on Thursday, August 30, 2012
Some days I absolutely love living here.  I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.  Other days, I want to go home, to the U.S., immediately.  Let me go quickly pack my bags, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Homesickness comes in waves and gets worse around holidays.  I generally have productive ways to work it out, like calling someone on Skype or sending someone a little care package in the mail.  It also gives me a good opportunity to focus on the people back at home and pray for them, so that I'm not just thinking about them sullenly and becoming a blubber of a mess.

Other days, when I'm just living life and not thinking much about where I'm living it, I get a little flash of a memory from home.  The longer I am away from WA, the more I am starting to realize how so many of my memories of my home (I still consider Yakima to be home because Reuben and I, until we came here, never had a place that felt like "home" to us) and of childhood are connected to senses.   The smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of a lawnmower.  A slight (and I mean slight) chill coming through the bedroom window.  Having a good burger.  Drinking iced tea.  Listening to the music at Starbucks.  It returns me to things at home that I don't get to experience here, like how I can recognize who's coming in the house (Yakima) by the way they shut the front door.  Smelling the evening's dinner as my mom is cooking it.  Spending evenings lying in the grass watching the stars.  Having to walk around the entire house before I find my mom working in the flower bed.  The smell of Target (trust me, you would miss it too!)  The feeling of warm clothes coming out of the dryer.

Despite all that we've left behind, there's so many new memories we're making, that I'm sure we'll miss when we're back in the U.S.   Things like our morning runs and evening walks, going down to the pool whenever we feel like it, eating mangos endlessly, and never feeling cold.  Eating the best food Asia has to offer. Maybe not the karaoke, fireworks, or prayer calls from the mosque that last far into the night though.

Sun rising

Sunday market

Asia is all about the night market.  On any given evening of the week, there will be a night market (called a pasar malam) somewhere nearby.  They start around 7pm but really kick into high gear around 9.  I don't know how late they go because...I don't stay out that late.  And to be honest, we hardly ever go to the Tuesday night market that's just a mile from our house.  I've seen enough of the same cheap clothes, watches, and plastic kitchen appliances.  The only thing we normally get there is food.

Malaysia also has morning markets, but that's just your typical "buy your fresh produce" market.  Grab the eggs, chicken, fresh veggies, fruit, and then I'm out.  My bags are usually so heavy I don't linger long to look at anything else.

Penang has a day-time market (unheard of!) that takes place in Georgetown on the last Sunday of every month.  I would consider it more of an "arts and crafts" fair.  It reminded me of a farmer's market back home, except that nobody sold produce.  It's fun to "go local" and see what trinkets and gadgets people come up with here on the island.
Celebrating creativity and heritage.
People had tables full of food, locally-made paintings, quilters, wood carvers, handmade soaps, shoe "bedazzlers" (for lack of a better word), and all sorts of cheesy-looking arts and crafts, like the kind I would see at a church craft fair (no offense).  There was also live jazz.

This is the "Beatrix Potter and the Dutchess of Cambridge" table.
The market was right across the street from the historic Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel (est. 1885), so we popped in to wander the grounds.  I love old colonial style architecture.  

Drive-through fruit

on Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Thing I love about Malaysia #4,355: Drive-through fruit vendors.  We go to a man named Tony.  We go to him a lot, actually.  He knows our names and knows what we are going to buy.  Reuben really likes his mangos.  And Tony has the best mangos.  He "guarantees" his mangos and promises that he would take back ones that weren't good.  He's never steered us wrong.

Step one: Drive up to fruit seller.  At this point you have two options.  You can get out of your car and select your own fruit, or you can just point at the bunch of bananas you want from your car, and fruit man will bring it to you, at which point you pay just like you're going through a drive-through.  You don't even have to leave your air-conditioned comfort to buy your bananas.  All of the fruit is either locally grown in Malaysia or in a neighboring country.

How great is that?

Ramadan treats

People might have been fasting all day for the holy month (they wake up to eat before 4:30am-ish, and break their fast around 7:30pm), but that doesn't mean food wasn't still all over the place.  The difference is that all the food is takeaway (the Malaysian term for "to go").  Forget about walking into a restaurant; all restaurants drag the tents and tables to the streets and set up shop out there.
The party's out on the streets
We went to Little India last week and the Indian Muslims were in their full culinary glory.  Special treats are made just for the season that you can't find the rest of the year.  We have Christmas (and all the special goodies that come with the season), they have Ramadan.  

Reuben was in heaven.  He knew exactly what to look for and veered straight for a special fried-foods man.  This dish, which comes with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce for dipping, has a name that I don't know.  
This man has fried up for you anything you could possibly desire fried.  Except Snickers (yes, I did that in college)

Pick a chunk of fried prawns and he'll chop it up for you
We also bought a giant stick of bamboo that had sticky rice cooked inside, all wrapped up snug in a banana leaf.   The hard part was cracking open the bamboo.  Reuben got out our giant chopping knife for that chore.  I still have a mess outside on my balcony to clean up from that.  But it was worth what was inside.

Rice cooked in bamboo.  How do they do that?
Now I know why it is said that most people gain weight during the month of fasting.  

I'm back, world

on Sunday, August 19, 2012
I finished the Hunger Games trilogy this weekend.  Thank god, now I can breathe again.  My husband is thankful too, because I have been ignoring him lately because of it.  I've read lots of great books before, but none that swallowed me whole like this series did.  In an attempt to balance it all out (and because I still have a dream to read all the books in Oprah's book club), I picked up Anna Karenina at the library.  Oprah, after all, said it was the greatest love story ever written.  All 750 pages of it.  I don't know how long I'll last.  I don't know if I want to make it last that long.  I have discovered that I actually enjoy reading children's books and short stories.  I guess it's back to the Boxcar Children and Madeline L'Engle for me, then.

P.S. I just read that Anna Karenina is coming out as a movie this year.  None other than Keira Knightly and Jude Law, of course.    

Adili fitri

on Saturday, August 18, 2012
It's the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.  All month, Muslim-owned businesses have been shut down or only packing take-away (How can you work in a restaurant all day if you have to fast??)  The non-Muslim restaurants ask "Are you Muslim?" before you are allowed to eat (eating during the holy month is against the law, you see).  People are tired.  People are lazy.  I would be, too, if I had to fast from all all food and drink until 7pm.  

The floating mosque, from the beach
We live just up the hill from what is known as the "Floating Mosque."  Built just before the 2004 tsunami, it didn't experience any damage from the disaster.  We're somewhat blocked from the building in front of us, but we can still hear the Imam (the Muslim priest) doing the prayer calls, 5x a day.  This year, during Ramadan, they added extra speakers and turned up the volume.  We've REALLY been hearing the prayer calls.  And instead of ending at 9:30ish like they should be, they've been going until 10:30 every night.  That might sound to nothing to a person who stays up till 1am every night, but I am not that person.  I go to bed early.  I'm really hoping that now that Ramadan is over, they'll crank the volume down a notch or two.  And stop when they're supposed to.

Yesterday evening, there was a big party down at our pool.  A live band, playing all the oldies and goodies.   They were competing with the mosque who could be the loudest.  I enjoyed the music from my balcony until the prayer calls started, and then everything was just cacophony.  The imam does not sound well with "Great Balls of Fire."

Finding things

on Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Every time I go to a new store here in Penang (which is often), I take the time to go through the whole place to check out what they have, even if I'm not looking for anything.  Shops here are known for carrying the most eclectic variations of goods.  Most carry a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and then some.  But of course, when I'm actually looking for something, it cannot be found.  Until one day, many moons after my need for said product is gone, I discover it in some completely random place.

Popsicle sticks, for example.  I wanted to get them for school a few months.  My local mini-mart didn't carry them (a bad, sign, because they seem to carry 99.8% of my needs).  I went to the pharmacy and asked for tongue depressors.  They said I would have to order them in bulk (in the 1000s).  No thank you.  The "craft section" (hardly worthy of the term, its about 1 meter wide) at Tesco didn't carry them.  Apparently children here don't do crafts with popsicle sticks like we do in America...or perhaps that was just me. The not-so-friendly helpers at Ace Hardware couldn't quite understand what I was asking for, but all they had that seemed to fit my description was paint stirrers.   I finally gave up until a few days ago, when I happened upon them in an art supply store. And wouldn't you know it, I also saw them the next day in a stationary store.  They are now being put to good use in school.

Other elusive items:

Glycerin - This was only a difficult item to find because here it is known as "infant tongue wash."

Pipe cleaners (also known as "chenille stems")- Oh, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners, the stuff of childhood.  I also looked everywhere for these for months, and found them this weekend in a stationary store, right next to the popsicle sticks!  Apparently in the "cheap and cheesy craft section".  Oh, how desperately I miss stores like Michael's and JoAnn fabrics.

Mason jars - I wasn't exactly looking for these, but I was pleasantly surprised when I happened upon them at Ace.  Ace Hardware hardware here is actually pretty amazing, although it's on the other side of the island so I hardly go there.

There you go.  More than you needed to know about popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners in Malaysia.


on Sunday, August 5, 2012
I signed up for my first triathlon with much hesitation and trepidation.  Mostly because I didn't have a bike yet and wasn't sure if I was going to find one to borrow.  That problem was easily solved by a gracious friend who loaned me her brand-new never-ridden mountain bike.  Not ideal for the road, but it would do!

It's called the Port Dickson International Triathlon.  Malaysia has very few triathlons (maybe 3?) every year, so everybody flocks to them.  We had lots of friends who had done this triathlon before and several friends who were doing it this year, too.  We decided to start with the sprint triathlon, which sounded a whole lot less scary than the full Olympic distance one.  750m swim, 20km bike ride, and 5k run.  I can totally do all of those things.  But the question was, could I do all of those things together.

I knew I was weakest at the bike ride (I had only gone on 2 practice rides before the race, and that bike was h.e.a.v.y!).  I was confident in the swimming but apprehensive about the open water.  We can't practice swimming in the ocean here in Penang because of jellyfish, so all I could do to prepare was to swim laps around my fishbowl-of-a-20-meter-pool.

The race


Reuben was terrified

The swim was great.  Exhilarating, even.  There was a big storm the night before that knocked out all the buoys from the water, so people just lined up for a quarter-mile along the beach and started wherever they wanted to.  All we were told to do was swim anti-clockwise around 2 big buoys way out in the water.  I didn't experience any crowding or getting swam on-top-of (like I was expecting) because I just stayed to myself on the outside of the pack.  The water was super murky so I couldn't see anything, but the buoyancy and the temperature of the salt water made it such a great swim.  No wetsuit needed!  In fact, they're not allowed!  I want to keep doing triathlons in the States but I think cold water would be the hardest part for me. 

Happy happy happy
He was much less happy.  Probably the bladder infection.
After the bike portion my legs were really stiff.  It seemed like I was practically crawling when I started running, but I just tried to keep a steady pace.  I got a second wind half-way through, and ended up passing a ton of people and got passed by nobody the entire run!  I shocked myself.  I finished with a great time!  

Did I mention that Reuben had a bladder infection?  He didn't decide whether to do it or not until the night before.  He's happy he did it, even though he came down with another infection the week after.

Conclusion?  I think I'm in love.  Triathlons are way more fun (and challenging) than any running race.  I would jump to do more if there were any, and I want my next one to be an Olympic distance.  My next step is to get my own bike, which we're trying to figure out now.

In the works: a lot, actually.  Two half-marathons, one Sept 1st and the Penang Bridge at the end of November.  There's also a Powerman (Run/Bike/Run) in October I think that Reuben has signed up for that I might do, if I can get a bike by then.  

My North Korean twin

on Saturday, August 4, 2012
I'm loving watching the Olympics.  YouTube is the greatest.  One thing that I've noticed especially this year is how many shapes and sizes of athletes there are.  There's not a whole lot of variation within each sport, but between sports the differences are HUGE.  Think shotput vs rhythmic gymnastics, people.  There's some sports where it doesn't seem like you have to be in good athletic shape at all (shooting?) and then, there's beach volleyball in which you do have to be in incredible shape, mostly because you have to wear that bikini.

Then I stumbled on the Olympic athlete body match on BBC.  What is my Olympic athlete body match ?  A North Korean table tennis player, of course.  It's a fun app to check out.

Empty nesters

on Friday, August 3, 2012
Reuben and I have been parents for the past 3 weeks.  No, we did not secretly have a baby; we've been hosting two girls for the Dalat ESL summer camp.   I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to do it; it was probably some fond memories of exchange students in my past.  We hosted two 13-year old girls from China.  One of them had some serious homesickness and was crying before she even entered our house for the first time.  She cried for the first 3 days; she and the other girl fought and yelled at each other for the first few days as well; finally, they learned to share a room with each other, thank goodness.  They were busy all day at school, and spent most of their evenings in their room, so the whole "homestay" thing was pretty easy on our part.  We definitely learned a lot about parenting (as much as you can by suddenly needing to care for a 13 year old) including things such as cooking for four (we have cooking for 2 down to a science!), arranging playdates, wondering when and if it's ok to leave them home alone, and how to still do adult things like try to have a long conversation with someone with children standing by absolutely bored out of their minds (I remember feeling this way when having to wait to go home after church with my parents!).

We said goodbye to them today, and I have to admit that I was excited to come home empty-handed.  If there is one thing that I have appreciated about living here, it is having our own place, all to ourselves.  Who knew it would feel so good to give away children?