Gong Xi Fa Cai – Year of the Rooster

Our third week back in Malaysia after our trip to the US (Jan 22-28) was much better than those first two weeks back.  No Emergency Room trips and our passports and visas were all in a wait-and-see phase.  It was actually that time of year again when things started being decorated in red and gold for Chinese New Year.  We’ve gotten to where we enjoy most of Chinese New Year – it’s actually our favorite of the Malaysian public holidays.  The red lanterns were hung all over the place, including on almost all the homes in our neighborhood as well as throughout our neighborhood park.  You could also find roosters everywhere; not live roosters (although you can definitely find some running around on the sides of the roads of Taman Molek at most times).  This is the year of the rooster, so they’re all over the place.

Carol had already picked up Sebastian’s CNY outfit at a street market in Shanghai back in December, but the girls still needed new cheongsams so Carol took them shopping at Aeon Bukit Indah.  Logan picked a lovely blue cheongsam and Zoe went with a red and white cheongsam that has peacocks on it.

That week was uneventful really, but the weekend (January 27, 28 and 29) were full CNY festivities.  The fireworks were crazy on Friday night.  Even though we’ve been through it for several years it isn’t something a foreigner ever gets used to.  At midnight on Friday it felt like we were in the middle of a war zone.  The Chinese Malays don’t specifically go for the beautiful fireworks that Americans prefer on the Fourth of July, instead they go for the loudest.  It doesn’t have to shoot way up into the air and blast a sparkling array of colors that trickle back down to Earth.  Inside, the prefer quarter sticks of dynamite that rattle your home’s windows and doors.

On Saturday (Jan 28) Carol and the kids went over to our friend Nancy’s home and celebrated CNY with her and some of her friends for most of the day.  Sebbie found a girlfriend and the girls had fun running around in their cheongsam.  I stayed at home but enjoyed hearing all about it when they all returned in the late afternoon.

Here are some photos, mostly of the kids at Nancy’s home on CNY, but also some from cheongsam shopping and a few from a local Chinese temple that was all decked out:

Passports and stones

When we arrived back in Malaysia after the holiday trip to the US, I had hoped for a quiet, uneventful but enjoyable final year in Malaysia.  Unfortunately 2017 started with all sorts of insanity…

I won’t go through all the details, our first two weeks back in Malaysia (January 7-21) had some highlights, or at least some notable points.  Two main things happened; first, we had to figure out how to get new passports for Carol, me and Logan while also getting new Malaysian visas for 2017, and second, my health has continued to deteriorate with a new complication.

Back in November 2016, when it was absolutely clear that we would be staying in 2017, I asked my HR department about visa renewals because our holiday vacation was already set and our visas that allow me to work and the family to live in Malaysia all expired on January 20th.  I was told “it can wait, we have plenty of time”.  I asked again twice in December before we left for the US on December 16th, and both times I was again told not to worry because there was plenty of time.  I even mentioned that 3 of us needed new passports when we returned in January because we were almost completely out of empty visa pages, and I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem.

January 9th, my first day back to work in 2017, rolls around and I’m panicking because there’s still no sense of urgency.  Carolyn sets up appointments for us to go to the US Embassy in Singapore to apply for new passports on January 20th (Friday), the day our visas are to expire.  My company’s HR had recommended we just go across the border before midnight on the 20th and cross back into Malaysia after midnight.  I explained that immigration may have a problem with this since we clearly left on the day my work visa expired and we returned back just a few hours later, not to mention that middle-of-the-night visa runs wasn’t something we planned to do with 3 small children just because they failed to take renewal of our visas seriously.  I told them we would spend the night in Singapore, they must pay for the hotel, and I was given an official company letter stating that they were in the process of applying for our visas in case immigration had any issues when we returned.

Unfortunately for me, those two main things happened to cross paths starting around 3am on January 19th.  I woke up with a throbbing pain in my lower left back, which I thought was probably from sleeping some funny way.  Carol and I were sleeping in the spare bedroom because of work going on in our master bedroom, so I wasn’t used to that mattress and after getting a drink of water I tried to go back to sleep by 3:15am.

It wasn’t meant to be…  I tossed and turned and that throbbing pain in my lower back was alternating to pains in my lower abdomen.  It got worse and worse no matter how I flipped and tried to position myself in bed.  By 5:30am I was in serious pain, so I woke up Carolyn and told her what was going on.  I went into our master bedroom and tried to lay on or mattress but the intensity of the pain just continued to increase.  I started to get worried that maybe my hernia was trapped because when I had my hernia diagnosed they had told me that could be a serious problem and it would need to be taken care of immediately in an Emergency Room.

I laid in our bed for maybe 15 minutes and then I started sweating even though it was cold in our room.  I told Carolyn that something was seriously wrong with me.  It was obvious that this wasn’t some normal cramped muscle or something like that.  I told her I wanted to go to the emergency room immediately, so she got the kids dressed and off we went to the ER at Gleneagles in Singapore.  Having been to ER’s in JB multiple times I knew I didn’t want to possibly end up in surgery here, so there was never any doubt that we had to cross the border into Singapore, but in retrospect it may not have been so sensible because we sat in traffic in immigration and going across the bridge for almost 2.5 hours.  The pain was indescribable.  It was so bad that it was taking my breath away.

I was the driver, with our 3 tired and hungry children all complaining in the back seat, as I was in excruciating pain, inching across the causeway bridge while Carolyn tried to keep everything somewhat contained.  By this point I felt like I was about to pee in my pants — I had to go worse than I’ve ever had to go in my entire life and I was stuck in the middle of the bridge.  I won’t go into the details any further, but I felt like I was dying there on that bridge.  It was the worst 2.5 hours of my life.

Amazingly, as soon as we crossed the border into Singapore it was like a switch was thrown and the pain went away almost instantly, the sweat stopped pouring and I was able to breathe normally.  We continued on to the ER, where I was seen and after a urine sample and a long wait for the analysis it was determined that I had likely passed a kidney stone in the car on the causeway bridge.  The pain was from the kidney stone and there was blood in my urine, which they advised me to check in another week in case there are other stones and further action is needed to make them smaller or to remove them surgically.  I was told by the doctor that “kidney stones are the worst pain a man can experience – it’s like childbirth for men”.  I heard that repeated about 50 times over the next two weeks by everyone I told the story to.  I don’t know what childbirth feels like, but passing a kidney stone feels like you’re about to die.  I can’t recommend driving a family of 5 across an international border while stuck in traffic for hours during this episode either — it only made the experience worse, much worse.

Since we had to go to the US Embassy for passports the following day, we decided to just stay in a hotel since it was already around 2pm by the time we left the ER.  We spent the night and had a room with a great view of Marina Bay, then the following day we applied for our 3 new passports at the US Embassy before spending a second night in Singapore.  I was too miserable to do anything, so I basically slept the entire time except for while applying for the passports.  I was also on yet another round of antibiotics to ensure no UTI…

On Sunday, January 21st, when we finally came back into Malaysia, the immigration agent at the Malaysian border had a problem with giving us a stamp, just as I had imagined he would and just as I’d told my HR department he would.  My HR manager had said “you can call me if there are any concerns at all, and I’ll speak to them”.  Well, they had us pull over and took me into the office where a group of 5 senior officials went over all of our passports while I waited.  I tried to call my HR manager over 10 times while I waited there for nearly an hour that Sunday morning, but he never answered.  Eventually they gave us all “special visas” that needed to be taken to the immigration office immediately on Monday for a fine payment and endorsement.  Phew!  The only problem now was that we needed to go back into Singapore within 10 days to collect our new passports and we still didn’t have or new visas!

Here are some photos from that first two weeks back in Malaysia after our holiday trip to the US:

Finally! Relaxation.

After a brutal trip from Malaysia to the USA, full of all sorts of obstacles, we were ready to start the second part of our trip.  The first part of our vacation was spent in Birmingham, visiting family.  Carol, the kids and I all enjoyed seeing everyone, but when you have limited time it just feels rushed to try to visit with everyone while also taking care of the things you have to settle during your few days each year in the US.  It was really a lot of running around and tiring after travelling so far with so many problems during the trip back.

The highlights for me were seeing my grandfather during a few visits, as well as having a change to see my mother, albeit briefly.  Carol had fun seeing her mother, Elnora and Anna.

The second part of our trip was the “vacation” part, where we rented a condo on the beach in Panama City Beach, FL.  We would be there for 5 nights, including for Christmas.  The drive down there was uneventful, but added another 7-8 hours of travel to a trip already loaded with time spent in planes and cars.

The condo was fantastic.  Large, bright, open, right on the water, plenty of space and located in a quiet development but near enough to everything that we could drive to any attraction in PCB within 20 minutes.  My dad drove up from Port St. Lucie, and stayed with us at the condo.  We enjoyed having him and the girls were especially excited to see the Christmas tree he brought, which they decorated together with their Papaw and Jean.

Our time spent in PCB was the perfect mixture of pure relaxation and activities.  We went down to the beach with the kids each morning for 1-2 hours, then we would have breakfast that either Jean cooked or that we picked up from a nearby place.  We spent some afternoons lounging around the condo and others running around PCB.  We did some shopping, getting some DVD’s (Home Alone!), we took the kids to see Santa Claus and once again Zoe was the only one willing to happily sit on his lap — Sebastian was put on his leg but he went bananas, and Logan wouldn’t get out of the stroller but asked a million questions about Santa as soon as we left the mall.  Zoe did some bungy jump-swing thing and tried to get Bantu knots (it hurt her head too much).  We played putt-putt one night – I won, the girls had a blast, Papaw kept up with Sebastian and Carol continued to perfect her game.  We went to see a movie, Sing, one evening, then Zoe rode a few amusement rides with Carol and her Papaw, and we celebrated Christmas after Santa brought toys for the kids.

I hadn’t spent any time on Gulf Coast beaches in probably 30+ years, and I’d forgotten how nice they are.  The water was nice, but the sand was amazing – soft and pure white.  Carol and I said we needed to do it again in the near future, maybe Pensacola or Destin next time.

A couple of days after Christmas we drove further south for the third part of our trip – South Florida.  We stayed with my dad and ran lots of errands to take care of all the stuff we’re unable to do from Malaysia.  We watched several bowl games, had some fantastic meals (Which Wich rules, and so does Gettin’ Crabby!), dealt with one huge problem (our storage unit had been relocated to another city without anyone notifying us!), and took care of a bunch of jobs we needed to get done.

It was great to spend time with my dad, but after a few days it was time for us to drive down to West Palm Beach for 1 night before flying back to Malaysia.  The trip back was MUCH better than the trip over, including our second stopover in Shanghai.  We wish we’d had an extra week or two in the US so we could have visited family for more time, but it was a great trip in general.  Zoe cried harder than I’ve ever seen her cry when we left Papaw’s house.  She sobbed and sobbed for her Papaw for about 30 minutes as we drove to WPB; she finally cried herself to sleep.

Here are the photos from our time in Florida:

The first half wasn’t so easy

On December 16th we left Malaysia to head back to the US for a two and a half week vacation.  We always break up the flights back by staying overnight somewhere in Asia because it’s just too far to travel continuously with three little kids.  Korea has been the easiest for this so far, but due to ticket costs my company has decided to have us stopover in China previously and this trip was the same.

On a previous trip we stayed overnight in Beijing and that proved to be a mistake because ultimately Logan ended up hospitalized for the majority of our time back in the US after getting salmonella and E. coli poisoning in Beijing, and Zoe had the same and was hospitalized for 1 day.  In addition to the sicknesses picked up there I was also hassled at immigration when we went through the 72-hour visa-free transit line.  Eventually they let me through but it wasn’t necessary and just extra trouble after you’re already tired from traveling.

We were planned to stopover in Shanghai during our recent trip back to the US.  I had asked my company to please not route us through China, but the lower cost beat out my desire to avoid problems again.  I also had raised my concern about a short 1hr and 40min layover in Detroit, as I told my company that we need 3-4 hours for transfers when coming into the US.  I was told that the airlines allow that transfer because it’s within a window they believe is sufficient time to transfer, but having been through immigration, customs, baggage claim, baggage recheck, security and gate hunting with a family of 5 that includes an infant and two toddlers, I assured them that it simply wasn’t enough time.  Again the lower cost beat out my sensible request…

We left our home in Malaysia around 3pm because we’d found in the past that waiting much later meant that we cut it close to missing our flights due to rush hour traffic jams when trying to cross the causeway after 5pm.  We got to Changi around 6pm, got ticketed, checked our luggage, made our way through immigration and then headed to the lounge to relax until our flight.  Around 9:30pm we went to our gate and through security, then boarded our China Eastern flight for Shanghai, which departed shortly after 11pm.

We arrived a Pudong airport in Shanghai just after 4am and that’s when the first hurdle came.  At major ports of entry in China, like Shanghai and Beijing, they offer 72 hour visa-free entry as long as it’s just a transfer stop in your itinerary (not the destination) and as long as you stay in that immediate area.  It stimulates tourism for China and gives travelers a way to break up their trips and see interesting cities.

Everyone except for us from our plane lined up at the normal immigration area, but we walked all the way to the end where the signs pointed to the 72/144 hour free visa counters.  Unfortunately there weren’t any immigration agents at our desks.  We waited for a while as the people from our plane were processed and other plane loads of people arrived and filled that line up again and again.  We asked where the agents were and we were told to wait.  We continued to wait.  Eventually after asking different officials we were told that this desk didn’t open until 8am.  What?!  They have planes arriving all night long at this huge port of entry and this desk isn’t open over night?

Eventually we got to the back of the regular line and after several hours with our kids crying, whining, crawling, sleeping, and just being miserable we made it to the counter and passed into Shanghai.  We collected our luggage and went through customs but since it had taken so long to clear immigration our ride wasn’t there waiting to take us to our hotel.  I called the hotel and we waited as they made the arrangements for someone to come collect us.  We eventually got a ride to our hotel.

We checked in and Carol went out and got some amazing dumplings for breakfast while I took a shower and the kids jumped around with their second wind.  The dumplings were unbelievably hot and when you’d bite into them they’d spray hot soup out all over the place.  I would definitely recommend trying them if you’re ever in Shanghai – they were great.

We eventually all got showers/baths and then took a long nap.  That evening Carol and Zoe went out into the streets and walked around, checking out the area and eventually picking up dinner.

The next morning we went to the airport and again our travel arrangements were a mess.  My company didn’t assign seats to everyone for some reason and had instead assigned two separate seats to one person, so we waited at the check-in counter for nearly 3 hours while the staff begrudgingly resolved the issue.  Of course the guy who made the arrangements later said he did it correctly, and of course the airline said it wasn’t done correctly.  All I know is that we were the ones who suffered – getting to the airport early to navigate it with children and then being forced to race to the gate after spending all that time at the check-in counter because somebody/nobody made a mistake…

We sat on the runway in Shanghai for almost 2 hours because “the sky in the corridor to Tokyo is full”.  As I mentioned before, I had already told my company I didn’t like the short 1hr 40min layover they had for us in Detroit, and yep, the nightmare continued.  We got to Detroit almost 2 hours late and missed our connecting flight to Louisville.  We had to clear immigration and wait for a while to get or luggage, then we waited in line to speak to an agent about booking a new flight.  We obviously weren’t the only ones who missed our flight so the wait was over an hour, then it took another hour to speak to the agent.  They could put us on another flight in about 8 hours and we were “lucky” because they’d had bad weather the past few days and canceled many flights and pushed those people to other flights.  I explained that I didn’t feel “lucky” having to extend our 65 hour trip from Malaysia to Louisville by about another 10 hours and it was at that point that I decided we would rent a car and drive.

We went outside the airport at Detroit to catch the shuttle bus over to the rental car place, and it was possibly the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Our little ones weren’t prepared for it, so we quickly tried to bundle them up as best we could while we waited 10mins for the bus.  I had already reserved an SUV in Louisville to be dropped off in West Palm Beach when we left to return to Malaysia, so I asked how much would the price change to pickup in Detroit instead of Louisville and was told the price would jump by another $1200 (original L’ville to WPB was $1400, so $2600!).  WHAT?!  Scratch that – how much for an SUV for a one way rental to be dropped off in Louisville?  They informed me that they aren’t allowed to rent SUV’s to walk-ups, only with reservations.  So we ended up with a tiny car that I needed a shoehorn to get in and out of, and we ended up leaving Sebbie’s stroller in the lobby of the car rental building because it couldn’t be crammed into our tiny car.

After this excruciatingly long trip with so many problems I smashed my family into this tiny vehicle and drove for the next 5 hours from Detroit to Louisville.  In the dark, while it snowed.  What a great start to a “vacation”.

The following morning I wasn’t able to stop in to see my old boss because we were at the Louisville airport changing over from the car to our originally reserved SUV.  Amazingly we had a brand new GMC Yukon with only like 4000 miles on it.  The rental lady was surprised about because she said normally they only allow regular SUV’s to go one-way, not luxury class SUV’s.  The Yukon was fantastic!  Tons of space for everyone and very comfortable.

We immediately set out for Birmingham and made it there by early evening.  Our first stop was to see my Grandfather, who was being visited by my mom and my nephew, Riley, when we arrived.  We spent about an hour or so there visiting.  It was great to see them and I wish my mom had been able to stay in Birmingham longer, but she had to leave and we needed some rest after going nearly non-stop for 3+ days.

We got me booked into a hotel in Trussville and then I dropped off everyone at Carol’s mother’s home.  The next several days was spent visiting with family and shopping.  I went and visited with my grandfather 3 more times, once with Logan and two other times with Zoe.  I also joined Carol and the kids at her Aunt Elnora’s home, where I had a good time hanging out with Joe, Carolyn’s uncle, while Jean and the kids hung out with Elnora.  We managed to pickup a new stroller, get Christmas gifts for everyone, including an NES mini console for me and a new iPad for Jean, plus we all got new clothes to take back to Malaysia.

Here are the photos from our trip over from Malaysia to the US, including the stopover in Shanghai, as well as some from our first of three main stops – Birmingham:

Jabs, myringotomy and dusky leaf monkeys!

I haven’t posted a blog entry in over 30 days and the last entry was about things that happened back in mid-November.  I haven’t been on the ball.  At all.

Quite a bit has happened since mid-November…  We’ve taken a vacation to the US for Christmas and New Year’s, Logan and Zoe have both started a new grade in school, Sebbie started officially talking the other night (Jan 22nd) when he clearly said “night night”, I’ve continued to have health problems and Carol has been trying to keep up with all that stuff and more.

I plan to update this blog in 4 parts – (1) mid-November to mid-December recap, (2) US Trip before Florida, (3) US Trip in Florida and (4) What’s been going on in January since our return to Malaysia.

Mid-November to Mid-December was a long time ago, but I’ll hit the highlights, and since this is written by me I’ll start with what was going on with me personally.  I couldn’t hear out of my left ear at all and it had been that way for a while due to it filling up with fluid from my allergies.  I’ve been battling allergies and their side effects (respiratory and ear issues) ever since arriving in Malaysia, but 2016 was the worst.  I spent the majority of the year feeling miserable and made way more trips to see doctors than anyone under 40 should ever have to.  I had chest x-rays, dozens of courses of antibiotics, constant coughing and couldn’t hear for months.

We had been planning a holiday trip in December so we could go to the US and visit family and let everyone see Sebastian since he’s only spent a couple of weeks in the US since birth.  As we got closer and closer to the planned departure on December 16th I was worried we may have to actually cancel the trip because I was making weekly trips to Singapore for literally MONTHS due to my ear problems and the ENT just kept trying to halfass treat it and “wait to see what happens”.  It just continued to get worse until one evening I got home from work around 7pm and went straight to bed because I left work feeling ok but started getting a headache on the drive home and that turned into a pain in my left jaw, neck and ear.

I wasn’t able to sleep and the pain got more and more intense until I told Carolyn that it was beyond normal pain and that I needed to go to the Emergency Room.  I know when something isn’t right with me, and this was definitely a time when something abnormal was going on because the pain came on immediately and got so bad that I was writhing in pain in the bed and couldn’t barely open my eyes normally as we packed the kids into our van and drove over to Raffles Hospital.  We made our way to the ER and the doctor had a look into my left ear and said “your eardrum is being pushed out of the ear canal – I will call our on-call ENT to come in and check this”.  The on-call ENT was the guy I’d been seeing who had been playing “let’s wait and see” for 2+ months.

He jokingly said “the doctor thinks your eardrum is coming out of the ear canal – haha – let’s have a look and see what’s actually happening…  oh.  well… he’s right, it is bulging because there’s a large blister on your eardrum that is about to rupture.  you have a bad ear infection.”  Lovely…

They asked me about the pain level and I told them it was excruciating.  I was given some pain killer injections and then they wiped some antibiotics in my ear and gave me some medications and sent me on my way.  We drove back home and I was in bed around 3am after taking a few more pain pills.  I woke up at 7am to blinding pain and wet pillow, covered in blood and pus from where the blister had finally ruptured.  Carol called the hospital for me and they told me it would continue to leak for several days and to rest and take all the meds.  The pain pills did nothing and what was almost as bad was that because a layer of skin on my eardrum had exploded and made it thinner I was now able to perfectly hear blood rushing through the capillaries in my eardrum with each heartbeat but couldn’t hear anything else because all that fluid was still trapped in my middle ear!

The ENT I’d been seeing for a while had finally met the end of his usefulness – my condition had progressively worsened the entire time I’d been his patient.  It was time to find someone else, quickly.  I needed to have another myringotomy, like I had back in March 2014 when my symptoms were exactly the same – persistent cough and clogged up ears.  Carolyn checked to see which ENT I’d visited nearly 3 years earlier for this procedure and she made me an appointment to see him.  Unfortunately he wouldn’t perform the procedure on the first visit and he didn’t want to on the second visit either due to the condition of my ear still healing from the infection with the bursting blister, so we literally came down to the weekend before we were supposed to leave for the US without knowing if we’d go or not.  If I couldn’t have the procedure done there was no way I was flying and taking a chance of the pressure causing that fluid to completely rupture my eardrum.

In the end he did the procedure but it wasn’t quite as thorough as 2014 – he only used the little vacuum for a couple of moments to get the fluid out instead of thoroughly clearing it out like he did previously.  The good news was that I was finally able to hear again – instantly.  They did a hearing test and said that I’d lost some of my hearing because of this illness, which wasn’t exactly good news.

At least we knew now that we’d be able to go to the US!

I wasn’t the only one during that time (mid-November to mid-December) who had to see a doctor.  Zobug was due for some jabs and she wasn’t really that excited about it until I told her she could go to Toys R Us and pick 1 toy if she got her jabs without crying.  I couldn’t take another episode like the last time where Carol had me take Zoe for her jabs and she was crying and looking at me with those big teary eyes pleading, “Why are you letting him do this to me, daddy?!”  It broke my heart and made me want to punch the nicest pediatrician on the planet in the mouth, so I needed another approach that worked for everyone.  Zoe took the jabs like a champ!  She was really brave and when he finished she said “that’s all?  it’s over? that wasn’t so bad!”  I took some photos that are included in the gallery below, showing her progression before-during-after the jabs.  Happiness, fear, relief.

Other than tons of medical visit trips to Singapore we also had a period where the kids were finally out of school on break, so Carolyn took them to the large play area at TESCO Plentong a few times.  Sebastian loved the balls and Zoe climbed all over everything.

The best thing about that period for me was that late one Sunday afternoon (11/27 around 5pm) I took the girls and our housekeeper, Rose, to Permas seafood for an early dinner while Jean and Sebastian slept.  As we left the restaurant we saw about 6-8 dusky leaf monkeys!!  This is literally across the street from the condos we lived in last year in Permas Jaya, and there’s development everywhere so they’ve obviously been there.  We’ve seen the normal long tailed macaques in that exact same area a couple of times over the past 4 years when leaving Permas Seafood, but we haven’t seen dusky leaf monkeys at all in Malaysia.  We’ve even been to wildlife refuges where they supposedly live and never saw them, so it was awesome.  Unfortunately all I had was my iPhone so the photos aren’t so good, but you can see that they have the white faces and definitely are the macaques that are all over Malaysia.  I just wish Carol had been there to see them too.  Hopefully we will run into them again before moving back to the US.

Here are some photos taken from mid-November to mid-December:

The Helper became an Artist!

Last year in mid-November we went to a place in downtown JB to celebrate the end of the school year for Zoe and all of her classmates.  The ceremony last year marked Zoe’s graduation from the Nursery and she won a trophy for being the Most Helpful Student in the Nursery.  This year Zoe moved up to K1 (Kindergarten, year 1) and spent many hours learning to spell words and then how to read.  Zobug can now read and do addition and subtraction, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

When the middle of November came again this year it was time to celebrate another school year’s end and the accomplishments of all the children.  We went back to the same auditorium and watched several presentations, including a couple of dances by the Lower School – particularly by K1 and K2.  Zoe recited a memory verse on stage (Proverbs 3:5) while sporting an American Indian costume.  Her class was doing a presentation (dancing and singing) about children from “around the world”.  Each student was tasked to come dressed up in a traditional costume from some culture other than their own (Malaysian).

Just like last year it was obvious that Zoe was the best dancer on stage (maybe I’m biased), and she did a fantastic job.  Carol charged down to the front of the crowd to get photos but she somehow broke her zoom lens and couldn’t figure out how to focus properly with her normal lens so we ended up with only a handful of photos, but it was a great experience to see our little girl performing on stage.

After the performance there were a few more, then they did the award ceremony for the Lower School before moving on the the Upper School presentations and award ceremony.  We had already been tipped off a couple of weeks earlier that Zoe would again be receiving a trophy this year, but instead of being the Best Helper she was the Best in Creative Arts.  I was surprised by this award because early in the year Carol had a run-in with Zoe’s teacher about grades on some of her artwork.  Zoe is actually a good artist in my opinion; I don’t know many 5 year olds that use shading techniques.  After the run-in I heard a story later in the year that Zoe’s teacher was actually impressed with her artwork when the teacher relayed a story to Carolyn that she was walking around the classroom one day while the students were coloring a drawing of a dog and the teacher asked why Zoe had drawn circles on her dog.  All the other students were coloring their dogs a solid black or solid brown.  Zoe explained that she likes Dalmatians and those circles were its spots.

We were happy Zoe was recognized for her artistic abilities and we hope the award inspires her to continue drawing and coloring.  She loves art and spends countless hours coloring and drawing at home.  I have colored pictures of Elsa and Anna taped up in my office at work, as well as one of my favorite drawings of our family that Zoe ever made — it’s just a house standing in the middle of a green field.  I asked Zoe “where are you and Logan, and where are mommy, me and Sebastian?” and she said “it was hot so we all went inside that house”.  Of course!

After the ceremony we went back home, where Rose was watching Logan and Sebbie, and we picked the 3 of them up and all 6 went for celebratory ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

The following week was Zoe’s last week of school this year, and then she went to school with Logan for a week before Logan’s school year also came to an end.  The girls will both start new school years in January once we return from our trip to the US.

Here are the photos from Zoe’s graduation and awards ceremony, together with some shots from her last day of school and some from Logan’s school as well:

Catboy & our Witch take over LegoLand

Way back in October we received a packed from my mom that had the Halloween costumes that Logan and Zoe had requested, setting them up for a series of Halloween celebrations in Malaysia.

We were mostly concerned that the girls be given an opportunity to enjoy Halloween in some way because it was such a fun holiday for Carol and I when we were growing up in the US.  Our kids know a lot more about Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali than they do about Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas since all of their lives has been spent in Southeast Asia so far.

We tried to go back to StraitsView Condominiums in Permas Jaya for their yearly Halloween party, which the girls and their friends had a blast at last year, but since we no longer live there we were unable to get it arranged because Carol’s friend who still lives over there was traveling back home during that time.

Carol looked around at other options, including an American School in Singapore that was supposed to have a Halloween event where kids could come dressed up and trick or treat around the school.  None of the options worked out.  Eventually we heard that the LegoLand amusement park in Johor Bahru was having a special event for Halloween where there were different attractions, candy would be given away and ticket discounts could be had when you came with your kids dressed up in Halloween costumes.  Perfect!

On Halloween Carolyn took Zoe and Logan, together with Rose, over to LegoLand.  Zoe absolutely loved it, Logan — not so much.  Zoe enjoyed seeing all the other costumes, getting candy and riding rides.  Logan wanted to come back home and was “scared” by the other kids who were dressed up.  I was glad they had an opportunity to celebrate Halloween, but it was nothing close to walking all around a neighborhood in your costume with friends, going door-to-door and collecting candy, then heading back home at the end and pouring out your haul and going through it.

Halloween wasn’t a complete disappointment for Logan, even though LegoLand wasn’t a hit for her.  She absolutely LOVED her Catboy costume, which comes from the cartoon called PJ Masks.  She wanted to wear it every single day.  Carol let her put it on several times after she’d get home from school in the afternoons, but Logan wanted to wear to school too.  Carol asked Teacher Mei (Logan calls her “Tee-Tee May”) if Logan could wear it in once since the school year was almost over and not only was she allowed to wear it, but she was encouraged to wear it because that very week her school was planning a “Children’s Day” where the children were all told they could wear whatever they liked instead of their regular uniform — perfect!

Logan went to school on Children’s Day dressed up as Catboy.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Loggie quite as excited as she was to go to school dressed as her favorite crime fighting hero, Catboy.  She had a blast and was given an award for “Most Creative Dress”, which she was very proud of.

I’ve looked at the class photo from that day probably 200 times and it has the same emotional effect almost every time – a mixture of pride and sadness.  I’m so proud that my little princess is coming out of her shell and no longer nervous about being around other children.  I’m proud to see that she feels free to be herself without fear of what others will think or say, more confidence than her old man even.  I’m sad because I know she’ll have 15-20 more years of school where other children will say and do unkind things to her that may negatively impact her psyche.  I hope those difficult times don’t destroy the joy and happiness I see in this amazing little girl, and I find satisfaction in that hope that at some point, maybe sooner than later, she will hopefully realize that those people don’t matter and her happiness should never suffer due to the opinions of others.  Each time I see this class photo of Logan in her Catboy costume it reminds me of a Theodor Geisel qoute that I’ve had posted in my office for the past 4 years: “Be who you are and drive what you will, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  I find it difficult to think that way myself, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see that strength in my Loggie at 3 years old…

Here are the photos from the week surrounding Halloween:

Longest streak

This is the very first time since I started blogging nearly 10 years ago, in January 2007, that I nearly missed adding at least 1 entry for an entire month.  Talk about coming down to the wire!  If you scroll down the page and check out the links on the right hand side you’ll see my blog posting Archives in order by month, for the past 10 years.  There are only 3-4 months in that entire period where I found time to enter just 2 posts, but in November 2016 I almost missed out completely.

I’m posting this at the last possible minute to say that November 2016 has been a hard month for me.  A very hard month…  My health has been poor, particularly my left ear, and I’ve been stressed and busy with work now that I was promoted to a new position.  It’s a good challenge but I’m not able to have any time with my family or to get my health back in order.  I need a break – a real break, not just a weekend.

Since my last posting there have been a ton of other things going on with the family.  The girls went to Legoland to celebrate Halloween, Zoe graduated from K1 and put on a great show at the year end ceremony where she also won a trophy, we’ve been to Singapore a few times (mostly for my doctor appointments) and we’ve been planning a trip to the US for later in December.  I plan to post entries very soon that cover all of those events!

Back into a routine

The past 3 weeks have been spent getting back into our normal routine or work for me, school for the girls, and running around like crazy for Carol and Sebastian.

Since returning from Penang we went to Singapore on two separate Saturdays so that I could see a specialist about my continued coughing.  I’ve been basically cough free since about October 6th.  The doctor gave me two further courses of antibiotics, plus a bunch of other medications, but in the end it seems to have worked.  My left ear is blocked but I refuse to take the steriods he prescribed because it gave me thrush, but I’d prefer a blocked ear to nonstop coughing for another 12-14 weeks.

Speaking of 12-14 weeks, I’ve been smoke free for 13 weeks now.  I haven’t smoked a single cigarette in 13 weeks and I don’t plan on ever smoking again.  I’m glad to be done with it…

Besides the two trips to Singapore for my doctor visits, we have luckily been able to stay put in JB for the past 3 weekends, which is nice.  I get really tired of the non-stop traffic and driving when we go to Singapore every single weekend.  Instead of doctor appointments we’ve been able to do other things, like Zoe and Logan had some friends over for a slumber party one recent Friday night, and they all went to Hello Kitty Land the following day.

We received a care package from my mom (thanks, mom!) and the girls loved their Halloween costumes, especially Logan.  Logan had said she wanted to be Catboy from PJ Masks and Zoe said she wanted to be a witch, and that’s what they got.  Sebastian is a tiny pirate and doesn’t seem to mind the little cap on his head as long as he’s free to run around, but if you stick him in his playpen with it on he gets super pissed off and will tank the cap off his head and throw it as far as he can.

The other recent happenings are that Carol has taken several more cooking classes and she’s now nearly mastered multiple dim sum dishes, primarily har gaos, do miaos and 1 or 2 others.  She’s taking a break on that for a while now to see if she can make it on her own, but so far she hasn’t even attempted it so hopefully she’ll find some time in the next week or so to give it a go.

I was busy as hell the past 2 weeks because I had some visitors from the US at my job and I was with them constantly, so I worked 80+ hours two weeks ago and then around 70 hours last week between all driving around with the visitors, picking up urgent parts for work myself, conference calls and so forth.  Anyhow, it has felt good to see some improvements in areas I’ve been recently asked to focus on that are new for me.

Also new for me is a new vehicle.  Tomorrow I will be bringing home a Toyota minivan to give it a try and see if that’ll be the new family vehicle or not.  We shall see; I have mixed feelings on the Civic.  I’ve had the Civic for 3+ years now and I’m used to it, but it’s a squeeze fitting a family of 5, with two carseats, into a Honda Civic.  The minivan will give us more space I believe, but I hate not having a trunk and now allowing everyone to look into the back of our vehicle; there are a lot of smash and grabs in JB where people will smash your car window while it’s parked in a car park, in order to steal whatever valuables they see.

Anyhow, here are some photos from the past 3-4 weeks:

Water slides & fantastic daiquiris

On Saturday, September 17th, we left the E&O Hotel in Georgetown and went to our third and final hotel in Penang, The Hard Rock Hotel on the beach in Batu Ferringhi.

We had gone out early in the morning to get more photos and to check out Georgetown a little more, but eventually we packed up and checked out of the E&O.  We grabbed lunch at Via Pre, where we’d had dinner earlier in the week.  They definitely have the best pizza I’ve had after 4 years in Malaysia and maybe second best in the region, only behind Singapore’s Peperoni Pizzeria.

We took the 1 hour drive along the northern coast of Penang and finally made our way to the Hard Rock Hotel.  We checked in and were directed to another floor since we’d rented a suite and they had some other lobby especially for guests staying in suites.  It seemed like a waste of time to me, but whatever.  The room looked out over the multiple pools and slides and had a view of the beach, and it was comfortable but small after coming from our gigantic room at the E&O.

I won’t go into all the details of our stay at the Hard Rock, but I will say that the girls enjoyed it much more than the E&O.  When you’re 3 or 5 years old there is a lot more appeal to water slides and screaming kids splashing around than there is to antique furniture and exceptional service in a classic hotel.  We hadn’t been in the room for more than 30 minutes before the girls were in their swimsuits and ready to head downstairs.

We stayed at the Hard Rock for two nights and the girls absolutely loved it.  They both spent quite a bit of time at the pool and riding the water slides, and Zoe spent some time at their kids kids club, playing and making crafts.  Logan was too young for the kids club…

I was sore all over and continuing to cough non-stop, so I didn’t do anything except for drink daiquiris in the room while Sebastian slept.  The bars at the hotel made several different daiquiris and I had them all – several times.  They were excellent.  Carol had a few too and enjoyed them.

Carol also managed to hit the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner one night and the girls met some other kids and they played around with balloons while the parents ate.

It was a lot of fun for the girls, so it was worth it to me, but I wanted to get to a hospital in Singapore to figure out what in the hell was wrong with me.  I just couldn’t stop coughing – it was literally non-stop and painful as hell because I’d been doing it for months and my throat was hurting, I was giving myself headaches from coughing so hard and my chest was sore from coughing so violently too.  I was ready for some relief…

We left Penang on Monday, September 19th, and drove the 5 hours south to KL, where we broke up the long trip and spent another night at the Westin in Bukit Bintang before continuing home on Tuesday.  Don’t get me wrong, even though I felt horrible I was still happy that my family was enjoying themselves and I hope to return to Penang again when I’m feeling better, at least once more before we leave Malaysia for good.

Here are the photos from our stay at the Hard Rock Hotel in Penang:

Running around Penang

We checked into the E&O, and their Author’s Suite was fantastic.  Over the next several days (Tuesday – Sunday, September 13 – 18), we did whatever we wanted to.  No schedules, no plans.  We would wake up and have breakfast in the main E&O dining hall, which was a disaster on the first day because Sebbie was so excited that he tried a little of everything from the buffet and ended up puking all over himself and the floor beneath his high chair.  It was gross and funny at the same time, but mostly it was embarrassing because the staff witnessed the whole scene and came to wipe the area, hazmat style.  Poor Sebbie had all his meals metered, slowly, after that situation.

We took the girls over to an indoor play house that they loved one day.  It had 3 huge slides, with the multi-colored one requiring mats and having an angle that allowed little kids to safely go down it, but the red one was straight down (literally) and the blue one was nearly straight down but had other obstacles to avoid.  Sebastian was too young to enjoy the play areas, but Zoe had an absolute blast.  She ended up going down the red slide probably 20 times and absolutely loved it.  The kids are supposed to wear long sleeves and socks and as we were leaving we found out why; Zoe had gotten road rash on one of her wrists, where her long sleeve had pushed up far enough such that her wrist had pressed against the slide surface on her way down the red slide and it had burned her so badly that it ended up scabbing over within a couple of days.  That didn’t faze her a bit though, she kept wanting to ride the red slide.

Poor Logan was all about it when we first arrived, but after going into the play area and actually seeing the slide up close she refused to walk up the stairs with Zoe and came out of there crying.  We tried several times to get her to go down the easy slide with Zoe, but she wasn’t having it.  Instead of riding the slides and playing she sat between Sebastian and I to watch all the kids while Carol took photos of Zoe and played on her phone.  We ended up getting Logan’s ticket refunded since you pay for a 2 hour block and she called it a day less than 2 minutes into the building.

Zoe really was having fun, laughing and riding all 3 different slides over and over and over.  After about an hour and 15 minutes she came out to our table in the little waiting area just in front of the slides and asked if she could have something to drink, so we bought a couple of sodas.  While Zoe was taking a drink Logan had a change of heart and decided she’d like to give it a try.  Carol and I both told Zoe multiple times to be sweet to Logan and ride only down the easy slide together with her sister on the same mat.

They went down together and Logan came running out with a big smile on her face and said “Daddy, I like it!”  I asked if she wanted to go again and she did, so Carol called Zoe back over (she’d already run off and was going down the red one again).  I told Zoe that Logan had fun and made Zoe look right at me when I told her again to only go down the easy slide together with her sister.  She said she understood and then immediately asked if they could go down the red slide.  I told her “absolutely not!” and explained that her sister missed the first hour and 15 minutes and Zoe needed to be a good big sister and ride the easy one with her sister for a while.  Zoe agreed, hugged Logan, took her by the hand and off they went.  I watched as they came down the easy slide once, twice and as they started on their third time down I told Carol we needed to go ahead and pay again for Logan since in the end she did want to ride, even if we only got a fraction of our money’s worth it was the right thing to do.

Carol went and paid and when she got back to the table we both noticed at the exact same time that Zoe and Logan were sitting on the edge of the blue slide with their legs dangling over and before we could do anything the staff member at the top lifted Zoe up by her arms and sent her down the nearly vertical drop and proceeded to do exactly the same thing to Logan.  Our mouths dropped and Carolyn run over to the base of the blue slide, which was walled in with netting and all sorts of other stuff.  Logan was terrified and wouldn’t move.

Carol had to go up and around through the kiddie stairs and make her way into the base of that slide but Logan wouldn’t come to her.  She was still in shock and absolutely terrified.  Zoe had already hopped out and was back riding other slides.  Carol hopped down into the base and that was the last I saw of her for about 10 minutes.  I can’t say exactly what happened because I was with Sebastian, but Carol jumped down into some balls and her legs went through a cargo net and she was stuck and suspended over the actual ground and couldn’t free herself.  It took a while for additional staff to rescue Jean and Logan, during which time Zoe came back to the table for a drink and I asked her why in the hell she took Logan down the blue slide after I’d told her over and over that she was only to ride the easy multi-colored one together with Logan.  Zoe almost started crying and apologized profusely, saying, “Sorry, daddy!  I thought she would want to try the blue one!”

Jean eventually came back with Logan and was actually laughing because it was such a crazy thing – terrified toddler goes down vertical slide meant for older kids and freezes, mom gets stuck in cargo net and needs rescue more than toddler.  We had a pretty good laugh and Logan jumped up into my lap and said she didn’t want to ride any more slides because Zoe made her ride a scary one.

The entire rest of our stay, and even today (more than 2 weeks later), Logan continues to ask daily if she can “go ride the big slide”.  Her memories of it are better than the reality it seems.  In the end they both had fun.

Other than those few hours at the indoor playhouse in Batu Ferringhi, we managed to check out more of Georgetown.  Carol and Zoe went through one of the old Jetties on the water where Chinese settlers and their descendants have lived for centuries, some more Chinese temples were visited, Carol went for a late night walk to pickup dinner and found a huge congregation of bear statues that represented every country in the world and then on her way back to the E&O she passed through some sort of parade.  We had cocktails at the E&O and a huge frozen ice thing.  It was a good time but hard for me to enjoy because I was in bad shape, coughing every single minute for the entire trip…

Here are the photos:

Searching for street art

Penang is famous for the street art all around Georgetown.  We didn’t really know this nearly 4 years ago when we visited Penang for Chinese New Year in February 2013, but since then we’ve heard about how there are murals and other street art all over the place.  You just have to walk around and search for them.

On Tuesday, September 13th, we headed out fairly early in search of street art.  We wanted to beat the crowds, and since it was a public holiday we weren’t sure what to expect with respect to crowds.  We drove down into the heart of the old town in Georgetown and eventually found our way to Armenian Street after stopping to get photos of a few pieces of art here and there.  When we got to the entrance to Armenian Street you could see the most famous mural in Penang right in front of us across the little intersection.  It wasn’t even 8:30am yet and there were barely in cars driving around.  Georgetown also is nearly 100% street parking, with very few parking lots, so I was thrilled to see many open spots on the streets.

I pulled over and stayed in the car with Sebastian while Carol took the camera and the girls across the street to get some shots of that most famous mural – a painting of two small children playing on a bicycle.  It’s a fantastic painting and really captures youthful joy.  I love it.  It was right in front of us, so maybe 40-50 meters from where I’d pulled over to the side of the street.  While I was watching Carol and the girls posing and taking photos I noticed in my side view mirror a tricycle rickshaw slowly making its way towards me from behind the car.  When he was just about to pass by I put my arm out the window and motioned for him to stop.

This old guy, who had to have been in his 80’s, could not have weighed more than 85 pounds.  He was probably 5ft tall if standing straight up, but his back was badly arched over.  He pulled up beside my window and smiled.  I pointed to Carolyn and the girls, still across the street taking photos, and asked how much for my wife and daughters to ride with him for 30 minutes.  He said he’d taken them through the nearby streets for 30 minutes for Rm30 ($7.26).  I told him we had a deal and I asked where I should park while I waited with my son in the car.  He parked his rickshaw and helped direct me to u-turn and park alongside a small street hawker stall.

The old man pulled his rickshaw up beside my car and we waited until Carol and the girls came back and I announced that they’d be taking a tour!  They hopped into the rickshaw and were off.  I got out of the car and took Sebastian out of his car seat and brought him up into the front seat with me and we watched the little hawker stall open up for the day, as maybe 6-10 locals made their way to the stall and each would sit down for a coffee, snack and a cigarette for several.  They were reading the morning news or chatting with the vendor as Sebbie hopped around waving, laughing and trying to climb into the passenger seat constantly.

When Carol and the girls made it back they were all smiles.  They had stopped at lots of different murals that the guy had taken them to so they could get more photos, and besides being difficult to climb in and out of they had a blast.  I gave the old man Rm40 ($9.67) and he thanked me several times and helped direct me to pull out.  There still wasn’t much traffic so we drove around the neighborhood slowly and got more photos.  We eventually grabbed some take away dim sum at a little shop and headed back to The Northam, where we got ready, packed the car and checked out after eating brunch together.  We eventually made our way over the our second hotel in Penang, a fantastic old heritage hotel where we’d stayed on our previous visit, The Eastern & Oriental.

We checked into the E&O and were shown to the Author’s Suite, which had Rudyard Kipling’s name on the door and a large painting of him inside the room.  The suite was gorgeous, with a private balcony looking over the Straits of Melaka, at what was once the most important trading post in the region.  Our room had indeed been where The Jungle Book author, Kipling, had stayed when he visited Penang, as well as other famous guests like Somerset Maugham.  The E&O really does make you think about the British Empire, 1920’s grandeur in exotic outposts, where Brits would come to have a gin and tonic and escape the heat.

Since it was my birthday we did pretty much what I wanted to do, so I had some cocktails with Carol at the E&O and we all relaxed.  Unfortunately my coughing had gotten worse and after nearly 2 months of solid coughing I was the worst I’ve been.  Non-stop coughing was making me ache all over, but I still managed to have a wonderful birthday with my family.  The girls enjoyed the rickshaw ride, I loved seeing the art (my favorite was the kids on the bike & Carol’s favorite was the guy on the motorcycle), and the remainder of the day at the E&O was enjoyable.

Here are the photos from our searches for street art in Penang while we stayed at the E&O in Georgetown — most of which were taken in the morning on September 13th from a rickshaw:

Laptops in Malaysia, unicorns and pots of gold

What do finding a laptop you want in Malaysia, riding a unicorn and finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow all have in common?  They’re all impossible to do.  Purchasing a laptop with the specs you want in Malaysia is as challenging as finding a baby pigeon.  It just doesn’t exist…

After we returned from Bali we had a week at home before heading out on a second week of vacation.  After no time off from work since March (6 months if you’re counting), it was time for 2 separate one week breaks.  The interim week at home was hectic because I was really busy at work, my dad left to go back to the US and we had several other things to do.  By Friday afternoon, September 9th, we were more than ready for another one week break from our normal routine.

I didn’t actually work on Friday (Sept 9) because I had a migraine when I woke up and the coughing fits had come back.  I basically slept all day until I was able to bear sunlight around 3-4pm, when I got up and we packed the Civic and left for Kuala Lumpur.  We made it to our hotel in Bukit Bintang around 9:30pm.  I had actually booked a serviced apartment at the Westin, where we normally stay in KL, instead of a normal hotel room.  The apartment was fantastic – tons of room for the entire family.  I’ve found that travel is getting increasingly difficult because most hotels allow 1 child under some age (usually like 10 years old) to stay in the room for free using the existing bedding, very few allow 2 children and basically none allow 3 children.  This isn’t like 1985, when you’d roll up to the office at a motel just off the highway and rent one room for the night and only have to worry about hiding the dog — most places in 2016 don’t want a family of five in a regular room.  We are increasingly forced to rent studios and serviced apartments to accommodate the family.

Anyhow, we went over to the Feast level at the Starhill Gallery and got a late dinner at Carolyn’s favorite, Tarbush.  The following morning we went and picked up some dim sum at a recommended place about 20mins from our hotel, then we went to the KL Botanic Gardens and had breakfast picnic style at a table surrounded by 1 billion ants.  The weather was surprisingly nice – not too hot and humid by 1pm, which is unheard of normally in Malaysia.

After our dim sum brunch in the Botanical Gardens we headed over to Little India (Brickfields) to run some errands, and once those were done we eventually made our way back to the hotel and I hung out with Sebbie while Carol took the girls shopping.  They all 3 got new Birkenstocks and at least Zoe enjoyed the late afternoon shopping trip with her mommy.  Logan is like her father, she doesn’t care much for shopping.

The next morning we slept in and Carol actually took Zoe over to a mall nearby our hotel that is known for all its technology stores, Plaza Low Yat.  It was unfortunately a trip to spend more money than we wanted to, but my laptop had been on the fritz for about 2 weeks (shutting itself off unexpectedly ever increasingly) and it finally died on the Friday when we left home.  I needed a new laptop and couldn’t wait until December when we return to the US for a two week vacation.  I pay all of our bills online with my laptop, I maintain the blog from my laptop, we keep our digital photos on my laptop, when I’m at home and the kids are asleep I get about 95% of my entertainment from the laptop – Netflix, college football games through a proxy, youtube sailing videos and so on.  I could not possibly go 3.5 months without a laptop.

Anyhow, it was a decent time to legitimize purchasing a new laptop because my 39th birthday was coming up during the following week.  I found an Asus laptop I thought would be a good choice and that began a 3 day search that helped reinforce how horrible it is to be a consumer in Malaysia.  You really appreciate the US after trials like this.  You cannot pick from hundreds of options on Dell.com or Amazon.com and have them arrive on your doorstep within 2 days (reliably) here in Malaysia.  Instead you must find little trading shops that deal in computers, then you can select from their inventory of about 6-8 different choices and all are marked up over US prices by about 35%.  The markup is ridiculous, but finding the laptop you actually want was the real challenge.

Carol managed to find a shop that claimed to have one but they refused to let her see it, saying she’d have to pay first.  What?!  You cannot take a look at a $1200 laptop before paying for it in a country where salaries are normally $300-400 per month?  Who in their right mind would purchase something that cost 3-4 month’s salary without even seeing the box?!?  We figured that this shop was likely lying and actually had someone in the back trying to phone other shops to locate the laptop since they’re “traders” and they’d just markup the laptop if they found it.  Carolyn walked away.  If they did truly have it then they made a huge mistake because they would have made the sale if they’d just let her take a look and it was what she had requested and what they’d said they had.

We left KL without a laptop even though we called about 8-10 large stores with electronics departments and after Carol combed through all the shops in the biggest IT mall in KL.  Nobody in the capital of Malaysia had the Asus Zenbook or Zenbook Pro!

We checked out of the Westin around 2pm and begin the 5 hour drive to Penang.  We hadn’t been to Penang since February 2013, when we took a tiny Zobug up there for Chinese New Year.  On the drive up to Penang Carolyn was on her phone almost constantly for 5 hours, calling places in Ipoh and Penang trying to locate an Asus Zenbook.  She eventually spoke to concierge at the second of three hotels where we’d be staying during our 8 nights in Penang, the Eastern & Oriental.  The concierge found someone who said they could order it from Asus and we could purchase it from their shop by Wednesday, and amazingly we were offered a discount of like RM200 ($50) off the price we’d seen for this elusive laptop at shops that didn’t actually carry it in KL.

The first hotel we checked into in Penang, The Northam, had an enormous suite but it was old and felt pretty run down.  The tint on the windows was gold from outside, so the views outside from our room looked like the air quality was horrible.  We have stayed in a ton of hostels, hotels, motels, guesthouses and so on for the past 15 years, and besides a suite at a hotel in Cleveland we stayed at for a single night when driving from Niagara Falls to Kentucky many years ago, this was the largest.  The master bedroom even had a steam sauna.  I would imagine the place was spectacular 25 year ago.

After spending some time arranging delivery for dinner we continued trying to arrange for the laptop.  I spoke several times to the guy at the shop who guaranteed he could get the laptop we wanted by Wednesday to the concierge at the E&O earlier in the day, and once he realized we wanted something specific and he couldn’t convince us to actually purchase something else he had in stock he said delivery would take weeks.  I questioned why he’d told the E&O something different earlier and he said we couldn’t get it for the discounted price and I told him we’d pay the normal retail price and he could keep the Rm200 – just get the damn laptop by Wednesday.  He said he’d try, but it was coming all the was from KL.  Keep in mind that I drove from KL to Penang that same day, it take just under 5 hours with moderate traffic, and it was Sunday and he said it may be hard to get the laptop by Wednesday.  In the US I cannot imagine a store that sells computers in the second or third largest city (Los Angeles or Chicago) saying they couldn’t bring in what we wanted from 5 hours away in 3 days.  I told them guy I send items from Malaysia to the US in 3 days and he said “ok, I try”.

Carolyn went to the large IT mall in Penang that evening because we didn’t get warm fuzzy feelings from the guy who we were told had the Zenbook and then did a bait and switch on us already, and of course nobody at the mall carried the Asus Zenbook either.

The next morning we woke up early and went up to see a beautiful Chinese temple we had visited three and a half years earlier, Kek Lok See.  On this visit there was some construction going on at the main large statue, but we had a good time exploring the grounds.  The girls got to hang wishing ribbons from a wishing tree; they selected the “Listen to the words of my Father” and “Listen to the words of my Mother” ribbons for their wishes, but I think they were more impressed with the Disney princesses on the ribbons than the wishing sentiments.  🙂

After a while at Kek Lok Si we drove around and picked up take away from a couple of recommended dim sum joints in downtown Georgetown (the historic section of Penang), then we took this late brunch back to our hotel.  Carol ended up going back to the mall on this second day and this time she bought an Acer laptop that was close in spec to the Zenbook I really wanted.  I would definitely not have purchased this laptop in the US – the price was way too high and it wasn’t what I wanted, but I needed a laptop and it was quite obvious by this point that Malaysia is not a consumer’s market.

Here are the photos from the first few days of our trip to Penang, including a short stopover in KL and a visit to Kek Lok Si in Penang:

Happy Birthday to Ganesh!

When we got back from Bali we only had a week before a second trip.  The week between our two trips was a hectic one though because the Board of Directors for the company where I work were in town visiting, my dad flew back home to the US and we needed to get ready for a trip up to Penang.

Work was work – stressful but not too different than any other week even though we had some guests in town.

We took my dad out to dinner at Permas Seafood the night before he flew home, and it was hard to say goodbye to him when he got into the transport van at 2am on Wednesday morning (September 7th).

The week did take a considerable downturn though after a wonderful week in Bali had just ended – my laptop died and by Wednesday my cough had started back and I began feeling like crap again.  Having no laptop is horrible for me because I enjoy posting blogs, watching sailing videos and that’s my main source of news and information since we don’t have cable television.  On the health front, I seriously think there’s some allergen in JB that is causing this because from 0-35 years old I had very few problems other than some allergies symptoms when pollen would be heavy in the US, but in the 4 years since I’ve lived over here I’ve had to have my eardrum cut open to drain everything, I’ve had a scope crammed up my nose to check my sinuses/throat/lungs 3 separate times, I’ve coughed so hard that it literally caused a hernia to pop up while I was in the middle of a coughing fit, and now my eyes are constantly burning and itching and I haven’t stopped coughing except for the week in Bali for nearly 9 weeks now even though I’ve had 3 courses of antibiotics!

The only other thing of note from that week between trips is that an Indian-Malay friend of mine told me about it being Ganesh’s birthday on September 5th.  He said we should visit the Hindu temple in Johor Jaya because they’d have a big ceremony and visitors were welcome.  Ganesh is the elephant God in the Hindu religion.

We did manage to go by the Hindu temple in Johor Jaya on the 5th, but the parking situation was absurd so I made about 5 slow laps through the area after dropping Carolyn off to go and have a look.  She literally got right in the middle of the things and was there when they brought in a flower covered tiny status of Ganesh.  She took some photos and you can see what a colorful and festive celebration it was, which most Hindu ceremonies are.  Maybe next year we can all try to go inside together and visit.

Here are some some photos from that week, mostly from Jean’s trip into the temple during Ganesh’s birthday celebration, but also a few from our dinner with my pop at Permas Seafood and also one of my absolute favorite drawing Zoe has made to date – a picture she made of herself, smiling in a dress under the clouds while she was “standing in the garden”:

Sad to see it end

Back on Sunday, September 4th, we packed up everything and got a taxi to the Bali airport, checked into our flight and flew back to Singapore.  We did have another nice breakfast in our villa before we left, and after a week of searching for Gatorade we finally found it (at the airport!).

This trip to Bali was fantastic and probably the best vacation I’ve had since living in Malaysia for the past 4 years, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve had several amazing trips over the past several years.  It was just so relaxing after such a stressful period and I felt great the entire time after having been sick and coughing non-stop for like 5-6 weeks.  On top of being relaxing without any schedule and feeling great physically, I was able to spend time swimming with my kids every single day.  The cherry on top was being able to share all this with Carolyn and my dad!!

While we were in Bali Sebastian celebrated his first birthday and really started walking, Zoe had a blast swimming the entire time and my little princess Loggie was so brave and went swimming with only arm floats each day.  Carolyn enjoyed doing a little shopping and was so sweet to take the girls to several different performances, and my dad joined us in the pool on every single occasion.

Here are a couple shots of our return back home: