Monday, May 31, 2010

Fashion

This will probably come as a surprise to my workmates, but I used to be quite into fashion and shopping.  I was never as great at op-shopping as my friend Helen in high school, but I still could find good bargains and put a lot of thought into my clothes.  Then I got to a certain size and my love of shopping fizzled, and I withdrew into my tried-and-true comfort fallback of jeans and t-shirts.

The few times I tried to find clothes that fit, I was always frustrated.  If I tried to go to a normal store, I'd get looks from the shop assistants.  I remember when I was trying to find a dress for a party, and I went to Cue, and the shop assistant said straight out to my face "I'm sorry, but I don't think we have your size here."  At that point I was size 16, and the look of distaste on her face killed the last of my enjoyment of shopping.  After that, I stuck to "fat chick" stores...but I couldn't find any with fashionable, affordable clothes.  They all seemed to be frumpy and trying to cover up my "flaws", but ended up making me look even bigger.  So I stopped buying new clothes unless I absolutely had to, and then hating the exercise of shopping, and started feeling even worse about how I looked.  I felt like I wasn't supposed to look good.

Recently I've discovered a whole community of other bloggers and tweeters in Oz that have proven to me that it *is* possible to be gorgeous and plus-size.  CorpulentDefinatalie, and especially Frocks & Frou Frou, among others, have given me some fabulous ideas and tips, and most of all, the confidence to try something new.  I suddenly feel much more confident about my body, even though nothing has changed: I have a whole new outlook on myself and my clothes.

So today I went out and bought 3 things from the fabulous City Chic store in Robina.  The clothes there were stylish, and designed for people like me: young and fashionable and confident in my curvy body.  I wanted to buy so many things, but limited myself to the 3 I ended up with :)  I still have my eye on a few things (wish list coming up below!).  I'm also going to order some tights from We Love Colors in a couple of days, when they start their free shipping to NZ and Oz promotion.  While in Robina, I bought a couple of pairs of cheap flats from Rubi Shoes as well.

So here is my current Wish List:
  • Skinny black jeans (perhaps from JeansWest)
  • Booties to go with said jeans (like these from Tony Bianco)
  • A coat I can wear over pretty much anything - I'd love a leather jacket but would settle for a trench or something like that
  • A party dress for the work bonus dinner on 9 July, almost definitely from City Chic
  • Shoes to go with said dress
That will do for now, or Dave will have a hernia.  I'm just going to slowly build up my wardrobe into prettier, sexier clothes.  Surely he can't complain about that!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Boxing Day at the Races

Reading about sports commentaries for Language & Communication, and suddenly I'm transported to my childhood, and spending Boxing Day at the races at Te Teko, near Whakatane.

Every year for Christmas most of my mother's family (and some of my father's) made the three-hour trek from South Auckland down to a tiny caravan park called Awakeri Hot Springs.  I'm not sure who first discovered the park or why we all went there, we just did, for as long as I can remember.  I'm also not sure what the appeal of a hot spring park was in the middle of summer...But I can still see the steam rising from the pool in the crisp early morning air...and picture our regular campsite in my mind, even though it must be over 15 years since I was last there.

Most of us had regular campsites that were near each other.  My mother's parents had a caravan that they left in storage there every year, that was brought out and set up for them before we arrived.  We had what's called a mini-camper: basically a tent on a trailer that folds out like a big accordion, with the trailer forming a bed.  My sister and I slept in bunk beds in the awning.  I remember being concerned about how Santa would know where we were, but Mum assured me he would find us.  I also remember when my sister brutally informed me that Santa wasn't real (my *younger* sister, I might add), and our agreement to keep pretending anyway to get more presents!

But most of all, I remember the Boxing Day races.  This was as much a part of the Christmas holiday ritual as anything else.  My grandparents took their racing quite seriously.  I just loved seeing the horses and the colourful jockeys and always wanted to go to the warm-up ring to get as close to the horses as possible.  We were given a small amount to bet each year and I always bet on a grey horse, or if I couldn't find a grey one, the one with the most interesting name (my betting tactic hasn't changed, just ask the guys in the Betting Club at work!).  I really didn't care if I won or lost (although winning was always good, a small win at the track would keep me in K-Bars for the rest of the holiday): I just loved the pageantry of it, and the sound of the commentator chanting, and the excitement.

The caravan park is still there, I think.  One day I'd like to go back, just to see what it's like now, with the passage of years and my adult eyes.  I wonder if it's the same people who run it.  I wonder if any of my family still go back.  I'm not sure why we stopped going.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Engagement

This poem was originally submitted for my uni paper Creative Writing.  This is the revised version.

My ingredients cluster on the bench
like spectators at an accident scene –
mouths gaping, eyes staring, unable to look away.
One by one, they go in the bowl:
silky flour, darkly rich sugar, eggs like eyes
and ginger, the sassy redhead.
The harsh buzzing of the electric mixer
cuts the air like a curse.
I knead the dough, gently massaging,
then forcefully pounding.
As I cut the shapes, I arrange the men
in neat rows, like soldiers
preparing for battle.  In the oven they go,
only to emerge, victorious.
Now the gingerbread men
sit between us in a pile.  He takes one first.
I stare, gaping, as he bites off the legs,
“So he can’t run away,” he says.
He laughs as I bite the head off mine,
“To put him out of his misery,” I say.

Miscellaneous

A few short bits about various things:


  • Our holiday finished on Thursday, and after a 2 hour delay with our airport transfer due to some extremely rude and inconsiderate people, we made it home (after picking up my repaired car and our dog, Phoebe), where I promptly started on my Media Studies essay, fried my brain, and went to sleep.

  • I have my second round of blood tests for my endo tomorrow, before we see my OB/GYN next week.  Dave also has to have his test this week.  For a hilarious and touching commentary on these tests from a male point of view, please read "Inconceivable" by Ben Elton (don't bother with the movie version, Maybe Baby: I love Hugh Laurie but the book version is much funnier).

  • I've been slowly slipping into the BBW/Plus Size/Fat Acceptance/HaES (Healthy at Every Size)/Whatever you want to call it community recently, for various reasons.  There's plenty of excellent blogs out there on this stuff, and I've been trying to read as many as I can.  Tasha Fierce, aka @redvinylshoes, recently made a blog post on how she is a "bad fat", which was republished with permission on Jezebel.  The post set off a brouhaha of commentary, quite a bit of which was nasty and also nonsensical.  Tasha's point (I believe) is that fat people are constantly having to defend themselves and their lifestyle, constantly having to try to prove that they are trying to change - but a thin person with exactly the same lifestyle is ignored or praised as "lucky".  She attempted to address the brouhaha back on her home turf.  Because I 'm still new to this community (not in terms of my size (I've been there for a while) but in terms of the whole philosophical concept) I'm still figuring out my stance.  The fact is, I love my food, I'm usually comfortable with my body, and I don't think my lifestyle is that bad.  But I'm still learning that I don't have to justify myself to anyone, that I'm free to live my life how I want, and figuring out the whole "judge not, lest ye be judged" concept.  Tasha has really opened my eyes to all this, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

  • Our fur babies seem to have missed us a lot.  They've been very smoochy.  Of course, it could be part of their world domination plot.  You never can tell with cats (Phoebe, of course, being the cover).




Is your cat plotting to kill you?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Malaysia Holiday Day 8: Langkawi

I totally forgot to mention something awesome that happened yesterday!  We were sitting in our room in the late afternoon when there was a knock on the door saying "Room service!"  I was thinking "huh?  We didn't order anything!"  I opened the door and there was a room service guy with a little 2-person-sized sponge cake decorated with "Happy Honeymoon"!  The awesomest part is, we never officially told them we were on our honeymoon - when we checked in, we chatted with our service manager who was giving us all the info about the resort, and she casually asked questions like where we were from, was it our first time to Malaysia, were we here for our honeymoon, etc.  And then obviously she made a note of it and sent us the cake the next day!

Anyway...today we got up relatively early (7am), had our buffet breakfast, and then caught the boat over to the main island for our island hopping tour.  The van that was there to transfer us to the tour jetty was pretty rough, and Dave said "I hope the boat isn't as bad as this van!"...Prophetic words indeed, because when we arrived at the tour jetty we were confronted with a huge raft of tiny little boats all lashed together and all rough-and-ready looking.  Never mind, we were here now, so we tramped down the pier and jumped in our boat, along with the 8 other people allocated to the same boat, most of whom and been in the same transfer van, except for one couple.

The boat headed out from the pier and the driver had to keep stopping every 30 seconds or so to manually pump fuel, because there appeared to be a problem with the fuel pump.  But we got to the first stop, a calm spot in between a bunch of islands so we could see Dayang Bunting, the Pregnant Maiden who gives her name to Pulau Dayang Bunting (Island of the Pregnant Maiden) and the lake on the island, Tasik Dayang Bunting (yep, you guessed it: Lake of the Pregnant Maiden).  From certain angles, when viewing the island, the hills that form it do indeed look like a woman lying on her back, her hands clasped protectively above her pregnant belly.

Langkawi is full of legends, but as this one is particularly significant to me, I'll relate it.  Legend has it that once upon a time, a lovely fairy princess married an earthly prince.  Their first child died soon after birth, and she was so distraught that she buried it in the lake, blessing the waters so that any childless maiden would conceive after bathing there, before returning to her celestial home.  Another legend states that a childless couple, after 19 years of unsuccessful effort, had a baby girl after drinking from the lake.  It is now a popular pilgrimage for those hoping for children.

After giving us a few moments to admire the island, we moved on to the jetty on the island itself.  When we disembarked, we were immediately surrounded by monkeys.  Monkeys, monkeys everywhere!  They tried to grab our bag, even though we had no food; one persistent monkey actually climbed up and clung off the side of the bag while Dave tried to shoo him away!  The whole walk through the jungle to the shore of the lake was a battle of man vs monkey.  Some of the other people doing the same tour (there were 3 other boats that also left at the same time as us, and several more that left about 15 minutes earlier) were not very good about dealing with this, and either shrieked and jumped whenever a monkey looked at them, or tried to kick them.  There was one big male monkey that kept going for people.  He especially seemed to have a thing about sweaty men.  I don't blame him really.

When we got to the lake we found it was quite touristy: there was a big pontoon built onto it, with a little pool for people to get a fish massage (yes, you read that right: you stick your feet in the water and dozens of catfish surround your feet and nibble at your toes; we decided not to try it) and ladders to get you in and out of the lake.  We decided not to actually swim, but I dutifully dowsed myself with water from the lake and also drunk a mouthful.  My mission complete, we lazed on the pontoon, watching the monkeys trying to sneak up on people and steal their bags.  After our alloted hour, we headed back to the boat through the monkey madness and had to deal with more sneaky monkeys while we waited on the jetty for the boat.

Our next stop was eagle feeding.  We didn't actually get out of the boat here, we just stopped in a little sheltered harbour and our boat guy threw some stuff over the side and then backed off, and we watched the eagles swoop in and pick up the food.  There were dozens of them and it was majestic to watch.  Then we moved on to our final stop, another island with a nice beach and some water activities available, and more monkeys.  We hung out on the beach after going for a paddle before returning to the resort.

This afternoon we relaxed a bit more like yesterday, before coming back to the room.  While we were hanging out here, our evening housekeeping guy came and asked us to leave the room for 10 minutes.  We obediently went out onto the balcony and sat looking out over the Straits while we waited for him to do whatever he was doing.  When he called us back into the room, he had decorated our bed with little flowers in the shape of a heart, and ran a bath surrounded by tea-light candles, with more flowers.  It was gorgeous and very sweet of him, and he made sure I got his name for our feedback form!

Tomorrow we leave here and head back to the Gold Coast, arriving back early on Thursday morning.  We're both ready to head home to see our fur babies, but also don't want to leave, it's so peaceful and beautiful here!  But all good things must come to an end, unfortunately.  We will definitely be back!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Malaysia Holiday Day 5-7: Penang to Langkawi

(Dave is feeling much better, for those who are curious.)

After I wrote my last post, I had another look at the Langkawi ferry website to figure out how much it was going to cost, and I realised that my initial understanding that we couldn't book in advance was wrong.  So I went down to Hotel Royal's booking desk to ask them to get us tickets.  It was quite late, just after 5pm, and the guy on the desk was very rude.  He told me that we had to book in advance, that the ticket office was closed now, that there was no way we could get a ticket for Sunday morning, and that we should pay for one of their drivers to drive us up the coast to Kuala Kedah and get one of the half-hourly ferries from there.  I asked him if he was completely sure that there was no way we could get tickets and he said there was no way.  Then when I walked away to head back to our room I heard him laughing with one of the drivers that was hanging around.  Understandably, I was pretty upset, so I woke up Dave and explained the situation to him.  He also did some digging and we worked out a back-up plan: taxi to KOMTAR, bus to Bukit Mertajam, train to Alor Setar, taxi to Kuala Kedah, ferry to Langkawi (whew!).  But we decided to try to get tickets to the ferry in the morning anyway, so we arranged for a taxi to pick us up first thing, got crappy room service from the crappy Hotel Royal, and went to bed.

We got up early, had our crappy breakfast buffet, checked out and took our taxi to the ferry office, where the lady cheerfully told us there were plenty of tickets left.  After explaining our ordeal of the previous evening, she implied that the hotel had been basically trying to rip us off.  So don't stay in the Hotel Royal in Penang, ever, they are total crap.  But we got our tickets to Langkawi.  So it all worked out in the end!  The ferry ride was surprisingly pleasant, the ferry was nice and it was very pretty sailing through the islands.  When we got to Kuah on Langkawi, we jumped in a taxi around to the private jetty for the boat to take us to Rebak Island Resort.

Rebak Island Resort is FABULOUS.  I could stay here forever.  It reminds me of those British Empire movies or books, where the British Aristocracy live in India or wherever with an army of servants.  There are staff everywhere and they always greet you and ask you if you need help with anything.  They jump to help and are friendly and polite and everything is so perfect!  Our room is fabulous, the beach is beautiful, the pool is beautiful, the food is excellent...I love it here, it's so relaxing and the perfect end to our holiday.

After we checked in yesterday we basically lazed around in our room, had dinner in the resort restaurant, and then lazed around again.  Today we had a bit of a sleep-in before having a delicious buffet breakfast in the resort restaurant before catching the boat across to the main island for some shopping and sight-seeing.  We took a taxi (because there's no public transport on Langkawi) across the island to the Komplex Kraf Langkawi, which was much better than the craft complex in KL, and did some shopping while our taxi driver waited (for RM10 for the hour, around $4).  Then we took the same taxi to the Oriental Village and Cable Car.

Oriental Village was crap, touristy and full of crappy little trinkets, and with a very sad animal farm.  They also did elephant rides, but I refused to even go and look at the elephants after seeing the state of the animal farm. So we went straight to the cable car.  It was very high and very long, and after we got off at the station two-thirds of the way up to see the view from the lookout, it shuddered to a halt and something fell off one of the cars.  I was soooo glad that we were not suspended in mid-air in a stuffy enclosed space with a pair of strangers when that happened!  But we were most of the way up, so decided to keep going to the top anyway.  The view was really good and it had this neat suspension bridge with more views.  While we were exploring the top of the mountain we heard thunder and saw a big storm coming over the island, so we rushed back to the cable car and started down.  The trip down was scary and I was willing myself to relax: a couple of times it slowed right down and I thought it would stop but we made it to the bottom safely and grabbed another taxi back to the jetty.

The rest of this afternoon we have been lazing in the resort pool, drinking cocktails (me) or rum & cokes (him) and getting tanned (me) or burnt (him :P).  Then we came back to our room and sat on the deck to dry out and now Dave is watching some crappy movie on HBO while I think about what's for dinner tonight!  Tomorrow we do an island-hopping tour and then it's more of the same in the afternoon and possibly a massage or spa treatment of some kind, before we start our long trek home on Wednesday.  I really don't want to leave here and we will definitely be back!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Malaysia Holiday Day 3-5: KL & Penang

Dave is currently sleeping off a stomach bug so I thought I'd update.  I'm not sure where he picked it up from as we've eaten pretty much the same thing in the last couple of days.  Anyway...

In the previous episode of Dave and Jen do KL, we left our intrepid travellers feeling pretty good after a delicious dinner at Bijan and ready to face the next day!  Read on to discover what trials and tribulations our heroes have gone through since then...

Thursday we had a lot to pack in so we got off to an early start.  We caught a cab up to the Malaysia National Monument in the Lake Gardens, which looked essentially like a mixture of any British Empire country's cenotaph, and the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, DC, which is unsurprising because the statue was created by the same dude.  In the same part of the Lake Gardens there was a sculpture garden with sculptures from ASEAN artists, which we wandered around before heading into the Lake Gardens proper.  We went to the Butterfly Garden, which was very pretty but a little run down, and then the Bird Park, which was very good and also very big.  By now it was lunchtime so we had a snack in the Bird Park's cafe and decided to head straight out to the Batu Caves instead of finishing the Lake Gardens or we were going to run out of time.  So into a taxi we hopped and off we went.

In front of the Batu Caves is a huge statue of Lord Muruga.  HUGE.  The biggest in the world, apparently.  It's nearly 43 metres tall, which doesn't sound that big when you read it, but it really is.  You can see it from miles away, and when you arrive at the caves you walk up an avenue towards it and it is overwhelming.  You really have to see it to understand.  Behind the statue is the flight of 272 steps up to the main Temple Caves.  It's a lot of steps, but there were old people scampering up them so I figured I could do it too.  I did, but it was very hard work.  Inside there were a couple of big caves, with quite small shrines in them; the shrines are really dwarfed by the size of the caves.  We received a Hindu blessing and I think I offended the priest guy (I'm not sure what a Hindu priest is called?) because it was dark in one shrine and I thought it was an entrance to another cave, so I kind of walked towards it, but it was the shrine itself, oops!  After we looked around up there, we headed back down those 272 steps and went looking for the Ramayana Cave, but apparently it was closed because they're building a train station right next to it, or something.

To be honest, the Batu Caves were a bit of a let-down, perhaps because I was really looking forward to seeing them.  The statue alone was worth the trip, but all over the bottom of the limestone outcrop and all over the inside of the caves there were kitchy little shops selling all sorts of stuff, from little mini Lord Murugas to what amounted to, well, crap: bubble blowers, little gliders, all sorts of crap.  Also, there was no information place that I could see to help poor non-Hindu tourists like us.  And what I've read of it made it sound very bright and gaudy but it was actually kind of dingy.  Perhaps the Ramayana Cave was the good one that we couldn't see.  Still worth a trip but not quite what I was expecting.

Our Hindu pilgrimage completed, we went looking for a way to get home.  A friendly local told us that the trains weren't running yet (they were supposed to start in April), but that we could get a bus for RM2 each back to town, instead of paying RM30-odd for a taxi.  So that's what we did.  We decided to do some shopping and got off the bus at a monorail station to get the monorail to Berjaya Times Square, got off at the wrong stop, and promptly got lost.  We wandered around inner KL for about an hour, completely turned around with no idea where we were, before we somehow ended up at another monorail station and just jumped on it again.  Unfortunately, by the time we got to Berjaya Times Square we were both very tired and frustrated and didn't really do much other than look at Borders before deciding to head back to the hotel.

Thursday night we'd booked at Menara KL's revolving restaurant Seri Angkasa.  We were both so tired we nearly cancelled, and after getting there we wished we had.  The restaurant is crap.  Total crap and completely overpriced.  The best thing about it was the view, which was amazing.  But the set menu was way too fiddly and fancy looking, and the a la carte menu was mains only and very limited, so we decided to have the buffet.  Which was crap.  It didn't matter whether we had western food or Asian food, it was crap.  Even their satay was crap.  Considering how much it was (RM355, about AUD$120 for both), it was a huge disappointment.  If you want to go up Menara KL, save yourself a bunch of cash and just go to the observation deck.  Don't go to the restaurant!

Friday we had a slightly later start as our only plan was to got to the Kompleks Budaya Kraf, which I thought was like a craft market.  Unfortunately this was another disappointment, it was very touristy and basically just one big shop, not a market at all.  We didn't spend very long there and still had a couple of hours to kill before our flight to Penang so we decided to go back to Berjaya Times Square so we could buy a couple of basic things like socks and also see the indoor amusement park.  It was better the second time around but it's huge and kind of overwhelming if you're just browsing (although I know a few people who would be in ecstasy just walking through the doors :P).  Neither of us are really big shoppers but Dave got a couple more t-shirts and some socks and then we headed back for our flight to Penang.

When we arrived at our hotel we were dismayed at how far out of the centre of the city it was, but realised that one of the restaurants Lonely Planet recommended was just around the corner.  The restaurant, Nyonya Baba Cuisine, serves Nonya food, which is kind of a cross between Chinese and Malay.  It was run by what appeared to be a mother-daughter team and was empty when we arrived, but they were very friendly and the younger woman shyly asked us if we'd come because of the Lonely Planet recommendation.  She gave us plenty of advice on what to do on Penang and helped us choose what to eat.  The food was absolutely delicious, just like a home-cooked meal, very filling, and they were lovely.  Highly recommended if you're in Penang, it's behind the Hotel Royal near the Penang Plaza on Jalan Nagor.

Today, Saturday, we had another early start because we had a lot to cram in.  We walked to KOMTAR and got a bus up to Air Itam (or Ayr Itam, or Air Hitam) which was really neat: the town was basically one big market selling everything from food to t-shirts (of which we bought two).  We walked up from the town to the Kek Lok Si temple complex, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.  There was plenty to see here and it was very intricate and beautiful.  The statue of Kuan Yin is huge (not quite as big as Lord Muruga, at  around 37 metres, but still big) but unfortunately we couldn't really get close to it because of the construction of a big roof over her head which is currently underway.  We also climbed to the top of the Ban Po Thar, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda.  It's 7 stories, 30 metres high and apparently Burmese at the top, Chinese at the bottom and Thai in the middle.  The view from the top of the pagoda was very impressive.

After that we were once again pretty tired so we walked back down to Air Itam and caught the bus back into town before catching another bus out to the Tropical Spice Garden.  Unfortunately it was a bit of a waste of time because the cafe and museum were both closed for renovation, although the garden was very pretty.  We didn't spend long there however as Dave was starting to feel quite ill, so instead of looking around at other things in the area like we'd planned we just came back to town.

Not sure what we'll do for dinner this evening, depending on how Dave is feeling.  Tomorrow we have yet another early start to get the ferry up to Langkawi which will hopefully be good.  Then we're going to check into our luxury hotel and enjoy a well-deserved rest!  We're both pretty over it all by now and need an actual break.

Two new observations of Malaysia for now: there are far too many stairs in Malaysia and they are all designed for tiny Asian feet.  Buses here go places a bus should never go.  A street market filled with people, motorbikes, and cars?  Buses go there.  A super-windy, narrow, busy road?  Buses go there.  I usually just try to ignore the horrible road dangers now!

And that's the end of my novel for today.  We still have 4 more nights in Malaysia but the pace should be less hectic from now on!  Photos will come at some point :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Malaysia Holiday Day 1-2: Kuala Lumpur

Sorry for the delay in my update, we had some internet access issues in the hotel but they're sorted now :)

Our holiday got off to a bit of a rocky start.  When we arrived at the airport (early, because the airport transfer was early), we were told there "might be a delay due to weather": it was pouring with rain and there was really low cloud over Coolangatta.  Waiting at our gate, about the time we should have been boarding, we realised the plane we should have been leaving on hadn't landed yet.  Every half an hour or so after that, they told us it would be another half an hour.  After 3 hours, they gave us a $10 food voucher, which of course doesn't buy much in the airport cafe.  I waited in line behind most of the rest of the people who were also on our flight for nearly an hour, and was right near the front of the queue when our plane FINALLY landed.  The whole crowd waiting cheered and burst into applause.  But of course I couldn't order anything with my $10 vouchers, so I had to just grab muffins.  Later on, when we finally arrived at the hotel, we discovered that our luggage had been left sitting in the rain at Coolangatta, because everything inside it was damp.

So anyway, we got to Kuala Lumpur international airport and the dude waiting to pick us up said our hotel (the Dorsett Regency) driver had already left because the wait was so long, and that he was from another hotel, but he was going to take us anyway, but if the police at the checkpoint asked, we were staying at the Concorde, because that was where he was registered.  Then  he put his seatbelt on and  drove up to the police checkpoint on the way out of the airport.  Luckily we didn't get asked because I didn't really want to lie!  After we were through the checkpoint, he took off his seatbelt.  And then drove at 140km/h most of the way to KL.  Apparently road rules are more suggestions than rules here.  He sped, he tailgated, he didn't indicate, he didn't wear his seatbelt, he wove in and out of traffic: I was trying not to stress out but there were some very harrying moments!  But we made it to the hotel in one piece.  When we got here I said, "Oh, this is it here," and he said "Uh huh, fast ah?" to which I didn't respond :P

By now it was nearly 10pm and we had been up for 18 hours and lost our afternoon of shopping, so we walked out of the hotel and found a street vendor area nearby and bought char kway teow.  The guy thought we were American and wanted us to pay $7 US, but I insisted we pay in Ringgit and paid just under RM8 for both of us.  Which is about $2.50 AUD or US.  $2.50 for both of us for a delicious, filling dinner!  I have no idea what was in it and don't want to know - we both survived with no ill effects and that's all that matters :)

This morning (Wednesday) we got up at 6am and had breakfast in the hotel, which was pretty average, before getting a taxi to the Petronas Towers to get our free ticket to the Skybridge, the bridge that connects the towers about halfway up.  We got there just before 8am and the queue was already really long.  The counter opened at 8:30am and by the time we got to the front it was around 9am and we couldn't get any tickets before 2pm.  So we bought them for 4:45pm.  If you want to get into the Skybridge early in the day, you need to get there really early!

We had most of a day to kill so we decided to do the China Town walk in our Lonely Planet Malaysia book. We took the subway around to where the walk started (my first ever subway ride!) and promptly got lost when we got off at our station.  We walked back and forth a bit before we figured out where we were, but while we were doing that this old guy stopped us and asked if we needed help, but of course we said no because we would have had to pay him.  There are beggars everywhere, but almost as bad are the people trying to sell you stuff or charge you for services.  It's very competitive and we keep getting asked if we want a taxi, or to eat, or to buy something, or whatever.

Wandering through China Town was amazing: we started in a little street filled with Indian shops and the smells and sounds were overwhelming.  There are sewer and subway vents everywhere but over the top of those smells are the incense, the food, the flowers: so many smells!  Partway through the walking tour the book told us to duck down an alley to get to the Sze Ya Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in KL.  It really was an alley and we would never have known it was there if we hadn't had the book.  The temple was gorgeous and ornate and we were really happy we had the book!  We made a donation inside and then on the way out a guy sitting by the gate tried to tell us we had to pay him RM1 admission, nice try dude, we told him we'd paid inside :)

After that we went into the central market and wandered around the stalls and got some local crafts including a headscarf and pin for me.  There were so many stalls, some of them trashy (like Vic Park in Auckland), but also lots of local crafts, batik, saris, cheongsams, and hijabs.  Carrying on the walking tour, on the way to the next temple we spotted a tea shop and ducked in.  The tea sets were beautiful and the sample of tea they gave us was so delicious we bought some to go with our new tea set.  It's locally made and very pretty, with teeny little cups.  Then we visited a couple more temples, including one that had a sign that specifically said that entrance to the temple was free, and that anyone trying to charge us something outside was a scammer.

Our walking tour over, we went to the Purple Cane Tea Restaurant and had beef and dragonfruit with green tea sauce and iced lemon black tea for lunch, both of which were delicious.  Then we jumped on the monorail to go to the Tourism Centre.  The monorail was packed, I was pushed right in between a group of people and we got separated, and as people got on we slowly got pushed further away from each other and the doors and I started getting worried.  But then one stop before we were getting off, a whole crowd got off (I think it was the stop near one of the big malls), and we could move back together to the door so we didn't miss our stop.

We wandered over to the Malaysian Tourist Centre which is in an old mansion and beautiful, and picked up some maps and used the clean, modern, Western-style bathrooms!  Then we realised that we were not really that far from the Petronas Towers, and decided to just walk there instead of heading back to the train.  We explored the Suria KLCC (the shopping centre below the towers) but didn't really buy much, because it was almost all international brands and international prices.  There were some very high-class stores there, but I was scared to even look because I knew we wouldn't buy anything!

By now we were both getting pretty footsore and so we sat down for an iced chocolate (for me) and iced green tea (for him) and relaxed for a bit.  Then we went down to the Skybridge souvenir shop and picked up some postcards and playing cards.  By now it was time to go to our Skybridge tour.  When we went into the waiting area this creepy guy asked Dave something, I think he was asking if we wanted to sell him our ticket, but I'm not sure and that seemed odd because a) he already had a ticket for himself, and b) the ticket has your nationality on it and he was Indian, not Australian.  But anyway, we just moved away from him and looked around the displays before they called us for the tour, which of course started with a promotional video for Petronas.  Then it was up in the 40-second elevator ride to the Skybridge, about 175m above street level.  The view was pretty good but also pretty smoggy, it was still pretty neat though.  But the creepy guy kind of followed us as we moved around and asked Dave to take photos of him a few times.  Once our tour was over we went back down and looked at the Tesla coil display, which basically has this huge model of the towers and a big Tesla coil to simulate a lightning storm over the towers,  It was neat, but the creepy guy got Dave to take a photo of him again, which kind of spoiled the enjoyment.

After all this we were pretty tired, so we got a taxi back to the hotel and tried to book for the revolving restaurant at the top of the Menara KL, but unfortunately they were booked out, so we booked for tomorrow and decided to go to Bijan instead, which was recommended in our Lonely Planet book and serves Durian Cheesecake.  Bijan was fantastic: Malaysian food in a fancy restaurant but still not too expensive.  We had satay for entree, lamb for one main and chicken and jackfruit for the other, and wild fern for the vegetable.  The fern was interesting and quite good.  There was plenty of food and we couldn't finish it all, but Dave was determined to eat his Durian Cheesecake, so we got a slice to share.  Neither of us have had Durian before and I'm yet to find one here, so we weren't sure what to expect.  It was edible, but totally different from anything we'd eaten before and we decided that we didn't really like it.  So we're in no hurry to have raw Durian now :)

Now we're back at the hotel and exhausted and footsore, with another big day tomorrow!  There's still so much to see in KL that we've decided not to go to Melaka, we'll have to do that next trip, because I'm sure we'll be back.  Tomorrow we're going to go to the Lake Gardens, where there is a butterfly garden, bird garden, orchid garden, and hibuscus garden, as well as the National Monument and Islamic Arts Museum.  After that we'll head out to the Batu Caves and explore the Hindu shrine there, before heading back into KL for dinner at Menara KL.  Then Friday we do some more shopping before it's off to Penang!

KL is amazing: pockets of beauty intermixed with pockets of ugly, pockets of history mixed with pockets of shiny-new.  There is trash, police, smells, beggars, and pushy sales people everywhere.  I love it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Am a Reader

This piece was originally submitted for my uni paper Intro to Academic Writing.

One of my earliest memories is of my first day of primary school. My teacher, a stern older lady with crinkly salt-and-pepper hair whose name I’ve now forgotten, had somehow learned that I was quite an advanced reader for my four and a half years of age. She asked me to read to the class from a huge picture book that was nearly as tall as I was. I was thrilled and thought this was a great honour, and carefully balanced the book on my lap as I sat next to her. I opened the book, took a deep breath, and blinked a couple of times to prepare myself…and my eyelashes got stuck together, I couldn’t open my eyes! And that is my first memory of reading.

Luckily, the experience didn’t put me off. From that early memory of reading to my classmates, to reading bedtime stories to my niece who has just started school herself, reading has always been an integral part of my life. I read what I can, when I can – everything I can get my hands on, in every spare moment I have. On family road trips during my childhood, Mum wouldn’t let me read in the car because if she read in the car, she got a headache. So I would read the map book and be the navigator. I would read road signs. I would sneakily read snatches of my book in the back seat while Mum napped. These days, I read during my dinner break at work and before I go to bed. I read when I should be doing something else (like sleeping, or studying). I read to learn about where the world has been and where it’s going, and to transport myself to other worlds. 

My reading taste has matured, rather than changed, just like the rest of me. I still enjoy learning new things, but now I read books for adults, not books for children. I still enjoy good horror and fantasy novels. I used to read Roald Dahl and Margaret Mahy; now I read Stephen King and David Eddings. My favourite books teach me new ways of thinking, or let me leave my cares behind for an hour, or an afternoon. The best books operate on so many levels that you experience them differently each time you read them. These are the books that I slip into again and again, like a favourite pair of faded jeans.

I don’t understand people, like my sister, who don’t read for pleasure. The “nature vs. nurture” debate has always fascinated me. My sister and I had very similar upbringings but could hardly be more different. Nature defines not only our differences in appearance, but also our different personalities and our appreciation of reading. My sister is a scientific scholar who reads scholarly journals and books that I couldn’t begin to understand, and yet doesn’t enjoy curling up with a good novel. Our nurture during our childhood was the same: we were both read to by our parents and grandparents, were both taken to the library once a week, and yet grew up with very different attitudes to reading thanks to our different natures.

Most of my childhood and high school friends were also readers, as are my closest friends today. My new husband is a reader too. Our reading tastes overlap slightly but also have many differences. We both read for pleasure, but find pleasure in different things. Our gifts to each other are nearly always books, and we both enjoy discovering new authors and sharing them with each other and our friends. Our mutual enjoyment of reading is one of the foundations of our relationship.

I don’t understand why saying “I’m a writer” is a valid way of describing yourself, but saying “I’m a reader” is not. Without readers, there would be no writers. Why is creating something given more respect than enjoying the creations of others? Reading expands your vocabulary, your knowledge, and your horizons. Being a reader is the defining quality of who I am. I am a reader and proud of it.