Mr Toad becomes a luvvie

We’ve just had Dress Up As Your Favourite Book Character Weekend at school, and we all took it extremely seriously.

I had my Professor McGonagall costume imported from England (thank you, Anthony) and then spent hours in front of the mirror working on my role.

The stance was very important –

But the facial expressions even more so …

… think I’ve got Dame Maggie to a tee now.

Cleopatra spent hours on her make up –

And our genuine luvvie – the drama teacher – got into role as Count Olaf every morning –

While our esteemed deputy-head added all his Frankenstein’s Monster stitches painstakingly, one by one, every day –

What a bunch of dedicated professionals –

Mr Toad, ever the narcissist, was keen to play himself, but I managed to persuade him to play Trevor the Toad from Harry Potter instead, which he did grudgingly.

And at the risk of sounding a little like Mr Toad myself, my photo on the school Facebook page has ‘nearly gone viral’ according to the Headmistress


My only worry now is what to do for the next book weekend in October.  If I don’t decide soon, I won’t have time to perfect my character.  Any ideas for a suitable battleaxe that I could play?  If so please let me know asap.

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Cockroach in a coma


What do you do when you suddenly realise that a cockroach the size of a fist has materialised from the cloth you’re carrying and is crawling across your decolletage?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you scream, drop the cloth and jump around like a demented dervish until the creature flaps its wings – yes, these huge, tropical ones can fly too – and heads for the floor.

It scuttled around looking for somewhere to hide and finally settled on the dark corner under the bathroom cupboards

I watched from a safe distance as it backed into the corner and hunkered down, obviously planning on a long stay.

Well, it’s him or me, I thought, and I pay rent and he doesn’t.  So I grabbed a glass for stage one of my cockroach elimination plan.

Edging gingerly forwards, I tried to put the glass over the huge twitching creature, but it suddenly rushed sideways and I shrieked and leapt backwards.  This lunging, shrieking and retreating went on for some time, like a strange crouching version of the hokey-cokey, until I finally managed to corner it and slam the glass down quickly before it rushed up my arm and gave me full-blown palpitations.

It whirled round and round inside the glass, making the most horrible rasping noises, while I dashed off to consult Google on the best way to kill a cockroach.

I discovered that it’s actually very hard to kill a cockroach – they can even live for a week without their head – and stamping on them is a very bad idea, as cockroaches like nothing better than feasting on their dead relatives.  So the smell of a roach that’s been splattered across your kitchen floor will have them flocking to your door from miles around.

But then I found an article suggesting that the best way to get rid of a cockroach is to put it in a coma.  You get some soap and water and shake them together in a bottle and then squirt the soapy water onto the vile beast.  This blocks its airways and puts it in a coma, and you get rid of it before it comes round.

I tried it, and it worked! And my comatose cockroach has now gone to convalesce in a bin bag a very long way away.

I feel rather proud that I’ve added to my skill set, but this evening, whenever the fan makes my papers move and rustle, I jump and look nervously around.

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Hurrah for the Rotating King!

Today is yet another holiday in Malaysia … I think they have more public holidays than any other country in the world.

Today’s holiday is in honour of the Installation of the Rotating King.  I’m just hoping he can stand still long enough for them to put the crown on his head.

The installation of Sultan Muhammad V as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong takes place at the National Palace today.

I’m not sure if Malaysia’s the only country with a consititutional monarchy which elects its head of state, but I’ve never come across one before.

Nine of the Malay states have a hereditary Royal Family, and the Royalty all vote for a new head of state from amongst the nine every five years.

I started thinking about what it would be like if we had the same system in England, imagining Prince Charles on the hustings promising free organic produce and a return to Palladian architecture, and William and Kate appealing to the yummy mummies with Montessori nurseries for everyone and compulsory smocking on all children’s clothing.

Anyway, I didn’t want to spend my whole day musing about revolving monarchs, so I went to a daytime Pilates class, with a very friendly group of Pilates experts.  They made up for being so much better than me at all the exercises by inviting me to their post-Pilates brunch at the local Mamuk (Indian Muslim Malay restaurant) and explaining all the dishes to me.

Nasi goreng, Mee goreng, Rojan (hot salad with peanut dressing) and coconuts … delicous.

I know now that nasi is rice, mee is noodles, and rojan means a mixture of things. My Bahasa is obviously improving, but it’s restricted to nouns – so I must sound like the average toddler when I’m trying to communicate.

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I’m no purist, but …

… tulips in Singapore?

I’ve always wanted to go to Holland to see the tulips, so it seems ironic that the place I get to see them is in a specially cooled biosphere in Singapore.

But the crowds loved them – and some people dressed up specially for the occasion.

Or tried to have an intimate moment amongst the throng of selfie-takers.

And yes – that is Van Gogh in tulips behind the happy couple.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always associated him with irises rather than tulips.

And there was also a floral representation of Starry Night –

What next I wondered … Frida Kahlo in cacti? … The Monarch of the Glen in assorted thistles?


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Singapore Botanic Gardens … so much more than a collection of plants

I have never been to a garden before where every plant was screaming –

‘Take my picture!’

‘No mine!’

‘No mine!’

it has the National Orchid Collection

With little orchids

Medium-sized orchids

And orchids as tall as a house.

And this is as close to a selfie as I’ll ever get

Me in the orchid mirror tunnel.

There’s even a celebrity section where they’ve named new varietals after visiting celebs.

This one was my favourite


But this one wasn’t bad either –


It’s not blue … but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

But it’s not just about the plants – it’s such a beautiful place that it’s ideal for –

A tai chi lesson

yummy mummy joggers

A mysterious clapping and chanting group


Jogging grannies

And dog walkers … obviously offering both the basic and the premium service.

Continue reading Singapore Botanic Gardens … so much more than a collection of plants

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A rose by any other name …

I have had my portrait painted …



… or crayoned to be more precise.  But it’s a very good likeness, and I shall be keeping it on my fridge.


And here is the artist, displaying another of her latest works –


I am slightly alarmed by the current trend among the children for wearing face masks.  If you’ve ever struggled to understand a non-native speaker whose mouth is unfettered and clearly visible, then multiply that struggle by ten and you’ll have some idea as to how much I can piece together from a stream of muffled incoherence coming from somewhere around my mid-thigh level.  This child was either rhapsodising about how much she’d enjoyed her milkshake and cereal for breakfast, or confessing that she’d pushed her granny down the stairs and then made off with her life savings – I’m not quite sure which.

And it’s not just face masks I have trouble with, it’s names too … big time.  And for someone who has always prided themselves on being good with names, this has come as rather a blow.

The Malay names aren’t too bad – they are at least recognisable as a first name – Nadya, Alecia, Maryam, Danial.  It’s the Chinese names I struggle with, as they look to me like a random set of syllables which I may or may not:

a) pronounce correctly,

b) get in the right order, and

c) remember 30 seconds after they’ve corrected me.

The easiest are the names I can peg to a similar English word – so I have students called Onesie, U.N., Highway, See You, Junior, Lazy (and I’ll gloss over the Japanese boy, Kazuki, who I called Suzuki one day).

Then there’s the issue of which part of the name is the surname, and which is the first name, and how on earth to find that out.  There seems to be no rule for this, as family names can come either at the beginning or the end.    I discovered recently that I’d been calling one small girl by her surname and half of her first name ever since I arrived, and she’d never corrected me.

I asked one child ‘What’s your Christian name?’ and got the entirely reasonable reply, ‘I’m not a Christian.’  So I tried ‘which is your first name?’ and he simply pointed to the one that was written first on the register, obviously wondering how stupid his new teacher was, as she was clearly incapable of reading from left to right.

So I now have a system.  Having conferred with local staff in the office, all first names are highlighted on my register, with phonetic spelling written in too if necessary.  So Xiao Yi is Chow Yee, Heuyie is Hughie and Zhi Suan is Zee Shwen; the children find it highly amusing to see my ‘version’ of their names.

To complicate matters further, some children only have two syllables instead of three, and I’m still not sure whether they’re like Madonna and don’t have a surname, or whether they have a single syllable first name plus surname.  But I do know – thanks to the office staff – that you call them by both parts of the name all the time.

The last problem to crack is the tones in the Chinese names.  Some names are made up of sounds that I either can’t hear or simply can’t say – one girl’s name is a deep growl from somewhere in her diaphragm, and every time I try it she winces and the rest of the class guffaw.  She’s now started saying ‘just point to me if you want me to answer’ – a very sensible solution, albeit somewhat humiliating for me.


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Local papers – don’t you just love them?

There are two newspapers in KL – The Star and The New Straits Times – and I have become an avid reader whenever I’m sitting in a waiting room with papers available.

As an expat, I think it’s essential to find out what the current hot topics are among the locals –



and to learn about hazards that might not be immediately obvious to a European like me –



or, for anyone thinking of starting a pick-your-own coconut farm –



And it’s not just HGVs that are a danger for cyclists –



The paper has also given me a bit of a heads-up on what might be coming my way, as I graft away at the chalkface every day –



Religion features more prominently in Malaysian papers than it does at home. They publish the prayer times, which seem to be like the tide times published in Norfolk, and vary from place to place and from day to day.



And how about valet prayer services?  I know that Papal indulgences exist, but have yet to see a newspaper story about them.



Some stories show a side of life that I haven’t yet seen –



– people digging to find condemned chicken dumped at the tip several days previously … and with temperatures rarely below 30 degrees.

It sometimes seems, with all its shiny skyscrapers, mega shopping malls and huge urban motorways, that Malaysia is a modern, developed country.  But a glance at some of the stories in the paper shows that they still have a way to go –


and –

And shades of Romeo and Juliet (1594) …


But my absolute favourite headline to date has to be this one –



And it’s not even about Malaysia.


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You either love it or you hate it

  1. Did you know that Marmite is very popular in Malaysia?

It’s used in Chinese Malay cooking, where they make  Marmite chicken or even better – Marmite prawns –


I’m sure that even Marmite haters would be converted by just one of these luscious little mouthfuls … it’s practically an umami-overdose, if such a thing were possible.

2. Durian polarises people even more than Marmite.  The flavour has been described to me as ‘onion and motor oil custard’, while the smell has something of the sewer about it.

There’s a man who sells durian from a van just down the road –

and people sit on the pavement and eat it –

but you can smell the durian long before you get anywhere near the van.  I’ve walked towards the van several times, determined to buy some and try it, but then the smell hits me and I scuttle away and buy some mangoes instead.

The closest I’ve got to eating durian is in a dessert called cendol, which is a mixture of crushed ice, coconut milk, red beans and green jelly noodles.  There was an option to have it flavoured with durian puree, so I recklessly went ahead and ordered it.

Whilst the flavour wasn’t too bad, the durian puree has a pungent rotting smell, and the putrid aftertaste stays in your mouth for hours.

If I could just get past the smell, maybe I could skip up to the van as happily as the locals and order myself one – although nobody at school would go near me for days afterwards, as your pores apparently exude the smell, and any unfortunate release of gas is equally pervasive.

3.  Birds’ Nest Soup

Having heard so much about the health-giving properties of birds’ nest soup, and how highly prized and therefore hugely expensive it is, I decided to try some in the name of research.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the fact that it is saliva … and birds’ saliva at that … formerly solidified birds’ saliva that has now been dissolved in water.

So I will just have to forego any miraculous healing that might have come my way if I’d finished it.

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Let’s be honest – it’s all about the food

OK – so Malaysia has beaches and sunshine.  It has history too, and the rainforest/jungle is a walking zoo – but all anyone here is interested in is food.

Malaysians talk about food in much the same way that Brits talk about the weather.  “Have you eaten yet?” is a common morning greeting, which switches to “What did you have for lunch?” in the afternoon.

Street food is huge over here, and there’s so much of it that you wonder how the stallholders sell enough to make a living – especially since every second building in town is a restaurant too.

There’s so much variety here that it’s taken me months to begin to get my head around the various types of cuisine and what all the dishes are.

Char Koay Teow is hugely popular, and is cooked in a wok over such fierce heat that it’s a health and safety hazard.

But punters are prepared to risk a bit of singeing, as they wait patiently in the queue –

It’s a noodle dish with prawns, cockles, beansprouts, chinese sausage and chives – plus whatever the chef’s signature additions are –

– and jolly yummy it is too.

Rice porridge is something I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to try, but this bowlful was eaten by an adventurous colleague

It’s served with Century eggs (the black ones), salted eggs (the white and orange ones) and a raw egg which is just beginning to solidify in the hot porridge.

An alternative to the egg medley is this one –

I haven’t tried this yet either.  Although, as a francophile, frogs don’t faze me in the least (but don’t tell Mr Toad).

But it’s not all street hawkers, there’s posh food too.  Last Friday we went to a Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant, to try their famous xiao long bao – or pork dumplings.

There’s a whole ritual involved with eating the pork dumplings, which are seasoned with vinegar, soy sauce and ginger, and then eaten whole.

Here they are on a plate with some jellyfish salad, which was delicious too.

The whole restaurant was very swanky, but I couldn’t help feeling that the staff looked like the latest Ebola Emergency Response Team, rather than waiters in a restaurant.


We had dinner in the jungle last week, which was a fantastic experience.  Who would have known that there’s a patch of virgin jungle on a hillside in KL suburbia?  Not me, even though it’s only a ten-minute drive from the condo.

The restaurant has trees growing up through it and greenery everywhere.

We had a local dessert called sago – pronounced sargoo over here – and nothing like the hot milk pudding served in England.

This one was cold, green and coconutty –

– yep, it looks like frogspawn, but tastes a whole lot better.

And just to prove that we really were there …

Here we are with the lovely Julia, who works with me, and her parents, who have introduced me to a whole range of different restaurants and food styles since I arrived.  So much so, that I may have to invoice them for my new XL-sized wardrobe.


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