DownUnder2Borneo

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

Tag Archives: children

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?

KL and the snakehead adventure

John and Ik Hui are kindly dropping us to Key Point in the Beach Road area from where Golden Express Coach departs. Their hospitality has been amazing – as is all Asian hospitality from which Aussies have much to learn (ours is the more shut-the-door-on-your-way-out, laid-back kind). Whilst saying our goodbyes, the boys are looking the wrong way. I’m wondering why they are so rude and ask them to turn around. They say their goodbyes then turn back to study their original distraction – Doritos Man. Their jaws drop and they stare unashamedly as this fellow traveler stands awaiting the bus and eats an entire pack of Doritos without touching a single one. If you can imagine how that is done, you can understand why they would be so captivated. I might try it some time just to see how doable this is, but I feel it would be at the cost of very cheesy powdery lips.

Catching a bus to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore involves going to the Woodlands Checkpoint and exiting Singapore’s border control, then hopping back on the bus, crossing the border, hauling your luggage off the bus, going through customs in Malaysia, then hauling everything back on. It probably adds an hour all up to the five hour trip. On the bus the little boy next to me says “a lizard just crawled under your shoe” looking genuinely concerned. Without moving my shoe I say “would you like me to catch it for you”. His eyes widen and he shakes his head. Later, Lachie taps me and says I have a gecko on my shoulder. I ask him to grab it which he does. The kid is amazed but frightened. Lachie offers it to him but he’s actually petrified and his sister starts protesting. She says that if he touches it, he can’t sit next to her anymore. Their dad stretches forward with his camera and says “I have to take a photo of the hero!”  People here poison them with insect spray because they’re frightened of them and think they’re dirty. We reckon they’re great though and they do a fantastic job of keeping the insects down. Lachie gets really close and checks the lizard out from head to toe. He names him Gary Gecko.

I enjoy the bus trip. From the confines of Singapore’s high rises, to the open road, the hills, valleys and now familiar tropical vegetation makes me feel relieved. Singapore is busy, densely populated and highly built up and while I enjoyed visiting, being a country boy I always like to fall back to open spaces.  Along the way and bloke has been asking the driver to stop and dashing out to sort stuff out. I got to thinking “hang on mate, you’re holding all of us up here, why can’t you just sort your shit out?” It was getting a bit rich I thought. At the lunch stop however, after we re-boarded the bus, I couldn’t believe it when he was even given a turn at driving. When’s my turn?

Lachie, Oscar and I get lots of rest on the bus which is just what the doctor ordered. It gives us time to be with ourselves and our thoughts since we are sitting in the single seats. The kids actually enjoy this and said they preferred the coach to the plane. We arrive at KL around 3.30pm and grab a taxi to Mark and Deb’s in Petaling Jaya, just 16km out of town. I didn’t actually have enough cash for the taxi so I gave him everything I had including a Singapore $2 note. The cabbie took the lot. Inside, I say “Merry Xmas” to their smallest child (the one I dubbed “ninja” on our earlier visit) Ong Jia Chen. He replies “Merry Christmas. Who are you?” and proceeds to tell me that he likes Uncle Carter (his swimming coach) but that he made him disappear back home today…Ong Jia Chen has some powerful Chi going on in his little body. Later he asks him mum if he cries harder will I return?

We’re getting ready to go snakehead fishing. I’ve carried my rod and reel around Malaysia for four weeks hoping to target this species because they are widespread and have adapted to drains and ponds being a swamp type ambush predator that can even live outside of water. I saw a River Monsters program on the bullseye snakehead that is aggressively invading North America and was gripped watching Jeremy Wade catch these then track down its cousin, the giant snakehead that had allegedly killed a man in Thailand. One of these was kept in a tank at Nomad B&B in Kuching and when I’d asked if I can submerge my underwater camera for a shot, they mentioned that someone from Sweden had tried this and it bit him.  Mark and his dad have organized some seventy little brown frogs for bait, and these are being kept in the shower and get a bath everyday to keep them hopping and fresh. We re-bag these ten at a time for each fisherman and load up our rods, food, drinks and eskies into the 4wd for a quick getaway in the morning. A couple of frogs did get loose in the bathroom, but they’re no match for ten year old boys.

At 05:30 there’s a knock on my door. It’s Jonathan, but I don’t don’t need a wake-up call, I’ve been awake since 4 – as is common when I’m going on a fishing trip. It’s a quick breakfast of enormous meat and veggie bao, out the door at 6:14 and into the pajero for the long drive to the district of Bidor in the neighboring state of Perak. One of Mark’s friends Sam joins us who is an equally keen fisherman. At Kampung Coldstream we pull off road and into farmland and palm plantation where ponds and lakes abound. We pull up at a beautiful large pond surrounded by tall tropical grasses and covered with thick kang kong pond weed (kang kong is one of my favorite vegetables by the way). One side of the pond borders a palm plantation, another has nesting storks in some tall trees adjoining a Peking duck farm. These scatter as I approach, all herding away from me. In the distance I smell a pig farm and at various intervals can hear the squealing of feeding time. There is a family of Asian Otters in the pond behind bobbing up and down busily (everything otters do looks busy).

Excitement mounts as we see fish rising all over the pond and arcing fins scything the surface. Big fish. These are the telapia and carp that are being raised here – I suspect on effluent from the pig farm – suspicions founded by the smell and crust at a drain pipe entering the pond on the other side. Mark shows us how to stun the frogs, then pierce their heads to kill them and rig them up so they can be cast and retrieved over the weed without getting snagged. This is foreign fishing to me. We cast the frogs on top of the weed and slowly retrieve them. They get caught as we drag them back toward us, then release in a jerky hopping motion which simulates a live frog. Top level predators, the snakehead living under the weed sense the vibrations and sound and strike at the frogs – that’s the theory anyway.

Lachie has a couple of hits that mangle his first frog but doesn’t hook up. I eventually have one grab a frog but on setting the hook, the frog pulls straight out of it’s mouth. The next take I get, I actually strip line to let it really swallow the bait before trying to set the hook, but the strike pulls it free again and the frog sails past my head. Mark has missed a couple too, though his dad has landed one. I’m a bit perplexed so I switch to something I know. Maybe being the aggressive “eat anything” predator, they’ll take a soft bait. I rig up with a hot pink Strike Tiger grub and start a slow retrieve and bang I’m onto a good fish first cast. These fish are so powerful and the waters full of weed and snags that we’re fishing high poundage line and a locked up drag so I just hold it and let it tire whooping “I’m on!!!” across the water. The kids grab the fishing bag and start running toward me. On landing the fish, it’s grabbed the lure so hard, I have to physically prise its jaws open and use pliers to get the hook out. I’m elated that I’ve landed my first snakehead. I lift up the fish and take a good look and snap a few shots. The head is flat and pointed like a snake with two beady black eyes on top. The mouth wide and hard. The skin on the fish actually looks like snake skin – black on top changing to white underneath with a primal type of fin running over it’s back and halfway under it’s belly. These ancient monsters are well represented in the fossil record and look like it too. They are prized for their healing ability when served as soup to convalescing patients.

After a few more casts, I lose the princess on a snag. Switching to an old faithful Berkley black and gold T-Tail after noticing some small grey baitfish in the water, a few casts later I’m on again. This one’s a bit smaller, so he gets to go play another day but he’s completely chopped the T-Tail in half. I head back toward the car where the kids have retreated and on the way back notice a snakehead hovering in the water a couple of feet from the bank. I toss out the T-Tail and draw it past it’s nose. I dangle it there, then jig it up and down – it pays no attention. Perplexing. Somehow these fish need to have their aggression triggered to make them strike – the most aggressive are ones protecting their nest. These have been known to attack people – such as the kayaker in Delaware.
I wander back to the opposite shore to find the boys have given up because it’s hard to cast and retrieve a dead frog continuously with no result, and are playing around the car so I tell them just chuck the frog in the water instead of baking it crisp on the roof of the car where their rods are leaning. The sun is really up now and starting its torment. The rods are now leaning against some tall grasses with the frogs sunk to the bottom. It’s not long and Oscar’s rod pulls flat. He races over and strikes to find nothing on the end. The hook fails to set again. These fish are tricky. I cast it back in for him, but this time strip of lots of loose line. The snakehead are taking the frog into their mouth, moving away before swallowing. Any resistance leads to the frog being spat out. The next time he’s rod bends, he has his first snakehead.
Around midday, the heat starts to beats us into submission. Even though we’ve got full sleeves and hats on, the heat is what I consider an preview to hell. Eventually, with my core temperature rising, I give up and sit in the shade of a short palm oil tree, half naked trying not to move. The boys accompany me and we suck back water and 100 Plus an isotonic fizzy drink. We are wilted. Husked. Punished. Oscar plays around a nearby palm trying to climb it and I let him know that there are sometimes ant nests in there. Sam who has joined us for some relief mentions that he doesn’t usually venture too far into palm oil plantations because of the cobra’s. I let Oscar know about this too.

Eventually Mark and his dad pull over and give way to the juggernaut that is the scorching, oppressive sun and sitting down in the shade with us. Mark has copped a leech helping land my third haruan (the local name) which was tangled in a mass of weed. We decide to head into the nearest Kampung and get some drinks and shade. Oddly, his dad recommends the curry noodles, which equally strangely were so delicious the boys were nearly licking the bowl.

I photograph the lady preparing them, scooping the noodles into a huge boiler to cook them and the old aunties around a plastic table on the corner all laugh and tease her in Malay. She ducks and looks embarrassed, which encourages me, so I switch to video and film the scene. A table of men are flipping and shuffling mahjong tiles. They must be escaping the heat too.

Around 4pm we head back checking out a few other ponds on the way, but returning to our original site. The boys continue with their bottom fishing as this seems to be the most effective method in the middle of the day. Jonathan has hooked a fish but struggles to land it. Oscar takes over manning the rod and Lachie gets down and hand-lines the fish in. They call it a team effort and chalk it up as a “Band of Brothers” effort. Lachie still hasn’t landed one on his own, but just before we call it a day, manages a small one, so we’re all happy.

Thunder clouds begin to roll out across the horizon and we hear the rumble. The odd lightning flash goes off and a cooler breeze has picked up. The light changes from the harsh white light of a fiercely hot day, to the warm evening glow of a monsoon clouded evening. The pond looks really pretty now, and I can see rain on the mountain range. I count the time between the flashes and rumbles and conclude the storm cell is still a few kilometres away. The breeze is waving the grasses and the white storks are hovering over their nests. Eventually it starts to spit and satisfied with our catch of thirteen, we decide to start our long trip home.

It’s dark now and the boys are all asleep in the back of the Pajero. We’ve had a sumptious feed of charsiew, roast pork, yam, fried sweet potato leaf, and soup on the way back through Bidor. We fly south along the Utara Selatan Highway toward Selangor and the road is relatively uncrowded. In the back it still smells froggy and the silence as each of us is lost in thought is punctuated by pounding on the roof of the esky, as the prehistoric channa striata launch themselves out of the shallow water and crash their bony heads into the molded plastic in a bid for freedom.

I still feel hot.

   

 

Singapore; Selling out at Sentosa

We’re at Tiong bahru market for breakfast, an enormous food hall. The range of cuisine here is absurd! I only ever eat one of two things for brekky back home; muesli or oat porridge. Here we eat roast chicken rice, noodles and char siew, char siew bao, chicken glutinous rice, goreng pisang (deep fried bananas) and other dishes I can’t identify. The vast number of stalls selling every kind of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Nonya cuisine you can think of beggars belief. If one could measure say food density of a nation – say tonnes of food per square kilometre, I reckon Singapore would take the durian cake. I take video of the various stalls until the Kuih stall lady yells at me to go away. I dig kuih, but I”m not buying any of hers today.

What I can’t understand is that despite eating huge breakfasts, cooked lunches, and dinners there are actually skinny people here! I can’t eat the quantities of these people who are three fourths my size and they are still thin?! I feel these people should be co-opted and dissected to find out by what dark magic they process all these calories defying the laws of thermodynamics and remaining thin.

A huge sign on a building with a leaping tiger says Tiger Balm works where it hurts – but if you ask me there are definitely places that might hurt (particularly orifices) that you definitely don’t want Tiger Balm anywhere near – think Deep Heat.

Our next stop is the Wee Clinic which has nothing to do with urology. My aunty Wee Hong Neo (the phoenix lady my brother in law tells me) is an excellent GP. In fact on our way home from India in 2000 Nani was similarly sick and we stopped by and she diagnosed our first pregnancy – news to which we were both aghast due to the cocktail of vaccines we had been pumped with to go to the sub continent. She’s probably getting sick of us being sick and dropping by to arm ourselves to the teeth with scripts but goes about her business in a very business like manner but generously (and surprisingly) produces three ang pow for the children, who are quite amazed. Sadly because of the condition of the kids, she feels it best not to visit for Christmas because their great grandmother may just not be strong enough to fight their germy germs so we’re at a loose end for Christmas day. I had been looking forward to seeing my Singapore relatives, but it won’t be this trip.

We have stashed the kids with John at River Valley Rd and Nani urges me to visit ViVo an enormous new shopping centre. She says I need to experience it to have my world broadened. Who is she kidding? I politely decline (well, I just decline) and she knows well enough not to persevere without wasting precious shopping time takes off like an Olympic sprinter.

I head out of ViVo situated on the water front along the almost deserted 525m Sentosa Island boardwalk across the causeway to “Asia’s favorite playground”. Think Disney World meets the far east. Along the way, marketing plastered on columns tells me;

Exciting variety awaits.
Be surprised
A dazzling musical extravaganza
A theatrical circus spectacular
The worlds largest anamatronic crane performance (there are others?)
Ride the movies
Indulge in luxury shopping and rejuvenate yourself
Savor eclectic favors

With such anticipation tempered by some healthy skepticism I eagerly pay the $1 entrance fee.

I wander through the visitor centre and there seems to be lots to do here so grabbing a map, I head off. Happily the place seems fairly deserted (it comes alive at night when it’s cool – only dumb westerners would come here in the day). There are a few people around the entrance to Universal Studios – maybe everyone else is inside. I’m here to see what I can see for free though so I keep moving.
I’m looking for the Lake of Dreams – this appeals to me and might be a good place to just contemplate. It turns out to be a complex series of sculptures and

various pools and water that shoots periodically into the air. The sculptures are kind of other-worldly so I can see the connection to dreams but it’s no place to dream

except of finding a urinal which so far has eluded me. It seems there is one at a nearby hotel (there are lots of hotels here. I can’t believe anyone would stay though) – but alas this one is closed for cleaning.

Another building proudly proclaims “A million moments. One World.” which I like really because I have no idea what it means. It’s cryptic – the sort of thing a sage would tell you when you’re young and then when you are old you realize he was right and you nod knowingly. A huge statue of Rodin the great philosopher sits contemplating above the lake of dreams. He’s doing what I like to do. Sitting and thinking. I’m pleased that some thought has been given to … thought here because all the other statues are of pinnochio and his kind. Rodin is wondering what “a million moments – one world” means. I leave him to it.

I ascend past the five foot high letters that spell Sentosa. It is here that I discover an interesting game – photographing people photographing people. I mean simply photographing the word “Sentosa” would be boring for me and even more so for the people upon whom I inflict my slide show when I get back. So the challenge is thus; capture the photographer, their camera, their subject and the thing their subject is standing in front of. I always mock these kind of tourist photos – “oh this is me in front of the colliseum. And here’s one of me in front of the Great Wall. And that’s one of me in front of the plane we flew on”. These photos are as boring as bat shit (and after Mulu, I know my batshit). and they are totally uncreative so this game – which I admit is a little stalkerish really does make it fun and quite a challenge because you have to be really fast to get into position and catch that Kodak moment.

Ascending further I take mild interest in the 37 metre high part lion, part mermaid the famous Singapore mythical Merlion. The 16 toothed (not four as you would initially think) beast has 320 scales and is decorated with a “sand dollar” icon, or so say the cutesy little information boards. It’s nice that the sculpture that is most identified with this nation pays homage to the mighty dollar. I mean what do Aussies get? A furry mammal with a pocket in front that has a penchant for jumping in front of cars and B Double trucks! Great.

Pleasantly I start to notice some luxurious gardens and cooling waterfalls. A beautiful and colofully designed Merlion Walk through which water flows among sculptures of fish and other aquatic life gently slopes down toward Beach Station. Trees on both sides reach their canopies toward one another forming a green tunnel through which I walk. I get a few more tourist photos of tourists wishing that I could get one standing behind a spouting fish that would make me look like I’m doing a whizz, but the people here look so… wholesome, I don’t dare ask them.

Beach Station where hot pink shuttle trains on the overhead skyflier rails weave their way across the island has a huge indoor sky diving centre The Singapore iFLY “where anyone can fly” – except I assume the very young, the very old, the pregnant, the stroke victim, the blind, the…. From here I can see the beach but I’m running out of time – so much to see and I’m actually enjoying myself.

Heading back toward the mainland I hear the familiar scream of cicadas in a strip of virgin rainforest. The Imbiah Nature Trails fork here and I’m sorely tempted. Near a place where huge brightly colored Macaws sit with tourists for photographs is the beginning of the Feng shui trail. This could be just the yang I need to counter Singapore’s all-pervading consumer yin, but sadly I have to settle for descending the leafy and impressive plantings of Imbiah terrace at the bottom of which is KFC which to my amazement sells egg tarts. At 5pm having not eaten since breakfast the devious consumer Yin wins and I succumb bowing before the Colonel’s great multinational.

On my way out along the still deserted boardwalk (does everyone drive or catch the train across?) Bosch speakers mounted all the way along plays acoustic instrumental music (sounding to me like Tommy Immanuel) and a butterfly drifts past. The plantings beside which i walk are tropical rainforest (a sign tells me so). I wake the sleeping ticket counter lady to ask what the music is. She doesn’t know. No matter, I feel happy. Reaching ViVo to meet Nani with seven minutes to spare, opposite Marks and Spencer I notice the white tiles, are gold flecked.

Kota Kinabalu and the last day

This morning Nani is gunning to go shopping after having had a small taste of what Suria Sabah located right on Kota Kinabalu’s picturesque waterfront has to offer but I’m keen to bang some posts up after ‘net constipation from the lack of wifi at Sukau and Mt Kinabalu and the kids haven’t bathed for three nights now so I put them in the shower and upload. By the time all this is done and I’m still dragging the chain she has her not-happy face and says “Are you still blogging?” but it’s not a question which demands an answer besides which answering would only continue to see her robbed of precious shopping time. Confucius say one should never stand between a born shopper who has been in the jungle for two weeks and a shopping mall in a country that has a mad awesome exchange rate.

I make all haste and we pour out into the street to find breakfast at the Fook Yuen bakery cafe. I make a joke about the name, pronouncing it Fook Yu…en and the kids laugh. Nani doesn’t find it humorous. My eyes are greedy here. All kinds of baked goodies, fried food and steamed yum cha line the shelves and Bain Marie’s. The kids don’t really like the creamed corn steamed bao they get for breakfast but we’ll see if they stay down before they have any alternatives. Nani and I chew on fried fish balls, a crispy chicken wing, sambal rice in banana leaf and steamed sticky rice. Yummm.

We bolt breakfast and arrive at Suria Sabah to discover the shops aren’t even open and the escalators aren’t running. Shopkeepers are still arriving and (did you know Christmas reindeer have testicles here?) opening their doors and straightening Christmas stars that have fallen over  Tarps still cover the cheap sock, bra, undies tables in the corridors. We are slightly deflated but Nani is undeterred. Being here at the dawn of another shopathon means she has beat the crowds and gets first crack at the bargains before her competitors arrive in their hordes.

I’m really not sure why she wants to shop because she can barely fit what she’s carrying now and already overweight, but I try and think of it like my approach to fishing. I’ve caught trout before but I just love it and will do it rain, hail or shine whenever I can. I think for her shopping is like this but I still find it hard to get the “point” of it and how anyone could be so passionate about it.

Oscar needs to sit somewhere. He’s weak from a lack of food. We head up the lift to eight floor but there’s no chairs at the cinema. We find some at the Timezone hall in front of dazzling screens and pounding music which is a little jarring in contrast with the serenity of the jungle. Nani gives the kids a few bucks and disappears with a two way and we play some games, although the kids are pretty bad at them so they don’t really get any time extensions. Some games are over in less than a minute so it’s all a bit glum. I team up with Lachie and Oscar and we play a shoot em up game as machine gunners in a chopper. This is fun, I think mainly because we get to play together which we don’t do much.

Our excitement sky rockets after discovering the movies are a paltry 6rm for kids and 10 for adults we quickly analyze what we could see. We decide on Alvin and the Chipmunks 3, Arthur Christmas in 3D, and Puss in Boots. We draw a timeline on a piece of paper and plot the movie times of all three and try and identify a critical path (an engineering approach) to cram them all in to our very own personal movie marathon.

The kids don’t think Chipmunks 3 is as good as as one and two and I must admit to feeling drowsy three fourths of the way through (although we have been awake since 06.30) but I liked the music – possibly because the voices make me think of people who drink too much at parties and start sucking the helium balloons.

Arthur Christmas by the makers of Wallace and Grommit and Alice in Wonderland is great especially in 3D. Arthur’s father, Santa is worn out and his brother Steve (a snow-it-all) has taken over executive functions of what is now a high tech operation but has lost the spirit of Christmas and misses one child. Clumsy Arthur (a lost claus) together with his arthritic grandfather (all cane no candy) drag out the mothballed wooden sleigh and have to make it before dawn to deliver the present. It’s a hoot.

The kids are still trying to expel a lung from their now thinner rib cages so Puss in Boots will have to wait. This marathon appears “to be continued”

Over breakfast of curry puff, enormous bao (about the size of a dessert bowl) noodles, a couple off egg tarts and unbelievably, fish head soup (something I cannot believe should be consumed for breakfast) I manage to piss Nani off. She wants to borrow the camera to take underwater photos today when she goes snorkeling but I say it’s a waste of time trying because they always turn out blurry (I have preserved with the Lumix FT1 but have had very little success at half decent photos). Apparently I’ve rained on her parade a little and I should have said “Sure Honey let me show you the setting”. She snaps how come stupid teenagers with stupid cameras are all taking underwater photos and I say I didn’t know about this. We’re both running out of patience because the kids sicknesses are really hamstringing us and today is our last day in East Malaysia – a trip we’ve planned so long for. I wish I was better at knowing when she’s got no patience for my opinionatedness (this could actually be a word because it has no red line under it!).

Must dust off that Dumbass Husband 101 when I get home and review. Sadly we won’t be together as a family today because Abbey looks pale and now has the squirts in the restaurant which oddly has no toilet paper in the dunny. She comes out asking for some, goes back in, then comes back out handing me her undies. Things are reaching a new low. I ask her to toss it but she wants to keep them. I bag the offensive garment like a mystery bao not even wanting to know what kind of filling from hell is inside it. I take the smallest two back to the hostel leaving Nani and Lachie to their own devices.

I wash the knickers in the handbasin and hang them up and we rest in the room and Oscar starts to cry. He says ever since we planned the trip he looked forward to snorkeling. Full of compassion I say if he doesn’t stop the waterworks I won’t take him to the movies later. I wish i had said that I was really sorry that he felt sad and was a bit more compassionate and gentle but I was still a bit pissed off over the camera business. I put head phones in so I don’t hear the sniveling.

Today it’s the Muppets. I feel negligent as a parent. Kipling yes. AA Milne, Enid Blyton, E.T, Karate Kid yes. Our kids can even identify 80’s music by the synth and electric drums. But exposure to muppets? Parenting fail.

There was only two things I really wanted to see in KK and they were  the Filipino night market and the Tunku Abdul Ramen Islands just offshore. At least Nani and Lachie have seen Sapi Island so we meet up with them and go for a walk along the waterfront, but I’m not sure where the night market is. The wet market is packing up and after a short walk in the punishing sun, the kids are hot and in need of food and fluids. We turn into KK Plaza which looks a better place for shopping to me (crowded with people and stuff piled everywhere on all floors smells like bargain central to me). After a pretty B Grade meal, we leave Nani to shop and make her own way back, and we walk past the truckloads of durian and night sellers buying fresh guava and mango juice to suck on before reaching Travelers Light for our last sleep. I think I have a scratchy throat.

Arriving at Mt Kinabalu

This morning at Green View Lodge on the Kinabatangan River, we are told vaguely that we’ll be taken to “the junction” where we can catch a bus to Mt Kinabalu. There is a junction at Sukau about a half hour away and then there’s another near Sepilok I think about 2 hours away but we can’t seem to nail down which one it will be. After the short drive, we pass the Sukau junction and the driver keeps going which pleases me. The further we can go in the car before getting on the bus the better I reckon.

We end up getting out where the roads from KK split to go to Sandakan and Tawau and he gestures where we should stand. We are to watch for a big white bus he says coming from “that way” gesturing again and then we are to wave it down (apparently you don’t bother booking). Most times when we get directions the person doing the pointing is really vague. I assume it’s rude to point with the index finger here ‘cos everyone points with their thumbs and being a pretty short object it’s pretty hard for me to get a line on that sucker.

The junction itself is pretty wild. A couple of rough unpainted wooden buildings on either side look like pit stops for the weary travelers. People selling all kinds of really fresh fruit and veggies under lean-to’s joined side by side stretch some 60m or so brighten an otherwise grubby roadside. Cars up and down the road are perched on the shoulder nosing in and out of the traffic to buy their wares.

A tout rushes over to us. He’s a fairly small guy who looks a bit like a rapper. He moves and talks fast and basically bluffs us into following his directions. He says “you wait over there, the bus will come from here (gesturing vaguely toward Tawau) and I will flag it down and you can get on. Don’t worry I will sort everything”. I don’t quite get why he wants us to wait on the wrong side of the road and figure maybe he’s drumming up business for the opposite pit stop. I must look bewildered because he repeats the instructions. We haul our packs on, clipping our daypacks to the front and do as he says because he seems to be in charge – even if self appointed.

The roadside drain has a few boards semi joined together but looking a little weary with big gaps (think ladder). Nani wants me to help her across but I’m pretty certain it won’t take our combined weight. The kids cross confidently and she hesitates before picking her way across. Oscar almost gets run over by looking one way and ignoring the speeding white car coming the other.

Dumping our gear on the wrong (east bound) side of the road Nani goes back across to get some supplies for the long trip. I have a look around and Lachie spots a baby green bird in a tiny carry cage. I photograph it and it looks at me nervously. I wander over to the tout who is a busy lad talking to lots of people and looking generally in charge. I ask how much to Mt Kinabalu. He says “40”. I say “And children?” holding my hand halfway up my body hoping that children are half price. He says “20”. I’m not sure if this is right or not. It pays to find out these things earlier.

The bus finally arrives after waiting maybe half hour and sort of tries to pull over but can’t beacuse of all the cars on the shoulder but it’s the thought that counts so no-one toots at it. We cross back over and Nani hands 150 to the tout who asks if he can keep the change. She says no. He finds the bus driver who has dismounted the bus and we stuff our packs underneath and get on board. There are single seats mostly up the back. The boys are together. Abbey and Nani end up next to Muslim women and there’s only one seat for me – next to a Muslim woman who doesn’t want to slide over. She twists sideways and I climb over her a bit wondering why anyone wouldn’t want the window seat. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m an unclean heathen western male or whether I stink or what but she’s looking over at Nani a few rows back and they do some female telepathy and end up swapping. Now Oscar wants to be with mummy (he’s a mummy’s boy) so I swap with him ending up between Lachie and the dunny. He says he got a whiff of it. I’m really tired and nod off quickly as the bus sways from side to side on what must be tired suspension. Our quick dash south meant we had crammed three river cruises and spent just 18 hours at Sukau.

Deep in sleep I awake suddenly with a jolt, slammed hard in the side of the head. As I come to my senses, it seems I have rolled my head one way while the bus has lurched the other and my head has collided with the wooden panel of the toilet.

Lachie wants to know why we are taking a bus instead of flying. I explain that it gives a sense distance from one place to another. We get to experience the route and the sights. It gives us down time – time to think – about where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing. I’m conscious that our time in Borneo is drawing to an end and slowing things down makes it last longer. He says he and I are alike because he likes thinking time too.

I dislike air travel a little in that at times it seems a bit clinical. We disconnect from one place and appear in another. There’s lots of lining up and showing of documents, re-lining up and shuffling in queues. It seems a bit disjointed and frenetic. Plus on this bus I get to see a little topless Chinese girl with tiny ponytails sticking horizontally out from her head drinking juice from a baby bottle and dropping her bottom lip when her father puts it away. She hangs her head and screws up her face and the bottle reappears.

A long haired rock star hipster in jeans, pilot glasses and long fingernails on his left hand nods off. A chubby little baby Malay boy with huge brown eyes grins a gummy smile at me from the seat in front no more than 5 or 6 months old and I feel the urge to squeeze his cheeks really hard. I screw up my face and make him smile more. Later he has a bottle (I don’t see anyone breast feed in Malaysia possibly because Muslims wear gowns so it would be impossible to do so even if culture allowed it) and he has just enough time to curdle the milk before the rocking bus mugs him as well and he heaves yoghurt all over the place. Off with the T Shirt and Nani offers a baby wipe (we’re loaded with these) which is gratefully accepted.

I see random roadside durian stalls with the green prickly fruit mounded up on wooden tables and hung from beams under rough roofed huts. Crowds of people gather around and I get excited – durian season is in full swing. Outside St Bruno’s Catholic Church great bunkers of empty husks are piling up after days and possibly weeks of this feeding frenzy. I need to get me some.

Pirates of the Caribbean starts up on the bus screen at some stage – maybe the driver has timed the ending to coincide with arrival in KK. It is in English with English subtitles so I’m fairly sure no-one apart from us is getting the dialogue.

I keep seeing large red Awas signs along the way but can’t work out what they are. I must get to the bottom of this later.

Finally after 6 hours on the road and climbing high into the hills we reach Mt Kinabalu shrouded in mist and Bayu Homestay with Rumia where the climate is now cool and moist. The kids all have runny noses and coughs I think from the freezing air con and from being a bit run down so it will be nice not to be alternately hot by day then frozen by night and be able to have a R&R day tomorrow.

I walk to the front door of Bayu reception and slam my head into the low balcony. Looking up I see a cardboard sign that says ‘AWAS! 5’10″‘. All 6ft 2 inches of me now knows what “Awas” means.

Kuching, SIM disasters and shopping in the rain

20111202-212730.jpghe 5am start today made it the equivalent of 8am AEST so going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen. I had walked Nani to her taxi and she asked me to photograph the drivers I.D in case she went missing. She either has a vivid imagination or an over active sense of caution.

It’s pouring rain which makes the shower drain in our lunch box sized room gurgle. Somehow the storm water downpipe and our shower drain are intimate in ways I’m sure are not healthy (something like brothers and sisters marrying). I pretend I like the gurgling like its a water feature as I lie on the hard mattress and wait for dawn.

20111202-214059.jpgThe kids are awake around 6 so by 6.30 we can’t hold out any longer. We head down to the common room for the second B of the B&B. When we enter we rouse someone sleeping on the floor. It’s Chris the manager – now that’s commitment to the cause! He gets up and starts pulling out fruit, fresh bread, spreads, cups and plates. He laughs with the kids and teaches them to juggle while I toast their bread. After brekky he plays guitar while the kids play Jenga and scrabble on the floor. 16 Brisbane Grammar year 12 girls on an end of school trip with their minders appear. Time to clear out.

Chris makes Nomad B&B what it is. He’ll probably blow dart my aussie ass for saying this but oddly he reminds me of Rob Schneider and who doesn’t consider Rob a close friend? You can do eeet!

It’s not the most modern nor the cleanest of hostels but judging by former guests texta scrawls on the wall it’s one of the most popular. An Iban by birth Chris sports traditional tattoos by world famous Ernesto the Borneo Headhunter and his hand tapping method. He tees up an appointment for me to get a consultation for some inkwork on my shoulder.

A pet giant snakehead lurks in a fish tank in the common room. Ernesto had tried for 2 years to catch one before landing this one in a lake “somewhere” and repatriating it to become Nomad’s mascot. I ask if I can photograph it by inserting my waterproof camera. Chris says it bit the last person who tried. Snakehead have been described as the mafia of the waterways because they literally mug their prey without warning so I take a happy snap through the glass. The snakehead drifts towards me nonchalantly, eyeball swiveling as he sizes me up. He’s thinking he could take me.

A smaller fish swims around with him. This confuses me as snakehead are renowned for being aggressive and territorial. Chris explains it was put in there as food but it had refused to eat it. Normally it just inhales live fish so fast you can’t even see it happen, but it seems it’s taken this little guy under his wing and decided to befriend him. Chris said he did this with another fish once before. I ask what happened to it and he says the snakehead ate it after 2 months. Must have been a fishy falling out I guess.

I get to Celcom to buy a SIM card and am directed to a reseller because they didn’t have stock. The sun was merciless on our walk to the reseller. I break out the umbrella. After hacking a normal SIM down to a micro with some expert surgery involving a cutter and blade it’s slid into my iPhone. This is where things go pear shaped. We learn the phone is locked. This is after me calling Telstra last week to discuss using an overseas SIM. I jump on the resellers laptop and find a number for Telstra that can be dialed from overseas (not easy). I call and am on hold freaking out because I’m global roaming and I’ve heard the horror stories of the charges people have been extorted. Telstra ask for my IMEI and process the unlock (something they used to charge for) and tell me I will need to sync with iTunes after waiting anywhere from 5-72 hrs. Umm hello? I don’t have my Mac with me?!? Thank god I’ve sent the kids off to look around because this was starting to really stress me out. My head is starting to hurt. I pay for the celcom SIM wondering how the hell I’m going to sync to iTunes and take the kids to buy some sandals because when we arrived Oscar ripped his sandals apart.

We catch a taxi back to Nomad after lunch and on arriving Abbey says she’s lost her shoulder bag – I mean the shoulder bag Nani’s friend had lent her for the trip. You have to be kidding me! I round on her and say “so we have to spend another 24rm to go there and back to retrieve a bag with 10rm and a 6rm pair of socks in it? Huh?!” Then I read her the riot act. All I want is for you just to look after your own stuff!” I’m ticked. My head hurts. The taxi driver takes us back. We go upstairs to the hawker store and I make her ask the staff. No bag. I find the waitress who cleared our table. Nope. Now we’ve spent 24rm retrieving nothing. Hang on. Maybe she left it in the toilet.
We had been to the toilet earlier. A strange experience as there was a bloke sitting in front selling tickets. The boys walked straight past him. I stood and looked at what was going on. Half of the patrons paid, half just walked through. I decided to pay 20sen for Abbey. He gave me a blue ticket. Was there a ticket collector in there like at the movies? I ask for toilet paper when I see the little rolls in front of him. 10sen. I gave Abbey the TP and in she went. I then went in myself. Nobody collected my ticket. The urinal was an amazing baked on yellow color from decades of abuse and the smell might have been similar to the smelling salts they must give boxers who are partially KO’d because it really jolted me and cleared the sinuses. The boys reckoned the toilets were long drops and the floor was all wet in there and there were hoses lying in there for two purposes (use imagination). They thought it was amazing in an amusing “check this out!” kind of way. Fortunately my kids are used to gross stuff and have an appreciation for levels of grossness that deserves an award. What was amazing was that it was the only toilet we had been charged for and it was the worst! No wonder half the people didn’t pay – silent protest?

So we rush back to the box office of the toilet from hell and our ticket seller notices us and hands over the red shoulder bag. I make Abbey use all her money to pay the taxi driver. He must have pitied Abbey and gives me a 3rm discount.

I send the kids to the room to rest instructing them not to open the door for anyone. We decide on a line from their favorite movie Benchwarmers as my password for them to let me in. I wander over the road keen for some man-time to chill out and restore my zen. I knock on the door of the Borneo Head Hunter Tattoo Studio and Robinson lets me in.

I head upstairs to Ernesto’s dimly lit and smoky studio decorated with antique malay artifacts, statues and art. Neither Robinson nor Ernesto wear tops – just shorts. They have long hair and traditional Iban tattoos on their backs, chest and arms. Ernesto is playing a guitar. I meet another Aussie there who is psyching himself up to have a tattoo banged in with a stick the ancient tap tap method for which Ernesto is world famous for. He gets flown around the world by conventions who bring him out to demonstrate his craft. The Aussie from Melbourne teaches English in South Korea.

I start to chill out and we start to discuss what I want. I tell them my life changed after a difficult experience and that I had to fight to get to where I am today after experiencing severe depression. They discuss how Iban would symbolize this. Warriors used markings to commemorate significant events on their journeys. They say that the dragon represents my story of victory but I don’t want a dragon. Then they say the serpent has new life because it sheds its skin. I don’t want a serpent. I have second thoughts. We talk a bit more and they speak in Malay and Robinson starts drawing. I’m not sure what they’ve decided but I’m chilling so let it all happen. I flip through their albums and learn the significance of various patterns. I learn how the dragon is embedded in the pattern (unrecognizable if you don’t know what to look for). I ask if they can omit this element and they’re cool. I eventually find the style I’m looking for and Ernesto said that’s exactly the style they were working up for me. Bingo. It’s based loosely on a stylized crab prized because of its tough armor. The first draft is readied and held to my shoulder. But it’s not yet what I had imagined I wanted. I suggested some modifications and Ernesto and Robinson made some changes. It looks great. The consult has gone an hour and another Aussie arrives. he’s from Healesville but works in Singapore. I ask if his tap tap tats hurt much. He reckons its much better than machine and you bleed less so it heals faster.

It’s time to wrap up. The ESL teacher has waited an hour so i ask for a quote and we make a tentative date. they spread out a bamboo mat. I ask to watch a bit and he asks me to take a few happy snaps. Ernesto dips a long stick with a needle attached into the ink. Robinson seated on the other side stretches the Aussies skin and Ernesto starts tapping. I click a few off and it’s time to go.

After a good one hour man time my zen is restored and I cross the road to make sure the children haven’t become the contraband of a well oiled people trafficking operation and aren’t already en route to Thailand – one of Nani’s concerns about them being out of eyesight. They’re are still there and much password asking and giggling takes place. I doubt much rest took place.

With the kids still bouncy (remember that neither pooh, rabbit, or eeyore appreciated tigger’s bouncing) I had to take them out again despite needing zzz’s myself. I’m looking for shoes for Lachie that he can bash around jungle trails tomorrow. As we ready to head out the heavens open with a downpour and a few flashes of lightning. Everyone outside takes cover. We do too but ours is umbrella and waterproof jackets. We walk in the pelting rain that is so hard it penetrates my umbrella. We slosh through roads now running with water. The air is cooler now and much more pleasant. The kids are loving it. Isn’t it fun walking in the rain? Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to see things as a child.
After trying three or four shopping centers we find shoes. Our pants are soaked from the runoff but i didn’t buy quick dry for nothing. The kids don’t mind. Time to eat.

We ask shop staff and they point “down there” for some good makan. We eat chicken and mushroom handmade noodles and drink iced teh tarik. We finish this off with fried bananas. There were other fried things. We asked about them but language failed. A boy came over and tried to help but he couldn’t remember the English words for them either. I figured one was sweet potato and bought a few of the other small fried mysteries that were about chicken nugget size. The food comes with a plate of red sauce. The bananas were yummy but the sauce turned out to be sweet chilli so it was strange but we kept dipping. I bit into one of the nuggets and there was a nut inside it. A chewy fairly flavorless nut a bit like a chestnut but firmer. It wasn’t til I got to the end of it I detected a faint taste like durian then realized it was something like jack fruit and the seed wasn’t meant to be eaten. Duh. I informed the rest.

We decided to walk along the beautiful paved waterfront along the swollen Kuching river as the light faded. Small hawker stores dotted the banks selling drinks, ice creams, souvenirs and popcorn. Abbey says hi to a group of soldiers. Some say hi, others ignore her. She keeps going and I’m thinking “maybe not a good idea honey”. Then she starts marching alongside them (they weren’t marching).

We wend our way through the old part of town with its rustic old buildings, narrow streets and open drains buying pink and white sticky, soft chewy kway? Queh? The pink turtles steamed on a square of pandan leaf had yellow bean inside and the white golf ball looking ones had sweet shredded coconut.

I have succeeded in wearing out the kids. It was their best day of the trip so far they said. I’m wondering where on earth can I hook up to iTunes.

At home in Kuala Lumpur

Luckily we have some great friends in KL called Mark and Deb (that’s their English names – they are in fact real Kuala Lumpians) who have invited us to stay for the layover through to Kuching in Borneo tomorrow.

We breeze through immigration/customs/stamping documents and strangely the blokes in uniform don’t seem to have had their humor surgically removed like those in most countries. Mark had messaged his address and to take a taxi which should cost around 100 ringgit which I think is steep. I hoped to find an alternative. As we exited baggage claim there was a counter with shouting people. It was a bus ticket bazaar. I approached slowly wondering how to pick so I randomly went for the yelling Airbus counter and showed her the address. Bus to KL Sentral then taxi from there came the answer. Nani handed over 28 rm and the lady handed me the change. Patriarchal maybe or perhaps i look poor. We headed for platform 2 (in truth we just followed Nani who was walking flat out). We rushed out onto the street and I looked around but there were no signs to any platforms just huge car parks. Nani headed left – fast. I’m fully 2ft taller than her so my recon is pretty good and she’s never been to the bus station at LCCT airport in her life. She leads us directly to it. Possibly this ability is related to the one where she can always find a bargain in a shopping centre.

We loved the bus trip. Primarily because it had psychedelic carpet – on the ceiling – and golden tassly curtains.
50km later as we neared KL Sentral the thought struck me “what if it still costs 100rm for a taxi from here?” after all the shouting people at the ticket bazaar were there to sell bus tickets not dole out public transport information.
We descend the bus and are set upon by people asking where we want to go. Taxi touts. No taxis in sight. This is a bus depot not a taxi depot I realise. I explain we are going to Petaling Jaya and there are 5 of us thinking we need a mini bus. Tout 1 goes and gets Tout 2 who says he can take us. I say there are 5 of us. He looks concerned. T1 says not to worry some of us are really small. I figure they will cram us into a sedan. I ask T2 how much and he says 34 rm. “34rm?” i confirm. He replies “35rm”. Either I’m a really bad negotiator or my hearing is going. He takes off to get his car. Eventually we find our destination. He really didn’t know where we were going but drove round for long enough to find it. He didn’t seem to have a map but I had already agreed on the price so it didn’t matter. We put it down to the scenic route and he was a friendly guy despite being told by Abbey that her dad was bigger than he.

Mark wasn’t home when we arrived but his parents were (they live at their parents house) and Deb was too and a lot of other people. They have four children and Marks sister was over with her boy then there were two maids and a boy that might have been one of the maids sons maybe.

The hospitality was fantastic. We were told to rest prior to tea – who gets to have a lie down while dinner is prepared?!

As we lay under the fans a small boy with a #1 clipper job sneaked in. Being the uber parent I strike up a conversation leading with the trusty “what’s your name?” with my play school presenter voice. “Ong Chai Chen” he announced loudly. It sounded oddly like the mandarin for “thank you”. It was a mouthful so I persevered. “yeah but what do people call you?” “Ong Chai Chen!” He reiterated. Probably thinks I’m so old I’m hard of hearing. Nani chimed in “what does your teacher call you?” same answer. I ask if I can just call him Chai or Chen. Charlie maybe? He says he can do the work of a five year old at school. Nani asks how old is he. He says “five”.

His grandma knocked and offered us a pile of towels. The small one dived behind the door. I recall Mark telling me on a recent trip down under that she was the no nonsense one. Apparently she sleeps at 16deg so it seems she is to the kids what the ice queen was to Narnia. He emerges when it’s safe and shows us some karate moves. Either he’s really fast because he’s small or he’s really fast because he’s really fast. I decide the latter. He reminds me of Dash from The Incredibles. He says he’s got a machine gun. When I enquire further he says he also has a bazooka. Ahhh a kindred spirit. I like talking munitions. Then he discloses that he has not one but two bombs. I caution him that bombs can tend to explode and to let me know before he sets them off so I can get out onto the street because I don’t want to be trapped in the rubble of his grandparents former house.

The dinner is amazing. It’s a spread of roast duck, bak kut teh which is pork bones in a garlic star anise broth, fried chicken, chicken feet soup with mushroom and fish maw (I think that’s something in fish guts), tofu, barbecued pork (char skew) and on it went. We were besides ourselves.

Eventually whilst peeling and stuffing our faces with tiny thumb sized Goreng Susu bananas and Rambutan, mark called to say he was on the way home from his part in the closing ceremony of the inaugural Asian Shotgun Championship where a new Asian record and equal world record in skeet shooting had been set.

There’s talk at the table of dogs being locked up before he arrives and a reminder a few minutes later. My interest is piqued. I wonder if they don’t like mark maybe? Then I figure maybe they’re a bit feral and could take off when the automatic gate opens. It’s the latter. Then deb adds that she’s worried they could take off down the street and attack and kill someone so they lock them up when someone arrives home and let them back out when the gate closes. Presumably a game of fetch is out question then. I stayed at the home of a magistrate in Singapore once that had three dobermans, one of which bailed me up on a foray to the dunny one night so I ask what kind of dogs are Debs? The dad replies “just normal ones”. He represented Malaya in shotgun shooting at the ’54 Rome Olympics so I don’t press him about the dogs.

As I squat in the plugless bath pouring a little bucket of hot water over myself and wondering what the ceramic thing with the hole and tap next to the toilet is, I feel that I really like KL. First impressions count for something and I decided that while it wasn’t slick like say Singapore or as developed as Melbourne I felt at home here. It’s a work in progress with the odd abandoned apartment block being reclaimed by moss and ferns amidst the sprawling brand new cookie cutter identical terraces overshadowed by the sparkling twin towers in the distance.

T2 had said the traffic was jammed due to UMNO (the ruling political party) holding their annual convention but having just plowed through Melbourne peak hour in drizzle this morning theirs was a breeze.

Malaysians strike me as being really laid back. In the toilets at the airport a couple of the cleaners were having a bit of a kip possibly figuring the boss couldn’t see them back there. It strikes a chord in my laid back Aussie heart. Combine that with talk of deer shooting and the Cameron Highland Rusa stag head hanging in the foyer its no wonder I’m feeling at home.

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.

My Singaporean Dilemma

Singapore will be no doubt be a welcome and dramatic contrast with East Malaysia. Unique in that Singaporeans have managed to turn shopping and eating out into a national sport – I know because I’m married to one, and the son of another. If there were an Olympic event that involved a marathon of shopping and eating, a Singaporean would be atop the dais proudly lifting his gold medal as Majulah Singapura played. On days off, Singaporeans seem to plan their days around where they will eat and shop. When the food arrives, it is mandatory to photograph it for some reason. The mantra played out is “eat til you drop, then shop shop shop”. Everything else is incidental.

So my wife will be disappearing down some dingy hawker lanes periodically (approximately four times daily) and in between those times, shopping in massive malls. In Singapore, you can experience all the excesses of western consumerism and affluenza happily minus the chewing gum, spittle and graffiti. Unfortunately, being an Aussie and a country one to boot, I can’t stand it. Actually I lie. I can stand about an hour of it, then I go ‘troppo’ as we say down under.

The kids will only slow her down (she tends to move at lightning speed with the meal breaks also serving as a pit stop) as she attempts to cover as much retail floorspace in as little time possible, so they get sick of being dragged from shop to boutique to department store in about a half hour. All this means, the kids and I will be finding other more sedentary and enjoyable pursuits, hopefully away from the main tourist beat, where we can just enjoy Singapore and each other.

Here’s what we’re thinking of doing:

I haven’t heard of anyone who has visited Little India and said they didn’t enjoy it or didn’t recommend it to others. Travelers note that if they didn’t know they were in Singapore, they would think they were actually in India. Think amazing colors, people, food smells, buildings, shops and temples.

Although touristy, I think I’ll make a concession as the kids would absolutely love the Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo. We’ll probably buy a 2 or 3 park hopper pass which will allow us to see these attractions for a small discount.

Stories are powerful and Australia has a shared history with Singapore given that many of our troops were stationed there under British command during WWII. Sadly the British believed the Japanese would only attack from the sea and had all their defences directed seaward. Instead the enemy cleverly commandeered bicycles and rode down from the north. Singapore capitulated in a short few weeks and 15,000 of our lads were imprisoned in Changi prison where stories of survival in Japanese internment are now legendary. I’m looking forward to our children discovering some of the story of our joint history at Changi Museum. Lest we forget.

Sentosa Island would be great (maybe), but we’ll probably shy away because of how much everything costs there including food and I’ll probably be sick of seeing tourists and being shuttled from one queue to another by that stage. I hate theme parks too, and while Universal Studios is located there, the whole of Sentosa Island seems to be one giant theme park (to someone who lives on an island 90 times bigger than Singapore with 10 times less people)

Early immigrants from Canton and Fujian provinces in China settled where Chinatown is today. It will be nice to just wander around here in the old part of town and maybe visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre, check out the old temples and shops.

The Singapore Flyer is a great way to see the city. It’s the equivalent of the London Eye only taller.  There’s also a rainforest discovery centre there, which may be a bit passe after Borneo, but we’ll see. The ticket also includes entry into the Journey of Dreams which is a multimedia and interactive experience around the history, culture, architecture and aspirations of Singapore and the building of the flyer.

Sands at Marina Bay, puts on a Water and Light Spectacular a 13 minute show to a 140 piece symphony orchestra soundtrack. It’s free and apparently it’s really good (possibly even spectacular).  Since I’m avoiding Sentosa, this is a little concession to keep Nani happy since she has fond memories of Sentosa’s light show. Show times are 8 and 9.30PM with an extra 11PM thrown in on the weekend. Wandering the Singapore river would be nice visiting Boat Quay, and Clarke Quay seeing the historical buildings, bridges and even doing a cheap river cruise.

As far as nature goes, Singaporeans have actually done a pretty good job of keeping the city green, despite their desperate need for more land and the effort they go to reclaim it from the sea. For just getting outdoors and experiencing nature their national parks look great. If we want to just chill out, we could visit Mount Faber, one of the oldest of the parks which connects to Sentosa via cable car. If we do end up at Mount Faber, I’d love to walk over Singapore’s highest pedestrian walkway Henderson Waves an amazing wave form bridge. At the end of gardening hub Hort Park a Canopy Walk through secondary rainforest connecting to Kent Ridge park looks beautiful. It’s 300 metres long and ends up at Reflections of Bukit Chandu which is a museum covering the history of Opium Hill and the battalion of the Malay Regiment in the Pasir Panjang Area 1400 of whom bravely took on 13,000 Japanese soldiers during WWII.

Finally, the most historic and oldest areas of Singapore is only a stones throw from the infamous Orchard Road in Fort Canning Park where ancient relics dating back to the 14th century have been unearthed and the Fort Gate, remnant of the fortress built in the 1860s, is a reminder of Singapore’s colonial past.

We’ll probably travel mostly on the MRT and by foot since the Singapore train network is one of the best in the world. Trains are a novelty for our kids, so just buying a top-up rail pass and getting on and off at random places will be fun. The MRT website is pretty cool, since you can select a particular station and see what attractions are around it.

So aside from these distractions, we’ll be catching up with plenty of friends and family and celebrating Christmas Day on this beautiful, clean, hi-tech but somewhat green island-city, also known as the cash register of Asia.

Kids Gear Success!

I’ve finally bitten the bullet and ordered the boys packs today so I’m very excited. I decided to order now, because I’m planning on doing an overnight trek with my eight year old son next month.

Kids gear is really hard to find down under. Even in the US, there seem to be only a few places that really cater for serious young adventurers. I ended up doing a fair bit of homework and reading to select the boys packs. I had it narrowed down the the Osprey Ace (48L) and the Deuter Fox (40L). I’m not trying to get travel packs for the boys because I want to them to be able to use their packs for serious hiking and when serious hiking, it really matters that the pack fits properly so the weight is well transferred to the hips and is comfortable on the shoulders.

There was also an Osprey 35L version but I just felt that might be a bit on the small side for hiking because once a sleeping pad and sleeping bag is in, there’s not much room for anything else with a 35L pack. On the other hand, the 48L will probably run slightly large for backpacking through Borneo because they won’t be carrying sleeping or cooking gear, but hopefully the pack will cinch right down and not be too cumbersome for throwing on top of buses, or cramming under the odd hawker stall table or chair.

The Osprey Ace and the Deuter Fox run back lengths from 12-20″ and 14-20″ respectively. This is measured from the iliac crest (the top of your hipbones) to your C7 (the knobby bone at the base of your neck). They are pretty good quality (the Osprey probably just beats the Deuter) so they will probably last until they’re teenagers. I decided to get one of each so depending on what we’re doing, they can select which one to take, as I normally take them on adventures one on one.

I ended up purchasing one pack from a pretty cool site called Tiny Trekker which catered well for kids, had good quality gear and very good prices and free ground shipping. The other I purchased from Back Country Gear which also offered free ground shipping. I’ve had them both shipped to a freight forwarder (an Aussie girl living in the USA), who will consolidate the orders for me and ship to Australia for a small fee.

On Friday, I’ll purchase waterproof pack covers for them, which we’ll also use when putting them in transit to cover up the harness so it doesn’t snag on every conveyor belt between here and Kuching.