Sunday, November 25, 2012

Toilets/Tandas (don't read if you are easily disgusted)

Doesn’t it always seem like you don’t notice something until things get bad or become uncomfortable? 

You wouldn’t think there was all that much to talk about involving toilets.  Well, that is just not true as I first learned traveling in Asia 25 years ago. Sad to say, it’s not much better nowadays in Malaysia. If you are aren’t comfortable with eastern (pit style) toilets, don’t travel to Asia. If you are sensitive to smells, you might not want to visit either. If you thought that the women’s bathroom lines in America took a long time to get through, stay at a 5 star hotel because the regular lines in Malaysia take forever to get through. Is it the long sarongs? the bidet’s? or what??? Despite the heat, flip flops are questionable shoe gear in the bathrooms as puddles are often the norm. If you can’t pee standing up, just forget it, because if you are lucky enough to get a western toilet where you are supposed to be able to sit down, more often than not, the seats are covered with wet shoe prints!!! And don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper as most bathrooms don’t even have toilet paper dispensers. And never go anywhere without change or you may be out of luck going to the bathroom as even dirty bathrooms can cost to enter (even without toilet paper)! On the positive side, there are lots of Starbucks around Malaysia with very clean, free, western toilets.

Even if the Malaysians aren’t doing much about the toilet problems, at least they have acknowledged that it is a problem:

clean Malaysian toilet

clean Malaysian pit toilet

 (clean) Malaysian bathroom

Finding my passions....guitar?

I’ve wanted to learn how to play guitar for many years. So this year, in my search to discover my passion/s, I decided that I had better try guitar now before my hands and fingers are too stiff to move in the new ways guitar playing requires. Not knowing whether or not I would enjoy playing guitar, I looked for a guitar I could borrow temporarily. I ended up borrowing my brother’s huge steel string guitar and then took one session of classical guitar lessons at our local art center in Davis. I was hooked. 

When we moved to Malaysia 4 months ago, one of my first tasks was to purchase a guitar. While out walking with the family our first week in KL, we came across the Guitar Store. There, I found a variety of guitars for sale-electric and acoustic, nylon and steel string. I chose a Farida steel string acoustic guitar. Not the cheapest nor the most expensive, but adequate for my needs. I was also able to sign up for guitar lessons there.

Although my fingers began learning about steel string soreness when I first began taking lessons in Davis, I didn’t have a full appreciation of it until I began playing chords and pressing multiple fingers into those steel strings repeatedly. In a way, it is like the soreness your muscles feel after exercising in a new way or exercising after having been inactive for a while. The difference is that exercise related muscle soreness goes away after a few days but finger soreness continues after months of playing. Callouses are forming on the ends of my fingertips but each day my fingers feel like they have been through the mill. Still, I continue. There is something intrinsically rewarding about making music with your own hands (even if it wouldn’t win any awards :/).

Steph with her new guitar

guitars to choose from

Madeline helping me choose...

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I’m not much of a games person, but since I’m doing lots of new things this year, I thought I would just say YES to Mahjong! Plus, I thought it might be a fun game for the family to learn since we are in Asia which is where the game originated. And it should be an especially good game for Gabriel to learn as he is taking Mandarin this year at school. I found a few expat groups that teach and play Mahjong locally. So I joined the British group since the teacher is a woman in my condominium building, the lessons are free and convenient. I had heard that Mahjong was a complicated game and I was a bit nervous to find out whether or not my aging brain was up to the task. But thankfully, it has not proven too much for me and I seem to be understanding the initial lessons just fine and having fun ; ). Don’t worry, I’m not gambling yet...

Mahjong originated in China over 2000 years ago. It spread to many countries including England and Australia, but not to the US until the 1920’s when it became a decade long fad. Although it is not a widely played game in the US, there are national tournaments held each year (

Mahjong is most commonly played with 4 individuals and is a game of skill and strategy with some chance involved. There are both Chinese and English versions of Mahjong-the Chinese versions being more complex. It is said to be similar to the card game, Gin rummy. It is played with small rectangular tiles similar to dominoes and the tiles have Chinese writing, pictures, or both on the top surface of the tiles. Dice are thrown at the beginning of the game to determine the leader and then 13 tiles per person are chosen from the more than 100 tiles on the table. With each turn, tiles are picked up and discarded to build one’s hand. The first one to complete his or her hand has gotten Mahjong. Here is a short video giving the highlights of Mahjong. v=vw2tjRGMwlg

Below are a few pictures of our Mahjong table and tiles and me getting my first Mahjong!

Mahjong at Sue's (on the far right)

my first Mahjong!

Bahasa Malaysia

I started taking a Malaysian language class a few weeks ago in my neighborhood. It‘s a 10 week course and I can continue through level 6 if I wish to. My teacher is a Malaysian man named Azmi. So we call him Cikgu Azmi for teacher Azmi. His full name is Azmi bin Yaakub which means Azmi, son of Yaakub. Our class is not what I expected for a beginning language class, however it is interesting, I am meeting new people, and I am learning fascinating cultural facts and new vocabulary words and phrases. Here are a few words that I have learned so far...Can you put some of these words together to make some sentences?

mee = noodles
nasi = rice
cili = chili
goreng = fried & spicy
pedas = spicy hot
panas = temperature hot
Tolong = please (when you are asking for help)
saya suka = I like
saya tidak suka = I don’t like
saya mahu = I want
saya tidak mahu = I don’t want
saya boleh = I can
saya tidak boleh = I cannot
belum =none
satu = one
dua =two
tiga = three
empat = four
orang = person/people
orang utan = forest people
anak = child/ren
saya = I/me/my
ada = has/to have
mempunyai = to have (something big)
sama sama = no problem/ no worries
selamat pagi = good morning (until 11am)
selamat tenga hari = good day (11a-2p)
selamat datang = welcome
selamat petang = good afternoon (2pm-sunset)
selamat malam = good night (sunset to bedtime, also said at bedtime)
bola = ball
sepak = kick
ya = yes
tidak = no
kuching = cat
ikan = fish
anjing = dog
ayam = chicken