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.
We moved on to Melaka in the state of Malacca. The spelling varies, we’ve even seen Melaqa. Liesel started chanting Melaka-laka boom-boom but the nurse came by with her meds.
We paid one final visit to The Mossy Forest for breakfast: no freebies this time, and it was a fond farewell. We walked the rest of the way to the bus terminal, one of the local stray dogs showing us the way. I’m sure all the passers-by thought he was with us. There was a second dog, also wearing a collar, but he disappeared, perhaps to guide another group of visitors.
The rest of the day was spent sitting on a bus. Two buses, in fact, as we had to change back at Amanjaya Bus Terminal. Yes, it might be an ‘ekspres’ service but we had to travel twice the distance.
The second bus ride was nearly seven hours long. Seven hours! It was mainly a straight road though, so I was able to read and nod off and read and nod off. I was sitting by myself, Liesel and Jyoti having been allocated seats much nearer the front.
Motorcycles are very popular here, seemingly all over Malaysia. When the bus driver stopped for a quick break, I leapt off for biological reasons and bought some snacks. What I thought was mango slices turned out to be unidentifiable, almost tasteless slices of orange, sticky wood.
Our new residence was a 20 minute ride in a Grab cab from the bus station. A 44-storey monstrosity right on the waterfront. We’re on the 16th floor.
A quick meal and after such an exhausting day, we went to bed. The Chinese restaurant only had menus in Chinese so we had to rely on the pictures and trust that they understood the concept of “no meat”. Outside, a fire was burning in an open bin. The smoke came in, I closed the sliding door, sometimes sliding it too far, so the other end became exposed to the fresh outside air.
The next day was sad. Jyoti returned to Singapore to see some friends for a couple of days, before her 40-hour return to Alaska. That makes seven hours on a bus seem like heaven. So now, it’s just Liesel and me again. And what a busy day this was. Well, no, not really.
Melaka provides bananas in individual plastic bags. If only bananas grew with their own built-in protective layer. But at least, there’s a handy eating guide.
We went out for a short meander. The footpaths are hard to negotiate, steps, big cracks, broken tiles, steep kerbs, cut down trees, uncovered drainage ditches, water pipes, parked motorcycles and the odd restaurant making use of the pavement for their tables.
But every now and then, we come across a small shrine.
Some have incense burning which adds to the general smell of bonfires.
This is our current pad. Oh for the days of a cabin in the woods! Our apartment is on the other side, overlooking the sea. Sometimes, you can even make out the horizon, but there are so many bonfires and there is a lot of haze here.
Below us is a new shopping mall with a few shops, but most are empty lots and one floor hasn’t even been finished yet.
It’ll be great when it’s finished, I’m sure, but we were perplexed by the proximity of this shiny new place to the old town, where many of the shops are run down, empty, up for sale or rent.
On the 13th floor of our tower is a swimming pool which sounds very appealing in the heat. There’s also an area of astroturf which needs to be finished. And over in the residential part of town, at least one fire is going.
We’ve seen a few small fishing boats in the sea, too, plus a couple of faster vessels.
We visited two museums and an art gallery all in one day. First though, after a really long lie-in, during which I was accused of snoring, we went to the local Hard Rock Café for a late breakfast slash early lunch. Ceasar (sic) salad and chili fries for me. Cauliflower burger for Liesel.
And while we were in here admiring Tom Petty’s old jacket and Kiss’s old guitar and listening to Taylor Swift and Bob Marley, it rained. It was a torrential downpour and the purpose of the high kerbs became clear.
We ate slowly so as not to have to go back out into the rain, but we’ve never felt rushed anywhere in Malaysia or Singapore.
Sometimes here, it’s been like being in a self-help book. There are cute little slogans on many walls.
This is Hard Rock’s offering. Did you eat all the biscuits? No, I only ate one. Well, where are the rest? Meanwhile, in our own apartment, we have…
The wall in our place in Ipoh was full of these things: I wish I’d taken pictures, now. The best one, though, said “Do not conform”, and it was hung at a jaunty angle!
The Baba and Nyonya Museum, round the corner from Hard Rock, told the story of an immigrant Chinese family, the Chans. It’s a house, restored to how it would have looked about 100 years ago. No photos from inside, but what a fascinating insight to a totally alien culture which still managed to borrow from the west. There was a Victorian influenced teak wood sideboard. One of the ancestors was a real anglophile, playing the violin, setting up “gentlemen’s clubs” and playing lawn bowls and tennis.
Seven generations of Straits-born Chinese can be traced, much better documented than many western families.
It was hard to judge whether this was a typical family or a relatively wealthy one in the area.
The artwork was very well presented. The paintings tended to be narrow and tall, rather then the golden ratio portrait and landscape formats we’re more used to. I still find it interesting that, however different other cultures are, however separated from us by distance and by time, they very often produce arts and artifacts that are aesthetically pleasing to our western-oriented sensibilities.
There was a display of old banknotes here too: the original Malay dollar, the Japanese dollar known as “banana notes” because of the bananas on the $10 bill. The Malaysian ringgit has only been used since 1969.
Some of the costumes were stunningly gorgeous, a lot of work goes into these items.
Along the road, we found more pretty tiles to walk on.
One local hero was depicted in the street. I had to keep moving so that other passers-by wouldn’t mistake me for him.
Walking along, you’re usually looking down but when you do pause to look up, some of the old buildings are very attractive. I wouldn’t necessarily want to live here, but these are much easier on the eye than too much modern glass and steel.
We have no idea what a 5D Museum is. But if they’re messing with the spacetime continuum, I want nothing to do with it.
Next coffee stop and we came across more homespun philosophy.
These are all nice, positive, kind sentiments of course, but a bit twee when you see them all together and all over the place. Give me the old Wear Sunscreen song any day.
We met a celebrity: Simon the Traveler. Simon is a plush penguin from Ukraine travelling around the world with his friends. Today he was with Igor.
We had a quick chat with Igor since Simon wasn’t really talking. Unfortunately, while we were drinking our coffee over the road, Simon and Igor were removed from the doorway they’d been sitting in.
Other than a durian flavoured ice lolly the other day, I’ve not tried a durian. They are a bit stinky, you can always sniff out the stall where they’re being sold. But staying away from them might be the best course of action.
We were invited several times to take a ride on a trishaw. Like a rickshaw, only it’s a bicycle with a sort of sidecar. Highly decorated in a kawaii stylee, Hello Kitty for example, and playing very loud music in most cases. We declined all the offers.
Totally out of place in old Melaka is this Dutch style windmill.
It’s opposite a big so-called “Red House” which was also built by the Dutch.
The Maritime Archeology Museum was a little disappointing, to be honest. Very small and the best single exhibit was a couple of meteorites, and they were outside anyway.
The big pile of old Chinese pottery was quite funny, though, not much time spent arranging this in an orderly fashion.
The small Folks Art Gallery (Seni Rakyat) was very quiet, as they often are. Just one man at the desk, a few CCTV cameras, us and a couple of other viewers.
Sungai Melaka (the river). I’d like to credit the artist but it turns out Cat Minyak just means oil painting. We liked a lot of the pictures here but couldn’t really see any of them in our own home.
We had a giggle at the combined optician and ice cream shop, not a common pairing.
Back at our place, I felt the need for more exercise, so I went for a walk. Very disappointed to find I couldn’t get anywhere near the waterfront, so I headed into town. Where I had a massage. RM40 for an hour. That’s about £8. Wow. And the masseues was nearly twice Dawn’s age, so I make that about 10 times the value! (Only kidding, Dawn!) She was powerful though, she got the kink out of my back that had been there since ducking under a tree in the jungle a few days ago. And she found the usual knots in my shoulders. You can also ride a trishaw for an hour for RM40. Hmmm, I think I got the better deal.
When I got back, with some shopping, I went down for a quick swim in the pool. It was very pleasant, with just a few other people.
There was a full Moon and it’s the equinox. We’re just 2° north of the equator, so does that make it a Spring equinox for us here at Silverscape Tower B?
Silverscape Management: Hello, is that the Letter Company.
Letter Company: Yes it is. How can we help?
SM: We ordered a B from you but it’s too big.
LC: What do you mean, it’s too big?
SM: Well, it doesn’t fit on our pillar.
LC: Hmm. What size is it?
SM: We ordered an XXXXL size B but it looks more like an XXXXXL.
LC: I see. You know we don’t take returns: it’s in the Ts and Cs.
SM: But what can we do? We can’t just have a big B sitting in the lobby.
LC: It’s quite soft plastic. Have you tried bending it around the pillar?
SM: No. It’s not a round pillar, it’s a square one.
LC: In that case, it should stick on with no problem.
SM: But then some of the B will be poking out, blocking the path.
LC: Hmm. That’s tricky then. Let me think…
SM: Hello, are you still there?
LC: Yes, I’ve been speaking to my colleagues.
LC: And they’ve come up with the perfect solution.
SM: Which is?
LC: Stick the B on one face of your square pillar. Then saw off the overhanging part of the letter and stick that onto the neighbouring face, nicely lined up.
SM: That’s brilliant! Thank you very much.
LC: You’re welcome.
On our final full day in Melaka, we did some laundry then went for a walk to visit an old Sultanate Palace.
This bloke had a small bonfire going in his bin. He wasn’t the only one.
This bloke must have thought he was in Manchester, parking on the pavement like that.
This bird, which someone named a magpie crow, wasn’t going to budge from his perch for anybody.
This frog was huge, it made us jump, just sitting there trying to cross the road like the old ’80s video game.
This is a rare example of a pedestrian crossing, with a green man who gives you enough time to cross the road.
This is a rare example of catering for disabled people in wheelchairs and for buggies. How you’d get here in the first place along those horrendous footpaths and crossing the scary roads, well, that’s a different issue.
The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum itself was very interesting. The history of the Sultanate of Melaka only goes back to about 1400. We saw costumes, weapons, ceramics but unfortunately, the captions were hard to read: print too small and it was quite dark inside.
We’ll be decorating the walls in our Manchester apartment like this.
A small section of the incredibly wide Palace, a wooden structure, all built with no nails.
Another bit of a walk to find some lunch, during which meal, it rained again. Not just rain, it was a thunderstorm. Outside I was using Grab to book a cab, when lightning struck the along the road, a few feet away. We got wet just climbing into the cab: the driver had forgotten to unlock the back doors. I missed the opportunity of taking a picture of the storm, and we spent the rest of the afternoon inside!
One advantage of the rain was it cleared the air. Moving around outside through the bonfire smoke and the incense and then the smell of cleaning chemicals and perfume counters in the shopping malls, all that wasn’t doing Liesel’s lungs any favours. I suggested buying a surgical mask, but then it rained anyway.
At least, we found out how Melaka came to be so named.
At lunchtime, Liesel had had a smoothie. The flavour reminded her of something from her youth: Orange Julius. I’d never heard of this before but I was delighted to discover that the company was founded by one of my long lost relations in America.
Just when you get used to one place, it’s time to move on. If this is what it’s like being on the run from the justice system, we won’t be committing an offence any time soon. Oh alright then. I apologise for any offence caused if, when I mention our next destination, Cameron Highlands, an image of probably our worst ever prime minister comes to mind. (There May be some competition, to be fair.)
For some reason, we had to be at Amanjaya Bus Terminal half an hour before the scheduled departure time. Jyoti had booked online, and she tried hard, but nobody wanted to give us actual physical tickets.
It was a long cab ride and the driver told us that there was a bus terminal much closer in Ipoh, but when you’re booking online, well in advance, from overseas, why would it even occur to you to check that you were travelling from the closest bus terminal to your destination?
Amanjaya is a very busy teminal and we had plenty of time to pass. I entertained myself by wandering around, intrigued by the not-yet-open retail opportunities on the upper floor.
The ladies in the various ticket booths were on the fine borderline between amusement and annoyance with their tuneless ululations, sometimes solo but more often in discord and disharmony. Sirens, attracting unwary ticket-buyers, only tuneless. Unfortunately, the official announcements were incomprehensible too, too much echo-cho-cho in the vast cavern of a bus terminal.
I forked out RM3 for a chair massage. It felt like a small man was hiding amongst the upholstery running a rolling pin up and down my spine and around the shoulder blades. Not unpleasant but a good reminder that there will always be some things a human can do much better than a robot.
The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands followed a long and winding road up and up into the hills. It was hard to read for too long, so many sudden turns as well as bumps in the road. It was however easy to nod off for literally seconds at a time. We climbed up very high, my ears could tell, and they passed on the information to me by frequently popping. Ipoh is about 22 metres above sea level, Tanah Rata 1440.
During the ride, the phone signal was intermittent but as we passed through one small town, I received a plethora of messages. One from my sister in Christchurch said “Don’t worry, we’re ok”. Oh no, I thought, not another earthquake. No, worse. A gunman had murdered worshippers in two different mosques and car bombs had been found and defused. New Zealand is the last place you’d expect to see this sort of terrorist attack, so disappointing and upsetting. The evil that is so-called “white supremacy” just continues to spread, aided and abetted by our own governments and the extreme right-wing press.
We’ve been living in a multi-cultural environment for the last few weeks, and it’s been great: everyone gets along and the only problem I’ve had is being able to find vegetarian food.
On arrival at Tanah Rata, we hailed a teksi which took us an embarrassingly short distance to our new home, a hostel called Father’s Guesthouse.
We were in a different universe here, where time runs backwards. It was much cooler than at nearly sea level so we anticipated a few good nights’ sleep. Little did we know!
Jyoti and I walked down the road to look for a coffee bar while Liesel had a rest.
A poinsettia is not just for Christmas. Left to its own devices outdoors, it will grow into a tree.
We found a nice place, The Mossy Forest Café, had scones and coffee, and took a slice of cake back for Liesel.
The hostel seems to be mainly occupied by a strange breed of creature: young people. There are signs telling us to smoke outside and that the place for parties is in the town centre.
Jyoti knows the Cameron Highlands from over 40 years ago and is a bit saddened, if not surprised, by the amount of development during that time. There’s a lot of litter around, mainly water bottles, which is always a sad thing to see. We walked up a steep hill to Gurdwara Sahib.
Jyoti spoke to a Sikh gentleman there in Klingon, I couldn’t understand a word; actually it was probably Hindi, come to think of it. We went in, a first for me, inside a Sikh place of worship and education. We took our shoes off and if there had been water in the footbath, we would have washed our feet too. I kept my hat on and Jyoti borrowed a scarf to cover her head.
The shrine was colourful but the place as a whole wasn’t as ostentaciously decorated as other religious sites we’ve visited.
Jyoti was very pleased with this poster that nicely summarises Sikh Heritage.
Unicorns live in the jungle around here, and even if we don’t see a real, live one, I was delighted to see this chap on somebody’s roof.
Tanah Rata is a busy little town and so far we’ve found a grand total of one pedestrian crossing. It’s always a challenge crossing the roads here, so we’re grateful for the one-way streets where we should need to look in one direction only before running across.
We found a place for our evening meal, having convinced ourselves that the turtles in the tank weren’t on the menu. The restaurant was decorated with clogs and a lot of memorabilia relating to the Dutch national football team, so lots of orange.
It was a delightfully short walk back to our hostel and a good night’s sleep. Well, poor old Liesel still has a cough, it finally caught up with her again after we thought we’d left it behind in Fiji. The coughing woke up the local cockerel who then decided to wake up everyone else. No problem, we had to be up early to join the tour we’d booked.
The bus picked us up and then collected 15 passengers from other hotels on the way to our first stop: The Butterfly Garden. Rajesh, the driver, was also our guide today, and he told us a little about each of the places we visited.
We have seen the odd butterfly flitting from tree to tree but this was a good place to see some close up. Other bugs were available too.
Rajah Brooke’s birdwing is the national butterfly of Malaysia. There were many here in the garden, sitting still, posing, unlike their cousins outside in the wild. They and other butterflies were even resting on the path that we walked on although, surprisingly, we only saw one squished under someone’s foot.
We were delighted to find an amorous pair of rhinoceros beetles. It reminds me of the picture on the back of Paul McCartney’s Ram album cover.
Of course, they might just be good friends. The golden beetle looks artificial, but it was real, I’m sure. Either that, or fantastically detailed and finely tuned animatronics.
Talking about things being artificial, it’s hard to believe these plants are genuine too, so bright, so vivid.
Some creatures blend into their natural background really well, but when they’re out in the open, you’d think they come from another planet or time, they’re so alien.
There are plenty of other creatures here, scorpions, frogs, tree snakes, more butterflies and all are native to Malaysia, so it’ll be interesting to see how many we spot in real life, out in the wild.
We chose not to buy a collection of dead bugs, pretty as they are. I hope they all died a natural death, after a short and happy life, but who knows?
The Boh Tea Plantation is one of the biggest and still owned by a Scottish family. We were now over 1600 m above sea level. No ear popping today, though.
On the way in, we passed a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Christian chapel all located very close to each other, to cater for plantation workers from all faiths. That’s how it should be done.
Boh doesn’t stand for “Best of Highlands” as some believe. It’s named after a mountain in China, Bohea, and Boh means “precious”. Which led me to wonder: Bic Runga has a sister named Boh. She also has a song called Precious Things. I wonder if the song was named after her sister?
Taken through a dirty bus window, we saw this couple taking a selfie on the edge of a very narrow road. A Darwin Award in the making, perhaps.
In the old days, tea was plucked by hand. Nowadays, they use machines to speed up the process. Workers are paid 26 sen (cents) per kilo: that’s about 5p per kilo.
After the short factory tour, I joined the queue for a quick cuppa.
The colour was gorgeous and the flavour wonderful. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, the tea was hot, so I had to slurp. If anyone had asked, I would have lied that I was a professional tea-taster.
The view of the Sungai Palas Tea Centre was what I’d expected the whole Cameron Highlands to look like.
And this is certainly what Jyoti remembers from her time here in the 1970s. Development, progress…
It was nice and warm, we were all in shirtsleeves. But this young lady was dressed up for the Winter equinoctial celebrations.
Tea leaves go through a number of processes before they’re ready to be turned into a nice cup of tea at home. So it was a surprise to find, during our quick excursion into one of the fields just by the road, that there was that familiar aroma of a fresh brew.
It was Saturday and as had been predicted, the traffic became more and more dense as the day wore on.
We never did find out what the Time Tunnel Museum was all about. Maybe we’ll find a time tunnel somewhere and pay a visit last year.
The bus driver was brilliant, very competent, taking the bus along narrow, winding tracks, letting cars and even buses pass by on the other side when there wasn’t really any room.
Rose Valley must be the kitsch capital of Cameron Highlands. Apparently it is known as the Rose Garden of Malaysia.
It’s always a joy to see Mickey and Minnie of course, but this must be one of the worst copyright infringements ever.
The main attraction here is of course the roses and other flowers. There were signs telling us now to pluck them. I’m going to use that from now on. Stop plucking your nose, Martha!
Some of the statuettes had lost their heads although somehow, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all retained theirs.
Cultural appropriation is a big talking point these days, and done well, it can enhance everyone’s experience. Sometimes though, you think, whoever had that idea, somebody else should have quashed it.
Outside the rose garden there was a fruit market. 101 kinds of fruit but no apples. We bought oranges instead. No strawberries though because the next stop on our tour was the Royal Berry Strawberry Park. There, Jyoti and I took a small basket and went to pluck our own strawberries. We were not supposed allowed to eat free samples.
Here, they’re grown hydroponically, each plant has its own water supply. You cut the stems which are at waist height, no stooping and grovelling at ground level. We enjoyed a strawberry milkshake too plus chocolate-dipped strawberries. The fact that we’d not had time for breakfast was now forgotten.
A big bee greeted us at Ee Feng Gu Apiary.
We sampled three kinds of honey: one made by stinging bees (sweet), one made by smaller, non-stinging bees (slightly smokey) and one made by bees from further down the hills (less sweet).
Liesel didn’t join me but I enjoyed my walk through the beehives.
There were a few bees around but it wasn’t as buzzy as I’d anticipated. To accommodate this disappointment, they’ve installed some impostors.
One thing I didn’t expect to see at the bottom of the hill was a small shrine housing Buddha.
We stopped briefly at Sam Poh Temple, where, unusually, we were allowed to use our cameras inside.
One day, I hope to translate the script on this structure.
All these years of meditating and chanting have been for nought. The words I was presented with on the first day turn out to be slightly wrong. No wonder I’m such a mess.
On returning to our present home town of Tanah Rata, we walked down to what has become our default café for a couple of days: The Mossy Forest. We’d driven close to the actual Mossy Forest earlier on but the coffee bar that bears its name is as close as we’ll get this time.
Our friends Una, Phil and Kiran are currently on holiday in Hawaii. Jyoti and Liesel chose to speak to Una from the café. Luckily, I was the only other customer at that point so all the embarrassment fell on me.
Liesel was very disappointed with her brownie: they’d warmed it up without even asking, and it was rock hard, like a biscuit. On the way out, Liesel passed on a friendly comment.
The cockerel/rooster announced the dawning of a new day. Only it wasn’t dawn. It was three o’flippin’ clock in the morning. It cock-a-doodle-dooed for the next four hours more or less continuously. A couple of pauses lulled us into a false sense of security. The call to prayer is usually a welcome, soothing sound, but at 5.30, we just needed some sleep!
We walked down the road looking for a shop that might sell rooster extermination kits but alas, there were none. So we had breakfast instead to boost our energy levels for the day’s exertions.
The staff in The Mossy Forest remembered us from yesterday and by way of apology and recompense, they didn’t charge us for the coffee we had with our breakfast. It was a mistake to heat the brownie for so long, thanks for letting them know. At one point, we had four staff members serving us. Now I know how the Queen feels much of the time.
Rajen met us outside our hostel as agreed at 9.00. His driver took us to the start of our walk in a 4×4 heavy with the smell of petrol. The plan was for Rajen to take us on a hike through the jungle and for a moment there, I was sure at least one of us would acquire a fuel-sniffing-induced headache.
He was a very good guide with some fascinating stories. He told us about the British army being here in the 1960s, fighting the communists. 700 soldiers were stationed in this very spot. I wondered if (my late first wife) Sarah’s father had been here: I know he was in Malaya at some point.
The population of Tanah Rata has increased from 2000 to 45,000 in the last fifty years: Jyoti was right about the amount of development here.
There are several Walks in the area, some tougher and longer than others. Our main track today would be Walk No 3.
We could expect to see deers, monkeys, birds, snakes, insects, monkeys, unicorns. Well, that didn’t happen and in the case of the snakes, maybe just as well.
The path was narrow, hard to avoid brushing against the plants but there was nothing to worry about unduly. Walking along on the flat was quite technical, lots of tree roots to trip over. But the climbs up and down really were a challenge. The “steps” are just tree roots holding some loose earth in place. Some of the steps were very high. We also had to clamber over some fallen trees and, when descending, we had to hold on to trees, lianas, vines, always checking it wasn’t a snake hanging there. Rajen did provide us each with a stick to help and I found mine most useful for gauging the depth of a step down: I’ve always been useless at climbing down.
On one occasion today, I was so busy concentrating on carefully stepping through the roots that I bashed my head on a branch across the path. Fortunately, the moss growing on this branch was nature’s very own crash pad.
We walked across a couple of streams too, none of us slipped in off the stepping stones.
There are no tigers in this area any more. All gone mainly for Chinese aphrodisiac reasons. Rajen didn’t have much positive to say about the Chinese at all. They don’t care about nature or the environment, they just want to over-develop to make lots of money. The previous, corrupt Malaysian government did nothing to prevent over-development in some places.
The pitcher plant didn’t eat much today: we saw very few insects. No mosquitoes was good. Lack of butterflies was disappointing. Although Jyoti did spot this caterpillar lurking in the bushes.
When deciding which walk to do, we’d opted for “medium” difficulty: not too steep for too long.
I think we got it right. Rajen and Jyoti were able to keep a dialogue going as they walked, I couldn’t. I frequently stopped to catch my breath under the guise of taking a photo.
Everything was green apart from the leaf litter so it was always good to see a splash of colour.
There are 120 species of fern in this jungle, some edible, most not, some have to be cooked, some have to eaten before they unfurl. We didn’t sample any on this occasion.
Aha, a rustle in the bushes, what’s that? A rare member of Homo sapiens out for a solo walk in the jungle, which we all thought was very brave. I’m sure “brave” was the word we agreed upon.
She changed her mind about her chosen route, turned round and overtook us a few minutes later. We also came upon a party of three as we rested at a picnic table, rest area, a totally unexpected sight.
We all had something to eat and were careful to not even leave behind a slither of orange peel. Later, we reached a slight clearing from where we could look down on a cabbage farm.
I knew we were high but being totally surrounded by dense bush, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far we’d climbed.
We descended into Mardi, a small village just along the road from Tanah Rata but it did feel a bit rude to be walking through someone’s farm on the way.
Although this hike can be described as just a long series of trip hazards, it was very enjoyable. We were out for about five hours altogether and afterwards we all agreed that we felt nicely tired from the exertion, not just exhausted due to the heat and humidity.
But what an anticlimax now to be walking along the road. With traffic. I bid farewell to my faithful old stick: maybe someone will pick it up and use it again one day.
After a siesta, of course, we re-visited our favourite café and they presented us with a fresh, warmed, brownie, which was perfect. Still very apologetic! Yes, we did order and pay for other things, but what a nice gesture.
Liesel and I returned to our room while Jyoti briefly visited the local market. She wasn’t there long, though, because the smell of fresh fish was so overpowering.
There are some nights when you just can’t get to sleep. Or when you do, you’re woken by something very quickly. All you want to do the next day is sleep. But on a day when you’re moving on, that’s not really an option.
Liesel and Jyoti went out for breakfast while I took an extra snooze and they brought me some breakfast back. The bread was like a bagel, only without the hole. But it did come with cream cheese. Unusually, we didn’t have to check out of this place until noon: normally it’s 10.00am, so packing was a little more leisurely and I had time to catch up with my writing.
The plan was to catch a train from Butterworth to Ipoh. Even though we checked out later than usual, we still had plenty of time to kill at Butterworth railway station, after a long taxi ride there, including over the Penang Bridge. Our train didn’t depart at 14:30 as we thought, but at 4:30.
J&L chose to stay in the waiting room while I went for a quick walk. Arbitrarily, I headed for Wellesley Residences: maybe there was something historical there, relating to the Duke of Wellington. But no: it really is just a block of flats.
Getting there involved crossing a couple of busy roads. I found a pedestrian crossing, pressed the button, waited for the green man to appear, then waited for two cars and a motorobike to ignore their stop light before I was able to cross the road.
Whereas on a western shopping street you might see clothes shop after clothes shop, or a number of coffee bars close together, here, it seems every third one was a motosikal repair shop. Piles of tyres and engine components spilling out onto the pavement. Well, I say pavement, in the sense of footpath, but this area of real estate is used as a motosikal parking area too.
Outside one restaurant, they’d even set up the kitchen on the sidewalk, so to walk by, you either walked through the premises or along the road.
These cages of stones are the local bollards and to be honest, I think they look much more attractive than big lumps of concrete.
But even motor bikes can’t park everywhere on the pavements. I reported this hole to the authorities. They said they’d send someone to look into it.
Off the main road, I came across a very cute little shrine. Very red, very pretty.
I bought a large bottle of water for RM2.20, that’s about 44p in English money. I also found some cough sweets for Liesel and a snack box of mini poppadoms. My knowledge of the Malay language is slowly improving. Or so I thought. The Malay word for ‘water’ is ‘air’. I think. Either that, or there’s a big conspiracy to confuse this monoglot English person.
Back at the railway station, we continued waiting, walking around, watching the other people. So what an anticlimax the train ride itself was. Comfortable and cool enough, the scenery that we passed was OK, nothing special. I read for a while. Napped.
We took a cab from the station to our hotel in Ipoh. Yes, an actual hotel, even though booked through Airbnb.
We were on the 9th floor this time. The view over the city towards the hills was enhanced by a thunderstorm. Indeed, it rained for a while although we were inside at the time.
In an outrageous turn of events, the Infinity Pool down on the 7th floor is closed for repairs. We might not have used it anyway, but who knows?
We went for a walk and found a nice restaurant for our evening meal then walked back the long way.
While in the bathroom preparing for bed, I was entertained both by a rubbish singer in the karaoke bar just over the road and by the muezzin’s call to prayer from the nearby mosque. The sounds complemented each other beautifully and, oh, alright, humorously.
In the morning, we took a cab to a place for breakfast only to realise on arrival that we could have walked it. But cabs are so cheap, and when you book one using the Grab app, the driver often turns up before you’re quite ready.
The second cab ride of the day took us to the caves. Welcome to Gua Tempurung Geosite Showcave Tours.
Regular readers may recall the photos from the previous post. All SRN of course. Here are a few more interesting and better pictures. There was much more to our cave experience than posing for pictures.
In the vegetation outside, we spotted some of the ‘tomatoes’ we’d seen from the Tree Top Walk. Unfortunately, they were still too high to get a close look.
Although there are many signs telling us not to, some people had climbed over the rail to make their marks on the cave wall.
It would have been far more interesting to see some genuine pre-historic cave art, but carbon-dating confirms this effort to be just two years old.
There was some slightly older artwork available, made by the communist insurgents in the 1950s and ’60s, while they hid in this cave system. Big cars seems to be the main theme.
Today wasn’t the right day, but once or twice a year, the Sun shines in through this gap at exactly the right angle and it appears as a really solid beam of sunlight.
The path is concrete, designed and built by an Aussie. All the noise and vibrations of the building work caused no damage to the cave itself, according to our guide.
We climbed up and up and, unlike the glowworm cave in New Zealand, this one is illuminated all the way through.
During its nearly 2 million year history, the floor has collapsed a few times, revealing different levels and strata on the walls. The stream that flows through the caves was quiet today, but after a couple of days heavy rain, it can become torrential, even bringing in snakes, which don’t otherwise live in the caves.
Stalagmites and stalactites are the main feature here, although our guide, Roslan, did point out some others.
The Golden Flowstone must be an amazing sight when it’s been raining and water flows down into the stream. Even then, the cave never closes to the public, except for Chinese and Malay New Years.
We reached the end of our Dry Tour and looked down on those who had chosen a Wet Tour, walking in the water. But against all the rules, we were strongly encouraged to touch the roof just because we could reach. And I think to provide another photo opportunity. Our grins were pretty rigid by now.
On the way back, we spent a few minutes enjoying the breeze through the ‘Wind Tunnel’. It wasn’t that hot in the cave, but neither was it refreshingly cool.
Back in the real world, we tried to book a cab using the Grab app. Can’t find a driver, it said. Computer says ‘no’.
Fortunately, the lady in the shop had a number which Chris (who we’d met on the tour) called, and a cab arrived for us after about 40 minutes. While waiting, we were entertained by a cat having a snooze on one of the café seats. Suddenly, it woke up, leapt across the path and picked up a lizard with which it played for a while. Sometimes, nature’s not so cool.
On our return to Ipoh, we walked around looking for coffee and refreshments and ended up in Concubine Lane.
In the evening, Jyoti and I went out for another quick walk and came across the Heritage Trail.
We didn’t follow it as we didn’t want to end up too far from our hotel. Plus, we came across the evening market: the stalls were being set up including one where an elderly gent was using an elderly Singer sewing machine, presumably some ad hoc tailoring and mending.
Other places we didn’t visit include the Body Alignment Warehouse Gym (we forgot our kits) and the Playboy Club (we forgot our bunny ears).
We visited the Roof Garden of our hotel on the 21st floor. I beg your pardon? I never promised you a roof garden. No, there were a couple of plants, but it was a mini concrete jungle. If you leaned over the edge, though, you could just see the sunset.
Apparently, the largest ethnic group in Ipoh now is Chinese, although we didn’t particularly notice while we were here. During one of our cab rides, we did hear the driver say it’s hard enough to use one phone, he wasn’t going to use two at the same time. Well, thanks for that!
We visted Gua Tempurung, the largest cave system in peninsular Malaysia. There are several tours available: we chose Dry Tour No 2. Wet tours entail wading in water and going through really narrow passages, something that none of us are passionate about. Quite the opposite.
We thought we’d have a nice pleasant walk in the cool caves, away from the heat outside, see a few interesting geological features and get some fabulous photos.
Roslan was our guide. His proper job is ‘Cave Ranger’ and today he was supposed to be conducting some maintenance. This entails, amongst other things, emptying the bins and checking the lights are all working. Instead, he offered to guide us through. He also showed us a few secret places where the Rangers go to hide, away from the managers. He asked for my name: Mick.
We were later joined by another couple, from London. Roslan asked for the man’s name: Chris.
Roslan was very keen to take photos for us. In fact, to take photos of us. He’s used to Asian visitors who like to take many photos of themselves and didn’t quite get that we westerners weren’t that bothered.
If only there was a word for selfies that are taken by other people. To help out, Chris and I were alternately asked to hold up Roslan’s light. And, as he preferred my phone to Jyoti’s or to Chris’s, at the end of the tour, I had to send Chris the pictures of him and his woman, whose name we never did find out.
So, in a world exclusive, here is a collection that cannot be entitled ‘Selfie of the Day’, because they’re not selfies. And, believe it or not, some even more unflattering ones have been omitted.