Saturday, June 10, 2017

penang: lu

She’s the kid who likes wandering around in museums, looking at interesting things in air-conditioned comfort.

While swimming in the Golden Sands pool was one of her faves, she also counts the Gold Museum and Butterfly Park as memorable.

Gold Museum?

Yes, it’s one in a plethora of museums which have sprung up in Penang in recent years, I suppose to cater to tourists, just like in Jeju where there is a museum for everything.

The Gold Museum was recommended to us by one of our Grab taxi drivers. Lu wasn’t very interested in the museum per se, but when she heard there was an opportunity to try her hand at panning for gold, she perked up.

So in that museum (really a rather short walk through a space designed to look like an underground mine ending with a room full of gold and silver products for tourists to buy), as the rest of our group moved on with the guide, our family hung out in the simulated gold panning room.

* The museum mostly offers photo opportunities like these

Lu begged to stay, getting thoroughly wet as she repeatedly dipped her pan into the water to dredge up some sand and trilling in excitement whenever she spotted a tiny (gold-painted) fleck of stone.



She was also very happy in the butterfly park, which has been renovated and re-named the Entopia Butterfly Farm. Unlike in the past when it was open-air and visitors mostly walked around getting deluged by butterflies, staring at boards with butterfly carcasses pinned up on it, it’s now an air-conditioned space somewhat resembling a tiny Gardens by the Bay dome.

* Then (Dec 2009). This is Jo, Lu was back in Singapore with KK

* Now


* Smallish dome

* Lu busy taking photos of all the animals, as usual

Lizards and other creatures (centipedes, millipedes etc) have been throw into the animal mix, and the exhibits are interactive and I suppose, more engaging.

Day didn’t go as he was hungover from Escape, but Jo and Lu had a great time.

Lu's top food? Watermelon-flavoured chewing gum. Whenever we go back to Malaysia, Lu hunts for that gum.

Dislike? She didn’t say she disliked anything, but I think she found Escape rather harrowing.

Her first time on a high-up obstacle course, the moment she stepped onto the logs she couldn’t go back because people were behind her.

Pale-faced, almost crying and terrified, trying gamely to handle the carabiners, she only made it through because Jo shouted encouragement and cajoled her from the front while I gently supported her from the back. 

I was very proud of Lu. But after one round she chose to stay grounded.

* Her highlight at Escape: Taking photos of the many chickens, roosters, geese etc

Thursday, June 08, 2017

penang: jo

Like Day, Jo loved Escape.

Unlike him, however, she didn’t dare to roam on her own and stuck with me and Lu, meaning she confined herself to easier courses, and only going up to Level 2 (instead of Level 3 with Day).

Why didn’t she go with Day? 

She felt he was too gung-ho, and was afraid of being left behind.

So she was sort of in a No Man’s Land… too scared to forge ahead, stuck in the trenches with us. When Lu wanted to do the kid's obstacle course, she rolled her eyes and sighed, but did it anyway.




The other thing she couldn’t get enough of was swimming at the Golden Sands Resort, which was where we stayed at Batu Ferringhi.

* Golden Sands, which I think is part of the same hotel family as this one and which felt almost exactly the same

The reason for my wanting to be at the Batu Ferringhi beach, was because I remember going to Penang with my folks and hanging out collecting large seashells at a beach, next to a motel called Sri Pantai, on several occasions. I'm not sure if it's still standing. It was simple and idyllic and restful. I imagined the beach at Batu Ferringhi – having driven past it a few times on past trips – would be just as appealing in a peaceful way.

* The one time the girls went to the beach: To take a photo

It wasn’t. Full of touts every 10m trying to sell us jetski and parasailing experiences, the beach wasn’t the pretty stretches I had passed by before, these were elsewhere. It was actually rather unpleasant.

The kids stuck to the pool which was thankfully the girls’ favourite.

No matter what we did or how tired we were after a morning or afternoon outing, Jo and Lu would clamour to go “home” to the hotel, fling off their clothes, squeeze into their swimsuits and in a fresh burst of energy tear their way down to the pool to …. slide down the two water slides over and over and over and over again, individually or Jo hugging Lu from behind in a "train".



I don’t get how they didn’t get sick of it. Very fun, meh? They must have clocked up hundreds of attempts over three days. I didn't see any other kids as obssessed with the slides as the girls were.

Top food? Jo said “I liked several foods I can’t choose one”.

* She liked this brownie with salted-egg ice cream and caramelized banana sauce, from What The Duck

* "Don't touch my bak kut teh"

Dislike? She wrote, “The weather is hot, the streets are smelly and most things are dirty”.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

penang: day

Top of his likes is the Escape Theme Park.

These days, when I really enjoy myself, I put away the camera. So I don’t really have photos of the park because I stuck it in a locker and climbed along with the kids.

But it’s a magical place. I knew about it because ex-colleague Jane blogged about it before. Essentially it’s a forest with obstacle courses thrown in – ropes, logs, swings, trapeze, bridges - and you just do whatever you like.

* Not my photo, from an official website

A real back to nature experience, it's new-ish and a huge Water Park just opposite the road is opening right about now, probably making this area a new mega tourist attraction.

When we went it was school holidays for the Penang kids, and there were loads of local teenagers swinging in the trees, along with us.

* Day's doing... taichi?

Day took off on his own and monkey-ed his way around the top-level obstacles, which appeared to be about three storeys high. Complaining about people in front of him who were too darned slow, Day didn’t seem to fear for his life at any point.


* Day jumping off the platform

He’d unclip his carabiner for a drink or a snack (even without us, all he had to do was to key in a pin code linked to our “account” and he could “pay” for his purchases), then scoot up again.

He had so much sun and fun at Escape, he appeared hungover and somewhat trashed the next day.

Day’s fave food: Assam laksa.


That has never changed, not since 2009. He inhaled that laksa. (one of the bowls above is mine lah)

His dislike: The aftermath of Escape. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

penang: me

I loved that this was a Digital Media trip, which was made that much more pleasant and navigable because we tried out several digital solutions for the first time.

Yes, I’m very slow to the boat, but better late than never.

Local SIM

In Taiwan, I observed that many of my (younger) musician colleagues rushed to a counter to purchase local SIM cards after landing.

I didn’t even know that was possible, and that it was cheap, even cheaper than getting the Changi wifi router we used in Japan (although the advantage of that router is that it offers unlimited access).

So upon landing in Penang, I went straight to a Digi counter at the airport to purchase a local SIM card to slot into KK’s mobile phone. He then configured his phone to become a “Wifi hotspot” (the wonder of it! I never knew that was possible!) so both Jo and I could leech off his access.

That secured us Internet access throughout.

I’m sorry I’m so noob, but I really do think it’s marvelous.


And the reason I needed the Internet access was so I could use Grab.

I have never used Grab or Uber, not when we have a car, and even without the car I prefer public transport.

But in Penang we had no car. Taxis are scarce and are meter-less which meant being at the mercy of the taxi driver’s preferred pricing.

I chose Grab over Uber (no reason really) and it turned out to be a dream. It’s so easy, and there seem to be so many Grab drivers there, so we always got our (very comfortable) rides within minutes after ordering through my phone.

One of our drivers, a young lady who runs a restaurant in Penang but drives on the side, told me a lot of Penangites increasingly rely on these taxi apps because parking is sometimes tough in the city.

Well it would really have come in useful when I was alone in Bangkok with the kids but like I say, better late than never.


This was the biggest revelation.

Sure I’ve heard of airb&b, but never tried it.

Tried it this time. Since we’re going to a familiar destination, might as well try unfamiliar methods. Booked the house two days before our departure day, and that house we stayed in was the highlight for me.


* A video lovingly produced by Jo in four intense hours (Note from Jo: "I'm very frustrated because the frame dimensions are different from when I edited, so everything is compressed and there is a line across the subtitles throughout the video, and at the end the cast list is not aligned even though I spent a long time aligning it correctly, because the frame dimensions are different")

Not for the rest of the family, they’re not fans of old houses, but they did enjoy the house and I loved every bit of it. It reminded me a bit of the Kedah kampong which belongs to the relatives on the Malaysian side of our family.

An old house located in a quiet cul-de-sac just off the main road, walking distance from some great food haunts including Penang Road and Kimberley Street, it cost us about S$70 a night and it was really well-equipped with the softest bed and pillow sheets. The host also put in lots of touches (books, DVDs, music selection) which I appreciated.

* Ghostly Lu wandering around the street at night

* Getting ready, applying sunblock for the blistering Penang heat

* Heading out in the day


* Watching a DVD from the host's collection, Echoes of the Rainbow

* A note I left for the host

What some people might not like (and I know these sorts of people because I count many of them as my friends!) is that its not fully air-conditioned (not the living area, kitchen) with no wifi, and there's only one rather primitive bathroom which isn't even on the same level as the bedrooms. Water from the shower and toothbrushing ran into a small open drain which Jo abhorred.

I’m now scouring all sorts of airb&b properties (the Nepal villages are a real draw… and glamping in Scotland!) and dreaming of living in another exotic home. I think I’d be happy for an entire holiday to be a homestay.

For all I’ve said on the wonders of being connected, the other bit I really liked about our Penang trip was that Day chose not to bring his mobile. He CHOSE not to! I’m not sure if he was trying to prove a point (that he’s not addicted) but for six wonderful days, he was screen-free.

Well he did grab my phone now and then, but we got to enjoy his lovely engaging presence for long periods of time.


My favourite food in Penang: Duck salad from What The Duck.

* Very yummy char kway teow but not quite my thing these days

As I age, I suspect my taste buds have slowly veered away from oily and fatty and anything wok hei, to bland and simple. Even in Singapore, a salad bowl would be my first choice.


* What The Duck

I really enjoyed those green vegetables, oranges and walnuts after incessant char kway teow which I seemed to eat a lot of for some reason.

Dislike: Paying RM150 (S$50) for 3kg of excess baggage on our flight back.

Friday, June 02, 2017

penang: kk

I say Bali. KK said, “Huh it’s a terrorist hotspot.” I suppose that rules out the whole of Indonesia. I've tried Philippines in the past, he's ruled that out too.

I try to think of a nice, safe, familiar, nearby spot we can venture to for a budget June do.

“Penang?” I hazard hopefully. “OK,” he says.

I’ve been with the kids at least twice, for Ying Ying and then Wen's wedding. Both times, KK never went. He’s only been to Penang once, when he was very young.

We're there six days, two nights at Georgetown, three at Batu Ferringhi. We flew.

Post-trip, I get everyone to write down their fave moments, fave foods and dislikes.

KK’s fave spot: Penang Hill.

I’ve always liked Penang Hill, and decided to bring everyone back again. The ride up the mountain in the fast funicular, the emergence into air which feels a degree or two cooler than the blistering heat below, the trees, the chill-out vibe.

* The funicular


I’ve noticed that KK just likes going up, up, up.

Every place we go, if there’s a chance to ascend, he grabs it - from the Petronas Tower in KL, to the Skytree and Metropolitan Government Building in Japan. Of course, he must have solid ground under his feet. Going up doesn’t include flying.

He likes looking down, from high up, with panoramic vistas beneath him, identifying little buildings and bridges and whatnot.


He also likes the cooler air of Penang Hill, and just sitting down doing nothing, enjoying the breeze and the greenery.

* The Girl Who Doesn't Want To Get Dark using my trusty Nepal brolly

Some of us got our portraits done for RM10 (about S$3 at today's exchange rate) and that was fun.

* The crowd, mostly viewers


* KK loves Lu's portrait, hated his own which he felt was so far off it was absurd

While KK liked the chilling out, It is for this same reason that Gong Gong does not like Penang Hill. He finds it frightfully boring.

(Note to self: Next time, we should just get some mountain cottage and stay put for a few days so KK can chill out in nature in a high-up place)

KK’s fave food: Chendol.


To all the Penang street food greats – and we ate a lot of it - he was not particularly impressed.

* Joo Hooi Cafe, I could not believe we got a seat

* Kimberley Street 

He found it all tasty, but nothing which clicked with him. Like, he preferred Singapore’s char kway teow to Penang's version.

Perhaps it also didn’t help when he saw the hawkers handle raw food, money and garbage all at once. It didn’t bother me, but it bothered him.


But if he had to pick, he’d pick the chendol.

We were near what is reputedly one of the best chendol roadside stalls in Penang, God knows it’s been there since I was a girl, at Penang Road. The Saturday noon queue was insane, but upon another visit at 3pm on a weekday, there was no one.

* Saturday noon. I was in another queue, for char kway teow with duck egg

He didn’t like this one. Instead, the chendol he preferred was from the stall facing it, which has much shorter queues.

* The chendol from the other stall which we had twice

Dislike: (this is what he wrote) “Public drains – always choked, always smelly”.

KK knows and works on drains. He’s bothered by something I never even noticed. To the extent that he won’t even walk out on the streets with slippers, but only in track shoes.

I ask, “So if you had to choose between Ipoh and Penang to go next time, where would you go?”

He says, “Maybe Penang. More things to see.”

* Having some fun with Lu's squishy

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

fairy’s letter

Lu is still a fervent believer in the tooth fairy.

In a family of non-believers (except me), she stands firmly alone.

The only time her faith was somewhat shaken was when the tooth fairy wrote back to her.

See, she put her tooth in a little bag and attached a note, asking not for money, but for a written message in return.


What would the tooth fairy do?

Well the fairy wrote back.


Lu frowned: But Mama, this looks exactly like your handwriting. Did you write this?

At the same time, Day and Jo – everyone was at the breakfast table – couldn’t roll their eyes any further up their heads. (Yes, Jo has fallen) 

Lu was very very suspicious.

But the end of the day, she still believes in the tooth fairy. Although I think she’s determined to try and prove it when the next tooth falls by… not telling me.

Monday, May 29, 2017

bling bling

Jo has developed a definite fashion sense and it doesn’t gel with what I would buy for her if I were out on my own.

What would I buy?

Simple stuff, I suppose.

Comfortable, cool, understated, and if I had some money to spend, something possibly classic.

One of the priciest things I ever got for her for a Marks and Spencer dress which she seemed OK with when she tried it out, but has never worn.


Well above her knees by now, she declared, “This makes my waist look so small, Mama. It makes me look like a doll, the waist is so awkward. I don’t want to look like a doll.”


The other day, as we were out looking for a cap (she had outgrown her last one), she laid eyes on a demin cap with bling and to my massive surprise, she fell in love with it.


KK was equally put out. Pointing to a replica without the bling, he suggested, “Jo why don’t you get this one?”

Nope. She wanted the bling. Thankfully, she didn’t want the ones which screamed LOVE or SEXY and picked a fairly innocent snowflake. It goes with the shirts and shorts she prefers these days.


The dress, meanwhile, will be worn by someone else.