A new chapter is starting in my life... but I have no idea yet what it will be called, though perhaps this is always the case unless one is blessed with uncommon prescience or cursed with absolute predictability in life. I will be travelling to Latin America (via San Fran) and then back 'home' to Southeast Asia (via Dubai) over the course of 5-6 months. I hope to share (some of) my stories with you as they unfold.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

...ke Pulau Pinang
...a La Isla de Penang

Penang, the island of my birth. I very rarely feel sentimental about any place that I might call 'home' but I will admit to the odd twinge of fondness whenever I return to Penang. What brings it on? It could be the charming old streets of Georgetown, or the (relatively) laid-back pace of life, or the indescribably amazing food, or the dramatic sunsets that draw each day to a close. Or perhaps my memories of raising hell with my cousins around my grandad's old shop in Perak Road and his old house in Mount Erskine (both long since obliterated to make way for new development) with his amazing collection of stuffed beetles and snakes, of trundling down Macalister Road in a rickshaw, of building sand castles at Batu Ferringhi, of mammoth Chinese New Year banquets and kaleidoscopic lantern festivals, of incomprehensibly shrill performances of Beijing opera at makeshift streetside theatres. Much of the Penang I remember is already gone, thanks to rapid and poorly managed development -- beautiful old buildings have disappeared, the popular beaches are much dirtier, the views to the hills now interrupted by mushrooming tower blocks -- but much of it is still as it was and it remains a truly special place.

Someone else's photo of a beach in Penang. I hear that the only good beaches are the ones that are in out-of-the-way places, unsurprisingly, with names (like 'Muka Head') that I don't know because no one ever went there when I was little.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dari Sumatera...
De Sumatra...

The immense and beautiful Lake Toba, set in the highlands of Sumatra -- lacking the spectacular volcanoes of Atitlan but with a massive island larger than Singapore in the middle -- was the perfect place to chill out for a few days... and occasionally indulge Christian's competitive nature with games of various kinds, aided by cheap bottles of local "Seahorse" whisky and not-so-cheap bottles of wine!

El Lago Toba, inmenso y lindo, situado en las tierras altas de Sumatra -- sin los volcanes spectaculosos de Atitlán pero con una isla enorme más grande que Singapur el el centro -- era el lugar perfecto para relajarnos por unos días... y a veces satisfacer los deseos competitivos de Christian con algunos juegos, ayudado por unas botellas baratas de whisky local que se llama "Seahorse" y unas botellas caras de vino también!

The villagers trying to launch a new boat by pushing it sideways onto the lake, which struck us as perhaps not the textbook approach. They succeeded eventually.
Los aldeanos tratando a botar un nuevo barco al lago empujandolo de lado, lo que nos pareció quizas no la técnica usual.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Indonesia. That very populous 'Malay' country next to Malaysia that, before Monday, I'd only known through its films and its migrant workers, two of whom work in my parents' home in Kuala Lumpur. It's good to finally see it, meet more of its people, begin to understand its diversity, and get a sense of what is shared between it and my country, and what is not.

It is fair to say that my Malay language skills are pretty rusty and that I have never really had to use Malay in casual conversation in any case as I was surrounded by English speakers for most of my time in Malaysia. So these past few days have seen a somewhat extraordinary burst of Malay on my part! My range of expression is limited, and my comprehension of others somewhat hampered by the substantial differences in vocabulary between (Malaysian) Malay and Indonesian, but still it feels fantastically fluid and easy -- after the communicational disabilities I experienced whilst travelling through Vietnam (and to a lesser extent Cambodia), I am finding this absolutely amazing, to be able to speak to people in their own language, to negotiate the mundane but sometimes tricky business of travelling with ease, to strike up random conversations with fellow passengers or conductors on buses.

One storekeeper remarked that she liked the sound of Malaysian Malay, "lembut... macam orangnya juga" (gentle... like its people) -- I'd never thought I could feel as proud to speak Bahasa Malaysia as I did at that moment.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The highlight of our visit to Java was, unsurprisingly, the temples at Borobudur and Prambanan. Borobudur was impressive, even to two travellers still reeling from Angkor-shock, and it was great being there as dawn broke over the massive temple and the steaming forests around its base.