drill instruction with stern faces and harsh words. So I didn't call them. (I also didn't have a phone back them, so that facilitated the delay.) Right before Hari Raya, I saw Michelle giving lessons in the pool and knew we'd found our teacher. She's EXCELLENT. And I can see progress after only one lesson. Yeah!

Ethan's mom has been visiting from the States (DC) - she is super wonderful and a total trooper for doing Taman Negara with us. For her last evening in KL, we went to Jalan Alor to eat at Lillian's. Yum. I wanted to share with her the local fruits, so we picked up a bunch on Jalan Alor. It's also my opportunity to share a fruit picture with you! Check out the longans (not potatoes), rambutons ("hairy fruit" as ty calls them), and mangosteens (mutant mini eggplants) on our drying rack.

Now while Brian entertained Japanese executives at Hospital KL, Camp WienerPohl headed to the Tower KL. Unfortunately an impending storm forced us to ditch that plan and we ended up at -- a mall. Midvalley Megamall has a kids play area. Since it was a public school holiday, the play place had a drop off deal, so Robin and I ditched the kids and headed to the Japanese department stores where we both confessed our love of hyper organizational home products and both purchased divine jewelry boxes.

Kids are trapped, let's go shopping.

Look how happy my box is at home!
Today was great. After taking the kids to get fitted for school uniforms, Robin and the kids had us up to their pool in Desa Park City. They are members at a really wonderful club. The pools are fantastic, the cafe is great, and there are FOUR badminton courts. We ate, swam, played badminton, swam again, and met another really nice family that just relocated here. Brian, Toby, and Nicole came up to Desa Park City and we all went out for dinner at the Kepong hawker stalls. The place is huge compared to the hawker stalls in Desa Sri Hartamas (near our house).

Stand of hotdogs.
The table with dinner.
In case that dinner table doesn't look good to you (Kathy Garibaldi),
here's a pic of the "western" food stall is for you!
Well, that was the week. The kids and I have no plans this weekend. Brian is going to see Modest Mouse and Smashing Pumpkins in KL. Should be interesting.

The toaster is our cornballer. (Shout out to Mike Pohl and Arrested Development!)
Thing cooks great toast, but inadvertently touch the scalding hot metal sides
and a slew of cruse words erupts from your lips.