Searching for “jaffs”

Yesterday morning, December 28th, we all woke up early and headed over to ‘Pore so we could check out their zoo.  We’ve been to Singapore probably 30 different times this year without ever making it to the zoo, even though we were told they have a nice one.  We’ve visited the Jurong Bird Park several times, and we’ve made it to the aquarium on Sentosa island once too, so it was time to check out the zoo.

The Singapore Zoo has several options — the regular zoo, a river safari and the night safari.  The Singapore Night Zoo is the one that gets all the attention, but we wanted to check it out during the daytime so we could really see the animals.  We still plan on going to the Night Safari, but it’ll have to wait until 2014.

We got there about an hour after they opened, but we had no problem finding a parking space.  We were able to skip the huge ticket line by going to a MUCH smaller line that required cash payment, then we headed on into the zoo.

Only two parts of our trip were a letdown: (1) we forgot to bring Carolyn’s good camera and (2) it started raining around 12:30pm so we left before seeing some of the things we wanted to.  Other than that it was my second favorite zoo, behind San Diego, which to me is clearly in a class of its own.

Zoe’s main concern was seeing the “jaffs”, which is what Zobug calls giraffes.  She also liked watching the otters splash around in the water, the zebras huddled around the feeding station, the big cats lounging around and the pygmy “hippopotters” sitting in the water.  She loved it when we finally found the giraffes, but what ended up being the most exciting animal that she spotted was a male lion.  Zoe was lagging a little bit behind Carol and I with her Papaw, and after Carol and I’d taken a quick look at the lion we pressed on to the next enclosure to see the zebras, but Zoe stayed behind with Papaw.

I turned around to see Papaw pick her up and point out the lion and from more than 50 feet away I could hear her yelling about seeing a lion.  I thought that was it so I turned around to check out the zebras and then Carol and I made our way over to another lion enclosure about 2 minutes later when we heard Zoe yelling.  She was running towards us screaming “Mommy, Daddy, Zoe see Lion King!”  She yelled it over and over as she ran towards us, and all the other visitors around us were laughing and loving it by the time Zoe made it to us.  She couldn’t believe “Lion King” was there at the zoo.

My favorite parts were the proboscis monkeys and the orangutans, both of which can be found in Malaysia (Borneo, not Peninsular Malaysia).  The name “orangutan” actually comes from the Malay words orang, meaning “person”, and hutan, meaning “forest” – or a “person of the forest”.  I’ve really been wanting to take a trip to Borneo so we could see these awesome creatures in their native rainforest habitats, but we want to wait a little longer until Logan is at least a year old.  Seeing them at the zoo was fantastic though.  I don’t remember ever seeing a proboscis monkey before, but I’ve been reading about them for almost 2 years – ever since we found out we may be visiting Malaysia.  The males have enormous noses, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Orangutans are in zoos all across the US, but I’ve never seen an exhibit of them like they have at the Singapore Zoo.  The orangutans are “free range”, and they have a series of ropes, nets and platforms around a huge area where they can go from one place to another instead of being restricted to a single island with a moat or wall around it.  Even more impressive is that the zoo feeds the orangutans a couple times a day and they allow visitors to come sit below them, just a few inches away from these huge apes, for free!  You can take photos with about 5-6 orangutans sitting right above your head munching on fruit.  We walked up literally just as they closed the photo session down; if we had shown up 45 seconds earlier we would have been able to sit for a photo…  I was disappointed, but that gives us a reason to go back!

Here are some photos from our trip to the Singapore Zoo:

Santa Claus made it to JB!

We woke up around 5am on Christmas morning and Zoe was excited about heading downstairs to see if Santa left any presents.  We were all pretty sure we heard him outside.

Zoe opened all the presents, Logan’s gifts included.  I’ve attached several photos from Christmas morning, and you may notice a big knot on Zobug’s head — it happened Christmas Eve when Zoe’s Papaw opened a door as Zoe ran towards it from the other side.  It didn’t slow her down at all on Christmas morning though.  I can’t speak for Zoe, but from my perspective here are are favorites in order: (1) her “castle”, (2) puzzles, (3) kitchen set, (4) play-doh and (4) everything else.

I’ve spent several hours since Christmas morning helping Zoe put together puzzles over and over, and I’ve also eaten several meals she made for me (she says “daddy, dinner’s ready!” all day long) — usually a plastic piece of cheese and a fried egg that she’s very concerned is too hot for me to eat.

The only gift Logan has shown any interest in so far is a cookie monster doll that she likes to hold and gnaw on his eyeballs.  Logan’s may joy these days is scooting around our first floor in her walker, constantly moving from room to room.

Jean spent almost 3 hours at the nail salon after Christmas morning getting a design she found on Pinterest put on her fingernails.  It’s pretty nice…

Anyhow, here are the photos from our Christmas in Malaysia:

Hitting the park

When we moved into our home here in JB this past February the large area across the street from our home was under construction and completely surrounded by a fence.  We were told that it would be a park, so it was a huge bonus to have somewhere Zoe could play just 20 feet from our home.

We waited and waited as the area was cleared, a gazebo was put up, concrete walkways were poured, workout equipment was installed, a children’s playground was built, concrete for a badminton court was put down, and lighting was erected throughout the park.  When things looked like they were almost done someone yanked off a piece of the fencing and the people from our neighborhood began using the park before it was completed.

Eventually the entire fence came down, but within a few weeks they put up a new fence that splits the park about 40/60, with our side of the neighborhood getting the 40% for some reason while the other side gets the 60%.  Unfortunately for us the kiddie playground with the slide and swings is on the other side; we have the gazebo and badminton court, but we wanted the playground for Zobug.

Anyhow, over the past 4-5 weeks Carolyn has started to spend time with the girls in the park.  At first she was going over there for 30-60 minutes each evening around 6pm, as I was usually driving home from work.  She’d let Zoe run around while she chatted with some of the women from our street.  Ever since me dad arrived here about 3 weeks ago she started walking laps around the park on the concrete trail for about 45 minutes each morning.  She pushes Logan in the stroller while Zoe runs around.  In the mornings nobody else is over there – the Chinese folks living in our neighborhood all walk around the streets in the morning.  Also, she has been spending more time at the park in the evenings so that Zoe can socialize with all the other kids that come out to play, and she also enjoys walking laps while Zoe runs around.

Zoe loves it and has learned several new phrases, like “ready, set, go!”, “you can’t catch me!” and so on.  The girl that lives at the end of the street, Crystal, is who Zoe spends most of her time with.

My dad started out going in the mornings and evenings right when he got here, but then he cut back to just evenings and he refused to go to either for the past week.  I have joined Carolyn 4 times now within the past 4 weeks, once to the park in the morning, twice around the neighborhood streets in the evening, and once around the neighborhood streets in the morning.  I enjoyed it because in the mornings and evenings the weather is nice, around 75F, and Zoe held my hand and talked to me or ran around and yelled at me whenever she’d fly by (“hey daddy!”).  Another reason I enjoy it is because someone in the neighborhood collects songbirds and they’d put several cages with 1 songbird each around the park and they go nuts chirping away as you walk around the paths.

Unfortunately Zobug has fallen a half dozen times and has several “boo-boos” on her knees to prove it.  The concrete and blacktop cut and scraped her up a bunch, but she’s a tough little lady and only cried for more than 10 seconds once, and that time she had blood running down her leg (I wanted to cry too, seeing the worman hurt!).  Zoe’s mommy is a good doctor, like Doc McStuffins, and she makes Zoe feel better almost instantly after cleaning up the boo-boo’s and putting band-aids on them.

We all like the park, but we’d love it if they’d take down that stupid fence so both neighborhoods could enjoy one large park instead of each having a little one.  Check out some photos I took of my morning walk in the park below.

This past weekend we didn’t do much, but we tried to on Sunday.  We drove into JB to try and check out a museum, but it was under construction.  Next we drove all the way over to the opposite coast to visit Desaru, but the beaches were too busy and the waves way too big for us to want to spend time with Zoe in the sand and water.  We did see several monkeys (we also saw a couple just outside of Permas Seafood a week or so ago!), and more impressively we saw a huge monitor lizard running around in the Desaru public beach parking lot (see the photos below — he was about 4ft long from head to tail).  We also attempted to tour the Desaru fruit farm again, but we decided it was too hot to want to pay Rm25/person for a 1 hour tour of some orchards.

Here are the photos, including confirmation that my grandmother was actually correct and Korean food does in fact include “jung-ga”:

Soggy JB

We’re in the middle of the rainy season here in Malaysia, and it’s no joke.  It rains every single day…  Most of the time it’s a lovely day with blue skies until the afternoon (2-4pm), then it gets really dark quickly and storms like crazy for about 30 minutes to an hour.  Lots of lightning and the rain comes down hard, flooding all the streets and filling storm drains beyond capacity.  The amount of lightning in this area is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced; I’ve been through more thunderstorms here in Malaysia for the past 2 months than I experienced over nearly 6 years while living in Southern California.  You can find all sorts of different lightning rods on just about every structure in the area, and I have personally witnessed lightning strikes on some of these rods around the area where I work.

While the non-stop thunderstorms are crazy to us, it’s normal for someone who has lived through this sort of weather for their entire life.  I don’t believe it is abnormal in the tropics to have a dry season and a rainy season, and I suppose it isn’t that different than the seasonal changes experienced in places well above and below the equator.  Plenty of people hate winter’s constant grey skies and cold temperatures, and many people dislike spring too if they have bad allergies.

The Malaysians don’t seemed bothered by the daily deluge, and they just carry on with their lives as if it weren’t pouring all around them with lightning strikes every 20 seconds.  The hardest part for me to understand is their ability to continue traveling by motorbike.  Malaysia has plenty of motorbikes zipping around through traffic – not anything close to the hoards of scooters in Vietnam, but 2000% more than anywhere in the US.  Families travel on motorbikes and scooters, as many as 4 people on a single scooter can be easily found on the roads of JB every single day.  The rain doesn’t discourage them at all from continuing to cruise around on their scooters.  If you’re on the road as a storm starts you can see dozens of motorbikers pulled over on the side of the road to change clothes as the drops begin to fall.  Most of them will put on rainproof outfits on the side of the road and continue along on their way, some don’t bother pulling over at all and just get soaked in their normal clothes while the plod along, and a small amount will pull off the road underneath overpasses and try to wait out the storm.

Supposedly the Northeast Monsoon lasts from November through February here on peninsular Malaysia, so we’re only about half way through it.  I don’t mind the days when it is sunny until the dark clouds roll in during the late afternoon for a heavy 30 minute downpour, but I despise the days when it is dark and overcast all day long and rains on and off again.

Enough about rain!  Here are some recent photos, including one of Carol and the girls at Gianni’s as we celebrated her birthday:

Off to the Ring of Fire for some R&R

I used a good chunk of my vacation this year when Logan was born, and I also used up some on our trips to Pengang, Bali and Chiang Mai / Langkawi.  Since Carol was pregnant for most of the year and we were raising an infant and a 2 year old for the remainder, we opted not to use either of our flights back to the US since the 30 hour marathon trip is hard for adults, much less kids and pregnant women.  I can’t use my remaining vacation days up since my work needs me to cover for several other people leaving town for the next two weeks to return to their home countries (US, Spain and South Africa) for the Christmas and New Year holidays.  Instead, I’m rolling over 7 days of vacation that I’ll use in January.

I’ve been flip-flopping on where I wanted to go for vacation, and I didn’t get any feedback from Carolyn, so I decided just before midnight on Thursday that we would go back to Indonesia since it was my favorite vacation this year and the most relaxing.  I stayed up until 4am on Friday (12/13) making flight and hotel reservations.

Basically I will be taking 7 vacation days plus using two holidays (Chinese New Year), for a total of 13 days off in a row at the end of January and the beginning of February.  We will be breaking the vacation up into two parts, one stop in Yogyakarta and another in Bali.  I’ve probably already mentioned it before, but after talking to my dad about the trip I think there still may be some confusion about Indonesia and what makes up their country.

Indonesia is an archipelago, which means it is a string of islands, and that string of islands start off the western coasts of Thailand and peninsular Malaysia and curve in a semi-circle above the northern coast of Australia.  Think of each island as a state, but those states vary in size drastically (similar to the US, where Alaska and Texas dwarf Rhode Island and Vermont).  Indonesia has over 17,000 islands, but only about 6000 have anyone living on them.  The main ones you hear about are Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok, New Guinea, Borneo and Komodo.  I only listed Komodo because of the island’s famous lizards, the Komodo dragon.  Bali and Lombok are both relatively small islands compared to the others, but they’re major tourist destinations.  Indonesia is a Muslim country with a population of almost 240 million people, making it the fourth largest country in the world by population, behind China, India and the United States.

Anyhow, we will travel first to the island of Java, then to the island of Bali.  On Java we plan on visiting the following 3 areas: Yogyakarta (pronounced “Jogjakarta”), Borobudur, and Prambanan.  Yogyakarta is the large city we will be flying into, but the main reason we’re going there is to visit the UNESCO site at Borobudur.  I’ve been thinking about visiting this place since our first RTW trip in 2007, but Angkor Wat won out on that trip and since then it wasn’t as high on my radar as other places.  It does look amazing from all the photos I’ve seen, so I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m a little concerned about the weather because we’re in the middle of the rainy season right now.  Hopefully the rainy season on Java is similar to what it’s like here in JB, which means it pours for about 1-2 hours each afternoon but never rains all day long.

Besides the historical sites, I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the natural sites.  Indonesia sits right on the Ring of Fire.  The island nation has something like 127 active volcanoes, and a famous one will be in the vicinity while we’re visiting Java.  Supposedly we will be able to see Merapi while we’re visiting Borobudur and Yogyakarta.  Merapi has erupted as recently as a month ago.  I’d love to see a volcano erupting from a distance, but I’m not too crazy about earthquakes; I always hated that part of living in California — I don’t want to be buried underneath a building!

Another quick note is that Yogyakarta is the home of batik, so hopefully I can find some nice fabric for my mother and that’ll get her motivated to start making some of the quilts she owes me but has been slacking off on!

After we’ve taken in the sites at Borobudur and Prambanan, plus spent a couple of days in Yogyakarta, we will fly on to the next island just below Java — Bali.  We already spent some time on Bali this past June, but during that trip we traveled all over the island so we could see different parts (Ubud, the northern coast and the heavily visited southern tip).  On this trip we plan on staying in one place the whole time in order to relax and enjoy a laid back vacation for 5 days.  We may venture out once or twice to see some sites, but basically we just want to relax.

Those are the plans and all the reservations have now been made, so I’m pretty excited about this trip.  We plan on trying to also visit the micro-country of Brunei and a couple of Malaysian cities on Borneo within the next few months, but our next big vacation after our Indonesia trip will be when we return to the US for a couple of weeks in March.

Jingle bells 24/7

Zoe has enjoyed dancing around for a while now, but within the past 2 months she has really started to enjoy singing.  Whenever we’re in the car she asks that Carol or I “sing song”, so we do plenty of rounds of “five little monkeys jumping on the bed”, “The itsy bitsy spider”, “the hokie-pokie”, “ABC’s”, “wheels on the bus”, and so on, but lately her favorite is Jingle Bells — we sing it over and over and over.

Zoe admires her Christmas tree many times a day, standing in front of it and announcing “I like my crima chee!”.  At least once a day Zobug asks me if we can open the presents that are now under the tree (Elizabeth the girls each a wrapped gift).

I wish the tree were real so we could smell Christmas, at least as I remember it from my childhood, but I’m really enjoying how much Zoe is getting excited about it.

Today we didn’t do anything for Christmas, instead we went over to Pasir Gudang so my dad could get an 8 ringgit haircut at Ravi’s and Jean could price fish oil supplements from a pharmacy we have visited in the past.  After those errands we went into JB and had lunch at an Iranian restaurant that was excellent, then we came home while Jean went to the nail shop for a mani-pedi (Zoe loves it because she has snowmen on her big toenails).

Here are some photos from the past few weeks, including some of Zoe playing with Florina’s daughters when they came over to meet our girls.

Pop returns

A week ago my dad flew back over to Malaysia, and we are excited to have him back over here.  We took the girls over to Singapore to pick him up from Changi at like 2am last Friday morning, and they were actually both awake when he came through customs.  I’m taking 3 Fridays in a row off right now (Dec 6, 13 and 20) in an effort to try and use up some of my vacation time, plus so I can have some time with my family considering I’ve been working almost every weekend plus 12 hour week days for several months now.

Last weekend after my dad arrived we spent some time preparing for our first Christmas in Malaysia.  Jean spent the previous week calling around to different stores and plant nurseries trying to find a live Christmas tree, but she wasn’t so successful.  The only options she could find were a place in KL with live Christmas trees (we didn’t want to drive on the E2 for 5 hours with a tree strapped to the roof of the Civic), a live tree from a place in Singapore (crossing the border with a Christmas tree on top of the car — no thanks), and finally there was a nursery in JB that had “Christmas trees” but they were junipers – no Scots pine and they’d never even heard of Douglas firs.  We finally gave up on a live tree (which still hurts to think about!), and we bought a fake 7ft tree from JUSCO in Permas Jaya.

We found lights for the tree at TESCO Extra in Tebrau City, and we bought ornaments and a Christmas stocking for Zoe from several different stores (TESCO, JUSCO, etc).  Supposedly Cold Storage just got in a bunch of live Christmas trees yesterday (12/13), but after spending money on the fake one I don’t even want to see them because it’ll just piss me off.

Last weekend we also did some Christmas shopping.  My dad, Logan and I spent an hour in the Puteri Harbour Toys ‘R Us picking up gifts and having them wrapped while Carol and Zoe hung out at The Little Big Club.  Zoe was literally kicking and screaming as Carolyn carried her out of The Little Big Club; apparently an hour with Angelina Ballerina…  My dad needed to do some shopping too, so he searched every single store in Aeon Mall Tebrau for batteries to use in a head lamp.  While we were at Aeon my dad got to smell durian for the first time, and I’m hopeful he will actually go out on a limb and try it once while he’s here.

While we shopped for Christmas presents and trees/ornaments/lights we also picked up Christmas outfits for the girls.  Logan had to be changed at a clothes bin in the middle of JUSCO Tebrau since the changing rooms are tiny, but Carol and my dad were able to handle it.

We also went out for dinner to several of our favorite restaurants (Chakra’s for Indian, Siam House for Thai, Gianni’s for Italian, New Hong Kong for dim sum, Margarita’s in Singapore for Mexican, and a Chinese place in Taman Molek with excellent pork and mee hoon).

Yesterday we decided to go over to Singapore so the girls could visit with Santa Claus.  So far we’ve only been able to find 1 place in the area where Santa Claus is regularly there, and that’s at Tanglin Mall off Orchard Road in Singapore.  Aeon Tebrau in JB has a Santa Claus some days, but we were a little skeptical about that since it also includes a chance to meet “the Clown” and “Santarina” — we are guessing that Santarina is actually Mrs Claus.

We went to Tanglin and I thought Zoe would love it because for the past two weeks she spontaneously announces a few times each day that Santa is going to “bring Zoe presents” and she also keeps saying “Merry Christmas”.  Zoe was terrified by the Tanglin Mall Santa Claus and would not even get close to him, much less sit in his lap and tell him she’s been a good girl.  We’ve been asking her what she wants for Christmas and mostly she says either “presents”, “red” or “a rainbow”, but she didn’t care about any of that or the fact that Santa was passing out stickers to all the little kids that visited with him.

I was a little put off by the whole experience, not because Zoe was afraid of Santa, but because visiting with Santa Claus at the local mall has become WAY too commercial and it makes me sick.  When I was a kid you would go visit Santa, an older man with a big white beard and a bigger belly.  You’d tell him what you wanted for Christmas, he’d ask if you had been good all year, and when you walked away he’d shout “ho, ho, ho!” or “Merry Christmas!”.  Our experience at Tanglin Mall could not have been more different.  Santa was a young guy that had no belly, he wasn’t jolly at all and never said anything (no “Merry Christmas”, no “Ho, ho, ho!”, nothing), and before you even get close to Santa there is a lady that runs up and asks which photo package you want to purchase and fills out a sheet describing whether you want to start at the entry $20 for a single 6×10 or you want to $100 version with keychains, digital photos and a stack of poses.  They have signs everywhere asking you not to take photos, since obviously this would eat into their racket.

It was pathetic that they rush kids through, position them on Santa for a photo, hand them some stickers, get their parents’ credit card to process the photo purchase, and move on to the next one.  It was clearly not for the kids.  In the 80’s, when there weren’t digital cameras and photo quality printers that would spit out a photo in 30 seconds, it was actually about kids getting to spend a minute or two talking to Santa Claus and the benefit for the mall was that it brought in the crowds who would shop.  I hated it, and looking back on it now I can’t believe I paid them for a photo of Logan since Santa was holding our 4 month old off to the side like a sack of potatoes instead of an infant.  I’ll scan and post the photo soon, but I broke the rules and took my own photo too.  Perhaps we will check out Aeon Tebrau and see what their Santa and Santarina offering is all about…