Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A dingo ate my baseball...

If you've read our blog before you already know that we love it here in KL. The food is incredible, our friends and colleagues are wonderful, the climate is consistently amazing and the travel opportunities are mind bogglingly diverse. That being said, there are two things in particular that I have been missing as spring approaches back home (there is no spring here): good beer and baseball! (Yes, the post is from Brian! Mary just misses the beer.)

One day on the ride home from work, Charlie and I were talking about the impending retirement of Derek Jeter. I started getting nostalgic about the summer of 1996 when Jamal Greene and I watched probably 10 Yankee games from the right field bleachers at Old Yankee Stadium. Charlie countered with tails of Jim Palmer and the Earl Weaver Orioles of the late 1970s. I joked that the only way we would get to see a game this year would be to fly to Sydney, Australia to see the Dodgers and Diamondbacks season opener, the latest international opening day promotion by MLB. I was honestly just kidding but Charlie reminded me that we both knew Stan Kasten's son-in-law, Marc, from the Osler Residency program. (Stan Kasten is the President of the Dodgers.) Charlie wondered out loud if Marc might be going to Australia and if he we would be able to get us 2 tickets to the opener.

Before I could even finish outlining our longshot fantasy weekend trip to Mary that night, she stopped me and said, "If you can get tickets, book the flights..." Wow, do I love that woman! We found out the following morning that although Marc was unable to make the trip with the Dodgers, he secured us tickets for both games in Sydney. By the time class started that morning, Charlie had booked us two business class tickets to Sydney using his travel miles!

I had not flown business class since my Aunt Marie let me use one of her travel vouchers to fly to Spain back in 1999. I won't bore you with the details, but a lot has changed since then. Probably the most notable part of the outbound trip was getting through immigration and security. Charlie is a (insert precious metal here) member of every airline and he worked his magic. KLIA has been a mess since the disappearance of MH370 and the lines were unbelievably long. The Malaysian airline rep had our passports stamped while we waited at the lounge and then she escorted us through the crew section of security. Charlie pretty much ruined my upcoming trip back to the states in May (and pretty much all my other trips ever) because I am flying coach.

We arrived in Sydney around 830pm Friday night and set out for the Rocks, one of the oldest neighborhoods right underneath the iconic Harbour Bridge. We stopped for a pint (or 2) at Lord Nelson's Brewery Hotel, the first of many establishments that claimed to be the "Oldest Pub in Sydney." It definitely looked old but more importantly it had excellent local beer. We asked several folks at the bar if they had heard about the baseball games. No one had, but the manager did give us a 10 minute lesson in Rugby Union - Go Roosters! After stopping off at a German Beer Garden to grab a pretzel, we walked around the harbour before calling it a night.
Charlie across the water from the Sydney Opera House

We learned right from the start that Sydney is an incredibly expensive city!
Saturday was an absolutely terrific day. It started out with a beautiful run around the harbour which took me past the botanical gardens, the opera house, the Rocks and Circular Quay. We then headed out to brunch at David and Karen Ryugo's house across the harbour in Cremorne Point. David and Karen came out as part of the neurosciences course last September and they invited us to spend time with them anytime we were in Sydney. It was so nice to be able to take them up on that generous offer. They live in a beautiful community about a 10-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. It was great to relax, enjoy good food and catch up. 

After brunch, Charlie had some work to do so I headed to Darling Harbor (close to where the Dodgers were staying) to see if there was anything interesting happening before the game.
The line was too long for me to take some hacks, but this Aussie kid was a pro.
Around 4pm we headed out to the Sydney Cricket Ground to catch the first game of the season. Even though I knew that it was a sellout crowd, I was surprised by the energy level at the stadium. The place was hopping!
Yes, that is Clayton Kershaw popping his head out of a kangaroo's pouch! And for the record, the large hands are supposed to represent Hanley Ramirez's gesture to heaven every time he does something notable on the field...

We were met at will call by Stan Kasten's executive assistant, Cheryl, who kindly informed us that not only did we have 2 tickets to the game, we were sitting with Stan and his family! Charlie and I were super pumped but were a little embarrassed that we weren't wearing any Dodgers' gear. The highlight of the game might have been the National Anthem. When Charlie proudly screamed "O" (Orioles fans will know what I mean), Cheryl hit him on the shoulder and reminded him that we were at a Dodgers game in the owner's box! You can imagine what Charlie did the following day during the National Anthem...

(Note to non baseball fans - you can skip this paragraph.) Sitting near homeplate was like traveling back in time to the 1980s with Michael J. Fox and Doc Emmett Brown. We saw Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Rick Honeycutt, Davey Lopes, Tim Wallach and Kirk Gibson (who disappointingly did not limp onto the field pumping his fist to hand the lineup card to the umpire). I tried in vain to get Donnie Baseball's autograph but I think he at least looked in our general direction twice...
I was so excited to be back at a ballgame, my face hurt the next day from smiling!
First pitch of the 2014 MLB season
Clayton Kershaw was his usual dominant self.
Imported Dodger dog - they ran out of chili for the Diamondback dog...
With Helen Kasten
Other than Charlie's pre-game antics there are two things that really stood out at the game. The first was Aussie fans' love of foul balls. I don't know much about cricket but apparently the cricket ball is sacred. It almost never goes into the stands and if it does, it is promptly returned. It is also not discarded after 1 pitch because it got a little dirt on it. When Aussie fans found out they could actually keep a real baseball, they started going nuts. People cheered more for caught foul balls than Chris Van Slyke's homerun! The second thing that stood out was the Kasten family and Cheryl. They were so generous with their time (and their seats) and we really enjoyed getting to know them. I was struck by how much they absolutely love baseball. Stan was on the edge of his seat for almost every pitch. It was nice to know that in addition to being a kean baseball mind and accomplished businessman, at the end of the day he is also a true fan.

After the game we did what baseball fans do - we went to the local pub for a pint. We were joined by Steve Ross, an academic sports attorney from Penn State who really knows his baseball. I know that Charlie appreciates the work I've been doing at PUGSOM this year but quite honestly the only time he has said "Nicely done, Garibaldi," was after he tasted the farmhouse IPA at the local taphouse - mission accomplished!
The Local Taphouse was on the corner of the cricket grounds.  For those of you from Baltimore, think Pickles Pub with better craft beer!
Game 2 on Sunday was just as good as Game 1. Cheryl put us in the first row at the corner of the Dodgers' dugout so I would have a better shot at getting Mattingly's autograph. No dice, but the game was still incredible and rounded out a perfect baseball weekend.

Thanks to Marc and wife Allana, the Kasten family, the wonderful ladies at will call, Charlie and Mary for making this one of the best sports weekends I've ever had!

Don Mattingly and Mark McGuire at the end of the dugout.

Monday, March 17, 2014

We're having a white out, too.

We were in Melaka, a city about two hours south of KL, when we learned about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. More about Melaka later in the post. But first, about MH370.

Even being in country, I don't have anything further to add than the theories across the international news, but I do have two reflections on the past nine days. The heart of the country is wrenched with the disappearance of the flight. Early last week when American ships entered the region to join the search, there was a tangible overwhelming gratitude from Malaysians to the international community. Our favorite radio station read their twitter feed on the air and tweet after tweet were from Malaysians thanking the international countries, especially the US, for joining the search. Later that day, Zack and I were shopping in the market when our favorite spice seller, recalling that we are Americans said, "Thank you for helping us find our plane." It's heartwarming to see the international spirit during this crisis. I also have a fresh perspective--a thankfulness--to the US and international media. A pointed piece in the NY Times last week discussed that the Malaysian government has been in power for many years without facing the test of the international media. This is paired with lack of national media scrutiny from the government-influenced national news outlets. So New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post--keep up the good work and know that I hold you in very high regard. So from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we are with the rest of the world waiting for more information and with prayers for closure for the families and with a deep hope that this disappearance doesn't have further devastating repercussions.

In other news, as Baltimore faces more snow today, we here have been facing our own white out conditions. KL has been sacked in with terrible white-out style "haze" this week. In the past, haze has been blamed on slash and burn clearing methods in neighboring Indonesia. But not now. This sacked in, chest burning haze is straight up smoke from domestic forest fires. The fires are fueled on by the country's worst drought in memory. (The city is on water ration.) Plus what the Malaysian Meteorological Society calls the government's consistent blind eye to illegal open burns set by domestic palm plantation owners. The haze has reached a level where outdoor activities at our children's school, including Violet's planned track meet and the football games, have been called off. So here is hoping for rain and for better enforcement of environmental protection laws.

In other parts of life, we continue to seek out new adventures. Visiting faculty, Allan Gelber, prompted us to take a trip down to Melaka. Located about a two hour drive south of KL, Melaka was one of the first major east-west ports of trade in the area still known as the Straights of Melaka (Malacca). As a strategic trading and way point, traders from the East (China), Middle East, and West used Melaka as a safe harbor with its reliable warehousing, modern ports, and free trade back in the 1400s. Also, Violet's class, in an integrated curriculum study of "Treasure", recently studied the Flor del Mar and Alfonso de Albuquerque's siege and sacking of Melaka to which the port and later the entire region fell under colonial rule. So we loaded up the mini-van with the four of us, plus Allan, Allison Tsiao (also visiting from the US), and Zack Wiener (who is now solidly embedded as Pohl-Garibaldi family).

Melaka today is a city rich in history, with a vibrant and beautifully restored colonial area (Portuguese, Dutch, and British) and also a fun, artsy Chinatown. We had a blast shopping the art boutiques and street markets (hello $1 lego Avengers figures!), while staying at the lovely Quayside hotel ( from which we were walking distance from all the major sites. As with all our Malaysian visits, food was a highlight. Our first meal was chicken and rice balls at a local corner place. The steamed chicken was pretty much the same as Ipoh steamed chicken, but the rice balls--a doughy dumpling of rice delight--are a new favorite for me and Violet. After chicken and rice balls, we visited the Baba-Nyonya Heritage House. The tour guided us through a traditional Chinatown home. "Baba Nyonya" is the cultural name for the descendants of families with Chinese and local (often Malay) heritage. The tour guide explained that the Baba-Nyonya, or Straights-Born Chinese families, retain much of the religion of China, yet delightfully blended other areas such as the food and attire. We couldn't take photos inside the gorgeous house, so check it out here:

The colorful nightly market of Jonkor Street

After the tour, we were hot so we found an ais kacang place to have a dessert. Ais (ice) kacang is Malaysia's version of Baltimore's sno-ball. But instead of sky blue and marshmallow topping, the ais kacang has gula Melaka (dark brown palm sugar), sweet red beans, and some sweet thing that looks like a green gummy worm. A great way to cool off on a hot day. Following a snack of beer on the riverside, we took a boat trip up and down the scenic Melaka river ( right before sunset. Dinner that night was a total blast. Toby (well known for loving a great dinner) highly advised us to try celup satay. We ended up taking ~20 minute walk a little outside of the main tourist drag to Ban Lee Siang Sate Celup (on Jalan Ong Kim Wee). We lined up for about 15 minutes and then were seated at a round plastic table with a boiling vat of peanut sauce in the middle. At this self service place, you go pick out bamboo skewer sticks from commercial refrigerators with anything on them from raw pork, to shrimp, to chicken, to pak choi, to tofu, to tangled greens and bring the sticks back to your table. Drop the sticks in the boiling pot and a few minutes later start eating. Delicious. The restaurant prices up dinner by counting up the sticks at the end of your meal (about 20 US cents per stick). Only trick for our long-legged western friends was to try not to burn your knees under the table on the boiling pot. (Brian and I didn't have any issues with this.) After a joyful walk home snacking on street food and drinking fresh squeezed juices, we had a Tiger beer night cap and closed out Melaka day one.

Brian and Allan had an interesting experience to start Melaka day 2. We noticed during the boat ride that there was a promenade that extended all along the river bank.  Since it was a beautiful morning we decided to go for a jog by the river. As we were running by a particularly beautiful stretch of the river with native dyke trees and underbrush, Allan suddenly let out a blood curdling scream. I thought for sure that he had fallen through the decking and broken his ankle. When I turned around I saw Allan standing motionless on the boardwalk with a small macaque and a much larger adult male macaque sitting on the railing next to him. My first thought was "Cool, friendly monkeys," until I saw the adult give a threat yawn and start grunting at Allan. I then remembered that we had passed the local hospital about 2 miles back and wondered if they had the rabies vaccine (I don't buy the Ministry of Health's stats that there hasn't been a case of rabies in Malaysia in 15 years - Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have tons of rabies). I told Allan to look at the ground and slowly keep walking towards me. We made it past them no problem but when we rounded the bend we ran straight into a blue construction barrier.  I looked at Allan and he knew what I was about to say -  "We have to go back." After briefly debating whether or not to try to climb down the 15 foot construction barrier to the marsh below, we decided to slowly walk back towards the macaques. I explained to Allan with confidence that if he just kept his head down and didn't look at the macaques they would most likely leave him alone. What I forgot to mention is that I was a biological anthropology major in college and had worked with New World Monkeys as part of my thesis for two years. That probably explains why he didn't seem too happy with my plan. I also deliberately forgot to mention that my PhD friend Cory had worked with macaques in Puerto Rico and had seen what angry dominant males can do if they feel like they are being challenged. I also definitely did not mention our friend Tracy who was bitten by a macaque in the Philippines and had to go to Singapore for her rabies shots. To his credit, Allan made it past the macaques without looking up. Unfortunately as soon as he got past them he broke into a dead run and they started to chase us. I thought I was going to have to tackle Allan before the macaques did. But once we stopped running, they allowed us to slowly back away down the boardwalk until we reached the main promenade. All in all, a pretty memorable run.

After breakfast on Sunday at the hotel, we walked one block over the visit Melaka's Maritime Museum. This is housed on a replica of the Flor del Mar, the boat that Violet's class studied. We enjoyed arriving before the crowds and climbing up and down the decks. After the museum, Allison had her heart set on Dim Sum, so we sat down for a meal between breakfast and lunch that hobbits call "elevensies". It was a small dim sum place and, while Violet missed her favorite Shanghai dumplings, I ate the best pork buns ever (actually two of them)! Allison's Chinese roots were a great help in our ordering. We wrapped up the visit with shopping and some touring, before heading back to KL. The ride back showed us clearly the impact of the drought on the landscape. :o(

This past weekend, we attended the annual St. Patrick's Day Irish Ball. Check out Nicole's facebook for pictures. It was a great time to dress up, dance, and laugh with friends. A big thank you to Nicole and Robin for shopping with me. And to Isabel for dressing me on the day of the event! (Photo credits to Nicole.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wear red for Chinese New Year

It's been a mighty big treat to have our guest blogger, Daniel Garibaldi, chronicle our adventures over the last month. But I'm back... This post is already a bit out of date, but I wanted to add in a few extra pictures from February before it gets too far into March:

CNY: We'd heard that the celebration of Chinese New Year in KL is a big deal. But searching online it was hard to find where to go to see the celebration. Several local friends said to "try the malls." Really? But yes, our first CNY celebration was in Publika, one of our local malls. The lion dance, with two guys dancing in a colorful lion outfit (one man is the head, the other is the rump) and dragon dance (six or seven dancers moving the dragon via long poles) were pretty cool. But it felt an odd juxtaposition seeing the the lion dance, deep with Chinese tradition, inserted into the modern, over air conditioned space of Publika. Brian was thrilled (not) that the kids volunteered him to participate in a show with a magician.

Later, our condo held a pretty awesome lion dance, complete with acrobatics and throwing of mandarin oranges from the lion's mouth to the crowd -- all while perched up high on raised pillars. The lion dance is said to bring wealth and good fortune to businesses and there are countless private performances in homes and businesses across town. Daily during the 15 days following CNY, we could hear from our balcony lion dance drums echoing up from Mont Kiara and fireworks being set off each night.

Our return to KL from El Nido also found us making our first KL hospital visit. As we mentioned in our El Nido blog, Brian took a bad fall while jogging. As promised, here's a picture of Brian getting wheeled around in the hospital. Of course, the doc offered Brian crutches. But Brian soon found himself incapable of using the purchased crutches because the cuts on his hands were so deep that he bled every time he was on them for more than a couple minutes. :o(

Fortunately, on our outings to the mall, we found that we could borrow a wheel chair and the kids immensely enjoyed pushing Brian around. That was until they ran him into one too many people/objects/displays -- then I had the honor of pushing Brian with both kids catching a free ride on Bri's lap.

(Follow up -- Brian's healing very well. He's slowly eased back into jogging, he no longer needs bandages, and he's planning to get back to badminton next week.)

So traditionally the 15 days following CNY are marked with family reunions in which the host lays out a delicious spread and invites family and friends to celebrate. Our most wonderful Chinese New Year celebration came from a heartfelt invitation from one of Brian's Malaysian colleagues inviting us to her home. After much debate about what to wear (Is red really good luck? Is white really bad luck? What about a red top with white pants?), we joined the PUGSOM family for the celebration. The party kicked off by the tossing of the Yee Sang, a mix of shredded vegetables (carrots, daikon radishes, something green???) and other assorted savory goodies. Party goers dip their chopsticks into the Yee Sang, raise the pinch up high, and gives it a good toss. This custom, a symbol of prosperity and abundance, was developed by the ethnically Cantonese communities in Malaysia. So it's a Chinese New Year custom really only practiced in Malaysia (who exported it to Singapore and Indonesia with emigration). I think it is pretty cool that the ethnically Chinese Malaysians have developed traditions apart from their mainland relatives. It also helps that Yee Sang tastes really good and I'm already looking forward to having some again next year. I couldn't even get in for a good picture with all that tossing and eating going on.

In other news: The long awaited Bricks and Barrel pub finally opened in Desa Sri Hartamas, a neighborhood very near our home. Despite it being overpriced and my minor squabble with the manager when they refused an equal priced substitution, this place seems like it's going to become an establishment. Brian and the guys (plus Nicole) are already hanging out with the house Filipina cover band...

We also had a tremendously fun (and large) group of visiting PUGSOM faculty during February leading to many nights out for dinners and drinks. We even found a new durian fan or two.

The gang out at Taps.
Another satisfied customer. Thank you, durian.