Category Archives: Random Musings

Weekending in Kuching- Part 2

Day two!!

On our second day in Kuching, we headed to Bako National Park, a preserve on the edge of the island that can only be reached by boat. (Edward, the all-knowing cabbie, informed us that the idea was that if a road was built, resorts would soon follow so to help maintain the wilderness, it was a boat-only outing.) We hopped into our boat with semi-functional life vests over our shoulders (mine didn’t actually zip closed, but I figured the crocodiles would get me before I drowned, so it didn’t really matter in the long run) and headed out about fifteen minutes across the estuary and ocean to a jetty on a bay at the edge of the national park. We bumped across some pretty impressive swells, each one reminding me that less than six months ago I broke my tailbone- a slight twinge running up my spine as the boat touched down time and time again.

After checking in at the headquarters and being given a map with some crazy highlighting on it, off we headed to our first trail of the day. We wanted to take the trail marked with the white blazes, so were excited to quickly see red and white stripes painted on trees. Figuring the two trails (red and white) followed each other for a bit, up the mountainside we went, being careful not to grab the thorny trees for balance along the way. Up, up, up we went. Sometimes the climbs were man-built stairs and others they were just a matter of scrambling over tree roots, but follow the trail we did. After slipping down a hill and dangling from a tree branch, I found my footing and resumed the trek up the hill. Just as I was hitting the point of being pretty tired and questioning my sanity for having embarked on this outdoor activity, we came to ridge with a beautiful view of the ocean and a sign signaling the end of the trail.

What? The end? This isn’t where my sidewalk trail is supposed to end!

Apparently, the red/white trail is different from either the red or the white trail. We had wandered off in completely the wrong direction of our intended destination, but were rewarded with a view that spanned miles and a trail without a single other human being on it. (I’d suggest more color variety in future blazes! Instead of going red, white, and red and white, why not go with a lovely purple or a vibrant teal?! It would save my legs some burning.)

Time to backtrack and find the illusive white, only white, trail.

Once we were headed the right way, our white trail sightings included a snake across the pathway (not fun!), a spider nearly the size of my fist in a web that was probably five feet across and several macaques having fruit for lunch, husks of which rained down on us as we gawked from below.

And remember how sweaty I said I was at the caves on day one? That was nothing! That was like a walk across Target’s parking lot in May. After hiking in the rainforest for a few hours, I looked like I had stepped right out of a shower. My ponytail was drenched, with water actually dripping off the end of it; my tank tops where wet through and through; and, for the first time ever in my life, I actually had sweat dripping off the tip of my nose! I’ve seen that happen to people in movies and hardcore athletes, but for this rather stationary literature major, it was a new experience.

The best part of the white trail was, after hiking up and down the side of the mountain, we suddenly rounded a corner and there was the ocean: blue skies, sandy beaches, rocky outcroppings full of tide pools and waves rolling in one after another. It was gorgeous! I wasted no time finding a good “poking stick” (for the tide pools, of course) and headed out across the beach to the rocks to see what I could see. My favorite find of the day was the mudskippers. What cool little creatures! (I had no idea what they were as I poked at them. Fish? Reptiles? They could cling to rocks and run on top of waves. What the heck?! I had to send a photo to my nerdy science niece and ask for a full report.)

After fully exploring the beach and tide pools, we figured it was time to head back to HQ for some lunch, but no one was looking forward to retracing the ups and downs of the trail we had just followed. Thad said the ranger told him sometimes boats would occasionally pull into the bay and we could hire one to take us back by water, and sure enough, a guy in a boat was waiting out to sea a bit. Thad signaled to him and in he came, pulling as close to the beach as he could get, but obviously without a jetty, not being able to tie up anywhere. So, off came the shoes and we all did a bit of wading, hoping into the boat from a rather slippery rock. (Only one shoe ended up going for a swim. Not a bad record. 1 out of 8 shoes remained dry.)

The boat ride back included a detour to see a cool rock formation, another beautiful bay (this one has a hiking trail to it, so it is on the list for next time we visit the park, which we will be doing!) and then a second chance at wading in the ocean, this time from boat to shore.

After a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria, I wanted to go in search of bearded pigs. (Lunch would be the very unsuccessful part of the day, as the food looked quite unappealing. It was a small buffet, but the food all looked like it had been on the warmers since breakfast and there wasn’t much there that made me want to dig in, even after a morning of hiking. I opted for a package of cookies and a Coke. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest lunch, but the sugar rush sure was nice!) When I cleaned up our table (something that seemed to surprise the cafeteria worker), I went and asked where I should go in search of pigs. The man I asked laughed and said they were “random.” Sadly, after an hour of wandering, I came across no random pigs. Something else to add to my “next time” list. There will definitely be a next time! (Shannon and Joe. Josh and Justin. We are going.)

Exhausted, we all boarded the boat back to Kuching (again, life jackets were handed out, but I still figure I’ll be a croc’s lunch before I’ll be rescued) and after some much needed showers and a quick nap, we ended the day with another feast of seafood (I opted for butter chicken and fried noodles) on the top of a parking garage.

Two fantastic days in the capital of Sarawak…but wait, that’s not all! Stay tuned for one more day of Kuching adventuring… next up: orangutans and long houses!

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‘Tis the Season?

The halls are decked with boughs of holly and stockings are hung by the fireplace with care, and yet, I can’t quite wrap my head around the season. Is it really Christmastime again? (Okay, really, my million miles of staircases are decked with glittery, plastic garland and my stockings are hung on the bookshelf, but it’s close.) But, how can it be Christmas? I am wearing a sundress and sandals and my hoodie never sees the light of day. The Christmas tree is up, sparkling in the corner of the living room and I’ve put “winter smells” on the Scentsy, all in hopes of making 90 degrees feel like December in Idaho. But, the tiny lizards skittering on the wall behind the tree are a gentle reminder that we aren’t in Kansas (or Idaho) anymore.

So far, with five months under our belts (five months already?!?), Kuala Lumpur has been a great second posting. The city is easy to live in (well, if you don’t count the slightly crazy traffic patterns) where you can find anything- for a price. While I hear people complain of pollution problems, it is a million times better than Chengdu, so another check in the “positive” column for us. Physically, Kuala Lumpur is a much simpler place to get by on a day to day basis than anywhere we lived in China.

But, the thing that really gets to me is not the physical aspects of living here, but the mental- it’s all about the seasons.

As a native Idahoan, I’ve seen my share of chilly winters. When I was a kid, we’d get snow drifts in the backyard that were ripe for tunnel and fort creation and the canyon behind our house was prime sledding real estate. We’d bundle up in our rainbow colored moonboots, dorky earmuffs shaped like fuzzy rodents and uber-puffy coats with mittens on a string and head for the hills. Literally. Years later, as an adult, a similar process would take place at my parents’ cabin in the mountains. Although I was lacking the over-the-top 80s outdoor gear, layers upon layers were easily accumulated and adorned before heading out in search of the perfect place to make inaugural runs down the hillside. (Sometimes, making your own path has its own perils. I’ve got a scar on the small of my back to prove that going top speed down an ungroomed hill isn’t always as fantastic of an idea as it appears when you are standing at the top of the abyss. You never know where a sharp spike of a branch lies hidden just below the surface of the snow…)

I don’t love cold, but I am willing to make the best of it.

The lack of cold was actually one of the huge selling points for me when we looked at KL. Strangely, after twenty-or-so weeks, it is the thing that has been hardest to wrap my head around here. I can understand why people park their cars in the street, blocking traffic (pretty much because, why not? No one does anything to discourage/stop it) and I get why malls are the hottest entertainment around (can you say “automatic air con?).

But no seasons?

How does one mark time? When I look at photos from the last half a year, I’m wearing my Malaysia uniform in all of them- brightly colored, layered tank tops and neutral shorts with a pair of strappy sandals. Was that taken in July? October? December? Who knows!?!? I’d never have a problem picking out the time of year a photo was taken when we were in Idaho, Utah, Washington DC, Chengxian or Chengdu. These places all have seasons!

Eventually, it does start to mess with your mind. Time flows wrong without the passage of seasons. I can look at a calendar and know subjectively that Halloween/a birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas is upon us, but as soon as I glance away from the calendar, those thoughts flee like cockroaches from Thad’s shoe.

It really is strange.

The best way to remedy thoughts of it not being the holiday season is a quick trip to one of the local malls. Currently, they are all blasting carols throughout their corridors and the bigger the mall, the more massive the Christmas display erected in its center court. (We’re talking several stories high trees, snowman that look like they got make-up advice from the Joker, animatronic elves- each and every one bucktoothed, as if it is a genetic predisposition, and even small Ferris wheel that looks like it belongs to Santa himself.

So, with December and the holidays having sneaked up so stealthily, my one wish for the man in red this year is for post #3 to have seasons. They don’t have to be long or dramatic, but seasons where the temperature fluctuates and my wardrobe requires at least a minimal rotation, maybe a nod to some cute boots or a fashionable scarf and definitely the desire for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. I’ve been good this year, I promise, and my list is short. Seasons. Mild ones, even.

Season’s greetings, from the land of no seasons!

 

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A Kuala Lumpur Friendsgiving

My intentions were to never host a Thanksgiving dinner. Ever. But, like all great schemes of rodents and humans, my plans went awry.

You see, being a middle child has many downfalls. I never got the first crack at anything (piercing my ears, getting a Walkman, driving a car) and many of my clothes when I was a child were gently worn before they made it into my dresser drawers. Even in school, I was constantly compared to my older sister, who was just two years ahead of me. But, not being the youngest, I also didn’t get any of the advantages that come with being the last baby of the family. There were many small offenses that my younger brother got away with on a regular basis that wouldn’t have flown for my sister or me, namely fake-claims of torture by his older siblings.

Stuck in the middle. That is me.

Always looking on the bright side though, I have found a way to make my middle ground a productive one. Up until we moved away from Idaho, one of those advantages was never having to do the heavy lifting on the holidays! As soon as Thanksgiving plans were finalized, I annually threw my name into the potluck pot to bring rolls. That’s right. Rolls. Not homemade rolls, but swing-by-the-grocery-store –on-the-way-to-the-meal rolls. In a pinch, I could be counted on to pick up any other last might Albertson’s buys, so it wasn’t as if I weren’t willing to do my share. It is just that my share didn’t involve much time in the kitchen.

The long term plan was to show up every fourth Thursday of November to indulge in my dad’s deliciously home-cooked feast. When that was no longer an option (an idea I can barely contemplate), I figured either my sister would host, as the oldest sibling, of my brother’s wife would throw a spectacular holiday even.t.

Then, two years ago we moved to Chengdu, where I organized a community Thanksgiving dinner for the Americans who were living there with the consulate. This one required a lot more legwork on my part, planning and preparing, but again, nothing in front of a stove or oven. Sticking with my traditional role in the event, I signed up to bring the rolls when I created the potluck papers. With tiny Chengdu ovens, we ordered the turkeys pre-cooked from a local bakery, where I just went ahead and put in my bread order at the same time. Easy peasy.

2014 changed it all. No longer could I just be the roll-gal.

With a combination of friends from Chengdu and new embassy friends here in KL, I went from never taking on a Thanksgiving dinner to hosting for ten. (I know ten isn’t a huge number for a holiday meal, but it was more than a big enough one for my inaugural efforts!) After weeks of preparing and shopping, it was time to make this thing happen. Emails about traditional must-haves had gone back and forth and an awesome turkey tablecloth was on order from Amazon. (Side note: it never came. Sometimes the DPO is unpredictable. I am guessing it will come home with Thad today. Five days too late for this year’s table masterpiece, its debut will be put off indefinitely, as I have no plans to become an annual host of this feast-madness. I hauled Thad to Spotlight with me, where we [by which I mean I] spent nearly an hour debating the pros/cons of tablecloth vs. place mats. I had a new turkey platter (although not nearly as awesome as the one I grew up with), fancy new gravy boats (that ended up being totally non-functional, dripping gravy across the table from one end to the other) and nine chairs ready for seating. (But wait! Ten guests were coming…eeek!)

Luckily, our fantastic guests are much better cooks than I am and threw in to make sure the meal was a success. Along with a massive amount of bird, we had gourmet mac ‘n cheese, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, rolls (of course!), mashed potatoes, gravy, tossed salad, and pie. Lots of pie. As dishes went in and out of the oven and off and on the stove, Skype calls were made to locals all over the US, with Thanksgiving wishes extending from KL to families and friends on the other side of the world.

By the end of the meal, we were all ready to loosen our belts a hole or two and stumble our way to the living room for an entertaining evening debating with state would be best to cut loose from the Union and giggling at horrifying maternity announcement photos on Facebook.

I may not have been able to get away with merely showing up, rolls in hand, but this year’s Friends-giving reminded me of how many people I have to be thankful for; those who we were able to spend the day with and those who range from Nairobi to Washington DC to Idaho are all counted among our many blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble. Gobble.

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Happy Birthday, Marine Corps!

During our two years in China, I spent weeks (or possibly months) plotting the details of each Marine Ball. Along with friends, we searched for hours online to find the perfect dresses, used the top floor bathroom to take measurements at lunch one day and then ordered our beautiful custom creations. We scanned page after page of up-do options and had endless talks over steaming bowls of noodles about whether to go with gold or silver accessories. As CLO, I organized make-up tutorials with one of our wonderful community members who was a professional make-up artist, so all of the women could sign up for a personalized rundown of what exactly to do with all those little boxes of cosmetics in their drawers. I also hosted a mani/pedi party each year, where all the women and girls were invited over for an evening of drinks and snacks and full-access to my nail polish collection. Yes, in the giant scheme of things, none of this is important, but it was fun to plan for a nice of playing princess and it was a good way to pass smoggy Chengdu Saturdays and the annual ball created a great excuse for all of the ladies to get together and play dress-up together.

Coming into fall this year, I assumed we would attend the Kuala Lumpur Marine Ball, but without my plotting partner Stephanie, didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the various permutations of gowns and shoes and jewelry. Tickets went on sale the week we were in Kota Kinabalu for Thad’s work, but I didn’t worry about it, figuring we’d pick up tickets the following week when we were back in town. Chengdu’s small ex-pat population meant you could get tickets up until the week before the event. Not so in KL! With a much larger ex-pat community and an embassy three times the size of our previous consulate, this year’s tickets were gone before we even got back to the peninsula! I was bummed when we missed out on the chance to go, but not heartbroken. It just wouldn’t be the same anyway…

But then, out of the blue, a week before the ball, Thad got an email asking if he wanted to buy tickets! He texted me to see what I wanted to do, but I was in class, so didn’t hear about it until I called him at the end of the day. Initially, I begged off, saying we didn’t need to go and to pass them along to someone else. Not one to usually change my mind, I surprised us both when I immediately called him back (stuck sitting in lovely KL traffic, so lots of time to spare) to say that yes, we should get the tickets and go. Why not!? Of course it isn’t going to be the same as last year when it felt like a party with all of our closest Chengdu-ren, but that’s the point to the lifestyle, right? New adventures. New experiences. New sidewalks to explore.

With just a week to prepare, I knew I’d be wearing last year’s dress (heavens, no!) which needed to be dropped at the dry cleaners ASAP. This was also the perfect excuse to go get my highlights redone, something I had been putting off since I haven’t been working and ex-pat salons here are a pretty penny. Before Thad got home from work that afternoon, the dress was at the cleaners, my hair appointments were scheduled (one for color earlier in the week and another for the up-do that day) and I had found a place for him to rent a tux. When I need to, I can move and shake, even in a crazy new country!

No, it wasn’t the same as last year. We didn’t sit at the head table and I didn’t trade plates with the boss’s wife when she liked the look of my dish better. We didn’t dance Gangnam Style with the consul general and we didn’t get photos taken with the best Marines ever. But, we did have the chance to meet eight new people, our fellow tablemates, who were great dinner company. We enjoyed a well-done ceremony celebrating the birth of the Marine Corps and we (okay, I) had a fantastic time checking out the myriad of dresses, all colors and styles, that danced the night away. It wasn’t Chengdu and that is okay. It is Kuala Lumpur, a post we are learning more about each week and a great place to spend Thad’s second State Department tour.

Happy birthday, Marines!

(To see pictures from Marine Ball 2013, click here. To see pictures from Marine Ball 2012, click here. Enjoy!)

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Superlatives and Cockroaches

Trying to be calm and collected, I deftly maneuvered around the room, looking over students’ shoulders to see their progress on a foldable activity charting comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. Praising a student for writing “more fun” instead of “funner” and then quickly hopping over to the other table to re-explain that you can’t always just put “-est” on the end of any adjective to make it superlative, I was only 70% focused on my larger lesson. The other 30% of my brain was entirely honed in on tracking the movements of the mid-sized cockroach who had joined our class for the day. Knowing that my students lived in rooms very much like the one we were using as a classroom, cockroaches are a part of their lives on a daily basis and I didn’t want to be the wimpy foreigner who couldn’t handle a couple of oversized antennae wiggling across the floor. But, being barefoot, it was essential that that dang, prehistoric bug didn’t get anywhere near my feet! (Yes, I also have cockroaches in my house, but they are mostly confined to the first floor laundry room, and when I see them, I always squawk like a terrified owl and run for higher ground, hollering at Thad to come destroy the evil that can’t scurry across my floor with impunity. Such a reaction would probably not gain me much respectability in the classroom, so I use every ounce of my willpower to keep my shit together, at least temporarily.)

Some days it is cockroaches and others it is rats. Always there are lizards. The abundant wildlife in my classrooms would lead one to believe that I’ve taken up a new career as a middle school science teacher, but alas, English is still my first love and my new little friends are just an added bonus.

Moving every couple of years means it can be difficult to have a prolonged career trajectory, but we knew that would be the case when Thad joined the State Department. Trading my career for the ability to have a lifestyle that not only settles us in far-flung locations for a few years at a time, but also gives us the chance to travel on a regular basis was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, nor was it an easy one. At the time, I’m not sure I realized just what it meant, employment-wise, to uproot every couple of years, but with a few moves behind us now, I’ve come to see that while there can be a lot of frustration inherent in the process, there is also a level of freedom that would be unachievable if we had stayed as educators in Idaho.

This go-round, unable to find a position at the embassy in KL, I decided to look beyond the official diplomatic community and see what other opportunities existed around the city. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees, the branch of the UN that deals with helping refugees resettle into safer countries. Malaysia is home to a huge number of refugees, many of them coming out of Burma. These displaced families are here trying to get their documents and paperwork in order so that they can apply for visas to resettle to any number of western countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Families can be here for years as they get in line for resettlement, which means certain “daily-life” activities need to carry on- schooling being one of them. To facilitate their continued education, the UNHCR supports dozens of refugee schools across the city, where students take daily courses in English, math, science and their local language. After filling out the forms and getting the necessary background checks, I was assigned to a Chin refugee school in the center of the city. The neighborhood is a rundown one and the school is merely a set of rooms in an apartment building, but volunteering there two days a week has quickly taken me back to my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

In class, when I am not stealthily dodging cockroaches, we review basic grammar points (like most TOEFL students, there are problem areas that need constant attention) and talk a lot about western culture. Since the ultimate goal of these students’ families is to move to an English-speaking country, we talk a lot about western holidays, mannerisms and classroom behaviors, but there are also a whole lot of pop culture chats. Who knew Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber were so beloved by Chin students from Burma? I’ve learned vast amounts about soccer, as they all have favorite teams and players and most of the boys are horrified at my immense lack of knowledge of anything “football”-related.

When we learned we were headed to Malaysia for our second posting, I was disappointed to find out I wouldn’t be able to teach at the international schools due to visa regulations. (This rule has since changed, but the modifications came about too late for me to apply for positions since international schools hire in January/February of each year and the visa requirements didn’t adapt to fit my needs until late April.) Thinking that I couldn’t teach, I turned my eye to other positions within the embassy community, looking at a couple that seemed to be perfect fits with my background in education and volunteering, but when neither of those worked out, after a few days of wallowing in the misery of rejection, it was back to teaching I found myself, although in a different manner than I had ever imagined. Now, I spend two days a week in small rooms, with just ceiling fans for ventilation and a not-quite-erasable white boards, helping upper elementary and middle school aged kids prepare for a life-changing move, but couching it all in lessons about Thanksgiving and One Direction. It may not be what I had planned for myself for this second State posting, but, as it often turns out, the unplanned experiences are the most rewarding.

(*Note on photos- Because my students are minors and refugees, I did not want to post any pictures of individuals to the internet, as they have fled their home country out of concerns for their safety and security.)

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Ready to Apply for my Gen X Membership Card

Concerts and live music have never been my thing. It’s not that I haven’t been to a handful of events, but I am sure my count is much lower than most people my age. Yes, I skipped a few class periods (who needs geometry anyway?) to stand in line for concert tickets with my best friend when I was in high school (skipping pre-approved by the parents, of course!) and I’ve been to a few smaller, more intimate local band concerts, usually when A Seasonal Disguise is on the schedule, but concerts are not something I go out of my way to track down. I think I may have been scarred by my first concert and now have very little interest in that scene.

Recap of my first concert: New Kids on the Block played at the Boise State Pavilion, in the days before Taco Bell paid a huge sponsorship fee and got the building named after their middle-of-the-night, munchies fueled brand. I was in the 6th grade, pretty shy and introverted, thinking a good afternoon entailed a cozy blanket thrown over the heat vent and a book. One of my aunts, who I thought of as young and cool, got my sister and me tickets for our birthdays, which fall just a couple of weeks apart. The tickets were fantastic seats, on the floor, just a few rows from the stage- much nicer than a niece’s birthday called for! (Sorry niblings, no floor-seating concert tickets for you!) With my aunt as our chaperone, off we headed to see the ever-dashing NKOTB boy-band dance their way through the evening. While I loved their music, spending hours sitting in front of my radio with my finger hovering over the “record” button, just waiting to add the newest release to my mix-tape, in person, it was too much for my eleven-year old self. I mostly remember it being so incredibly loud that I couldn’t even tell which song was playing- the thumping of the bass and the squealing of the teenaged girls (okay, sadly, there were a lot of forty-year old woman who were there solo, also shrieking like adolescents) overpowered any music that was actually being made. This was not the night I had dreamed it would be. Maybe I was just too young or maybe my personality inherently leans away from such events, but either way, that first concert didn’t instill in me a love of live music. (It is also telling of my taste in music. I will be the first to admit I have none. I’d never make it as a hipster, as I don’t care who the newest unknown band is and I don’t follow music reviews at all- my review reading is saved for BookPage. I’m pretty content with what I know is terrible pop music, starting with when video killed the radio star and bumping right on up to it currently being all about that bass, with no room for our good friend, treble.)

Part of the draw of Thad’s joining the Foreign Service as the opportunity to do things we wouldn’t normally do, to travel to little known locales and to take part in experiences that are sometimes outside our comfort zones. So, while grunge rock was a huge part of my generation’s teenage years and with Seattle just a day’s drive away from home, it’s not that I never had the opportunity to participate in the scene, but either way, I didn’t. Yes, I know all the words to a number of Nirvana songs and I have a strangely odd amount of Kurt Cobain knowledge (that is mostly due to a student who wrote an entire multi-genre research report on him in one of my classes, which between helping him with research, proofing rough drafts and grading the final project gave me an oddly broad swath of Cobain knowledge for someone who is rather indifferent- thank you for that, Kevin H.) and can rattle off band names like Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots and I had a number of flannel shirts that would have camouflaged me well amongst the angst-y crowds. But, until a few nights ago, I’d never been to a grunge concert.

That is, until Grungezilla 2014 came along.

Now, maybe I can apply for my official “generation X” membership card.

Not sure what one wears to a grunge concert in Malaysia and without my old flannel shirts on-hand, I went with a sundress and sandals, but soon discovered by Chucks would have been more fitting. (Notice I didn’t say they would have helped me blend in. As the only white woman in the room, there was no way I was going to blend in with blonde hair halfway down my back and pasty white skin. A pair of black shoes with white rubber toes would not have fooled anyone.)

We stayed for three sets, with the middle being the best. There were a lot of covers, including some Smashing Pumpkins, with a few original songs thrown in, but overall it was just fascinating to see this Seattle-culture come to life in Kuala Lumpur. The venue was a small place, with the grunge scene being very much an underground happening. There were maybe fifty people there when we arrived, which translated to a mosh pit of four and a couple of head bangers whipping around near the stage. I had to laugh out loud as I watched two guys sipping on juice boxes towards the back of the crowd. Honest to goodness juice boxes- lychee juice, I believe. Take a moment to image yourself at a Soundgarden concert, Doc Martins laced up, flannel shirt tied around your waist and extra-eyeliner carefully placed to look haphazard. Oh yes, and a box of juice with a bendy straw in-hand. Hardcore, all the way.

The event may have been small, but I loved that the people there were willing to break out of the box and follow their bliss, even if their style isn’t hugely popular and recognition isn’t forthcoming. Some of the guitarists had some real talent and all of the musicians had a passion for their music, making the event a success, even if it wasn’t a packed house.

Grunge in KL may not be on everyone’s Saturday evening schedule and probably won’t be taking up a regular slot on my calendar, but it was an interesting way to round out a week and for a mere 15 ringgit, well-worth the investment.

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A Canopy Walk, Hidden in Fine Print

With work beckoning Thad to Kota Kinabalu for the short week of the Columbus Day, we decided to make a trip of it, going early to enjoy the long weekend, before he had to hit the ground running with site visits and American Citizen Services for those living on the Malaysian island. We were last here in the summer of 2009, when we stayed in a hostel just a few blocks from the hotel that provides our lodging this time around. While the accommodations are different, the city is much the same. (Originally, I wrote “drastically different,” but then I realized that it isn’t necessarily *that* different. The hostel we stayed at a few years ago had private rooms with small private bathrooms. The hotel we are at this time around gave us a huge room, but it is mostly unused space. I could easily host a Zumba class with the vast expanses of open area available. But, while the bathroom is larger, the shower leaks, creating a lovely ode to Lake Superior each time we bathe, just going to prove the old adage, “bigger isn’t always better.” To be fair, I didn’t have to schlep a backpack up several flights of stairs on Sunday evening, instead my luggage was delivered to my room by a bellhop and the view is much nicer this time around. It turns out, our current digs might not be “drastically” better, but they are definitely several rungs up the accommodation ladder- maybe even a few coveted stars.)

Thanks to Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, we had an extra day to play before Thad’s calendar was overwhelmed with a variety of appointments, so we decided to get out of the city for the day and see what Mt. Kinabalu had to offer. Last week, Borneo was lashed with a massive amount of rain, making the windy road up the mountain a bit slower of a route due to several landslides that had recently been cleared, but other than a few bumps and jolts, the ride was enjoyable. We stopped at the base of the mountain for pictures and were regaled with our tour guide’s stories of how there is a race up the mountain each year, the fastest climber having done both the ascent and decent in a mere two hours. (Two hours wouldn’t even be enough for me to get a few kilometers from the trailhead!) As a part of our day-long tour (on which we were the only participants- yay!), we also stopped at a small botanical garden where Bibo (the tour guide) enumerated the various orchids found in the park, which ferns were safe to eat and the story of why he had renamed one tree in the park as “the sexy tree.” (I had a hard time following the whole story, but something to do with the fact it didn’t have bark or had peeling bark, so it looked naked. Needless to say, even without full comprehension, it was an awkward moment in the tour!) After an overwhelming number of flora-related facts, all starting with “For your information…” it was off to the pinnacle of the day’s events- the hot springs.

When we signed up for the tour on Sunday evening, I saw a vague reference to a “canopy walk,” but it was hidden in the fine print of the brochure, not really registering with me as a part of the day’s events. It may be wise, in the future, to pay a bit more attention to those tiny details scribbled at the bottom of schedules. As it turns out, before we could have a go at the hot springs, we had the “opportunity” to enjoy a canopy walk through the treetops of the Borneo rainforest. Even as I type this, it sounds beautiful and relaxing and a pleasurable way to spend a bit of time. How have I forgotten the torture so soon? (It’s the traveler’s version of childbirth. Combinations of strange chemicals override your memory, lessening the horrors of the event so that you will sign up to do it again and again! One propagates the species while the other seems to keep this blog alive!)

To the canopy walk we went.

To get to the tiny walkways in the treetops, we first had to trek our way up the mountainside, which in a rainforest means a rather humid and sticky climb. From here on out, I’d like to blame the sweaty palms, shaky legs and general irritable mood on this ascent, rather than them being symptoms of my irrationally strong dislike of all things high.

The problem with this canopy walk, and I would imagine many such ventures worldwide, is that once you make the initial choice to start through the maze, you are stuck a gazillion meters above the ground with no recourse other than to continue forward. There is no way to step off the course, wave to your friends and promise to meet them at the other end. Start and you must finish.

So, with sweaty palms, shaky legs and a generally irritable demeanor, forward I went. Foot in front of foot, eyes locked on the next platform (slightly more stable, but not exceedingly) and party to a continual running dialog with myself. (This ongoing self-talk was not the uplifting and encouraging pep talk one might imagine, but rather included a slew of words my mother doesn’t know I know and self-chastisement for having gotten myself in a 40-meter-above-the-forest-floor predicament.)

One would think the reward of some time relaxing in the hot springs would be incentive enough to get across those high wire-esque paths, but, again when you travel, you never know what you are going to get. Rather than the highly heated hot spring pools of Idaho (both Givens outside of Marsing and Zimm’s in New Meadows were childhood favorites), these “springs” were a series of small, deep tubs that the bathers filled themselves from slow-release spigots. After about fifteen minutes and enough lukewarm water to cover our shins, we decided we had experienced this strange version of relaxation to our hearts’ content and headed back to the van; I figure I’d just take a hot soak in the tub back at the hotel and get the same experience, but with the bonus of reading material!

Kota Kinabalu (lovingly referred to as KK to Kuala Lumpur’s KL) is a fantastic town on the ocean with a much more chill vibe than KL offers, even on its quietest day . If State ever decides to open a consulate here, I’ll be pushing for a bid in a heartbeat. It has enough western “stuff” going on to feel less alien than many places we’ve traveled, but still retains more of its core personality than does KL, where foreign influence is seen on every corner, both because of historical occupations and the current fervor for all things western.

Even after tricking me into a death-defying walk through the jungle treetops, Kota Kinabalu still earns a top spot in my ever-burgeoning “Things to do in Malaysia” list and will definitely be a destination for future visiting friends.

 

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