Relax!! What a relaxing final few days on the island. Laid back, feet up, doing the bare minimum, chilling out.
We haven’t walked nearly as far as we expected to each day, which means my body is craving exercise. It’s also not giving in to sleep very willingly. Hello insomnia, my old friend.
Once, I got up in the middle of the night to go for a quick walk, up and down the beach. It was still warm, pleasantly so, and quiet. Just the sound of waves gently caressing the shore and the odd cricket in the distance. But no boat engines, no music from the restaurant, no people, no children’s squeaky shoes, very quiet.
I spent some time looking for the owner of this garment, to no avail.
Plus, I tried to take some nocturnal photographs. As we’re quite close to the equator, the constellation Orion appears to be lying down. In theory, we can see the whole sky from here, but the view was obstructed by the Island Resort’s bunglows, the trees, a few clouds and the other islands.
One delightful sight was the Moon setting behind the smaller of the two main islands, peeking out from behind Snoopy.
Other attempts at artistic shots weren’t very successful. In fact, I immediately deleted all the rubbish pictures.
I heard a rustle in the bush, immediately turned on the flash and took a picture. Whatever it was, was faster than me. Probably just the cat that occasionally frequents the restaurant.
Our friends from the north have now moved onto their next destination. I say ‘from the north’ but although she’s originally from Yorkshire, they currently live in Brighton.
We made significant progress with the books we’re reading. Some authors need an editor though. Interesting story, but you told me most of it twice. We had mixed success with our puzzles too.
To keep body and soul together, we had to eat, so we walked all the way to the dining area twice a day. There are two routes to choose from, the short way and the slightly longer way which takes you by the beach. Most times, we sat at the same table. It was just too hard deciding where to sit, otherwise. Even harder, though, was deciding what to eat. Western or Malaysian? We tried to alternate but I think Western won overall as the breakfast was heavily biased in that direction. The rotis were fantastic, though not as nice as Jyoti’s rotis.
We always enjoy watching the other people and listening to them. Little Squeaky Shoes is still here and I’m sure he’s really trying to run away from his footwear.
On one of our short walks, we did spot a rare sight. It’s always hot and sunny here but the country is pretty much run for/by the oil company Petronas. So imagine our delight when we spotted this solar panel on the island. Just the one.
We never did get around to snorkelling. But we did go fish-spotting from the jetties and piers. Another opportunity to play with my phone camera.
It was of course very hard to identify the species, but we did see parrot fish and zebra fish plus shoals of little fishes, maybe sardines. One was bigger, it looks like a pike or something.
This crab was trying to climb the plastic pipe. Three steps forward and two steps back every time a wave came in.
Mind you, he’s brighter than these black crabs, who were trying to climb the stairs.
Sometimes the nerd in me takes over. I had to check that my phone was still tagging the photos with their geographical location. In most cases, yes, but this one gave me latitude and longitude instead, to a remarkable degree of accuracy.
By my calculations, that’s an accuracy of less than one millimetre! Amazing!
After our final evening meal, we were treated to a light show. There was a storm over on the mainland, and we could see lightning in the clouds. Another fantastic opportunity to take some exciting photos. Don’t worry: I have deleted at least 99% of the 1300 photos I took over about an hour, around the time of sunset.
I did take a video from the dining area too. Instead of rolls or claps of thunder accompanying the lightning, all you can hear is squeaky shoes walking up and down.
This long time exposure also shows the boat embarrassed by its own relatively insignificant display of lights. A green light to starboard, a red light to port, flashing every second or so.
Our final Perhentian breakfast gave us all the energy we needed to pack. The boat was due to leave at noon and while waiting, I walked to the end of the jetty for more fish photos.
Sadly, there was nothing as big as the swordfish in the sea. But there were zebra fish amongst others.
The sand on the beach is lovely, and there are bags of it all over the place. The instructions say ‘Store in a cool dry place’. Well, this island is never cool, not even in the middle of the night. And the beach isn’t necessarily dry: the sea can be quite damp at times.
But what makes the sandbags more interesting is that at least one lizard lives amongst them. I saw one yesterday, over a foot long, quite colourful, but very shy with humans. And with me.
The main shock to the system on arriving back at Kuala Besut and disembarking from the boat was seeing cars, traffic, roads, people covered from top to toe in thick clothing: such an anticlimax after our lazy week in paradise. But, the evening meal fixed everything.
We are now resident in a ‘Transit Motel’ right next to the airport in Kota Bharu. The journey was two hours, first by boat and then with another mad taxi driver. He held out his hand for a tip, so I shook it instead.
Our hostess is a lovely lady, she cooked us the most delicious meal we’ve had in Malaysia. Next time, we’ll definitely go down the route of home cooking! They offered us dinner and breakfast at a cost of 40 ringgits, we couldn’t say no. We had a coconut curry with okra, aubergine, corn etc with rice and an omelette with onions and greens, followed by curry puffs, pineapple and watermelon juice.
I’m embarrassed to say we don’t know her name, but our hostess told us about her family. She has 7 brothers and 4 sisters. Her husband has 10 siblings. When her oldest daughter got married, they had 2000 guests, all family and friends. Her second daughter says that she doesn’t want that big a party!
We left Kota Bharu after breakfast. One of the door staff and I had a nice chat about the place and he very politely didn’t laugh too much about brexit. As Liesel and I were about to climb into the people carrier, he asked for a photo of the three of us together. We didn’t need a picture of him.
We picked up a few more people from a couple of other hotels, and the mad driver drove us all the way to Besut in Terengganu, the next state south of Kelantan. I say mad, but there are probably more appropriate words. Such as Reckless. He used his phone while driving. He overtook several vehicles when there was no need and not really enough space. He put his seatbelt on as we approached a police station then took it off again after we’d passed. What an adventure.
The boat ride to the Perhentians’ Big Island took about 40 minutes. The pilot was very good, it was a nice, comfortable, non-scary ride. Still an adventure, but in a more positive way.
We passed by the other, smaller, inhabited island and were disappointed to see plumes of smoke. Yes, even here, the disposal method of choice is to burn the rubbish.
On the smaller island too, by the shorefront, there’s a mosque. On stilts. And close by is a telecom tower. I know it would be an eyesore if the tower were located on top of the hill, but there might be more reliable phone coverage too.
Unfortunately, at high tide, the top end of the jetty is under water, so we had to wade up to the beach. Still, my feet needed a wash, so no problem.
There are advantages to being aged. The compulsory conservation fee is reduced for the over-60s.
There was another couple on the boat, and I think they’re from t’north of England, but so far, we haven’t asked.
Tuna Bay Island Resort
We’re at an island resort for a week with limited mod cons. The electric supply comes from a diesel-powered generator, which is less than 100% reliable. So, lights, the AC, everything can turn off with no notice. There is no phone signal anywhere, as far as we can determine. And the wifi, when it works, is only available in the kitchen, restaurant and dining area. Tap water is not safe to drink, so we’re using an embarrassing number of plastic bottles.
Our room is very cosy. And usually cooler than the bathroom. The other door doesn’t lead to Narnia but, if the neighbours choose to let us in, we can enter their room. No fridge, no cooking facilities. Very basic but that’s ok, a nice contrast to a luxury hotel. Our room looks out over the garden which is mostly sand covered with just a few plants growing there. The staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful.
There are not enough sunbeds on the beach for everyone, and it was a little disappointing to see the old European trick of leaving your towle behind, staking your claim, and then disappearing for hours at a time.. Disappointing? Well, not really, we’re not that bothered. On the first day, we just pitched up in the shade of a tree and sat/leaned on the (almost too) hot rocks.
What’s That Noshing on my Laig?
The sea is remarkably clear here: even when it’s too deep to touch, you can still see the bottom. You can also see fishes swimming by.
I felt something knock against my leg, and again lower down then a third time by my ankle. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned that we hadn’t been warned about the man-eating fish in these parts. At first, Liesel didn’t believe me: she thought I was making it up, playing silly peoples.
Then she felt the fangs of a fish just below her knee. Now she believes me. She is the proud owner of a rare fish hickey.
We swam out to a pontoon from where we could look into deeper water. Shoals of littles fishes drifted by and a single parrot fish. We’ll have a proper look later in the week, with snorkelling equipment.
The current is quite strong here, look away for moment and you drift a long way along the beach.
Walking in the Sand
I walked along the beach with bare feet but next time, with Liesel, we wore sandals. The sand’s ok, if a little hot in places, but the coral can be quite sharp.
The big surprise for me was seeing so many butterflies near the beach, some quite pretty ones too.
One of the trees bore unusual fruit which I later identified as pandanus tectorius, or hala.
We went for a walk along the beach, past some jetties, fishing boats, by some rocks and we found a nice secluded beach where the jungle really did meet the sea.
Despite the name, Shark Point, we didn’t see any sharks. In fact, the only fish we saw here were very small ones.
The water was lovely and clear, we stayed in for a while, enjoying the alternating warm and cold currents. On the way back, we saw a couple of big birds circling high up, riding the thermals. Too far away to identify, but they may have been sea eagles. Oh, and a few crabs scuttled sideways into the sea.
As I was walking along the soft, white, sandy beach, I acquired an ear-worm which was quite welcome for a while but it can go now, thank you very much. Listen to it here, if you dare.
The Girl with the Pocket Watch Tattoo
As Liesel and I discussed, it’s very hard not to sound pervy when you comment on how nice it is to see so much flesh on display here. It’s warm, and sunny, we’re by the beach, you don’t need to wear much. But some poor people are covered top to toe, and we feel sorry for them. We saw one young lady sporting a couple of tattoos. Liesel pointed out that one was a picture of a pocket watch, hanging from a chain. Well, thank goodness for that. Last night, when I saw her, from across the dining room, I thought it was something totally different. Thank goodness I didn’t go up to her and express my admiration for her sperm tattoo.
We thought it was right and proper to go for a hike in the jungle. It’s a small island, so we knew we couldn’t get lost.
What we hadn’t really anticipated was how heavy a few bottles of water can be when you’re carrying them up a steep path, stepping over many, many tree roots and water pipes. And it was hot and humid and the sweat was pouring off us. All that’s ok. But then the mosquitoes arrived and we’d left the bug dope behind. Mosquitoes here carry dengue fever as well as malaria, so we erred on the side of caution. In any case, there was no birdsong, minimal insect noise, and really, this wasn’t fun. But the good news is, walking back, we did find the local massage parlour. I wonder if they’ll take you on when you’re all hot and sweaty?
We haven’t seen so many wheelbarrows since we were in Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, almost a year ago now. They’re fairly ubiquitous here at Tuna Bay Island Resort. Our luggage was brought from the boat onto land in a wheelbarrow, wheeled along the narrow jetty, even through the water, as the tide was in. All the housemaids, or cleaners, use wheelbarrows to carry their paraphernalia. It all makes sense, they’re weatherproof and easy to use. Where there are steps, they’ve built ramps in some cases. Quite a steep ramp and then, when you get near the top, the gradient increases sharply. Not the most wheelchair or buggy friendly of places.
Inside Outside, Leave me Alone
When we’re not outside enjoying the sunshine and the beach, or even in the dining area, dining, we can probably be found in our slightly cooler room, reading books or attempting to solve puzzles. We have a wide variety, sudoku, cryptic crosswords, kenken, futoshiki, kakuro, slitherlink, killer sudoku and more. It’s a brilliant way to keep the Sun-baked brain active. The only downside to having limited wifi is, we can’t stream as many radio programmes as we’d like, and we’re limited to downloading podcasts, which are great, but there are very few music-filled ones.
Every day, some people leave and new ones arrive. It’s interesting to see the new people, like the first day of a new school year. There are lots of Europeans and oh yes, you can easily detect the Americans, they’ll be the loud ones shouting at each other. There are lots of families here too, which is great. There’s another child wearing a pair of squeaky shoes. We always know where he is.
One day, our friends from the north suggested we more our sunbeds because dead, sharp leaves were falling from the tree. Well, I thought, at least it’s not coconuts. A while later, a couple of members of staff came by and asked us to move. We did. One of them climbed the tree, straight up, no messing, and pulled off a couple of large, dead branches. They landed on the ground with a bit of a thud.
Some other bark and debris fell down. And the ants all landed on me. Only little ones, but they had quite a bite to them. Like a girl, I ran screaming into the sea to wash them off. Sometimes, you just can’t be nonchalant.
Sunday morning at ten o’clock and it’s time for Mass. No, not Mass. Massage. That’s right. For the first time ever, I had a massage on the beach, under the shade of a tree. I thought it might be too hot outside but the breeze was nice and refreshing. The mssage lasted for two hours, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, it was the first time I’d been massaged by a male, a masseur. His hands were rough, I think he must be a builder in his spare time. It’s hard to remain totally sand-free on a slightly windy beach, but the exfoliation was limited in its scope. As soon as we’d finished, his attention was immediately taken by the next client. I found Liesel on a sunbed: yes, they’re easier to come by now than they were on the first day.
The days pass slowly, we agree that we’re glad to be here only a week, though. It’s time to enjoy some longer walks again.
Admin is a fact of life, even in exotic locations. We took a couple of days out, messing about with the phone, booking flights and accommodation for later on, processing a pile of paperwork and discarding most of it. This post completes our stay in Kota Bharu but the next one may be delayed: we have limited wifi, restricted 4G, dodgy electric supply and who knows what other resources may be lacking? But that’s in the future, here is the recent past.
The State Museum’s new exhibit is now open. It’s a time tunnel comparing Kota Bharu old and new, then and now. Unusually for a museum exhibit, this one had more photographs than actual items to look at.
One thing I did like was the old, well-used typewriter, with a very wide carriage.
This painting adorned one wall but there was no descriptive label.
A couple of men were walking around the museum with a handful of labels but they’d either forgotten the sticky tape, or they really didn’t know which label belonged to which item. I could have told them, obviously, but not while keeping a straight face.
The ploughing equipment was all made from wood. The plough itself, also wood, is pulled by a buffalo.
Believe it or not, this small cave is a mock-up of the real Gua Cha, the site of a 10,000 year old settlement. We didn’t know if we were allowed in, but as I approached, the lights came on, and we were totally awed by the 10,000 year old technology.
We’d missed out on seeing a local, wayang, shadow puppet show, so it was interesting to see examples of the puppets here.
Very simple design, you don’t need much detail if you’re just projecting shadows onto the screen.
We walked to a local market and stopped for a coffee in Muhiba Restoran and Kafe. The temperature was 34° but it felt like 41° according to the weather app. I think we’d have guessed a higher number, just comparing it to what we experienced at Uluru.
The market was huge. We liked the fabrics that were on display, all very colourful.
We weren’t so keen on the food stalls. The fruit and veg was a bit smelly, the fish stalls a bit stinky. We turned a corner and walked into a wall of stench. We saw the meat being hacked and cut up and I’ve never seen so much blood. We reversed PDQ trying not to let our abject disgust show on our now even more pasty white faces. We didn’t need to walk in and witness an abattoir. Definitely a lowlight of our travels.
But the hanging cloth was pretty, hiding a grubby little alleyway.
We walked back to the hotel, still expressing disbelief at each other: how can people even eat meat? How can people bear to work in that sort of place? And a hundred and one other variations on “yuck, that was horrible”.
Very grateful that we didn’t have nightmares.
I woke up early but feeling lethargic and yet itchy for exercise. We had breakfast just in time, before they closed up shop at 10.30. The Kelentan River isn’t that far away and I decided to go for a quick walk in that direction. The temperature was lower than yesterday, and it was overcast, so, slightly less uncomfortable.
Crossing the roads is a fine art. You learn to select the narrower ones, with only two lanes instead of four. One-way streets should be easy, but motorcyclists use the footpaths willy-nilly, so they’re not bothered about going the wrong way up a one-way street either. You still have to look in both directions before crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and running across.
The trouble is, when you open your eyes again, you see this sort of rubbish. Literally.
Plastic drinks bottles are all over the place. It’s very sad to see but as Stephen said the other day, the Malays and the Chinese just don’t care about nature or the environment.
Sorry to say, Kota Bharu isn’t as interesting a town to wander around as some others, at least, not the area close to our hotel. The other day when we drove across the bridge, the river looked like melted milk chocolate. Today, it was more the colour of Caramac, and I can say now that it tasted of neither.
I looked around and spotted a BBC. No, I am not referring to the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. There was a big black cloud over there so I took the hint, and began traipsing back to the hotel.
Some of the street art is fabulous. Here is a depiction of the local martial art, silat, some top spinners and a dragon being trained.
There’s not a lot of greenery here in Kota Bharu. The small patch of grass I did find to walk on was, let’s say, scratchy. It was like walking on upturned wire brushes. Thank goodness at least I had my sandals on. But I did smile at the attempt to replicate the Batman logo on this decorative arch.
On my return to the hotel, I went to the gym. No, that’s not a typo. I used the hotel’s gym, aiming to complete my 10,000 steps on the treadmill. 2 km, 23 minutes later, mission accomplished. My heart rate increased of course, but never to the point of discomfort: that sense of breathlessness that sometimes occurs at the slightest hint of exercise. I felt I could have carried on all day, but walking on a treadmill is a bit boring, to be honest.
From the treadmill, I could see what we think are the only other two white people in residence right now. He was wearing a one-piece swinsuit, she was wearing a very teeny bikini. Even I know it’s not appropriate in this particular place to flash that much flesh.
The shower was very welcome and I feel much better now, thanks. It’s still warm, even with the AC on in the room, but hopefully the sense of lethargy and weariness has been hit on the head, for now.
We’ve realised that another thing that makes it hard to wander round this town is seeing the poverty. The Grab cab fares are ridiculously low by our standards, and restaurant prices are too. I’ve been tipping, but I’m not sure that’s common here in Malaysia. I hope I’m not giving off vibes, flaunting my wealth: but the alternative is to not tip when I’m expected to, then I’m a stingy westerner.
In the afternoon, we went to the Community Centre for some local entertainment. Our friend Roselan was the MC. In the audience was a young German couple and that’s about it. But the entertainment was very good.
The drumming was fun and they even let Liesel have a go. She’s got rhythm, that girl.
When I first heard the oboe, I thought the player must have a bag of wind, similar to bagpipes, but it seems he was circular breathing, like didgeridoo players do. There was never a pause in the flow of music.
The local, Kelantanese martial art, silat, is similar to tai chi. During the display, the two players move slowly and with purpose, but as time went on and the music became faster and more insistent, they engaged in combat. It made us jump back when they moved in our direction.
A long, long time ago, Sarah and I acquired a board game and I’d forgotten its name. The wooden board had several holes in it, a large one at each end and a series of six or seven smaller ones along each of the long sides. We had small sea-shells as playing pieces. Unfortunately, the instructions weren’t explicit enough, and we could never make up a good game. So how exciting to, finally, be able to play the game called congkak here in Malaysia. I think our (long gone) game was called Sungka, from the Philippines.
A couple of young muslim women showed us how to play, then invited the German girl to take over and later on, I started playing. We used marbles rather than sea-shells but at last, I think I know what I’m doing!
Top spinning is something I thought I’d find easy. Not these tops. They’re wooden, the rope is wound tight, looped round your wrist and you fling the top, it spins for a long time. Hah.
Once a top is spinning in the correct area, a second player tries to knock it over with his own top. Hence the name, Striking Tops. I had several attempts but never succeeded in spinning a top, but it was good fun trying.
More fun than the other activity I was invited to join. Dancing. I can’t dance. I can pick up a rhythm, tap my foot, drum on a table, but I can not dance. The video is embarrassing. Everyone else is totally out of step with me.
It was a fun afternoon. We looked at the artists painting lovely flowers, but we resisted the temptation to buy.
We managed to see and speak to Martha on this, her third birthday. The theme this year is Unicorns. She is fascinated by them and we can’t wait to see her in real life, dressed up as a unicorn, cuddling a toy unicorn, having riding lessons on a real unicorn.
We made one more trip to the Aeon shopping mall, to buy some supplies for next week. I would have picked eight discs, but we don’t have a record player and the island we’re going to isn’t a desert island. We dined in Vivo. Next, we’ll eat out of petri dishes, in Vitro.
Breakfast at the hotel has been good. I’ve avoided some items because I don’t know what they are. There’s a rice dish, nasi kerabu, which is a gorgeous colour blue. But I didn’t know if it was blueberries (OK) or squid ink (not OK) giving it that colour. So we looked it up.
Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish, a type of nasi ulam, in which blue-coloured rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads. The blue color of the rice comes from the petals of …. whaaaattt? Who knew such a plant existed. And how lucky that it was found in the first place.
Kota Bharu means “New Castle” so quite rightly, it’s located in the northeast of the country. We booked a taxi to drive us to our hotel. Yes, a hotel because there is no Airbnb coverage in this area.
And how excited were we to find we’re in the Executive Wing of the Hotel. Until, that is, studying the emergency evacuation plan, we find that the whole whole place is the Executive Wing.
Kota Bharu is 93% Muslim with a smattering of Chinese and Thai people. And the main employment seems to be Standing Around, although, to be fair, one hotel in a northern town isn’t a scientific sample. One man opened the door for us, one man carried our bags up to the room. Every time we left or reentered the hotel, someone would open the door for us. I could do that job.
Street food: you just rock up to the vendor, say what you want, pay for it, wait for it, take it away and eat it, right? Oh no, not at this hotel. As well as its five in-house restaurants, they’re selling various kinds of street food for a few evenings. We only wanted ice-cream, easy. We went to the payment counter where we ticked the relevant box on the order form. The clerk took this form, picked up a yellow ticket (the ice-cream roll one) and told us how much it would cost. We paid. He then asked for a name which he wrote on both the order form and on our yellow ticket. What a palaver. We presented the ticket to the young lady at the ice-cream stall. While we waited for the ice-cream to be made, we were being looked at. We were the only white people here, staff and customers included. The ice-cream was freshly made. Young lady number 2 poured some cream into the freezing pan. Like a frying pan, only instead of frying stuff, it froze it. She added strawberries, blueberries and a few slices of banana. She chopped the whole lot together with a straight blade and as it cooled, it began to stick to the bottom of the pan. When it was completely mixed and frozen, she scraped it off the bottom and it rolled up into coils. Ice-cream rolls. This was placed into a pot, where young lady number 1 added more fruit and an Oreo biscuit, a couple of chocolate roll biscuits and, unfortunately, some marshmallows.
What a great dessert that was, well worth waiting for. And more expensive than our first course had been, at a Roti Canai place just round the corner from the hotel.
It doesn’t look much from the outside but this little shack delivered the best roti with a couple of dipping sauces that we could have asked for, and just a two-minute walk away. The roti are made by a couple of young guys and it seems they employ their Mums too: one was peeling the onions and the other was peeling bananas.
We’re on the seventh floor of the hotel and the view from our window, and in any direction is nothing special. But at least we haven’t seen any bonfires or bin fires on the streets, yet.
Breakfast was huge, almost too much choice, so we just kept going until we stopped. Eggs, toast, fresh fruit, cereal, pastries, tea, coffee, juice, not to mention the Asian food. There were many young ladies working, topping up the pans and pots of food, clearing the tables, cooking the eggs and doing a great job, smiling and happy to be there. They were, unnecessarily, being kept in check by two 1920s gangsters in very important black suits, two sizes too big.
We walked out into the heat of the day to the visitor information place, where we met Roselan. We didn’t realise it was him at first, but he is featured in the Lonely Planet Guide.
It was indeed hot, after the coolness of Fraser’s Hill, so we decided it would be a museum day.
As I was taking a picture of the bazaar, Liesel thought I would be arrested for taking a picture of the police station. Well, I wasn’t, and I wasn’t. But I was careful not to brandish my camera at anything or anyone remotely official.
First, nearly next door to the information office, was the State Museum. It was closed for a few days while they install a new exhibit. The lady who told us this was sitting at a desk, outside. That’s a job I couldn’t do.
Let’s try the Customs and Cermonies Museum. It was a cheap entry fee, RM2 for locals and RM4 for ‘foreigners’. Well, from my point of view, you’re the foreigners, but I didn’t say that out loud.
The Royal Barge is made of teak, dates from the 1900s, accommodates up to ten people and still looks usable. Some of the other vessels had big holes.
It seems that in olden times, they’d use any excuse to have a big celebration: birthday, engagement, marriage, circumcision, birth, funeral, even being 7 months pregnant. The original 24-hour party people.
This carriage was used during the 52nd birthday celebrations of His Royal Highness Sultan Ismail Petra.
Can you imagine a fight between two bulls which, if they’re fairly equally matched, can last forty minutes or more? That’s Malay bull fighting. The arena, or ‘bong’, is the size of a football field. We can see the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium from our hotel. It has floodlights and the field is marked out for football, soccer, so I hope that’s all we see, if anything.
The spiral staircases are a work of art in their own right.
The Royal Museum really does celebrate the royal family. Many, many portraits, going back several generations.
There was a family tree but in Arabic, I think, so I couldn’t read the text. But, if it follows the conventions of a western family tree, someone gave birth to 25 children and a few generations later, someone had 24.
This plaque gives a brief history. It’s interesting to see there’s been some form of monarchy in the region for over 2000 years. Also interesting to see that the King of Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is elected every five years from all eligible Sultans.
We live in more enlightened times now, and I like to think that no more elephant’s tusks will be taken and decorated in this way.
These vases are very decorative too, and it was a relief to leave the room without tripping over and falling onto them.
There is a finite amount of time you can spend walking slowly round a museum, or two, so we decided to go to a big shopping centre, just a Grab cab ride away.
My phone’s been complaining about running out of storage recently. 128 GB seemed a lot when I bought the phone. So I’ve been diligently deleting duplicate photos, rubbish photos, excess videos, trying to recover storage space. But I decided the best solution would be to buy an SD card and move lots of stuff onto it.
Needless to say, I purchased the wrong thing today. I need a microSD card, not just an SD card.
But the shopping mall provides plenty of entertainment. You are expected to leapfrog over a bollard if you want to use the escalator.
Neither Liesel nor I came a cropper, thank goodness. We stopped for a coffee and I was delighted with my jalapeño bagel with cream cheese, the first since Alaska, I think.
After another (too) big breakfast, as arranged, Roselan picked us up for a quick tour. I thought he’d be driving, himself, but instead, Suri drove us. Roselan’s English is obviously better than our Malay. He even throws in colloquialisms such as “lovely, jubbly” and “alright, love?”
We passed by some rice fields, highly irrigated, but Roselan says he prefers Thai rice, it’s softer.
The first temple, Wat Phothivihan, features The Reclining Buddha.
Its Thai style is different to Buddhas we’ve seen in other places, even here in Malaysia.
Underneath is a crypt, a gathering point for remembering lost souls. The ashes are stored in jars, each one set into a numbered shrine. Some are bare, some are very well attired with incense, flowers, other artefacts. It was a moving place, yet celebratory.
One ‘locker’ in particular, for that is what they look like, stood out. He was a young man, the photo was from his graduation ceremony. I wondered whether he was a mathematician? Why else choose number 1024, 2¹⁰, surrounded by empty, unused tombs?
Amongst the many other statues, we did like the Buddha being protected by snakes.
And we like the big belly bloke too, even if the birds don’t. He’s still laughing.
Wat Machimmaram has a big Buddha sitting on the roof. He has the largest known dharma wheel on his chest. Apparently, you can climb up inside, but today the doors were locked, and I’d forgotten to bring boltcutters.
We don’t know how many tiles are needed to make a Buddha, but this really was a labour of love.
Most temples have smaller shrines in the grounds, and this was no exception. Any one of them would be worth visiting in its own right. Conversely, some of the artwork was quite disturbing, images you wouldn’t normally associate with Buddhism and its message of peace and harmony.
These temples are in Tumpat, a small town just south of the Thai border. So of course, we had to go and at least look at Thailand, even if we’re not visiting on this occasion.
The market by the river is a Duty Free Zone, and there’s a thriving trade.
Roselan took us right through the customs office, he knows the right people, right up to the barbed wire that prevented us from jumping into the Golok river and swimming across. Looking down, Liesel spotted this lizard.
On the Thai side, there is an equivalent market. Ferries operate every half hour or so. There’s a fishery just along the river bank but luckily, the wind was in the right direction.
And so onto the third temple of the day. Wat Maisuwankiri. It was here that we found a tiger, standing guard.
We’ve reclined, we’ve sat, now we’re standing. And this Buddha is a female, just to add to the confusion.
There’s a lot to see inside too: I think we saved the best until last.
One thing we didn’t need to see was the preserved body of a former abbot. We told ourselves it was a waxwork model. Yes, what we saw was wax, we missed the actual dead body.
Outside, the famous dragon boat is protected by the largest, longest dragon we’ve ever come across. The dragon boat’s dragon head made me smile, bringing back memories of the Ice Dragon from Noggin the Nog stories.
The donation box was designed to accept coins but I forced a bent banknote into it. I thought about my lost loved ones and lit incense sticks for my Mum and Dad and Sarah.
All of the temples we visited were populated by the saddest looking stray dogs you could imagine. Some had had babies, they may have had rabies and they definitely had scabies. They just wandered around the grounds, looking sad, looking for food, but otherwise, not interested in the world. We needn’t have worried about leaving our sandals outside the temples: these dogs had no interest in walking off with them.
Although Roselan had said at each point to take as long as we needed, we judged it just right. He dropped us off at the hotel at 12:30, perfect timing for his midday prayers at 1:20pm.
We’d driven over the bridge again, across the Kelantan River that gives the state its name. Or vice versa. The runny chocolate milkshake, that’s what it looked like, was flowing slowly. It usually floods up to the level of the bridge during the monsoon season, but sometimes, the floods are even higher.
Hard to believe, then, that people live in houses, or shacks, right down by the water’s edge.
I volunteered to go back to the shopping mall alone to (try to) buy the correct memory card for my phone. And as a bonus, for the first time in a while, I took a photo inside a toilet. Another little rule to live by.
And yes, I found a 128GB microSDXYZ bla bla bla card. There was also was a rare opportunity to see a rhinoceros in the wild. Well, an electric rhinoceros in a shopping centre.
This lady said it was OK to take the photos of her and her children, so what a shame they’re not very good pictures. Other motorised sit-upons were available too and I’m sorry Liesel missed out on the rides.
We spent the morning on a long walk into the little town of Fraser’s Hill and back again, completing the “telecoms loop”. It was a perfect temperature, gently undulating rather than hilly so not too challenging. Even though we were walking on the road, we only encountered about half a dozen vehicles.
But mainly, we just enjoyed the songs of the birds and the insects, the squirrels and the monkeys. As usual, we heard more than we actually saw. Speaking of which, we still don’t know if it was a bird or there really was a wood saw somewhere in the distance.
The rustle in the trees made us look up into the face of this dusky leaf monkey, or dusky langur. He watched us for a minute, but didn’t come down to say hello.
There were at least a couple of others, we caught a quick glimpse.
The views were fantastic: lots of green, unspoilt, we could only imagine what kind of wildlife was in there.
Before setting out, though, we’d had an early breakfast, parathas and dahl, toast and jam, tea and orange juice. The cereal remained untouched.
Overnight, our host had left a mercury vapour lamp turned on, outside in the garden. It attracted dozens, if not hundreds, of moths and other bugs onto the white screen.
Carniverous squirrels came into the garden to feast on the insects, and they sounded very nice, tasty and crunchy. Not so keen on the ones that screamed in agony, to be honest.
A nice variety of birds appeared too, very quick, and almost impossible to take pictures of them.
However, Liesel has taken pictures of the birds we’ve seen from one of Stephen’s books: it’s good to be able to put a name to the wildlife.
Amongst all these bugs we found a beautiful butterfly.
Just a coincidence that this picture was sent to us budding entomologists at the right time.
Stephen told us that this mantis is one of the rarest species in Malaysia. Such a shame then thet Liesel witnessed its demise at the beak of a robin.
In town, we had a pot of coffee at the hotel, with a jug of hot milk, and when I say hot, the handle-less jug was far too hot for me to handle. Liesel’s asbestos fingers managed.
The walk back from town was slightly harder, being more uphill and when we viewed the wider expanse of jungle, we again wished we’d booked this place for a longer period.
And they’re trying to look after the wildlife: at least, according to this poster.
Yes, it gave us an idea of what creatures we might be lucky enough to see. Tiger? No such luck!
So far, they’ve resisted the level of development that we saw at Cameron Highlands, and if Stephen is right, he and the other ex-pats living here will maintain Fraser’s Hill in its current pristine state.
So, with that in mind, it was disappointing to see a couple of large buildings over the valley, certainly not bungalows. The population of Fraser’s Hill is about 1000 so an extra couple of hundred people at a swanky hotel really will spoil the feel of place.
We’d been told about the landslide so it wasn’t a surprise to find this. Many are natural, maybe too much rain too quickly, but some are caused by old, rusty water pipes breaking. This is one such example. We were walking around “the loop” which is usually given to one-way traffic. Because of the landslide, vehicles aren’t supposed to come this way for now. But then, we walked round the corner to find this.
Here, some of the road had slid down too. We heard a car approaching from behind, so we hastily walked past this point in case this vehicle proved to be the final straw, and the rest of the road disappeared down the hill. But no, not this time.
We passed a bungalow that was half missing. I said it would be nice when it was finished. We later learned that Stephen’s Canadian friend, David lives here in one half as there are no utilities in the other. The middle of the bungalow had slid down the hill many years ago and so far, it hasn’t been rebuilt!
A cloud went by as we walked along the middle of the road. It must be smoke, we thought at first, disappointed. But no, it was a very low, actual, cloud, just drifting by on the breeze. We’ve been in dense clouds before, on hills, at altitude, but we’ve never seen a lonely cloud like this before, just above ground level. Fraser’s Hill reaches up to 1500m above sea level on this loop, and this is a common phenomenon, apparently.
Back in Stephen’s garden, we admired the orchids, said hello to the geese and had another look at the now depleted bug population on the screen. There was a storm in the afternoon, but still, we enjoyed watching activity in the garden from indoors.
Stephen and his wife Samiah had business down in Kuala Lumpur and they apologised because our evening meal might be late. In the end, they were still in KL at 5:30 so they called their friend David. He kindly drove us down the road to town and we ate at a Malay place, since the pub and the Chinese restaurant were both closed. We don’t know his full story, but he’s been here in Fraser’s Hill for seven years and doesn’t feel the need to move away.
Driving back, up the hill, suddenly, David braked. In the bushes, we saw an animal. Two.
There were two boars now running deeper into the bushes.
What a great day for exercise, for wildlife and for giving us a sense of enormous well-being.
It rained and thundered during the night, so neither of us got much sleep. How lucky then that we could have a lie-in… until 6.15am! It was still dark, but we had to pack and have breakfast quickly before being picked up by David the Canadian ex-pat from the half-a-bungalow just along the road.
The white screen in the garden was again covered in bugs, despite the ferocity of the storm. I had time to experiment with the phone camera and a pair of binoculars. You need four hands, really, but this isn’t too bad, after a bit of post-shoot editing.
We had a huge breakfast, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t partake of the toast and jam.
The oversnight storm had brought lots of debris onto the roads but David just drove past the branches and rocks like it’s normal.
He did brake hard on one occasion. He spotted a scorpion crossing the road.
It does look like a plastic model but it was alive and kicking, unlike his mate just along the road. David lifted it above the low brick wall, so let’s hope it continued climbing the hill.
I feel embarrassed again for not knowing the exact names of all these birds and moths and other creatures and all the plants, but it’s was exciting to see them all out in the wild.
It became warmer as we drove down the hill, and as David predicted, as we turned one particular corner, the weather changed. Beyond this point, the windows were close and the AC turned on.
The one-way road used to be controlled by time. At 10, 12 and 2, you could drive up, at 9, 11 and 1, you could drive down. Everyone knew the system and if they had to wait at the bottom, there was a place to buy tea. This shack collapsed just a couple of weeks ago,
The large number of derelict building we saw, north of KL? Not so much derelict as never actually used. They were built by a developer in the hope the KL’s then new airport would be built north of the city. Some residential properties were sold off cheap to minimise losses. Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KLIA, was build far to the south of the city, in the end.
The road was cut out of the side of the hills. In an effort to prevent landslides, some hills have been sprayed with concrete, with many pipes allowing rainwater to drain. The grey concrete looks ugly, but ferns will soon and quickly grow to hide the eyesore.
David spoke a lot about Malaysia, Malays, the lifestyle here, but he was very reticent about his reasons for being here. It was very kind of him to take us to the airport, though, devoting six hours of his day to us total strangers.
The flight to our next desination was short and sweet and I slept through most of it, despite enjoying “Londonstani”, a really good book, from which I’m picking up lots of Hindi, Panjabi and Urdu slang, innit.
Every time we leave our apartment block, we glance at the Roman Catholic Church, St Anthony’s, just over the road.
A few times, we’ve heard its bells being tolled at about the same time as the nearby muezzin calls his people to prayer. I don’t know whether there’s an unofficial competition going on here.
It’s a cute little church but it would look so much better without that eyesore in the background.
Being Sunday, Mass would take place later. Meanwhile, outside, a group of Indian ladies had set up a stall. What they were selling, we’ll never know, as our Grab cab arrived very quickly.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is the largest walk-in, free-flying aviary in Malaysia, maybe even in the world. The aviary doesn’t fly freely, but most of the birds inside do.
It was quite nice seeing a stork walk on by. Then another. Then a few more. By the time we were surrounded by dozens, it was quite intimidating, like being chased by those velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
The owls were all just sitting there. We’re not sure if they’d been tied to the perches somehow, but it was sad to see that not a single one was even shuffling from side to side.
The scarlet ibis was a suitably vibrant red colour. It certainly made up for the slightly pasty looking flamingoes.
The poor old galahs weren’t allowed freedom of movement. This chap was pleading to be let out, but there was nothing we could do.
I think we saw a significant number of the advertised two hundred bird species here but while the free-flight enclosure was indeed large, we still felt sorry for the birds that wanted to really stretch their wings. And especially for the caged birds.
It was a pleasant walk, hot and sunny, and the place was very popular today.
A short taxi ride away is Central Market, a bit like Camden Market only bigger, indoors and partially air-conditioned. While Liesel was actually looking at the stalls, I went on a faster walk, to get some steps in and to find an ATM. I passed through Little China, Little India and Little Kashmir, all within the Market.
When I caught up with Liesel, she was on the upper floor looking at most, if not all, of the batik stalls. Or, as some were named, Batik Butik.
The birds this morning had been very colourful, certainly, but some of the batik offerings came a close second in bright colours.
It was hard to resist everything, so we left the market with a bag of batik. The cushion cover shown above will, one day, adorn our luxury apartment for real.
We stopped for a snack and I asked for a cendol. Something that’s been on the ‘to-do’ list since we arrived in Singapore. A mix of coconut, ice, green worms and beans. A local delicacy.
It was alright, nothing special, and this bowlful was probably too much, to be honest. Still, it’s another first for me.
We walked down the road to Masjid Jamek.
We didn’t actually travel several decades back in time, I just copied the picture from the local information board. The mosque welcomes visitors but you have to wear an all-enveloping purple garment to cover your hair, shoulders and other bodily parts. So, from a distance, you can play ‘spot the visitor’.
It’s a cute little mosque but it would look so much better without that eyesore in the background.
We carried on walking towards home, somehow shrugging off the discomfort of the heat because this was our final day here in KL.
The birds were colourful, the batik was colourful but some of the street art provides stiff competition. Not just these doors, but a lovely mural close by.
Jalan Petaling is the heart of KL’s Chinatown. Where old meets new.
Central Market was busy, but the alleyways in Chinatown were thronging with throngs of people. It was hard to make progress, sometimes. Again, we looked but did not touch. Or buy.
We found our way back home and I went up to the top of our tower, floor 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything. From here, I could look down on St Anthony’s Church.
Bakti Woodlands was the venue for our evening meal, another relatively short walk. The meal was good, but as often happens, one of the ordered items didn’t show up. Just as well, in this case, because we had plenty to eat.
As we were walking home again, Liesel felt a splat on her back. I had to check it wasn’t guano of any sort, but it was just a drop of water. It probably dripped from an air-conditioning unit, I suggested. Hah.
We got caught out in the heaviest, most torrential rainstorm, ever, thunder, lightning, raindrops as big as peas.
Making good use of shops’ porches, bus shelters, the overhead railway, the pedestrian road crossing and the creativity (not shopping) mall, we made it home without getting too wet. The worst place was crossing a road where the water was running fast and was already an inch deep. But my feet needed a wash anyway, so not a big deal, really
Every time we go into the bathroom of our apartment, we are reminded that we are loved. Which is nice.
We left Kuala Lumpur as we arrived, dragging our bags into Jamaica Blue, this time for breakfast.
Another Jamaican proverb that we came all the way to Malaysia to discover.
The cab ride to Stephen’s Place in Fraser’s Hill took two hours.
On the way, the driver stopped to refuel the car. He left the engine running. Liesel and I said our final farewells to each other and to planet Earth, exchanged thanks for all the fun and wondered who would claim on the life insurance. But, the car didn’t explode into a ball of flame after all and we’re still here.
Apparently, Malaysians all leave the engine running while fueling their cars. They don’t all light up cigarettes though. Which is nice.
The phone wires dangle from posts by the side of the long and winding road up to Fraser’s Hill. The posts are wooden, rotting, keeling over and at least one tree has fallen onto the wires. Someone, somewhere, will be cut off from the world sooner or later.
We passed by a trio of dogs having a nap by the side of the road. Round the corner, we passed by a reservoir. Hmm, there’s a movie there somewhere, I thought.
There were a few pretty temples too, but most of the buildings we saw on the road outside of the city were just utilitarian and often dilapidated.
When we arrived at our destination, we invited the driver to collect us from here at 8.00am in two days’ time, he politely declined, despite my best attempts at bribery. Mind you, he had been shaking with fear as the road ascended, became narrower and narrower and more twisty. The final straw, I think, was when he momentarily lost the GPS signal.
Fortunately, our host, Stephen (we’re staying at his Place) knows a Canadian man who will take us back for suitable remuneration.
We’re only in Fraser’s Hill for one whole day and already we knew that wasn’t going to be long enough.
I gave this bug the finger to demonstrate its unnatural size. It’s a huge bug, a longhorn beetle.
So is there anything about Stephen’s place that bugs me? The bugs don’t bug me. Yes. We heard a knocking sound, Liesel asked what it was, I said, I don’t know. Then I got a whiff. Actually, I said, yes, I do know. It’s one of those machines that squirts stinky chemicals into the air every now and then, presumably to hide the other smells in the room. Can you turn it off? I’ll have a go, said I. I took it into the bathroom, pressed the wrong button, squirted the stinky stinky fluid all over my hand, swore and eventually found the off switch. I’ll turn it back on before we leave.
Stephen’s Place is a 1930s colonial style bungalow. It’s surrounded by gardens, lots of flowers and orchids, an egg-laying chicken which is kept company by a couple of very vocal geese.
Our evening meal was delicious, homecooked rice, egg, meat-substitute chicken but very tasty, and for dessert, sago, which I haven’t had for years. All made by Samiah, Stephen’s wife, possible helped by one of the maids-in-training.
Afterwards, we went for a quick walk, fully aware of the rapidly setting Sun.
We walked along the road knowing there would be little to no traffic, enjoying nature, all the trees and bushes, the sounds of the local fauna and then…
It makes sense to put a phone mast at the top of a hill, but it was still a bit of a shock to actually see it!
The bush was quite dense but we did catch a decent view now and then. We were also keeping an eye on the grey skies and an ear on the rumbling thunder that seemed to be getting closer.
There were no bus shelters or shops here to hide under if the storm came our way. But it didn’t. We did however see the rare sight of a rainbow just as the Sun dipped its toes below the horizon.
As we walked down the road, we were buzzed by a barrage of plume-toed swiftlets. We mistakenly thought they were swallows, but Stephen put us right. So named because they grow a feather on the middle toe of each foot. I know, sounds like a lie to tell tourists, right? Inside an old garage, just below the bungalow, there are about 150 nests, so about 300 birds, with chicks, making a lot of noise, flying in and out with remarkable dexterity. The garage hasn’t been used as an automobile storage facility since the 1930s, thanks to the birds, which nest two or three times a year. Harmless to us, I know, but when you can feel the draft as they fly by, you can’t help but flinch a bit.
We’re staying in a complex here in Kuala Lumpur that includes a Creativity Hub. It could be a shopping mall but good for them, there are several ‘shops’ where people display their artistic wares and crafts instead. In the foyer, we found a diorama, a detailed model of somewhere south of Melaka, I think.
The sky is a lovely shade of blue which adds to the authenticity.
KL Forest Eco Park gave us an opportunity to walk about outside for a bit. I lost count of the number of stairs. Come to think of it, I even lost count of the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the canopy walk itself.
High up in the canopy, the heat was just as intense, despite the shade, but the noise from the city was slightly dampened. I can’t work out why it seems so loud in this city, more motorbikes, yes, but traffic is traffic.
After climbing all those stairs, it was a delight to discover that we didn’t have to backtrack and climb down. And neither did we we have to climb down at the other end. We exited the eco park at just the right place, very close to the Kuala Lumpur Tower.
What a shame we won’t be here on April 21st. Every year, there’s a running race up KL Tower’s 2058 stairs. I’d be up for that. I conquered BT Tower’s 1000 steps a couple of years ago, no problem. (In the end, there were only 870, sorry but thanks if you sponsored me: we were all short-changed!)
We bought tickets for the highest possible observation deck, the Sky Deck. In a world first, Liesel got a senior ticket. By mistake, I hasten to add.
As an aside, usually in restaurants, the waiters take a moment to understand that we both want to order the same item. I don’t know if we have funny accents, or their English is nearly as bad as ours, or if it’s really unusual in Malaysia for two people in a party of two to both order the same thing. Lots of questioning, checking, double takes. We get what we ordered, but the ordering process is unnecessarily troublesome. Here, at KL Tower, surpringly, “one adult and one senior” was interpreted as “two seniors”. Much to Liesel’s chagrin and my delight!
There are four lifts in KL Tower, one of which was out of order, so we waited a while before being transported up 300 metres to the Sky Deck. In a lift with 21 other people. After the 54 seconds ascent, it was a relief to be able to breathe again.
The view over the city was good, just a bit hazy so hard to see the hills in the distance.
I was surprised to see that the Petronas Twin Towers appeared to be just a little taller than the KL Tower itself.
Our tickets also included a Sky Box. I don’t know why they thought we needed a device to receive digital television broadcasts from the Astra satellite at 28.2°E, but that was just a misunderstanding. Here, the Sky Box is a glass box that overhangs the observation deck. You can walk on it, sit on it and have your photo taken on it. Nope. Palms are sweaty enough already, thanks very much.
Another surprise as we walked around the Sky Deck, edging past not one but two Sky Boxes, was spotting another pair of Petronas Towers. Who knew?
Palms sweaty enough already, did I say? Imagine staying at Platinum, going for a swim, and getting out of the wrong side of the pool.
Back down on planet Earth, we found our way to St Mary’s Cathedral. It started off as a cute little wooden church, and it is still expanding. It’s not big nor highly decorated but we were entertained by the organist for a while, in the cool. I recognised the tune he was playing, but couldn’t quite remember who wrote it. Bach? Maybe. Definitely not Vengaboys, thanks, Shazam! The pipe organ was built for the church in 1895 by Henry Willis who also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the original Grand Organ of the Royal Albert Hall.
It was a short walk to Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. We didn’t see it at its best, due to building works. But next to the square is an early example of Moghul architecture in Malaysia. Known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it now houses a couple of government ministries. But just along the road is the National Textile Museum and this was our next respite from the heat outside.
We would love to be able to go for a long walk around the city, but we are, let’s be honest, wimps, and the heat is just too much. Added to which, every time you survive crossing the road is a bonus, just ridiculously stressful. But we enjoy museums, and this one especially is right up Liesel’s street.
We discovered how batik is done: there are many more stages than we thought. Not something you can easily knock up at home.
There was some lovely jewellery here too. Here’s a preview of Liesel’s birthday present.
Round gold earrings with a central star design and studded with roughly-cut colourless stones. They were worn by Malay and Nyonya women in Melaka during the 1940s.
The Grab app to grab a cab works really well and the drivers are all very skilled at negotiating the traffic, the motorbikes, the jay-walking visitors, ahem. But there’s a competition to see who can have the most impaired view through the windscreen.
Stickers plus religious artefacts plus mobile phone plus everyday dirt all add to the adventure.
The National Museum of Malaysia repeats a lot of the history we’ve seen elsewhere. I feel so proud that the British came along to save the locals from the clutches of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch invaders. Independence Day in 1965 is still a cause for great celebration. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!
What a lot of stairs to climb up to enter the museum. You think that’s bad enough? Wait until you see the stairs you have to walk up to access the disabled toilet!
Pengkalan Kempas is near Port Dickson and is the source of these monoliths: carved granite, known as “sword” and “rudder”, found near the grave of a sheik who died in 1467.
There were more royal seals here, and to pretend they’re older than they really are, the dates are given using the Islamic calendar. This is the seal of Sultan Omar Ibni Sultan Ahmed, 1286 AH.
1286 AH is 1869 AD, more or less.
The 100-year old Balinese Kris is a dagger, a weapon, but the workmanship of the handle is stunning. The hilt is in the form of a squatting Hindu deity with a decorative copper ring at the base.
The ceramic plate has a colourful geometric design, definitely Islamic influence here.
Would I like a new pair of slippers for Christmas? Yes, if they’re as cute as these ones.
There’s a lot of history here in Malaysia, and as we discussed, Liesel and me, we’re so disappointed that none of this was taught us at school. Certainly my history lessons mainly involved the lives of the kings and queens of England. The East India Company was mentioned but only as a Great, British enterprise to be proud of. We were totally oblivious to other cultures, overseas, at that time.
So when we’re reading descriptions of the items on display, and reading stories, there are always references to people and places that are meaningless to us. The overall impression we have though, is that Chinese, Indians, Malays, all the various peoples in the region traded with each other, and all got along pretty well. Some people converted to Islam, some didn’t, there was no big falling out. Until the Europeans came along, maybe just to trade at first, but then to take over, to invade, to conquer.
It’s interesting to see how successfully Malaysia is managing, in its multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ways. I’m sure there is an element of racism in some places, but it’s not as overt as it is in little England right now. Here’s funny thing: you have to read it.
So, Bat came from a cow’s vomit? I thought that was just Nigel Farage!
It’s time for Conundrum of the Day. The universal sign for a restaurant or a café seems to be an icon depicting a knife and fork.
But in Malaysia, in a restaurant, you’re usually given a spoon and fork to eat with. I use the spoon as if it were a knife, to cut and to push the food. We sometimes do get a knife and fork, but rarely. And there was that one time when I was given a fork and fork by mistake. Strangely, we’ve never been offered chopsticks, not even in Chinese places. Explain that!
The Mid Valley Megamall is as big and as bad as it sounds. It’s a short distance from the museum but the cab took ages to fight its way through the traffic.
While inside the mall, we missed the rainstorm. But we did walk up and down, miles and miles of shops, even though we had no intention of buying anything. Nice to see a ToysЯUs and a Mothercare, even though supposedly, both have gone out of business.
I did look in the bookshop for a Slitherlink Puzzle book, to no avail. Meanwhile, Liesel was walking around the furniture shoppe testing out the chairs (quite right too).
Every now and then, we detected the slight stench of durian, not very strong, but we were surprised they were allowed to sell such things in a mega mall. Liesel wondered why I was taking so many photos inside a shopping arcade. Well, this portrait was specially requested, even though M&S Foodhall didn’t have anything we required.
But the other pictures can provide plenty of fuel the next time your favourite radio presenter asks you to build a person out of shops’ names.
Yes, I did make one of them up!
And then, very nearly a disaster. I received a message from the service provider telling me that I’d nearly used up all my allocation of data! Not only that, my phone was down to less than 20% charge. There was a very real possibility that I might not be able to Grab a cab to get home. Luckily, I squeezed out enough bandwidth and energy, and we didn’t have to walk all the way back to our residence.
But we did walk home from the vegetarian restaurant where we had a nice meal, apart from the mushrooms that were made from leather so not totally vegetarian at all.
There must be something strange in the food here. If you’re not bovvered by other people’s dreams, you are permitted to leave the room here and now.
I was thinking about riding my bike to school. I remembered doing so before (I never did in real life) avoiding the main road, the A3100, but riding a road parallel to it. (There isn’t one IRL.) But as I was about to set off, I realised that I would never get up Holloway Hill in Godalming on the old 3-speed postman’s bike. (Holloway Hill is long and steep and they’ve now installed handrails on the steepest part, IRL.) This was on a Thursday and I knew that Friday would be my last day of school so I parked the postman’s bike by the house over the road (from my childhood home) and caught the bus to school as usual.
The sense of relief on waking up almost brought tears to my eyes. No school, no postman’s bike, phew.
Liesel and I went to the Cow’s Nest again for a coffee. We chatted with Nina: she told us about the edible sea snails the midnight torch-bearers were looking for last night. She told us about the 4-week drought and the dams that are becoming too dry.
We watched and listened to the storm roll in. One clap of thunder made me leap out of the seat, clutching my heart which I carefully reinserted into my chest.
It was good to watch the rain from inside. There was a brief power cut and so my second coffee was postponed.
Again, I messed up the Slitherlink puzzle in the paper: I need more practice with these.
We were again joined by a couple of geckos for supper, but the peacock didn’t turn up this time. This is a terrific venue for families: we really enjoyed watching the children play. We especially enjoyed seeing the twins, each wearing one blue and one yellow shoe.
Liesel’s prediction that we wouldn’t leave this hotel resort at all for the whole weekend proved to be correct. We’d eaten at most of the venues here, avoiding the World Bank Group where possible. And every time we passed the sign, I read it as Cow’s Nest. It is of course Crow’s Nest, but with dubious typography.
We were glad this was our final night when the new neighbours moved in. Lots of shouting late at night and early in the morning. A total, lairy wunch of bankers.
The driver who took us to Kuala Lumpur was not at all chatty and we suspect he didn’t speak much English. So far, in all the cab rides, I’ve not heard one radio station that’s made me want to tune in at other times. Very similar feel to Britsh commercial stations, but some of the adverts are much more sexist than we’re now used to. Help your wife out by employing someone to clean the house!
The highway was littered with billboards, something I’d not really noticed before. But oh what excitement when we first saw the Petronas Towers in the distance.
Kuala Lumpur was our first proper capital city since Wellington. It’s a mix of old and new, tatty and shiny, very busy and very noisy.
We’re in a 23rd floor apartment and because it wasn’t ready when we arrived, we hung out in the local coffee bar, Jamaica Blue.
We can’t seem to get away from these little sayings and mottos and homilies, all sound advice, no doubt, but I wonder why they’re so ubiquitous here in Malaysia?
We’ve moved in now, so we’re allowed to refer to the city as KL, like the locals do. According to the weather app, on arrival here it was 34°C (93°F) but it felt like 42°C (108°F), due to the humidity and just being in the city where the buildings were radiating heat too.
In the evening, we again watched a storm, this time from the safety of our apartment. The sky really did light up.
Our first KL breakfast was at Jamaica Blue, which is just a two minute walk from the gate. At least we can now use the gate, we have an electronic key. The first time we came in, we had to show ID to the security guy and we wondered whether we’d have to do that every time.
The Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia was as fascinating and interesting as we’d hoped it would be. I like the geometric designs, the astronomical equipment, the calligraphy. Liesel likes the manuscripts and the textiles. The various old editions of the Qu’ran were illuminated just as beautifully and as intricately as our old, medieval Holy Bibles are.
It’s strange how things evolve: the Arabic script developed in different ways in different places, and in the end, Square Kufic looks just like a modern day QR code.
They wouldn’t let me take the dismantled astrolabe from the cabinet. I was just going to fix it for them, that’s all.
But as least I have a picture. For a long time, we thought photography wasn’t allowed, but nobody else was being told off, so I joined in.
I tried to draw some of the patterns, but I really needed a ruler, compasses and maybe even cheat a bit with a protractor.
The domes. Oh wow, they were gorgeous. I had to lie down to look at them, so well designed and the decoration is so well executed.
There were weapons on display, jewellery, fabrics, clothing, scale models of various mosques worldwide, even the Taj Mahal.
Here’s a tip: if you ever come to Kuala Lumpur, visit the Islamic Arts Museum. You might bump into some strange characters, but it all adds to the fun.
And even while we were outside waiting for the next cab, I just stood there mesmerised by this, possibly the most beautifully decorated pillar in the world. Magic.
In the evening, we walked to Tarma, an Iraqi street food restaurant, if there can be such a thing. We walked through a street market, we fought off several men trying to thrust their own menus into our hands. It was a bustling part of the city, that’s for sure.
And what’s this? Oh no, another slogan on the wall! Not complaining though, the laffa, the Iraqi bread, was fabulous. As was the rest of the meal: Liesel says it’s the best one so far!
We walked back a different way, less busy, just as difficult to cross the roads. There are pedestrian crossings, few and far between, but the green man only gives you one or two seconds to cross the road, and the red stop lights don’t seem to apply to motorcycles anyway: mind your toes.
We decided not to visit any of the night clubs, but this would have been my choice: it evokes memories of comatose old Father Jack suddenly jerking back to life, for some reason.
Yes, a wise decision to walk home. We could have chosen public transport but probably would have caught…
It’s nearly the end of March but it’s also nearly the end of May, hooray! After Thatcher, I never thought we’d have a worse prime minister and we’ve just had two in a row. Waiting for the hattrick.
For a few seconds when I woke up, I forgot it was my birthday. Then I remembered. And then I remembered where I was. And the feeling of excitement and well-being totally out-weighed any sense of dismay at being yet another year older.
Postman Liesel delivered two cards: thank you Helen and Adam, Martha, William, Jenny and Liam!
I enjoyed my birthday big bash bonanza breakfast buffet but I didn’t want to over-stuff myself. A massage was booked for 10am. I know: two massages within a few days! Happy birthday, me!
It was brilliant: she found all the usual suspects, pops and clicks in my muscles. The treatment included feet being washed and scrubbed, tea before and a pot of ginger tea afterwards, out on the balcony overlooking the sea. Wonderful.
There are a number of pools here at the hotel, and the biggest is for adults only. That’s where we spent most of the afternoon. Swimming, reading, napping. And repeat. Happy birthday, me!
This was our way of life for the next few days. Big breakfast, short walk, pool time.
We heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but no storm materialised. We chose in the end not to climb the coconut tree as I’d suggested in my Facebook status.
I spoke to Helen and to Martha on the phone, despite the best efforts of the iffy wiffi.
Summertime and the living is easy. This feels like a proper holiday, by the sea, relaxing by the pool, enjoying cocktails in the evening. I’m not sure I would enjoy this sort of break for more than a few days at a time, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for now. A nice break from hikes, museums, city life. Happy birthday, me!
After such a big breakfast, we felt no need for a substantial lunch and even our evening meals have not been that large.
Other entertainment in the pool is provided by the swallows that dive down for a quick dip. I went into the water with my phone, hoping for a good close-up photo, but sod’s law: this was when the largest group of people we’d ever seen chose to use the pool at the same time. Five of them. So, no swallow photo.
Lazybones, sitting in the Sun, how you gonna get your day’s work done?
I went for a walk along Riau Beach, the one closest to our room. It was the busiest beach we’ve seen for a long time: we now expect to have a beach to ourselves! All sorts of people here and all doing normal stuff, burying their dad in the sand, digging holes, paddling in the sea, making sand castles, having picnics.
As it was a couple of hours before sunset, I tried for an artistic shot and this silhouette is as good as I managed.
There were lots of holes on the beach, possibly made by those little crabs I saw the previous day. Very clever, hundreds of little balls of sand expelled and probably a complex warren underneath.
My leg is just to give an idea of scale! Plus, that’s my birthday treat for you: the sight of my lovely leg.
Me mind on fire, me soul on fire, feeling hot hot hot. But nicely hot, not so uncomfortably hot that I can’t think nor concentrate nor do anything physical.
Entertainment from the beach was provided by a woman singing in the distance and by groups of people falling off their banana boats as the waves came in.
I saw a pile of bright yellow mangoes and thought I’d indulge.
Imagine my disappointment when I got close enough to see that in fact, it’s a rope of float buoys and not really edible.
So, a small evening meal, after cocktails of course, and there was room for dessert, the nearest we could find to a large slice of actual cake. Happy birthday, me!
In the middle of the night, when the tide was out, we saw a few people in the distance on the sand-flats, walking about with torches. We assume they were fishing for something very specific and nocturnal. But neither of us volunteered to go out and ask.
Hotter then a pepper sprout. But our room was air-conditioned and it really is much easier to sleep when it’s not too hot inside.
There is much less haze here than in Melaka too. The horizon is as it should be, a nice, sharp boundary between the sea and the sky.
Another big breakfast, another lounge by the pool, another distant rumble of thunder. We had coffee inside. Total excitement when Liesel knocked over her mango juice with the newspaper. It missed me, though (take note, Jyoti).
Liesel phoned her Mom and we found the wifi signal to be much more reliable outside, by the beach. Explain that, you technical people.
I went down to investigate the piles of sand along the waterfront.
Yes, worms, being dug up and later to be used as fish bait. Apparently, they’re expensive to buy in a shop.
In the afternoon, while I was busy attempting, and messing up, a new kind of puzzle in today’s newspaper, Liesel filmed the swallows.
She returned to our room while I continued with another puzzle (messed that one up too) and another swim. And while I was sitting there, minding my own business, there was a crash. A small coconut landed right by the pool. Followed closely by several pieces of bark.
I was so glad I was wearing my brand new hard hat. Happy birthday, me!
I don’t know if there was a monkey up in the tree, but someone was taking photos of the goings-on up above.
Peacocks can count to 6. We had one sitting close to us while we ate dinner, and every few minutes it would shout/squawk six times, never five, never seven, always six. But he never did find his mate.
Other fellow diners included a couple of geckos playing peek-a-boo around a lamp.
Still, I’d rather see them than what was outside our room: a dead cockroach.
All day I’d been trying a take a picture of a particular bird: dark, oily green in colour with piercing red eyes. Very timid, very wary of me and my camera. But I did get a bright red eye later on.
Other housemates include the birds that either live or at least spend a lot of time in the roof space above our bathroom. We hear their high-pitched calls and now we know the source of the noise, actually, it’s quite relaxing.
Spring has arrived back home but here it’s still definitely hotter then Hull, and it’s great.
As I write, it’s about 1:15pm, two days after my birthday. Liesel is having a massage while I’m sitting here, outside, in the so-called Author’s Recluse. Yes, I’m pretending to be an author. Or maybe I’m a recluse.
Every few seconds, I have to blow an ant or a small spider off the keyboard. From behind, I can hear a cockerel and some other small birds. In the opposite direction, the call to dhuhr, midday prayer has just finished.
I’m under a shade so quite cool. And this is the terrible view I have.
Now and then, there’s a slight smoky smell, but not as strong nor as pungent as in Melaka. And the whiff from the petting zoo sometimes wafts this far too. But, this is great, there is no smoking anywhere at this hotel.
Bad news: later on, we did see a cigarette butt on the path.
Good news: the nighttime torchlight prowlers were looking for edible sea snails, according to Nina, today’s barista.
The only thing we missed on my birthday was joining the two million other people marching in London campaigning for a People’s Vote on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union. Now that we know what Brexit actually means (“Brexit means Brexit” was always bollocks, PM), let’s have a proper, informed decision, since the government have totally messed it all up.
I have signed the petition to Revoke Article 50 too. I was about number 170,000. As I write, there are over 5 million signatures. If you haven’t signed, here’s the link. Please sign even if you disagree with the petition, it’ll be alright, honest. (Another little lie for brexiters to fall for.)
A march and a petition: maybe futile gestures in the face of a PM desperate to cling on to her job and who puts the unity of her political party before the interests and well-being of the country as a whole, but someone’s protest, someone’s signature just might be the tipping point we need.
I apologise for a rare and brief political rant. Happy birthday, me!
We’d originally booked a bus to take us most of the way to Port Dickson but when, a couple of days ago, our cab driver Masri offered to drive us instead, we accepted his offer. At a much cheaper price than Grab would have charged. And easier for us too: door to door.
So we said farewell to Silverscape Tower B with its stinky lobby and its lifts that wouldn’t take us higher than our own floor, so no rooftop views for us.
Goodbye to the redcaps, the security personnel who act as concierge and who saluted us every time we went in or out.
But good riddence to the banks of switches on most of the walls in our apartment.
One of the arrays has switches for lights in the bedroom and for the bathroom suite, for the fan, for the aircon. And after four days, we still relied on trial and error.
On the 90-minute drive, Masri told us about places that we’d missed out on, but, as usual, we added them to a notional list for when we return.
We saw a turkey by the side of the road. Or, as they’re known here, a Dutch chicken. We passed by a Petronas processing plant and at least one army camp. For much of the way, we drove close to the coastline.
There were many large cargo ships out in the straits and even cruise ships come into Melaka from time to time.
More Malay to confuse Mick: hora means day. Jam means hour.
We were dropped off at Avillion Admiral Cove and we thought, what a posh place. Well, it was the wrong place. We had to Grab a cab to take us to our real desination, Avillion Port Dickson. As Liesel said, even when you try to take out the adventure by changing plans, you just find yourself in a different one.
Yes, we’re in a hotel for this special weekend. Our room is above the sea, although the tide was out when we arrived.
We went for a walk around the hotel complex: oh alright, the resort. Liesel suggested we might not have to leave it at all.
The petting zoo has rabbits, tortoises, doves, chickens, peacocks, peahens and of course, the birds at least can get out if they want to.
There’s a nice big pool for adults only where we spent a lot of time later in the day, swimming, reading and napping, swimming, reading and napping.
At 0700 and 1800 daily, we can go and see butterflies at the Butterfly Patch. But at 1800 today, I was resting my eyes, by the pool.
We found out why the birds don’t fly too far away: there was a Chinese lady feeding them bread. The peacocks were choosing white bread over the tasty-looking grain that was also available.
I went for a quick walk on the beach and found a million little crabs. They all ran for their holes and so instead of counting crabs, I counted the holes. And there were exactly one million.
The wooden decking that we walk on to reach our room is loose in places. Someone needs to come along with a bag of nails and secure the planks. But I hope they don’t do all that banging before we’ve left.
And of course the tide did come in later.
Let’s hope the white noise of the waves crashing on the stilts and the smell of the ozone gives us a good night’s sleep. Certianly the bed is comfotable enough – and big enough for about ten people. If they’re good friends.
In the evening, after watching a very quick sunset, we both had cocktails, gin fizzes before heading for our room.
Just a quick post today because tomorrow is a very special day.
I never would have predicted that Port Dickson, Malaysia, would be the location for my 26th birthday tomorrow. OK, I’ll admit it: it’s my 2⁶th birthday, that’s 64 in English. But I’m very glad to be here with Liesel.