Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Comfort of Home

I’m writing from the bus, which actually feels more like the recliner chair at the cottage.  The extra wide seat lies way back, and the leg rest pops out like a lazy-boy.  Even the upholstery is clean and cozy.  As we wind our way down out of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, even the view reminds me of the cottage. Although the tea plantations don’t look anything like the view of Lake Erie, the beauty and feeling of contentment is what makes me feel at home.  I’m curled up in my seat with my legs tucked underneath me, surrounded by my family, who are all sitting just as comfortably as I am, immersed in their books. 
Tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands
Many of the places we have travelled have felt a lot like home, but I must admit I didn’t think I would be quite as comfortable as I am currently, in South East Asia.  There are precautions and a level of alertness that we have adopted, but generally we are relaxed.  We have ventured around seeing the sights, and even splurged for an organized tour.  We have dined on the local cuisine far more often than we ever expected and thankfully, have been able to take long walks and keep up with our running. 

Early in our travels, going out to a restaurant was a luxury that occurred infrequently, as we tried to limit our spending and stretch our budget.  Since leaving Australia, we have eaten out at least once a day, and many times twice a day.  Before reaching Asia I had heard many stories about how inexpensive it was to eat out, and that many of the locals did not cook at home.  I wanted to believe these claims, but it was just so foreign to me that I wondered if people might have exaggerated a bit.  Well, the reality is it has been much cheaper to eat out than to purchase our own groceries in many cases.  A dollar could get you a generous portion of rice, some roasted chicken with spices and a small serving of vegetables, usually raw cucumber.  This was a quick meal for us to take on the road for lunch.  It came wrapped in a banana leaf or plastic and paper and usually stayed warm for a couple of hours.  This was much cheaper than purchasing the makings for a sandwich if we wanted anything more luxurious than tuna or egg salad.  We have found most local meals cost between $1.50 and $3 each, and the girls are always impressed when the total bill is below $15 for our family. A $20 meal is a splurge! If we did want to eat Western food, the price would be about double. 
This is called steam boat and is quite popular in the cooler climate of the Cameron Highlands.

They give you plates of ingredients and you add them to the broth and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
It doesn't look all that appetizing, but it was delicious!

Another good find, you can't tell by the photo but we were surrounded by locals.  We love
finding places where the locals eat!

Sure we have had the odd craving for some comfort foods from home, but thankfully we have all enjoyed the local fare.  I admit we did spend $9.00 on a box of Cheerios; they were a treat for Meg.  She hadn’t asked for them, but we knew that she was missing them.  To be honest it was incredibly difficult to find the Cheerios that we were used to at home. When we did find Cheerios, they were the multigrain variety and were sugar coated like Fruit Loops. Thankfully, Coke and beer were pretty universal and Mark and I haven’t been too hard done by.  Mind you, there were times during our trip when we just couldn’t bring ourselves to fork over $6.00 for a can of Coke, or $10.00 for a bottle of beer!  Those times when we have needed some comfort food from home, we could get it, provided we didn’t mind paying for it. 
Absolutely Crazy!!!  This is a symbol of status in Malaysia.  You earn these stickers once you have spent some astronomical amount of money at these fast-food locations.  The people plaster them to their windows like a badge of honour.  At home if you frequent KFC or McDonalds too often, it is almost grounds for child abuse!
I love the local fruit and this is breakfast most mornings for Meg and I!
Although South East Asia is inexpensive when it comes to food and accommodation, the organized tours tend to be pricey.   Self-guiding, which we have done for most of our travels up to now, comes with a little more challenge in Asia.  You can’t always do it, and sometimes we have had to fork over the cash as there was no option. If we were just checking out the city we used public transit and walked a lot.  The times that we have booked tours, we felt like we got our money’s worth.  The Internet is a wealth of information and if you are willing to put in some time researching, which Mark is, you can avoid many of the problems you hear about.  Usually we were thrilled with what we come away with after a tour, and more often than not we added a few friends to our contacts.  The tours also provided an opportunity to connect with other travellers in terms of recommendations for restaurants, accommodations and places and things to see and do.  In the Cameron Highlands, it provided the opportunity to meet a couple of boys from Queen’s and enjoy a couple rounds of Euchre together. 

BOH Tea Plantation

Pitcher Plant - we had a great tour guide that explained the evolution of the plant to us
with so much detail.  Now, if only I can remember it to share with my Grade 2's during our Rainforest unit.

At the top of the Cloud Forest in Malaysia, so neat!

One of our splurges, a tour of a fruit farm.  It was kind of expensive, but Meg and I couldn't resist the all you can eat fruit buffet!

Our favourite thing to do is check out places on our own, at our own pace.  Here, we are visiting the Jetties in Penang.  They are floating villages.

We got a kick out of the construction of the Jetties.  Pails filled with cement, not sure this would pass code at home!

I think what I have been most surprised about during our travels, particularly since reaching Asia, is the ability to continue to fit some form of exercise into our days.  We have had to be pretty flexible with our routines but between yoga, swimming, and running we have done pretty well.  Running, which I enjoy very much, comes with the most challenge.  Traffic is absolutely crazy in Asia. There are more scooters and motorcycles than the population and they drive wherever they please.  It doesn’t even faze me anymore when a motorcycle comes straight towards me on the sidewalk, beeping for me to move out of the way!  The locals tend to walk in the streets as the sidewalks are congested with food stands and parked scooters!  The heat is another challenge when running.  I have run in the heat of the summer at home and sure it’s hot, but it is an entirely different level of heat here.  It is humid, and the volume of sweat your body releases during an hour run is… hard to put words to actually.  Unfortunately, running in the late evening or early morning does not really help either, as the temperature remains fairly steady day and night.  The only chance of relief from the heat is rain. If only the weather forecast was accurate, I could plan my runs accordingly. 
This is a shot of the street in Batu Feringghi by day, check out how it changes at night!
Same view at night, but the sidewalks are covered with hawker stands selling knock off goods.
We are headed to Kuala Lumpur next, where we will meet up with a friend of my cousin.  As we get closer and closer to our destination, I find myself a little more anxious, not quite as content and comfortable.  We will have to leave our lazy-boy bus seats and make our way to the hotel in a strange city.  We will have to figure out new places to eat that are safe and economical, research the sites we need to visit and how best to get there, and gauge the safety and opportunities for exercise.  It will take me a day to adjust to our new surroundings (you would think I would be used to relocating by now – jeesh) and probably the same amount of time before I catch myself referring to our hotel as ‘home’. I’ll get there, I always do, but I can’t help but wonder if it will have a lazy-boy with a view.

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