It’s that time of year again

Ramadan is here again.  If you hadn’t realised, you’d soon find out when you tried to get anywhere on the roads from 5 – 7 pm and found them all jammed solid, as people dash home to get ready to break their fast at the appointed time –

7.21 pm today in KL, after an early meal this morning which must have finished by 5.30 am – so that’s nearly 14 hours without food or, more importantly, water in this heat, which must be torture.  It’s apparently a contributing factor to the huge number of Malaysians with chronic kidney disease (9% of the population), which has led to  the country having the 7th highest number of dialysis patients in the world.

The Ramadan market takes place every afternoon and evening on the road by the school, and is absolutely rammed with people –

buying up all the delicious treats to take home and eat, just as soon as the clock strikes 7.21 pm.

These roti are delicious fried breads –

and here are yet more delicious fried things –

and some beautifully vibrant “Barbie Juice” …

Fried durian anyone …?

So it’s not exactly a health-fest once you do get to eat something in the evening … it’s no wonder that the Malays tend to be a tad on the rotund side.

There was an interesting article in the newspaper yesterday about Ramadan etiquette.

I learnt that it’s not acceptable to shout at someone on a station platform who’s eating a curry puff, just because you’re fasting and can’t have one.  I’m glad I found that out, so that I can shout back and tell them that I know my rights, if I happen to get the urge to scoff a curry puff in public this month.

You are also not allowed to whine, harangue, queue jump or lynch people –

which I’m definitely in favour of at all times of the year, not just Ramadan.

But I’m not so keen on the idea of the religious authorities arresting you, if you eat during the daytime –

and you’re “of a certain skin tone”.

Food-shaming is one thing, but a prison sentence takes it to a whole new level.





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Happy Birthday to me …

I had a jolly spiffing birthday yesterday –

Although there was one rather strange moment at work where we all sang Happy Birthday and had cake.

What’s so strange about that?

Well, it wasn’t for me, it was for some other people at work … whose birthdays were four weeks ago –

So I found myself singing Happy Birthday to someone whose birthday it wasn’t, and eating their cake, on MY birthday!

Oh well, that’s just the way we do things in Malaysia … temporal specificity is such a Western concept.

I had an Italian-themed supper party in the evening –

catered by the wonderful Katie (the Katerer) –

While I did my mixologist routine, cracking out the Aperol spritz –

and making a hideous mess.

The food was delicious –

– and there was even a lasagne which takes five whole days to make!  But it disappeared so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture.

It was lovely to celebrate with all my KL chums.

These are my walking chums –

these are my dining chums –

And these are the party animals –

Quick, Asian photo fingers, everyone!

I wonder where I’ll be for my next birthday?

Hopefully somewhere with less humidity, where my hair will finally look sleek and sophisticated and I won’t look like this any more –

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Showers of Owls

Yesterday was an extraordinary day in Malaysia; the ruling party was finally toppled after running the country for 61 years, ever since it became an independent country.  The corrupt Prime Minister, who recently rejigged all the electoral boundaries to try to ensure another victory, has been ousted.

I woke to a text from our head teacher saying, ‘History is being made as we speak’, and all day there have been happy smiling people everywhere, talking excitedly in groups.  The atmosphere is euphoric, with none of the violence predicted by the press.  A local friend sent a text, ‘Never thought I’d cry for Malaysia’, and my smiling taxi driver last night said, ‘I’m so happy.  I never thought this day would come in Malaysia.’

All evening we could hear spontaneous cheering, whistling and party-blowers tooting from bars and restaurants, and I kept getting a strange feeling of deja-vu, but couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then I suddenly realised that it reminded me of Harry Potter, and the wizarding world’s reaction to Voldemort’s disappearance.  There were no strange men in emerald cloaks here or showers of owls, but there was the same air of joy, relief and excitement about a future they hadn’t dared hope for, that has suddenly appeared in front of them.

The new Prime Minister is 92 years old, but looks jolly sprightly when I compare him to my 91-year-old father.

And I finally understood why they need a public holiday on election day.  People have to queue – routinely for up to three hours in the heat – to cast their vote.

According to the news, three people died during the voting process – two waiting in queues and one election official.  Apparently voters are taken one by one into a room to have their details checked at snail’s pace, and then move into the voting room, where their finger is indelibly inked as a precaution, should they feel moved to queue up again for another go … quite a few people have been known to rise from the dead to cast their vote during previous elections.

The black finger is like an exclusive club membership at the moment, with restaurants offering discounts or even free food in some cases.

There were so many warnings of potential unrest, violence, rioting etc, that we played it safe and celebrated election day with a pool party

Can you see me?


And now … two more Public Holidays to celebrate the opposition’s win.  So that’s three in a row … oh, and the one last week, and another one at the end of May, and yet another one on 2 June.

Go, Malaysia – Public Holiday Capital of the World!



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Cakes and Holidays

Elections in Malaysia are positively biblical – you have to return to your home town to vote; you can’t vote in the town where you currently live.  I don’t think you actually have to travel there on the back of a donkey, but it’s still a pretty archaic system for the 21st Century.

The General Election, or GE14 as it’s being called, is on Wednesday, and the entire country is covered in flags and banners – most supporting the ruling party.

There are at least a thousand flags between my condo and the school, so I can’t begin to imagine how many there are covering the entire country.

Unlike the UK, there are no flags in people’s gardens or front windows, showing an individual’s support for a particular party.  All the flags here are on public streets, fences, railings, lamp-posts, covering every square inch of non-private land.  The local paper reported that they were put up by party-faithful ‘thugs’ and I wonder if they’ll bother to take them down again afterwards, or just leave them to fester and rot in the heat and the rain.

I’ve already been warned by  several locals not to go out on Wednesday or Thursday, in case there are riots.  However, other people I’ve spoken to have scoffed at the idea of riots, on the grounds that the Malaysians are far too lazy to riot.

Then I received a text last Wednesday not only warning me to stay at home, but teling me what colours to avoid wearing –

So I’ve decided to dress entirely in black for the whole of next week, just to be on the safe side.

There’s a lot at stake in this election – especially for the current Prime Minister, who’s been embroiled in a lot of unsavoury scandals recently. And the leader of the main opposition party is 94 years old, so I imagine this will be his last crack at the top job.  But Malaysia being Malaysia, it’s actually all about cake and public holidays.

Wednesday has been declared a public holiday because it’s election day (of course) and the ruling party has promised that if they win, they will declare Thursday a public holiday too.  However, if the main opposition party win, they have said that they will declare Thursday AND Friday as public holidays … so they definitely get my vote.

And the most popular way of showing your support is by buying cakes decorated with the logo and colours of your preferred party –

eat your way to victory – and to hell with the fact that 17.5% of the population here has diabetes.

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Hooray for another public holiday!

One of the best things about being based in KL – apart from the ridiculous number of public holidays – is the huge number of places you can get to very cheaply, because it’s the hub for Air Asia: cheap, cheerful and very rarely on time.

So, for £72 return and an hour and a quarter’s flight, I decided to make the most of a three-day break – thanks to yet another Public Holiday – and fly up to Phuket for some serious r&r …

I left work at 5 pm and leapt on a train, then leapt on a plane and finally leapt into a taxi and had arrived at my hotel by 9.45 pm.

After an exhausting day, looking at the view from beneath my beach umbrella –

I decided that I should really be more writerly in my approach to my blog, so I transformed the porch outside my bungalow –

into a verdant outdoor studio –

– and felt very professional as I sat there, typing away.

Tropical beaches do a very good line in sunsets, I’ve discovered –

– and dinner at a beachfront restaurant, with the waves swooshing gently in the background –

– is the ultimate de-stresser.

But even in this tropical paradise there are people living just metres from the beach in the shell of an old building.  They’ve built walls from corrugated steel with doors cut into them –

and what I found most poignant was the number painted on the outside of each unit – a demonstration of aspiration in the face of the harshest poverty.

I feel sure that in Europe these people would have been moved away from the beach, to somewhere less scenic where they wouldn’t spoil the experience for the holiday makers – but I was glad they were there, and I decided to be a little more generous to the itinerant beach sellers from now on, and not view them as a bit of a nuisance; they’re just earning a living like the rest of us.

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