Thursday, November 1, 2001

On being a boy

I write on little bits of paper that get coffee stains and fruit juice on them that also come in handy for wiping up spillages, however the absorbency of my little bits of paper could be improved. I carry them around in my pocket and occasionally try to pay cabs with them, maybe once I’m a famous writer that will be more effective.
My brother’s address book works on much the same system, it’s actually his wallet, he keeps all those little bits of paper that people give him with their numbers on, and that’s it. It never gets transferred into an actual address book. One time I went through it with him and he had three separate bits of paper with various, different numbers on them for me, so maybe it’s a family thing.

It got me thinking about growing up, thus I got out all the letters I had kept – you have to remember we grew up in a pre-email era. One of the letters was from CP and she has drawn a picture of a telephone on it labelled ‘a very cheap phone call’ because she couldn’t afford to call me – what a weird world we grew up in. I can make the following conclusions from the letters:

· Despite what has been said all my life, I did write, though obviously not to my parents.

· I was witty (everybody says so! – one person said I was as mad as a kiwifruit, but I think that’s positive).

· Everybody (male and female) was obsessed with the opposite sex, even if the boys just list conquests the girls wonder ‘if he really likes me’.

· I seem to have had some kind of reputation for drinking alcohol.

The great shame of course is that I don’t have my letters, I can only guess at the literary masterpieces (one was actually referred to as just that – I have it in writing) that have been lost forever. I know that one should write about what you know, I shall have to make it all up – obviously I have big blanks due to excess alcohol consumption as a teenager.
The GM has suggested I should use a pen name, but I already have one - Francesca Dubois (a little too Harlequin Romance perhaps?).
When we went skiing at Tekapo, there would normally be an odd number of people and one person always had to share the chairlift with a stranger. So you had 12 minutes to weave a complete fantasy life to your unsuspecting lift mate. We kept the same names in case we happened to bump into the same person again, but I don't think I could ever have kept my glamorous life details straight had that occurred. This all came about after a particularly traumatic episode for me when I told the truth. I was 12.
I was in my first year of boarding school when I took the lift with an old woman (at least 20). And so it begins:
‘What school do you go to?’
‘I go to boarding school in Christchurch’
‘Oh - do you go to Christ's College?’
Crushed 12-year-old girl with horrible short hair because someone forced me to have it cut off before I went to school (what is that all about - sending me off to school looking like a convict? - oh I get it) replies:
‘No, actually I go to St Margaret's College (pause - waiting for embarrassed apology)’
‘Oh - I went there’
Me thinking – ‘oh my God, what am I doing at a school where people come out as stupid and insensitive as you - you wrinkled old hag!’
It's enough to drive anyone to write romance novels, or alternatively take a 12-minute flight of the imagination on the chairlift at Tekapo.

But that wasn’t the last time it happened. About 10 years ago (grown woman now with small but perfectly formed breasts and hair 10 years long) I got caught in a bit of a downpour and returned to work looking like a drowned rat with hair plastered to the side of my face. This guy I worked with stopped suddenly and said in a shocked voice – ‘God Caro I never realised how androgenous you looked!’
I looked slightly horrified (mind flashing back to chairlift and earlier unmentioned childhood trauma playground scenario – ‘let the little boy go first’), and Michael says ‘Oh no – I meant it as a compliment’ Ah yes - of course, that was the look I was going for. Michael was, and I am quite sure still is, gay.

Monday, October 22, 2001

Childhood Trauma

I know if it's not Bridget Jones it's all too Absolutely Fabulous, but I had always wondered why I couldn't remember my early days, it's not like I'm vague or anything. You know how people remember being born or their third birthday party, or whatever, for me it's always been a blank. I could only remember the really traumatic things like:

  • Dissecting sheep and seeing how far you could stretch the intestines.
  • Killing rats in a grain silo and hanging them up by their tails from the wire around the outside of the silo.
  • Me screaming my head off on my runaway pony Bambi, he was already called Bambi when I got him. My parents were obviously trying to kill me; I mean who gives a scrawny wimpy little kid like me a 4 year old car shy pony as their first pony? My parents. Your first pony should be a 100 year old Shetland pony; they are very short and therefore closer to the ground, with arthritis. Bambi and I were going for a walk and a car went past, he takes off, I start screaming, he speeds up, I scream louder, you get the picture. I was screaming so loudly that neighbours were able to call up my mother when I screamed past their houses. The houses being about 800 metres from the road Bambi and I were racing on. I imagine she cackled.
  • My sister M nearly drowning.
  • My sister L nearly drowning.
  • My brother getting lost and a search part going out at night to look for him. I think he was found eating carrots that were probably poisoned to kill rabbits.
  • Nearly dying of exposure when my parents dragged me over the Routeburn pass (a track I am sure only experienced climbers should attempt, not scrawny little wimp kids like me). Actually I also remember a woman who came on the 'walk' with us who had no kneecaps, she had had them removed for some reason I can't remember. Maybe she was a mafia moll and was 'kneecapped' (well you never really know someone). Anyway the woman with no kneecaps had great difficulty going down hill (think about it) and this was a walk across the Southern Alps for God's sake - it's obvious now - she was definitely tied up with the mafia, she must have been on the run, why else would you walk from the east coast to the west coast of the south Island with no kneecaps?
  • All my pets dying unnaturally - my dog was poisoned, my rabbit was eaten by a cat, my bantam eaten by a dog, my pet lambs were eaten by the entire family with mint sauce made by my mother.
  • And of course Aloysius the exploding lamb.

So you see it's all deeply disturbing and writing about it would only uncover the good and no doubt deadly dull things that happened to me. Perchance I could have been Janet Frame; I have the right hair colour, if only I hadn't been bundled off to boarding school...

Friday, September 14, 2001

On Helen's Secret Service

I am now working at the New Zealand High Commission for the Defence Advisor, regrettably I cannot say much more than that. My dilemma is I could tell you what I do but I would then of course have to shoot you all and as I am not yet licensed to kill, it could be messy.

So now we get to go to glamorous ambassadorial parties. We have been to one New Zealand reception and one for France. Without wanting to cause an international incident all I will say is that at one of the aforementioned embassies is one of the rudest people I have ever met. I must also disappointingly report that there was not a Ferrero Roche in sight, which is a complete swiz.

I am getting used to working in arctic air-conditioned conditions and have to take a collection of winter clothes to work with me, scarf, gloves, balaclava and socks.
OK I exaggerate slightly; so far it's just the scarf although I am considering socks.

I have a wonderful boss and some transportation problems yet compared to London Underground it seems hardly worth mentioning, nonetheless I will.
Albeit I now take a taxi to and from work, I did try the public transport option, and it was great, it was just a major hassle to get to, not that that put me off. I had happily travelled on it about 10 times before I realised the reason it is so fantastic is that it is the longest fully automated line in the world – no drivers. That would be why I could stand at the front of the train with a view unimpeded be a train driver then. Not that that put me off, indeed London Underground should try it.

What really got me was the fact that umbrellas don’t work when it rains. The roads turn into rivers, complete with floating branches from trees hit by rain (it's that hard), and cars turn into speedboats cutting a metre high wake through the river, I mean road. Which is all very well for wakeboarding but not if you are walking along side the road on one of the few footpaths (people aren’t encouraged to walk here). Under these circumstances, nearly every day as we approach the rainy season, your umbrella acts as a cunningly devised barrier to stop the water getting away and directing the water down, with the effect of being in an shower enclosure. Resulting in getting completely drenched from head to toe not, in fact to dissimilar to a shower.

Speaking of bad hair days, I had a very scary hair experience recently whilst having my monthly manicure/pedicure. I was happily sitting there being pampered reading Hello magazine (well what else are you going to read in a beauty salon), when I was asked if I would like to have my hair done. I had heard of this before and in the interests of research, I said yes. So the deal is this: you get a big squirty bottle of water (similar to a Fairy Liquid container) and a bottle of shampoo (also very similar to the aforementioned Fairy Liquid container). You stay where you are, that is, sitting in a chair having the manicure/ pedicure. The hairdresser squirts a little from each bottle, and proceeds to lather, yes, while you are sitting in the chair. The only time you move is to rinse (obviously it’s only a matter of time before they figure that one out), but to compensate for this your manicurist will continue to work on you whilst having your hair rinsed. I was then covered in Velcro rollers, well my hair was, and stuck under a dryer. This was the really scary bit, and I hope you appreciate this was purely for your entertainment that I did this. For those who don’t know, I like my hair very, very straight (preferably ironed). Unhappily I have no before/after pictures to show what happened when I came out from under the dryer, still I’m sure you can imagine, it was big, very big, Texas big, and very scary. Unfortunately, it was completely flat again by the time I got home – about 300 metres, that’s the hell of humidity (it’s not always a bad thing).

But I digress; I was speaking of transportation. The beauty of taxi drivers is that you get from door to door without getting your hair wet or flat (if you are a big hair person). I also feel I have my finger on the pulse of KL as taxi drivers seem to be remarkably well informed on matters of sport, religion, and the government. Additionally there is of course the sense of danger and excitement (that a thrill seeker such as I require at least 5 days a week) that comes with getting in a taxi being driven by a Malaysian on Malaysian roads full of cars being driven by other Malaysians. I have only been involved in one accident so far. The taxi driver decided that a car trying to cut him off need to be rammed into, so that’s what he did. He then continued on his way, stopped at the lights, hopped out to check the damage and got back in again, he never said I word as I sat stunned in the back of the cab.

The GM’s answer has been ‘if you can’t beat em join em’, and consequently drives like a Malaysian (there isn’t a road rule that can’t be broken).

I have only recently discovered another of the reasons for traffic jams in KL, and that is accidents on the motorways. I know this causes traffic jams all over the world, usually because cars in the opposite lanes will slow down in the hope of seeing horrific injuries. In KL they don’t just slow down, they actually stop cars in the middle of the motorway and run across 4 lanes of traffic to look at the accident on the other side.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

I say honeymoon, I mean Tournee des Magasin Le Vieux Campeur.

To those happy people leading completely fulfilled lives without the old camper; I deviate with an explanation. The logo is an old man with a very long white beard that actually looks like long blonde hair (weird), wearing a flat cap (I guess it could be a beret), chewing a flower. It has stores at several locations around France in Paris, Lyon, Sallanches and Thonon (only one left to go to now) and is populated by highly specialised nerds (like those people in record stores). Apparently it’s a fun place to spend many, many very interesting hours. They also produce catalogues that provide additional hours of entertainment to those who are unable to visit the stores as regularly as they would like. Au Vieux Campeur also has a website, but it’s just not the same. In short it’s a disease, a mental illness. The first step is admitting it. The GM has reached that step. He realised this when he couldn’t travel without his catalogue. No need for a book anymore, just take an Au Vieux Campeur catalogue with you. Another great idea is to keep old catalogues so you can compare the latest models of jackets/boots/mosquito nets with the previous models.

Day 1: We started off at Le Manoir at Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence, a beautiful village but unfortunately now basically the whole village is a museum. May I highly recommend the lobster dish at the Oustau de Baumanière.

Day 2-3: We crossed over to Spain and stayed at the Torre Del Remei in Bolvir (right near the border). We were upgraded to a James Bond–like suite complete with circular bed and matching circular windows. The Fiat Punto was definitely a star, managing to absorb a Paella pan and a Jamón. I would also like to officially thank all those who contributed to the decoration of the Punto that saved us from a parking ticket.

Day 4: Approach Carcassone via the D11 and you get the Disneyland view of Carcassone. The Hôtel de la Cité is situated right in the old city.

Day 5: Le Vieux Logis Tremolat (Bordeaux), we dined outside under the Linden trees, whatever they are.
And it wouldn’t have been a road trip if I hadn’t gotten lost.
This time it really was a doozey, but I have many well-founded excuses of how this happened:
The scenery is so beautiful it’s very tedious to have to look at a map all the time; I was there to see the sights not take a course in orienteering. I am out of practice from reading maps, in Malaysia they are so inaccurate, and a hangover from the war – maps can’t be too accurate.
Don’t name villages in France with similar names especially if they are within say, three hours drive of each other.
And finally I am a female, there is irrefutable scientific evidence that men are better at reading maps(1), we have other much more useful attributes too numerous to mention. So if you don’t want to take the more scenic route read the bloody map yourself.

Day 6-7: Marais Poitevin, where we stayed in a real live chateau, the Château de Curzay

Day 8-9: Domaine des Hauts de Loire where we took a hot air balloon ride over the many chateaux at sunrise that was absolutely magical.

Day 10: Lyon - Au Vieux Campeur No. 2 (no. 1 was Paris)
We stayed at the Villa Florentine, a beautiful hotel in the old part of Lyon, even the bathroom had a fantastic view, and were taken out by the Lyon Barfly to his bar (of course).

Day 11-12: Chamonix - Au Vieux Campeur No. 3 (also close to No. 4 but sadly unable to visit due to lack of time).
We had a close encounter with hailstones the size of ice cubes; very exciting in a convertible with a large crack on the front windscreen. And where we went for a little walk. I thought we were just going for a little stroll on the ice and was quite unprepared for the 4 hour hike from Aiguille du Midi 3,843 m to Pointe Helbronner on the Italian side. I should have guessed, our guide was Mountain Man, (ex Advertising Man now Book publishing Man - Mountain books of course) infamous as the man who allegedly tried to kill the GMs petite Maman and Franck, on the same little walk (different weather conditions apparently). We had to borrow/hire all serious equipment (anything required in addition to jeans and t-shirt) and got very dirty looks from guided tours completely outfitted in brand new colour co-ordinated gear. We had to go most of the way roped to MM and wore crampons and the GM even got to carry an ice pick. It was awesome, definitely the highlight for me. We stayed at the Le Hameau Albert 1er and ate in the 2-star restaurant with MM (and his wife), who said to the sommelier ‘whatever you recommend’. The GM nearly chocked on his amuse-bouche. The wine in was absolutely amazing and Spanish.

Day 13: Sestriere - Think `The Shining´ (in summer, in Italy - go on use your imagination). We stayed at the Principi di Piemonte Grand Hotel, a 100-room hotel, (I think we were the only people there) last decorated in the 70s, lots of orange and brown and fringed lampshades, just outside a deserted ski resort (well it was June), spooky.

Day 14: And finally, Nice - Fabulous darlings. Stayed at the Negresco, a pale pink Belle Époque wedding cake (with pale green piping) on the Promenade des Anglais. Think lawn green, bright yellow, hot pink and velvet in rich red and gold, furnished from the 16th century with tapestries on the walls, a royal blue carpet with golden fleur de lys and an antique 4 poster bed with a fake fur bedspread. Apparently inspired by the Kings Bedroom in Versailles.

And the weather was just perfect everywhere, the hailstorm in Chamonix was just a half hour episode.

1 ‘men are better at spatial-navigational skills such as map reading and judging distances’
Kimura, D. (1987). Are men’s and women’s brains really different? Canadian Psychology, 28, 133-147.

Monday, May 28, 2001

How To Kill A Snake

The following announcement is courtesy of S from Singapore who learnt how to do this at school.

First get your snake (the easiest way to do this is buy it at a market), make sure it is put securely in a bag.

Go into the jungle (this will add authenticity).

Bang the sack containing the snake against a tree to render the snake unconscious.

Carefully open sack and grab the snake’s head (be careful) then slit the snake’s throat.

So the next time you come across a disorientated snake in a bag in the jungle, you know what to do.

Unfortunately we didn’t have these highly useful survival skills when we revisited Pangkor with my sister L. The snakes there came in boxes (how are you going to knock them out?). The whole snake thing was especially horrifying for the kiwis (we come from and island far, far away where there are absolutely no snakes), though we fearlessly did the ‘holding the boa constrictor’ thing. Only when the snakes were back in their boxes did the snake man tell us the snakes were all caught on the island, which was the end of any jungle trekking plans.

Other wildlife spotted by my paranoid and therefore highly observant sister: Finally a monitor lizard.

We were looking the muddy river that KL is named for; where incredibly a lot of large fish seem to thrive (it gets very stinky in warm weather – which is all the time). L spies a large piece of wood (there is loads of rubbish floating by).

L: That’s a large piece of wood isn’t it?

Me: Yes.

L: The large piece of wood just moved its tail.


Just kidding, I was very cool – although very excited to see my first monitor lizard, especially as it was so large (1.5metres). I say this very knowledgeably, ignoring the fact that that was my first monitor lizard. I can now confirm this to be true as I have since seen 2 more and they were much smaller.

I have now 'done' all of the major tourist sites KL has to offer and am ready to act as your tour guide: The Railway Station.

Strange but true, this is after all a city of architectural delights and the railway station certainly is an architectural wonder. It is in fact two buildings, one on either side of the road, on one side an interesting blend of Moorish, Gothic and Greek influences and on the other, Northern Indian and Islamic and all this was designed by an English architect.

The Twin Towers (Petronas Towers).

An absolutely stunning building and you get to go up to the bridge that connects the two towers and fulfil any Catherine Zeta Jones/Sean Connery fantasies.

The KL Tower.

A much better view of the city than the Petronas Towers.

Batu Caves.

400-million-year-old caves with Hindu Temple built inside. Fortunately or unfortunately we had just missed the festival of Thaipusam, when over 800,000 devotees stick skewers into their bodies. You have to climb up 200 steps to get to the caves, which can get a little sticky.

Genting Highlands.

Very cheesy, the only casino resort in Malaysia. The temperature is much cooler up in the highlands 2,000 metres above sea level (I was needed a jumper, the GM didn’t) Seems to be the place where bored young KLites & Singaporeans hangout on the weekends. Bukit Tinggi The absolutely fabulous Bukit Tinggi (otherwise known as 'Colmar Tropicale'). a French–themed resort. This is a truly bizarre concept, a replica of a French village, namely Colmar built in the Malaysian jungle, comes complete with French restaurants, and half finished castle, will keep you posted on any further developments.


This was the big find – (and not nearly as boring as it sounds). It was quite an expedition to get there – we were trying to get to the Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (nobody had ever heard of it), yet when I showed a taxi driver the address on a piece of paper – ‘Oh you mean FRIM!’ (I should have guessed, just like KL – Kuala Lumpur, PJ - Petaling Jaya, KLIA - the airport). Unfortunately by the time we finally got there it was closing for lunch (so I still have lots of things to go back for with the next visitors). We really wanted to go on the canopy walk (on a swinging walkway through the tree tops) but had to go with the jungle walk on the ground instead.
We were given a map with points of interest circled, and told we must stop at the ‘must see spot’ about half way along the trail. After liberally reapplying bug repellent we, the intrepid jungle explorers, set off. About 45 seconds into the jungle I couldn’t see L for the clouds of mosquitoes following her, they took about another 10 seconds before discovering any patch of skin untainted with insect repellent and commenced to feast. We bravely pressed on stopping, or rather pausing, to admire the points of interest as indicated on the map. We reached the ‘must see spot’ and couldn’t see anything particularly worth stopping for at first until we looked up and saw the Camphor trees. It’s very beautiful looking up at he intricate lace like patterns the leaves make, particularly when there is a breeze blowing and the leaves all sway in unison trying not to touch other branches, like synchronised swaying, anyway as I say it was all very beautiful albeit not when you are being eaten alive by mosquitoes and the only way out is through more jungle and you have already seen the beautiful camphor trees and their lovely delicate leaf patterns (L and I had unusually walked into the park and saw many Camphor trees on the way in, and had already admired the aforementioned fabulous leafy formations, sans mosquitoes). We tried to make our escape only a rather large spider’s web, inhabited by a correspondingly sized spider, blocked the way. L has a strong conviction in the jumping abilities of spiders and could not be persuaded to go further until I had gone first (being the eldest). I did stop to take a photo as supporting evidence of the size of the spider though it unfortunately came out blurry, due to the rush we were in).

Apart from the mosquito bites the most impressive thing of all was the Arapaima. They originate in the Amazon and can leap up to 2 metres out of the water to eat insects, small birds, bats and reptiles – at least that’s what it said on the little information notice board beside a very murky pond. L and I peered in to the water for some time in the hope of spotting one of these amazing fish, but all we could see were slightly large goldfish. We were about to give up when we saw one of them, I can’t tell you how deeply scary it was to see a goldfish (well that’s what they look like) 2.5 metres long (did I mention they grow up to 4 metres in length?) – there was something very radioactive mutation about the whole experience.

Wesak day.

My friend L who invited us for Chinese New Year invited me to join her and her family for Wesak day celebrations, the holiest of holy days for Buddhists. Celebrated around May (it depends on the moon) it marks three momentous events in Buddha's life - his birthday, enlightenment, and achievement of Nirvana. The celebration is highlighted by a candle procession. It was very beautiful and the only opportunity to walk through central KL streets safely (no cars), though quite tiring, walking for 3 hours carrying a candle (it can get quite warm) at quite a fast pace to see as many of the floats as possible. I felt very peaceful (totally worn out) afterwards still it’s only once a year.

Squirrel soup.

Some friends took me out for a meal to a little Chinese soup restaurant. It was like walking into someone’s kitchen with about 5 tables crammed in. The waiter (there is only one, a serene old Chinese man) takes your pulse then ‘prescribes’ a soup for your condition, fatigue, insomnia, lack of energy, breathing difficulties and so on. I was too yin or too yang so I needed rebalancing (I can’t remember which, anyway it doesn’t matter now because I’m cured). I happened to glance at the menu after we had eaten, there are about twelve soups, which seem to cover most ailments, and at the bottom was squirrel soup. I can’t remember what it was for however will definitely be returning with the GM for a health check.

Service issues resolved:

M (the Singaporean snake killer’s boyfriend) goes into a store to buy some Levis. He finds a pair that fit perfectly and the helpful sales assistant steps in.

SA: You like those?

M: Yes

SA: You want them in another colour?

M: Sure, what other colours do you have?

SA: No, no we don’t have them in any other colours.

S (the Singaporean snake killer) and I are out buying plants for the balcony and see a plant we like but it out of my price range,

Me: Do you have that plant in a smaller size?

SA: Yes, so high (indicates preferred size) it is (names preferred price)

Me: Great I’ll take it.

SA: No, no we don’t have any.

Ergo I now have the secret to getting good service: go to Thailand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Bribes & Battery Hens

I am now fully live and writing to you from the comfort of my own home. I was planning on writing this much sooner although clearly I am operating on Malaysian time now which is a much more ‘relaxed’ (just as long as you don’t want anything urgently) way to be.

In the end it took 6 men 2 months and 4 separate visits to get us connected with telephone and Internet.

Chinese New Year.
We were invited to Chinese New Year celebrations at a friend’s house (lost again), which was great fun except for my disappointment at the lack of fireworks (they are illegal here). One dish with jellyfish had to be tossed in the air with chops sticks as high as you could for good luck for the coming year. We were told that we are a good match (a Goat and a Boar) and given several ang pow packets (money) traditionally for children but because we aren’t married, we got them. Next year we have to give ang pow. We also tried the infamous Durian (for those intrepid travellers who may have tasted the fruit in Thailand apparently this is somewhat stronger than the Thai version of the fruit - I can’t comment at this stage). Anyway Durian is very popular in Malaysia and is notorious because of the smell – I say smell I mean stench. It is very overpowering and not the kind of smell that would make you curious about wanting to put the source of the smell in your mouth. It is graded here by numbers, the stronger the smell the more desirable the fruit, the higher the number. The version we tried was in the form of a cake – very misleading, it all looked cake-like; light and creamy and sweet. Once you have tasted it you wonder why you would think of flavouring a cake with something that smells rotten with a very strong garlicky oniony, very very bizarre. Unfortunately there are two seasons when the fruit is available and the next one doesn’t start until June so I’ll have to wait to try Durian a la naturalle.

Police and anyone in a uniform on a bike/scooter i.e. parking attendants like a little extra money for the holidays (Chinese New Year) so the moral of the story is drive exceedingly carefully around any holidays. First they will get out the ticket book and hover the pen in a threatening manner as though about to write something.
Man in uniform: ‘It will be $500 for insert traffic offence just committed’. Apparently the maximum fine for a traffic offence is $100 (200FRF)
GM: ‘How can you help me?’ (To be translated as ‘OK how much will it take for you to let me go?’).
Bargaining commences but basically what they want to know is: ‘How much do you have?’
So we paid out $50 the first time yet by the second time (feeling a lot more confident about the whole procedure) got away with $30, only to discover the guys whom we paid off probably can’t issue tickets anyway. A couple of days after this we were coming back from water-skiing with some friends and were in the emergency vehicle lane. The GM and I were both so nervous after the multiple bribe incidents that we kept checking in the rear view mirror and sure enough along came the police; luckily we had pulled over in time. S & M in the car ahead were the only ones who got pulled over and as we drove past the policeman had his pen poised to write the ticket. They caught up with us about 10 minutes later - no fine. M had showed the police his wallet; no money and S had got hers out as well to show it was empty. The policeman threw M’s driver’s license back in the car in disgust – no money, no ticket. S and M had been caught previously for some minor traffic misdemeanour and S had been so scared she got M to give what money he had in his wallet too. So I amend the moral of the story to: drive around with 2 wallets – the one you use and the one you show to the police.

Battery Hens.
When you buy eggs there is no such thing as organic free-range eggs here as the hens are so happy in little cages. They even have a photo on top of the egg cartons of happy (I’m not kidding, they are smiling hens) battery hens all lined up. We actually saw one of the egg farms and sure enough there they all were lined up in little cages, on top of a hill with a very nice view of the jungle and natural air- conditioning (being on top of the hill there was a nice breeze) so I have felt a lot happier since then. As soon as I have a scanner I will send the photo of the smiling hens.

Flora and Fauna.
I have recently started landscaping the terrace and so far have several orchids (including a vanilla scented one) and a Hibiscus. I was aiming for a white and green theme so I bought the hibiscus only after I had been assured it was a white one. Naturally it flowered a week later with red, and then a week after that with white so I think I’ll keep it. The plan is now to get lots of lush green jungle plants though it’s hard to stick to the green and white theme when you see some of the amazing plants and flowers, I have so far resisted a Bird of Paradise but I’m not sure for how much longer.

The only animals spotted are monkeys (at a friends house although I am sure there are monkeys here) and geckoes (little lizards). Despite numerous reported sightings I have yet to see a monitor lizard (one friend claims to have seen one swimming in the sea at Pangkor). The only thing I see around here a squirrels, more on them later and, a warning for visitors, rooster.
Birds spotted: amazing looking Hornbills and bats (not sure which category they come under but which I always mistake for birds). I have heard many very strange birdcalls and have not yet identified any of them. You may have heard how squirrels are just rats with good PR (the ones in Hyde Park are fairly cute), here they are without the good PR – these squirrels are definitely very close cousins of rats, the only distinguishing feature is a slightly busy tail. I thought they were rats until someone pointed out a squirrel to me when I thought I was looking at a rat. I was relieved however that the many little rat- like things I had been spotting have now been defined as squirrels.

Tour de Malasie (so far).
The roads are great once you get out of KL, you are right in the jungle, and it’s all very lush and green. A lot of time and effort goes in to the landscaping of motorways and they are all beautifully planted and well kept.
The concept of not stopping on motorways has not really taken off – there are too many stalls selling satays and sugar cane juice on the sides of the motorways, so cars tend to be stopped randomly to enjoy what the stalls have to offer.

I really liked Melaka, it had a charming atmosphere and it was nice to see some old buildings. The old Chinese houses are really beautiful. A lot of the old houses are now antique shops, although the ‘antiques’ are made recently and locally.

Pulau Pangkor (Island off the west coast).
Beautiful Island with golden sand beaches very laid back – we were there on a weekend during Chinese New Year (peak time) and it was amazingly deserted. We saw lots of Hornbill birds and I now know how Muslim women go swimming – fully clothed (including the veil). I also learnt what a bad idea bicycles are on a hilly island in the middle of the day.
Useful information for visitors: The arrow on ceiling in hotel rooms is not indicating where the fire exit it is which direction to face when praying (so obvious when you know).

Kuatan (on east coast).
Beautiful drive to get there through jungle (of course) and the sea was completely different to the west coast. Cool beach with big crashing waves and the temperature was almost chilly in the evening. Very disappointed not to see any monitor lizards swimming.

Another strange thing.
Manchester United is very big here – people were the shirts have the stickers on their cars and watch a lot of English Football; there is even a Manchester United merchandise store. They are also big fans of the All Blacks. At first I just thought there were a lot of New Zealanders here as there were so many cars with All Black stickers but have gradually come to realize it’s just like the Manchester United thing, though I haven’t yet seen an All Black merchandise store (there is a great business opportunity idea).

And finally.
I have just found out I am insured on the car, so officially I can drive here. I am currently still absorbing this wonderful information and will be venturing out soon – just as soon as I build up the necessary confidence and have fully charged my mobile (it could be some time).

P.S. We have had our first visitor.
And I am quoting directly from our Visitor Book:

I came (first)
I saw (a lot but not enough)
I fell in love (with Malaysia)
NB. Try the jellyfish at the Steamboat @ the Sunday night market. Mmm!

Paul tried everything (possible in 3 days) and I know he would have tried the Durian if it had been the season.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The Good, The Bad & The Taxi Drivers

The first 30 days.

Good stuff:

Our apartment.
It's fabulous, though pretty Zen right now. The furniture that looked so big in Portobello Road looks a lot smaller here, and we have more rooms to fill. My project at the moment is to look for furniture - I have a digital camera so I can pictures of things I like then show to the GM for approval. We have found really great Indonesian furniture - the Malaysian furniture philosophy seems to be leaving no piece of wood untouched - carve it up, it's all very 'decorative'. We went to Hong Kong for Christmas, which was brilliant & amazing for furniture, I may need to go back once I have honed my bargaining skills something I definitely need to work on. Bargaining is the GM's skill area at the moment.

The food.
Obvious I know, it still has to be said. Everything is here from Italian, French, Thai, Chinese Indian, and Malay to New Zealand Fish & Chips (just franchised to Korea). We have a great restaurant in our condominium that does Chinese, Western and Japanese (finally somewhere that does cheap fabulous Japanese) The most expensive item is New Zealand Steak at 50FRF. We haven't splashed out yet, that would have to be for a special occasion as a meal for two at the roadside stalls is around 40FRF. We tend to eat out a lot - just to try everything and because we didn't have plates in our very Zen apartment, although this has now been resolved. So no doubt I'll spend all day whipping up culinary delights for the GM. The weather. Another obvious one however we have lost an entire topic of conversation. This will be the only time I mention it. I love getting up everyday and not having to think about what I am going to wear. The only variable each day at the moment is what time it is going to rain and making sure you are undercover - it's very dramatic at night with all the lightening although a little scary watching lighting when you are being pulled behind a boat on a wakeboard. Right now it's really pleasant temperature around the high 20's early 30's.
Now I'll never mention it again.

We live in a great area called Bangsar which has a lot of restaurants and bars and a cool market on Sunday nights, fruit vege, fish, food stalls, clothes (Hawaiian shirts are very big at the moment) & VCDs. VCDs are basically videos copied on to CDs that can be played on DVD players - not as good quality - nevertheless they have everything - the latest movies are all here. At first it was a bit of a lucky dip in terms of quality though we have found a good stall now so need never go to the movies again. The censors here chop everything to pieces anyway - Four Weddings & a Funeral was most interesting Malaysian style - all that swearing and all those gratuitous sex scenes - you would be surprised.

And now the bad:

The traffic or should I say the drivers?
I don't know where to begin with this - it is the scariest place I have ever been on the roads. They may not be fast but they sure are random. It is each man for himself - no indication at all; it really has to be seen to be believed. It's not just cars it's also pedestrians crossing motorways and swarms of people on gutless little motorcycles - they are the worst. At the moment I just take cabs and close my eyes. In the news at night they like to give accident statistics: first how many road deaths this year compared to last year, then it gets broken down to where the accidents occurred (which states), then on what kind of roads, urban, country, Federal Highway, Motorway etc, and then whether it was a car, bus, truck, pedestrian or motorcycle (the most likely) - all very interesting. The news is quite an experience all round. There is a 30 minute news in English each night that is 15 minutes of local news (which minister said what at which meeting - generally something about how fabulous Malaysia is) then 10 minutes of business news (the rises and falls in the Asian stock markets) and then 5 minutes for International, this is generally a piece taken from CNN that shows the USA in a negative light, how many obese Americans there are, how many Americans have heart disease how much money the poor health of Americans is costing. So I'm reading the International Herald Tribune, the only international newspaper you can easily get hold of. I got very excited a couple of weeks ago when I found Le Monde in a newsagents, I checked the dates and found one for the 6th which was not too bad until I realized it was the 6th of December, they had copies going back to 3rd November.

Getting Lost.
This is not really bad, it's a learning experience or a chance to bond with the GM - you know how getting lost always brings men and women closer.
Last Friday we were invited to a friend’s house for a meal and we had fairly detailed instructions on how to get there. We got on to a motorway that we couldn't get off for 15km. When we did get off we couldn't get back on the motorway in the other direction due to road works. So we were now completely outside of KL, completely off the map and the battery on the mobile phone was running out. We eventually made it (1 & 1/2 hours later - I am not kidding). It took us 15 minutes to get home. The maps in KL are of limited use as there is so much road building going on all the time that routes change on a weekly basis - so you may have it all planned out on the map - yet when you get there, there is a new road or a diversion. Needless to say we are getting a lot of quality time together within the close confines of the car.

And finally the taxi drivers.
This is the group of people I have had the most contact with (and delivery men). The first thing is each car is like a shrine, mosque or church. There are Buddha’s and incense or crosses or passages from the Koran dangling from mirrors. I have yet to get in to a non-denominational cab.
And then the inquisition starts, this is after they have asked me which way they should go (do I look like I know?).
Where are you from?
How long have you been here?
What does your husband do? (Not being married is worth going there)
How long have you been married? (What?)
How many children do you have? (I have to change my story for this one - see below.)
Why not? (Stop the cab)
Where do you live?
How much rent do you pay?

So what do I miss?
Apart from you all, Parmesan cheese (not Australian - what is that about?). Anchovies - I can find anchovies with everything except just plain anchovies. Strange what you obsess over.
Not having easy access to email.
So 'til the next time - maybe direct from our Zen apartment.