A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Category Archives: Travel

Coming Home

It was a 5.30 start this morning and a huge day of fishing getting home around 9.30pm but I can’t sleep. Together with Christmas presents and Nani’s relentless shopping she will be flying Tiger Airways to KL where we will rejoin and fly through to Melbourne on AirAsia. There are two things I’m panicking about. One is that I’d asked Nani to call Tiger and book a check-in bag for Abbey (Tiger don’t allow this to be done online whereas AirAsia does)  for all the extra stuff we’ve accumulated. I find out she hasn’t done it and she wants me to sort it out. She says she couldn’t get to a phone all day today. Hmmm. The second thing I’m really worried about is that I discover that there are in fact two airports in Kuala Lumpur about twenty kilometers apart and I heard that Tiger flies into KLIA whereas AirAsia will depart from LCCT. This means Nani will have to virtually run through KLIA customs (people hurrying through customs is not a good look), get a taxi and whip over to LCCT to catch our international flight out, with no time to spare.

I call a friend in Singapore who works for Tiger and he’s going to see if he can fix something with the baggage, but given that their call centre doesn’t open til 9am tomorrow, and Nani’s flight is 10, it looks slim. On the plus side, he assures me Tiger does fly into LCCT. I’m relieved. I can sleep now, but the taxing day hasn’t done any favors to my chest infection and I double over whenever I cough.
We eat a huge breakfast before saying farewell to Mark and Deb and their wonderful family. Jonathan doesn’t come down to stay goodbye to the boys because he’s a bit teary. I tell Ong Jia Chen the miniature whirlwind that if he eats and sleeps well, I’ll see him again one day when he’s bigger (time doesn’t mean much to four year olds). I tell him that he doesn’t need his mum to feed him anymore.

At KL Sentral buses seem to leave every two to three minutes (basically as soon as they’re full) and only costs some paltry 6RM for adults and half that for kids for the 75 minute trip to LCCT. On the way we pass the Malaysian Sepang Moto GP circuit. We bump into a flustered Nani at the airport after first spotting Abbey. She has had a drama trying to check in her luggage at the wrong terminal. Thinking she could save time by scanning her bags (an operation performed before baggage check-in) while waiting for us she has had an altercation with a bunch of what she describes as Arab men. Apparently they accused her of cutting the queue and made her get to the back, whilst ushering their mates in front of her. The irony is, she was at domestic, and we were flying international and there’s no need to scan bags prior to check in. I find out that an announcement was made on the Tiger flight to wish Abbey a happy 7th birthday and the captain personally met her.

On AirAsia, Abbey lets the flight attendants know it’s her birthday following on from the success she had on the Tiger flight from Singapore. A group of the flight attendants come down and sing happy birthday to her, and one re-sings it in Korean. They present her with a cute little AirAsia bear. Abbey of course is delighted.

Ahead of where I sit, I notice some beautiful marketing from tourism Malaysia on the bulkhead. It’s a huge poster covering most of the space available. A gorgeous looking Asian couple runs down a white tropical beach. Her yellow sun dress flies in the breeze with a full head of jet black flowing hair behind. He is in a white cotton shirt and knee length khaki shorts. Laughing with gay abandonment they run bare footed, hand in hand toward… the camera I suppose. In the corner written in white script, are the words;

Tranquil Nature. With her tranquil waters and clear blue skies, it is the perfect place for that getaway you deserve. Watch the sun rise and set with your loved one, or spend the day frolicking on the beach with your family and friends. It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it. Malaysia. Truly Asia.

I like the award winning Truly Asia campaign and will really miss Malaysia, but there should have been a postscript saying PS – the sun is friggen hot and will sneak up on you and belt the life out of you if you don’t hide in the middle of the day. Sweat will pour off you and you will dehydrate. Any frolicking in the midday sun without a hat or umbrella will be punished by severe sunstroke and heat rash culminating in a visit to hospital involving a drip.

As you can guess, I still feel hot after yesterday’s fishing adventure.

Later, on touch down just after midnight Disney’s Happy Birthday Princess plays over the PA and Abbey proudly and loudly announces that she’s in fact the birthday girl, just in case anyone around us had forgotten. Whilst taxiing toward the terminal, an announcement regarding Australian border security makes no mention of drugs and the death penalty that we’re used to hearing, instead the message is all about  animals and plants. I love that about Australia. Let’s protect the great outdoors – our native flora, fauna, agriculture and aquaculture. We don’t give a shit about druggies and we’re definitely too laid back to kill people anyway. I recall that India recently sentenced someone to the death penalty but all their hangmen had gotten old and given up, and they had to track one down and resurrect him from his retirement to bump off a particularly nasty criminal.

We reflect on our travels as we exit Melbourne airport. It’s 1.15am and the air is beautiful and cool. There’s a three hour drive ahead to dad’s farm in western Victoria but no-one is bothered. We consider making up a bunch of Borneo 2011 t-shirts for the Ongs and ourselves as a memento of an epic adventure. We decide we wouldn’t have changed much about our holiday but after backpacking for a month with my family I have wondered a few things though ;

Why is it that when kids take the last biscuit they hand you back the empty packet?
Don’t you love how your kids hand you back your iPhone and the screen looks like they used it to eat takeaway food off of?
Should there be a word for when your spouse takes your iPhone and doesn’t hand it back until the battery is in the red?


Kuching, civilization and a wedding

Its our last morning in Bako so I head out at 6.30am for a walk to try and find the proboscis one more time. They’re not around.

Nani is packing flat out looking keen to go. Really keen. She can’t relax in a place where she is a constant risk of being predated on, that is hot, AC free, and she is on constant high pathogen alert.

I negotiate an extra hour and a half and twist her arm to go with me up the Pacu trail where I hear rumor of a troupe of a dozen or so were spotted. She takes off at a great pace along the boardwalk across the mangroves flats but the rocky sandstone tangled tree roots slow her down when we enter the hilly jungle proper.

I know the spot where they were but after arriving they’re not to be found. A guide tells me they moved inland. I’m disappointed and Nani wants to do a quick U turn and is reaching for her phone to try and get the ferrymen to come even earlier. She is a woman on a mission. I beg her to slow down and just take it in. I tell her all she can think about is the next thing and she’s missing the moment. She relaxes slightly and says she can imagine how magical it would be to stand right here in the sun dappled thick jungle and watch proboscis monkeys feeding. Eventually we turn back only to get held up by a tour group on the narrow trail so I turn off to a beach lookout and we sit for a bit. This is what I really enjoy. To sit and savor the moment and just be. Nani has sweat pouring off her. She is a very patient woman.

After a much calmer boat ride back and a tasty hawker meal down a back alley in run down shanty style Bako Kampung where I toss fish bones to stray cats with half tails we catch a mini bus to the 5 star Pullman Hotel.

Booked by one of Nani’s very kind aunts, the contrast couldn’t have been greater. The fully air conditioned huge foyer with Christmas decorations (smurfs in a massive ginger bread house) had white polished tiles, where cleaners hover with mops and sweepers. A Chinese girl in a santas elf costume sits behind a desk with the banner Festive Activities overhead. We collapse in the lounge while our room is readied. The kids are grateful and start rolling on the carpet saying “Oh carpet! Carpet!” I do my stern voice and tell them that they’re not animals and that now we are in civilization to behave accordingly.

On the ninth floor we have a huge king sized bed with white linen, and central air con. The bathroom has a fully glass shower and a separate bath. We dump our packs and I’m keen to ditch my sneakers which by now smell like a fish died in each of them. I hit the shower and it’s instant relief.

I guess no one like being hot, dirty, sweaty and mosquito bitten or living in a run down grimy room where toilets and sinks don’t work and the water cuts off periodically. I think I just have a higher tolerance level than Nani but even the kids are relieved though they had a blast at Bako. They take turns to wallow in the bath while I catch up on sleep.

Just around the corner at the Hilton is our main reason for being in Kuching – Robert and Mandy’s opulent wedding reception. They married earlier in the week in Sibu and had 2000 guests there. Now in Kuching it is much smaller affair with only a few hundred attending. There is an ice sculpture with two entangled swans, and small chocolates and wafers with wrappers that say “Robert and Mandy 12.2011”.

Hors De Oeuvres are served in a waiting room and slender Chinese girls wearing mini skirt/Barbie doll style Tiger Beer dresses serve Heineken on tap. I say to Nani that I assume it wouldn’t be a good look to take a photo of them, she says no, but later on when everyone is dining I paparazzi a couple just for posterity. I explain to her that you don’t see bar wenches like that down under. She says “Hooters?” but I don’t think we have that in Australia.

Robert is a big boy with a round face and a couple of chins. His suit is buttoned too tightly across his swelling midriff but he seems a really warm, smiling, sweet guy. By contrast Mandy (Nani’s cousin once removed) is stunning. Slim, beautiful with long hair and almond eyes, she enters in a traditional white long ruffled gown but finishes the night in a dark red ruby number. Later Robert puts his girth to good use and belts out a song for his bride and another for his new parents in law and does a pretty good job of it. Smart guy. To me, Robert is a guy who flies the flag for nice guys everywhere because Mandy is a beautiful bride and it just goes to show nice guys don’t always come last.

The drinks are constantly refilled at our table. I can’t get a third of my beer down before its refilled which is frightening because i have no idea how much is going down. The poor kids have never experienced this and are just pouring it down their necks so much so that by the time Oscar gets to the mens toilet he hasn’t been able to get control of the waterworks and pees all over both pant legs. Nani sends me in to look for him after he’s been gone awhile and I find him trying to dry off with the hand dryer. I say not to worry mate and to come back in. He’s worried that people will see but I tell him to walk behind me closely and no one will notice.

The menu was thus:
Four seasons hot and cold combination.
Braised shark fin soup crabmeat and enoki mushroom.
Steamed seabass Cantonese style.
Hong Kong boneless duck with flower bun.
Deep fried prawn mayonnaise and orange sauce.
Wok fried mixed vegetable cashew nut yam ring.
Steamed glutinous rice lotus leaf Hong Kong style.
Chilled Logan honey sea coconut and white fungus syrup.

Wedding singers are the same all over the earth. The guy sounded like a public announcement system and at one stage after a smattering of polite golf applause he said “it’s so nice that you notice what’s happening on stage”. Give me a break dude! It was pretty hard not to notice given his overwhelming volume and incessant chatter.

People line us up for photos. My retinas are scarred. We are the missing link from Australia. Not many Foo Chow from Sibu marry outside their culture and despite her mothers warnings prior to immigrating to Australia Nani married me. I think on balance Nani is probably considered by her relos to have been wasted in marrying an ang moh given her love and fierce loyalty to her culture and people.

Robert and Mandy disappear with no fanfare. We’re exhausted but the kids collect as many party favors on each table and bag them up and somehow score some UK sterling ang pow. My stomach is in pain from overeating. I hate wasting food but we didn’t even get through half of most of the courses before they where whisked away and replaced by the next. I drank too much beer too and perhaps combined with a little dehydration was a bit off balance.

In the past I had been resistant to Chinese culture having been teased constantly as a child in country Australia but tonight I wished I had been more neutral to begin with.

Relatives had flown in from all over Malaysia and the world who had never even met the bride or groom – us included having been invited by the newly weds parents who are footing the bill. But it affirms family relations and reinforces the bond between all of us. It is an opportunity to celebrate blood being thicker than water.

Back at the Pullman (Nani accidentally called it the Pooman because sometimes she doesn’t like the letter “L”) we collapse in bed. Nani and I share the king size with Abbey while the boys top and tail on a single that we get housekeeping to sneak in. Mid way through the night Abbey whacks me in the face with a swift backhander. I wake up with the crazy I-just-woke-up look and saw she was fast asleep. I learn she rolls over violently wriggling in her sleep and decide to face the other way for self preservation. Later still sleeping her little paw dives into my armpit and her fingers are wriggling. She was born in the year of the monkey and I realize that we may have left Bako but the macaque mafia lives on in our Abbey.


Getting to Permai Rainforest

First order of the day is to try and sync my iPhone with iTunes to finish the unlock so I can use this 50rm SIM card I bought. No dice. Nomad’s notebook doesn’t want to play with my iPhone.
Upstairs, the kids watch Nacho Libre in a little recreation area on the floor where we’re sleeping. This movie is funny as it is, but the subtitles made it even funnier. “Now I’m going into the wilderness maybe to die” became “Now I’m going to the Widness maybe today”. Asian DVD pirates are obviously on a tight budget for subtitle people.

We pack our gear to head off to Permai Rainforest Resort near Damai Beach where we will meet up with Mark and Deb and three of their kids who are flying over from KL today. It takes us about one hour to pack on average, although the longer we stay in one place, the longer it takes to pack. I’ve found so far that the best travel things I’ve brought are the stuff sacks, packing cubes, “S” hooks, snap lock bags, and inner sheet silk liners. I’m dubious about the Kathmandu travel pillows though – they take up heaps of space and don’t get used much. The other useless item so far is the reading book and travel light (the headlamp suffices). I know I’m carrying too much – only just able to fit it all into my 45L pack but I’m blaming it on the kids, certain that I would travel lighter if I didn’t have to be responsible for three other small people.
We toss our packs on our backs and check out of Nomad B&B, happy that we’d stayed there mainly because it is a totally chilled out place and very relaxing and we wander towards the market where allegedly a Petra Jaya bus can take us to our next destination Permai Rainforest at Santuobong north of Kuching on the coast near Damai. I say allegedly because no one would pick up the phone at head office. We get lots of looks walking along the waterfront mainly (I assume) because no-one walks around with a pack on their back with three kids also loaded to the hilt in the heat of Kuching. We track down the buses in the old part of town sandwiched in between two very rundown old galvanised iron, concrete block walled buildings housing hawkers selling their treats to travelers. I wander up to one of the bus drivers and find out which of the mini vans is going to Permai.

I negotiate a price. They want to charge 10rm per head but I say 5 for the kids because I know taxi is around 50-60rm and the bus should be much cheaper. When will they leave I ask? When they have enough passengers comes the answer.

We ask to dump our packs in the back and go get some lunch. No problem. We wander across the street and into the hawker store opposite the rusting and run down Electra House ( clearly nothing to do with Carmen). Wandering inside the hawker store I suddenly wonder if our bags will still be there and wish I’d at least photographed the license plate of the bus, but decide to give the benefit of the doubt and assume everything will be ok.

Being really hot after our waterfront walk with all our gear on our backs we made a bee line for the ice kacang (pronounced Kah-chahng) stall to cool down. Who says you can’t start a meal with dessert? This dish is a weird one for westerners to get their heads around. It’s a shaved ice dish flavored with corn, red beans, grass jelly, sago, green snot, and topped off with rose water syrup. You really should try this, but just don’t think too much while eating it. We order won ton soup and Sarawak’s unique laksa to chase down the ice kacang. All up lunch costs around 12 rm or the equivalent of a meat pie back home. The laksa is beautiful with a spicey twist that can’t be bought anywhere else in Malaysia but here.

On the way out, I notice some big freshly steamed char siew bao’s the soft pillowly white rice flour buns stuffed with sweet pork meat grabbing two and halve them since we’re pretty full already. We love these fresh steamed pork buns with their sweet savory fillings and fluffy doughy pastry but know well enough to blow before biting in.

Happily, we find the driver is still there wandering about, welcoming more passengers and on checking we find our bags safe and sound. He probably could have shut the back door so they weren’t so visible – or available for anyone to grab. I think overall Malaysia is a really safe place.

The bus has five or six muslim women in it now who have been doing their shopping but the driver is still waiting for more. I head over to the opposite hawker store and order Ais Teh Tarik – translated ice-pulled-tea. This is a delicious cooling and refreshing sweet tea drink. The tea is brewed in an enormous copper urn over a gas powered burner. Old aluminum jugs are used to pull out my serving and condensed milk is added. The tea is now “pulled” by drawing it from one jug to another, mixing, cooling and foaming it. Ice is added and it’s presented to me in a bag tied with raffia! How am I supposed to give this to the kids without them wearing it?

The driver crams a couple of blokes onto the back seat with the kids. They’re squashed. I tell him abbey needs to come up the front with me because who knows what sort of blokes they are and we’re on our way. A giant banner sticker on the windscreen prevents me seeing anything ahead. The driver being shorter can easily see under it. I resort to looking out the side and with no AC and all the windows down there’s a beautiful breeze with country air coming through. I start to feel sleepy. Abbey falls into a deep sleep on my shoulder. The boys are yelling hello at people on the roadside and various other things and cracking up laughing at their confusion. I’m too far away to yell at them, so just leave them to it.

We drive through Labuan kampung on the way. Many homes had flooded yards after last nights downpour and some abandoned houses are slowly decaying and merging with the jungle. I’m always intrigued about abandoned houses. Why did the people leave? Who owns it? I find out that one reason could be that they are believed haunted. But can’t they be unhaunted?

Some householders use their yard as a garbage dump with fresh garbage decorating older rotting offerings and skinny cats with short tails (run over? Bitten off by dogs?) retreat under cars as we zoom past. These cats are either lazy, dumb or slow to be so skinny as i could only imagine how many jungle rats are getting about feasting on freely available garbage.

I imagine up a national “clean up your yard and shoot a feral cat” annual campaign and think how cool that would be. I think that just because Aussies spend a lot of time and effort on our yards doesn’t make us better. Different cultures place importance on different things. Interestingly the kids observed that the poorest wooden-house-on-stilts inhabitants actually looked the happiest.

After an hour we arrive at the Permai Rainforest Resort after passing the Damai luxury resorts it’s the end of the road. Grabbing our packs we make our way along the wooden walkway across a short mangrove to reception where we are welcomed. Since our room isn’t ready and Mark and Deb haven’t flown in yet we dump our packs in the little lounge with coffee table and internet PC access, hit the slippery 2km jungle trail walk which takes around 1.5 hrs. We ascend upwards, winding our way under the canopy careful not to trip on the massive tree roots across the path. The boys swing on gnarly vines like Tarzan and we stop at a high waterfall at the halfway mark and soak it all in (we don’t fully relax as we’re on tiger leech watch).

Permai Resort is slightly old and run down. Blood spatters decorate the walls where suckees have exacted revenge on the suckers and swatted them. The odd bit of paint is flaking on our walls revealing what Oscar thinks is some kind of eggs but I guess termite shit. I imagine maintenance is a bitch in tropical places and keeping things like bathrooms dry and fresh smelling is impossible. 4 and 2 berth tree houses (not literally built into a tree but rather canopy height, stilt constructions) are available but fairly expensive. Instead, we have a nine berth cabin right up the back of the resort to share with the Ong family so it’ll be more fun this way (I’d forgotten we weren’t staying in a tree house and had wrongly promised the kids they would be up there and they were pumped!! Woops).

Mark and Deb are at the cafe/restaurant (the only eating place at Permai) overlooking the beach as we return wet, muddy and jungled. They were dropped off by local friends John and Hui Ping (pronounced weeping but she actually laughs a lot) who join us drinking coconut water out of green whole coconuts which have had their tops hacked off with a parang (local machete) and a straw inserted. We drink and enjoy the sea breeze and sound of the pounding waves below us as the kids hunt crabs below, then use a spoon to gouge out the soft white flesh.

The menu is really limited at Permai but the pineapple nasi goreng stole the show. We order another one. I also tried midin a local fried jungle fern freshly cut and cooked in what tastes like a belacan (pronounced bellahcharn) preserved shrimp paste – usually cooked outside because of the pungency of the odour. Yum.

On the way back to the cabin after dinner, the sun has dropped by 6.30pm and the kids don headlamps and hunt for hermit crabs pursuing a large one that ditches his shell in a desperate bid for freedom but he’s no match for 6 kids. Named Herman, he becomes The Herminator after latching onto lachies finger and breaking the skin. I conclude he is this way because the back end of the shell is busted open and no-one but no-one likes their ass flapping in the breeze (just ask anyone who has had major surgery and worn those gowns that don’t do up properly). Tomorrows mission; lounge around on the beach and find Herman something he can get his rear end into to calm him down.

Monsoon in Kuching

The first order of today was to find a barber shop for the boys and I. Being a tight arse we had let our manscaping go knowing it would be fast and cheap in Malaysia. We were right. Mark took us to a little row of shops in the burbs decorated with piles of rubble, plastic chairs, old motorbikes and awnings under which steaming food was being chowed down. This is just the spot I think. We race over to the barber and push the door but it doesn’t open. Bollywood music is blaring on the inside but no barber. Presently he rounds the corner and opens the shop. Probably just took a wee break.

He gets the clippers and scissors out and his hands are a blur. The boys and I are impressed. I take photos and this makes him nervous. Mark chimes in that he’ll be famous because in no time his pic will be on the net. His brown face pales. He asks that his picture not be shown and genuinely sounds worried. He says that his boss will sack him and deport him back to India if his face is seen. I ask why. He says because his boss is in the secret service and is an extremely cautious man bordering on paranoid. Foreigners in the shop taking photos and posting them is apparently not the attention he is seeking.

The barber has two children in India around the same ages as mine. He hasn’t seen them for a few years. He sends money back and hopes to work for a couple more before going home. I feel sorry for him. He asks why it is hard to come to Australia and I wonder why we make it so hard for people to work in our country. He’s been cutting hair for 20 years since starting in his fathers shop at age 12. I guess he wants his kids to have an education – something that has obviously contributed to his situation.

I tell Mark about the secret service story and outside drinking an ice kopi he laughs. He says he would be illegal but isn’t buying the secret service bit. Secret yes, but not service.
At the end of my trim he massages my head, shoulders and neck. I’m sure he intended it to be a happy ending to my cut but I found it a bit too rough and a bit too quick. He probably needed to start a bit more gently. Some might like rough and quick but it didn’t do it for me. I hand over the equivalent of $7 Aussie for all of us – now that makes me happy!

We had decided to bus back to LCC terminal from One Utima shopping centre to catch our flight to Kuching the city of cats but on arriving realized we’d screwed up and missed the bus. That hurt because taxi cost three times more.

Nani had her first meltdown of the trip at the airport. After checking our bags she took abbey to the ladies and I decided to do the same with the boys. After noticing I was peeing something that looked like beer I thought it would be good to get a drink. Bubble tea was the goal. We searched from domestic to international before settling for iced tea and iced milo then headed for gate 7. I was met by a furious Nani who said she had no idea where we were or what had become of us. Had we gone through security with her boarding pass and was she about to miss her plane she worried? She had AirAsia page me but it was in serious manglish and they would only do it the once. I didn’t hear it (multitasking not my forte). Abbey told me she had dropped a few choice ones. I placated the mother bear and the claws retracted after she assured me I will NEVER be holding her boarding pass again.

Check in had put abbey and Oscar across the aisle from lachie and I and some Malay guy was on the aisle with them. I thought this was awesome and that it sucked to be him. Abbey asked him if he knew English. He shook his head. By the end of the flight she had he and his mates in the row in front laughing. I said to Nani that she will hopefully have a shy stage when she goes through that awkward teenage phase. Gawd ‘elp us all if she doesn’t.

Approaching Kuching steep and densely forested islands stood like sentries guarding the rugged coast. Winding brown delta style rivers doubled back on themselves meandering aimlessly until emptying onto mud flats where the sea began. The excitement of seeing land vaporised quickly when the pilot informed us of the monsoonal storm cell over the city and commenced a holding pattern. I thought oh shit I really don’t want to go back to KL. We circled the city a few times and then started ascending again and headed away. We were heading to Sibu to refuel and wait it out. I worried that the hostel I booked would let our room go as I hadn’t paid a deposit or even confirmed by email.

I asked abbey’s Malay friends if they wouldn’t mind calling the hostel. They had a chat about where the place was in Malay but no calls got made. A nice bloke behind overheard and offered to do it. Turns out he was from Kuching but studied, lives and works in Australia as a structural engineer traveling home for a week. Thankfully us Aussies do let a few in and that they do in fact become one of us to the point of helping a fellow bloke out overseas.

After landing it was my turn to crack the shits with the kids. They were being loud in the taxi and I’d had enough. I gave them an ear bashing explaining that I’d had enough of parenting them for one day and to pull their heads in. I was feeling irritable probably from all the travel and delays. Being an introvert not having any time alone robs me of the headspace I need to be patient with the kids.

We find Nomad B&B and check in. The kids are apologizing and promising to be good. We head out onto the street around 9pm to find food, had cold showers (the hot bit was on strike) and collapse into bed. I set the alarm for 5am for Nani to get up to catch her flight to Sibu for her cousins wedding. Unfortunate given she was already there today thanks to monsoon in Kuching.

Well hello Air Asia X

Today is a first on Air Asia X. I’m committed to discovering what the X is. Is it an X factor? Is it an algebra thing? Will I need a year 9 student to figure it out?

Maybe X represents mystery – as in X marks the spot. It’s a mystery why after using the web check-in on my phone that i never got to flash the SMS boarding pass to anyone.

We’d left our digs at 7.00 arriving 8.05 at Tullamarine in drizzling rain which isn’t bad averaging just under 60km/h. I drop off the family, swing past the car rental, join the winding queue to check our bags. We pass through security which I found stressful because of the shouting about getting fluids out of bags. Despite me telling her Abbey had a full water bottle. What was i supposed to do with it? I thought of the bins, but i didn’t want any of the shouting dudes shouting at me. I called her back and told her to drink it. Then I drank the rest. We fill out immigration forms and line up finally arriving at gate 7 to hurriedly
eat brekky at 09.50 because X stands for no food allowed on the plane. I feel stressed.
The no food on board policy is a bit annoying but whats this? The flight takes off and I spy with my little eye something beginning with “chip packet” to my left and diagonally in front a sausage and egg mcmuffin appears. Great. Out with our Bread Top pastries and we’re into it. The announcement comes later not to eat your own food.

Knowing that kids need at least one or two things to do to prevent them annoying hell out of their keepers (aka parents) I had pre booked meal for each of us – nasi goreng for $10 per head which I could get in Malaysia for quarter that price. I was being stung but we were covertly fighting back doling out seaweed, dried jackfruit, chocolate bars (possibly a mistake) and our own water.

I did feel a bit hot on board and at one point wished I could take my t shirt off but thought after my gym effort yesterday, that might make others hot and there could be a cumulative cabin warming effect so I decided if I couldn’t handle it I’d soak my Mountain Design quick dry t-shirt in the sink and see just how quick that sucker could dry.

The flight was fairly uneventful save for someone dropping a stink bomb 6 hours in. Two rows in front were fanning their faces with boarding passes. I loudly interrogated the kids “did you fart?” making myself heard for at least a few rows. They denied it. I know they were telling the truth because it was so overwhelming they definitely would have claimed it if it was theirs.

I always enjoy a good look around for anything unusual on planes. The regular person sleeping with their mouth wide open is an oldie but a goodie. I noticed a girl sporting a black and green polka dot skort brought a faux fur jacket on board. I wondered how that would go in 35C heat. Personal sweat lodge anyone? Then there’s the guy in row 40 with the comb-over that retreated back to its own hemisphere but not quite all the way and ended up on quite a jaunty angle. This hairstyle really should make a comeback just for my own sick sense of humor.

I flick on the iPhone and scroll through my movies and select Warrior starring Nick Nolte who plays a washed up alcoholic war vet who abused his wife. His two sons grew up hating him and became estranged from each other – one becoming a marine, the other a high school teacher. The younger one driven to deal with his demons and the older by financial hardship entered a global UFC competition unbeknownst to each other. They fight one another and the ending had me in tears. Crying on planes isn’t unusual for me though. I recall tearing up watching Reece Witherspoons courtroom performance in Legally Blond II on a plane from the US to Australia. Maybe the stress leading up to getting an international flight makes me more emotional – then again when I’d gathered composure and told Nani the Warrior story her tear ducts started up too! Worth a look.

On balance we found Air Asia X isn’t bad. Aside from the food issue (which can be subverted) it’s cheap but not nasty like some budget carriers. Whilst there are no personal air vents making a boarding pass mandatory for fanning it looks like they spend a bit more than jetstar on recruitment – false eyelashes and beehive hairdos and all. And the Air Asia app is cool. When you check in it downloads the boarding pass which I’m assured will work on our next leg to Kuching.

Travel Bells ‘n’ Whistles – Security for Children

I’m reading 399 travel tips by the good folk over at Newsweek Budget Travel and picked up some great tips for traveling with kids. Last weekend we found ourselves in Melbourne and anyone traveling with children in airports and large shopping centers will tell you that it’s easy to lose one or all of the kids – frequently. We tend to boldly lead the way, and the kids follow, but every now and then they stop to look at something bright, colorful, moving or tasty and they’ve lost sight of us. We’re constantly backtracking to round them up. Our kids also like riding escalators since they never see any back home.

Back to 399 tips. Jim Hall from Buford Ga, recommends attaching some little bells (like a cat bell, or the ones Indian dancers wear) on his pack so when he falls asleep, if anyone tries a sneaky raid, the bells wake him up. So on my list goes a bunch of bells. I’m going to attach these little suckers to the kids packs so they’ll be easier to hear. On top of that, I’m going to get some Hi-Vis tape and attach that to the top of their packs to make them more visible and lastly, Chandra Huang of Hawaii has recommended loud whistles for kids that they can blow if they’re lost. This is obviously a safety technique used in bush-walking but translates well even into big cities.

In terms of security and lost kids, each day we will photograph the kids so we know what they were wearing and we will also have a record of their height, age, weight, and passport numbers. We would also add blood type if we had it. This will be in case they really do get lost and authorities need to be involved. The first thing they ask parents is what they were wearing and how tall they are. Of course if you’re in a panic you’ve got no chance of remembering what each child wore. We’ll be able to pull out the photo on the iPhone and hand them all the relevant information on the spot. Naturally I’m confident we won’t need to, but it’s all just part of responsible parenting.

Of course, the alternative to all of this is keep your children within arms reach 24/7, but being a free-range, anti-helicopter style parent, I like my kids to be able to explore and be a little independent within reason.