Friday, June 13, 2014

A new adventure starts - in Northam

So we don't really want to go to Ningbo. (Although they have offered us jobs - six weeks later.)

Northam looks nice, though, doesn't it? (and there might be some jobs there - or we could just kinda retire ...)
For some people living in a place like Northam in the wheat-belt area of Western Australia would be ordinary. But after everywhere we've been, for us it is another new adventure.

So ... what's in Northam?

 Well, this is what we know thus far (thank you, Mr Google). Of course, we have driven through Northam a few times on our way back and forth between Perth and the eastern seaboard.

It's a fairly typical Aussie country town - population around 6 000.

It's well-known for some of its beautiful old buildings.

It's a farming district, with the Avon River (which goes all the way down to the Swan River in Perth) winding through it.

In the right season the Avon River swells and everyone comes here to watch the start of the exciting annual boating event - the Avon Descent.

In 2011 there was a remarkable dust storm that engulfed Northam.

There is an Immigration Detention Centre on the outskirts of the town.

And, of course, there is lots more! That will have to wait until we start a new blog!

July 4th leaving Malaysia. No more Jolly Good Fellows.

On the Ning Nang Nong

We were probably thinking a little bit of Spike Milligan's old poem
             On the Ning Nang Nong 
             Where the Cows go Bong!
             and the monkeys all go BOO!
as we planned our trip to Ningbo, China.

They have finally admitted that the idea of a continuing Fellows Project here in Malaysia is truly dead in the water, and so we are looking around for a different job, and a new adventure.

We saw a possible job in China, and thought that after 10 years of travelling around we might have come full circle to where it all started in China. We have very happy memories relating to the people in rural LongHu in 2004, and then we loved living in the small (5 million) city of Wuxi for a year. So, maybe it would be nice to revisit China.

Getting a visa
Getting visas in and out of China - even for a short visit - is generally more complicated than most other countries! If we were in Kuala Lumpur we could apply and then wait for four days or so ... but not out here in Kuala Terengganu. We heard that you can get a visa in one day in Hong Kong. So we decided to go there first.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong (all those amazing tall buildings!) was quite awe-inspiring and a little overwhelming for us country folks!
We arrived on a Saturday ... and the visa office was closed on the weekends, so it ended up being a four day stay just to make sure we had a visa.

We stayed in a high-rise hotel with a view of the harbour.

We had a suite, and we had brought with us books to read and our computers to 'play' on!

The hotel had a nice pool - there it is down there below our window - one of the reasons we chose this particular hotel. But ... seriously the weather was quite unpleasant and we didn't even go in. We turned off the air conditioning in the room, and still had trouble keeping warm (with the summery clothes that we had brought with us!)

Nottingham University, Ningbo
Finally it was time to fly directly to Ningbo - another reason why we had gone via Hong Kong, because there were direct flights to Ningbo.

With various delays and all the things that happen, we arrived there quite late, and settled into a room in the Staff Hotel, ready for our interviews the following day.

The next morning, in the hazy light of day, we had a chance to look around a bit.

Apart from the haze, it was all very green, and generally clean.

Not exactly thronging with activity as we headed up to the ostentatious main building.

Coming out of the main building, looking across at the auditorium and teaching rooms.

So ... that was a month ago. They said they would be in touch. Not yet!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Teachers' Day in Malaysian schools

Australian schools don't generally pay much attention to Teachers' Day - if anyone knows when it is, they might just bring the teacher an apple. But here in Malaysia it is a big deal.

This is the school where I mentor on a Sunday, when Teachers' Day was celebrated in 2014 (it was really last Friday, but as that was the weekend, it was too important to miss and was shifted to Sunday.)

Except that the teachers were all wearing their special batik uniforms (usually only worn on a Thursday to demonstrate national pride), the day started looking fairly normal, with an assembly.

The kids are all standing in neat rows, the teachers are mostly sitting on plastic chairs on the platform at the front.

It was obviously going to be a longer than usual assembly, and the children were allowed to sit.

And the teachers were all invited to the stage - where they sang a special song (not in English, so I don't really know).

Then all of the teachers lined up (including me), and all of the children kissed their hands (the boys greeted the men only, and the girls greeted the female teachers only.)

The teachers then did a lot of hugging and kissing and laughing - for some of them this was their last Teachers' Day before retirement, so it was very significant.

And then it was time for fun and games - for the teachers, not the children. Everyone had a turn at shooting netball hoops. Including me.

I missed one, and the other went straight through. Then we played hoopla, throwing hoops over traffic cones.

(I got two out of two!)

The children then went off to get their bags full of presents for their teachers. (The pretty pink and blue uniforms are pre-schoolers.)

This very popular teacher was mobbed by eager students offering presents as she went to her car. Some kids even handed me small gifts.

Then there were songs and jokes, and eats of course. It's nice that the kids have so much respect for their teachers and the opportunity to express it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quiet ... too quiet

Up at the Lake

We visited Lake Kenyir in the first few weeks after we came here in 2011.  At that time the road to the lake was being repaired, and the lake was pretty much 'closed' as it was the off-season - although other than a bit of rain and the over-abundance of mosquitoes we couldn't really see why. It was a pretty place, but not terribly exciting, so we didn't go back...

Until last week.

It was school holidays, which is the time when every family gets into their little car and putters off here and there. We thought we might just enjoy hanging in Kuala Terengganu, but after discovering that the beach area was overtaken by "Terengganu Bike Week", crowded with market stalls and eager locals, revving motor bikes, a variety of pumpkin-carriage pony rides, and blaring music from the sound-shell ... we retreated back to our apartment to regroup. And decided that it was time to revisit the lake for a bit of peace and quiet.

Checking the Lake Kenyir Resort on the Internet we noticed that there was just one lake view room available. So we packed bags just in case it was still there, and headed on up to the lake.

We came to a car park, and an empty building with a phone and a sign that said "Phone 3 for buggy". Well, we weren't sure that we wanted a buggy - what was this, a golf resort? So we started walking off to explore. Suddenly a little man came running after us, telling us a buggy was on its was (so you don't have to phone?) and that we were heading towards the servants quarters where we shouldn't be.

View from the lobby

The buggy took us along narrow, winding, hilly paths (no room for a car!) to the lovey high ceilinged open, airy foyer area. Yes, they did have a room, so we climbed back into the buggy, up and down some more hills to our room.

Out on our balcony, looking out over the lake, it was so, so quiet. Even though the resort was apparently (now) full, we could not see or hear anyone other than a boat buzzing along on the lake. Our phones no longer had any reception, and there was no Internet except back in the foyer. Even the cable TV service was suffering from a mysterious 'software problem'.

 'Panoramic' view of our room.

So we sat down and read, and slept, and relaxed.

The next morning we decided to book on the lake cruise - 2 hours, 10am till 12 noon. We needed to check out at 12, so we could do that when we came back.

We caught a buggy to the lobby, where we got on another buggy down past our cabin to the little floating jetty.

Yep, that's the boat. It's the ultimate slow boat! Very, very relaxing.

We visited a herb garden where they told us about various jungle herbs they were growing there. And then we went further and visited a waterfall.

There is something about waterfalls that makes people here want to swim. They generally don't swim in the sea, and no one swims in the lake (it's deep, you will drown) but give them a waterfall and they all want to go into the pool at the bottom.

By the time the slow boat got us all back to the resort, it was after 1pm, and we should have checked out an hour ago. The desk lady had told us there was someone coming in straight after us ...

We all climbed off the boat, and the little man said he would go and 'find out about' a buggy. Yeahh, that was the last we saw of him!

So we wandered off up the hill and down to our cabin. We caught a passing buggy to take us and our bags back to the foyer, and then to rediscover the distant car-park.

Home again ... aah! Internet! It was quiet, but just a wee bit too quiet maybe.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

First trip to the Island for 2014!

It is said that the islands do not 'open' until at least after Chinese New Year, maybe later, depending on the monsoon. But one resort on Kapas Island is always open if at all possible. Mme Rose, at 'Qimi' resort, will try to accommodate anyone at any time. 

So when our youngest daughter, Bea, and her friend were coming to visit for a few days and asked if it would be possible to go out to the island we called on Rose, and she was keen to make it happen.

Bea and Janae live and work on the ship MV Logos Hope, travelling around the world helping people and selling books. Right now they are docked in Singapore, so Bea and Janae flew up to visit us in Kuala Terengganu.

So sailing out to Kapas Island should have been no big deal, right? We were unsure if the monsoon has really passed ... the weather people tell us that the exceptionally cool weather we have been having is caused by the monsoon winds bringing cold air down from China (where it has been snowing). Looking out at the ocean in the morning it was silky and reflective - a bit like before the monsoon starts during the 'doldrums'.

The jetty is usually crowded and busy - this morning it was quiet and empty, and the ticket counters were closed. Rose had promised that she had contacted one of the operators who would bring us across, so we just had to wait a little while. We visited the local market and bought some of their interesting snacky things, and then waited for a boat.

When we eventually got out through the heads from the river into the ocean ... there was a large swell - big shiny lumps rolling through. So the ride across was quite bumpy and exciting, with all four of us hanging on tight to the rails of the little speed boat and laughing a lot.

'Qimi Private Bay' resort has a few chalets at ground level, but most of them are up the hill, hidden in the trees.

Jackie  who builds all of the chalets and other amenities has a real artistic flair, and loves to add driftwood, coral and shells, and bush timber.

Since our last visit we noticed quite a few improvements to the restaurant, and the men were still working on several projects to get ready for the opening of the island.

 The young ladies stayed overnight - we had to return to the mainland the same day and go to work in the morning. They were given a room high up on the hill with a large four-poster bed covered with a neat mosquito net.

It's rather hard to photograph the chalets up on the hill among the trees!

But there is a delightful large swing under the tropical almond trees.

A great place to relax.

And then there is the swimming. We were worried that the water might be all stirred up because of the monsoon and no good for snorkelling.

But it wasn't too cloudy to enjoy the reef. The water was a little cooler than sometimes, but after a few minutes we were very comfortable.

Snorkelling was a new experience for Janae - but it only took her a few minutes to catch on.

It was just magic being the only people enjoying this spectacular place on such a beautiful day.

And, of course, Nemo was waiting down there to say 'hello'.

And then there was the whole island to explore, with no one else around.

The bays are linked by stone steps and walkways, so we don't have to scramble across sharp rocks and through the jungle.

We walked past all the other resorts, all closed up and looking a little unkempt after the monsoon season.

There was some evidence, though, of other island residents ...

What do you reckon?

And then it was time for the two of us to go back to the mainland ...

while the two young ladies enjoyed the experience of sleeping and waking up on Kapas Island.

Yeahhhh. Lovely to be back on our island.