Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about leeches

I went on a guided forest hike today, and before we set out the guide gathered us together for the briefing, which included instructions on dealing with leeches.

‘Rule number one,’ he said sternly, ‘is don’t become hysterical.’

A mere five minutes later we had all forgotten this instruction, and there was general hysteria from the crowd, and more focused hysteria from Sarah, the first person to find a leech attached to her.

Luckily (for the rest of us) this gave the guide the opportunity to show us how to roll the leech round and round with your fingers to detach it.  But once you’ve detached it you have to flick it away very quickly or it attaches to your finger and starts bloodsucking again immediately, and you have to repeat the whole process.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the clinginess of the leech, as I’ve been using that metaphor for years – but obviously without really thinking about the creature itself.  I expect I’d be equally surprised if I saw a couple of rats having a race, or a kangaroo dispensing justice; the expressions have become detached in my mind from the creatures in question.

Anyway – the whole point of this walk was not to learn how to deal with leeches, but to hike through the forest to the canopy walkway and then walk across wobbling planks suspended between trees, 30 metres up in the air.

It was frankly terrifying, and I’m very glad that I didn’t find out until afterwards that it’s closing permanently on 30th June, because it’s so old and dilapidated.  Not quite as decrepit as the ones that the likes of Indiana Jones run across to escape marauding natives or runaway boulders, but more ramshackle than anything you’d be allowed to tackle in England without a hard hat, ropes and a signed disclaimer.

I managed to get across, chanting to myself ‘I can do this, I can do this’ – and even cracked a feeble smile for a photo.

As you can see here, some of the planks are coming apart – I just hope they last until 30 June.

Then, when I got down, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I had to remove a leech, that has left a hole in my foot.

But it’s a compliment according to our guide – they only drink good quality blood – so leech marks are a sign of health.  Well, I believed him …




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Crustacean Fixation

Is this a recognised obsession, or am I the only sufferer?

It’s only really surfaced since my arrival in Malaysia.  I spent the previous decade living a mere 10 miles from the home of the Cromer Crab without developing any symptoms at all … apart from a totally understandable urge to snigger at the crab-shaped lights decorating the Cromer seafront.  But after three months here, I’ve developed a full-blown mania.

It all started on a trip to the seaside, where I first tried salted egg yolk prawns –

– and they were so delicious that I found myself sucking the empty shells after all the prawns had been eaten.  Only my own shells, I hasten to add – although that was in the early days of my infatuation, so God knows what lengths I mightn’t go to now, if I found myself in the same prawn-deprived situation.

Then I was told that the home of salted egg yolk seafood is Penang – and the salted egg yolk crab is the dish to go for – so I had to go and try it –

and I was hooked.

The wonderful thing about crabs in Asia is that they are served hot and white; no prissy ‘dressed crab’ here – which I always think is an excuse for putting just one measly spoonful of crab meat onto a pile of brown sludge that tastes like ptomaine poisoning in a shell.

And it’s not just the crabs in Penang that are wonderful – the prawns are pretty amazing too – and you can choose the ones that take your fancy –

– this one was about the size of my forearm.

And then last month in Singapore, at the Hillman Restaurant, I lost my inhibitions.

Chilli crab is the dish to eat in Singapore – and their food website tells us:

“The king of all crab dishes, this popular dish is served with the shell on, and is typically eaten with one’s hands. Make sure you have plenty of napkins handy – it’s messy work!″

… and it certainly was.  This was my chilli crab when it arrived –

and this is what the table looked like after I’d finished –

I was the floor show for the evening – the staff kept popping out of the kitchen to stare at me, as chilli sauce dripped off my elbows and I wiped it off my nose with the tablecloth, but I didn’t care.

Last week my infatuation moved to another level at Restoran New Wong Poh, where we had chilli crab, salted egg crab, plus my new favourite – butter crab.

You even get your own hammer –

so you can splatter your friends with chilli sauce

or you can just cover yourself if you prefer –

We’re now forming the Tuesday Night Crab Club, so I’ll be able to indulge my passion on a regular basis.  If I can find similar enthusiasts for a Prawn Thursday and a Clam Saturday, then my happiness will be complete.




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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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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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