East is East …

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet …

… Well, Rudyard Kipling had obviously never been to Malaysia, is all I can say.

One of the things I shall miss most – OK, the one thing that I will miss the most – when I leave KL is the food.  There is everything here – not just the Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines of the local population – but anything else you could wish for too, and East most definitely met West for me last week.

On Sunday we went to a celebrity chef’s restaurant.  Chef Ismail has a Malay restaurant in town, and there are videos of his TV programmes on a constant loop outside the dining room –

So, of course I recognised him instantly when I saw him in the dining room, and asked for a photo for my blog –

Rather excitingly, the co-owner of the restaurant is Malaysia’s first astronaut, a very handsome man who is also an orthopedic surgeon –

Disappointingly, he wasn’t at the restaurant, he was probably in orbit or saving the life of a small child in an operating theatre somewhere.

Malay food is delicious, but it’s all fried and not very healthy.  This woman is making roti jala, a sort of lacy pancake that you eat with curry –

and there’s a plate of popia – Malaysian spring rolls covered in a sweet and spicy sauce – on the table too.  We also ate the best satay I’ve had so far, and an amazing beef rendang where you could really taste the fresh lemongrass and all the other spices.

Conseqently, we had to breathe in for our photo opportunity with Chef Ismail after dinner –

And then yesterday – about 100 metres from work – I came across this …

– a Swiss restaurant serving genuine raclette – and I was very excited –

For me, Malaysia is the ultimate example of East and West living side by side in perfect culinary harmony.

On a journey to enlightenment, also involving chicken feet

One astonishing fact about Malaysia is that there’s only one place in the whole country where it’s legal to gamble.  It’s astonishing because this is a country with 6.6 million Chinese inhabitants, and the Chinese love to gamble.  So why the government isn’t cashing in on this and setting up casinos in every town, I don’t know – but it may have something to do with the fact that gambling is banned for Muslims, so they can’t be seen to be actively promoting something which is prohibited for over 50% of the population.

Malaysia’s Las Vegas, as it’s known informally, is the Genting Highlands, and it’s about an hour’s drive from KL – high up in the wonderfully-named Titiwangsa Mountains, where the temperature is a refreshing 15 degrees; a world away from the 30-plus degrees of stickiness of the lowlands.

The cable car takes you up through the clouds

with some beautiful jungle views on the way up –

until you reach the summit, which is an area of built-up hideousness, with ugly hotels –

and an unfinished 20th Century Fox theme park, which has been 12 years in the building already, and is still nowhere near finished –

The whole place is intended to be appreciated from indoors rather than outdoors, and the windowless casinos, hotels and shopping malls all lead into each other with no walking trails to enjoy the views (‘eat can, gamble can, walk cannot’ as the locals say).

I’ve never been a gambler – I feel that I have enough vices already, without acquiring another one – so just enjoyed the understated decor inside the casino hotels, where you can see leopards –

and snakes –

dangling from fairy-lit trees – presumably to give the illusion of being outdoors, without any of the inconvenience of actually having to go outdoors.

Far more interesting was the Chinese temple, halfway up the mountain, where I went on a journey of enlightenment to learn about the Ten Courts, or Chambers, of Hell in Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.

The temple has a spectacular setting –

with all the views that are missing at the top of the mountain –

The Ten Courts of Hell are similar to Dante’s Circles of Hell, and ironically the Second Court includes all the gamblers, who are frozen into blocks of ice for eternity –

– obviously not a very effective deterrent in these parts.

There is also a special Court, or chamber, in Hell for children who show disrepect for their parents –

These ungrateful offspring are wedged inside a couple of giant stones and squashed –

– like a non-vegetarian Bourbon biscuit.

I shall be sharing these images with my children, to serve as a dire warning.

The second phase of my enlightenment that day took place at lunchtime, when I decided to try my first ever chicken feet –

– and I acquired the wisdom to understand that these gelatinous, bony extremities are not the most palatable part of the chicken.  When the Cockneys decided to refer to feet as ‘plates of meat’ they obviously didn’t have chicken feet in mind.


A week of firsts …

After a while, once you get used to your new surroundings, even somewhere as different as Malaysia can seem a bit same-old, same-old.  So it was very exciting last week to do a whole host of new things.

For starters, I went into Chinatown and had my first ever frog porridge –

I have to admit that I was a little trepidatious – but more about the porridge than the frog – we francophiles don’t blanch at the thought of snarfing down an amphibian or two.

It was jolly delicious, and I am now a convert to Chinese rice porridge, which I have avoided for ever, because I loathe English porridge so much.

See – I was even smiling afterwards.

I also tried hot tofu with sugar syrup for the first time, from a little man with a cart, next to the fake designer handbags –

I’ve been converted to this, too – Chinatown seems to be my personal road to Damascus at the moment.

We went to visit the famous duck stall, which has been in the market for decades, and I was surprised to see that it was really just a glorified trolley –

But the queue was huge and the duck was amazing –


And then, I’m proud to say, I cooked my very first Malaysian supper party, with an authentic Peranakan recipe, from the Straits Chinese repertoire, called Pongteh.  It’s a kind of chicken stew, so off I went to the special shop for more Mozart Listening Chicken – I like to think I’m dealing with cultured poultry when I’m cooking.

And here it is –

– all brown and ambrosial – with the roast duck in the foreground, reheated to prefection.  It’s just a pity that I don’t have any serving dishes, so it looks like a meal from the soup kitchen.

My next delicious first was Yuzu – a citrus liqueur that is so much nicer than limoncello –

And after the second glass, I sat murmuring ‘where have yuzu been all my life?’

Then, after pongteh came gula’pong.  I’m not sure what ‘pong’ means in Bahasa, I tried putting it into google translate, and it told me that it also means ‘pong’ in English, but I’m sure that can’t be right.  If it was, durian would be called pong, and it isn’t.

I was delighted to learn that although gula’pong is made from a type of palm sugar and cream, it is a healthy dessert –

with extra sugar poured over the top … just to make it even healthier –

And then to round off my food-related firsts this week, I was trapped in the lift with a trolleyful of durian yesterday –

The young chap was very apologetic about the smell, and explained that he was holding a durian-eating competition later that evening for his friends.  I was very glad that he got out of the lift a good ten floors below me – I felt pretty sure the pong wouldn’t carry that far.

The only negative side to my week of firsts has been Mr Toad’s very strange behaviour ever since the frog porridge –

I’ve tried telling him that nobody eats toad porridge, but he just stares lugubriously at me.  I had no idea that toads were prone to such attention-seeking behaviour.



Updates from the chalkface

And another riveting English lesson gets under way …

I was rather disappointed that my new pupil, Gladys, didn’t turn up for class on Saturday.  I pictured her with her hair in rollers and a mop in her hand, looking rather out of place amongst the eight-year-olds in the class. And then she didn’t even show up – but perhaps she had an emergency floor to mop.

I’m rather enjoying my new EFL class, for children with virtually no English, which started this week.  It makes a change from the usual near-fluent kids we have and gives me a lot of amusement.

Me: So, let’s practise our basic numbers again.  Ten plus ten equals …?

Student: Tuesday!

Me:  OK – let’s try another one.  Ten plus two equals …?

Student: Tissue!

Me: Hmmm.  Let’s try colours instead.

As I say, it makes a change from our usual children, who put me in my place quite regularly.  Last week a six-year-old asked me, ‘Miss Louise, why do you talk all the time?’

Now in my natural milieu, with teenagers, I would have shot back with something like, ‘because I’m the teacher, and you won’t learn much if we all sit here in silence.’

But I’m not used to six-year-olds and don’t want a lesson filled with howling and snivelling, so I responded very politely with, ‘Oh, do I talk too much?’

‘Yes,’  she said.

‘Shall I stop talking, then?’

‘Well, you can say something …. just don’t say too much.’

So that was me put in my place.

And then this week, the same child asked if we could sing a song, so I agreed and started off with Old Macdonald.

‘Oh my God!’ she said.  ‘You’re singing kids’ songs.’

‘Don’t you like kids’ songs?’ I asked (bad move, in retrospect).

‘No, I like sexy songs and sad songs.  My favourite is Ariana Grande.  Can we sing I’m into you?’

So we did – and she was word perfect.

Six-year-olds are a whole new breed nowadays.


A handbag?

Mahathir, Malaysia’s new prime minister, turned 93 this week, while his wife is a sprightly 92. But his impending century has not lessened his determination to expose the corruption of his predecessor, Najib, and Najib’s extremely unpopular wife, Rosmah.

The whole country has been agog at the details emerging during the search of their home.

So far, 116.7 million Ringgits has been found in cash, which is nearly £22 million – a lot of it stuffed into handbags … and what handbags!

This woman has 272 Hermes Birkin bags alone, worth over £10 million. Apparently they were all gifts from well-wishers, although whether they were already stuffed with money when she received them, or whether she stuffed them herself at a later date is unclear.

But Hermes bags are cheap compared with Bijan bags (the yellow one on the right in this picture), as I’ve learnt from the newspapers. I’d never heard of them before, but now I know that they’re so exclusive that their shop is ‘by invitation only’ and the diamond-encrusted bags are upwards of $100,000 (US). But I expect that Rosmah only has one for sentimental reasons … Bijan is Najib spelt backwards.

And it doesn’t stop at handbags –

– and if a diamond-encrusted watch doesn’t do it for you, how about some diamonds without the watch –

Anyway, my thinking is that they’ll need to sell all this booty to recoup some of the government money that disappeared into Najib’s personal bank account, so I shall be scouring Chinatown for a sale of cheap, second-hand Hermes bags.

So, would anyone else like one while I’m there?

Shopping … Malaysian-style

Shopping in Malaysia can be a frustrating experience; customer service is an unknown concept, and it’s not unusual to be ignored in a shop while the many, many assistants all stand around glued to their phones.  I’m afraid that this attitude brings out the Mem Sahib in me, and I march up to one of them and say, ‘Excuse me, is this shop actually open for business?’ in ringing tones.

In a restaurant recently I asked the waitress about one of the dishes on the menu.  She went into great detail about the way it was cooked, the size of the portion, suitable side dishes, and then said, ‘finish already’.

‘Finish already’ is a favourite phrase, meaning ‘we’ve sold out of whatever it is you want, and we don’t know – or care – whether we’ll ever get any more stock in.  And what’s more, we don’t care if we stand around all day and don’t sell a thing – we don’t own the company.’

So, I was surprised to hear a shop assistant in a shoe shop really going the extra mile with the customer service last week:

Customer: I think I’ll take two pairs.

Assistant: Two pairs, Madam?  So, do you mean left and right and left and right?

Customer: Well, … yes.

There are some rather unusual things for sale here too.  For example – how about having your breast milk made into soap?

Just the thing for the Aunties at Christmas.

And my local deli sells Mozart Listening Chicken –

I was intrigued and googled the company, to discover that it’s quite well-known and has featured on the Smithsonian website –

I read about their philosophy –

– so Mozart leads to happier, less smelly chickens.

But I just imagine them all on death row squawking, ‘Oh no, not yet!  Please can I just listen to the end of Eine Kleine Nacht -‘



Katy Perry warmed the seat for me

It’s a wonderful thing when your children become independent, start to lead more interesting lives than yours ever was, and then invite you to tag along from time to time.

That’s how Anthony and I got ourselves invited to a wine-tasting at Berry Brothers and Rudd last Friday – to be tutored by Olivia – and so we hotfooted it to St James’s, in our role as proud parents.

We were greeted by our hostess and a glass of fizz –

and then swilled, sniffed, slurped and chewed (yes, chewed) seven different wines –

– and by the end of the evening I had a series of  interesting notes: smoky bacon, cats’ pee, leather, tobacco.  I’m just hoping those weren’t the actual ingredients.

Then we had a tour around the shop, and for those who don’t know, it’s been there for over 250 years – and when you look at a photo, you can see why it’s been called the Hogwarts of the wine world –

– definitely looks like a corner of the Leaky Cauldron.

It’s full of intriguing little staircases –

– and of course, there’s wine everywhere ….

… even in the ladies loo –

Here’s a close-up of the wall –

– top marks for appropriately-themed wallpaper here.

In the shop there’s a huge, ancient set of scales, which was originally purchased to weigh coffee, but then became famous as one of the few places where a person could be weighed in Eighteenth Century London – and all sorts of people had their weights recorded in a series of ledgers –

Lord Byron’s records show that he lost a lot of weight when he contracted some nasty disease (best not to ask exactly what, I felt), and William Pitt, Beau Brummel, Nellie Melba and the Aga Khan were all regulars … what a fascinating piece of social history.

But it’s not just a piece of history; the scales are still being sat on nowadays.  Matt Damon recently had a weigh-in and I was assured that the last bottom to grace the seat before mine, was Katy Perry’s last week …

… thanks, Katy – you warmed it beautifully.

You know you’re in England when …

… a story about criminal damage to an artichoke patch –

– is not from a Wallace and Gromit film, but is actually on the BBC –

I popped home to England for a brief visit last week for the first time in a year, and revelled in the things that are so different to life in Malaysia.

My sister-in-law went off to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, looking glam and gorgeous (not that I was jealous, you understand) –

Meanwhile these two ladies were on the tube at 11 a.m. enjoying a cheeky G&T –

note to self: flamingo straws definitely add a touch of class in this scenario.

The roses in Regent’s Park were beautiful –

and my own climbing rose wasn’t too bad either, and definitely enhanced by the wonderfully sunny weather –

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy was wacky and flamboyant, as you might expect from something put together by Grayson Perry.

The elongated Pink Panther is entitled ‘Infinity’

and this sculpture has no title –

– but covering an ironing board in papier-mâché is the best thing to do with it, in my opinion.

I was rather taken with this bear rug in reverse –

and the guardian of the gate, made of nails –

He wouldn’t look out of place outside a Wat in Thailand.



On the trail of the headhunters in Sarawak

How about this for the entrance to a national park?

We arrived by boat, and waded from the shallows up to the beach in gloriously warm water

I couldn’t understand why nobody was swimming, until our guide explained that the waters here are home to crocodiles – and the saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile and most aggressive of all crocodiles.  Suddenly I understood very clearly why all the beautiful little bays along the coast-

– are utterly deserted.

There are some amazing rock formations.  This one is the snakeshead rock –

which looks as though it’s been created by some giant who’s heavily into the latest stone balancing craze.

And this one looked just like a giant piece of driftwood –

– well, it looked like that to me, anyway.

There are more than forty indigenous ethnic groups in Sarawak, including the Iban, who were the original headhunters of Borneo.  Our guide was an Iban –

– and he was a formidable animal and plant hunter, but luckily showed no interest in detaching anyone’s head from their shoulders.

The Iban and several of the other tribes live in longhouses and the Sarawak cultural village has brought a whole variety of them together.

Some are short –

– note the staircase, made of a single tree trunk, which can be pulled up into the house if invaders threaten.

Some are tall –

– the narrow, single-trunk staircase up to this one was terrifyingly tortuous to climb.

And some are round and rather gloomy inside –


They all seem to be full of beautiful girls

who obviously have access to modern dentistry.

These two are engaged in the traditional age-old practices –

– of embroidery and texting.

The witch doctor has a surgery in one of the longhouses –

If you’re ill, he takes your illness and transfers it to one of the dolls –

which is then floated down the river in a special boat –

We were warned never to touch one of the dolls or one of the boats, if we see them on a river somewhere.  Apparently the illness will transfer to you if you touch it … scary stuff.

The village puts on performances of traditional dances, but unfortunately the dance of their fearless warriors put me in mind of Widow Twanky –

and I couldn’t take them seriously at all.



Exploring Sarawak

I’ve always seen myself as an urban creature; like the town mouse I prefer a life of feasting and uncertainty to dull simplicity.  Whilst a brisk walk in the countryside is lovely on a sunny day, I’ve never been one for nature-spotting – I’m quite happy to leave that to twitchers, whale watchers and David Attenborough.  So I was quite surprised by my enthusiasm for going orang utan spotting in Sarawak this week.  It was explained to us that we might not see any, as this is the ‘timber fruit season’, whatever that means, so they don’t usually come out of the jungle and down to the feeding station.  But even so, I was determined to go.

Tramping doggedly through the jungle, there was so much high-pitched chirruping, whistling and ringing that I thought I’d developed tinnitus –


I asked what it was, and it’s a cicada – but so much louder than the European ones.  How can something as small as a cicada make so much noise?  I suppose if I’d watched a few more nature documentaries I’d know the answer to that.

But it was worth all the tramping and ear-ringing – we saw two orang utans, a mother and a baby, and I wished I had a camera with a decent zoom instead of just my phone –

-as the baby twirled balletically on the rope while its mother scoffed bananas

and smashed coconuts against a tree.

Give that baby a spangly leotard and it would go down a storm at the circus.

Encouraged by my success, I signed up for a full day of animal spotting in the Bako national park.

We saw – in fact almost brushed against – a pit viper –

– the second most deadly snake in Borneo.  Luckily our guide was a bit more in tune with his surroudings than the rest of us, and dragged a woman away from the tree just as she was about to rest her arm on it.  He then gave us a useful tip on how to tell if a snake is venomous – look at its eyes.  If the eyes are slits, it’s venomous, and if they’re rounded, it’s not.  Personally, I wasn’t convinced by this; if you’re close enough to a snake to see that its eyes are not reassuringly rounded, then what do you do?  I prefer my friend Gordon’s advice – if you see a snake, scream and run away, and then pay some fearless locals to go and retrieve your abandoned bicycle.

The bearded wild pig was bizarre –

– the beard looks as though it’s made of shredded wheat, and it snuffled and rooted next to the path and took no notice of us at all.

The park is famous for monkeys – especially the proboscis monkey, which is apparently only found in Borneo.  We saw one swinging through the trees and heard a lot of others, but they’re very shy, so I couldn’t take a picture.

This is what they look like – apparently the females find the big nose alluring.

They live in harems or bachelor groups – no bachelorette groups for the emancipated females … nature is very backward when it comes to gender equality.

The silverleaf monkeys are very shy too, and were high up in the trees, so I had to resort to the internet again to find a decent photo –

They’re known locally as the David Beckham monkey, due to their upwardly swept hairstyle.  The babies are bright orange so that they can be easily seen and snatched away from danger by their parents.  What a great idea – it made me wish my babies had been turquoise or emerald, instead of boring old flesh-coloured.

We saw lots of long-tailed macaques – known as the mafia – and learnt some useful tips for dealing with them, as they can be a menace, both here and in KL.

Rule number one: don’t make eye contact, or he’ll think you’re challenging him.  So we carefully averted our eyes as if we were in the presence of some demanding A-lister.

Rule number two: don’t let them see your teeth, or they’ll see that you don’t have sharp teeth and come over and bite you.

Rule number three: never eat anything in their presence, or they’ll come over and snatch it … and bite you too, just for the hell of it.

Rule number four: if you obey all these rules and they come for you anyway, defend yourself by lunging fearlessly at them with a water bottle.

So – after an exhausting day of animal spotting, I spent the evening seeking out a few more –

This is nature at its best –

– hot, fresh and utterly delicious.


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.





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 –

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!



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.

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.

The perils of mispronunication

This week I learned that the words for ‘late’ and ‘sodomy’ in Bahasa are practically indistinguishable to the non-native speaker.  So, it’s a good idea for all foreigners to be extremely punctual, thus  avoiding the danger of accidentally confessing to a crime and ending up with a twenty-year prison sentence.

And then I had an alarming conversation with a waiter this weekend, when I was trying to pay for the meal I’d just eaten.


I tried to remember the name of the Indonesian dish I’d ordered, and decided that it was called Penet.

‘Penis?’ asked the waiter.

‘No!’ I said, fairy confident that penis had not been one of the options on the menu.  ‘Penet, defininitely penet.’

‘OK.  Penis.  I go check.’  And he promptly disappeared.

I decided it would be far easier to go to the till and pay directly, where the very helpful cashier told me that the dish was actually called Penyet … not too far from my attempt at pronunciation, I felt.

Having paid, I was just about to leave, when the original waiter came rushing out of the kitchen calling ‘Madam, Madam’ and holding a bowl up in front of him with both hands, as though it contained some sort of sacrificial offering.

Oh no, I thought, surely this isn’t a freshly severed phallus, foraged from one of the kitchen staff?

He stopped in front of me and held out the bowl reverentially.  I looked down apprehensively … and have never been so relieved to see a bowl of peanuts in my life.


Popping up to Penang

I’ve learnt that when chums visit you have to stop lolling around on the sofa and go off and do a bit of sightseeing.  So when Caroline came to stay, once we’d exhausted the possibilities KL has to offer, we popped up to Penang for a couple of days.

We found the most wonderful cake shop in the whole world –

and this was only half of their selection!

In Singapore celebrities get orchids named after them, but in Penang internationally renowned cake-eaters are honoured in a much more fitting way  –


We went to see the beautiful Blue Mansion which was built in the Nineteenth Century by Cheong Fatt Tze – popularly referred to in his time as the Rockefeller of the East –

We were told that he started life as a dirt-poor Chinese immigrant, working as a water carrier, but was fortunate enough to marry the boss’s daughter, and his father-in-law then bankrolled his business ventures.  This sounded about as likely as a Downton Abbey storyline to me – especially since the guide told us that Cheong’s only interest in his own daughters was the alliances he could make by marrying them off to his associates.

But he did own a house that was recognised as being Feng Shui Perfect by the experts.  They came and did a feng shui survey of the property, using this …

… which is a feng shui compass.  Seeing how archaic it looks, and thinking that it must be similar to reading runes or consulting the oracle at Delphi, I googled it to see how people would have used it – only to learn that there is a feng shui compass app that you can download onto your phone …  not quite so archaic, after all.

Travelling with an artist, I have learnt to wait patiently while artistic photographs are taken, both indoors –

and outdoors –

and to admire all sorts of artistic creations, including …

… a cappuccino in the shape of a rabbit.

And to have beautiful batik creations drying on the clothes rack –


I did try to join in, by sketching a self-portrait on the tablecloth with the kiddies’ crayons –

– but it didn’t get the recognition I felt it deserved.

Oh well, I shall go back to the cake-eating, as that’s what I really do best.





We are not amused …

Malaysians are outraged.

Why? You might ask – they’re pretty placid people on the whole.

Well, there’s a general election coming up, and the ruling party has been busy changing the electoral boundaries to ensure that there’s a majority of Muslims in every catchment area, so that the National Party gets back into power.

The same party has been in power, in one form or another, since Malaysia gained  independence in the 1950s.  The current prime minister, who is also the finance minister, is the son of one of the previous prime ministers, and has been PM since 2009.  The country is ready for a change, but he’s doing everything he can to make sure they don’t get one.

So is this why Malaysians are outraged?  No, it isn’t.

Malaysians are outraged because a contestant on Master Chef was criticised for not making crispy rendang – everyone is talking about it. Even Najib, the Prime Minister, has been tweeting about it –

– and you’d think he’d have more important things to think about in the run-up to an election.  But perhaps currying favour is at the top of his agenda …

Ikea has jumped on the bandwagon this week –

And even my local coffee shop had a sign on the wall –

Oh, well – my father was very fond of saying that people get the government they deserve.  So perhaps it’s fitting that the Malaysians have a Prime Minister who’s more concerned with chicken rendang than with corruption.

Releasing my inner Miss Trunchbull

I do love being unkind to children … I think that must be why I decided to go into teaching in the first place.  This was my April Fools’ Day prank –

I stuck this notice on the door and then hid, along with the first three children who’d arrived to class.  They hid under the tables, but I felt that it would be slightly undignified for me to be seen scrambling out from underneath a table, so I hid in a corner.

We then waited for anxious faces to peer around the door, wondering what on earth was going on, so that we could shout ‘April Fool!’ and laugh at them. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, managing to disguise mean-spirited mocking as cultural enrichment.

One boy brought along the timetable for his boxing tournament this weekend –

and I was interested to see that, even when you’re beating seven kinds of crap out of someone, you still stop halfway through and pray.  Presumably you either pray for victory or for mercy, depending on the way the fight’s going.

My other big moment this week was an appearance as a retired French supermodel in a 1970’s murder mystery –

and I have to say that I really nailed that role –

disappointingly, I didn’t turn out to be the murderer, but I did manage to murder a few vowels along the way, with my utterly convincing, thick French accent.


Do not wail against the flow

As I was reading the regulations on the escalators which link the hilly districts of Hong Kong Island –

I realised that this is where I’ve been going wrong all my life … too much wailing against the flow.

Taking this advice to heart, I declined a trip on a junk at dusk –

– on the basis that there was far too much flow, and it was going up and down in an alarmingly nausea-inducing way.

So, I decided to stay with the flow and wait for nightfall on terra firma, where it was just as picturesque, and much more stable.

Then, on a trip to the History Museum, I learnt that a terrible accident might have been averted if only people had realised that buns flow downwards … at least they do on Earth, where gravity means that all buns are pulled down towards the Earth, unless the buns in question happen to be larger than the Earth, if I’ve understood my science lessons correctly.  So, climbing a ten-metre high bun-tower definitely counts as wailing against the flow, and during the 1978 Annual bun scramble on Cheung Chau Island, a bun tower collapsed and caused many injuries.

Ironically, the buns have the word ‘longevity’ stamped on them,  and are said to bring protection and good fortune … but obviously not to those who topple ten metres down a wonky pole in an attempt to grab one.

Still going with the flow, we got the funicular to the top of the peak –

– and I then hurled myself down in a daring bungee jump, all the way to the bottom –

and, as if that wasn’t exhausting enough, I then flowed fearlessly towards my adversary –

– as I starred in my own comic strip.

The flow was most definitely going in the right direction when we came across the Craft Gin and Cocktail Bar, where I discovered my new favourite cocktail –

– the gin sour: two for the price of one in happy hour … even more flow going in the right direction.

So I’m now anticipating a very smooth journey as I skip along life’s formerly rugged path, always remembering not to wail against the flow.