Thursday, June 28, 2012


Greetings from the hospital. I'm not really supposed to be here, but I am. I was meant to fly to Sumatra yesterday. I was looking forward to the husband going away for business and was going to use the opportunity to do something he's not overly keen on: going trekking and hopefully seeing orangutans in the wild. Right now I should be sitting on the balcony of the tree house I'd booked watching wildlife along the river. Instead I'm lying in a hospital bed waiting for the doctor to stop by and tell me what is wrong.

I am trying to look on the bright side. It's a really good thing that this happened before I went to Sumatra or I would have been stuck in a village four hours from the nearest city in a place where I know nothing about the standard of healthcare. The hospital I'm in is pretty nice and I can't complain (hooray for my own room). I'm truly touched by the number of friends who have dropped everything to come spend time with me. I'm disappointed, but it really is all for the best.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A photo tour of Phnom Penh

Over the weekend we headed up to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, in celebration of our 5th Anniversary. With that trip, I have officially started making headway into my list of places in South East Asia I most want to see while we're here.  It was the perfect starting point.  If the rest of the list is half as interesting as Phnom Penh I've got some fantastic adventures in store.

Phnom Penh turned out to be a great choice for a weekend getaway from KL.  It's only a two hour flight, but it seems more like a world away.  Instead of skyscrapers and modern buildings as far as the eye can see we were met with a lovely melange of new construction and Khmer and French colonial architecture in colors so vibrant that they were almost overstimulating.  Around nearly every corner was something worth seeing; be it a wat, an old building, or someone hanging out their washing to dry.  I could (and did) spend an entire day just wandering Phnom Pehn's streets and relaxing in its cafes along the river watching the world go by.

The best part of it all?  The whole weekend, including flights and hotel, ended up costing us what we would have spent had we stayed in KL and gone out with friends.  Seriously.  We had a great three course French meal and bottle of wine for the what the bottle of wine alone would have cost here.  Let's face it, alcohol in Malaysia isn't cheap and it's hard to compete with dollar draughts.  Phnom Penh is definitely worth exploring if you're looking for a weekend getaway from Kuala Lumpur. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

KL Friday: Tea Time

Various Teas by Petr Kratochvil

The effects of imperialism still linger throughout South East Asia.  In the former Indochina, the long-standing presence of the French manifests itself in some pretty amazing breads.  In former British holdings like Malaysia it rears its head in the afternoon: tea time, to be exact.

If you're looking for a nice relaxing and social afternoon, there is no shortage of restaurants in the city offering afternoon tea, complete with tiered trays of finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries.

There are so many places for tea that I'm still in the process of exploring them and the following is by no means exhaustive.  In fact, if you have more suggestions, please let me know.  I'm always on the lookout for a good tea shop. 

TWG Tea:  A trip to TWG used to be on our must-do list whenever we were in Singapore.  Thankfully they've now opened a shop in Pavilion Mall here in KL so I can sample their teas without a four hour drive.  If you enjoy tea you will not regret checking it out. v With over 450 varieties, their tea list has more depth than most wine lists and leaves nothing to be desired.  Afternoon tea with a selection of all you can eat pastries, scones, and petit fours is served Monday-Friday 2:00-6:00 for 38 MYR a person.  

Delicious:  With several locations around KL, there should always be one close by.  I haven't tried their afternoon tea myself, but I've been tempted to every time I've seen someone else ordering it.  Tea time for two works out to 30 MYR a person.

Cameron Valley Tea House:  Located in Bangsar, this shop serves a variety of teas from Malaysia's Cameron Highlands.  They also serve all the sweets and savories you'd expect from a tea shop as well as a variety of other healthier options.  It's well worth a visit if you're looking to explore Malaysian tea without driving to the Highlands yourself.

Carcosa Seri Negara:  If you're looking for old colonial atmosphere, it doesn't get more spot-on than here.  Enjoy tea from bone china while in the former home of the British Resident General of the federated states of Malaya.  Book a table on the veranda of this gorgeous estate and you'll feel as if you've been transported back in time.

Here you have the choice of food pairings between the traditional English tea accompaniments and Malaysian ones.   Tea is served from 3:00-6:00, but expect to pay 150.00 MYR for two, as it is one of the more expensive tea experiences in town.   

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stuck in traffic

There is no rhyme or reason to traffic here. Some days it's completely predictable.  Others it is not.  A simple drive could take ten minutes, or it could take an hour and a half.  You probably won't get to know why there was a massive jam, and honestly, most of the time you're better off not knowing.  Knowing generally means having seen something you'd like to forget (like a very recently deceased motorcyclist) or seeing something that is going to annoy you with its stupidity (like someone riding a bicycle in the middle of the motorway).

But there are those rare times when you don't mind the fact that you're stuck going 10 km/h in an 80 km/h zone for a half hour because you're so preoccupied with figuring out exactly what is being hauled on that slow moving vehicle in front of you.

We never did figure it out.

Friday, June 15, 2012

KL Friday: Aquaria KLCC

Back when we first moved to town and were living in the Hilton I spent my days exploring different parts of the city.  Knowing we were about to move to the suburbs and it would be a while before I had a car, I was taking advantage of being across the street from KL Sentral and having easy access to most of the city's rail links.  My days were full of exploring different areas of the city and trying to take in everything it has to offer.  Looking back, I didn't even scratch the surface.  The problem was I didn't know anyone who could suggest places to go, telling me what was worth it and what to skip.

I wish that I had.  So I have decided to do just that.  I've been through the whole trying to adjust and explore while living in a hotel in a brand new place twice now, so I hope that I can do a little bit to make the transition easier on someone else  Every Friday I am going to blog about something to see or do in KL along with my opinions about it, in hopes that it will help someone in the same position I was just last year.  I suppose I could come up with a cutesy name for it, but I'm not that creative and dislike alliteration--so boring name it is.

One of my first exploratory trips was to the aquarium, so I shall start there.

The Facts:

Aquaria KLCC is in the convention center.  I didn't realize this, which made the entrance slightly difficult to find.  If you get there via the park behind Suria KLCC you will enter the convention center and will have to go up and down a couple escalators to get to the Aquarium.  As of several months ago, the way to the aquarium from that entrance isn't marked, so you may have to ask a security guard to point you in the right direction.

At 45 MYR for adults and 35 MYR for kids it's on the pricey side for KL's attractions, which is compounded by the fact that it's only supposed to take 45 minutes to see everything.  The main attraction is a single massive tank with a 90 meter moving sidewalk under a glass-domed tunnel.  There are a few interesting species in the big tank, like manta rays and sea turtles, both of which are on the aquarium's public viewing feeding schedule.  If you time your visit around feeding times, you can easily spend more than 45 minutes inside.  Additionally, there is a petting pool and a few interactive displays for the kids.

My Opinion:

The day I went it was really crowded and difficult to actually see the exhibits.  The aquarium itself wasn't bad, but it's far from the best I've seen.  Aside from the big tank, there aren't a lot of exibits.  Don't get me wrong, it's leaps and bounds better than the glorified fish pond that passes for a national aquarium in DC.  It's just that it's on the small side.

The aquarium is very kid friendly and a lot of the exhibits are geared towards engaging the younger crowd.  However, the super kid friendliness combined with the compactness of the aquarium creates a problem. You're supposed to be able to see everything in 45 minutes, but some of the walkways are narrow and winding, which leads to massive bottlenecks when you get people with strollers in front of you.  It's not a lot of walking, so if you're taking small children consider leaving your stroller at the entrance.
The Verdict:

It's worth a visit if you've got some time to kill or are looking for a place to take your kids.  Avoid it at all costs on weekends and school holidays.  Trust me, you do not want to deal with it when it's crowded.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekend getaway: Port Dickson

"A popular spot for weekend warriors from KL". That is how Port Dickson is billed in my copy of The Lonely Planet.  After a year of living in Kuala Lumpur I suspected it wasn't the hotspot the guidebook leads you to believe because I had never even heard anyone mention it in passing, let alone head off there for the weekend.  If people want a weekend away they drive up to Penang, to the east coast, or take a cheap flight to one of the islands like Langkawi, Tioman, or Perhentian. They don't plan trips to Port Dickson.

So when we told people we were heading off to Port Dickson for the weekend I was expecting the question of "why?" but not the, "there's nothing to do there" that followed.  So I was wrong.  If no one ever went there they wouldn't have first hand knowledge about the lack of entertainment options.  Maybe it wasn't as devoid of people as I was picturing.

Since we were looking for a place where we'd be forced to relax we were fine with hearing that there wasn't much to do.  For us, the drive to Port Dickson is about the same as getting to the airport, so minimal transport would be involved and we could get an over-water bungalow relatively cheaply.  We were sold.  We packed our cooler, threw our things in the car, and headed off for a weekend of chilling out.

In terms of fulfilling our goal the weekend was a great success.  We spent most of our time lazing about on our balcony with a glass of wine in hand looking out over the Strait of Malacca.  On Saturday we went to the beach and a nearby lighthouse where we came across the dusky leaf monkeys and the monster ants.  Then it was back to the balcony.

While we enjoyed ourselves, I can see why people aren't overly impressed.  The beach is decent but the water is like it is up in Penang.  It definitely doesn't compare to the pristine beaches with crystal-clear water on the east coast of Malaysia, but it has something they don't.  It's only an hour from the capital, which means it's the best option for a day trip to the beach if you're coming from KL.

The guidebook was at least partially correct.  There were people there.  I don't know if I'd call it a hotspot but there were a lot of cars with license plates from around the KL area in the main parking lot and there were quite a few tents pitched on the beach.  One thing I'll say is that there were a lot of young families there.  I saw families with four or five kids packed into the bungalows where we were staying.  It did seem to me like it's an easy getaway for local families with young kids who don't want to travel that far.

If you're looking to walk along the beach, relax, and don't want to have to travel far to get there, Port Dickson is the place to go.  We really enjoyed our weekend.  We were able to really rest and relax and because we brought a full cooler with us the weekend ended up being the cheapest short trip we've ever done.

That being said though, I'm not sure we'll go back.  There were a lot of kids all over the place and at this point in our lives that isn't really the scene we're looking for.  Maybe in a few years; but not now.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The impact of screen-less windows

We haven't had screens in our windows since we left the US.  In Prague it was just a nuisance but in Geneva it was a nightmare.  Living across the street from a river translated into living and sleeping with hoards of mosquitos in the summer.  I can't express how happy I am that I don't have to deal with that anymore. Believe it or not, bugs really aren't a huge issue at our place in KL.  The building is fogged on a weekly basis and the most we get is an odd mosquito or moth flying through every once in a while.

The main problem here are the thousands of other animals that are completely unaffected by fogging. Malaysia is home to around 20% of the earth's species, making it a country with some of the richest biodiversity in the world.  I love the wide array of animal life, but not when it's in my house.   It's great to see lizards crawling around outside but the first time you're making dinner and notice one hanging out on your kitchen counter it becomes decidedly less so.  It's neat to see monkeys playing around on the side of someone's building, but it makes you think twice about leaving your balcony door open.  Let's just say that corralling and releasing wild animals that have found their way into my home isn't my favorite pass-time.  Having screens would solve the problem so well that even after four years of screen-less living I'm still surprised that no one uses them.

Annoyance at having my personal space invaded aside, I do absolutely love the diversity here.  It's pretty incredible to be walking outside, not at all expecting to view wildlife, and then look up and be staring in the face of an animal you've never seen and didn't know existed.  It has happened to me a few times now, where I've learned a species exists because I randomly ran into one of them.  It happened twice just this weekend. First we saw this guy:

The Google informs me that it's a dusky leaf monkey, but I've never seen a picture of one before and had no idea that there was such a primate prior to coming across a dozen of them while taking a walk.  Watching them ended up being the highlight of my day.

The flip side of this happened not ten minutes after seeing the monkeys.  I saw a species I had no idea existed and, in retrospect, I would have preferred to have kept it that way.

For the purpose of size comparison, the leaf was as big as my palm.  I know I'm going to have nightmares about monster ants invading my kitchen.  I wish I still was blissfully ignorant that there is a type of ant that gets that big.  I've never seen them in the city so I have a suspicion that they only live in forests, but that hasn't stopped me from looking into the practicality of having screens installed in our unit.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My first (and only) pitch invasion

My husband is a huge football fan.  If there is a match on, no matter the country or league, he will watch it.  Which is why one beautiful day last spring while everyone was out enjoying the weather he was sitting inside watching the first leg of Switzerland's relegation playoffs, where the second-placed team in the Swiss Challenge League (league 2) plays the second-to-last team from the Swiss Super League (league one) for a spot in the top flight of Swiss football.

Servette FC Genève was playing for promotion in a small town called Bellinzona in the Italian speaking part of the country.  By small I mean that it was so small their football stadium is multi-functional and one of Geneva's players ran off the pitch chasing a ball only to fall into the triple jump pit.  Geneva lost that match 1-0, but it was still all to play for in the second leg and Josh, being the football lover that he is, immediately bought tickets.  

The second leg was completely different from the first.  It nearly sold out the 30,000 seat Stade de Genève.  The atmosphere was incredible and more than once they had to make very Swiss announcements along the lines of, "We thank you to please not set off incendiary devices within the stadium".  After a close and nerve-wrecking match that saw, among other things, a late send off and Bellinzona's keeper getting hit in the back of the head by a battery thrown from the stands, Geneva won 3-1.  They secured their place in the Super League, Bellinzona was relegated, and the crowd went crazy.   

See?  Crazy.  As soon as the final whistle was blown everyone stormed the pitch.  I have to admit that security actually opened the gates between the stands and the field so people could get down without hurting themselves, so I'm not sure that it counts as a real pitch invasion.  But since I am a rule follower, this is the only time in my life it's ever going to happen and I'll call it what I want.  It remains the most memorable evening I have ever spent at a sporting event.