A week of firsts …

The new KL metro line has just opened, and we can now get a train directly into the city centre, which is very good news as the traffic can be appalling, particularly at rush hour.  So I went on my inaugural ride this week, to spend an evening in town.

There are very helpful notices, designed to encourage socially responsible behaviour –

and I couldn’t help wishing that a few of them could be displayed on the London Underground –

 

I also had my first bubble tea this week, bought by a kind friend who couldn’t believe that I’d never tried one, and to my great surprise, I loved it!

I spent a very happy 20 minutes on the train home sucking up all the chewy bubbles from the bottom of the cup, one by one, and making very satisfactory slurping noises – whilst all the time sitting under the MRT etiquette notice …

… whoops.

On a completely different note, I also started volunteering at the local orphanage, who put out a plea for English teachers to help the pupils prepare for their exams next month.

When I arrived, I was waiting in the foyer and a boy came up to me, grabbed my hand, smacked himself on the forehead with it, then let it go and wandered off.  Oh dear, I thought, I hope they’re not all mentally disturbed.  But then another boy did the same thing, and another, and another, and I finally realised that it’s their way of greeting people.  Some kiss your hand, and others take it reverently and place it gently on their forehead, but for a lot of them, it’s snatch, smack and drop.  Oh well, they are teenage boys, I suppose.

I’ve been assigned to Ammar

who’s in the centre of this photo, along with the Warden’s two children.  Deda, incidentally, is the only girl in the place, as it’s a boys’ orphanage.

We sat in the dining room and did exam preparation

The homework session is from 8.30 until 10 pm, which seems very late to be doing schoolwork when you’re only eleven years old, but because it’s a religious institution, prayers take precedence over prep.  Not all the boys are orphans, but all have lost at least one parent or come from a very impoverished background, and they are fed and cared for, sent to school and put through university, and can then return to their home town if they wish.

The past paper exam questions that we were working through looked very familiar in style to language exam papers in England, but the content was very different.

And I wondered what British teenagers would make of this boy’s preferred reading matter –

Ammar turned out to be an ace negotiator, and we came to an agreement – well, he twisted my arm, actually – that if he finished his work early he could watch a video on my phone, and I wondered what he would choose.  Despite his religious upbringing, he chose something called ‘God of War’ involving weapons, battles, monsters and heroes …

… whoever first said ‘boys will be boys’ obviously knew what they were talking about.

 

 

Getting an inferiority complex from monkeys

I’m sick and tired of getting insolent stares from monkeys

I’ve always been under the impression that we evolved from monkeys, and not the other way around, so I don’t know what they’ve got to feel so superior about.

One minute they’re staring down their nose at you

or flaunting their crotch in a so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it way

and then the next minute they’re scrabbling around in a rubbish bin with absolutely no self respect at all …

… I just don’t get monkeys.

And it’s not just the monkeys that try to make me feel inferior every time I go to the local park.  As I stroll lazily around there are people doing all sorts of active and/or energetic things –

some with large, dangerous looking weapons

and some without –

And then there are the men doing all sorts of manly things in the manly men’s area –

while the women sit around and watch.

But looking closely at this picture, I’ve noticed that the women watching have much the same expression on their faces as the monkeys usually have.  So perhaps it’s not disdain after all, just baffled incomprehension at the strange antics of another species.

The reign of terror continues …

My three year-old terrorists were back under the table this week.

 

But this time they built a barricade of chairs to stop me getting anywhere near them.  It was just like a scene from Les Misérables … with me as Javert, obviously.  But I quite like the idea of playing the baddie – it’s probably why I went into teaching in the first place.

Anyway, I managed to lure them out with the promise of icing some cupcakes

They absolutely loved it, and spent ages on their creations – future Bake Off contestants here, I feel sure.

Watching them at work reminded me of how sensible my rule ‘never eat anything a child has made’ is.

Child A alternately sprinked decorations onto her cake, and then sucked another handful off her fingers, while child B licked the entire surface of her iced cake before adding any decorations … presumably to ensure that the icing was at precisely the right consistency for decorating.

I have now added an extra rule to my personal rule book: ‘if any activities involve sugar, make sure you do them at the end of the class, rather than at the beginning.’  Unless, of course, you’re writing a research paper on sugar-induced frenzy in small children … in which case you will have a lot of material for your thesis by the end of the lesson.

You lumpish beef-witted puttock …

Life in the expat staff common room is certainly different.  Last week we were all given sheets of Shakespearean insults

and instructed to use them at all possible opportunities – presumably to underline our own Englishness and to enrich the students’ vocabulary.

And we all have to have our own boxing ring entry music.  This is apparently the music that is played when you – the professional boxer – walk into the ring in your shiny shorts at the beginning of the match.  It’s an unusual requirement for a language teacher, but at least I won’t have to waste time finding my signature tune should I ever decide to become a boxer in the future.

I’m currently swithering between Blue Monday, which has quite a swaggery, punchy feel to it, and The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, which would send my opponent the message that I’m not to be messed with.

Then this imperfectly copied worksheet turned up in the common room last week –

leading to much speculation as to what the picture is meant to be, and what exactly the words on the left say.  Any ideas anyone?

One of the teachers was going through a set of animal alphabet cards this week and was quite surprised to come across this one –

which is now pinned up on the wall.

Rather worryingly, one teacher looked at it and asked, ‘What’s wrong with it?  Is ostrich spelt wrongly?’

She obviously hasn’t watched enough David Attenborough.

And I’m very proud that there is now a photo of me on the wall in the reception area, in one of my most famous roles: wicked witch disguised as a poor old beggar woman –

Unfortunately poor old beggar women have to be brassy blondes, because that’s the only wig we have.

I was very disconcerted on Saturday when I discovered that I have something in common with small-but-evil child.  She arrived clutching a love letter, which she carried around with her all morning –

… crustacean fixation is obviously contagious.

 

The versatility of cutlery

I was very impressed a few years ago when Olivia managed to dismantle two single beds and then reassemble them in another room, using just a spoon and a knife.  It struck me then that cutlery is very much more versatile than it would have us believe; just lying there passively on a table for hours on end, waiting to be put into someone’s mouth.

So when I was faced with a dire implement-shortage this week, I remembered the bed-dismantling episode and thought – aha … cutlery.

I decided when I first arrived in KL that I was a transient, passer-through; travelling light, pocketful of dreams, leave only footprints and all that.

But the problem with travelling light is that everything looks bare and characterless, and more like a safe house in the witness protection programme than a home.  So I decided I needed to personalise my flat.

After some thought (well, very little thought, actually) I turned down the headteacher’s offer of an abandoned kitten with scabies, and decided instead to create a balcony garden.

I arrived home with plants, pots and compost –

– but no tools.

So, resourceful Barden – ever mindful of the bed dismantling – got out the cutlery and did a jolly good job of potting up the new plants –

So I now have my own personalised balcony –

As well as my statement plants from the garden centre, I also have some smaller plants given to me by kind neighbours, and am very excited to have my own pandan plant (repels cockroaches) –

and Indian borage (repels lizards) –

Now all I need is a plant that repels recalcitrant, small children, and my happiness will be complete.

 

 

A new life goal: bathing in gin

Imagine the excitement of reading a review in Time Out of a fab new cocktail bar, and then discovering that it’s just around the corner!

As soon as I’d read it, I was determined to visit The Pawn Room, but it’s one of the new, secret, speakeasy-style bars, which are very difficult to find.  In the end we had to phone them for the exact location.

‘We’re on the second floor at number 46 – but you can only come in if you can find the door.’

So we climbed the stairs and tapped the panelling in true Secret Seven style until we located the door.

 

And then it was cocktail time.

There was a lot of …

pouring –

shaking –

straining –

and muddling –

 

The ‘Big Sin’ had coconut aroma wafted all over it in a very theatrical way by the the barman just before serving and smelt like a tropical paradise –

Best cocktail name had to be Dead Poet 2 –

No idea what happened to Dead Poet 1, but he’s no longer on the menu.

But the best thing in the bar was the bath – tucked away in the corner was a genuine Hendrick’s Gin Bath –

Yeah – suck on that, Cleopatra.  I bet you’d have preferred gin to asses’ milk … if only gin had been around in 50 BC.

Cheers everyone!

 

Keeping up standards in the colonies

As a belated celebration of Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and the whole English summer season, I hosted a Pimm’s party last night.

I had originally planned it for 4 July – but an American friend cut up rough about that … can’t think why.

I held my ground, insisting that 4 July was a perfect day for an all-things-English party, but was then struck down with food poisoning (karma, possibly).

I was surprised by how many people have never tried – and sometimes never even heard of – Pimm’s … even Brits.  And one Aussie asked ‘so what is this Tim’s exactly?’ which I found rather endearing.

Strawberries in Malaysia come from the Cameron Highlands, the famous tea growing area where the climate is slightly cooler –

– but I have to say that they’re nowhere near as good as English strawberries – much crunchier and more acidic; there’s no fragrant lusciousness there at all.

However, despite the lack of luscious berries, a good time was had by all.

And with a very non-English twist, we went to our favourite local Chinese restaurant for dinner afterwards, where I discovered yet another ‘all time favourite dish’ – butter chicken –

plus a lot of the old favourites – marmite prawns, yam basket, salted egg squid, fried aubergine.

All in all, given the myriad opportunities for delicious feasting in Malaysia, I’ll forgive them for the slightly second-rate strawberries.

 

Don’t pee in the forest!

I went on my first jungle hike this week.

‘Don’t pee in the forest,’ Frankie said sternly as he drove us out to the jungle.

I promised that I wouldn’t, thinking that this was a very sensible rule, given all the snakes and spiders and other nasties that you wouldn’t want to find attached to your nether regions as you squatted in the jungle.

But it turns out that this has nothing to do with health and safety; you mustn’t pee in the forest because the spirits don’t like it.  And I can only say that I sympathise with them – anyone peeing in my house would be given a mop, a bucket and a very stern look, with no excuses accepted.

‘Soo Wei’s coming with us – and the good thing is that she’s a trained nurse,’ Frankie went on.

I began to feel rather anxious at this point.  How dangerous was this hike going to be, if we needed a trained nurse?

I didn’t have much time to fret about this though, as Soo Wei led the way at a cracking pace, and it was all I could do to keep up with her.

We went past rubber trees, and even found some of the cups they fix onto the trees for the latex to drip into.

They hold regular paper chases in the forest, and the marker papers are still strewn all over the ground.

The others tutted about the litter, but I thought fondly of The Railway Children and the injured hare they rescued, and took a photo.

We took a survivors’ picture on the track –

which doesn’t show how sweaty I was – before heading off to get a cold drink.

The cafe was full of locals

and some were playing carrom, a game I’d never seen before and which I can only describe as a cross between draughts and snooker.

You use a sort of puck to flick your draughtsmen into the pockets on the corners.

and there is apparently a lot of skill involved … or so the chaps in the photo told me.

And just to make me feel at home, there was the owner’s most prized possession – a genuine Manchester United towel from Old Trafford, and a television showing Wimbledon.  I could have almost been back in England … apart from the heat, the sweat and the jungle just outside the door.

Succumbing to the lure of dental tourism

I’m starting to realise that I’ve never been particularly vain;  I’ve always prioritised being healthy and in (relatively) good shape, rather than wanting to look 20 years younger than I am.

This approach to life, which I can only attribute to serendipity rather than wisdom, must have saved me shedloads of cash and endless trauma over the years – as I discovered last week, when I gave in to a moment of vanity.

My new dentist, Dr Chew, had a special offer on a super-duper teeth-whitening procedure, and he showed me the brochure with its tempting photos –

It was so much cheaper than it would be in the UK that I decided to go ahead and have it done.

The first indignity was having to wear a mouth guard that made me look as though I had a blue beak.

Just as well I’m not vain.

Then I got the Santa Claus beard look –

and finally the shades –

Then my teeth were covered in foaming white bleaching solution, which made me look as though I’d got rabies –

And finally, I settled back to wait for the magic to work, with a futuristic blue light fixed to my duck’s bill.

At first it was very boring, lying there completely still, but then my teeth started to complain.  It was the sort of pain you get if you bite on a piece of silver foil with a filling in your tooth – unpredictable, sudden and very painful.  I sat there tensed up, and either jumping with sudden pain, or wondering where the next twang was going to hit.

Finally the torture was over and Dr Chew was delighted with the results

But I spent the rest of the day twitching and whimpering as the tooth agonies continued, and had to spend 48 hours eating pale-coloured food only, and no coffee … yet more torture.

So, in short, I paid for 48 hours of torture and deprivation – but never again.

I plan to start a new trend …

 

… black is the new white.  Another glass of red wine, anyone?

 

 

Another must-do ticked off the list

No expat should pass up the opportunity to spend a couple of days in hospital in another country, just to enhance the immersive experience.

My weekend jaunt to the local private hospital cost about as much as a weekend at the Dorchester, and was considerably less fun.

The view from my room wasn’t bad

But it was still the same old bare room with hospital bed.

Mind you, the menu was considerably more exciting than the one I had to endure at the Norfolk and Norwich two years ago.

Here’s the breakfast selection

Not a hint of soggy cereal or leathery cold toast.

So I spent a very dull weekend sitting in bed reading the local papers and taking note of the more unusual stories … dog poo jelly anyone?

Luckily my suspected appendicitis turned out not to be and I got parole on Sunday night.  The doctor now thinks it was probably food poisoning – so the long list of restaurants I compiled from my hospital bed reading will have to wait a while until my gastronomic appreciation bounces back to 100%.

 

“… and then he farted defiantly.”

As W.C. Fields so memorably said, ‘Never work with children or animals.’

Actually, I need to be careful what I say here, because Mr Toad is reading over my shoulder

and he has a very disapproving expression on his face.

So I will concentrate on the ‘not working with children’ bit, and leave animals out of it.

The defiant farter was not one of my pupils, thank goodness; it was the Head Teacher who got the full malodorous force of that one.

But I have received two crushing blows to my fragile self-esteem this week.

In Episode One, Child A points to my leg and says, ‘What’s that lump?’

As I twist around, trying to look for a lump on my leg, Child B prods at my calf and says dismissively, ‘Oh, that’s nothing – it’s just fat.’

In Episode Two, small-but-evil Child C says, ‘You have very nice, soft fingers, Miss Louise.’

‘Thank you,’ I say with a smile, totally off my guard.

‘But your hands aren’t very soft, are they?  Why is that?’ she asks guilelessly.

‘I don’t know,’ I reply, on my guard now, but too late.

‘I think it’s maybe because you’re very old,’ says disingenuous Child C, mercilessly going in for the kill.

So there you are … I’ve been called old and fat, both in the space of a week.

I’m wondering whether the school will pay for my therapy.

 

 

 

Happy Hari Raya

Today marks the end of Ramadan, and in the true spirit of Malaysian gourmandising we decided to go to an all-you-can-eat brunch.

Our choice of venue – a prosecco and pork extravaganza – wasn’t exactly in keeping with Islamic principles, but the intention was there.

Then on to a gin palace, where behaviour deteriorated somewhat …

… not mine, I hasten to add.

They give you a bottle of gin and invite you to make a mark once you’ve had enough –

Needless to say, the bottle was well and truly empty once the crab crew got going on it, so no marking or haggling over price was necessary.

And this evening I can see fireworks going off in every direction as I look out from the balcony

This isn’t my photo … I can’t see the Petronas Towers from my window, but I’m sure you get the idea.

There are yellow and green decorations everywhere

and they are all in the shape of the little woven boxes that are filled with money and given to children at Hari Raya.

Here they are in a shop down the road – along with flaming torches, which seem to be another essential for Hari Raya –

– plus lots of bright, shiny decorations.

The guards at the gate of the condo have really got into the Ramadan spirit and decorated the guard house –

– despite the fact that they’re all Nepalese, and therefore presumably Hindu.

That’s the great thing about Malaysia; there’s a huge mix of cultures, and they all embrace everyone else’s celebrations with great enthusiasm.  So the Malays have a knees-up at Chinese New Year, and the Chinese flock to the Iftar buffets during Ramadan.

As a last word on Ramadan, I had a revelation at my final Iftar buffet last Thursday.  These buffets specialise in traditional home-style food which you don’t normally see in restaurants, and on Thursday I had some of this –

which I thought was artichoke.  But I was assured by my Malay neighbour that it was jack fruit.

I was so convinced that it was artichoke that I took a picture of the label

and looked up a translation later, and of course she was absolutely right.

So there you go, cooked jack fruit is indistinguishable from artichoke … I bet you never knew that.

So, as they say over here, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or Happy Hari Raya – so no more Ramadan buffets until next year … sigh.

 

Getting to grips with Manglish

Manglish is an English-based creole used in Malaysia.

They also use British English, which is considered to be a second language rather than a foreign language in Malaysia, but it is a very idiosyncratic type of British English and takes some getting used to.

For a start they use some very quaint words and expressions, which have fallen out of use in England.  For example, children are always complaining of being scolded by their parents or their teachers – whereas I don’t think a British child has used the word scolded for about a hundred years.  Likewise, they talk about plucking fruit from trees, which has a definite Shakespearean ring to it.  And I also is used where we would say me too.

Rude words and offensive words are also very different:

‘Teacher!  Jacob just say buttock to me!’

I then have to feign outrage at such atrocious language.

The rudest word of all, referred to only as the ‘s’ word, is … stupid.  It’s so shocking that a child will gasp if they hear it, or refuse to read it aloud if it crops up in one of their British reading scheme books.

Conversely, shit is not an offensive term at all, and I’ve had five year-olds who routinely exclaim ‘Oh shit, Miss Louise – I’ve broken my pencil!’

On and off are both verbs in Manglish, as in:

‘Can you on the airconditioning, please?’

A whole variety of words are used much more in Manglish than in English, such as also, already, got.

Got is used all the time, and exists in a variety of tenses, including the future, I will got.

The suffix –lah is added onto words willy-nilly, and doesn’t seem to mean anything at all – maybe emphasis, but I’m not sure.  For example, a child memorably said to a fellow teacher when he found out her age:

‘So old, and not yet married-lah!’

Can and cannot – never abbreviated to can’t – are used all the time, and ‘can can‘ isn’t a dance, it’s merely a strong affirmation.  So a typical conversation in a shop might go like this:

Mend this, can?

Mend?  No, cannot-lah.

Buy new one same same, can?

New one same same, can can.

So, although I haven’t learnt much Malay yet, my Manglish is coming on a treat-lah.

 

My first Ramadan

I knew Ramadan was going to be a big thing in Malaysia when I saw that Tesco was selling special Ramadan boxes of tissues –

Hari Raya is the Malay name for Eid, which will be celebrated next Sunday after a month of fasting.

In the daytime, it’s difficult to notice much difference, as most of the Malays carry out their fasting quietly and with little fuss.  The only difference is the appalling traffice between 5 and 7 pm when Muslims all rush home to prepare for breaking fast at the designated time.

If you’re not sure what time you can start to eat in the evening, the newspapers publish the time every day, or you can look online

This website shows us that today the morning meal must be finished before prayers which start at 5.41 am, and then the Iftar, which is the name for the meal when they break fast, can start at 7.24 pm.

I went to an Iftar meal last week with a group of women, organised by Amal, on the left, who is quite the most glamorous headscarf-wearer that I’ve ever seen – she reminded me of a cross between Liza Minelli in her heyday, and Lawrence of Arabia.

All of these women are Muslim, but come from different cultures with very different approaches to Islam, but they are all fasting for Ramadan.

I learned that Malay men can be imprisoned for a month if they are seen eating publicly during the day at Ramadan, and they also have to pay a hefty fine.  It’s not so stringent for women, as there’s a variety of reasons which exempt them from fasting; although if they don’t fast they’re expected to either make up the time later, or feed the poor instead.

But Malaysia being Malaysia, it seems that Ramadan is all about the Iftar i.e. all about the food.  There is a night food market every evening in each part of town, and all the hotels and a lot of the restaurants put on an Iftar buffet every evening, all trying to outdo each other with the splendiferous spread on offer.

So, purely in the interests of research, I went along to one yesterday evening with my dining chums Glenn and Jeff and two friends of theirs from Bangladesh –

It was a fantastic experience – I’ve never seen so much delicious food in one place before.

And it wasn’t just Malay food … there was a sushi chef

And a chef slicing raw fish and octopus, japanese-style

Plus the shellfish, of course –

– and I even impressed myself with my restraint when it came to a helping of these

… and it was a jolly small plate too.

It was a bit like waiting for New Year to strike, and as soon as 7.23 arrived, the hordes descended

I was particularly taken with the melons carved into dahlias

but I’m not sure what the strange potato-things are … I didn’t try one just in case it was a potato.

There was even a chocolate fountain

and a whole range of other yummy puddings

We eventually rolled out of the restaurant, discussing imminent diets, about two and a half hours later.

I’ve been invited to another Iftar next Thursday … can’t wait.

 

Another dose of crabs

Returning from my whirlwind trip back to the UK last week, I had a bizarre encounter with an amorous travel agent at the airport as I waited for my cab.

Me: No, I’m not going to meet you for a glass of wine, I’m afraid.

Him: Please don’t worry, I’m afraid too.

… not exactly what I meant – oh, well.

No – my real fear was that there might have been an outbreak of crab flu, or Dutch crab disease in my absence, forcing me to lead a crab-free lifestyle from now on.  But I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded, and last night I even managed to add to my repertoire –

– bottom right is black pepper crab … just one more example of crustacean deliciousness.

One of the claws exploded with a loud crack as I attacked it with nutcrackers and it shot goo all over me, the table and the floor.  My neighbour cleaned me up after that little accident, but I still managed to make a terrible mess –

But at least the pile of debris wasn’t so high that I couldn’t see over it

Happy days.

Stuffing myself yet again

I can’t believe that I’d never heard of Plate Culture until last week.

And now that I’ve become a devotee, I can’t believe that it only exists in SE Asia – it’s such a fantastic idea.

At the risk of being accused of epicurean evangelism, let me try to convert you.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore or the  Philippines, you can go to a dinner party and enjoy a meal cooked by a real foodie, but without any of the stress of having to reciprocate … you simply pay for the dinner and then go home afterwards, leaving your host with all the washing up.

It’s described on wikipedia as ‘airbnb for food’; hosts list their offerings, and guests book up and pay via the website.

Eight of us went to Ken’s flat for an authentic Peranakan dinner.  He used recipes that came from his great-grandmother, who was 102 when she died in 1979, so it must be very healthy food.

I’ve become really interested in the Peranakan culture since I arrived in Malaysia. It used to be called Straits Chinese and is mainly found in Malacca and Penang, so I was delighted to find someone with authentic Peranakan roots and recipes here in KL.

Ken is a university lecturer who loves cooking and sharing his heritage on his days off.

The write up sounded fab:

We had a fantastic meal, took our own wine, and listened to all Ken’s stories about his family and food

and the cost of the evening was £13.24 a head.

With a bit of forward planning, I should easily be able to stick to my resolution to avoid cooking for the whole of my stay in Malaysia; whilst at the same time supporting the local economy, keeping traditions alive and fostering intercultural relations … I’m beginning to feel like a bit of a hero.

 

On the yoga trail

One thing I love about living in a big city is that there’s so much going on and so much choice; whether it’s restaurants, bars, hip coffee shops, music venues, karaoke bars, exercise classes … just scroll through the options and you’ll find one that’s just perfect for you.

Having spent the past ten years in a tiny, provincial town where I was lucky to find one yoga class, I was very excited to find that in KL there are hundreds classes, and you can practise every type of yoga you’ve ever dreamed of – or had nightmares about, depending on your perspective.

I found a studio within walking distance and signed up for the Newbie Special, which allows you to take as many classes as you want to for the first week, so I decided to get my money’s worth:

Class number 1 – Vinyasa

This involved a lot of complicated sequences of movements, and I was at a distinct disadvantage because the girl next to me appeared to be made entirely of India rubber, and was twisting herself into the most outrageous shapes, so there was no way I could follow her.

Plus I was distracted because I’d seen a cockroach disappearing into a hole in the cloakroom just before the lesson started, so I kept peering around anxiously, hoping that it wasn’t about to emerge from the woodwork and make a beeline for the top of my t-shirt – which was what my previous cockroach had done.

I did enjoy climbing backwards up the wall though, despite a bit of an issue with free-range cleavage, which this man obviously didn’t suffer from –

– no wonder he found it so much easier than I did.

Class number 2 – Ashtanga with the lovely Valerie

If Madonna can do it, I thought, then so can I.  But I think the lovely Valerie was rather disheartened by the end.  She took to adding ‘even if you can only …’ to the end of every instruction, and I knew this was directed at me.

We started with the lotus position

which wasn’t the pose in itself – it was just the beginning as we worked towards something even more challenging.

‘Even if you can only manage the half lotus that would be good,’ she said, hopefully.

Wanting to please her, I grabbed my foot and forced it onto my leg, gritting my teeth.  But my knee wouldn’t lie flat like smarmy Miss Yoga’s does in the picture here –

mine was sticking right up in the air, with the bottom leg objecting furiously and trying to straighten itself by twitching wildly, while I tried to balance and pretend that everything was fine.

‘Now touch your forehead to the floor,’ said Valerie.

You have got to be joking, I thought.  The only way my forehead was going to touch the floor would be if I passed out.

‘Even if you can only move an inch that would be good,’ she added, looking at me.

Cunningly, I moved my arms backwards, hoping to make it look as though I was bending forwards, but it just made me look like a desperate, dyspraxic spider.

Class number 3 – Restorative

I felt much in need of something restorative after the Ashtanga, so trotted along yesterday morning at 8 am to see Dr Birgit.

Restorative yoga involved a lot of breathing, while Birgit chanted ‘vun, two, vun two, vun two …’ and invited us to look at the white light in the chakra in between our eyes.  I couldn’t quite manage that bit, but I did manage to breathe, thankfully.

Birgit was very thorough and pulled me into the right position several times, and tutted at my downward dog.  But when I toppled sideways off my mat onto the floor during a failed attempt at pigeon pose

and then got a fit of the giggles, I could tell that I’d disappointed her.

Class number 4 – Hatha

This morning’s Hatha teacher had big glasses, and because the light was behind her, I couldn’t see who she was looking at when she was talking … and it was usually me.  So she had to keep repeating herself, and quite clearly thought that I was half-witted as well as inflexible.

She also had a strong accent which I found difficult to understand and  I was sure that she’d said ‘now work your pancake’ at one stage during the class.

Then, towards the end, I thought she said ‘press your vagina into the mat’.

At this point I was reminded of a class I took in Cambodia with a heavily accented instructor who I thought had said ‘and now massage your vagina’.  I glanced surreptitiously at my neighbours, neither of whom moved a muscle, so I didn’t either.  I asked about it afterwards and they explained that I hadn’t misheard, you just massage it mentally … phew.

Assuming that this was a similar instruction, to be done mentally, I ignored it.  But then she repeated ‘Louise, press your vagina into the mat’, got up and pulled my shoulders back and pushed my pelvis down.

‘There – this is how we do cobra – can you feel it?’

I certainly could.

My only quandary now is which classes to sign up for permanently, and which instructors are going to have the thrill of seeing me turn up to their class every week.

 

In which I devise an ingenious plan …

Is there anything more rewarding in this life than teaching three-year-olds?  Watching little eyes open in wonder?  Seeing young minds flourish and blossom?

Yes, is the resounding answer to that question … a long list of things actually, starting with herding cats, and ending with painting the Forth Road Bridge or pushing a boulder endlessly up a hill as a punishment from the gods.

I have one class of three-year-olds a week, and frankly it’s one class too many. After spending nearly four months in their company, I have come to realise that there are several inherent design flaws in the construction of three-year-olds and they really need fixing:

Firstly – there is the vast gulf between their actual ability and their perception of their ability

‘Can you write your name?’ I asked one small girl during her first lesson.

‘Yes,’ she replied, confidently, and then produced something which looked more like an electrocardiogram.

 

 

So we moved on to writing the letter A.

 

 

In this picture you can see a couple of beautiful green As that I drew on the board.  The surrounding squiggles are their copies – upside down, stepladdered, or just random lines – but they were delighted with their efforts and thought that they looked just like mine … or possibly better.

Likewise their cut-and-stick copy of Inky the Inchworm, which they made whilst looking carefully at the original, which was on the table to help them.

 

 

They managed create Inky’s identical twin …

 

 

… presumably after a tragic accident with a lawnmower.

 

Secondly – they have a woefully short concentration span.  This afternoon, in the middle of singing a song, they all suddenly and inexplicably disappeared under a table.

 

 

Thinking I could lure them out, I picked up a story book,

‘Who wants to come and see the colour of the birthday cake in this picture?’ I called enticingly.

‘Nobody!’ came the answering shout from under the table.

So I sat and looked at the cake by myself … and it was pink, in case you were wondering.

Thirdly – they tell you things that you’d really rather not know, like ‘I have stomach ache, but my poo won’t come out.’

I have no idea what I’m supposed to say in response to this sort of revelation, or indeed any orifice-related revelation – and I’ve had a few.  So I generally make do with a half smile and an understanding nod of the head, before moving smartly out of the danger zone.

And fourthly – there is a magnetic attraction between three-year-olds and climbing frames.

 

 

So much so that they can’t pass one without being drawn towards it at high speed. Ferrets hurtling up drainpipes could pick up a few tips from three-year-olds swarming up the nearest climbing frame.

I’m so sick of prising them off multiple times per lesson, that I have devised a fiendish plan … to grease the top rungs.  Then next time they give me a defiant look out of the corner of their eye as they race towards it, I will be able to smile calmly and wait for them to reach the top, ping off and slither to the ground.  Then I will simply round them up and herd them back to the classroom.

In the meantime, whilst I wait for my Amazon delivery of two kilos of Extra-Slippery Bear Grease, if anyone knows of any quick fixes or updates that I can apply to reconfigure these mini-menaces, please let me know.

 

 

Just popping down to the jungle stall

Did you know that every market in Malaysia has at least one jungle stall?

No – neither did I – until yesterday, when I went on a cookery course which began with a trip to the market.

The market is literally within spitting distance – and I can’t spit very far – of the school where I work, so I will be popping in regularly from now on to sample all the jungle produce.

These are pandan leaves

which are a very common flavouring and colouring in Malaysia, but are also used to keep cockroaches away … so I will be ordering a regular bulk supply.

This is called Pegaga or centella asiatica

and is apparently good for warding off dementia, as well as being delicious in a salad – so what’s not to like, for we over fifties?

And fiddlehead ferns look really pretty and make an excellent side dish cooked in coconut.

They contain antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, but if you eat too much of them, you could get beri-beri, cancer or be poisoned by an as yet undefined toxin, depending on which variety you pig out on (note to self – caution advised).

This is not a lump of coal – it’s a century duck egg

an essential ingredient in my latest favourite food – salted egg yolk crab/prawns/chicken/croissant/cronut/cruffin etc. etc.

As if fresh durian didn’t smell bad enough, they also sell fermented durian –

– the facial expression here says it all.

The course itself was in a lovely old house in one of the peaceful villages that are dotted around in the jungle areas surrounding the city.

There’s no air con, but a traditional ice shaving machine makes cold drinks and desserts to cool you off.

There is so much pounding involved in cooking here that Malay women must have biceps to rival Amazon warriors –

but I did like the way that the drying pestles and mortars are used to create an installation.

We made fish parcels in banana leaves which was my favourite of the dishes –

The panda sticker on my shoulder is an ingenious mosquito repellent.

Then we pounded yet again to create a chicken curry and fiendishly complicated lacy pancakes, which Hani our instructor made so beautifully –

whereas mine were more blobby than lacy

but they tasted OK.

I will definitely be coming on another course here – if only to keep my biceps beautifully toned and to learn more about the miraculous properties of jungle produce.