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.


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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Penang- Where Street Art Meets Street Food

With yet another long weekend upon us, it was time to venture out on the first road trip of our “Ross’ in Malaysia adventure-time.” (I have no complaints about another long weekend- the holidays are one advantage of this lifestyle, as Thad gets both American and local holidays. Last weekend was Hari Raya and this upcoming weekend will be Columbus Day. We celebrate all the things!)

Maybe we chose poorly.

You see, it seems everyone in Malaysia owns a car, or maybe two. The government has done a lot to subsidize the prices for vehicles, so many families actually own more cars than they have people able to operate them, which makes for some horrific traffic, any day of the week. Then, add on top of that a national holiday and maybe one should consider holing up in the house for the extended weekend.

But of course, we did not do that.

Instead, we joined the masses leaving the city, heading to a variety of vacation spots around the country. Our destination of choice was Penang, an island off the west coast of the country, known for two main attractions- the street food and the street art. A mere four hours away, I thought this would be the perfect getaway for a few days.

But, there was traffic. Lots of it.

Oh yes, and a monsoon.

We headed out for our four hour road trip at 3:45PM and finally made it to Paradise (Who wouldn’t book a hotel on the beach called Paradise?) at midnight.

Eight hours.


Really, traffic was flowing okay until we got to about twenty kilometers outside of Penang. (Yup, I now judge distances in kilometers. I still have to look up the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion every time I turn on the oven, but my driving references are all KM these days.) Once we hit that last stretch though, our path was blocked first by the most inanely set-up toll both known to man (three lanes of traffic filtered into no lanes- just a jumble of cars trying to get through the station) and then by the pouring rain. After finally paying our toll and getting across the bridge to the island, we came to a literal standstill on the surface streets of Penang, as the heavy rain backed up traffic for hours. From the edge of the island to our hotel should have taken maybe twenty minutes, but it ended up taking nearly two hours. I can’t even begin to tell you how excruciating that last stretch was! (But, we did get to list to the entirety of Ryan Seacrest’s Top 30 Countdown, so I am up on how to “Shake it Off” with Taylor Swift and that Demi Lovato “really doesn’t care” anymore.)

Not wanting to let Friday night’s journey get us down, on Saturday morning we headed into George Town to check out the sights. The sky was cloudy, but the roads were dry, which made it seem like a perfect day to take a walking tour of the area. In retrospect, we should have taken some umbrellas along with us. (They were in the car, but we figured we wouldn’t need them. What were we thinking?!) Before long, Thad was drawn in by the lure of the hawker stalls, because who couldn’t resist steaming bowls of noodles, plates of fried chicken skin or a bit of offal? Luckily, his tummy rumblings coincided perfectly with the start of Saturday’s rain. It rained.

And rained.

And rained.

With our umbrellas safely tucked into the trunk of our car, we were stuck at the hawker stalls for almost two hours! A bowl of noodles and several skewers of chicken gizzards later, we decided the rain had let up enough to make a break for it. The food was good and bountiful- possibly too bountiful. I am not sure Thad will be craving the gizzards anytime soon!

Our hours-long journey and shorter, but still seemingly endless wait at the hawker stalls, was rewarded though with some fantastic street art. Scattered throughout the old city of George Town, visitors can find graffiti/murals on alleyway walls, many incorporating 3D artifacts into the images. My favorite was two young kids playing on a swing, but I was also drawn to the Asian dolls in a pool of purple. With an art map in hand, we searched high and low to find the various installations, Thad getting good shots of nearly all of them. (Most of the photos below, as with most of the photos on this blog, are his doing.) As we wandered, I couldn’t help but think of a few friends at home and one particular former student who is now an artist in Seattle, all of whom would have absolutely loved these narrow city streets and inventive public art.

Penang is definitely an island worth visiting and we’ll be headed back there, after rainy season has passed. I still need to ride the funicular and check out the national park on the tip of the island, none of which were accessible through the sheets of rain and, at times, heavy winds.

Knowing that the traffic back to KL would rival that of Friday night, we headed back in the morning, hoping to beat the rush. And that we did. As it turns out, Penang really is only four hours from Kuala Lumpur!

Holiday or no though, I think next time we’ll be flying.

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A Rainy Reminder

I cannot overstate how much I love these crazy afternoon rainstorms that we’ve been having lately in Kuala Lumpur. If this is how rainy season is going to be, bring it on!

To be fair though, I am in the best position possible to love the sheets of water streaming from the sky, the blinding flashes of lightning that coincide exactly with cracks of thunder that jar even the most solid foundations. I’m lucky enough to be sitting in the office space of my house, which is softly lit by a floor lamp and a candle, cozy as can be, doing some online reading while the rain splatters against my window and the wind rushes through the palm trees in the driveway.

As I wander to the balcony to sit and watch the cars slink by in the onslaught and murky visiblity, I can’t help but think at how devastating this storm could be for those who don’t have the advantages and comforts that I have. All it would take is a slightly leaky roof or less than steady walls and this afternoon’s storm would mean small lakes in a home, coteries of critters seeking refuge and a sleepless night ahead as moisture pools in fabrics and mattresses.

What brings comfort and coziness to one can mean discomfort and disaster for another. As I press forward with my afternoon agenda of lesson plans and a bit of light literary theory reading, this dichotomy rests with me. It is always good to stop and count ones blessings, as the littlest things can make the biggest differences.


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