On a foodie tour of Malacca

On a trip to Malacca last week I rekindled my love affair with the Peranakan culture.  The Peranakans were also known as the Straits Chinese, and were the first wave of Chinese immigrants from the 14th Century onwards; wealthy merchants who traded in Malacca and intermarried with the local Malays.

They had their own culture, traditions and food, and cendol was their dessert of choice, so in the interests of objective research, I felt compelled to try it twice.

The cendol maker begins by putting a huge block of ice into a machine and shaving off a large bowlful –

Then the sous-chef gets to work –

pouring, swirling and dribbling, just like the best mixologist –

until you get to the finished dish –

It is the most ambrosial mixture of pillow-soft, shaved ice topped with coconut milk and raw palm sugar, and it’s just like eating a billowy, sweet cloud of snow.  There’s a side serving of green jelly worms and some red beans hidden under the ice for a bit of texture and colour, and the whole thing costs just over £1.  Budget friendly bliss – what more could you want?

Peranakan women didn’t go to school; in fact they weren’t allowed to leave the house at all.  They spent their childhood learning to cook and sew, until they were considered competent and married off at the age of 14 or so.  Consequently there are a lot of very complicated recipes in their repertoire, as they had nothing else to do all day except devise fiendishly difficult dishes to impress their menfolk.

One such dish is called ‘ayam buah keluak’ and is so difficult to make that it’s practically impossible to find a restaurant that serves it – but we found one –

so we went in to try it.

The keluak nuts contain cyanide, so in order to make them edible they have to be buried in the ground for 40 days and then soaked in water for ten days.  Who on earth invented this bizarre recipe, I wondered, and was old-time Malacca full of squirrel-like women dashing out into the garden to bury their nuts every autumn?

The nuts are then cooked with chicken and a mixture of spices, to make a fragrant stew

You need a special thin knife to scrape out the softened centre of the nuts, which is pulpy and black and tasted rather musty to me, although afficionados say that it tastes like truffles

It looks like caviar, but doesn’t taste like it.

I’m glad I’ve tried keluak, but I don’t think I’ll be dashing to try it again – unlike cendol, which I will be devouring on a regular basis whenever I can find a cendol supplier.  I’ve been wondering about making my own at home, as my fridge has an ice maker, but I’m not sure whether you can make shaved ice with a Lady Shave – more research needed here, I feel.

 

 

Little Bo-Peep and her helicopter sheep

I’m still getting to grips with Malaysian education.  This week a parent asked me to look at his son’s exam paper, to see why he hadn’t scored particularly highly.  The exam paper contained several language errors – but the boy already knew that if he didn’t repeat the error in his answer, he’d lose marks, so that wasn’t a problem –

And then there was an interesting choice of text for the comprehension passage –

Hardly the most useful language for the 21st Century:

Me: ‘Why haven’t your parents come to pick you up?’

Pupil: ‘Still they all are fleeting, Miss Louise.’

Me: ‘And what are your goals for this year?’

Pupil: ‘I’m determined for to pass my exams.’

Me: ‘Who’s that small man beside you wearing a mask?’

Pupil: ‘He’s my little crook.’

etc etc.

Not only that, but the poor child had answered the question correctly, then the teacher had made him change it and turn it into a complete nonsense.

As far as I’m aware, no sheep has ever managed to move by tail power, no matter how hard they wag them.

My second educational experience this week was the Discovery of the Body Exhibition in Malacca.

It is designed, the advertising blurb tells us, to teach us ALL about the human body.

But once we got inside, we realised that they would not be teaching us about every single part of the human body; some parts were most definitely off-limits –

Note the scarf – carefully chosen to co-ordinate with the decor.

And the modern equivalent of a figleaf –

or two –

Queen Victoria would have thoroughly approved.

Then last month, there was the story about a teacher who was conducting inappropriate relationships …

… in the student affairs office.

Best rename the room to avoid confusion, I thought.

 

 

 

Ahead of the curve … yet again

I see in the UK press that Nigella is predicting that the next hip ingredient – essential for every foodie refrigerator and food-related hipster conversation – will be pandan.

Well – sorry, Nigella, but I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt to prove it … or the photos, at least.

Here is Mr Toad relaxing at home in the shade of our very own pandan plant –

And here is the onde-onde that I made on my cookery course earlier this year

They are made from pandan flavoured paste, filled with palm sugar and rolled in coconut … yum!

This is the tour leader on a market tour, extolling the virtues of pandan –

– apparently pandan can lower blood pressure, eliminate dandruff, heal sunburn, repel mosquitoes, reduce stress, inhibit cancer and even cure impotence … so, as they say, what’s not to like?

Apparently when it comes to a new food trend, it’s essential to be able to say that you liked it first.  So just remember that you heard it here first, folks.

Meanwhile, my salted egg fetish continues, and I’m hoping that Nigella will pick up on that next, so I’ll be able to indulge when I return to the UK.

Recently I’ve tried a salted egg roll –

which is actually a straight croissant (an oxymoron, if ever I heard one) rolled around a salted egg filling, and topped with even more salted egg.  I managed to stop devouring it just long enough to take a picture.

The local bakery needs this much salted egg every day

and to make sure that you don’t miss out, you need to check the board to see when the next batch of deliciousness will be ready –

And another equally delicious discovery –

salted egg sweet potato fries … heaven in a takeaway box.

 

If you go down to the woods today …

This week I was highly disturbed to discover that, in a long blond wig, I look just like a transvestite –

I spent the entire weekend in an itchy, sweaty wig pretending to be some sort of dodgy, senescent version of Goldilocks – and all in the name of Hallowe’en dress-up weekend.

Have you ever spent considerable amounts of time with your hand stuffed up a large bear?  That’s also a very sweaty experience, believe me.

But once I’d sorted the wig and the bear, I just needed a frock, frilly socks and a bowl of porridge and I was good to go.

Oh well, at least the children knew who I was … unlike Frodo – back row far left –

who was mistaken for Ed Sheeran.

But the whole thing was a bit much for Daddy Bear, who went AWOL on Sunday evening and was later found in the staff room –

– rather the worse for wear.

And it turns out that I didn’t need the wig anyway – the children think my own hair is golden.  Any colour lighter than black is described as blond or golden; there’s no such thing as ash, platinum, honey, caramel, auburn, mouse … we’re all blond.

Meanwhile, rehearsals continue for the end of year concert.  The younger children get together every morning to form the Choir of the Damned (their teacher’s description, not mine) and then howl and screech their way through the repertoire of songs for the show.

If you’d like a taster, just click below –

 

and if that’s whetted your appetite, the CD will be available in time for Christmas.

 

 

 

Phew, what a scorcher!

The temperature in Malaysia doesn’t seem to stray far from 32 degrees, with humidity around 70%.  It’s usually sunny in the morning, and there’s often rain later in the day – but this week has been an exception.

Last Tuesday we went to the Helilounge to celebrate Julia’s birthday.  It’s a helipad by day and a bar by night, with no shelter at all, so we were hoping for good weather to enjoy the sunset and the views in the evening.  When we  arrived  we congratuated ourselves on having chosen such a wonderful evening:

sunny to begin with –

 

then a spectacular sunset –

and finally, a perfect balmy night –

Little did we know that this was the beginning of a whole series of hot sunny days, spectacular sunsets and balmy nights … and they’ve been getting hotter and balmier every day.

I couldn’t walk to work, it was too hot – even at nine o’clock in the morning – and there was no rain at all … unheard of in KL.

Then finally on Monday, after a week of heat, messages started appearing on the Internet –

 

Heatstroke and exploding petrol tanks sounded rather alarming, so I went online to do some research, and discovered that we had all been the victim of fake news.  The Met Office vehemently denied the stories circualting on social media, and said that the temperature was merely 36 degrees, and one degree short of an offical heatwave (try telling that to the Brits – we have a heatwave at 26 degrees).

 

 

But the Met Office did concede that the weather has been, and will contine to be, unusually hot.

But far from being due to strange movements of the sun as it shimmies across the equator, it’s simply the fallout from a typhoon in Japan.  Fake news is always so much more exciting than real news.

So we’re set for a few more days of excessive heat, and for the first time since I arrived, I’ve found myself thinking wistfully of fog and frost and even a light sprinkling of snow.

Oh well, time for a swim to cool down, and then a nice chilled evening in front of the air conditioning unit.

 

 

The oldest Viking in town

This week one of my pupils asked how old I was when the Vikings invaded Britain.

I like to think that this is because my description of the Anglo-Saxons standing on the cliffs watching the long boats heading for the shore was so vivid that she  thought I was actually there myself – rather than because she thinks I look over a thousand years old.

And anyway, if I am ageing at an alarming rate, it’s these children who are entirely to blame for adding so much stress to my life.

This week the Vomiter returned to my class after an absence of about four months.  I’d got out of the habit of leaping out of her way as she began heaving and chundering in my direction, so it was a bit of a blow to discover that she was returning, and once again I need to make sure I am never cornered without emergency access to the bin, the book box or – as a last resort – her school bag.

Although on the plus side, the two criminal masterminds in the class, who take delight in disobeying me and crawling into the cupboard to hide, soon crawled out again when the Vomiter crawled in behind them, complaining loudly about the smell of vomit.

But I have discovered a new game which will be ideal for this class –

 

– anyone ever played hide and sick?

And whoever thought that finger painting was a suitable activity for a class of three and four year-olds, was either inexperienced, idealistic or just plain warped.  It took more time to clean up than it took for them to meticulously cover the entire table in paint –

But these kids do a great job of confounding any potential gender stereotyping.

Here is one of the boys working on his finger painting, each finger carefully dipped into a different colour, to keep all the colours separate –

And here are the girls at work –

 

Am thinking of putting this masterpiece up for sale, but can’t decide whether it should be called Frenzy in the Fonics Class, or Phrenzy in the Phonics Class.

 

 

 

The High Life

There’s an intriguing sign on the wall in the swanky Royal Selangor Club in KL –

Since the club – all mock Tudor and with a waiting list as long as your average Malaysian spitting cobra –

is a bastion of male chauvinism, I assumed that the wacky-baccy boudoir would be strictly men only, so I didn’t go exploring.

But it did make me realise that everything in KL is about getting high.  You only have to look at a model of the city –

to understand that being at ground level is SO last year over here.

So, ever one to keep up with the trends, I have been concentrating on getting high.

My first attempt was frankly disastrous.  I went on a hike with my hiking buddies Pat and Frankie, and we met a retired couple who told us they were going up to a Buddhist shrine on the hill.

‘We’ll go with you,’ said Pat, rashly.

The retired couple promptly set off up a vertical incline like a couple of mountain goats, springing effortlessly from one boulder to the next.  I followed with all the grace and agility of a mountain walrus, puffing and sweating and clinging to tree roots, branches, and anything else that was going to stop me from making a rapid and undignified descent down the hill head first.

Luckily the survivors’ photo doesn’t show quite how puce and sweaty I was by the time we got there.

I got high much more successfully yesterday, when Brenda and I made it to the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers without breaking a sweat –

– and then celebrated our achievement with Prosecco on the 57th floor of an adjoining tower –

I’ve decided that I’m all for the high life … as long as there are elevators provided.

A week of firsts

In first place of all the firsts, I have to announce that I am no longer a durian virgin.

I have almost bought durian so many times, and then lost my nerve at the last minute – but Lauren was with me and determined to try it, so this time there was no going back.  The stallholder had thoughtfully provided disposable gloves, as the smell is notoriously pervasive, and the fewer parts of your body that touch the durian, the better, it would seem.

So – I took a deep breath and tried it …

The texture is thick and custardy; it reminded me of blancmange or a patisserie cream with something pungent and rotting stirred into it.  But the outside is plastic-y and rather like biting into edible cling film … bizarre.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it, really – but decided that I don’t hate it, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I also went up the Petronas Towers for the first time and, despite reading that the design is based on several Islamic motifs, I believe that the architect was heavily influenced by the daleks.

I celebrated my Petronas visit by having a barbecued frog when I got to the bottom –

– and jolly delicious it was too.

Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, we arrived at a cocktail bar to watch the sunset, and discovered that they offer free cocktails to ladies on Wednesday nights only.  And here is Lauren enjoying her free Berry Margharita

I have also had my first visit to a luxury toilet, which I felt I had to try in the name of research.

The hostess, in a bow tie, gives you your official ticket (2 Ringgits = 40p-ish), and your welcome wet wipes –

But apart from some artificial flowers around the wash basins,

it looked pretty much like any other ladies loo –

Talking of loos, I’ve always thought that the signs you see everywhere telling you not to stand on the seat were a bit of a joke –

Surely nobody needs to be taught how to use a loo?

But at the shopping centre this week, I saw the first sign that these notices are not as redundant as I’d thought …

… definitely footprints.

And as I nervously approach my first winter in Malaysia, I’m pleased to see that the locals are taking the impending cold season very seriously.  The temperature can apparently plummet by one whole degree Celsius, so I was relieved to find that the shops are full of –

coats …

scarves …

and hats …

… just in case I need to wrap up warmly in December, which is the coldest month of the year in KL.

So that’s all right, then – one more worry ticked off the list.

 

Enriching my vocabulary, and the wrong sort of launderette …

I’ve learnt a new word … apostasy.

 

I felt the need to look it up when it featured in the headlines of all the newspapers recently.

With headlines like ‘The Punishment for Apostasy is Death‘,  I felt that I should know what it is, so that I could avoid inadvertantly apostasising in the future.

I was slightly cheered to read that they can’t actually enforce the penalty at the moment, due to Malaysia’s federal laws –

 

But in the small print we were assured that they are seeking to remove this restriction via a private member’s Bill in Parliament – and it has been suggested that atheists should also be ‘hunted down’.

In Malaysia you’re not allowed NOT to have a religion – you can be a Buddhist, a Taoist, a Catholic and so on, but you have to be something.  Everyone must publicly declare which camp they’re in, and nobody’s allowed to be Switzerland.  You can change religions and convert … unless you’re a Muslim, as being a Muslim is a bit like being a king or queen of Narnia.

There was a handy flowchart online, showing the futility of attempting to renounce your religion, complete with a picture of gallows and noose at the bottom as a stark reminder.

 

I wasn’t surprised to read that there were no records of any application to renounce Islam, and that no Malay Muslims had ever applied to change their religious status … why would you?

This week, I was pleased to see that the Sultan has waded into a discrimination row and told the owner of a launderette that he can’t display a ‘Muslim customers only’ sign.

I also like the idea of the Cabinet deciding that ‘such segregation will not wash’ – glad they’ve retained their sense of humour.

I am, however, rather bemused by the reason given for the discrimination

Reasons of cleanliness?  I thought that the whole point of a launderette was that nothing is clean when it arrives, and everything is clean when it leaves.  So why would Muslim washing be any different from anyone else’s washing?  I’m obviously missing something here.

Just before I get the sack …

It was student review and reflection time again this week – one of my least favourite times of the term – where pupils reflect on their progress, fill in a form, and then take it home for their parents to sign.  I don’t like it because, in my experience, young children are incapable of reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses and simply parrot what I’ve been telling them all year.  So I could just tell their parents directly, and cut out all the tedious form-filling admin.

Anyway, I was reading through the comments my pupils had written, and was rather alarmed to see this one –

The parents will think I’m running a den of vice, where I fleece the kids of their pocket money every week.  I wondered whether to add: this is an educational game suggested to me by the deputy head, but I don’t want to sound as though I’m desperately trying to justify myself, so I haven’t.

To make matters worse, the parents probably won’t know that Kahoot is an online learning game, so they’ll assume that their child and I are in cahoots to hide my kindi-casino, but the child can’t spell.

Oh, well … on a brighter note, I have a new Best Friend this week.  Phoebe, aged four, has joined my class, and I knew we’d clicked straightaway when she invited me to go home with her and have a bath.

It’s certainly one of the strangest invitations I’ve ever had, and am still considering whether or not to accept.  I’m hoping there was no hidden agenda – I did a bit of surreptitious armpit sniffing – but I don’t think four-year-olds are that subtle.

In fact, I know that four-year-olds are not that subtle, thanks to an ego-crushing conversation I had yesterday:

Child 1: Teacher, why you got hair like boy?

Me: It’s not really like a boy’s, is it?  It’s just short.

Child 2: Teacher, why you got messy hair.  Did you forget to comb it?

Me:  It’s not messy – I just don’t have Chinese hair, that’s all.

Child 1: It’s ugly hair.

Me: Oh, dear.

Child 3:  Teacher, why your neck like that?

Me: Why is my neck like what?

Child 3: It looks like it’s been mashed.

I have decided that my next job will be in the Arctic Circle, and no one will ever see my ugly hair and mashed neck again.

 

 

 

A boy called no one …

Names in Malaysia are an endless source of confusion and/or amusement.

Could anyone blame me for constantly confusing the two girls in the same class call Ya Jing and Ja Ying?  Or for not realising that a child with two names is usually known by both of them and not just one?  Do they have no surname?  Nobody seems to know, including the children in question.

A child with three names is usually known by the last two … unless the last of the three names is a western one in which case they’re known just by that last name … or unless they have four names and either the first or the last is a Western name, and then they’re just known by that one name.

I even have a girl whose name is @Zoe … any ideas on the pronunciation of that one?  I just call her Zoe and she answers quite happily to it.

I’m still struggling with Yue Xin (delightfully pronounced ‘you sin’), Xin Hui, Xin En, Zi En.  They’re all quiet girls in the same large class, and I still haven’t learnt which one is which.

And then the Western names they choose can be unusual too. Top of my current list of favourites is eight-year-old Winthrop.  And I often feel as though I’ve stepped back to the 1950s with a lot of the other boys – we have Kenneth, several Brians, Nigel, Leonard and Keith.

The spellings can be quite idiosyncratic too; there’s a girl called Looi and another called Noa, a boy called Lucausz, a Eunice and a Younes.

But the most confusing name has to be the one that is pronounced ‘no one’.

‘Hello, I’m Harry,’ said the new boy in the class.

‘Hello, I’m No one,’ came the reply.

Harry’s mother had to be reassured that her son’s new classmate doesn’t have profound psychological issues, which have resulted in an identity crisis, he simply has an unusual name.

I hear strange Through-The-Looking-Glass comments coming from their classroom:

‘No one stop talking!’

‘Good work No one!’

‘Does anyone know where No one’s gone?’

One morning, this class of six-year-olds all decided to insult each other with the insult du jour – ‘you’re a poo-poo’, so the teacher tried to calm the situation by saying ‘no one’s a poo-poo’.  It was an unfortunate choice of words, which made the situation worse.

Welcome to the surreal world of English teaching in Malaysia.

“Who did you pass on the road?” the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some more hay.
“Nobody,” said the Messenger.
“Quite right,” said the King; “this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.”
“I do my best,” the Messenger said in a sullen tone. “I’m sure nobody walks much faster than I do!”
“He can’t do that,” said the King, “or else he’d have been here first.”

 

 

And the gold medal for public holidays goes to … Malaysia!

The number of public holidays here is truly insane.  If you’re used to the English system of three Bank Holiday Mondays a year – and be grateful for them – then the Malaysian system is a real eye-opener.

For a start, there are three main ethnic groups, so there are holidays for Islamic, Chinese and Indian festivals, plus all the other holidays for country-wide celebrations, like Independence Day.

Not only that, but the dates of the holidays can just randomly change with very little notice.  Imagine the rioting in the Home Counties if August Bank Holiday Monday was suddenly changed to August Bank Holiday Wednesday, a couple of weeks beforehand.

This has worked in my favour next week.  There was supposed to be a holiday next Thursday, which is one of my days off, but I found out on Monday that the holiday has now been moved to Friday, which gives me the equivalent of a long weekend … three days off in a row … yay!

And that’s in addition to the public holiday we had last week, and the one we’ve got this week … oh – and not to mention the five-day weekend we had two weeks ago.

The five-day weekend was originally supposed to be a four-day weekend at the end of August, because Eid and Independence day fell on two consecutive days – Thursday and Friday.  Then, on that Thursday, the Prime Minister announced that because of Malaysia’s outstanding performance in the South East Asia Games, he was declaring the Monday a Public Holiday too … Go Malaysia!

“There are too many public holidays in Malaysia. But… due to the overwhelming support and the tremendous performances by our athletes, therefore, the government would like to announce 4 September as a public holiday,” Najib announced to a roaring crowd.

And here’s a list of Kuala Lumpur’s public holidays for 2017:

Date Day Holiday
1 Jan Sun New Year’s Day
2 Jan Mon New Year Holiday
28 Jan Sat Chinese New Year
29 Jan Sun Chinese New Year Holiday
30 Jan Mon Chinese New Year Holiday
1 Feb Wed Federal Territory Day
9 Feb Thu Thaipusam
24 Apr Mon Installation of YDP Agong
1 May Mon Labour Day
10 May Wed Wesak Day
12 Jun Mon Nuzul Al-Quran
25 Jun Sun Hari Raya Aidilfitri
26 Jun Mon Hari Raya Aidilfitri Holiday
27 Jun Tue Hari Raya Aidilfitri Holiday
31 Aug Thu Merdeka Day
1 Sep Fri Hari Raya Haji
4 Sep Mon Sep 4 Holiday (SEA Games)
9 Sep Sat Agong’s Birthday

 

 

16 Sep Sat Malaysia Day
22 Sep Fri Awal Muharram
18 Oct Wed Deepavali
1 Dec Fri Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
25 Dec Mon Christmas Day

And now compare that to England’s somewhat meagre ration:

1 January Monday New Year’s Day
30 March Friday Good Friday
2 April Monday Easter Monday
7 May Monday Early May bank holiday
28 May Monday Spring bank holiday
27 August Monday Summer bank holiday
25 December Tuesday Christmas Day
26 December Wednesday Boxing Day

As I said … truly insane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hubris

After writing my rather smug little blog post yesterday about how easy it is to pick up Bahasa, I noticed that I had received a Facebook message from my local area’s Facebook page.  Glancing at it, I saw the name of my condo – Villa Flora – so I read it more closely.

Now, I know that ‘bomba’ is fire brigade – so what exactly was the problem that required a fire engine?  Obviously something to do with a pipe … leaking pipe?  … broken pipe?  And why all the exclamation marks – was it a flood of truly Biblical proportions, or just a drama queen getting hysterical about a trickle on the floor?

As I live in the high rise, I thought that I should find out what ‘ada ular masuk’ means, although living on the fifteenth floor, I’m unlikely to get washed away someone’s leaky plumbing.

Since my newfound bilinguality seemed to have let me down, I had to resort to Google Translate –

I’m clearly not quite as fluent as I thought I was – and if I’d been bitten by the snake, then serve me right for showing off.

But, on the plus side, I have learnt a very useful new word, and if I hear anyone shouting ‘ular! ular!’ in the future, I shall turn around and sprint in the opposite direction.

 

Only people with an IQ of 120+ will score 100% in this quiz

Well, after nearly 8 months in Malaysia, my Bahasa is coming on a treat – and without a single lesson, I’d like to add.  It seems that we talented linguists simply soak up the language effortlessly.

So when I came across this fiendishly difficult quiz, I simply had to have a go, and of course I scored top marks.

Have a go yourself and see how many of these Bahasa words you can understand:

  1.  Poskod
  2. Telefon
  3. Muzium
  4. Ais krim
  5. lif
  6. Sekolah
  7. biskut
  8. Restoran
  9. Lori
  10. Mesej
  11. Komputer
  12. Kaunter tiket

Don’t be disheartened if you couldn’t understand any of them – just follow the route below to Bahasa excellence:

 

Come and join me, and you too could be practically bilingual in a matter of months.

Our tea-swilling Royals

I seem to be following the Royals on a tea tour of SE Asia.

First we decided to go to a tea house in Singapore for a traditional pot of tea with all the accompanying rituals –

 

only to find that Her Majesty had already enjoyed a cuppa here several years ago.

Our tea waiter told us that HM was very complimentary about the tea, and she took time to outline all the benefits of tea drinking to the staff.  Teaching grandmothers and sucking eggs came to mind, but on the contrary, he seemed highly delighted to have been told what he presumably already knew, by such an august personage.

The ceremony involved a lot of smelling –

at various stages of the process –

and then lots of pouring into tiny cups –

and it was a very zen and relaxing experience.  But we were careful not to get too relaxed

as the rules of the tea house include ‘no lying around’.  I’m sure HM approved of that rule too, or possibly suggested it in the first place.

Then we drove up through the cloud forest to the tea plantations in the highlands in central Malaysia.  It was a strange sensation to see the clouds swirling about you as you looked out at the tea bushes.

And as it’s a chilly 24 degrees Celsius, the locals all make sure to dress appropriately –

in woolly hats

and furry boots.

And to think that the English are outdoors in shorts and t-shirts as soon as the temperature reaches doubles figures – how would Malaysians cope?

There was tea as far as the eye could see

which made us feel thirsty, so we trotted across to the tea shop – only to find that

William and Kate had already been there and given it the royal seal of approval.

So we had to try some ourselves.

It’s strange to be over 6,000 miles from Devon, but have cream teas available everywhere

Even the buildings look as though they could be somewhere in Surrey

But they do have something that hasn’t yet made it as far as England –

So I had to try some … purely in the interests of research.

I have been assured that these strawberries use specially angled mirrors to check their degree of ripeness, and once they reach the correct shade of red, they wrench themselves off the plant and hurl themselves into the nearest punnet.

A fortune awaits the entrepreneur who decides to introduce this variety into Britain – just think of the labour costs that all those Norfolk farmers will save.

 

Natural Born Killers

Have gone native and been living in the jungle for a few days.

Directions to find our particular patch of jungle were along the lines of … turn left at the stream –

cross the waterfall –

Then turn right at the fourth passionfruit tree –

and suddenly we’d arrived.

Our hut is just behind the palm tree, and was all made by hand from jungle materials by John, our host, a member of the Orang Asli tribe.

Seeing our potential as a pair of would-be assassins, he offered to teach us how to use a blow pipe with a poisoned dart.

These weapons have been used for hunting by his tribe for centuries, and his grandfather, father and uncle were employed by the British to kill Communists during the Malayan Insurgency.  His uncle was so successful that he received military honours and a title.

The poison is deadly – made from the rubber tree – and the weapon is accurate and silent … the perfect tool for murder.

First John’s son showed us the technique –

and then it was our turn.

Anthony’s naval upbringing hampered his progress at first.  Here he is scanning the horizon for the Spanish Armada –

But he soon got the hang of it –

although his technique did put me in mind of a boa constrictor swallowing a small mammal –

Whereas I looked more like a donkey eating an apple –

but I did manage to hit at least one bullseye on the target, so my technique must have had something going for it … possibly the flared nostrils taking in extra air.

Anthony was very keen to take a blowpipe home, but I had to point out to him that killing communists – or even Brexiteers – with a poisoned dart tends to be frowned on these days.  And while the jungle offers ideal camouflage for wielding a six-foot bamboo stick, the average British High Street doesn’t, so his chances of slipping away unobserved afterwards would be negligible.

But if anyone else fancies pincushioning a few undesirable characters, I can source the pipe and the poisoned darts from my mate, John – just tip me the wink.

Singapore Zoo

To be honest, I thought this tiger looked a bit faded … possibly due to all the hot tropical sun, I mused – 

– turns out it’s an incredibly rare white tiger … shows how much I know about nature.

Was very taken with these furry little chaps

Particularly when they walked off with their tails swaying in unison, like the inspiration for the original zebra crossing –

Baboon mother at the grooming salon keeps a firm grasp on her baby’s tail to stop him from wandering off while she has her fleas removed –

– I wasn’t surprised to learn that they share 98% of their genes with us.

As a Harry Potter fan, was delighted to see a real-life basilisk

and to learn that they are familiarly know as The Jesus Christ lizard, because of their ability to walk on water –

Caught an interesting conversation in the aviary:

‘I am looking hot this evening, though I say so myself.’

‘Hello, darlin’ – do you come here often?’

‘No.  I’m not that sort of girl.  It’s my first time actually.’

‘Do you fancy a snog?’

‘Well, ok … but no tongues.’

Slurp slurp …

‘I said – no tongues.  Clear off, you creep!’

‘Bloody women!’

Celebrate … or else!

Next week is Independence Day in Malaysia, and the flags have been appearing all week.

There was an article in the newspaper saying that any business not displaying a flag will not have its licence renewed next year – hence the zealous hoisting of flags all over the country.

I was glad to see that my condo has at least 20 flags flying

So, we won’t all be evicted and the condo razed to the ground for non-compliance.

The police station across the road will also be staying in business –

 

Keen to get into the spirit of the celebration, I decided to make my own flag, from a free insert in the local paper.

As well as nice, clear instructions for assembling your flag, there is also an explanation of the symbolism behind the design

So I now know more about the Malaysian flag than I do about the Union Jack.

In best Blue Peter style, I followed the instructions to cut –

Detach –

and roll –

 

and hey presto …

Now all I need to do is enter the #raisetheflagMY competition and claim my prize, which could be a trip to Langkawi or dinner at the Sheraton.

According to the newspaper: The photos can then be shared on social media with the hashtag #RaiseTheFlagMY, with a personalised “love note” to Malaysia, a caption to capture the love for your country.

Just need to compose my love note – but as it’s been about 40 years since I last wrote a love note, it may take me a little time to dredge up the appropriate vocabulary.

 

A week of firsts …

The new KL metro line has just opened, and we can now get a train directly into the city centre, which is very good news as the traffic can be appalling, particularly at rush hour.  So I went on my inaugural ride this week, to spend an evening in town.

There are very helpful notices, designed to encourage socially responsible behaviour –

and I couldn’t help wishing that a few of them could be displayed on the London Underground –

 

I also had my first bubble tea this week, bought by a kind friend who couldn’t believe that I’d never tried one, and to my great surprise, I loved it!

I spent a very happy 20 minutes on the train home sucking up all the chewy bubbles from the bottom of the cup, one by one, and making very satisfactory slurping noises – whilst all the time sitting under the MRT etiquette notice …

… whoops.

On a completely different note, I also started volunteering at the local orphanage, who put out a plea for English teachers to help the pupils prepare for their exams next month.

When I arrived, I was waiting in the foyer and a boy came up to me, grabbed my hand, smacked himself on the forehead with it, then let it go and wandered off.  Oh dear, I thought, I hope they’re not all mentally disturbed.  But then another boy did the same thing, and another, and another, and I finally realised that it’s their way of greeting people.  Some kiss your hand, and others take it reverently and place it gently on their forehead, but for a lot of them, it’s snatch, smack and drop.  Oh well, they are teenage boys, I suppose.

I’ve been assigned to Ammar

who’s in the centre of this photo, along with the Warden’s two children.  Deda, incidentally, is the only girl in the place, as it’s a boys’ orphanage.

We sat in the dining room and did exam preparation

The homework session is from 8.30 until 10 pm, which seems very late to be doing schoolwork when you’re only eleven years old, but because it’s a religious institution, prayers take precedence over prep.  Not all the boys are orphans, but all have lost at least one parent or come from a very impoverished background, and they are fed and cared for, sent to school and put through university, and can then return to their home town if they wish.

The past paper exam questions that we were working through looked very familiar in style to language exam papers in England, but the content was very different.

And I wondered what British teenagers would make of this boy’s preferred reading matter –

Ammar turned out to be an ace negotiator, and we came to an agreement – well, he twisted my arm, actually – that if he finished his work early he could watch a video on my phone, and I wondered what he would choose.  Despite his religious upbringing, he chose something called ‘God of War’ involving weapons, battles, monsters and heroes …

… whoever first said ‘boys will be boys’ obviously knew what they were talking about.

 

 

Getting an inferiority complex from monkeys

I’m sick and tired of getting insolent stares from monkeys

I’ve always been under the impression that we evolved from monkeys, and not the other way around, so I don’t know what they’ve got to feel so superior about.

One minute they’re staring down their nose at you

or flaunting their crotch in a so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it way

and then the next minute they’re scrabbling around in a rubbish bin with absolutely no self respect at all …

… I just don’t get monkeys.

And it’s not just the monkeys that try to make me feel inferior every time I go to the local park.  As I stroll lazily around there are people doing all sorts of active and/or energetic things –

some with large, dangerous looking weapons

and some without –

And then there are the men doing all sorts of manly things in the manly men’s area –

while the women sit around and watch.

But looking closely at this picture, I’ve noticed that the women watching have much the same expression on their faces as the monkeys usually have.  So perhaps it’s not disdain after all, just baffled incomprehension at the strange antics of another species.