Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kids-Free Zone: Another Reason to Dislike Air Asia

Air Asia X is following the lead of Malaysia Airlines and banning kids in certain sections of the airplane. Starting in February 2013, the long-haul arm of Air Asia will start offering the Quiet Zone. Perks include soft lighting, rows at the front of the plane and "minimal noise with less disturbance." Oh yeah, no one under 12 years is allowed to enter the Quiet Zone.

There are already so many reasons why I dislike flying Air Asia. Is this a sign that I should finally give up on them?

Seat layout for Air Asia's Quiet Zone
The little green bars are baby bassinets
Is it really a Quiet Zone?
For anyone booking seats in the Quiet Zone, take a look at the seating chart. There's a baby bassinet two rows in front of the Quiet Zone and another one behind the bulkhead at the back. So, primo babyzone bookends the Quiet Zone. Unless you are also getting a Cone of Silence, will Air Asia be able to deliver on their promise? If your seatmate gets a little too chatty, do you get to point at the Quiet Zone sign and shush him? That laughing couple the next row over? Kick them out. For those people who say, "I didn't spend all this money on a flight just to have it spoiled by loud children," may I suggest that you'd be more comfortable on one of Air Asia's private chartered flights. Then you can fill the plane with people of your choice. Isn't that what you're really after? Getting to pick and choose who deserves the privilege of flying with you.


If you're not familiar with Air Asia, they're a budget airline based in Malaysia. It's the Asian version of Southwest Airlines except with less frills. Much of what bugs me are the cost-cutting measures that make it so cheap.

No free drinks
Nothing is free on Air Asia. Don't expect a little bag of peanuts or a drink. Not even water is free. (Although in their defense, this is typical at Malaysian restaurants.) One small bottle is only US$0.30, but it just irks me to have to hand over money for water when it's complimentary on other airlines. To exacerbate my annoyance, some airports like Singapore make you dispose of liquids at the gate waiting area.

Carry-on luggage must not weigh more than 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) combined.
Air Asia has a weight limit for carry-ons, and yes, they will check it. When I realized that my rolling suitcase weighed 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds) empty, it was time to dig out my light duffel bag. The kids were a little perplexed about why they couldn't bring along as many books as usual. I felt like we were prepping for backpack camping where every little ounce counts. (For the record, I have never gone backpacking.)

Bags may not be checked through to final destination.
My friend took an Air Asia flight from Penang to Taiwan which had a stopover in Kuala Lumpur. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that her bags would not be transferred to the second flight even though it's on the same airline. She was supposed to retrieve her suitcases in Kuala Lumpur and then re-check it in to continue to Taiwan. Her original layover wasn't long enough to do this, so she had to change to a later flight at an extra charge. Air Asia now has Fly-Thru flights where they'll handle the baggage transfer for you, but it's only on specific routes.

Your passport must be valid for 6 months after travel date.
To enter Malaysia, your passport must be valid for 6 months. Air Asia also requires this in order to leave the country. Last December, we flew back to the United States with plans to renew passports. Air Asia refused to sell us tickets because the passports were only valid for 5.5 months after our departure. I called Customer Service, fully expecting to change their minds by explaining that we needed to leave because our passports were expiring. Nope. I ended up booking our flight on Cathay Pacific which had no such restriction. But these tickets were about US$400 more. With the 5 of us, that was an extra US$2000. Ouch.

Kuala Lumpur's Low Cost Carrier Terminal hits new lows.
This is the worst run terminal I have ever been in. None of the Arrival/Departure info screens worked, so we didn't know our gate or flight status. We tried using the Air Asia iPhone app, but it wasn't updated. None of the gates had our destination on it. In this large waiting area packed with customers, Air Asia employees were scarce. When I finally found one, he pointed to a gate labeled with another city than the one we wanted. Our departure time came and went with no announcements. We had no clue what was going on! Finally, the speaker crackled to life and told us it was time to board. It turns out that the gate the man had indicated was right but no one had changed the sign.


Cheap prices keep luring me back.
Why don't I finally give up on Air Asia if they bug me so much? Their prices are incredibly cheap, and they fly nonstop to many places we want to visit. Other airlines are at least twice as expensive, and I'm buying tickets for five people. Boycotting them would effectively place family travel outside of our budget -- no more quick getaways every few months. Using Air Asia is one of the reasons why we travel now more than we did in America. Air Asia, I just can't quit you.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Teen Traveler in the Family

My oldest kid turns thirteen-years-old today. Thirteen!! If you had told me when he was born that we would celebrate this milestone in our Malaysian home and traveling the world, I would have laughed in your face. Back then, I had absolutely no intention of leaving Texas and thought we were living in our "forever home."

His first trip, in utero, was to Banff, Canada. As I hiked through knee-deep snow along the Athabasca Glacier, 10-weeks pregnant and recently recovered from the flu, I couldn't help but notice just how extremely tired I was.

10-months-old practicing water safety on Galveston Bay, Texas with his uncle and cousin

He turned out to be a colicky baby and a strong-willed toddler. At Thanksgiving, we drove to Houston for him to meet his extended family. One of his baby toys was a Winnie-the-Pooh that played a 12-second ditty whenever I squeezed its tummy. The only way to keep our baby calm during the long drive was to continuously play that song over and over (and over and over...) again. My hand was tired! Trips to the grocery store were filled with crying, and grannies would kindly inquire what was wrong with my baby. Back then, I couldn't imagine bringing him on a plane.

7-years-old in Vancouver, Canada near Science World

When he was 22-months-old, we took our first trip that didn't involve visiting family. That's when we started our balancing act of developing an itinerary that would take into consideration both adults and a child. We made our way through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Hershey, Pennsylvania. Everyone was pleased with the Hershey Chocolate Factory. He loved Sesame Place, and hubby and I enjoyed seeing historical Philadelphia — on the Fourth of July, no less.

8-years-old on top of Pikes Peak, Colorado

But one other memory stands out, too. While on our scenic boat tour of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, my toddler continuously attempted to jump overboard. I ended up wrapping my arms and legs around him to keep him on the boat, and he wailed for most of the trip. I'm sure that's not what the other tourist had in mind when they bought their tickets. For a long, long time after that, I wouldn't go on a public tour unless I had an Exit Strategy where I could easily whisk my kid away if his mood went downhill.

9-years-old at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Disneyland, California

He celebrated turning five-years-old in San Diego with a trip to LEGOland. For this birthday, he's requested a visit to the newly opened LEGOland Malaysia. That San Diego trip also marks the last time when we weren't slaves to the school year calendar. No more traveling during the off season for us. Luckily, our current school has a long weekend every month.

9-years-old at Acadia National Park, Maine

When he was seven, hubby decided we needed to come up with a 10-year plan for summer vacations. I thought this was crazy at the time but have come to see the value in it. We only had a decade of summer vacations left before he started university, and there was so much to see. Our family traveled everywhere from Hawaii to Maine, Florida to Vancouver. The summer of 2011 was supposed to be Yellowstone National Park. A year beforehand, I excitedly booked our rooms with a view of Old Faithful. Instead, we ended up moving to Malaysia and had to temporarily shelve the U.S. version of our multi-year plan. Time to draw up a new one focusing on Asia!

10-years-old at the top of Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

As a new mom, I quaked in my shoes at the thought of family travel. Looking back, there's still no way I would have brought this son along on an international trip as an infant. If it were his little sister on the other hand, she would have had no trouble bouncing around the world as a baby. But parents are a lot like kids. You have to figure out each individual's capacity for being challenged and stretched like a rubber band and know when to stop before it breaks. That point is different for each person. As the years went by, we reached the point where family travel didn't seem like it would break us.  I try to look at myself with grace and know that the mother I was in the beginning couldn't do it, but I eventually grew into a mother who could.

11-years-old at Disney's California Adventure Animation Academy

There's a saying that goes, "The days are long, but the years are short." As time has passed, that colicky baby grew into a fine teenager who passed me in height months ago. He takes up feats like soaring through the trees and amusement park thrill rides that are more daring than what his mama is willing to try. He can help pack the car and retrieve luggage at the airport. This week, he cooked us a delicious dinner and helped his sister study for a test. He even asked to decorate his own birthday cookie cake. My baby is growing up, and I can't wait to continue exploring the world with him.

12-years-old at Victoria's Peak, Hong Kong

Here's to reaching new heights.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mystery Fruit #4: Mangosteen

There I am, hot and sweaty after a morning of literally swinging through the trees in the Thailand jungle. As we wait at a shack for the rest of our group to finish, a man tips his head to a sack lying by the door and says, "Mangosteens. Have some. Just picked from over there," waving with his hand towards some indeterminate spot among the trees.

Ahhh, mangosteens. My water bottle is empty, and the water dispenser at the shack has run dry. It looks like this fruit is my best chance at slaking my thirst. No one else takes him up on the offer. Woohoo! More for me!

Mystery Fruit #4 - Voted "Prettiest Fruit Bottom" (by me)

Mangosteens are small like a billiard ball and have a hard, outer rind like a pomegranate. As I pry open the deep brownish-purplish shell with my bare hands, my fingertips turn dark. A woodcarver I meet later in the trip tells me he uses crushed mangosteen rinds to stain his artwork.

But the segmented fruit inside is a snow-white color. I pull off a piece that looks somewhat like an albino tangerine section and pop it into my mouth. It's exceptionally sweet and just juicy enough to provide some relief to my parched mouth. Dark seeds bigger than an orange seed are inside some of the segments, but it's not enough to be bothersome.

Mangosteen - Sweet and juicy superfruit

Here, it is nicknamed "The Queen of Fruits, and is in no way related to mangoes. Supposedly, mangosteens have remarkable anti-microbial, anti-aging, anti-radical, anti-parasitic and cancer-fighting properties. Folk medicine uses it to treat tuberculosis, malaria, dysentery, UTIs, and eczema. Well, I just needed it to prevent dehydration for a couple hours.  When I visited America, I saw its juice at a specialty grocery store being promoted as a Superfruit, but in Penang, it's in the refrigerated case right next to standards like orange juice and apple juice.

Just another juice

Mangosteens are also very decorative. My friend had a bowl full of them out one day, and I noticed how striking they are massed together. Perhaps Pottery Barn needs to start selling replicas.

Have you ever tried mangosteen?

Related Posts:
Mystery Fruit #1: Ciku
Mystery Fruit #2: Elixir of Immortality
Mystery Fruit #3: Passion Fruit
Mystery Fruit #5: Dragonfruit

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Street of Religious Harmony

Last week, stories swept the news about anti-American attacks in the Middle East and North Africa. When we first considered moving to Malaysia, a moderate Muslim country, I will admit that I was a tad concerned about what the atmosphere here towards Americans and Christianity would be. Thank goodness, I've found this country to be overall tolerant of various religions. Well, it's against the law to proselytize to Muslims, and we weren't allowed to bring over goods made in Israel. But other than that, it's a Freedom of Religion kind of country, a remnant of England's multi-century rule over Malaya. Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, nicknamed The Street of Harmony, in Penang's historic George Town is an excellent example of this. As you stroll down the street (dodging motor scooters and trishaws), you'll find a mosque, Chinese temple, Hindu temple and an Anglican church. All are evidence of the waves of immigrants who shaped Penang.

St. George's Anglican Church

Major renovation completed in 2011

St. George's Church, the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia, surely must have made the early British colonists feel quite at home. Completed in 1818, it is the one and only church on Malaysia's official list of 50 National Heritage Treasures and received government money for its recent restoration. Surprisingly, the congregation is mostly local Chinese, not Westerners as I had assumed. They no longer open the many windows that line each side of the building during services, but I can just imagine what a lovely crossbreeze would have come through in the pre-air-conditioning days. The docent here is very well informed if you have a chance to chat with him. Once again, I came off as an idiot by asking if the church bell is real or just a recorded sound.

Kuan Yin Temple is Penang's oldest Chinese Temple

Kuan Yin Temple, also known as "Temple of the Goddess of Mercy" as well as "Temple of the Hokkien and Cantonese Communities" (Kong Hock Keong), is hard to miss due to the massive plumes of incense smoke curling away from enormous joss sticks out in front. Construction on this Taoist temple began in 1728. It was built according to feng shui principles and originally dedicated to Ma Chor Po, the patron of the seas. In the mid-1800's the growing Chinese community began to splinter. Instead of everyone being united at the Kuan Yin Temple, each group tried to outdo the others by building the most opulent clan temple in town.

Small stand selling offerings for Taoist temple on one side of the street. Tiny, yellow Hindu shrine on the other corner.

Flower garlands, milk and coconut halves left at the Hindu shrine by both Chinese and Indians.

Selling flower garlands for the Hindu temple and shrine on this street.

Chinese goods for sale near the flower garland stall

Eventually, you'll reach Kapitan Keling Mosque, built in 1800, after which the street is named. This was my first time inside a mosque, and our Muslim guide was open to answering the many questions my group asked.

Kapitan Keling Mosque

Rows of prayer rugs line the prayer hall.

Across the street from the mosque, you'll see the back side of Sri Mahamariamman Temple.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple - Penang's oldest Hindu temple

The front of the temple faces Lebuh Queen (Queen Street) in Little India. It started out in 1801 as a simple shrine for the Indian community that was enlarged into a temple in 1833. Alas, we arrived here just after it had closed for an afternoon break between morning and evening prayers. So, we did not have a chance to go inside. I guess it's an excuse for me to head back!

Many goddesses adorn the facade over the main entrance.

Related Post:
Ramadan and Penang's Kapitan Keling Mosque
Cue the Bollywood Music: Part 1
Cue the Bollywood Music: Part 2
Strolling down Armenian Street

This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Capture the Seasons

"[Malaysia] is a springless summerless autumnless winterless land. One day might be a drop wetter or a mite drier than the last, but almost all are hot, damp, bright, bursting with lazy tropical life, conducive to endless tea breaks and mad, jostling, honking rushes through town to get home before the afternoon downpour."

from Evening is the Whole Day be Preeta Samarasan

Living in Central Texas, I was always envious of people who got to truly experience the seasons. The winter there is so mild. But moving to Malaysia has been an exercise in forgetting seasons altogether. We arrived last year in July, when wearing shorts, tees and flip flops seemed quite normal since that's what we'd been wearing when we'd left our Texas home. But then the months slid into December, and we were still wearing the same outfits day in and day out.  I was hoping that the short-sleeved velveteen dress I had brought wouldn't be too warm when my daughter wore it to the school Christmas concert. Now, I don't even check the weather reports because it never changes. Even the days are almost the same length. There's only a 38 minute difference between the longest and shortest days for the year. I miss the change of seasons — even the Texas version of it.

This is my entry in‘s “Capture the Season.”  German expat living in Texas, Country Skipper, invited me to join her in the contest. I hope you enjoy my East versus West take on it.


I realize is is Autumn when...

Hayfield Maze at Sweet Berry Farm, Marble Falls, Texas — October
Hayfield mazes start cropping up in Texas. Every fall, we'd make the trip out to Sweet Berry Farm to pick pumpkins, stuff scarecrows and navigate through the Hayfield Maze. Notice that we're still wearing shorts. Tip for Parents: If you are chasing two mobile kids through a maze, carry your baby instead of pushing a stroller. Otherwise, you have no hope of keeping up with the mobile ones and end up yelling, "Freeze! Where are you?"

Deepavali decorations at the Penang Sports Club, Malaysia — October

Deepavali decorations start showing up around Penang. This city has a large Indian population, and Deepavali/Diwali/Devali is part of the fabric of the community. Beautiful rangoli designs made out of colored rice decorate public areas and are a sacred welcoming areas for Hindu deities. Sometimes, the artwork is very large and elaborate.


I realize it is Winter when...

An unexpected snowfall is always a treat in Austin, Texas — February

Snow falls on the ground in Austin, and the city screeches to a halt. It happens every couple of years. Our Valentine's Day gift from Mother Nature was a smattering of snow on the ground. Ever try to make snow angels in 2 inches of snow? You end up with a very muddy coat. Here, we've scraped up enough to make a 12-inch snowman with a baby's hat on top.

Just a small part of the massive Kek Lok Si temple complex, Penang — January

Thousands of lanterns and lights adorn Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.  Starting sometime in January, Chinese New Year decorations hang everywhere in Penang, and you can see the temple on the hill from miles away lit up in celebration. There are fireworks all around town almost every night for 15 days. The last census showed the Chinese population just edging out Malays as the most populous ethnic group in town. It seems that Malaysians mark the seasons more by holidays than by changes in the weather.


I realize it is Spring when...

It's a field of bluebonnets! I must plunk my child down in it and take a picture.
Austin, Texas — April

Fields of bluebonnets stretch as far as the eye can see in Central Texas. Taking a picture of your family surrounded by bluebonnets is a rite of passage for anyone in Central Texas. After all, it is the state flower. Wildflower forecasts show up online, and people start posting where the best fields are.

Thai New Year Songkran Water Festival, Wat Chayamankalaram, Penang — April

It's time for the Thai and Myanmar New Year celebration. Another New Year celebration? Indeed! April is the hottest time of the year in neighboring Thailand, and the respectable tradition of washing a Buddha to mark the New Year has evolved into an all out water fight. If you attend, prepare to get drenched. Most revelers are armed with water guns, and buckets of ice cold water lie around ready for them to reload. If all else fails, just pour water from your bottle.


I realize it is Summer when...

Kemah Boardwalk near Houston, Texas — July
We hit the Kemah Boardwalk for some amusement park fun. When my mother-in-law went down to her parents' weekend home on Galveston Bay as a child, it was a quiet, rural area, and they had to bring their own water to drink. Now, the Kemah Boardwalk is located just a few miles up the road, and the Johnson Space Center is fifteen minutes away. We visit every summer to reconnect with our extended family. Between the blazing Texas sun and the humidity wafting in from the bay, it feels like we've never left Penang.

View from school cafeteria, Penang — August

Penang quiets down as many expats go on Home Visits while the international schools are on summer break. We first arrived in Penang a few weeks before the new school year started. (An unofficial New Year, perhaps?) Of course, we were excited to get a look at the campus. I couldn't believe the view from the school cafeteria. That's when I definitely knew we could get used to this place.


Next up is...The following bloggers always have such great photos and stories. I'm hoping they'll join me and show us how they #CaptureTheSeasons.

Brave, or Just Crazy?: Long-time Canadian living in Singapore
Katie not in Prague: American serial expat now living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The World is a Book: Filipino-American like me sharing her tales of world travel with kids
More Kids than Suitcases: Hilarious tales of family trips
Average Traveller: Hits the sweet spot between luxe and budget travel

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travellers Sandbox. Check it out for beautiful pictures that will have you longing for Myanmar and other around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pangkor Laut: An Island Spa Paradise

Infinity Pool and Spa Villas at Pangkor Laut Resort

Pangkor Laut isn't just one of Malaysia's best spas; it's one of the top destination spas in the world according to Conde Nast Traveller UK. It's an island for strolling hand-in-hand in the moonlight, relaxing on the beach and gazing into each others eyes. This place is made for honeymooners looking for a quiet getaway. The romantic forces at this resort are so strong that having three kids with us wasn't a mood killer. Plus, the top-notch, call-me-by-name service made me feel like a celebrity.

The resort encompasses an entire private island separate from the nearby, bigger Pangkor Island. From Penang, it's a 3-hour drive down to Lumut on the mainland and then a 15-minute speedboat journey. Racing over the smooth water, I enjoyed this ride much more than the one on the Thai snorkeling trip I had taken the previous month. Perhaps there's hope for me after all.

On the island, you'll find Peacocks resting in the Library (I'm guessing non-native); Bats squawking in the afternoon;
Hornbills stealing your french fries; and Fish swimming beneath the walkways.

As we sauntered from the pier into the reception hall, I half expected to find Mr. Roarke and Tatoo toasting us with a "Welcome to Fantasy Island." Well, if your fantasy is experiencing the best massage you've had in your life, you've come to the right place. Instead, we were greeted with a tray of fragrant, chilled towels, just the thing for cooling off on a hot day. Seriously, I'm going to start keeping chilled towels in my fridge at home. Then — this is the part that impressed me — the receptionist walked up and greeted us by name to go over the details of our stay. How did she know who we were? Hubby wasn't the only white guy on the boat. Did they surreptitiously take our pictures when we checked in on the mainland and transmit it with our names to the island? Hmmm...

Our room was fantastic and decorated in an upscale, Malay kampung village style. The Spa Villas built over the water (pictured at the top of this post) are reserved for guests over 16 years old, but the other guestrooms are available for families. Natural light filled the bathroom, and the marble tub was enormous. We were told to keep our sliding door locked if we weren't in our rooms because the monkeys could open them and knew exactly where the minibar was. Did we really want to pay for a simian wine party?

One of our Garden Villa rooms with a beautiful view.

The big reason to visit Pangkor Laut is to take advantage of their world class spa that offers treatments from all over Asia. I elected to enjoy a Balinese massage and thought it was the best I've ever had. There are plenty of options for couples and men, including the very manly Bukit Gantang Warrior Treatment. Alas, I left my man in charge of three kids at the beach while I relaxed at the spa.

What really sets Pangkor Laut apart is its Bath House Ritual that takes place before your spa treatment. Considering that I had skipped the shuttle and trekked through the jungle to get from the beach to the spa, I was quite happy to clean up before my massage. It starts out with a Chinese foot pounding historically used to ease the pain of bound feet. Then, they escort you to the dressing room where you change into a sarong. Toss a coin into a well and make a wish before you descend, sarong and all, into a cool Malay bath in a walled garden. With water pouring out of urns, it's quite invigorating. Climb out and inhale the herbal concoctions at four stations — Uplifting, Passion, Calming, and Detox. At the Japanese bath, scrub down with a goshi-goshi cloth then pour water over yourself with the dipper. As soon as you sink into the delightfully warm Rotenburu pool, someone serves you a cold cup of green tea. Is she waiting just around the corner for the moment you're ready? Next up is the Shanghai scrub. Lying down on a table, the attendant scrubs your back with a body brush then throws buckets of heated water over you. You'll feel like royalty with ladies-in-waiting. When it's done, select a dry, batik sarong to change into before your massage and to keep as a souvenir. After your spa treatment, feel free to use the open air shower before changing back into your regular clothes.

I've reached that odd point in life where I pay someone to pound my feet.

The beach at Emerald Bay on the other side of this private island is far prettier than the ones in Penang. During World War II it was the site of a daring submarine rescue of a British colonel who had been hiding in the Malay jungles. True to it's name, the water sparkled with a jewel green hue, and the quiet surf invited everyone young and old in to play. Although, hubby did say he had hoped for bigger waves. A small stand lended out snorkeling equipment and inner tubes, but they forewarned us that the water wasn't really clear enough for good aquatic viewing. At least there were plenty of lounge chairs and bar service.

Secluded Emerald Bay

If the spa and the beach aren't enough to keep you busy, you're welcome to try out some of the other activities. We didn't do any of the cruises but could see the boats setting sail. There are two pools including the one in Spa Village reserved for adults. The Water Activity shack offered kayaks, catamarans, and wakeboarding. It seemed that everyone was in the mood for chilling out because the tennis courts were empty every time we walked by. One morning, I dragged my family on the guided jungle walk which I thought was very informative. But I can just hear them telling their friends about it, "Then, she forced us to march through the jungle..." My favorite area is the Library. With lounges and a couple four-poster beds hung with gauzy linens, it invited us to relax with a good book (or do homework, as I made my kids do during their downtime).

Naturalist explains bird nest ferns on guided walk; Water Activities; Relaxing in the Library; Jungle trek

Food is the other highlight of Pangkor Laut. Since we had the kids with us, I didn't have a chance to try the adults-only restaurants. The breakfast buffet had many cooked-to-order dishes and even a juice bar. Just put the fruits you want liquified on a plate and bring them to the juice man. Since I'm a novice, I had no idea how many apples are needed to make a full glass and had to go back for more. At Uncle Lim's, listen to the waves crashing on rocks while enjoying Nyonya and Chinese Hockchew homestyle cooking. I highly recommend the soft shell crab and the garlic prawns. The open kitchen design at Feast Village invited guests to wander around watching various dishes being made. Their ice cream is some of the tastiest I've had in Malaysia that I didn't make myself.

Garlic Prawns at Uncle Lim's; dinner prep at Feast Village; Making Roti Jala for breakfast; Chapman's Bar by the beach

Pangkor Laut delivered on their promise of a relaxing getaway. Normally, I steer clear from any place advertised as "romantic" when the kids are coming along, but friends' previous visits assured me that it would be okay. They don't really cater to kids (no kids club or pool slides), but they made them feel welcome. Their policy of reserving certain areas for adults kept me from feeling that we were infringing on a couple's honeymoon.

Have I peaked your interest? Check out the Pangkor Laut website for information or if you're in the mood for a little more daydreaming. Just perusing the variety of spa treatments is fascinating. If you live in Malaysia or Singapore, take advantage of the meals-inclusive Resident's Package which is available to both locals and expats.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travellers Sandbox, Photo Friday at Delicious Baby, "Luxury Getways" at Zigazag, and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mystery Fruit #3: Passion Fruit

Mystery Fruit #3

At first glance, I thought it was a Gala Apple or perhaps a Dinosour Egg pluot.  But it was perfectly round, about the size of a tennis ball, and not apple-shaped in the least. The wet market man told me it was a Passion Fruit. All the pictures I had seen of passion fruit were of the wrinkly skinned, dark purple variety, so this beautiful specimen was a bit of a revelation to me. In Texas, I only had it as part of a tropical fruit punch from a bottle at the grocery store. On our visit to Hawaii a couple summers ago, I enjoyed passion fruit (called lilikoi there) in salad dressings, jams, and syrups drizzled over shaved ice. This was my chance to have one fresh!

Sometimes, I play "Guess What It Looks Like Inside" with myself. Before cutting open a mystery fruit and taking a bite, I try to guess what I'll see after slicing through it. Umm... I didn't expect to find this.

Passion Fruit

The thick, outer rind surrounded a big glob of slippery, yellow pearls of fruity flesh encasing each individual, dark seed. I'll admit that the first thing that came to my mind was Frog Eggs.

Scooping out a spoonful, I slurped it up, seeds and all.  It was tart but sweet and tasted like the tropics, kind of like pineapple but not exactly. I've been eating them straight out of the rind but mean to start mixing them into my morning yogurt.

One interesting tidbit I came across is that the name has nothing to do with libido. Instead, it's a reference to the Passion of Christ. From Wikipedia:

The name was given by missionaries because the parts of the flower seemed reminiscent of the torture (the Passion) of Christ prior to his crucifixion:
  • The three stigmas reflect the three nails in Jesus's hands and feet.
  • The threads of the passion flower resemble the Crown of Thorns.
  • The vine's tendrils are likened to the whips.
  • The five anthers represented the five wounds.
  • The ten petals and sepals regarded to resemble the Apostles (excluding Judas and Peter).
  • The purple petals representing the purple robe used to mock Jesus' claim to kingship (Mt. 27:28)
Related Posts:
Mystery Fruit #1: Ciku
Mystery Fruit #2: Elixir of Immortality
Mystery Fruit #4: Mangosteen
Mystery Fruit #5: Dragonfruit


Holiday Home Times Interview

Wonders of wonders, people other than just my mother read this blog. The good folks over at Holiday Home Times stumbled across my ramblings and decided to interview me about expat life in Penang. (If you haven't figured it out yet, I am really enjoying myself.) Holiday Home Times features news, tips, and articles for holiday homeowners, investors, retirees, and vacationers in Asia.

Check out my interview that covers everything from tourist destinations, nightlife, and dining to real estate and retiring in beautiful Penang, the Pearl of the Orient.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The 10,000 Torii Gates of Kyoto's Fushimi-Inari Shrine

Every gate is donated, and each one is marked with the donor's name and date of contribution.

When I began planning our trip to Japan last spring, I asked the advice of my dear cousin, Sandra, who had visited there recently. She wrote back,
"There are vending machines for drinks everywhere!!! Like literally everywhere. In the middle of tiny alleyways and right next to people's driveways. So it's good to have coins handy. Loved the green tea ice cream. I think I ate that everyday I was there. "

She also recommended Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto. As soon as I saw the pictures, I instantly recognized it from one of my favorite scenes in Memoirs of a Geisha when young Sayuri runs through them. Thousands of vermilion torii gates line pathways stretching from behind the shrine's main ground upwards into the wooded hills of sacred Mount Inari. It immediately went on my Must-See List.

Getting there was quite easy. It's across the street from the JR Inari Station, a couple stops from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line. We reached it just an hour before dark and found the place quiet with only a few visitors milling around.

Enter through a giant torii gate and then the Romon Gate (donated in 1589).

Stone foxes, messengers of the gods, sit next to the gate watching over a woman dressed in a traditional kimono.

Fox face ema tablets offer up wishes and prayers to spirits and gods.

Two paths, two boys

The dense rows of gates occasionally stop, giving you a view of Kyoto.

Perhaps this young bride is practicing her walk down the aisle.

We had to turn around before reaching the summit since dusk was beginning to settle on the city. I'm so glad my family went, and I'm thankful that Sandra's suggestion led us there.

Sadly, Sandra was suddenly taken from us last weekend. Other than liking each other's Instagram posts, her Kyoto trip recommendation sent six months ago was the last time we communicated. My memories of Fushimi-Inari Shrine are now tinged with sorrow. Even though justice will surely be served, it can't change that she's gone from this earth. But I take solace in knowing that our feet walked on the same pathways and that we both found joy in the experience. I love you Sandra.

Related Post:
Kyoto Station is Enchanted

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, Photo Friday at Delicious Baby, Travel Bucket List Wednesdays at Latin Abroad, and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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