7 June 2013

Road rules of Malaysia

by S Kuta Rider

  1. Those dotted white lines down the middle of roads are scooter lanes. No cars can cross them at any point. If cars do cross them, even with plenty of forewarning, we will beep and glare at you
  2. The hard shoulder is also a lane for scooters.
  3. If we cannot get down a road, we will go on the pavement. Pavements are primarily for scooters, and pedestrians need to ensure they get out of our way.
  4. We can travel whichever way we like down a road - just because everyone else is going in one direction, doesn't mean we have to.
  5. Cars and vans need to drive in straight lines. Scooters can weave around as much as we like.
  6. If we drive past you when the traffic is slow, we can then slow down when the traffic speeds up, and stay in the centre of your lane so you cannot get past us. 
  7. At traffic lights, we may gather in a huge group at the stop line - once we have gone past you in our scooter lane, of course.
  8. At traffic lights, the lane we are in is not indicative of the direction we are going in.
  9. A red traffic light only means stop if you are not a scooter rider. We can go through them whenever we like.
  10. A scooter is an appropriate vehicle for any number of people from one to four.
  11. Indicators on scooters are purely for special occasions eg Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.
  12. Jackets worn backwards are extremely stylish.
  13. If we knock your car mirror when going past you, it is your fault.
  14. If we crash into you it is your fault.
  15. In fact, anything that happens on the road is your fault, not ours.

20 May 2013

Falling victim to progress?

Most of the time, I'm all for progress.  We have to move forward, or else we stagnate.  But sometimes progress is not a good thing.

You may remember me writing about the Coliseum Cafe about 18 months ago - the original post is here.

It's a KL institution, and used to have a real old-fashioned feel about it. Now, sadly, not so much - progress has stepped in and is stripping it of its character.

When I first visited, I was told the place had new owners, but at that time they certainly hadn't made any visible impact on the old place.  The paintwork was tired at best.  The tables and chairs didn't match.  You used to have to switch the chairs around to find one that you could feel reasonably confident would hold your weight for the entire meal, or at least one that was relatively comfy.  If you were really lucky, you'd find one that met these criteria, and didn't have foam spilling drunkenly out of a slit in the faux-leather seats.

Now, you might think that, in this case, a bit of progress would be a good thing.  But it hasn't been.  Presumably under the new ownership, the place has been re-decorated - well, painted in the same shades of hint-of-nicotine and cover-all-stains mud brown - but the paint is no longer chipped or going ombre-style from light to dark as it goes from floor to ceiling.

The tables and chairs have been replaced.  They're still not going to fit in at the Savoy, but they all match.  And so the place just doesn't look the same.

The tables also have a very modern addition - a CIMB (a local bank) promotion, looking really quite incongruous in this setting, but also bringing it firmly into this century.

Perhaps saddest of all, the food has gone from good to average.  The spring rolls used to have their own unique taste.  I was told this was the white radish they used, I actually think it had more to do with old cooking oil!  Whatever - that taste has now gone.  

And so this Saturday we departed sadly from the Coliseum, feeling that, in many ways, it was the beginning of the end of an era for the cafe.  If much more progress is imposed on it, it will simply become just another cafe, rather than the KL institution it has been for over 90 years.

4 March 2013

Apologies, royals and orangutans

I've had two complaints about my blog - or rather lack of it - in the last week, so I suppose I had better put fingers to keyboard and create another post! Sorry for the lack of them recently - it was much easier when I had just arrived and everything was new and exciting!

Chinese New Year has been and gone now. Last year we spent it in a spookily quiet KL, this year we decided to go away, leaving early on a Friday afternoon to avoid the inevitable public holiday traffic jams.

We flew to Kota Kinabalu which is the state capital of Sabah, one of two Malaysian states that nestle on the island of Borneo.

We splashed out on the hotel, staying at the Shangri-la, and booked a suite for the three of us as they tend to be cheaper than two separate rooms. We were asked on arrival if we would like to pay about £400 for an upgrade to the presidential suite, and politely declined - only to be told a few minutes later that we could have it for free. Turns out it was the same suite that Will and Kate stayed in when they visited Borneo! Caitie was most impressed! I loved the huge wrap-around balcony it had, with five different seating areas - perfect for sipping a drink while taking in the sea view, including some rather impressive sunsets.

On our first full day there, we took a taxi to the city outskirts, and wandered around. The waterfront was suitably picturesque - brightly coloured fishing boats, blue seas and tropical islands dotted around. 

We stumbled upon a craft market and took a look round some of the stalls - plenty of keyrings, cheap bags and pearl jewellery on offer. We also strolled around the city streets for a while, and discovered they were pretty much like most other city streets in Malaysia - a mix of shops, shops and more shops, interspersed with food stalls, food stalls and - you've got it - more food stalls.

The following day we took a bumpy ride to the hotel's sister resort further north along the coast, where they have an orangutan reserve. Walking with a guide and a good few dozen other people, we followed an upwards path through the jungle, stopping after about ten minutes at a wooden platform viewing area. The guide went a little further, to another, smaller platform, put fruit out, and called to the orangutans. Sure enough, after a few minutes one appeared, swinging through the trees, and started tucking into its breakfast.

Before long it was joined by another, but this one seemed to take his time to get through the trees, almost showing off, it seemed, as he swung from one branch to another, sometimes upside down, sometimes the right way up, sometimes spread completely between branches creating an X shape with his limbs!

He posed for a moment on the platform, ate a bit of fruit, and then grabbed a banana and zipped off into the trees to eat it in peace.


The experience probably only lasted about 20-30 minutes, but it was a good one, and another to tick off the "must see/do" list. The orangutans were more limber than we had thought - photos always seem to portray them as being somewhat portly and sedentary, but these ones were definitely pretty nimble.

The rest of our time was spent just chilling out - reading, eating, snoozing, the usual holiday activities!

Our verdict - it was worth going, we would have regretted it had we not, but we probably won't return. Too many other places to explore, and a few that we want to see again :-)

22 December 2012

A time to ponder

This time of year is a time to celebrate - but also a time to step back, look over the past year and those beyond it, and reflect on where we are now.

Just this afternoon, two of my friends have blogged within just minutes of each other.  One celebrating her year, so full of fun and friendship, travel and tantalising tastes, that she says she has been too busy to blog about them.  Another looking back at Christmasses past, spent with a loved one who is no longer with her in person, but clearly still very much in her heart and her mind.

Two very different blogs, two very different people, yet both have been important people in my life. 

This afternoon, they have both made me realise that this is the perfect time of year for remembering all those people who are or have been important to me.  All those who have helped shape the person I am now.  All those who have been there for me when I needed them.  All those who have contributed to my huge stash of happy memories - so many good times to look back on, from so many eras.  And all those who love me for who I am.  You know who you are.

For all of you - friends and family, past and present, I wish you the very best of Christmasses and a wonderful 2013, together with a huge thank you for being part of my life.

(And just in case you're getting worried, don't - the soppy phase will pass pretty soon, and I'll be back to my usual stiff-upper-lip British self!)

3 November 2012

"The Best Thing I've Ever Done!"

... that was Caitie's verdict on parasailing, shortly after she took to the skies under a rainbow-coloured sail for the first time.

We had gone to Penang - an island just off the north west coast of Malaysia, connected to the mainland by an impressively long bridge - and were staying at a fantastic beach resort at Batu Ferrenghi.  Which I can't help think sounds like a place from Star Trek DS9, but apparently it means foreigner's rock.

From our room we had a wonderful view of the sea, and the many colourful parasails, and it wasn't long before Caitie was asking if she could have a go.  

Alex agreed to go with her, and off they went!  They were harnessed up and clipped to the parasail, the parasail was connected to the speedboat, and within seconds of being told to run along the beach, they were airborne.

   They were in the air for five minutes or so before landing, in a slightly undignified manner, back on the beach. 

Both absolutely loved it, so much so that they went again the next day.

More from Penang in future posts :) 

21 October 2012

Monkeys, octopus attacks and a disturbing lack of bars....

Our decision to go to Ipoh was a last-minute one, spurred on by a public holiday weekend and a total lack of availability for accommodation in any of the more appealing places nearby.  In hindsight, perhaps we should have been warned by the various comments of "Ipoh?  What do you want to go there for?", and "There's nothing there!".  But we thought that as one of Malaysia's state capitals, surely there had to be something there that was worth looking at, and so we set off bright and early one Saturday morning.

By a stroke of good fortune (the only one we had that weekend!), we managed to drive in on the road that goes past the stunning limestone cliffs, some of which had temples built into the side of them.  These were really quite impressive.  Some temples seemed to be so organically entwined with the cliffs that it was almost as if it were the temples that were there first, and the cliffs had formed around them.

And of course there were the ubiquitous monkeys, fighting, lazing around, grooming each other, and looking for any opportunity to pinch some food from somewhere or someone.

We drove on and into the centre of Ipoh, checking into our hotel which, weirdly, was spread across four different blocks with a small back-street crossroads between them.  It was nothing special, but the rooms were a decent size and it was clean.

And so, a walk around Ipoh.  Well, we walked and we walked, thinking all the time that surely we must be missing something.  Had we skirted around the city centre without realising it?  Had we headed in the wrong direction?  Were the main attractions hiding just a block or two away?  No - none of those, we were in exactly the right place.  It's just that everyone had been right, there was nothing there!  A few run-of-the-mill shops were open, but many buildings had metal shutters covering their frontage.  Some may have been closed for the weekend, but some were clearly vacant.  And then there were those that obviously hadn't been occupied for some time.

We eventually stumbled upon the Tourist Information Centre, and went in, still feeling relatively optimistic that there might be something of interest to see.  But no.  We were given a couple of leaflets detailing the heritage of Ipoh, and pointing out the historic sites.  A good few of which we had been past, and looked - well, not dis-similar from the building pictured above!  

We wandered back to the hotel, and Alex went for a massage.  Big mistake!  They used some sort of cup suction technique on him (but wrongly, as it turned out), and when he returned to the room he looked like he was the victim of some sort of giant octopus attack.  Big red circles all over his back (which took more than a week to disappear completely).  He was not happy, and so we decided to go and find a bar and have a beer.  Or two.  Or three.

Nope, no bars in Ipoh, except one that looked extremely seedy, and those in the hotels.

We ended up in the hotel restaurant, where at least the food was good, even though the choice of drink was Carlsberg, Carlsberg or Carlsberg.  Fortunately, we had found an open off licence on the way back, and so Alex made a mercy dash to the room to fetch the bottles we had bought.  Things seemed much better after a drink or two!

Until the music started at some event the hotel was hosting.  And carried on, very loudly, into the early hours.  To give you an idea of just how loud it was, we both had earplugs in (an amazing piece of foresight by Alex when he was packing), and yet the music (if you could call it that) was still keeping us awake.

Tired and fed up, we checked out at 6am, and drove home.

Not the best weekend away we've ever had, but at least we gave Ipoh a go.  And in the future, when people query why we might want to go somewhere and tell us there is nothing there, we will pay more attention to them!

8 October 2012

Out of Africa....

....and into Manchester!

Before I regale you with Will's adventures, a profuse apology for going AWOL.  Life just got in the way, as it so often does.  I'll try harder, if only for the benefit of my Mum who said somewhat plaintively last week that she keeps checking my blog for new posts but there aren't any.

So - bearing in mind that the information we receive has been somewhat thin on the ground, here's a brief resume of Will's summer.

Once his A levels were over, he headed off to Kenya for a month, with a team of 24 other students from his school plus some teachers.  While there they helped to build classrooms and the furniture to put in them, and did a lot of digging - something to do with environmental work if I remember correctly.  Which is perhaps an unfair summary of the hard work they did there, but I think it is a reasonably summary.  No doubt Will will comment and correct me if not!  

And they climbed Mount Kenya - poor Will was suffering from a decidedly dodgy stomach on the way up, and altitude-based breathing problems and chest pains on the way down, but he still made it to the top.  He clearly really enjoyed the trip - he has an altruistic outlook on life (except towards his immediate family!) and found the work to be physically demanding but very rewarding.

They also saw loads of African wildlife - elephants, giraffes, all the usual suspects - and enjoyed a couple of days off by the sea.

Here's Will slapping some varnish on some school desks (look at the drips and splashes and you'll see my choice of words is pretty accurate! )

On his travels:
At the top of Mount Kenya:
And, I think, once they got back down from the mountain:

Make the most of these photos, because the ones of the rest of his summer, while plastered all over Facebook, are not the sort of photos I want to share with my friends and family!

Suffice to say that once back in the UK, and with us back in Malaysia, he enjoyed his freedom.  He went to Reading Rock Festival, spent time with various friends including hitchiking from Cheltenham to Scotland and back (as you do!), and then on to Manchester University, where he is now studying medicine.  Freshers' Week there seems to have been one huge party, but he is now knuckling down to some serious studying.  (By the way, he did really well in his A levels - A* in physics, A in chemistry, biology and maths - very proud Mum :)  )

Coming up - why it's not really worth going to Ipoh in Malaysia unless you're particularly fond of derelict Chinese shop houses....