Back in Kuala Lumpur…

Petronas Towers-Kuala LumpurPetronas Towers-KL

Back in Kuala Lumpur now after being in Cherating for probably around ten days.  We decided to make the trip back to the city so we could have a Xmas dinner that didn’t consist of rice and noodles (I know, we are so spoiled).  Doubly spoiled actually because we were welcomed by a surprise email from M’s aunt telling us to go out for a Xmas meal on her and she would pay us back! Very excited, we arrived back in KL at about 6pm on the 25th, checked back into our regular guesthouse and went to the Marriott as I had previously heard they were having a buffet Xmas dinner.  Buffets are always better for us since we don’t eat turkey.  There are usually a lot of options compared to a meat based set meal that is wasted in us.  Not surprisingly, the Marriott was all booked up, so we went across the street to the very grand looking Grand Millennium.  We had a huge buffet meal for about $30/person including dessert buffet that had more than enough options for the fish-eating semi vegetarians we are.  Although I have decided to give up most seafood once we are done travelling, I have to say, the oysters on the half shell and the sashimi were exceptional.

Bungalow in CheratingBungalow in Cherating

We are now working out our next move, but we will most likely stay in KL for NYE and then either go back to Cherating (we’ve made a good friend and M is hooked on surfing) and then head to Singapore for a few days before flying out to Bali, or go directly from KL to Singapore. 

Kampung Baru-Kuala LumpurKampung Baru-Kuala Lumpur

I’ve finally figured out how to compress photos on Iphoto so I have uploaded some more onto flickr.  Since I was having such a problem uploading them before (20 photos would take about an hour and a half on the public or paid computers here), I have become a bit discouraged with both taking photos and uploading them.  Now that I’ve figured this out, you should be seeing some more, and I will try to make my posts not so text heavy as I know that can be super boring!

Hoping all of you had a warm and happy Xmas and a fantastic new year.  I am thinking a bit about “resolutions” if you want to call them that.  I know a lot of people are anti New Years resolution, using the argument that you do not need a certain date to start something new etc.  While I totally agree with this, I do like Chris Guillebeau’s perspective.  He uses the end of year and the one coming up to reflect on past goals, set new ones for the future and examine what went right in the past year and what went wrong.  I think everyone could use an annual review and I will be working on my own.  Pretty difficult given my current transient state and not having any idea where I will be next week, let alone the next year, but no matter where I am, I believe personal goals can be set that will involve a more internal management.  What do you think? Happy New Year to my few but growing readership!

xo

Cherating…

(journal excerpt)-December 15, 2011

Fallen a bit behind on my writing as its been a bit difficult to articulate all that’s been going on lately.  Here’s the most basic but verbose of rundowns:

-left KL after it nearly driving me mental-had 2 very “un-zen” moments with a dude on a train telling me not to push.  (I was getting pushed out the train and pushed him) and another at a mother who let her son drive his younger siblings stroller into my bare heel, removing the skin.  Not good.  I vowed to be done with KL for a while now to only be probably going back (more on this below…)

-moved on to Cherating-our planned destination to learn surfing.  It is low season here for tourism but peak season for surf on account of it being the monsoon season.  To say that things are laid back is a massive understatement.  They’re near comatose.  Stores and restaurants often don’t open till 4pm making figuring out your meals more of a task than an adventure.  The village consists of basically one road that runs parallel to the beach and chalets and resorts are set up on either side.  There is a Club Med somewhere around here, apparently the 1st in Southeast Asia but I have never seen it.

The “nightlife” seems to consist of the karaoke place next door which goes on long after I fall asleep.  Popular hits include: “Livin’ on a Prayer”, that Adele song which I’ve come to hate and “Eye of the Tiger”.  Alcohol is scarce here and when you do find it is about the same price as back home.  But that is Malaysia as a whole.

-The place on Day 4 is actually growing on me somewhat.  I realize yes, I was bitching two seconds ago about the chaos in the city and now about the sleepiness of the village.  I never said I made sense but I think it just took a few days to mellow me out after KL got me a bit wound up.  It is actually quite pleasant here when you realize that all those things that are getting you pissed off, don’t really matter.  (Store not open, batik place you were going to take a class as not open, 800 screaming children playing video games in the internet cafe, etc).  The place is not without its charm.  Here are some highlights:

-food-crazy cheap still

-teeny, tiny frogs the size of a dime, everywhere

-spotting a Malaysian Hornbill in the palm tree next door

-friendly locals

-first surf lesson tomorrow (currently cacking myself in trepidation but determined to conquer my fear of big waves-and these are babies!

-beautiful beach, fireflies, palm trees, frangipani, papaya and mango trees

But gentle reader, there is another element at play here and the underlying cause of our stress as of late.  You see, as much as we don’t want to be thinking of it, you know, live for today, fly by the seat of our plants, go free etc., there is always the niggling notion in the back of our minds that this too, will end.  Yes, hopefully not till 2012, we’re aiming for March or April, money dependent but there is still an end in sight.  This has made the tone of this trip a bit more dramatic than the last time we travelled.  The last time, we had lived abroad for nearly 3 years and we knew that eventually we’d be heading back to our own country.  Now, this time, we don’t know *where* we are going afterwards.

We had sort of been learning towards going back to Japan, but now post-tsunami, mid-radiation fears, we’re not so sure.  We loved many aspects of Seoul when we were there, but can we withstand the pollution and between the two, which will be better for us? Going to Japan is familiar and going to Seoul means having to get our marriage certificate from Japan, translated into Korean and notorized (visa stuff, long story). 

But then there are also familial “obligations” that call us back home.  M’s parents have out right said upon being asked that while they know they can’t stop us from living in Japan, they’d prefer we didn’t.  In fact they’ve said they prefer we live there and help them with their business as they feel they are getting too old to do so for much longer but they would hate to sell it to someone they didn’t know.  It’s a complicated dilemma.  M’s parents, nearly ten years older than my mother, are aging and while they get around fine, still travel, keep very busy and show no signs of slowing down, I do think they, particularly M’s Dad contemplate his mortality a bit more often after his heart attack last year.  He also hates to see us to more work for less money. It’s a surprisingly lucrative business in their small town and has financed this whole trip we’re currently on, so there is that. 

But we don’t particularly want to live in Canada for reasons too long to go into here but Canada’s conservative majority and their pulling out the Kyoto Protocol didn’t help! We love the live abroad life but aren’t particularly passionate about the work (teaching English).  M is a writer first and foremost but his freelancing doesn’t afford him the luxury of not teaching or at least working part-time.  And the family business, while it allows us to be our own bosses and have a lot of free time is also doing a job that we aren’t passionate about and living with your parents in a small town.  We want to be with our family and friends just as much as they want to be with us and we realize there is a level of selfishness to living abroad.  But is that feeling so strong that it should outweigh our spirit for adventure and living the life we prefer abroad? Living close to home doesn’t stop people from dying but is that the point?

So these are the issues we’ve been facing at the moment.  They ebb and flux depending on outside stressors and usually one of us has a meltdown once a month or so.  The other night was M’s turn-berating himself because he should be in bliss, travelling and doing what he wants, but hating that he, as of yet, can’t fully write for a living and this frustrates him to no end (despite the fact that he is currently our “breadwinner” with his writing, making the only money we are actually making at the moment.

Are we getting too old to start over?  My logic tells me no, that what we are doing *is* in fact living and that all we have is this moment and no career, mortgage or anything else will change that, or make us immortal or more stable or more happy.  We fought to live this lifestyle because it’s what we want but sometimes one does have to prepare for what comes next and that’s been hard.  As I said, it’s added a new weight to this trip that we are both trying to come to terms with.  I’m working on going with the flow more, while also shooting out C.V’s to various countries.  (PS-hire me for your brilliant job in your brilliant locale for March/April 2012!)

Another stress has been the holiday season believe it or not.  While Xmas has never really been a big thing for me, it’s a big thing in M’s home and it’s big to him and that is valid.  Not the shopping and presents and all that, but just that feeling of homey-ness, the big meal and the music and tree and whatnot.  So he wants to be in a city for Xmas and to go out for a proper meal.  Our plan was to head from here to Singapore but all the budget options are booked out for the holidays.  (That’s a little bit TOO much of the ol’ fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants by the way!) New Year’s-same deal and SG is crazy expensive for Southeast Asia so without hostel options it becomes undoable until after the holiday season.  So for now we have a booking back in KL for Xmas (rather a series of bookings because they’re all booked up too, so we are changing rooms nearly every day).  We’re currently thinking of flying to Bali from there.  But who knows! We’re flying by the seat of our pants! Stay tuned and apologies for the drama.  Kudos to you if you got this far.  I sound like such an entitled whiny drama queen.  Like seriously, these are my biggest problems? I can’t even read this it’s so self masturbatory and lame.  We are actually having a good time despite all this, it’s just not as “carefree” as some of the people we know seem to assume. 

But we are okay.  And we will always be okay no matter where we live because it’s not about where you live, is it? We already have the answer, it just gets cloudy sometimes.

 

xo

PS-Still no photos guys-sorry.  I have to figure out how to compress them in order to upload them quicker on these slow connections.  It took me an hour and a half to upload 20 photos to flickr last time which is just crazy.  But I am taking them! And they will get up there eventually.  Thanks.

 

Kuala Lumpur

Finally catching up on what’s going on here..we are in KL and loving it of course although the switch from beach to city has been exhausting…here’s what’s been going on the past few days…

(journal excerpt-December 3, 2011)-An eventful last few days-on the 30th of November we began the long arduous journey from Ko Lanta-KL by way of Satun.  We manged to get a ticket from Ko Lanta for 150B less than most places were selling which was great.  We said goodbye to our friends and Pen sent us on our way with some fried egg sandwiches.  Two ferries and two mini vans later we stopped in Pak Bara, an interchange area for people going onto the Ko Tarutao Marine Park.  The place was the usual tourist clusterfuck with a tonne of ticket counters, people waiting, some eating and luggage and backpacks heaped all around.  The driver told us we had to change vans here which immediately set off alarm bells as we bought tickets that were supposed to be the two vans (ie-we knew we had to change vans once in Trang but the second van was supposed to take us directly into Satun bus station).  But we had no choice but to get out and we hauled our bags to the same waiting area as everyone else.  Everyone in our area eventually left for their destinations except for 3 young Brits (the girl in daisy duke cut off jeans and boots-oh so appropriate not only for the climate, but for the muslim conservative south!) Finally the ticket selling woman told us it was time to go and I almost got excited until we got to her pickup truck.  The 3 Brits piled in the back cab leaving the ONE front seat for both M and myself, plus our two daypacks.  By this point we were pissed off because 700B/person should definitely buy you at least ONE seat each and then I knew something was going on. 

To back things up a bit-the woman in Ko Lanta who sold us the ticket was very sweet.  She had two twin two-year old boys and M was playing with them and she told us this story about the photos of monks on her wall and how it related to her business and telling the truth.  One of the photos of a monk was the head monk of the monastery where her brother lives who is also a monk.  He is dead now but he was known for his truthfulness and taught that one should always tell the truth and believe in what one says.  One day in the village of Ko Lanta a Chinese monk of some sort came and there was some sort of event which involved walking on fire (the details/language barrier make the story a bit fuzzy here-sorry!)  Miss Oy/ticket seller was telling some tourists they could do it even though she was not sure at the time herself it if was possible.  Some people ran across it very fast and were still burned.  But some people went slowly and were OK.  She was asked to do it herself and she was afraid but since she had been telling others that it was okay to do, she felt that she had to do it herself.  Everyone that was walking across was making prayers to this Chinese monk to protect them.  But as she went across she told us just how she had faith in what she said and remembered what this monk preached, about truthfulness and saying what you mean.  She walked across slowly and had no problem.  From this, she learned that in her business one must always mean what they say and tell the truth or say nothing at all. 

So this brings our story back to M and I sitting on the ebrake of a pickup truck barreling down the highway with hot pants singing the “ooo eee ooo ahhh ahhh ding dang walla walla bing bang” song.  No joke.  You can imagine my amusement.  After about 15 minutes of this we were told to get out and she put us into a local songthaew.  A songthaew is a pickup truck with two or sometimes three benches in the bed with a low cover/canopy.  It is a local mode of transport for Thais and dirt cheap.  This songthaew picked up people and dropped off along the way and went on like this for TWO HOURS, mostly on highway under construction.  We finally arrived in Satun but as we expected the songthaew driver wanted to take us to Tammalung Pier-you see, no one actually STAYS in Satun.  It’s another transit hub for people going onto to Langkawi and entry into Malaysia but we had decided to break up the trip by spending one night in Satun and avoid Langkawi altogether by taking a different boat to Kuala Perlis with the hopes of getting a bus from there to KL.  So regarding our transport, it became apparent to us that the woman in Pak Bara, took our booking, kept the difference, drove us to the town to catch the songthaew driver and paid him, keeping our mini van money.  This was confirmed when I wrote Miss Oy to ask about what happened.  I know it sounds like she could have been in on it too, and I guess its possible but that’s not how we saw it at the time.  She actually told us to come back and see her when we get back to Ko Lanta and she will pay us back somehow. 

Anyway, the songthaew left us on the side of the road, not the bus station so we started asking the few people around how to get to the street of our chosen guesthouse.  No one had heard of this street or the guesthouse and I found out a few days later it had been closed since 2009 at least.  Way to go website for keeping up to date info! Finally another guy turned up and asked if we needed help.  He seemed convinced where this place was, so he got another songthaew driver to take us there.  Blah blah blah-we drove around for a while, the guy obviously didn’t have a clue-at the time we didn’t know it didn’t exist anymore and eventually he just took us to this other guesthouse.  Which was great, because we ended up staying there and it was quite nice…to be continued soon….

Ko Lanta…last day?

Our last day in our new-found paradise, Ko Lanta and on to the story of the “secret” beach.  The night of the beach party, Malik the TukTuk driver asked us what beaches we’ve been going to on Ko Lanta and since we haven’t really felt like renting a motorbike or paying for TukTuk’s we’ve been sticking to our local beach-it has some ‘okay’ snorkelling but the reef is dead and it’s just rock and not swimmable at low tide.  Malik started telling us about this beach by his house down the road which is basically around the rocky outcrop from where we had been swimming.  We’ve seen a couple of people swimming around this outcrop and have wondered what’s around the bend and where they were going.  He offered to take us in his TukTuk the next day as it is not visible from the road.  After breakfast he took us about 5 minutes drive up the road and wouldn’t take any money for taking us there.  We pulled over to the side of the road to a small pathway that went into the thick jungle.  The path was very overgrown and very narrow and I couldn’t help but think of cobras or poisonous spiders or something.  I didn’t think about Malik leading us into the jungle in the middle of nowhere, however, as I had seen him with Pon and Pheat for days now and I knew he was good friends with them and he obviously loves Nong Pheat very much.  He was always carrying him around anyway, I felt fine.  After about 10 minutes of walking through tall jungle shrub the path opened up into a massive clearing of coconut palms and a large bay of freaking unbelievable private beach.  Actually, almost private-at the time of our arrival there was one other German couple on the beach who immediately started asking Malik how to tell the difference between the young coconut and the ones with the harder dried meat we are more accustomed to in the west.  He had already opened up two coconuts and drank the coconut water but he had thrown away the rest.  Malik took out his knife and fashioned a spoon out of a piece of the coconut and gave it to me to eat and left us to the beach.  We chose the other end of the bay and left the Germans on the other side and after about 2 hours, they left and we had the whole entire beach to ourselves.  A huge bay with a soft break of waves and all white sand.  Behind us the grove of coconut trees and beyond that the jungle and the path back to the road. 

At the edge of the grove where it meets the sand, a mango tree with a rope swimming and actually the only downside to this was the garbage from groups of partying Thai’s including syringes!! Actually one big disappointment in otherwise beautiful Ko Lanta has been the garbage on the beach.  When I mention it to local people they seem reluctant to admit it comes from the locals (all the garbage is not the kind of stuff tourists buy, although you do see some plastic water bottles), and instead they blame it on the last full moon period where the tide was exceptionally high but I don’t know.  Anyway, a near perfect secret beach and we spent the afternoon here, M living out his Robinson Crusoe fantasies by attempting (and failing) to make fire.  We swam and watched the coconut palms sway and 3 muslim fisherman and their little boy pulled their boats up and disappeared into the jungle path. 

I feel pretty lucky these days. 

We leave Ko Lanta early tomorrow morning and tonight we must say goodby to Pon, Pen and Nong Pheat although Pen has told us she is waking up early to open the restaurant so we can grab breakfast from her before we go.  We hope to come back to see them again.  We’re already talking about doing so when we reenter Thailand from the North later to go to Chiang Mai but at the moment I’m not sure. 

That’s the problem with travelling is you make really intense friendships in a short period of time but then you have to leave.  At home you already have those really intense friendships and all you do is think about leaving.  I suppose we just have to make the most of all of them each day. 

Ko Lanta and the stars…

(journal excerpt) November 27, 2011-The weather here finally changed for the good here and we got a good day at the beach yesterday.  Still hanging out with Pon, Pheat and Pen and its been great getting to know them more.  I have learned a lot from Pen in a short time about Thai cooking and after mentioning to her that I was after a Thai style vegetable peeler (I know, I’m a geek), she promptly brought me a new one in the package from her kitchen and tried to give it to me.  I made her take 20B for it and even that wasnt enough…I had my first fresh young coconut since being here that Pen hacked open with a massive knife by herself.  It had been in the fridge and it was ice-cold and the best thing I have ever tasted.  Then you get a spoon to scoop out the young coconut meat from inside.  Seriously amazing. 

Pon has a friend named Malik who hangs out near the restaurant.  He drives a tuktuk and waits for customers to walk by and when he is not busy, which is always, he is in the restaurant smoking and talking with Pon or playing with Nong Pheat.  Pon made Mai Tais for them and was giving us little shot glasses of the leftovers which eventually grew into him making a new blender full and him giving us two full glasses free of charge.  After we hung out in the restaurant for a while, they asked us if we were going to go to this beach part that was happening down the road at the next beach resort about ten minutes drive away.  We hadn’t planned on it, the flyer on our table didn’t make it sound too much our thing-a Man U game on a big “telly” followed by a UFC match, cheap beer and some kind of “worst Speedo ever” competition.  But they offered to drive and said they were going so we all loaded up in their truck, baby and all and headed to Klong Nin Beach.  We had to make a stop first at teh resort that Pon’s mother runs/rents.  Pen mentioned she might stay there with Pheat and visit with Pon’s mother. 

As soon as we arrived at the resort, all these children ran up to Pheat and he was carried off into the crowd of family and friends.  The resort was rough-I’m talking some serious ramshackle wood and thatch bungalows-loud music, I caught a glimpse of the inside of someones open bungalow and it was fully horrific, like something out of that scene on the Ko San Road in “The Beach”.  Meanwhile Pen brought me a Thai whiskey and coke (also free) and M bought a big Chang.  We were getting to know this French couple that Pen and Pon also invited and came on their rented motorbike.  She is half Mauritian, half French and he is Algerian.  Their English was about as good as M’s french and so our conversation vacillated between the two languages and as the two (M and the Algerian) got involved in heated discusses about Algerian cinema, politics and healthcare systems, I tried to explain in basic English what was being said to Pon and Pheat who had no clue what was going on.  Suffice it to say, we didn’t get to the other resort for the beach party until we stopped there on the way back home.  The evening progressed into many Thai whisky buckets and apparently Scottish? Rum and Pen and I sat in low beach chairs as the tide came in under our feet and she told me all sorts of things about working at the resort where we were, under her now mother-in-law, fighting with her and getting 4000B per month (and sometimes 3000B) for working the bar, serving customers food, taking orders and essentially doing whatever she was told to).  She also talked about getting cheated out of 80,000B when they attempted to open their restaurant down the beach from where we were (long story) and having to save the money all over again. 

The night was amazing and beautiful and a few times I walked out to the edge of the water where it as away from all the lights of the resort and there were more stars than I’ve ever seen.  I actually said, “Oh my god” out loud, it was literally breathtaking.  As much as I thought I hated a cheesy fireshow, I quickly changed my mind when the adorable 11-year-old nephew of Pon came down to the beach to give us a private show.  All the while poor Pheat stayed awake and was mostly cheerful (there is no such thing as a “bedtime” in Thailand or most of Asia as far as I can tell). 

As I said, it was an amazing night, our new French friends were great and a perfect night only to be followed by a more perfect day the next day that I have to write about tomorrow when my hand doesn’t hurt so much…