We try to visit our relatives in Malaysia about every two years. We were due a visit, and so we picked our December/January “track out” (school holiday) to make the trip.
We left right after Christmas, which presents its own challenges. But once we settled into our seats for the 16-hour flight from Detroit to Hong Kong, we left our holiday thoughts at home, and prepared for a whistle-stop tour across Asia.
Our first stop was Hong Kong, where Foong’s sister Kim lives. Once again, we were impressed with their living quarters, a 700 sq ft 3-bedroom apartment on the 35th floor. Each time I visit, I wonder how I would go about “thinning out” enough to live in a place like that. Foong and I slept on the floor of their office/study/guestroom, with my feet touching one wall and my arm touching the opposite wall over my head. It was a tight squeeze for the two of us. The girls slept in their cousin’s bunk bed.
On Thursday morning, we had breakfast with a friend, Benjamin, who we knew from NC State University. We learned that Benjamin would be book-ending our trip, since he had just gotten a new job in Shanghai, and we would see him again in three weeks. Weird!
We spent most of Thursday touring a small island in Hong Kong called Cheung Chau. Getting there was half of the fun, since we had to go into downtown, and then take a ferry from Victoria Harbor to Cheung Chau. Once on the island, we rented bicycles and explored the beaches, the waterfront shops, and a rocky peninsula that even features a cave tunnel!
Our visit to Hong Kong was terribly short. On Friday, we boarded a “Turbo Jet” hydrofoil boat that took us to Macao. This weekend get-away was a convergence of three sisters and their families: our family from America, Kim’s family from Hong Kong, and Kit’s family from Shanghai. We spent most of Friday afternoon exploring the old area of town, the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a museum of Macau history. That night, we went to the new casino area to see a show called “The House of Dancing Water” (which was remeniscent of shows like Cirque du Soliel). Then we walked around the Venetian Casino, which looks exactly like the one in Las Vegas.
Saturday was New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, Sydney felt sick, and so she and I stayed in the hotel — she rested and I posted photos to our online photo gallery. Everyone else went to the Macau Tower, a sky-needle-like observation tower. The three kids, Audrey and Emily and John, walked on the “Skywalk”, a platform with no handrail, 764 feet over the city! (They were wearing harnesses). Then they visited a Panda zoo. We met again in the evening, where Foong took over the nurse duty with Sydney, and the rest of us went to downtown Macau for dinner and to see the New Year’s Eve celebration. We returned to the hotel in time to celebrate 2012 together.
On Sunday, said goodbye to Macao and boarded a plane for Malaysia. Thankfully, Sydney was feeling better for the trip. When we arrived, we had some time to relax at our in-laws’ house. In what seems to be the custom whenever I visit, I helped them install a new wireless router (the power lines there are noisy, and they have frequent thunderstorms, and so their electronics devices tend to get zapped fairly often). I set up their new router, and I took a lot of notes, sensing that I might be doing it again on our next visit.
On Monday, we just hung around their home town, Seremban. We had breakfast at their local neighborhood food court, and we visited Foong’s brother’s furniture store. We visited a few stores, but we really didn’t have any shopping to do. We were just soaking the place in.
Tuesday was also a nice quiet day around the house. The girls and I took advantage of the quiet time to read. We did get out a little, to see Foong’s old high school and some stuff downtown. We tried to get the girls to visualize what the town was like when their mother was a young girl.
On Wednesday, we drove to the eastern shore of Malaysia to catch a ferry to Tioman Island. Tioman is a popular SCUBA destination for Singaporeans — at certain times of year — in December and January, they have strong ocean currents that stir up the water, making it too murky for diving. So this was definitely the off-season, and there were very few visitors. We finally arrived at the Berjaya Resort. The kids were excited because they got their own hotel room (long story).
On Thursday, we hired a driver to take us around the island in his 4WD truck. He drove up a steep and curvy road through the jungle and over the mountain, stopping to show us the sights like some dense jungle and a waterfall. We visited a sea turtle conservatory, and we fed their resident turtle, Jo. On the way back, the girls and I rode in the back of the truck (and I think the driver added a few more MPH to his driving). It was exhilarating. The last stop on our tour was a pier where you could look down on the tropical fish. We wrapped up the day with a swim at the hotel pool and dinner at the open-air restaurant, under the watchful eye of the resident monkeys.
On Friday, we explored the resort a little, and then packed up for the ferry ride back. We drove back to Seremban along some of the most sparsely-populated palm tree plantation land I have seen in Malaysia. In a moment of pure geek pride, I managed to help navigate from the back seat, using my Kindle on the local 3G network and Google Maps.
Saturday was another stay-at-home day. The kids and I read books and I tinkered on the laptop, while Foong hung around with her sister and brothers. We celebrated Chinese New Year by stirring the traditional “Yusheng” salad, or “prosperity toss”.
On Sunday, we took our teen-aged nieces and nephews to Sunway Lagoon, a water park in Kuala Lumpur. We spent the entire day riding water slides and swimming in wave pools. After the park closed, the teenagers took a train back home, and we visited with several of Foong’s high school classmates who now live in Kuala Lumpur. We spent the night at one friend’s house.
On Monday, we met our niece Josephine, at her office. She works for L’oreal in Kuala Lumpur. It was nice for the girls to see the professional life of their cousin.
Tuesday was our last day in Malaysia, and we basically rested at home… and packed up suitcases… ugh.
Wednesday started early at the airport. The flight was uneventful, but it took us some time to get oriented after we arrived. To get to town, you can take a bus or a taxi. But there are lots of guys hanging around the airport, offering to drive you around… I chose not to experiment with those guys. We eventually found our hotel near the West Lake of Hangzhou, and we had some time to explore the neighborhood on foot and to find some local food. I also challenged myself to find an electrical converter plug for my laptop — their plugs look like three prongs in a chicken foot pattern. \’/
It was kind of funny… that night and the next morning, the hotel room was very hot. I later learned that the thermostat did not really control anything, but that I could open a window to cool off (it was not obvious that the windows could open).
On Thursday, we walked around the lake area. I quickly decided that I needed to buy some gloves and maybe a hat. I bought gloves, and within 2 minutes of leaving the store, one thumb had started unweaving… Chinese quality! We found a place that rented bikes, and we rode around the lake. It was so cold, we decided to go into a museum to warm up a bit… nope, many public buildings in China are left unheated. It was as cold inside as it was out! That evening, we met two of Foong’s cousins, who are both living in Hangzhou. We saw one cousin’s apartment, and then we went to a very nice shopping mall for dinner.
On Friday, once again, it was time to move on. This time, we went to the train station, one of the busiest places we saw in China. Everyone was going somewhere for Chinese New Year. Fortunately, we found that the crowds thinned out considerably if you paid a little extra for a first class ticket. I suppose you’re paying extra for breathing room. Our train to Shanghai was fast, 300km/h (186mph)! Foong’s sister Kit has a driver who picked us up and brought us back to their palatial western-style home in Pu Dong. We picked up John at his school, a very posh British school. Then we took the kids to an indoor play-place, with slides and climbing areas… a nice way to get re-acquainted and burn off some energy. We had supper at their house.
On Saturday, we went to the 2010 World Expo center, where a couple of the countries’ exhibits remain open. The weather was cold and rainy, so it was hard to get into the proper mood for the Saudi roof-top “oasis” exhibit. From there, we went to a modern mall to warm up and browse and shop a little. I bought some nice sweaters (did you know that Chinese zippers are on the left side?). Dinner was “steamboat”, where each diner has a hot pot of broth, and they pick raw items to boil in their own soup mix.
Sunday’s surprise treat was a visit to the World Chocolate Wonderland, a museum devoted to chocolate. I was struck by the catchy jingle that played continuously in the exhibit hall, like an Asian answer to “It’s a Small World”… it’s still in my head! No trip to China would be complete without some shopping in the flea market stalls of Yuyuan, where you can find a wide assortment of cheap trinkets. It’s like DealExtreme.com, in person — you want a Hello Kitty USB flash drive? We finished off with dinner at a western-style restaurant that specializes in elaborate salads.
Monday was our last full day in China, and we spent the morning getting new eyeglasses. The mall had an entire floor devoted to optical shops, probably a hundred shops! What a bizarre bazaar! After lunch, we accepted the fact that our time in China winding down. We wandered another Chinese mall-of-bargains, wondering if we had any more room left in our suitcases. We bought some trinkets for our friends at home who had been looking after our fish and crab, and Foong found a nifty hard-shell iPad cover with a built-in bluetooth keyboard.
Remember Benjamin, who ate breakfast with us on our first day in Hong Kong? By this time, he had moved to Shanghai to start his new job, and so we invited him over for dinner on our last night in China.
Tuesday was a 36-hour day. Our flight left early, but we headed east while the sun headed west, and we met again in Detroit 13 hours later, but somehow still Tuesday morning. Weird.
All in all, it was a fun trip.
This one was different than previous Malaysia visits, because we spent just a couple of days in each place before moving on to the next. It might just be a trick of perspective, but I felt like the more interesting places were the ones that we had the least amount of time in. My favorite place, which I would always like to explore further, was Hong Kong.
The other thing that stands out about this vacation was the three distinct types of weather we encountered. Hong Kong was sunny and cool, Malaysia was just plain hot, and China was cold and wet. That combination made it hard to pack suitcases (and it also explains why Sydney and I have been coughing a lot since we got back). I might’ve enjoyed China more in a warmer season.
Now comes the hard part… returning to the daily grind after a month off. Someone remind me what I was doing before we left!