Wednesday, 13 July 2011



Penang was a bit of an anticlimax after Cameron Highlands. It was much more crowded and full of traffic. But the cool thing was running into the Tonks family at the busy local hawker centre. I was wandering around looking at what to order when I heard a voice exclaim, "This is our place! What are you doing here?" And there was Danielle! Many hugs ensued.

The following day we didn't see any of the historical or touristy things in Penang. We hung out in one of the local malls, where the boys bought up big on clothes and electronics (Nick demonstrated how our family responds so well to retail therapy - he bought a laptop and his mood transformed from vaguely grouchy to ebullient in a flash).

There was an odd contrast between the other types of tourists at our hotel. You saw it mostly at breakfast. There were several tables at which sat a Saudi man, a handful of children, and three or four women clad in black from head to toe, with only their eyes showing. I saw one woman who even had a veil over her veil and black gloves on so you couldn't see a single bit of her. How those women coped in the heat, I have no idea. On the other hand, there were busty, overweight, middle aged European women who came down to breakfast in nothing but their swimsuits and sarongs, and stayed that way all day. Each extreme was as confronting as the other.

While we were away, there were protests in Kuala Lumpur, with a huge group of people coming together to campaign for fairer elections. But we didn't see a shred of unrest up in Penang. There wasn't anything much on the news about it either, we heard about it from people who were there or from overseas news websites. Malaysia is a strange country, full of contrasts and extremes all lumped in together. Malay, Chinese, Indian history and traditions all swirl together, with a desire for change and yet so entrenched in its ways that change is slow, if at all.

And on top of it all are the tourists blundering and misunderstanding their (our?) way through it all.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cameron Highlands

The thing that was so nice about the Cameron Highlands was the cool temperature. It's a few hours from KL, up a tightly winding road and away from the thick heat and pollution in the city. A number of little towns are perched here and there over quite a wide spread in the mountains. We stayed in Tanah Rata, one of the longer established towns, and a popular holiday spot for Malaysians and international travelers. Actually there were heaps of white tourists, mostly backpackers. On the first night we had a delicious steamboat dinner and a passing Canadian exclaimed, "oh it's like fondue!" (well...sort of...not really...)

After missing the turnoff and driving around for ages, we made it to the Sungei Palas BOH tea plantation. The building is an airy and light modern structure cantilevering out over the plantation, with a stunning view of velvety green blanketed hills and the winding rows of tea crops ("like brain cells" dad said). We had tea and odd, triangular scones, and Lachy and I wandered through the factory to see the stages of tea being processed (the others weren't really interested, so we didn't opt for the longer tour).

me and Lach at the tea house

Then down for a local lunch, followed by strawberry picking. There are heaps of strawberry farms, all proclaiming you can pick your own strawberries. I didn't manage to get a photo of most of the signs, but favorites were 'self picking strawberries', 'self plucking strawberries' and the simple yet direct 'pluck yourself'. We got some gorgeous, delicious ones from a place near where we had lunch, which said on a hand written sign that they used a special Japanese music technique called 'sonic bloom'. I also indulged my 9 year old half-Asian self and bought a souvenir strawberry pillow, which the others all thought odd but I think it's marvelous.

it's so fluffy!

Lachy and I went for a stroll in the late afternoon, watching locals and backpackers play football, kids speeding around on motorbikes that seemed far too big for them, and following an overgrown, yet signposted path to an unknown destination. It felt a bit like following the yellow brick road as the jungle got denser around us, and when two guys appeared on the path behind us I felt a moment of trepidation. But they soon overtook us and disappeared ahead. Then, suddenly, the path opened out into a huge, deserted clearing with benches and a playground. A small river and a pretty little waterfall rushed to one side. We wanted to follow the mossy path to the waterfall, but it was already getting dark so we turned back.

We drove back down the winding road a while until we reached the Lakehouse, a mock-Tudor style hotel. We had been watching a bit of Fawlty Towers earlier in the day, and as the tall, skinny and smiling manager strode forward to greet us, Nick started whistling the theme tune. Although it did feel somehow Fawlty-esque, thankfully there were no madcap mishaps. I had one of the most delicious steaks ever, and a tasty strawberry mojito ("ah, we call ourselves the mojito capital!" the manager proudly proclaimed). We were also given a tour of one of the beautiful guest rooms; I'd love to stay there one day. So unlike anywhere else in Malaysia.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Greetings from the Cameron Highlands! It's so beautiful up here. Lush and green and cool. We are leaving soon to head up to Penang for a few days.

We got to Malaysia on Monday, after a squished but uneventful flight. Got to see dad and janice's new house for the first time - it's huge! It's almost like we didn't need to go anywhere else, as their place is pretty much like a hotel. But we have headed north to the tea and strawberry growing capital, Cameron Highlands, and then on to Penang for beachy times, and it is nice to see parts of this country I haven't been to before. I'm also excited that we will be meeting up with the Tonks family, who happen to be holidaying in Penang at the same time!

I am so grateful that I've been able to have this holiday...although I knew I was stressed, I didn't quite realise how much. I'm also so grateful that we're all getting along well. Hanging out with my baby half-brother, Ethan, is pretty amusing. And getting to spend uninterrupted time with my favorite person is pretty damn good too (that's Lachy, in case you didn't guess)

Alright we're off...more news soon!