In which I discover that David Attenborough is a tad prudish

Penang Hill is 833 metres above sea level, and is reached by a funicular with an ascent which seems almost vertical in places.

The top of the hill is a strange mix of ancient and modern; the man-made world and the natural world clinging together on a hilltop.  If you imagine an English bluebell wood with Mr Blobby’s World jammed right up against it, you’ll get the idea.

After you’ve admired the view –

And wondered what all the instructions for weight lifters could possibly mean –

You can visit the tunnel of lurve –

where you can have your photo taken inside a heart-shaped arch – choosing the most appropriately titled one for your circumstances.

I looked for the heart labelled ‘Gin’, or even ‘Sauvignon Blanc’, but as I couldn’t find either I declined a photo.

Another photo opportunity is the padlocks of lurve.

Presumably inspired by by the Pont des Arts in Paris, you can attach a heart-shaped padlock to the railings and then take a photo.  But unlike in Paris, it doesn’t seem to be restricted to couples here.

And perhaps it can also mean ‘I’m looking for lurve’ …

And if all this is just too subtle for you, you can always opt for the lurve installation –

just to make sure you hammer your message home.

But for me – not being a lurve-seeker – the most interesting thing on the hill was the rainforest.

It’s partly equatorial and partly tropical rainforest, and is thought to be 130 million years old.  It has some of the oldest plants known to man – and to dinosaurs –

such as this fern, which is one of the oldest species in the rainforest (can’t remember exactly how many millions of years old it is).

Our guide showed us monkey cups

which collect water inside to lure insects to pop in for a drink.  Then they slam the lid shut and eat them.  Vegetarians please note – plants are hardly the pure, selfless, oxygenating victims they make themselves out to be.

The Amorphophallus Titanium was not in flower when we visited, but our guide showed us pictures.

It only flowers very rarely, which may be a good thing because it smells like a dead rat – which apparently attracts pollinators.

When it’s fully open, the flower is the largest in the world –

… just imagine how a dead rat that size would smell.

The flower is always referred to by its common name of Giant Deformed Penis in Malaysia, and if you look at the bud –

you can see why.

However, the guide told us that when David Attenborough arrived to film the flower for his TV series, he refused to call it the Giant Deformed Penis, and insisted on referring to it as an Arum Lily.

Whoever would have thought that a naturalist would have such a puritanical streak?


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How to get away with murder

Have visited the Tropical Spice Garden in Penang.



It’s set in an idyllic location on the coast with tantalising glimpses of the sea through the greenery.



Our guide showed us all sorts of exotic plants –



plus bats –



snakes –



and even the cat’s whiskers –



used to make a type of tea.



This long, flat leaf smells and tastes exactly the same as coriander, but looks nothing like it.



Ginger flowers are just as delicious as the root, but much prettier.



And this is what nutmeg looks like on the tree.



The real eye-opener, however, was the poison garden, where I learned that practically anything that grows can kill you.

For example, a single Oleander leaf is enough to kill a person. So the average Mediterranean resort contains the wherewithal to wipe out most of Europe.




Or, if you fancy a zombie-like slave in your life (and who doesn’t?) … just invest in this small shrub



originally from Brazil, but I’m sure it could be enticed to flourish elsewhere with enough TLC.



Cerbera odollam is also very useful – especially for disenchanted new husbands.



Although – as its common name is the suicide tree –



I’m not very clear as to whether it’s the husband or the wife who decides that marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I was also interested in the rosary pea


and its ability to predict weather conditions



… wonder if it could also predict lottery numbers?


All plant orders to me, please, and I will command my zombie-like slave to post them off to you.


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Pottering around Penang

Spending a few days in George Town, capital of Penang.

It’s full of cutesy architecture –

– and wacky street art.

The most famous piece is Children on a Bicycle, which is a photo-must for the cutesy

and the humorous.

Hunk on a Honda is pretty popular too.

There’s also a series of cartoons made of steel rods throughout the town, reflecting the nature of the different areas.

Love Lane is backpacker central nowadays,

but used to be famous for mistresses’ love-nests – complete with useful little ledges under the windows for the men to hide if their wives came calling.

And Muntri street honours its most famous son – Jimmy Choo –

Then there’s the beach …

white sand and the most beautiful warm turquoise water, and since the Malaysians don’t like swimming …

I had the whole beach to myself.

Trying hard not to sound smug here – hope I’ve succeeded.

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Hitting the tourist trail

A week’s holiday from school – hooray!

Anthony has arrived from the UK for a visit.  He attempted to cut his costs by disapparating –

but unfortuntely couldn’t manage it without splinching, so had to resort to a more mainstream form of travel.

We visited the Batu Caves today – a holy Hindu site guarded by a 42.7m gold statue of Lord Murugan –

– with a large bubble machine in front giving him a bit of a disco vibe.

His backside was nearly as impressive as his front.

The souvenir shops would rival Lourdes for their imaginative reworking of religious images … no table lamps shaped liked the Virgin Mary here,

but these pictures have flashing lights all around them AND they play music.

We had to climb 272 steps to reach the main cave

which is a huge limestone cavern

with monkeys scampering around everywhere.

This one was optimistically going through someone’s old lunch bag –

but didn’t find anything to its liking.

And one particularly belligerent animal was sitting inside the shrine itself and refusing all efforts to shoo it away.

There is also the Dark Cave at Batu


– home to hundreds of bats, rare spiders and various other creepy-crawlies, so we put on hard hats, grabbed a torch and joined the tour.

Our guide showed us pictures of all the creatures we could expect to see –

and took a fiendish delight in frightening us more sensitive members of the group

We saw centipedes, millipedes, spiders and rats – but the bats were invisible, we could just hear them squeaking high up inside the caverns.  Apparently the whole ecosystem inside the caves depends on bat poo for survival, so I hope they are aware of their enormous responsibility.


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A bad dose of the wordsh*ts

The dreaded ‘pupil reflections’ bandwagon has reached KL, and my school has leapt enthusiastically on board.

Just like in the UK, the children have no idea what to write apart from stating-the-bleedin’-obvious comments about working harder, trying harder etc.

But I could certainly empathise with this girl and her issues with wordsh*ts –

And it would appear that ‘sorry’ is no longer the hardest word –

And as for imporved spelling … how could I possibly imporve on that comment?


As I read this one I wondered whether the boy’s mother has realised that she’s paying for her son –

– to make progress in wrong spelling.  He’s doing very well at it, because next term he’s going to work hardest on ‘kitter’, which is spelt so wrongly that I have no idea what he means.

Oh well – another day, another dollar … while we wait for the next bandwagon to roll into town.

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Tree yelling … a potential new hobby

In the interests of research I have been lurking in the bushes this week.

On my way home from work one day I heard shouting.  Hurrying along a tree-lined path, thinking someone was in trouble, I saw a red umbrella pushed in between two trees at a rakish angle, with an elderly lady standing in front of it shouting.

She didn’t appear to be in imminent danger, so I stopped and watched for a while, wondering what on earth she was doing – cat stuck up the tree?  grandchild hiding in the trees?

Then she took a step back, did a couple of stretches, moved forwards into the trees and shouted again.  It was a strange type of yell – slightly burbling – a cross between Tarzan and a good old gargle with TCP, and certainly not an ‘I am in mortal peril and need help immediately’ type of yell.

As I stood there watching she moved back a second time and spotted me, so I walked forwards, surreptitiously trying to get a good picture of her, and asked her what she was doing.


She explained that she has to get rid of all her excess energy, so she shouts in the trees for somewhere between two and three hours every day.

Maybe I have too much of a Western head to cope with this sort of Eastern thinking, as I immediately thought of a hundred more productive things that she could do with all her excess energy, such as mending some of the pavements that she must have to pick her way across every day in order to get to ‘her’ tree.

But perhaps that’s not the point.

I resolved to do more research on the best ways to get rid of excess energy, and asked a Malay neighbour about the whole tree-yelling experience.

‘She sounds mad to me,’ she shrugged.

So perhaps there’s a problem with being too open to other cultures; you may end up taking lunatics seriously.  More research needed here too, I think


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A revolutionary new approach to housework

Everyone in KL has a maid.  It’s a bit like having a cleaner in the UK, but they do more, cost less and call you ma’am.

What’s not to like?  I resolved to hire one immediately, but then found out about the drawbacks – they can’t be trusted on their own in the house, and you have to have a good idea of what’s in each cupobard and drawer so you can check that they’re not filching things whilst whisking a feather duster around your walk-in wardrobe.

If I was going to have to stay in and stare at my maid for several hours a week, I decided that it was all more trouble than it’s worth, and I would do my own cleaning for the first time in years.  Necessity being the mother of invention,  I have now perfected a minimalist approach to housework which is poised to take the world by storm.

Rule number one: never use the kitchen.

I have discovered that cooking leads to a disproportionate amount of cleaning, and is best abandoned as a pastime.

I am proud to say that I have never even opened the oven in my kitchen –

let alone used it.

Considering that I used to be a keen cook, the ease with which I have taken to this new Delia-free lifestyle is slightly alarming. But apparently new condos in South-East Asia are being built without kitchens, so perhaps I’m just ahead of the curve.

Rule number two: embrace Food Panda –

Food Panda allows you to order food to be delivered to your door by a courier, from a selection of nearby restaurants.  They charge just under £1 for delivery.

As you can see, I have plenty of restaurants to choose from –

– in fact, I could try a different one every day for almost three months, if my maths serves me correctly.

Rule number three: washing up is so last year.


Rule number four: never sit on anything which requires fluffing or plumping afterwards

sit on something low-maintenance instead.


Rule number five: bedlinen is quite unneccessary in a warm climate.

Rule number six:  no need to fill bins and then empty them laboriously on bin day.

Just tip all your rubbish over the balcony

into the swimming pool below

where the cleaner will pick it all out piece by piece

and throw it away for you.

Simple and foolproof.  I shall sit back and await a lucrative book deal.


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Life at the chalkface – week four

This child had to be consigned to the recycling bin after asking me whether I had a baby in my tummy, and could she listen to its heartbeat.  May possibly start diet on Monday.

On a more postive note, my portrayal of an Egyptian explorer received rave reviews.  Heavily influenced by Mr Benn, I disappear into a cupboard and am unrecognisable when I reappear in whatever role the day’s drama lesson requires.

‘Miss Louise, you look just like Indiana Jones!’ said one girl, and I positively preened, assuming she was referring to my acting skills rather than the hat.

Have spent a frustrating day today trying to teach my two youngest classes about rhyme.  The conversations went along these lines:

“So which one of these words rhymes with suit?”


“No.  I know that the suit in the picture is green, but the two words have to sound the same at the end to rhyme.  Does ‘green’ sound like ‘suit’?”


“No it doesn’t.  What about boot, which word rhymes with boot?”


“OK (takes deep breath) – let’s try a different one.  Which word sounds the same as dog?”


“Are you sure?”


“Well, what about frog – what rhymes with frog?”


I wonder if there are any famous Malaysian poets?  Somehow I doubt it.






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A stroll around the grounds of Toad Hall

Malaysians are not fond of swimming; in fact they don’t seem fond of exercise at all.  I walk to school every day, which only takes about 30 minutes, but any locals who discover this are appalled.

‘Is so far!  Why you no take bus?  Why you no take taxi?’

If you imagine telling a Londoner that you swim up the Thames every morning from Canvey Island to get to work, then you’ll have some idea of the strength of their reaction.

They exercise by strolling around the grounds of the condo in the evening when it’s cooler – many in full lycra outfits and trainers as they amble past the flower beds or stand and raise their arms above their head on the porch.

This is great news for me, because it means that the two pools are nearly always empty and I can decided whether I want to use the second floor pool –

slightly cooler, but with a lovely view of the sunset (notice the cleaners … will come to them later) –

or the ground floor pool –

warmer, but slightly further to walk … I’m beginning to sound Malaysian already.

Everything is kept immaculately clean, with cleaners working all day washing, wiping, scrubbing, and even picking every single leaf out of the water by hand.

There are some very exotic flowers around

and even a lotus-filled pond

and plenty of tropical greenery.

Plus more than enough bougainvillea to shake a stick at –

– if shaking sticks at shrubs happens to be your thing.

I love this orange flower growing across the poolside pergola, and I asked a local lady what its name is.

‘Oh, it’s just a weed,’ she said.  ‘I don’t think it’s got a name.’

The new gym, next to the cool pool, opened last Monday.  It’s very splendid with lots of shiny, new equipment.

See cleaner in the background, ensuring continued shininess of all equipment.

Mr Toad – hugely excited at the thought of a potential new enthusiasm

– was gutted to discover that his feet wouldn’t reach the pedals.

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Underwear and toast: an unusual housewarming

Somewhat unusually, I decided to host a drinks and toast housewarming party.

Toasters are pretty hard to come by in KL, and I had to send away for one in the end, such was my determination not to live a toast-free lifestyle.

My colleagues at school were all very envious of my toaster so, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity for a bit of gluten-laden one-upmanship, I generously offered to provide toast at my housewarming.

And jolly successful it was too – we had toast and marmalade, toast and marmite, toast and peanut butter – minimal preparation and washing-up … highly recommended.

Then the evening got even better when I managed to induce wardrobe-envy as well as toaster-envy.

They were just as enthusiastic about my walk-in wardrobe as I had been when I first saw it, so I shamelessly pulled open my underwear drawer to show them one of the highlights … the individual compartments which ensure that your undies are classified and organised at all times.

No more rummaging for me, I told them. I’ve taken a good ten seconds off my dressing time in the morning and am one step closer to becoming a domestic goddess.

I’m hoping that the sudden silence following this unveiling was due to speechless envy of my storage facilities and not dumbstruck horror as the new member of the team flaunted her underwear.

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