The perils of mispronunication

This week I learned that the words for ‘late’ and ‘sodomy’ in Bahasa are practically indistinguishable to the non-native speaker.  So, it’s a good idea for all foreigners to be extremely punctual, thus  avoiding the danger of accidentally confessing to a crime and ending up with a twenty-year prison sentence.

And then I had an alarming conversation with a waiter this weekend, when I was trying to pay for the meal I’d just eaten.

 

I tried to remember the name of the Indonesian dish I’d ordered, and decided that it was called Penet.

‘Penis?’ asked the waiter.

‘No!’ I said, fairy confident that penis had not been one of the options on the menu.  ‘Penet, defininitely penet.’

‘OK.  Penis.  I go check.’  And he promptly disappeared.

I decided it would be far easier to go to the till and pay directly, where the very helpful cashier told me that the dish was actually called Penyet … not too far from my attempt at pronunciation, I felt.

Having paid, I was just about to leave, when the original waiter came rushing out of the kitchen calling ‘Madam, Madam’ and holding a bowl up in front of him with both hands, as though it contained some sort of sacrificial offering.

Oh no, I thought, surely this isn’t a freshly severed phallus, foraged from one of the kitchen staff?

He stopped in front of me and held out the bowl reverentially.  I looked down apprehensively … and have never been so relieved to see a bowl of peanuts in my life.

 

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Popping up to Penang

I’ve learnt that when chums visit you have to stop lolling around on the sofa and go off and do a bit of sightseeing.  So when Caroline came to stay, once we’d exhausted the possibilities KL has to offer, we popped up to Penang for a couple of days.

We found the most wonderful cake shop in the whole world –

and this was only half of their selection!

In Singapore celebrities get orchids named after them, but in Penang internationally renowned cake-eaters are honoured in a much more fitting way  –

 

We went to see the beautiful Blue Mansion which was built in the Nineteenth Century by Cheong Fatt Tze – popularly referred to in his time as the Rockefeller of the East –

We were told that he started life as a dirt-poor Chinese immigrant, working as a water carrier, but was fortunate enough to marry the boss’s daughter, and his father-in-law then bankrolled his business ventures.  This sounded about as likely as a Downton Abbey storyline to me – especially since the guide told us that Cheong’s only interest in his own daughters was the alliances he could make by marrying them off to his associates.

But he did own a house that was recognised as being Feng Shui Perfect by the experts.  They came and did a feng shui survey of the property, using this …

… which is a feng shui compass.  Seeing how archaic it looks, and thinking that it must be similar to reading runes or consulting the oracle at Delphi, I googled it to see how people would have used it – only to learn that there is a feng shui compass app that you can download onto your phone …  not quite so archaic, after all.

Travelling with an artist, I have learnt to wait patiently while artistic photographs are taken, both indoors –

and outdoors –

and to admire all sorts of artistic creations, including …

… a cappuccino in the shape of a rabbit.

And to have beautiful batik creations drying on the clothes rack –

 

I did try to join in, by sketching a self-portrait on the tablecloth with the kiddies’ crayons –

– but it didn’t get the recognition I felt it deserved.

Oh well, I shall go back to the cake-eating, as that’s what I really do best.

 

 

 

 

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We are not amused …

Malaysians are outraged.

Why? You might ask – they’re pretty placid people on the whole.

Well, there’s a general election coming up, and the ruling party has been busy changing the electoral boundaries to ensure that there’s a majority of Muslims in every catchment area, so that the National Party gets back into power.

The same party has been in power, in one form or another, since Malaysia gained  independence in the 1950s.  The current prime minister, who is also the finance minister, is the son of one of the previous prime ministers, and has been PM since 2009.  The country is ready for a change, but he’s doing everything he can to make sure they don’t get one.

So is this why Malaysians are outraged?  No, it isn’t.

Malaysians are outraged because a contestant on Master Chef was criticised for not making crispy rendang – everyone is talking about it. Even Najib, the Prime Minister, has been tweeting about it –

– and you’d think he’d have more important things to think about in the run-up to an election.  But perhaps currying favour is at the top of his agenda …

Ikea has jumped on the bandwagon this week –

And even my local coffee shop had a sign on the wall –

Oh, well – my father was very fond of saying that people get the government they deserve.  So perhaps it’s fitting that the Malaysians have a Prime Minister who’s more concerned with chicken rendang than with corruption.

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Releasing my inner Miss Trunchbull

I do love being unkind to children … I think that must be why I decided to go into teaching in the first place.  This was my April Fools’ Day prank –

I stuck this notice on the door and then hid, along with the first three children who’d arrived to class.  They hid under the tables, but I felt that it would be slightly undignified for me to be seen scrambling out from underneath a table, so I hid in a corner.

We then waited for anxious faces to peer around the door, wondering what on earth was going on, so that we could shout ‘April Fool!’ and laugh at them. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, managing to disguise mean-spirited mocking as cultural enrichment.

One boy brought along the timetable for his boxing tournament this weekend –

and I was interested to see that, even when you’re beating seven kinds of crap out of someone, you still stop halfway through and pray.  Presumably you either pray for victory or for mercy, depending on the way the fight’s going.

My other big moment this week was an appearance as a retired French supermodel in a 1970’s murder mystery –

and I have to say that I really nailed that role –

disappointingly, I didn’t turn out to be the murderer, but I did manage to murder a few vowels along the way, with my utterly convincing, thick French accent.

 

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Do not wail against the flow

As I was reading the regulations on the escalators which link the hilly districts of Hong Kong Island –

I realised that this is where I’ve been going wrong all my life … too much wailing against the flow.

Taking this advice to heart, I declined a trip on a junk at dusk –

– on the basis that there was far too much flow, and it was going up and down in an alarmingly nausea-inducing way.

So, I decided to stay with the flow and wait for nightfall on terra firma, where it was just as picturesque, and much more stable.

Then, on a trip to the History Museum, I learnt that a terrible accident might have been averted if only people had realised that buns flow downwards … at least they do on Earth, where gravity means that all buns are pulled down towards the Earth, unless the buns in question happen to be larger than the Earth, if I’ve understood my science lessons correctly.  So, climbing a ten-metre high bun-tower definitely counts as wailing against the flow, and during the 1978 Annual bun scramble on Cheung Chau Island, a bun tower collapsed and caused many injuries.

Ironically, the buns have the word ‘longevity’ stamped on them,  and are said to bring protection and good fortune … but obviously not to those who topple ten metres down a wonky pole in an attempt to grab one.

Still going with the flow, we got the funicular to the top of the peak –

– and I then hurled myself down in a daring bungee jump, all the way to the bottom –

and, as if that wasn’t exhausting enough, I then flowed fearlessly towards my adversary –

– as I starred in my own comic strip.

The flow was most definitely going in the right direction when we came across the Craft Gin and Cocktail Bar, where I discovered my new favourite cocktail –

– the gin sour: two for the price of one in happy hour … even more flow going in the right direction.

So I’m now anticipating a very smooth journey as I skip along life’s formerly rugged path, always remembering not to wail against the flow.

 

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You’d be bonkers not to go via Honkers …

 


… as the old Aussie advertisement for Cathay Pacific used to go.

So, to confirm my sanity, I decided to spend the spring break in Hong Kong, which is only a hop and a skip and £150 return from KL.

The harbour views are fantastic

and the crew on the Star Ferry have the cutest uniforms –

 But as Hong Kong is all  about the food, we took a food tour and discovered my new favourite food – crispy egg waffles- 

Not so sure about the vegetarian pork though –

We saw this decidedly flat duck in the market-

— and he was looking fairly pissed off with life in general.  Luckily the roast goose we ate arrived ready sliced –

– so we were spared the lugubrious expression.

These cakes are all for dogs …

because everyone buys their dog a birthday cake, don’t they?  Or a bone shaped biscuit at the very least?

We walked past multiple agencies offering maids for hire –


– and our guide explained that the most important thing to find out about a prospective maid is their Chinese horoscope animal and their zodiac sign –

– and the next most important thing is their position within their own family

… and to hell with whether they can wield an iron or boil a dumpling.

The logic behind this is  that all maids send cash home to their family in Indonesia or the Philippines, and  elder children are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility to their younger siblings at home and be obedient to their employers and eager to please.

They earn about £90 a week, and on their days off, sit under bridges or on staircases chatting with their friends – not much of a life.

But these two looked cheery enough when I took a photo.

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You know you’re in Singapore when …

 

… the water features at the airport –

look more like the installations you’d find in a five star hotel anywhere else.

… you can get a glass of perfectly chilled Piper Heidsieck –

at the theatre –

rather than a can of tepid 7-Up, which tends to be the classy beverage of choice in Malaysia.

… when the most heinous crime committed –

wouldn’t even rate a mention in most other countries.

… when their national ‘dish’ –

is a fruity and frivolous cocktail.

… and when nobody finds names of pawnshops extremely funny –

except me – and possibly any visiting Scousers.

 

 

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Teacher, how do you spell ‘turd’?

I was surprised when a child asked me this the other day.  What on earth is she writing about, I wondered, given that the title of the story was supposed to be ‘My First Day at Pirate School’.

I obviously looked puzzled, so she elaborated, ‘I can spell first and second but I don’t know how to spell turd.

That’s one of the problems here – only the most competent linguists can pronounce ‘th’, and whilst you can understand the meaning most of the time, there are occasional moments of bewilderment/hilarity.  So ‘tree rabbits’ turned out to be Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, and not some new arboreal species, and ‘The Tin Man’ was emaciated and not straight out of the Wizard of Oz.

Equally, some words are just plain ridiculous without the ‘th’, such as ‘he fell to the ground with a tud’, ‘cars today have an electronic trottle’ or ‘he offered his tanks to everyone’.

So we spend a lot of time practising – sticking our tongues out between our teeth and then breathing out and making a lisping, hissing sound, like a nest of angry cobras.

I have two new children joining my classes this week.  I don’t know why, but this name makes me laugh every time I look at it –

– imagine being called Jayvis Moo, and expecting to be taken seriously.

At the other end of the spectrum is a name I shall be taking very seriously –

No surname, just Azlan.  Am considering suggesting that we nip into the wardrobe together – although, on second thoughts, I left England to get away from the land of eternal winter, so perhaps I’ll keep the wardrobe door firmly closed … just in case.

 

 

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Chatting up a monk

When I saw the sign, I couldn’t resist –

I’ve always wanted to chat a monk up, so I dashed over to the monk assignation area.

My monk was called Claim, and he told me all about his life in the monastery and at the university attached to the monastery, where he studies Pali, which is a language similar to Sanskrit.

He’s an urban monk, and so he wears orange robes.  Urban monks get up at 5 am, pray and then meditate for an hour, before going out into town to collect donations of food in exchange for blessings.  He explained that the brown-robed monks are the rural monks, who get up at 4 am and meditate for 5 hours a day …  so they’ve definitely drawn the short straw.  Although, thinking about it, there’s probably not much else to do out in rural Thailand.

Rather endearingly he told me that he wanted to learn English because he’d enjoyed Harry Potter so much.  I can’t imagine many Christian monks embracing witchcraft and wizardry with such enthusiasm.

After the monk chat session, I went to look around the temple, where the urban monks seemed to be having a jolly game of musical chairs.

Presumably the rural monks had all gone back to the jungle for some more meditation.

The monks’ garden was full of words of wisdom, hanging from trees, and I was rather taken with this one –

I imagine some poor, homely-looking monk painstakingly writing it out, whilst looking enviously over his shoulder at the monastery pin-up boys, flexing their biceps as they stride confidently across the courtyard for a bit of monk chat.

I didn’t just visit monks while I was in Chiang Mai, I also went on a trip to the Karen tribe, who live up in the hills outside the town.

This poor woman was having a lot of problems with her itchy woollen stockings

She was rubbing half a lime up and down her legs – I wasn’t sure if it was a tradional cure, or whether she was just a little strange.

The Karen grow coffee, and I tasted my first fresh coffee berry

I was surprised that it was really sweet and I suppose that’s why the weasels like them so much.  But I decided against making my own version of weasel coffee, and spat my coffee bean out –

The flowers in Northern Thailand are beautiful.  There are lots of cherry trees, which were a gift from Japan –

and they look stunning against the brilliant blue sky.

I also saw rhododendrons in their native habitat –

– they are apparently native to the Himalayas, and the highest mountain in Thailand is the easternmost peak of the Himalayas.

Bizarrely, there is a huge garden halfway up the mountain which is full of dahlias, snapdragons, delphiniums and all sorts of other plants that I have in my garden in England.  It’s a temperate garden project which was started by the last king to encourage the locals to grow something other than opium.

I did spot a few poppies –

but presumably they are not of the hallucinogenic variety.  And with the drug penalty being what it is in Thailand, I didn’t much fancy giving them a try.

 

 

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First, coat your elephant liberally with mud …

Have just returned from a few days in Chiang Mai, where I learnt two very useful new skills  – firstly, how to give an elephant a mud bath, and secondly, how to wash the mud off again.

The elephants at the rescue centre have been rescued from performance venues in Thailand – all except the baby, who is three months old and was born there –

– he’s absolutely adorable.

First, we had to feed the elephants with pieces of chopped up bamboo … and that was when I felt something long, sinewy and warm snaking around my waist …

… they have no qualms at all about invading your personal space if there’s food involved.

Then we took them to the mud pool and covered them in the gooiest mud I’ve ever come across.

The elephants loved it, but I wasn’t quite so keen; mud wrestling has never been high on my list of possible hobbies.

After the mud, we washed them in the most beautiful clear water – well, it was clear before the elephant washing began – in the pool beneath a waterfall.  The water was freezing –

and the elephants – sneaky rotters – kept sucking up trunkfuls and spraying it all over us –

I was not amused …

But I managed to get my own back by feeding them their medicine –

which they weren’t too keen on – even though he does look as though he’s smiling in this photo.

After that it was a quick shower with a bar of soap under the power-shower waterfall to try and get rid of the worst of the mud

and then back into town, upskilled and upbeat. What a great day!

 

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What do Donald Trump, the Prince of Wales and three ugly-looking ladies have in common?

The answer could well be that they all have names that I find easy to remember – which is a definite bonus these days.

The new school year has brought with it a whole set of new name problems for me … and I used to think I was good with names.

Having finally got to grips last year with the unfamiliar Chinese names, and got accustomed to the retro British names, I now find myself back to square one.

For a start, I have a whole set of names that haven’t been seen in a school register in England since the 1950s.  In one class there’s Valerie and Clive, who sound more like veterans of the golf club than nine-year-old children.  Then there’s Muriel, who is always referred to as Unfortunate Muriel, for a variety of unfortunate reasons.  Marvin and Mervyn sound like a couple of second-hand car dealers, while Audrey must be the mad maiden aunt who’s probably into spiritualism.

Bryan is still the single most popular name in the school, and I have at least one per class.  Then there’s Dim Keith, Fat Ian, and Kayleb, whose parents are obviously into phonetic spelling.  Cherbelle and Crystalbelle sound so like Disney characters that I wasn’t surprised when a boy accidentally referred to Crystalbelle as Tinkerbell one day, much to his embarrassment once he realised his mistake.

Then we come to the Chinese names, and I seem to be beset with Xs and Ys this year, with a few Js thrown in just to add to the confusion.  In one class there’s Yu Xin, Xin Hui, Xin Yen, Hao Yen, Ya Jing – and in another there’s Chui Yi, Jia Yi, Shu Yi, Jian Jie and Jia Min.  I just call out a name and try not to look as though I have no idea which child I’m talking to.

Another difficulty with Chinese names is that there seems to be no way of distinguishing between boys’ names and girls’ names – so Li-Ann is a girl, but Lian-Ann is a boy – and what’s more he’s a boy who I accidentally called Denise one day, because he and Denise have the same surname … oh dear!

And finally – what do Donald Trump, the Prince of Wales and three ugly-looking ladies have in common?

The answer is, of course, that they have all been unmasked as robbers and are now banged up in prison for the next ten years – what an interesting thought.

 

 

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You can wear any colour you like … as long as it’s red

Things are hotting up for Chinese New Year next week.  Interestingly, it’s always called Chinese New Year, or CNY, even by the Chinese.  In our usual imperialist way, the West seems to have commandeered the term ‘New Year’ for 1 January – so perhaps we should embrace diversity, acknowledge that other New Years exist and start calling our celebration Gregorian New Year?  Just a thought.

CNY is a bit like Christmas is for us, and the celebrations start weeks ahead.  Last week I managed to gatecrash the KL Senior Citizens’ Karaoke Club CNY Lunch

and a jolly fine time we had too.

There are decorations everywhere – my local mall has gone for the Japan-in-the-Springtime look, with blossom-laden trees

and a bridge which Monet would have happily given gardenroom, I feel sure –

plus the ubiquitous Chinese lanterns, of course.  I’ve lost count of how many of those I’ve seen over the past few weeks.

Even Marks and Spencer is offering CNY hampers

and has a fetching display of cardboard lanterns in the entrance –

The local market has gone for dragons and lanterns –

with individually wrapped CNY mandarins –

or – more impressively – apples with a festive greeting branded onto them –

Children are given money in small red envelopes called ang pau, and the local Chinese restaurant has gone all artistic and tied them to their trees

So let’s hope it doesn’t rain between now and next Friday.

 

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There’s something about Tuesday …

I was in the midddle of explaining an activity in my phonics class yesterday when a five-year-old boy looked up, pointed to my head and asked, ‘Is that a wig?’

I was astonished.  Does he really think that I’d pay for a wig that looked like this?

If I buy a wig it’ll be long, straight and glossy, and will ripple seductively down my back as I shake my head – there’s nothing glamorous about looking as though you’ve just stepped out of a wind tunnel, in my opinion.

But as I was pondering the strange nature of his question, I realised that it was Tuesday, and strange things happen on Tuesdays …

Last Tuesday, I was followed by a stalker on my way home.

I contemplated hitting him with the baking tray I’d just bought –

but decided that I’d be safer dashing to the nearest security post, where security guards man the barriers for entry into private roads.  The guards gave me the number to call the police, and I rang them.

‘Are you Chinese?’ the police receptionist asked.

‘No!’  I said indignantly.  ‘I’m English!’

I don’t know whether my nationality had anything to do with it, but within five minutes three police cars, all with flashing blue lights, had arrived.

The stalker had disappeared, but I was given a lift home in a police car, still with its blue light flashing …

… so that’s something ticked off my bucket list.

Another strange Tuesday experience this month was a cake, baked by an Irish poet who has started a writing circle in my condo.

It looked relatively normal from the outside, but when she cut into it, there were strange green lumps and bits of stringy stuff inside, and it had a solid, yet squidgy consistency –

– if you imagine khaki playdough, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

‘What sort of cake is it?’ someone asked trepidatiously.

‘Okra and chilli relish,’ came the reply.

If you are ever offered cake by an Irish poet, I recommend that you decline politely.

Next Tuesday I’m thinking of staying in bed.

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I think I’ve found my ideal home

When I saw this place, I knew I had to move in immediately –

Anyone else care to join me?

Rant for today …

When you land in KL all you see around the airport are miles and miles of palm oil plantations

According to a report online, Malaysia and Indonesia produce 85% of the world’s palm oil.

There have been rumblings about palm oil for years in England, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the EU is planning to ban it from 2021.  What did surprise me, however, was a report in the local newspaper this week expressing outrage at the ban, but making no mention whatsoever of environmental issues.

The writer fumes and rants (perhaps he’d like to join me in my new home) but makes no attempt to explain why the EU is banning palm oil.

There’s a tedious list of the committees who voted for the ban, but no reason as to why they might have done so.  It gives the impression that the EU was feeling a bit snippy one day, and decided to take it out on Malaysia …

‘I’ve got a good idea – let’s ban all biofuels beginning with the letter P this week!’

‘That’s an absolutely brilliant plan!  And then we can ban all green food beginning with the letter C next week.’

But luckily for Malaysia, the Prime Minister has waded in and threatened retaliation –

So, yah sucks boo to you, EU.

Meanwhile, last week the Goverment degazetted 4,515 hectares of permanent forest reserves in Terengganu, an area the size of 4,500 football fields apparently, and this land is going to be given to a government-linked palm oil company.   ‘Degazette’ means to remove the official status from something by publishing it in a gazette, according to my online dictionary.

I heard the Chairman of the Malaysia Nature Society being interviewed on the radio yesterday, and he asked how the government can just do that without discussions or consultations.  Plus, the UN has pledged to halt deforestation by 2020 – so Malaysia isn’t exactly making itself popular by doing this.

According to Chairman Wong, Malaysia is recognised as one of only 12 mega biodiversity countries supporting an unprecedented wealth of wildlife, and there are even tigers in that area – although not for much longer, obviously.

It’s not only fauna and flora, but Terengganu is a flood prone state, so that will only get worse once the forest is cut down.

How can Malaysia be so short-sighted and so out of tune with the rest of the world?  It’s perfectly possible to make money sustainably through ecotourism, medicines and sustainable timber, while protecting the tropical and equatorial rainforests for future generations.

Yes, Mr Journalist – destroying the forests affects the ecosystem; lessening carbon storage, air and water purification, and flood control, as well as endangering wildlife, including many already endangered species like the tigers and orang utans … and that’s why the EU is banning palm oil.  Perhaps you should have mentioned that in your article.

OK – rant over – I’ll go away and leave you in peace now.

 

 

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Malaysia … home of witchcraft and wizardry

According to a newspaper report, in Malacca alone last year there were 2,492 cases of spells, jinxes and other forms of witchcraft reported to the police.  They usually involve bomohs, who are a type of witch doctor/shaman.

Now, I’m no medical expert but …

… I’m pretty sure there’s a medical term for this which doesn’t involve the word ‘witchcraft’.

And it’s not just men seeking to blame witchcraft for their problems –

My suggestion here would be that if holding hands makes you feel naughty, then keep your hands firmly by your sides at all times.

And it’s nice to know that witchcraft is keeping up with the times and embracing technology –

And I love this case of the Siamese medium and his henchmen –

A Siamese medium …

… it must be the eyes.

And what about his henchmen?

I’d definitely pay up if they turned up on my doorstep.

But I was a little disappointed in the anonymous medium who accused other bomohs of using ghouls to harm people –

As any Harry Potter expert knows, ghouls are harmless creatures, who are only viewed as a nuisance because of the noise they make.  I’m thinking of writing to the paper to suggest harrypotter.wikia.com as essential reading for all future bomohs.

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The School of Hard Knocks

In Malaysia, the School of Hard Knocks is not a precursor of the University of Life and an essential component of any I-dragged-meself-up-by-me-bootstraps success story.  It’s actually a workshop where you can go and learn how to make things out of pewter.

I already knew that Kuala Lumpur’s fortune was founded on tin.  KL was just a small unimportant town, playing second fiddle to Malacca and Penang (or maybe that should be third fiddle?), until the late 19th Century, when Chinese prospectors found tin in the river.  Despite the fact that 69 of the 87 original prospectors died of horrible diseases in the swampy jungle, they pressed on and established tin mines and the town began to grow.

Today I learnt that tin is used to make pewter –

hence the very famous Royal Selangor Pewter factory and its workshop.

The factory museum shows the earliest Malaysian currency – tin money in the shape of animals –

– cute, but not very practical for a trip to the supermarket:

“That’ll be a crocodile, an elephant and four tortoises, please.”

“I’ve only got two crocodiles – do you have change?”

“Hang on a minute – I’ll just go to the other tills and see if anyone can change one crocodile for ten elephants.”

So they switched to the money tree, on the right in the picture.  As it’s made of tin, they could just twist off as many little Polo mints as they needed.

Then it was time for the fun –

learning to make our own funky designs out of molten pewter.

Anthony made a lovely bracelet … for me –

While Sam made himself a hipster man-band –

And despite being blessed with the manual dexterity of an earthworm, I even managed to make a few things myself –

But we didn’t have time to create replica Petronas Towers –

made of 7,062 pewter tankards

or the largest tankard in the world

which holds 4,920 pints of beer and the Guinness World Record … and is yet another example of the identity crisis which seems to be a permanent, rather than temporary, stage of development in this Islamic country.

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Still doing their own thing in Myanmar

On my travels around Myanmar, I was struck by the fact that traditions are still woven into the fabric of everyday life and not just resurrected for the tourists every night at 8 pm, with a matinee on Saturdays.

We were lucky enough to see a novitiation ceremony in a small town that we were driving through en route to Mandalay.  We had stopped for a break and spotted some very fancily dressed children –

I thought this was a girl, but it’s actually a boy – dressed as a prince for the procession through the town before he goes to the temple to become a novice monk.

Everyone in the town had turned out either to watch

or to process

The novices all process using whatever means of transport their family can afford to provide for them.

So they might be on horseback

in a horse-drawn cart

or a bullock cart

or even on an elephant

Our tour leader was chatting to a local, who told her that the father of the boy on the elephant was a street vendor selling betel nut, who had probably saved up for his whole life to hire this elephant for his son’s big day.

The sisters of novices are allowed to dress as princesses, and they parade too –

but no horses for them … just Shanks’s pony.

And bullock carts aren’t reserved for parades – it’s quite common to see them out on the roads –

And there are so many other traditional skills still being practised every day

making umbrellas by hand –

A two-hundred year old lacquerwork studio –

producing beautiful pieces –

Cheroots – made by the local women –

and smoked by the local crones –

On Inlay Lake there’s a third-generation silversmith at work in a studio on stilts in the water

making jewellery out of pure Myanmar silver –

The lake dwellers have developed the most bizarre method of rowing, where they twist their leg around the oar –

and the lake fishermen balance precariously while they drop their nets into the water –

although I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed by the size of their catch –

But I ate his big brother for lunch, and he was absolutely delicious …

 

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In which I discover that I’m a guinea pig …


Myanmar is apparently the most devoutly Buddhist country in the world.

There are temples everywhere and it’s a country where anyone who’s anyone builds their own stupa, so wherever you go there are gilded spires rising up into the sky

Sometimes there’s a thousand of them all together

Or just a few –

When I arrived in Yangon, one of the first questions I was asked was what day of the week I was born on, as I needed to know which day shrine to pay homage at in the temples.

There are 8 days in the Buddhist week, as Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon count as two separate days.  Each day is associated with a different exotic animal – tiger, elephant, lion, serpent, Garuda the mythical birdman – until you get to Friday … which is the day of the guinea pig.

So, in every temple I had to complete the ritual of pouring water first onto Buddha and then on my animal.

And after a while –

I began to notice that every guinea pig had a faintly depressed expression

I wasn’t sure whether this was due to the constant unflattering comparisons with the other more noble creatures in the temple, or simply the result of being drenched in cold water several hundred times a day.  Either way, I began to feel rather sorry for the poor bedraggled things, and mutter a brief apology before dousing them with yet another cupful of water.

Oh well, at least a dejected guinea pig is less of a threat than a seriously pissed-off lion or tiger.

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It’s a man’s world …

I went to the ballet in Laos – the Ballet Theatre of Luang Prabang – to see a show called ‘The Return of Princess Sida’

The unhappy princess was separated from her husband due to war, and pined for years.  Her husband also claimed to be unhappy to be separated from his wife.

Finally the monkey king intervened and arranged for her to return home

Overjoyed, she embarked on the long and hazardous journey

But while she was making her way home, her husband, egged on by his sycophantic minions,

decided that she’d been away for so long that she couldn’t possibly have remained faithful to him for all that time –

so when she finally arrived, he sent her away with a flea in her ear –

Bloody typical, I thought.

 

 

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