Picking up where we left off last time, here are five more reasons we l-o-v-e-d our time in the land down under the land down under.
1. Amazing All Blacks. For those of you that don’t know, (I didn’t!) the All Blacks is New Zealand’s professional rugby team. The day we landed in New Zealand, they had just made it to the finals of the Rugby World Cup and were going to play France on the day we left. All week long we had locals explaining the game of rugby to us, the traditions of the All Blacks and why the rival Australian team was so bad. Every time you turned on a television or radio they were replaying the last game or predicting what would happen in the next game. These people made die-hard SEC football fans look like amateurs. Every store, restaurant, church and library you passed had All Black signs in them supporting the hometown team. It wasn’t too much though, in fact, we loved the passion and enthusiasm and found ourselves getting caught up in it. The whole country was so impressively excited about their possible world championship, they were taking along everyone on the island! The last night we were there, we sat in a pub with locals and watched the team perform the haka, a Maori dance that was traditionally performed before they went into battle. Man, it was enough to get you pumped up for anything! It gave me cold chills and made me want to jump on the field and play. The All Blacks ended up winning the World Rugby Cup 8-7, and it was amazing to think that we were lucky enough to be there for it.
2. Glaciers. I don’t know if you heard, but New Zealand has a few glaciers. We bit the bullet (spendy!) and reserved a spot for the heli hike at Franz Josef Glacier our third day there. I was beyond excited that we were
a) going in a helicopter
b) going to hike on a glacier.
But sadly, when we got there that day, the ride was canceled, due to fog. I was devastated. Then they said we could wait around for a little while to see if the fog cleared for the next flight. Of course, we did, and we even got as far as putting on our hiking boots before they canceled the next flight too. So. Very. Sad. There might or might not have been some crying in the middle of the street about this. (Dan has got to get a hold of himself about these things.) We did get as close as we could to the glacier on foot, which was pretty cool. Just not as cool as adding a helicopter.
3. Fergburger It was the best burger we’ve ever had, hands down. We went there twice and ordered the Southern Swine burger both times. The New Zealand beef was amazing and Fergburger is a bit of an institution in Queenstown.
4. Outdoorsy. We loved how many things we could do outside in New Zealand! It was perfect weather and when outside looks like a movie, why in the world would you ever stay inside? While we were in New Zealand we went running, bike riding, rock climbing, hiking (called “tramping” in NZ) and even got an invitation from the local rowing club to come out and join them for a row. It was like the best summer camp in the world.
5. Things we weren’t used to seeing in Malaysia, but missed from home. You know, things like churches, pine cones, fluffy beds, drive through liquor stores and cold(ish) weather. It’s the little things.
So that was our trip to New Zealand in the form of a top ten list. I have about five million more photographs that I will be happy to go over in excruciating detail just as soon as I get home. Let me know where to meet you and we can settle in for some more New Zealand goodness. Do you make top ten lists for vacations? Or is that just me? If you don’t, you should. It’s a good time. Leave us a comment about your favorite vacation location – we might want to check it out next!
*Sweet As is another slang phrase used in NZ. Kiwi’s use it instead of “awesome.” Go ahead, try and use it today. You will feel oh-so-Kiwi when you do.
This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to
lazy busy to blog about. This is the third and final blog about our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.
After touring the city of Hanoi for a couple days, with congested sinuses and pounding headaches, we set off for the quiet solitude of Ha Long Bay a few hours north. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to limestone karsts that poke out of the South China Sea and is one of the most sought after destinations in Vietnam. It’s often touted as a “must see” of SE Asia and since we had plenty of time in Hanoi, we booked a two day/one night tour on a Chinese Junk (small wooden cruise ship). Early the next morning we were shuttled off to the remote northeast corner of Vietnam.
The quiet, fresh air was certainly a nice change, although the shuttle bus that carried us to our port was clearly not built for westerners. Along with our fellow travelers from Malaysia, Scotland, Canada and UK, we were feeling a little cramped and thus quite relieved upon arriving where we were able to stretch out again. When we got there we were taken out to our home for the next 24ish hours. Here she is:
Our weather was overcast and gray so the first day our view was a little like this….
And a little of this….
Perhaps it was simply the weather, but needless to say, we felt a disconnect between our expectations and the reality of the experience. Tough critics, I know.
The next day, we visited a floating fishing village nearby where it was amazing to see how its inhabitants lived and worked without much interaction with the outside world. (I mean, besides the tourists they lugged around.)
The coolest thing was that each house was guarded by a dog. Of all shapes and sizes.
Spending the night on a ship was interesting but ultimately we felt it was doable in a long day trip. For the time and money spent, we just didn’t see the value in stretching it out to an overnight event. Plus the food on board the Junk left a few things to be desired. In fact, as we would later find out, it was here I (Dan) picked up salmonella. Yuck.
We met some really interesting travelers on our boat from all over the world, and snapped some great photos over the two days but for the most part the best thing about Ha Long Bay was the respite it provided from the congestion of Hanoi. It was with mixed feelings that we embarked on the 3.5hr, rickety bus ride back to the city for more sight-seeing. The traffic there gave us a new perspective and appreciation for how developed the roads and infrastructure actually are in Malaysia.
I am making good to my pledge to go back and blog about some of our adventures that I didn’t quite have time to do in real time. Some of you may have seen pictures on facebook, but I’m going back and adding in the good parts (aka-my thoughts) on the entire trip. I’m going to start working my way backwards, starting with the last big trip we took in December over the holidays. We wanted to do a bit of a “Farewell Asia” tour and hit some of the spots that we hadn’t had a chance to do yet. Using two weeks of my Christmas break we headed out to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Krabi, Thailand, and Hanoi, Vietnam.
The first place we went was Cambodia and out of the three places, it was my favorite without a doubt. It was the poorest country I have ever been to and is recovering from an amazingly horrible history, but the people we met had a quiet determination and seemed so genuinely nice and kind in a way that I’m not sure if I would be if I was in their place.
The Siem Reap airport was surprisingly modern and nice and our driver picked us up right out front, which is always a relief when you are very clearly a tourist in country that is unknown to you. He took us to our hotel, the Golden Temple Hotel. As cheesy as the name is, it was one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. Not the fanciest, not the most expensive, but the nicest people, a great location, lovely room, spa treatments, THE WORKS! If you are ever in the neighborhood you should forgo the Holiday Inn and stay at the Golden Temple Hotel instead. For breakfast our driver took us to a local hang out for a traditional Cambodia breakfast of meat, rice and some cucumbers on the side.
After breakfast we headed to the temples. Over the next two days, we saw lots and lots of temples, each with their own unique story and symbolism. The coolest thing about them temples is the fact that they are from the 12th century! Having lasted as long as they have, through all the conflicts that Cambodia has had, to still be standing is pretty remarkable. Here are a few of my favorites:
At the end of the day, as we were having dinner at a french restaurant overlooking downtown Siem Reap and we saw the mother of all motorbikes. We have seen a lot of things and people on motorbikes since we have been in Asia, but this was a new record-six people on one motorbike!!! Count carefully! It was the perfect way to end the day.
So, have you ever seen six people on a motorbike? Or, dare I say it-MORE? What is the most bizarre thing you have ever seen being carried on a motorbike, domestically or international?
Amazing Thailand. Always Amazes You.
That is the official Thailand Tourism Bureau’s tagline. (http://www.tourismthailand.org/campaign/en/)
Dan and I have made fun of it since we got here.
It’s like when your teacher would say that you couldn’t use the word you were defining in your definition, right? Like there wasn’t another adjective we could have used in the second sentence?
Maybe it’s just me.
Regardless, after last weekends trip to Thailand, I am willing to cut them a little slack on the redundancy of the tagline, because AMAZING is the one word I kept using to describe what we saw.
Warning: This is a post filled with some not so beautiful photographs, to highlight an absolutely gorgeous event that we happened upon in Chiang Mai Thailand last weekend. This post showcases some poor, poor picture taking skills. I almost didn’t use any of my pictures, and the rest of them are on facebook if you want to see them in all their glory. A few excuses: First of all, I didn’t bring my big camera (who thought you would need it for a teaching conference?!), which would clearly have been better to be able to adjust ISO and such. I only had my little camera. But, I haven’t really learned how to use my little one because I always use my big one! (lesson learned) Plus, once I realized what was going on, I really was so excited that I was just pushing buttons on the camera and jumping up and down at the idea that I happened to be in Thailand on the night that this lantern festival was happening. I swear I know how to take night photographs. Swear.
Last weekend, few friends/colleagues and I were headed to a teaching workshop in the north of Thailand. We were looking forward to a few things, namely amazing Thai food, cheap messages, cheap beer, and cool weather. We ended up getting all of those things, plus unintentionally being a part of the annual Lantern Festival and the Loi Krathong Festival. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but this is what I found out about it later.
This old festival held on the full moon night of November is said to be the most charming of all in Thailand. In Chiang Mai, a procession of floats with beautiful maidens sitting on goes through the city to the bank of the Mae Ping River, where hundreds of people assembling to float their banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles onto the river to worship the Goddess of Water. Moreover, Lanna-style hot-air lanterns are launched which are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.
Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it looks even cooler. Check out this picture that I did NOT take, but was the closest to what it actually looked like on the streets of Chiang Mai. And still, doesn’t do it justice.
It was beautiful. Amazing, some might say. Everywhere you looked were these lanterns floating, like jellyfish in the sky. It was pretty loud with all of the parades and firecrackers, but when you stopped and looked anywhere in the sky, thousands of floating lanterns were shining against the black sky, and it seemed almost meditative. Really, I can’t explain how many times that night I caught myself just staring at the sky with a huge grin on my face. I don’t know why I liked it so much, but it was a pretty incredible experience.
After I realized what was going on, I wanted to be a part of it! So I ran and got my friends and we bought some lanterns of our own to light and add to the festivities.
Our new Thai friends didn’t want us to burn the city down, so they helped us with the lighting of the lanterns and told us when there was enough hot air in them to let them go. Before you let them go, all the Thai people started telling us, “Wish, wish!” so we did. (And, no, I can’t tell you mine because then it won’t come true, duh.) Our lanterns almost got caught in the masterful asian telephone wires, which I think would have boded poorly for the wish that I had made, but luckily they all made it through and floated up towards the heavens. Amazing.
Some might be gearing up for the Thanksgiving season or others looking ahead even further to the Christmas season. But here in Malaysia, we are in the beginning of the monsoon season. It has rained here every day this week so far. Yuck.
I took this just as I literally ran home from school hoping I wouldn’t get caught in the storm and be trapped at school. This storm came with copious amounts of rain, lighting and thunder that shook the entire building, and even a rainbow at the end.
This is the view about an hour after I took the first picture, standing on the balcony of our condo.
On this day, I made it home in time. Other days, not so lucky.
Tis’ the season!
Dan has been out-of-town for the past three days doing his triathlon in Singapore (round of applause), but since we just got back from Australia (more to come on that amazing trip soon) I thought I would stay here and get settled again before I go back to work on Wednesday. (Tear(s)!) But no one is really back from summer vacation yet, so there hasn’t been a whole lot to do. Read: I’ve been inside for 2 days and was about to go crazy. So, this morning I decided to make my way to the mall. I don’t know if I have mentioned it before, but Malaysians LOVE their malls. They are huge and always crowded. Like, the week before Christmas crowded at all times. So, I generally avoid them because nothing really fits me anyway (too largey size) and I like my personal space.
But, of course, I had a plan: I thought if I got up and went “early” (11ish) that I could maybe have an hour or so to walk around before the malls got too crowded. During this time I could use my Border’s gift card, eat a quick lunch in the food court and then go see Harry Potter. Perfect. First step of this plan involves me catching a taxi, which I don’t mind the actual hailing, but rather the bickering that sometimes goes on after the cab stops. All cabs in KL are supposed to use the meter to get you wherever you are going, it even says it right on the side of every cab. But, this is not always the case, especially when you have a pale complexion and blonde hair. Then they like to give a price that is 3, 4, 5, 6, even 7 times higher than what it should be! Then when you tell them you live here and you know that it should only be 10 RM instead of say 40 RM, they make up some excuse about the jam or the highway or something and then I usually slam the door and walk away. See what a production this is? But luckily, my taxi driver says he will use the meter and can take me to the mall with no argument. Oh, small pleasures!
My taxi driver, whose name later I find out it Zun, is a very nice man with four daughters and one son. The son was born last. Shocker. He guessed I was from Australia, which most people here do, but when I told him that I was from America, he said, “Obama!” and then shook his head, but I couldn’t tell what that meant, nor did I ask. He wanted to know what part of America I was from, (I always say “near Disney World” because it is a reference that all people understand) how long I had been here (too long, I thought, but didn’t say), and what my name was (when I told him it was Jenny, he asked, “Like Jenny from the Block?” Yes, just like Jenny from the Block.). He doesn’t complain when I give him a 50 RN note for a 11 RM fare, so I give him a tip (usually no tipping in Malaysia) and am off to the bookstore.
I find the bookstore no problem and head to the magazine racks, as books are super expensive here and I can get most of them on my kindle much cheaper, so I figure magazines are the way to go. After I make my selections, (Better Homes and Gardens, Fresh Cottage, Digital Camera Magazine, and Lonely Planet Asia) I head to to the check out counter to try and get as close to my 50 RM gift card amount as they won’t give me any change, I’m pretty sure. $49.40 is my total, which I was pretty happy with, considering the clerk said that she couldn’t give me the 60 cents in change. A store that is going out of business has to hang on to every penny, right?
After leaving the book store, I head to buy my movie ticket for Harry Potter, which I have been dying to see since it came out a few weeks ago. We were in Australia at the time, but thought we might go see it anyway, but when we checked on the prices we changed our minds pretty quick because it was was $17.50 AUS (about $19.30 USD) and it is 9 RM to see a movie here (about $3 USD). Yikes! I did feel a little bad about seeing the movie without Dan, but I justified it by remembering that he hasn’t even read the books! I, on the other hand, almost didn’t get my thesis finished in grad school because I had discovered the Harry Potter books. Seriously, I had my roommate hide my Harry Potter book until I had turned the paper in. True story. So, I, in other words, am a true fan and deserve to see the movie whenever the fancy strikes me. (I’ll see it again with you next week, honey.)
Before I went into the theater, I remember how cold it is in there, so I bought a chai latte from Coffee Bean (not from Starbucks, because they don’t any carry them here. Malaysians say they are “finished”). I thought that I would try to bring in the latte to the theater to keep me warm, even though outside food and drinks are not allowed. Luckily, the teenage boy working at the counter was smitten with the American, so I got to bring in the drink. That wouldn’t usually happen at home where everyone looks like me, so I’ll take it when I can get it. 🙂
I head into the theater and go to my assigned spot, but notice right away that I am sitting beside two talkers. So, no problem, I move to another seat and settle in for the movie to begin. To make a long story short(er), the talking didn’t stop. In fact, it continued. And I’m not talking whisper movie talking, but full on conversations for at least 30 minutes of Harry Potter. And if this wasn’t enough, people continued to come into the theater 45 minutes into the FINAL HARRY POTTER. LET’S HAVE A LITTLE RESPECT PEOPLE!!!!! I was beside myself. And don’t think for a minute that I didn’t shhhhhh several people during my time there. It had to be done.
After the movie, I headed out of the freezing movie theater and got a cab home with a driver that wanted to discuss the merits of Hinduism and Christianity. Sure, might as well.
When I got home, our condo was still really quiet, but I put on another movie and not a single person talked through it. Just the way I like it.
We have been so lucky since we have lived in KL to have six people come to Southeast Asia and stay with us!
It is one thing to say you are going to visit, but quite another to take a big vacation from work, get someone to water your plants/get your mail/look after your dog, pay for the plane ticket, pack your things, and endure 30+ hours of travel time. Now, we understand that everyone can’t make the trek over here, but for those of you that have (or will in the next year) we appreciate it beyond words! In a place where everything is unfamiliar, there is nothing like seeing a familiar face walk in your door/get off the plane/jump off the bus and being able to hug them, and enjoy their presence for longer than a skype call.
We wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who has made it over and let you know that Hotel McNair (Malaysian edition) is always open for business. 🙂
Our first visitor was Garrett, who was on his way back to China, where he lives with his family. Garrett and Dan have been friends since 7th grade and he is seriously one of the nicest people I know. He is also blond, 6’5″ish and speaks Mandarin, which is a unique combination any way you cut it. We didn’t do any touristy stuff while Garrett was here, but Dan got to hang out and catch up, which I know was awesome for both of them.
Our second visitor was a guy named my Dad. (another nice guy) He was interviewing for his job in Singapore at the time, and on the way back home made a stop over in KL. I know for sure that we still didn’t even have sheets to fit the guest bed at this point, so it wasn’t exactly like staying at the Four Seasons. (I mean, it’s not now either, but it’s a little better. Less like a hostel and more like a Holiday Inn.) Despite not knowing where anything was, we still had a great time visiting with Dad. Since he has been living in Singapore, we have made several trips down to visit him as well, and I know he will be visiting us again in KL soon.
Our third visitor came around Christmas time and was none other than the legend, Slim Jim Price! Slim and I had an amazing time coaching the Georgia Tech Novice Men’s squad for 4 years together and Dan and Slim have been buddies for a while. We had spent a lot of quality time together in the past, so Dan and I were both looking forward to his visit! Slim came to KL while I was still in the US, so he and Dan a a few days to “make some memories” in Asia without me! I think that they had a great time and followed Slim’s mantra, “Go Big or Go Home!” When I got back to Malaysia, we had a few relaxing days at the beach in Langkawi, an island off the west coast.
Our fourth visitor was Dan’s youngest brother, Matt came to visit. Matt was doing some work in India and while he was on this side of the world, decided to extend his time a little and make his way over to see us as well. It was so good to see Matt and he brought a suitcase full of our favorite things too! Dan and Matt did some sightseeing while he was here and Dan even took Matt on a harrowing bike ride through the streets of downtown KL. What a nice brother! Matt could only stay a few days because he had to head back to his wife (who is pregnant with our 2nd nephew! we can’t wait to meet you!) and adorable little girl Hannah (no, seriously, she is the cutest!), but it was so nice to see him and the four boxes of cheez-its he brought.
Our most recent visitors were my mom and sister, Kristen. They were in Malaysia and Singapore for 3 weeks visiting us and my dad in Singapore. Dan and I both had to work, but tried to show them around Malaysia so that they could experience all of the things we had been talking about for the past year. We did a lot of things like foot massages, fish spa, bargaining in Chinatown for purses and driving around KL getting lost! The last weekend we drove up to Penang, a historical city about 4 hours north of KL. My dad took a flight from Singapore and we a great time with (almost) all of our family together. While we were there, we had the “opportunity” to try one of the world’s worst foods, durian. Seriously, durian has been named on many of the world’s worst food lists: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/03/01/10-worst-foods-world/ and there are signs up everywhere here saying that you cannot bring durian into the buildings. I can smell it a block away from the cart when it is “durian season” in KL and the taste of it wasn’t much better. Locals say it is an acquired taste, but I’m not sure I am going to be up for acquiring it. Family bonding for sure.
A big thank you to all of our visitors over the past year! Also, the calls, cards, emails and packages that made their way to us were always loved and appreciated. More than once, a complete melt down has been avoided by getting one of these forms of communication from friends and family! (I once got 3 packages in one week and it was pretty much the best week ever. Thanks to mom, Leigh and the person who found my glasses in Thailand.)
So, if you are thinking about making a trip out this way, go ahead and book your ticket! (Only 356 days until we come home!)
You will always have a place to stay in KL and we promise not to make you eat any durian.
Maybe you say/spell it “football”. Whether you say “cleats”, “studs” or “football boots”, whether it’s a “game” or “match”, “field” or “pitch”…however you express it, the passion for the sport is the same. Everywhere.
Travel the world over, and just about anywhere you go…there is football. Not American football, but what we would call soccer, of course. It is incredible how much the sport is loved and how it bonds people together. Kids who have next to nothing, not even shoes to wear on their feet, are brothers in the neighborhood game playing for hours in the center of town. Adults are unified and as devout about supporting their country in international matches as your pastor, rabbi or priest might be about their religious faith. And then there’s the Premier League.
One of my players once asked me, “who do you support in the Premier League?” I looked at him confused by the way he used “support” and unfamiliar with what he meant by the Premier League. So I turned the question back on him and he said, “Manchester.” When I realized he was asking what professional soccer team I cheered for I added, “Cool, and who’s your favorite player?” To which he replied, “Beckham”. I had heard of those two so we were able to move forward as I chimed in, “Oh yeah, me too.” Close call where I nearly lost some street-cred for not knowing the sport I coach. Premier League is serious stuff. Think of college and pro football in the US or perhaps the pride we have for our respective baseball teams. That’s how English soccer is…but not just in the UK. It’s the most watched league worldwide, because no matter where you’re from…it’s the big time and a lot of people in a lot of countries are following it. Maybe not in the US (we have the World Series, SuperBowl, March Madness and College Bowls to keep up with plus much, much more.)
The simplicity of the sport is its brilliance. Jenny, who has never played or even watched the game, came to one of my team’s matches recently. After the game she bluntly shared, “I’m sorry…I wanted to be into it but I just couldn’t follow it. I mean, it’s kind of boring…like it’s just a bunch of dudes kicking a ball around.” Exactly. That’s it. You just need a round object (a true ball is even better but not required) and something to kick it at. Actual goals are especially nice and with nets are a luxury, but it can be anything. The open space on which the game is played can be concrete, hard packed dirt or the rough makings of a field. Grass and astro turf are a treat! And so you go from there…if I can get this round object past you and into the “goal”, I win. If you do it, you win. Simple. Brilliant.
So, while I am still very much a novice at coaching the sport, I have renewed appreciation for what was once my favorite sport (before being replaced by crew). I also am amazed at how the sport unites so many people around the globe of different colors, cultures, languages, beliefs, and social-economic status. Anyone can play the game, and when you do…it doesn’t matter who you are off the field because on “the pitch” you are on a level playing field. Everyone speaks the same “language”, shares the same desire to excel and respects those who do it well.
We recently traveled to Bali and visited the town of Ubud, their cultural capital of the small island. At the hotel we received a walking map of essentially 3-4 blocks in either direction that comprised the “city center” and the bulk of where all the shopping, dining and lodging would be. Right smack dab in the middle of our map…was an image labeled “football field”.
Everytime we walked by the field for 4 days (except at dark), there were kids playing. Sometimes there were even bikes, multiple games going on and dogs running around. No matter what, there was a ball (or two) and kids chasing it. Most did not have shoes and couldn’t have cared less that the grass was way too tall (where there was grass), mud puddles were everywhere and there were no boundary lines, no nets, no clocks or scoreboards and no referees. Just football.
At our first hotel in Bali, a little Dutch boy was kicking the ball around by himself at a small net next to the beach. So one of the staff staying playing against him. Soon there was another member of the staff and a Dutch sibling involved, and they were really good! It’s simply a contagious sport that creates an instant connection beyond borders. I don’t think it will replace crew as my favorite, but while we are here it’s pretty cool to get reacquainted.
So, what’s your favorite sport and why?
The other day in our condo, I met an Iranian man in the elevator and had a very interesting exchange with him but one that was severely limited by our language barrier. As I stepped into the lobby elevator (with him already inside) just as the doors were closing, the “conversation” went something like this:
(IM = Iranian Man, DM = Me)
DM: (noticing that the button for the 28th floor had already been pushed) “Hi, how are you….Do you live on 28, too?”
IM: (noticing that I was not pushing any buttons) “Twen-tee-eight…you?”
DM: “Yes, yes…twenty eight, thank you. You, too huh? Have you lived here long?”
IM: (confused but polite smile)
DM: (trying to make friendly small talk, but slower now) “How long have you lived here?”
IM: (nod and partial smile…then a pause) “Where from?”
DM: (realizing we are struggling to communicate) “The US…how about you?”
IM: “Eee-rahn” (we exchanged awkward smiles as we both realized our countries were not the best of friends, and there was little we could do to communicate, but we weren’t ready to be enemies just yet)
DM: (mumbling something about our governments, smiling and trying to make light of the fact that we’re both taught to be suspicious of the other)
IM: (confused and awkward smile)
IM: (motioning toward my attire coming from soccer practice and trying desperately to change the subject) “Sport?”
DM: “Oh…yes, sport. Um…I’m a soccer coach at the international school.”
IM: (Blank stare)
DM: (I try to point to the logo on my coaching polo): “Coach…soccer”
IM: (smiling ear to ear) “Ohhhhhh, futbol….! Good!”
Ding of the elevator reaching the 28th floor…we smile and walk out in separate directions to our units.
IM: “Good night.”
DM: “Thank you, good night.”
And so two strangers meet, neither of whom speak the other’s language (although he knew FAR more of my language than I did of his), and who are supposed to distrust one another but connect in a short elevator ride thanks to sports. Soccer, specifically (or futbol). I was struck by the friendliness of the man from Iran and his effort to communicate in my language despite how awkward it must have felt for him. I have never “spoken” with him since, but I know he lives down the hall with his wife and 2 or 3 kids and that he must be here in KL because of an opportunity to work that is better than whatever he had at home. It reminded me of another recent friendly experience I had with several locals, during which I realized as people of different cultures, languages and beliefs from all over the world…we’re not all that different. We all want to pursue our goals and dreams, provide a comfortable life for our families and feel like we have left some sort of legacy at the end of it all.
Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of “expats” with a large majority coming from all over the USA, Australia and United Kingdom. Despite their large numbers, as a Caucasian you are still very much aware of being in a small minority in KL amidst ethnic groups of Malay, Chinese, Indian and travelers from nearby by Arab countries. Rather than staring at all the people different from us, we actually found ourselves staring when we saw other westerners! There was a temptation to wave or give a nod as if we somehow already knew one another and were friends (if you have ever owned a Jeep, you know what I’m talking about). But that would be kind of odd, would it? Well, this is the story of how one gentleman from Australia did exactly that, and more…
About five days into our transition to KL, we were walking down the path away from an apartment building where we just viewed a vacant unit we really liked and figured we would end up renting. Suddenly, a tall (6’2″ or so…”VERY” tall for KL), fair-skinned, well-dressed chap made a witty comment at us about the construction going on and began to chat with us. It was clear none of the three of us were from KL so we already had something to talk about.
We asked this fellow if he lived in the building we were considering and if so, was it nice? “Well, what do you mean by ‘nice’? I’ve been ‘ere three ‘n ‘alf years…it’s clean, safe and I can walk to work…if that’s ‘nice’, then yea…it’s nice, I suppose. Plus ‘ere’s a bus that leaves right over thair every weekend to Singapore with WiFi on board, and of course ‘ere’s the Baskin Robbins next door.” (try to imagine all that with the Aussie accent!). John introduced himself and asked, “Have you got 10 minutes or so…I’ll take you up and show you around where everything is?” Skeptically, we accepted and so we went back inside with John from Adelaide, up to the 22nd floor.
Our new guide proceeded to walk us to the end of three separate breezeways to point out landmarks and visible points of interest to the South, West and East. Then he offered to show us his flat. Cautiously, we accepted but in the back of my mind I slipped into defense mode and scanned my brain trying to remember anything Coach Black (a coaching colleague and friend who is the closest thing to Jason Bourne in a real person I’ve ever met), had taught me so that if the stranger we met became more foe than friend, I would be ready.
Then John opened the door to his flat and we were met by his 5-year old son William (born in Russia) and 3-year old son Stewart (born in Adelaide) doing cartwheels, with mom in the background comforting 5-month old Catia (born in KL). I relaxed and knew it was “safe”. We received the grand tour of a beautiful 4-bedroom condo, and learned the family history “straight-away”. Turns out that before his time in KL, John worked four years in Russia where he married Rita, who is from a Japanese part of Russia (which will explain the photos of the boys). John and Rita opened their home and family to us, treating us with the utmost in hospitality. After the tour, we were about to leave and John insisted that we sit for coffee and cake that Rita had made that day. The kids agreed and there was no saying “no”.
After sharing more stories about where we were all from and how we arrived in KL, it felt like surely by now we were intruding on their evening and it was time to go. As we hinted of our exit, John asked Rita (as if he hadn’t even heard us start to leave), “what’s for dinner, mum?” Lasagna was the reply, which was met by cheers from the boys (John included). “Mmmm, that’s mum’s best, don’t you think, Stewy? Willy-Billy…I think Uncle Dan and Auntie Jenny should stay don’t you?” encouraged John. More cheering, giggling and vehement nodding from the boys.
So, “Auntie” Jenny and Rita set off to work on a salad, while John, Stewart and “Uncle” Dan walked downstairs and across the street to a local bakery for some baguettes. After we returned, while we were waiting for dinner preparations to finish up, John and I watched BBC news and talked about current events while Stewart and William gave me a make believe haircut with a brush, complete with tissues tucked in my collar (to keep the hair off me they said). It was very thorough and realistic, and was followed by several matches of scissors-paper-rock. Stewart threw a curve-ball at me when I landed a rock at him, while he showed his open hand, palm-side up and proudly said, “pond…your rock sinks! Ha! Ha!” Hadn’t heard that one before, but there was no arguing about the winner.
Dinner was delicious, the conversation and company was fantastic, and we must have laughed until our sides hurt with the show the boys were putting on at the table. They were cute, hysterical and slightly out of bounds, but it probably didn’t help John’s efforts to discipline them as we gave in to more giggles and laughter. Approaching three hours since we first bumped into John, it was finally time to say goodnight when out blurted John, “Mum, we have ice cream right? You guys are staying for dessert, right?” What could we say at that point…
Fresh cut pineapple, pecan pralines and strawberry ice cream from the aforementioned Baskin Robbins made for a perfect treat at the end of an oddly amusing and endearing experience of the evening. As we are ready to leave (for real), Stewart (who breaks into the conversation by saying “Scuse me…Uncle Daaan…”) asks if we are going to stay (as in sleep over). Much to his and William’s chagrin, we had to leave and sleep in our own beds. But we had 3.5 hours of fun, hearing them speak Russian and French as well as English, playing make believe and even receiving hand-made artwork from Stewart as a parting gift.
We hugged Rita goodnight, thanking her and apologizing profusely for intruding on her home and their evening, to which she replied several times over with “thank-you for coming”. We shook hands with John at the door as he instructed the boys to walk us down to the elevator.
William and Stewart (donning a Santa Claus hat pulled down over his face) rode the elevator down 22 floors with us, allowed us to snap a photo (which they immediately wanted to see), and gave us goodbye high-fives. By the way, William was disturbingly good with an iPhone for being 5-years old.
A free (delicious) meal, warm hospitality, friendly conversation, loads of insight on living in KL, and additional background about traveling in the region…maybe there is merit to striking up a conversation more often with fellow westerners, just building on the common ground that we’re in a foreign place together. Cheers, mate!