Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Look Back Around the Globe in 2014

This Christmas finds me at my parents' house. In all my years of traveling, being married, having my own family, and living overseas, I almost always seem to find myself in my childhood home during the holidays. In fact, I've only been away from my mama on Christmas once in my entire life. No matter how far away I go, I also come full circle and end up where I began.

What a year it's been. Here's a look back at our 2014.

Orlando, Florida — Walt Disney World and Universal Studios

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Visiting Disney World during the off season is a dream come true for hubby. We honeymooned here decades ago in June when it was hot, humid and crowded. You may find it hard to believe, but the kids have never missed a single hour of school due to traveling. With that family policy in place, hitting Florida theme parks when the crowds are low is difficult. This year was finally our big chance because school didn't resume until mid-January. Score!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Live from New York

The Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan 

I've walked through the streets of New York City a thousand times. I've traveled on its subways and hailed taxis from the curb. I've caught a summer breeze on the fire escape of my Brooklyn walk up and sat on the steps of my Brownstone watching kids skip rope. I've spent weeks strolling down  the avenue gazing in store windows at a divine pair of Jimmy Choo shoes and meeting my gal friends for brunch. I've lined up for meals and desserts at all kinds of restaurants from the posh to dives.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flashback to Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Hubby has been traveling internationally since he was a youngster. In the summer of 1976, his family took a trip to Berlin, both East and West sides. The city was still more than a decade away from being reunified. Today Google Doodle marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminded me of those old family photos.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Penang's colonial past at the Old Protestant Cemetery

Walking through the tombstones of the the Old Protestant Cemetery provides an interesting peek into Penang's colonial past. In use from 1789 to 1892, the people laid to rest on this hallowed ground represent a sampling of the expat groups that called Prince of Wales Island, as Penang was known back then, their home.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Free Trip to Europe

Where in Europe would you love to go?

Where would you go if you won a free, all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in Europe? Yes, anywhere. Ten days — flights, trains, hotels and meals all paid for. You even get a little spending money. Wouldn't you be beyond excited at this opportunity to travel without spending a dime out of your own pocket?

The contest rules were:

  • Enter by suggesting a destination
  • Present a  proposal of five sites to visit or things to do while on the trip.
  • Destinations will be ranked by all the contestants plus the people funding and organizing the trip.
  • Winner will be the top ranking destination.
  • Contestants must be under 18 years old. 
Best of all, contestants are guaranteed a spot on the winning trip even if theirs is not picked.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wild Color and Good Eats on Burano

If Venice is like a masquerade ball, mysterious and opulent, then Burano is like a backyard picnic, festive and full of simple pleasures. 

We spent one of our days in Venice exploring the outlying lagoon islands. After a long morning looking at hand blown glass in Murano, we again board the vaporetto water bus for the 30 minute journey to Burano, an island known for its lace making and fishing. Even from far away, I couldn't help noticing the wildly vivid colors of the houses standing out against a brilliant blue sky. Fishermen's wives supposedly painted their homes like this so their husbands could see them while out at sea. I certainly could. What comfort these bright buildings must have provided on a foggy day, acting as a visual tether for the fishermen as they went out on their boats for their daily catch. The leaning tower of San Martino Church rises up above the rooftops and acts as a landmark you can see from all around the village.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Art for the Masses on Murano, the Island of Glass

Sweat drips down his forehead as he stands at the mouth of the furnace, evenly rotating the metal rod to gather molten glass on its end. Turning towards us, he carries the rod with its blob of gooey glass over to the table and rolls it back and forth, back and forth. Bringing the hollow rod to his lips, his cheeks bulge as he blows mightily, and the glass bubbles outwards. Back into the furnace it goes. The man does this repeatedly, sometimes rolling the hot glass in bits of colored glass to make it more vividly hued or pulling out points and curves with tweezers. When this piece is done, he pulls it off the rod and puts it in a controlled temperature oven which will slowly cool it down to room temperature.

Vitae by Denise Germin

Watching craftsmen create hand blown glass is one of the top reasons that my son proposed Italy as our summer vacation destination. Frankly, this took me by surprise because it has nothing to do with either Pokemon or Minecraft. You never know where you'll end up if you put a kid in charge.

We take a short ferry ride across the lagoon from Venice to Murano which is the center of Venetian glassmaking. Back in 1291, these craftsmen were forced to move to Murano because Venetians were worried that flames from the fiery furnaces would consume their town. For centuries after that, Murano was the main producer of glass for all of Europe.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Explore Venice by Boat

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore across the lagoon from St. Mark's Square

I realize that exploring Venice by boat isn't exactly a revolutionary suggestion. None of you are reading this title and thinking, "Boat, huh? Who would have thought? That's something new." I may as well be suggesting that as long as you're in Egypt, go and see the pyramids. If you go to Antarctica, make sure you bring a coat. On the surface, it's not exactly from the trenches travel advice. But in case if you've never been, you may be wondering about some of the details. That's why I included a few choice tips.

The most natural introduction to this city, once one of the most opulent in the world, is the backwards S-shaped Grand Canal that cuts through this collection of islands surrounded by a marshy lagoon. As the main thoroughfare for centuries, this waterway is lined by one magnificent palace after another. Most were built between the 13th and 18th centuries. My head seemed to be constantly swiveling back and forth trying to take in all the sights on both shores along its more than 2 mile route. Built on wood pilings driven downwards 15 feet into the clay and facing the constant threat of being flooded by high tide, these stone buildings were a far cry from the wooden huts on stilts I had seen on Southeast Asian lakes and rivers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Postcards from an Afternoon Stroll in Rome

The first time I visited Rome was part of a whirlwind, seven-countries-in-two-weeks bus tour. Needless to say, we did not spend much time in Rome, and much of what I saw was looking out the bus window. Upon returning this last summer with kids and hubby in tow, I realized that Rome is a place that is best savored leisurely and on foot, preferably with a gelato in hand.

After landing in the morning and enjoying our first, authentic meal in Rome — pasta, of course — we let the kids pick our starting point for exploring the city. Considering that our stroll was not planned out in minute detail as is my usual modus operandi, we see a breadth of sites in one afternoon. Perhaps it's because in Rome, you can't go wrong. Anywhere you turn, there's something to see.

The Pantheon

Light streams in from the hole in the Pantheon's domed ceiling.

First up was The Pantheon. My daughter has been intrigued by it ever since reading Lonely Planet Not-for-Parents: Rome that's aimed at kids. From the outside, this two thousand year old building looks like a Greek temple. Eight grand columns hold up a triangular pediment. Step inside, and what immediately grabs your attention is the massive dome which happens to be the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. With all the marvels of modern engineering, I'm amazed that the record has yet to be broken. The only light inside the building streams down from the 8 meter (26 foot) wide oculus or hole in the center of the dome. At mid-day with the sun nearly overhead, the large room is flooded with light. Small holes in the floor drain off any rainwater that falls in through the hole.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Moments Immortalized in Stone

Walking through the Galleria Borghese in Rome, you will marvel at its collection of classical and Baroque statues. The sculptors drew their inspiration from mythology and the Bible. David with his eyes intensely focused on Goliath and his arms pulled back to hurl that stone? Check. Apollo chasing Daphne while she turns into a tree rather than be his gal? Check.

Sculpture at the Galleria Borghese, Rome

Then there's this. It's a bit of a less grand subject. I shall call it "Something is Stuck in my Foot."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Villa Borghese: Enjoy the Outdoors in Rome

Rome, park, rowboats
Taking a row in the lake surrounding the Temple of Aesculapius

Most tourists head to Rome for the ancient sites, churches, and charming but narrow streets. When you've had enough and just need a breath of fresh air and open space, head to Villa Borghese. This 148 acre park near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo is the perfect place to run free and enjoy the outdoors in Rome, especially for kids. For centuries, it has been an oasis of greenery in a bustling metropolis.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Discovering Art with Kids at Galleria Borghese

Galleria Borghese
Apollo and Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1625)

While visiting the Vatican Museum is de rigueur for any trip to Rome, I must confess that my family much preferred the art experience at Galleria Borghese. This private house turned public art gallery is located in the sprawling and verdant Villa Borghese park which itself has a ton of fun activities for kids like bicycles, rowboats, a zoo and a carousel.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When in Rome... Learn to Fight at Gladiator School

Learning the art of gladiator fighting

Wandering around the Colosseum in Rome, you try to imagine what it must have been like in ancient days. The roar of the crowds. The clanging of swords. Being swept up in the excitement of a gladiator fight. Would you be brave enough to enter that arena and battle it out? No need to just imagine it. Head out to the Gruppo Storico Romano (Historical Roman Group)'s Gladiator School on the Ancient Appian Way, don a tunic, pick up your weapon, and learn to fight.

The few hours we spent at Gladiator School were easily the kids' favorite part of our trip to Rome. They loved that they were actually doing  something, not just looking at old buildings. (They must have also wondered why the same mom that keeps telling them to quit arguing was happily snapping photos as they thumped on each other in front of an audience.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Contemporary Art at the Vatican Museum

"Hey, you're not supposed to be in there. Don't touch that!"

Not exactly words you want to hear when visiting the Vatican Museum.

Vatican Museum, Arnaldo Pomodoro
Sphere within a Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro

It all began when we walked into the museum's Courtyard of the Pinecone after buying our tickets. In the middle of the courtyard surrounded by classical architecture sat a huge, golden sphere. It almost looked like a DeathStar under construction or a globe in the process of shedding its layers. Creation or destruction? I couldn't tell what was going on. So, I asked our tour guide, an art historian with Context Travel specializing in family tours, what in the world I was looking at.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ice Cream is the Cure for Jet Lag

I am overwhelmed right now trying to get the kids registered in three different schools. I've been flipping through my travel photos for the last hour trying to figure out what to write about this week. I'm in one of those dour moods where nothing looks interesting. Tibet? Not interesting. Disney World? Not interesting? Stuffing my mouth with snack food? Totally interesting.

Instead of getting up and raiding my pantry which is what I really want to do, I'll just reminisce about a fabulous ice cream treat I had in Rome. (Pssst... I actually always want ice cream, even when things are going perfectly fine.) Specifically, I am dreaming of tartufo from Tre Scalini in Rome's Piazza Navona.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Don't Believe Everything You Read on Facebook

Last week, two things happened to me.

I celebrated my birthday.

I am now solidly, right smack in my mid-40s. I can't claim "early-40s" or "just past my 30s" any more. Without a doubt, I am middle-aged. 

I will admit that I've been feeling a bit... well... old

At least I've managed to dodge that whole Midlife Crisis bit. In my 40s, I've found fresh interests and excitement while staying happily married and avoiding any crazy stunts or purchases of convertible automobiles. 

I'm feeling kind of old, but I like the life I've led so far. 

And, oh yeah, something bizarre happened.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Penang's Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Golden chedi and a brilliant hued Naga statue

I have many fond memories of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Penang. This Thai temple's curvy, golden chedi tower looms over Kelawai Road, one of the main thoroughfares up to where I lived on the island. When we first moved to Malaysia, I would tell myself, "I don't think we're in Kansas Texas, anymore," each time I drove past it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

7 Mondays

For the past seven weeks, we've been a very busy, globetrotting family.  Life and the whole world have been going by so fast that I feel like I've been spinning around and around with arms outstretched and my face turned upwards toward the sun. I've dizzily collapsed on the grass and lie in the field but everything still seems to be moving. I'm at that point where you relax and lay still, trying to recover your equilibrium while the memory of everything you've just experienced still shines brightly in your mind.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dreams Come True in Venice

Gondola ride along Venice's Grand Canal

I first visited Venice when I was almost 20 years old. Back then, I left with two regrets. I never rode in a gondola, and we took a daytrip from the mainland instead of actually staying in Venice. There was also a garbage collector strike going on which lent a rather rubbishy aroma drifting around the famous canals. Upon my return to this watery city — older and with more money to spend — I was determined to not walk away a second time thinking of what might have been.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I'm a Cover Model!

Something really unexpected happened the last few weeks that we were in Penang. I got an email from Expatriate Lifestyle, a glossy print magazine in Malaysia, asking the kids and I to be on the cover of their July 2014 issue. A sane person in the midst of ending the school year, preparing to visit the Philippines and Italy, AND moving the household across the ocean that month might have replied, "Sorry, I'm busy." I am not a sane person as my hubby will attest. He constantly tells me, "You're crazy," to which I retort, "Well, you married me. So, who's the crazy one?"

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Love is in the Air: Wedding Photos from All Over

One of the best things about traveling around the world is finding love. I already have my own true love, so I'm not on the lookout for someone for myself. What I enjoy stumbling upon is other couples having their wedding portraits done. Whenever I see a bride and groom, I'm sure to whip out the camera and snap a photo.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Just outside of Angkor Wat

Sorrento, Italy

Stepping out of the car on their way to their wedding reception.

Beijing, China

Temple of Heaven
I'm assuming this is a fashion shoot. 

Paris, France

On the banks of the Seine

Chagall painting at the Pompidou Centre

Kyoto, Japan

At Fushimi-Inari shrine famous for its thousands of torii gates

Venice, Italy

Whizzing down a canal on a speed boat

Austin, Texas, USA

The henna decorated hands of my Indian friend
This couple has had 2 babies since I moved to Malaysia. I can't wait to get to know their girls.

Isn't love grand?

This post is part of the following link ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Farewell to Penang

We are moving back to Texas. As I write this, the movers are here packing up my belongings for the sloooow boat ride back to America. On Friday, I'll lock the door behind me, get on a plane, and say goodbye to the place that I've called home for the last three years. My husband will return on business trips, but I have no idea when, if ever, the kids and I will come back to Penang. It's a long way, and the company will no longer be paying for the airfare.

Seeing how much the island has changed in just the short while that we've been here, I know that it will be a different place in the future. A little more polished. A few more highrises. A few more malls. I'll never come back to Penang as it is at this exact moment in time. My local friends may still be here. My expat friends will have most likely moved on.

Living in Malaysia and all the travel that we've done has been such a learning experience and broadened my mind. I feel like there's been an explosive growth of brain synapses that hasn't occurred since I was a young child exploring the world anew.

I originally created this blog as a way to update "in real life" friends and family about our time as expats. About our fish-out-of-water experiences. It turned into something more public and enabled me to meet people in the virtual world. Astonishingly, it's lead to being able to legitimately call myself a professional writer. Because of this blog, freelance opportunities have fallen into my lap.

But the real audience that I write for is something more narcissistic. I'm writing this blog to me. The me from four years ago. The me that I was as I prepared to move. The me that was so worried and depressed about the great unknown that was Malaysia. Mothering in Malaysia? Daily life in Malaysia? Could I do it? Was I strong enough? Would I end up resenting my husband and the job that took us here? The job that brought a sparkle to his eyes.

I'm writing this blog to the old me and to anyone else who frets about moving to Malaysia. I want to send it back through a time portal to tell myself not to worry so much and that life here can be fantastic. Yes, it has its challenges, but the pros outweigh the cons.

It's a great launching pad for travel. Hop on a plane for a few hours, and you end up in a place with a very different culture and history. While I also enjoy traveling in the United States, there's a certain "Anywhere, USA" aspect wherever you go. The same Wal-Marts. The same Targets. Most of the time in America, I don't look out the window and marvel at the exotic lives of the regular people passing by. I enjoy visiting the landmarks, but I don't find myself wanting to simply soak up the culture.

I will miss the company paying for some of our airfare as is commonplace with many corporate expat packages. When someone offers you money that is earmarked solely for airfare, and it's a "use it or lose it" situation, you should definitely use it!

I will definitely miss Malaysia. It will always hold a cherished place in my heart. Here's a look back at some of the wonderful things I am going to find lacking when I move back to America.

Street Art — There is public art everywhere in George Town.

Monkeys — Once I am back in Texas, I can romanticize monkeys instead of finding them to be thieving ruffians as I currently do.

School Field Trips — We visit amazing places around town like the Reclining Buddha Temple with its golden stupa and jewel-like naga statues.

Trishaws — I have a love-hate relationship with trishaws. They are such an iconic part of George Town that I bought professional photos of them, but getting stuck driving behind one totally sucks.

Festivals - With a mix of Malay Muslim, Indian Hindu, and Chinese cultures, there's always seems to be an interesting festival going on. I will never forget Thaipusum and the accompanying body piercings, but I won't post a photo here in case if you are the queasy type. The water fights at the Thai and Burmese temples during Songkran are also a stand out. Night after night of fireworks for Chinese New Year were a literal eye opener as it is impossible to sleep early during this multi-week celebration. Here's a photo from Loy Krathong when I and hundreds of other people floated candle lit lotus blooms out on the water.

Heritage Bungalows — Many of these gorgeous, old mansions are a leftover from the period when Penang was a British colony. They seemed to have been mostly built by the rich British residents or wealthy Straits Chinese merchants. This one is on Gurney Drive surrounded by high-rise condominiums. The family hasn't lived here for ages but are so wealthy that they've refused all offers to buy.

Shophouses — If the heritage bungalows belong to the elite, the shophouses belong to the commoners. I enjoy wandering around George Town's UNESCO World Heritage area and looking at all the shophouses. Armenian Street is my favorite place to explore, although I think it's getting more touristy by the second.

Living by the water — Penang is an island, and I've been so fortunate that the company has put us up in a beach-side place with an amazing view of the water. I cannot believe that I get to wake up, look out the window, and see this.

Water activities — So much happens on the water, too. From our condo, I can see fishing boats and parasailers, jet skis and sailboats. My boys have tried open water kayaking. A cruise on a yacht or catamaran is a great way to see the island especially at sunset. Whenever I look at this picture, I will think back at the happy times spent with friends in Penang.

Hawker Food — One of the things Penang is most famous for is its food. You know that tip about living frugally by not eating out? It doesn't apply in Penang. You can get a delicious meal that's both filling and inexpensive at hawker stalls. Sometimes, it costs less than making it yourself. All this is just US$4.

Drive-up Fruit Stalls — Drive-thrus are difficult to find in Penang. There's not one for a bank as far as I can tell. Only a few of the McDonald's have drive-thrus. What you can find all over the place is drive-up fruit stalls. You don't have to get out of your car if you don't want to, and you can still head home with healthy eats.

What I will miss most about Penang is the slow pace of life. An abundance of free time is what enabled me to do so much exploring. I spent most of my last decade in Texas being a stay-at-home mom to young kids. Whoever thinks that life is easy is nuts. Every morning when I woke up, I felt like I was jumping on a treadmill and sprinting through the day, trying not to fall down but getting nowhere. There was always so much to get done. As a trailing spouse in Malaysia, that's not the case.

I wonder what life will be like when I move back to Texas. Some of my friends who have already repatriated tell me that their life in Penang just seems like a dream, like it couldn't possibly been real. I'm hoping to keep up this spirit of exploration I've developed and turn it towards reintroducing myself to a town that I previously called home for two decades. It's time to leave Malaysia, and whatever the future may hold, I'm ready to catch a new wave.

P.S. You haven't heard the last of me. This blog will keep going, but I'm going to have to think of a more apropos name now that I'm no longer meandering around Malaysia.

This post is part the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Penang Homecooking Class with Pearly Kee

Pearly Kee, Nyonya

I first met Pearly a year ago at her last-Saturday-of-the-month dinner when she invites the public into her home and nourishes them with both food and tales of growing up in Penang.  She's a guru of Nyonya cuisine, the intermingling of Chinese food with the spices of the tropics and hints of Indian and Malay flavors. It was fusion before fusion was trendy. Now, I wanted to learn how to cook these generations-old dishes in my own kitchen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tiananmen Square, I will not forget you

Tiananmen Square. What comes to mind? Chinese patriotism and a longing to see the national flag raised at sunrise? An image of a lone man bravely standing as the sole blockade against a row of advancing tanks?

Tiananmen Square: Monument to People's Heroes and the Great Hall of the People 

Twenty-five years ago, I was a university student working in a microbiology laboratory in Houston, Texas. Three of my labmates were Chinese graduate students who were closely attuned to the pro-democracy movement taking place in Beijing. Knowing that they would one day return to their home country and with so many of the protesters being university students their own age, possibly friends, the topic came up day after day as we did our experiments.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fujiya Hotel: East meets West in the midst of Hakone National Park

What do you picture when you think of a Japanese inn near a popular hot spring? Perhaps a ryokan with tatami mats on the floor and sliding door panels made of rice paper stretched taut across black wood frames? Sure, I would have loved to stay at one of those during our family trip back in April 2012. But with my rambunctious kids, I knew that we were one "Look at me. I'm a Samurai" game away from coughing up a ton of money to pay for ripped mats and torn door panels.

Hakone, Japan
The Flower Palace at the Fujiya Hotel

Instead, we finished off our day visting Mount Fuji and Hakone National Park by spending the night at the Fujiya Hotel. Frommer's Travel Guide describes it as
"quite simply the grandest, most majestic old hotel in Hakone; indeed, it might be the loveliest historic hotel in Japan."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Beauty and Renewal at Butchart Gardens

Life's been a little crazy for me lately. Change is afoot. The school year is winding down to an end. For some reason, the 5th Grade will now have Physical Education daily for the rest of the year, greatly increasing either the laundry load or the the stink-o-meter reading if my child re-wears his uniform without washing. My youngest child's birthday is coming up, and I'm starting to wallow in sentimentality. This is the last year I'll have a kid with an age in the single digits. My oldest is just shy of hitting 6 feet (2 meters) tall. Where has the time gone?

I'm thinking back to our big summer trip of 2007. It was significant for a number of reasons. This was our first family vacation with 3 kids purely for fun, not to visit relatives. It was also the first time we traveled internationally as a family, making the trek from Texas to Canada. I also remember what a nervous traveling mama I was back then and realize how much easier it comes to me now that I have miles under my belt. Canada seems like a piece of cake compared to Tibet.

Butchart Gardens is an inspiration for the Canada Pavilion at EPCOT in Walt Disney World

Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island was one of my favorite stops. I really wish I could get my yard to look like this.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

10 Photos of Tibet through a Car Window

It's taken me a while to write about our family trip to Tibet back in October. A multitude of images flood my mind when I reflect back on our visit. There are the ones you would expect of towering mountains and peaceful monks. Buddhist temples and praying peasants. You know what I mean. The postcard shots.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Khoo Kongsi: The Finest Clanhouse outside China

clanhouse, Penang, George Town
Gazing up at the Khoo Khongsi's Upper Level

Moving to a new country can be an overwhelming challenge and having family there that you can rely on eases the transition and provides community. That's the case now, and it was even more true in the pre-internet days when long distance communication was harder. Because of Confucianism, Chinese culture has a big emphasis on filial piety (i.e. respect for one's parents and ancestors) and by extension, supporting the family clan. Historically, Chinese who immigrated to a new country settled down where their clan had already begun establishing roots so that they wouldn't be alone. Within each Chinatown, clan associations sprouted up to serve as a benevolent organization for family members.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kids Cooking School in Penang

Makers Shakers BakersMakers Shakers Bakers is a cooking school for kids and adults that recently opened for business in Tanjung Bungah Hillside. Cooking is an important skill to learn right up there with reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Teach your kids how to cook when they are young, and they'll be capable of feeding themselves something more elaborate than sandwiches or instant noodle soup when they finally become independent and move out. If you're really lucky, they'll be such fast learners that you can start delegating the family meals to them while they're still in the house. One of my boys has practically memorized the Ben & Jerry's Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and can make it without any help. The day when I realized that I could sit back and order my offspring to make me homemade ice cream was a rather awesome day.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

School Field Trips Malaysia-style

Do you remember your school field trips from your childhood? Those stand out moments of the academic year when your class explored what your town had to offer. It was like a mini-vacation for a day. If you normally walked to school, this was your chance to ride the big, yellow school bus. Make sure your parents sign the permission slip. No homework the night before. Bring a sack lunch. And always stay with your buddy!

school field trip, Malaysia
Middle School students go white water rafting in Malaysia with Nomad Adventure
Photo credit: Nomad Adventure

My kids have been on some rather incredible field trips since we've moved to Penang. Time after time, I keep thinking, "This would never happen in Texas."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Learning by Playing in Penang at Kidland

Penang, kids activities
Putting out the fire

The moment I heard about KidLand opening in Penang, I immediately knew my daughter would love it. Various activity centers let kids play at adult careers such as being a firefighter or scientist. Staff members guide children through each of the activities to ensure that they get the maximum educational experience instead of just running around randomly. All the while, the kids are having fun, fun, fun. It's the same concept as the popular KidZania in Kuala Lumpur except without all the corporate sponsorship and advertising.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Family Trip Tips: Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia with Kids

Ta Prohm
The kids explore Ta Prohm - The Tomb Raider temple

Siem Reap, Cambodia is #9 on TripAdvisor's 2014 Travelers' Choice Destinations in the World. Planning our trip was easy since so many expat families in Penang visit there that I could pick up a ton of suggestions while hanging out at the school playground. Knowing that many friends had successful family trips to Angkor Wat and surrounding attractions appeased any worries I had about taking the kids to such an exotic location in a developing country. In case if you don't have a cadre of travelers to Cambodia available to you, here are their ideas.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chiang Mai's Golden Temple on the Hill

Wat Phra That is the crown jewel of Chiang Mai's temples. Perched high above the city on the summit of Doi Suthep mountain, most tourists refer to is as "Wat Doi Suthep." Its signature golden spire and filigree umbrellas glitter in the sunlight, and the surrounding temple complex is filled with gorgeous, intricate Lanna art and architecture.

Chiang Mai, Golden temple

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Who's the Fairest of them All?

Sunny beaches and tropical breezes. That's Penang for you. For most Westerners, one of the best souvenirs of a stay on the island is a bronze glow, a golden tan, and the potential for skin cancer. Not so for the locals. In Malaysia, as well as much of Asia, being fair and white is the preferred complexion.

It's as if a culture's beauty standards purposely mess with people's minds by idealizing the hardest attribute to attain. Most Malays and Indians have medium to dark skin. Beauty ads here tempt them to make it fairer. Most white people are...well... white. The beauty ideal for them in the West is tan.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chiang Mai Sunday Market

Another Spring Break is upon me, and I have yet to finish telling you about last year's Spring Break in Chiang Mai, Thailand... or even Spring Break from 2 years ago in Japan. I'm wondering where next year's Spring Break will find me.

The very first thing we did in Chiang Mai was the Sunday Market to get a feel for the town. We hopped in a songtow and took a ride to the Old City which is surrounded by a fortified wall.  Granted, the busy Starbucks where the driver dropped us off didn't really scream "exotic Southeast Asia," but once we crossed Tha Phae Gate, the feeling of I-could-be-anywhere dropped away, and the ambiance of Chiang Mai wrapped itself around us.

Chiang Mai Old City
Looking out at the New City through Tha Phae Gate

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Rat the Size of a Toddler and other Australian Animal Lessons

I had really meant to bring the kids to a zoo much earlier in our visit to Australia. As it was, we never got around to it until our very last full day when we found ourselves with some time to spare before our flight-that-wasn't-to-beKangaroo Island Wildlife Park (called the Parndana Wildlife Park at the time of our visit in January 2013) seemed like the perfect place to check off one final item on our Australian Wish List.

And what a visit it was! It was highly educational. Here are some of my favorite photos.

Lesson 1: Is that a rat the size of a toddler?

Kangaroo Island, Australia
What a gigantic white rat! Or is it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Prayers of Hope for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Normally, I post some fantastic travel story on Thursdays, or I show you a little more about Malaysia where I now live. Many people in the USA where I am from are unfamiliar with Malaysia, and it's been a bit of a mission for me to educate the world about what Malaysia is like. Now, Malaysia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons, and I can't bring myself to write a jolly post for the week.

As I'm sure you know, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished on Saturday night during a red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Five days later, no trace of the plane has been found. My last few travel posts have been about my own family's trip from Malaysia to Beijing last October, albeit on a different airline. I can't help identifying with the passengers on that plane. I'm sure that the same question has crossed other travelers minds. What if I had been on that flight?

Beijing, China
Memories of our own trip from Malaysia to Beijing

I remember when my parents were visiting Europe and scheduled to fly home on September 12, 2001. I got the days mixed up and thought that they were flying home on September 11. When the attacks on the World Trade Center began, I vividly remember calling their phone in Texas and leaving a frantic message on the answering machine. "Are you home? Did you get home? Do not get on a plane!" They probably couldn't understand me; I was so hysterical. What if my family or friends were on a missing flight?

Wednesday night's update in a string of sometimes confusing and contradicting reports indicate that an unidentified blip was caught on military radar 200 km northwest of Penang at roughly the time that MH 370 disappeared. Could it be the missing aircraft? Did it turn back towards Kuala Lumpur? The search area has expanded from the east coast of Malaysia over the the west coast and the Andaman Sea that surrounds Penang. No, I have not seen any search planes or boats. Penang is in a heavy shipping lane and populated enough that someone would have noticed if the plane went down within sight of the island, so the rescuers are focusing on the vast expanse of water instead. Still, I cannot help looking out my windows to the Straits of Malacca spread out before me in hopes of spotting something   a life raft, fragments, or, God willing, the whole entire plane floating by.

Looking out from Penang towards the mainland
Looking out at the Straits of Malacca, waiting and searching

There has been an outpouring of support from the people of Malaysia. Radio stations broadcast people's phoned-in messages of hope for the missing plane between songs. A local mall is holding a paper crane origami event on Thursday and Friday. They aim to offer up 5000 cranes, 5000 wishes, and 5000 prayers for the 239 passengers and crew members. University students stood near the flight path of planes taking off from Penang International Airport holding up signs that proclaimed, "Pray for MH370."

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilot of the missing flight, attended Penang Free School. Over a thousand teachers and students there gathered to pray. The Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs went off to separate areas in the school to supplicate their respective god(s) for the plane's safe return.

As is typical in this day and age, people expect total transparency and updates on the search and rescue efforts. News updates are given over the local radio every 30 minutes. The New Straits Times website adds multiple new articles an hour with all the latest information. Sometimes it's about area fishermen pledging to do everything they can to help with the search and rescue mission. A group found a badly damaged life raft floating 10 nautical miles from Port Dickson on the west coast of Malaysia on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it sank while being transferred on board the boat operated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Other times, it's about family members of the missing losing control of their emotions and giving in to grief and despair.

The locals I know are upset about how the government seems to be bungling the search and rescue operation. They had hoped that this emergency would give Malaysia a chance to shine and demonstrate its capabilities in the world. Instead, they've come up with nothing. The Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's House of Representatives) has gone from observing a moment of silence in honor of the missing flight to members of the opposition party accusing officials of mishandling the incident and calling for the Prime Minister and Acting Transport Minister to present themselves to the next day's session to provide an explanation.

In the end, what everyone wants to find out is where is the plane. We hope that somehow the passengers and crew are safe. That six days out, this story will have a happy ending. That's what I'm praying for.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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