30 December 2011

More elephants!

While in Phuket before Christmas, we decided to visit Phuket Fantasea, somewhat ambitiously hailed in their marketing as the ultimate cultural theme park.  The focus of it was a 1 1/4 hour show - absolutely fantastic in its theatrics, with acrobats, pyrotechnics and elephants!  I must admit I spent half of it wondering what on earth the storyline was supposed to be, but the sight of 16 elephants on stage was one not to be missed.

Here is the layout I did to mark the event.  

The main photo shows us all with two elephants before the show.  It's always lovely to meet and stroke these creatures, they have the same smile-creating capacity as dolphins.

The journalling sums up the evening pretty well.  It reads:  "Phuket Fantasea was a bit of a curate's egg, with a mediocre buffet, a ban on cameras for the show (to the extent that they took them off you unless, like me, you hid them well and told fibs), and a propensity to try and squeeze as much money out of you as they could.

"However it was still well worth going.  We got to stroke elephants and get our photo taken with them, Will was very taken with the white tigers and albino crows, and the show was very lavish (even if the plot was hard to decipher).

Plus, how often do you get to see 16 elephants on one stage, actively taking part in the show?!"

For the benefit of my crafty friends, the paper used is Basic Grey Skate Shoppe and the decoupaged bit in the bottom corner was already done for me - I took it off the folder that held our very expensive elephant photo, where it was forming a pocket, and made it into a pocket on the layout.  It holds a little concertina book with more photos and the journalling.  The title is also from the folder, but scanned, printed and cut out,and the elephants are from a fab bead and charm shop in Chinatown, turned from silver to gold with a bit of alcohol ink :)  Not entirely sure why there is a big bow on there, I must still be in present wrapping mode!

27 December 2011

Bad blogger!

Oh dear - over a month and a half since I last blogged - that wasn't the plan!  I guess life got in the way!  Quite how I have managed to be so busy I'm not quite sure - it's not as if I'm working any more.  But what with going out and about (I know, it's a hard life!), preparing for Christmas, doing domestic goddess-type things and keeping in touch with everyone (more time-consuming than you might think), the days just fly by, and I still find myself wishing I had more time to do this, that and the other.

So, apologies for going AWOL, I shall try to do better.  In the meantime, here are a few festive photos.

This shows the somewhat OTT Christmas Wonderland display at Pavilion mall - around the back there is also a big sleigh with reindeer.

One of the purple trees at Pavilion:

And here's Alex, Caitie and me, also at the Pavilion:

Here's Caitie and Alex making mince pies on Christmas Eve - there are some traditions you just have to stick to, however hot and sunny it is!

And finally, Will with one of his presents on Christmas Day:

Hope you all had a great Christmas.

6 November 2011

Photographic proof!

Last weekend's birds' nest soup experience definitely needed to be captured for posterity - and of course I had to do something with the photographic evidence that we really had eaten bird spit!

So here's the double page layout I have done, with a tongue in cheek Chinese-style title.  The design is based on a Becky Fleck sketch, and the papers used are Kaisercraft Secret Bird Society (very apt, I thought!)  The birds are cut with a Sizzix swallow die cut, the title is cut on the Cricut using Deng Thick font, and there's a bit of inking and stamping on there too if you look hard enough ;-)

3 November 2011

Birds' nest soup - yummy! (not)

I dug an enormous hole for myself on the way to Melaka on Saturday when I said to the kids:  "Your challenge for this weekend is to eat something that you've not tried before".  Little did I know that, just a couple of doors down from the hotel where we spent the night, was a newly opened building, dedicated to the history, making and selling of birds' nests.  Not just any old nests, but the edible kind, the ones that are considered a delicacy by the Chinese.  The ones that they believe have great health-boosting properties, and so are prepared to pay an absolute fortune for.  Well, yes, they have been proved to be high in protein - that's so the tiny fledgelings can eat them and grow big and strong so they won't be next-bound for too long.  But frankly if I was going for something high in protein, I think I'd much sooner eat a nice juicy steak!

So anyway, these nests are made by swiftlets. Legend has it that a great Chinese sea captain, forced with his crew to seek refuge from a fierce storm in a cave, decided to try eating them when they ran low on rations.  And he discovered that after a couple of days, the crew were all much healtheir and stronger.  And thus the appetite for these tiny little nests, made of bird spit, was born.  These days a lot of the nests are farmed in purpose-built buildings.  It's a lot safer and easier than collecting them from cave ceilings hundreds of feet high.  The building we saw had become home to the swiftlets when it was abandoned, and the new owner, a birds' nest magnate, paid a fortune for the run down house simply because the birds and their nests were worth so much.  Here's what some of the nests look like, before processing:

And this is how they look after processing, when being sold in the shops:

That big round box on the top had a price tag of 5,878 RM - that's roughly GBP1,175!

Before touring the house, we ordered a bowl of soup between us, so we could at least say we had tried it.  At 50RM (10 pounds) for the bowl, it was apparently a bargain.  We had seen the nests in the rafters, plus a few birds, and we had seen Malaysian workers painstakingly picking out all the bits of feather and other, um, waste materials.  Now it was time to taste the cooked results.

The soup came with a choice of raw cane sugar or honey sugar, we were recommended to use the honey sugar.  To be honest, it was fairly innocuous.  It smelt a little like egg white, tasted of honey sugar (!) and the stringy bits were just gelatinous, a bit like tapioca and semolina, except in longish pieces rather than little balls.  But knowing what it was made all the difference to our "enjoyment" of it - it was hard not to feel ill, and it would be fair to say that none of us has an overwhelming desire to go back for more.

We had a great time in Malaka - I'll be back with some more stories and photos soon.

16 October 2011

A KL institution

It's fair to say that under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have looked twice at this cafe, much less have gone in.  You can see why - from the outside it looks like it wouldn't be out of place in an old black and white Western - well, with the possible exception of the very Arabic-style script above the door!

As for inside - well, let's just say that it hasn't seen even a single lick of paint for quite some time.  If Dulux were to launch this colour, it would have to be called hint of nicotine.  It's the sort of place where you walk in and feel you should be ordering a pint of stout.

But this, ladies and gentlemen, is a Kuala Lumpur institution, which has been entertaining visitors to the city since 1921, when it used to cater to planters and tin miners.  Author William Somerset Maugham has stayed here, and Malaysia's first prime minister was an early patron too.

Ninety years later, it is still renowned for its good food, from steak or fish and chips to more Malaysian dishes.  I'm told that at weekends it's packed.  On Thursday morning, when I and seven other new-to-KL expats were introduced to it, there were very few people in there.  Saturday lunchtime I returned, with Alex and Caitie in tow, and it was definitely busier.  The vegetable spring rolls were delicious, as was the fried rice Alex had.  Caitie was less adventurous and stuck with French Fries, but they too were tasty.  All were served piping hot and with astonishing speed by the long-serving waiters, some of whom have apparently worked their all their lives, and should now really be drawing a well-earned pension.

Definitely worth a visit if you're ever in this neck of the woods.

28 September 2011

Tea, tourists and a dodgy fish curry....

Our latest Malaysian adventure was a trip to Cameron Highlands, an area high on some mountains in the middle of the country, famous for its tea, strawberries and other farm produce.  It is a popular destination because, being high up, the air is cooler and - allegedly - fresher.  I say allegedly because if you go on a public holiday weekend, like we did, you end up being caught in long traffic jams (caused largely by bad parking), and stuck behind buses giving out obnoxious exhaust fumes that would definitely earn them a black mark for pollution back in the UK.  Or, if you're really lucky, you could get stuck behind a dustbin lorry - very unpleasant in this heat....

It's fair to say that the weekend was, as my friend put it, a bit of a curate's egg.  The bad was the jams, the many, many tourists, and the somewhat tacky feel to some of the main areas.  (Anything that couldn't move fast enough had a strawberry motif on it!).  Plus the dodgy fish curry mentioned in the blog title, eaten by Alex in the hotel on the Saturday night.  It kept him up most of the night, and he was in bed all day Sunday and most of Monday :(  But obviously it's OK, and we won't let it put us off going back to that hotel, because we got the cost of the curry back..... hmmm - not sure whether to be pleased that I at least got something back, or insulted by the paltry compensation!

The good was the fantastic scenery that could be found once you left the main road - just look at this:

Rows and rows of verdant tea bushes, stretching out across rolling hills.

Here is Caitie, enjoying the novelty of cooler air, and being able to wear a fleece!

The tea and cake we had at a plantation was lovely, and very welcome given that by then it was very definitely cool and more than a little misty!  The strawberries we sampled were delicious too.

Would we go again?  Possibly, in another year or two - but not on a public holiday weekend, and not to the same hotel!

12 September 2011

Just a quickie.....

Just a quick post today to share a layout I did a couple of weeks ago.  The photo is of Will at Pangkor Laut last month.  It isn't easy to get a photo of him with a natural smile, he's usually too busy posing!  Love this one though :)  Stash info for my scrappy friends - the papers are from the My Mind's Eye Stomp! pad, stars are stamped with some ancient Autumn Leaves stamps, and I used a Becky Fleck sketch.

Thanks for looking.

5 September 2011

272 steps (phew!), brightly-coloured shrines and gigantic gold statues....

...sums up Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur in just a few words, but really doesn't do the famous site much justice.  Especially when you consider that it is one of the biggest Hindu shrines outside India, and attracts over a million people during the Hindu Thaipusam festival.
Yes, there are lots of steps - hard work in this heat, but it is quite humbling to watch older people determined to visit the shrines, even if they have to sit down at regular intervals to catch their breath before continuing their long climb to the caves at the top.  It is hard to imagine, too, what it must be like there during Thaipusam, when the pilgrims flock there and carry offerings of milk to Lord Muruga, each and every one of them climbing all the steps.  Apparently some of these offerings are in huge containers, some weighing as much as 100kg, set on frames with skewers which pierce the skin of the carrier.  That truly is a sign of devotion.

So, as we were walking up the 272 steps (or being dragged up by our teenage son in some cases!), it was good to stop every now and again with the excuse of photographing a macaque monkey or two.  There's no shortage of these - some enjoy chasing unsuspecting tourists who have made the mistake of having food with them - not that they get to keep the food for long in some cases!  Some are happy to just perch on the top of posts, looking for all the world like just one of the many carved decorations - until they move!

At the top of the steps are caves, huge limestone ones, with shrines dotted here and there, all lovingly carved and painted in gloriously bright (albeit sometimes faded) colours.  No doubt a better knowledge of Hinduism would help the appreciation of them, as apparently many tell the tale of Lord Murugan's victory over the demon Soorapadam.  The caves, as you may have guessed, are dedicated to Lord Murugan, God of War and Victory, and it is his likeness that towers over visitors to the caves, in the form of a 140-foot high golden statue by the entrance to the steps.

It wasn't a long visit by any means - in fact we popped in on our way back from the elephant sanctuary - but one that was definitely worth making.

Rather than upload loads of photos, I've uploaded the scrapbook layout I've done - I have to say, it was hard narrowing the hundred or so photos I took to just 14!  But it does at least give a flavour of the visual feast we enjoyed.

1 September 2011


This week, we finally got around to visiting Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre. It's been on our to-do list ever since we got here, but what with wanting to avoid the crowds there at weekends, and Alex being at work weekdays, it just hadn't happened. So Alex booked a day off work, and off we went!

We had a great time. We hand-fed some baby and injured elephants, kept in enclosures, with peanuts; and also fed some much bigger elephants with fruit - no space between us this time. Just look at this photo - no zoom lens needed, I really was that close!

We also got to ride on them:

And Will braved the muddy river to bathe with them!

We had a great time - we all love elephants, and it was wonderful to get the chance to be up close and personal with them.

21 August 2011

Bird park album

A mini album showing the photos from the trip that Alex, Caitie and I took to the Bird Park in KL a few weeks ago.  Lesson learnt here - don't choose something really complicated or time-consuming for a mini album, you may well regret it!  All the stamping, together with cutting and inking every single leaf, took somewhat longer than anticipated!  Thanks for looking :-)

16 August 2011

Pangkor Laut - a taste of paradise

Last week was spent on Pangkor Laut, a gorgeous, private island just off the western coast of Malaysia.  The tag line is "one island, one resort", which sums it up very well.  There are villas dotted around the island, some over the sea on stilts, a few by the beach, and some up the hillside.  There are also a few private "estates", ie extra-posh, extra-large villas with their own staff, grounds, pool, etc, where the rich and famous stay.  Pavarotti apparently liked it there, as did Joan Collins and Nick Faldo.

We were in a beach villa, with a beautiful view over towards the main island of Pangkor.  We spent our time just chilling out - swimming, lazing around, reading, eating - you get the idea.  Alex and Will also exercised in the resort's gym and squash and tennis courts.

There was only one beach suitable for swimming at (the others had nasty things in the water like spiky sea urchins!) - it is, however, rated one of the top ten beaches in the world.  Look at this photo (it's not been touched up at all!), and you'll see why:

It really was a taste of paradise, and somewhere we would never have seen if we hadn't moved here.

3 August 2011

Birds, birds and more birds!

As we walked through the gate into KL Bird Park, our immediate action was "wow" - so many birds, brightly coloured with shimmering hues of blues, greens, yellows, reds - it was amazing.

The park is in Lake Gardens, a big "green lung" in KL city centre.  Apparently it is the world's largest free-flight walk in aviary.  We arrived there fairly early on a Saturday morning.  The rain was just stopping, and it was a bit over-cast - but the joy of this is that it was also relatively quiet, not many other visitors.

We ooo'ed and aaah'ed over a variety of birds, Caitie and I taking photos right, left and centre.  We loved the photo shoot booth, packed with all sorts of exotic birds, and couldn't resist the temptation to have our photo taken with them.

We fed some ostriches and emus - fortunately they were behind a big fence.  I say fortunately as they were really quite big, not at all shy, and VERY greedy!  They snatched the leaves from our hands, and were soon back for more.

Then we spotted some chicks and ducklings in the park's nursery - cue lots and lots of cooing from Caitie!

Caitie also got to feed some Lorys, very brightly coloured little birds who were quite happy to use her hands as a perch while they drank milk from the tiny cup she was holding.

Not all of them were interested in food though, some just wanted somewhere comfy to rest...

As you can see, we had a great time filled with some memorable experiences, I'm sure we'll return at some point.  I'll leave you with a fantastic photo that Caitie took.

29 July 2011

For my crafty friends...

A couple of layouts.

This is the DLO of our trip to Sunway Pyramid:

There's a photo of Will at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company hidden under the bottom left photo - didn't really fit in with the theme of the rest of the LO!

This LO just goes to show old stash is worth keeping - I've had that Egyptian paper forever...

This LO chronicles our chilly trip to Genting Highlands - the main pic shows the rain, the four at the bottom show Alex and Will having fun on one of the rides.  Apologies for the quality of the photo, still not found a good place to take them!  The little flag top right is reminiscent of the flags you used to buy from beach-side shops to stick in the top of sandcastles :)

26 July 2011

Just like home!

A chilly sixteen degrees and pouring with rain - just like a British summer!  This was Genting Highlands, a hotel and lesiure resort about an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur.  Set atop the mountains, it is higher than Ben Nevis, and when we went to visit it was shrouded by cloud all day.

We spent several hours going around the theme park, going on some of the rides.  It's not exactly Alton Towers - far fewer rides, and most not nearly as modern - or scary!  But we had a good time nonetheless. 

We had just decided to go home when the rain came - despite moving as quickly as we could under covered walkways, we still got wet.  But at least we weren't one of the poor sods who were stuck on the (very slow) log flume or the paddle boats - swimming would probably have been a drier option!

21 July 2011

Walk like an Egyptian?

I came to KL fully (I think) prepared to expect the unexpected - but I must admit that I really wasn't expecting to come across pyramids and sphinxes while we were here!

One pyramid....

.... and one sphinkx, although technically he's probably just a lion, as he didn't have a back end!  He guarded the entrance to Sunway Pyramid, a large, Egyptian-themed shopping mall which is part of a larger complex that includes a big water park and hotels.

The theme continued in the main entrance area:

The further away from the entrance you got, the more muted the theme - and in one corner the mall went to the opposite extreme by having an ice rink, the biggest in Malaysia apparently (though it may also be the only one...).

Will, Caitie and I had a good afternoon looking round, and both of them donned skates and gloves to try their hand (foot?!) at skating.

Alex joined us for dinner at yet another themed place, right next to the mall entrance, this time one that whisked us off to America and the world of Forrest Gump - Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company!  To quote Bubba:  "...shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it."

And that's about it for this blog post - thanks for popping by!

14 July 2011

I did it!

It may not seem like much to some of you, but for me it was another step along the road to settling in - driving myself around.  New car, new city, new way of driving (ie you push your way in at junctions and when changing lanes - and consequently have to be prepared to brake quickly to avoid hitting someone who is pushing in! - and you are constantly surrounded by scooters/mopeds weaving their way in and out of the traffic, often with scarily few inches to spare).  By the way, I didn't take the above photo while driving - we were stuck in a jam at this point.

Our trip was a relatively short one, to Mid-Valley megamall, which lives up to the mega title - it is HUGE!  We didn't buy much - we were too busy being slightly overawed by the sheer number of shops!  Today we're off to a much smaller and nearer mall, for such glamorous items as shoe laces, printer paper and groceries!

I'll finish off with a fab photo taken by Caitie, with her iPhone, from our living room last night.

12 July 2011

One week in.....

It is exactly a week, to the hour, since Will, Caitie and I stumbled somewhat bleary-eyed and bedraggled into our new apartment.  We'd had a busy week, full of lots of travelling and goodbyes, and six days after leaving our old home we were finally entering our new one.

And here is the view we were greeted with from our living room:

The greenery is KLCC park, and of course you can see the Petronas Towers beyond that.  The tall building immediately to the right of them is Menara Maxis, where Alex works.  The sandy-coloured building at the bottom of the towers is the Suria Centre, full of shops!  Lots of designer shops, but also some more reasonably priced ones, including a fantastic book shop.

This is the same view by night:

The apartment is great, light and airy, with a shared gym and pool, although so far we haven't had to share them much.  Caitie and I have been swimming virtually every day.

As you might imagine, the last week has been somewhat of a whirlwind, trying to settle into our new home (we're getting there but there are still a lot of things that need proper homes rather than temporary ones), while also getting used to a new country.

We've not done much exploring yet, still busy working out and acquiring the basics, but we have eaten out a few times - more on that in a future post.  We have, however, now got broadband internet - woo hoo!  So the kids can go on Facebook as much as they like, and I can blog again :-)  Caitie has new pets - two goldfish - and Will is at school, making new friends  (Caitie is waiting until the start of the new school year).

And - drum roll please - I have finally made it to the gym! ;-)

20 June 2011

More goodbyes...

.... or rather, au revoirs, this time to my lovely crafting friends.  We booked tables at our local scrapbooking shop (Paperarts near Stroud), and had a memorable day crafting, chatting and eating far too much!  I must admit to shedding a couple of tears when they gave me a beautiful mini book - each had created a double page layout for it, and it was then lovingly bound by Rooty, who also did a fantastic job of making the cover.  With lots of photos of great times we have shared, and quotes on friendship, it was very touching, and will be treasured.
Here's a photo of us all outside.

This time in two weeks Will, Caitie and I will be in the air, starting our new adventure in KL.

12 June 2011

The first of the big goodbyes

We're all a bit sad this afternoon.  We've had to say goodbye (for now) to my nieces Celeste and Libbie, it'll probably be a good year or so before we see them again.

And we've had to say goodbye to our dog, Choccie, who has gone to live with my brother and his family.  We know he couldn't have gone to a better home, but it is still sad saying goodbye to him - he has been with us for nearly seven years.

There'll be a few more goodbyes too before we get on the plane three weeks tomorrow.... but it's only goodbye for now, we'll be back :)

4 June 2011

Drowning in paperwork

After a week of solid doggy paddling to keep my chin above the flood of paperwork that has somehow arisen, I can at last say that I have made it to the shore - the bulk of it is done.  Hurrah!  I have filled in endless tax forms, written a magnum opus to the accountants and completed the ten page (!) property information sheet from the letting agent.  I have registered Will for an important pre-uni exam, which he will take in Kuala Lumpur in August, and sorted out a number of school-related things.  I am now suffering from FBS - frazzled brain syndrome!

I've almost finished the decorating too - I feel like having a ceremonial bonfire of paint brushes and dust sheets! 

So now "all" I have to do is pack up our belongings into boxes and suitcases, send endless change of address notifications (assuming we ever get to sign the tenancy agreement in KL, Malaysian lawyers seem to go even slower than UK ones), and tie up 101 loose ends.

Who knows, at some point I might stop being busy for long enough to start looking forward to the next chapter of our adventure through life! ;-)

30 days to go....

26 May 2011

Making the grade

"If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time,  the insane asylums would be filled with mothers." - Edgar W Howe

How true!  And so it was with great relief that, as mentioned on yesterday's post, both Will and Caitie got into the Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur.

For those concerned grandparents, aunts, uncles, et al, it is a British International School where Will will be able to finish his A levels (biology, chemistry, physics and maths), and Caitie will be able to do her GCSEs, including digital photography, which she loves.  (The background photo on this blog is one of hers, it's a close-up of a dandelion "clock".)

It's a nice school, a far cry from the grim halls of the schools Alex and I went to, as you can see from this photo:

There are tennis courts, an olympic sized swimming pool, and so many computers their electricity bill must be almost as high as their fees! ;-) 

The only drawback is that it is 45 minutes out of town, but there are plenty of school buses, and I guess it gives me more time to stay sane......

25 May 2011

The first post!

So, after much umm-ing and ahh-ing, plenty of talk but no action, I have finally got around to starting a blog.
The intention is that this will help keep our friends and family in the UK reasonably up to date with everything that Alex, Will, Caitie and I are getting up to in Kuala Lumpur when we leave.
Which is in five weeks and five days time.  Not that I'm counting or anything.
Today, we have had confirmation that both Will and Caitie have places at the school we most wanted them to go to.  And that our belongings are currently on schedule to arrive at the Malaysian docks a few days before we fly in.  So, on the roller coaster ride that we have been on since Alex's first interview for this post, in December, we are currently going up - and hoping for no more downs!  Fingers crossed.....