Gong xi fa cai, Kuala Lumpur

We were lucky to get two New Year’s trips this year! After coming home from our trip to the Rocky mountains, we had a long weekend vacation in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was lovely – turns out we really like Malaysia. What a beautiful place! The people are friendly, the food is great, it’s easy to get around. Jakarta, please take note.

We only had a few days there, so we had to pack it all in.

Day 1: arrive on in the afternoon, tour the aquarium, buy groceries, check into apartment, go swimming, listen to fireworks, watch weird Chinese movies all night. Check!

Day 2: Tour to the Batu caves, colonial ruins & monkey park, century-old fishing village, evening boat trip to see mangroves and fireflies. Check!

Day 3: Water park, science center, ice cream lunch, wandering around. Check!

Day 4: Pack up and visit the Chinese flea market before hopping the train and plane home. Check!

Here’s a whirlwind photo tour:

Kebun Raya – Chaperone edition

Well, now that we’re done with the weeks and weeks of updates about our holidays in ANZ (That’s “Australia-New Zealand” for you Northern Hemisphere people, or as we in the Southern Hemisphere like to derogatorily call you, “Northems”), life has sort of settled back into our old rut. Well, not EXACTLY into our old rut, but the new rut seems awfully familiar to the old one. I think they’re related. They’re at least cousins.

One thing that has changed, however, is that I have a TON of time on my hands. I finished up my work contract here in Bogor just before the in-laws arrived for Christmas, and from the day we got back home from sunny Auckland, I’ve been trying to find things to fill that time up. I’ve watched a lot of hockey, granted, but the other thing I’ve started to do is to help out at the kids’ school. It’s a small school, but they do quite a bit of field trips, and I was invited along as a chaperone for LittleB’s class as we took the kids on a tour of Bogor’s botanical gardens, Kebun Raya.

As we were loading into the bus on our way to the gardens, I realized how attached folks here are to the culture of “school uniforms” – despite the permission form specifically allowing kids to wear regular clothes on this field trip, LittleB was the only one to wear “casual” clothes… every other kid had elected to wear their school uniform instead of their regular clothes!

Other than the uniform snafu, the trip went as well and as predictable as one could expect:

  • the kids went crazy and touched every single plant within arm’s reach
  • the loud and rambunctious kids were louder and more rambunctious when given more space to do so
  • quiet and introspective kids can be coerced into being loud and rambunctious with a healthy dose of peer pressure
  • we almost got kicked out of the Orchid house because of an impromptu game of Hide and Seek that had started up
  • cactuses are sharp, and some kids won’t believe it, despite your warnings, until they find out for themselves
  • When kids see a frog orgy, they will ask you to take a picture of the frog orgy, and not stop talking about the frog orgy for days and days
  • irrigation canals are not water slides
  • suspension bridges can be scary when 11 kids are jumping on them simultaneously, actively trying to cause a catastrophic failure
  • museum employees are surly and apathetic here too, it’s apparently not just a north american thing
  • Indonesian museums are “charming-yet-underfunded” at their best, and “an unholy hall of twisted godless terrors, haunting you for eternity with long suffering eyes that will sear into your mind and and manifest themselves as your worst nightmares until the sweet embrace of death finally lifts the curse that has steadfastly followed you for nigh all these years” at their worst
  • expat kids are like catnip to Indonesians, who literally cannot help themselves from either pinching cheeks, or asking you what your name is or where you are from. And then asking you to sing for them, apparently.
  • And, finally, I took a bunch of pictures (including several of the frog orgy)!

-B

Aussie Adventure Part 2 – Around Sydney

Our Sydney holiday started with checking into our rental house for the week. It was in the Kings Cross area, just outside downtown, and I was looking forward to being within walking distance to lots of food and shops. It turns out we were very close indeed to some shops! Unforuntately, they were almost all *ahem* adult shops. LittleB was super excited to walk past a row of “toy” stores and really wanted to go in – we figured he should wait another 11 years or so before checking out those particular establishments.

But actually, the place we rented was along a very sweet little neighbourhood road nearby. The landlady was from France, so B and I woo’ed her with our language skills, and she was very excited to have her Canadian ‘cousins’ staying downstairs. We had the run of the bottom half of the family’s house, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, only a few hundred metres away from a subway stop and a grocery store, bottle shop, and plenty of restaurants.

We had six days to explore Sydney, and we barely scratched the surface. The first day, we decided to make the kids happy and visit the Aquarium. We showed up early to avoid the crowds – but it was still packed. We shuffled along, checking out all the fish, sharks and platypuses. The kids got these little quiz cards and got to move from station to station, answering questions and stamping their cards. They were so excited, and just wanted to run straight from station to station. So yeah, we basically paid $25 each for them to get a free piece of paper, oblivious to the wonders of the ocean all around them. But we did see some cool stuff. There are viewing tunnels through the tanks, where sharks, manta rays, and a lonely dugong swim right beside and above you so you can more easily check out the weird holes and crevices on their undersides. We also made it to the top of the tank during feeding time and got to watch all the sharks fight over chum. The aquarium also had all the other usual stuff – penguins, coral tanks, seahorses, jellyfish. It was a good time.

Afterwards, we wandered around Darling Harbour, checking out the boats and other tourists. Then we found Paddy’s Market – a huge asian flea market, where we bought some touristy junk (probably made in Indonesia) and paused at a playground nearby to let LittleB climb around on some kind of rope death trap structure. J tried to climb it but only managed to get stuck and then complain loudly and anatomically accurately about the rope hurting her lady parts. Yeah, I think Australia is going to miss us.

On our way back to our subway stop, we took a break in a park to rest our whiny children. Afer a few minutes, we started noticing that there were a lot of rather scruffy characters around. It appeared we had stopped in what might have been the local homeless park. My dad suggested the bench we were on was probably someone’s bed, so we moved along. But I’m not convinced the park was entirely full of homeless people, and I think most of them may have just been scruffy regular folks. In fact, most of Australia seems to be full of scruffy regular folks. So much so, that B and I started playing a game called “Hobo or Hipster?” – every young person in the city was put to the test. It came out pretty even, I think.

Overall, one thing we were particularly looking forward to on our trip was Australian wine. My parents make a point of buying Australian shiraz even back in Ontario – we definitely needed to visit the source of this nectar. So I booked us on a day tour into the Hunter Valley. I checked around online until I found a tour that first, would take all six of us, and also, would include stops not only at wineries but at a chocolate factory, a brewery, a cheese shop, AND an animal park where we would get to hug some Aussie animals. I should tell you that for the six weeks leading up to our trip, J would say every day that she just wanted to hug a joey. That was it, hugging a joey was all she wanted from the entire country of Australia. Luckily, this was the place!

On the day of the tour, we stopped at the animal sanctuary first. Our guide took us to meet the koalas right away. First of all, they were much bigger than I was expecting. And much more active – I guess I always thought they were more slothy. But no, they are actually more like curious kittens, except with huge razor claws that they want to use for climbing up your soft human flesh. Ok, they’re actually pretty horrible creatures. I mean, they were cute to look at and their fur was spongy and oh so soft, but they are not cuddly at all, despite what childhood books on the other side of the world may teach you. I’ve also heard that they all have gonorrhea, so there’s that.

Next, we entered the roo pen. The friendliest one was this old crotchety guy, much smaller than the others, and who, as it turns out, was actually a “walleroo”. I made some kind of (possibly rude) inference about awkward cross-breeding between a kangaroo and a wallaby, thinking that why else would you name an animal after a mix if it’s not actually a mix, right? Like a Liger. Nope, the somewhat offended guide told me that they are a completely separate species. Sure they are, Australia.

Anyway, finally we found the friendly actual kangaroo (she had a collar to set her apart) and J got to hug her! Wish fulfilled!

Inside the sanctuary building were some other crazy pets. Like a dog that was totally blind and deaf, so she just ran up to every person to sniff out who it was, while the owner called her to no avail. Then there were these two sneaky parrots that used all us humans in the room like a bridge, hopping from one to another until they reached the cookie shelf to steal treats. They were bitey.

Next we moved on the the chocolate factory. Ok, we grew up in the town near the Hershey factory, so I wouldn’t call this place a factory in comparison. There was one tiny chocolate stirring machine and then some chocolate for sale… so I guess it was a chocolate producing place at least. It was expensive but tasty.

Luckily the wine was great. The first place we visited was a family vineyard, where we bought a bottle of delicious and expensive merlot to bring home with us. We also visited another vineyard in the afternoon, where we took home some yummy dessert wine. That place had a strange quirk of scattering the ashes of dead family members on rows of grapes and then naming the wine after them. I still can’t decide if that is sweet or a bit creepy. Either way, we drank some “Rosie” and she was pretty tasty.

Lunch was a stop at a big vineyard called Tempus Two, where we had some awesome umami burgers and did our cheese tasting. That was a bust, since all the cheese was just spreadable goat cheese with different flavorings. Um, where is all the actual cheese? Anyway, at least we got to drink some more wine with it.

Last stop was a local microbrewery, where we tried some strange options like “Christmas pudding” and some other ones I can’t remember. Also there was a bouncy castle to keep the kids busy while we drank. They knew how to do drinking right. Oh yeah, and I forgot to tell you that we were on this tour with another family – a family of Irish folks, half of whom were not drinking and the other half who barely drank anything/could not hold their liquor. Talk about going against stereotype. At least B and I drank enough for all of them combined, you know, just to make up for it. It was the least we could do.

 

Bedtime stories

We have a very strict bedtime routine in our family.

It all started when LittleB was a baby. He hated his crib, and would cry all night, forcing us to constantly come in and out of the room or give in and let him sleep with us. Finally, at age one, we decided that it was time for a toddler bed, just to change things up and “start fresh.” So a few days after his first birthday, we moved him from a crib to a mattress on the floor.

At first, it was great! He loved being able to get in and out of the bed on his own. Unfortunately, it meant he got out of the bed on his own, whenever he wanted. Bedtime was suddenly worse! He wouldn’t stay in there by himself, so we started waiting with him, beside his mattress, sort of half sleeping in the bed with him, crunched up on the cold floor, singing songs or reading stories until we were hoarse, waiting for him to pass out so we could sneak away into the night.

After a few months of this, we had enough. It was cry-it-out time. So we put one of those kiddie door handle locks on the inside of his room (he was a tall for a toddler) and abandoned him in there for the night. To make this process more palatable, we set a strict 7-pm bed time, which came with one story, one song, and a few minutes of cuddling. That’s it, then you’re on your own, kid. Eventually this took hold, and we have been blessed with relatively good sleep patterns ever since. And we have continued the bedtime tradition (now with both kids) to this day.

These days, bedtime is usually a lovely moment in the evening, when the kids are settled down and we get to spend some time with them really talking and bonding. Now that LittleB is older, it has become his special few minutes with one of us. Usually we read a couple of chapters of a novel or a few pages of a science fact book, turn off the lights, sing him a song, give a hug and kiss, fix his covers, walk to the door, pause halfway out the doorway to say “Goodnight” one last time, and…

“Mommy?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Mommy, what existed before the big bang?”

Are you kidding me?? At this juncture of the evening, while I am literally walking out of the room after half an hour together, are you seriously asking me this huge, far-reaching, speculative, basically unanswerable question?? 

Indeed, he is. Every single night. Here are some other doorway doozies he’s dropped on us:

  • Is there such thing as the end of the world? How do people know about it?
  • What would happen if the world stopped spinning?
  • Where did life come from?
  • How did people come to exist?
  • What’s the biggest thing in the whole world? In the universe?
  • What would happen if the sun went out?
  • Is there other life in the universe?
  • How many stars are there?
  • How many earths can you fit inside the entire universe?
  • When you die, how do you become a ghost?

Do I  know what existed before the big bang? Of course not. Maybe I speculate, mumble a couple of things about string theory or dark matter or something, thinking “dear god, make this end so I can go have a gin & tonic and be a human adult for an hour.” Maybe I say something like “I don’t know, buddy, let’s check it on wikipedia tomorrow” or “Neat question, but ohmigod go to sleep already.”

But you know what? I love his questions. Even on the nights when I really want nothing more than to get out of there and decompress on the couch, I usually end up staying there awkwardly, half in the doorway, saying something like “Well, scientists think that before the big bang, there was just nothing. Just a teeny tiny, massively dense ball of matter, and then bang – it suddenly turned into everything! Pretty cool, huh? What do you think about that?”  And then I spend an extra ten minutes (or more) standing there while he peppers me with follow-up questions that I can also barely answer.

Some nights, I’m lucky and he asks the question before I get to the door. Other nights he opens up about his feelings on school or friends or life in general, and we spend those extra minutes talking about how to deal. Sometimes our conversations are more like this one (actually, that’s more like BigB’s conversations with him).

Anyway, I think I’ve learned more from our chats than he has. It’s a great addition to our bedtime routine, and I think we’ll try to keep it alive as long as we can!

Pretty cool, huh?

O Canada: bonus round – NYC redux

Our bonus round was an extra visit to NYC after our plane was delayed and couldn’t be rebooked for several days. We holed up in the airport hotel and took a few trips into the city again. The first day, we visited the NYC aquarium and Coney Island – both newly reopened after hurricane Sandy. On the second day, we headed into Manhattan for a bit more sightseeing, including the Flatiron building, Madison Square Park and a trip to Eataly, Macy’s, and the NY Public Library. Even though we were more than ready to head home, it was nice to have another chance to redeem our less-than-stellar first visit to the city!

O Canada: part one – NYC

What’s that you say? New York is not part of Canada? Well, on our way here, LittleB said: “But mom, Ottawa and the United States are both inside of Canada!” There you go, US – you are now the 11th province. How’s them apples?

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon after about a million hours on flights. We foolishly thought that we could navigate the subway to our apartment rental, which actually was not so much an issue until we landed on our 4th subway train that had no A/C. Oh yeah, and did you know that there’s a heat wave in NY right now? I’m pretty sure our shoes melted today. Anyway, back to the subway – there we were, packed into a sweltering rush hour train with two dead-to-the-world kids who refused to hold on to the pole and three suitcases. I’m pretty sure I almost passed out at least twice. But we did make it to our apartment eventually, and settled into the 30-sq-foot luxury that is the upper west side.

So anyway, let’s be honest here. We’ve had a rather mediocre time in NYC. I’m going to blame it on the fact that our kids are overtired after the long plane trip, or maybe that the temperature has reached into the 40s for the past few days. We didn’t get to do a lot of the things we planned, and the things we did do were cut short by whiny kids, or by us being tired of carrying whiny kids around, or by us having to find food or beverages for whiny kids. Right, so here are the rules we have established for visiting NYC with kids: 1. Do expensive ticketed items first thing in the morning. You’re going to regret arriving at, say, the museum at 2 pm and your 84 bucks go to waste when your kids refuse to actually look at exhibits at the museum. 2. Don’t bother going to NYC with your kids. They would be just as happy going to a toy store anywhere else in the world instead.

But we did get to see lots of great things: beautiful Central Park in the summer – Rockefeller plaza and the MOMA design shop – Times Square in the afternoon sun – Neil de Grasse Tyson’s planetarium – the Manhattan Skyline from the Statue of Liberty – and our friends’ new baby. So there are lots of reasons why our trip was wonderful. Even better, we’re heading on to Canada tomorrow where the real fun begins! (After another trip on the subway back to airport… wish us luck!)

 

NYC extravaganza – part 2

Despite our very long Saturday, we still managed to wake up early and head out for some more sightseeing on Sunday morning. After a disappointing breakfast at a greasy diner, we walked into Central Park for a quick tour on our way to the Museum of Natural History.

The museum, of course, is featured in such classics as “Night at the Museum” and “Night at the Museum II” (or is that the Smithsonian?). Anyway, it was huge. We barely saw 10% of it before we were museumed out. We left to wander the city a bit more, and mostly to buy some giant cookies from a local bakery.

That afternoon, my friend J arrived to join us. We headed up to Macy’s (so I could check out its original set of wooden escalators!). Then we had a very filling and delicious dinner at Keen’s Steakhouse, followed by an evening on the Empire State Building.

The next day was grey and very rainy. We decided to head underground for a subway tour. After checking out Grand Central Station, we took the subway downtown for a stop at the 9/11 memorial. That was a very complicated experience, involving several security checks and a lot of walking. But the memorial fountains were incredibly moving.

Then we walked up to Washington Square Park and saw the NYU campus. After dropping my tired parents off at the hotel, J and I went back to Central Park to take a look at some of the other sights. Later that night, we all headed to a showing of Rock of Ages. It was the kind of show you don’t want to watch with your mom, but it turns out mine likes face-melting hair metal and crude jokes!

My parents headed home Tuesday morning, and J and I spent the next three days at our work conference. It was also a lot of fun, and we had some good network (i.e. drinking) sessions during the week. One night involved giant slices of cheesecake from a dirty times square diner. The perfect end to our NYC experience!

Taman Safari

Dear readers,

We went on an exciting and hilarious trip to a safari on the weekend! Let me tell you, it was possibly the most fantastic thing ever experienced by humankind. We saw things… very incredible things.

If only I had pictures. We’ve been trying to upload them for three days now, but for some reason it is not working. So you will just have to take my word for it…

edit: Here they are! I uploaded them from work instead. I’ll try to add some more write up about this later.