Friday, August 21, 2015

Malaysia's political theater

Recently, it was discovered that US$700 million had been transferred from the government’s investment fund into the Prime Minister’s personal bank account.  The investment fund has not done well and is massively in debt.  

The Wall Street Journal broke this story a couple of weeks ago. The Prime Minister is trying to sue the Journal, yet he doesn’t deny the deposit to his account.  Rather he gives the explanation that it was “a gift” from a Gulf nation, for his party.  That is supposed to be OK. I heard on the radio today that the country does not have “an economic crisis, but a problem caused by negative perception.”  We are to change our perception.

After the story came out he fired the Attorney General and removed several people from the Anti-Corruption Commission. The biggest financial newspaper here was forced to temporarily stop publication. It was reported in the paper today that a task force assigned to investigate the $700 million deposit was dissolved, then reformed minus the Anti-Corruption people.

The local currency has fallen dramatically, to a 17 year low (which makes it great for foreign tourists and lousy for us who are paid in Ringgit). This on top of a new 8% goods and services tax that was introduced earlier this year.

This brand of democracy is basically one party rule, the popular opposition leader having been locked away in jail on a fabricated sodomy charge.  Sodomy charges, honestly.  Only ethnic Malays can be prime minister, so that narrows the field of suitable candidates.

Back to the "negative perception” problem...  We do get the impression we are told what to think and sometimes even what to wear—some locals (Chinese) have recently been told to cover up when they entered government buildings wearing shorts.  They were “graciously” offered cloth to cover their offensive legs.

In Azerbaijan we wouldn’t have dared make a post like this. Perhaps we will be called out for this one…  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Taiping time

One last wee trip before summer break ended. Taiping is on the mainland, just under two hours' drive from Penang.  It is the home of former tin mines, now converted into a beautiful lake area, and of the country's oldest hill station, where [privileged, foreign] people went to cool off.  Besides the lake and the hill, which is known as Bukit Larut and, formerly, Maxwell Hill, people travel to Taiping these days for its' zoo and its mangrove tour.  We went for the hill climb.

The travel guides speak of a scenic forest trail leading to a tea house at 5 kilometers, where you can refresh yourselves and make the choice whether to carry on to the top or not.

We chose a hotel very near the foot of the hill, Sentosa Villa--a very relaxing place in a large and well kept garden setting

Here is the lake

and the drive along the lake. We missed the the opportunity to take a paddle boat out.

We passed by the zoo and saw siamang (apes) walking by out front! My first sighting in Malaysia.  Escapees?

So, we started out for the hike, and when the ranger station at the foot of the hill announced, "no trail,  no tea house," we set out on the paved road.
at the ranger station
It's a private road, used only by park land rovers.  Steep, narrow, lovely foliage.  Great ferns

We found the road not as unrelenting as Penang Hill, and when we reached the defunct tea house, decided to carry on to the top of the hill.

Made it!  Six miles...

Taiping is the rainiest place in the whole country.  We were very lucky.  The rain waited until we were at the top of the hill, and had a bus shelter to sit in
We sat and watched the rain, hoping for a Land Rover to appear to take us back down--it did!

In the evening we went into Taiping town for some great hawker food.  The highlight was famous Omar"s po piah--think spring rolls but smaller and spicy. Mmmmmmmm
the master at work

The food court

And, to accompany your food, water from The Source: 

Seen in the Taiping Mall--a beauty contest

ah the elusive adverb

The town is charming, small, lined with old shophouses like these--well, not all with such intriguing signs):

 Back at the bungalow, our second and last evening on the porch

Back to Penang, to school and the old grind.  Our car passed a milestone--that's kilometers, but still... Hopefully it will last another two years!!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Durian (and monsoon!) season

Penang is apparently known for having the best durians, and connoisseurs can choose from some 20 varieties. (See Penang Travel Tips:  for details).

The last day of summer break we headed to the southwest corner of the island for a little adventure, and stopped on the way back at one of the many fruit stands for durian--T's first ever.  It's not cheap, 45 MYR, around 15$ for a medium size one.  We started with a taste--T said at first he didn't like it but was rather quickly drawn in--and we bought a small one to take home.  Thankfully the seller cut it, which requires a machete and a sturdy pair of gloves.  He placed the flesh covered pits in a plastic container so that we wouldn't get yelled at at our condo.  Carrying a concealed durian being a punishable offense in this part of the world. Ah but we, we failed to ask what variety it was, so will never know.

We also visited  the new Colonial Penang Museum.  A bit of a jumble of old things, but in a lovely colonial home.  The effort to preserve the place and the collected objects in it is laudable.  Some of 
the furniture:

carving on a cupboard

And an outdoor area they are turning into a restaurant.  The tables and shading overhead are all made with wood from trees that were cut when roads were widened along Penang roadways.

The house

And I can't resist sharing this with the world...  There is a very limited selection of greeting cards available here.  I was looking for a sympathy card.  There are none.  There are, however, several "sorry" cards.  Here is one:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

NW Interlude

From Tennessee to the Pacific Northwest. Sigh of relief and a bit of a thrill re the familiarity, friends, and relaxation. Totally relished attacking both the full page typed single-spaced shopping list and the Must Have Foods In America lists, and, especially, reconnecting with  friends!

Our dear friends G and L treated us to a few days at their perfect cabin on Hood Canal.  A few pix from that area, and our walks.

Love the trees!

Good job T
At the cabin, tackled a jigsaw puzzle of Venice (clearly B and S's fault)

Hood Canal signs
Coming back from a hike in Olympic National forest we are treated to the sight of a mother bear and two cubs crossing the road.  Later, in Wenatchee on the way to Canada we would see a mother doe and two fawns. Beautiful!

Back in Tacoma, two local factoids:
  • Washington recently became the latest state to legalize pot--here's on e of several shops we saw
  • Our hometown of University Place recently hosted the US open golf tournament.

Here is a newspaper ad placed during the US Open :-).

Ah Tacoma—

Had a fun all-American outing watching the Tacoma Rainiers play, well, lose.  A lovely afternoon anyway.  T got a real ball park hot dog.

Made several forays to the storage unit, emerging after several hours with large bags of shred-able paper. Below, K's map of the densely packed unit, which has been rented for 8 years now, no doubt putting someone's child through college.


We took the opportunity to have a quick dash up to Beautiful BC.  We traveled a familiar path on I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass and then north past Wenatchee.  Stunning scenery.  We made it to Penticton from Tacoma in about 6 hours.

Here, along the way, the aforementioned deer

Penticton is a  pleasant town straddling two lakes.  We enjoyed a hike along a reclaimed railway route along Okanagan Lake, past some of the many, many vineyards in the area

But the most fun was tubing down the canal between the two lakes, just floating along, staring at the clouds.  We started late in the day, around 3 pm, and were "only" able to do half the total possible trip--a mere 1 1/2 hours.  So relaxing and fun!
[stupidly  we forgot our WATERPROOF these are pix of unsuspecting (?) strangers the next day]

A bus takes you back 

Of course one must try local cuisine. A place offering "Poutine to go."

Through a good tip we find the best poutine in town

the master at work

 good thing he ordered "small"

The valley is rich with fruit.  Here are some boxes ready to go. Peaches to die for.

Other local interest:

Hockey sticks for sale at the local Canadian Tire store

Curling anyone?

We took a drive, passing some 30 wineries in a 10 miles stretch.  Stopped at just one:
T at entrance to winery

What a lovely area.  Hard to leave.  We took a less traveled road back to the US.  More gorgeous scenery

Mountainous--here's a runaway lane just in case your brakes fail
Slow traffic going through Seattle allowed a photo op

It was soon time to leave N. America.  A last dinner with our dear friends, in picturesque Steilacoom, an historic small town set along Puget Sound

Goodbye dear, familiar faces, goodbye The Mountain (Mt. Rainier, you neophytes), goodbye efficiency and order, comfort and convenience, Douglas firs, peaches and blueberries, chronic overindulgence.  Au revoir boundless creature comforts, Cascades and Olympics, crisp clean air even at 90°F. 

What a wonderful trip we’ve had:  California, Tennessee, Washington, British Columbia.

During a layover in Hong Kong on the way back, we managed a quick trip into the city and had coffee with an ex-colleague of T's.  Interesting to see how much undeveloped land there is, in an otherwise very densely populated city.

Hello Malaysia, equal parts charm and frustration. TP at the door not the stall (too late: "oh, RIGHT"), death wish motorcyclists (no kidding—we've even seen one around town with a sign saying “departure from this world is imminent”),  flamboyant tropical foliage and amazing fruits,  tropical warmth and beauty.
On arrival at the Penang airport, waiting over an hour for our taxi home